The Cuillin Munros are a challenge for many walkers and scramblers, and undoubtedly the major stumbling block in the way of any dog owners looking to make a canine completion. Complex navigation, exposed scrambling, technical rock climbing and an abseil mean many Munroists put off these tops to last - and most dog owners will probably leave their pet behind. But recently a small dog ticked them all.
Now on 271 out of 282 Munros, Genghis the springer has become a bit of a media star, with articles in the national press and quite a following on Facebook.
He is a fantastic scrambler, and at 18 kilos, light enough for Mac to lift him bodily up short difficult steps which typify the Cuillin Munros
His Facebook page gives a brief bio; "I'm a retired working gun dog, now enjoying my new life. I have many adventures with my friends, while travelling in Giovanni our campervan."
The red campervan is often seen parked below a Munro, and van life has meant a speedy blitz through the list of summits. Mac Wright and Trish Clark are Genghis' owners, known respectively as "The Walk Master" and "The Food Lady." The van makes a luxurious forward operating base on Munro missions.
A post-Munro coffee in Giovanni gave me the ideal opportunity to chat to Mac, an informal interview to find out more about Genghis and his owner. Whilst we chatted, Genghis had dinner and lazed in his bed.
After a 25 year career in the army, Mac's now part time job combined with a very understanding partner has meant plenty of hill time. Mac and Genghis have set a pace that must be envied by many who have been Munro Bagging for many years, even decades.
Whilst out guiding in the Cuillin, a chance meeting with the doggy duo led to a great friendship and some exciting adventures. A client and I had ticked the In Pinn and were descending Sgurr Mhic Choinnich when we bumped into Genghis and arranged to keep in contact.
Genghis' first Munro was Ben Vorlich in 2015 but not until November 2017 did the pair focused on "compleating" the Munros rather than just going for walks and repeating Munros.
Genghis was a gundog until he was seven. His previous owner died and circumstances meant Genghis wasn't getting exercised. Mac offered to take him for walks and the relationship blossomed into an inseparable bond.
Early experiences might have deterred lesser mortals from going into the mountains. On Ben Lomond in full winter conditions, just below the summit visibility closed in completely. A raven appeared close by and Genghis, "still to the gun", set off in pursuit and was out of sight, lost in the spindrift.
Mac and his mate, Tommy Miller, set off in hot (well cold) pursuit. Mac's training from his infantry days came into play, although to be fair, the trail was easy to follow, paw print after paw print in the deep, fresh snow.
So far, so good but then the trail ended, literally in mid air, paw prints stopping ominously at a huge cornice; a gaping hole revealed where Genghis had fallen through. There was neither sight nor sound of him. This must have been doubly worrying for Mac who was ostensibly "walking the dog in the park" for its then owner. This was going to be a tough one to explain.
Mac admitted that he thought he'd have to come back in the spring to retrieve Genghis once the snow had thawed. But undaunted, he produced a rope and showed Tommy how to body belay. Tommy managed to lower Mac through the cornice but still no sign of Genghis. Then he caught a glimpse of him 20m off to one side where he had crawled along under the cornice after his fall. Repositioning himself, Mac was able to hook his ice axe into the harness Genghis was wearing and haul him to safety.
The Cuillin Munros aren't for everyone - and certainly not for every dog - and anyone contemplating them should thoroughly research what the challenge entails and make sure they are doing it for the right reasons
Genghis' luck was definitely in, the more so since the harness had only been purchased after an epic the week before on Ben Vorlich. It was his first Munro and Genghis refused to descend, he was cragfast. Mac had a rope but was unable to fashion it into a suitable harness and Genghis kept slipping out. In the end, Mac picked up Genghis and cradling him, he gingerly descended.
Munro Bagging has meant lots of long trips in Giovanni and extended expeditions with Mac carrying food and camping gear for him and Genghis. One of their best adventures and Genghis' first expedition was in Fisherfield. The weather was great, they didn't see another soul; there was lots of scrambling but above all, it was a real bonding session between man and dog, says Mac.
Genghis gets three meals on a hill day. Breakfast is a dry mix (or "fart pellets") with fresh fish when available, a tin of mackerel if not. At home he gets the luxury of hot buttered toast. During a hill day, he'll get some dog treats, another meal of dry mix and about every hour a drink of water. He is a veteran scrounger and anyone else in the hills is fair game - few can resist the Genghis grin.
Genghis will be 11 in September so after a hill day he always gets at least one rest day: A special treat would be chicken wings.
