Nicholas Crane unravels the tale of Sir Hugh Munro, whose exploration of the wild Scottish peaks little more than a century ago began a modern mountaineering obsession.
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Welcome to the mountains of Scotland - the greatest, the wildest landscape in Britain.
They're a Mecca for hillwalkers - ten of thousands come here every year.
And the key destination - the only destination for many -
are the mountains over 3,000 feet, the peaks we know today as the Munros.
The Munros are in a class of their own.
They are Scotland's highest mountains and they define this land...
Hundreds of summits that stretch for over a hundred miles across the Highlands and islands.
And getting to the top of the Munros has become an obsession with a name
of its own, Munro bagging, the quest to climb all Scotland's highest peaks.
I love these mountains too.
I've walked them since I was a teenager.
I know their shapes and their names like old friends.
From the legendary - Ben Nevis...
to the secretive and obscure -
Or Sgorr Ruadh.
Their very names a mantra which stirs the hearts of those who have been enraptured by them.
On whose slopes friendships are forged.
On whose summits life-long journeys begin and end.
From razor-sharp ridges to desolate plateaus to gaunt cliffs,
they are among Europe's most varied mountains.
a little over a hundred years ago, they were virtually unknown.
Until Sir Hugh Munro.
So who was Munro, the man who brought order to these mountains
and gave birth to an obsession that has lasted a hundred years?
His story is one of discovery,
It tells us what happened when the Victorian passion for rationalising
the natural world collided with an all-consuming love of mountains.
This is the story of Sir Hugh Munro, the magnificent peaks that
bear his name and the people who have been possessed by them.
I'm in the North West Highlands
on my way towards one of the mountains I love best anywhere in the world...
There's nothing like being high up on a mountain.
I've walked and climbed among the world's greatest mountain ranges,
but I always come back here.
I think of these magnificent mountains as home.
My father introduced me to these mountains as a teenager.
We used to come up here every winter.
Just over there I had the adventure of a lifetime, and it isn't really one I'd like to repeat.
These peaks have been trodden by countless walkers and climbers.
They're well past being what you'd call wilderness.
But I know only too well how easy it is to underestimate them.
This is a place where violent winds, mist and snow can quickly turn a day out into a life-or-death epic.
This mountain here, An Teallach, bit me good and proper when I was a youngster.
A group of us had climbed the entire ridge in perfect winter conditions, it was plastered in snow and ice.
Everything was going according to plan until we reached
the final peak, that one up there covered with crags.
The mist came down and we just couldn't find a route down through the icy rocks.
Well, we descended a gully for 3,000 feet on a rope and 30 hours later
got back to where we started thanks to one of these, an accurate map.
It's amazing to think, then, that a hundred years ago there were no
detailed, reliable descriptions of this landscape.
The Victorians were fanatical explorers.
The world's great unknowns were falling one by one to the methodical tyranny of the mapmakers.
By the 1880s, the course of the River Congo had been traced, the Matterhorn had been climbed
for the first time and the height of Mount Everest had been measured.
But thousands of miles from the Himalayas, much closer to us, was a vast area still relatively unknown
to adventure-obsessed Victorian Britain - the Scottish Highlands.
We were waiting for an explorer in our own land, someone who could
reveal the secrets of our very own mountains to the wider world.
But that pioneer had yet to step forward.
Let me show you how sketchy our knowledge was of these mountains 120 years ago.
Here are some maps of that era.
On this one, one mile of reality is compressed into one inch
on the map, and at first glance it looks quite modern.
But when you look closer, you realise how much is missing or questionable.
Here's a mountain with a summit, according to the map, at 2,750 feet.
Well there it is over there and in reality it's over 3,000 feet high.
In other words, the map tells me there shouldn't be anything above
the height of my hand, it's just a complete blank.
The thought of navigating through these mountains with maps like this is fairly terrifying.
They're just all full of holes, and there were no convenient guidebooks to fill in the gaps.
No reliable, detailed record of this landscape existed and without that,
there could be no widespread knowledge of what was out here.
Entire mountain massifs were known only to the locals.
These were days when the great landowners prevented ordinary people from crossing their territories.
As a result, no one person had climbed sufficiently far and wide
to get a true picture of Scotland's mountains.
In fact, nobody even knew how many mountains there were.
Not even the newly-founded Scottish Mountaineering Club.
Some of the members already had impressive Alpine climbing
experience and from its beginning in 1889, there was an air of exploratory zeal about the club.
The founders knew their home-grown hills and glens were a whole new world waiting to be discovered.
And one of the club's first resolutions was to address the appalling
ignorance of their own backyard, by having Scotland's mountains listed in a scientific way.
