The Ring of Steall route in the Scottish Highlands includes four mountains known as Munros. This circuit starts in Glen Nevis, near Fort William. This article details a popular route that you can walk or run.
The highs of the Ring of Steall
It doesn’t matter how you approach the west Highlands mountain route known as the Ring of Steall, there is a lot of height to gain. In fact, the total is more than 6000ft.
The high-level hike also challenges with several scrambly sections via rocky aretes that require a good head for heights, plus a traverse of the narrow ridge.
And even before all this, there is a notoriously tricky high wire river bridge to tackle.
Yet, the rewards of the 10.5-mile walk are plentiful, including the completion of a classic ridge walk, ticking off four Munros and views of a stunning mountainous landscape.
Fact: Steall Waterfall, is also known as Steall Falls or by its Gaelic name An Steall Bàn, which means The White Spout.
Ring of Steall with friends
All this was to come as I set out on a balmy Friday morning to walk a clockwise circuit of the Ring of Steall with my friends Isabel and Lynsey.
We started with a brisk pace as we headed eastwards on a well-laid path through beautiful Glen Nevis and alongside the winding Water of Nevis.
The first couple of miles proved to be a good warm-up with only a few undulations and a small and gentle overall ascent.
In places, the glen has the atmosphere of an Alpine gorge with steep cliffs on one side of the river and lush woodland.
We could hear the Steall Waterfall before we could see it and even after a period of dry weather, the sight of the cascades of water from 400ft above our heads was spectacular.
The path bears right on to a smaller one to reach the infamous bridge, which comprises three steel cables. There are two cables either side that serve as handrails and one below that looks like a tightrope.
With a bit of balance and determination the bridge is fairly easy to traverse, although when I was halfway across and looked down I realised I really would not want to fall. A drop from the bridge could have a nasty result and so I held tightly with my hands, edged my feet forwards and kept my gaze straight ahead to the other bank.
The route continues east and passes Steall Hut before heading below the falls and around the base of a high and steep buttress.
This was to be the last of the flattish terrain as we began the long climb on a stalkers’ path towards the first of four main mountain summits, An Gearanach.
Climb to the ridge
All of the summits on the ridge rise above 3000ft, which qualifies them in a list of Scotland’s 282 Munros.
The gradient rarely relented and I was grateful for the distraction of plentiful chat with my friends and the ever widening vistas. Looking down we could see Steall Meadows at the bae of the glen and the many surrounding mountains, including the UK’s highest, Ben Nevis.
The path zig-zags higher up to reduce the gradient severity and at times our chatter petered out as we concentrated on the arduous and breathless task of pushing onwards.
We had expected a breeze to cool us as we closed in on the ridge, but it was surprisingly still and very hot.
The cairn on An Gearanach at 3221ft was a welcome sight. We met a group of four men on the summit, who set off ahead of us as we enjoyed a short stop for food and plenty of water.
The magnificent views all around took in the Mamores range of mountains situated between Ben Nevis and Loch Leven.
A ridge circuit
Between the first and second Munro, we encountered the first narrow section of the ridge as we scrambled over the top of a pointy arête. I am not a fan of heights, so I employed my earlier technique from the bridge of looking ahead and not to the precipitous drops either side of me.
There was a little more scrambling, including a couple of short “bum shuffles”, as we continued a descent towards a wider bealach.
The next summit, Stob Coire a’Chàirn, was clearly seen ahead of us but we needed to make another steep ascent and this time with sections of loose scree to slow our progress.
While we had overtaken the four men, the three of us muttered between ourselves about the heat and our slowing pace. There was very little protection form the sun’s increasingly hot rays and our Scottish skin prickled and sweated.
Another cairn marked the top of the second Munro at 3218ft. We were treated to expansive views over the unmistakable Grey Corries, a series of mountain to the east of the Nevis Range, and the eastern peaks of the Mamores.
Before the next ascent to the third Munro, the route offered a bit of relief with a gentler grassy slope, then a small summit. By now, my legs were starting to tire and there was no let-up as we climbed a steep and rocky ridge line to reach a height of 3385ft on the top of Am Bodach.
Yet more descending took us to another bealach before we started another climb to a height of 3280ft on Sgòr an Iubhair. From 1981 to 1997, this was classified as a Munro but it has since been removed from the list by the official record keepers, the Scottish Mountaineering Club.
Our path turned north and ahead we could see what is known as The Devil’s Ridge. After a straightforward descent on a wide ridge, there was a traverse over Stob Coire a’Mhail, which proved to be the narrowest and most exposed part of the day’s hike.
A long hike back downhill
There is a choice of descent from the top, either continuing over a testing rocky ridge or along a lower bypass path above an almost vertical slope. We chose the latter but still faced the short but dizzying exposure of a step round a large boulder.
I was relieved to find the final walk up the fourth and final Munro, Sgòrr a’Mhaim, was easier both mentally and physically. Looking back from a height of 3605ft, we enjoyed great views of the Devil’s Ridge and across to the full Ring of Steall.
I confess I was looking forward to a final descent to the road through Glen Nevis but I had not expected it to be so long and steep.
The narrow path zig-zagged through loose quartzite rocks, making it almost impossible not to slide haphazardly at times. I leant on my walking poles, taking smaller steps until we filly reached a grassy lower slope.
But still the mountain kept on going and we were all quite parched. We could see the glen below and began to hear murmurs of fast-flowing water somewhere, which only served to make us all feel wearier and thirstier.
Finally, we made it to a bank of the stream and enthusiastically splashed our hot faces and filled our water bottles.
The final 1.5 miles to return to our vehicle followed a low-level path on the south bank of the river to a footbridge and then a short section of tarmac road.
It was very hot in the glen in late afternoon and we were grateful for extra bottles of water left in our vehicle – and an ice-cream in nearby Fort William.
Fine weather is a must for a circuit of the Ring of Steall to ensure you enjoy the Highland views, but take care in extreme cold or hot weather because the route is both committing and strenuous.
Details of Ring of Steall Circuit
Route details: 10.5 miles
Total ascent: 6230ft
Route suggestion: www.walkhighlands.co.uk/fortwilliam/ringofsteall.shtml
Kit list for Ring of Steall
- Walking clothes
- Waterproof jacket and trousers
- Walking boots or shoes (depending on the season)
- Walking poles
- Insulated jacket
- Hat and gloves
- Map and compass
- Mobile phone
- Emergency bivvy bag
- Food and water
- Sun cream