Have you ever been on an aeroplane and gazed out at the marshmallow like clouds, wishing you could bounce on them? Then let me shatter that fluffy illusion. In reality clouds are cold, damp and claustrophobic. And what makes me an “expert”? Well, once upon a time I embarked on a Munro bagging voyager of self-discovery.
Munro bagging for beginners
A Munro is a Scottish mountain taller than 3,000 feet (914 metres). They’re named after Sir Hugh Munro who worked tirelessly to list them all. Scotland has 282 Munros, and climbing them is known as Munro bagging. Someone who bags them all is known as a Munroist.
My earliest experience of Scotland’s mountains came in the late 80s when the boy band Bros were all the rage. My then employer packed me, and a dozen or so other teenage trainees onto a coach, and off to the Scottish Highlands for a two-week Outward Bounds course. One of our character building activities was a three day expedition into the wilds of the Nevis Range. My teenage self complained incessantly – my boots were too big, my feet hurt, my rucksack was too heavy, the weather was too wet/cold/windy, there were no toilets and my tent was too cramped.
That’s me in the red cagoule below with a scowl that could curdle milk. After spending two weeks in the Scottish Highlands, wild horses couldn’t have dragged me back into the mountains again.
Fast forward many years to January 2015, and Mr G and I are spending the night at the lovely Bridge of Orchy Hotel for his birthday. In the bar that evening (brave with alcohol) I announced that I was going to bag a Munro. Clearly the wine had gone to my head. Was I actually considering rushing back into the Scottish mountains so soon after my last visit?
A wee foray into the hills at Bridge of Orchy
The next morning after breakfast we picked up the West Highland Way route behind our hotel, following it up into the hills. It was snowing and the scenery looked magical. We watched spellbound, as a herd of red deer crossed our path. We gained height quickly and stopped to look down on a snowy Rannoch Moor stretching out below. I found myself wondering why I’d avoided the mountains for so long. I was now determined to bag a Munro.
A failed first attempt – Ben Chonzie (931 metres)
Ben Chonzie (pronounced honzie) is often described as the boring Munro. Boring suited us just fine for a first attempt at Munro bagging. I’d also been drawn to Ben Chonzie, hopeful of spotting the mountain hares it’s famous for.
The weather defeated us that beautiful spring morning! Deep snow on the path made the hike slow and tedious. Turning back, we vowed to return. I scanned the hillside as we descended, hoping to catch a glimpse of a hare. I spotted one solitary hare – on the mountain known to be teeming with them. A successful day for a wildlife spotting jinx like me.
Oddly, by the time we’d retraced our steps back to our starting point, the snow on Ben Chonzie had all melted. Ahhh, good old Scottish weather.
Munro bagging for beginners- Beinn Ghlas (1,103 metres)
Our next Munro bagging opportunity came a few days later after an overnight stay in Killin. With patches of snow still on the ground we headed to the Lawers Range to have a stab at Beinn Ghlas. Did I select Beinn Ghlas for the pretty views or challenge of the climb? Nope, I selected it because the car park is pretty much half way up it. I’d hoped this would make bagging it a skoosh (Scots for easy).
It was cold and murky as we headed uphill. The wind was picking up and visibility was deteriorating fast, but before too long we reached the summit – yay we were Munro baggers. I hear the view of Loch Tay from the summit is stunning. I “enjoyed” a view of the cold, damp interior of a cloud.
Munro bagging for beginners – Ben Chonzie revisited
We returned to Ben Chonzie two weeks after our failed attempt, and the contrast couldn’t have been greater. It was a gorgeous, blue sky day. No longer hampered by snow, there was no excuse for us not to reach the summit.
I stopped frequenly to rest, and complain about Mr G storming uphill as if he was competing in a race. My teenage self would have been proud.
Like mountain pied pipers we acquired a small posse of two, plus dug. They’d weirdly been stopping to rest every time we did. They finally admitted they were following us, as they’d no idea where they were going.
This time we were rewarded with an amazing summit view. There was nothing boring about this Munro. We sat by the summit cairn enjoying lunch, until the boy decided the summit was full, and began barking at each new arrival. We made a hasty retreat, black affronted by his naughty behaviour.
Munro bagging for beginners – Schiehallion (1,083 metres)
People often celebrate their wedding anniversary with a romantic dinner or night away. In August 2015 we celebrated ours by climbing Schiehallion, then lunching at a place called Dull.
Schiehallion or Sìdh Chailleann translates from Gaelic as Fairy Hill of the Caledonians. In 1774 it was used in a groundbreaking experiment, carried out by Charles Mason to estimate the mass of the Earth.
