The Angry Corrie 36: Apr-May 98

TAC 36 Index

MapWatch: Knight Speak

In case you've forgotten (as I had until Ed reminded me), TAC31 revealed news of a new 977m peak erupting on the northern slopes of Stob Coire Sgriodain, but immediately quelled any possible excitement by pointing out it was just another OS Pathfinder jape. It's a minor 477m outcrop, not a 500-metre high pinnacle. Pity. The latest Landranger Sheet 42 repeats this ploy, with another unexpected new 977m summit, but this is no groundhog déjà vu, this time it's for real. No joke, no error, it's a new Top, though I've not yet been there to confirm its existence. My 1984 Sheet 42 shows just a single 960m contour ring, but the new map has a 970m ring around the new Top to confirm its stature. The 1:10000 map gives the col as 948m, so it's welcome to SubMurdoland for Beinn a'Chlachair East Top, NN486790. So nearly the full Murdo.

As Munro Tops are not defined, we can't say whether or not it's a new one, but here are some facts for the SMC Tables Revision Committee to consider at its next meeting in 2012:

  • Beinn a'Chlachair East Top has a drop of 29 metres
  • All other 3000-foot summits with a drop of over 26 metres are now Munro Tops
  • Except for one in the middle of the Aggy Ridge
  • 51 Munro Tops have a drop of 26 metres or less
  • One Munro Top appears to be less than 3000 feet high
  • Which brings us to the subject of Knight's Peak.

    Gimme Some Truth

    "I've had enough of watching scenes of schizophrenic, egocentric, paranoic, prima donnas, all I want is the truth". Never mind Nostradamus, here we have John Lennon (1971) foreseeing the SMC machinations which led to the inexplicable promotion of Knight's Peak. Could the threadbare evidence in favour of this manoeuvre have been manipulated by "tight-lipped, condescending, mommies little chauvinists", who wanted another tricky summit to prove their prowess? Did anyone take an altimeter to Carn na Caim South Top (which has a 914m contour ring on the 1:10000), or is that too flat to bother with? Derek Bearhop is the name on the cover of Munro's Tables 1997, so he'll probably take the rap (like Hamish Brown before him), but chances are some other ghost in the machine was responsible for the KP fiasco so neatly exposed by Ken Stewart in TAC35.

    Just what is the truth here? Hard to say with absolute certainty, but there are some weighty alternatives to the SMC precision altimeter. There's no OS 1:10000 map, but the 1965 1:10560 sheet gives KP as 2994 feet (912.58 metres). This is probably pretty close, as all other heights from the 1965 sheet are still within one metre of the currently accepted figure. There is generally a pattern to the revision of heights on OS maps. If one summit gains or loses a metre, then others nearby usually do the same. Not surprising really, as measurements based on triangulation are interdependent. So if Sgurr nan Gillean and Am Basteir have both lost one metre between 1965 and 1997 (which they have), then it's highly probable that KP has also lost about one metre. It's very unlikely that it has gained two metres. Far more likely is that the Bhasteir Tooth (3005 feet in 1965) has dropped below 3000 feet. Heresy! Sacrilege!

    The probability is that Knight's Peak is around 912 metres. Which as it happens is the same figure arrived at by Harveys when they surveyed it for their new 1:12500 map of the Cuillin (though the height is not shown on this map). And Harveys' surveyor seems to have been a touch generous, giving Sgurr nan Gillean 965m and Am Basteir 935m, both one metre more than the current OS figure. The SMC can call KP a Munro Top if they like, but it's not getting into Murdo's Tables with that sort of evidence against it. Case dismissed.

    Money for Rope

    But suppose you're a bit strange and decide you want to climb it anyway. What's it like, you may ask? This is where analysis gets more subjective. For climbers it's easy, for walkers it's tricky. I'd say it's harder than the easy way up the In Pinn and harder than the Bhasteir Tooth, but easier than Am Basteir from the Tooth. The big difference though is lack of exposure. It's not really scary, as the only awkward bits are low down, where falling off means embarrassment rather than death. Confident Cuillin scramblers could do the whole of Pinnacle Ridge without a rope, but it's handy to have one, especially if you plan to abseil off the third pinnacle. We avoided this by walking round its base, which is easy and not much of a detour. Of course I did climb up it first to have a look (while my partner skulked out of the wind), but came back down the same way (which is also easy) rather than take the direct plunge or dangle. We did use the rope though to assist getting out of the gap between the third pinnacle and KP itself (the fourth pinnacle) which is awkward for about ten feet, though not intimidating. In fact the most intimidating-looking part of the whole ridge is probably the start, where it rears up rather like An Stac from the top of the screes. It's easier than it looks, but if you don't fancy the start then it's probably best to retreat before getting committed, as it's quite a long and sustained route.

    It's also possible to climb KP on its own, from Coire a' Bhasteir, but it's not so easy to locate the best line that way, and it's not much easier anyway. Given the probable sub-3000ft height, such bagism is hardly necessary, so you might as well be a purist and climb the full ridge. Andrew Dempster's Classic Scrambles in Scotland gives quite a helpful route description. I'd say it's within range for scramblers who've been up the other Skye Tops, but should be severely left alone by the ordinary pedestrian.

    Pocketful of Hopelessness

    I seem to have strayed from the point a bit here, going on about routes and ropes instead of heights and drops. Maps do this sometimes. I've never really accepted the cliché about a picture being worth a thousand words, but a good map is certainly worth 915 words. Give me a map any day as a source of inspiration and recollection, rather than a fairweather photo or rent-a-name wilderness talk. But in the Cuillin I have to admit a map is mostly useless really. The OS Outdoor Leisure map covers the whole range with dense black scribble, obscuring all contours, just to make sure it's completely hopeless. Even the new Harveys map doesn't do the trick for me in conveying the shape of these summits. You can get no idea at all what Knight's Peak is like from any map, so maybe these few words will help. And if not, or if you just don't fancy it, then no matter - it doesn't count anyway.

    Alan Blanco

    TAC 36 Index