Glen Coe is arguably one of the most dramatic and most beautiful locations in Scotland; a well visited glen in a country packed full of drama and beauty.
The A82 road – connecting the city of Glasgow and the town of Fort William – crawls and snakes its way through the valley, somewhat overshadowed on it’s north edge by the spiky, rocky outline of the Aonach Eagach – one of the finest ridge scrambles in the United Kingdom.
On the south side of this great valley, and visible from the road, lie the famous three sisters, a smaller trio of picturesque bumpy peaks that form part of the lower slopes of the Bidean nam Bian range.
In the space between the first and second ‘sisters’, and out of sight from the road, lies the surprising Coire Gabhail , known more popularly as the Hidden Valley, or Lost Valley. Here you find a secluded, flat bottomed, grassy valley, with a dark history connected to the infamous Massacre of Glen Coe in 1692.
We combined this short, steep walk from the car park in Glen Coe, passing through the Lost Valley, and up over the snowy ridge beyond, to summit the peak of Stob Coire Nan Lochan, before descending in a horseshoe back to the road via the glen between the second and third sisters, Gear Aonach and Aonach Dubh.
Hiking up to the Lost Valley from the A82 takes around an hour or so. You pass over rivers and rocks, rising uphill to the edge of a moss covered bouldered floored forest. The path at this point then crosses over the river and continues on opposite bank of the river, on the left hand side. We missed the crossing, and continued up firstly on a small scree slope into the forest, then picked our way through the even terrain until the valley opens in front of you.
Cut off from the main glen below by glacial rockfall, the Lost Valley was used by the MacDonald clan as a location to hide stolen cattle from their foes. Following the massacre of the MacDonalds in 1692, a killing carried out ‘on the grounds on the grounds that the MacDonalds had not been prompt in pledging allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary,’ many of the escapees allegedly fled to the valley, when their numbers were further reduced by the cold of the Scottish winter.
We continued to gain height, by joining the path initially on the left of the river that feeds the flatter section of the valley floor. A short while later, looking up to path to see three hikers in another group making their way up, we decided to turn around back, unable to cross left to right bank to the path we needed on opposite valley flank, its slopes getting steeper as it rose towards a waterfall at the valley end. Now literally on the right side, we continued to climb quickly up to the snowline.
After a quick bite to eat, we entered the winter wonderland, and complete white. The snow was fresh, firm, and to our senses, safe. We were able to continue to climb using my set of poles, and Greg using his hikers iceaxe. I followed Greg as he kicked deep steps into the knee high powder, as we aimed in a relatively straight line to the ridge above us, gentle and stable cornices lapping at the horizon.
After temporarily taking a turn at the front, I was exhausted after only about a minute of kicking the steps into the snow. Cursing my lack of fitness, and grateful Greg was at the front, I ungracefully hauled myself over the edge of the ridge, to a brilliant view of Loch Leven below.
I was happy to wait on the ridge, whilst Greg nipped up to the adjacent high point above Church Door Buttress to get a better view of the south, towards of Bidean nam Bian – still hidden out of view, and the high point of the massif at 1150 metres. Upon his return, we turned 180 degrees to traverse the small, rock strewn white ridge up to the high point of Stob Coire. The close connecting ridge between the two peaks prevents Stob Coire from obtaining separate Munro status – peaks in Scotland over 3000ft (914m).
From the summit of Stob, we descended above the high buttresses, curving around above them on the gentler sloping snow and rocks on the adjacent flank. Still in the snow, our descent was quick, and we were back onto the clearly marked path before too long and back to the A82, passing herds of wild deer on our way.
Back at the car, we were exhausted. At the end of one of my best ever days on a hill in Scotland, w headed straight to the famous (and downright brilliant) Clahaig Inn for a quick local beer – the perfect finish to any visit to this famous area of Scotland.
Hiking the Lost Valley from the road in Glen Coe takes 2/3 hours – http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/fortwilliam/lostvalley.shtml
Hiking the summit of SCNL (with the extra addition of Bidean Nam Bain) and the full horseshoe is around 7 – 9 hours. We did this route, minus BNB, in reverse in just over 6 hours – http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/fortwilliam/bideannambian.shtml
We were ok in the snow with decent boots, poles/axe, maps, compass, waterproofs, food and a sensible attitude. For safety in the Scottish hills, please visit http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/safety/
The 1692 Massacre of Glen Coe – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_Glencoe