East of Etive

Munros east of Glen Etive, 10-11 November 2018

A blog post from one of our mountain adventures in the Scottish hills and mountains. Two days of guided mountain hiking up Ben Starav and the neighbouring Munros east of Glen Etive. Steven Fallon and Johnny Walker were leading.

Munros east of Glen Etive

We were here for a couple of days over a cold November weekend - on our first day we would aim for mighty Ben Starav and Glas Bheinn Mor, with the option of adding Beinn nan Aighenan. On the second day, we were intending to hike to Stob Coir an Albannaich and Meall nan Eun. Johnny Walker was guiding both days, with Steven Fallon also joining on the Saturday as we had 8 people in the group on that day (we like to keep our group sizes small, therefore limit the number of people to a guide to 6).

Day 1 - Ben Starav and Glas Bheinn Mor (by Steven)

The imposing mountains east of Glen Etive thrust skywards from sea-level - there's a fair uphill slog just to get onto the crests and ridges. But the effort is truly worthwhile as views from the summits are quite breathtaking.

On Saturday and with the limited daylight at this time of year, an 8am start time was suggested in order maximise our chance of success of bagging the Munros. Some of our group arranged to meet at the top of the glen and car-share from there - though parking up here was proving awkward as a group of photographers had already taken most of the car parking places for their shoot of the sunrise.

Down at the meetup by Coileitir, with cars squeezed into gaps to minimise disturbance to passing traffic, we sorted ourselves out and had a chat about the day. Conditions were looking promising, much more benign than recent forecasts had suggested. Off we merrily went, hiking down the fine track. Around the houses of Coileitir on the squelcy 'path', we aimed to the bridge over the Allt Mheuran - pretty much in spate (some other folk kept to the north side of the burn and then tried to cross higher up - if only they'd seen the bridge on their map!) Once over, it's straight up the long northern shoulder of Ben Starav. You'll read in guidebooks and online about the continuous and everlasting trudge this takes, but in fine weather enjoying the views gradually expanding and with good company the time goes quickly and most enjoyably.

With several pauses, one where the group split into two (one half of the group would aim for all 3 Munros, the others just one or two of the peaks), we reached the summit of Ben Starav. Wow, what a view ! Cloud had mostly lifted, with sunrays streaming down on the distant peaks. I was leading the front part of the group, with Johnny on the back. We chatted about plans, the group's intention was to aim for Beinn nan Aighenan next, so off we trotted towards Ben Starav's easterly spur - Stob Coire Dheirg. This is a knarly little rock outcrop, which can be taken direct, or by-passed on the south side - we opted for the latter, keeping out of the breeze.

Down at the col below Ben Starav and it was time to take stock - aiming to Beinn nan Aighenan would mean we would be planning to walk out in the dark, whereas aiming over Glas Bheinn Mor should get us down before dark - either way we would only bag one of these Munros. If you're ever in this conundrum, I would always suggest to never 'plan' to walk out in the dark ! So sticking to this, our decision was therefore to aim for Glas Bheinn Mor and leave Beinn nan Aighenan for another day (hmm, a guided day from Glen Kinglass methinks ?). Johnny and the others caught up and we all fuelled up while taking in the panorama around Glen Etive towards Bidean nam Bian and beyond.

Having made our decision and now not needing to charge at lightening speed, we began our hike uphill, Johnny on the other hand was going to walk out with a few of the group at a more relaxed pace back to the cars. We enjoyed a lovely hike uphill on grass that took us over Meall nan Tri Tighearnan to Glas Bheinn Mor's summit. Much of the remaining cloud had lifted with Ben Cruachan to our south and Ben Nevis to the north both now clear - a game of 'name-that-peak' ensued. While we were chatting, I could see a couple of guys taking a very direct line north down into the glen below (I think it was those two earlier that didn't see the bridge on their map), negotiating outcrops and re-tracing steps - we wouldn't be taking this ! For us, time for some posing for the camera !

More delightful grassy terrain led to rougher stuff as we descended, and with everyone coping admirably, we were down to the col below Stob Coir an Albannaich (oh, it was so tempting to quickly hike up this). We picked up the path on the north side of the Allt Mheuran and followed it down, much slidding on the wet and boggy terrain ensued. Having had no rain today, the burns that had been flowing rapidly earlier, had eased somewhat and were now a doddle to cross - we were down pretty quickly, just as light was fading. A quick squelch around Coileitir in the twilight, followed by a wash of our boots in the last burn, we were back at the cars.

