Scrambling the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glencoe is one of the classic mountain scrambling days in Scotland. It is rated as Grade 2 scramble. The technically difficult sections are few in number and very short-lived. However, once committed to the travers, there is basically no way off other than to complete it or turn back. For this reason, it’s quite a serious undertaking. Some people will happily solo along the Aonach Eagach (or run in the Glencoe Skyline race!). Others will very definitely prefer the security of a rope in places.
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Locating the Aonach Eagach Ridge
Driving along the A82 from Glasgow to Fort William, the descent into Glencoe is one of the spectacular highlights of the journey. First, you ascend up to Rannoch Moor from Tyndrum and cross this vast expanse of wilderness, with mountains surrounding it but all at some distance. The first indication that you are getting ‘up close and personal’ with the peaks again is when you reach Buachaille Etive Mor. Further driving past its little brother, Buachaille Etive Beag, then leads to a narrow gorge with stunning waterfalls, and the beginning of the descent into Glencoe.
On the left, the unmistakeable view of the Three Sisters of Glencoe with the valleys in between them that lead up to the higher summits. But on the right, a long continuous ridge. An impenetrable wall with seemingly no way up it, topped by a sharp skyline of jagged peaks and pinnacles. The ‘notched ridge’ – the Aonach Eagach.
Scrambling the Aonach Eagach Ridge in Glencoe
Given its nature, a long ridge with a start and finish and no intermediate way off, the Aonach Eagach is usually scrambled end to end with cars pre-positioned at either end. The alternatives for reaching the start point to retrieve your car are a taxi ridge, thumbing a lift, or a lengthy walk up the A82. The most popular way is to move East to West. This has the advantages of less ascent on the route and a finish in the welcoming Clachaig Inn. However, going West to East does mean that the technically harder sections are climbed in ascent rather than descent.
Having parked the car, a steep path with some minor scrambling sections zig-zags up to the first summit of the Aonach Eagach ridge, Am Bodach. It’s a hard start to the day, but is over relatively quickly. From here, after a short section of easy walking, comes the first technical section which is probably the crux of the route. A steep climb down into the gap below. If you don’t like the look of this, then it’s time to turn around now.
Highlights of the Aonach Eagach Ridge
From here, you are pretty much committed to finishing the route, and the way is obvious. The first landmark is the Munro of Meall Dearg. The most enjoyable scrambling (and therefore the most exposed and intimidating) is invariably along the crest of the ridge. In a few places, there is the usual ‘chicken path’ to avoid the exposed tops. However, such paths are often badly eroded, slippery, and actually more scary and dangerous than the proper route.
Some of the descents are very serious. They seem easy enough and can encourage complacency, but when you look back and realise the consequences of a slip from where you have just been, you may be in for a shock.
Eventually, you will reach the famous pinnacles. Weaving your way around these, with not much below you on either side, is probably the highlight of the traverse. A short climb up away from the pinnacles, and it’s almost all over. A few more sections of easy scrambling and walking lead to the final summit, Sgorr nam Fiannaidh.
Descending from the Aonach Ridge
From here, there are a number of options for descent. However, only one can be recommended for those doing the traverse for the first time. A reasonable path leads generally west towards the low ground between Sgorr nam Fiannaidh and the Pap of Glencoe. Don’t head for the Pap, but follow the path steeply downhill to reach the minor road below. Depending on your plans, a short walk to the south will bring you to the Clachaig Inn.
The famous Clachaig Gully, which leads directly to the Inn, is steep, badly eroded and very dangerous. It has been the scene of numerous accidents. Play it safe and follow the path described above.
Having done the Aonach Eagach ridge, it’s no doubt time to move onto some other fantastic scrambling routes around Glencoe and Ben Nevis, such as Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor.