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Aonach Eagach A Day of Rest

Aonach Eagach A Day of Rest

Postby Acpark74 » Tue Nov 03, 2015 2:08 pm

Route description: Aonach Eagach

Munros included on this walk: Meall Dearg (Aonach Eagach), Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (Aonach Eagach)

Date walked: 01/11/2015

Time taken: 7.5 hours

Distance: 15.6 km

Ascent: 1444m

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Do you ever have those days when your best laid plans go out the window? Today was one of those days for me.

I'd spent the previous two days on the Buachaille climbing Stob Dearg and along the tops to Stob na Broige. Plus the beautifully deceptive Bidean nam bian and Stob Coire Sgreamhach.

The weather hadnt been great ,30 - 40 mph winds providing that buffeting which makes you feel like a dog with its head out of the car window and the rain had been relentless.Not heavy just constant so that the echoes on my hood provided a drumroll for each step.
I was wet on the outside but warm and dry on the inside.

A slip coming down the Bealach Dearg into the Lost Valley pulled at a tendon in my right knee nothing major and certainly nothing a day of rest wouldnt cure.
So as per the title, Sunday would be a day of rest.
Perhaps a drive into Fort Bill or a gentle walk through the Glen would keep me occupied. Those were my final thoughts as i drifted off to sleep on the Saturday night snug in my tent by River Etive.

Sunday morning came and knowing i was resting meant that my head didnt leave my pillow till late. Well, late for a morning person. It was 7:30.....

zipping open the tent flap i poked my head out which provided that first faltering thought of the day. Looking up the sky was beautifully clear, the towering mountains either side of my wildcamp stark and prounounced, their clarity backlit by the rising sun who's fingers of light were reaching between the walls of the Glen.
It was going to be a beautiful bright autumnal day.

Oh, but today is a day of rest! my knee needs it.
I'm sure regular walkers/hikers/climbers in fact insert strenuous activity here ...................... have had those moments when you sit and pro/con yourself but today it took all of two seconds until the pros won out.

My knee was just a twinge the weather promised a special day and i had ibuprofen!!!
The ridge wasnt on my climbing list for this break at least, but my eyes kept being drawn to that purple line on my OS map which runs along it.

The words the Chancellor, The Pinnacles, Grade 3 scrambling. Spinning around my head like a swarm of midgies made the decision an easy one.

It was 9 am by the time i had checked the Weather forcast on the board at the Glencoe Mountain Resort (never be too careful), had something to eat and got parked at the Allt-na -Ruigh car park. There was only one other car there with two guys who were staying locally. Traditional "morning beautiful days for it" were exchanged before they were off like a rocket up towards Am Bodach.

I prefer to walk alone when i can, not that I'm a unsociable sod just that when your alone you dont feel the pressure of having to speed up or slow down.
Everything is done at your pace.

I love stopping to look at the Lichens and mosses, watch the Dippers in the streams flash their white bibs like a morse coder gone nuts as they dance between rocks in search of insects.
I love the geology of places, marvelling at each cleft or ridge.

Not everyone does this, i see many people head down, trudge face on with its red/purple hue glistening in sweat eager to get to a stony summit to 'bag' it. Missing i feel, the smaller things in life which grasp thier existence in these harsh environments.
Its these things that make me feel great about my own. Little things that make a big difference.

So, after about 15 minutes, my pack was on my back wet weather gear firmly stored inside. I was resplendent in red gaitors, light coloured walking trousers and red TShirt in fact anyone looking up at the hillside could be forgiven for thinking someone was setting up a mens hairdressers so like a barbers pole did i resemble.

i set off up the path (minus scissors and comb) on the right side of the car park and took the direct route up to Am Bodach.
The path here has been maintained quite well, easy to follow and no great difficulty.
There are a couple of sections where you need to pull yourself up and 'scramble' but they're very short and if you can climb your stairs at home youll be fine.

A short sction of gulley which has good hand and foot holds leads up to the top of Am Bodach.
The view opens up here and i was beginning to get that adrenaline surge as the first signs of the scale of whats to come pop into view.

Most guides say the descent from am Bodach is an easy scamble but for those who are perhaps uninitiated the view down is a stark reality of what lies ahead.
I looked at the drops either side, wiggled my fingers and toes to get the blood flowing. If i could have wiggled my ears i would have, but I'll have to leave that to elephants and youtube stars....

My first tentative steps were shaky as i searched for places to hold and grip. This was a step up (or down) from anything i'd done previously
I was amazed at just how cold the rock felt as i hugged it. Those special tight hugs reserved for those closest to us. Right now, "Rocks-anne"as i affectionately called her was being wooed with a special hug......

That being said,the climb down if done steadilly and methodically is fair. The grip on the rock is excellent and the hand and footholds clear. Most are nicely rounded by the years of use they have had. Although a Caveat to this is it was dry. I dare say in the wet great care should be taken.

