Before the Lockdown Boredom - Ben Starav 5
On the 5th September 2020 travel restrictions allowed me to meet Andrew, Ross and Rosie at Victoria Bridge, drop off one car, and drive around to Glen Etive. The master plan was to traverse back across Ben Starav, Beinn nan Aighenan, Glas Bheinn Mhor, Stob Coir an Albannaich, Meall nan Eun, Stob Ghabhar, Stob a’Choire Odhair over the next two days. A master plan I had plotted out years ago, but never found a suitable time to implement.
We managed to successfully get parked at Victoria Bridge, and just managed to get parked in Glen Etive. It was a Saturday morning, the weather was good, you couldn’t go to Tenerife, so it seemed the majority of the west coast and beyond headed to Glen Etive.
With a slight sense of apprehension that the hills might be busier than normal we set off. The forecast was to be breezy, slightly overcast and with a constant threat of rain throughout the entire day.
Setting off for the first time in a long time!
As always, the first few hours act as a great catch-up and made the initial boggy section less frustrating. I had read somewhere prior to setting off that the bridge crossing the stream leading into the River Etive could be easily missed. Which we did by some distance as we found ourselves deep in conversation. Retracing our steps back through the bracken we found the bridge, which you can see why it is “missable”…
Would be easier to spot in reverse
Once across the bridge we stopped for a quick bite to eat before tackling the first real ascent up towards Ben Starav. We didn’t stop for long as the midges had tracked down our scent and were beginning to get annoying. But nowhere as annoying as being confined to the flat, so I promised I wouldn’t moan.
Andrew dealing with the midges
The route up towards Ben Starav was tough, probably tougher given the lack of recent hill fitness. No amount of struggling for breath or sweaty backpack syndrome would detract from the sheer relief to be back doing what had been missing for so many months!
The view up towards Ben Starav and down to Glen Etive were excellent
They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone – easy to see why.
We reached the summit of Ben Starav in relatively good time and thankfully had excellent visibility to see the planned route for the remainder of the day.
With the nervous excitement knowing we would be allowed out again I had spent slightly longer than usual studying the map, and when we reached the top I was instantly confident we were looking towards Beinn nan Aighenan, and it certainly looked closer on the OS map…
It was easy to see why the “normal” route of Ben Starav only includes Glas Bheinn Mhor. After double checking a bearing and confirming that it was indeed Beinn nan Aighenan, the one in the distance, we agreed we would just continue on as planned and see how we get on.
Glas Bheinn Mhor on the left, Beinn nan Aighenan on the right
Taking the ridge towards Stob Coire Dheirg with Glas Bheinn Mhor in the background
Some distinctive white rock formation (remember for reference in future picture)
As we were heading towards Beinn nan Aighenan, the rain that had been threating all day finally made an appearance. It wasn’t drastically heavy, but with a combination of the chilling wind, it was somewhat unpleasant. Full waterproofs were donned, and we just slogged up from the bealach in the solitude of our waterproof hoods.
We reached the summit of Beinn nan Aighenan just before 3pm, which was at least 90 minutes later than I had estimated. It wasn’t like we were stopping frequently or actively dilly-dallying, but my legs felt very heavy, and I was grateful we weren’t going any quicker.
In fact, I don’t think I could have gone much quicker.
From the summit of Beinn nan Aighenan with Loch Dochard and Loch Tulla
Thankfully for us the weather eased off by the time we were back on the “main route” and all of a sudden Glas Bheinn Mhor, once again looked achievable but it was now nearly 5pm so any plans to get beyond and towards Stob Coir’ an Albannaich or Meall nan Eun seemed drastically unrealistic.
Glas Bheinn Mhor in sight
The earlier mentioned white rock formation
We opted not to spend much time on the summit of Glas Bheinn Mhor and headed down to the 738m marker at Coire Dubh Learg Mheuran where we would try and find a suitable patch to pitch the tents.
Reaching the 738m before it was dark was a relief, but the ground was far from ideal – very saturated and spongy. Just when you would think you got a good soft pitch, you would begin to slowly see your boot sinking and the water rising. We eventually did manage to find something suitable after a bit of back and forth, got the tents up and settled down for the night.
I had gone through a spell over the last few years of ditching cooking anything and opting for cold peanut butter sandwiches, pork pies and anything that would last in the rucksack for a couple of days. You do save a bit of weight and space in the rucksack, but something hot to eat does give the mental boost and something to look forward to. Andrew and I cracked into some delightful Pork Stroganoff and were sound asleep before long.
