Buachaille Etive Mor: the ultimate day on the hill?

Hills: Buachaille Etive Mor: Stob Dearg, Stob na Broige
Date: 25 July 2009
Weather: Glorious!
Who: self, Stuart, Liam, stunning views, slabs, scree.. and a late special guest appearance from bog
Distance: 8 ½ miles (I think)
Time: 8 ½ hours including breaks – but worth taking time over

What makes the ultimate hill walk? I think it’s a case of different strokes for different folks. For us, glorious views are definitely a must. Maybe some challenge, too, but not enough to trigger a flight or fight response. Brown pants moments aren’t my bag, one of the reasons I will probably never finish the Munros. But the sort of day that makes you remember why you took up this hobby? This day was damn near perfect, and even now, 6 years on, it is my favourite day on the hills.

For me, Buachaille Etive Mor was probably the iconic Scottish mountain. Stuart and I first went to Scotland in 2006 and decided to stay in Glencoe. On driving across Rannoch Moor and seeing the huge triangular outline of the Buachaille, Stuart declared ‘That’s a Munro, that is. I’d like to climb one of those some day’. Being two years past my back operation my response was something along the lines of don’t be daft. I didn’t realise of course, that there was an easy (ish) way up and you didn’t have to go straight up the front!!

Two days before this walk, Stuart and our friend Liam had finished the West Highland Way. I’d joined them for the last day of the walk and we’d then had a chill out day pottering around in Ardgour. The forecast for the Saturday was fabulous and a fair bit of dithering ensued about what to do. We narrowed it down to either Meall a’Bhuiridh and Creise, or Buachaille Etive Mor. On taking a look at the actual weather (as opposed to the forecast) the following morning the decision to tackle ‘something a bit challenging’ as Liam put it , was made. I’d said before I’d only tackle the Buachaille on a really good day, and we’d got one, so feeling just a tad nervous (well, I was) off we went. Parked at a pretty busy Altnafeadh at 9.30, and after the usual faffing with kit we were off shortly before 10. I for one was hoping that Coire na Tulaich wasn’t quite as vertical as it looked.

The initial walk in was pretty gentle, and it was clearly going to be one of those rare nice days with clear air and great views. 😀

Fairly soon though, the climb started to toughen up and a break part way up was needed. The views were definitely more than worth the effort though. 😀

The NTS have clearly been doing a lot of work here, and for most of the way up the corrie there is now a constructed path, although there are still a few sections where it is a bit awkward or you could lose it in the scree. Certainly better than heading straight up the gully in the middle though. You do have to go into or nearly into it at various points, but one group (with a guide) ploughed straight up the middle the whole way for some reason – seemed like needless effort but maybe it was some masterclass in dealing with scree and boulders? Hmmm. 😕

The path only really disappears right at the top of the corrie, and then there is a bit of what the Cicerone guide describes as ‘grade 0.5 scrambling’ to get out of the top of it. The rest of the way up had been hard work but nothing really scrambly, this bit involved hauling yourself up a few ledges to top out on the grass. Was OK, but looking back it was very steep and a long way down! This was a first for me as I’d never really done anything resembling scrambling before. Managed to resist the temptation to collapse in a heap at the top of the corrie but there was a certain sense of relief that the hard bit was over. Or was it?

The continuation from the top of the corrie to the summit is straightforward, over small rocks and big scree which was OK as it was the sort that doesn’t disappear out from under you. The ridge is broad and pretty easy angled, though there are a couple of irritating cairns en route. I hate false tops (FFS! – see terminology) but it was pretty obvious that they were false tops as they weren’t on the edge of the void! The ridge narrows a bit as you get to the real summit, but nothing all that exposed.

Before too long, we were on the summit of Stob Dearg. Cue smiles all round, and a pic taken by another friendly walker.

The views from the top were superb – both in terms of what you could see, and the air clarity. Stuart pondered how many Munros you could see from the top and the only answer I could come up with was ‘maybe most of them?’ Liam on the other hand decided to add the summit to his list of ideal places to eat – at least the food didn’t get soggy unlike him trying to eat cheese rolls in hail on Sgor Gaoith a few months previously.

