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Ring of Steall, Legs of Jelly

Ring of Steall, Legs of Jelly

Postby BobMcBob » Sun Aug 12, 2012 3:47 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: 10/08/2012

Time taken: 8.4 hours

Distance: 17 km

Ascent: 1809m

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I'm not a Munro bagger. I'm not knocking it, if that's your thing, but it's not for me. However, something happens to me when I come to WalkHighlands and look at my Munro map; I start to notice ways it could look better, niggling little gaps of red in areas of blue. And none niggled me more than the 4 red pins in the middle of the Mamores. I love the Mamores, the whole area around there is stunning, and I really couldn't leave those 4 peaks unclimbed. I was, if you like, determined to bag the Mamores :)
Fortunately, (or unfortunately depending on how your legs look at it) those 4 peaks are all linked together by a great ridge, and people have been walking this Ring of Steall for years. So that was how I was going to do it as well - complete one of the classic Scottish ridge walks and make my map look prettier. As reasons for doing it go, it's the weakest I've ever heard :D
Every time I've been to The Mamores the weather has unequivocally done one of 2 things. When I approach from Kinlochleven it's cool and lovely and then chucks it down on me on the way back. When I approach from Glen Nevis it's absolutely scorching. So I parked up in Glen Nevis, slapped on a gallon of factor 50 and took extra water :D This turned out to be a very good move, as it was to be yet another scorching hot day. I opted to park at the end of the walk and get the 2 miles of tarmac out of the way first, as there's nothing I like less than a walk down a road when I'm hot and tired and out of water. The only downside to this is the 3 quid parking charge but it was worth it. Starting on the tarmac also helps get my legs moving, which is often something I struggle with :)
The road part isn't on the route map I've attached, because I'm an idiot and forgot to switch ViewRanger to 'record' mode, but I don't think it's a part of the walk anyone will have any trouble following :D

ringofsteall.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

Once at the end of the road I followed the excellent path up onto the Steall Meadows.
Emerging onto Steall Meadows from the path

This is a truly beautiful place, with the waterfall of An Steall cascading down the rocks for hundreds of feet, the lovely birch trees and the mountains all around.
An Steall

Upstream from the bridge

I stayed here quite a while, firstly because it was lovely, but secondly because I was watching people crossing the 3-wire bridge that was the way my route had to go. It didn't look that hard but it did look scary.
An anonymous model demonstrates the correct pose for looking nonchalant on the bridge

The dreaded bridge

But then I saw an 8 year old girl cross it, her head barely as high the supporting wires and thought, if she can do it.. One man had his little boy with him and decided to strip down to his underpants and ford the river a little higher up. Now, I understand you don't want to get your trousers and boots wet, but taking off your boots and rolling your trouser legs up would have done, the river was little more than ankle deep. Compared to this piece of flagrant exhibitionism the bridge was far less exposed :D
Now, I consider I have a head for heights. I've done Aonach Eagach, Curved Ridge, Liathach, and An Teallach. But crossing that wire was the scariest 40 paces of my life :D I think it was because the wire moved and twisted with every step, it wobbled and bounced, and I had to look down at my feet and there was nothing underneath me except the river. Rock doesn't behave like that :D Give me a knife edge ridge any time :D
The path carried on beyond the wire of terror, up to the base of the falls. I passed underpant man, still trotting around with no kecks on and paused to take in the view. Not the underpants, the waterfall. After a period of heavy rain this would no doubt be a awesome sight, and it was still pretty spectacular today in the heat.
The sun peeks over the cliff at the head of the falls

Next I had to ford the stream, which proved no bother, and then find my way across the featureless meadow to the path leading up An Gearanach. After a period of heavy rain this would no doubt require a boat. As it was it was pretty boggy and I soon found that I'd led myself into a dead end from which the only way onwards was through the mud. I placed a tentative right foot on it. It didn't sink in. "It'll probably take my weight if I skip across it quicky", I told myself. My second step went in up to the knee, as did the third, and the fourth :D My boots were two huge globs of mud. "Ah well," I thought, "at least I kept my trousers on."
I started climbing up, washing my boots in a stream which immediately got its own back on me by putting a slippery stone under them as I crossed it, sending me sprawling. Anyone watching my progress would have seen me flailing through the mud, slogging up a hill, and then falling over. It takes years of experience to be this nonchalantly incompetent :D
Steall Meadows from the path up An Gearanach

