Bagging Series

Jenny Hatfield is 1st Woman to Complete the Marilyns

On Sunday 25th September, north of England-based walker Jenny Hatfield became the first female to finish Britain's toughest hill list. The 1556 Marilyns are defined by having a drop of at least 150m on all sides. They include all the highest summits of Scotland, Wales and England, 236 island peaks and even two sea stacks in the remote St.Kilda archipelago.

Jenny and Rick's final Marilyn top   © Rick Salter
Jenny and Rick's final Marilyn top
© Rick Salter

"The list is great because it covers the whole of the UK, with hills of all sizes, and a huge range of character. It's a massive list too, but not so big as to be unachievable" said Jenny.

She proved it could be done at the weekend, finishing on the summit Cruinn a'Bheinn (632m), near Ben Lomond, with her partner Rick Salter, who simultaneously became the 9th man to complete the Marilyns. Needless to say, they are the first Marilynist couple.

Cruinn a' Bheinn also happens to be their final Graham tick (Scottish hills between 2000-2499 feet). Jenny is already no stranger to the art of bagging, having previously completed the Munros, the Corbetts, the Wainwrights and the Birketts.

Cape Wrath bog crossing  © Rick Salter
Cape Wrath bog crossing
© Rick Salter
Descending Leum Uilleim  © Rick Salter
Descending Leum Uilleim
© Rick Salter

"It's a great feeling to have climbed all 1556 Marilyns" says Jenny.

"There's a sense of relief after all those strenuous climbs, but also regret that such an amazing adventure is finished. To be joined by so many of our hill-bagging friends made the final hill so special. A big thank-you to everyone there. Not to forget Alan Dawson, whose book "The Relative Hills of Britain" was the start of it all."

The Marilyns were first listed in Alan Dawson's 1992 book The Relative Hills of Britain, and have since become a lifetime's ambition for the more avid breed of hill-bagger. Rob Woodall and Eddie Dealtry were the first to climb them all, finishing in 2014 on Stac Lee, the most technically difficult of the 1556 - see this interview on UKH.

For their final Marilyn Jenny and Rick were joined by a big group of hillwalking friends, who helped celebrate their massive achievement.

"Hill-bagging days are often tough either due to poor weather, or difficult terrain. When doing the Marilyns both often conspire against you!" says Jenny.

Stac an Armin and Boreray  © Rick Salter
Stac an Armin and Boreray
© Rick Salter

The state of the sea is a factor too. Jenny spotted a chance to become the first woman Marilynist when she climbed the St Kilda sea stacks last October. These are the UK's highest sea stacks, and situated 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides, their remoteness and the sheer difficulty of landing and ascent makes them both the logistical and the technical crux of any Marilyn completion. Getting them in the bag removed the major hurdle in Jenny's path.

"At that time I still had nearly 500 Marilyns to climb" she said.

"I worked on the plan and realised that by devoting myself full-time to hill bagging, I could aim to finish within a year, which would give me a good chance of being the first woman Marilynist."

This push to complete the list has been physically demanding, she admits. Over the last year Jenny estimates she has climbed 243,000m and covered a distance of some 5370km on foot (and nearly three times that in transit - see below).

We got in touch with Jenny to find out more about her achievement

UKH: Did you start seriously bagging Marilyns at the same time, as a couple? How long have you been at it? And did you climb the majority of them together, or is it just a lucky coincidence that you'll be finishing simultaneously?

Jenny: Rick and I first met 11 years ago at the Youth Hostel in Killin. I was there to plan for my final Munro walk on Meall nan Tarmachan, and Rick had recently completed his Munros on An Teallach. So we had that in common from the start. It was a natural progression to set about working our way through the Corbetts, which we finished together on Beinn Resipol in 2013. Meantime, I had been aware of the Marilyns for a few years before we met, and introduced Rick to them. We were both keen to achieve the 600 Marilyn target, which qualifies you to become a "Hall of Fame" member, so we began seriously seeking out and climbing our missing Marilyns in the north of England and the Scottish borders. We reached the 600 target on Eildon Mid Hill in December 2011. Over the years we got to know a lot of people with a similar interest in climbing the Marilyns, via the Marilyn Hall of Fame Group, and this inspired us to focus on our Marilyn bagging more intensely. Together we climbed Earl's Seat, our 1000th Marilyn in April 2015. So it is absolutely no coincidence that we will be finishing together.

The Cuillin from An Cruachan  © Rick Salter
The Cuillin from An Cruachan
© Rick Salter

What attracts you to bagging as a pursuit, rather than the more aimless sort of hill wandering?

