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The Ring of Steall + 2
by Barnety2000 » Sun Jul 24, 2011 6:07 pm
Route description: The Ring of Steall, Mamores
Munros included on this walk: Am Bodach, An Gearanach, Mullach nan Coirean, Sgurr a'Mhaim, Stob Ban (Mamores), Stob Coire a'Chairn
Date walked: 12/07/2011
Time taken: 9 hours
Distance: 21 km
Ascent: 2235m1 person thinks this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Nevis Gorge to An Gearanach (982m)
I opted to start the walk from the Nevis Gorge and climb An Gearanach first, after reading numerous guidebooks on the area. This way involves slightly less of an initial climb up onto An Gearanach (as opposed to Sgurr a’ Mhaim) and also avoids any problems created during descent next to the Steall Waterfall. I would also be avoiding the long downhill slog from Sgurr a’ Mhaim, as I took in Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean.
I started off walking quickly through the Nevis Gorge on a path high above the Nevis River, crashing over immense blocks of schist far below. The path crosses numerous streams draining the steep southern slopes of Meall Cumhann and Ben Nevis. As the majority of the walk involves traversing high-level ridges, these early streams represent the only water source until near the end of the day, either during the descent from Sgurr an Iubhair towards Stob Ban, or during the descent of Mullach nan Coirean. It is therefore advisable to fill up here, and 2 bottles would be a good idea if the day is hot, as the walk is long and thirst quenching.
The tight confines of the gorge suddenly open out into the tranquillity of the Steall Meadows with steep grassy slopes of the first summit An Gearanach rising up at the far south-eastern end, high above the great white slash of the Steall Waterfall. Steall Meadows apparently used to be a large loch, until the waters broke through the solid rock backstop at the western end. The loch was then subsequently drained by the Nevis River, leaving the grassy and in places boggy meadow that we know today. This is relatively easy to imagine given the wide expanse of gentle topography, open to the east but enclosed at the western end by steep cliffs of the narrow Nevis Gorge. The vast wooded northern slopes of Sgurr a’ Mhaim wall the valley in to the south, with the quartzite summit often hidden during this stage of the walk.
Head along the path on an easy gradient, directly towards the Steall Waterfall and An Gearanach. Shortly before the main path curves round to the east adjacent to the Nevis River, a well-made path branches off to the south heading towards a wire bridge. The wire bridge is the primary means of crossing the Nevis River, however when the river is fairly low as it was at this time, it looked relatively easy to cross just upstream from the bridge using a serious of rocks as stepping stones, or wading through in bare feet. The crossing of the bridge is easy enough, with two wire rails at the top for hand holds and a solid thicker one at the base to inch your feet along. The crossing is best taken relatively slowly as the wires do tend to wobble somewhat through the middle section. At the far end is a climb onto solid rock, below which the deepest part of the Nevis River flows adjacent to the bank.
Once the river has been crossed, continue SE immediately past the Steall Hut on a path towards the base of the Steall Waterfall. The Allt Coire a’ Mhail (Steall Waterfall River) must be forded next, and this is a little more tricky. Below the crashing foaming waters of the Steall Waterfall are numerous angular blocks of slippery wet schist, around which the water tumbles and cascades. With care, the dry rocks can be used as stepping stones, but it is a good idea to avoid the wet and mossy ones as these are very slippery. Once the river has been crossed, you can locate a path on the opposite side, which continues eastward beneath the steep wooded lower slopes of An Gearanach. The path soon fizzles out in a diffuse area of bog, during the crossing of which it is very hard to keep your feet dry and I soon found myself sinking into the soggy mud. With hindsight, a better route would involve continuing adjacent to the wooded slopes of An Gearanach at the edge of the marshy area, where it may be possible to avoid the bog completely. However numerous other deep bootmarks implied that many other walking folk had chosen the same route as me and come to the same peril.
