Just Aonach Eagach

Munros: Meall Dearg (Aonach Eagach), Sgòrr nam Fiannaidh (Aonach Eagach)

Date walked: 29/07/2022

Time taken: 7.5 hours

Distance: 14km

Ascent: 1000m

We had a spare Friday and were eager to get up in the hills again. Our disastrous Beinn Eunaich bivvy at the end of June (biblical rain/misery) prompted me to think ahead and book a B&B. Given the forecast was for 'light rain' overnight we weren't in the mood to chance it after our previous experience. The forecast for Friday itself was cloud and showers over most of Scotland. Briefly, about 5 days out it looked like the Cairngorms may see better weather so we were prepared to head off there to continue what we'd started last August. But on Wednesday the forecast improved for Glencoe so I booked a B&B in Fort William and we set off from Durham at 3am on Friday with Aonach Eagach in mind.

I half had it in mind that we might try and make a big circular of it and after the Aonach Eagach traverse head up the 'Dinnertime Buttress' on the other side of Glencoe for Bidean nam Bian and Sgur na Sgreamhach. Ambitious - and I read one report on here of someone doing something similar in 10.5h(!) Aonach Eagach is what we've been wanting to do for some time; so the plan was we would do that, head down to Loch Achtriochtan and the A82, then decide if we have it in us to head up for the two further munros. I won't spoil the surprise as to what our decision was. But the route map below may give it away.

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Approaching Glencoe from the south is one of may favourite bits of road. The country opens up like an American western. Skyfall, of course, is off the the left. We stopped briefly to enjoy the view ahead of us. The morning was glorious - a great day of climbing ahead.

A82 movie set

We arrived at 8am, and were pleased to find that the optimum lay-by just after the house at Allt-na-Ruigh was empty. A Canadian guy arrived at the same time as us. He was in the country for a couple of weeks to do a bit of scrambling. We had a quick chat then he went on ahead of us. We met him again later on but he was the only other person we passed until Sgorr nam Fiannaidh.

The route up to Am Bodach is easy to follow and straight-forward. The views across Glencoe get better and better as we gained altitude. On the other side the way up the Lost Valley and the ridge above Ossian's cave to Bidean nam Bain came into view and it looked stunning. The weather was shaping up nicely; blue skies - we couldn't wait to get up and see what Aonach Eagach is all about. It's an interesting one because you don't see all that many pictures of the ridge in the same way that you do of say Crib Goch. We would find out later that it's impossible to get a photo of Aonach Eagach that properly captures what it's all about.

Here-we-go: Setting off from the lay-by just after the house at Allt-na-Ruigh (Jimmy Savile's hoose, apparently)

Very pleasant amble up to Am Bodach (943m)

View across Glen Coe towards Bidean nam Bian

A82 we salute you.

What a place. The other side of Glen Coe. We've been looking at it all day; wondering whether we would take on the 'Dinnertime buttress' up Aonach Dubh and then Bidean nam Bian. Not today.

There was a couple of moments of very easy scrambling up to Am Bodach. As we got towards that first peak, the clag that had been hanging around Bidean nam Bian summit over the way suddenly spread out over the glen and enclosed us. We thought that this would be the pattern for the day but were ok with it because route finding on the ridge would not be difficult. We stopped for a bite to eat and it wasn't long after that the clag lifted and didn't come back until evening. We got lucky. (But we deserved it after Beinn Eunaich).

Upwards towards Am Bodach (943m)

Across Glen Coe again. Our familiar view for the day.

The clag descends. Time for a break. It soon lifted again.

We took in Am Bodach in clag. We were looking for 'the Chancellor' but think we must have missed it. Just as we were leaving the summit the clag thinned and we got our first view of the ridge ahead. Not Aonach Eagach at this point, but an impressive sight nevertheless.

Am Bodach (943m) in clag. We missed the Chancellor.

The Glen through the clag.

Our first view of the ridge. Not Aonach Eagach yet. This is between Am Bodach (943m) and Meall Dearg (953m)

Some of the scrambling down from Am Bodach was more involved than we'd thought it would be - a bit of care needed with bum-sliding and foothold finding. We were glad the clag had gone and could see the way ahead. Aonach Eagach itself still does not show itself until further along. We were loving life so far, nice and warm, light breeze, blue skies, not another person in sight - our Canadian friend was long gone.

Descending Am Bodach (943m)

Looking back on Am Bodach (943m)

Pre-Aonach Eagach Ridge

Scrambling down Am Bodach (943m)

That view again.