To undertake this, they turned to one of the club's own members.
His name was Hugh Thomas Munro, heir to his father's estate
in the foothills of the Eastern Cairngorms.
Oh, hi, Nick.
I've joined mountaineer and historian
Robin Campbell to help me understand the origins of Munro's task.
It looks like that in 1890, Munro was given the task by the committee,
or by the first editor Joe Stott, of gathering information about every hill over 3,000 feet in Scotland.
But why 3,000 feet? Why was he only interested in mountains 3,000 high?
The highlands are an eroded plateau, eroded by glaciation,
and probably the low point of that original plateau would be round about 3,000 feet.
So it's an accident of geology and the Ice Age
that the Scotland's mountains tend to cluster around 3,000 feet?
-And it's a nice round number.
-What exactly did he do?
For each hill, he collected basic information.
He collected its height, name, where it was, what county it sat in, where it was best ascended from.
So this is a paper exercise?
-He's climbing library shelves rather than climbing mountains?
It was maps, imperfect as they were, and documents or word of mouth,
not mountains, that were the raw information Munro had first turned to.
His great work had begun indoors.
And he's annotated it in his own hand.
-Yes, he has.
This book is the first attempt ever made to list all the 3,000 foot mountains in Scotland.
It's the Holy Grail for people who love Scottish mountains.
-He must have been a keen mountaineer already?
He was a keen mountaineer.
What we have here,
his application form to join the mountaineering club...
Mountain after mountain, yes.
His early days climbing in the Alps, beginning in 1873.
Yeah, I mean he's climbed the Wetterhorn, Zugspitze, these are pretty serious mountains.
-Monte Rosa, yes, exactly.
I tried, didn't get to the top.
-Yes, well, it's high.
So he was a great mountaineer, he was clearly dedicated to...to...
to keeping records, he was very good at doing that...
-Why was he temperamentally suited to this great work?
We know that he was a stickler for correctness, because this is
the second volume of the club's journal, and right at the end of this
volume we have a contribution from Munro.
Oh, yes, "Additions, corrections and remarks..."
-"Additions, corrections and remarks..."
-By Hugh T Munro.
"For rcck read rock."
He's correcting other people's work!
He's correcting other people's mistakes.
-He was a bit of a nitpicker, wasn't he?
-A bit of a nitpicker, yes!
Meticulous attention to detail was precisely what the huge task of
cataloguing Scotland's mountains demanded.
When Munro started compiling the information he needed from maps,
notes and word of mouth, he worked methodically and he worked fast.
In September 1891, at the end of less than a year's work,
Munro's List was finally published for all to see.
Munro's results were astonishing.
Until then, the true scale of the Scottish mountains had been something of a mystery.
Some reckoned the total number of peaks exceeding 3,000 feet might be as few as 30.
The number of peaks exceeding 3,000 feet identified by Munro was 538.
For even the most knowledgeable of his mountaineering colleagues, the list was a revelation,
the first ever comprehensive source of information about the peaks in their own backyard.
They had read about the Alps and the Himalayas, some had even climbed there.
Now they felt Munro's List had laid bare for the first time the secrets of Scotland's landscape.
But Munro himself was far from happy.
The list did not satisfy his desire for precision.
The information he'd been working from hadn't allowed him
to say with complete confidence which mountains were above 3,000 feet, and how many there were.
Most peaks in Scotland had not been measured with any accuracy.
At best, their heights were rough approximations.
So here was Munro, an absolute stickler for rigour and order,
putting his name to this list yet knowing from the outset that it was riddled with uncertainties.
A mountaineer of Munro's honour had to personally vouch for the information,
and that meant he had to find some way of checking the heights of the mountains on his list.
It would turn out to be the greatest task of his life.
It's fascinating to me that what began as an obscure clerical exercise would grow into a modern
phenomenon - Munro bagging, the systematic climbing of the mountains in Scotland over 3,000 feet.
But I've never really understood why people choose to climb hills just because they're on Munro's List.
Glencoe's Clachaig Inn is one place I might find answers.
It's within spitting distance of over ten Munros and has
always been a favourite watering hole for Scotland's mountaineers, even in Munro's day.
Do you know, one of the things about the Munros and the Munro List is you
get to go all over this wonderful country and you get to see places you would never otherwise see.
I think Scotland's so big it'd be a structureless way to climb hills
if you just tried to pick whichever one suited your mood at the time.
Having that list there to work your way through
gives you some idea of progress and some sense of purpose.
What are the pleasures of going up the Scottish mountains?
Today, absolutely none cos it was miserable!
You work all week, you've only got the weekend to climb mountains,
and someone's luckily written a book,
and you can go and do it without doing a lot of preparation.
