There are No Rules

To complete the Munros (or Corbetts, Tops, Grahams, Donalds and Furths for that matter) a person must have climbed to the summit of all the hills on that particular list on the day of their completion. But how do you do this? When the SMC published ‘Munro’s Tables’ it didn’t contain a chapter on the rights and wrongs of how a completion should be achieved, there simply are no rules. This leaves the method of and journey to completion up to the individuals own particular moral and ethical code.

So if you have climbed all the Munros but haven’t yet completed the Munro Tops can you really call yourself a ‘Complete Munroist’? After all when Sir Hugh compiled his list it did contain both 3000ft mountains and their subsidiary tops. Overall only 10% of Munro completists climb the Tops as well and how different would the list of completers look if a Munro round required bagging 509 hills instead of the accepted 282. 39% of the first 100 Munroists climbed the Tops as well with the numbers dropping with each passing decade. Maybe the popularity of guidebooks and websites advising on routes purely over the Munros and omitting diversions out to the Munro Tops is to blame. But it appears obvious that the vast majority of Munro completers are more than happy with their decision to interpret the list in this way.

Fionn Loch and Dubh Loch from Beinn Lair

After they have climbed the Munros many turn their attentions to Corbetts, Grahams and Donalds. When you look at these lists in isolation it is apparent that they contain 222, 219 and 89 summits respectively. However there are some anomalies. 7 Corbetts are also Donalds and 23 Grahams are also listed as Donalds. So how does the bagger approach these lists? Are they required to climb each one twice to claim the bag of the dual classified Graham/Donald or Corbett/Donald? These three lists contain a total of 530 summits but in reality how many only climb 500? Really as each hill is listed in separate lists then shouldn’t they be climbed twice? Discuss.

Then we move on to the thorny subject of re-classified hills. These can prove an ethical nightmare for many completists. If you completed the Munros before 2009 both Sgurr nan Ceannaichean and Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh were firmly lodged in the bottom tier of the Tables. Following the recent heightings by the Munro Society both these hills have now been re-classified as Corbetts. So if you are now aiming for a round of Corbetts do you need to go back and climb them both again as they now appear on this list? Some do and some don’t. To complete you need to climb all the hills on the list on the day of your completion. You’ve climbed them once so why do you need to climb them again? Obviously it depends on how well developed your purist gene is.

Above the inversion on Buachaille Etive Mor

An even more contentious issue appears to be the use of guides. Many believe that they must ascend and descend all the hills on the respective lists purely under their own steam. But why? A lot of people start hill walking to challenge themselves and what could be more challenging than finding yourself on the Aonach Eagach or Cuillin ridge with little or no previous experience of this sort of terrain? Not every hill walker is comfortable on this environment and most do not have friends or colleagues willing and able to accompany them. So why not hire a guide? The vast majority of guides/instructors don’t just drag their clients over the hills attached to a rope, you still climb the same hill, often by the exact same route as those who dismiss the use of guides as ‘cheating’. After climbing the Cuillin Munros with a guide a novice hill walker will have developed a huge amount of confidence, competence and skills on complex rocky terrain and should not be belittled for attaining their goals this way. Indeed, the SMC pioneer Norman Collie was accompanied by John Mackenzie (credited with being the first native Scot to become a professional mountain guide) on many ascents in the Cuillin. But………..……how do the small minority of people who have been lowered off of the In Pinn manage to sleep at night?!

Abseiling down the Inaccessible Pinnacle

Many female Munro baggers will be eternally grateful to J. Dow who set a precedent in 1933 by becoming the first person to complete the Munros without the aid of a beard.

Munro bagging without a beard. In Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda (Skye)

Do you need to get to the top of the hill to say you have summited? The vast majority of those who have reached the bolster stone at the top of the Inaccessible Pinnacle are happy to touch it before abseiling off again and very few have actually stood on top of the very obvious summit boulder. Baggers research summit locations with varying degrees of OCD, utilizing 10 figure grid references and identifying which individual rock constitutes the exact summit location, whereas others are happy to claim the hill as bagged when they  have reached a cairn in roughly the place indicated on the map and nothing round about looks higher. Can you have claimed to have completed a round of the Corbetts without ‘threading the needle’ and scrabbling to the top of The Cobbler? I would argue not but to many this is so far outside their comfort zone that they are happy to claim the bag by simply standing next to the summit rock.

Maybe life would be easier if the SMC required proof of summiting each peak? Maybe not, after all we go to the hills to escape from the rules and regulations of everyday life and surely claiming you have summited 282 Munros when you haven’t is clearly only deceiving yourself and devaluing the achievement of completion.

How do you get to your Munro? Do you start walking from the nearest accessible place to your target hill or do you rely on public transport or a pushbike? Over the years it has been interesting to hear the different viewpoints on personally acceptable ways to access the hills. Apparently use of the gondola to access Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag is particularly frowned upon. But this defies logic. The gondola will transport the walker to 650m, just over half way up Aonach Mor. However, the Cairngorm ski centre carpark allows the walker to drive to 650m, just over half way up Cairngorm and this appears to be acceptable. Although taking the chair lift to within 40m of the summit of Meall a’ Bhuiridh or The Cairnwell may be considered rather lazy!  Some view a bike as a perfectly reasonable aid to pedestrianism whereas others view them as an interrupting the purity of their walk, either that or they really enjoy sore feet. Boats also seem to split opinion rather vociferously. Kayaking across or along lochs may meet with approval but using a ferry on Loch Mullardoch, Loch Morar or across Loch Hourn to Barrisdale Bay is often met with a frown. Using boats enables many remote hills to be climbed within a day, therefore avoiding the need for camping or using a bothy for those who do not relish either of these experiences. These private boats are run as ferry services, no different to those catering for the islands. So does it really matter how you get there? No, just make sure that whatever mode of transport you choose you are able to justify your actions against those who shake their heads disapprovingly.

The A’ Chioch ridge, Ben More, Mull

So how do you count yours? An age old problem, one that many would welcome a ruling on. As Dave Hewitt wrote in the first Munro Society Journal (2007), the first round is simple, you just climb all the hills on the list at least once. The Purists (or Golfers) as they are known, believe that you don’t start a second or subsequent round until you have finished the last. Then there are the bankers who apply the cumulative mode of counting and simply start the next round on whatever total of repeat ascents that have already been achieved. Neither way of counting is right and neither is wrong but over the years many hours of debate have taken place discussing the ethical merits of each. Again it is down to the individuals own personal preference for one particular methodology and whichever route a person chooses no-one should adopt the moral high ground about their own preferred method of completion. The jury is still out on those people who use the out and back method to claim a repeat ascent. This group are comfortable with climbing over the first summit to the second and then reascending the first summit on their way back to the car and in the process count the reascent towards a second or subsequent round. They appear to be happy with their decision but l do wonder if they can hold their heads high in the bar at the Clachaig.

After taking this plethora of issues into consideration are our consciences clear and can we manage to live with ourselves? On reflection, if Sir Hugh had submitted his list to the SMC with a list of rules and instructions to aid our progress through to completion it may have made life a lot clearer but where would the fun be in that? You have spent hours that day discussing the finer points of bagging with your walking companions, argued and debated and finally agreed on an acceptable modus operandi, then just as night is descending around the dying embers of the bothy fire you hear the masses groan as a voice echoes out of the darkness ‘so do you think Munros or Corbetts are harder?!!?’

All hill totals quoted are from the current edition of the Database of British Hills

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