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Jason Bonniface,

Friday, 5 November 2010

13th & 14th Oct 2010 - Giants Staircase, Grey Corries, Aonachs & Ben Nevis

Its about time to be thinking of how to make use of the snow thats beginning to fall on the hills, but before that I'm going to reminisce, looking back three weeks to warm sunshine and a t-shirt on the crest of the Grey Corries with a sea of cloud blanketing all but the highest peaks in every direction.

High pressure was in charge and a temperature inversion was in place for several days. Fortunately this coincided with the half term holidays and a trip to the parents/grandparents who seemed to be willing childminders! On the Wednesday morning I had a slow start finally getting going from Coire Choille near Spean Bridge at about . The plan was to head into the Lairig Leacach at the east end of the Grey Corries and then ascend Stob Choire Claurigh via the Giant’s Staircase scramble detailed in Noel Williams Scrambles in Lochaber. After that I hoped to continue along the Grey Corries ridge to its end and then on to the Aonachs, Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis beyond with an overnight camp somewhere near the Aonachs.

Interactive map of the route

Its a fair walk in to the Lairig Leacach Bothy. Its been a few years since I was last there and the track dragged on for a couple of hours. On the way I was surprised to notice several private vehicles had been driven a mile or so past Coire Choille and this would have saved a half hour or so. I hate track walking! The weather wasn’t too promising either, several days before had been stunning once low cloud had dissipated but it looked thicker and more stubborn. From the bothy I followed the peaty path into Coire Claurigh to the base of the Giants Staircase.

The Giants Staircase a Grade 2 scramble described by Noel Williams as “quite the best scramble on such rock (quartzite) in Lochaber” carried me up into the mist. The slabs proved to be very enjoyable with minimal exposure and plenty of choice of route due to the stepped “staircase” nature of the terrain. It seemed to me an ideal place to bring children for a taste of mountain scrambling (the down side being the length of the walk in, but a bike ride would make it enjoyable).

On reaching the bealach between Stob Ban and Stob Choire Claurigh I turned north for the latter peak with hints of sun and blue sky just above. Before long I emerged into a different world.

Stob Coire Cath na Sine being swallowed up from the slopes of Stob Choire Claurigh. For the rest of the day the ridge would periodically appear and then be enveloped again.

The Grey Corries, Aonachs and Ben Nevis from the summit of Stob Choire Claurigh.

On the summit of Stob Choire Claurigh it was approaching and due to be dark by about . I moved off west along the ridge quite mindful of the time. The ridge was not completely deserted with one other chap heading east and we remarked on our good fortune. I met no one else until the summit slopes of Ben Nevis next day.

The view back east along the ridge to Stob Choire Claurigh. A glory surrounds my shadow on the lower left.

Stob Coire an Laoigh and Stob Coire Easain

A sea of cloud from Stob Coire an Laoigh. The top surface of the cloud was at about 1000m so only a select few peaks were showing.

I usually pride myself on being able to identify most surrounding peaks and whilst I made good guesses at most of these, the cloud made it difficult to judge directions and distances. These were worked out with the aid of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software.

By the time I was reaching the summit of Sgurr Choinnich Mor it had passed and the sun was making a swift descent. The cloud level was also rising and I descended into it on the descent towards Sgurr Choinnich Beag.

A brocken spectre on the summit of Sgurr Choinnich Mor

I’d climbed all the munros and tops on this route previously but had never linked the Grey Corries and Aonachs, and Aonachs and Carn Mor Dearg. There is steep ground on both sides of the Aonachs and I approached the ascent towards Stob Coire Bhealaich, a top of Aonach Beag, hoping the route would be obvious. A small but initially clear path led west from spot height 731m but in the quickly fading light and a jumble of rocks I lost it in no time. Instead I followed a dry stone wall up steep rocky slopes towards the base of a crag defending the ridge between Sgurr a’ Bhuic and Stob Coire Bhealaich. Below the crag there was a grassy ramp slanting up northwards towards the crest of a minor ridge. It was pretty gloomy and after by this point and I used the remains of my energy to follow the ramp upwards hoping the ridge would provide a route through the crags onto the main ridge. Fortunately it proved to be so, with a faint path winding up the mossy, shaley ridge providing some confidence. I gratefully reached the main ridge and found a grassy slope to pitch the tent by torchlight, crawling into it for food, a good read and a night of slipping down the slope to the end of the tent!

I poked my head out of the tent at 06:30 to find the cloud had risen above my campsite during the night and that I had a good, if still fairly dark, view of the Mamores. Unfortunately as I packed everything up the cloud came back down accompanied by mizzle.
The wander over Aonach Beag to Aonach Mor and back south to the route down towards the bealach between the Aonachs and Carn Mor Dearg was uneventful apart from the occasional glimpse of a view through a parting of the clouds. The descent route west off Aonach Mor was marked by a small cairn and easy enough to find in the murk.

Looking back from the slopes of Carn Mor Dearg.The small path off Aonach Mor led down the ridge and into a steep gully (centre left) towards the north side of the bealach.

A drizzly Carn Mor Dearg. Its east ridge (centre left) was a straight forward plod. The east ridge of Carn Dearg Meadhonach is apparently a grade 1 scramble but looks interesting (in the mist on the right). 

The Carn Mor Dearg (CMD) Arete provided a straightforward scramble, really just boulder hopping on a ridge, round to the slopes of the Ben in the cloud, the granite giving fairly reliable grip even in the damp conditions.

Fort William and Loch Linnhe from the upper slopes of Ben Nevis

Good timing. The kids, Granny and Grandad, eating lunch on the path up to Coire Leis. Lunch and a lift back to Coire Choille were provided free of charge! 

A departing autumnal view back to Coire Leis and the north face of Ben Nevis.

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Jason Bonniface, 05/11/2010

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