A Scotsman, an Englishman and a Cowboy climb the Aonach Eagach – The day Summer arrived in Glencoe

Having neglected the blog for over a year, I thought it fitting to look back on one of the few good days we had this summer. June was the month, Glencoe was the place, Meall Dearg and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh were the mountains – the Aonach Eagach ridge.

With the sun still high in the sky, we sat there. Propped up against the cairn, I adjusted my sunglasses and rested my head against the rock. I could see Mull, I could see the Ben. I could see bloody everything. Bidean had never looked so good, the snow hanging on for dear life in the gullies contrasting with the dark green slopes meant that my camera took about 20 photos before my backside got a seat. The ridge was finished but I never wanted to leave, if I had lumped my tent up with me I would’ve pitched it right there beside the cairn. Nah I wasn’t leaving yet, we stayed at the summit for nearly another hour before we set off down. What an absolute belter of a day.

It had been a glorious morning driving up the A82 (and it’s not very often I say that), Loch Lomond had slithers of mist hovering above the surface of the water, Beinn Dorainn looked exactly like it does on my calendar, and the Rannoch Moor lochans looked like polished mirrors brightly reflecting the morning sky and its cotton wool clouds. Of course, none of them compare to being slapped in the face by the Buachaille Etive Mor as you enter Glencoe. I’ll never get tired of that.

Anyway I met Jimbo at the Clachaig and after the usual fannying about and then parking a motor at each end of the ridge, it was after 11 before we started walking up the slopes of Am Bodach. The sun was blazing and nearly at its highest point in the sky by the time we had climbed a few hundred metres. I hadn’t been up a hill in nearly 2 months, and my thighs were letting me know. As we neared the top of Am Bodach, high enough to be a munro itself but too near to Meall Dearg to get itself into the tables, the path began to steepen and get more rocky so we took a wee break.

It wasn’t an official break, infact none of us had mentioned the word ‘break’. One of us had simply slowly came to a halt implying the conversation required more attention and the only way to do so was to stop walking for a minute or five. It was during this break that someone appeared behind us on the path. He recognised Jimbo as Kenny’s brother and we found out that he was in Glencoe for Kenny’s stag do the next night (as we were). Jake was a Londoner, a few years older than us, and a funny bastard. He walked with us all the way to the end of the ridge.

Ten minutes later we were stomping along the final section of path towards Am Bodach. I already had my straps undone on my pack to get fired into my scran, but even the intense hunger causing havoc in my empty belly took a back seat to the spectacle infront of us – The Chancellor. This rugged and jagged rock jutting out from the ridge is like the Aonach Eagach’s middle finger to Bidean nam Bian saying ‘I don’t care how big you are, you and your three sisters can fuck right off! I’m the best mountain in the glen!’.

I let Jake and Jim walk out to the end of what must be Glencoe’s most exposed natural viewing platform while I took some action shots, and they done the same for me afterwards. We spent at least half an hour here admiring the view and getting a few calories in us before moving on.

Jim and Jake standing on the end of The Chancellor

Jim and Jake standing on the end of The Chancellor

Jake had been on the ridge before and had mentioned that there was some sketchy down-climbing up ahead, he wasn’t wrong. More awkward than difficult, we had to face into the rock and scramble down which was fine, but only because of the great weather. The rock was polished to buggery and I reckon doing the same in the pissing rain would be a different story, Jake said he had to abseil down the last time he was here in winter!

A little bit of hopping and jumping over some rocks with some scrambling (and of course taking plenty photos) and it wasn’t long before we were at the summit of Meall Dearg, the first Munro of the day. The views had really opened up and I was seeing the Mamores like I had never seen them before. It was a similar view from Bidean nam Bian 6 years earlier (to the day) but I felt miles closer on this ridge, I could see everything. The views west were awesome aswell, the ridge stretched out before us towards Glencoe village. Infact stretched is probably the wrong word, that would imply that it was somewhat smooth or at least pulled flattish. The ridge actually closer resembled an accordian with all its jagged points and pinnacles. The Aonach’s reputation certainly hadn’t disappointed.

The summit of Meall Dearg looking west.

The summit of Meall Dearg looking west.

