Twenty five year old Aberdonian Ben Hunter has big ambitions for the coming 2011-12 season. He hopes to be only the third person ever to complete a continuous winter Munro round.
His journey of about 1700 miles will start on Mull's Ben More on the 1st December, finishing roughly four months later on the summit of Ben Hope. Travel will be entirely human powered, with a kayak used on the crossing from Mull and a road bike between various hill groups.
'There are as many reasons to do this trip as there are Munros' he tells us. 'This will be the largest challenge that I have ever undertaken. I do not think I have ever had to spend more than five nights in a tent before now. There is no hiding from the physical side of the challenge; however I think the biggest battle will be psychological. During this trip I hope to find out a little more about myself - where my physical and mental limits are and how well prepared I am to push past those limits to keep going. I guess its a journey of discovery, not just of the beautiful country that is my home but also of myself.'
As a child Ben spent two years attending a school on the shores of Loch Rannoch in the shadow of Schiehallion, and it was there that he developed a love of the hills. Since then he has walked and climbed throughout Britain's mountains.
'I spent the winters of 2009 and 2010 walking and climbing in the Lake District, predominantly on the Scafell Range. Glencoe however was the first place I did any real winter mountaineering and an area of Scotland that I always look forward to going back to.'
'I would guess that I have walked to the top of about fifty different Munros, many of them repeated many times. Bagging has never really held much appeal to me, so much of this winter round is going to be on new ground for me.'
'The route planning is a huge task that is still very much a work in progress. There are many considerations to take into account including how many hours of daylight I am going to get, technical difficulty, locations of bothies/good camp spots and ease of access.'
Though it will speed up the low level travel and ease the load carrying burden, cycling brings a logistical penalty of its own, as Ben explains: 'Because I'm taking a bike, any time I head out into the hills I have always got to finish back at where I started to pick up the bike before cycling along to the next section.'
'I am starting on the 1st of December which I believe is the same date [previous winter Munroist] Steve Perry started. I'm using the same sort of time frame that he used, hoping to finish by the end of March. If I do not complete the round by then however I will keep going until I do get to the top of Ben Hope.'
Ben isn't timetabling any rest stops, and hopes to make some progress every day. He admits though that the weather is often likely to determine how far he gets on any given day.
Though it's a solo effort the round will not be unsupported.
'The idea of doing an unsupported round is appealing, however [it's] just not practical or safe for me at this time. I have a group of friends and family who are willing to come out and visit me at different points with more fuel, food and fresh underwear. A former colleague Scot Rodger, who runs SD Adventures, is a far more experienced winter mountaineer than I am. He has agreed to assist not just with the logistics of the event but also with accompanying me on sections such as the Cullin.'
What about the kit?
'As I am travelling with all my gear weight is a big issue for me. I'm currently talking possible sponsorship with Montane, Genesis Bikes and Alpkit. At this time it looks like I will be using La Sportiva boots, Grivel crampons and axes and Osprey rucksacks too.'
How about training?
'I have my first road bike so I hope to be racking up the miles between Aberdeen and Braemar shortly. I also have bi-monthly trips to the Lake District planned, and fortnightly trips to different Munros. I have dusted off my old running shoes and am now plodding round the parks of Aberdeen.
Ben hopes to use his trip to help generate some publicity for the work of Amnesty International.
'Amnesty is a charity that I have always had a great deal of respect for. I have worked as a fundraiser for [them] before, and although I am not seeking sponsorship for the trip as I believe there are better ways to support charities than with one off donations, I do hope to help raise awareness of what they stand for.'
Winter Rounds - a Question of Style
If successful this will be only the third ever winter Munro round, but each will have been done in a different style. Various methods are possible; there is no single right way to do it.
On his groundbreaking trip of 1984-85 climbing legend Martin Moran was supported by his wife in a camper van, which was used for accommodation and transport between different hill groups. He also toyed with the use of avalanche as a means of downhill travel on Ben Wyvis, though this is not recommended.
Steve Perry's winter round of 2005-06 was completed entirely on foot, except for a ferry from Mull to the Mainland and across Loch Lomond. Lots of time was spent plodding along glens in the dark, dreaming about pubs. This feat represents a victory of single minded stubbornness over blisters and boredom.
Which is hardest? Given the ever-changing nature of winter ground conditions and weather, it's impossible to determine. Suffice to say there is no easy way.