Climbing the Mighty Buachaille Etive Mor
The Best in Outdoor Hiking in the Scottish Highlands
Hiking Buachaille Etive Mor in Glen Coe
For just about every single fan of hillwalking in the Scottish Highlands, there’s going to be a special place in their heart and soul for Buachaille Etive Mor. The distinctive, much photographed pyramidal sentry that stands guard to the entrance of the most famous Glen of them all, this has long been a personal bucket-lister. One of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever faced, it also proved to be amongst the most rewarding. Yes, Buachaille Etive Mor is the definition of mountain-climbing magnificence.
Coming at Glen Coe from the east as most travellers do, the peak is a breath-taking sight after the powerfully barren nothingness of Rannoch Moor. Gigantic, jagged and seemingly unassailable, it belongs in a Mordor filming set for sheer drama. If this part of the planet doesn’t have your hair standing on end, you should consider seeking medical help. You may be unwell.
Buachaille Etive Mor sits between Glen Etive and Glen Coe and involves multiple peaks (including two Munros). My route for the day begins by parking up on the A82 below the peak (the Altnafeadh layby) and opposite the starting route to the Devil’s Staircase. From here walk towards the giant mound (pictured below) and follow the pretty clear route up Coire na Tulaich. The initial ascent here is maybe the most challenging part of the day, with some scree and plenty of exertion to be expected. Reward yourself with regular pauses to look back on the work done so far.
On reaching the ridge (after around an hour), you’ll swing left towards Stob Dearg. This is the point of the pyramid and the highest peak on the ‘Big Buachaille’. Naturally, we found ourselves amidst some serious cloud at this point so were denied views from the very summit but things picked up considerably shortly thereafter as the climb resumed along the long, snaking ridge of the mountain. The going is largely okay at this point and the views to the west of neighbouring Buachaille Etive Beag (the ‘Little Buachaille’ and also a great climb by the way) quickly start to become magnificent. This is Glen Coe at its best and don’t be surprised to find yourself a little emotional at the scale of the beauty that surrounds you.
There are four ‘Stobs’ along the route so there’s plenty of ups and downs as you put each peak behind you. The final one, Stob na Broige, is the second official Munro of the day and makes for a wonderful feeling on completion. By this point you’ll have cast your eyes over much of the Central Highlands – look out for Ben Nevis to the north and conical Schiehallion to the east in particular.
After all that graft, screaming joints and head spinning sense of accomplishment, it’s time for the descent. Retrace your steps to between the second and third peaks and branch off to the left and the fairly steep route down. This is the part of the day requiring the most care as a fall could very well be fatal. Go slow and stay concentrated. On reaching the floor of the glen, follow the river back to the A82 and your car. You’ll have spent much of the last 2-3 hours imagining every single glorious detail of your first pint. My strong advice is to indulge – as soon as legally possible – on completion.
Hiking Buachaille Etive Mor racked up over 11km and took around 7 hours. Weather can make a huge difference to your experience and a dry day will make life considerably easier for you. I’m far from a professional hiker but am fairly experienced and in good shape. Inexperienced climbers should get some practice in and build up to this one, more experienced guys should find it arduous but not overly difficult. My visit was part of a promotional trip and I was accompanied by a guide, certainly an option I would recommend for first timers who don’t want to worry about their bearings and can just focus on completing the physical challenge. Rona was absolutely great – knowledgeable, flexible and just what you need when getting your bearings for a new place.
Be sure to pack plenty of snacks, water and a change of clothes. Facing a long drive after the hike is also not advisable so I’d suggest setting up base locally – Glencoe village, Ballachulish or one of the nearby hostels (signposted just off the A82) provide good options. The Clachaig Inn is great for good quality pub grub and ales afterwards and my old favourite Loch Leven Seafood Cafe is the perfect reward for all that exertion, if your budget will stretch that far.
This is something I’m getting an increasing number of enquiries about and that requires some serious thought for lovers of the Scottish outdoors. Scotland’s terrain and climate can be incredibly challenging, and often dangerous, for the underprepared. Have waterproof jackets, trousers, boots, a user-friendly rucksack, water bottles, first aid kit, compass, you name it. Fortunately, Scotland is not short of high quality outdoor equipment providers.
Perhaps most important of all is the necessity to acquire good, reliable footwear. For my Glen Coe wanders I was trialling Trespass’s Walker range. Covering the absolute essentials that you’ll always need – waterproof, breathable and sturdy they represent a great option for most of us. A highly affordable leather boot, they’re ideal for the recreational climber ie. you take in a dozen or so easy/moderate peaks a year. I would generally always advise having a backup pair of boots handy as well. For the likes of this trip which required back-to-back hikes, having a spare pair made a big difference as they will get wet, sweaty, dirty and more. While I’m generally happy to mix and match in terms of brands – boots are not an area to be skimpy with and I can certainly recommend Trespass for quality and value.
Disclaimer: While I was invited to try out Trespass’ Walker hiking boots I would not recommend any product that does not meet my high expectations and that comes from a reputable brand.
Having bought your fancy new boots, there are still some things to bear in mind. This includes breaking your boots in before taking on a big hike. Yes that means wandering around the living room and doing the cooking like an overly keen dafty while they adjust to your foot. After that make sure you’ve got suitable socks (wool based is good) to accompany and you’ll massively reduce the risk of irritation and injury. When lacing up make sure you’re tightly tucked in and experiment with lace formations to get a snug, comfortable fit.
More of Glen Coe
There are endless opportunities to explore this powerful part of Scotland. As mentioned, Buachaille Etive Beag is another fabulous hike and is a little brother to its more famous neighbour. The Lost Valley is a wonderful introductory hike to Glen Coe and the immaculate Glencoe Lochan is a glorious option at the easy end of the spectrum (included in the video above). Alternatively it’s hugely rewarding just to park up by the roadside anywhere in the Glen and have a short wander. Anything overlooking the famous Three Sisters is always popular – and you may even get lucky and have deer for company.
Whatever your choice of route, season, ability level or available time, hiking just doesn’t get better than in Glen Coe.
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