Travel and Coronavirus
Temporary Coronavirus restrictions and travel advice applies until Monday 26th October.
Click for details
In Praise of Gondolas on Aonach Mor/Beag
by Anne C » Wed Sep 16, 2020 12:13 pm
Route description: Aonach Mor and Beag via the Gondola
Munros included on this walk: Aonach Beag (Nevis Range), Aonach Mor
Date walked: 14/08/2020
Time taken: 6 hours
Distance: 9.5 km
Ascent: 860m9 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Yes this is the lazy gits/cheats/smarty pants/folk with money to burn route up these two biggies (of which I am definitely in the first category.) But overall, I have to agree with dogplodder too who said quite rightly - why not? If folks can cycle, raft, be boated into Munros to make them easier, fair enough, though I suppose most of that is under their own steam
Whatever, I’m no purist when it comes to getting onto a Munro summit and this was a very well spent £20 each, in our quest to improve on a pretty measly Munro tally.
Although we’ve both hill-walked for three decades, neither of us was ever a ‘bagger’, In fact I was quite dismissive of the whole idea. I wanted to climb hills (of any height) that appealed and because they took my fancy – even if it was the same ones over and over again. Plus with my vertigo there was no chance I was ever going to be a Compleatist. That’s got worse not better over the years though I’ve read with great admiration (and envy) the Walk reports of others who have conquered their initial fears.
But with a daughter in law who has almost completed the Munros and isn't out of her twenties yet and a son who is well on his way to doing so too, I suddenly felt quite embarrassed about our casual approach. So the last 2 years have seen us trying to improve on the Bagging front and I must say it has transformed my thinking about ‘doing’ the hills. It’s such a great motivator to just get out there. It’s been an eye opener too in terms of taking us into areas that I would never have thought of venturing into; in fact, a real adventure. I’ll hear nothing against Munro Bagging these days!
It was a boiler of a day, the end of 9 days of brilliant weather which had started on the first part of our trip, a few days on lovely Islay. To avoid the heat we got to the Nevis Range car park early and were first in the queue to go up the Gondola at 9.30am(not that early really).I find it completely exhausting to climb hills on really hot days and was actually glad (for a change) to see a fair amount of mist still shrouding the mountainside.
£3 for the car park and £20 each for return tickets but it seemed well worth it to cut out 650m of ascent and descent and enjoy the 7th highest mountain in the UK in the easiest possible way.
It was very nice to glide silently up the moorland for 15 mins. The mist would make for a cool ascent and hopefully it would lift. The MWIS forecast was for 90% cloud free Munros (though why I keep putting my faith in them I don’t know, we’ve been disappointed so many times Not that 'disappointed' is the word I've used on the hill, wrapped in clag
The Gondola top station was busying up quickly, as we got ourselves together a bit and looked for the best line up the 500m of open hillside to be ascended to reach the ridge. Walkhighlands had mentioned a path to the left of a fence and luckily, well to the right of the first ski tow , it materialised and was a big help in the grassy slog up to the top.
Our route up beside the fence and well to the right of the first ski tow by scotlandmac, on Flickr
We set off at a very pleasant, steady pace on a fairly dry path and at a mostly reasonable angle, the air cool and damp and perfect for the initial hour or so’s slog. It steepened a little towards the top but was actually less arduous to go up than I’d expected. Stopped at an old rusty pole on the ridge for a breather, pleased to be up and with mist partly clearing.
Clear skies going down but misty going up earlier.The slope to be climbed straight ahead. by scotlandmac, on Flickr
On the shoulder after a 500m climb up the moorland by scotlandmac, on Flickr
A Ptarmigan, which I always love seeing, was feeding quite near by but refusing to pose for the camera...
P1100394.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr
After a short bit of ascent, we reached the flat plateau and I can see how it could very confusing in poor conditions; today it felt nice and wide and safe and the good path was very visible, but there are very steep drops/cliffs on each side, out of sight. However, we were now surrounded by clag too, so no views yet.
At 11.20am ish we were at the summit cairn itself. I was slightly surprised to see another couple there already but they’d clearly started from Glen Nevis albeit with a very early start. There was something about the way they were sitting apart that made me think neither was overly happy at that moment (having some experience of that on occasion ) so we nodded a hello and sat round the other side of the cairn. It was cold but brilliant to have reached the summit of this big mountain so relatively quickly and easily. Just the worry however, that we couldn’t see a thing! It was trying to clear however and looked promising....
