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Ring of Steall (scrambling via NE ridge of Sgurr a'Mhaim)

PostPosted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 11:57 am
by IainMacG
Somehow I had never done the Ring of Steall which was a bit of a silly error which needed correcting. And while I had done Sgurr a'Mhaim I needed to do the remaining three Munros of this round. So when I spotted another bit of late summer/early autumn weather - beautiful with very light wind - I swung into planning action....

... and the planning left me slightly unhappy at the standard route since it involves an unsatisfying bit of road walking in Glen Nevis and that it wasn't a totally satisfyingly purist 'ring' (albeit the most realistic one for most and hence why the always excellent WalkHighlands publish it), ie starting and finishing at Steall meadows. So consulting my scrambling in Lochaber guide led me to a better option (albeit one for those happy with bit of scrambling action): an anti-clockwise round starting at finishing at Steall meadows - in/out via the gorge - with a cunning route to access the NE ridge of Sgurr a'Mhaim.

The forecast was spot on.
Glen Nevis in the morning mist

So parked at the head of Glen Nevis car park (no having to schlepp up here from lower down for me!) and up Steall Gorge to the meadows. Across the wire bridge to the hut and then forge off right up a steep burn through birch woodlands to reach the start of a shallow bealach at about 420m alt. Beautiful views back over Steall meadows and the falls.
The cunning route - looking back over Steall meadows and falls

Then cut left traversing across fairly easy ground with a faint path (whether fellow intrepid scramblers or merely deer or sheep I don't know!). Up an obvious rake. And then scrambling up an exposed nose towards a flattening in the ridge. Which, given that it was all just a bit wet from the previous day's rain, all felt a bit nervy!
Scramble route - basically up to the flattening on the ridge above the tallest tree in foreground

The end result of this cunning route was access to secluded and rarely visited Coire nan Cnamh (the corrie of the bones!). The eeriness of the name enhanced by the booming roar of stags rutting. The coire also contains an amazing bit of folded rock - you can see the result of immense forces having bent the rock.
Folded rocks!

And this coire then gave access via a bit more scrambling to the excellent NE ridge of Sgurr a'Mhaim. One 'Bad Step' up a gendarme on the ridge and then some lovely ridge walking to the summit. At 1099m it would be fair to say I was feeling it in the legs already.

From Sgurr a'Mhaim across the Devil's Ridge to Sgor an Iubhair (right) and Am Bodach (left)

Then across the Devil's Ridge - fairly tame in summer if you have a good head for heights. But I wouldn't want to trip there!

Stob Ban from the Devil's Ridge

Up Sgurr/Sgor nan Iubhair - was briefly a Munro too which only emphasises that this Ring involves a lot more than 'just' 4 Munros; in fact there are really something like 7 or 8 summits to go over!
And then continuing over Am Bodach (The Old Man!), and Stob Coire a'Chairn - some steep scrambly descents.

Finally leaving An Garbhanach and An Gearanach (The Complainer - I imagine you would if you had to ascend it from Steall, that would be a slog and you would be complaining!). And the best was saved for last because the scramble up and summit ridge of An Garbhanach is excellent - fairly 'airy' scrambling across a ridge of excellent rock.

An Garbhanach ridge looking N to An Gearanach and the Ben

And then descending down on tired legs back to Steall - thankfully mostly on excellent stalker's paths which do a great job of zig-zagging!

The descent looking down to Steall

Navigate the very very boggy ground before the Falls, cross the funky wire bridge again and then down the beautiful gorge with a sense of satisfaction that the Ring was in the bag.

Re: Ring of Steall (scrambling via NE ridge of Sgurr a'Mhaim

PostPosted: Fri Sep 25, 2020 3:35 pm
by Sunset tripper
Great report Iain. Ive been looking at that route for a while now. Cheers :D

Re: Ring of Steall (scrambling via NE ridge of Sgurr a'Mhaim

PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 11:41 pm
by Bmg99
My son and I attempted the Ring mid August and took the clockwise route. We started to run out of water on what was a very hot day so bailed out after just two of the four Munro's

Reflecting on our trip when we got home I did start wondering if going anti clockwise was a "better" route and if the faint path behind the white hut which heads off through the birch trees actually leads anywhere. Thanks for posting this route, will definitely keep it in mind for when we try the ring again.

Re: Ring of Steall (scrambling via NE ridge of Sgurr a'Mhaim

PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2020 10:36 am
by skullhead
Great report and interesting to see another route. These ones are on my Spring 2021 list.

Re: Ring of Steall (scrambling via NE ridge of Sgurr a'Mhaim

PostPosted: Thu Oct 01, 2020 12:42 pm
by IainMacG
Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it Sunset Tripper
I can post some more detailed topo pics if route not clear...?

Bmg99, I'm not suprised! That was a hot day - I was out on the eastern Mamores (Binnean Beag and Sgurr Eilde Mor) on the same day. And got caught in that same car crash. The tailback from the Connel Bridge was something else huh?
It's a pretty waterless high ridge. My route had the advantage that I approached via a high coire so I drank a full half litre water bottle at last burn before I headed to ridge and loaded up two to take round (500ml + 750ml).
And yes, personally, I think anti-clockwise is superior - whether via my scramble or normal way. The route up An Gearanach is a real slog and I think better as a descent (although haven't tried standard way up Sgurr a'Mhaim!). Additionally going anti-clockwise gets big Sgurr a'Mhaim out of the way and saves the best scrambling on An Garbahanach till last.
PS if you've still to do the last two you can do them in another ring with Stob Ban! Big day though!

Cheers Skullhead - glad you enjoyed it!

Re: Ring of Steall (scrambling via NE ridge of Sgurr a'Mhaim

PostPosted: Thu Oct 01, 2020 1:20 pm
by jmarkb
Dan Bailey's Scotland's Mountain Ridges book has a good description and map of the route from the hut onto the NE ridge.

IainMacG wrote:although haven't tried standard way up Sgurr a'Mhaim!

That's also a grim slog - with added quartzite blocks/scree near the top! An interesting variant is to take the normal route (in ascent) to about 670m, go left along a shelf and follow the old stalkers path (marked on the 1:25k map) round into Coire Sgorach and finish up the top part of the NE ridge. The N ridge of Stob Ban followed by the Devil's Ridge to Sa'M and down this way is a good circuit, but does not make for efficient bagging.

Re: Ring of Steall (scrambling via NE ridge of Sgurr a'Mhaim

PostPosted: Thu Oct 01, 2020 9:46 pm
by IainMacG
Ah interesting - thanks jmarkb. I actually have that book too but didn't spot it?!
I used a description from Scrambles in Lochaber.