Bagging the Munros - What's The Big Attraction?

Some of my best friends are Munro baggers. I don't hold it against them, but I've never quite got it. So am I missing something? Almost certainly.

Summit views from A’Mhaighdean  © Hamish Frost
Summit views from A’Mhaighdean
© Hamish Frost

Bagging all 282 3000-foot summits on the list is a goal achievable by any reasonably fit and motivated walker, they tell me. Along the way you'll visit a varied collection of hills in diverse mountain landscapes across the length and breadth of the Highlands, they enthuse. But why not just go to all these places anyway, and forget about the list?

Enjoying the ridge   © Al Todd
Enjoying the ridge
© Al Todd, Nov 2018

What makes perfectly sane people venture out of their way for dull lumps like Carn Aosda and A' Bhuidheanach Bheag, while acting as if just one summit-oriented dash up infinitely fascinating mountains like Sgurr nan Gillean is sufficient for a lifetime? Why are so many walkers still interested in a dusty old tick list based on imperial measures when today's hills are fully metric? And what's the magic attraction of 3000 feet that risks blinding the height-focused bagger to smaller but otherwise far better peaks?

I really don't know the answer to any of these questions, so I asked some keen Munro-ists for their take...


David Linnett has just completed a 22-year round with an ascent of Meall Buidhe in Knoydart

"Being Bristol-based, it has been a long odyssey for me, involving a lot of driving and days on the hill in all kinds of weather through all the seasons" he says.

What was your first ever Munro?

My first ever Munro was Ben Nevis via the Tourist Track in June 1997 which I did with a couple of old work colleagues as part of the much maligned 3 Peaks Challenge. In mitigation our challenge only consisted of the three of us and it was totally self-supported unlike a lot of mass ascents which have become ever more popular over the years. However my everlasting memory of the day was how busy the route was and passing a guy near the half-way lochan who had no rucksack whilst wearing jeans, t-shirt and slip-on shoes! In one hand he was clutching a two-litre bottle of cider and in the other he was holding the hand of his young boy, whilst slowly pulling him ever upwards.

Unsurprisingly the young lad who was attired in shorts, t-shirt and trainers looked miserable and rather underwhelmed by the experience. Higher up near the summit plateau it was bitterly cold, shrouded in cloud, really poor visibility and actually started snowing for a while so I kinda hope they both turned back long before getting up high...

David enjoying the remote and beautiful Rough Bounds of Knoydart  © David Linnett
David enjoying the remote and beautiful Rough Bounds of Knoydart
© David Linnett

Were you instantly bitten by the bagging bug, or did it take some time before you decided to work through the list?

Not at all. In fact rock climbing was my main passion at the time so I started going up Munros when the weather was too poor to climb. However I slowly got drawn into the plotting and planning, the endless poring over maps and books, working out logistics such as whether to stay in a bothy, can I use a mountain bike and what combination of fruit pastilles, jelly babies, chocolate raisins or flapjack should I have in my "goodie bag" to munch whilst on the march.

I really enjoy the sense of adventure; being self-reliant; dealing with all kinds of weather and conditions whatever the season; the flora and fauna; the camaraderie with good friends; and just going to remote, beautiful and relatively quiet parts of Scotland

After I reached 50 Munros the seeds were slowly being sown and once I reached the milestone of 100 I was all in and fully committed!

Being based so far south and still being that keen suggests you really like Munros - How would you define their attraction, and the reasons why so many people end up working through the whole list?

I really enjoy the sense of adventure; being self-reliant; dealing with all kinds of weather and conditions whatever the season; the flora and fauna; the camaraderie with good friends; and just going to remote, beautiful and relatively quiet parts of Scotland such as Glen Dessary, Knoydart, Fisherfield, Glen Affric or Glen Strathfarrar. I would never have gone to these stunning parts of Scotland if it was not for that arbitrary list of mountains over 3000 feet, and I suspect many people probably feel the same! And the view from the summit on a clear day is none too shabby either.

22 years is a long time for a round, though far from a record I suspect – was finishing it ever in doubt?

And there I was hoping for the record of slowest Compleatist of all time! Once I fully committed, finishing was never in any doubt as far as I was concerned. However I do remember slowly gearing up all by myself on a dreich morning in an unsurprisingly empty car park for Beinn a' Chaorainn and Beinn Teallach in Glen Spean. A cold easterly wind was blowing, the mizzle was drizzling, the cloud base was hovering at less than 100 metres and it did occur to me that there were better ways I could spend my day.

The long cycle in to Ben Alder  © David Linnett
The long cycle in to Ben Alder
© David Linnett

What are some of the challenges and pitfalls of long distance Munro bagging?

