Munro Bagging – Ever Heard Of It?

Sir Hugh Thomas Munro was born in 1856 and was an intrepid hill walker and mountaineer.

He was one of the original founding members of the Scottish Mountaineering Club which was founded in 1889 and from 1894-1897 he served as its president.

His attention to detail made him the ideal man to be chosen for the task of mapping all mountains in Scotland over a height of 3,000 ft (914.4m), now known as a Munro Top.  So little was known about Scotland’s mountains at this time that it was thought there were only about 30 over this specified height. We are talking about the days when great landowners could forbid people walking over their lands.

Being a landowner himself, Munro appreciated this law and so rather than risk the ire of the landowners or their estate rangers, he climbed several of the peaks at night!

By the time Munro had charted them all, the list had increased to 538!

He was a stickler for exactness and the tables he made about Scotland’s mountains (now known as the Munro Tables)  are still used today although, with improved measuring devices, some information has been updated. Munro himself used a barometer to calibrate the height of each mountain as he climbed it. His brief was to provide basic information on each peak – it’s height, it’s location and the best ascent.

Dedicated? Definitely. Slightly crazy? Perhaps…

Scotland’s mountains, although not very high, are challenging at the best of times. The weather is totally unpredictable and can be very treacherous because of their latitude and their exposure to the Atlantic weather systems. Even in summer you cannot anticipate an improvement: thick fog, strong winds, driving rain and freezing summit temperatures are not unusual.  Returning from one of his climbs, Munro commented that “they had to scrape me down with a knife before I could enter the house” – so covered in ice was he.

Winter ascents of certain Munros are widely accepted to provide among the most challenging ice climbs in Europe. Some walkers are unprepared for the often extreme weather conditions on the exposed tops and many fatalities are recorded every year, often resulting from slips on wet rock or ice.

A Munro top is a summit over 3000 ft which is not regarded as a separate mountain and Munro’s Tables detailed these in a two-tier system: category A and B. A category was the highest and most important peak of which there were 283. The B category were also peaks over 3,000 ft but satellites to the main peak. The only time he diverged from this rule was on the Isle of Skye where he put the peak Sgurr Dearg in category A, although another in the same range, The Inaccessible Pinnacle – or In Pinn as it is colloquially known, is a few metres higher. In Pinn (RonWalker1955) is the one peak where real rock climbing skills are required. It is a needle of rock pointing into the sky which has 2 pitches, each of about 30m.

By now, word was out that all the Scottish peaks were being climbed and Munro was suddenly not on his own. The Reverend Archie Robertson, a charismatic figure of Victorian mountaineering, invented the rules of a game that had not yet been invented – to be the first.

Everyone knows that “being first, if you manage to do it, is something you will carry in your back pocket for life…” although some, like Edurne Pasaban, who we wrote about yesterday, has realised that being alive and yet having achieved your aim is, in the long run, more important! The Reverend Archie had lucky escapes, one time, whilst out climbing, he was struck by lightning and catapulted 1,000 ft down a hill. However, he lived to tell the tale with no more than 20 stitches in his head.

What does Munro Bagging entail?

In Munro’s opinion, to have bagged the Munros (as they have subsequently become known) you had to climb every one of the 538 peaks. Robertson, however, detected a loophole. He interpreted it as only (did I say only?) having to bag the most important peaks – the A category ones – 283 of them, and so he became the first person, in 1901, to ‘bag’ the Munros. But the list had become more important than the mountains to him, and it is certain that he did not climb In Pinn. There is also now doubt that he reached the summit of Ben Wyvis.

If this is the case, then the first Munroist is Ronald Burn, who completed them in 1923. Burn is also (indisputably) the first person to climb all the subsidiary “tops”.

As of 2009, some 4,000 people have become Munroists.

Hugh Thomas Munro, himself, was overtaken by rheumatism and never completed the task. He died in 1919 before he had the chance to climb the last 3 peaks. He never said what he thought of the Reverend Robertson completing the task before him, but it must be remembered that the Rev. Robertson only climbed 283 peaks. Munro had climbed 535…

The list was revised in 1997 and there are now 284 Munro Tops.

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