In all the years of TAC, surely no single structure has been mentioned in these pages as often as the Scottish Mountaineering Club's Charles Inglis Clark Memorial Hut on Ben Nevis. None of the editorial board of TAC has ever darkened the hut's portals, nor are they likely to, being resolutely unclubbable types and not exactly hard climbers either. But this hasn't in any way diminished the fascination with what is, essentially, a comic creation. For starters, there is the CIC's remarkable (and somewhat controversial) location, slap-bang beneath the country's biggest set of cliffs. Then there is the colourful clientele and the (somewhat controversial) reputation for keeping out undesirables - see, for example, Andy Beaton's letter on the back page of TAC72 concerning the role of the shovel as a means of repelling would-be invaders. And now comes news that the place is soon to be substantially increased in size - again, and inevitably, somewhat controversially.
TAC has seen a leaked copy of the proposals as outlined in the minutes for the SMC AGM held in Strathpeffer on 1 December 2007. Agenda Item No.5 was 'The CIC Hut Project', and comprised an update on the decision, made at the 2006 AGM, to give the SMC committee 'the remit of further investigating the situation at the CIC Hut'. The committee's report included the interesting detail that the hut (built in 1928) is leased from British Alcan Aluminium plc 'at an annual rent of five pence per annum'. Also, 'the lease expires on 27 November 2020 and the Club is in process of securing an extension to the lease to 27 November 2050 together with an increase in the site area to accommodate the proposed alterations.'
According to the 2007 report, the hut has space for 20 climbers (the SMC website says 18), and it is much in demand, in winter at least. The last major extension came in 1969, when the annexe was built, comprising a drying room and storage space. The report expressed concern over steady decay: 'the general fabric of the building is showing its age, notwithstanding the efforts of custodians and work parties over recent decades. Parts of the annexe in particular have deteriorated quite significantly; major water penetration at the roof junction has caused severe rot and there is general dampness throughout such that the property has taken on a very shabby and tired appearance.'
The committee proposed three main structural modifications: 'more space to separate wet areas from dry, a reduction in the high levels of condensation and a watertight roof'. Work is also needed 'in respect of toilet facilities for if we do nothing, sooner rather than later we will be held to account for what is quite correctly seen as environmentally irresponsible behaviour. We may then be at serious risk of being closed down (unless we rectified the situation promptly).' In other words, people are crapping here there and everywhere around the hut. ('The outside chemical toilet blew away in a January gale years ago and has not been replaced.' - http://www.smc.org.uk/Huts/CIC.htm)
It was proposed, and agreed with only five votes against, 'to replace the existing annexe with a properly built extension which will accommodate drying facilities, storage, a kitchen/dining area, toilets and the mountain rescue and Police telecomms equipment. The existing hut will then provide sitting and sleeping accommodation only. [...] The extension will be constructed to match the existing property and have an integrated appearance with the existing building. [...] Planning approval has been granted and all other statutory permissions required have been applied for. The building footplate will increase from 74.0m2 to 105.0m2 - an increase of some 42%. There will however be no increase in the occupant capacity from the existing 20 places. The existing fire exit arrangements will be reviewed and windows replaced if funds permit. A sunken compound for the gas cylinders on the NE side of the hut will have a secure enclosure and will also be screened to significantly reduce the visual impact of this fuel storage requirement. The existing wind-generator will be retained on its present site.'
As to the cludgie problem: 'there will be two toilets accessed from within the building. The toilets will use a proprietary 'long-term composting' system developed by Clivus. [...] The Clivus system comprises a chamber located below conventional looking but waterless seating units. The liquid is drained off to a small holding tank, after passing through the filter medium from where it can be transferred to a portable container and removed when a helicopter makes a gas lift. Solid material undergoes a composting process where the bulk shrinks very significantly over the years and it is estimated that removal of a little of the resultant compost will only be necessary after a period of many years, perhaps 20 or more. To deal with odours, a small fan draws air down through the toilet bowl...' (That's enough toilet talk - Ed.)
Clearly all this will cost a fair bit (although one would have thought that the 5p rent ought to have allowed a prudent club to stockpile a goodly wodge of hut-repair money over the years), and the projected budget is £178,894, rounded up to £200,000 to cover contingencies. This breaks down into ten component parts, the main ones being £19,000 for professional fees, £40,000 for 'preliminaries', £14,000 for 'underbuildings', £63,000 for superstructures and £8,500 for fitting out. £10,000 is being put aside for helicopter charges, linked with 'a building strategy involving significant design and off-site prefabrication' (in 1928 materials came in on horseback), while the bespoke toilet system is a relatively modest £2,500.
