Marhofn 171.09 - May 2007

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Case studies in completion:

Case studies in completion: 1. David Hughes, Corbetts

The views across Loch Ewe were stunning as the sun sank slowly in the north-west shortly after 10pm on a July evening. The weather looked reasonable for the next day, the hired bike had arrived and was ready for use, and so my quest to finish my last four Corbetts in the Fisherfield and Letterewe Forests was about to begin.

All that was required was three days of walking. Very easy on paper, but each day was going to be about 36km, so it wasn't going to be easy in practice. But I had recent experience of long days when I did Aonach Buidhe at the head of Glen Elchaig at Easter, and then Beinn Bhreac (6A) in May. I had enjoyed both hills without the aid of a bike, so Beinn Lair, Beinn a'Chaisgein Mor, Beinn Dearg Mor and Beinn Dearg Bheag should present no problems, with the help of a bike, just as long as I was blessed with three days of good weather during my week's stay at Aultbea.

Beinn Lair was the first of the four. At nine o'clock on a sunny Sunday I was cycling alongside the River Ewe on the tarmac road to Inveran, and on to Kernsary. The new track beyond the forest was a delight to walk along, with superb views of the Carnmore cliffs. It was easily rideable by bike, with no possibility of damage, although I had left my bike at the end of the track as requested by the estate. Beinn Lair was reached via Bealach Mheinnidh by 2pm, and it was showing no signs of rain. I returned to the bealach, keeping as close as possible to edge of the stupendous north face of the mountain.

Despite a feeling of tiredness beginning to creep in, I couldn't resist the opportunity of bagging Meall Mheinnidh on the way out. The first few metres of ascent felt like purgatory, but the weariness soon passed and I was quickly on the summit, where I was rewarded with the sun coming out, affording excellent retrospective views of Beinn Lair's cliffs, as well as a bird's-eye view of the causeway between Fionn Loch and Dubh Loch. The car was reached by 7pm - a long but satisfying day - Corbett completed and a Graham as a bonus.

The forecast for the next day was for rain to push up from the south. A good day for a rest, which actually meant two small Marilyns - Meall an Doirein and An Cuaidh. Very little rain reached the north-west in the end, but it was too dull and cloudy a day to be bagging high peaks.

On the Tuesday morning I was cycling along the track by Gruinard River bound for Beinn a'Chaisgein Mor. It was a beautiful sunny morning with fine weather in prospect and glorious scenery to be enjoyed. The bike ride should have been a delight, but the clegs that occupy these parts thought otherwise. They could easily keep up with me as I negotiated the uneven track, and I'm sure they took delight in constantly biting my hands and shoulders in the full knowledge that I couldn't take my hands off the handlebars to swat them away. It took me an hour and a half of sheer hell to reach Allt Loch Ghiubhsachain, where I was going to leave the bike. Even then I had a fruitless half an hour trying to sort out the lock, with clegs remaining in unpleasant, persistent biting attendance, before I gave up, dumped the bike out of sight and made my way upstream, where the density of the infernal beasts gradually diminished. Height was quickly gained and I soon picked up the path that skirts below Beinn a'Chaisgein Beag.

The rest of the day became a marvellous high-level tramp to Beinn a'Chaisgein Mor and then to its diminutive neighbour, to give an additional Graham. With little or no wind, glorious sunshine and views to die for, the walking was delectable, the Graham giving the best views of the day. The return journey alongside the Gruinard River, being mainly downhill, was a bonus to my tired legs, made all the more pleasant by the absence of clegs.

After a day of rest I was retracing my steps alongside the Gruinard River, but this time I was bound for Beinn Dearg Mor and Beinn Dearg Bheag, my two remaining Corbetts. After much deliberation I had decided against going in from Corrie Hallie in favour of the Gruinard Bay approach. The two approaches are about the same length, but the former requires a re-ascent at the end of the day to get back from Shenavall to the main road, whilst the latter gave the opportunity of a traverse of the north-west ridge of Beinn Dearg Bheag. I also figured (with no justifiable reason apart from a hunch) that there would be a path alongside the shores of Loch na Sealga from its outflow into Gruinard River.

I decided against taking the bike, reasoning that, with my arms free, I could beat off the hungry clegs using an OS map as a suitable weapon. The walk in was, however, just as miserable - I was bitten just as much, although I took great delight every time I achieved a 'hit' with the map and a dead cleg somersaulted to the ground. It didn't seem to put the others off though.

I did find the path that I thought might exist, and I used it to ease my progress alongside Loch na Sealga before making a rising traverse into the corrie housing Loch Toll an Lochain. The weather had been sunny but sultry (hence the abundance of clegs) but as I approached the lochan the cloud rolled in, obscuring An Teallach and both Corbett tops. By the time I reached the col between the two Corbetts the cloud started to lift, and as I zigzagged my way up the steep slopes of Beinn Dearg Mor it started to brighten and I reached the top in sunshine. And what a summit - a fantastic twin top (my altimeter gave equal heights to both summits), unsurpassed views and not a soul in sight. This must be one of the best summits on the mainland I've had the privilege of visiting. I lingered there for a good half an hour, but it had taken me five hours to get there and I still had a job to do...

Buoyed on by the fine views and the imminent prospect of finishing the Corbetts, I was soon back at the col between the two summits. I felt like I had boundless amounts of energy, but as I started to make my way uphill tiredness hit me, and my legs felt like lead as I approached the final steps to the diminutive cairn. I spent another half an hour drinking in the view before heading along the north-west ridge. This consisted of fantastic turrets of sandstone shining pink in the late afternoon sunshine - a miniature An Teallach but with no trace of a path, and sufficiently narrow in places to make you have to use your hands. It was brilliant but I think I was too tired to fully appreciate its splendidly remote situation. However I did manage to take in as much simple scrambling as I could and all too soon the ridge began to drop steeply away. The descent proved tricky in a couple of places and there were at least two heart-stopping moments (thinking I would have to retrace my steps) before I found a way down through breaks in the crags.

Beinn Dearg Bheag from the north (photo: Trevor Littlewood)

Beinn Dearg Bheag from the north (photo: Trevor Littlewood)

I can't remember much after reaching the track at the outflow of Loch na Sealga - I didn't need to concentrate any more so I think my brain just switched off. I know it was a long walk back along the track and I regretted not having used the bike. I reached the car shortly before 8pm, some 11 hours after setting off.

The three days of solo walking to four of the finest and remotest Corbetts in the country was an unforgettable experience, and a fitting way to finish off a list of hills. I would definitely recommend it, just so long as you are not concerned about getting anyone to accompany you on your final few.

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