A Superb Day on the Tops of Aonach Mor

18 07 2015

Fri 12 June 2015

The final day of our Roy Bridge trip, I’d scheduled to do the two Munro Tops of Aonach Mor which live on a little side ridge. I’d had a recce to try to reach the start of the ridge from the main road via Leanachan but, as reported on my Stob Coire a’ Mhail post, was totally unsuccessful. I couldn’t get any more information about reaching the start of the ridge – most seemed to contour round the Aonach an Nid nose on the north-east side of Aonach Mor. Being fairly unsound of leg and also wanting an easy day, I didn’t see why I shouldn’t take the Nevis Range Gondola up to the mountain restaurant and start from there.

The reason I’d left this walk until Friday was because I wasn’t sure the superb spell of weather we were having would last till the end of the week and these can easily be navigated and walked in any weather. As it turned out, the weather remained superb and I wouldn’t have missed the gorgeous views for anything!

Click on photos for full size/resolution
I was at the Gondola station around 10am and the ride up took ten minutes or so – very pleasant it was too. There were a few tourists also going up and quite a few mountain bikers as there are now famous downhill runs on the north side of Aonach Mor. I showed myself up right at the start when I tried to get into the cable car with my walking pole strapped across the back of my bumbag – my bum isn’t big but the combination was and I bounced back out again. The guy overseeing people into the carriages looked away so as not to make me feel even more stupid but I could tell what he’d be thinking. Out of all the people going up in the Gondolas that day, I was the one he remembered with a sardonic smile when we came back down later!

I exited the carriage at the top and looked around to see if any kind of track set off around the nose of Aonach an Nid. A track set off briefly but gave up in less than 100 yards and then I just followed one of the snowfences. As usual, when contouring corrie walls, I ended up gaining quite a bit too much height with the clambering up and down the sides of streams and rocky sections but it wasn’t too bad going.

Sgurr an Finnais Aig
A much sanitised-for-the-non-walkers Sgurr am Finnais Aig… there were even pushchairs going up this one!

There were a few steep snowfields to cross but, after a few days walking up here already, I knew they’d be fine so just stomped across. I noticed only the deer had crossed them recently – this isn’t a popular walk…

Snowy Aonach an Nid
Aonach an Nid

Rounding the corner under the cornices of Aonach an Nid, the lovely corrie of Coire Choille-Rais came into view – more of a high glen than a corrie really. Also my ridge appeared and looked wonderfully easy. I could see there was a lovely grassy route up to a col between the two Tops I had to do so descended towards a ski-tow apparatus I could see in the corrie for the burn crossing – I didn’t know they skiied down this side!

Aonach Mor Tops Ridge

Just before I made it down to the burn, I suddenly came across a deep gorge with vertical sides. The best way to cross this was on the snowfields so I did, hoping it was firm enough to hold – it was fine. I took photos both up and down the gorge snowfields…

Ski Run Aonach Mor East Side
I’m sure this ski-run could still be open!

Snowy Gorge Crossing

I then reached the burn and studied it for a crossing place. Initially, I found a section where I could jump a gap between dry rocks but wasn’t keen on the landing rock – it was a bit jagged. There was another flat rock just beyond it which you could continue onto but in the end I chickened out. I resorted to my usual method as that is the easiest – boots off and wade. Nowadays, of course, I have a walking pole to help out…

Burn Crossing Aonach Mor tops

I was soon across the burn and had a break in the sunshine for a coffee while my feet dried. I’d had quite a few drinks out of the burns on my contour of Aonach Mor so wasn’t desperately thirsty but knew I probably would be on the climb up the grass to the col in the sunshine. But it wasn’t too hot on my walk at all as there was always a nice breeze.

Coire Choille-Rais

Soon I set off up the grass and found it was a very short and fairly easy ascent to the col. I just had one snow patch on the way which I decided to contour above seeing as I was going up to the ridge anyway. The east side of Aonach Mor across the glen looked fantastic all the way as it still had lots of snow.

Aonach Mor East Face across Coire Choille-Rais

Aonach Mor Snowy Eastern Corrie

Stob an Cul-Choire & Aonach Mor

Aonach Mor's Coire an Lochain

Once I reached my ridge, stunning views all round burst into view! To the east were the lovely Grey Corries, the main peaks in view were Stob Coire Easain and Stob Coire an Laoigh.

Grey Corries from Stob an Cul-Choire

Ahead, above my higher top of Stob an Cul Choire, loomed Aonach Beag – still very snowy and with savage, sharp black ridges of rock running up the front of it.

Stob an Cul-Choire from Fhir Dhuibb col

Stob an Cul-Choire Ascent

Looking at Aonach Mor, there was no route up onto that today or for quite a while as a cornice ran along the whole ridge with an ominous crack along its whole length!

