Big Al’s last Munro hike
Big Al was dressed for the occasion. Sporting a fabulous blue kilt, an equally glorious head-dress and wearing a gold medal around his neck, the Big Guy was ready to walk his last Munro in style.
And as tradition usually has it for walking the last of the 283 Munros, Big Al was accompanied by a group of some 40 friends and fellow walkers as he set off from the car park at Glencoe Ski Club with a huge smile on his face and a rucksack of beers.
If you have ever walked even just one of Scotland’s mountains with a summit of more than 3,000ft you will understand and admire the few thousand people who have gone on to walk every one of the 283 Munros. And as our group walked, I overheard others chatting about the number of Munros they had bagged, their favourite Munros, how tough the challenge can be and how impressed they were by Big Al’s imminent finish.
This was a mixed group of walkers, from experienced baggers who have also completed their own round to a few hikers who were walking only their second ever Munro. Two dogs, Oskar the Staffie and Wispa the Wonder Whippet came, too.
The goal was Creise, which was Big Al’s last Munro. In fact there is another Munro, Meall a’Bhuiridh, to summit to reach Creise so we also had to walk that. The route is an out and back which meant in total we took in three Munro summits for the price of one!
I really enjoy being part of a group of walkers because the chat moves easily between people who have nothing more to do than walk, look at the views and stop for occasional breathers. At various points I found myself chatting with a wide range of people from all walks of life. I love asking questions so I found out all sorts! Two chemists told me about their fascinating molecular PHD studies (yes, truly, I was fascinated!); I caught up on a pal’s gossip and life; I heard from another friend about working off-shore and I found out about the best gullies for skiing in Glencoe when the snow arrives.
Skiing in Glencoe is steep and the first part of our walk headed straight up the ski runs. While the resort looks pretty when covered with snow, on a cloudy summer’s day it looked little ugly. Chairlifts, pylons and ski huts do not look their best without a blanket of snow, in my opinion.
The resort has been given a new lease of life outside the winter ski season, however, and we watched as a number of bonkers riders tackled red and black downhill mountain biking routes. They were able to access the top of the bike runs via the chairlift, so I guess that while it doesn’t look pretty the chairlift is keeping an outdoors business in profit.
It didn’t seem to take long to reach the first Munro summit of Meall a’Bhuiridh and once away from the resort centre the surrounding mountains and the views were awesome – once the clouds parted! We spent much of the time walking at higher levels in low clouds but I think it is then even more of a treat when the clouds part to reveal amazing views. Glencoe valley offers an awesome vista.
From Meall-a-bhuiridh, the route heads along a rounded ridge and every so often we caught sight of plunging valleys, myriad lochans and distant mountains each with their own alluring characteristics. My favourite was the close by Buchaille Etive Mor, which looks so ominous but is apparently a fabulous hike. I haven’t yet tackled this Munro but it is on my list of grand mountains to do.
Catching up with Big Al at one point I asked him why he had chosen Criese as his Last Munro. He said: “I started out to do these two Munros a while back but I had to turn back after the first because of high winds on the bealach. But I always see these Munros whenever I drive through Glencoe and I just thought it would make a great last Munro. The views are great and I thought it would make a good walk for everyone.”
He was right. Glencoe is breathtaking wherever you decide to walk and these two Munros are not as difficult as some others in the area so it was possible for people of all experiences and fitness levels to join the last Munro Hike.
Heading up the side of Creise the hiking became steep again. The trail of walkers spread out and we each focused on taking our time, placing our feet correctly and moving slowly towards the summit. I was amazed to watch Wispa who isn’t the biggest dog, nor a very experienced mountain walker, find her own routes. When she couldn’t manage a large rock step she would somehow seek out an alternative route. She never complained and if she could smile I am sure she would have had a huge grin on her face.
Sadly, we didn’t much of a view from the top of Big Al’s Munro, but we did have a big celebration. Bottles of Champagne were popped, beers were opened and Big Al toasted the Munro with his very own odd tasting alcoholic spirit. (I didn’t ask!) The guys from his walking club presented him with a Last Munro tankard and Big AL gave a wee speech. He thanked everyone who had made it on the day, but especially those who had walked and supported him over the years as he’d hiked all 283 Munros. He was delighted with himself – and rightly so!.
The walk back down was fairly steep and required some concentration but everyone was still happy to chat and make new friends. I also enjoyed some time on my own thinking and reflecting on how much I love the freedom of Scotland’s great outdoors. We are so lucky to have the big mountains on our doorstep and I am fortunate to be fit enough to walk any of them whenever I fancy.
And then my reverie was broken! Overhead I heard a shout and a giggle. Some of the guys had decided that it would be a laugh – and a great way to have their legs – if they jumped on to the chairlift as it descended the mountain. What they hadn’t thought about, however, was the time – and the fact that the chairlift was about to shut.
So as I continued to descend on foot, the chairlift ground to a halt and the formerly smug chairlift guys found themselves hanging about going nowhere in the air. At first I laughed to myself but then it became apparent that the chairlift really wasn’t going to start up again. A few anguished cries from the smug guys sent me quickly down the last few hundred metres of the mountain and into the ski resort office where I had to ask the chairlift operator if he could save a “bunch of eejits”.
He wasn’t best pleased, of course, and gave the guys a telling off. Most offered to pay a contribution towards the chairlift ride and so their high jinx ended only with red-faces and a fiver out of pocket.
While they could be accused of cheating by not walking the full hike, Big Al and most of the group refused to choose such an easy option. The tall guy in the bright blue kilt had done it. He can officially apply to have his name added to the SMC list of walkers who have compleated* a full Munro round.
* Compleat is the correct word used for people who compleat a full round of Munros.
All that was left for the rest of the day was to head to the infamous walkers’ hotel, the Claichaig Inn and down a few too many pints. I wished I could have curled up on a cushion on the floor with Wispa I was that dog tired but instead I managed to join the group with a few glasses of wine. I can only ever dream of walking my last Munro somewhere in the next 20 years!