I decided that climbing all of Scotland’s munros would be a lifetime ambition of mine fifteen years ago and am now over the moon that I’ve finally made it !
Compleating the munros is no mean feat. For a start, there are 282 mountains in Scotland over 3000 feet (914 metres). They might seem small in international terms but once you appreciate that many rise directly from sea level (rather than from high passes) then this starts to put things into perspective. The next factor to bear in mind is Scotland’s weather (the UK is a small island and does not have a relatively stable continental climate). As the song goes, it’s not unusual to have four seasons in one day – benign valley conditions combined with hail or snow at Munro level. Finally, Scottish mountain climbing is not without it’s dangers; around ten people die each year in winter conditions.
For me, climbing the munros was a means of getting to know Scotland: my own backyard. I’ve visited peaks, ridges, glens and lochs that most Scots don’t even know exist, and enjoyed wildlife and wild places without another soul to be seen. I was also inspired to climb them by my Dad, who climbed fewer than thirty before he passed away at the young age of 63, and would have dearly loved to have climbed more. So it’s to my Dad I dedicate my round of the munros.
For my final Munro – Beinn Sgritheall – family and a work colleague joined me for a party weekend at Glenelg, on the north west coast close to the Isle of Skye and Knoydart, the remotest corner of Scotland. There is a great variety of ‘last munros’ with Ben More (Mull) and Beinn an Lap (Loch Ossian) being the current most popular (see my post on most popular last munros).
So why did I choose Beinn Sgritheall ? First, it was the mountain that Sir Hugh Munro (the instigator of the Munro list in the 1920s) considered had the best views of all. Second, it’s a fairly short, single hill (on paper anyway … read on …) which I thought would be suitable for non-hill climbing friends and family.
So over the last 15 years I’ve:
- Climbed 282 summits over 120 days’ walking
- Walked 145,000 metres of ascent (the equivalent of climbing Everest 18 times) and cycled 160 miles to reach the hills
- Climbed 76% of the summits alone and 24% with others
- Spent 22 nights under canvas including 14 nights wild camping
- Only climbed 2 munros twice (since I set my goal early on and carefully planned out my trips to make the most of the 7 or 8 days I spent walking each year).
A crowd of us celebrated my last Munro with a great weekend walking, camping and wild swimming in Glenelg and Skye. We ended up camping on the front lawn of the excellent Glenelg Inn, with the bar approximately 20 yards behind us and the beach 20 yards in front of us ! We were blessed with fine weather and good views from the campsite over the water to Skye.
We drove round the coast to Arnisdale, almost at the road end, to the start of the walk, having deposited one car at the end of the walk 3km back along the road. The path soon gained height giving great views over Arnisdale, Loch Hourn and Knoydart. Initially we made good time with everyone in a buoyant mood. After a brief respite it became steeper and the pace began to slow and we stopped for lunch at the bealach beside a lochan.
This is where the walk began to get ‘eventful’. The third section of the ascent became even steeper still which put two in our party way beyond their comfort zone. Not only was it incredibly steep but the loose scree (Beinn Sgritheall in Gaelic means “hill of scree”) and views directly down to sea level were scary for those with a fear of heights.
We finally reached the east summit which gave a good view to the main summit. Unfortunately an exposed, narrow ridge separated the two – only 5 metres or so long – but it was enough to mean that reaching the summit would not be possible for those with vertigo. After making the difficult decision for one group to retrace their steps and miss out on the summit celebrations we took a final group photo then pressed on for the final pull to the top.
The summit of Beinn Sgritheall gives amazing views in all directions, from Barrisdale Bay in Knoydart (where I kayaked last year to climb Ladhar Bheinn) to the islands of Eigg, Rum and Skye.
We cracked open the champagne – of course – and enjoyed a selection of celebratory tray bakes, spending a good while soaking up the views. The fog that had clung to the summits had largely lifted and while a little hazy, the views were fantastic. Amazingly there was hardly any wind – t-shirt weather.
We descended northwest down to the lochan at the bealach before taking a sketchy path steeply downhill. Initially this was straightforward but then entered birch trees and waist-high bracken, before we finally lost the path altogether and had to make a beeline to the road down steep, uneven and heathery slopes. For me this was the worst part of the whole walk. However, my nephew who had not been feeling great since morning had to stop several times to be sick on the descent, and my 8 year old son became increasingly exhausted, particularly on the final section. With our many stops and slow pace for much of the descent it ended up being a nine hour walk rather than the six to seven hours I’d estimated.
After being reunited with the group who had not made it to the summit we drove back to Arnisdale to retrieve the rest of the vehicles and were were more than ready to get back to the Glenelg Inn ! We’d previously organised a buffet tea (which was rather cold by this time…) and tucked in – and enjoyed a few beers and whiskies. The evening was finished off with another fire at our campsite.
So all in all it had ended up being a fairly long and eventful walk. Had I realised how steep and exposed certain sections actually are I clearly wouldn’t have saved Beinn Sgritheall until my last Munro – or at least have suggested that it wasn’t suitable for everyone. However the guidebooks gloss over these facts; there’s a guidebook for Munro climbers and their spouses who suffer from vertigo to be written I’m absolutely sure … Most hillwalkers (me included) relish narrow ridges and airy pinnacles but often forget that this certainly isn’t for everyone.
However, for me at least this was the perfect end to a lifetime ambition and made for a fantastic weekend (look out for my next post on wild swimming in Skye’s Fairy Pools).