Extraordinary Munro bagger Hazel Strachan has walked into the record books becoming the first lady to “compleat” seven rounds. She breaks the 20-year six-rounds record held by the late Geraldine Guestsmith.
Hazel, 46, of Bathgate, West Lothian, claimed the title as the women who has walked the most rounds of Munros when she reached her 282nd Munro of her seventh round on Geal-charn this month.
The Scottish Government agricultural scientist had equalled Geraldine’s six rounds “compleation” last year. It took her only nine months bag her seventh “golfer’s” round to set the new record.
Note: A golfer’s round is distinct from a banker’s round. A golfer walks each round from Munro 1 to 282, while a banker might walk the same Munro several times during a round and then “bank” this summit for a future round. Hazel has said she prefers the “purist” golfer’s Munro walking system.
Steve Fallon holds the overall record for walking Munro rounds and has completed an amazing 15 Munro rounds.
Records kept by the Scottish Mountaineering Club reveal that almost 5750 Munro walkers have compleated (that’s the correct term for walking a full round) a first round to date.
Hazel’s Munro walking
Hazel completed her first round of Munros in 2005. Her second round was in 2008, then 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014. This latest round is her fastest yet.
Hazel walks most of her Munros on her own – in her seventh round she was accompanied on just 12 Munros over a total of five days – and owes a lot to her husband Ian who provides support along the way in their motorhome.
Hazel told me that her seventh Munro round was “terrific”. She says: “It even pipped my fifth round, which had been my favourite. I thought it would have been impossible to surpass the fifth round for its memorable days but so much went right with my seventh round. I managed to pair up so many days with great weather windows especially through the winter.”
A lot of flexible planning goes into walking a round and with 282 Munros to bag it is impressive to manage the full round in less than a year.
Hazel says: “I tried to get as many long days out on the hills while I could before winter, although this was quite difficult as I only started the round in October.
“I had an unforgettable day on the five Munros around Beinn Dorain, starting and ending the day by torchlight in late November. I was surrounded by cloud inversions or cloud draping itself over distant peaks for the duration of the daylight hours.’
The first half of Hazel’s round was completed by mid-February. Christmas and New Year brought reasonable weather and allowed the avid walker to be on the hills for 12 days.
She says: “Christmas morning was spent watching the sun rise while I walked along the summit ridge of Ben Wyvis. Rose light flooded the western glens over to An Teallach before the sun rose high above me. At lunch-time I headed off to be with my family for the rest of the day. This is the best kind of day.
“In fact, I can’t remember a winter when I managed to get on the hill for so many days at the weekends, even if there was a lot of navigation involved.”
Hazel says he never think of wet days, white-outs or cloudy summits as disappointing days out. She reveals: “They are, after all, part of the nature of the mountains so why not embrace it, but safely.”
Only wind keeps Hazel off the mountains. She says: “I shelve days where the wind speeds are over 50mph. Being petite it’s a battle to stay upright in conditions that are any worse. I was reduced to crawling on my hands and knees for the last 250m to get to the summit of Carn a’ Chlamain. At least I was on the sheltered side of the summit cone.”
Hazel was also fortunate that her work allowed her to take two month’s leave in May and June. “This afforded me great progress with my round,” she says.
“These were very busy months and I made use of Ian to drop me off at the start of ridges or pick me up at the end of the day in our motorhome. Other times he was sent home to do laundry, batch cook and look after the house.
“I remember his disapproving comment one evening when I finished my evening meal having been on the hill all morning just to get up out of my chair to head for three long days in the Cairngorms by myself. He said, rhetorically: ‘Have you only come home for your tea?’.”
Highlights of Hazel’s 7th Munro round
Hazel says there were many, many highlights but she did recall a few of them for me. She says: “Perhaps the most memorable was in mid-February when I wandered over 14 Munros with wild camping in the Glenshee/Lochnagar area over two and a half days.
“A couple of weeks later I was headed for Glen Ey and Geldie for perfect but cold conditions and more wild camping.
“In mid-April I walked over the 12 Munros around Loch Mullardoch, camping at 1000m on Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan. The absolute stillness and tranquillity was incredible. I watched the sun set over Kintail and Skye and rise the next morning through Glen Affric from the warmth of my new sleeping bag, a Chistmas present from Mr S! There was still a lot of snow to make the wearing of crampons essential on steep snow patches for the first hours after sunrise. It was a weekend where the conditions were absolutely perfect. I was so pleased to be out on such terrific days.
“And I was on the Grey Corries on May 1 in new snow crossing over snow arêtes and under a deep blue sky. I was in love.”
Hazel says she is “really delighted” to have finished her seventh round in her best time and to break the woman’s two-decade record of six Munro rounds.
Typically, she is now walking her next round. She told me: “I’ve made good use of the last of my holiday leave and have started my next round already. I’ll wait to see what the weather brings for my goals and ambitions.”
You can follow Hazel on Twitter @StrachanHazel