Marhofn 133.07 - May 2005

Previous | Contents | Next

Half a hill, half a hill, half a hill onwards

Dave Hewitt

A lack of handy unclimbed hills and a disinclination to drive far during the short-daylight months means that each year's first new Marilyn seems to be slipping further down the calendar. In 2004 it was the last day of April before I was in a position to nudge the number forward again. I was certainly keen to add a tick - 902 had been good to me but I'd been there too long - and there seemed no particular obstacle to progress. Tessa and I were heading to Coniston to see her mum, and the diversion to Wild Boar Fell seemed as straightforward as any previous journey-breaking bag. It was just a case of driving a few extra miles and allowing the necessary couple of hours.

It started well: there was roadside parking where the B6259 crossed the railway, and a faint track helped with the squelchy moor, across which I plodded while Tessa stayed behind with a book. It was a perfectly respectable spring day, sunshine in the valleys, and although the summit was carrying cloud there was no reason to anticipate problems. So up I went, sticking to the eastern escarpment as this gave easier going, plus there was a pleasant air of space off to the right.

The cloud duly came, as did the summit plateau, bringing a fence and a curious collection of cairns. This was unexpected, and I felt confused. Cairns were marked on Landranger 98, but across on the south-western spur, and even my navigational ineptitude couldn't have dragged me that far off course. This place looked like it wanted to be the summit of Wild Boar Fell - the altimeter was making all the right noises and there was even one of those cross-shaped shelters - but there wasn't a trig point. Various of the stone men (or whatever the politically correct term now is) were tall and thin, and I walked among them wondering if someone could have encased the trig as a Christo-style joke. But the eastern downslope was alongside and the trig was well inland: I simply wasn't there yet.

At this stage I was puzzled rather than frustrated - the 708m trig and with it the tick couldn't be much more than five minutes away - but the problems began with another look at the map: I had no idea what bearing to take. The trig was half a kilometre away, and the plateau had no intervening contours. The edge where I was standing just scraped a 700m contour, but westward there was nothing. This was unlucky: had everything else been the same but with the summit slightly lower, say 702m, then the undulations would have dipped beneath a contour, making navigation much easier.

The 700m contour stretched for a kilometre south-north, and the cairn cluster could have been anywhere along that kilometre. This meant that the necessary bearing was anywhere between 240 and 325. Logic suggested I was near the southern end of the edge, and that the trig was northwestward, so I aimed at 315 and strode off. The cloud, although dry, had thickened to an unusual extent, and the limit of visibility was 30 metres. It was also windy, so I hoped to find the trig and head down without delay.

An hour later, however - a whole bloody hour - I still hadn't found the trig. The first foray had found nothing, and after ten minutes I'd backtracked to the cairns. A bearing further north followed, with the same result: lots of squinting into mist but no trig. Again back to the cairns: these at least seemed unproblematic to find. A third effort tried what suddenly seemed the obvious idea: simply follow the fence westward, as the trig was surely somewhere along that. No it wasn't, and again the cairns were visited. I half-wondered if the trig had been demolished.

This was getting silly - I'd been searching for the damn thing longer than it had taken to reach the plateau in the first place, and I really couldn't hang around any longer, or we'd be late for our tea in Coniston. So, after four visits to the cairns and none to the trig, I trudged downhill. The windy cloud was left within a couple of minutes - it was annoyingly calm and sunny down below - but the real annoyance was the unexpected lack of progress to 903 Marilyns. So much for the assumption that boggy Dales hills are easy.

That was only the start of the complications, however. I'd been aware whilst on the hill that what I really needed was a GPS, the only time I've ever wished for such a gadget. But the Coniston bookshelves that evening produced the 1:25000 Howgills Outdoor Leisure map, and this covered Wild Boar Fell. Now everything was clear (well, almost - there was no sign of the fence, even though it had looked old). The eastern cairns were shown, as was - ha! - a 708m spot height. So Wild Boar Fell didn't have just the one 708m summit - the trig at SD758988 - but a second, at SD761984. This was news to me, as neither RHB nor Alan's English Marilyns booklet made mention of it being a twin-top hill.

