North Glen Coe ridge west from Altnafeadh. 7th January 2018.

Date: Sunday 7th January 2018
Distance: 12km
Ascent: 760m

A couple of pints of Dark Ness in front of the fire on Saturday night and a route-decision session.

We wondered about heading NW to Glen Shiel, but although the mountain forecasts looked good Met Office and BBC did suggest less sun that way. Glen Coe looked a good bet and it’s 2 years since we visited one of our favoured winter ambles.

Not being serious Winter Mountaineers or serious athletes it’s always nice to find a high reward to low effort route. The walk from Altnafeadh, up Devil’s Staircase and the west to Am Bodach at the start of the Aonach Eagach proper is one of those walks. Without listed hills to tick, or climbing routes to climb it is also really quiet while the Glencoe hills are crawling with walkers and climbers.

Plan settled. Nice pints too.

Arrived at Altnafeadh at 0730 – the roadside layby was already full but there were spaces in the offroad parking opposite.

We’ve done this early start here a couple of times before and it was usually quiet. Not today!

There were headtorches heading up Beinn a Chrualaiste, and a queue of headtorches heading to Stob Dearg of the Buachaille Etive Mor. Never seen so much activity in the dark.

Got booted and kitted and set off at 0750, a bit later than I’d planned. Met a couple of guys coming down the WHW looking for the way up Beinn a Chrualaiste, pointed them in the right direction and then headed uphill at a march.

Microspikes were useful on various iceflows on the path.

To dark adapted eyes it seemed quite light – the camera didn’t agree but with the ISO up a bit it coped.

Buachaille Etive Mor pre-dawn:

Up to the bealach where WHW drops towards Kinlochleven. This is a fine spot – the Mamores suddenly appear. They always look superb when winterclad.


The Easains to the NE are pretty shapely too.


Having a little time to dawn we decided to head on to Stob Mhic Mhartuin. As we’d headed up the WHW I’d seen some rather deep post-holes in the snow off path so I feared we’d now have a slower plowter in unconsolidated snow. Very happily the crust had hardened nicely and most of the remainder of the day was of a hard surface with very little drifting – the easterlies had stripped this side of the hills well.

Fast progress had us up Stob Mhic Mhartuin before the sun crested the horizon. The views open up to the east over Beinn a Chrualaiste and Blackwater Reservoir as height is gained.

Beinn a Chrualaiste from Stob Mhic Mhartuin ascent:

H and Blackwater Reservoir:

East over Blackwater Reservoir pre-dawn:

Once on Stob Mhic Mhartuin we spent an hour mooching around enjoying the views. I’ve often thought this would make a decent easy high pitch. An hour from the road and probably less busy than Beinn a Chrualaiste which I seem to see summit camp pics from every spell of settled weather.

One day perhaps. For today we enjoyed the views.

Easains alpenglow:

Ben Nevis dawn:

Mamores at dawn:

Bidean is awesome – a pointed reminder that we haven’t visited it for about 5 years (5 years?).

Bidean nam Bian from Stob Mhic Mhartuin:

Mamores from Stob Mhic Mhartuin:

The light quickly goes from syrupy to bright and suddenly the snow goes through pink to gold and then white.

….and the light changes:

Having frittered away an hour we headed onwards and upwards up Sron a Choire Odhair-bhig. Again a decent snow crust made this a pleasurable wander. We still had our microspikes on but no ironmongery was needed.

Bidean nam Bian from Sron a Choire Odhair-bhig bealach:

Sron a Choire Odhair-bhig ascent:

Once up Sron a Choire Odhair-bhig we noted that someone had reached Stob Mhic Mhartuin behind us. Over on Bidean and the Etive Beag we could see dozens of walkers and climbers.

We made slow progress, the tendency to stop every 5 minutes and look around certainly kills pace.

Mamores from Sron a Choire Odhair-bhig:

Easains from Sron a Choire Odhair-bhig:

Blackwater Reservoir from Sron a Choire Odhair-bhig:

Once on Sron a Choire Odhair-bhig there’s a slow ascent over a small intermediary top to the 903m point.

Slow ascent west:

It’s an interesting angle on Bidean.

Bidean nam Bian from Sron a Choire Odhair-bhig:

Easy walking:

Buachaille Etive Mor:

Once the 903m point is reached the view opens up west to the start of the Aonach Eagach and further out west.

Ardgour seemed quite grey – Rois-Bheinn was visible without evidence of sunshine.

West to the Aonach Eagach:

Beinn a Bheithir looks rather shapely from this angle.

Beinn a Bheithir:

H at 903m point:

K at 903m point:

This part of the ridge sits out opposite the arms of Bidean – the 3 Sisters of Beinn Fhada, Gearr Aonach and Aonach Dubh. In between are the less steep access routes of the Hidden valley and Coire nan Lochan. Looked at en face they seem pretty steep.

Bidean nam Bian from 903m point:

Stob Coire nan Lochain:

Sat and had lunch at the 903m point. Watched a large number of walkers and climbers on Bidean, with lines of folk ascending the gullies of Stob Coire nan Lochan. Certainly a busy day!

The skies to the NW had been leaden most of the day and the high cloud was definitely advancing. As we had lunch the Ben and Mamores lost strong direct sunshine.

We have, in the past continued on as far as Am Bodach and the start of the Aonach Eagach proper, but we decided to amble back along the ridge

Returning – skies gone grey:

Certainly a very different light quality on the way back.

Lairig Eilde:

To the SE, past Stob Dearg we could see the Lawers group still in sunshine. That said, a few hours of perfection in Glencoe trade well against a few more further south.

Buachaille Etive Mor:

Back to Stob Mhic Mhartuin we were visited by a pair of ravens, the larger was a rather confident bird. Nice to see up close rather than flying by cronking.


Then dropped back down the Devil’s Staircase to the car – the sun an orangey smudge behind Buachaille Etive Beag.

Buachaille Etive Beag:

Nearing Altnafeadh:

By the time we got back to the car the parking spaces were half empty, presumably many of the early a.m. photographers and climbers having finished and left.

A fantastic little quiet piece of Glencoe – we’d happily do this again and again (and probably will).

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