July 15, 2021 13 min read
There are 282 munros scattered all around Scotland. 3 years ago Emily Scott achieved the amazing feat of climbing every single one in just 120 consecutive days. Armed with just her hiking gear, tent and bike she set off on her 4 month adventure.She covered over 4,800km with over 198,000m ascent, her journey was self-propelled, and for the most part self supported.
Emily is a massive inspiration and a testament to what you can achieve if you just get started. Like many of us, Emily had a crazy idea and dream of something she wanted to achieve. She wasn’t sure how long it would take or even if she could really do it, but she set off anyway and the rest is history.
Below Emily tells us all about her incredible journey and how it all started along with her ups and downs and some top tips for climbing your first munro.
Planting the seed
The idea came about organically. My first Munro was Ben Nevis back in 2014 as part of a National Three Peaks challenge organised by one of my friend’s Dads. We were so lucky with the weather and I remember being blown away by the views over the sea lochs. I knew I would be back! The next year I moved to Edinburgh and it was when I was living in Scotland that I got into hillwalking in a much bigger way. I would be checking weather forecasts every week and probably making trips north to bag Munros once or twice a month. At the time, I was also doing a number of long-distance triathlon races. The idea to do a continuous round of the Munros and cycle between them was definitely born around that time, although it wasn’t fully formed and I didn’t give it too much attention. However, once it planted itself in my head, it was one of those ideas that kept coming back to me and eventually I realised I was just going to have to try it. So I decided to take a summer off and set off to give it a go.
My aim was fairly simple: starting with the most northerly Munro, Ben Hope, I would then draw a continuous line under my own steam to the most southerly Munro, Ben Lomond, taking in each of the other 280 Munros along the way. I didn’t really know how long it would take, how my body would hold up, or indeed whether I would be able to do it.
Challenges along the way
The weather is always a massive factor with a big trip like this - for me it is the single thing that can make or break a day! When I think of the most challenging times, it’s always when the weather was bad! In the last 3 weeks of Project 282 I had set myself a very punishing schedule so I could get to the finish line and get down to London for my Great Uncle’s 80th birthday party. Once I set the finish date, I had to push on to the end to make sure I got there on the set date - I had invited people to join me and had friends helping with logistics (I crossed Loch Lomond on a stand-up paddle board to reach my last Munro and I didn’t have that with me on my bike!). Of course at that point, it felt like the weather was transpiring against me and I faced some very tough conditions.
One which always stands out was a morning in Glen Etive after 3 days of non-stop rain and a couple of hill days without enough food. I was in my tent and listening to the rain hammering on the fabric and felt like everything was wet and wouldn’t dry. I was so fed up at that point and the thought of getting out of my tent and getting going really wasn’t appealing. Honestly, at that point if someone had driven up and offered me a lift I think I would have been tempted to quit that day, even though I was already into the 4th month and had only about 50 Munros left to go at that point. As it was though, my closest point of escape would have been at the Bridge of Orchy, probably about 30km away.
After a bit of procrastination, I eventually got my soggy tent packed away and got onto my bike as the rain kept pouring down. As I cycled along the A82 across Rannoch Moor, the rain finally started to ease up and so too did my initial grumpiness as I again realised that I just needed to keep plugging away and taking small steps towards my goal of climbing the munros and eventually I would get there. I did exercise my credit card heavily when I got to the hotel at the Bridge of Orchy though and treated myself to a room for two nights, where I hung all my damp kit up to dry before heading off to climb the 4 munros in the Black Mount and then the 5 munros in the Wall of Rannoch the following day. When the weather was bad, I certainly found it was much easier to deal with when there was a prospect of a nice warm bed at the end of the day, rather than a soggy tent!
Towards the very end of the trip I developed a painful infection in my finger (caused no doubt by having almost constantly damp gloves and being too run down for my body to be able to fight it). It started to swell and throb a couple of days before my sister joined me for a day so I had asked her to go to a chemists and try and get me some medicine for it, although the poultice that she was able to get unfortunately didn’t make as much of a difference as I had hoped. I couldn’t really do much else about it and continued on hoping it would improve of its own accord. However, it kept getting worse and got quite heavily swollen and blistered. It looked gross, but what surprised me was how much discomfort it gave me - the worst thing was that it would wake me up in the night throbbing (when I really needed to be sleeping off my consecutive multi munro days!). I ended up seeing a doctor at the start of my last week and being prescribed some antibiotics for it, which thankfully cleared it up well.
