Friday, February 23, 2018

Away daze

You might have noticed things have been a bit quiet around here of late. I'm currently in prison....only joking!...I'm currently involved in other stuff which is taking up my time. Footless Crow is still up and running although being updated with a new article every fortnight rather than weekly as was previously the case. Still lots of interesting material in the archives to take a look at.
Should be back with a new format in the not too distant future.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Of Mice and Men: The death of self reliance on the hill.

Paul Finnegan and Meg
I was reading in the outdoor and national press this week about two mountain incidents which each in their own way, set me thinking about how we as individuals deal with a traumatic incident on the hill. The first incident involved a injured walker in Eskdale within the Lake District National Park. The incident was described in full detail in the Wasdale MRT logbook:

Upper Eskdale – Sun 14th Jan 2018 – Callout 2 in 2018

The team spent 3 days searching for a missing walker on Scafell Pike.
The walker was initially reported overdue from a walk on Scafell Pike on Sunday 14th January at 19:00. Team members who had already been to an injured walker near the summit searched in foul conditions but without success. Assistance was requested from Duddon and Furness Mountain Rescue Team and Keswick Mountain Rescue Team who did searches of Eskdale and the Seathwaite valleys. Due to extreme weather conditions all hill parties retreated around midnight.
The search resumed at first light on Monday with teams from Wasdale, Kendal, Coniston, Penrith, Cockermouth and Lake District Mountain Rescue Search Dogs.  Once the weather improved slightly a coastguard helicopter from Prestwick also joined the search but once again the missing walker was not found.
The search continued on Tuesday (17th January) with teams from Wasdale, Keswick, Kirkby Stephen, Duddon, Langdale Ambleside,  RAF Mountain Rescue and Bowland Pennine. There were dogs from the Lakes and as far away as Oldham from SARDA England.
Around 10:00 on Tuesday morning shouts for help were heard in the Silverybield Crag area in Upper Eskdale. The missing walker was found stuck in boggy ground. He’d been moving throughout much of the time and had injured both his wrists on the Sunday evening. He was airlifted to hospital by the coastguard helicopter from Caernarfon. A good outcome.
We’d like to thank all the teams, dog handlers, air crew, Police and others who supported the search, often in difficult conditions. 

The second and more controversial incident has found its way into the national press when in the words of one newspaper report.

Paul Finnegan, from Shotts in North Lanarkshire, was forced to make the heartbreaking decision to leave Meg the Border Collie behind in horrendous weather up a 3,074ft mountain on Sunday. The 12-year-old pet collapsed during the hike with her owner. Despite reportedly attempting to carry the animal back down the mountain, Paul’s family said he was forced to put his own survival first and leave the dog behind.

What I find interesting is in the different way the survival instinct kicks in in different people and how it produces wildly varying reactions and interpretations of danger.  For some, self reliance is key and some individuals will go through hell, carrying a serious injury to get themselves off the hill to safety. Others get lost on Tryfan on a summer’s evening and dial 999. I write this having been a member of a north Wales Mountain Rescue team but these days just would not have the tolerance or the willingness to put in the time and effort to ‘rescue’ numpties who are perfectly fit and able to get themselves off a hill. Especially in North Wales or say the Peak District/Lakes where you are never more than an hour’s walk from a road.

Using the first incident as an example. He’d been moving throughout much of the time and had injured both his wrists on the Sunday evening. So...he still had use of his legs then! When you think about Joe Simpson and his ‘Touching the Void experience. With a broken leg and stuck in a crevasse, Simpson spotted the sun peering through a hole high in its roof and, using ice axes, climbed up a steep snow slope towards the light. He finally pulled himself out, only to face a six-mile downhill crawl through terrain littered with more crevasses, and then through a field of boulders. He was dehydrated, in agony, and unsustained by food or the hope that Yates would still be at the base camp. He knew he was going to die. He just didn't want to die alone. The journey took him four days, and he was just in time: Yates was due to leave the camp in hours.

Then there was Doug Scott crawling down from The Ogre with two broken legs and in another incident, Ivor Richards took a fall from a climb on Lliwedd with Dorothy Pilley, broke his leg but insisted as a gentleman would in those days, in continuing to lead the pitch. He then walked down from the 3000‘ top, back to Pen y Pass. And yet someone, 100 years later, can’t walk out of Eskdale with two good legs!

