Monday, 17 November 2008

An article published in the Bangkok Post (Learning Post) 15th July 2008

Bagging peaks

The United Kingdom is an uneven place when it comes to height; there are large areas of ground at, or only a little above, sea level. However, for a growing number of enthusiasts, the interesting parts of the UK are the areas over 3,000 feet (914 metres) high. England and Wales have a few mountains over this height, but it is Scotland that has the most.
An interesting weekend activity is fast becoming a competitive sport: Keeping a record of mountains climbed, or "peak bagging". There are more than 200 peaks over 3,000 feet that have become the focus of a growing group of mountaineers and hill walkers.
The challenge
In 1891, Sir Hugh Munro (1856-1919), a Scottish businessman, made a list of 3,000-feet high Scottish mountains. There were, and still are, 284 of them. The Scottish Mountaineering Club maintains a list of over 4,000 people who have climbed them all.
For some, the climbing of the Munros is a pleasant activity for a fine weekend. For others, they present a challenge to be attained as quickly as possible. To complete all the Munros is a formidable challenge as some of them are many miles from a road and require a long walk across remote land before they are reached.
There are mountaineers who have climbed them all in one long expedition. In 1974, Hamish Brown became the first person to do this; it took him 112 days. The book Hamish's Mountain Walk tells the story of his feat and is probably the reason why "Munroing" has become so popular.
Charlie Campbell, a former postman from Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, holds the record for the fastest round of the Munros. He completed the round in 2000 in 48 days and 12 hours. There are two young men under 12 who are currently vying to become the youngest "Munroist". The oldest person to complete the round was over 70 when he bagged his last peak. In 1985, Martin Moran completed a continuous round during winter conditions; he took only 83 days to do it!
The Munros in winter conditions are a very serious challenge. By world standards, though, they are not particularly high. The severe and unpredictable weather conditions in Scotland make them seem much more difficult than their lowly height, by world standards, would suggest. Snow has been recorded falling on Scottish mountains in July, usually the warmest month in Scotland. In February or March, the snow can be many feet deep. Some mountains never lose all their snow from one year to the next.
The mountains
The majority of the mountains have names derived from Gaelic, the old language of Scotland. They are mostly descriptive names, such as Stob Ban, meaning simply White Mountain. The people who speak Gaelic nowadays live mainly in the far east of Scotland. However, the popularity of Munroing has also spurred an interest in the Gaelic language, if only to understand what the name of the mountain you are climbing means.
The highest mountain in the UK is called Ben Nevis, which is 4,409 feet (1344 metres) high. It is also, of course, a Munro. Because of its "highest" status, it is a very popular mountain to climb. Many Munroists reserve it as their final ascent, often inviting friends and family to climb it with them and hold a celebration at the summit. There used to be a permanent weather station on the summit plateau.
The mountain is also one of three that feature in the "Three Peaks Challenge". The challenge involves climbers attempting to climb the highest mountains in England, Wales and Scotland and travelling between those mountains, all within a period of 24 hours. The individuals and teams who attempt the feat are usually sponsored, and they frequently donate the money that they received to various charitable institutions.

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