A lengthy break at the summit and about a zillion pictures taken, and it was time to set off to Stob na Doire. This looked a fairly tough haul up from the top of Coire na Tulaich. In fact it was steep but not too grim.

Some cracking views from the summit of Stob na Doire. Very odd though that this isn’t a Munro when Stob na Broige is.

I have to confess that I found the way off Stob na Doire a bit tricky, which I wasn’t expecting as nobody had mentioned it as being either tricky or steep. It was very steep and seemed to go on forever and although there was a clear path the whole way it was unpleasantly loose and quite exposed in places. Took my time on this section, cheered by the thought that there didn’t look like a lot of ascent between the next top, Stob Coire Altruim and the second Munro. Could also see the way back down clearly and thought it didn’t look any worse than what we’d done already, although the top of the path clearly consisted of yet more loose scree – lovely.

The path to the next top was a lot less steep, and then there was a really pleasant walk along the ridge with very little pull to the top of Stob na Broige. Stunning views all round again. We failed to resist getting Liam to take a coupley photo of us at the top and retaliated with one of him taking what can only be described as a nap with a view. 😆 Another extended break and a much deserved lunch which for some reason we couldn’t eat much of, a bit odd.

I know there are tons of pics in this post but I just couldn’t believe the views, probably the best I’ve seen from the top of a hill yet, the view down Glen Etive in particular was stunning. All too soon though it was time to begin the descent. I wasn’t massively looking forward to this as I’d read that there was at least one tricky bit and a couple of reports had mentioned sliding down on bottoms. Well that I can cope with! There are disadvantages to not being thin (going beetroot in the face on the ascent and having random fellow walkers wonder if you are going to keel over being one of them) but this is a potential advantage 😆

The first bit of the path wasn’t too bad – we took a slightly different line down to the main path from the cairn and joined up with that a bit further down past the really loose looking scree. Saw one person fall over as we came down, though they got up again and seemed to be OK. A few rock steps and slabs towards the top, but they could be dealt with either by careful bum-sliding or just by stepping down carefully – none of the rock was wet which was a huge bonus and I really wouldn’t want to tackle this route if the rock was slippy. The one bit that did give us pause was a series of rock steps which terminated in a pretty big rock step. By this point Liam had got a bit ahead of us and had seen some other people going down it so was able to point out the best places to put hands, feet and backside. 😆 This was the last tricky bit and after doing this I finally allowed myself to look up!

Doesn’t look too bad in the photo (a bit less vertical than it was) However I found it trickier than the way up (which apart from the bit at the very top I had found less tricky than I was expecting). We took our time, and before too long the way down mutated back into a nice constructed path rather than slippy scree or rocks!

A last look back at where we’d been, and all that remained was to walk the last couple of miles back along the Lairig Gartain – and the inevitable bog which had been lacking for the rest of the walk. 👿 Didn’t really take any photos of this bit as once I got to the bottom of the descent route I realised just how knackered I was and had also drained my hydration bladder – and what was in Stuart’s. Pretty dehydrated by the time we got back to the car – so what better way to finish the day than to go and meet with some friends from our walking group in Fort William. A cracking evening ensued which was enjoyed by all. 😀

In summary? A terrific day, challenging in parts and certainly pushed the comfort zone out a bit, but worth it on so many levels. The sort of day that makes all the miles from London worthwhile!


4 thoughts on “Buachaille Etive Mor: the ultimate day on the hill?

  1. We were lucky and got a similar day for BEM – I think you need it as it’s such a long and scenic ridge.

    I still haven’t done Coire na Tulaich as we went up the corrie the opposite side to your descent but nearer to the main summit (easy) and descended the steep grass opposite your descent.


  2. I’m having to look back my diary to find my ultimate hill day…but that, I think, is an age thing.

    I do remember with great fondness however the day when The Fatdog and I went up the Wee Bookil just across the glen from your ultimate trip. It was a glorious sunny day and the view from the southern peak down Glen Etive was nothing short of stunning. Sitting having a long lunch, stretched out in the spring sunshine lsitening to the cuckoo’s call down the glen…wonderful. I grew to hate the bloody Glen Etive cukoo with a vengeance as on the two following springs its call accompanied two of the worst hill days I ever encountered!

    Liked by 1 person

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