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Aonach Eagach: A day to remember
by Gary McIntyre » Mon Sep 19, 2016 7:47 am
Route description: Aonach Eagach
Munros included on this walk: Meall Dearg (Aonach Eagach), Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (Aonach Eagach)
Date walked: 19/09/2016
Time taken: 11 hours
Distance: 9.5 km
Ascent: 1100m3 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).
We definitely won’t forget last Sunday’s hike, the Aonach Eagach Ridge. We had read about it, checked the route, checked the time for the hike, checked our camera gear and checked the weather - which ultimately changed during the hike. Everything was prepared and ready. Except us!
In the past we had hiked/walked Ben Lomond, Goat Fell, Stob Coire nan Lochan, the Cobbler and a few more, and all in fair weather I would like to add. So as you can tell we were relatively inexperienced and definitely unprepared for the ridge.
We’re both photographers hence the reason for these hikes. The views from the tops are beautiful and the sense of achievement once you reach the summit after a few hours hiking makes the photographs for us, more personal. For the ridge we decided not to take the tripods as we had read in numerous articles and forums about the difficulty in scrambling over the pinnacles but we still took the cameras and a few choice lenses plus the usual supplies of water and food.
We parked the car at the top of the glen and started our ascent up the steep slope towards the first of the two Munros stopping along the way to get the obligatory shots of each other looking down toward the glen. Cameras in hand we continued upwards pausing briefly for more shots of the glen below us. I wanted a shot of Buachaille Etive Mor but unfortunately the low clouds clipped the summit and left no long lasting photographic opportunity.
Near the top of the Munro we sat and had a small snack and drink to replenish ourselves. At this point another couple that were heading towards the ridge passed us and when we enquired about the difficulty of the ridge explained to us that it could be scary at parts and if you had a good head for heights you should be ok. They didn’t mislead us at all they told us the truth, we just didn’t realize how scary the truth would be.
From the first Munro we could see the ridge razoring out before us connecting the second Munro. I use the word razoring now that I have completed the ridge. At the time (first view) I thought ‘great photo opportunity!’ and ‘great photo opportunities along the way’ but now the description razoring seems so apt. We climbed the first rock edge, not a high one at all but when we reached the top and saw the drop below us our cameras were quickly packed away safely into the bags. The couple that had passed us earlier had graciously waited to see if we could make the first bum scramble down.
This is not the first time I had bum scrambled down any rocks before but when you see the drop on either side I can tell you that my cheeks were also gripping to the rocks ☺ Done! Committed to the ridge we were and so on we went.
The views from the ridge are stunning to say the least and the ridge itself although very narrow in parts also has plenty of room for you to walk carefully and photograph the views. Cameras out we plodded on.
A short time later the cameras were loaded back into our backpacks as we encountered yet more climbing and scrambling over rocks. We did expect this and were under no illusion that it wasn’t going to be just a photographic outing. The ridge was going to push us both mentally and physically. We just didn’t expect how much it was going to do this.
As I mentioned, in parts, small parts, the ridge has a wide enough area for other hikers to pass you. But don’t be fooled because in other parts the ridge is only a couple of feet wide with a vast drop either side (‘good head for heights’ he said) this coupled with the climb of the first pinnacle makes for quite a humbling experience to say the least. Adrenaline was now flooding our entire systems and at this point we realized there was definitely no turning back. At a guess I would say it was around a 30 foot climb up between the two rocks. We took our time making sure we had at least 3 good contact points with the rock face and forged upwards. If you’re reading this and thinking it’s not that bad, please remember we came relatively unprepared for what was in front of us- Lesson number 1 for us. Prepare for the unexpected.
Over the top we went and very carefully we again bum scrambled down to the narrow ledge below us. Adrenaline in overdrive we paused and looked towards the highest of the pinnacles thinking what have we gotten ourselves into? Our eyes also searched for the hikers in front of us so that we could see how they attempted the highest one. They had gone to the right!!
Why are they going to the right? We had read somewhere that although the right seems the safer option don’t do it! Was this referring to the highest pinnacle or somewhere else along the way? Because of the adrenaline and honestly the fear we couldn’t remember but as these folks had done it before they must be doing it the correct way. So we’ll follow and try to remember at what point was ‘don’t go to the right’ Hopefully we had passed it unawares ☺
We were a good 400/500 yards behind the other hikers and to be honest I’m glad they were there as we wouldn’t have a clue which way to go – Lesson number 2. Research, research, research!
