Summer-in April: Aonach Beag & Mor from Glen Nevis

Route: Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor from Glen Nevis

Munros: Aonach Beag (Nevis Range), Aonach Mor

Date walked: 19/04/2019

Time taken: 9 hours

Distance: 16.5km

Ascent: 1400m

I had Good Friday off work and had been planning a walk for a while, but I'd initially just envisaged some Corbetts or something, since it was still fairly early in the year. But with an unanticipated heatwave forecast :shock: , I opted for something a bit more ambitious and decided to have a look at the Aonachs, which I still had to do.

By way of information, I had a technical problem posting 5 of my photos for this WR, which took me ages to figure out. I had put an apostrophe in the file names (because they were photos either of Sgurr a' Mhaim or Sgurr a' Bhuic) and this caused me to get a repeated "Bad request" error message when I tried to post them into my WR. I'm sure I've successfully posted photos with apostrophised file names in the past, so this seems to be a new issue. Anyway, I removed the apostrophes and they then posted fine: problem solved :roll: . I mention this just in case anyone else runs into this admittedly esoteric issue :lol: !

Anyway, I got up to the car park at Glen Nevis road end reasonably early, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky :D - I couldn't believe my luck, and set off quickly before the weather changed its mind.
WR1 - start of Nevis Gorge route in morning sunlight.jpg
The Nevis Gorge path is a delight - surely one of Scotland's best short walks. I've only walked it before in reverse (while tackling the Ring of Steall widdershins), and it was fascinating to walk it in the outwards direction for the first time.
WR2 - nice view back west down wooded Nevis Gorge.jpg

In this direction, of course, the sudden emergence from the narrow, rocky gorge onto the pancake-flat Plain of Steall, with Steall Falls in the background, comes as a real moment of revelation...
WR3 - emerging onto Steall Plain with into-the-sun shot of Steall Falls.jpg
I walked on past the wire bridge (which I'd arguably found the scariest bit of the Ring of Steall round :lol: ), and headed on up the Glen Nevis path without crossing the Water of Nevis. The ongoing path is in reasonably good nick, and it wasn't much further to the footbridge across the Allt Coire nan Laogh at the ruins of Steall steading, where the proper climbing begins.
WR4 - bridge across Allt Coire Giubhsachan at Steall ruins.jpg

I headed uphill to the right of the Allt, initially on a reasonably good path, although this gradually petered up higher up the flanks of Sgurr a' Bhuic (which is Aonach Beag's attractively pointy southern Top). It got steeper as I ascended further, especially after the path had given up the ghost, but as is often the case on a steep ascent there were some fine views by way of distraction - particularly of Binnein Mor and Binnein Beag, two of my favourite Mamores and an impressive double act when viewed from this angle.
WR5 - Binneins Mor & Beag.jpg

The last pull up onto Sgurr a' Bhuic's south ridge was a real grind up steep grassy slopes. This time, the best views were of Ben Nevis, which had come into view over to the west, with a tantalising glimpse of its awe-inspiring North Face :shock: .
WR6 - first proper look at Ben Nevis on ascent.jpg

Another grand view back south, this time to Sgurr a' Mhaim a.k.a. "Scar and Maim", the highest Mamore and a very impressive mountain from this angle, with An Gearanach's steep northern flanks to its left:
WR7 - An Gearanach & Sgurr a Mhaim on ascent.jpg

...And another impressive vista of the Ben, with even more of the North Face visible now:
WR8 - nice view of Ben Nevis with bit of North Face on ascent to Sgurr a Bhuic.jpg

It was a real relief to cross the last wee bit of boulderfield and reach Sgurr a' Bhuic's sizeable summit cairn at last. This was another of those Moments of Revelation, with the opening of Also Sprach Zarathustra playing in my head as a huge view of the Grey Corries opened up suddenly to the east:
WR9 - sudden startling view of Grey Corries from Sgurr a Bhuic summit.jpg

Unfortunately, however, my euphoria didn't last long. Sgurr a' Bhuic may be Munro height, but it is only a Top of Aonach Beag, and there was more than another 250 metres of ascent to go - Aonach Beag is one of Scotland's giants, after all! It looked dauntingly steep and bouldery, too :roll: ...
WR10 - onward route looking a wee bit steep.jpg
Nothing ventured, and all that, however … I made my way down to the bealach between Sgurr a' Bhuic and the next Top to the north, Stob Coire Bhealaich, and started up the bouldery slopes. There was a good path on the other side of the bealach, which did help a bit, but all the same it was a truly thigh-busting ascent. I'm a bit out of condition (oh, all right then, I suppose what I mean is "fat" :lol: ) after my winter break from Munros, and my quads were starting to cramp up horribly. I just stopped every fifty metres for a break, however, and I got there eventually. Thankfully, the gradient eased considerably higher up, and I started to be able to actually enjoy the walking again. A grand view back to Sgurr a' Bhuic with Sgurr a' Mhaim in the distance almost made up for it all ...
WR11 - grand view back to Sgurr a Bhuic with distant Sgurr a Mhaim almost makes up for all the boulderfield.jpg

Higher up again, there were some highly photogenic patches of snow (thankfully not across the path at this stage!) with an impressive drop to the north-east.
WR12 - nice precipitous drop & a bit of snow on initial ascent to Stob Coire Bhealaich.jpg

