True Highlands Blog
One of the most popular pass-times in the Highlands is the pursuit of Munro bagging (hiking to the summit of mountains over 3000ft). To an outsider it can seem a daunting hobby to break into. There is a jargon and a set of unwritten rules that are vaguely intimidating, as well as the safety warnings that can be very off-putting. Here is a basic introduction that will hopefully de-mystify the art of munro-ing a bit and provide a few tips on where to get started.
In 1891 Sir Hugo Munro decided to compile a list of all the mountains in Scotland over 3,000 feet. The original Munro tables have had a few revisions over the years but essentially have remained the same with 282 peaks reaching Munro status. A complete round of all of them is the goal of many hill walkers and usually takes years of dedication.
Baggers usually fall into one of two camps. The first are those who use the list of Munros as a guide to help them plan their weekend activities. These people view the summit as a bonus and are more interested in having an enjoyable day out in the hills than in ticking a box on a spreadsheet. The second group are more obsessive and view completion of all summits as the most important thing. This can mean braving all the challenging conditions that the Highlands can throw at you; rain, hail and wind for 14 hours or more just to say you have reached the top of an obscure hill in a remote part of the country, even though the mist was so bad you couldn’t see a thing for the entire day. Some people run up Munros, others drag their mountain bike up for a chance of a challenging trail on the way down, but what all munroists have in common, is their appreciation of the joy that being in the Scottish mountains can bring.
Recent outdoor access legislation has reinforced the idea that Scotland’s mountains really are for everyone, but this comes with a caveat. Unlike mountains in Switzerland for example, the hills in the Highlands are relatively untouched. There are often no paths, no way markers and very little signs of civilisation. Self-sufficiency and navigation skill are therefore essential pre-requisites.
Outdoor gear companies, in a quest to sell you the latest essential piece of kit, can leave you with the impression that you must invest thousands in brand new gear, before embarking on any outdoor adventure. In truth, when you look at what the original pioneers of the sport wore, you will realise that you can be safe and comfortable without breaking the bank. A decent pair of boots, trousers that are not denim, a waterproof jacket, and a bag with a few supplies including a map and a compass (and the knowledge to use them) and you are off. This is the bare minimum for a summer day out and only experience will teach you exactly what works best for you. I have run up Munros in shorts and trainers carrying little more than a map, but equally enjoyed slogging my way over the grey Corries in winter with an enormous backpack containing enough food for a week. One of the attractions of this sport is that there are no hard and fast rules you have to obey.
So, now you have the inclination to climb a mountain here are a few suggestions to get you started. Be warned though, a couple of hills can lead to a full on addiction that can very easily consume the entirety of your free time and a considerable amount of your spare money.
Schiehallion is located in what is known as the geographical centre of Scotland. It has easy access from both Edinburgh and Glasgow for a day trip and is a perfect place to begin your Munro adventures. The mountain itself is a majestic cone which seems to rise out of nowhere and the views from the summit on a clear day are disproportionate to the small effort engaged in summiting. Access is straightforward with a recently constructed path leaving from the Braes of Foss car park just north of Aberfeldy. Because of its accessibility and relatively short up and down time of 4-6 hours this is often climbed in the evenings on long summer days. Watching the sun set as you descent is a truly magical Munro experience.
The Five Sisters of Kintail is a step up in terms of adventure, effort and accessibility. Navigation is fairly straightforward here. From close to the camp site at Morvich, you ascend to the ridge that dominated the skyline of Glen Shiel as you drive past. The best part of the day is to be spent following the ridge line, before dropping back into the glen on the far side and returning to your start point via a landrover path in Glen Lichd. Because of the peculiarities of Munro rules, only 3 of the five sisters count as summits but it’s a great adventure to get you used to longer days out on the hill without tricky map reading.
Ben Wyvis is another cracking hill for those new to the Munro game. Experienced baggers often complain of its isolation as it is difficult to combine with other summits on the same day and also the fact that it is not very technical. In fact, the easy gradient to the summit seems to go on forever. This however makes it perfect for those starting out. You can park your car at a reasonable height and have a relaxed day out with fantastic views before returning back to Dingwall for some well-earned refreshment. It is also possible to do this one with a bike and public transport which makes it a great choice for teenagers inspired by their Duke of Edinburgh award to do something independently.
No mention of the Munros would be complete without a mention of the Cuillin. This awe inspiring ridge comprises 12 Munros and dominates the drive through Skye. Make no mistake, to complete the ridge is a major undertaking and takes most people 2-3 days as the terrain is technical and the navigation difficult. The highlight of any traverse must be the Inn Pinn or ‘inaccessible pinnacle’ which is the only Munro in the country where you will need technical rock climbing experience and equipment to summit. It is for this reason that many baggers leave this one as their last. Despite this, there is a lot of fun to be had by the beginner here. The ridge can be accessed from a number of different spots and this means it is possible to get up onto the ridge, bag a couple of summits and retreat without having to commit to traversing the entire thing. From Glen Brittle you can be up Sgurr na Banachdich and be back in plenty of time for dinner at the Sligachan Hotel, where you will in all likelihood be in the company of many other happy hillwalkers.
The sun is shining, so go on, what are you waiting for?ben lomond, Ben Nevis, ben wyvis, cuillin ridge, Cuillins, five sisters of kintail, guide to hillwalking, mountaineering, munro bagging, munro climbing, munro mountains, scottish hills