Thursday, January 12, 2017

Snowdon, Chinese lanterns and environmental Daydream Believers.

Local newspapers and social networkers were running a story this week which picked up on comments and photographs from a Snowdon walker-Andrew Ennever- who was concerned with the problem of litter around the summit of the mountain. Particularly around the summit cafe. Photographs showed a doorway entrance strewn with discarded wrappers, plastic bottles and bags etc. Q much hand wringing on social media and tweets from August bodies like the BMC and the Snowdonia Society. The newspapers were particularly outraged ‘Litter louts ruining Snowdon Summit’ ran the Daily Post while Wales Online which is from the same media stable as the Post declared ‘Tourists are accused of leaving one of Wales' most beautiful sites in a shocking state’.

Ignoring the fact the doorway looks like the back door of B&M Bargains in Bootle in the photograph, this is the summit of Yr Wyddfa we’re talking about. A summit which hosts a railway line and a summit cafe which has been described as resembling a Lidl supermarket in the past but which I feel more truly resembles a morgue! A morgue where the mountain spirit goes to die! In summer especially, the crowds gathered around the cafe and summit would not disgrace a League One football match. ‘’One of Wales most beautiful sites’..That’ll be right!

In short, as is so often the case when it comes to environmental issues,many people who should know better become fixated on minor details without seeing the bigger picture. Its what I call ‘The Chinese Lantern Syndrome’ . Every so often the news outlets and social media run stories about the environmental and animal welfare issues surrounding Chinese lanterns. I’ve even seen petitions crop up on sites like Facebook calling for Chinese lanterns to be banned. Farmers claim that cattle can eat them and some conservationists claim that birds and seals can become tangled up in the wire. I’ve seen Chinese lanterns floating across the sky once in my life. I have however, waded ankle deep in plastic and assorted aquatic detritus along the western Angelsey coast.

I know that the sea bed and shores hereabouts are littered with old wrecks, sunken fishing nets and lobster pots. Drums leaking oil and hydraulic fluid, in fact, all manner of man made pollution. I also know that onshore many pasture fields are littered with barbed wire and bits of rusty stock fencing, corrugated sheets and old bedsteads rammed in the boundaries. Plastic feed bags and jagged plastic buckets. But lets ignore the real threat to the environment which stems from the way the land and sea is exploited for profit and instead, wring our hands over Chinese lanterns and litter tossed around a mountain slum.

One of my much quoted political and environmental heroes, the US Eco/Anarchist Edward Abbey wrote.. 

I tossed my empty out the window and popped the top from another can of Schlitz. Littering the public highway? Of course I litter the public highway. Every chance I get. After all, it’s not the beer cans that are ugly; it’s the highway that is ugly.

I’m not sure if Abbey really did this or was he mischievously winding up one of his favourite targets, those he called ‘kneejerk liberals'. Its not that Abbey as an anarchist was a friend of the Right, but as with above examples, I think that his contempt was for those who obsess about relatively minor issues like litter, but who close their eyes to the really big environmental and political issues which are really causing the degradation of natural habitats and wildlife.

Of course, as a park ranger and someone who worked on a remote fire lookout tower as a fire spotter, Abbey had witnessed first hand the powers that be such as the National Park Authorities, driving roads into previously pristine natural environments to service the burgeoning car tourist industry. Where once bloomed deserts and virgin forests came tarmac highways, camp sites, tourist centres and gas stations. Little wonder that he considered the humble Schlitz can an irrelevance in great scheme of environmental concerns.

Industrial tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims of the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of the urban...EA-Desert Solitaire

Of course,the impact of motorized transport clogging up our narrow roads, lanes and car parks is a far bigger problem here in the overcrowded UK than it is in the less densely populated US.

Careful with that ecological time bomb Eugene!

Given that we live in a tiny overpopulated country then it is inevitable that our wilder places will become increasingly despoiled and polluted.That natural habitats will shrink as new roads and housing takes priority over rural conservation, and that native species of fish, mammals and birds will decline and in some cases become extinct as their habitats are wiped out by bad farming practice and the tumorous growth of urban sprawl.

