Updated from my old blog just to get everyone in the mood for winter…
Stob Ghabhar and Stob a Choire Odhair are two Munros that form part of the Black Mount west of Rannoach Moor and overlooking Loch Tulla. Climbing Stob Ghabar in winter is made a little bit more interesting two easy snow couloirs imaginatively (in what must have been a burst of creativity) given the titles “upper” and “lower” with give access to the summit from the north.
The Lower Couloir leaves from just above a small lochain perched high up at the head of the Allt Cchoire Dhearbhadh itself a long slog across the high plateau west of the West Highland Way as it crosses Rannoach Moor.
Looking for some climbing on a dull overcast day Dom and I decided to approach from the south parking near Inveroran and walking up the old stalkers track that runs up into to Corie Toaig and the col at 668m between the two Munros. From here it looked like a short traverse round to the lochain and the climbing.
A good track leads most of the way to the col, crossing the snow line at about 500m we are soon enveloped in thick fog which obliterates the horizon and leaves us struggling for reference points as snow and sky blur in to one and classic Scottish white out conditions. The disorientation especially on relatively open ground makes route finding difficult and both Dom and I have to work hard to make sure we hit the col at the right point as I display an alarming tendency to let the terrain pull me too far to the east.
From the col there is no chance of catching sight of the lochain and we are faced with a mass of white cloud into which we descend on a baring taken off the map; pacing out the distance we take great care, conscious of the fact that the lochain is probably frozen with a covering of snow – not a good place to blunder out on to! Finally in the matt light which surrounds us the eyes catch sight of a hint of blue snow to our right giving away the position of the water, barley noticeable in the fog.
However finding the lochain was only the start of the difficulties, with viability so poor there is no sign of the couloir or even any real rock bands above us, leaving us with little indication of where to go. The 1:25:000 OS map indicates a spur of rock running down to the edge of the water which forms the right hand edge of the run out fan leading up into the funnel of the Lower Couloir. Contouring a safe distance from the edge of the water we traverse round until this band of rock emerges from the mist then turn left and begin to climb steeply. The couloir is wide and its only after a couple of hundred meters that it narrows to the extent we can see both walls giving us the confidence we are on the right track. The terrain is steep of grade 1 but we have finally come across a line of foot prints for us to follow making the work easier and helping convince us we are on the right track.
The gully finishes on a steep upper snow field, continuing straight up would eventually lead to the summit but to reach the Upper Couloir we must traverse left over steep terrain which were it not for the zero visibility would feel very exposed. The architecture of the mountain is very difficult to piece together in this weather but our route is clear from this photo on UKC showing the narrow gully cutting a crescent shape through the summit buttress.
The gully itself is excellent, narrow and well packed with good ice, a grade harder than the Lower Couloir with a step of grade II where I wished the rope was not snug and secure in my rucksack as I climbed it. I captured the short brown trouser moment for posterity below.
The gully finished pretty much on the summit which was being lashed by a bitterly cold wind and not the place to linger especially without any view to distract the attention and the camera. We quickly dropped down the ridgeline to the col grabbed a bite to eat and then traversed on to Stob a Choire Odhair which felt hard on the legs which had already put themselves through a significant amount of accent. On the top I was forced to deploy the emergency Harribo for a sugar filled decent back down to the van.