As for the Paul Finnegan incident. Seriously, there are no words! Little wonder he has been getting flamed on the social media and in the comments sections of the press. Any decent individual would no more leave a dog to die on a mountain than a child! The most damning aspect is that there were TWO of them! How pathetic that two grown men could not carry a collie between them. There have been many suggesting that Finnegan’s account just doesn’t add up. A Sian Ludford offered... He did not spend FIVE DAYS looking for Meg,he left that morning and did not go back until FOUR DAYS LATER. He was also with his friend on that Mountain,apparently two men can’t carry a living dog but can carry a dead one. He then miraculously found Meg’s body within two hours after saying that he didn’t really know where he’d left her and giving the VOLUNTEER searchers the wrong directions and coordinates. Some of the searchers we’re searching from dawn to dusk for all of those days- not only did Paul not search until the Friday, he has not THANKED ANY OF THE SEARCHERS who were putting a lot of time and effort into it. One woman was searching every day with her baby strapped to her. I think he has lied to his family too and obviously they want to back him up.

My 10 year old Springer Spaniel, Fergus is still a regular companion on mountain jaunts and it is totally out of the realms of possibility that I would ever abandon him.No matter what the circumstances. He would be carried down off the hill draped around my neck like a fur stole even if I had to leave my rucksack behind. I guess this would be the case with 99% of dog owners. Finnegan’s dog was a border Collie for Christ’s sake, not an Irish Wolf Hound!

As Edward Abbey wrote ‘We live in the kind of world where courage is the most essential of virtues; without courage, all other virtues are useless.’ Sadly Abbey's message appears increasingly out of kilter with modern sensibilities. If in doubt look after number one and call for help at the first opportunity!

                              *       *      *      *      *       *        *
Update-Tuesday 23rd Jan-2018 

I am indebted to Scott Finnie of Action4Meg for the following statement on behalf of the group.

“Important questions unanswered in the case of abandoned dog Meg

Action4Meg is a group set up by a number of people involved directly and indirectly in the voluntary rescue efforts on behalf of 12 year old border collie Meg abandoned by her owner Paul Finnegan on Beinn Sgulaird mountain on Sunday 14th January. The groups facebook page has garnered over a 1000 likes in a short period of time.

The group has three aims, firstly to seek to obtain answers to some as yet unanswered questions in the hope of providing closure both to those who spent time on the mountain searching for Meg and the thousands of people who have followed the events closely across the world, secondly to raise awareness of mountain safety for dog walkers and seek to lessen the risk of such an event happening again and lastly to investigate the possibility of a lasting memorial to Meg, on or close to the mountain.

The group does not condone, indeed we strongly condemn,  the attacks that have taken place against Mr Finnegan and his family on social media. We understand that Mr Finnegan is grieving the loss of his beloved dog, and no amount of name calling or speculation will bring her back or lessen the risks of other people losing their pets.

In respects of the night in question we do not seek to judge Mr Finnegans actions as none of us were there, but we do wish to raise awareness of how Mr Finnegans actions in setting out onto the mountain placed himself, his friend Mr Peter Ayre, the volunteers who undertook rescue attempts and of course Meg herself a risk, in order that people properly risk asses and prepare for a winter hill walk with their dogs

We would like Mr Finnegan to provide answers to the following questions which we believe will both provide closure and help prevent an occurrence.

A, Given that Mr Finnegan had previously had to retreat from a mountain environment with Meg during the summer of 2015 why did he feel it appropriate to take her on a far more risky winter mountain environment on Sunday 14th ?

B, What level of assessment had Mr Finnegan done of the risks the party faced on Beinn Sgulaird that day, and given what appears to be a lack of basic equipment such as maps, compasses, spare head torches and survival shelters why did they set off ?

C, Why was Mr Finnegan unable to locate Meg on the following Monday morning, especially as he was able to locate her almost immediately on his return to site 5 days later on Friday 19th January ?

D, Why did it take Mr Finnegan until Friday to return to the mountain where he abandoned Meg, given that his presence would undoubtedly have aided the volunteer rescuers who were on site looking for his dog ?

