Behind the scenes: international mountaineering

Posted by Nick Colton on 08/08/2019
Slovenian and British climbers taking part in a BMC exchange meet. Photo: Ian Parnell.

Continuing our look at the work of BMC volunteers supporting our specialist committees. Whether showcasing British climbing to visitors from around the world, supporting British mountaineers on overseas expeditions, lobbying foreign governments, or navigating the complex paths of global climbing and mountaineering politics, the International Committee is involved in all aspects of mountaineering where there is an international dimension.

The committee is crammed with volunteers who collectively have a vast range of experience, especially of the wider climbing world beyond the UK.  Chaired by Ian Parnell, members include Anne Arran, Pat Littlejohn, Tom Livingstone, Adele Pennington and Emily Ward, as well as Stephen Goodwin, who represents the Alpine Club.

Money for new rope

A major part of the committee’s work is the awarding of BMC expedition grants twice a year. Grants are to encourage innovative British ascents and are focused primarily on younger mountaineers and those for whom the grant would make a significant difference to the viability of their trip.  Over the years grants have supported a range of ground-breaking British trips and also those making their early forays into the Greater Ranges.  The committee also oversees the Julie Tullis Memorial Award  and has links with the Jeremy Willson Charitable Trust.

Meet and greet

BMC International Meets are overseen by the committee, although the bulk of the organisational and administrative work is done by Becky McGovern in the BMC office.  The idea of the meets is to showcase British climbing, and especially trad climbing, to the rest of the world – which they do brilliantly.  There is one meet each year alternating between summer and winter.  International federations from all over the world are invited to send either one or two guests from their country to come to the UK and climb with volunteer hosts.  Meets are eagerly awaited both by visitors and hosts alike and lasting friendships are made.  In recent years the weather and conditions in Scotland have not been entirely favourable. Consequently, the BMC and others are trialling a new format for the winter meet in 2020 with much of the organisation being done by very able volunteers in Scotland and Mountaineering Scotland providing administrative support; although the BMC is still supporting the event, the financial outlay should be considerably less.

The 2019 BMC Summer International Meet, based in Llanberis Pass. Photo: John Bunney

Developing the next generation

There have been discussions about how to support younger people who may want to move out into the Greater Ranges.  This has come both from young people themselves who feel they would like support and also from the realisation that other countries do have such systems in place, some of which are very informal while others are more formal.  Several meetings have been held with interested young people, a group was formed and joint meets held with similar groups from several countries have taken place – a group from Slovenia visited the UK and some of the UK group then went on a return visit to Slovenia; a group from Poland also came to UK.  The idea of the meets is for people to make contact with similar climbers and mountaineers and then climb as self-reliant and self-motivated teams – as happened when Tom Livingstone (UK) and Aleš Česen and Luka Stražar met during the Slovenian meet, going on to successfully climb a new route on Latok 1; an ascent which was recognised with the award of a 2019 Piolet d’Or

Day 4, North Ridge Variation, Latok 1, Karakoram. Pakistan. Photo: Tom Livingstone.

A two-week long meet for young British alpinists is currently being held in Switzerland with financial support from the BMC Mountain Medicine Weekend and there is talk of a possible winter alpine meet to come. The BMC is also working with the Alpine Club to provide a pathway into the club for members of the group and also to rejuvenate the Alpine Climbing Group (ACG) for those young people making cutting edge ascents.

Tom Livingstone on the South Ridge of the Lagginhorn during the 2019 BMC Young Alpinists Meet. Photo: www.alexmetcalfephotography.com.

Lobbying

The International Committee gets involved in discussions with governments, usually by writing letters to those in positions of power or influence.  For instance, when access has been threatened as has happened in Ecuador and Peru; or with Nepal, over a range of issues including proposals to restrict access to Everest for people with disabilities – which is contrary to the BMC Equity Policy.  Sometimes it’s a case of putting the right people in contact with each other – as was the case when a particular state in India wanted to introduce restrictive regulations.  Steve Long was able to work with people locally to help produce more empowering guidelines rather than the state’s initial proposal.

Politics

The International Committee liaises with the UIAA – the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation – especially through its Climbing & Mountaineering Development Commission. BMC reps on that commission are Doug Scott and Phil Wickens. Steve Long, who is president of the Training Standards Group also attends meetings of the Mountaineering Development Commission, although he reports to Mountain Training and the BMC’s Training, Youth & Walls Committee (TYWC).  Anne Arran sits on the UIAA Management Committee and attends the annual UIAA General Assembly meetings (they’re a bit like an AGM), so we are incredibly well informed about all that is going on both in the UIAA and internationally.

Steve Long (green BMC T-shirt) deep in discussion at the 2018 UIAA Generally Assembly in Mongolia. Photo: MNCF.

One particularly difficult issue that the committee and the UIAA has had to wrestle with was the setting up of a new European Mountaineering Associations group, the EUMA.  The committee was involved in long discussions, which also included the Alpine Club, about whether there was a need for yet another organisation to be set up outside the UIAA to represent and lobby the European Parliament on issues such as huts, mountain trails, mountain protection and planning issues that affect mountainous areas in Europe geographically. However, the crux of the matter was that the UIAA did not have the resources to undertake the work so EUMA was set up and, after discussion, the BMC joined the new organisation; Anne Arran is now our representative on EUMA.

The committee has also been involved in the process of trying to broker an agreement between the UIAA and the IFSC, the International Federation of Sport Climbing.  This work is led by BMC volunteer Colin Knowles.  After some early progress that work has now been put on hold so that the IFSC can concentrate on preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Other articles in this series about the work of BMC specialist committees:

Behind the scenes: BMC guidebooks

Behind the scenes; training, youth and walls

READ: more about BMC specialist committees


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