Some people collect stamps and coins; others like to visit every football stadium in the country; yet others will want to run in marathons all around the world. Then there is trainspotting (we will quickly move on from that one) But what they all have in common is that they have their lists and they want to collect, to tick off their attainments. List tickers are all around us.
Mountaineers and hill walkers are no different. Indeed, arguably, the origin of list tickers (at least for mountaineers and hill walkers) might be said to have originated in the UK and, more specifically, in Scotland when Sir Hugh T Munro produced his Tables. Not only do we have Munro’s Tables but we also have lists of Corbetts, Marilyns, Grahams, Donalds, Wainwrights, Hewitts, Nuttalls, Deweys, Birketts, HUMPS and TUMPS and a few more. And that is just in the UK!
This has spawned sites such as this one:
and, if you want even more (yes more!) detail, there is this one:
Lists are endemic worldwide. Take the 14 8,000m peaks, the 14 highest peaks in the world all located in the Himalaya and Karakoram. Fewer than 40 people have climbed all of them. Or take the 7 summits, the highest summit on each of the 7 continents. Around 400 people have climbed all of these. Whereas almost 5,800 have registered with the SMC as having completed all of the Munros (the true figure of those having done them all probably being 10% to 20% more than that).
There are clubs devoted to list ticking – for example Highpointers.org in the USA which is devoted to climbing the highest points in each of the State of the USA and, in the UK, we have the Munro Society open to those who have completed all of the Munros.
Greg Slayden who runs the peakbagger.com website expresses it thus:
“Lists of peaks are central to peakbagging. While I think that it is perfectly valid to use the term in the context of a climber focused on an individual summit, most peakbaggers try to organize their summit fixations by going after peaks that meet certain criteria. “Highpointers” are peakbaggers that try to reach a set of high points–of states, countries, continents, national parks, or anything else. Another group of peakbaggers try to climb all summits over a certain threshold in a certain area–the 4000 foot peaks in New Hampshire, the 14,000-foot peaks of Colorado, or the 8,000 meter peaks of the world. There are an infinite number of possible lists the creative peakbagger can dream up.”
As he goes on to point out, sometimes this emphasises quantity of a climb or excursion over its quality. As he puts it:
“Virtually every common peakbagging list has at least a few major, famous, or dominant summits, but the bottom rungs of many lists are often filled with many uninspiring peaks that would never enter the consciousness of a “real” climber.”
But peakbaggers are nonetheless a skilled and adaptable bunch:
“Technical rock and ice climbing prowess is usually not their strong suit, simply because there are very few summits worldwide that require those kind of skills. Generally speaking, you will not find peakbaggers in climbing gyms, at popular cragging spots, on waterfall ice, or on the big walls of Yosemite. Why, you can climb El Cap from the backside very easily! You do sometimes find peakbaggers practicing their rock or ice climbing, though, but only in preparation for a climb of some peak on some list that requires it.
“Compensating for the general lack of technical climbing ability in many peakbaggers is a very strong sense of how to travel in the mountains. Peakbaggers are often excellent off-trail scramblers and bushwhackers, strong and tough hikers, and well-schooled at map-reading and navigation. Many miles of mountain pathway have given the typical peakbagger a toughness and variety of experience that many 5.14 crag climbers never get from their roadside cliffs. Real peakbaggers have really “been around”: in deserts and rainforests, across snowfields and glaciers, up crumbly rotten rock ridges in terrible weather, on gruelling 20-mile days–and in many cases, solo. (It can be hard to find partners willing to come along on many of the wackier peakbagging adventures.)”
That last phrase resonates with me, even without the “wackier” bit.
And so I come to my recent trip (with Julie) to Germany to take Alasdair to Munster to start his year there at the University. We went by car because we were transporting his clobber. Did we take the direct route? – er, “no”. Did we have to take a circuitous route because the highest points of Luxembourg, Belgium and The Netherlands weren’t that far away? – um, “yes”.
So we duly bagged those mighty tops – Luxembourg (a slight swelling on an escarpment about 400m inside its border with Belgium), Belgium (handily placed behind a restaurant where we stopped for a late lunch and where we could park within 20 metres of it) and The Netherlands (where the summit marker was, according to my GPS, placed in the wrong location!).
Did they have any interest? Of course. Luxembourg saw our longest walk – 400m with 20m of ascent to a marker set in the ground next to a farm track adjacent to a field where a farmer was harvesting his wheat crop. This is Kneiff (560m). Here is Alasdair looking thrilled to be there.
Here too, such is the concern of the “true” peakbagger to make the trip worthwhile, that
- there seemed to be higher ground nearby – so Julie and I went there just to be sure we’d been to the highest point; and
- the Luxembourgers are not certain themselves as to where the true “highpoint” is. So we went 1km down the road to where there is a sign announcing that actually this location is the highpoint. This is Buurgplaatz (559m).
At least there was a nice water tower by the sign.
The Belgians, frustrated by the fact that their highpoint (Signal de Botrange – 694m) fails to hit the 700m contour, have built a set of steps to remedy this problem.
The true “summit” is 25m beyond in some trees.
The Dutch have made the most of theirs (Vaalserberg – 321m). It is located just metres away from the point at which the borders of Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands meet. So you can (as I freely admit to having done) wrap your arms around the tri-point marker and be in three countries at the same time. In addition, there is a nearby tower at the top of which are (I assume because we did not go up) grand views over the adjacent forests and a maze, eating establishments, woodland walks etc.
Here’s me at the summit marker with the tower behind.
So that was three country highpoints in one day – quadrupling Julie and Alasdair’s totals and bringing mine to eight.
Now what did Julie and Alasdair make of this? Were they happy? Of course they were. They had just bagged three and two more countries respectively…. Aaaaarrrrgh!!
Greg Slayden helpfully offer 10 signs indicating as to whether one may be a peakbagger. I will leave you to judge their applicability to me. I have provided some clues. Here they are:
- You have continued to a summit beyond a reasonable turn-back point despite terrible weather, including white-outs. [well you would do this if you have driven six hours to Scotland for a weekend]
- You keep a detailed log of all your climbs: peak name, date, weather, companions, etc. [you are referred to my account on peakbagger.com (and that is not my only log…)]
- You have taken hiking or climbing trips where the travel time to and from the base of a mountain is greater than the time spend in climbing the mountain. [the trip reported above?]
- You have made an effort to reach a spot in the lowlands that is completely undistinguishable except as the high point of something (for example, the highest point in Iowa) [the trip reported above?]
- You have visited a tropical island and climbed its highest peak without ever going swimming or visiting a beach while there. [I refer to to the following photos. I think they are rather nice myself. The first is leaving Fraser Island off the Queensland coast and the second is the view from the highpoint seen in the first photo]
- You see rock climbers on a sheer face and wonder why they bother, when there is a much easier way up on the other side. [Almscliff Crag near where we live or Ben Nevis I have never climbed by their hardest routes]
- You have driven over 2000 miles in a single weekend in order to climb a peak or peaks. [well perhaps not 2000 miles because that’s not possible in these islands. But I have certainly done 600 miles (to Scotland) in a weekend. Does flying to the USA six days before the rest of the family to climb some mountains count?]
- You have some familiarity with the concept of “prominence”/”shoulder drop”/”vertical rise above a col” and how it can be used to qualify a list of summits. [what can I say?]
- After the top of a technical climb, you took time to scramble over and “tag the summit”. [struggling on this one. Perhaps there is some redemption for me yet. Or perhaps not]
I will post something on my Iran trip soon – promise.