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The Ring of Steall

The Ring of Steall


Postby dav2930 » Sun Mar 27, 2016 10:20 am

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: 20/03/2016

Time taken: 10 hours

Distance: 16 km

Ascent: 1675m

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The trouble with work, at least for most of us, is that you can't tailor your holidays to the weather. A big fat high pressure system might be sitting right over the Scottish Highlands during the two or three weeks leading up to your scheduled week off, but you just have to bide your time and hope it lasts out; and of course, inevitably, it doesn't.

Such was the case, more or less, with the trip to Lochaber Karl and myself had been looking forward to since last October. On the day before we set off, the forecast was telling us that the period of fine, settled weather which had dominated Scotland since the end of February was about to end, rudely shoved out of the way by a loop of the jet stream pushing before it the usual dismal Atlantic fronts. Typical! :roll:

As we headed off from Cumbria on Saturday 19th March, the sky was already gloomily overcast, with a hint of drizzle in the air. But things weren't all bad, for by the time we reached the edge of the Highlands the clouds had parted and the sun was shining. Furthermore, the first of the fronts wasn't due to arrive on the west coast until Monday, so we might at least get a decent day on Sunday.

We decided, therefore, that we'd better make Sunday the day for the main objective of our trip - the Ring of Steall. Karl was especially keen on this one and although I'd done it before, I was quite happy to do it again, as it really doesn't get much better than this. No Munro tally additions for me, then, but who cares about that? A walk of such quality is worth far more than numbers on a tick list, and the thought of not being able to do it again until after I'd compleated (whenever that might be) would be too much to bear!

So at 7.35 on Sunday morning we were marching out of the car park at the head of Glen Nevis and into the magnificent gorge with its roaring torrent, huge, water-worn boulders and proper, native woodland. What a place! We could hardly believe the clear, frosty weather, and wondered how long it would be before the clouds came rolling in.


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At the head of the gorge the valley opens out onto the amazingly flat meadows, giving a tremendous view of Steall falls with An Gearanach, first Munro of the ring, soaring majestically above it. I took the obligatory photo, but the early morning light produced a rather shadowy result. Later in the day the light is much better for photographing this wonderful scene.

The frost covering the grass was surprisingly thick and it also covered the notorious wire bridge, which made crossing it that bit more interesting! :lol: Once across we were soon confronted by another surprise when we reached the bottom of the falls.

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Steall Falls


The amount of water in the burn made it very difficult to cross. We wandered up and down looking for a suitable crossing point, trying here then there, but concluded that it was too deep to get across with our boots on! :problem: So it was off with boots, trousers rolled up above knees, deep breaths and very cold feet! The water was b****y freezing :o It was a while before the feeling came back into our toes.

We avoided the worst of the bogs beyond the falls by following a tortuous path through the mossy boulders at the edge of the wood, then joined the nicely zig-zagging path up the lower slopes of An Gearanach. At one point not very far up, the path has all but collapsed into a gully eroded by flood water - quite a fascinating scene. Above this, height is gained quickly until the path takes a rightward swing, traversing the shallow corrie to arrive at a cairn on the north-western ridge of An Gearanach. Here the views open out across Glen Nevis and Coire a' Mhail.

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Sgurr a' Mhaim from the point at which the path gains the north ridge of An Gearnach


The walk up the ridge becomes increasingly grand and we were pleased to reach the first substantial stretches of snow. It has to be said, though, that it wasn't exactly the 'winter conditions' we'd hoped for; we were just a tad too late for that.

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Binnein Mor and Beag from higher up the ridge


The snow was easy angled at first but steepened on the final summit cone, where it could be avoided on the right to save getting the axes out. However, immersed in a conversation, the content of which now escapes me, we followed some old footprints leading out onto the snow, which were smooth and frozen hard. With our axes still stowed on our packs and our crampons also tucked therein, we suddenly became aware of the danger of our situation, given the very steep drop beneath our feet. So we very gingerly retraced our steps until we could step onto the grass and rocks on our right, which we followed to the summit.

P1010376.JPG
Approaching the summit of An Gearanach


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Ben Nevis


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Summit of An Gearanach, looking to Binnein Mor


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Stob Coire a' Chairn and Am Bodach from An Gearanach


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Sgurr a' Mhaim and Coire a' Mhail from An Gearanach


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Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Beag


The narrow ridge to An Garbhanach was clear of snow on its western side and on the narrowest part of its crest, so we weren't going to need our axes or crampons on this section. We were a little disappointed, but the absence of snow and ice undoubtedly saved us time on this fine, airy scramble.

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The ridge from An Gearanach to An Garbhanach and Stob Coire a' Chairn


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Looking back to An Garbhanach and An Gearanach


It was 12.00 midday when we reached the summit of Stob Coire a' Chairn, second Munro of the ring. We were tempted to stop for a lunch break, but decided to press on to Am Bodach.

