Dislocation, repetition, extraction…
OCCASIONALLY A HILL DAY comes along that seems unusually full of interest, and Sunday 8 June 2008 on Catstye Cam and Helvellyn was one such day for the Ed and Calum Hind (scion of the Glasgow literary world and occasional contributor to these pages). An unhurried 80 minute-walk from Glenridding brought the day’s first objective: Keppel Cove dam. This stands tight under the north-west ridge of Catstye Cam at about 550m, and is a curiosity.
It was built, as most dams are, to restrain the waters of a reservoir, but these had contrived to escape in 1931. This caused considerable damage — but no fatalities — in Glenridding below, and left the bare dam stretched across a waterless hollow. It doesn’t seem to have been repaired in the subsequent decades, at least not well enough to hold water again, but it has stayed upright and remarkably intact given how much wind and weather it must have witnessed.
What is notable about it, from a walker’s point of view, is the airiness of the crest. The TAC visitors didn’t make any precise measurements (perhaps a Ponds-based reader could oblige?), but it’s roughly 1.5m wide throughout its length of 100 metres or so, and the middle section stands 20m above the floor of the valley on both sides. It’s a lot narrower than the modern hydro dam-tops across which eople routinely walk (Turret, Sloy and so on), and there’s no hint of a parapet or safety rail. It’s not quite narrow enough to be a real test of balance, not quite wide enough to be a worry-free stroll, especially as throughout its length there are small upjutting bits of wirework, presumably relics of the days when the dam had a proper crest rather than the roughshod appearance it has now. One wouldn’t want to stumble over the wirework, as the margins for error are small: a fall from anywhere in the middle section would be fatal. The upstream face of the dam is vertical, the downstream side only marginally less so, maybe 85°. There are good photographs of it on Ann Bowker’s Mad About Mountains site: go to www.keswick.u-net.com/, click on Wainwright’s Lakeland Fells, then click on Eastern Fells, Catstycam (sic), 16/3/03 and 3/10/04.
The dam is one of those places where mood is likely to play a part. It wouldn’t be wise to try and cross it on a windy or icy day, but even in calm conditions it’s possible to imagine arriving at one end and not really fancying it: there is, after all, a simple if rather dull down/up alternative alongside. There are also fences and Keep Off — Unsafe Structure signs at either end, but the intrepid(ish) TAC team was up for the adventure, so they clambered over the barrier and set off along the artificial arête.
The Ed went first, with Calum close behind although not close enough to risk catching a heel, and on reaching the far side it transpired that both had experienced the same curious phenomenon. Because the crest is narrow enough to see straight down simultaneously out of the corner of each eye, at normal walking pace there was a backward-scrolling of the peripheral vision on both sides, a weird visual wooshing due to the difference in perceived relative speed between the dam crest and the ground away below. While not quite prompting dizzy-wobbliness, this did add a certain edge to the process. It was like a vertiginous form of travel sickness, akin to gazing sideways out of a moving car while keeping half an eye on the forward view through the windscreen.
Neither walker had experienced anything quite like it before, and both found that it led to a slight slowing, whereupon the effect became less of a problem. Another tactic might have been to use hands as blinkers, blocking out everything other than the dam-top itself.
It felt rather exhilarating in a glad-to-get-across kind of way. It’s almost certainly good practice for something, although quite what is open to question. Perhaps the nearest real-hill equivalents, in Scotland at least, are the flat part of the Devil’s Ridge, and the upper part of the long side of the In Pinn, from where the angle banks off and it becomes little more than an awkward and very exposed walk. (It could also form early-stage training for El Caminito del Rey; see www.brightcove.tv/title.jsp?title=1438490562 for something genuinely airy; thanks to Mr Blackett for the link.)
Have any readers crossed Keppel Cove dam, and have there been any scares? Do let TAC know if so: it doesn’t seem to be much written about, perhaps because of health-and-safety concerns on the part of publishers, perhaps because it’s not that often done, especially given the Keep Off signs. Looking back down from halfway up Catstye Cam, one other party was seen to approach it, but they took the solid-ground bypass route alongside. Wimps.
THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN ENOUGH excitement for one day, but it was only the start. Catstye Cam was duly slogged up (the bottom part is quite steep and messy, akin to the slope up Stuc a’Chroin from the Vorlich col, but higher is more pleasant, especially if the path is avoided), then Swirral Edge was crossed en route to the Helvellyn plateau. Swirral — and Striding Edge later — felt as wide as the five-lane bit of the M8 compared with the dam.
It was busy on top, as busy as any sunny summer Sunday on Helvellyn (that’s part of the point of going there: to see the masses out enjoying themselves), and after lunch at the edge of the Red Tarn slope the afternoon session started with a stroll across to the memorial to Mr Dixon and his allegedly flesh-nibbling dog.
Here a group of six or seven blokes came across, and one asked if Striding Edge was the intention. On being told yes, Mr Spokesman-Bloke said there was an injured walker down there and asked if help could be provided when he was reached. The answer was of course yes, but the oddness of the request was shown by the following exchange: Ed — “But surely he can’t be that badly injured if you left him?” Mr S-B — “Well, yes, he is in quite a bad way…”.
The casualty was duly found, 20 minutes later, at the foot of the bottleneck chimney at the west end of Striding Edge. This is arguably the only place on the ridge that calls for genuine Grade 1 scrambling and is where (presumably) most Helvellyn incidents and accidents occur. The man was aged around 50, from Essex, and was indeed in less than great shape. He had slipped coming down the chimney (he later said that he might have rushed slightly due to having felt pressure from the queue) and had clattered sideways into the rock. It immediately appeared, even to laymen’s eyes, that one of his shoulders had dislocated. It was a warm day — during the 90 minutes or more that followed, the TAC pair didn’t resort to trackie tops never mind fleeces — but the casualty sat hunched inside a cagoule, flinching as waves of pain went through him. His son, 20ish, was there, and while the father had climbed a few hills in his time and had even been along Striding Edge before, the son was new to the game. The holiday had been to introduce him to its joys. Some introduction.
A young couple were hanging around offering encouragement and ibuprofen, but headed off once the TAC team said they would stay as long as was needed. To fast-forward the next bit of the story, Patterdale MRT were phoned by the son once it became clear that there was no sensible way of helping the father down given that he couldn’t use his hands (the slope down to Red Tarn was too loose and messy), and after 90 minutes the doughty team members began to appear, the dislocation was formally diagnosed and in due course the casualty was winched and wheeched away to Cumberland Infirmary by the big yellow taxi that arrived from RAF Boulmer.
So, a happy ending to a fairly routine hill-accident, if a decidedly painful one for the casualty himself. What stuck in the mind, however, was the behaviour of the group met up on the Helvellyn plateau. It’s impossible to know what they were thinking (unless one of them responds to this piece come TAC75), and there should be no suggestion of malice in what they did — it was fecklessness at worst. But given that they appeared to have either seen the accident happen, or to have passed by in the immediate aftermath, why didn’t they hang around to offer assistance rather than asking others to do so half an hour later? They were well placed to provide help, in that three or four could have stayed with the casualty while the rest hared downhill. In the days before mobile phones, someone would have had to have physically gone to get help; has the ubiquity of phones on hills caused the traditional and most obvious way of helping a casualty to be eroded so quickly? Alternatively, of course, one of them could have phoned, but again it appears that they didn’t.
