THE nine-mile Mamores Ridge has long been considered one of the great Scottish hillwalking outings, with Glen Nevis sprawling between it and the Grey Corries in the north, and long, steep slopes running down towards Kinlochleven in the south, slopes that are well served by a marvellous network of old stalkers’ paths.
These old tracks access the tops of the Mamores from both sides and the ridge itself is for much of its length narrow and serpentine, often Alpine-like in winter and spring conditions. The full traverse, from Sgurr Eilde Mor in the east to Mullach nan Corein in the west, is a big day out but a shorter, and no less satisfying, round takes in the dramatically named Devil’s Ridge along with four of the Mamores Munros – An Gearanach, 3222 ft; Stob Choire a’ Chairn, 3218 ft; Am Bodach, 3386ft; and Sgurr a’ Mhaim, 3606ft.
The Devil’s Ridge lies between Sgor an Iubhair and Stob Choire a’ Mhail and despite its dramatic name it is far from evil, although in winter conditions it can give several heart-stopping moments.
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This shortened Mamores route is known as the Ring of Steall, a name well worthy of bragging rights, although you don’t necessarily need nerves of Steall to traverse it. Indeed, the original of the name is comparatively prosaic – the route follows the high ridges around Coire a’ Mhail, whose waters feed the Grey Mare’s Tail which falls abruptly into the Steall meadows below.
As well as the four Munros, the Ring of Steall traverses four other 3000ft tops including Sgorr an Iubhair, which was demoted as a Munro by the Scottish Mountaineering Club in a bout of “height adjusting” a few years back. Despite the loss of the Munro status, the nine miles and more than 4000ft of climbing offers an unforgettable day out with close-up views of Ben Nevis, the Aonachs, the Grey Corries and across Loch Linnhe to the hills of Ardgour and Morvern. It may not be Planet Krypton but it is mountain heaven.
Even the preamble to this route offers a blissful experience. From the Polldubh car park in upper Glen Nevis, a well-worn trail weaves through the birches, aspens and pines above the bubbling, roaring Himalayan-like Nevis Gorge, a deep and ragged rent in the earth through which the River Nevis hurtles in mad confusion. The great mountain writer WH Murray once described this part of the walk as the “best half mile in Scotland”. I wouldn’t argue with that.
Suddenly the narrow path is squeezed between two vast boulders into a contrastingly flat, green meadow in which the Water of Steall flows gently, as though completely unaware of what the Nevis Gorge has in store for it below. At the head of the meadow a white slash of water tumbles for 300 feet into the river, and close by triple-hawser wires bridge the river to where a footpath runs east past the Steall Hut, below the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall and a tree-clad buttress into Coire Chadha Chaoruinn.
Once past the Allt Coire Chadha Chaoruinn another path climbs uphill to some long switchbacks that eventually carry you on to the north-west spur of shapely An Gearanach, which roughly translates as the complainer – perhaps because for some years it was unhappy at being unnamed on the Ordnance Survey map.
A short ridge runs south to An Garbhanach, from where a steep ridge descends in a south-west direction before climbing to the summit of Stob Choire a’ Chairn. Big drops tumble away to the south into Coire na Ba, which eventually leads down to the Heights of Kinlochmore and Kinlochleven. The long ridge now undulates towards Am Bodach, before swinging west and north-west to reach the peak of the yew tree, Sgorr an Iubhair.
The drama increases as you approach the Devil’s Ridge. From its high point at Stob Choire a’ Mhail the ridge narrows considerably in its link with the southern stony slopes of Sgurr a’ Mhaim. At the narrowest section of the ridge, a footpath drops down on the east side and avoids the rocky difficulties before taking a scrambling route back on to the ridge again. There’s a tricky step down steep rock just before the bealach, and from there the slopes open on to the wide quartz-covered summit slopes of Sgurr a’ Mhaim.
The difficulties now behind you, it’s a great spot to stop awhile, get the flask out and appreciate your dramatic surroundings. Ben Nevis lies so close you think you could reach out and touch it and in the south-west the two western Mamores contrast beautifully with each other – Stob Ban (999m) is the epitome of ruggedness, with a craggy, seamed and precipitous north-east face dominating the atmospheric Coire a’Mhusgain, while Mullach nan Coirean (939m) is the flat culmination of a number of grassy ridges, corrie-bitten and round-shouldered.
Once you’ve drunk your fill of your flask and the surroundings, descend the lovely curving north-west ridge of Sgurr a’ Mhaim, often beautifully corniced well into the spring. A final steep descent down the nose, the Sron Sgurr a’ Mhaim, takes you back into Glen Nevis about one-and-a-half miles west of the car park at Polldubh. It’s a bit of a trudge back up the road but the combination of adrenaline, endorphins and the sheer beauty of the upper glen makes a heady mixture and you’ll find yourself back at your car before you know it.