Ben Starav Southern Tops & a Wrecked Car!

31 07 2014

Sat 28 June 2014
Well, I didn’t do badly on this weekend trip but my car came out very much worse for wear! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Unbeknown to me at the time, I had an extremely dangerous drive home indeed…

(click on photos for full size/resolution)
I’d arranged to meet up with a guy, Jon, off my current walking forum to walk part of these hills together. However, as I’m now doing ‘tops’ as opposed to Munros, we had slightly different agendas so separated after the Munro to follow our own routes. We were blessed with superb weather – clear and dry but not too hot (although it went off for a time at the Munro summit). Last time I slogged up the North-East ridge with Richard, I voted this the hardest Munro ascent but temperatures were up in the 80s… I was hoping this time I’d find it easier in the cooler weather.

Jon was camping at Kinlochleven and would meet me at 0900 – I intended to car-camp down the Loch Etive road the night before. After an earlier arrival in the Highlands than I expected, I had a meal in the Rod & Reel in Crianlarich, a few drinks in the Kingshouse Hotel bar and then set off down the Loch Etive road… It was a lot rougher than I remembered from previous visits and I resolved never to take my poor ol’ Sunny down there again!

The Buachaille Sweep
What I call ‘The Bums of The Buachailles’ ๐Ÿ˜‰

After bumping down around 9 miles of the road, passing very many fellow campers en-route, I finally arrived at the area of parking for Ben Starav. The carpark only had one space left amongst the camping vans and other cars and it looked very rough so I continued briefly. A few yards later, I arrived at the spot where I’d parked for my previous visit – a single car pull-in. I slowly reversed into it but, as my front end entered the space, there was a huge bang!

Thinking I must have hit a boulder I hadn’t noticed, I got out to have a look – nope, no boulders. I went back to the front of the space where the car had left the tarmac and found I’d hit a spot where the drop down from the tarmac was around 9 inches higher than the parking which hadn’t been visible as I reversed ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Best check the poor car out…

I was thinking that I’d probably just banged the front of the bodywork on the tarmac as the car went down so checked the front end first – looked and felt okay. The car looked quite normal in fact. I opened the bonnet to check that the front suspension spring hadn’t broken upwards through its mounting – all looked fine there too and the car looked straight (usually a suspension problem would leave it listing badly). I had a quick peer underneath but couldn’t see anything untoward. I apologised profusely to the poor car and set about setting it up for sleeping in. No midges yet thankfully – this place is notorious for them!

I woke up very early indeed as the night was pretty cold and also I was wondering whether it was going to be possible to descend into the corrie between Ben Starav and Glas Bheinn-Mhor. As soon as it was light I was peering away at the corrie wall – I kept changing my mind about the possibility of the route however…

Ben Starav range and lochan
Photo taken on another day of the Starav Range – Ben Starav on the right and my return col is the low point on the ridge…

Eventually, with the sun still not having reached my cold car, I got up to get ready. Getting washed was a nightmare as, the minute you took any clothing off, you were completely covered in a layer of black, biting midges ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Breakfast was nigh-on impossible and I had to just walk up and down the road in the breeze eating it. I’d been going to make a flask and morning coffee and had remembered my stove and plenty of water… but I’d forgotten my kettle!

Just before nine, Jon arrived and introduced himself. We set off as soon as we could to escape the midges and headed down the track to the cottage of Coiletir. I was a bit miffed when I saw the ‘keep out’ notices which have sprung up and the path diversion around ‘their property’ – we were only going to walk past on the track! How do they think people in villages and towns manage where people are sometimes walking directly past their front windows?

Allt nam Meirleach pool
Tempting plunge pool on the Allt nam Meirleach

We were soon slogging up the long, steep ridge chatting away merrily as walkers new to each other tend to do. We were both finding the climb pretty strenuous and kept stopping briefly – I soon decided it was just as hard as I’d remembered and seemed to go on much longer.

Glas Bheinn Mhor
Good views from the ridge – Glas Bheinn Mor (above) and looking north (below)
Glencoe Hills from High on Starav N Ridge

Starav Northern Ridge Corrie
A brief level section…

Eventually, we’d slogged up all the steep grass, followed the flatter section where the cliffs on one side fall into the corrie, and were starting on the long section of boulders rising steeply to the summit. We noticed that a huge, new section of the cliffs into the corrie had fallen away…

Ben Starav

Ben Starav - Narrow Part of North Ridge

Ben Starav from North Ridge

The boulder section was finally dealt with and we reached the summit at last – this was where we split up – Jon to continue along to the eastern top of Stob Coire Dheirg, me to the southern tops of Meall Cruidh and Stob an Duine Ruaidh.

Ben Starav Summit from South
Looking back at the summit and our ascent ridge
Ben Starav North Ridge from Summit Ridge

Ben Starav-looking down into northern corrie
Looking down into northern corrie

Ben Starav Southern Tops
My Southern Tops

I was pleased to find a little path in the grass heading towards the southern edge of Starav’s summit plateau. As I peered over the edge I was delighted to see that the grassy path continued down a single grassy rake all the way to the col ๐Ÿ™‚

Ben Starav Accommodating Grassy Rake
Obliging grassy rake!

