I WAS heading to Fort William to support friends racing, but as the event started in the afternoon I figured I had time to get in a run of my own before my presence to provide encouragement was required.
To be finished for the start of the race I decided on a straightforward circuit taking in Stob Ban and Mullach Nan Coirean in the Mamores, and set off early to be able to take my time.
The glen was busy – for me, anyway, as I’ve got too used to the quieter hills of Speyside – and in the short distance before I turned to join the Stob Ban path I was called upon to point the direction towards Steall Falls several times.
Above the path a couple of hardy early morning midges circled, encouraging steady progress over the rough and occasionally boggy ground. The glen was open at first before being funnelled upwards between the steep, grassy sides of Sgurr a Mhaim to my left and the craggy flank of Stob Ban rising up steeply on the far side of the burn.
The path firmed up above the Allt Coire a Mhusgain and turned sharply into several zigzags, each turn taking me quickly higher. The waterfall on the burn beside me, rushing downwards from the steep-sided corrie below Stob Ban’s summit, countered the energy I was using to climb.
The ground levelled off for a time and I stopped to look back down towards Glen Nevis, pleased at the height I had gained and the fact that the hill was quiet.
One last final pull and I was on the ridge. Here the view looked south towards Glencoe, the tops of its craggy summits swathed in cloud above the path of the West Highland Way below.
The rocky summit dome of Stob Ban was my final obstacle before the top and, as I scrambled up steeply, I had a sudden clear memory of my last ascent of this hill, over a decade ago, with ice and snow underfoot.
Looking up I saw a couple of walkers ahead of me, igniting my competitive spirit, and with a final push I made the summit shortly after them.
Ben Nevis appeared over the top and I took a brief pause but, with several people already enjoying the summit view by the cairn, it felt strangely crowded. I took a quick gulp of water and bite of food before heading north-west, downwards over the grey scree.
I skidded energetically down short sections of loose gravel, the sound of rocks moving across each other loud in the still morning. At the bottom of Stob Ban’s great grey dome I met a walker making very good time and his comment on the generally swift nature of hill running was motivation enough to speed up.
The ridge was a delight. Its character changed along the three-kilometre distance, taking in firm, grassy running, rock fields and optional short scrambles. Just before a 917m spot height on the map I was treated to a quick hit of exposure, keeping to the sharp ridge edge as the main path skirted south along the hillside.
There was one final grassy rise towards Mullach nan Coirean, the view at the substantial cairn giving a euphoric end to the day’s ascent. The vista south-west swept out towards Loch Leven and the sea and, as this summit was deserted, I sat quietly in the lee of the cairn.
To the east I could look back towards Stob Ban, the curves of the ridgeline tracing my day’s route. Above the glen, the top of Ben Nevis was still just in the clouds but the ever-increasing patches of blue indicated that the afternoon was going to be a clear one.
As I began my descent down the Mullach nan Coirean’s north-east ridge a golden eagle elegantly cruised into view, its wingspan making it impossible to mistake it for any other bird. As the eagle casually glided back over the horizon I turned towards the path, concentrating again on the ground as it descended steeply between rocks before levelling out more into fast, runnable grass. Ahead of me, the path was busy with ascending walkers doing the circuit in reverse.
I reached a deer fence and, passing to the side of it, encountered the first really wet terrain of the day. Muddy, tussocky ground became a large and unavoidable bog and I was very glad the route I had chosen finished, rather than started with, this obstacle. Finally making it to the edge of the forest, the path abruptly improved and I was soon through the wasteland of cleared trees and onto the main forestry track.
The fast and easy descent took me quickly down to the road and car park. After a quick stretch I set off back towards Fort William, already with plans to return to the Mamores before too long.
Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean
Distance 9 miles / 14.5km
Terrain Clear paths lower down, with some rough ground higher up and a good bog towards the end. Navigation skills needed in poor visibility
Start/finish Lower Falls car park in Glen Nevis (charge)
Maps OS Landranger 41; OS Explorer 392; Harvey British Mountain Map, Ben Nevis and Glencoe
Two Mamore Munros linked by a fabulous undulating ridge, giving a short but spectacular hill day