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Fisherfield

Beinn a’Chlaidheimh summit ridge <em>Picture: Walter Baxter</em>

Beinn a’Chlaidheimh summit ridge Picture: Walter Baxter

By Graham Jackson and John Barnard

We have followed with great interest the stimulating articles in your newspaper about the recent survey of Beinn a’Chlaidheimh (hill of the sword) in Fisherfield. These have presented a detailed account of the proceedings and we trust have provided insight into the world of Munros for readers who have followed them.

We are the surveyors who carried out the measurements on Beinn a’Chlaidheimh for the Munro Society (TMS) and we have noted one or two inaccuracies which we wish to clarify, and a couple of questions we can answer.

First, the overall measurement uncertainty in our determination was +/-0.10 metres (or one Kit Kat, to use your journalist’s units). The value of +/-0.05m is the measurement uncertainty of the GPS determination itself. In addition, there is the measurement uncertainty associated with finding the exact summit location. This may sound a trivial thing to do, but to achieve this to just a few centimetres is often quite tricky.

There are one or two other minor factors to throw in, too, so that the overall uncertainty becomes about +/-0.10m. This value is actually given in the summary section of the report.

Secondly, your journalist says, “stand beneath a similar-sized hill, look up and ask yourself is it really possible to be sure of the height to within half the length of a Kit Kat?” Well, the answer is “yes”, using the technique of differential GPS.

We never fail to be impressed with the reproducibility of the technique, but it really can measure position and height to +/-0.10m or so, the actual accuracy depending on how long data are collected. This level of accuracy is achieved by measuring height and position relative to one or more GPS instruments (so-called “base stations”) situated at accurately known positions.

In this case it was to six of the Ordnance Survey’s OS Net™ stations. OS Net is a national network of over 100 highly accurate, permanent GPS base stations positioned to within a few millimetres. We will not discuss differential GPS further here, but refer the interested reader to a detailed article we wrote for the “heighting” project and this may be found on TMS’s website. The article discusses at length all the measurement uncertainties associated with determining the heights of hills and briefly mentions the principle of differential GPS. The OS website is also a mine of information on GPS technology and surveying techniques.

We also regularly check our GPS kit for both precision and accuracy by repeatedly occupying an OS GPS control point – a fundamental bench mark whose position and height are known accurately. These are often used by surveyors to make sure their GPS equipment is giving correct results. These checks are carried out before and after a survey.

Your journalist recommends a second measurement, presumably as a check in case of a gross error in our measurement. We follow careful, well-established survey procedures to ensure the elimination of gross error, for example in the measurement of the height of the GPS antenna above the point being surveyed.

We consider that a second survey visit to a point would only be valid if the first result was close to the Munro threshold (914.40m) within the accuracy limit of the technique. So, with an accuracy limit of +/-0.10m, the Beinn a’Chlaidheimh result would need to be between 914.50m and 914.30m to make it worthwhile considering a second survey.

The taking of multiple observations is a very common technique in surveying and is used to average-out naturally occurring random errors. We should point out, however, that our survey collected 360 sets of GPS observations over a period of three hours. This was not a single measurement.

Furthermore, the GPS data collected during a survey are cross-checked through a computation of the coordinates of the surrounding OS Net stations. The computed coordinates are compared with the “true” coordinates supplied by the OS. The quality of this “coordinate recovery” comparison is an external check on the quality of the GPS data – and, in the case of Beinn a’Chlaidheimh, confirmed the +/-0.05m accuracy of the final GPS measurement.

The article also refers to OS, saying, “the missing link in all this is the OS’s internal assessment of the surveyors’ findings.” Firstly we would like to acknowledge the OS’s continuing help and advice for our activities. Since starting our GPS surveys, we have received much guidance from GPS surveying experts at the OS and they approve of our survey techniques.

Our Beinn a’Chlaidheimh data-set was independently processed, using different and leading-edge software and techniques to those used by us, and the results evaluated by the OS’s chief geodetic GPS surveying expert. The OS value is quoted in our report and is clearly shown as thus. Incidentally, our calculated value and that determined by the OS differ by just 0.02m.

TMS survey party in action on Beinn a’Chlaidheimh, 4 July 2011 <em>Picture: G&J Surveys</em>

TMS survey party in action on Beinn a’Chlaidheimh, 4 July 2011 Picture: G&J Surveys

So, there you have it. We have said the accuracy of the overall measurement is +/-0.10m and therefore the measured height of Beinn a’Chlaidheimh is between 913.90m and 914.10m – which is below 914.40m (3,000 feet), the benchmark that defines a Munro. The result has been submitted to the Scottish Mountaineering Club and we now just await its evaluation of the evidence. In the meantime, sit back and relax. Have a break! Have a Kit Kat!

Graham Jackson and John Barnard are G&J Surveys.

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The In Pinn – in the news <em>Picture: Perkin Warbeck</em>

The In Pinn – in the news Picture: Perkin Warbeck

Turning away – for a moment at least – from the politics and palaver of the Fisherfield hill-survey saga, a few other recent outdoors stories merit mention.

First up has to be the heartwarming tale of the charity donation box accidentally left on Ben Lomond by a team of path-repairers. This, rather than being snaffled or emptied as tends to be assumed to be the modern way, turned up not just intact but containing more money than when it was lost.

The incident was reported in the aftermath of the English riots, and formed a nice contrast to those, a kind of anti-looting story. Rather than taking stuff, people made donations (admittedly of cash, rather than of plasma TVs, iPhones and horrible designer sportswear) without any prompting.

It would be wrong to overanalyse this, however, and to portray it as Scottish generosity versus English graspingness – plenty of non-Scots climb Ben Lomond, after all, and there’s a fair chance that a charity box left inadvertently on, say, Skiddaw in England or Tryfan in Wales would likewise receive a top-up.

Neither is it metropolitan materialism versus gentler rural ways, given that the majority of people who climb Ben Lomond surely come from urban areas. It is, though, a nice story, from which everyone emerges in a good light.

