Mountain Matters


A personal section...

This is updated from time to time with a variety of details about guiding and courses, bookings, climbing conditions and anything else that takes my fancy. If you have anything which you feel could be usefully included, then drop me a line.

Anger grows over Highland ‘super dump’

Protesters say consent ‘sneaked’ through
By Alan Crawford

FOLLOW the yellow bin lorries from Fort William and they’ll soon bring you to the small crofting township of Duisky, on the southern shores of Loch Eil.
“Like wasps to a honey pot”, is how one local woman describes the constant stream of trucks that rumble past her house to Duisky landfill site, in the shadow of Ben Nevis.

She and others are now preparing for a mighty swarm of lorries after Highland Council approved an application to expand the site from 2.5 acres to 40 acres, as big as the total landfill space currently owned by the council . The site, once meant to be temporary, has now been granted an operational lifespan of 35 years.

Fears are growing that Duisky is to become a dumping ground for much of Highland’s waste. T hat fear is translating into an election issue for candidates in the redrawn Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency, including Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

Opponents have hastily organised a campaign and, although it is primarily a local authority matter, campaigners are asking MSPs and general election candidates for support in fighting a development which, they argue, will blight a magnificent landscape, cause a foul stench, affect tourism, clog up the single track road to Duisky and possibly contaminate the loch.

The application is now with Scottish Executive ministers, and campaigners, advised by Friends of the Earth, are lobbying the Executive prior to a decision expected next month.

Duisky, from the Gaelic Dubh Uisge, meaning black water, lies less than 10 miles from Glenfinnan, where Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in 1745. Locals upset at the landfill site are now plotting their own rebellion.

“It’s just not acceptable,” said leading opponent Linda Taylor, who has a prime view of the landfill from her kitchen window. Taylor, a retired art and Gaelic medium teacher, has lobbied Charles Kennedy over the site, which she described as, “like a big abscess in the ground” .

Kennedy told the Sunday Herald several Lochaber residents had been in touch with him to voice their concerns, and called on Highland Council to take forward its waste management strategy to substantially improve recycling, “as a matter of urgency”, in order to reduce the need for landfill sites.

The site at Duisky lies on common grazing within crofting land, and planning permission was originally granted in 1990 to dispose of builders’ rubble there. Since then, according to Taylor, it has “grown and grown” until the 40-acre planning application was “sneaked through” in February, largely unnoticed by locals. The application attracted just one objection, from the estate within which Duisky lies.

Taylor, who maintains the present site is visible from the top of Aonach Mhor, also has fears it could be used for an incinerator which Highland Council is jointly planning with Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray councils at an as-yet unspecified location. Highland is compelled to put 27% of its waste through a waste-to-energy plant by 2010.

Highland Council has an ongoing problem with waste disposal after receiving a fraction of the money for recycling it was seeking from the Executive. Inverness’s landfill site closed in 2003 and the city’s waste is currently taken by road to Peterhead. The council has four landfill sites: in Portree, Caithness, Aviemore and a small one at Kilchoan which is due to close shortly.

“I’m certain [the council] is looking for one big site for the whole Highlands,” said Taylor, who recognises the need for a dump. “But,” she adds, “not a huge thing like this.”

The council denies it plans to bring waste from Inverness and says Duisky, which is a private site not owned by the council, will handle waste only from Fort William and Lochaber. Planning consent, however, states the site will not be limited to waste from within the Lochaber area.

Green Party candidate David Jardine argues that means campaigners’ fears are well- justified. “The planning permission allows for waste from outside Lochaber to come in. A planning permission that permits something usually means it will eventually happen.”

Anne Scoular, a doctor who works in Glasgow in the week but lives, and votes, in Lochaber, has written to Executive ministers about Duisky. She is concerned by the scale of the development, but also by the fact it “flies in the face” of government policies on reducing landfill sites in favour of recycling.

“Fort William is selling itself as the outdoor capital of the UK, as a lovely environment to enjoy the natural surroundings, so having a big landfill site really doesn’t seem to fit with this strategy. They really need to get their act together and not have big truckloads of waste wending their way along Loch Eil.”

The existing landfill site at Duisky sits up on the hill behind the loch and is reached by a single-track road, which is currently being resurfaced. The site’s buildings and lorries are visible from across the loch on the main A830 Road To The Isles, as well as from the railway line to Mallaig made famous by the sequence in the Harry Potter movies filmed at Glenfinnan viaduct. Landfill site operators Locheil Logistics Ltd, which employs 15 people between the site and an associated haulage business, could not be contacted yesterday.

