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The Munros
Aonach Eagach
East along the Aonach Eagach from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh
Country: Scotland.
Location: Glen Coe.
Accommodation: Clachaig Inn, camping, Youth Hostel in the middle of the glen. Hotel and perhaps B&B in Glencoe Village by Loch Leven.
Transport: One or 2 buses run along the glen each day.
Maps: Landranger Map 0041: Ben Nevis, Fort William & Glen Coe
Trip Date: 27 June 1993
Also See:
The Aonach Eagach by Paul Kennedy
The Aonach Eagach by Alan Cresswell
Introduction

The Aonach Eagach (the "notched ridge") forms the north wall of Glen Coe from above Clachaig Inn to the Pass of Glencoe. It is extremely narrow and has several fine pinnacles along its length. A traverse of the ridge can take in the two Munros of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh ("peak of the Fian warriors", 967m) and Meall Dearg ("red hill", 953m). From the roadside, the true nature of the ridge is hidden by its lower slopes. However a walk southwards up the path to Bidean nam Bian (starts just west of Loch Achtriochtan) is soon rewarded by fine views of the jagged edges of Aonach Eagach.

For a normal tramper, the traverse of the Aonach Eagach is reserved for summer days with good weather. In winter or bad weather the ridge is definitely only for experienced mountaineering parties. If you have any doubts about your head for heights then I recommend taking a rope. It is also best to plan the walk a little better than I did - I started off at 10 am intending to do a gentle stroll up the Pap of Glencoe (Sgorr na Ciche), decided to continue on to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh because of the fine weather and ended up descending Am Bodach at 7:30 in the evening watching the last bus disappear down the glen. Luckily I managed to hitch a ride from the carpark else I would have had a long roadwalk back.

While there is (of course) only one path along the ridge there are several choices of where to climb onto and off of the ridge. Those who want to follow as much of the north ridge of Glen Coe as possible start off by climbing the Devil's Staircase (an old military road) onto the ridge before Stob Mhic Mhartuin and then follow the ridge to the Pap of Glencoe and down to the village. This nearly triples the distance of the usual traverse started by climbing Am Bodach (943m) and ended by the descent from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh. I took a compromise route by starting from the Pap and descending from Am Bodach.

Route

If you are staying at Clachaig Inn, the camping grounds or the youth hostel then go west along the side-road until a path departs the road about 250 metres past the youth hostel. This track climbs up beside a fence and then indistinctly through heather to the main path. The main path starts from the road about a kilometre west of the youth hostel. It zigzags a few times as it climbs and then sidles westwards to the col between the Pap and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh. A good path leads up the slopes to the rocky summit of the Pap (742m). This is a good place for a photo stop. At your feet are the blue waters of Loch Leven blending into Loch Linnhe to the west. To the east you can just see the joined towns of Kinlochleven and Kinlochmore partially blocked by the slopes of Garbh Bheinn (867m). Northwards the Mamore ridge hides the lower slopes of Ben Nevis. Bidean nam Bian (1150m) is the highlight of the south view with the path up to it from the glen just visible.

The first Munro of the day pulls you onwards. Return to the col and make your own way up the broad ridge. I found myself tending to the north side of the ridge so that I could look down into the corrie on that side. An hour of winding through small crags brings you onto the west top of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh. There is a path that departs here steeply downhill to Clachaig Inn. It is this path that the Scottish Mountaineering Club guide tells you not to take - it is very eroded and any dislodged rocks will endanger the climbers that are often in Clachaig Gully. A further 20 minutes of level walking and the summit at 967m is reached. There is a good stone shelter there - convenient for a lunch stop.

The usual descent route from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh is due south down a long steep slope into the glen (stony at first and then grassy lower down)

The first photo on this page was taken from just beyond the shelter. The path can be seen continuing down and then up again to Stob Coire Leith (940m) - not a Munro but still a pretty peak. The ridge then drops sharply into a col where it becomes narrow, exposed and a joy to walk, scramble and maybe even climb. Meall Dearg is the peak at the back with a ridge dropping to the north (another access route). Am Bodach is the peak on the right with the creased ridge rising from the left and the long slopes dropping into the glen.

I can't give you a step-by-step description of the crossing of the Aonach Eagach but below are a few choice memories from my trip.

Forward from the second pinnacle Back from the second pinnacle
Forward from the second pinnacle Back from the second pinnacle

The first time that you go put hands to rock on a walk is always a thrill. This point came just above the col where the steep zigzags of the path vanished over a small (less than 2m) step. A group of blokes coming the other way sportingly stopped to allow me to clamber down the step to the low point of the col and then squeeze past them up the other side.

If you are going "the wrong way" like me then it is likely that the easiest path will be blocked by someone coming the other way. In my case it only happened once where someone had decided to have a rest just on the other side of a spike of rock. It was alright though - I just had a more exciting scramble over the very top of the spike rather than the path along its side.

There are a lot of places where there is only thin air and an even thinner ledge between you and the rocks 100m below you. The place I remember best is just after the second pinnacle where there is a bit of a level section. The level section is very short before it drops vertically. The path to follow is down the north side of the drop where you end up on a ledge. The way onwards looks blocked by pillars of rock. However a closer look will reveal small ledges and handholds that take you around the outside of the pillars back to the ridge. The most thrilling bit of this is the last scoot around a pillar where I found myself leaning backwards over the drop in order to get past an overhang.

West from Meall Dearg along Aonach Eagach
West from Meall Dearg along Aonach Eagach

In contrast to the preceding, there is one place that is extremely safe - you walk up the ridge and into a cleft with solid rock walls to either side. Don't get too complacent though - the floor soon drops out from under your feet as you clamber 10 metres down a nearly enclosed chimney and out to the ridge again.

Aonach Eagach ends with a nice and relatively easy climb up to Meall Dearg.

From Meall Dearg, descend along the ridge and over a little rise. There you cross a final narrow section until the foot of the climb to Am Bodach is reached. Off to one side pointing into Glen Coe is the prominent snout of the Chancellor. This spur lies below the level of the ridge and those with a good head for heights can clamber down to it and along its knife-edge brow to a fine and exposed viewpoint. Note that some authors state that you have to traverse The Chancellor to do the Aonach Eagach but this is not the case.

The last challenge is now at hand - a climb of 2-3 metres straight up. There are good handholds. Above the climb, the narrow ridge skirts above a 20m drop and then widens as it rises to the top of Am Bodach. Take your time here - it is your last opportunity to look back over the days journey. A clear path now drops down from the summit along the crest of another rocky ridge. At one point it turns to the west to avoid a large crag. When you return along the path to under the crag then continue down the ridge - there is another path that wanders into a small corrie and the Allt-na-reigh stream. I was fooled by this temporarily and then followed it down so that I could refill my water bottle.

The path soon meets the road through the glen at a small carpark. The main carpark is a little bit down the road (westwards). If you are walking back to Clachaig Inn or points further distant then a bit of road-walking can be saved via a track that descends from the carpark and contours along the glen for about 1.5 km. Remember to drop into Clachaig Inn for a well-deserved pint.


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