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Aonach eagach ridge.....fun in the sun
by jstalker66621 » Thu Oct 20, 2011 11:50 pm
Route description: Aonach Eagach
Munros included on this walk: Meall Dearg (Aonach Eagach), Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (Aonach Eagach)
Date walked: 04/09/2011
Time taken: 6.45 hours
Distance: 9.5 km
Ascent: 1100m4 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).
After the soaking I had received on my last two ridge walks, yesterday and Friday, I was hoping for something a little drier today. This was more to do with the amount of reviews I had scanned regards the AE ridge, and warnings about underfoot safety in the wet, than anything else. I also felt that after two days of rain and mist and little views, I deserved the chance to snap away at all the potentially glorious views I would get from the AE ridge.
The plan was to meet Mike and Andy (Sid and Spot from here on in) at or near the Clachaig Inn around 9ish...breakfast and anxiety poo permitting...which was only a ten minute drive away from my accommodation. I had stayed overnight at the Lyn Leven in Ballachulish and must thank them for their overall hospitality. I was given a warm welcome upon arrival, they furnished me with a bucket of water and offered the use of a hose, so I could wash my muddy gear for the following day, then directed me to the drying room to stash it safely overnight. Once showered and changed I found that I could get no wifi signal in my room, disaster when you have a blog to write, but again was rescued by my hosts willingness to let me use the dining room for as long as I required, free electricity and a nibble of the oatcakes they had left out, too hard to turn down. Breakfast was a hurried affair in the morning, given that I didn't want Sid and Spot waiting too long for me...they may have been compelled to leave without me!! I settled up the bill, collected my dry ish boots/gaiters/trousers from across the road and drove into Glencoe village. After a slight confusion about meeting point, probably down to my lack of cohesion in the brain department after two hard days in the hills, we met up on a single track road behind the Clachaig Inn, beyond the youth hostel, at a point where we hoped the track would take us back down off the ridge, all going well.
It was good to meet up with Mike (Sid) again, as the last time I saw him was on the South Glen Sheil ridge (remember the descent from hell Baino??) last June and we shared a wee laugh about that whilst he was introducing me to Andy (Spot). We transferred gear from Sid's 4x4 to my modest little Polo and set off along the A82 in search of Sir Jimmy Saville's residence...now then now then guys n gals...and the start of the long day ahead.
The parking spot was a rather small tight affair as it was...without some sightseer in a large BMW taking up far too much room for one car...we don't mind you coming here to look at our beauty but for goodness sake think about others needs when you do!!! As we were getting changed and deciding what we would need with us, Spot is worse than me for procrastination when it comes to gear wearing, we were joined by a mini van full of walkers who abandoned their vehicle at the side of the road. They emerged looking keen and fit and serious and we decided to hold back so that we wouldn't slow them down on the slog up Am Bodach.
Little were we to realise at that moment that looks can be very deceptive indeed...for we would catch them within the first 600m or so of climbing and blow them off spectacularly as the day progressed (eventually we spotted them from the 2nd Munro cairn away back on a pinnacle at least an hour behind us).
We passed pleasantries as we passed them, eyeing them closely to see that they may have looked the part but that was never going to be enough on the AE ridge. They were across from Northern Ireland for a week of walking and had decided to get the hardest one out of the way first...hindsight may tell them that they should have gained some hill legs on a lesser route first!!
We ascended the steep path (yes that's right, a path of some accord as well) up Am Bodach, happily snapping away at the views of Bidean nam Bian (I got a bit carried away picture wise as when I climbed it I had zero visibility) and the Buachaille's (Etive Mor and Etive Beag).
Sid was having a bit of a faff at this moment with his trousers, it transpires that he had started the day with a slight split in the groin of his trousers and as we were climbing it was getting worse. Apparently (now this has been verified as fact on wikipedia) a small hole will eventually succumb to the strain of an overweight man stretching his gait and split further as the day progresses. As concerned colleagues it would be remiss of me to say that we showed anything but compassion for Sid at this news...but remiss we are...as we howled with laughter at his predicament (we even insisted that he lead from this point on as we would be spared the gruesome sight of his thong emerging further with each tear). Joking aside, Sid sets a good pace for a fat old bloke and I think Spot was happy to have me dawdling along taking pictures as he felt the first grumbling of refusal to pick up the pace in his knees.
The path may be better than we expected on Am Bodach but that takes nothing away from the sheer slog of hauling one's fat arse up it...thankfully we were boosted by the sight of our NI friends falling further and further behind with each bend in the route. The weather was staying kind for us and allowing us to drink in the views of Munro's all around us...I'm convinced that we would have been even quicker than our eventual good time (6hrs 45mins) if the views had not been so spectacular.
We had taken the steep direct path up to Am bodach, rather than the alternative one that heads for the bealach between Am Bodach and Sron Garbh, and felt all the better for it. Even on this path you could feel how slippy the rocks were and I think we all felt just a little aprehension at the ridge ahead of us. We were certainly making plenty of jokes about the potential for disaster and what we would do in the event (I even sent a farewell text, just in case) of one, but we all knew that there was a seriousness to our fears. There have been enough reported accidents and deaths on the AE ridge to make even the most competent climber a little worried (though most of them probably never admit it).
