The Angry Corrie 67: Feb-Mar 2006

Sales and salvationism

Following the death of Rob Milne on Everest (see TAC65 p4), Rab Anderson has taken over as convenor of the Scottish Mountaineering Club publications sub-committee, and as general editor of the club's hillwalking guidebooks. Here he responds to a few questions about his role.

Congratulations on your appointment, albeit in such sad circumstances. Have you been involved with the publications wing of the SMC for long? Are the new responsibilities taking up a lot of your spare time?

Rob was a good friend and someone with whom I had shared a lot of good days on the hill ever since our first route together in 1980, so he will be missed. He did a lot of good work on Scottish Mountaineering Club / Trust publications and will be a hard act to follow.

I've been on the SMC publications sub-committee for longer than I can remember, must be around 25 years. Graham Tiso was convenor at the time and when he approached me I decided to see what was involved. Needless to say, the fact that I have been there that long means I find it interesting and worthwhile. The committee is reasonably large, and we are always keen to recruit those who are active in the Club so that we can keep our finger on the pulse.

At this stage I am not quite sure how much time these roles will take. However, it's inevitable that it will be more than I think! Once you get to the book-production side of things this is much more labour-intensive and a hell of lot of time and effort goes into this from all involved.

The SMC publishes guidebooks to the Munros and the Corbetts, a series of district guidebooks, and of course Munro's Tables. Do all these come under your control? What about the climbing and scrambling guides, the annual journal, and books such as Robin N Campbell's The Munroist's Companion? And what of multimedia productions, the Munros CD and so on?

Control is not really the word, but the sub-committee is involved with all these publications and productions, with the exception of the SMT titles and the annual SMC Journal, which has always been dealt with separately and has its own editor. As you might imagine, there is a lot on the go and I simply try and keep the meetings on the right track. In the background there is fair amount of liaison with the production side of things, much of which is done in-house. Like most committees, there are various roles for its members and I have taken on the role of general editor of our hillwalkers' guidebooks. I would also like to think that I have a fairly active mind and I do have ideas, so we will have to wait and see what comes of this.

A reprint - with minor amendments - of the Munros guidebook is in the pipeline. When is this due out, and what else is lined up for the next few years?

The Munros should be out by April 2006. It perhaps started out as having minor amendments, but a fair amount of work is being put in and there will be a number of noticeable changes, which will effectively give us a new book.

The next year or two is due to be particularly busy for our publishing programme. We have already published five of our new series of climbers' guides, as well as our Scottish Rock Climbs selected guide. There are still another six left in the old series with Northern Highlands Central, The Cairngorms and Northern Highlands South hopefully all coming out in 2006. We also plan to bring out a dedicated "sport climbing" guide to Scotland next year, as well as the first of two scrambles guides similar to Skye Scrambles. Then there are the walkers' guides currently being worked on, the first of which we are planning to roll out in early 2007. There are also some new titles in the planning and production stage, but for obvious reasons I won't say anything about them. One that I can say something about, although it's an SMT title, is a book on the Scottish mountain environment, expected out early in 2006. This has been written by a number of experts in their fields and is being supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, so it should prove to be very interesting.

What kind of sales figures has the club had for its various guidebooks over the years?

About all I can really say here is that sales do quite nicely and continue to grow. When I first came into publications our district guidebooks, or hillwalkers' guides as they are now known, used to support the climbers' guidebooks. However, a lot of work on the climbers' guides, together with an increase in the number of climbers, has seen these guides do very well for themselves. I would hope that anyone who has seen Scottish Rock Climbs will be impressed. With this book we have fully embraced desktop publishing and the digital camera revolution to produce a state-of-the-art full-colour guidebook. I would like to think this firmly places us as the market leader in this particular area of publishing.

Our district guidebooks continue to prove popular and I am sure as we develop these and apply the expertise of our production team, then they will become even better. Needless to say, The Munros and The Corbetts books both do extremely well.

The SMC and the SMT have their names on the spines of various books - eg Munro's Tables is an SMC book, while Peter Drummond's Scottish Hill and Mountain Names is an SMT one. Is there any rhyme or reason to this?

The Trust publishes books for both the SMC and itself. Although there are some exceptions at the moment, it's generally the guidebooks that have SMC on the spine. Since its formation [in 1889], the Club has always produced this type of information for climbers and walkers and will continue to do so. The SMT occasionally publishes its own books, either because the author is not an SMC member, or because it has been approached with a manuscript that does not quite fit the SMC's publications remit and it feels should be produced in the interest of walkers and climbers. Unfortunately, the SMT does not have the resources to do everything that comes its way.

