Nottingham Outdoor YHA Group

Event report

Glen Coe, Easter 2011

A Scottish friend once told me that whenever he was in Glen Coe, he always felt it to be a very dark and brooding place, forever haunted by the terrible events of the night in 1692 when soldiers, many of them belonging to the English-supporting Clan Campbell, tricked their way into the homes of the Clan Macdonald, and murdered their hosts while they slept. Memories are long in this part of the world.

On this trip, Chris S, who was driving, Kevin and I broke the journey to Scotland over two days, stopping off at Kendal YH on Thursday evening. We arrived at Glencoe YH about 9.00pm on a warm spring Friday evening. We threw our stuff on our bunks, quickly made up the bedding, then it was a brisk walk the 3/4 mile or so along the old Glen Coe road to the Clachaig Inn, popular watering hole for walkers and climbers (sign in reception: "No hawkers, no Campbells") where we met up with Rob, Karen and Gary who had already been in the area for a day, and Chris F who, like us, had just arrived. Rob, Karen and Gary regaled us with their tale of a sunny, slightly scary, but exhilarating climb up Coire Gabhail at the back of the Hidden Valley that day.


On Saturday morning the cloud was down on the mountain tops, and unfortunately this would set the pattern for the weekend. Nevertheless we set out at 9.00am westward along the old Glen Coe road to tackle Pap of Glencoe. We were joined for the day by Rebecca, a friend of Rob and Karen's from Glasgow. The climb up 'The Pap' affords beautiful views of Glencoe village and Loch Leven, at least until you pass up into the cloud and find yourself shut into your own little world in which you can see about 10m in any direction.

After lunch on the summit of 'The Pap' (official name Sgorr na Ciche, 742m) we descended then climbed again to the summit of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, 967m. Having no plan to continue onto the Aonach Eagach ridge on this trip, we contented ourselves with trying to make out its pinnacles between the drifting banks of mist, but we could see little. A group of five brave guys came off the end of Aonach Eagach as we watched. They had full climbing gear and the poor visibility obviously had not deterred them from traversing the ridge.

The descent back down to the Glen seemed to take an eternity, but eventually we were back on the old road and heading for the hostel. As often happens towards the end of a long day, the group was a bit strung out along the road, and it was Gary and I who were stopped by a lady who asked if we could help her herd her two goats off the road and back onto her land. I had visions of us spending the rest of the evening chasing two recalcitrant goats up and down Glen Coe like something out of a Benny Hill sketch. However the woman assured us that with the gate into the field open in front of them and us behind them the goats would know where to go, and so it proved.

That evening, fancying a change from the Clachaig Inn, Gary and I walked the couple of miles into Glencoe village, where we had a very agreeable locally-caught haddock and chips in the Glencoe Hotel. The others listened to live music in the Clachaig.

Sunday, Easter Day

The weather was not improved on Sunday. Chris F and Kevin decided to do a low level walk in the wooded area of Stac a Chlamhain near Glencoe village. The rest of us packed into Rob's car and drove east along Glen Coe to a car park at the foot of Buachaille Etive Mor. There were several other parties of walkers and climbers there getting ready for their various methods of attacking The Buachaille. We set off past the lonely little white cottage that sits at the foot of the mountain.

I have several times driven through Glen Coe, looked at The Buachaille looking so craggy, so fearsome, and wondered "can there possibly be a path to the top?" It turns out there is, but it's steep. It goes up the right side of the U-shaped gully Coire na Tulaich, getting steeper and steeper, into the cloud, past the snow line, and you peer ahead trying to make out a way through what look like vertical rock faces at the top of the coire. In fact the path, somehow, finds its way between the crags. The top few 10s of metres is a scramble, but you don't feel exposed, and you clamber out the top of the coire onto the ridge that forms the backbone of the mountain feeling exhilarated. We were in the cloud and there was no view except brief glimpses of the gully we had just come up between rolling banks of mist, but for the moment that didn't matter. We were on top of The Buachaille.

There are several summits on top of Buachaille Etive Mor, and three meet the height criterion to be Monros, but only the two at either end of the NE - SW trending ridge that forms the mountain's spine, Stob Dearg (1022m) and Stob na Broige (956m), qualify officially as Monros (much to Rob's chagrin). The one in the middle of the ridge, Stob Coire Altruim (941m), does not count because, I believe, there is not enough of an intervening drop to separate it from its neighbours. We tramped through the mist, taking in all of the summits. At points, the ridge seemed very narrow, and I got the impression that on a clear day we would have been able to see the flanks of the mountain falling away on either side to the valley floors far below. But not today.

We stopped for lunch on Stob na Broige and, as on last year's Easter day in the Cairngorms, Rob revealed that he had brought along cream eggs for everyone to celebrate the day.

After lunch, it was time to find our way back down again. The path down to the valley on the north side of The Buachaille was very steep and difficult to see from the ridge, but Rob had been on the case again and already spotted its location as we had been walking between summits earlier. The path became very indistinct (invisible, in fact) at a couple of points on the descent, but we were able to trace its route below us by the presence of large bags full of rocks left ready to rebuild the trail, presumably by National Trust for Scotland. In places we had to clamber over large boulders. Eventually we came onto the banks of the River Coupall which we followed NE back to the car park.

That evening was the last that the whole group would be together and we spent it in the Clachaig Inn, listening to live music, sampling the extensive whiskey menu, and reflecting on an epic day.

Easter Monday

The others headed home on Monday, while Chris S, Kevin and I stayed on for one extra day. After some debate, we decided to drive just a few miles up the coast to Fort William and climb Ben Nevis with the tourists. After the disappointingly overcast weekend, this was the first truly sunny day that we had seen since arriving in Scotland. It took us a while to get ourselves organised (ok, we spent the morning faffing about in Fort William) so it was already gone noon when we started climbing the broad and well-maintained path from the Visitor Centre in Glen Nevis. Kevin was having a little trouble with his knee, which had been problematic throughout the weekend, and so decided to remain in Glen Nevis for the afternoon, so just Chris and I continued on upward.

I have not climbed Ben Nevis since I was a child. This may sound silly but I really had forgotten just how big that mountain is and what a long way it is to the top. The lower parts of the tourist path rise quite steeply on grassy slopes, until you get to the lake of Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, above which the vegetation ends and the landscape becomes barren, rocky and quite other-worldly. Above the lochan you get onto the famous zigzag portion of the path, which seems to continue forever, with nothing but pale grey boulders and scree all around you. We slogged on in sweltering heat under an almost cloudless blue sky. At last, we reached the summit plateau, where we had to cross a series of snow fields, before traversing the final boulder field to reach the abandoned observatory that marks the summit of Britain's highest mountain.

We spent perhaps 1/2 hour on the summit, admiring the view in all directions. Even though it was now quite late in the afternoon there were still plenty of others there with us, mostly foreign and mostly quite young. We were buzzed by an RAF helicopter, the crew waving at the summiteers from the open door and the summiteers waving back. Then it was time to begin the long descent. Going back down took about an hour less than going up, and we met up with Kevin in the Visitor Centre car park about 7:30pm.

This was a superb weekend in the western Highlands to rival the previous year's Easter trip to the Cairngorms. Many thanks to Rob for organising it, and for leading the walks on Saturday and Sunday.

Tim Mc

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