Big BEM - Late to the Buachaille

Route: Buachaille Etive Mòr

Munros: Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mòr), Stob na Bròige (Buachaille Etive Mòr)

Date walked: 07/07/2017

Munros #15 + #16 - Stob Dearg + Stob na Broige [The Big Buachaille Etive Mor!

Pre-amble backstoryyyy!
The hills certainly bring people together. Somewhere through the dizzying highs of 2017, my images and musings had made me a new friend - hereby known as 'Ellie of Instagram fame'. Ellie hailed originally from the Isle of Skye, but was based in West Lothian (I stood firmly corrected in my 'east' and 'west' Lothian geography mix-up). 2017 had barely hit the first week of May and had been overwhelming with adventures and travel - Skye was next and planned well in advance.

Having survived my initial trip to Skye in November 2016 [see here for trip report : https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=102671, the plan to return to Skye in June 2017 was based around a long weekend with the local kayak club. As a land-based acquaintance and not yet fully-fledged water wanderer - I was looking forward to exploring more of Skye's landscapes from the outdoor centre base at Torrin.

Of course, the centre looked unopposed across Loch Slapin to Bla Bheinn - and I surely posted and talked about how great a hike it was. Surprisingly, Ellie had not ventured to the summit and it was loosely agreed that we should meet up to climb it; this time in summer conditions so I wouldn't fall!
Fast forward to that day - 26C sunshine, faithful hill companion Davie W had been up already, and I had no phone signal. Couldn't confirm a meeting with Ellie and we (myself, Matt T and his partner Cora C) set off into the hills, snail pace, blistering heat! As it transpired, she would catch us up (Ellie of Instagram, I presume?) :lol: with apologies and introductions swift! ###

Jump to July and another spell of time off work was due to end - packed with adventures across the country. With a Friday providing an amicable day to reconvene, our shared intrigue of the Great Herdsman of Etive had coined an iconic shorthand - no clock or bell on this towering pyramid peak, but to us, it was ''Big BEM" 8) which spared the drawn-out butchering of the Gaelic name.

I woke up, alarm rattling, and double-checked the time. Or rather, more of a double-take - with Google Maps suggesting a 3hr+ drive south to the lay-by at Altnafeadh and suddenly it registered that I was to meet Ellie there... In 3 hours time!!!
It was happening again?!

The drive down was frantic. I was running late and would be keeping my friend in the dark (again), there was a van on the A82 doing 35mph (frustrating but understandable) and the rain was bouncing off the road with no end in sight... :shock:

You can believe my apologies and shame were evident as I arrived in the lay-by, at long last. Worse still, it was very gloomy - a fine mist belied by the clouds which hid all the summits in Glencoe and beyond. I think the waiting had played a factor on our shared "decision" to proceed - we crossed the footbridge and headed up into the mire.
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The sorry state of affairs

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Pushing back as we ascend

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A forgiving "stairwell"

As with all good stories, this one saw adversity overcome by good fortune. It seemed as though every 50 metres we climbed, the cloud would rise and clear by that 50 metres! Wildlife sightings began with slugs and toads, evolving into a golden eagle flypast, spectral in the clag and a stag with the Devil's Staircase for a backdrop. The trail was lined with slimy moss and foxgloves, standing proudly on this most revered of iconic mountains.
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An eagle in the mist

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A stag loiters with the 'Devil's Staircase' beyond

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The ever popular Beinn a'Chrulaiste emerges

The bealach between the two Munros was reached and the clag rolled over in distinct waves, giving glimpses of glens beyond and then stealing the views away. A hardship of ascent had been overcome and thoughts of lunch atop the pyramid of the Great Herdsman of Etive spurred us along. As we approached the summit of Stob Dearg, the views became more extensive, with only the furthest reaches of Rannoch Moor staying out of sight behind the grey curtain.
It was certainly an excellent place to have something to eat and to jump about shooting photos! This was particularly the case when a very bold raven came to share in our foodstuffs - obviously well versed in posing in exchange for sausage roll tidbits.
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Ellie watches the cloud as it engulfs the bealach

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Heading up to Stob Dearg

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A beautiful side-profile of the raven. Wonderful creatures!

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The extent of the view from Stob Dearg

A quick return to the bealach and the journey continued. As the clag came and went, the second climb was taking its toll, Ellie being unsure of her capability to proceed. I put on a brave face and encouraged her but I remember feeling the same way :lol: :-| the Top of Stob na Doire, as described, had me questioning what the true second peak of this mountain cluster was!!
Stob na Broige was, however, bagged before long - albeit in thick cloud that looked unlikely to abate. Another huddled pitstop in the not-so-windshelter summit cairn was given no set time - we needed to find the motivation to carry on.
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A steep push onto Stob na Doire

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A scenic seat without much of a view!

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Bunkered down boots

Once more, as if on cue, a window down Loch Etive opened and gave us reason to stand in awe. As the clouds gave way once more, swathes of mountainous terrain was brought to the fore; including the Bidean nam Bian massif and clear views of walkers enjoying themselves along the Buachaille Etive Beag ridge, running parallel to Big BEM.
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Gotta catch that glimpse while you can!

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A rewarding view for our persistence!

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Other folks having a great day out across the way!

Satisfied with the day's turnaround, it was time to track back and descend into Coire Altruim. Other than taking care to not slip too much, it was a relatively quick descent to fairer, more level ground. A few shots of some cascading streams (just adding to my faffing around delays) and sure enough - back to the cars. A tin of Irn Bru each to celebrate and replenish a bit of energy before the long drives north (for me) and south (for Ellie). The day wouldn't have been complete without a quick jaunt down the Glen Etive road to get a picture with that unmistakable triangle of rock that we had just completed.
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The old classic cottage, in much less murky conditions

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Big BEM - a classic day out :) :)

With all the promises that I wouldn't be late again next time :lol: , we parted ways after a great day out!

Having time to look back on these impactful and meaningful hill days does put a smile on my face, but it is also tinged with the sadness of being so far apart from friends, both near and far, in times such as these in the COVID world. As work drew me to central locales this summer, it transpires that Ellie and I have been able to meet up again - for a brief catch-up in Stirling and then a scorching, intriguing ascent of Dumyat from Blairlogie! :D

A toast: To great friends, to unforgettable hill days and to a future filled with more of both. :thumbup:

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