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The 2004 North-west Highlands guidebook appears to have been well received. It marked something of a departure for the SMC in that it combined the old Northern Highlands and Western Highlands guides. What's the timescale for revision of the other district guides, and will there be further "mergers", eg Central Highlands combined with Southern Highlands?

This guide has gone down very well, but it's not strictly true to say that it was the first to combine two district areas, since it was the Bennet/Strang edition of North-west Highlands that combined two guides back in 1990. Anyway, we continually strive to improve our publications and this is just one of a number of improvements up for consideration. To some extent it's dependent on the amount of information that an area can contain and what our authors provide. The process of revising books such as these is fairly lengthy, and although all authors are in place the next district guide is not due out until early 2007.

When the SMC's first Munro-specific guidebook came out in the mid-1980s, its only real rival was Irvine Butterfield's The High Mountains. Now there is a range - Steve Kew's Walking the Munros books for Cicerone, the Pocket Mountains series, the McNeish stable, Storer - but there also appear to be more people going to the hills. Is it proving harder or easier to sell the SMC "brand" than a couple of decades ago?

I suppose ours was the first and is still the market leader, but yes, it is becoming more competitive, especially as other commercially minded publishers step in on the act. Hillwalking is hugely popular and as a result there is a large readership base, so any material on the hills is bound to be of interest. Like most people, I have a number of different books on my shelf. Competition is good for us since it keeps us on our toes, and good for the walkers and climbers since it gives them a better product.

The popularity of the Munro and Corbett guidebooks has led to many obvious "baggers' paths". The SMC (or SMT?) puts a lot of money into path repair, but is there unease within the Club about the way "corridorisation" seems to link directly to erosion?

The first thing I would say here is that a lot of the routes in our Munros and Corbetts guidebooks were already long-established and would have seen increased traffic despite our books. Anyone involved in the hills should be aware of their impact on the environment, and we in SMC publications are no different. All profits from our publications go to the SMT and a large chunk of this goes to work on footpaths, as well as other mountain-related causes. Corridorisation may well have a direct impact on erosion, but you could argue it is focused on a smaller area and therefore something can be done about it. Routes all over the hill could well spread the impact over a greater area. There are a number of factors that affect where we go on the hill, such as car parking, the lie of the land and routes converging on a common point. After all, we generally follow specific geographical lines and if left to our own hill sense on an open hill we usually end up taking a line that others have before us.

I would also say that, apart from perhaps seeing another commercial opportunity, our book and CD-ROM The Corbetts and Other Scottish Hills were produced to show that there are other things to do than simply the Munros.

I suppose another way of looking at this issue is that if it wasn't us then it would be somebody else, and at least money from the purchase of our books goes towards doing something about erosion problems.

Is there also concern that the sheep-like tendencies of many hillgoers - mindlessly following guidebook routes - is anathema to the idea of adventure and exploration? Put another way, to use the SMC's own jargon, is the club in danger of selling its ultramontane soul to the salvationists?

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It's a bit unfair to classify many hillgoers as having sheep-like tendencies, although I see where you are coming from. The hills are there for us all to enjoy and there are many reasons why we take to the hills. Not everyone wants adventure and exploration and some are happy to be pointed in the right direction to maximise their enjoyment. There are those who like to be different, and there are certainly enough of them involved in the hills. Some like me might get a guidebook and use this to find their own way, a different route. In SMC-speak, the salvationists can take their pick from the lists and the ultramontanes can find their own exercise. I flit between the two, one day with an ice axe in my hand, the next with a fishing rod! I certainly don't think there is any danger of the SMC selling its ultramontane soul, and for those who might be worried, I can assure them that this is still alive and well. Anyway, our leisure time is important and the hills are there to be enjoyed, so each to their own.

There was considerable controversy - and not a little publicity in the mainstream press - concerning the changes made to Munro's Tables in 1997. Two comments heard at the time were that (a) the revision was simply a way for the SMC to sell more books, and (b) it was curious that all eight Munro promotions were on National Trust for Scotland land, while the privately owned and ripe-for-promotion Glas Leathad Beag on Ben Wyvis remained a mere Top. Were such comments mere cynicism?

