Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Keswick Mountain Festival boycott call after 'Chaotic 2017 Festival'.

A small outdoor businessman, Ethan Thomas who owns and runs Summiteer Equipment, has called for a boycott of the annual Keswick Mountain Festival by other outdoor businesses after describing  'one of the worst weekends of my life' at a chaotic 2017 festival in the Cumbrian town. Writing on his Facebook page, the young outdoor retailer described the events organisers as 'self centred, chaotic and rude'. His full statement in full went on.....

"I've just had one of the worst weekends of my life at Keswick Mountain Festival. I don't think I've ever come across an organisation as self centred, chaotic and rude as Brand Events who run the place.

I had to fight like crazy to be allowed to get my stock and the van off the field today in order to go home. This was after they shut down the Festival because of the weather and told all exhibitors that they would have to come back and collect their things tomorrow. Not even allowing them to check if their stock was ok.

A lot of the staff and organisers were incredibly rude but after a weekend of being treated like shit even I was appalled when one of the main organisers stormed off shouting at me (in front all the other organisers) "you're irritating me now!" when I was merely trying ask him for a solution so I could get my van (that I needed to drive down to Yorkshire for this evening) and collect my stock in the bad weather. The bad weather was now about a 20mph wind with the occasional gust. However a "health and safety manager" which was simply a man wearing a caving suit and a helmet, making over the top decisions, decided to treat it like a war zone.

And this was just the icing on the cake.

On Friday they trapped me on the field until 11:15pm because their policy was that they couldn't let exhibitors on or off the field whilst the public were on it. This might make sense, until you find out that we were parked outside the public area and would have driven down a cordoned off track mat for exhibitors only.

On the Saturday, having got to bed at 2am the previous night (due to having had to restock so late) and having had to get up at 5:30am to finish restocking, we rang the festival office and asked when we would be allowed on until. The answer was "until just before 9." So when arriving at 8:25am we were amazed to find that they had decided to close the road leading to the festival so they could run a triathlon on it. There solution was that we paid for their parking at the other end of town and walked our down sleeping bags back and forth to our stall in the rain. After yet more complaining and tireless arguing we were eventually allowed to drive our vehicle to our stall and unload it at mid day (missing out on morning sales).

It feels a shame that a company like mine, which goes out of its way to do good things and treat people fairly, has had this experience. We've paid nearly £800 to basically be treated like we're dirt on someone's shoe and just a necessary nuisance in order for the organisers to make a bit more extra money. I will also add that we only got a day and a half of exhibiting done on a three day event and I wasn't allowed to collect my display marquee, stands and anything else other than stock. The answer being "you will have to claim this on insurance". And just to let you know, I think it is very unlikely that I will be refunded for this having already spoken to most of the (incredibly arrogant and rude) senior organisers who seemed very reluctant to take any liability for anything what so ever.

All these above events are just the highlights but right now I am too emotionally drained and tired from it all.

All I will say is this....Please boycott Keswick Mountain Festival.It is a festival run by greedy, selfish people who really don't care about anyone or anything other than their own pay checks.....

Ethan Thomas:

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Walt Unsworth: Death of a Mountain Man

Image: Cicerone
When I first started getting into climbing and hillwalking,Walt Unsworth was one of the first names I came across as I began to read outdoor publications. As the editor of Climber magazine and author of numerous mountain related books, his name became synonymous with the great outdoors. Appropriately in the circumstances as he was the founder of The Great Outdoors/TGO, hillwalking magazine. Now Uncle Walt has gone. He died at the fine old age of 89 at his Cumbrian home last Tuesday. I must admit,apart from his books and editorial stints, I never really knew that much about him, and I guess that’s true of most outdoor folk who knew the name but nothing about the man.

Walt Unsworth-as his name suggested-was very much the archetypal northerner. A Lancastrian by birth and a Cumbrian by residence. The lure of the hills inspired him to follow that well trampled path taken by working class northerners which leads to the crag face and in the words of Ewan McColl, the ‘Sun-warmed rocks and the cold of Bleaklow's frozen sea...The snow and the wind and the rain of hills and mountains’.

Writing on the Outdoor Writers and Photographers website, outdoor writer Roly Smith who knew him better than most, offers this rich appreciation of Walt’s life and times....