What's the point of going up there if you don't get to the top?
It doesn't matter how tired you are, you've got to get to the top.
So you started doing them and, Claire, you suddenly found yourself trying to catch up?
Yes, I'm only on about five or six at the moment!
Claire likes lists. One thing that you really like is...
-Are you a list person?
-I like ticking them off.
-You like ticking boxes?
'Slightly crazy? Perhaps.
'Munro, in 1891, was off to revise his list,
'and for that, he needed reliable figures
'for the heights of his mountains.
'Some Scottish peaks had been measured accurately
'by the Ordnance Survey. But most had not,
'because surveying demanded vast manpower, heavy equipment and time.
'A single mountain could take days to measure precisely.
'Munro needed a simpler, faster method.
'Mountaineer Graham Little from the Ordnance Survey knows all about it.'
Munro was one man working on his own.
It would have taken many lifetimes to survey the mountains in the way that the Ordnance Survey were.
So what was Munro's solution? What was the answer?
Well, he had a very simple solution - he used a barometer.
It's like a beautiful little pocket watch. It's lovely!
It is, and it measures air pressure. As you gain altitude,
air pressure drops and so you can calibrate the barometer
to read height.
So the calibrations round the outside give you height above sea level?
Absolutely. It gives you a good result.
But this device can't be used by standing at the bottom of a mountain looking upwards, can it?
-It involves climbing every hill!
-When you see how many mountains there are here,
we're talking about an enormous challenge.
-An enormous challenge.
-An epic feat of mountaineering.
-Absolutely. I'm sure he enjoyed it.
With only a handful of mountains having been measured accurately by the Ordnance Survey, for the rest,
Munro was going to have to do the next best thing -
take his own measurements with his own barometer.
To do that, each would have to be climbed.
It planted the seed of an audacious notion,
that a single individual could climb all Scotland's 3,000-foot peaks.
This was an idea that grew to proportions Munro could scarcely have imagined.
It shifted the way these mountains are regarded.
Their wilderness could be tamed.
Standing here with my barometer,
surrounded by these wild mountains, I'm just beginning to sense how
excited Munro must have been at the start of his incredible adventure.
He had a lot to deal with - the measuring, the terrain,
everything from bogs to narrow mountain ridges, the weather.
These mountains can get so windy you sometimes have to crawl on all fours to reach the summit.
Then, of course, the navigation, the thick mist.
But these were just practical difficulties,
adversities he'd have to deal with every day.
But there was something much bigger going on.
He was setting out to be the first person
to climb every 3,000-foot mountain in Scotland.
And being first, if you manage to do it,
is something you can carry in your pocket for the rest of your life,
and I'd love to have been in his boots.
Munro was a bit of a loner.
He climbed most of his mountains on his own.
It was a...solitary endeavour,
and I do understand the attraction of that.
You trade companionship for complete freedom of movement...
and that's a good trade.
I really have to marvel at the sheer ambition of Munro,
embarking on THAT journey in THAT age.
And I'm a little envious, too -
his was the privilege of being the first person to set out to explore
Scotland's mountains on such a scale.
The photographs of him are at odds with the epic nature of what he did.
He doesn't exactly look like a mountaineer.
And you get the sneaky suspicion this hat is being worn without a trace of irony.
And yet occasionally, we get glimpses of a man
as tough as old climbing boots. Just listen to this.
"Heavy walking all day in soft snow.
"They had to scrape me down with a knife to get the frozen snow off before I could enter the house."
'Munro's great journey would test every fibre of his resilience.
'He had left the library shelves far below.
'Munro's odyssey might have begun as a scientific endeavour,
'but exploring these mountains would be sheer visceral adventure.'
Tackling so many summits would take him the length and the breadth of the Highlands.
Here was the chance to become an explorer in his own land.
But he was not alone.
Deep in the mountains, somebody was following his footsteps.
Someone else had heard the call of The List.
This is the Scottish Mountaineering Club hut
beneath the north face of Ben Nevis.
It's a long time since I've been in here.
It's got a wonderful atmosphere. This table...has a long history.
It was made by the Reverend Archie Robertson.
His carpentry is as robust...
as his reputation.
He was one of the most indefatigable, charismatic figures
in the world of Victorian mountaineering.
It was on the tops high above this hut that the Reverend Robertson
was struck by lightning and catapulted 1,000 feet down a gully.
He picked himself up and walked down to the valley bottom.
He claimed later not to have remembered much of the incident,
but he did leave a few lines about it.
"Left Imperial Hotel, Fort William, at 9:05 for Ben Nevis via a path.
"Struck by lightning about one on ridge of corrie overlooking Glen Nevis.
