Thursday, 23 May 2013

Who “owns” hill lists ?

For baggers of British and Irish hills who take their hobby seriously, there is a very useful database of summit data on the website – the Database of British and Irish Hills (DoBIH).  It lists data for over 9000 summits, including which hill lists that summit belongs to.

But who “owns” the lists ?

Increasingly accurate GPS technology has enabled recent surveys to determine summit heights to within a few centimetres, leading to the reclassification of a number of hills.  One of which, Beinn a’Chlaidheimh, caused a bit of a stir following a 2011 survey.

It is generally accepted that the Scottish Mountaineering Club is the “owner”/”guardian” of the list known as Munro’s Tables, as it was originally compiled from within the SMC and the club has published a number of updated lists over the years.  Also, the SMC has never made clear what the definition of a Munro is; they are Scottish hills with a height of at least 3000 feet but no prominence (or drop) measurement has been specified, leading to debate about apparent inconsistencies.

But, it is clear that that if a hill is under 3000 feet high, it can’t be a Munro.

Most, if not all, of the recent surveys have been carried out by a team of keen amateurs who submit their findings to the Ordnance Survey for verification. If the OS has any doubt about the method or accuracy, it will recommend that the survey be carried out again with suggestions about the method to be employed.  Ultimately, the OS is the arbiter of height data within Great Britain.

The survey of Beinn a’Chlaidheimh, confirmed by the OS, measured its height at 2999 feet; close to but below the Munro threshold.  But it took the SMC over a year to remove it from Munro’s Tables.

Despite the length of time taken, what happened wasn’t out of the ordinary:
                      i.        a hill is surveyed,
                     ii.        the measurement is confirmed by the Ordnance Survey,
                    iii.        the measurement indicates that a particular hill list needs to be updated,
                    iv.        the owner of the hill list is notified,
                     v.        the required change to the hill list is made.

This is the generally accepted way of maintaining hill lists, but some disagree.  I’m with the dissenters.

When a person compiles a list, they define the criteria for inclusion.  They “own” the criteria, not the list.

The DoBIH appears to have become, or is becoming, the single accepted repository of hill data.  So when it comes to light that an attribute of a hill (e.g. height or prominence) changes, the database will be updated and the appropriate hill lists can also be updated.

But updating hill lists should only occur if the amended data within the definition criteria is absolute.

For instance, it is easy to say whether a hill is a Nuttall or not as both the height and prominence criteria are specifically defined.  It is also easy to say which hills are not Munros but not quite as easy to say which are, as the definition is not clear.

Although a number of hill lists are “owned” by organisations such as the SMC, many are the product of individuals.  In the case of a list compiler dying, who then “owns” the list ?  Can a list be bequeathed ?  Whose permission does a surveyor have to get for a hill to be added to or removed from a list ?

Once the criteria of a hill list have been defined, the hills contained within the list will be subject to change, based on ever increasingly accurate surveys, but nobody “owns” the list.  Only cold hard data will determine whether a hill belongs on a list or not.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Touching Distance

Not words that describe the proximity of this trip’s fells to home, but something rather less tangible – the fact my remaining Wainwrights and Outlying Fells could be completed in 2 days, if I chose to do so.

Today’s objectives were those fells furthest away from home, in the far west of Cumbria – one of them so far west it lies outside the national park !  The end of Nannycatch Lane was the starting point for Flat Fell and Dent; dent being the fell lying outside the national park.  Cool and overcast conditions didn’t detract from the relaxed walking.  The true summit of Dent is rather uninspiring but the lower Wainwright summit is adorned by an impressive cairn.

Dent - the Wainwright summit

Wellington was the start of my walk up Blengdale to the Outlying Fell Ponsonby Fell – which “is very nearly in this category” of “fells not worth climbing” – according to Wainwright.  It’s not the best fell I’ve been to the top of, but its views and isolation lend it some value.  The stroll to Swainson Knott afforded views towards some of the most western of Wainwright’s 214 fells and the walk back to car on the forestry tracks rounded off a pleasant excursion.

Muncaster Fell was the final top of the day, which although climbed previously, I couldn’t be wholly sure that I had reached the actual summit which is listed as a rocky knoll near to the trig point.  From the summit I could see my final Wainwright – Seatallan – looming above a smaller fell which, after checking the map, I found to be my final Outlying Fell – Irton Pike.  This took me by surprise but seemed appropriate that the end of my Wainwright ticking odyssey was in sight, both figuratively and visually.

Muncaster Fell trig pillar

So, my final 4 Outlying Fells are Green Quarter Fell, Hollow Moor, Boat How and Irton Pike – my final 3 Wainwrights are Buckbarrow, Middle Fell and Seatallan.  I’ll be ticking these off, as well as the remainder of the FRCC 244 and Fellrangers, over the next few months with the finish on Seatallan to complete 4 lists on the same day.

I hope the sun will be shining !