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!

Bla Bheinn: an introduction to the Skye munros

I’ve always maintained that I’m not ‘bagging’ munros, one of the reasons being that some are just too scary looking. I’m not a fan of big exposure and I know what I like (and more importantly what’s just pushing the comfort zone too far). Meanwhile, Bruce very much enjoys a bit of ‘air’ on the hills, hence him heading out alone (or with people other than me) at times.

Being near Skye, I was assured that Bla Bheinn was doable for me, being the one Skye munro that’s known for walking rather than climbing. It’s not part of the main Cuillin ridge, but on a good day affords spectacular views of the Black Cuillin, and would give me some idea of what Bruce had experienced during his Skye trips this year and last. Finally, Bla Bheinn would also allow Bruce to complete the Skye munros, this being the only one he hadn’t yet done.

Arriving on Skye, it wasn’t long before we caught our first glimpse of a mountain. This striking, if a little intimidating, sight transpired to be Bla Bheinn!

The day was as close to perfect as it gets – very little wind and clear, blue skies. Work is currently being done to improve the car park; despite this we were able to park easily. The midges were out but seemed pretty relaxed; they must have had a hearty breakfast as they were not in any great hurry to eat us!

The walk began just a few metres above sea level and very gently climbed through the moor. An impressive gorge dropped off on our left, silver birches growing on the steep slopes and protecting us from what was quite possibly the most hazardous drop of the day.

Continuing on we crossed a couple of small streams with ease, boulder hopping across, before climbing up Coire Uaigneich. This path is good and well maintained by The John Muir Trust. We were gaining height but still had a long way up to go. A wee shower of rain passed over. Waterproofs contemplated, we decided on jackets only as it was warm enough for the trousers to dry out.

Reaching the choire, we turned and began ascending the less distinctive path, following the zig zags through scree as we climbed higher. I can’t quite recall at what point we had a tricky scree section as we appeared to miss it on the way down, but I do recall questioning my will to continue as it felt really tough and my legs went a little jelly-like.

Higher still, there were paths going in many different directions and it was tricky choosing the right line. We ascended a scree chute before scrambling up some rocks, while others nearby chose an alternative (and easier) looking route.

Ascent of Bla Bheinn

The actual scramble, described in the route guide, was indeed easy. We saw people ahead appearing to be struggling to ascend a rocky area so opted to veer left on the advice of another party, and this did indeed prove a simpler scramble up the rocks. By this point we’d done virtually all of the ascent and it was only a short distance to the summit.

Before the final ascent of Bla Bheinn with Marsco peeping through

The summit was surprisingly busy, with a family of four, and the six others we’d played tig and tag with on route up. The views over to the Black Cuillin were spectacular and it was great to see the mountains that Bruce had previously enthused about. Part of the ridge was engulfed in cloud and as it blew over other parts cleared.

Time passed, the cloud grew thicker and darker, and it became very apparent that a heavy rain shower was heading our way. Consideration was given to waiting it out on the summit but we decided instead to head off and possibly shelter further down. The last thing we wanted was to be midway through the scree when it got heavy. As it transpired, although the rain came it was very fleeting and appeared to have moved along the top, largely missing us.

The descent proved far easier than the ascent. Tricky sections were negotiated by having more points of contact – in other words, using my bum! Heading down as part of a larger group may also have helped, easy chat flowing among us all, distracting from the task in hand.

Good path further down on Bla Bheinn

We managed to avoid the scree section that scared me previously – no idea why we couldn’t do that on the way up – and before long we were back on the good lower path, then enjoying the fine walk back, which is when I realised how steep the drop into the gorge was! Stunning views along the return leg.

Overall, a great day out for my 150th munro, and a delight to share in Bruce’s completion of the Skye munros. Chapeau!