Friday, March 17, 2017

Outdoor Writing: Reviewing the Reviewers



Outdoor writing in the UK, particularly relating to rock climbing or mountaineering, tends to be pretty parochial and generally does not have a huge appeal to those outside of what is after all, a relatively small climbing fraternity. As such, books written about pre-war mountaineers or those autobiographies of rock jocks whose fame extends no further than the UK, generally find  sales tallied in the low thousands or in some circumstances, even in the hundreds. Although a ‘name’ like Chris Bonington or Doug Scott will find an international audience of course-particularly in the US- and will also pick up sales from the general public who as a rule have no interest in the great outdoors but like a good yarn. Witness Joe Simpson’s extraordinary crossover success with Touching the Void. Not surprisingly, climbing and mountain publishers tend to be specialists and not literary Jack of all trades, although occasionally a well know publisher like Faber & Faber will dip their toe in the outdoor market.

Given, the tight profit margins involved in publishing books which often won’t even cover costs, it’s no surprise that publishers tend to be cautious and generally only plump for books by or about-relatively speaking- well known figures in the game. Often, in the case of a climbing autobiography, if that person is not an experienced or accomplished writer then then the publisher will suggest the involvement of an experienced writer who can then make something of an acceptable literary silk purse out of what may have been, something of a mangy sow’s ear!  For reviewers of outdoor books, this generally means that most books coming up for review tend to be well written and interesting.

As someone who does on occasion review climbing and mountaineering books, then I’m sure I speak for anyone who has ever reviewed a book when I say that no one ever wants to damn someone’s hard work. If a writer has put months or even years of effort into researching and collating information about a historical figure, or if they have poured out their soul into an honest and frank autobiography, then its difficult to write a bad review even if the work is underwhelming. In these cases, usually the reviewer will couch their review in terms which emphasize the positives and play down any negative elements. Thankfully, as I’ve already suggested, publishers-particularly in a narrow field like climbing-don’t tend to publish turkeys so the need to either tread lightly or be bluntly truthful doesn’t arise.

Although I’ve read plenty of climbing books which were a bit so-so and forgettable, I’ve read very few books that I’ve felt were really poor or I’ve disliked for whatever reason. One book which springs to mind was written by a US writer about bouldering. The author’s attempts to instill a Zen like spirituality into the activity and his purple flights of fancy into the far reaches of West Coast surrealism left me cold. Unable to make head nor tail of the book I passed it on to Harold Drasdo whose intellect and sharp literary mind far surpassed my own. Perhaps he could review it? A week later it came back.Nope...he was as nonplussed as I was!

Ninety Nine per cent of reviewers, I would suggest, are honest and conscientious. they tend to be scrupulously fair and objective and never allow personal feelings about an author cloud their judgment. However, that’s not to say that there are not some bad apples in the barrel. One of our best known climbing writers does a good line in rubbishing authors he sees as rivals by writing one and two star reviews on Amazon under a series of pretty transparent pseudonyms. Rather amusingly, he gives his own books five star glowing reviews. Rather he did although I hear that Amazon, under pressure over false reviews, are now only allowing verified purchasers the opportunity to offer reviews and the company have been busy deleting these phony reviews after pressure from other writers and reviewers.

Writers as highly regarded as Robert Macfarlane, David Craig and Boardman Tasker winner, Harriet Tuckey have all been victims of this literary villain’s poison pen. As least they can console themselves that a rather sad attempt to undermine their work was quickly exposed and recognized by other writers in their field before any damage to their reputation was done.

Thankfully, cases like this are very much the exception and in the main the UK outdoor media can pride itself on the honest and sober objectivity of its reviewers.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Lights, Camera, Outdoor Action!



Respected Lakeland explorer Vyvian Withnail above Hawswater
For those seeking a televisual fix of the great outdoors, UK TV offers pretty meagre fare to say the least. Apart from very occasional programmes featuring people like Julia Bradbury walking the fells, or Steve Backshall on some adventure in far off climes, the only fairly regular  TV programme which based on the Great Outdoors is BBC Scotland’s The Adventure Show. Only available in England and Wales through iPlayer of course.