Walt Unsworth, who has died after a short illness at the age of 88, could justly be regarded as the father figure of British outdoor writing. He founded the respected Cicerone Press with his climbing friend Brian Evans exactly 50 years ago this year. Frustrated at the lack of practical climbing guides to the Lake District, they got together to produce their first independent guide in 1967. Together they made an ideal team, with Walt as the writer and Brian as the artist, designer and printer. The guide sold well, and the proceeds of each new book went into the production of the subsequent one.

He was born at Ardwick, Manchester and educated at Abram, near Wigan, where he first met his wife, Dorothy. Walt began fellwalking in the Lake District as a youth during the Second World War. Rock climbing was a natural progression, and during the 1950s, he was one of many other young tigers, such as Joe Brown and Don Whillans, for whom the “bob-a-night” (5p) Wall End Barn in Langdale became almost their second home. After conscription and service in the Army, Walt was offered an assisted place at Chester Teacher Training College and his first teaching job took him to as a science teacher to Wolverhampton. Later he became Head of Physics at Birch Road Secondary Modern School at Walkden, Manchester.

But his first and abiding interest was always climbing and the outdoors, and he introduced many of his pupils to the hills. While at Birch Road he also introduced one of the first Duke of Edinburgh Schemes, a fact recognised by a visit from the Duke himself. He eventually achieved his ambition of becoming a full-time writer, specialising in walking, climbing and travel. He wrote several climbing guides himself, notably to Anglezarke Quarry, near Horwich, where he made many first ascents. His English Outcrops (Gollancz, 1964) was described as “one of the seminal books of post-war climbing.” He eventually became editor of Climber (later Climber and Rambler) magazine on the recommendation of Chris Brasher in 1962. As editorial adviser to the publisher, Holmes McDougall, he also named and helped launch the revamped magazine as The Great Outdoors (now TGO).

He was also a founder member of the Outdoor Writers’ Guild – now the Outdoor Writers’ and Photographers’ Guild – in 1980, and later became its first president. Cicerone Press produced over 250 well-respected guides “for walkers and climbers, written and produced by walkers and climbers” under his leadership. Walt gave many Guild members their first opportunity to be published, and he was always fiercely supportive of them.

Tom Waghorn, outdoor journalist and a friend for over 40 years, said of Walt: “He had a tremendous ability to discover talent, and as a canny businessman, he knew how to spot a gap in the market.” Kev Reynolds, who wrote more than 20 guides for Cicerone, commented: “Walt was both my mentor and my friend. When I did my first book for him – Walks and Climbs in the Pyrenees in 1978 – I had no idea that I would be able to make a living at it, but Walt encouraged me at every step.” Mark Richards, another of Walt’s protégées, said: “He was my guiding light – the man who gave me a start and encouraged my creativity. I’ll always be grateful to him.”

Among Walt’s many publications were Portrait of the River Derwent (Robert Hale, 1971); Encyclopaedia of Mountaineering (Robert Hale, 1975), and his definitive history of Everest, first published by Allen Lane in 1981. As a former teacher, he was justly proud of the fact that his trilogy of childrens’ books based in the Peak District during the Industrial Revolution – The Devil’s Mill, Whistling Clough and Grimsdyke (Gollancz, 1968-70) – became recommended reading as part of the National Curriculum. Walt’s Everest won the ITAS Prize for Mountain Literature at the Trento Festival in 1992, and he was awarded the OWPG’s Golden Eagle Award in 1996.

As a travel writer, Walt and his wife Dot visited many countries around the world, either privately or as a guest of tourist boards or travel companies, and he wrote up his trips for many national newspapers. The couple married in 1952 and had two children; Gail, a retired radiologist and now garden plant specialist and Duncan, a former BBC cameraman and photographer. Walt had five grandchildren and one great granddaughter. In later years, he delighted in running the annual Milnthorpe Art Festival from Harmony Hall, his elegant Georgian home, raising thousands of pounds for local artists and charities.

Walt’s quietly-spoken Lancashire burr always communicated good, no-nonsense, northern common sense, and he was immensely supportive of me when I became chairman of the Guild in 1990. He was the mentor and guiding light to many prospective outdoor writers, and will be sadly missed by the entire outdoor community  

Roly Smith (OWPG) 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

All aboard for Desolation Road

We need to talk about politics. For some in the outdoor community, that’s a signal to run for the hills. Let’s keep friction and controversy out of the equation and instead talk about how many hours you need to spend on the wall to maintain standards or wax lyrical about Jet Black’s awesome new sports route in Mugglethorpe Quarry. For many others though in the outdoor community, talking politics an essential part of who they are. Especially through the conduit of the social media. I recall a well known North Wales climber was once sitting in a club hut surrounded by excited young companions discussing politics when, unable to contain his frustration any longer, he slammed his fist on the table and exclaimed..’enough of this...let’s get back to talking about climbing!’

