Turkey withdrawal on Bynack More

Bynack More – 1090m
Hill classification: Munro
27th December 2008
Distance: 12 miles
Ascent: 850m
Time taken: 6.5 hours
Weather: Cold, dry and sunny
Two Feet Four Paws: Anne, Bill and Molly

It was our first Christmas in Aviemore and we were grateful for almost two weeks of high pressure, blue skies and sunshine. We have now learnt that this was a fluke. Subsequent Christmas holidays have involved rain, wind, storms and knee deep snow. School holidays and Christmas in Aviemore = crap weather.

We needed to burn off the Christmas excesses and Bill was anxious about being too far from his supply of turkey, nuts and alcohol. So Bynack More fitted the bill perfectly. We arrived at Glenmore Lodge about 8.00 a.m and there is nothing like a temperature of -8°c to make you stop faffing and get your boots on quickly!

The walk through the Ryvoan Pass was somewhat chilly. On arrival at the Green Lochan Molly was disturbed to find it frozen solid and had a major sulk when she realised that a swim was out of the question.

We arrived at Bynack Stable just as the sun was beginning to rise above the hills, the low winter sun was blinding at times, but we mustn’t complain………….we might not see the sun again until March.

Thankfully with the ground so frozen the normally heavily eroded Lairig an Laoigh path was a joy to walk on (this was in the days before the footpath maintenance team had turned this into the stairway to heaven) and eventually Bynack More made an appearance.

Our first glimpse of a distant Bynack More

The ridge had large patches of snow across the path and these were easily avoided. I was so glad I had lugged my crampons all the way up!

Continue reading “Turkey withdrawal on Bynack More”

Beinn Each: A Corbett for the Navigationally Challenged

Beinn Each – 813m
Hill classification: Corbett
17th October 2008
Distance: 4.5 miles
Ascent: 700m (approx)
Time taken: 4 hours
Weather: Dry, warm and cloudy
Two Feet Four Paws: Anne and Molly

I had been suffering from a horrid virus for the last couple of weeks so rather than stay at home feeling hot, sweaty and sorry for myself I thought I should go and climb up a hill and get hot, sweaty and probably very wet. Having a quiet day on the sofa  with Molly around is not an option. I needed something short and sweet and Beinn Each fitted the bill perfectly, it wasn’t too far to drive, didn’t have too much ascent and was a short day out.

I have to admit, I pleasantly surprised with this walk. The majority of Corbett’s involve a degree of bog trotting, bush whacking and tussock hopping. However, this hill proved a pleasant surprise as there is a path all the way from car to summit. A real treat for those who are not navigationally gifted.

There was plenty of parking in a lay-by on the A84 by a Scottish Rights of Way Society signpost. The walk started up a tarmac driveway to a shed where a large footpath sign directed us uphill through deciduous trees beside a fence to a small gate.

View back to Loch Lubnaig

Continue reading “Beinn Each: A Corbett for the Navigationally Challenged”

Beinn Trilleachan: A Dog in a Bog

Beinn Trilleachan – 840m
Hill classification: Corbett
14th October 2008
Distance: 5.5 miles
Ascent: 1, 070m
Time taken: 5 hours
Weather: Dry and warm
Two Feet Four Paws: Anne and Molly

We left Helensburgh in the dark and completed the caravan crawl up Loch Lomondside accompanied by the rising sun and tantalising glimpses of clearing skies. However, it was all change at Auch – low cloud and drizzle, but ever the optimist I hoped it would clear by Glen Etive. It didn’t. We arrived at the head of Loch Etive after the two hour drive raring to go. The car park at Gualachulain was closed as there was major forestry clearance taking place but there were still plenty of places to park along the roadside near the edge of the forest.

Loch Etive. Well it might brighten up?

Continue reading “Beinn Trilleachan: A Dog in a Bog”

The Furths: They’re a Long Way from Aviemore

There may be only 34 of them but climbing the Furths is a major logistical challenge when you live in the north of Scotland. For those who don’t know the Furths are the hills in England, Ireland and Wales over 3000ft. There are 6 in England, 13 in Ireland and 15 in Wales.

