TRAVELLING back from a recent mountain club outing, I listened to two friends talking about plans for tackling the outstanding Munros on their tick list.
They have a lot of long days ahead, journeys to Fisherfield, the Alders, the Mullardochs and Strathfarrar to name just a few. But the tone of the conversation suggested this was a task akin to the labours of Hercules rather than a labour of love.
The mountains were talked about almost as a nuisance rather than a pleasure, the Munro list a burden. What an inconvenience that these mountains are in such remote places. Surely it would be better if they were all nearer the roadside.
There was talk of fast bagging expeditions, cycling in as far as possible, taking the shortest and fastest route up and down the mountain. It had become all about the tick, not the walk.
It’s understandable that those with work and family commitments make the most of their time. Sometimes that short window of opportunity has to be seized, and it is unfair for anyone whose opportunities are unlimited to criticise.
But the reason most people go to the hills is to release the tension from everyday life, and when that escape becomes just another pressure it defeats the purpose for doing it in the first place.
I have always loved long walk-ins and as the years fly by I seem to enjoy them even more. It’s maybe the realisation that our time on the hill runs out faster than you think so every second of every walk should be cherished.
Two recent outings, while helping a friend finish her Munros, proved to be epics. First, there was a 13-hour expedition over the Arkaig mountains. Then the grand finale – a round of Ben Alder and Beinn Bheoil which lasted nearly 15 hours.
I have done these mountains many times in much shorter times, but that was when I could pick my own pace. This time, the walks were dictated by another’s footsteps but there wasn’t one minute when I thought that I would rather be doing something else. The extra time taken was a pleasure not a punishment.
Even during the more frantic outings of my first Munro round, when the clock was ticking due to the need to get to work, it was never just about the tick. If there was a ridge to be done or a circuit to be completed, it would have to be factored in. No simple dash up, dash down, to the highest point.
It always puzzled me that when the Munro list was revised in 1997 to include seven extra peaks, there were some folk who moaned that they would have to go up the likes of Buachaille Etive Mor or Beinn Alligin again to tick the summits they had missed. Why would you climb these iconic mountains and not do the whole ridge?
I did sometimes reach a summit and found myself wishing I didn’t have a time limit. I could happily have sat there watching the sunrise before setting off into the distant horizon, no need to be anywhere particular. Instead, with a heavy sigh, I had to head back down.
I am now in the fortunate position of being able to largely choose my weather, so outings in gale force winds, driving rain and zero visibility are few and far between.
That’s not the case for the first-rounders constrained by fixed dates. Then it’s a decision of going for that elusive peak in miserable conditions or possibly waiting another few months or even years for the next opportunity.
This need for speed is probably a major factor in the number of Munroists who decide to go on to a second round. There’s a realisation of what has been missed, all those summits reached in appalling weather, all those views seen only in books.
So for those fretting about the prospect of never reaching their big finish, take heart. You will get there. Then you can go for seconds and enjoy a more leisurely experience.