I could never imagine becoming a Munroist – that’s a person who has finished a full round of Scotland’s 282 Munros – because I suffer with a fear of heights. But on April 2, 2022, I walked to my last Munro, Beinn Na Lap. Here’s my story.
My long hike to a Munro round
Standing on the summit of one of Scotland’s most remote mountains, I spot the location in the distance where my long journey had started.
It was on a ridge in Glencoe some 20 years ago that I first touched the cairn of a Munro. In fact, I reached two Munros that day – but I swore I would never go back for more.
The narrow Aonach Eagach is renowned for its steep sides and long drops and for anyone like me with a fear of heights, the exposure is terrifying. I decided that if this was what the pursuit of Munro bagging entailed, it was not for me.
Yet last week, on Beinn na Lap at 3074ft (937m) elevation, I celebrated walking to my final summit in a list of 282 Munros. Surrounded by 40 friends, I whooped, laughed and cried as I was flooded with an emotional mix of pride, joy and disbelief at my achievement.
To be fair, though, the feat is not new. After Sir Hugh Munro published his Munro’s Tables in 1891 – listing Scottish mountains with a summit of more than 3000ft (914.4m) – the first recorded person to “compleat” all the Munros was the Rev A E Robertson in 1901.
I’m the 7115th person to have registered at least one full round with the Scottish Mountaineering Club, which holds an official list of “compleators”. Almost 350 people have gone on to record two or more rounds – and the current record of 16 rounds is held by Steven Fallon, while Hazel Strachan has the female record of 10 rounds.
However, I never imagined I would – or could – be a Munroist. Due to acrophobia, I was sure that many of the more extreme high summits would be beyond my emotional capability.
A chance meeting – and the motivation to bag Munros
What I hadn’t reckoned on was meeting my now husband Gordie seven years after the frightening Aonach Eagach outing. Motivated by raising funds for a Scottish charity in 2009, I joined a group walk in north-west Scotland.
The so-called Five Sisters of Kintail includes three Munros over some 10 miles and with a total ascent of almost 4600ft. Although physically challenging, I was surprised by how comfortable I felt and how much I enjoyed the adventure and the views.
It was then I thought: “So, if this is Munro bagging, I might actually like it.”
By chance, Gordie was also part of the charity endeavour and as it turned out he had about 80 Munros to go to finish his round.
We became friends – then partners before marrying in 2018 – and I took to following him up mountains. I was there to celebrate with him on his final Munro, Ben Chonzie, in Perthshire in 2011.
Over those two years, I’d come to realise there is so much more to Munro bagging than scary ridge hikes.
(If you are wondering why I agreed to that first Aonach Eagach walk, let me explain. I was naive and inexperienced back then and when an ex-partner suggested the trip I thought my fitness and general love of adventure would be sufficient. I was very wrong. My fear of heights was far worse than I had thought it was.)
A wide variety of Munros
There is a huge variety of Munros, from relatively easy walks of single mountains, through breathtakingly beautiful day circuits of several summits, to multi-day adventures that require a wild camp just to reach the base of the peak.
I enjoyed many Munros far more than I had thought I would and it was amazing to have a reason to explore Scotland and visit places I have never even heard of.
But still I had no plan to tick off all the Munros. I didn’t believe I had the time, determination or mental resolve for a feat that takes on average around 23 years.
It was only in 2014, when Gordie and I decided to tally my Munros so far, that I realised I’d bagged more than half a round. I suddenly found more focus and in the following years I visited dozens of summits in my bagging quest.
I walked in sunshine, rain, snow, thick mist and, on some occasions, strong winds that made me retreat from the tops.
I learned new skills such as navigating by map and compass and winter mountaineering, witnessed stunning landscapes, spotted rare wildlife and made many new friends.
Despite acrophobia, I somehow managed to grit my teeth and “never look down” to complete some other ridges, including Liathach in Torridon and the Forcan Ridge in Kintail.
It still seems amazing to me but by 2020, I had less than 20 Munros to finish a round and, you won’t be surprised to know, the final list included many on the gnarliest ridge of them all, the Black Cuillin on the Isle of Skye.
The Munro round crux – the Cuillin
Revered as the most challenging mountain range in the UK, the arc of jagged peaks stretches almost seven miles and includes no less than 11 Munros.
