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GLENCOE AND GLEN ETIVE

Around the deep and historical Glencoe and Glen Etive lie 27 Top 500 Summits, of which 19 are Munros. The best known peaks are Bidean nam Bian (also the highest summit in the area at 3,771ft), Buachaille Etive Mor with its much photographed north east face, and the Aonach Eagach ridge, probably the toughest ridge on mainland Britain.

The 27 Top 500 Summits are:

1    Bidean nam Bian                                               3,771 ft           2    Meall a’ Bhuiridh                                             3,635 ft

3    Creise                                                                 3,608 ft          4    Stob Ghabhar                                                   3,576 ft

5    Ben Starav                                                         3,537 ft           6    Stob Coir’ an Albannaich                               3,425 ft

7    Sgorr Dhearg                                                    3,360 ft           8    Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor)               3,351 ft

9    Sgorr Dhonuill                                                  3,284 ft        10  Glas Bheinn Mhor                                              3,271 ft

11  Sgor na h-Ulaidh                                              3,261 ft          12  Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (Aonach Eagach)       3,175 ft

13  Beinn nan Aighenan                                        3,150 ft          14  Beinn Fhionnlaidh                                            3,146 ft

15  Stob Dubh (Buachaille Etive Beag)                  3,143 ft        16  Stob a’ Choire Odhair                                      3,100 ft

17  Beinn Sgulaird                                                  3,074 ft        18  Meall nan Eun                                                   3,045 ft

19  Stob Coire Raineach                                        3,035 ft        20  Beinn Maol Chaluim                                        2,976 ft

21  Stob Dubh                                                       2,897 ft        22  Fraochaidh                                                         2,884 ft

23  Beinn Mhic Chasgaig                                      2,835ft         24  Beinn a’ Chrulaiste                                           2,812 ft

25  Beinn Trilleachan                                             2,756 ft        26  Creach Bheinn                                                  2,657 ft

27  Meall Lighiche                                                  2,533 ft

There are many great walks in this area with Munros abounding. I have selected three of my favourites

1  A circuit of Bidean nam Bian,

2  A tough day on the Starav ‘three’, and

3  An ascent of the ‘Buachaille’.

Loch Etive & the 3 'Stobs' of Glencoe
Loch Etive & the 3 'Stobs' of Glencoe

1. Bidean nam Bian

Bidean nam Bian (3,771 ft)

Also climbed Stob Coire Sgreamhach (Munro, 3,517 ft)

Distance 7 miles (11km) road to road, Height climbed (4,500 ft)

Bidean nam Bian is one of the great Scottish mountains, it is covered with steeps, ridges and hidden valleys. There are great views, north, south, east and west. Bidean dominates the south side of Glencoe and is viewed by many travelling north or south on the A82. Often a lone Piper plays at its foot. It is a mountain that demands respect, particularly in winter when the ridges and buttresses can become icy and there is an ever present risk of avalanches.

Bidian nam Bian from the north
Bidian nam Bian from the north

My favourite route up Bidean nam Bian starts at the car park just west of Allt-na-reigh Cottage and finishes two miles down the A82 at the west end of Loch Actriochtan. From the car park take the path that crosses the footbridge over the River Coe and climbs south west up the rocky gorge of the Allt Coire Gabhail. At 1,200ft you reach the flat bottomed ‘Lost Valley’ where the MacDonalds used to hide cattle in times of trouble. Continue along the path to the col between Stob Coire Sgreamhach and Bidean nam Bian at 3,100ft. Now turn left to ascend Stob Coire Sgreamhach.

Return to the col and climb north west up the ridge to the summit of Bidean nam Bian. There are a number of routes of descent. The route that I favour, partly because it leads directly to the Clachaig Inn, goes over Stob Coire nam Beith, then descends north to the west end of Loch Achtriochtan.

To descend directly to the car, you can return by the route of ascent or descend north east and climb Stob Coire an Lochain. A rocky descent down its east ridge takes you to Gearr Aonach. From here it is possible to descend north into Coire nan Lochan then a path leads back to the car or, if the weather is good, continue north east along the Gearr Aonach, then make a rocky scramble down to the route of ascent.

2. The Starav ‘Three’

Ben Starav   (3,537 ft)

Glas Bheinn Mhor (3,271 ft)

Beinn nan Aighenan (3,150 ft)

Distance 12 miles (20 km), Height climbed 6,100 ft   

At the head of Glen Etive, you will find the true Munroist. The area abounds with Munros and Corbetts but the toughest walk starts with Ben Starav, a relentless ascent of 3,500ft from the road, and, adds Beinn nan Aighenan and Glas Bheinn Mhor, a long and tough day of at least eight hours. The walk takes you to the heart of the Glen Etive mountains with some great views.

