In early April this year mountaineer Lorraine McCall will set out on a continuous round of all 221 of Scotland's Corbetts, a four month journey by foot, bike and boat. She hopes to be the first woman to manage it. Having been through cancer treatment last year, Lorraine will be raising money through the trip for Macmillan Cancer Support.
Lorraine is no stranger to Scottish mountain epics, having walked (and kayaked) her way around the Munros back in 2005, a trip on which she clocked up 1600 miles and over 500,000 feet of ascent (see UKH article here).
'Having loved the continual Munro round I wanted another challenge similar in length and still in Scotland' Lorraine tells us.
'I had thought about doing this next year (10 years on from my Munro round) but although I'm recovering well from last year's cancer, it seemed better to take time out from work while getting back to full health. The mountains are always good for the soul.'
But although there are around 60 fewer Corbetts than Munros, and they're smaller at 2500-2999 feet, this year's trip seems likely to be at least as challenging as 2005's. To qualify for Corbett status a peak must be separated from neighbouring summits by a drop of at least 500 feet. As a consequence there are no Corbett equivalents of the great multi-Munro ranges, and few feasible days on which you can visit more than a handful. While the Munros are concentrated in the Highlands and just two islands, Corbetts are scattered widely all over Scotland from Galloway to the Western Isles. Distances between hill groups and individual summits are generally greater, while summit trails can be less well trodden than the standard Munro routes.
'Certainly the planning of the Corbetts has been more difficult' says Lorraine.
'They cover such a wide area and there are big gaps between each one.'
Busy with hospital appointments and complex route planning, she has not managed much to fit in much pre-trip training, Lorraine says, but she's expecting to build fitness on the go.
'I have spent a LOT of time looking at maps. Initially this was a nightmare because I could not see a way to join all the hills up but latterly the pattern has been emerging and towards the end I really enjoyed the puzzle.'
'I have now finished plotting the route on all my paper maps. I'll be travelling roughly 25km a day with a fair few bigger days.'
Lorraine plans to walk as much of the route as possible, but says there are a few areas where the distances between hills are so vast that travelling by bike makes sense - for instance the Borders, the Cairngorms, Ardnamurchan, and going from the Fisherfields to Assynt.
To reach the island Corbetts she'll use a sea kayak in some cases (Arran, Jura, Mull), while for longer open crossings where the weather could cause big delays (Rum, Skye and Harris) she plans to sail, minus engine power.
'As well as gear sponsorship from Lowe Alpine, Terra Nova, Pacerpoles and Summits I have a lot of offers of logistical support for the sea kayaking and sailing stages, for moving my bike around and dropping off food caches. I am planning to have regular food drops every few days, some preplanted, others brought along by friends. My partner Rob is going to help with bikes and food, for instance.'
'When I mentioned taking a sabbatical from work to walk all the Corbetts this year, Rob was behind me all the way. It did not take long to realise that this excitement was partly due to all the obscure little places he could find to play golf. Yes, my partner is a golfer, as passionate about this as I am about the mountains.'
[Our commisserations, Ed.]
But as on her Munro trip, Lorraine expects to spend most of her time alone on the hills, camping or bothying at night and on occasion indulging in the luxury of a hostel.
For much of the journey she'll be on unfamiliar ground, says Lorraine, who reckons she's only climbed about 60 Corbetts to date.
'I do not really know the Borders and shocking to say although I have sailed and cycled around Arran I have never been on the mountains there, or on Jura's' she says.
'There are so many places to look forward to. Arran is up there, as are the other islands, as I love the combination of mountains and sea. It will be great to revisit Harris. Also revisiting the Cobbler will be good, as when I first got into mountains Arrochar was my playground. I am hoping to do a rock climb on Carnmore when I get to the Fisherfields. I have made the journey in once before only to be rained off.'
As for what she thinks may be the tough bits?
'It has been so wet this winter that I am expecting to be walking in a bog a lot of the time, since the journey lends itself to a lot of low level walking. In that sense the start in the Borders will be interesting. I am hoping that we get another dry spring to help the ground firm up a bit, and it'd be amazing if the northwest ended up with the driest weather again this summer; I'm not sure how long that pattern can last. Aside from the dampness, I think the Monadhliath will be interesting navigation with large featureless areas in between the tops.'
Will she take any lessons with her from the 2005 Munros walk?
'When I started the Munro trip I was carrying far too much' Lorraine recalls, 'so this time I plan to have much more lightweight kit and food. I am borrowing a dehydrator to dehydrate my main meals to keep the food weight down and am planning more regular food drops, every two-three days. I will make sure a bit more food goes in the packs as I get fitter, because during my Munro walk I ended up having to eat every couple of hours. This time I am going south to north having regretted coming into civilisation instead of going away from it during my Munro round. This does, however, bring its own problems - namely being in the north west during the midge and cleg season.'
'Meanwhile the next couple of weeks before I start on April 8th are going to involve a lot of cooking, dehydrating and packing food.'
So back to that obvious question, whether the Munros or the Corbetts are the bigger challenge? Lorraine is hedging her bets:
'I think the weather will be the big decider as to which I find harder' she says. 'Watch this space...'
UKHillwalking will be following Lorraine's progress with regular reports throughout her trip
Also see the blog and further info on Lorraine's website
To sponsor her or make a donation to Macmillan Cancer Support see her page on Justgiving