A full mountain hike in Scotland has been on the cards for a long time, and the weather was kind enough during our holiday to allow us the opportunity for our first. Ben Wyvis stands tall and vast above the lowlands and hills of Ross & Cromarty and is listed as one of the easier “Munros”: a series of 282 Scottish mountains higher than 3,000 feet (914 metres). We packed our hiking gear and set off from the car park on the A835 with determination, aiming to complete our longest and most challenging hike to date.
The overall route proved to be a sixteen kilometre walk to the summit and back, with the main, steep ascent beginning a little more than three kilometres from the car park. The approach through a typical pine-and-heather landscape gave a gradually increasing view of An Cabar: the pointed top of the 580-metre struggle up from the level of the river (Allt a’ Bhealaich Mhoir). What had appeared to be the equivalent to the rear side of the Gemmenalphorn at home turned out to be more than twice as high, with a killer set of rocks set as high steps over around a quarter a mile up the mountain.
I’m used to more direct, steep ascents, so after trudging through the forest and battling up the steep path, I was all but ready to wave the flag of surrender at the top. I still had some motivation in reserve, so after grumpily topping up my humour in the form of chocolate, we set off again across the rolling, wide mountain-top towards the actual summit some 2.5 kilometres away.
The walk across the plateau to the summit at Glas Leathad Mor is typical of the Scottish Munros – and higher Lakeland fells – in that it’s wide and windy. After the heat and effort of the ascent, we were glad to have the essential fleeces and gloves to stave off the cold, while our complaining legs dragged us on. The views, albeit grey, were mercifully dry and awe-inspiringly massive, taking in the Cromarty Firth a few miles to the east and innumerable more Munros to the west. We reached the summit cairn at last, took our (very British) ten-minute break for sandwiches and Kipling slices, greeting a couple of other walkers as they arrived and as we left.
We channelled the elation of having achieved the summit into energy for the return walk: after all, a mountain summit hike in a country without convenient cable-cars also requires a lot of effort to get back down the mountain again! Hikers reading this shouldn’t under-estimate the steepness of the return down An Cabar: the steps, so “helpful” on the way up, are tiring and require a fair effort on the descent, and seem to be a lot higher to descend than to ascend.
We were pretty grateful of the easy walk back through the forest, taking our time and talking over the route we’d achieved earlier. Although it was a great experience, I gained a great deal more respect for the Munro Completists – those who have ascended all 282 peaks – and for all those who set out to join their ranks.
Despite being very pleased with hiking our first Munro, I think that the Munros are beyond the level to which I’d like to aspire. I love to hike and I love to achieve summits, but the combination of 935 metres of ascent and sixteen kilometres walking was beyond an enjoyable hike. My goal for now is to achieve lesser goals – the Wainwright Fells in the Cumbrian Lake District and photographic goals like the Lobhörner in Switzerland – and perhaps work towards bigger peaks in future. Even the biggest mountain in England – Scafell Pike – is an easier walk from Wasdale than this Munro, with a total ascent/descent of 880 metres and a total distance of just 10 kilometres.