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Ben Starav 1-2-3
by houdi » Sun May 15, 2011 12:09 am
Munros included on this walk: Beinn nan Aighenan, Ben Starav, Glas Bheinn Mhor
Date walked: 26/04/2011
Time taken: 8.5 hours
Distance: 20 km
Ascent: 1820mRegister or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Right, I’ve been meaning to do Ben Starav for some time but the big problem is the Glen Etive turning is towered over by you know what – yes, The Buachaille. Every time I get to that turning I look at the front face of Stob Dearg and Curved Ridge pulls me to it like a magnet. On a fine sunny morning like this it was even worse. I was in two minds right up until the turning itself, but I managed to resist and head down Glen Etive, still wondering if I’d done the right thing.
Glen Etive is magical. Everyone goes on about how stunning Glen Nevis is, and it is, but Etive takes some beating. Those massive hills hem you in on both sides and it’s even better on the return journey with the Glencoe giants looming in front of you. I’d had a look at the parking options via Google Earth’s ‘Street View’ which is totally amazing. It was as if I’d actually been there before and takes all the hassle out of finding out where to park and where the route begins. Mind you, I hadn’t banked on the ignorance of some people. The main parking pull-in area opposite the gate into Coileiter cottage has space for four vehicles, but some t**t in a campervan and another in a Ford Focus had parked in such a way that no one else could get in there. If that wasn’t bad enough at the very next pull-in, which has space for two vehicles, someone else had abandoned their Corsa diagonally across the two-car space preventing anyone else from parking there. Don’t know who you lot are but I wish I had taken photographs of your number-plates so that you could be named and shamed. You people are ignorant, selfish ******* (insert an expletive of your choice here, preferably one beginning with the letter ‘w’), especially as there is limited available parking in this part of the glen. Apologies if this comes across as a tad opinionated but it had to be said. It’s my northern upbringing, you know? Fortunately, the next pull-in was empty. Again, it was big enough for two vehicles and I pulled right over to one side to allow another car to park beside me. My actions were justified when I returned to my car at the end of my walk to find there was another car in that space. I congratulated myself on being a kind, considerate person and gave myself a big pat on the back. Not literally, obviously, as my arms aren’t long enough.
Starav is not easy to miss as it’s a real mammoth hill. The walk begins down the driveway leading to the cottage and if you look across to where the north ridge starts you can clearly see the path zig-zagging up the lower end of the ridge. The gravel road takes you over a bridge across the River Etive to the barred gate leading into the cottage where the path goes left over a couple of wooden duckboards (to avoid the quagmire) and follows the perimeter fence right around the grounds of the house. The next piece of advice is vital and should be followed for reasons which I will make clear in due course – DO NOT take any of the tempting shortcuts which head off left from the main path and look to be taking a shorter diagonal route to the start of the ridge. These are not shortcuts. Well, that’s not strictly true. They are shortcuts in name only, but they lead to very boggy ground – and I know because I was stupid enough to ignore all the good advice to stick with the main path. The problem with these ‘shortcuts’ is they are the latter part of the descent route down the valley of the Alt Mheuran. This river flows down from the bealach between Glas Bheinn Mohr and Stob Coir’ an Albannaich and the ‘shortcut’ route leaves you on the wrong side of the river for Starav. Not a problem after a decent dry spell as there are rocks and boulders everywhere to aid crossing at almost any point, but the Alt Mheuran is a succession of waterfalls and plunge pools and when the river is in flood it may not be possible. In any case, the bogtrot should be enough to deter anyone. Instead, stick to the main path. It follows the perimeter fence down to the banks of the River Etive. A nice stroll on a good dry path along the left hand side takes you to the point where the Alt Mheuran flows down from the hills to join the Etive. An even shorter stroll along its left bank brings you to two rickety wooden bridges in tandem. They don’t look safe, but they hold the key to gaining the right bank of the Alt Mheuran where a path leads up to the start of the north ridge of Ben Starav.
