Marhofn 183.10 - May 2008

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Colin Crawford

Completion of a list, any list, is a curiously contradictory and bittersweet experience, with the satisfaction of a pilgrimage at an end, yet sadness that joyful episodes along the way will be no more. There is also the Stevenson paradox that travelling is superior to arrival, for the moment of realisation can be disappointingly flat; anti-climax, I suspect, is more common than wild exhilaration. Perhaps that is a function of my own misanthropic tendency towards solitary ventures, but in discussion with those who have invited a large party, I detect a similar ambivalence. No doubt such feelings offer ironic justification to those who decry the entire list-ticking phenomenon as the antithesis of true outdoor venturing, but there must be something about completing, as so many of us aspire to the condition.

That something, perhaps, is that we have attained a way-station in our lives; a notable landmark along the way which serves to mark progress and initiate the beginning of a fresh adventure. It may of course simply indicate an end in itself; this seems to be the case with those folk who are content with the Munros, but I think it a safe assumption that even they will move on to a challenge of a different sort. I guess that those of us who continue to bag are the rolling stones of the outdoor world, not content with relaxed contemplation but in need of goals to tempt us forward on our quests. An exaggeration of course - there are times when I am as satisfied with idle wool-gathering as any carefree rambler - but I would confess to having a driven aspect to my personality that requires a succession of goals.

Incidentally, it puzzles me that critics often opine that a list-ticking approach detracts from simply having a good day out. Yet how so? Even as I bag my summit, I can still linger to enjoy the sunset, marvel at wildlife sightings, revel in remoteness and soak up the invigorating ambience. The myopic, anorak-clad hill nerd is surely a creature of myth for the most part. Adding a summit and recording the event later adds rather than subtracts from the experience.

So landmarks are important, yet completions are a relatively rare occurrence, unless you are of the superhuman breed who can run round the Munros in a year or less. Indeed, to be confronted with a large list of virgin hills can be daunting enough to deter serious engagement. It is apparent that intermediate objectives are necessary to bridge such an enormous gap between start and finish. It is these minor landmarks, I'd guess, which motivate most of us to continue our activities on a regular basis.

For the majority, this will involve hillwalking by numbers. Fifty hills on a list seems significant, one hundred more so. This works especially well on chunky inventories like the Marilyns or, as I'm finding at the moment, the Corbett and Graham Tops; a bonus of doing these two lists in tandem is that numbers can be combined to provide more frequent milestones. And it can be satisfying indeed when careful organisation results in a neat combination; early last year, having scorned Graham Tops for over a month in favour of the Corbett variety, I managed to equalise numbers of each category on successive summits. Curiously, a retrospective discovery of such a conjunction may be even more rewarding. A confession here; my 600th Marilyn has long been listed as Hergest Ridge, but on a later re-count I uncovered an error, discovering that I'd actually reached the Hall of Fame one hill previously on Great Rhos, which, most serendipitously, was my final Hewitt. I excuse myself from a lack of prior planning here, as entry to the Hall was itself realised only some time after the event.

The numbers game extends further of course. We all repeat hills, and a tally of total ascents of Munros, Corbetts etc offers other landmarks to aim for. So too for favourite peaks - as a novelty junkie I am always chastened by the impressive totals which folk can build up on single summits.

Calendar rounds, sadly, are not something I can ever hope to manage myself, my early records being much too vague on exact dates, but that must be a rare achievement, particularly when February 29th is such an infrequent occurrence. And the personal touch can make itself felt, as there will be numbers which are meaningful only to us as individuals. I know that the esteemed TACit Press supremo has a habit of matching his Ben Cleuch ascents with notable cricket scores.

Colin Crawford (left) celebrates reaching his 1500th Marilyn, Creag Scalabsdale, with Chris Peart

Colin Crawford (left) celebrates reaching his 1500th Marilyn, Creag Scalabsdale, with Chris Peart

Enough of numerology - I am seriously in danger of overstating what is after all an undercurrent (albeit an interesting one). There are alternative methods of marking progress. The attainment of all summits in an area is one which will bear repeating as successive lists are tackled, and this one can be a matter of direct sensation. It is immensely gratifying to gaze out in all directions from a cairn and consider that you have stood atop every eminence you can see. Ok, ok, there will always be the odd virgin pimple on an even more obscure tabulation (has anyone invented a law stating that a new list will always emerge to puncture the smug complacency of serial completers?) and a seemingly infinite number of trig points. Yet that visual survey of past experiences must surely evoke some justified conceit.

Islands are another wonderfully addictive delight and have their own series of landmarks. The Haswell-Smith book offers its strict listing of course, but I contend that the island experience is too rich by far to be treated as mere bagging. Haswell-Smith makes the suggestion that an island may be considered bagged by a simple footfall on its shore, yet this seems insulting to such bewitching locations. The attainment of the high point or points is a step further, as is an overnight stay, but even on islands which I have visited frequently, I can always contrive a new goal to aspire to; an excuse for return. I harbour no hopes of reaching the majority of Britain's uninhabited islets, but I look forward to having visited as many as I can which are accessible. Such is the enchantment that a single island, no longer virgin, is a landmark in a class of its own.

In terms of landmarks, I suspect that the surface I am scratching reveals only the faintest of etching. I am no innovator, and there must be a host of individual and creative ways in which folk record the progress of their outdoor endeavours. It would be fascinating and hopefully enlightening to learn from others playing the game. I look forward to enriching my own experience.

AD: Both Jon Metcalf and Gordon Adshead play the percentage game. Gordon goes for percentage of summits reached, while Jon prefers to note the percentage of total height climbed and distance walked. Each approach enables its own numerical landmarks. Another variant is playing the game with others, either deliberately or inadvertently. On a rare outing with Phil Cooper we were both pleased to find that his 800th happened to be my 900th (Cacra Hill in 2000), while Sandray in 2001 turned out to be a very rare combination for Ursula Stubbings (500th), Don Smithies (1200th) and Rob Woodall (1300th). It was my favourite island too. And Great Rhos was also my final Hewitt, albeit three years after you, but I failed to detect any prior landmark vibrations emanating from the trig pillar.

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