Hill-Walking Alone in Scotland

23 11 2018

I could have written this post as just ‘Hillwalking Alone’ but have added the ‘in Scotland’ after a little thought. I’ve always been completely happy hillwalking alone in the Lake District or Yorkshire Dales or similar. Wales has been a little more daunting but Scotland is in a class of its own for several reasons…

There are several challenges to hillwalking in Scotland – one is obviously the weather which has the capacity to be far, far worse than anywhere else in the British Isles. It not only has the capacity to be worse but frequently is!

The mountains are generally far more remote and often less pathed – it’s far easier to navigate with paths – just a matter of choosing the right one.

In England and Wales, if you meet a nasty section of mountain, there is always a way around it. In Scotland, very often, there isn’t…

And finally, in the Lakes you’re never going to be alone on the hill – probably not in Wales either. But in Scotland, you’re very often the only person on the hill!

I’ve just been musing on all the lone Munros and Munro Tops I did in Scotland over the last 15 years or so. After a quick count, it turns out I did 118 Munros on my own and 136 of the Munro Tops alone – and the Tops are much harder than the Munros…

Quite a few times I’ve been called out for being a cowardly walker but, on one of my walking forums, one forumee quite rightly pointed out that, rather than being cowardly, I was actually far more sensible than the ‘braver’ folks as it’s natural to be afraid of things like narrow ridges with sheer drops of a few thousand feet either side. Not everyone is… but it’s definitely normal to be!

To all the folks who thought I was very cowardly for being afraid on many of the hills, I have this to say. Many of the folk calling me out need to go away and consider how many of these big and remote hills they’ve done alone? or in awful weather? or, more to the point, alone in awful weather? Totally different to being in a group where you have a false sense of security from having others around you!

Why a false sense of security? Well, for many of my early Munros, I preferred to walk with other people as it made me feel more secure. But, one day, on an ascent of Gairich in snow and ice and mist with fellow walkers, just as we were about to go along an icy ledge above a nasty drop, a thought suddenly hit me. I was suddenly hit by the realisation that, if I slipped, it didn’t matter how many people I was with – there was nothing they could do to stop me falling to my death.

I realised that I’d been projecting all responsibility for myself onto the others as I was ‘in a group’ – and I believe others who don’t walk alone are doing exactly the same thing much of the time! Even with a guide, if you decide to fall off the mountain, there is little he or she can do apart from call for help for you. Even roped together is no safer – it just means you’ll likely take them with you to your shared doom! Incidentally, this is why many of the guides actually liked guiding me as I’m so keen on having a handhold all the time!

If you’re in a thick mist bumbling around navigating hard (but still worrying whether you’re really where you thought you were), it’s much more comforting not to be alone. The situation definitely feels less threatening… but, in reality, it isn’t!

I have to admit, even now, to trying to get ahead of other people before scary and awkward sections just in case I need the added confidence of other people to get past that section. I think it’s fairly natural if you’re not completely alone on the hill to put your faith in others a bit. But it’s probably a bad habit which needs to be stopped!

So, whether you’re tackling a hill on your own or with your friends, you should be doing all of the following. You should be aware of the planned route and how to vary it if it all goes wrong. You should be aware of oncoming weather – both the forecast and looking around to note what’s actually coming. You should have your own map and compass and be able to navigate off the hill. You should have the ability to do the whole route without help from others in the group. You should have all the equipment you need for your day – none of it should be in someone else’s pack. It’s also a good idea to have the really vital kit in your pocket, e.g. phone, compass (round your neck), whistle etc. as, in a fall, your pack is often ripped away and left further upslope…

I sometimes get other women come up to me on the hill who marvel that I’m out there on my own and a woman. I see this as fairly irrelevant really as women hillwalkers are just as able as men. The only possible difference in their minds might be that of attack by men on the hill. I have to say that, in all my ramblings in the countryside, I’ve never met a soul who would do me any harm. I think those kind of people are generally too lazy and unimaginative to go up hills or into the outdoors. And anyway, there are plenty of tales of men falling foul of other men in the outdoors. The main thing for women is always to look confident though – looking nervous can definitely lead to attacks (but generally in urban areas, not on the hill).

One thing is for sure though – although I can be a ‘fearty’ on various bits of mountain, or even whole hills, I must have considerable moral fibre, guts and determination to continue and bag my peak, fearsome or not!


The route ahead… and there’s nobody out here!

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24 responses

27 12 2018
Carol P

Great post!!! I’m Australian and have done day bushwalks with others in the Grampians here, and walking events in the Melbourne area / Dandenong hills. I did a 51 km walk on Boxing Day on my own, but didn’t go far out of town. But the fitness culture always expects you to be more amazing than the next guy. People saying you shouldn’t be afraid are just humble-bragging.

It’s good to be afraid. Fear is your survival instinct protecting and preparing you from possible dangers.

It’s foolhardy to not respect the wilderness.

Great post, and great achievement.

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28 12 2018
mountaincoward

Hi Carol – I’d love to visit Australia and get into the bush – not sure I’ll ever afford it now though as I’m due to retire and will be on much less money! I’m assuming you don’t get much of our awful weather over there…

Happy New Year

Liked by 1 person

28 12 2018
Carol P

Thanks! We haven’t had snow on the ground in my town for nearly 40 years. It doesn’t get much lower than 0 at night here in Winter. I’d love to do some UK walks, but only work part time, though that gives me more time for exercise here.

