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Round of 5 in Glen Etive

Round of 5 in Glen Etive


Postby J888ohn » Thu Sep 10, 2015 11:16 am

Route description: Ben Starav and Glas Bheinn Mhor

Munros included on this walk: Beinn nan Aighenan, Ben Starav, Glas Bheinn Mhor, Meall nan Eun, Stob Coir an Albannaich

Date walked: 08/09/2015

Time taken: 10.75 hours

Distance: 27.36 km

Ascent: 2247m

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Finally some good weather, finally some annual leave and, with the wife confirming she had plans for Tuesday evening no rush to be home so time to plan yet another multiple munro day.

I believe Walk Highlands describe this route and a "huge challenge." Challenge accepted! Ben Starav had been on my radar for a while as it's such a big hulk of a mountain it was just calling me to have a go at it. Glas Bheinn Mhor is the traditional ally of Starav but having looked at the maps I thought what was the point in walking past Beinn nan Aighenan when I was already up on the bealach so I might as well detour to it. In true Me style I then looked at Stob Coir an Albannaich and Meall nan Eun and thought since they are right next door it would be rude not to, and if all else failed there was a get out after Mhor or even dropping off of Albannaich if I was knackered.

I conservatively guestimated this would take a minimum of 9 hours to complete, more likely 10 to 11 so along with the 2 1/2 hour drive from Bonnybridge to Glen Etive and back was looking at a 14 hour day at least. For once I was organised and prepared the kit the night before. I'd been barred from taking Mountain Mutt in case he got injured as he was due to race at the weekend so that was one less thing to worry about. Rolled out of bed for 5.30am and set off at 6.30am (I honestly don't know what takes me so long in the mornings :lol: ). The traffic was light so made it to the rough parking at the start of the walk in just under 2 hours. The parking is north west of Coileitar about where the number 34 is on the Glen Etive road in the OS map. Plenty of room for a few cars but there was a strange little cairn in the middle of it. I parked up and as I was getting ready looked at this. Unbelievably someone had taken a dump in the middle of the car park! :evil: Not like there isn't enough bushes around! I'd read about the destruction of Glen Etive online and couldn't quite believe what I was seeing. What a lazy b*****d!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyway, I was about to set off on yet another solo adventure when another car pulled up and Ian and Alan from Cumnock arrived. We had a chat and they were going for Starav, Aighenan and Mhor so it made sense for us to walk together.

Set off down the path towards the footbridge over the river then swung a right and headed for Starav. It was a cracking day, cold start but not a cloud in the sky. I couldn't wait to get up high to see the views :)

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Ben Starav in the morning


The path up has changed from the route description and the GPS. Just about at Coileitir we met a big fence with a sign saying "please respect our privacy and follow the other path" or words to that effect. Access code rights???? So had to follow a boggy slippy overgrown path along the base of the deer fence which runs uphill from Coileitir to where it meets the Allt nam Meirleach at the 50m contour line. Yet again I'd decided against gaiters, yet again this was the wrong decision. I then had a comedy fall and landed square on my backside in the mud. Wet pants are not fun! Thank god it was sunny and they eventually dried out.

No ford or bridge at the Allt so we had to choose our crossing. Lots of slippy rocks here and would definitely be a difficult one to cross after heavy rain. Once on the other side of the Allt the path winds up the broad grassy slope, boggy at first but soon dries out to a good, stony path. Seemed to take ages and a check of the GPS showed we were only at 275m. Forgot we had set off from just about sea level, however with views like this there was no rush.

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Glencoe summits from side of Starav


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Cloud whisping over the bealach between Starav and Mhor


Eventually the path flattens out (briefly) and gave us a view of the rocky summit of Starav.

