Am Bodach - 943m
Meall Dearg - 953m
Aonach Eagach East Top - 906m
Aonach Eagach West Top - 905m
Stob Coire Leith - 940m

Sgorr nam Fiannaidh - 967m

Tuesday 25th May 2010

Weather/Conditions: Slightly cloudier in the morning but sunny all day. Some wind at points but quite calm.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 8.5km / 1250m / 12h 25m
Accompanying: Ian

Finally, the Aonach Eagach.

It's been a long time coming.

I had a few days free, so Ian and I headed north on the 24th and set up camp in Glen Etive. It was nice camp, although cold in the morning when the thermometer dropped to freezing. We sat in the car to warm up, shivering, so it was clear the camp had ended. The cold was just unpleasant so we got moving early and drove around to Glen Coe, a spectacular place in the first light of a May morning.

We needed to climb up onto the first Top of the day (but not a Munro) Am Bodach before we could start the ridge. Sleep depravation prevented me from taking in the morning views, and I often stopped to rest on the way up. A warmer sleeping bag is therefore in order. Bidean nam Bian was without a doubt, immensely spectacular but with such harsh light, I found myself craving the warm confines of bed more than the clear and awesome open space of Glen Coe.

It had been a steep ascent on a well built path, though respite from the path came at a cairn at 930m on Am Bodach - not quite the summit, but not far off. Before the summit came, the magnificent Chancellor swung into view and I snapped pictures and climbed as close as I dare to it. I would have gone out, but steep grass and scree doesn't seem safe to me, not 3000 feet up. And I couldn't wait for Ian to see this.

He arrived 20 minutes later and we took a pause at Am Bodach's summit before heading off westwards. The Am Bodach Bad Step was first. It's well known for being an awkward downclimb at the very beginning of the ridge. It turned out to be one of the most difficult passages. I went first and I took my time, stayed careful and tried not to fall off in the process. A crucial ledge must be gained but it's very awkward to climb down onto it. It's also awkward to climb off the other side. Another awkward passage presented itself at the bottom of the Step, then after that it was easy walking with some scrambling sections all the way to Meall Dearg. All good so far. While the Am Bodach Step seems easy at the top, it gains difficulty near the bottom.

At Meall Dearg, we took another stop and gained our first view of the pinnacled ridge of the Aonach Eagach. It looked incredible and soon we got on our way, tackling the Red Chimney which lies almost immediately off Meall Dearg's summit. Easier ground followed, then a scrambly descent and reascent onto the Aonach Eagach's East Summit (890m). Scrambling opportunities presented themselves everywhere and exposure was big, although I began to wonder whether this ridge was really all it was cracked up to be. Am Bodach had been hard, yet the rest seemed strangely easy.

More scrambling brought us to the top of Eagach East Summit. The West summit was still ahead and we headed towards it. A slightly awkward descent down red blocks took us to a knife edge gap of red rock between the two Summits then we headed up the other side.

There were still no problems. None really until I saw the Crazy Pinnacles.

Aonach Eagach Exposurefest

And oh, do they live up to their name or what? I knew a lot of people that had done the Aonach Eagach. Some didn't like it and some were frightened, some reckoned it was easy like a ladder and wanted to do it in winter/dark/storm or a combination or all of them. I'll be honest, the Crazy Pinnacles sent my adrenaline running crazed. They looked damn serious.

Ian wanted a break immediately before the pinnacles, but I couldn't sit with those over my shoulder. The committing nature of the Aonach Eagach made it easy for me to take whatever lay ahead, rationalise it, break it down and deal with it, but the pinnacles were a little harder to deal with. They were the one section where my heels hung out over wide open space and as I climbed around them on their north side (as everyone does) I was completely aware of the enormous drop below, hands shaking with adrenaline. I wasn't scared as such, just recognised in a rational way that the adrenaline was pumping because this was a place where the consequences of a slip were very real. Perhaps fatal.

