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The Munros of Scotland and Peak Bagging.

I was reading an article in the Hobart Walking Club’s Magazine “The Tasmanian Tramp” about a distinguished scientist who had died on a geology excursion. It was mentioned that one of his notable achievements was that he had climbed all 277 Munros of Scotland and all but 3 of the Corbetts of Scotland.

I was intrigued as to what are the Munros and Corbetts of Scotland and why were they so important as to be mentioned in a person’s obituary. It appears that the Munros and Corbetts are a list of mountains in Scotland that are higher then a particular set height.

The Munros are those separate Scottish mountains over 3000 feet (914 metres) high. The first list of these was compiled and published by Sir Hugh Munro in 1891. Hence the name the Munros. Apparently the list has been reviewed and updated so that there are now 284 mountains recognised as Munros. Apparently there is a popular "hobby" of “Munro-bagging” – that is an undertaking to climb all of the Munros. All except one of the Munros can be ascended without any mountaineering skills or equipment. The exception is Sgurr Dearg on the island of Skye with its Inaccessible Pinnacle. The 'InPin' is a blade of rock about 20 metres high and 100 metres long embedded in the steepest side of Sgurr Dearg.

The Munros have given rise to a huge interest and a proliferation of books such that there is a joke in a British climbing circles that if an alien, with the ability to read English, went over to the book section in a climbing shop then they would reach the conclusion that there were only two mountaineering objectives. The first objective is standing on the summit of Everest. The second objective is the completion of the Munros in Scotland.

The best and most complete guidebook for the Munros is the Scottish Mountaineering Club ‘Hillwalkers Guide, Volume One - "The Munros"’ published by the Scottish Mountaineering Trust (SMC Munro Guide for short). .

 

Another great book is ‘The Munroist's Companion’ by Robin N. Campbell (1998). This book gives the history of the Munros; provides the detail of the debate about what does or does not make a "separate mountain"; and stories about the great names of early Scottish climbing going out ill-equipped and getting lost just like ordinary mortals. But what I really need is a guide to pronunciation for those Gaelic mountain names.

The top six Munros are:

1. Ben Nevis

4409 ft

1344 m

2. Ben Macdui

4295 ft

1309 m

3. Braeriach

4252 ft

1296 m

4. Cairn Toul

4236 ft

1291 m

5. Sgor an Lochain

4236 ft

1258 m

6. Cairngorm

4081 ft

1244 m

 

From the above table Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Scotland and is also the highest mountain in the British Isles. There is a relatively simple route to the summit known as the 'Tourist Route'. The mountain is notorious for fickle weather, and considered dangerous; hikers have been killed as a result. Controversy continues to rage about the placing of navigation poles near the summit, currently they have been cut down by environmentally conscious climbers who object to the aesthetic intrusion.

The origins of the name of the mountain are unclear. The word ben is the Gaelic for peak, and Ben Nevis is sometimes referred to as 'the ben'. However several possibilities for the meaning of nevis have been suggested. These include 'venomous', 'burst' or 'flow' (from neb) and 'brow of keen air' (from neamh meaning 'keeness of air' and bhathais meaning 'brow'). Finally a locally popular suggestion is that the name derives from anomy meaning 'heaven'. Ben Nevis is also a brand name of whisky distillery down in the nearby town of Fort William.

The Corbetts is the collective name given to the 221 distinct mountains in Scotland which are between 2500 (762 m) feet and 2999 (914 m) feet, and which have a re-ascent of 500 feet on all sides. They are named after John Rooke Corbett who in 1930 became the first person to climb all the 2000-feet-high peaks in Scotland. (He was also only the second person ever to complete all the Munros and Tops and the fourth to complete only the Munros). Like Munro-bagging, Corbett-bagging is a very popular pursuit. It has its own dedicated followers who claim that, in general, the Corbetts provide a better day's walking than the higher peaks.

I was initially intrigued on the concentration on the Scottish mountains and sure enough some pommie has also written a book about the ‘hills’ of England and he also included Scotland and Wales. Alan Dawson wrote the book ‘The Relative Hills of Britain’ in 1992 and asked the question How many hills are there in Britain? Has anyone climbed them all? What is a hill anyway? This book dispensed with the common assumption that a hill must be 2000 feet high to be worth climbing. Instead it concentrated on determining a list of all the hills that are relatively high, compared to the surrounding land, rather than compared to sea level.

The main issue was to determine what is a mountain or hill. After considerable conjecture the author settled on the criteria of a rise 500 feet as a rule of thumb for determining a hill. But the problem was the new maps were all in metric and he had to use the metric equivalent but 152.4 metres is a bit awkward, so to make matters easier the metric measure of 150 metres (492 feet actually) has been used to compile the new list

Having settled on the type of hills to be included in the new list, it was then necessary to find a suitable name for them. He decided to use the distinguished and appropriate term of 'Marilyn'. Perhaps in honour of the famous movie star known for her certain standout attributes. Thus, the criteria for a mountain to be honoured as a “Marilyn’ was that it has a drop of at least 150 metres on all sides, regardless of distance, absolute height or topographical merit. At the last count there were 1542 of them, and they are all listed in Chapters 3 and 4 of his book.