The views from the top of Am Bodach 943m were everything we had hoped for. The prime one being the chancellor...a rock pinnacle sticking out prominently above the A82 side of the ridge. If the ground had been drier then we would have undoubtedly scaled along it and sat at the edge, dangling our feet into the valley three thousand feet below us. But such was the wetness on the ground that we decided to leave it for the next time, it would be a good enough excuse to come back with Simon and Baino if nothing else.
From here to Meall Dearg (the first Munro on the ridge) were enough moments to whet the appetite for what lay ahead.
The first real scrambling comes on the descent from Am Bodach.
A short distance from the summit there is an awkward, sloping, slabby cliff to descend; it is steep but not excessively so, but there is a large drop from the ridge below it, and it can become very slippery in the wet.
As we slipped down this cliff, trying to keep composure and trousers intact, Sid announced that his split had gotten wider...cue uncontrollable laughter from his comrades. I did offer to cut them off, or cable tie the loose bits together, but he was having none of it...I think he was slightly miffed at our laughing. If you have any doubts about your ability to deal with this type of scramble/climb then now is the time to admit it and turn back...don't be a hero just for the sake of it.
The rest of the walk to Meall Dearg was pretty straight forward and achieved in a reasonable time. We reached the summit cairn 953m and stopped to admire the ridge ahead.
Pictures were taken and handshakes all round...we felt good and wanted to press on.
The ridge was slightly obscured by mist at this point but you could make it out enough to see just how dangerous and scary it was likely to be...especially the crazy pinnacles!!
From the walkhighlands site; Meall Dearg is a good viewpoint for the other Glencoe peaks, but all walkers eyes will be drawn to the ridge ahead - a frightening prospect. The ridge has several steep rocky chimneys and other short scrambling sections which must be climbed and descended, and is very narrow in places (though it is not as consistently narrow as reputation would have it). There are many short scrambles necessary all along this ridge; the trickiest section is known as the 'Crazy Pinnacles' and is well along the ridge. There is also a tricky move right at the end - a very steep descent onto a narrow section of ridge, which must be climbed down facing the rock. The difficulties then end and the Munro 'Top' of Stob Coire Leith is reached. Note that there are no safe descents from the Aonach Eagach once embarked on this section of ridge; there have been many accidents to scramblers attempting to leave the ridge before the end of the scrambling. The only possible escape route is descend northwards from Meall Dearg.
This is about as accurate as anything I could say about it...what they don't add is the sense of fear and doubt you will experience at various points along this ridge. Make no mistake, I respect anyone that has done this, regardless of how long it took them or which way they managed to climb/scramble/crawl their way across it. We are a unique band of brothers/sisters and kudos to us all.
Each pinnacle provides its own unique moment, with far too much going on to remember everything, but I hope that this does it some justice; we slipped and scrambled our way down some truly fatal drops, hugging the rock with the respect you would give to anything that had the ability to kill you.
I loved the climbs up, picking out hand and foot holds, learning to use your legs for power and hands for balance, pitting your body against nature in a battle you simply had to win.
Exhilarating is simple not comprehensive enough to do justice to the emotions I was feeling as I pulled myself up and over crags that I had previously felt I had no right to be on (I had many a restless night worrying about this in the lead up to it, including one particularly vivid dream of falling from it to the depths below).
Scaling down the other side of them took all my nerve not to fall off and stop my prophecy from coming true. It is no understatement to say that I have never been so scared (and yet excited) at anything in my life.
On one of the pinnacles we were stopped in our tracks by the sight of a brocken spectre. This is a trick of the light where the sun shines behind you onto a cloud below you, giving off a circle of technicolour spectrum with your own shadow contained within...tricking you into thinking there is someone out there with you. We were fortunate enough to witness this from three different angles and tried to get pictures of it but they don't seem to have shown it very well at all, so you will have to take my word for it that it exists. Thankfully Sid and Spot both saw it also so I know I'm not mad.
We continued ascending and descending pinnacles until we reached the 'crazy pinnacles', realising that the worst was yet to come. Just at this point, with Sid leading and Spot in front of me obscuring my view, I heard a thud and a cry of despair...my heart raced until I heard Sid say something about his pack. Apparently Sid had removed his pack and dropped it down one of the harder manoeuvres to make it easier to scale down...unfortunately when it had landed on the rocks below his jacket had fallen out of the pack and been caught by the wind, blowing it slightly further down than we needed to be. Just how difficult this section is can be summed up in the fact that it took serious deliberation not to simply leave a £200 jacket behind. I had absolutely no view of this as Sid clambered down onto very dangerous territory with Spot dangling above him on a pinnacle and me trying to hold myself onto wet rock waiting for the outcome...the feeling of helplessness you get if anything happens is intense up there. I could hear what was happening but could not progress to assist as the ridge just wont allow more than one at a time to pass along it.