Mac plans things meticulously. He took on board all the info about the Cuillin. Not just climbs and abseils but also the aggressively rough gabbro which would be a critical consideration for his four-pawed pal. Their first Cuillin Munros were Sgurr nan Eag and Sgurr Dubh Mor. Mac had come prepared with boots for Genghis but they didn't even survive one trip before being trashed. Genghis' wellbeing was paramount and he was given a two week break from the Cuillin to give his paws a rest and source more robust boots.
Sgùrr Alasdair via the Great Stone Chute followed with the new boots proving their worth. Next was Sgurr Mhic Choinnich and our chance meeting. Mac and Genghis became regular visitors to our home in Sconser and Mac always ran through plans here. Sgurr a Mhadaidh and Sgurr a Ghreadaidh via An Dorus were done during horrendous weather.
The big challenge - the Inaccessible Pinnacle
Soon Sgurr Dearg (Inaccessible Pinnacle) was in Mac's sights. A graded rock climb via even its easiest side, the In Pinn is renowned as the hardest of all the Munros - no small challenge for many walkers, but how about a dog?
Work meant I was unavailable to help - or so I thought. I mentioned Genghis and his next target to a client, Davie Luti, and he was intrigued. His work entails training fellow firemen in roped access techniques with emphasis on lowering or hauling people, so bringing the dog along seemed appropriate.
As per the norm, the walk in was taken gently with numerous food and water breaks for Genghis. Higher up when he was wearing boots, the stops gave an opportunity to remove his footwear and allow his paws to breathe.
Conditions were perfect, wall to wall sunshine, no wind and the Pinnacle virtually to ourselves. Davie and I climbed the route, leaving the abseil rope in situ. We had discussed complex systems of hauling and even a tyrolean traverse, but simple proved best. Genghis was put in a tough, padded bag, then Davie stayed to keep the dog company whilst Mac and I climbed the Pinn. Soon Mac was tied into the abseil rope on ledges below, thus allowing an almost vertical haul. Genghis sat back as he literally bagged the toughest Munro. A few treats as a reward and he was lowered down to a gathering crowd.
Genghis' first thought on reaching the ground seemed to be "food", and being an experienced scrounger he did the rounds of walkers and climbers eating their lunch.
After the In Pinn, Sgurr na Banachdich was a straightforward walk and my wife, Bridgette, and I were happy to enjoy an easy day out in the sun.
Then with only three Cuillin Munros left, the dynamic duo returned to Skye. First were Am Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean. By now Genghis had been in the national press and he was recognized by a fan close to the notorious Bad Step on Am Basteir; "Hi Genghis, I saw you in the Daily Mail this morning." A swift lower and Genghis was down the Bad Step and rough walking led to the summit.
Back at Bealach a Bhasteir, Genghis met a guided party who were amazed he was about to tackle the West Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean. Genghis is a fantastic scrambler and climber and at 18 kilos, light enough for Mac to lift him bodily up short difficult steps which typify the Cuillin Munros. He is also 100% obedient and once given the command "wait" will stay on the smallest, most exposed of ledges. This proved handy as Mac, belayed by me, helped Genghis past the missing gendarme on the exposed lower part of the West Ridge.
We had the summit to ourselves as Mac looked around at all the Munros they had done, an adventure almost completed. We decided to descend the SE Ridge, or "Tourist Route". The descent involves exposed scrambling but for Genghis it was a piece of cake. Taking comfort in the short rope Mac safeguards him with, Genghis leans into the rope and runs down slabs and jumps short steps.
After two rest days we ticked the final Cuillin Munro, Bruach na Frithe. Visibility was minimal, the wind was gusting strongly and Genghis wore his Keela jacket. It was bitterly cold and we wore every bit of clothing we had. Some people have expressed concern about Genghis' well being but his natural coat is shorn, hence the jacket to protect him from the elements when the going gets tough.
It was almost the end of a long journey for Mac and Genghis. With no similarly big Munro challenges left to overcome, they aim to "compleat" on September 28th. This will be Genghis' 11th birthday and no doubt there will be a lot of fans accompanying him to the summit of Sgurr na h-Ulaidh, south of Glen Coe.
These days Genghis has quite a presence on social media, and fans asking for his pawtograph. Keela Outdoors have tailor made him a waterproof coat with a removable insulated lining, and presents regularly arrive ranging from edible treats to collars and knitwear.
Genghis won't be the first dog to "compleat" but it is still a remarkable achievement. The Cuillin Munros aren't for everyone - and certainly not for every dog - and anyone contemplating them should thoroughly research what the challenge entails and make sure they are doing it for the right reasons.
Mac and Trish have always stressed that the health and safety of Genghis is paramount, and to anyone who has joined them on a Munro this is very evident.
- Cuillin Traverse: Taking the Easier Route 25 Mar, 2020