A solo van adventure and Buchaille Etive Mor

A few weeks ago I decided I should take Bruce (our campervan) for a trip on my own; I haven’t done this before as I’ve only recently started driving it.

The Scottish forecast was best in the west on the Sunday, so I decided to attempt Buchaille Etive Mor. This is the magnificent mountain that dominates the entrance to Glencoe, where it looks virtually impregnable. However, there are two common (non-climbing) routes up: Curved Ridge, which is a wonderful 240m grade 3 scramble, and the walkers route up Coire na Tulaich.

P1020509a.jpg

View from the van door: early morning mist over Loch Tulla

I had been looking for simple munros to try on my own, but I thought that although these munros have the potential to be challenging, I have climbed Stob Dearg twice (once via Curved Ridge and once in a blizzard), and with a good forecast it was likely to be busy so I wouldn’t be on my own up there.

On Saturday afternoon I drove up to the view point situated just before Rannoch Moor, where there are three large car parks. I spent a very pleasant evening reading and writing in the van, wrapped up in my down jacket and watching the sun go down behind the mountains.

P1020511

Buchaille Etive Mor in the sunshine

As night fell, it definitely felt autumnal and I had to get all the blankets out for the first time this year. It was a little strange being in there on my own and I had to tell myself a few times that the noises outside were really not likely to be axe-murderers creeping about!

I got up early and drove to the layby at Altnafeadh in Glencoe used by everyone heading up this mountain, but at 7.15am it was already packed! I always love the drive over Rannoch Moor and that morning it was the most beautiful I have ever seen it: mist was caught on the water and the rising sun was shining through it, turning everything pink.

P1020513a.jpg

The route up Coire na Tulaich

I managed to get a spot in the next car park but that was also filling up fast. I had breakfast and set off at 8.30 feeling excited but a little nervous, as despite the sunshine in the valley, the ridge was shrouded in cloud. As I passed the main parking area, I was informed by people with bells that it was the Salomon Glencoe Skyline Race that day!

I headed off past the Lagangarbh hut and up the walkers route onto the ridge. It is a steep and fairly relentless climb up Coire na Tulaich, but a good path has been constructed and there were lots of people to say hello to. As I reached the ridge, the cloud was still clinging on, but through occasional breaks, the stunning views were revealed. The path to the summit of Stob Dearg was helpfully marked with little red flags for the runners. However, near the top I met the pair who had the job of removing them all.

P1020514a

West to Buchaille Etive Beag (the Wee Buchaille) on the way up

I sat on the summit to have a few sandwiches (cheese and chilli jam), and was soon joined by a magnificent raven, who watched from a nearby rock. It has obviously learnt that walkers are a soft touch, as it soon hopped very close to me to take some sandwich crusts I threw down and, as the summit got busier, it moved from group to group, with it’s finest prize being half a ham sandwich from someone generous!

P1020515a

North across Glencoe

Happily the cloud did lift a little more, permitting a few glimpses of Rannoch Moor to the east and Loch Leven down the valley to the west. I then returned back to the spot where I had joined the ridge, but rather than descending the same way, as we had done on a previous winter ascent, I continued west before turning south-west towards Stob na Doire. Despite being on my own, I was having a fabulous time!

The descent from Stob na Doire requires a little care as it is very rocky, then there is the final section of proper ascent up to Stob Coire Altruim. From here, it’s a simple walk along the ridge to the second munro, Stob na Broige. This summit was very busy, so I found a comfy seat among the rocks to the west of the cairn, to eat my final sandwiches and admire Loch Etive and Buchaille Etive Beag.

P1020524a

Loch Leven through the clouds!

A misty drizzle settled on us, so I headed back to the path that descends the north side of the ridge between Stob Coire Altruim and Stob na Doire. It is mainly a steep grassy slope with a gravelly path worn into it, with a few badly eroded and steep sections. About halfway down, I also discovered some steep slabby areas that had to be crossed carefully. One section made me a little nervous looking at it, and had Chris been there, he would have gone first to “spot” me (stand below to catch me if I slip); as it was after a good look, I put my poles away and headed calmly down backwards. A few bum shuffles and careful foot placements were all that was required; I was pleased with myself as I really dislike down-climbing.

