Monday, 12 July 2010

Night-time and dawn on The Aonach Eagach

The Aonach Eagach in winter. The north wall of the great trench of Glencoe.

The Aonach Eagach, the "notched ridge" of Glencoe, is a massively special place for me. Even after 5 years of climbing and mountaineering in 6 different countries, I've never seen a dawn which comes close to rivalling the one I watched unfold from the Aonach Eagach one day in September 2009.

As the sun rose over Schielhallion and Rannoch Moor, and turned the sea of cloud covering the bottom of the glen bright gold, it was then that I had an "epiphany" of sorts. I knew that my time was not yet done in Glencoe, and I would have to stay for longer than planned. That was 10 months ago, and I've no plans to leave.

A life changing moment on the Aonach Eagach in september 2009

Last night I decided it had been too long since I'd visited the Ridge, and the idea of a night-time crossing sprang into my head. Why not? I thought it would prove a different experience, and I was certainly correct.

There's something special about being in the mountains in the dark. The approaching dawn seems to take an absolute age, emerging at first in the most subtle ways. I wasn't too encouraged by the grey overcast sky this morning, but I was in fact rewarded.

A thin beam of red spread slowly across the sky to the North West. Over the next 10 minutes, the sunrise forced its way through the overcast sky, producing a stunning scene. The sun rose up behind Na Gruagaichean and Binnein Mor above Kinlochleven, turning the sky to fire. Absolutely beautiful.

Just before sunrise, looking north west to the Loch Treig munros.

Unfortunately as I was some way past Am Bodach it started to rain. Looking around, there were ragged edges to the cloud bottoms in every direction, and heavy showers dumping themselves over Rannoch Moor. So I decided not to go for the full crossing of the ridge, as the wet would make the scrambling a bit more interesting that it should be.

Sunrise over Na Gruagaichean and Binnein Mor

The Aonach Eagach means so many things to different people. To many hillwalkers it has a fearsome reputation which is almost unparalleled amongst the ridges traverses of Scotland. This is well deserved, considering the number of accidents which happen each year. Yet to a seasoned climber or mountaineer, it is surprisingly easy. This doesn't stop it being one of the finest routes on the Scottish mainland, and one which should be treated with respect by everyone.

A WARNING: The Aonach Eagach is a committing undertaking of great length and exposure, and shouldn't be attempted solo by hillwalkers unless they are experienced scramblers and comfortable soloing grade II terrain over a distance of about 2 miles.

Also, THERE IS NO SAFE DESCENT ROUTE directly from the summit of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh towards the Clachaig Inn. There is a well-used path down the side of Clachaig Gully, but it should be avoided, however tired and hungry you may be. The safest descent goes to the col between Sgorr nam Fiannaidh and the Pap of Glencoe, and then down the ordinary route from the Pap.

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