LAST SUMMER - 23 June 2007 to be precise - Lancastrian Reg Baker reached the summit of Clougha Pike for the 5000th time. Clougha Pike might not be the most arduous of ascents - it's a 413m bump on the western edge of the Bowland massif - but 5000 is a huge number in hill-climbing terms, and Baker's achievement is remarkable. He has compiled the largest total of ascents of any single UK hill known to TAC's crack team of number-crunching researchers, and mostly he's done it running rather than walking. He has a fine big-hill pedigree, too, having completed the Ben Nevis race 17 times.
Single-hill repeating has never been fashionable in terms of media coverage or even within the mainstream hillgoing world. Whereas working one's way round a list of hills, be it 214 Wainwrights, 284 Munros, 1554 Marilyns or whatever, tends to be regarded as a bit bonkers but basically OK; going up and down the same hill a large number of times (say 214, 284 or 1554 times for the sake of argument) is seen as almost certifiable. A wide variety of perfectly sane and sensible people do it, however, and it would appear that they can, for the most part, be divided into three categories:
That covers most people who do this kind of thing, although one other category is the professional 'felltop assessor' to be found on Helvellyn every day of the year. Two such people are employed at any given time, taking turn about, and although they don't seem to stay in post long enough to reach 1000, they must have substantial tallies - again assuming that they routinely go to the top. (One of the current Helvellyn workers, Craig Palmer, said in a recent Radio 4 programme that in general his aim was 'to get above 900m'.) Palmer shares the job with Jon Bennett, and others to have previously done this include Pete Collins, Nick Chetwood, Liam Scott, Graham Restarick and Richard Fox.
Prominent standalone hills tend to draw people back and back: the late Eddie Campbell's estimated score for Ben Nevis is given below, as are Alan and Ian Douglas's precise tallies for Ben Lomond, but there are surely more big totals for these two hills and quite possibly for other standard Munros and Corbetts, eg Lochnagar, Mount Keen, Schiehallion, Ben Ledi, Ben Vrackie and so on. Mid-sized or lower hills see even more action, not least because they are often close to large centres of population and are thus easier to slot into half-days and summer evenings. Ben Cleuch, Dumyat, Dumgoyne and the Fife Lomonds all feature below, and there are likely to be high numbers out there for such as Tinto, Craigowl and Bennachie, along with tiny country park-type hills such as Cockleroy near Linlithgow. The biggest totals of all might relate to Arthur's Seat, arguably the busiest hill in the UK and up which various Edinburgh runners habitually trundle during their lunchbreak. Do that once a week for 20 years and you're into four figures; do it almost daily and Reg Baker's record comes into view.
If anyone has information on big individual tallies on any UK hills, please do let TAC know. Part of the idea of printing this nowhere-near-definitive hotch-potch of a list is to get the contents of the editor's head into the public domain lest he falls under a bus or plummets off Creag Mhor or something; but part of it is also an attempt to flush out more stories about other extraordinary achievements that might otherwise never be uncovered. Wales has several representatives here, the Ponds and the Dales fewer - yet there must be some hefty numbers for such as Helvellyn, Skiddaw, High Street, Ingleborough, Pen y Fan etc.
A lot of multi-ascenders don't keep count, so it's impossible to get anything more than a vague idea of what they might have done. And dumping Ben Nevis and Snowdon into the same list as various much shorter ascents is a bit like comparing oranges with giraffes. But bearing all that in mind, here is what is currently known in terms of an individual making 1000 or more ascents of the same hill, with a few notes and biographical details either from the people themselves or from historical sources.
(One other thought: women are notable by their near-complete absence from this list. Pauline James has been up the 307m-high Garth Hill close on 1000 times, but the highest known figure for a woman on a big hill is 461 times up Ben Lomond by the wonderful and much-missed Lady Lorna Anderson, who appears in the list of Munroists at no.50 as Miss L Ticehurst. Is same-hill repeating even more male-dominated than hill-bagging generally?)
Clougha Pike (413m, SD543594 on Landranger 102)
5012 ascents as of 27/1/08. 5000th ascent 23/6/07.
