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Our Month: Mountaineering Scotland in October 2023

Tuesday 31st October 2023, 3:41pm

Welcome to the October 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.

Early October was spent preparing for our midpoint review with sportscotland, which I attended with our President Brian Shackleton. Mountaineering Scotland receives an annual investment of £252k from sportscotland, which enables us to deliver a wide range of activities we would not otherwise be able to support. 

Itís important to understand that, although all public money comes with accountability, the support we get is directed into areas of our work that the Board want to sustain and develop, and where our strategic outcomes align with the strategic objectives set by sportscotland. Our funding is split into three main areas: the ClimbScotland initiative, our mountain safety activity and our organisation, which supports management and back-office functions. Support for competition climbing is a high-profile aspect of our work given it is now an Olympic sport. However, it is important (in the context of local authority cuts to outdoor education) that we see the ClimbScotland initiative as a key way to engage with children and young people who are getting into climbing through indoor walls (as they are, after all, our members of the future.) Sportscotland support for mountain safety assists us to deliver our training programme for clubs and individual members and, importantly, supports the work of the Mountain Safety Group  and our delivery of public safety messaging aimed at helping people be more self-reliant in our hills and mountains. 

In the latter half of October, attention switched to preparing for the Mountaineering Scotland Finance Advisory Group and Board Meeting, as well as the AGM which will be held on the 11th of November. I also attended a meeting with MSP Willie Rennie to support Scottish Athletics and the hill running community in responding to the cancellation of this year's Pentland Hills Skyline event. Willie is an enthusiastic hill runner and its great that following the meeting he has stepped in to help by writing to both the Scottish Government and the City of Edinburgh Council.

New, updated Snowsports touring guidance on taking passage safely and responsibly through Scotlandís ski resorts will soon be published, after consultation with representatives of the snowsports touring community. Situations have arisen in the past couple of seasons where there have been conflicts of interests with the activities of snowsports tourers and the ski resorts. This guidance, worked up in collaboration with ski tourers, ski centres and the access authorities, is intended to help everyone. 

We have also been tracking progress of the legislation that may enable public funding for public access, and noted that the Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill has been issued and will now be scrutinised in Parliament. We are pleased to see a clause in this framework Bill that provides a purpose of support to assist with recreational access to land. This means that a scheme can be devised to provide, maintain, facilitate and improve access for recreation to land.  We will be working to ensure that hill paths can be beneficiaries of any such scheme.

Shared Rural Network (SRN) 4G digital telecoms masts keep on being proposed for inaccessible areas where no-one lives or has business premises to benefit from connectivity. The SRN project management team have made clear that their mandate is to deliver the programme through the planning system within the tight timescale. We have objected to masts in remote locations in National Scenic Areas and Wild Land Areas where there are no rural residences or business that would benefit. We are also writing to Ofcom, the Regulator of the process, asking to prioritise proposals where the mast signal would provide coverage and associated connectivity benefits for rural residentsí homes and business premises, and gaps along the road network, and to hold back on the remote places until community consultation has been done. 

We have been transitioning from summer to autumn with both weather and our selection of courses we have been running this month. October started with my fellow Mountain Safety Advisors, Ben Gibson and Kirsty Pallas, delivering the final days of a navigation course for the RMT Union, which was held on the local hills at Pitlochry, allowing all the participants to arrive by train.

The first full weekend was a busy one, with all three Mountain Safety Advisors out. Myself and Ben were delivering the final single day navigation courses based out of Arrochar Mountain Rescue base, while Kirsty was out helping deliver the final three days of the Summer Mountain Leader course. This was a very wet weekend but allowed us to talk through the importance of planning and choosing suitable routes to match the forecast and conditions.

Mountaineering Scotland continue to support the work of Mhor Outdoors, who work with groups to access an outdoor lifestyle for a healthy, more equal society. Both Ben and Kirsty went out for a day each to help deliver content on the hill with focus on planning, weather, safety, and navigation.

