Saturday, 16 December 2017

A Winter Corbett

What a long period of fantastic weather we have had this winter! Cold and dry, each weekend has sparkled - even if only for a few hours each morning. (If you wake up in winter and it's sunny, my dad used to say, get out straight away! You can always do your day's other tasks in the afternoon, when it has clouded over. His wisdom has proved itself time and time again - see if you don't now notice it yourself).

I realised I hadn't climbed a new Corbett all year. Time was running out. Where would it be? If I had a companion it would be Beinn Trilleachan by Loch Etive, a fjordside hill with stimulating views. If I was going solo it would be Ben Vuirich, which on the map looks like one of the most arduous small hills in the Southern Highlands. From Blair Atholl a long estate track leads to a horrendous 3.5km bog trot. This would be even more difficult - if not impossible - in deep snow.

I went solo.

But what I found was so much better than expectation.

Above Edradour:

The secret was that I did not approach from Blair Atholl - the route described in the guidebooks and so the route everybody takes. Instead I looked for a route that would minimise time trudging over bogs and approached from the south via Gleann Fearnach. Like my idiosyncratic route up Creag Meagaidh, it was deserted and enjoyable. I'm not sure why more people don't go this way.

Beinn a' Ghlo from Gleann Fearnach:

Heading up, I passed beautiful Glenfernate Lodge, owned by former Conservative minister David Heathcote-Amory, the tracks of hundreds of mountain hares in the snow. Buzzards flew above and some chilly-looking sheep grazed a riverside pasture.

Above Gleann Fearnach lie thousands of acres of grouse moor, and the going became tough. The ground levels out and paradoxically becomes much more arduous due to the peat hags that have to be negotiated. I kept my mind on the steeper, easier slopes ahead, each step taking me closer to the top, treating it as a metaphor for life. At least the snow wasn't as deep as it could have been.

Loch Loch from the upper slopes of Ben Vuirich:

In an increasingly cold wind, a raven watched me stop and take a drink out my flask of tea. If I broke an ankle here and failed to crawl down again, this would be the bird that pecked my eyes out. I made sure of each onward step.

To Glas Tuleachain and the hills above Glenshee:

The top was freezing, big Beinn a' Ghlo dominating the view north, the flowing white curves of Glenshee, a glimpse of the oddly-named Loch Loch, Shiehallion prominent in the distance, and Ben Vrackie above Pitlochry a shaggy, Trossachs-like gathering of knarled ground. 

Ben Vuirich summit:

I returned happy, listening once back on the track to personal development audios on my mp3 player and waving to a stalker on a quad bike as he drove past - the only person I saw all day.


zinnia306 said...

What a great story! Love the raven bit. :D I assume you carry a cell phone but perhaps they don't work in all these places? I need to smarten up on the differences of Corbetts, Marilyns, and such as per heights (or you could add maybe? just approx would be great). One thing I notice you never mention is wind speed or is that just a given? I live in the land of the windchill factor (a la John Prine) so understand it's a component of determining one's activities (and wear gear) in winter at least. Just curious if you take it into each consideration before hiking or if it's an automatic one and you've always got a good windbreaker on. :) I could also look more closely at your photos as per indications of windiness. :) Speaking of which, I like #4 of 5 a bit more (the place names are a strange foreign language), up so incredibly high, and that spot of distant sunshine like another beacon to someday reach, if possible - not all of these are walkable, are they? Can you walk them all in one lifetime?? whooff! Again, a pleasure to share your adventures.

Robert Craig said...

Hi Zinnia yes wind is a given in Scotland! You can't tell from the pictures but the summit was unpleasantly cold in a north wind this day. Potentially dangerous against exposed skin but fine when well wrapped up. My hands got cold taking pictures and I was glad to get moving again out the wind!

Robert Craig said...

Corbetts, Marilyns...

The British like hobbies and lists so hills get put in categories and ticked off by 'baggers' once they've climbed them. Munros are the best known - these are the Scottish hills over 3000ft and named after the man who first listed them all, Sir Hugh Munro. 3000ft doesn't sound much but in a British context this covers only the highest hills. There's 284 in Scotland plus about the same again in subsidiary summits.

Corbetts are next, between 2500-3000ft - there 222 of them - then Grahams between 2000-2500 - 224 in total. There are also Marilyns. These are any hill no matter how high with a drop all round of 150m (500ft) - there's 1556 of them!

Scotland is not a big country so it is not impossible to climb every hill in Scotland - it would take every weekend for a couple of decades but you could do it!

zinnia306 said...

Thanks, Robert! So what would you say the temp was at the summit, approx? Just to get an idea of how cold.

And thanks for the info on hills! I made a quick text note of it to refer to now. Thanks also for not mentioning Donalds - really. Is there any way the UK can change that name? Or in Scotland at least? Our idiot prince is so unliked there as well as here (truly, majority hate him), it'd be a perfect stake in his ego to rename those hills 'Obamas'. :D

Robert Craig said...

Ah, the Donalds will be around for many years yet, whereas The Donald will only last four (eight if you are really lucky). So not much chance of a name change, you've got to play the long game. I wrote a post about him here:

As for the summit temperature - somewhere between freezing and a few degrees below freezing? The average for hilltops in winter. So not that cold, but it's the wind that does the damage!

zinnia306 said...

aye, the tribute still stands. :)