Stob Coire nan Lochan - 1115m
Aonach Dubh - 892m

Sunday 17th January 2010

Weather/Conditions: Sunny day, clouding over evening (written 2017 - didn't fill this out at time)
Distance/Ascent/Time: 8.1km / 1070m / 7h 40m
Accompanying: Ian

Sometimes, there are mountains you just don't screw with. Bidean nam Bian is one of them.

Stob Coire nan Lochan is the northern top of Bidean but an impressive pyramidal peak in itself. At 1115m, it's a huge mountain in itself and Ian and I traversed across it's two northern spurs. It's serious, brutal and unforgiving, and I don't just throw these terms around. But we were doing it under winter conditions and climbing via. the most difficult of it's three ridges. The weather was fantastic and we did this magnificent peak and without any major problems. We had planned to climb the two Munros on Bidean, but decided against it when on the summit of S.C.n.Lochan felt it too late in the day to safely go for the others. We pulled up in Glen Coe just shy of 9am, Stob Coire nan Lochan already glowing in the morning sunlight. It looked absolutely incredible. Neither of us had been up there before, and we both highly anticipated the coming day.

Up Coire an Lochain

We got going at 9.10am, following the path from the car park across Glen Coe and up into Coire nan Lochan. The path climbed steeply upwards, cutting across the corrie's 45˚ slopes. The rocks were coated in razor-thin verglas and walking called for care. Unusual for most of Scotland's corrie's, a fall in here could have serious consequences, but the walk was uneventful. The weather was shaping up well though, we spotted people on the Aonach Eagach and had the magnificent view of S.C.n.Lochan above us. The corrie was however enclosed, and the sense of these soaring peaks all around helped to make me feel very small and perhaps more anxious about the day ahead.

We reached the lochans at 770m at 11.30am and now out in the open, it was only here did I finally feel we'd escaped the dank and enclosed corrie. The skies were clear and mountains pristine. Plenty climbers were on the routes already (it would turn out to be a busy day) and we stopped for a break before continuing onwards. When considering our route to the top, we'd decided that best compromise between length and safety was to cut up the snow slopes onto the north east ridge, then follow the ridge to the summit.

Final Push to the Top

But it was only once we were up on the snowfields approaching the ridge that we realised that these slopes comprised of wind slab, and there weren't many ways to get around them except to climb all the way down to the corrie and back up. We arrived on the summit ridge by following the safest lines, but not without my heart in my mouth. I ran up the most dangerous slopes not because it would decrease the avalanche risk but because it was easier for my head to cope with being in the firing line for as little time as possible. Once back in relative safety, I took a few moments to calm myself down on the ridge. I hacking at the snow with my axe and sure enough, an 8cm layer wasn't bonded well to the snow beneath. With every step, I could hear the hollow sound of the top layer collapsing, but nothing had happened and we were now on the ridge.

The rest of the Bidean range was now in view including Stob Coire Sgreamhach, Bidean itself and the Lost Valley. But these spectacularly steep ridges and peaks created another risk - the fall lines were spectacular. The ridge wasn't extremely steep but if we fell, it was 500m straight down to the Lost Valley below. The terrain above didn't look easy either and we didn't want to venture onto the snowfields if possible given the dodgy slabs.

This was going to be mental.

Indeed it was. The first obstacle was a rock step of boulders and already feeling the pump of adrenaline, I couldn't get up without that drop calling from below. Fall from here and you're f**ked. I could get up it no bother, but not without feeling extremely intimidated. Ian got up it, so I followed on having seen what he did and the first problem was then solved.

The next problem was a small notch in the ridge, but much less a problem than the first step. In fact, not much a problem at all once I got 'hands on', used the holds to lower myself into the gap and walk up the other side. More intimidating than anything else. But all we'd climbed was something that I would find tough to descend and from here on I was committed. Fear was building, my anxiety mixed with excitement and the 'lethal combination' was born.

The last obstacle proved to be the worst and would have been a bugger to miss out on since it was within ten metres of the summit. Different from the lower problems, the snow had become powdery and unconsolidated up here and somehow didn't take weight without collapsing. The easiest route up the rocks was still too difficult, the incline too great. The powder would collapse then push me off balance. As was the case with this ridge, a fall here would be rewarded with splattered remains below, so instead we waited for four guys who were coming up behind us. I explained the problem, they cracked it and with the snow now beat down and stabilised, I followed on. I completely admired the nerve of the guy who led, I couldn't have done it myself.


To my delight, the summit immediately followed on. With the knowledge of an easy descent down the NW ridge ahead, the tension dissipated. The goal had been achieved, the future now certain. Although cloud obscured many views, what we saw was magnificent. We'd pondered about doing Bidean too, but it was getting late in the day and it would be safer to descend now. To go on and potentially descend the Lost Valley in the dark was to raise the stakes a little higher than I was willing. Ian and I chatted about how we had both lost our longing for Munro counts and tallies, and how the joy of simply being in the mountains satisfied our thirsts. Feeling under no pressure to go Munro bagging and immensely satisfied with our achievement thus far, we headed down the northwest ridge.


The final part of the walk came as a bit of an anti-climax and was a walk in the park compared to our ascent. The lines, throbbing with climbers, meant there were plenty of people to talk to at the top of routes. I looked down at the climbers (most of them on the Dorsal Arête) in admiration. The buttresses and arêtes looked like magnificent challenges, but could I complain? I'd just climbed the most wonderful mountain of my life. Our route was beautiful, had inspired awe, fear, wonder and excitement in one, and followed the skyline of a peak that fills the mystical heights above Glen Coe. I'd dreamed about coming here for long long years. I wasn't complaining about anything today.

But with the hard 'mountaineering' over, the subsequent walk over to Aonach Dubh was a let-down. The weather had also deteriorated but it was a fine peak anyway and another imposing summit when viewed from Glen Coe. With Aonach Dubh done, the knee-battering descent followed.

The lucky thing though, was that the verglas that coated the corrie path in the morning had thawed. The descent was hardly treacherous anymore but certainly long-winded. With the cloud coming down a little, Stob Coire nan Lochan's summit skipped in and out of mist. My perspective became the same as when I hadn't climbed it, but now I could look back in the knowledge that I'd been up there. I'd been up there? Bloody hell. It was a funny thought. I was delighted.

Back at the car and thoroughly worn out, Ian and I both couldn't help but stare up at S.C.n.Lochan in awe that we'd managed. Then we left for home, stopping at the Green Welly for food or drink on the way down. I'd only eaten a couple of Chocolate Orange bars, M&M's and half a packet of crisps during the duration of the walk and drunk nothing, so it was a well needed stop.

With the day finished, all I want to do is revisit Bidean and climb more of the summits before winter is over. Bidean is indeed a significant mountain for me since it's one that I've always stared longingly at. And the minute I left it's slopes, I knew that what I wanted was up there. I am sure that I can play things safe enough to visit in winter, so long as I get to do so before the snow melts. Ian also made fantastic company throughout the day and a good partner to be around when things got a little scary.


Stob Coire nan Lochain, NE Ridge (c. 330 degree)

Stob Coire nan Lochain, Summit (c. 330 degree)
Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 9.10am Glen Coe
(4.10) 1.20pm Stob Coire nan Lochain
(4.35) 1.45pm Stob Coire nan Lochain (left)
(5.35) 2.45pm Aonach Dubh
(7.40) 4.50pm Glen Coe

Written: 2010-01-25