It is very easy to lose the path once the boggy area has been passed, however directly ahead to the east can now be seen a large grassy cone, representing a vegetated ancient scree landslip derived from higher up the steep northern slopes of An Gearanach. A more recent landslip of schistose scree can also be seen higher up, creating a marked scar in the hillside. The real climbing now properly starts, as turning to the SE you start to ascend the relatively steep grassy slopes of this cone of avalanched material. During this ascent I rediscovered the path and it is worthwhile following this upward. Higher up, the path has been obliterated by the recent scree landslip, however by continuing up the western rim of the landslip, the path soon re-emerges again and heads off to the west. The narrow but obvious path, composed of rubbly quartzite and schist, now begins a series of small, frequent zigzags up the steep grassy northern slopes of An Gearanach. Height is soon gained above the Steall Meadows, with the Steall Waterfall now obscured from view by a huge solid wall of schist. The immense bulks of Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Beag emerge to the north, the summits obscured by a thick layer of cloud during my ascent. The summit of An Gearanach is out of view during much of the ascent, as it sits a little back, the highest point on a ridge that constitutes one of several northern spurs off the main W-E Mamore ridge. Directly above towers a shear cliff that looks impenetrable from this aspect. However once the main bulk of the steep northern grassy slopes of the mountain have been ascended, the small path abruptly angles to the right (west) and then to the left (east), clinging to the hillside high above the tranquillity of Glen Nevis until the southern end of the An Gearanach ridge is attained.
The path, now rather diffuse then continues steeply up the relatively wide grassy ridge, with Sgurr an Iubhair, the Devil’s Ridge and Sgurr a’ Mhaim, the latter topped with a cap of cloud at this time, appearing for the first time. A couple of deer stared in awe as I started the climb up the ridge, which seems to go on and on during this stage as the path climbs steeply on upward, until suddenly the abrupt pointed summit appears ahead. By this time the views have opened up to the east with the blunt summit cone of Binnein Beag, and multiple summits of the Binnein Mor and Na Gruagaichean massifs looking magnificent. Cloud interfingered with the higher summits of Binnein Mor and Na Gruagaichean, draping the summits and hanging in the gentle but chilling breeze. A final ascent leads to the small summit cairn on An Gearanach (982m).
The small summit of An Gearanach is a fine viewpoint for the tantalising prospect of the remaining walk ahead. A narrow ridge composed of a pleasant contrast of schistose boulders, rubble and grass descends away southward, narrows, then rises to the rocky top of An Garbhanach (975m), the next summit Top en route. Beyond An Garbhanach, there is s steep descent to a col, before a climb up grass- and scree-covered slopes to the rounded summit of Stob Coire a’ Chairn (981m) and arrival on the main W-E-trending Mamore ridge. Beyond this, imposing, steep scree- and crag-guarded slopes rise to Am Bodach, before a ridge curves round on a gentler gradient to the rounded summit of Sgurr an Iubhair, sadly demoted from Munro status in 1992. Finally, the undulating topography of the grassy Devil’s Ridge rises to a high point on Stob Coire a’ Mhail, descends in undulatory fashion to a low point, before rising steeply to the immense quartzite bulk of Sgurr a’ Mhaim. This impressive sight sets the adrenaline rushing and it wasn’t long before I was pressing on down the rocky ridge towards An Garbhanach.
Onto An Garbhanach (975m) and Stob Coire a’ Chairn (981m)
The ridge falls away steeply on both sides, but initially not precipitously, and a small path leads along the summit crest high above the meandering Allt Coire a’ Mhail far below. It is easy to see how walkers can mistakenly descend into Coire a’ Mhail and then follow the river back towards Glen Nevis during times of bad weather or falling light, as there is no indication whatsoever that the river is suddenly about to plunge several hundred metres over a sheer rock face as the Steall Waterfall.
During the rise onto An Garbhanach, solid blocks of schist and quartzite, representing the first scramble of the day, replace the pleasant alternation of grass and scree along the crest. The scramble along the crest is relatively easy initially, with the solid blocks of schist offering good grip in the dry, however a small path winds along on the left (eastern) side for those requiring a break from the exposure. The slopes from the summit into Coire a’ Mhail are fairly precipitous, however attaining the summit isn’t too hard where a little grass appears.
The initial steep descent from An Garbhanach to the col with Stob Coire a’ Chairn and the main Mamore ridge represents a slightly nervous point, as a small scree path winds along/close to the crest. The scree is loose and slippery and it is best to take your time as a slip here could be costly. Further down, the crest becomes a serious of large boulders, but the path winds to the left (eastern) side providing a relief from the exposure. Soon the narrow col between An Garbhanach and Stob Coire a’ Chairn is reached, with a return to the pleasant mix of grass and scattered blocks of schist. Looking back towards An Garbhanach, the steepness of the descent really becomes apparent, and keeping to the crest here would require not only a good head for heights but also some degree of confidence.
