The Aonach Eagach - Glencoe

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The Aonach Eagach is widely regarded as being the finest ridge walk on the UK mainland. For me, only the Cuillin Ridge on Skye can beat it. The Aonach Eagach has all the ingredients for a great day out and is a real mountain challenge in every respect.

The actual Aonach Eagach (it means the Notched Ridge) is a stretch of rocky pinnacles about 1km in distance, between Meall Dearg and Stob Coire Leith. However, the pinnacles can only be approached from Am Bodach or Sgorr nam Fiannaidh and because of this, the whole ridge between those peaks is commonly, if inaccurately, named as the Aonach Eagach.

Enough pedantry! What do you get for your day out? 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 - 16km (ten miles) total walking distance with a height gain of 1,314 metres, (almost 4,300ft). The ridge itself is very committing; after leaving Am Bodach there are no safe descents to the valley until you reach Sgorr nam Fiannaidh. That's important, so I'll repeat it – no safe descents to the valley once on the main ridge.

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. It's also a good idea to carry a 'confidence' rope and for someone in the party to know how to use it.

Of course, after the fun you still have to get down. This route includes what is the easiest descent, though it does make the road-walk longer if you don't have two cars. 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 .

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. It's also one of the finest mountain days you will ever have in the UK and one that you will remember.

Scotland - Highlands and Islands - Highland - Glen Coe and Loch Leven

Features

Great Views, Hills or Fells, Lake/Loch, Munro, Pub
13/08/2009 - Paul Shorrock

Since I submitted this walk, there have been more fatal accidents on the descent by Clachaig Gully. I will repeat my warning in the route description - Do NOT attempt to descend by Clachaig Gully. The descent route given, via the Pap of Glencoe path, is strongly recommended, despite the extra distace involved. Paul Shorrock - August 09.