Less Rewarding Summits

While the majority of traditional hillwalking lists have used a combination of height and prominence criteria, many have set criteria that result in the inclusion of some less rewarding summits. Most lists have a primary summit height qualification with a secondary, undemanding prominence criterion. For example, the well-known Munro list requires a summit to be above 3 000 feet with an actual (though unstated) minimum prominence of only some 180 feet (55m). Sir Hugh Munro includes Carn Sgulain in the Monadh Liath in his list. Very many hillwalkers have climbed it but most would agree it fails to score highly on anyone’s list of favourite hills.

map Carn sgulain

Reproduced from Ordnance Survey map data by permission of Ordnance Survey, © Crown copyright.

Part of the reason is that Carn Sgulain is fairly high above sea level but not prominent with a col at 848 metres separating it from Carn Dearg, a drop of only 72 metres (a P50 summit). Similarly, many listed summits in some parts of the Pennines in England are also featureless, standing out little above the surrounding moorland.

In contrast Ben Stack, Sutherland is 721 metres high versus 920 metres for Carn Sgulain.

map Ben Stack

Reproduced from Ordnance Survey map data by permission of Ordnance Survey, © Crown copyright.

Ben Stack rises steeply 683 metres above Loch Stack and has a topographic prominence of 532 metres. Most hillwalkers would regard Ben Stack as a more interesting challenge than Carn Sgulain, despite its inferior height which means it does not qualify for Munro status.

One reason why there is a discrepancy between some hillwalking lists and many guidebooks is that height alone provides little indication of how a peak stands out from its environment. Some peaks, especially those on islands like Skye, Rum and Arran, start at sea level. While others, for example in the Monadh Liath and Cairngorm ranges rise from a plateau.

Of course, the Prominent Peaks database of 1564 hills is not restricted to just rewarding hills. Nevertheless, those that fail to deliver, do so because of their unexciting terrain and not because of a failure to be prominent in relation to their neighbours.