As a society we show little respect for our environment be it urban or rural. We accept pollution as a natural consequence of the material consumer world we inhabit and turn a blind eye to our own highly destructive lifestyles.Our addiction to air travel....because how else can we go climbing in the Atlas Mountains or skiing in Whistler! We upgrade our iPhones regularly and consume gadgets like there is no tomorrow. We drive big SUV's and Camper vans-yes me too- and spend a fortune on food; a third of which goes into land fill. We jam up the motorways each weekend and sit in gridlocked cities in the working week.But what is all that compared to the cataclysmic ecological impact of Chinese lanterns and crisp bags on Snowdon!

Final word to Edward Abbey who could never be accused of not seeing the wood from the trees....

When the cities are gone and all the ruckus has died away. When sunflowers push up through the concrete and asphalt of the forgotten interstate freeways. When the Kremlin & the Pentagon are turned into nursing homes for generals, presidents, & other such shit heads. When the glass-aluminum sky scraper tombs of Phoenix, AZ barely show above the sand dunes. Why then, by God, maybe free men and wild women on horses can roam the sagebrush canyonlands in freedom...and dance all night to the music of fiddles! banjos! steel guitars! by the light of a reborn moon!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

New Borrowdale guidebook:The future is now?

The new Fell and Rock Club’s Borrowdale guidebook has created a bit of a brouhaha in the climbing world on account of it following the commercial ‘greatest hits’ guidebook formula and producing a work that is big in size, big in price (£26.50)! but small in content. In fact compared to the 2000 guide, the latest ‘rucksack size’ jumbo edition has lost over 500 routes! And not just routes but entire crags have been banished from print and sentenced to remain in fading print or hidden in historical Internet files for all eternity. Unless by some miracle, future climbers suddenly rediscover the adventure bug, turns their backs on the indoor wall, the bouldering circuit and the sports routes and go up country once again.

In the Lakes as here in North Wales, trad climbing as we know it, has been dying a slow death for decades. Hundreds of crags, more especially in remoter areas like Mid Wales or the Carneddau, have disappeared under vegetation. Even on relatively popular crags which sport once classic routes,  the majority of these routes have to be regularly gardened back to life by a handful of enthusiasts who nevertheless, appear to be fighting a losing battle.The irony is, there are probably more climbers active today than in its perceived golden age which in itself is subject to debate but could be seen as the post war decades until the new century.

For myself as someone who after completing many of the north and mid Wales classics, gravitated towards the unexplored back of beyond crags which offered rich new routing potential, it is hard to understand why any climber would forgo these quiet pleasures. The delight which comes from peeling back the green mantle which encases pale rock. Revealing a sinuous line which disappears into the blue sky.When a new route finally ‘goes’, there’s no feeling like it. I was telling the Lakeland climber Paul Ross-who appears underwhelmed by the new guidebook as it happens- about the routes I’d done in the Arenigs. In common with most routes done there, almost certainly never repeated. Paul said of his hundreds, if not thousands of new routes both here in in the US, that he wasn’t at all bothered if they were never repeated because the pleasure was in the adventure. In pushing the envelope as far as he could and if it all clicked into place, brilliant!

Whatever the climbers’ motivation, the fact remains that our traditional climbs and crags are disappearing fast. When popular crags like Tremadog require BMC organised crag cleaning days then what hope is there for Arenig’s Ddaer Fawr or Buttermere’s Sheepbone Buttress? As for guidebooks; the demand these days is towards providing details of those still popular crags with a limited selection of what are considered the crags best routes. These are inevitably a handful of two and three star routes with unstarred and single starred routes left out.  What we are left with are guides like the current Borrowdale Bumper fun book. Except it isn’t really that 'Bumper’- apart from the format and eye watering price tag!

In truth, trad climbing as we know it, seems to have gone beyond the point of no return. An activity which once was seen as the very heart and soul of rock climbing, increasingly the lonely preserve of the dwindling band of greybeards. Lugging their old Karrimor sacks over arthritic shoulders and following faint paths into high cwms. Where only ravens and the odd stray sheep remain. Climbing’s desert island castaways.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Outdoor activists urged to boycott the Royal Oak in Betws y Coed

The crescendo of anger directed towards the Royal Oak Hotel in Betws y Coed, North Wales,reached fever pitch in the last few`days after the widely publicized brutal killing by kitchen staff, of a small, young stray kitten. Bludgeoned to death with a rolling pin. The hotel’s Stables bar is a popular haunt for outdoor activists. Mountain bikers doing the Marin Trail in the surrounding Gwydr Forest, Climbers either climbing on the Cyrau cliffs above the village or passing through en route to the main Snowdonia cliffs and walkers who hike the forest trails.
The anger directed at the hotel has be amplified by the actions of the management who at first tried to cover up the crime. Putting out a` statement describing the cat as ‘vermin’ and claiming in had been humanely euthanized, before finally admitting that their staff had been culpable in an horrific act of animal cruelty and sacking the main perpetrators after the growing chorus of anger.

