The Ring of Steall – [# 157 – 160]

An Gearanach (982m); Stob Coire a’ Chairn (981m);
Am Bodach (1032m); Sgurr a’ Mhaim (1099m)

  • Pronunciation:              Un Gearahnoch; Stob Korrer a Charn; Am Bottoch; Skoor uh Vime
  • Translation:                   The Complainer; Peak of the Corrie of the Cairn; The Old Man; Peak of the Round Hill
  • Total distance:             17.7km
  • Total time:                     7hrs 53mins
  • Total ascent:                 1882m
  • Weather:                        Generally overcast with a mixture of sunny intervals and a few sharp showers.
  • Start / end location:   The “Lower Falls” car park by Polldubh in Glen Nevis. [OS Map Sheet 41 – Grid Ref: NN 146 685]
  • 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.

Am Bodach from the summit of Stob Coire a' Chairn

Almost across the River Nevis on the three-wire bridge - with Steall Waterfall and Steall Cottage in the background

Today we were back in Glen Nevis, but this time we parked the car at the Lower Falls (a lovely waterfall a couple of kilometres downstream from the start of the gorge that we walked through yesterday). Parking at this location meant that we had to walk 2.5km up the single-track road to the upper car park that we’d used yesterday, but as a result we wouldn’t have to do this stretch at the end of our route. It certainly wasn’t a chore walking up the road, as this upper section of Glen Nevis is truly outstanding with the steep glen walls quickly beginning to press in on either side of the road. As we approached the upper car park the Allt Coire Eoghainn burn, with its impressive “water-slide” came crashing over bare slabs of steeply angled rocks as it cascaded down the south side of Ben Nevis en route to join the River Nevis.

Cameron crossing Steall Bridge - three wires over the Water of Nevis

From the upper car park our route was the same as we did yesterday by walking through the Nevis Gorge and out onto the flat grassy plateau above. Once more we traversed eastward around the side of the plateau until we were nearly opposite Steall Waterfall. At this point the path split in two with the left hand side continuing east along Glen Nevis (the route we took yesterday). The other path to the right, and the one that we took today, led us down to Steall Bridge, a three-wire construction that spans the Water of Nevis as the River Nevis is known above the gorge.

Cameron on the summit of An Gearanach with An Garbhanach in the background

Steall Bridge, as the above description suggests, consists of only three wire strands, albeit quite thick cable, with one for the feet and two for the hands. It is straightforward to cross providing you are tall enough to reach both wire handrails. It also wobbles a fair bit with each step and you have to ensure that each foot points outwards in an exaggerated fashion so that the centre cable sits securely in your shoe instep. Climbing onto the scaffolding at the start on the north side of the bridge is perhaps the biggest challenge of the crossing.

Elaine on the summit of Stob Coire a' Chairn with Ben Nevis shrouded in mist in the background

The Devil's Ridge joining Sgorr an Iubhair (L) to Sgurr a' Mhaim (R)

Once safely across we headed directly to the base of Steall Waterfall. Reaching it proved to be a rather boggy affair, most of which was hard to avoid. The next challenge was that we needed to cross the outflow from the waterfall (the Allt Coire a’ Mhail burn). This was in spate with most of the useful stepping stones submerged under the fast flowing water and so it took a bit of searching downstream to finally find somewhere suitable to cross. A final few hundred metres of zigzagging our way through a further quagmire eventually brought us to the start of a dry path at the beginning of the climb up the steep glen to the east of An Gearanach. To cope with the steepness the path zigzagged its way upwards with only tiny portions of the path visible to us as any one time. Thankfully just before each switchback the adjacent bit of the path came into view. Eventually we reached the crest of the NNW ridge of An Gearananch where the path then headed straight up to the summit cairn at 982m or 3,222ft.

Binnein Mor (L) and the two "Maidens" of Na Gruagaichean (R) from the col just north of Am Bodach

Only a few hundred metres away to the south was the Munro Top of An Garbhanach, but reaching it involved some high-level scrambling across a very narrow knife-edged ridge: never difficult, but it did give a feeling of exposure on both sides. Although we followed and enjoyed the exposure of the crest-line we noticed a faint path, just a few metres below us, that provided a slightly less exposed traverse of the ridge. The “dangers” of our route were short-lived and we soon arrived at the top of An Garbhanach, which then gave us an excellent view to the south of our next Munro objective, Stob Coire a’ Chairn, as well as Binnein Mor and Binnein Beag to the east, and the Devil’s Ridge and Sgurr a’ Mhaim to the west.

Elaine on the summit of Am Bodach with Binnein Mor (L) and Na Gruagaichean (R) in the background

We descended south quite steeply from An Garbhanach to a col where a very steep climb up to reach the summit of Am Bodach ensued. The terrain was made up of a mixture of broken shale-like scree amongst small craggy outcrops. The path wove its way around or over the various obstacles until it popped out at Am Bodach’s summit cairn at 1032m or 3,386ft. We wandered 100m to the east along the summit ridge so that we could admire the view down the length of Loch Leven before returning to the cairn where we then descended Am Bodach’s west ridge towards Sgorr an Iubhair.

Looking north from Am Bodach with (L-R) Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg, Aonach Mor & Aonach Beag on the horizon

Sgorr an Iubhair was reached after an easy walk along the broad ridge followed by a climb from the col to the summit. This summit provided us with a brilliant view towards our next challenge of the Devil’s Ridge: a very narrow but mainly grassy strip that connected Sgorr an Iubhair with our final Munro of Sgurr a’ Mhaim. The ridge was again rather exposed with very steep drop-offs on both sides. However, unlike the previous ridge connecting An Gearanach to An Garbhanach, the Devil’s Ridge didn’t really require any scrambling moves except for one tiny section of down-climbing that we easily tackled by facing into the rock. Once across the ridge it was a straightforward ascent up a short steep grassy flank to reach the large summit cairn on Sgurr a’ Mhaim at 1099m or 3,606ft.

Looking west from Sgorr an Iubhair (L-R) - An Gearanach, An Garbhanach, Stob Coire a' Chairn, Binnein Mor, the Maidens of Na Gruagaichean, Am Bodach

Our final descent of the day was down the hill’s NW ridge, which pointed us directly towards our car parked at the Lower Falls far below in Glen Nevis. The top of this descent line was expansively covered in matt white quartzite pebbles, which makes the summit of Sgurr a’ Mhaim glisten when it is viewed from the bottom of Glen Nevis. The descent was quite relentless, dropping over 1050m in just 2 horizontal kilometres and we were both extremely glad to reach the car where we shared a flask of tea. It had been another excellent day – despite the still unseasonably inclement weather.

Looking along the Devil's Ridge to the summit of Sgurr a' Mhaim

Looking WSW towards Stob Ban from the summit of Sgurr a' Mhaim

Descending the quartzite scree into Glen Nevis from high on Sgurr a' Mhaim

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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