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Halving Aonach Eagach for the Prize of a Corbett

Halving Aonach Eagach for the Prize of a Corbett

Postby aaquater » Wed Jul 01, 2020 5:22 pm

Route description: Garbh Bheinn, Loch Leven

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

Corbetts included on this walk: Garbh Bheinn (Loch Leven)

Grahams included on this walk: Pap of Glencoe

Date walked: 07/06/2019

Time taken: 6.5 hours

Distance: 20 km

Ascent: 1949m

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To start off, I'd read up on Aonach Eagach a little before this day. Scrambling, exposure, no turning back. Up to a certain point, those don't really trouble me that much - but they don't exactly entice me, either, so at the start, I simply regarded the ridge as just another walk on my plan. But the more I kept coming across mentions of queues and people waiting in lines, the more I realised my initial judgment was likely incorrect; being dependent on buses, timing the walk properly would be crucial in making sure I would finish within the allotted time. I mean, sure, that's the case on every walk, but with the very limited overtaking opportunities and the lack of SOS shortcuts (without an emergency parachute stuffed in the rucksack, at least), it would only be all the more important.

And as I was contemplating that, a seemingly ideal day arrived, much earlier than I'd anticipated. Not a weekend. Not the school holidays yet. Not the perfect weather, as the forecast warned of scattered showers coming in from the south. All the planning indicated going elsewhere would've been a waste, so I quickly grabbed a return ticket to Glencoe, locking in.

Aside from time constraints, the bus tickets also meant I was locking in Glencoe Village as my start and end point. Despite the official route beginning with the ascent of Am Bodach, I thus couldn't do the same unless I fancied a 9-km walk along the A82 (which a quick glance out of the bus showed wouldn't have been the best idea). Instead, I decided to approach the ridge from the north, starting from Meall Dearg. I'd miss out on a part of the ridge, but that was a given already (unless I wanted to make a back-and-forth journey over the ridge from Glencoe, which I didn't), plus this way would take me over the Corbett of Garbh Bheinn, and save me the back-and-forth there as well. Garbh Bheinn and Meall Dearg might not be combined that often, but they can be - and that was all I needed to know.

I'd never been to Glencoe before, merely heard it described as a beautiful place. The moment I stepped out of the bus, I was in agreement with such claims instantly, this smiley :shock: summarising me pretty accurately. I hardly knew which way to look first, as breathtaking scenery was surrounding me from all directions. I was meant to follow the B863 towards Kinlochleven - and I did, eventually and slowly... but I still had to stop every few minutes to snap a picture, unable to help myself :lol:

Bidean nam Bian, and a bit closer, Sgorr nam Fiannaidh and the Pap towering over Glencoe Village... That's where I'm going to stand in a few hours!

The Garbh Bheinn of Ardgour rising up steeply beyond Loch Leven (and, further beyond, Loch Linnhe)

Mam na Gualainn on the other bank of Loch Leven

Crossing Allt Gleann a' Chaolais, I left the road, following the official Garbh Bheinn path. Now, the path warns of bog on the bottom section. Stepping on the path, I was quite relieved, as while the path was definitely wet, it wasn't really boggy... initially. For the first, like, 50 metres, and then the actual bog began. Still, although muddy, the path was somewhat cared for and maintained, so it was made clear - This is the path; follow it. Normally, that's very much a good thing; unfortunately, the path kept leading pretty much through the centre of Gleann a' Chaolais for far too long. Torran nan Crann, which I was meant to ascend, was already on my left, meaning I'd missed the path leading to it, despite looking for it constantly :roll: But I did not head back in search of it; who knows how many tries and nerves it would've taken me to identify it correctly. Instead, I crossed the heather, heading straight up, and after some light scrambling, made it to Torran nan Crann from the, apparently, most difficult direction. The path was there, though. Ridges, shoulders, and mountaintops are often nice in being quite unmistakable in this regard :D

An epic view of the Pap and Loch Leven from Torran nan Crann

And the Mamores

Looking ahead

Once on the correct path, climbing up Garbh Bheinn got more pleasant, and decidedly less boggy. The initial section wasn't that steep, either, and I was well able to see the Aonach Eagach hills in front of me as a warning of what's to come. For the time being, though, I had to prepare myself for Stob Coire Sgoilte, as the proper ascent was about to begin.

Meall Dearg and Stob Coire Leith feeding Allt Gleann a' Chaolais; the ridge connecting them looks... eh, questionably passable...

In terms of ascent, Garbh Bheinn is a pretty nice one. Steep, sure, but I don't recall any dubious or tricky parts - objectively and technically speaking, at least, as Stob Coire Sgoilte turned out to be quite the heartbreaking false summit, not the least because I was looking forward to celebrating that I made the ascent quicker than expected... but the views all around more than made up for it, even more so when I made it to the actual summit :D I had a path under my feet all the time too, which was a nice bonus, although it's probably more useful in descent; on relatively isolated hills, as Garbh Bheinn is, as long as you're still going up, you can't really get that lost :wink: :lol: And where I wanted to descend, I wasn't about to find any paths...

