She has bagged more than 200 Munros and, as she prepares to celebrate her 70th birthday, Evelyn Archibald has no plans to slow down.
The hardy Dundonian is one of the longest-standing members of the city’s Caledonian Hillwalking Club, having first joined in 1973.
Equally committed is the club’s president David Ryder, who has been undeterred by deep snow, breaking a wrist and being involved in searching for a lost hillwalker.
As Caledonian Hillwalking Club celebrates its 60th anniversary, Evelyn and David share their memories of hiking with the group over the years – the highs, the lows and the most dramatic moments.
“My love of the hills started quite early,’’ says Evelyn, a retired local government administrator.
“When I was a child we all went up to the country for walks. Then in my early 20s I went on a winter mountain skills course at the Ancrum Centre.
“We went on a weekend away and practiced things like using an ice axe and crampons, and we camped in the snow.
“It really hooked me and I knew I wanted to do more of it. I heard about Caledonian Hill Walkers from someone I was on the bus with to the winter skills course.
“On the weekends away with the club, I remember sleeping in big dorms in bunk beds, with coarse grey blankets – not the lovely duvets we get now.
“We had bigger packs with us than nowadays and much heavier gear, as there wasn’t the modern lightweight and breathable fabrics we have now.
Memories of trips
“I remember wearing a bright red cagoule as a waterproof which went over my head.
You got as wet inside with condensation as you did on the outside from rain, but it kept the wind away. Boots were much heavier then and required to be ‘broken in’.
“A favoured destination was Glen Doll hostel. I remember joining the locals at a ceilidh on the Saturday night on at least one occasion, then getting up next day, breakfasting, doing the required hostel chore, before departing for whatever planned walks we were taking part in.”
Evelyn stayed with the club for around four years, but took a break when she married and had her three children.
Her family had no interest in hillwalking, so she didn’t re-join the club until 1999, when her children were grown up.
She has been a committed member ever since, bagging her last two Munros as soon as lockdown restrictions were lifted in 2021.
Hankering after the hills
“I always hankered after the hills,” she adds. “When I re-joined the club, a lot of the same members were still there, but it was mainly day meets on the Sunday.
“In 2000, I think, we had high tea and joined the ceilidh in the Dykehead Hotel, which was known as ‘Tricky Dickies’ run by two gentleman who were well known for their successful dances, with guests being bussed to the venue regularly by the hotel.
“Not a mean feat to take part in the jigging – badly probably in my case – after a day’s hillwalking!
“From 2006 the club has got progressively more ambitious in our weekends away – Invergarry, Kintail a few times, Kinlochleven, Skye, Torridon, Inchnadamph, Glen Nevis, Loch Gasgarnoch, Glen Affric and more.
“These were never part of the official programme but privately organised and funded. We are one of the few clubs still to maintain meets by bus and have always been very lucky with the drivers who’ve taken us out.”
A life-long passion
For Evelyn, the benefits of hillwalking go beyond just the physical benefits of exercise. Juggling a demanding job and family life can be stressful, but being out on the hills allows her to forget about everything and focus on being in the present moment.
She plans to continue with her passion for as long as possible, though there are some Munros she will never manage to do.
“I’ve done 228 already, but many of the ones that are left are too remote and difficult for me now,” she adds.
“But I will still do as many high-level walks as possible. I’m sure there will come a time when I’ll have to slow down and won’t be able to do strenuous walks, but for now I don’t plan to stop.
An active life
“We have people in the club who are in their early 80s, and many who are in their 60s and 70s. I think if you have an active life when you’re younger, you’re more likely to have an active older age.
“The club is good because they do walks for a variety of levels, so if you find the level that’s right for you, you can stick with it and it won’t be too slow or too intense.
“The club will match you to a group walk suitable for your ability level. It’s always a great feeling when you get to the top.
“If it’s not foggy and you get a nice view, that’s always a nice bonus too. I always enjoy my walks, even on rainy days.
“I’d come home, dry myself off and think ‘that was good!’”
The Three Cs
The club was set up by founding members Bell and Jack Benvie, and was originally called Caledonian Climbing Club, or the Three Cs, as it was informally known.
Initially it focused on weekend trips away and had a relatively young membership, but over the years it has evolved to cater mainly to day trips, with an older membership.
There are currently around 30 members, the majority of whom are over 40. New members are being welcomed, with younger people encouraged to sign up.
A club for all abilities
There are various walks organised to suit all ability levels, with those considering joining being asked to ensure they have the right equipment and to be realistic about their skill level.
The club prides itself on having a high focus on ensuring everyone’s safety. However, occasionally an incident reminds walkers of the importance of respecting the unpredictability and harshness of nature – something that David Ryder has seen first-hand.
When a fellow walker got lost on the hills and began to suffer from heat exhaustion, it was sheer luck that saved him.
Danger on the hills
“It was a really hot day and the walker had run out of water,” reminisces David.
“He had sat down for a rest and was hidden in a sort of hole in the ground, so the group went on without him without realising.
“He then went looking for water, as he thought he’d heard a stream. He got lost, and by the time we realised he was missing, we couldn’t find him. We realised we’d have to call mountain rescue.
A stroke of luck
“By the time mountain rescue found him, he was tucked up in bed in a bothy that was being rented by a doctor. What are the chances!
“The walker had been suffering from heat exhaustion and the doctor knew what to do. But thankfully, incidents like this are very rare.”
Another highlight – for both good and bad reasons – for David was a walk up Farragon Hill, north of Aberfeldy.
The group walked along a path with the snow on each side being as high as their heads, then battled treacherous terrain, with David breaking his wrist.
A snowy adventure
“Maybe it shouldn’t count as an enjoyable day given what actually happened, but it was!” he laughs.
“It had been snowing heavily. For the first part of the walk, we had been walking along a path that had been cleared, as it was leading up to a mine.
“The snow on either side of the path was at head height! Then when we got past the mine, the path was no longer clear and we were wading in deeper and deeper snow.
“But despite this, I enjoyed the walk – it was so beautiful. The blue sky, the sun shining above the snow. It was stunning.’’
David is keen to encourage people who may be interested in hill walking to join the club.
He has enjoyed hiking since he was in the Scouts as a child, and later at Cambridge University, visiting Snowdonia with friends.
Like Evelyn, he is keen to share his passion for the great outdoors with others and anticipates that Caledonian Hillwalking Club will continue to go from strength to strength.
“I enjoy my role as president, but the person who does the real work is the secretary,” he muses. “They co-ordinate all the walks and take care of all the admin. It’s a great club to be part of.’’
To find out more about Caledonian Hillwalking Club, visit www.caleyhwc.org.uk/