*Note: This audio essay first aired on KRCC (Colorado Springs’ NPR affiliate, 91.5 FM) on April 15, 2021. The link to the program is here; the audio file and the text from the essay are below.

Really thick Scottish accents sound a little like gibberish to me. 

So recently while watching a travel show on Scotland, when the host kept saying something I didn’t understand, it wasn’t a surprise. He kept saying “Munro” in place of “mountain,” so, naturally, I thought I just didn’t hear him right.

But he really did mean “Munro.” He was referring to Sir Hugh Munro, born in London but raised to be a mountaineer in the Scottish Highlands. In 1891, Munro published the first list of 3,000-foot high mountains in Scotland. 

There were almost 300 on that list, of which he climbed all but one. He was saving it, but then the Great Influenza took him in 1919 at age 63. 

His idea lives on. “Munro” has become shorthand for an official, 3,000-foot mountain in Scotland, just as we in Colorado use the term “fourteener.” He was the first to mark, map, and generate a list for mountain climbers and hikers to knock down.

Munro came up with what we now know as peak bagging.

Including Pikes Peak, there are more fourteeners in Colorado than in any other US state…so we’ve got some great peaks to bag.

We can actually chart, historically, the popularity of peak bagging in the US. Google’s N-gram search engine shows the popularity of certain phrases in American publications over time. 

“Peak bagging” first showed up in print in the mid-1890s. The phrase shifted in popularity, with some rolling-hill-type growth from about 1920 to 1980. Then in the early 80s it really took off…increasing 600 percent by 2012. The term remains incredibly popular today. 

Hugh Munro would be proud. 

Until our next mountainside chat—be good, be well, and no matter what, climb on a Munro, a fourteener, a stool, heck, this is Colorado, just go climb something!

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