MENTION the words Aonach Eagach to hill walkers and you are guaranteed an emotive response. The infamous Glen Coe ridge either brings you out in shivers of excitement or a cold sweat.
Aonach Eagach means notched ridge and it provides the most sensational rock scramble on the Scottish mainland.
For some it’s the ultimate in perfection, a two mile-long section of problem solving amidst glorious scenery, a lot of it vertical.
For others, its their worst nightmare, a formidable barrier - physically and psychologically - that has to be conquered if they want to complete their Munros. Easy to see why some people refer to it as the brown trousers ridge.
It has the ability to constantly throw up surprises no matter how well you know it. This was my fifth time along it and there were still a couple of bits that caught me off guard.
The psychological aspect of climbing hills is always fascinating. A few years back I was with seven friends on Skye’s Black Cuillin and it was interesting to see that they were all affected differently by each peak. What was easy for one was often a nightmare for another and vice versa.
So it is with the Aonach Eagach - my partner for the day found her own little niggles which were different from mine. The route up is fast, a constant ascent on a good path with some minor scrambling, which leads to the first peak, Am Bodach. The first obstacle soon rears its head.
You arrive at a small grassy platform where the ground seems to drop off into space. This is the point where you commit to the ridge. After this there is no easy way off.
You move down to the right on big blocks with good holds but this is where I had my first surprise. I remembered this as straightforward but now it seemed there was a choice of descent routes.
This led to a bit of dithering, especially as the big rock to my right had a lack of good hand holds and seemed to be trying to push me out. Maybe familiarity can breed confusion as well as contempt.
You then swing left down another gap on little ledges. From here to the first Munro peak, Meall Dearg, is then relatively simple. Then the real ridge begins - first comes the Long Pinnacle, then the Middle Pinnacle and finally the Great Pinnacle.
A protected climb up a long chimney gets you up the first one. A series of ups and downs on shelves and ledges takes you over the second.
Then came my second surprise. A drop down a tight gap on to a narrow earth bridge sees you facing a seemingly impossible way ahead, a rock tower straddling the ridge. I was a little confused. Having swung round the tower I couldn’t remember the exact move for the next bit, especially as I couldn’t find a good ledge for my left foot to get myself started.
Eventually it all clicked into place and I was on a line of upward sloping blocks and then a series of rock steps which get you back on to the ridge line.
There are two final obstacles, one a tight squeeze up a long crack on the left of another rock tower, the other a simple rock staircase which turns a seemingly impregnable face. From then on it’s an easy stroll up to the second Munro, Sgorr nam Fiannaidh.
Now I just need to hope my memory improves for the next time along this great ridge.
(First published Daily Record, September 12, 2013)