Ireland

The winter of 2015/16 was spent planning, scouring the internet, pouring over maps and guidebooks and looking at travel options…………………

So how do you get from Aviemore to Dublin? The options were endless. Planes, trains, ferries and cars were all considered, but, as l am not really a fan of driving long distances, flying was the easiest (and indeed the cheapest option). Happily, three friends had also decided to join the trip. We met at Dublin airport and collected our hire car, thankfully equipped with a Satnav. Robin had travelled by plane from Edinburgh, Mark came by train and ferry from Yorkshire and Frank and l flew together from Inverness. After navigating through the Dublin motorway network,  adjusting to the metric speed limits and negotiating the toll motorways we travelled to the Youth Hostel at Glendalough. We spent the afternoon eating ice creams and being tourists. I was very relieved that we had left Molly at home with Bill as the area was festooned with ‘dogs not allowed’ and ‘dogs will be shot signs’ which l found very unsettling.

Robin and Mark on the tourist trail in Glendalough
Dogs NOT welcome

As luck would have it Alan, another friend from England, was also in Glendalough at the same time and invited us to join him on Lugnaquilla to celebrate his Furth completion. We woke to blue skies and wall to wall sunshine. This came as a bit of a shock as we had expected rather more Scottish weather! It was t-shirt and sunhat weather when we met Alan on the grassy slopes of Lugnaquilla. We celebrated Alan’s completion at the large summit cairn with screw top ‘champagne’. Luckily a local was on hand to point out what we were looking at on the horizon.

Alan completing The Furths on Lugnaquilla

After saying our goodbyes to Alan, we drove on to Cashel ready to climb Galtymore the next day. It was a good job we were all friends as our room was microscopic and swinging a hamster would be difficult never mind a cat. Again, it was warm and sunny as we took the well-trodden tourist route to Galtymore. There was a bit of mist on the summit but this cleared and gave views of the cliffs and corries hidden during the walk in. Summitting early meant we passed the hordes on our way down.

On the way up Galtymore
Mark and Robin at Galtymore summit

Next stop was Killarney Youth Hostel, our base for the next four nights. It was a fantastic place to stay, peaceful and tranquil, surrounded by woods and wildlife.

We had allowed 2 days to climb the 10 Furths of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks as a contingency plan if the weather was poor. Unbelieving, the Weather Gods were still looking down on us as we mustered at Cronin’s Yard to meet John and Dennis from the Kerry MRT who had agreed to accompany us. We headed up Hags Glen with cloud still down on the tops. John’s family own part of The Reeks and during the walk he explained recent improvements in land management in the national park had led to the repair and construction of footpaths, with path builders coming from Scotland to teach path building skills. John was also hoping that one day they would also benefit from the same access rights we enjoy in Scotland.

We scrambled up the ridge past Hags Tooth and over Beenkeragh and The Bones to Carrauntoohil, the summit of Ireland, adorned with its huge iron cross.

On The Hag’s Tooth ridge
Carrauntoohil summit

We then traversed out and back to Caher and Caher West Top as the mist cleared and the views opened up. The last big climb of the day was the 200m haul up to Cnoc a’ Chuillin. We rolled along to Maolan Bui and Cnoc a Peiste. The entertainment was ramped up a notch along the narrow rocky ridge beneath The Big Gun. There were a couple of tricky downclimbs (well tricky for me) which were executed with varying degrees of ability and bum-sliding.

A gifted scrambler blessed with very short legs
The ridge to Cruach Mor

The final peak of Cruach Mor was finally reached and we were greeted by a huge shine to The Madonna which had been built by a local man carrying rocks up to the summit over a period of several years.

At the summit of Cruach Mor
Robin at the end of the Reeks traverse

The following day we treated ourselves to a well-earned rest in preparation for Mark’s Furth completion on Brandon Mountain. With a deterioration in the weather we opted for a straightforward route up and down the Saints Road Pilgrims route. A huge shrine greeted us at the carpark and we followed the 14 Stations of The Cross and a line of reflective white posts all the way to summit where we were welcomed by yet another huge cross and celebrated Mark’s achievement with another bottle of champagne.

Brandon Mountain this way. It would be hard to get lost
Mark completing the Furths on Brandon Mountain

Following a celebratory meal in downtown Killarney four very tired walkers made their way back to Dublin the next day for the short journey back home.

