Scotland's 10 Toughest Munros?

Munro bagging can have its exciting moments, but it's fair to say that it is usually at the less technical end of the hill-going spectrum. Even if there are harder options, most Munros can be achieved with your hands comfortably in your pockets - but by no means all of them. There may be a well-trodden path to the majority of 3000 foot high points, but some are a lot more challenging than others. From thrilling scrambles to remote summits that need real leg work and determination, here are some of the toughest ticks on the list...

  • Of course Ben Nevis or Ben Macdui in a winter storm might be way more serious than any of the following climbed on a nice day. We're assuming good weather and summer conditions here!

1. The Inaccessible Pinnacle

Accessing the Inaccessible, 226 kb
Accessing the Inaccessible
© Hamish Frost, Oct 2016

Famously the only Munro summit that requires rock climbing via its easiest route, the Inaccessible Pinnacle has daunted generations of baggers. For walkers with no climbing experience this is the biggest barrier on the road to completing the Munros, and for anyone who really struggles with heights it will prove well-named. Some may never dare to take it on - and they'd have a point. An unlikely-looking shark's fin of gabbro that just nudges higher than the adjacent top of Sgurr Dearg, the In Pinn is a formidable sight. The ascent via the East Ridge is a Moderate grade rock climb of at least 50 metres, and should only be tackled with a rope and a suitably experienced team member in charge. Though technically straightforward for anyone with a reasonable amount of scrambling or climbing under their belt, this narrow stone gangway feels surprisingly precarious. With a sharp drop to your left and several hundred feet of empty space to the right, the exposure is mind-blowing. Having bagged the pinnacle (few have the gumption to actually touch the highest point), descent of the shorter west side is via abseil.

Abseil off the Inn Pin.Skye, 236 kb
Abseil off the Inn Pin.Skye
© Sean Kelly, Jul 1999

It may take just 30 minutes (assuming you come before the morning queues) but the In Pinn is a genuine mountaineering experience. If that all sounds a bit beyond your remit then rope in a more experienced friend, or hire a local guide for the day. There's no shame in getting a bit of help.

2. Sgurr nan Gillean

Heading for the descent route, 243 kb
Heading for the descent route
© Dan Bailey

The In Pinn is far from being Skye's only hands-on Munro, with several other 3000ers demanding obligatory scrambling via even their easiest route. Pick of the bunch, for me, is Sgurr nan Gillean. A sharp rock peak book-ending the northern end of the Cuillin chain, this spectacular wedge looks how mountains ought to. A big jump in any direction from its airy summit would result in a short flight; there's no easy way up, and crucially that means there's no straightforward walk-off either. The only remotely 'walker-friendly' route, and it's important to note the inverted commas, is the South East Ridge. Culminating in a grade 3 scramble with the sort of exposure usually reserved for climbers, the tricky ascent of the so-called 'Tourist Route' (more well-placed inverted commas) is particularly committing for the fact that it's also your only way down.

3. A' Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor

The view over Fionn Loch at sunrise from the summit of A'Mhaighdean, 208 kb
The view over Fionn Loch at sunrise from the summit of A'Mhaighdean
© Hamish Frost, May 2017

A different order of challenge here, and one that blends sheer distance with stirring isolation in a heady brew. Rising at the heart of the Fisherfield/Letterewe 'Great Wilderness', mighty A'Mhaighdean is famous for being one of the Munros furthest from a road (or, indeed, anywhere much at all). From any direction, the approach to the foot of the mountain alone will take several hours. For this reason many teams will opt to make a weekend of it - and with possible bases that include the loch-side splendour of Carnmore and the postcard-perfect Shenavall bothy, an overnight comes highly recommended. Though no scrambling is required the ground is rough, the way is long, and the summit hard-won. But the surroundings could hardly be wilder, and if you've timed it for a clear day the summit view is a contender for Scotland's most impressive. Since you're in the neighbourhood it'd be daft not to add the equally inaccessible Ruadh Stac Mor in passing.

4. Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan and Mullach na Dheiragain

Heading for Mullach na Dheiragain from Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, 158 kb
Heading for Mullach na Dheiragain from Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan
© Dan Bailey

Lost in the deserted country above the remote head of Glen Affric, Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan is distinguished by its atmosphere of scale and distance. A complex mountain that radiates ridges like the spokes of a wheel, this big beast is 22nd in the Munro height charts; but it is the remoteness that really stands out. The Alltbeithe Youth hostel at its southern foot serves as a strategically positioned base for a weekend raid, and the easiest way to get there is still a 13km track cycle. Rope in neighbouring Mullach na Dheiragain while you're there, as there's no saying when you'll be dere-again. Though far smaller than the local giant it's a characterful peak in its own right, and notably even less accessible, which makes it a candidate for the most fiddly Munro of them all.

5. Sgurr a' Mhadaidh and Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh

Skye - An Dorus to Sgurr a' Mhadaidh, 160 kb
Skye - An Dorus to Sgurr a' Mhadaidh
© Climbed69

Back to Skye for another bite. We could have stayed here for most of our ten toughest Munros, and though it's hard to decide among the many worthy contenders, this rugged pair in the middle of the Cuillin ridge is certainly up there. While a full traverse of either Munro is more mountaineering than hillwalking, the col that separates them, An Dorus, offers an easier alternative. From here, nipping up each in turn is the popular Munro-baggers' wheeze. Despite this you'd hardly call either a walk in the park, with a grade 2/3 scramble for Sgurr a'Mhadaidh and the full grade 3 experience on Sgurr a'Ghreadaidh. In both cases the exit from An Dorus is the crux - and remember you'll have to reverse each route on the way home.