Thinking back it would be hard to chose a single favourite moment from the challenge! One of my favourite feelings would be when you crest a ridge or reach a summit and just have these incredible views sweeping below you. It just doesn’t get old! Although of course sometimes you get to a summit and you’re inside a cloud and can barely see a few metres beyond your nose, but those ones I enjoy the sensation of getting to the top anyway and take pleasure in the physicality of it.
There are so many highlights I could choose and sometimes these were purely landscape driven, other times it was the wildlife encounters, and other times was because of the people I met. Sometimes I would go for 2 or 3 days between seeing people (which sounds a little crazy in the UK, but on bad weather weekdays in the more remote hills it’s not all that surprising). If I hadn’t seen anyone for a while, I’m sure I would then gabble away to the next poor unsuspecting person I came across as I clearly felt a little starved of human interaction.
My top four favourite moments:
Sitting at the top of Bruach na Frìthe on the Isle of Skye on a fabulous June evening. This was my final munro in the Black Cuillins and I had been really nervous about these infamous hills before starting the challenge, so the relief at getting through these challenging munros was palpable. I just remember sitting on top of the trig pillar for about half an hour feeling a huge sense of contentment and enjoying the views across all of Skye, back to the mainland and across the other islands of the Hebrides.
Arriving at Bendronaig bothy in the north-west highlands after a day in gale force winds and detouring off my route to get to the bothy (that I only knew about because of a conversation with someone else on a hill a few days earlier) and being greeted by some friendly Swedish hikers who were on the Cape Wrath trail. Playing cards in front of the fire and then snuggling into my sleeping bag whilst the rain hammered against the windows was lovely. I later discovered (when I got back out to the road and phone signal a few days later) that I had survived my first named storm of the trip: Storm Hector.
A day in Glencoe where I had opted to camp at the Red Squirrel campsite so had called in and pitched my tent, leaving all my gear at the campsite, then cycled up to the Three Sisters parking spot and locked my bike there. I then did a traverse of the mighty Aonach Eagach, before dropping down to the road and crossing the glen to climb Bidean nam Bian and its neighbouring munro and descended through the Lost Valley (where the MacDonalds used to hide their stolen cattle). After an amazing hill day I hopped on my bike and made it to the Clachaig Inn for dinner 3 minutes before last orders for food!
Approaching the shore of Loch Lomond on the paddle board near the Rowardennan Hotel and being greeted by a small group of friends, new and old, who came to walk up the last munro, Ben Lomond, with me. I had pushed through the night before to climb my penultimate 4 munros in the Arrochar Alps, having done the 5 remaining munros near Crainlarich the day before (following 3 hours sleep after doing Ben More and Stob Binnean in the dark and falling snow on the penultimate night!). I was totally goosed, but when I reached the shore and got off the paddle board, I realised that I would definitely finish the challenge that day. It was so special having people to walk up Ben Lomond with and one of my friends had even baked the most amazing sticky toffee pudding cake which she carried up in a saucepan in her bag! I only wish I hadn’t been quite so tired so I might have had slightly better conversation to offer.
My Favourite Munros
Some of the ones that are particularly tough are some of the best ones on reflection. I think I would happily climb all of them again and have a different experience each time. Some of the ones that perhaps don’t have much of a reputation for being particularly interesting hills were maybe made more special by having some company and good conversation. Again, the weather is a huge factor and of course it’s much easier to have a nice time when the weather is good.
The first one I revisited after travel restrictions lifted this year was Beinn Sgulaird to the south of Glencoe. It was one that I had had a pretty awful time on during Project 282 as the cloud base was down to about 400m, it rained for the entirety of my day, I didn’t seen anything, I hadn’t eaten enough and didn’t have more food with me and I’d had an awful night’s sleep as I’d bivvied out in the Ben Starav group the night before, but only decided to sleep high long after I’d left my camping gear stashed further up Glen Etive, so shivered through the night in my emergency bivi bag. But it’s one that has the most amazing views and I knew I hadn’t given it a fair chance. I went up it in April in great conditions and though it felt huge after months away from the munros, it did not disappoint on the views front!
An Teallach is an amazing mountain (with 2 munros) and has to be up there amongst the finest hill days in Scotland. When I did it during Project 282 I met 2 guys who were going the other way to me and we had a wee chat and then planned to meet for dinner at the Dundonell Hotel that evening. I ended up climbing 12 munros with one of the pair over the course of the summer, so it was a very fortuitous meeting! The next time I climbed An Teallach was with an Instagram pal - it was the first time we’d actually met in person and by the end of the day I felt like we’d known each other for years. We had perfect weather conditions and did the full ridge scramble, up and over all the pinnacles, which I had previously skirted.
