Aonach Eagach Ridge and the Pap of Glencoe – [# 104 & 105]

Meall Dearg (953m); Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (967m)
Sgorr na Ciche (or Pap of Glencoe) (742m)

  • Pronunciation:              Ernoch Egg-yoch Ridge: Miaowl Jerrack; Skor num Feeonly
  • Translation:                   Notched Ridge: Red Hill; Peak of the Fingalians
  • Total distance:              12.5km
  • Total time:                     6hrs 23mins
  • Total ascent:                 1396m
  • Weather:                        Sunny and bright. Hazy views in the short to medium distance. Reasonably warm.
  • Start / end location:    Large car park on A82 near top of Pass of Glen Coe. [OS Map Sheet 41 Grid Ref: NN 172 568]
  • Map:                                A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

Looking towards Buachaille Etive Beag and Buachaille Etive Mor from Aonach Eagach Ridge

Ptarmigan in summer plumage on the slopes of Am Bodach

Cameron on the summit of Meall Dearg on the Aonach Eagach Ridge

Approaching the pinnacles with Stob Coire Leith and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh in the background

It has often been quoted that the traverse of Aonach Eagach Ridge is the best ridge walk in Scotland outside of the Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye. So in today’s perfect weather we were setting out from our overnight camping spot full of excitement for what lay ahead. We were, however, fully aware of what the ridge had to offer because we had tackled the route a few times before: albeit the last time, also on a warm spring day, was around eight years ago when we were accompanied by our friends Andy and Tracy.

In order to avoid a reasonably tedious walk back along the very busy (and dangerous) A82 main-road we adopted a two car approach, or in our case a car and a ‘van approach, which meant that our car was left at the end of the route to ferry us back to the ‘van that we’d used to get us to the starting point.

So it was that we drove in convoy the short distance from the campsite to Glencoe village where we left the car at a forestry Commission car-park on the small unclassified road that led from the village towards the Clachaig Hotel. We then jumped in the ‘van and made the short trip passed the Clachaig and back onto the main A82 road through Glencoe. Around 5km further up the glen pass we parked the ‘van at the large car-park that we’d used previously to climb Bidean nan Bian (Nov ’10) and Stob Coire Sgreamhach (last week). From this parking spot it was a short 200m walk further up the glen to reach the start of the climb on the northern side of the road.

Looking through a gap in the pinnacles to the floor of Glencoe far below

The path up the SE flank or ridge of Am Bodach was fairly steep and rocky but dry and easy to follow – without it ever being obtrusive. On our ascent we were once again joined by a few wheatears flitting their way from boulder to boulder. We also had a close encounter with a pair of ring ouzels: a migratory bird of similar size and features of our common blackbird except that the male ring ouzel sports a white crescent collar around the front of its neck and slightly dark grey on its wings. The calls of the two species are also very distinctly different – as well as their preferred habitat, with the ring ouzel favouring the high mountain hillside. Finally, our other avian close encounter was with a very camouflaged ptarmigan, now very much adorned in its spring and summer plumage. I was able to get to within a few metres of it as it eyed me warily. Eventually it realised that its cover was blown and it flew off, accompanied by its usual throaty raucous call.

Elaine scrambling to the summit of the pinnacles on the Aonach Eagach Ridge

Once we’d passed over the summit of Am Bodach the real fun of the Aonach Eagach traverse began with a challenging scramble down a 20m “sudden drop” that we negotiated before an easier a further curving descent brought us onto the crest of the ridge. We followed the sharp crest of the ridge to reach our first Munro summit of the day: Meall Dearg at 953m or 3,127ft.

Beyond Meall Dearg the ridge undulated over a series of very impressive pinnacles that we tackled directly by keeping to the crest line. There was some excellent scrambling required to reach the Munro Top of Stob Coire Leith: with some grade III moves along sharp exposed ridges, and with tricky descents to overcome as well as narrow chimneys and rock faces to be climbed.

The summit of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh from Stob Coire Leith

Elaine at the summit cairn of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh on the Aonach Eagach Ridge

Once we passed Stob Coire Leith the going became much more straightforward for the next kilometre that was required to reach our second Munro summit of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh at 967m or 3,173ft. Here we found a huge circular cairn wall constructed around the derelict Trig Point. Unfortunately, as it had been all morning the long-distance views remained rather hazy.

With the technical challenges of the Aonach Eagach ridge now behind us we set our sights on our next objective: reaching the summit of Sgorr an Ciche or as it is more commonly known, the Pap of Glencoe, with the Gaelic version literally translating as the “Peak of the Breast”. To reach the Pap we continued westwards for 500m before descending NNW down a steep boulder field to reach a broad col below the start of a steep rocky path to the summit at 742m or 2,434ft. Just before we reached the col we had further wildlife encounters, this time firstly with a herd of red deer, and then an excellent view of a scarpering mountain hare. The hare had changed from its white winter coat to a more seasonally appropriate grey-brown attire, albeit still with snow-white socks and puff-ball tail.

Cameron on the summit of Sgorr na Ciche or the Pap of Glencoe

On a clearer day the views from the Pap summit would have been difficult to surpass with panoramas of the Mamore and Nevis ranges to the north competing for attention with the sea loch views over the Ballachullish Bridge to Loch Linnhe and beyond into the district of Ardgour. As it turned out neither reigned supreme in the hazy light.

From the summit we simply retraced our steps back to the col and then followed a grassy track westwards down a steep grassy slope to reach our car parked below.

Sgurr na Ciche - Pap of Glencoe - from the Glencoe Campsite

We then drove the few miles back up the A82 road to where we’d left the ‘van several hours earlier before returning to our pitch at the excellent Glencoe campsite. After a large coffee followed by a relaxing shower we headed off to the Clachaig Hotel to meet up with Roy and Mary Starkey for a bite to eat and regale to them of our adventure on the Aonach Eagach Ridge, which we were able to clearly see from our vantage point at the hotel’s courtyard.

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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