Negotiating the M5 and M6 motorways safely at just about anytime during the day, except very early or late, often constitutes the crux of any trip driving north from Bristol to Scotland. I do find most service stations rather bleak, expensive and soulless places but the one place my bladder and I always try and hold out for is Tebay services where I have stopped more times than I have had hot dinners! And once you finally arrive in Scotland after a seven or eight hour drive there is the Scottish weather and the dreaded midges to contend with of course.

How many hills would you typically do on a trip from Bristol?

Over the last 10 years or so a lot of my trips to Scotland have been two-week spring or summer holidays and typically I would have done anywhere from 10 to 20 Munros per trip, along with a few rock climbs. I think my largest haul was 28 in a two-week trip and it was a veritable orgy of Munro bagging, but that would have involved a number of delightful Munro "clusters" such as the Ben Lawers five and the Glen Lyon four. What is the collective noun for a cluster or group of Munros? A Meall of Munros? Or possibly a midge of Munros? All suggestions gratefully received!

Did you tend to book trips in advance and take pot luck with the weather, or wait for last minute windows?

Due to work commitments I have nearly always booked trips a long way in advance and taken my chances with the weather. However April, May and September can often bring settled spells of weather and I was lucky enough to buy a VW Campervan a few years ago which has given my (long-suffering) wife and I the flexibility to move location very quickly and go chasing the elusive sun. Quite often when it is persistently precipitating in the west, a quick check can confirm the weather is much better in the east.

Do you have any advice for other folk also based far from the hills who may be considering starting a round?

If you are driving to Scotland from just about anywhere further south then travel early or late to avoid the worst of the traffic. To maximise your bagging potential, be flexible with the weather and be prepared to relocate if at all possible. Also buy a midge head net! And buy a mountain bike to not only assist in escaping from the voracious Scottish midge toute suite but for helping with some of those long Munro rounds. For example many rounds in the Southern Cairngorms, Lurg Mhor from Attadale or Ben Alder from Dalwhinnie are rather remote and involve long distances but have really good tracks so you can cycle a long way in.

After finishing your walk in the hills it is an absolute pleasure to hop on your mountain bike for an exhilarating freewheel back to your starting point in a quarter of the time it would have taken you to trudge out with weary legs. I have heard one or two folks say this is cheating but I would strongly contend that only a fool suffers AND you are using your own muscle-power! However I have been told by a reliable source that e-bikes are now being used and that is most definitely cheating.

Munro bagging takes you places you might not otherwise reach  © David Linnett
Munro bagging takes you places you might not otherwise reach
© David Linnett

Any particular favourite hills?

There are so many superb hills and excellent rounds to choose from but An Teallach, Liathach, Ladhar Bheinn, the Cuillin Ridge, the Five Sisters of Kintail in full winter conditions, Lochnagar after an ascent of Eagle Ridge, Beinn a' Bhuird after an ascent of Squareface and Mitre Ridge, The Fisherfield Five with a wild camp halfway round and the Aonach Eagach traverse have all been superb outings and evoke many great memories for me.

Now you've done the Munros, what next? Another round? Corbetts? Or something closer to home?

Having taken over 22 years to complete one round and had a recent sacrificial burning of my red socks and anorak, I have no burning desire to start another round of Munros or commit to the Corbetts. However I am very keen to revisit some of my favourite Munros by different and interesting routes whilst taking in some of the best Corbetts along the way. I really want to finish off my Classic Rock tick list of which I have 11 climbs left, most of which are unsurprisingly in Scotland. There are also some great walks I want to do including the Trotternish Ridge in Skye which will require a wild camp and the unmarked, infamous Cape Wrath Trail, plus the Hebridean Way which both look superlative long distance adventures.


Kevin Woods, currently closing in on round number three

Can you recall your first ever Munro?

My first was Ben Lomond, September 2001, age 10 with my family.

Were you instantly bitten with the bagging bug?

I didn't really notice it on Ben Lomond - maybe a bit too young. One year later, we all climbed Beinn Tulaichean from Inverlochlarig, my second Munro, and I was blown away by the mountains all rising around. That was eye-opening. I'd read through the SMC Munros book by then and knew I wanted to make them a part of life. Two years later I went up the Cobbler in the same way and the same thing happened - shocked and stunned.

Kevin, unable to resist visiting a Munro summit on a winter climbing day  © Dan Bailey
Kevin, unable to resist visiting a Munro summit on a winter climbing day
© Dan Bailey

You're close to completing your third round now, so it must be fair to say you're a big fan. What, for you, are the main attractions of Munros and working through the list as opposed to less goal-directed hillwalking?

