Overcoming Obstacles on the Aonach Eagach
by cmarcol » Wed Jun 24, 2015 6:01 pm
Route description: Aonach Eagach
Munros included on this walk: Meall Dearg (Aonach Eagach), Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (Aonach Eagach)
Grahams included on this walk: Pap of Glencoe
Date walked: 23/06/201539 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).
When Simon (simon-b) messaged me to say he was coming up to Glencoe for a couple of weeks and fancied the Aonach Eagach I agreed but still had my reservations. A further message at the weekend headed “Aonach Eagach Tuesday?” appeared and I agreed again. I read every guide available to me – Walkhighlands, Scrambles in Lochaber, SMC’s Munro book…. and was suitably terrified. I cried on Sgurr Alasdair and the only really successful, prolonged scrambling experience I’d had was over the Horns of Alligin. When I met Simon on Tuesday morning I came armed with a map that had not only the route but the escape to Kinlochleven from Meall Dearg also marked on it. I was genuinely considering coming off at Meall Dearg and walking back to Glencoe along the Kinlochleven road before we had even started. Against all my expectations we completed the Aonach Eagach without incident. Not only did it not terrify me or turn my knees to jelly, I rather enjoyed the whole experience.
The ascent from the car park was very steep. I like these kind of ascents because even though they are tough on the lungs you reach high ground very quickly. On the way up we were overtaken by a group of 3 rather fit looking lads. One was carrying a rope and they all had helmets. This didn’t help my confidence for the day and the prospect of stroll out to Kinlochleven was now almost a certainty in my mind. I even wondered if there was a taxi company in Kinlochleven….
We reached the top “Am Bodach” really quickly and stopped for 10mins to refuel. Here we met a lovely couple from Aberdeen – Paul and Nicole. They were both doing the Aonach Eagach for the 7th and 9th times. We ended up spending the day with them and their experience was an invaluable help to us first timers.
As close as we were getting to the Chancellor
First obstacle, coming down Am Bodach. The initial few steps are quite exposed but nowhere near as bad as I expected them to be. There was not a point when I felt scared, incapable or out of my depth which really surprised me as I had heard people say this is the hardest part on the ridge and if you can handle that you will manage the rest. I wasn’t convinced by this advice though and didn’t become overconfident at any stage (thankfully).
Stuck in traffic waiting to descend Am Bodach
Lovely view of Stob Ban and Mullach na Coirean here. Shows the change in rock colour nicely.
The ridge beyond Am Bodach
Simon descending Am Bodach
Did we really just come down that??
The ridge ahead of Am Bodach
After this section it’s fairly straightforward to the Munro of Meall Dearg with mild scrambling – none of which I remember being overly exposed.
Along the ridge towards Meall Dearg
Enjoying the view
Bidean and the Aonach Dubh from the Aonach Eagach
I was surprised by how many people were ascending from Kinlochleven. I’ve never heard anyone doing it this way but it is a great view point of the real “Aonach Eagach” part of the ridge. This peak was my judgement time. I was genuinely torn between the ridge and the town but having encountered no problems up to this point I decided to suck it up and go on. We got stuck in traffic soon after moving on and had to wait for a guided group to finish a section they’d roped up for. The guide had barked at us “do you mind just waiting while they finish that section?” from across the dip. We were waiting patiently and were in no rush so felt that was a little bit unfair. I was looking over the edge down to the climbing group but I’m pretty sure Simon was sat down at the time and we certainly weren’t trying to rush the group. We weren’t even interacting with them. By the time they’d finished, Nicole and Paul had caught us up and we didn’t separate from this point on. We overtook the guided group and after a few straightforward scrambles (and I think there was a chimney here? Order in my mind is fuzzy) we reached the “crazy pinnacles” – this is the point where sadly the camera had to go away so photos of this section are limited. There was no doubt in any of our minds up to this point and so many people (including Paul) had told us “keep your eyeline on the skyline and don’t be tempted to leave the ridge even if you see a path.” We had to go over these bad boys. Or did we? One of the roped up groups was descending to the right and the doubt in our minds crept in. The group we had overtaken soon caught up while we were debating the route and also tracked off to the side. Paul (who had done the ridge 8 times already and was an experienced climber) set off to follow and turned around swiftly to say “no this isn’t right.” He then led the way up what looked like an impossible pinnacle and the route across the pinnacles became clear. We were on route and happy again. The scrambling wasn’t overly difficult in my mind but the exposure was terrifying which made it seem difficult. This was the only point of the traverse where I felt a little bit out of my depth and scared. The fear and inadequacy I felt was completely overridden by the desire to stay on the ridge and not plummet to my death and my knees and hands stayed steady as the rock I was clambering up and down. My mind and body were acting on pure adrenaline and things I didn’t think were possible from looking at them were overcome without issue.
