I’m now fast approaching climbing my hundredth Munro (indeed, until I recounted while preparing this blog post, I thought I was sitting on 99 already, but it turns out I’m not quite there, though by the time you’ll be reading this I should be!). I’ve been pretty bad about writing walk reports for each individual hill so far, and it’s high time I sorted that out by producing one great omnibus collection. It’s turned out that walking Munros has become one of the major focusses of life outwith work, so it seems only fitting that I give the effort so far a reasonable write-up.

*I’ve ended up splitting this into three parts in order to try and keep the size of each post under control. This one covers 2019, and 12 Munros. Part one covers 2015 (just one Munro!) and 2018 (31 Munros). Part two covers 2019, and this post covers the plague year of 2020. Soon 2021 and 2022 together (25 and 1 Munros, since 2022 has only just started…) will get a post too.

2020

I think it’s fair to say that my third year of Munroing was the one which was by far the most disrupted by external events. 2020 was a year of lockdowns, and through the beginning of the season we were treated to weeks of fantastic weather, but weren’t allowed to leave the house for more than an hour of exercise a day. It would be early July before I managed to get out to the hills again, after months of planning and dreaming. Somehow everything in the first month or so ended up as a bit of a blur of some of the Southern Highlands’ less visited hills, so I can only apologise for the lack of detail!

046: Meall Ghaordaidh

We knew that the first hill of the season was going to be a logistical nightmare. Just like (what seemed to be) every other person in Scotland were headed to the hills after many many weeks of being trapped in Greater Glasgow. The way to success, therefore, seemed to be to choose a route which nobody else would. We also knew nowhere would be open to get food on the way home; we were allowed out of Glasgow, but hospitality businesses wouldn’t open for weeks yet.

Eventually Shona, Andrew, and I settled on Meall Ghaordaidh, which was sufficiently low down the list of Walk Highlands hills, sorted by number of ascents, to make us hopeful we’d manage to get parked near to the start. I packed gas and chilli in case we ended up needing food at the end. After all, who knew what had happened to our fitness over the last few months?!

While it was very nice to be out in the hills again after such a long time, I can’t say that the hill was otherwise especially distinguished, and the walk felt long. We were up and down in under five hours, with plenty of rain for the majority of the walk, and little to nothing in the way of a view at the top.

A view from Meall Ghaordaidh
▲ A view from Meall Ghaordaidh

047: Beinn Challum

It felt like a race against time to make something decent of this season, and so we had soon selected Ben Challum as our next target. We still had the issue of almost nowhere being open for food, but we were hopeful of getting takeaway fish and chips in Tyndrum on the way home.

Ben Challum was one of the more accessible hills all three of us still needed to climb, and it now seemed a little rude to keep driving past it on the way to more distant hills. We’d seen its considerable bulk the week before from Meall Ghaordaidh, and it didn’t really look too bad. This was perhaps the hill which would go on to demonstrate my loss of fitness through the first half of 2020 most clearly, and it felt like a real slog almost the whole way. The first part of the climb brings you up to a boggy plateau at around 600 metres which climbs slowly up for another 150 metres before the final ascent begins. Even in the middle of the summer it was wet and quite slow-going to cross. The final part of the climb up to the summit was better, however, and we crossed the south top and across to the main peak at 1025m.

We descended back down to the car and went to Tyndrum to find nowhere open! We’d need to wait a little longer for trips to have food at the end again.

A view from Beinn Chaluim over Tyndrum
▲ A view from Beinn Chaluim over Tyndrum

048: Meall Buidhe

We were still facing the issue of everywhere popular being very very popular this year, and so it once again made sense to head to a less popular hill. This time we had the option of either doing one or two hills, as both were fairly short out-and-back routes from the dam on Loch an Daimh in Glen Lyon.

This was my first time in Glen Lyon, and I think the drive in was probably the highlight of the day. In July it was verdant, and made a very welcome contrast to what I’d been used to during lockdown. It was cold though, and we didn’t get much of a view from the summit, though we did meet a labrador who was on a trip around the whole loch, and carrying his own supplies in panniers (he’d brought a human to explain his plans to us). We decided against climbing the second hill, and headed back to Killin. This time we were successful in finding food, and this would be my first time eating out for six months.