Late that night, after Calum turned on his computer back home in Glasgow, he came across something called “bystander effect”, summarised in its Wikipedia entry as follows: “Solitary individuals will typically intervene if another person is in need of help: this is known as bystander intervention. However, researchers were surprised to find that help is less likely to be given if more people are present. In some situations, a large group of bystanders may fail to help a person who obviously needs help.” Was this what was happening here? Helvellyn was undoubtedly busy, and bystander effect would suggest that the group might not have acted in the way they did had the casualty been the only other person on the hill. Their being a small and seemingly informal group — with peer pressure possibly an issue — might also have come into play. Ditto the location: a famous Lakeland fell which serves as a magnet for all manner of non-regular hillgoers, as opposed to some away-up-a-glen Scottish hill where everyone is likely to be fairly experienced and clued-in to the idea that if an injured person is found, one’s own agenda has to be put on hold or even abandoned to provide the only assistance the person is likely to get. It’s noteworthy in this regard that after an hour at the foot of the chimney, the casualty, his son and the TAC duo were joined by an experienced-looking pair from — in one case — Bearsden, who immediately twigged what was happening without being told, and who likewise slammed on the brakes and chose to hang around until the situation was sorted. In the Highlands, this is surely second nature, or damn well ought to be.
The direction of travel might also have been a factor, in that the non-Samaritans were heading towards Helvellyn when they came across the accident, towards what was almost certainly their day’s main target, the summit of the hill. Would they have reacted differently — ie hung around to offer help — had they been coming off Helvellyn, with the target already ticked? Impossible to say, and in a perverse way it’s to be hoped that they would have reacted the same, suggesting it was just dopiness on their part rather than any agenda-driven prioritisation of a summit over a casualty. (The inevitable comparison with the grim 2006 Everest incident — where several summit-bound climbers pressed on past the dying David Sharp rather than attempting to help or provide in-extremis company — was discussed with the Helvellyn man, once it had been sussed out that he wasn’t in mortal danger himself. Mind you, neither frostbite nor confusion arising from the effects of altitude was much of a risk on Striding Edge.)
To give the walk-on-by party their due, the earnestness with which they entreated the TAC duo to provide help did suggest that, if not racked with guilt, they had at least developed doubts about their behaviour during the half-hour that they’d had to dwell on it. And at least they did ensure, albeit by an unorthodox route, that the rescue process was set in train and the casualty didn’t end up spending a night on the fells. It’s also possible that the casualty, in the initial shock of the slip, hadn’t realised the severity of his injury and had waved away offers of help.
But surely the overriding attitude in such situations has to be do as you would be done by. Overall, it was a strange and thought-provoking incident, and again observations are welcome. (The basics are briefly detailed on the Patterdale MRT site: go to www.mountainrescue.org.uk, then click on 2008 incidents and scroll down to rescue 34.)
SOME UPDATES on same-hill repeating — see TAC73 pp3–6. Denis (not Dennis as originally reported) Carr has been in touch concerning his North Berwick Law tally. This stood at 2289 as of 8/6/08, his 2000th ascent having been made on 31/12/00, not during 2005 as reported in TAC73. Ascent no.2001 duly came at 7:30am on 1/1/01. He first climbed it in 1977; the most he has done in a year is 204, in 1993, and the most in a day is seven, in May 1992. Now aged in his early 80s, he is “still going up North Berwick Law but not as often. I am however still doing Lammer Law, parts of the Southern Upland Way and the odd Munro”. (This prompts a question: who is the oldest person to have climbed a Munro? Several people in their early/mid 80s are known to be Munro-active, and there are likely to have been ascents of easy Cairnwell-type Munros by people in their late 80s. Does anyone know of a nonagenarian having summited a Munro under their own steam?)
John Kirk of Colne has also been in touch, concerning Pendle. He says he “lost count by the mid-1960s”, but reckons he is up around 2500 ascents in total. The first came in 1957, and “since 1980 I have climbed it in a usual year a couple of times a week, perhaps 80 times a year. In the 1990s I used it as my training ground, and in March I would climb it virtually every day, building up by the end of the month to five times an evening to get match-fit for the Munros. (Five Pendle Hills = one Munro in the fabled ‘Mars Bar’ units.) There are probably lots of runners and others who have made many hundreds of ascents, it is rare not to meet anyone on the hill. I have climbed it every Christmas morning for the last teens of years, whatever the weather. In the early 1970s I could get from road to summit and back in 17 minutes. Now it takes 45 minutes, so it must have grown considerably in the last 40 years!” He has also made “perhaps 800-plus” ascents of Boulsworth Hill: around 25 times a year and “a tradition for New Years Day”.
