Marhofn 171.09 - May 2007

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Case studies in completion:

Case studies in completion: 3. Roderick Manson, MTCG

Heresy it may be to suggest it, but this was not a mountain year governed by Marilyns. My long-delayed vision of a coast-to-coast completion of all three countrywide SMC lists - Grahams, Corbetts and Tops (including Munros) seemed imminent as 2006 opened, though less so as time went on. There were a few obstacles to overcome en route first. The first major obstacle was Knoydart. Knoydart hates me. Anyone who doubts this is welcome to a detailed list of the evidence. Ladhar Bheinn (not to mention two adjacent Corbetts) resisted an Easter overnight assault from Kinloch Hourn which left me below the Mam Barrisdale with cramp in one leg, a twisted knee in the other and a sizeable ice-cube where my chest used to be. Three hours lying on a wooden bench in the bothy did not help so I settled for a painful traverse back over Meall nan Eun and Sgurr nan Eugallt.

Ultimately, I took the boat in from Arnisdale. Ignore that I scrambled down a thoroughly vile slimy gully on the south side of Beinn na Caillich with sporadically dubious holds. Ignore also the ditch-ridden tussocks of the fresh tree-plantings to the north of Sgurr Coire Choinnichean. Concentrate instead on the unwisdom of leaving a light shirt in the car and wandering around with thermal sweatshirt sleeves rolled up in the intense heat. I do not tan; I burn. The Brocken spectre on the descent east from Ladhar Bheinn was worth seeing though.

The other major obstacle was more significant - my galloping feartieness in the face of anything remotely resembling exposure. Heights I don't mind, merely the possibility of falling off them. A highly overactive imagination does not help. Hence two assaults on the Bhasteir Tooth by Collie's route failed high up at the parallel grooves until Blanco came along, whereupon I waddled up with nary a care in the world (Alan's recollection may be slightly different) before adjourning to the bar of the Sligachan hotel.

The coast-to-coast walk was planned to the last detail as a walk that would have personal significance far beyond the mere detail of completing lists. Nothing could go wrong. I had even made sure a support vehicle would meet us at the end of the walk to transport us back to the east coast. It wilfully refused to go any further than Motherwell, and Brian Ringland who was to meet us at the start on the Dornoch Firth did not have a mobile phone.

The upshot was that while I set foot on the tidal mudflats by Ardgay (below the mean high water mark and under water two hours before, therefore off the coast) and began to walk inland, brother Garry and Brian took two cars to Inverlael and drove one back to meet me at The Craigs. Unfortunately I managed the 15km in 21/2 hours and so had to wait half an hour in the phone box to escape midges before we got underway again. Even in a light T-shirt it was very sticky, which did not help later on. After an amiable chat with the transient denizens of Alladale bothy at around 1:15am, we ambled up Carn Alladale and along the spongy ridge to Carn a'Choin Deirg at about 4am. Despite the ground absorbing what little energy I had, this final Graham was the true point of no return. I was not doing a second round of all three lists.

My last Corbett, Carn Ban, was much the same underfoot but with occasional showers. Brian, as befits the first man to complete these three lists in a single walk, albeit with the inclusion of a separate finish for non-Munro Tops, had no trouble at all. Controversy still dogs his claim that as he started and finished by the shores of Loch Hourn this also constituted a coast-to-coast walk. Garry, with a strained leg muscle, and me, with a blister the size of a small principality, struggled a bit more.

By way of demonstrating his latent navigational sadism, Brian took us the short route round the rim of Coire Mor with rather more ups and downs than I would have liked. Despite this we still reached Seana Bhraigh early in the afternoon, gate-crashing the final Munro celebrations of two Invernessians. This was the only time all day we were in cloud, so considering the forecast we felt decidedly fortunate. I felt less fortunate on the long walk out. Someone had snapped my accelerator cable and progress was sluggardly all the way down, partly due to my leaving half my food supplies in Blairgowrie.

Creag an Duine from Seana Bhraigh (photo: Bert Barnett)

Creag an Duine from Seana Bhraigh (photo: Bert Barnett)

The sight of Little Loch Broom, however, proved inspirational, and the walk ended with an impromptu paddle in the receding waters. Despite the heavy going these were genuinely iconic mountains for me, contributing to an intense and memorable experience in as good company as I could wish for. We spent the night at Tongue youth hostel before the true climax of the weekend, a repeat ascent of my first mountain, Ben Hope, closing off one cycle of mountain experience and opening the next. The cloud was down, as it had been 15 years before, but the wind was warm and the feeling was good. I have had less exhausting weekends but few as rewarding.

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