I WAS introduced to this route in Glencoe while staying with a friend in Lochaber. Suz had suggested a run up into the Mamores but the following morning we woke up to a significantly lower snow level than the previous week (when she had done the Carn Mor Dearg arête “prettily happily” in trainers), so a new route was needed.
At Suz’s suggestion we set off towards Glencoe to circumnavigate Buachaille Etive Beag via the Lairig Gartain and Lairig Eilde, a great route that uses well-defined paths to enjoy both Glencoe and Glen Etive.
Parking at a large pull-in just north from the main Buachaille Etive Mor lay-by we set off up the Lairig Gartain, a clear path leading the way up the wide glen. The tops of the mountains were obscured by grey cloud and, with the white snow line just visible underneath, the high ground had a monochrome appearance.
The steady pull showed Suz’s superior fitness and I had to resort to the cunning plan of asking open questions to keep her talking as I felt the rise in altitude. My ploy lasted a good 15 minutes before she cottoned on.
We stopped for a rest as a path joined ours from the left, this one dropping steeply from the bealach of the “big” Buachaille above. As we caught our breath, the clouds lifted just enough to briefly reveal the ridges of Buachaille Etive Beag and Buachaille Etive Mor, channelling us on our journey south-west.
The gaps among the sprinkling of snow on the path gradually filled in and, all of a sudden, we realised we were well above the snow line. A large cairn ahead marked the top of the pass, inspiring a final push for the spectacular view down into Glen Etive. Loch Etive itself stretched west away from us, a silver pool below the dark mountains and grey clouds.
The wind had picked up just enough at this high point to compel a quick descent towards Glen Etive. The path didn’t collaborate, though; it was rocky with ankle-turning divots hidden under dried grass that seemed to have been explicitly laid to conceal the poor ground underneath. As we picked up speed I nearly took a nose-dive down the steep slope towards the Allt Gartain, the following recovery gymnastics eliciting an approving comment from Suz at my self-righting skills.
Losing height quickly, we dropped below the snow line again and, once out of the worst of the wind, the temperature rose to a more comfortable level.
Rather than follow the path all the way down into Glen Etive to link up with the Lairig Eilde path, we took a trod contouring around the base of the mountain, reaching the banks of the Allt Lairig Eilde just below a waterfall.
Walking alongside the left of the burn, we crossed easy but tussocky ground and soon spotted the main path above us on the other side of the bank. It was an easy crossing with low water in the burn and, once on the good path, there was no excuse not to start running again.
The path crossed the burn and it was a steep pull up the east side of the glen towards the high point of the pass. We were back above the snow line, and it felt great to be immersed in Scottish winter conditions while still on well-trodden ways through the mountains. It was a world away from the A82 with its lay-bys busy with photo-taking coach visitors.
Now well on the descent back towards Glencoe we powered down the slope, taking care over rough ground but making quick progress.
The top of the angular Aonach Eagach ridge ahead was completely swathed in cloud, but the vista framed by the glacial U-shaped glen was no less dramatic for the lack of skyline.
Passing a family heading up, we crossed the burn on stepping stones before reaching the main road at a car park that would make a good alternative starting point. After crossing the road, and then the burn in the base of the glen, we joined the old road at a bridge, turning right to run east towards our starting point.
The old road provides a good surface to begin with but soon joins the main road. There is a rough way along the verge that leaves the road at the end of a lay-by. The firm going ends here as the path traverses the hillside through a large bog. To add to the strain on tired muscles, this section is also slightly uphill – tough going but still better than the alternative of running along the roadside of the busy A82.
Eventually the car came into sight, and Suz halted briefly at the final rise to allow me to catch up so we could enjoy the last moments in the amphitheatre of Glencoe together.