On the A82 road, on the approach to Tyndrum in the Southern Highlands, eyes are involuntarily drawn to the west, where a towering peak glares back down the length of Glen Cononish. This is Ben Lui: the Queen of Scottish Mountains. The drama of this scene is entirely due to its great northeastern Corrie Gaothaich and the two ridges that enclose it. This is the arena of classic winter climbs, as the deep corrie holds snow well into the Spring. From this direction Ben Lui has been said to look postively alpine.
However, it is a long 9km trek from Tyndrum to the foot of Lui, so its most popular route sneaks up and takes Ben Lui unawares from the back. On our day on Ben Lui, three of us had woken up in English cities, far from the majesty of the Highlands. The afternoon was already well established by the time we set off up the mountain together, so the quicker route from Glen Lochy was the obvious choice.
The route was not without its challenges: by the time we were ascending the satelite Munro of Beinn a'Chleibh we had already crossed a river, crawled under a railway line and ascended through a charming forest through not so charming boggy mud. Once atop Beinn a'Chleibh the real fun began as the views began to open up. The glorious Ben Cruachan massif catching the afternoon sun and the Arrochar Alps punching through the haze were obvious highlights.
However, it was Ben Lui's summit that provided a true slice of highland magic. Towering, airy and precipitous, it provided a dramatic seat from which to view the vastness of the Western Highlands. The Criachlarich group rose close by with Ben Oss in the foreground and to the north were all the mountains of Glen Etive, Glencoe and of course Ben Nevis, snow topped and resplendent.
We may have done Ben Lui from its less dramatic side but this was still a wonderful mountain day. I don't really need excuses to climb mountains such as these but a return to Ben Lui to tackle it from its more iconic side is a compelling one for the future, perhaps with my ice-axe and crampons...