Ben Starav - 1078m
Glas Bheinn Mhor - 997m
Stob Coir an Albannaich - 1044m
Meall nan Eun - 928m
Tuesday 31st August 2010
Weather/Conditions: Sunny day with cumulus. Low cloud in the morning burnt off to leave a sunny day with cumulus. Heavier cloud between Cam Chreag and Beinn nam Fuaran and yielded some light passing rain.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 42km / 2500m / 12h
(42km - of which 13.6km was on bike)
I always look at maps trying to find crazy new routes to do, adding peaks together in different ways and totalling the kilometres together to come up with some insanely long day. Somewhere in the first half of 2010 I came up with this idea to climb the five mountains including and surrounding Ben Starav, a mountain which had never given itself up owing to difficulty of access. It's easy with a car but almost hopeless without. Nearly all who climb it go from Glen Etive but since that road is one long cul-de-sac, I could never have got there without a car. If I went with a car-owner, they'd never want to do five Munros and I couldn't force them to since I wasn't the driver. It was hopeless.
I finally cracked the access the problem thanks to two other trips. It was the logical extension of five Cairngorm Munros in July, and the five Auch Corbetts in August. The former showed me the immense possibilities of using a bike to access 'difficult' mountains. When I realised this potential, I found that a bike could be taken from Bridge of Orchy on road to Inveroran then 4WD track to Loch Dochart.
The latter walk that I mentioned, over five Corbetts in the near vicinity, woke me up to the fact that Starav and co. would be physically possible. If I took the bike to Loch Dochart (12km from Bridge of Orchy) I was looking at a 30km walk. A 12km freewheel back to Orchy couldn't be called physical work. The earlier Corbett trip gave me the confidence to realise I could do the kilometres and when the weather turned good on the last days of August, I went for it.
50kms, solo, in a day and a half. What a thought... The prospect scared me initially, but I resided in the comfort of confidence. Then on the 30th while taking the train up, I got a call from Dougie from the Mountaineering Club, to go over details for the upcoming Poland trip. Feeling a bit sheepish about my plans, I told him and the positive response back boosted my confidence ten-fold.
An eventful afternoon in Inveroran
Then I arrived in Bridge of Orchy, not spending a moment there but cycling instead to Inveroran. Here, I camped at the patch of ground beside the river. I set up my tent and left my bike there while West Highland Wayers set up their tents around me. It was nice to have a camp to return to and when I would be exhausted at the end of tomorrow, it would be set up and ready for me to jump into.
I went to the Inveroran Hotel, chatting to a couple of German girls and a Danish guy called Pieter Meinema. We talked for a long time so I told him to find me on Facebook when he got home. And this he did - I thought that was fantastic. So far removed from the wild and quiet evening I'd anticipated, I spent the time chatting to folk and throwing down Diet Cokes in the pub. It was good... I also sat drinking with another guy who's name I couldn't remember. I only remembered that he came from somewhere in England and had done a lot of long distance walking. And as the evening drew to a close, we walked out the pub just in time to see the International Space Station sail across the southern sky (9.13pm if memory serves). A happy guy, I settled down for the night, alarm set for 5am.
Morning, sunrise and Beinn nan Aighenan (Munro #1)
I may already have been waking up when my alarm went off. I was still a bit tired and with sleep tempting me back, I got up anyway. I needed to get moving by 6am otherwise I'd run out of time and the walk wouldn't happen. The tent was soaked in condensation and I peered out the tent door to a dusky world. Clear skies were above and mist floated through the glen. The sun began to make an appearance.
I sorted my gear - glad to be leaving much of it with the tent - and packed a fairly light bag. I cooked a bowl of ravioli though my heart wasn't into it and thought of it as fuel instead.
And just ten minutes past 6am, I got on the bike and rode through the growing dawn. Riding down to Loch Dochart was an amazing experience with the rising sun and atmospheric conditions throwing the strangest light show across the sky. The track was harder work than I'd hoped (very boggy, and just a path for 3km beyond Clashgour hut).
Then I finally dumped my bike at Loch Dochart after an hour's cycling and set off on foot, leaving a note in the tyre spokes, just in case anyone should stop by... I headed along the stalkers track for 2.5km before it dipped down in altitude, deciding to leave the track and keep my altitude by continuing off-road. It was hard work going through the grass, but with such a beautiful day, Beinn nan Aighenan didn't seem too far away. The day's peaks encircled me, and they looked enormous. I tried not to think too much about the whole journey, instead trying to concentrate on the first Munro.
