UKH

Mountain Air


Overview

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.

6. Rob Woodall, Britain's Greatest Peak Bagger?

In an interview recorded back in November 2021, Dan Aspel meets a man with perhaps more summits on his CV than anyone else in the country... if not the world.


Rob Woodall may be the most prolific hillwalker in history. That's because he has spent the past 40 years systematically completing pretty much every list of peaks, tops, prominences and trig points in existence.

On Nevado Cayambe, Ecuador  © Rob Woodall collection
On Nevado Cayambe, Ecuador
© Rob Woodall collection

Putting to one side the popular lifetime achievements of the Munros, the Corbetts, the Wainwrights and such; he's summited all 1,556 "Marilyns" (UK peaks with a relative prominence of 150m), touched at least 6,190 trig points, and even stood atop all 2,271 "TUMPs" on the Welsh mainland (a deeply esoteric list of raised ground with Thirty and Upward Metre Prominences).

Taking on something when you don't know if it's possible or not… you get a real buzz when it's complete

Since recently semi-retiring his ambitions have even turned to the list of global "Ultra" peaks, which are those with a topographic prominence of 1,500m. There are 119 in Europe (not including the Matterhorn or the Eiger whose high cols preclude them), none in Britain (poor Ben Nevis), and so far at least 1,515 have been identified across the world. Nobody has come close to completing this list, and Rob doesn't believe they are "realistically complete-able by anybody". But he's still quietly ticking them off.

On St Kilda's Stac an Armin, one of the less accessible spots in the British Isles  © Pete Ellis
On St Kilda's Stac an Armin, one of the less accessible spots in the British Isles
© Pete Ellis

His achievements haven't gone unnoticed, and it's likely that you will have read about him in the outdoor press, including on this very website (see below).

But so many questions remain. How has he achieved such incredible hillbagging feats whilst being based in the lowland city of Peterborough? Has his lifelong career in civil engineering given him the map-savvy skills to achieve his goals? How does he endure so much driving? What kit does he wear when he's out in the hills? Is there any moment of his spare time that isn't spent hunting down summits? How do you access a sea stack? Can microspikes keep you from slipping on guano? Is he aware of quite how bonkers the whole thing seems to those outside the hobby?

Approaching Tapuae summit, New Zealand  © Petter Bjorstad
Approaching Tapuae summit, New Zealand
© Petter Bjorstad

All this and more in Mountain Air episode 6:

Podcast timestamps

00:00 - Introduction

02:02 - Welcome, "mind-bending achievements"

03:57 - Defining the hill-bagging lists (Rob's done them all)

09:22 - "Anything which sticks out of the ground in Britain… you've stood on top of?"

10:17 - *2021

14:17 - Starting a hill-bagging career in his early 20s, opening up further ticklists (birds, botany)

18:02 - A friendly rivalry with Ken Whyte (who sadly passed away after this interview was recorded, see his obituary here: https://www.peakbagger.com/climber/climber.aspx?cid=7239), the camaraderie of chartering boats with fellow baggers to reach isolated island peaks, cake, whiskey and parties on the tops

20:12 - "It's not the sort of number that you can get to accidentally"

22:32 - The practicalities of bagging: sleeping in the car, keeping up fitness, mountain running the "Big Three" rounds

27:37 - Bagging the 6,200+ Trig Pillars ("they keep disappearing, a few get re-found which is always exciting")

32:02 - … nuclear sub base… critical assets that are "rather well defended… 20 years ago the fences were very different"

34:02 - Coping with mammoth amounts of driving: "I'm a big fan of Radio 4"

36:32 - Favourite parts of the UK hills and "spectacularly wet days"

40:22 - Sea stacks, gannet colonies, the October "sweet spot" and microspikes

47:32 - "I'm pretty obsessive, yeah…"

48:32 - Praising the Buffalo Teclite and various phone apps

51:42 - The global "ultras" (1,500m prominence)... which aren't "realistically completable by anybody"

56:17 - Using local guides

60:32 - "Taking on something when you don't know if it's possible or not… you get a real buzz when it's complete."

62:02 - Greatest mountain memory… Mount Odin in British Columbia "you can't really see it from anywhere… it's grizzly bear country"

64:32 - All the time, money, freedom… what do you do? Disappear into the Andes for a number of months

With Ken Whyte in St Kilda  © Bob Kerr
With Ken Whyte in St Kilda
© Bob Kerr

Bob Graham Round support duty with Yiannis Tridimas  © Rob Woodall collection
Bob Graham Round support duty with Yiannis Tridimas
© Rob Woodall collection

Read more about Rob on UKHillwalking.com:

Note: as there have been a number of months in-between recording and publication, the ever-thorough Rob would like to point out that…

  • The newly created North Northants unitary authority's top is a new hill! See Mill Hill
  • There's not even a Hump in East Anglia (there are none east of Northampton's Arbury Hill)
  • He is now 62
  • Elbrus, for obvious reasons, is no longer in his current climbing plans
  • The Africa trip mentioned near the end of the interview was not feasible due to COVID restrictions

photo
At Sanda Island trig point
© Janet Munro


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). Dan has teamed up with UKHillwalking to produce a new series, his second, and we'll be publishing regular episodes over the next few months. You can listen to the ten episodes of his first series here:

Website: mountainairpodcast.uk

Instagram: @mountainairpodcast

Twitter: @MtnAirPod

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