Crossing Aonach Eagach Ridge – Wow!

aonach eagach ridge from drone
I finally ticked off a big hiking wish list item and scrambled my way across the Aonach Eagach ridge. Reputedly mainland Britain's longest, narrowest ridge, I knew to expect a tough scramble and lots of exposure. But how was it? Here's how I found the difficulty, exposure and route on Aonach Eagach.

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I’ve spent the summer gradually working my way through a number of the UK’s finest scrambling ridges, increasing in exposure and technical difficulty. Starting with the CMD arête in June, I went on to then cross Striding Edge, Sharp Edge and Crib Goch.

A big goal for me this summer has been to build up confidence in my ability to handle exposure and to improve my scrambling skills in order to tackle Aonach Eagach. Reputedly mainland Britain’s longest, narrowest ridge, I’ve been watching guides and videos of this ridge for months.

A grade 2 scramble, some people tackle this one roped and some people simple scramble it free in the summer months. For me, I wanted this to be a solo crossing without ropes, so it was important that the weather was good.

aonach eagach exposure point of view
Still from GoPro (chest mounted) footage

Finally, a good weather day while I was in Scotland. So in August 2022, I set out to takle Aonach Eagach. Here’s my route, some photos and thoughts on how difficult/dangerous this incredible ridge really is.

Aonach Eagach Ridge Crossing

So here are the key facts.

Hike date17th August 2022
Weather conditionsSunny and mild/warm
Distance hiked16.94km (as recorded on Apple Watch)
Walking time7 hours 28 minutes
Elevation gain total1,234m
Summits ReachedAm Bodach – 943m
Aonach Eagach/Meall Dearg – 953m (Munro)
Stob Coire Leith – 938m
Sgor Nam Fiannaidh – 967m (Munro)
TerrainRocky terrain, bouldery descent from the second munro
Hiked withSolo

Aonach Eagach Ridge Route

This the route I took.

Before I talk you through the route, there are some incredibly important things to consider when planning your route across Aonach Eagach. Here they are

  1. The start and end points aren’t close together! By the time you’ve crossed the ridge and got back down (more on descent in a moment) you’re going to be left with a hike of some 9 or 10km back up the road to your start point if you park where I did (at the small car park right by the side of the ascent to Am Bodach). I was solo hiking but I did manage to convince someone to pick me up at my end point and drive me back up to my car at the start point
  2. Descent. Choose wisely. If you use a route planning product like AllTrails, you’ll notice a path that appears to descend the ridge back to the main road immediately after the 4th summit. On my initial route plan, I was trying to get back down as soon after the 4th summit as possible to shorten the walk back to the car. However, on research, I found that this path leads to the Clachaig Gully and is considered highly dangerous. It’s something of a blackspot for accidents and even fatalities. So I made the call to follow the path, albeit a longer route, down into Glencoe
  3. East to West or West to East: I went East to West because I’d read up about most people doing it this way. I only encountered one person doing it the other way the whole day. Personally, I wouldn’t fancy the hike up the way I came down. So I would recommend East to West. But I saw no technical reason why you couldn’t do it the other way

So with those things said, here’s a loose walk through of my route.

1. Parking Up and Climbing!

Out of the car and climbing immediately! There’s a small car park right by the start of the route. Literally from the car you start your ascent to the first summit. It’s rocky steps, path and some light scrambling the whole way. It’s a short sharp ascent. You begin your hike at less than 200m above sea level and by the time you’re 2.5km in, you’re at over 900. It’s steep.

But the views are amazing from the moment you step out of the car.

2. Reaching Am Bodach

You’ll then reach the summit of Am Bodach. I had incredible views from here and I got my first glimpse of the ridge to come!

3. The downclimb from Am Bodach and onto Meall Dearg

From here, there’s a quite sizable down climb before you re-ascend to the summit of Meall Dearg. This is the first of 2 munros on this route and marks the true beginning of the ridge I was actually there for. Honestly, the munros on this one were a bonus!

I stopped on the summit of Meall Dearg to admire the views, eat something and to fly the drone out across the ridge. It was well worth the break here. The photos were stunning and the refuelling stop made me feel like I was less likely to end up with the shakes on the ridge crossing itself.

Plus, getting this sort of view of the ridge was worth the drone stop.

4. Crossing the Aonach Eagach Ridge

exposure on aonach eagach-min
I spent a lot of the ridge crossing looking at my own hands and feet!

