Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Damaging the Places We Love

Click the link to read a great article by Guy Newbold who lives and works in Wasdale, starting point for climbing Scafell Pike, England's tallest peak and part of the national 3 peaks challenge.

Three Peaks Challenge - A Local's View

The article touches on a number of issues close to my heart. Littering in the wild is a bloody disgrace, I just cannot get my head around the sort of muppets who walk miles away from the nearest road and then throw their plastic coke bottles on the ground or poke their empty crisp packets into dry stone walls. Toilets are a more difficult issue, we all need to go sometimes when we're in the wild, and the nearest loo is 2 hours and 8 miles away, if the village pub is open that is.

Paths are a problem as well, if a route becomes popular, then we do indeed damage the places we love. Hikers do damage, mountain bikers cause more damage, and bloody idiot trail motor bikers, well, birching's too good for them.

People might look at the hills and moors and think, backbone of the earth, strong stuff, impervious to harm, but the truth is very different. The ground ecology and soil of the hills is very fragile, often the soil is only inches deep and is bound together by the close knit plants that cover it. If the plants are removed by foot damage, then the thin soil below begins to erode rapidly down to the bedrock, one the rock, shale or sand below are uncovered then that strip of land will not recover without intervention.



This is a small section of the path up Pen-Y-Ghent, the path goes out to the right then turns back sharply to the left, and you can see that a large number of lazy hikers have cut the corner and are making a new trail. If people continue to damage the soil on the shortcut it will eventually wear down to the rocks below, and it won't come back, and seriously folks, on the ascent to the summit, are you really going to notice that you took ten steps less to get there ?

On the other issues that Guy mentions in his article, organised charity challenges can be a danger to themselves. Four years ago on Ingleborough, in foul weather conditions with visibility down to a matter of yards, we encountered a group of ladies doing a 3 peaks charity hike, they had no map, no compass, no supplies beyond a packet of sandwiches and very little experience of hillwalking, instead they had printed out a set of written instructions from a website on the 3 Peaks route and were trying to follow that. We helped them away from Black Shiver and down the path, shaking our heads at the madness of their actions. On the same day we met a couple doing the 3 Peaks for their first time, they had purchased a posh GPS device, but had no map and couldn't work their GPS properly, again we guided them back to a road.

I really want to encourage people to get out on the hills, but to do so safely. Look at the weather forecast, learn to use a map and compass, really, even on seemingly benign hills in the Dales weather can change, visibility can drop to nothing and you can get in deep trouble if you don't take basic precautions. Be fit enough for the walk you are planning to do, you know, if you have 12 pints a night, smoke 30 cigs a day and the most exercise you do is walking from the pub to the kebab shop then signing up with your mates to do the 3 Peaks the week after next probably isn't a brilliant idea. The Mountain Rescue will help you, but they'd rather you weren't in trouble in the first place.

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