Sunday, 3 May 2015

Stob Ghabhar via the Upper Couloir

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 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 we decided to approach from the south parking near Inveroran and walking up the old starkers track that runs up to Corie Toaig and the col between the two Munros. From here its a short traverse round to the lotion and the climbing.

 Overcast skies above Loch Tulla

Corie Toaig

A good track leads most of the way to the col, we cross the snow line at about 500m and 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. The disorientation in these conditions 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 to far to the east.

From the col there is no sign of the Lochain just a mass of white which we descend into on a baring; 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 a hint of blue looks to reflect off the snow to our right giving away the position of the water, its barley noticeable in the fog. 

 Where is this couloir?
 Maybe this?

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. 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 funnel of the Lower Couloir, contouring a safe distance from the edge  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 there are a line of foot prints for us to follow making the work easier.

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 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 pice together in the weather but is clear from this photo on UKC the narrow gully cutting a present 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 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 without any view to distract the attention. 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.

Stob Ghabhar from Stob a Choire Odhair 

The Black Mount in slightly nicer weather

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