Running along the north side of Glencoe, a deep glaciated valley with a long, sometimes barbourous history, is a long, steep-sided mountain ridge.I like ridge walking; I have climbed many of the ridges in the Scottish mountains - Liatach, An Teallach, and much of the Skye Cuillin - including the Inaccessible Pinnancle, an ill-named, very exposed blade of rock sticking out of (and a very little higher than) Sgurr Alasdair. To climb the Inn Pinn, you need ropes - it is the only one of the 283 Scottish mountains recognised as being over 3,000 feet ("Munros") for which you do need ropes.
But the Aonach Eagach comes close. And it is much, much harder than the rest of the Cuillin: once you have reached the ridge, an hour and a half's climb, there is only one way to go. And the scrambling is incessant for four or five hours, without a break.
It was foggy, as it was when I climbed the Inn Pinn, which I think was an advantage: it stops one thinking of the possible dangers when you can't see down.
It is a narrow path along the top of the ridge, and lots of ups and downs - pinnacles - that require scaling and scrambling. On Liatach and An Teallach, there are ways to avoid the more uncomfortable pinnacles; on the Cuillin, whilst the ridge is precipitous, there are lots of flat bits in between those that require scrambling. The Aonach Eagach lacks both alternative routes around the pinnacles and much space in between. Certainly nowhere to stop.
I quite enjoy scrambling, but the intensity of the Aonach Eagach is just wearing. And it is not an easy scramble - it is the most difficult route before it becomes real mountain climbing (what I do I usually describe as walking!). The guide I and two others hired - absolutely essential, I reckon, and I couldn't have done it without him - had to direct me a fair bit - where to put my hands and feet. There was a lot of stretching between hand- and footholds - my limbs ached for several days after. There were many times when I couldn't see what was below me; the was one moment when I had to stretch my leg down and down a bit more, and I could feel my hands losing their grip, and I couldn't see how far I would fall. It turned out to be about two inches. But timed stopped...
At other points, the path was barely a foot wide on the ridge, with sheer drops on each side. I happily surrendered my dignity and crawled along, one hand and one foot on each side of the ridge.
I am pleased to sat that I shall not be climbing the Aonach Eagach again. I may well climb the first (eastern) Munro again, from the north. The second, westerly Munro I have climbed before. It was actually the first Munro I ever climbed, before I knew any better. I was staying at the Clachaig, a pub at the west of the glen, in 1987 or '88. It was a glorious early summer day. I had had a pint and lunch, and I noticed a path going up the hillside opposite the pub. So I climbed up, right to the top. Several years later, I read "this route should be avoided... a hazard... Not recommended".
(The cloudy photos were taken on this trip. These sunny photos were taken on a - sunnier - trip last year. I must have many old, black and white photos of Glencoe and the Aonach Eagach amongst my negatives. Another scanning project, perhaps...)