August saw two remarkable events on hills at opposite ends of Scotland. First, on Monday 15 August, Miles Hutchinson of Kirkcaldy, accompanied by half a dozen friends including TAC's editor, climbed Ben Hope in claggy conditions, then dined in the excellent (good food, very welcoming) Crask Inn. Nothing unusual about that, except it being 50 years to the day since Hutchinson had first climbed Ben Hope, the occasion then being the completion of his first Munro round (he's since added three more, in 1992, 1998 and 2004). This is surely the first time anyone has repeated a final Munro exactly 50 years on, and it appears to be only the third time anyone has lived for 50 years post-completion.
Hutchinson stands at no.23 in the published list of Munroists originally compiled by Eric Maxwell of the Grampian Club and these days maintained by the SMC, and of his 22 predecessors only Archibald Robertson (no.1) and Alastair Cram (no.8) lived that long. Robertson's claim is debatable (see TAC52 pp4-5), but for the sake of argument he lived for 56 years 267 days post-completion (completed 28/9/1901, died 22/6/58). Cram's exact details aren't known - he's in the list as having finished Munros and Tops in 1939, but it seems he wrapped up his main Munros the year before. He died 17/3/94, so lived for 55 or 56 years post-completion. Various other early Munroists came close to their golden jubilee without quite making it: Ronald Burn (no.2) completed 20/7/23, died 1/6/72, 48 years 317 days later; John Dow (no.5) completed 4/6/33 and died sometime in 1972, so perhaps reached the 49-year mark; and Alfred Slack (listed out of order at no.835) completed 11/11/50 and died 6/3/98, 47 years 115 days later. But only Robertson, Cram and now Hutchinson are known to have actually reached the 50-year mark - a feat that will become almost commonplace in years to come with the more recent Munrobagging generations completing younger and living longer.
Miles Hutchinson is a wonderfully spry 79-year-old - it's a tribute to his health that after five minutes on the hill with him you've completely forgotten about his age, as it just feels like a normal day out with a fit hillwalker. He's closing in on a round of Grahams - around 40 to go - and there's no reason why he shouldn't live until 9 May 2112, that being the date he would pass AER's post-completion longevity record. And when the time comes, who would bet against him marking the occasion with a Munro?
(Hutchinson already holds the somewhat dubious distinction of being the earliest surviving Munroist - in other words, all those who completed ahead of him are no longer with us, whether they be the 22 in the list, those such as the previous title-holder Slack who are listed out of sequence, or those such as Tim Tyson and Chris Andrews who simply aren't listed at all. The Ed knows exact or approximate dates of death for all these, apart from Jimmy Robertson, no.6, and William Douglas McKinlay, no.14, and would be keen to hear from anyone who has information on these two gentlemen. They were born sometime in 1900/01 and 1904/05 respectively, so it's highly likely that neither is still around.)
So that was one great achievement in the far north of Scotland. Then, on the last day of August, on Windy Gyle on the English border, James Gordon of Inshriach became the first person to climb all 1000 Graham Tops in the list which he, Alan Dawson and Clem Clements compiled (see Graham Tops and Grahamists, details on p19). Given that the booklet only came out in March 2004, and that Gordon only wrapped up his round of "normal" Grahams in June 2000, this is a monumental effort.
He has a track record here, having in February 2002 become the first (and thus far only) person known to have completed the Corbett Tops - see TAC54 p14. Add to that five rounds of Munros (1992, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2004), a round of Corbetts (1998) and ascents of 1439 of the 1554 Marilyns, and there's no one quite like him in terms of breadth of British hill knowledge and experience.
(It doesn't appear to have been noted previously in these pages that the original 999 Graham Tops have been augmented by Beinn Aoidhdailean, NG886140, a 634m GTM attached to the Saddle and discovered by Ian Walter of Hawick. There being exactly 1000 GTs may seem unlikely, but life is like that sometimes.)
Back to Munros - here's a question that doesn't appear to have been discussed before. What's the highest number of Munros ever climbed as "counters" towards a round? This needs a bit of explanation. Anyone who has completed a round but who didn't climb their first Munro until after the most recent set of SMC changes in the autumn of 1997 will have climbed exactly 284 Munros as counters, this being the number of hills in the current list. That much is obvious. Now take the case of a Munroist who started slightly earlier - say in 1995 - and who climbed Sgor an Iubhair before its deletion in 1997. By the time this person - let's call them Bagger B - eventually completed, there would have been 285 occasions when they went home and ticked a Munro on the list.
