For good reasons Buachaille Etive Mor is an iconic Scottish mountain; photographed for calendars and postcards probably more than any other, he’s a well ken’t figure.
This ‘great shepherd of Etive’ draws its thousands year in, year out. Apart from offering superb walking amid one of Scotland’s most magnificent mountain settings, the mountain yields a plethora of excellent climbs and scrambles, ascents to suit and test cragsmen of all grades and ambitions.
‘The Buachaille’ keeps illustrious company too: his little brother, Buachaille Etive Beag, the supreme Bidian range with its three famous sisters and, across the road, the cock’s comb ridge of Aonach Eagach, all vie for a place in Glencoe’s popularity stakes. And across the mouth of Glen Etive itself, there’s Creise.
Down by the River Etive, near the bridge across the River Coupal, there’s a convenient car park. All well and good for the car. Then straight away the potential problems start. We were fortunate on our recent visit, the River Etive was running low and, after a precarious enough hop across on green slimed boulders, we were ready for the scramble.
The meaning of Creise is not known for sure though some say (in all seriousness), it means grease; with snow on the hills we hoped she wouldn’t live up to that particular epithet.
Before we could find out we had a tedious grassy plod up to the foot of the obvious crag curtains that guard the Sron’s heights. All around us sprouted minor outcrops; we headed for a huge block, a veritable house in grey. From there the fun began.
We ascended at first via a gently inclined slab and then tackled the first buttress proper, a slabby affair of no great difficulty. There are various lines presented from here on up ranging from good, exciting scrambling up the scale to mildly scary. We went up on good holds, squeezed ourselves into constricting chimneys and threaded ourselves in and out of the occasional grassy groove.
A lot of the fun was in the route finding; if you don’t pick your line carefully you can actually find yourself on ground that’s a tad too easy and the fun diminishes. There’s nowhere on this side of the mountain that will prove too difficult for the confident scrambler; if ever one does get into a situation a little beyond one’s adrenaline margin, escape is usually straightforward and never far away.
We had good fun weaving up and through the buttresses as they came; the only downside, if we allowed ourselves time enough to think on it, was the cold; fingers soon stung if we stopped too long for breathers. The hill had been plastered with snow in recent weeks, as we gained height we found ever increasing accumulations; though always soft and never a problem, the higher we climbed the more we had to brush aside with fingers quickly turning red.
Higher up we encountered one or two more serious moves, there were snow covered ledges and an awkward wall; it all gave the clamber spice. In dry conditions this would have been a delightfully entertaining romp; in these conditions it was delightfully entertaining, but certainly not a romp; we took our time!
We were certainly glad of the frequent easings between more difficult sections, opportunities to stop briefly and ram freezing hands into pockets barely warmer than the ambient temperature. A final gully followed by one last buttress furnished with superbly reassuring holds, and the ground began to level. A short crest led towards easier ground and the Sron was ours.
With beautiful alpine views in every direction we strode out across snow covered stony ground for the mountain’s true summit, Creise. Higher than the Buachaille, at 1100 metres, the Munro offers some of the best vies of its Etive neighbour, not so much photographed from this side yet spectacular none the less.
It’s a weird game, this Munro bagging! Once upon a time, this whole section of hill was known as Clachlet, after its very prominent component, Clach Leathad. But with more accurate surveying a number of former Munros were demoted to ‘Top’ status; other ‘Tops’ were elevated to Munro status, (much to the chagrin of ‘compleaters’ who’d thought they’d done them all).
Way across the corries and the ski runs of Corrie Ba, Clach Leathad looked inviting; we wondered, as we stood gazing across the snowy expanse, just how many walkers ever bothered to go there now, given the humiliation of her fall. But to us that fall was arbitrary and artificial; we set our feet in motion and enjoyed a magnificent high level trundle all the way to the mountain’s easily gained summit. With our backs to the great hills of Etive: Blackmount, Starav and friends and, beyond and barring access to the sea, the Cruachan group, we stood awhile and gazed into the one time badlands of The Great Moor of Rannoch, bleak today and empty.
We’d walked a semi-circle in the sky. It was time for Meall a’ Bhuiridh. This hill is famous, (from yet another hundred calendar shots and postcards), as one of the big hills that stare back at the traveller across the waters of Lochan na h-Achlaise, one of the great waters on the fringe of Rannoch. The mountain holds a claim to fame for something else: The White Corries Ski Centre was the first of its kind in Britain.
We didn’t want to see that! W walked back north from Clach Leathad’s summit to a point where we could drop down a steep, rocky neck to a narrow, wind swept saddle.
Apart from the earlier scramble, the ensuing climb to Meal a’ Bhuiridh’s stony summit was the steepest climb of the outing; if we’d felt the cold on the exposed ridges we’d just left, we certainly warmed up quickly now.
Meall a’ Bhuiridh is: ‘hill of the roaring of the stags’; with all the paraphernalia on the ski slopes down on the east side of the mountain, we expected to see no stags. But neither did we want to see the machinery or the ski-ers on the pistes; we gave the eye sores a wide berth, descending well to the west of the ridge, heading for the silver ribbon of Allt Cam Ghlinne, below the rocky buttresses of Sron a’ Creise.
We forded the allt easily and followed its meanderings back into Glen Etive. Above us the easier crags of Creise’ northern flanks looked harder than they really are; another good way up another time.
As the day calmed down we came to the rusty waters of the River Etive; we found a suitable place and gingerly gained the farther bank for a gloaming walk along the narrow tarmac road. No sun penetrated here. Above us loomed the dark craggy walls of ‘The Buachaille’, as the evening crept in ever colder and forbidding.
Across the river, Sron a’ Creise, as if to draw a veil around a perfect day’s excursion, cast its own velvety black shadows.