Safely at the bottom led me to look up and smile. This is the first test really for the inexperienced. Pass this and you know that the mind and body will stand up to whats to come.


looking back up at the first real challenge

I have to say that smile didn't leave my face as i turned to face the narrow ridge line.
The path is clear and i could feel the heat of the sun starting to warm the rocks.
There are a couple more short scrambly bits before i reached the summit of Meall Dearg, but by this time i had found a new confidence in myself.
The summit of Meall Dearg came into view beautiful in its own right but in the grandeur of the whole Glencoe was stunning.

Its hard to describe the thoughts as you look from the summit of Meall Dearg along the ridgeline of Aonach Eagach.
It looks daunting. The Pinnacles look impossible and the ridgeline looks knife-edge in places with long drops into seemingly endless and bottomless gullies.

the view along the ridge

No - matter i thought my confidence was high, the weather stunning as the sun passed on its heat to us mere mortals and the lightest of breezes kept whispering in my ear.

I had thought i might have seen the two guys who had left before me somewhere on the ridge ahead but couldnt see them anywhere.
Perhaps they had left the summit of Meall Dearg by the easier route down?

Either way it looked like i had the whole ridge to myself.

Thats when company arrived. The "whump-whump-whump" of rotors and the increasing whine of turbine engines as the red and white sikorsky helicopter appeared in front of me.

RESCUE emblazoned on its side with the side door open and a man in orange peering out the door it roared overhead after wheeling around towards the other side of the AE before stopping to hover then finally land atop the Stob Coire Leith ahead of me.

I watched heart in my mouth as four people jumped out and began descending towards the opposite side of the ridge to me.


Mountain Rescue Helicopter Landing

My confidence hit the floor as the stark reality hit me, the only other people I'd seen were the two chaps ahead and the brave mountain rescuers were heading east towards my own position.

Should i carry on towards them?
Had there been an accident?
Had a rockfall which made the route too dangerous?

I wouldn't get any answers stood there gawping and as the helicopter rose so too did my right boot as i set forth onto the ridge.

Knowing that there was no going back was a big incentive. The books say there is no safe route down the AE and looking down i truly believe them.
The route across the ridge is clear in places but often times its a case of following the scratchmarks made by crampons on the rocks.

I set about the ridge with its chimneys and rocky descents in the same way as i had tackled the first. Methodically and steadily.

The mantra "Three Points Of Contact" going round in my head.
The bedrock of all free climbing. Always maintain three points of contact with whatever it is your climbing.
So, right foot up, left hand grab, right hand grab search for left foot hold, find one - left foot up and repeat.

Some of the narrow ledges are as wide as an old school bench where great care is needed especially in the wet.
Although it had been a lovely sunny day, the south facing side was receiving all the sun this meant any north facing climbing remained in shadow and therefore damp.

The Pinnacles are as described " crazy" . Beautiful yet scary. Jagged upthrusts with great slabs which shear off from their parent rock leaving open chasms which seemed to call out as the wind whistled through.

As i climbed down onto one such slab the wind picked up and i swear the rock was shouting "WHO ARE YOU"
honestly .........

The Rescue Helicopter made a return off to my right hand side as i began to climb up one of the Pinnacles and began to hover. Probably a good 200m away and above me but it was all i could see and hear.
It was disconcerting to say the least was i approaching the danger?
Were the crew watching me to make sure i was safe?

I willed the helicopter out of line of sight so i could concentrate on getting it right.

I know it sounds crazy, but at this point i still thought something had happened to the two chaps ahead!!

I hadnt seen anything more of the Mountain Rescue Team that the Helicopter had dropped off earlier until i crested one of the Pinnacles and i could see two of them ahead.


The two MR chaps can you see the white hair!!
They made their way towards me a youngish chap with an accent either Australian,New Zealand or Sth African. Ha. I was never good at accents. Anyway he had already cut his head which he had dressed but the blood on his arm and jacket told the story. "Slipped " he said "loose hand hold "
The other chap he was with joined us. His shock of snow white hair the first thing that poked itself from behind a rock below " OCH THAT PATHS A WEE DANGEROUS ONE"

"Stop beating me down" shouted my confidence as clarified it wasnt the path i was on.

It turns out that the whole team are still searching for a missing climber who had been missing for three weeks.

With the aid of the helicopter they were checking the gullies both high and low (the other two had abseiled lower down)

They had met the two chaps who had been ahead of me and they were indeed fine. They hadn't had some terrifying fall and so my confidence sang heartilly.

They did warn me that the way ahead was slippy in places and some of the rocks were loosening where previously they had been solid so not to bear full weight on any. It was advice to prove very handy a short time later.

I thanked them for the advice and promised myself ill donate to Mountain Rescue before heading off along the ridge.

I could see i was getting closer to the end of the ridgeline and nearing the ascent to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh.
In the way stood a steep descent which meant i would be getting up close and personal with "Rocks-anne" again. This time she'd changed her dress from her black number to an orangey/red.

This descent really needed care the drop was huge and although the hand hold were there they were fewer and further appart. The slabs of rock however appeared solid.

