#52 – The Aonach Eagach Ridge, Glencoe

The Aonach Eagach ("The Notched Ridge")

Walking from valley to valley has featured largely in both my walking and my blog posts for the last couple of weeks, but to keep a balanced view (and to keep the mountain men/women happy) here’s a look at the Aonach Eagach in Glencoe, widely regarded as being the finest ridge walk on the UK mainland.  For many, only the Cuillin Ridge on Skye can beat it.

Am Bodach (centre) with the Aonach Eagach running to the left

Most people start with Am Bodach, and do the ridge east to west.  This means that you start and finish at different places, so if you don’t have the use of two cars there is also a long road walk included , making a total of 16 kilometres (10 miles) walking distance with a height gain of 1314 metres. (Almost 4300 ft).  The ridge itself is very committing – after leaving Am Bodach there are no safe descents to the valley until you reach the other end at Sgorr nam Fiannaidh.

“….there are no safe descents to the valley until you reach the other end”

On top of all this, the route is a graded scramble (grade 2). The technical difficulty is not great, but there are some long drops down to the glen.  Experienced rock climbers or scramblers would not find this a difficult route, but there are better places to start if you are a total scrambling novice.  As a minimum requirement you need to be a fit walker with a head for heights.  You also need to be with someone with route finding ability on steep rock.

The summit of Am Bodach

The route starts with a well defined path that climbs the south-east shoulder of Am Bodach.  The path is steep and climbs 760 metres in 1.8 kilometres, so steady progress rather than rushing at it is the best approach.  The top of Am Bodach is rounded and not particularly interesting, apart from the views.    The path sets off losing height gradually to the north-west, but in less than 200 metres the fun starts with the descent of a 20 metre rock buttress.  Holds are plentiful, but a fall would be very serious.

The steep climb down the 20 metre rock buttress seen from above

Looking back to the steep descent of Am Bodach

This section can be slippery when wet, and is probably the most difficult section in winter conditions.  After this early challenge the path settles down for a bit, ascending more easily to the summit of Meall Dearg, beyond which lie The Pinnacles of the Aonach Eagach.

The Pinnacles from Meall Dearg

The Pinnacles are the most interesting or scary section of the ridge, depending on your confidence and ability.  The route heads west, following a narrow path, where a detailed description isn’t much help – more useful is the ability to select a safe route over difficult rock.  The route doesn’t always follow the true crest of the ridge, but is never far from it, the best clues being found in the obvious worn sections.  In some places the route isn’t immediately clear, but something always turns up.  Eventually the drama ends with a steady but easy walk up to the summit of Stob Coire Leith.

The Pinnacles - © Adam Ward

On The Pinnacles – © Walter Baxter

Looking back to The Pinnacles

The descent from Stob Coire Leith is straightforward, heading west down a line of rusty fence posts, and then turning to the south-west to a col on the approach to the highest top of the day at Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (967m), the summit of which can be recognised by a low circular shelter.  Then, after all the fun you still have to get down.  The safest descent is to carry on a little further west, then to follow a path northwest towards the Pap of Glencoe. (Sgorr na Ciche)

Sgorr nam Fiannaidh from Stob Coire Leith

The view west from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh

With a car at each end of the ridge this is no problem, otherwise there is a long road walk ahead.  There are two other possible descents.  One is to follow a line due south from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh to Loch Achtriochan, first down scree then grass.  There is a path of sorts, but it’s difficult to find.  It’s also very steep, and if you are tempted down here because of fatigue, forget it – this is no place for tired legs.  The other descent is the west bank of Clachaig Gully.  This is so eroded now that it doesn’t deserve the name of a path, and should be avoided – fatal accidents have occurred here

On the descent

This is all sounding a bit serious, and so it is. It’s a long day out, with plenty to keep you occupied, mentally and physically.  In winter it’s usually a major expedition, requiring full winter equipment, an early start and fast progress on the ridge – many parties (usually English!) are benighted in winter, having underestimated the time needed.  Whatever time of year you choose, it’s a challenging route – it’s also one of the finest mountain days in the UK, and one to remember.

Meall Dearg from Stob Coire Leith – © Adam Ward

p.s.  I’ve done the Aonach Eagach four times, the last time being 2008 when most of these images were taken.  If all works out I might be doing the ridge in winter conditions over the next few months – watch this space!

p.p.s.  If you have enjoyed this post, why not share it in Facebook, twitter, etc.   Back with a new post in a weeks time on Monday morning.

Text and images © Paul Shorrock. Images by Adam Ward and Walter Baxter are taken from the Geograph Project and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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22 Responses to #52 – The Aonach Eagach Ridge, Glencoe

  1. stan bonnar says:

    very enjoyable paul!

    its great to get the feel of the ridge in your writing – which is definitely as close as i’m going to get!
    take care old buddy!

    • It’s a great ridge, Stan, but it can also be enjoyed from the valley as I’m sure you have done on previous visits. A wonderful place!

    • Ross cochrane says:

      Ross cochrane
      I would like to do this ridge but don’t know anybody who has done it before may or June would be a good time

      • It’s certainly a good idea to go for good weather Ross, if only for the enjoyment factor. May used to be reliable for settled weather, but it’s a lottery now with changing weather patterns – if your diary is flexible I would watch the weather forecasts for a suitable ‘window’ then blitz up to Glencoe!

