Our blog - East of Etive, Mar'17A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !
East of Etive25-26 March 2017
A weekend of winter hiking up the Munros east of Glen Etive. John was leading...
Hallelujah! Finally. A high pressure system over Scotland! After a really windy and wet winter, the promise of a fantastic forecast for this weekend was more than welcome...in fact, it was motivational. I was due to be leading a group on the mountains to the East of Glen Etive, and the promise of blue skies and positively Alpine views spurred me on the drive up.
We were due to meet near Coiletir on the winding road down the glen. What was noticeable was how busy it was already along the road, a legacy of the Bond film Skyfall? Also, the amount of folks camping, even more than usual. This was probably due to the good forecast, along with the new camping ban in the Loch Lomond NP, and a problem I believe will become unsustainable for the residents of the glen, let alone the wildlife etc. A shame, as responsible wild camping has long been a Scottish tradition, but the proliferation of fire-pits, barbeques and beer cans was high, and the commensurate human waste problem very real in such concentration. I do hope a solution can be found, otherwise I see further legislation on the horizon.
That said, we were early enough to squeeze into our space, and we set off up the long haul up Ben Starav. Ben Starav is a beautiful hill, with delightful narrow ridges at the top which had an Alpine feel in the sun and snow. It is an undeniable slog up though, as it rises almost uninterrupted from 20m to 1078m, and it was a sweaty one in the glorious sunshine. There was enough ice under the snow to make crampons preferable, but the hard ice I have encountered up there in previous March ascents was not present, so we made the summit easily.
And what views. To quote Hayley on Sunday, (a similar day), 'we can see every mountain in Scotland'. We couldn't of course, but it felt like it. Utterly breathtaking. Hard to take in really, despite how many times I have seen it.
We took the crampons off here as the snow was soft over the boulders as we walked towards the descent to Stob Coire Dheirg. In reality, it would have been better on the first 10m of the ridge, as the sun hadn't quite softened the ice sufficiently, so we had to exercise care until onto the nice scrambly section, where the crampons would have been a hindrance anyway - The perennial challenge of walking in the Spring. Once over the scramble, it was a straightforward descent on soft snow and rock to the bealach, where had a decision to make.
Half of the party wanted to attempt the far munro of Beinn nan Aighenan, but the other half felt it was too much, and only wanted to go over Glas Beinn Mhor, our final target for the day, and descend the coire back to the cars. Even then, it would still be the best part of a 9hr day. We agreed that we should split, the stronger party being both motivated in the excellent conditions, as well as competent enough to make the detour, so after making some arrangements about a contact strategy, we parted. It was fun to watch each other's progress, and we were able to have a phone call as we hit the summits respectively, a real safety feature of modern technology eh?
The descent off Glas Beinn Mhor was fun in the snow, but the toil down the glen never gets any easier, the rough path being covered in slushy snow, with boggy tussocky ground aplenty. Still, we were buzzing from such a wonderful day, and it passed without incident. The later team arrived back at the car some 90 minutes later, a great effort of 10.5hrs, tired but elated.
Sunday saw us back at the same spot for a round of Meall nan Eun and Stob Coir an Albannaich, which I prefer to do clockwise up Glen Ceitlein. This means you ascend the steep and craggy NW ridge rather than descend it, and makes selecting the best rib to attain the ridge onto Albannaich easier too. Finally, you get to ascend the impressive final slope rather than descend that too....all round preferable in my opinion.
The ascent up the glen starts on a track, but soon peters out into a hard to follow trace towards Meall nan Eun. A notable thing is that our target appears the smallest hill on the horizon, walking into the sun as we were, and this often confuses. Indeed, one person I know once climbed the much more obvious Meall Odhar instead by mistake, and I doubt she was alone in this! The best lines are just to the East of North as you approach, and it's just a case of pick your route carefully, assessing the snow and crags as you go. The snow was soft enough to avoid crampons, and we were soon on the long, gradual haul to the summit, which one wag suggested had been moved further back deliberately by some pranksters, as it takes so long to get to. The views were again wonderful, and we were able to soak up the sun as we ate our lunch.
You then have to go over an intermediate top before tackling the fantastic spur up onto the SE ridge of Albannaich, and this again felt Alpine. We took out our axes for security, but didn't need crampons as the way was stepped-out with a good trail in the deep snow. We did notice the large cornices threatening that face though, and we discussed what weather conditions would produce a danger on the route. It was then onwards and upwards, steady but sure, for our final summit. And what a summit. Views galore...again. No wind. Sun. Perfection.
After a long rest, photos and a snack, it was just the long walk back down via the same bealach as the day before, and again, it was a pleasure to see the back of it ;)
I doubt you can get a more perfect couple of walking days in Scotland - Unbroken sunshine, yet not too hot. A cooling breeze when you needed it, clear air, and snow on the hills to enhance the views. Unforgettable. Thanks to the great group I was lucky to share it with, Victoria, Christine, Brian, Eileen, Isobel, Hayley, Euan and Iain.
More photos by John are here on Flickr.
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