Dr Michael Foxley, a local councillor and vice-convener of Highland Council, said he “stopped breathing” when he heard of the application nine months ago. He bemoaned the fact the current campaigners hadn’t objected when it went to the area planning committee in February, and pointed out he had wrung concessions from the applicant, notably a stipulation that the development was phased, thus limiting the amount of waste deposited at any time. These concessions convinced the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to remove an objection.

According to Friends of the Earth Scotland, Highland Council was the third worst council area in Scotland for recycling in 2002-2003, managing to recycle less than 4% of total waste. Orkney managed almost 40%.

Dr Colin Clerk, Highland Council’s head of waste management, said Highland managed 8% recycling last year. Its targets had to be reduced after it received only £49 million of the £290m it requested from the Executive to help with recycling. Highland households produce some 20,000 tonnes of waste a year. “I’m afraid we have got to do something with it,” he said.

The SNP’s Fergus Ewing, MSP for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, said he was “extremely concerned” much of the waste could end up at Duisky, and called for a public local inquiry . “If they’re going to take a big lump out of Scotland, people’s views should be aired.”

Meanwhile, Linda Taylor is contemplating her next move, after badgering politicians at every level. “I don’t think they knew where Duisky was”, she said. “But they know now.”

24 April 2005

Launch of the Highland Access Project

Local communities in the Highlands are to benefit from a £1.2 million project, aimed at creating a sustainable network of low level pathways for the enjoyment of local residents and visitors alike. Five access officers have been engaged by The Highland Access Project for three years to refurbish, waymark and promote 1,300 kilometres of existing paths and create 10 kilometres of new paths.

Key criteria for projects include initiatives that are socially inclusive, meet the needs of local communities, attract visitors to Highland and achieve value for money, in the long term, through effective management plans. The project has also been established to implement part of the Highlands and Islands Access Strategy and to identify access issues arising from the forthcoming Land Reform and Access legislation. Partners are The Highland Council, Scottish Natural Heritage, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Paths for All Partnership. The European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund has given a grant of £409,000 to take forward the project. The access officers are David Barclay, Caithness and Sutherland; Cath Clark, Ross and Cromarty; John Hutcheson, Lochaber and Skye and Lochalsh; Saranne Bish (Repeat Bish), Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey; and David Andrews, Inverness, who is also the project manager. The project office will be based at The Highland Councils Planning and Development Service, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness, where Carolyn Taylor will provide administrative support.

The first phase of the project will see the officers liaising with landowners, land managers and communities that are keen to support the development of access in their area or where there are identified needs and benefits. In each of the areas, local advisory groups will be established to ensure participation in the development of project plans. Councillor David Green, Convener of The Highland Council, said: The Highlands has an outstanding access resource that brings considerable income to the area. The project aims to establish a multi-user path network, not solely for those who already enjoy walking, cycling or horse riding, but also for those who do not normally see themselves as path users. "By co-ordinating the activities of key public agencies and with local area representation, the project team will be delivering and promoting a high quality, managed countryside access resource that is well defined, protected, accessible and represents a sustainable asset for future generations." Dr Jim Hunter, Chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said: "We are very pleased to be involved with this project along with our partners - The Highland Council, SNH and the Paths for All Partnership.

There are hundreds of miles of footpaths in the Highlands and therefore raising the awareness of these for the benefit of local people and visitors alike is very important. The paths network provides a valuable recreational amenity which further underlines the quality of life in the Highlands as well as bringing millions of pounds each year into the economy in terms of the number of visitors it attracts. Setting the scene for the forthcoming access legislation, the paths network will open up the area to a much wider spectrum of users, especially those less able to access the countryside.

Dr Jeff Watson, Scottish Natural Heritage North Areas Director, said: "SNH welcomes this superb example of partnership working which will give immediate and very practical benefits for people in the Highlands. Improved access has multiple benefits, for natural heritage, for human health and by providing tangible economic opportunities through enhanced visitor provision." Magnus Magnusson, Chairman of the Paths for All Partnership, said: "We are very excited about the opportunities that the Highland Access Project will deliver for walking, horse riding and cycling in the Highlands. As well as the benefits for users, we believe well planned and managed path networks can help landowners to manage access and will bring wider tourism and health benefits for local communities."

