This post is part of a longer trip report. You can access the full table of contents here.
The following morning we packed up in the dark, aware that we were in for a long day. The original plan had been to walk up the Glen Nevis Gorge, dump our things and to climb a few of the remote peaks further up the valley but the footpath through the gorge had been closed by a rock fall.
We decided to take a high level alternative route, climbing up the valley between Sron Dearg and Sron Sgurr a Mhaim and then on to the summits of Sgurr an Lubhair to Am Bodhach, Stob Coire a Chairn, An Gharbhanach and An Gearanach before finally descending into the valley by the Steall Waterfall. These make up most of the well-known Ring of Steall.
The taxi left us on the bridge above the Lower Nevis waterfalls, spray blowing in our faces. The sky had completely cleared and we had fantastic views of Ben Nevis and Glen Nevis as we walked up a narrow path following the Allt Coire a Musgham stream into a hanging valley above Glen Nevis. The long grass was a deep burnt orange, almost golden in places.
The path, more a track, became scrambly as the valley narrowed and there was one awkward move by the edge of a waterfall where the weight of my pack uncomfortably pushed me off-balance.
Soon after this, the gradient eased off and the valley opened up again. We pushed on until the spur between Stob Ban and Sgurr an Lubhair. From there we could see into the next valley where a section of the West Highland Way snaked its way through the bottom. In the distance, we could see Loch Linne.
We turned our backs to Stob Ban and continued up to the gentle summit slope of Sgurr an Lubhair. From the top, there was a narrow traverse linking Sgurr an Lubhair to Am Bodach. We struck off left before the summit pyramid of Am Bodach to avoid the climb to the top – carrying heavy packs alters one’s desire to tick off summits! The path then followed a gentle ridge to the summit of Stob Coire a Chairn.
From here we had a short but steep descent before the final scramble up to the narrow summit ridge of An Garbhanach. On one side of the ridge the sun danced across the scars of the mountain below, illuminating deep snow-carved gulleys. On the other, we had a view of the valley we were planning to walk up over the next two days with not a road or building in sight.
As we descended off the right flank of An Gearanach, a helicopter broke the peace, throbbing and circling over the summits before dropping back down into the valley and turning back towards Fort William. We zig-zagged steeply on a little trail towards the valley floor. Just before we reached the river, we had to negotiate a sizeable landslide which had eroded the path and had left it hanging somewhat precariously on the edge of deep runnels of loose scree and soil.
The walk up Nevis Gorge to the Steall Waterfall is normally very popular but since the footpath had been closed and the light was fading, we decided to pitch our tents on the opposite side of the river to the Steall Hut, above a shingle bank to the side of the wire-rope bridge. To get there, however, we had to cross the outlet of the Steall Waterfall and then the wire-rope bridge above the Water of Nevis.
We decided to cross the first stream a little downstream of the waterfall at a point which looked fairly shallow and flat. Barefoot, we started to wade slowly through the water, our feet cautiously stepping over uneven rocks. I barely made it a few meters before my feet were so cold that I made a dash for a small grassy island in the middle of the channel. As I was warming my feet on the bank and preparing to ford the remaining half, I noticed that I was sitting in the perfect wild camping spot: a grassy island with a small beach, sheltered by trees directly in front of the Steall Waterfall.
Dad was pretty knackered by this point – the distance and terrain we had covered is a tough day’s walk with only daysacks, let along with full camping gear provisions for a few days. We quickly set up our tents and started cooking, whilst finishing off our scotch eggs from earlier in the day. As the water boiled and I started making tea and my father looked on incredulously as I fished out a bottle of whisky from the bottom of my pack. Never had papa looked more proud.
The light slowly faded as we ate but the moon bathed the secluded valley in a silvery hue. As the clouds slowly crept along the skyline and blocked out the moon, we were able to see the stars more clearly. We were finally lulled to sleep by the sound of water gurgling through the rocks either side of us.
To see what we got up to on the rest of our trip or if you are looking for planning advice, the full table of contents can be accessed here. Alternatively, the next article in this collection will be published by the end of this month.