Talking of boxes containing money, the latest pay-to-park story is being subjected to scrutiny and discussion. The latter part of this month sees the start of a two-year trial period in which visitors will be asked to make a voluntary £2 donation when parking at the humongous Coire Cas car park – alongside the funicular railway base station and at the branching-off point for a variety of hill paths, eg across towards the Northern Corries.

Whether the charge would then, come 2013, be made compulsory remains to be seen – but that has been the pattern elsewhere following voluntary trial periods. The donation scheme is being introduced by CairnGorm Mountain Ltd (CML), having been approved on 22 July by the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

It wouldn’t, strictly speaking, be something entirely new at Coire Cas. As Colin Kirkwood, chief executive of CML, has pointed out, until the early 1980s there was “a manned booth which charged on exit”. Kirkwood argues for the new charges on the basis of “looking to ask visitors to put something towards a reinvestment in footpaths, environmental projects, car parks and facilities”.

Certainly the path network hereabouts has been upgraded massively, to a high standard, and such things do not come cheap. On the other hand, there are those who see the whole going-like-a-fair aspect of Coire Cas as already being an unwelcome and very visible commercial intrusion into the hills.

Add to that the old tensions between skiers (who pay for all sorts of stuff – day passes etc) and walkers and climbers (easy to portray as freeloaders given that they simply park the car and march off self-reliantly on foot). Add also the old argument that £2 is next to nothing on top of fuel costs – which tends to assume everyone is a holidaymaker coming from miles away, rather than a Strathspey local who might like to go to Coire Cas every few days and for whom a regular £2 hit would feature much higher in the mix.

And add, too, the curious lopsidedness whereby pay-to-park for hill activities has become established in certain places on the east side of the Highlands – Glen Muick, Linn of Dee, etc – but not so much in the west (Loch Long excepted). What, if anything, does that say about different-area mentalities?

For now, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland – a key voice in the Coire Cas debate as it has an interest in walking, climbing and skiing – seems happy enough about the voluntary charge but cautious about what might happen thereafter.

See also the discussion at Winterhighland. One to watch.

Turning briefly to less serious matters, readers of the Sun and the Daily Mail last week were treated to – and perhaps puzzled by – a photo-story in which Graeme Ettle climbed the Inaccessible Pinnacle, photographed by Dave Cuthbertson.

“He’s a Pinn-up”, was Wapping’s take on it, while Paul Dacre’s staff opted for the more formal “Conquering the In Pin: Intrepid free climber reaches the summit of Britain’s most Inaccessible Pinnacle without a rope”.

Nice pictures, for sure, and “daredevil” Ettle does appear to have made a free ascent of the steep end of the second-highest lump of rock in the Hebrides (although the Mail mentions “a flimsy rope”). But is not “Climber climbs In Pinn” roughly along the same lines, in newsworthiness terms, as “Walker completes West Highland Way”, or “Motorist drives along M25”?

Quiet news day, perhaps.

Finally, mention should be made of two recent deaths. Alan Blackshaw was one of the great and the good of the mountaineering world, heavily involved in matters domestic and Alpine, both in terms of actual on-hill activity and in the committee rooms. He was, for instance, president of the British Mountaineering Council 1973–76, of the Ski Club of Great Britain 1997–2003, and of the Alpine Club 2001–04. He undertook numerous other roles over the years, including being heavily involved in the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA), again with a spell (2004–05) in the presidency.

He was the author of Mountaineering: From Hillwalking to Alpine Climbing, published in 1966 and often referred to simply as “Blackshaw” in the same way that Eric Langmuir’s Mountaincraft and Leadership is just “Langmuir”.

Blackshaw’s death on 4 August, aged 78, prompted numerous obituaries and tributes: see the Daily Telegraph, the Herald, the Scotsman, the UIAA, the Alpine Club, the BMC and the MCofS. Also by Dave Morris at the Ramblers, fellow Newtonmore hill man Cameron McNeish, and Chris Townsend.

Also widely reported has been the death of Ian Redmond, aged 30, who was attacked by a shark on 16 August while snorkelling off the Seychelles. He and his wife Gemma were on their honeymoon.

Amid all the sadness and horror of the incident, and the discussion about the dangers of sharks, there has been little mention of Redmond – from Lancashire – having been a climber. Condolences and tributes can be found in a thread on UKBouldering.com, including this, from a friend named Adam Jeewooth: “To me Ian is a bouldering, sport climbing and a genuine friend. We both have shared many experiences in the time I knew him from meeting at BoulderUK, getting snowed off in Northumberland, drinking wine in Ceuse in a shit rental car and bouldering in font [Fontainebleau]. He was totally in love with Gemma (his wife) and was a family man.”

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<em>Picture: Tessa Carroll</em>

Picture: Tessa Carroll

It’s now a week since the results of height surveys on three Highland hills – all just above or just below the 3,000-foot Munro mark – were announced. Last Tuesday wasn’t the most auspicious time for quirky press releases – such things need a quiet news day to get media traction, rather than coinciding with riots down south and chaos on the global financial markets.

The announcement did, however, receive a reasonable level of coverage – which makes it slightly odd that, a week on, no one seems sure what the results mean or where they leave the Munro-climbing world.

The three surveys – conducted in July by the Munro Society (TMS) – looked at two existing Munros and one hill just below the mark, a Corbett. All three hills are in the remote Fisherfield area in the north-western Highlands, and no one is arguing about Ruadh Stac Mor or Beinn Dearg Mor, which stayed solidly in their slots as a Munro and a Corbett respectively.

The debate – and the confusion – centres on Beinn a’Chlaidheimh, which before the announcement was reckoned to be 916 metres high. This made it a Munro by a couple of metres – the Munro mark is 914.4m in metric terms – but the surveyors, armed with differential GPS equipment, claimed it is 913.96m. If so, this leaves it a foot or so short of 3,000ft and means that – impressive lump of rock and grass though it is – the “hill of the sword” has no place in Hugh Munro’s grand old list.

The relevant people at the government mapping agency, the Ordnance Survey (OS), seem happy – they “processed” the result, according to TMS – and so, on the face of it, there ought to be no problem. Except it’s more complicated than that.

