Chantal's Munro Challenge
In short: Chantal walks 150 Munros in Scotland (mountains over 3000 feet high) to raise 30 Euros per Munro for cataract operations in India to enable 150 people to regain their eyesight.
I'm walking 150 mountains in the Scottish Highlands. Why? Well, to raise funds for the World Peace Flame charity.
This is an amazing charity which supports grassroot projects around the globe. One of which is particularly close to my heart, as I enjoy the majestic scenery and the beauty of this world which really comes home to me walking in the magnificent and wild Scottish wilderness. Can you imagine not having your eyesight? For me, that would be life-changing. So, the money I raise through walking, given by people who are willing to support me, goes to the Medical Camps in India and specifically to cataract operations for people in rural India who themselves have no access to or funds for this, to regain their eyesight. Only £25 is needed per cataract operation...
What are Munros? Well, they are mountains in the Scottish Highlands. Sir Hugh Munro of Lindertis set out to create a table of all mountains in Scotland over 3000 feet high (914 metres). He published his now famous tables of the Scottish 3000ft peaks in 1891. The number turned out to be far greater than people had hitherto thought, namely 511 tops, and it was he who gave his name to the ones which are seen to be the main peaks in a massif or separate mountains: Munro, for 283 of them. Of these Munros, I had 'done' 133 by September 2009 when I got challenged to walk the remaining 150 to help raise funds for the World Peace Flame.
I started walking in October 2009 and it's been quite a journey since! It was supposed to be done in one year, but that turned out to be a bit optimistic! Weather, conditions on the ground, fitness, injuries all had their impact.
Now, August 2011, I can say I've had the most amazing 18 months:
working part-time as office manager for the Dru Yoga organisation in Manchester and in between, doing my 150 Munros. It's been full-on, but very worthwhile and fulfilling to know that every £25 donated helps one person in rural India to see again.
And, yes, I've done it...
I've walked ALL 150 Munros!!!
Amazing feeling... good to complete it, but also sad as, whilst not easy, it was great to do. Also, on the fundraising side, my Challenge has been very successful: I've received donations for 166 eye operations so far, and and still more money has been pledged!
Report of the last 3 weeks:
It's been an amazing time...
I left for Scotland on Thursday 21 April and, on Good Friday, walked with friends and colleagues (Annie Jones, Lily MacFarlane and David McCann) up Ben Lomond 'the Beacon': this was the walk which I'd opened up to all who wanted to come along. We were blessed with fair weather and we reached the top with good cheer and a great deal of personal satisfaction!
We took a moment to express our personal dedications and dedicated our efforts to World Peace. Back down off the hill we were greeted and treated by the Scots who had gathered to welcome us back down: Wilma Yule and Janice Horsburgh, and of course Anouschka Dack.
The next two days, Ivor Normand (my stalwart Scottish hill companion) and I did a few walks whilst based in a wooden Wigwam in Strathfillan (ours was aptly called 'the Wandering Woman'). The weather was challenging with windy, rainy conditions and low cloud and the walks were long (10h+), but we did these big, muscular hills: 5 Munros.
Then we headed for the Isle of Skye, where we camped in Glenbrittle for 3 nights, right on the shore and looking straight up to the majestic Cuillin range of mountain tops, jagged and imposing. As people say: 'there are hills and then there are the Cuillins'. Where other Munros are a mere walk, the Cuillins often require a more hands-on approach and scrambling. I've not scrambled so much in all my life! In parts it got very (h)airy and the route wasn't always clear. On one bit we ended up in a serious rock climb where I realised that falling off would not see me finish my Challenge, but my life, so instead of panicking I had to get VERY focussed. We had two sunny walking days there and we did 7 Munros! We even saw two huge birds soaring overhead: golden eagles?
Time for something more serious now ... a walk-in to remote terrain. Most Munros can be walked from a roadside start in a day, but not all... Some are so remote that they necessitate a walk-in to a bothy, or to a hostel miles from the nearest road.
So, a week into the last trip for my Munro Challenge, we walked into Glen Affric, over an undulating but good track for 3.5 hours with a big pack on our back (sleeping gear, food, walking gear) and I was still smiling by the time we arrived at the remotest Youth Hostel in Scotland! My circuit training with Elaine at Congleton High School, and the treatments by Margaret and Anne at the Congleton Osteopathic Practice had paid off, as had the wonderful massages by Sue Morton. It was the day of the Royal Wedding and it was fun to hear other people arrive and talk about it. We did 3 Munros in this remote terrain, stayed the night again, and then walked out early next morning. That evening we were going to meet up with a group of Dutch people on Mull.
