The four Munros of Meall nan Eun, Stob Coir' an Albannaich, Glas Bheinn Mhor and Ben Starav are strung out in a line above Glen Etive. The SMC guide suggests splitting the four peaks into two routes, Glas Bheinn Mhor and Ben Starav (with the option of taking in outlying Beinn nan Aighenan), and Meall nan Eun and Stob Coir' an Albannaich. We decided, however, to chalk off all four in one expedition with a high level camp between Coir' an Albannaich and Glas Bheinn Mhor. However, things did not quite go according to plan.
After an excellent lunch at the Kingshouse Hotel, we drove down Glen Etive and parked the car in a layby at the end of the track leading down to Coileitir. The route drops from the road to cross the River Etive via a solid bridge constructed by the army. Once over, the track bears right to reach a junction a short way on. Here we turned left and took a good track heading north to Glenceitlein cottage, following a pair of red deer stags trapped in the narrow corridor between the river and a high fence on the east side of the track. Just after the track crosses the Allt Ceitlein, a track bears right, following the burn up into Glen Ceitlein. It becomes increasingly wet and muddy underfoot as it gains height, thanks at least in part to grazing cows that wander aimlessly about churning the soft ground up.
The track narrows to a path and this peters out higher up the glen, giving way to boggy trudge up into the col between Meall nan Eun and Meall Tarsuinn. Unfortunately, a minor navigational error landed us further north, in the col between Meall nan Eun and Meall Odhar and, believing we were where we wanted to be, we left our heavy packs there to be picked up upon our return and struck off up the wrong peak, only realising we have temporarily misplaced ourselves when we reached the summit of Stob Bhruaich Leith, an outlying top of Stob Ghabher (something to do with using a 1:25,000 scale map, rather than the usual 1:50,000, the navigator muttered under his breath). We skirted back round the hillside to the col, picked up our sacks and climbed up through the slabby rocks on the northern flank of Meall nan Eun (928 metres). The top sits a short way east off our main route and, as day descended into evening, we finally bagged our first Munro of the trek.
After a few moments enjoying the excellent views over Loch Tulla, Loch Dochard and Glen Kinglass, we dropped into the pass before Meall Tarsuinn - the spot where we should have been much earlier in the day. With tired legs we plodded up and over the 877 metre high lump, descending into the bealach below our second Munro, Stob Coir' an Albannaich. With watches showing 9pm and the party in dire need of sustenance, we elected to strike camp here and found a flat spot of dry ground between the smattering of tiny lochans to pitch tents below the granite cliffs of Stob Coir' an Albannaich's pyramidal north-east face.
The summer night sky was spectacular, white whispy clouds and an explosive red hue over the Buachaillies and Bidean nam Bian, across Glen Etive. Optimistic of good weather ahead we turned in after consuming hastily concocted curry and a fine bottle of red wine. However, hopes dropped during the night as gusty winds and unseasonably heavy rain showers lashed our high-level camp. Things were little better when we woke the next morning to find thick cloud reducing visibility to just 25 yards or so.
After toying with curtailing our route and simply chalking off Stob Coir' an Albannaich and descending via Glen Ceitlein, we decided to press on as originally planned and climbed up through the higher of two diagonal fissures which cut across the rocky face of the peak. This brought us out on to the eastern ridge where a path led to the large summit cairn (1044 metres).
The cloud was on the move but only parted ever so briefly to offer up a tantalising glimpse of Glas Bheinn Mhor, so, with no obvious path, we set off on a compass bearing, crossing marshy ground to the col below, skirting round above Coir' an Albannaich.
From here, an obvious path climbs south-west, up over the rocky ridge, the gradient easing off higher up ahead of the final pull on to the 997 metre summit. By now the cloud had lifted and views opened out over the previous Munro and west to the final challenge of the day, and the highest of the four, Ben Starav. The path descends over Meall nan Tri Tighearnan (892 metres) to reach the bealach below Starav. With the sun now shining brightly, we stopped to cook a late lunch here before embarking upon the ascent. A path climbs straight up the east ridge to a rocky outlying top. Just before this is reached, a skinny white vein of quartz cuts through the mountain, shattered pieces of the rock brightening up the otherwise grey terrain. From here, a narrow section of ridge offers some easy, fun scrambling above the coire that drops steeply away to the right. The path rises on to the outlying top of Stob Coire Dearg (1068 metres) and from here it's a short, easy walk to the summit of Ben Starav (1078 metres) where there's a large cairn, the remains of a cylindrical trig point and a simply stunning vista south over Loch Etive.
The by now still summer air meant that our time on the top was limited - a squadron of particularly persistent midges rolled in and, waving arms around and cursing, we hot footed it back down to the bealach. From there we descended north into the glen below, following the Allt nam Meirleach down past a couple of spectacular wee gorges. The path is generally fairly solid higher up, but lower down it becomes marshy and muddy and the final section into the base of Glen Etive is really no fun at all. A bridge on the right crosses the burn and a wide path leads to the securely boarded up cottage at Coileitir. From here, a track skirts through woodland to the army bridge and the final wander back up to the road. Be warned, however, that in still conditions, the layby can be infested with midges - we had no time to change out of our wet and muddy boots, it was just straight into the car and off to escape the little blighters.
Distance 14 miles/22km.
Map OS Landranger sheet 50 or Harvey's Glencoe.
Start/parking Layby 1km north of Druimachoish on Glen Etive road (at end of track leading to Coileitir). GR: NN 131468.
Grading A long and arduous expedition with plenty of ascent and descent. There are tracks and paths on some sections of the route, but others are over open ground, much of it wet and marshy. In bad weather, accurate navigation skills are a must. High level camping is possible in the bealachs but it can take a bit of scouting to find a decent dry pitch. There is, however, plenty of running water.