Even though the lettuce had started to go all shitty, my sandwich went down a treat. Washed down with some water and a few sherbet chews I was raring to go again. Jake was up for it and Jimbo was about as giddy as his wee dog Franklin (who was absent due to the stag do the next night) chasing its tail – always at the front desperate to get up and over the next section of the ridge. The Crazy Pinnacles are named, I can only assume, because the first maniac to climb over them must’ve been literally crazy. Although there are alternative routes bypassing most of these notches in the mountain, choosing to go this route definitely gives the ridge the excitement and exposure that forces guidebooks to describe it as the best ridge walk on the mainland. Unless weather makes the decision for you, I would recommend the pinnacles every time, if not for the experience at least do it for the braw photos!

Jim down-climbing with PLENTY exposure to the back of him.

Jim down-climbing with PLENTY exposure to the back of him.

Looking down from one of the pinnacles, showing how narrow the ridge is. (Photo: Jimbo)

Looking down from one of the pinnacles, showing how narrow the ridge is. (Photo: Jimbo)

Once the pinnacles were behind us and we got past the top of Stob Coire Leith, the Aonach Eagach started to take it easy on us. The ridge starts to broaden out a bit and the walker starts to lose the exposure of earlier on. That didn’t mean the walk lost any appeal – the boyish good fun of Meall Dearg and all its scrambling turns into a more relaxed walk where the eyes are drawn to the views in all directions rather than the holds 6 inches infront of you. On this day, the views were literally incredible. The sea and the lochs out to the west grab the attention to the point that if they don’t bring you to a subconscious halt, the mountain will trip you up and belt your face off the rock as a punishment for not watching where you put your feet.

As we arrived at the summit of the second Munro – Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, the three of us were slightly more quiet and subdued than a few hours earlier. For me I know it was because the walk was nearing its end and all that was left was a ruthless descent down a mass of scree that my knees would remind me about for at least the next couple of days. But fuck that for now, I was going to enjoy this last summit. I walked a few yards away from the cairn and faced north for while, lying on the grass with my head resting on my rucksack. I couldn’t hear a thing, complete silence. After a few minutes I rolled over and looked back at the cairn, Jimbo and Jake were doing the exact same thing – Jim facing east and Jake facing west. This is the life.

Then Jake farted. After that I stood up laughing, (farts are always funny are they not?) and started taking some photos as we began the usual process of naming the surrounding hills. Not sure if anyone else does this when they’re up a mountain but it’s become a habit of mine, and it’s not restricted to summits either! I do it when I start a walk, when I’m halfway up a hill, when I’m halfway down a hill, when I’m in the car driving past a hill, when I’m sitting on the couch and a hill I know comes on the TV, etc etc.

Seconds after Jake farted.

Seconds after Jake farted.

After about half an hour, Jake decided to head on down. His knees had been playing up and he apparently didn’t want to hold us young pups back. So he left the summit to get a head start on us. Me and Jim stayed at the top for a while longer. We talked about Kenny’s stag do that still lay ahead of us. We talked about the caves situated in the walls of The Three Sisters across the glen. We talked about the 70 year man we had passed on the ridge earlier and how much of a legend he was for walking the full ridge on his tod. But we mostly talked about the day we’d just had and past trips that might rival it. We were awfy tired and our brains weren’t exactly in high gear but we couldn’t think of many…

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First post: Buachaille Etive Mor – The Story of a Rookie

I’ve been pondering whether to start a blog for a while now, not for any other reason than to use it as a way of keeping a record of when I go to the hills or a bothy and what shenanigans occur. It’s literally been in the back of my mind for more than a year but I’ve been too lazy to get my arse into gear and do it, so here it is eventually!

So for my first post, it seems fitting that I should re-post a trip report I had written about my very first hillwalking experience in 2008. Not so long ago compared to some of the lads I’ve come to know!

Anyway enjoy…

May 2008-
I had been pestering my good friend Jim to take me up the hills for a few months by the time May arrived. I was sick of seeing the outrageously amazing photos of him and others at the top of what seemed like, to me, an alpine heaven. Brilliant stories from the Cairngorms and drunken tales of ‘bothying’, what the hell was a bothy?!

So when he phoned me and told me he was planning a trip up to Glen Coe, I jumped at the chance. I had 2 weeks to research what gear I had to get and where to get it from. I ended up investing in boots, rucksack, waterproof over-trousers, gaiters, a jacket and a brand spanking new tent! I was ready and raring to go.