"Got home at 4:15.
"Dr McArthur dressed my head for two hours.
"20 stitches! Temperature about one degree above normal at 10pm."
Like Munro, Reverend Robertson was tough,
and like Munro, he was a member of the privileged classes.
But although they knew each other, their paths seldom crossed,
and their outlook on who should be allowed onto the hills was,
Munro climbed many of his hills with one of these, a heavy candle lamp.
The reason? Well, believe it or not, he often climbed at night.
Why on earth, you might ask, was he doing that?
Well, Munro was a dyed-in-the-wool member of the gentry.
He believed that landowners had the right to prevent ordinary people from going on their land.
Munro didn't want to upset those landowners.
His solution was to climb at night to avoid bumping into the laird's gamekeepers.
Reverend Robertson, on the other hand, was a defender
of the right of ordinary people to climb wherever they chose.
His passion for the mountains had begun the year before Munro's List was published.
But once the list had gone public, the Reverend's hill climbing turned from enthusiastic to unstoppable.
Whilst Munro was out to correct the fine detail of his list,
Reverend Robertson had his eye on the bigger picture.
Here was the first-ever compendium of Scotland's high mountains.
The Reverend soon found himself having climbed enough of Munro's peaks
for a new ambition to take shape - the possibility of bagging them all.
And along with that came the possibility of him being first.
The Reverend doesn't give much away in his writing, but being first
to climb all of Scotland's 3,000-foot mountains must have seemed an irresistible temptation.
But he had a huge challenge on his hands.
The Reverend might have been lightning-proof, but Munro had a head start,
and he had some serious catching-up to do.
But the minister was a clever man.
In the technicalities of Munro's List,
he saw a tempting and radical possibility.
A legitimate short cut, if you like.
A way to catch, even perhaps overtake, Munro himself.
So how did the Reverend go about it?
Ironically, the foundations of the minister's shortcut
lay in the meticulous way that Munro had presented his list.
And to understand it for myself,
I've met up with extreme mountaineer Alan Hinkes.
Alan was the first Brit to climb all 14 of the world's 8,000-metre peaks,
the highest in the world.
That was Alan's list, but he harbours ambitions to bag Munro's List as well.
What part do the Scottish mountains play in training you as a world-class mountaineer?
Well, they did for sure.
Coming here and going out in this gnarly weather, often it's dark,
you're in a blizzard. It is tough, the Scottish hills.
You have to be prepared to suffer to go out in the Scottish hills.
It sound like I'm a masochist, doesn't it? But it's nice suffering!
This is where I like to be, really. Even in the rain, honest!
It's about two degrees minus and pouring with rain and you just said you like to be here!
I do, it's great! It's another hard day in the office.
It's not great weather for May, is it? What do you reckon, shall we go on or not?
I think we should bash on. I mean, is it...?
It's Scottish weather, we've just got to crack on.
You're the leader, off you go!
We're climbing what was for Munro
one of the very finest of all Scottish mountains,
Bidean nam Bian in Glencoe.
Its name in Gaelic means "peak of the mountains",
a high peak surrounded by other, lower summits.
Its complex structure illustrates perfectly a loophole in Munro's list
that allowed Reverend Robertson's peak-bagging to surge forward.
The crucial point is what we mean by "climbing a mountain."
You have to get to the top, of course, the very highest point.
But surrounding it are very often ridges with their own lower summits.
These are satellite peaks.
The question is this -
to claim the mountain, do you have to climb
just the main summit or the neighbouring satellite peaks as well?
For the nitpicking Munro, there was only one possible answer -
he had to climb every main summit...
..and every satellite peak.
If we look at Munro's...lists,
Munro's divided his 3,000-foot mountains into an A list and a B list.
The A list are here in this column. They've all been given a number.
You can see that Bidean nam Bian, where we are now, is here.
It's a main summit.
-24 - that's the 24th highest mountain in Scotland.
There's Bidean up there somewhere, and we're underneath it.
But you can see Bidean nam Bian has two other names beneath it -
Stob Coire nam Beith and Stob Coire nan Lochan.
Bidean nam Bian isn't just one summit.
Somewhere up there in the mist are two lower satellite peaks as well.
Now, those are B-list summits.
Those two are part of the same mountain, but Munro treats them as lower satellite peaks.
The question is whether, if you're going to climb Bidean nam Bian,
you have to climb all three peaks -
the main one and the two satellite peaks -
or whether you can just go to Bidean nam Bian.
Just to Bidean nam Bian. Especially today!
You go to the top of Everest, or you go to the top of Annapurna,
or you go to the top of K2, and you go to the top.
