I WAS heading to Monadh Mor over the emptiness of the Moine Mhor at 4am when the mist rolled in and swallowed me.
It was mid-August and the first tentative signs of the wakening day I had been beginning to catch on the path up from Achlean were wiped away again in seconds.
Pinpoint accuracy with the compass was now the only sure way to reach my destination but on this vast, featureless landscape it wasn’t long before uncertainty crept in.
You may think I should have been worried. I did have some concerns but I never got to the panic stage. The reason? Just when I was beginning to think I would be spending part of the day walking in circles of invisibility and frustration, I managed to tick off a new top.
I had suspected I was slightly off course, a little further south than I had wanted, so I decided to aim for Stob Lochan nan Cnapan, or Tom Dubh, as it sometimes known.
This is a Munro Top described by Irvine Butterfield as “one for the real enthusiast, the most meaningless 3000ft ‘top’ in all Britain, for here lies the ultimate in desolate wilderness, a landscape so featureless that it almost defies man’s ability to use map and compass. Devoid of landmarks, in mist, only the oozy drains of the plateau’s few streams offer guides of any consequence. When frozen by winter blizzards even these fail to assist.”
Well, that sounded promising. When even the late, great Mr Butterfield couldn‘t find much to enthuse about, it should give some clue as to what you are about to face.
I had no intention of paying Tom Dubh a visit when I set off, but now that I was here a fresh tick provided a welcome boost. The day improved from that point.
For those who can barely comprehend the Munro phenomenon, this may sound like total madness, but, believe me, it gets worse.
Those who ‘compleat’ the Munros have often have been doing the Munro Tops hand in hand. Some then go on to chase the Corbetts or the Furths, the 3000ft peaks in England, Wales and Ireland. Throw in the Grahams and the Donalds and you have a Full House.
The Scottish Mountaineering Club keeps records of those who have climbed all the tops in these six categories, a total of more 1043 hills. So far, 39 people have claimed a Full House. It would appear that’s not enough for some, and there are those now chasing hills in all sorts of sub-categories.
I’m almost ashamed to say I have let myself be swept along in this madness to some extent. One quiet night I made the mistake of looking at a list of Corbett Tops and the seed was planted. I make the excuse that it gives me added impetus to go out and repeat hills I have already climbed because they have an extra summit I may not have visited.
It’s unlikely I will ever manage them all. There are more than 450 and I am less than one third of the way through. Some involve long, long diversions from the main summit to protuberances that make Tom Dubh seem like the Matterhorn. One Munro in the Monadh Liath has 17 Corbett tops and its near neighbour a further eight. You could be wandering around in there for years.
I don’t dare cast an eye to the 774 Graham Tops, and the Marilyns, Humps, Simms and Tumps will likely remain an enigma.
I wish you well if you are tackling any of these lists, but be warned: This obsession can have serious consequences.
A friend once told me she had dumped her boyfriend because their hill days had been ruined by his need to chase every deleted Munro Top. Despite her love of the mountains, this proved a few steps too far. Their relationship was deleted.