WHEN the Reverend Archibald Eneas Robertson reached the summit of Meall Dearg in 1901 he became the first person to climb all the Munros. It would be 22 years before anyone else matched that feat.
But as Ronald Burn finished his round and all the subsidiary tops in 1923 to become the second Munroist, a new mountain club was being born.
Dundee University’s Rucksack Club is celebrating its 90th anniversary with a series of events, talks and exhibitions over the next two months, and current president Guy Templeton and his predecessor Brett Gregory accompanied me to the university archive to take a look at its proud history.
The old handwritten journals reveal a completely different way of life, a fascinating glimpse into the way society has changed over the last 90 years.
The men’s and women’s groups went on separate outings, with just one combined meeting each year. The formality of the age saw the men referred to in the records as Mr and the women as Miss.
Early trips were made by bicycle, train and even, on occasion, motorbike. No fast car blasts up the A9, no day trips to Glen Shiel or Glen Affric.
The usual stomping grounds were the Cairngorms and the Angus and Perthshire hills, and the outings would often last a week or longer. Crianlarich was the edge of the frontier; Skye and the more western mountains meant a real expedition.
The packs were heavy, the routes epic. One mention is of a 22-hour trek to Corrour Bothy in the Cairngorms. The hills were tackled the day after. On one occasion, a Mr Japp had to borrow “a huge and very heavy pair of boots from a shoemaker in Aviemore to make it home to Dundee”.
Each trip was planned with military precision, a list of food stocks longer than your arm. Among the pounds of staples like tea, bacon, sausages etc, there’s a tin of Creamola Foam.
There’s reference to breakfast knives being sharpened on grindstones outside a bothy “for the glorious feast of sausages”. Nowadays a plastic spork is more in evidence, and the sausages are probably more plastic as well.
By 1938, cars were starting to make an appearance. During a trip to Beinn a’Ghlo at Blair Atholl, there’s reference to Susy, “an automobile of doubtful origin but unquestionable virtues”. These were the days when men were men and cars had cute names.
During World War II fuel rationing meant trips had to be rationed as well. By 1947, the club had its first female president, the first sign of a break in male-dominated times.
But some things remain constant. The weather, for instance, is often referred to as foul, heavy rain and gales being battled en route to a summit. Some climbs are noted as “monstrous”.
And when you flick through the sepia-tinged pictures, you see the hills as they still are, unchanged over many thousands of years. It’s only the faces and personnel posing in front of them that change.
A dip into the records in another 90 years will no doubt show today’s climbers as part of that sepia generation.
*Thanks to the University of Dundee Archives Service.
(First published Daily Record, October 3, 2013)