Steall Adventures

Visiting the Glen Nevis and some stunning mountains nearby.

When I moved to Scotland a few years ago, I created a good-sized map of local points of interests, and slowly but surely, I’ve been making progress in ticking those “must-sees” off. At the beginning of this winter, I was lucky to finally check mark the glen just below the southern slope of the UK’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis – a place that was collecting dust on the list for ages.

I went there with the Dundee Uni Rucksack Club, which was convenient way to reach the place while spending a weekend with some like-minded people. A win-win. As it’s been a pattern of mine over the last years, I started packing only about an hour prior the departure. It’s mostly smooth process, after which I usually end up with some lightweight backpack. Not today. I couldn’t believe the bulk I had.

A jacket strapped on a backpack strapped on a backpack full of straps. Literally, there’s some 40m /130ft of webbing. I’ll get to that later. But the most of the space was taken by my winter sleeping bag – I’m 6’6″; therefore, it is massive.

It was already pitch dark when we reached the parking lot at the entry to the glen. The air was fresh, bringing the scent of soaked soil and snow. It was the first time I smell that combo this winter, which brought a strong dose of excitement.

The last leg of the journey to get into our accommodation for the following two nights, the Steall Hut, was by foot. The cottage is roughly a mile from the parking, accessible by a hiking trail. Firing up torches, the trail welcomed us with a sign “Danger of Death,” but as it is at least 3 feet wide and well maintained, no issues raised. The clouds got blown away, and the moon was bright enough to navigate the trail even without the torch. I ended walking a bit further from the rest, as the song of the valley was too good to pass on. The cascading river and shivering leaves performed a symphony, and I was a happy human being.

At one point, the noise of the falling water started to be more and more prominent, and we knew we are close. Thing is, the Steall Hut is situated just underneath an enchanting waterfall of the same name: Steall Falls – one of the main reasons for the glen’s fame. To get into the hut, you need to cross a bridge over the river. Well, bridge… two linked steel wires for your feet, and another two wires for you to hold. A feature I was looking forward to.

Once in the hut, food, chat, smile, sleep. Simple.

The next morning, I woke up eager for the day. And as I went outside to brush my teeth, the expectations turned into the reality.

Woohoo, talking about some views from the bathroom! yeah, I totally brought my camera to my morning hygiene. “One of these people…”

The daylight exposed the glen, but also the Steall Falls into their full beauty.

It is actually the second tallest waterfall in Scotland, with the height of impressive 120 m / some 390ft.

My plan for the day was to hike the Ring of Steall, around 20Km / 12mi long loop that goes up the southern ridge, and scales four Munros (mountains over 3,000 ft tall) before descending back to the glen. When others got up, I asked who else is keen about the hike, and a few said so. However, the procedure of getting ready was taking long, and the light outside was too good to just sit and wait, doing nothing. So I mentioned that I’ll wait on the trailhead, and climbed the slope near the waterfall to get some vistas.

Once reunited, I locked the GPS and we headed to the ridge.

It didn’t took that long of the ascent, and we entered a white kingdom.

I was curious whether the exposed ridge will be swiped by wind, but nope. Maybe a bit, but nowhere as bad as it could have been. The sun was stronger than the wind, which isn’t an usual pattern here. And speaking of the ridge being exposed, it made some sections of the trail rather fun. It’s not challenging, but it required attention to the line choice and balance, which was nice.

Meanwhile, clouds were rolling in and out, creating a colorful theater…

One of the mountains we climbed that day.

…across some of the most remote bits of the Highlands..

Ooh, emotions!
on one of the summits

Getting further, we found a rock ledge to shelter us from the fresh breeze, where we made a lunch stop. Then we established how’s everyone doing, and opted to skip the last mountain to take a detour by using a longer route, but without the good sized elevation difference that would need to scaled if we’d stay on track.

After descending to a saddle nearby, we passed a small mountain lake, from which we followed a stream that took us back to the valley.

In the valley, the stream we’ve been following joins the Water of Nevis, the same river that forms the Steall Falls further upstream. Almost at the end of the hike, we still had some sweet bits ahead of us – as the river has a few other neat waterfalls on the way.

Finally; to return to the hut, we went by the same trail which we used yesterday. But since we still had some daylight left, it felt like a different route. In the hut, we shared experiences from our hike with others who had a different program. Then we had a dinner together, and socialized till late.

The last day I planned to stay near the hut and make some use of that webbing I carried. But before that, I went on the opposite side of the glen than the yesterday’s hike, with an idea to just have a quick look how the falls looks from there and go back. But you know that “I’ll just check it out” statement… Maybe it’s just me, but nearly every time I think this to myself, I end up deep down the rabbit hole. So before I knew, I was gaining some elevation towards the cliffs of Ben Nevis.

The outlooks were top, and with every step, there was always another horizon waiting further up.

There were some boggy sections, and in one of those I passed a skeleton of some sheep which got probably stuck here. Memento mori, I thought, but climbed a bit more. I got on one rock shelf, where I took another break, when I spotted a massive bird of prey flying above me. I read that there can be eagles seen in the area, but hard to say if that’s what it was. All I know is that the size of that thing was respectable. It was coasting in circles, and suddenly dashed straight down, towards a piece of grass not too far away. Bam! in no time, it was flying back up and away, while holding something in its claws. How cool!

That dot in the upper left quarter. A wide lens ain’t too good for birding, but no bother. The memory’s there.

I was to continue, but my mind kicked in, questioning my further route. At this stage, there was some proper climbing required; and again, since I thought to just have a look, I didn’t have any gear to give me a hand. There’s only a shallow line between brave and stupid, and I didn’t want to slip into the second. So I went down instead.

Still, it wasn’t that this option wouldn’t involve some views to admire…

Moreover, I had that webbing business waiting to be executed! Finding two suitable trees, I set pulleys and rigged one of the prettiest slacklines I’ve walked.

The end of this relaxing tightrope walking session marked also the end of the whole trip. Packing stuff, crossing that wire bridge the last time…

…bye, Glen Nevis!

If you liked this post, you might also like my article “Northern Coastline,” about an epic road trip to some other amazing locations of Scotland.

Thanks for reading!

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