Ulog 20: More Serious Bagging in Glen Etive!October 9, 2018
The weather has been so dreadful recently that it’s difficult to find a reasonably dry day for heading up to the mountains. But last Friday looked mostly dry with occasional bursts of sunshine, so I decided to return to Glen Etive and climb two more Munros: Ben Starav and Beinn nan Aighenan.
This was a big walk, which would take at least 10 hours. With the nights drawing in, and sunset at 6.45pm, I would need a very early start. I decided to camp in the glen – my first ever solo wildcamp!
I was hoping to reach Glen Etive before sunset, but I was so busy organising my gear and my food that it was almost 7pm before I left Glasgow! I would be pitching my tent in the dark.
During the long, dark drive up Loch Lomond, to Bridge of Orchy and Rannoch Moor, I felt increasingly nervous. Was I crazy, driving to a remote, dark spot to pitch my tent? At least I’d have the comfort of my car nearby!
I had to drive very slowly along the single-track Glen Etive road, as there are lots of deer in the area. I saw a couple of them by the roadside as I drove. People often camp by the roadside in this area in summer, but I saw no tents or campervans, even when I reached the car park for Ben Starav, 10 miles down the glen, which is usually jam-packed with cars at weekends.
I found a grassy spot at the edge of the car park, and pitched my tent, using my head torch and the interior lights of my car. I’d bought a very warm sleeping bag the day before, and the temperature was pretty cold, though nowhere near as cold as my previous wild camping trip, a thousand metres up on a mountain top!
The skies looked spectacularly dark and starry, with The Plough and the Milky Way prominent, but I felt too cold and tired to indulge in stargazing.
I was really tired, so it didn’t take me too long to fall asleep, despite the eerie sound of stags bellowing in the distance, and occasional owls. The loudest noise was the sound of fast-flowing rivers crashing down the mountainsides. It was louder than motorway traffic, but relaxing, so it didn’t disturb my sleep.
I told myself I would wake up at 6am, and I woke up at 6am on the dot. It was raining, and I had to cook my breakfast using the shelter of my car boot door.
I got my tent packed up and was ready to go by 7.40am. By then, the rain had stopped, and the sun was just starting to come up.
L-R: Beinn Maol Chaluim, Bidean nam Bian and Buachaille Etive Beag.
After a walk-in of about half an hour, I started to climb up the long, steep shoulder of Ben Starav. Luckily the rain stayed off, and when I stopped for breath, I was rewarded with beautiful views down Glen Etive.
Looking down on the top of Beinn Trilleachan, 839m, which I climbed earlier this summer, gave me an idea of my altitude. I could have checked my altitude on my GPS, but I like to try and hone my navigation skills!
The views over Glen Etive and Glencoe became more spectacular the higher I climbed.
A ptarmigan appeared. These birds are only seen at high altitudes, and they are experts at camouflage.
Can you spot the ptarmigan?
The climb was quite gruelling, even though I usually enjoy steep climbs. At last, the peaky summit ridge of Ben Starav came into view.
At this height, the mountains of Glencoe and Glen Etive looked like a scene from Lord of the Rings.
The summit peak looked very steep and foreboding!
Stob Coir’an Albannaich, one of the neighbouring mountains that I’d climbed the week before with my friend Karen, looked dramatic with its broad, steep sides.
Stob Coir’an Albannaich.
Beinn Trilleachan and Loch Etive below looked beautiful in the autumn morning light. It was a steep drop down to Loch Etive, so I stayed away from the edge!
As I got closer to the summit, the route got steeper and more precarious, with jaggy cliffs at the left and a sheer drop to the right. I’ve done many ridgewalks and a lot of rock scrambling, and I generally have a good head for heights, but I felt more unnerved by the steepness on this mountain than on any others I can remember.
Maybe it was because I was on my own, and there was no one else around. I even considered the possibility of going back if the climb got tougher. Usually terrain that looks like a knife-edge from a distance feels broader and more comfortable as you get closer to it, and this was the case on Ben Starav, though there were a few moments when I felt quite nervous and took an enormous amount of care!
