It was October 1994 when 28-year-old Peter Chengus, in rain gear and carrying a heavy pack, sprinted over rocks and mist to the top of Ben Moor, the tallest hill adjacent to the Scottish village of Crianlarich.
The 6.2-mile climb only took a few hours for Chingos, an accomplished hiker. But the journey it sparked lasted for decades.
Last month, after 21 voyages across the Atlantic over nearly 28 years, Brunswick-based Chingos became one of a handful of Americans to have completed the Scottish Monros, a group of 282 mountains at least 3,000 feet high scattered across the Scottish Highlands. .
Joined at the last summit by a diverse group of 15 friends and family members, Chingos contemplates an adventure that spans half a life, to the years before his marriage and the birth of his children.
“It was really cool to share with friends and family,” he said of his recent ascent. “I think this will always stay with me.”
The “peak packing” bug caught Chingos at a young age. By the age of 16, he had climbed all 46 of the tallest peaks of the Adirondack Mountains in New York. Over the next decade, he added the 4,000-foot peaks in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire to complete “Northeast 111.”
But the Monros were a different beast. While New England hikes usually involve navigating preserved trails through the woods, Scottish climbs are mostly wide open, with no trees to obstruct the park’s view of the summit — or to protect it from the elements.
Armed with guidebooks from the Scottish Mountaineering Club and topographic maps, Chingos often plotted their own routes in the terrain, which can range from grassy to swampy to rocky. The constant threat of moody weather sometimes robbed him of the stunning summit views, Chingos said, but the added challenge of rain, snow and fog made the trip all the more rewarding.
“Part of the attraction is the challenge of finding your own path,” he said. “You really need to know your stuff and prepare to be able to climb these mountains.”
About 7,000 hikers have completed all 282 types of monros, according to the Scottish Mountaineering Club. The organization’s website lists only six “discreet” Americans.
While he completed more than half of Munros solo, Chingos also rocked with friends and family, including his wife Sarah.
The couple had only been dating for a few weeks when Chingos asked Sarah in April 1997 if she wanted to join him on his next week-long trip to Scotland, Sarah Chingus recalls. She refused him but left the door open to the future.
“If it’s meant to be,” she recalls, “I’ll be with you on your next trip.”
That trip came a year later – an early honeymoon before the couple’s August wedding. Sarah Chingos said that they had been out of their camp in Luchan Vada for three days, and had never laid eyes on another person or man-made building.
“I remember being so close to the top and thinking, ‘Oh yeah, now I get this,’” she said. “It is breathtaking in its natural beauty, in its austerity and vast expanses of landscape.”
The birth of the couple’s son, Andrew, and their daughter, Margaret, put the annual Chingos trips on hold for seven years. But, having grown old, he resumed his quest, sometimes joined by Andrew.
On August 31, he finally ended his journey surrounded by those who supported him at his side and from afar.
“It was so magical,” Sarah Chingos said. “It was a glimpse for so many of our friends and people who have supported Peter over the years to really see what we see and what Peter sees hiking. There is no place on earth he feels happier than a mountain in Scotland.”
With Munros complete, Chingos said he’s excited to explore hiking in other parts of the world, including Greece. However, as satisfying as his recent 282 was, he added, he’s far from finished with the heights.
“I think I will continue to hike in Scotland,” he said. “It didn’t feel like the end.”