Stob Ban - 977m
Stob Choire Claurigh - 1177m
Stob Coire an Laoigh - 1116m
Sgurr Choinnich Mor - 1094m
Saturday 9th April 2011
Weather/Conditions: Warm spring weather, although very hazy with high winds. No complaints though - stunning weather and stunning mountains! An Alpine Nevis Range and spring snow on the Grey Corries. Amazing.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 27.7km / 2000m / 10h 40m
Accompanying: Dougie and James
The train journey went great: I took a bike to Westerton and dropped it off at my pal Dave's house, who lives beside the station. A few weeks earlier, I'd walked to Westerton with a huge rucksack to find the train wasn't running without notice. That morning I had walked back to my house feeling a bit deflated, none happy at Scotrail. This morning, the train arrived on time and I get onto the sleeper and shut my eyes. Then the ticket 'clicky' didn't come - well I never found out whether he did or not. I spent the three-odd hours from Westerton to Tulloch lying on the seats, eyes closed and music on. I never manage to sleep on trains, but the shut-eye must be worth something. In any case, I got off at Tulloch ecstatic, because I'd got out of buying a £30-40 ticket.
From the nerves of the train wondering when the station would come, Tulloch station seemed serene. With blue skies and birdsong through the air (yeah, all that hippy jazz), a phone call to Dougie confirmed they would be only ten minutes... and since I had his boots in my possession (which he had left in Pitlochry in February) I had time to put them behind the nearest wall and play the part of Mr. Forgetful when he pulled up. Why the hell not...!
We drove to Spean Bridge - I had hot chocolate and chips. We could afford to bum around a while, the days were getting longer and for once we'd start the route, not based on when the sun set, but when the food was finished.
Walk-in and Stob Ban
The route started beyond Coire Choille Farm. There is a car park at altitude c. 200m, but the road is very rough - or so it felt in the car. Eventually we gave up being tossed around inside and parked at 150m, at the right-turn into the forest. The start of the walk saw us in the open areas of Glen Spean. There's not so much indication of the enormous ruggedness from around here, it all felt surprisingly open. But the path through the Lairig Leacach funnels into a corridor with great views to Stob Choire Claurigh and the Innses - Cruach and Sgurr - which although Corbetts, are absolutely dwarfed by their higher cousins across the valley. And the statue of the Wee Minister is interesting - if a little strange! Watch out for that, although it's hard to miss.
An hour and a half of track-walking brought us to the Lairig Leacach bothy - a small building which looks like it's been cut in half. It's not a bad bothy on the inside and the view to Sgurr Innse's rocky flanks are brilliant. Following a ten-minute break, we began climbing the corrie behind the bothy behind which Stob Ban lies, perfectly framed. Then 100v.m. above the bothy James realised the worst - his camera was missing and he last saw it at the bothy! Dougie took my rucksack and I ran down toward the bothy once more.
If you'd expected me to moan about the extra work, the reality was I had a great time. I was moving without a pack, holding nothing and at jogging-pace I was down quickly. I took a quick break and with t-shirt in hand, started back upward. It was one of the nicest parts of the walk. I met James and Dougie by a large boulder, did some bouldering then climbed on some slabs at the headwall of the corrie. A slog brought us to the bealach of Stob Ban, which I'd expected to have better views. It did however give a good view along the length of the Grey Corries ridge. Sgurr Choinnich Mor (our last planned hill) looked miles away... Dropping the packs, the climb to the summit of Stob Ban was short, though over steep loose blocks. We chose the hard direct route. Following the path allows much better progress.
From here: great views over huge mountain scenery, although today limited by haze and obscured to the north by the Grey Corries ridge. Already at over 3000 feet, it was hard not to look at the sweep between Stob Choire Claurigh and Stob Coire an Laoigh and gawp at the size. And it only got bigger to the west, culminating in that most massive Ben Nevis.
Stob Choire Claurigh
As Stob Ban had been the introduction to the Grey Corries proper, Stob Choire Claurigh came as a kind of climax - but only on the summit. We slogged the 370 vertical metres first between picking up the rucksacks and the summit. The bealach had great geology on the go and the frogs in the lochans were mating. I used a technique of Mackenzie's I've always kept in mind since we did Southern Upland Way. To prevent running yourself into exhaustion, walk 10 paces and stop. Repeat. Go to 15 paces and repeat. Ramp up slowly. I love the way it works and by the summit I was holding 70 paces a time.
