The Angry Corrie 45: Apr-May 2000

TAC 45 Index

She bag, she more

TAC44 included a batch of thoughts from various women who walk the hills and who often as not admit to a bit of bagging. The basic question asked of them was whether they thought things were different for boys - is bagging a predominantly male, even laddish activity? The first dozen responses seemed to go down well, so here are five more.

Libby Wilkinson, Dundee

MY INTRODUCTION to the Munro thing was a supposedly romantic weekend away with my (then) boyfriend seven years ago. Being an avid hillwalker, he suggested Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers for a day's walk. Thinking that the Scottish Munros would be a bit like the lumps in the Peak District and not wanting to appear too girlie, I readily agreed and set off with great enthusiasm and cheery comments about the great outdoors. Strangely enough, this soon turned into hissed swearing and on the final ridge up to Ben Lawers deteriorated even further to very girlie tears. (I appreciate this isn't doing much for women's lib so far, but at least I carried my own bag, so please bear with me.)

Anyway, far from this experience putting me off Munros for life, an insidious process started to take place which put me on a slippery slope of Munrobagging addiction. As I did a few more hills both in Scotland and south of the border, I began to realise that the "heart-pounding lungs-about-to-burst" feeling did not precede certain death and that getting to the top and drinking hot Ribena quite possibly made it all worthwhile. This pastime was kept within healthy limits until I got the SMC book, The Munros, as a Christmas present about five years ago. Suddenly the mileage on Jemima, my car, shot up as more regular trips between Birmingham and Scotland were taken, either with my boyfriend or with any other poor soul who could be convinced that a "bit of fresh air" would do them good. Ticks and dates would be furtively pencilled into the book when I got back and I began to know every service station on the M6 quite intimately. (Here's another question. Why - apparently - do many more women than men give names to their cars and motorbikes? Lorna Anderson, the 1962 Munroist quoted in TAC44, had scooters named Francesca Maria and Bessie Two for instance, while TAC's proof-reader calls her car Sophie simply because the registration is SPE - Ed.)

I started to realise that this Munro lark was taking up far too much time, and so decided to take action. This involved leaving my job in Birmingham and starting university in Dundee - the perfect solution. Jemima is a lot happier now that less is expected of her on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and the Munro count continues to rise gently. Sorry Birmingham, but I don't miss you one bit.

So, I am a self-confessed bagging addict (not exclusively Munros - anything with an incline and a little pile of stones at the top really) and am keen to know of any other similarly affected women. I had hoped that writing this might be like a warped form of therapy - a bit like admitting you are an alcoholic being the first step on the road to recovery - but it has simply given me an urge to go and clean my gaiters. Maybe I'm beyond hope.

Clair Bale, Lanarkshire

ARE THERE differences? Oh yes. Like many other people, I started hillwalking with another person. In my case it was a very good female friend. She had lots more experience and consequently most of my first Munros were spent following a pair of red socks. As confidence increased, the "leadership" role was shared, then I was able to walk on my own.

Like many other contributors it always surprised me when a man would ask at the top of Ben Another, "was I not frightened?" Of what? A piece of satellite falling to Earth? Lightning? I was always concerned that I would run out of snacks or fruity sweets and was occasionally very troubled around large and curious cows. I now try to have a companion for any walk that takes me into farm / cow land.

I prefer to walk in small groups, to indulge in social chat, sharing views and opinions with others. I'm perhaps being biased, but I have always found that when there are too many (not sure how many that is) males, they tend to hare off into the sweaty distance. I am sure that it is a testosterone thing, because these same men will happily keep a steady pace with me, not getting a greasy face and being then able to appreciate the views. Perhaps this is because women are more able to share!

We are more willing to negotiate, to compromise, to change our goals. So if it is blowing a gale, and if the Corbett is shrouded in cloud, then why not explore the glen? And if someone is not too sure of map-and-compass work, then why not explain it to them? Don't hold on to things as though they are top secret.

