February 23rd, 2019. The final push towards the summit of Ben Cruachan. The weather is less than great. Low temperature, low cloud, high precipitation.
According to some of the party they would have turned around a long time ago. I would have turned around a long time ago with them had it not been for one specific point. It was my final munro.
My Munro journey started in early 2009. I can’t be precise on the date as I have no specific record. A weekend away in Glenshee with the Newcastle University Fellwalking Society (NUFWS), where one of the days was an ascent of Carn a’Gheoidh from the south. What I do remember from this trip was that there was deep snow on the ground, a cold, strong wind, and that camping outside the now defunct Spital of Glenshee hotel was a cheap, but not necessarily cosy, way to get outdoors as a student.
From Newcastle there where a number of trips to Scotland for bagging hills until I graduated in 2011. Classic trips in Glencoe, Skye, Aviemore, Ullapool, Torridon as well as to locations such as the Lake District and the Scottish Borders where mountains can only dream of being Munro’s (though these hills also have their charms!)
Great hills bagged, great memories created, great friendships made.
Moving to Edinburgh brought the big hills that little bit closer, which helped to tick off 120 Munro’s in 12 months. Life then got in the way and weekends started to get booked up with things other than hillwalking. Not only this but the new hills got further away. Over the coming years new munro’s within a 3 hour drive of Edinburgh became fewer and fewer. More commitment was required. Greater planning was required. A bit more luck with the weather was required.
This lead to multi-day trips with friends through the wild areas of Scotland – the Cairngorms, Knoydart, Glen Affric… Staying in bothies, mountaineering club huts, wildcamps overlooking a hidden lochan, far away hostels. The mode of transport for reaching the summit rarely changed from using two feet, although a bicycle would (rarely) help shorten a long walk in, or (even more rarely) by skis.
Starting work the day after these trips was sometimes difficult, but was often fueled by the feeling of freedom of the weekend before, and a longing to be out in the hills the following weekend. The next trip really was not that far away.
Roll on 2018 and a renewed desire to complete the challenge came about. Maybe it was the impending 30th Birthday that would occur in early 2019 that gave me an extra kick. The support of my other half – Amy – certainly helped, especially when a greater number of holidays and weekends where needed in far flung places. Some of these trips where less than pleasant, the trudge between Seana Bhraigh and Am Faochagach – through bog, bog, and more bog – stands out as one of these.
Not to say that the majority of these trips were not enjoyable. The Fisherfield Five in glorious sunshine was a cracker. Maybe it would have been more so without the addition of the walk out from Shenival bothy afterwards (leading to a 45km + day). Other highlights for 2018 where Binnean Beag from Kinlochleven – where a chilly campsite at 400m helped us see a cracking cloud inversion from the summit, and a visit to the Cuillin hills in later October, where an unexpected thin layer of snow made the summits far spicier than was hoped for, though the inaccessible pinnacle was clean, dry, and warm which was a pleasant surprise.
The countdown was on. At the turn of the 2019 year, only a handful of Munro’s remained on the list.
The lack of snow at New Years helped by allowing access to Carn a’Mhaim and An Sgarsoch by bicycle – cutting down these two journeys significantly. The landslide at the Loch Quoich dam, coupled with unexpectedly heavy snowfall in January seemed to put Sgurr a’Mhaoraich out of reach, at least when attempted on a folding bicycle (space in the car was tight).
It looked like time would run out to complete by my birthday in March, however the warm February meant that a second attempt of
Sgurr a’Mhaoraich was possible, where I took up my touring bicycle for the long cycle in. This second trip was not without it’s challenges also. We have an electric car and, due to an error while charging, meant that I had to park at the road end near Invergarry and added an additional 10 miles along the valley each way. It was a very pleasant cycle, on a strangely warm, sunny, day.
And so we come back to Ben Cruachan. This had been in the diary for a number of weeks. I was joined by old friends from the Lake District and Edinburgh, as well as some colleagues who had not climbed a munro previously.
The mixed experience of the group was a challenge in it’s own right, and for many it was type 2 fun (not fun at the time, but fun upon reflection). Otherwise the views were unremarkable, which is a shame as the I’ve been told that, on a good day, you can see over the western coast through to the Cairngorms in the East. Sadly it was not to be.
In some ways there was a sadness upon completing this challenge. It had been with me for 10 years and had been a driver for a lot of life planning, especially in the last 2 – 3 years.
Thanks to friends, a number of celebratory items where carried up by the group (unbeknownst to me), and balloons bearing 282 greeted me at the top, along with a bottle of something bubbly. It was too cold and wet to enjoy these fully, so a stop back at the reservoir at 400m served as a good place to enjoy the moment a bit more.
The question I now get is “what’s next”. There are plenty of challenges still remaining. I have some ideas. But first I want to enjoy completing such a personal challenge. I will be back in the hills, but first 2019 holds a lot of exciting things in my personal life, but I’ll be scheduling time in the outdoors again soon.