E, Why did Mr Finnergan and his family provide imprecise and confusing information to the on site rescue teams, when his actions on Friday 19th in locating the body very quickly after he arrived at the scene, indicate he had a very good idea of her location ?

“we’re asking for Paul to answer these questions, not so he can be blamed, but so that other walkers can see how mistakes can build upon each other with tragic consequences” said Scott Finnie a member of the Action4Meg group who was active in the search for Meg, and camped out on the mountain overnight during the search “we believe Paul’s heart wrenching decision to leave Meg will be causing him immense grief, but we hope he will understand this is about helping others avoid the same pain, and allow those who went out to search for her to obtain closure”

The group is hoping to pull together guidance for hill walkers with dogs and to establish a network of contacts who can provide, advice and possibly assistance to walkers with dogs who find themselves in a similar position. “It’s not always exactly clear in walking guides and magazines what additional precautions and equipment are helpful when you take your dogs into the hills, or which organisations exist to help” explained Scott “also in addition as technology changes and becomes more affordable, then there are new groups such as DroneSARforDogs, who can provide assistance in addition to the more established groups, we want to tray and collate and publish the information in one place” they added

Lastly the group is investigating whether a permanent memorial can be placed at the location. “we think that a monument to Meg would be a way of honouring her but also if it acts a reminder and prevents another tragedy then that would be a great way to remember her” concluded Scott“


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Conservationists and profiteers battle it out in Lakeland.

If any evidence was needed about the absolute disconnect between a regions’ tourist agencies and environmental protection, then look no further than Cumbria. Specifically within the Lake District National Park. A region of Northern England known throughout the world for its literary connections as much as its pastoral beauty and rolling mountainscapes. In the last twelve months the district has been at the centre of two controversies which have set environmentalists against the Tourist agencies and political and business movers in shakers. 

In July The Lake District was designated a ‘World Heritage Site’. Much to the delight of Cumbria’s tourist, business and political community. Included in the bidding process was a report from ‘Reebanks Consulting’ described by George Monbiot in The Guardian as a company ‘owned and run by James Reebanks, a Lake District sheep farmer. He was paid £30k, in effect, to promote his own industry’s interests. The bid was riddled with errors and omissions: the claim that the park is in “good physical condition”, that the relationship between sheep and wildlife is “harmonious”, that farming there is “wholly authentic in terms of its traditions, techniques and management systems.’.

Reebanks is better known as ‘The Herdwick Shepherd’, author of a series of naff ‘Good Life’ books beloved of urbanites who wouldn’t know a Ram from a Ewe but who are content to live the country life vicariously through people like the Reebanks.

If the the World Heritage site bid was driven by those who sought to profit financially from the bid then the latest shenanigans surrounding an application by a private company ‘Tree Top Treks’ to build a zip wire activity centre above Thirlmere reservoir is even more blatantly driven by greed, ignorance and contempt. It was no surprise when Cumbria’s Tourist board backed the Thirlmere Project given that Tree Tops director Mike Turner is actually on the Tourist agency board! The application has not surprisingly set off an avalanche of objections from mountaineering clubs to wildlife groups. Now acclaimed local film maker Terry Abraham, best known for his popular ‘Year in the Life of’ mountain films has resigned in protest from the ‘Nurture Lakeland’ charity over their neutrality on the issue.

One thing which comes out of both the World Heritage and Thirlmere bids is just how out of touch the political and business community is from those ordinary people who are concerned with both preserving and indeed, improving the natural environment, and the increasingly threatened, fragile, natural environment itself.  Seen by many in the former constituency as somewhere to squeeze out a profit and to hell with the consequences. Thankfully there a lot of good people out there prepared to take on the Turner’s of this world, the grey politicians, the business community and the rest of their greedy ilk.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Winter Warriors are back Ted

A few years I upset a few people in the climbing world by questioning the ethics of making a winter ascent of a standard summer route, particularly in lean conditions given that ice axes and crampons are not exactly conducive to moving softly over stone and vegetation. Sure, popular summer rock climbs become polished and trees wither and die as they eventually succumb to thousands of hands, ropes and slings strangling the life out of them. However, anyone who has ever climbed a summer route and witnessed the tell tale signs of a winter ascent; those pale, jagged scratches ripped into dark stone, should be depressed by the prospect before them.