Crossing the River Kinglass in Coire na Caime, I began the long ascent to Beinn nan Aighenan, firstly hauling myself up, trekking poles in hand, through the grasses, then getting a little hands on for the last steep section to the ridge. The ridge was knobbly and covered in sheets of granite. Walking was brilliantly easy here and I followed the ridge up to Beinn nan Aighenan's East Top - a very weird stony summit, with rounded boulders on top. Ice age relics or not?
Beinn nan Aighenan still looked far away, but I just had to concentrate on the ground ahead. I managed to switch off and when the summit actually came, I felt only relief that such a long pull was over.
Ben Starav (Munro #2)
The day had hardly begun though, seemingly. I was stressed too. As serene as the surroundings were, my rule was if I wasn't on course to be at Starav's summit for 1pm, turn back. This dominated the first section of day and I couldn't get it out my head, worried I may not complete the route. So without staying at Beinn nan Aighenan too long, I descended towards Starav, sat at the bealach and took my feet out their boots - they needed an air badly.
As tempting as it was, I refrained from talking myself out of doing Starav's two southerly Munro Tops, and headed to Stob an Duine Ruaidh, followed by Meall Cruidh. Mum called at this point, and once off the phone I headed up onto the main bulk of Starav. Again, it was another slog (it never isn't, is it?) and felt the slope easing off at I approached the 1068m Top. And then boom, right there in front of me was the ridge curving gently around to the summit of Ben Starav.
Which would have been fine, but for it's appearance in a particular tragic page of The Sun... I need not elaborate any more. It's not something I want to dwell on, but it's hard not to when your standing in that very place that later graced newspapers nationwide for all the wrong reasons.
But on a lighter note, arriving at the summit and hour and ten minutes before my turn around time was cause for celebration. And views down to Loch Etive were stunning too. This was the high point of the walk, in every way.
Glas Bheinn Mhor (Munro #3)
It had been a relief to get to Ben Starav, because it meant I'd covered 20kms before midday. I didn't have to worry so much anymore. From here on it was a return trip, albeit over three more Munros. I was rocking today - I knew now that I would do it. There was no reason to fail anymore...
So I headed over Stob Coire Dheirg, following the ridge crest (although you really don't need to) and then heading down to the bealach before going up to Meall nan Tri Tighearnan, a simple Corbett Top. But in time I gained that and set about getting up Glas Bheinn Mhor. At the top I was met with another summit cairn, although it seemed nowhere near as significant as Starav. Unlike Glas Bheinn Mhor, Starav was full of interest, and I was gazing down into it's high corries wondering what the hell was going on down there - the jumble of cliffs, blocks, scree and lochans is just so chaotic that it seems the mountain newly had it's sides ripped apart.
There is no such chaos on Glas Bheinn Mhor, but it was significant in that five minutes after arriving, another guy arrived at the top coming from the opposite direction, the first I'd seen since Inveroran. He was doing a three day backpack from Victoria Bridge to Loch Etive over the Munros. We was to go over Starav tonight, camp at loch Etive and walk all the way back the next day.
That was a big plan for having such a large rucksack, as he had. I was glad I was carrying very little. I offered him water which he declined, which was probably just as well since I had only a litre left. I was thirsty too.
He gave me advice for the climb to Albannaich, along the lines of no - it isn't steep, just easy and with a path. With that knowledge, I headed on my way.
Stob Coir an Albannaich (Munro #4)
I think after Glas Bheinn Mhor my walk was wearing thin, but I got down Glas Bheinn Mhor quickly and found the faint path leading up Stob Coire an Albannaich. When the slope eased off the path disappeared, but I headed over the thin grasses up to the top. And as a sign of my physical deterioration, for the first time, I started leaning against boulders, needing to stop, feeling the life drained from my legs. I felt like I was nearing the walk's end, but I just knew I wasn't anywhere near.
The summit was a welcome relief from the upwards slog, but there was one more Munro to do - Meall nan Eun. In between Albannaich and Eun is a Corbett Top - Meall Tarsuinn - and now I had come so far I knew I'd finish the lot regardless of how wrecked it would make me.
Meall nan Eun (Munro #5)
The descent from Albannaich was fairly easy, down sheets of granite which isn't the easiest way - a north facing gully is the best way. Meall Tarsuinn was a slog and unlike at the start of the ridges, walking on granite sheets didn't feel like relief anymore. Of course Meall nan Eun was last to come and was superbly tough for no other reason than my juice was all gone.
I thought about Stephen Pyke's recent Munro record, when we cleared out every Munro from Ben Cruachan to Stob a' Choire Odhair. I found half that difficult and am in continual amazement that someone can operate at such high stress loads every day for a month. It's remarkable and an immense achievement. Looking over at his route towards Stob Gabhar, I thought about the way that I physically wouldn't get up that. Maybe if I really tried, but I was in enough pain trying to get up as inconspicuous a lump as Meall nan Eun. I was glad it was my last Munro. I was ready to go down.
