The Munro Society has announced the results of a recent re-survey of three hills in the remote Fisherfield area. Beinn a' Chlaidheimh was found to fall just short of Munro height. Will it now be relegated from the hallowed Tables?
Three hills were measured in the survey, which was carried out in July. The results, which have yet to be confirmed by the Ordnance Survey (OS) or officially endorsed by the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC), custodians of the Munro and Corbett lists, were as follows:
- Beinn Dearg Mor, previously quoted on maps as 910m, has been found to be 906.28m: this hill comfortably retains its Corbett-worthy status but speculation that it may be a Munro looks to be unfounded.
- Ruadh Stac Mor, which keeps its Munro-qualifying 918m height and was found to vary from the OS data by two centimetres (who's counting?).
- Beinn a' Chlaidheimh is the only real upset, dropping from a previous map height of 916m to a fractionally (but crucially) lower 913.96m.
The Munro threshhold is 914.4m. If the new survey is correct then Beinn a'Chlaidheimh will have to be demoted from Munro status and the total number in the Tables revised from 283 to 282. The drop between this peak and neighbouring Sgurr Ban is more than sufficient to guarantee the hill a new position near the top of the Corbett charts instead. However this would not take place for some time.
In response to the survey the SMC issued this statement:
'The Scottish Mountaineering Club has been notified of these survey results and has undertaken to consider the implications for Munro's and Corbett's tables when the Ordnance Survey update its map of the area.'
The Munro Society's measurement process was said to involve the latest satellite technology and the surveying party had to carry an extra 12kg of equipment in addition to the normal mountain kit on each of the three measuring 'expeditions'. Details of the survey can be seen on the Munro Society website.
Because the satellite data must be recorded for a minimum of two hours – actually three hours on Beinn a'Chlaidheimh, reportedly – none of the 'expeditions' took less than 12 hours.
As with Fisherfield, previous surveys carried out by the Munro Society have tended to concentrate on hills close to the Munro / Corbett cut-off height. Cynical members of the hillgoing community have in the past suggested that promotions and demotions from established hill lists are more likely to generate publicity than adding or subtracting the odd metre from summits with a more secure position in the height rankings.
However in response to this Ian Robertson of the Munro Society says:
'We are simply concerned with accuracy. We've started with the borderline hills that have been questioned in the past, of which we've now surveyed 12 since 2007.'
Perhaps in an ideal world every Munro would be re-measured, even those whose height would keep them securely in the Tables come what may, but Robertson tells us there are no plans to extend the surveys that far, a huge task that would 'not be finished in my lifetime'.
'In measuring the heights of mountains just below and just above 3000ft (914.4m), we believe we are following in the tradition of accurate measurement established by Sir Hugh Munro who first produced the 'Munro's Tables' in 1891' says the Munro Society's latest press release. 'Munro and his friends relied on aneroid barometers, the technology of the time; in 2011 we use satellite technology to achieve yet greater accuracy, but we seek the same objective. Munro never set down complete criteria for Munro status before his death in 1919, but it has always been accepted that 3,000ft (914.4m) was the primary requirement.'
By using satellite technology The Munro Society hopes that any residual doubt or speculation regarding the heights of the mountains it has had surveyed to date has been removed.
But does any of this even matter at all? The mountains have not changed. If Beinn a' Chlaidheimh is spared the erosion of Munro-bagging feet then some would welcome its demotion. The Fisherfield Six will still be an all-time classic walking challenge even if only five of the hills are in fact over 3000 feet. Meanwhile Ruadh Stac Mor remains one of the most stirringly remote of all the Munros, and whatever its actual height Beinn Dearg Mor is still among the greatest mountains in Scotland.