Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Grey Corries: Stob Ban, Stob Choire Claurigh and Stob Coire an Laoigh

The Grey Corries form part of the range of mountains which begin at Loch Trieg North of Rannoch Moor, and run all the way to Ben Nevis by the sea. The Grey Corries themselves form the centre of the range, and are rated highly by ridge-walkers in Scotland. Which ever way you approach the Grey Corries, it is a long walk, and for the distances and ascents involved, these are surprisingly busy hills. 

Parking for the usual ascent of these peaks from Corriechoille is a tricky issue. The books suggest that to taking cars up the private road in the glen, "there seems to be no objection at the time of writing", whereas lots of notices at the roadside seem to indicate otherwise. However, further up the glen there are indeed many parking spaces being used by walkers - and no-one objecting! Sadly by the time I discovered this, I had long abandoned by vehicle at Cour Bridge, and slogged the long miles in. Thankfully the route from Corriechoille through to the bothy in the Lairig Leacach is obvious, and this compensates for the fact that it seems to take an eternity to reach. The weather forecast had promised no rain and cloud-free Munros, but as I approached the bothy there was very little visibility and the threat of rain!

Stob Ban is a fine hill, which is steep, shapely and presents hard climbs from every angle. One path leads up the corrie behind the bothy towards the hill, but this area is extremely boggy and best avoided. A tiny cairn on the track beyond the bothy, marks the start of an alternative path which takes to the hill's fine NE ridge, which passes a subsidiary top before a hard pull up to the summit. Stob Ban is a lovely hill, which only escapes fame, because it hides in the shadow of its' massive neighbours.

Finding the correct route off Stob Ban and towards the main ridge of the Grey Corries took a couple of attempts in thick cloud - however once found, a northerly path was located which lead to the huge climb up Stob Choire Claurigh. As I climbed up the ridge, the clouds broke up and blew away, and the sun shone on the Grey Corries, as it would for the rest of the day. A week ago I was in the Mullardoch's with a group of friends. We managed a great walk, but were rained on, and got very cold in the process. Here, just seven days later - it was a different season altogether. Last week, the biggest risk was hypothermia; this week... sunstroke! I did this walk on my own (although inevitably fell into conversation with other walkers during the day) - there's a happy balance between solitude and company that is worth preserving, I think. Some folk think that my solitary walking trips are an indication of my status as a curmudgeonly 'Victor Meldrew' figure, but I like to think that a day of solitude is a re balancing thing which actually helps to cure me of the usual Irritable Growl Syndrome! Hopefully the next walk will be with friends, and the happy balance maintained.

The Grey Corries are - in a a word - magnificent. The whole range is a narrow twisting ridge over six kilometres long, crenellated with numerous tops, three of which have 'Munro' status in their own right. In truth, the attraction is as much the ridge that connects the tops, as the summits themselves. There is no scrambling or exposure, but the ridge-top, which in places is spectacularly narrow. has stunning views on every side. These hills have a reputation for being large, and far away from the road. What I didn't realise was just how beautiful they are. I had been expecting their sheer bulk to be presented in somewhat industrial composition; instead what I found were sweeping corries, sculpted peaks and gorgeous ridge-walking. The corries are indeed grey; except the ones where the rock has a reddish tinge to it. where they are distinctly pink.

I didn't go on to the most westerly of the peaks normally climbed on this route, having previously ascended it from Glen Nevis, via the Steall waterfall. That was a never-to-be-forgotten adventure in which one of the older members of our party had an angina attack, which led to heart surgery not long afterwards! Instead, I turned northwards from Stob Coire Easain, and meandered down the (largely pathless) ridge marked as Beinn na Socaich on the OS sheet. Two big walks in 7 days, meant that my dodgy knees were screaming for relief by the time I got down!

There is a navigational challenge to face in returning from the foot of this ridge, back to Corriechoille. While from the ridge, the large fire-break through the forestry plantation looks obvious, from in amongst it, it is more tricky. In addition to this, a deer fence across my intended route, drove me down towards the dam at Coire Chomlaidh. There is no crossing point at the dam itself, but the river can be forded a few hundred metres above it, and a path picked out on the far bank. From the dam, the service road through the woods can easily be accessed.

The old abandoned railway line through these parts is the return route recommended in most books. However, the onward march of vegetation, of planting, and forestry operations are making this thoroughfare through the dense pines, increasingly problematic. Ignoring the track-bed, I pushed on further down the dam-access road, following it past a sign to the left saying "Spean Bridge", and then taking a right turn onto another forestry road. This then meets a junction where a left turn is taken, just as the track begins to climb uphill and break out of the woodland. This track leads to the access route, coming out immediately opposite one of the unofficial carparks on the estate land. Thankfully I was guided through this woodland by two walkers (with their dog), who had done the same ridge as me, and were picking their way back to their vehicle. Even better, they had parked right up the glen, and offered me a lift back to Cour Bridge; one which I happily accepted.

With this assistance, I was back at the car, and home to Perth and the family for the evening. The Grey Corries, are a fantastic set of hills, to which I will no doubt return. Large, beautiful, and presenting a challenge to the walker - they offer in return for this effort, massive rewards in stunning mountain architecture, splendid views and a rich sense of achievement. In bright sunshine, what could be better?

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