I can't think how many times I have passed the little sign at the entrance to Glen Coe which points your attention leftwards for "Glen Etive". Several times I have looked at it and thought, "hmmm - I must go down there sometime, I've heard it's nice". Well now I have, and it's not merely 'nice' it absolutely fantastic!
Yesterday I spent the most marvellous nine hours (yes very slow, I know) climbing Ben Starav, Glas Bheinn Mhor and Beinn nan Aighenan. The climb up the North ridge of Ben Starav (pictured above) is as punishing as it looks as you drive down the glen and see it entirely filling the view ahead. Worse still, going underfoot was ghastly, all bogs, rubble, squelching and stumbling to the final 100m when the mountain tries to block your way with an awkward boulder field. Starav feels like a mountain that does not want to be climbed. This is quite unlike, say, The Mamores whose soft welcoming grace beckons the walker onwards. Starav is a brute who throws out a challenge to any would-be ascender. However, the rewards for anyone willing to do battle with this mountain are simply adjective-busting! The views across vast areas of the Highlands are breathtaking, mountains, lochs and glens assaulting the senses from every side.
The trip to, Beinn nan Aighenan is a deviation off the main ridge but is a pleasant enough hour or so. I left my pack on the main ridge and collected it on my way back, giving my back a rest from the weight of the water required for such a hot day, a few thousand feet above the rivers. On top of this hill the sun was blazing, the temperatures climbing and the wind...... where was it? I cannot remember ever being on a summit in completely still air. It's incredibly quiet!
Glas Bheinn Mhor made a pleasant finale to a grand day, a gentle sweeping curve to the summit after an intermediate top presented yet more views, especially back to Starav and the tortuous ascent of the morning. I continued along the ridge, dropping down to the col to find the stalkers path back to the car, a wet, soggy, bouldery horror of a track.
None of the usual suspects were available yesterday and so I did this one on my own. It's not that I don't appreciate the inane banter of the likes of 'Victor Meldrew', or 'His Flatulence Lord Justice Provan Mearns', but it was good to be out there on my own. Nine hours of blissful solitude, time to think, pray, prioritise, and reflect. To stand feeling microscopic before the vastness and glory of creation and to share the Psalmists understanding that all this is meant to point us towards a gracious and glorious God, I find not merely inexpressibly joyful, but renewing, and life-giving.
The hillwalking books vary in their optimism. The SMC book divides this into two day walks. McNeish, is usually in the middle and I followed his route. Butterfield is always the most optimistic as to what can be done in a day, and his book adds two more Munro's to this outing. The day was certainly good enough, the evening looked almost perfect for walking. My restriction wasn't just that I was knackered (that's today!) and that I was needed at home (the mobile phone message stated), but that I was out of water and couldn't walk on for another three hours without any. However, my appetite for Glen Etive has been thoroughly whetted and I can't wait to go back and try the adjacent hills.