Sensationalism, Snowdon and Media

Well I have just return from a lovely (Well edible) lunch in Pete’s Eats, where I was flicking through the Mirror and saw a story of sensationalist proportion on a couple taking a baby for a walk up Snowdon. I read between the lines and saw no story whatsoever. Then in walked a previous chairman of Llanberis Mountain Rescue team who chatted about the idiot that took the picture. Mid slagging would you believe it the idiot, who would only give his first name Rob (I will get his full name when I have tracked it down), walked in on the conversation looking for quotes.

He got nothing other than a that picture which on its own is not enough evidence to say whether the parents taking their kid out for a walk in the snow in a papoose was stupid, they could have only been gone 30 minutes, although the paper ‘reports’ approximately 2 hours. Given that many parents take young kids skiing every year and bring them back in one piece, what’s wrong with a walk in the snow. The papers in particular the Mail and the Mirror basically line them up as child abusers. The mail head ‘Crazy family sets out to climb Snowdon with toddler…’ Which given the lack of exact circumstances around the situation seems totally out of order.
The real story should have been the sheer number of ill prepared people getting too high on a Snow and Ice covered peak. As low down the snow is unconsolidated, the angle fairly easy and does make a good walk. Venture too high and the inexperienced and ill-equipped are pushing their luck, and making lots of unnecessary work for local rescue teams. Just this morning I slept through a rescue, that was a lone walker who needed assistance as he was too exhausted to make his own way down, after spend a couple of days ‘training’ for a trip to Norway. Hopefully he’ll call off the trip in hindsight!
Anyway when asked for his name this reporter, who was all too keen to get quotes from anybody and everybody, especially member of the rescue team to mis-quote, was very reticent. Seems like he doesn’t like it when the boots of the other foot.

Darwin Award Potential Nominee

There was a potential nomination for an honorary mention in the Darwin Awards in Ogwen on Monday, when a man reportedly decided to Slide down 150ft ice slide rather than walk, because ‘it is easier than walking’.

BBC New reports he suffered head and leg injuries. 
A spokes person for the injured climber said he was ‘gutted’ no to make the full Darwin Awards as his failure to die disqualified his entry, he was however delighted with his Honorary Mention.

I will never leave the house again

Well, I am set to become an agrophobic, as whilst before I could sit and watch tele like the best of couch potatoes. Today my landlord turned up with a massive HD tele and has ordered a SKY HD+. The tele pretty much fills the room, and we can hook the computer to it so we can watch BBC iPlayer and YouTube, as well as any porn I (i mean we) download!

I shall have to get a blu-ray player as well, now we are in the world of HD.
What with this and wireless internet in the house there is little need ot step outside other than to work, and of course climb. Given the weather at the moment though and the lack of work I have my winter all planned out in High Def!

Thoughts on Mountain Rescues

I have written a lot about mountain rescue over the years, from my article on UKC that the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team had a disclaimer added to emphasising that it was my opinion, through to many post on this blog about my involvement in actual rescues. As 2009 draws to a close i thought it a worthy to have a round up of both recent rescues and the year in general, adding my thoughts.

