Glenoce Round Recce - The knife edge that prevented me progressing

Lakeland 100 – Buttermere to Dalemain - Click to view the route in an Ordnance Survey Map

27th Mar 2011

5 Hours 39 Mins

19.7 km

2150 metres

DATE

TIME

Distance

Ascent

This post is about a recee for a section of the Glencoe Round. If you would like to read about my attempt at the full round then please click here

I

nitially I was only intending to head over to Glencoe to knock off some Munro’s I had not climbed in that area. In fact, the only Munro I had climbed, was Stob Dearg on the Buachaille Etive Mor on a wet and windy day back in 2002 when I was walking the West Highland Way. Whilst looking at the map to plan a route, I noticed that there was potential to do an entire a full circuit of all the Munro’s and a quick google confirmed that there was in fact a recognised round. Although there is not much information on the internet, the classic round was conceived by Bobby Shields in 1980 and is a complete circuit of the eight Munros surrounding Glencoe. Commencing from the Clachaig Inn and travelling anti-clockwise, it heads over Bidean nam Bain, then over Buachaille Etive Beag and Bauchaille Etive Mor, crosses the A82 and then onto the Aonach Eagach ridge before descending back to the Clachaig Inn.

On Pete Duggan’s website, he details his round which is the eight Munro’s from the classic round but also includes the additional 3000 feet tops and extends Aonach Eagach from the Devil’s Staircase. With this in mind, I set off up to Glencoe with a view to checking out some of the peaks with a view to a round of my own. The forecast was decent and it certainly looked like a good day was in store as I passed through Callendar. I tend to use Ben Lui as the first ‘benchmark’ for the days weather and today it was totally cloudless. By the time I was driving down the Pass of Glencoe, the highest peaks were still covered however, but it was still early in the morning so there was plenty of time for the sun to burn through.

My route plan was to park up at the large car park half way down the pass then head up the path between Aonach Dubh and Gearr Aonanch up into Coire nan Lochan. From here, I would head onto the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan and over to the Bidean nam Bian. Then I would head over to Beinn Fhada and check out the descent into the Lairig Eilde.

I set off from the car and headed down to the River Coe and crossed the bridge. There has been a lot of work on this path over the past few years and I made good progress up into the Coire overtaking a number of groups in there winter gear. As I entered the Coire, there was still a decent amount of snow around and team of people were preparing their gear for one of the winter routes to the top of Stob Coire nan Lochan.

On my previous visit to this area, whilst on a winter skills course, we had climbed up to the top of Stob Coire nan Lochan by heading northwest to the foot of the north ridge then following this up to the summit. This time I decided to head up the ridge directly east of the summit block. I headed past the lochan’s and up onto the ridge. There was some minor scrambling and although the rock was a little wet and slippy, it did not offer any major difficulties and soon I was stood on the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan at 1115 metres.

Unfortunately the cloud had not lifted, so I grabbed some food and then took a bearing and headed down from the summit towards the bealach between Stob Coire nan Lochan and Bidean nam Bian. The bealach looked pretty narrow and whilst I would not have given this a second thought in the summer, the layer of snow, pointed up like a knife edge unnerved me. I only had fell running shoes and just did not feel comfortable crossing it with winter crampons and ice axe. The summit was tantalisingly close but I decided to not to take any chances and reluctantly turned back and headed up to the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan.

Glencoe Round Recce - The knife edge where I decided to turn back around
The knife edge where I decided to turn back around

There was no other option but to head on back down, so I set off back down the ridge that I had climbed on the way up. I am not sure whether it was a lapse of concentration or I was already thinking about what to do when I had descended but rather than pick up my track back down the ridge, what I actually did was start to descend a steep rocky section north east of the summit top. I must have descended only about 100 metres before I realised that the scrambling was way tougher than on the way up. With limited visibility and wet rocks I decided to pinpoint my position on the GPS. My doubts were confirmed and I cursed myself for not focusing on the summit top and ensuring I took the correct line. Why did I not bother taking a compass bearing? In fact, why did I just not descend the easier northern ridge?

I scrambling back up to the top and reflected on my actions. I kicked myself for not paying proper attention and this time took a bearing to the northern ridge. At this point, the clouds lifted and for the first time I could see the mountains around me; Aonach Eagach to the north, Beinn Fhada to the west and Bidean nam Bian to the south. Amazing stuff! I set off running down the easy northern ridge and in a short time I was back in the Coire. After a little trudging through some slushy snow, I was back on the path down to the River Coe at the bottom. By the time I reached the car, the sun was out in its full glory.

It was still early in the day and with the decent weather the forecast had predicted finally arriving, I was reluctant to head off back home. A quick look of the map and I decided to tackle the Munro’s on Buachaille Etive Beag. At least it would give me the opportunity to check out the descent into Lairig Gartain and ‘tick off’ two peaks I had yet to climb. I drove the car a couple of kilometres up the road and rather than park in the car park, I pulled into a layby near ‘The Study’, crossed the road and headed up the hillside, meeting the main path a little further up.

Although it was a relentless plod straight uphill, the path was decent and it did not take long to arrive at the bealach between Stob Dubh and Stob Coire Raineach. After a little deliberation, I decided that Stob Coire Raineach looked the easiest to ‘knock off’ so I tackled that one first. I hiked up the well-worn path, ‘topped out’ and after a brief stop to take a couple of photographs I ran straight back down.

Glencoe Round Recce - Looking to Stob Dubh on the descent from Stob Coire Raineach
Looking to Stob Dubh on the descent from Stob Coire Raineach

Continuing the run I headed up the broad ridge towards the north eastern top measured at 902 metres. I then continued along the ridge and headed up towards the summit of Stob Dubh. The view was fantastic and I could see where my approach would be to climb up to Stob na Croige on the Buachaille Etive Mor. After chilling for a while, I headed back along the ridge and down to the bealach. There is something amazing about running on the tops when the views are amazing and there is nobody around. I always thought that running would spoil the time to savour the hills but if anything it is better.

Once at the bealach I looked at the descent into Lairig Gartain. It looked pretty steep but nothing to serious. I do not think it would be a huge problem descdending and there was a convenient place to get a water refil at the bottome as well.

I set off back to the car. It was a quick descent back down the hill and after a brief stop at the bottom to grab some food; I was on my way back home to Dunfermline. I will definitely have come back and recee this area at least one more time. I suspect that the biggest obstacle will be the descent from Beinn Fhada and ascent of up to Buachaille Etive Beag so I will definitely want to have a trial run of that section. Additionally, I would like to work out the best route up onto the Buachaille Etive Mor from Lairig Gartain. Whether I visit the Aonaoch Eagach or save that for the big day is another matter.

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