For this 25 year old from Aberdeen, Scotland, inspiration came from the most unlikely of sources - swine flu in Australia. Unable to enjoy the 30°C temperatures, shivering in his bed in a semi-delirious state, Ben Hunter hatched an ambitious plan to bag all Munros in the UK.
This tremendous challenge will see Ben attempt to bag all 283 Munros in four months from 1st December 2011, where the average person will take eight years to do so. If you're one for figures, if he succeeds Ben will have covered 283 mountains over 3,000 feet, about 420,000 feet of ascent and 1,700 miles over sea, track and road.
On top of this, Ben has set himself the additional trial of completing it totally under his own steam. This means no motorised vehicles. He intends to travel by kayak, bike and on foot in all weathers, come what may.
"But why is he doing this?" we hear you cry. Let's find out...
1. Tell us more about yourself. Have you always had interests in outdoor activities and expeditions?
I was very fortunate to spend two years attending a school on the shores of Loch Rannoch. I was surrounded by the last of the Caledonian forests and not too far away from the famous Rannoch Moors. Spending two years in the shadow of Schiehallion, the fairy hill of the Caledonia, is where my love of the hills was nurtured.
2. How exactly did the idea to bag all 283 Munros come about? Was it a bolt from the blue when you were suffering from swine flu or had you been considering it previously?
I spent eight months living in paradise when I was in Byron Bay. Warm waters with great surf, working as a sea kayak guide taking people out snorkelling on the reef, late night BBQs with friends and lots of good music. Aberdeen is famous for being grey. I knew that I had to have something to look forward to when I came back to the UK and I enjoy a challenge. This seemed like an exciting reason to leave Byron and a way of giving myself a reason to come back to the UK.
3. Have you bagged any Munros before or embarked upon other expeditions in the past?
I have climbed many of the Munros before, predominantly in the east. There is a big difference between the landscapes on the two separate coasts. The west coast is going to provide some much more technical routes compared to the east coast so I do have a few summer trips planned to areas such as the Cuillins this summer to increase my knowledge of the mountains over there.
4. Bagging all the Munros is tough enough. Why do you want to undertake the additional challenge of travelling only by kayak, bike or on foot?
Selfishness I suppose is what's driving me towards this human powered effort. I do not want to be seen to diminish either of the two other winter Munro rounds that have taken place in any way. Steve Perry's trip for instance saw Steve walking much further than I will have to, because I will be using a bike to help link up the hills. I do not want to copy what someone else has already done. There is a large appeal of pushing new boundaries and taking on new adventures.
5. Daylight hours are precious in the Scottish winter. What technical issues do you anticipate as you make your way around?
Bike and head torches are so bright and light now that few daylight hours are not too much of a concern. The problem the bright lights do have however, is that they burn through the batteries fairly quick. This is especially true of bike lights. Trying to keep all my torches, lights, GPS and whatever other pieces of technical wizardry I decide to take with me charged and functioning in the cold is going to be more of a headache for me.
I could also go on forever and a day about the weather. Icy roads and bikes are not a fun combination. Trudging along in thick fog and wind can also be fairly soul destroying. The snow is going to be forever on my mind. How old is it? How hard is it? How deep is it? Will it take a snowshoe? Will it take a crampon? Is it going to avalanche on me, hopefully not!
6. Scotland is known for its unpredictable, tough weather. What weather conditions are you expecting to encounter?
The weather is a large part of what defines walking in Scotland. By that I mean if you want fresh crisp snows with fairly predictable weather patterns, head to the Dolomites or the Alps. I know that I am going to see some fairly horrific weather. I am expecting winds that are going to be blowing me off my feet. I am expecting rain that's falling so hard that it gets you wet twice, first when it falls on you then again when it bounces up off of the ground and hits you for a second time. What I take comfort in however, is that no matter how bad the weather gets I will never have to see a single midge during my trip and that is a heartening thought.
7. You refer to Steve Perry on your blog. How much of an influence on your forthcoming challenge has Steve been? Is there anyone else who's inspired you to take on this expedition?
Steve has been very kind in that he is taking the time to answer my e-mails. I save up a bunch of questions for him then fire them all at him at once. So far he has been able to answer all my queries. I am most appreciative to him for this and when I get stuck into properly working out my route in fine detail I hope Steve will be there to guide me yet again.
As for inspiring me though, I think it's more Ben Macdui rather than Chris Bonington that I find inspiration in. If I felt nothing for the Scottish Highlands I do not think I could undertake this expedition, no matter how many times I read Hillary's High Adventure. Another person who has inspired me recently is an old friend of mine, Emma. Emma recently became one of only a handful of people to successfully swim the cook straight between North and South Island, New Zealand (http://www.vuwsa.org.nz/news/emma-aitken-became-the-80th-person-to-successfully-swim-the-cook-strait/).
8. How do you think you will face up to the mental endurance required by such a challenge?
Good question. I have always thought that the most difficult part of this trip is not going to be the physical so much as the mental. Honestly, I do not know how I will be coping two, six or 13 weeks in. One of the reasons I want to do this trip is to challenge myself. It is easy to live within your comfort zone. I have done hard things before but I don't think I have ever been pushed to my limits before.
9. Is anyone supporting you on your way round or is it entirely solo?
I am fortunate in that an old work colleague of mine, Scot Rodger, has agreed to help me out when he can. Scot holds his WML (Winter Mountain Leader) award and has climbed extensively in Scotland and in the Alps. His technical skills will help me tremendously on Sky. Between Scot, family and friends I should always have a fresh supply of underwear.
10. Finally, fill us in on how you've been approaching your training as this expedition draws nearer.
Stamina is going to be key, so conditioning my body through long bike rides, runs and walks is how I will be predominantly training. I am fortunate to have some excellent sea cliffs and a fantastic indoor wall all easily accessible to where I live as well. I hope to get out into the hills here in Scotland at least fortnightly and down to the Lake District with friends every two months or so. I have a few long distance cycles planned for later in the year as well, including an Aberdeen to Sky bike trip.
Find out more about Ben on his facebook page or on his blog, hosted on Outdoors Magic.
Photography by Ben Hunter.
Unfortunately Ben has had to postpone his winter 2011 Munro bagging plan until winter 2012 due to unforeseen circumstances.
We will continue to support Ben for his new 2012 attempt.