Nearly four years ago I somewhat presumptuously described the Glen Etive Corbett Stob Dubh as ‘the only local summit of stature (Munros, Tops, Corbetts etc.) I’d never visited.’ But that was ignoring the Corbett Tops, Grahams and Graham Tops, and even now I’ve still got a few of these sitting unclimbed under my nose. Not that you could miss Sgorr a’ Choise as a regular visitor to Ballachulish Primary School (where it dominates the view from the classroom windows) or descending north-eastwards from Fraochaidh (from which aspect I’d mentally filed it as a pretty little peak years ago), let alone be unaware of the broader dome of Meall Mor as a regular runner from NTS Glen Coe to the mast on Am Meall. But yet I’d still have been prioritising beefy Ardgour Corbett rounds over truly local Grahams had yesterday been a more attractive day… except that it wasn’t, and I only managed to kick myself out at about 3pm thinking I’d better get back to running (rather than walking) the hills with proper rain forecast for 6pm… except that it was raining when I started (so no photos) and dry thereafter…
So what did I make of this little round and what exactly is a ‘summit of stature’? To answer the first question, what joy to be running on the hills again (despite my initial logic there being pushed for time to walk), and pretty runnable hills at that, though I really must stop running hills in Hokas (my constant, comfy, ‘go to’ running companions since May’s ankle injury) because constant slowing up and/or side-stepping to limit shoe-skiing descending steep, wet grass is, well, cramping my style (sure, you could choose worse than clapped-out Hokas for said terrain, but not much!). As for ‘summits of stature’, perhaps beauty’s in the eye of the beholder or perhaps we’re all blind when it seems de rigueur to chase the biggest first with Munros, Corbetts then Grahams being the apparent pecking order even for non-baggers. But does size matter when there’s so much more (and arguably better) to do in Asia than ‘eight-thousanders’, the Alps than ‘four-thousanders’ or Scotland than Munros? How can you compare the Sgurr of Eigg, Heaval on Barra or Hecla on South Uist (all of which I’ve done and enjoyed) to Ben Nevis? Or Streap? Or Sgorr a’ Choise? Do you even have to when you like hills and they’re all hills? What I can say about yesterday’s round is that it’s a delightful run over hills of the right size and shape (not too big/wee/tame/exciting) for the right day, and one I’ve no doubt I’ll be repeating on another ‘right’ day. And, while Sgurr a’ Choise is clearly the more shapely peak, the craggy ‘wall’ (also visible, as I realised today, through the Ballachulish classroom windows) supporting Meall Mor’s broader ridge surely saves it from ‘pudding’ status, with the view from this latter summit (’twas an anticlockwise round) up Glen Coe well worth the effort regardless! :-)
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So… was it wrong to express reservations about the Glen Coe Skyline Race? No, as someone who knows the ground, has run it all multiple times including one complete Glen Coe round, said his piece and then left it, I don’t think so. But, while I chose to actively avoid the hoopla and take myself elsewhere yesterday, it seems clear that a hugely successful inaugural running marked by fired-up competitors, fantastic individual efforts, stunning winning times and many, many enthusiastic spectators travelling especially for it means it’s here to stay. So to all involved (and especially my many friends taking part as competitors or safety team) well done, and here’s hoping no-one sees *my* (IMHO) reasonably-espressed, if now possibly needless, reservations as ‘the scare mongering of a select few’…
Sgurr Ghiubhsachain or Streap? Two much-anticipated local(ish) peaks standing proudly south-west and north-east of Glenfinnan, so which to do first?
