Lightweight tent. ✔
Lightweight sleeping bag. ✔
Lightweight stove. ✔
Half a toothbrush. ✔
Wafer of soap. ✔
Dehydrated water: I wish.
I’ve done everything possible to reduce the weight of my pack, so why is it so damn heavy? Around 35lbs, give or take. And there are no frivolities. Nothing for it, but to get it on and go.
I had planned what turned out to be an over ambitious route, but that wouldn’t be apparent until later. Just over 30 miles, starting at Taynuilt, crossing 6 (or possibly 7) Munros and finishing at Bridge of Orchy.
Jim and I set off from Taynuilt railway station, and made our way through the village. This was by far the trickiest section for navigating! I was glad I had the 1:25 000 map, otherwise I imagine we’d have been traipsing through gardens, rather than along an old path lined with ancient oak and Scots pine. This was also the crux of the route, did the footbridge actually exist? A couple of dog walkers reassured us that yes, the bridge was just ahead. We found it, crossed over and made our way up through the smokery, taking the road as it twisted up and round, then breaking off to take the track which will lead us north-east along the loch.
It’s a long haul up the loch, but the weather was kind and there was so much wildlife that we didn’t notice the hours disappearing behind us. We were serenaded by willow warblers, observed from afar by golden eagles and chattered at by stonechats. We saw great spotted woodpeckers clinging on to oak trees and families of red brested merganser. The variety was tremendous. Loch Etive is a sea loch, and with the aid of Jim’s binoculars we were able to spot seals and their pups on some rocky islands. However after 5 hours of walking it was time to leave the shore line and begin the ascent.
From the ruin at Inverghiusachan Point we took a line up towards a patch of green between the crags. The plan was to drop down and cross the burn, taking on fresh water, before ascending Ben Starav. The going was slow however. There was a faint deer path which we made use of, but otherwise we just made our way through the ferns and heather as best we could. Finally we made the grass between the crags and rounded the hill. Our jaws dropped, as did our spirits. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how steep those contours are. The ground here dropped away, the burn unseen below, then the hill climbed, horrendously steeply from the other side all the way to the summit. Time for Plan B…
A look at the map showed that a longer, put possibly easier ascent could be made if we continued up Stob an Duine Ruaidh. The only problem was, Jim was very low on water and our next resupply was over two more hills, unless we dropped off the ridge. We ascended over slabby outcrops, quite pleasurable when dry. The heat and lack of water, combined with a rucksack even heavier than mine was telling on Jim, and he was forced
than he would like. At one point I looked back, to see him below, a golden eagle flying below him before effortlessly gliding off to the other side of the corrie.
We continued upwards, clambering over rock until eventually we came to the small cairn marking the 882m spot height. This was only a brief respite though. We looked back down the loch, our route laid out behind us. Ben Cruachan was still dotted with patches of snow, and from this angle Beinn Eunaich looked amost Shiehallion-esque.
Onwards and upwards as the saying goes, a series of climbs and drops, interspersed with pauses which ate into our time. With the 918m summit of Stob an Duine Ruaidh behind me, I dropped down towards the bealach which lies before the 930m summit of Meall Cruidh and headed for two decent sized standing pools of water, and set the stove up, to boil water for Jim. This would probably be as good as it was going to get for water. When he arrived a short while later, he was done in. This would have to be our camp for the night.
We set up the tents, the sloping ground not ideal, but we could live with it. I had failed to bring a windshield for the stove, and my Heath-Robinson effort involving poles and a tea towel soon went up in smoke…
Jim had had enough for one day, so I set off alone, the top now intermittently shrouded in scudding clouds. Even without the heavy pack, I felt drained. Between the rocks there was a grassy strip which led right to the lower summit cairn. I made a note of the pool of water marking the turn and headed along the rim of a corrie which still retained large patches of snow. Just as I was approaching the summit a movement caught my eye- a ptarmigan chick! It sat just long enough for a photo before scuttling off.
I was on the summit, alone and with darkness fast approaching. It was 10pm, almost 11 hours of some of the most energy sapping walking to get here. I took in the fading view, out towards Mull, back towards Cruachan and up into Glencoe, then descended to the tent, arriving just before the dark did.
I awoke at the bottom of my tent. Despite being on a slope I had slept fairly well. 5am, and no view though. We were shrouded in grey murk. No photo opportunities, so back to bed.
6.30am and I dragged myself out of the tent, shivering in the early morning chill. A breakfast of army issue muesli and hot chocolate was tucked away, as was the tent, sleeping and stove. Yesterday had revealed our limitations, and it was time to rein in that ambition. Instead a more modest route lay ahead.
We climbed over Meall Cruidh to another bealach, flat as a billiard table with limitless water from an olypic sized pool. Well, that’s how it appeared in comparison to the previous nights camp. Rather than ascend Ben Starav again, just to drop down the ridge, we engaged in a tricky traverse of the corrie, picking our way across scattered rock, scrambling across slabs and eventually arriving in a hanging corrie above the waterfalls. We relaxed here for a while before setting off to pick up the deer path we could see leading on to the ridge. Below us a herd of deer ran off at our approach, apart from one who turned and walked towards us, calling out loudly. We sat and watched as it appeared torn between coming to us and following the others. Eventually after much calling from it’s compatriots, it headed away.
We made our way up the far more established path, Meall nan Tri Tighearnan falling first, then finally Glas Bheinn Mhor, just shy of the 1000m mark. Looking back at Ben Starav, we could see the distinctive vein of quartz running up towards the summit, looking from here like a waterfall.
The descent to the bealach below Stob Coire an Albannaich was steep and tricky, especially as we were so heavily laden. We would now descend along the path of the Eas a’ Choire Dubh, the going tremendously slow. A slow descent means time to take in the plant and animal life. Sundews, butterworts, frogs and possibly even a baby adder or two, too fast for the camera though. The woodland on the map is natural, young and not yet established, and we passed through this easily, before crossing the river and picking up a quad track, which led us to the bridge marked on the map at NN 186 402. Or would have, had it existed. It appears this bridge has gone, luckily the water was low and we could cross easily.
The path was easier to follow here and aware of the time factors (the train awaited us) we put in a blistering pace, which meant that when we took a break at a small hut at Loch Dochard I had to put on a fresh pair of socks to take the sting out of my feet. The next bridge, at NN 232 417 did exist, but I avoided it, instead sticking to the 4×4 track. This required two fordings, the second being great fun, huge boulder stepping stones in deep water. From here we followed the crumbling river bank as it shadowed the slow moving, peaty Abhainn (river) Shira to Forest Lodge and then by road to Victoria Bridge. Here we met a guy doing the West Highland Way, with a tale of the indifferent attitude of the staff at the Inveroran Hotel. This chimed with my previous recollection of a visit there, and though we then stopped outside for a breather, we didn’t go in. Apparently the hundred thousand welcomes has worn thin here.
The final section took almost an hour on the West Highland Way, rising towards the crest of the lower slopes of Beinn Inverveigh, then round and down into Bridge of Orchy. Beer should be earned and we had both earned ours, the pace we had set on these last miles meant we had arrived with an hour to spare. We now appeared to be just long distance walkers, but unlike many of the others, our journey was ended. A miniature epic which introduced a new corner of the country to me. A return most definately awaits.