Published 22nd August 2021, 13:15

    THE names and the numbers may be familiar but every single Munros round is different and every individual has their own tales to tell.

    When you consider the total of registered 'compleatists' is creeping ever closer to 7,000, that's a lot of stories. But there are also many tales of hard luck, of those who didn't manage to reach their finish line.

    Sometimes it's down to misfortune, of injury or illness, sometimes a dramatic change in circumstances. And sometimes there are those who simply realise that summiting all 282 has become an impossible dream.

    When we were still in our mountain infancy, heady with the excitement of tackling the big peaks, an older and wiser head told us that completing the Munros was not a foregone conclusion. It was the first time I had heard the phrase “they've done them a' but Skye”. This referred mainly to the Black Cuillin but was a catch-all applied to walkers who had decided that some of the more difficult summits would remain out of reach.

    One unnerving moment, one near thing, can be enough. You may have 200-plus Munros under your belt but suddenly it counts for nothing. The confidence is shot, every slightly tricky move becomes a battle of nerves. And for some, that's too much.

    Skye is often where that moment of realisation kicks in. One friend said her first hint came when her party arrived at the foot of the Inaccessible Pinnacle on a day of high winds. They made the correct call not to climb in these conditions, but the seeds of doubt had been planted.

    Despite having done more than two-thirds of the list – including many of the Cuillin, and the likes of An Teallach, Liathach and Buachaille Etive Mor by Curved Ridge – the battlements of Sgurr Dubh Mor now seemed too forbidding, Am Basteir the same. And by the time she had another opportunity for another crack at the In Pin, it was too late. The moment had passed. She had made a conscious decision not to finish the round, but there's no regret. Once angst replaced pleasure, she knew it was the right time to stop.

    Another notable absentee in her list was the Aonach Eagach, but the alarm bells weren't ringing at the thought of the ridge itself. Her partner at that time was a forensics student who had suddenly developed a morbid fascination with the results of people falling off mountains – hardly the ideal preparation. The relationship didn't last much longer either.

    It was on a Skye weekend that I saw another Munro dream come to an end, a walker finally facing the trickiest summits after a lifetime of chalking up the numbers had brought him close to the finish. His nerves were apparent on Am Basteir and merely increased on the continuation over Sgurr nan Gillean. Despite our best efforts, he decided he was way beyond his comfort zone and abandoned plans to tackle the In Pin and Sgurr Mhic Choinnich next day.

    Time and circumstance can often have a debilitating effect: one former hill pal found that returning to the mountains after a long hiatus had left his confidence shattered, his movements now slow and anxious when faced with narrow ridges. Any enjoyment had disappeared – this was now an ordeal.

    Another colleague, a grizzled old mountain man we had often leaned on for advice in our early years, told us he was going to spend his retirement finishing his last 30 Munros. He never did another one, the gap between his last outing and his advancing years seemingly taking its toll. He once told us he been thwarted by the weather on three separate attempts to solo the In Pin: it seemed sadly ironic to us that this great climber we had so admired would never manage to conquer his bete noire. 

    And then there was the workmate who discovered he had developed vertigo during an ascent of An Teallach as he tried to finish off the handful of peaks he had left in his latter years. That list was also left in limbo and he is now sadly gone.

    But if you think that reaching 282 peaks is hard going, spare a thought for those supreme baggers that spend their time chasing the 1,555 summits on the Marilyns list. Only ten people have managed to climb them all, the sea stacks of St Kilda the final stumbling block for most. 

    Who would have thought that jumping to a sheer cliff face from a small boat being tossed around by violent swells would prove so difficult?