Rabbie was a black Labrador Retriever. He climbed his first Munro, Carn Gorm in Glen Lyon in April 2012 and he completed on Maol Chean Dearg on Christmas Day on 2014. Rabbie was 9½ years old when he completed and his Munro round took 2 years 8 months to finish.
Sitting at the top of our first Munro, the feeling was out of this world. Not just the achievement of reaching the summit but also being in such a beautiful place and sharing it with Rabbie. Rabbie was in his element, having so much fun and being in the hills helped me de-stress from a difficult period in our lives. This was a perfect combination, and I imagined how good it would be if the pair of us could climb the Munros together. Research showed that other dogs had already completed them so I knew it was achievable and knowing Rabbie’s nature and ability I decided that we would give it a go.
My husband Ruairi, Rabbie’s human Daddy, is a serving soldier with the Royal Regiment of Scotland. During a deployment overseas he broke his back and was flown back to the Military Hospital in Birmingham for treatment. During his stay we met other injured soldiers and their families, many of whom had sustained serious life changing injuries during their military service. Although Ruairi was badly injured and took over a year to recover, he was able to return to normal duties, however, seeing the struggles of the injured soldiers who wouldn’t fully recover, inspired me to take on the challenge of climbing all 282 Munros with Rabbie and raise money for the soldier’s charity Help for Heroes. In 2012, following Ruairi’s recovery, I was working full time and only able to climb at weekends and annual holidays it would be a tough timeframe, we wanted to show sponsors we were committed and set a completion date for Christmas Day 2014.
We were sponsored by John Clark BMW garage in Dundee, who provided us with a 4X4 vehicle to allow us to drive easily around Scotland. They also decorated it with a logo advertising our challenge to allow us to gather support as we drove.
Radio Tay and the Dundee Courier also took an interest in our challenge. It was special climbing our final Munro on Christmas Day and Radio Tay reported our completion on air. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, Maol Chean Dearg was covered in snow, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and on reaching the summit I got all emotional. I could see for miles around and knew that Rabbie and I had climbed all the mountains as far as the eye could see. It was a stunning way to finish our challenge.
Rabbie and I individually raised £10,000 and our Munro Challenge also won a Mountain Warehouse Competition which donated a further £1,000 to Help for Heroes.
Following our completion Rabbie and I were invited down to Tedworth House in Wiltshire to receive an award for our Munro Challenge at the annual Hero Awards. Rabbie received his own ‘Medal of Award’ for his achievements, he was treated like a VIP all evening and decided to take on the H4H bear by trying to pull his paw off! We had a wonderful time and it was really rewarding to see first-hand the Help for Heroes recovery centre and meet some of the soldiers receiving the valuable support that H4H provides.
We were delighted also to be featured in the Munro Matters section of Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal, being classified as Superfast was cool!
5 YEARS = Superfast = 6%. To climb all the Munros in such a short time takes a lot of focus, organization and determination. Lynsey Fitzpatrick (5694) ‘took the great challenge of completing the Munros to raise money and awareness for the soldier’s charity Help for Heroes’ along with her black Labrador Rabbie. As the wife of an injured veteran with a full-time job, their Round of less than 3 years was particularly impressive. She noted that ‘the Cuillin in Skye was definitely not at all dog friendly. With the help of a mountain guide, a dog climbing harness and boots made especially for him, we managed to find routes up to the summits.’
Rabbie was the best companion anyone could have in the mountains, he made me feel safe when I was on my own and he was always able to sniff out the best route. I never felt alone when I was with Rabbie, watching him having so much fun, even on miserable days, made it enjoyable. What I loved about Rabbie was that I could trust him implicitly; it is only now, after owning and walking in the hills with other dogs that I realise just how special and trustworthy he really was. He liked to go off on his own to explore, but I always knew he would be back a few minutes later. I think he liked to check that the route ahead was safe for us. He had a great head for heights and potential dangers, on ridges he was right by my side, maybe feeling my anxiousness, but on plateaus he was off exploring.
Rabbie loved picking up and carrying sticks, the bigger the better, and loved to carry the same stick from the start of the hike to the end. If he dropped it, he would always run back to retrieve the same stick.
On the remote Munros, where there was no defined path, he was really good at sniffing out a trail. I would be traipsing through knee deep heather and would see him stopped looking at me puzzlingly from a wee distance away. I soon worked out that this meant he had found a trail for us to follow.
He had a great nature and loved meeting and speaking to passers-by, he was always centre of attention in a bothy or campsite, parading round getting patted and tickles.
