Jenny Hatfield plans to summit her final Marilyn this month – and will walk into the record books as the first woman to complete all of the 1,556 British mountains.
On September 25, Jenny, from Cumbria, will hike Cruinn a’Bheinn in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park.
She will become the first woman to walk a round of Marilyns, which are defined as mountains or hills in the UK with a prominence of at least 150 metres, regardless of absolute height.
To date, just eight other people, all men, have achieved the feat.
At the same time, her partner Rick Salter will also complete his round of Marilyns, which means the couple will be the first to finish together.
What is a Marilyn?
The list of Marilyns was first compiled by Alan Dawson in his book The Relative Hills of Britain.
A Marilyn is measured in metric terms and is a summit with a prominence of at least 150m.
The name is claimed to have been coined as a pun on the Munro, a Scottish mountain with a height of more than 3,000 feet, which is homophonous with (Marilyn) Monroe. Although this is unconfirmed and may just be a hill walking myth!
Jenny’s Marilyns challenge
Some 44 years ago, in the summer of 1972, Jenny walked her first Marilyn, 950m Helvellyn in the Lake District.
She recalls: “I was on a youth hostelling trip with my sister. I remember that it was misty – and deserted – at the top and we fed some seagulls with our sandwiches.”
She could not have known then that it would be the start of something much bigger.
It was only 15 years ago, when she bought Alan Dawson’s book about the Marilyns (first published in 1992), that Jenny began her more serious pursuit of the mountains.
She says: “I was attracted to the list because it covers the whole of the UK, with hills of all sizes and with a huge range of characters, yet the list did not seem so big as to be unachievable. Yes, it’s a long list but not so long that it seemed impossible to finish.”
Over the years, Jenny, 58, has enjoyed ticking off the summits, many of which she has walked on her own.
She says: “In my earlier days of hill bagging I tended to walk solo a great deal. Most of the higher Marilyns in Scotland and the north of England were done on my own.
“Over the last 10 years I have walked all the hills with my partner Rick. I introduced Rick to the Marilyns soon after we met and they have been a common interest for us.”
Yet it was only late last year that Jenny realised she might become the first woman to complete.
She says: “After I climbed the St Kilda sea stacks, Stac Lee and Stac an Armin, last October, a friend asked me if I might become the first woman to finish the Marilyns.
“At that time I still had nearly 500 hills to climb but it sowed the seed of possibility in my mind.
“I worked on the plan and realised that by devoting myself full-time to hill bagging I could aim to complete within a year, which would give me a good chance of being the first woman.”
Jenny, who worked as a science teacher for many years, before going into medical sales, gave up her job to focus on her Marilyns challenge.
She has achieved what she set out to do in the past 11 months and on September 25 she will walk with Rick and friends to the summit of Cruinn a’Bheinn.
She says: “We will be completing the Marilyns together, so we’ll be the first couple to complete, too.”
Hot on Jenny’s heels
There are a couple of other women who have also been keen to become the first to finish the Marilyns. Rick says: “Two other women that we know of are hot on Jenny’s heels but we do not think they yet summited the St Kilda sea stacks.
“These are very sticky summits because you need lots of things to be in your favour, such as weather, sea conditions and also you need to climb them when the gannets that popular the stacks are not breeding.
“We were fortunate to climb both stacks in good weather last October.”
Another woman has also done all the Marilyns except the Kilda stacks. Rick says: “Apparently she says she will never do these stacks because she’s not a climber. You need a good head for heights and to be technically capable of climbing the stacks of 196m and 172m.
“So, with all things staying as they are, it’s very likely that Jenny will become the first to complete the Marilyns next weekend.”
Jenny’s favourite Marilyns
Jenny says it’s very difficult to pick her favourites because it’s such a huge list and has taken so many years to complete.
She adds: “Enjoyment of the hills can also be very dependent on weather conditions. However, the island Marilyns tend to be high on my list of favourites.
“Recently Carn a’Ghaill, the high point on Canna, gave a beautiful walk up through heather clad crags to the top with views across to the mountains of Rum.
“Good days in winter can be very special. Perfect snow conditions on Marsco made for a spectacular trip one New Year, for example.
“Remoteness adds an extra challenge and a sense of achievement. Beinn a’Chaisgein Mor above Carnmore Bothy comes to mind for both reasons.
“Stac Lee has to feature, too, because of the planning and the sheer effort involved in reaching the top.
“And my local Marilyn, Blencathra, has been climbed many times and so that is a favourite of mine.”
The final summit
Cruinn a’ Bheinn, which is also classed as a Graham in Scotland, has been chosen for a number of reasons.
Jenny says: “It’s a fairly convenient hill and I wanted something within easy reach for friends, hopefully more than 40, to join us on our special day. It’s 632m high but not too wild or remote.”
She adds: “I have greatly enjoyed walking the Marilyns. I like to walk somewhere new, or to take different routes on to hills, rather than repeating the same walks many times.
“The list of Marilyns has offer a huge variety of hills and taken me to many places that I probably wouldn’t have visited otherwise. I would recommend to it all sorts of people.”
Jenny’s other rounds
While completing the Marilyns, Jenny has also finished a round of Munros, Corbetts, Wainwrights and Birketts.
What’s next for Jenny and Rick?
Rick and Jenny have sent themselves another goal: To climb the most ever Marilyns in one year. They aim to climb their 550th Marilyn in October, beating the last record of 549 Marilyns in 12 months.
Rick says: “Then there’s the Irish Marilyns. There are 453 in Ireland (of which 65 are in Northern Ireland).The Marilyns list was extended into Ireland by Clem Clements. We might well bag those as well.”