For anyone brought up immersed in politics, its an odd perspective. As outdoor activists, politics informs everything we do.From access issues to ecological degradation; Climate change impact to regional instability in traditional destinations. How can anyone who climbs, rambles, paddles, sails, bikes etc, not be interested in issues which impact upon their chosen activity?

The advent of social media,particularly Facebook, has changed the game of political communication completely. Whereas in the recent past, forums like UK Climbing were the only places you could have a good old rant. These days the ranter can unburden themselves in the Guardian or Independent comments section, but more especially, on their Facebook page which has the advantage of being uncensored and unlimited. This of course is a double edged sword. Although we tend to be attracted to those who generally share our political beliefs, it can spill over into quite bitter acrimony. Especially when others outside of your own circle pile in with comments.

Probably even more of a problem than a spot of verbal aggro in the comments section is the way the social media distorts one’s political perspective. ‘The Facebook Bubble’ is that phenomena where a member of a friendship circle gains a false impression of political reality by only reading comments and seeing ‘likes’ from those who share their point of view. Despite evidence to the contrary being all too readily available, there is often a refusal to confront the obvious truth when it appears that all the evidence points to a different truth.

This was most obvious in the post Brexit social media world. Despite the result being close, the 4% margin was pretty conclusive and it soon became clear that both the Tory government and a future Labour government would respect and implement an exit from the EU. Despite this, many liberals became convulsed with emotions which all to quickly bore all the hallmarks of the Kubler-Ross model for the stages of grief. Denial-Anger-Bargaining-Depression, and twelve months on, for the majority at least- acceptance.

Remarkably, just after the Referendum vote, previously ‘right-on’ Liberals were wishing the elderly dead and fermenting with anger against the working/underclasses and the under-educated. Constituencies whose rights the left were traditionally supposed to champion!  Even the Welsh and Northern English received the sort of bigoted abuse from metropolitan europhiles which previously had only been used by right wing knuckleheads. For months this constituency believed it could do something which had never been done since democracy was first established in Great Britain. Overturn a democratic vote and award victory to the side with the least votes. This curious example of velveteen fascism was vigorously pursued without any concern it appeared, of the brutal irony. Those supposedly on the left who felt that middle class voters with qualifications and careers should have their votes weighted favourably against the underdogs. It was turning back the clock a hundred years to a time when the same arguments were used against women having the vote.

Despite having a remarkable belief that democracy could be overturned by petitions, marches and repeating the mantra ‘it was only advisory’, the mathematics of the vote only told half the story. It has become clear in recent months that the true margin between the Euro Sceptics and Europhiles is far greater than the vote suggested. For a start, a large number of Leave voters stayed at home after being convinced that it was in the bag for the Remain. Also, a large section of Remain voters were reluctant Remainers. Either convinced by government propaganda that the UK would sink into immediate chaos, or sticking with the principle , Better the Devil you know. The recent polls showing only one in five now think the UK should stay in the EU is a striking example of how social media delusion can mask reality and shows that sometimes, even such an apparently indisputable statistic often masks a deeper truth.

Meanwhile, back here on June 8th, 2017 and the General Election promises more of the same. Hope and optimism trumped...sorry to use that word... by its old foes,disappointment anger and confusion. Like most people in the Outdoor Community, I would love to see a Labour Government tomorrow replacing the vile, self serving Tories.  Even better if it was supported by a the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens. The Tories worst nightmare..... 'A Coalition of Chaos’! However, I fear that remains just a faint hope. I expect a comfortable Conservative victory followed by five more years of austerity, division, bitterness, acrimony and the predictable diminishment of public services and the NHS.

At least there’s always to mountains to escape to.

So.....24 hours later and it appears there probably will be a 'Coalition of Chaos' but not the one we hoped for. A Tory/DUP minority administration. Delivered as a Pyrrhic victory to a soon to be ex Prime minister who was hoisted by her own petard. An arrogant, hubristic attempt to destroy the Labour Party which ended up exploding like a firework in May's face. Corbyn and his Momentum followers were brilliant while the majority of his back stabbing MP's should just crawl back under their stones and let real Labour candidates fight the next election for Labour.
It was pretty devastating to see the SNP lose so much ground in Scotland, but as I've suggested above, that in part was due to the SNP rather foolishly allowing themselves to be a zealously pro EU party when a large chunk of the electorate are Euro sceptic.
But the real winners of the June election-expect another one in October- have been the young. A previously maligned constituency who finally got their act together and voted in large numbers. In the main for Corbyn's radical brand of politics.

