My Mountains - Munro Record Holder Hazel Strachan

© Craig Allardyce

Fiona Russell catches up with record breaking Munro bagger Hazel Strachan, who has recorded more rounds than any other woman - a staggering 10!

Last year, Hazel Strachan became the first woman and the fifth person to 'compleat' a 10th round of all 282 Munros. She summited Carn an Tuirc in Glenshee surrounded by friends on November 4th. By 2015, Hazel had taken the mantle as a record-breaking Munroist when she became the first woman to climb the most rounds of Munros, seven. She has walked a round of Munros each year since.

Hazel, of Bathgate, says: "I love climbing, camping and bivvying on the Munros – and walking them in different seasons and by different routes. I just keep climbing them and now I am on to my 11th Munro round."

Celebrating completing her 10th round in November 2018  © Craig Allardyce
Celebrating completing her 10th round in November 2018
© Craig Allardyce

Hazel and her husband Ian own a motorhome, which makes it easier to travel to the geographically spread Munros. She says:

"The motorhome allows Ian and I to go away together. In many ways, it's comfier and more fun than living in a house. We've even spent many Christmas days sitting in laybys opening our presents."

Ian offers loyal support to his wife's hiking endeavours. Hazel, who is an agricultural scientist for the Scottish Government, says:

"Ian is retired and he is my back-up team. His job description is CATS, in charge of Cooking, Accommodation, Transport and is he also my Secretary when required. He's not an outdoorsy person and is quite happy sitting in the motorhome reading books while I'm up the Munros. He'll drop me off or pick me up from the start or the end of a ridge when required. When I'm away camping or bivvying on my own, Ian will be at home having a weekend to himself."

Hazel is a great promoter of the Munros on social media networks, and well followed on Twitter and Instagram.

She says: "I use social media to document my hill trips. I want to get across to other people that it is possible to do a round of Munros in a short time scale, without resorting to walking in filthy weather or having to compromise safety in doing do. As a solo walker, I hope women take away from my posts that they are safe and that they are more than capable to be by themselves in the hills. I hear too many stories about women not feeling confident about going out by themselves."

"I love hearing stories from women who I have inspired to get out in the mountains."

What is your first memory of walking in the hills?

I remember sitting below some cliffs in the mist on Stac Pollaidh, near Ullapool in north-west Scotland, when I was seven years old. I was with mum, dad and my twin sister Heather. The experience wasn't a game changer to encourage me into the hills and the place was gloomy in the mist, so far away from anything I had experienced before. However, I do remember marvelling at the silkiness of the cotton grasses lower down the hill.

There is a big family connection to Ullapool. Grandpa had business interests in the town and he also grew strawberry plants for their runners on land by Loch Broom. These were sold at the Royal Highland Show in the 1950s. We had a few holidays there as kids and my sister bought a book on seashells from The Captain's Cabin. Every time she opened the book it rained!

Beside the Alatna River, Alaska, 100 miles from the nearest road  © Stacie Staufenberg
Beside the Alatna River, Alaska, 100 miles from the nearest road
© Stacie Staufenberg

Who introduced you to the joys of the great outdoors?

I grew up on a farm with a 100-acre "back garden" to explore, which led on to the Pentland Hills and expanded to another 20 miles radius. My parents never seemed to worry about Heather or myself when we were out on walks. I guess, when you grow up on a farm, you can't escape the outdoors.

I was also fortunate to attend Currie High School in the 1980s. Edinburgh had an excellent outdoor education programme and all students were introduced to a wide range of outdoor pursuits as part of the curriculum. We were lucky to have a designated teacher, Mrs Chris Edgar, who taught me to use a compass and navigate. I sometimes wonder what she would make of my 10 Munro rounds.

When did you realise you would be a keen life-long walker?

It just happened. Becoming interested in the Munros was sparked because the mountains of Scotland was a new habitat for searching for species of wild flowers.

Both Heather and I were members of The Wild Flower Society and we were logging all the wild flower and grass species that we found when we were in primary school. Walking over hills simply developed into climbing Munros.

Do you prefer coast, hills, moorland or mountain ridges?

Mountain ridges, although I love wandering over wide, wide open plateaus as well.

