Written By Graeme Walker
Looking at my screen in work, I was counting down the hours until I could log off, head home, get changed and throw my bags into the car for more weekend adventures. This weekend, we were headed for an overnight in Glencoe, followed by heading to Fort William at first light. The hills in question were Stob Ban & Mullach nan Coirean.
Stob ban is one of the finest peaks in the Mamores, with an even better ridge traverse towards the second munro, Mullach nan Coirean but for the sake of my fingers I will abbreviate it to MNC for the remainder of this little story.
Stob Ban has three main ridges: the east ridge connects to the former Munro of Sgor an Iubhair via the top of the Coire a’ Mhusgain (Corrie of the Shellfish), the western ridge links to the adjoining Munro of MNC while the northern ridge drops steeply to Glen Nevis over a series of terraced rocky outcrops.
Anyway, mountain facts out the way, I eventually got home and jumped in the car. It’s worth mentioning that I was gifted some new packs from Osprey Europe, in particular Tommy Entwistle (VP for Osprey Europe). The packs were Talon series 33 and 44. The numbers refers to the litres each back pack holds and I was super pumped to try them out.
I used the Talon 44 for all my overnight essentials. Sleeping bag, clothing, food, medi-kit, head torch, batteries etc. In a nutshell, all the stuff I was taking for the weekend, and then I would filter out what I needed for the actual hill. This is where the Talon 33 comes in. Friday was dry and I had a taxi stop first to pick up my friend Heather, who had put her hand up for selection. Adventures are better when you can share them with friends right? Once Heather was buckled up in the car, it was off to my other friends’ house, Fraser.
I have known Fraser for over 10 years. We have been snowboarding, camping, obstacle course racing together, weddings, birthdays, you name it. We have even been on top of Ben Nevis, where I got to watch him fall over 100 feet down the back corries into a bowl of snow. That’s a story for another time though.
Our gear was thrown into the back of Fraser’s car, complete with our mountain dog, Breagha. Weather was looking promising as we made our way north and no problems with traffic either. The chat revolved around what this week’s work looked like, the problems each of us faced and dealt with, un-realistic timescales and which whisky we were going to drink tonight. Glencoe is a beautiful part of Scotland and arguably the world. The gateway to the highlands, is a pleasure ground for nomads, adventure seekers, fast car drivers who love the open and winding roads and the tourists. Having seen Glencoe in winter and summer, it’s hard to share my preference but if you had to press me for an answer, I would say the winter. Snow makes everything more amazing.
We arrived just after 8pm when the light was starting to fade but we knew there would be enough for dinner. Checked in, bags out the car and into the microlodge, we cracked open the disposable BBQ straight away and got to work lighting it. Within minutes we were off to a good start, warm BBQ, crackling away while we had a good chat over a beer and ready-made cocktail. Luckily Fraser had brought a rather fine cool box, that plugs into the cars power system, making sure our burgers, sausages and all things meaty were kept cool before throwing them on the barbie.
Having a chat, drinking, eating, surrounded by the Glencoe vista is a thing of beauty. There’s not a lot of noise and thankfully the other guests and families were happy to meet our level of chat, with their own. We could all enjoy the moments that the hills offer us and remind us that they have been stood here for millions of years, and they will be here for millions after our own lights go out.
Working in an office more or less every day, lets me truly enjoy the outdoors. It affords me the luxury of not having to rush or to get something done in a certain timescale. It also lets me breathe and get things from under my feet. No deadlines, no meetings, no phone ringing or being hauled into a last minute technical meeting to get something out the door. Fresh air and purpose are all I require this weekend, and what better way to relax than in the great outdoors with friends. With the last sausage being devoured by Breagha and the rest of the whisky consumed, it was time to call it a night.
Saturday morning, we were awake and we were doing this! Up, washed, teeth brushed and dressed, we piled back into the car in a bleary-eyed state ready for the days adventure. As we began driving, we immediately knew we required a vital piece of kit…..coffee. In the hurry and madness of getting into the car for the drive, I hadn’t had time to fire up the jetboil and get the morning brew going for us all. No matter, there’s a McDonalds in Fort William. Breakfast inhaled and coffee hitting the spot, it was only another 15 minutes or so to our parking spot, and the location for us to kit up and begin the climb to Stob Ban. The temperature was mild, it wasn’t cold at all and as I stood in my shorts, I actually contemplated, making the climb in them, however that was short lived as the famous Scottish midge descended upon us and started biting away at the white pale skin. Trousers it is then. The other element in the equation was the rain, it had started raining already and we hadn’t even stepped onto the dirt to carry out our mission. No matter, it will just keep us cool. Once upon a time this would have bothered me. I mean, we all like a mellow day weather wise and rain just makes most adventures miserable, but again going back to working in an office, I was ok with the rain and the elements.