P1020535a.jpg

My raven friend

There are stepping stones across the stream at the bottom and I paused for a last snack on the other side. It’s a great valley, surrounded as it is by such steep mountain sides, but the midges soon had me moving again, following the excellent path down the Lairig Gartain and back to the carpark.

I returned home invigorated and full of excitement about my first proper solo mountain trip!

Details

A fabulous ridge walk in a stunning location!

Distance: 13km/8.25 miles

Time: 5.5 hours (Walkhighlands suggests 7-9 hours)

Ascent: 1110m

Munro summits: Stob Dearg (1021m) & Stob na Broige (956m)

Advertisements

Buachaille Etive Beag, Glencoe

Buachaille Etive Beag is a ridge in Glencoe that comprises two munros: Stob Coire Raineach and Stob Dubh. It is less well known than its neighbour Buachaille Etive Mor, but it is also considerably easier. As the weather forecast wasn’t wonderful for Saturday, we chose this ridge for this weekend’s outing with two of Chris’ old work colleagues, as we wanted to take them out in Glencoe and it would be doable even if the weather was poor.

The walk starts at the car park opposite the “beehive” cairn, which you see on the right before you pass the Three Sisters.  We started in the drizzle along the good path that heads into the valley. As you progress, you need to make sure you take the path that climbs up the left hand side of the valley rather than the one that follows the stream along the bottom. The path soon steepens and becomes almost a stone staircase, which means you rapidly gain height but also have to stop to take your waterproofs and extra layers off! This path takes you straight up to the bealach (saddle), part way along the ridge, which boasts some nice flat rocks that are perfect for a sandwich and drink stop.

P1050259

Almost at the bealach

P1050257

Enter a caption

From here you can choose which peak you climb first; we went north-east (left from the bealach) and up the short steep ascent to the smaller of the two munros, Stob Coire Raineach. As we left the bealach, the cloud came in, so it was a misty and atmospheric climb, with just the briefest of glimpses of how amazing the views from the top must be. The wind caught us occasionally on the way up which was nice and refreshing but unusually, there was very little wind at the summit. After trying and failing to take a few photos through the breaks in the cloud, we headed back down the stony hillside.

P1050264

Summit of Stob Coire Raineach

The climb to Stob Dubh is longer than to Stob Coire Raineach. When you look the opposite way (south-west) from the bealach, the summit that you can see is not Stob Dubh: you have to climb this, and then there is a little bit of descent before the final ascent to the second summit.

As we came down towards the bealach, the clouds cleared so we were able to distract ourselves from the effort of the second climb with the stunning views, both back across Glencoe to the Aonach Eagach and forwards, down to Loch Etive. The cairn marking the summit of Stob Dubh is not right at the end of the ridge, and it is worth continuing the short distance past this highest point to get the best views (and have another sandwich).

20160820_124552

Looking out to Loch Etive from the summit of Stob Dubh

20160820_125004

Team photo

To descend, you simply retrace your steps along the ridge, which is nice and wide but still has some very steep drops off either side, making it a pleasant ridge-walk.

P1050273

The Lairig Gartairn and Buachaille Etive Mor behind

We had a final pause for a drink and a snack at the bealach again before descending the path back down into the valley. Here, the steps that brought you quickly up seem a lot bigger (particularly for little legs like mine) and make it hard on the thighs and knees. However, it doesn’t last for too long and you are soon back on the flatter ground leading to the car park.

This only took the four of us about 4 ¾ hours, so there was plenty of time for a drink at the Clachaig before heading back to Stirling, where there was still time for a cup of tea and a chat before going home for dinner.

Details

Distance: 10km

Time: 4-6hours

Summits: 2 munros, Stob Coire Raineach and Stob Dubh

Comments:

A nice ridge-walk that doesn’t take too long and isn’t too strenuous; perfect for anyone wanting to experience the beauty of Glencoe without taking on some of the more challenging routes.