As to how to pay for all this, an application for Lottery funding was considered but rejected, as 'there was a view from members at the AGM of 2006 that if possible, we should try to pay for the work ourselves. This was because that while the possibility of Lottery grant assistance exists, such awards tend to be aimed at underprivileged groups and come with unacceptable conditions attached.'
The current proposed method of raising the dosh is:
£100,000 grant and loan (£50,000 of each), interest free, from the Scottish Mountaineering Trust (ie the SMC's charitable wing)
£38,000 from the Club Hut Fund
£30,000 from the Club Reserve Fund
£32,000 from club-member contributions
The report goes on to note: 'The possibility of obtaining tax relief on member's contributions has also been considered. Unfortunately, this is only possible if the recipient organisation has charitable status and this precludes the Club. The Scottish Mountaineering Trust has been approached in this regard but is wary of operating such a scheme as it feels it would not be appropriate for the Trust to jeopardise it's [sic] privileged charitable status (so far as income tax is concerned) to benefit another. The Club of course has no better claim on the Trust's resources than any other party.'
A proposal was also made to increase bed-night charges. This is unlikely to make huge inroads re the overall cost, however, as an increase from £7 to £10 at the CIC would bring in only another £3,600 based on an occupancy of 1200 bed-nights by non-SMC members. (SMC members currently stay for free; the member/non-member split in the CIC is 15%/85%.) Increasing fees for the other four SMC huts, from £7 to £8, would bring in another £4,000.
Perhaps with the dread words Dome and Holyrood in mind, concern was expressed to ensure that 'over-runs on the work as tendered, subject to expenditure of contingencies, become the responsibility of the appointed contractor'. This wasn't deemed feasible, however, as 'the location of the site, combined with the short construction window makes the job unattractive to most contractors and those who may be interested are unlikely to accept the job on a fixed price basis.' The recommendation was to 'make a direct approach to contractors with proven experience of projects of this nature and to project-manage the construction ourselves. We are very fortunate in having members with such professional and practical experience who have offered their services.'
TAC's editorial line on all this, insofar as it has one, is basically this: the SMC is a private club and, once having been granted planning permission (as it has here: see application 06/00344/FULLO on the Highland Council website), it can do what the hell it likes. The situation isn't really any different from a golf club wanting to extend its clubhouse. That said, the CIC hut does have a significant public profile due to its sensitive location, and it is important that the wider hillgoing public is made aware of the process whereby it is being extended. At present the SMC doesn't appear to have issued any press statements, and the first a lot of people will know about it is as a mysterious work-in-progress with helicopters buzzing along the Allt a'Mhuilinn. Also, a fair few non-SMCers stay in the hut via reciprocal arrangements with 'kindred clubs', and a great many people put money into the SMT coffers through buying guidebooks and the like. On that basis alone, this merits being out in the public domain.
Fact no.1: A force-11 gale on 1 February saw the UK-registered, Spanish-crewed trawler Spinningdale run aground on Hirta, causing conservationistas to go into a frenzy over the risk of rats getting ashore and munching through the St Kilda seabird population. The National Trust for Scotland, according to the Daily Telegraph, launched an 'emergency rat procedure'. Fact no.2: At least five Marilynbaggers have thus far reached either 1549 or (in the case of Ken Butcher of Dundee) 1550 of the 1554 summits in the Relative Hills list, meaning that the only obstacle to completion is the assortment of sea stacks and awkward-to-land-on islands that comprise St Kilda. Conclusion: these Marilynbaggers appear to have missed a trick by failing to put themselves forward as volunteer ratcatchers. Even though the Spinningdale ran aground on Hirta, which all five baggers have already visited in the course of climbing Conachair, once in post they could surely have argued that it was essential for them to go and check out the other islands, or at least the nearby ones of Soay and Dun.
As for the rat-panic generally, the blogger at http://maciverblog.co.uk/ made a healthily sceptical point, arguing that the publicity-obessed NTS (which 'owns' St Kilda) has managed to imply that the fishing industry runs dirty ships, even though it's all highly regulated and rats haven't been commonplace on trawlers for many years. 'As caretakers of such a precious, fragile site,' MacIver writes in his blog, 'the NTS may feel it cannot let any news about St Kilda go without its own, er, creative input'.
