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Our Month: Mountaineering Scotland in February 2024

Friday 1st March 2024, 9:00am

Welcome to the February monthly round-up from Mountaineering Scotland!

At the end of each month, we take a look back at the work the team has been carrying out on behalf of our members. Read on to hear the latest updates from Access & Conservation Officer Davie Black, Senior Mountain Safety Advisor Ross Cadie, ClimbScotland Development Manager Jamie Smith, and Member Services & Communications Manager, Helen Gestwicki.

The lack of car parking space at Reiff, for climbers heading to the sea cliffs, continues. It has been a constant frustration to us for the past few years that the traditional parking spot continues to be blocked by rusty agricultural machinery, placed there by a local crofter determined to prevent access to the cliffs.  We have written to the Highland Council once again, this time to Leader of Highland Council and to the Chief Executive Officer asking why the Council has not taken action to deal with the verge obstructions, and the lack of communication and engagement on this matter over the past two years, despite repeated efforts from us and the local community.

The Shared Rural Network (SRN) of 4G digital telecommunications continues to be a great threat to Scotland’s wild places, despite it appearing to be a good idea for improving digital connectivity for rural communities. This connectivity strategy may work well in the populated lowland areas, but it is poorly thought-out for the sparsely populated mountainous highlands of Scotland, and risks putting masts - supported by public funding - in all the wrong places and benefitting no-one.

We are working to show Building Digital UK, the UK Government agency responsible for this programme, that their programme has unintended consequences for Scotland’s wild places and asking for a pause and review, while we will continue to object through the planning system to those mast proposals that are of no benefit to local communities and businesses. Deer, heather and rocks do not need 4G!

Mountain Safety Advisors Ben Gibson and Kirsty Pallas continued to deliver winter skills and navigation courses in February. The weekend of the 17th-18th Feb was a particularly busy one for the Mountain Safety Team, with Ben  and myself running the Student Winter Climbing weekend in the Cairngorms, which saw 14 students from across Scotland come together to learn and improve their skills and safety in winter climbing. Although the conditions were less than ideal, the seven instructors managed to provide their pairs with top class instruction resulting in happy students. 

That same weekend saw Kirsty live on stage at the Fort William Film Festival alongside Cat Cameron, Lesley McKenna and Heather Morning discussing why it’s so important to #ThinkWINTER (more on FWMF 2024 from our Membership and Communications team later on!) 

Once all the fun was over it was time for me to head back in front of the computer for a meeting of the Mountain Safety Group sub-group, which is chaired by Ian Sherrington from Glenmore Lodge. We looked at the results so far of the Mountain Incidents Survey which has over 600 responses so far from across the UK. This is an amazing response and I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to fill it out so far. Keep them coming please! 

Things have been ramping up in the ClimbScotland team in February with lots of working going into the planning and preparation for 2024 events and competitions, as well as the delivery of our development and national squad programmes.

So far this year Jack, Calum and Robert, along with our development and national coaches, have delivered Meet and greet, Goal Setting and Preparation and Complex Movement sessions. At these sessions, coaching is provided throughout the day to the squad members in attendance. In preparation for these sessions, bespoke route and boulder setting is often required to provide the squad members with the appropriate terrain to train on.

I held a review meeting with our Ready to Rock providers looking at the feedback from the 2023 programme and discussing ideas and potential changes to improve the programme for 2024. Dates and bookings for 2024 will be published soon...watch this space! 

On a more national scale, Jack attended the GB Climbing Boulder National Trials on the 17th & 18th February 2024 at Oakwood Climbing Centre, Bracknell, London, providing support to the Scottish Athletes aiming to be selected on to the GB Climbing teams. Meanwhile, I attended the UIAA Continental Cup, organised by BMC and the Scottish Dry Tooling Club, at Sunderland Climbing wall, cheering on the Scottish Athletes competing at the event and soaking up the great atmosphere.

ClimbScotland Fun Competition qualifiers have been open all month in February and closed on the 1st March. We hope everyone who took part at their local walls enjoyed themselves, and don’t forget to submit those scores!

The month started with the first online Club Connect call, attended by more than 20 club representatives and Mountaineering Scotland staff. The main topic of conversation was around club websites, with lots of input from clubs who already have websites, and questions from those who don’t. The meeting are a good opportunity to share knowledge between clubs and are held quarterly, with the next meeting take place in May. 

The main focus for the Member Services and Communications team in February was the Fort William Mountain Festival, which was celebrating it’s 20th anniversary in 2024. Our stand at the exhibition hall was staffed by team members and volunteers from our Board of Directors, and kept us busy on all four days. We met quite a few members and had a lot of interest in our ‘Guess the Mountain’ and ‘Guess the weight of the rucksack’ competitions, both sponsored by Osprey Europe who provided rucksacks as prizes.

As well as having a presence in the exhibition hall, we hosted a live #ThinkWINTER discussion session at the festival in partnership with Glenmore Lodge, featuring Heather Morning (Glenmore Lodge), Kirsty Pallas (Mountaineering Scotland), Cat Cameron (Girls on Hills) and ex-Olympic snowboarder Lesley McKenna, who chatted about their own winter experiences and challenges, and highlighted some of the key ThinkWINTER messages, along with a  few questions for the audience to test their knowledge.

We were also joined by It’s Up to Us campaign ambassador Ian Stewart of Trail Running Scotland, who gave a talk on the campaign during the Friday night trail running session, and drummed up a lot of interest in the campaign. Over the course of the weekend, we also raised over £150 in donations for It’s Up to Us and hopefully a few more online contributions to the An Teallach path appeal, which is now well over the £200,000 mark. Many thanks to the organisers and volunteers of the Fort William Mountain Festival, who did a fantastic job – see you there next year!