Am I a cheating Munro bagger?
This weekend, the G-Force and I headed off to bag the Munro, Beinn Mhanach, just north of Tyndrum. I had been laid low by my third bout of cold and hacking cough so we wanted an easy-ish Munro. We decided to make it even easier by mountain biking from car to Munro via a four-mile track.
We have used our mountain bikes to access other Munros, such as those in Ben Alder area, and I know many other baggers who do the same. We have even mountain biked to the top of one Munro, Mount Keen.
But as we rode the track towards Beinn Mhanach, another bagger, stopped by the side of the trail for a bite to eat, shouted out: “Cheating!” It was said with a great deal of good humour and I replied: “Ha, ha. Maybe we are. But it could also be called ‘sensible’.”
As Munro bagging usually offers a lot of time for thinking and contemplation, this exchange stayed on my mind for the next few hours. I guess, from a purist point of view, using a mountain bike to reach Munros could be classed as cheating. But, then again, how about the people who reach some Munros by kayak, or take the boat to Knoydart, instead of walking in?
I also heard about one elderly lady who had one Munro still to bag, the Inn Pin. In her 90s, she was winched down from a helicopter to rest atop the Skye Munro and claim her Munros round.
Perhaps this story was an urban (rural?!) myth but it still underlines the point: Does it matter how you reach the Munro summits? I think that being airlifted on to the summits of all 282 Munros would be a bit far-fetched but can we be called bagging cheats if we choose to speed along a four-mile trail by mountain bike instead of walking?
Why it didn’t feel like cheating
To be honest, on the day, the Munro bag felt a long way from cheating. While we set out with a tailwind and sunshine, by the time we reach the steep sides of Beinn Mhanach, the conditions were hellish.
A strong wind had brought with it snow and hail and as we changed from cycling kit and shoes to walking gear we shivered and whimpered in the freezing white-out.
We were thankful for a mostly behind-us wind as we hiked slowly upwards. The Munro was one of those relentless upward walks that gave very little leg muscle relief.
Every so often there would be a bit of bright sky and the promise of better weather, only for the clouds to gather again and attack us with driving hail and snow.
Halfway up the Munro I knew I shouldn’t have left home. My cough kept stalling me and I had an increasingly sore throat. But we had come so far and it felt like the only thing to do was to plod onwards.
After hundreds of metres of steep ascent the summit finally rounded-off. Thin snow covered a soft mossy blanket that lay on top of the rocky terrain and we were pushed towards the cairn by a mounting tailwind.
I was suddenly reminded of another Munro outing recently, the last Munro bagged in Ben Lawers, when we were also pushed towards the summit only to turn round to descend into the full force of the wind and snow.
A horrible descent of Beinn Mhanach
If I had know how horrible the weather would become on this Munro I would have definitely stayed in bed. It was truly vile. And after a week in which it felt as though spring had arrived, I felt even more dispirited by Scotland’s fickle weather.
From the moment we reached the summit of Beinn Mhanach, it seemed that the full force of winter had returned. Skin wrecking hail and high-speed winds raged towards us as we slowly pushed onwards and back down the side of the Munro.
I did all I could to cover my face with a hat, hood, buff and wrap-around glasses. The G-Force had his ski goggles so he felt as if he was in a slightly better place.
I think the conditions we experienced were some of the worst I’ve encountered all year. The walking wasn’t hard but the spiteful bits of hail were horrendous. They seemed to find their way into any tiny gap between my clothing and also over the top of my glasses and into my eyes.
Thank goodness, however, we were descending the Munro. If we had been faced with this level of high speed winds and hail on the ascent I feel sure we would have turned for home before reaching the summit.
When we finally had a clearing in the clouds, we were delighted to spot our mountain bikes and muttered about “relief” and “soon back at the car”. We could not have been more wrong.
A tough return bike ride
The bike ride out did not feel like cheating in any way at all. Having changed back into our cycling kit I realised too late that I was going to be very cold. I wished I’d kept on my waterproof over-trousers and insulated jacket.
The hail, snow and head wind were still in force and felt even worse at mountain biking speed. On several occasions the wind blew so hard I feared I’d be pushed off my bike.
The strong winds also meant we had to pedal down the descents (the ones we had been looking forward to on the ascending ride into the Munro). The snow and hail sent painful daggers into my eyeballs and I could hardly stand the agony of the weather on my face skin.
When I pulled the buff up over my mouth I ended up with hot slavers down my chin and across my face. On several occasions I stopped to walk and to cry to myself.
As the G-Force summed up: “I would have said it would be an easy 10 minute ride back to the car but that was one of the worse mountain bike rides I have ever had to do.”
I think, in retrospect, that walking the trail would have been better because the weather would have been less battering. Certainly, when I got off the bike to walk some sections it felt less brutal.
While I doubt it was a good idea to even be outdoors with my cough and cold I have now bagged 177 Munros and I am almost two-thirds of the way to finishing my first round. Beinn Mhanach was simply another hard-fought bag!