A night traverse of the Aonach Eagach.

Walk Highlands describes the ridge as “Famed as the narrowest ridge on the British mainland (though Liathach and An Teallach must run it close), the Aonach Eagach gives a thrilling and spectacular traverse for keen and experienced scramblers, linking the Munros of Meall Dearg and Sgòrr nam Fiannaidh. The route is a grade 2/3 scramble, and is included in some climbing guides as a ‘Moderate’ rock climb; it involves probably the trickiest scrambling on any Walkhighlands route. Ensure you have the necessary skills and experience, choose a dry day (the rocks are slippery when wet) and leave plenty of time to complete the route in daylight.”

The hills at night. A double traverse of the Aonach Eagach.

I was up early walking the dog by torchlight. It’s been freezing for days in Inverness. Everything is frozen and glistening in the torchlight. Inverness was looking stunning from where I was all the nights, the stars and the half moon. What a start to the day. Flo the dog loves these early morning wanders with no one about.

It reminds me of early starts in the mountains walking in early to catch a route or before the crowds. One of the first times late 70’s I did this was an early traverse of the Aonach Eagach at night starting from The Clachaig and going along the ridge by moonlight and then instead of going down we came back the same way. It was the great book Undiscovered Scotland by WH Murray that gave us the idea. It was as good as he said the crampons bitting in the snow and we hardly needed torches the moon was so bright. It was another world and the only noise was the odd car passing on the road and the crampons on the snow. We had told Hamish and the Police of our plans he laughed. The pinnacles were interesting looking for footholds and at least you could not see the steep drops. Just the lights of Kinlochewe and the big snowfields in the Corrie’s.

Travelling in the dark was a great experience for us at the time, we were to do it often on Call outs and searches. Now it’s so popular to summit as daybreaks but then it was another world. Seeing the light breaking over the hills, the summits and the views. Is this as near perfection as it gets.

You would hardly speak to each other we were lost in another world for a few hours while most of the country slept. We met a party going up as we descended they thought we had been benighted. We laughed with the bravado of youth and told them what we had been up to. The next time I did it I had my dog Teallach with us. He would take his own way glow light on and his eyes in the dark or by torch light made him look scary. How he picked his line round the pinnacles amazed me but he had done it a few times he was some dog.

You have to be very careful though at night ice or verglas ( black ice ) is very tricky on the ridges or on paths. You have to be aware of the dangers that lurk. Yet a few of my best days has been finishing a climb in the dark looking for holds and protection in a silent dark world with just a torch beam or if your lucky the moon to guide you. It’s a lot harder in a wild day when your delayed by route finding or poor conditions.

A must read. –

It is in winter that the Scottish Mountains Excel
No one who has seen the skyward thrust of a snow peak, girdled by its early morning cloud and flushed with the low sun, will dispute with me.
Follow a long ridge of encrusted snow to its sunset tower and tread the summit at moonrise.
This is Scottish winter climbing! W.H.Murray

I wrote this a few years ago “This book took you to starlight climbs on Ben Nevis, Arran and great mountain days in the Cairngorms and on snowed up rock in Glencoe and other places. I never imagined I would ever get to some of these places and made a point of climbing most of the routes in the book. My first attempt on the great experience of Clachaig Gully in Glencoe was one of wonder and fear at the time, with W.H. Murray’s tales ringing in my ear all the way up. We followed this with the same day the Aonach Eagach traverse and felt we were becoming mountaineers. We even did several moonlight ascents of the ridge as W.H. Murray did and once were met by the Glencoe Police asking if we were okay. At that time Hamish McInnes the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team Leader laughed about this. I was to be in Glencoe in many occasions in my days of rescue and several on the ridge at night on rescues. This book and many of his others show what a man he was and what a legacy he has left. Few know that he was part of the Everest reconnaissance and helped find the way for the eventual success in 1953.

Rescuing our own early morning. Comment Myself in yellow helmet. A Sunday night in Feb 79. Sharp, cold and bright with a meteor shower as we bivvied. And a welcome top rope on the Monday morning. Thanks Heavy an abiding memory.

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Books, Enviroment, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, People, Recomended books and Guides, Rock Climbing, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A night traverse of the Aonach Eagach.

  1. Peter Aikman says:

    Don’t quite agree with your choice of three. My top four would be in order – Aonach Eagach, Liathach, Ben Mor Coigach and An Teallach.
    You will remember my connection with Shenavall, so you will be surprised that of the four, An Teallach is the one I never was on, though walked round it often enough. The nearest I got was one snowy/frosty February, when I got as far as the ‘slabby rocks’ and saw a very dark snow-laden sky heading my way. If I go down, I said to myself ( pleased to have grown-up, and now being sensible ) I might not get up again. So I carried on up Sail Liath, knowing that if necessary I could easily retreat. And had a great day out.
    Aonach Eagach was the opposite. Sixty years ago, in January, two of us decided to go over it. You can give me a row now, but we should not have been there with no equipment and no experience. But we did it, and every time I have driven through Glencoe since, I look and wonder how.
    An Teallach I have relegated to fourth as although I went up twice, both were Summer dawdles. Sorry, as it is a big hill with its arms. Perhaps I am too familiar with it, and you seem to drive half-way up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great tales everyone has a different favourite hill


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