Stob Ban is ‘the light coloured peak’, Sgurr a’ Mhaim: ‘peak of the large rounded hill.’ Both are white.
But it wasn’t the snow cornices nor the snow choked gullies that gave these hills their whiteness; rather it was their stark quartz caps. Seen in the glare of a sunny morning or even in the light of a full moon, these Mamore mountains can indeed look snow capped, even at the height of summer.
We departed the River Nevis under a cloudless sky. From the road bridge a goodpath heads southeast, into the beautiful birch draped jaws of Coire Mhusgain. Climbing gently above the corrie’s allt, we were treated to a taste of paradise. Rapids and waterfalls added a background strain to the songs of pipits, chaffinches; a raven sang in tenor. It was too early yet for the colour splashes that the spring and summer months bring to this beautiful glen-like corrie; come back here come the spring and summer months and you’ll see the whole place transformed by a floral richness unrivalled anywhere in Scotland’s hill country. On a previous visit, high in the corrie, where the path was squeezed tight above a waterfall, a tiny flash of streaky brown had betrayed, craftily sited in a hole in the bank, the tidy little nest of a rock pipit, brimful with a clutch of five tiny grey-brown eggs. Coire Mhusgain is always full of little surprises.In one or two places the path appears to come to an abrupt end, necessitating an airy traverse along a narrow rock ledge or a brief scramble up a wall. This time we’d strayed onto the corrie’s lower path, requiring a grassy traverse over rough ground to establish us on the proper line above. At last, with the alpine rock scenery of Stob Ban and Sgurr an Iubhair towering overhead, we followed the zig-zag path onto the day’s first col.A sun trap at the centre of all things grand! We looked back down the corrie and beyond, to the huge bulk of Ben Nevis, a monster of a mountain that made nearby Fort William look like a far away toy town. Southwards we gazed over Beinn na Caillich and Mam na Gualainn, over the Aonach Eagach to the Bidian massif, all great hills neatly bracketed by ‘The Buachaille’, in the east and ‘The Vair pair,’ at the Ballachulish end. Beyond them all, the Cruachan range and farther out, hazy across the sea, The Paps of Jura. We could even see Mull’s Ben More. Closer, down in the Lairig Mor, the line of The West Highland Way cut a thin white line through the dark heather; along its course we could see ant sized walkers on their ways to journey’s end at nearby Fort William.A fifteen minute plod up Stob Ban’s rocky East ridge, mostly on shattered quartz, and sometimes above spectacular drops only inches from our feet, had us at the summit cairn and an opportunity to photograph the stupendous scenery. Now, to our immediate west, ranged the vast bulk of Mullach nan Coirean and a dramatic change in geology. For those hills, comprised of granite, are red. You can actually step across the boundary, from Mullach’s red to Stob Ban’s white, if you approach the summit from that direction. Our interest lay to the east. That way, guarding the rest of The Mamores, lay Sgurr an Iubhair and Sgurr a’ Mhaim and, separating the two most menacingly, the famous ‘Devil’s ridge.’We scurried back down to retrieve abandoned packs. Sgor an Iubhair is ‘the yew peak’. It used to be a Munro; more accurate measuring has relegated it to a Top. Who cares! There are no longer Yews in its corrie, only a stagnant green lochan and one of the day’s many other walkers, sun bathing. the summit cairn and ready for our lunch. Some kind soul had erected a little quartz wall just below; with its little sheltered patch of grass it made an ideal dining room.veritable knife edge with even the odd bit of easy scrambling to add vim, the arête is only really dangerous when gripped by winter snow and ice; then a slip can be and has been fatal! Even so, its a place that demands respect, you don’t want to be walking along it with your eyes any where else than on the path ahead. If you want to gaze about you, stop! We did so, often.older than ten years old apiece, came happily down from the Mhaim slopes above; like mountain goats they swarmed up and onto the ridge, leaving mum and dad trailing more sedately in a wake of youthful exuberance.peak to attain, the hills were beginning to come alive with walkers coming up from the other side, and at a much more civilised hour of the day. steep affair. Fifteen years ago, we’d ended a traverse of ‘The ring of Steall’ with its ascent, at the very beginning of my brother’s mountaineering career. Now, all he could remember of that ascent was its seeming endlessness; today was different and he seemed surprised by the speed at which we reached the summit cairn.rim stretched the considerable remnants of a cornice, already shrinking fast, as if determined to be free as quickly as possible of the rock it cooled.
Down in the vast northern corrie big snow fields remained to defy the sun’s probing rays.like a shawl. We roamed about the white cairn drinking in the views. We tried, from memory, to establish where we’d gone wrong on our first visit, those fifteen years ago. Having reached the summit, my brother had relished the thoughts of a downwards only ramble home. Somehow we’d managed to find ourselves above the treacherous Steall Waterfall, (don’t ask!). My brother had subsequently been ill pleased with the long climb back to find the correct and safe line down. Standing there today, beside the cairn, he reminded me of that day, and the one Mars bar we’d had left between us.few hundred paces to our left; guessing it to mark the path we wanted, we scrawled our way across the jagged quartz. The path we found zigged and zagged steeply A hot plod around the corrie rim on more shattered quartz quickly had us by And thus to ‘The Devil’s ridge’ of Stob Choire a’ Mhail! Although in places a The arête ends with a final short teeter down a broken slab. Two boys, no We’d given ourselves our usual ridiculously early start; now, with one last As with Stob Ban, the ascent of Sgurr a’ Mhaim from the col is a short, fairly At the summit you appreciate the quartz-scape to the full. Around the corrie But it’s the quartz that holds the eye, it drapes the mountain’s shouldersToday our route off lay in the opposite direction. We could see a little cairn a through the scree, giving us a quick descent on lightly dug in heels. Below the scree a fine path dropped like a rocky staircase high above the River Nevis and the road that hugs it. Way below we could see the car parks by Achriabhach. This morning only one or two cars stood in each, now both looked full. Even as we descended, we met other walkers making their own ways up the mountainside. We stopped to chat, their excuse to rest their straining lungs and catch their breath, ours to rest our rapidly stiffening knees!