JUST when I thought things couldn’t get any worse this winter I heard the news this evening that two of the mountaineers caught in an avalanche in Chalamain Gap in the Cairngorms today have died in hospital.
Needless to say my thoughts are very much with their friends and relatives. God only knows what sort of emotional turmoil they’ll be going through.
Just like the folk who died on Bidean last month and the those who have died in the Cairngorms more recently it’s a very sad picture. Happy people going out for a great day in the hills and not returning. I find it all so sad.
But what I find even more sad is the barrage of ill-informed comment from various tabloid journalists who know next to nothing about our love of mountains, about mountain safety or mountain rescue. Like Dorothy Grace Elder, who incensed listeners on BBC Radio Scotland yesterday with her call to curb access to Scotland’s winter hills. Apart from the fact that thousands of people gain immense joy and satisfaction from climbing and walking on our mountains how did she propose we close down the hills? Tie red tape all round the base of the hills? Call the military to stand guard and stop us setting foot on the hills? There was a strong sense of a lack of joined-up thinking in her knee jerk reaction.
The rubbish she spouted was also very badly researched for someone who claims to be a journalist. She kept on about there being over 50 deaths a year in Scotland’s mountains but the figures she was quoting included fatalities in non-mountain situations. I would have thought she’d know mountain rescue teams are often called to search for elderly people who go missing, or folk who have been swept away in floods, et. etc.The year she was quoting – 2011, there were 21 fatalities on Scotland’s mountains, and some of those were people who died from natural causes, like heart attacks.
The problem with people like the ex-MSP Miss Elder is that they see themselves as ‘campaigning journalists’, ever in search of a cause to sell more column inches. Doesn’t really matter what the cause is, and at the moment mountaineering is a very soft target.
I have no doubt at all that organisations like the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and the Scottish Avalanche Information Service will already be trying to think up fresh ways of getting their messages across. Despite its love of wind farms the current Scottish Government has supported mountain safety and has financially backed the likes of SAIS and Geoff Monks’ excellent Mountain Weather forecasts. As Patron of Mountain Aid, a charity that supports mountain rescue in Scotland I’ll certainly be doing what I can to help further the cause of education and mountain training. This is all positive stuff.
My real concern is that people will be put off going to the hills because of the ranting of these campaigning journalists. We need positivity at this time, not negative calls to ban people, to charge them for being rescued, by making insurance compulsory or by suggesting that those who encourage people into mountaineering are irresponsible.
Twenty three deaths in the Scottish mountains in one year is awful – but bear in mind that in the same year there were 6.5 million participation days, when all those people went to the hills, got themselves a little bit fitter, cleared their mind of all the rubbish our over sanitised society has thrown at them, and came home refreshed and rejuvenated by the natural world.
We have to put these very sad and unfortunate accidents into perspective. The vast, vast majority of hillwalkers, climbers and scramblers get untold joy from the hills. Long may that continue, in both summer and winter.