One New Munro Top Found; Another Is Demoted

© Myrddyn Phillips

G & J Surveys, the team of hill surveyors behind several well publicised revisions of mountain heights, have been busy in the Scottish highlands. The result is one brand new Munro Top, and one demotion. Mullach Coire nan Cisteachan above Drumochter is the first new Munro Top to be identified since the last official revision of Munro’s Tables in 1997. However one hill's gain is another's loss, and a survey of Creag na Caillich on the Tarmachan Ridge has led to its removal from the list. For now then, the total number of Tops remains the same at 255 (in addition to the 282 current Munros). Here's how they came by their results. 

When, in 1891, the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC) published what is now known as Munro’s Tables, the highlands of Scotland and their 3000ft mountains were first listed. This list comprised 538 hills and differentiated between Separate Mountains (with 283 originally listed) and their Subsidiary Tops (with 255 listed). These are known nowadays as Munros and Munro Tops respectively.

Over subsequent years Munro bagging has become very popular with over 6000 people now officially registered with the SMC as being 'compleatists' [sic], and probably many more that staunchly keep their completion between themselves and good friends.

Using a level and staff to determine the high point of Creag na Caillich, formerly a Munro Top  © Myrddyn Phillips
Using a level and staff to determine the high point of Creag na Caillich, formerly a Munro Top
© Myrddyn Phillips

Our surveying in the Scottish Highlands has concentrated on The Munro Society’s (TMS) Heighting Project with many of the heights of marginal Munros and high Corbetts now having been measured accurately by us. Since we invested in our GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) surveying equipment that is capable of height measurements to a precision of 5cm or better, the Scottish Highlands has also attracted the attention of Alan Dawson, who invested in similar GNSS equipment in 2012. Alan is well known as a hill list compiler with a multitude of prominence based lists to his credit, including the Marilyns, and his surveys are focussed on improving the accuracy of these lists. It was the results from surveys of Creag na Caillich and Mullach Coire nan Cisteachan that were conducted by Alan that interested us this time, since both these surveys also suggested status changes to the list of Munro Tops. 

Nb. The latter name of Mullach Coire nan Cisteachan was adopted by the SMC through local enquiry and map study, as the hill is unnamed on current Ordnance Survey (OS) maps. It has also been known as Carn na Caim South Top.

Creag na Caillich (NN562376) is positioned at the western end of the Tarmachan Ridge and is easily accessible via a track that gains height around the southern part of the ridge. The day we ventured onto this hill proved almost ideal, as only an occasional shower materialised over the mountains and these were quickly pushed eastward by a brisk breeze. We parked on the minor road close to the position of the now demolished Ben Lawers visitor centre, and set off along the excellent track. The route essentially traverses west under the southern flank of the Tarmachan Ridge before reaching an old quarry. At this point it was a question of finding the most suitable route up the steep grassy flanks to reach the col and the summit ridge path to the east of our target. This was tough going with all the equipment, and we very much contributed to the already high humidity, but one could not avoid admiring this lush green corrie!

John Barnard at the summit of Creag na Caillich  © Myrddyn Phillips
John Barnard at the summit of Creag na Caillich
© Myrddyn Phillips

The summit of Creag na Caillich is quite pronounced and is an excellent view point to look back along the ridge and also to admire the great scenery in this part of the Highlands. As we knew the measurement would be critical, we first used a level and staff to determine accurately the highest point before assembling our Leica GS15 over it. This now remained in place for the minimum two hour data collection period required by OS for them to verify the data. The summit was surprisingly windy and we were pleased to be sheltered behind a small rock outcrop while the all-important data were being collected. Once the job had been completed it was a return to the car by the same route and, with more time, a chance to admire some of the flora and fauna as well. A rare butterfly, called a Mountain Ringlet, was just one of the highlights. 

The following day we had arranged to meet representatives from the SMC and members of TMS just off the A9 for an ascent and survey of Mullach Coire nan Cisteachan (NN663806) currently on OS maps with a height below 3000feet. The SMC were represented by Rab Anderson and Andy Nisbet and TMS by a number of members including Iain Robertson who had instigated the Heighting Project for TMS.

Immersed in a bog - surveying the bealach of Mullach Coire nan Cisteachan  © Myrddyn Phillips
Immersed in a bog - surveying the bealach of Mullach Coire nan Cisteachan
© Myrddyn Phillips

The ascent of this hill is straightforward as a vehicle track ascends one of the bulky westerly whaleback ridges to within a few metres of the summit; so it’s a question of heads down and go for it! Many would agree that Drumochter is not the most scenic part of the Scottish Highlands, but the altitude of the A9 does mean fairly short ascents. Weather conditions on the summit were perfect with clear conditions and a light breeze. Again once the high point had been located accurately with level and staff, the Leica GS15 was set up for its two hour data collection. During this time a number of the party took the opportunity to visit the parent Munro of Carn na Caim, whilst we inspected the area of the bealach, or col if you are a Sassenach. A key factor for the SMC in deciding the status of a Munro Top is “topographical significance”, although the drop of a hill was something that Munro never took into account in the creation of his Tables. Topographical significance was based by Munro on subjective judgment rather than any formulaic method.  e also planned to confirm the drop from the summit to the bealach which Alan had previously measured to be over 30m.

The bealach consists of an unsavoury looking peat bog, which although sticky in places and messy on our footware, never proved too difficult to negotiate, and nobody disappeared into it! Once our initial inspection was complete we returned to the summit and waited the few remaining minutes for the two hours of data to be collected before taking the surveying equipment back down to the bealach. Using the level and staff in the bog proved interesting particularly for the holder of the staff who finished the survey six inches taller! However, the critical position of the bealach was located as before and the Leica GS15 was set up over it to collect GNSS data. All that remained was to retrace our steps back over the summit and down to the A9 where our cars awaited.

The results for these surveys were sent to OS who subsequently verified the data and maps will be accordingly updated with the Creag na Caillich result of 914.3m being rounded down to 914m on maps, and the Mullach Coire nan Cisteachan result of 914.6m being rounded up to 915m on maps.

This information was forwarded to the SMC and as the all-important figure of 3000ft for Munro Top status is 914.4m, it means that the SMC has taken Creag na Caillich out from the list of Munro Tops. But more pleasingly as one hill departs the list another enters, and the SMC will include Mullach Coire nan Cisteachan into the list of Munro Tops. This is the first new Munro Top to be identified since the last revision of Munro’s Tables in 1997.

Here are two videos of the hill survey days:



UKH Articles and Gear Reviews by John Barnard, Graham Jackson & Myrddyn Phillips

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11 Sep, 2015
Very interesting - I bet Sir Hugh would be amazed by all this GPS kit. However - your intro mentions "283 Munros" - are you sure? I thought there were now 282, after the demotion of Beinn a'Chlaidheimh? With 7 to go, I need to know!
You're right Steve - I think you've still got only 7 to go. Thanks for spotting that. Obviously I can't keep up.
11 Sep, 2015
That's a relief!
15 Sep, 2015
Then why on OS Maps online service is Creag na Caillich shown as 916 metres and Mullach Coire nan Cisteachan shown as 914 metrs?
15 Sep, 2015
No doubt this is why the survey was carried out - because somebody suspected these numbers to be wrong. If the survey has been carried out to the correct standard, then the OS will adopt the findings in the next revision of their maps. It won't be immediate though - it isn't OpenMaps.
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