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!

The Best Views of the Week: Triple Buttress of Coire Mhic Fhearchair

There’s a saying often used within the sporting community … Go big or go home. I’m glad to say that we didn’t choose the latter despite staying lower and leaving the munros aside. Bruce has done the ‘Torridon Giants’ previously and I wasn’t particularly inclined, legs tired after all the other strenuous stuff this week. However, the route did most certainly did not disappoint and afforded spectacular views of the Torridon giants along the way.

Beinn Eighe Path

Starting the walk, we headed up the very good path between Beinn Eighe and Liathach. A sign of my weary legs lay in my stumbling a little on too many occasions, not lifting my feet enough when walking. This is a telltale sign at the end of a long training run when I’m needing a rest!

The path climbed gradually but we quickly worked up a sweat. Where did today’s heat come from? It was rather warm! There was a breeze as we got further up and this was a blessed relief.

The Wind Picks Up

Over the stream on the huge stepping stones, Bruce recalled there was another river crossing. There wasn’t – it’s just that the previous time he was on Beinn Eighe the rain was pouring down and the stream was huge and in spate. Thankfully not the case today.

We did feel the full effects of the wind though as we rounded past the cairn. It was gusting really strongly at times and I honestly felt like I was being lifted off my feet a couple of times. I’m glad we hadn’t planned on going high as this certainly would have deterred me.

All around, the views were amazing. So many big mountains and such clear skies. This is most definitely a walk for those who don’t want to be overly challenged but wish to appreciate the Scottish landscape in all it’s glory.

Loch Choire Mhic Fhearchair

Approaching the Coire from the side of Sail Mhor, I was impressed by the waterfall cascading down. We’d met a couple not long prior to our arrival who’d seen it blowing upwards in the wind. The gusts had subsided when we got there so everything was as it should be.

Climbing up, my knees were a little grumpy, feeling the effects of several days on the hills. The path stepped up with stones laying a staircase on which to plod. It was so worth the effort when the top was reached. What a view!

With the warmth of the day it was such a lovely experience to sit on the rocks enjoying the sunshine. The loch looked incredibly inviting but I bet it was cold.

Retracing Our Steps

This is an out and back route, so we about turned and headed back. There were quite a few others enjoying the same walk and we stopped and blethered to them along the way, also taking time to look around and appreciate the views again.

As we rounded towards the stream and into the shelter between the mountains any hint of a breeze died. The further we went, the greater the warmth, and by the time we were on the descent towards the car park it felt like we were walking in an oven! I know I shouldn’t complain, we don’t get many hot days in Scotland, but this was just so unexpected!

Overall verdict, we finished our holiday on a high. In terms of scenery this was definitely the best of the week! Great planning, Bruce! (Again)

No Cheesecake for Clare

Yesterday it rained – a lot. It definitely wasn’t a day for going out as not only was it raining, it was also very windy. The result was a day of imposed rest. We managed to do little or nothing for the morning, heading to the local cafe, The Midge Bite, for a coffee early afternoon. Then, to top it all off, we decided to practise for being old by heading for a drive!

The Stag of Beinn Eighe

Bruce was keen to head down to Torridon to show me the dramatic scenery that he’s enjoyed on some trips away. The cloud was coming and going, at times looking like it might clear, so we headed down to the car park for Beinn Eighe. Almost immediately on pulling into the car park, this handsome chap appeared.

He is seemingly a regular feature, mooching what he can from the walkers’ packed lunches. With the inclement weather and having realised he wasn’t getting anything from us, he appeared more inclined to try and shelter behind the car, ducking his head to escape the rain.

Heading back up the road, the sky did clear a little and we were able to get this stunning view back down Glen Docherty.

Lurg Mhor (& Bidein a’Choire Sheasgaich)

This was our longest day, the route guide suggesting 38 km. The plan was to bike in to Bendronaig Bothy, then walk from there.

The Long Ride In

Parking up on the Attadale Estate, initially we travelled along a good road. Sadly the tarmac ceased after a mile or so, but the track continuing onwards was hard packed and pretty even. The gist of it is that we rode, or pushed our bikes, for just over 8 miles. It was a tough slog with some steep climbs, but we knew they’d be fun on the return leg.

Summit on Foot

From the Bothy, which looks pretty amazing, sadly closed at present due to COVID, we continued along the track as it became tougher underfoot. Finally reaching Loch Calavie, we turned off at the signpost. It was very bizarre, a clear sign leading onto a route that lacks any clarity and was extremely boggy.

We ploughed onwards and made decent progress, crossing little burns and a couple of small streams, all the time headed for the bealach between the two munros. Sadly the weather wasn’t entirely in our favour. We’d set off wearing waterproofs, hoping that the mist and drizzle would clear, but we instead experienced heavier drizzle, with occasional dry spells. As soon as it looked likely to clear another band of cloud appeared.

Turning to the right, the path was clear to lead us to the summit of Lurg Mhor. The mist was now hanging in the air, shrouding the summit ahead and preventing any sort of view. It was also a little chilly, both of us putting on our gloves for warmth.

We followed the path, heading upwards, and went steeply up at times. There were a couple of more rocky sections to negotiate, but it became apparent on the descent that there was more than one path and the route could be varied.

The summit cleared as we approached, allowing us to clearly see where we were headed. The crags on the northern edge could be seen and I’m sure on a clear day there would be great views. On reaching the summit there was little shelter so we turned around and headed off, retracing our steps.

Heading down to the bealach, I decided I’d had enough of being in the mist. I was no longer feeling happy outdoors, so announced that I’d be missing out Bidein a’Choire Sheasgaich (aka ‘Cheesecake’) and would meet Bruce back at the bikes. This was a tick box munro with no real pleasure due to the conditions, the route guide described it as having an ‘airy summit’ and for me that’s not rewarding at all.

As soon as I got out of the cloud my mood lifted and I felt happy to be back among brighter skies, the loch below my target. Reaching the Bothy I had intended to relax and wait for Bruce. Sadly, the midges were desperate to disturb this plan so I ended up walking back up the road a bit to gain a little height and a breeze before settling down.

I didn’t have to wait too long before Bruce appeared, very happy with himself for having completed these two remote munros and getting ever closer to his target of finishing the lot!

Blasting Back

The return leg, as we thought, was so much easier! There was a tiny bit of pushing but we soon realised that despite weary legs we could grind out most of the ups. Looking back we got the views, the mist finally having cleared. The two summits could clearly be seen, Lurg Mhor on the right, Bidean on the left.

The steep sections heading down were a little challenging for the brakes at times and I was very glad to be riding my faithful old Stumpjumper, enjoying the bounce of the suspension. What a relief it was to finally reach the car. 25 miles, one very long day!