The John Muir Trust who manage the upper part of Ben Nevis have been consulting various bodies about both this and other markers on Ben Nevis and as I approached No.4 Gully I had confirmation that someone had jumped the gun and removed the post.
I spotted it lying 30m down No.4 Gully with a couple of plastic bags of cement that I didn't bother to inspect as I slid down to it.
I decided to put it back. Now my reasons for this are less to do with whether it should be there or not than the attitude of those who tossed it into the Gully. In fact I really don't care whether its there or not. I'm not a huge fan of markers in the hills but this one has been here most of my climbing career so I have a sentimental fondness for it. That is not a good reason for keeping it. Arguments about it being the thin end of the wedge and leading to further artificial navigation aids are patently nonsense as its been there a long time and our hills are largely free of such markers. Those who say that only those who can find the gully with or without it being there, or that say that those planning to down climb a Grade I can surely navigate well enough are also sadly wrong. There are many, many people on Ben Nevis, walking and climbing, summer and winter whose navigation and other mountaineering skills lag far behind their technical climbing ability. I meet them every winter on the plateau and have often had to help parties confirm where they are... or even lead them off the hill. Blame it on sport climbing, climbing walls, drytooling and the loss of the apprenticeship to the hills if you will (some people need to find something to blame for everything) but it seems to be true now perhaps more than in the past. Still none of these are for me a sufficiently convincing argument to sway me one way or the other.
However...... the idea that a small number of individuals decided to take it upon themselves to unilaterally decide to vandalise the marker left me a tad annoyed. The issue is not one for a limited discussion. If it is believed that the marker is navigationally important (or even doing no harm) then what right do a couple of random climbers have to toss it into the gully themselves? The JMT are inviting opinions. People can have their say. At the end of the day the presence of a 6 foot pole with a No. 4 engraved on it doesn't appear to have eroded ourmountaineering culture in the last however long its been there and it might even have done some good in the past. I'm happy to join the debate on an individual level and let the JMT make the decision as the landowners and a body that are very aware of both the practical and more emotive issues involved in the management of such areas in Scotland.
Ah, there it is...
I dragged the thing back up the gully and excavated the cairn (the base was either mud and rubble or possibly rotten cement) and buried the lower part of the pole (it has 2 x shaped cross pieces- 1 at the base, one about a foot up) in the cairn again. It is not solid enough to abseil on without a large weight of snow around it- climbers must as usual make their own assessment of what to do about descending No.4.
There is nothing to stop someone else going and taking it down again. But if they feel that strongly about it why aren't they acting to become part of the decision making process? To act unilaterally as they have done seems a selfish way to behave and their belief that their opinions give them the right to make this decision on the behalf of the rest of us is just overweening arrogance.
Back home again... for the present.
There is a lively debate on UKC here and a link to the JMT consultation process through their News article.
Not a bad day all in all...
And finally... here is a nice wee piece about the kerfuffle in the Caledonian Mercury.