The Angry Corrie 57: Apr-Jun 2003

Thoughts and feedback

Hamish M Brown

Damn TAC! Why does it have to be so interesting? Any arrival can guarantee a late night, and the quiz issue could be grounds for divorce. So, thanks to John of Beith (TAC56, p18) for his note on the County March Summit as the railwaymen called the pass north of Tyndrum. The OS never had a name; I went back right to their earliest maps. From then, to now, the drainage on the north side is named Allt Slochd an t-Seipine, the stream of the hollow/dell of the choppin (a quart measure). I can't imagine the drovers using that mouthful, and hazard that the pass might just have been called the Slochd, as is the way over to the Spey from Inverness. Trouble is, the users weren't writing their doings. I reckon we'll never know.

What studying those earliest OS maps (back to around 1770) did turn up was a note on the east side of Loch Ericht (facing Alder Bay) saying: "Cave, used by the Pretender in 1746". There have always been conflicting views about where Prince Charlie's Cave was sited (I have mine), but could everyone be wrong, could it be not on Ben Alder but facing Ben Alder? Or was misinformation given to the OS and they have had to correct it to where they show it now?

This led to another naming and renaming matter, one which had seemingly been docily accepted into use long before I was toddling. Looking at hills involving people's names - from Arthur's Seat to Leum Uilleim to Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhugaill - I turned to Skye with its honouring of Nicolson, Collie and Mackenzie and Knight, the first three mercifully turned into mellifluous Gaelic. Pity about Knight. (Who he? A professor from the University of St Andrews whose major claim is a bump on Sgurr nan Gillean!)

Now, who dreamed up this naming ploy? And when? And how was it so easily established? I mean, could you imagine the row if someone suggested that Ben Tee be renamed for Richard Wood (he of the 1000 ascents - Ed), no matter how good it looked in Gaelic?

Robin Campbell (TAC56, p18) never "nonchalantly" throws away anything unless it's a verbal hand grenade, so I'm not surprised at that bang bang on Johnnie Cunningham. I'd say the result was deuce. Both commentators were highly praising a great character who I knew and admired too. Perhaps he didn't match some of the best climbers in persistent quantity of routes, but he did something better for he was a more rounded, agreeable person, happy to be in his own skin. He served others, giving, not just taking. Like Ian Clough or Tom Patey or Jim McCartney, his too-early death hurt, not because of what they'd done but because of what they were, who they were.

image from TAC57

Finally, on climbing cats (TAC56, p12), I always read Fiona Wilkie's stories of her Siamese with interest as, for half my life, I've been owned by Siamese cats, a breed of loud-mouthed nutters. However, it's an "ordinary" alpine cat that once interested me, as I knew its home/owners: the Swiss guide Otto Stoller and his family who ran the Schwarenbach Inn above Kandersteg. The Schwarenbach had a cat that took to following climbing parties, not just for wee walkies but up to the glaciers and the snowy summits. This eventually was noted in the Swiss papers and, briefly, by the UK press.

Fiona Wilkie's cat's ascent of Spidean Coire nan Clach was challenged in TAC as the summit has since moved. At the time this was trig, and now it's 200 metres away, so the suggestion was that the cat's ascent can't count as a Munro. This is surely a dangerous precedent. How many Munros have changed since the Tables appeared? Plenty. So everyone who has climbed Munros before current map delineations is cancelled. Sorry FW. Sorry AER. Sorry HMB.

Pete Drummond

The Schwarenbach hut/hotel at the foot of the Swiss Gemmipass features framed photos of their mountain-climbing cat, and for five euros you can buy a coloured brochure dedicated to him: Tomba, named after the famous skier. Born 7 August 1988, Tomba took to clambering over the nearby hills and ridges very young. He was only 10 months old when he made his first ascent by following two climbers (dogging their footsteps?) on the 3453m Rinderhorn. A few days later came the Balmhorn at 3699m. He showed no interest in the climbers' food, and on the summit ridge strode along with his tail held high, clearly pleased to be there. He died of feline AIDS at four years of age on 27 January 1993, not a common fate for Alpinists, but his fame is still spreading ... as this note proves. (See, or for a picture of Tomba.)

Ed. - Awarding the names of pioneers to the Skye hills seems a reasonable practice if the hill in question didn't have any prior map name or one used consistently in local lore. But at least one Skye naming was a renaming: the conversion of Sgurr an Lagain to Sgurr Alasdair, after Alexander Nicolson (although why couldn't it have been Sgurr Alexander or even Sgurr Sandy?) This is surely a form of imperialism, and a move to reinstate the original version would carry some momentum. Qomolangma, Denali, Uluru, Sgurr an Lagain - it's all the same argument, really.

Re Spidean Coire nan Clach and its roving Munro point, fair enough: the cat-bagging pedant in TAC56 had forgotten that the Munro Top of this name listed from 1974-1997 did indeed have, as its stated high point, the 972m trig at 25/965597. (Before 1969 the book didn't give grid refs, and from 1969-74 there was only 1km accuracy. Pre-1974, the height of SCnC was also vague - "3200ap" - although 3200ft is nearer to 972m than 993m when metricated.) It was only when SCnC was promoted to a full Munro in 1997 that the SMC remedied their error, so when Fiona Wilkie and Jane Cat climbed the hill in the 1970s they would only have had to visit the trig - which they did - to claim a Top tick.

This however raises another question, that of wrongly located "summits". There are many hills where what is commonly held to be the high point - a trig, a cairn, a junction of fences - is not on the highest ground. Often - the little-but-good Welsh Marilyn Moel-y-gest is a typical example - the high point is close to the trig and no more than a metre higher, such that a passing bagger might easily omit to make contact with the highest point.

But there is a more marked version of the problem, and Spidean Coire nan Clach is a prime example. Pre-1997, anyone who visited the true summit (993m at 25/966595) while studiously avoiding the 972m trig ought, by Hamish's perfectly reasonable logic, to be denied their tick as they didn't visit the point listed in Munro's Tables - even though they did get to the top of the hill.

Another example occurs on Beinn a'Chroin, which "switched polarity" in 1999 following research by Richard Webb and Charles Everett. The old situation had the East Top as a 940m Munro, the West Top as a 938m Top. But the 938m spot height didn't mark the high point of the West Top (which, as on SCnC, is around 200 metres away), and the current cartographic/tabular wisdom has the West Top reaching 942m and hence qualifying as the Munro. It could be argued that any pre-1997 bagger who visited this 942m summit, but who missed the 938m bump, failed to reach the point listed in the Tables. What was/is the Munro-Top-ist status of such people? There must be a fair few of them.

All this is given an added piquancy in that Beinn a'Chroin was the hill where Ronnie Burn completed - allegedly - his Munros and Tops on 20 July 1923...

(More strange Munro movements: p10. More cats: p18.)

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