Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this shit is easy. Mountain climbers, proper climbers, by that I mean the folks that spend the entire day on the end of a rope to go up the north face, might say that this is just walking. Which it is. I’ve only done a handful of actual ‘climbs’ in my life. These were mostly scrambles, but I have done a fair bit of abseiling in the past and some rope work on Skye. Big thank you to Dan for that; I don’t need to go near the Inaccessible Pinnacle again now, unless I really want to.
But this mountain walking, it is still hard work. I’m looking for the easiest way up for sure, but let me tell you this; there is no easy mountain to walk up. If there was, it wouldn’t be called a fucking mountain. It would most likely be a field. Despite what Google tells you, you still have to gain height at some point. Regardless of how far above sea level the starting point is or how gradual the gradient is, it is still hard work. You need endurance, you need to be able to breathe properly and keep your footing. It is helpful to know where to step and what to avoid, when to stop and for how long, all the while exhaling like a bison. In Scotland there is the added pressures of completely unreliable and unpredictable weather which is usually the reason mountain rescue are called out so often.
I prefer to use the word straightforward about a mountain rather than saying it is ‘easy’ to hike up. A straightforward mountain will generally have a defined path for most of the ascent. A path that is clearly marked and easy to follow immediately from the accessible and signposted car park. There will be zero chance of walking off route, even when covered in cloud. There might even be a river, dam, road, pipeline or fence visible to keep you on the right track. I’m actually all for signposts or cairn markers, on the more popular hills anyway, so the straightforward mountain may have one or two of these as well.
In my opinion all this adds up to what would be an ‘easy’ mountain. But herein lies the problem; the effort is still required. The hard work still must be done. Many times have I been asked ‘what’s the easiest mountain to climb?’ by someone who has barely done anything physical in their lives. This is usually asked as if it’s going to be a breeze and the key is simply in find the easiest one. Going by the amount of results a quick search for ‘easy Munros’ gets you, many other people think the same way.
Using my straightforward definition, a mountain like Ben Lomond would be easiest. Its relatively close to the central belt, has a good car park, an obvious starting route, a well maintained path pretty much to the summit with lots of other people around on it too, Loch Lomond keeping you right by always being on the left… But it’s still going to take around five hours, most likely three of which will be constantly uphill as it’s nearly 1000m high. If you’re not used to that, or at the very least prepared for it, you’re going to feel like your lungs have collapsed and turning back will become very appealing.
However, in saying all that, anyone can do it. There’s no magic, just the impetus to give it a go. If you are unfit, start out small with regular local walks, small hills; whatever is available and within range of your home. Just do it and do it often. Or, if you have always fancied Schiehallion, pick a day and give it a shot. Just make sure you do your research and stay safe. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t, but let’s not pretend that it’s easy either.
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