IT was the perfect Munro finish; a tunnel guard of honour, piper playing on the summit and Champagne in the Cairngorms sunshine.
More than 40 accompanied our friend to the top of Sgor Gaoith for her final peak, a grand turn-out for a momentous occasion.
It was great to be part of Pauline’s big moment, a culmination of years of effort in the full spectrum of weather conditions, from dehydrating heat to blizzards and zero visibility.
It’s always interesting to see the different approaches to the last Munro. For some, it’s the end of a great journey with so much wisdom and wonder gained along the way, and it should be celebrated in style surrounded with as many family and friends as possible.
For others, it can be a more low-key affair. Sometimes this can be planned, a moment of contemplation at the end of a long road, but often it just turns out that way. A planned finish usually involves setting a date and time well in advance on a relatively easy Munro that’s not too far away.
Hazel Strachan, who has enjoyed eight finishes and is currently on her ninth round, always has her last mountain picked and dated almost a year ahead, but then as a solo walker, planning is vital. I’m also mainly a solo walker, but my three Munro finishes tend to have been a bit more unpredictable.
The first round was a make-it-up-as-you-go-along type of affair. I paid little attention to the list, just climbing whatever I felt like, so my final two peaks were in the far north-west. I was also doing them midweek, further reducing the options of any sort of party.
Two friends went out of their way to switch days off and make the long journey from Glasgow, only to be rewarded with a long, wet slog up Am Faochagach, one of the less interesting hills on the list. And just to add the festivities, one of them fell in the river.
The second finish, despite some degree of planning, was initially a wash-out. I had left Aonach Beag, in the heart of Alders range, as my last one. This remote mountain may seem an equally strange choice for a party, but a group of us had rented a house for the week so we had a base nearby. One friend even flew over from Boston for the event. Unfortunately, he had landed in monsoon season and despite a brave effort by everyone involved, the attempt was abandoned amid raging rivers and horizontal rain.
A cut-down version of the group, minus our American visitor, managed to reach the summit a few days later but the party atmosphere quicker than if Russ Abbot had been singing about it.
I never really intended doing a third round, but when the numbers started piling up I gave it a final push and found myself alone on Ben More in Mull in the middle of the night.
This was supposed to be a kind of pilgrimage, and I had hoped to sit on the summit and watch the sun rise while remembering lost friends, but again my plans were scuppered by the weather and I spent an hour lying low inside the cairn hoping for a break in the wind and rain. It never happened.
And so, as I enjoyed the sunshine and celebrations on Sgor Gaoith with Pauline and Co, I decided that this fourth round of Munros would be my last. Nothing to do with Sgor Gaoith. It’s a special peak and I’m sure I will be up there again soon.
No, it was its near neighbour, Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair, that finally did it for me. I realised that four times on this pimple in the middle of a vast swathe of bog was more than enough for one lifetime.
I’ve finally hit the Munro ‘compleation’ wall. There’s so much more to see and summit, so no more time wasted on the likes of Moruisg, Meall Ghaordaidh, Beinn Mhanach. And bloody Am Faochagach.
I will invite you all to my final, final Munro party, either next year or the next. And then it will all be about quality.