Thursday 16th December 2021, 10:22am
The year started with plenty of snow in the hills, but it was out of reach for many as covid restrictions limited how far we could travel. But safety remained an important issue and we were active working with our mountain safety partners and promoting our #ThinkWINTER campaign, aimed both at newcomers to winter and experienced mountaineers and ski tourers.
The good snow conditions continued into February and, with Scottish ski resorts closed due to the virus, ski touring and ski mountaineering were popular options. We were able to confirm access rights for skiers, not just in the traditional areas but in southern hills as well, where there had been some problems.
The limitations on travel meant our long-established winter mountain safety talks couldn’t take place, but we moved online to deliver highly popular winter safety webinars. We didn’t just address the safety angle either. Conservation and Access Officer Davie Black ensured people got their hillwalking fix with his ‘Donald with Davie’ webinar, taking his audience on a virtual walk in the Ochills, describing the environment and different habitats they were climbing through.
Behind the scenes we were speaking to our members, carrying out a survey focussing on clubs’ needs and aspirations and also starting to look at a new strategic plan for the whole organisation.
In March we launched our Tree a Trip scheme, which allows our members to help take action on the climate emergency by planting a tree for each trip they make into the mountains. A donation of £6 per trip secures the planting of a native tree in a new grove planted on our behalf on a hillside near Loch Nevis.
A further mountain skills and safety webinar was held in partnership with Glenmore Lodge.
As well as addressing hill-goers, we were also lobbying politicians, to ensure everyone in society can benefit from being active in nature. As a member of the Scottish Outdoor Recreation Alliance, we called for a new Outdoor Recreation Champion role to be created within the Scottish Government.
Mid-April saw the big return to the hills, with restrictions on travel lifted. Reflecting the number of people who had discovered the joys of hillwalking during lockdown as well as those who reckoned they needed a refresher after a long lay-off, we ran more spring skills for the hills webinars.
Behind the scenes, the Mountaineering Scotland team were hard at work on an online resource for people new to hiking, and Mountain Safety Advisors Heather Morning and Ben Gibson worked with Tiso to make some new skills and safety videos as part of the project, which were supported by Rab Equipment.
May was a full-on month for staff at Mountaineering Scotland. Our mountain safety courses resumed, filling up almost instantly as people signed up as quickly as they could to learn basic navigation and mountaineering skills.
A major development for us was the launch of Sofa2Summit, a free online course designed to help people get the most out of their hiking and hillwalking over the coming summer, allowing anyone interested to sign up for a series of seven interactive sessions to explain the basics of hillwalking through videos, downloads and text.
Our popular RealRock sessions also restarted, helping under-18s make the transition from indoor climbing to outdoors.
And away from the rocks and mountains, we also launched a member survey to find out what you think and how you want Mountaineering Scotland to develop in future.
Complementing our member survey, we launched a WalkClimbSki survey in June, which reached out to the wider outdoor community, seeking the views of those who weren’t Mountaineering Scotland members on a number of important issues.
And staff members attended an online symposium – Changing landscapes, actioning change – facilitated by Backbone, the Black, Asian and minority Ethnic (BAME) outdoor organisation, ultimately aimed at improving diversity in the outdoors and in outdoor organisations.
Mountaineering Scotland went public with a warning about Google Maps in July, after we were notified that a number of people had been misled onto a potentially fatal route up Ben Nevis. Google got in touch and after speaking with our Mountain Safety Advisor Heather Morning updated the driving directions for The Ben so that people were directed to the correct car park and starting point. But meanwhile Heather had been researching the problem and discovered many Scottish mountains suffered the same problem. Google have promised to resolve the problem, although a solution has not been found by the year end. Watch this space.
On another front, we started a summer-long social media campaign based on #RespectProtectEnjoy, aimed mainly at less experienced hillwalkers and encouraging them not just to keep themselves safe in the hills, but to respect others and protect the environment too.
August, of course, was the month of the Olympics, with climbing being one of the new sports featured and attracting a lot of interest from members even though Britain didn’t get in among the medals. An idea of the excitement was captured in an online chat between ClimbScotland's Robert Mackenzie and some of Scotland's young climbing stars.
It was also the month we announced a partnership deal with climbing equipment manufacturers DMM International Ltd, to help introduce young people to rock climbing outdoors. Under the deal DMM are supplying equipment for use in ClimbScotland’s RealRock courses where young people under 18 are supported to make the transition from indoor to outdoor climbing.
Off the hills, our CEO Stuart Younie met with Maree Todd, the new Minster for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport. Organised by the CEO Sports Forum, the meeting was an important opportunity to present issues which the outdoor sports group were focused on.
And throughout August we focussed on our clubs, sharing trip reports, profiles and videos from our affiliated clubs on social media, and promoting club membership as a great way to meet people and enjoy outdoor adventures.
Staff members also enjoyed a staff day out on Ben Vrackie. It was a hot and sunny day, memorable for the heat and the volume of cold drinks and ice cream we disposed off when we descended, but was also a great chance to catch up with each other in person, after months of working from home and meeting mainly online.
September was the month we launched our annual Mountain Writing Competition, with a new online entry system for members and non-members alike to submit their mountaineering stories and poems. Open for prose and verse, fiction and non-fiction, the winners will be announced in the new year.
After a prolonged absence due to Covid, the Youth Climbing Series started up again, with young climbers from across Scotland delighted to be in competition again.
It was an eventful month for admin too – the Mountaineering Scotland office in Perth, closed while people worked from home, was finally able to open again. Sensible precautions meant that not everyone was in at the same time, but it meant we were able to have the office open and a member of staff available to answer phone calls five days a week.
Mountaineering Scotland passed a memorable milestone in October, as membership topped 15,000 for the first time, reflecting the upsurge of interest in outdoor activities and especially hill walking and hiking.
Our investment application to sportscotland was submitted this month too, seeking funding to support future development plans for our ClimbScotland and Mountain Safety teams.
And throughout the month YCS rounds continued, with Fundas climbing coaching sessions for also able to re-start.
November was the month for our AGM (along with an EGM) and once more it was held on Zoom, attended by 33 members along with board and staff members. It included a short presentation of the annual report by directors and of the annual accounts by Treasurer Hazel Meehan, with a chance for members to ask questions afterwards.
As the nights were drawing in we started our night navigation courses, allowing people who have a basic knowledge of navigation to up their skill levels for accuracy in darkness and in poor visibility.
The Youth Climbing Series grand final took place in Southampton, with the Scottish contingent achieving an amazing third place, their best ever result.
December has brought snow, but also a thaw, so we wait still to see what sort of a winter we’ll be starting 2022 off with!
That hasn’t stopped us launching the fourth year of our #ThinkWINTER campaign though, working with Mountain Training, Scottish Mountain Rescue, Glenmore Lodge and other organisations to get a winter safety message across and to equip people with the knowledge to get the best out of whatever winter we get.