Thankfully, these days we are no longer solely dependent on terrestrial or digital TV channels and can access a huge variety of material through the magnificent media behemoth that is Google’s You-Tube organisation.


From sailing the high seas to mountaineering; road trips to white water pack rafting. Whatever your bag, its out there on You-Tube, and if you have a modern TV which has a YT channel pre-installed then you can sit back and watch these films and documentaries in the comfort of your armchair rather than squinting at a laptop or desktop screen, as was the case when You Tube was first launched.

These days, making a half decent climbing, hillwalking or road trip video is totally within the reach of just about anyone with the creative drive and equipment. Modern advances in photography and movie recording devices have brought professional quality stills and recordings within reach of nearly everyone. Of course, you can make a video with a smart phone or £20 digital camera and there are indeed, some watchable videos which have been made on the most basic equipment. However, as a rule of thumb, to make a quality You Tube film-I’m discounting Vimeo here as unlike You Tube, Vimeo’s free service is frankly appalling and limited to one tiny media file per week- you essentially need three good quality bits of kit. A drone, a super compact digital camera which records HD video files, and a Go-Pro style sports cam. To these recording devices add on an extending selfie stick which holds a sports cam, a dashboard mounted sports cam holder-for road trip films-a smart phone or small tablet-essential for recording drone footage and of course a laptop for editing.

All this will set you back at least £1k but that’s small beer if like the cream of the YT outdoor movie making crop, you want to make watchable films and perhaps establish your own You Tube Channel. When it comes to Movie editing you can save money by using the excellent free Windows Movie Maker editing suite. Although its no longer supported by Windows-it has been around since 2013 and was part of the excellent Windows Essentials package which included a very good photo editing suite-you can still download the full Monty from some third party sites.  Another money saver will be found by avoiding the horrendously over-hyped and over priced Go-Pro range of cameras and buying one of the many copies out there. The best of which can easily match the Go Pro in terms of quality and at a fraction of the price. One of the best is the Apeman series of Sports cams. Identical to the GP in size and the interchangeable range of accessories which will fit either camera. The top end Apeman 4k. 20mp sports cam comes in a zipped case with a range of accessories and spare battery and costs £79.99.The popular Go Pro Hero 4 costs £300 by comparison.


It's der gear la; The outdoor vloggers basics

I have a basic 1080p Apeman which costs under £40 and the image quality is still pretty amazing and more than adequate for videos. Most videos include stills and really you need a good quality camera like one from the Sony stable-the NEX or Alpha range- which take quality photographs and video footage. The Sony A 5100 for example offers 24mp and packs a DSLR sized sensor which gives you DSLR quality but in a pocket size camera. The Sonys are mirrorless cameras with detachable lenses although when you buy the camera it does come with a 16-50 zoom lens which is often all you need anyway. Not cheap. The 5100 for example costs £450+ but you can buy cheaper if don’t mind buying through the so called ‘grey market’ where you can find them up to £100 cheaper than through traditional outlets.

One of the biggest breakthroughs in creative video work in recent years has been the rise and rise-no pun intended!- of the ubiquitous drone. Previously the preserve of the military and professional media and access organizations, the availability and subsequent drop in price of what were up until a few years ago, a pretty rare site in the outdoors, has really opened up a whole new creative dimension to video creators. Those sweeping overhead shots and dramatic eagle’s eye view of rolling vistas were previously only available if you had access to a helicopter or small plane! Now anyone can achieve stunning aerial footage at relatively little cost.

One of the most popular ‘serious’ drones in the world-you can get drone or quad copters as they’re sometimes called, for under fifty pounds on eBay- is the DGI Phantom 3 Standard. Retailing at around £400, The Phantom 3 comes with an on-board 2.7k camera which shoots AVI and Mp4 footage and HD quality stills. Its probably the most widely used drone being used by amateur outdoor vloggers at this moment in time.

