A' Chir Ridge Traverse Walking

The A’Chir ridge on the Isle of Arran is considered by many to be the finest Scottish mountaineering ridge located outside of the Isle of Skye. A long approach, heart stopping exposure, technically absorbing climbing, abseils and complex route finding make this one of most exciting ridge traverses around - and it's not even a Munro! This route is best tackled only by experienced climbing teams. The A' Chir ridge (pronounced A-Kier) boast over 1.5km of scrambling and climbing with difficulties gradually building to a climax at the Le Mauvais Pas (AKA ‘The Bad Step’). 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.

A' Chir with its winter coat on  © Samuel Wainwright
A' Chir with its winter coat on
Fetching Map

Detailed description

NR9826738645 The easiest approach is from the campsite in Glen Rosa, where the main track can be followed to where a bridge crosses the frothing Garbh Alt burn that tumbles steeply down the hill side.

NR9703240719 From the bridge a parallel path is followed up the burn before passing through a gate out of a deer free conservation area. From here you break out onto the lower slopes of Beinn Nuis and up to Cnoc Breac. After a wee while a rough paths can be seen to head along the ridge which can be followed (or more interestingly ascend the easy slabs and ribs) which eventually leads to the thin summit of Beinn a Chliabhain providing fine views of Goatfell.

NR9659941041 Continue along the summit ridge before cutting left (west) down the slope towards a col, marking the start of the ascent to Beinn Tarsuinn. From here a sneaky but intimidating path can be followed right across the headwall of the steep Coire Daingean and follows a series of heathery ledges perched above slabs. Contrary to what you might think - its quite benign and present no difficulties (other than mental ones!) eventually landing you at the col between Beinn Tarsuinn and A' Chir.

NR9627441513 From this point the main ridge of A'Chir can be viewed in all its glory. Steep towers of bubbling overlapping granite interspersed by yet more heather and scree. From this point it is clear that the ridge is not the knife edge arete as the map may suggest, instead its western side is dominated by easy angled slabs up towards large granite towers before tumbling down over the steep east face. The easiest line is generally on this western side where the difficulty can be adjusted to suit the ascentionist but isn't really any harder than Grade 3 or Mod. Once the main ridge is reached towers can be climbed and by-passed as required. There are good anchors throughout for abseils and belays and the rock is predominantly sound. A final chimney bars access to the summit tower and an awkward final block may prove difficult to defeat should two feet have to be placed directly on the top.

NR9667542129 From here onward the ridge becomes a lot more pronounced and the exposure seems to build exponentially. Delightful scrambling leads eventually leads to a slab on the western side with a polished crack running down and out of sight. This can either be abseiled from a thread (50m rope req.) or down climbed at Mod to 'The Bad Step'. This comprises of an easy step between two buttresses - nothing difficult you might think? Well the catch is the massive drop on either side! *Immediately behind the step is a large block; there is a large loose flake attached to this which should not be used to belay.

NR9658142412 After this has been conquered further scrambling leads to a large, flat and narrow ledge which has huge drops off either side. This is known as 'The Diving Board'. The drop from here appears bottomless going vertically down into a col some 40m below and is know as 'Le Mauvais Pas'. A few meters back a rusted peg and in-situ nut marks the way down. From here a 25m abseil sees you in the base of the col(6). Send the camera man down first as the abseil is very photogenic!*It is possible to re-belay after a short 5m scramble if using a <50m rope. *It is also possible to climb down by traversing right (south) along a ledge and then descending another ledge back left (north), after that a polished chimney leads to the pass (VDiff/S). This base of the pass must be one of the most isolated places on Arran with its far side appearing to be as impenetrable as the side just descended! The easiest way out is to ascend a polished groove in its center to some blocks. From here a polished and tricky step left leads you to easy ground. Much more enjoyable however is to step right past a chock-stone and up a groove to reach the arete. An airy step onto the exposed upper slabs on the right leads past an awkward mantel and back onto easier ground. From here onwards the difficulties diminish before the rounded ridge is gained eventually leading to the col between A'Chir and Cir Mor.

NR9690042899 From the col a cairn marks the descent down a well armored path into upper Glen Rosa. The path can then be followed down the Glen past a few boulders of climbing interest to the burn and back to the car park. Boots off and time for the pub!

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