Tuesday, 12 March 2013

This is the script I used to do an editorial on BBC Out of Doorsat teh end of January 2013 following a number of accidents in the Scottish Mountains:


"It would be a very cold heart that didn’t miss a beat on hearing about the tragedy in Glencoe last weekend. There will be funerals and memorial services in the coming weeks. Inquiries will take place and reports will eventually answer the question -  ‘what happened?’
But the question - ‘why?’ - will be the one that folk repeatedly ask their own inner selves - but will struggle to answer. Especially those folk close to the victims.

20 years ago Scotland had a string of very cold winters. Sadly there were many fatalities and the government of the day was asking questions.

The winter of 93/94 was the first time in my memory that the right to climb itself was so frequently drawn into question. I found myself repeatedly having to defend the rights of climbers to go climbing in challenging conditions, - to be out on the hills when a blizzard was blowing, - or when, heaven forfend, the hills were covered in ice.

Today I’m old enough to reflect that this was just ‘selling newspapers’ and you can guess the worst culprits.

But at the time a response was required. Words from that 1994 response - defending mountaineering, attempting to explain, have an eerie resonance this week.

With hindsight - I was also far more affected by the death of a friend in the mountains than I cared to admit at the time.

When BMC and MCofS met together in those days - there was always time for climbing. We worked hard and climbed hard - with Bill Wright and Derek Walker (who sadly passed away last week) - and with Andy Fanshawe.

Andy’s tragic death on Eagle Ridge in 1992 haunted me in a way I couldn’t explain – but it took 10 years before I overcame a nagging, mental block and finally completed Eagle Ridge myself, perhaps - in the process - exorcizing a ghost.

Anyway - Here’s a part of that 1994 reponse -

“It doesn't take long before all the usual, hackneyed reasoning for risking life and limb begins to sound glib in the extreme, - especially when it is a climbing pal who has died.

Death in sport or recreation can NEVER be JUSTIFIED.

All we can do is accept it, and try to prevent it within the constraints that a civilised society puts down. In other words we can educate, train, improve technology, minimise the risk ......

But we can't ban, we can't outlaw, nor should we condemn what - in many cases - we simply don't understand. A society that indulges in reactions such as these - is not one I wish to live in.

Most climbers tend to adopt a fatalism toward such incidents .... regret at the loss of life, tempered with a feeling that those who have died did so doing something that they enjoyed.
But that still sounds glib.

PERHAPS Less glib - is the recognition that people climb hills because it is a very important and rewarding part of their lives. A death will always be a waste, but it is also true that the experienced climber's life was much enriched and more fulfilled.

PERHAPS - Most realistic and convincing of all is the –
"There, but for the grace of God, go I “ approach - which at least betrays a recognition by a climber, that they too could die.

Much has been written and said about why climbers climb.  Why they adventure.... why they take these risks.

But I have struggled to find anything written anywhere that gives any satisfactory rationale - for loss of life in the mountains. Indeed, the longer I climb the more I realise -  there is no rationale. Just the fact that so many forget ...

Mountaineering is dangerous.

What is more, I continue to believe there is no such thing as winter hillwalking in Scotland. Hillwalking is a summer pursuit.


On the wall, just inside the door, at Plas Y Brenin in Wales, the words of Edward Whymper are carved into a tablet of Welsh Slate. I recite the passage to myself, almost as a mantra, at times of high risk in the mountains .... descending some misty, cliff strewn, icy Scottish hillside. It has served me well

"Climb if you will,
But remember that courage and strength
are nought without prudence,
and that a momentary negligence
may destroy the happiness of a lifetime.
Do nothing in haste
Look well to every step;
and from the beginning
think what may be the end."

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