Autumn Mountaineering in Glen Coe
Some of the best outdoor activities in Scotland can be found hillwalking and mountaineering in the Highlands.
Glen Coe is without doubt one of the best hillwalking areas in Scotland. This epic adventure was all about hillwalking for beginners in Scotland - and what a day it was!
Leaving Tyndrum and heading north we are hit by the conical mass of Beinn Dorain; its steep and gouged walls disappearing into the mist telling us Glen Coe isn’t far.
It’s a grey half-light as we approach Rannoch Moor, our car a spec lost in 130 square km of desolate wilderness. It feels good.
And then we see it, and every time it feels like the first time; the vertical face of Buachaille Etive Mor, with a lifetime of memories entwined in its cliffs and gullies.
We stop briefly at the turn off to Glen Etive. Drinking coffee we trace the line of the Curved Ridge and up onto the Crowberry Tower. We talk about the summers we have climbed there, camping at the summit and watching the mountains shadow reach out across Rannoch Moor below.
The mood changes, we discuss the hydro schemes that seem destined to change for ever the wild landscape of Glen Etive. We simply cannot comprehend this vandalism.
Almost there. We twist down into Glen Coe and park up just above the Meeting of the Three Waters. Its Friday and it 9am. There are two other cars in the car park.
The tops are hidden in mist and cloud with 40mph gusts forecast. It’s chilly, on with boots, jackets and spare kit in the rucksacks. We’ve done this many times and have a simple yet remarkably effective saying; be bold – start cold.
We head up the path into Lairig Eilde and are soon warm. As the path splits we fork right down to the Allt Lairig Eilde. It’s a beautiful mountain burn. Crystal clear bubbling water smashing off boulders and into pools as it makes its way down the Glen. Strange to think of so much life and character in this burn that is barely 3km long before it joins the main river down into Glen Coe.
We hop, balance and skip over the burn. Relatively easy today, not so easy when it’s full of snow melt in the spring. A story for another time there. And then we hear it on the wind; the distant sound of rutting stags coming from above and beyond us.
It is of course the rutting season, which runs from September to November. This magnificent annual display is a battle of the strongest as red stags lock antlers to win a mate, or rather to win as many mates as possible. It is by all accounts utterly exhausting and the stags can loose as much as 20% of their body weight battling in the glens. It’s clearly worth it. We know from experience to respect these testosterone-fuelled beasts and keep a safe distance, which we are very happy to do. Onwards.
We are aiming for Stob Coire Sgreamhach via the Beinn Fhada ridge. We’ve been in these mountains for years but strangely none of us have completed this route, which adds to the excitement. The Mountain Weather Information Service forecast isn’t great. Typical autumn conditions; scattered showers, limited visibility above 900 meters with wind speed around 30mph with gusts of 40 or potentially above.
There’s no path from the base of Lairig Eilde up onto the ridge; the steep slopes above us are broken with crags and small cliffs. We carefully choose a line of ascent, drop a layer of clothing and we are off. As we climb we are aware of a stag bellowing above us, and that we are getting closer and closer. And there he is, 50 yards away and standing his ground. Time to alter our route, and we skirt round him. Mist is now coming and going as we get higher and closer to the ridge. Time for that layer of clothing to come back on. As we stop to sort kit out we hear a “smack” below us; our stag is now locking antlers with a competitor. A raw and wild sight, seen through the mist with the vast glen below. We know how privileged we are to be here.
The Beinn Fhada ridge is 3km long and made up of three tops, the highest at 931 meters, a Munro in its own right. As we make our way up the ridge the weather changes, and for the better. The racing mist and cloud starts to billow up into the Coire Gabhail or “Lost Valley” to our north west and completely clear to our south east. The result; the ridge now appears as an epic knife-edge disappearing into the distance. The situation is now simply spectacular as we make our way onwards to the summit.
As we climb the route is undulating with occasional breathtaking views down into the Lost Valley, that ancient keep for stolen cattle centuries ago. Pitch black ravens croke and watch over us. We dip down a loose scramble of broken terrain and approach the “bad step”. We have researched this and are happy it is well within our client’s capability. And so we scramble upwards carefully and with patience. Put simple; this is pure adventure. All other thoughts slip away. We are alone in the wilderness and we are all smiling and laughing together.
We reach the summit of Stob Coire Sgreamhach at 1072m. It’s hard to capture how we feel and what we see. The cloud has lifted further. The vastness of Glen Coe surrounds us with its highest top Bidean nam Bian now visible at 1150m. Broken cliffs and ridges, distant valley floors impossibly far away with white ribbons of burns and waterfalls in every direction. You cant put a price on this.
We start to make our way downwards to the south east where we can safely descend back into the Lairig Eilde far below. The spectacular views continue. We can now see out to Glen Etive, Loch Etive and far beyond to the islands. There are literally hundreds of peaks. We take a break and try to map out this beautiful jigsaw of wilderness. So much more to explore.
The Sron na Lairig arête cascades down into the glen below. A climbing adventure for when the ice and snow set in. We move beyond the drop offs and cliffs to a more gentle descent back down to the source of Allt Lairig Eild, the wild little burn we crossed hours ago. From here we follow the line of the burn for 3km back to the car. We chat quietly, but mostly we are lost in our own thoughts about todays experience, living in the moment, at ease with ourselves and recognizing how privileged we are to be in this beautiful and wild country.
Thoroughly enjoyed another trip to stunning Glen Coe with the highly experienced team at OceanVertical. With transparent and ongoing risk assessment, Stevie and Adrian strive to provide their adventurers with the best experience in the conditions available - adapting where necessary with their extensive knowledge of the area. Whether it's been paddle boarding, climbing or mountaineering, I have always had a safe and truly rewarding experience. Can't wait to get out with them again!
Ruth | Edinburgh