Looking back on Am Bodach (943m)

Before long we hit the first of the two munros on the Aonach Eagach route, Meall Dearg. Here we stopped for wine gums and pringles. For the first time we could see the entireity of the route ahead, over Aonach Eagach to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh and the route we were intending to take down to the loch. I knew there would be more to Aonach Eagach than meets the eye from this distance, but still it seemed we were making quick progress and would be back down in the Glen in no time. Well, not quite, although it felt like we were going at quite a pace, it still took us a full 7 and a half hours all in. Some people (like our Canadian friend) seem to move across these hills with superhuman speed. Aonach Eagach has a lot up up and down over the pinnacles, a lot more than I'd thought there would be, the pinnacles really are pinnacles, and they all have to be climbed and descended.

Meall Dearg summit (953m). First proper view of Aonach Eagach; but... I don't think there is any proper view of all of Aonach Eagach.

View towards Aonach Eagach

One of our favourite parts of the ridge came early on with the 10m chimney shortly after the descent from Meall Dearg. It was easy enough to find the handholds and footholds with the weather we had but I can imagine it takes on a completely different character if the clag obscures the top.

A lot of up and down on the 'notched ridge'

Top of the chimney at the start of Aonach Eagach

Up the chimney.

Onwards and upwards. Lots of good handholds and footholds.

An easier section comes next and we took the time to enjoy the views to the north towards Ben Nevis and the Mamores. Strangely I didn't take any pictures. Ahead, the up and down nature of Aonach Eagach still meant it was not possible to see what lay ahead. I knew there was going to be pinnacles, and, eventually, crazy pinnacles, but you can't really see them until they're there in front of you.

A lot more ridge to go!

Stunning views throughout the whole day if you get good weather!

The pinnacles still to come.

The first few pinnacles were easy enough. We took them head on, each time wondering if we had reached the fabled 'crazy pinnacles' yet. We figured we'd know them when we found them.

Taking on the pinnacles.

Still the pinnacles keep coming!

Getting towards the infamous 'Crazy Pinnacles'

I wasn't able to get on photo what it is that makes Aonach Eagach more difficult than other scrambles. With all the up and down it's quite claustrophobic in places and in a way it is low height of some of the pinnacles that makes them difficult, because most of them have to be taken head on and can't be by-passed. At least with a big pinnacle there is a lot to grab hold of and some choice over what route you can take. The crazy pinnacles was some thrilling exposed moves and a bit of time needed to look together at the way ahead and decide how we were going to tackle it. Lots of crampon marks to follow if you want to know where the most popular holds are.

A lot of work now. Exposed scrambling on the crazy pinnacles. Photos can't really capture it.

The way we've come: Aonach Eagach over Luca's shoulder.

The difficulty eased off considerably after the crazy pinnacles. We enjoyed looking back over the route we'd come - and saw on top of one of the pinnacles a group of three other scramblers with helmets on. For a moment we thought one of them had a dog on a lead, but then we realised they were roped up together. It hadn't occurred to us that anyone would need ropes to do Aonach Eagach. I suppose it might be wise for anyone inexperienced doing it with a guide in the rain or poor visibilty. It seemed a bit much for a day like this but I suppose that we've been working up to Aonach Eagach for a while now, having done most of the classic Grade 1 scrambles: CMD arete, Striding Edge, Sharp Edge, Jack's Rake, Crib Goch etc... we were ready for Aonach Eagach and on a day of good weather it presented much thrills but not too much difficulty.

We met our Canadian friend again who had been along to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh already and was on his way back. We stopped for a chat and photos. He took a great photo of us with Bidean nam Bian in the background. We were still thinking we might have a go at that after descending back into Glencoe.

Thanks to our Canadian friend for this photo.

Looking back on the route.

Looking back on Aonach Eagach

It was a bit of a slog up to the summit of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh but we got there soon enough. I've read a bit about routes back down to the glen from here. The one that appealed to us was the direct one, straight down the scree due south from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh summit. I'm not sure I'd recommend it. It was ok in good weather but would be horrible if the grass was in any way greasy. We ended up on our arses more than once and were glad we'd invested in some sturdy carbon fibre walking poles - aluminium ones would not have lasted long before being bent out of recognition! On the scree we took to 'skiing' down were possible. It looks like it's not all that far down to the loch but it took a full hour. Not fun.

Straight down to Loch Achtriochtan. Will feel it in the quads the next day!

A long way down then a long way back up the other side! Not today!

Glen Coe.

Back at the bottom we made the decision that we probably were always going to make... Bidean nam Bian can wait for another day. Aonach Eagach was more than enough on its own for today. We rested at the loch for a while, topped up on smidge and suncream, then began the slog back up the glen for the car. Fortunately there is a good path just beneath the road. Before long we were in Fort William sipping whisky (well, I was at any rate - Dalwhinne) looking out at the rain starting to fall over the sea loch. A great day out; one of the best we've had.

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