I am on a bit of a hiking mission at the moment. Having steadfastly refused to count the number of Scotland’s Munros (Scottish hills with a summit of more than 3,000ft) that I’d walked I suddenly decided to do so. After a few hours down memory lane – and some assistance from my map smart partner – I realised I’d walked more than half of the 282 Munros. That triggered something in my brain that said: “Got to finish them”. Since then I’ve walked another 20 and my tally sits at 167 Munros. Being on a mission means making the most of my time and when you have a child, limited weekends to get away and winter approaching, the option to bike and hike mountains seems very attractive. I guess there will be some purists that say that a full “round” of the Munros (that is ticking off all 282 mountains) should be done on foot only. Then again, I have heard rumours of someone who has tried to cycle/carry a bike to the top of every Munro. For me, it doesn’t really matter how you reach the summits so long as you are self-propelled (that is, not by motor vehicle or plane or similar!).
How to bike and hike
The entire route needs to be a loop. Many Munros are walked in a linear fashion with a different out and back route, so these are not suitable for riding. Where a bike comes into its own is when a route has the same out and return trail with a walking “loop” from where you leave the bike. The best bike and hikes are the ones where you can “eat up” the miles of what would normally be a long walk in and out. As you ride, you can smugly reflect on how long it would take to walk this section. Many Munros have easily rideable trails to the foot of the hill, or, at least, close to the start of the major uphill walk. Leaving your bike where the walk starts is easily done with a good bike lock, or else by hiding the bike in undergrowth etc. I have heard of a few people returning to find their bikes are missing but this has never happened to us. I tend to think that walkers are honest types. It's also important to pack the right kit in your rucksack. Take a spare inner tube and puncture repair kit as well as pump. Getting caught out with a puncture miles from anywhere is no fun. Cycling is surprisingly calorie burning so add extra food to your rucksack. If you are wearing cycling shorts add leggings or walking trousers to your pack, too, for the walking or cycling downhill section. Remember the usual spare kit including extra baselayers, waterproofs, walking boots or shoes if you are wearing clip-in cycle shoes, hat, gloves etc. Cycling uphill is warm but when you change to walking or are cycling downhill you'll feel the chill more. Most people would wear a cycling helmet and cycle gloves, too. And take a bike lock for when you leave your bikes before the walking section.
Six great bike and hikes
- Beinn Bhuidhe
- Carn na Cairn
- A'Bhuidheanach Bheag
- Ben Alder – and the surrounding Munros
- Ben Avon.
Bike to the top
If you have the skills and energy, it’s also possible to bike to the top of some Munros. My most recent summit was Mount Keen from the southern Glen Esk start point in the Scottish region of Angus. My partner, G, and I had heard that others had managed “most of the ride” to the 939m summit. Although as we set off G did counter this with “er, well, it’s probably not all rideable. There is a section where it’s so steep and rocky that you have to walk a bit”. I looked ahead on the wide trail through stunning moorlands and pink and purple heather clad hillsides and thought I could see the “short section of steep zig zaps”. Be warned, it is not a short section at all! The first part of the walk/ride in is fairly flat and on an easy-going off-road track. Most mountain bikers would cope with this. Passing a remote house, the path then heads upwards and gathers both height and steepness fairly rapidly. We spotted a couple of bikes locked together near this point. Closer to the summit we met the walking pair who owned the bikes. Sensible people! But G was keen to cycle to the top so we rode onwards and upwards. Within five minutes, however, I was forced to get off my bike and push. G is a more skilled mountain biker than I am and he managed to cycle further but when the trail became even rockier and steeper he also jumped off to walk and push his bike. I would advise that cyclists take off-road trail shoes or walking shoes with them, as well as clip-in cycling shoes. I stopped to change from bike shoes to trainers and found I could push my bike uphill far more efficiently. G stayed in his clip-in shoes because he was convinced the trail would ease off a little further on. It didn’t really, although for short sections we found some rideable trail. After the steep zig-zags the path flattened out a bit and we were able to ride carefully uphill before another rocky section. Again, G managed to negotiate most of this but I had to push my bike. I don’t think I was a great deal slower on foot compared to G’s slow cycle uphill. But the best part of the uphill trek was yet to come. As the path flattens out over a moorland section heading towards the boulder summit it also becomes sandier and less rocky. With smooth sand beneath the wheels I jumped back on my bike and pedalled uphill. By this point G’s legs were tired fro his extra cycling while mine still felt “cycling fresh”. Although the gradient steepened and there were multiple drainage channels to ride up and over I was able to ride my mountain bike far further up a Munro than I ever imagined possible. With only another 50m or so of ascent to the top we reached an area of massive boulders. I have no doubt that there are riders who can bunny hop up these huge rocks to get to the top but not me (or G). We plodded up hill pushing or carrying our bikes on our shoulders. I wasn’t sure if there was much point in taking the bikes right to the top but the subsequent photograph of our two bikes perched bizarrely on Munro summit is pretty cool. After a stop for something to eat and to take in the spectacular autumnal views, then a walk and bike carry back down the boulders, we then hopped back in the saddles. And, oh, was the uphill walk/hike/bike worth it for the supremely amazing cycle back down. It took around two hours to get to the top of Mount Keen and less than 40 minutes to ride back down again. I loved the descent and grinned madly as we swooped gloriously off the mountain with only minimal pedalling. Where have you biked and hiked? What do you like most about it?