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Glen Etive five Munros in a day

Written by Fiona

January 05 2022

Hubby G and I walked five Munros in Glen Etive in one day. This article was published in The Scots Magazine. If you enjoyed reading this article, why not buy another Scots Magazine, or a subscription?

Glen Etive five Munros in a day

Studying the route of five Munros in Glen Etive, in the Glencoe area of the Scottish Highlands, on our paper map, I could see it would be a big day out.

With a sea level start, a total ascent of 2560 metres (8400ft) and a walk of 25km (15.5 miles, the statistics suggested: “Long and tough.”

Even my husband Gordon, who usually mutters something about it being “a bit of a cinch”, confessed: “It’s going to be challenging, with lots and lots of up and downs.” He had previously hiked the five mountains, but as as two day outings, although many people are likely to split the five peaks into three or four trips.

Van night and a walk

After a night in Fern the Canpervan, we set off from rough parking area at the north-east end of stunning, fjord-like Loch Etive. Almost immediately, we were faced with a stiff climb. The mountain of Beinn Starav loomed ahead, a magnificent yet ominous bulk of rock that would take us to the highest point of the route.

The angle of the narrow and rocky path didn’t allow for any kind of warm up – and it was not until around 600 metres that there was a slight easing of the slope, although it then became bouldery.

With thoughts of the many miles of walking ahead, we rarely allowed ourselves a stop to catch our breath, yet when we did we were rewarded with superb views back along Glen Etive.

Until we reached around 800m elevation, the sun shone in a bright blue sky and we thought the weather forecast was somehow wildly wrong. Of course, it wasn’t. Making a final climb to the 1078m summit along an undulating ridge of rocks and boulders, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by thick clouds. 

Sadly, there was no view from the top and for the next few hours the clouds came and went. While I do love a day in the mountains with clear vistas, there is also something satisfying about a cloudy day of occasional views.

Throughout the walk, as we followed the mountainous loop up and down, we would be suddenly treated to gaps in the clouds and short, but tantalisingly beautiful, shots of the glen below or high peaks in the distance. 

Munro 2: Beinn nan Aighenan

The next summit, Beinn nan Aighenan is a relatively remote peak and many people bag it on its own. Instead, we detoured from the ridge, south for a distance of some 4km, to the 960m peak. 

This section required a descent to a low point of around 600m before climbing again. We enjoyed several cloud-free views and, joyfully, we were able to drop our rucksacks at the bealach because we knew we would be retracing our steps.

Thick mist again surrounded us as we carefully ascended and, seemingly out of nowhere, three men approached us. 

They told us they planned to walk four of the five Munros and had, perhaps sensibly in retrospect, missed out Starav. A small cairn on slabby rocks marked the top and we didn’t wait about because it was wet and cold.

Heading back to the bealach the clouds made visibility very tricky and for several tense minutes we struggled to recall where we had left our packs. Thankfully, their bright colours suddenly jumped out in a patch of faded mist – and we carried on to Munro three.

Munro 3: Glas Bheinn Mhor

Glas Bheinn Mhor seemed much easier after the first two mountains, although it was because, at first, we mistook a waymarker cairn for the top. In mitigation, the clouds were again swirling thickly and it was only when we checked our watches for an altitude reading that we knew we weren’t quite there. Twenty minutes more ascending took us to the summit proper at 997m.

At this stage, we knew 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.

We considered, too, the option to cut the long walk short, returning to Glen Etive and leaving Stob Coir’an Albannaich and Meall nan Eun for another day. These two Munros often provide the focus of a day’s hike, especially for walkers keen to escape the busier Glencoe peaks.

But Gordon and I both relish a challenge and we grinned ruefully at each other as we made the decision to keep going.

Final two of five Munros

Through another gap in the clouds, we could see to the bulky hulk of Glas Bheinn Mhor. The corries north and south can be tricky  to navigate so we stopped frequently to reassess our bearing. Rising to 1044m, it proved to be another beast of a hill and the climb seemed to go on forever.

Finally making the summit, my mind suddenly flicked to: “Just one more, then we can get back to the campervan.”

This meant that as we plodded on towards Meall nan Eun my spirits were high. We focused on finding the right route and climbing up and down steep rocky slabs. 

But I could feel my leg muscles becoming fatigued and the usual niggles of sore hips and knees were starting to plague me.

Because the weather was forecast to be poor, we had ensured we were carrying lots of spare clothes, safety kit and food. As a result, my rucksack was heavy.

By the top of Munro five I felt almost done in. Taking a rest at the cairn, I asked Gordon how long he thought it would take to walk back to the van. When he said around 2.5 hours, I could hardly believe him. 

The long walk out

We had been on the go in challenging terrain for almost eight hours and I had been hoping it would be a fairly short stroll along the glen for the return. I had been fooling myself, of course, because even a tiny glance a the map showed we had many more kilometres left to walk.

The descent from Meall nan Eun summit at 928m to Coire Riabhach was steep and craggy. Further on, while a gentler gradient, the ground was rough, tussocky and boggy.  We followed a muddy path alongside the rushing waters of Allt Ceitlin. Finally, the clouds had lifted and we could delight at great views ahead and behind us.

Eventually – and I emphasise this word – we reached a Landrover track in Glen Etive. I was so sure that this must be where we had left the van, but, no, we had further to go.

It felt like we had slowed to half our usual speed and when we could finally see the blue van ahead, we chad no energy to pick up our pace.

There are many advantages of campervan ownership, but the one I was most thankful for at the end of the big hike was a fridge of cold beers and a home-made evening meal ready to be heated on the stove.

Kit list for Munro five

Wear comfortable walking clothes and waterproof boots

Pack in a rucksack:

  • Waterproof jacket and over-trousers
  • Spare insulated jacket x 2
  • Gloves x 2
  • Hat
  • Emergency bivvy bag or blanket
  • Map
  • Compass
  • Mobile phone
  • Food and water
  • Head torch

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