Bruce’s Journey to Compleation

In awe of his achievement (I just go along for the walk and fresh air occasionally), I formulated a list of questions for Bruce and last night got him to humour me and share his journey.

When and how did your Munro journey begin?

August 2009. Clare and I used to do a lot of mountain biking and regularly went to Fort William. On hearing we were going to Fort William on holiday, we were often asked if we were going up Ben Nevis, so on one trip we decided to. We got views, didn’t injure ourselves falling off anything, unlike on the bikes, and enjoyed the experience. (Clare: although not so much the following day when we couldn’t get down the stairs without walking backwards)

Although it took a further 3 years to do the second munro, we decided that climbing munros would be a very good way for us to see Scotland. 

What have been the highlights over the years?

There are too many to mention, but becoming an awful lot more knowledgeable of my home country and making a lot of new friends along the way.

Do you have a favourite Munro?

No, I think the munros very much depend on the conditions that you climb them. Some days are better than others and your favourites tend to be on the days with the best conditions.

However, doing the Aonach Eagach Ridge (this is the U.K. mainland’s narrowest ridge, linking the munros of Meall Dearg and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh) was one of my favourite days and a turning point as I realised rather than being scared of scrambling and exposure I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. (Clare: There’s no way you’d get me near the Aonach Eagach; I feel sick looking at these pictures!)

This was to prove invaluable experience when tackling the Black Cuillin on Skye. 

Are there any other highlights? 

Bidean nam Bian in Glencoe on a beautiful May Day holiday when you could see for miles:

Slioch beside Kinlochewe after a night of heavy snow:

Lochnagar on New Year’s Day with the supermoon rising as we walked back along the edge of Loch Muick meaning we didn’t need to use the head torches:

Ben More on Mull where we climbed through the cloud and got a 360 degree cloud inversion:

Geal Charn, beside Loch Laggan, when the American Thunderbirds (US red arrows) flew right over our heads:

Beinn Alligin, my first trip to Torridon, such a spectacular area:

I’ve been really lucky to have so many highlights.

Have there been any low points?

Thankfully not many. There have been a few days where the weather started badly and got worse, with days turning into a wet boggy trudge, but we generally used these days with poor visibility as a test of navigation.

Probably the low point was when I witnessed a companion slipping and falling around 60 feet down cliffs on the Black Cuillin on Skye. I had no idea of the extent of his injuries and spent a highly emotional few hours walking back to my car as our guide waited with him for Mountain Rescue to make a helicopter recovery. Thankfully I discovered later that evening that his injuries, albeit serious, were not life-threatening and he’s since made a full recovery.

What was your longest day in the hills?

Fourteen hours, when I did the Fisherfield round covering 5 munros in one day. We walked out, wild camped, then climbed the 5 munros before having to make 2 river crossings, the first of which I fell into, to make the return to our camp. We waded across the second in the dark, so I was rather wet by the time I got back to my tent.

There have also been two 12 hour days – one covering the Ben Alder 6 with a cycle out and back in high summer (Clare: When it was first suggested that we might consider the 6 munros rather than the planned 4 there were various thoughts in my head, none of them polite! However, it turned into one of the best hill days I’ve experienced):

Another was when I did all 9 of the Fannichs in a day, the most munros I’ve covered in one go. It poured all day and we got no views at all! That day certainly tested map and compass skills.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in taking up hill walking?

  1. Learn the basics – how to use a map and compass.
  2. Spend the most money you can on boots as you could be wearing them for a long day.
  3. Never be afraid to turn back. The hills will always be there another day. 

On that note, have you ever had to turn back on a day out?

Thankfully not too many times but I turned back on Beinn Bhuide during a complete white-out, despite the fact that it was a very long walk in before we even started ascending. We turned back at just over 700 metres, probably less than an hour from the top. I went back a few weeks later and had one of the best winter walks I’ve ever had with blue skies and great visibility which I’d have missed out on had we continued that first day.

What’s been your best purchase – clothing and kit?

On clothing, possibly my Berghaus Light Hike waterproof trousers. They pack down really small and are so light you hardly notice you’re wearing them. They’re a perfect fit for me and despite several holes and a repaired 6 inch split after an ice axe arrest practise went wrong (Clare: duct tape is your friend!), they’re still totally waterproof and going strong. They don’t make them anymore, so when I saw a company on Amazon selling them off last year I had to buy another pair for when my current ones finally get binned. 

On the equipment side, I bought a basic Garmin GPS (eTrex 10) many years ago as a back-up to using a map and compass. It’s clarified positions and routes we want to travel many times and is worth it’s weight in gold.

What’s in your rucksack that you wouldn’t be without?

Everything! I regularly go through my rucksack to make sure everything is being used. Other than First Aid stuff, if there’s anything I’ve not used in the last 2 or 3 walks it gets taken out.

Do you have any favourite walking websites?

WalkHighlands is a fantastic source of information on all things hill walking: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk

MWIS is my go to for what weather to expect, along with the Met Office that now has forecasts for individual munro tops: https://www.mwis.org.uk https://www.metoffice.gov.uk

SAIS (Scottish Avalanche Information Service) is an essential site to check before going into the hills in winter: https://www.sais.gov.uk

Hill Lists is a fantastic App for tracking which hills you’ve climbed.