You see, I'm not the only Dutch person who's taken to the mountains and Munros in particular! There aren't many, but the few there are, can follow our own and each other's progress and connect together via Ron Bloksma's website: www.buitensport-schotland.nl. Two guys, who'd been 'ticking off' their Munros for decades now, were due to finish and do their last Munro on 2 May on Mull: Bart Doornbosch and Willem Vermeulen. We decided to change our schedule and join them for this momentous occasion. So, on this sunny day, 26 Dutch people and Ivor, the token Scot, walked up Ben More and had a great celebration on the summit with lots of cheer, singing, whisky, shortbread and good weather! Of all the 9 Dutch "compleatists" so far, 5 stood on this top together, as Johan de Jong, Anne van der Wal and her husband Jan Vijfhuizen had joined in too. And soon I would be number 10!
Then, a bothy trip in Knoydart was on the cards... A bothy is a stone hut on an estate, which is open to the general public for staying over in. It offers a dry space to put your sleeping mat and make your meal. You bring all your own sleeping gear, cooking gear, food and walking gear, and walk out all your own rubbish. If this sounds like a lot to carry, that's because it IS!
Ivor and I set off in glorious weather from Kinlochhourn and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful lochside walk. It was very up-and-downy but as Ivor again carried most of the food and cooking gear, I managed with more ease than expected! My back must be getting stronger... We arrived to find another party staying over in the bothy too, and it was a funny surprise to discover half of them were Dutch! And even funnier to watch them eat their pancakes for breakfast (one of the joys of going over to the Netherlands for me is going to a Pancake Restaurant...).
Knoydart is also called the Rough Bounds and over the past years I'd walked the Munros that could be done from the roadside. It is one of my favourite parts of the Highlands. Having been depopulated in the Highland Clearances, it is a relatively empty and people-free area and its rugged beauty is of an unspoilt quality. Sizeable areas are fenced off successfully from deer, and the forest is regenerating. The feeling of freedom, standing on a remote mountain top here, overlooking the sea, and the Highlands around, is unrivalled. It lifts the soul and the spirit soars. We did 3 Munros in 2 days and although we had sun, I was glad of my winter coat, as the combination of low temperatures and the wind was chilling. Unsettling though, was the sight of huge plumes of smoke rising to the North in Glen Shiel. Later we heard, and saw, the devastation that forest fires had caused. One doesn't usually associate Scotland with drought and fires, but it was certainly happening all around us now!
Another week done and things were going well. Except, the weather was starting to turn... We walked out in the rain (very welcome to the farmers) and met up with my husband Adrian, who had come up to Scotland to join us for the last week. We set off for Skye where the Inaccessible Pinnacle was waiting for us. So called because it requires rock climbing. All other Munros can be walked. Not so this one. Climbing gear, ropes, and a competent guide are needed. As neither of us are rock climbers we needed help to be able to do this Munro! David Butler, a friend from Cheshire and an experienced rock climber with all the necessary skills and gear, offered to guide us up. We met up with him and two friends (Ian Prothero and Mark Jones) on Sunday morning 8 May. It rained and the storm force wind didn't make our endeavour an enticing prospect... was this going to work at all? Yes, I really wanted to finish my Munro Challenge, but all the same, I had my limits too. Like Lao-Tzu proclaimed, I decided to take it one step at the time.
We walked up into the windy, wet corrie and saw the cloud deck descending lower and lower until we walked into this sea of grey wet air. The rocks and boulders didn't leave many traces of a path, so we were following cairns, until we couldn't find any more: we'd lost the path in the mist and rain. We decided to keep ascending over the steep rocky scree as well as we could and then stood at the bottom of a dripping, cold rock face. Two members of the party decided to turn back at this point. David, Adrian, Ivor and I were for going on and David explored a route. All four of us did scale this difficult rock step unaided and were rewarded with cresting the ridge of the mountain! We made our way up to the 60-metre-high Inaccessible Pinnacle, which rises like a blade out of the mountain and is very narrow: in parts the rock blade is only one foot wide. The rain had stopped, but the wind was still gusting strongly around us. Nevertheless, David prepared the rope and we put on our harness. We were so close to our goal that this lady wasn't for turning! By the time we started climbing, the clouds were swirling around us and thinning a bit. David had put us on a running belay, with him leading, then Adrian, me following and Ivor bringing up the rear, and taking out the gear. Slowly we clambered on up, clinging on for dear life to the cold rock in the gusting wind. Halfway up our climb, the sun came through and we got treated to an amazing sight as the sun shone past us onto the clouds still swirling under us: a Brocken spectre, with three rings around it. What a beautiful, ethereal treat! Cheered, we kept on going up and then, all of a sudden, we were there! We stood on a little plateau of 2 square metres, with sides dropping away two thousand feet. Now the clouds had lifted, we could see all around us, out over the whole of the Cuillin ridge and the sea beyond. Spectacular, and more than a bit unsettling! I decided to take in the view sitting down to minimise the Chances of being blown off... After a little rest, David lowered us all down off the Inaccessible Pinnacle onto the main mountain again. Elated, we stood there, taking in the sight of this rock blade and where we'd stood minutes before, on the very top. Then, the shimmering sea far below us beckoned and slowly we started our descent into the cold corrie towards the glen. Another Munro in the bag, and what a milestone! We had a celebration that evening with the whole party (including Sohanah Butler), and a toast to a successful summiting.
