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Mountain bagging and writing: Interview with Rab Anderson

Written by Fiona

December 09 2021

This interview appeared in The Scots Magazine earlier this year. I chatted to Rab Anderson about climbing, walking, life and updating new SMC guidebook of the Munros.

Reaching the peaks

Rab Anderson describes himself foremost as a climber. He has hundreds of first ascents of climbing routes to his name and has written and co-authored many guidebooks about the sport in Scotland.

Hill walking, he says, is an “enjoyable extra”. Yet, this “additional” past-time has seen Rab, of Edinburgh, walk to the summit of almost all of Scotland’s most significant mountains.

He has finished a round of Munros (the 282 Scottish mountains over 3000ft), Munro Tops (a further 226 summits), Grahams (Scottish mountains between 2000ft and 2500ft) and Donalds (the hills in Lowland Scotland that exceed 2000ft in height).

Rab has also been working his way through the 222 Corbetts  (Scottish mountains of 2500ft to 3000ft stature).

Interestingly, the 64-year-old still seems reluctant to call himself a hill walker. He says: “Until about 15 years ago, the Munros and other Scottish mountains were summits I was keeping until I was older. They were reserved for a time in the future when I might not  be climbing as much.”

Then in 2005, Rab became involved in the writing and editing of an iconic guidebook, the Scottish Mountaineering Club Hillwalkers’ Guide: The Munros.

He was asked to replace the role formerly held by the late Rob Milne as the editor of the SMC’s Hillwalkers’ Guidebooks. He also became convenor of the SMC Publications Sub Committee.

Rab said: “Very sadly, Rob, who had been one of my winter climbing partners, died during an Everest expedition and I stepped into his shoes at the SMC. I felt then that I should make an effort to actually compleat (correct, archaic, spelling) The Munros.

“After that, I also felt obliged as an SMC member to bag all the Munro Tops.”

Rab with his wife Chris on the summit of Marsco, their final Graham.

Walking and writing: SMC guidebooks

In 2006, Rab co-edited with Donald Bennet an updated third edition of the SMC’s The Munros. This year, a fourth edition of the book was published with a new format. Rab co-edited this fully revised guidebook with Tom Prentice.

The Munros book had been many years in the creating. Rab says: “It takes a lot of time to complete a comprehensive guidebook to the Munros. There so are many mountain summits and, in the latest book, we have also included the Munro Tops.

“The Munros are widely spread geographically and some are very remote so this adds to planning and the time needed for producing a book.

“Apart from the checking of routes, which we do regularly and following updates and feedback from the general public, there is also Scotland’s changeable weather to take into account. For photography purposes, we hope for good weather and clear summits.

“In the new book, we’ve added times for the full walking routes, which is new, as well as the time taken if using a bicycle for part of the outing. Working out the timings is one of the most difficult parts of the guidebook.

“The actual writing of the route descriptions is the easiest part.”

A joint project

While Tom, a Glasgow-based writer and publisher, took care of the layout and photo selection for the book, Rab focused on the maps. The both checked routes and route options on the ground.

Rab says: “Tom and I split the work between us but, even so, it’s a long-term under-taking to publish such a fully revised and updated guidebook to the Munros.

“Because of all the checking I am now half-way through finishing another round of the Munros.”

Since publication in February by Scottish Mountaineering Press, the book has been well received and reviewed. The first run of 4000 copies has sold out and more have been printed for sale.

Rab says: “The SMC deliberately do small print runs so that we can more easily make amendments and revisions. However, there has been a bigger take up than usual for this latest book and we didn’t expect to be reprinting so soon.”

Previously, in 2015, Rab and Tom were joint editors of another newly updated SMC guidebook, The Grahams & The Donalds. “In due course”, a revised SMC guidebook to the Corbetts will be published.

Rab and Chris with An Teallach in the distance.

Bagging mountains together

Rab, along with his wife of 32 years, Chris, now has only five Corbetts to bag to finish a first round together.

He says: “Chris and I have a shared affection for the hills and we compleated the Munros and Munro Tops jointly in 2012, the Donalds in 2015 and Grahams in 2016. There is some pressure to have a bash for the Corbetts, but the hill we have left as a final one, Ben Tee, in the Lochaber area is our closest.

“The others a much further away and require planning. We have had to put a lot of our hill walking ambitions on hold over the past 18 months because of the Covid restrictions. We are getting there with he final Corbetts though.”

For many years, Rab wrote a weekly walks columnist for The Herald newspaper. Rab has also written a book of walks in the Pentland Hills, which is one of a collection of guides from Mica Publishing.

He says: “Tom Prentice and I run Mica Publishing together. Our books are self-financed and published. The walks guides cover areas such a Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park and Lothian & Berwickshire Coast, as well as walks in Scotland’s Countryside Parks.

“I love many areas of Scotland, especially Glencoe and climbing on the island of Lewis. But I remember reading that Robert Louis Stevenson believed the hills of home are as important as any other hills. It was one reason why I decided to write a guide to 60 walks in the Pentlands because the hills are on my doorstep.”

Rab’s writing career

Rab is both delighted yet seems surprised at how is writing career has grown. 

He says that while he’s had to also earn “real money” in various other jobs, such as property management for Scottish Special Housing Association and the installation and maintenance of safety systems in wind turbines, it’s the guidebooks that he has most enjoyed.

Rab says: “Back when I started getting into the outdoors, though family holidays and hill walking with the Boys’ Brigade and with my great friend Dave ‘Cubby’ Cuthbertson, now a well-known climber, international mountain guide and photographer, we used what was known as Poucher’s guide to some of the Scottish peaks.

“It was, I guess, a fore-runner to the Munros books we have today. I was inspired as a teenager and in my 20s to tick off the summits described and illustrated in this book.

“I had no idea back then that the walking would lead me to climbing and that my love of the outdoors would lead me to the SMC and to being the author of climbing and walking books myself. 

“There are so many more books to choose from these days and that is a great thing. Guidebooks are so often a source of inspiration.

“I am really happy to be a part of the SMC’s new and updated series of hillwalking guide books.”

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