If you haven’t delved into the wonderful world of the outdoor vlogs on You Tube then here’s a few of my own personal favourites....


Kombi Life/Hasta Alaska...Adventurous Jersey boy Ben Jarman escapes island life and heads to the tip of South America, buys an old air cooled VW Camper and over the next 4 years wends his way to Alaska. En-route picking up young travellers and a Peruvian street dog, (a cocker spaniel he names ‘Alaska). Beautifully filmed and skillfully edited, Hasta Alaska perfectly captures the trials and tribulations which are part and parcel of travelling in a 25 year old air cooled V Dub. More importantly perhaps, the vlog also captures the spirit of the people and places he passes through.

Scotland’s Mountains/Steaming Boots...I’ve only recently discovered this but it sure looks good. Described as the work of ‘a team’ I’ve only actually seen one vlogger on camera but by using more or less the equipment described above, they capture perfectly the wild beauty of the Scottish mountain environment. Some great drone aerial footage (Using the aforementioned Phantom 3 Standard) and some great photographs really show off the Scottish mountains in all their glory.

SavedPurpleCat...The curiously titled vlogger is actually Tim from Buxton way who with his partner Mandy are keen wild campers,gear reviewers and road trippers in their Mazda Bongo. Tim’s videos have technically come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of years and again, using similar gear to the above, and he has created some really attractive vlogs which have been complimented by some stunning photography. Tim is a bit of a born again Christian but thankfully, his vlogs are not overtly proselytizing although the odd Christian power ballad does occasionally make its way on to the incidental soundtrack!

Alastair Humphries...British adventurer and promoter of outdoor ‘Micro Adventures’ has created some very watchable short videos. Covering everything from bothies, to biking and pack rafting. Long distance travels to scrambling, these skillfully made and creatively edited videos are well worth a gander.

Rob Johnson...North Wales mountain guide Rob Johnson has created some great videos with the drone used to great effect to capture our dramatic mountain environment. Rob throws in some tutorial stuff into the mix such as choosing a wild camp site, and offers features on the work of the local mountain rescue team of which he is an active member.



So...the moral of the story is, if you are dismayed by the lack of outdoor related material on the box, then you are looking in the wrong place. Then again, why not go out there and make your own videos like these guys!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Explaining Pictures to a Dead Hare



In 1965, The German conceptual artist, Joseph Beuys, performed a piece entitled ‘Explaining pictures to a dead hare’. It took place on the opening night of Beuys’ exhibition of drawings at Galerie Alfred Schmela in Düsseldorf. The invited public arrived at the gallery to find the doors locked. Through the glass front of the gallery they saw Beuys sitting in a chair with his face covered in honey and gold leaf, cradling a dead hare in his arms. Slowly he got up and wandered around the exhibition, as if explaining each work to the hare.

The connection between one of the great artists of the 20th century and co founder of Die Gruenen-The German Green Party and the rather less intellectually endowed brethren of the Scottish Gamekeepers Society and their Landowner/Sporting Estate employers, might appear tenuous to say the least. But here’s the thing; for Beuys and for many who spend their time in the mountains and uplands, the hare is simply a magical animal. The sight of which, exploding into life on the hillside, encapsulates the very essence of the wilderness experience. For Joseph Bueys it was one of the six sacred animals which informed his art. Certainly, the sighting of a hare on the open uplands near here-particularly in the early summer when its tawny coat stands out from the young green sward-always raises the spirit. Inevitably, the first sight of a car or bike trundling over the high road over the open mountain expanses, sparks the skittish hare into action. Literally haring off into the blue beyond.


Inevitably it will be a single hare. Unlike their fellow members of the Leporidae family, the populous and sociable rabbit, hares tend to be loners. Outside of their breeding season in spring they are usually to be seen on their own. Nibbling the vegetation or scanning the skies for buzzards and the fields for foxes.Those powerful hind legs, cocked and ready for flight in the blink of an eye.

