Two recent BBC news articles about ‘Munro-bagging’ have only served (at least in my mind) to accentuate the utter craziness of this activity. Munros are mountains in Scotland higher than 3000ft, and attempting to climb them all has acquired the term ‘bagging’. The very concept of a Munro is one that makes no sense even with a cursory thought – endless debates can be had about how many of these strange objects there actually are in reality and whether or not Munro-bagging is an activity that sensible people should undertake at all (as opposed to normal, straightforward hillwalking).
Indeed, this debate meanders aimlessly (and pedantically) in the pages of The Angry Corrie, the Scottish hillwalkers fanzine. In an article on my website, I’ve also covered some of the issues surrounding the idea of what it means to actually ‘bag’ summits – for instance, how close do you have to be to a summit to say you have ‘bagged’ it? Exactly which point on a mountain is the summit if it has a telecommunications tower on it?
The idea that some mountains in Scotland are special, or somehow distinct from others, and that this justifies the charity attempt reported by the BBC to put someone on all of the 284 Munro summits at once (which might be a worthwhile activity, if quite insensitive to the notion of the mountains as a place of refuge and wilderness) really doesn’t stand up to rational scrutiny, especially when one considers the other BBC report that the list of 284 may be about to change, which is surely an odd concept in itself.
The list of Munros has already changed in the past, most notably perhaps in 1997, but how can this be? The mountains don’t change (at least not within a human lifetime), but it seems that some people’s ideas about them do, hence the strange honeypot effect of walkers being attracted to summits purely because of their presence on a list, and not because they offer a great view or an exhilarating climb. Often smaller summits have better views, and are much more enjoyable to climb (especially if they are not swarming with completion-crazed baggers).
I’m not immune to this insanity and I speak from some experience, having to date climbed 181 of the 284 currently listed Munros. I keep track of the ones I climb on my website. I justify this to myself by the certain knowledge that someone who has climbed all the Munros has unarguably seen some wild and beautiful parts of Scotland, and has had to keep themselves relatively fit to to do this.
Juggling your life around the commitment needed to do this is an achievement in itself too – I’m taking the long approach to this, climbing when I have the time to do it at weekends or leave from work, and trying to keep my petrol and equipment budget under control. It’s so far taken me 14 years to climb 181 Munros. When I have completed all the Munros (and I’ll probably be an old man when this happens at the rate I’m going), will I brag about the achievement? Not a chance – but I will have had a lot of very cool experiences and seen some outstanding scenery.