Size isn't everything. Scottish mountaineer Lorraine McCall recently became the first woman to complete a continuous, 2,000 mile round of the Corbetts - a task she says was harder than the Munros. She talks to us about how challenges motivate her to get out there.
In 2005 she completed the Munros in a continuous 1,600-mile round - but Lorraine McCall wasn’t going to stop there. Battling back from a 2012 cancer diagnosis, she set out earlier this year to tackle all 221 Corbetts - that’s Scottish hills between 2,500 and 3,000 feet for anybody rusty on mountain terminology - in an epic four-month adventure.
The journey involved over 2,000 miles of walking, cycling and sailing, not to mention countless nights in a tent. But on August 21st Lorraine scaled her final Corbett and became the first woman (and probably only the second person) to achieve this incredible feat in one fell swoop. Now she’s had some time to recover from her blisters and reflect on the experience, we asked her what it was like to set a hill walking record and how she plans to top it.
Have you always been mad about the hills?
No, my interest really started in my twenties. I was late going to university, and between my first and second years a friend took me to Glen Coe. I was just knocked out by it and when I went back to uni I joined the mountaineering club. I came out with a very average honours degree but a passion for mountaineering!
You took on the Corbetts partly to help raise money for MacMillan Cancer Support - did your own 2012 cancer diagnosis help inspire this mammoth challenge?
It did, absolutely. I was thinking about doing a continuous round of the Corbetts next year, because it’s my 50th birthday, but after I was ill it seemed like a great time to take a break from work. Although my job is very physical, it’s pretty full on and I felt like I needed a chance to spend some time on my own and get better.
What was it about a continuous round that appealed to you?
Well, I’ve been doing the Corbetts anyway, but I did a continuous Munro round back in 2005 and absolutely loved it. I just wanted to be out there, and I need a challenge to keep me out.
How did you manage to get the time off work?
I was very lucky! I work for the Venture Trust’s Living Wild project, and basically I take people in the probation system on ten-day wilderness journeys. It’s interesting, but as I said, very full on. The Venture Trust was very flexible and gave me a sabbatical.
What’s it like to plan a challenge like this?
It was mad. I decided to do it in November last year, and for the following few months I just spent all my spare time looking at maps. The Munros as a continuous round is so much easier to plan! Everyone who’s done it has gone pretty similar ways, even without looking at one another’s routes. The Corbetts was a really complicated route - and although I planned it all in quite a lot of detail, when I was out there I was changing it day by day.
Did the weather affect your plans?
Not so much as you might think. April was windy, May was wet and June was misty - that was the hardest part actually, because I was going up through Sutherland and didn’t really see anything the whole way!
You cycled some of the route, so you must have had a support team lurking in the background with a bike?
That was mainly my boyfriend, who was amazing. He did 12 hills with me, but he hurt his Achilles this summer so wasn’t able to do as much of it as he would have liked. He was the main logistical support though, so if anybody wanted to join me he’d organise that and he appeared quite frequently with bikes and food! There were a lot of other friends who helped support me and sometimes came along to walk with me as well.
Which part of the round did you enjoy most?
I had some fantastic days on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. Just south of Glenfinnan there’s a group of five Corbetts connected by an amazing ridge, and there are no Munros around so they feel really high and wild.
And how about a favourite Corbett?
The ridges on Arran were amazing - Goatfell particularly was absolutely stunning.
Any disasters along the way?
Funnily enough, there were some bad days on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula as well. After those five hills the weather closed in and I lost a map in torrential rain. I had to go up a few hills without a map, and one time I got to a summit and found out I didn’t have my compass with me! My bike chain broke twice on that section too, so it was a bit of a run of bad luck.
You must have clocked up plenty of mountain inns en-route - which ones were the most welcoming after a long day of Corbett climbing?
The Old Forge in Knoydart is amazing, and I love the Crask Inn as well.
Having done both the Corbetts and Munros, how do the two compare?
By the end I had a much bigger sense of achievement from doing the Corbetts. They run all the way from the Borders up to the top of Scotland and cover six islands too. Many of them start at sea level, which means the ascents are often more challenging, and although there were tracks up better known ones like the Cobbler that really wasn’t the norm. They feel a lot wilder than the Munros. I think at one point I went through 56 mountains without seeing anyone else!
Now you’ve got two incredible hill walking challenges under your belt, what’s next?
Initially I said I’d never doanother challenge like this again! But recently I saw something about the Grahams and…well they’re there, aren’t they?
Read more about Lorraine and her Corbett round at www.lorrainemccall.com.
You can donate through her JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/lorraine-mccall.
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