For those who love the hare, the past few years has been a highly depressing period as across the Scottish countryside, particularly the the grouse shooting moorlands, hares are being slaughtered in their tens of thousands. Photographs show grinning imbeciles in waxed jackets and flat caps, proudly posing behind their prey. A bloodied carpet of white hares laid out before them. The excuses used by the landowner associations and sporting estates which drive the slaughter range from the need to cull the hare to prevent a population explosion to the unfounded belief that hares carry ticks which spread disease to the precious grouse. However,  Dr Adam Watson, a mountain ecologist and author has described the situation as  "a preventable catastrophe’ and ‘a national scandal."

Professor Watson who has published a book on mammals in the northeast Highlands highlights the unique the plight of the mountain hare which has  ‘suffered massive declines over the last 10 to 20 years’. "I would say that spring abundance of adults has been reduced by at least five-fold to 100-fold on most of these moors," he said. ‘In some areas, hares have been completely wiped out.’ Chillingly he adds "Gamekeepers on several estates have told me they were instructed to reduce hare numbers and to try to eradicate them."

While estate goon squads carry out their bloody work on behalf of their profit driven employers, the Scottish government’s wildlife conservation agency, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which is charged with protecting the nations wildlife, has been depressingly supine towards the landed interests and decidedly hands off on the issue. 

Image: Raptor Persecution Scotland

The issue has certainly produced strong feelings of outrage in the outdoor community with people like leading climber Dave Macleod recently tweeting a photo of estate workers carting their bloody bounty over the empty moorland killing fields. At this moment, there is no sign of the slaughter coming to and end anytime soon. Perhaps given the general public's distaste for the practice, Scottish Natural Heritage might finally do what they are supposed to do and protect this important element of the upland ecosystem. Then again, given their record of inactivity, perhaps not?
 
Apparently,in Irish and Scottish myth and folklore,the hare is often associated with the Sidh. A supernatural race whose activities inform early Pagan belief systems. In these stories, characters who harm hares often suffer dreadful consequences.’....Let's hope so!!!

 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Another Green World: Climbing's lost horizons



The Green Man: Harold Drasdo on the first ascent of Jac Codi Baw. An HVS climb on the remote green cliffs of Arenig Fawr. A route which like nearly all hereabouts,will almost certainly have never received a second ascent.

I recently blogged about the situation in the Lakes where the Fell & Rock Club’s latest guide to Borrowdale, had left out hundreds of obscure, off the beaten track, or rarely ascended routes, to the chagrin of a lot of older traditional climbers. Many of whom had seen routes they had probably put a lot of effort into, consigned to the archives or even oblivion? Just after that I read of a range of cliffs in north Wales- which had never even been in a guidebook despite climbers including myself and veteran Showell Styles, putting up routes there- had been worked on with all the ‘new route’ information and route descriptions appearing online.

I must admit, despite my own penchant for climbing in back of beyond locations and in many instances-certainly when an area guidebook was being prepared- recording those routes and submitting the information to the guidebook writers-I and many other climbers I know, had operated a somewhat arbitrary policy of leaving some cliffs unrecorded. Certainly if they were fairly remote, in a guidebook no mans’ land or later discovered to harbour rare plants or wildlife . The cliff mentioned above is one such cliff. A winding edge of rather loose pale rock which is quite vegetated and home to ravens, peregrines and foxes.

It just seemed totally appropriate that climbers should leave the coal black corvids and fleet foxes to their own devices. Hence my disappointment that the cliff had been developed. Of course, the likelihood is that now its been worked on and recorded, the explorers will inevitably move on to the next Crag X and this cliff will quickly return to being an unfrequented backwater. In fact throughout north and mid Wales, the vast majority of cliffs have become unvisited backwaters and I guess this will be the case in Scotland and the Lakes.

