|OS Route Map →||Route file →|
Date: 24 Mar 2012
Start / Finish: Bridge of Orchy.
Maps: Explorer 377 Loch Etive & Glen Orchy & 384: Glen Coe & Glen Etive.
|Day 1||Màm Carraigh & Black Mount||8.1 miles / 13.0km|
|Day 2||Kings House & Lairig Gartain (east)||10.3 miles / 16.6km|
|Day 3||Lairig Gartain (west) & Loch Etive||13.0 miles / 20.9km|
|Day 4||Glen Kinglass & Loch Dochard||12.9 miles / 20.8km|
|Day 5||Abhainn Shira & Loch Tulla||5.7 miles / 9.2km|
A varied low-to-mid level trek around the Etive group of mountains bounded by Rannoch Moor, Loch Etive and Glen Kinglass, almost entirely on good paths and tracks.
The outward eastern route follows a section of the West Highland Way (WHW) over the shoulder of Màm Carraigh to traverse Black Mount to Kings House and the foot of the Devil's Staircase.
The north-western section ascends between the towering Buachaille Etive peaks through the Lairig Gartain, a fine old pass route linking Glen Coe and Glen Etive with a beautiful mountain view towards Loch Etive from its summit.
The south-western section hugs the eastern shore of Loch Etive as far as Ardmaddy, flanked by Ben Starav and Beinn Trilleachan.
The southern route returns along Glen Kinglass and ascends to a superb central section with a splendid mountain view to the north, reaching Loch Dochard and the Abhainn Shira.
An extraordinary spell of weather for March mandated the investment of resources for a Scotland backpack: very warm sunny weather by day and freezing nights, only slightly marred by a thick haziness to the some of the mountain views. No complaints though, this was a splendid backpack with virtually nobody around, just a handful briefly in the vicinity of the Buachaille: from halfway up the Lairig Gartain to the end of the trip we saw only one walker, who was doing a similar route in reverse. Even the Black Mount section of the WHW was deserted. Very little snow remained on the mountains, just scattered pockets on the uppermost slopes and the odd corrie edge fringed with white.
Pulling in at Hamilton Services for a comfort break on the long drive up, the conditions were not heartening: uniformly dull grey and a quite misty aura to the skies, but we were hopeful of improvement. The prospects were considerably brighter as we arrived in Bridge of Orchy and set off down the road to cross the River Orchy on the first leg of the circuit, a repeat of the Black Mount segment of the WHW that we walked in January a few years ago on our full West Highland Way trip.
The 500' ascent of Màm Carraigh proceeds at a very civilized angle, a welcome leg stretcher to loosen the joints after the long drive and most considerate with a full pack for five days ahead. The views open out to the Beinn an Dothaidh group to the east and forward over Loch Tulla to the Black Mount and the south-eastern Etive mountains.
The Inveroran hotel is a popular overnight stop on the WHW and again along the road there were a couple of tents pitched on the small grassy bank of the Allt Tolaghan. At Forest Lodge the gradual ascent to the Black Mount section begins, and our memories were strangely vague here, some of it seemed totally unfamiliar. At any rate the conditions and time of year were different, and the central area surrounding the River Bà has a wildly remote feel with distant views eastwards to the heart of Rannoch Moor and the Etive Mountains towering above to the west.
After a couple of strollers near the start at Victoria Bridge we would see nobody else on this section. We moved uphill a short way to scout around for a good spot in the generally scrubby and wet terrain and made a good pitch facing Rannoch Moor. The whole area was still deserted, only the distant call of the odd grouse disturbed the silent vista.
A hazy dawn brought a cold tranquil view over the distant moor with the reddish sun reflected in a distant pool and a warming light on the mountain slopes above. We packed up the kit and started the gentle ascent around the northern flank, the sky and landscape brightening and the morning chill yielding to the sun's rays, a backpacker's way to start the day. Soon the Creise group & the striking cone of Buachaille Etive Mòr dramatically appear and the route slowly descends towards the Ski Centre road.
Lower down a minor entertainment presented itself, although no doubt not intended as such: a blue arrow labelled 'Mountain Café' pointed left into the untrodden heather, bogs and rocks. Later a second blue arrow appeared, again pointing into the wilderness labelled (I think) 'Home baked snacks'. A third arrow was inscribed 'Cold Beer': apparently some walkers had taken this one at its word, and a distinct peaty path had been forged leading into the heathery morass. A little later the intended café access track leads left to the promised goodies.
Passing just one solitary hiker at the Kings House, we continued alone on the WHW beneath the slopes of Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste to the A82 car park at the foot of the Devil's Staircase and walked up the road verge to the next car park and the signed 'Public Footpath to Glen Etive'. This was our much anticipated Lairig Gartain section, and by all accounts the first section of this is supposed to be boggy but there was a very good dry path all the way into the pass, and in fact it continued on the north-western side of the River Coupall all the way to the summit. From the foot of the pass there is a good view back to Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste.
