The Angry Corrie 13: Jun-Jul 1993
Review 2: The Munros by Moonlight
by A. Wolf, Owl Publications, 277pp. £9.15
Eat your hearts out Hamish, Martin, Craig, the fell runners, the mountain biker, the bloke on the pogo stick and Uncle Tam McCobley and all. The secret story of Scotland's finest hill-roaming achievement is at last revealed.
One moonlit February evening many years ago, I was descending the zig-zags on Gearr Aonach after a fine winter circuit on Bidean. To my surprise, a lone figure, obviously fully equipped for a winter expedition, was ascending from Glen Coe, and as we neared, he appeared to shy off-route deliberately to avoid me. Who the hell...? I distinctly remember wondering. After comparing my hillwalking diary with a date given in this remarkable book, I now know: A Wolf, the first compleater of the Munros by moonlight.
Wolf's book is far more than merely a compilation of moonlit epics and evocations. It begins with the author's early years between the wars in rural Aberdeenshire when arose "...the crescent that was to wax into the mighty orb of my passion for moonlit mountaineering." A subsequent chapter is devoted to wartime commando service behind German lines in Yugoslavia and gives haunting descriptions of moonlit operations, both in training on the Caimgorms and in action from Partisan lairs in the mountains of Montelupine.
On return to Scotland, A Wolf turned to off-peak peak-bagging to satisfy an intense and almost instinctive craving for mountain solitude. Recording his first decade of moonlit Munroism, he describes just one summit meeting, a mutually startling encounter with WH Murray on a traverse of Aonach Eagach (surely "AggyRidge"? - Ed.), to which I now realise, Murray alludes cryptically in his essay "Night and Morning on the Mountains" in the classic Undiscovered Scotland.
Lunar and meteorological factors dictated that Wolf's Munro schedule, begun in 1946, demanded a lifetime's singleminded dedication, finally rewarded by a discreet entry recording his Compleation in the 1988 SMC journal. Just consider the lunatic odds imposed by the sheer weight of statistics. There are 13 full moons a year, with 5 potentially available nights on either side the lunar maximum, but from the author's experience less than a third of these have sufficient lack of cloud cover. Imagine the frustrations, the all-too frequent winter lunar climaxes when the weather closed in: "With the lunar disc now obscured by scudding cumulus, the gale reached such an intensity that I was forced to retreat down the icy slopes of Beinn Bhrotain - hill of the mastiff - on all fours." High summer posed different problems, with the Moonlit Munroist often desperately hard-pressed to be off the hill before daybreak: "After lingering too long on Luinne Bheinn, I bounded down towards Glen Carnoch scattering a group of sheep and lambs silhouetted against the fast-approaching sunrise."
We daylight Munroists are humbled by such awesome commitment. To take a typical outing, one January Wolf journeyed north through blizzards, and around midnight reached the base of Beinn a'Ghlo, where three times previously he had been dogged by bad weather. Perseverance was rewarded: "On climbing to the summit, I looked back to see my moonlit tracks ascending through the virgin snowfields high above the gleaming stream of moonbeams reflecting from the distant River Tilt. Silence... broken by my howl of joy!"
Having ticked-off the Munros, the now long-in-the-tooth Wolf is still prowling the Tops and Corbetts, and I understand he may make this the subject of another volume. In summary, I have no hesitation in recommending this inspirational book to hillwalkers in general and Munroists in particular - who, after reading it, will no doubt view their pastime in a completely new light.