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Walk 2955 - printer friendly version

Ridges & peaks of Bidean Nam Bian Walk

Author - Stephen Starkey

Length - 10.5 miles / 17.1 km

Ascent - 4900 feet / 1485 metres

Grade - very hard

Start - OS grid reference NN145571
Lat 56.668765 + Long -5.0288451
Postcode PH49 4HX (approx. location only)

This is a tough, full day outing on one of the classic mountains in Scotland. The walk starts from the A82 with chocolate box views of Loch Achtriochtan, takes in the stunning Coire Gabhail (also known as The Lost Valley) before heading up on to some of the most spectacular walking ridges anywhere in the UK. The descent is via Coire nam Beitheach, passing the climbing honeypot of An t-Sron and with superb views of the Aonach Eagach ridge. As with most walks, a clear day is preferable but with the rapid changes in weather in the Glencoe area, this can never be assumed - even on the most perfect looking mornings.

Notes - Escape routes from the ridges of Bidean nam Bian are few and far between and those that are available all start with a very steep section, usually on some form of scree. Just over half way down the final descent of Coire nam Beitheach, the route crosses the Allt Coire nam Beitheach stream near some waterfalls. Shortly after this, a short scramble across a quite steep slab of rock has to be negotiated. The rock can be slippery if the wind has blown spray from the waterfall on to it.

When I was a kid many years ago, we had a number of family holidays to Scotland. 35+ years ago, the motorway and trunk road network wasn't as extensive as it is today. So, by the time we had travelled from Yorkshire to the Highlands, combined with the amusing pronunciation of primary school kids, Crianlarich was always "Kranky Harry". I've no doubt my parents would testify to how bad we were by the time we got to Kranky Harry !! The extra drag from Crianlarich through Glencoe to Fort William held no interest for me as a kid. About 12 months ago my partner dragged me, protesting vehemently, back to Glencoe for a long walking weekend. I could swear the place had undergone a complete transformation in the intervening years !!

We currently live in a place where we can be in any of the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, South Pennines or Trough of Bowland in less than 1 hour. 2 hours and the Peak District and Snowdonia (Eryri) are in range. All 6 of these are fantastic walking areas in their own way. However, if somebody came along and offered me a half decent job that required me to live in Glencoe, I would not only bite their hand off, I'd devour the arm as well and I'd be there ready to start work tomorrow. For me, when Belinda Carlisle sang "Oooh, Heaven Is A Place On Earth", the place she was referring to was Glencoe. How time changes our perspectives !

Anyway, for the walk. If I make this walk sound too good to be true, I offer no apologies but a bit of personal background may help to explain. Any of the lay-bys or car parks on the A82 between the Clachaig Road and The Three Sisters viewpoint cum helipad, depending on whether you prefer a "level" walk in or walk out. Alternatively, though making for a longer walk, park at the Clachaig Inn in readiness for the end of the day. We used the first layby to the East of the Clachaig Road (Grid ref. NN145571).

From the lay by, after admiring the stunning view across Loch Achtriochtan with Achnambeithach and An t-Sron providing an amazing backdrop, head East along the A82 Pass Of Glencoe. There are two options - one is the old military road on the North side of the A82, the second is a path set back and slightly below road level on the South side of the road. It is worth taking a moment or two to look at the view towards An t-Sron as the obvious corrie to the left running down to the loch forms the route for the final descent at the end of the day.

Shortly after passing the farmstead of Achtriochtan, bear right away from the road on an obvious track which is the original military road through Glencoe. Throughout this section along the military road - still in remarkably good condition after all these years - the views of The Three Sisters of Glencoe on the right are superb. In order of approach on this route, The Three Sisters are the formidable and impressive peaks of Aonach Dubh, Gearr Aonach and Beinn Fhada.

As you pass Aonach Dubh, if you look ahead towards the River Coe on the right, a metal footbridge across the river will be visible. Continuing along the military road, by a variety of means you cross a number of tributary streams flowing inexorably towards the river. The surviving old military bridges are certainly much more aesthetically pleasing on the eye than their modern concrete slab counterparts. At grid ref NN168568 an obvious path crosses the military road and leads down to the metal footbridge mentioned above. Ignore this path and continue a little further along the military road.