I’ve always felt with a fair proportion of winter climbers that there is an element of ‘Boys with their toys’ surrounding the activity. Although I haven’t done a scientific study of course, it seems as if 90% of winter warriors are male and males who like to boast about their big shiny tools! Yes.. Axes and foot fangs are sexy man!

As I write the first snows of winter have fallen above 600m in the North Wales mountains but it’s fair to say that conditions are still lean. Nevertheless, that hasn’t deterred parties from climbing popular routes in places like Yr Wyddfa’s Trinity Face. The desperation to log ascents onto the UKC route page and plaster pictures on Facebook and Twitter, overwhelming any semblance of common sense or recognizing the ecological implications of hacking your way up turf and barely covered rock. The mountain is home to some of our rarest plants like the Snowdon Lily which can only be found around the mountains inaccessible cliffs and the plant is said to be at risk of disappearing altogether.

Not that that sad fact would worry the Winter Warriors. What’s the extinction of a rare plant compared to getting several ‘likes’ on Facebook and lots of ‘awesome dude’..’looks cool man’..’Wow..great images dude’.  Thankfully, I’ve noticed that a fair few climbers have picked up on the negative ecological implications of their knuckleheaded bretheren’s winter activities and have not been backward with their criticism. Will this make a difference? Probably not. Without branching off into a socio/cultural analysis of why people these days, are more inclined to indulge in activities which increasing impact on wildlife and natural habitats-and this covers a vast area from Hunting and Fishing to Mountain Biking and Zip Wiring-then its fair to say that Hedonism rules OK.

When our National Parks fight for the right to call themselves ‘The Adventure Capital of the UK’ and tourism and profit is the name of the game, then conservation will increasing play second fiddle to recreation. With more and more people pouring into mountain areas to get their adventure fix, it’s little wonder that Tristram and Ben will throw themselves at the Trinity Face when there’s little more than a dribble of spit on the cliff. But you ascent is an ascent right?


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Hashtag Vanlife...When fantasy takes over from reality.

VanLife?.....Yeh...right!!!Image: You Tube
One of the most fascinating developments I've witnessed in the 25 years since I bought my very first camper van- a 1972 VW Type 2 Bay in two tone light blue and white- has been the transformation of a cheap to buy, easy to maintain, quirky piece of German engineering, into a multi million pound industry. Hashtag van life is now sold as a lifestyle and fashion statement through a host of channels. From Youtube vlogs to advertising features; Social media outlets like Instagram to four wheeled glamping in vintage buses.

Of course, the world of Van Life or simple Campervan culture is not these days restricted to VW's.  Those who style themselves as van life nomads drive a whole range of vehicles from Fords to Mercs; Renaults to Fiats. However, if you are talking about the vehicle which still sits at the apex of van life culture then the old Air Cooled VW Camper still reigns supreme as the ultimate iconic  vanlife vehicle.

 Now I enjoy many You Tube vlogs as much as anyone. I've followed Ben & Co's excellent adventures through his slickly made Kombi Life/Hasta Alaska  series and in the last year have really enjoyed Theo and Bee's Indie Projects series which like Kombi Life are really well made by two likable thirty somethings travelling mostly in the UK, from their narrowboat base in the English Midlands. With the occasional foreign sojourn. The latter Kombi Life Crew by contrast, have recorded their travels through the Americas. Starting in Chile and over four years, travelling up to Alaska. Both channels have passed 100.000 subscribers-in fact Kombi Life have passed a quarter of a million- which goes to show. For many people I guess, van life is a vicarious existence lived through a screen.

The Indie Projects have increasingly branched out into showcasing other vanlifers vehicles and I notice the viewing figures for these vlogs dwarf those which document their own adventures. Funny that? Personally I prefer seeing their road trips to yet another Sprinter which looks like it should feature in a Van Life equivelent of Country Life. Is it me or are these sooped up vans with bathrooms, ornate woodwork, woodburning stoves, complex electrics and chintzy interiors, a million miles away from the original idea of using a campervan for the freedom it brings when exploring new horizons?

