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Spring 2013

Looking across to Cruach Ardrain from Beinn Tulaichean on a fine April dayLooking across to Cruach Ardrain from Beinn Tulaichean on a fine April day
En route to Beinn Tulaichean and an April Munro completion (Pictures: Mike Adam)En route to Beinn Tulaichean and an April Munro completion (Pictures: Mike Adam)

The third Friday of April was a candidate for the first proper, without-doubt spring day of 2013 in the southern Highlands. The sun shone, the snow was in visible retreat and sand martins (but no swallows) were seen. Layers of clothing were removed rather than added and summits were places for lounging and lingering rather than playing host to brief lee-slope huddling.

It was good to be out, and my friend Mike Adam and I wandered round the Beinn Tulaichean / Cruach Ardrain loop from the Loch Voil road-end. It took us five-and-a-half hours, but well over an hour was spent trying to disentangle the view and watching various aircraft: paragliders, both powered and unpowered, a white glider catching the sun up Tyndrum way, and the yellow seaplane bringing diners to the Monachyle Mhor hotel. The flight theme continued on the drive home, when we gave a lift to a French chap who had floated over from Beinn Ime and had an interesting tale to tell.

The day featured two minor statistical landmarks – one being that Beinn Tulaichean was the 100th (and Cruach Ardrain the 101st) different Munro that Mike and I had climbed as a team. Given that we’ve been wandering hills within daytrip range of Stirling for almost 25 years, it was odd never to have been here together before, despite plenty of individual ascents.

The other stat was even more obscure, as I’ve now climbed a Munro on every day in April in some year or other. As such, April is the first month chalked off towards an any-Munro calendar round – where the idea is to eventually have at least one Munro ascent alongside each of the 366 days.

Calendar rounds boil down to two basic types: single-hill rounds and category rounds. The former are the rarer, as at the very least one has to climb the same hill 366 times and the reality is likely to require considerably more ascents than that.

More people than you might imagine have climbed a hill 500 times, but only a small proportion ever seem to work out precise dates and pursue calendar completion. Tom Bell of Grangemouth was beyond 1000 ascents of Ben Cleuch in the Ochils before he totted up how many “gaps” he still had – and found it was 28, whereupon he worked towards a full round which was completed on 27 September 1999. My own calendar round on the same hill (completed on 31 January 2011 in miserable weather) was systemically targeted from about 30 gaps remaining, but still required 869 ascents in total. Coincidentally, April was the first month to go in that, too.

The category calendar round is easier because there is much more scope for variation. I know of people who are chipping away at rounds relating to Munros, Wainwrights, Marilyns and various bespoke definitions. Another of my sidekicks, Ken Stewart, is 16 days short of having climbed a Scottish 300-metre hill on every day of the year. For a while he had a Langdale Pikes outing from 2004 as an English “filler” for the awkward 29 February slot, but we climbed Carn a’Chlamain on 29 February 2012 to tidy up that loose end while enabling me to chalk off the date in my own any-Munro round.

The leap day is the In Pinn of the calendar round game, but other dates can prove awkward, too. A Cumbrian friend, Gordon Ingall, has just four Wainwright gaps, all in early June when he is habitually in the Highlands – but it was only recently that he found his way to the top of one of AW’s fells on Christmas Day, as he normally visits his sister and does the turkey-and-sherry thing rather than tackling a festive summit. The proper snowy weather of Christmas 2010 discouraged any significant travelling – so he took a wander up Coniston Old Man instead (and also wrapped up an any-Marilyn calendar round in the process).

Family birthdays – particularly of one’s better half – can likewise be tricky, as a degree of negotiation and domestic politicking tends to be involved. Some people find 1 January problematic, due to a combination of shortness of daylight and severity of hangover, but I’ve notched up a Ne’erday Munro, a couple of Corbetts and several Ochil outings over the years.

Until that recent Friday, however, despite having nudged the any-Munro calendar round down to 41 gaps (or 325 dates done, to look at it the other way round), I hadn’t completed a full month. In a way, this shows the quirkiness of the game, as April (68 days, 116 hills total after Beinn Tulaichean) isn’t anywhere near being the month in which I’ve climbed most Munros. May leads the way with 111 outings taking in 226 Munros overall – but 4 May remains steadfastly unticked, even though the dates clustered around it have all seen multiple outings, with 6 May featuring at least eight times.

June and July each have three Munro gaps, despite totals of 93 and 89 Munro days respectively. There seems little rhyme or reason to it – which is part of the appeal.

Quite how long it might take to complete a round is hard to assess. I’m not actively targeting dates – only 29 February and 25 December have seen “deliberate” Munro ascents – and I can’t see me chasing with any real intent until there are 20 or so gaps remaining. If the topic ever comes up in conversation (and it does – sad, I know), then I tend to say “it’s still a decade-long game” – although I’ve been saying that for several years now and the finishing line doesn’t seem to be coming closer in any kind of hurry.

It doesn’t do to make assumptions about health, mobility and so on – particularly long-term – but if I’m lucky and maintain current habits then a Munro calendar completion ought to be feasible after around 1200 Munro days (compared with 790 thus far). All I know for sure is that I tend to take ages over such things and I’m nowhere near as systematic or determined as the remarkable Alan Douglas: the undoubted king of UK calendar rounds, he has four calendar completions on Ben Lomond alone.

Ultimately, the reason I mention all this (and I’ll happily concede that esoteric hill stats are not really of widespread interest) is to give some indication of the scope for hill-bagging ideas beyond the standard linear behaviour that walkers tend to display. There are loads of people out there with several decades’ worth of regular hill experience, but more often than not this “body of work” is underused in terms of plans and motivations.

Across the hill-bagging community, the usual follow-ups to mainstream list completion tend to take two forms. People either revisit the original list, often repeatedly – hence, at the extreme end of things, Steven Fallon’s 15 rounds of Munros and Stephen Moore’s 39 rounds of Wainwrights – or they adopt the “postgrad” method of following Munros with Corbetts (and then Grahams), or switching to HuMPs after reaching the Marilyn “wall” (the whole 1550-odd bar the St Kilda stacks).

There’s nothing amiss with any of that, but hillgoing habits do seem to have become increasingly formulaic and off-the-shelf, both in terms of actual route-choices and overall attitudes. Conversely, everyone’s personal slice of hill history offers scope for creating a customised set of targets that add complexity while helping to provide entertainment and motivation for years to come (whereas the orthodox approach to lists and rounds risks becoming a little stale and one-dimensional as the years pass).

Repeat-ascending and calendar bagging can happily run in parallel to the standard stuff, while also having the pragmatic benefit of keeping travel costs in check. One of the downsides of traditional bagging is that target hills tend to become ever more distant and expensive as the round proceeds, particularly for UK-wide lists such as Marilyns and HuMPs.

This kind of layered bagging isn’t to everyone’s taste, of course, but it is surprisingly straightforward given a bit of initial effort. All that is needed is a reasonably complete date-and-hill record (and people often have this stashed away somewhere), then a few evenings spent transcribing it to a spreadsheet or something similar.

Once the historical details are laid out in a way that you can handle, adding new ascents – and keeping tabs on date-gaps and the like – ought to be no more fiddly than the normal logging of a new Munro or whatever. Then it’s just a case of chipping away at some form of calendar completion, or keeping an eye on cumulative totals, or whatever the target happens to be. It’s a quietly satisfying – and fun – way of doing things, and will bring rewards unknown to the do-a-list-and-move-on masses.

Dave Hewitt

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