Thursday, 24 September 2009
The summit plateau may be infested with banana peel, but an even greater hazard plagues the area surrounding the Ben Nevis North Face car park at Torlundy and the approach up the Allt a'Mhuillin; they are practically paved with excrement.
Ben Nevis reflected in the calm waters of Loch Eil (February 2007)
The John Muir Trust announced this week that as many as 1,000 banana skins may be found on the summit plateau of Ben Nevis. The trust are not concerned that hillgoers may slip and tumble to their deaths; they are more worried about the environmental impact, claiming that the peel may take up to two years to degrade.
The specific issue of banana skins has been debated hotly on winterhighland.info. Ukclimbing.com also has a more general thread about the issue of littering on Ben Nevis. Both have touched on the related topic of inconsiderate defecation in the hills in general and on Ben Nevis in particular.
Ben Nevis north face. Northeast Buttress (February 2006)
As Scotland's highest mountain, Ben Nevis has some of the most reliable winter climbing conditions and as such it attracts more climbers than any other. Most weekends between December and April will see literally hundreds arrive early at Torlundy to set out for a day's sport. It is this early start combined with caffeine, pre-climb nerves and a complete absence of toilet facilities that lead so many to indulge in inconsiderate al fresco bowel evacuations.
Ben Nevis north face ice climbing. Comb Gully (March 2007)
I am keen to see a waterless composting toilet installed at Torlundy, having had the pleasure of using such toilets while walking Tasmania's Overland Track. Recently I spotted what I took to be a similar facility in Scotland at Abriachan (I took a photo of Abriachan, but not the actual toilet). These toilets are engineering marvels and deserve to be more popular. A solar powered fan draws air down the pan to aid the composting process and this also results in a significant reduction in olfactory impact.
Composting toilet in Tasmania's Cradle Mountain National Park (2002)
Sadly, the provision of a composting toilet would not rein in the behaviour those who willfully seek to contaminate the outdoors. I don't think that many people would deliberately allow the brown dog to scratch and gnaw at the door until they had carried their foul cargo into the countryside, however, it would not surprise me if, having been caught unawares, some people try to exhibit, rather than conceal, their output. I am sure that we have all seen the results of this type of behaviour in public toilets - shit on the floor beside the pan or smeared up the walls. The perverted minority reponsible for such depraved acts are sure to be represented among hillgoers - for example there was a thread some time back on ukclimbing.com about a jobby right in the middle of the Ben Nevis path and I have seen one in the Glencoe carpark with my own eyes.
Now I enjoy an outdoor dump every bit as much as an indoor one, often more. I keep one of those military-style folding shovels in my van so I can ensure that any unexpected brown visitors are given a decent burial.
Saturday, 19 September 2009
Ski touring in the Swiss Alps: Bernese Oberland via the Jungfraujoch
The ski mountaineering playground of the Bernese Oberland is hidden from the alpine ski resort of Kleine Scheidegg by the forbidding ramparts of the Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau. The buildings of the Jungfraujoch – Europe's highest railway station - nestle like turrets or battlements on the ridge that connects the Jungfrau to the Moench. They provide a halfway house between the familiar world of buildings and trees and the unseen realm of the Oberland, with its glaciers and kilometre thick ice, an echo of the Karakoram lurking in the middle of Europe, like a stowaway in a ship’s hold.
The Jungfraujoch is visible in the col between the Moench and the Jungfrau. Kleine Scheidegg is in the foreground, just right of centre. The Eiger is out of shot to the left.
As we awaited the Jungfraubahn at Kleine Sheidigg, the sun popped into view, perfectly and centrally located in the col between the Eiger and the Moench. All that had been shaded was now bathed in light. As the sun's rays caressed my face I felt that our timing was auspicious, astronomically perfect, as if we had arrived just in time to catch the light of the solstice illuminating the back wall of a neolithic tomb.
The Jungfraubahn (Eiger railway) with the hotel at Kleine Scheidegg and the Eiger in the background. the train goes through the north face of the Eiger, stopping at windowed galleries en route.
The Konkordia hut is to the right of this photo, above and to the left of the obvious gully that splits the lower face. The infamous hut ladders can be seen zig-zagging up the face to the left of the gully
Euphoria engulfed me as I skinned up the Konkordiaplatz. Teams ahead were swallowed by the white desert, dwarfed. The North wind carried a carpet of spindrift across my path. Occasionally a lone spiral pirouetted in front of me. Ten thousand years ago the great Moor of Rannoch may have looked similar to this. If the Konkordiaplatz were to turn to lochan-studded moorland, what would the rest of the world look like? Clouds began to form; a dark shadow below the glacier tricked me into seeing a lochan, into glimpsing the future?This trip took place in the winter of 2009 (March 16th – 20th).
Sunday, 13 September 2009
Alone in the Wild
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
One wedding and an operation
Haven't had any time for blogging this week due to just having had one of the most eventful weeks of my life, crammed full of highs and lows.
On saturday I got married - a great day and a great relief that all went well. On monday morning we took our daughter into hospital to have her hip dysplasia fixed. Developmenal hip dysplasia (DDH) is a relatively common condition in which the hip bone is not properly seated in its socket. Normally it is picked up early - in which case it is easily treated - but unfortunately in our case it wasn't picked up until she was 16 months old, leaving surgery as the only option.
More disturbing than the prospect of the surgery itself is the week of traction that precedes the operation. It was heartbreaking to see our lovely daughter, fresh from her flower girl duties, trussed up in a system of bandages, ropes and pulleys that would not look out of place in a medieval torture chamber. Fortunately she has proved to be extremely adaptable and is as happy as can reasonably be expected.
They say that every cloud has a silver lining - I've had to think pretty hard to find the bright side of my family honeymooning in the hospital while I honeymoon separately at home but at least I have plenty leftover pork from the wedding hog roast to sustain me!