King of the hill, top of the heap and all that - but he doesn't know the precise date of his first ascent. It was, he writes, in 1946, 'a one-off with an old school pal. It was summer-time, and before the hills were cleared of shells and bullets from wartime training. That day we found a grenade which we threw into a bog. There were notices up which warned of such things. Between 1981 and 1983 the army cleared most of [the munitions], although I have found the odd mortar bomb and some spent .303 ammo.'
Most memorable ascent? 'It was in the 1980s, in wintertime. We got lost! Derek Whittle and I set off in the drizzle, this turned to fog, and at the top it started to get dark. Derek wanted to go left, which we now know would come out at Tarnbrook. I wanted to go right, which we eventually did, and after some rough terrain we saw a light which we made for - it was a farmhouse - then down to the Scout camp at Littledale. The walk over the top road was hard: we were glad to be back at the car park.'
He doesn't now have a year-on-year breakdown, having collated all his runs into ten-yearly chunks, but 1946-1960 saw just five ascents, 1961-1970 791, 1971-1980 1432, 1981-1990 1419 and 1991-1998 904 ('my worst years - an injured plantar fascia ligament was one setback, picked up on descent of the Blisco Dash'). The period 1999-date has seen 461 ascents.
'I think I have only run from Lancaster twice: it's too far on the road. The return, wet, muddy and tired was too hard. In the early years a great number of runs took in Clougha, Grit Fell and Ward's Stone.' As for other hills, Langdale is his favourite place in the Lake District, and his best time for the Ben Nevis race was 2hr 11min 59sec in 1982, aged 52 (that's up and down, of course).
'I now take it upon myself to whiten the Clougha Pike trig point each year. The Ordnance Survey don't use them up here - it's all GPS now. Biggest change to the view over the years? Heysham nuclear power station, and the large wind turbines on Wray Moor.'
Snowdon (1085m, SH609543 on Landranger 115)
'In the 19th century in Llanberis lived a guide named Tom Ward (not a local, he hailed from Nottingham originally - rather like the scene there today when the village is inhabited largely by English climbers). He tripped over the shafts of a cart when aged over 70 and so badly injured a leg that he never went into the hills again. But by then he had claimed over 4000 ascents of Snowdon using five different routes and covering a distance of 30,000 miles.' - from correspondence with Bev Barratt of Machynlleth, 1998.
St Martha's Hill (175m, TQ026483 on Landranger 186)
3636 ascents as of 10/2/08. Completed a calendar round - having chalked off each of the 366 dates at least once - on 23/12/99. Most ascents in one year: 309 in 1997. Also completed a Munro round on Ladhar Bheinn, 24/5/69.
'A large proportion have been pre-breakfast ascents starting before dawn to avoid facing the sun. First ascent was 8/4/66 but I'm afraid I remember nothing about it. We had a week in the Surrey hills staying at Broadmoor, near Leith Hill. I remember a little more about the second ascent, 23/3/67; we went up the steep south side from Chilworth station, and down again the same way.
'Without doubt the most unusual and exciting ascent was no.269, on the morning of 16/10/87, the day of the great storm. It was at its height in the early hours; I remember listening to the radio in bed, and hearing that London was virtually cut off! Fortunately our houses were sheltered by Pewley Down, just a few TV aerials down. I went to St Martha's Hill after breakfast, no problems until the exposed part of the main track; then it was a quarter-mile of scrambling over tree trunks - at one time the track was just visible about five feet below my feet. One still gets the odd glimpse of the South Downs from this section, but the trees are growing back again now. I've carried a pair of secateurs around since the 1970s, but for the next six months or so I took a saw as well.
'Vehicles having a key to the barrier can drive to the church on the summit, eg for Sunday services. The late verger always walked or cycled to open the church; he must have had a huge total as it was open every day (not sure about winter). The highest point is on grass a few feet from the west entrance, among gravestones.
'From Pewley Down there's a long straight path known as the Mile Path, downhill on muddy chalk and clay before climbing again on sand to meet the North Downs Way (which bypasses Guildford) going over St Martha's. I've encountered the odd badger along here - had to check my stride once to avoid a cub. Another time one burst through the hedge and trotted along in front for a while.
