Walking the Ring of Steall, Glen NevisJune 17, 2019
The Ring of Steall is one of the most popular and spectacular mountain ridge walks in Scotland – and it’s notoriously tough, with a total ascent of 1676m. I did it in April, as part of the fitness preparation for my Mountain Leader award, which was due to take place the following week.
Map showing our route. A more detailed map can be found here.
The Ring of Steall traverses five mountains, four of which are Munros (mountains with an altitude of at least 3,000 feet)
The flat ground where I wild camped the night before the walk.
I posted the walk for my Meetup group, and three others accompanied me – all people I knew well. We had a fantastic, though tiring day.
The scariest part of the walk
The walk starts in Glen Nevis, near Fort William. About half a kilometre from the car park, you are faced with the notorious wire bridge. You don’t have to cross it. The river is shallow here, so you could wade through – though you’d get a bit wet.
I’d crossed this bridge before, and I decided not to make any fuss about it, in case it built up my companions’ anxiety. I just went straight ahead.
The shorter your arms are, the more difficult this bridge is to cross. It’s not easy. You really have to hold on tight.
Once I was at the other side, my friend Mandy started to cross. I could tell from her face that she was nervous, but she took her time and did well. When she reached the other side, she said it was one of the scariest things she’d ever done.
Ula was next. She said that not only was it the most terrifying experience of her life, but she would prefer to wade through the river than do it again! Luckily the walk is a circuit, so we did not have to cross this bridge on the way back.
Ula crossing the wire bridge.
Shortly after the wire bridge, you have to cross another river, the Allt Coire a’ Mhail, this time on stepping stones. This river cascades down from the spectacular Steall Falls waterfall that gives the hillwalk its name. It was in spate when I had tried to do the Ring of Steall last November, and I’d had to abandon the walk and go back over the wire bridge.
But on this occasion it was very different. The weather was unusually warm and dry for the time of year, and the falls were beautiful, but not torrential.
Steall Falls. Larger image here.
The stepping stones were not too difficult to cross.
Crossing the stepping stones. Larger image here.
After that, there is a very boggy, flat section – and then it’s straight up, 600m of steep ascent. The heat sapped our strength, so we took several breaks to admire the beautiful views.
Ula admiring Ben Nevis across the glen. Larger image here.
The mountain we were climbing is called An Gearanach, which means “The Complainer”. It’s not hard to see why! Though we didn’t actually complain while climbing this one – the views were just too spectacular. We were loving every moment.
Panoramic view of Sgurr a’ Mhaim, Ben Nevis and Aonach Beag at 630m altitude. Larger image here.
At about 900m, there’s a large distinctive rock pillar which we all felt compelled to climb. One crazy man in front of us jumped off the thing – and thankfully survived. We just posed on the top.
“Hi Mum!” Larger image here.
Then there was another steep climb of about 80m, and we were at the summit.
Summit selfie at the first Munro of the day, An Gearanach.
Aonach Beag and the Grey Corries to the north, with ovoid lenticular clouds. Larger image here.
Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg. Larger image here.
Panorama showing the Ring of Steall from the summit of An Gearanach at the left, round to the last Munro in the circuit, Sgurr a’ Mhaim, with Ben Nevis at the right. Larger image here.
After the summit, the ridge becomes very rocky.
I was at the front here, and I hadn’t noticed the man at the back, waiting patiently. When I did spot him, I let him past. He was going like a bomb!
Later on, we passed the same man again, going the other way -– and then we met him once again, near the end of the circuit. We asked him if he was doing it multiple times. No, he answered. He was actually climbing all 10 of the Mamores, with a total ascent of more than 3550m and a distance of about 36km! He seemed very relaxed about it, and happy to stop for a chat before whizzing off again.
The next Munro on the circuit is Stob Coire a’Chairn (981m). To reach it, we had to go down 120m and back up again.
Heading towards Stob Coire a’ Chairn. Larger image here.
The warm, dry weather was sapping our energy, but the steep walk up to the next summit wasn’t really as bad as it looked. Another 20 minutes and we were there.
View back to the ridge we’d just walked along. Larger image here.
View of the Eastern Mamores from Stob Choire a’ Chairn. Larger image here.
From here we had to go down 150m and then up again 200m, to reach the summit of Am Bodach (1032m), the third Munro of the day. Am Bodach means The Old Man, and this mountain is quite gnarly and a darker shade than the other mountains.
View up to the summit of Am Bodach. Larger image here.
The summit of Am Bodach is broad, with several different viewpoints. The views from here are just magnificent.
Loch Leven and the hills of Glencoe. Larger image here.
Glorious views from Am Bodach. Larger image here.
From Am Bodach the route leads over a couple of lesser peaks, neither of them Munros. We stopped for lunch at the first of these, Sgurr an Lubhair (1001m). Its summit is scattered with silvery rocks and slabs, ideal for resting against.
We were psyching ourselves up for the next stage on the circuit: the notorious Devil’s Ridge.
View along the Devil’s Ridge to the last Munro in the Ring of Steall, Sgurr a’ Mhaim. Larger image here.
Lochan Coire nam Miseach. Larger image here.
The Devil’s Ridge
The temperature had fallen significantly and the wind had strengthened. This made us a little nervous, as the Devil’s Ridge is notoriously narrow.
As it turned out, there was nothing to worry about. It was much easier than we’d expected.
Mandy and Sheena on the not-so-scary Devil’s Ridge.
The Devil’s Ridge. Larger image here.
Scrambly bit on the ridge (there is a bypass path).
Astonishing rock formations.
The Devil’s Ridge seemed to be over all too quickly, and we were faced with the last steep climb, of just over 150m, up to Sgurr a’ Mhaim (1099m). We heaved our tired bodies up the zig-zagging path.
View back to the Devil’s Ridge and Ula climbing up Sgurr a’ Mhaim. Larger image here.
We were ecstatic to reach the top of Sgurr a’ Mhaim! We didn’t realise that the toughest part of the day lay ahead.
Posing on the summit cairn, with Ben Nevis in the background.
There was quite a bit of snow at the top! And beautiful Ben Nevis was right ahead. Larger image here.
More Mamores, from the high point of the Ring of Steall. Larger image here.
We spent almost half an hour at the summit, enjoying the views. Then we started to head back down to Glen Nevis.
We were all shattered, and this was a slog – initially a very rocky one – of more than 1000m descent.
Walking down Sgurr a’ Mhaim. Larger image here.
It seemed to go on forever! Maybe it seemed worse because we were all so tired, and I was certainly a bit dehydrated. I hadn’t taken enough water with me, and I had to refill my water bottle from a river on the way down.
Despite this, we had all had the most incredible, enjoyable day.
For me, this was the first of three big hillwalks in three consecutive days. But more on that later.