Last Munros and Listed Munroists, an introduction — by Dave Hewitt

 

WHAT FOLLOWS is a work-in-progress that needs to be published for it to progress some more. As some readers will know, I’ve long had an interest in rounds of hills and those who complete them; TAC, after all, is a magazine as interested in the people who climb hills as in the hills themselves. Over the past decade or so I’ve chipped away at various pieces of research into Munroists, initially focusing on the “first 100” in the list, where the late Mike Geddes, aged just 18 years 315 days when he completed on 13/9/70 (does anyone know where?), is no.100. Note however that “first 100”, rather than a plain unqualified first 100. The complexity of the subject kicks in even at this early stage: eight unlisted and seven out-of-sequence Munroists are known to have completed before Geddes, making him at least the 115th person to have done them all.

With this kind of thing in mind, the research has gradually expanded into looking at all rounds of Munros. These fall into three categories: (a) first rounds included in the published list started by Eric Maxwell of the Grampian Club in 1960 and maintained by the SMC to the present day by their various clerks of the list (Bill Brooker, Chris Huntley, David Broadhead and David Kirk, all of whom have done excellent work); (b) repeat rounds by those same listed Munroists; and (c) unlisted rounds, whether firsts or repeats.

The general idea behind the research is also threefold: to construct an accurate-as-possible timeline of completions (by precise date rather than the year-only method used by the SMC); to obtain an overall picture of last Munros — which hills have seen the most or the fewest completions?; and to estimate how many unlisted completions there have been. Clearly this last point is a great imponderable, impossible to determine with real accuracy; but, as an ever-larger minimum figure is obtained, so confidence in its value increases.

The numbers of listed and unlisted Munroists are moving targets, on the increase overall although the unlisted total has scope to dip occasionally, if someone belatedly “comes out” and writes to the SMC. Good examples of this include nos.4002 and 4003 in the list, Chris Osmond of Glasgow and Bill Cook of Kingussie, who completed their first rounds in 1982 and 1990 respectively but didn’t let the SMC know until 2007. Prior to that, they would have counted as unlisted.

A snapshot needs to be taken in order for calculations to be made and trends assessed, so what follows is based on the situation in early August 2009, at which stage the ranks of unlisted Munroists were known to number 319. The true total would have been considerably higher than that, with a minimum of 500 seeming to be a reasonable estimate. It wouldn’t surprise me, however, were it to be at least 15% above the actual list, ie around 650 unlisted Munroists. Of course, no matter how diligent the research and however many unlisted people are found, there is always scope for one more; it’s like the sleeping arrangements in a bothy in that regard.

At the same point in early August, the Maxwell/SMC list had reached no.4320. This, however, includes no more than 4311 actual Munroists, as it skips nos.284 and 666, while at least seven people have been mistakenly allocated two numbers. The seven are: Sue Jardine, nos. 214 and 1597 in the list, completed on Stob Coire Easain, 15/6/80; William Mackenzie, 386 and 831, completed on Creag Pitridh, 25 or 27/9/82; Charles Alexander, 360 and 2513, completed on Beinn Dorain, 13/10/84; W Allan Simpson, 631 and 989, completed on Carn Mor Dearg, 2/10/88; Allan Bantick, 1006 and 1598, completed on Creise, 19/7/91; Chris Low, 3007 and 3058, completed on the Glenfinnan Sgurr nan Coireachan, 9/8/03; and Peter Kerry, 2997 and 3014, completed on Aonach Mor, 6/9/03.

Mackenzie, Alexander and Simpson each acquired duplicate-Munroist status by perhaps the most predictable route: both they and a well-meaning friend notified the SMC at separate times and the clerk(s) of the list didn’t twig. Jardine and Bantick teamed up towards the end of the latter’s round, then tidied up the Munros they hadn’t already climbed together, finishing this on Beinn Bhrotain, 12/5/96. Their joint round formed a sort of Venn Diagram overlap with the earlier individual rounds, but even had it not done so, neither should have been given a second slot in the list. Kerry and Low got in twice by each writing a second letter (presumably having not received replies to their first ones) and this led to them somehow each being allocated two numbers. There have been other Doppelmunroists over the years, but for only short periods before being rootled out.

