Mountain Air


Mountain Air is a podcast about outdoor people. In this series, produced especially for UKHillwalking, Dan Aspel talks with a range of fascinating interviewees, from unlikely adventurers and high achieving enthusiasts, to dedicated professionals in the outdoor industry. Each episode focuses on a different individual with a unique tale to tell. They all have one thing in common: a love of places high, wild, and free.

13. Jamie Aarons, Fastest Munroist in History

On 26 June 2023 Jamie Aarons became the fastest person ever to have completed a self-propelled round of the Munros. She covered more than 2,576km of ground by foot, bike and kayak - in doing so recording an eye-watering 140,000m of ascent. The entire round of Scotland's 282 highest peaks took her just 31 days, 10 hours and 27 minutes.

It took minimal sleep, maximum endurance, and a healthy sense of humour  © Jamie Aarons collection
It took minimal sleep, maximum endurance, and a healthy sense of humour
© Jamie Aarons collection

… but all of this you may already know from reading UKHillwalking's coverage of the achievement as it happened:

I knew I could cope well with sleep deprivation. But this isn't something I could just get up and decide to do. It was a long time in the planning

Jamie and the 'Fluffs' on Knoydart  © Alex Kane
Jamie and the 'Fluffs' on Knoydart
© Alex Kane

What you won't know, however, is the story direct from Jamie herself. That's why we sought her out - during a lunch break from her day job in social care - for the latest episode of Mountain Air.

In this hour-long interview, Jamie explains how she feels after such a mammoth undertaking, her motivations for attempting it in the first place, and just what it took - both from her and from her extensive support team - to claim such an astonishing record.

Team effort on Sgurr an Doire Leathain 23:05  © Jamie Aarons collection
Team effort on Sgurr an Doire Leathain 23:05
© Jamie Aarons collection

High spirits on Ben Hope, the end in sight  © Jamie Aarons collection
High spirits on Ben Hope, the end in sight
© Jamie Aarons collection

Underpinning it all was a ridiculously amazing team. I wanted it to be a shared experience

So, if you've ever wondered about how powerful the "micronap" can be, whether it's possible to fit a challenge like this into your annual leave, just how inspirational a force an army of friends and well-wishers can be, which Microsoft Office product is key to tackling a Munro speed challenge, what it is that draws outdoor people to the Highlands from across the globe, or if "hating running with a bit of a passion" precludes you from winning an ultra race… you've come to the right place.

Jamie at Loch Monar  © Paul Wilson
Jamie at Loch Monar
© Paul Wilson

All this and much more in Mountain Air, Episode 13:

It's surreal to think how much we packed into that month. I was delighted to get the record!

She's very much at home in the Scottish hills  © Alex Kane
She's very much at home in the Scottish hills
© Alex Kane

Podcast timestamps

00:00 - Introduction.

03:14 - Welcome, fastest ever self-propelled Munro record, "it's all still a bit surreal", feeling "quite lethargic, a little less narcoleptic", falling asleep during meals, an overview of the challenge.

07:40 - Sleeping "considerably less" than four hour a night, the skill of "micronaps" for periods as little as 60 seconds.

11:24 - A 2,576km route… and other stats, "the terrain isn't conveyed in those stats - not every kilometre is equal… the most efficient route was to connect many hills in ways that are not commonly done (or never done)". An "incredibly special" challenge.

14:04 - What does it take to complete such a challenge? The "glimmer of maybe". A lifetime of building endurance. The enjoyment of the planning, spreadsheets, friends and logistics, "coming to grips with new aspects of Excel".

17:20 - "Underpinning it all was knowing that I had this ridiculously amazing team behind me… that two years of planning was gathering an army of friends and strangers".

18:12 - Gathering supporters. A hiking challenge, not a running one, a "continuously putting one foot in front of the other challenge". An overview of the support involved.

22:20 - "Lots of chat… it was about sharing time on the hills with friends old and new… it's a lot easier to take a 60 second nap when there's someone hovering over you, waiting to wake you up".

23:20 - "Even before we started we'd made what I knew were lifelong friendships through the planning. Even if we hadn't been successful, there's success in finding these kindred spirits of cyclists and hillwalkers".

26:40 - The sport of "dot watching Jamie"... "a bit overwhelming, but incredibly motivating".

28:28 - Growing up as a competitive swimmer, life in California, University in Chicago, living in New Zealand's South Island, moving to Scotland in 2005. Starting a career in social work. 

31:00 - Praising the "right to roam", being an "outdoors person".

35:30 - "I never ran growing up, I hated it with a bit of a passion", building up the tenacity and endurance to win ultra races. Running the West Highland Way in a day because it wasn't clear if it were possible or not.

38:43 - Comparing ultra-running and social work.

42:00 - Greatest Mountain Memory: on the challenge, in the Fannichs with friends, inspiring a daughter's 13-year-old daughter to "storm ahead", "it so reflected in that moment what I'd hoped to create in the challenge… it brought tears to my eyes then". 

45:50 - All the time, money, freedom… where would you go and what would you do? Getting into bike-packing, using the bike to enable travel abroad. Raising money for World Bicycle Relief and seeing their work. 

47:25 - How can someone break this record? "I don't doubt the record will be broken by someone that can move over ground more efficiently… but what we've greatest otherwise is here to stay".

48:55 - Future plans: being a "dedicated support person for the short to medium-term… I'm literally not allowed to say no".

An in-tents experience all round  © Jamie Aarons collection
An in-tents experience all round
© Jamie Aarons collection

Interview recorded 05/07/23

Mountain Air

Mountain Air podcast is made, recorded, hosted, edited, released and occasionally sworn at by Dan Aspel (he didn't, however, do the theme tune). This is the third series Dan has produced, and the second to be made in partnership with UKHillwalking. We'll be publishing regular episodes over the next few months.


Instagram: @mountainairpodcast

Twitter: @MtnAirPod

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