Tom’s Munro Challenge Memories Inspire Generation 2024 to Support WaterAid

08 April 2024
 Mountaineer Tom Millar founder Munro Challenge WaterAid  balancing on one leg at the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean

WaterAid Munro Challenge 2024

Founder Tom Millar was always a daredevil. He and colleague Rod Rennet dreamed up the challenge to get someone on the top of every Munro to raise funds for WaterAid thirty years ago this summer and bagged a Guinness World Record into the bargain.

“To support an organisation like WaterAid through our love of the landscape and mountains of Scotland is what really matters”

Tom Millar
WaterAid Munro Challenge Founder and Mountaineer
The 2024 Munro Challenge is set to take place in June – almost 30 years exactly to the day since the first teams of water and wastewater workers took to Scotland’s highest peaks to raise money for WaterAid.

The event has its roots in a chance conversation between Tom Millar, keen mountaineer and new works manager in Tayside Regional Council’s water team, and Director of Tayside’s Water Services at the time, Rod Rennet.

With a successful employee-led raft race completed, and suggestions for the next event being pondered, Tom was asked by his boss: “Why don’t you see if you can put someone on the top of all the Munros to raise funds for WaterAid?”

Tom’s reply at the time – “We could never achieve that!” – was soon swept aside in a flurry of logistics, organisation, and planning more akin to a military operation than a charity fundraiser, with the hub at Bullion House, Dundee.

As the Meet Secretary of the Grampian Mountaineering Club of Dundee, Tom and colleague, friend, and leading figure in the mountaineering club Alastair Stewart, spent the final few months of 1993 considering their options and gaining approval of the Tayside WaterAid Committee.

Skip forward to a cloudy day on June 25 1994 and 1000 people scaled the 52 summits grouped as “the Tayside Munros”, with £42,000 raised to support projects in Kenya.

Tom recalled: “1994 did not start off as a dummy run for a challenge across the whole of Scotland and attempt to summit all the Munros. But Fiona Duncan of WaterAid in Glasgow was ready to take it on and, with the support of Ernie Chambers at Strathclyde Region, the momentum soon reached all nine regional councils.”

Now retired, Tom, who completed his own Munro round in 1994 by scaling Ben Hope, the most northerly of the 3000ft peaks, said 1994 Tayside event participants received branded t-shirts, individually labelled whisky miniatures, and ended their day on the hills with a ceilidh at Ballinluig.

With the seeds sown for a national attempt on all the Munros, June 10 1995 became the date that a single event successfully placed a team on every summit in a single day – 277 (there are now 282 Munros as classified by the Scottish Mountaineering Club) – for the first time.

An incredible 4000 volunteers made it a Guinness record where others previously had failed to claim all of Scotland’s highest mountains, with £200,000 raised in the process for projects in Nepal.
historic image of Mountaineer Tom Millar with a group who founded the Munro Challenge for WaterAid

Inaugural WaterAid Munro Challenge team in 1994

historic image of Mountaineer Tom Millar with a group on a summit for the Skye Munro Challenge

Tom and the Skye Munro Challenge team

From there future events would take place in 1998, 2003 and 2005 – with more than £1 million raised for WaterAid. A further event in 2010 would see the last time the challenge took place until 2022.

Although Tom was honoured for his WaterAid fundraising and was part of a group given the President’s Award for their outstanding efforts to the charity, he remains firmly focused on what matters most. He said: “Although it’s nice to remember those moments, they aren’t what I remember the most.

“The amount of people who came together to plan, get stuck into labelling whisky bottles and creating Fact Packs for the Tayside event in 1994, act as glen managers on event day, or take part by climbing Munros for those communities who don’t have access to water, toilets and sanitation like we do, is a real credit to the water sector in Scotland over the years.

“To support an organisation like WaterAid through our love of the landscape and mountains of Scotland is what really matters. I’m really pleased Scottish Water is still working with WaterAid and supporting projects through a continued focus on our environment and mountains.”

Now living in Arran, Tom says his most memorable hill day for WaterAid was in 1995’s event when he made the journey to the Isle of Skye to climb in the Black Cuillin – namely Sgurr Dearg, the Inaccessible Pinnacle. He said: “The mountains of Skye really are mountains apart.”

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