There was a whole new layer of confusion. For a couple of hours, while driving to Coniston and while eating some rather fine cauliflower cheese, I had resigned myself to having added nothing in the Marilyn department. But now, I found myself wondering if I might have climbed Wild Boar Fell after all, or might at least have acquired half a tick.

This raised a number of questions, which might or might not have definite answers. Firstly, is there such a thing as a half-Marilyn? Or, rather, is it possible for someone's Marilyn tally to include a half? This needs a ruling from Alan (a Boss Man ruling) but my own feeling was that, from 30 April to 4 July, my tally included a half. Others might disagree, arguing either that I didn't add anything on the April ascent or, conversely, that I added a full tick because I had inadvertently reached one of two equal highpoints.

This leads to the status of twin-topped hills, a question so complex that it merits a whole article, if not a book. But let's assume that there are only two points with the same mapped height, and that both points are listed. There are plenty of instances of this - Alan has cited some in his TACit Tables and in his RHB update sheets. The Sgurr a'Bhac Chaolais / Buidhe Bheinn pair is an example in the Corbett-height range (both 885m), Corra-bheinn / Cruachan Dearg are Graham-sized examples (both 704m), and Troweir Hill / Saugh Hill are in the lower height bracket (both 296m).

Buidhe Bheinn

Buidhe Bheinn

I know there are differing personal opinions and practices here, and it's entirely possible that there is no definitive way of looking at this. My own stance is that if two equi-height points are listed, then earning a tick requires visits to both. Hence on Mull in June 2003 I didn't count the Marilyn / Graham until I'd reached the top of Cruachan Dearg, despite having climbed Corra-bheinn a few minutes earlier. I believe that at least one Grahamist has visited only one of these points, and though I'm not saying that this person should be struck off the list, personally I wouldn't feel happy claiming completion until both points had been bagged.

Things are further complicated when a list changes while someone is using it. The generally accepted rule is that one completes a list as it stands at the time. (Even this is open to chaos though: Graham Bunn and Anne Fletcher heard about the 1997 Munro changes as they were about to set off for their final hill, Sgurr nan Gillean, asked the SMC for a ruling, and in the end regarded Stob Coire Sgreamhach, climbed two days later, as their official finish.) But in terms of half-summits, it's a minefield. Take my own situation with the Corbett pair. I haven't climbed Buidhe Bheinn, but I have climbed Sgurr a'Bhac Chaolais. From what I've argued, this would suggest that my Corbett tally ought to include a half (1511/2, as it happens). Ditto my Marilyn total. However, the one time I climbed Sgurr a'Bhac Chaolais was in 1987, and at that stage it was the unequivocal Corbett, no argument (Marilyns hadn't even been invented). So I've always regarded Sgurr a'Bhac Chaolais as a full Corbett tick, and I feel fine about this even though others might say I should have dropped a half the instant Buidhe Bheinn came 'on-stream' in 1996. My thinking is to keep the total as a whole number but to climb Buidhe Bheinn before claiming completion. In other words, I have 671/2 Corbetts to go. Of course, remapping could see either summit become the clear Corbett...

But none of the above debate, with its air of angels balanced on a trig point, really applies to Wild Boar Fell, because its non-trig 708m summit isn't listed. Quite how this affects the arguments, I honestly don't know, except to say that it ought to be listed as a twin-summited Marilyn pronto, along with the Corbett pair and all the rest.

I mentioned 4 July 2004, and that was when I returned to Wild Boar Fell, on the way home from another Coniston trip. The car was parked in the same place, Tessa was again left with a book (presumably a different one), and much the same route was taken. The crucial difference was the lack of cloud, and the trig was duly reached via the obligatory visit to the cairn: it hadn't been demolished or given a cloak of invisibility after all. So now I'd climbed Wild Boar Fell, no quibbles. But was there scope for deducing which of the points was higher? Well, unexpectedly, there was.