Flanked by the imposing slopes and buttresses of the Buachaille, this classic steep sided pass is excellent walking at a kind gradient, perfect for relaxed backpacking. Our pitch location in the pass was pretty much predetermined by the topology and we had made good progress, so we took our time on the ascent soaking up the mountain scenery. The cairn at the pass summit brings a sudden view to distant Loch Etive and Ben Starav, a superb sight despite being towards the sun and very hazy. We would obtain a better photo in the morning. Meanwhile a herd of deer grazing on the slopes kept their eyes on us as we pitched the tent in the now quite blustery wind.
After a chilly night punctuated by the occasional croaking of frogs nearby, the wind had dropped and the dawn sun caught the high tops, gradually reaching down to give a splendid enticing view towards Loch Etive as hoped, though still fairly hazy. The western descent parallels the Allt Gartain, a steeper angle than the ascent on a good path eventually arriving at a deer fence. The last short stretch to the road is scrappy and rather wet but not bad at all.
A road hike through Glen Etive links the Lairig Gartain with the Loch Etive section, but it's a pleasant one with a grand retrospective view to the elevated steep sided 'V' of the pass formed by the Buachaille and passing Lochan Urr below.
At NN136468 a track descends to the bridge over the River Etive. The track continues SW to the fence before the buildings at Coileitir where a pinned sign directs walkers to the left on a peaty path around the perimeter of the property and back down to river level. Shortly after, on reaching a broad bouldery tributary, the path veers upstream a short way to a substantial footbridge. Beinn Trilleachan is well seen ahead from the river.
The path swings away from the river as it nears the environs of Kinlochetive Bothy (note: this is not available to backpackers) and is boggy in a few places. The section approaching the loch is vague but by generally hugging the foot of the slopes we found a good lochside path reasserting itself with an expansive view over the flat wetland at the loch head. It is generally clear and easy walking on the lochside path at least as far as the approach to Inverghiusachan and the Old Shielings, a lovely walk dominated by the buttresses of Beinn Trilleachan and Ben Starav and, further south, an occasional whiff of seaweed - Loch Etive is a sea loch.
The incoming Allt Coire na Làrach and Allt Ghiusachan look substantial on the map and suggest the possibility of serious crossings, but at least on this trip there was surprisingly little volume of water running through the boulders and we practically walked across unimpeded.
The weakening line of the path can be elusive in the vicinity of the Old Shielings and beyond, some walkers having taken to the pebbles and sand of the loch shore when possible, others maintaining the line above the high-water mark through gates at either end of a fenced plantation, and others somewhere in between. Any line off-shore is likely to be rather wet occasionally. Whichever line is followed, the final target of this section is a very small 'pier' at Ardmaddy Bay.
The photos show the character of this area just north of Ardmaddy Bay with lovely views back up the loch, one of those very remote spots (in walkers' terms) that has a backpacking atmosphere about it. The snow-flecked Glen Noe mountains were in view to the south.
From the pier a good farm track approaches Ardmaddy and continues through the buildings to enter Glen Kinglass. The track was now our host for over six miles of very easy and pleasant walking to Glenkinglass Lodge in the warming sun, most welcome after a really cold starlit night and frost-encrusted tent. A herd of startled deer below on the river plain hurriedly regrouped silently near a rock outcrop and vanished just as quickly. The suspension bridge gave an opportunity for a photo of the lower reaches of the river.
Beyond the lodge is the start of the wild heart of this section, beginning with a suspension bridge and shortly after a small rocky gorge.
The track ascends gently towards Coire Beithe and a superb mountain view unfolds. The river is now crossed on a new bridge over a narrow rocky gorge, it can be seen in the photo below middle-right (the old bridge a little further north marked on the OS map is no longer usable). This is a splendid location: the river tumbling over the slabby rock with the mountain vista beyond, a spot to savour at length and, apart from the track itself, a strong sense of remoteness.
We followed the edge of the river, firstly over the slabby rocks and then a damp path, to the old bridge and spied the continuation of the track north-eastwards, ascending to cross the Allt Coire Beithe with an ever expanding mountain view. The cooling breeze was also welcome up here, perfect for another relaxing stop.
Shortly after the highest point Loch Dochard comes into view, flanked by an expansive wetland dominated above by the incised dome of Meall nan Eun. The jutting peninsula of the loch was tempting for a pitch, but mindful of the long drive home tomorrow we decided to crack on and make more progress.
The track continues past the eastern end of the loch to a footbridge and a damp path arcing north-eastwards through the forest to a river confluence: the mapped footbridge is no longer here, but today with little flow in the river we walked across the stones dryshod very easily. The Abhainn Shira riverside path is a bit wet at first but quickly improves, and we found an excellent flat spot next to the river amid the generally tussocky terrain.
The night was very cold indeed and we awoke to freezing valley mist and platelets of ice falling from the tent door. It was nevertheless a pleasant walk along the river and the dawn sun pierced the mist to give an appealing photo. The path joins the track from Clashgour and the mist was clearing with the mountain tops in view as we rounded the river bend and approached Forest Lodge.
To complete the trek we walked back to the Inveroran Hotel and took the minor road around Màm Carraigh to Bridge of Orchy, a chance to see some new aspects of Loch Tulla and the moor. A fantastic backpack in great conditions and one to remember!.