27 miles travelled, more than a full marathon distance. A combination of mountain biking and good old fashioned boots on the ground got me there. The halfway point of my munro adventure, hitting 141 of the Scottish mountain summits. In hiking to two of the more remote munro peaks in An Sgarsoch and Carn an Fhidhleir it was time to hit the reset button.
When I embarked on climbing my first munro summit in Ben Lomond I didn’t intend on hiking them all. In truth I didn’t even know what a munro bagger was or how to navigate. A couple of other mountains followed, before a longer period of time passed without any further progress. It wasn’t until over a decade later I would renew my interest in hill walking and become addicted to ticking lists.
Do I enjoy munro bagging?
The enjoyment factor is always a question that gets asked to a serious munro bagger. People not in the outdoor scene can hardly comprehend walking or cycling to their local shops. Let alone cycling over 20 miles to get to the start of a hike to a pile of stones.
On occasion I too question if I actually truly enjoy munro bagging. The truth is the hobby has its ups and downs but is always a passion I come back to. It’s an addiction that you can’t stay away from for long. Whether it be a chance to enjoy the peace of detaching from city life. The strenuous exercise of hiking mile after mile through snow and rain or the mental puzzle of planning. There are so many factors to revel in that the question should really be, why doesn’t everyone do munro bagging?
For my halfway point and munro numbers 140 / 141, I chose An Sgarsoch and Carn an Fhidhleir. Climbed from Linn of Dee in the Cairngorms the route begins from an excellent facility owned by the Scottish National Trust. A large car park provides overnight accommodation, toilets and even soap. Real luxury in the great outdoors. If you aren’t already a member I recommend joining to benefit from not only free parking but entry into other sites worth exploring. Check out their website for more details.
The route itself involves either a long walk in totalling 16 miles (8 miles each way). I would recommend the use of a mountain bike for this section. Don’t worry about being a super fit athlete to get you there, paths are largely well maintained land rover track and of gentle gradient. A hybrid tyred bike would probably get you there but for comfort I’d opt for something with a front suspension to soak up the bumps.
Wet wet wet
Three river crossings are required along the way. Depending on the level of spate at the time this could vary from hopping between stepping stones to full on wading. By nightfall I opted for the brute force approach of steam rolling straight through but the choice is yours. Wet bandit or softly softly catchy monkey?
Parking for your bike or a spot of lunch is rewarded by the end of the wider pathing and a ruined hunting lodge. It was nice hanging out here in the bright winter sunshine, perhaps enjoying the first signs of spring and the retreat of snow. Going by the collection of two wheels laying around a number of other munro baggers had embarked on the same hills today.
The later start time of 10am confirmed this by being greeted by two hikers as we set off on foot. A quick calculation meant that it was likely we would be cycling back in the dark. Our new friends clearly must have started at some ungodly hour. With the luxury of Harvey the RV I no longer need to face pre 6am starts, perhaps I’ve became soft?
Head for the hills
Other than the late start time the walking section was relatively uneventful. I’d picked these particular mountains after several abandoned attempts on other less forgiving peaks. The terrain was rolling grassy and dome shaped, perfect for ensuring I wouldn’t be hampered by wind. Snow and ice had almost completely left the area making it load lighter without the need for axe or crampons.
Visibility was excellent for most of the day giving a real scene of space and loneliness. Scotland really is a great country for escaping from civilisation with 360 degree views of zero human existence. Mile after mile of nothing but mountains and grassy hills with the occasional loch or wild bird. For hundreds of years the landscape hasn’t change nor will in future, like time standing still.
Learnings of the wise
My new year adventure to check out my first bothy introduced me to lots of new people. I spent time with like minded adventurers that had all taken different paths to get to the same place. A few of the more senior visitors to the bothy had completed their munro round already. I asked one how he felt on reaching his last summit? The answer – nothing at all.
I was shocked at first. The man was in his 70s now and had only completed the munro round in the last few years. He had experienced many different emotional challenges along the way; from the death of his climbing partner, to failed relationships and also happy times exploring bothy life. I couldn’t quite understand his explanation completely but thought it was something I would come to my own understanding of in time.
Finding your own way
Reaching my own halfway point and munro number 141 in Carn an Fhidhleir I too felt nothing. Sure there was the exhilaration of making the top and rounding off another successful day hiking but there was no overwhelming pay off. Contemplating this on the lengthy walk back to collect my mountain bike as night began to set in. I mulled over what it meant for me.
The conclusion for me was sure its a great achievement to complete every munro summit but its not the sole end game. In all honesty almost anyone can complete every summit if they really wanted to. A person of good general fitness could in theory hike each one over the course of 10, 20 or even 30 years. There is no one else congratulating you other than yourself for putting in the long shift.
The enjoyment for me is in each outing I take to climb a new summit. In doing so, creating a memory from each adventure into the outdoors to look back on with fondness. Personal struggle, hardship and the exhilaration of success. Together these replay a volume of stories filled with drama and excitement that you don’t get from spending your weekends glued to a television or shopping centre. Its these I will look back on in years to come and not purely a single moment at the top of summit 282. At the halfway point it’s time to hit the reset button and make each one count.