All of a sudden, the future looks a lot brighter.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Boardman Tasker celebratory evening announced

A BoardmanTasker celebratory evening will be held on October 11th 2017, commencing 7.30pm at the Buxton Opera House Arts Pavilion. This will be a truly unique event, with readings and talks by some of those closely involved with the charitable trust that administers the mountain literature prize, and two leading mountaineers who have each won the award.

The evening programme will commence with a reading by Martin Wragg from ‘The Shining Mountain’, Peter Boardman’s award winning first book, followed by a similar delivery ex Steve Dean from Joe Tasker’s great work, ‘The Savage Arena’.

Andy Cave a BT winner will talk and lecture from his own master work, ‘Learning to Breathe’ and Stephen Venables another BT winner will explain about how this bolstered his adventurous life, and his latest climbs in South Georgia and Antarctica.

There will be an interval between Andy and Stephen’s talks, and a short appropriate fund raising entertainment will ensue!

Tickets are on sale at the Opera House, details on the Heason Events web site. Photographs of the speakers, for publication can be obtained via

Dennis Gray: BT Trustee


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tryfan's game of ghosts

The news last night that a daughter in her early 20's watched her father fall to his death on Tryfan yesterday, was a terrible reminder of the perils of descending unfamiliar ground on a mountain. Although the circumstances haven’t been made public yet, North Wales Police have revealed that the man in his early 60‘s, fell when he was descending the East Face’s North Gully. For those unfamiliar with Tryfan-and there can’t be many walkers and climbers who haven’t set foot on the mountain- the east face of the 3000‘ peak above the Ogwen Valley in northern Snowdonia- is essentially five buttresses. Each separated by a gully.

The main summit is situated on the Central Buttress where the monoliths, Adam and Eve stand proudly against the skyline. Tradition has it that a true ascent of the mountain involves leaping from one block to the other, although the consequences of a slip here, high above the Central Buttress doesn’t bear thinking about. Separating the Central Buttress from the neighbouring North Buttress is the deep defile of North Gully. For those familiar with the mountain and with experience, it is a tempting quick way down to Heather Terrace. Providing you locate Little Gully with is an offshoot of North Gully on the right-facing out-and approximately two thirds of the way down.

Even if you do locate it, it is still a steep and polished down scramble which requires care and confidence. Problems arise if you miss this deviation as the continuation of North Gully is lethal. A steep drop which at the very least requires an abseil descent. Several years ago when I was helping out with the CC’s Ogwen guidebook, I got to know the mountain as well as anyone. I seemed to be up there all the time. Checking out the West face climbs and scrambles. Often on my own- and helping the guidebook author locate and climb many of the East Face’s ‘lost’ routes.

Usually a day on the East Face involved coming down North Gully. One early evening after we had reached Heather Terrace we noticed a middle aged couple coming down after us. Despite being warned that they were heading for a potentially catastrophic section of gully and being directed back up to the start of Little Gully, macho man decided he knew what he was doing and ignored all warnings with the inevitable consequences that saw his wife fall and smash herself up quite badly and requiring being airlifted off the mountain. Luckily she survived.

Not that I haven’t been similarly cavalier myself on Tryfan in the past. About twenty years ago I found myself on the summit with my young son one late afternoon in late November. At that time of the year, late afternoon turns into night before you know it. Nothing for it but to come down North Gully. Unfortunately I missed the start of Little Gully and in the gloom decided to pick a line across the North Buttress. Weaving across rock climbs, scrambles and unfrequented terrain. Going down carefully then helping the laddo negotiate the frequent rock steps and awkward passages. We made it to the terrace as night was really setting in. Even then, its an awkward descent getting back down to the A5 in the dark and little wonder every year walkers get benighted or phone the MR Team to bail them out.

I was once told that more people have been killed on Tryfan than on the Eiger. Whether this is true or not I cannot say, but the mountain certainly features heavily in the MRT incident stats. For those with experience both faces can be  wonderful playgrounds. From the lonely multi pitch mountaineering routes and scrambles on the rarely frequented West Face, to the hustle and bustle of the east buttresses. Don’t believe all the scare stories you hear about Tryfan. After an incident on the west face several years ago, a MR spokesman said it was so dangerous..’even the mountain goats don’t go there!’ . Well that’s a bit over the top and once again, if you are an experienced outdoor person who is familiar with technique on steep terrain and who is properly equipped then you’ll find your way up or down the West Face. The East Face though is a different proposition.