At grid ref NN173566, the remains of the military road veer to the left back towards the A82 and a clear path bends right and downhill towards the river. Follow this path and cross the River Coe by means of the footbridge built in the 1960's by Artificer Apprentices from the Royal Navy. The wooden steps down to the bridge are set at Royal Navy standard intervals and are steep so not the easiest to descend unless you are well over 6' tall and ex-services. Just upstream from the footbridge is a point known (for obvious reasons) as 'The Meeting Of the Three Waters' though when the trees are in leaf, the meeting of the waters is not visible from the bridge.

Once across the river climb up the short rocky section to continue on a good clear path that tracks above the Allt Coire Gabhail on the NW side of the stream. Should you undertake this walk in icy or slippery conditions, care needs to be exercised along this section as not very far from the path on the left there are very steep rocks dropping in to a ravine. The consequences of a fall here don't bear thinking about. There are two or three points where the path splits and offers options for which way to go, it does not much matter which you go for. The paths on the right involve extra ascent and descent but are generally slightly easier to walk. However, for ease of navigating and ensuring you do not miss the point for crossing the river safely, I would recommend sticking to the paths on the left.

At grid ref NN169557 the path veers slightly left to a point where the river broadens but offers a number of boulder strewn routes to cross quite easily. There are other more adventurous options to cross as well, however, let the accompanying photo of a lost and lonely walking pole serve as a reminder as to the dangers of making things more difficult than necessary. Not sure if the pole is offering a reward for being re-united with it's careless owner.

The path then continues climbing gradually on the opposite bank of the stream. The OS Map doesn't really indicate what you are about to come across next whereas the Harvey map gives a bit more of a clue. After climbing amongst a small wooded area, suddenly you crest a small shoulder on the hillside and a stunning first view of The Lost Valley opens up before you. You can see no end of photographs of this valley but nothing will prepare you for the first time you experience the view for real.

It may depend on the individual imagination of each of us but for me I could readily accept one of the theories I read about this valley once being a "natural reservoir" that disappeared through the collapse of the retaining rocks at the Northern end. Whilst also accepting it would indeed have made a wonderful hiding place for cattle rustled by the Macdonalds during the various clan disputes (a story I read in a different book); having walked up from Glencoe, I found it very hard to believe that even "vicious Scottish brutes" of years gone by would have driven cattle up the lower sections of Coire Gabhail to reach this particular hiding place.

Whatever your thoughts, The Lost Valley offers a superb location for a rest. However beautiful you think the Northern end of the Lost Valley is, if you walk across to the point where the path starts ascending again from the Southern end, you will find a number of rocks next to the stream. On a hot day, the beautifully clear waters of the stream are incredibly refreshing and cooling. They are also apparently quite safe to drink from - certainly I suffered no ill effects and the water was far nicer to drink than standard tap water.

At this point, the slightly sobering thought is that having been walking steadily uphill for some time now, you have not quite reached 400m above sea level and looking at the path ahead that climbs ever upwards to the Bealach Dearg reveals a further 550m of ascent just to the bealach. Add on the small matter of another 130m ascent to the summit of Stob Coire Sgreamhach and, despite the beauty of the surroundings, you could easily be a little deflated at the thought of what lies ahead.

The path towards Bealach Dearg is clear and obvious throughout, despite not being shown on the OS map beyond the ravine. It is however something of a slog up the path, especially on a hot day when the goal never seems to get any closer. The last section of the climb to the bealach is suffering from the passage of many pairs of boots - it is now loose and nasty scree though less of a problem in ascent than descent. Eventually you arrive at the cairn on the ridge for a well earned breather.

From the bealach, turn left (East) to continue climbing, now on a rocky ridge that is a little scrambly in places (though nothing difficult), and push on to the summit of Stob Coire Sgreamhach. From the fine summit you have excellent views back along the ridge to Bidean nam Bian. One of the most endearing aspects of Sgreamhach to me though is that if you ignore the latter parts of the North Eastern ridge to Beinn Fhada, Sgreamhach has the wonderful profile produced by just about every 4 year old the world over when asked to draw a mountain.

