That elusive start .. or.. the Big and Wee shepherd

I don’t know about you but something we find ourselves saying (sometimes joking, many times … not) is .. “the hardest part of any route is finding the start”.

I don’t know how many times we’ve driven around trying to find the right starting point, or looked at a mountain trying to pick out the start o a route .. and North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor is no exception.. in fact its like my route start nemesis…

I should point out I’ve climbed it twice! But ..well.. I’m usually happily toddling along behind my good climbing buddy , the indomitable Fraser Brown.. so.. well.. I get lazy !

Anyhoo… for last couple of years (i.e. lockdown and beyond) ive been passing the Big Bookil and have made numerous failed attempts to pick out even the right buttress never mind the start point…

Side slip into.. I have a day to myself as Mrs McLovin is off out with pals so I decide to get out on the hill and decide to call on my niece Kaitlin to join me . Kaitlin has become my regular wee gym buddy, a recent grad, super smart and getting into her stride career wise and we’ve been talking about hiking/hillwalking for a while as like me she needs to be busy/active or gets bored and antsy . Hills and walks are something she used to do with her dad Michael who very sadly passed recently and since we have been spending a lot more time together (which I love!) it was a great chance to get up to Glencoe , where she hadn’t been yet and on to some bigger terrain… I could also scope our that elusive North Buttress start! Throughout our drive and walk she talked often about days out with Michael to Ben A’an, Ben Ledi and others so I was grateful to be able to help her continue her journey and adventures in the mountains.

Early(ish) start our first call was to Tiso in Glasgow to get Kaits kitted out in boots and socks (she had most other bits) . We settled on a great pair of Salewa mid ankle boots (exact model is MTN Trainer Mid GTX) with superb trail soles but a lot of flex for comfort… when we hit winter we can look at the next pair ! Look out for a review from Kaits end of the season…

Next we weaved our way through far too many diversions and road works trying to get out of Glasgow before getting on the road proper. The plan was not a full day on the hill so time wasn’t critical meaning getting to Glencoe around 11.30am was no biggie. It was a stunning day – blue bird skies, cold and crisp , the sun glinting off snowy tops and warm enough not to need gloves and loads of layers . We wound up past Loch Lomond and towards Rannoch moor and up into the Glen proper. So great to be out the city and among the mountains on days like this and having the wee yin along for the ride was a bonus.

Buacchaile Etive Mor , looking from the start of the of the walk in path to the “tourist trail” through the obvious scooped, snowy coire. Beware, in winter this can be an avalanche hazard , always check SAIS and understand the risk, options to avoid.

We parked as usual at the (not too busy for once) layby near the foot of the big bookil, got our kit sorted and headed along the path and past the Lagangarbh Hut (must be one of the most famous wee white cottages in Scotland) with me pointing out various hills. Along the path , sun shining , views for miles and usual chat we headed with the goal being the water slab and getting a handle on the route starts of some ridges around the mountain.

Heading along the rough (my favorite) but currently being updated path we passed a herd of deer on the upper slopes , maybe 9 or 10 beasts , antlers showing their ages to be fairly young , maybe 3 or 4 years (I could be wrong so please tell me if I am and correct me, Id like to get better at spotting it) .This same herd had descended to much closer to the path by the time we had returned so we got a much better view .. even if the photos sucked.(see later)

A great road trip to Glencoe with a “short” walk was the plan, get boots on ground, have a nice day in the outdoors , see Glencoe .. so we wandered up along the path to around 450m before plonking down to eat our Green Welly bought sandwiches and take in the views across the valley and out to Rannoch Moor.

It was exactly what I needed – not a summit and always some pang of “missing out” with that, but.. the plan was always “not a summit” so I could be very content and having Kaits along more than made up for it. (Not sure she’d say the same of course)

Out of the house, fresh air, boots on path, mountains and nature all around, great company and the cold invigorating air of a Scottish winter – heaven! #MentalHealth in one package!

The “Big and Wee shepherds” , Beinn Beag and Rannoch moor behind (from slopes of Buachaille Etive Mor)

Outcome was that I spent an hour looking at ridge after ridge and buttress after buttress still not 100% sure of the start of North Buttress until posting a pic on Facebook of Kaitlin a good mate Bobby Motherwell (the mastermind behind the Big Hex climbing challenge ( of which we are still the official record holders at 34hrs and 45mins – Brown, Mcintosh, Hastie) – pointed out that I was basically blind and Kaits was standing right next to it !

North Buttress hiding in plain sight right behind Kaits ! (Note new Salewa boots)

Instantly it made sense and I could see it.. just shows your memory of a route can often be very different from reality !

The (not) elusive North Buttress. Mid/Right of photo (Photo from Big Hex website)

North Buttress is a superb Mod rated climb (slightly above scramble grade – in Summer) and definitely one I want to do again – stepped structure and hand holds for fun, at least one chimney to drag yourself through but exposure for days – and one for winter at some point in the future – so getting eyes on it now saves me a tonne of time!

Throwback to 2015 , North Buttress climb (preparing for the Big Hex challenge)
Throwback 2015 – a very wet upper section of North Buttress

After a nice seat with the best of views, watching the tiny ants of hillwalkers on distant routes and summits and a lunch munch Kaits leading this time, getting used to her new boots and the type of terrain we will cover on bigger days – she didn’t seem to hate it so that a bonus lol

What a view for Lunch… can you spot Kaitlin?

A superb day out, finished off with a nice tea and coffee in Glencoe village at Crafts and Things (a regular stop on Glencoe trips for food, coffee and a browse of their excellent books and artwork) then we had a drive back , the afternoon light giving way to early evening golden fire on the tops as we wound down through Rannoch Moor, Bridge of Orchy and past Loch Lomond.

The herd of hungry deer – anyone tell me the ages?

For a road trip the drive from Glasgow to Glencoe for me always delivers – next time… a summit and the Wee yins first munro completed- onwards and upwards.

From right below North Buttress (right prominent feature)
2015 – BigHex – even made it into the magazines ! (Note its Robert Hastie… typo by the mag)

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