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Ring of Steall? I'd say it's a basic requirement!
by Graeme D » Tue Apr 17, 2012 4:02 pm
Route description: The Ring of Steall, Mamores
Munros included on this walk: Am Bodach, An Gearanach, Sgurr a'Mhaim, Stob Coire a'Chairn
Date walked: 13/04/2012
Time taken: 8.1 hours
Distance: 12 km
Ascent: 1643m17 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).
As planned hill days go, the Ring of Steall has a wee bit of previous history and form as far as we are concerned, having had it scheduled a few times before only to see it fall through late in the day. As recently as the end of February, we pulled the plug at the last minute due to dire meteorological predictions. And last May, in the middle of Kev's epic, sodden, valiant but utlimately doomed attempt to knock off 50 Munros in the space of one week in the name of charity, I got as far as meeting him early one morning in the car park in Glen Nevis in conditions so foul that we could barely see each other let alone hope to have any views from the tops. On that occasion we very wisely decided to abandon ship and retreat to the Wee Bookil where conditions were no less atrocious but at least it was a shorter outing and one that we felt would constitute a lesser crime against hillwalking than undertaking the Ring of Steall in such conditions.
So here we were again. The form book was, as I have said, not promising. And our proposed date had an altogether ominous feel to it as well - Friday the 13th. Was it another bad omen, or would the Mountain Gods finally smile upon us and grant us a decent weather window???
As Kev has already said in his previously posted excellent account of the day, the Ring of Steall is one of the great iconic ridge walks in Scotland. The very name is so mysterious and evocative. To some it may bring about a wee frisson of excitement, to some a nervous shudder of anticipation, into others it may strike the very fear of God! Maybe even all three.
It was also my first ascent of any of the Mamores peaks, that stubborn mass of red dots on my Munro map between Ben Nevis and the Aonach Eagach having niggled away at me psychologically for some time now. The Easter holiday fortnight had kicked off in Kintail with a brilliant day on another iconic ridge walk, The Five Sisters, and now it was going to draw to a close in similar fashion on the Ring of Steall. And it would be the first time in almost 18 months, since a particularly memorable Duinish Bothy weekend, that myself, Kev and Darren had walked together.
All day on Thursday I was like a 10 year old on Christmas Eve. The alarm went off at 3.50 on Friday morning and I stealthily crept downstairs praying that Ailsa wouldn't wake up. My life wouldn't be worth living if she did. Fortunately luck was on my side - first major obstacle of the day successfully negotiated. A quick cup of coffee, pink iced doughnut (I'll say this much for middle of the night departures to the hills - they do not encourage healthy breakfasting habits) and filling of a flask with some magic juice and I was pulling out of the drive by 4.15.
I'm sure the up and across method (A9 to Dalwhinnie then A86 through Spean Bridge) is the quickest, easiest and most fuel efficient way of getting from Perth to An Gearasdan, but this morning I opted instead for the across and up method (A85 through Crieff, Crianlarich, Glencoe e.t.c.) as I hoped to get that magical feeling of driving past Bridge of Orchy and Loch Tulla in the early morning and then up onto Rannoch Moor before the Big Herdsman of Etive looms into full view at the gates of Glencoe and you begin to hurtle down the other side towards the big coat hanger at Ballachulish.
It was still pitch dark as I left Perth (yet light enough to see the young lady tottering along the pavement in nothing more than high heeled ankle boots, hot pants and a boob tube - oh, and according to the car, things were hovering just above freezing!) Scotland eh! Wha's like us? Well, the Dutch, apparently, but that's another story.......
I got my wish over Rannoch Moor and even the usually painful drive from Ballachulish along Loch Linnhe into the Fort was pain free this fine morning. Friday the 13th it may be, but the omens were all good so far and the weather was looking fine.
I pulled into the car park at just after 6.30. No sign yet of either Kev or Daz so another pink doughnut was seen off and I took a wee wander down to the bridge to stretch my legs while I waited. They both turned up a few seconds apart just after 7 and quickly got their gear into my car for the short drive along to the end of the road. Kev was definitely only up for the Ring of Steall, Daz (being a mountain machine and general madman) was very keen to tag on Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean (which he did), and I was in two minds about tagging these two on, depending on how reserves of both time and stamina held up. They didn't - so I didn't.
Once across the Steall flats, the next two major obstacles had to be faced in quick succession - the wire bridge, restored to full working order after an alleged altercation with the hill walking branch of the Oranje's answer to the Tartan Army, and the crossing of the Steall Falls themselves. The first of these was dealt with professionally first by Kev, then myself and finally by Daz. No dunkings there then. Onto the crossing at the foot of the falls with recollections of having read a previous report where this very crossing descended into farce and chaos amidst dunkings all round and various items of kit being washed away in the torrent, never to be seen again. This morning it was tame by comparison but still required a bit of care and respect nonetheless. Then came the football pitch sized bog - as Kev noted, it seemed that the actual Ring of Steall itself would be a piece of cake compared to all this lot!
Suffice to say, the Ring of Steall is no piece of cake, at least not in winter conditions such as the ones we got for it, albeit not full blown winter conditions. An iconic ridge walk - most definitely. Fearsome? For the most part, not really. I have done Liathach's Am Fasarinen ridge, Beinn Alligin's Horns, the Aonach Eagach and Crib Goch on the Snowdon Horseshoe. They are all far more "full on" than the Ring of Steall. But there were two moments worthy of mention in the squeeky bum stakes, the second of which probably tops them all for me.