'On May Days, Morris dancers make an early visit to the top; they're usually in full swing by the time I get there.'
Dumgoyne (427m, NS542827 on Landrangers 57 and 64)
2168 ascents as of 18/2/08. Also completed a round of Munros on A'Chralaig, 25/8/96.
First climbed it in 1986, aged 27. 'Hardly any ascents in 1991, none in 1992 or 1993 due to illness.' 1000th ascent 3/10/99, 2000th 12/11/06. Most in a year: 190 in 2000.
North Berwick Law (187m, NT556842 on Landranger 66)
Made his 2000th ascent during 2005.
Garth Hill (307m, ST103835 on Landranger 171)
Estimated 2000 ascents by early 2006.
'Don't know exactly how many, but as my interest in hill bagging grew (I was working on the Nuttalls Welsh list) I kept a count - nothing more scientific than a tick on the kitchen calendar - for each run, mountain-bike or walk where I touched the trig during 2004. The total for what was an average year was 148. Longer runs where I climbed to the trig and fully descended the hill more than once in the same run were only counted as one - had I included each ascent the count would have been around 225. Multiply by the 11 years I've lived in Pentyrch (the village next to the hill) and guessing the ascents before that when I lived approximately five miles away and I guess it's safe to claim I've touched the trig over 2000 times.
'My wife Pauline is probably close to 1000 for Garth. The hill is a magnet for the regular walkers/runners in the village and we have a few retired lads who climb it each day and have been doing same for years. It is very rare to not see someone we know on the top - which is nice.'
Ben Lomond (974m, NN367028 on Landranger 56)
1993 ascents as of 10/3/08. Most in one year: 184 in 2003. Completed his fourth calendar round on 20/1/08. Completed an orthodox Munro round on Beinn Teallach, 21/6/85 and his lifetime Munro tally stands at 3744.
'I don't think anyone sets out to climb a hill or mountain 1000 times - it just develops. I started hillwalking in 1967 as a means of keeping fit between the end of one rugby season and the start of the next. On 28/4/68 I climbed Ben Lomond for the first time. If I remember correctly, it was a dry, calm day with mist down to quite a low level. As I climbed the main path with my brother Ian, we kept hearing what appeared to be an engine ahead of us. When we reached about 2500ft we met a man pushing a motorbike. I don't think he reached the top. If anyone had suggested that I would climb Ben Lomond 1000 times, I would have thought they were being ridiculous. Now that I am approaching my 2000th ascent, most people will think that is ridiculous.
'There have been so many memorable ascents. One that springs to mind is under a full moon in November when there was snow on the high ground. When Ian and I reached the summit shortly after 10pm, I couldn't believe how clear and bright it was. We could see snow glistening on all the summits to the north, headlights on the other side of the loch, and navigation lights flashing around the Firth of Clyde.
'Temperature inversions and Brocken Spectres are quite common here. On one occasion we climbed nearly all the way through mist until about 100ft below summit level, when we walked into brilliant sunshine. The top of the cloud was extremely level and stretched as far as you could see in all directions. It was possible to identify the large boulder on top of the Cobbler just at cloud level. We spent about an hour on the summit that day.
'I have stood alone on the summit while a flock of about 25 swifts flew here, there and everywhere catching what appeared to be clegs. I kept ducking my head as the swifts flew close, but they had perfect control of their flight and avoided me like any other obstruction. One October I sat on the ridge watching a covey of 16 ptarmigan, totally unconcerned about my presence. One summer's day, with the heather in full bloom, I descended the main path a short distance then cut across Coire Odhar towards the Ptarmigan path. In the hollow, I was surrounded by thousands of flying insects about half an inch long. The swarm stretched from ground level to about two feet above my head. I was concerned until I realised that their flight paths always avoided me. I sometimes wonder what they were.
'Winter conditions can be very special. I always enjoy climbing on snow, particularly if there are no other human footprints. Ascending the north-west ridge when there have been significant falls of snow which have then frozen can be interesting. Instead of zigzagging up the path (obliterated anyway), you just go straight up the steep frozen slopes.
