The Angry Corrie 44: Jan-Feb 2000

TAC 44 Index

The whole she bag?

Keeping tabs on tables of hills - be they Munros, Corbetts, Grahams, Donalds, Marilyns, Yeamans, Hewitts, Deweys, Synges, etc etc - is often reckoned to be a boys-and-numbers thing. The hefty male/female bias in the Munroists listing would tend to support this, but could it simply be representative of an overall male/female imbalance in all hillgoing and hence nothing to do with lists and ticking as such? And even if it is true that more men than women structure their hill climbing by using a list, what about all those women who have completed Munros and so on? And how come the person with the highest Marilyn tally is female?

Is using a hill list at all different for a woman than for a man, either in terms of the practicalities or the psychology of the thing? Do women who walk with male partners or clubmates end up trying to "prove" something to the others as a result of peer pressure? And what about hill-going women of fiercely independent spirit, of whom there are many? Many use hill lists nonetheless.

And has bagging become more "woman-friendly" now that there are more lists to work from beyond the SMC-maintained (and hence very male) Munros? In an attempt to learn about all this and more, TAC contacted various women known to have bagged the odd hill in their time. On these three pages, occasionally throughout the rest of the magazine, and again in TAC45 come March, this is what they said ...

Frances Wilson, Portstewart

(Munros 1990, Welsh 2s 1994, Donalds 1999, English 2s 1999)

ALTHOUGH I have completed several lists within a 25-year walking career (ie Munros including the English, Welsh and Irish varieties, Wainwrights, English and Welsh 2000s, Donalds), ticking and the associated dedication to detail have to me always been secondary to the enjoyment derived from walking per se. Outwith walking my life is full of lists - things to do (work), things to do (home), shopping lists etc - so when out in the hills the last thing I want is another list. This does not mean that I am anti-lists - far from it. Some of the best days I have had on the hills have been in pursuit of a tick for some list and last year a week's walking in the Wicklow Mountains was chosen on the strength of the number of missing ticks from that section in the book. It was a great week - especially when we were snowbound on the way home. Looking back at last year's walks, I see that out of 83 days, only 18 were with the aim of getting new summits on lists of one sort or another whereas I'm sure a dedicated ticker would have felt a day without a tick was a waste.

My situation is simply that I am married (and have been for over 20 years) to a university geomorphologist who likes to visit new areas and hills. Much of his research is based on things seen while out hillwalking. Peter is also keen on lists and even wrote an article on different Lake District lists for TGO in 1987. He also wrote a letter to Irish Mountain Log defending lists after another reader damned them. As Peter generally chooses where we walk [purely for the landform element, you understand - Peter], I am quite happy to be taken to new places in his pursuit of a satisfying walk.

I first became involved in lists when I started walking back in the mid-1970s at the age of 21. Then I made my own lists - of where I had been, how far and what summits. The next stage was when I met Peter, who had a copy of Munro's Tables - and I found I was able to use my lists as evidence for being awarded ticks on these. In addition, as a relative newcomer to the Lake District, I was introduced to Wainwright and being a very strong walker was able to gain eight and sometimes ten summits in a day. I soon finished the Wainwrights. The Munros took 15 years and to me this was the definitive list. We completed the last 50 in a Scottish summer (1990), often wet and frequently in mist but we did them. Since then we have moved on to various other lists and suddenly I will learn that I have almost finished a certain list, for example last summer I discovered Pillar Rock was the final ascent for the English 2000s list (a fitting activity for eclipse day).

Now that several of the major lists are completed, the lesser ones provide goals for short days or travelling days and I admit that I have visited places I would never have dreamed of going to if Peter had not read about the summit in some list or other [and deemed the geomorphological interest worthy - Peter again]. For me, walking is the enjoyment, the summit and tick being of secondary and very minor importance. I walk because I enjoy walking and being outdoors, even in the rain and other bad weather. I still keep a list of all my walks - no longer in an old exercise book but as a database which totals the mileage and days walked and from which I can find out how many times I have climbed a particular mountain. But that is because I enjoy using a computer, not preparing lists.

So ticking for me is a poor second to the enjoyment which walking presents.