After the jacket had been rescued and safely secured in the pack we moved along to an almost flat top on a pinnacle to regroup. As we were debating the jacket rescue (if it had been a north face one I would have told him to leave it) we noticed a climber coming towards us, then a second one appeared, scrambling over the rocks with consumate ease...clearly professionals compared to ourselves. We waited on our small platform for them to reach us, there was no space to pass each other otherwise, and expressed surprise that they would attempt the ridge back to front on a potentially busy weekend, when there is so little safe opportunity to pass others. They looked down their noses at us, said something about technical sections then moved along. Clearly not everyone you meet in the hills is pleasant and polite!!
The crazy pinnacles are every bit as bad as they sound. A decision had to be made as to the safest way across. Sid poked his head over the top of the first one and declared unhappiness at the wet rock and the sheer scale of the task in prospect.
Spot checked out a possible traverse a little further down with the same assessment. I dropped down onto a lower part, which would involve more climbing to get back up, and said "yeah this is just slightly passable, lets try it". I dropped down a chimney of rock, mindful of the fall in front of me, gripped the rocks with my finger tips and the edge of my boot, somehow pulled myself round a protruding rock (with my back to a quite horrendous fall) and gained a respite on a ledge no wider than my foot. Sid dropped down next but decided that his pack would get in the way so asked me to come back and catch it for him...the reverse manoeuvre took me a few minutes to achieve. Once in place he lowered his pack down to me and I stowed it on a rock above my head as I waited for him to pass Spot's one down also. How I managed to turn around, grip the rock, keep Sid's bag steady, all with Spot's pack in my right hand I could not even begin to describe...it was hard enough the first time with both hands free!! I led the ascent up the crazy pinnacle, stopping at the top to get a snap of Spot coming up behind. The rest of the ridge was equally as adrenaline filled, with moments of high octane climbing and careful descent thrown in...until we reached the final climb. Now we all knew that this was possibly the moment we had been dreading the most, as it gets the most write ups in accounts of the ridge, the climb wasn't too bad (I'm getting quite good at going up) but the descent on the other side of the pinnacle involved scaling down backwards onto the narrowest ledge imaginable!!
There were a few expletives aired on this section but we all made it safely.
At the end of the pinnacles we accounted our injuries...Sid's trousers would require putting down at some point, they were beyond saving. Spot had banged his knee against a rock that he failed to see as he jumped down one short section...ooh it would bruise in the morning (which would actually add some colour to the palest leg I have ever seen). I had entered this with a stiff shoulder from a fall on Beinn a Beither the previous day, it was now exacerbated by over pronating it on a scramble down a rock face when I had to stretch further than my short legs would allow me in order to reach the ledge below me...I started to suffer for it on the drive home and have already altered my plans for the coming week as a result.
The remainder of the walk was now on a decent path up to the summit of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh 967m. We approached the summit and noted that there were others already there; including two young ladies who took great amusement out of Sid's thong and ripped breeks!!
The usual pictures were taken on the summit and all that was left were the celebratory phone calls and texts to send stating that we were still alive. Oh there was the small matter of a two hour hike off the summit back to the car...but that felt almost inconsequential after what we had achieved.
Once back at the car we had to drive up to the start point and sort ourselves out ready for our journeys home.
Aching knees set in as we were getting changed out of sweaty gear and we must have looked a real sight to some of the tourists passing by in their cars...you would think they had never seen three nearly naked blokes in a layby before...until next time friends...if Mike Charlton tells you he knows a shortcut off a hill just walk away.....stay safe.
by pigeon » Fri Oct 21, 2011 2:35 pm
by jstalker66621 » Sat Oct 22, 2011 3:20 pm
by skuk007 » Sat Oct 22, 2011 5:19 pm
Great read and photos, sounds like you had a fun day out.
Looks like Sid's got an excuse to go gear shopping, bit breezy
by jstalker66621 » Sat Oct 22, 2011 5:47 pm
by gammy leg walker » Sat Oct 22, 2011 7:35 pm
by jstalker66621 » Sat Oct 22, 2011 7:55 pm
by Bod » Sat Oct 22, 2011 7:58 pm
by jstalker66621 » Sat Oct 22, 2011 8:09 pm
by lomondwalkers » Sun Oct 23, 2011 10:33 pm
by Graeme D » Mon Oct 24, 2011 9:00 pm
by jstalker66621 » Wed Oct 26, 2011 11:33 am
lomondwalkers wrote:Great stuff guys!! Great detailed report. I'm hoping to pluck up the courage for this one next year. I will be back to re-read your report when I do Cheers.
When you do it I will be expecting a detailed report in return
by Lackadaisy » Thu Oct 27, 2011 7:30 pm
by jstalker66621 » Fri Oct 28, 2011 4:51 pm
by Martin00 » Mon Jan 30, 2012 4:33 pm
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