'For the last 11 years I have assisted the National Trust for Scotland ranger and the Friends of Ben Lomond volunteers with path maintenance and repair. After spending so many years wearing away the mountain, the least I can do is to help repair the erosion. It is interesting and satisfying to see over a period of time how successful (or otherwise) our efforts have been in reducing erosion and allowing the vegetation to regenerate. In general, I know it has been worthwhile. I like to think I remember what the state of the main path used to be, but it is only when you see photographs taken 20 or 30 years ago that you realise just how bad the erosion was, and how much work has been done.
'I climb mountains, Ben Lomond in particular, for a variety of reasons: exercise, fresh air, scenery, wildlife, the varied weather and atmospheric conditions, and meeting like-minded people; but, most of all, because I enjoy it.'
Cadair Idris (893m, SH711130 on Landranger 124)
1800+ ascents in late 18th and early 19th centuries.
'Friday ... 1808. Left Dolgellau and took the Road to the North of Cadair Idris to Ynisymangwyn, a party just before us going up the Mountain under the Convoy of Old Robert Edwards, the long accustomed Guide, who now near 90 ascends on average during the summer 3 times a week the summit of Cader, and when he comes down seems as active as a schoolboy, and often takes his rod and goes fishing.
'[...] He is certainly as surprising a Man as ever lived. He is a little man, and has been given to drinking all his lifetime when he could get it. [...] The manner in which he expresses himself is as droll as his appearance. He is rather too free in his use of the expletives of language, namely swearing; but I dare say the poor old creature only wishes to be laughed at, and to amuse his employers, which he never fails to do. He was dressed in a blue coat with yellow buttons, a pair of old boots, and a cocked hat and feather of enormous size.
'During this excursion we were entertained with the conversation of our guide, who walked with the alertness of a boy. His account of the Jumpers (an extreme form of Methodism) in the neighbourhood was very free; 'they are a set of fornicating sons of b------s,' said he.
'Our guide talked much of 'curiosity-men,' meaning naturalists. [...] In the morning he came to take leave of us, and held out his hand to me with 'God bless you! I hope we shall meet again!' Poor man! his age, his vivacity, were all calculated to inspire interest. May his evening of life be yet long and serene; and may the angel of peace smile on him at his parting hour!' - Richard Fenton, 1747-1821, quoted in Travelling for Pleasure, Tony Newberry, 1994.
Friend and long-time training partner of Reg Baker (see above), has been up Clougha Pike 1770 times. Has had to stop running due to illness, but Baker says 'we still walk Clougha together and go out every Wednesday with a rambling group'.
West Lomond (522m, NO197066 on Landranger 58) and East Lomond (448m, NO244062 on Landranger 59), 1750 and 1743 ascents respectively as of 7/2/08.
First climbed both on the same day in August 1983. Reached 1000 on both hills 1/1/00. Most in one calendar year: 88 (WL) and 101 (EL), both in 1999. Has made 151 ascents of the reasonably adjacent Bishop Hill.
Ben Cleuch (721m, NN902006 on Landranger 58)
1583 ascents as of 30/1/08. Most in one year: 168 in 1999. Also 152 ascents of Stuc a'Chroin, 138 of the Earn Vorlich, 100 of Ben Lomond and 100 times on the Aonach Eagach.
'I first climbed Ben Cleuch in 1962 when one of my work colleagues persuaded me to accompany him on a midweek expedition. I had never been on a summit before but the seed was sown and I was soon venturing out on my own initiative. I was never a committed Munrobagger (104 separate Munros climbed), and settled into the Ochils in winter and the local Munros in summer. After I took early retirement from the BP, the totals soon built up and I took the Glen Coe hills into my itinerary.
'I can remember falling into the Gannel Burn one day when it was in spate - it was very difficult to get on to the foot of the Law before the wooden bridge was introduced. I also had a repeat performance one day in the Silver Burn under similar circumstances. I have also crawled round the top of the Law (surely one of the draughtiest places in Scotland, foot for foot), being unable to stand in the wind.'
Dumgoyne 1581 ascents as of 4/3/08. Most in one calendar year: 192 in 2005.