Because it is generally steeper and rockier than the west face, those descending the mountain-if they are not experienced rock climbers- will inevitably be restricted to the gullies and as you’ve been reading. Unless you have your wits about you, it could be the last descent you ever make. Take care.

Monday, May 8, 2017

An ascent of the Welsh 'Mount Analogue'

Top Dog: Fergus on the summit of Mynydd Anelog.Bardsey Island in the distance. 
‘Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing is a classic novel by the early 20th century, French novelist René Daumal.’

That is, it’s not really a type of mountaineering book that will appeal to readers of ‘Country Walking’ or ‘Trail’ magazines! ‘Mount Analogue is pretty, dense, obscure and to many, unfathomable. According to MA’s Wikipedia page, “The novel is both bizarre and allegorical, detailing the discovery and ascent of a mountain, the Mount Analogue of the title, which can only be perceived by realising that one has travelled further in traversing it than one would by travelling in a straight line, and can only be viewed from a particular point when the sun's rays hit the earth at a certain angle.’.....Got that !

One person who did was my late friend and Grade A Clever Clogs, Harold Drasdo who had a stab at writing the ending of the unfinished novel in ‘Mount Analogue and Free Will’ Currently the Featured Archive article on Footless Crow.

Yesterday, I finally ascended Mount Analogue and the views all around were stunning! I’m not talking about ascending the mountain in a spiritual or intellectual way, but by putting one foot in front of the other and actually reaching the cairned summit. OK...here the link becomes somewhat tenuous, but last year, when perusing the OS Lleyn Peninsula west map, I discovered that right down near the furthest point of the Llyn was a little high point, Mynydd Anelog. I was amused that here was an unknown Welsh ‘Crystal Mountain’. Standing above the waves which crash in from the west. A relative pocket Mynydd...just 192m/629‘ high but because it rises from the flat plains of the Llyn and sits above the sea, an attractive and shapely elevation nonetheless.

From the top, Bardsey Island loomed up, larger and closer than I remembered, the high points to the east were sharply delineated against the perfect deep blue sky and the jagged coastline unfurled into a distant haze. I wondered if the bold Bradford lad had ever stood here? I could have stayed up here for hours but despite the strong sun, the easterly wind was nipping at my bare arms and all too soon, I had retreated out of the wind to the sheltering protection of the mountains’ western flank. 
St Hywyns, Aberdaron
A pint of local, Nefyn brewed ‘Glyndwr ‘ golden ale awaited, and an appointment with the ghost of RS Thomas in St Hywyns churchyard at Aberdaron.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Postcards from the Edge

Drone shot of Cwm Pennaner from the summit of Moel Gydros

I was amused to see this from a Trip Advisor reviewer after a visit up 'Mount Snowdon'.

'I was so looking forward to taking the Snowdon Mountain Railway. I had climbed Snowdon as a kid and had very fond memories of the place. I was DEVASTATED to see how ruined it was with FAR too many people. At the bottom we wanted a bite of lunch. The cafe was disgusting. Dirty, poor food choice and service that was about the most miserable and rude that I had ever seen. Absolutely awful. Still I thought the railway journey would be exciting. How wrong I was. We were crammed into a carriage that should have taken a maximum of 6 people but they crammed 8 people in. We were like sardines in a tin which made the whole experience horrible. At the top we were greeted by the smell of sewage and literally hundred of people milling around. You actually had to wait to get space to reach the highest point. They had built a visitors center since I had last visited. It was disgusting. The toilets were a disgrace. It reminded me of facilities in 3rd world countries but probably even worse as the smell was overpowering. Whoever is responsible for the center should be ashamed of themselves as this gives Wales a really bad name. I will never go back and I highly recommend others to give it a miss.'

Apart from the fact that the contributor 'Harry from Edinburgh' doesn't see the irony of him complaining about the despoliation of a Welsh summit through the corrosive effects of over popularity and commercial exploitation when he is part of the problem. He does have a point about the summit caff which really is an eyesore. Although I don't think planning committees working within the SNPA and Welsh county councils have a Ruskin-esque appreciation of architecture and visual amenity so what can we expect!