And then, there was only the Fisherfield 6 to go. This group of 6 Munros lies in the far North West of Scotland and so remote that they are not easy to reach from any side. They can be done in a long day circuit of all 6 together, from a bothy, so we decided to tackle them that way. As the weather had broken, the westerly winds returned and the forecast was for worse to come, we walked into Shenavall bothy (easy-peasy by now) on Tuesday evening, had a meal next to a lovely fire in the fireplace and went to bed early, as we had long day ahead. The alarm went off at 5am on Wednesday 11 May and quietly we crept out, so as not to disturb the other 7 people who were sleeping, had our breakfast and left the bothy. The rain came down on us in showers, and there was a steady, hard wind. Combined with getting sweaty in the ascent, I found the conditions challenging and the going difficult. The tops were shrouded in cloud too. After 6 hours it started to ease a bit, the weather cleared up and we got more views. As these 6 mountains circle a glen, eventually we got the wind behind us, which made the going easier.
We had food and drink stops and after 11.5 hours we eventually reached the sixth and final target: my last Munro of the day, and the 150th Munro of my Challenge: Beinn a'
Chlaidheimh - Hill of the Sword. Even the sun came out from behind the clouds for a salute! After 18 months of walking towards this goal, I had finally reached completion. And what a worthy, storming finish this round of magnificent mountains was! We savoured the moment and the glorious views, then set off back to the bothy, which we reached after 14 hours of walking. Food and drink were very welcome and then the only thing I wanted was sleep...
Celebrations came later, and in style. The next morning we walked back to the car, and set off to the Clachaig in Glen Coe! We arrived, ate and slept again. Thus rested, we met up with a group of Dutch mountaineers, who had just arrived in Glen Coe, most of them for the first time. We shared a beautiful meal, and had a fantastic party!
Then, it was time for us to leave the Highlands, and get back to Edinburgh (and another party).
Back home in Congleton, it slowly started to dawn on me what an amazing 18 months it has been.
150 Munros has meant:
approximately the equivalent of 7x Mount Everest up and down, 700 miles
distance, fortified with 40 litres of Irn Bru (possibly more).
The ultimate goal? I've been touched by the overwhelming support people have given me. Donations have exceeded the goal of 150 eye operations: money has already come in for 166 operations and more is pledged still!
Also, I want to express my gratitude to all of you, for the support I've received, during my Challenge. Thanking you all personally would make a great read, but take a while! Two people worth mentioning individually though, are Adrian, who kept the Elson's household going, and Ivor, my trusty hill companion. Without them, this endeavour simply wouldn't have been possible. Over and above that, I received support on every level: donations of course, but also encouragement, treatments and massages (ahhhh!!!!), kit, kind words, messages and hugs when I needed them. And inspiration. Lots of you have inspired me with your friendship, believe in me and tales of endeavours in your own lives. This all has carried me ever onwards and upwards. I'll let you in on a secret. You see, at the start of my Challenge, I had severe doubts as to its success: my ankles hurt so much, that walking was very painful. But, taking on this goal for the benefit of others, I drew on every strength I could, and I did it! Not because my ankles miraculously stopped hurting - they still do, unfortunately. I acknowledged that I am an imperfect being, and got on with it anyway! You can do this too in your life. Just take it one step at the time - it'll get you far, I promise.
To give you a taste of the beauty I've experienced, I've put together a presentation.
I'm proud to present you with the following:
'Chantal's Munro Challenge for the World Peace Flame' on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEbRz7QIRGs : Control+ click to view. Turn the sound on, sit back for 4 minutes and enjoy!
Please, let me know what you feel via firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook, and feel free to spread the word and publish the link.
And, the first next Challenge? As my previous job finished the day before I left to do my last 27 Munros: finding a fulltime job! Then...
Thakor Patel, who coordinates the amazing work in India, writes to express
his own gratitude and that of his team:
SENDING WARM REGARDS AND LOVE TO ALL OF YOU.
SINCE I CAME BACK 2 CATARECT CAMP DONE. ON THE 10 OF APRIL 2011 PLACE CALL
PUNESHWAR NAVSARI TOTAL PATIENT 750 CATARECT 150 AND GLASSES HAVE GIVEN 259.
AND ON THE 24 OF THE APRIL 2011 PLACE CALL JALALPOR NAVSARI
TOTAL PATIENT 1852 CATARECT 175 AND GLASSES HAVE GIVEN 998.
NOW WE ARRANGE THE CATARECT AND DENTAL CAMP
ON 8 TH OF MAY 2011. PLACE CALL SARPOR .
THANK YOU SOOOOOOO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND HELP SO THAT WE COULD SERVE TO THE POOR PEOPLE.
WITH MUCH LOVE AND WARM REGARDS TO ALL
THAKORJI AND THE DRU TEAM NAVSARI.