We went right at the pinnacle along a very narrow and slippery grass ledge that sloped downwards. Yep the drop was the same on this side and it was at this point that I stopped looking down past my feet and fixed my eyes on either my feet or my hands. The view I’m sure was spectacular and someday I might see it from someone’s photograph or drone footage but for us at that point we just wanted safely off the ridge.
Downwards we went hanging onto anything that we could. The left side handholds were made up of slippy rocks, grass and the occasional heather. The right hand side made of thin air and what seemed an infinite drop. A small crack in the rock face allowed us to again bum scramble down to another ledge and when we reached the bottom we were met by a wall of rock and grass that led only one way. Up.
We climbed upwards and it’s at this point, what with the wet rocks and grass and the drop beneath us that I actually thought, one slip and that’s it! We ascended the grass and rock face very slowly ensuring that we had four points of contact with each forward movement. When we reached the top we felt so lucky – believe me.
Not too far ahead we could see the cairn of the second Munro so we pushed on again very carefully and then the weather turned. A smirr started followed by a wind, which at first seemed ok but then grew in strength. I’m going to guess a windspeed of around 20mph but at one point a gust threw me off balance and at others we clung low to the rocks to ensure our safety so it was probably a lot stronger. The forecast hadn’t mentioned this type of weather!
We reached the cairn and we sheltered inside from the wind for 10 minutes or so until we started the hike back down.
No more folks in sight and the path ahead looked achievable, the path into the gulley that is. At this point you’ll remember I said that we had read somewhere don’t go to the right. Well go to the right here DON’T go into the gulley towards the Clachaig Inn. Yes it looks the easier route but believe me it is not. Go right and descend at the pap of Glencoe because I wish we had! (research)
The gulley looks achievable and it’s a case of if you remember the advert “I can see the pub from here’ type scenario. Well that pub doesn’t get any closer even after 2 hours of the most arduous descent I have ever done. The gulley is deceptive and very dangerous and takes as long if not longer to reach the grass at the bottom as it does to do the entire ridge. Experienced climbers and hikers will know this but I’m writing this for the relatively inexperienced like myself. The rain was lashing down, the wind was howling, the light was fading, we were scared, feeling broken and the pub was no closer.
A few hours later when we finally reached the bottom we were so relieved. We knew that we had accomplished the ridge, something we won’t do again but in a funny kind of way we were glad we did. – Lesson 3. Know your limits when it comes to hikes. We now know ours.
Drenched and in the pub we tried to call a taxi, but alas none could be had. I was actually looking forward to the 45 minute walk back up the Glen towards the car as this was a flat walk up a road. Yes it was in the dark but it was a flat walk ☺
Again luck was with us as a holidaying German couple heard us enquiring about a taxi and offered to give us a lift back up to the carpark at the top of the Glen. We were so thankful.
If you read anywhere take two cars and leave one at the Clachaig just do it. We didn’t because I selfishly wanted to walk back up the road to get photographs ☹
My advice if you are going to attempt the ridge is Prepare for the unexpected. Research, as much as you can and know your limits. It’s in the world’s top 20 most dangerous hikes for a good reason.
- Gary McIntyre
- Posts: 2
- Joined: Sep 19, 2016
by jacob » Tue Sep 20, 2016 8:43 am
by FromDownSouth » Tue Sep 20, 2016 9:41 am
I think that when I come to these two Munro's, I will be taking the chicken way out and walking as many, many extra miles as needed to avoid that ridge!
Bravo though to yourselves for completing it
- Posts: 42
- Joined: May 3, 2016
by Fife Flyer » Tue Sep 20, 2016 7:46 pm
I have traversed the ridge twice and both times I felt out of my comfort zone. I would always recommend tackling this walk with someone who has done it before, there is no substitute for experience.
Thanks for posting.
by Sunset tripper » Tue Sep 20, 2016 7:54 pm
- Posts: 2088
- Joined: Nov 3, 2013
- Location: Inverness
by Gary McIntyre » Tue Sep 20, 2016 10:20 pm
Funny thing is we're sky diving next month and we think now that we have completed the ridge the sky dive will be less scary
- Gary McIntyre
- Posts: 2
- Joined: Sep 19, 2016