Three amateur surveyors who use professional equipment to accurately measure the height of hills recently turned their attention to two munro tops that were close to the qualifying altitudes for the official tables.
There was good news for one pretender; less good news for one peak on the list.
When, in 1891, the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC) published what is now known as Munro’s Tables, the Highlands of Scotland and their 3,000ft mountains were first listed.
This list comprised 538 hills and differentiated between separate mountains, with 283 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 more than 6,000 people now officially registered with the SMC as being ‘compleatists’, and probably many more that staunchly keep their compleation between themselves and good friends.
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 Global Navigation Satellite System surveying equipment that is capable of height measurements to a precision of 5cm or better, the Scottish Highlands have 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 focused 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 for our latest Highland adventure, since both these surveys also suggested status changes to the list of munro tops. 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 maps. It has also been known as Carn na Caim South Top.
Creag na Caillich (NN562 376), a munro top, 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 at the car park on the minor road close to the position of the now demolished Ben Lawyers visitor centre, and set off in a westerly direction 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.
The summit of Creag na Caillich is quite pronounced and is an excellent viewpoint 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 (NN 663 806) currently on OS maps with a height below 3,000feet. 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.
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, while 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. We 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 footwear, 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 6 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 3,000ft 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.
John Barnard, Graham Jackson and Myrddyn Phillips (G&J Surveys)