  2. Orel Engel says:

    Great photos Paul! I loved this sentence that sums up the whole thing :” There are no safe descents to the valley until you reach the other end”. Ahah.
    I was wondering, there’s a Am Bodach on this ridge, but there’s also another mountain called Am Bodach in the Mamores (right North of Kinlochleven). I think it’s not the first time I see many mountains with the same name (I believe I’ve also seen two Ben More). Why is that? Are the names on the OS maps wrong?
    Good luck with the ridge this winter. I’ll be waiting to read it.

  3. Hi Orel, and thanks for the comment and the kind words.
    The OS names are correct – you quite often get hill names duplicated, as the people who named them didn’t travel far from their home locations,and never knew there was another ‘Am Bodach’ a few miles away.
    Am Bodach means ‘The Old Man’ – it’s a name that repeats in other UK locations, and it has been suggested that the ‘old man’ is a euphamism for, err…your cock?!! (Sorry girls!)
    There are other Scottish hills with the name Cioch – that means ‘breast’, so it would appear that the Scots Gaels were into sexual equality 🙂

    • Orel Engel says:

      Oh!! Ahahah! That is interesting! Thanks for this information. And I was also wondering, what are the rules applaying to rivers ? How do you know the exact name of a stream or a river? Usually I see the words Alt, Allt, or Coire, followed by what I think is the exact name of the river.

      • Hi Orel,
        Yes Allt is a stream, but a Coire is a hollow. It’s from a word meaning kettle, and is often spelt Corrie. So, ‘Allt Coire an Lochan’ is the ‘Stream of the Small Lake in the Hollow’ and ‘Allt a Mhuillin’ is ‘Stream of the Mill’.
        Pronunciation of Scots Gaelic is a nightmare! ‘Coire’ is pronounced ‘Korry’ and ‘Mhuillin’ is pronounced ‘Voolin’. I think! The rules seem to change at a whim. If I were you I would stick to Welsh, a much more logical celtic language, where each letter has a sound that is spoken and that follows rules 🙂
        Both languages seem designed to confuse us English, but I suppose that’s fair enough after centuries of English domination – at least there’s still a welcome for us nowadays.

  4. There’s quite a few safe descents down the back (Kinlochleven side) if you need them in an emergency though – you’d just have to either get a taxi back (from Kinlochleven), tramp back over the Devil’s Staircase or thumb it. I didn’t bother doing the ridge as I pretty much hate scrambling – I found my own coward’s route (documented of course on my blog) to bag the Munros. Took 3 different walks to complete the Munros and visit Am Bodach and the Pap of Glencoe but I enjoyed all 3 walks 🙂

    Great photos and advice on doing the ridge on your post 🙂

    • Thanks for the comments Carol.
      Of course, you are right about escapes to the north of the ridge – hopefully anyone needing to go that way will know what they are about.
      The old standby of thumbing it when faced by a long road walk seems to be getting more and more difficult – when I last did the ridge in 2008, my mate Ian volunteered to go and get the car parked just above the Meeting of Three Waters, whilst I waited in the Clachaig Inn. He based the suggestion on the premis that he was more likely to thumb a lift on his own, rather than both of us trying – he walked all the way while I had a great time in the pub! I’ve since vowed to stop in future for anyone with hill gear.

      • I will always stop for someone with hill gear if they thumb it. I haven’t actually tried thumbing it myself though since about the 70s!
        Carol.

  5. seekraz says:

    Beautiful pictures, Paul. I’ve not been to your country…have only seen photos and shots from movies, but it is incredible. I’ve only recently started with the mountain climbing/hiking here in Utah, USA. There is a similar green with like clouds…almost like a paradise. Thank you for sharing your journeys. Be safe….

  6. Hi Scott, and thanks for the kind words. Mineral Fork Canyon in your blog looks great, as do the trees in autumn (fall) colours.
    Also interesting to read of your previous job – I was a police officer in Cumbria (The English Lake District) in the North of England for 25 years. I guess we could both tell a tale or two!
    I’ll be dropping in on your blog again to see what you’ve been doing.
    Best wishes,
    Paul

  7. Hi Paul. I enjoyed your post (as always), looks a great route and I have done some walking in this area. Not sure about the Grade 2 scramble!!

  8. Hi Mark,
    Glencoe is one of my favourite UK walking areas. The scramble is easy enough, but there is lots of fresh air underneath your boot soles – that’s the biggest problem!

  9. Orel Engel says:

    Hello, I have another question, why is the usual route from East to West?

    • Hi Orel,
      There are several reasons for an East-West traverse, none of them particularly important.
      1. The initial height gain is less if you start with Am Bodach
      2. Finishing in the West brings you near to the Clachaig Inn – most of the early mountaineers would have stayed there, so in effect you walked back to your bed. Nowadays it’s handy for a celebration beer…
      3. The Scottish Mountaineering Club guidebook suggests this way, and is generally regarded as The Bible.
      4. Everybody does it that way! That isn’t as silly as it sounds – there are some of the narrow sections where you don’t want to be going against the (East-West) flow, especially on a busy day.
      All that being said, lots of people do it West-East. Some do it East-West then turn round before descending and repeat West-East – these people are either in the super fit league or just can’t cope with the descent at the end, and turn round in desperation!

      As with most things in the mountains, there are no right or wrong ways to do the routes, just what you prefer – in the context of your trip I think West-East was sensible.

  10. Pingback: #55 – Sgorr na Ciche (The Pap of Glencoe) | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

  11. Pingback: #84 – Bidean nam Bian, the hidden giant of Glencoe | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

  12. Pingback: #222 – The Lost Valley of Glencoe | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

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