Where to begin...?

Physically: the feeling of busting your way up a hill, getting over the top with heart, lungs, legs and breathing all going full-throttle. On big hill days, keeping the heart rate tamed, being structured with the nutrition and eating - when it goes right, realising just how much work human bodies can do - as long as you take care of them to balance the output.

Munros just happen to be a stunning all-in-one summary of the Highland geography

In goal-setting: it's the enjoyment gained from realising you've trodden most of the crests and summits in an area; look around from any of the tops, and the rest of the horizon has been walked upon! 'Clearing out' an area, and gaining a greater appreciation for the character and form of that area.

Tactically and strategically: it's taking what you already know, working out what you might need to learn, and building new skills upon old ones to try and surpass what you did before.

And then what was motivating in the first instance - the visual: The sun-dappled slopes of grass, crag and bracken climbing into misty oblivion, pinnacles and cliffed mountain slopes and threads of tumbling white water falling down from the storm. I spent years observing the hills around Glasgow before I got properly going with the Munro bagging. Sometimes I thought I'd be as happy painting them as climbing them.

Although much of my walking revolves around the Munros, it probably has a lot less to do with 'Munros' as a tradition. They just happen to be a stunning all-in-one summary of the Highland geography.

When do you envisage finishing round 3?

End of this summer. I've got about one week's walking in the Eastern Highlands left, then finishing in Knoydart, on Ladhar Bheinn.

Most would be content with one or two Munros at a time, but you tend to go big on the hill days – why is this?

I suppose this links into my previous point, particularly about setting goals. Especially the idea that you can take what you already know, crucially work out what you don't know, then set about working them out. It's good fun to try big days because it puts these things to the test. If your planning wasn't quite right, you either don't complete the route, or you toil to get it done. The bigger hill days are a nice intersection between fitness, confidence, route-finding, weather, ground conditions and more, and it is satisfying to see all these things working together when they come together.


Fiona Russell (aka FionaOutdoors) - outdoor writer and founder of Facebook group Munroaming

Can you recall your first Munro?

It was about 18 years ago but I think probably was the Aonach Eagach ridge.

Fiona on Beinn Sgritheall, the big bugger just down from Glenelg  © Martin McKenna
Fiona on Beinn Sgritheall, the big bugger just down from Glenelg
© Martin McKenna

Were you instantly bitten by the bagging bug?

No! The Aonach Eagach was a scary place to start doing Munros for someone like me who doesn't like heights. In fact, this hike put me off Munros entirely... I was persuaded to do it by an ex-partner. I thought: "If this is what the Munros are then they are not for me."

It was some years later when I did a charity walk on the Five Sisters of Kintail that I suddenly "got it". I loved the challenge and rewards of a big day in the mountains. The views were superb. To this day it is one of my favourite areas to walk Munros. It has the added bonus of being the place where I met my now husband:

After the Kintail Munros I thought I'd like to do more Munro hikes but I never imagined, back then 10 years ago, that I would walk them all.

I have walked some Munros dozens of times. However, it is good to have a list always there in the background for when I have a spare day or I want to do something in a new location

Have you completed a round yet, and if not do you have a particular one pencilled in for your final summit?

I have 35 to go. As I said, I can't quite believe this. Heights are still a problem for me and I have had to swallow some very large brave pills to do some summits but I have throughly loved the challenge of a Munro round. My last one is ear-marked as Beinn na Lap. No idea when this will be but I love Loch Ossian. One day in the next couple of years I expect.

What, for you, are the particular attractions of Munro bagging?

I like having the goal of reaching new summit and seeing new places. The Munros have taken me to amazing places and locations I would never have thought to go to before. I like the challenges of different types of Munro hikes.

I am not obsessed with Munros only and I do walk Corbetts and repeats of Munros. I enjoy walking with other people and often this means repeats. I have walked some Munros dozens of times. However, it is good to have a list always there in the background; something to turn to when I have a spare day or weekend or I want to do something in a new location.

Fiona and Gordon 1  © Fiona Russell
Fi and hubby Gordon doing what they love best

My husband Gordie and I walk Munros together. it is our main joint hobby because we both enjoy other pursuits on our own. In fact, I followed Gordie up his final 70 or so Munros of his first round when we met and now he walks with me as I finish my round. He is also a good way through his second round now.

The Munros have given me a great deal of outdoor experience and confidence, too. I have learned to navigate, stay safe in the mountains, read the weather forecast etc. I have met many new people and I have written many stories about Munro baggers.The Munros have been a great addition to my life and work.

When did you set up the Munroaming group, and how has that been going?