The ascent up onto Stob Coire a’ Chairn and the main ridge of the Mamores is relatively straightforward on a mixture of schist and patchy grass until the rocky summit (981m) is attained. A fine view now is apparent along the Allt Coire a’ Mhail to where it drops out of Coire a’ Mhail and into Glen Nevis as the Steall Waterfall. Coire a’ Mhail therefore represents a nice example of a U-shaped valley formed by a hanging glacier during the last ice age, suspended high above a larger glacier in Glen Nevis. Beyond, steep southern slopes of Meall Cumhann and Carn Dearg rise up to the immense bulk of the Ben Nevis Massif, with the white slash of the Allt Coire Eoghainn cascading down smoothed rock surfaces to Glen Nevis far below. Unfortunately the upper reaches of Ben Nevis were obscured by a swirling mass of grey cloud, which draped all the higher summits of the Nevis Range. The fine rocky ridge out to An Gearanach and An Garbhanach is seen in all it’s glory, one of a number of northern spurs of the main Mamore ridge, rising initially to a subsidiary Top, then onto the highest point An Gearanach, before a small descent and rise to the narrow rocky ridge of An Garbhanach, followed by that nasty steep and rocky descent. Stob Coire a’ Chairn stands at the head of Coire na Ba, and a fine view down the length of the Allt Coire na Ba leads to the distant settlement of Kinlochleven, crowned by mountains around eastern Glencoe in the background. A stalkers path angles off east across grassy slopes towards the exciting scree- and crag-strewn slopes of Na Gruagaichean and Binnein Mor, with small delicate pockets of cloud intermittently fingering with the narrow pointed summits, all the time the cloud base rising. The narrow, curving, quartzite east ridge of Stob Ban appears through the col between Sgurr an Iubhair and Stob Coire a’ Mhail on the Devil’s Ridge, looking somewhat distant from this aspect and illuminated by rays of hazy sunshine piercing through the clouds. This is one of the summits to be reached later in the day.
Onto Am Bodach (1032m) and Sgurr an Iubhair (1001m)
Descend from Stob Coire a’ Chairn along grassy and boulder-strewn slopes towards the imposing eastern face of Am Bodach, the next Munro en route. A faint path leads along the crest of a ridge, with relatively gentle slopes into the head of Coire a’ Mhail to the right (north) and comparatively steeper slopes into the head of Coire na Ba to the left (south). The ridge crosses a small subsidiary grassy Top, before a small descent to the base of the large and very steep scree- and crag-covered eastern face of Am Bodach. The ascent of Am Bodach isn’t technically difficult, however is extremely steep and the scree has an annoying tendency to move under the feet. This was when tiredness really began to hit, as the steep slopes seemed unrelenting. Up until the beginning of my ascent up Am Bodach I had not seen a single sole since I departed the car park in upper Glen Nevis. However at the start of my ascent I encountered two Scottish gentlemen descending the steep slopes of Am Bodach, perhaps doing the Ring of Steall in the reverse direction to myself.
The summit of Am Bodach (1032m) is a revelation following the relentlessly steep climb, and the rocky summit is a fine viewpoint for the remainder of this magnificent walk. A rocky/grassy ridge leads away from the summit and then climbs on a comparatively gentle gradient to Sgurr an Iubhair, with vast scree slopes cascading off the ridge and down towards the head of Coire a’ Mhail. To the left of Sgurr an Iubhair, the final 2 summits of the western Mamores on the main Mamore ridge appear; Stob Ban, and my final destination, Mullach nan Coirean. The grassy Devil’s Ridge, taking into account a great deal of undulation, heads towards Sgurr a’ Mhaim, with a final steep climb to the summit.
Descend from Am Bodach on a narrow rocky path, now high above the long water body of Loch Leven before ascending Sgurr an Iubhair (1001m), significantly more easily than the ascent up Am Bodach. By this point I had met a couple more groups of people, and suddenly as I arrived at the summit, the clouds came down as a thick bank of moisture rolled in from the direction of Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean. Sadly although of Munro height, Sgurr an Iubhair was demoted from Munro status in 1992 and therefore must be considered a Top like An Garbhanach.
