The bealach between Ben More & Stob Binnein is deep and steep

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Ben More is a fairly common, if somewhat, unromantic name among Scottish hills.

Just as the Gaelic provides many common names for Scottish hills, such as ‘rough’, ‘red’, ‘dun’, ‘yellow’ and ‘greyish green’, just to mention a few, so Ben More simply means Big Hill.

And Scottish Ben Mores do tend to be big hills; especially is that true of Crianlarich’s own specimen. In fact the hill, at 1174 metres, is the highest among her retinue of equally impressive hills; a day out here never disappoints.

Once, when coming down from a mist enshrouded Sgiath Chuill, across the Dochart Glen, I was mesmerised by the sight of Ben More, congealingapparition like, from her own wrap of cloud; like some mini Everest, she seemed, such was the magnifying effect of the fog.

Summer is a splendid time for Ben More. Along with her elegant neighbour, Stob Binnein, (The Anvil Peak), you can walk over fine satellite hills withnames like: Stob Coire an Lochain, named for a tiny body of water that you’lldiscover, as like as not, all but dry. And then there’s rocky Meall na Dige,(pronounced meowl na jeeka), alias The Hill of the Dyke. Homeward boundyou’ll undulate over Stob Creagach; there’s optional scrambling on her smallcrags. Then drop of for the woods once little Casteal Corrach (Castle of theSheep), is tucked below your belt. A magnificent day of big green hills andeven greener corries.

But after the recent, if somewhat fleeting, snow, a long day out was infeasible,the speed required to do that big round on a short winter’s day, seemed like overkill; Ben More and Stob Binnein would be ample.

As I gazed up at Ben More from the Crianlarich road, her upper slopes well plastered with snow, I thought of W. W. Naismith, dubbed ‘the father of Scottish mountaineering’. During the latter part of the nineteenth century he’d been a leading light of The Alpine Club. It was on climbing Ben More in winter conditions that he’d become convinced that our Scottish hills deserved as much respect as those in the Alps he’d cut his teeth on.

I’ve climbed these hills by various routes, each has its own merit; today I chose to go by that of my first ever visit, many years ago now. Coire Chaorach, cupped within the rim like walls of the aforementioned satellites, is a vast amphitheatre, and as already mentioned its summer livery is the best green suited to the sheep that give the bowl its name. That was not the case today though!

There’s limited car parking by the A85 near where a path plunges into the gloomy plantation; it’s wise to arrive early in order to avoid a longer road walk. This initial stage of the walk is tedious, I was glad at last to burst out into the open. I was greeted by blinding sunlight made all the more brilliant by the spectacle of the Corrie’s headwalls rearing up to the splendour of snow white summits.

There was no snow low down in the corrie. In some places the corrie floor itself is a sea of heather, a tough enough plod, followed by an equally tough climb onto the ridge of Sron nam Forsairean; it took a sweaty while.

But once on that stony ridge the going was a plain sailing roller coaster jaunt of minor steepenings and snow mired little outcrops. I knew that the view wouldbe growing stupendously behind me; it took all my will not to turn around; I didn’t want to see it till I reached the summit.

Instead I let my eyes wander down into the deepening corrie to my left, or over my right hand shoulder, to those other wonderful Crianlarich hills, no more than a stone’s throw away. Stob Garbh and shapely Cruach Ardrain, with their little Munro sister, Benin Tulaichean, my nearest neighbours, rose alp like and sparkling into a frosty morning sky of blue.

Ben More is a rocky summit, there’s ample shelter if you need it. Normally I would drop down into a cavern like rocky hollow; today, so choked with snow was it, and the breeze being mercifully light, I put my back against the nearest rock and had a warming cup of coffee.

Everywhere around me, no matter in which direction, hills and mountains rolled away like some vast white desert of snow dunes. It was spectacular! As I stared around the compass points I reminded myself that, in no matter which direction I gazed, every hill I saw, be they Corbetts or Munros, I’d stood atop them all. And far away in the north, higher than them all, I saw Ben Nevis.

The bealach between Ben More and Stob Binnein, is deep and steep. Getting under­way from just beyond the summit, come snow and ice, can be a tad tricky. The rock steps just beyond the summit were ice bound and any convenient hand holds choked with crystallised snow. With my crampons biting and my ice axe scraping I made the short but awkward descent; I’d sooner have done it in ascent!

Ahead of me the three hundred metres of Stob Binnein’s uniformly smooth southern slope looked formidable today. I crunched down into the bealach. Bealach­eadar­dha Beinn. It has a lovely ring, that name; its meaning is far less poetic: ‘The bealach between the two mountains’, seems a bit mundane to me!

On my first summer ascent of these hills, many years closer to my youthful days, I’d raced my brother to the top of this slope and Stob Binnein’s summit cairn, virtually tripping over frightened ptarmigan chicks as we went; we timed the climb at twenty three minutes. Although the ascent today was nothing if not straightforward, it took considerably longer. ( I blame the snow of course...ahem!).

With its small cairn, the flat wind swept summit, almost table like, was so different from the knobbly top of Ben More. But the views were every bit asfine. I lingered over another cuppa.

I’d climbed to this point a couple of winters ago, that time from Benmore Farm. The tedious slopes of Ben More from that side had seemed a lottougher, being long and uniform. That day, after standing at Stob Binnein’ssummit, I’d gone back to the bealach and then battled my way down to the waters of Benmore Burn. It had felt good to be enclosed by the huge walls of Ben More itself and, across the narrow glen, Stob Garbh. In spite of an unavoidable road walk of some three miles to end the day, I decided to make my return via that same route. Good snow underfoot made for excellent and rapid progress. I raced back down to the col and then dived off a little north of west. In a quiet white world I flew down Ben More’s westernmost slopes and made for the little black burn that threads through Benmore Glen. Once the snow thinned and eventually disappeared, I found the familiar path cum track and followed it down to the road for that long hour’s walk on tarmac. Kept company for most of the way by the peaceful waters of Loch Iubhair, with its gloomy ruined castle, the walk was by no means unpleasant.