Hills or Mountains?

28 11 2010

Ben Ime sparks the debate "Mountain or Hill?"


The man who looked up “a Mountain” and came up with “a Hill”

 It has been a wee while since I blogged or blagged, due almost entirely to a great weeks holiday in Tenerife with the lads, where all climbing and walking intentions were drowned out by alcohol and late nights far too demanding of an old codger like me. That put paid to a weekend of Munro Blagging and, last week was scuppered by Louie spending the weekend at Yorkhill with appendicitis.

So, it looks like this years total of Munros blagged will be 14. A sorry total I know and I hope that, like England’s Cricketers, I can come back fighting in 2011 and made a serious dent in the target.

However, due to the state of my knee this morning – swollen like Simon Cowell’s heid – I think an op may be required before I plod the hills or mountains very soon.

And on that note. There has been a persistent theme that me and Pete have discussed over the last months which I have given some thought to recently. In Scotland, do we have Hills or Mountains?

I thought I’d have a look at some definitions to clear it up and clicked on to:

http://www.yourdictionary.com for the first definition

hill (hil)


  1. 1.                  a natural raised part of the earth’s surface, often rounded and smaller than a mountain

moun·tain (mo̵unt‘n)


  1. 1.                  a natural raised part of the earth’s surface, usually rising more or less abruptly, and larger than a hill


So that cleared it up then!

I then thought I’d try Collins

Collins English Dictionary Definition



  1. a very large, high, and steep hill, the highest mountain in the Alps,



  1. . a natural elevation of the earth’s surface, less high than a mountain,


Again, not particularly helpful.

As a lapsed member of the Paisley Hillwalking Club, I remembered an article on the website which clearly defined what their take on the whole Hill/Mountain debate was. Read this and chuckle or seethe depending on your opinion.

Paisley Hillwalking Club Website

“So why are we not a Mountaineering club? Simple enough. Mountains are massive scary jagged things, some times surrounded by glaciers, usually in remote areas of the globe requiring hard graft to access and need multi day expeditions to tackle. The addition of a parcel load of specialised new skills required for handling them, and a thin atmosphere, put them into another league. In short, we only have hills in Scotland. Anyone thinking differently is either deluding themselves or asthmatic.
Scotland has been known to give its humble hill-goers a hard time, even kill a few. Its reputation for severity is well founded and should always be planned for, even on the calmest of days. An apprenticeship here is regarded very highly around the world but the fact still remains even the most experienced of us can’t gain these additional mountaineering skills without practicing them in the more remote parts of the planet.”

In a final attempt to get some kind of definition, I turned to Wikipedia for some assistance. Heres what I got: 

Wiki Definition

There is no universally accepted definition of a mountain. Elevation, volume, relief, steepness, spacing and continuity has been used as criteria for defining a mountain.[1] In the Oxford English Dictionary a mountain is defined as “a natural elevation of the earth surface rising more or less abruptly from the surrounding level and attaining an altitude which, relatively to the adjacent elevation, is impressive or notable.”[1]

Whether a landform is called a mountain may depend on usage among the local people. The highest point in San Francisco, California, is called Mount Davidson, notwithstanding its height of 300 m (980 ft), which makes it ten feet short of the minimum for a mountain in American appellation. Similarly, Mount Scott outside Lawton, Oklahoma is only 251 m (823 ft) from its base to its highest point.

Definitions of “mountain” include:[2]

  • Height over base of at least 2,500 m (8,202 ft).
  • Height over base of 1,500 m (4,921 ft).–2,500 m (8,202 ft). with a slope greater than 2 degrees
  • Height over base of 1,000 m (3,281 ft).–1,500 m (4,921 ft). with a slope greater than 5 degrees
  • Local (radius 7,000 m (22,966 ft). elevation greater than 300 m (984 ft)., or 300 m (984 ft)–1,000 m (3,281 ft). if local (radius 7,000 m (22,966 ft). elevation is greater than 300 m (984 ft).

By this definition, mountains cover 64% of Asia, 25% of Europe, 22% of South America, 17% of Australia, and 3% of Africa. As a whole, 24% of the Earth’s land mass is mountainous and 10% of people live in mountainous regions.[3] Most of the world’s rivers are fed from mountain sources, and more than half of humanity depends on mountains for water.[

So there you go, some definitions for you to ponder.

My conclusion is that I have no conclusions. I reckon we probably do have Hills in Scotland, but they have generally been accepted as mountains due to the fact that mountains sound a wee bit more sexy and bit more dangerous. However, when we come to Munros, maybe we should be a wee bit more specific in our description because, lets face it, some of them are quite jaggy and scary and rise up steeply from their base – think the Buchaille, and some are just big rounded featureless lumps with easy angled gradual slopes – Ben Ime.

Therefore, what I plan to do, is revisit the ones I have done this year and give them an H or an M grade. Seems Fair?

I’m sure no one will agree with me.

Comments and suggestions welcome.

Munro Blagger




One response

1 02 2014

When I were a lass (so many conversations start off like that nowadays), a mountain was actually only over a lowly 1000 feet. Soon after, it was a peak over 2000 feet. I believe nowadays people are saying they have to be a minimum of 3000 feet but I’m sticking with 2000. Of course, that’s only using height definitions – I’m sure there are lots of other definitions like how jagged they are etc.

I think there’s more of a definition between a ‘hillwalker’ and a ‘mountaineer’ though – it’s generally held that mountaineers do things like climbing and ice-climbing and use tools like crampons and ice axes whereas hillwalkers just walk up things without needing tools.

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