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Summit of Ben Starav


From here in the walk gets steeper and it's a boulder field the rest of the way. The path is on and off due to the size of the boulders and the steepness. I was glad Mountain Mutt was at home. The rock is very grainy which is great for grip (in the dry at least) but would probably really hurt his paws. Lots of gaps for him to trap a leg in too. Made the summit in about 2 3/4 hours and the views were amazing. To the north and west it was crystal clear with views down Loch Etive and all the way over Glencoe to Ben Nevis and the Grey Corries. To the south was cloud inversion with Ben Lui in particular cutting through it like a knife.

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View south


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West down Loch Etive


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Glencoe


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Cruachan horseshoe


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Ben Lui


We had a break here to enjoy the views but the wind whipped up and was cold considering the clear, sunny day so we made our way down the obvious path along the ridge which horseshoes off to the left then drops to the bealach. Along the way is a rocky narrow ridge. I think we were too busy talking and ended up on it without realising. It's not anything challenging but was slowing our progress and we noticed a bypass path so dropped down to that. Once off of the minor top of Stob Coire Dheirg at the end of the horseshoe we got a full view of the route to Aighenan. The path from the car park follows the side of the Allt nam Meirleach, cuts the bealach at it's lowest point and continues to Aighenan.

P1020425 (640x480).jpg
Beinn nan Aighenan


I'm not going to lie, it's a fair detour, over 2km from the bealach to the summit according to my GPS recording but then why walk past it when you can walk up it? :lol: Alan suggested we dump the packs to save our legs a bit. Good idea, except half way up I realised I'd left my camera in the bag :roll: It's not a John trip without some sort of mishap! The path up Aighenan is good but steep in places. The summit is quite large and the view down Loch Etive is awesome. I got a good view of my proposed route with the next 3 summits in view. Here they looked quite close together. it was now 2.20pm. I thought sunset would be about 7.30pm but may be darker earlier in the corries. 5 hours for a descent plus 3 further ascents, definitely dooable, the only thing that could let me down was my legs.

We followed the same route down Aighenan and recovered the packs. I was really thirsty by now and got to admit I'm not a fan of leaving my bag and supplies behind. It did make the ascent easier but did it save my muscles and what about fatigue from the thirst???? Who knows. It was baking hot in this low point with no wind so we ate and drank then set off again. Things went a little off piste here as to walk back to the bealach on the path took us a bit away from summit number 3, Glas Bheinn Mhor. We decided to take a route north east up the steep grassy slopes and picked our way through the exposed rocks. Again I'm not sure if this saved much time / effort but did save on distance a bit (approx 400m according to the GPS). Once we were on the ridge again it was a simple task of following the good rocky path to the summit of Mhor, felt like the less steep of the 3. Now I had a great view to my next targets, Albannaich and Eun. They didn't look too far away but the descent to Learg Mheuran looked huge! :shock:

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View from summit of Mhor to Aighenan and to the south west


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Looking back to Starav


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The drop then ascent to Albannaich, Eun is the little lump in the middle


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Munro baggers heaven in one pic.


It was 3.30pm. Alan and Ian had made their targets so I thanked them for their company (two really nice guys :D ) and had made up my mind to go for the 5. If I could make the ascent up to Albannaich that was as high as I needed to go for the rest of the day, if that ended me I could retrace my steps back to Learg Mheuran and take the traditional way out. I motored on as I was conscious of daylight time now. The descent is steep and rocky and as I was rushing I was being clumsy. Time to slow down a bit and concentrate. Again it was this grippy rock however where the rock had worn there was a light, almost invisible sand on it which made them incredibly slippy! Fortunately as I descended I noticed an ascent path up from the low point towards Albannaich. This was the usual route up so no need to go off piste again. The descent from Mhor crossed the Allt Mheiran and immediately there is a junction for going back to the car or going back up the other side.

