Following a variety of walks, most of them the gentler eastern hills, I was determined to include some ridge walking in my holidays. Ben Nevis via the CMD, or the Ring of Steall, tempted me, but another option won out. The Grey Corries looked magnificent from across in Spean Bridge, so how could I resist when they were also so close at hand?
The forecasts promised excellent weather for the Saturday (and more of the same for 2 further days), while I'd given my feet the previous day off, so was raring to hit the hills again.
I followed the minor road past Spean Bridge station, then the track past Coire Choille farm. The track gets rougher at this stage, though wasn't quite so bad as warnings had lead me to expect. I still had a spine and nothing seemed to have been shaken loose by the time I'd passed a gate, then came to where another forestry track joins (the intended walk out). There were already a handful of other cars by the time I arrived (nearing 9:30), so I parked up on the grass to leave the tracks and turning area free.
With the weather warm and sunny, I intended topping up on water further up the ascent, though took along a good amount just in case. The first 2 km of the approach are by track (which continues across the Lairig Leacach), but even that gentle incline had me feeling warm in the morning sunshine. The track winds past the Wee Minister statue, then through some plantations, though the trees didn't offer as much shade as I'd have liked.
After a gate and small enclosed area on the right, I turned and started up the hill. This section was slightly soft going where the hill drains down into a burn, so could be wet in less dry weather than the time. I followed the fence and tree edge for a while, then eased (or, tried to ease, but it felt a slog beneath the sun and with very little breeze) southwards up the shoulder of the hill. The mass of Cruach Innse gave some indicator of gaining height, then clouds took pity and cast some welcome shade.
That helped me make progress to where the ascent eased off above some easterly crags. Skirting Creag Doillich, I found the burn I'd been looking for, so gratefully took a break to refuel and resupply. There was even a slight breeze, not much but enough to make the rest of the ascent (which was more gradual) far less arduous.
I picked up a bit of a path, reaching the outlying top of Stob Coire Gaibhre. Another break let me take in the ridge from closer at hand, including the eastern top Stob Coire na Ceannain across a dramatic corrie containing a tiny lochan. This isn't part of the standard route, but looked appetising enough to be worth adding as an out-and-back before the main course.
The walking becomes rougher and rockier at about the 1000 metre mark. The ground is loose rock, but most of that is good-sized chunks (or small boulders), rather than bitty scree. It does call for care where you step, but by and large proved stable, rather than ready to send me sliding at any excuse. I've not much ridge walking experience to compare this with, but - in these good conditions - found the Corries a delight for the senses.
There's a path down to and along the arête to Stob Coire na Ceannain, suggesting that plenty of others also thought it worth the visit. There's even some spots of almost-scrambling along the back of the ridge itself (the path tends to keep a couple of yards further down, reducing exposure and presumably giving some shelter from the prevailing wind), which is gently airy but, in these conditions, unthreatening. Being out on the edge of the main ridge produces a great viewpoint for most directions:
But I couldn't dally forever, not with this waiting to be walked:
Returning to the main ridge, there are a couple of unnamed (on my OS Explorer) tops / shoulders before my first Munro of the walk, which is the highest of the ridge. I'd usually want to walk so that I started with the lowest Munro and progressed to the highest, but the entire ridge was looking like a treat. The snow that clung so photogenically in corries and even some southerly areas hardly touched the ridgeline, while the going was good, with grassy patches among the prevailing rock.
Clouds drifted by as morning turned into afternoon, but it stayed warm in the sunshine or shade. I paused at every top for a snack, water, some photos and to take in new angles on the views. Stob Ban, though a respectable-sized Munro, peered up from alongside; Ben Nevis and the Aonachs towered higher still, further to the west.
The ridge turned one way of the other at each top, with lower ridges stretching north and south framing corries filled with scree and snow, improbable as that seemed in the summer sun and warmth. The path twists up a slightly steeper section, climbing behind some formidable buttresses towards Stob Coire an Laoigh.
Nearing that second Munro of the route, there were also better views of what would be the westernmost hill, Sgurr Choinnich Mor. This is reached across a lower bealach than the rest of the route, though even that stays above the 3000-foot mark.
I did take a rougher line (to be honest, more of a wandering half-scramble) than necessary off Stob Coire Easain (not to be confused with the Munro of the same name just 4-5 miles further east). After skirting the scree slopes below some of the crags here, I used one of the grassy gullies to rejoin the usual path. That offers a few mild scrambles of its own, then reaches the Bealach Coire Easain.
This is a mix of rocks, mossy grass and, at the time, tenacious snow. That was a kind of soft ice where I crossed it, with lines of bootprints leading upwards. The path becomes more definite on Sgurr Choinnich Mor, wearing a route through the mossy turf and twisting to find the best line up rockier patches. This is an interesting little ridge on its own, climbing to a false top then easing before another climb reveals the real summit. That offered a good viewpoint and cool breeze to appreciate the day's walk so far.
The ridge was, quite justifiably, popular; many were walking from the Coire Choille approach, like me, but some were aiming for Glen Nevis. I crossed paths with more walkers as I doubled back on my steps towards Stob Coire Easain. It felt a shame to leave the ridge in such conditions, but there was a long walk-out ahead, so I started on the descent northwards. There is a trodden path for the early stages, though at one point this required picking carefully over another stretch of lingering snow.
I diverted a fraction to my right to include the Munro top Beinn na Socaich (it's really only a few metres' addition). This provided a few more views before the sustained descent of its grassy northern slopes.
Crags and steeper ground accompanied me to each side, especially my right (eastwards), but eased as the "snout" broadened and the corries became gentler. I could see that swathes of the forestry ahead had been felled in the last year or few (since my map), showing where a track wound round the hillside and ought to provide a route back to my car.
I found a gate in the fence between the hill and forestry, then followed the path from that down past a knoll where some conifers survived. Turning right along the track, I crossed a burn and headed downhill. My map indicates a shorter path going northeast, but I was forewarned about the difficulties of this route thanks to the WH guide. Taking the track northeast, there were a couple of unexpected junctions to call for decisions.
I don't remember exactly what points they were at, but I tried to keep a roughly-level course around the hill, avoiding a more easterly track which led uphill. The afternoon drew on and shadows lengthened, offering some welcome cool, before a gate at the edge of the forest brought me to open ground and the starting point again. It had been a long walk, but a memorable one worth every step.
This doesn't even try to take account of how some of the ridge paths zig-zag, though does include my impromptu scramble on the west side of Stob Coire Easain.
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