'Funnily enough, the first Dumgoyne - on 14/5/92 - was memorable. I was living in Kendal but working in Glasgow. A work colleague, Arthur Jones, accompanied me. After Dumgoyne from the distillery, we trudged on over the Campsies to Earl's Seat. There had been a 24-hour heatwave, but we got hit by a shower of rain. And it was windy: Arthur's rather magnificent beard flew horizontal, a phenomenon that I was destined to witness again, but this was definitely the first apparition. We continued down over the bog, up to Dumbreck, down into the little oasis glen of the Ballagan Burn (more Highland than anywhere else on the Campsies), then on to Slackdhu. The Arran mountains, the Arrochar Alps and around the southern giants to the Stuc all came into view. Afterwards, I can remember a drink in the Black Bull, Killearn, thinking this is an out-of-the-way village. I moved there three years later.
'The most memorable lousy weather visit would be the night a local resident and I contended in the dark with ice, storm-force wind and rain. I swore never to go on a hill again faced with five adverse elements. I can't remember what the fifth was, but that was the oath.
'Memorable Dumgoynes also feature the folk you meet. I only encounter Robert Ferguson (see above) half a dozen times a year. We nevertheless seem able to continue a conversation on the subject of Corbetts and Grahams. Robert is memorable amongst other frequenters for his walking speed while always wearing a collar and tie.
'One afternoon a pasty juvenile, in a shellsuit, was collapsed on the scree a third of the way up. Two of what must have been sisters were nagging him to death to get going. As I passed by, the victim queried how you get up this thing. I suggested you take your time: it's summer and you've got all evening. Later, from over on Clachertyfarlie Knowes, against a crimson horizon, the distinct silhouette of the scrawny hero stood on top of his would-be nemesis.'
Ben Lomond 1573 ascents as of 21/1/08. Most in one calendar year: 191 in 2007. Completed second calendar round on 20/1/08. Completed an orthodox Munro round on the In Pinn, 8/7/86, and his lifetime Munro tally stands at 6597. Brother of Alan Douglas (see above).
Dumyat (418m, NS835977 on Landranger 57)
Estimated 1460 ascents as of 6/3/08. Most: 100 in 1992. Roughly 70 per year since 1983, although 'I probably have only averaged 30 in each of the last two years. Working at Stirling Uni makes it a lot easier in that I can fit it into a lunchtime. Also, I live on the Sheriffmuir road so I can run it from home as well, although I don't include these in my total because it's starting from about 500ft.'
Ben Cleuch estimated 1350 ascents as of 5/12/07.
Doesn't know the exact figure, estimate based on an average of 50 per year from 1983 (when he moved to Tillicoultry), topped up by known totals of 123 for 2006 and 70+ for 2007. Active member of Ochil Hill Runners, a renowned downhiller, and to be seen in summer trundling over Ben Cleuch barefoot. A bit of autobiog can be found here: http://www.ochilhillrunners.org.uk/static.aspx?id=ohrdave
Dumgoyne 1273 ascents as of 17/2/08.
First climbed in 1986; most in one year 192 in 1990. Also 1099 ascents of Slackdhu, most 159 in 2005, but only very rarely links the two hills: 'Over 99% are quite separate forays.' Cousin of Robert Ferguson (see above).
Ben Nevis (1344m, NN166712 on Landranger 41)
Nearly 1200 ascents in late 19th / early 20th centuries.
'On our way up the mountain we had to stop several times, for our guide complained of diarrhoea, but here [the halfway rock] he came to a dead stop and said he could not proceed any farther. [...] We handed him his full fee, and he thanked us and said that although he had ascended Ben Nevis on nearly 1200 occasions, this was the only time he had failed.' - in From John O'Groats to Land's End, Or 1372 miles on foot - A book of days and chronicle of adventures by two pedestrians on tour, by Robert Naylor and John Naylor, 1916, available at http://www.gutenberg. org/files/14415/14415-8.txt The unnamed guide was 'a military-looking man carrying a long staff spiked at one end'.
Dumgoyne 1050 ascents as of 9/2/08.
First ascent 26/12/85. Reached 1000 on 17/6/06.