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View back to Mhor


P1020431 (640x480).jpg
Closer view of the ascent up Albannaich


I started the ascent and before long had to go for my poles. I needed all the help I could get. The steep bit actually didn't take that long and I was on a flatish grassy shoulder. Looked like I had two options, a route one attack up the steep slope to the summit or take a detour north as the GPS was suggesting then turn west-ish up the less steep ascent. By this stage of the day route one was not an option, apparently neither was a path. There is just a flat, wide expanse of grass, gravel and rock that slopes gently upwards. I stayed roughly on the GPS track then swung a right up the gentler slope to the summit. Again no path so I just started setting targets of groupings of boulders to aim for. The summit cairn is very strange! It's like a rounded seat with a small collection of stones piled up to make the back. A very welcome seat at this stage and again the views were stunning, particularly north over Glencoe towards Nevis. The wind had died down so it was very comfortable sitting here recovering, taking on some fuel and enjoying the view.

P1020436 (640x480).jpg
Summit seat with a view


P1020432 (640x480).jpg
Looking back to the previous 3


P1020433 (640x480).jpg
Can't get enough of this view!


It was now 4.30pm. I could seen Eun over Meall Tarsuinn and estimated that was another hour away. Plenty of time then and the body was still willing(ish). :lol: The descent off of Albannaich looked rather steep and I was questioning the wisdom of the GPS directing me south eaterly off of the summit towards the drop! I followed and came across this handy route marking cairn.

P1020437 (640x480).jpg
Meall nan Eun behind Meall Tarsuinn


P1020438 (640x480).jpg
Very handy cairn


Took a sharp left here and descended northwards into the dip between Albannaich and Tarsuinn. Again this was a lot of navigation over great slabs of rock, again some had that fine sand on them and I lost both my footings and had a not so comedy slide with arms and legs going everywhere. :shock: Luckily I kept on my feet or that could've been my first trip in a Sea King! Given that I hadn't seen another person apart from Alan and Ian all day and was now very alone out here that would not have been a good situation. Once down in the dip it was eerily quiet. One of the strangest sensations I've had in the mountains. It was perfectly calm, not a drop of wind, no noise from nature or planes overhead. It definitely made me feel very small in a big environment.

Up and over Tarsuinn didn't take long but was one ascent and decent I could've done without. I'd looked for a bypass route as again there wasn't much of a path but the southern slope looked steeper than just going up and over so that's what I did. There wasn't much of a drop between Tarsuinn and Eun but again pathless terrain so I just went for route 1 up Eun. It's not too steep and I was walking in a slight diagonal to the east up the slope but this is a rounded hill and every time I approached the horizon thinking it was the summit another bit of the hill came into view. Talk about demoralising! :( I did make the summit in an hour from Albannaich. It's a wide flat summit with a good cairn on top. The sun was now getting low towards the munros behind me. Light in the glen on the way down could become an issue so I took a few pics and headed north west off of the summit following the GPS and the on and off path.

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Looking over Stob Ghabhar to Bridge of Orchy


P1020441 (640x480).jpg
Sun getting low


This path doesn't last for long and I ended up, either through my own navigational error or just this is the terrain to be tackled, at the top of a steep series of rock steps down into Glen Ceitlein. After my previous slips I made sure not to go down the steepest ones and even slid down a few on my backside, which I would later discover wore out the arse of my only pair of walking trousers! Doh! :roll: Once down this I was just wading through knee high grass with boggy ground underneath. I didn't need this. I was tired, I was suddenly quite aware of how far away the car was and I just wanted a good bit of ground to make progress along.

Apparently I've reached my maximum amount of attachments to this report so you'll have to settle for words and I'll attach the rest of the photos in a comment afterwards........