In the event Streap won as much because I’d spied a logical round taking in Braigh nan Uamhachan across Glen Dubh Lighe and all their tops with no doglegs whereas I might have to think what to include with Sgurr Ghiubhsachain! Which is why I headed west yesterday (on a day when the rest of the world seemed to be descending on Glen Coe for the new race) looking for two Corbetts, five Corbett Tops, two Graham Tops and a partridge in a pear tree…
So what can I tell you about this little jaunt? While I met one party of three preparing to set off and picked up a dropped A4 map (which I later speculatively left under a wiper on the only other car I saw after failing to find its owner) on the track, for the third walk in a row I saw no-one on the hill. To walk the track up Glen Dubh Lighe, you have to pass through (or climb over!) the tightest kissing gate I’ve ever seen. It would be just about worth taking a bike for the first couple of miles, but I never thought of it. Beinn an Tuim is well worth doing (with splendid views back to Loch Shiel and the Glenfinnan Viaduct) and really not as off-puttingly rough and rocky as WalkHighlands suggest. It’s great walking along the ridge from Beinn an Tuim to Streap on rough, but not awkward, ground, but I was a tad underwhelmed by the summit of Streap itself. It looked great, but somehow just didn’t quite deliver in being tamer and less airy than the descriptions I’d been reading! Also more, well, grassy… I’d kind of expect more rock on a proper knife-edge (which that much-lauded south-west ridge is not), so quite likely more satisfying under snow and ice? The camera got put away approaching Streap as wet cloud and rain began to compromise the middle part of the day, then never got taken out again as I saw nothing I particularly wanted to photograph once it started to brighten up (by which time I was descending Na h-Uamhachan with the higher tops still mostly obscured). And there’s a neat wee bothy about 300m above the bridge where my return track rejoins my outbound one… quite the ‘shiniest’ I’ve seen with immaculate gloss varnish on the bed platform and wood panelling, and two shelves of books to read in all!
Sgurr Ghiubhsachain (the obvious peak to the left of the first photo) and Sgurr Dhomhnuill (the prominent conical peak — and Ardgour’s highest — further left in the other ‘Loch Shiel’ shot) now very much on the imminent agenda, but not today…
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Some plotting going on here, but who knows in how many senses? For sure I’ve now got all the Corbett Tops, Grahams and Graham Tops from the latest Database of British and Irish hills plotted on my map, but am I plotting to do them all? Probably not…
It’s only when you see the great hinterland of East-Highland Corbett and Graham Tops stretching from the Monadh Liath to the Angus Glens that you realise just how extensively these things augment the footprint of their parent Munros, Corbetts and/or Grahams. And nowhere is this clearer than the Monadh Liath, where an apparently sparse population of Munros (triangles), Corbetts (five-pointed stars) and the odd peripheral Graham (six-pointed stars) suddenly spawns a family of endless Corbett Tops (diamonds) and Graham Tops (double diamonds) virtually smothering the area between the Loch Laggan road, A9 and Great Glen:
So where do I stand on potential completion of this lot to go with my full set of Munros, Munro Tops and ex-Munros/Tops? Let’s take the full Corbetts (of which I’ve currently done about a quarter) as a given and possibly the Grahams (of which I’ve done far fewer) as well. Have to do at least some of the Corbett Tops to restore the original Corbetts with between 450ft and 500ft prominence, but after that it starts getting more difficult. In SMCJ 2010, Robin Campbell writes that:
It has become fashionable now to classify mountains purely in terms of summit height and net drop. […] However, Corbett aside, it has not been been our way.
And continues to argue in favour of drop-and-distance-based ‘separation’ methods as applied by Donald, (originally) Graham and (presumably) Munro. But Corbetts are Corbetts (whether based on the established 500ft drop or, as Campbell now believes Corbett intended, 450ft), so you have to tick those to be a Corbetteer. Likewise the Grahams (if ticking them) at their official 150m drop. But then I’m with Campbell in believing you can’t define worthy peaks by drop alone. Somewhere between the broad brush of those 500ft/450ft/150m drops and the 30m now accepted as defining their respective Tops you’ll find many attractive or interesting peaks that beg to be climbed and many less distinct ones that don’t. So the pragmatic thing is probably to do the Tops that either take your fancy or sit logically in/with rounds of the ‘full’, 150m-prominent peaks (and here it’s so useful to have the lot plotted on the map), though some have gone much further… like Ken Whyte and Iain Thow (both of whom I coincidentally know), who’ve amazingly done all of these and more in completing the Simms!
