Tuesday, 7 April 2015


The A’Chir ridge (pronounced A-Kier) on the Isle of Arran is considered by many to be the finest Scottish mountaineering ridge located out of the Isle of Skye. It boast over 1.5km of scrambling and climbing with difficulties gradually building to a climax at the Le Mauvais Pas (AKA ‘The Bad Step’). Any aspirant ascensionists for the ridge will have to endure sustained and heart stopping exposure, bottomless abseils and complex route finding. Its huge granite towers and seamless slabs present the keen mountaineer an irresistible and memorable mountaineering challenge and as if it couldn’t get any better it’s also located far from the road on one of Scotland’s most beautiful islands. The ridge itself is located along the western flank of Glen Rosa in the heart of the island.

The majestic A'Chir ridge with its winter coat on as seen from Beinn a Chilabhain 
The easiest approach is from the campsite, where the main Glen Rosa track can be followed to where the frothing Garbh Alt burn tumbles steeply down the hill side. A parallel path follows the burn up before breaking out onto the lower slopes of Beinn Nuis and up to Cnoc Breac. From reading guidebooks and online literature it was evident that Arran is not often held in the grips of winter – its ironic then that when we plan a summer climbing trip these illusive conditions come to fruition! So as we approached the first peak of the day, Beinn a Chliabhain, we realised as we were trudging through fresh powder and across ice covered slabs we had in fact actually been that unlucky! Prior planning ensured we had a few ice axes between us and also a calm, dry sky so all was not lost!

On the approach to Cnoc Breac under a storm battered sky

Beinn Nuis and Beinn Tarssuin in unusually white conditions for Easter

Taking the winter conditions seriously on the first summit of the day, Beinn a Chliabhain

The easy start of the wintry traverse below Beinn Tarssuin

From there we broke out above huge cliffs onto a ‘heathery traverse’ below Beinn Tarsuinn. The heather was well buried with fresh powder and its location being sandwiched between two ice covered rock precipices above and below made it quite exciting – the rope wasn't employed but was defiantly considered! Eventually we reached the start of the ridge giving us a glimpse of what was to come – overlapping slaps and granite towers glistened in the sunlight, cris-crossed by streaks of water ice and snow.

Moving together across iced slabs towards the first rock tower

Looking back along the ridge towards Beinn Nuis

Ed leading one of the icey chimney pitches barring access to the summit of A'Chir.

Because of the unusual conditions we found the line to be quite indistinct with much of the ledges covered however the snow, being soft meant at least we didn't need crampons! We took the line of least resistance across iced slabs and heathery ramparts and after a long while of moving together we reached the main summit block. 

The summit selfie!
With the top behind us we plodded down the airy ridge and as it grew steeper eventually reached the next obstacle – a tricky step between two towers with more exposure than you can shake a stick at. Once we gingerly crossed we began the most exciting part of the traverse. The Le Mauvais Pas is a section on the ridge between two towers, that from the north, is accessible via an awkward and polished down-climb or a hair raising abseil. Due to the abundance of snow and by that point, strengthening wind we opted to abseil (~25m) off the eastern side. Having a 40m rope we had to split the abseil at a chokestone on the way down. The far side climbs out on the right via some polished grooves and fabulously positioned slabs. The pass is an amazing place and must be one of the most inaccessible places on the island!  

Ed making a bold stride across one of the more exposed sections of ridge.

Looking along the narrow ridge just before the decent into Le Mauvais Pas.

The airy abseil from the ridge top down into Le Mauvais Pas

Breath-taking exposure on the upper slabs climbing out of Le Mauvais Pas

Looking back along the ridge of A'Chir with the hardest part now defeated.
On the long walk out passing below the mighty Cir Mor, home of numerous classic lines such as Sou'wester Slabs (VD) and Labrinyth (VD) and of course the South Ridge Direct (VS 5a).

After that the route gradually quietens down before an escape can be made south down from the Bealach into Glen Rosa below the majestic face of Cir’ Mor. The route is a wonder of lithological architecture. In summer the ridge is Mod/VDiff but does apparently ‘go’ at about grade III (3) in winter conditions but since it was it wasn’t full blown winter I guess it’s just a combination of both! Either way, it’s a great ridge and we were very lucky to ‘tick it’ with its winter coat on! 

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