Arctic Hat

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Autocorrected via Iphone Arrochar Alps becomes ‘Arctic Hat’ 


Heading north I left the road and drove onto a small ferry. Leaving in the night from Gourock to cross a small passage I arrived in Argyll. Even in the dark I could make out  jagged mountains silhouetted against the stars; the Arrochar Alps.

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Arriving back on the west coast guaranteed three things; stunning landscape, friendly people and ‘weather.’ Sure enough the first few Corbetts were a little bleak with a lot of cloud and wind but joined by friends along the way made the journey go a little smoother.

Over the first few days I was joined by friends and followers alike, their company making the viewless summits worthwhile. First was Calum, a friend from University. We shared the first dustings of snow on the way to Beinn Bheula. img_8808-2

Ascending one of the finest Corbetts to the summit of the’Cobbler’ I met the ‘Boots and Beards’ hiking club. With the aim to ‘unite and motivate likeminded adventurers into exploring and promoting Scotland’s natural landscape within the BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) community’ they were some of the most entertaining and inspiring companions so far. Their award winning club is doing superb things and despite the rain every one of them was smiling the entire way to the top.

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Tentatively I inched my way onto the summit by ‘threading the needle.’ To climb the Cobblers pinnacle there are two holes to shuffle through, a narrow ledge to teeter across then an airy step. The rock was wet, my fingers were cold but it was worth the scramble.

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Going for a ‘fast and light’ round over Ben Donich, The Brack and Cnoc Coinnich I disappeared into the cloud un-noticed by the crowds of tourists on the ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ pass. For the third day in a row it was going to be a misty one, yet the promise of occasional views swept in and out on a gentle breeze, once in a while a summit appeared tantalisingly from the cloud. Enjoying the soft muddy descent into Lochgoilhead I jogged into a lost world of ferns and forest following along misty woodland trails. After a few hours in the cloud the colours and sounds of birds warbling over gurgling streams seemed that little bit more vibrant.img_8855-2

Pinging’ back to civilisation I delivered talks for two nights in a row to mountaineering clubs in both Stirling and Edinburgh. Upon my return I was joined by Sara who had driven all the way from York to the talk with hopes to find me in the hills. It seemed that at last the #ColdestCorbett project was building momentum. Hoping for Snow Sara was just one day too early arriving instead for sun and showers. We climbed through flurries of thick hail but nothing lay, we spent much of the hike discussing future projects (she is going on some pretty epic adventures of her own) and shared a spectacular view north to Beinn Vorlich from a windy summit.

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Overnight the heavens opened. I barely slept as the roof of my van drummed to heavy rain. I watched as my breath started to appear before at some point early in the morning all went quiet as rain turned to snow on the roof. The next morning was quite an unexpected challenge to just reach the bottom of the mountain Meall an Fhudair. The Loch Lomond road had been blocked with leaves several drains had flooded. I enjoyed playing the fool as a truck honked and flashed its lights while I waded out in a thigh deep puddle to unblock the road- my tartan underwear were on full show.

With the road clear and trousers back on I set off into the hills. As I climbed the snow built thicker and thicker on the ground and soon enough I was strapping on the snow-shoes for the first time this year. The ‘Arctic Hats’ were starting to live up to their name.

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One day of heavy rain was all it needed to turn a prolonged forecast of sunshine into a winter wonderland. As the temperature plummeted to a record -14º on the thermometer the snow was here to stay. I set off with high expectations for Beinn an Lochain on a route described online as ‘a delightful ridge,’ I would then return to sea level and summit Stob Coire Creagach before dark.

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On crampons with my axe in hand I traced first tracks to the summit in deep powder. It was hard work but the feeling of being ‘first’ to break the line gave a wonderful sense of ‘pioneering the way’. The ridge indeed was sharp and rocky with a fantastic alpine feel on the upper stretch, so far it’s exposed ascent has been my favourite mountain of the trip. It is always the unexpected discoveries I treasure the most.

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I didn’t know it at the time, but on the summit I lost my beloved compass. Built in 1915 and belonging to my great grandfather it had been to the summit of every single munro and so far all the Corbetts. This story then took a rather wonderful twist- shared on social media over 250 times it was collected by Donald from the Lochaber Mountain rescue and quickly returned- it is safe to say if the MR can find a 2 inch compass in two feet of snow then they can find just about anything. I put the reward as a donation to them which can be done here: LochaberMRT

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Heading inland from Arroachar I was now on track to the Trossachs. With a forecast of a winter heaven and the next group of Coldest Corbetteers promising to join everything is looking up for a spectacular winter.

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