Some climbers appear to be driven to mop up and record climbs on every piece of undeveloped crag they can find. Regardless of scale or the the length of route. I’ve seen micro climbs recorded that are barely boulder problems in length but hey ho...line em up and we’ll knock em down! It might get a mention in the glossies or online but in the greater scheme of things, these new routes are inevitably destined to be binned. Along with a great many old routes which have been recorded since the second world war.

At one time, this would have distressed me. After all, one of the first articles I ever had published in the climbing media, back in the early 90‘s, took the Climbers Club to task for leaving routes by people like Ron James, Tony Moulam, John Neill et al, out of the latest guidebook which covered the Tremadog/ Moelwyn area. After all, I argued, if climbers of their status and reputation felt their routes were good enough to be recorded and submitted then what right had the guidebook committee and team to leave them out of the definitive work?

However, I had not anticipated how traditional climbing would evolve over the next thirty years. Squeezed by new activities like mountain and road biking, paragliding, bouldering, sports and indoor climbing. Now enter fat biking, packrafting, kite surfing etc etc. For young people who want an outdoor fix these days then there are certainly easier ways than lugging a 40 pound rucksack up to a remote cwm and either working out a project that will never be repeated,or trying to find a supposed classic climb which they quickly discover, has now disappeared under a mantle of vegetation.

There are a fair few virgin crags which I’ve climbed on in recent years which are nevertheless still worthy of bringing into the public domain by virtue of their accessibility and quality of climbing. However, the other side of the coin suggests that the majority of remote, unrecorded cliffs and even many established cliffs which have fallen out of fashion, perhaps really should be left to the slumber in their splendid green isolation.



Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mountaineering Scotland: Sleeping with the Enemy



The Last of the Clan
I wonder at which point someone in Mountaineering Scotland thought ‘Wouldn’t it be a good idea to put out a joint statement with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. Voicing our concern about plans to re-wild the uplands through a tree planting programme’ ? The issue has been extensively covered in the media.Including national news media like The Guardian and Times. But if you haven’t been aware of the brouhaha or have been out of the country let me bring you up to speed.

According to the Guardian..'The two groups have written to Scotland’s environment secretary to raise issues about plans to increase the country’s woodland cover from 17% to 25% by 2050. The Draft Climate Change Plan includes a commitment to plant 10,000 extra hectares of trees between now and 2020, extending to 15,000 hectares per year by 2024.

Basically a quite reasonable goal which will go a small way towards restoring what was once an important ecological component of the uplands. Before human interference with the natural environment, large swathes of the Scottish uplands had been covered with trees. The Great Caledonian Forest according to Wikipedia, consisted of...'native pinewoods which formed this westernmost outpost of the taiga of post-glacial Europe-estimated to have covered 15,000 km2 (3,700,000 acres) as a vast wilderness of Scots pine, birch, rowan, aspen, juniper, oak and a few other hardy species. On the west coast, oak and birch predominated in a temperate rain forest ecosystem rich in ferns, mosses and lichens.’

Most people who enjoy mountain pursuits, would I imagine support the Scottish government’s plans to restore a small part of what was once an extensive ecosystem which supported a diverse range of species, before large landowners decided that sheep, deer and grouse were more profitable than maintaining a healthy ecosystem. A system and social order which included the people who worked the land in a sensitive and sustainable manner.

What makes Mountaineering Scotland’s statement with the SGA so crass and ill judged is the manner in which it totally ignores one of the most shameful chapters in Scotland’s history; The Highland Clearances. When estate goons- forebears of the SGA brethren-drove the people off the land. Destroying communities and often burning out those who tried to resist.Apart from the ecological impact, the human tragedy was immeasurable. Communities and families torn apart and driven into destitution. For some members of what was essentially a pastoral community, they were driven to the coast and had to learn how to become fisherman. Others were driven to the cities.Notably Glasgow where they found themselves trapped in poverty and appalling social conditions. More still scraped together what they could and simply emigrated to the new world.