Eventually I found a path of sorts. The grass had been pushed over and was quite distinctive from the rest of the landscape. It was a good distance off the GPS but I didn't care. It was heading into the glen towards the Allt Ceitlein where I knew from the map there was at least a path from the structures up river from the fords. I followed this and despite it being very boggy underfoot it widens into a very good path along the side of the river, much further up into the glen than on the map. I'd lost most of my altitude in the descent down the rocks and long grass so it was time to get a march on! The sun was disappearing round the corner of Beinn Chaorach and with no wind and boggy ground that meant the inevitable insect attack began. I was thankful for my hat and a quick pace which meant I was relatively unmolested. I stopped once to retrieve my water bottle as my 3 litre platypus was dry and got attacked so gave up and kept walking. Once past the ruins the path becomes a land rover track, turns left to follow the southern bank of the River Etive and brought me back to the original bridge I'd crossed just after 8.30am this morning. It was now just after 7pm. The sun was setting and lit up Starav and the Glencoe peaks very beautifully. At the bridge the midges seemed to be away so I got a few pics then walked up to the car.

10hrs 43 mins later I had returned to the start, knackered but very pleased with my efforts. The huge challenge had been conquered, I was getting treated to a spectacular sunset (I had considered staying on the summit of Eun for it but couldn't be bothered waiting there for 2 hours and given the terrain I had came down I think this was a wise decision even though I had a head torch).

The midges are crafty here. I stopped at the car, saved my GPS track and wasn't getting attacked. Excellent, I thought, time to get my t-shirt and footwear changed and fresh socks on. I swear as soon as I got my boots and socks off they attacked knowing I was vulnerable! I would've thought the smell coming out of my boots was enough to keep them away! :sick: :lol: Enough got into my car I had to drive along the single track road with my windows down to try to blow them out!!!!!!!!!!

So how huge a challenge was this? To be honest I didn't feel it mas much bigger or tougher than my previous crazy days munro bagging on the South Glen Shiel Ridge or when I joined the Sisters and Brothers ridges together into one long day walk so decided to compare them. Distance wise the SGSR is about half a km shorter, but the ascent is 800m less and it took me 11.5 hours (granted the weather was crap for the majority of this). To my surprise the Sisters and Brothers ridge was 6km shorter (this felt like the longest of the 3 walks) and ascent was 250m less and this took me 11hrs 20mins. So I guess the Glen Etive 5 is tough, but not overly different from these two. It's the ascent that gets you here. I'd never try this at the start of my walking season (fair weather walker :wink: ) and I've been working hard on my fitness this year which really helped, plus the amazing weather which wasn't too hot but I did still work through over 3 litres of water.

If you think you can do it try it but plan well. I knew I had exits after Aighenan, Mhor or Albannaich so I wasn't going to be stuck should something go wrong. I also ate a lot and had taken several fruit bars and packs of those yoghurt fruit pellet thingies as several times I felt the need for some sugar, along with my pasta and sandwiches.

It's dooable with planning, preparation and a good level of fitness and well worth the feeling of achievement at the end! :D
Last edited by J888ohn on Fri Sep 18, 2015 10:21 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Round of 5 in Glen Etive

Postby J888ohn » Thu Sep 10, 2015 11:23 am

The pics I couldn't add to the report.

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Path off of Eun towards Glen Ceitlein


P1020446 (640x480).jpg
It's a long way back to the car!


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Sun disappearing from Glen Ceitlein


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Sun low on Glencoe hills


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Starav in the evening from the bridge over the River Etive


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Sun setting at the end of Glen Etive


P1020458 (640x480).jpg
Sunset on Starav and Mhor
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Re: Round of 5 in Glen Etive

Postby dogplodder » Thu Sep 10, 2015 12:01 pm

That was a most enjoyable read. It puts into perspective what I thought was a tough enough climb up Gulvain that day - but what a fabulous day it was! :D
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Re: Round of 5 in Glen Etive

Postby Petr Dakota » Thu Sep 10, 2015 12:33 pm

Well done ! :clap: :clap: :clap:
I have this 5 in my to-do list since Autumn 2014, but still keeping for the right day and keeping myself busy with some more Hills to use the longer daylight yet for some distanced areas as the Starav + 4 is closer from home...also hoping to do it in ( and after ) some drier days or maybe even in freeze - snow rather than the boggy muddy terain :lol: :wink:

Nice views you got...some great photos :clap: 8)
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Re: Round of 5 in Glen Etive