From here is the crux of the day. The traverse of the ridge itself is the main attraction for most. Certainly, I was keen to tick the two munros off. But I’d have crossed this ridge without the munros.

This was unlike other ridges I’ve crossed in a couple of different ways:

  1. Lots more up and down than simply straight across
  2. Much more down climbing required
  3. Much more challenging scrambling

The navigation is simple enough. You follow the ridge.

Resist the temptation to try and get around pinnacles. There are no escape paths. Anything that looks like one will lead to a dead end. You really should only get off this ridge at the start or the end. So I tended to stick to the crest of the ridge, tackling pinnacles by going up and down them and resisting the temptation to try and get around anything.

how narrow is aonach eagach ridge

It was about an hour and 20 minutes for me from leaving Meall Dearg’s summit to getting over the final crazy pinnacle.

It was an unforgettable 80 minutes or so though.

5. Ascending Stob Coire Leith

selfie at end of aonach eagach ridge
Feeling pretty pleased with myself at the end of the main ridge, ahead of an ascent to Stob Coire Leith.

As you leave the main ridge, you’ll be taking a short but steep section on up to Stob Coire Leith. There’s some light scrambling required here on some sections of the path but it will feel like an absolute walk in the park compared to what you’ve just done!

The views from Stob Coire Leith were, as was the theme of my day, absolutely incredible.

6. Heading over to Sgor Nam Fiannaidh

From Stob Coire Leith, it’s a really easy to follow path up to the 4th summit (and second munro) of the hike. No scrambling here and the views back over the ridge were spectacular:

views over aonach eagach

The summit of Sgor Nam Fiannaid offers up amazing views on a clear day over the village of Glencoe and of Loch Leven.

7. Descending from Aonach Eagach into Glencoe

This is where it got a tad less enjoyable for me. As mentioned, I opted NOT to take the blackspot path off the ridge and instead decided to head down towards the village of Glencoe. This is definitely the safer option.

However, the initial descent from the summit is very bouldery and samey. The terrain is awful for descending on with lots of loose small stones.

Eventually, the path meets with another path that takes people up to and down from the Pap of Glencoe. This is where it improves slightly, but honestly, right until I met a minor road the surface was awful to walk on. The descent felt long and arduous and it was for that reason I was so grateful to have a lift back to my car and to not be tackling a 10km walk back up the main road.

The route was clear though, the whole way, with a visible path.

So, how was it?

I loved it. An incredible experience, honestly. I’m going to answer a few questions I had asked myself before tackling Aonach Eagach below though and offer some thoughts up on some of the things that concerned me most before I did it.

GoPro Footage of Aonach Eagach

I wore a chest mounted GoPro Max and here’s the footage.

Bear in mind that this particular model of GoPro has an incredibly wide angle lens which has the benefit of pulling in so much of the surrounding landscape. However, the effect of that is it also tends to accentuate how narrow things are!

Play Video

The weather is everything on Aonach Eagach

This was the second time I had penned in a date for this ridge. The first time, a last minute change to the forecast stopped me going ahead.

I wanted a dry, relatively clear day because I had read about how “greasy” the rock becomes when wet.

I was so lucky with the weather. I got exactly what was forecasted (I used this forecast) and the rock was almost entirely dry.

There was one section that is sheltered from direct sunlight and the rock in a crevice was still wet from the rain of the previous day. That rock was SLIPPY!

I cannot imagine crossing the entire ridge in wet conditions.

Dry, I found the rock nice and grippy. Wet and it would’ve been a complete game changer.

People do cross that ridge in all sorts of conditions (including snow and ice) but I am not confident enough at all (or experienced enough) to do so.

How exposed is Anoach Eagach?

Very exposed. That’s the short answer. The exposure is sustained most of the way across the ridge. And at points, you’re stepping out from a down climb onto really narrow sections of ridge with vast drops on either side.

So you absolutely need a head for heights here.

However, it’s worth saying that I personally did not find the exposure any more significant than on Crib Goch. It was just much more sustained and came with the added complexity of much more technically demanding scrambling.

Do you need ropes on Aonach Eagach?

I agonised over this question before planning to traverse Aonach Eagach.

The short answer is no. You don’t need ropes on Aonach Eagach. You can scramble this grade 2 ridge without ropes. And many people do. In fact almost everyone I saw up there that day was without ropes.