By contrast, there are plenty of non-duplicate namesakes in the list, as one would expect in such a large sample. There are, for example, four David Smiths (nos.522, 659, 1275 and 2244), two Ian Dicksons (1136 and 1556) and, in recent times, two David McSporrans (4088 and 4170) and two close-together Brian Johnstons (4175 and 4183). These are all different people; the McSporrans, for example, completed on Bruach na Frithe on 21/6/08 and Ladhar Bheinn on 7/8/05 respectively. It’s an absolutely typical quirk of the list that the person who completed first has the higher number, because they delayed in notifying the SMC.

Of these 4311 listed rounds, I currently know the final Munro for 3880 (90.0%) of them. Of the 319 unlisted rounds, I know the last hill for 278 (87.1%). So the number of people known to have done at least one round by early August 2009 stood at 4630, with the last Munro being known for 4158 (89.8%).

I’ll write more about unlisted Munroists another time, but something should be said here about the by-sex breakdown, as there’s a marked difference between listed and unlisted Munroists in this regard. The 4630 first-rounders comprise 3656 men and a few boys (78.9%), 869 women and girls (18.8%) and 105 don’t knows (2.3%) — the latter being people who gave only initials, plus a smattering of could-be-either Pats and the like. The vast majority of initials-only people are likely to be male, but I’m not allocating people unless I’m sure.

The proportions for the 4311 listed rounds are much the same: male 3443 (79.9%), female 780 (18.1%) and 88 don’t knows (2.0%). But if only the 319 unlistees are looked at, it comes out thus: male 213 (66.8%), female 89 (27.9%) and 17 don’t knows (5.3%). Even allowing for this being a markedly smaller sample, the difference is striking: 18% of listed completers are female, whereas for unlisted ones the proportion is 28%.

Quite what can be drawn from this is debatable: it could just be a random fluctuation, although a pretty hefty one. It could however be that in some way female Munroists are less likely than their beardie counterparts to submit their names to the SMC. Could this be because women are less interested in lists and similar orderliness? That theory might hold good in society generally, but the sample here is of female Munroists, who by definition have already shown a considerable interest in at least one list, the Munros.

A more tenable theory might be that the higher proportion of unlisted women relates back — as almost a folk memory — to the days when the SMC didn’t admit women. This was the case less than 20 years ago, so it’s well within living memory. Could it be that a significant number of women are recalling this when it comes to completion day, and refusing to have any dalliance with a club that they still see, rightly or wrongly, as no particular friend of theirs?

It should nevertheless be noted that the proportion of women in the published list is creeping higher. The 1980s saw 78 women join the list, 13.5% of the total for that decade; the 1990s saw 279 (17.4%), and the as-yet unfinished 2000s have seen 394 (20.6%).

As to the number of people known to have completed at least one genuine repeat round, this is 212, of whom 53 have added a third round, 22 a fourth, and so on up to Steven Fallon, the only person known to have completed 11th, 12th and 13th rounds. The accumulated total of repeat rounds (eg Fallon has 12 of them) is at least 327, and probably up near 400 in reality. Of the 327, I know the last Munro for 303, 92.7%. Generally, however, I’ve been treating repeat completions as a different category from first rounds; whisky bottles might have been wielded cairnside in both instances, but it’s not quite the same. Hence if someone asks how many completions there have been on Meall nan Tarmachan, for instance, I’m likely to say 47+2 rather than 49.

ALL OF WHICH serves as background to an appeal for information. I’m hoping to publish — either in TAC or elsewhere (if any editor is interested enough to fund me, hint hint) — some extensive findings in the reasonably near future. But first I need to progress things a bit more, ideally to reach a situation where last-Munro details are known for something close to 95% of completers, rather than the 90% at present.

