• NEVER MIND THE FINAL SUMMIT, THE SECOND-LAST MUNRO IS THE REAL FINISH

    Published 6th September 2018, 11:17

    ASK anyone to name their final Munro and they can rattle it off without the slightest hesitation.

    Ask them to name their penultimate one, well, that can sometimes take a bit more thought.

    It's easy to understand why. When you reach a certain point in the quest to 'compleat' a round of Munros, the vision is often of the tunnel variety, fixed firmly on that last summit.

    There's not many choose the In Pin or the Aonach Eagach for their final flourish. It's more likely to be a shorter day, a less strenuous climb, something nearer to home.

    It's the party peak, the one geared to be accessible to all the non-mountaineering friends and family so they can share the big moment. After all, you don't want to leave great-granny out of the picture. But I've always felt the second-last summit is the real finish in many ways. Touching that cairn is when the realisation of what you have achieved hits home. 

    Before this point, there's always the thought you can still fail. Once the summit is reached that weight is lifted; you can now look forward to making the date you set weeks, months or even years ago. It's the emotional 'compleation' of the round. All that's left now is a relaxing walk with the reward of bubbly and cakes.

    Don't believe me? Try a quick poll amongst your friends. I was surprised how many couldn't name their second-last summit without having to think about it. I was also surprised how many agreed that the penultimate peak was the one that brought forth that well of emotions. 

    One or two even had to have the meaning of penultimate explained to them, but that's another topic altogether.

    Obviously there are those who choose to finish on multi-peak days or who don't think about it or plan ahead and just take whatever comes, but a good proportion of budding Munroists have laid aside a special day or hill for that finish.

    I seem to have attended a lot of 'compleation' parties in the last couple of years, and there are more on the horizon.

    One friend had set the date and mountain at the start of this year, leaving herself with around 20 to climb, including six of the Mamores.

    We decided that dropping from seven to one in one fell swoop would be a grand way to handle the final countdown, and so, some ten hours after setting off on a day of blistering heat, we reached the summit of An Gearanach.

    For the first time that day, she felt weary. She sank to the ground, all the physical and emotional effort that gone into this day now abundantly apparent. She tried to shed a tear, but unfortunately was too dehydrated.

    Another had Ben Alder and Beinn Bheoil as her last two, a huge day out. Once we had summited and dropped off Ben Alder to the col, the change in her demeanour was stark. All the tension had gone now that the end was within touching distance 

    I have only once planned a final Munro and that was on the third round finish in 2015, but it was easy to organise as I wanted to climb it alone in the middle of the night. This was not being anti-social, but the fact that I wanted to make it a kind of pilgrimage, to be alone with my thoughts and to remember lost friends. I didn't want a party. I was happy with the silence and solitude.

    The previous two finishes, on Am Faochagach and Aonach Beag in the Alders, were rather random, and with just a couple of friends – whoever was available at the last minute – in attendance.

    Finish No.4 is approaching and I had been getting nagged into forming some kind of plan for a celebration but I have now rebelled against that and will take it as it comes. Besides, I feel that walking with 40 or 50 others kind of defeats the ethos of why I go out on the hills. Good luck to those who do, but it's not for me.

    Just for the record - my second-last Munros were Maoile Lunndaidh, Beinn Eibhinn and Sgurr na Banachdich. And I only had to look up the last one. Honest.