Published 23rd October 2022, 18:45

    IT'S been 13 years since I completed the Corbetts, so it has been interesting getting to grips with them again on a regular basis. 

    On a couple of recent outings, however, 'interesting' has shown to be somewhat understated and there has been a lot more gripping than anticipated.

    The first involved the Gaick Pass pairing of An Dun and A' Chaoirnich, the second on the Dalmally Horseshoe in the Cruachan range.

    Part of the objective of this latest round is to climb these hills from a different or longer and more leisurely approach to the last time. Too many were done during the night or in winter conditions where time was limited, too many ascents felt like an out-and-back dash.

    There's a long introduction to the Gaick pair. The stony track pushes northwards through a barren landscape before you catch a glimpse, first of An Dun, then more gradually its near neighbour, two swellings split by lonely Loch an Duin. Even then, the steepness of the slopes ahead is not immediately apparent. It's only as you draw ever closer that the angle really begins to impress.

    My first encounter with this pair was on a dark December day in 2005, deep snow cloaking the higher parts of the land and an icy crunch on the summit plateaux. The unpredictable conditions and the fact I hadn't seen another soul coloured my decision against the clockwise circuit: I was unsure of what awaited over the back of An Dun.

    Instead, I did each one as a single ascent from the southern end of the loch. Neither took too long and was incident-free. My latest visit only served to confirm that my route decision had been the correct one. The steepness of these slopes should never be underestimated.

    The Gaelic 'dun' means fort and usually indicates a hilltop that had been used a defensive site but although An Dun's slopes are ferociously steep on every side, there is no evidence there was ever a fort here and the name more likely refers to its natural attributes.

    This time, I did go right over the top, following a curious narrow ridge-line at one point which could be enough to induce vertigo, then dropping down the sheer grassy wall at the back, all the time thinking that I wouldn't have fancied doing this in deep, unstable snow or when the vegetation was frozen. At times, it was so vertical I couldn't see the floor of the glen.

    It didn't get much better looking at some of the ascent lines for A' Chaoirnich. I eventually settled on what I thought was the least precipitous but about halfway up realised that it would not be a good idea to stand up straight too suddenly.

    Two weeks later, and I found myself on the vertical limits once more, this time more by accident than design on Beinn a' Bhuiridh. This elegant Corbett outlier of the Ben Cruachan range forms part of the Dalmally Horseshoe but high winds and persistent showers had blocked an earlier attempt. Now, under more favourable skies, it was time to go again.

    It had been more than 20 years since the last ascent, a start in darkness on a freezing early morning in November, the glittering shards of grass illuminated in the focussed beam of my head torch, every exhalation a ghostly apparition. The icy cloak rose with me from the Cruachan Dam, the summit within reach by first light, the rising sun lighting a sea of cloud from beneath, icy wisps hanging round the shoulders of the mountains.

    That was the shorter approach: this time it was from the east, a stiff climb up the ridge to the subsidiary top of Monadh Driseag from the track by the Allt Coire Ghlais. There was no path so again it was simply a case of picking the best line. And at first I thought I had. Mindful of the need to avoid the crags to the west, I started weaving upwards through a series of grassy gullies and little rocky outcrops. 

    The higher I rose, the steeper the terrain became. So much so, that I found myself having to throw my walking poles ahead and then scramble onward increasingly on all fours. This was turning out to be a real grass-gripper. There was a sense of relief when the gradient started to ease and I was able to haul myself up on to more favourable terrain.

    There was still a fair way bit of up and down to reach the summit, and the drop to the Lairg Torran needed some care but at least I now had my angles right. The slightly tricky and complex descent at the end of the Stob Diamh arm was a mere walk in the park compared to what had been tackled earlier.

    The ancient Greek philosopher Horace wrote: Remember when life's path is steep to keep your mind even. He could have added: And don't lean back too much.