The weather was typically Scottish summer, with cloud, drizzle and occasional bright spells. Once again I moaned my way uphill. “It’s not a race” I reminded Mr G for the millionth time through gritted teeth.
I’d read that the final ascent of Schiehallion was a boulder field, but nothing could have prepared me for the huge, mass of never-ending rubble we discovered there.
To up the ante, the wet and slippery boulders wobbled as we navigated our way across them. The summit, when we reached it was a lumpy, pyramid of rock. After snapping some photos we began our descent, taking giant steps over the boulders, like astronauts on the moon. I pointed out what I thought was a patch of grass. Mr G went to explore, hoping to find an easy, grassy path down. WHAM, down he went, flat on his back. Once I’d ascertained his spine wasn’t shattered I cried with laughter. A minute later and the karma train hit me head on. WHAM, down I went full length on slippery wet rock. Once Mr G knew my skull wasn’t split he howled with delight at my misfortune, and we declared it a draw.
That night we toasted our anniversary and Munro bagging with a nice bottle of Dom Perignon we’d brought back from Paris.
Munro bagging for beginners – Mayar & Driesh (928 & 947 metres)
It was a dry and bright autumnal morning when we set out to bag two more Munros. This time we headed to Corrie Fee in Angus to tackle Mayar and Driesh. I love the sound Driesh makes as it trips off the tongue. Think Sean Connery as Bond – “Why, that’s a lovely dresh you’re wearing Mish Moneypenny”.
The climb up, and out of the natural amphitheater that is Corrie Fee was spectacular. We stopped frequently to enjoy the view and snap photos.
We reached the summit of Mayar with little effort, but oddly seemed to have walked directly into the eye of a hurricaine. I’ve never experienced wind like it. Mr G larked around on the summit cairn, pretending he was blowing away. His good humour wasn’t to last.
When we reached the summit cairn I sat down to eat a Mars Bar and refuel. One look at Mr G’s face told me I’d really offended him. It turned out, I had no idea just how cold his hands were. He stood with them held rigid – arms outstretched like The Mummy in Hammer Horror movies. Feeling generous, I offered him my spare gloves to wear over his useless, posh brand ones. He declined.
I ate my Mars Bar on the move as I quietly fumed. I fumed some more when Mr G decided that the descent route looked too dangerous and refused to take it. We summited Mayar for a second time that day, as we found ourselves unexpectedly, retracing our long ascent route. I secretly hoped Mr G would blow over on the summit this time.
As we descended and his Mummy hands thawed, his mood did too. I resisted the urge to punch him square on the back of the head, and finally calmed down enough to join in the lighthearted banter.
Munro bagging for beginners – Carn Liath (975 metres)
Our final Munro of 2015, and our final to date was Carn Liath.
We arrived on an early November morning to find a steady drizzle falling, and the mountain cloaked in cloud. At the foot of Carn Liath we walked headlong into a bog. We hopped around, desperately trying to avoid it and failed to notice that we were drifting off coarse and away from the path. I’d sooner swim across a crocodile infested swamp than walk through a bog.
Thankfully, Mr G’s keen eyes picked out the path and we headed towards it. It turned out to be incredibly steep. It didn’t seem right to me – then my high school geography came flooding back. We were climbing a scree slope. My knees began to shakes as I dug my heels in and gingerly, bum shuffled my way down again. Back on safer ground, I was determined not to let this sod of a mountain beat me.
I cleared my head, then decided to traverse the mountain until we were level with our starting point. And there it was, the huge path we’d missed earlier thanks to our bog hopping shenanigans. Once on the path Carn Liath was an easy climb. Despite the view from the summit being severely limited due to cloud, I loved the drama of watching the clouds roll, then clear fleetingly to reveal the ground below.
Munro bagging for beginners – the verdict
Munro bagging is a fantastic hobby if you enjoy walking up relentlessly steep inclines, and like being outside in the rain, snow, wind and cloud getting cold and wet. Despite this it’s also pretty good fun.
Will I bag more? Hell yeah – with only 276 still to bag I’m practically a Munroist.
If you’re reading this Munro bagging for beginners ramble and fancy trying a summit or two yourself, you’ll find the mountains in this blog are great for beginners. As long as you treat them with respect, make sure you’re properly equipped, and let someone know where you are, you’ll find that Scotland’s mountains are a wonderful and awe-inspiring playground.
And remember, mountains aren’t funny – they’re hill areas. Ok I’ll get my coat.
Until next time ……….