6. Liathach

Am Fasarinen Pinnacles on Lithach, 256 kb
Am Fasarinen Pinnacles on Lithach
© fritz, May 2016

Looming 1000m straight from sea level, this unlikely-looking mountain is undisputedly one of Scotland's greatest, a complex range of shattered quartzite scree summits topping precipitous flanks of tiered sandstone. Easy ways up and off are few. Liathach has two separate Munros, Mullach an Rathain and Spidean a' Choire Leith, and though each can be climbed individually by hands-free - albeit steep - routes, the full traverse of the main ridge linking the two involves some thrilling scrambling over the pinnacles of Am Fasarinen. This row of gnarled towers constitutes the meat in the Liathach sandwich, with plenty of grade 2 scrambling and generous helpings of exposure. If you want to deny yourself the full experience a get-out path is available, though even this is not trivial.

7. Bidein a' Choire Sheasgaich & Lurg Mhor

Evening on Lurg Mhor's brilliant east ridge, 188 kb
Evening on Lurg Mhor's brilliant east ridge
© Dan Bailey

Which is the most remote Munro of all? There are several obvious contenders, besides the few we've mentioned here, but if remoteness is defined not just by distance as the crow flies but by sheer awkwardness of access, then this pair above the isolated head of Loch Monar take some beating. The approaches from either of two main points of entry in Glen Carron each involve several hours on foot, wild walking through the back of beyond. Come in from Craig and you'll even have to climb a Corbett just to reach the foot of your first Munro, while the obvious alternative via lonely Bearnais bothy is likely to be an overnighter. The hills are worth all the effort, Bidein a'Choire Sheasgaich a dramatic sharp cone and Lurg Mhor a long steep-sided ridge with a surprise bonus scramble if you can work out a logical reason to make a full west-to-east traverse.

8. Aonach Eagach

Exposure is the name of the game on a traverse of Aonach Eagach, 189 kb
Exposure is the name of the game on a traverse of Aonach Eagach
© Dan Bailey

Glen Coe forms a canyon-like trench, its north wall a confusion of deep-scored gullies and tottering rocks rearing to a climax on the serrated crest of Aonach Eagach. This most infamous of Mainland ridges demands hard grade 2 scrambling in memorably exposed positions. Between the two Munros, Meall Dearg and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh you'll find the Crazy Pinnacles, the crux of any traverse. Though the chief difficulties come in short bursts they certainly keep coming for a while, and crucially most of the hardest sections are unavoidable. With the full sweep of the mountain tumbling below your feet to the miniature traffic on the A82, a calm head for heights is essential!

9. Ladhar Bheinn

Loch Hourn and Ladhar Bheinn - the walk in to Barrisdale., 215 kb
Loch Hourn and Ladhar Bheinn - the walk in to Barrisdale.
© jalapeno, May 2009

The Mainland's most westerly Munro, Ladhar Bheinn might rise straight from the sea, but unless you happen to own a boat then it occupies a surprisingly hard-to-get-at location on the fabled Knoydart peninsula. Its graceful lines, its rugged inaccessibility, and the bird's eye view over the fjord-like Loch Hourn combine to give Ladhar Bheinn a rare charisma. With several radiating ridges this complex mountain can be approached from a variety of angles. An overnight stay at the isolated village of Inverie may be the convenient way to do it (there's even a pub), but access along Loch Hourn is far superior. With 22 miles of winding single track road, then a rough and undulating loch shore path for a further 10km, even getting to the bottom of the hill at Barrisdale Bay is an adventure. The stunning approach is a hard act to follow, but the circuit of Coire Dhorrcail manages to top even this. A scrambly round on narrow ridges and sharp peaks, it's one of the great hill routes of Scotland. You'll be doing well to knock it all off in just one day.

10. Beinn Mheadhoin

Loch Etchachan and Ben Macdui from Beinn Mheadhoin, 188 kb
Loch Etchachan and Ben Macdui from Beinn Mheadhoin
© Ratfeeder, Oct 2014

Distance is one of the defining characteristics of the Cairngorms. Few of the major summits are anywhere near a road, most demanding serious leg work and/or the judicious use of a mountain bike. We could have mentioned Ben Avon and Beinn a' Bhuird here, the Cairn Toul peaks or something nondescript and boggy down towards the Tarf. But we've only got one entry left in our 10 and if we can only pick one then I'd like to make the case for Beinn Mheadhoin. Its name translates as middle hill, and that sums it up very well. This is more or less the mid point of the Cairngorms, and that's tantamount to saying the middle of nowhere. That the shortest approach is over the shoulder of Cairn Gorm and via the head of Loch Avon tells you a lot about the scale of the challenge. Alternatively you might try a 16km bike/hike combo from the Linn of Dee, or the rough-and-wiggly 17km trudge via the passes of Ryvoan and Strath Nethy. There's no quick or easy way. And after all that plodding the icing on the cake is a short but exposed scramble onto the huge granite tor that forms the mountain's high point. This isn't the time or place to decide that you don't like downclimbing.

Forums 4 comments

I think it all depends on the weather and conditions as to what is the least rewarding Munro to climb. Even the Drumochter hills on a good winter's day can be quite rewarding, especially if using cross country skies..
Or perhaps, rather than 10 dullest, we could have, in a more positive light, 10 mountains which are not Munros but which merit considerable attention:  The Cobbler Stac Pollaidh Cul Mor and Cul Beag Ben More...
I know what you mean Harry. I'd rather climb Liathach 100 times than spend another day above Drumochter. Maybe we could do a 10 dullest article too? That doesn't have the same ring but it might actually be a laugh to...
Notable that most of the 'toughest' Munros are quite spectacular outings, and thoroughly merit the effort required. For my part, I found the 'toughest' to be the dull plods on mountains such Fionn Bheinn above...

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