On the far side of the Pinnacles I collected myself, reeling from the previous passage. We commenced to walk along the path in the sky to the highest point of the Aonach Eagach ridge (905m) then started down the other side. A couple doing the ridge in the opposite direction told us there were some "shitty" sections to go.

And there were. The descent off the last pinnacle was one of the most unnerving sections and to my mind consisted of three points where holds were not obvious. The first and last required careful thought to work out a sequence of safe moves (jumping down not an option) and the second was a nervous bum slide off a ledge to gain another small ledge that itself had to be descended from.

Hi-res image displaying technical difficulties on the Aonach Eagach

One last gap (climb in then out the other side) left me wondering when this ridge would end, then after one final knife edge section, it did. Then we scooted up Stob Coire Leith just as Ian was coming down with a virus (bad news - on the ridge you have to continue to the end) so the going was slowing up. By the time we reached Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, we lay in the summit cairn under the sun and surrounded by the most magnificent of views. It was maybe one of the best parts of the day.

Concerning descent, we were a little freaked out by the exposure already, so instead of descending the screes to Loch Achtriochtan, we walked down to near the Pap of Glencoe and descended to the road. It was tedious, steep, we were tired and it was a bit hot, though the views were magnificent. When we arrived down at the road, thoroughly knackered, I changed into sandals (perked me up a little) and we walked to the Glen Coe Independent Youth Hostel. Taking our chances, we asked the guy in there if he could give us a phone number for a local taxi. Five minutes later Ali's Taxi's from Ballachulish picked us up. The price wasn't pretty, though to be expected. We were grateful for the free ride up the glen - seemingly free when the alternative was walking. Also, I probably owe the hostel a couple nights accommodation there for saving our butts.

When we arrived back at the car, we were knackered enough to decide going home was the best option - Ian was coming down with some bug and I was pretty well worn out. Home sounded like a great idea, and I didn't mind in the slightest with the Aonach Eagach in the bag. Yes, the Mamores had been the next days plan, but we didn't care.

So, final thoughts on the Aggy Ridge?

Well I'll be the first to admit it was scarier than I'd anticipated it to be. Some hype it up, some downplay it (in fact, a lot downplay it) but at the end of the day, I couldn't shake off the exposure, so I perhaps enjoyed it a little less. I can understand though how good it must feel to run along the ridge, exposure blanked out, feeling the moves flow. It must be the most incredible high and I can relate to it.

This leads me to ponder of future plans. On the ridge I told myself I didn't want to come back, that the exposure was great enough for slips to be absolutely unforgiving. But as ever, time softens the terror, so going back isn't ruled out, maybe then I'll find myself quite happy with it. At least I'll know exactly what I'm up against. And perhaps if someone else went first, I might be more comfortable maintaining a following position.

I'll probably go back and try again to see how I feel, but a sunny day would be a appreciated. Not in winter or anything. Yet...

Aonach Eagach Detail

Driving to Glen Etive

Glen Etive Camp

Ascent to Am Bodach

Am Bodach "Bad Step"

Meall Dearg

Red Chimney

Aonach Eagach East Top (906m)

Aonach Eagach West Top (905m) to the end of Aonach Eagach

Leading to Crazy Pinnacles

Crazy Pinnacles

After Crazy Pinnacles

To End of Aonach Eagach

Stob Coire Leith

Sgorr nam Fiannaidh


Glen Coe and Journey Home

360° Panoramas

Am Bodach

Meall Dearg

Stob Coire Leith

Detail: North from Stob Coire Leith

Sgorr nam Fiannaidh
Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 6.40am Glen Coe
(2.25) 9.05am Am Bodach
(2.50) 9.30am Am Bodach (left)
(3.50) 10.30am Meall Dearg
(4.20) 11.00am Meall Dearg (left)
(5.35) 12.15pm Aonach Eagach West Top
(7.10) 1.50pm Stob Coire Leith
(8.05) 2.45pm Sgorr nam Fiannaidh
(9.05) 3.45pm Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (left)
(12.25) 7.05pm Glen Coe

Written: 2010-06-29