You don't think, "Ooh, I'd better do all them little peaks as well."
Life isn't long enough.
And Reverend Robertson thought the same. Forget the satellite peaks.
He would climb straight to the highest summit.
This strategy gave him a chance to catch up with Munro.
And, in conditions like these, it's easy to see why.
We've reached to top of Bidean nam Bian but it's a real blizzard.
Now, if we were going to climb the two satellite peaks,
we'd have to spend... What do you reckon, Alan?
Another hour going along the ridge in that direction, then in that direction.
It's just too late and the weather's too awful to do that.
What it tells you is what ambition that man Munro had
to climb all the main peaks AND all the satellite peaks.
And we're not down yet. I hate to point it out.
This is the real thing.
It's really tough!
Just heard my heart pounding!
'After three-and-a-half hours in atrocious conditions,
'Alan and I finally make it back to the road.
'And we only managed to climb the main summit.'
-Never let it be said that Munros are easy!
-They certainly weren't.
But for this man here, we'd be sleeping up there overnight.
It required a determined approach up there, let's say!
Munro's fastidiousness had left him facing a Herculean task.
538 peaks to climb.
The Reverend's methodology meant he only had to climb 283.
Still stiff but much more manageable.
Here was a chance to complete the List
ahead of the List-maker himself.
First Munro and now Robertson had been entranced by the List.
Each had their opinion on the rights of people to roam the hills
but neither could have anticipated the mass appeal of the List.
Come rain, snow or, yes, even sun!
Dave Hewitt is editor of cult hill-walking fanzine The Angry Corrie.
He's become the country's foremost expert
on the social phenomenon that Munro-bagging has become.
it's a strange obsession, isn't it?
What sort of person wants to come here to get wet and cold and eaten by midges?
Who's your average Munro-bagger?
I don't think there is an average.
It covers all ranges of occupations and classes.
A right variety of people. Probably more men than women.
Maybe about 75% men, perhaps, insofar as you can put a figure on it.
-So, all walks of life but a male bias?
-I think so, yeah.
There's an academic thesis to be written
about why men are more interested in ticking lists than women! But, yes, I think so.
What's the scale? How many people are Munro-bagging?
It's difficult to say but in the thousands. Probably in five figures.
It's extraordinary people do this in such numbers.
People keep doing this and keep coming back to do more of it.
It's not rational, at some level, why people do this.
What do you think Sir Hugh Munro would say
if he saw thousands of Munroists going off bagging his mountains,
tramping across these sacred hills and glens?
I think he would have stroked his beard in a certain puzzlement!
Probably quite proud, in a way, I think.
I would hope he'd be pleased if he could see it now.
It's a tribute to him, I suppose, the diligence he had
in putting the List together and the success of the List,
in terms of it's pretty accurate from the word go.
Who would you rather spend a day in the hills with, Robertson or Munro?
Bit of both.
Munro appears to be something of a pedant, and a diligent pedant,
and I warm to that, as I've got tendencies that way, I suppose.
But after half an hour of him droning on about this,
I think I'd have had my fill
and I think I would then have hopped across to see the Reverend Robertson,
who I think was a more rounded character.
I suspect a bit more of a gleam in his eye, perhaps, in terms of humour.
He was in more of a hurry, wasn't he, Robertson?
He was in a hurry. I quite like that.
I like that he almost re-invented the rules of a game that hadn't yet been invented to become the first person.
Some people disapprove of that, and I can see why,
but he was a bit of a pioneer in his own way.
The game, for both Munro and Robertson,
was climbing the mountains on the List,
but with his radical idea of only climbing their main summits,
Robertson had opened up the game to many more players.
Today, not many hill walkers are prepared to tackle
Munro's challenge of 538 peaks.
Instead, most follow Robertson,
ticking off the main mountain summits only,
which has become known as "doing the Munros".
It's Robertson's 283 main mountain summits that we now call the Munros.
Today, over 4,000 people are recorded as having done them.
Munro himself could have scarcely dreamt his empty mountains
would soon be trodden by so many.
Munro's List ceased to be his own personal property
almost from the moment he put pen to paper.
Starting with Robertson, it's been adopted by thousands
who have used it to chase their own dreams.
It's really just a list of mountain names
and yet it's luring more people than ever into Scotland's wild country.
The List has had an addictive mass appeal
but it casts a very personal spell on everyone who follows it.
-Nice to meet you.
-How do you feel, last one?
Good. I feel good. A bit windy.
-It's a better day than I thought.
-Are you excited?
-Absolutely. I'm just beside myself.
-I'll let you get your things together.
-I'll get my boots.
Today, Douglas Grieve hopes to be the next of Munro's successful acolytes.
