A Winter Traverse of Aonach Eagach, Glencoe

From my Diaries; 11th April 1982: A Winter Traverse of Aonach Eagach

At the end of the day, I wrote in my diary “This route should not be the subject of idle chat and gossip, it should be enjoyed in the first instance”.

Driving along the A82 in a westerly direction, the view from Rannoch Mor is dominated by the huge pyramid of rock, Stob Dearg forms the end buttress of Buachaille Etive Mor and as we approach the Pass of Glencoe, Buachaille Etive Beag is then alongside its bigger neighbour. As we descend into Glencoe, the huge rocky and intricate mountains hug us as the road winds its way along the base of the glen. The Three Sisters of Glencoe, Beinn Fhada, Gearr Aonach and Aonach Dubh are on our left, they form one of the most iconic mountain scenes in Britain and can make you gasp as you absorb the drama. On our right, on the north side of the glen are the steep inhospitable flanks of the Aonach Eagach, a rock-strewn landscape split by many complex gullies. There are no routes to reach the ridge from the glen, the gullies almost never freeze due to the south facing aspect so the Aonach Eagach can only be reached either at the east end via the summit of Am Bodach or at the western end from the summit of Sgor nam Fiannaidh. Between these summits there is no escape, once you embark on this traverse, a full traverse must be made, the winter guidebook warns “speed of movement is essential to avoid an all too frequent benightment”.

Aonach Eagach continued

We left the car by the cottage near the Meeting of the Three Waters to follow a good steep track up the south shoulder of Am Bodach, as we gained the ridge the views to the north were superb. The weather was kind, clear skies and for a winter day we were quite warm. Here at the end of the season of Winter Climbing, we were so lucky with good conditions. Three of us, me, Pete and his partner Joan were determined to move quickly today to ensure we completed the traverse before the light failed. Winter daylight in Scotland is short so careful planning is needed to reduce the risk of being benighted. The guidebook suggests allowing 2 to 5 hours, we were never going to be fast but we had sufficient daylight to complete the route and safely descend before failing light in the afternoon. It is only about 2 miles between the end summits but the difficulties we would encounter will slow progress, I had planned on three hours plus an hour and a half each end for the ascent and descent back into the glen, that would be ample time to complete the route.

Once on the snowfields ascending Am Bodach, we strapped on crampons, donned climbing harnesses and ice axe, I had a rope for protection on the tricky sections. At the summit of Am Bodach, the Aonach Eagach is obvious, we turned west and moved onto the ridge proper. A short distance from the summit, I took a belay and sent Pete down, then Joan before I joining them, although the rope was not really necessary, it was a good aid as we began to get used to the conditions. Picking our way across good ground, the ridge is fantastic, daring and dramatic, I felt totally engrossed in my surroundings, with superb views north to Ben Nevis, probably fifteen miles away and to the south, just a short distance across this famous glen must be the best view of the Three Sisters of Glencoe with Stob Coire nan Lochan and Bidean nam Bian behind. I studied the north facing cliffs of Stob Coire nan Lochan and eyed a route for later on in the week. The openness of dramatic views, the intricacies of rocky buttresses gave a wonderful variety and excitement, there wasn’t a better place on earth at this moment. We soon stood on Meall Dearg, one of the two Munro summits on the Aonach Eagach, below our feet a huge gully plunged two and a half thousand feet down to the valley below. Before us the more interesting sections, I uncoiled my rope and we tied on, picking our way across the ice-covered rocky pinnacles before an ice gully led us to higher ground. This was the most interesting situation, finding our route around rocky corners and cold alcoves, progress is slow but it allows an opportunity to relish the situation we found ourselves in and to absorb and live the moment, I was running on pure excitement. Once over the difficult ground, we started the ascent of Stob Coire Leith where we untied and I stowed my rope in my rucksack. We were making good time, from the summit of Stob Coire Leith was a short descent leading to the final difficulty, a short knife-edge section packed with drama, what I described as ‘a wonderful situation’ before a short ascent to the final summit and second Munro named Sgor nam Fiannaidh (967m). I had climbed Sgor nam Fiannaidh before in summer and remembered the ridge heading east looked exciting, today it was straightforward.

With all difficulties behind us, we enjoyed the remainder of our food on the final summit before taking a snow slope to the col before the Pap of Glencoe. There is a steep descent by the side of Clachaig Gully but we were tired and opted for the much safer option, from the col was a good track leading to Glencoe village, then back to our camp site.


If you enjoyed this short account 'From my diaries' then please consider giving some feedback.

You could give some feedback on Twitter (@OwensWalks), please use the hashtag #owenswalks

Thank you