049: Stuchd an Lochain

We had unfinished business in Glen Lyon, so the next weekend we headed back to climb the hill to the South of the dam. The weather was again not on our side, and we again didn’t have much of a view from the top, though we did spend a fairly considerable part of the climb being repeatedly overtaken by two collies who were with another group climbing the hill at the same time as us. We managed to get food in Callander on the way back this time.

050 - 055: Glenshee East

By August things had started to settle down enough that I was able to hire a car and head up to Braemar for a week’s much-needed holiday. In contrast to the trips earlier in the year which had all been single-summit trips I would start to turn the intensity up from here with some very big days out.

The first involved starting just south of Braemar in Glenshee, where six Munros stand over the ski centre. I set off early and was the first to park at the small car park close to Carn an Tuirc (the hill of the boar) and started across some rather boggy terrain: not really what I’d been hoping for in the East! Starting so early meant that it was cold and dewy, which probably made for fast walking, though also meant arriving at the summit damp. The summit of Carn an Tuirc (1019m) is reached quite suddenly on the edge of a plateau, and from here the walk would continue for many hours at high level and without much change in altitude.

I’d decided on a fairly long route to take in two of the less accessible hills in the Mounth, Tom Buidhe and the Tolmount. From here this meant crossing pathless, but dry, terrain for a few kilometres, and being careful to keep an eye out for the slight rise which represented the next Munro, the Tolmount (958m), which only rises about 60m from the surrounding terrain.

From here it was a quick walk across to Tom Buidhe, which afforded a view back into Glen Doll, and across to Mayar and Driesh. By this stage the misty drizzliness of the morning had definitely burnt off, and the going was getting warm. Circumstances this year had also, once again, lead to me taking a holiday at the beginning of August, and the increasingly sticky conditions had me worried about thunderstorms. I didn’t spend a lot of time hanging around on the high ground.

As I walked back across to Cairn of Claise I noticed some ominously dark clouds starting to gather on the horizon, and waited a quarter of an hour or so before climbing up towards the summit in the hope they’d pass over. They did, and shortly afterwards I was on the summit of the fourth Munro (1064m) of the day. Somehow this round felt like I was cheating; you’re not meant to be able to climb so many mountains so quickly!

From here the walk became a bit more… mountainous, with rock underfoot, and I followed the county boundary which is marked by a drystone wall. You leave the wall to head up to the stony summit of Glas Maol (1068m), the fifth and penultimate summit of the day. The weather was really starting to look like it might turn at this point, and I was left with the quandary of either descending back through the ski centre from here or taking the risk and heading out to the final Munro. Similarly to the year before on the other side of the pass I decided I could risk it, and headed out on the spur which would take me to Creag Leacach.

From Glas Maol I descended down to the bealach at Bathach Beag, which has a large cairn, and then across a surprisingly narrow ridge out to the sixth and final Munro (987m) of the day. I didn’t stay here long at all. The weather was definitely on the turn; it was getting cold and the wind was picking up. I headed straight back to the big cairn at Bathag Beag and began the descent over the Meall Odhar ridge and into the ski centre.

Behind me I could hear the rumble of thunder, and I probably descended faster than I have on any previous walk. Just as the heavens opened I reached one of the huts from the ski centre, and I was able to partially shelter through the worst of the rain (or so I thought at this point) for a while.

I reached the road a little later, which was already acting as an impromptu river, and made my way back along its verge for a few miles, unable to dodge downpours, and made it back to the car very very wet, but with another 6 Munros in the bag.

056 - 060: Above Loch Muick

I took a day to allow myself to dry off and recover from Glen Shee, and two days afterwards took advantage of a much better weather forecast for an even more ambitious round. This time it would only be five Munros, but it was longer (and indeed, even to date is just about the longest single round I’ve done, though the six Mamores I actually managed two years earlier must come pretty close).

I drove round early to the carpark for Loch Muick, and once again it was overcast and damp when I started out. Possibly not the most pleasant conditions for the climb, but fortunately the route finding was easy. Lochnagar was the first of the hills, and being a popular hill on a royal estate seems to have its advantages in the form of well-made paths (something that many many Munros earlier I’d naively assumed would be more common!).

Pretty soon I was climbing through cloud, and I got none of the views of the corrie on the north of the mountain which this walk is famous for, so I pressed on for the summit. Reaching the summit plateau I was clearly in the upper layers of the cloud; it was bright, but visibility was still minimal. On the actual summit I rose up and above the cloud, and had the pleasure of an inversion over the Cairngorms for a while, as I made sure to visit both the viewfinder and the trig pillar around the summit (1156m).

