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Many years ago, when I was a full-time wage slave, I assumed that hillwalking could potentially fill all the hours available, and that only the need to work and the distance from the hills was keeping me away from them (and my Everton season ticket). Yet now that I only work three days a week and have hills almost on my doorstep, old assumptions no longer apply. I have other interests of course, and duties too, but these can't account for the fact that last year I hardly went up any hills on my own. Somewhere along the way I must have changed. I find I have become an opportunistic hillwalker, latching on to others' day trips, weeks and weekends. This is a bit odd, as I rather like climbing hills on my own; even if I'm out with someone else there is often 50 metres or so between us. It was while trying to understand how this change occurred that I developed my theory of the seven stages of bagging.
Parents, friends, colleagues, a charity challenge, TV programme or an inexplicable urge to climb Snowdon; whatever the reason for getting started, it's unlikely to be bagging - surely no-one climbs their first hill in order to move from 0 to 1. Such ignorance may not be blissful, but it can be pleasant and peaceful.
One becomes aware that lists of hills exist, and that some people collect and record and plan hill outings around a bagging agenda. But such people are perceived as different, odd; a form of pondlife in the same genus as nerds and trainspotters. This misapprehension can persist for many years.
Superficially, hill activity is similar to that in stage 2; sporadic, unfocused, and mainly in it for the views. In private however, subtle changes occur, as in the slow onset of puberty. Perhaps a hill log or diary is kept, or a preference develops for new hills rather than repeats; behaviour that can easily be justified without recourse to a bagging explanation. The key factor is self-perception. One is in denial until it is possible to look in a mirror and say, 'yes, I am a bagger'. Some people remain stuck in denali for ever. They may even inadvertently climb all the Munros, just coincidentally while out with friends, so they say. As if.
Natural born baggers may skip directly from stage 1 to stage 4, but for many the progression from denial to acceptance is the biggest stage jump of all. How this happens is still largely a mystery. The most popular theory argues that it is the result of socialisation; someone in denial gets to meet other hillwalkers who freely admit to being baggers, even in public. They seem to get out a lot and have a good time, and some of them have other interests and normal friends and can even be quite good company. This is confusing for hillwalkers in denial, because it conflicts with their prejudices, and disconcerting because it generates uncomfortable thoughts: 'I seem to be just like these people, so does that make me a bagger too?' In attempting to resolve the cognitive dissonance produced by these encounters, some hillwalkers make the transition from denial to acceptance. It is more often a subtle and gradual process than a eureka moment, but it is not inevitable. If a couple do all their hills together and rarely mingle with other hillwalkers, it is unlikely that the man's bagging will change the woman's attitude; she will happily cling to the pondlife theory for many years. Only by meeting other baggers, especially female baggers with conversational skills and an interest in tea-rooms, can the woman reach acceptance. Problems can arise when socialising with groups of baggers and non-baggers; this may cause intermittent regression to stage 3. In order to maintain a consistent self-image and avoid mental health problems, the dislocation is usually resolved by socialising with one group far more than the other, or by moving on to solo hill outings, a key indicator of progression to the next stage.
Most of us recognise the symptoms, in others if not ourselves. Long, long distances. Several hills in the same day, with a drive between each. Looking for the shortest distance from road to summit rather than the most satisfying route. Keeping count. Consulting old diaries. The need for extra equipment: a machete, the odd ferry timetable, OS maps with three-digit numbers. And soon it's all out in the open - holidays to new areas, the personal copy of RHB, the newsgroup membership. If you're lucky it is all rather wonderful, like the heady days of a passionate love affair. Yes, all the other things are still good too; the fresh air, the views, the colours, the exercise, the wildlife, but now with the bonus of exotic names and advancing numbers. Visiting places no-one seems to have heard of, climbing hills with no guidebook, oh the joy, the freedom, the sense of purpose, the range of choices and possibilities. The occasional blip, such as the ten-foot bracken or monstrous fence/dog/forest/farmer, are easily dismissed as tiny blemishes that do not detract from a loved one's beauty. Ah, if only it would last.
For some, perhaps it does. Some people claim to be just as in love as they were 20 years ago. For the majority the passion fades, but it's not all bad news. Other opportunities arise; one can choose to see a friend, or a film or a football match, instead of driving hours for another slightly underwhelming hill. Yet the bond is still strong, there is still the pleasure of companionship with the hills, and the numbers are still significant, it's just that, is it really worth driving all that way? Maybe that hill could wait for a more convenient time, or a proper holiday, or taken in en-passant with a wedding or funeral. A bit of realistic cost-benefit analysis is surely not a bad thing?
This is where the theory gets personal. Maybe it's just me, hence the substage status. I can't quite believe I've fallen out of love with the hills, but consider the evidence. 51 new Marilyns in 2007 is a good par score, but not one of them was a solo day trip, nor were the 41 repeats. I latched on to Lindsay and Andrew for Meith Bheinn and An Stac (the best day's walking of the year), and though nine of the 51 were solo, they were either taken in on the way to meet others (Galloway, Staffordshire) or during a week away with others (Islay, Jura). The only solo hillwalking from home (apart from the Knock of Crieff) was a Corbett Top in February, and even then I didn't bother with the summit of Creag Uchdag (too many peat hags). So, faced with those damning facts, I have to accept that I have become an opportunistic bagger, dependent on the enthusiasm of others to book a cottage or get me out of bed early in the afternoon. I never thought it would come to this, but it's ok, I think I can handle it. Still, it does make me wonder if I will ever move on to the next stage.
When the Munros or whatever duly get completed, the options seem to be to give up, do them again, or move on to a new list. One of the advantages of Marilyns is that it takes a long long time to do them all (or nearly all). But for those at or near the wall, defection seems inevitable, so the baglogs of bigger baggers are sprinkled with talk of Deweys and Ultras, Humps and Tops, running and cycling and foreign parts. For the active hillwalker who starts young or lives in Scotland, Marilyns are not forever. So defection is a sound strategy for avoiding the black pit of nothingness and despair. Some baggers defect to other activities - families, careers, trigs, repeats, etc - directly from stage 4 or 5, and that's good if it makes them happy and fulfilled. Personally, I've got about two more years of opportunistic Marilyn bagging before I have to decide how to defect. I'd like to think that Corbett Tops hold the solution to the looming plains of meaninglessness (they seemed to work for Bert), but as yet I'm not convinced. So if anyone wishes to develop the seven-stage theory further, please get in touch. I'm particularly interested in hearing about the possibility of a stage 8. Preferably one that doesn't involve injury, illness, infirmity and extinction. Maybe I need to learn how to just go for a walk.
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