This morning I was woken at 10am (It is the Holidays people!), the call out was two males stuck on the PYG track in need of assistance. They instantly wanted a helicopter, however people need to realise that helicopters don’t fly into cloud for idiots. I have seen the RAF taxi hover into position through mist and cloud when a life was on the line but like everyone a risk assessment for a couple of scally’s stuck on a footpath in cloud, high wind and driving snow was not worthy of the RAF assistance.
A call out last night saw a similar situation some idiot had walked themselves into a dangerous situation on the top of Snowdon, and had fortunately lost the railway track on the way down, before he slid down the killer convex into Clogwyn Goch. This is one of the Accident blackspot on Snowdon this time of year.
Apparently Ogwen had five call outs in one day to rescue people out of their depth in winter conditions. It happens every year, unfortunately this festive period has seen some awesome winter conditions with hard repeats and first ascents of many North Wales Winter Classic. Baggy’s blog highlights how good the conditions are for the experienced climbers who are out there. However, inexperience, incompetence and bad judgement seems to prevail this time of year.
One of the Llanberis team keeps score on the number of jobs we have responded to this year on facebook, and he makes it 155 jobs to date. This is something of a conservative estimate, as others have mentioned numbers in the order of 180 to 200 callouts for Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team alone. As a voluntary organisation with around 30-40 active members this sheer volume of rescue this year, almost double that of previous years, is simply staggering. With  3/4 rescues a week throughout the year. This year as well as callouts increase the number of deaths on Snowdon has doubled, mainly due to the winter conditions earlier this year.
I highlighted this growing pressure when we were looking at around 100 rescue a year. However the rocketing figures do little to highlight the pressures on a team. Think about it, 3/4 rescues a week, is like having a part time job, that you carry out alongside your full time work. We are supposed to find time to train in and amongst all these rescues.
Rumour has it that a future review of Mountain Rescue in England and Wales is looking at trying to standardise and quantify Mountain Rescue, by having what sounds like qualifications or ‘Standards’ that teams must reach. Interestingly people who provide training in various MR techniques sound like they are at the forefront of this move. The fact is that every team has different needs and has different skills in its members means that any attempt to standardise teams will probably be met from resistance from those on the frontline, seemingly having unneccessary breauracy forced upon them.
My personal belief is that we do need to reassess mountain rescue but rather than setting standards, we need to look at various ways to educate people. The Mountain Safe group that operate in North Wales often get their message across to locals in North Wales. However statisitcs show that this information needs to get to men between 20 and 30 from the south east. This group doesn’t even have its own operational website, and search mountain safe on google, and you only find one BBC report. What this group needs is a more professional approach, and a budget from North Wales Police so it can do its job effectively. The fact that if you search Snowdon Safety you don’t find a hit to Mountain Safe organisation on google means that they might as well be pissing in the wind for all the good that hard talk is going to be.
I have heard similar accusation of the uselessness of the Wardens on Snowdon, and not just from me. They presently occupy the cafe building that is closed to the public. Where they pretty much hide all day doing god knows what (probably writing there memoirs!), when if they got off there seats and spent a couple of hours each morning advising people of the prevailing conditions on the mountain. Like say at the moment recommending people without ice axes and crampons don’t venture beyond certain points because of the icy conditions, might well help reduce winter incidents.
A seemingly growing issue in the last couple of years, although I have no official figures at present, is that as a rescue team, Llanberis has responded to a growing number of Asian walkers in difficulty over the last few years. From an insiders perspective, and someone who spends a lot of time in and around the hills, it does seem like a disproportionate number. As such does someone or some body need to engage with this section of the population and offer advice and training. However, having been involved with the BMC which has a equal oppotunities committee which is working on trying to do just that, however breaking into the Asian community isn’t as easy as it might sound.
Perhaps we needs a national advertising campaign like the RNLI or Coastguard, however as a voluntary organisation, made up of many individual teams it is hard to pull together to fund such a scheme. 
I have heard talk of a need to fine some of the worst offenders for pointless callouts caused by walkers own stupidity. However the big counter argument is that people won’t call the team out instead get into worst situations by trying to save themselves some cash. Although this could be eased by offering say a ticket scheme where walkers can purchase ‘insurance’ for the day in car parks at a £1-3 a day. The argument that says that people would not call due to the cost seems sheer speculation, as I am unsure of this being cited as an issue in places like America and Europe, where charging is a common thing along with people having insurance.
For me though despite the growing number of rescues, it is great to see North Wales so busy. We after all rely heavily on tourism, and without all these people our economy would become even more depressed. 
Just remember though, these are just my opinions and thoughts on rumours and by no means the official opinion of any rescue team. I am a climber first, instructor second and rescuer third, as such my opinion differs from most on the llanberis rescue team

Call Out’s

Well over the few days before christmas, there were two call outs, one to rescue some totally ill equipped walkers who thought tracksuit and trainers was ideal for winter mountaineering (See BBc report). Suffice to say neither the RAF, rescue team or A&E were impressed by them. Another incident early on wednesday required the team to mobilise.

I was sat in watching some trash on the telly on christmas day, too many beers down to do anything when the pager went off. Fortunately whoever was late for christmas dinner was going to be in a lot of trouble from his wife but didn’t actually need rescuing. I know Ray Wood and Tim Neill also headed out on Christmas day. I hope they got some decent climbing in as the weather has warmed up, however looks like over the next couple of days a cold front coming up from the continent may bring back some decent conditions.

Mountain Heritage Trust, The BMC and £45000

Several months back now I sat on the BMC national council and voted on the decision to give the Mountain Heritage Trust some £45000 over the coming three years to prop up this flagging charity. It had already been involved with the failure of the ragead musuem in the Lake district, and need £15000 a year to prop itself up and carry on the much needed cataloguing of the artifacts it had been left or donation to the trust.