In this regard, a special shout out to Camervan Culture and the main dude-Jed- a plasterer who now runs a successful VW Campervan parts business darn sarf. Jed drives  a 1980's VW T25 Synchro which he has driven through the Moroccan deserts and up to the Arctic Circle. Charting his trips on a series of entertaining You Tube vlogs which are well worth watching if you haven't seen them. The point is, Jed's vehicle is a proper job! Not some Harrogate tea room on wheels!

Which brings me to the gist of this piece; how hashtag vanlife has moved from being a hippy ideal to a corporate branding exercise. I was flicking through the You Tube channels and I couldn't fail to be taken by a thumbnail showing an attractive thronged female arse standing next to an old Type 2. In the interests of research you understand, I had to investigate further. It turns out the channel is Wandxr Bus and that particular video is fast approaching two million hits. Wandxr Bus are not averse to showing lots of bronzed flesh on their thumbnails and who can blame them you might say. 

Sex sells. These guys turn out to be Sabrina and Jimmy. She an LA model with lets face it, a pretty stunning, voluptuous figure which is usually spilling out of a tight bikini, and he, a tall handsome slice of beefcake. How can you not resist these guys!
Just your common or garden,every day vanlifers!Image-You Tube
Well some people can, not least You Tuber Dave2D who calls them out as Bullshitters. You see, the suggestion is that in an age of Fake News, Sabrina and Billy are fake Vanlifers and its not just Dave who is calling them out. I must admit, there is something about them and their videos which just doesn't ring true. Apart from the fact that the characters look like they've stepped out of a multi million dollar advertising campaign. 

Two gorgeous people gamboling around under endless blue skies, driving their bus over empty white sands with a dog or two who appear and mysteriously disappear from their adventures at will? There's also the fact that their van is always spotless. Where are the dirty pans and plates..the sleeping stuff rammed under seats, the general crap that you need on a road trip, even if its only for a weekend?  These are people who claim that this tiny van is their only home. Where do they store all that camera gear and drones? Is this fake van life which is in effect a well orchestrated commercial advertising campaign?

One film making vlogger claimed their videos are just too slick and professional for two supposedly self taught vloggers. The 'actors' themselves, the cinematography and the music are selling something but what is it? I recently discovered a feature about them on the Vice YT channel and sure enough, in the video they admit that commercial companies are paying them to promote products. In one scene, Sabrina steps out of the bus on the Boston waterfront in a black mini dress slit down to her waist to reveal her assets in what turned out to be an Instagram shoot to promote a watch. 

Dave2D takes aim: You Tube
With their Instagram account and YouTube channel ratcheting up subscribers by the thousands, it's pretty clear sex plus the hashtag vanlife culture sells and little wonder that businesses are getting on board to exploit what is after all, an artificial idealised interpretation of vanlife which for most people who own and drive campervans, can be quite often, grimy, frustrating, cluttered and involving mud. Especially if you live in Europe !

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Ogre-Extract from Chris Bonington-Mountaineer

Image-Vertebrate Publishing
In Baltistan, on my first visit to the Karakoram, I was struck by the contrast with Nepal, Garhwal and Kishtwar. It is a harsh land of deserts, rock and steep snow peaks, relieved by the occasional emerald jewels of terraced  fields and orchards, eked out of the landscape by irrigation from the turbid glacial waters. The people reflected the land. There was none of the humour of the Sherpas or the gentleness of the Nepalis. The Baltis were volatile and argumentative, with a hint of violence. Though resourceful in their agriculture, they were yet to fully tap the trading potential of the many expeditions that passed their villages. There was little relaxation on a Karakoram approach march.

The Ogre, with its three summits and serried rock walls, presented a superb unclimbed challenge. Doug Scott’s plan was for us to tackle it in pairs, each by a separate route. He partnered Tut Braithwaite to try the central spur, Mo Anthoine and Clive Rowland had the west ridge, and Nick Estcourt and I had designs on the south face. This unstructured approach worked well with such a group of individualists and, as the expedition developed, we adjusted our plans according to circumstances.

From the camp on the col Nick and I made our summit bid by the south face. We took the glacier terrace and climbed a band of slabs to gain access to the face, then, after a rest day in a snow hole, made a dash for the top, only to find when we gained the summit ridge that the rocky central summit was too difficult as we had brought too little rock equipment. We settled for the first ascent of the west summit, and retreated.