The initial walk in to the ascent is relatively easy, there’s an incline sure, but it’s a steady and long one, thus allowing the body to break into its natural gait and breathing pattern. It’s funny, I take photos of everything, and soon begin snapping away within 10 mins of walking. The cloud cover was low and hung around the mountain peaks, gently being pushed by the wind further up. The rain was falling and could be heard landing on the larger leaves of the foliage. It was also quite humid, despite the weather we were having, there was no need for a lot of layers. I had a base layer and my waterproof jacket on, baseball cap and trousers. In hindsight I should probably have wore my gaiters but elected to leave them in the car. I have made a mental note not to do this again. You would be forgiven if you thought that all Scotland’s scenery and mountains look the same, they don’t. Every hill I have been on, has given me their own unique levels of beauty. Some have rocky outcrops, some are green and mighty, some are true behemoths that seem to rise higher the further up you go. This is another reason I have begun to increase my “munro bagging” endeavour. I want to see as many scenes and mountains as I can.
We seem to have a built-in tendency to go on holiday or to travel to a different country in search of a new zone to discover and explore, yet won’t take the initiative to explore the ones on our own doorstep first. Maybe that’s driven by the weather, the midges or even ignorance. I’ve made a conscious effort, particularly in the last 6 years, to travel more throughout Scotland and discover and learn about her heritage and beauty. Having summited the 3 highest peaks in the UK, I can tell you that it is hard to beat anything Scotland gives you in terms of mountain vistas, or experiences. There’s a mystique and an invisible pulling sensation for Scotland’s mountains. The ones that have come here and tasted the allure will know exactly what I mean. I realise I am likely speaking from a position of bias. I was born here and live here. However, I reckon I would still give the same opinion, had I come from further afield.
As we approached the first summit, we could see a massive rocky ridge and thought wow! Not in a daunting, we are going to fall off kind of way, but rather a, “I get to walk up this to the summit”? kind of way. Spoiled, and smiling we crept further up the rocky ridge carefully working out our foot placements. I stopped every five minutes to take pictures due to the changing landscape and cloud cover, the scenery kept morphing into new visuals and I was keen to capture as many as I could. Summit 1 complete. I placed a large rock on the existing cairn, high-fived Fraser and Heather and replaced my soaking wet base layer of sweat with a fresh top. Instantly warmer and refreshed. We also made the effort to eat something a little bit more substantial. Heather had a fine selection of food, and not just any food, but M&S food. We threw this down our necks, drank some more water from our camelbaks, had a handful of peanut M&Ms, tightened the boots and made our way down over shattered quartzite rocks.
The quartzite thankfully relents, and a grassier path is reached. It is possible to bypass the next knoll on the ridge – this is the culminating point of the north ridge of Stob Ban that continues for some distance before a precipitous plunge to the glen; rather than following this, our route heads for the 846m bealach to the west. The straightforward ridge climbs up to a minor summit with a tiny area of quartzite rocks, and then continues along the ridge. Again, from the ridge you can see Ben Nevis in its full height, as well as the other Mamores peaks looking magnificent. The ridge broadens and climbs once more to a wide plateau at point 917m. There is then another short descent before the final rise to the massive cairn that marks the true summit of Mullach nan Coirean at 939m. Summit 2 in the bag, along with the tradition of placing a rock on the cairn, hugging your crew, throwing more food and M&Ms down the neck and cracking on down the remainder of the descent.
It’s worth noting that while undertaking this loop of awesome, we had only seen two people the whole day, this was about to change as we were met with three older gentlemen on their ascent to Stob Ban. They must have been in their late seventies, and clothed in a mixture of modern, tech as well as clothing they have held onto throughout the years. Likely because of being attached to it on a personal level, or they would just rather spend money or other things. Either way I was very impressed. Three older men, still out in the hills, one had the map and compass, one had the flask and cups, the other holding up the other two with fine chat and anecdotes of running around these hills for over 20 years. It was humbling and a pleasure to meet them on the hill. Likely never to meet again, this is one of the attractions of hiking in the hills, the strangers you meet and some you’ll never forget.
Here we are back at the car park, 6 hours after we initially set off on our loop around Stob Ban and MNC. Wet weather, low cloud, but an abundance of smiles, a full soul and heart we fully soaked up the day. However, there was still one more place to tick off. The famous Clachaig Inn. Nestling in the very heart of Glencoe, the Clachaig Inn has been a source of accommodation and hospitality for travellers for over three hundred years.
As we ate our Balmoral chicken, haggis neeps and tatties, washed down with beer, we cheered our achievements and began discussing the next one to tackle.
Adventures don’t need to be hanging 4,000 ft. on a rope, they don’t have to be jumping out a plane, or climbing Everest. An adventure is what you make it, and all it requires from you, is a plan, some friends and a lot of heart. It doesn’t cost a lot to invest in yourself.
Wherever you find yourself, enjoy it and leave it as you found it.