At the time it seemed like a good idea, as this was the organisation that was dedicated to the preservation of our cultural heritage. However over the christmas period I was researching some article and was directed to the Mountain Heritage Trust website, which at first I thought was reasonably interesting, as it had some short bio’s on famous climbers, as well as some pictures. It was only as I started searching the site that I found a wonder waste of the £15000 annual donation.
What I did was visit this page and clicked on the all artifacts page. Expecting to see some examples of Lord Hunts underwear or wooden ice axes from some turn of the century expedition, instead I got a shitty pair of Koflachs, a karrimat, a russian titanium ice screw, a sling and a few pairs of 1980’s ski’s.
Is there a case for the MHT to reassess its priorities? As when you look at other stuff it has, then seeing a digital copy of some of the old photos, or notes belonging to some lord snooty from back in the day, would be far more interesting then a karrimat, I could buy for a fiver, although Chris Bonnington may not have slept on it, which would make it more valuable, as who’d want soiled goods?
Only days before I had stumbled across the welsh library, which had scanned a very old publication by Thomas Pennent one of the first travellers to document ‘A Tour of Wales’.
Personally I would much rather see the more interesting records be scanned and available for us all to enjoy. Hopefully it is an ongoing project that the MHT will get down to as soon as possible, and not bother photographing and cataloguing some of the utter rubbish and tat that you could get 10p for in a car boot.
I know some things can’t be given a price, but I beg you to justify the ‘artifacts’ or junk if you prefer, that I highlighted. There are other gems in there if you can be bothered to look.
What do you guys think? Mountain Heritage Trust, worth the £15000 a year the BMC is paying for it?

Killing in the Name of

The UK has spoken through action rather than words, and for once a facebook group managed to achieve its aim, of knocking Simon Cowell’s ‘music factory’ off the Christmas number 1 slot. It had become rather predictable, as since 2004 some for of Cowell/X Factor homogonised pop has ruled the waves at christmas.

Now we have Rage Against the Machine’s, Killing in the Name of, a track originally released in 1992, a year that saw me visiting The Steam House in Southbourne, a indy rock pub with attitude. Every Sunday a similar set of loud rock would eminate from the over crowded bar, and the crowd would scream along with such great hits.

The Rage track is a very antiestablishment track, that whilst not the best song ever made certainly sends the sentiments to a generation that are sick of X-Factor format fame and music. Given arguments that society reflects live and live society. I see this as a metaphor for climbing and the media at the moment.

If you haven’t read Stevie Haston’s blog then I suggest you do, as he suggest that real talent in climbing (like himself) struggle to make a living because lesser climbers are taking all the limelight and the limited cash that goes with it. I can’t say I entirely agree with Stevie, but he certainly has a point, in that on paper, he is arguably a legendary rock star.

Unfortunately for Stevie sponsors don’t want legends they want people willing to sell out to help promote their products. Climbers who will climb the hardest and most dangerous routes for free, and be filmed whilst doing it. Stevie’s argument that the film-maker or photographers are making more money from the sport than the performers is well founded. Just look at Adam Long’s article on the Grand Capucin where Jame McHaffie and Ben Bransby climbed the route, and Adam documented and sold the ascent in both words and images, and what is wrong with that? Its not just Adam many photographers and film makers myself included have arguably exploited climbers.

Unfortunately there seems to be little that can be done, as manufacturers have a limited marketing budgets, and often turn to those with a ‘relationship’ with photographer and film-makers in order to get the most media coverage in return for there investment. As a photographer and ex-film-maker there seems little that we can do as we are really only capturing routes that the climbers would probably climb anyway, and the money isn’t that great compared to other media outlets. For instance I made more money selling an image to two national newspapers than I got for an entire article in a national climbing magazine.

So maybe Stevie’s excellent rants are simply an extension of the push to get rid of homogonised media in climbing, as photographers and film-makers make a killing in the name of.

Postscript – The example i cited of Adam was incorrect, Ben made more than Adam, and whilst Adam is unsure about how much Caff made, the fact he got the cover shot, probably means he got a reasonable amount from photo incentive deals. So perhaps change “well founded’, to “assumed by the author”. I stand corrected by Adam, and this probably gives more food for the argument that climbers need photographers and writers to get them into the climbing press. Thanks to Adam for putting me right, I’d also like to point out that I only choose the example because i liked the images and the story, and as such it popped straight into my head when trying to find an example. I could have used any major or minor photographer/writer and any number of climbers as an example. 

