Friday, 8 July 2016

Arrochar Heptathlon

Arrochar Heptathlon

...dare you ascend?!

Distance = c.25 miles
Ascent = c.12000+ ft

The Arrochar Heptathlon is a fantastic circuit ticking off Arrochar's four Munros, plus A' Chrois, The Cobbler, and Beinn Chorranach, returning to Arrochar via Glen Loin.  

Legs of steel required.  Ascending Ben Vorlich as the final peak requires a strong will, but don't omit the ascent: you'll regret it if you do!  

The route should also be considered great training for any runner in prep for the likes of Leadville/WS 100/UTMB.


Video overview Here.



From The Cobbler/Loch Long car park:

(Original ascent route for Beinn Narnain, over Cruach nam Miseag (2667 ft))

1) Beinn Narnain (3038 ft)

(Creag Tharsuinn (2562 ft))

2) A' Chrois (2782 ft)

(Reascent of Beinn Narnain, followed by descent in direction of Beinn Ime)

3) The Cobbler (Centre Peak (2900 ft))

(North Peak (2828 ft))

4) Beinn Ime (3317 ft)

5) Beinn Chorranach (2913 ft)

(Descent from Glas Bhealach to Lag Uaine)

6) Ben Vane (3002 ft)

7) Ben Vorlich (3094 ft)

(Glen Loin - Succoth - car park)


Despite the mountainous nature of the circuit, the Arrochar Heptathlon isn't a 'serious' mountain run.

Strenuous, yes; serious, no (aside from the ascent of The Cobbler Centre Peak).

Paths & people abound; if you injure yourself, escape is simple/meeting other hill users very likely.

Possible Escape Points

It is worth being familiar with all possible escape points prior to running the route in the eventuality of having to abandon due to injury/weather etc.

A number of descents lead away from the starting point - but you will reach a public road.  Of course, where possible follow the route leading back to the car park - but keep others in mind 'just in case'.

From Beinn Narnain:

1) Descent of ascent path (i.e. 'original' path)
2) Descent to Narnain Boulders (small path in corrie descending from below the Spearhead)
3) Descent to Bealach a' Mhaim (many descents possible from the Bealach a' Mhaim; refer to Beinn Ime descents for details)

From A' Chrois:

1) Return to Beinn Narnain, from where any Narnain descent can be made
2) Descent from col between Narnain & Creag Tharsuinn into Coire Feorline

From The Cobbler:

1) Descent to Bealach a' Mhaim
2) Descent to Coire a' Bhalachain/Narnain Boulders
3) ESE descent to dam via An t-Sron

(descent can also be made to the climber's car park in Glen Croe)

From Beinn Ime:

1) Descent to Bealach a' Mhaim, from where descent can be made to:

1a) Narnain Boulders/car park
1b) Gleann Leacann Sheileach (relatively steep for a brief section of the descent; keep to the fence)
1c) Descent to climber's car park in Glen Croe

2) Descent to Glen Kinglas via Glas Bhealach

From Beinn Chorranach:

1) Descent to Glas Bhealach, then:

1a) Descent to Glen Kinglas
1b) Descent to the Lag Uaine, following the burn to reach the forestry road running alongside the Allt Coriegrogain

2) Reascend Beinn Ime, then descend as per Beinn Ime

From Ben Vane:

1) Descent of ascent line, returning to Lag Uaine
2) (preferable) Descent of hillwalker's path to reach forestry road

From Ben Vorlich:

1) Descent of ascent path (i.e. Lag Dubh approach)
2) Descent of Little Hills


General Pointers

1) Be sure to turn off early for the original path up Beinn Narnain.  It is reached very shortly after crossing the road from the car park/joining the main trail (small trail heading into the trees).  If you are running along the main track for more than a minute, you've missed it.

1b) Cut straight across the forestry road; don't turn L or R.

2) Beinn Narnain - A' Chrois can be confusing in mist (despite looking obvious on the map).  The distance between both is also likely further than you'd first imagine.

3) Beinn Narnain - A' Chrois has, at best, faint & intermittent traces of a path.  Don't waste too much time looking for a trail: just storm across (underfoot terrain is firm; grass is short).

4) Consider a short diversion out to the ENE peak of A' Chrois.  It's a great spot (on the route video you'll see a shot looking from the ENE peak back to the main summit of A' Chrois, with Beinn Narnain beyond). 

5) Ascending The Cobbler Centre Peak summit rock is a (mild) rock climb, and arguably the most difficult peak to reach on the UK mainland.

Running the route without the ascent of Centre Peak is perfectly acceptable, and still a very worthwhile day.  

If omitting Centre Peak, still run to the base of the summit rock.  Add a few minutes to your time for the ascent omission (if the route becomes established, the running community should decide on an appropriate time addition for omitting Centre Peak).

Best avoided when wet (mica-schist is glass-like when wet).  A number of deaths have occurred as a result of falls from the summit rock of Centre Peak.  

If ascending, take your pack off.

If you're a climber, there's nothing to it.  If you're not a climber but have good hill experience, it'll require steady nerves.  If you're a runner with little to no hill experience, it'll likely terrify due to the exposure.

Of the many thousands who ascend The Cobbler each year, only a very small percentage ascend the summit rock.  

Consult guidebooks/online articles etc with regard the ascent of Centre Peak.  However, as a very quick guide, the ascent can be summed up as follows:

  • Along the obvious wide ledge
  • 'Thread the needle' (i.e. through the hole in the rock, known as Argyll's Eyeglass)
  • Along the (exposed) ledge (be careful here)
  • Up the rock wall to the summit

If you're not the tallest, descent of the rock wall may prove tricky.  Technically it is more difficult on the way down.  Descend in a controlled manner; don't just 'let go' and hope for the best (the rock at the base of the wall slants toward the cliff)

6) Avoid the temptation to descend directly E from the summit of Beinn Chorranach; the E face is littered with crags (some very substantial); direct descent is potentially dangerous due to the very craggy nature of the E face.

Instead, retrace your steps to the Glas Bhealach, and carefully descend to the Lag Uaine (descend the grassy slopes; watch out for the ravine in the main burn).

7) Be sure to locate the ascent path for Ben Vorlich.  The easiest way to locate it is to look for the water trail running down the dam road (there's usually a water trail, with the exceptions being the warmest days/dry spells).  A small cairn also marks the beginning of the Ben Vorlich hill path.

8) The summit of Ben Vorlich is not the trig point; the true summit is slightly further N (NNE).  Be sure to visit the true summit (marked with a cairn).

9) If looking for a very fast time, consider running the route late in the season (i.e. October/November) when potential heat exhaustion/dehydration won't be an issue.  A cool day with high cloud & clear summits is ideal.  

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