Despite the name, TMS neither maintains the list of Munros nor has any formal control over it. That honour rests with the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC), of which Hugh Munro was a founder member and in whose journal, in 1891, the list first appeared. The SMC has continued to publish the list – latterly in a book called Munro’s Tables – and is showing no inclination to relinquish control.

And why should it? For all that there have been various controversial changes over the 120 years of the list’s existence, the SMC is generally regarded as having done a good job in keeping the list alive in its early, quiet decades, and then looking after it in the crazier modern period of guidebooks, easy access and so on. TMS, by contrast, has only been around since 2002.

The initial comment from the SMC, included in the Beinn a’Chlaidheimh press release, was non-committal: the club had been “notified of these survey results and has undertaken to consider the implications”. This would be done, it said, “when the Ordnance Survey update its map of the area”.

That was before two further public statements, one each from TMS and the SMC, over the past couple of days. TMS has had this to say: “The OS have informed us that: 1:25000 digital data is updated twice a year in May and October so the changes will be in the October 2011 refresh of 1:25000 raster data. 1:50000 digital data is updated once a year in June so the changes will be in the June 2012 refresh of 1:50000 raster data. From these dates onwards any custom maps ordered through the ‘OS Select’ service will show the new heights. Maps from the ‘Get A Map’ service may take a bit longer to update.”

This could be taken as a hint to the SMC: the 914m height will appear on an OS map in October, so as far as TMS is concerned it’s a done deal given that the list traditionally uses published map heights.

Then came the SMC’s own second statement, published today. While in essence merely repeating what was said last week, there is a subtle and sigificant difference in tone.

“Recent Survey of Beinn a’Chlaideimh (Fisherfield),” it begins. “The Scottish Mountaineering Club has been notified of the recent survey results produced by the Munro Society which indicate that this Munro (OS Sheet 19; NH 061 775, M280) may be at the marginal height of 913.96m. If confirmed, this would place it some 44cm under the necessary height for a Munro. Accordingly, and bearing in mind the marginality of these measurements, the SMC has undertaken to consider the implications for Munros and Corbetts Tables when the Ordnance Survey update their maps of the area.

“We need hardly add that anyone who walks the mountains and hills of Scotland out of a love for their ambience, will continue to appreciate this fine mountain, whether it be classified as a Munro or a Corbett. For the moment at least, Beinn a’Chlaideimh remains in Munro’s Tables®.”

Different people will make different things of that, but it’s worth noting three additions to the earlier statement: (a) the SMC’s use of the phrases “may be at the marginal height” and “the marginality of these measurements”, (b) the reminder that Beinn a’Chlaideimh is a fine hill whatever its status, and (c) the use of the registered trademark symbol. These could, in turn, be interpreted as (a) expressing some doubt over the claimed accuracy of the survey, (b) suggesting that ultimately it doesn’t really matter – and (c), with the trademark, reminding TMS and the hill-bagging world who actually calls the shots here.

While not quite a turf war between the SMC and TMS, there is clearly at least a polite difference of opinion – and unlike the last time a Munro demotion was proposed by TMS, in 2009, the SMC isn’t minded to simply nod it through.

For an assessment of TMS’s position, The Caledonian Mercury asked Lord Haworth of Fisherfield, who as Alan Haworth worked as secretary to the parliamentary Labour Party at Westminster. (He is destined to be forever confused with the former Conservative and Labour MP Alan Howarth, now Lord Howarth of Newport; even the section of acknowledgements in last week’s TMS surveyors’ report makes this error.)

Lord Haworth has a fine hill pedigree, being one of only three parliamentarians to have climbed all the Munros (the others being Chris Smith MP, now Lord Smith of Finsbury, and Murray Elder, now Lord Elder). He underwrote the costs of the recent TMS surveys and is in no doubt as to the validity of the results.

“I do feel somewhat rueful that the outcome is that Beinn a’Chlaidheimh reverts to being a Corbett,” he said yesterday, “and that the Fisherfield Six is going to have to be rebranded as the Fisherfield Five. But the fundamental objective has been, throughout all these heightings, to get a definitive measurement – in the name of accuracy. Using the latest and most sophisticated techniques.

“My hopes, which are a different matter entirely, were that Beinn Dearg Mor might be found to be high enough to be promoted to Munro status. Nothing would have given me more pleasure. Earlier, [in the 2009 surveys,] I had the same hope for Sgurr a’Choire-bheithe. But it wasn’t to be. I think these matters are definitively closed. And so, I think, is Beinn a’Chlaidheimh. If the OS change the heights on their maps to reflect our measurement of 913.96m – and they do accept the measurements as far as I am aware – then Beinn a’Chlaidheimh at 914m isn’t high enough to be a Munro, any more than Beinn Dearg [in Torridon] at 914m isn’t.”

Lord Haworth is already turning his thoughts to next summer’s TMS surveys. “I think there is one more hill with an outside chance – a very outside chance – of being promoted: Beinn Bhreac [912m, in the Tarf/Feshie hinterland]. It is a very obvious candidate for careful surveying. The surveyors know that and I am sure everyone else does. Nearby is Leathad an Taobhain – same height, seemingly, but with less chance of being wrong on account of having a trig point. Ideally, both should be resurveyed.

“We have already looked at The Fara [911m, above Loch Ericht] – and that was 2m lower. I am hopeful that these two hills in the wilds of the upper reaches of the Tarf will be next on the agenda – and that the Munro Society can afford to extend its surveying there in due course. But it won’t be this year; and it is not my decision. Neither was Fisherfield. I just offered to sponsor it – for fairly obvious reasons – if the Society wanted to do it. It is my way of ‘putting something back’. And now it is done.”

So the position with regard to Beinn a’Chlaidheimh appears to be that TMS thinks it’s all over bar the mapping, while the SMC remains cautious and perhaps even a little piqued about this intrusion on their traditional territory.

It is worth bearing in mind, lest the SMC be viewed as having dog-in-the-manger tendencies, that concerns exist about the surveyors’ high claims of accuracy and also the lack of any peer review-type revisit by another surveying team. With regard to accuracy, there is no doubt that the surveyors endeavoured to get the readings as precise as possible – their published calculations are remarkably diligent and detailed. The question is whether such precision is genuinely feasible given current technology and perennial up-a-high-hill uncertainties.