Knoydart is a phenomenal place and I am planning on getting back there this summer. I didn’t get much of a view from Ladhar Beinn as frustratingly the cloud came in when I was in the final push to the summit, but the area is incredible. I spent a few days on a long circuit from Kinlochhorn doing a circumnavigation of Loch Quoich and camped pretty much on the summit of Gairich. In the morning I was joined by some mountain hares and then heard the sound of jets - they were flying below me up and down along the loch, which was pretty cool to watch from up above.
The Aonach Eagach in Glencoe is truly special. It has the reputation of the narrowest ridge on the mainland UK and a dry day is fairly essential, but the views across Glencoe and then over the Mamores and to Ben Nevis are just fantastic. I’ve done the ridge a few times now and have loved it each time.
The Fisherfields are an amazing group of hills too - you get an incredible sense of remoteness (some of the hills in this group are about as far as you can get from a road) and again I was very lucky with the weather. I had an amazing day and as evening drew in the cloud built up in the valley below. I ended up being up high very late and watched the most amazing sunset over a bank of clouds in the valley, with the other Fisherfield peaks and An Teallach rising up out of the clouds. The moon then came up and it was truly a magical experience.
Other places that I would happily revisit again and again are the likes of the Mamores, the Torridon hills and Kintail. However, I’m sure I could go on and on and before I realise it I might list 282 favourite munros!
Top tips for starting out
If possible, go out with other people who maybe have a bit more experience so you can learn from them. Don’t set off too fast - you might find yourself getting knackered early on and then it won’t be so enjoyable. If you are walking with someone else, if you try to go at a pace that you can hold a conversation at without being too puffed to talk, that should set you in good stead. I often promise myself rewards in the form of stopping for snacks when I get to certain points. Don’t forget to look around and take in the views (if the weather allows you views!!) including looking back the way you have come.
I wouldn’t necessarily dive straight in to climbing munros without having gone up some smaller hills first. Here in Edinburgh we have the wonderful Arthur’s Seat standing at a whole 250m high. It’s certainly not as committing as a munro, but it does give a sense of the achievement you can get from walking up a hill and rewards of incredible summit views. I would often use ‘Arthurs’ as a unit of measurement to help me when I was struggling a bit - if I had 500m of climbing left, I would tell myself that it was just 2 Arthurs and then it would feel more manageable.
Now the pubs have re-opened too, I absolutely love the treat of a completely guilt-free good pub dinner after a day in the hills, ideally washed down with a cold Coke or lager shandy.
Waterproofs (even if it’s sunny and the forecast is good - mountain weather is so changeable and Scottish mountain weather especially so!), spare warm layer(s), gloves, buff, sunglasses, cap, map & compass. I also usually have a spare power bank and cable to charge my phone which I leave on airplane mode when I’m out in the hills to preserve battery in case I need it, although I do also carry a GPS safety tracker with an SOS button in the case of an emergency out of signal range. I pretty much always have hiking poles with me too (they save my knees!). A variety of snacks also feature heavily in my hill day packing list - I try to have a mixture of savoury and sweet snacks and if I’m finding things a bit hard, the first thing I’ll do is always to get some food in.
Best ‘Starter’ Munros
Some of the stand-alone popular hills with good, well-graded paths are certainly a bit more straightforward to start with. The likes of Ben Lomond (most southerly and easily accessed from Glasgow), Mount Keen (most easterly, not far from Ballater) and Shiehallion are all up there as obvious choices. Ben Nevis by the mountain track is also a very good path and of course popular with people doing the National Three Peaks or people wanting to climb to the roof of the British Isles. They are still big climbs though so they shouldn’t be underestimated, but the paths are generally good which does help at lot and makes navigation much more straightforward.
For an easier day on the legs it’s also worth considering where access is higher, or where there’s a lift that can be used. For example, Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor can be made much easier by taking the gondola at Nevis Range, which saves about 50% of the ascent. The munros at Glenshee are among the ones with the shortest climb involved as the road comes up to over 600m, indeed The Cairnwell even has a chairlift to the top! Glencoe ski area also has a chairlift which operates year-round which can save some of the climbing. Of course, in these places the ski infrastructure is hard to miss and it’s also worth remembering that by taking the lift up it can be easy to get caught out by how much colder it can be when you go higher.
Emily didn’t undertake this huge expedition just to prove she could, she raised over £3000 for 3 great organisations, The Mountain Bothy Association, Air Ambulances UK and Scottish Mountain Rescue. Her adventure has been captured in a film - ‘Project 282’ - condensing her 4 month trip into just 10 minutes. You can watch the film and find out more about Emilys impressive journeyhere.
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