The view to the north was completely dominated by Ben Nevis. You really do get a feel for how huge it is from here, that familiar truncated humpback being just the top part of an enormous massif. Even Carn Mor Dearg, itself a peak over 4000 feet, looked like a tiny pimple next to it.
Ben Nevis and the Carn Mor Dearg Arete

As the climb started in earnest, the heat started to kick in and I was soon sweating profusely and stopping for breath frequently. At times like these, extreme measures are called for and I made the almost unprecedented decision to expose my legs. This is not something I do lightly, as the combination of my skinny white pasty legs, beanpole frame, and broad brimmed sunhat make me resemble nothing so much as a plastic golf tee :D But I rolled my trouser legs up to the knee, which at least stopped the wet mud from slapping on me with every step, and carried on.
Last year, when I climbed Buachaille Etive Mor, I met two Geordie guys on top and then bumped into them again two days later on Bidean nam Bian. This year when I climbed Buachaille Etive Mor I met a guy called Tim from the Wirral, and then bumped into him again 2 days later on An Gearanach. He caught me up as I was struggling up the slope. It was nice to have some walking company but I could tell I was holding him up and we parted before the top, but I was to keep seeing him throughout the rest of the day and would end up sinking a few pints with him in the Clachaig Inn that evening. That's one of the things I love about being in the hills, the people you meet and the stories you hear.
It was getting towards midday and it was seriously hot. There wasn't a cloud to be seen and no shade anywhere, so I pressed on and made it to the top of An Gearanach, the first of the four Munros (and six summits) on the ridge. An Gearanach means "The Complainer", and my first thought on reaching to top was "Ah blimey, no shade and no wind, and it's really, really hot". I stopped for a bit and actually thought about going back. From here you can see the whole Ring of Steall and it looked a very long way, but I hadn't slogged my way up here to give up now.
The next bit was quite fun, which helped :) A short, easy, scrambly section led to the top of An Garbanach (The Rough One). I was joined by a couple of German lads, fresh from the West Highland Way. In contrast to my sweat-laden, puffing self, one of the lads was carrying a large rucksack, wearing a fleece and a wooly hat, and didn't even look warm. I put it down to the benefits of youth :D
The very cool German on the crest between An Gearanach and An Garbanach

From an Garbanach a steep path led down to a col and then back up again to Stob Coire a Chairn (Peak of the Corrie of the Cairns), Munro number two. It wasn't getting any cooler and I found this climb extremely hard work with the sun now directly overhead and no shade nor breeze to cool me.
Backwards to An Gearanach and An Garbanach from Stob Coire a Chairn

Forwards to Am Bodach

I sat for a while and rested here, but I wasn't cooling off much. I munched a molten Snickers bar and sipped some water. The two German lads arrived and said they were considering bailing out as they were tired after the WHW and it was very hot. They looked a darn sight fresher than me :D They had an OS map and appeared to know how to use it, so I said goodbye and went onwards and downwards towards the next bealach.
In the bealach there's an unnamed top to cross. On top of it I came across a guy, lounging around. We said the usual hellos and "It's very hot, isn't it?"
He said "Yes, I'm struggling, I think I need to put my iPod on."
"So there's an app for cooling you down now is there?" I thought, but didn't say it.
He'd come down the way I was heading and said to me "The next bit is the worst, I came down it and didn't enjoy it one bit."
I smiled but was thinking "Thanks for that mate, that's just the motivation I needed." I left him to his iPlod.
Am Bodach loomed. It looked steep. It was steep. It looked slippery. It was slippery. But it was so steep that, thank merciful whatever, the climb was in the shade afforded by its own bulk. It was bliss. I rested for a bit and started feeling much better and made the top. It was the easiest section of the whole ridge. Silly iPod man.
An Gearanach, An Garbanach, and Stob Coire a Charin from Am Bodach

Onwards - Sgorr an Iubhair (with Stob Ban beyond)

