Ben Vorlich is one of the most distinctive and visible of the Scottish munros, looking like a miniature Matterhorn overlooking the main routes from Glasgow and Stirling north-east towards Dundee (although I need to take a camera one day when driving to Glasgow and get a decent photo to prove it!). The summit peak dominates the western horizon from the Dunning and Forgandenny area of lower Strathearn, where I used to live, and can be seen clearly beyond Perth from Murrayshall, above Scone. Stuc a’ Chroin is there too, but less assertive: just a crinkly hilltop next to the pointy top of Ben Vorlich. In the winter and early spring, capped in white, it makes a fine Alpine sight.
There are good views of it (and Stuc a' Chroin) also if you are driving south from Killin to Lochearnhead (see photo opposite), and it looks impressive too from the North Loch Earn Road (A85) (photo on summary page). The other plus point is that there’s no long walk in – from the roadside at Ardvorlich you walk straight onto the hill. On the other hand, it’s not so easy to make it into a circular route, and the ascent and descent usually follow pretty much the same route (although you can skirt the top of Ben Vorlich on the way back from Stuc a Chroin, as we did).
My wife Maggie and I climbed Ben Vorlich a quarter of a century ago (what a thought!), when staying one summer in a caravan park near St Fillans, and I remember that last effort to get to the top on a warm day,
Three years ago I aimed to climb it again in very different wintry weather, with my brother-in-law Mike and a colleague from work, Denis. It's a good central peak to meet at, for hikers coming from the east and west coasts as we were.
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We met up at Ardvorlich, where cars can be parked on the roadside next to the south side of Loch Earn. The route is clear enough, past Ardvorlich farm and then onto a hill track which leads up onto the ridge of Ben Vorlich. From there it’s a steady but straightforward climb up the ridge to the top.
It was a dry day but overcast, with clouds blowing around the tops. The route takes you through farmland and into Glen Vorlich past a few trees which frame the view of Ben Vorlich on a clear day – we weren’t as fortunate. There isn’t much to be said about the climb, it’s a good clear track, rocky in places, but pretty safe and without any real exposure even though it goes along a pronounced ridge. The top is rocky, and on a clear day you’d have a superb view across Highlands and Lowlands. We just saw the inside of a cloud! There was some snow, but not too much - until the remarkable March of 2006 there hasn't been much snow on the Scottish mountains for the past few years.
After conquering Ben Vorlich fairly easily, we continued down the other side to the bealach and made our way towards Stuc a' Chroin. It wasn’t as easy a route as might be expected looking from a distance. The left-hand end of the mountain is a rocky buttress, with a steep climb up through the crags. The mountain top sloped down to the right, above a steep bank of grass and rocks, and there was wet snow lying on it and a cornice at the top.
We had ice axes, and it looked like the easiest route would lead up this slope and through the cornice. I don’t know why I thought that balancing at the top of a slippery slope, hacking a way through a cornice, would be a sensible and safe way onto the summit plateau, but that was my intention as I started climbing the slope. I soon found that the steep slope was a tricky one to get a grip on, with the wet snow slipping away underfoot on loose stones and grass. I worked slowly upwards, but felt a tremor of uncertainty. I could see the cornice hanging over the top of the slope, and tried to work out where I could cut a way through it.
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Mike spotted my difficulty. He had held back, and was thinking about a more direct route just to the right of the buttress, to the left of where I was climbing. He called up and talked me over, slowly, until I reached a faint track leading upwards. This was his intended route, and it turned out to be much better than my choice. With the help of the ice axe I soon recovered my confidence and the three of us climbed steadily up onto the top.
Mike and Denis were both walking with the help of poles – something which was unheard of when I started serious hillwalking in the 1970s, but which are now used by many walkers to give them extra stability and ease the impact on their knees. They also spread the effort between the legs and arms. I remember noticing lots of people using them in Austria when staying at Mayerhofen in 1994, before they became really popular in the UK. I wasn’t convinced, having been brought up without using such things, but I had a shot with one of the poles on this walk, and found it useful to steady myself on tricky bits of the descent. Maybe it would help to ease those aching legs that you tend to get when you haven’t been hillwalking for months (although you can end up with aching arms instead!).
We ticked off the summit of Stuc a' Chroin without any further difficulty, had a quick lunch on top, and made our way back down the same way to the col, then skirted around the west side of Ben Vorlich (on a recognised trail avoiding the steep climb back over the top) to rejoin the track down to Ardvorlich. It hadn’t been a classic walk, with the weather conditions and the difficult ascent of Stuc a' Chroin, but we had achieved our objectives. There can be a lot worse weather in the Scottish Highlands, and a lot more hazardous routes to follow.
You can get a bit spoilt if you’ve been lucky with the weather on several walks – however, unless you have the freedom to pick only sunny days for hiking, you have to take what you get at the weekends, and make the most of it. Just getting out in the fresh air on the hills is a great feeling, and it’s only really when it’s miserably wet all through the walk that you wonder why you bothered!
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Contributed by Andrew Llanwarne
Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin seen from the road down Glen Ogle from Killin in the spring
Mike coming down to the bealach from Ben Vorlich
And continuing downwards - Stuc a' Chroin in the mist
Mike and Denis down at the bealach - ready with the poles!
Looking up towards the buttress of Stuc a' Chroin
Made it after a tricky ascent
Traversing back from Stuc a' Chroin - you can just about make out the tricky slope with snow along the top
Around the western flank of Ben Vorlich - then heading down
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