Ann Bowker, Portinscale

(English 2s 1982, Welsh 2s 1982, Munros 1986, Corbetts 1992, Grahams 1999)

IT ALL began with George Bridge. We found his book in the local library and decided that this might give an incentive for our young son Martin to climb hills. It worked. At age 11 he completed the Welsh 2000ers with a weekend over the Snowdon horseshoe and finally Tryfan. Two years later he finished the lot after a guided ascent of Pillar Rock and a backpack over the outstanding Lakeland hills. I deliberately held back on Black Mountain so that he could have the pleasure of "beating mother" to both the English and Welsh summits, probably the most "feminine" action of my entire bagging career! Mean-while we had discovered the existence of Munros and Corbetts so he had quite a few of these ticked before growing up and losing interest in bagging although not in mountains. Ultimately it was his parents who were hooked on the bagging game.

There is an obsessive element to bagging. At one time I was somewhat of a religious fanatic and at my back of my mind lay the exhortation to "sacrifice" where it was decreed that one should give up the thing one wanted the most. I clearly remember thinking that if I was still that way inclined then it would be climbing the last Munro which I must forego. This surely has nothing to do with being female but is perhaps an interesting observation in view of the recent recommendation (Scotsman Outdoors, 2/10/99) from Ralph Storer to do the same although presumably not for religious reasons. It may also pinpoint what is perhaps the biggest difference in attitude between Rowland and me, a point perceptively picked up by TAC's editor in an earlier article. I am definitely more of a completionist and have less interest in a list which I know I will never finish. This was overcome with the Marilyns by setting subgoals of England, Wales, Grahams, hills over 1500ft, mainland hills etc. I find it difficult to get motivated by Yeaman's list although am happy to use it as a basis for selecting walks. Rowland is quite happy to set a numerical target (1500 Marilyns, 2000 Yeamans) and seems entirely unbothered by not having climbed the In Pinn and Stac Pollaidh. This may reflect a "boys-and-numbers" approach to hills but I am unconvinced that gender rather than personal preference is relevant here.

On a personal note it may just be that I am not a typical female, having always had a fascination with and aptitude for numbers, culminating in a mathematics degree! As a child I resented my gender and always wished I had been born a boy. Perhaps this had something to do with being brought up at a time and in a place where climbing trees for example was considered inappropriate behaviour for a small girl. As an adult I have not found it to be a handicap. Indeed while others at work were forever urging me to protest about sexual discrimination I never felt subjected to any. Similarly I can't see that being female makes any difference whatsoever to my hillwalking.

Surely the question which should be asked is not why so few women bag but why so relatively few climb hills for any reason? Are there actually fewer female baggers as a percentage of female hillwalkers? I'm not convinced there are. Women are greatly outnumbered on the hills and I even suspect that quite a few initially go out to please their man and subsequently lose interest. Either they decide that such a man is not for them or having entered into a steady relationship with him find some excuse to stay at home. I have no concrete evidence of this, it's just a hunch. Women are more likely to walk with rambling clubs, perhaps because many are frightened to walk alone and find it difficult to find suitable companions. Such clubs are not conducive to bagging activity, which could be another factor.

Lottie Gregory, Dunblane

(Munros 1999)

SOMEWHERE near the top of Beinn a'Chroin on a frosty clear November day a young, surprised male voice suddenly said "Are you by yourself then?" "Well, yes," I replied, "are you?" - the perception clearly being that a young man could walk by himself but a woman on a hill by herself was a bit strange, especially a grey-haired one.

That was 1993 when, new to hillwalking, I had just realised that if I waited for friends and family to be free on a day with reasonable weather to do the same hill I wanted to do, I would never complete 50 Munros, never mind the whole lot. And time was running out ...

Planning, getting up early, driving and parking the car, never mind negotiations with stalkers, were difficult, the walk relatively easy. As confidence (perhaps misplaced) grew, I stopped feeling guilty about being by myself and passed groups with a nonchalant "Hi!" I've had much appreciated company for some of the more inaccessible hills and a professional guide on Skye but more than half the Munros have been done alone. For a long time I really believed I walked alone from necessity (sad, really) but then came the dawning that I actually enjoyed the solitude, the freedom to make my own decisions and the sounds of the hills.

In September I was wandering round the Ring of Steall when I met a large multi-coloured group of assorted bodies, chattering noisily away. The leader stopped and asked "Do you like walking alone?" "Yes," I said. "It's quieter." "And quicker", he said ruefully. "And altogether simpler!" I concluded as I walked off. But I always tell my husband where I'm going. He's only called out the police once and, guess what, I wasn't alone that day!