The N/E panorama from Garbh Bheinn; above the A82, the clouds are already turning darker

What I need to descend and ascend on the way to Meall Dearg

The above picture shows the views from the summit, more or less: a sea of scree (a screa? :? ) I wasn't feeling confident attempting, so I opted to descend the eastern shoulder for a while, trying to find a spot that would look more promising.

Deciding on a path, I quickly realised one thing: I wanted to keep to the grass as much as possible. On grass, my shoes had grip, and I felt in control of where I was heading; on scree, not so much. This evolved into me trying to locate long strips of grassy ground I could descend while crossing as little scree as possible. Fortunately, this got easier and easier the lower I was, and I reached the bealach in one piece and on time. Win!

I'd just been there... somewhere

Next: ascend the gentle(r) slope on the right and bag the Munro

Speaking of bagging the Munro, at first I thought I'd be joining the path leading up Meall Dearg from Kinlochleven for this part, but the path seemed to follow Feith nan Lab and ascend the hill from Coire nan Lab, and not the bealach where I was. I could've gone to it, sure, but laziness won out, so I just started walking up the pathless slope :roll: :lol: It was boggy at places, at least by the bealach, but got better further up - although, I have to say, it was lacking the dramatic views I got at Garbh Bheinn. Maybe I got spoiled, or maybe I was just more tired. Either way, the slope was okay while it was grassy, but then huge boulders started showing up, the ground turning more rocky, and I had to take evasive action. Well, at least until I realised that I have four limbs, and can use all of them if need be... so after my brain started working properly, and put my hands to work, getting to the top of Meall Dearg was pretty easy. The real challenge was only about to begin, though.

Looking north from Meall Dearg, with Garbh Bheinn in the middle; the weather above the Blackwater Reservoir is looking really threatening now

The ridge ahead

In a moment very reminiscent of Gleann a' Chaolais, about a minute after leaving the summit of Meall Dearg, I found myself thinking that Aonach Eagach isn't scary at all. I could see what I was about to tackle, as it was spread out right in front of me, but so far, I had a well-defined path under my feet, and the perspective hid a lot of the intricacies connected with crossing such a ridge. Honestly, what I was the most concerned about was the weather; the showers were meant to reach Glencoe at, like, five/six-ish, but it was definitely already raining over the Blackwater Reservoir, and some suspicious clouds were hanging around Bidean nam Bian too, and it wasn't even 2:30 yet :roll: Getting drenched would've been one thing, not a pleasant one either, but I worried more about the conditions of the path; if I got to plain rocks, and I was sure I would, rain would make the path slipperier, and thus a lot more dangerous.

Bidean nam Bian

E sections of the ridge, with definite rainfall beyond

Speaking of, the Bidean nam Bian clouds did, indeed, continue my way, bringing rain. Well, drizzle, I should probably say, as it ended up as nothing more than a light spatter, a pretty short one and not threatening in the slightest. The surface of the path was still okay, and it returned to dry pretty soon too. The clouds filling the Blackwater Reservoir weren't about to loop around and start heading my way. But I still had to make it through safely, even if the threat of rain wasn't imminent for now. And indeed, the tricky part of the ridge had begun, demanding all of my attention on it if I didn't want to take the shortcut towards the A82; as I mentioned before, I had no parachute on me...

A pinnacle on my way

In all honesty, writing this report now, more than a year after the walk, I can't really describe the challenging part of the ridge in that much detail. Was it demanding? For sure. Exposed? Maybe, but I didn't really feel it. The pinnacle on the photo above looks worse now than back when I was physically climbing over it. I was just... going on, and on, and kept sighing about how slow I was due to all the up-and-downs.

Loch Achtriochtan below Bidean nam Bian; Gleann Leac na Muidhe and the slopes leading to it looking strangely smooth in comparison

Well, to be fair, about the exposure... there was a time when I did feel it. I'd read advice about staying on the ridge, but when one of the pinnacles was ahead of me, a clear path was suggesting it should be bypassed on the right. So I took the path, not seeing much signs of one on the pinnacle itself. I thought I was on the right path. Then the path dropped into a mini-gully, the descent aided by a rope attached to its top. That wouldn't have been the bad part; that came next, when I had to jump to the other bank in order to continue ahead. The continuation of the path behind the gully was steep and covered in loose dirt; convincing myself to make the leap, trust the surface to hold my weight after such an impact, took quite some time, and I had half a mind to go back up the ravine and look for a way to climb over the pinnacle :? But in the end, I jumped. And the surface was steady enough.

