A runners perspective

I hope this blog is of use/interest to walkers, runners and cyclists living in or intending to visit Scotland. Most of my entries below are described as long-distance runs - just because that's currently what I enjoy doing...

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Etive Peaks and Glen Kinglass

Distance: 27 miles (43km)  Ascent/Descent: 3050m/3050m 
Start/Finish: Victoria Bridge (Loch Tulla) 
Terrain: 55% hill trails, 15% pathless, 20% gravel track, 10% easy trail  
Transport: citylink bus stops at nearby Bridge of Orchy 
(Ft. William/Skye - Edinburgh/Glasgow services)
Route: Route Map
Looking North over Glen Etive towards the summits of Glen Coe

Today's run was less "Exploring Scottish Trails" and more "Obsessive-compulsive Munro Bagging" in the sun. Starting from Victoria Bridge (by Loch Tulla on the West Highland Way), it takes in the group of summits stretching between Rannoch Moor and Glen Etive, starting with Stob a Choire Odhar, eventually reaching Ben Starav beside the stunning Loch Etive, before returning via Beinn an Aigenan along Glen Kinglass to the start. This last bit is just part of a nice trail that runs West from Victoria Bridge (on the West Highland Way) to Loch Etive, where it meets another trail that runs North/South from Tayinult to Glen Etive. Forgetting summits, both these options offer nice scenery away from roads and towns - and would also make good mountain-bike trips (as evidenced by tyre tracks in the bog!).  

We parked at the gravel car park by Victoria Bridge – this is a popular camping area for those doing the West Highland Way or bagging Munros. When Lesley and I stepped out of the car the wave of heat that greeted us was very un-Scottish. The boggy ground by the road was dry and dusty. Lizards crossed the gravel path in front of me as I made my way Westwards along the stoney track into Glen Kinglass. Staying hydrated was going to be the main challenge for everyone today.

Good track up onto the ridge of Stob a Coire Odhair
 I followed the Munro-baggers route that forked N off the main track and gently up into the jaws of Coire Toaig on a path that made for very enjoyable running. My first summit, Stob a Choire Odhair, was hidden from view by the steepness of its heathery lower slopes. Immediately after crossing a river and stopping for a chat with a couple, enjoying a rest by the soothing sound of fast-flowing water, I forked right to take the Munro-baggers’ route, climbing steeply up eroded heathery hummocks by the river's NW bank. I was reduced to a walk until the gradient lessened and joined an old zig-zagging stalkers' path up towards the the stoney summit, a fine viewpoint over Rannoch Moor, in fact a fine viewpoint all around with the Black Mount to the N and to the W the mighty Stob Ghabhar.   That's where I was heading next.

After another brief chat I was heading down the not-too-steep W ridge of "Odhair", picking up a bit of a path down to the 668m pass, then continuing along the ridge ahead that curves more S and becomes rocky. Even though the path zig-zags a bit, I was still reduced to a walk on this stretch (something I need to practise anyway so I can survive the longer mountain events!).

Stob Ghabar
The lochan in Stob Ghabhar's NE corrie came into view below - an impressive setting. Having attained the crest of the mountain's SE ridge, it was an invigorating run up to the summit cairn where I was labelled "a nutter", and instructed to "make sure to drink plenty water".  I guess she figured anyone stupid enough to run up Munros is likely to need all the advice they get.

From here onwards I was covering unfamiliar ground.  That's the bit of a run I always enjoy most!  Descending slightly N of W along a broad, grassy ridge, I felt (and knew) I was leaving the crowds behind and entering lesser travelled territory for a few miles.  The views from this elevated platform were particularly good, especially North over the Buachaille Etive Mor and Ben Nevis above and beyond.