It was started in September 2014, and has recently passed the 3000 member mark. That feels significant and poignant! It's a lovely group filled with people who enjoy walking Munros and posting comments and photos of their trips. I've met new friends through it. I hope it has inspired people to walk Munros or at least get out into Scotland's amazing outdoors environment.


Lorraine McCall made a continuous solo Munro round in summer 2005

What was your first Munro?

During the summer between my first and second years at uni, a friend took me to Glen Coe for the first time and I fell in love with the place. I went back and joined the uni mountaineering club. My first trip out with them was a weekend to Glen Coe in November and my first mountain was Bidean Nam Bian. I was unprepared, I did not have the proper equipment, my clothing and boots were not really ample and initially I thought I had taken on too much.

Lorraine on Stob Ghabhar  © Dan Bailey
Lorraine on Stob Ghabhar
© Dan Bailey

I felt like I was going to die on the way to the top and had just decided to give up and go back down when one of the lads convinced me to carry on to the ridge where everyone was meeting for lunch and then he would come back down with me. Thank goodness there were no mobile phones in these days or I would have given up. When I got to the ridge and peeked over there was a really low November sun and a sepia light shining through the cloud inversion and the snow covered tops. I had never seen anything so beautiful. It might sound a bit corny to say that this was a life changing moment and about as spiritual as it gets, but it was true. This was the start of a lifelong love affair with the mountains. I left uni with a very average honours degree but I was running the mountaineering club and left to work in an outdoor shop and start a career in the outdoors.

How would you define the attraction of the Munros, the reasons why so many people end up working through the whole list?

I had never seen anything so beautiful. It might sound a bit corny to say that this was a life changing moment and about as spiritual as it gets, but it was true

The first hills are tough, why am I doing this? Whose silly idea was this? I will never get there, I can't do this... and then suddenly you are at the top and you forget how hard it was and you decide to do it again. Somewhere along the way it becomes enjoyable and you start to count the numbers. One day you are over a hundred and then you realise that actually it is possible and the bagging starts in earnest. You travel far from home, meet lots of people, learn new skills, and eventually you get to climb all the classic mountain ridges in Scotland, like the Aonach Eagach, An Teallach and of course the Cuillin. You have literally given yourself the challenge of a lifetime. And one day there is less than a hundred left to go and the countdown rather than the count up begins. Along the way you have stories to tell, the midge attack, the full on blizzard, the lost map, the boots that fell apart, mountain days and bothy nights... memories and experiences which will last a lifetime.

Heading for Seana Bhraigh, one of Scotland's more remote Munros  © Dan Bailey
Heading for Seana Bhraigh, one of Scotland's more remote Munros
© Dan Bailey

What made you want to walk them all in a one-er?

Two people were the main inspiration behind this. I met Steve Perry when he was walking from Land's End to John O' Groats over all the 3000 foot peaks in Britain. I loved what he was doing, although at the time doing something similar was more of a distant dream. I then worked for Rebecca Ridgeway at Cape adventure on the North West Coast. Rebecca was the first woman to sea kayak around Cape Hope and she did a talk one night about the planning and preparation. The idea to climb all the Munros in a continual journey walking in between began to seem possible. It was my 40th birthday the following April and I wanted to do something memorable. I decided to start on my birthday and everything began to fall into place.

Can you sum up the experience of your continuous round in a paragraph or two?

This was the most intense, sensual experience of my life. Life became very simple. I carried everything I needed on my back. I slept where I wanted, sometimes open bivvis, or in my tent on a mountain top or a bothy with an open fire. I had solitude but company of friends when I needed it. I got to know Scotland, all the high passes and glens as well as the mountain tops.

I also got to know myself and what I was capable of. I could eat what I wanted and I got so fit I felt like I was flying.There was kindness and support from both friends and strangers, from friends walking in to bothies with food or strangers allowing me to borrow kayaks and putting me up in their houses.

Sometimes people will say to me that this must have been really tough. Some days were hard but in general it was such a positive thing to do and doing the Munros in a continual journey is a lot less mileage than doing them over a lifetime!

Would you do it again?

YES!


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2 Sep

Many thanks for taking the time to put together this great article Dan! :-)

9 Sep

There is part of me that can see the appeal nowadays. I wasn't even bothered about logging hills, when i was younger and didn't see the need to queue up to touch the Trig/take a photo to prove that i had summitted.

Maybe it's just an age thing, the need to set a challenge, to prove to myself that i can still do this or that!?! Saying that, I still don't have any desire to bag a summit, for no other reason than to tick a list. That might change if i was close to completing the list, I suppose..