There are many unusual customs and local oddities in our world, but you often need to travel about to stumble upon these gems. I was fortunate to unearth one when my wife and I visited my eldest stepson, working a summer internship in Scotland. We both enjoy hiking (and my stepson looked like he could use some, from recent photos he had sent!), so random research around the expedition led to discovery of “bagging a Munro”.
The name derives from a Scottish baronet, Hugh Munro, who was a mountaineer and the first to catalog every peak in Scotland above 3,000 feet (originally published in 1891). Turns out there are quite a few: 284 in all (though this was revised in 2012 to 282), and it is deemed a lifetime achievement to have “bagged them all”. Most are uncomplicated day hikes, though several involve nasty ascents requiring fundamental skills. Regardless, the sheer quantity implies a dedicated effort and earns high accolades.
Intrigued, we included bagging of a Munro into our Scottish itinerary. Our target was Cairn Gorm, a spectacular peak whose 4,084 feet summit is the sixth highest in the collection. In fact, the mountain is the keystone for an entire range labeled as the Cairngorms and is the site of downhill skiing facilities during winter. Despite its height, tackling Cairn Gorm requires no technical skill. In fact, being a skiing hill, there is a funicular which delivers you 2/3rds of the way. We did not opt for mechanical transportation and hoofed the entire distance, although the parking lot you start from is already at 1,750 feet.
It was summertime, but the substantial complex at the upper end of the funicular was still in business with many facilities open. Weary from the trek to this elevation, my stepson opted to sit and wait for my wife and me to complete the summit. We polished off the final push with little difficulty (I will stress it was quite steep, but we were both in good shape). The major difficulty was the whipping breeze – at this elevation the wind howled beyond belief. But I cannot begin to share the exultation once we had bagged a Munro!
The story has a moral. Several years later I was exploring Jordan and crossed a group of English-Irish trekkers who impressed me because they had walked between campsites my buddy and I had driven to. Over a few beverages around the campfire with a 67-year old member of the pack’s British contingent (whom we had chatted with the previous night at the other campground), I was astonished to hear his tales of scaling Machu Picchu and trekking Nepal. I asked him how many Munro’s he had bagged and he sheepishly replied, “none, it is on my list”. Unearth those nuggets, they are common ground.