I romped merrily off downwards and soon arrived at the col and a very easy climb indeed to the first top of Meall Cruidh which had it’s own grassy rake all the way to the summit – what obliging hills! Strangely, all the way down between the boulders, I could smell a strange smell of brimstone – like there’d been a rock collapse but I couldn’t see one and hadn’t heard anything…

Meall Cruidh, Starav Behind
Looking back at Meall Cruidh

The onward route along the ridge had a short, easy descent on stony ground to another col and then a more bouldery route with a slightly longer, harder climb to Stob an Duine Ruaidh. The boulders turned out to be nothing like as dense as those up to Starav and I reached the top minutes later and with little trouble.

Starav-Stob an Duine Ruaidh
Stob an Duine Ruaidh (Ben Cruachan behind)
On Stob an Duine Ruaidh Summit

I seemed to have a few options for my return… I could return to the bealach between Starav and Glas Bheinn-Mhor, either by re-crossing Meall Cruidh to what looked like a path contouring round to the bealach I’d been observing from the car, or by dropping down into the corrie from the col between my two tops and ascending to the same bealach. It also looked like I could drop down to the valley south of the tops but not directly from my ridge as there were many crags below the narrowing promenade. There would be a route further east and then south though.

There were shielings marked on the map in the southern valley and it looked a lovely place. I’d also noted, during the ascent, the presence of a path running below Starav along Loch Etive which looked really nice and would be a flat walk. I quickly totted up the return mileage along the loch and decided that, with potential problems getting down to the valley anyway, I’d stick to the return I’d originally planned and hope for a path down from the bealach…

I finally chose to retrace my steps across Meall Cruidh and traverse around the corrie, hopefully on a path. When I got there I saw there wasn’t really a path but it looked mainly okay… apart from one gorge…

I headed across the corrie, descending quite a way to a flat shelf and pretty soon reached the gorge… It’s very hard to see whether you can descend into something steep or not from above and, after dithering for a while, I decided it wasn’t all that advisable, even though I thought I could see where people had scrabbled up the far side.

My next choice was whether to lose lots of height and descend to the corrie floor but the exit back to the col looked hard work. The best option looked to be to flog steeply up the grass beside the gorge to where it looked like there was an easy route across. By now, people descending the Munro Top of Stob Coire Dheirg were stood watching me probably wondering why I was dithering around in the corrie…

Luckily the gorge crossing was fine above and I could also see that I could actually have descended the original bank route – albeit very steeply. After the gorge I was more or less on the side of the ridge down from the Munro Top and reached the col easily.

Awkward Gorge-Aighenan Behind
The gorge from my crossing point

Beinn nan Aighenan
The lovely Beinn nan Aighenan – not this time unfortunately…

As I approached the col I could see a path did indeed set off steeply down the headwall… Soon I was slithering down the steep and loose path – it was a lot longer descent that it had looked from afar.

On reaching the corrie floor, you’d think the excitement might stop but the path continued loosely and a few surprises presented themselves as I made progress down the hillside.

First up, I was watching where I was putting my feet on the loose path when my brain suddenly signalled there was some verticality ahead… I looked up and saw a sheer wall right ahead dropping down into a gorge which started immediately from the edge of the path. I was glad I was paying attention!

Sudden Gorge

The path headed round the very edge of the head of the spectacular gorge and momentarily along one wall of it – I watched my step even more carefully. Shortly after that, there was a side gorge to cross – this one wasn’t as deep and didn’t have vertical walls. In fact a little path traversed into, and then out of, the gorge…

The path into the gorge was fine but the one out the other side was on very loose stuff with boulders balanced precariously in it. The boulders, unfortunately, made up the path and you were supposed to stand on them. Now, I’m not all that heavy I suppose but I really didn’t think one huge boulder I had to stand on would stay put so I clung onto the even bigger boulder right above it and shuffled past – luckily both held.

From then on the valley opened out, the gradient lessened, the main burn emerged from its gorge and the path firmed up a bit – phew. It was quite a long descent back to the car and I was now in sight of the path Jon would be taking down from the Glas Bheinn-Mhor/Albannaich col for his return but couldn’t see anyone on it.

