Ben Lawers is the highest of the range of mountains dominating the skyline on the northern side of Loch Tay and Scotland’s tenth highest Munros. This, combined with surprisingly easy access and a location that places it within a couple of hours travelling of major centres of habitation, ensures that it is a firm favourite with hillwalkers. It is also an important place for botanists, and the wider area forms the Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve.
Geology has not been kind to Ben Lawers. At 3,983ft it falls just short of the magic 4,000ft mark. It had long thought to exceed 4,000ft, and when accurate measurement showed it fell short, a group of men spend one day in 1878 building a twenty-foot cairn designed to ensure it kept its head above 4,000ft. The cairn has not survived the passing years, and would not be counted towards the mountain's height even if it had. A shame, really.
The considerable size of these mountains can to some extent be offset by the lazy hillwalker. The usual starting point for the climb of the two is the car park to the west of the decidedly minor road that leads across the range to the western end of Glen Lyon. Note that this road is not kept open in winter. Anyone who hasn't visited in a few years can easily find themselves disoriented. There used to be a large car park (and a visitor centre) to the east of the road, but this has disappeared and the site is rapidly returning to nature.
The new car park is beautifully landscaped in a way that makes it nearly invisible from the road. The path leading out of its upper end passes through a simply stunning interpretive area in which a series of carved stones provide information and context for the surrounding landscape. We've not seen anything quite like it anywhere else, and it is worth travelling to see, even when you are not intending to wander further.
At a little over 400m the car park gives you a good start to the day; but bear in mind it also gives everyone else a good start to the day too. So start early and you can meet the crowds on your way back rather than being part of them on your way up.
The lower part of the path leads you up through lower Coire Odhar. Here you can catch just a glimpse of an alternative Scotland, for they have fenced out the sheep and you can see the dramatic difference in landscape and vegetation that was caused when landowners cleared their tenants across large parts of the Highlands and Islands to make room for these more lucrative inhabitants. Here, too, you can just see traces of the temporary habitation, or shielings, that used to dot so much of the landscape as the clans brought their cattle up to the higher pastures to graze in summer. Another aspect of a way of life that disappeared to make way for the all consuming sheep.
The main path then takes a right turn out of Coire Odhar and you are faced with the hardest pull of the day, up and onto Beinn Ghlas's south-west ridge. Beinn Ghlas itself is protected by some steep rocky stretches that have been excellently restored but require care in poor weather. The summit itself comes as something of a surprise: a sense of "is this it?" Identification is confirmed by the steep drops to the north, and the start of the descent towards Ben Lawers itself, which you see for the first time on gaining the summit of Beinn Ghlas.
The onward path is marked by a steady descent towards the comfortable col at a little under 1,000m, before a steeper ascent up Bel Lawers itself. This varies between well made but steep path and some quite badly eroded stretches, all of it interesting when you are looking up through billowing cloud into driving rain (which explains the absence of photos from the summit on this page!) The simplest return is by reversing the outward route, even though this involves some reascent of Beinn Ghlas.
There are other routes up Ben Lawers, but they tend to have a lower starting point, and parking on the main road along Loch Tay can be problematical. It is even possible to plot a route that takes in all seven of the Munros in this range (since the promotion of An Stuc in 1997), but it is a long day out, and only recommended for the really fit, ideally with two cars available to them.