An Alpine Day Out On Ben Starav

Oh boy, what a day this was. 

I've been rather unlucky this winter, in only getting one trip done this year so far - so my fitness has dropped like a stone, and I've been going crazy pining for the hills. Eventually, enough was enough - conditions were good, and companions or not, I was going up something big and snowy.

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Set off at 6am from Kilmarnock, headed north with the intention of knocking off Ben Starav and Glas Bheinn Mhor (the latter if I was feeling lucky!). After arriving at Coileitir and getting kitted up and ready to go, it was nearing 9am. Conditions looked ideal - not too cold, barely a breath of wind, clear skies. I had picked the right day!

On the walk-in, I noticed several other people also heading up the track - an older gent, and a rather boisterous party of three ridiculously fit and 'mountainy' looking chaps, who soon left all of us in the dust and disappeared out of sight. I fairly quickly caught up with the older gent, and he asked if I'd like to walk together. Both being alone, I decided some company would be good for safety's sake, and for the sake of having someone to talk to, so I readily agreed and we set off up the ridge at a leisurely pace. Conversation started to flow, he started talking about doing all the munros 'again' in opposite seasons from his original ascents - so I knew I was dealing with a completist - guy has clearly done a bit of walking. 


A bit further on, he drops some little anecdote about doing Mount Vinson. My brain stopped for a second to take in the information and consider the implications of this. The guy isn't some weekend warrior knocking off munros, but a hardcore mountaineer. Turns out he's done the 7 summits (with the exception of Everest), soloed the highest mountain north of the Arctic Circle (Gunnbjornsfjeld), did an unsupported expedition across Spitsbergen, and seemingly a hundred thousand other things which we never touched upon. Jesus. And there was me thinking I'd done a bit with my life so far.

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Anyway, back to the story - the initial pull up the ridge was pretty good, not too steep at all, nice easy pace, good conversation, and seemingly very quickly we found ourselves at the base of the 'proper' section of the ridge. Sprawled ahead of us was this amazing alpine ridge. It took some thinking to remind myself that I was in Scotland, not Chamonix. The only reminder being the lack of crowds! The snow was absolutely iron hard neve, so on with the crampons, and considering the view ahead of me, out with the camera!

Ploughing up the crest of this ridge, avoiding cornices, in absolutely amazing conditions was just perfect. I don't think I could have been any happier. It's that feeling you get when you're just so glad to be there and doing what you're doing. It's positively life-affirming.

All too soon, the summit was reached, and after a quick break to ask John to take an obligatory summit photo for me, we pushed ahead to the next top, where we were to soon part ways. This was a pretty straightforward nice walk, apart from one section where we traversed around some rocks which would have been a pain to cross in crampons. Wouldn't have liked to have slipped there as it was a little exposed with a big dropoff just a little further down the slope. Careful crampon work was order of the day! Still, we arrived at the bealach without incident, and wished each other good luck. He was heading over to Aighenan, and I was either going to head on to Glas Bheinn Mhor, or head down the corrie. With my mother at home having badly broken her wrist and not being able to do a lot of stuff for herself, I decided to head down to make it back in decent time to make dinner, rather than push on ahead. I'd have loved to have continued on, but it would have meant a much later return. Next time!

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Crampons back on again, and I headed down the initially very steep corrie wall on more of that beautiful neve. Eventually, found the path, and it was off with the crampons and on with the walk-out, which was just gorgeous. Took a while, it seems walk-outs are always never ending, but I had plenty of energy left in the tank and it was no trouble at all. It had warmed up considerably, to the point where it felt like a summer's day, I was walking along in possibly the most picturesque glen I can imagine, and I'd just had brilliant fun doing that ridge. Life was good. Unfortunately, I eventually arrived back at the car, and spent a short while there just soaking in the sun and the environment, before I eventually had to head back home. 

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In all, a stonking trip - and a reminder that I really need to get out more often. It's not often very practical for me though, with fuel being very expensive. Still working on that one.

I'm looking at possible targets for next time - thinking the Cruachan group is a possibility. I'm also wanting to do a couple of trips to the far north - to the likes of Torridon, Skye, Ullapool, Fisherfield etc. These would be quite big trips though, involving several people and lots of camping. Hoping to get something sorted out for maybe May/June time. And, if money allows, I'm gasping to get an Alps trip done. It'll be serious 'scrimp and save' mountaineering on a shoestring - good thing I like baked beans then!