The walk ‘The finest half-mile in Scot­land’ to the Grey Cor­ries

The Herald Magazine - - etc OUTDOORS -

Lo­ca­tion: Sgurr Choin­nich Mor, Lochaber

Grade: Se­ri­ous moun­tain walk Dis­tance: 11miles/18km Time: 5-7 hours

OMI­NOUS-LOOK­ING clouds cov­ered the up­per slopes of the hills as I left the car at Poll­dubh in up­per Glen Ne­vis and headed to­wards what has been de­scribed as “the finest half-mile in Scot­land”. Re­cent wet weather had left the ground like a soggy mat­tress and the air was heavy with damp­ness and the heady scent of bog myr­tle.

The walk through the Steall Gorge is al­ways dra­matic but all the rain had turned the river into an amaz­ing dis­play of aquatic power and vi­tal­ity as the wa­ters squeezed through the nar­row con­fines of the rocky gorge in a se­ries of whirlpools, wa­ter­falls and cas­cades. The sound was thun­der­ous. The foot­path through to Steall winds its way through nat­u­ral wood­lands of pine, oak, birch and rowan, high above the tum­bling mael­strom of the Ne­vis Wa­ter be­fore wrig­gling its way be­tween a few boul­ders and thrust­ing you out, un­ex­pect­edly, into a flat and open space among the moun­tains.

The con­trast to the pre­vi­ous 20 min­utes was re­mark­able. Up here the air was hushed and the river flowed se­dately through a green, flat meadow. At the far end of the meadow, in­con­gru­ously, sits a small cot­tage, nowa­days a moun­taineer­ing club hut, and be­yond it the white flash of the Steall Wa­ter­fall tum­bled down from the hang­ing cleft of Coire a’ Mhail.

For many this is a won­der­ful des­ti­na­tion in its own right, but I was head­ing for Sgurr Choin­nich Mor, the west­ern­most of the long moun­tain ridge known as the Grey Cor­ries. These hills have of­ten been likened to huge spoil heaps, a slan­der­ous and un­fair de­scrip­tion, for they are marvel­lous hills to walk, much of the time over glis­ten­ing quartzite. It’s the ash-grey colour of this rock that of­ten leads peo­ple to think that the hills are capped in un­sea­sonal snow, hence the pop­u­lar, col­lec­tive name of the Grey Cor­ries.

The ridge it­self is long and switch­backed, me­an­der­ing its way over three Mun­ros: Sgurr Choin­nich Mor (1,095m/3,589ft), Stob Coire an Laoigh (1,115m/3,661ft) and Stob Choire Clau­righ (1,177m/3,862ft). An out­lier to the east, Stob Ban (977m/3,205ft), is also a Munro, but al­ways ap­pears dwarfed by its higher neigh­bours. Al­to­gether there are seven tops on the whole ridge which, with the in­clu­sion of Stob Ban, makes a truly mem­o­rable, if rather hefty, day’s walk­ing.

Munro-bag­gers tend to tackle these hills from the Lairig Lea­cach, which runs south-east from near Spean Bridge to the head of Loch Treig. A good track runs from Cor­riechoil­lie to a bothy at the foot of Stob Ban’s north-east ridge. The as­cent of Stob Ban and the two east­ern Mun­ros of the Grey Cor­ries makes a good day in it­self, al­though stronger hill­walk­ers of­ten take in Sgurr Choin­nich Mor as well, re­turn­ing along the ridge to de­scend from Stob Coire Ea­sain.

Un­for­tu­nately there’s quite a big drop in height be­tween the two tops so many walk­ers, still faced with quite a long walk out back to Chor­riecoille, are happy to leave Sgurr Choin­nich Mor for an­other day. That’s no bad thing – oc­ca­sion­ally it’s good to en­joy

The ash-grey colour of the quartzite on the Grey Cor­ries of­ten leads peo­ple to think that the hills are capped in un­sea­sonal snow

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