I have always enjoyed setting myself tough challenges, and so the idea of climbing all the hills in a list is appealing. I enjoy researching new areas and planning potential routes. Having a list to work away at provides a focus and the incentive to push oneself that bit harder!

What's so special about the Marilyns as a target?

It's a list that covers the whole of Britain for a start. To walk all the Marilyns you need to travel to such far flung destinations as Cornwall, the Isle of Wight, Anglesey, The Shetland Isles, the Mull of Kintyre, St Kilda...the list goes on and the variety is amazing. I've travelled all over Britain bagging Marilyns and had a great deal of enjoyment seeing so much of our lovely landscape.

But I think it's the hugeness of the challenge that's particularly special. The sheer physical and psychological effort involved to complete such a massive target.

Are there many days on which you can do loads of ticks relatively easily, like the Munros, or do they tend to be more isolated and Corbett-like in their groupings?

Because the hills all have a prominence of at least 150m they are well defined, individual summits, and therefore it is usually difficult to link them in a walk.

Do you have any favourites from the list?

It's tricky thinking of favourites when the list is so long and it's taken so many years to finish. Enjoyment of the hills can also be very dependent on weather conditions! However, island Marilyns tend to be high on my list of favourites. Recently Carn a'Ghaill, the high point on Canna gave a beautiful walk up through heather clad crags to the top with views across to the mountains of Rum. Good days in winter can be very special. Perfect snow conditions on Marsco made for a spectacular trip one New Year's Day. Remoteness adds an extra challenge and sense of achievement. Beinn a'Chaisgein Mor above Carnmore Bothy comes to mind! Bla Bheinn on Skye with its fantastic view of the Black Cuillin. And my local Marilyn Blencathra, which I have climbed many times.

Was bagging on St Kilda a particularly unusual experience?

St Kilda is such a beautiful, awe-inspiring group of islands, each with its own unique character. Apart from on Hirta, the main island, there are no jetties or even beaches, just sheer rocky coastline, so simply getting ashore is the first obstacle. It took a lot of nerve to take that leap onto the rocks from the small tender. The islands are 40 miles out into the Atlantic so there is always a swell. Timing is critical. It's often impossible to land for that reason. The three smaller islands of Boreray, Soay and An Dun all threw up their own challenges: slippery, sheer, sea washed slabs, extraordinarily steep grass slopes, exposed scrambles, loose scree and rock. But even more daunting were the two sea stacks, Stac an Armin and Stac Lee, the highest sea stacks in Britain, both of which need full climbing gear for the ascent. I had to call upon all my strength, both physical and mental, to reach the summits of these.

Jenny bagging Marilyns in the northwest highlands  © Rick Salter
Jenny bagging Marilyns in the northwest highlands
© Rick Salter

In the pursuit of all 1556 you must have had some real stand-out moments?

Reaching the top of Stac Lee has to be the stand out moment. Twelve of us made it to the top that day: the result of an extremely well planned and coordinated expedition, great teamwork on the day, and the superb boat skills of Seumas the skipper.

What was it like being a full-time hillwalker for a whole year? Did you ever get tired or injured, and were there times when motivation was a problem?

It was surprising just how time consuming the whole project was. There was little time for much else after the planning and travelling, apart from walk, eat and sleep!

We had some times when the weather was really bad for days on end. Before Christmas there was one storm after another, with torrential rain and wind. Storm Abigail, Desmond, Eva and Frank – the list just went on. And the weather in Scotland from July this year has been very unsettled, while the rest of the UK has seemingly been basking in glorious sunshine.

I had problems with energy levels, particularly further on into the project. I found it hard to eat enough to pack in all the calories needed for those big hill days, day after day.

And I had a lot of problems with sore feet for one reason or another, but I didn't let that stop me from getting the hills climbed.

I was always motivated to finish the list within the 12 months and that is what kept me going out each day, even when I felt tired or the weather was dreadful.

I guess it involved a lot of travel over the year: Were the remaining summits dotted all over the UK, or had you already tactically mopped up some areas in previous years?

I estimate we drove about 15,000km. We had some hills in Wales, but most in Scotland, including a good number on islands. So we also used ferries and took a couple of flights too out to Fair Isle and Foula. Getting out to the islands with no ferry service took a great deal of organising. We even kayaked to one of them, Seaforth Island on Lewis. In April we invested in a campervan to help us with the problem of finding accommodation where we needed it, and it also meant we could be more efficient with travelling. We made good use of our two ancient mountain bikes, sometimes cycling for an hour or two up a rough trackinto a remote glen before even starting on the climbing.

Are there any other women close to completing the Marilyns, to your knowledge?

I know of three others who are all very close. But they have yet to climb the St Kildan sea stacks.

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