England

Despite being English l have to admit that l have never walked in The Lakes so l thought l had better rectify this. Following a few days Donald bagging in the Borders, Ralph and l travelled down to our accommodation near Keswick allowing ourselves four days to tackle to 6 Furths at a very relaxing pace. I had several routes planned up each hill. These were weather dependent and often by the simplest route as Ralph was only a year old and had no scrambling experience. The forecast for the first day was distinctly Scottish. We arrived at the carpark in Wasdale in torrential rain and wasn’t surprised to be the only car there. The NT warden came over to warn against going up the hill in such conditions but after assessing my mountaineering credentials he relieved me of £6.50 and said I was OK to go! l set off up the Green How path to the summit of Scafell. I took a beeline for the summit, over walls and through fields, forgetting that in England the access rules are different and you are supposed to stick to rights of way……..oops! Up and down in mist and rain, not a glimpse of the Wasdale valley that l was looking forward to. Next day l was back at a rather busier carpark to climb Scafell Pike, Ill Crag and Broad Crag via Lingmell Col. After spending most of the last 2 years bagging Grahams today was a shock. People and paths, so many people. It was a relief to leave the summit of England to walk to Broad Crag and Ill Crag and leave the hoards behind. Next time my route choice will be more inspired.

The roof of England: Scafell Pike

Mark had agreed to come and meet me for the walk up Helvellyn. The sun was splitting the sky as we took the less frequented route to the summit from Wythburn Church. We reached the summit ridge to be greeted by the sight of people queuing to climb up and down Striding Edge! We spent a leisurely hour on the summit, even joining a group celebrating their Wainwright completion. They did not offer us any beer.

Mark and Ralph on Helvellyn

It was a return to dreichness the next day so we nipped up Skiddaw by the very quick Jenkin Hill route. The trip was a bit of a ram raid with little time to explore the area with my overriding memories of the trip being crowds, a shocking amount of litter and the 5 ½ hours it took to drive home.

Skiddaw? Could be anywhere

Wales

Andy and l met Robin on the M74 at Abington, already 3 hours into our 450-mile drive to Snowdonia. The forecast wasn’t exactly inspiring and we had only allowed ourselves 3 days to complete the 15 Furths. Andy had spent a lot of time in Snowdonia as a student and almost 35 years later fancied a trip down memory lane. Robin and l were determined to complete the Furths and we had a plan. We were staying at the luxurious Snowdonia Hostel in Plas Cruig which thankfully had an efficient drying room.

Plas Cruig Hostel. Highly recommended

We could see the summit of Snowdon as we arrived at Pen y Pass and parted with £10 to park. A ‘youth’ in the carpark informed us that Crib Goch was the most awesome scrambling in the country. I was greeted with a blank look when l asked him if he had ever been to Skye? Crib Goch and Crib y Dydsgl were traversed with only minimal recourse to all fours and bum sliding from the more cowardly member of the group.

A hillwalker out of her comfort zone on Crib Goch

Then we met the crowds, so many people appearing from all directions and we even had to queue to climb the staircase to the summit trig point. It was a quick descent down the Miners Track back to the car as the masses streamed ever upwards. With the hordes of people, the fumes from the generators at the café and the train passing us a couple of times, I have to admit that the summit of Wales was one of the most uninspiring places I have ever visited.

Anne, Andy and Robin on Snowdon summit
Snowdon descent

However, the day was still young so we drove round to climb Elidir Fawr from the Marchlyn Mawr reservoir. This would shorten our route across the Glyders the next day as we were due to be fighting a losing battle against an incoming weather front.

The weather was already closing in as we arrived at Ogwen Cottage. I had left my heavy duty waterproof coat behind so spent the day wearing Andy’s rather large MR jacket! We weren’t concerned with aesthetics, bagging our summits was the order of the day. We took the easier route up the south ridge of Tryfan, we didn’t jump the Adam and Eve stones, we bypassed Bristly Ridge on a steep scree path and slipped and slithered over the greasy rock onwards to Glyder Fach.

Andy and Robin on Tryfan
Robin on the Cantilever Stone, Glyder Fach. I wasn’t brave enough

The rain was coming down in sheets by now so it was a head down trudge over Glyder Fawr and some easier terrain to Y Garn.

Modelling an out sized coat on Glyder Fawr

After a knee shattering descent, we arrived back at the car soaking wet and a bit fed up. Tomorrow could only be better.

And it was.