The Climbing writer and Highland Clearances authority, David Craig called it  ‘Scottish Biafra’. A genocidal act which destroyed a way of life and wreaked havoc and despair upon the long suffering highlanders.Whichever way you dress it up. The Scottish Gamekeepers Association are in the main still lickspittles to the Lairds, foreign investors and nouveau riche
landowners who still own much of the Highlands and who are still part of the ongoing issues surrounded sensitive land management and access.

By campaigning to keep the Scottish uplands as a tree free, moorland environment of limited ecological diversity, the philosophy which drove the clearances still dominates the thinking of groups like the SGA. Practices such as poisoning raptors, shooting mountain hares and foxes and ‘controlled’ burning, displays just how backward these people are. The late environmentalist and nature writer, Mike Tomkies, observed while living on the Scottish island of Shuna where shooting was part of the estate’s business model, the terrible impact of controlled burning by gamekeepers and estate workers. Witnessing how nests and habitats for birds, lizards,snakes and mammals like hares, voles and mice were wantonly destroyed to create the green shoots which pheasants and grouse eat.


Other environmentally damaging practices carried out in the interests of the sporting estates include using JCB’s to tear out tracks into the mountains, to enable tubby, tweedy chavs to fall off the back of a trailer pulled by a 4x4 and start shooting at anything that moves. Not that there’s going to be that much choice in such an ecologically limited environment apart from tame grouse and deer.

 
'Their skulls are made of lead,for that is why they cannot weep': Fedrico Garcia Lorca

It seems as if the mountain environment attracts two types of outdoor activist. Those who see it as an adventure arena. Simply a place where they can ride a mountain bike, weild an ice axe,run off a slope with a chute or climb a cliff; and those who can do these things but who can also appreciate the uplands as a living mountain. A natural environment which although degraded by human activity is worth protecting and improving. Even if that improvement is driven by government policies such as the Draft Climate Change Plan.

So.Mountaineering Scotland...what were you thinking ?!!!

 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Vertigo Myth



Ed Byrne Follows Stuart Marconie over the Hinterstoiser Traverse...also known as Sharp Edge.Image Life of a Mountain
Vertigo, it’s probably the most misused and misunderstood word in the English language..” ‘ Oh I couldn’t do what you do, climbing those sheer cliff faces...I suffer from Vertigo!’.
According the Wikipedia....’Vertigo is when a person feels as if they or the objects around them are moving when they are not. Often it feels like a spinning or swaying movement This may be associated with nausea, vomiting, sweating, or difficulties walking. It is typically worsened when the head is moved. Vertigo is the most common type of dizziness’. Basically it has nothing to do with a fear of heights which is ‘Acrophobia’ and you can feel the effects of vertigo standing on the pavement.

Given the fact that Acrophobia is a recognized condition, like a fear of open spaces, a fear of enclosed spaces or even a fear of spiders!, I often wonder how many of those who claim to have a fear of heights are actually acutely affected. Or is that fear simply the result of not having any experience of that environment.In short, it is not a fear of heights but a fear of the unknown? I was watching Terry Abraham’s beautifully filmed ‘Life of a Mountain-Blencathra’ on BBC4 last night and was amused to see David Powell-Thompson lead comedian Ed Byrne and DJ and writer, Stuart Marconie over Sharp Edge. Whereas as Ed Byrne nonchalantly sauntered across like a seasoned scrambler, Stuart Marconie-despite his hillwalking experience- was visibly outside his comfort zone.

I suppose for those who do a bit of climbing or scrambling, Sharp Edge is not exactly the Hinterstoiser Traverse! But there’s no doubt that some people get genuinely freaked out in places like this. In fact I commented on Twitter that ‘I thought ‘The Freak Zone’ was your Six Music Show?’ which was offered in a spirit of gentle joshing rather than sarcasm.

So....was Stuart’s discomfort Acrophobia or Xenophobia which is literally ‘Fear of the Unknown’, and not simply a fear of foreign people which you would think if you only read the Guardian. I’m guessing it is the latter and I’m sure given time, coaching and opportunity, then Stuart would be gamboling along Sharp Edge like a Herdwick ram.