"Walking by myself has made me into a happy and confident woman" - A solo winter bivvy in the Fannaichs  © Hazel Strachan
"Walking by myself has made me into a happy and confident woman" - A solo winter bivvy in the Fannaichs
© Hazel Strachan

Are you a fair weather or any weather walker?

I'm an "any weather" walker although I'll not set off if it's pouring with rain. There is always good weather somewhere, but maybe not where you planned to go.

What are your three all-time favourite hill or mountain walks, and why?

I have so many favourite Munros. I have favourite ones in different seasons and there is so much variety in the nature of the Scottish landscape.

If I have to choose, my favourite is the Beinn Dearg group of four Munros from Inverlael. This includes Beinn Dearg, Cona' Mheall, Meall nan Ceapraichean and Eididh nan Clach Geala. I love this walk in both summer and winter.

It's a big undertaking in winter in a day of short light but worth the early start to walk in by headtorch. The views are stunning over to Assynt and Coigach all the way round to the Fannaichs. Each Munro has a distinct character to it.

My second choice is a winter snowshoeing walk from Laggan Dam across Beinn a' Chaorainn, Creag Meagaidh, Stob Poite Coire Ardair and Carn Liath to Aberarder. It's been a highlight of many winters for me.

I wait for some settled weather from mid February to early April for this walk to get good visibility and good consolidated snow. The views are stunning from the big plateau over to hundreds of summits.

I like long days out on the hill so my third all-time favourite walk is wandering over the three Munros of Luinne Bheinn, Meall Buidhe and Ladhar Bheinn from Barrisdale Bay. This has to be done on an early autumnal day as the colours of the landscape are changing. It's such a beautiful setting. There is a great feeling of remoteness and the views are tremendous.

A bivvy on Buachaille Etive Beag  © Hazel Strachan
A bivvy on Buachaille Etive Beag
© Hazel Strachan

Is the night-time a good time to go walking?

Yes, especially in a snowy landscape. It's amazing how much light reflects off the snow on a moonlit night. It's a special experience, thrilling and extremely beautiful. The landscape is simplified and nothing prepares you for the sheer beauty of it.

Have you ever been lucky to avoid / escape a difficult situation in the mountains?

I have very few tales of things going wrong when I'm up the Munros by myself.

Your perfect walking partner?

Me. I love walking solo. Of the 2826 Munros that have made up my 10 Munro rounds I've climbed 2625 of them solo.

Walking by myself has made me into a happy and confident woman. I feel I engaged with my surroundings more when I'm by myself. I have time to think and reflect about stuff. Solo walking took a bit of a leap of faith at first, but I feel like I've never looked back!

Boots, trail shoes, wellies or barefoot?

Boots; always boots for Munros. You can keep your trail shoes for trails.

How do you navigate?

Map and compass are my preferences for mountain navigation. I do have a GPS unit but it is rarely used. My phone is for phoning my friends and family, it's not a navigational tool. I've registered my phone with 999 to send emergency texts for help when there is no phone signal.

What three items are always in your rucksack?

Food, water and waterproofs.

Your favourite walking food/s?

Fry's Turkish Delight.

What goes in your pack as a guilty secret?!

More Fry's Turkish Delight.

If you could only pick one area of Britain to walk in, where would it be?

The north west Highlands. There are so many amazing mountains and lochs to explore.

What is your ultimate walking heaven?

The Brooks Range in northern Alaska equals heaven. Even getting to the start of an adventure by float plane, or small plane with "tundra tyres", is a thrill.

I've been to Alaska twice - I was there 25 years ago for a whole summer in which I adventured all over the state. I returned in summer 2018 for a trek into the spectacular Arrigetch Peaks and a paddle down a section of the Alatna River before being picked up by float plane. It was a wonderful wilderness experience.

If someone could foot the bills for chartering a small plane or two I'd love another trip in the Brooks Range, whether walking or by kayak or packraft.

I'm currently planning a more affordable trip of a solo paddle of almost 1000 miles down the Yukon from Whitehorse in Yukon Territory, Canada, to the Yukon Crossing of the Dalton Highway (Ice Road Truckers) 120 miles north of Fairbanks in Alaska for June 2020.

Will you be walking until you are 103?

Of course!

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