When you are ready for the next part of the walk, retrace your route back down the ridge to the bealach at the head of Coire Gabhail then continue ahead on the well trodden but rocky path that leads to the magnificent summit of Bidean nam Bian. For large parts of the year, this section of the walk will take you either through or at least close to snow fields. For those used to the plateau type summits of most Lakeland fells and Snowdonian (Eryri) mountains, the small pointed peak of a mountain as big as Bidean may come as something of a surprise. Considering it is the apex of three ridges, and they meet at the highest point in Argyle, the spectacular views from the summit will be less of a surprise, and they take in a veritable "Who's Who" of Highland mountains.

To the North you can look down on the serrated ridge of Aonach Eagach, beyond which lies the massive bulk of Ben Nevis and to the East of The Ben are the Mamores. Turn to the East and there are a number of long ridges - Beinn Fhada being the closest with the Buachailles Etive Beag and Etive Mor beyond, then further again the Blackmount Hills. To the South, Ben Starav and Ben Cruachan rise above Loch Etive while, finally, to the West, Beinn a'Bheithir stands sentinel over Lochs Linnhe and Leven. One day I'll cart a tripod up to the summit of Bidean and have a go at one of those spectacular 360 degree panoramas. Before then I'll need to work out if there is enough space on the summit for a tripod and me !

From the summit, it is worth delaying the descent a little longer and heading across the rocky ridge that heads West and then North to the ancillary top of Stob Coire nam Beith. Firstly this top offers a wonderful vantage point for the massive rock slab called the Church Door Buttress on the North face of Bidean; secondly is the stomach churning precipitous view straight down in to the Coire nam Beitheach; thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it offers the chance to look across towards Stob Coire nan Lochan and locate the path required for the descent. From Stob Coire nam Beith return to the summit of Bidean nam Bian and then turn left to descend the (initially) very steep and rocky North ridge to the bealach above Collie's Pinnacle before pressing on to the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan.

For the descent, I have seen the first signs of a path forming about 150m back towards Bidean from the summit of nan Lochan. It would appear to zig-zag across the steep face as it drops about half way between South Buttress and Collies Pinnacle. A slightly more obvious route is to return to the col between Bidean nam Bian and Stob Coire nan Lochan then descend carefully down the steep scree. Initially the path is difficult to follow and it is badly eroded. Once down the first steep section, the path becomes far more obvious and the going is much easier as the gradient lessens. On reaching a short section of almost level ground, the path arrives at some tributary streams that eventually feed in to the Allt Coire nam Beithach. The path handrails the streams for a while to the first in a long series of waterfalls. Here the path crosses the stream before continuing it's descent.

Shortly after crossing the stream you will come to a rock slab that requires a short scramble to go across and down. Once that has been negotiated, a good clear path leads ever downwards towards Loch Achtriochtan. The views of the loch and the Aonach Eagach ridge beyond are spectacular and a rich reward towards the end of a long hard day. Closer to hand, there are a series of thundering waterfalls. Finally, on arriving back at the A82, pass through the wooden gate then turn right on the road to cross the River Coe and continue carefully alongside the road to return to the car.

Just down the road is the famous walkers & climbers pub - The Clachaig Inn where you can rest the tired limbs whilst the stiffness sets in un-noticed. You will no doubt hear tell of many an exploit in the hills whilst in the Clachaig Inn. Unless you have 4 hooved legs, long straggly white hair, two serrated horns and a silly looking beard, don't be tempted to try and emulate their exploits tomorrow - your legs will need a rest after today !

If you start out from the "helipad" car park, then from the valley of Glencoe, there does appear to be a path along Coire nan Lochan that could be used for a descent by dropping down E from the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan for about 150m then heading NE in to the valley. Alternatively, looking at the map, from Stob Coire nan Lochan you could take the ridge above South Buttress and Pinnacle Buttress to the summit of Aonach Dubh with a more gentle descent then back South towards a series of lochans below Stob Coire nan Lochan and round towards the path in the corrie. However, I have not walked this area sufficiently often to be able to confirm these thoughts or offer any directions.

Walk 2955 Route Map

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