In between the Grey Corries and Aonach Beag were Sgurrs Choinnich Mor and Beag – not quite so spectacular from this side but still beautiful.

Sgurr Choinnich Mor & Beag from N

To their right was the lovely, and very snow-clad, Binnein Mor. The cute little Binnein Beag was in view but, as the hills behind over-top it, wasn’t really photogenic unfortunately.

Binnein Mor from Stob an Cul-Choire

I took ages along the ridge to the summit as I was gazing at the view and there were crags immediately to my left so I had to try to look where I was going as well. Soon I met the single snow patch on the ascent but the ridge isn’t very narrow so I was happy just to stomp up it. I found it tiring though and had to have a little rest at the top of it before I continued to the cairn.

Stob an Cul-Choire Ascent Snow

Soon enough, I was at the cairn. There was another little lump further on which I decided to visit – it looked around the same height and some obviously think so as another cairn had been made there. I’m pretty sure the first cairn is the higher of the two and the proper summit though. The second lump was a great place to sit and have a long break as it had lovely flat-topped rocks. I sat for another coffee, an enthuse at the view and to take more photos.

Aonach Beag from NE
Dramatic Aonach Beag

Aonach Mor from Stob an Cul-Choire Summit
Aonach Mor Ahead – not for me today!

Stob Coire Easain from Stob an Cul-Choire
Stob Coire Easain and Grey Corries Ridge

Eventually, I tore myself away for a return along the rest of the ridge to Stob Coire an Fhir Duibhe. This peak had lovely narrow sections of ridge with craggy ends but the left-hand side was easily descended to pick up the next narrow ridge. Eventually, I ran out of narrow ridges and descended the side to take the ridge path to the col before my second Top of Tom na Sroine (Fhir Duibhe isn’t counted).

Stob Coire an Fhir Dhuibb from Stob an Cul-Choire

Stob an Cul-Choire - looking back
Looking back to Stob an Cul-Choire

Stob an Cul-Choire to Tom na Sroine

Incidentally, the view to the valley from the col showed a perfectly good route coming all the way from both Corriechoille Farm and Spean Bridge through the forest on good and simple tracks which reached the foot of the ridge – there even looks to be a bridge to cross the river! Oh well, my car was at the bottom Gondola station now but, legs allowing, I might well do the walk from there another time as it’s so nice…

Aonach Mor Tops - route in from Spean

I then plodded up the easy ground on flat rocks and grass to Tom na Sroine. I sat for another break in the sun for a coffee at the cairn – very rare I have so many breaks but it was all just so wonderful for a change πŸ™‚

Tom na Sroine
Tom na Sroine

Stob an Fhir Dhuibb
Looking back to Stob an Fhir Dhuibhe
Stobs an Fhir Dhuibb and Cul-Choire

I’d decided to descend the ridge to just past a steeper section where I’d seen a grassy rake came easily back down to the corrie. Descending the rake, which others have used as it had sections of path, gave me a great view of the river for potential crossing places. The river is quite a lusty one and was flowing quite hard with the snowmelt. I could see a couple of potential sites and headed towards the higher one first – that way, I could stroll downhill along the river studying it for more crossing places if necessary.

Luckily, I arrived at a braided section with a little island in the middle where I could certainly cross the first half. I had to put my boots in the water in a few places but it was shallow water and flat rocks. That was me on the island. I couldn’t continue to cross where I was so headed uphill until I saw a good place where I could cross the second half completely dryshod. I hopped across…

Now all that was left was to plot a route up the corrie wall to contour back under Aonach an Nid to the Gondola station and restaurant. First though, I went to look at the fantastic waterfall coming out of the gorge I’d crossed on my contour in. I took a couple of photos of the waterfall and then picked a line and started my contour.

Coire Choille-Rais Waterfall Closeup

Coire Choille-Rais - looking back
Farewell Beautiful Corrie and Ridge – I’ll be Back!

I managed to stay lower than I had on the way in, especially when I saw the chairlift I’d been above before and aimed more or less just above it. I soon re-found my fenceline and, moments later, the mountain restaurant came into view not far away.

Snowgoose, Nevis Range

At the restaurant, I thought it only fair to buy something and decided an ice cream was the order of the day. I got a lovely tub of Mackies Strawberry ice-cream and a soda water and sat on the sunny terrace watching mad mountain bikers, the Gondola cars and the tourists while I ate and lounged. A little more fibre was added to my ice cream by a workman drilling nearby – the sawdust cloud drifted slowly into my tub!