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12 12 2018
Brian T. Boyd

Hi. Im an avid cross country bicyclist ive taken alot of abuse on right hip. The doctor told me I had a groin pull it feels like everything but. Im doing stretch excercises and i excercise so much my muscles are quite large. My hip pops all the time i feel like cartilage is damaged it stops popping from butterflies after warmup but always pops when I bring it straight up. Thanks for the info or insight from a patients point of view. How interesting Im from Libby Montana cool pictures of scotland thats neat good luck with your injury.
Bri0

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6 12 2018
underswansea

Hi Carol, very fine post. I’ve hiked and skied alone a lot over the years. Most of the places I hike do not have cell phone service or other people around for miles. There is a few rules I was taught from an early age. Tell someone knowledgable where you are going and when you intend to be back. Don’t change your route and stick to your schedule. Don’t take unnecessary chances and be prepared to spend the night. While alone, in the mountains, a broken ankle or even falling in a swift creek could result in hypothermia and death. My Father was a member of the Devil’s Brigade in WWII and taught winter mountaineering. He wasn’t a big fan of stupidity in the mountains. These days it seems the rule is to see how big of an imbecile people can be and still survive. Still, you could do everything right and shit can still go sideways. I always enjoy your posts. I hope that hip is breaking in and working right. Take care. Bob

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6 12 2018
mountaincoward

My hip’s doing really well… but it’s having to do all the work as my other leg can’t reach with being so much shorter so isn’t doing any work! Will definitely need correcting before I get back to serious mountain walks and long distances…

I’m a bit of a b*gger for changing routes when I’m on my own outside of Scotland. In Scotland I have a set target though so generally stick to what I’ve said I’ll do…

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2 12 2018
Simon Howlett

A thoughtful post and good advice. I’ve come across quite a few walkers who are not fully prepared or equipped for their time out on the fells.

Very pleased with the cameras. Thank you Carol.

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2 12 2018
mountaincoward

I was hoping the cameras were okay – obviously they’ve just been sat in a cupboard for years!

Liked by 1 person

29 11 2018
Mark

A good thoughtful post. It’s definitely the case that it’s hillwalkers and not climbers which make up most of the casualties in Scotland. Slips and trips are the stock in trade of MRTs and not spectacular falls from crags by highly tooled up climbers.

I’d also add many a Munroist lack basic hill skills as they’ve trailed round the mountains behind more competent friends. Each to their own I suppose but having spent many decades on the Scottish hills I’m pleased to say that I’ve experienced them in all weathers and seasons. On my own or in company there have been a few ocassions when I’ve been acutely aware of my mortality.

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30 11 2018
mountaincoward

I think the 2 general categories of casualties in the hills are 1) the over-confident and 2) the under-confident

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1 12 2018
Mark

“All the gear and no idea” fits in there somewhere…………..

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2 12 2018
mountaincoward

I’m often reminded of that superb statement (whoever first thought of it) when I’m out on the hills seeing some of the ‘sights’

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27 11 2018
Johann A. Briffa

I really don’t think you could ever be considered a coward, just look at all you’ve done! Being cautious is not a bad thing.

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28 11 2018
mountaincoward

I think a lot of people could use a healthy dose of caution. Richard, whom I walk with regularly, has almost none! He actually scares guides!

Liked by 1 person

28 11 2018
Johann A. Briffa

😱

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27 11 2018
Blue Sky Scotland

I’ve always thought you were brave Carol- and bloody minded- in a good way- :o) as you have to be walking alone in the Scottish Highlands to do anything. ….It can be really grim up there, as you say and you do seem to walk massive distances no matter the conditions. I did all my tops as Munro add ons not separate expeditions afterwards. I wouldn’t have the determination and commitment to go back again up the same hill just to get a top tick. Once was more than enough. With me it’s not fear of narrow ledges, or lack of company but nowadays I just shudder at the thought of leaving the sun behind on my tod to climb up something that will be cold, often dull, frequently miserable or soaking wet. I get enough days like that here at low level. I just cant be arsed running towards grim conditions with arms outstretched these days as I can’t find much pleasure in that so its just a matter of personal tastes. If you like it do it. I’m Just back from the Yorkshire Dales in bad weather and I have to admit I was wishing and dreaming of sun kissed east coast beach walks after five hours wandering around in freezing wind,mist and mud. If I hadn’t been with friends you would never get me up there alone in poor weather yet I’m happy as anything wandering around cities at night, even in unfamiliar dodgy areas. Whatever makes you tick.
Putting ‘mountain coward’ in the blog title will always attract some negative comments perhaps but I gave up looking at hillwalking forums years ago or being concerned with other peoples opinions very much. Let’s face it…neither of us should have anything left to prove after 45 years hillwalking.

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27 11 2018
mountaincoward

Neither of us have anything to prove – definitely not! But calling my blog after my chosen ex-forum title of ‘Mountain Coward’ is actually a boon rather than a bad thing as it attracts many readers just by them seeing the name. Lots of people come on the blog just to read about what a mountain coward is!

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25 11 2018
John Bainbridge

Many of the great walkers walked alone.

Liked by 1 person

25 11 2018
mountaincoward

Very true – including our much-missed Wainwright!

Liked by 1 person

24 11 2018
tessapark1969

Excellent post. As you say a healthy fear of big drops etc is totally natural. Stuff the hillier than thou brigade!

Liked by 1 person

25 11 2018
mountaincoward

I did LOL!

Liked by 1 person

24 11 2018
Jim R

Good advice for hikers. We returned in late Oct from Peru where we enjoyed some marvelous hikes. The one we liked best was above Machu Picchu. I started at MP and went up the side of a mountain to the Sun Gate about 1000 ft up. The view down on MP and the area was fabulous. Perhaps this photo link will work.

Liked by 1 person

24 11 2018
mountaincoward

That peak in the background is the one I’m wanting to do – it looks amazing (and scary)

Liked by 1 person

24 11 2018
Jim R

We’ll be putting up a post today. It includes a short video showing some of the hikers on that peak. You’ll find it and other posts at https://ourviewfromiowa.wordpress.com/

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