Of course Yr Wyddfa is a special case. It's a tourist destination and most serious hill walkers wouldn't go near it with a barge pole. However, its still amazing how many people still repeat climbing summits they have ascended umpteen times before when even in a relatively small environment like North Wales or the Lake District, there are always smaller hills and mountains to be found off the beaten track. For some hill walkers there is often a reluctance in ascending something under 2000'; the magic number which unofficially at least, separates mountains from hills.

Its their loss as there are many fine, shapely peaks to be discovered in the 1/2000 range. As someone with the 'been there, done that, bought the T shirt' club of Snowdonia explorers, I rarely do anything which could be remotely described as popular these days. For a while now I've been picking off small peaks. Especially in North East Wales which is notably quieter than the North West. I hadn't appreciated just how many high points there were in that unfrequented part of Wales. The same applies to the old county of Radnorshire (Now Powys) which straddles the English border.

I recently went up the little 'Dewey' (A peak in the 500-600m range) of Moel Gydros which forms part of that rolling range of hills between the Arenigs and the Berwyns. Despite its modest 570 height, it proved to be a fine and obviously rarely visited peak with stunning views all around. Like neighbouring Garn Prys-another fine Dewey slightly to the north, evidence if evidence were needed, that there is life outside of Harry's world!


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Climbing's Creature Features.

Harold Drasdo on a route called 'Wanda' Beware of black adders on this unfrequented Tremadog route!
I was shuffling through some photographic prints the other day when I found an image of Harold Drasdo on a totally obscure and rarely climbed Tremadog VS called ‘Wanda’. I had climbed the second pitch and pulled up to a narrow ledge with my eyes focused on the wall beyond. When I finally refocused on the ledge itself, I realized that I was looking into the eyes of an adder about six inches away! Thankfully, the handsome reptile slowly slithered off without first delivering a bite upon my sunburned face. With more of a weather eye now open for possible further reptilian intrusions, I climbed carefully on. By the time Harold reached the ledge, the adder had returned. I can imagine the poor creature must have become more than a little miffed at the constant interruptions to his basking routine. At least on this route called Wanda, snakes won’t be seeing too many vistors passing through!

It made me think of those rare, magical moments when climbing and the natural world come together and for a short time we can become part of the natural environment of the creatures for whom the cliffs and the surrounding moors, forests and caves are home. In the UK, we are not going to experience any ‘Climb to the lost world ‘ moments when Tarantulas and venomous snakes are part and parcel of an ascent. Nor do we risk standing on a rattlesnake, being mauled by a bear or sharing a sleeping bag with a black widow spider. The biggest risk we face is being hit by a flying sheep. Those fearless ruminants who regularly, it appears, nibble off more than they can chew when roaming across verdant cliffs in search of succulent greenery.

Despite the adder incident, I’ve seen hardly any native snakes when walking and climbing in the UK. Here in Wales a lot of their habitats have been destroyed over the years by farming and forestry practices. Seeing an adder or a grass snake in the wild is something that for the the majority of people in the UK will be an experience they will never go through. I have seen the odd slow worm which of course is snake like in appearance but which is classified as a lizard.

Of course, the most likely creature the climber will meet on the crag will be those of the feathered variety. The mountain environment is home to many of our most iconic bird species. From Eagles to Capercailles; Ravens to Red Kites, however, for me it is the incredible Peregrine Falcon who encapsulates the spirit of the mountain. I’ve had some amazing encounters with these masters of the air and each one has left an indelible mark. Climbing a new route in the Arenigs, I arrived with some difficulty at a cave on the line of what would become-with one or two deviations-a five pitch VS route called Automedon. Within the cave was what I can only describe as a sacrificial altar! Here, where no man had stood before was a flat topped boulder covered with small animal and bird bones. Amongst the bleached bones were dozens of coloured racing pigeon tags. A few weeks later, on the Black Cliff, I pulled up and the final moves of the climb and was face to face with a Peregrine.Once again, surrounded by bones. It seems as if Peregrines take their prey back to convenient ledges and sheltered rock features to consume their bounty.

The bird itself was no more than a foot away and appeared more curious than alarmed. We gazed at each other, scarcely moving for about 30 seconds before the peregrine decided I wasn’t going to disappear from his kitchen any time soon and took off into the fading early evening light. The plaintive cry of the peregrine is unmistakable and I often wonder if it strikes fear into creatures which falls within its purview? With its incredible vision and unmatchable speed-The Peregrine is the fastest creature on earth- no small mammal or bird stands a chance once its steely dark eyes have fixed upon it.

