A few years I upset a few people in the climbing world by questioning the ethics of making a winter ascent of a standard summer route, particularly in lean conditions given that ice axes and crampons are not exactly conducive to moving softly over stone and vegetation. Sure, popular summer rock climbs become polished and trees wither and die as they eventually succumb to thousands of hands, ropes and slings strangling the life out of them. However, anyone who has ever climbed a summer route and witnessed the tell tale signs of a winter ascent; those pale, jagged scratches ripped into dark stone, should be depressed by the prospect before them.
I’ve always felt with a fair proportion of winter climbers that there is an element of ‘Boys with their toys’ surrounding the activity. Although I haven’t done a scientific study of course, it seems as if 90% of winter warriors are male and males who like to boast about their big shiny tools! Yes.. Axes and foot fangs are sexy man!
As I write the first snows of winter have fallen above 600m in the North Wales mountains but it’s fair to say that conditions are still lean. Nevertheless, that hasn’t deterred parties from climbing popular routes in places like Yr Wyddfa’s Trinity Face. The desperation to log ascents onto the UKC route page and plaster pictures on Facebook and Twitter, overwhelming any semblance of common sense or recognizing the ecological implications of hacking your way up turf and barely covered rock. The mountain is home to some of our rarest plants like the Snowdon Lily which can only be found around the mountains inaccessible cliffs and the plant is said to be at risk of disappearing altogether.
Not that that sad fact would worry the Winter Warriors. What’s the extinction of a rare plant compared to getting several ‘likes’ on Facebook and lots of ‘awesome dude’..’looks cool man’..’Wow..great images dude’. Thankfully, I’ve noticed that a fair few climbers have picked up on the negative ecological implications of their knuckleheaded bretheren’s winter activities and have not been backward with their criticism. Will this make a difference? Probably not. Without branching off into a socio/cultural analysis of why people these days, are more inclined to indulge in activities which increasing impact on wildlife and natural habitats-and this covers a vast area from Hunting and Fishing to Mountain Biking and Zip Wiring-then its fair to say that Hedonism rules OK.
When our National Parks fight for the right to call themselves ‘The Adventure Capital of the UK’ and tourism and profit is the name of the game, then conservation will increasing play second fiddle to recreation. With more and more people pouring into mountain areas to get their adventure fix, it’s little wonder that Tristram and Ben will throw themselves at the Trinity Face when there’s little more than a dribble of spit on the cliff. But you know...an ascent is an ascent right?