The traverse over the 7 summits of the Carneddau from Ogwen Cottage to Gerlan would see Robin and complete the Furths. The route up Pen yr Ole Wen looked far harder than it was and we quickly reached our first summit accompanied by a heavy downpour.

Llyn Ogwen from Pen yr Ole Wen

The views disappeared again as we passed Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn. During the traverse out to Yr Elen the clouds parted and the sun begun to make an appearance. The ridge reminded us of Kintail and the autumn light raised our spirits.

Yr Elen ridge

We took a break in the hut under Foel Grach, found it hard to believe that Garnedd Uchaf was actually credited with being a separate summit and finally the path to our final Furth made an appearance. With great relief we hugged the standing stone that marked the summit of Foel-fras.

Furth completion on Foel-fras

So that was it. The Furths were complete. The walk out back to Gerlan in the early evening sunlight was relaxing and gentle on the knees. A quick taxi ride took us back to our car at Ogwen Cottage. That evening we enjoyed a meal and a few drinks to celebrate trying to forget about the 9 hour drive home the next day.

Thanks to Robin and Mark for allowing me to use their photos.

There are No Rules

To complete the Munros (or Corbetts, Tops, Grahams, Donalds and Furths for that matter) a person must have climbed to the summit of all the hills on that particular list on the day of their completion. But how do you do this? When the SMC published ‘Munro’s Tables’ it didn’t contain a chapter on the rights and wrongs of how a completion should be achieved, there simply are no rules. This leaves the method of and journey to completion up to the individuals own particular moral and ethical code.

So if you have climbed all the Munros but haven’t yet completed the Munro Tops can you really call yourself a ‘Complete Munroist’? After all when Sir Hugh compiled his list it did contain both 3000ft mountains and their subsidiary tops. Overall only 10% of Munro completists climb the Tops as well and how different would the list of completers look if a Munro round required bagging 509 hills instead of the accepted 282. 39% of the first 100 Munroists climbed the Tops as well with the numbers dropping with each passing decade. Maybe the popularity of guidebooks and websites advising on routes purely over the Munros and omitting diversions out to the Munro Tops is to blame. But it appears obvious that the vast majority of Munro completers are more than happy with their decision to interpret the list in this way.

Fionn Loch and Dubh Loch from Beinn Lair

After they have climbed the Munros many turn their attentions to Corbetts, Grahams and Donalds. When you look at these lists in isolation it is apparent that they contain 222, 219 and 89 summits respectively. However there are some anomalies. 7 Corbetts are also Donalds and 23 Grahams are also listed as Donalds. So how does the bagger approach these lists? Are they required to climb each one twice to claim the bag of the dual classified Graham/Donald or Corbett/Donald? These three lists contain a total of 530 summits but in reality how many only climb 500? Really as each hill is listed in separate lists then shouldn’t they be climbed twice? Discuss.

Then we move on to the thorny subject of re-classified hills. These can prove an ethical nightmare for many completists. If you completed the Munros before 2009 both Sgurr nan Ceannaichean and Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh were firmly lodged in the bottom tier of the Tables. Following the recent heightings by the Munro Society both these hills have now been re-classified as Corbetts. So if you are now aiming for a round of Corbetts do you need to go back and climb them both again as they now appear on this list? Some do and some don’t. To complete you need to climb all the hills on the list on the day of your completion. You’ve climbed them once so why do you need to climb them again? Obviously it depends on how well developed your purist gene is.

Above the inversion on Buachaille Etive Mor

An even more contentious issue appears to be the use of guides. Many believe that they must ascend and descend all the hills on the respective lists purely under their own steam. But why? A lot of people start hill walking to challenge themselves and what could be more challenging than finding yourself on the Aonach Eagach or Cuillin ridge with little or no previous experience of this sort of terrain? Not every hill walker is comfortable on this environment and most do not have friends or colleagues willing and able to accompany them. So why not hire a guide? The vast majority of guides/instructors don’t just drag their clients over the hills attached to a rope, you still climb the same hill, often by the exact same route as those who dismiss the use of guides as ‘cheating’. After climbing the Cuillin Munros with a guide a novice hill walker will have developed a huge amount of confidence, competence and skills on complex rocky terrain and should not be belittled for attaining their goals this way. Indeed, the SMC pioneer Norman Collie was accompanied by John Mackenzie (credited with being the first native Scot to become a professional mountain guide) on many ascents in the Cuillin. But………..……how do the small minority of people who have been lowered off of the In Pinn manage to sleep at night?!