The first one came between the first Munro of An Gearanach and the Top of An Garbhanach. It was at this point that I did actually deploy the "up and across method". In hindsight though, this was barely actually worth the mention. The second one came on the Devil's Ridge between the demoted Munro of Sgurr an Iubhair and Sgurr a' Mhaim. ("What's the story with this Devil's Ridge?" Darren had earlier asked. "It's bark's worse than it's bite I think" had been my reply). Well, we had just embarked on the ridge and my assessment of it seemed to be a fair one when we stopped to let two guys who had been steadily catching us up for most of the day get past. No sooner had they passed us than Kev (who was leading at this point) hollered back - something along the lines of "Check out this bad boy!" to use a Darren-ism. We bunched up in time to see the second of the two guys making a bit of a meal of things, but to be fair, it didn't look like no piece of cake! While Darren and I stood transfixed, Kev disappeared. Had he fallen off the ridge? No, he appeared to have floated across the "bad step". Our turn. Darren next, me bringing up the rear. Now, if you have read Kev's report, this was his "WTF moment" photo. At the very moment that photo was snapped, my feet were sliding into oblivion, my right knee was being grazed against the rock and my hands were slowly slipping from their hold above me. And lots of colourful, industrial language was being used.
I'll let a selection of the 3.4 million or so photos I took on the day do the storytelling from now on!
Kev, ça t’a coupé le souffle? Moi aussi! Mais ça m’a coupé les jambes aussi!
Leaving the main path to cut cross the Steall flats towards the wire bridge
Beginning the crossing
Man on Wire
Beyond the point of no return
Darren crossing under the falls
Back down across Steall flats from the start of the ascent
Height is quickly gained on the excellent path
Distant Grey Corries to the left, Binnein Beag to the right
Darren looking to Binnein Mor
The Devil's Ridge and Sgurr a'Mhaim from the ascent of The Complainer
Darren approaching An Gearanach summit
An Gearanach summit
An Gearanach summit with the Ben and CMD arête beyond
Onto the connecting ridge to An Garbhanach
Back to the almost perfect symmetry of An Gearanach
Across Coire a' Mhail to Am Bodach and Sgurr an Iubhair with Beinn a'Bheithir beyond
Darren adopting the "crab" method as he scrambles across the first Bad Step
On the ascent of Stob Coire a' Chairn looking back to An Garbhanach and An Gearanach
Daz and Kev at summit of Stob Coire a' Chairn
Darren phones out for a deep pan pepperoni with extra hot spicy sauce
An Gearanach from Stob Coire a' Chairn summit with the Ben and Aonachs beyond
Onwards to the Old Man
Na Gruagaichean - greetings fair maidens!
The Ben and CMD arête down Coire a' Mhail from just below the summit of Am Bodach
Towards the connecting ridge with Sgurr an Iubhair
At the summit of Am Bodach - Darren chasing up the pizza order with Blackwater Reservoir in the background
South west from Am Bodach summit to Beinn a' Bheithir - Lochs Leven and Linnhe both visible
Back whence we came from Am Bodach summit
Leaving the Old Man behind
Sgurr a'Mhaim with the Ben and CMD arête beyond
Back to Am Bodach
Approaching the Demoted One
On Sgurr an Iubhair - Kev thinks he can see the pizza delivery guy!
Darren does a bit of forward route planning for Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean
Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean close up
Descending towards the start of the Devil's Ridge......
..... and then ascending towards it
The language is about to take a turn for the worse!
Daz tackling the Bad Boy - Kev's head just visible around the corner
Kev now over the worst of it
Back to Stob Coire a'Mhail and Sgurr an Iubhair - bypass path visible down to the left
At the summit of Sgurr a'Mhaim - Darren and Kev reflect on their brief encounter with the Devil
Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean from Sgurr a'Mhaim
The Ben and CMD arête from Sgurr a'Mhaim
Big Ben close up
Starting the lo......ng descent back down into Glen Nevis
by dooterbang » Tue Apr 17, 2012 4:15 pm
Stunning photos and a good read.
Bet this one will stay in the memory for a long time.
by DarrenJeffrey » Tue Apr 17, 2012 5:00 pm
by Collaciotach » Tue Apr 17, 2012 6:18 pm
by SMRussell » Tue Apr 17, 2012 7:09 pm
Well done you crazy cats, what a fab day in the hills!
by blanchie » Tue Apr 17, 2012 7:12 pm
by pigeon » Tue Apr 17, 2012 7:39 pm
by gammy leg walker » Tue Apr 17, 2012 7:53 pm
PS.......................I will now start to exersize my sphynter muscle in preperation for my date with this bad boy in May.
by luckyguy68 » Tue Apr 17, 2012 8:00 pm
by ChrisW » Tue Apr 17, 2012 8:01 pm
by kevsbald » Tue Apr 17, 2012 8:42 pm
by rockhopper » Tue Apr 17, 2012 8:52 pm
by Gary_G » Tue Apr 17, 2012 10:45 pm
by Scotjamie » Tue Apr 17, 2012 11:16 pm