As part of my university "induction", my class - outdoor education in the community - made a mass ascent of Ben Lomond, supposedly to bond the group. Absolute rubbish! Perhaps to make some egos bond, but certainly not a gaggle of 26 individuals (some from southerly places where Munros don't exist) who didn't even know one another's names. And we will become the educators of the future? Makes me wonder! Of course the weather was at its most Scottish for September: low visibility, almost horizontal rain and wind. To be told at the top, "You have taken 16 minutes longer than the first group and we need to go down now", just amplifies the differences between men and women. Why did we go up Ben Lomond? Why not a pleasing glen or forest walk? What was the point? Men in the driving seat!!!

Yes, I use Munro's Tables to record my days. They structure my leisure time, but not to the detriment of other activities. Life is a balance. Listen, negotiate, compromise and enjoy. I haven't completed my Munros, but plan to do so before I die! I love the mountains: they are my medicine and my peace. Walking is almost a meditative state and the scenery always uplifts me.

Alison Wilson, Perth (Munros, Corbetts 1996)

LISTS have been kept since Biblical times (St John's Gospel, ch3, v8: "The wind bloweth where it listeth), and people - men and women - have been listing and ticking ever since. If we didn't list we'd be "listless" and lacking in purpose. We "enter the lists" to take up a challenge - but whereas in medieval times this usually meant a fight to the death, fortunately nowadays most of us in the "lists" are not so competitive. Or at least the women aren't.

Women make lists because of their hectic lifestyle. They make shopping lists, Christmas card lists (how many men ever send enough cards to make such a list worthwhile?), lists of things to remember, such as Aunt May's birthday, return library books, take dog to vet. Family life would fall apart if women didn't make lists. This listomania spills over to their hobbies (those who have time for any) and we rejoice in scoring off tasks accomplished, be it sending that birthday card or climbing a new Munro. (Some women also rejoice in scoring off men, but that's another story.) To revert briefly to "family life", this is of course the main reason why there are more men than women Munroists: physiologically women have to be the main childminders, not to mention child-bearers. It takes an exceptionally single-minded woman - with a very understanding husband - to get away from her young offspring long enough to climb a mountain. Unless of course you are like Myrtle the sheep and take the whole lot with you.

What makes women tick? Anyone who doesn't know the short answer to that has a lot to learn. A love of adding to the collection, probably. My record number of ticks in one day was 15 ... but they were removed from me at the end by a close friend wielding tweezers! Seriously, the nice thing about collecting "hill" ticks is that all participants can be winners at the same time - and in what other sport is everyone a winner simultaneously?

Mary Cox, Glasgow (Munros 1998)

I ALWAYS used to maintain that I was definitely not a bagger, but somehow at some point in my hillwalking life this changed. I can't say precisely when, where or why. I freely admit that my interest in walking developed through my partner, and that my map-reading skills are more theoretical than practical, so I'm never likely to become one of those women (whom I so admire) who walk alone or lead others. Therefore my choice of hill is not solely under my control.

I have a theory that women in general are more able to embrace a partner's interest than are men. For example, Alan [Blanco] has been unable to reciprocate my strong interest in hillwalking (and football in the past) with any enthusiasm for ballroom dancing.

The reasons I love walking in the hills include the beauty of the varied landscape, the sense of space and peace, and the exhilaration of the exercise itself. All are important, so even when conditions detract from one aspect I still enjoy the experience.

I think I'm not competitive but I do have an awareness of judging myself against others. When walking in a party I prefer to stay at the back with a gap that allows me to walk at my own pace. I have nearly knackered myself (and the rest of the group) once or twice when I've ended up at the front and felt pressurised into setting too fast a pace.

However, I remember one occasion on Quinag when I made the decision to burn someone off. Feeling fit and strong from a week of walking and in perfect sunny conditions with a cool breeze, a chap joined the route from a different direction straight in front of me and started walking at virtually the same pace - like on a motorway when a car pulls in front and drives at the exact speed at which you were going. So I put my foot down. Being in shorts with a light rucksack helped. After increasing my speed to pass him I decided to see if I could sustain this pace right to the top. I did, and arrived at the summit lightly glowing (as ladies do) outside and inside, with a feeling of achievement.

Being able to enjoy walking in the hills is very important to me. Aspects that detract from the feeling of relaxation include the "walking through someone's garden" phenomenon at the start or end of a walk, where the apprehension of meeting belligerent men or dogs can spoil the walk.