So why play the ticking game at all when some of the targets may not be that ‘worthy’? No doubt (and here are two good reasons from sound experience) it takes you to places you’d not otherwise have gone and gives you new perspectives on ones you know. On which note I thought I knew the hills after a lifetime spent among them, but really I don’t… ’twas all just vanity, though I’m not yet sure how well I want to know the Monadh Liath! :-/
Clockwise round of Glen Galmadale in Morvern today when I ‘should’ have been on Coll… bastard start through deep vegetation, ditches and holes in the ground where the SMC ‘Corbetts’ book merely says ‘climb steeply’, but lovely, gentle ridge to get back to sea level as nicely as anywhere! And, for the second walk in a row, I saw no-one else on the hill…
So why the apparent duplication in ‘Corbetts, Corbetts and Corbett Tops’? Well, apart from the Corbetts and so-called Corbett Tops (not listed by Corbett), there are also, um, Corbetts, with some 20-odd of Corbett’s list subsequently deleted for failing to meet the guessed ‘Corbett’ criterion that Corbett never actually specified. And, with Robin Campbell’s convincing research now pointing towards a prominence of 450 feet rather than the established 500, I’ve clearly got to do at least some of the Tops to make sure I’m getting all of Corbett’s Corbetts. But why stop there when 450 feet’s almost as broad a brush as 500 and there are clearly worthy peaks and mountain places meeting neither? For sure, adding the ‘Corbett Tops’ of Corbetts and Munros at 30m prominence triples the number of straight Corbetts, will take me back to some Corbetts and Munros I’ve already done and take far longer than just the Corbetts (probably already logistically more awkward than a straightforward Munro round), but seems in keeping with my already-achieved Munros/Tops/Deletions completion and probably (pending getting them plotted on my mapping software to evaluate properly) what I have to do. On which note it’s maybe also worth pointing out that today’s round takes in a Graham (no, I’m not collecting Grahams or Graham Tops… yet!) in Beinn na Cille, two Corbetts in Fuar Bheinn and Creach Bheinn and a Corbett Top in Maol Odhar. So Corbetts, Corbetts and Corbett Tops? Hmmm…
Might also offer a quick update on the cheap boots to say that today my feet got wet and stayed wet. Whether through the boots or down my trousers and socks I’m not sure, but it’s largely academic when my feet stayed (as they do in trainers) as comfortable wet as dry in these. And when you compare £35 boots to £16 return on the Corran Ferry for a day out (or a pair of these boots to half a tank of diesel when I relate everything to tanks of diesel!), that rather puts things in perspective!
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No, it’s probably not what you’re thinking! Not cheap boots blamed for bunions, but in this case given credit for accommodating same in some comfort…
I’ve had this stupid bunion playing merry hell with an already (naturally) abnormal right foot for many years. It’s now eight years since my doctor told me it was a question of ‘when, not if’ I got something done about it, though he did also say that ‘might not be this year or even this decade’ with the podiatrist simultaneously advising to maybe ‘wait till your athletic career [his words, not mine!] is over.’ The same podiatrist who devised the wonderful 8°-sideways-sloping-squint-Achilles-correcting insoles I’ve not run without since and told me he’s rarely seen feet like mine ‘in someone so active’. So the bunion (which doesn’t really like any footwear) has had this particular ‘hate-hate’ relationship with mountain boots, rock shoes and true hill running shoes (which I’ve long rejected in favour of do-it-all trail shoes) for years and, having now said I’m done with (serious) racing but still seriously frustrated by things on my feet, I’ve finally made an appointment to discuss it again with the doc. Tomorrow.
