THOSE with too many candles on the birthday cake may remember Naked City, an American TV crime drama that aired from 1958 to 1963.
At the conclusion of every episode, a dramatic voiceover would intone: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”
You could apply a similar epilogue to Munro completions. Every finisher has a story to tell, whether it's those for whom once is enough, others who are tempted by seconds or those who just keep on going.
It has been said you could ascend the same mountain every week for a year and never have the same experience; different weather, different seasons, flora and fauna, colours and moods. It's also been claimed on more than a few occasions that you can never truly experience a mountain just by reaching the highest point. But I suppose hills are similar to people in that respect – some you are keen to see again and again, others not so much.
How many times have you sat at a summit cairn and gazed down into a corrie or across to a connecting ridge and wondered what it would be like to explore further?
When I finished the Munros first time, I was disappointed I hadn't caught a view from the summits of about half. It was inevitable the bell would ring for round two. This was initially conducted via a more leisurely approach, but as I started joining friends on their quest to complete that fell by the wayside and I found myself back up there on days when visibility proved an alien concept.
Even when I had three rounds under my belt, there was still a great white whale(back) out there. Beinn Bhuidhe, that lone peak rising above Loch Fyne, was finally harpooned at the fourth time of asking. A view from the top of every Munro was one advantage of doing multiple rounds. The other was that I could explore new ascents for all these old friends.
The one consolation of the early, stormy weeks of the year are that they are ideal for poring over maps, searching for those elusive or overlooked alternatives that may lie buried among the contour lines. There is always another route or two. However, nothing is ever that straightforward. There are good reasons that some mountain routes are referred to as classics. It's because they are far and away the best option. Classics, in fact.
For years, I have been looking at doing the two Munros of the Aonach Eagach separately, Sgurr nam Fiannaidh from the Pap of Glencoe, and Meall Dearg from the north, but then I get to Glen Coe and the siren song of that ridge proves too much, and off we go again. It's a similar story with the likes of Buachaille Etive Mor, Ben Cruachan, Slioch, Creag Meagaidh, where inferior slopes are the alternative. It's also difficult to turn your back on Coire Mhic Fhearchair on Beinn Eighe, or ignore the natural tight horseshoe of Beinn Alligin.
But some of the classics can be challenged. There's a fascinating ascent to the Corryhully Horseshoe pair from Glen Pean, and the Coire Lair round offers an absorbing way in from the north. There are mountains where switching from the trade routes is common sense. Ben Nevis, is the best example, with at least two superior options which avoid the dreary drag up the tourist zig-zags and the struggle to carve a passage through the fancy dress and flip-flop brigades.
All good so far, but then we hit the next level where life is simply too short to consider change for the sake of change. I'm thinking of the hills of the Monadhliath, Drumochter, Mamlorn. And it's painful to contemplate the walk alongside the loch on a descent from Gairich, much better with a simple there and back.
I have seen reports of walkers tackling the Strathfarrar chain from the north, but this usually involves an overnight or two and at first glance the ground does not look conducive to pleasurable days. It also brings you out in the centre of the ridge, detours and retreads hard to avoid. The same applies to the Glen Lyon foursome. Despite a welcoming reception sometimes more hostile than that given to Marie Antoinette turning up at a Paris protest with boxes of Dunkin Donuts, the southern line is much preferable to the long, dreary offerings from the north over ground that would make purgatory seem positively inviting.
Fionn Bheinn often gets a bad rap and it's certainly not the most exciting Munro, so I'm a surprised that more people don't choose to climb it from the more attractive Toll Mor side. But for sheer masochistic quality, Beinn Teallach takes top prize. The ground to the east suggests an uninispiring maze of bog and there seems no aesthetic advantage in climbing the slopes ahead.
I have never heard of anyone regaling feats of coming in from this side, but if you have, I doff my imaginary cap and salute your indefatigability.