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The Devil's Ridge and Sgurr Mhaim
The Devil's Ridge and Sgurr a'Mhaim from Am Bodach
Country: Scotland
Location: Glen Nevis
Accommodation: Fort William (hotels, B&B), Glen Nevis (Youth Hostel, caravan/camping site). Camping is allowed in the upper glen (beyond the carpark and Nevis Gorge).
Transport: Train and bus station in Fort William. A summer bus service goes to the carpark in Glen Nevis.
Maps: OS Outdoor Leisure 32 (scale of 1:25,000) or Landranger Map 0041: Ben Nevis, Fort William & Glen Coe (1:50,000).
Trip Dates: 12 September 1992, 19 June 1993
Also See:
The Devil's Ridge (Mullach nan Coirean to Sgurr a' Mhaim) by Paul Kennedy
An Gearanach by Paul Kennedy
The Ring of Steall by Cameron Johnston
Introduction

These five Munros form a great horseshoe around the broad valley of Coire a'Mhail and its lower reaches stretching down to the dramatic An Steall waterfall. A good strenuous day can be spent collecting all 5 Munros - this needs 8-10 hours so a long summer day is perfect. The circuit is known as the Ring of Steall. The Munros are:
An Gearanach (the complainer, 982m) which is the highest point of a short, sharp ridge,
Stob Coire a'Chairn (peak of the corrie of the cairn, 981m) - a modest peak best seen from the mountains around it,
Am Bodach (the old man, 1032m) formed into a pyramid by 3 steep and rocky faces,
Sgor an Iubhair (peak of the yew, 1001m) (in August 1997, this nice but unexciting peak was demoted to a Top) and
Sgurr a'Mhaim (peak of the large rounded hill, 1099m) with its fine cap of white quartzite.

This route is described as starting and ending at the carpark at the end of the Glen Nevis.

Route

Start from the carpark and follow the path up Glen Nevis and into Nevis Gorge. After a pleasant beginning, the path becomes even better as it becomes rocky and clings nicely between the crags above and the rushing river below. Keep an eye ahead as there are glimpses of An Gearanach with the An Steall waterfall at its foot. A kilometre of walking brings you to some grassy river flats (good camping) and a three-wire footbridge across the river. The bridge looks precarious but is secure even if it swings a lot as you cross it. The river here is less than a metre deep and in fact it can be forded just up from the bridge.

If you are camping further up the river at Steall then the footbridge is an easy walk downstream.

Walk east past the white climbers cottage (Steall Hut) and further on cross the stream below the waterfall - a good spot to drop your pack and explore. Continue under a wooded buttress to the next stream where the path turns south up into a small glen. The path climbs a fairly steep ridge until it skirts an eroded area and heads into the glen. Soon the path crosses the stream (smooth, wet rocks so take care) to begin a series of zigzags up the western side of the glen. A long traverse to the west then takes you up onto the top of the ridge. A rough path then climbs SE through crags to emerge on the north ridge of An Gearanach which is climbed up to the summit - good views to either side.

From An Gearanach, follow the narrow, airy ridge down and then up to An Garbhanach with some fine scrambling as you approach the Top. The descent to the col below Stob Coire a'Chairn starts off rocky and steep in places, but quickly becomes less steep and grassy. A similar but easier ascent quickly brings you to the summit of the second Munro for the day. This is a good place to look back at the rocky prow of An Garbhanach with (hopefully) Ben Nevis in the background. Even in summer, looking forward to Am Bodach will often reveal snow patches under the northern overhangs on the ridge to its west.

Looking back to An Garbhanach
Looking back to the rocky prow of An Garbhanach

An easy descent from Stob Coire a'Chairn takes you over a small bump and down to the bealach facing the steep north-east ridge of Am Bodach. This rocky slope provides a pleasant scramble (with some patches of loose gravel) up to the summit of Am Bodach. The only difficulty is a small near vertical section close to the top. This is roughly the halfway point of the walk and a good place to break for lunch.

