100km, 11175m ascent, 58 hours
In 2005 I completed a circuit of Glen Etive from the Trilleachan slabs to Ben Starav. 12 years later, Digby Harris devised a shortened route based on the Munros from Beinn Fhionnlaidh onwards. Both constitute circuits of Glen Etive beyond the loch, and my eye couldn’t help but be drawn to a much fuller circuit of Glen Etive, taking in the loch itself. The loch meets the sea near Oban but the last 10 miles of it are lowland country which held little attraction on the Southern side. I therefore determined that a ‘round’ from the narrowing at Bonawe would make the most logical route, given that the narrows are little more than 300m. The ferry ceased long ago, so a kayak across the loch seemed the obvious solution – that is, it would be if it were not for the strong tidal currents requiring that I hit it at the right time. The logistical constraints therefore persuaded me to finish on the opposite side of the loch and call it a day there, making my way back to the start (20 miles) by a combination of train, hitching or walking.
Like all such routes, it looks logical on a map, tracing a line around Loch Etive and the upper glen. In reality, the loch and glen are often hidden, and the symmetry of the route is not perceived. Its scale is such that the continuity of the route is not perceptible on the ground. Nevertheless, it makes a grand circuit reaching all the way from Taynuilt to Glen Coe and back again. There is much rough and trackless terrain, particularly on the lower slopes away from the Munros and the steepness is such that it has a cumulative effect beyond the bare statistics. If I were to choose one word for this round it would be BRUTAL. It is undoubtedly the most brutal round I have undertaken due to the almost unrelenting steepness and mind-numbing quality of some of the terrain. It also adds wild, unfrequented hills to the shorter rounds, as well as the fine ridges of Ben Cruachan. For the very fit, it would just about be achievable in 24 hours so would make a testing challenge of some character. For me in the late twilight of such endeavours, it was enough to complete it without any concern for time, grinding my way round to end where I had started. It prompted me to reflect on why I felt compelled to do this – what calls me to do something so uncomfortable and unheralded? I’ve summarised these reflections and described my round here.