Amid all the hooha, the two appointed ratcatchers, Abbie Patterson and John Sinclair, became trapped for a while when the helicopter due to retrieve them was grounded by gales. A BBC cameraman also broke an ankle in the rush to get out there and film the rodent-endangered environment. But we can't be having climbers and baggers sullying the place, can we now? (By far the most important detail in the story - that the 14-man crew of the Spinningdale were winched to safety - at times seemed almost a footnote amid the disproportionate tide of eco-wildlife media babble. As TAC goes to press, there are still no confirmed reports of any actual rats having left the sinking ship.)
Amid all the obituarising and state-funeralising for Sir Edmund Hillary, one oddity seems to have been missed. The death on 11 January of the Everest pioneer, aged 88, saw him become the first name to be chalked off this year's DeathList, a very black-humour concept dating back to 1987 and to be found at http://www.deathlist.net The idea is neatly summed up in the site's own intro: 'DeathList is a carefully selected list of 50 celebrities chosen by the DeathList Committee before the start of each calendar year for their likelihood to die during that year. Candidates must have be famous [sic] in their own right such that their death is expected to be reported by the UK media. Candidates are not eligible if their only claim to fame is their imminent demise and no more than 25 celebrities that appeared on the previous year's list can be selected.'
Hot - if that's the word - favourite for being the first faller of 2008 had been the ailing former Indonesian president (some would say dictator) Suharto. But although he died on 27 January, this was well behind Hillary, who had only just returned to the list: his previous appearance had been in 1995. Hillary's passing led to a predictable wave of puns and poor-taste jokes on the DeathList forum (eg 'From 29,023 up to 6 feet under'), along with some genuinely affectionate comments: 'A very nice man, very sad news' and 'Well done DeathList, though a pity that it had to be him; I'd never heard anything but good about him'.
For what it's worth, TAC's Ed finds the DeathList a perfectly reasonable concept for the thick-skinned and not-easily-offended - the fact that the first two victims of 2008 were as diverse as Hillary and Suharto merely emphasises that death takes all sorts. The list seems markedly less dubious than the more widely known Darwin Awards (the rehashing of reports of death or maiming due to people's own stupidity), as these sail a good deal closer to making merry over the misfortunes of others. DeathList also has in its favour a good line in pithy job descriptions. Of the current 48 survivors on the 2008 list, Michael Foot is given simply as 'tramp', and Elizabeth Taylor as 'wife'. In the days when the Queen Mother was a staple of the list (eg she was on the 'disaster' of the 1991 edition which saw all 40 people survive), she appeared as 'entertainer'. Hillary was listed, plain and simple, as 'mountaineer'.
Bobby Fischer - surely one of the half-dozen strongest chess players ever to have drawn breath - died midway between Hillary and Suharto, on 17 January, and there must have been some on the DeathList Committee who were ruing not having named him among this year's 50. His demise had been mooted towards the end of 2007, when it was mentioned on the Daily Dirt chess blog, http://www. chessninja.com/dailydirt/, that 'Fischer's friends were worried about his health because he has largely ceased to go out walking and has been putting on a lot of weight'. This wasn't more widely reported at the time because Fischer was living in Reykjavik and there is an Icelandic tradition that illness is not reported in the media.
Whatever: Fischer's early death, aged just 64, does provide a cautionary reminder for those who shun walking and exercise generally. It was both striking and sad to see his transformation from scrawny youthful prodigy (he was still stick-like when he beat Boris Spassky in 1972, aged 29) to massive bear-like recluse. Mind you, his being a paranoid anti-semitic Jew was also surely at least a slight factor in his general ill-health, and if it comes to choosing between reclusive, sedentary obesity or expressing views such as 'I think the Jews want to drive the elephants to extinction, because the trunk of the elephant reminds them of an uncircumcised penis', then most of us are likely to regard the McDonald's life membership as the lesser of the evils.
Great chess player, not the most contented of souls, and evidently not much of a walker, either.
Also on chess, one of the Ed's favourite websites is Chandler Cornered, http://www.chessedinburgh.co.uk/chandler.php, produced by Geoff Chandler of Edinburgh chess club. Chandler can't spell for toffey, but he's quite a wag and has the written-humour equivalent of perfect timing. He's a great advocate for junior chess, and a report on last year's Lothian Junior Masters included the moves, from the primary school section, of a game by one Ben More. More had a chess grade of 552 at the time, but it's not known whether he has a north-west ridge. (For the uninitiated, 552 is very low. The Ed is currently graded 1502, while world champion Vishy Anand is up at a stratospheric 2799.)
The same tournament also featured Ben He, which readers will recognise as a Corbett quite close to Canis.
On a similar theme, when Rangers played Lyon in the Champions League in October and December (both games were three-nil wins for the away team), it was good to see Lyon fielding Ben Arfa. The Auld Alliance and all that.
