Signing Off the Summer: Camping High on Ben Starav

A fantastic way to sign off a great summer of adventure by enjoying a spectacular summit camp on Ben Starav, before taking in Beinn nan Aighenan and Glas Bheinn Mhor.

[September 2018]

For my last chance at wild camping and Munro-bagging before starting my final year at university, I wanted to try and pick somewhere that would be challenging and preferably in an area that I hadn’t visited before. I opted to attempt a summit camp on Ben Starav, a mountain that sits on the shoreline of Loch Etive. Having read a fair bit about the hill and about a couple of summit camps, I knew that this would be no easy ascent and that the second day – taking in Glas Bheinn Mhor, often included with Ben Starav, and the more remote Beinn nan Aighenan – would be even tougher. Although not the most Munros I had completed in a single trip, I was looking forward to this challenge and was itching to get started!

With a decent weather forecast for the first few days in September, I headed north to embark on my last big adventure of the summer, excited about the challenge that lay ahead. As always, the drive along the A82 was absolutely stunning – although busier every time I drive it for some reason – and I soon reached the narrow road down Glen Etive, somewhere I’d only been once before by car and never walked.

I found a suitable spot to leave the car, well away from the road or any passing places, grabbed my pack and headed off around 1245 along the road back up the glen for a short distance. I soon reached the gate where a track heads for a bridge across the river Etive, Before turning south towards Ben Starav and its neighbours.

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Beginning the adventure
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Some of the trip’s objectives

After passing a cottage, I followed the path along the river Etive where a small footbridge across the Allt Mheuran. From here, it was easy enough to follow a path – splitting at around 170m (the left branch is for a direct ascent of Beinn nan Aighenan, the right for Ben Starav) towards the summit of my first and only Munro of the day.

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Beautiful surroundings
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Looking up Glen Etive
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Excellent ascent views

The path was good, making the only real difficulties the heat, my fairly heavy pack and the sustained ascent. However, it was very difficult to complain with such breathtaking views all around me.

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Looking up Glen Etive
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Ben Starav

There were no major obstacles until a couple of hundred metres below the summit, where the ridge narrows and there are some boulders to negotiate on the way to the summit. Taking my time, these were fairly easy to hop across and before long I was at the summit.

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Nearing the ridge to the summit
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Almost at the summit
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Looking back along the ascent route

I reached the summit at around 1545, 3 hours after leaving the car. Considering the warm weather and my heavy pack with my bigger tent and some extra warm clothing, I was pleased with my progress. I certainly wasn’t going to rush up the mountain and miss the chance to take photos of the stunning scenery!

As if the views on the ascent weren’t already amazing enough, I was blessed with even more to look at from the summit. Being the largest mountain in this area, I could see huge distances in all directions. To name but a few ranges, I could see towards the Cruachan Munros, the Orchy Munros, the Black Mount, Glen Coe, Ben Nevis and more!

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Looking south towards Ben Cruachan
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Spectacular summit views
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Looking SE from the summit cairn

After enjoying some time at the summit, it was time to head towards the flat area of ground between Ben Starav’s 2 summits, where I found a good pitch for my tent and collected some water from the small lochan near the southern summit. I feasted on spaghetti bolognese and Angel Delight (not mixed together!) and headed back to the summit to sit and enjoy what was turning out to be an awesome sunset.

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Spectacular sunset

I definitely didn’t move much for a good couple of hours, rather simply staring in awe at the brilliant views and thinking what an amazing way this was to round off a great summer of adventure. The sun soon sank below the surrounding hills and I decided it was probably best to head to bed as I wanted to try and be up before the sunrise and catch that from the summit too.

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An excellent pitch for the evening

I woke around 0530 and opened my tent eager to see if I was in cloud or not. Thankfully, I couldn’t see any cloud from my tent door, but after packing up and stepping outside, I noticed that much of the area below the summit was shrouded in cloud. Great – my first inversion!!

I headed for Ben Starav’s southern summit to enjoy an amazing sunrise, more than a match for the previous evening’s sunset, perhaps even more spectacular.

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Cloud inversion from the summit
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Sunrise over Glas Bheinn Mhor

Happy that I’d witnessed a beautitul sunrise, I set off towards Stob Coire Dheirg along a narrow and airy ridge that was quite fun at around 0700! After the narrow ridge, the steep path descended to a bealach where I diverted from the route to head for Beinn nan Aighenan, a fairly featureless hump, but a Munro nonetheless.

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A stunning morning

The ascent of Beinn nan Aighenan was simple but strenuous, following a steep path all the way to the summit. The cloud was, however, starting to lift so I wasn’t sure if I might end up in cloud upon reaching the summit. Determined to beat the rising cloud, I pressed on, stopping now and again to take photos of sneak peaks of the surrounding mountains.

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Ben Cruachan

I reached the summit of Beinn nan Aighenan at around 0820, around 1hr 15mins after leaving the summit of Ben Starav. Thankfully, the cloud was starting to break up around Starav to let me see where I’d come from earlier on, but the cloud was still shrouding Glas Bheinn Mhor, leaving me doubtful that I’d see much from my last Munro of the trip.

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Ben Starav from Beinn nan Aighenan

I left the summit of Beinn na Aighenan following the reverse of my ascent, soon reaching the bealach between Starav and Meall nan Tri Tighearnan, where I turned east and headed up and over this mountain on the way to Glas Bheinn Mhor. The weather was cloudy, but this meant I wasn’t overly warm, and a chilly strong wind meant I needed to stop and stick on an extra layer before continuing my ascent. With a couple of stops, I made it to the summit of Glas Bheinn Mhor at around 1015, just shy of 2 hours of effort from Beinn nan Aighenan and around 3 hours of effort since leaving Ben Starav.

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Cloudy atop Glas Bheinn Mhor

As I was in the cloud and running out of food and water, I didn’t hang about long and headed east off the summit of Glas Bheinn Mhor to reach another bealach, where I turned north to follow a feint path along the Allt Mheuran, which was extremely boggy in places, but not hugely steep.

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Descent route

After an hour or so of descent, I reached a junction in the path where a boggy shortcut misses out needing to descend all the way to the river Etive to reach the small cottage at the bridge over the river. I think at this point I was too exhausted to care about ending up ankle deep in bog, so off I went, wading through the soft, muddy ground, doing well not to end up knee deep in places.

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A boggy end to the trip

I reached the car shortly before 1300 and after a long morning, quickly got changed and had a quick drink and a bite to eat before making the journey south again. This was an absolutely spectacular trip and one that has left me hungry for more multi-Munro days and summit camps, so let’s see what the summer of 2019 brings!

 

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