TAC 28: Aug-Sep96

TAC 28 Index

Stob Press

A tale from the Internet for starters. Your Ed occasionally checks in on various newsgroups which interest him: bit.listserv.chess, misc.fan.lesley.riddoch, and alt.rec.sheep on bad days when things just get a bit too much. He'll also take a look at uk.rec.walking, even though it's obsessed with nuances of cagoule-zipping and how best to get by footpath from Chipping Throttlehampton to Lesser Frampton-cum-Wedbury. Back in June, a Salford University bloke named Paul Bennett mailed the group enquiring as to tactics re attempting the so-called "Three Peaks Challenge" - ie bagging Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Beinn Nibheis in as short a time as possible. Advice was generously offered from various quarters. All fine and dandy: that's precisely what newsgroups are for, and if anyone wants to race around Britain in such a manner then that's up to them.

Then at the start of July came a jaunty-but-somewhat-chastened report of "success" on the attempt, which revealed a previously unreleased and rather startling detail. The bid had opened with Snowdon, starting at 11.30am on Sat 29th June and getting back to the road at 4.10pm. No reported problems. Then Scafell Pike was started at 10pm. The story from here on is best told by downloading a few quotes:

I assumed this route from Seathwaite would be easier, wrong! It was bloody hard, particularly the terrain. Rocks rocks and more rocks ... Particularly when doing it at night! ... I heard about / saw numerous accidents involving broken and fractured bones [sic] and the mountain rescue helicopters were busy all night. Many people just gave up and lay in their survival bags and went down in daylight ... Anyway 7 hours 40 minutes later at 5.40am I made it down again.

This sounds bad enough, but the punchline awaits. That word "numerous" hints at the shock to come.

Ben Nevis: Started at 3pm and did not have too much trouble with it. The never ending zig-zags became a bit tiresome but this was relieved after 5pm when a huge cheer went down the mountain side. England had beaten Spain on penalties! [Ahem] There was snow on the top but no cornices! The view was clouded over and seven and a half hours after starting I was down at the bottom. The final bit spoiled it for me really. We were told we would be taken to a place in Fort William where we could have a pint/shower/meal. The place resembled a scene from the Somme with bodies strewn everywhere. It was so crowded you couldn't move. This wasn't what annoyed me. There were 3000 people on the event

Hold on. What was that? Wind it back, must have picked it up wrong...

There were 3000 people on the event

No, he really did say "3000"

and I can't think of anywhere better to house them. What pissed everyone off was the catering. There was one person to serve 3000 people food!

Now, this all seems to have been in aid of raising money for cystic fibrosis, and clearly no-one would want to knock the good cause. But that's about as far as charitable thinking can surely go here. The event sounds so ill-advised and badly-organised as to be almost beyond belief. Goodness knows exactly what happened on Scafell Pike (a serious enough hill for the inexperienced even in daylight), but the reference to "numerous accidents" sends a shudder through this writer. Fortunately, after crosschecking with The Keswick Reminder, it appears only one person was stretchered out, having become lost following a knee problem. Keswick MRT chairman Mick Guy says he knew in advance something was happening, but "hadn't been made aware of the scale of the event". Keswick police weren't even notified - despite the 80 coaches shuttling noisily up and down Borrowdale all night.

Bennett went on to add: Many people had done the event because they were associated with the disease [but] they weren't particularly interested in walking. Quite what might have happened on Nevis had the weather closed in is too scary to contemplate, and it would be interesting to know if the Lochaber MRT was notified in advance - and whether, if so, their discouragements and cautions were at all heeded. Add to all this the simple intrusiveness of the vast numbers, and the naivety of the participants seemingly being more exercised by lack of food in the Fort than by the peripatetic jeopardy they'd just been party to. And, at risk of sounding like Points of View, why oh why oh why was the attempt not called off after the Ponds debacle rather than redoubling the risk on a far higher hill in Lochaber? Nick Leeson eat your heart out.

There will have been much communal buck-passing amongst the organisers - the mysterious UK Outdoor Pursuits - and it's unfair to lay blame at Paul Bennett's door (although TAC has a long and noble history of being down on folk with this surname). But he did avoid mentioning the scale of the project when petitioning the newsgroup for advice: it looked much like him and a few mates having a weekend lark. Hence it's no surprise there has been something of a backlash: newsgroups are trusting and democratic places, and don't take kindly to being strung along, especially when actual risk ensues. Anyone with first-hand knowledge of UK Outdoor Pursuits, or strong feelings on this generally, please write in. Perhaps the story should have been reported in alt.rec.sheep after all.