The Devil’s Ridge to Sgurr a’ Mhaim (1099m)
A short descent from Sgurr an Iubhair on a narrow path brought me out out of the clouds and onto a grassy col between Sgurr an Iubhair and Stob Coire a’ Mhail on the Devil’s Ridge. Stob Coire a’ Mhail now rises up directly above, with Sgurr a’ Mhaim even higher in the background. A small path meanders it’s way up the initially wide and grassy ridge towards Stob Coire a’ Mhail, while another path descends steeply to the west towards the col with Stob Ban- this latter path will be used later to link the Ring of Steall with the 2 westernmost Mamores. The Devil’s Ridge and Sgurr a’ Mhaim represent another northern spur off the main Mamore ridge, which continues from Sgurr an Iubhair across to Stob Ban. The path onto the Devil’s Ridge initially winds up the gentle western limb before moving to the increasingly narrow grassy crest towards the summit of Stob Coire a’ Mhail. Banks of cloud periodically and passively drifted up and across the precipitous grassy western slopes of the ridge before breaking up higher in the sky; the Devil’s Ridge appeared to form a barrier between low cloud to the west and clear conditions on the summits to the east. The Devil’s Ridge seems curiously easy up to this point, however it’s after this summit that the ridge narrows and the path traverses the top of a narrow grassy and intermittently rocky crest composed predominantly of slate, with steep drops to the right (east) into Coire a’ Mhail and to the left (west) into Coire a’ Mhusgain.
The ridge descends at a moderate gradient from Stob Coire a’ Mhail with an easy path to follow, but a head for heights may be required. The only difficult part is at the first of the two low points on the ridge, where the crest is composed of a series of angular upstanding blocks, requiring a rather more committed scramble, as there are steep drops to either side. However small paths descend and traverse this section on both the eastern and western sides, avoiding the exposure. I opted to take the eastern path on this occasion.
Following a small rise, a second descent is made to another low point on the ridge, but this time grassy in nature and giving no cause for concern. The narrow grassy ridge now starts to climb towards Sgurr a’ Mhaim and widens substantially as the gradient starts to steepen significantly. A small green tent was pitched on a grassy bench just beneath the summit, achieving probably one of the finest views you could ever wake up in a tent to. During the final part of the ascent I went back up into the cloud as I reached the large quartzite cairn denoting the summit of Sgurr a’ Mhaim (1099m) and the highest point on the walk.
The “+2” bit- taking in Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean
The standard Ring of Steall Route then descends from here down the long and relentlessly steep NW ridge of Sgurr a’ Mhaim to arrive in Glen Nevis just up from Achriabhach. By this point I was very tired and seriously considered this option, however I could not admit defeat at this point. The final two Munros were in sight, and the only big climb remaining was up the east ridge to Stob Ban. Furthermore my mum was up on Stob Ban, after coming across from Mullach nan Coirean, and we could then head back over Mullach nan Coirean together.
I backtracked, descending from Sgurr a’ Mhaim back onto the Devil’s Ridge, this time taking the western path around the difficult low point. By this time the clouds had completely lifted from the ridge and as I approached Stob Coire a’ Mhail some rays of warm hazy July sunshine pierced through the clouds. The cloud had also lifted from Stob Ban to reveal the majestic eastern face of the mountain across the opposite side of Coire a’ Mhusgain, a complex system of towering quartzite crags and buttresses, interspersed with vast rivulets of scree, with the east ridge running up along the skyline.
On approaching the col between Stob Coire a’ Mhail and Sgurr an Iubhair, I veered off west on a small rubbly path (not marked on the map) which descended steeply in a series of zigzags towards Lochan Coire nam Miseach. The path descended to the northwestern outflow of this roughly circular loch, somewhat green in colour, nestling into the contours beneath the steep cliffs and scree slopes of Sgurr an Iubhair.
I traversed SW to pick up the main path running on the southern side of the main crest of the Mamore ridge, at the col between Sgurr an Iubhair and Stob Ban. The path undulates across the grassy and peaty terrain at this col before ascending the increasingly rocky and craggy east ridge of Stob Ban. By this point, tiredness was really starting to kick in and I slowly progressed up the increasingly steep slope on quartzite scree and crags, incredibly still gaining on two slow-moving walkers ahead of me. Finally I reached the rounded summit of Stob Ban where I met my mum and had the opportunity to photograph myself.