Since I didn’t have much of a view to take in which I couldn’t enjoy while moving along I pressed on towards the next hill, across the expanse of the White Mounth. While in the weird acoustics of the cloud I was very aware of the sensation of feeling like I was being followed the whole way across to Carn a’ Coire Bhoidheach, and I can easily understand how in conditions like this the myths of ghasts such as Am Fear Liath come about. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so uncomfortable while walking in the hills.

I stopped on the second Munro (1110m) for lunch, and failed to gain any impression of the corrie for which the hill is named, let alone being able to enjoy its proclaimed beauty; it was still cloudy.

I kept on to the third summit, Càrn an t-Sagairt Mòr (1047m) a little later, visiting both of its cairns to be sure I’d actually reached the summit.

It was then a long and fairly featureless walk for several miles across the exposed mounth to reach Cairn Bannoch (1012m), which was scarcely distinguishable from the surrounding landscape, just a small cone rising ten or so metres from the plateau.

From here it was another walk across largely flat ground out to the Top Cairn of Gowal, where the path started to appear, and, perhaps more importantly, I started to drop below the cloud for the first time in hours and finally got a view, accompanied by the realisation that while I was fast approaching the final hill of the day I was almost as far from the car as I’d ever get on this walk.

As I rested on Broad Cairn (998m) I spotted two mountain bikers making their way to the summit. This was an oddity for me; I’d never encountered someone make it all the way to a summit by bike, but as I’d soon discover their ascent path, and my descent path, were unusually kind for this sort of thing.

Leaving behind the final cairn of the day I started the descent down from the White Mounth, and soon hit a bulldozed track which would take me on a long and gentle descent back down to the shores of Loch Muick, and from there to the car. My watch battery gave out around a kilometre or so before the car. Not much in the way of views, but over all, a good day out, and a successful trip, adding 11 more Munros to my tally.

061 - 064: The Invervar Circular

On my way back to Glasgow I met up with Andrew and Shona outside Aberfeldy to take one more trip into Glen Lyon.

We parked up around 10 in the morning in Invervar, and it was already busy. In contrast to my walks earlier this week this one had a fairly low-level start (though I’m not sure I can really regard 250m as low level!), and we had a good gradual climb up to the shoulder of the slightly confusingly-named Càrn Gorm (1029m) the first of the Munros of the round. By the summit we were above the clouds, so again, our views were limited, and thanks to being on some of the highest hills for some distance we didn’t have much to see from here: the views of Loch Rannoch were meant to be very good though!

▲ Schiehallion over the inversion.

We continued on around, and soon caught up with a very large walking group (probably explaining the great difficulty getting parked; car-sharing was still prohibited at this point thanks to coronavirus). Continuing on past more excellent views which were obscured by low cloud we reached the second summit, Meall Garbh (968m) pretty quickly, but didn’t hang about long to enjoy the… view… The cairn was a little unusual though, being full of fence posts.

From here it was a long walk to the next Munro summit, and we passed over a top, Meall a’ Bharr en route. Once we’d reached Càrn Mairg (1042m) we were finally afforded a view across the inversion to Schiehallion a few miles away.

Eventually we got to Meall na Aighean (981m), the fourth and final of the Munros in the round, and started on the fairly gentle descent off what had been a very busy set of hills, and headed back up to Aberfeldy for dinner.

065 - 067: Beinn Mhanach, Beinn a’ Chreachain, and Beinn Achallader

I still had another few days off, and once again had big plans for climbing multiple hills in the West which I still hadn’t made it to. I left Glasgow early to head up a quiet A82 and reach the carpark near Achallader farm just after 9am.

I’d been strangely nervous about this trip, and I can only think it was because it involved a fairly considerable amount of off-piste walking. My plan was to climb all three of the hills I’d failed to climb two years earlier when I was in this part of the world, but Beinn Mhanach was going to be a bit of a challenge, involving climbing up to the bealach separating Beinn a’ Dothaidh and Beinn Achallader before dropping back down, crossing open ground, and then climbing up what was, by all accounts, a rather featureless hill.

