An interview with Michael Earnshaw about his Simm completion and RHSoc award

Inside the mind of a Mad Bagger

Michael Earnshaw and the 'Mad Baggers' trophy. Photo: Rick Salter

Michael was awarded the prestigious Mad Bagger trophy at the RHSoc Dinner in Banavie in September 2021. Primarily for his completion of the Simms in 2019. The award was held over because of COVID. As many of you will know, Michael also completed the Marilyns in 2015 making him the first person to complete the Marilyns and Simms, a feat followed by Rob Woodall in 2021.

In this interview, I ask Michael about the motivations and method behind the Mad Bagger award.

Q. At what point did you commit to completing the Marilyns and Why?

I like to complete rather than playing the numbers game. For example, I'd done very little hillwalking when I bought John and Anne Nuttall's books on 2000ft English and Welsh hills, but started them with the intention of doing them all. I didn't find out about the Marilyns until much later, and was already travelling frequently to Scotland by then for Munros. There didn't seem to be too many grim ones, and they filtered the vast number of walking choices in Scotland in a mathematically pleasing way to give a varied set of a suitable size - I was motivated. I assumed from the start that I would complete the feasible ones (all bar St Kilda, as adding any necessary hill skills was down to me). It was a question of how long, not if.

Q. And for the Simms? What inspired you to continue after the Marilyns. Because they're there?

After reaching the Marilyn wall I had a few short projects to complete, such as outstanding Munro tops, but wasn't sure what to do then. I enjoy new hills and routes more than repeats, and prefer high ground and the quieter, less bitty hill days it can offer. After a while bagging Humps and Simms it was clear I preferred Simms. Also, a Hump completion didn't seem possible - Alan and Rob's achievement was remarkable.

Lochs Nevis and Morar. Photo: Michael Earnshaw.

Q. What was your strategy for tackling the Simms in different areas? What would you recommend to others tackling them?

I tried to be efficient and avoid suffering. I don't like rain, prefer home comforts to camping, and don't enjoy long approach walks on tracks. My approach included:

  • using a bike
  • being flexible. I often waited for weather windows before arranging accommodation. For longer trips, I would avoid booking ahead so that I could switch area according to the weather.
  • thinking in terms of hill days, rather than hills.
  • not using precious good weather on hill days that don't need it. Going straight up and down singletons might be hard work, but weather matters more when spending hours high up
  • for the Monadhliath and areas east of the A9, study (up to date) maps.
  • remembering that efficient ways of bagging a lot quickly might not be efficient for bagging the full set.

What were the highest highs and lowest lows of the Simms? 

The highs and lows of Marilyns were more extreme than for the Simms but the Simms were more enjoyable on average. As well as the more obvious pointy delights out west I really liked exploring the less frequented areas of the Monadhliath, Atholl Forest, Cairngorms and Mounth / Angus. If the thought of over 100 Monadhliath Simms puts you off, try a walk from near the Coignafearn road end on a good day. You might like it. If not, perhaps lots of Simming isn't for you.

The high ground west of 779 Bidein a' Chabair gave a memorable day, as did the Inchnadamph forest north of Conival. [photos attached]

Q. You also mention wildlife encounters, often a high on walks for many of us. What springs to mind?

A fawn in the grass between 1076 Carn a' Choin Deirg and 1074 Carn Ban.

A fawn in the grass. Photo: Michael Earnshaw.

Q. I believe you are now on a Hump quest? How are you finding / planning this?

I mentioned in Marhofn 269.15 that "Low altitude Scottish Humps are a list too far for me." Now I've run out of other hills I'm doing a few. There are some good walks and fine summits, but the average quality is lower than for Marilyns and Simms. It's not so much a quest as something to get me out on new ground. There isn't a plan as such, but I'll take opportunities to visit awkward Hump islands if they arise.

Dave Chaffey

Dave is the webmaster for RHSoc, so if you have any ideas for articles or corrections, do feedback via the Contact Us. I'm relatively new to the Relative Hills, although joined the Marilyn Hall of Fame in 2022. I completed the Munros in '94, am around 200 Corbetts and working on the Marilyns of England and Wales by public transport and bike to add to the challenge!

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