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Ben Lui

Ben Lui.   Photo: Scott Muir

Ben Lui is without doubt one of the most iconic mountains in the Southern Highlands, and Central Gully is the obvious skier's challenge.  On a clear day, the amount of snow can be assessed from the car park at the head of Glen Cononish.

Although most come for Central Gully, the face at the head of Coire Gaothaich offers a number of potential lines.  In the right conditions, you can more or less ski anywhere on the face,

Approach

The best approach starts from the sizeable carpark at Dalrigh, from where bikes can be used on the track as far as NN 281 273.  It is also possible to cycle from the lower station at Tyndrum.  If on foot, there is a shorter approach from Glen Lochy, but there's a river and railway to negotiate, and it's less scenic than Glen Cononiish. 

Alternative lines

Other than those detailed, South-Central Gully (Grade I), which lies to skiers right of Central Gully, would be the most obvious feature.  The East facing Coire an t-Sneachda above the Allt Coire Laoigh, and the North facing Coire an Lochain look like they would offer more amenable descents.  Details of these 2 bowls can be found in Scottish Offpiste Skiing & Snowboarding: Glencoe

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South Gully is the most defined feature on the face, but as it terminates on the ridge some way below the summit, it doesn't see the attention it probably should.  It's actually 2 gullies running in parallel, separated by a shallow rib.   In ascent, the left hand line twists a little and is shorter; the right hand line is straighter and is the true line of the gully.

The left hand line (in ascent) cuts to the left towards the ridge line at the top via a narrow gully.  You are most likely to find a small bouldery cul-de-sac that requires a couple of metres scramble to get onto the ridge itself, although it's not improbable that enough snow would allow a complete snow covered ascent/descent.  If this was the case, you would be able to ski off the summit of Ben Lui some way into Coire an t-Sneachda, and then into Coire Gaothach via this line.   

The right hand line (in ascent) goes higher up the ridge, and is the true line of South Gully.  From below, it appears to end in a headwall, but there is a narrow gully on the right that may allow a way through and onto the ridge.  I 've not been to the top of this line, so you will need to check it out yourself!  I'd be interested to know if there is an exit onto the ridge above that allows a complete descent.

Looking up South Gully, showing the 2 possible options  Photo: Scott Muir
A zoom photo of the 2 options at the top of South Gully  Photo: Scott Muir
Descending the left hand options (in ascent) of South Gully from the ridge.  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking down South Gully, showing the shallow rib splitting the 2 descent lines.  Photo: Scott Muir
So near...  At the top of the left hand option (in ascent) of South Gully  Photo: Scott Muir
South Gully, late in the day, April 2015  Photo: Scott Muir
Various options in Coire Gaothach  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NN269264

Approximate Start Height: 1000m

Approximate Descent: 300m

General Aspect: Northeast

Climbing Grade: I

Notes:
 

The cornice can be problematic, but is usually avoidable directly below the summit or from some 50m (approx) towards the NW top (skier's left) at the lowest point between the two summits.

Directly below the summit itself, the upper face provides exhilarating skiing above steep rocky ground before reaching the narrow confines of the gully which requires a number of tighter more technical turns on slightly steeper ground than above. The angle then eases as the gully opens out onto the broad lower slopes which give delightful skiing to the floor of the corrie or as far as the snow extends.

A photo diagram showing the potentially possible lines on the face, as well as Central Gully  Photo: Scott Muir
In Central Gully, April 2015  Photo: Scott Muir
Setting off down Central Gully, April 2015  Photo: Scott Muir
Close up of the face, late April 2015  Photo: Scott Muir
In the short chute that cuts into Central Gully  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking across the face from the top of Central Gully, to Central Direct, and the Upper Snowfield (other side of the rocky outcrop)  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking across the Upper Snowfield to Central Gully.  Photo: Scott Muir
Coire Gaothaich, Ben Lui  Photo: Gary Hodgson - www.tarmachan-mountaineering.org.uk
Looking up the headwall of Coire Gaothaich  Photo: Scott Muir
The view from below the face.  Photo: Scott Muir
Various options in Coire Gaothach  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking up Central Gully  Photo: Gary Hodgson - www.tarmachan-mountaineering.org.uk
Grid Reference: NN266263

Approximate Start Height: 1130m

Approximate Descent: 400m

General Aspect: Northeast

Climbing Grade: I

Notes:
 

When cornice conditions allow, it's possible to descend more or less anywhere from the summit ridge down the headwall of Coire Gaothach.  This line descends from the East side of a rocky outcrop, straight down to a small rightward slanting chute into Central Gully about 100m down.