After what seemed like the longest shift I’ve ever worked, Friday tea-time arrived. Back home, checked my gear, Jim picked me up and off we drove…

When we eventually drove into red squirrel campsite, I was feeling slightly tired. Even the blasting of Rage Against the Machine and Neil Young wasn’t perking me up, a nice pint of cider was what the doctor ordered. Before any of those shenanigans though I had to put up my (still got the tags on) tent! Possibly the worst 15 minutes of camping I’ve ever experienced. I felt like I was back in biblical times and being attacked by locusts!! The Glen Coe midges certainly lived up to their reputation, I’ve honestly never seen so many in my life. After taking a chunk out my thumb, blood getting on my new tent and trying my hardest to cover everything apart from my eyes, I finally assembled my rather baggy home. Jim put his up in about 5 minutes and took refuge in his car, clever fella that he is.

So it was onto the Clachaig! When we arrived the place was jumping! Live music, a very amusing stag party, and plenty of ale and whiskey to choose from. I had been pleasantly surprised until I went to the toilet and noticed in the mirror that my 13 year old self was staring back at me. The midges had munched my face real good and it now looked like I had severe acne!! Not to worry, I’m sure my vanity would disappear after 2 or 3 pints. God knows how many pots of Thatchers later and I was walking back to the campsite chatting to everyone and anyone. I’m sure I was loving it, or so Jim informed me the next day…

8:30am – Wake up call… nae chance, get to fuck.
9:00am – I surfaced feeling like I had been up to the bookil already, and fallen down it again. “This is madness… how do these guys do it?”

Stob Dearg from the A82

Stob Dearg from the A82

Driving to the layby at Altnafeadh it was absolutely roasting! The heat was already beating on my face through the car window. I think I maybe mustered 3 or 4 words. I was feeling a bit nervous but still a little excited!

We started off at roughly 9:30am and headed along what seemed reasonable terrain, crossing the burn and stopping for 2 minutes to fill up with water. Myself in a tshirt and combats and Jim in shorts and tshirt. So much for the waterproof gear!! I couldn’t believe how hot it was at this time in the morning, summer had definitely arrived in Glen Coe. The fresh air at this point was seriously helping me out, however I was sure I could actually smell the organic cider sweating out me and that wasn’t very nice! As I looked up at Coire na Tullach I remember thinking that it didn’t look that far up. Considering the first view I had of the mountain was driving into Glen Coe the previous might I almost thought that maybe, I was in for an easy day.

Almost a third of the way up the coire we decided to have a break. The heat was being hard on us (well me anyway!) and a wee snack and drink was in order. As I was biting into a choc-chip cookie, I noticed a couple not far behind us that were taking the same route as us. It seemed the heat was getting to them aswell, since the female was wearing what looked like a pair of short shorts, hot pants almost. Fair play to her, if I owned a pair I might have thought about dawning them!

However it wasn’t until we had our next pit stop (Remember this was my first Munro!) that the couple started to catch up on us, and we realised that the female wasn’t wearing hot pants after all. Infact she was wearing a thong! She had taken her trousers off because it was so hot and was clambering up the hill in her underwear! Brave lass indeed. “I’ve been daein this for mare than ten years and never seen that once!” was the whisper from Jim’s mouth. Trust me when I say we didn’t want to be behind her so we decided not to let it distract us and carry on right away!

By the time we were reaching the skree near the top of the coire there were around 3 other groups at the same part. They were taking the right hand side clamber up to the top of the coire while Jim and I took on the skree and the wee bit snow at the top. When I reached the top of the coire I embarrassed myself by throwing a rock on top of the cairn. “My first munro! At last!” I had been so set on getting up this part of the mountain that it felt like I should be on the summit already…

“Sorry clak… we’re going up there first!” Jim points up to the reddy orange mound of rock that I had somehow missed! Oops!

Carrying on, we passed a few people coming down from the summit, it was quite a busy day up the big bookil apparently. The ascent up to the top from Coire na Tullach wasn’t as bad as it looked. We finally arrived about 12:15pm. Not bad I thought, considering it was my first munro and I was a hungover mess 3 hours previous! The view was great, sun was shining. Brilliant! A chopper even came round and circled us at the top!

