15:00 – Stob Coire Sgreamhach (M065), 3517ft, 1072m
16:00 – Bidean nam Bian (M023), 3773ft, 1150m
17:00 – Stob Coire nan Lochan, 3658ft, 1115m
Stob Coire nan Lochan is not classified as a separate Munro summit. But it should be.
It has to be climbed on the way to or back from Bidean nam Bian, if the starting point is in Glen Coe. Undoubtedly Stob Coire nan Lochan belongs to the great massif of mountains behind Glen Coe’s famous three sisters, and because it is not the highest point, it is perhaps rightly not considered to be a separate summit. And yet at the same time, the very much lower and equally integral to the massif, Sob Coire Sgreamhach is classified as a separate summit. If anything, the walk along the ridge from Sgreamhach to Bidean is a lot less challenging than the descent of Bidean and ascent of Stob Coire Lochan.
Munro’s definition of a summit as having a sufficient degree of separateness from its neighbours is notoriously mobile and results in endless discussions, which may or may not ever make it into the agendas of those who decide these things. There have been many changes throughout the years and there will no doubt be changes again.
We can probably agree though that barring major earthquakes and avalanches, which might alter the fabric of the land, measurement and mapping technologies are sufficiently advanced for there to be no disagreement about which points on the surface of the land protrude above 3000 feet or 914.4 meters. Arguments are really possible now only about how these are to be separated and classified.
From my own point of view, with my limited experience of the mountains, I can see more anomalies than this one here. I do not believe that the two Munros summits on Buachaille Etive Mòr are separate mountains. Of course they are not. It is one great long squiggly ridge with three major protruding points at heights of 1022m, 1011m and 956m, with a drop to 875m and 860m respectively between. The middle peak is undoubtedly the most challenging – the descent en route to the lowest is steep rocky and requires great care. But the classified summits are the highest and the lowest peaks – the middle peak is only a top. The only way I can make sense of this is that the lower and much more distant peak was classified as a summit in order to encourage walkers to traverse the whole ridge in either direction and to return by a different route, thereby offering a marvelous ridge experience and managing erosion. A similar point could be made about Buachaille Etive Beag.
Mam Sodhail and Carn Eigh are separated by a drop of barely 140m and lie at a distance of less than 1km from each other. A fit person in good weather can walk between the peaks in 15 minutes. And yet these are separate summits. A similar point could be made about Cairn Toul and the Angel’s Peak. It could be said of course, that each of these pairs is made up of mountains that have their own character. Each being the highest point of a separate series of ridges and corries. Perhaps that is true, but then so too must it be true of Bidean nam Bian and Stob nan Coire Lochan.
Once upon a time, after a long walk up the River Eidart, I deliberately went to the 918m top of a nondescript hillock called Tom Dubh round which the two burns from which it originates must pass as they pour off the Great Moss. This little hump of a hill lies on the watershed between north and south as well as separating water coming off the south of The Angel’s Peak from water coming off Carn Ban Mor. It is classified as one of the Munro tops. I went there on the off chance that in the future I might become obsessively engaged in reaching every point on the map above 3000ft.
It is obvious that some sort of criteria have to be employed to convert the vague notion of “sufficient degree of separateness” into something that can be applied in all cases. It is less obvious that such criteria will never be finally agreed upon. The thorny metaphysical issue of the difference between quality and quantity does not go away just because of a temporary solution that will hold for a while before being replaced. It will always be a matter of discussion and disagreement about how to convert any idea of difference into something that can be measured. It might even be argued that the entire history of western thought is an examination of the tensions between the restrictions and limitations of human consciousness, from which the notion of quantity emerges, and the manifest and infinite complexity and diversity of creation. Be that as it may, it seems to me that there is, by as many criteria that I can think of, “a sufficient degree of separateness” between Bidean nam Bian and Stob nan Coire Lochan for the latter to be called a summit.
Apart from climbing it in order to get back to our starting point by a different route, it was in the back of my mind that perhaps one day it will be reclassified. It would have been a pity to miss it out, given that I am indeed now engaged in obsessively reaching every point on the map above 3000ft – except that I am only doing the 282 separate summits, and not yet looking to bag the tops. I think that if I were to become that obsessive, I would go for the 442 Murdos – Scottish hills over 3000 feet with a minimum drop of 30 meters between them. But I do feel that with this particular top is in line for promotion from top to summit. It is a fine mountain, replete with corries buttresses and pinnacles all of its own, and is separated from its nearest neighbour by a steep edged beallach, much more challenging that the gentle stroll required along the ridge between the two summits.
Big thanks to Martyn and Col for a great day out!