There are various fronts on which to operate, but for now I’ll restrict things to three basic areas:

1 — Munros with no known completions

2 — Completions on deleted Munros

3 — Earliest completions on promoted Munros

 

1 — Munros with no known completions

The sample of 4158 known last Munros doesn’t include all 284 hills in the current list. Here are the 26 Munros for which I don’t, as yet, know of any completions. They are listed in the same section order as in the 1997 edition of Munro’s Tables:

Section 1: Beinn Dubhchraig

Section 2: Carn Gorm, Carn Mairg

Section 4: Stob Coire a’Chairn, Beinn Eibhinn, Aonach Beag (Beinn Eibhinn group), Geal-Charn (Beinn Eibhinn group)

Section 5: Sgairneach Mhor

Section 6: Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain

Section 7: Cairn of Claise, Tolmount, Carn an t-Sagairt Mor

Section 8: Mullach Clach a’Bhlair

Section 9: Carn Sgulain

Section 10: Sgurr an Doire Leathain, Maol Chinn-dearg, Druim Shionnach, Creag a’Mhaim

Section 11: Saileag, Sgurr a’Bhealaich Dheirg, Tom a’Choinich

Section 12: Sgurr nan Ceannaichean

Section 14: A’Chailleach (Fannaichs), Sgurr nan Clach Geala, Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich

Section 15: Meall nan Ceapraichean

Some of these will have seen at least one completion that hasn’t as yet crossed my radar. Quite how many have genuinely seen none is impossible to determine unless the number shrivels to zero. My guess is that it’s fewer than 20, possibly close to single figures.

As will be seen from the list, these 26 “missing Munros” by and large fall into two rather predictable categories: eastern plateauxland summits, and mid-ridge bumps. The big ridge systems — Lawers, Mamores, Fannaichs etc — have seen relatively few completions even on their main hills; for example, David Child’s 25/8/08 celebration on Ben Lawers is the only finish I’ve yet found for that hill. Compare that with its near-neighbour Schiehallion, which has hosted at least 74 first-round finishes (70 listed, four unlisted) and 13 repeats. The primary reason for this is surely that Schiehallion stands by itself; similarly, the likes of Slioch and Beinn Sgritheall have seen plenty of completions.

It’s hard to believe that there haven’t been any finishes at all on hills as notable as Carn Mairg, Sgurr a’ Bhealaich Dheirg and Sgurr nan Clach Geala, or even on the end-of-ridge prongs of Creag a’Mhaim on the South Cluanie Ridge or A’Chailleach in the Fannaichs — but that’s what the research suggests at present. Carn an t-Sagairt Mor is also an oddity, given that its even less prominent neighbour Carn a’Choire Bhoidheach has seen at least two first-round finishes (by Ian Macnab, no.2586, 23/6/01, and by Alan Forsyth, no.3846, 30/6/07) plus a repeat (Robin Howie’s ninth round, 4/5/07). So if anyone knows of a finish — listed or otherwise — on any of these 26 Munros, please let me know. Of course people might now start targeting them for their own completions, in a Heisenbergesque, affect-the-experiment kind of way.

2 — Completions on subsequently deleted Munros

I know of eight. Three on Beinn an Lochain (deleted 1981): by Richard Wood, no.88, 9/6/69; by the unlisted Jack MacNab, 3/6/79; and by Mike McCue, no.226, 13/9/80. Two on Hugh Munro’s intended completion hill, Carn Cloich-mhuilinn (also deleted 1981): by Lily Mackenzie, no.131, 8/11/75; and by Ross Napier, no.212, 26/4/80. Oddly, both Mackenzie and Napier mentioned, in their letters to the SMC, having stashed bottles in the cairn: whisky in the first instance, Babycham in the second. One wonders which walkers later did the dutiful thing and brought these back down.

Two on Sgor an Iubhair (a Munro only from 1981–1997): by Jack Ashcroft, no.644, 4/6/89, and by Andrew Lazenby, no.3113, 17/9/94. And one on the Feshie Geal Charn (another 1981 deletion), by Bob Leitch, no.156, 6/8/77.

