I caught up with Mac Wright who has amazingly completed all 282 munros with his dog Genghis!
Q. What’s the best way to start the day?
Well it’s a walk with your dog!
Q. How did you get into munro bagging?
I was a soldier in the infantry for 25 years. I was involved in mountain leadership in the army and one of the things in the military is adventurous training which is walking and climbing, etc. Part of your job, if you’re not operational is that you are adventurous training for a couple of weeks a year. So I am a qualified Mountain Leader.
With the munros, it was a just a challenge for us. I have repeated loads of munors but never completed them all. I did a bit of research and realised there were only a few that I hadn’t done so decided to stop repeating them and go for it- bag them all!
With Genghis, to ensure he did them all, I revisited a lot of munros. I don’t mind repeating them, a day on the hills is a day on the hills and the more you do a route the more confident you are when it comes to winter walking and more demanding routes.
Q. What is Genghis' story? (Age, breed, adoption, personality)
Genghis is 11 years old, he will be 12 in September. The very first time I took Genghis a walk was in January ’16 because a friend of mine who was very sick with cancer couldn’t walk him, unfortunately Ewan died 6 weeks later. His widow was looking for support and I’d take him out with us on the hills and Ewan’s widow realised he was having fun with us and he had adjusted to his new ways so that’s how we ended up adopting Genghis in the summer of ‘16. Ewan was an older gentleman and he was a sport shooter so Genghis was gun dog trained and his obedience is impeccable.
Q. Do you have any other dogs?
Yes we have Dougie, he is a springer spaniel and we got him from Scottish Springer Rescue, he is 3 years old, 4 in October and we have had him for a year now. I want to do all of the Corbetts with Dougie but we are in no rush and we have plenty of time.
Q. What was the first munro you climbed and what was the first munro you climbed with Genghis?
The first munro I did with Genghis was Ben Vorlich, Loch Earn and Stuc a Croy next door so the first day out was a good 10 hour day and it was winter conditions in February ’16. The first munro I ever did training as a soldier would have been one of the Arrochar Alps, probably Ben Vane. But the first munro I did as a civilian, out of uniform was Ben Nevis and the first time Genghis did Ben Nevis was when we did the 3 peak challenge which we completed in 24 hours. Since then Genghis has done Ben Nevis 5 times.
Q. All 282 munros- what an achievement! How long did this take and how would you describe this journey?
Like I said we were repeating and repeating the munros and it wasn’t until autumn 2017 we decided, right, stop repeating and go for it. By then Genghis had done around 50 that weren’t repeated. So we started munro bagging in autumn 2017 and completed the last one for Genghis 11th birthday in September ’19. The last one we did was Sgor na h-Ulaidh “The Forgotten Hill” in Glencoe.
The journey, once we started, did become a bit demanding at times, mentally. You know, you have all of the driving to the locations, you are constantly weather watching and the weather can become demoralizing. Sometimes you’d have to call it off and then come back and you just feel like you are constantly chasing the weather. I would advise anyone who is attempting completion to split them into East and West in winter where there are different weather fronts and in summer time do your further travelling up North when there are more daylight hours. In winter I would advise driving to the location the day before or the night before, stay over night and do the hill the next day or start very early in the morning.
Q. Were you joined by other hill walkers throughout your journey?
Yes! We met up with loads of friends and made loads of new friends. Genghis had a social media page https://www.facebook.com/genghisthespringer/ with loads of people following his journey and we would ask if anyone fancies joining us but obviously that did bring on some responsibility. I’d be responsible for and leading anyone who we invited along the way. Luckily for social media you can do some stalking on peoples’ pages and see what kind of experience they have before committing yourself to someone who might show up with a hand bag and wearing sand shoes!
I have done a mountaineering leadership course anyway and I always invited people out for the enjoyment of it. Along the way we have met some really good friends and because we have a camper van there is that little community- there would be 2 or 3 vans and we would be out for 2 or 3 days together.
Q. What kind of training did you do with Genghis to prepare for this?
We did a lot of endurance training. It’s so important to get that right, we would have people say “I’d love to come on the hill” and you’d say “yeah, what’s the longest you have been out” and they’d say “4 or 5 hours” and that’s fine. But, when you ask what their daily walks with their dogs are and they said “about 2 hours” and you find out that is 2 hours of low level walking, well that’s completely different to 2 hours going vertical straight up, another 2 hours plateau and then 2 hours again and before you know it you’ve been out 6/7/8 hours with a 3 hour walk back. So, endurance on a hill is so important.
With Genghis his obedience training was already next to none. With our other dog Dougie we had to do a lot of work on his recall training- he wasn’t a gun dog, he was a city dog and he’s a total bloody rebel! I started him out in the park on a 15 metre rope and he would have no recall at all- I would do things like hide behind a tree and lie in the long grass so he would look for me.
Sheep is obviously the big one, so we had to find a way to distract him from livestock, luckily he loves a tennis ball so I always carry that on a walk. I just have to hold it up high and squeak it and he comes flying back.
Q. What do you feed Genghis and what is his favourite treat?
They get toast every morning- buttered, of course. We add YuMOVE supplements and salmon oil to their food. On a hill day, for breakfast they’ll get a can of sardines and I carry an extra meal for them both which is divided up into treats throughout the day and they get supper when we get back.
