Maskelyne thus chose to personally supervise the work that would ultimately give Schiehallion some sort of celebrity status in the hiking world, as evidenced by the 20,000 hikers who visit each year. They each pass a memorial cairn, celebrating the work of Maskelyne and her team, in the Braes of Foss parking lot at the start of the hike.
Shortly after my own ascent of the Schiehallion, I saw my first hiking buddy take a well-marked path, looking somewhat disheveled. The beginning of autumn had renamed the slopes of ferns to scorched sienna, while above me there were only clouds and, presumably, the rest of the mountain. Already however, with no large mountains nearby, the view from the lower slopes exposed vast swathes of central Scotland.
As the hiker approached me, I recognized in him a greedy exhaustion. “I did it,” he said. “My first Munro”, referring to the 282 mountains across Scotland with peaks above 3,000 feet. With the parking lot in sight, he couldn’t wait to get off the mountain. “I’m glad it’s over,” he said. His shocked-looking Springer Spaniel followed him, barely stopping to sniff my boot.
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Gravity never feels as strong as when hiking uphill. In just a few minutes, I felt this gentle attraction of the mountain pull me in. Soon after, the ground in front of me was all I saw; a quagmire of tough stones and grasses, leading me until we fell together like tired heavyweight boxers every time I stopped for a water break.
Sir Isaac Newton was the first to determine that everything has its own gravitational force. He also believed that gravity was too low to be measured at a level below the planetary level. But without having a measure of Earth’s gravity, it would be impossible to calculate its weight, because gravity is variable. For example, if I stood on a bathroom scale on Earth, I would weigh more than the same scale on Mercury, a planet smaller than Earth with a lower gravitational force, even though my mass would remain the same.
What Maskelyne and other scientists of her day understood was that if you could get close enough to its center of mass, a mountain’s gravity could actually be strong enough to be measured. It meant finding a mountain with steep slopes. But if one mountain has gravitational pull, so do all the others, potentially skewing the measurements. For this reason, Schiehallion, which was located far from other mountains of similar size, was the ideal solution.