Loch Leven, the Pap of Glencoe, and beyond

On top I bumped into Tim again. He'd also met the iPod man and had had much the same conversation. Tim managed to convince me to give him a lift down the road at the end of the walk, as he hadn't had the genius foresight to park where I had :D I agreed of course in return for the promise of a can of cold Ginger Beer :D Then he carried on, saying he might try and add Stob Ban to the walk. What was it with people today? Why were they all so much fitter than me? Am Bodach means "The Old Man" and never have I felt more in tune with the name of a peak as I slumped down on its top and tried to ignore the pulsating heat and the pain in my legs :D Just writing about it is making me tired :D
Then the Germans arrived.
"I thought you were bailing out?" I said.
"We couldn't find the path, perhaps it doesn't exist."
I looked at their map with them and it turned out they thought they were further round the ridge than they were. Once they knew where they were the path marked on their map was obvious to see and fortunately they hadn't missed it. They were going to contour round the next peak and drop down onto the Stob Ban path to go back from there. I knew the path was good and would be impossible to miss so I wished them well before I set off. I never saw them again :shock: :D
Before I left I took a panorama of the Ring from the top of Am Bodach.
The Ring of Steall

The recovery afforded by Am Bodach's shade soon wore off and I half-walked, half staggered down from it towards the bealach between it and Sgorr an Iubhair, from where I could see Tim on the Devil's Ridge, so he'd obviously decided to give Stop Ban a miss.
Tim on the Devil's Ridge

I carried on up to Sgorr an Iubhair (the Peak of the Yew Tree) which wasn't a Munro, then was, and now isn't again. I'll never get beaurocrats. Did it shrink? From the top though it wasn't hard to see why TIm had changed his mind about Stob Ban. It looked a long way down. Then a long way up. Then a long way back. Good call, Tim :D
Stob Ban

Looking at it though, as I sweated and tottered, starting to show signs of heatstroke, I started thinking about how cool it might be over there in the shade, and of the stream with lovely bathing pools that ran down that valley. I must have daydreamed for some time because I came to and found I'd walked off directly towards it and was some way off the route. No, no bailouts now. The job is nearly done. One more ridge, and one more Munro.
The Devil's Ridge and Sgurr a'Mhaim

The Devil's Ridge itself was mostly walking with a little simple scrambling here and there. There was a good bit after half way where some large boulders chocked a chasm and I scrambled over them, but by now I wasn't really aware of anything except heat. My sweaty hands struggled to grip the rock and my legs wobbled on every foothold. I should have used the bypass paths but I was going to do this properly! I was too tired to take photographs, I felt if I stopped that might be the end. I slogged up the last climb to Sgurr a'Mhaim. One foot in front of the other, just keep on doing it. As I made it I slumped in a heap in the scant shade afforded by the enormous cairn. The Mamores were mine :D
Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg

Am Bodach, with Glencoe beyond

Devil's Ridge, Sgorr an Iubhair, and mountains, mountains, mountains...

I wanted to rest for some time, to wait for the day to cool a little before setting off down. But there was no wind and therefore I was soon beset by clouds of Midgies :crazy: So set off down I did. The descent was no bother. Firstly on scree, which was easy to ride down, then a good path and back to the car park. I met up with Tim, gave him a lift down the road and got my cold can of Ginger Beer :) It was heaven :D
I still love the Mamores, but I wish I could have my Kinlochleven weather in Glen Nevis :D
It felt good to fill in those 4 red pins on my Munro map. Trouble is, it has changed the whole pattern and now I see another gap that needs filling.... Oh no! What's happening to me? :D
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Re: Ring of Steall, Legs of Jelly

Postby skuk007 » Sun Aug 12, 2012 4:40 pm

Excellent report Bob, and great photos. Did this in July but didn't get such good weather. Maybe that was a blessing as it sounded hard work in that heat. I still have some of these hills to do and looking forward to getting back to the Mamores soon.
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Re: Ring of Steall, Legs of Jelly

Postby SusieThePensioner » Sun Aug 12, 2012 6:27 pm

What a great walk! A brilliant report, very entertaining and hilarious at times :lol: :clap:
I loved reading it :D

Some fantastic photos as well. Well done :thumbup:
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