Henry Folkard, BMC Peak Access Rep, attempts to take a holiday.
“Who placed the bolts?” I asked naively. I was sharing a belay stance with an investment banker from Zurich, part way up the Mittaglfu. “Well known individuals,” he replied, “sometimes Mammut sponsors them, but it’s not anybody’s job to do it.” Neither, I thought, is equipping routes the BMC’s job back home. “In fact, some people think there are too many bolts now, and are trying to keep areas of the Alps free of them,” he continued.
“So who is liable if a bolt fails?” I asked. “Not a problem,” came his certain reply. This sort of climbing is regarded as low risk by insurance companies in Switzerland, but climbing is so popular now that I suppose that will change. Three people went down(sic) last year abseiling from an old bolt. But that was their fault - it was not safe. “
Driven south by rain we bumped into a retired New Zealand guide having a gneiss time in sunny Ticino. “What’s the Queen’s Chain?” I asked him. “Right of access to rivers in New Zealand,” said he. “Any conflict between fishermen and canoeists?” I wondered out loud. “Yes,” he said, “I’m a fisherman and I don’t like canoeists.”
“Well, I’m a canoeist and I don’t like fishermen,” said my ever discrete and tactful climbing partner. “But there is no need for conflict,” our new New Zealand friend explained, “By and large, fishermen are on rivers early and late, whilst canoeists paddle during the day. Voluntary arrangements work perfectly well for us, and they can work just as well elsewhere too.”
A few beers in a cool Grotto after a long, hot route extended into a delicious and leisurely evening meal. All the tables were booked, but no problem - we simply squatted at the end of someone else’s. “I work with groups trying to resolve conflict over environmental issues,” volunteered our fellow diner. “I come from Frankfurt,” she added.
“Groups like climbers and conservationists?” I probed. “Oh yes - I joined a Greens group, but left because they are always so obsessional. They exaggerate and overstate the extent of any problem. But if the other side doesn’t know much about ecological issues, they generally win because they can sound so scientific and convincing.” Perhaps we should stay in touch, I mused. “Yet consensus can be achieved,” was her rejoinder, “We’ve done it - but don’t expect results in under five years.” Her husband, a town planner, thought this was very funny.
So, my dream of spending a holiday without mentioning the Stanage Forum failed. Are our own access issues repeated the world over? It certainly looks that way. So, if you can’t get away from them, then you have to find a way of resolving them. That’s what BMC staff and volunteers do on this side of the Channel. And most of the time you never needed to know there was a range of little local difficulties. That’s the measure of real success for us. That you can just climb on - so little time, so much rock.
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