Monday, 28 November 2011

In Lieu Of Real Snow To Play In

I know it's lazy blogging but as the first falls of snow dust the highlands and I stare at my ice axes with ever increasing frustration at waiting its probably a good time to look at my favourite winter Blogs.

1. The Orion Face: Or a tale of fear, terror, and brown trousers.

2. Ski Mountaineering In The Cairngorms: The only way to winter.

3. Ice Climbing on Helvellyn: A tale of hot aches, nausea, and amazing views.

4. Ice Climbing on Great End

Us on the final fall. Image Scott Muir 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

We Love The Winter

First The Pain

Then The Gain

As the last days of a gloriously colourful autumn slide slowly towards the long dark nights of winter most people zip their coats up against the wind and rain, snuggle deeper into the warmth sofa or the arms of a partner, and grit their teeth with a steely determination to wait it out for the joys of spring.

For for a small few however the encroaching long nights and hard frosts herald the arrival of perhaps the best season of the year. Like the squirrel who has spent the autumn months carefully burying food for the winter these creatures have been hidden away in garages and cellars from which the smell of freshly waxed skis and the sound of newly sharpened crampons has been emanating.

Better late than never it appears that winter is just around the corner with snow predicted to fall across the highlands and a series of freeze thaws forecast to get everything nicely into nick. I'm one of those few who look forward to every winter a season, overtaken by an air of expectation from mid September.

Our mountains in their gowns of snow and ice are at there most beautiful, delicate, fragile and pure. The snow and ice smooth hard lines and produce a simple colour palette often stark against a brilliant blue sky lit by the soft light of a low winter sun. 

It's a shame so many discount winter as a season for staying indoors because really it's so easy to have an adventure in winter. For me just walking up a hill and feeling the crunch of snow under my books make the mountain experience so much more enjoyable and exciting.

This year I'm really excited about learning to ski tour, snowhole, and becoming completely solid at Scottish III/IV and pushing it a bit on V. Achievements and epics will be reported here in lurid detail but really you should get out and experience this season of hidden joys for yourself.

This rather verbose post is also summed up pictorially here.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Winter is Coming!

I shot this footage last winter just after I had bought my camera, it's really nice to now finally be able to put it together and enjoy it. I'm amazed how easy it is to edit in iMovie, really good software and simple to use. Now I can finally start to plan some shoots for the coming season.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Project Pitt

A significant rise in computing power over the last week has finally allowed me to do something useful with the HD video that has been cluttering up my hard drive for the last year. I shot this footage in February at the same time as this photo set of my mates Matt and Dom having a first working session on Brad Pitt a celebrated boulder problem in the Peak.

Below is my first attempt at putting a video together; to edit the footage I used iVideo the standard software available on a Mac and was really surprised how easy it was to use.  As the boys did not get very far on the first look I did not have that much footage to work with plus when I was shooting I did not really think about continuity hence the few errors in that department.

I've lots to learn with this, how to put sound in for starters; but I'm really enthusiastic at going out and shooting stuff, so expect to see more.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Lifestyle or Product; and do I Really Care?

Their getting good at these; "The Art of Flight" is an amazingly good snowboarding video; the camera work is stunning, the locations amazing, and boarding frankly off the scale. It also reeks of money, lots and lots of money clearly no expense spared shooting, will it make its money back on iTunes? I doubt it. Why then has it been made?

We watch these videos yet it's not like we can't see what they are? All these videos are adverts, adverts for sports, adverts for places, adverts for lifestyles. Watching it fills you with excitement to go places, see things, hang on to the coat tails of the ridiculously talented/brave. For many of us they offer a window into a world we scratch the surface of a few times a year.

This video is also a massive advert for something that has very little to do with snowbording Red Bull. Red Bull use outdoor sports especially those the media and general public dub as "extreme" as a key part of their marketing stratergy. Sell the lifestyle, sell the product synonymous with the lifestyle, clearly it must work as they keep doing it. Actually I don't really care that this is an integral part of a huge marketing strategy because for me it's selling something else; inspiration.

Inspiration or entertainment. I guess it's how you see the film (and I do recommend you see the film); do you go out boarding, or skiing, climbing, biking whatever; or do you live your dreams through the lens and the experiences of others. I may never carve my way down a stunning fluted peak in Alaska but I will ski Central Gully on Ben Lui and Aladdin's Couloir in the Cairngorms, and I will climb in the Alaskan ranges.

Whilst I'm doing it perhaps I will feel the need for a shot of suggar and caffeine in some deep routed Pavlovian response. You too? Fancy that. If you do, don't feel too bad lets keep Red Bull in business then they can act as location scouts for our lives.

Gold in Them Their Hills; Tyndrum Mining and the Environment

The UK has designated more of it's landscape as national parks than almost any other nation on Earth with 8.2% classified as such, the figure for England and Wales is even higher at 12.5%. Within Europe only in Iceland (12.1%) do national parks cover a greater land area; for comparison the figures for the US and Canada are 2.2 and 3.8% respectively. The corresponding population densities (people per square km) are: UK = 259 (England 395), US 32, Canada 3.4, and Iceland 3.1. 