Another bird which while not matching the peregrine in the velocity stakes, nevertheless uses another natural sense-its hearing-to great effect is the owl. Although owls are usually to be found at less elevated sites as the peregrine, they nevertheless do nest on crags. An old Scotty Dwyer route, now named Excaliber’ above Llyn Gwynant includes ‘beware of tawny owls’ in the route description. Or at least it did. Apparently they used to nest in a subterranean fissure on the climb which the emaciated could squirm through. Never being of that build, I had to climb up the outside of the cleft. Not that I would want to intrude upon a nest of baby owls. However, when climbing down the valley on Dyffryn Mwbwr, I did indeed disturb an owl. I was concentrating on climbing deep crack. My body totally covering the defile when an owl came out of the gloom, climbed up onto my shoulder and flew off. I don’t know who would be the more shocked; me or the owl?

A more alarming encounter than the owl came in the shape of a stallion which came galloping down the hillside on Dyniewyd above Nantmor, in full snorting,bucking mode.It took a full blooded whack across his rear end with the remains of an old fence post to dissuade him from kicking our lights out! Encounters with wild ponies are common in north Wales’s Snowdonia uplands but this was the only time I’ve been charged at.

The fox is of course a common and oft seen inhabitant of the mountains and valleys. Sadly, I have come across a fox which had died a horrible death after being snared. I was so angry I went back the next day and took down the entire section of fence where the snare had been set with bolt cutters! At least on another occasion I was able to free a fox from a snare and witness him run off none the worse for wear. Climbing a new route at Clogwyn Gelli I once witnessed a fox bridging manfully up a vegetated neighbouring groove  to top out and run away up the hillside. It was quite an impressive feat of climbing for a creature who normally inhabits a horizontal world.

But of course, most encounters with creatures in the uplands are not threatening or tragic but simply a delight. Boxing hares and curious goat kids; sunbathing lizards and raucous rooks; startled badgers and bob tailed roe deer exploding into life when their forest reverie is disturbed.

 You won’t see any of that down at the Climbing Wall!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Ethnic diversity in climbing : An unscaled mountain.

Myles Washington
An article in the US edition of the Huffington Post caught my eye recently. It was about a young black teenager who was making waves in the US climbing scene. It was deemed unusual enough to warrant a feature in a national media. It seems that even in the US with its much larger black population compared to the UK, rock climbing/mountaineering is still overwhelmingly a white middle class sport.

Here in the UK, if you flick through the climbing glossies, attend a club meet, roll up at Tremadog or peruse the hardware in an outdoor shop, you will inevitably be white. Probably from the educated middle classes- as even white working class participants in the activity are dwindling-and your climbing circle will be inevitably resemble a Britain First cell. In ethnicity if not in dress sense and haircuts!

That's not to say there there are no climbers from ethnic minority backgrounds. But these individuals are notable in their isolation. I was considering from a social and cultural perspective why Asians for example have never really taken to rock climbing? Its not through lack of opportunity as ten of thousands of young Asian kids from the English West Midlands have attended outdoor activity courses at their LEA's outdoor centres in North Wales. Despite this, very few are entranced enough by the activity to take it up when they leave school.

Undoubtedly, there are cultural factors at play here. Peer pressure will play a part and we all know how merciless and cruel young people can be towards anyone who is seen as different and who deviates from the accepted cultural pathways. I know this from my own experience. Coming from a white, working class background on Merseyside, I attended a secondary modern school which had a hillwalking club. Despite loving the outdoors and being constantly encouraged by teachers to come along on one of their fell walking trips to the Lake District, I always declined the invitation.

It was the middle class kids from the A and B streams who did that sort of thing. I was a C streamer and we played football....morning noon and night. If I had joined the school fellwalking club, A..I would have no friends in the group and B...I would be ragged mercilessly by my working class mates. So its easy to see why young Asians from Birmingham and Wolverhampton just don't get involved.

However,what I have noticed is a steady rise in the number of people from non white backgrounds who are going hillwalking.Whether, its the rise in health and fitness awareness, the ease of access to the mountain areas from the cities or through the emergence of a growing educated Asian, Black, Chinese etc,middle class who now have the financial means and the confidence to go where previously their parents have feared to tread?