Barbara Brodie, Culloden

NOW, I don't mean to be contentious, but based on a sample size of two women (my sister and me) I think the real difference between men and women who bag is that men are generally "anoraks" when it comes to bagging or any other "pastime" for that matter. I don't know, or care about for that matter, the history of all the lists that appear, which as if by magic make the hills more "worthy" than they were before (but that's another story). Nor do I know what hill is in which section, the height of any listed hill in the country you care to mention, or what size of boots Hamish Brown takes.

Maybe women are just more imaginative than men. I can think of better things to do with my time on a wet Saturday than drive for three hours to go up a hill, which of course must be a new hill, which takes all of a couple of hours to climb - up and down - and then have a three-hour drive home. Or maybe we have less time. By and large, who does the cooking, child rearing, household chores, etc?

Maybe if I did have a hill, listed or otherwise, on my doorstep I would have done multiple ascents, but I don't. However, I've been round our local woods at least 175 times this year (total ascent 16000m). Does that count?

The only reason I know how many hills I have done is because my partner keeps totting them up (though I do list them). He is also keeping track of the number of hills the dog has done! Yes, he does have an anorak - and what's more it's quilted.

Val Moffat, Inverness

(Welsh 2s 1992, English 2s 1993, Munros 1993)

WHEN I WAS a child I used to visit a public park in London. In this park there was a hill, not a big one, but a very clearly defined hill. I used to like to climb this little hill and stand at the top. I don't remember making a conscious decision to bag hills and if it was not for my husband I probably wouldn't have completed all the Munros and Tops. Given the chance I would be a fair weather walker which means I would not go very often. I think the important thing about hillwalking is being able to appreciate the views, especially the one from the top! I dread to think how many of our expeditions have begun with diametrically opposed opinions about the weather forecast.

In the 1970s when we started walking I found the hills exhausting work. I got so tired on every ascent that I always wanted to sit down and rest and the rests were never long enough. As time went on, the walking became easier and I was delighted when we completed all the hills over 2000ft in England and Wales. The Scottish hills were much more of a challenge. So many of them did not have paths all the way to the top. At first I found that a bit scary, especially as I could not read a map very well. I have to admit that I am still not good at it. My responsibility is the food, drink and clothing - the same as at home! Now, of course, we are climbing Corbetts. So why do I do it? What keeps me going, even in the wind and rain? I think it is the space to talk and to think. It always seems easier to get things into perspective up a hill.

Helen McLaren, Pool of Muckhart

(Munros 1992)

THERE ARE LOTS of reasons I bag hills. First and foremost I enjoy it. I do it because I want to. This may seem crazy to bagging critics but each to their own. However, just because I tick a list at the end of the day doesn't mean that I have suddenly stopped seeing the wildlife, reading the history or listening to the songs and stories. The tick is not instead of anything, it's an added bonus.

Perhaps the best reason for following a list of hills is that you get to places other people don't normally go to. When deciding where to walk everyone is influenced by something - a book, a friend, a picture, a television programme - and as such is influenced by someone else's opinion. A list of hills, on the other hand, is totally impartial. Sure, there will be the odd day you wish you hadn't bothered but the nice surprises far outnumber those.

Whether or not the female version differs from the male I wouldn't care to say. I am not a competitive person and am very much doing this for myself. Nor am I trying to keep up with or outdo anybody. Neither do I feel any compulsion to rush and will not compromise a good route or go out on a totally foul day just for the tick. I didn't start hillwalking until my mid-thirties - before that walking was very much what we did when the weather was too bad to go caving or climbing - and the bagging happened gradually. First it was the Munros then, a few years later, the Corbetts were added. Now the Grahams and other interesting hills are on my list too. And who knows, it may get revised again someday.

Lady Lorna Anderson, Helensburgh

(Munros 1962)

WOMEN who bag hills. I was, of course (!), never one of them. It just so happened I was a woman (one of a large mixed family) who habitually loved outdoor activity - home county Gloucestershire. The basic roots. We all seven loved outdoor activity and enjoyed each other's. Indeed we did things in varying combinations but no such thing as not doing any sort of activity if no-one else wanted to do it. On we went, our wild love and everyone understood. So I can't hold forth about psychology and all that.

