Big day out: 5 Munros in Glen Etive
“It will be a big day out,” the G-Force told me. But he has said that before other walks and I’d been fine. “Long and with lots of ascent,” he added. Ok, I thought, but we have been ticking off lots of multiple Munro days this summer.
“We might get to Munro three and decide not to do the other two, especially if the weather forecast is right,” he muttered. Hmmmmm. I began to worry a little.
What the G-Force did not mention, until half way around the five Munros of Glen Nevis hike, is that he had not actually walked this multiple bagging day before (he had walked Ben Starav in one outing and the other four Munros on another day).
Also, when he mentioned the five Munros day to a couple of Munro bagging pals they told him it was too much for them.
They were right. It was a massive day of 10.5 hours of hard walking and during the last two hours I thought I might never make it back to the van. But it was also an awesome day of Munro bagging in glorious Highlands scenery.
Five Munros in Glen Etive
The start point for the five Munros lying east of Loch Etive is a small rough parking area just east of the start of the track leading down to Coiletir, miles and miles along the singletrack Glen Etive road.
We had been here before a couple of New Years ago when we enjoyed the celebrations with friends at a fabulous Glen Etive country house. I had seen the high-rise mountains, including Beinn Starav, then and wondered when I might walk them.
The start offers a clear view of the first Munro of Starav. Beginning from almost sea level the hike up takes you just under 1100m to the summit. This is a stiff first climb, especially when you have four more Munros to hike. Many people choose to do Starav only on one day and I can see why.
The rewards for the climb are spectacular views down the glen and over Loch Etive. We could see the house in which we stayed that New Year. At this point the sun was shining in a bright blue sky and we thought the weather forecasters were wildly wrong.
By the time we reach the top of Beinn Starav at 1078m the clouds had clagged in and we had no views. For the next few hours the clouds came and went and while we enjoyed some breathtaking vistas these rarely occurred at the Munro summits. That was a bit sad but we have become familiar with cloudy Munro tops!
It turns out that the forecast had been correct when it said only 30 to 40 per cent chance of clear Munro summits.
On to Munro two
Munro two was Beinn nan Aighenan at 960m. The G-Force normally tells me that it’s a “squoosh” to reach the next Munro but he kept quiet on this one. He was right to do so. It is a long-ish detour to head south, and away from the main ridge, to reach nan Aighenan.
We left our rucksacks at the bealach so we could push upwards a little faster. Again the clouds surrounded us as we climbed higher. We met three guys on this Munro. They had a plan to walk four of the five Munros and had missed out Starav. They started at the same time as us (we overtook them on the bridge) so we knew we were making fairly good time.
Heading back to the bealach the clouds made visibility very tricky and for 10 tense minutes we struggled to recall/find where we had left our rucksacks. Thankfully they appeared in their bright colours in the mist and we carried o to Munro three.
Glas Bheinn Mhor (997m) did feel a little easy after the first two. But that was because we mistook a waymarker cairn for the top! It was very cloudy and it was only when we checked G’s watch for altitude that we realised we weren’t quite there. Twenty minutes more of upward walking brought us to the cloudy (yet again) summit proper.
At this stage it was important to take the right bearing to reach Munro four. We spent time looking at the map and working out the best line in the thickening mist.
There was an option at this point to simply return to the van and miss out the last two Munros. The weather wasn’t promising and we were both tired enough. Jointly we decided to keep going.
Munros four and five
Munro four was Stob Coir’an Albannaich. At 1044m it proved to be another beast of a hill and although the bealach height says 738m the climb seemed to go on forever.
At Munro four I thought, just one more and then we’re done. We plodded on towards Meall nan Eun (928m) with spirits still fairly high. Finding the route to avoid the crags wasn’t the easiest thing to do and we tried a few paths before settling on one. There were also large areas of steep rocky slabs to get over and many of these I did on my bum.
By now, my left foot, which always hurts while walking, was causing me quite a bit of pain and the downs were very sore on my knees. The G-Force has recently had an ankle operation but he seemed to be in better shape then me at this stage.
By the top of Munro five I felt almost done in. In a way I am pleased that I had no idea how long it would take to walk back to the van. I had heard the G-Force mutter something about a three-hour walk out but I chose to ignore this.
The route out heads down and through a glen. It wasn’t easy to find a path at first and we spent 30 minutes wandering in the wrong direction and then spotting the right route over where we’d come from.
It is a steep downhill to begin with and then a seemingly never-ending gentle descent. My knees were very sore at this point and I was feeling generally very fatigued.
We continued in companionable silence but after 90 minutes of walking on and on and on I voiced my frustrations. The G-Force immediately agreed. This was one very, very long walk out after a tough Munro bagging day. We were both very tired and began dreaming about pub meals and a large drink.
We tried hard to smile at this point but it was very difficult. Thankfully the sun returned and this meant we could shed our waterproof layers. As we reached the end of the glen and closed in on Fern the Van we were both truly exhausted but still managed to relish the stunning views all around.
We did manage a meal and a drink at the Kingshouse (in the friendly climbers’ bar) but could hardly keep our eyes open. Crashing out in the van felt truly amazing.
If you have the energy and determination the five Munros of Glen Etive is an incredible day. It is hard and long but it feels like an amazing achievement.
See Steve Fallon’s website for a good route of the five Glen Etive Munros.