Does anyone know of other finishes on these four hills, or on any other recent-ish ex-Munros such as A’ Choinneach, Carn Ban Mor, Meall Dubhag, Carn Ballach or Carn Ban? I’m assuming, with reasonable certainty, that there were none on the various ancient and obscure ex-Munros listed by Robin N Campbell in The Munroist’s Companion: Beinn Dheiceach, Meall Chuirn, Beinn a’Chuirn, Sgor Choinnich, Carn Eas, Creag an Dail Mhor, Creag an Leacainn South Top, Meall a’Chaoruinn, Glas Meall Mor, Beinn Iutharn Bheag, Carn Bhinnein, Crom Leathad, Creag a’Choir’Aird South Ridge, Sgurr na Lapaich (Affric), Creag Dhubh, or the cairn of Sgurr Dearg — although the latter quite possibly saw a few completions of the Tops before it lost even that status in 1997.

Cruach Ardrain South-West Top might have seen the odd champagne cork popped, due to on-the-day mislocation rather than its brief spell as the Munro during the Victorian/Edwardian overlap. The same could be true of various other bumps, most notably those notorious pseudo-Munros Carn Sasunnaich on Beinn Dorain, Gulvain South Top, the Spidean Coire nan Clach trig, and the trigs on Slioch and the Sloy Vorlich — and that’s without getting into subtly confusing hills such as Beinn Teallach, the Balsporran Geal-charn, Beinn a’Chlaidheimh and Beinn Achaladair.

Munros with what might be termed swithering summits are interesting, as completions will have taken place at different points on the same hill. For example, I know of just three finishes on Beinn a’Chroin: by Ronald Burn, no.2, 20/7/23; by John Sime, no.2198, 5/9/99; and by Anne Stronach, no.3872, 16/6/07. Burn’s finish would have been on the East Top, although as he completed the Tops the same day he took in the West Top too. Stronach would have finished on what is currently regarded as the highpoint of the Munro, the cairn above the wee lochan on the West Top. Sime could have finished on either, as the stated location of the summit was muddled during the late 1990s, with Munro’s Tables still giving the East Top but the SMC guidebook giving what perhaps, with a nod to Pillar Rock, ought to be called the Old West.

Similar complications affect the Laggan Beinn a’Chaorainn (just two known completions, in 1968 and 1995) and the Baddoch An Socach (ten known completions, between 1976 and 2008). The most striking adjusted Munro where the old summit seems to be completionless is Clach Leathad / Creise, where Clach Leathad has none while Creise has had 17, starting with William Harrower, no.528 in the list, on 10/5/87. The switch was made in the 1981 revision (can anyone recall exactly when the book came out?; the dust jacket says “Revised 1980”, which implies publication early in 1981), and of the 99 pre-1981 first-round completions where I don’t know the last hill, there has to be a reasonable chance that at least one was on Clach Leathad, given how prominent and accessible it is.

3 — Earliest completions on promoted Munros

Then there is the flipside. Here are the 14 Munro modern additions, with in each case the earliest known completion. If you know of any that pre-date these, please get in touch. Note that I’m not looking for people who “topped up” existing rounds by visiting newly promoted Munros that they hadn’t previously climbed; what I’m after are those who made traditional straightforward completions on the hills in question. The number of known completions (first+repeat) on each hill is in brackets.

1981 promotions

Sgurr nan Ceannaichean (0+0)

Regarded as a Munro from the late 1970s, but only listed from 1981, when the book gave it as “already reported”. Three decades on, no one seems to have finished here.

Sgor an Iubhair (2+0)

Jack Ashcroft, no.644, 4/6/89

As mentioned above, one of only two known completions during this mid-Mamores summit’s 16 years of Munro-hood.

Garbh Chioch Mhor (4+0)

Geoffrey Maynard, no.265, 27/12/81

A fine hill, but its mid-ridge status makes it the Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain of the west, in that almost everyone tackles it en passant between Sgurr nan Coireachan and Sgurr na Ciche. The most recent Garbh Chioch Mhor completion came courtesy of Steve Bonham, no. 2837, 25/10/02. He had started with Sgurr na Ciche on 26/6/85, akin to the tendency for people to finish with Carn Mor Dearg having started on the Ben.