Abseiling down the Inaccessible Pinnacle

Many female Munro baggers will be eternally grateful to J. Dow who set a precedent in 1933 by becoming the first person to complete the Munros without the aid of a beard.

Munro bagging without a beard. In Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda (Skye)

Do you need to get to the top of the hill to say you have summited? The vast majority of those who have reached the bolster stone at the top of the Inaccessible Pinnacle are happy to touch it before abseiling off again and very few have actually stood on top of the very obvious summit boulder. Baggers research summit locations with varying degrees of OCD, utilizing 10 figure grid references and identifying which individual rock constitutes the exact summit location, whereas others are happy to claim the hill as bagged when they  have reached a cairn in roughly the place indicated on the map and nothing round about looks higher. Can you have claimed to have completed a round of the Corbetts without ‘threading the needle’ and scrabbling to the top of The Cobbler? I would argue not but to many this is so far outside their comfort zone that they are happy to claim the bag by simply standing next to the summit rock.

Maybe life would be easier if the SMC required proof of summiting each peak? Maybe not, after all we go to the hills to escape from the rules and regulations of everyday life and surely claiming you have summited 282 Munros when you haven’t is clearly only deceiving yourself and devaluing the achievement of completion.

How do you get to your Munro? Do you start walking from the nearest accessible place to your target hill or do you rely on public transport or a pushbike? Over the years it has been interesting to hear the different viewpoints on personally acceptable ways to access the hills. Apparently use of the gondola to access Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag is particularly frowned upon. But this defies logic. The gondola will transport the walker to 650m, just over half way up Aonach Mor. However, the Cairngorm ski centre carpark allows the walker to drive to 650m, just over half way up Cairngorm and this appears to be acceptable. Although taking the chair lift to within 40m of the summit of Meall a’ Bhuiridh or The Cairnwell may be considered rather lazy!  Some view a bike as a perfectly reasonable aid to pedestrianism whereas others view them as an interrupting the purity of their walk, either that or they really enjoy sore feet. Boats also seem to split opinion rather vociferously. Kayaking across or along lochs may meet with approval but using a ferry on Loch Mullardoch, Loch Morar or across Loch Hourn to Barrisdale Bay is often met with a frown. Using boats enables many remote hills to be climbed within a day, therefore avoiding the need for camping or using a bothy for those who do not relish either of these experiences. These private boats are run as ferry services, no different to those catering for the islands. So does it really matter how you get there? No, just make sure that whatever mode of transport you choose you are able to justify your actions against those who shake their heads disapprovingly.

The A’ Chioch ridge, Ben More, Mull

So how do you count yours? An age old problem, one that many would welcome a ruling on. As Dave Hewitt wrote in the first Munro Society Journal (2007), the first round is simple, you just climb all the hills on the list at least once. The Purists (or Golfers) as they are known, believe that you don’t start a second or subsequent round until you have finished the last. Then there are the bankers who apply the cumulative mode of counting and simply start the next round on whatever total of repeat ascents that have already been achieved. Neither way of counting is right and neither is wrong but over the years many hours of debate have taken place discussing the ethical merits of each. Again it is down to the individuals own personal preference for one particular methodology and whichever route a person chooses no-one should adopt the moral high ground about their own preferred method of completion. The jury is still out on those people who use the out and back method to claim a repeat ascent. This group are comfortable with climbing over the first summit to the second and then reascending the first summit on their way back to the car and in the process count the reascent towards a second or subsequent round. They appear to be happy with their decision but l do wonder if they can hold their heads high in the bar at the Clachaig.

After taking this plethora of issues into consideration are our consciences clear and can we manage to live with ourselves? On reflection, if Sir Hugh had submitted his list to the SMC with a list of rules and instructions to aid our progress through to completion it may have made life a lot clearer but where would the fun be in that? You have spent hours that day discussing the finer points of bagging with your walking companions, argued and debated and finally agreed on an acceptable modus operandi, then just as night is descending around the dying embers of the bothy fire you hear the masses groan as a voice echoes out of the darkness ‘so do you think Munros or Corbetts are harder?!!?’

All hill totals quoted are from the current edition of the Database of British Hills www.hills-database.co.uk