He also loved to swim under water, I am not sure where he learnt to hold his breath but he would totally submerge himself and retrieve rocks from river beds. I remember when we were in the Cuillin, we stopped for a rest at Loch Coir a’ Ghrunnda, Rabbie ran straight in, playing and swimming under the water. Some tourists came up behind us and when Rabbie surfaced they thought he was a rare mountain otter, it was funny when they realised it was just my wee black Labrador.
The Cuillin were very difficult, we planned to complete them all in one week but due to bad weather we needed to return again later. It was really the only stressful time we had on the Munros, we hired a mountain guide to assist us and we were donated a dog climbing harness and boots from the company Ruffwear. Due to the sharpness of the Cuillin gabbro we needed a number of repair jobs on the boots during our time there. Rabbie wore the boots to protect his pads from the sharp rock but unfortunately, they took away his ability to properly feel and grip the rock and my heart was in my mouth a number of occasions watching him sliding about. Employing guides helped us enormously and we would not have been able to complete the Cuillin without them. They located easier routes with less scrambling to assist Rabbie’s ascent, however, these alternative routes came with greater exposure, the routes helped Rabbie but left me a nervous wreck. We were able to hoist Rabbie within his climbing harness, and I climbed the Inaccessible Pinnacle east ridge separately with a guide, while Rabbie waited at the other side with another guide. We also completed an abseil tied together between Sgurr nan Gillean and Am Basteir. This was nerve-wracking; the rope between us went tight and the only way to unhook him and position him on an adjoining ledge was to unhook myself first in a very precarious position. The harness was brilliant and allowed us to climb and abseil together using ropes and carabiners. He took to the harness really well and did not panic at all when mid-air on a rock face.
It was a memorable few weeks, but I was extremely happy and relieved the day we completed Skye. Rabbie took it all in his stride and showed no distress at any time. He was a very special boy and it was great to be able to get a cuddle and a reassuring lick from him when I was feeling at my most nervous with the exposure.
Rabbie also had a dog rucksack which allowed him to carry his own food when we walked out to the remote bothies and camping sites.
The mainland Munros didn’t cause us any major difficulties. Routes were planned around Rabbie, so we could avoid unnecessary difficulties. We climbed the Munros on the Aonach Eagach, Liathach and Ring of Steall separately so we could miss out the difficult ridges. Planning this way did give us extra work but came with much less risk and we climbed the difficult Munros during the summer months and easy more rounded ones during the winter.
Rabbie seemed to cope well in extreme weather, being a Labrador, he had a short coat so did not get effected by ice balls in deep snow. My husband made Rabbie a Gortex jacket from left over army gear, which kept his body dry and warm in heavy rain.
In icy conditions when I needed to wear crampons, Rabbie’s claws and pads didn’t seem to grip that well, with the worry that he might slide down slopes without me, I made sure Rabbie was always tied to me using his harness and rope. In deep snow he liked to follow me and walk in the footsteps I had already created.
There was a heat wave in July 2013 and during this time we had planned a trip to complete the Munros around Loch Ossian. The mountain streams had all but dried up and although I had packed extra water in my rucksack for Rabbie, we did almost run out. To make sure Rabbie was okay, I shared my supply with him until we found the only water source for miles, an almost stagnant pool close to the summit; an oasis in a hot dessert. The main issue that weekend, one I had never thought or prepared for, was Rabbie was left with blisters on his pads from walking over the sun scorched rocks. The blisters didn’t take long to heal but did cause discomfort for him for a few days and made him narky at the train conductor on the journey home (so out of character for Rabbie). A lesson learned and I made sure we didn’t walk in such extreme heat again. I used a bicycle on a number of occasions and Rabbie was fine running along beside me, he took to it well and I made sure we had plenty stops along the way to give him wee breaks.
We had a wee one man tent and slept in it together on a number of occasions. I would always sleep with my sleeping bag inside a bivvy bag so Rabbie could cuddle up and lie on top of me to sleep. The only problem was, no matter how careful I was with mosquito nets and keeping the tent zipped up, as soon as Rabbie came in to the tent he brought a cloud of midges in with him and the first hour was always spent trying to clear the tent of the wee beasties.
It is really difficult for me to come up with one special memory of our time in the hills, and each time I try to write this section, I become so emotional, I well up with tears thinking of all our achievements together and how much I miss him. I think if I had to pick a special memory it would be the days I needed him the most, when I was struggling on the long solitary hikes or in difficult weather conditions and he would look at me with his bright eyes and his energy kept me going to climb each and every summit.
Being in the mountains since has never been the same without my Rabbie.