#84 – Bidean nam Bian, the hidden giant of Glencoe

The view up the ‘Lost Valley’ in Glencoe

As you drive down Glencoe towards Loch Achtriochtan, you can’t help but notice the impressive rock architecture rising above you on both sides. To the north lies the airy ridge of the Aonach Eagach (see post #52) and opposite lie the Three Sisters. It’s clear that these are big hills but the one that you will not see is hidden from view by its neighbours – Bidean nam Bian, the highest peak in the old county of Argyll at 1,150 metres (3,773ft).

Bidean nam Bian viewed from the slopes of Stob Coire nan Lochan

Our recent house move has located us in a lovely spot in North Wales, with hills on the doorstep, and the mountains of Snowdonia just down the road, less than an hour away.  A price had to be paid, though – the business of moving meant that a planned trip to the Northwest Highlands of Scotland had to be cancelled.  As a consolation prize, I retrieved this outing from the archives, from May 2008.

The large snow slope (on the left) on our intended route

Our day on Bidean nam Bian had started from the valley, with the intention of walking up the ‘Lost Valley’ to the col between Bidean and Stob Coire Sgreamhach, an easy enough route to follow.   As we approached it became obvious from as far away as two kilometres that there was a large snow slope right across our route, and as it was almost June we were not carrying ice axes or crampons,

The start of the diversion

It was difficult trying to gauge the size or angle of the slope from a distance, but it soon became apparent from watching the route that all the small ‘ant-like’ figures that tried their hand on the slope had turned back.  Bob and I applied several decades of mountain cunning and wisdom to the problem, and came up with the idea of a diversion.

Getting steeper as we headed up to the col

In fact, we spent so long debating the issue that another group listened in and pinched our idea before carrying out a crafty overtake – we carried on behind them up ground that gradually became steeper.  A gap in a line of crags took us to the col between Bidean and Stob Coire nan Lochan, on what had originally been our intended descent route down the North East Ridge of Bidean.

Near the summit of Bidean on the North East Ridge

The North East Ridge was nicely rocky after the grassy route to the col, and we were soon on the summit of Bidean, which was remarkably quiet.  The views were simply outstanding with a 360 degree panorama.

Looking towards Glen Etive

The view northwest towards Loch Linnhe and Loch Leven

Bob Stow on the summit of Bidean nam Bian

The author – Ben Nevis can be picked out, immediately to the right of the cairn in the far distance.

Our return route, down the North East Ridge of Bidean to Stob Coire nan Lochan

After enjoying the view, and playing ‘spot the mountain’ it was time to head back.  We reversed the North East Ridge down to the col, then carried on up again to Stob Coire nan Lochan.  The route from there followed the top of the cliffs of South Buttress and Pinnacle Buttress.

Stob Coire nan Lochan from the col

The top of the cliffs of Stob Coire nan Lochan – note the two tiny figures just right of centre

Loch Leven with the narrows at Ballachulish visible just left of centre

Just before Aonach Dubh we took a right turn to drop down into Coire nan Lochan, with the cliffs that had been below us now high above – the area isn’t much use to the rock climber, but in winter it is one of the best ice-climbing venues in Glencoe.  From there we followed the path above the stream to head back down to the valley, passing an impressive waterfall on the way.

Waterfall just below Coire nan Lochan

The descent from Coire nan Lochan – the valley far below with the road just visible

Almost back in the valley with a late group heading upwards

Descents in the Highlands tend to be long, and frequently surprise newcomers, but being ‘old hands’ we made good progress back down to the valley.  The strong winds that had been forecast didn’t materialise, but a stiff breeze kept the midges grounded.  A night in the Clachaig Inn was a perfect end to a perfect day.

The ‘Lost Valley’ – Stob Coire Sgreamhach on the left, Bidean just peeping through on the right

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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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25 Responses to #84 – Bidean nam Bian, the hidden giant of Glencoe

  1. nonoymanga says:

    Outstanding high adventures!!! Cheers Nonoy Manga

  2. Looking at all that dry weather, it just had to be from a different year, didn’t it?! Looked like a great day out.

  3. Some amazing pictures there Paul, looks like a hell of a climb.

  4. Many years ago I went on a ‘whisky drinking expedition’ to Skye with 2 friends in my old Fiat car. It was novel because 3rd gear didn’t work and it had a cardboard floor so the passender couldn’t put their feet down (but that is another story). Anyway it cost me a tenner and a Jimi Hendrix autograph I happend to have so it was a bargain ???

    We passed through Glencoe on our way to Sligachan and I was gobsmacked..we climbed a couple of the smaller peaks – my mates weren’t really into climbing then, but I persuaded them. I don’t know what they were called or which ones they were but the view from the tops were stunning. I remember it being a crisp clear day and we hadn’t started with the whiskey then so I had a clear head. One place I will always remember – the journey too!

    As always, an excellent article and your pics are superb!

    • Thanks for the kind words, SP.

      You seem to have fun with cars – I’m still laughing at your post on leaving Tan Hill and waking up in your mates car to the smell of bacon frying, as the chef drove down the road with the stove on his lap 😀

      Some of our caving club had old vans converted to campers (AKA a mattress chucked in the back). The brakes on one of these were so ‘iffy’ that the passenger used to sit with a rock on his lap, and if the driver had to stop on a steep hill the passenger would dive out and shove the rock under one of the wheels.

      On one of my early trips to Skye I hitched up carrying a Blacks Mountain Tent – they were bomb-proof, but very heavy. I didn’t have the flysheet for it, and when it rained on the way back home the water came straight in. The tent also had a tray groundsheet that came about four inches up the sides, so the water could get in but not out – it was like a big canvas bird-bath 😀

      Happy days!

  5. You can say that again about folks new to Munros and long descents – that was one of the first things I noticed when I started Munroing!

    I took that route off Stob Coire nan Lochan too – it was very nice – I notice most people seem to descend the other arm. Never noticed that waterfall though…

    When you did the NE ridge onto/off the Bidean, did you do the actual arete/ridge or the scree path below it? I descended the scree path and wasn’t keen and wondered about whether taking to the firmer rocks was better?

    • Hi Carol – we took the rocky crest, which wasn’t really difficult enough to be a scramble and which didn’t (as I recall) have any feeling of exposure. I seem to remember that we came down it at a fair lick, whereas the scree path might have needed more care.

  6. LensScaper says:

    I’ve never climbed or walked in Glen Coe sadly. But I did some climbing on a Martin Moran run course a few years ago on the west coast. The feel of ‘wilderness’ was extraordinary. A great story, Paul.

  7. Paul, for a moment I thought the snow was now – I know the weather is bad but not that bad ! Did this last year and one of the best day walks I have done in Scotland for many years. A true classic

  8. Pete Buckley says:

    it’s a long time since I went up Bidean but it remains one of my favourites. This makes me want to go back and repeat that route up past Ossian’s Cave and Stob Coire nan Lochan. Nice post Paul.

  9. Thanks for the kind words, Pete.

    That route by Ossian’s Cave is brill – did it some years ago, but it feels ready for a repeat 🙂

  10. Dina says:

    Wow!! What a climb and so rewarding – I envy you the spectacular shots you got!!

    • Thanks for the kind words Dina, but I don’t have your talent and ‘eye’ for a good image. However, Scotland is so magnificent that even average photographers like me can usually come away with something reasonable.

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