Meet the Mini Munro Baggers

Age is no barrier to enjoying the hills, even if you're too young to buy - or even tie - your own boots. Fiona Russell speaks to some junior Munro baggers who shun Playstations for days in the mountains, and talk excitedly of wildlife, wild camping and adventures above the clouds.

Finn Wilcox is aged only five but he has already bagged 44 Munros, having hiked 22 in the last month alone. Marc Pattullo turned 17 in July, and over the last six years he has summitted more than 200 Munros. Meanwhile, the four Padmanabhan children enjoy spending time together as a family walking Munros - and already have some magical memories. Meet the mini Munro baggers.

Finn looks over Glen Etive - a view that's hard earned on little legs, 174 kb
Finn looks over Glen Etive - a view that's hard earned on little legs
© Wilcox family

"Finn has a keen sense of adventure"

Finn was just two years old when he walked his first Munro, Carn Aosda. Although it is considered the easiest of all Scotland's 282 mountains with a summit of at least 3000ft, on little legs, the ascent of some 270m required determination.

Dad Keith said: "Finn managed pretty much all of this walk on his own except for a short section where it becomes quite steep and then I helped him a little. Stacey, his mum, and I were surprised by how well he managed his first Munro."

Since then, Finn has hiked many of the "easier" Munros, such as Ben Chonzie, Mayar and Driesh (although these two summits were hiked on the second day of a Munro bagging weekend), Carn Bhac, via a circular route in Glen Ey, and Ben Lawers and Beinn Ghlas in one outing.

Mum, Dad and Finn, 161 kb
Mum, Dad and Finn
© Wilcox family

Yet he has also reached the top of Ben Macdui, the UK's second tallest mountain, and an altogether far more challenging hike.

Stacey reports that it was Finn's desire to see the "Grey Man" that prompted this walk. She said: "I had been ski touring on Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui one weekend and when I got home, I told Finn, then four, about my trip and the legend of the Grey Man."

"He was captivated and immediately asked if he could climb Ben Macdui to see for himself."

"Our son has always had a keen sense of adventure, and regularly suggests what we should get up to – sleeping in a cave, camping in the snow and canoeing to deserted islands."

The family made a plan that they would walk Ben Macdui but not immediately.

Stacey said: "This was a hike that would require stamina and more confidence so we spent some time walking other mountains first. We also chose a summer's day when we would have maximum daylight and good weather because we knew we would be walking at the pace of a four-year-old."

Finn reports that "sometimes, when I find it tricky doing Munros, I just try my best."

Finn and Dad on Buachaille Etive Beag, 144 kb
Finn and Dad on Buachaille Etive Beag
© Wilcox family

Wild camping in Drumochter, 159 kb
Wild camping in Drumochter
© Wilcox family

Whenever Stacey and Keith suggest Munro trips, Finn always wants to know what he will see.

Young Finn said: "I like wildlife. I like red deer. I like seeing animals and birds. I also like to go camping. I like to eat jellybeans as well. Mostly I like Munros because it's fun, getting to take a big breath outside and see nature."

Keith added: "I think for Finn the Munros are less about the summits, although he does enjoy being on the tops, but more about the journey and the adventure. He likes to stop and look at things as we walk, such as tadpoles in puddles and rivers, a patch of snow is a place for playing."

"We have learned to adjust our pace and aspirations to that of our son. We want to be able to enjoy the experience as a family and if we do not reach the summit of a Munro, perhaps because Finn is tired or because the weather is against us, then we don't worry."

This summer, the Wilcox family set themselves an extraordinary goal to bag 20 Munros over just four weeks. They managed 22!

The challenge is poignant because, July was the due date for their second child, Sadly, Stacey miscarried last year.

Stacey said: "We miscarried last year and the closer we got to the Beanie's due date, the more we think about what could have been. We can't change that it happened and miscarriage sucks, to put it politely, but we wanted something positive to come out of this summer."

"Beanie was there with us in our thoughts every day as we took on this Munros challenge. We were thrilled to complete 22 Munros with Finn in four weeks and we enjoyed many great adventures."

The family were also raising money for Tommy's, a charity that funds research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature births.

"I have walked 207 Munros with Dad"

He's on 207 Munros, and counting... , 236 kb
He's on 207 Munros, and counting...
© Pattullo family

Marc Pattullo, a sixth year pupil at Blairgowrie High School, said: "I remember the first Munro. I was 11 and I walked Schiehallion in Perthshire with my dad and brother, Ross."

"We had asked dad if we could climb Ben Nevis and he said yes but we started with something a bit easier to see if we would manage it."

Today, Marc has bagged 207 Munros, all of them with Dad Gus. "Ross wasn't so keen and after the first few he stopped coming with us," said Gus, "but Marc has a real love of the Munros and he is as keen as I am to get out into the mountains."

The dad and son Munro baggers live in Coupar Angus and usually to do single day Munro outings rather than multi day. Gus said: "Marc has a paper round and also plays football for Coupar Angus Juniors U19s and Scotland U17s. He has his school work as well and he likes to get home after a Munro day for his tea!"

Marc in the Cuillin, 149 kb
Marc in the Cuillin
© Pattullo family

While the pair started with some of the easier Munros, these days it's the more challenging Munro hikes, especially ridges, that Marc relishes.

He said: "I really enjoyed Sgurr nan Gillean via Pinnacle Ridge and any of the classic ridge walks, such as Liathach, are brilliant. It's always good to challenge my limits."

"I loved Blaven on Skye, too, because of the view form the top and because we did it pretty quickly, almost running the whole way and that was great."