Provided by: The Highland Council

Easier going on the Skye Ridge

I have started pre-placing a good stock of food, camping mats, stoves, pots and pans, plus a large nylon tarpaulin at the bivouac site I use when doing a two day traverse of the main Black Cuillin ridge on the Isle of Skye. This reduces the amount of effort required to undertake what is without doubt the most taxing ridge traverse in the British Isles. Even with this cache of equipment the trip is very hard work, but it does reduce the weight of the rucsac considerably. The tarpaulin means that any rain showers that go through overnight do not seriously affect the outcome. In the past, rain overnight has often led to abandoning the outing.

Further details on the Scottish summer section of this site.

Poles and Shelters on Ben Nevis

As some of you may know there is an ongoing debate as to the usefulness of cairns and posts as aids to navigation on Ben Nevis. My own view is that they can provide an extremely useful addition for folk navigating properly, offering re-assurance in poor visibility. Copied below are two of my more recent letters on the subject. Let me know what you think. A recent letter from one climber is copied below.


I have just read your mountaineering matters section on Navigational Aids on the summit plateau, and thought you may be interested in a tale.

Early Janruary, mid 80's, myself and climbing partner topped out of zero gully at 6:30 pm, having had a total epic from about the third pitch onwards, heavy wet snow avalanches, spindrift etc (you know what it can be like at time of year).

Well on the summit plateau, visibility about 10 ft, wind at a guess 100mph+, we couldnt stand up, every time we tried we were just blown over again. Having been up there 50-60 times, we believed we could find 4 gully, by traversing (actually crawling) around the rim and counting off gullies. To cut a long story short, we ended up a long way left of where we should be and ended up in 5 finger (although we hadnt twigged where we were) and finally bivvied just above the big icefall at about 2:00am . The following morning, we descended 5 finger, by cutting across to a seperated gully line on the true right bank of 5 finger, and got down that. I ended up in Belford with frostbitten toes and nipped fingers, my partner was ok just totally shattered. A luck escape!

We ere not novices but very experianced mountaineers, 10-15 Alpine seasons and a similar number in Scotland each. Scottish V - VI, E3-4-5, and Alpine TD-ED's. Very used to mountains, mountain navigation and wild conditions.

So if we could get such a mess, just think of the problems those hordes who trek up there "because its the biggest" could get into, even on a "summers day". I fully support all your comments on navigational aids, across the plateau, down towards the cmd, and markers at the top of No 4 and prob No 3 gullies.

If you pass this on to the Lochaber Mountain Rescue, please say thanks, I know they were looking on the wrong side of the mountain, (assumed we had be avalanched out of the gully), but still grateful to them for coming out.

Carry on the good works

Alan Moss

A Tradition of Posts and Shelters on Ben Nevis

Probably before, but certainly since the development of the summit weather station and hotel on Ben Nevis there has been a tradition of waymarking and various aids to safety, both on the high plateau and at lower levels. These have been placed by mountaineers and local rescue teams, with the blessing of the Police and the land owners. Indeed British Alcan who own much of the mountain have often supplied the materials to be used. This has continued to the present day.

In 1895 James Shearer produced four excellent prints of panoramas from the summit of Ben Nevis. The westerly aspect from the summit clearly shows a line of posts and cairns marking the way towards the ‘Pony Track’.. A later (1935) SMC guide edited by G.G. Mcphee reproduces these prints and interestingly states...”inexperienced climbers would do well not to lose sight of the posts and cairns which direct the way to the Observatory”...(p 17). He goes on to say...” In stormy weather even those who know the mountain best may easily be led astray, as when at Easter 1901 a strong party descending from the summit, and in spite of compass observations every fifty yards, failed to strike the true direction, and in the face of a driving blizzard, eventually reached Glen Nevis near Polldubh, arriving at Fort William at a late hour”...(p 18)

There has always been a tradition of mountaineering and rescue in Fort William and in 1945 the Lochaber Section of the Junior Mountaineering Club of Scotland was formed and...”its contributions to mountaineering and rescue on Ben Nevis have always been high”...(Ben Nevis - Britain’s Highest Mountain. Ken Crocket. 1986. p 141). Around that time Dr Donald Duff settled in Fort William and became deeply involved in mountain rescue and accidents....”Following a fatal accident on Nevis, Dr Duff oversaw the erection of direction posts indicating the safe descent route to the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. Duffs original pair of three-foot wooden posts were later added to, but only after the terrible accident involving the cadets”...(Ben Nevis - Crocket. p161). These posts still provide an essential waymark on the descent towards the CMD Arete and without them there would be more accidents in this area of Ben Nevis.