We had a big day planned for the Sunday; one I was already quite apprehensive about completing. The alarm was set for 06:30 with the objective to be up walking by 07:30 on the dot.
There’s nothing I enjoy more than waking up high to clear views!
More warm food!
Looking south east
I often know quick early on in the day how well I am likely to get on, and it was deadly apparent making it back to Victoria Bridge as planned would take me to my limits. Unfortunately dropping low and heading back to Victoria Bridge, still left an extremely long walk along terrain I wasn’t confident would make for quick progress.
I started to drop some doubts with a suggestion that one of the most sensible options would be to go over Stob Coir’ an Albannaich onto Meall nan Eun and then down west into Glen Ceitlein – this would take us nearly right to our original start point.
Looking back towards Glas Bheinn Mhor, camp spot down bottom left
Beautiful early morning light
Approaching Stob Coir’ an Albannaich the clouds were wisping past, and it was beginning to look like an excellent day was brewing – a bit more sunshine, appreciated heat and less chilling winds. If memory serves me right it was a 40% chance of cloud free Munro summits on the Saturday and we had got 3/3, so approaching Stob Coir’ an Albannaich it looked promising to get 4/4.
Nearing summit 4
Throughout my first 180-odd Munros I had yet to get a full-scale proper cloud inversion – despite studying weather forecasts and chasing them the length and breadth of the country, I normally ended up being stuck in the cloud…
The views on the summit of Stob Coir’ an Albannaich were far from full-scale, but still impressive, peaceful and atmospheric. It was just after 08:30 on Sunday the 6th September 2020, and there was very few places I would rather be than here.
The route down to the 754m marker was steep but the route was relatively obvious. As it is currently the middle of April 2021 it has taken me over 7 months to get this Walk Report completed it would not be surprising to remember little to none of the conversations. However for this 15-20 minutes Andrew and I had one of the most in-depth conversations about fish cakes, and how they make the melt in the middle ones (do they pipe in the “juice”, or do they freeze it and wrap it up…).
Looking south east
Looking up to Meall Tarsuunn and Meall nan Eun
From the 754m marker it was easy going up to the summit of Meall nan Eun and by 10:30 we were at the 5th of the planned 7 Munros and were now at a key decision point. On the plus side, the weather was excellent, and visibility was promising in all directions.
From Meall nan Eun we could see along to Stob Ghabhar and Stob a’ Choire Odhair, and it’s safe to say they looked like a long distance away. We knew we would have to drop down to 632m and then it would be a brutal ascent up to Meall Odhar at 879m, then if we were to do the final two, it would be a long but straightforward ridge walk – which offered no easy bail out options.
Views from summit of Meal nan Eun
Here you can see the 632m and then the potential ascent up to 879m – tough!
The decision was agreed to make it to the 632m, stop for lunch and then make a group call.
Steep route down!
We reached the 632m marker at just after 11:30 so we definitely had time to include the final two, but I also had the 4 hour drive back to Aberdeen and work the next day to factor in, and Ross and Rosie had a train to catch. Thankfully the dreaded Mondays after some big weekends in the hills are far more appealing working from home…
The route down from Meal nan Eun was steep and tiring on the quads and knees, I was 50/50 on what decision we would make. I knew if it was just me and I was earlier on in my round of the Munros I would have 100% battered on all to get those numbers up (true “bagger”). It had been an excellent morning so far, and still a worthy walk even if we were to bail out down to Glen Ceitlein.
We quickly agreed that the route up to Meall Odhar would be brutal and that the sensible and most enjoyable option would be to ditch the last two, make our way back to Andrew’s car and drive back to mine. Although it would technically be another “failed plan”, it certainly the best decision.
Without the pressure of needing to “push on” we stayed at the 632m Lairig Dhochard and savoured lunch and the warm weather.
View for lunch
It would be about 4-5km back down to the car, the time pressure was firmly off, and the weather was astonishing.
We finished up our lunch and began the gentle descent down Glen Ceitlein following various streams gently flowing over the rock formations like some sort of winning garden feature from the Chelsea flower show.
Before long we reached what would form the main path if you were doing Meall nan Eun and Stob Coir an Albannaich from Glen Etive as a day walk. Although boggy in parts it offered a good route down until we would hit the Land Rover track at the bottom near the River Etive.
Reached the track
All that remained was for a quick swim in the River Etive just a few hundred meters away from the car. The perfect cool off from a great couple of days back out in the hills.
Not fully aware at the time, but this ended up being my last outing in the hills for just over 7 months – I am glad it was such a good trip and I look forward to getting back for the final two Munros in the “Black Mount 7”.
Thanks for reading.
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