Nevis Range Top Station

Nevis Range Gondolas from Top Station

I have to say I found the exit from the gondola station for the downward run a bit scary and grabbed my seat at the start! After that I relaxed until they stopped the cable cars to get mountain bikers off at the top station – that made the cars swing about a bit and felt alarming – it also always seemed to happen when I was above one of the steeper bits and a long way from the pylons so had no point of reference.

Nevis Range Gondola Descent2

Back at the carpark I paid the requested Β£2 for my parking (there’s no actual charge) and returned happily to Richard who’d had an equally good day around Roy Bridge and the riverbank. The Gondola is Β£12 for a return for anyone else wanting to do this great route. I can vouch for it being a lovely walk πŸ™‚

Stats: 6 miles, 1670 feet of ascent, a leisurely 3.5 hours

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21 responses

22 07 2015
tessapark1969

Some lovely photos there. I used the gondola when I did Aonach Mor, didn’t see why not but did get some flak as a result.

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22 07 2015
mountaincoward

So did me and Richard – it’s still another 2000 feet of ascent so we couldn’t see why not. Also, the tracks up through the forest weren’t very clear at the time and we had no idea how to get up that bit anyway. But no doubt I’d get flak from the same places if I mentioned it!

To me, it’s only the same as driving up to Honister Pass to do hills or the top of the road between Latrigg and Skiddaw’s Jenkin Hill.

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21 07 2015
fedup

I’m sure you won’t be the first to forget about your gear – I’m sure there will be lots of little scratches around the door! Is the walking pole helping with your aches & pains?

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21 07 2015
mountaincoward

I don’t use it much to be honest – I just take it in case my legs start to deteriorate by the end of a walk and then get it out. Doing my Skye Cuillin stuff last week though, after it kept jamming on various scrambles while attached to my pack on the first day, I left it in the car the second day. But there isn’t much actual ‘walking’ in the Cuillin. My legs are quite a bit better apart from the odd relapse as, now I’ve started my tough Scottish stuff again, my muscles have returned to what they should be…

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21 07 2015
fedup

Pleased to hear your limbs are a bit better πŸ™‚ I’ve always been a bit dubious of walking poles, I’ve seen enough people hampered with them up on Striding Edge, Prison Band, Causey Pike scrambly bit etc. I can imagine helping with a heavy pack but I usually try to travel light!

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22 07 2015
mountaincoward

Totally agree that they’re useful if you’re backpacking/bothying etc and carrying a huge load – they’re also useful for river crossings and I have been using it for that. But apart from that, I find them quite a nuisance as I’m such a grabby walker on difficult terrain and like to have my hands free at all times.

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21 07 2015
underswansea

Fantastic photos. Sounds like an enjoyable hike. Nice to see the snow. Ours went fast and early this year. Sounds like sawdust and ice cream can hit the spot after such a good day! Take care. Bob

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21 07 2015
mountaincoward

Yeah the sawdust made it extra filling πŸ˜‰

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20 07 2015
chrissiedixie

Can’t believe how much snow there still seems to be everywhere!

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20 07 2015
mountaincoward

It was amazing for June. Most of that route is to the north of the hills but, on the type of ground it was on, I was surprised there was so much still lying on smooth grassy slopes!

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20 07 2015
McEff

What a great walk and with fantastic views. I wish I was up there right now.
Had to smile at your ordeal with the walking pole and bum-bag. You captured the moment perfectly, right down to the chap who turned away and pretended not to notice. Ha ha.
Cheers, Alen

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20 07 2015
mountaincoward

I felt a bit of a twit – I’m sure he laughed his socks off once I’d got in and gone. And you can imagine the story hit the pubs that night around Fort Bill! πŸ˜‰

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18 07 2015
bob

Good skiing still if you can get up there. Cross country and adventurous downhill folk attempt to ski on mountain snow for a set distance every month of the year. Don’t know if anyone has done it yet. I remember being surprised that Oct/ Nov were the only tricky months.
Looks a cracking day.

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19 07 2015
mountaincoward

Didn’t know that about the ski-ing every month of the year! πŸ™‚

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18 07 2015
smackedpentax

Looks like a cracking walk Carol – superb photos too πŸ™‚

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18 07 2015
mountaincoward

That could be your first mountain walk when your knees get better – very little ascent, just contouring a rocky nose and then pretty easy ground once you’ve crossed the burn πŸ™‚

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18 07 2015
smackedpentax

Sounds like a plan πŸ™‚

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18 07 2015
Paul Sammonds

Another fine walk off the beaten track.
Looked like you had some very fine views across to the main tops.

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18 07 2015
mountaincoward

It was the best day I’ve had this year – probably for a few years actually – absolutely superb πŸ™‚

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18 07 2015
johndburns

Still masses of snow!

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18 07 2015
mountaincoward

There really was! It’s going a bit now – it might finally all push off by winter!

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