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 ?!!!


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Vertigo Myth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Women Climbing Writers: Space beneath their feat.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

In search of north Wales' mountain spirit.

Wee Timerous Beastie: The rugged little peak of Rhobell y big

After being pretty down on Yr Wyddfa in my last blog where I lamented its despoliation and the insensitive way it has been managed by the powers that be. I thought I’d change tack from gloom merchant and purveyor of despair and offer a positive take on the mountains of north Wales.In this I thought I’d offer my favourite mountains which as you might guess, tend to be those peaks far from the madding crowd. Having a Wainwright-esque desire to keep the gore-tex hoards out of sight and mind, increasingly I’ve gravitated towards the lesser known peaks where you can often find yourself following a pathless trail across the hillsides, where only the odd bleating sheep or cronking crow break the silence. So...in no particular order.

Ruin under Dduallt
Rhobell Fawr/ Rhobell y big/ Dduallt.
Three separate peaks of course but geographically and you might say romantically, part of a rugged triumvirate of remote south Snowdonia mountains. Boldly standing in isolation and separation from the neighbouring Arans and Arenigs to which they all look out to. All three can be bagged together as part of a fairly demanding day’s walking. Given that Rhobell y Big and Dduallt in particular are not over endowed with defined paths and instead demand some testing heather, bog and felled forest stumbling. By contrast, Rhobell Fawr is one of the easiest peaks to attain if you approach via Rhydymain. By driving up into the forest you can park opposite the little gritstone like edge of Fridd Craig Fach which is listed in the CC Merionydd guidebook. I discovered it in the 90‘s and put up a VS route on the far edge of the crag with Harold Drasdo. It has since been worked on by mid Wales climbing maestro Terry Taylor who has added several hard routes to the few more modest things of my own on there.

Getting back to ascending the mountain. From the forest lay by, its an easy 30/40 minutes walk to the 2400‘ summit. Climbers have the option of bouldering their way to the top, as the flank is peppered with outcrops and boulders. Just don a pair of old comfortable rock boots or approach shoes and wander from rock to rock. Choosing a line as hard or easy as your skills allow. Rhobell Fawr was a favourite mountain of 1930‘s Guardian columnist and walking guide author, Patrick Monkhouse who wrote the classics ‘On foot in north Wales’ and ‘On foot in the Peak’. Just a couple of miles north west of Rhobell Fawr is the diminutive little peak of Rhobell y Big. Despite being only 1600‘. Rhobell y Big is an attractive little mountain with a jagged cock’s comb peak.

Its little summit walls and slabs-like its bigger neighbour-offers the climber some sport. To the east, by the same distance,lies Dduallt. A veritable little Armadillo of a mountain. Just 2100 high but studded with outcrops and largely pathless. The only blemish is a pointless stock fence across its spine. Farmers....ever heard the word ‘Hefting’. Or do only Lake District sheep have this instinct? At the base of its eastern face lies the source of the mighty River Dee which emerges amongst the rocks of what appears as a man made structure, as a seeping puddle.

Yr Arddu

Another sub 2000‘ gem, the little  Moelwynion outlier, Yr Arddu, packs a punch beyond its size. Another peak studded with outcrops, many of which are recognized climbing venues included in the current Tremadog guidebook, Yr Arddu although lacking in soaring grandeur or even an obvious peak-its long heathery whale back offers a couple of high points, neither of which stand out-the whole massif is nevertheless a complex jigsaw of rock, defiles, tarns and rough ground. One lake in particular offers itself a fabulous wild camping spot. Despite its scale, the outlook in every direction is stunning. Particularly looking south west to the sea.

A slightly surreal little mountain-Manod Mawr.

Graig Goch and Manod Mawr.
Graig Goch is not so much a mountain more a winding escarpment which stands out on the edge of the Migneint. The start of the ridge is easily gained by parking just off the B4407 and bog trotting to the start. Despite this, its rare to ever see anyone up here and a clearly defined path follows a serpentine line just above the cliffs to eventually reach another forgotten climbing crag, Carreg y Fran which was briefly popular in the 70‘s and had a few bold routes put up in the early part of this century before retreating back into obscurity. Beyond the rock of the crow lies 2200' Manod Mawr. Another mainly pathless peak easily approached via the quarry road where you can park opposite Carreg y Fran-thereby gaining a lot of ascent- and wander across the cropped flanks between boulders and streams to find yourself looking down on the delights of downtown Blaenau Ffestiniog! Its surreal to be sure, this speckled lump of a mountain with a working quarry blasting out slate on its shoulder, the tumbling grey terraces of Blaenau to the north and to the east, the empty rippling moorland of the Migneint. Its unique vibe further reinforced by the knowledge that under your feet during WW2, the crown jewels and contents of our national galleries and museums were stored for safe keeping in the bowels of the mountain until the war had ended.

Look west to Arenig Fach

Arenig Fach
Much as I love neighbouring Arenig Fawr where I have walked, climbed upon and written about. Detailing the mountain’s unique art and climbing history, little Arenig Fach by comparison is something of a Cinderella...or should it be ugly sister? Incidentally, I’ve never understood why Arenig Fach ever became Arenig Fach (Little Arenig) when that title really should go to Moel Llyfnant which is joined to Arenig Fawr. Arenig Fach by contrast is totally separate and isolated from great Arenig??? Anyway, that being bye the bye, Arenig Fach is nevertheless another mountain within the rough bounds of the Migneint. Just over 2000‘ high, the approach from any direction involves some serious heather bashing and bog trotting as the hoards have yet to beat out a clearly defined path. I always approach after parking next to a little copse just off the A 4391 and following my nose through some pretty unforgiving terrain until I crest a saddle and look down upon remote Llyn Arenig Fach. A veritable wild swimmers delight in summer. This deep lake is fringed under cliffs by rocks which make perfect diving platforms. As an hors d'oeuvre before the main course or as a post peak dessert on your way back, its certainly one of the best wild swimming lakes in north Wales. The mountain’s rather gloomy north eastern face is nevertheless dramatic. A sweep of broken cliffs which have been climbed on but which as yet, have not seen those climbs recorded. The summit itself is rather pleasant with the heathery approach surrendering to a flat rocky pavement and summit cairn which offers wonderful views all around.

Llyn Arenig Fach. One of the best wild swimming lakes in Wales...but not on this particular day!

And there you have it. Not exactly the wilderness experience but a wee bit off kilter and relatively unspoiled.

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!