The two Munros and a Corbett on the south side of Glen Lochay completed as a circuit from near Kennock Farm on a day of sunshine and showers
Date: 18 July 2020
Hills: Meall a' Churain (Munro Top), Sgiath Chuil (Munro), Beinn Cheathaich (Munro Top), Meall Glas (Munro), Beinn nan Imirean (Corbett)
Weather: Cold for July with a persistent westerly wind and showers on and off all day
Route: View on OS Maps
Back in March 2014 on a stormy weekend my friend Rich and I were defeated on an attempt to backpack around the Glen Lochay hills. After a tough slog up to the 900m point, white-out conditions on the final rocky ridge to the first Munro of Sgiath Chuil caused us to reconsider our options. We opted to retreat and descend from the bealach, seeking shelter in the glen. The strong wind never really dropped and after a very blustery night we walked back out to the car without having achieved our objectives.
In May 2015 I climbed Creag Mhor and Beinn Heasgarnich on the north side of Glen Lochay. Ben Challum had been combined with a neighbouring Corbett from Glen Dochart back in 2012. In terms of Munros this just left Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas on the south side of the glen. Accessible from either Lochay or Glen Dochart to the south I chose the former approach based on it being the weekend and the thought that the road through Glen Dochart was probably likely to be busier in these strange post-Covid times.
Glen Lochay was busy lower down with mild campers camped by their cars along the river. The parking area short of Kenknock was also busy at 10am but I managed to squeeze the car into a final space. The weather had been sunny through Stirling, Doune and Callander but had clouded over coming through Lochearnhead and Killin. The forecast was for a few showers but improving by lunchtime so I wasn’t too concerned...
I trundled down the road to the farm at Kenknock and took a left turn at the crossroads before the large hydro pipe to follow the zig-zag hydro road up the hillside. There was a gate and a stile (with dog gate) to negotiate and I caught a glimpse of deer in the woods. The views down Glen Lochay opened up with the distant hills shrouded in showers. Below me at the farm hundreds of sheep were being herded and it was fascinating to watch the ebb and flow of them as the dog got them all sorted out.
At the top of the road another stile (also with dog gate) took me onto the open hillside. I followed the burn, a faint path coming and going before crossing the river and making for the higher, drier ground as directly as I could. At this point the showers visible in the west found me and turned into fifteen minutes or so of cold rain blown horizontally by a strong wind. It wasn’t particularly pleasant and at this point I was all for getting to the first summit and then returning home! It certainly didn't feel like mid-July.
Thankfully the rain petered out and in the wind and occasional sun I soon dried out again. The hills north of the glen were capped with cloud but conditions were improving on the hills closer to me which was encouraging. The ridge was straightforward, with just a couple of steep grassy sections. I have been running and cycling throughout lockdown and my hill fitness seemed pretty good.
When I emerged at the summit of Meall a’ Churain, the 917m high Munro Top south of Sgiath Chuil, it was surprising how little time it had taken (about an hour from the top of the hydro pipe). Arriving here also coincided with a general improvement in the weather and it was quite sunny as I headed along the final broad ridge to the Munro summit, just 4m higher at 921m.
As I neared the Munro summit I could look back to the northeast and see the rocky ridge that Rich and I had been climbing in the whiteout. I think it was the right choice to turn back.
The wind was very strong on the summit and after taking some photos at the cairn I found a sheltered spot to have a quick snack. A couple of folk were coming up the final slopes from the Glen Dochart side. For ten or so minutes it was a little brighter and there were patchy blue skies off to the east over Meall Geordaidh and the Lawers Range.
The promising weather didn't hold and as I popped back up to the summit I could see more dark bands of showers blowing in from the west beyond Crianlarich.
The descent and re-ascent to reach the second Munro is notorious in bagging circles for both its steepness and total loss of height. From 921m you lose 300m down to the bealach below, all of which then has to be regained. I tried my best to find a reasonable way down, angling southwest on a loosely defined ridge. Just above some crags I picked up a quite well defined deer trod but sadly this led me to some very steep and unpleasant ground. Once down this though the slope started to ease and I made it to the bealach in one piece.
I’d studied the other side carefully as I descended and identified a promising route up to join the ridge to the north of Beinn Cheathaich, a Munro top at 937m high. By now another shower had passed through and blue sky once again appeared to the west. Now Sgiath Chuil had cloud curling around its summit.
The slopes of Beinn Cheathaich are rough but presented no technical difficulties. Only the very final pull up to the ridgeline was steep but it was soon over and the views opened back out. I could see down to the farm at Kenknock in Glen Lochay with Meall Geordaidh climbing behind it. The hills of Mamlorn were now clear of the earlier cloud.
