Published 29th August 2018, 17:57

    THE ninth full moon of the year and we were heading for a night walk on big, bold Ben Starav but for once it wasn't about the mountain.

    This was the time of year when the Native Americans saw the rivers and lakes teeming with fish, and they referred to it as the Sturgeon Moon.

    It seemed fitting then that the chosen mountain for this moon walk should be approached from the water, and Ben Starav's domineering position ticked all the boxes.

    It's one of the few Munros that can be accessed directly from the waterside, its slopes sweeping straight up from the eastern shores of Loch Etive with hardly a pause for breath.

    I was accompanied by Patrick Baker, author of The Secret History of the Cairngorms, a lover of the hidden corners of our landscape, but equally importantly, an experienced canoeist.

    The long drive down a busy Glen Etive brought us to the head of the sea loch where we were greeted by a perfect glassy stillness and the inevitable swarms of midges which concentrated the mind on a swift departure.

    We slipped into the water, no owl, no pussycat, but a beautiful pea green boat (marrowfat rather than garden I would say) and immediately made a direct crossing before turning to follow the eastern shore for a few kilometres to our starting point at Rubha Doire Larach.

    We made good time but the difference in the light was already noticeable; the forecast was for a generally clear evening with cloud building into the early hours and rain driving in behind. We wanted to get round the mountain and back over the loch before things really started going downhill.

    The climb up the south-west ridge is just over three kilometres, but it gives little respite from sea level until the 900-metre contour is reached, a constant steep push through long grass and then scree and boulder stretches. The peaks on the southern horizon were being rapidly swallowed by cloud as we rose, the light fading with the views. As yet, there was no sign of the moon.

    About halfway up, the rain came on and we feared the weather had made an early power grab. The waterproofs went on and the head torches came out, but a few minutes later clarity was restored; it was still dark but that short burst of rain seemed to have cleared the air and the varieties and shades of green under the torchlight were suddenly emboldened.

    Then we caught the glow on the ridge line to the east. Another few metres of ascent and we could see the Sturgeon Moon, a yellow ball of fuzz, as though in need of fine tuning. Seconds later, it was gone again. 

    We continued to get glimpses throughout the next few hours amongst the dark shadows of the skyline. Rather fittingly, it seemed to be swimming beneath the surface of a sea of cloud, occasionally cresting before diving back beneath the billowing waves.

    We reached the summit cairn at the apex of three fine ridges, a landscape of jagged silhouettes in every direction despite the lack of light, Loch Etive a dull, crooked silver finger bending away into the gloom.

    It was at this point I noticed my compass was missing. I hadn't needed it since coming ashore and taking a reading but thought I must have dropped it while putting on my waterproofs halfway up the ridge. We weren't going back that way, so I regarded it as a write-off.

    Patrick had gone one better; he couldn't find his head torch. We had spares, our preparation paying off, but it was surprising and annoying. With walking in the dark so often, I have become used to religiously checking the ground all round at every stopping point before moving on.

    We dropped cautiously through the jumble of boulders, accompanied by a green laser light being shone at our torch lights from the campsite on the other side of the loch thousands of feet below. The dramatic drops on the right which seemed to come into view only at the last minute were a useful handrail in this dark, starless, and now moonless, night.

    The hoped-for pre-sunrise light never arrived, and our long, waterlogged walk back along the shoreline was mostly in gloom and, in the latter stages, rain. There was an unexpected consolation, however, when I walked away for a toilet break nearby and found my compass lying amidst the ferns. Patrick also came up trumps when he was changing clothes and his missing head torch fell out of the hood of his jacket. Happy endings all round.

    Thankfully the forecast winds hadn't yet arrived so our weary paddle back across the loch would prove incident-free. Nine moons down, four to go.