Analysing terrain data
5 - 6
The exposure grade describes the potential consequences of falling or slipping off the path.
Low Exposure: The path is on completely flat land and potential injury is limited to falling over.
Medium Exposure: The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.
High Exposure: Some trail sections have exposed ledges or steep ascents/descents where falling could cause serious injury.
Extreme Exposure: Some trail sections are extremely exposed where falling will almost certainly result in serious injury or death.
While there are harder ridge scrambles elsewhere it's true that few are as long, as thrillingly exposed, or as tricky to escape as Aonach Eagach.
Unusual among Mainland ridges the most difficult grade 2 sections cannot be skirted around, and they definitely need a steady head.
The customary way to do it is westwards from Am Bodach, but while this has the advantage of a high start the various descent options from the western end of the ridge are either unpleasant, unsafe or slightly unintuitive on first acquaintance.
Besides this the standard route is a fairly short day that visits less than half of the range that forms the north side of the glen.
If you've time a full traverse from the Pap of Glencoe to the Devil’s Staircase on the West Highland Way is a more satisfying and substantial day out; for the sake of being different the route is described here in the easterly direction.
This linear walk needs pre-arranged transport back to the start; or chance your arm hitching. From the road roughly 1km southeast of Glencoe village take a gated track running straight uphill to a water treatment works.
After crossing a burn, the path now makes a rising traverse across the slope to meet the Allt a' Mhuilinn (not named on 1:50,000 map).
This burn is followed steadily uphill to the col between Sgorr nam Fiannaidh and the Pap of Glencoe.
It’s well worth climbing the Pap (aka Sgurr na Ciche) for its view of Loch Leven; the rough path cuts up rightwards to breach the summit crags. Go back down to the col, then continue southeast up rough rocky slopes, with the odd trace of path, to gain the west spur of Sgurr nam Fiannaidh.
This gives gentler (still stony) going up to the summit, which is the western of Aonach Eagach's two Munros.
From here a nice bit of ridge leads east to Stob Coire Leith, where the fun begins. Continue east along the crest.
Beyond a steep descent are the famous pinnacles, a row of towers from which the mountainside seems to drop straight into Glen Coe.
This is the true Aonach Eagach, or 'notched ridge'.
for the safest line across the pinnacles just follow signs of wear, climbing directly over some towers and slinking around the flanks of others, always on smooth-polished rock.
After several short hard steps and perhaps the odd thoughtful moment the main difficulties of the pinnacles end with the descent of a steep gully to a little gap in the ridge; from here it's easier going to the broad top of Meall Dearg, Munro number two.
With short bursts of easy scrambling the ridge now continues towards the rocky west buttress of Am Bodach, where a steep climb is the last of the day's major hands-on challenges: From a rusty fence post first go up a slabby ramp just to the right of the crest, then climb blocks to a big boulder.
Airy ledges now cut up the left flank of the ridge to safe ground on top of the buttress.
The summit of Am Bodach is an easy walk Ignoring the well-trodden southeast spur, pick up a path that descends northeast around the craggy edge of Coire nan Lab.
There's no more scrambling, and the ground is now grassy rather than rocky.
It's possible to outflank Sròn Garbh on the right, but it's worth climbing since comparatively few come this way.
From here the ridge, now broad, swings around to summit 903m (unnamed). Just keep walking east along the crest, then as the ridge begins to curve left quit it to head out onto the boggy minor top of Stob Mhic Mhartuin.
A more obvious peaty path now takes shape, leading without further ado to a cairn at a junction with the West Highland Way.
Descend the famous zigzags of the Devil’s Staircase to meet the A82.
© Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com, Oct 2011