WHEN Ilona Turnbull reached the summit of Ben Hope in October last year, she became the first Australian female 'compleatist' to be registered. In this guest blog, she reveals some of her Munro musings ...
HELLO dear reader. As of October 11, 2020, I am Munro compleatist 6,840 or Ilona Turnbull in my normal, non-hiking life. I’m delighted to have been asked to write a guest blog based on some Munro musings.
It’s not the most sophisticated of lists, and I know I’m inevitably mentioning things that those who are more erudite have more eloquently described, but all are truisms arising from my walking experiences.
I grew up in Australia and was taken camping and walking by my parents and with my brothers from a young age. Avoiding dehydration, sunburn, sandflies and relatively deadly snakes/spiders was par for the course. I moved to London 15 years ago and to Scotland almost 11 years ago, heartwarmingly on Valentine’s Day.
Friends introduced me to the concept of Munro-bagging when I lived in London. Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’ Chroin were my first two, climbed on April 7, 2007 on a bluebird day. Next were Spidean Mialach, Gleouraich and Stuchd an Lochain in late March, 2008.
First lessons learned were that despite there being only two weeks’ difference between my first bag and second and third bags, the weather was completely different – utter whiteout – and ‘Stuc’ meant ‘peak’ though it could have easily meant ‘stuck’. Since then, I have always carried additional warm kit, a head torch and I approached An Stuc with some trepidation in 2013 (it was okay but a steer would be do it from east to west on the ridge if you’re a bit of a feartie).
I suffered from depression and bipolar II disorder which led me to drop out of Munro-bagging by the end of 2017 though my numbers had ticked up to 83. After some significant life decisions and events, I re-started hillwalking in June, 2018 with the Glen Lyon four and that also re-started my love of hillwalking and being in the outdoors. For my mental health and to keep the black dog at bay, it became part of my weekly must-do – as important to me as having breakfast or hanging shirts in colour order.
During 2018, I climbed 82 new Munros, followed by 85 in 2019, and during the annus horribilis maximus of 2020, I 'compleated' on Ben Hope in foul weather in October in a Black Watch dress with my Aussie flag – becoming the first Australian woman to do so (and possibly Australian – there may be a Brit who holds an Aussie second passport).
I’ve had a marvellous time wandering the hills in all sorts of weather (but luckily no deadly beasties) and I’ve met lifelong friends on and off the hills. I’ve discovered wonderful mountain writers and poets, explored large parts of Scotland, lost at least 10 woolly hats, and became a member of the Kilmarnock Mountaineering Club and a director of Mountaineering Scotland. I’m passionate about hillwalking and want to encourage others. If you think that qualifies me to compile and share a list of Munros musings as a result, then read on.
One quick note – I do mention some brands by name – I’m relatively brand agnostic but these are standouts from my own experience (and I’m not being paid to endorse them!).
1. Physically and mentally, you get so much more contentment and achieve a greater sense of purpose than you ever thought possible.
2. Breaking down groups of hills and starting with ‘easier’ hills, preferably in good weather, makes it less intimidating and doable.
3. On difficult stretches, counting 100 steps at a time helps push you onwards/upwards/downwards (and sometimes sideways – definitely not regarded as a slip, of course).
4. Estee Lauder Double Wear mascara survives hail/rain/snow/sleet/sweat/the Fisherfield round.
5. Suncream mixed with Smidge doesn’t taste great.
6. Chocolate and dry socks immediately makes you feel better.
7. Toenails can fall off if you hike a lot. You can also bruise toes which turn a kaleidoscope of colours. Dark nail polish can cover this up.
8. You end up with a better grasp of Gaelic vocabulary, particularly colours and topographical features (see ‘Stuc’ above).
9. There’s a lot of wonderful Scottish poets/authors and poetry/books about the hills out there to discover.
10. The Twitter hillwalking community is really helpful and encouraging.
11. Your own curiosity about hills/OS maps, place names and history grows exponentially.
12. If asked repeatedly on a hike of the Braeriach traverse if female hikers can do it solo, in one day and under 11 hours, the answer is yes.
13. Completing tricky sections of hikes is both adrenaline-producing and incredibly satisfying (even if it involves lots of swearing).
14. Day 2 is more painful than Days 1 and 3, though Day 4 sometimes bites you in the backside.
15. Not enough female hiking trousers have an appropriate number of useful pockets.
16. Red Mountain Equipment waterproofs are superb and I’ve not (yet) met an unhappy hillwalker wearing one.
17. Hiking poles are transformative (I have now pole-induced biceps – short of World’s Strongest Man-worthy but decent) and are not just for the over-80s. There’s a reason so many guides use them.
18. Always buy a comfortable pair of hiking boots, even if it means trying on every pair of boots in both Edinburgh Tiso’s.
19. OS maps/Viewranger/Walkhighlands/the Mountain Weather Information Service and Mountaineering Scotland give you great support, the right amount of confidence, an increased chance of a safe hike and butterflies of anticipation of a new route.
20. “Wow, what an amazing view” and “ah crap, I’ve just fallen into another peat bog” are phrases which can be used interchangeably on the same hike. The first phrase can also immediately be followed by “I don’t remember the summit boulder field being this long/wide coming up here.”
21. Scotland is astonishingly beautiful.
22. I’m happiest in the hills when I’m alone but I’m not lonely.
23. Tunnock’s caramel wafers are more structurally sound than Tunnock’s tea cakes.
24. Compeed is your friend and it’s worth the extra money to buy that brand.
25. There is a large array of serial killing/murder podcasts available to listen to when travelling to or walking on the hills.
26. Merino pants/undies are worth the extra money; chances of numb bum decrease when wearing them.
27. It is possible to have contacts blown out of your eyes and get cold hives which land you in A&E (damn you Ben Wyvis in December).
28. You can only ever reach the summit under your own steam and your own determination.
Why 28? Because there are 282 extant Munros so there's a musing for one in 10 Munros or thereabouts.
Can you tell I'm missing the hills? Yes. Will they be there when lockdown ends? Yes. Will you find me up on one when it's okay to do so. Without a shadow of a doubt. I think the word 'joyful' is under-used but that is probably the feeling I get when I'm on a hill. And it's a feeling that lasts.