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!

Achnasheen: Amazing what’s on the doorstep!

After a fair soaking yesterday, I went to put the boots outdoors (having removed the newspaper that had been absorbing the water overnight) to experience two joys of nature.

One, the Scottish midge. Out in force, they were keen to make my acquaintance. They tend not to be bothersome if there’s any sort of breeze. Sadly today, all wind had died!

The second was the deer making their way into the garden. Along the road, up the drive and over the fence they went. They paused to look but continued on their way when finding I meant no harm.

Fionn Bheinn

Staying in an Airbnb in Achnasheen, Fionn Bheinn literally involves going out the gate and turning right. Bruce has previously done this munro, albeit he didn’t get views, so I put my trust in him to lead the way.

The reason we went up here is not because Bruce is ‘banking’ in preparation for his second round of munros, but due to the weather forecast – a little bleak for today. We had, according to our friends at the Met Office, until 1 pm before the light rain would commence, after which it would be on for the day.

Sealskinz Rock!

The path up was boggy from the outset. Bruce mentioned having walked up the clearly visible track on the previous occasion; we decided against crossing the bridge sitting at a very jaunty angle, instead opting to continue along the path. Hindsight is a great thing – it appears we probably should have crossed the bridge. Our boggy path continued up the hill, climbing gradually, then petering out to nothing. I was extremely grateful of Bruce’s suggestion to wear my Sealskinz. These wonderful socks saw my boots get soaked (again) while keeping my feet themselves dry and happy.

On reaching a boggy plateau with lots of lovely peat hags between two hills, we realised we’d veered off course a little. Our target required us to cross the bogs, so we hopped across as best we could, largely managing to stay out of anything too deep. 

Be Who You Want To Be

As we made our ascent, I spotted a small herd of deer. They were standing on the hillside grazing, but on catching a whiff of us or hearing our voices, they stood to attention. The leader then broke into a run, pursued by the rest of the herd. They paused, assessed the situation and saw we were still headed in their direction and ran again.

So, nothing unusual in this. However, what amused me greatly was that they were followed by two sheep. The sheep, mirroring the movements of the deer would pause, then run again as the herd moved. I like to think that although they maybe couldn’t quite hack the pace they’d been accepted as part of the group.

Head for the Trig Point

The clear skies allowed us to see the trig point in the distance. Not having a path to follow, we opted to cross the hillside diagonally, following a line to the summit. This, while providing a direct line of ascent, also put pressure on one leg, so I opted to zig zag a little, heading upwards towards the path that we could see leading down from the top.

Pretty soon we reached the path we’d been targeting from afar, and being on more solid terrain again it was an easy pull to the trig point and the summit. It was well worth the effort. The views were amazing! Bruce, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of hills was able to point out the highlights.

We also spotted a larger herd of deer, around two dozen, grazing on the lower slopes. Sadly, they didn’t have any others in their midst – no sheep, cows, goats or others apparent.

Finding the Path on Descent

One of the frustrations, or pleasures, of hill walking can be finding a good path on the descent having slogged up the hard way. Going down, we knew we wanted to aim for the small dam as this was the top of the track, so took a direct route to get there, picking up a path along the way.

Again, it was very wet and muddy underfoot as we happily squelched along. The bog was visible in all it’s glory and we were happy to have a target in mind for a dry descent thereafter.

Weather Forecasting

The Met Office were pretty much spot on. As we came towards Achnasheen, making good time down the track, we felt the first fine drops of rain. True to forecast, we reached our door just ahead of 1 pm, the proper rain starting pretty much as we crossed the threshold.

A worthwhile outing, I’m now just keeping everything crossed that the Met Office have got it wrong for the next couple of days as they’re not looking the best!