WE paddled across the perfect glass surface of Loch Etive on a warm autumn evening, our canoe barely raising a ripple as it slipped silently towards the eastern shore.
Our target was Ben Starav, the huge, muscled mountain which filled our immediate horizon, soaring more than 3,500 feet straight up from the shoreline.
This was the Munro I planned to climb for the night of the Sturgeon Moon, the ninth full moon mountain trek of 13 during 2018, and I was lucky enough to be aided and abetted by fellow outdoors author Patrick Baker.
Patrick's contribution to this trip had been immense; he had provided the canoe and the relevant expertise, and he had also made the initial suggestion of Ben Starav when I was searching for a suitable Munro for this walk.
Every full moon walk during that year had to correlate the name in some way to the chosen mountain. Most were straightforward, but when it came to the Sturgeon Moon, it required a little thinking outside the box. There aren't any Munros with strong fish references. Instead we came up with the idea of finding one that could be accessed by water, and using an open canoe would provide an additional nod to the Native American moon terminology.
The requirements were simple enough: a Munro that went right up from the shoreline, no roads or rail lines, fields or houses in between, no long walk in from the shore, no overland trek carrying the boat. The time factor, added to a forecast of deteriorating weather conditions, meant big mountain chain walks were a non-starter. The route had to be short and direct. We soon realised there were few that met this strict criteria.
We considered Beinn Fhionnlaidh or An Socach from the western end of Loch Mullardoch, the downside being the length of the journey to reach the start and the length of time spent on the water and the hill. Climbing Slioch from Loch Maree was another option, but again it would be too tight for the forecast.
Gairich and Sgurr a' Mhaoraich on opposite sides of Loch Cuaich were also possibilities, but I had already pencilled in that area for the July full moon walk. I had also been warned to be wary of this loch – one friend had experienced real problems with big waves being whipped up during an attempted crossing. I had already climbed Bla Bheinn as part of the round in late March, the blue mountain for a blue moon, but an ascent after a crossing of Loch Slapin would have ticked all the boxes.
In the end, Beinn Starav was the clear winner. But even here it wasn't all plain sailing (or paddling). It was fine on the way over, a calm crossing from west to east to follow the shoreline south until we reached our starting point at a rocky inlet near Rubha Doire Larach.
The weather threatened during our mountain ascent but the light spots of rain fizzled out pretty quickly and the rest of the traverse was dry. On the way back to the canoe in the morning gloom however, we were engulfed in grey and bouts of drizzle. The wind had also picked up and was whistling down the centre of the loch.
The glass surface of the previous evening had been shattered, so we took a direct line across the choppier central section heading for the shelter of the western shore and then made our way back from there. It felt like we had made it just in time. We were well aware that Starav had been a sensible choice; any of the possibilities further north would likely have caused problems. We may even have had to abandon the attempt.
The popularity of kayaking and packrafting has increased massively among hillwalkers in the past few years, their use offering many more options for fresh, more unusual, approaches. For instance, the long walk in from the south to Gulvain can be avoided by an ascent from the north after crossing Loch Arkaig, while the dreary bog trot over to Am Faochagach could be swapped for a paddle up Loch Glascarnoch.
The big mountain chains of Mullardoch, Affric and the Alders are also accessible by loch and a bit of imagination. Likewise a traverse of Conival and Ben More Assynt from Loch Assynt.
It does all add an extra layer of unpredictability, though. Friends who headed north for a kayaking trip into the heart of Fisherfield found their bagging hopes washed up despite having a fine weather forecast in their pockets for the whole week. They were driven off the water by large swells on two occasions and ended up returning without having managed to climb a single peak.
Ambition is one thing, realism another. There are many times I have stared down the length of a loch from the summit of a mountain and wondered if it could be a future option.
Then I realise the possibility of having to spend a couple of days trying to drag an extra weight over rough terrain to reach that stretch of water renders it mission impossible. Especially when it's hard enough to drag myself around these days.