Everyone who climbs has an inbuilt appreciation of the environment which surrounds them. Without that awareness most rock climbers would end up dead. Even super human climbers like Alex Honnold have to be aware of that unique, life threatening position they find themselves in and it is that fear which offers caution. Keeping the climber within an environment where they remain in control. At times sheer bad luck or simply pushing through and beyond that zone brings disaster. Happily for most climbers and scramblers, they exist within their comfort zone.

Which brings me back to Vertigo or should I say, Acrophobia.It exists as a condition of course, but how many of those who claim to have a morbid fear of heights really suffer from this, and how many are simply xenophobic?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Women Climbing Writers: Space beneath their feat.

Gwen Moffat:Climber and respected author.Image Gwen Moffat.
I checked the Boardman Tasker winners list recently, just to see how many women had won the prize since the BT’s inception 34 years ago? Five. To be honest, I’m surprised it was that many as I wasn’t sure if a female climbing writer had ever won. The Boardman Tasker has always had a fair representation of women on the judging panel. This year’s judges are Kate Moorehead, Helen Mort and Peter Gillman, but I guess the judges can only work with what they are presented with. It’s impossible to do a scientific study on the gender ratio of mountaineering/ outdoor books but from my experience based on putting out the Footless Crow site for 7 years, doing the occasional book review and just keeping a weather eye open on the outdoor media market, then I imagine that at least 80% of books falling into this category, are written by men. On the subject of articles published in Footless, sadly, only four women writers have featured. Barbara James, Barbara Jones, Jill Sumner and Ruth Janette Ruck. This is not for the want of trying or through any sort of sexist discrimination on my part I can assure you.

It wouldn’t be that hard to look at this in a socio/cultural context. Men do tend to be more narcissistic, ego driven and self publicizing than women. Look at the social media and the comments columns in newspapers like the Guardian. Its mostly men who get involved in heated threads and who promote their latest exploits. Be it a mountain bike ride-’Really buzzing after 30k in a blizzard man!’... Running-’Hey..knocked 3 seconds off my PB’. Climbing- “ Managed an extra circuit of the wall tonight...stoked!!!’ and other such mind numbing rubbish that gets a few sycophantic ‘likes’ and comments..’Awesome Dude’...’Respect’.... Yes even in Europe, Wayne’s World speak has taken root in the vernacular of the Twitter generation.

Getting back to female climbing writers though. There has always been strong figures like Dorothy Pilley, Elizabeth Coxhead, Brede Arkless, Gwen Moffatt, Lyn Hill, Catherine Destivelle and Wanda Rutkiewicz who have written about their achievements and produced articles and books of merit. However, if judged on sales, the achievement of ‘classic within the genre’ status or even reaching out into the heart of the mountain/climbing community and gaining wide respect, these female writers have never been accorded the same respect or achieved the commercial success as a Bonington, Krakuer, Simpson or Macfarlane for example.

Certainly, in 2017, an era when women in the west are perceived to enjoy equal rights with their male counterparts, regardless of the field or career they are engaged in, old habits die hard. The commercial publishers driven by profit, not surprisingly look to sure fire winners who are guaranteed to stimulate sales and interest. In a relatively small commercial market like the climbing media, where book and magazine sales are usually limited to those engaged in the activity-unless you have a rare cross-over smash like ‘Touching the Void’-it is the Kirkpatricks, Bullocks, Fawcetts, Boysens and yes, Bonington, still!, who tick the commercial boxes. Female climbing writers are still plugging away, producing quality material and getting stuff out there in print and online, but without achieving the same iconic status as wordsmiths as male writers.

Of course, this might be to over complicate the issue by lobbing in these socio/cultural theories. There are probably more male to female climbers anyway and hence, many more males writing about it. Authors like Bernadette Macdonald and Audrey Salkeld have achieved both critical acclaim and a measure of commercial success of course, but they remain in the main as exceptions within the field. Lobbing the occasional hand grenade into the complacent, patriarchal outdoor media.