Sgurr a' Mhaoraich, near Kinloch Hourn, is the very last Munro he has to climb.
-It's going to be very windy on the top, Douglas.
-I bet it will be, yes.
-Have you got enough clothes?
-Yeah. I've got this jacket as well.
-Have you got stuff in there?
-I've got loads.
I've got a lot of clothes with me!
I've seen the forecast - blowy up top.
Douglas has gathered around 20 of his friends and family for this final ascent.
It's a day that deserves to be marked.
He has climbed all the Munros, bar today's, in little more than six years.
It's been all-consuming, a life-changing journey.
It began soon after Douglas retired, when his wife died.
Getting off up into the hills and getting lost in yourself,
I've heard people so often say it's a sort of a spiritual experience.
That's why I've done more than half of them on my own,
and I do thoroughly enjoy it,
and filling in the day.
I'd leave home at 5:00 in the morning, as I said,
and get home at 10 or 11 at night and be utterly exhausted,
and utterly exhausted the next day!
And so time moved on, and things healed.
Has it been like opening a window on Scotland you hadn't known before?
That's true because I'm quite sure I've stood on places in Scotland
where 99 point something per cent of the population never have stood and never will stand.
To have stood on the 284 highest places is something pretty special.
So how important, Douglas, is today, climbing your final Munro?
It's... Yes, you get a bit of a mixed feeling about that.
I'm absolutely elated, I'm thrilled to bits.
I'm really proud of myself to be able to show off for once,
and...a bit relieved because I started off...
I'm getting a year older every year, obviously,
and I started off by doing 50, then 70, then 64, then 60,
then 24, then 12,
and I still had these four to do,
and three of them were really remote for me.
I was imagining myself lying on my slab there, Nick,
with the minister saying, "Douglas was a very keen hill walker,
"but unfortunately he only managed to do 279 Munros!"
-I haven't done this one yet, so let's get going!
For Douglas, finishing the Munros has only been conceivable
because of Reverend Robertson's idea of climbing
just the main mountain summits.
It's a shortcut that's brought the hills within the grasp of thousands.
But at the time the Reverend came up with this radical innovation,
was the man himself falling ever deeper into obsession?
Was the Reverend more interested in climbing the mountains,
or more interested in completing the List?
The clue is in a mistake that Hugh Munro made at the very beginning.
This is Munro's original list, the one that Robertson was using.
Buried in here is the clue that I'm looking for.
It's in section 17, if I can find it, dealing with...
Here it is, the section dealing with the Isle of Skye. Now, look at this.
Munro has listed a mountain called Sgurr Dearg
as having a height of 3,234 ft.
Furthermore, he's given it a number in the left hand column,
157, which means he's treating it as a main mountain summit.
Now, right beneath Sgurr Dearg,
he's listed that mountain's immediate neighbour,
the Inaccessible Peak, as having a height of 3,250 ft.
In other words, the Inaccessible Peak is 16 feet higher than Sgurr Dearg
and yet Munro has demoted it to a satellite peak of Sgurr Dearg's
and you can tell that's the case because he hasn't given it a number in the left-hand column.
So, even though it's higher, the Inaccessible Peak has been demoted to the B-List,
whereas Sgurr Dearg has been promoted to a main mountain summit.
Well, what's going on? Could it be a clerical error, perhaps?
You could imagine Munro sitting up late at night,
his mind falling apart with all these numbers and tables,
and he simply gets the two summits the wrong way round.
But this slip of the pen becomes very revealing.
Because if Robertson wanted to be the first to reach the top of all Scotland's 3,000-foot mountains,
he would climb the highest summit - the Inaccessible Peak.
On the other hand, if he wanted to be first to complete Munro's List,
he would stick to what was published in black and white,
Sgurr Dearg, even if it was wrong.
So the big question is which one did the Reverend climb?
Well, I've never been up the Inaccessible Peak,
so I'm heading to Skye to take a closer look at this conundrum.
the Black Cuillin of Skye evokes either twitchy excitement
or sweaty-palmed terror.
13 kilometres of razor-back ridge,
bounded by yawning precipices...
..interrupted by summits like the teeth of a saw.
It's the stronghold of the most difficult Munro of them all.
I'm so excited about this, Martin.
'And I can't think of anyone better qualified to take me up there than mountain guide Martin Moran.'
We've got about two-and-a-half hours of fairly steep uphill walking.
Easy to begin with on a footpath,
then you're going to be scrambling up the front of the west ridge here.
-That one there?
-Yep, and then it's an easy walk up the scree
and a final 20 minutes of scrambling.
You won't see the pinnacle until you actually get there.