Richard Wood’s totals, as of 12/3/08, were 1046 for Sron a’Choire Ghairbh, 1026 for Ben Tee (despite having reached 1000 on Ben Tee 21 months before he did so on the Sron), and 863 for Meall na Teanga. Sgorr na Diollaid also appears likely to reach four figures in due course, it being his favoured local hill since he moved from Invergarry to Cannich. Wood is believed to be the only person to have achieved the Triple Crown of 1000 different Marilyns (1511 as of the end of 2007), 1000 Munros (he’s been up at least 6000), and 1000 times up the same hill (Ben Tee in his case; Munros are discounted to avoid overlap with the second part). If anyone else is reckoned to have achieved all three of these, please let TAC know.
Alan Douglas, meanwhile, made his 2000th ascent of Ben Lomond in perfect winter conditions on 18/3/08, while multi-round Munro specialist Steven Fallon reported being just 15 hills short of his 14th round as of 21 July (“six in the far north and nine on Skye”), with a possible finish in September. It will have been over two years since his 13th finish (Sgurr nan Eag, 16/7/06). “All this hill racing gets in the way,” he notes. He’s pretty damn good at the hill racing, though, having had a steady succession of high-place finishes wearing his Carnethy vest, and having won on the aforementioned Ben Tee last year.
“IT’S LIKE COMMENTATING from the top of Ben Lomond” — Chick Young on Radio Scotland, 10 April, during the UEFA Cup quarter-final between Sporting Clube de Portugal (aka Sporting Lisbon) and Rangers at the Estádio José Alvalade. The stadium’s capacity, 50466, is exactly the same as the capacity of Ben Lomond. Remarkable.
ON THE SUBJECT of Rangers, this was spotted by Stuart Benn in the Belfast News Letter, 7 April:
Orangemen are planning to carry a Lambeg drum to the top of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the United Kingdom. Members of Banbridge Bible and Crown Defenders LOL 423 have already taken a Lambeg to the top of Slieve Donard. They raised £4300 for the Orange Order Ghana fund through sponsorship of the Slieve Donard climb. The Order has members in Ghana and the money will be spent supporting its work there. “About 30 of us took it in turns to carry the drum to the top of Slieve Donard in June last year,” said lodge Worshipful Master David Watson. “It was primarily a fundraising project, but there was a lot of fun included as well.
“It was amazing to stand at the top of the mountain and beat the drum. Practically everyone who made the climb wanted to finish off by playing the Lambeg.
“Orangemen belonging to Sons of Conquerers [sic] LOL 162 from Glasgow have strong links with their brethren in Co Down and four of them came over for the Slieve Donard adventure.
“Our Scottish friends suggested we go to the top of Ben Nevis and we thought why not? The drum is about two stone in weight and we have designed a special stretcher to carry it to the top. It will be fairly tough work and we are already in training.”
LOL indeed. “Derry Lodge might have been more appropriate”, notes Benn.
HAMISH BROWN’S The Last Hundred (his 1994 collection of essays with the tremendous side-on picture of Tower Gap on the cover) doesn’t seem the most likely of books to make an appearance on Newsnight. But there it was, on the 18 July edition, clearly visible on a bookshelf alongside Gordon Brown’s The Red Paper on Scotland, during an interview with Bill Campbell of Mainstream Publishing.