Coniston Old Man (803m, SD272978 on Landrangers 96 and 97). Over 1000 ascents before his death in the early 1990s.
Coniston resident who often climbed the hill before breakfast. Registered blind latterly (which didn't stop him climbing the Old Man), he once arrived on top to find a wedding in progress and was asked to join the celebrations. 'As we grow older in Coniston maybe we can no longer walk to the top of the Old Man (although Charles Turnbull did that daily in his eighties, despite encroaching blindness)' - The Story of Coniston, Alastair Cameron and Elizabeth Brown, p206.
Ben Nevis, over 1000 ascents, the first in 1951 or earlier.
Near-legendary doyen of the Ben Nevis race. Estimates of the number of times he reached the summit vary, but Hugh Symonds, in Running High (1991), p97, writes: 'Eddie, triple winner of the Ben Nevis race in the early fifties, had climbed the mountain at least a thousand times before.' Then again, Richard Askwith's Feet in the Clouds - A tale of fell-running and obsession, p269, has this: 'A Fort William taxi driver, Eddie is thought to have run up and down Ben Nevis more than 800 times in his life. He generally did so in the same battered pair of Green Flash plimsolls, the same red bandana, and the same faded pale-blue vest. He never used a compass, and once turned down the offer of a basic navigational aid with the words 'A map? That would be as much use to me as a copy of the Oban Times.'' (FitC is arguably the best British hill book published during TAC's existence but not reviewed in the mag. Must do something about that.)
Campbell's wins came in 1952, 53 and 55, and he ran the race a record 44 times in all. A famously fast and canny descender who knew ways down the Ben denied to ordinary mortals. He died in 1996, aged 64. If you can find a copy of the memorial booklet, Eddie Campbell - An Appreciation, then snap it up: it's one of the great Scottish hill publications, full of fond memories and good stories. (The booklet includes mention, contrary to Askwith's assertion, of the one known occasion when Campbell was seen to use a compass on the Ben. This was in 1977, helping a successful attempt on the Three Peaks record - running between the hills - and reportedly 'caused a sensation'. There is a suggestion however that it was a bluff on Campbell's part.)
A grainy YouTube clip of the 1978 Ben race at http://www. youtube.com/watch?v=WC8GsC9tm2A shows the white-haired, seriously bearded Campbell at the very end. There's also a shot of Billy Bland (wearing no.49) winning the thing in a frighteningly fast 1hr 26min 56sec.
Ben Tee (904m, NN240971 on Landranger 34)
1000th ascent on 11/5/98. Also completed 1000 ascents of Sron a'Choire Ghairbh (937m, NN222945 on Landranger 34) on 19/2/00.
Great Hill (381m, SD646190 on Landranger 109)
1000th ascent on 24/3/07. Aged 82, member of the West Lancashire group of the Long Distance Walkers' Association. First ascent 1980.
Fred Mercer, 'more than 960 times' up Pendle before his death in July 2002. (See TAC55 p18.)
Showell Styles, 879 times up Cnicht, final ascent 1994. Lived for 13 years at Croesor at the foot of the hill.
Alex King, Dumyat, 821 ascents as of 3/3/08. Like Frank Kelly (see main list) he doesn't count ascents made from the high part of the Sheriffmuir road.
Jock Nimlin, over 700 Ben Lomond ascents before his death aged 79 in June 1988. First ascent 1928, and as early as 19/4/40 he was giving a BBC radio talk entitled 'A hundred times up Ben Lomond'.
David Hewitt, Snowdon, 580 ascents. Not TAC's editor, but an accomplished Beddgelert-based landscape painter. Born in St Helens around 1879. Climbers' Club Journal 1940: 'Of his 580 ascents of Snowdon many were incidental to sketching expeditions, but most of them followed naturally his happy custom of introducing novices to the thrills of Crib Goch.'
Thanks for help in terms of research and contacts: Bev Barratt, Roger Boswell, Hamish Brown, Carol and Jeff Carroll, Gordon Downs, Dewi Jones, John Mallinson, Britta Sendlhofer, Bill Smith. Apologies to anyone omitted.
TAC 73 Index