Using GPS to Turn a Hill into a Mountain

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Ian McNeice and Hugh Grant played a pair of cartographers during World War I England in 1917.  In the 1995 movie, “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain.”  In the movie, the cartographers measure the height of the local mountain in the fictional Welsh village of Ffynnon Garw.  The cartographers discover the mountain is actually a hill, falling slightly short of the required 1000′ height measurement required to be classified as a mountain.  This declassification spurs the villagers to delay the departure of the cartographers so they can add an earth cairn to the top of the mountain in order to push its height measurement up and get it designated as a mountain.

Not restricted only to a Hollywood ending, the Guardian highlights the real life efforts of a trio of amateur cartographers who target hills and mountains just under or above the 609.6 meters which is the metric equivalent to the 2,000′ mark as designated by the Ordnance Survey.  Graham Jackson and John Barnard, along with Myrddyn Phillips, pooled their funds to purchase a $15,000 surveyor-grade GPS equipment in order to re-measure these hills.

The Ordnance Survey measures heights of hills using orthophotography which has an error of +/- 3 meters (roughly 9.8 feet).  It is therefore inevitable that hills measured close to the 2,000′ limit can be misclassified.  Jackson, Barnard, and Phillips were able to get Mynydd Graig Goch in Snowdonia reclassified as a Wales’ 190th mountain in 2008 after their measurements proved that the originally measured height of 1,998ft was in actuality 2,000 feet and six inches (609.75m as measured by their Leica GS15).

The latest successful reclassification is Thack Moor in the northern Pennines near Renwick, Cumbria.  With an official measurement a mere 2 centimeters above the 2000′ mark at 609.62m, Thack Moor is now England’s 254th mountain.  The trio have measured over a 100 hills and mountains to date with Mynydd Graig Goch and Thack Moor being the only two that have need reclassification to date.  A collection of videos about the trio’s hill measuring activities is available on the G and J Surveys YouTube page.

thack moor
Graham Jackson, Bob Smith and John Barnard on top of Thack Moor with their Leica GPS equipment.

Redesignating hills as mountains is more than just a hobby to the local areas as tourism is boosted as a result of having a mountain nearby.  Hillwalking and mountaineering are immensely popular in the United Kingdom.

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