Indecision

Suddenly free to do my own thing, I couldn’t quite settle on a plan of action for a Saturday and the forecast wasn’t helping make the decision for me. Various places I was considering: Arran; Cairngorms; Glen Lyon; and Glen Kinglas, all looked equally worthwhile, but I settled on Glen Kinglass in the end. Having a good track meant I could make use of my bike to access somewhere I am growing quite fond of and as well as some long desired hills: Beinn nan Aighenan; Glas Bheinn Mhor; and especially Ben Starav, which I have long wanted to spend time on for its the views over Loch Etive and Glen Etive. I have also wanted to spend that time on Etive at night, so I packed the tent and set off later than I usually would for a hill walk.

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My plan was to walk the three hills in a clockwise direction starting with Beinn nan Aighenan, then Ben Starav, which I would camp on or near (if too rocky on top), then get up for sunrise and retreat via Glas Bheinn Mhor back to my bike the following morning.

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After some quick adjustments to my new bike, I was heading into Glen Kinglass at a nice rate – despite my full rucksack – and soon the view of my target hills was growing in front of me as well as some questions on whether my original plans were worth sticking with. I reached a high point on the track and could see that continuing on to the start point of my intended walk would require more ascent the following day with the bike. From the same place, I could see that if I did the walk in the opposite direction I could avoid this. The rivers in the area were surprisingly dry and the crossings in the way would be no issue, so I was soon leaving the bike behind on the start of my hill walk with Glas Bheinn Mhor now my first intended hill.

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Like the rivers, the ground on the hills was also surprisingly dry and upward progress seemed to be going well. All the time I was getting better and better views of Loch Dochard and beyond to Loch Tulla and into the hills I would be visiting later on too. However, my route to Glas Bheinn Mhor was starting to look less than straightforward. An interesting and deep gorge lay ahead of me, which would have to be crossed somehow and higher up the approach slope to the summit looked awkwardly steep with no obvious weakness. More indecision was stalling me, should I go on as planned and tackle both obstacles, or avoid them by reaching the skyline via the adjacent hill of Stob Coir’ an Albannaich? The latter won out as I wanted to avoid having to retreat from difficulties if they were impassable. I hugged the edge of the gorge out of nosiness and soon had deer for company in a nice corrie below Stob Coir’ an Albannaich. Reaching the skyline, I was on my first hill (an unexpected fourth) shortly after 7pm. Having been on this hill previously, I was surprised at how unfamiliar it was to me, but it had been clagged in at the time and years had passed since then.

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Looking ahead to Glas Bheinn Mhor and beyond to Ben Starav I was now wondering about the likelihood of getting to the point where I would have one hill left for the following day given how much daylight was left. Starav seemed too far away and my legs were feeling the combined effort of cycling and walking with a full pack to this point. An hour later and I had passed over Glas Bheinn Mhor and had settled on the notion that Ben Starav could wait. It didn’t take long to find a spot to get the tent up, though all options were on the breezy side of the ridge I was on. The sun had descended below hills to the northwest and sunset colours were doing there best to show through building cloud in that direction. To the south though, things were largely clear and soon Jupiter was shining bright as was a surprising orange glow to the south. Later it would turn out to be the rising moon that was the cause of this.

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I wrapped up and sat out for at least an hour (out the wind) savouring the views and the contents of a hip flask. Ben Starav looked inviting and I looked forward to a sunrise walk up there once my body had recharged. My water had been freezing on my walk without me realising and now it was getting even colder, the tent eventually pulled at me more than the stars and waiting for the moon to show itself fully.

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My sleep was disrupted a few times by the din of the wind and sleet showers on my tent. I rose early but there was no sign of sunrise within the cloud I found myself in and I was considering abandoning Starav with a view to sticking to my original schedule and saving it for a day when I might get to enjoy its views. However, on the descent from my camp it looked like cloud was lifting and so I started up in to the cloud optimistically. On lighter legs (bag left at low point), I was soon up on Starav – still within cloud! Too cold to linger despite signs of brightness and so I left the top gingerly crossing the freshly snow coated rocks of the summit ridge.

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Despite being a touch lower, the ascent of Beinn nan Aighenan was harder work with the rucksack picked up again. Thankfully views cleared up top and I turned expecting to see Starav free of cloud too, but it stayed shrouded until I was on the bike again two hours later. Views down Glen Kinglass grew more interesting as I descended but efforts were taking there toll and the final descent was pretty knee jarring. I looked forward to getting back to the bike and getting to the low energy stretch, but that would have to wait for a final ascent on the track first, back to where I had left it.

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My trusty steed was mounted – and nearly unmounted as quickly, as unknown sore points from the previous day made contact with the saddle. Somehow I managed to find enough comfort to get me out and back to the car though.

You never know how things will pan out, but I wish I had gone for Ben Starav the previous night (free of rucksack) and watched sunset from it, I could even have had a longer lie in too, but I suspect I will be back before the year is out for another high camp.

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