P1100400.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Approaching the col - Aonach Beag hidden by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Headed off after 10 mins, some tea and chocolate then made our way down the extensive double track which was great to walk on and giving a nice gentle descent off Aonach Mor down to the col.
Suddenly the mist cleared and we had a first view of the quite intimidating cliffs of Aonach Beag. Heck, it looked very rocky and steep!
P1100409.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Connecting path to Aonach Beag by scotlandmac, on Flickr
I was slightly worried about the description of this ‘rockier’ section ahead and am always slightly alarmed at phrases such as ‘the ridge narrows’ and ‘ tricky navigation’ ‘care needed in mist’ etc but it was fine, the path did not teeter on edges or ledge, keeping well away from the abyss😊 It was a short section of a few minutes and the views from here down Coire Guibhsachan were fantastic...
Heading up Aonach Beag by scotlandmac, on Flickr
A couple of lads who’d come off the Gondola the same time as us, had also caught up now (not sure what route they’d taken but it seemed much further right than ours and must have been longer so I think we took the best line up.) The terrain soon broadened out, with a stony path taking us easily and quickly up to Aonach Beag.
Good paths continued to Aonach Beag's huge summit.Carn Mor Dearg in mist behind. by scotlandmac, on Flickr
There was no cairn as such, just little outcrops of rocks to sit on which was slightly unusual for a summit. But - we’d made it - 2 fine Munros the relatively quick way. And now the mist was beginning to rise rapidly off Stob Bhan and Sgurr a Mhaim opposite though was stubbornly remaining on Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg.
The Mamores clearing from Aonach Beag summit by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Binnein Beag and Mor and Sgurr Eilde Mor cleared slightly, though were still hazy to the south east.
Towards Sgurr Eilde Mor and Binnein Beag by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Once we'd finished the sandwiches and tea, crisps and chocolate biscuits, we lingered on, watching and hoping. In fact, it was a good hour before the mist finally lifted but it was well worth the wait.
Connecting ridge to Carn Mor Dearg by scotlandmac, on Flickr
The Carn Mor Dearg arete cleared first, looking incredible, with tiny figures visible even with the naked eye. The connecting ridge from the col below us looked impressive too. The mountain is well named ‘Dearg’ with its red rock and scree.
The Arete zoomed by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Carn Mor Dearg arete opposite by scotlandmac, on Flickr
The Glencoe hills began to clear too with Buachaille Etive Mor soon visible. It was like a curtain rising on a great drama, mountain after mountain becoming more distinct and recognisable. The Grey Corries stayed stubbornly in mist but suddenly, the cloud began swirling rapidly across Ben Nevis, rising up from its great North Face. It looked magnificent!
The Ben from Aonach Beag by scotlandmac, on Flickr
I’d read that the Ben is the remains of an ancient volcano and it certainly looked exactly like that now with the Arete revealing the shape of the Caldera. I really couldn’t take my eyes off it as the mist, like smoke rising from the volcano’s heart, swept up wildly, shrouding the summit, before clearing again. Zooming in, I could see people around the summit cairn itself. What a day they had for that climb.
Ben Nevis summit and the Shelter and hikers visible by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Others began to arrive, including the couple we’d seen at Aonach Mor. I was wandering all over the plateau now, taking photos and just so delighted that it had all cleared – all things come to those who wait never seemed more true. We were also thrilled so see two Dotterel, not common birds and which I never associated with this particular area. They took off as I approached – sometimes they can seem almost tame, reluctant to fly off, conserving energy perhaps like Ptarmigan do, given they have to survive in such high, tough environments.
