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BEN NEVIS & LOCHABER

Ben Nevis, the Aonachs, The Grey Corries, The Mamores and the mountains surrounding Loch Treig are all covered in this section. They make up Lochaber with Fort William at their centre, one of the most spectacular areas which include the highest mountain in Britain.

There are 17 Top 500 Summits in the region, 24 Munros (15 included in the Ramsay round) and two Corbetts. The Top 500 Summits are listed below:

1   Ben Nevis                                       4,411 ft                        2   Aonach Beag                                  4,049 ft

3   Carn Mor Dearg                             4,003 ft                      4   Stob Choire Claurigh                     3,862ft

5   Binnein Mor                                   3,707 ft                       6   Stob Coire Easain                          3,658 ft

7   Sgurr a’ Mhaim                              3,606 ft                      8   Sgurr Choinnich Mor                    3,589 ft

9   Chno Dearg                                    3,435 ft                      10 Am Bodach                                    3,385 ft

11 Sgurr Eilde Mor                             3,314 ft                       12 Stob Ban (Mamores)                    3,280 ft

13 Stob Ban (Grey Corries)                3,205 ft                      14 Binnein Beag                                  3,094 ft

15 Beinn na Lap                                  3,068 ft                      16 Cruach Innse                                  2,812 ft

17 Sgurr Innse                                     2,654 ft

My two favourite walks in the area are:

1 The round of Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg starting at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel and finishing near Inverlochy Castle.

2 A circuit of the eastern Mamores from  Kinlochewe. This latter walk traverses seven Munros, four of which, including the recently promoted Am Bodach, are Top 500 Summits.

1. Ben Nevis

Distance 10 miles (16km), 5,000ft of climbing, 7 to 9 hours

The round of Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg starting at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel and finishing near Inverlochy Castle. 

Ben Nevis                 4,411 ft

Carn Mor Dearg     4,003 ft

Ben Nevis, affectionately known as the ‘Ben’, is the highest summit in Britain with the biggest cliffs and probably the worst weather. It is also a very special mountain, certainly one of the very best in Britain and Ireland, some would say the best. It attracts international alpinists to the winter climbing on its north side and hundreds of summer tourists intent on reaching the highest summit in Britain.

There are a number of climbing routes up the north face including Tower Ridge, one of the most sustained summer climbing and scrambling routes up any mountain in Britain. This walk takes in not only the top of Ben Nevis but also the superb high level traverse from Ben Nevis to Carn Mor Dearg.

North face of Ben Nevis
North face of Ben Nevis

With two cars start at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel and follow a path which climbs north east and soon reaches the substantial ‘Tourist Route’ path up Ben Nevis. This path climbs south east initially, then turns north east and Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe can be seen ahead. It is likely that you will see large numbers of walkers at this stage who will be following this path to the summit. When directly above and east of the lochan, the path turns sharply right and heads south. You are now at a height of just over 2,000ft.

From here the Tourist path continues south and then east to the summit of Ben Nevis. It follows a series of zig-zags and is, at times, fairly steep and stony but by plodding on, the summit is reached with its observatory and large cairns. If the day is clear the views are spectacular.

Looking west from the summit of Ben Nevis
Looking west from the summit of Ben Nevis

Descend south east on a stony path past marker posts, then turn north east along a fairly flat ridge. You are now on the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. In summer this is a straightforward ridge walk and difficulties can be avoided, but in winter conditions it is a serious undertaking for experienced climbers only. After 500 metres of relatively flat ridge walking the ridge turns north and ascends to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, another magnificent peak and the sixth highest in the Top 500 listing.

Descend the north ridge of Carn Mor Dearg over Carn Dearg Meadhonach, then the ridge turns more to the north west.  Continue until nearly the end of the ridge near Carn Beag Dearg, then descend north west to the Allt a’ Mhuillin. A path follows the east side of the stream, continue on this to the A82 near Inverlochy Castle.

Ramsay Round

In 1978 Charlie Ramsay climbed all the 3,000 ft mountains in this section when he completed 24 Munros in 24 hours. On that day he completed the round now know as Ramsay’s round in 23 hours 58 minutes, an incredible achievement given that it is a distance of 56 miles with 28,500 ft of climbing.

This is probably the hardest 24 hour fell running challenge in Britain, tougher even than the Bob Graham Round. The current record holder is Jasmin Paris, who completed the round in 16 hours 13 minutes.

Ben Nevis from Tower Ridge
Ben Nevis from Tower Ridge

2. Eastern Mamores from Kinlochleven

Distance 16 miles (26 km), 7,500 ft of climbing, 9 to 11 hours.

A circuit of the eastern Mamores from  Kinlochewe. This latter walk traverses seven Munros, four of which, including the recently promoted Am Bodach, are Top 500 Summits.