I'm all in favour of lists because they encourage you to go to new places. Having completed the Munros and Tops in 1998, the pursuit of Corbetts brought us to Strathconon this year and I'm glad we have left some hills to do there so that we will revisit this beautiful place. I will not go up things that can't really be justified as walks, for example getting out of the car to walk ten paces into a field to collect a tick (eg the one in the Forest of Dean). There is a fine line here as I'm quite prepared to tramp miles across an almost flat moorland to bag an insignificant point, or go up a very small rise (eg Ward of Bressay, where one of our party climbed this vast summit in socks as he couldn't be bothered putting on his boots). But if there's virtually no up nor along, a tick itself is not enough.

Being part of a walking club has given me some insight into what it might be like without lists. A bunch of 20-odd hillwalkers milling around a car park asking each other "What do you fancy?" or "Have you any plans?" is bad enough when only half of them have a definite agenda based on some list or other, which they don't always admit to right away. I'm not sure we would ever get started if no-one had a tick to pursue.

Val Hamilton, Stirling

THE FIRST letter I wrote to TAC, in 1991, was signed: "I'm not a Munro-bagger, I'm a Munro-bagger's wife. I'm only bagging Munros as it means a quiet life." This continued to be true until the Munro-bagger completed in September 1995, when I was faced with a dilemma: did I forget about bagging, especially Munros, or would my true identity be revealed as a closet bagger hiding behind the rucksack of the man in front? I didn't know the answer myself then, although now I can safely say I am not a Munro-bagger - but when it comes to Marilyns, well, that's a different issue.

I would hate to be connected with the obsessive image of the bagger, but I like my achievements to be recognised and I happen to mix with people for whom these numbers are of interest. Yet I'm making a conscious effort not to count or list Grahams despite being married to one: they just appear on my Marilyns list (406 as you ask). More important than any list is the idea of going somewhere new, or at least using a new route to get somewhere familiar. I have gone for a walk every Sunday almost without fail for over 20 years and because I keep a diary I have a record of where I went. But, although the information would be available to me, I have no idea how many times I have climbed Dumyat or Sgairneach Mhor. It doesn't matter to me at all.

Tracy Curle, Linlithgow

I STARTED hillwalking only seven years ago when I discovered that the company I work for had a hillwalking club. Never having done any hillwalking in my life before (apart from the odd trip up the Campsies) I really didn't have much idea what I was letting myself in for and turned up at the foot of the Cobbler on a superbly clear August day keen to meet some new friends and find out what this walking thing was all about. Being relatively fit anyway I didn't find the trip uphill particularly tiresome and marvelled at the scenery and the stories of days on the hills that the "old-timers" were keen to impart. The view was tremendous and somehow it didn't seem too important to actually stand on the "top" - so I sufficed with a quick peek through the "keyhole" and sat down to enjoy an open-air lunch. However, when we were down at the col between the Cobbler and Beinn Narnain the "bagger" in me was stirred: it seemed daft to miss the opportunity to do my first Munro!

That first day is pretty much representative of the rest of my hillwalking life. Through hillwalking, I met my husband - a somewhat obsessive hillbagger. By the time I knew him he'd already completed the Munros and Corbetts and was making his way through a list of hills between 2000 and 2500 feet compiled by a friend. If I wanted his company on the hills it was fairly obvious I was going to have to climb these "lesser" hills, too! Looking back at my hillwalking log it is interesting to see that my earliest hills include Ben Lui, the Eildons, Beinn Enaiglair, Beinn Ghobhlach, Suilven, An Teallach and Stac Pollaidh - a fair mixture in terms of heights, lists and areas. Right from the start I kept a record of all my Munro ascents, but strangely I didn't feel the need to tick off Corbetts, Donalds or Grahams. (I didn't even know about Marilyns!) In the last six months however I've started ticking everything - it's such a shame that I don't have a complete log of everything I've ever been up.

I don't personally think there is much difference between the attitude of hillwalking men and women to hill lists - you either like them and treat them as suggestions of great places to go and see, or despise them and go anyway. I have to say that I prefer walking in decent weather and haven't quite the same enthusiasm when it comes to walking on a dreich day as some of the men I know. However I do know that most of the folk I have met on the hills value the space, fresh air and chance to forget about the stresses of everyday life - and for me this can be achieved on any hill, regardless of height!

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