Despite all of this, I started up on the climb, not really managing to find much of a path up to the bealach, but making it up in a rather unimpressive hour and a half (perhaps I was feeling the effects of the early start…). To avoid losing too much height I contoured around to the bealach which separates Mhanach and Achallader at around 650m, and from here it was only half an hour or so to get to the summit of Beinn Mhanach (953m), which must count as one of the remotest of the southern Munros.

▲ Looking across to Beinn a' Chaisteil and Beinn nam Fuaran

I returned to the bealach and contoured around as far as I could, before starting up the steep and heathery climb to Beinn a’ Chreachain (1081m). I’m happy to claim this as the most unpleasant thing I’ve ever done on a hill. The climb was totally pathless and felt as steep as a ladder without the advantage of good footing. It took me an hour to climb just 500m at an average 25% gradient. Fortunately at the top of the climb was the second Munro summit, and from here everything was pretty easy and fast going.

I made it along at a fair trot to the third and final summit, Beinn Achallader (1039m), though, once again, with very little in the way of views, something which seemed to have become a running theme for the trip (and indeed this year), though at least there were some breaks in the cloud to catch glimpses back down to the A82 and Loch Tulla.

The A82 was closing early tonight, making getting back down to Tyndrum for food difficult, so when I got off the hill I headed straight up to the ski centre where I’d booked a tent pitch for two nights. It turned out the restaurant-replacement-service there had closed early because of the road closure (and the restaurant had burnt-down at Christmas the year before). The Kingshouse was shut too, so I ended up slightly miserably dodging midges and cooking for myself.

068 - 069: Above the Ski Centre

I’d stayed the night almost in the carpark of the ski centre, so I figured it would only be polite to also complete the hills of the Black Mounth, another piece of unfinished business from a couple of years before!

It was interesting to see how this compared to the climbs up through the ski centre in Glen Shee, which are probably a little more developed than the “Glencoe” ones. The climb up to Meall a’ Bhuiridh (1108m) spends a lot of its time under the main chair lift up the mountain, and as a result there’s a pretty good path for a lot of the climb, though also an audience from above, which was an unusual experience.

▲ Looking across Rannoch Moor from Meall a'Bhuiridh

The last stretch of the climb all feels a bit built-up, with signs warning about the various hazards to skiers and mountain bikers. That said, the summit itself is free of ski infrastructure, and has a good view out over Rannoch Moor.

From here the traverse across to Creise was across a knife-edge ridge. It had been a while since I’d negotiated one of these, and was quite glad of the thrill. There were a few other groups negotiating it at the same time, and making a bit of a meal of the whole thing (not unreasonably; there’s a very considerable drop on both sides). On reaching the summit I found myself slightly unsure that I actually had summitted the mountain; further south there was a point which looked higher; did I need to go to that. Consulting the map persuaded me that I was safe, and that I was looking at a Top which was just three metres lower than where I was.

The only clear way to return to my car and tent was via Meall a’ Bhuiridh, so I was destined to make my first re-ascent of a Munro. The descent was via the same path as the ascent, and took just over an hour. After the slow-going of the day before I was pretty pleased with having done this whole outing in under four hours.

070: Meall nan Tarmachan

The season was coming to a close, it was September, and autumn was just around the corner. We’d been planning for the last couple of years to finally make inroads into the Ben Lawers hills, and so we decided that we’d make a start with Meall nan Tarmachan, which is an outlier on the other side of Lochan na Lairige from the main range. Since we were only doing the one hill we decided to do the full ridge traverse, and pick up some of the Tops along the way.

The 400m high start meant that we reached the summit of the Munro (1044m) in not much over an hour, and then proceeded around the ridge, with a fairly stiff Westerly wind in our faces. This route has a little scrambling, and it’s been a while since I was on a hill which had much, though Creise had arguably been close to a scramble at points.

071 - 072: Beinn Ghlas & Ben Lawers

The final outing of the 2020 season was the latest I’d managed to push things so far, in part thanks to normal life still not having returned because of the pandemic. Again, we had a very high start for this hill, which meant for a fast start, though the hill was busy. We reached the summit of Beinn Ghlas (1103m) in just over an hour, and then on to Ben Lawers (1214m) less than an hour after that.

To this point Ben Lawers was the highest Munro I’d climbed.

The walk back out took an hour and a half or so, making for one of the fastest hillwalks of the year.

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