”The obvious surface feature near the summit of Ben Nevis in winter is the emergency bivouac shelter”...”This tin shelter is like an ice-box in winter, though it continues to save lives from the crippling effects of the wind”...(Ben Nevis - Crocket. p 160). . Two other shelters are situated on Ben Nevis, one in Coire Leis and one on the west facing slopes of Carn Dearg NW Lochaber JMCS helped to pay for and erect the summit shelter and that on Carn Dearg (SMCJ, 1958, p 296). Some cash was also provided by the ‘People’ newspaper. Originally the summit shelter was prone to being covered by snow, so it was moved to its current location on the topmost part of the Observatory ruins in the mid 70’s by instructors and students from Loch Eil Centre. More recently it has been slightly enlarged and improved by Lochaber MRT. The latest shelter being put in place with the help of the RAF. Originally the shelters were erected in response to fatalities involving lost climbers who died of mountain exposure. To find the summit shelter in a full blown blizzard is very re-assuring.

In the 1960’s (21.6.64 & 5.7.64) Hamish MacInnes asked John Hinde of the Kinloss MRT to help in placing the abseil posts at the top of the southern corner of Coire Leis. Members of the Glencoe MRT plus some from Lochaber and members of the TA were helped by an RAF helicopter from Leuchers to transport materials and place seven posts. Three of these posts remain standing at the moment. Although the slope is fairly straightforward in descent these days if modern crampons and axes are used properly. At the time of placing the poles they helped tired climbers considerably, when faced with a long descent cutting steps. The poles can at times prove useful, especially in locating the correct descent into the corrie in poor visibility.

Also of interest here is the warning sign which was placed at the top Glen Nevis car park to tell folk of the potentially serious nature of the ground near the waterslide slab approximately three hundred metres higher up into Coire Eoghainn. Two direction poles with markers were also erected higher up to divert folk away from the worst sections. According to the SMC statistics, accidents reduced dramatically in this area following this action by the Police in consultation with the local rescue team.

Hamish McInnes who is in favour of marker poles and feels that they could save lives mentions the time when he was camped on the summit making a film for two weeks...”We had bamboo markers from the Red Burn to the summit and they were a tremendous help. It was interesting to see the number of late arrivals on the summit during this stay - Casual climbers - and several parties were saved a cold bivvy due to being able to follow the markers”...

At the Mountaineering Council of Scotland 1997 A.G.M. it was suggested by one of the guest speakers (Bob Aitken - Chair of the Scottish Countryside Activities Council) that Ben Nevis was a special (unique) case and may need to be treated as such in relation to waymarking and a host of other factors effecting Britain’s highest and most popular peak.

Every guide-book published this century to Ben Nevis has mentioned marker poles and shelters as aids to safety. So why all the fuss about the current debate to enhance existing stone cairns whose wooden marker post tops had rotted away. Until now nobody appears to have questioned the wisdom of those notable mountaineers and rescuers who placed the previous markers.

Throughout Europe local communities, climbers, mountain guides, rescue teams and police are involved in sensible placement of mountain waymarks aimed at reducing accidents. Why should we be any different in Britain?

The following from Godefroy Perroux in his new guidebook to Ben Nevis is of interest..."as blind as bats we faithfully followed the compass, our only hope of salvation. With frozen, half-closed eyes glued to the tiny instrument. I saw nothing ahead. It was Dave who spotted it first: a pole sticking out of the snow right in line with our course. It was a bamboo cane complete with illuminated marker tag. A few yards further on there was another and another. The feeling of relief was unbelievable. Here was a route to safety, obviously left by the BBC team. The markers took us swiftly and safely to the pony track"...

For the past one hundred years or more markers posts have helped people find their way up and down Britain’s highest peak. I believe that their contribution to safety has been immense. Given the large increase in popularity over recent years of winter climbing in particular, I believe that the number of accidents on Ben Nevis is small. This is in no small part due to the navigational marker posts which previous climbers and rescue teams have placed on the mountain. Alongside of encouraging good navigation by mountaineers we should also be supporting the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team in their efforts towards the sensible replacement of the old posts with modern material able to withstand the ravages of the Nevis climate.

In support of Navigation aids on Ben Nevis

Whether or not you are on a familiar mountain, have you ever experienced the panic which can grip you, causing uncertainty to set in during poor visibility? The ground is not quite right, the angle is wrong and you have been travelling for too long on your chosen bearing without finding the next landmark.
Chances are if we were honest about it, we would all own up to being in this state of mind on more than one occasion. We would also agree that one of the most satisfying and re-assuring aspects of poor visibility navigation is finding a familiar landmark, be it natural or otherwise. The flood of relief in some situations can be immense, leading to more clear and rational navigational decisions based on knowing you are where you thought you should be. Equally if you cannot find any familiar features your navigational senses will remain at red alert.