It's the only major mountain in Britain
which you need to do a graded rock climb to reach the summit
and you definitely need a rope for it.
'Somewhere up there is the Inaccessible Peak.
'Nowadays it's called the Inaccessible Pinnacle,
'nickname "In Pinn".
'Today, Martin's guiding me up there under a burning sun
'but he's Scotland's foremost authority on climbing the Munros in winter.'
'He successfully did all of them in a single winter season.'
Did you have any bad moments when doing your Munros in winter?
The worst moment was when we got avalanched...
-..on what was quite an innocuous hill.
A storm came in and we veered off our compass bearing.
And I walked onto a cornice and the cornice collapsed
and the worst thing was that my wife was right next to me,
so she came down with me.
And when we hit the snow below,
the slope under it avalanched under our weight
and so we were carried down in a very large avalanche for about 300 feet.
And we were lucky that we picked ourselves out
and we were able to climb back up to the top.
'Hidden behind these formidable defences is the Inaccessible Pinnacle.'
'Despite being the highest point of the mountain,
'the In Pinn was mistakenly relegated to the status
'of mere satellite peak on Munro's list.
'Could Reverend Robertson have believed it was just a satellite peak when he came here?
'Would it have been obvious, or difficult to tell?
'I've never been here in clear weather, and I'm itching to see what faced him.'
Wow! It's a... a lot bigger than I remember...
and an awful lot steeper. It looks rather un-climbable, Martin.
Hence the name!
Getting, er... It's one of those moments where...
I knew one day...
I'd have to come and do this...
and now that day has arrived, I'm feeling slightly anxious! God!
I don't think you've got an excuse in this weather.
'There's no backing out now,
'but I'm not the only one here to fulfil my fevered dreams on the In Pinn.
'There's a queue.'
-What do you feel about going up there?
-A bit nervous.
I'm not a climber so this is a bit of a rite of passage,
-going up one of these things.
I've been waiting a good part of my life to have a go at this.
-Is that right?
-Yes. It's the big one, isn't it?
I've been watching people going up slowly. Some slow, some quick.
It's a long wait, if you're wondering what's happening up there.
I would like to get it over with!
-Rope. So, how many pitches is it, Martin?
Each pitch is about 30 metres...
of the rope, and we've got 50 metres of rope, which should be long enough.
And what rock-climbing grade is it?
He asked anxiously!
-Is that moderately horrible or moderate-moderate?
Which means it isn't easy, but it isn't difficult.
So, remember, Nick, it's all on footwork.
If your footwork's good, the rest will follow.
I first stood in this spot when I was a teenager.
My dad brought me here one January, we were trying to climb
a section of the Cuillin ridge, and the weather was absolutely desperate.
It was a white-out, the whole pinnacle was covered in...
water ice and rimed-up, and it looked utterly, utterly terrifying.
I've been back once or twice since, close to the bottom of it,
but never ever tried to go up, so this is a really big moment in my life. It's the...
It's rather haunted me, the thought that I've not been up it.
Quite a special moment.
It looks fantastic from down here.
It's just a needle, poking straight into the sky.
OK. Climb when you're ready.
'This is what the Reverend Robertson would have had to climb
'to reach the highest point on the mountain.'
It's not until you get part way up,
that you realise this is a rock pinnacle,
balanced on a ridge,
so it's really...
a 3,000 ft high rock pinnacle...
with an awful lot of air underneath it.
Now, what do I need...?
Now, how do I get up here?
like a rather interesting little move.
Need a hand-hold...
Oops...! That'll do.
get your hands on the rock...
..it suddenly becomes...fun.
OK, Nick, you're coming up to the hard move, now.
Move out right onto the arete itself.
Just collect myself a good hand-hold.
So you've got to make a high step up, and there's a spike about two foot further up.
Oh, I can see it, yep.
Ooh... This is a bit tricky.
This might not...
very elegant, but...!
That's it. Grab it.
This is, er...an exciting bit, isn't it?
That made your heart stop, didn't it?
Lovely. Thanks very much.
So if you just come up to me, Nick,
we're gonna clip you into the world's most exposed armchair, here.
NICK LAUGHS As you did before,
gently paying out the slack, so it's never tight to me, so that, then, I can move.
I've got a nice little exposed traverse along here.
'One last rope-length to the top,
'and the answer to my Robertson conundrum.'
How's that doing?
-Well, it looked...!
It looked pretty dodgy to me, I must say!
-Off belay, take in.
Oo-er, it's a slightly tricky bit.
-The final steps.
Hands in pockets on the last bit(!) NICK LAUGHS
Oh, that was fantastic!
Martin, thank you so much.
-Been a pleasure.