BMC debate a Concrete Crag

The BMC is rather cash rich despite the efforts of Bear Grylls to stop any profit in the BMC Travel Insurance scheme, although according to the BMC it is also people over 70 taking out the insurance and Snowboarder injuring themselves in the very expensive US (Expect premium increases in these catorgories in 2010). So despite this the BMC does have somewhere in the region of £800000 in the bank, and a 6% increase in membership from 2009 to 2010.

At the BMC’s last National Council meeting, and sadly my last one, as I stepped down from representing Wales on the Council, as weekend meetings means if I attended them all I would lose £1000 a year from my income. Anyway there was a proposal put forward by London and South East England Area Committee to create a concrete crag in a disused chalk quarry.

Now my initial reaction was, what a stupid idea, then I heard the proposed cost (nearly £1million), and I nearly shit a brick. There are all sorts of cost and legal implications around converting a disused quarry, that would be enough to put most investors off. However the basic proposal seemed to be a bit vague, and was sent back to see what it would cost to put a feasibility study together. With ideas that just a study to see if it is sensible would cost £10000 of BMC money, which seems to me to be throwing good money after bad, I’ll write a report for free that says it is too expensive and too many pit holes to justify spending so much money. If it wasn’t I am sure that an investor in London could be found.

Despite my negativity, which I did channel positively in the meeting to explain that we only have one International standard climbing wall in the UK, and that’s in Edinburgh. So maybe spending that money on another wall in England or even Wales might be more beneficial. However I live in an area that is surrounded by rock.

The argument that L&SE area put forward is that the majority of the membership of the BMC is based where there is no rock (i.e. the South East). As such the outdoor artificial crag would be a great asset. However an asset that I am sure they would soon realise is open to the fickleness of British Weather. Putting all the BMC’s cash eggs in the one basket means that we could end up with a white elephant like the millenium dome or even the wobbly bridge.

Whilst I have every sympathy for the London living climbers, if a project needs the sort of funding that they are looking at they need to be in private hands or the hands of local councils and grants. Imagine how many crags the BMC could buy for £1 million pounds.

This is certainly something that is worth keeping you ear to the ground and your eyes open as the L&SE area have been told to find out how feasible the feasibility study is, and possibly come back for funding.

Christmas Spirit – No More for me!

Well for the last few days it has been Christmas parties, pubs and socialising, i am full to the brim quite literally with Christmas Spirit. I think I only have a few more ‘official’ parties to go to then I can relax in the christmas/new year gap. I felt the pounds I gained at the climbing wall the other night, although it might have been the hangover I was harbouring.

I still await the return of my van the garage managed to lose my keys, so yesterday I had to nip round to Kath’s to get a lift to a rescue. A 50 year old Male with cardiac problems on the top of Cefn Ddu, was a reminder that sometimes my life is far from mundane, although even when driving to the scene contacting the inbound helicopter to give them the latest information on the casualties location and then driving the landrover to the location, rescue can seem a little like another day in the rescue office.
Hopefully we got the casualty into YG in time. The mountains yesterday had a sprinkling of snow, and with more falling over night and even more forecast, I suspect that the team will be busy this weekend, as the masses rush out into the winter wonderland.

Chicken Soup

Well I spent today trying to get rid of the leftovers from my chicken dinner on Saturday night. I went for the chicken soup option, as it is an easy dish and a nice winter warmer. Here’s today’s recipe.

One Roast Chicken Carcass
One potato
Some Swede
A leek
Two carrots
An Onion
Some Garlic
Put the carcass in a large pan, add water and boil for as long as possible, this makes the base stock for your soup.
Chop the veg into nice chunk rustic size chunks, and fry the onion and garlic in another large pan. Add the other veg (apart from the broccoli) and then ladle in the chicken stock in until the veg are covered. Collect any remaining stock in a jug. Take the carcass and pic the remaining chicken off, placing it in the soup with the rest of the chicken stock. Simmer until the veg is ready, then place the broccoli in the soup, which will be ready to serve in 10 minutes.
Serve with chunky bread, and season to taste. A great winter warmer, and awesome way to re-use the left over chicken.