With several new TACit Tables looming, there's been discussion of a couple of summits in The Murdos. Both Munros and Murdos list Lord Berkeley's Seat on An Teallach as 1047m at gridref NH064834, with the Murdos giving it a drop of 39m. This makes it a Murdo and a Munro Top. Also listed as a Munro Top (but not as a Murdo) is neighbouring Corrag Buidhe, which the SMC gives as 1020m at NH065833. Yet to anyone who has scrambled along the ridge - or, indeed, viewed it laterally from somewhere such as Sgurr Mor Fannaich - this will seem absurd. Corrag Buidhe is considerably higher than LBS, no matter what their numbers are.

For whatever reason, the SMC lists got the hills and heights confused. When Alan Blanco came to compile his Murdos data, he searched for the most detailed information available and found that the OS have been far from precise in this area. Their 1:10000 sheet, instead of being definitive, merely showed a 1047m spot height at the 064834 gridref, with other un-spot-heighted tops to the east and west of it. And, crucially, the entire section of ridge was devoid of names. Hence Alan (who had felt something was "wrong" without putting his finger on it) followed existing SMC data in the absence of any clear OS improvement, as was policy throughout his Tables.

Now the situation appears clearer. The strong likelihood is that the 1047m spot height and gridref refer not to LBS, but to Corrag Buidhe itself. This would make Corrag Buidhe, not LBS, the Murdo - and hence the name should be changed in Blanco's list but with no other changes. The same applies to the SMC Munros listing, although here, with no definite drop criteria, LBS remains a Top for the time being at least, although with unclear height and location.

The other query concerned Sgurr Thearlaich on Skye. This is also a Munro Top, but only a SubMurdo, the most accurate drop being assessed as c22m. Alan Macdonald of Glasgow-via-Harris (who climbed it in 1987, the centenary of Charles Pilkington's first ascent) wrote lobbying for promotion to both Murdo and full Munro status, claiming new OS data adds (or subtracts) a further 7m to the drop. We haven't yet seen any hard evidence of this, so as far as the Murdos are concerned there is no change. But even were it true, then the SubMurdo status would remain, the drop still being 1m short, at 29m. We can't speak for the SMC, but from the correspondence TAC/TACit has exchanged with their Tables Editor Derek Bearhop, it seems highly unlikely that Thearlaich is in the frame for Munro promotion.

On this latter point, there are however likely to be significant changes/rationalisations in the upcoming SMC revision, although progress toward change is slow, with the original SMC plan of publishing late in 1996 looking likely to be delayed until 1997 at the earliest. But better a delay and a good set of changes than a job both rushed and botched.

Little space for Democracy... this issue, but just a brief mention of the latest on the Cairngorm Funicular Hoo-ha. As predicted last time, SNH performed a volte-face en route to a fait accompli by suddenly deciding they were for the Cairngorm Chairlift Company's plans after all. But the triplespeak and muddled thinking involved in all this was well shown in a cutting from The Herald for 3/5/96, sent in by Craig Weldon. It quotes from a letter sent to Hamish Swan, chairman (!) of the Chairlift Company, by David Hayes, director of the Landmark Highland Heritage and Adventure Park at Carrbridge. Hayes, who is against the proposals, writes of the "major new exhibition" to be sited at the top railway station: "I understand that it is intended to install a hi-tech display on the arctic environment, explaining to people how fragile this ecosystem is and why they have to be restrained from walking outside the top station." (TAC's italics.) Yet rather than picking up on this glaring absurdity itself, Hayes instead dismisses the idea in terms of finance and "mass market appeal". It does seem that monetary and commercial concerns are holding sway on both sides of the debate, over and above genuine conservation requirements and simple common sense.

Finally, late news but good news from Kevin Clark, who reports that the Loch a'Bhraoin dam project (see TAC26, p6 and TAC27, p16) has been ditched. The Badachro situation is less clear. Kevin reports this as delayed, but the recent changes in local government may also mean that existing objections have lapsed and need to be resubmitted. More details and clarification on this next time.

TAC 28 Index