TAC HASN’T YET been able to establish whether Gordon Brown has climbed any hills during his short time in office (unlikely, but you never know), but following the reports in TAC73 that William Gladstone and Tony Blair both managed prime ministerial ascents (Ben Macdui and a couple of Pyrenean things respectively), further investigations have been made. TAC wrote to the cricket-loving John Major, and his chief of staff, Arabella Warburton, kindly replied: “Unfortunately, whilst Sir John was working in Nigeria in 1966, and a passenger in someone else’s car, he was involved in a rather serious car accident in which he almost lost a leg. I’m afraid this has, of course, seriously restricted his active participation in most outdoor activities, including hill walking.”
As for Major’s predecessor, it’s hard to imagine Mrs T climbing any hill at all, at least not without trying to privatise it, and this appears to be confirmed by a posting on Iain Dale’s blog (http://iaindale.blogspot.com/) on 6 April. Dale quoted an extract from Ferdinand Mount’s memoir Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes. Mount was head of Thatcher’s policy unit, and recalls an incident from the early 1980s:
Her mother-hen aspect is always to the fore in her concern for her staff, even in the relentless routine of Downing Street. “You’ve got a cold coming on, Ferdy.”
“No, I don’t think so, Prime Minister.”
“Yes, you have, I’m sure. You need some Redoxon.”
“Honestly, Prime Minister, I promise you I haven’t.”
It is 9:30pm and the meeting has already been going on for two hours and I have been groaning inwardly at the mind-numbing tedium of it all and unfortunately one of the groans has escaped.
“I’ve got some Redoxon in the flat. I’ll go and get it.”
“No, please don’t. I’m sure we’ve got some at home and anyway I don’t need it.”
“One always needs Redoxon.” And she shoots out of the room, up two and a half flights of stairs, to get me the blasted pills that I don’t need, while everyone else in the room looks furiously at me for causing this further delay.
It is hard to think of another prime minister in British history who would have insisted on interrupting a meeting and going to get the Redoxon herself. In fact, looking back on it, I think going upstairs to fetch it was the most sustained piece of physical exercise I ever saw her take.
So it appears that the notion of Maggie having enjoyed the odd walking weekend with Denis can be deemed unlikely. (Their having taken a stroll up Ingleborough after hopping off the Settle-to-Carlisle train at Ribblehead is even less likely, given her antipathy towards the railway network.) Possibilities concerning various earlier premiers remain, however.
Late news: on 14 August Helen Clark, current New Zealand PM, along with her husband and the country’s energy and tourism ministers, spent the day ski-touring in the Two Thumb Range. On returning to a hut, their guide, Gottlieb Braun-Elwert (59), collapsed and died. See www.alpinist. com/ The range rises to 2073m at Beuzenberg Peak.
HILL-RELATED personalised number plates (CAN 15P etc) have featured in these pages before (see p17 of both TAC50 and TAC51), so it was amusing to see JMU 1R parked less than a mile from TAC Towers in mid-July. Presumably a few John Muir fans — the kind of people labelled “Wildernistas” by Messrs Gray and Spedding — would secretly hanker after such a plate; imagine, for instance, the bragging rights that would come from being able to park it at a John Muir Trust conference. But when spotted, JMU 1R was attached to a Range Rover, and what’s more a very swish-looking, bells-and-whistles Range Rover. So we have a delicious quandary: one of the most eco-desirable plates attached to one of the most gas-guzzling, climate-changing vehicles. What is a planet-saving eco-head with leanings towards car-vanity meant to do? Buy the plate and reassign it to a Prius?
SPOTTED BY TAC’s proofreader, on the Archers messageboard, www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbarchers/, at the start of July: a user named Kelsa replying to someone who goes by the pseudonym Drystane Dyke:
A guy I know has been told to rewrite, in a guide book he has written, all references to drystane dykes “because the English won’t understand the term”. (Guide is to Scottish mountains, published by Scottish Mountaineering Council)
“Scottish Mountaineering Council” could be either the SMC or the MCofS, probably the former. Who is the guy Kelsa knows, and is it indeed policy to deScotificate their guidebooks? Does Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment at Holyrood, know of this?