Binnein Mor                  3,707 ft

Am Bodach                     3,385 ft

Sgurr Eilde Mor            3,314 ft

Binnein Beag                 3,094 ft

It would be possible to traverse all the Mamores (11 Munros), starting at Glen Nevis and finishing at Kinlochleven, in one day. I have never done it and suspect some of the enjoyment would be lost as tiredness set in over the great peaks of Binnein Mor and Binnein Beag. Binnein Beag is a Top 500 Summit and deservedly so, but from the magnificent summit of Binnein Mor it looks like a pimple.

The Mamores is a fantastic ridge running west to east  just south of Ben Nevis. It does not drop below 2,700ft until you have traversed nine Munros including the highest summit, Binnein Mor.

The walk I have outlined below, which starts and finishes at Kinlochleven, goes over the following Munros; Sgurr Eilde Mor, Binnein Beag, Binnein Mor (the highest point at 3,707ft), Na Gruagaichean, An Gearanach (a diversion from the main ridge but a great peak), Stob Coire a’ Chairn and Am Bodach (recently promoted to Top 500 status). Sgurr Eilde Mor, Binnein Beag, Binnein Mor and Am Bodeach are all Top 500 Summits.

Park at Kinlochleven and walk just north of east along a track which joins a landrover track one kilometre west of Loch Eilde Mor. Turn left for a short distance then right to follow a stalkers track to the north end of the loch lying west of Sgurr Eilde Mor. Walk round to the north east end of the loch then climb 900ft up steep and boulder quartzite to the summit of Sgurr Eilde Mor.

Sgurr Eilde Mor from near Loch Eilde Mor
Sgurr Eilde Mor from near Loch Eilde Mor

Return to the north side of the loch and follow a path north which leads to the bealach between Binnein Beag and Binnein Mor. A 600ft climb north east up scree and boulders takes you to the summit of Binnein Beag. Return to the col and climb to the bottom of the ridge bounding the small north east corrie of Binnein Mor. The ridge can then be ascended to the summit of Binnein Mor. You are now on the main Mamores ridge. Descend south towards point 1062m then traverse round and head south west to the summit of Na Gruagaichean, a 300ft climb. Continue along the ridge in a north westerly direction to Stob Coire a’ Chairn.

From Stob Coire a’ Chairn divert north from the main ridge along a narrow ridge to the magnificent Munro of An Gearanach then return to Stob Coire a’ Chairn and continue south west on the main ridge to Am Bodach. From Am Bodach return to the bealach between it and Stob Coire a’ Chairn, then descend south east to the Allt Coire na Ba. A path on the east side of the stream takes you back to Kinlochleven.

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SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS

The Southern Highlands cover the mountainous area just north of the central belt in Scotland. The area stretches from Ben Lomond at the southern end to the Ben Lawers group in the north.

There are 58 Top 500 Summits. Of these 23 lie close to Loch Lomond and further west.

1   Ben Lui                                                 3,708ft                       2   Cruach Ardrain                                   3,432ft

3   Ben Oss                                                3,376ft                       4   Beinn Ime                                            3,318ft

5   An Caisteal                                          3,264ft                       6   Beinn Dubhchraig                              3,209ft

7   Ben Lomond                                       3,194ft                        8   Beinn Bhuidhe                                    3,111ft

9   Ben Vorlich                                          3,093ft                      10 Beinn Chabhair                                   3,061ft

11 Beinn Narnain                                     3,038f                        12 Ben Vane                                              3,004ft

13 Beinn an Lochain                                2,956ft                      14 The Cobbler                                         2,899ft

15 Beinn Chuirn                                       2,887ft                       16 Beinn Luibhean                                   2,815ft

17 Ben Donich                                          2,778ft                        18 Stob Coire Creagach                          2,680ft

19 The Brack                                            2,582ft                        20 Beinn Bheula                                       2,556ft

21 Beinn a’ Choin                                     2,525ft                        22 Meall an Fhudair                                2,508ft

23 Cnoc Coinnich                                     2,505ft

There are also a number of fantastic mountains in the area just below the height needed to reach the Top 500 list. These include Ben Venue and the Luss Hills.

Below are my favourite walks in the Southern Highlands

1. The Cobbler and Arrochar Alps

Beinn Ime            3,318ft

Beinn Narnain    3,038ft

The Cobbler        2,899ft

Beinn Luibhean  2,815ft

Summit of the Cobbler
Summit of the Cobbler

On a recent visit we started from the small car park at a bridge on the A83 (reference 243060), just over one mile south of the top of the Rest and Be Thankful pass. From here it is a short but steep climb up grassy slopes to the central and north peak of the Cobbler. We followed a path, at times disappearing, on the south side of the stream.  After just over one kilometre we climbed south east to reach the col between the north and centre peak of the Cobbler.

From the col we followed a good path to the centre peak and summit of the Cobbler. The highest point is the top of a large rock about 12ft high (see picture below). It is possible to ascend the rock by going through an obvious hole to its south side, then continue up an exposed ramp before a short final climb, not exposed, leads to the summit. This final climb should not be attempted without rock climbing experience and a good head for heights.