However, I know that lots of the guided trips do take people up there roped.

If you’re not trained in rope climbing, then clearly doing that without a guide isn’t an option for you and will likely be more dangerous than simply scrambling it. But if you’re worried or you’re not a confident scrambler, then a guided trip could be a solid option.

I am a fairly confident scrambler (though I still feel relatively new to it all) and I really wanted to do this solo. So I went solo, rope free.

The weather will play a part here too. Ropes probably offer a solid safety net in wet or icy conditions.

Is Aonach Eagach suitable for beginners?

No. Absolutely not, in my opinion. I wanted to do this ridge at the start of summer, but desperately did NOT want it to be my first.

Instead, I spent several months (making me still a relative beginner) doing some simple scrambling close to home and also taking on a number of mountain ridges.

This is a challenging scramble, in my view. And I am so glad I took on others first.

CMD arête gave me the opportunity to test my head for heights (in awful weather conditions too). Striding Edge was narrower but had the comfort blanket of an escape path. Crib Goch really tested my nerve for exposure but with simpler scrambling than Aonach Eagach. So by the time I came to this ridge, I was confident in my ability to hold my nerve with exposure and I’d done a lot more scrambling.

I don’t believe I’d have been anywhere near as calm or composed had this been my first ridge crossing.

So if you’ve not done any ridges yet, my personal recommendation would be to give CMD arête, Striding Edge and Crib Goch a go first. Cut your teeth on those grade 1s. I’ve always been ok with heights. But in reality, I didn’t know how I’d cope with that sort of exposure without the safety net of a rope and harness, until I had done it.

Is Aonach Eagach Dangerous?

Yes, without a doubt. Aonach Eagach has the potential to be deadly (and has been). Wrong footing or a simple trip can result in life changing injuries on that sort of terrain.

I’m very much of the opinion that any and all mountains have the potential to be dangerous in the right (or wrong!) conditions. But the sheer drops here amplify that on Aonach Eagach. It’s one of the most called out to spots in the country for Mountain Rescue with some 130 callouts annually.

In winter conditions or even just wet ones, I would imagine this ridge would become hideously difficult to cross.

Aonach Eagach Deaths

People have died crossing Aonach Eagach. It’s that simple. A quick Google search will return some pretty horrible stories. Here are just some of them:

  • A man died in June 2009 and another in July 2009 while descending from Aonach Eagach via the Clachaig Gully (source)
  • In August 2014, another man in his 50s died while descending the very same gully (source)
  • July 2016 – a man in his 40s fells to his death from the ridge (source)

There are more.

I’m not about fear mongering or unnecessary drama. And I believe everyone should have the right to go out and enjoy mountains like Aonach Eagach freely.

However, we should do so fully equipped with the knowledge of what we’re taking on, an understanding of the risks involved and prepared accordingly.

Aonach Eagach can be lethal. Amongst its fatalities are very experienced hillwalkers. So it’s not just bad planning or being poorly equipped that can cause problems on a ridge like Aonach Eagach. A simple slip can result in severe consequences.

This is why it’s so absolutely vital that you do your research before heading out and take your time and plenty of caution with every single footstep.

Final Tips for Crossing Aonach Eagach

Any hike you tackle is at your own risk. If you’re here, chances are you’re already doing your research.

A few tips for those, like me, who are by no means pro mountaineers looking to tackle Aonach Eagach:

  • Check the forecast before setting out. Yes, fine. Check it a few days before your planned hike but do check it again hours before you head out. Weather can change quickly in the mountains and the nearer to your hike you check, the likelier it is to be accurate
  • Aim for a dry day. The rock apparently becomes greasy when wet. I experienced one bit of wet rock on the ridge myself and couldn’t believe how slippy it was
  • Give yourself tonnes and tonnes of time. Don’t find yourself in a position where you are rushing because you’re worried about diminishing daylight
  • Scramble Grade 1s first. This was so important for me. It’s not just about technical scrambling capabilities, but also handling the exposure
  • Descend the long way via the path to the Pap of Glencoe. Yes, it’s a bit of a pain. But it’s a significantly safer descent than coming off other routes – particularly the Clachaig Gully
  • Try (if at all possible) to arrange for a lift back to your car. Save yourself that 10km hike back up the road!

Most of all though, enjoy it! This was a memorable experience and a thoroughly enjoyable mountain day.

Have an amazing time!

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