An Cliseam: Outer Hebrides
Set sail into the night and who knows where the wind may take you.
The main art of sailing is finding wind, but as I my father Paul and friend Adrian set off aboard Mollymawk barely a ripple broke the sea. The sails were up but flapped restlessly in the lull, under the dull thud of an engine we settled in for a long passage. Setting off at sunset we were heading for the Shiant Isles to anchor late in the night.
It seemed fitting to begin my Coldest Corbett journey by sailing boat, after all my last Scottish journey began on the sea. We were on a bearing to Harris where I would climb the first of 222 peaks; An Cliseam. For Paul and Adrian it was their last voyage of the summer before taking out the boat for winter and a good chance to enjoy some beers and a fine weekend away.
Get up on deck! Paul beckoned excitedly. Outside under a crisp starlit sky was unfolding perhaps one of the most magical experiences I have enjoyed. In pitch darkness torpedos of glittering light darted beneath us, bursting the water with a shower of dazzling phosphorescence – Dolphin. A large pod danced and played ahead of the bow- with the light of the plankton we didn’t need a torch to watch them race past. Late in the night it felt like a dream and knowing I would wake on an island for the next adventure made life all the more special.
Watching from afar as our little yacht sailed away into the fjord I turned my focus uphill. I had leapt from the sea, coffee in hand and pack on my back in a quick race for the summit. Alas Cliseam was in cloud but on the approach I could enjoy the iconic narrow roads and open spaces so familiar to the western isles.
Cold on the summit I didn’t hang around too long. 1 hour 10 minutes to the top- a quick leap and a snickers bar and I was jogging back to the boat. The whole scale of the project now dawning inside my burning legs, One down: 221 to go.
Garbh Bheinn & Glamaig: Skye
Next stop was Skye. Since Harris I had spent a week leading trips near Ullapool and spending hours fitting out my little red van (blog on this soon) with my father. Now hoping to begin the journey ‘properly’ on November 1st I was tagging off Corbetts as training for the harder months ahead. Spending my 26th birthday running up hills seemed a great idea and so as a family my parents and I headed south for a wee day out.
Dropping Kate and Paul at the base of Glamaig I then headed by car to the base of Garbh Beinn. The plan was for me to run to the top then return and catch them up before meeting for dinner in the iconic Sligahan pub.
It is an interesting thought breaking the half way point of your 20’s and I wanted to prove to myself that I was still as fit as I had been in my 25th year. Head down and boots in the bog I would go hard for the tops.
Rosy cheeked and heaving for breath I scrambled along the last leg of a superbly craggy ridge to the summit just one hour and (TIME) after leaving sea level- I was chuffed and puffed in equal measure. Far in the distance Glamaig rose with the promise of another steep hill to clamber. I couldn’t any sight of Kate and Paul on the far ridge.Returning to the road on a long jog I hopped in the car and headed for Glammaig. Hoping to meet Paul and Kate on the descent before the inn I climbed as hard as my legs could go.
Just 55 minutes from the sea I strode out onto the summit plateau, I was exhausted and my legs burning but it felt amazing to be pushed. Just a few hundred metres below the summit were Paul and Kate- I had beaten them by an entire mountain! Now there is a confidence boost.
Next stop London?
I had been invited to talk at a small but lively festival ‘YESTIVAL’ in the south of England. A weekend with inspiring adventurers and truly wonderful human beings can’t be missed and it was a great chance to practice before a season of talking. The ‘Yes Tribe’ as orchestrated by the amazing Dave Cornthwaite was without a doubt the most amazing collection of people I have ever met in one quiet field in Surrey or the world. I expected a little inspiration over the weekend but left with new friends and an entirely different outlook on life- I was now sure that the importance of the Coldest Corbetts was not the in the Corbetts themselves but the company who joins me. I urge anyone to go to next years even as it will surely happen. Here is the official video made this year:
Sail Mhor, Beinn Liath Mhor a’Ghiubhais and Glas Bheinn: NW Highlands
Back up north with a week to go the frantic last minute sorting and packing began. On whatever moments I had spare I set off to race up mountains as fast as I could ticking off three separate peaks in quick succession. One with a view- one in a gale and one in the rain- a perfect trio of wow-windy-wet.
Still feeling energised and inspired by Yestival a quick ‘jog’ (wheeze and walk) to the summit brought a welcome return to home. I had found a new ‘game’ in trying to summit from sea level in under an hour, achieving it first try on Sail Mhor at 59 minutes 35 seconds….just! I was finally starting to feel truly ready to go.
Next came the wind on the summit of Beinn Liath Mhor a’Ghiubhais which rises just to the south of the Ullapool to Inverness road. A wide rocky summit which was thoroughly scoured by the elements. With just a few days to go I was trying to include a Corbett in my daily routine between finishing up the van and packing to leave.
