Sunday, 4 December 2016

Stob Dubh, Glen Etive

Stob Dubh from Beinn Ceitlein
Saturday, 3 December 2016

Ascent:        1045 metres

Distance:     11 kilometres
Time:           5 hours 0 minutes

An Grianan          494m    52mins

Beinn Ceitlein     834m    2hrs 10mins
Stob Dubh           885m    2hrs  52mins

The first snows of a fortnight ago had largely melted and today was to be clear and warmer than of late. Stop Dubh has been high on the list of remaining corbetts to be climbed for at least ten years. I had always intended to climb it along with the five Glen Etive munros including Ben Starav but that is for a long summer's day and Stop Dubh is not a enticing prospect at the end of an already long day. From the south side it is just about as steep and long a continuous slope as you get anywhere in Scotland. The.walk highlands website recommends a route from higher up Glen Etive starting from the bridge over the river to Alltchaorunn cottage. This would be the last corbett south of Glencoe that I had to climb, the guidebooks said 7 to 8 hours but with my intuitive optimism I thought it looked more like four and a half hours on the map.

I was up by 7am hoping to leave at first light (8:15am) but breakfast, reading up the route, putting the bins out for a Saturday collection, selecting appropriate gear - would I need crampons, ice axe, bivvy bag etc. meant it was 8:45am before I began the journey. I parked at a passing place along the single track road 4 miles down the Glen Etive road about 200 metres past the incongruous steel girder bridge. There was already a fully specced Mercedes 4x4 parked and room for another 5 cars. The bridge crosses to a gate that could have been designed for a prison. Made of steel with massive bolts, 12 feet high and fencing at either side. The bolt was unlocked so it was an easier entry than the next two locked but low gates leading to the cottage and  the hillside. Two outbuildings to the cottage were in ruins and the cottage itself unoccupied.

The Allt a' Chaorainn carries a massive volume of water and tumbles down the glen over exposed bedrock. A bridge just beyond the cottage leads to the fenced enclosure that is protecting the regeneration of native trees. It was blocked by a photographer, presumably the guy with the Mercedes. He asked me to wait whilst he took a long exposure onto a plate camera. He had a rucksack full of lenses and plates that must have weighed 15kg.. The equipment looked capable of capturing the secrets of Mars or the DNA of deer excrement. He made me feel a bit of a cheapskate when I took the digital camera out of my pocket to take a view from the bridge. At least I would have better subjects than him later in the day.

A muddy path winds its way through the woodland with bedrock exposed in places until a gate through the deer fence at the end of this part of the walk. A faint path turns to the right and scores its way through long grass that had turned the colour of straw, it eventually petered out so I aimed for the notch in the skyline below the prominent crag, An Grianan. It is a distinctive point at the north end of the long 3 kilometre ridge up to Beinn Ceitlein. An extra 55 metres of ascent was required to the summit of An Grianan but was worth it for the splendid views across Glen Etive to both Buchaille Etive Mor and Beag as well as Bidean nam Bian.

The sky was a serene mix of deep blue dappled with grey clouds. The walking conditions were perfect, there was no whisper of  wind and, although it was just about freezing, the hard exercise of the climb kept the body warm. It was the steep slopes, greasy rocks and patches of hard ice that made the walking difficult. This changed for the better as I turned southwards from the narower section of the ridge and began the traverse across the gentler slopes leading to the cairn of Beinn Ceitlein. There were rock bands, glinting frozen lochans, patches of snow, scree and boulders. In the distance the objective of the day, Stop Dubh, stood dark and proud like a wedge of toblerone, it seemed well named.

There is a 70 metre descent to the bealach from Beinn Ceitlein before the final 120 metre climb up steeper scree slopes to Stop Dubh. I contoured round and as I approached the face of Stob Dubh I saw what I assumed to be another walker sitting on a rocky ledge below the summit. I thought he/she would be descending down the slopes that I was climbing but owing to the concave nature of the slope the figure was hidden for 10 minutes as I scrambled through the boulders. On reappearing the figure took off flapping its massive wings a few times and then glided across to the distant peak of Stob Coir' an Albannaich. The sixth sighting of a golden eagle this year, which must be a record.

It was 1:30pm as I reached the summit just as the sun lit up the hills to the north west. The lighting of Bidean nam Bian, one of my favourite mountains, could not have been better achieved by the best of stage lighting teams. The autumn hues of amber and copper on the lower slopes were capped by snow covered ridges and in the distance Ben Nevis loomed like a primeval monster. I sat at the summit for 15 minutes, it was comparatively warm with no gloves required - a great reward for the long slog up to Beinn Ceitlein en route to reaching this challenging hill. I drank a flask of coffee, ate an orange and marvelled at the spectacle of the light show on a fine winter's day.

The descent was quicker and I enjoyed the walk over the gently descending plateau of Beinn Ceitlein. The final descent of 300 metres down to the glen was hard on the feet with the long grass concealing ditches and loose rock. I decided to make a beeline for the bridge to save some time and distance but ended up having to climb a couple of high fences and then traverse across a bog to reach the path. It was 4pm before reaching the bridge, two large stags were heading down to the river to drink. They sized me up and stood their ground, I roared at them and they turned and gave me the space to reach the road. I was mighty pleased as I doubt that the new hat that Louise had crocheted me would have stood much of a chance against the antlers. Only 41 more corbetts to climb.

Allt Chaorunn by footbridge

Buchaille Etive Mor from An Grianan
Summit of Stop Dubh from south east
Bidean nam Bian from Stob Dubh
Buchaille Etive Mor from Stob Dubh
Beinn Nevis from Beinn Ceitlein
Beinn Starav and Loch Etive from Stob Dubh
Looking north across Beinn Ceitlein ridge

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