If like me you spend a decent amount of time in the hills and mountains of the UK then you’ve probably spent more than your share of days slogging uphill in the rain wondering why you ever thought this was a good idea. Sometimes, just occasionally, the stars align, the weather gods are feeling benevolent and a plan comes together just so. You do it for days like these.
This the story of a trip to Glen Etive and climbing Ben Starav and it’s neighbours the long way round with a good friend. This was a plan that formed form the ashes of our original intention to walk the first section of the Cape Wrath trail. Since our plans coincided with a big mountain biking event there was no accommodation to be had in Fort William so that put paid to that idea. Arriving in Glen Etive at about 3pm we set off along the shores of Loch Etive. It was a lot later than I usually set off for a walk but such are the joys of long summer evenings we had plenty of daylight to play with. Ben Cruachan provided a constantly emerging source of interest as we headed along the loch shore. One for another day.
The path along the loch that is marked on the map is pretty faint in places but it is there. Unlike some places in Scotland I’ve been. It was good walking in a dry spell at the start of June. After a bit of rain this would be a boggy mess. We did pass one of the stranger things I’ve ever stumbled across on a walk, and no I’m not telling you where it is go and look for yourself.
Eventually we turned east along Glen Kinglas and began the usual game of hunt-a-pitch to camp for the night. Trying to find land in Scotland that is flat enough to pitch a tent without being heather and bog can be interesting at times. Nevertheless we did eventually find a pleasant spot by the river. Unfortunately we then spent most of the evening hiding in the tents trying to escape the dreaded west highland midge.
The following morning saw no abatement in the midge problem so we packed up as quickly as possible and set off along Glen Kinglas. On the morning of the second day we finally turned uphill to climb the mountain we’d come to climb. The path basically follows the Allt Hallater up into Coire Hallater. It’s pretty good travelling with a path most of the way up but it is a long, long way. At least it felt like it carrying backpacking kit. Many hours later we zig-zagged our way up into Coire an t-sneachd beneath Stob Coire Dheirg. After a brief second game of hunt-a-pitch carrying those big rucksacks didn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.
This is the essence of why I head to the hills. Yes it was hard work. Yes it was a long way. Yet at the end of the day I can put the pack down and the tent up and just sit and be. These are camps you imagine. The ability to sit high amongst the mountains and just absorb the silence is a wonderful thing. Anywhere I can lay down for the night and see sights like this from the warmth and comfort of my bed is a good place in my book.
The following morning after a leisurely breakfast we set off for Ben Starav and reached the top about 9am. Funnily enough we had the place to ourselves at that time of day. The views in all directions were really something special in spite of the haze.
All that remained was the traverse of the ridge to Glas Bhein Mor. There’s really nothing that needs to be said about this. These are the days that stay with you forever. Somebody once wrote that the finest walking is ridge walking and the finest ridge walking is in Scotland. If that is the case then this was the finest of days in many senses.
One of the pleasures of walking is the way the views change and evolve as you move through the landscape. By the time we reached Glas Bhein Mor a whole new perspective emerged away to the east. As always at these moments new views gave birth to new plans for the future. Many of which will never see fruition but day dreaming of things that might be is part of the enjoyment. As we headed down the hill we met the first humans we had seen since Friday afternoon, bearing in mind it was now Sunday lunchtime. All that remained was the long walk out back to the car with the occasional backwards glance to fix the memories in place.
If like me you suffer from chronic mountain addiction then you have probably found yourself sitting at home on a dark wet night in February dreaming of your next fix. When you do, you don’t dream of those damp dreary days slogging uphill in the rain to look at the inside of a cloud. You dream of remote places. Camping high on the side of deserted hill. You dream of striding along airy ridge lines beneath blue skies with the mountains rolling away as far as the eye can see. You dream of days like these.