Doug had joined Mo and Clive on the west ridge. With Nick fatigued, I joined the west ridge team and after a two-day climb we crossed the west summit and bivouacked in a snow hole. Next day, Doug and I tackled the summit tower. The climbing was difficult and strenuous, requiring pendulums to make progress. We reached the summit on a wonderfully clear and still evening. During the abseil descent, Doug slipped on verglas, pendulumed and broke both his legs in the impact. The climb now became a struggle for survival and, after a bivouac, we regained the snow hole to face the long descent.

We were now in a desperate position and, to make matters worse, the weather broke, forcing us to remain in the snow hole for two days, eating the last of our food. On the third day, with the storm still raging, we forced our way back over the west summit. Mo broke the trail and Doug was able to crawl behind, helped by Clive and me. We could never have carried him. After another bivouac we began the descent of the pillar where, on the first abseil, I fell, breaking my ribs. 

At the foot of the pillar the situation became critical, for we couldn’t risk crossing the col in a white-out. We had no choice but to wait in tents for a further two days before we could finally escape. I was very weak, coughing, and worried about catching pneumonia which would have finished me. Doug had to crawl across the col and descend the fixed ropes and then make a punishing three-mile crawl across glacier and moraine.

Chris Bonington 

Chris Bonington Mountain is available direct from Vertebrate Publishing

Friday, October 27, 2017

Doug Scott: the truth behind the dramatic first ascent of the Ogre.

Forty years on from Doug Scott and Chris Bonington’s death-defying first ascent of the Ogre, Scott reveals the whole truth behind their epic fight for survival in a new book set for release this autumn.

Predating satellite phone communication, when an accident that resulted in Scott suffering two broken legs and Bonington smashing ribs turned their 1977 climb into a desperate fight for life, the isolated pair had only the bravery of their team members, Mo Anthoine and Clive Rowland, to count on. When word reached the national press, the selfless roles played by Anthoine and Rowland in shepherding Doug and Bonington off the mountain had been essentially written out of the story to focus on the two already-famous mountaineers – household names thanks to their exploits on Everest.

Using newly discovered diaries, letters, audiotapes and film footage created by Anthoine, in The Ogre Doug Scott sets the record straight for the first time.

Speaking about the book’s impending release, Scott said, ‘The Ogre is the most difficult high mountain in the world to climb and when both Chis and I were incapacitated on the descent, the eight-day journey to reach Base Camp was only made possible by the selfless support of Clive and Mo. Marking forty years since our near-fatal climb, The Ogre will bring the whole story to light’.

Subsequently, after several more trips to Pakistan, the combination of being rescued by the local people from the Ogre and a porter falling into the Braldu River and disappearing, encouraged Scott to do something about the fifty per cent child mortality rate in the village of Askole, the last village before K2 and the Ogre. One of the benefits of the Ogre expedition was that it raised Scott's profile enabling him to raise funds to facilitate such projects to provide clean water for Askole residents, reduce child mortality and, within just a few years, far more children were living beyond the age of five.

The success of the project in Askole gave him the confidence to respond positively to requests in Nepal, where he had done most of his climbing, and Community Action Nepal is the result. Currently there are fifty plus projects so this accident produced some positive and long-lasting outcomes.

The Ogre is now available to pre-order from Vertebrate Publishing ( ahead of publication on 23 November 2017.

Born in Nottingham in 1941, Doug Scott began climbing in Derbyshire when he was thirteen. He completed his first Alpine season at the age of eighteen. In 1965, aged twenty-three, he went on his first organised expedition, to the Tibesti Mountains of Chad. It was to be the first of many trips to the high mountains of the world. On 24 September 1975, he and his climbing partner Dougal Haston became the first Britons to reach the summit of Mount Everest, via the formidable South-West Face, and they became national heroes. With the exception of his ascent of Everest, he has made all his climbs in lightweight or alpine style and without the use of supplementary oxygen. Scott was made a CBE in 1984. He is former president of the Alpine Club, and in 1999 he received the Royal Geographical Society Patron’s Gold Medal. In 2011 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Piolets d’Or, during the presentation of which his mountaineering style was described as ‘visionary’. Scott continues to climb, write and lecture, avidly supporting the work of Community Action Nepal. He is the author of five books, including Up and About, his first volume of autobiography, published in 2015.