"I also like the Cairngorms because the Munros are often remote, yet they are not too far from home. I like to get home at the end of a day of Munro bagging."

Marc and Dad Gus, 132 kb
Marc and Dad Gus
© Pattullo family

"I like being outside and the feeling of being up high and very remote...", 137 kb
"I like being outside and the feeling of being up high and very remote..."
© Pattullo family

I met Marc and Gus while walking Liathach in Torridon. The pair clearly has a close bond and thoroughly enjoy each other's company. Gus said: "I like spending time outdoors with Marc and seeing him rise to the challenge of the Munros. He has grown in confidence, experience and ability over the years and I am proud to have been a part of this."

For Marc there are many reasons why he enjoys the Munros. He said: "I like being outside and the feeling of being up high and very remote. It's also an activity that my friends find unusual so I like that I am doing something different."

"I also like how it has made me fitter and stronger for other sports such as my football and running."

"As I have grown and become fitter the longer walks are definitely easier but I never really found the Munros that tough, even when I was younger. There is so much to see as you walk and I just really like the views."

The pair hope to 'compleat' on the same Munro.

Fours kids, 23 Munros and two encouraging parents

The four kids and Grandad on the Dalmally horseshoe, 187 kb
The four kids and Grandad on the Dalmally horseshoe
© Padmanbhan family

The Padmanbhan family from Bearsden, East Dunbartonshire, do not sit still. There are four children Mia, 13, Ali, 11, nine-year-old Nina and six-year-old Talia. Between them they run, cycle, swim and compete in triathlons. Mum Catriona enjoys ultra running and dad Neal is a mountain biker.

The three eldest children have also climbed 23 Munros each, while Talia has bagged 16 (but only because the other children had an "age headstart").

Nina, whose first Munro was Meal na Tarmachan at the age of just two, reckons her favourite Munro so far has been Beinn Narnain in the Arrochar Alps because "we climbed a hard scrambly route through the snow and it was sunny".

Nina said: "I like to climb Munros because it's exciting. It's nice to see the view and it keeps me fit."

"I don't have a mobile phone, iPad or Playstation so I prefer to be outside playing and doing sport. I would like to climb all the Munros sometime."

"I like to climb Munros because it's exciting. It's nice to see the view and it keeps me fit...", 195 kb
"I like to climb Munros because it's exciting. It's nice to see the view and it keeps me fit..."
© Padmanbhan family

Talia, who reveals her first Munro was Carn a'Gheoidh at Glenshee, confesses that she does find the climbing hard sometimes. She said: "I do get tired, but it's a good tired.

"My favourite Munro was Schiehallion because we walked up through clouds and then came out at the top above the clouds and into sunshine. It was a great day."

For Ali, doing the Munros is a good way to spend time with the family and get fit. He says: "I would like a Playstation but I don't have one and I think I would still prefer climbing and cycling if I had the choice."

"My favourite Munro so far was Cairngorm because it's the sixth highest in Scotland, so that is cool. That day was very sunny and the views over the northern corries were amazing. My ambition is to climb all 282 Munros."

For Catriona and Neal, walking Munros was a natural thing to do when they had their children. Neal said: "We've always enjoyed walking. Catriona and I climbed a lot before we had kids and we think there's no better way for a family to be together than outside in the fresh air on a hill."

"Occasionally they get a special day which they'll always remember, such as the temperature inversion on Schiehallion. It was magical and the kids still talk about it."

"There was another time when Mia, Ali and Nina climbed Ben Cruachan, with Catriona, myself and their papa, Ken. He was 72 and Nina was five. We doubted that there was a bigger age range on the mountain that day."

"Generally I think the kids all like the idea of the Munros being a challenge and that spurs them on."

Tips for Munro bagging families

Start easy: If you start with a Munro that is too hard, children will be put off immediately. So go easy at the beginning. Try a small local hill first and build up so they increase their stamina and confidence in the hills.

Less is more: Choose Munros that have a lesser vertical gain because they start quite high, such as Carn Aosda at Glenshee, Meall nan Tarmachan in the Ben Lawers range and Beinn na Lap at Corrour.

Weather window: Choose days that are more likely to offer good weather.

Be patient: You need to learn to walk at the pace of your child. Trying to push them on and making them at your grown-up speed will only end up with a tired and grumpy child. As they get fitter and older you will find the pace increases, and it could be they will out-walk you in the end.

Let them lead: Give children a bit of responsibility. Show then the direction and let them lead you. It might be at a slower pace but they will be more likely to keep going if they are ahead of you.

Kit lessons: Children are curious and like to learn. Show them how to use a map and compass and allow them to be interested in what kit to pack for a trip. They will have more enthusiasm if they are part of the process.

The right gear: Children get cold, wet and tired just like adults – and often more so – so do not try to cut corners and buy them cheap kit that is not up to the job. Make sure they have good quality walking boots and waterproof outer layers. Waterproof socks, such as Sealskinz, are brilliant because wet feet can ruin a walk. And always pack spare gloves and hats.

Give them a bag: Let children carry some of their own kit so they feel like an adult. You could add a few snacks, an old camera or small binoculars to a mini rucksack.

Stop and look: Children love to explore and look at things as they walk. Make the journey to the summit far more interesting by pointing out and looking at wildlife and geological features as you walk. So long as you are moving in generally the right direction you will make it in the end.

Take treats: This is less about bribery and more about making sure children have enough fuel as they walk. Hill climbing can burn up energy very quickly and a handful of jelly beans of jelly babies can be a great boost. You can give them nuts and dried fruit, too.

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