Not too much bog…. I actually took my gaiters off, which doesn’t happen often these days. We would recommend good boots though as the terrain is rough and rocky.

Most useful piece of kit/advice:

Jessica says: Remember your poles, they were great for getting me up the steep bits and helped my knees going down the big rock steps.

A Quality Mountain Day in Glencoe

Saturday was to be Chris’ last quality mountain day (QMD) before heading off for his Mountain Leader assessment, and what a quality mountain day it was!

Bidean Nam Bean and its neighbour, Stob Coire Sgreamhach, have been on our radar for a long time; we have just been waiting for a decent weather forecast to get out and do them. So we picked up our friend, Kirstie, at 7.30am on Saturday and drove up to Glencoe in the sunshine feeling very excited. We parked at the smaller of the two car parks halfway along the glen giving fantastic views of the Three Sisters, and set off towards the footbridge across the River Coe, whose water was a very enticing turquoise below.

P1040782

The path rises steeply up the valley

The path leads up between Aonach Dubh on the right and Gearr Aonach on the left, into Coire nan Lochan. Once up fairly high the towering walls and pinnacles of Stob Coire nan Lochan are very impressive. There was still a lot of snow in the gullies running down between the towers, which was marked with the zig zagging tracks of skis.

P1040786

Coire nan Lochan

Here we left the path and moved up the slopes on the right to the bealach (saddle) between Stob Coire nan Lachan and Aonach Dubh, then followed the ridge to the summit of Coire nan Lochan, admiring the crumbling pinnacles along the edge.

P1040789

The views were amazing: it was so clear that mountains extended in all directions and Ben Nevis was clearly visible, huge behind the Aonach Eagach ridge. From this point, you can see much of the rest of the walk: the ridges between the summits of the two munros and the path out through the Lost Valley (Coire Gabhail). We could also see that the descent into the Lost Valley was covered in snow and very steep.

P1040800

View of the ridge to Stob Coire Sgreamhach

We descended down to the next bealach with Chris spotting us on the steep sections and began climbing the ridge to the summit of Bidean nan Bean, which still had some snow on it. Here, we again marveled at the views and enjoyed a sandwich stop, during which we were joined by a Snow Bunting that wasn’t at all bothered by our presence.

Wandering along the next ridge section was lovely: the visibility was by far the best that I have ever experienced in Glencoe, and we gained the second munro summit easily.

We then had to decide how we were going to get down; this was causing a sort of bottleneck for all the other walkers up there, as the summer descent route was covered in what looked like an almost vertical wall of deep snow, which was clearly unusable without crampons and axes.

P1040814

The way out

Some people were either going all the way back the way we had come, making an extremely long day and others were going to try to get down the ridge beyond Stob Coire Sgreamhach. We decided to simply climb down the snow-free rocks and grass, thus bypassing the steepest section of snow. This wasn’t easy and Chris did an excellent job of guiding Kirstie and I down. The pair of walkers following just behind us and knocking rocks down towards us, did not help our descent. So, if you are ever above a group on steep, loose ground, please wait for them to move to safety before trying to descend yourself…..it might save a nasty accident!

P1040821

A steep descent!

Once onto the snow, we were able to move quite quickly down the slope and into the Hidden Valley with its towering cliffs on all sides.

P1040819.JPG

It’s a beautiful place, with the entrance blocked by gorgeous woodland and massive boulders, the smaller of which are worn smooth by a river that seems to have now disappeared underground. Picking our way through this was good fun and we saw a Blaeberry/Bilberry bumblebee (Bombus Monticola) queen on the flowering Blaeberry/Bilberry. These are my favourite bumblebees and are quite scarce. You are most likely to see them in upland areas; they are easily identifiable by their big red bottoms and yellow striped thorax.

P1040824

The Lost Valley

The walk out from this point is lovely, with waterfalls and pools on the right, so clear you can barely see the water, spring flowers emerging and steep cliffs above.

P1040826

Two of the Three Sisters

So altogether we had an absolutely fantastic day, perfectly finished by a delicious meal at the Rod and Reel in Crianlarich.