Tenacious Sunny Huang Completes 1,124-Peak ‘Full House’

You wouldn’t be wrong to call what Sunny Huang did all over the United Kingdom for the last several years “peak bagging.” Summiting 1,124 mountains and becoming just the 77th person to climb the UK’s “full house” requires a determined approach.

And that’s exactly what makes Huang’s story so much more compelling than a long chronicle of hikes. Before she ever became the first Chinese person to complete the “full house”, Huang, 50, lifted her family out of poverty by immigrating to Edinburgh to continue her nursing career.

 

The ‘full house’

To polish off the “full house,” you need to climb all six major lists of mountains in the UK. Here’s the rundown:

  • 282 Munros — mountains in Scotland over 3,000 feet (914 metres)
  • 227 Munro Tops — peaks on the Munro mountains over 3,000 ft., but less prominent than their primary neighboring peaks
  • 34 Furths — mountains in the rest of the UK and Ireland over 3,000 ft.
  • 222 Corbetts — mountains in Scotland between 2,500 and 3,000 ft.
  • 219 Grahams — mountains in Scotland between 2,000 and 2,500 ft.
  • 140 Donalds — Scottish Lowlands peaks 2,000 ft. high with a drop of at least 50 ft. between each elevation and any higher elevation

Many of the mountains on these lists technically use feet rather than metres. So here’s the gist in metric measurements: to climb all 1,124 peaks, you need to cover at least 890 kilometres of elevation gain (not counting the descent).

Huang meets immigration challenges with determination

Huang completed her journey by standing on the Pap of Glencoe on October 1 — China National Day. She began it in 2020 when she first started chipping away at the “full house”. But her larger journey began long before that.

The mother of one moved to Scotland in 2004 in a bid to permanently escape the same poverty she experienced as a child, the South China Morning Post reported.

Huang grew up in Dandong, North East China, without many material comforts, the outlet said, noting that hunger was an issue. She and her siblings also wore shoes their grandmother made from scraps and suffered teasing at school for their second-hand clothes.

When she finished school, she became a nurse in her home country. Then she heard that the UK was experiencing a shortage in the profession, and jumped at her chance.

“I paid £16,000 to come over here. Obviously, I did not have that money. I borrowed all the money from friends and family. I managed to get here,” Huang explained.

Success didn’t come overnight, but after a series of setbacks, Huang eventually landed her first nursing job. After five years, she applied to stay in the country permanently.

“I was working 24/7 pretty much to [become financially solvent], learn English, get settled, get a house, learn to drive. It took six years,” she told the Morning Post.

Undaunted, Huang earned admission to nursing school at Edinburgh Napier University. She finally completed the substantial challenge of moving her son to the country. By 2014, she graduated college and got her first nursing job in the UK.

A hiker is born

Soon, her then-18-year-old son would unwittingly spark her passion for hiking. That year, the young man decided to join friends in France for the holidays instead of staying home with Huang.

“He sort of abandoned me at Christmas and New Year. I put in all my effort and time for him and he gradually drifted away. Even in that first year of nursing, I worked all the time,” she said. “I picked up all the extra shifts. Then I realized my son had grown up and did not need me anymore.

“So from then, just accidentally, I went on a walk and I just liked it.”

You bet she did. Fast forward to October 2020, and Huang was well on her way into the record books.

“This has been two years of my life,” Huang told The Scotland Herald just before she polished off the record-setting list. “Every weekend I have left work on a Friday and packed up my car ready to go up to the hills. I would walk for a few days, sometimes a week or more, walking between 12 and 19 hours a day on average, depending on the weather and conditions. I did 17 peaks in one day and then beat my own record with 19 on the Nevis Range.”

Bagging the ‘full house’ for charity; what’s next?

Huang admitted the daunting goal required her total resources. And, she said, reaching the finish line proved stirring.

“I just kept going and every spare minute I had I have been on the hills,” she told the Herald. “I have to admit it has taken its toll on my knees a bit, but I finished much sooner than I thought.

“When I reached the final summit, it was very emotional for me. There was a group there to meet me with walking poles for a guard of honor.”

sunny huang surrounded by supporters

Photo: Christian Aid

 

Huang raised £4,000 for hunger relief for an organization called Christian Aid through her effort. She told the Morning Post that she holds the group’s mission closely, based on her childhood circumstances.

“I feel quite proud of my country. I also mainly feel proud to raise funds for Christian Aid. I was doing it for Christian Aid because of my childhood, my poverty,” she said.

Whatever’s next for Sunny Huang, we may not have to wait long to find out. She allowed that she felt the post-expedition blues but hinted at further objectives in the wake of her final “full house” outing.

“This has been my world and I’ve not had a weekend for two years, so I am not quite sure what I will do with myself. It does feel it a bit strange and flat,” she said.

“Because I’ve always had something intense and a hard target to reach, I’ve never stopped,” Huang went on. “This thing has finished. I was saying I’m not doing anything. I don’t have anything planned.

“Something will come up in time. I will try and just relax, but I think that won’t happen.”

Sounds about right. ExplorersWeb would like to offer Ms. Huang our congratulations. We look forward to seeing her out in the mountains — for as long as we can keep up.