Deliberately leaving the ‘best’ hills locally for the Christmas period when I will be home with relatives (but still climbing) I chose instead to tackle Glas Bheinn just a little further north in Assynt- my last ‘local’ before heading south.
Beinn a’Bha’ach Ard: Muir of Ord / / / Garbh Beinn & Mam na Gualainn: Kinlochleven
At long last my van- which I nickname Alice (because the last owner was a shop called ‘the white rabbit’ ) was ready. Inside the little transit is my home clad in wood with bookshelves, a bed, stove and storage. Simple and effective comfort for the winter ahead.
Before driving south I had booked Alice into her yearly service near Muir of Ord. To my delight the owner kindly leant out a courtesy car so I could crack on and tackle a speedy Corbett and steal a day head-start on my ad-hoc schedule. I chose Beinn a’Bha’ach Ard just a short drive south.
Unfortunately the Strathfarrar estate road was closed to my journey began with a swift 2km jog along the road before a fast pace across muddy ground to the summit. On the top a snow peppered trig point stood defiant against the wind and behind a stunning view to the nearby ridges. I returned to find Alice passed with a clean bill of health and set off south toward Ft.William.
Breaking the journey south I lingered in Kinlochbervie to race around another two peaks totalling over 1600m of ascent before a radio interview at 3pm. I made it…just. Listen Here.
The next morning started at 6am to catch the Cal-Mac to Isla. I had driven late into the night and camped my van in the Kennacraig car-park. Catching the early ferry was an unexpected alternative to kayaking to the isles, strong winds against tide had called foul on play. It looked to be a wet and wild day on the ‘paps.’
Taking a gamble that I might be able to hitch a lift around Jura to shorten my day I lost. Watching the last car speed by with forlorn looks I stepped off the second ferry to the Isle of Jura. Now I had four hours to run a 20km circuit over a Corbett to make the 3pm ferry.
With low mist and driving rain I put head down and feet forward racing along the estate tracks toward the mountain. It was a steep scramble in howling wind to the top- a quick unceremonious tap then a long muddy run off east. I missed the 3pm ferry by just four minutes! A 5 hour wait in a pub to thaw out was my consolation prize.
Another morning another ferry. This time on the road to Arran. Again wind was promising to rise the next few days making paddling untenable. To my delight it seemed cheaper to hop the van across on ferries to the mainland than drive all the way around, in the process I would climb another 4 peaks.
Arriving to see the peaks rising from the mist I was excited to climb the Arran hills, I had done them before at university and remembered their fine granite scrambles fondly. Arriving by 2pm to listen to my interview play on the radio I was energised to tackle Goat Fell before dark.
I was feeling fit and climbing hard right up until the moment I found an anvil near the summit- now that is hard work! Apparently it had been dragged up from sea level for charity: Read here.
Through the mist I gazed down to the iconic island views and blocky granite ridges. There is something about arriving in the golden light of sunset that truly makes a mountain magical- for the first time since leaving I truly lingered to enjoy the summit, this was what all the effort was for!
For the first time I was joined by the first Coldest Corbetteer, a follower of the journey who had reached out to climb with me- I had been hoping for company since publishing that I was looking for people to join me and at last it seemed to have worked.
Mark had come across to the island with his wife who worked on locum. Cheery as the weather was bright Mark had come to tackle not only one but three Corbetts, of all days to pick it was my longest and hardest day yet.
Walking together we strode together across the moors and were soon upon the ridges. Our first peak taking just two hours fifty minutes to reach despite lots of black ice coating the rocks in the shaded and steep final ascent. We paused and looked out at Goatfell on the far side of Glen Rosa- ahead the ridge curved away from us inviting a fine day in the sun.
Due to the black ice we bypassed the famous Le Mauvais Pas scramble on the Pagoda ridge- I had done it before and remembered it being superbly airy but in these conditions surely treacherous. Instead we went west and down to cross the moors before returning on a steady climb to have lunch on Cir Mhor. While Mark was getting weary his determination was stronger, ever cheery he smiled through rosy cheeks on the way to the top, not one to back down from a challenge easily.
Cir Mhor with its pointed granite summit and superb optional scrambles is in my opinion (for whatever it’s worth) one of the finest mountains in the entire country, a perfect blend of beauty and effort required to enjoy it.
Sunset was nearing fast as we clambered through the rocks to Caisteal Abhail. Shaking hands and celebrating on the tops we looked back to a long day behind us and the full spread of the Arran ridges. The only way to make a fine view better is to share it.
All that was left was a long walk home through Glen Rosa. This was the second time I had dropped through the wide valley in the twilight and finished on head-torch. Both were memorable for all the right reasons. Mark and I parted ways with promises to re-join on another peak in another part of the country. Meeting my cousin Jenny who works for Coast on the island we shared an evening of pizza and bonfire night fireworks in the friendly community of Lamlash. Next stop Ayr and Galloway and to begin the long road back north.