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Climber Kevin Woods has succeeded in his challenging expedition to reach the summit of every munro in Scotland in a single winter.
In a grey dawn in late March he stood alone at the top of Ben Lomond, the final point on his journey through every mountainous region in the country.
Kevin, aged 28, recently resident in Ballachulish, started his trek on Ben More on Mull before Christmas. Moving on to Ben Cruachan, he next climbed all the munros on mainland Argyll and the Crianlarich area.
His later wanderings took him through Perthshire, the Cairngorms and the Southern Highlands, battling one the stormiest winters of recent decades. The half-way point was passed in the Ben Nevis area in early February.
February proved to be a tough month, with six days of enforced rest due to relentless gales and a stomach bug. Back on top form, he headed for the notorious Cuillin ridge on Skye. No place for solo climbing, he took a rope and climbing companion for safety. He tackled the Inaccessible Pinnacle, Scotland’s most difficult summit, now plastered in ice.
In March, winter returned with a vengeance. He spent many of his hill days navigating by compass through “white-outs”, where the snow-covered ground merges with flying hail and mist, and the horizon disappears. ‘With the wind chill in the gales, the cold was brutal,’ Kevin recalls.
In Glen Affric, he had hoped for four peaks in one day, but conditions made him stop at the first, Tom a’Choinnich. Ferocious winds and impassable, raging rivers were too much of a challenge.
‘There was a rapid overnight thaw,’ he explained. ‘The glen was deep in soft snow and slush, and the rivers were flooding torrents. Conditions win again! The full round of those hills would have been a futile war of attrition.’
With snow falling once again, he drove east on icy roads towards the rounded hills of Drumochter Pass on the A9. This finished his munros south of the Great Glen, but even on these easy slopes he was reduced to following compass bearings in mist and snow. Another three knocked off: ‘Back on the road, and a greasy takeaway in Kingussie as I head over west!’
On top of the monstrous dumps of fresh snow and avalanche danger, as the first hints of spring arrived his challenge became the thaw. He headed for Am Faochagach near Ullapool for an “easy” day. But crossing the River Garbhrain took him up to his waist: ‘I sloshed to the top of the hill with soaked legs and frozen toes.’
More summits were within reach, but instead he had to turn around and a second drenching awaited – splashing back through the raging river to the road.
Nearing the end of his quest in mid-March, the weather brightened and Kevin stayed at Bearnais bothy for a dazzling few days through the wilds of Ross-shire. He crossed the empty mountain ranges wearing sunglasses and sun cream. ‘Still massive amounts of snow in the corries, and the hills are stunning white. But spring has arrived in the glens,’ he enthused.
He spent the final days of his lonely trek on the peaks around Dundonnell in Wester Ross, then headed south to Loch Lomond.
As he stepped off the deserted hill track back into civilisation at Rowardennan, Kevin joined the rest of Scotland in household lockdown.