Arrochar Alps from Luss Hills
Arrochar Alps from Luss Hills

We returned to the col and carried on to the north peak, a short 100ft ascent without any of the difficulties of the Centre Peak, then descended to the Bealach a’ Mhaim, the central point for all four hills in this group. From here a good path led up Beinn Narnain, but it was starting to cloud over and we had no view from the summit. Beinn Ime was considered but the attractions of beer and dinner overcame us and we returned to the car.

There is, however, a very good path which leads to the summit of Beinn Ime, then the walk can be extended to include Beinn Luibhean, to give four top 500 summits in one day, two Munros and two Corbetts.

It is possible to complete the walk over these summits starting from the car park at the head of Loch Long. There is a path directly up the Cobbler from here but the total distance is longer.

2. Ben Lui Range

Ben Lui                       3,708ft

Ben Oss                      3,376ft

Beinn Dubhchraig    3,209ft

Beinn Dubhchraih from Ben Oss
Beinn Dubhchraih from Ben Oss (Courtesy Heather Thomas Smith)

This is an iconic walk up climbing three Munros and one of the great Scottish mountains, Ben Lui. It is best to start at Dalrigh climbing Beinn Dubhchraig then Ben Oss, and finally Ben Lui. The return route goes directly back to Dalrigh via Cononish.

To ascend Beinn Dubhchraig we crossed the bridge over the River Fillan near Dalrigh, then followed a rough road west to a bridge over the railway. We left the road and headed west crossing the Allt Choire Dubhchraig at a footbridge. After following the north west side of the burn through trees, we reached open hillside and climbed south west to the summit of Beinn Dubhchraig.

Ben Lui
Ben Lui (Courtesy Heather Thomas Smith)

The broad ridge is now followed over Ben Oss and onto Ben Lui. The final climb goes north up the south ridge of Ben Lui, 1,500 feet of climbing to the summit.

To descend to Dalrigh via Cononish it is possible to go over the north top and down the steep north north east ridge to Stob Garbh. From here descend south into Coire Gaithach then descend  north east to the Allt an Rund and the private road back to Dalrigh via Cononish. However, this route should only be attempted in clear conditions. An easier descent would be to return to the col between Ben Lui and Ben Oss then return to Cononish from there.

This walk is featured in Ken Wilson and Richard Gilbert’s excellent book ‘The Big Walks’. They recommend continuing over Beinn a’ Chleibh, a fourth Munro but not a Top 500 Summit and down to the A85 between Tyndrum and Dalmally. This is the best route if two cars are available.

3. Ben Lomond   3.194 feet

Ben Lomond from the Luss Hills
Ben Lomond from the Luss Hills

This section would not be complete without a comment on Ben Lomond, one of the best known and most climbed Munros, also the most southerly Munro.

To climb Ben Lomond, drive to the public car park just north of the Rowardennan Hotel. From the hotel a good path leads north east to the south ridge and continues north to the summit. The return route can be varied by continuing north west from the summit then south west to the summit of the Ptarmigan (2,400ft). From there descend south to Rowardennan.

4. The Luss Hills includes 4 Grahams

The Luss Hills in Autumn
The Luss Hills in Autumn

This walk includes no Top 500 Summits but is a classic hill walk over four Grahams from the beautiful tourist village of Luss.

Start from the centre of Luss and cross over the main A82 road by a footbridge.  Turn right over a stile onto open hillside. Follow a good path along a broad ridge to Beinn Dubh then on to Mid Hill, a Graham. On a clear day the views are magnificent. A steep 1,500ft descent then reascent heading west leads to Doune Hill, the highest point of the walk and only fifty feet shy of Top 500 status. The route then continues in more leisurely fashion south then west to Cruach an t-Sidhein before turning south east to go over Beinn Eich, the final Graham of the day.

5. Corbetts in the South

Ben Donich                2,778ft

The Brack                   2,582ft

Cnoc Coinnich           2,505ft

Ben Donich from near Rest and Be Thankful
Ben Donich from near Rest and Be Thankful

This walk takes you over three Top 500 Summits, all Corbetts, starting at the Rest and Be Thankful Pass and finishing at Lochgoilhead. Two cars are best to avoid a long walk back up the road to Rest and be Thankful. The walk has the advantage of adding Cnoc Coinnich to the normal Corbett round of Ben Donich and the Brack, avoiding a later trip to Cnoc Coinnich,  promoted to Corbett status in 2016.

Start at Rest and Be Thankful (high start point of 1,000ft). Ascend the north ridge to the summit of Ben Donich then descend east along a ridge to the Bealach Dubh-lic. From here a 1,300ft climb south east leads to the summit of the Brack. Descend south west to a bealach at 1,650ft and continue south to the summit of Cnoc Coinnich. From here descend north west then west to Lochgoilhead.