Scrambling Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor in Glencoe is one of the classic scrambling days in Scotland. It is rated as Grade 2 or 3 scramble, depending on what you read. Some people will happily solo up it (or run in the Glencoe Skyline race!). Others will very definitely prefer the security of a rope, especially on the two crux sections.
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Scrambling Curved Ridge
Buachaille Etive Mor is one of Scotland’s most iconic mountains – if not the most. I like it so much I have used it on my Home page! When you look up from Rannoch Moor at it’s huge conical bulk, it’s hard to believe that there are any easy ways up its steep face. The face is a mass of separate ridges, huge chasms and gullies, and the immense rock face of Rannoch Wall.
For sure, it is a serious mountain because of its complexity. But there are routes up there at grades well below what a casual observer may suspect. Scrambling up Curved Ridge is one of them, achievable by most people of reasonable fitness and with a good head for heights – and the right knowledge and skills or a good guide.
Approaching Curved Ridge
With the help of a guidebook photograph, identifying Curved Ridge from the road is fairly straightforward. It’s a large, sweeping, curved ridge (funnily enough) that starts out broad and indistinct at its base, gradually narrowing as you gain height.
A relatively short approach from Lagangarbh, with views up into Coire na Tulaich, takes you around the base of the mountain to the Waterslide Slab. Having passed underneath this, scree slopes lead upwards.
The mountain plays a cruel trick, here, however. From this angle, the most obvious ‘curved ridge’, which even resembles the guidebook pictures is in fact D Gully Buttress. This is a rock climb of a couple of grades harder than Curved Ridge, so you must take care not to get drawn onto this. Instead, heading further right past some prominent ledges with a couple of small trees, to cross a stream and reach the very broad, broken start of the scrambling on Curved Ridge itself.
First Buttress of Curved Ridge
The first main obstacle of Curved Ridge is a short buttress, with a deep gully immediately to its right (looking up). There are several variations for climbing this, and you can choose your own route. About half way up there is a little ledge overlooking the gully that makes a neat, compact belay stance if you wish. From here, steep scrambling up unhelpfully sloping ledges take you up an enormous flat platform.
Easier scrambling and walking follows, taking you over a series of obstacles and steps until you arrive at the base of an increasingly steep wall that blocks the way.
Second Buttress and Corner Crack
The blocky wall can be climbed in a variety of ways, but finding the most easy route involves meandering about on it, stepping alternately from right to left in small -mini-traversing moves. A final pull brings you to a large ledge at a vertical barrier, with an obvious corner groove on its right hand edge.
The corner groove is usually considered the crux of the route. A few bridging and layback moves bring you quickly to the top. It is easily protected with a few large nuts/wires if required.
Further scrambling leads along Curved Ridge as it narrows to bring you to an open amphitheatre with one of the best views in Glencoe. Crowberry Tower looms up on the right. There are are various options available to climb the Tower or to avoid it completely, depending on how you feel.
You can traverse the bowl to a gully leading up to the notch between Crowberry Tower and the main summit. From here, an easy scramble up left takes you the summit of Stob Dearg, avoiding the Tower. Or a clockwise spiralling sequence takes you from the notch to the top of the Tower.
Alternatively, you can traverse out from the amphitheatre below the Tower to reach the final part of Crowberry Ridge. You then climb the Ridge to gain the Tower.
Descent from Buachaille Etive Mor
Having reached the summit of Stob Dearg (1022m), the route down in summer follows an obvious path south westwards. This leads down to the head of Coire na Tulaich. From here, after a short broken scrambly section, you reach a good path descending the Coire.
Don’t switch off though. The narrow gorge at the bottom of the Coire still requires care and the route becomes less obvious. Here, you have to negotiate steep slabs above the gorge on the left of the stream (facing out). You might also need to move into the stream bed if the water is low enough.
Coire na Tulaich is a notorious avalanche blackspot after snow and there have been many fatalities here. It’s not always a safe descent in winter.
Having done Curved Ridge, it’s no doubt time to move onto some other fantastic scrambling routes around Glencoe and Ben Nevis, such as the Aonach Eagach ridge.