My friend Caroline had equally wanted to bag the whole ridge as part of her quest to finish the Bill Birkett book of ridge walks, so finally we managed to set a date when we were both free, and the long drive on the single track roads was made, (with not a car seen for over 30 miles - where else can you say that in the UK?). The only problem as ever was the weather. A wet and changeable spell had become persistent, and these were hills we didn't want to squander on a tussle with the rain and wind. We therefore decided day one was to be a warm-up traverse of the delightful Ben Stack, at 721m, not a Corbett, but a very fine hill, especially seen from Loch Laxford.
We chose to do it N-S, and I am glad we did, as the Southern approach described in the Corbetts book must be tedious in the extreme - always rough (as all terrain is up here!), always wet. For a descent it wasn't too bad, but the steeper NE ridge is much better. En route we met a chap who was 'fresh' from walking from Land's End to J.O.G. in 59 days to celebrate his retirement. Oh dear, another thing to add to Caroline's tick-list!
The hill was a delight, full of interest and a narrow little ridgy bit, as well as a wee mast and transmitter over which we could actually hear the estate workers on their radios. Didn't half make me jump! A great warm up.
And then came the Big Day - The forecast was better, the West wind easing, bringing finer conditions. It did, but it remained cold at 10c, and the wind was still up to 20mph occasionally. The rain also made a three or four appearances too, but overall it was dry, with a sunny end to the day. We set off at 07:15 from Laxford Lodge, with Arkle encased in cloud. The route takes you straight up a brutal 40 degree slope straight to the summit, and it was 3hrs of effort over the quartz and gneiss screes and boulders that set the scene for the day. These might not be the most famous UK hills, or the highest or most technical, but to do the full traverse requires patience on the very rough terrain, and tenacity as the 26k and 2000m of ascent takes its toll.
But what hills. What rock formations. What coires and lochans. Despite my many years and many, many mountains, these two had wonders at every turn, at every knee-jarring descent and sweat-inducing ascent. It's like the celestial beings took a drop of Skye, mixed in a melange of Torridon, a pinch of particularly Beinn Eighe, a sniff of Suilven, and then finished it all off with sea views to rival Stac Pollaidh, and then hid the result in the far North Western corner of the UK just to keep it all secret.
I had always wanted to do them due to the fact I could see them from Ben Hope and Suilven, but it was more as a 'filling in the spaces' exercise. Little did I realise what an absolute treat they are. A hard won treat I grant you - Always torture underfoot, at least 11hrs to do the route with only fleeting stops, and if the weather was poor, a real struggle I would suspect, but a treat indeed.
Thanks to Caroline for being so insistent, and thanks to Bill Birkett for his slightly masochistic full traverse route. If you have done these hills, then you'll know what I mean. If not, do them....just make sure you get a good day, or you'll be in for a tussle you won't forget in a hurry!