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Preparing to begin Ben Nevis' Carn Mor Dearg arete
Preparing to begin Ben Nevis' Carn Mor Dearg arete

Conquering my fear on the Aonach Eagach ridge

Alice Stearn decided to face her fear of scrambling by attempting to conquer the infamous Aonach Eagach ridge.

I have had mixed experiences of scrambling: the likes of Sphinx Ridge and Jacks Rake in the Lake District have gone well but other scrambles have scared me to the point of never wanting to do it again. I was first introduced to the concept of scrambling across the Aonach Eagach four years ago. It is an exposed 2km ridge surrounded by very steep terrain, scree and outcrops, situated on the north side of Glencoe, a dizzying 900m above the A82.

Carn Mor Dearg Arête

With an incredible weather forecast my adventurous weekend began. To ease me into the Aonach Eagach, Alex (my husband) and I walked along the Carn Mor Dearg Arête to Ben Nevis. The wind was light, the sun shining and there was very little cloud. We walked up to the Munro Carn Mor Dearg, where we enjoyed beautiful views, and then started the arête, which led us onto Ben Nevis.

Despite the traverse being long, it was easy to scramble across, with a path missing out the more difficult sections. To build confidence we headed for the top of the ridge whenever we could. The route was exposed but fun, giving beautiful views of Ben Nevis. To finish off a stunning day we had a quick swim in Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe (also known as the halfway lochan). At the end of the first day I was feeling good. I had coped better with the exposure than I had imagined. So onto my next challenge: the Ring of Steall.

Ring of Steall

This day felt different. The wind was 30mph (but considerably more in gusts), the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The day began with a steep ascent up An Gearanach. Once on the top the views made it all worthwhile. The Ring of Steall combines a traverse of four Munros, with scrambling along narrow, rocky arêtes. The ridge is exposed and the gusts of wind added to the difficulty of the day.

The ascent up Am Bodach was more of a scramble, but with decent paths and easy hand holds it made the climb enjoyable.

Each Munro looked intimidating but as you approached the paths showed you the way.

The Devils Ridge was my biggest fear of the day; however, there was no reason to worry. The path was excellent, the views were stunning and the exposure was no worse than the rest of the walk so far. We did it in both directions, which turned out to be equally as enjoyable.

I would definitely recommend the Ring of Steall, which is a stunning walk (but not if you have a fear of heights). We finished the day with a swim in the Coirel nam Miseach lochan and then walked up Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean.

Aonach Eagach ridge

So the day had arrived. With a perfect weather forecast of sun, no cloud and very little wind I knew that if I was ever going to scramble across the Aonach Eagach ridge, today was the day. We parked our car at the Clachaig car park and then got a lift to the start. We walked up Meall Dearg and then my moment had come. We decided to wear harnesses and take a rope. With my heart pounding and palms sweating, I was overcome by a sense of dread. The scramble began.

I am going to be honest: I found the first section terrifying. Trail running shoes are not the best on rock and with a steep down climb I found it hard to know where to place my feet. After that I decided to take each section as it came.

Once I got used to the exposure I settled into it. What I had never experienced before was the sheer length of the scramble. You conquer one section and then you are faced with another. The ridge is very up and down (Aonach Eagach means notched ridge) and you need stamina to complete it. My confidence was finally building. I was proud that I was over half way, and then I saw the pinnacles. This was the section I had feared the most. Giant lumps of rock that looked impossible to pass. There was only one way and that was to cross them. I watched in anticipation as one by one people made their way over.

Then it was my turn. I climbed up to the first pinnacle and I hugged the rock for dear life. I didn’t look down. One false move and I knew that would be it.

I gripped the rock with all my might using the perfectly placed hand holds. Trusting my grip and instincts I began climbing. I then stepped across onto the other pinnacle, and the next. I had done it. I was across. On the ridge people were quietly celebrating. Some looking exhausted, some adrenaline filled for the next part.

With the hardest part achieved I was on the home stretch. With a few more sketchy parts to go, the scramble continued. Finally, I reached Stob Coire Leith and from there on it was a beautiful walk to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh.

So I had done it. I had scrambled across the Aonach Eagach ridge. To be honest I couldn’t have done it without Alex. His patience, support and methodical approach got me across. The Aonach Eagach ridge was everything that I had imagined, and more. The exposure, the views, the steep descents and the beautiful climbs. Today had been an unforgettable day and hopefully not the end of my scrambling journey.

Scotland's Mountain Ridges - Front Cover

Scotland's Mountain Ridges

Scrambling, Mountaineering and Climbing - the best routes for summer and winter

SALE £13.27

A guidebook covering the best summer scrambling, rock climbing and winter mountaineering on Scotland's ridges, from the remote Cairngorms to the splendour of the Cuillin. With inspirational photographs, the guidebook is both a celebration of the landscape and a practical route guide.

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Up on the Aonach Eagach ridge in perfect weather
Up on the Aonach Eagach ridge in perfect weather