Also on football, when England played (and lost to) Croatia in the final European Championship qualifier in November, the opera singer Tony Henry was chosen to belt out the national anthems before the game. God Save The Queen went fine (although he could surely have slipped in a line or two from the Pistols version, just for a laugh). But problems arose when he was meant to sing 'Mila kuda si planina' at the end of the Croatian anthem. This roughly translates as 'You know, my dear, how we love your mountains'. Fair enough. Except that what Henry actually sang, in front of 80,000 fans and - more to the point - in front of the Croatian players and dignitaries, was 'Mila kura si planina'. This translates as 'You know, my dear, my penis is a mountain'.
Henry was honest enough to admit the Devil's Point-esque gaffe: 'I can't even defend myself at the end of the day,' he told Radio 5 live. 'It was the last thing that I would intentionally do, and all I can say is if I have offended any Croatians, then they have my deepest apologies.'
Mike Dales used to be access and conservation officer for the MCofS, and now performs a similar role at the Scottish Canoe Association. In mid-January he circulated a report of an access problem encountered by an SCA committee member: 'Yesterday we did the Upper Lanarkshire Avon, it was huge; a great trip. One of us lost his paddles, so we left his kayak on the bank on the north side of the river by the 'Boulder Field'. We went back to rescue the boat (300ft down a muddy sided gorge), leaving the car on a grass verge of a lane about 50 yards from a cottage.
'Just as we were loading the boat onto the car a guy came out of the cottage and ended up threatening to beat the four of us up with a set of nunchukas he was swinging. We managed to placate him a bit but as we drove off he took a couple of swings at the car. We reported the incident to the police and a suspect was taken to Hamilton police station and 'is helping the police with their enquiries'. This wasn't really a canoeing incident, just us being at the wrong place at the wrong time...'
The police later charged the maniac martial arts enthusiast with breach of the peace. It makes some of the few remaining hill-access problems (eg Braemore Lodge) seem almost mild by comparison.
Having said that, the saga of the Alltchaorunn bridge down Glen Etive, seemingly resolved by the introduction of the Scottish Land Reform Act, has cropped up again. This had long been an access blackspot, given its potential for trapping walkers and climbers at the end of a long and rough day, but as reported in TAC66 (p15), Highland Council served the estate with a Section 14(2) order, forcing them to remove the padlock and barbed wire, otherwise the council would do it anyway and bill the estate for the work. The padlock has not returned, but news of a fresh deterrent comes from Marischal Sinclair: 'Last Sunday [20 January], while crossing the boggy bypass route around Alltchaorunn Lodge, having climbed Beinn Mhic Chasgaig, myself and two companions were met with three barking and snarling large black labradors. One of them had its hackles raised and attempted to bite the back of my calf but I managed to ward it off with my walking pole. The landowner here is well known for his dislike of hillwalkers - locked gate and barbed wire for many years before Right to Roam. Is this another ploy to prevent access to the hill? Have any other walkers had a similar experience at this location?'
Late news: the police have spoken with the dog owner.
Thanks to Rob Woodall for forwarding a report of Stephen Pyke breaking the Scottish 4000s record on 14/15 July last year. Pyke completed the route (133km distance with 5200m of ascent) in 20hr 23min, carving 76 minutes off Martin Stone's 1986 record, and in poor weather, too. The route starts at Glen Nevis youth hostel, finishes at the Norwegian Stone, Glenmore, and takes in a considerable amount of big stuff in Lochaber and the Cairngorms.
And the news pages on http://ukclimbing.com/ reported a record time for the winter Ramsay Round (the eastward extension of the old Tranter Round at Glen Nevis) by Shane Ohly on 14/15 February. Starting with Ben Nevis and finishing along the Mamores), Ohly did the loop of 60 miles, 8700m of ascent and 23 Munros in 29hr 59min 34sec (how dipping under 30 hours must have pleased him), carving almost four hours off Gary Tompsett's previous winter-best time from 2003. The fastest summer time remains Adrian Belton's extraordinary 18hr 23min effort from 1989. See http://www.ramsaysround.com/ and http://www.ukclimbing.com/news/index.html#n42676
Back, finally, to the subject of leaks. Is any member of the Wainwright Society (anonymity preserved, natch) willing to supply a copy of a letter sent to members by society chairman Eric Robson and which has seemingly put a few noses out of joint? TAC doesn't know the details, but it is said to concern the ever-crazier trend for young kids completing the 214 Wainwrights. Any inside information gratefully received.
TAC 73 Index