A FEW years back, an off-the-cuff remark that cast doubt on the eligibility of many Munroists triggered an avalanche of indignation.
The suggestion was that you shouldn't be regarded as a genuine 'compleatist' unless you had climbed the Inaccessible Pinnacle under your own steam rather than roped to a guide.
It was a prime piece of mischief making, and the culprit enjoyed a good laugh as he sat back and watched his comment catch fire, sparking a hillwalking version of Fight Club. After all, there's nothing walkers seem to like better than an argument over lists.
I was reminded of this recently after a series of claim and counter-claim over what constituted a round of the Donalds – hills over 2,000-ft in the Scottish Lowlands – that would count towards a Full House.
It led to the Scottish Mountaineering Club stepping in to rule definitively that from now on, any round of the Donalds had to include all the attendant Tops (there are 89 and 51 respectively), as this had been the intention of Percy Donald, the originator of the list.
No prizes for what swiftly followed then: the question of whether you can claim to have done the Munros unless you have also included the Munro Tops. Following the Donalds ruling, it's hard to argue the logic of the argument (but please, argue amongst yourselves – I want to be left out of this one). There are 282 Munros and 227 Tops, a top being defined as a distinct summit over 3,000-ft which fails to meet the criteria of “sufficient separation” from its neighbouring peaks. In other words, a significant satellite of the main summit.
As the number of known Munroists creeps towards 7,000, it's interesting to note that only around ten per cent have also done the Tops. Reaching the summits of the main 282 has always been regarded as a full round. If the Donalds criteria had been applied, I wonder how many would made a point of visiting those extra 227 tops? Technically, there is no problem. There are one or two tricky summits, but if you have been over Skye's Black Cuillin and the likes of Liathach and the Aonach Eagach there's nothing that would cause any sleepless nights.
Anyone who has 'compleated' will almost certainly have ticked off most of the Tops anyway. It's those pesky outliers, the ones that require quite a bit of extra time and effort, that suffer the most. Mountains like the multi-topped Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan in the heart of Kintail, for instance. It's a long day whichever way you tackle it, but when you add in its five other peaks, the time multiplies exponentially. Or Meall Mor, a further summit of the already distant Lurg Mhor, which stretches out above Loch Monar.
On the last occasion the Munros list was changed significantly, in 1997, the likes of Beinn Eighe, Beinn Alligin, Bidean nam Bian and the Buachailles all gained a 'new' Munro. This seemed to be an attempt to correct a few anomalies.
For most mountaineers it made no difference. These were fine peaks that had long fitted in with a full day's ridge walking, and it would have been regarded as foolish to have ignored them. Anyone happy to make a quick dash for a quick tick was more likely a bagger than a mountain lover anyway: now they would have to commit to the full experience.
This was an object lesson in learning to cover all the bases. Occasional tinkering with the list may well throw up other significant changes, so it's best to do the full sweep while you are out there. There are even mountains – Beinn a' Chroin, for example – whose summits have been swapped several times, and there is a strong possibility that Maoile Lunndaidh may soon follow suit.
And what about the hills in the next height categories, the Corbetts and the Grahams? There are 222 Corbetts, but 455 Tops. There are 219 Grahams, but 776 Graham Tops. Those numbers are enough to bring on night sweats among compulsive list tickers.
Anyone who managed to get round them all – and I'm sure that someone, somewhere, likely has – would be a lonely figure on that register of compleatists.
The main rule of mountain lists is that there are no rules. Do what makes you happy. I'm just glad that I reached a certain age before I dared to take a peek at that Corbett Tops list. There are not enough hours left in my life to go down that road.