Reflecting on the Munros


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 click off 4 or 5 summits. 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.

The Kingshouse, Glencoe

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.

Loch Etrachan and Ben Macdui from Cairngorm

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 look 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 seen Loch Avon from Cairngorm.

Winter on Braeriach

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 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.

Coire Ghunndra, Cuillin on Skye

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 B and B and more importantly the pub. Today if I have a big walking day coming up I limit my drink, then I didn’t. Many a time I headed off for an 8 hour round, fuelled only with a couple of Mars Bars, with a pounding head. Its what I did but I couldn’t do it now.

Ben Cruachan

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.

Liathach and Beinn-Eighe, Torridon

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 5 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 4 Munros north of Ben Alder when the entire Mamores, Corries and the Ben itself were suddenly and spectacularly revealed.

Sgurr na Ciche, a remote Munro

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. The navigation was more challenging than usual and the thought of the vast empty spaces to the east certainly focuses the mind.

Ben Lui, a steep climb

Next year I am looking at introducing North Wales to the website as a new area. I do not know it well (really only climbed the highest mountains) so the planning and walking in a new area sounds fun. I have walked the Lake District and Yorkshire so much that the challenge is not there, yes it is very enjoyable and I will continue walking till I drop (probably) but I am after a fresh challenge. 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.

Ben More on Mull, Alistair’s final Munro

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 on 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!

You can find my full account of Climbing the Munros (and Tops) by following this link

Enjoy your walking

Jonathan

**************************************************

“Best of” Blogs from the past

15 Tips on Planning a Walk. Thinking about a walk before going makes it so much more fun

20 Hidden Gems . Walks that are off the beaten track making them even more enjoyable

My Favourite 10 Mountains in Britain. A list and why I like them.

10 of my favourite Easy Fells.  Fells that are close to the road with great views and an enjoyable climb.

10 of my favourite short walks. Walks for a few hours that anyone can do.

10 Reasons why I enjoy walking . The main reasons that drive me out and about

My Favourite Short Walks pt 2. There are so many great shorter walks here is a 2nd selection.

10 of the best Riverside Walks in the Dales The Dales does rivers perfectly.

10 of my favourite Dales walks. This changes but these are my present favourites

10 Unusual approaches to Lakes Classic Walks. Says it all

10 Favourite Dales Villages  Includes favourite walks from the villages

Hidden Delights . Walks and walking areas away from the crowds

10 Reasons to Walk in the Dales. Self explanatory!

Top 10 tips on Navigation. Make walking more enjoyable with a map & compass

Older Blogs

For a full list of all my blogs please click here