Drive down the single track road to Glen Coileitir Farm, about four kilometres from the road end at Loch Etive. Follow a path over the bridge at Coileitir. The path bends right and leads to another bridge over the Allt Mheuran. Continue along a path on the west side of the Allt Mheuran for about 400 metres.

Ben Starav the bridge at Coileitir
Ben Starav the bridge at Coileitir

Go right to climb south up the north ridge of Ben Starav. This is a brutal ascent of nearly 3,500ft, one of the biggest in Scotland, but it becomes easier as you gain height with improving views and a narrower, more interesting ridge. The summit is a cairn, a short distance south east of the Trig Point. From the cairn follow the ridge south east then east over Stob Coire Dheirg to a bealach at 766m, then descend south of east to the bealach west of Glas Bheinn Mhor.

From here descend a further 500 ft south east to a bealach at 2,000 ft, then climb the north ridge of Beinn nan Aighenan, just over 1,000ft of climbing. Return to the bealach between Ben Starav and Glas Bheinn Mhor , then turn east to climb to a minor top then finally Glas Bheinn Mhor. To return to the start, continue east for 500 metres then descend  north to the Allt Mheuran which is followed to the foot of Ben Starav and the start.

This is one of the toughest Munro walks and there is a huge satisfaction on completing it. I recommend dinner and a few pints at the Kings House to celebrate.

3. Buachaille Etive Mor

Stob Dearg   (3,351ft)

For many people ‘The Buachaille’ is their favourite mountain. It was named many years ago when cattle breeding was the Highlands’ principal industry. The name, Buachaille Etive Mor, means the ‘Big Herdsman of Etive’.

The Buachaille comes into view as you cross Rannoch Moor and its east face is one of Britain’s most photographed views. There are many famous  rock climbs on the east face including Curved Ridge and Crowberry Tower.  The standard route, however, is up Coire na Tulaich, a rocky and enclosed pull in summer, but more dangerous in snow in winter.

Buachaille Etive Mor from the Kingshouse
Buachaille Etive Mor from the Kingshouse

Park at Altnafeadh on the A82 road (reference 220563).  Follow the track south across the bridge over the River Coupall and, after a few hundred metres, take the right fork to the Coire na Tulaich. After crossing the moor, scramble up Coire na Tulaich on the right hand side of the burn, then go straight up the scree gully (care required) to the main ridge. Turn left and climb the summit rock pile of Stob Dearg with its magnificent view over Rannoch Moor.

From the summit of Stob Dearg, you can return to Altnafeadh by the same route. Alternatively you can traverse the full ridge to Stob na Broige (3,128ft), the other Munro on the ridge. The drop between the peaks is only 450ft so Stob na Broige does not qualify as a Top 500 Summit.

If traversing the full ridge, return from Stob Dearg to the top of Coire na Tulaich. Follow the ridge, which turns grassy, as it turns south to the foot of Stob na Doire. After a steep and stony traverse of this peak, a grassy bealach is reached. From here the final two summits on the ridge, Stob Coire Altruim and Stob na Broige are easily climbed. Return from Stob na Broige to the grassy bealach just south of Stob na Doire, then descend grassy slopes to the Lairig Gartain path. This is followed back to the A82 and Altnafeadh.

4. The Luss Hills includes 4 Grahams

5. Corbetts in the South

Ben Donich                2,778ft

The Brack                   2,582ft

Cnoc Coinnich           2,505ft

Ben Donich from near Rest and Be Thankful
Ben Donich from near Rest and Be Thankful

This walk takes you over three Top 500 Summits, all Corbetts, starting at the Rest and Be Thankful Pass and finishing at Lochgoilhead. Two cars are best to avoid a long walk back up the road to Rest and be Thankful. The walk has the advantage of adding Cnoc Coinnich to the normal Corbett round of Ben Donich and the Brack, avoiding a later trip to Cnoc Coinnich,  promoted to Corbett status in 2016.

Start at Rest and Be Thankful (high start point of 1,000ft). Ascend the north ridge to the summit of Ben Donich then descend east along a ridge to the Bealach Dubh-lic. From here a 1,300ft climb south east leads to the summit of the Brack. Descend south west to a bealach at 1,650ft and continue south to the summit of Cnoc Coinnich. From here descend north west then west to Lochgoilhead.