Falkirk folk hit the heights

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You would think being scared of heights would put you off climbing 3000ft hills at the weekend.

When I say scared I’m not being strictly honest. Terrified is a more accurate description and walking the awesome mountains of Scotland isn’t really curing my vertigo. But like the tens of thousands who regularly hill walk or mountain climb, I am gripped.

On Stuc a’Chroin, a Munro at Loch Earn, there’s a memorial, built in 1958, for Donald Stuart, founder of Falkirk Mountaineering Club, that drives home how dangerous these hills can be.

Forth Valley Mountaineering Club (FVMC) member Tim Harper, a former Falkirk Herald reporter, fell 700ft down the mighty Ben Nevis’ No. 4 Gully in 2001 despite being an experienced and well-equipped climber. He died in hospital from multiple head and chest injuries.

Club secretary Thomas Risk - excellent name for a climber - had a close shave when he fell 300ft down Munro Ben Dorain in Bridge of Orchy almost 20 years ago.

“I spent about 12 hours in the snow trying to crawl off the mountain before I was rescued,” said the 42-year-old father-of-two from Redding.

“My friend was at the top with his son and had to climb down to contact mountain rescue, but fortunately I only suffered a broken leg.

“I was somersaulting all the way down. If I hadn’t stopped where I did, any further and I was dead. I was very lucky. When it healed I was straight back up the Ochils though.”

Some climbers take their pastime very seriously and do all the Munros, Corbetts and Grahams or one set of them, which can take years.

Mr Risk, who works for Fujifilm in Grangemouth, is a climber and not just a hill walker, but his interest is quite relaxed.

He said: “The friend I used to climb with stopped years ago because he had back problems and I’ve only started doing it again in the last three years. I needed something to do or I feared I might have spent my life in the pub otherwise. Seriously though, I kind of use the Ochils as my local exercise bike.

“For me the scenery and the physical side is what makes it so good. When you get to the top of any hill or mountain the scenery is amazing. Life stops when you’re walking because you’re away from everyday life and stresses.

“I do Corbetts and Munros but I don’t count how many I’ve done, it’s not about that for me. Some people like to do them all which is fair enough. I do it for the sheer enjoyment. I do have a healthy fear of heights myself.

“I think the Corbetts are more fun now because all the Munros have paths for tourists. Corbetts can be a wee bit trickier even though they are smaller.”

Forth Valley Mountaineering Club, which has around 50 members, organises monthly weekend trips for climbs in Scotland and England.

Another local club enjoying the freedom of the hills is Polmont Hill Walking Club whose members have also climbed all the Munros, sometimes on more than one occasion.

Secretary John Speakman (67), a former BP research worker from Bo’ness, completed the Munros in 1980 - a feat that took him five years. His son climbed his first Munro when he was three.

“I have very fond memories of the 12 Munros on Skye, the famous Cullin mountains,” he said.

“Some people spend all their lives trying to get a clear day there but we got good weather. It’s very rocky and we had to book a guide because one of the pinnacles, Sgurr Dearg, is inaccessible and requires climbing.

“It took us four days to do but my favourite of all the Munros is Blaven Bla Bheinn. The hardest one is Sgurr Dearg, also on Skye, which means the Red Peak. The rock sticks right up out of the rest of the ridge and you need to be an experienced climber to reach the top.

“The easiest one is The Cairnwell near Blairgowrie, but it’s also the ugliest because there’s a lot of built-up stuff on it like radio masts.

“Why do I do it? Well, that’s easy. We did Ben Dorain the other day and when we finished I said to the other folks that my legs were sore, but I felt 20 years younger.”

New members are always welcome at both clubs. Members meet on the first Tuesday of every month in Grangemouth’s Earl of Zetland pub at 8.30 p.m. Visit www.fvmc.org.uk for more information.

The Polmont group meets at the Greenpark Centre on the third Wednesday of each month at 7.30 p.m. For more information visit www.polmonthillwalkingclub.org or conatct the centre.