Bidean nam Bian via the zig-zags. August 2010

Date: Sunday 15th August 2010
Distance: 12km
Ascent: 1500m

Saturday had not gone as planned. An MWIS forecast for 90% cloud-free munros and a patchwork of sunshine had transmuted into a dull day, often in mist on the Ring of Steall. The 1904hrs BBC outdoor forecast for Sunday predicted a cloud base of 1500ft until late afternoon.

We’d decided to revisit some old favourites given the high pressure – when we took up hill-walking we spent a lot of time in Glen Coe, the Mamores and the ‘Gorms – nice starter hills for the inexperienced.

Despite covering most of these hills on a few occasions we’ve hardly set foot in the Mamores or the Glen Coe munros for 6 years. The Ring of Steall had been our choice for the Mamores, Bidean was planned for Sunday.

Given the poor forecast we considered ditching our plans for something further south, but getting up on Sunday at 0500 – the skies looked reasonable. Decided to play it by ear.

Parked up in Glen Coe at 0630 – the usual cold airflow was pouring down the glen from Rannoch Moor. Early morning sunlight was lighting up Bidean.

Our previous “usual” ascent route had been the path running between Aonach Dubh and Gearr Aonoch – a good path but this tends to lack sun and views. Have had my eyes on the Gearr Aonach Zig-Zags for a while – a straightforward route ascending the NE face of Gearr Aonach. This route should get into the sunlight much quicker.

Followed the track for the Lost Valley across the bridge on the glen floor and then up through the fenced forest. The Lost Valley track has 2 arms – took the upper track. Didn’t see any evidence of a track breaking up to the Zigzags – we got as far as the big square boulder and then tracked up and back to pick up the zigzags track.

Big square rock:

Followed the track up to the face of Gearr Aonach.

Made a mistake here and followed an apparent track up a bit further under the face – this peetered out on a grassy area. Knew there was a minor scrambly bit so had a look at scrambling the rock face here. Quickly apparent that what I was trying was climbing grade!

Did see a vole in the undergrowth here – there seem to be huge numbers this year – I wonder if the snow cover gave them protection from predation and less competition for the grasses last winter?

Had a look around a few bits here then after a while decided we’d missed a turn and backtracked. Turns out we’d missed the zigzag start which is essentially a right turn immediately on reaching the rockface. Crampon marks on all the rocks made this a better candidate.

The track runs right under crags for about 150m and then climbs a short near scramble up some rocks with an easy left traverse from there.

This then hits easier slopes. The path heads right again round the nose of Gearr Aonach, before heading up onto the tip of the nose.

A fine ascent route really – as long as you nail the route it’s straightforward and I plan on doing it again sometime. The orange line is where the zigzags went, the green our mistake. If you aim down and left of the big black circular mark on the face you should find the track:

Gearr Aonach hangs out over the glen.

Turned to head along the length of Gearr Aonach – a bit undulating. A family of Ring Ouzels were moving around the cliff lines chiding us here.

Gearr Aonach nose:

Some nice views of Stob Coire nan Lochain.

Of the Glen Coe area munros I think Beinn a Bheithir has my favourite views – but for me Bidean undoubtably is the most eye-candy to look at.

We had planned to cross over the hanging coire here and go out to Aonach Dubh. This is highly recommended as a viewpoint and the N ridge of Stob Coire nan Lochan a bit more entertaining to climb. Given our time-wasting at the foot of Gearr Aonach we decided to climb Stob Coire nan Lochan direct. Some pics of Aonach Dubh from previous visits:

Stob Coire nan Lochan climb:

Loch Leven from Stob Coire nan Lochan:

Bidean from SCnL:

There was some cloud bubbling up as we ascended Stob Coire nan Lochan – wondered if the day would turn. Had some food on SCnL and then made for Bidean – about 120m drop over reasonable rocks and then path to the bealach.

The 150m climb to Bidean is a bit loose but easier than I remembered. The clouds were just above 1100m at this point so our views were a bit limited.

Arrived at Bidean’s summit to find a couple already there. An exclamation of “It’s like Piccadilly Circus up here!” from the woman to her companion ranks in the lower centiles of remarks greeting fellow walkers. To give her credit I do associate London with the loud-mouthed and rude so perhaps it was an insightful and cutting piece of self-deprecation. They wandered off without a greeting – the woman’s voice however continued to visit the summit for several minutes.

Loch Etive over Beinn Maol Chaluim:

We carried on towards Stob Coire Sgreamhach – the linking route is easy with no difficulties. Met a walker with a Westy who I chatted to for a bit – some friendly faces on the hill then.

Nice view down the Lost Valley:

Stob Coire Sgreamhach and Beinn Fhada:

Looked down in horror at the eroded mess that is the headwall of the Lost Valley – a near vertical loose gully. Would go a long way to avoid this.

Passed by the bealach to climb Stob Coire Sgreamhach.

This munro has a great view down Loch Etive to Cruachan. The day had cleared to glorious sunshine, if a bit hazy.

Previous visit:

Sat for 30 minutes and had lunch. Could see Ben Alder to the NE and Mull to the SW. The Ben was the only party-pooper keeping its hat on.

Beinn Fhada and the Bookils:

Left Stob Coire Sgreamhach to descend over Beinn Fhada. This is steep at the top and then easier. The first decend culminates in a “Bad Step” – a steep rocky descent. In truth this probably only verges on a scramble – lots of rocky steps. Not a problem in summer and potentially bypassable down steep grass to the right.

Undulated along Beinn Fada. Some great views of the Lost Valley and Bidean.

The Ben finally uncapped:

Spotted a ptarmigan family – 8 birds in total. I can’t tell the youngsters now.

Beinn Fhada and Bidean:

There are at least 2 potential descents – we descended from the bealach between the 930m and 811m points on the OS (NN 169 548). This drops down steep grassy slopes to the Lost Valley. The other option is to continue to the end of Beinn Fada and drop down to the Lairig Eilde track (not done this personally but have met a few who have).

If descending to the Lost Valley it would be best to head left after emerging from the initial ramp between crags. The straight descent crosses innumerable rocky intrusions that need downclimbed (only about 1-2m each but a bit slippy). About 100m left and most of these are avoidable.

The descent seems to go on a bit but the floor is eventually reached.

From there it’s a doddle back to the car.

This walk felt quite tough after the Ring of Steall on Saturday. My Excel program tells me this was munro ascent 500 – not a bad day for it either.

I do fancy going back and adding Aonach Dubh to this route – a proper “3 Sisters” round of Bidean. Gearr Aonach zigzags is well recommended. Nice to be back.


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