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Winter's last fling in the Grey Corries

Winter's last fling in the Grey Corries


Postby adamarchie » Tue Apr 10, 2012 1:30 pm

Munros included on this walk: Sgurr Choinnich Mor, Stob Ban (Grey Corries), Stob Choire Claurigh, Stob Coire an Laoigh

Date walked: 14/04/2012

Time taken: 12 hours

Distance: 26.2 km

Ascent: 1800m

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A varied, sustained scramble over clean, dry, wonderfully grippy rock followed by six miles of idyllic winter ridge traverse in pristine visibility under skin-reddening sun - in April? Surely not!


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I conceived this route having read Noel "Scrambles in Lochaber" Williams' description of the Giant's Staircase below Stob Ban as “quite the best scramble on such rock [quartzite] in Lochaber.” If that wasn't sufficient recommendation, Google images further piqued my interest. What sealed the deal was this route's entry point onto a classic ridge traverse that would amount to a good long day on the hill and a haul of four Munros (not that anyone's counting :D ).

The early morning views of sun-reddened hills were proof of the MWIS forecast of superb conditions and were indeed so distracting as to cause me to drive into a kerb outside the hostel. Even more awesome was the sight of Nevis's northeast ridges, a positively Alpine monochrome.

We drove a mile and a half past Corriechoille farm to the junction with the disused railway where there's a parking area and geared up in view of a snowy Aonach Mor.

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The walk in to the Lairig Leacach bothy is four miles of sound track. If you fancy a short-ish outing to the Giant's Staircase and Stob Ban, this would be very do-able even on non-technical bikes. Mine's an old-school suspension-free mountain bike with road tyres and it'd eat this for breakfast. The views up this remote glen aren't half bad either, Stob Coire na Ceannain suddenly rearing up on the right and the rocky fortress of Sgurr Innse to the left.

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Stob Coire na Ceannain: first view of the main ridge

We reached the bothy (fairly small but in good nick, if you fancy using it) in no time at all and nipped inside to refuel on chocolate and other assorted health foods. This turned out to be the end of decent highways for a good nine miles: the track up the glen towards Stob Ban was a veritable bog-fest and the concession to gaiters was quickly made.

On the bright side, the views ahead to a snowed up Stob Ban were most encouraging, and when a bare-to-the-bone Giant's Staircase appeared, we knew our ship had come in.

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Both Stob Ban and Giant's Staircase in perfect nick

Here are a couple of close-ups of the staircase itself, the second of which in particular illustrates the aptness of the name.

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The staircase is a series of perfect crack-strewn quartzite slabs. Many of the holds are thin, but the forgiving angle and shortness of most pitches make this a fairly low-risk affair. Additionally, there is a nigh-on infinite choice of cracks at each stage - and of course always the option of walking around the side altogether. Grade-wise, everything from 1 to 3 is on offer here in plentiful supply, making it ideal for a mixed ability group.

Quartzite isn't great in the wet, but wonderfully grippy when dry, as it was today, and we quickly warmed to the task. The lower slabs offer beautifully delicate climbing, facilitated by said grippiness and some judicious boot-jamming in places where holds become sparse.

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The first step. We took the line of one of the cracks just to the right of centre.

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A good illustration of the underfoot friction on offer

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Things are looking up

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Tim tentatively reaching out for another thin hold

Here I am assessing the options on one of the higher slabs. Veritably spoilt for choice:

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Tim works a delicate crack

The jewel in the crown though is at the top and marks quite a change of gear. More of the same is on offer to the right, but the way ahead is barred by something rather more vertical. The compensation is a more adequate supply of holds and the combination is scintillating: a good 50 feet of varied climbing on sound rock with an attractive choice of line.

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Tim leading the way

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Emerging unscathed at the top

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A victorious Tim already celebrating

Now it was time to exchange summer for winter on this unique day, with a snowy Stob Ban beckoning to the left. Indeed, we could not have asked for any alteration in the altitude of the precisely-applied 800m snow-line: lower and the staircase would have been unclimbable; higher and we'd have exchanged a cracking winter traverse for tiresome boulder-hopping. We had the luxury of dumping the rucksacks at the bealach before heading up armed only with axes and cameras. Semi-consolidated snow was ideal for bare boots and we took it direct, first up steep snow and then via some easy scrambling to the summit.

