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Aonach Eagach Ridge, Glencoe
Saturday 6 September 2003
How six hillwalkers became mountaineers! As it really was by Steve Morley!

Steve "candid camera" Morley
Alan "I don't remember it being like this" Gaffney
Kathryn "blue sky" Gaffney
Alison "my legs aren't long enough" Montgomery
Mick "where's my parachute" Nicol
Kenny "cut throat" MacLeod

The Team:
We met on the previous Wednesday to discuss plans for the forthcoming Munro Madness weekend. A viewing of Muriel Gray's Munro Show video gave us all plenty to think about. As the weather forecast didn't look promising a contingency plan was drawn up for a circuit of Bidean nam Bian as an alternative to the long anticipated assault on the Aonach Eagach. However, some of our number refused to accept that the attempt should be abandoned…

And so on Friday evening, with an improved, though not perfect weather forecast for Saturday now being broadcast, and with alcohol impairing the judgement of some who should have known better, a blonde with spindly legs (and no it wasn't Muriel Gray) suggested that if the weather in the morning was "moderate" then we should revert back to Plan A. Now we really should have defined the term moderate at the time…!

It was with some trepidation therefore that I crawled out of the tent in the morning to make an assessment of the weather. Kenny's enquiry from within the tent as to whether it could be described as moderate had to be answered (reluctantly?) in the affirmative.

Brief hope of a reprieve was given by the emergence of the aforementioned blonde who was now suffering from the excesses of the previous evening! However, this was a short lived stay of execution as it became clear that Kathryn "blue sky" Gaffney was not going let this opportunity of as perfect weather as you could realistically expect to see in September pass by. In truth there was very little dissent as we all, I think, really did want to do the infamous notched ridge.

So two cars wound their way along the length of Glencoe, their occupants glancing nervously at the ridge away to the left. We parked just west of Allt-na-reigh cottage and set off on the path behind. A long steady climb took us to the summit of Am Bodach. From here we undertook our first scramble of the day - a steep descent of around 20m which seemed tricky at the time, but in retrospect was very easy! It was here that Alison temporarily lost her usual calm demeanour when I suggested she just sit down on a slab at one point and inch her legs down. It seems her legs were a little bit shorter than the subsequent drop!

On towards the first Munro of the day, Meall Dearg. We took the opportunity to have lunch with wonderful views north across the Mamores towards Ben Nevis. Not that any of us ate that much - the view to the west was much more foreboding!

This was where things became a little bit tricky. I think we had all anticipated at least a couple of scrambles up and down the two pinnacles. However, I don't think any of us had imagined that both of these so-called crazy pinnacles would themselves have at least three or four mini-pinnacles! The worst part, without doubt, was half way across the second pinnacle where a short slab around two metres long by one metre wide with enormous drops on either side was immediately followed by a steep climb. This initially involved having to step around the cliff in order to access the admittedly good foothold, the only problem being the potential for making one small step into potential oblivion. Neil Armstrong doesn't realise how easy his "one small step for mankind" was!

Unseen by the rest of us this was the point where Kenny made a cut throat gesture to Alan suggesting that this was maybe the point where we might really have a problem! Happily we all remained (relatively!) calm and managed to pluck up enough courage to negotiate this very exposed manoeuvre. All the same I did wonder if I was going to make it back home to watch Hull City make a rare live TV appearance on Monday night! It was also at this point that Mick expressed the view that he had jumped out of 38 planes and would rather jump out of another 38 than do the Aonach Eagach again!

The frequent showers that were now arriving at the most inopportune moments did not help matters. At the top of the aforementioned cliff Alan surfaced in a very bedraggled state having followed Alison up in a very heavy shower, only to be instructed by Kathryn that he should have his jacket on! I didn't hear Alan's reply!

A few more mini-pinnacles and eventually we could relax as we walked up the ridge of Stob Coire Leith. Just after this Alan, who had already done the ridge some twelve years ago (a sufficient length of time to allow him to have forgotten how bad it was), chose to descend with two other walkers south into Glencoe in order to hitch a lift back to his car. We wished him luck and said we would see him in the Clachaig.

As we approached the second Munro, Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, the views down Loch Leven towards the Ballachulish Bridge and Ardgour were superb. We could even see the campsite! However, the view was short lived as the mist rolled in and didn't show any sign of lifting. Out with the map and compass to check our bearings that led us to the path down to the bealach beneath the Pap of Glencoe. It seemed a good idea at the time to try and veer off from here to the south-west in order to head towards the Clachaig. However, we eventually gave up stumbling through the heather covered slopes and reverted to the path, which in all honesty wasn't much better. We eventually arrived at the old road about a mile to the west of the Youth Hostel, although Mick did try to knock himself out on a tree branch while Alison and I finished ankle deep in bog - all this just ten yards from the road!

It was with a great sense of relief that we all squeezed into Alan's car for the short (and quick!) trip back to the Clachaig. It's amazing how a couple of pints can extinguish memories and as the nightmare began to fade the day's events didn't seem so bad after all. In fact by evening most of us had completely forgotten just how bad it was - well apart from Kenny, who when asked back at the campsite whether he enjoyed it stated in no uncertain terms that he didn't - and he wasn't, as Mick and myself first thought, joking!

Overall I would have to admit that the traverse was probably more difficult than I had anticipated, particularly in terms of the number of scrambles we encountered. However, I wouldn't have missed doing it for anything - such a great bunch of people to do it with which I don't think any of us will forget.

And I think we can now safely call ourselves mountaineers. The only problem now is what to do next, but I'm sure Kathryn will have something in mind.

Steve

Photos Steve Morley

Read more reports by ......

Alison     Chris     Ginge    Muriel Gray Kathryn    Michael

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