MUNROS round or Corbetts round - which is tougher? There’s only one way to find out …
No, no, no, let’s not descend into a Harry Hill-style fight involving papier mache models of Ben Nevis and The Cobbler rolling around the floor punching lumps out of each other.
Both mountain classes have their champions and the debate is a hardy annual. It reared its head again a couple of weeks ago and sparked a spirited discussion on Twitter.
There is no definitive answer. It’s like presenting a choice between The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, Pele or Maradona, Wilma Flintstone or Betty Rubble – you will never get a unanimous decision. So let’s slide the emotional arguments to one side for the moment and look at hard facts.
Munros are mountains rising above the 3,000 feet mark and there are 282 at the last count. Corbetts are smaller, from 2500-2999 feet, and there are 219 of them. But size alone doesn’t provide an answer.
When I 'compleated' the Munros the first time it had taken me 150 days. The Corbetts, however, took me nearly 180, and there are many reasons for this.
The Munros list was devised by Sir Hugh Munro and they have no defined drop or reclimb between each one, whereas the Corbetts have to have a minimum 150 metres clearance all round. This means that while you can tick off big chains of four, five, six and even seven Munros in a single outing, you have to settle for lower tallies with the Corbetts.
Their biggest outing is at Bridge of Orchy, a horseshoe circuit that could land you five. Quinag in the North-west Highlands has three Corbett peaks, as does the Rois-Bheinn round at Lochailort.
Most of the rest have to be done as pairs or singles, and there are far more days out to bag one Corbett peak than there are for the Munros. Therefore a five-Munro day could be an easier outing than that for a single Corbett. You also have to make more trips to bag the lot.
The 150-metre rule also makes a difference. Some of the hills classified as Munros in the Eastern Highlands, for instance, would not qualify as separate peaks if that rule was applied. The South Shiel ridge, which contains seven Munros, might also lose one or two, so the total numbers would come down a bit.
The lack of paths is also a factor. Most Munros now have good paths or tracks all the way to the summit. This is not always the case with the Corbetts. Often their ascent means an approach walk over rough ground, which means a more time-consuming and strength-sapping effort. There also seem to be more Corbetts that necessitate crossing other summits en route.
Two former Munros have recently been re-classified as Corbetts, having been shown to be short of the magic 3,000 foot line, but Sgurr nan Ceannaichean and Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh haven’t suddenly become any easier to climb.
When it comes to technical difficulty the Munros are clear winners. Apart from the final climb to the summit block of The Cobbler, there are few real problems to match those thrown up by Skye’s Black Cuillin or the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glen Coe. Winter conditions strike harder on the higher Munros, but in a hard winter there’s not really much difference in difficulty between a 3,000ft peak and one at 2,999ft.
The Corbetts are more widespread, taking the walker to more of the islands and to other Munro-free areas, such as the Southern Uplands and the Ardgour peninsula. And there a lot more in the wilds of Sutherland. The effort needed for the travelling is certainly greater.
I don’t think anyone could put their hand on their heart and say for sure that one round is harder than the other. It is entirely subjective. The Corbetts mostly tend to be tackled after the Munros, so even the later ages of summiteers could be a factor in any individual determining which is tougher.
The Corbetts took me longer than the Munros and seemed to involve more effort to get round. Whether they were harder or not I couldn’t really say. I just know that I enjoyed the experience of seeing all those wonderful mountains and wonderful places.