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The Cardinal Munros in a day

Written by Fiona

April 26 2019

Have you heard of the Cardinal Munros? These are described as the four Munros that are the furthest north, south, east and west. It appears the term was coined by Munro bagger Stephen Senn, although there may be other names for these four outer lying mountains.

The four Munros are:

  • Ben Hope (northerly)
  • Ben Lomond (southerly)
  • Mt Keen (easterly)
  • Sgurr na Banachdich (westerly).

While many people will have walked the Cardinal Munros separately, and some have set out to walk (and cycle between) the four over a number of weeks, I am not aware of anyone summiting all of them in a day.

This was until Ally MacInnes, of the Westerlands Hill Running Club (the Westies) decided to give it a go. Earlier this month, he and two friends, Chris and Tom, set out to run to the summit of the Cardinal Munros and drive in between.

Ally confirmed: “I did a Google search to see if anyone had done this before. Stephen Senn has a nice wee description of his experiences on each hill and seems to have coined the collective name for the group, The Cardinal Munros.

“Apart from that there are a couple of folk who have cycled and walked them over a number of weeks, or as part of a larger challenge.

“But I was thinking quicker, using a car, like in a day, maybe? No one had mentioned that.”

The Cardinal Munros route in a day

Ally decided that the best plan was West, North, East and South. He said: “None of these mountains are technical and the ‘normal’ tourist path routes seem to be the quickest.

“Mt Keen was interesting because a friend had previously run it as a point-to-point from Glen Tanar to Glen Esk and proposed that. A driver would take the vehicle round to the finish point.

“The extra run distance would be off-set by less driving time on the critical path.”

Ally reckoned time of 21.50 was achievable for the full challenge and therefore a potential a sub-24 hour record. He said: “This included a climb and descent of each mountain, so starting and stopping the clock at the car parks, not just the summits.”

Easter weekend Cardinal Munros run

Midnight start on Skye

00:00 Sat 20th April 2019 – Sgurr na Banachdich

Ally reports: “Bang on midnight we touched the car and trotted along. The path was good up the burn with the faint outline of the mighty Cuillin ahead.

“The full moon was hiding behind the clouds but a fair wind meant it made a couple of guest appearances when we turn off our headtorches and enjoyed moving at one with the hill.

“In the dark, we missed the right hand turn at 150m and decided to stick to the burn which is less direct but a decent path.

“After a rough route over the Coir’ an Eich scree, we soon topped out on to the western approach ridge.

“A small cairn at the summit seemed to be it and we checked out watches to be sure of our location.

“We touched the car again after the descent at 2hrs 2mins.”

Drive to Ben Hope

Ally reports: “It was exhausting in the dark. One thing we didn’t factor into the challenge was the deer and their decision to have a full moon party on the roads.

“After several close encounters, we are glad of the first morning light and a coffee stop at Skiach fuel station.

“We ended up 30 minutes down on schedule but it was not bad all considered.”

On Ben Hope.

Ben Hope

06:53 Sat 20th April 2019 – Ben Hope

 Ally reports: “After a quick turnaround from the car at Ben Hope, we were off. It was a solid run and my legs still felt generally strong.  It took an hour to summit but the top 300m or so was in wet and windy cloud.

“We were back down in 30 minutes. That meant 15minutes clawed back on the schedule.”

Drive from Ben Hope to Mt Keen

Ally reports: “This was the longest section of the route (5.5 hours).

Mt Keen

14:18 Sat 20th April 2019 – Mt Keen

Ally reports: “Again we touched the car and started the watches. In a fantastic show of support, two more friends, Sam and Ali B, had come along to join us for this leg but informed us during our pre-run faff that they would crack on and let us catch them up the glen.

“It was a scorching hot with the sun blaring. We had a sweaty run along the flat Glen Esk. We met the lads at the Queen’s Well before we hit the stalkers’ path that winds up eventually to the summit.

“Sam and Ali were on good form and we moved along just fine. We stumbled upon an adder basking on the rocky path, which was a highlight.

“We had good views at top, before descending and returning to the car in 2hrs 19mins. Again, we had pulled back on the schedule.”

Drive Mt Keen to Rowardennan

Ally reports: “This was the shortest drive but we were feeling pretty done in.

Heat and sleep deprivation had made us tired.”

Ben Lomond

20:00 Sat 20th April 2019 – Ben Lomond

Summit of Ben Lomond.

Ally reports: “We had heard that more friends, Kerry, Katie, Jenn and Tom, had planned to support us on the final climb but when we arrived at the base of ben Lomond they had already set off. They said we should go at our own pace.

“Then, as we set off and passed the toilet block in the car park, Tom realised he had forgotten his headtorch and so had I. There was no chance to retrace our steps and we decided to worry about that on the way down.

“Again, we climbed steadily but we knew we were knackered. It was a warm evening and we were running on fumes.

“Eventually, about three-quarters of the way up, we spot the others ahead and know it’s a good time to stretch out our strides.

“We reached the summit at 21:18. The last of the daylight was disappearing as we propped ourselves against the trig and enjoyed the sweet warm can of lager we had each lugged up the slope.

“It was going to be a long walk down, we knew that. Sharing headtorches made the rough path a challenge so there was no running involved.

“We touched the car at 22:31. Job done and challenge completed.”

As far as Ally is aware this was the first known round of all four cardinal Munros in less than 24 hours. They took 22 hours 31 minutes. Now, who is up for beating that?

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