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. Clouds are cold, damp and claustrophobic. And what makes me such an expert? Once upon a time I embarked on a Munro bagging voyage of self-discovery and now I’m here to enlighten you in the joys of Munro bagging for beginners.
Munro bagging for beginners – my experiences
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. Once you’ve bagged them all you become 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 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 a night at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel for his birthday. In the bar that evening (brave with alcohol) I announce that I’m going to bag a Munro. Obviously it was the wine talking. Was I really considering rushing back into the Scottish mountains so soon after my last visit?
A foray back into the hills
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 in awe as a herd of red deer crossed our path. Gaining height quickly, we stopped to look down on a snowy covered Rannoch Moor below. I found myself wondering why I’d avoided the mountains for so long. I was now determined to bag a Munro.
A failed attempt at Ben Chonzie (931 metres)
Ben Chonzie (pronounced honzie) is often described as the boring Munro. Boring suited us 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 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.
By the time we’d retraced our steps back to the car, the snow had melted – good old Scottish weather.
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’d bagged a Munro. Apparently the view of Loch Tay from the summit of Beinn Ghlas is lovely. I wouldn’t know as we were enveloped in a thick, damp cloud when we reached the top.
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 frequently 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 attracted a small posse of two, plus dug. They’d been stopping to rest every time we did. Finally they admitted they were following us, as they had no idea where they were going.
Ben Chonzie rewarded us with a lovely summit view. There was nothing boring about this Munro. We sat by the summit cairn and ate lunch. Then the boy decided the summit was full and barked loudly at each new arrival. Black affronted, we made a hasty retreat.
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 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 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 fractured he howled with delight at my misfortune. We declared it a comedy fall draw.
That evening we toasted our anniversary and Munro bagging success with a bottle of Dom Perignon we’d brought back from Paris.
Mayar & Driesh (928 metres & 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 amphitheatre 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 hurricane. 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.
After bagging Mayar we headed towards Driesh, struggling to breathe as the wind blew up our nostrils. Our ascent of Driesh was a real effort as the wind battered us, making progress slow.
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 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 some lighthearted banter.
Carn Liath (975 metres)
Our final Munro of 2015, and our final to date was Carn Liath.
We arrived in Glen Tilt 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.
After bypassing the boggy ground we found ourselves knee-deep in heather. Startled grouse shot out of the heather every few minutes, leaving our nerves shot to pieces.
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 limited due to cloud, I loved the drama of watching the clouds roll, then clear fleetingly to reveal the ground below.
Soaked to the skin, we squelched our way off the mountain feeling proud – we’d bagged the evil wee bugger.
Munro bagging for beginners – the verdict
Munro bagging is a fantastic hobby if you enjoy walking up relentlessly steep inclines and like spending time outdoors in the rain, wind and snow 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 and fancy bagging a summit or two, the mountains in this post are a good introduction to Munro bagging for beginners.
As long as you treat them with respect, make sure you’re properly equipped and always let someone know where you are, you’ll find Scotland’s mountains are a fabulous, awe-inspiring playground.
Until next time ……….
Hell yeah indeed.
Fast forward another four years to September 2919 and a glamping trip to Glenshee puts us tantalisingly close to The Cairnwell Munros. So tantalisingly close that we were unable to resist adding Carn Aosda (917 metres), Carn a’Gheoidh (975 metres) and The Cairnwell (933 metres) to our modest haul of bagged Munros.
Six hours of hiking, admiring the view, taking an insane amount of photos, niggling at each other as we always do when we climb hills together and stopping to blether to fellow Munro baggers and we’d taken our Munro bagging tally up to nine (and four for the boy).
Nine – almost double figures, but not quite. I have a funny feeling that number will eat away at us until we’re forced to venture back into Scotland’s mountains to bag Munro number ten.