Yesterday I climbed to the summit of Ben Starav, in Glen Etive, at 1078m (photographs here). The walk starts at sea level and goes straight up to the summit via a 3km rocky ridge, so is a relatively hard slog. I’d tried to get to the top of this mountain two years ago, in January 2005, but had to give up about 50m below the summit due to a boulder field that was layered with thick verglas. Stupidly, I did not have my crampons with me that time but made sure I had them this time. However, I did not need them nor did I need an ice-axe. There was only a thin coating of snow above about 1000m, which is very unusual for this time of year. The snow that fell in January over the mountains appears to have almost completely gone, potentially making this winter a real non-event for any winter mountaineering activities.
However, February last year was very similar and then March and April turned turned very wintery so here’s hoping that happens again.
I had some great views of Glen Etive on the way up Ben Starav, although the summit was above the cloudbase. I think Glen Etive is actually more spectacular than neighbouring Glen Coe – I guess maybe Glen Coe is more famous because of the history associated with it, and the fact that the road to Fort William runs through it, so it gets more attention from tourists. I had the whole mountain to myself and saw no other walkers all day, something that is getting harder and harder to experience in the Scottish mountains, but Glen Etive still seems to be a relatively hidden and secretive gem of a place.
On the descent from the summit, at about 900m, I saw a Tornado jet (I think it was the F3 variant) flying along Glen Etive. It was astonishingly far below me and I felt that I was practically looking right down at it into the cockpit. It must have only been flying at a couple of hundred metres above the loch, and seeing it from that angle (usually planes are far above you!) really gave a sense of how steeply Ben Starav veers up from the sea loch.
The glen is spectacular because it is surrounded by 1000m peaks that rise up steeply from sea level and give it a Norwegian fjord-like feel. The whole place looks like a glacier textbook diagram, except of course, for the glaciers themselves. I wished yesterday while I was walking that Scotland still had some glaciers, which was a pretty desperate thing to think given the bizarrely mild conditions.