Various options in Coire Gaothach  Photo: Scott Muir
Close up of the face, late April 2015  Photo: Scott Muir
First turns on Central Direct.  Photo: Scott Muir
Heading for the short chute into Central Gully  Photo: Scott Muir
In the short chute that cuts into Central Gully  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking across the face from the top of Central Gully, to Central Direct, and the Upper Snowfield (other side of the rocky outcrop)  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking across the Upper Snowfield to Central Gully.  Photo: Scott Muir
Setting off down Central Direct  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NN265264

Approximate Start Height: 1120m

Approximate Descent: 350m

General Aspect: Northeast

Climbing Grade: I

Notes:
 

Marginally easier than Central Gully and Central Direct, the descent of the Upper Snowfield begins at the NW end of the summit ridge.  There are a couple of options:

  • head straight down, aiming for a wide gully to the left of a shallow snow arete, or
  • trend right to join the exit of Central Gully.  

The former is the most logical when standing at the top, and provides a great descent.  If the summit ridge is heavily corniced, then it is possible to traverse in a little way below, from the NNE ridge.

Various options in Coire Gaothach  Photo: Scott Muir
Close up of the face, late April 2015  Photo: Scott Muir
Heading for the shallow gully to the left of the snow arete.  Photo: Scott Muir
In the shallow gully left of the snow arete  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking across the face from the top of Central Gully, to Central Direct, and the Upper Snowfield (other side of the rocky outcrop)  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking across the Upper Snowfield to Central Gully.  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking down the Upper Snowfield  Photo: Scott Muir
Setting off down the Upper Snowfield  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NN265264

Approximate Start Height: 1110m

Approximate Descent: 350m

General Aspect: Northeast

Climbing Grade: I

Notes:
 

The descent of the North-North-East ridge of Ben Lui could be viewed as an easier alternative to the face above Coire Gaothaich.  The start of the descent is marked by a small cairn, just to the North of the North top of the summit ridge.  The NNE ridge clearly descends below you.  Dropping to the skiers right of the ridge would take you onto the Upper Snowfield of Coire Gaothaich.  Dropping to the skiers left of the ridge would take into the shallow, North facing Coire an Lochain (known as "Bluebird Bowl" in Scottish Offpiste Skiing & Boarding: Glencoe)

To locate the top of the gully, stay to the skiers left of the ridge, but reasonable close to it, picking your way through the rocks if not all snowcovered.  Be careful not to drop too far from the ridge into the corrie, as the gully you want to descend back into Coire Gaothaich could be easilly missed.  The top of the gully is at a small col.  Should you miss it, there is an easier descent beyond this back into the corrie, at another larger col below Stob Garbh.  Descend the short, but reasonably narrow gully back into the corrie.  The gully is also known as "Cononish Couloir" in Scottish Offpiste Skiing & Boarding: Glencoe.

Some of the descent is obscured by the NNE ridge of Stob Garbh  Photo: Scott Muir
Coire Gaothaich, Ben Lui  Photo: Gary Hodgson - www.tarmachan-mountaineering.org.uk
Descending the short gully from the NNE ridge.  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking up the headwall of Coire Gaothaich  Photo: Scott Muir
Various options in Coire Gaothach  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NN265265

Approximate Start Height: 1110m

Approximate Descent: 400m

General Aspect: Northwest (ridge), then East (gully)

Climbing Grade: I

Notes: Only the gully is Grade I
 
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