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Our Month: Mountaineering Scotland in January 2024

Friday 2nd February 2024, 9:00am

Welcome to the January 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 CEO Stuart Younie, Access & Conservation Officer Davie Black, Senior Mountain Safety Advisor Ross Cadie, ClimbScotland Development Manager Jamie Smith, and Member Services & Communications Manager, Helen Gestwicki.

In the cycle of Mountaineering Scotland’s annual calendar, the new year always starts with a bit of admin, with HR tasks, checking in on the financial position and, importantly, completing our annual return to sportscotland, which explains how we have spent the public money and lottery funding we receive to support some areas of our work. Our relationship with sportscotland is based around an investment agreement with 2024/25 as the last of our current three-year investment cycle. The targets which are agreed as part of that investment are based on our strategic objectives, and where they align with those of sportscotland and are focused on the work we do to develop the sport of climbing and promote mountain safety.

On the 22nd of January, I supported our new Director for Mountain Safety, Brendan Hughes, in chairing his first meeting of the Mountain Safety Group MSG. The discussions centred on updates from the various working groups which have been set up to lead on areas such as data and intelligence, education and training, and communications and partnership working. The partners on the MSG are also working together to develop a national strategy for mountain safety, taking a lead from the ongoing work to promote water safety in Scotland.

I also represented Mountaineering Scotland at the International Mountain Safety Forum, which is a small group of organisations from Canada, New Zealand, Tasmania and England/Wales, who meet to discuss and share the work they are involved in to promote mountain safety. It was interesting to hear that the issues are the same across the respective countries with rescue call outs continuing to rise attributed to the increasing number of people who are participating in outdoor activities.

Along with Access & Conservation Officer Davie Black, I also met with colleagues from Forestry and Land Scotland to discuss the current pressures on the Ben Nevis North Face Car Park and to get an update on the proposals to extend the current car park. We hope to be able to issue an update about this to members in the very near future. 

Another recent development has been the plans to renovate the Alex MacIntyre Memorial Hut, and I have been liaising with the trustees to support the management committee to take forward the much needed work to modernise the property.

And finally…at the end of January we bade a fond farewell to Kevin Howett, who was appointed as the first paid member of staff with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland back in the late 1980s and has retired after 35 years with the organisation. Kev’s service to Mountaineering Scotland and contribution to the development of our sport is far too extensive to do justice to in this small update but the team have produced a fitting video tribute which I hope members will enjoy watching as much as we all did. His presence will be sorely missed in the office, but we all wish him a very long and happy retirement, and fully expect him to drop in for a cuppa when he is next in Perth!

The revised Snowsports Touring Code for tourers and walkers passing through managed ski areas was published this month, just in time for the snow lying on high ground.  The Code was reviewed last year due to increasing numbers of people enjoying backcountry skiing and snowboarding, launching their trips from ski centre car parks.  This was causing problems for the centre managers, not just for numbers of people on the limited amount of snow in ski areas, but also interruptions in the management operations needed to maintain it.

This advice was discussed and agreed with the ski area managers and ski tourers themselves, as well as the Access Authorities. It also applies to winter hillwalkers too, and we recommend anyone taking to the hills from ski centre car parks to read and heed the advice before setting out. 

The Shared Rural Network 4G telecommunications masts continue to demand attention, both in the locations of mast proposals through the planning system, and in the UK Government policy that enables this situation and subsidises it with public funding, aided by recent Scottish Government planning advice. We are currently scrutinising proposals for the hills beyond Corrour, toward Ben Alder.

As ever, there is no argument against rural residences and businesses having 4G connectivity, or even along the road network. What frustrates is continuing proposals for masts, and their power sources. 

January is always busy for the Mountain Safety Advisor team, with winter courses proving as popular as ever. The month kicked off with Mountain Safety Advisor Ben Gibson running a bespoke training day for the Inverness Mountaineering Club on the 3rd of January. Mountain Safety Advisor Kirsty Pallas then joined Ben in running a one day winter skills course, followed the next evening with a Night Navigation course, which saw some stunning conditions in the hills.

It was then my turn to join in, after escaping from the office! I headed to Glenmore Lodge with Ben and Kirsty for the annual Mountaineering Scotland Student Winter Skills weekend, running from the 12th -14th of January.  Around 60 students from affiliated University mountaineering clubs came together to learn skills that will give them a good foundation in safe winter adventures for years to come. We enjoyed some good winter conditions, as well as an impromptu ceilidh in the bar on Saturday night! 

Kirsty also delivered the hugely popular Winter Skills Weekend for Women, which was based out of Glen Coe, alongside fellow instructor Lena Hunter. They had some tricky conditions to navigate but managed to find snow on both days and make the most of the brief weather windows, covering skills such as movement, crampons, ice axe arrests and navigation, as well as planning and decision making regarding avalanche forecasts. 

Both of our Avalanche Awareness courses took place in January, with Ben and Ian Stewart (from Trail Running Scotland) running the first course, and Ben and myself running the second course. The second day had winds reaching over 100mph on the summits, so we chose to stay in the café for the majority of the day, looking at theory and planning.

With so many storms in January, we had to make some very difficult decisions, and cancel or postpone some of the courses on safety grounds. Apologies to any members who have been affected by this - we always try our best to run a course, but in some circumstances, it just isn’t safe to do so.

Fingers crossed that February brings some much calmer weather! 

It’s been all systems go in January for the ClimbScotland team, with lots of planning and preparation for the year ahead along with us starting the delivery of workshops, academy events for our squads and the start of the ClimbScotland Fun Competition.

Qualifiers for the CSFCC started on the 20th January and will finish on Friday 1st March, taking place at 12 host venues across Scotland. The self-scoring format and on-line registration of scores make it so easy to have a go... For more info, check out the ClimbScotland website.

Members of the 2024 ClimbScotland Development and National Squad enjoyed a ‘Meet the Team’ session at Edinburgh International Climbing Arena on 20th January. The session focused on two key areas with the squads, which were ‘Team building’ and ‘Goal setting’. The team look forward to working with the squad in the year ahead and delivering the programme which can be found on our website

Our Inclusive Climbing Workshop moved to a new venue on the 26th January at Above Adventure in Kilmarnock. Workshop deliverer, Gemma Hendry from Able 2 Adventure was blown away by the facility and the team at Above Adventure, impressed with the inclusive approach the venue has to climbing, backed by the knowledge, skill and experience of the team. The workshops was, as always, a sell out with a great mixture of attendees coming from various organisations and backgrounds, including staff from The Climbing Academy and our friends at Common Wheel Glasgow.

There are only two rounds left of the Scottish National Bouldering League following a sold out round at Alien Bloc in Edinburgh on Friday 26th January. The next round will be on Sunday 18th February at 3 Wise Monkeys in Fort William. Results are now live - check out our website to find our more! 

Our winter safety information campaign ThinkWINTER, run in partnership with our mountain safety partners and now in it’s 6th year, continued in January with the ’12 days of snowledge’. The series of daily posts by ourselves, Mountain Training, Glenmore Lodge and Scottish Mountain Rescue aimed to inspire, engage and educate, covering a wide range of snow-related topics and ended with a quiz to test your own snowledge! The social media posts have all been collated on our website or you can search for the hashtag #12daysofsnowledge on Facebook or Instagram.

The annual Mountain Writing Competition was launched on 15 January and is open to both members and non-members. This year a young poet category has been introduced alongside the usual poetry and prose categories, and thanks to the generous support of sponsors, we are able to offer a prize bundle alongside the cash prizes. Find out more about the competition and how to enter here. The closing date for entries is 5pm on Friday 1st of March.