I don't trust my altimeter (a Suunto Vector) to provide accurate information on absolute heights: there are too many variables in play and anyway it only gives 5m increments. But it is handy for assessing relative height over short distances, so I kept an eye on it as I neared the cairns. It was reading high, as it routinely does, but it ticked over from 720m to 725m some way before the cairns were reached. As I then headed north-west, the reading dropped to 720m, and only half a dozen strides before the trig did it click back to 725m. Interesting. This implied that the cairns were further into the nominal height increment than was the trig, and were thus higher. It needed reverse-checking, and this went well: within a few strides of leaving the trig I got a 720m reading, and some way before the cairns it was back to 725m. So although the maps are unable to split the 708m points, and although both should count for listing or ticking purposes, I'm confident that the cairn-cluster summit is slightly the higher of the two. Which, if true, means that although I didn't add a new Marilyn as per the list on the April visit, I perhaps did in real terms as I reached the true highpoint of the hill.

Wild Boar Fell (photo: Bert Barnett)

Wild Boar Fell (photo: Bert Barnett)

Postscript: After delivering TAC63 to the Munros shop in Pitlochry in December, I climbed A'Bhuidheanach Bheag for the first time since 1984. It's not commonly known that this is another twin-top summit where the non-trig top isn't listed. Munro's Tables, The Murdos, RHB and so on all straightforwardly list the summit as the 936m trig at NN660775. But the next bump to the west, NN654775, is also 936m on any map that gives it a spot height. Time to use the altimeter again, and again it proved worthwhile, with the trig top giving a clearly higher reading than the non-trig top. So this time - again using admittedly amateur methods - it appeared to be the other way round from Wild Boar Fell, with the listed summit holding sway against its unlisted rival. But any list that includes A'Bhuidheanach Bheag should really mention the duality, and I'd argue that would-be completers should visit both points so long as the map fails to distinguish between them. How many of the 3000-odd listed Munroists have visited the western bump? Probably not many.

Alan Dawson adds: Okay, you asked for a ruling, so here it is:

1. Official Marilyn totals can not include halves or any other fractions. Anyone is welcome to include halves or Na Maoilean quarters in their own head, or spreadsheet, but it's enough trouble tracking totals of Hall members without bringing fractions into it. Whole numbers only please.

2. Wild Boar Fell is barely worth listing as a twin peak. It doesn't have two distinct summits, as there is just one 700m contour ring. Yes, there are at least two 708m points within that ring, but for all we know there could be dozens of 708m points - at all the stone men perhaps. There are lots of hills where it is hard to be sure which is the precise highpoint, but where listing all the equally-high tussocks would be beyond even my limits of pedantry. The latest update sheet lists just six twin peaks, and gives examples (not a complete list) of hills with two or more nearby points of apparently equal height. Wild Boar Fell is simply another example of this common occurrence.

3. My personal rule is to claim a tick if I am sure that my head is higher than the highest point (giving tall baggers an advantage). Hence I count Hill of the Wangie in my tally even though I failed to find the trig point. However I will certainly go back, and would not claim any list completion with such unfinished business. When I climbed Buidhe Bheinn last year it did not increase my Corbett or Marilyn tally, but it was a satisfying piece of tidying up, as well as a satisfying walk. I would be happy for anyone to include Wild Boar Fell without having visited the trig, but I can see that it would be an itch needing scratched.

4. I agree that altimeter measurements can provide useful evidence of the relative heights of nearby points, particularly if replicated on different occasions. However, I'm not sure that they're worth much in windy conditions, as the readings are distorted by the fluctuating pressure. But if a dozen people made altimeter readings at the cairns on Wild Boar Fell, and all found them to be higher than the trig, then there would be a strong case for an official summit relocation (if we could pinpoint which of the cairns was the highest).

Previous | Contents | Next