The weather seemed much more cheerful at this point with the sun shining on me as I followed the broad ridge up to the summit of this Munro Top. It offers excellent views back across the low bealach to Sgiath Chuil and around a pleasing sweep of wide ridge to the Munro of Meall Glas. A couple of people could be seen but overall these hills seem fairly quiet and mostly overlooked.
With the clouds now breaking and sunshine streaming down I was hopeful that this was the promised improvement in the weather. I now had excellent views of all the hills surrounding Glen Lochay, from Ben Challum in the west to Beinn Hearsgarnich to the north.
The route from here followed a grassy ridge over a spot height at 908m and then up to the Munro summit of Meall Glas.
I descended the grassy slopes and made my way up to the spot height. The path bypasses this flat summit but it wasn't much of a diversion to reach it and there were some good views to the Crianlarich hills which were emerging as the showers moved away.
After this I rejoined the main path and headed up to Meal Glas. A couple passed me on their way back down and we briefly said hello. Unfortunately the weather closed in again and I found myself back in misty, rainy conditions as I made my way up to the Munro summit.
It was fairly dismal at the top, with the surrounding hills now hidden from view behind sweeping veils of cloud and rain. I stood at the top for a short time before hunkering down for a snack break. I spent a little bit of time pondering my route back to the car. The Corbett of Beinn nam Imrein was just to the west and didn't look too much further, and from the foot of its north ridge I would pick up a good track back down into Glen Lochay.
The weather didn't really improve and despite it being summer I was getting colder sitting around so I decided to make a move, leaving the summit and heading down the slopes of Meall Glas. Initially this took me back eastward to avoid some crags but once down the initial steepness I turned southwest and followed grassy slopes down towards the boggy looking land at the head of the Allt Glas.
On the way down it started to brighten up a little and I came across a delightful little tumbling waterfall.
The ground at the bottom proved less boggy than I feared and I was able to cut straight across to the broad southeastern ridge of Beinn nan Imirean. The initial climb was up grassy slopes which brought me to a shelf containing a wind blown lochan with views over to Ben More and its neighbours. The light was now improving to the west although there was definitely still a threat of showers. Behind me Meall Glas was revealed as a great dome of a hill, with the more elegantly shaped Sgiath Chuil beyond it.
It was now just a short way up to the summit of the Corbett. I arrived just as more showers were appearing over the Mamlorns. There was a good rock to shelter behind though and as it was still mid-afternoon I decided I could wait to see whether any better light blew in. This is a good location for views, with Ben Challum now very close in the west, and good views back over the other Glen Lochay hills I had traversed.
More showers blew in so I hunkered down, enjoying the last of my snacks. When it cleared up again there was some good light over the hills to the south and east.
The skies almost started to look summery at this point with fluffy white clouds in a blue sky. They provided a nice backdrop to the hills of Mamlorn. Over on Meall Glas I watched the last pair of walkers leave the summit and head back down towards Glen Dochard.
As time was advancing I finally got my things together and headed off. The good weather stuck with me briefly as I started the descent, now following the easy angled north ridge leading me down towards Glen Lochay.
As the slope reached a steep end I turned east into the side glen below Meall Glas. Heavy showers were once again sweeping over Mamlorn. I crossed over a small burn and then an area of tussock and bog to reach the top of the vehicle track marked on the OS 50k map. A huge herd of deer were grazing the slopes further east but didn't seem particularly perturbed by my presence.
It was now a simple case of following the track down to the River Lochay itself. There were good views to some waterfalls as the burn came tumbling down just to the west of the track. As I dropped into the glen the sun came out once again.
It was easy to ford the river at this point and soon I was on the main track through Glen Lochay that would eventually lead me back to the car.
Although the track through Glen Lochay is long, it is easy going and I started covering the distance quickly, especially as the conditions were good with the wind to my back. Ben Challum was picked out by the early evening sunshine and looked very dramatic as I got further down the glen.
I thought I was going to get back in the dry when suddenly the sky behind me darkened and yet another shower swept down the glen. I paused to don waterproofs before continuing the walk. Thankfully it petered out fairly quickly and I was soon looking up the long ridge to Sgiath Chuil where the walk had started a few hours previous.
I was now winding my way between sheep fields and then reached the crossroads and the short stretch of tarmac back to the car. It was a little after 6pm and I was the last car left in the parking area. I didn't hang around though as, in the shelter of the trees near the river, the midges soon found me.
Driving out was fine until I got to within a couple of miles of Killin where it was suddenly absolute carnage with mild campers setting up all along the riverbank. There were even people pitching giant marquee/tents half on the road! I was glad to make it out and on to the main road, enjoying a pleasant drive home in brighter evening conditions.