Bizarrely, there is as yet, no sign of either the hotel or the perpetrators`being prosecuted by either the RSPCA or North Wales Police, despite the fact that bludgeoning a 16 week old cat to death after putting it in a`bag, falls very much within the laws which define animal cruelty.

As someone who regularly used the Stables bar on a weekly basis, I will certainly never set foot in the place again and it appears that there are many in the outdoor world who feel the same. For anyone who has the merest scintilla of compassion and intelligence then it defies comprehension how another human being could commit so vile an act against a terrified small creature.

Like many in the outdoor world,I hope those walkers,climbers and mountain bikers reading this, will share my own revulsion and keep well clear of The Royal Oak/Stables establishment and instead,patronize one of the many excellent pubs in the area where battering defenceless animals is off the menu!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Canada Goose Parkas and the howl of the Coyote

It’s the must have winter apparel of the Hollywood glitterati- from Morgan Freeman to Daniel Craig- and the well heeled thirty somethings living in England’s metropolitan Ya Ya land. You need an Arctic winter coat when your out and about in Henley on Thames! It is the 'Canada Goose' down parka which will usually set you back around £800+ for a standard parka made in the company’s Toronto factory. It was featured last night on the UK’s BBC ‘Fake Britain’ programme where a company spokesman bemoaned the import of cheap  Chinese copies which patently do not bear scrutiny when it comes to the undoubted quality of the genuine item.

However, whatever the qualities of this expensive winter coat, there is a dark and bloody element with sadly taints the product, the company, and those who choose to wear one. Unlike the highly popular North Face Macmurdo Parka which uses faux fur and humanly sourced goose down, the Canada Goose range use real Coyote fur. Trapped in gruesome, steel jawed sprung traps which cause immeasurable suffering to the animal before they are dispatched by gun before being stripped of their coat and dumped in a hellish mound of dead animals.

In recent years as the Canada Goose parka has become ever more popular, it has fueled a huge counterfeit trade which not surprisingly- given the price of a real CG parka- sells poorly made fakes through eBay at prices which betray their dubious origins. Made in the land of fake crap- China- many of these shoddy copies use dog fur brutally removed from live animals by boiling them alive in vats to enable the fur to be peeled off easily. It’s a brutal and grim trade that is being driven by fashion and snobbery. Both the original Canada Goose parkas with their coyote fur trimmed hoods and the counterfeit copies using equally barbarically sourced animal fur, have seen the market for their products grow considerably in recent years. Despite this grim production element which shows such a blatant disregard for animal welfare,receiving wide publicity in recent years.

As the popularity for Canada Goose Parkas increases, so does the demand for Chinese fakes. However, unlike the goose down used in parkas like the North Face which uses down and feathers as a by product from birds dispatched for food production, not surprisingly, the Chinese are not that fussy about ripping feathers and down from live birds.

Despite the fact that the wearing of fur coats has become widely regarded as ethically unsound and a fashion no-no for those who consider themselves as animal lovers, remarkably this element of the fur trade is thriving, thanks to the Canada Goose Company and the production of a garment considered to be outdoor apparel.

Those considering buying one of these parkas need to ask themselves. ‘Is any garment- no matter how functional, trendy and qualitative in design and production- worth an animals' suffering?’ Of course it isn’t! Save yourself several hundred pounds and buy alternative parka made by an ethical company like Patagonia or North Face. You know it makes sense!


Protection of fur bearing animals


The Dodo

Thursday, November 17, 2016

David Craig: Thoughts on Climbing. Audio Interview

I was delighted to receive a link from a Christian Shaw to an interview he had conducted with one of my favourite climbing writers, David Craig. I've had the pleasure of meeting and climbing with David and had the honour of doing a couple of first ascents with him here in north Wales.For a Scottish climber best known for his English Lake District climbs, it was nice to be able to show him what our local crags had to offer. Particularly- as accompanied by Harold and Neville Drasdo- we sampled some of the local esoterica and showed him that even here in a relatively small area like north Wales, we still have some out of the way crags where only the odd sheep and crow disturb the peace.