Dotterel on Aonach Beag by scotlandmac, on Flickr
I noticed the lady who had looked so fed up, sitting on her own, her partner a fair bit away. I thought he was just similarly enthused and admiring the views. I said hello and wasn’t it great that it had al cleared but she said she was utterly exhausted and they’d had a tough climb up ‘the gorge.’ She didn’t want to repeat that route again on the way down . I wasn’t sure which gorge she meant if it was Coire Guibhsachan or the Steall Gorge (though that is so short, I didn’t think so) I got the impression she wasn’t used to hillwalking and felt really sorry for her; there’s nothing worse than being dragged up a big mountain on rough terrain if it really isn’t your thing. I didn’t want to say we’d gone up via the Gondola as it seemed like rubbing salt in the wounds . Her partner came over and asked me if I could look at the map on his phone, because he wasn’t sure how to get down from here. Not being familiar at all with this area I called Chris over as in the distant past, he’s done some low level walking in this area. Neither of us could make head nor tail though of the map the chap had downloaded, I’m not sure where it came from but seemed very lacking in details. Checking our own OS map though Chris managed to point what he thought must be their descent route. As if to prove it was the right way, two ladies strolled up from that very direction, onto the plateau. Thumbs ups all round and relief that they weren’t being directed down some awful route, never to be seen again.
But we had our own descent route to begin so back down we headed to the col between the Aonachs. I really couldn’t take my eyes off The Ben and the Arete.It looked fabulous from this angle, truly majestic , huge in scale.
Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Aonach Beag summit where we spent over an hour by scotlandmac, on Flickr
I’m always much slower on the descent these days than Chris, picking my way down very carefully, even with the walking poles ( those are a God-send ) in a way I never did years ago.
Heading down Aonach Beag by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Then the short pleasant ascent back up to Aonach Mor where the views were now immense.
Heading back up to Aonach Mor by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Aonach Mor is such a lovely summit too with its grandstand view of our highest mountain – showing its most impressive side, the great North Face.
Ben Nevis group by scotlandmac, on Flickr
From Aonach Mor...towards Glencoe and the Mamores by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Then back along the plateau, a bit closer to the cliff edge to see the new drama to the east as the Grey Corries cleared almost before our eyes and living up to their name. It really was lovely walking, only a little ski paraphernalia and on a good path. There were some great views of the cliffs of Aonach Beag and distant mountains to the south east now making their appearance and which we’d missed on the ascent. A beautiful lonely lochan appeared below too.
The Grey Corries rising beyond the lochan by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Grey Corries by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Aonach Mor cliffs by scotlandmac, on Flickr
The Grey Corries really looked superb....I couldn't stop looking at them. Ones for the future, hopefully.
The Grey Corries by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Some great views opening up to the south east which were in cloud on the ascent...
Heading down Aonach Mor by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Nice views to Binnein Beag, Sgurr Eilde Mor and Binnein Mor by scotlandmac, on Flickr
The Loch Lochy hills had revealed themselves too, to the north. And our single pole that was the marker for the descent was not far away now either.
Ski Tows in sight, near our ascent route. by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Almost directly below, was the 5 star Inverlochy Castle Hotel nestled amongst its gardens - I ‘ve had an occasional stop here for posh tea and cream scones, pricey but well worth it for the whole experience of being in that grand country house hotel with its really friendly staff - it’s the only affordable way we’ll ever be in the place , that’s for sure.
Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil were now clear to the west , framed by the mountains around or near Glenfinnan and Ardgour...
Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil and Fort William/Banavie/Corpach by scotlandmac, on Flickr
A brief stop at the rusty pole (and which Chris said he remembered from ski-ing here 30 years ago! ) and off we set for civilisation once again.
Heading for the Gondola station.Loch Lochy in distance by scotlandmac, on Flickr
It was only around 30mins down to the Gondola Station which we arrived at around 3.45pm - so 6 hours almost exactly since we arrived at the top Gondola station. 4.5 hrs walking altogether, given our various stops.
Always a culture shock to return to the noise and hubbub of a tourist spot after the quiet peace of the mountains though….
It was so hot and sunny we decided to have a cuppa and a seat on one of the outside tables, the place full of families and tourists enjoying the views. (If it's of help, in the photo below, our route up and down was to the right of the ski tow and close to the fence going up hill and away to the tow's right. We just made our way up through the various snow fences to reach that area.)
P1100622.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr
We’d time to spare as the last Gondola down was 4.30pm, so plenty time. That is certainly a major consideration though in terms of planning this route - to get down in time to catch the last Gondola! Otherwise, 650m or so of descent on foot.