In the middle of the month, I headed up to Glenmore Lodge for the Snowsports Touring Advisory Group (STAG) meeting. This was the first meeting since before the pandemic and was chaired by Mountaineering Scotland Director for Snowsports Touring, Alistair Todd. It was well attended by representatives from the Scottish Ski centres, as well as Mountaineering Scotlandís Access and Conservation Officer, Davie Black and members of Snowsports Scotland, Sottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS), Glenmore Lodge, Eagles Ski Club, and British Mountain Guides. It was a full agenda, but it was great to start the ball rolling (or planks sliding!) towards what we hope will be a successful touring season for all.

As I write, Ben Gibson is out delivering the first in the series of our Night Navigation courses. These ones are running in the Campsie Fells, but next month we have courses in the Pentlands and Dumyat in Stirling - all of which have a few spaces available if youíre looking to brush up on the navigation skills for poor visibility of just to gain confidence if youíre late back.

In October, we kicked the month of by celebrating Scottish Women and Girls in Sport Week 2023 . We highlighted that this year, weíve had 212 women and girls competing across our competitions, and 21 girls join us on our RealRock programme.

Our Ready to Rock wrapped up for 2023 with the final sessions being delivered by Pamela Miller on the weekend of 14th - 15th. In total, 42 Ready to Rock sessions have been delivered this year, 21 of which were Womenís Ready to Rock sessions, resulting in 133 participants, 55 of which were women.

Talent and Pathways Officer, Jack Davis lead on the organisation of Round 3 of the Youth Climbing Series at The Ledge in Inverness. This proved to be a somewhat challenging round with storm Babet making travel to the competition difficult for some. In the end, we had a fantastic competition and it was great that the majority of competitors made it to this super new venue. Results can be found here and donít forget to check out our highlight Reels on our Instagram too!

We were sad to hear that our Competition Coordinator, Scott Forsyth, was going to be retiring from his role. Scott has been supporting competition climbing as a volunteer for ClimbScotland and BMC for 23 years! His last competition as Chief Judge for us was at the YCS Round 4, at Above Adventure in Kilmarnock, on Saturday 4th November 2023. The competition climbing community has come together and setup a Just Giving page for Scott's favourite charity, CAC Climbers Against Cancer, to celebrate and thank Scott for everything he has done during his time as volunteer. So far, over £2,000 has been raised. 

Finally, the Scottish National Bouldering League kicked off at the end of the month! Details and dates are also now live - check out our website to find our more!

Preparations for our 2023 AGM and Members Gathering are well underway at our head office in Perth, with papers and voting information being sent out to members and clubs at the start of the month. As well as the official business of the AGM, we will bee exploring some of the key issues impacting on the mountain environment and our access to it, with the launch of our new policy statement ĎManifesto for the Mountainsí. Members are also invited to join an informal walk up Birnam Hill with the Mountaineering Scotland board and staff (weather permitting!).

It's Up to Us was the feature of a fantastic article by Dan Bailey for UKHillwalking this month, after he took a walk with our CEO Stuart Younie to see the extent of the path erosion on An Teallach and talk about the campaign. Work has now started on the path repair project, which has been shortlisted for 60,000 euros of funding from the European Outdoor Conservation Association that would allow the next stage of the repairs to go ahead in 2024. The winning projects will be announced at the end of November. 

Our Autumn Adventures series continued with advice from Mountain Safety Advisers Kirsty Pallas and Ben Gibson on how to catch an inversion and navigation skills

Our winter skills courses are now booking up fast. The two day winter skills weekends are nearly all fully booked with just a few spaces left for the March dates, but there is still some availability on the one day courses, as well as avalanche awareness, winter navigation and our snowsports touring two day course aimed at club members who are keen to learn leadership skills as well as improving their navigation and avalanche awareness.

It's been a busy month for surveys, with our 2023 member survey and consultations on the Earba Pumped Hydro Scheme proposal on Ardverikie estate and a plan to clean up the Old Man Of Hoy, which gained a fair amount of media attention. Both of the consultation surveys are now closed and received over 1000 responses in total. 

And finally, our popular pom pom beanies are back! This year we have four new colours to add to your collection Ė they sold out in record time last year, so head over to our online shop and see what other goodies we have on offer too.