The 50 Greatest Walks of the World - Barry Stone (2016)
34. AONACH EAGACH RIDGE WALK
Glen Coe, Scotland
Distance: 9.5 km
Time: 6-9 hours
There is hardly a line of crags anywhere in Great Britain quite like this one, a linear ridge high above the northerly side of Glen Coe and a Grade 2 rock scramble that ticks boxes you maybe don’t even want ticked - exposure, views, and adrenalin-inducing heights with goat-like trails. At times walking it is akin to threading the eye of a needle or being on a tightrope, so little room is there for error. There are just two ways off it, too, when the going is at its toughest - one at the beginning, and the other at the end. There’s no deciding half-way through that you’re suddenly not up to it, or thinking ‘Well I’ve had enough of this’, and absconding. And as if its knife-edge pinnacles weren’t enough, add to that the vagaries of the Scottish weather, and, well …
There are a lot of stories in the scrambling community about the Aonach Eagach. People who have done it in winter are happy to admit it is dangerous, hard, even scary. If you come here you’ll need a head for heights. Ropes are a grey area. Unnecessary for Grade 1 scrambling but a must-have for Grade 3s, the Grade 2 classification for the Aonach Eagach means it occupies a hazy middle-ground. Most do however prefer to pack a rope or two because rain can instantly turn the trail into something resembling a greasy ladder, not a pleasant thought when you’re passing by a 900-m drop. If travelling in a group, it’s a good idea to have someone who is proficient with ropes. The trail is long and exposed, and if you’ve not had prior scrambling experience prior to setting out, you’d be well advised to get some.
AONACH EAGACH RIDGE WALK
Photo: Graham Lewis
Your ascent begins on a track 1 km southeast of Glencoe village, over a burn and along a rising slope up Am Bodach before emerging on to a bealach (narrow mountain pass) then making a left turn on to the ridge, which climbs steeply to Am Bodach’s summit. Descending from the summit can be tricky if you’re not accustomed to downclimbing (for some this can be the ‘worst’ part of the entire traverse) as you make your way down a steep and somewhat awkward cliff on to the ridge and towards Meall Dearg (953 m), the day’s first Munro, and a view that is guaranteed to render anyone sober.
Once you arrive at Meall Dearg you see what is before you - a series of rock chimneys and a whole series of scrambling sections that are narrow, yes, though not perhaps as narrow as popular myths might have you believe. Nevertheless these are the ‘Crazy Pinnacles’ - a series of vertical goblin-like spires and spikes with grassy slopes plunging away on their northern and southern sides, spires that are best approached head-on rather than trying to go around them. The Crazy Pinnacles give the ridge its reputation and extend all the way to Stob Coire Leith, which is reached after a short, steep descent. With the trauma of the pinnacles now behind you, you can relax on a broad trail as you make your way towards Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (967 m), the second Munro with its wonderful views down over Glen Coe.
There are three possible routes down from Stob Coire Leith - along the rim of Clachaig Gully, though this is an eroded path that has led to several fatalities over the years; or southwards to Loch Achtriochtan, though this also is a steep descent with an abundance of scree and is best avoided. The best choice is to turn westwards and continue towards Clachaig Gully, only stay on the ridge along a small ascent before reaching two small cairns where you turn to the right then descend on to a boggy path that zig-zags down from the Pap of Glencoe, the distinctive rounded summit above Loch Leven, itself worth walking to for the great views down Loch Leven to Kinlochleven. Stay on the path until it links up with a road that runs parallel to the A82. From there it’s only a 2-km walk to the Clachaig Inn, a source of hospitality to weary travellers for over 300 years with its staples of venison, prime Scotch beef and Scottish salmon - plus more than 200 varieties of malt whisky, guaranteed to further embellish even the most harrowing of Aonach Eagach tales.