“Hillwalking”- a leisurely stroll through grassy slopes? Nope. Despite its relaxed name that conjures up images of hilltop picnics, hillwalking is no joke. It’s the word for hiking here, and the Edinburgh University Hillwalking Club makes sure to squash any misinterpretations you might have had. We took a 3-hour van ride up to Kinlochleven, a village in the Scottish Highlands to our hostel, which was completely booked by the Hillwalking Club. Unlike my other hostel experiences, this one was clean, cozy and cottage-y. The picturesque highlands loomed over the hostel and as night rolled in we all gathered in the dining room to listen to the hike leaders “pitch” their hikes.
“We are going to climb two munros, 1,000 meter ascent…gets a bit scrambly along the ridge.” The pitches were great, except that I had no idea what a munro was, what a 1,000 meter ascent would feel like, and what they meant by “scrambly”. Scrambled eggs? Finally after 3 leaders pitched I asked what a munro was and what they meant by scrambly. A munro is a mountain in Scotland that is taller than 3,000 feet and according to Wikipedia there are 282 of them. Although, the number seems to change quite frequently as the classification standards change. Climbing all 282 munros is also a popular goal for avid hikers (or hillwalkers) in Scotland. They pitched in order from easiest to hardest hike and after the hikes started to reach the 10-12 hour range I started zoning out. I picked a nice 7-8 hour hike that apparently had an “enchanted forest,” as the hike leader put it. It also had the latest departure time the next morning, which was a great bonus.
The next morning around 5am the succession of alarm clocks began as everyone woke up to get ready for the various hikes. Around 8am I woke up and started to layer up. It was an hour drive to get to the base of the munro that we were climbing, Stop Baan. As a guy in our group put it, “we experienced all 4 seasons in our hike.” It started out cold and crisp at the base of the mountain, but after 15 minutes of walking uphill we were all stripping off our layers. There was barely any blue sky and it was forecasted to rain. We trudged through muddy grass that was spongy from various creeks that trickled down the mountain, and then climbed over rocks—trying not to sprain our ankles. After probably 3 hours of hiking we reached the top of the munro where the wind quickly cooled us down. In fact, the wind cooled us down to the point that everyone was shivering. At that point the clouds were moving fast; the scenery would change right before our eyes every couple of minutes. We took a picture of a group of hikers at the top and in the time it took us to switch positions to have our picture taken, the mountainous landscape was covered completely by clouds.
We walked along the ridge where it was just a little bit “scrambly” in some parts—meaning that it was very rocky and uneven and we had to use our hands at times. Trekking a long the Mamores ridge I had the urge to belt out ‘Climb Every Mountain.’ We walked along the ridge for probably another 2-3 hours before we descended down and into the much hyped-up “enchanted forest.”
“Yea, I just said that there was an enchanted forest to make my hike sound more appealing,” our hike leader said. The forest wasn’t all that enchanted and I didn’t see any gnomes, but it was still a nice stroll and change of scenery. We reached the car shortly after and like the ending of any activity in Scotland; we drove straight to the pub.