Join Will Copestake in his Coldest Corbett Challenge

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 03/02/2017
Will soaks in the spectacular sunset. Photo: Will Copestake
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Will is no stranger to mammoth challenges: he's solo-circumnavigated the Scottish coastline by sea kayak, cycled between all 282 Munros and climbed them, and now he's on the Coldest Corbett Challenge, and he wants you to join him! What is the challenge exactly? Sarah Stirling finds out.

Will's Coldest Corbett Challenge

So what is a Corbett, how many have you ticked, and how many to go?

So far I have ticked up 111 Corbett summits out of 222. As of today, 21 January, I am exactly halfway! A Corbett is a summit with a spot height between 2,500ft and 3,000ft, with a minimum of 500ft prominence.

Why are you are inviting anyone and everyone to come and join you?

The idea is to share my love of long expeditions in my home country with other people, and in doing so motivate a few others to just get out there. I am also working towards my Winter Mountain Leader (WML) award and this is another chance to gain experience.

Why in winter?

I work freelance in the outdoors and the winter is mostly my quiet season. Also, I prefer the challenges of winter and the momentary rewards of light and spectacular scenery it brings with it.

Who's travelled the furthest to join you for a walk?

Of the people who have joined me so far, there have been several from London (you can get here overnight by sleeper), one from Leeds and one from York. Many people tend to find me when I get close to their home patch. It’s been great! So far 36 people have joined me, some for several days at a time.

Best Corbett so far, and why?

My favourite solo Corbett was Beinn an Lochain in Arrochar. It was massively loaded with fresh snow and had a superbly narrow ridge to clamber along. It felt unexpectedly epic. With people, it has to be Ben Ledi and Ben Vane, which we did over a very long day in deep snow. The weather was perfect and, after tracking through tough conditions, the summit sunset views were incredible.

How has the weather been in general?

Winter was my favourite day of the year. Ha ha! It has been pretty warm. I have been joking with my friends that my Coldest Corbett project should be re-named Most Temperate Corbett. The distinct lack of long-lasting snow has given me the chance to go quicker and easier underfoot, though, and this makes it easier to invite people to join me. I am, however, still crossing my fingers for a bit more snow.


Will enjoying the Scottish weather. Photo: Will Copestake

Best bit about doing this trip from your van?

Having enjoyed my previous long adventure in Scotland living out of a tent, I cannot express the added luxury of a small dry box to hide away in. Psychologically I am more prepared for what is ahead this time around and a good portion of this is down to the van. I feel genuinely restored each morning. Turning on the Tilley lamp gives a warm light and quite a lot of heat at the low low price of losing a little oxygen. It’s wonderful! 

Worst bit?

Living in a tin can full of farts! it smells pretty funky in there what with all the wet socks and boots. Lots of incense sticks help.

Will's Machair to Munro Challenge

You're no stranger to big trips, having sea kayaked and cycled around Scotland to climb all the Munros. Best bit about doing that trip?

The best bit of that journey, which lasted an entire year, was entirely resetting my routine. I had never before nor ever since been on a journey so long that I couldn’t imagine the end point. Because of this, I learnt to enjoy each day for what it really was and not focus solely on finishing. This is something I have since carried on into my day to day life and trips ever since.

Any scary moments?

Plenty of short events are tempting to mention. Nearly sinking in massive waves on the north coast, being missed by avalanches and getting lost in whiteouts on the Cairngorm Plateau spring to mind, but these are brief and at the time dealt with practically and progressively.

The scariest part of that trip was how it slowly ate away at my psychological state. At the time I cursed myself whenever I relented to a night in a hostel (about once a week in winter). I felt weak for it, for what in hindsight was no good reason. For three months I had recurring sleep paralysis dreams where I would wake unable to move, see figures and hear noises with a feeling of utter dread – that was the scariest part of a long trip alone.

Best Munro, and why?

An Teallach. For me it always has been and always will be my favourite mountain. It has everything you want in a hill: an approach from the sea, an isolated peak, a long narrow ridge with options to scramble, its views are stunning and it is remote. A top quality day out for anyone wanting to do it.

I think your first adventures were with your father, can you tell us a bit about that, and how it's influenced your life?

They were indeed. My family has quite a history in adventure with my father's side having a history of working in Antartica as far back as the 1930s. My mum also explored Svalbard in the 80s. My childhood was filled with sailing, hillwalking and paddling.

What I now consider my first true adventure was a weekend just 1km from home, with two friends. My father dropped us across the loch in front of our house and under remote supervision he left us there. We were about 12 years old. We wanted to build a shelter and live like Ray Mears (my childhood idol), surviving on limpets and plants.

We weren't very good, our shelter built on an ant nest and food amounting to a few winkles before rummaging into the emergency cooler box we had been left. Even though we didn’t quite finish how we planned, it was a fantastic adventure and set alight a spark to explore that really hasn't left.

The greatest gift my parents have given is trust. They now trust me to make my own assessment of risk and to learn from my mistakes. To do that they had to let us experience a little risk first-hand as children but were always there to pick up the pieces.

What do you do for an actual job?

I always find this one a little tricky. I often describe myself as a freelance outdoor practitioner! I work my summer seasons as a kayak and hillwalking guide all over Scotland. For the last two years I have taken this overseas to work as a kayak guide in Patagonia during the Austral Summer. During trips like the one I am on now I live cheaply and support my journey by writing articles for magazines, selling photos and doing talks.

What's Patagonia like?

Patagonia for me can be summed up in one sentence: “A landscape from heaven with the weather from hell.” Imagine Scotland on steroids. On one side of the country there is the open pampas grasslands, then mountains and a whopping ice cap that separates a temperate jungle. It snows mid summer and the winds often exceed 40 knots…I absolutely love it!

What's your next goal?

I tend to keep my goal to the one I am currently doing. However when I finish this I will be remaining in Scotland to work freelance over the summer with a trip booked to Svalbard leading a kayak and hiking tour for the fantastic SandgrouseTravel. I have a project idea for Scotland which I hope to tackle in the style of ‘the weekend warrior’ over the next year or two – I wont mention much but it involves rivers. My long-term goal is to return to Patagonia where another big kayak expedition is on the cards a little further south.


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