Now take Bagger C who started much earlier, say in 1965, but who only completed in 2002. The minimum number of counting Munros for Bagger C would again be 284, but it could well be quite a bit higher. As with Bagger B, had they first climbed Sgor an Iubhair during the period 1981-97 then that would have counted (pre-1981 Sgor an Iubhair was what it is now: just a Top).
Then there were the big 1981 changes: seven clear deletions, none of which has come back. So if Bagger C had also climbed all of Carn Cloich-mhuillinn, A'Choinnich over Bynack way, the Feshie trio of Geal Charn, Meall Dubhag and Carn Ban Mor, and Carn Ban and Carn Ballach (which the 1981 Tables called Carn Balloch) in the Monadhliath before 1981, when they still counted, the tally would rise to 292 counting Munros.
The 1981 revision also saw Beinn an Lochain finally cast into Corbetthood, it having been of dubious status for some time. So had Bagger C climbed that when it was still a Munro, the total would rise to 293. This is what could be termed the modern-times maximum for clear-cut Munros, but there's also scope for taking a deep breath and entering the maze of summit relocations - partial deletions if you like - into which hills as varied as Beinn a'Chroin, the Braemar An Socach, Clach Leathad, Slioch and the Laggan Beinn a'Chaorainn have all strayed at some point over the past few decades. A few hillgoers will have returned to climb the revised summit on one or more of these and will have regarded the day's activity as a new(ish) tick, particularly on the first three named hills, where the switch involved a significant distance. For such people - and there is admittedly a much more subjective element here than with the clear-cut changes - the ascent could arguably count in terms of this curious calculation.
But even ignoring such nuances, has anyone come near to the 293 figure? Unlikely, as it requires not just a lengthy Munrobagging career but also a particular and unlikely sequence of events. Someone having bagged 290 counters is a distinct possibility, however.
In an earlier era an even higher figure was possible. The original 1891 list included 283 main Munros, 13 of which were downgraded to Tops in 1921 (Carn Eas, Beinn Iutharn Bheag, the "other" Sgurr na Lapaich, etc). Sgor an Lochan Uaine has since been reinstated, but the 76-year interval takes it outwith this current calculation. A further eight original Munros were replaced on "In Pinn anomaly" terms, being lower than a nearby point. And 1921 also saw the start of the 12-year period when An Garbhanach was mistakenly listed instead of An Gearanach. So someone whose career straddled the 1921 revision could have climbed 305 counters. This is even less likely than the later 293 figure given how few aspiring Munroists were active in the early days, but again a figure of 290 or so isn't impossible. (Thanks to Ken Stewart for help with this, and to Robin N Campbell's The Munroist's Companion - SMC, 1999 - particularly pp108 and 119 and the Variorum Table.)
All of which makes this an appropriate place to list the smattering of Munro rounds known to the Ed where completion came on a subsequently deleted hill. It's a short list - just seven of them - but there are likely to be more, whether on these or other ex-Munros, and any further information would be welcomed.
Richard Wood (no.88 in published list), 9/6/69
Jack McNab (unlisted), 3/6/79
Mike McCue (226), 13/9/80
Lily Mackenzie (131), 8/11/75
Ross Napier (212), 26/4/80
Jack Ashcroft (644), 4/6/89
Bob Leitch (156), 6/8/77
The tragic events in London in July received a vast acreage of press coverage, but potential future problems for hillwalkers and climbers passing through the capital (or indeed through any large city) don't seem to have been discussed as yet. The use of rucksack bombs by suicide bombers is likely to turn the innocent in-transit hillgoer into a surveillance suspect for years to come, especially as anyone heading from southern England to the Highlands by train, or from Scotland to the Alps, will inevitably pass through mainline and underground stations carrying what might, to the eyes of those wearing uniforms and watching through CCTV cameras, look like weapon-storage devices. This is understandable from a security-agency point of view, but is likely to prove hasslesome on the ground - and potentially somewhat unnerving given what happened to Jean Charles de Menezes. (On the previous morning, 21 July, TV had shown a rucksack-wearing passer-by being made to lie down at gunpoint in Whitehall.)
It's not the first problem for travelling hillwalkers, however. Something like 15 years ago it suddenly became markedly more difficult to take ice axes on long-distance coaches. This was a two-step process: the first problem was that axes - indeed rucksacks in general - were pretty much banned from the seating area of the bus. This seemed fair enough: quite aside from taking up space, there was a worry that an axe might have someone's eye out. So into the luggage hold they went - until there was a further edict against allowing axes down there, for fear that they damage other people's bags. This led to the absurd situation - encountered several times in the early 1990s - of the axe having to be detached from the sack and carried on to the bus as hand luggage - much to the consternation of the tourists who tend to form the bulk of the payload on such journeys, and who presumably felt less than comfortable about having to sit near a large unkempt man wielding what was, to all intents, a vicious-looking weapon.
