Walking down a hill alongside someone carrying two large red numbers was almost guaranteed to generate some curiosity amongst other hill goers, and sure enough, we encountered some suitably crusty old curmudgeons who, having discovered the reason for Wendy’s big 70 sign, took the time and trouble to remind her that, in the grand scheme of ticking off Scottish hill lists, she’s still taking baby steps. To be honest, I’ve never understood the pleasure some people seem to take in talking down other people’s achievements, especially when they’re so multi-layered as the 70 Munros Challenge has been. While climbing 70 hills was the banner headline which many people focused on, the underlying purpose was to try and raise £70,000 in funding for Christian Aid projects, particularly the Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund, and to raise awareness of the work that the organisation does. At the time of writing, the fundraising total has passed it’s target by some margin, and, anecdotally at least, there’s been an awful lot of chat about a whole host of subjects related to the work that Christian Aid does.
What has been particularly interesting has been the way other people have adapted the challenge for themselves; some people taking their own first tentative steps into the mountains, while others have mirrored Wendy’s efforts in completing all 70. For at least two people I know, it’s been the catalyst for finally completing a complete round of all 282 Munros, and we’ve had numerous people who have taken on the individual hills and pushed themselves far beyond what they thought they might be capable of both physically and psychologically. For my own part, the challenge has been less about the physical demands of the hills at a personal level, and more about the challenge of consistently making good judgement calls in the planning and execution of each journey, particularly in the early days when it seemed as if winter had settled on the hills on a permanent basis. It’s one thing to be able to look after yourself in the hills in winter, and another thing to be able to extend your own personal comfort zone to encompass a group and ensure that they are not only objectively safe, but ‘feel’ safe and have an experience that will ultimately be positive, even if feels a bit ‘type 2 fun’ at the time.
The weather has definitely added to the challenge this year, so it was a relief to conclude the 70 Munros Challenge on Schiehallion in calm clear conditions, which encouraged at least some people to linger with Wendy on the summit for about 2 hours, soaking in the glorious views, picking out hills from earlier days, chatting, reflecting on our travels together and playing with ideas for future journeys. Looking south, we could see the four Munros situated between Schiehallion and Glen Lyon on the North Chesthill estate, the owners of which have a long history of conflict with hillwalkers, and it stimulated an interesting chat about the possibilities for changing patterns of land ownership and use in the upcoming Land Reform Act currently making it’s way through the legislative process at Holyrood.
Eventually, we made our way down the hill for the last time and said our farewells in the car park; a bittersweet moment made easier by the knowledge that there are other journeys planned, more mountains to climb and the small matter of a fast approaching winter season that will soon coat the wild places we’ve trodden with a blanket of snow to mask the evidence of our passing and replenish the challenge of the hills.