To continue, proceed along the west ridge from the summit. The path descends easily, generally through the bouldery slopes just below the crest of the ridge, down to a col at about 950m. The crest can be followed more closely off the path along its ragged top but take care of the sharp drop to the north. At the col, another stalker's path is joined and followed uphill for 400 metres. Leave the path here and strike straight uphill up steepish slopes until a final little scramble brings you out onto the flat top of Sgor an Iubhair. If the weather has turned bad then the stalker's path can be followed around to Lochan Coire nam Miseach and the path down to Achriabhach taken.

Am Bodach from Stob Coire a'Chairn
Am Bodach from Stob Coire a'Chairn

The summit of Sgor an Iubhair is worth a short stop to admire the view of the east crags of Stob Ban and the sharp outline of the Devil's Ridge (your next objective) before continuing north down a steep bouldery slope. This leads to a broad col with a stalker's path zigzaging to your left (west) down to the path to Achriabhach. Continue north up easy slopes until the crest of the sharp ridge is gained in about 100 metres. Immediately there is an opportunity to test your head for heights with an interesting leap from a rock pillar over a cleft to another pillar. This can be avoided with a sharp drop into the cleft and a just as interesting scramble up the other side. The narrow ridge then climbs evenly up to the Top of Stob Coire a'Mhail (980m).

The Devil's Ridge is the narrow (less than 1 metre wide) arete descending from Stob Coire a'Mhail and climbing part of the way up Sgurr a'Mhaim. In dry summer conditions it is an easy invigorating stroll with couple of exposed sections. The final climb of the day is up easy stony slopes to the summit of Sgurr a'Mhaim and its large cairn.

There is a choice of how to return to the carpark from here.

If you really want to avoid road-walking then it is possible to return directly to Steall Hut. I have not travelled this way and so cannot vouch for it. Start by heading north-east from the summit down an obvious and rocky ridge to descend 140m. Shortly after crossing a stalker's path turn north along the ridge between Coire Sgorach and Coire nan Cnamh. This ridge looks very craggy - it may be better to follow the stalker's path for 400 metres into Coire Sgorach and then turn NE to gain the base of the ridge. Head NE for 500 metres down a narrow spur past a small tarn and onto more level ground at the 750m level. Do not continue along the ridge (it leads to steep ground by the An Steall waterfall) but turn directly north, winding your way through crags towards Creag nan Eun. Another 500 metres brings you to a small valley which drops east. Follow this and the stream that it contains down and through woodland to the open slopes above the hut. All that is left is the crossing of the river and a pleasant stroll above the Water of Nevis to the carpark.

If you do not mind road-walking or have transport arranged at Achriabhach then take the northwest ridge from the summit. There is an clear path dropping easily through the white, squeaky quartzite scree on the ridge. The path follows the ridge as it turns north and then dives down its west slopes heading for Lag Gorm over increasingly bouldery ground. The scree and boulders are left shortly before the top of the Lag Gorm crags are reached. Easy, grassy slopes are then descended NE to a stalker's path at 650m. The gradient increases and the path begins to zigzag as it drops down the Sron Sgurr a'Mhaim ridge.

The final steep grassy slopes are negotiated to meet the path to Achriabhach - 1 kilometre of gentle descent further on to the Polldubh bridge. There is a small carpark on the far side of the bridge where the river crashes over a waterfall into a narrow red granite gorge. The road can be followed all the way back to the carpark (about 2.5 km) - look out for the tourist traffic leaving the glen.

Some of this road-walking can be avoided by following a path along the south bank of the river for 1.5 km to a footbridge. If you are camped in the glen then the path can even be taken further along the river. It proceeds along the lower edge of the woodland above the river before meeting a fence and skirting the river below Blar Ban. The fence is followed up to a weir and then crossed again. Here the path becomes indistinct as it enters the woodland and starts to climb - at first beside a fence and then arcing away to the south-east. Another fence is soon joined and leads you south over a small col below Cathar na Seilge and then down hill all the way to the Steall Hut.


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