The rocks near the summit didn’t look very stable from a distance. I felt as if I was approaching a delicately-balanced pile of rubble! But as I got closer to them, my confidence in their stability increased.
I was so relieved when the summit cairn finally came into view! Apart from anything else, I was quite exhausted! It was 11.35, so I’d been climbing for almost four hours.
Unfortunately just as I reached the summit, the clouds rolled in, so there were no summit views.
Walking along the summit ridge, which was much broader than the precarious approach to the summit, I did get one hazy view of the Etive hills.
The descent down the other side of the ridge was steep, but much easier than the way up. The first person I’d seen since the previous evening caught up with me, a fast walker who was also heading to Beinn nan Aighenan.
I was just starting to realise how tired I was. I had done an 11 mile canal walk two days earlier and an indoor climbing session two days before that. I suddenly felt as if I was starting to slow down. And I was starving! It was time for lunch.
I found a nice sunny spot at the bealach to sit down.
Ten minutes into my lunch, the sky suddenly darkened and a squally shower blew in. How annoying! Though it looked quite dramatic.
I got up wearily and continued on my way to the next Munro, Beinn nan Aighenan.
This was a much easier walk, but I took care because you’re much more likely to fall when you’re tired. I had to walk down a further 160m before the ascent started. “False summits” are common on mountains, when just as you think you’re getting to the top, another incline appears. Well, this mountain had a “false bealach”. Just as I thought I was starting to climb up, a deeper dip appeared, which was annoying as I knew I’d have to climb up even further.
In fact, I enjoyed the 340m climb, and it was much easier than I’d expected. There were lots of large, non-precarious boulders to scramble up, and fantastic views along the way.
Ben Starav looked milder and less foreboding when bathed in the afternoon sunshine.
There were beautiful views out to Loch Dochard, Loch Tulla and the Orchy hills to the east.
To the south west there were gorgeous views of Loch Awe and the Cruachan range.
I met the faster walker coming down Beinn nan Aighenan. He was on his way to do a third Munro, Glas Bheinn Mhor, one of the three Munros that me and Karen did the previous week.
Glas Bheinn Mhor.
The final 100m to the summit was a real slog, as I was so exhausted! Actually it was an easy climb with a good path – it was just my tiredness that was slowing me down. I kept having to stop and catch my breath! But it felt great to be getting closer to my goal, and also, despite my tiredness, this climb wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d expected.
The summit cairn was a beautiful sight!
The summit of Beinn nan Aighenan with the Cruachan range in the distance and Loch Awe to the right.
Some mountains you just bond with more than others, and this was one of them. I’ll be back to do this one again sometime.
Beinn nan Aighenan was Munro number 94 for me! I was really pleased, but too tired to show it.
I was treated to more spectacular views.
I didn’t stay long at the top, as there was a cold wind, which blew in my face as I made my way back down. It was not a pleasant descent, as intermittent squally hailstorms blew in, stinging my face. I was very happy to reach the bealach again.
Just as I started the 160m climb back up to the main ridge, I heard a particularly loud bellow from a stag, which must have been quite close. I’d heard distant bellows throughout the day, especially near the top of Ben Starav, as it’s the rutting season, when stags try to out-bellow each other in competition for the attention of female deer.
I managed to spot the stag, which was walking near the top of Glas Bheinn Mhor, the mountain directly above me. I got my video out – unfortunately I had to zoom in quite a lot, so the film is a bit shaky. But you can watch the stag as he walks slowly and majestically, turns and apparently spots me standing below, gives a warning bark, and then walks on, emitting a long, loud bellow.
What a fantastic day! I was extremely tired during the long walk back to my car, and I stopped on the way to eat the rest of my lunch. It was after 6pm when I got back to the car. I had intended to camp another night and then do the “Ring of Steall”, a round that takes in four Munros near Fort William, but I realised that I was far too tired.
I’m hoping to do the “Ring of Steall” this week, and Ben Nevis the next. But it all depends on the weather, and it’s forecast to be atrocious for most of this week, with very high winds at times. I won’t be taking any foolhardy risks.
So… watch this space!