Bidean Nam Bian's snowy top

Aonach Eagach in pictures

As I wrote I might, I traversed the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glen Coe on Saturday.

We were on the ridge it in ideal conditions and it was every bit as exposed, long and committing (there are no escape routes once you’re on it) as expected. I was glad to be travelling with a group of experienced friendly scramblers whom I know and trust a great deal, with great visibility.

Here are some photos:

The ridge ahead
The ridge ahead (path sticks to the ridge)
The Aonach Eagach requires a good head for heights
The Aonach Eagach requires a good head for heights
Giving advice...
Giving advice…
Up up up up!
Up up up up!
Looking back along the ridge - can you see the path?
Looking back along the ridge – can you see the path?
Pose for a photo here?
Pose for a photo here?
People taking the highly unpleasant and unwise 900m scree descent from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh to the road
People taking the highly unpleasant and unwise 900m scree descent from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh to the road
Looking down over Glencoe...
Looking down over Glencoe…

Long weekend in Glen Coe

It’s a bank holiday weekend. Rejoice!

Umm, yeah, I’m spending the weekend in Glen Coe at Red Squirrel Campsite! Yay.

I’ve been to Glen Coe a number of times, some more successfully than others, and blogged about how to get there (even hitchhiking).

Glen Coe isn’t too far away from Ben Nevis, and its 24 hour, painfully dull tourist path:

But Glen Coe has many more exciting (perhaps less easily accessible!) things to do – the Aonach Eagach – serious and committing ridge scramble, not for the faint hearted, Bidian Nam Bian, probably one my favourite mountains of the area thus far, Ben Nevis’s non-tourist route – ascent via the Càrn Mòr Dearg (CMD) arete.

Aonach Eagach, The Mamores and Ben Nevis, from Bidean Nam Bian (2012)
Aonach Eagach, The Mamores and Ben Nevis, from Bidean Nam Bian (2012)

Bidian is a jolly fun mountain, but having already done it, the Aonach Eagach is what draws my attention. When I first came to Glen Coe some three years ago, my dad warned me not to go anywhere near it, and not to let anyone drag me to along it. I think that was probably good advice at the time, but with much improved climbing skills, I think it’s probably accessible as a scramble on around a Mod/Grade 3. Good visibility and good conditions are obviously important (and add to the enjoyment!).

The weather is reputedly quite nice on Saturday, rainy with poor visibility on Sunday and Monday, but little chance of strong wind, yet a bit chilly. The last SAIS report (over two weeks ago) showed snow on the tops, and a glance at the Glen Coe Ski centre webcams shows this is still the case – they’re still operating 3/7 ski lifts!

Anyway, I’ll go well prepared with kit, be sensible, and take a few books to read if it looks too grim. ;)

Aonach Eagach (May 2011)
Aonach Eagach (May 2011)

Target: Glen Coe.

Since returning from lots of snowy Torridonian excitement, I’ve been missing my chances to head out into exciting bits of the country and have been soaking up the joys of Manchester.

Aonach Eagach, The Mamores and Ben Nevis, from Bidean Nam Bian (2012)
Aonach Eagach, The Mamores and Ben Nevis, from Bidean Nam Bian (2012)

Glen Coe is a stunning location near Fort William, surrounded by possibly[1] some of the best hiking in the UK. Ben Nevis is obviously the big name that world+dog forever is walking up the tourist path to the top of for charity, but there’s so much more to the area than the Ben Nevis tourist path. In fact, if you asked me to name my least favourite place in the area, it’d probably be the Glen Coe tourist path. Seriously, don’t do it. If you must do it, know that it will not be enjoyable.

[1] In my book, Torridon currently outranks it by a hairlength.

But Glen Coe has many more exciting (perhaps less easily accessible!) things to do – the Aonach Eagach – serious and committing ridge scramble, not for the faint hearted, Bidian Nam Bian, probably one my favourite mountains of the area thus far, Ben Nevis’s non-tourist route – ascent via the Càrn Mòr Dearg (CMD) arete.

A land of high places (Bidean nam Bian, 2012)
A land of high places (Bidean nam Bian, 2012)

Just north of Glen Coe are two ranges of munros – the Mamores and the Grey Corries Ridge – both ridges which aren’t too easily accessible by car, but which look like epics in themselves.

The coming week I’m planning to head up to Glen Coe, spend a few days doing day hikes from a campsite, and them embark on a 4-5 day trek across the Mamores and Grey Corries ridge, starting in Glen Nevis, and finishing at the station in Fort William.

