Aonach Eagach
Wednesday 18th March 2015

Weather/Conditions: Amazing weather, snow all thawed on southerly flanks, and tonnes of snow on north flanks and in gullies/notches! So the traverse was a bit spicier than anticipated.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 8.7km / 1100m / 11h 15m
Accompanying: Julia & Andrew

Throughout March 2015, the weather had been quite settled, and the winter mountains had been stripped back to something more resembling spring. It was a glorious time of year, so much so I almost forgot what winter looked like! And thus Julia, Andrew and I made a plan to go for the Aonach Eagach, their first time along this ridge. We brought along a lot of kit as these in-between conditions can be awkward. So axes and crampons were carried, as well as a length of rope and very small rack.

The drive up was like a revelation, all the hills of the Southern Highlands were clear cut in this sharp morning light. And when I met Julia and Andrew in Glen Coe, the south flank of the ridge was drenched in sun and appeared to be almost entirely stripped for snow.

The rise to Am Bodach was simply beautiful, and the multi-topped Bidean range still held a lot of snow, backlit by the sun and veiled behind a wall of haze. It would be a stunning day to be up high.

From the top of Am Bodach, I roped them both down the steep step; we did this in two short sections, for the first I had the rope by ne, then I think I climbed without the rope for the second. This step was a big indication of what was to come: it was plastered in old snow and a little bit of ice. Though the ridge was in spring condition, parts were very much still as in winter.

But we kept going anyway. The rise to Meall Dearg was another of these little bits, with the rise to the summit requiring us to put on crampons for the short duration, and then take them straight off again. The snow on the crest was iron-hard, but for the most part we'd be walking in dry grass and stone.

We continued on again, dealing with each little obstacle as they came. It was time consuming work and I was beginning to regret the (accidental!) late start - on my part. Time was ticking, and I needed to work hard to retain control over the situation.

It all sort of came to a head over the final Aonach Eagach pinnacles. I took Julia and Andrew across the Crazy Pinnacles on a rope in two parts. I had the responsibility toward them mixed with sinking sun in the west. Time was against us, and I had to find solutions fast. This was intense, but I had the skills necessary to rise to the occasion. Thus, circumstances remained on the correct side of thrilling. And yet I could feel the seriousness of our location burning and gnawing at the back of my consciousness.

If the Crazy Pinnacles shreds ones nerves, then the Aonach Eagach does not let go lightly. The descent from the last pinnacle is long and complex, so I short roped Julia down this while Andrew followed closely behind. A couple more walls, and then just like that - we were finished with the pinnacles. The tension was released and we'd just about beaten the sun.

What followed was actually quite beautiful. We walked up to Stob Coire Leith to catch the last of the light, and then walked westward into the sunset with the air clear and glowing. Car headlights were snaking through the glen, I had the sense of being above it all, in a space not quite attached to the earth. We were also tired now; it was becoming a long day.

Under starlight, we headed down Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, bashing down stone and heather all the way. We emerged out on tracks low in the glen and it was a short walk from there to the car. I was incredibly relaxed, enjoying the last moments under a sky full of stars, a gentle chill in the air; just enough to excite but not freeze us, the smell of the pines, the dots of village light... As well we left a car here; it was a long day.

I didn't realise how tired I was until I was down. Julia and Andrew were so kind in offering a hotel room for the night. An unexpected bonus much needed and well received! I derived so much pleasure from taking them over the Aonach Eagach, and all the extra decisions that entailed. Enough riskso that it was thrilling, but not so much as to be dangerous. And then a final race over the last peaks in the chill air of dusk, to drop into the black glen under a sky of stars. Immense. Thanks guys, it was some day.


Meall Dearg 360°

Bidean nam Bian range

Sunset at the end of the pinnacles

Stob Coire Leith 360°

Sgorr nam Fiannaidh 360°
Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 10.20am Car park
(2.03) 12.23pm Am Bodach
(4.20) 2.40pm Meall Dearg
(4.35) 2.55pm Meall Dearg (left)
(7.45) 6.05pm End of pinnacles
(8.25) 6.45pm Stob Coire Leith
(8.45) 7.05pm Sgorr nam Fiannaidh
(11.15) 9.35pm Glen Coe
Written: 2017-12-13!