Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What is the world coming to?

There are many many things that indicate (in my opinion) that society these days is in a complete mess. I couldn't possibly begin to list them all. But here is a tale:

Last Monday morning, a nice sunny spring morning such as we hadn't seen for a while, Ian and I set out upon a walk up Coniston Old Man. As we approached the mountains, the sun was glinting off patchy snow up on the tops. Ooh, snow, we thought. On we went, and we had just reached the snow line at the first col, and were considering building a snow cairn, when mist (mist?! but it was a sunny day…) began to roll in. So instead we ate a mars bar, donned some more layers, and set off up a deep crunchy snowy path to the summit. So far, so good. The summit, which we reached at 11am, was pretty snowy, but not too cold–just cold enough for us to be envious of the coffee that another couple of walkers had brought up with them. When the mist blew away, we took lots of pretty pictures of the ridge all covered in snow, and discussed how had there been any more snow up there, we probably would have wanted crampons and an ice axe. Thinking that the way down would probably be quite slippy, we armed ourselves with poles and a slow, steady step, and set off to descend the other side of the mountain (cue "oh, the bear went over the mountain…"). Sure enough, there was even more snow on this side than on the other, such that to start with it was more or less impossible to avoid walking through it, and while lower down it could be escaped, the bits one stepped in were decidedly slippy and not as deep and sticky as the lot we'd met on our way up. As we descended, we met several people on their way up, all of whom were more or less as equipped as us.
At the tarn, half way down and a couple of hundred feet below the snow line, we paused for a break. During this break, three, or perhaps four family groups passed us heading upwards. Of these (let's call them three) groups,
One consisted of two parents and three or four teenagers, wearing trainers, and a waterproof each. The adults had backpacks, presumably with a few other things in.
The other two consisted of adults with ordinary size backpacks the contents of which appeared to be almost entirely picnic. And several children wearing not only trainers but also jeans, with one light layer (non-waterproof) each.

I'm not at all against people going out for family walks, nor against a good bit of adventure (that's what we were there for). In fact, I think that such activities should be encouraged, and are being made more difficult by our rights obsessed, health-and-safety-ist, uberprotective world.

But there's a difference between adventure and blind stupidity, and I wouldn't take myself up a mountain (let alone with snow on), unless I thought I was reasonably equipped for the risks (in this case, survival bag, first aid kit, complete change of clothes, full waterproofs, three jumpers, gloves, proper walking boots, plenty of food and water, map, compass, etc). And I certainly wouldn't take someone else up it unprepared for eventualities that, on this occasion, were bound to involve mist, cold, and a lot of snow.


Matthew said...

Is there still a quite-good path between the tarn and the summit? I helped make that!

Annie said...

Yup! :-)

Daniel Barton said...

I share your concerns... When I was in Greece, we went with Czech, Polish, French and German Erasmus students on Mt. Olympos (2 917 m). Although it was mid-May it was quite forseeable to encounter snow fields and avalanches. My colleagues were euqipped with sandals, sneakers, no windstoppers, nothing waterproof, borrowed not-fitting-backpacks... First time in the mountains. And surprisingly felt quite cold in the misty and rainy weather up in 2 500 m :-)
No use of explaining them anything about craziness of their behaviour. I still feel the miracolous return without any substantial injuries...

Iain said...

I quite agree with you Annie. 8 years ago, I climbed the same mountain in better conditions, so it wasn't quite the same level of danger, but I remember Benji trying to increase this factor, by jumping in the tarn on the way down.