Perhaps this growing awareness and confidence will lead to those from the ethnic minorities taking up rock climbing and its associated activities? Certainly, one factor which will drive this forward will be the growth of the urban climbing wall. Throughout the towns and cities of the UK, people have been drawn to the wall in the same way as they have to gyms. Even people who have never set foot on a crag or even seen a mountain have slipped on a pair of climbing shoes, tied on to a rope and picked their way up the multi coloured holds. As much I imagine, as an exercise regime for many, rather than as is traditionally accepted, a way of pushing up their grades on the rock face.

It will be a long time before the numbers of climbers from ethnic backgrounds reflects  that percentage of the population from which they are drawn, but its likely that for many of the reasons outlined, that number will gradually increase year on year. And it will be driven, as most things are, by education and financial muscle which in turn brings rising self confidence. However,
it will be a slow evolution to be sure. The one important factor which will may slow this trend-and this applies to working class white kids as well-is the steady decline of the LEA outdoor centre. Sold off by cash strapped local authorities and thereby slamming the door of opportunity in the face of those who need it most. What this will mean sadly, is that it will only be those from the Asian, Black, Chinese middle classes who can afford to attend commercially run outdoor centres like Plas y Brenin, who will enter the sport.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Van Life: Powering up on the road.

Vroom with a View: Menai Straits from The Mermaid Inn, Ynys Mon, North Wales.

Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right

Yes, it’s been a while since I took the camper on a road trip but in the next couple of weeks I’m planning on a trip to the Lakes for starters, with Scotland, North Yorkshire coast, Radnorshire and maybe The Isle of Man pencilled in over the next few months. To get my fix of V Dub van life. I’ve been watching some of the many You Tube videos put out by Camper aficienados. I mentioned the brilliant Kombi Life/Hasta Alaska a couple of weeks ago. Another nice set of videos have been put out by Theo and Bee whose Brummie tones and upbeat positivity add real zest to their slickly produced slices of van life, wild camping and general outdoorsyness coming at you through their 'Indie Projects' series of vlogs.

One of the issues they dealt with which has become a familiar problem for travellers in this high tech age; how can you keep all your gadgets charged up on the road? I know for myself that if you are into recording your adventures and want to set them down on a laptop when you get back to the van, then it can be a problem. Especially given the variety of gadgets we use these days. Typically, even on a days hillwalk I’ll take a Phantom drone with a powerful battery that only gives 20/5 minutes of flight and needs charging after every session. Ditto the drone controller. Then I need a tablet to monitor drone recordings in flight, a digital camera, a sports cam, an iPhone and if I’m away in the van..a laptop/netbook.

Most gadgets can be charged through a car powerpoint or cigar lighter as we used to call them. Even my drone has a car charger adaptor. However, a lot of travellers use inverters which basically is an electronic device or circuitry that changes direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC). That is, you can plug it into a 12v car charger or direct to the battery terminals and power something like a laptop or even a small TV. However, I’m no expert so I’ll point you in the direction of this page which goes into detail about inverters.

The aforementioned Theo and Bee use a power pack called a ‘Goal-Zero’ when on the road. This small device offers USB points, car charger and AC points.It can be charged on the road or plugged in at the mains. No denying that the Goal Zero looks rather cool. Not much bigger than a car battery, its chunky green and grey exterior ticks the aesthetic boxes as far as gadgets are concerned, but here’s the thing. Does the average weekend or holiday traveller actually need one? Even allowing for the amount of equipment that those of a photographic or video recording bent will take with them on a trip?

I would suggest no. The thing is, a powerpack like the Goal Zero starts at nearly £200. Add on a solar charger and there’s another £100+ The small GZ’s don’t actually throw out much power. You might get two full laptop charges from a fully charged GZ  but here’s the thing; apart from the fact that as I previously mentioned, you can charge most things from you car charger-buy a triple adapter and charge three things at once-you can actually buy a powerpack at a fraction of the price. I’m talking about a good old fashioned car jump starter/power pack. These start at around £30, have a bigger output and almost all will include a car charger point which you can plug devices into. Including iPhones, laptops, cameras etc-providing you have the adapters of course. You won’t get an AC socket but you will get a tyre compressor and built in lantern to boot! The more powerful booster built for diesel engines will of course being carrying a more powerful battery within its plastic housing,hence you will be able to charge more gadgets on a fully charged booster.

So...there you have it. If you’ve £300 spare and fancy a trendy powerpack, go for it. On the other hand, you could spend one tenth of that and get something which will also do the job.

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 ?!!!