My vague, expected route over the Mamores and Grey Corries back to Fort William tiles by Open Streetmap/Open Cycle Map/Andy Allan
My vague, expected route over the Mamores and Grey Corries back to Fort William tiles by Open Streetmap/Open Cycle Map/Andy Allan

Can I compare this to anything I’ve done previously? Possibly this time in Sweden – except there I followed a valley route, it was much colder, and I stayed in huts about 50% of the time, it’s somewhat comparable to both of these expeditions to the lakes, though I’d envisage camping at a higher level than I did on either of those occasions, and largely, following a set ridgeline, rather than making a crossing of several valleys.

As it’ll be interesting – not outrageously challenging, but there will be some scrambling involved, I’m trying to cut my rucksack weight to an utter minimum. My tent, sleeping bag etc, kit is all very light (apart from my camera!), but I’m going to be testing a theory, and I won’t be taking a stove at all.There’s a theoretical weight trade off between taking a stove, so you can rely on dried food like pasta, noodles, etc and “just adding warm water”. My theory is, that whilst that is true for long treks, it is less true for relatively short moves, where you can trade off the weight and simply take food you can eat cold. Of course, cooked food is nice and warming… but that train of thought fails to take into account what you’re supposed to do whilst it’s cooking (answer: freezing your bollocks off outside!) and whether it might be warmer to get inside your sleeping bag, and then eat some food.

Obviously, it remains to be seen, but the number of times I’ve taken stoves and dried food, and then not used them, for an entire two day trip, means that it’s worth the trial.

What am I going to take? I asked this question on Facebook and didn’t realise that it’d be such an emotive topic. I’m not sure. Probably a list of my favourite cold food: bread, cheese, tomato(s), peanut butter and that sort of thing. It’s 4-5 days, I won’t starve. (Did you know that the longest recorded of someone going without food is a year and 14 days?).

I currently have a resident knee injury, but I’m hoping my poles, plus liberal helpings of ibruprofen will see me round. If not, I’m not the person to do silly things – I give up and head back along the valleys.

Aonach Eagach (May 2011)
Aonach Eagach (May 2011)

What will it be like? I’m not sure. I think this will probably be my most lightweight trek thus far  (in one of my lake district hikes – I carried a laptop – meaning I can now claim to have carried a laptop to the top of Scafell Pike… whatever that’s worth!) and that should make things quite a bit easier. In addition, hiking poles can really help steady you when you’re unbalanced due to a weighted back.

I’m looking forward to it. The camera is ready, the bag is half packed and I’m raring to go!

Bring it on!

The most ironic lift…

So if you read my blog frequently and can remember long arching themes, you may be wondering, given all the options that are available, how I would travel from my house to a campsite in Glen Coe, Scotland?

Well, the answer is:

  • Get the train (because it’s comfortable, fast, generally has power and is relatively affordable)
  • then hitchike from the station

Why hitchike? For fun, for the challenge, I was in no rush and because generally, the people you meet are the kindest of all people.

So I got to Fort William, walked out of the town onto the road towards Glen Coe and stuck my thumb out. It was a busy road, with lots of traffic going past, but I was just before a layby and there was plenty of room to stop.

Some time went by.

In my experience, the number of cars going past has pretty much no correlation with the speed one will get a lift. A law of diminishing responsibility applies and the more cars on the road, the less inclined people are – conversely on small country lanes – the first car in half an hour may pick you up.

Anyway, back to Fort William, and I’d still not got a lift, and was considering whether I should move to a different place or something. Then, I turn around and see a small car reversing back along the busy road towards the layby. It was quite confusing – I wasn’t sure whether the car had realised it was looking for the layby and had driven past, and now was on a suicide mission to get back to it, or they had decided to pick me up.

In any case I wandered over as the other cards skirted round this car reversing back towards them into the layby. As the car drew along side, the first thing I saw through the windows was that there was a druid in the back of the car. An old man, with flowing white hair – druids were just the first thing that came to mind. As the passenger side came level with me, the window wound down, the driver leaned over the passenger and said

Hey Tim, it’s Nadia!

Nadia is a friend from Manchester who I’ve hiked with, danced with, but only a few times. I was still only just, on first name term with her – and seeing someone who I know so fleetingly, completely out of context, was a massive surprise.

It was not a druid in the backseat.

Nadia’s parents were staying with her from New Zealand where she’s originally from and she’d been giving them a whistle stop tour of the highlands. There wasn’t much room in the car due to all their luggage so me and the druid her very friendly dad, rapidly got friendly with each other and squeezed up into one of the back seats.

It turned out, they were not only going in my direction, but would happily go half a mile out of their way to drop me exactly where I wanted to be… but the irony of meeting a friend from Manchester, on a road out of Fort William, in such circumstances, still hits home to me today.