I think we’ve just about recovered from our 100th Munro, and the various celebrations that followed – but at the moment there’s no plans for more walking for a while, at least not on the hills. Time in that case for some more thoughts about the politics of walking. Is there a right or a wrong way of walking? Or is there just a right or a wrong way for you?
I’ve been hill walking for a few years now, since I took it up four years following my back surgery. At first, when you discover the fabulous rewards – such as the stunning views on a crisp winter’s day, or the colours of a long summer evening – it all just seems like so much fun. The odd bad day when you don’t enjoy it for whatever reason, or don’t get to the top of the hill, doesn’t really seem to matter. And then you discover the Hillier than Thou brigade.
Disclaimer – this is not aimed at any of my Facebook friends or fellow bloggers, or other friends from the hill walking community. You are all great 🙂
The Internet can be a brilliant resource for hill walkers. Hill walking websites offer many things. For instance great information on routes, including detailed descriptions and photos – these are great for wooses like me who want to know if there is any significant scrambling or exposure, tricky river crossings and the like. The opportunity to meet up with like minded people, go for a walk and share a few post walk drinks afterwards. The opportunity to find a walking club near you and meet more new friends. And of course the many hill walking blogs!
Unfortunately, the Internet also comes with a downside – like on Twitter, people can hide behind an alias to have a pop at you – and some do. In the hill walking community, this tends to be people who think for whatever reason that there is such a thing as a ‘proper’ hill walker and therefore, by definition, there are people (e.g. me) who are not ‘proper’ hill walkers for reasons such as:
a) Using a gondola or similar to access the hill higher up than the car park. (Example: Aonach Mor).
b) Not walking in poor weather.
c) Turning back on the hill for any reason except dire emergency.
d) Not liking scrambling or exposure.
e) Being overweight/ not as fit as one could be.
Do any of these make someone not a proper hill walker? No. Hill walking is supposed to be fun after all and surely how you enjoy the great outdoors is up to you? As far as the above points go, in my view:
a) Using the gondola is not ‘cheating’ any more than driving to the car park 600m up at Glenshee Ski Centre is, or getting the train to Corrour at 400m. In none of these situations are you using your legs from sea level. It’s a personal call – if you feel you don’t want to use the gondola then don’t.
b) Not walking in poor weather is also a personal call. Some people don’t mind it, others do. Nothing wrong with it if it’s your cup of tea – and I’ve done it myself, but I don’t enjoy it. Walking in pouring rain doesn’t make you somehow ‘better’ – just wetter.
c) See my blog post on when to turn back. Sometimes I’ve turned back and wished I hadn’t, but not often. And that’s far better than not turning back and wishing you had. And certainly far better than becoming a mountain rescue statistic.
d) Some people really enjoy scrambling and some hate it. I find it difficult because I’m not very flexible and also – having broken my back in a riding accident – I am very conscious of the possible consequences of a fall. I won’t do anything that I feel might land me with a high risk of another fall with worse consequences. I’m aware this might make me a woose, but it’s for a good reason.
e) Does it matter as long as you get up and down the hill safely and enjoy yourself? It’s not a race. (Unless you do hill running as some of my fit friends do. Nothing wrong with that but not on my radar).
As far as I know, nobody has written a set of rules as to how you hill walk. Why would you not be a ‘proper’ hill walker if you don’t like scrambling? Nobody is going to say doing the Munros at either end of the Aonach Eagach or Liathach doesn’t count if you do them separately (I certainly will be). If scrambling’s your bag great, but why judge other people if it isn’t theirs? A fellow blogger and Munro compleatist was on the receiving end of incredibly rude online comment from a B&B owner in the North-West of Scotland for admitting she was nervous on a scrambly hill route. What has he achieved, other than ensuring that anyone who read those comments is highly unlikely ever to stay at his establishment?
Do it how you want, in your own way. And have fun!