99 And Counting


Richard Lutz heads north-  on a mission.

The Gaelic names tumble from the tongue- Carn a Coire Boidheach, Sgurr Gaibhre, Liathach and Schiehallion.

Those and about 280 others that collectively are the Munro mountains of Scotland. As Nigel said last month: ‘Climbing them all isn’t a hobby- it’s a sickness.’

I went up my 99th recently… a long humpback hill called Benn na Lap deep in the quiet of Rannoch Moor.

As each peak has its romance, its dangers, yes even its dull longuers of plodding, this one – my 99th- has its own personality.

You get to it by train. The Glasgow to Fort William line drives through the glens and out you fall onto Corrour Halt. The station itself is now a youth hotel (thankfully with food).

Then the two-carriage train falls away into a curve, across a viaduct and then and on north. The moor, quiet, is all around you. The mountain is in front looming over Loch Ossian. At the end of its waters, in the distance, is the sharp rising edge of Ben Alder.

Each Munro has to be 3000 feet above sea level and, of course, this means each has its real distance upwards. In the NW Highlands, the Munros rise from the sea- each 3000 feet or more.They start at the water’s edge- there’s no getting around it.

But, as the Corrour Station is about 1300 feet in elevation already,, well, you get the idea, it’s a shorter uphill slog to the spine and then a roll upwards until you hit the stone sheep pen at its top.

But that doesn’t mean you can amble, especially in the autumn and its short days. We have until 6.18 to be precise. That’s then train returns (and hopefully stops) at the station and takes us south again.

This being Scotland, the weather plays a dominant role. When we hit the spine, the wind starts up and the mist shuts in. We walk to the summit in grey gloom though it is mid day. Every so often, it breaks and partially clears so you can see the loch below, Ben Alder to the east and unending serried mountain ridges to the west and north.

In the yellowing  window of light, we try to pick out other hills we have climbed- some nervy pinnacle ridges and others slow upwards strolls. Nigel is on his final lap with about 50 peaks to go before he finishes all the Munros. Paula is on the 200 mark.

I’ll be happy when I get to 100. But 99 is special too.

Especially when I am back in the dark of the quiet station at 6pm…waiting for the train that will  stop.  But may not.