Ben Lui at 3707 feet is a superb mountain in the southern Highlands of Scotland, at the head of Glen Fyne. It has five well-defined ridges radiating out from the summit. Four corries lie between the ridges; including Coire Gaothaich which lies on the northeast side of the mountain.
- W.H. Murray in his classic books Mountaineering and Undiscovered Scotland is a great read and there is a lovely piece on the Central Gully on Ben Lui.
Ben Lui has the classic shape of a fine mountain when viewed from Tyndrum. The two summits are linked by the short ridge running South. Ben Lui was the fore front in the birth of Scottish Winter climbing due to its easy access from Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Coire Goathach provides the finest Winter Climbing on Ben Lui, Central Gully being the classic Scottish Winter gully.
Start at the carpark at Dalrigh (344 290) follow the private track from there to Cononish Farm, if your lucky you may get a lift off the farmer. However it is a nice walk in with spectacular views into Coire Gaothach of Ben Lui permitting the cloudlevel is high. It is possible to cycle in as well. A path then starts from Cononish and heads West for 2km to the foot of Coire Gaothach. At this stage you will see the full face of Ben Lui with all relevant routes leading to the summit. Climb directly into the corrie using a path on the northwest side of the burn to the foot of Central Gully, the classic Scottish Winter climb on Ben Lui.
To me Ben Lui is a marvellous mountain in winter it is imposing. It has many fun classic lines on it and we explored it over the years. A classic way up is by the mountains Central Gully as W.H.Murray wrote about this and its beauty of this way up the mountain. It was one of the first gullies climbed in the early days of mountaineering.
It is a simple Gully of Alpine proportions and brings you right up near the summit. It was often climbed by the RAF MRT days along with the 4 Munros
In April 1991 a climber fell high on the West side of Central Gully. Killin MRT the local team were called out to assist, this is there area and they know the mountain well. The team can get access to Connish farm near the Gold mine and from here its a walk along the Glen and then up into the gully. This was a place they knew well as there have been many incidents in winter on this mountain. It can be avalanche prone and care has to be taken. The team asked for assistance and a RAF Wessex helicopter from Leuchars which was sent. As the helicopter was arriving it landed on the ridge and then the weather came in after recovering the casualty. The aircraft had now iced up and the engines could not be restarted. The weather had worsened and the aircraft batteries were now flat. This was the days before Night Vision Goggle (NVG). What happend next is an interesting tale.
Killin MRT now had a problem the helicopter and casualty were marooned on the ridge and had to recover the crew and the casualty the weather was getting worse. On arrival at the helicopter the decision was made to lower the stretcher with the casualty down the gully and take the 3 aircrew off the hill. That must have been an epic as the crew were wearing flying boots in these days. The belay was the helicopter and Killin did a great job getting all done safely and what a epic that would be in the dark. What was to be done with the helicopter.
The RAF MRT were summoned to guard the helicopter which was on the ridge drapped in ropes. To their amazement on arriving the helicopter was fine but had a parking ticket attached by the local Bobby the late Tom Gibbon on the windscreen.
The Wessex ground crew got the helicopter running and was flown off the mountain next day. I bet there were a few worried folk on that flight out?
A local Killin Team Member Trevor Hipkin wrote a lovely book called Taking the brighter path in 2012 and describes this incident in more detail. He mentions the RAF regiment that was the RAF Leuchars MRT. Well worth a read.
This wee piece is dedicated to Killin MRT, 22 Sqn and my pals Tom Gibbon and Ian Ramsay the local police sadly no longer with us.