Saturday, April 30, 2011

Breakaway: Schiehallion

It's amazing how quickly this year has gone by. I hadn't realized just how quickly it was going until I realized that this was going to be my last trip with Breakaway -- really? The last one already?

Usually we split into three or four groups to go on differing level walks (from low level strolls focusing more on distance to high levels helping people bag munros). For our last walk, we all do the same one and reach the top together. Well, together within 10 or so minutes of each other -- someone has to bring up the caboose and I'll be honest, that seems to be my coveted position many days! But that's okay -- slow and steady, right? I'm usually much more of a distance person than a height person, but I'll accept the challenge.

For the last walk, the tradition is to scale Schiehallion, a munro in Perth and Kinross, because while challenging, it can be done by people of varying skill and it's a straightforward walk so almost no chance of someone getting lost if they fall behind.

A munro is a mountain in Scotland over 3000ft (914.4m). There are 283 munros in Scotland and they are named after Sir Hugo Munro, who first cataloged them. It's a popular goal for hikers to 'bag' or climb all the munros in Scotland.

Schiehallion is a munro at 3547ft (1083m).

Schiehallion is located in the area of Perth and Kinross and is considered the centre of Scotland, as well as holding its own place in history:
Schiehallion's symmetrical shape earned it a place in scientific history and discovery in the late 18th century. In 1774 the Rev Neville Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal, camped out there collecting data, with the aid of a plumb line and the stars, on the gravitational pull of the mountain. 237 measurements were taken from two stations, still discernible, on the N and S of the hill. The calculated weight of the earth was substantially correct. At the end of the season a highly successful party was held in which the surveyors' bothy burned down! Charles Hutton, during his work on the survey data, devised the concept of contour lines, so important for modern hillwalkers.

--From the John Muir Trust website, maintainers of East Schiehallion

Halfway up Schiehallion, overlooking Loch Rannoch and Rannoch Moor. And about the place where I'm wondering what the hell I've gotten myself into climbing this thing.

It's like climbing a giant cairn, it's so rocky. But I'm within sight of the top... I think. Each time I thought I was, I'd crest the peak and oh look, another stretch to go. It was a tease.

But good things come to those who persevere! From the summit of Schiehallion, and my first officially bagged munro.

Coming down seemed even steeper than going up, but instead of rocks we get an entire mountainside of heather. In about a month, this entire view will be purple.

As the last official Breakaway walk of the year, we set up camp in a sheep pasture to cook out. And I know that I should be concerned while eating lamb burgers in a sheep pasture but... I'm secure in my place on the food chain. And lamb burgers are delicious.

From there it was another 5km down the road into the next town, Kinloch Rannoch, where the bus was picking us up. By that point we were all exhausted, and I was thankful that I'd been able to borrow some sun block from one of the other girls -- with that much sunshine, and as the first really sunny walk of the year, there were more than a few splashes of red on people's faces. And I've got a stripe of red on the back of my neck from where I didn't quite get the most sunblock.

It's odd to think that was my last walk with the group. I started out the year popping into the general informational meeting because it sounded interesting and hiking was never something I'd really done before (other than the one odd hill in Iceland and meandering a bit outside back home). It sounded new and a good excuse to see more of Scotland. Turns out that fresh air is really good for my soul, and while claiming my one bagged munro isn't that impressive in the grand scheme of hillwalkers, it's a big deal for this hiking newbie. And I'm going to wear it with pride.

And now I want to do another one.

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