Liathach: Mullach an Rathain (28+3)

John Crombie, no.536, 20/5/87

Hard to believe that it took six years for Mullach an Rathain to host a completion. Andrew Martin, no.249, completed on Liathach on 12/8/81, but I don’t know which of the two Munros came last, so it could have been this one (and most people seem to go east–west). The earliest confirmed Spidean a’Choire Leith completion (of 5+0) was by Ivan Young, no.856, 12/7/83 — again, late in proceedings even allowing for Liathach being such a stonker of a hill that people are drawn to it mid-round. So: was there really no Liathach finish until 1981?

An Teallach: Sgurr Fiona (31+4)

Fraser Brunton, no.311, 15/8/81

Listed by the SMC as Fraser Burton (there are a lot of name-fankles in the list — more on this side of things another time). The two An Teallach Munros seem fairly evenly balanced as completion venues: I know of 37+4 finishes on Bidein a’Ghlas Thuill, three of which pre-dated the arrival of Sgurr Fiona as a rival attraction. Does this “equality” suggest that Sgurr Fiona was not the greatest of promotions, and that people by and large still see the hill as being one big, wonderful twin-topped lump? Or is it just that Bidein comes first on the “normal” traverse of the hill? I know of 11 unspecified An Teallach completions (the earliest having been in 1984), so the overall An Teallach total is 79+8 minimum, beginning with Nan Rae (Miss A D Miller in the list), 21/8/60.

1984(ish) promotion

Beinn Teallach (12+2)

Hamish Brown, seventh completion, 5/1/85

Exactly when Beinn Teallach became a Munro is unclear, but Hamish Macmillan Brown of the SMC was joint-editor of the list at the time and perhaps put his inside knowledge to good use in being at the head of the queue. Seven people are listed with seven or more rounds: Brown (he stuck on seven), Stewart Logan (10), Robin Howie (nine), Steven Fallon (13), Michael Slater and Dave “Heavy” Whalley (both eight), and Robert H MacDonald (seven). There are evidently more: the August 2009 Munro Society newsletter mentions someone who “casually remarked that he had about six to do to compleat [sic] an eleventh round.”

1997 promotions

An Stuc (9+0)

P Hollingsworth, no.1847, 5/9/97

Assuming that the rather mysterious P Hollingsworth was indeed the first, s/he only got there in the nick of time: the next day saw An Stuc host a joint son/father completion by Kerr and Jim Elliot, nos.1848 and 1849.

Buachaille Etive Mor: Stob na Broige (53+2)

Simon Pledger, no.1935, sometime in 1998, before 8 June

Pledger went up Curved Ridge, over Stob Dearg and so to Stob na Broige. Of the 60+1 known Stob Dearg completions, 34 came before mid-1997; so since Stob na Broige has been on the scene, it appears to have outscored its higher neighbour by more than two to one. Quite what can be inferred from this is unclear, but it does perhaps suggest that, unlike Sgurr Fiona, Stob na Broige was a good addition to the list. When it was a subsidiary Top it was viewed, by the Munros-only masses, as too distant and separate to bother with.

Buachaille Etive Beag: Stob Coire Raineach (31+0)

Ian Pascoe, no.1880, 13/9/97

Pascoe, a member of Kirkintilloch Mountaineering Club, appears to have made the only SCR completion in 1997, but there were at least six the following year, including that by the South African-born Rati Chiba on 22 August. Chiba acquired the “Munroist number 2000” tag, although he was really only no.1994 in list terms (omitting 284 and 666 and factoring in the four duplicates who were around at the time) and somewhere beyond 2300 overall once unlisted and out-of-sequence Munroists are considered.

Stob Coire Sgreamhach (31+3)

Anne Fletcher / Graham Bunn, nos.1853/1854, 20/9/97

Possibly the prime case of new-Munro confusion, in that the couple from the north-east of Albion’s Plain were a week away from heading north to complete their rounds on Sgurr nan Gillean when TAC33 plopped through the letterbox, bringing news of the alterations to the list — they had missed the SMC’s July announcement. Consternation and conundrum. What to do? Sgreamhach was the only one of the eight promotions that they hadn’t already climbed, so they drove to Skye, climbed Sgurr nan Gillean on 18 September, then finished the job in the Coe two days later. They weren’t sure which was their completion Munro — was it Gillean with Sgreamhach as a topper-upper? Given that they knew about the changes before they went to Skye, it would appear that Sgreamhach was the one, that being where they first felt themselves to be fully-fledged Munroists. Who ever said it was a simple game?