A little way up the ridge the main path continues straight on up the valley of the Alt nan Meirleach on Starav’s left flank. It leads to the bealach between Ben Starav and Glas Bheinn Mor, or at the foot of the minor top of Meall nan Tri Tighearnan to be precise which is on the slopes of Glas Bheinn Mor. This is the route to take if you are doing Glas Bheinn Mor on its own, Starav in a clockwise direction (not recommended as the north ridge would be an absolute beast to descend), Beinn nan Aighenan on its own, or Beinn nan Aighenan in conjunction with either of the other two (again clockwise for Starav). Take the right fork here which continues in an upwards direction, following the apex of the north ridge. Difficult to call it a path though as it is more like a dry bouldery water-course and, for all its popularity, the north ridge path is far from the best one I’ve encountered and at times is not particularly easy to follow. Higher up it picks its way through rocks (the way I like my paths) and becomes more of a scramble. Nothing too outrageous though, but it’s a tough physical slog with lots of false summits. At one point I came to what I thought must be the final top out only to be faced with a final five hundred foot mound of boulders (it looked more like a thousand feet) to the true summit. I’d been slogging it out non-stop for two hours by this time and I was convinced it was going to take at least another hour to get there. Awesome views of Starav’s twin tops from here though and the impressive Coire an Fhir-Leith still holding large patches of snow in its many sheltered recesses.
The climb was much quicker than I anticipated – barely half an hour. The path picks its way through the rocks on the outside of the Coire rim so if you loose it anywhere just head out to the outside. Its strange how a climb over a bare uninteresting path seems to go on forever, but a climb up rocks is over in no time. Picking a path up and over rocks gives you something to focus on, something to take your mind off the distance. Has anyone noticed how the rock turns pink when subjected to many boots? Its easy to stick to the path as you just have to follow the pink line. I’m no geologist so I haven’t got a ready explanation for this, but it doesn’t half come in handy.
A broken trig point heralds the summit with a cairn beyond. The trig point is (or was) one of those round ones which are a Scottish curiosity. Don’t know what happened to it but there’s only about a third of it left now. Some white fluffy clouds were starting to bubble up by this time to add some photographic ambience. It was a stunning day though with not a breath of wind. You could hear a pin drop on Starav’s summit – completely silent. No people either. Never saw a soul on Starav and I had the place completely to myself. They were missing a grand day.
I was totally gobsmacked by the views from Starav – possibly the best I’ve seen from any summit, apart from Ben Chonzie, of course, which is just the bestest Munro of all and my own particular favourite. And such amazing wildlife. I saw a Grizzly Bear there once. I was slightly disappointed by the poor views towards the Lawers Range from the summit of Ben Starav. This superlative range of hills can be viewed in their entirety from Ben Chonzie, however, along with many other fantastical hillworthy sights such as the peat hags of Creag na Uan and the interesting fence line to Carn Chois.
A short walk takes you to a minor top and then to the crowning glory of Starav – a rocky arête leading to its second top, Stob Coire Dheirg. It’s a scrambler’s delight although it rarely gets a mention. Ridiculous really seeing as its miles better than the disappointing Devil’s Ridge and the overrated Aonach Eagach on Stob Ghabar (thought I’d throw in an opinion here – feel free to disagree). There is a bypass path on the right for those who don’t fancy the rocky option, but there are restrictions. At the beginning of the bypass path there is a clear sign which reads ‘Girlies Only’ (please address all complaints to ‘The Editor, Walk The Highlands, etc….. ). After that, it’s a simple descent to the bealach below Glas Bheinn Mor, and time now to weigh up all the options.
A cairn at the bealach marks the descent path back down the Alt nan Meirlach for those who are doing Starav on its own or have simply ran out of steam. It’s a big mountain and tacking another Munro on to it requires a degree of fitness especially when you consider the following – adding Beinn nan Aighenan requires another eleven hundred feet of ascent, and adding Glas Bheinn Mor another thousand feet. This is on top of the 3600 feet you have already done to bag Starav. I was going for the three Munro option today but, looking at the other two, I knew it would be a hard day.
