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Issue 64 - Land of Mountain Giants

Scotland Magazine Issue 64
August 2012

 

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Land of Mountain Giants

We join an epic expedition to survey three of Scotland's remote mountains

In the north-west of Scotland bounded by an expanse of infinite sea, lies an alluring but remote land. Described by many as the last true wilderness in Britain, it is bordered to the north by the pinnacled defences of An Teallach, and to the south by the most remote of Munros. This is the land of the Fisherfield Forest, where long mountain days are required to visit any of its summits; it is a land of mountain giants.

It was our task to accurately survey three of these remote mountains. Would GPS technology show them not to be as high as once thought? These surveys are part of The Munro Society’s ongoing heighting project. This project was instigated and coordinated by Iain Robertson, a man with vast experience of the Scottish mountains and who is recorded as the 55th Munroist. It is one of the most progressive activities currently taking place amongst the Scottish mountains, its aim being to complete a survey of all mountains close to the 3,000ft / 914.4m benchmark height. This is the only known criterion stipulated by Sir Hugh Munro, whose eponymous
Tables Giving All The Scottish Mountains Exceeding 3,000 Feet In Height was first published in the 1891 Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal.

This systematic listing of mountains is probably the first of its kind ever published and its historical importance and ongoing popularity is emphasised by the number of Munroists which is now approaching 5,000 people.

Our first objective was Beinn a’Chlaidheimh, a sandstone giant with a map height of 916m (3,005ft) that overlooks the wildly situated mountain bothy of Shenavall. We set off with members of The Munro Society from the Corrie Hallie on the road of destitution, gaining height on a good track until the land of the Fisherfield Forest opened up before us. Few landscapes in the whole of Britain can compare! With a radiant blue sky, glistening lochs and mountain tops free of cloud, all our party had to do was carry the 12kg of surveying equipment up to the summit which comprises three separate tops of nearly equal height. Using a survey-grade optical level and staff, we soon determined that the most southerly of these is the highest.

We set the equipment up on the mountain’s highest point and proceeded to collect three hours of data which would be submitted to Ordnance Survey for computation of the accurate height. During this time we could now rest and fully appreciate the beauty of our surroundings. Across Gleann na Muice the next surveying objective of Beinn Dearg Mor rose island-like from out of the valley depths, with occasional cloud shadows silently moving across its steep eastern face. Towards the south-west, the rounded summit of our third surveying objective, Ruadh Stac Mor, was a wilderness away. Both hills would demand long days with their summits hard to reach.

With three hours of data collected, we packed the equipment away and descended back to the valley below and the Abhainn Loch an Nid river crossing. Thankfully this proved relatively easy with no problems encountered; something that is not always the case with the river crossings within the Fisherfield area. However, with almost 900ft of ascent required to get back to Corrie Hallie, the remoteness of the Fisherfield Forest was now appreciated more by the weariness of body rather than the alertness of one’s mind and its awareness of remote landscape in all its beauty. The day proved long with the last of the eight strong party arriving back at the awaiting cars after 12½ hours on the hill.

A well-earned recovery day at Sail Mhor Hostel followed. On the second walk from Corrie Hallie into the Fisherfield Forest along with members of The Munro Society we were joined by the expedition’s sponsor, Lord Haworth of Fisherfield, the first member of the upper house to become a Munroist. Ahead, cloud capped, lay our next surveying objective; Beinn Dearg Mor. With a map height of 910m (2,985½ft) this hill is one of the highest, and regarded as one of the best of Corbetts, these being Scottish mountains between 2,500ft – 2,999ft in height with a minimum of 500ft of rise on all sides. Its reputation is one well deserved. With narrow ridges and grand buttresses, any approach is steep and unrelenting. We were free of cloud whilst surveying for summit position and once set up the equipment proceeded to gather two hours of data.

The next objective, Ruadh Stac Mor and its map listed 918m (3,011¾ft) trig pillar proved almost alpine-like, with long valleys leading toward the hills as we quickly gained ground on good paths. Mountain architecture of the finest order seemed to enfold us, enticing our onward investigation. With two hours of data collected we packed the equipment away and descended out of the Fisherfield Forest, arriving back at the awaiting cars after another long mountain day.

Sometimes figures can highlight the task completed and those for our three surveying days came to an approximate 55 miles walked with 14,600ft of ascent and totalling more than 41 hours on the hills.

Would any of these three mountain giants alter in their listed status? It was no surprise that our surveyed summit height of 918.65m is in good accordance with the 918.67m flush bracket height adjoined to Ruadh Stac Mor’s trig pillar. More surprising is the result of Beinn Dearg Mor whose 910m map height will now be reduced due to our 906.28m survey result. Both of these hills retain their respective Munro and Corbett status. But what about the sandstone giant of Beinn a’Chlaidheimh? Would having a map height of 916m (3,005ft) prove it vulnerable to reclassification? The answer to this question awaited data post-processing. Because of its importance this result along with that of Beinn Dearg Mor was sent to Mark Greaves, the Ordnance Survey’s Geodetic Analyst who independently processed each result. Beinn a’Chlaidheimh’s accurately surveyed summit height was calculated to be 913.96m (2,998½ft) which is below that of the 914.4m / 3,000ft benchmark height. Therefore, upon SMC verification Beinn a’Chlaidheimh is no longer a Munro and is reclassified as a Corbett. However, although the Munros are now reduced to 282 Separate Mountains, the Corbetts increase in total to 221 mountains. Although Beinn a’Chlaidheimh can no longer boast Munro status, it is still a mountain giant positioned in a vast land of remote peaks, remaining the same in all but known height and classification.