Different challenges drive different people, but Munro Bagging presents quite a few opportunities. Remember that a Munro Top is a summit over 3000 ft which is not regarded as a separate mountain and Munro’s Tables detailed these in a two-tier system: category A and B. ‘A’ category was the highest and most important peak of which there were 283. The’ B’ category are also peaks over 3,000 ft but satellites to the main peak.
These are obviously not the world’s highest mountains, but they are a collection of peaks that have captured the imagination of thousands of walkers from all over the world who come to Scotland in a bid to ‘bag’ the Munros.
The moment Sir Hugh Thomas Munro began mapping Scotland’s mountains in 1889, the race was on to see who could climb them the fastest. ‘Them’ being all of the Munro Tops. Munro’s main protagonist, the Reverend Archie Robertson, was determined that he, and not Munro, would be the first to achieve this. However, Robertson detected a loophole which gave him a massively unfair advantage. He interpretated the Munro Peaks as being only those in the ‘A’ catagory and to this end he only climbed the 283 peaks. Munro believed you had to climb all 538 and before his death in 1919 he only had 3 left to do… now that IS an achievement – far greater than the Reverend Archie’s!
In 1923 another Reverend, Ronald Burn, became the second Munroist as well as the first person to climb not only the main peaks, but all the subsidiary Tops too.
The real explosion in the popularity of Munro-bagging came in the late 1980s and today an enormous amount of people have taken on the challenge. Those who climb all the summits are, following old Scottish Mountaineering Club tradition, known as ‘compleaters’. Many people try to compete against previous records in seeing how many Munros can be bagged in a day, or how fast they can be completed.
For 10 years, Charlie Campbell, a former postman from Glasgow, held the record for the fastest round of the Munros. He completed his round in 48 days 12 hours, finishing on Ben Hope on the 16th July 2000.
His record was finally broken by Stephen Pyke of Stone, Staffordshire, in 2010. Pyke started on the Isle of Mull on 25th April, and finished on Ben Hope in Sutherland on 3rd June, completing the round in 39 days and 9 hours. On top of that, although he had a support team which used a motorhome, he cycled and kayaked between the Munros. He did not allow himself to take advantage of the comforts of the motorhome – he camped wherever he found himself each evening.
The person with the most rounds of Munros is Steven Fallon, an IT systems developer from Edinburgh, who, as of 2006, had ‘completed’ thirteen rounds. Having set an all-time record of 11 rounds in 2003, self-confessed Munro addict Fallon was just 40 summits short of a 14th by 2008. He may well be on his 15th or 16th round now – if you know please do tell us! Fallon, now 48, admits that perhaps this smacks of obsession. “But” he says, “it’s just something I love doing. I can’t ever see myself stopping. Why would I when these mountains are so wonderful!?” Between 1989 and 2008, Fallon had walked a total of 21,500 miles and climbed 7.7 million feet – the equivalent of 275 ascents of Mount Everest. He thinks of it as “a rewarding hobby” … “In one day I once managed to polish off 12 Munro summits, but I admit this was very exhausting. Most people will be doing at most three or four in a day,” he said.
There are many remarkable achievements in the Munro Bagging world, but I will finish with Steve Perry who, in the winter of 2005/2006, completed a continuous unsupported round entirely on foot, using the ferry only where required. He was also the first person to have completed two continuous Munro rounds. And that’s not all… between 18th February and 30th September 2003, he walked from Land’s End in the extreme southwest of Great Britain to John ‘o’ Groats – the extreme northern end of Scotland, climbing every 3,000 footer along the way!