Munro Bagging – A Brief History

What is a Munro?

Simply, a Munro is a hill in Scotland over 3,000ft in height above sea level. However the true answer is a little more complicated than that. For example, many ridges have several peaks over 3,000ft, should you climb them all, or just the highest one? The official definition from the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC), which is the organisation which maintains the list, is “The list of distinct Scottish peaks of 3000ft (914.4m) and over, of “sufficient separation” from their neighbouring peaks“. I can hear you all cry, what does “sufficient separation” mean? Well, to be honest, it was really up to Sir Hugh Munro, the compiler of the original list way back in 1891. He listed what he thought was a separate mountain, although never defined what exactly that was in his mind.

Sir Hugh Munro (1856-1919)

Sir Hugh Munro was tasked by the SMC to compile a list of all the mountains in Scotland. Before he undertook his work, it was widely believed that there were about 30 or so proper mountains in Scotland, those of above 3,000ft. It was to great acclaim and surprise that when he did release his list, there were nearly 300. Now his work in the late part of the 19th century was conducted by ground survey (on the hills themselves) and the best available mapping at the time, which over time with the improvements in mapping and measuring mountains has led to several revisions.

Sir Hugh Munro never actually compleated (archaic spelling) his own list. It is known that he never summitted at least three summits, two in the Cairngorms, and the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye. The first person to have been credited with a compleat round was Rev A.E. Robertson in 1901.

The Munro’s currently consist of 282 Munros and 227 Munro Tops (those points high enough to be Munro’s but not included on the list for a variety of reasons). The most recent update to the list, at the time of writing, was August 2020, where the west top of Beinn a’Chroin was removed from the list, and the eastern top added as it is slightly higher.

Munro Bagging?

Munro bagging is the activity of climbing all 282 summits on the SMC list. There is a wide variety of landscapes, hills, geography and effort involved in compleating the list. From Ben Lomond in the south, to Ben Hope in the North, Sgùrr na Banachdaich in the West and Mount Keen in the east, to compleat the list, takes a lot of time, effort and no small number of failed attempts (usually). Munro Bagging can be conducted all year round, however can be dangerous, particularly in winter. Even in summer, driving rain, fog and freezing temperatures are common. In winter, this can be even worse, with ice, snow and avalanche risks adding to the experience.

Steve Fallon has the most compleat rounds (currently 16), the fastest round is held by Donnie Campbell in 31 days, 23 hours and 2 minutes. On average is takes a person between 8 and 20 years to compleat the list. Using the usual routes, it would take around 150 days walking, 168,000m of ascent (nearly 20 times up Everest!) and you would walk nearly 3,000km – the equivalent of Lands End to John o’Groats and back again.

Most of the Munro’s can be climbed on foot, some will require a little bit of scrambling and there is one that requires a full on roped up rock climb, the Inaccessible Pinnacle (Inn Pinn) on the Isle of Skye. Not one for the feint of heart.

Why do you keep spelling “compleat” like that?

Compleating is the archaic spelling of the more modern complete. It means the same thing, but the SMC who also curate the list of Munroists or Compleatists, uses the old spelling. Sure its a little pretentious, but we are still measuring out mountains in feet off an arbitrary list. Why not? Another word is a Munroist, which whilst a little clumsy, encapsulates the achievement nicely.

Why do you ‘bag’ Munro’s?

Handily, I have a post about that already. However, in short, it is a challenging, energetic hobby that keeps me fit, takes me to new places and of course, I get to tick the hills off a list. What’s not to love?

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