First of all, I would say that I think it's perfectly acceptable for the SMC to revise the Tables. It published them in the first place and continues to maintain them as things change and new information comes to light. I have heard the Club accused of standing still and I have heard it accused of being too forward-thinking, which just goes to show that you can't please everyone. At the time the Tables were revised I know that various people were consulted and that included some who were not SMC members. Anyway, if we had stuck with Munro's original Tables you would not have to do the In Pinn, only the lower Sgurr Dearg. Just think what doing the Munros would be like without that guillotine-like blade hanging over you!

I was involved in our publications when we first published The Munros [in 1985] and was also there when we discussed the new edition of the Tables. I can categorically assure the cynics out there that at no point did we ever discuss, or even consider, that this was a way for us to sell more books. If this was our aim, then I am sure we have could have come up with some other ideas.

Curious indeed that all eight promotions were on NTS land, and your question is the first time I even knew that, so that kind of kills off that conspiracy theory I hope. What was the theory - bribery and corruption? This is Scottish mountaineering, so I think not.

If the truth be told, at the time I was in a mischievous mood and all for finding some obscure tops to elevate to Munro status, not hills most people do as a matter of course. When I suggested this, Donald Bennet scowled at me and that was that. I ended up getting well and truly hoisted by my own petard, though. Earlier that year I had done a big round of Mullach na Dheiragain and Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan from Glen Elchaig, including all the Tops. I even did the obscure Creag nan Clachan Geala, in case anyone ever decided to elevate that to Top status, before finishing over the two Tops on the north ridge. Just one little problem, though: there are now three Tops on the north ridge, as I found to my dismay when the revised Tables came out and I saw that Stuc Fraoch Choire was a Top. I had considered doing this but ignored it because it was not in the Tables at the time and my map had no spot height against it. That damn book/hill also caught me out with the deletion of Stob Coire nan Dearcag, which I did that day, and the addition of Stob Coire na Cloiche, which I did not do and later had to combine with An Socach. Stuc Fraoch Choire remains a thorn in my side. Looking on the bright side, though, it gives the chance to go back to fully appreciate the Falls of Glomach at the start of the day, rather than hobble past them in gathering darkness.

I don't think anyone can dispute that the eight hills promoted had the required attributes for Munro status. I have no idea whether Glas Leathad Beag was considered, but this is just the kind of Top I would like to have seen elevated, since it's nicely "out there" and probably not done by many people. I will certainly raise that one in the future. Tick done, so it suits me! Anyway, if you are looking at contenders for Munro status, what about Sgurr na Lapaich in Affric? The height gain might not be as significant as some, but it's a fair distance out along a spur. I assume these will be considered when the Tables are next looked at.

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Then there is Knight's Peak. It's been listed as a 914m Munro Top since 1997, but no OS map gives it this height and Harveys seem convinced it's a couple of metres lower. Its inclusion implies that the SMC knows its height to the nearest tenth of a metre, as 914m is generally regarded as being below Munro height, as with Foinaven and the Torridon Beinn Dearg. There are suspicions that Knight's Peak was included because it's technically awkward, even though it contravenes the First Law of Munros: that a summit needs to be 3000ft or over. Any comments?

I knew that when I said I would put my head into The Angry Corrie's mouth this one would bite! What I would say is that I have not seen anything yet that fully confirms this to be a Munro Top. Equally, there is nothing to fully confirm that it is not. The policy on mountain heights in the Tables is to use the latest published data from the OS where available. As far as I am aware, in 1997 there was no metric height for Knight's Peak and only a rather dated large-scale imperial map that could not cope with the chaotic Cuillin landscape. The height was measured using the best available means at the time - the caricatured "SMC steam-driven precision altimeter" [see TAC35 p10]. The measurement was 914.4m, exactly 3000 feet, and this was simply rounded down to 914m in the Tables. I understand that this was also checked against the adjacent Sgurr nan Gillean. It's an obvious candidate to be looked at and I certainly don't think it was added because it's technically more challenging.

I am not an expert in the world of mountain heights and I don't know whether the method or the accuracy of the altimeter used were suitable. So, my dilemma for the revised edition of The Munros is whether to show Knight's Peak as a Munro Top, or a Corbett Top. Unless someone can prove to me that Knight's Peak is less than 914.4m, then I will simply reflect what the 1997 Munro's Tables states: that Knight's Peak is a Munro Top. I have raised this with the OS.