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Looking back at a sun-drenched Stob Ban from the slopes of Stob Choire Claurigh

The views from here were simply stupendous. To the east, the Easains; to the southeast, Schiehallion; the Black Mount and the east face of Buachaille Etive Mor in profile to the south; the Mamores looking very inviting to the southwest; and our work for the day, a winter-girt Grey Corries ridge reaching out to the north and west.

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The Easains forming a rather attractive summit backdrop

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Left to right (click on photo to zoom in): a hint of the Blackwater Reservoir, the Black Mount, a corner of Loch Eilde Beag, east face of Buachaille Etive Mor in profile, Buachaille Etive Beag, Sgurr Eilde Mor, Binnein Mor

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Left to right: Binnein Mor (Beag in front) and the Ring of Steall (Sgurr a Mhaim being furthest to the right)

Back at the bealach, we shouldered the rucksacks and squared up to the day's only slope-slog: a deceptively substantial 375 metres of ascent to Stob Choire Claurigh, the highest point of the Grey Corries ridge. The boredom underfoot was, however, well compensated by some more rather nice views, particularly looking back to Stob Ban (see photo above) and east to Sgurr Innse.

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Binnein Mor, Sgurr a Mhaim and the Grey Corries above Lochan below Stob Ban

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Snow showers and sun beyond Sgurr Innse

Finally, we were summiting, vistas now opening up in all directions.

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The Easains provide a fine backdrop to Tim's approach to the summit

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The north ridges of the Grey Corries and Aonachs, Ben Nevis towering behind

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North over an elegantly snowed Beinn Bhan plateau

The northerly wind, having been mild to non-existent down in the glen, was up to 20-30mph here, so we chowed down in a sheltered spot before continuing. Dessert was a snow-white ridge-feast:

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This really is the most delightful of high altitude affairs, rarely dropping much in height while providing a variety of view and angle. Today, covered in snow, it was surely at its best.

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Looking back up the ridge to Stob Choire Claurigh, tiny figures just visible if you zoom in

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Stob Coire Easain from Stob Coire an Laoigh

We met quite a few folk along the way, including a couple who were making the round from the Glen Nevis side. My girlfriend has banned me from further extolling the virtues of my new Deuter Guide 35+, but on realising that the woman in the couple was also carrying one a good five minutes of gear-chat ensued. Short version: this rucksack is phenomenal and everyone should own one.

At Stob Coire Easain, the ridge takes a turn to the left on a fairly narrow ridge. There is some very minor scrambling here. Tim almost snapped his shin on a powder-disguised rock, but manfully kept calm and carried on, though on a day like this I'm sure the mountain rescue chaps would have jumped at a chance to get out.

The incentive was the day's final objective, Sgurr Choinnich Mor, seen here to some advantage:

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Once again we had the luxury of ditching the rucksacks at the start of the steep bit. The weather temporarily closed in at this point, so we negotiated the series of false summits in fairly minimal visibility. No navigational difficulties though with such a well-defined ridge, and on return we made use of a pre-worn bum-slide back to the bags.

The walk out from here wasn't going to be brief, but it did have plenty to recommend it: great views back up to Sgurr Choinnich Beag and the tasty-looking Stob Coire Bhealaich east ridge which connects the Grey Corries to the Aonach group; Loch Lochy to the north; a bog-strewn stomp along a river redeemed by a tree-lined waterfall; and a sunset which, alone, occasioned a good 30 clicks of the shutter. Meanwhile, analgesia was provided courtesy of Dalwhinnie distillery, hip flask sensibly being considerably more accessible than the first aid kit.

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Stob Coire Bhealaich east ridge: tasty

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Loch Lochy and beyond

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Allt Coire an Eoin falls

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My feet and knees were overjoyed to be reunited with the car, and my stomach with the spare bottle of chocolate milk. I'll admit to feeling a bit on the tired side, particularly with two and a half hours of drive back to Glasgow in prospect, but I can rarely recall twelve hours better spent on a hill. Only the afterglow of such activity can elevate the Fort William king rib supper to cordon bleu status - and it did.
Last edited by adamarchie on Mon Apr 16, 2012 1:25 am, edited 3 times in total.
adamarchie
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Re: Winter's last fling in the Grey Corries

Postby adamarchie » Mon Apr 16, 2012 12:54 am

Postscript: I awoke this morning with a fairly embarrassing tan line over my eyebrows as proof of purchase. Knees slowly starting to feel like I haven't borrowed them from an osteoarthritic 85 year old.
Last edited by adamarchie on Mon Apr 16, 2012 7:53 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Winter's last fling in the Grey Corries

Postby adamarchie » Mon Apr 16, 2012 1:14 am

PPS Just realised I hadn't un-ticked the "private report" box. Hopefully now fixed!
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Re: Winter's last fling in the Grey Corries

Postby dogplodder » Mon Apr 16, 2012 2:45 am

Wowsers!

