My First Munro

I’m a keen hill walker and I’ve walked my fair share of mountains, too. It all started on a mountain called Craig y Fan Ddu (Rock of the Black Top) in the Brecon Beacons many years ago which I climbed carrying a backpack full of camera equipment. I was so tired at the top that I wasn’t able to take many photos – the purpose of my ascent – and so technically the climb was a failure. I continued hill walking on more accessible slopes and slowly it went from being something I did to get to photogenic locations to something I did because I enjoyed the experience of being on top of hills and mountains. It also helped me get fit.

On the Summit of Ben Lawers

On the summit of Ben Lawers

In 2006, I went on one of my regular breaks to Scotland and one grey morning I decided to take a stroll along an old deer stalker’s path to the foot of a mountain called Maol Chean Dearg. I hadn’t really through about climbing it as the weather wasn’t brilliant. The route, suggested by the landlady of the B&B I was staying in, skirted around the foot of the mountain. I could go as far as the weather allowed and always turn back if it got too bad. Not long after starting off, I reached a bothy – an old cottage now available for anyone to use for shelter or an overnight stay. The path was good and although the mist was low, I was enjoying the walk. Beyond the bothy, a peculiar rock formation appeared to be giving me the finger, and I wondered if it was an omen not to continue.

I reached to fork in the path at about the same time as the drizzle started. I was already wet, so I wasn’t too put off by this. As I sat to rest and decided which way to go next, another walker passed by. We chatted for a bit and it turned out that he was heading off to the summit. He asked if I was too and something made me say yes. I told him not to wait for me and he headed off at a better pace than me.

Climbing steadily, I passed into the mist layer and was beginning to doubt the wisdom of my decision but just as I was ready tot urn back, I heard the walker shouting from above. Through the mist I saw a vague figure waving and I followed him up the side of the mountain. This part was very steep, and consisted of gravel and loose rock. It was like climbing a sand dune and there were points on the climb where I had to use my hands as well as my feet. It was sapping my energy and there seemed to be no end to the climb. Suddenly, the path flattened and I was on a boulder strewn plateau. It was a chance to get my breath back but before long we set off again and after a few minutes we were scrambling over rocks football sized and larger. They were loose, too, posing a risk for anyone below and I was below my companion. I decided to climb on an offset path to him. It was easier to find my own way over the boulders than to try and follow his.

It was tough going; there was no chance to set a rhythm as every boulder was a different size and some gave way, rolling and scattering their way down the slope. Eventually, just when I thought my energy had gone, there was an end to the climb. I felt fantastic and bent over to gather my breath. When I looked up again, my guide was pointing above, and where the mist had cleared momentarily, I could see another steep climb. I was devastated.

As he began to disappear into the cloud, I got to my feet and started the final haul. I was struggling now. Every step was leaden, every breath was a battle but worst of all my mind was telling me I couldn’t do it and offering me an opportunity to turn back. I’m not sure why I didn’t. The mist began to clear but I didn’t notice at first as my head was down and I was concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. I Started to notice that it was getting a little easier to take the next step. Looking up, I saw the slope was flattening out. Then, fading in through the mist I saw the summit cairn about 50 yards ahead. Between it and me were my companion and another guy, who was sat on a rock eating a large corned beef sandwich. They were both talking and laughing. Almost within touching distance was my first Munro, but I felt I had to stop and be friendly, so I chatted with both about slopes and visibility and Munros ‘compleated’.

Then we took the last few steps the cairn. I was so exhausted I wasn’t sure what to do. It was my companion’s 219th Munro and my first. I just grinned like a fool. It felt fantastic. I looked around for the view – it was misty grey. Different shades of grey, admittedly, but grey none the less. But the grey, the mist, the cold, the wind and the rain didn’t matter. I was above 3,000 feet on my first Scottish mountain. I wanted to tell everyone about it. I didn’t care that I had to make my way back across all those boulders, and hopefully hit the proper path down.

Me in the mist

Misty Peak

The cloud began to clear a little as we headed down and the peaks of nearby mountains poked above the cloud. I quickly took some photos but I was more interested in getting down safely. The mist had cleared on our mountain, too, and now we could see small cairns made by previous walkers and they indicated a safer route. Still the going was tough. Boulders and rocks threatened to twist the unwary ankle and that would have been a serious prospect at this altitude. The loose scree gave underfoot, causing me to slip and slide much of the way down the final steep section. I could see in the slightly improved visibility the false paths that would have led me over steep drops. Wary, I zig zagged back down until I finally reached the path that circled the mountain.

With a wave, my companion continued on his way as I stopped to catch my breath. I headed off, back the way I had come. My feet were aching, my ankles were stiffening, my knees were hurting and my shoulders hurt from the weight of the backpack. I was tired, hot and sweaty but I was full of the buzz of having climbed a Munro, so none of this mattered. It seemed like forever before I reached the finger of rock. I laughed at it now, still hyped up with my achievement. The Bothy came and went. Each step was an ordeal but I managed it, and finally reached the car worn out completely.

A good hot shower helped my recovery, but I could only manage an old person’s shuffle down to the village to get my dinner that evening.

(Munros are Scottish mountains over 3000 feet. There is a list of 283 of them, and keen walkers and climbers seek to ‘compleat’ all of them. Ben Nevis is the most famous Munro.)

Advertisements

2 responses to “My First Munro

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s