The surveyors claim to be confident within about 5cm either way – they are sure that the height of Beinn a’Chlaidheimh is in the range 913.91m to 914.01m. That is a bold claim; stand beneath a similar-sized hill, look up and ask yourself is it really possible to be sure of the height to within half the length of a Kit Kat?

The OS appears to be content that it is (although the missing link in all this is the OS’s internal assessment of the surveyors’ findings), whereas the SMC evidently has its doubts. Is it possible that these doubts will lead to some SMC members toddling off to Fisherfield between now and October and taking a look for themselves?

If they did – and the club, like TMS, isn’t lacking experienced hill-topography people and could also involve one of the professional surveying agencies – then they could be in a no-lose situation. If their survey produced much the same results as those obtained by TMS, then the SMC could happily confirm Beinn a’Chlaidheimh’s demotion while appearing to still be very much in control of the list.

If, however, the reading produced a slightly higher result, then the “second look” would be seen as both justified and sensible, with the SMC having resisted the hokey-cokeyism that would have come about had Beinn a’Chlaidheimh been struck off the list only to be quickly ushered back in again.

As yet, however, there is no indication that a second survey is being considered – so the polite TMS versus SMC standoff continues and the baggerati will have to contain their excitement before knowing what’s what with Beinn a’Chlaidheimh. It’s still there, fine, steep and fairly remote as ever, available to be climbed. And it’s still one of the 283 Munros as things stand, no matter what the new-survey fans might think. How long it will stay like that, though, remains to be seen.

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Beinn a’Chlaidheimh (right) from Lochan na Brathan <em>Picture: Nigel Brown</em>

Beinn a’Chlaidheimh (right) from Lochan na Brathan Picture: Nigel Brown

Some responses and reactions to Monday’s announcement that a survey by the Munro Society (TMS) has suggested that Beinn a’Chlaidheimh in Fisherfield is not 916 metres in height as currently mapped, but 913.96m.

Given that the threshold for Munro status is 3,000ft – which converts to 914.4m – this would appear to indicate that Beinn a’Chlaidheimh is below Munro height by 44cm (or 39cm, given that the surveyors claim a confidence interval of +/-5cm).

Whether or not any hill has a place in the list of the Munros is not, however, in the gift of TMS (founded 2002); it is decided by the Scottish Mountaineering Club (founded 1889 and publishers of the list since 1891). Thus far, the SMC’s stated line on the Beinn a’Chlaidheimh situation is that the club “has been notified of these survey results and has undertaken to consider the implications for Munro’s and Corbett’s tables when the Ordnance Survey [OS] update its map of the area.”

Here are a few thoughts on this from a variety of experienced hillgoers:

David Gibson, chief officer, Mountaineering Council of Scotland
Regardless of the measurement, I am sure our members would agree that Beinn a’Chlaidheimh is a fine mountain and well worth a visit due to its fantastic location and views of An Teallach and the other delights of the Fisherfield wilderness. We look forward to seeing the future publication of the SMC’s Munros and Corbetts tables for the official verdict.

Robin Howie, multiple Munroist and hillwalking columnist in the Scotsman
The recent announcement is an interesting one for the four parties involved: the SMC, self-styled arbitrators in all matters Munro; TMS, new to the game and arguably elitist in only permitting membership to those who have climbed all the current 283 Munros; the OS who have confirmed the new height, albeit using TMS as unpaid surveyors; and lastly and by no means least the ordinary hillwalker.

The SMC’s stance – of having “undertaken to consider the implications for Munro’s and Corbett’s tables when the Ordnance Survey update its map of the area” – is a curious one. The height is now known, so the delay smacks of not being sure what to do when usurped by the Johnny-come-lately TMS.

TMS are now seen by many as the driving force in matters Munro, albeit acting as unpaid advisers to the OS – which, along with other government bodies, is abrogating its duties by offloading some of its work to unpaid charities and other societies.

And finally the hillwalker will do as he has always done: ignore the shenanigans and vote with his feet. When a previous Corbett was promoted to Munro status they went there in their droves… regardless of the SMC.

It is to be hoped, however, that Beinn a’Chlaidheimh will be just as popular as ever – to those on a Corbett round and to those who regard the hill as one of the finest peaks in Fisherfield, regardless of its height. For myself, I have still to climb the hill on this my tenth Munro round… and that I look forward to.

Ralph Storer, author of The Ultimate Guide to the Munros
Who’d be a writer of guidebooks to the Munros? As if the vagaries of Scottish weather didn’t increasingly reduce the number of days suitable for on-the-ground research, and the increasing cost of reaching the Munros not eat into royalties, it now seems that we may be climbing the wrong mountains.

You’d think the height of a mountain would be more or less immutable over the lifespan of a guidebook, but it is becoming apparent that the list of Munros is a moveable feast. We’re used to SMC worthies tinkering with the Tables to “rationalise” them – but, when even a long-standing OS height measurement can’t be relied on, the guidebook fraternity is in deep peat.

To cap it all, the new surveys always seem to result in a height decrease. Is it too much to ask the surveyors to give us some new Munros so we at least have an excuse to stimulate sales by publishing new editions? Would bribery help?

Steven Fallon, professional mountain guide and completer of 14 rounds of Munros –
All very interesting. We’ve had two trips to Fisherfield already this year to bag what we call the “Fisherfield Big 6”. I’ll need to rename the trip the “Fisherfield Not-So-Big 5”!

What’s next? The 4,000ers? Surely either Carn Mor Dearg or Aonach Mor must be a contender to be demoted to just a mere Munro?

Nowt seems to be getting promoted – wouldn’t it be interesting if Sgurr a’Choire-bheithe in Knoydart was upped to Munro status?

Richard Webb, Munroist and experienced all-round hill man –
I would like to point out the difference between the SMC altering their list by changing hill/top designations and actually finding out the heights of hills in relation to 3,000ft. The hill in question has been shown by the best measurement possible to date – using skills and technology far in excess of someone in Southampton driving a photogrammetry machine – to be less than 3,000ft. The whole point of Munro’s tables is that the hill has to be above that level. If not, it’s out.

