THE recent rise in popularity of Munro jigsaw puzzles should come as no surprise as the completion of any full mountain round is really just one giant jigsaw.
Some days you can get on a roll with multiple pieces, sometimes it's much harder and one will do nicely, but every single slotted-in section takes you closer to the complete picture.
I'm ready to start slotting the final pieces into my latest puzzle after getting the all-clear to resume big mountain days following a minor leg operation seven weeks ago. I've been active throughout that time but precaution was always the watchword, so my thanks go to the smaller hills and coastal walks that have provided much-needed relief.
This round has been a strange one: I racked up more than 200 in the first two years, then, in a move that even the Marquis de Sade would have deemed too masochistic, put it on hold to concentrate on finishing the Grahams and Donalds.
Before I could get going again, we were hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the stop-start formula continued. And shortly after freedom to enjoy the hills without restrictions was restored, I received the long delayed date for my procedure.
The path to a finish appears to be clear again, but despite having less than 20 to go, I'm in no rush. It's quality that counts now: the days of trudging uphill with nothing to see are long gone. Besides, after the way life has gone in the last couple of years, I wouldn't be surprised if we get news of an imminent extinction level meteor strike.
The final stage of any round of mountains is usually a mix of exciting prospects and odds and ends, those orphan hills that didn't fit in to natural circuits or pairings or that had to be abandoned at the time, and mine is no different.
I have trips to Knoydart and Skye, the traverse of Liathach, a big circuit in the Fannaichs and a couple of solo days in Affric and Kintail. I also have Ben Klibreck, but my decision to leave this lone northern mountain until near the end was deliberate as I hope to do a more forensic circuit of all its summits with a return along the lonely glen on the eastern side. And then there's Sgurr Mor, that huge, lone mountain deep in the wilds between Loch Cuaich and Loch Arkaig, a hill that seems the epitome of Munro solitude.
It's not the most remote: Seana Bhraigh, A' Mhaighdean or Ben Alder could lay claim to that title, but they are a bit more sociable, usually climbed along with some or all of their Munro neighbours. It's far more awkward to include Sgurr Mor with its equals. It's not impossible – a multi-day journey into the heart of Knoydart via the Arkaig peaks is a classic endeavour – but this is a mountain better served by combining the ascent with its Corbett neighbours.
It is the one mountain that has consistently been left to the latter stages of my Munro rounds and I suspect that's also the case for many other walkers. You don't hear of many tackling this at the start of a round.
There's the dreaded road in along Loch Arkaig for a start, a potholed rollercoaster that never seems to end. Those who do venture in for the first time tend to have their eyes on the threesome of Sgurr nan Coireachan, Garbh Choich Mhor and Sgurr na Ciche rather than the one tick for about the same effort. The enthusiasm for a swift return journey on that road may be found lacking.
I have often looked at the route in from the Kinloch Hourn road, coming over Gairich and Sgurr an Fhurain and then back out along the River Kingie but it's a monster of a walk with big ups and downs and a laborious return over tough terrain.
The favoured option for this fourth ascent is therefore a repeat of my second, climbing up to the summit of Sgurr Cos na Breachd-laoidh, then dropping down and over An Eag and Sgurr Beag to Sgurr Mor before continuing on to Sgurr an Fhuarain.
The two Corbetts add little to the overall ascent and length of the day – a mere in-and-out to Sgurr Mor means two re-ascents anyway – so it seems the most economical, and it gets you in the mood for carrying on with the Corbetts.
The following day you can add the handy pairing of Fraoch Bheinn and Sgurr Mhurlagain to give you a fine tally of one Munro and four Corbetts. And it also means an extra day to build up the courage for that drive back out.