The Mamores from Stob Dearg summit

The Mamores from Stob Dearg summit

Looking over Rannoch Moor

Looking over Rannoch Moor

We had our lunch and sat around for a bit enjoying the view. We were at the summit for about an hour before we started off again. We descended Stob Dearg quite quickly and trooped our way up to Stob na Doire stopping once because my chicken legs decided to cramp up.

Eventually we arrived at the top, it was a great view from the munro top. The weather was still holding out aswell. We sat and had another snack there at the same time as the midges were snacking on us. 4 or 5 others had just arrived at the top, they were coming the opposite way. Everyone was in good spirits, must have been weather. The descent of Stob na Doire was reasonably quick aswell, loads of zig-zagging down the rocks. Not as hard on the leg muscles as going up but definitely sorer on the knees! I was learning the pros and cons of ascent/descent already!

We reached the top of the coire we were to later descend down on our way back to the car park. In a desperate action to cool off I decided to grab a handful of the snow that had hugged the ridge at the bottom of Stob Coire Altruim and rub it in my hair, I dropped another down my top.

We continued up to the top of Stob Coire Altruim fairly easily considering how hot it was. The clouds were beginning to loom over but the humidity was still there. Looking back over the previous 2 hills I couldn’t believe we were only about half way through the trip! Jim pointed out Ben Nevis and another couple munros while we had a water stop. Leaning against the cairn, the view was amazing. I decided to have a little wander around the top. I was feeling a bit restless and energetic at this point, god knows how? As we were chatting about the potential consumption of alcohol in the Clachaig that night we noticed a group storming up behind us. We took that as a sign to get moving again. Onward up to Stob na Broige!

Looking over to Ben Nevis

Looking over to Ben Nevis

The ridge up was, for me anyway, the easiest of the day and we reached the summit about 4:00pm. As we arrived at the cairn we met a couple just leaving, Jim persuaded them to take a photo of the two of us before they left. It was quite a rewarding feeling looking back over the 3 other tops that I had just conquered. A feeling I didn’t really anticipate, one I enjoyed!

As we sat against the cairn and munched the rest of our food, the group that were hot on our heels at Stob Coire Altruim clambered up and around the corner to the summit. Jim and I sat about for another 15 minutes or so and decided to head back to the car. We decided on walking back over to the coire between Stob na Doire and Stob Coire Altruim. The photo taking couple before us had went a different route down the other side of Stob na Broige.

The summit of Stob na Broige

The summit of Stob na Broige

Arriving back at the snow capped entry down the coire, I decided yet again to indulge in a bit snow coolant. Definitely helped! The descent was a little awkward, the grass began to get marshy, presumably from the multiple burns coming from the snow and most of the rocks were slippery. We practically jogged down the hill, criss crossing over the burns finding the best route to take. While we were doing this we came across a waterfall about 2 feet tall. That was enough for me, stop! Rucksack off. Tshirt off. Head under… bliss! Jim joined in. Nothing better than soaking your noggen up the Scottish hills on a roasting hot day!!

As we were doing our best Baywatch impressions, we failed to notice the group that had met us on the Stob na Broige summit passing us. “Oh that looks brilliant!!” came the west coast accent. We got dressed and trundled on again. Coming across a small bit scrambling and a few slippery rocks were the only half challenges we encountered. We finally reached the foot of the hill. Flat ground! I’m sure I heard my knees shouting with joy!

Noticing the time and feeling peckish we decided to fire along towards the car park as fast as we could. That lasted about 5 minutes until we came across a calm bit in the river. We couldn’t resist! How often is the weather this good? I searched my rucksack and found the pair of shorts I had packed, changed into them and tip toed into the water. Another moment of bliss! After having a wee swim and apparently making a couple passers by “very jealous” we eventually agreed not to make anymore stops! My belly was letting me know it was empty and I’m sure Jim’s was too.

Squelching along we finally reached the car. I was actually beginning to feel tired now and the prospect of a pub meal at the Clachaig was doing laps round my head. Sitting on our towels, so as not to soak Jim’s new car we talked about what we were going to order. When we arrived back we met Jim’s brother who had just arrived and was planning on doing a bit rock climbing on the Sunday. He joined us in the Clachaig for our meal. I was starving and munched my cajun chicken in about 5 minutes. “That was great, I could probably eat that all over again.”

So I did. £16 for the two meals but it was worth it! Brilliant feast to end a brilliant day. That night in the Clachaig was just as wild as the previous, but I doubt you want to hear about that!