A fine day !

Day 2 - Meall nan Eun and Stob Coir an Albannaich (by Johnny)

We had had a really good day out on Saturday, sandwiched as the day was between much less pleasant weather on the Friday and Sunday. Friday had been a proper old lashing, heavy rain and strong winds continuing until dawn, but then Saturday we had calm, dry conditions all day. OK, it was really wet underfoot, but hey, it was Glen Etive. Saturday most of the group had done Ben Starav and Glas Bheinn Mhor, so Sunday's target was Meall nan Eun and Stob Coir an Albannaich. The forecast was for reasonable SW winds, but cloud over 700m, and rain most of the day, clearing in the afternoon. That was what it did, and it made for an interesting if bog-ridden day.

We met at the tiny pull-in opposite Coiletir, and carefully placed the cars so as to maximise space for others, yet leave us the opportunity to get out following an incident the previous day where it was proven that not all hill-goers are unselfish, (but the less said about that the better). We had a small, more bijou group than Saturday, but despite the rain, we were raring to go. I prefer to tackle the round clockwise, meaning you ascend the steep, craggy section on Meall nan Eun as well as the rib onto the ridge of Albannaich, so we took the track into Glen Ceitlein initially. It soon degrades to a wet trace, although there is now an unsightly badly bulldozed track up the east side of the burn that goes further than it used to, so we used that for a while.

It is an undeniable slog though, up wet grassy terrain interspersed with splendid ice-smoothed slabs of the grippiest granite that I love to walk up. Finally it brings you to the high bealach before the wonderfully named Coire nan Cmamh, where we picked our way up through the boulders and crags onto the plateau. After a pause for the Two Minutes Silence to remember our Fallen at 11am, we pressed on and directly onto the summit cairn. Unsurprising normally, but in the thick cloud, it is always pleasing to see a cairn looming out of the gloom, however confident you are.

The descent is easy in good visibility, down to a high bealach, over Beinn Tarsuinn, then down more slabby ground again. I needed a bearing, and as we arrived at the col, found a trace again, so I put my compass away. Wrong! Within minutes we lost it, but happy I was going in the right direction, we did another couple of minutes. Then the clues started to add up - The ground wasn't as steep as it should have been. The wind was coming from the wrong direction. It FELT wrong. I don't know how that latter ephemeral feeling happens, nor why exactly, but experience has taught me never to ignore it. Act. Another quick look at the compass and I knew we had started to arc back up the same hillside. So easily done on such complicated ground with a momentary loss of concentration. The detour probably cost us less than a score of metres and 5 minutes in total, but it was enough to pin me to my map and compass until the ground got easier again!

Indeed, the next challenge was to find the rib that leads up onto the SE ridge of Stob Coir an Albannaich, and this is notorious because it is the only safe way to gain it. We found it no problem of course, because I was not allowing myself to lose concentration this time. I like going up this rib, especially in winter conditions when it sports a nice cornice or two, but even on this dreich day it was fun. It spills you out on the ridge next to a tiny cairn that announces its presence, easy to see today for the chap descending, but in winter often a very real problem. Now it was just a case of turn right and follow your nose up the narrowing ridge to the fantastic cairned summit, perched on the edge of the dramatic 'Coire of the Scotsmen'. It was made spicier as it started to snow, and in the increased wind we had a brief taste of winter as we took our summit shots.

Again, the descent required a little compass work, as you have to do a dog-leg to avoid a wet broad gully and find the top of the stony path down to the pass at P738. It was made much easier though as the clouds lifted and we got some visibility, and the team couldn't believe that they had descended the opposite ridge the day before, foreshortened as it was and looking much steeper than reality.

There's not much to commend the descent path down the Allt Mheuran. It is a bog tramp par excellence, and was only ameliorated by some atmospheric views of the Caledonian pines, swathed in mist, and finally by an amazing sunset, the rays funnelled down Glen Etive setting the hillsides on fire. A great day out. Two hard-won munro ticks, and in better-than-guidebook time, so well done to the team.

More photos by Steven Fallon and Johnny Walker are here on Flickr.

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