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…