Q. Were there any bad days on the hills? (Accidents, extreme weather) How did you overcome these issues?
Genghis has had a couple of situations. The first one was because it was winter and Genghis was still trained to the gun so he was still flushing and seeking. There had been a raven following us and although his obedience is second to none he was still interested in it and the mist had fallen so there was no visibility. Genghis ended up falling down a cornice. He wasn’t even our dog at this point! I managed to follow his footprints and
saw where he fell through. I looked down and it was one of those situations where I thought “I’ll have to come back for his body in spring”, all sorts of things were going through my head!
I was a member of Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue before and we rescued some dogs, farmers dogs, etc. So, I thought I’ll go back down and give them a call and we will need to come back tomorrow and recover his body- it was awful. Luckily, the visibility lifted so I could see him and I was with a friend so I managed to get down on the rope and I hooked his harness with my ice axe and pulled him back up, uninjured.
Just the week before that happened he didn’t have a harness so, it was lucky I had got him one or I wouldn’t have been able to reach him at all.
Another situation was when we were doing the mountain range called Fisherfields, we were doing it as an expedition, stopped out overnight. There was a lot of scrambling involved and at mid day on the second day he ripped one of his pads. We had to just continue because we were up a hill! As soon as I got back I bought him his boots and I carry them with me all the time now, just in case. He doesn’t wear them all the time just when he needs them. When we did Cuillin on Skye he wore them most of the time- that volcanic rock rips your own boots never mind the dogs pads!
Q. What equipment would you deem compulsory for someone who wants to start climbing munros with their dogs?
A harness, if you are using your hands to climb, the dog is negotiating his route too and can’t climb over boulders so you can use the harness to lift them over. So I would definitely say a decent harness and electric tape to reinforce the snap clips on the harness and carabiners to reinforce the spring clips on any leads or attachments. The last thing you want, when you are pulling your dog up, is for the clips on the harness to pop and you lose your dog!
I would say a long leash, at least. But, if you are carrying a long clip lead why not just carry a climbing rope and carabiner and minimise the weight for yourself.
Depending on the mountain, you’d want a 15m confidence rope anyway. You don’t want the dog off loose just doing his own thing on the vertical side of a hill.
You are responsible for your dog on the hill, they can’t carry or put on their own equipment. When I am out with the dogs, I am leading and I make the decisions on when to use their equipment, when will our breaks be, how will I find their water/ if there is no water on the hill I will carry extra as well as extra food for them.
For longer, bigger distances I would recommend boots for sure. You can get light weight and inexpensive boots for the dogs but do your research. Ours are from Rough Wear and they are £80 a pair, you can’t buy them individually either so if you lose on on a hill that’s another £80 for a new pair.
Q. What is your favourite thing about being up on the hills?
Before Genghis came along, a good day on the hill is a day where I didn’t meet anyone else! Now, with Genghis I don’t have that isolation or solitude anymore. You need to take care of the dog like a novice climber or someone who isn’t confident on the hill because if you don’t, a situation could happen quite easily.
If I was leading a complete novice I would probably be telling them where to put their feet, discussing when to have a break and reading the map and I still do all of these things with Genghis! We have these discussions- how will we get him up this bit, how does he negotiate this boulder, etc.
This is what I do for fitness, it’s good for both your mental health and your fitness. From being a soldier, I enjoy routine and planning. Hill walking takes a lot of planning- you have to check the routes and with social media that is getting easier. You can use Google Maps and you can use Streetview to check parking etc. So, it keeps you mentally fit because you’re not just planning your hill route it’s everything else too like the nearest fuel stop which is really important in The Highlands- a hill day is an operation in its own way. I also enjoy leading and still having that responsibility when I have a group with me.
Q. What is your least favourite thing about hill walking?
The wind. It deters you, it turns you around. You could be fine in the glens and the minute you reach some height, the high winds hit you and you get turned around after all that planning!
And, there’s nothing worse than wind and rain! That’s the worst thing about mountaineering.
Q. Would you encourage young people into hill walking? Why?
Yes, as a younger lad I was involved in Duke of Edinburgh and John Muir Award. There are loads of opportunities for younger people. I was a Cub but I gave it up as a young lad because I had to wear shorts, shorts to school and shorts to cubs- I felt like I was in shorts 24/7 and I wanted to wear jeans!
Really though, there are loads of youth movements like The Scouts, The Guides and all of these things are so good for your CV and for applications to college an uni!
Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to take their dog wild camping?
I carry fleeces for the dogs, we use Mucki Mutz, it’s a good, Scottish company so we get our fleeces off them If it’s raining you can just wring them out! We carry two windproof waterproof rain coats for the dogs made by a company called Keela, another Scottish company based in Glenrothes and for expeditions I always take an old airplane blanket for the dogs- I have had it for years. For camping you can get dog sleeping bags. We did some wild camping and bothy nights!
Q. How is Genghis living out his retirement from the hills?
He would never manage another hill and there is no way I want to have to carry him off a hill. if I took him out on a hill and he became lame that’s me unnecessarily putting him in that situation. So he is retired from the hills. We do a loch walk around Loch Leven and it has everything he loves and he can go for a swim. We go to the beach regularly and we go on forest walks- those are his favorite!
Q. Lastly, have you set any future goals for yourself and your other dog?
With Dougie, we will complete the corbetts but we are in no rush and just enjoying it. We still have friends completing the munros so we join them, Dougie has done 46 munros and only half a dozen corbetts so we might end up completing the munros before the corbetts!