The ascent of Stob Coire Leith... I should have passed all the pinnacles, so this should be fairly stranghtforward, right?

Newborn Allt Gleann a' Chaolais with Garbh Bheinn above; rain is falling on Glen Nevis now, the Loch Treig area likely getting some droplets too

So yeah, I made it to Stob Coire Leith in one piece. The remainder of the ridge, getting to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, was a walk in the park after that. Well... a park perched on the edge of a 900-metre drop, that is 8) But, I mean, the challenging parts were truly over, so I could fully enjoy walking along a ridge that provides some spectacular views all around. Without getting caught in the rain, on top of that!

A look back on my walk so far: The fake summit of Stob Coire Sgoilte is apparent under Garbh Bheinn. The ridge connecting Stob Coire Leith with Meall Dearg is sharp and rough, while the one leading to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh is much smoother and faster. Go figure; the former took me about 50 minutes, while the latter only 15, despite the merely 300-metre difference in their lengths

The Loch Leven panorama from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh; the main shoulder ahead, turning right to end in Cnap Glas, is overshadowed by the Pap of Glencoe

With almost 2 hours left, I was roughly on time, and decided I would go the full length of the walk I had planned, heading for the Pap. But I had to descend Sgorr nam Fiannaidh first. I was very much reminded of a similar descent from Beinn Ghlas, on the SW side of the Lawers ridge: a long, steady, pathed, seemingly neverending descent. But the one crucial difference was that I wasn't simply aiming for a bus stop, as the walk wasn't over yet. With that in mind, I knew the path I was on was going to meet the Pap one eventually, but the further I went with no path in sight, the more impatient I got, especially once I descended below the altitude of the bealach under the Pap. And as the metres went on, I just gave up, stepping of the path and deciding to trace the contour line I was on. I would meet the other path somewhere, right?

Looking back, I still think I made the right decision there. The junction is really far down, and even though walking on the path is faster than trudging through heather, if I'd stayed on the paths, I would've likely lost some time, and time was of the essence. So I swiftly rejoined the Pap path, which initially surprised me by how wet it was, and set off to ascend the Graham. The Pap rose surprisingly steeply above the bealach, the path snaking around it to reach the summit. I was really pushing it in terms of time, though, so I quickly took a few pictures from the summit and hurried back down, even taking a little early shortcut in order to be as efficient as possible.

Mam na Guallain attempting to shadow the Mamores as the picture spans the land stretching from one Garbh Bheinn to another

Sgorr nam Fiannaidh in front, Bidean nam Bian behind it, and Meall Mor on the right, each of the three displaying different hillside styles and colours

So yeah, since I made it down to the bealach, I was basically jogging down the path wherever possible, and once I reached the road, I was positively running, as I wasn't sure exactly how far from the village I was. Only once the road bent sharply to the left and I entered the village was I able to pause and take a breath. I reached the bus stop with some 10 minutes left, but that's what I wanted; in retrospect, I probably didn't have to run on the road, but I didn't want to risk the bus being a few minutes early. So as the bus pulled up and I got on, I could congratulate myself, as I finished the walk exactly according to plan. And as a cherry on top, without getting seriously rained on! :clap:

A snapshot of the descent towards Glencoe Village with Loch Leven ahead; Ardgour is getting a shower

It was even more perfect as the skies opened up above Glen Coe mere minutes after the bus arrived 8) The rain was quite heavy, but also really localised, as it stopped long before the bus reached Bridge of Orchy. But enough of weather talk; I went there as a walker, not a meteorologist. And as a walker, Glen Coe far exceeded my expectations. It might not be the easiest destination to get to for someone dependent on buses, but there are still possibilities, walks I could make, places I could reach. If the time comes, I would be thrilled to return.
Posts: 48
Munros:49   Corbetts:28
Grahams:23   Donalds:12
Sub 2000:19   
Joined: Jul 8, 2019

Re: Halving Aonach Eagach for the Prize of a Corbett

Postby Sunset tripper » Thu Jul 02, 2020 2:06 am

That's a great route. Not the best of roads to walk on but cant be helped really. That's a quick time too. I stay at Caolasnacon now and again and I have looked at similar routes. It's a great area. I was up there last november.
Cheers :D
Glencoe~November 2019
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Sunset tripper
Posts: 2486
Joined: Nov 3, 2013
Location: Inverness

Re: Halving Aonach Eagach for the Prize of a Corbett

Postby aaquater » Thu Jul 02, 2020 12:30 pm

Public transport tends to make for pretty efficient motivation :lol: Looks really nice with the icing of snow on top! I wouldn't dare to go to such terrains in winter, never knowing how deep the snow is or what's underneath, but maybe that's just my lack of experience talking.
Posts: 48
Munros:49   Corbetts:28
Grahams:23   Donalds:12
Sub 2000:19   
Joined: Jul 8, 2019

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