Beinn nan Aighenan stands aloof on its own to the east of Ben Starav with a low bealach well below the level of the Glas Bheinn Mor bealach. The path skirts around the base of Meall nan Tri Tighearnan and drops a height of almost 500 ft between the two bealachs, requiring a substantial ascent to gain Aighenan’s summit. It’s an enjoyable work-out though as the path picks its way up through rocks, including the odd scrambly bit and, for me at any rate, the summit came much quicker than I’d anticipated. This hill can also be bagged from Victoria Bridge but that looks like a monumental hike and a mountain bike is your best bet. Aighenan has a nice flat summit with a cairn and a few rocks nearby which act as a comfortable backrest. I have already mentioned it was a totally still day. It was so peaceful up there on Aighenan and I sat with my back to a rock enjoying my lunch with the most stunning of vistas. Gazing down the length of Loch Etive with the twin spires of Cruachan in front of me, I thought about all those people having lunch in posh restaurants all over Britain. Not one of them had a view like this.
I was almost in fell running mode and it took me only ten minutes to descend to the bealach. It took me slightly longer to retrace my steps back to the second bealach at Glas Bheinn Mor. After negotiating the intial bump of Tri Tighhearnan it’s a real gruelling plod up to the summit of Glas Bheinn Mor, my third Munro of the day. This side of the hill is quite bare – just a big lump really. It needs something of interest like……. yeah, that’s it, it needs a fence line. All the best Munros have fence lines. Helps to add a bit character. A young couple passed me coming down from the summit. My first sign of human life all day. They were dressed up like A-list ski celebrities with cool ski shades and everything. Bit over the top for Glen Etive in April but each to their own. Nice views of Starav from the top and the first summit of the day I didn’t have all to myself. Several elderly hillwalkers had come up from the Alt Mhueran to bag this hill on its own. I recall them saying they were going back to visit ‘The Scotsman’ but I haven’t a clue if that’s a pub or some local landmark, but then I probably misheard them.
As is usually the case, the north side of Glas Bheinn Mor is its best side. It’s a nice jaunt along a ridge before the rocky drop (some scrambling required) to the bealach between this hill and Albannaich. I’d looked across at the next Munro in line from the summit of Glas Bheinn Mor but I hadn’t the energy to do more than three that day. I have pretty high fitness levels but I hadn’t done enough big hill walks yet to tackle that sort of challenge. By the end of the week I might have managed it, but I have the greatest admiration for those people who do the Starav 5. Now that requires some heavy duty stamina. Time wasn’t on my side either. When I returned to the car I had been on the hills eight and a half hours. Another two Munros would have added three or four hours to this and I still had to drive back to Fife. No, I was happy with three.
The walk down the Alt Mhueran valley turned out to be one of the most pleasant descent routes I have come across. Some nice waterfalls as well. Of course this route takes you back across that boggy shortcut I mentioned at the start. Not for me though. I diverted to the Alt Mhueran and crossed over it to tie up with the ascent path, going back over the two rickety wooden bridges and along the River Etive back to the cottage at Coileiter, the route I should have followed in the first place.
A very tough day, no getting away from it, but definitely worth it. Starav is a real corker and goes straight into my faves list. It has everything a top hill should have – plenty of rock, awesome corries, a classy arête, and stunning views. No Grizzly Bears though. Can’t have everything, I suppose.
by SouthernUplandKing » Sun May 15, 2011 1:25 am
- Munro compleatist
- Posts: 580
- Joined: Mar 1, 2011
- Location: Broadford Skye
by Graeme D » Sun May 15, 2011 9:41 am
houdi wrote:Let me start by saying that none of this report is an expression of an opinion on what I think about the hills concerned or any other hill for that matter.
If you say so. Looks like a fantastic day out and brings back "Fond memories of Stavros" for me, even if the report was a little heavy on sarcasm for my liking. Hey ho, just a personal thing.
by skuk007 » Sun May 15, 2011 7:43 pm
by houdi » Sun May 15, 2011 8:05 pm
by yokehead » Sun May 15, 2011 8:22 pm
So sorry that you missed out on a bear encounter in Etive. Better luck next time.
Sarcasm? What sarcasm?
by houdi » Sun May 15, 2011 8:37 pm
by ChrisW » Sun May 15, 2011 8:50 pm
by Holly » Sun May 15, 2011 8:58 pm
The bear (by the way) is in the Inverarnan to the best of my knowledge??
by rockhopper » Sun May 15, 2011 8:59 pm
by houdi » Sun May 15, 2011 9:05 pm
Thanks holly. Enjoy Starav and watch out for those Grizzlies
Good on you rockhopper. You won't be disappointed - great part of the world to be in.
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