What a great day on those wonderful mountains, 'easy' way or not. There are some mountains I think - ok, great to have climbed you but I'm happy at that; and others which are so enjoyable, I'd be glad to re-visit them and see it all in different light or seasons. Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag fall into that latter category - though I'll be sticking with the quick route, no doubt about that
by Bruno » Sun Sep 20, 2020 11:50 am
by gld73 » Sun Sep 20, 2020 4:30 pm
by Sgurr » Sun Sep 20, 2020 6:33 pm
by Anne C » Mon Sep 21, 2020 1:06 pm
Bruno wrote:Lovely pictures as usual, Anne. Was last on Aonach Mhor summit 1989, and helicopters were being used to ferry ski tow and pylon sections up the hill. How time flies.
Many thanks Bruno - it was such a great day for photos with the rising mist and clarity. VERY scary how quickly time passes, especially as one gets older Chris recognising that (now rusty) pole from his skiing days - and those weren't yesterday - was a very odd feeling.
by Anne C » Mon Sep 21, 2020 1:15 pm
gld73 wrote:Enjoyed reading your report - I've yet to do these two. Hope I get similar views when I get round to doing them, but I don't have your patience; I wait about 5 minutes at the summit for clouds to clear, then give up and head down, usually to look back 15 minutes later and see the top clear! I should learn to be less impatient!
Thanks gld - I'm actually a very impatient person normally! But it was so pleasantly fresh up there (and stuffy and broiling lower down) it was nice to just sit and wait. I often think those who climb the hills with a very late start tend to get the best views, as the mountains so often clear mid/late afternoon. I find it much too difficult to delay a start, especially in really hot weather.
by Anne C » Mon Sep 21, 2020 1:18 pm
Sgurr wrote:I don't think it is cheating, but a US friend of ours who climbs a Munro each annual business trip to Scotland determinedly WALKED up with his wife, so I felt obliged to as well (I had already climbed them so would have liked a trip in the gondola). Husband with dodgy knee soared overhead. Don't think I could have done one of the Knoydart Corbetts, or the Graham An Stac at the head of Loch Morar without a boat, though folk do walk in.
Yes I recognise that image of your husband 'soaring overhead' - I must admit it was a great feeling! Both ways!
by Huff_n_Puff » Mon Sep 21, 2020 5:10 pm
I don't see a problem using the gondola for these 2, there is still 860m of ascent once you get out of the gondola. Compare that with the 3 Cairnwell munros which most people do from the Glenshee ski centre car park which gives 595m for 3 munros . Perhaps I'm biased though, the gondola was the route we chose too - Roger having done the Aonachs years earlier from Glen Nevis and then went on to do CMD and the Ben
The purpose is to enjoy the hills - no rules to say which route to use to find that enjoyment
PS agree with you about the descents
by Anne C » Tue Sep 22, 2020 8:01 pm
Yes I don't mind how I get up Munros, some mechanical help or 100% shank's pony! Given the epic routes written up on the Forum (and Roger's too ) I did feel a wee bit guilty at our choice, but not for too long
by dogplodder » Wed Sep 23, 2020 11:33 am
Your photos are superb.
by Mountainlove » Wed Sep 23, 2020 11:37 am
Great report and I love the dramatic cloud pictures over the hills
by Sunset tripper » Wed Sep 23, 2020 2:22 pm
Must be a while since I've been on the gondola because I'm sure it was £12 return.
Last time I was up I went from the north, late autumn when the gondola was being serviced. On the way down I walked the complete length of the world cup downhill route which was a real eye opener for a cyclist like myself
- Posts: 2081
- Joined: Nov 3, 2013
- Location: Inverness
by Anne C » Wed Sep 23, 2020 8:36 pm
Yes the gondola cost has rocketed a bit Like everything during Covid times it seems....
I enjoyed your own report on the gondola route very much and re-read it several times before we did it ourselves. And yes, I was surprised when I noticed that walkhighlands now lists it as a route! Felt a bit better when I saw that
Thanks Mountainlove - I didn't realise you weren't a Bagger initially; I can see how it does creep up on you though, as the Munro count goes up. But it's the views for me overall too and the joy of the hills rather than the next box ticked. It has been helping us get out of our beds though and venture into some great new territory, for me at any rate.
Sunset tripper - thank you.
I'm convinced now it's definitely NOT cheating
Did you ever cycle the downhill route? There were quite a few cyclists hurtling down the tracks below us as we descended, many were quite young-looking kids.
by Hillbeback » Wed Sep 23, 2020 9:11 pm
The Gondola seems like a perfect choice for me if l ever get the chance to climb these two Munros.
by litljortindan » Wed Sep 23, 2020 9:45 pm