Stunnning photos and what a walk! :clap:
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Re: Winter's last fling in the Grey Corries

Postby EwaMH » Mon Apr 16, 2012 8:01 am

Wowsers indeed! The climbing looks amazing and you got some awesome looking conditions up top :) Spent Saturday being intermittently battered by snow and hail (with brief white-out conditions) on Creag Meagaidh..I think maybe we took the brunt of it to allow you a clearer day (you're welcome!) and amazing views! Well done on such a long day too!!
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Re: Winter's last fling in the Grey Corries

Postby adamarchie » Mon Apr 16, 2012 12:36 pm

EwaMH wrote:Wowsers indeed! The climbing looks amazing and you got some awesome looking conditions up top :) Spent Saturday being intermittently battered by snow and hail (with brief white-out conditions) on Creag Meagaidh..I think maybe we took the brunt of it to allow you a clearer day (you're welcome!) and amazing views! Well done on such a long day too!!


I think you're right about taking the sting out of those northerly flurries for us. Many thanks! We had some good views of the a*se end of Creag Meagaidh at various points. Did you at least get a look at the Coire Ardair face? Bet it looked impressive on Saturday. I haven't yet seen it in winter conditions and am looking forward to that treat at some point.
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Re: Winter's last fling in the Grey Corries

Postby EwaMH » Mon Apr 16, 2012 1:00 pm

I think you're right about taking the sting out of those northerly flurries for us. Many thanks! We had some good views of the a*se end of Creag Meagaidh at various points. Did you at least get a look at the Coire Ardair face? Bet it looked impressive on Saturday. I haven't yet seen it in winter conditions and am looking forward to that treat at some point.


You're very welcome...I can just about say that without it hurting my face now! We did get some great views of Coire Ardair's face and it was amazing, a real treat indeed! :) Definately try and get there while the winter coat remains.

How much experience would a climb up the Giant's Staircase require??
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Re: Winter's last fling in the Grey Corries

Postby Mountainlove » Mon Apr 16, 2012 2:36 pm

Love your quote
Knees slowly starting to feel like I haven't borrowed them from an osteoarthritic 85 year old.
Know that feeling :lol: :lol: :lol:
Really like that scrambling option up the quarz...need to look into that as I havent done the 2 yet :-)
Thanks for sharing!!
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Re: Winter's last fling in the Grey Corries

Postby adamarchie » Mon Apr 16, 2012 3:57 pm

Mountainlove wrote:Really like that scrambling option up the quarz...need to look into that as I havent done the 2 yet :-)
Thanks for sharing!!


Go for it with the scramble! If it's a dry day, the rock'll stick to your feet. Quartzite is notorious in the wet though so steer well clear in sub-optimal conditions. At any rate, that whole route is certainly one to be savoured in good vis.

Very glad to have made the discovery of Noel Williams' book, along with Ian Thow's Highland Scrambles North, Andrew Dempster's Classic Mountain Scrambles in Scotland and Dan Bailey's Scotland's Mountain Ridges. (Incidentally, the vast majority of Dempster's routes are covered in the others.) Standard hillwalking books tend to eschew the scrambling possibilities unless they form a necessary part of an approach, whereas I find a fine scramble makes a delicious entree to a good hill bashing session.
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Re: Winter's last fling in the Grey Corries

Postby adamarchie » Wed Apr 18, 2012 2:57 pm

My lovely aunt asked me to post this on her behalf:

At the launch point, I can almost smell the clean air; the photograph is so crisp and clear.

The description of the climb impressive beyond even my dreams. I'm afraid I'll have to indulge in my chocolate and other assorted health items at sea level and the jewel in the crown, well, looks like a post card from here.

Wonderful that you have a companion on these treks of yours and that you take the time to photograph the majesty for the rest of us.
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