The final part of the route from Stob Ban becomes apparent, descending initially steeply on quartzite scree down the north ridge then following the crest of the main Mamore ridge over a number of subsidiary tops to the rounded granite summit of Mullach nan Coirean. This part of the walk was one of the most straightforward, following the line of the ridge, precipitous only at times into Coire Dheirg.
On picking up the main Mamore Ridge after descending from Stob Ban, the rock changed from angular white quartzite to red rubbly granite and stayed predominantly granite all the way to Mullach nan Coirean. The only exception was the first subsidiary Top on the ridge, which represented a quartzite outlier and gave fine views back to the vast scree-ridden western slopes of Sgurr a’ Mhaim, the undulating ridgeline of the Devil’s Ridge from the west, the western cliffs of Sgurr an Iubhair and the vast pale quartzite screes of the western slopes of Stob Ban, contrasting starkly with the towering crags and buttress of the eastern face of the mountain and looking conspicuously like snow. Most of the ridge to Mullach nan Coirean involves easy walking on rubbly granite, heather and grass/peat, however there is one portion of optional scrambing roughly halfway along on solid granite, with precipitous slopes above Coire Dheirg and Glen Nevis. However, this can be circumvented by a path on the comparatively gentler southern slopes. By this stage of the walk the final end destination, the car park at Achriabhach, can be seen far below. The grassy SE Top of Mullach nan Coirean is reached next, with the grassy and peaty terrain playing host to numerous pools of water and a surprisingly abundant array of aquatic life. Following a small descent is the final climb on a path up rubbly granite to the summit of Mullach nan Coirean. The gradient isn’t particularly steep but seems long on tired legs.
The final summit of the day, Mullach nan Coirean, lies at the western end of the main Mamore ridge and offers fine views westwards down Loch Linnhe and across the hills towards the west coast, north-eastwards to the Ben Nevis Massif (still covered in cloud) and eastward across the majority of the Mamores. An Gearanach and Stob Coire a’ Chairn are hidden behind Sgurr a’ Mhaim and the Devil’s Ridge from this vantage point, however Am Bodach and Sgurr an Iubhair look quite distant, implying the great distance covered.
Contour round to the north then north-east on the granite summit plateau, passing several cairns, before descending via the north-east ridge on the north-western margin of Coire Dheirg back towards Achriabhach. The crest of the ridge is initially rocky and relatively narrow with steep descents to the right (south) into Coire Dheirg, but lower down becomes grassy and wider as the gradient levels off. It is possible to descend down the steep slopes into Coire Dheirg here and back to Achriabhach that way, however I recommend continuing on the north-east ridge as it curves round to the NNE and descends steeply next to a wire fence. This is the most gruelling part of the walk on tired knees, as numerous boulders make for slow progress. To top it off, a vast bog awaits you at the base of the steep slope, which you need to make your way across to a stile across the fence and follow the path onwards through Birch Forest. This path used to lead through a dense pine plantation, but this has now been felled and it is very easy to lose the path on the descent through the scattered tree stumps and pine branches. A faint rubbly path and bootprints can be picked out, but the most important thing is to keep roughly equidistant from the river descending out of Coire Riabhach on your left (NW). At the end of the path, a series of steps lead down onto a well-made track, and a long but gentler descent accompanied by a series of wide zigzags leads back to the car park at Achriabhach.
The end of a tiring but extremely thrilling walk, traversing 6 out of the 10 Munros in the Mamores, leaving the easternmost Binnein Beag, Binnein Mor, Na Gruagaichean and Sgurr Eilde Mor for another day…
by BlackPanther » Mon Jul 25, 2011 11:48 am
The Devil's Ridge has a bad reputation but I found it easy. It must be more challenging in winter. The narrow ridge between An Gearanach and An Garbhanach was quite exposed as well.
by skuk007 » Tue Jul 26, 2011 8:51 pm
by Barnety2000 » Thu Jul 28, 2011 10:14 pm
BlackPanther wrote:The narrow ridge between An Gearanach and An Garbhanach was quite exposed as well
Yes I actually thought the An Garbhanach ridge was more exposed than the Devil's Ridge- the Devil's Ridge really isn't too bad once you're on it. I've seen your report BlackPanther, you had a magnificent day for it!!
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