Cuban champions and lunar landers
Given that (a) the glen leading off the north side of Loch Lyon is called Gleann Meran (or at least it was until recent maps renamed it Gleann Meurain), and (b) last October saw Viswanathan Anand give Vladimir Kramnik a right old doing using the Meran Variation of the Semi-Slav Defence in their world championship chess match, now seems a good time to mention an idea that has been floating around for a while. Most chess tournaments are governed by the grading of the players concerned — eg Chess Scotland, English Chess Federation, or Fédération Internationale des Échecs aka FIDE — with each grading level acting as a ceiling to prevent stronger players poaching the prizes in weaker sections. Hence, at the recent Glasgow congress (held in the splendid surroundings of the Kelvingrove Gallery), there were four sections: Open, in which anyone could play, regardless of strength; Challengers (players graded under 1850 on the Chess Scotland list), Major (under 1600) and Minor (under 1350). TAC’s editor is currently graded 1505 (down from a career high of 1670 a dozen years ago), so was eligible to enter any of these bar the Minor. He played in the Major.
There is a considerable crossover, in Scotland at least, between those who play competitive chess and those who climb hills on a regular basis. Quite why this might be is an interesting question: one possibility is that the two pastimes are pleasantly opposed. Hillwalking is largely a physical activity where, if the brain isn’t exactly switched off, there is a sense in which thinking is turned down to a background level; chess, by contrast, is a sedentary pastime dominated by thought processes. The two are nicely complementary, as shown by John Rooke Corbett — he of the eponymous list — who was seemingly a handy chess player. Corbett might well have been present at one of the Manchester Chess Club simultaneous displays given by the great Cuban world champion José Raúl Capablanca on 1/10/19 (Capablanca scored 30 wins, one draw, no defeats) and 28/10/22 (+24, =2, -4). Corbett was a clever man who would surely have noted that he and the celebrated endgame specialist shared a set of initials, JRC. On this basis alone he might have aspired to play in or at least attend one of the “simuls”.
Enough of bygone heroes, however. The current idea is this: TAC will arrange a tournament — probably a five-round Swiss, 15 minutes per player per game — in a bothy or hut somewhere, with the sole requirement for entry not being anything to do with the player’s grade, but with their having completed at least one round of the Munros. The following hillgoing chess players, listed in order of grading strength, strongest first, are known to qualify, and will be invited in due course once a date and a venue have been arranged:
Chess Scotland grade 1975, FIDE grade 2015
Unlisted Munroist, completed on Beinn Mhanach, 1/10/05
Chess Scotland grade 1950, FIDE grade 2070
Unlisted Munroist, completed on Ben Wyvis, 1/1/00
Chess Scotland grade 1860, FIDE grade 2115
Munroist 1333, completed on Beinn Iutharn Mhor, 18/9/94
English Chess Federation grade 151 (usual conversion to Scottish equivalent grade is (ECFx8)+600, ie 1808 here)
Munroist 2463, completed on Glas Bheinn Mhor, 19/8/00
ECF grade 148 (equivalent to 1784 Scottish)
Munroist 1903, completed on Ben Lomond, 20/1/98
Chess Scotland grade 1635
Munroist 3889, completed on Stob Coire Raineach, 18/8/07
Chess Scotland grade 1627
Munroist 4003, completed on the Cairnwell, 6/5/90
ECF grade 128 (equivalent to 1624 Scottish)
Munroist 810, completed on Ben Lomond, September 1990
Chess Scotland grade 1505
Munroist 3907, completed on the Saddle, 22/7/07
Chess Scotland grade 1491
Munroist 1026, completed on Sgurr Eilde Mor, 3/5/92
Chess Scotland grade 1477
Munroist 365, completed on the In Pinn, 21/6/84
Chess Scotland grade 1225
Munroist 2054, completed on Meall Chuaich, 26/11/94
Chess Scotland grade 1211
Munroist 4236, completed on Ben Hope, 5/7/90
Chess Scotland grade 1203
Munroist 610, completed on Sgor Gaoith, 24/4/88
These 14 are surely not the only eligible players, so if anyone knows of any other chess-graded (or reasonably strong but ungraded) Munroists, please let TAC know.
A couple of stronger players just miss out. Jonathan Lennox of Tobermory has a Chess Scotland grade of 2084 but
is at least one Munro short of a round: “I have been twice to the foot of the In Pinn in adverse conditions and have no plans for a third visit.” (He’s also unsure whether he’s been to the correct top on Beinn a’Chaorainn at Loch Laggan.) Even he, however, would be a distant second favourite to
Douglas Bryson: International Master, Correspondence Grandmaster and double Scottish champion. Bryson is currently graded 2317 by Chess Scotland and 2350 by FIDE. He climbs hills with the Monklands Ramblers and has racked up a fair few Munros in his time — but sources report that he’s more wobbly facing the Cuillin than the Caro-Kann, and is unlikely to complete a round. TAC would however be delighted to hear otherwise in due course.