By coincidence, I had only that morning put out a Featured Archive Post of David's- 'At the Corrie of the Black Raven', which was a poignant reflection on coming to terms with the end of a climbing life. Anyway...enough of the chatter. Enjoy the rich Aberdonian tones of a master wordsmith by clicking on the link below.

David Craig: Thoughts on Climbing: (Christian Shaw Soundcloud)


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Outdoor Action Camera: Canon Powershot G Series

Left-the later G11 Powershot, Right, an early G5 which was launched in 2003. The G5 became the template for the successful G series cameras from the 2006 G7 onwards.
What is the best camera for the outdoor activist? I don’t mean which camera takes the best pictures. Although ‘best’ is very subjective when it comes to photography. One person’s ’Wow...that’s totally stunning!!!’ is another ‘Meh...bit chocolate boxy for me!’. Similarly with film photography, especially photographs taken with cameras which fall into the Lomo category. Lomo LC-A’s themselves plus Holgas, Dianes etc. Some love the light leaks, vignetting and intense saturation.To others its just a bad photograph!

No...what I was considering is which camera -or range of cameras- tick the most boxes with regard to photo quality, versatility, compactness, useful features etc...all wrapped up in an aesthetically pleasing style? Most people will have their own opinions based on their own experiences but my own favourite is the Canon Powershot G series of super compacts. Remarkably, The G series began life way back in 2000 when the 3mp G1 was launched. Since that time they have been 12 G series camera and 7 GX series. The GX’s are a tad more refined with larger sensors and a larger price!

The Powershot G’s are to my eye, one of the most attractive super compacts on the market. Very retro, with film camera style dials and hot shoes and built like a proverbial tank! The camera body itself is old school metal with plastic reserved for the buttons and switches. When you pick it up you’ll notice the difference in weight between the camera and its rivals from Sony, Panasonic, Olympus and Nikon. It’s heavy man! That might not make it ideal as a climbing camera where a tiny compact like the Pentax Optio’s proves itself a perfect crag rat camera. For general outdoor stuff though, the G’s are small enough to put in a fleece pocket and with the additional refinements that come with a tried and tested super compact, it will take a better shot. Photographs taken on the G series have graced the front pages of outdoor magazine, guidebooks and websites the world over.

G11 left and G5 right with the popular flip out screen which was dropped in later models to the consternation of many G series aficionados.

My own first G series was the G9. Probably one of Canon’s best selling G series powershots. I loved it and used it a hell of a lot more than my big Nikon DSLR but unfortunately, I dropped it on a hard surface and smashed the rear screen. Even then, it still took photographs! I briefly had an older G7 which was going cheap on eBay. Despite a scratched lens and an alarming clunk when you retracted the lens of full zoom, it still took pretty good shots. I even sold it on on eBay at a profit. That’s the thing with these cameras. You can buy second hand and sell it on for a later model and providing you’ve looked after it, you can often get back what you paid for it. They really hold their value and are sought after.

Since then, two more G series powershots have been acquired to bulk out my heaving collection of film and digital cameras. My camera of choice for wandering the hills or shorelines of north Wales is the G11. Introduced in 2009, the G11 was the last camera in the series to offer a flip out screen which you can use as a traditional screen or reverse to protect. The G11 reversed the Powershot trend for more and more pixels and dropped down from the G10‘s 12mp to 10mp but compensated with a bigger sensor. Last week, I was waiting for a bus and popped in one of those Cash Converter shops where you can often find some nice cameras going cheap, although I always think of the poor soul who was reduced to selling his or her camera for peanuts in establishments like this!

In the display cabinet was an old G5. Introduced in 2003 and using one of those antique flash memory cards, this 5mb camera was in fact, in appearance, very much in the G series tradition. In fact you could say that the G5 became the template for all the Powershots which followed. This G5, despite being that bit bigger than my G11, was remarkably similar right down to the rear flip out screen. Early G Series cameras had a grey plastic body and the G6 which followed- apart from an ill judged design aberration- maintained the grey look. However, from the G7 onwards every Canon Powershot G series camera-including the X range- have been instantly identifiable by their chunky retro look and black body.

