I completed the Munros (the 282 mountains in Scotland over 3,000 feet) nearly 15 years ago. It took up nearly 20 years of my life, regular visits/weekends from England to tick maybe 4 or 5 summits at a time.
Sometimes I travelled alone, sometimes with my brothers and mate JP. It certainly became obsessive. The planning was fun, the walking hard but the satisfaction immense. There is no doubt in my mind that it is the best walking challenge in Britain.
I was up in Scotland a few weeks ago with Debbie North and her husband Andy and I climbed my first Munros in over 5 years. They were not the trickiest, Carn na Caim above Drumochter and the Cairngorm itself. Both brought back memories however, for differing reasons. We climbed Carn na Caim in dreadful weather, continual rain and an innocuous summit. All that effort for so little reward but afterwards there was the satisfaction of job done, setbacks overcome and a long and familiar drying out.
However it was the climb of Cairngorm which brought it all flooding back. Not so much the climb itself (tramping through a car crash landscape of ski lifts is not my preferred climbs) but the summit and more particular the views. The summit of Cairngorm is over 4,000 feet and looks in to the heart of the largest mountain area in Britain. The views were immense, beautiful but strangely familiar. Looking towards Loch Etrachan and Ben Macdui the scale of the area is unlike anywhere else. I have climbed Ben Macdui with snow on the ground and in blistering heat (both on my own) but I had forgotten just how great the distances are. You can not even see Loch Avon from Cairngorm.
Walking the Munros is on a different scale to anything else in Britain. When I was climbing them many were pathless. The popularity more recently has increased the number of paths, but not the feeling of wilderness. The terrain can be rough, the distances vast and the ever present feeling that if something went wrong you needed to sort it out yourself. In the Lakes and North Wales you are never more than a couple of hours to a road, in Scotland it can be much further and much tougher. The long walks in and out can be soul destroying and all this is on the back of variable weather.
In those days we moved quickly, covering vast areas of land in a day. At times we stayed out, either in a tent or more likely one of the bothies that sit in the remoter areas. However we normally tried to get back to a guest house and, more importantly, the pub. Today if I have a big walking day coming up I limit my drink the night before, then I didn’t. Many a time I headed off for an 8 hour round, fuelled only with a couple of Mars Bars..and a pounding headache. Its what I did but I couldn’t do it now.
At times the relentless slopes were purgatory. The Jam song ‘Private Hell’ used to roll round my mind on such climbs. At other times, particularly when the climb involved some scrambling, it was enjoyable. The summit was always satisfying whilst I particularly enjoyed descending. It was quick, usually steep (as I said there were rarely tracks so we tended to pick the most direct route) but fun. I never hurt myself descending a Munro.
It was all a great adventure. There are other moments which live in the memory. Unexpected moments that are unique in climbing the Munros. A stag stood still a few yards away, a piper sat upon one of the Five Sisters of Kintail, a wild boar chasing my collie and that wow moment when after a day of rain the clouds part and the sun comes out. It happened to me on the four Munros north of Ben Alder when the entire Mamores, Corries and the Ben itself were suddenly and spectacularly revealed.
When I completed the Munros I could not let go, I went on to complete the Munro Tops (Munro himself and the guardian of the Munro list Hamish Brown would be very proud) and then dabbled away with Corbetts. However I could not recapture the Munro challenge and until the recent trip have not been back for a while. Walking in England is great, the Dales gorgeous and the Lakes great fun but I never feel that edge of danger that the Munros of Scotland bring. Andy mentioned that to me whilst climbing Carn na Caim, that even in the pouring rain I had a sense of purpose. I was more alert. The navigation was more challenging than usual and the thought of the vast empty spaces to the east certainly focuses the mind.
I have recently introduced the best walk in North Wales to the website. I do not know the area well (really only climbed the highest mountains) so the planning and walking will be so much more interesting. I have walked the Lake District and Yorkshire so much that some of the challenge is not so great. Yes it is very enjoyable and I will continue walking till I drop (probably) but Wales (and Northumberland going forward) offers something new, mountains and countryside to explore. My brother continues to drop down the lists, Munros, Corbetts and now he is trawling his way through the Grahams and Marilyns but I am heading to Wales.
Having said that the buzz I felt being back in Scotland means I will return, another tramp around Loch Avon beckons, as does a visit to some of the spectacular munros in Glencoe and the western isles. I also intend to venture back on to the Cuillin of Skye, the best walking area in Britain. It will be nice to pick and choose my favourites and recapture the excitement (and sometimes fear) of stretching myself again, both physically and mentally.
The Munros are the pinnacle of British walking (or hiking!), I would urge any keen walkers to attempt them but they are hard and need a full committment to achieve them all. Worth it though!
Read my full (and very detailed) story of my devotion to climbing the Munros.
Enjoy your walking
Jonathan (Completist 2,904)
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