Yet more on the seemingly endless subject of hill-themed registration plates (eg see TAC74 p16). Spotted on 28 September, near Balquhidder, a blue Peugeot with a canoe on its roof and K2 SMC on its plates. Whose might this have been? Only seven Britons have reached the summit of K2. Three died on the way down — Al Rouse and Julie Tullis in 1986, Alison Hargreaves in 1995. The other four are Jonathan Pratt (1993), Alan Hinkes (1995), Andrew Collins (2000) and Bruce Normand (2007). Only Normand is Scottish, so could the Peugeot have been his? Is he in the SMC? Or is K2 SMC just, as they say, aspirational?
The Ed is working on a lengthy piece of Munroist research (more on this in TAC76), and it has brought to light another reg-plate oddity. After Roger Chapman completed on Ben Lomond on 30/6/85, the SMC gave him the no.400 slot. On 21/8/98 Chapman wrote to the club again, having changed his car’s registration to C400 MUN. Is it still on the road?
Supermarket car parks are good places to spot such things. Alan Courtney, of Ayr, reports having driven to his local Asda and “found myself behind a small red car with the plate M3000 FT. Considering the spacing and the driver owning a beard it seems likely he was a walker.”
Another long-running theme is the merit or otherwise of the mobile phone on the hill. Generally, mountain rescue teams seem to be very much pro phones (not that they could hold back the tide even were they anti), provided people don’t call for help as soon as their socks get soggy. An interesting example of phone-use during a rescue occurred on the Coniston fells on 24 January. A mist-disorientated and cragfast walker phoned for assistance and was asked what he could see. A tarn was visible, which he thought was Low Water on the Coppermines side of the hill. The team went out looking for him along the relevant ridges but found nothing. Then someone had a bright idea. They rang back and asked if his phone had an inbuilt camera; if so, could he photograph the tarn and send the picture to the MRT? This he duly did, and it proved to be Goat’s Water. Didn’t take long to find him after that. Clever stuff.
TAC74 also asked about Munro ascents by octogenarians. Iain Thow, who works as a guide for North-West Frontiers, writes: “I used to know a guy called Jack Griffiths who went up Snowdon from Pen-y-Pass on his 90th birthday. He guided for English Wanderer until he was 83, then the company retired him, much to his disgust, as he was still doing the Ultimate Challenge (as it then was) each year. Two years later a guide broke a bone in his hand and Jack led the last two days of a trip along the West Highland Way.
“I’ve had several clients in their 80s, notably a German ex-WW2 paratrooper who had ended up as professor of English Literature at Berkeley in California and was one of the fittest people in the group on a fairly rough trip around the Loch Morar hills. Another ex-Luftwaffe pilot crossed the saddle between Beinn Ime and Ben Vane in his mid-80s on a day of soggy snow. Dressed in an old suit and polished town shoes, he was fuelled by regular shots of schnapps.”
Back to the Munroist research. Eric Furness is no.340 on the list having completed on 28/5/84 (does anyone know which hill?). On 5/11/94 Lyn Wilson also completed, on the Mullardoch An Socach, and reported that Furness was present, and had “completed eight Munros for his 80th birthday”. More needs to be learnt about this remarkable feat.
Jack Griffiths celebrates his 100th birthday on 9 March, around the time TAC75 comes out. Many congratulations. See www.othc.org.uk for more details. Iain Thow is the author of Highland Scrambles North, published in 2006 by the SMC, ISBN 0 907521 88 6. TAC hasn’t got round to (off)road-testing the scrambles, but the book is well written and from prior knowledge of various routes it seems to provide a fair assessment of excitement and difficulty. It’s also nicely produced: sensible size, rainproof cover, plenty of good photographs, including some of Foinaven that look like they could have been taken from a lunar lander.
Perkin Warbeck reports elsewhere in this issue on two excellent speakers at the recent Dundee Mountain Film Festival. Less successful, it seems, was the booking of Simon Yates as the main entertainment at the SMC annual dinner in Fort William on 6 December. After retiring president Paul Brian made what was by all accounts an entertaining speech, Yates stood up and reportedly offered: “I love Scotland. I love the rain. Er … I love the midges.” Then all was silence, as he sat back down again. Later in proceedings he stood up again and apologised because he was “not able to do what I came here to do.” And that was that.
According to booking agency www.speakersfromtheedge. com, “Simon brings a refreshing modesty and dry humor [sic] to mountain speaking, underplaying his remarkable achievements”. Sure, but there’s underplaying and there’s underplaying.