Helen Rose's Hill Walking Diary - March 2001: Scrambling on the Scottish Mainland


I consider myself a hill walker but there is a fine line from walking to scrambling to climbing especially in winter time. The two main rock scrambles I have done are the Aonach Eagaidh ridge and Curved Ridge at Buchaille Etive Mor, both in Glencoe. To me they were fairly major achievements and I hope maybe this year to do some other scrambles possibly on the Cuillins in Skye.

Most of Glencoe is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and more information on the Trust is available at www.nts.org.uk. Glencoe is often remembered as as the scene othe massacre of part of the MacDonald clan by soldiers of King William's army in 1692 and offers a dramatic backdrop for climbing and walking.

Aonach Eagach Ridge

Since I started hill walking, I have been interested in the Aonach Eagach Ridge, which lies on the north side of Glencoe, it is known as one of the finest ridge traverses on mainland Scotland. I was nervous about the scramble and decided rather than putting the reposibility for my safety onto friends, I would book with C-N-DO which has a good repuation for organisng and leading walks. Their website is www.btinternet.com/~cndo.scotland.

There were six of us in the group including our leader Jeff and we were supplied with helmets, harnesses and carabiners in case we wanted the security of being roped. The first part of the walk was the fairly steep ascent of Am Bodach and this is a good walk even if you don't intend doing the ridge. You can have a picnic here and enjoy the fine views over the Glencoe mountains and the Aonach Eagach. Before starting to traverse the ridge, Jeff advised us to fill our pockets with food and drink as it is difficult to remove rucksacks when scrambling and instant energy boosts might be required. This was good advice for me as I have diabetes.

Aonah Eagach Ridge

After leaving Am Bodach which is the start of the ridge, there is a sudden drop of 20 metres and one of the group immediately asked to be roped. Fortunately, I felt confidence in my ability as I don't have vertigo and being tall I could easily reach all the hand and foot holds. There are two Munros on the ridge but both can be done without traversing the ridge although not in one day! On the ridge leading to the first Munro, Stob Coire Leith, there was a lot of excellent, and often exposed scrambling, up and down little gullies, slabs and chimneys There were pinnacles to scramble over as the bypass paths are eroded causing steep drops which are best avoided. From Stob Coire Leith to the second Munro, Sgorr Nam Fiannaidh is a fairly level walk.

Completing the ridge took around three hours as the use of ropes slows down the pace but we were all exhilarated and enjoyed the scrambling immensely. The descent from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh passed the little shapely hill known as the Pap of Glencoe and the minibus picked us up at the farm saving the long walk along the road to the starting point. Jeff was a wonderful leader giving us encouragement and keeping a watchful eye on us to ensure we were safe.

The Aonach Eagach ridge is not for the faint hearted and in winter is regarded as a mountaineering expedition but it whetted my appetite for scrambling. Driving back from Glencoe, Jeff pointed out the Curved Ridge on Buchaille Etive Mor and suggested that that should be my next scramble.

Curved Ridge on Buchaille Mor

It was one of those things that happened without planning. I thought that the Aonach Eagach ridge was my limit and Curved Ridge being considered harder and more exposed was beyond me, However, Stephen, Ralph, Roy and myself were sitting having a beer in the King's House Hotel in Glencoe (just having completed the two Munros on Bidean nam Bian as the Glasgow Ramblers Group www.ramblers.org.uk) when Stephen suggested we arrange to do Curved Ridge. He informed us thathe had experience leading it and before I knew it, we had arranged a date.In fine weather we started the climb with me kitted out in helmet and harness and Stephen carrying the safety rope.

Buchaille Etive Mor

Buchaille Etive Mor is one of the grandest and best known mountains in Scotland standing in isolation between Rannoch Moor and Glencoe opposite the Aonach Eagach Ridge. Looking at this mountain from the road with its great walls, gullies and buttresses it looks impenetrable by a walker and Curved Ridge is the only scramble available on it. All other routes are for climbers only. There is a hillwalkers' route on the north west, which I had previously walked to bag one of the Munros but Curved Ridge was more about the scramble and less about reaching the top. Buchaille Mor is the name of the mountain but it has two Munros connected by a ridge.

Great care has to be taken in making the correct start as it is very easy to stray onto a climbing route which could be dangerous. Stephen is very competent as a leader and we were soon on Curved Ridge scrambling on steep exposed rock but with good hand holds. It was very different from the Aonach Eagach as we were almost always in exposed areas and only ascending but it did not seem as bad as it looked from the road. There was the added interest of watching the roped climbers on Rannoch Wall which is alongside Curved Ridge. Rannoch Wall is what I would call 'major exposure' and there are some very serious rock climbs on it. Climbers on the Buchaille tend to use Curved Ridge as a descent route after they have completed their climbs.

The scrambling demanded a lot of concentration and at one point I reached a slab of rock where I could not see any holds and had to work out a way of traversing it as the angle was not too steep and there was a little chimney in it. I managed to wedge myelf along it as I was wearing a climber's rucksack without side pockets. We reached the end of the ridge but the scrambling continued onto Cowberry Tower, which looks like a pillar of rock from the road, and although it was reasonably easy to ascend, it was difficult to descend with the footholds hard to find. The views over Glencoe from Crowberry Tower were magnificent and on looking down the ridge, I did wonder how I had managed to scramble up.

I needed the comfort of being roped to descend from Crowberry Tower, which is a short but daunting distance, but I managed it without any problems.Although, it was necessary to face into the rock which means leaning out from the rock to find the holds. It was on to the top of Stob Dearg and then along the ridge to the second Munro, which I had not done before, at Stob na Broige. It has only fairly recently been upgraded to Munro status so it was another tick in the Munro log.

I am grateful to Stephen for giving me the opportunity to do Curved Rige and for an enjoyable day in such good company.

Don't forget to e mail me with your comments at [email protected] Thanks to Frances Rickus for the photographs.

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