Ben Nevis standing high above the Buachaille
I had to drop down a bit to get fresh water for the bottles before traversing increasingly awkwardly back onto the ridge (much easier to stick to the crest!). Meall nan Eun looked diminutive from up here, and yet it was a long loop to the N before I could get onto its slopes from a bealach down at 633m! Descending to this needs a bit of care with a couple of crags needing "turned", so a bit of zig-zagging required before I got safelt down, picking my route onwards onto Munro 3 of the day. There's a fairly obvious grassy terrace to aim for (in good visibility) a couple hundred metres to the W of the old boundary wall, so I aimed for a gap in the outcrops where a burn flows down (186 458), finding evidence that this is where other walkers (and/or deer) head for.
Stob Coir a' Albannaich above the bealach before Meall nan Eun
Up onto the terrace, now just walking, its possible to start heading more SE through the gentler outcrops and attain the runnable plateau in search of the summit cairn, which even on this clear day was a bit shy! Its a 4.5mile mountain run from Stob Ghabhar to this summit, and being less-travelled I'd enjoyed having it all to myself. This was probably as remote as the route would get. From the small cairn I was almost doubling back on myself (NW) over the tundra to eventually continue W via Meall Tarsuinn - finding myself a good path upon its crest and down to the bealach beyond, with "Peak of the corrie of Scotsmen" ahead of me, Munro No. 4, and once again I was seeing others out enjoying this ridiculously fine day. Although hot down in the glens, the warmth was pleasantly temperate up here on the ridges. Everyone was wearing their brimmed hats.

From the bealach, Stob Coir an Albannaich’s rounded summit is attained via its ESE ridge (very much following the boundary on the map). The route onto this ridge is basically a gently-angled series of slabs with traces of path to the E of an obvious gully. Once onto the ridge it was again very runnable to the summit, where I became aware how close I now was to Glen Etive, its partly-forested base nestled amongst the array of fairly sharp peaks south of Glen Coe.

Glas Beinn Mor
Onwards to Glas Beinn Mhor was great fun - starting with a gently sloping area of high tussock grass over which I headed SW, then more SE as soon as it steepened to keep on the crest. Again basically following the line of the boundary marked on the map. Much easier on a clear day like today, I was eventually picking up traces of path, zig-zagging more steeply down to the 738m bealach beneath Glas Beinn Mor where a very well-todden trail starts the final climb to the summit. A bit of walking and then running to the top, and I was now looking directly across to the mightly-looking Ben Starav! The ridge up Ben Starav has plenty character, climaxing with a bouldery arete (bypass path if required) running between the pyramidal Stob Coire Dheirg and Starav’s SE top, from which one of the nicest mountain views in Scotland is to be had, with Loch Etive down below and the Atlantic Ocean beyond, Mull and Ben More looking not too far away at all.

Stob Coire Dearg, with the SE top of Ben Starav behind
 It was much busier over these latter mountains – lots of people making the most of the weather. But it would soon get quiet again once I’d retraced my steps back down to the Bealach and taken a path SE from there, dropping from the main ridge and aiming for the final Munro of the day – Beinn nan Aighenan.
Loch Etive from Ben Starav (Ben Cruachan visible top left)

It turns out there’s a path nearly all the way from the bealach to the top, although it does peter out in a couple of places. It’s a fairly isolated Munro, but there are still fine views over Loch Etive with the Cruachan range not too distant ahead.
Looking N to Meall nan Eun over Loch Dochard

A last glance behind up the Glen, near Victoria Bridge
Dehydration was setting in – there’d been very little opportunity to fill the bottles without descending too much off the ridge. As a result my legs were sluggish and my day quickly became more “endurance” and less “enjoyment”. Well I suppose I am in training after all. The worst problem was how long it was going to take me to get down off the Beinn’s slabby, twisting E ridge to a burn to refill the bottles! I don’t recommend my route choice here as the terminus of this ridge is rather steep over a succession of slabs. Taking this E ridge is fine so long as you don’t try and “cut the corner” for the bridge down in Glen Kinglass like I did – and instead stick to the crest as it swings S for a few hundred metres, before beginning to descend.

With hindsight I think I’d have been better just heading SE off the summit into Coire a’ Bhinnein where there’s water, and also a path marked on the 1:25000 map.

When I eventually did get the opportunity to rehydrate, life slowly came back to the legs and I could enjoy running down the glen with the evening sun, still very warm, hitting the hills I’d visited the tops of earlier. I particularly liked the view of Meall nan Eun across the loch, now looking up at it rather than down from it.

The path joins a dirt track then leaves it again (crossing a dodgy suspension bridge to the N bank of the river), making its peaty way back towards my outward route this morning, then eventually the car at Victoria Bridge.