The new Munro / old Munro equation is again in evidence here: of the 30+5 known Bidean nam Bian finishes (starting with that by Richard Gilbert, no.101, on 12/6/71), 19 pre-dated Stob Coire Sgreamhach’s arrival. Overall, the south side of Glen Coe is a completion hotspot despite no single Munro in the area having seen a huge number of completions (the 60+1 for Stob Dearg on the Buachaille is the highest, but it still only makes it the twelfth most popular last-Munro choice countrywide). The seven south-Coe Munros (two on the Buachaille, two on the Wee Buachaille, two on Bidean plus Sgor na h-Ulaidh) have hosted at least 279 first-round finishes between them, an average of almost 40 per hill. By contrast, the Aggy Ridge pair have seen only 18. The 12 Skye Munros have seen 409, average 34 (ranging from 101 on the In Pinn to five on Banachdich).

Sgor an Lochain Uaine (12+0)

Patricia Notman, no.1843, 31/8/97

The only one of the eight 1997 promotions to have been a Munro before: it was in Hugh Munro’s original 1891 list and stayed there until the 1921 revision. Highest and most remote of the new bunch, it didn’t have to wait long for a completion, courtesy of the wife of Irving Notman, who had himself completed on Mull in 1993. Should either of them ever go on to complete the Donalds, they could do worse than to finish with Notman Law, the southeastern outlier of Dollar Law.

Sgurr na Carnach (3+1)

Roger Gaff, no.2304, 11/8/99

Fine timing, 11/8/99 being Eclipse Day. Kintail had it only partial at best: from my own experience in Galloway, the sky-darkening business would have been pretty iffy in the north. Sgurr na Carnach, being a bump-on-a-log mid-ridge Munro, appears to have seen only two subsequent first-round finishes (in 2004 and 2007), plus James Gordon’s sixth completion on 13/5/06.

Beinn Alligin: Tom na Gruagaich (9+0)

Dr Keith Slinger, no.2835, 23/6/00

Number 2836 was also a Tom na Gruagaich finish, by Dr David Nunn, a friend of Dr Slinger. Nothing unusual there — joint-finishes are commonplace — but the occasions were different, Nunn having completed on 15/6/02. Beinn Alligin proper, as it were, has seen at least 34 first-round finishes (starting with John Mills of the Rucksack Club, July 1973), and three repeats including Steven Fallon’s eleventh effort on 29/6/03.

Beinn Eighe: Spidean Coire nan Clach (14+0)

John Fowler, no.2996, 17/5/98

Not the secretary of the SMC: that’s John R R Fowler, whereas this is John D Fowler. There have been 27+6 finishes on the highest Beinn Eighe summit, Ruadh-stac Mor, starting with Iain Robertson, no.55 in the list and stalwart of the Munro Society, 25/8/63. Robertson was also the first to finish on the Knoydart Meall Buidhe, when it hosted his second completion, 18/7/86.

As many as nine other repeat-round Munroists could well have been the first to complete on more than one hill, with Hamish Brown seeming to have nabbed four, and Geraldine Guestsmith/Howie three. Note, however, that these figures are rather untrustworthy: all it takes is for an earlier completion to be uncovered for any relevant hill and the sands shift. The most likely “double-first” to retain their status is surely Eric Maxwell, given that both his completions came early in proceedings and both were on unfashionable hills: Chno Dearg (26/5/57) and the Culra Carn Dearg (16/7/66) have hosted only 3+0 and 7+3 known completions respectively.

RIGHT, THAT FEELS LIKE more than enough to be going on with. Any new information gratefully received, by the usual contact routes (eg email theangrycorrie@ googlemail.com). More next issue, possibly in the form of a list of the earliest known finishes on each of the current 284 Munros (although it could well be 283 or 285 Munros by then — see page 19).