One thing - I've always been a loner. Clubs and all that are out except ye one time Lomond Club which provided transport in winter when I was terrified of whatever two-stroke scooter I had. How well they did me and I never ever paid a sub (!) and got several winter Munros. All men on hills I automatically overtook. Pace was me. So why the Munros?

As a nurse, Scotland after Birmingham gave me endless opportunities. Munros - never knew anything about them. I just tore off for hills, the higher the better, and they stretched my ghastly need for physical activity. Naturally love of district took over - west and west/north for ever. Therefore struggled with all vehicles at Crianlarich. When heading east I had to be reasonably self-disciplined - turn right, on you go.

That is roughly it. Willie Docharty got at me. Can't remember how. But when I knew there was something called Munros - now halfway through them anyway - he edited me. Never ever would have considered a hill done 'til all 3000ft tops had been covered. How well did Willie D advise me. Yon Cairngorm - Stob Lochan nan Cnapan!!! Mid Great Moss. Midnight train from Buchanan Street, midwinter, having cycled from Helensburgh, dropped at Kingussie 4am. That Glen Feshie fringe - how I loved it for the ghastly struggle for its tops. Eventually, no Stob Cnapan 'til humbly crawling up from east side. Devil's Point after drop down into the Lairig. Most women "herd around" for fear of being alone. That fear I never ever have experienced. I love the women climbers I knew but do wonder why they didn't go it alone.

Barbara Jones, Guildford

WHY BAG and tick? Hill lists provide a pointer to "good" hills. Is this any worse than someone's guidebook or even a map? Lists provide a framework on which to hang expeditions and get to places one would in all probability not otherwise visit. I seldom think of lists or numbers when actually on the hill: too busy enjoying being out there. On my 600th Marilyn in mid-November I was too busy looking for the trig point to celebrate! Extra pleasure comes back home when doing the ticking and remembering previous hills. Other possible reasons: one-upmanship / competition - maybe in the subconscious. Legitimacy - with a husband who would not mind if he never went up another hill, "having to bag" this or that adds a little weight to my need to go to the hills. Hunting instinct - perhaps. Something to get one's teeth into - certainly. Related to hunting?

Lorraine Nicholson, Perth

(Munros 1994)

Like many others, I was drawn to the hills, ignorant of tables, heights or the importance of contours, because I was attracted to the more intrinsic values they offered: beauty, spirituality and freedom. In the beginning I knew of no lists, thus remaining untainted by any ambition to "climb them all". Rather, I was motivated by what I see as an inherent character trait, the desire to seek out new places, to explore my immediate environs and beyond, gradually piecing the jigsaw together. To gain an appreciation of the overall lie of the land the most obvious thing to do is to climb to the highest point, and to do this would seem to me a very natural thing for anyone with an ounce of curiosity in their surroundings.

When I did discover "the Munro phenomenon", I had no real belief that I would ever complete them, although my collecting instinct, coupled with keeping company with those playing a similar game, meant that I plugged away at them quietly and gradually, but not exclusively. I have often been known to roam "outwith tables" with no more motivation than fancying the look or shape of a particular hill or imagining the view from it.

Overall I would say I have, over the years, experienced a shifting focus. I was very much in zoom mode for a while but have now moved on to a more wide-angled view of things so that I appreciate being among the hills just as much. I, like many I imagine, have felt the puzzling and self-inflicted "pressure" of lists, so that while visiting an area with an unclimbed Munro or Corbett in it I would feel almost duty-bound to climb that rather than a hill of any lesser height.

In general, with regard to different motivations, my view is that most hillgoers tend to be individualistic in their approach and while some may respond to the sad phenomenon of peer pressure, I think most are driven by more personal needs for fulfilment. There is no doubt that lists give structure, just like rules are necessary for any game, but structures can be recreated and personalised just as rules can be bent or ignored. In this way independence of approach can be maintained from any total control. I know that males still dominate the outdoor scene in terms of numbers, but I think more and more women are taking to the hills so that in time things may become more evenly balanced in terms of representation.

