Easy Mountains/Easy Munros

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.

Direct any questions that you may have regarding any of this to us via DM @lastwolfoutdoors on Instagram, FaceBook or TikTok. Alternatively (and better), email lastwolfoutdoors@gmail.com, we’re happy to help in any way to get you outdoors and enjoying the hills.

Live deliberately

Barry

Currently listening to Cocaine and Rhinestones: The History of 20th Century Country Music and those who gave it to us. Season 2. https://cocaineandrhinestones.com/

Guerrilla Hillwalking

This summer I learned a few things from my most recent mountain trips. The main one is nothing short of a revelation, and something I wish I’d done three or even four years ago. This has completely revolutionised how I visit the mountains. Bear in mind that I am a father of two very young children so this is based on their needs and my own desire to be with my family, yet still indulge my outdoor and hillwalking passion at the same time. I’m going to let you in on my secret. Shhh, don’t just tell anyone…I call it…Sleeping in the Car.

Sleeping in the Car is a lot comfier and straightforward than I thought it was going to be. I get way more sleep than I expected using my rucksack as a pillow and with my legs bent all night. It helps that I am very tired and usually need the sleep, so I use this to my advantage.

Now, I’ve slept in my car many times in the past, countless times, so this is not exactly new to me. In the past, the cars I had were much bigger and there wasn’t a dog taking up the boot either. It is the way I use Sleeping in the Car that is new. I’d leave late, waiting for the girls to be properly fed, bathed and bedded but would still take my time getting north. I’d stop at a garage for coffee and a walk somewhere for the dog. Then I’d park up at the bottom of the mountain I intended to ascend in the morning, get as comfy as possible and go to sleep. I call this Guerrilla Hillwalking.

I pack the tent anyway, but usually I found that I couldn’t be bothered looking for a spot at around about midnight when I didn’t have to, and on a few occasions the midges were absolutely louping anyway. Pitching a tent in the middle of a midge infestation is horrendous. It’s almost as bad as taking one down in the morning, which is a very special kind of torture. Driving along Highland roads late at night was great though. Very few cars around at all.

The alarm goes off at half four, so by quarter to five we’re out and away. One morning we summited at exactly 7:00am and passed the first early morning walker heading upwards just after eight. We were already on the forest track, a mile to the car. To say this was satisfying as fuck is a total understatement. I had been eaten at by the clegs constantly for the last half hour or so of descent and it was only the constant movement that kept them off more. The dreaded midges were ok that day; we possibly managed to miss them but the clegs were out like the Luftwaffe and I was glad to be heading. That day I was home whilst the youngest was still having her morning nap.

So, for the time being at least, this is my new way of getting to the mountains. It’s worked well for me, ensuring I get time with my daughters, see them off to bed, yet still getting the time I need for my own trips, to replenish my soul and clear my mind and do all the other wonderful things that ascending mountains does for your health and well-being.

My point is not, ‘you should be sleeping in your car like me’ though. Only this; do what needs to be done. If you’re passionate about something, you should find a way to do it. Everyone is busy, but squeeze it in somewhere, somehow. Make it work for you. This fits my life right now; it might not in a year, but then I’ll need to adapt and find a new way. But there is always a way. Find yours.

Live deliberately.

Barry

Currently listening to: Little Richard: The Reprise Years

Cloud Cover

The plan was to get up two mountains. Beinn a Chaorainn and Beinn Teallach sit close to Spean Bridge and even closer to Roybridge where I had stayed only two weeks before. Leaving the car at just before 7:00am meant I had a good jump on my normal start time of 9:00am. Also by sleeping at the car park I was a lot more refreshed than if I had just done an early morning three hour drive to get there.

Some of you may have caught the video I made on IGTV of the morning views during the ascent. If not, you didn’t miss much; there was none. I only got the briefest of glimpses of neighbouring Beinn Teallach before it disappeared into the misty morning. And it kept coming, the result being that when the dog and I summited Beinn a Chaorainn around 10:00am we couldn’t see a thing. We were completely inside a cloud.

Now I knew this cloud would burn off as the sun got higher and the day went on, but it didn’t look like it was moving anytime soon. After a snack at the cairn and a few biscuits for Thorin it was time to move on. We headed in the direction we needed to go in order to reach the bealach, the pass or part of the mountain that connects it to others; in this case the elusive Beinn Teallach.

We walked for a 100m or so and then discovered that we were far too close to the crags on the eastern slopes than I wanted to be. I made the decision then to return to the cairn while we still could. Once there I sat down and wrote this in my notebook. I type it up here unedited.

“Sitting here writing in the summit cairn of Beinn a Chaorainn, part of the west Monadhliath group. The cloud cover hasn’t improved, although I can see round about me at the top here, a little further down where we need to find the path is thick with cloud. It is impossible to see where you are going. I have my compass but I’m still not risking it until I see. May have to leave Beinn Teallach till another day. I know from experience not to push this. It is easy to get disorientated and lost in this cover. I know it will lift later but don’t really want/can’t wait around. Thorin gets restless too. Climbing a mountain directly from a road or obvious landmark is one thing but trying to find paths or bealachs or waypoints in thick cloud is another. Your head starts to mess with you and you make mistakes. I’m not into that.”

I’ve walked many mountains in fog and cloud, and I’m sure I will again but the experience I refer to in my notes there is from one particular day on one of the mountains around Bridge of Orchy. I forget which one it was so long ago, but on the summit plateau a cloud turned what had been a straightforward day into a possible missing person and dog case. I kept on tromping along thinking I was going the right way to get back to the road, trusting in my inner compass which is ridiculously good. Or so I believed.

Luckily I bumped into some other walkers coming from the opposite direction and we talked about where they had come from. I said I was about to head downwards that way and pointed into oblivion. They told me in no uncertain terms should I be going the way I intended. If I was to put their speech into the written word it would look like this. “NO DON’T GO THAT WAY YOU IDIOT!!!” Turns out that the edges and cliffs I was cleverly avoiding by my route down were right in the direction I was heading. Had I continued, I would either be dead or severely injured with no chance of rescue; or if I was lucky, wandering completely lost in the wilds of Rannoch Moor.

You learn from your mistakes. I was lucky I met those folk. I hot footed it in the right direction, the opposite from where I was going and descended the mountain as quick as I could. I came out miles away from where I started but at least I knew where I was. This is how I ended doing a part of the West Highland Way, completely by accident.

Returning to the original story, I made the decision to turn back and descend the mountain. I could still picture the way, knew where I had come from and how to get back. Nevertheless the mind games still continued as I tried unsuccessfully to look for the markers I had seen on the way up. I knew I would struggle in finding that route to the next mountain whilst inside a cloud. I’d just have to come back another day and that’s not really a bad thing. Within an hour and a half we were back down on the forest track and the mountain was clearing. But that head thing where I wasn’t convinced myself that I was on the right route was still with me during most of that time.

Had I been younger and more reckless I definitely would have kept going but I know I made the right choice. Not having anyone to bounce ideas off didn’t help but I’m happy to go back and get up Beinn Teallach another time. In this case the early bird most certainly did not catch the worm.

Live Deliberately

Barry

Currently listening to Manowar