NC500 Munro Bagging
Have you heard of Munro Bagging in Scotland? If you haven’t, you will by the end of the article. We caught up with Tim from Hamlet mountaineering about his favourite Munros and mountains throughout the North Coast 500.
A Munro is a hill in Scotland which is more than 3,000 feet tall, or 914 metres. There are 282 of these wonderful mountains scattered across Scotland, and all of these peaks have their own distinct charm and character.
The North Coast 500 route contains, in my humble opinion, some of the most interesting and beautiful landscapes anywhere in the world. It is these rugged mountains that really bring this sensational landscape to life, giving it depth and life. As you drive around the North Coast 500, take your time to stop and listen to the mountains calling.
The Scottish Munros were originally named in 1891 after Sir Hugh Munro – a man who never actually completed the full set! Climbing a Munro stirs something something in the soul; the sore feet, the long boggy walks, the navigationally challenging moments and the cold all seem to fade away to nothing as excitement peaks as you reach the summit and achieve what you set out to do. Not to mention the views; they’re absolutely fantastic.
Throughout the North Coast 500, 37 Munros, 43 Corbetts (mountains of 2,500 feet, or 762 metres) and 38 Grahams (mountains of 2,000 feet, or 762 metres) can be viewed from the winding roads, as well as many marlyns, humps, tumps and simms – yes, people get very into their hill bagging lists!
If you want to explore the true beauty and the wilderness of the North Coast 500, you’ll want to get out of the car and get yourself up a hill. Not only will it give you a different perspective on the road, but it also gives you a break from driving and a chance to learn more about what the wilds of Scotland really have to offer. Golden eagles, red deer and ptarmigan are just some of the wildlife you might encounter if you venture off the tarmac strip.
This 7km towering ridge line rises from the sea, dwarfing the village of Torridon. There are two Munros in this maze of pinnacles and rock towers: Spidean a Choire Leith and Mullach an Rathain. Largely considered one the Scotland’s greatest mountaineering days, the ridge offers plenty of scrambling for those that wish to traverse the true ridge. Both Munros at the East and West of the ridge can be gained independently, however the true adventure lies in joining the two.
An Teallach Traverse
The jagged ridge of An Teallach (the forge) rises above the town of Dundonnell. An Teallach is often thought of as one of the finest Munros in Scotland, and with good reason. Between the two Munros of Bidein a Ghlas Thuill and Sgurr Fiona lies a wonderful puzzle of Torridonian sandstone spires, which the Munro bagger must weave themselves thorough to complete the ridge. Like the Liathach Traverse, both the Munros at either end of the ridge can be gained separately on independent days, without the need to scramble the ridge.
One of my greatest experiences on this mountain was a 14-hour winter day in which myself and a friend backed off one particular ice climbing route, which was not in condition, only to travel upwards again on a different route. When we got to the ridge line it was getting dark, and I did not want to call my wife until the dangers had passed. My poor long-suffering wife hung up on me when she heard we were still on top of the last Munro at 8pm, having been dark for 4 hours already. She then rang straight back and, like a good Mountain Leader, asked for a grid reference and plan of action as well as our ETA back at the car.
Not all mountains have to be Munros. Stac Pollaidh is a mere 612 metres, which makes it a Graham. What this mountain lacks in height, it makes up for in character. Stac Pollaidh means ‘pool of the pinnacle’, taken from the old Norse indicating the presence of Vikings in this region at one time. A Torridonian sandstone nunatak which has survived the last ice age, the frost-shattered slopes of Stac Pollaidh provide some of the best rock climbing the country has to offer. But if that’s not your thing and you’re more about the level ground, then a walk around the Stac Pollaidh loop will take you about 3-4 hours on a relatively good path. For those that are all about hitting the true summit, the short ‘bad’ step guards the way to the peak. A good head for heights is required here to make a few scrambling moves up a short rock face, which reveals tremendous views out to the Summer Isles and as far as the hills of Harris and the Cuillins of Skye.
This fabulous mountain is an icon of the North Coast 500 route around Lochinver. The mountain can often appear more like a range when viewed from the side, featuring three main peaks, all of which are classed as Corbetts.
The whole mountain is under the management of the John Muir Trust who often undertake path building projects in the area. Therefore, you’ll find a relatively good path most of the way up the mountain. Starting from the car park you can make your day longer or shorter depending on how many of the peaks you feel like taking in.
At 808 metres, Sail Gharbh is the highest peak capped by 512 million year old Cambrian quartzite. This mountain shows some of the fascinating geology in the UNESCO North West Highland Geopark. Sail Ghorm, at 776 metres tall, is the second highest of the three – a little further out of the way, but well worth the effort for the fabulous views to the sea. Spidean Coinich, at 764 metres, is the smallest of the three but it packs a bit of a punch! As you can see in the photograph below, it is rather steep in comparison, and very much a worthwhile outing as you’re passing though.
The Scottish hills are indeed dangerous so make sure you:
This brief list is but a few of the spectacular hills across the North Coast 500 route. As you’ll find driving the route, every corner has a different view. There are some fabulous high places to go and explore, but overall, make sure you get out of the car frequently during your road trip of a lifetime.
The Scottish hills are indeed dangerous so make sure you:
ALWAYS – Check at least two weather forecasts (Met Office, MWIS), plus avalanche forecasts in winter SAIS.
ALWAYS – Take a map and compass, and know how to use them.
ALWAYS – Wear the right equipment.
ALWAYS – Leave a route plan with a friend, along with a cut off time.
Calling the emergency services – If it does all go wrong, then the Scottish Mountain Rescue service is a voluntary organisation available 24/7. To contact the Mountain Rescue phone 999, ask for the police, then ask for mountain rescue.
Overall, be safe out there. If you are at all unsure or not confident, hire a guide for the day – you will learn so much. Tim runs a small family business called Hamlet Mountaineering, based in Achiltibuie, which offers a full range of outdoor activities from rock climbing and mountaineering to guided walks and canoeing.