The last weekend, E & I barely did anything. So we decided this past weekend to bag our first Munro on our last proper hike until spring. What’s a Munro you may ask…well, I’ll tell you. A Munro is a mountain in Scotland over 3,000 ft (914.4 meters). The most famous and largest one is Ben Nevis (4,409 feet : 1,344 m): it’s right by where we were a couple of weekends ago on the West coast of Scotland, quite close to Glencoe. Now this doesn’t sound like much…especially to all my friends out hiking in Denver climbing 14,000 ft. mountains. But, and I note:
“Compared with some continental ranges, Scottish mountains might be modest in height, but walking and climbing in them can be treacherous because of their latitude and exposure to Atlantic and Arctic weather systems. Even in summer, conditions can be atrocious; thick fog, strong winds, driving rain and freezing summit temperatures are not unusual.”
In Glencoe, we did the Pap of Glencoe that was sooooo close to being a Munro, and was damn hard….but wasn’t a Munro. I really wanted to do one before we had to wait again until next spring. So I googled the “easiest Munros to hike” and found a list and was drawn to Cairn Gorm (and the northern corries…whatever that means). Probably because I kinda love Cairngorm National Park and thought it fitting I climb the namesake.
There is a pretty direct route up Cairn Gorm, but I wanted to make it a good hike, so I choose the one that went around the corries and hit a couple Munros. It’s about 7 miles long and said to take 5-6 hours…which generally means 6 for us not so experienced hikers. Even though we got off to a late start, we figured we’d be ending right around sun down. We packed up and made the 2.5 hour drive to the Cairn Gorm ski center where the hike would begin. The forecast didn’t look too wet, and I really didn’t think about the wind gust cloud the weather app was showing. I mean, it said UP TO 40 mph winds…but that didn’t sound too bad. I know at about 19 mph winds is about the most I can attempt to run in…and 23 mph is my absolute no to a run. But 40 mph on a walk…it didn’t seem like it’d be that hard.
Well, long story short. It was that hard. Maybe because it was 100 mph winds, not 40 mph. Which we didn’t know until after we attempted the hike for an hour and a half. A group had started the trail behind us, but at some point we realized they had turned back. We made it up to the top of the main hill we were walking up…and I think it was about 1,000 meters…so we bagged a Munro! But then we lost any coverage of land and the wind was really pelting my face. There was snow from last year still up there! And the path was leading to the next higher hill along the ridgeline. A handful of times I had already lost my balance and a gust of wind pushed me over so fast and hard that I had to grab onto a rock to make sure I didn’t canteen over the edge. I don’t know how Stella did it. The wind just made her crazy and run like a maniac. At one point the wind picked up her back legs and kinda pushed her into a boulder. It was entertaining but I decided it wasn’t worth it. We didn’t know how dangerous the trail was in front of us and at least we would have severe windburn on our faces. We tried to turn around right when some low clouds came in and it’s started raining. It was also cold enough for our first hike in hat and gloves and fleeces. And the whole walk down E and I discussed, “man, that had to be at least 60 mph gusts there…it felt way worse than 40!”…..
It wasn’t until we made it back down that we fully learned how stupid we were. We went into one of the ski buildings, the one that was the “train station” that you could board to take up the mountain and met one of the employees there. I asked if they were running the train up the hill and she let me know that they cancel it when it hits 70 MPH winds. “Wow, we didn’t realize the wind was that bad!” And that’s when she was like, “Oh, it was a wee worse than that! It was up to 100 mph at the top where you just came from.”
So we stopped in town (Aviemore) on the way back…where Stella got to join us for a quick bite to eat. I can’t express how happy it makes me to have Stella sharing a plate of chips with me in a restaurant. And Aviemore is super cute…we just might have to do a night over.
In hindsight…I don’t think taking the circuit path (not the direct route up underneath the chairlift) would qualify this hike as one of the top 10 easiest Munros to bag. And certainly, even the easiest hike up to 3,000 feet sucks with 100 mph winds. We’re definitely going to give this another go in May. But I wasn’t to also say the whole Bagging a Munro thing is kind of bullshit. Pap of Glencoe, you start at sea level, and are so damn close to being 3,000 ft, and the hike it hella hard. Then you have hikes where you start half way up in terms of elevation and the hikes not nearly as hard…and you get to claim you bagged the Munro. It’s kinda bullshit. Just saying…