The Ed hasn't been on a long-haul coach for some years: the gradual narrowing of seat-gaps on coaches has made it distinctly uncomfortable if not downright impossible for a giraffe-shaped man to squeeze into a window seat. But other walkers still use coaches (and trains), and it would be interesting to hear what currently passes for restriction with regard to hill ironmongery.
Returning to the London bombs, it would also be interesting to know - if only out of morbid curiosity - what kind of rucksacks were used. From the CCTV footage (http://www.guardian.co.uk/gall/0,8542,1530933,00.html), the sacks were large, dark-coloured and possibly of rather old-fashioned design, but no specific details appear to have been released. This isn't the kind of thing likely to crop up in the gear-review pages of the glossy hill mags, but does anyone know? It's doubtful they were the kind on display at http://www.prisonplanet.com/articles/july2005/270705perspective.htm
Finally, security reports concerning the CCTV footage of the 7 July bombers gathering at Luton station included the comment: "You would have thought they were going on a hiking holiday." In other words, in terms of intent and motivation at least, a hiking holiday is regarded as diametrically opposite to a suicide bombing mission. For this much, at least, we should be grateful.
TAC67 will include a review of this year's Dundee Mountain Film Festival, the 23rd such event. This will be held in the Bonar Hall, Park Place, Dundee, 25-27 November. The programme includes Everest summiteer Conrad Anker (perhaps his brother Wolfgang was behind the on-hill artwork on Sgurr na Coinnich - see p19), Nancy Hansen who broke the record for climbing all 54 11000ft peaks in the Canadian Rockies, and legendary drive-all-night climber Mick Fowler. Full details available at http://www.dundeemountainfilm.org.uk/
What is to be made of the new access-land signs in Englandandwales? These have been introduced as a byproduct of the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act, and the going-up-the-way sign is fine - when you reach the stile that marks the end of the in-bye land there's a maroony-brown walker in a circle, and the message is clear: you're allowed up here. Coming down the way, however, on the other side of the same stile the walker is struck out by a diagonal red bar. What it means is that you're back into corridor-access country - stick to the path please - but what it looks like, and what some people are surely taking it to mean, is that you're not allowed any further, so have to go back the way you came or spend the rest of your life up on the blasted heath.
A good example is on the path to Shutlingsloe from Wildboarclough - a well-established route but one where a fair few puzzled, uncertain conversations must now ensue as walkers, having come from some other direction, encounter the sign on descent. There are plenty of these signs in place, and there seems a degree of wishful thinking in the Countryside Agency guidance quoted on the BMC website at http://www.thebmc.co.uk/outdoor/access/symbols.htm - "this symbol [the one with the bar] should only be used in very limited circumstances - where the boundary between access land and land with no access rights needs clarifying or where there are persistent problems with trespass." It would be interesting to know how much was paid to consultants for the counterintuitive design.
(Having said that, a second thought: could it be that the "negative access" symbol does indeed mean keep out, and is being misused to indicate a corridor path?)
No Spot the Bagger competition this time, so this is the place to say that the TAC65 winner was (by a short head) Jim Waterton of Glasgow. (Apologies, incidentally, for mangling JW's Eddington thoughts on p14 of TAC65 - for excluding, in the second para of his bit, read including - this makes rather more sense.) While on the subject of absenteeism, there'll be no festive quiz this year - all good things need a rest sometimes - so the spouses and partners of grid-ref-obsessed quiz devotees can rest easy this Christmas season. And because of this, TAC67 won't appear in mid-December as would normally be the case - you'll all have to contain your excitement until early 2006.
September saw Marcus Whitelaw of Lossiemouth jailed for two months for "culpable and reckless walking". There's no immediate need for alarm within the hillgoing community, as Whitelaw had stepped in front of a car on the A9 and caused it to land on its roof at 70mph (thankfully no one was seriously injured). But had anyone previously heard of this law? And how long before someone tries to use it against "errant" hillwalkers?
Two late bits of news. As trailed in TAC64, 8 October saw a sixfold Grahams completion. The hill was Druim na Sgriodain above Corran, and the completers were John Barnard, David Claymore, Richard Cooper, Ian Henderson, Graham Jackson and Laurence Rudkin. Known Grahamists rise from 31 to 37, just like that (http://bubl.ac.uk/org/tacit/completions/grahamists.htm). And in the east, Bob Scott's bothy has reopened.
TAC 66 Index