The Rivals taken on the 2003, 5mp Canon Powershot G5.

To be honest, I had bought the G5 to sell on as I could see on my phone that even this old Powershot was selling for three or four times what Cash Converters were selling it for. However, this weekend I gave it a run out before listing it and was delighted in the overall quality of the images. Here was an old school compact packing just 5mp on board and lacking the features which later Powershots would offer but like a lot of small mega pixel cameras from the early part of the century...Pentax Optios, Olympus Camedias and Nikon Coolpix's, the quality of the photographs quite often matches those of modern compact cameras.  Makes you think doesn't it?

Canon Powershot G Series Wikipeadia page

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Lliwedd...Theatre of Nightmares

The classic 'Avalanche'.
I recently caught the late Jim Curran’s 1979 film based on Menlove Edward’s Essay ‘A Great Effort’ on You-Tube.(Linked below) This short, 17 minute film shows Jim following in Menlove’s footsteps and soloing an unnamed route on Lliwedd as the essay is narrated. It appears to be a cold winter’s day with some snow on the ledges and despite Jim being swaddled in the fibre pile garments, it must have been bitter, hence I think the rope he was tied on to was not being dragged behind-as the essay suggests was the case with Menlove-but played out to an attentive off camera partner.

The sombre nature of the film captures the saturnine aspect of Lliwedd perfectly. The vast 1000‘ north east facing cliff- popular a hundred years ago-has not surprisingly fallen into the realm of the seeker of solitude and climbing esoterica. That’s not to say that people don’t still climb in any numbers on Lliwedd, but compared to somewhere like the Tremadog cliffs, its a veritable backwater these days. Lliwedd was the first cliff in the UK to have a dedicated climbing guidebook. Archer Thomson’s 1909, Climbers Club published work. A few years after completion, he committed suicide by poison. The next climber to take up the Lliwedd baton was Menlove Edwards himself. His guidebook and linked essays are of course considered classics within the genre these days.

Menlove-like his Lliwedd predecessor,-also committed suicide by poison. Enter Harold Drasdo in the late 60‘s. His 1971 guide holds the CC record for being the slowest selling guidebook in the club’s history. Taking 30 years to sell out! You’re getting the picture I presume. If you want to escape the summer bank holiday crag queues head to Lliwedd!

Thankfully Harold wasn’t driven to suicide by the task and lived on happily into old age. Kelvin Neal’s 1998 guide was the last guidebook to Lliwedd- Just four in over 100 years! With the CC rationalizing its guidebook production in light of commercial competition and the trend for climbers to buy ‘Greatest Hits’ compendiums rather than dedicated guidebooks to specific cliffs, it’s quite possible that there will never be another Lliwedd guidebook published. Instead the great sulking cliff beloved of tweedy Edwardians,will only live on cyberspace as a digital guide.

I must admit, Lliwedd is not a venue I have ever warmed to-literally! It’s always been cold there and the terrain thereabouts just doesn’t lend itself to enjoyable climbing. Loose, vegetated, long run outs and holds which always seem to run against the grain so to speak. Mind you, I’ve probably only ever climbed there about three or four times and inevitably the so called classics. Horned Crag, Avalanche, Slanting Buttress and maybe something else? It was obviously a forgettable experience.

One of my most striking memories of Lliwedd was not actually related to climbing there but visiting the crag on a dank day when our plans had to be aborted. Standing under Menlove’s Central Buttress, we plotted a course up the tumbling defile as the first spots of rain began to speckle our kags. Within a few minutes the heavens had opened and a deluge of biblical proportions fell from the black sky. Above Central Buttress, the cliff funnels into a tight amphitheatre and this feature-acting as a trap- channelled the elemental deluge down and over the rim of the hanging cwm. Totally submerging the route under a foaming torrent of water. Central Route had become a waterfall which would have put Rhaeadr Ewynnol, (Swallow Falls) to shame.

Anyone climbing the route at the time would not only have drowned but would have been dashed to pieces by the force of the maelstrom. Needless to say, shaken and not a little stirred by what might have been, we fled down the hillside to the sanctuary of the PyG and blessed the deadly sin of sloth which had led to our late start. Yes...Lliwedd; as the saying goes..’been there, done that and bought the T shirt! I'm not sure I'll ever return but never say never I guess.

Jim Curran's 1979 'A Great Effort'.