Saturday, 30 April 2016

Glen Fruin Graham(s) Beinn Chaorach

Beinn Chaorach from the south

Saturday, 30 April 2016
Ascent:       798 metres
Distance:    10 kilometres
Time:          3 hours 7 minutes

Beinn Chaorach         714m   1hr 30mins
Balcnock                   693m   2hrs 13mins

Bank Holiday weekend and we had agreed a walk but after the snow of the past two days and a forecast of more rain/snow today we thought a shorter outing in the morning would be a suitable alternative to a long drive north to climb some remote munros. Gregor suggested some of the Grahams by Loch Lomond so we could start early and finish by lunchtime. I consulted the SMC Guide to the Grahams and thought that the two Grahams that lie north of Glen Fruin seemed a good pairing. We met at Lomond shores in Balloch at 8:30am to dump one of the cars and drive the 10 miles to the start of the walk in Glen Fruin.

There is parking for about 4 cars by the new bridge on the A817 at Ballevoulin. It is directly across the road from a gate that leads into a field that provides access to the obvious ridge that climbs northwards to Beinn Tharsuinn and on to Beinn Chaorach. I had left the map in my rucksack, which was in the boot of the car, and when I saw the profile of the hill and the parking place I assumed that we were 3 kilometres further along the road at Auchengaich and that the hill was Beinn a' Mhanaich, the hill I had intended to climb first. It was in fact Beinn Chaorach and for the first time in over 800 walks I had made the mistake of climbing the wrong hill. The similarity of the two hills with long north south ridges meant that it was only on the final ascent that I began to have doubts about our position. By this time conditions were too wild and the visibility very poor, so I didn't go to the bother of getting the map out.

The initial slopes were slightly boggy but the gradient allowed a steady pace whilst we discussed Gregor's excellent run (2hours 40mins) in the London Marathon last weekend. We were at 500 metres where the slopes tapered and it became a pleasant stroll along the ridge but storm clouds were gathering. We took the opportunity to get a few photos and then we were enveloped in a heavy snow shower and visibility dropped to less than 100 metres. We passed another walker and reached Beinn Tharsuinn. We could not see the summit and by this time we were having to negotiate pockets of deep snow. There was a further ascent of about 100 metres before we reached Beinn Chaorach (or Beinn a' Mhanaich as we thought) just as the low clouds began to scud away.

Ten minutes later it was a sunny morning with crystal clear visibility of the hills ahead and the Firth of Clyde behind. There was also a very clear view down to the Trident submarine base at Faslane on the Gare Loch. We were feeling pleased with our choice of hills as we retreated to Beinn Tharsuinn. The views were expanding all the time - towards Greenock, Gourock and then the peaks on the isle of Arran hove into view.

We began the drop to the bealach before the next climb to the impressive looking 693m top north of Balcnock. We were still walking under the illusion that we were climbing Beinn Chaorach although the drop to the bealach was not nearly as great as the map suggests. We were enjoying the walk too much and the views were splendid so why worry if the climb was a lot easier than expected, it usually works the other way round. We continued over the 693m top down to Balcnock by which time I was convinced we were not in the right place.

Whilst contemplating this I fell through a layer of fresh soft snow into a 4 feet hole of waterlogged peat, it took a few minutes to extricate myself. We found our way down the steep south westerly flank of the hill to the burn. What had happened to the reservoir? Well it was where it should be 2 kilometres to the north west. We could see the car and we had completed the round in little over 3 hours and felt very positive about the walk. I even found a patch of primroses, more than I had achieved in Knoydart last week. It was not yet 1pm when we reached Lomond shores after passing lots of army manoeuvres.  Gregor dropped me off and returned to Glasgow, I had a simple half hour drive to be home almost an hour ahead of schedule. Going up the wrong hills has some positives.

Summit trig point on Beinn Chaorach
Looking south west over the Firth of Clyde, Arran in far distance
Trident depot on Gare Loch
Descending Beinn Chaorach, Balcnock ahead 
Descending Beinn Chaorach
693m top and Balcnock
Looking north to Arrochar Alps
Final descent to Glen Fruin with Firth of Clyde in distance

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