I’m sure there are others, but they’re my go-tos. 

What’s next on the agenda?

Next on the agenda is to re-climb some of the munros that I didn’t get any views from, along with revisiting some of my favourites. A few non hill walking friends have expressed a desire to climb a munro so I’ll be making a point of joining them on some of their initial ventures out into the hills.

For anyone reading this who’s inspired to try a munro, what’s a good hill to start with or what should they avoid? 

Know your limits. Consider your experience and fitness levels. Initially go out with someone with experience. Start with something small and easy and work up from there. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a munro as a lot of these are long days. Make sure you enjoy it before committing to a long and strenuous day. 

Finally, which munro are you most looking forward to climbing again?

The next one!

Mull: Brocken Spectres and cloud inversions on Ben More

Initially planned for April, our trip to Mull was postponed due to lockdown. Having lead relatively quiet, sheltered lives over the last few months, it was a bit of a shock to bear witness to the bustle of Oban. It was thankfully short-lived as we were merely passing through on route to Mull, courtesy of the Calmac ferry to Craignure.

Arriving at the ferry port early we were offered the option of an imminent sailing but declined as current restrictions on the smaller boat meant staying in the car for the duration of the journey – not something that held great appeal. We opted instead to have a coffee and wait for the big ferry.

The journey to Mull was great with very smooth sailing conditions. Good weather allowed us to stay outside for much of the journey, enjoying the views as we progressed.

Arriving in Craignure it’s a relatively short drive to reach Tobermory, the colourful wee town of Balamory fame. Staying at the end of the village we’ve yet to see Josie Jump or Miss Hoolie. I’m pretty certain, however, that it was PC Plum we saw as we returned from our walk today. He really needs to have a word with some of the drivers – I’m assuming they’re locals given the speed they hare along the single-track roads! Quite alarming when meeting them head on at a bend!

Up bright and early(ish), we drove along to Ben More. The map and route guide suggested a large parking area just past a bridge. There were several bridges in the vicinity and a large track heading upwards from the roadside with a couple of vehicles already parked, without neighbouring tents, heralded our arrival at the starting point. Boots and rucksacks on, we set off on our merry way.

Ben More

The downside of this island munro is that although small in stature, 966 metres, pretty much all of these are gained from sea level. A good path all the way up eases the pain and it’s a short out and back route coming in at around 6 miles in total.

Initially we followed the track towards a house. On reaching (and passing through) a gate we followed a stream (Abhainn Dhiseig) for a short distance. Ahead, the path splits – the route guide suggests taking either branch as both converge further up. For reasons unknown, we opted for the one suggested as being more boggy – it didn’t seem too bad overall, although there was the odd dubby section to circumnavigate.

Gaining height steadily, Bruce commented that we were moving at a fine, slow pace. Easy to see who’s spent the last month or so playing catch up, away most weekends, as this was my happy pace; not too fast and not too slow, just trundling along.

As height was gained, the cloud shrouded the summit of Ben More and it could only just be seen in the shadows. This caused some excitement; the thick cloud, then the full sun melting through as we headed up the zig-zagging path. We realised we may be in for an inversion; Bruce suggested that the right conditions could also give us a Brocken Spectre, something I had a vague notion of but further explanation was required: BBC Brocken Spectre

As if by magic a circular rainbow then appeared! It was amazing! My delight was childlike, total glee at seeing these amazing colours! The photos don’t do it justice at all, colours becoming more vivid and fading in and out in the sunlight.

This may be why the final pull up to the summit seemed effortless. The slope steepened, the zigzagging path continued meandering up and before we knew it we’d reached the second last cairn – there were many on route – the summit cairn visible across an almost flat plateau. We were now high above the cloud. Through the inversion we could see some of the higher peaks peeping through – Ben Nevis and Ben Cruachan particularly standing out. This also gave great joy and made up for the lack of other views.

Reaching the summit we stopped for some time to drink in the surroundings and enjoy the sunshine. We chatted to a few other walkers, waiting to see if the cloud would clear further.

As we descended, the cloud did indeed start to break. Heading off the summit, I was surprised by the incline of the initial descent, not having noticed it being particularly steep on route up. Slowly and steadily we made our way off this slope and onto the easier paths below.

There were other walkers on route up and we stopped to chat to them (from a distance), hearing their stories and exchanging information on hills and routes. One individual was compleating and while he was on his last munro, others in the group were doing their first.

The clearing cloud gave great views of the small islands nearby.

Further down, we took the path to the left (closest to the stream); this was definitely better than that we’d followed up, drier underfoot with less bog to negotiate. Despite this, I still managed to get both feet covered in mud at different points and subsequently used the stream (twice) to clean my feet.

Finally reaching the car, we met the parents of today’s compleatist, eagerly awaiting the return of the masses. Having blethered to them for a bit, we were back on the road in plenty of time to catch a coffee and a pint before the evening chill set in completely. Another successful day out!