We had some fine April weather on Saturday – sunny, light winds and -1C on the summits – as we hiked round the Cruach Ardrain Stob Binnein horseshoe. It was a big day with 1,744m ascent and lots of steep ground.
Beinn Tulaichean, Cruach Ardrain and Stob Binnein are three of the ‘Crianlarich 7’, a group of seven munros in the Southern Highlands. Mostly these hills are climbed from the west and the A82, but my favourite way of climbing them is from the east, from Glen Lochay. Despite being very close to Stirling and the central belt this Glen has a remote and wild feel to it.
After only about 1km of flat walking from the car park, Isaac and I headed up the steep pathless slopes of Beinn Tulaichean. We were at the top in under 2 hrs and at the top of Cruach Ardrain in 2 hrs 30min. The air was cold and the visibility was great, seeing all the way to Mull and Jura.
All the way up our view was dominated by Ben More and Stob Binnein: the two big hills to the east of us. Having got the top of Cruach Ardrain in good time we decided to head over to Stob Binnein as well and end the day on its lovely southern ridge which would take us all the way back to the car – in a big horseshoe. So from the summit we went ‘off route’, down the very steep and rocky eastern slopes of Cruach Ardrain towards Stob Binnein.
The ‘middle ground’ of Scottish munros is the bit I like best. Down in the valley floor there are estate tracks and forestry plantations and up high on the summits there are cairns and paths, but in the ground that lies between paths often dissipate and fade away and the landscape takes on a wilder character. These small areas of wilderness in the ‘middle ground’ allow you to do lots of routefinding: where you read the lanscape and search for the most efficient line through the lochans, crags and boulderfields; following deer trails where they can be found and escaping from well-troden guide-book routes.
Having reached the col between Cruach Ardrain and Stob Binnein our next step was the 650m climb to the summit of Stob Binnein. We took a direct line, on steep slopes, all the way to the top – in about 1hr 10min. Our legs were sore after that we we were very glad to reach the summit, joining other walkers that had taken the standard route up from the col to the north.
Next we headed south and enjoyed the long ridge back to Glen Lochay. The ridge walk offers easy pleasant walking on gentle slopes until you reach the 700m contour line, where the ridge drops steeply to the floor of the glen. The ascent and descent of Stob Binnean along this ridge would make a fantastic hill race I reckon.
Looking at my photos at the end I had so many portraits of Stob Binnein. Like its neighbour Ben More, it’s one of biggest hills in Scotland (the 18th heighest!). We were pleased to have been drawn to its summit and make this unplanned but welcome ascent of it today.