Thursday, June 15, 2006

Glencoe: Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (188) and half of the Aonach Eagach ridge!

Walk date: 20/09/05
My Munro #'s: 60

Glencoe in the morning sun:


The Aonach Eagach ridge makes its first appearance:


The full splendor of Aonach Eagach:


From the slopes of Stob Coire Leith it doesn't seem that bad!


This day was my scariest ever hiking day and proved to be a very significant lesson for me; know your limits, and stay calm!

The day started well enough with, thankfully, a break in the weather giving a dry day. The ascent of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh from the Clachaig Inn was steep but fine, especially once the path had been found. Once on the tops, the move past Stob Coire Leith towards the Aonach Eagach ridge is easy walking, but the ridge itself is altogether different and requires extreme respect. Its scale is hard to gauge from photographs, but is about 2km in total length and very steep and exposed. My guide book, like many others, waxes lyrical about how great this ridge is, and how satisfying a traverse is, etc. etc. but do be aware that it requires quite a nerve. Ignore any irresponsible macho hikers who talk off-hand about it, just calling it fun and implying that its nothing to worry about. Do what you are comfortable with and be prepared to turn around at any point. Also be aware that there are a couple of points where the route might not be obvious to you. For this reason, going along with someone who has experience on the ridge would be invaluable.

My problem then was, being on my own, I had no one of greater experience there with me to keep my mind 'in check'. I had taken in many ridges that had been described as 'sharp' in books, but Aonach Eagach was a step-up from them. The usual calming exercises that you do on yourself were working, but general anxiety was increasing to the point that when, about half-way in, I came upon a point where I couldn't see the route ahead, instead of rationally working things out, I just declared to myself that I wanted off the bloody thing! The sensible option if abandoning the walk, would have been to retrace my steps, but that would have meant more ridge. Instead then I decided that it was possible to drop down north into the corrie that led to Allt Gleann a' Chaolais. Possible it is I can testify, but sensible? Definitely not!

As I started down, I came across a path heading in the direction of the ridge and I have since concluded that this path was the way around the obstacle I had got stuck on. I didn't pay it much attention on the day though as I had my plan. I thus started on the upper section of my descent, sliding down mud and gravel channels between slabs of rock, at some points facing the slope and at some points using my ass as my main appendage. This section was extreme, but the worse was to come. As the rock ended and the grass started, I could see that the best way down was still ridiculous, a twisting channel of earth ordinarily not to even be looked at without rope. I sat at the top of this section with my heart-pounding trying to calm myself down. It's the only time where I have really seen my hand shake. I considered mountain rescue as I sat there, but I also knew that it still wasn't a life or death moment. I rationalised that even a full slip would merely mean broken bones, and at that that would be the point where I would concede mountain rescue and cause all that bother! I progressed therefore one tiny increment at a time. I remember one turn to face the slope being particularly tricky. I remember testing out how long the various foliage would hold me for as I adjusted position (thick grass, a few seconds; moss, don't even try it). I remember digging out the earth around many rocks so I could use them as hand-holds. And I remember the waves of relief when I got down onto steady ground.

Once down though I still had a lot of work to do. I made my way across the corrie (losing and finding my GPS in the progress!) to start an ascent up Stob Coire Leith; I had been tempted to ascend Meall Dearg, but I knew my nerves were too shot and all I wanted to do was rest. The climb seemed to take forever, as did even the walk back to the descent path and then that too. What I definitely could have done without then was the ~4 hour drive back to Aberdeen! The entire was a wide-eyed processing of the days events. I remained in shock for a few days!

Finally, the ridge is generally written about in the opposite direction to what I tried, so I expect that is the better route. That's east to west if you want to check it out!

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2 Comments:

Blogger Lisa Rullsenberg said...

I remember your anxiety well!!!

31 October 2006 at 17:19  
Blogger George Walks said...

My Lisa, your comment took some finding!!

Yes, this day was a wake-up call for me. I'm at the stage now where I'd like to go back with the better mental preparation and probably company; certainly after this I would wisely only takle the Cuillin ridge as part of an organised group!

31 October 2006 at 21:03  

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