The Angry Corrie 35: Jan-Mar 98

TAC 35 Index

A Book at Bagtime

It was never going to be appropriate for either your Editor or Alan Blanco to review Derek Bearhop's new edition of Munro's Tables, since both have been involved, to varying degrees, in the consultation/publication process. But TAC of all places should definitely include a review, and it's good to have Ken Stewart on hand to offer a few measured words:

THE HEADLINES have been well trailed. Eight new Munros and one deletion. Bearhop claims (a bit controversially) that the 1981 changes "have become accepted as being sympathetic to Munro's philosophy" and that the present changes "seek to take this approach to its natural conclusion." I've already written a TAC33 vox pop on this and don't have too much of a quarrel with it, though the drop and distance approach of the interesting article by David Purchase in the 1997 SMC Journal is arguably more consistent with Munro's approach.

After a short introduction - I'd like a bit more discussion and explanation of the philosophy - the Munros and Tops are listed in the usual way. I've noted three errors in grid references of Munros: Carn Aosda should be NO134792 (the figure given is for Carn Bhinnein) and there are single digit misprints in two of the South Cluanie Ridge (Creag nan Damh is NG983111 - not 913111, and Sgurr an Doire Leathain is NH015099 - not 015199). Three Munros have sizeable height drops. Beinn a'Ghlo and Carn a'Coire Boidheach (Lochnagar) both go down 8m and Sgiath Chuil drops by 14m.

On the Tops, again I feel a good job has been done, on the whole. The "seven summits" with over 30m drop noted in the Murdo tables (but not in previous Munro's tables) have been introduced as new Tops, and it's hard to quibble with any of the fifteen deletions. The other two new Tops are more controversial. Little Pap on Lochnagar (a previous deletion) is marginal but, being subjective, can't be criticised too much.

However, the entry for Knight's Peak (on the Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean) gives very serious cause for concern because it seems very doubtful that it can be logically sustained. The height of Knight's Peak is not given by the OS, so the SMC measured it with a "precision altimeter". Much more detail of this would need to be given before a case is convincingly made for such a detailed and marginal measure. To qualify for the tables with a zero decimal accuracy (0D) measure of 914m (as quoted), Knight's Peak would have to be 914.4m (to 1D accuracy), so the SMC must have evidence of this, to this accuracy. This would require (a) an altimeter able to read to 0.01mB accuracy, (b) a reference point (where?) of height known to 0.1m accuracy, and (c) knowledge of the atmospheric conditions between Knight's Peak and the reference point in order to convert pressure to height (and to assume a standard atmosphere wouldn't do - Skye isn't usually standard!).

Of course there is a precedent for this sort of thing. Munro and friends did this with the "precision altimeter" of their day on Beinn an Lochain and claimed it as over 3000ft on the grounds that the top with height not given by OS was 50ft higher than the other. It is entirely apparent in clear conditions that this is not the case yet the tables propagated the myth for many years.

Convincing evidence is required for Knight's Peak, and I do not see how altimeter measures can give what is claimed. What we have looks more like a campaign to include a difficult peak rather than an objective search for truth. Perhaps the Tables are not the place for a detailed explanation of the method used. Maybe the right place is the next SMC Journal. But I think it's mission impossible.

Another question is whether all Tops have been attached to the "right" Munro, ie the one to which the drop is least. This has been tidied up for Liathach and, by promotion, for An Stuc. However, Toman Coinich in the Fannichs should (very clearly) be a Top of Sgurr Breac, not A'Chailleach, and Diollaid a'Chairn should (more marginally) be a top of Aonach Beag (Alder) rather than of Carn Dearg. The massacre of Tops on The Saddle means that Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, Sgurr Fiona, and Sgor Gaoith take over as the Munros with most tops (five). The misplacement (with wrong height) of Lord Berkeley's Seat on An Teallach has been cleared up. Two of four Tops with "contour" heights have spot heights on Harveys maps: 1101m for (1100c) Stob Coire Bhealaich on Aonach Beag (Nevis) and 1110m for (1110c) Sron Riach on Macdui.

The usual list of Munroists is there, taking up more pages than ever, of course. Some renumbering has been done to move the "unknown Munroist" (there are no doubt many) from 277 to 284.

The tables of lower mountains provide less excitement. Two Corbetts disappear: Beinn Talaidh (Mull) because it's under 2500ft, and Corrieyairack Hill, a duplicate of Gairbeinn but now known to be lower. Unfortunately, a similar absurdity has been introduced. It is logically impossible for two points with less than 500ft intervening drop both to be Corbetts. This was claimed for the above pair and is now claimed for Buidhe Bheinn and Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais (Glen Shiel), though not for other possible cases where the points of equal height are closer, eg Carn Liath and Creag an Dail Bheag near Braemar. It would have been a much more realistic use of the SMC "precision altimeter" to measure the relative heights of Buidhe Bheinn and Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais!

The heights given for three Corbetts seem seriously adrift: Dun da Ghaoithe should be 766m, not 785m; Beinn Iaruinn should (probably) be 805m, not 800m; Caisteal Abhail should probably be 859m and certainly not 847m. Five others are slightly out: Cam Chreag 884m (not 885m); Carn a'Chuilinn 817m (not 816m); Meall Dubh 789m (not 788m); Beinn Spionnaidh 773m (not 772m); Morven 871m (not 872m).

The main change to the list of Donalds is the addition of the Uamh Bheag group at Glen Artney, giving two new Hills and two Tops. It's a pity the other changes are not summarised; space was available. Dugland (under 2000ft), Auchope Cairn, and Black Law SW top (too little reascent) are three Tops which drop out. Notman Law (Manor Hills) comes in as a Top.

The list of Grahams is a welcome addition to the tables and rounds them out satisfyingly. This is of course a TACit Table and appears with only very small modifications. It's a pity the idea of giving the drop from each summit has not been included in the other tables.

The tables end with a guide to Gaelic meanings and pronunciation. Not being a Gaelic speaker, I'm not well qualified to comment. However, I'm suspicious of translations which seem inappropriate to mountains when a topographical meaning seems available. I'm glad to see that Sgurr nan Gillean is now probably "gullies", not "young men". If An Garbhanach is "rough", why isn't An Gearanach "short ridge" rather than "complainer"? Could Sgurr a'Ghreadaidh be "clear waters" (I've been on Gretta in Norway, which means that) rather than "torment"?

The book's format is the now standard SMC. The maps are attractive and show all Munros and Corbetts. The photographs are a mix of standard and unusual views. Altogether I think a pretty good job has been done. Pity about the altimeter problems.

Munro's Tables and other Tables of lower hills, The Scottish Mountaineering Trust, viii+168pp, ISBN 0 907521 53 3, #15.95.

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