Editor’s note: A Munro (for the uninitiated) is any Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet high. A ‘Munroist’ is someone who has climbed all the Munro summits (at time of writing, there are 282 official peaks).
“I like walking”, I had innocently announced to my partner Robert (Munroist 375) one day, so when he suggested that I accompany him to Scotland I eagerly agreed, little knowing what I would be getting myself into.
Now, I had never walked up any hills of note. I grew up in London near Hampstead Heath which is a hilly area in North London and includes the mighty summit of Parliament Hill. We also used to holiday in Norfolk, where, although we used to go for walks, hills were in short supply.
I moved to Manchester in the early 1970’s and walking did not feature high on my agenda for many years. None of this prepared me for the last 12 years tagging along with Robert over all the Munros.
Initially, I did just ‘tag along’, as 282 hills seemed a huge goal. I just went with the flow but was able to maintain the enthusiasm to continue with the trips to Scotland. My first hill was Ben Vorlich(Earn) in May 1998 and my final hill was Maol Chean-Dearg towards the end of July 2010. In between were many excursions ‘up north’ during holidays from my day job.
I am not a ‘gung-ho’ sort of person and I do not have a very good head for heights, so these hills presented me with many challenges. It has been my habit to read up about any Munros that I have been due to climb, earnestly scanning the pages for information on the steepness and the ‘scariness’ of these hills. I also look at the map, checking the contours of our intended route. I often implore Robert to find me the ‘easy way’ down, as I would prefer to go up steeply and down more gradually if there is a choice, sometimes there is not.
I have a number of fears, the main ones being steep descents, scree and exposure. Many times I have observed and been overtaken by people scree running. I however, am painfully slow coming down such terrain as I hate the feeling of movement under my feet; in fact I feel that I might as well be standing on a tray of marbles. I have watched in awe as many, including Robert, have pirouetted along exposed sections with their hands in their pockets making it look so easy and I confess that I wish that I could participate in this activity.
I am, however gripped in fear, clinging on to anything solid that I can. I believe that it was Wainwright who talked about the use of the bottom in hill walking. Mine has come in useful many times on steep descents. When on Skye climbing the Inaccessible Pinnacle I put imaginary blinkers on, did not look around and just grit my teeth and did what I had to do.
I have not been along the Aonach Eagach, or along the ridge on Liathach. I avoided the Forcan Ridge and I went under the Horns of Alligin. I do not walk the hills during snow and ice (although snow can be encountered even during the summer months!) and I have not been over all the tops. Rain and wet feet do not bother me which is just as well, but extreme windy conditions have made me about turn.
The sight of an impending scree run or exposed section has sometimes caused me to wonder, “If I go up there, how will I get down?”. Does this make me a lesser Munroist than those who have endured worse conditions than I or who have taken these different routes? Since I’ve still been to all the summits. I don’t think so. Completing the Munros is a very personal challenge and it has certainly been the greatest of my life so far.
I have done it. Me, with all my fears. It has been a real challenge to me, and probably to Robert, who at times has been patient in the extreme. I would have hoped that with time, some of my fears would have dissipated but this does not seem to be the case, they are obviously deep rooted. I intend to continue coming to Scotland to enjoy the hills but maybe just those that I wish to revisit. I may give some of the ‘scary ones’ a miss but I can enjoy those lumpy, grassy mounds under 3,000 feet high that some people dismiss as ‘boring’ and of no merit. Believe me; they are not boring to everybody.
A list of Munro compleators can be found here https://www.smc.org.uk/hills/compleators