The summit was magical. The view to the west looks across the intersecting snow sweeps of the Grey Corries to culminate in threatening chaos on the Aonachs. Further still, Nevis reigns above all. I'd dreamed of seeing this view in sunshine and spring snowfields. I shared the elation with James and Dougie on the summit and in text with Mackenzie that went: "Stob Choire Claurigh. WHAT A F***ING VIEW MATE!". That says it all, really...
Along the ridge to Stob Coire an Laoigh
The rest of the ridge did not disappoint. The first Munro Top - Stob a' Choire Leith is an easy walk from Stob Choire Claurigh. A beautiful tiered buttress hangs off the side of Stob Coire Cath na Sine (second top). All summits have amazing views and Stob Choire Claurigh begins to look like a giant as you gain your distance from it. The third top, Caisteal ('castle') is the highest of the three and triangular in form. The end of the Grey Corries did not look so far away from here.
A helicopter flew by the summit as we stood on Caisteal. Stob Coire an Laoigh was in view ahead, and what had seemed a fairly anonymous peak had vertical buttresses hanging off it's northern flanks. I hate to use battle metaphors but call these battlements if you like. It's seriously impressive material. You by pass these cliffs and the walk to the summit is without issue. It was my 120th Munro and three of us sat inside the summit cairn, out of a harsh wind which was a prominent feature of the day.
Sgurr Choinnich Mor
We didn't hand around for long, it was getting late now. But we would do Sgurr Choinnich Mor in line with the original plan. And if we got down in the dark, then no worries. A Munro Top, Stob Coire Easain, lay between us and Sgurr Choinnich Mor, but because of the quartzite boulder fields on the south slopes, it's easier to go over the top than contour. From Stob Coire Easain, the south ridge gets rougher in places and narrows more than at any other point on the Grey Corries. There are few problems however. Dougie and I went down this ridge and James went down the west slopes accidentally, joining us at the bealach soon after.
Sgurr Choinnich Mor had a couple of narrow sections around about the summit. It's not such an exposed peak at the crest, but the slopes fall away sharply. I thought back to January when a man fell 300m down the SE face. A couple of parts were indeed narrow. On snow or ice and without an axe to hand, it would be far too easy to slip. It's a long way down!
The last summit ridge was a narrow grassy arête, I'd imagine it would be quite spectacular in winter. The cairn was insubstantial, so little wind protection meant little hanging around. It was the last Munro of the day, but the car remained 9km and two Munro Tops away. From here the view to Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor is spectacular - up to 500 vertical metres of snow, crags, and chaos in a wall almost unbroken for 4 km. Some of Scotland's highest mountains are right there, right in front of you.
Descent (over Stob Coire Easain and Beinn na Socaich)
From the summit of Sgurr Choinnich Mor, we headed back to the bealach then up to Stob Coire Easain, which was positioned between us and our final descent to the valley. I felt pretty shattered at the top, took a couple of minutes and in growing darkness, headed down to Beinn na Socach, a Munro Top. Dougie and James by passed it and I joined them on the other side for the long grassy haul back to the forestry tracks.
I'd brought sandals along to change into for this final section, but in the end I couldn't be bothered. The feet were sure as hell feeling it when we finally walked the kilometres back to the car which was waiting at the exit of the forest.
All in all - a cracking trip. It was good to finally do the Grey Corries, and also to see more in the Glen Spean area. We headed down to Fort William and were met with a full Bank Street bunkhouse. Another hostel two minutes up the road had three spaces left, perfect for three of us. We got a curry in the main street, which on a Saturday night was explosive - no change there then for Fort William.
The next morning we headed back down the road - James and Dougie both live near Edinburgh, so I'd have to get a train home. Unwilling to see another great day go to waste, Dougie and I headed up Arthur's Seat - another superb, sunny day.
Stob Choire Claurigh
Stob Coire an Laoigh
Sgurr Choinnich Mor
(0.00) 11.10am Car
(1.35) 12.45pm Lairig Leacach bothy
(3.20) 2.30pm Stob Ban
(4.30) 3.40pm Stob Choire Claurigh
(5.10) 4.20pm Stob a' Choire Leith
(5.25) 4.35pm Stob Coire Cath na Sine
(5.45) 4.55pm Caisteal
(6.00) 5.10pm Stob Coire an Laoigh
(6.30) 5.40pm Stob Coire Easain
(7.35) 6.45pm Sgurr Choinnich Mor
(8.40) 7.50pm Stob Coire Easain on return
(8.55) 8.05pm Beinn na Socaich
(10.40) 9.50pm Car