And I’d been there before so I knew I would loathe it. In 2016, Gordie persuaded me to brave a daunting peak, the Inaccessible Pinnacle, which rises like a shark’s fin from the summit of Sgùrr Dearg.
He’s an experienced climber and with ropes and a friend at my feet to further guide me, I cried and shook my way to touching the top. I also managed to summit two other Cuillin Munros that day, Sgurr Alasdair and Sgurr MhicChoinnich but I was terrified of the long, steep drops and I vowed never to return to the Cuillin.
However, yet again, it was my husband who gave me the mental strength to believe I could. “Surely you have to try?” he said.
The Cuillin traverse
By now, Gordie knew me well and he was convinced that with his skills and patient guidance, plus my fitness, we could bag the rest of the Cuillin Munros over a few days.
I recall very little enjoyment of the trip in August 2020 despite fantastic weather. There were only a few smiles through nerves, which never diminished and, at times, I was paralysed by fear.
But, as we descended the final one, Sgurr Dubh Mor, after several days of going up and down and along the ridge, I felt an incredible whoosh of relief. I now had fewer than 10 Munros left in my round, although there were still some of Britain’s most remote mountains to reach.
Five remote Munros takes me to one left
Then, in August 2021, during a two-day backpacking walk of five Munros in the Fisherfield Forest, I stood on my penultimate Munro, Ruadh Stac Mòr. I cried with happiness knowing there was no doubt I would now become a Munroist.
I set a date of April 2, 2022, booked the entire Hostelling Scotland Loch Ossian Youth Hostel on the Corrour Estate and hoped that Covid would not prevent a gathering of great friends.
The last Munro of 282
My final Munro was one of the easiest in terms of distance and ascent but it was also the slowest outing because our group took the time to enjoy the day, chat and soak up the views.
It was the most enjoyable mountain days I’ve ever experienced. While I’d known it would be a fun day, I had not idea what it would it would feel like to be surrounded by so many wonderful friends – many of whom have walked Munros with me over the years – and to share with them the stories of my Munro round.
Many of us made a weekend of it and while some cycled to the hostel, others walked or ran in and many came by train on the West Highland Line. It will be a weekend I will never forget.
My clever friend Ellen wrote a 100-word story of the Last Munro weekend:
Beinn na Lap. My friend climbed a mountain last week. Not any mountain. The 282nd on a big list of scary spikey hills, boggy heaths, rattling tents, pork pies, snow caps, long trudges in… and out again, courages plucked, deep conversations, cloud inversions, midge bites, friends made and views. Bloody marvellous views. One time she even found a husband. Wasn’t that lucky? But there’s a funny thing about luck – it follows some people like hikers’ sock smell. All the folk who cheered my generous and open-hearted friend up that final ben count themselves lucky that she found them too.
Joy as injured friend makes it to last Munro, too
There was further elation when my friend, David Venables, also made it to the summit. The Munro was his first hill walk after a horrific and potentially life-changing fall on a Scottish mountain last October.
Since then, he’d endured numerous operations on a badly broken leg and only the week before he was still in a leg cage. His recovery goal had been my last Munro.
Neither of us dared believe it could be possible but amazingly David reached the top of Beinn Na Lap and walked through the celebratory arch of walking poles held up by the rest of the group, just before I did.
A week later and I’m still riding high on a wave of elation having crossed the finish line of what I have always thought to be an unimaginable target.
The truth is that I could not have finished my round if it wasn’t for Gordie. He was my inspiration and also my hand holder and encourager on the gnarliest and scariest summits.
My favourite Munro
People keep asking me what is my favourite Munro? There are so many amazing memories, but one of the best was the South Glen Shiel Ridge in Kintail. Although it’s a ridge, there is little to fear if you have acrophobia – and in one long day we ticked off seven summits of more than 3000ft.
I walked the route of 17 miles with a total ascent of almost 6000ft in 2014 with Gordie, while looking across to the Five Sisters mountains where we first met in 2009.
The fastest round
I have not set any kind of record although I am slightly quicker than the reported average of around 23 years to finish a round. I am in total awe of Donnie Campbell, of Inverness, who set the fastest self-propelled round of 31 days and 23 hours in 2020 when he ran and hiked 883 miles. He also ascended 413,854ft, which is the equivalent of more than 14 ascents of Mt Everest.
What’s next for me?
I am already 83 summits into the sibling Scottish mountains list of Corbetts. There are 222 to reach.