Mountaineers defend risks in the Highlands Mountaineers fight to retain risks in sport

STEPHEN GOODWIN

With the first snow having already fallen on the Scottish hills, the British Mountaineering Council took pre-emptive action yesterday, pointing out the pleasures and pitfalls of its sport before the inevitable crop of winter accidents.

A good winter in mountaineering terms - a decent cover of snow and ice and the weather to get out on it - will mean more deaths. Past statistics suggest that about 20 mountaineers will be killed in the Highlands this winter.

Just as predictably, their deaths will be followed by calls for a ban on climbers taking to the hills in "bad" weather, for compulsory rescue insurance and for certificates of competence.

The BMC rejects all such restrictions. "For the mountaineer the most important freedom is to be able to take risks," said Doug Scott, the council's vice-president, a man who has courted the fine edge for decades from the Highlands to the Himalayas and suffered serious injury.

"Those reacting in knee-jerk fashion to highly publicised mountaineering accidents have simply failed to see that there is a success story writ large over our hills every winter, when thousands of walkers and climbers safely and competently deal with all the hazards and enjoy the freedom of the mountains," Mr Scott said.

Contrary to the winter crop of newspaper headlines, statistics suggest that the number of incidents is falling as a proportion of the increasing numbers taking to the hills for recreation.

The proportion of incidents resulting in fatalities has also fallen, partly as a result of better protective clothing stopping people simply freezing to death.

Nonetheless the risk is realenough. In the winter months of 1994 (January to April and October to December) on Lochnagar, a popular winter climbing area south of Braemar in the Grampians, there were 63 incidents with 15 deaths. In the first three months of this year there were two deaths in 16 incidents.

Though the image of winter mountaineering is of a climber with ice axes and crampons on a desperate ice face, by far the commonest cause of accidents is a simple slip or stumble, often while descending on easy ground. In winter, avalanches become the second greatest cause. The statistics reinforce the BMC's case that there is no such thing as winter hill walking, only winter mountaineering.

Yesterday's London press briefing, supported by Chris Bonington, president- elect of the Alpine Club, and Ian McNaught-Davis, president of the world body for mountaineering (UIAA), was intended to put the risk into perspective, counter the calls of "misguided and alarmist politicians" for regulation, and emphasise the need for climbers to hone their winter skills.

The BMC represents clubs with a combined membership of some 35,000 - perhaps a third of the British climbing fraternity. Its president, Paul Nunn, was killed in the Karakorams, Pakistan, in August.

However perverse it might seem to the non-practitioner, the vast majority of climbers share the view of Mr McNaught-Davis: "If you extract the risk from climbing there wouldn't be a sport at all."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own