Monday 4 October 2010

Spectrum Magazine Sept 2010. A Bad Sign

A Bad Sign

There is an argument going on in the hill walking and mountain world at the moment that raises the hackles of many on both sides. So I thought I would stick my boot into the debate. Actually it’s not really a debate its more a polarised rant between two sides that will never meet due to extreme comprehension differences. Great, a good bun fight. Its not about something like commercial trip on Everest, or the use of fixed bolts on rock routes or even wind farms or pylons in National Parks, all of which deserve a good bit of mud slinging if you’re in the mood. Nope, its about way markers and footpath signs.

In an effort to encourage people into the hills to partake in healthy walking activity it is suggested that sign posts are placed at key points along road side, path junctions and on ridges to make navigation easier and to promote people to venture in the hills.

What a dumb idea.

Not the encouraging people to be active I mean, pretty much all of my work life is to do just that, either by trying to inspire people to think deeply about the value of an outdoors life or by designing and building climbing walls and adventure parks and of course spouting on the Adventure Show about sport, and love of mud.

Nope it’s the sign posts. Scotland is wild barren and beautiful, one of the great joys is the exploration of its landscape and its scenery is as a personal journey. Also it’s a mountain, not a duck ramble in the Lake District, there are certain skills you need to have to survive in the hills. More importantly conditions in the Scottish hills are sometimes so bad and it can change from good visibility to appalling and in a very short space of time you can not see. Nobody in there right mind would suggest that you should not carry a weatherproof Jkt in the hills even in summer, so why take away another valid safety tool, a compass.

In Fact the argument for putting sign post on mountain tops to point the way down is so ridiculous it just demonstrates how far away the realities of the hill walking and mountaineering fraternity can be from those who don,t practise there sports in the mountains.

There is no real argument here, you need to be prepared, with all of the personal skills and equipment to happily survive in a potentially uncomfortable and difficult environment. The proliferation of stone pitched footpaths unfortunately is a necessary evil needed to protect the hills from erosion. But how many times on these paths have prepared walkers and climbers come across street shod, sandwich in bag carrying families struggling up these stone staircases. On Ben Nevis which is as close to a way marked mountain in Scotland, the numbers of ill equipped punters struggling on the hill is alarming. Never shy of an opinion I am, however I do change my mind often why counter arguments are well made, or sometimes just made. But on this one I am not for moving. Hill walking is not just about walking up a hill. It’s a skill with depth and richness. If you want to play tennis you don’t ask for the court to be made wider to hold in your bad shots or to lower the net lower because you’re backhand is rubbish. Oh but I forgot playing tennis your unlikely to get into trouble and wander over a cliff. So as I think no one is advocating putting steel cables over An’ Tellach yet, learn the stuff, respect the wild landscape and enjoy the great gifts of freedom and take some responsibility for yourself. But if you do want to follow a cable or rope to the top of a mountain, Everest has one waiting for you.

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