FIRST it was Leicester City, then Brexit, then Trump, so it’s little wonder I am genuinely surprised by anything these days.
But the latest statistics of recorded Munro finishes couldn’t have shocked me more than finding out Alex Salmond and Theresa May had been caught snogging behind the Commons bike-sheds.
The figures for the six years from 2010 to 2015, published in the Munro Society Journal, show the ratio of male to female ‘compleations’ at nearly four to one. It may just be naivety on my part, or the fact I walk with so many female friends, but I had assumed the numbers would be closer to 50-50.
The last two Munro ‘compleation’ parties I have attended have been for women; two of my walking partners are nearing their big finish; the attendees on my mountain club’s regular day walks are relatively evenly matched. I know so many women who are regularly out there racking up Munros. This just doesn’t add up. But the full figures are there in black and white:
2010 – 217 finishers, 78% male;
2011 – 242 finishers, 78% male;
2012 – 217 finishers, 78% male;
2013 – 248 finishers, 79% male;
2014 – 233 finishers, 81% male;
2015 – 250 finishers, 76% male.
When I started walking the hills, it was still largely a male-dominated pastime. When we needed advice about a certain route, we always tip-toed over to the grizzled old colleague of few words in the hope he would grant you an audience that didn’t involve too much growling.
It was almost mandatory to have a beard. Then along came The Munro Show. And it was presented by a woman. A young woman, at that. Her from The Tube, spiky-haired punkette Muriel Gray, chirpy, chatty, likeable, with a liberal dollop of sass.
The show changed the perception of hillwalking. It was an inspiration, and not just for women. It brought a dash of colour to the scene, it showed mountain walking could be fun. It also showed that it was healthy to show a little fear at times.
It opened our eyes to the possibilities of climbing every mountain, that the hills were for anyone and everyone, not just members of some elitist, mountaineering Taliban who seemed determined to guard their secrets and solitude, masters of the glower of Scotland. I remember watching those overhead tracking shots of Muriel walking along the finest ridges in the country. It made me ache to be there, as it did so many others.
Over the next few years, our group expanded and we soon had as many female as male members. So why the huge disparity in Munro finishers?
Hazel Strachan, the first woman to have notched up seven Munro rounds – she is currently closing in on No.9 – isn’t surprised by the stats. She says she hardly ever encounters other solo women walkers on her travels. But solo walkers are in the minority anyway. I go out a lot on my own the bulk of the time and it is unusual to meet a lone woman. Despite their years of experience, my regular partners hardly ever venture out alone, but it’s nothing to do with fear or lack of ability: just like so many of either sex, they prefer the company, the social aspect of hillwalking.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Muriel and many other women I have been pestering over the last few weeks. The biggest surprise in the figures, they told me, was that I should be surprised.
Women’s lives change dramatically with marriage, children, career breaks and for a variety of other reasons, and often the lure of the mountains has to be put on hold. For many, unfortunately, the chase never restarts. When the rare opportunity to get back out there does comes along it is seen more as a social occasion. Their lesser halves, however, are more likely to been carrying on regardless throughout all the life changes.
But it’s more than that. I believe women are generally more sensible than men, less stupidly gung-ho, and are less likely to regard the pursuit of mountain goals as some kind of heroic quest. They are also better attuned to the needs of others, and will be more prepared to compromise.
With the average age of a ‘compleater’ around 54, it may just be a matter of time before we start to see a swing. I suspect the numbers will even out more over the next ten years.