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Karl on summit of Stob Coire a' Chairn


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Am Bodach from Stob Coire a' Chairn


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South from Stob Coire a' Chairn


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Na Gruagaichean and Binnein Mor from Stob Coire a' Chairn


There was plenty of unavoidable snow on Am Bodach and, being the steepest section of the ring, it was clear we would need our axes and crampons for this. Though strenuous, it was an exhilarating climb up, getting steeper as it got higher.

P1010391.JPG
Approaching Am Bodach


We stopped at the summit of Am Bodach, third Munro of the ring, for a lunch break. There was little wind so we were able to sit on the summit itself, without need for shelter, enjoying the magnificent views all round. But by now some murky looking clouds had appeared to the north and west.

P1010395.JPG
Sgurr a' Mhaim from summit of Am Bodach


So then it was on down the easy side of Am Bodach and up the equally easy ridge to Sgurr an Iubhair.

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The ridge to Sgurr an Iubhair


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Across Loch Leven and Aonach Eagach to Bidean nam Bian


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Am Bodach from the col before Sgurr an Iubhair


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The ridge to Sgurr an Iubhair


From Iubhair a straightforward descent leads to the col before the scary-sounding Devil's Ridge. Broad, easy slopes lead up at first then suddenly narrow to a rocky crest. A good path circumvents the most difficult bit on the crest itself - an awkward and very exposed clamber over a smooth, wedged boulder. By now we were in the clag. It was a shame to miss the classic views of the ridge.

P1010408.JPG
In the clag on Devil's Ridge


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Looking back along Devil's Ridge


After the excitement of Devil's Ridge, the final pull up to Sgurr a' Mhaim, final Munro of the ring, feels a bit of a slog - especially when you can't see very far. Visibility on the summit was so poor that I forgot to take a photo, being more concerned to take a bearing. So down the unremitting north-west ridge we went to reach the Lower Falls.

P1010413.JPG
Below the clag on north west ridge of Sgurr a' Mhaim, looking down lower Glen Nevis


I was expecting the walk up the glen from the Lower Falls to the terminal car park to be a drag, but even under a darkly overcast sky, the scenery is so full of interest that any sign of tiredness seems to dissolve. At a point along the path opposite the Polldubh crags we spotted some climbers on Storm, a classic rock climb on the Cavalry Crack Buttress - the first people we'd seen all day! It seemed surprising that the rock was dry enough for climbing on. But it soon wouldn't be, for next day the forecasted front came in off the Atlantic - not violently with high winds, but stealthily with fine, soaking rain. The weather may have somewhat dampened the rest of our trip, but at least this had been a day to remember. :D
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dav2930
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Re: The Ring of Steall

Postby Petr Dakota » Sun Mar 27, 2016 11:15 am

Simply great ! :clap: 8) :clap:
One of the fine routes which must to be re-walked :D
Beautiful area and even nicer with the snow on tops as your photos shows :D
Well done ! :thumbup:
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Re: The Ring of Steall

Postby ancancha » Sun Mar 27, 2016 12:08 pm

Shame about the clag coming down, would like to have seen the tricky bit on Devils ridge :(
Nice report and photos, hope you have blue skys for the next one :clap:
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Re: The Ring of Steall

Postby Alteknacker » Sun Mar 27, 2016 2:01 pm

Given the forecast, you didn't do too badly here, though I'd have been disappointed also to miss Devil's Ridge in fine weather.

I'm incredibly fortunate in being able to take days off at short notice to take maximum advantage of highs over Scotland.... :oops:

The South side of Glen Nevis is on my list for this year....
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Re: The Ring of Steall

Postby dav2930 » Sun Mar 27, 2016 7:39 pm

Petr Dakota wrote:Simply great ! :clap: 8) :clap:
One of the fine routes which must to be re-walked :D
Beautiful area and even nicer with the snow on tops as your photos shows :D
Well done ! :thumbup:

Many thanks Petr :D
Yep, once is not enough for routes like this one. We had hoped for a bit more snow though! :lol:

ancancha wrote:Shame about the clag coming down, would like to have seen the tricky bit on Devils ridge :(
Nice report and photos, hope you have blue skys for the next one :clap:

Thanks ancancha :D
We were actually surprised the clear weather held out as long as it did, but of course it's always a disappointment when the clag actually comes in. The tricky bit on DR is easily avoided, which we did this time - should have thought to get a picture of it though! Let's hope for some good weather in the coming months of spring and summer! :)

Alteknacker wrote:Given the forecast, you didn't do too badly here, though I'd have been disappointed also to miss Devil's Ridge in fine weather.

I'm incredibly fortunate in being able to take days off at short notice to take maximum advantage of highs over Scotland.... :oops:

The South side of Glen Nevis is on my list for this year....

