When we set off on our short hill walk from a quiet Inverness-shire glen we could hardly have imagined the mini winter mountaineering challenge we would experience at the summit.
Glen Cannich suffers in terms of visitor numbers from its proximity to the more popular Glen Affric but to me it’s an equally beautiful place – perhaps the more so for its unexpected solitude.
The single-track road from the village climbs steeply before meandering alongside the River Cannich, which it eventually crosses before continuing past Loch Carrie to the Mullardoch dam, from where the magnificent Affric and Strathfarrar peaks can be seen.
We’d found an interesting looking route up Sgorr na Diollaid in a guidebook, which suggested starting at Loch Carrie. After negotiating cows and new-born calves on the road getting there, we discovered the potential parking spots were drenched fields that would have been impossible to get the car out of. So back through the cows we headed to the more commonly used starting point for this ascent at Muchrachd, immediately west of the new road bridge over the river.
The summit of the 818m Corbett – whose name translates as something like “rocky peak of the pass” – is almost due north from the end of the track, where there is plenty of room to park a few cars without blocking access.
Initially, a series of little ridges lead up the hill to a flat-ish area just east of Mam Charaidh, and a prominent rocky outcrop on the horizon is an obvious landmark to aim for in clear weather. The going is rough but animal tracks can be followed in places to make it easier and there was even evidence of previous human visitors in the form of occasional dated boot prints.
You can skirt round the left-hand side of the outcrop (something we only discovered on the way down) to avoid wasting too much climbing only to have to descend again. The way to the top follows in this vein, with dips and rises and false summits until you eventually see the unmistakable outline of the rocky double summit.
That was still a way ahead as we paused for a hot drink and to take in views west to Mullardoch and the glorious snow-covered Affric mountains. Our next target was just as clear as the first – a loose boulder perched on the horizon stood out from the white surface surrounding it and from here we would make our way across the snow to the south ridge of Sgorr na Diollaid.
The sky was clear and visibility was good as we looked up to what we wrongly assumed was the top. You’d think we’d learn after many years of hill walking and mountaineering that what you think is the top invariably is a long way off it!
The gradient eased for a while beyond this boulder and we enjoyed a pleasant walk through the snow, even where we had to lose height, before discovering a complex ridge of rock outcrops with plenty of optional easy scrambling to enjoy.
There’s a final dip in the landform just before the final steep approach to the summit outcrop, and it’s here that the weather started to turn. The blue skies were replaced with grey ones and the wind picked up. Flurries of snow in the blustery weather meant goggles would have been a sensible option – if either of us had remembered to pack them.
Peter left his sack below the higher east summit and used his ice-axe to help him on the short scramble which is required to make it to the top, while I followed behind, the two of us taking it in turns to stand on the rocky and icy perch.
After a quick confab we decided to clamber up to the lower west summit as well, then a change of plan was in order.
We’d vaguely discussed making a circuit out of the day, taking in the couple of lower tops to the west and possibly An Soutar above Loch Carrie before returning to the glen. In these conditions and with the complex terrain we decided to be content with the Corbett and head back down the same way.
For a short day in the mountains we’d had a wonderful winter experience already, and enjoyed this fine peak in a glen that deserves to be much more popular than it is.