And the cheap boots? Well, I’ve already got three decent pairs of mountain boots I rarely wear (like only when I absolutely need them for winter climbing etc.), wanted something lighter/softer now and had doubts about spending money on quality when things may change again if we decide to get it fixed and will certainly still give me pause for thought if we don’t. So I was making this west-to-east tour of the Fort William outdoor shops on Monday to check out Cotswold etc. on my way to Nevisport and Ellis Brigham when I found these really cheap Karrimor boots (Mount Mid 7 at £34.99) at Field and Trek that really fit. So I bought two pairs, reckoning them as ‘disposable’ at the price as the more expensive trainers I trash on a regular basis. Then got home to discover that 1. you can get them online for £23.00 from Karrimor or SportsDirect (so how can they make them for that and, perhaps more disturbingly when I’m guilty of buying them, what poor devils are slaving away to do it?), 2. the soles might wear really quickly or fall off (which I could have guessed), 3. they might or might not stay ‘Weathertite’ (which I could have guessed), 4. some folk have ridiculous expectations at this price (sending back for refund after nine months’ wear and tear… really?) and 5. others were complaining about them fitting small for their size whereas I found completely the opposite with a Euro 45.5 being perfect where I’d normally take a 46 or 46.5 in most things (NB UK size seems right at 11.5, but oddly equated to Euro 45.5!).
So how do they perform? For me with my feet (but not necessarily you with yours), comfortably on a Tuesday wander along the central spine of the Mamores from Na Gruagaichean to Stob Ban and again today (Thursday) over the three ‘Auch Glen’ Corbetts of Beinn Odhar, Beinn a’ Chaisteil and Beinn nam Fuaran. For sure, the grip’s no more than adequate (poor on smooth, wet rock, but what’s not?) and there’s some visible sole wear already (like enough to see they’ve been used, not falling apart!), but so far so good on the ‘Weathertite’ thing with my feet staying dry on ground that would have quickly soaked trainers and even allowing me to splash through puddles and ankle-deep burns. Beyond that, I have no great expectations. If they last for a few weeks of regular use it’s probably money well spent. For now. And sometime I’ll probably still be looking for some better-quality fabric boots with better sole units (like the Vasques I bought in San Francisco in 1997 and subsequently loved to death), but not with the bunion question unresolved one way or the other. And that’s mostly what I meant to say here, despite now taking a late dive into some non-news with the old observation that Beinn Odhar looks for all the world like Beinn Dorain’s little brother from some angles (notably from the road), and just about remembering to add that, while I saw some folk on the track (all but one on the parts where it’s West Highland Way), I saw precisely no-one on the hill all day! ;-)
A year gone by since our 2014 Norway holiday/Norseman recce and Marie, Donnie and I were back for Marie’s actual Norseman, which perhaps not surprisingly turned out to be a tougher gig for everyone than last year’s sightseeing fun trip with no ‘touristy’ days at all (the one obvious chance of last Thursday going begging with everyone basically just too frazzled after a 24-hour journey to head out again) despite much stunning scenery etc. still enjoyed over many hours of driving. So some interesting things noted in passing like Øye stave church, where we coincidentally stopped to change drivers en route from Oslo to Oppheim, and the Lærdalstunnelen (24.51km world’s longest road tunnel), which we drove through not that much later, but really it was all about the triathlon. And here Marie had a tough time (on her birthday!), not placing where she’d hoped/expected (something I can fully emphasise with after my 2014 West Highland Way Race struggle!) but characteristically fighting on to make the ‘black T-shirt’ cut-off, finish up Gaustatoppen and record the still-more-than-respectable time of 13:36:26 for the 1.9km open-water swim (shortened from 3.8km for cold water temperature), monstrously hilly, frequently chilly 180km bike ride and 42.2km run. So, Marie… we’ve waited a year to see you back up Gaustatoppen after the whole shebang, you got there in good shape even if you were struggling to run and we couldn’t be more proud of you if you’d won! :-)
2015 Norseman Results