I then found that there was yet another list of hills called the Hewitts. A Hewitt is a Hill in England, Wales or Ireland over Two Thousand feet high (610 metres) with a drop of at least 30 metres (98 feet) all round. There are 525 Hewitts in total: 178 in England, 137 in Wales and 211 in Ireland. There is a long tradition of climbing 2000-foot hills in England and Wales, and it is safe to claim that nowhere else in the world can match the amount of attention and analysis given to hills of such modest height. At least eight different publications have appeared over the years containing lists of 2000-foot summits of England. I also found the Nuttalls. These are summits in England and Wales which are at least 2000 feet (610 metres) high, with a minimum of 50 feet (15 metres) of ascent on all sides.

Ben Nevis is one of three British mountains climbed as part of the (National) Three Peaks Challenge. The Three Peaks Challenge is a mountain endurance challenge in Great Britain in which participants attempt to climb the highest peaks of each of the island's three countries within 24 hours, using motorised transport to travel between the mountains. The mountains climbed, in order of elevation, are Ben Nevis in Western Scotland (1344 m), Snowdon in North Wales (1085 m), and Scafell Pike in North-Western England (978 m).

What really puzzles me is how do we know for sure that people like Corbett actually climbed all the Munros and Corbetts. It makes you wonder if there is some committee of people keeping a scorecard of who has done what.

Australia or more particularly Tasmania has not been immune from this macho desire to list mountains and then conquer them. Tasmanian is a mountainous island and sure enough someone had to identify all the ‘real’ mountains on the island and then make a list of them. By establishing the definition of a mountain as having a minimum height on 1100m and a drop of 150m on all sides, a list of 155 peaks was obtained.  These peaks are called the "Abels” in memory of Abel Tasman, the discoverer of Tasmania during his epic 10 month voyage in 1642.

You can get a list of the Abels in the book by Bill Wilkinson, ‘The Abels: Tasmania’s Mountains’. The author also published another book “Tables of Australian Mountains” which I have just received.

I was somewhat shocked and mystified with his statement that mountains less then 1000 metres can not be called mountains and he simply relegated them to be mere ‘hills’. Some would consider it an outrage to dismiss mountains like Mt Ernest, Mt Greville and Mt Tibrogargan and merely call them hills. But he it is his list and he san set the criteria. The fact that his list is almost unknown may reflect on the criteria he set. I will have to refrain from criticizing too much as it must have been a huge task to identify and list these mountains. To do this list he is basically using the same approach as they did for the Munros of Scotland.

He produced a list of Mountains for Queensland the top ten were as follows

Mountain Height in Metres

1 Mt Bartle Frere 1615

2 Bellenden Ker 1582

3 Mt Fisher 1385

4 Saltwater Creek ridge 1385

5 Mt Superbus 1375

6 Thornton Peak 1374

7 Mt Barney West Peak 1359

8 Mt Windsor tableland 1359

9 Mt Barney East peak 1354

10 Black Mountain 1337

 

In total he listed 73 mountains in Queensland which seems like an achievable number for a keen bushwalker to set out to climb. A couple of the mountains I had never heard of before, like Mt Fisher, which is in the Tully area. I will have to get out the Maps and try to find it. I am unaware if it is regular bushwalking destination. For all I know it might have never been climbed. And it is probably covered in rainforest and has no views.

I noticed that he didn’t coin a term for the highest mountains in Queensland. Perhaps they will be named after the first person who climbs them all ?

While I am mentioning lists of highest mountains in Britain and Australia I should mention the list of highest mountains for each continent. I came across the following list of the highest mountains for the seven continents. It has become a fashionable feat to climb the heights point in each continent, and it has now been completed over 80 people. 

The Seven Summits a list of the highest peak in each continent

Continent

Mountain

Height

Country

Asia

Everest

8848

Nepal/Tibet

Sth America

Aconcagua

6956

Argentina

Nth America

McKinley

6194

USAAlaska

Africa 

Kilimanjaro

5895

Tanzania

Europe

Elbrus

5636

Russia

Antarctica

Vinson

4897

Antarctica

You may have noticed there are only six peaks were listed. They then became rather judgmental and they raised the question what should be the highest point in Australia or Australasia ???

¨    Sukarno Peak in Irian Jaya (Indonesia) is the highest point in Australasia at 4884 metres or 16023 feet. The top is also known as Carstens Pryamid

¨    or should you count New Zealand’s Mt Cook at 3764 metres or 12349 feet

¨    or in Australia its Kosciusko at 2228 metres which is just 7316 feet or Ayres Rock which is just 867 metres (It rises 1,100 feet (335 meters) from the surrounding sand dune plains.

Plus there are so many high mountains in the SE Asia region
- Kinabalu in Borneo at 4101 metres or - A Gurg in Bali at 3142 metres or

I would be great if we could produce a list of all the real mountains for Queensland not just the few listed by Bill Wilkinson. Perhaps it is something I could do when I retire and have more time available.

Phil

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