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.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Climb Magazine's Twitter announcement
The end when it came was unexpected and rather shocking in its brutal finality.
’With regret Climb Magazine will be ceasing publication. Thanks to all our readers, contributors and commercial partners for their support’ Less than two months since editor Ian Parnell announced that the magazine will be the latest tradition publication to become only available in digital format, the publishers, Greenshires, decided to pull the plug completely. Presumably, the essential advertising revenues which are the lifeblood of a small circulation publication like Climb, were not stacking up as traditional advertisers, presumably? got cold feet.

You could say the digital revolution has become a double edged sword. On the plus side, it is revolutionized and democratized writing in every field. Not least in the area of outdoor activities. Now anyone can sign up with Blogger or Wordpress and put out a blog which as in any field, will either live or die by the quality of output. Most blogs will die and be deleted with a few months. Its hard work keeping a blog going and finding enough interesting material to stimulate interest. The best of these however, can thrive and attract a regular loyal readership. The Footless Crow blogazine-blogazine in that it is a multi authored media rather than a personal blog-has been going for eight years now and although it hardly attracts UK Climbing numbers, has nevertheless gained enough regular readers and respect in the climbing world, to make its continued presence in cyber space, a worthwhile project.

The other side of the blade however,is the cold and unforgiving manner a worthy publication like Climb has been put to the sword. Of course magazines have often been pulled by the publishers after briefly raising their heads above the commercial parapet and finding a limited audience. Anyone remember ‘Gravity’ , ‘Footloose’, ‘Outdoor Action’ ? The difference now is the fact that these days, the commercial publishers are not just in competition with other commercial companies. They are also in competition with thousands of world wide blogs and websites. Many of which are free from of those essential yet annoying advertising features which clog up the commercial digital media. In some ways it is this ‘clutter’ which many people reading a digital magazine on a laptop, phone or tablet, find off putting.

Its easy for a non commercial digital outlet like Footless Crow which puts out one article a week. People can read it in ten minutes and move on. In my experience, people are less likely to trawl through a multi essay online publication which is padded out with advertising. It’s a Catch 22 situation for publishers and it looks as if Greenshires decided it wasn’t worth playing the game anymore.

The genie is well and truly out of the bag of course and reading media online will become the accepted manner of consumption for most people in the future. Some paper publications however, will be still be around for probably longer than we think. Just as Vinyl records survived Cassettes, CD’s, Mini disks and Spotify, the traditional magazine will hopefully live on in some form or other, and defy those who predict total annihilation for the paper tigers!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Crag at the end of the World

Worlds End -Craig y Forwen
It must be at least twenty years since I visited World’s End. The delightfully situated limestone crag at the head of the beautiful. Eglwsyg Valley in North East Wales. It was one of my regular haunts when I started climbing in the 80‘s and Stuart Cathcart’s little Cicerone guidebook- Clwyd Limestone was my bible. It was a great crag to roll up to for an evening session. Offering short, single pitch routes of all standards on three tiers of cliff which rose up from the sylvan ravine like an enchanted castle. Thinking about it, many of those little limestone venues were pretty stunning in their locations. Pot Hole Quarry, Maeshafn, Pandy Outcrop-not limestone more a granite crag but popular with NE Wales climbers all the same.

Then there were the impressive Eglwsyg cliffs themselves; Craig Arthur, Dinbren, Twilight Towers, Pinfold and further east to the popular Trevor Rocks. I only climbed once at Craig Arthur- surely the biggest limestone cliff in north Wales apart from the Ormes on the coast?- but I remember it being pretty intimidating place. I well recall climbing Swalbr, named after a track on 60‘s supergroup, Cream’s Disraeli Gears album, and the first pitch which I led re-defined to term ‘chossy’ ! It was pretty nerve wracking, tossing every other hold over my shoulder! Thankfully the ‘out there’ final corner pitch was pretty wild although I’ll admit to grasping the final hold like a drowning man clutching at a lifebuoy.

The upper reaches of Eglwsyg Valley: Abandon hope all ye who seek to park here'
What struck me this time on my visit, was the fact that despite the valley being a pretty spectacular,with the great pale crags rising high up above the narrow lane, which weaves its way towards World’s End -or Craig y Forwen to give its original name- through woodland tinged with early autumnal colours and fields dotted with the ubiquitous small Welsh ewes, was the pitiful lack of parking hereabouts. Despite the fact that the valley lends itself to so many outdoor activities, including rock climbing, hill walking and mountain biking, the landowners and political powers that be have conspired to make the area as unwelcoming as possible. Every gate is marked ‘Private Land-Keep Out’ and there is absolutely nowhere you can park in the valley.

Around the time I stopped coming to the valley and World’s End, word came back that a new landowner had taken over the estate who turned out to be...what’s the word I’m looking for?..Oh Yes...A Twat! The traditional parking area under World’s End was blocked off and draconian parking restrictions kicked in. Furthermore, a compliant local council marked all the lay-bys along the valley and beneath the crag as ‘Passing Areas-No Parking’ restrictive. You can in fact carry on up the hill and pass beyond the estate and walk back but overall, the parking hereabouts, is redolent of the restrictions at The Roaches in Staffordshire.

The whole thing I’ve got to say is typical of the small minded parochialism of north Wales local politics and policing. With Freemasonry rife amongst local politicians, North Wales police hierarchy and landowners, little wonder feudalism is alive and well in North Wales. Imagine if the Eglwysg Valley was in the Lake District? I’m pretty sure its rich potential would be appreciated and exploited by landowners and politicos alike, and parking areas would be created, trails opened up and visitors welcomed. Instead of being met with brutal ‘Private- Keep Out’ signs every few metres.

80's Bible
So...The valley is stunning in every way and well worth a visit; just don’t expect the locals to be keeping 'a welcome in the hillsides'!