For the moment, the simplest thing is to perhaps play safe and if you are doing Munros and Tops then make a weekend of it to get both the In Pinn and Knight's Peak. Mind you, I have done the In Pinn when it was like a bar of soap and one day of that would be enough for most!

There's a rumour that Stob na Doire on the Buachaille is soon to be upgraded from a Top to a full Munro. Are you able to shed any light on this?

First I have heard of that one, so no light whatsoever, I'm afraid. The Buachaille would fall over under the weight of another Munro! Who starts such rumours? Don't you think Stob Coire nan Lochan would make a better Munro?

Do you regard yourself as a walker, climber or all-round hill man? And if forced to choose, would you take winter or summer?

I'm a climber, but many who climb in Scotland are all-rounders. It's partly out of necessity due to the climate and largely to do with how lucky we are to live in such a small country with so much on our doorstep. I used to play in the Pentlands as a child and came into climbing through walking whilst still at school, so have always walked. I feel that being a climber allows me to make full use of the Scottish landscape. On the rock I am just as happy in the urban surroundings of Dumbarton Rock as I am high on Bidean's Church Door Buttress. Out walking, I am just as happy in the Pentlands, where I continue to play, as somewhere more remote such as Ben Alder. I recently did a fine round of nine Donalds (well, it's that in "our" Tables until someone tampered with the list and came up with New Donalds and deletions!) around Ettrick Head, so am not fixated on heading up north all the time.

I am also well into fly-fishing and just being in the hills, not necessarily on them. I have had great days fishing places like Rannoch Moor and the hill lochs in the far north-west. Late last season I took my rod along on the brilliant Lochinver-to-Elphin traverse over Suilven and caught/returned at the foot of Suilven. I suppose this all means that I should answer again and say all-round hill man. I am also fortunate (or unfortunate?) in that my wife shares in all of these activities with me, even the fishing.

Summer or winter? Difficult question. Some of my most memorable days climbing and walking have been in winter. I have a bit of a reputation as having been quite "handy" as a winter climber, and was at the forefront of developments for a long time, so I have done some pretty memorable stuff. As far as winter walking (it's really mountaineering in winter) is concerned, the South Glen Shiel ridge in full midwinter condition, in a day from Edinburgh, is hard to beat. This leads me to believe I should say winter, but because we are blessed with the changing seasons, which give us the chance to play in different surroundings all the time, perhaps it should be both winter and summer. However, I will make a choice and say summer because there is more daylight and as well as being able to do things in the midweek evenings there is just so much more time to be out enjoying all the things I want to do. Mind you, sitting on top of Angel's Peak in the middle of winter and watching the sun set until everything is black and starry is pretty hard to beat too - mmmmh!

Do you have a favourite hill?

Easy one that in light of some of my previous answers. No, just the one I am on at the time.

Finally, if anyone using an SMC guidebook finds a mistake in a route description, or knows of a change in the on-the-ground situation - say a bridge having collapsed or a new car park having been opened - is there a way they can contact either you or one of your colleagues with a view to feeding this information into the publication process?

The best thing to do is go to where there is a feedback button. We are more than happy to receive information and in fact I have just put a call out to this effect via the MCofS Scottish Mountaineer magazine. Information is passed on to the relevant guidebook author and will also probably be noted on the website.

Ed. - Just over seven months after Rob Milne's death, the SMC lost another of its office-bearers when honorary librarian Ian Angell died in a fall near Arrochar on 14 January, aged 66. Possibly the only son of Norfolk to have combined passions for campanology and crampons, he was a kind and knowledgeable man who did much work cataloguing the SMC library in Hutchesons' Hall on Glasgow's Ingram St. His passing will be felt by club colleagues (he was in the Alpine Club as well as the SMC, had connections with the JMCS and was a founder member of Wasdale MRT in his Lakeland days), by hill-history researchers, and most of all, of course, by his family and close friends, to whom condolences go out. St Columba's at Largs was overflowing for the funeral, on a fine winter's day with Arran and the Clyde looking great. He had been desperately unlucky, having slipped (probably on ice) and fallen into a slit-cleft on the lower slopes of A'Chrois. When Arrochar MRT found his body next day they estimated the cleft to be less than a metre wide at its opening, but 10m deep and hidden by vegetation. This is a notorious area for such mantraps, so for the sake of future accident prevention it's worth giving the grid ref: NN294063, near the treeline on the Succoth / Glen Loin side of the hill.

TAC 67 Index