As i turned and faced the rock giving Rocksy a hug i put my right foot down onto a slab about 1m x 1/2 m wide i found good hand holds and began to search for a foothold lower for my left foot.
I spotted a rock worn smooth which looked perfectly position but would mean a little longer stretch to reach down.
Reach down with my left foot i did and as i did so the left handhold gave way, the rock sheared off its parent.
My left foot swung down landing on the foothold keeping me from falling as fear sent that hot stab of needles rushing to the surface of my face and a cold shiver ran up my spine.
I stared at the bit of rock still clutched in my hand then got angry at it hurling it far out i to the gulley.
Instantly regretting it as i didnt know if anyone was down there. "BELOW" i shouted, belatedly warning anyone below to my stupidity. Luckily there wasnt anyone.

That was the hard part done the ridge had been conquered not without scares but always a thing of amazing beauty.


looking back east from the direction i came

I sat down and ate something remembering that in all the adrenaline fuelled climbing id forgotten to stop and eat dinner and it was now nearing 2:30.
I stopped for twenty minutes whilst i devoured my lunch. Sandwich, chocolate bars, banannas and oranges never tasted so good. Opening up my Haribos i even found time to make a ring for the teddy bear to stop it from drowning just like the advert. I even did the voice too :D

The climb up to the second Munro Sgorr nam Fianniadh for me felt like an anti-climax mainly because i felt so exhillarated at completing the ridge and to go from the scary climbing to a gentle amble gives time for that adrenaline to wear off.

The big round cairn on the top was welcome though as the wind had got up and had turned chilly.
The views are immense on all sides Ben Nevis to the north looked epic its north buttress standing out from its seemingly lesser cousins.


Ben Nevis looking amazing

A few photos and it was off towards the Pap of Glencoe on the long scree descent. This was the worst part if it for me.
My knee which i had forgotten about was screaming at me halfway down, by the time i reached the Clachaig Inn at the bottom near to Signal Rock i was limping like long john silver.

I burst through the doors at the side for the walkers bar shouting " aaaarrrr a flagon of rum me hearties and some wenches" in my best pirate accent!!

Actually it was " hi, a pint of coke and a haggis,neaps and tatties please, and can i have £20 cash back" :D

I dropped £5 in the Mountain Rescue fundraising box, fullfilling my promise earlier in the day, silently thanking the volunteers for their dedication.

By the time id eaten it was dusk and i still had the two miles to walk back to the car at the starting point. Luckily i had my headtorch and there is a path in Glencoe that takes you away from the side of the road.

Looking up at the ridge from road height hides much of its beauty. The shear scale of it can only be truly appreciated from up there.

As i looked up i laughed out loud revelling in the fact that i had just climbed along arguably one of the best ridges in our beautiful isles.


A dusky Rocks-anne :D

So there we have my little story.

Would i do it again? Yes without a shadow of doubt.
Was it scary? Yes in places.
Did i feel in control? Yes. For me, climbing it on my own. The weather was right, i took my time and i heeded good advice.
How hard was it? If you have a good head for heights and can remain calm and analytical then its very enjoyable. Some parts need confidence in your own ability. Looking down a rock face to a small ledge knowing you need to climb down there. Then widening your vision to encompass the drops either side needs that confidence.

And to think. ........................

Today was a rest day, right?
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Re: Aonach Eagach A Day of Rest

Postby AbbieAuckland » Wed Nov 04, 2015 1:48 pm

Really sad to have missed this day. Would have loved to have done this with you. Circumstances dictated otherwise sadly.
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Re: Aonach Eagach A Day of Rest

Postby Mantog » Wed Nov 04, 2015 7:37 pm

Enjoyable report, AE ridge is a great walk, glad no rocks came away in my hand!
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Re: Aonach Eagach A Day of Rest

Postby dav2930 » Wed Nov 04, 2015 8:18 pm

That was quite a tale - I enjoyed reading it. What are things coming to when its the mountain rescue guys who need the first aid? :shock: Sounds like some of the holds up there are getting dangerously loose. Well done for completing the ridge - always a satisfying achievement. :clap:
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Re: Aonach Eagach A Day of Rest

Postby Acpark74 » Wed Nov 04, 2015 8:22 pm

Thanks, it certainly brought several emotions straight to the surface! and many swearwords
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Re: Aonach Eagach A Day of Rest

Postby Silverhill » Wed Nov 04, 2015 9:15 pm

So far for the rest day…. :crazy:
A great first report! Your detailed story will be very useful for me, though that loose handhold was scary to read about. A great achievement, well done! :thumbup:
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Re: Aonach Eagach A Day of Rest

Postby Acpark74 » Sat Nov 07, 2015 11:27 am

Thanks for the nice comment. Don't let the one scary moment stop you from attempting the ridge. Its simply amazing. Glad i could describe some of the route for you.

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Re: Aonach Eagach A Day of Rest

Postby dogplodder » Sat Nov 07, 2015 11:43 am

That was some rest day! I felt quite tense reading about the rock coming away in your hand. It's stories like that that make me content not to try it at my grand old age! 8)
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Re: Aonach Eagach A Day of Rest

Postby Acpark74 » Sat Nov 07, 2015 4:32 pm

Don't let that stop you. Just remember the advice not to place your full weight on any one hold. As for age the MR chap with the white hair must have been all but 70!

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