In the past, Beinn an Lochain and Beinn Teallach were changed without fuss, Beinn Teallach remarkably quickly, so I do not expect any problems this time. This does not mean a second opinion would not be valued, and that will probably come with time. I wonder if the same fuss would be made if a hill was admitted? Beinn Bhreac, perhaps.

This process is now coming to an end as [the surveyors] run out of candidates. There are those who want to stick to the original list. What is stopping them? Which original list? It was a work in progress. And this is not really relevant here as Beinn a’Chlaidheimh was not a Munro in the old lists and this is not a top/hill tinkering exercise.

Oh, and they should all get out more and enjoy other hills!

Changing top status is of course the sole responsibility of the SMC, whose silly fiddling is the reason I don’t really care about Munros. They still have the right to do it, though.

Elsewhere, bloggers on the subject include Chris Townsend and Heavy Whalley, while there have also been discussion threads on Walk Highlands, Scottish Hills, UKC and elsewhere. As yet, grough doesn’t appear to have anything on the story.

Generally, the SMC has remained tight-lipped apart from the initial formal statement, although the Herald did obtain a quote from Noel Williams (or “Noel William” as they styled him), who edits the SMC Journal: “Once the OS verifies the figures it really is a formality for the SMC to accept them.”

However, on being asked about this, Williams has indicated that he was speaking in a personal capacity rather than on behalf of the SMC, and did not intend to be quoted.

Incidentally, the surveyors from TMS measured Sgurr a’Choire-bheithe in 2009 and reckoned it to be 913.32m, roughly a metre short of 3,000ft.

Update 13 August: grough now has a piece on the situation.

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Beinn a'Chlaidheimh – a Munro? <em>Picture: David Brown</em>

Beinn a'Chlaidheimh – a Munro? Picture: David Brown

The results of the July hill-height surveys by the Munro Society (TMS) have now been published. Three hills were surveyed on 4, 6 and 8 July – all in the remote Fisherfield area and all either just above or just below the 3,000-foot / 914.4-metre line that defines qualification for the list of Munros.

The surveys were conducted by John Barnard, Graham Jackson and Myrddyn Phillips of G & J Surveys, along with a supporting team of fellow TMS members, with sponsorship provided by Lord Haworth of Fisherfield. The new heights were then processed by the Ordnance Survey (OS).

Ruadh Stac Mor had an existing OS height of 918m, with its summit marked by a trig point. The precise height of the flush bracket was given by the OS as 918.65m and TMS surveyors measured it at 918.67m. So in terms of both its mapped height and hill-list status, there is no change: it remains a 918m Munro.

Beinn Dearg Mor, previously regarded as a 910m Corbett, was surveyed as 906.28m. So again its status remains the same – it’s still a Corbett. Exactly when the OS changes the mapped height from 910m to 906m remains to be seen.

Beinn a’Chlaidheimh was mapped as 916m and listed as a Munro. The surveyors came up with a figure of 913.96m, which would – if accepted by the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC) – see its status change from Munro to Corbett, making it one of three 914m Corbetts along with Foinaven in Sutherland and Beinn Dearg in Torridon.

However, the SMC – which publishes the list of Munros and ultimately decides what is and isn’t in – asked TMS to include the following statement in its press release: “The Scottish Mountaineering Club has been notified of these survey results and has undertaken to consider the implications for Munro’s and Corbett’s tables when the Ordnance Survey update its map of the area.”

What now happens with regard to Beinn a’Chlaidheimh is unclear. There is evidence that it is below 3,000ft (913.96m converts to about 2,998 feet 6 inches), but in an unusual move the SMC has decided not to immediately accept the change – whereas they did immediately remove Munro status from Sgurr nan Ceannaichean when it was reduced from 915m to 913m in a similar survey in 2009.

How long this consideration period might be and what form it will take remains to be seen. For now, though, Beinn a’Chlaidheimh is still a Munro, albeit one with a curious status.

As regards the other two hills, there was never much chance of Ruadh Stac Mor losing the 3m or 4m that would bring it close to the critical line, given that its summit is marked by a ground-survey trig point. The new figure, just 2cm higher, is effectively identical to the old one as it is within the 10cm margin for error.

The Beinn Dearg Mor height-loss of around 4m is interesting, as it – along with the figure for Beinn a’Chlaidheimh – continues a trend of height-loss that began with TMS’s survey of Foinaven in 2007 (down from 914m to 911m) and was also evident in the 2009 surveys. Could there now be enough of a trend to suggest that a considerable number of OS aerial-survey heights are on the high side by this kind of margin? Probably not, but – assuming the methodology used by G & J Surveys to be valid – it does seem to reinforce the idea that resurveys generally reduce heights rather than adding to them.

As for the technical side of things, the press release from TMS says that “Summit positions were identified using a Leica NA730 Professional Automatic level tripod system and a 1m extendable E-staff. Absolute heights were measured using a Leica Geosystems 530 GPS receiver which locks on to 12 satellites and receives two signals from each satellite, thus reducing inaccuracies from atmospheric conditions.”

A spokesperson from TMS said: “In measuring the heights of mountains just below and just above 3,000ft (914.4m), we believe we are following in the tradition of accurate measurement established by Sir Hugh Munro who first produced the Munro’s Tables in 1891. Munro and his friends relied on aneroid barometers, the technology of the time; in 2011 we use satellite technology to achieve yet greater accuracy, but we seek the same objective. Munro never set down complete criteria for Munro status before his death in 1919, but it has always been accepted that 3,000ft (914.4m) was the primary requirement.”

More background can be found in yesterday’s preview piece.

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The Old Man of Mow <em>Picture: Antony Fern</em>

The Old Man of Mow Picture: Antony Fern

Whatever one’s pastime, the long-daylight time of year ought not to be wasted, as the evenings will be clamping back down before you know it.

There are two general approaches: one is to use the 20-odd hours of daylight to attempt massive outings, the other is to do something – a hillwalk, a climb, a cycle-ride, a sail – surprisingly late in the day. Treat the evening as an add-on bonus, in other words.