The corollary of these two figures is that in the UK people have an almost unrivaled ease of access to our protected landscapes, although this is less true in Scotland where there are only two national parks.

Living in Leeds and given good traffic I live within about two hours drive of six national parks. In trying to illustrate just how popular NP's are in the UK I tried to get some info on visitor numbers. However working out worldwide national park popularity is difficult and Google is of very little help, it is also unclear if figures refer to visitors or visitor days. By some counts The Lake District is thought to be the second most visited national park in the world after Mount Fuji in Japan (this stat is also claimed by the Peak). Twenty three million visitor days and 15 million visitors flock to the Lakes each year, arguably more than visit the top four national parks in the US combined (Great Smokey Mountains 9.4 million, Grand Canyon 4.4 million, Yosemite 3.5 million and Yellowstone 3.2 million). Whatever the true figures the data shows as a nation we value and use our national parks.

People + landscape = conflict, and a difficult challenge for our parks.  In many countries parks are owned by the government and comprise truly wild natural landscape protected from almost any development. In the UK this just isn't possible, firstly our landscapes have been shaped by man over millennia and no "natural" landscape still exists in the UK. Secondly our national parks are home to tens of thousands of people; people who have the right to live and work is a society with all the convenience and services of those living outside the park. As such UK parks are not static but have sustainable development and a socio-ecconomic responsibility written into their constitutions alongside protection of the environment. 

The recently approved planning application to re-open a gold mine at Cononish near Tyndrum at the northern end of the Loch Lomond National Park saw these two responsibilities cast is sharp contrast.  Speaking broadly the mine was supported by almost the entire village which has very little local employment, but was opposed by many outdoor enthusiasts from Scotland and the wider UK as a desecration of the landscape.

I have every sympathy for the villagers; I spent a week in Tyndrum in Febuary 2010 and was struck by the lack of facilities in the area. I had gone up for some winter walking and easy climbing. Villagers complained that tourists tended to pass straight through making any business relying on them a struggle. The mine hopefully offers good quality jobs for the locals enabling them to stay in the village and not be forced out turning the village into a collection of second homes with no community.  With the lack of alternative employment there is a clear socio-ecconomic need for the mine (although there are arguments about how long the mine will opperate and how many jobs it will create.)

Stob Ban and Ben More from just east of Tyndrum

The issue at Tyndrum was not so much the mine as the tailings facility that results from processing the extracted material; this facility could eventually contain up to 400,000 tonnes of material. The structure will comprise a slurry lagoon contained within earth works and it was the visual impact of this that lead to the rejection of earlier planning applications. The company involved  undertook a re-design the facility so that it blends in to the landscape as much as possible and it was these changes that eventually got the project approval. I don't actually see the visual effect as a long term issue and am reasonably confident that the facility can be constructed and shielded with native woodland to create a minimal effect on the landscape.

Beinn Dorain

My worries are different, and I have a bit of inside knowledge as I work in contaminated land remediation (although these are my personal views); tailings can be quite difficult to manage and can contain heavy metals and elevated pH values all capable of leaching to the surrounding environment via groundwater. I also know that companies are never as good at not contaminating land as they say they are going to be, that contaminated land is very difficult and costly to remediate and that it is never remediated back to pristine conditions. It is actually quite hard to get land designated as contaminated as you need to demonstrate "significant possibility of significant harm (SPOSH)" which is actually quite a high hurdle to clear especially once the lawyers get their teeth into the word significant.

The planning conditions include monitoring the groundwater down gradient of the facility befoure during and after the operation of the mine, but the after care project only lasts for 20  years. The tailings facility or landfill because that is what it actually is must be stable for hundreds if not thousands of years after the mine closes. The metals are not a risk to the environment whilst contained within the structure but I'm concerned how durable the structure will be over time given the environment it is in. Then there is the possibility of catastrophic failures of the tailings facility, these are not unknown there was one last year and it will cost tens of millions of dollars to clean up. Do we really even want the chance of this happening in a national park.

A catastrophic failure of the dam wall lead to 1 million cubic meters of mud spilling into the environment.

The sad thing is there really should be an alternative to the mine; Tyndrum is a brilliant location to explore a huge number of brilliant hills, Ben Lui, Beinn Dorian to name just two.   It really should be a great base for tourists to explore the area, a much better alternative would be for those of us who spend time in the outdoors to support local economies a bit better. If people stopped in Tyndrum and it had a thriving local tourist economy I do not think the mine would have got planning permission as there would be no socio-ecconomic driver and possibly no local desire for it anyway.

I'm guilty as anyone, many days I've been out in the hills and not spent a penny in the village where I started my walk or I've stocked up at the supermarket on the way rather than use local shops. We can all put together arguments about levels of cost and choice about why we behave in this way but the result is this, communities dying and turning away from tourism. The national parks decision to grant the planning permission for the mine was probably the right one within the framework of the legislation and the national parks remit, it's just a shame we could not help create a vibrent community without it.