I can’t remember if it was the last or second last scrambly pinnacle that we encountered another nav issue. A path seemed to go around to the right but the rockface in front was clearly well used. It was distinctly lacking in the lichens that were on the surrounding rock and after the last navigational issue we fired up it. This is the only section which I think is safely by-passable. Another group behind us went around and popped up in front of us…. with a dog so it must have been safe enough!
From the 1st Munro (I think)
Stuck in traffic again. There are two people sat on the ridge for scale.
Paul and Simon gingerly crossing the Aonach Eagach
Safely over the crazy pinnacles and feeling relieved
Zoom in on the ridge behind
Once over the pinnacles we could sigh in huge relief. We had calmly and successfully traversed the Aonach Eagach and it was a straight forward dance up to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh. I’m sure on a normal hillwalking day I would have thought this ridge to still be fairly narrow but after the pinnacles it was a relief. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the technical and exposed parts of the ridge I was also very glad for it to finish. From here we decided to team up with Nicole and Paul and include the Pap before dropping them back at their car. This way everyone avoided the dodgy Clachaig Gully.
The a skip and a hope to the second Munro.
3,000ft in one picture!
Looking back over Glen Coe with the Aonach Eagach and Big Buachaille.
You can always see Schiehallion!
Summit of Sgurr nam Fiannaidh
The walk across to the Pap was slow. My knees (which never usually give me any issues at 24) were really painful from having to scramble with some really big stretches (well big stretches for a 28” leg) but the Pap was a lovely way to end the day. On the way up we met a family in hoodies in jeans who saw us looking bedraggled, laughed and assured us it wasn’t much further and the views were worth it. They had no idea of the horror that was hidden behind Sgurr nam Fiannaidh and obviously thought we were just really unfit and struggling to climb the Pap.
Nicole admiring the Pap
View from the Pap
By the time I got back to my car I was knackered. I’ve never felt so many muscles after a walk but then this is no “walk.” It was something I swore I would never do and something I wasn’t sure I was capable even on the day but when adrenaline and excitement kick in your mind and body are capable of overcoming the most challenging of both mental and physical obstacles. I’m very glad I did it and can’t thank Simon, Paul and Nicole enough for all their help on the day.
A year ago I said “I will never do the Aonach Eagach.” Today I say “I will never do the Aonach Eagach again.” Well… Not for a few years anyway…. I’m now beginning to think that actually the 282 target I never thought was personally achievable is achievable. Who knows?
Footnote: I think Simon has better photos. I’m sure he will add them underneath when he returns to England. I've attached a rough GPX route but it's not very accurate from the Pap descent. We came off the path but weren't recording the route so don't believe it 100% - it won't upload anyway!
by kmai1961 » Wed Jun 24, 2015 6:11 pm
by jac the lassie » Wed Jun 24, 2015 6:15 pm
You got a fab day for it weather wise and some great photos. That's a looong way down!
Makes me hopeful for getting these two sometime soon
by The Rodmiester » Wed Jun 24, 2015 6:24 pm
by Fife Flyer » Wed Jun 24, 2015 6:36 pm
Really enjoyed reading that, almost took me back a couple of weeks
Funnily enough my camera went away for the pinnacles, you took some cracking photo's of the ridge
You were lucky to buddy up with someone to help you - no substitute for experience.
by simon-b » Wed Jun 24, 2015 6:39 pm
by Petr Dakota » Wed Jun 24, 2015 6:47 pm
Glad you had nice day for the ridge - exponentiate the views around
I am sure you will keep the experience in your memories for long
Great report and photos there
Aonach Eagach is one of the mountains which I hope i will repeat more times
P.S. so now the rest yet: An Teallach...Liathach...Cuillin.......
by Petr Dakota » Wed Jun 24, 2015 6:52 pm
simon-b wrote:I just wish I could push the great report button multiple times, Cat. One of the best days in the mountains ever.
I agree Simon even for me the Aonach Eagach means "One of the best days in the mountains ever" ...looking forward to do it again
by Huff_n_Puff » Wed Jun 24, 2015 7:30 pm
by weaselmaster » Wed Jun 24, 2015 7:36 pm
by trederdog 100 » Wed Jun 24, 2015 8:15 pm
by dav2930 » Wed Jun 24, 2015 8:18 pm
by cmarcol » Wed Jun 24, 2015 8:39 pm
Jac - you're more brave than me!
Petr Dakota wrote:P.S. so now the rest yet: An Teallach...Liathach...Cuillin.......
weaselmaster wrote:I'm sure you'll enjoy the pinnacles on An Teallach now
Maybe next summer! Enough excitement for a wee while
dav2930 wrote:Surprising that some of the parties you encountered were roped up; that seems well OTT for a summer traverse (Winter a different matter). That guide sounded positively rude!
Yeah I think actually the majority of people we encountered were using ropes and helmets. The guide was probably just worried we were trying to push past but we were sat on a big wide ledge waiting patiently. Ah well.
by 2manyYorkies » Wed Jun 24, 2015 8:52 pm
by Silverhill » Wed Jun 24, 2015 9:33 pm
Not sure if your pictures have encouraged me to do the ridge….