The 2011 prize for the most impressive full-day effort (a day-and-a-half, actually) could well go to John Fleetwood, a very strong hill man who specialises in outings that would make even a fairly strong hillbagger blanch.

In a 22 June posting on the Fell Runners Association noticeboard, Fleetwood described his latest effort: “I’ve just returned from a new round: 21 Munros of Fannichs, Fisherfield, An Teallach (all Corrag Buidhe pinnacles and Lord Berkeley’s Seat obligatory!) and Beinn Dearg. 70 miles 28,000 feet.”

It took him 31 hours of “walking / sort of running”, with a six-hour break at Shenavall bothy. The weather was less than perfect – “thick clag for 75 per cent of it” – and there were problems in terms of injuries.

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“I had a painful knee after 20 miles which was bad news with a further 50 to go,” Fleetwood said. “This meant I couldn’t really run, but I continued in the drizzle. The slow pace meant I had to stop the night in Shenavall (I didn’t fancy the pinnacles in the dark with thick mist, a pathetic emergency torch and anyway, I was knackered).”

The scale of the enterprise will be understood by anyone who has tackled any of these hills – particularly the remote Fisherfield Munros – in “normal” terms. Even fit, regular hillgoers tend to view the six Fisherfields as only just about doable in one push, so the idea of linking them with three other substantial hill groups is mightily impressive.

“The ground is very unforgiving over Fisherfield and An Teallach,” said Fleetwood, “particularly with a dodgy knee. Loads of angular boulders which were slippy in the drizzle. No crossing of roads for the first 50 miles, so you have to carry all your stuff. I did dump some food at the roadside which I was glad of.”

He reckons it was “a wonderful circuit but a tough call for a 24 hour round. I think that even if my knee hadn’t played up I’d have struggled to get close to 24 hours with needing to carry food, etc. It’s significantly harder than the Ramsay for example.”

The Ramsay in question is the Charlie Ramsay Round, an eastward extension of the old Tranter Round – start in Glen Nevis and, if going clockwise, take in the Ben, the Aonachs and the Grey Corries, then the big drop before the Easains, then another big drop before the pivotal Sgriodain / Chno Dearg / Beinn na Lap group before trundling (or staggering) back via the Mamores. All within 24 hours. It’s a massive effort, with only 61 successful recorded completions (including Jo Scott and Tom Phillips this June) since Ramsay himself set the mark in July 1978, at the end of which he made a 33-minute descent of Ben Nevis to dip under the 24-hour mark with two minutes to spare.

Fleetwood’s own Charlie Ramsay Round – a rare unsupported effort – came in July 2003 and forms part of perhaps the most impressive long-hill-day CV of anyone currently active in such endeavours. Some of his undertakings have been detailed in the Angry Corrie – a winter Bob Graham Round in December 2005, a huge winter Shiel/Cluanie/Affric round in February 2006 and a winter Ramsay (in five minutes under 48 hours) in March 2006.

Several more outings were summarised in Martin Stone’s long-distance slot in the spring 2011 edition of Fellrunner: a winter Tranter (December 2002), another big Shiel round (February 2005), a winter Paddy Buckley Round in Wales (December 2006), 20,000ft and 48 miles in 26 hours in the Mullardoch area in February 2007, a similar-length effort around Cruachan in February 2009, and a winter Rigby Round – taking in all 18 Cairngorms Munros (20,000ft, 76 miles, 54 hours) – in December 2010.

Of the Fannaichs/Fisherfield etc effort, Fleetwood summed it up by saying “The weather might have been disappointing but the round was fantastic – the best I’ve done.”

Rob Woodall is no stranger to massively long circuits himself (including the holy trinity of the Ramsay, the Buckley and the Graham – plus the full set of Skye Cuillin summits, Black and Red, inside 24 hours in June 1999), and a couple of weeks ago he added arguably the most notable long-evening effort of 2011. The distance covered – on foot at least – was negligible, but it saw a rare climb achieved and, in the process, a curious list of hills completed.

Peterborough-based Woodall motored across to Cheshire to climb the Old Man of Mow, an overhanging lump of rock near Kidsgrove. There were two notable aspects to this. One is that the Old Man isn’t often climbed these days, having been officially deemed off-limits since the 1980s due to concerns that it might collapse. The other is that its summit is the key test in the subMarilyns, and in climbing it Woodall appears to have become the first person to complete the list.

The 200-odd subMarilyns relate, as might be expected, to the main list of Marilyns – those 1554 hills in Scotland, England, Wales and the Isle of Man which have 150 metres or more of separation on all sides, first published in Alan Dawson’s 1992 book The Relative Hills of Britain.

No one has yet climbed all the Marilyns, and Woodall is one of several people waiting patiently / completely stuck (delete as appropriate) at “the wall”, two short due to not having climbed the St Kildan sea stacks of Stac Lee and Stac an Armin.

SubMarilyns comprise the near-miss annexe to the Marilyns: hills with 140–149 metres of separation. (Remapping prompts occasional promotions to, and relegations from, the main list, a bit like League Two and the Conference in English football.) The original list of subMarilyns included the stroll-up summit of Mow Cop, but people with an interest in these things came to realise that the nearby Old Man was slightly higher – but still not high enough to boost it to full Marilyn status. (That really would have put the cat among the bagging pigeons, as the easiest way up is Very Severe, four climbing grades harder than the easiest way up those other notoriously awkward hill-list targets, the Inaccessible Pinnacle and the Basteir Tooth.)

Even though the Old Man of Mow is not remote – it’s a world away from Fisherfield – climbing it required a certain amount of planning. “I was contacted by a friend,” Woodall said, “who said a friend of his was interested in the St Kilda stacs. We got discussing climbing, I asked if he knew about the Old Man of Mow. He didn’t, but quickly agreed to take up an occasional climber at the edge of his comfort zone.

“Another friend of mine lives next door to the Old Man – literally. We blocked out two weeks around midsummer, the plan being to choose a dry weekday and to climb late evening when our climb on the ‘forbidden’ pinnacle was less likely to attract attention.”

Woodall is keen to stress the role of his helpers – lead climber Paul Reeve and local “base camp” man Geoff Pettengell, who also climbed the Old Man.

