Saturday 19 August 2023

Meall Dubhag, Coire Garbhlach & Fionnar Choire: A Walk In The Cairngorms

View down Fionntar Choire to Coire Garbhlach

Narrow, steep-sided and secretive, Coire Garbhlach twists and turns deep into the hills. This is a hidden corrie, only parts of which can be seen from above and none from below. It’s more a canyon than a typical corrie, a closed-in private world that feels cut-off from the outside.

Coire Garbhlach viewed from Glen Feshie

Coire Garbhlach is rugged too – the name means rough corrie. The rushing Allt Garbhlach has cut many channels and covered the narrow corrie floor with rocks. Old long-dry channels are often overgrown with deep holes hidden in the vegetation. The going here is tough. There are no good paths, just narrow traces of fading old ones.

Every few years I visit Coire Garbhlach, after my memories of just how rough it is and how hard the walking is have faded. I’ve never seen anyone else here or even a sign of anyone.

Looking down Coire Garbhlach

Coire Garbhlach is a way on to the Moine Mhor and its summits but there are much easier ways on good paths and off-road vehicle tracks that lead more directly to the most popular hills, the Munros of Sgor Gaoith and Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair. The latter lies just over a kilometre from Coire Garbhlach and there is a good view down into the top of the corrie where the track from Glen Feshie to the Munro passes close to the rim.

On the other side of Coire Garbhlach, to the north, is the rounded bump Meall Dubhag. Listed as a Munro until the 1981 revision of Munro’s Tables it’s now designated a subsidiary Top of Sgor Gaoith, just over four kilometres away. It’s little visited, the thin paths to the top fading away. Losing Munro status does that.

In Glen Feshie

On this August day I set off for Coire Garbhlach and Meall Dubhag in wind and sunshine. Glen Feshie shone in the bright light. Purple heather dominated the landscape, as it would do until I reached the heights. There were other flowers, especially patches of rose bay willowherb and the rough heads of devil’s bit scabious waving in the breeze. A closer look in the grasses revealed harebells and eyebright. Summer in full bloom.

The new bridge over the Allt Garbhlach

The main path across the Allt Garbhlach was wiped out by a flood almost a decade ago, leaving a rough descent down a steep, loose slope and a similar one up the far side.  Not difficult but requiring care. Now though there is a sign before the drop to the stream is reached indicating an old worn path that runs through regenerating forest to a small wonky log bridge far above the original crossing place. There are no steep slopes involved. It’s not as dramatic but it is much easier.

Rough walking beside the Allt Garbhlach

At the bridge I left the path and headed for the corrie. Deep heather, young trees, boulders. My pace slowed immediately. Where possible I walked on the stones beside the burn. Here I could see where I was putting my feet.  

Ahead the sky above the corrie was dark with clouds. The blue sky and sunshine were behind me. I was entering a darker place, which felt appropriate. The long ridges running down into the corrie overlapped, showing its twisting nature without revealing what it was like inside. Shattered crags lined the rim.

In the lower corrie

As the walls of the corrie began to enclose me, I left most of the trees behind. There were still masses of plants though, apart from the heather. Bog asphodel and foxgloves were fading now, their colour gone. The flowers I’d seen in Glen Feshie were flourishing here though, along with thistles, bog cotton and more. There were thickets of raspberries, the fruit sadly too far gone to eat. I’d make up for that higher up when rich blaeberries distracted me.

The waterfall

The lower corrie ends at a grand little waterfall. Above rise crags on the southern side of Meall Dubhag. This is a good spot for a rest, a place to absorb the world of Coire Garbhlach, before clambering up the steep slopes into the upper corrie.

The upper corrie

Here a side corrie called Fionnar Choire cuts away to the north. I’d never been into this corrie. It was time to do so, a last-minute decision, so I followed the little trickling burn up into a wide green bowl. This was a classic corrie and felt very different from the enclosed canyon below. It’s a peaceful place - the name means fair corrie - and another one in which to stop and rest and look. High above the clouds were racing across the sky.

Fionnar Choire

The walking in Fionnar Choire was easier than lower down and I was soon out of the corrie and onto the eastern side of Meall Dubhag, just a few hundred metres from the summit cairn. Suddenly the space opened up and I could see vast distances. I’d lost my protection from the strong, cold wind and I soon had a jacket on and thinking that if I had gloves I’d have them on too.

Meall Dubhag with sunbeams

From Meall Dubhag there are extensive views. East the hills were hidden in the clouds. West and north the dark clouds fought with the sunshine, paler clouds cut through with sunbeams. The big hulk of Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair rose not far to the south, the graceful point of Sgor Gaoith to the north. Of Coire Garbhlach there was no sign.

View across Glen Feshie and Strathspey

Not lingering in the fierce wind I was soon away across the hills to the path on Carn Ban Mor that runs down into Glen Feshie. As I descended I could see the hump of Meall Dubhag across the Allt Fhearnagan. An uninteresting lump I guess most think it. Not if you climb it from Coire Garbhlach it isn’t. 

All photographs taken on August 17, 2023, with Sony a6600 camera and Sony 18-135mm lens.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the heads-up on the new bridge Chris. The old crossing was getting a wee bit hairy, especially with a big pack! I've walked past Coire Garbhlach many times and wondered what it's like. Now I know. I think there are winter climbing routes on some of the crags but I bet they are rarely visited.

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  2. The old crossing has gone through stages from very hairy to ok with care and back to hairy! It was worst straight after the wash-out when you had to slither down the loose slopes. Then paths appeared and it got a bit easier. And now those paths are eroding themselves. UKC lists 44 climbs in Coire Garbhlach. https://www.ukclimbing.com/logbook/crags/coire_garbhlach-11503/

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