Why The Aonach Eagach Is One of Britain’s Prime Mountain Challenges
Glencoe is widely seen as the most spectacular mountain valley in Britain, and it’s easy to see why. It features iconic mountain peaks such as Buachaille Etive Mor - to be seen on every postcard rack in Scotland - and its scenery has appeared in films ranging from James Bond (Skyfall) to Harry Potter (The Prisoner of Azkaban).
However much this may provide eye candy for visitors, the ultimate appeal is for those who want to get their boots on and take on its challenges. Munros abound, topped by the towering heights of Bidean nam Bian, the Lost Valley offers a fascinating route, and the Devil’s Staircase provides a mountain pass route for those taking on the West Highlands Way.
The latter is at one end of the northern ridge of the glen, which features its most significant challenge - the Aonach Eagach ridge.
Quite simply, this is perhaps the toughest ridge scramble in mainland Britain. While Crib Goch in Snowdonia, Striding Edge and Sharp Edge in the Lake District, and other mainland Scottish ridges like Liathach and An Teallach all have their fans, many will argue that the Aonach Eagach is the greatest of them all.
It can be undertaken in either direction, although the ideal way may be to go from east to west, to permit a welcome finish at the Clachaig Inn. This would involve starting either at the far end of the ridge by diverting away from the Devil’s Staircase onto Stob Mhic Mhartuin, or from the bottom of the glen via Alt na Righ, taking the steep climb to the subsidiary summit of Am Bodach.
The first tough part is the descent down the Chancellor, with the ridge being immediately narrow and extremely exposed in places. The drops are extraordinarily steep in places and the views stunning. It all makes the rusting posts of the old fence line along the ridge seem rather incongruous.
However, tangible reward is not far away, for the traverse is an essential part of every Munroist’s tick list. The 3,127 ft summit of Meall Dearg is the first of two.
The second Munro, Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, lies at the far edge of the ridge. Between them, the ridge is narrow, gnarly, requires some careful scrambling and a head for heights. Perhaps the most challenging part is the pinnacles, although they can be avoided with a slithery scramble at their foot.
After the final, lung-busting ascent to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, the scrambling is over, but the descent to the Clachaig Inn is very steep, the path crumbly in places, and it is important to steer clear of the Clachaig Gully. Alternatively, continue along the ridge via Cnap Glas, which on a long day could include an ascent of the 2,435 ft Pap of Glencoe.
The Aonach Eagach is not for the beginners or the faint-hearted. It is a grade two or three scramble and once on, there is no easy way off. Rather, it is a challenge to take on when you have some good mountain experience and training, and only someone with serious expertise should even think about doing it in winter.
At the same time, it is a truly magnificent ridge and one every keen mountain walker should do at least once.