The Angry Corrie 71: Jul-Sep 2007

Sacred summits?

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Gordon Smith: My mate Robin and I were lunching on the summit of Cir Mhor when a lone walker arrived - one of those driven-looking guys who appear to rattle up and down hills without any hint of enjoyment. I said hello, to which he gave a grunt. He seemed a bit pissed off that there were other humans in the area: Cir Mhor has a small summit, and he fussed about looking for somewhere to sit where he could be alone.

So there was already a bit of an atmosphere when, unexpectedly, my mobile rang. The guy erupted: Oh for God's sake, is nowhere sacred? He then muttered for some time before picking up his stuff and disappearing.

I don't usually have my mobile switched on on the hill, and, even if it is, very few people have that number. I have to say that I had a bit of sympathy for his view, as I don't like having to listen to one-sided conversations on the hill or anywhere else: however, I don't know if I would have made such a big Volume of it. Maybe a brief sigh or rolled eyes would have sufficed.

Ed: Two more fairly recent anecdotes to accompany this. Dumyat, early December, a wander up from Lossburn Reservoir with TAC's proofreader-in-chief. We reached the big cemented cairn rust-bucket thingie (which may well not be the true summit - the little outcrop to the NW along the summit ridge has a good claim), and hunkered down out of the breeze. Two blokes arrived, the elder of whom started making/receiving a seemingly endless series of phonecalls. If, as some believe, excessive mobile-use has the capacity to frazzle one's cerebral cortex, then this chap was on the fast-track to self-induced Alzheimer's. Which made it a tad ironic that what he said at some point in every call, so much so that he could have been a comedian rehearsing a catchphrase, was: "I'm the brains behind the operation!" This was followed each time by a wideboyish, wheeler-dealer cackle.

Then to Auch on a Sunday in April and up the south ridge of Beinn Dorain - a slog, for sure, but a rather fine slog, with a little twisted gully breaching the high-up band of crag just where you want it. Is there a ridge in the country where the admired from afar : actually climbed ratio is quite so skewed? It had been deserted on the ridge - quelle surprise - but the summit was quite busy with path-plodders up from Bridge of Orchy. There was some kind of slightly overdramatic navigation-by-phone thing going on involving various southern-English types who had become separated but who were within sight of each other. "Christine, DO NOT come that way up the mountain," said the main summit-bloke into his mobile - Christine appeared to have strayed on to the curious path that contours across the western face beneath both main summits. "Christine, DO NOT come that way. There is a large area of quite steep rock."

There are various ways in which on-hill navigation has evolved in recent years: the rise of the GPS, the tendency not to bother with magnetic variation when adjusting the compass (fine just now when the adjustment is diddly-squat degrees, but likely to catch out some people in a few decades' time when it again starts to be significant); and now this, the line-of-sight hand-railing of colleagues courtesy of Vodafone or Orange.

FEW THINGS seem to be so divisive as phones on hills. Some people (eg the chap Gordon Smith met) hate them with a passion, some love them (eg a chap well-known in Marilynbagging circles who is renowned for his relentless on-hill texting), some are more or less indifferent. The Ed comes into this latter category: occasionally annoyed by the more boorish behaviour patterns of on-hill phoners, but at the same time entertained and amused - he likes people-watching, and phones add markedly to the entertainment quotient. Then there is the mountain-rescue angle. In a way, this is analogous to the old argument about the risks of climbing hills alone. Anyone who walks alone on a regular basis knows that the risk of a slip is less than when walking in company, because the concentration is cranked up to a higher level and there isn't the distraction of nattering to a companion. On that basis, walking alone is safer than walking in company. But should some incident occur all the same - a fall, a sudden and serious illness, a big navigational foul-up - then the solo walker is in markedly more trouble than one who can dispatch a colleague for help.

Something similar applies with phones on hills. There is evidence from MRT reports that, from time to time, people who suffer a mild, non-terminal mishap phone 999 pre-emptively to ask for advice and/or assistance. In the old days, when they wouldn't have had a phone with them, these people would inevitably have extricated themselves by means of graft, grit and gumption, as walkers and climbers have traditionally done. So it appears that phones have caused an increase, albeit slight, in the number of unnecessary callouts. But - and it's an important but - if someone has encountered a serious problem (an immobilising fall, for instance), then the chance to call the rescue services and pinpoint the location is of enormous help to everyone concerned, speeding the rescue and reducing the amount of the time that the rescuers themselves are at risk. Swings and roundabouts, as ever - and on the whole it would appear that rescue teams are pro rather than anti the trend for phones to be seen as near-essential pieces of hill kit.

Any thoughts on this? Observations, anecdotes? Paeans of phone-praise? Ringtone-related rants? It's a thoroughly modern phenomenon, there's a lot of it going on, and it isn't likely to diminish as an Volume in the foreseeable future.

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