Postby J888ohn » Mon Sep 14, 2015 11:43 pm

Petr Dakota wrote:Well done ! :clap: :clap: :clap:
I have this 5 in my to-do list since Autumn 2014, but still keeping for the right day and keeping myself busy with some more Hills to use the longer daylight yet for some distanced areas as the Starav + 4 is closer from home...also hoping to do it in ( and after ) some drier days or maybe even in freeze - snow rather than the boggy muddy terain :lol: :wink:

Nice views you got...some great photos :clap: 8)


To be fair the mud was only a tiny portion of the walk. It was just so annoying at the end when I was tired! Def one for the long daylight hours but if you did it in reverse I'd bet you'd get some cracking sunset photos from Starav.
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Re: Round of 5 in Glen Etive

Postby Silverhill » Tue Sep 15, 2015 10:35 pm

This is a great round, a good choice to do all five! 8) I did them a few years ago but it took me a few hours more....
J888ohn wrote:The midges are crafty here. As soon as I got my boots and socks off they attacked! I would've thought the smell coming out of my boots was enough to keep them away! :sick: :lol:

I know a certain type of mosquito (anopheles gambiae) loves the smell of sweaty feet and unwashed socks. Maybe the midge are changing their palate :lol:
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Re: Round of 5 in Glen Etive

Postby Alteknacker » Tue Sep 15, 2015 11:27 pm

A perfect place on a perfect day - unbeatable. I love the shot of Starav from the bridge in the evening.

I'm not saying "well done!" because I now feel instinctive antipathy towards anyone who includes Aighenan in their round - I managed to overlook it on my round earlier in the year :thumbdown:

I know what you mean about the views - I took literally hundreds of pics, on a day similar to yours. One really can't get enough of it!

Great entertaining report - and certainly for the beesties!!!
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Re: Round of 5 in Glen Etive

Postby simon-b » Wed Sep 16, 2015 10:08 pm

It certainly is a great quintet, John. What makes it tough is that detour to Aighenan. There's the sting in the tail during the final descent from Eun, of course - I don't think there's any way of avoiding that tricky slope. I was really impressed by Albannaich when I did this round in June. It's nice to see you got such good views to add to a great day.
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Re: Round of 5 in Glen Etive

Postby ancancha » Thu Sep 17, 2015 10:20 am

A rewarding long walk, fabulous views and photos :clap:
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Re: Round of 5 in Glen Etive

Postby J888ohn » Fri Sep 18, 2015 10:28 am

Alteknacker wrote:
I'm not saying "well done!" because I now feel instinctive antipathy towards anyone who includes Aighenan in their round - I managed to overlook it on my round earlier in the year :thumbdown:


It's a tough decision with that one Alteknacker. I'd pondered leaving it too but then the thought of giving Sheikh Shell or BP more of my hard earned money to come back to the same place to add in a few km of walking, plus the challenge of doing a lesser walked route, spurred me on.

Thanks for all the comments folks :-) Glad you're enjoying the report.
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Re: Round of 5 in Glen Etive

Postby h callahan » Mon Oct 30, 2017 10:47 pm

excellent report there thanks.

I'm looking back over old walks I've done.

I did these 5 mountains in July 2016. Couldn't find anyone mad enough to do it so did it alone, and never saw anyone else up there.

Difference with your walk is I split it up with an overnight bivvy bag after the third mountain, stopping at Allt na Mheullin (haven't checked spelling). Only got an hour's sleep, travelling very light, just sandwiches, no smartphone or gps or any of that stuff. I was up at 5:30am with a bunch of stags looking at me from 100 yards away. I slept near a spring of perfectly clear water, some of which I brought home.

mist on all 5 summits. I was matching your times until Day 2 when lack of sleep and food meant 5 hours until back at the car. Next time out I'd aim to do the 5 plus extra 3 to get to Glencoe and the King's House.

Anyway, a superb walk, whether over one or two days.
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