Thanks Alteknacker :D
That's a great situation to be in :mrgreen: Sounds like your CEO is really helpful in that regard too!
I'm guessing that by 'the south side of Glen Nevis' you mean all ten Mamore Munros in one day? :shock:
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Re: The Ring of Steall

Postby Guinessman » Sun Mar 27, 2016 9:32 pm

Excellent report Dav. Got these on my repeat lists when I get them done. Was last on these in 1994. Return long overdue
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Re: The Ring of Steall

Postby dav2930 » Sun Mar 27, 2016 10:24 pm

Guinessman wrote:Excellent report Dav. Got these on my repeat lists when I get them done. Was last on these in 1994. Return long overdue

Cheers GM :D
Completion shouldn't be too far off for you with only 40 to go! :clap: This year maybe?
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Re: The Ring of Steall

Postby Guinessman » Mon Mar 28, 2016 11:01 am

Hopefully Dav,if my plans for April and May this year work out,it should leave only one to do ,the Inn Pinn !!,your not too far off yourself?
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Re: The Ring of Steall

Postby dav2930 » Mon Mar 28, 2016 9:47 pm

Guinessman wrote:Hopefully Dav,if my plans for April and May this year work out,it should leave only one to do ,the Inn Pinn !!,your not too far off yourself?

Well, it certainly won't be this year. I've been a bit slow with them of late - need a bit more of a concerted effort!

Good luck with the Inn Pinn btw - it's really not that difficult and I'm sure you'll romp it. :wink:
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Re: The Ring of Steall

Postby rockhopper » Mon Mar 28, 2016 10:16 pm

Pity about missing the weather window - still, looked good for much of the day...and you saw far more than I did here with almost the whole time in the clag :roll: Really must try to get back some time - cheers :)
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Re: The Ring of Steall

Postby dav2930 » Mon Mar 28, 2016 10:54 pm

rockhopper wrote:Pity about missing the weather window - still, looked good for much of the day...and you saw far more than I did here with almost the whole time in the clag :roll: Really must try to get back some time - cheers :)

Thanks Rockhopper :D
Yeah we were actually quite lucky it stayed clear for as long as it did. Shame your round was almost entirely in the clag, but then that's a great excuse for doing it again! Well worth picking a good day for the views. :)
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Re: The Ring of Steall

Postby Jaxter » Tue Mar 29, 2016 10:15 am

Cracking walk and some ace photos :clap: I'm looking forward to doing these in the summer :D

Although...not another river crossing.... :shock: :crazy: takes your toes forever to warm up after that doesn't it :lol:
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Re: The Ring of Steall

Postby dav2930 » Tue Mar 29, 2016 10:31 pm

Jaxter wrote:Cracking walk and some ace photos :clap: I'm looking forward to doing these in the summer :D

Although...not another river crossing.... :shock: :crazy: takes your toes forever to warm up after that doesn't it :lol:

Thanks Jaxter :D
Usually it's no problem crossing that river just by stepping across the rocks. It was deeper than usual that day, probably due to snow-melt. Fingers crossed it won't be as deep when you come to do the ring in summer. Hope you get a nice day for it! :)
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Re: The Ring of Steall

Postby Steph D » Tue Nov 15, 2016 6:56 pm

Have just come across your post - my partner and I attempted the ROS on the Friday of that weekend in March 2016, two days before your outing. We managed to cross with dry feet just downstream of the falls by finding stepping stones which took us half the way across and then climbing in to a small tree which was hanging half way over from the far side!

Our victory was short lived though - we made it to the top of An Gearanach but had not taken any winter equipment with us and crossing the snowy patches had been a bit treacherous so we turned back after the first summit. It may well have been some of our foot prints you were seeing!

We had fantastic weather, so the day was not wasted at all.

Downside was having to re-cross at the falls - there was so much melt-water that the levels had risen even in just the 3 hours or so that we had been on the hill, so our stepping stones had disappeared and we had to take our boots of and wade through too. At least it is shallow enough at certain points to do that.

Can't wait to get all the way round next time!
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Re: The Ring of Steall

Postby dav2930 » Tue Nov 15, 2016 9:59 pm

Steph D wrote:Have just come across your post - my partner and I attempted the ROS on the Friday of that weekend in March 2016, two days before your outing. We managed to cross with dry feet just downstream of the falls by finding stepping stones which took us half the way across and then climbing in to a small tree which was hanging half way over from the far side!

Our victory was short lived though - we made it to the top of An Gearanach but had not taken any winter equipment with us and crossing the snowy patches had been a bit treacherous so we turned back after the first summit. It may well have been some of our foot prints you were seeing!

We had fantastic weather, so the day was not wasted at all.

Downside was having to re-cross at the falls - there was so much melt-water that the levels had risen even in just the 3 hours or so that we had been on the hill, so our stepping stones had disappeared and we had to take our boots of and wade through too. At least it is shallow enough at certain points to do that.

Can't wait to get all the way round next time!

Thanks for your comments.

We may well have trodden in your very footsteps! What a shame you didn't take your ice axes and crampons. We certainly needed them going up Am Bodach, but I think that was the only place. So we couldn't count our round as a proper winter traverse, which was disappointing! But otherwise a great day.

Good luck for next time!
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