Monday 14 November 2011

Tower Ridge, No. 4 Gully Marker and a can of worms.

So today I continued the pre-winter training with a bike ride to the dam and then up Tower Ridge. There have been reports on UKC of the No.4 Gully Marker being vandalised/removed so I headed over for a look.
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.

Something missing?

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.


Rog said...

Very good piece Al. I read about this today on the BBC website and to quote BBC "it was thought the marker had been removed in the past few days before a climber put it back in place."

I thought "surely this couldn't have been Mr Halewood" well it would appear it was!

All the best Rog

Luke said...

I'm not at all involved in this issue but I just wanted to thank you for your effort in righting what was, regardless of anyone's views on the ongoing consultation, a clear act of vandalism.

This is also a spectacularly well thought through and well argued blog post. Have some meaningless internet brownie points to go with your real-world good karma! :)

Unknown said...

Hi Alan, liked your post on Number 4 Gully. As a lower grade user of some of the Bens' facilties, for me the existence of the post would be useful. And as you say it's part of the furniture. Maybe one post is a small price to pay to keep us lesser mortals safe :)


Tim :)

Simon Yearsley said...

Hi Al - a very well worded blog, especially given the volume of absolute rubbish which has been spouted on UKC over the past 36hrs. I'm with you re the arguments for and against, as I can easily build a compelling case either way. As you say, let's make sure it stays in (back) in place and let the consultation process take its course.