The first week of the allotted fortnight brought poor weather, but the Tuesday of the second week, 14 June, looked much better. “Driving over with Paul mid-evening,” Woodall said, “I wasn’t at all sure that I’d get up it, fazed by tales of slippery hardly-climbed algaed rock, a hard-to-protect traverse, the danger of coming off and going for a big swing.

“The climbing itself (at VS) was harder technically than I expected, but the hard moves were very well protected with a vertical rope from the belayer and no danger of swinging off. Finally sitting on top just after sunset, looking across the Cheshire plain, was fantastic. The descent was the sting in the tail. I’ve done plenty of abseiling but never down an overhang, hanging free. Good fun once you start, it turns out!”

Others have climbed the Old Man, or have been chipping away at the subMarilyns list (which includes hills from Shetland to Devon, as well as on islands as diverse as Rum, Tiree, Lundy, Wight and Man), but no one else seems to have combined the two.

“Amusing comparison,” said Woodall when asked whether he or John Fleetwood had had the harder time. “I had much the easier day of it. Up 6am, finished packing gear, work 7:30am, left work 4pm, picked up Paul 6:30pm, Mow Cop about 8pm, climbing by 9pm, abbed off probably 10:30pm, Sheffield midnight, home about 2am.

“Having had a vague intention for over a decade to do the climb, in the end it had all come together in six months and gone better than I dared expect.”

And now? “Back to the St Kilda stacs waiting game…”.

Update, 7 July – Thanks go to Rob Woodall for flagging up that the women’s Bob Graham Round record went last weekend. There are two ways of pushing the BGR envelope – either by beating the fastest time for the basic 42 Lakeland summits, or by increasing the number of summits visited within 24 hours.

Until Sunday 3 July, the women’s record had been held by Anne Johnson née Stentiford, who managed 62 summits in 1994. This has now been beaten by Nicky Spinks – aided by a big support team drawn mainly from the Dark Peak and Penistone fellrunning clubs – who nudged the record up to 64.

In warm conditions, she finished at Stair, near Keswick, at about 2:45am on Sunday. As is the pleasant way with these things, the previous record-holder showed up to offer support and congratulations.

Various reports and discussions are available online – at Mud, Sweat and Tears, at Race Kit, on a running blog, on the Dark Peak website and on the Fell Runners Association forum – where one of the posters says “What a performance, Nicky is a legend. Probably the most focused person I know to the point of stubbornness.”

Woodall and Spinks did the Charlie Ramsay Round more or less together in 2008 (see the fifth picture here), and Woodall generously says that “since then I’ve slowed down and she’s got better”.

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Stephen Pyke takes a breather on Beinn Narnain

Stephen Pyke takes a breather on Beinn Narnain

“He is definitely having an easy day.” So said a text message from John Clemens on Wednesday morning, as I arranged a time to intercept Stephen Pyke – aka Spyke – on day 18 of his rapid-fire, self-propelled round of the Munros.

Clemens is the road manager and general factotum for Spyke’s effort – driving the support van, cooking the food, loading the bikes, collecting bags of muscle-soothing ice from the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar, that kind of thing. And the “easy day” comment shows just how strong his man is, and how well he is going.

By the day’s close, Spyke had canoed across Loch Lomond, then climbed the four Munros of the Arrochar group: Ben Vorlich, Ben Vane, Beinn Ime and – the hill where we met – Beinn Narnain.

Rough, steep hills with substantial drops between – but the original plan had been to take in these, then cycle to Glen Fyne for the isolated Beinn Bhuidhe, then cross the Ben Lui group.

That’s typical of what he’s up to. The day before, he had climbed the seven Crianlarich Munros and added Ben Lomond in the evening. The first day of the second week featured the ten Munros of the eastern/central Cairngorms, in snow. “Pretty gruelling,” was Spyke’s description. “Sub-zero all day, plus the wind, and we were out for 15 hours.” But he said it with a smile.

Despite this series of absurdly huge days, things are going smoothly. The first week brought 51 Munros, the second a further 57. The halfway hill, mighty Ben Starav, was climbed during an 11-Munro clearout of the Cruachan and Etive groups two days after we met.

Psychologically, he seems fine. Physically, nothing major has gone wrong, “just general aches and pains when I get up” – although when we met he was feeling his right Achilles, hence the “easy day” and a switch from running to walking. He is confident it is merely the high tab on the back of his running shoe – duly hacked off – rather than overuse.

Asked about mishaps, Spyke does have one story to tell. “I might as well own up to this now,” he says. “On the second day I managed to lose my map. I was coming off the back of Ben Nevis in clag, and fumbling around getting the ice axe out. The map slipped out from under my jacket and disappeared off down the mountain.” Fortunately he was on familiar hills, and the cloud soon lifted. (There were consequences next day, however: he walked right past Chno Dearg – on the same missing map – before realising he was off-route.)

Starting in late April courted risk. The winter had been long and the snow was lingering. “In March I thought about delaying for a week or two,” he says, “but too many things were in place – canoeing arrangements, for instance.”

Spyke, 45, lives in Stone, just south of Stoke-on-Trent, handy for both the M6 and the Derbyshire moors. He was born in the Essex flatlands, though – “On the fringes of Basildon” – and even a move to Leeds University failed to spark any real hill activity.

“I wasn’t particularly outdoorsy,” he says, and he was in his 30s before discovering an aptitude for running: “Initially on the roads and cross-country, only regularly on the hills the past six or seven years”. His first Munro came late, too, the Buachaille at Easter 1999, but he completed a “normal” round just before the start of his current effort: “I finished on Sgurr nan Gillean during a ridge recce.”

Spyke first caught the attention of the hill world in 2006, becoming the 41st person to complete the Charlie Ramsay Round, the 24-hour, 23-Munro out-and-back from Glen Nevis. Then, in 2008, he beat the fastest time for the nine 4000ft Munros, and had a pop at Jon Broxap’s 1988 record of 29 Munros in 24 hours. He failed, choosing the very day when a fortnight of fine weather caved in. “There is a sense of unfinished business,” he says when asked why he hasn’t given it another go, “but I have a short attention span.”