A fascinating glimpse of the Aonachs' impressively sheer northeastern cliffs, known as the Back Corries:
WR13 - impressive view of Back Corries on ascent to Stob Coire Bhealaich.jpg

Again it was a real relief to reach Stob Coire Bhealaich at last... again however, my euphoria was short-lived :roll: . It was still not a Munro, after all, only a Top … and Aonach Beag was STILL looking quite a bit higher up :lol: ! There also looked to be a worrying shed-load of snow higher up. Ben Nevis was also (successfully) looming in a very threatening manner over to the west :lol: .
WR14 - looking on to Aonach Beag from Stob Coire Bhealaich with Ben Nevis to left in distance.jpg

I wasn't about to give up at this late stage, however, so I plodded on doggedly. The last section was a real Snow Plod, right enough, but at least the gradient was very gentle by then, and the snow didn't prove to be too much of an issue. Finding the cairn, however, was somewhat more of a challenge - according to my GPS, I was standing right on top of it when I took this photo - presumably it's buried under several metres of the White Stuff :shock: !
WR15 - Aonach Beag summit somewhere around here.jpg

I headed rather gingerly onwards through the big summit snowfield, using other walkers' boot-prints as a guide, and thankfully the snow didn't go on too much further. The onward route to Aonach Mor looked much more straightforward, and almost entirely snow-free :) ! I was also giving some though to how I was going to get down again. I had initially been concerned that the usual descent route down the steep western spur of Aonach Mor to its bealach with Carn Mor Dearg might prove to be impassable due to snow, and I was apologising in advance to my quads in case I ended up having to descend back over Aonach Beag …. However, to my delight, it looked as though Aonach Mor's western spur was snow-free after all :D .
WR16 - onward route to Aonach Mor from bealach.jpg

Looking back across the narrow bealach towards Aonach Beag, it was a decided relief that I hadn't ended up having to cross this under snow :shock: !
WR17 - looking back up to Aonach Beag from bealach.jpg

Looking back at Aonach Beag from Aonach Mor's summit environs, I could see just how deep its summit snowfield had been - no wonder the cairn had gotten a bit lost :lol: !
WR18 - looking back to Aonach Beag from Aonach Mor summit - big snowfield & cornice visible.jpg

Aonach Mor's cairn thankfully wasn't engulfed in snow, and I couldn't resist a Summit Selfie. Unfortunately taken at a rather odd angle from below: definitely not my best aspect, nor my most dashingly-outdoorsy hat, but I include this for potential entertainment value :roll: .
WR19 - me at Aonach Mor summit.jpg

Some Mamores as seen from Aonach Mor's summit cairn:
WR20 - view south from Aonach Mor cairn.jpg
I headed off back southwards from the cairn, this time trending slightly westwards but still keeping well clear of the steep western drop-off. To my relief, I soon picked up a faint path (much less distinct than the main path between the two summits, but still clear enough) that eventually led to the descent route down that steep western spur to the bealach with Carn Mor Dearg. The top of the descent path is marked with two sizeable cairns, which would certainly be useful in poor visibility. The descent path itself is unmissable once you find it, but also steep and badly eroded: I took my time over it. To be honest, by now I didn't have much option since I was wabbit :lol: ! Again there was a grand view by way of distraction, this time of the CMD Arete and the North Face of the Ben:
WR21 - fine view of CMD arete & BN North Face on descent from Aonach Mor.jpg

It was a real relief to eventually get down to the Carn Mor Dearg bealach. Yet again, however, my relief didn't last long: it had been a long, steep descent down to here, but this bealach is still a somewhat unfeasible 830 metres above sea level!! The ongoing descent down Coire Giubhsachan is a bit rough and largely pathless, too :roll: . Ah well, the sun was still shining, and there were still some fine views for distraction. An interesting rocky wee foothill known as Meall Cumhann was standing guard to the west of Coire Giubhsachan's mouth, and "Scar and Maim" and An Gearanach looked to be enjoying themselves in the sunshine over on the other side of Glen Nevis.
WR22 - Coire Giubhsachan descent with Meall Cumhann in foreground & Gearanach & Sgurr a Mhaim.jpg

Lower down, there was another fine view estwards to Binnein Beag - a lovely wee hill with a properly remote feel; I did it in May last year along with Sgurr Eilde Mor, and thoroughly enjoyed the outing :D .
WR23 - Glen Nevis track and Binnein Beag on descent.jpg
It was a proper relief, and a fairly lasting one for once, to finally get back down to Steall Plain, where the Falls were looking very impressive in the evening sunlight.
WR24 - Steall falls in the evening.jpg

A quick (well, okay, not particularly quick) stoat back along the Nevis Gorge path, and I was back at the car.
It took me a mildly embarrassing nine hours, which is a full hour more than the Book Time … but a fantastic day out nevertheless, amidst some truly epic scenery, and in wonderful weather too :D !

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Comments: 2

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User avatar
Activity: Walker
Pub: Kilchoan Hotel
Mountain: Cir Mhor
Place: Arran
Gear: walking poles
Member: none at present
Ideal day out: A multi-peak walk with good views.

Munros: 181
Corbetts: 32
Grahams: 34
Donalds: 19
Hewitts: 2
Sub 2000: 23

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Last visited: May 20, 2019
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