-That is...an ambition fulfilled.
It was a long time coming.
Seen God knows how many photographs of it, stood at the bottom of it,
often wondered about it... Never had the nerve to come and do it.
'I finally got to the top, and what an amazing place this is.
'But now for the moment of truth.
'Would it have been possible for Reverend Robertson
'not to realise which was the highest summit on this mountain?'
We're at the top of the In Pinn, and Sgurr Dearg is down there.
This is obviously the highest part of the mountain.
To say you've climbed this mountain, you have to be up here.
But that's not what Robertson chose to do.
He bagged Sgurr Dearg down there, a much easier task.
It's fairly certain that Reverend Robertson
had not climbed the In Pinn
when he claimed to have finished the Munros.
Here's what he wrote...
"I only wish I could tell the club of some faraway, unknown peak
"bristling with difficulties on all sides,
"but the fact is, there are none".
So, lean right out, Nick. That's it.
Well, if this isn't a peak bristling with difficulties on all sides, I just don't know what is!
'It's hard to be sure what tale this mute blade of rock tells us.
'Perhaps Robertson came here planning to do the In Pinn,
'but the weather was just too treacherous.
'What I cannot believe
'is that Robertson was entirely innocent in all this.
'He must have known that he'd missed the main mountain summit here.
'But he was able to tick off Sgurr Dearg,
'the mountain that was printed on Munro's List.'
Reverend Robertson went down in history as the first person to complete all the Munros.
On 28th September 1901, he climbed his final peak in Glencoe.
What we know, though, is that although he'd ticked off everything
on Munro's List, he hadn't climbed all the main mountain summits.
The List had become more important than the mountains.
'Munro had devoted years to the task of cataloguing Scotland's mountains.
'He must have felt, in some sense, that the mountains on the List were his.
'But with Robertson laying claim to being first to complete the List,
'he'd been beaten to the finish.
'Munro was more a man of figures than letters.
'Whatever he felt about Robertson being first
'to reach the end of his list, he kept it to himself.
'Then there were two...
'then ten, a hundred, a thousand...
'As the numbers finishing the Munros grew,
'the question of who was first faded,
'but the triumph of completing them hasn't.
'Today, the hills are still just as high,
'and there are still just as many.
'283 Munros, six years,
'1,000 miles and 500,000 feet of ascent,
'and, at last, the final slopes of Douglas' final Munro are done.'
Congratulations. You did it!
-Well done. Well done.
So that's it.
Hang up the boots. What size do you take?
No, no, no, you're not hanging up your boots! You can't do that.
Come on, then...! CHEERING
-Did you get it?
-Quite a lot of movement!
-Come on, Get the rest of that champagne out.
Through mountaineering, you have been given friendships, joys and lasting memories
far more precious than accumulations of gold.
There's no theory invented in days of idle incredulity
but the knowledge gained from the battle over adversity. Well done.
Thank you. CHEERING
-I feel very, very honoured to have been up here to see you do it.
-Thank you very much.
Any messages for other people who are struggling through the Munros?
No, just keep on struggling!
'The cruel irony is that unlike Douglas,
'Munro himself never did finish climbing his Munros.
'He continued to toil over the 538 main summits
'and satellite peaks on his list.
'But by the outbreak of the First World War,
'rheumatism had taken over his body.'
As the prospect of completing his final summits
became increasingly remote, Munro joked stoically to his friends
that they would have to "Haul me up on a rope, otherwise the ascents would not be made!"
His joke turned out to be prescient.
Munro died with only three peaks left to climb.
'But he left us a unique gift.
'It still seems unbelievable to me that barely more than a century ago,
'only a handful of people knew about these mountains,
'and it's largely because of Munro so many now do.'
Hugh Munro brought a sense of order
to the extraordinary chaos of these mountains. He loved them.
I'm not a Munro-bagger myself, although I have just totted up
that I've climbed about 75. But I do understand the passion
that draws people to try and complete the list.
Munro, Robertson, the thousands of people
who have followed in their bootprints, people like myself,
ultimately we're all drawn here by the same thing -
the desire to explore these magical mountains.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Email [email protected]
Little more than 100 years ago, Scottish mountains standing at more than 3,000 feet were virtually unknown. Today they are familiar terrain to many thousands of climbers, thanks to Victorian adventurer Hugh Munro's determination to list the high peaks which now define the highlands and islands of Scotland.
This documentary tells the story of the magnificent peaks that bear his name and the people who have been possessed by them.
The birth of this obsession - now known as Munrobagging - is a twisting tale of intrigue, which presenter Nicholas Crane unravels high on the ridges and pinnacles of some of Scotland's most spectacular mountains.