Allt nam Mearlaich Gorge
Looking back to col

As we’d missed the river bridge on the way out, I made sure I continued my descent until I reached it and then had a pleasant stroll back along the river bank. The river was so low I could really have paddled across straight to the car. I was again irked as I passed Coiletir Cottage and its signs…

Beinn Trilleachan&R Etive
Beinn Trilleachan

River Etive &  Ben Starav (portrait)
Our ascent ridge from the river bridge

On arriving back at the car, I decided that, as I never wanted to drive the terrible Loch Etive road again, I’d take a final trip down to the roadend to look at the beautiful loch…

Ben Cruachan fm Loch Etive
Loch Etive – Ben Cruachan behind

Loch Etive Campsite

Ben Starav & Loch Etive
Loch Etive – Ben Starav behind

Rhodie profusion
Glen Etive in rhododendron season (taken on a previous visit)

On my return from the loch, I ended up accosting a strange gentleman! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I thought I saw Jon sat in his car prior to driving away and stopped adjacent to get out for a quick chat. Went something like this:

Me: “How did it go then? It was a hot and hard walk wasn’t it?”
Chappie: (non-commitally) “Er, yes it was quite warm”
Me: “So, do you think you’ll be out again tomorrow?”
Chappie: “Oh yes, definitely… I have to as I’m meeting someone…”
Me (a bit puzzled) “Yes… me…”

Chappie looked extremely puzzled now but the light still didn’t dawn on me…

Me: “For Creag Meagaidh…”
Chappie: “No, I’m meeting someone else for…” can’t remember where but it was in Glencoe I think

Me (light finally dawning): “Ah, I don’t think you’re who I thought you were. I wasn’t walking with you today then?”

Chappie: “Nope, not me” (thinking, “Nutter… stalker… got to get away…”) LOL

The upshot of the car story was that, after I’d driven the 300+ miles home after another day’s walking on Creag Meagaidh and taken my car down to the garage to be looked at, I got a shock. The garage were horrified at the damage under the car and couldn’t understand how I’d got home without killing myself. They said the shock absorber on one side had smashed through the bottom mounting and sharp bits of metal had been trying to shred the tyre all the way home! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ The only symptom I’d heard and felt was a knocking and juddering when I braked!

Stats: 8.5 miles, 4310 feet of ascent, 7.5 hours

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12 responses

7 08 2014
fedup

Fantastic photos, especially the last ones of Loch Etive ๐Ÿ˜€

I haven’t ventured down Glen Etive yet in the campervan, not sure I want to now!! At least your faithful car survived with only minor surgery, he will be glad when you finally get the tops done, unless your going after the Corbetts?

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10 08 2014
mountaincoward

I’m definitely not going to be collecting all the Corbetts – only the ones I like the look of or which appeal in some way. Richard’s interested in doing some of them, especially in Sutherland.

The road has got really rough and I found I had to drive the whole road at much less than 30mph. It is a really beautiful and spectacular glen though…

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1 08 2014
McEff

Great write-up as usual, Carol. Shame about the car, but these things happen. Great pictures as well. Are you still using the SLR or have you turned digital?
Cheers, Alen

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10 08 2014
mountaincoward

Still my truly old Zenith – I won’t give it up unless film costs get too prohibitive for me or the camera gets lost, stolen or broken.

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10 08 2014
McEff

I’ve just given my old Zenith E to a friend of my wife’s who sells stuff at car boot sales to raise money for a bee-keepers’ club. Hopefully someone will get some use from it and lots of bees will be happy. Even buzzing.

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11 08 2014
mountaincoward

Great cause – bees need all the help we can give them right now!

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1 08 2014
bob

Snap Carol. Just had a costly Mot repair to my car to get it through. 11 years old now and not the most reliable motor ever built. Being French the repairs are never straightforward as they have a passion for sticking easy to replace objects in hard to reach areas… like directly under the engine block.. or tucked away behind something extremely large and heavy that has to be removed first to carry out a five minute ******** repair. **** the French!!!!
ยฃ200 quid more expensive than it should have been.
On a positive note well done on getting more tops in the bag. There is a fantastic gorge in Glen Ceitlein that you can walk up along the bottom to do Meall Nan Eun or Stob Coir an Albannaich. very easy scrambling and exit with no exposure but really dramatic scenery throughout if you change your mind about Glen Etive.

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10 08 2014
mountaincoward

I’ve decided I’ll cycle down Glen Etive in future so I hope to be down there again – just not in my cars!

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31 07 2014
Scotlands Mountains

Poor Sunny ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Bob gave me his old Datsun Cherry years ago and both of us reckon it was a fantastic wee car for reliability. Keep us updated on her hospital visit ๐Ÿ™‚

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31 07 2014
mountaincoward

The Sunny’s a ‘he’ – all my cars are hes and my motorbike is a she ๐Ÿ˜‰ As this was more than a month ago, my car is now back and fixed. Cost a few hundred but the car is like new again to drive ๐Ÿ™‚ I think the shocker was on its way out anyway – I’d taken it into the garage several times this year saying I wasn’t happy with the suspension as there were creaking and groaning noises. Has to be one of the most reliable cars in the world though – apart from my old Cortina ๐Ÿ™‚

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31 07 2014
Paul Shorrock

Scary end to your trip Carol – I always think that the most dangerous part about being in the mountains is the getting there and back!
Good hill day by the sound of it ๐Ÿ™‚

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31 07 2014
mountaincoward

It was a very productive hill weekend – but, like you say, the dangerous part is certainly the driving up and down to the hills!

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