Psychologically there are some fundamental differences between men and women with regard to hills. In my experience males are far more driven, single-minded almost to the point of obsession. In some cases this is possibly an overspill from professional lives where competitiveness and the need to reach goals are so much a part of everyday life. Proof of this might be concluded from the fact that many men go out on their own to bag hills, unwilling to compromise their hill ambitions. Social interaction has a much higher priority on hill-women's agendas. Of course there are very highly motivated high achievers amongst career women too, but I think women are more able to divorce their working lives from their recreational time. Women are also far more likely to modify their plans if the weather is really bad, to perhaps a low-level walk. This would be too much of a come-down for most males!

Women are, I feel, less in need of recognition of their achievements - which could, in part, explain why many of those of us who do not choose to register their completion are likely to be women. Women achieve quietly. I don't see this as a weakness, rather as a strength. In the December issue of TGO, Cameron McNeish entitled his editorial "Conquering and Collecting", with reference to hillbagging. The word "conquering" is a very male thing, underlying most males' needs to dominate (even their landscape!), and shows an inherent need for power. In contrast, women are more driven by intrinsic values such as the aesthetic beauty, the spirituality of place and freedom.

Elizabeth Pilling, Edinburgh

(Munros 1976, Donalds 1990, Corbetts 1994)

In the late 1980s I had a very demanding job and wasn't getting out on to the hills much. By the end of 1988 stress was imminent and I decided to have a day on a local hill to get some fresh air. For reasons I now forget I chose Windlestraw Law rather than the Pentlands. Shock horror at my total lack of fitness. Christmas was spent in Dundee and Boxing Day on Mount Battock. New Year's resolution: "To regain fitness by doing Corbetts and Donalds". Obsession soon followed with any spare time spent poring over maps and making lists with days then weekends and holidays and sometimes evenings after work on the hills.

How many Donalds could I do in a day? How many Corbetts could be linked into one expedition? Fitness and sanity (though some would say madness) had returned and I felt better for it. Many of the Donalds were solo outings but I was fortunate that a friend was also doing Corbetts so we enjoyed some splendid days together and also started collecting spiders for a montane spider survey. Which hills had a good variety of spiders? Were these the ones which also had a good variety of flowers? Often there was the added bonus of bird sightings - golden eagle or dotterel. Always the satisfaction of ticking off on my various lists.

All too soon the end of my objective was in sight and it was with mixed feelings that I got to the top of my final Corbett in 1994. My present obsession is my work!

Tessa Carroll, Stirling

PEEL FELL, 12 April, 1997, the tenth anniversary of the Ed's watershed walk."OK, let's count up how many Marilyns we have between us," he says. Back come the numbers, some fired back immediately, others more tentative after tottings-up of Munros, Corbetts, etc: 742, 1203, 329 and so on and so on. I sit quietly while the total scrolls through the thousands. "Tessa?" "Er ... dunno really." At this point I've barely got into my head what a Marilyn is, and I know my total will be nearer what one of these folk knocks off in a weekend. We run through them: Coniston Old Man, Dumyat, Meikle Bin ... and work out that Peel Fell is my tenth. At least it's a round number.

Since then, I've been up a lot more hills, almost all in the company of the long-suffering Ed. I've also learnt that "Er ... dunno really" is not an acceptable answer, and I do now, in self-defence, keep a list, and it does include running totals (93 Marilyns as this goes to press, since you ask). But more importantly for me, it has notes on the walk itself - birds, animals, and flowers seen, people met, Brocken Spectres and rainbows and days of nothing seen but the grey inside of a cloud ... It's neither a tick list nor one of the beautifully detailed journals like those I've seen belonging to other walkers, just signposts to jog my memory of days that blur into each other months on. No-one with my combination of sloth and slowness could be a real bagger, but I don't think it's in my nature anyway. I've never really collected anything seriously, somehow feeling the idea of collecting, of wanting the complete set, overshadowed the thing itself. And it's the thing itself, being out in the hills, that I love, however much I moan about how hard work it is. In spells when, for one reason or another, I can't get out for a few weeks, I realise how much I need to for all kinds of reasons. Tiny hills that don't feature in any list can be just as good as mighty peaks, even better sometimes. I like to go back to favourite nearby hills and to explore new places. So I guess I'm hooked, in my own way. I've no desire to complete any list, and will at all costs avoid the adrenaline rushes of aggy ridges and bad steps. But once I've started off up a hill, I am, so I'm told, "amazingly stubborn" about getting to the top. Which is why I won't be setting off up Sgurr Dearg.

TAC 44 Index