MOUNTAINS. They’re a nice idea, I suppose. But to be honest, I am very much in the “lovely to look at, but I don’t want to climb them” camp. I was raised at sea level, and I’ve never seen the need to go much higher to be honest. Where I live is less than 40 metres above sea level. Anything above 50 and I’m in nosebleed territory.
But I accept that others feel differently about such things. Indeed, there are people who actually climb mountains for pleasure.
In fact, according to Out of Doors on Radio Scotland last Saturday morning, some 150,000 people tramp up Ben Nevis every year (which, at 1345 metres or nearly 4413ft high, is what? Something like 26.9 nosebleeds or thereabouts).
This was a Ben Nevis special to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the first recorded ascent of the mountain by botanist James Robertson. The 90-minute programme saw Mark Stephen and Helen Needham set out to climb the mountain. Cue a lot of heavy breathing on the soundtrack.
Meanwhile, Euan McIlwraith was left at base camp talking to those who have a link to Ben Nevis.
What emerged was a complex picture of a physical landscape and a national symbol that took in botany, geology land ownership and questions of tourism, access and preservation.
As Nathan Berry, nature conservation officer for the John Muir Trust pointed out, the mountain is an economic godsend to the surrounding communities. Everyone from mountain guides to B&B owners benefit from the mountain’s popularity.
“To me, it’s like the golden thread which holds the community together,” Berry suggested.
It was an idea backed up by the accents of the people Stephen and Needham met on their climb. English ones for the most part. Tourism matters and Ben Nevis is an attraction.
At the same time, that popularity has costs. “We are seeing the first effects of over-tourism,” suggested Mike Pescod, chair of Nevis Landscape Partnership and himself a mountain guide.
How does that present itself? In more and more waste. Even human waste, it seems; not a hazard that I’d normally associate with mountain climbing.
How do you deal with such problems? Mark Stephen repeatedly asked whether it was time to introduce permits for climbing the mountain, but no one else seemed particularly keen on the idea.
Ben Nevis is clearly a huge attraction. But is it fun? Stephen and Needham met one climber who clearly felt otherwise.
“It’s a set of stairs all the way up,” said climber suggested “You’ve got to do it because, obviously, it’s the highest, but I’ve done harder and more strenuous shorter peaks.”
Even so, I think I’ll stick to sea level myself. More cafes for a start.
Listen Out For: Our Story, Radio Scotland, tonight, 6.30pm
Not content with presenting Out of Doors in the morning, Mark Stephens returns with Our Story this evening to tell the story of the Falkirk Wheel. Which has a lovely cafe, to be fair.