There was nothing much in 2009 – “I had one or two injuries, and concentrated on shorter races”. Then, in November, he was laid off from his job in renewable energy technology for an offshoot-company of Rolls-Royce. Many would have been despondent, but Spyke says it was “quite fortuitous” – and this was when the serious interest in Charlie Campbell’s 48-day Munros record really began.

He spent the winter training, establishing a support structure (friends from Stone, plus various like-minded runners), and converting his VW Transporter to sleep his roadie downstairs and himself in the roof.

And now, suddenly, a 40-day finish looks a distinct possibility. Spyke is so far ahead of Campbell’s record – itself an amazing achievement – that he could devote a week to touristy downtime and still beat it.

Not that he intends any pauses. Snow ought not now to be a factor, but most of the remote, awkward stuff awaits. Knoydart, the Affric/Mullardoch hinterland, Fisherfield – wonderful hill country, but a real test. Then, of course, there is Skye.

Spyke makes an interesting point about Sgurr nan Ceannaichean, a Munro until chalked off in last autumn’s resurvey. It’s a trivial add-on to neighbouring Moruisg, so will he include it anyway and thus complete the same “course” as Campbell in 2000?

“I haven’t decided yet,” Spyke says. “I might, but I like the idea of leaving it out, so that if I do finish faster than Charlie he keeps the record for 284 Munros”.

He’s halfway round, he’s magnanimous and respectful – and he’s also sounding confident.

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Spyke on the Cluanie hills two years ago

Spyke on the Cluanie hills two years ago Picture: Chris Upson

A fortnight ago, we reported on the start of Gerry McPartlin’s attempt to climb all 283 Munros within four months. It’s a remarkable effort – McPartlin is aged 66 – and it has started well.

At 6am yesterday, however, while London was awash with marathon hype, an even more audacious Munro round began, on Mull. Stephen Pyke – a Staffordshire Moorlands runner known as Spyke – is attempting to complete the list self-propelled: on foot, on bike and in an occasional canoe. It’s something only 20-odd people have done – and he’s aiming to get round in just 40 days, an average of more than seven Munros per day.

Arguably his real target is 48 and a half days, the current record for a Munro round. This was set in the soggy summer of 2000 by Charlie Campbell from the Westerlands running club, and has not been challenged in the subsequent decade.

Spyke has good Munro-going pedigree, having done a Charlie Ramsay Round, the huge Lochaber hill-running test-piece, in 2006. He also holds the record for the traverse of the Scottish 4,000-footers, and had a pop at the Munros-in-a-day record in 2008 before foul weather forced a halt. These were all one-day pushes, however, and keeping fitness and commitment going for six or seven weeks is a different game.

Spyke made a pretty smooth start, climbing Ben More, cycling to Fishnish, then paddling across to Lochaline before “a quick porridge stop”. Another 50 miles on the bike preceded the two Glenfinnan Munros – although in weather described by one of his support crew as “pretty grim” he had to omit Gulvain, which will now be tackled later, from the Glen Dessary side. (Campbell had to make a similar adjustment in 2000.) Today comes the great ridge along the north side of Glen Nevis.

He began on Mull for two reasons: Ben More is an outlying Munro, and starting offshore reduces the number of sea-crossings. Campbell also started here (he swam the watery bits), and seven weeks later finished in glorious high-summer weather on Ben Hope, the most northerly Munro.

Spyke is targeting the same finish, but his intervening route is markedly different. The traditional approach on continuous-round attempts has been to operate in Lochaber and the south in the early days, then swing across the central and eastern Highlands before starting the arduous west-coast zigzag of what Hamish Brown called “the big glens”.

By contrast, Spyke’s provisional schedule tackles the 18 Munros of the Cairngorms as early as days five and six. Given the amount of late-lying snow in that part of the country, the crux of the entire trip could well come in the first week.

Should he drop a few half-days early on, then not only will the 40-day target be unrecoverable (he has only lined up one “rest day”, and even that involves the long cycle from Kintail to Sligachan), but Campbell’s record will start to look problematic.

There will be no let-up. Day 21 is intended to take in all 13 Munros of the Cruachan, Etive and Blackmount groups, a massive effort in rough country. Days 27 and 29 each target a dozen Munros: Quoich/Cluanie, followed by the full Skye set, while another daily dozen comes near the end, with three Fisherfield Munros and all nine Fannaichs.

Asked how he sees Spyke’s chances, record-holder Campbell says: “Fair to middling, maybe aye, maybe naw. You just can’t tell in this game when you are pushing the limits.”

Campbell has long believed a 40-day round to be feasible – he set off in 2000 with the same figure in mind – “but only if everything goes 100 per cent perfect.”

He has concerns about the early Cairngorms raid: “[Spyke] could be dropping days in his first week”. By contrast, he feels that starting as early as late April need not in itself be a problem. “Manny Gorman last year started at this time when setting a Corbett record,” he says. “Twenty years ago, Hugh Symonds [who ran round the Munros in 66 days] started on 19 April with snow on the tops.” Campbell himself didn’t begin until late May in 2000, but says he would start earlier if ever trying again.

In all probability, the eight-day difference between 40 days and the record will allow some slack as rest breaks and rejigs are needed. “Spyke has some huge days planned,” says Campbell, “especially later in his schedule, and I just can’t realistically see some of these days happening, especially when he is jiggered and the wheels are starting to come off. However, he may be a totally different beast to me, and by that point he’s mega strong and healthy and holding it all together.”

Amid all the exciting uncertainty, however, one thing seems guaranteed. Ultra-distance hill running is the most comradely of sports, and Campbell is unlikely to be content with cheering on his rival from afar. There is every chance that he will, at some stage, play an active role in offering support for Spyke.

Campbell’s own round saw him aiming for the previous record of 51 days nine hours set by Andrew Johnston and Rory Gibson in 1992 – and they duly showed up to offer encouragement and to stash a bottle of Macallan in the Ben Hope cairn. “All records are there to be broken,” says Campbell, and he will surely help to consign his own to the history books – provided the next few weeks go well and it starts to seem a possibility rather than just a dream.