How many of those who read this note have found the post at the top of Number Four Gully or those leading down towards the Carn Mor Dearg Arete on Ben Nevis in filthy white-out conditions? How many of those same people cannot own up to having heaved a sigh of relief on finding these comforting metal landmarks? I don’to think I would be far off the mark in supposing that the few people who have so far put pen to paper, or hacksaw to metal condemning the two poles placed by the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team would have been thankful to find them also. The life saving summit shelter (maintained by the L.M.R.T.) will have provided these same people with welcome respite from the elements as they ponder on their descent over a welcome hot flask.

Ben Nevis has for many years had a line of cairns which run straight and true on the current safety bearing from the top of Gardyloo Gully towards the Red Burn descent. These were more than likely placed by the workers from the summit weather station or earlier still last century, to aid way-finding on and off the summit plateau for tourists, Post Office personnel delivering mail to the summit hotel or early climbers such as Norman Collie and company undertaking first ascents, before spending a night in the hotel and descending the next day.

Navigational techniques and map accuracy have undoubtedly moved on since these way marks were built. However the cairns still provide a useful method of route finding to all who visit Ben Nevis.

During the summer months or seasons with little snow, these cairns offer very useful way marks in poor visibility for people using a compass and map properly, or indeed the thousands who climb the mountain without either map or compass! Unfortunately during the winter months they can become obliterated by snow and even if travelling on the correct bearing are impossible to find. The Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team felt it would be a good idea to extend the height of two of these important cairns with metal posts in order to offer at least some extra certainty to those people confronted with poor visibility, especially in winter.

In addition to the posts the L.M.R.T. also produced a very useful map showing the main gully features on the plateau as well as the exact position of the marker posts. This map was freely available in Fort William climbing shops. Hundreds of people also wrote to the team to ask for a copy of the map.

The decision to place the poles was not taken lightly. All of the team are mountaineers and love the free wide open spaces of the high Scottish peaks. Many of them are also members of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland through their association with the local climbing club. Some are mountain guides/instructors and they all enjoy mountaineering at home and abroad, some to a very high standard. Placing the poles was made from a standpoint of deep mountain experience and a balanced appreciation of the mountain ethics involved in their action. These people know all there is to know about the Scottish hills, and we should trust their judgement on this matter.

Current feeling from the executive of the MC of S is against the poles. Recent media attention on the issue suggests wrongly that the rescue team will not meet with the MC of S. I was at a meeting in Fort William Police Station between the MC of S and L.M.R.T. At that meeting the two sides agreed that the L.M.R.T. would review the situation in a years time. This has been done and in the light of the substantial amount of positive letters in favour of the idea received by the L.M.R.T. the concept of way markers on Scotland’s most visited summit remains a realistic option in helping to lessen the amount of lives lost due to navigational error on the Nevis plateau.

The MC of S quite rightly suggest that training in high mountain navigation is a way of helping to give people more skill and confidence in route finding, especially in winter months. However, training alone will never be enough. Many of the people who have tragically fallen from the Nevis plateau were experienced mountaineers who had visited the plateau numerous times before. I am convinced that some of these poor folk would have survived if the old line of cairns (especially above 1300m) had been more clearly marked.

Recent media attention on the subject paints a poor picture of the L.M.R.T. Letters emanate from a small band of mountaineers, editors of magazines or officers of mountaineering councils in influential positions. The impression given by these people is far from realistic. It’s about time that those who are in favour of the idea, also wrote to the magazines supporting this small action taken by the L.M.R.T.

The current issue is about saving lives by making existing way marks more easily found on the plateau of Scotland’s most popular peak. It is not the ...”thin end of the wedge” will not....”lead to more deaths” is not.....”pampering mountaineers” is not about......”who rules mountaineering”.....and will not.....”lead to signs all over the Scottish mountains”....All of these sensational quotes can be attributed to a handful of people saying the same thing over and over again. It’s boring to listen to and does not represent a majority view.

I feel strongly that the posts should stay on the Nevis plateau and would ask anyone else who agrees with me to let the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team know their views (c/o Fort William Police Station, Fort William.). And the next time you visit the plateau in the summer stick another rock on the line of cairns which run down bearing 282 deg (grid) from Gardyloo Gully towards the Red Burn. The higher the better.

And Finally.......Keep in touch folks

If you know of anyone who might be interested in receiving details of courses or guiding ask them to give me a call.

Take care


Alan Kimber - Fort William Mountain Guide on Ben Nevis for thirty four years.