The Munros – 40 years on, a different era?

The Munros 40 years on looking back  what a great way to learn about this great country, the mountains their hidden secrets and of course it’s people.

1976 My final Munro

1976 My final Munro

It is amazing when you look back in time to the 13 November 1976 myself and a great pal Tom MacDonald completed our Munros both on separate hills. We were both young members of the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team and were so lucky to have done these great hills before they became so popular.  It was a great weekend I finished on An Socach 944 metres and the other two Munros for the rest of the party it was a big day in November. Tom finished on I am sure Beinn Bhreac and we were staying at Braemar with the Team. Most of the hills were done with the team and it was a constant chase to get the summits done with some great characters who taught us lots. I had no car could not drive and on the odd weekend off we hitched to the hills.  I learned to plan my weekend hills and had the Munro list with me everywhere I went.



Pete Mc Gowan RAF Kinloss Team Leader and the late Ben Humble a pioneer of Scottish Mountain Rescue. This was the night myself and Tom MacDonald had completed out Munro’s 1976.  This was about a year before Ben passed away. It was a great privilege to meet Ben Humble, what a character that is his great photo behind me of the Ben and Carn Mor Dearg that used to hang in the RAF Kinloss MRT Briefing room.

The late great Ben Humble

The late great Ben Humble

Pete McGowan the RAF Kinloss Team Leader at the time what a man and gave us both a picture of our day and on the back he wrote these wonderful words. It was signed by Ben Humble a real mountain character and pioneer of Mountain Rescue.


“On behalf of all the members of RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team may I congratulate you on a really fine achievement in ascending An Sochach 3097 feet in Breamar on 13 November 1976.  You completed a unique double with Tom Mc Donald to join a small band of climbers who have ascended all the 280 “Munro Mountains” in Scotland.



Many thanks for your hard work with the team, for you can be rightly and justifiably proud of your efforts.  Well done and best wishes for many happy and enjoyable days in the mountains.

Yours Aye Pete Mc Gowan  (Also signed “Congratulations” by Ben Humble SMC )” I was so proud that Ben Humble was there he was some man a hero from another era and he always spoke to me no matter who was about.

It meant so much and still does to me to this day that Pete took the time to make our day special. Pete  is incredible man and a true leader who sorted the team out and made us a true band of brothers and ready for anything that Scotland could throw at us.  We learnt so much in these few years.There were so many great days in that period it was all fresh and new, the old basic inch to the mile maps, poor weather forecasts,no mobile phones, no GPS and few paths and you rarely met people. There were no wind farms to blight the views. We had so many friends as the keepers in the glens, great names Mr Oswald at Ben Alder, Mr Mc Rae in Skye, Mr Robertson at Loch Muick so many more, we always addressed them as Mr they were real characters. From Skye to Ballater we knew so many of them and the advice they gave us was incredible.

Our Bible The SMC Munros Tables.

Our Bible The SMC Munros Tables.

The SMC Munro book so very basic back then and there was only one about the SMC Munros Tables it was our bible and how I enjoyed ticking it after very adventure. Each year were over 130 hill days getting in so many new hills little else mattered? Nowadays there are so many great books on the Munros my favourites are listed below, each have a gem about these mountains.


Some of the epic days are so clear the Skye ridge in one go apart from Gillean in 1973 when I nearly abseiled off the rope and Tom saved my life. Huge days of all the classic ridges, The Mamores, Fannichs, Kintail, Fisherfield, Torridon, Glencoe, Tranters Round, the Etive hills with a Vango Tent and so many more adding to them each year and learning so much. In winter it was hard with the simple kit. The Curly Boots that froze as did the breaches ( whatever happened to them) Big rucksack’s were the norm and a rope was always carried along with fairly useless radios. We learnt to navigate with basic maps and limited area knowledge. Learning the hard way from mistakes in the winter traverses of the Cairngorms bothying, camping high, snow – holing and then at the end of the day maybe a call –out.  You built up stamina and how often did it happen often coming off a 12 hour day on the hill then out on a night call –out no Health & Safety then. I have hundreds of tales about wild day on the hill, great adventures, near misses that will stay with me forever.


There were a few in the Team in those early days that mocked us Munro baggers they were the so-called climbers. At times they would walk round the summit tops to wind us up. It took a few years in the end for me to understand there was more to life than Munros and I learned whenever I could to mix the climbing and the Munros. After each weekend we would be asked at briefing what Munros, hills we had climbed and had to be able to name them all, a big day like the Kintail/Fannichs/ Beinn Dearg Range would be not easy but you learned the names and the area knowledge built up.



I feel so privileged to have had such an experience in these early days, so many memories of great days and I have been  lucky enough to get several Munro round completed over the years. In the end I have slowed down, I take my time and enjoy these great mountains; everyone has several memories for me. It was wonderful taking the new troops out on the big days, get them fit and learn about these hills and climbing so many of the classic days again and again. I had a great dog Teallach a big soft Alsatian who completed a round and I will never forget our two-day traverse of the Skye ridge, one never to forget.


1985-teallach-mamores-in his prime winter traverse of the then 11 Munros>

Looking back what a marvellous journey from that day 40 years ago who would have believed where it would take me? I have climbed all over the World been on some of the world’s great peaks but these early days were the ones that mattered. From the Munros to these wild walks across Scotland the Alps, the Himalayas all opened my eyes to these wild places.

My solo days out on the Munros taught me so much they were an ordeal by fitness and navigation at times in a bad day but you gained so much confidence in the end. They weret adventures and I have a plan for another completion but that is another story.

Thanks Sir Hugh and all those who looked after me on the early days.

The Munro board at RAF Kinloss.

The Munro board at RAF Kinloss.

Tom MacDonald, Pete McGowan, Ray Sefton, John Hinde, George Bruce, Tuech Brewer, Bugsy Rabbit’s, John Cosgrove  and so many more.

Finally thanks to Sir Hugh Munro for his vision,

A great read about these wild places.

A great read about these wild places.

“”I still feel young, although I cannot climb mountains quite so fast as I could years ago.” John Muir, 1910 (aged 72



Munro Compleatists!

1901 – 1970 – 96 Munroists

1970 – 1980 – 211 – (115) number 146 (1976)

1980 – 1990 – 721 – (510)

1990 – 2000 – 2310 – (1800)

2000 – 2013 – 5000 – (2690)

These are only the number who have registered how many are there who have not?

The Munro’s – Thanks Sir Hugh

It was a race to finish
A list to complete
For a name in a book

For years we took you for granted
Like a lover
Then gone.

So many great memories
Now the hills are battered
By so many feet?

Who are we to criticise
we have all used you?

For many the first is
like love,life changing?

So many are now enjoying
what we had when young.

Go and have fun and savour
Those Munro days in the sun.

Heavy summit Schiehallion 24 July 2014

On 8 th round – and sadly still single married to the mountains and wild places! Sad man?





About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Book, Books, Bothies, Enviroment, Friends, Gear, Hill running and huge days!, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Poems, Rock Climbing, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

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