Descent, bike back, and home...
Descent was painful. I was hammered, utterly hammered. Once I regained the bike it would be easy, I just had to get there and there was a long way to go. Heading southwest off Meall nan Eun, I came to a stream and followed the shale and scree downwards. It was easier than following the grass. The scree turned into a stream, turned to river and I spent long periods of time occupying my fried brain by jumping from boulder to boulder. It nearly went bollocks up at a couple of points, but I never got my feet wet. It was also easier to cope with than the tediousness of walking through grass.
After long minutes of willing the walk to be over, I emerged into the larger glen where somewhere ahead was Loch Dochart. There would be stepping stones over the river on it's left hand side - I just had to get there. And even if I wanted to be let off the hook, it wasn't so. Waist-high grass tormented me and hopes of a beach surrounding the loch were unfulfilled. I resigned myself to the long grasses. I was in pain, wondering when relief would come when around a corner, I caught sight of the stepping stones. They raised my spirits to the point that I pushed through the last of the grasses and finally, after so many hard kilometres, reached my bike.
Thank god it was still there...
I saw the note and wondered if anybody had written on it - and they had, starting with the wonderful line: "Have deliberated for some time as to whether I was going to steal your bike"... It made my day! I was a happier person after that, and an unexpected bonus was to discover the journey back was on a slight downhill. And on this sunny late afternoon, it was extremely liberating to fly down the miles, smugly thinking to myself how bad it would have been to walk.
I arrived back at Inveroran quicker than expected (it took 40 minutes) and threw the bike down, crashed into my tent and lay down and rested, glad to be done... The legs started feeling sore the way they do in rest that follows exercise, but in the comfort of my temporary home. I'd rest for as long as I liked.
The time to pack up came though - in honesty I didn't want to spend a second night at Inveroran. But there was one problem I knew I was going to have to face - the midges. They were out in force - as bad as I have ever seen them - and the through the mesh the grass outside seemed to shimmer, obscured by millions of swarming midges.
So my plan was to pack everything I possibly could inside the tent, and when all was away but the tent, open the door and run out with rucksack in hand, dumping it at the opposite end of the campsite. And as I walked back and forth to the tent, I didn't stop moving. When I pulled the tent down, disturbing millions of them, the sky was blackening.
I was glad to have the midge head net I never thought I'd need when I bought it. This was a horrific place to be...
I packed the last of my stuff, put my rucksack on, helmet on, and began cycling. And thank God for that - no more midges. I stopped at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, got something to drink, then once darkness had fallen, cycled up to the train station. My heart sank when I read for the last train "Reservations Compulsory." I could have cried... I was a shaking wreck, in midge country, very possibly having to face putting the tent up once more, in the darkness...
But I tried my luck and when the train pulled up, the ticket inspector came to the door (since I had a bike), asked "Have you got a reservation?" "Uh..No..." "A ticket?" "Yes, yes!" (Please let me on!!) "Great, jump on!" She was the friendliest, most helpful ticket inspector I'd ever met, showed me where to put my bike and at the other end, told me when Westerton station was coming up. I got a lift home from there, and I should have been straight to bed... but no. The website must be updated first. It didn't matter that I was on the verge of vomiting in exhaustion, I was incredibly proud of my walk.
The next morning, I still felt like vomiting, but that eased and it felt like a mild hangover. I felt beaten up and felt the effects of the walk the next day again.
But 50km+, and five Munros?
It was absolutely, totally, completely worth it!
Beinn nan Aighenan
Glas Bheinn Mhor
Stob Coir an Albannaich
180° South - Meall nan Eun
180° North - Meall nan Eun
(0.00) 6.10am Inveroran
(1.00) 7.10am Loch Dochart (bike drop off)
(3.05) 9.15am Beinn nan Aighenan East Top
(3.50) 10.00am Beinn nan Aighenan
(4.55) 11.05am Stob na Duine Ruaidhe
(5.10) 11.20am Meall Cruidh
(5.40) 11.50am Ben Starav
(5.55) 12.05pm Stob Coire Dheirg
(6.30) 12.40pm Meall nan Tri Tighearnan
(6.55) 1.05pm Glas Bheinn Mhor
(8.05) 2.15pm Stob Coir an Albannaich
(8.45) 2.55pm Meall Tarsuinn
(9.15) 3.25pm Meall nan Eun
(11.20) 5.30pm Loch Dochart (bike pick up)
(12.00) 6.10pm Inveroran