MIKE DALES, once of the MCofS, now with the Scottish Canoe Association, brings news of plans to close the final 600 metres of the Glen Etive road, the bit along the lochshore. It’s timber-extraction time, and here, as at other locations (eg the northeastern shore of Loch Lomond), it’s not straightforward. The Etive alterations will, Dales notes, “affect sea paddlers more than walkers, but will make a difference to all who go to the end of the road for their recreation”.
Highland Council (HC) has refused to allow Scottish Woodlands to extract overland, which would have entailed major disruption along the 13-mile Glen Etive road to Rannoch Moor and the A82. The road is owned by Glenetive Estate (part of Blackmount Estate), but is maintained by HC. So it’s to be done by sea, and the timber lorries need access to the pier at the head of the loch. A proposal to build a new forest road, parallel to and uphill from the current road, was also refused, as it’s a designated/protected area.
Hence the lower part of the existing road will see a large number of lorries trundle along it over a considerable period. Given the impact this will have on walkers, climbers and kayakers, HC is building a new free car park which, Dales reports, “will include launching facilities down to the mean low water spring contour line and at least 15 parking spaces. Driving down the glen, it will be on the left-hand side just before the barrier. When timber operations aren’t ongoing, the barrier will be removed and the public will be able to drive to the pier as they do at the moment. The car park will be available for use at all times. Overall I feel we have got a good deal out of this for recreational visitors to the glen.”
As to the timescale, felling could go on for “20 years or more” according to a senior Scottish Woodlands official. It’s believed however that most felling will be completed over the next five years, “with a much lower level of production thereafter”. The car park should be completed by late September, and although forestry work has already started, the end of the road hasn’t been closed as of going to press.
As to how the felling might affect the useful Gleann Charnan track to Beinn Fhionnlaidh, that remains to be seen.
THROUGH THE POST, from the Guardian, comes A Gleaming Landscape, a rather fine collection of Country Diary pieces from the paper dating back to 1904. (Aurum Press, ISBN 978 1 84513 368 9, £8.99.) It’s more flowers and birds than hills and crags (at least until Harry Griffin makes his first appearance, in 1952), but it’s a good read, helped considerably by a nicely written series of introductory pieces by Martin Wainwright, the paper’s northern editor. The first country diarist (and still one of the best) was Thomas Coward, a Cheshire-based dyer and bleacher “who was, to put it mildly, fanatical about birds”. Coward appears frequently in the first part of the collection, and Wainwright notes that he was “given a signed column (only the initials TAC but that was fame in those days)”. Fame these days, too.
MARTIN WAINWRIGHT also wrote, in the Guardian for 25 August, of the death five days earlier of his namesake Betty, widow of the great AW. She was aged 86 and had been ill for some time. MW recalled the early days of her fell-wandering: “He [AW] initially refused to take her on the fells, but she was eventually allowed to go, so long as she stayed a few paces behind and did not talk.”
LOST ON 12 July, a Tag watch, on the way down from Aonach Shasuinn, probably on the track from Cougie to the Loch Affric car park. And found, part-way up the west side of Ben Buck in the Ochils on 16 August, a TOG 24 jacket.
THE EDITOR sends hearty congratulations to long-time TAC reader Gordon Ingall of Dalton-in-Furness, who completed an impressively slow Munro round when he climbed the In Pinn on 8 August. First to last took exactly 51 years.
FINALLY, a couple of interesting blogs. John Dunbavin (plus dog) has spent the summer walking from Kendal to Cape Wrath via all the Munros to raise money for the Anthony Nolan Trust and Second Chances German Shepherd Rescue. Details at www.johnandskye.blogspot.com/, and for a list of previous self-propelled solo rounds of the Munros, see TAC68 p4. The Ed missed bumping into him by just 24 hours at the Allt Sheicheachan bothy in mid-July.
And further south, Ray Wood is monitoring the weather-hindered progress of the Snowdon summit café reconstruction: http://blog.snowdonia-active.com/