As the Ring of Steall has been on my wish list for a long time as it is one of the classic mountaineering routes around Fort William. I have been saving it for a good day, and we certainly had that!
Over the past few week I have been eagerly looking at the weather and watching as huge amounts of snow arrived, then a large thaw happened and then a big high pressure built which was bringing cold air to Scotland. This lead to conditions where all of the snow which remained was frozen as solid neve, and the snow line went all the way down to 450m!
Due to a long drive up from Bristol the evening before, we elected to start at 9am despite knowing how long the route was. As we were putting our walking boots on at the car we were in a bitterly cold wind which was whistling down the valley, which was frankly unpleasant. Thankfully as we ascended up into Glen Nevis the wind reduced, but still remained and kept us fairly cool.
Soon we had crossed the wire bridge and were at the start of a brutal ascent up to the ridge before the first Munro. As the snow line was so low we were able to take an alternative route up to the ridge which looked much nicer than the standard route. We took the obvious gully line above the initial ascent, which was steeper than it looked but proved an enjoyable route up to the start of the ridge.
Once we were on the ridge everything was just exceptional. The route was outstanding, the views were unbelievable and the snow underfoot was perfect. The only issue was the exceptionally strong and bitterly cold wind. The views were constantly changing on the circuit, which meant that we were never able to take them for granted. The only view which remained constant was the view of a totally clear Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor.
The ascent up to the first Munro had some stunning exposure, lots of steep front pointing and some beautiful snow arêtes. The Devil’s Ridge was over fairly quickly and was very cold in the wind, a small traffic jam did occur at one point as there were a few teams heading in opposite directions.
The remainder of the ridge was just a joy, everyone we met seemed to be having an equally good day. The steep decent of Am Bodach was fairly serious due to the steep icy snow. By this point it was starting to get late, so we had to press on to ensure that we were off the ridge by night. We made good time up to the third Munro, where we were treated to the view of the last Munro. At this point it looked very intimidating and technical, but thankfully it was just deceiving and actually had a good path to the summit.
The ridge to the final Munro had some great exposure and was an excellent end to the circuit. As the sun was getting low in the sky the light was beautiful. The start of the descent went very quickly and I became foolishly optimistic that we might get down to Glen Nevis before dark. The final part of the descent into the valley above Glen Nevis involved a very steep descent down solidly refrozen neve. Thankfully there were huge steps kicked into the snow, but it still made for a very long and very serious descent.
We made it to the valley floor as it got dark, and then made the descent down into Glen Nevis by torchlight. Navigating the bog at the bottom by torchlight was challenging and we both ended up with fairly muddy boots. The final challenge of the day was crossing the wire bridge in the dark, while tired, which was no easier than on the way up!
We eventually ended up back at the car, both absolutely exhausted but having had a fantastic day which was worth waiting for.