Years ago, now, I think it was winter 2003, so nineteen years ago, I travelled to Scotland. It was quite a full-on Scottish winter, snow down to the road even as far south as Loch Lomond. I met Michael Tweedley, and our first climb was Punster’s Crack on the Cobbler. At the time, Michael had been climbing in winter with an up-and-coming climber called Dumby Dave, (although maybe for those in the know, he had already come at this point!) better known, of course, as Dave Macleod. I’m sure Michael said, Dave and his partner, (who remains unknown to me) had climbed Punster’s Crack, making the first, or possibly the second, or maybe even the third winter ascent? In fact, sitting here now, thinking about it, I’m pretty sure Michael didn’t say this at all, I think he might have mentioned Dave had climbed it, and nothing else. NO, now I remember, I’m pretty sure after we climbed it, Michael told Dave, and Dave had told Michael we had climbed the second, third, or fourth winter ascent? Anyway, I knew nothing about the climb, and remember very little about it, I didn’t even know it was a starred summer route, what an ignorant fool!
At that time, for me anyway, the thought of leaving a Scottish winter climb because it was too snowy, was not a thing, we did Bulgy in the Northern Corries later in the trip, where I do, for once remember swimming in a scary, unprotected upward motion. Basically, if it was winter, and Scotland, and it was plastered in snow, it was in condition. These were beautiful innocent times, well, at least they were for me. I watched weather forecasts and when it looked good, drove North. I walked into crags that I thought would be in condition, and climbed anything that looked good and interesting. Obviously, I had ideas of the climbs I wanted to do, but, more often than not, these would go out of the window as something else came along.
When we climbed Punster’s it was almost skiable, and I still remember climbing the top pitch blindly snagging picks, lifting my front points high and catching them on something, before pulling and standing, to find myself teetering, even higher above the last piece of gear that was way below.
I’m sure I would have been quite exhilarated to top out, but like much else, I don’t remember. I do remember us walking off and thinking about what other climbs we could do. Apart from Michael telling Dave about our ascent, that was it, the climb was done, we moved on to whatever next, there was no blogging, no logbook entry, nothing, that’s how it was, you just went climbing, because you wanted to go climbing and you took a punt (intended) on conditions.
Im sure it was on this Scottish trip in 2003 with Michael, and on a particularly rainy day, he sat me down behind a computer screen in Fort William Library, and showed me how to sign up for an email account. I really didn’t have a clue, I didn’t own a laptop, I had only just learnt how to turn a computer on and off, and thought it was a waste of time. I still have the same email address that Michael showed me how to sign up for all those years ago.
Two months later, maybe three, I visited Canada for an icefall climbing trip. This was my second winter trip to Canada, the first was with Bruce French in 2000, this time I was climbing with Dave Hunter. Dave was the manager at rock and Run in Ambleside at the time. I met Dave for the first time a couple of years previously while staying in the Alex MacIntyre Memorial Hut in North Ballachulish, he was a supply teacher then, and didn’t take work in the winter, concentrating purely on Scottish winter climbing. I liked Dave, he was a loud and grumpy Scot, interested, almost only, on winter climbing. For some reason, we clicked!
In Canada, we travelled around Alberta, with the occasional hop into British Columbia, we climbed loads of classic ice and mixed routes, I suppose the most memorable was an 18-hour, car to car of a completely out of condition Sea of Vapours. As mentioned above, I didn’t follow any forums, or go on the internet at this time, but, as I discovered on this trip, Dave did. We stayed regularly at the Canadian Alpine Club Clubhouse in Canmore, and one night, when I became fed up of doing all the cooking, I went to find him to see what he was doing. It turned out, Dave was downstairs using their pay as you go, get on the internet machine, where he read and added posts to a forum on a website called UKC. I must admit it was beyond me why he wanted to do this, I just didn’t get it, and after having a grumble about him not cooking, left him to his weird and wonderful internet world.
Following a regular theme of this post, I don’t remember when, but sometime after the above internet incident, and obviously when I was a bit more internet savvy, (I think it was after travelling to Canada for the third time with Ian Parnell I became more internet proficient, must have learnt from Ian!) I looked on UKC forums, and it was then, I discovered the occasional mention of me. Now, you modern young things, you’re not going to believe this, but I was truly mortified, I couldn’t believe people had been mentioning me on this weird world wide web. I was especially horrified to see a well know user of UKC forums, Norrie Muir, had mentioned me in a thread about climbing Scottish routes out of condition. Well, what he actually said was, (if I’m remembering correctly because I can’t find the thread on UKC) he had walked beneath the crag, where two people had been climbing Punster’s Crack, and it was completely out of winter condition with no snow. Later, he said he thought (wrongly) the people he had seen climbing was Michael and myself, I think even even said I should have known better. Norrie obviously had heard Michael and I had climbed Punster’s and put 2+2 together, making 37, where he proceeded to slander us. It of course wasn’t us, because as mentioned above, the climb had so much snow as to get a ski grade.
This was almost my first experience of forums and the internet gossiping surrounding climbing, and I must admit, I was glad, I had nothing to do with it, and still to this day, I find the whole Chinese whispers, false accusations and rumour-mill, difficult to accept.
Fast forward to present day. As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been concentrating on building sheds, and apart from the one trip in the van to France, I’ve stayed local in north Wales. My unscientific plan, in between shed building, was to go rock climbing, and in general, the type of rock climbing that is more guaranteed to get a workout; sport, headpointing, well-travelled trad. I just wanted to get some climbing done so as to not lose too much fitness between building days.
I’m glad to say, the shed ghetto, three sheds in total, is almost done and my plan to remain at a certain climbing level appears to have worked. The good news is, I have a ferry booked for Spain and here I am doing my first bit of writing in a while. The bad news is, here I am doing my first bit of writing for a while!
Although my summer has been busy, I’ve kept up with gossiping and spraying, the occasional ‘interesting’ UKC logbook entry, and climbing stuff on various forums etc, not loads, I find it almost impossible to go onto Facebook newsfeed and Instagram, because I become disenchanted looking at hubris, and the thinly disguised sell, of both person and product (maybe now the person is the product?). The commercialisation of climbing and climbers has become awful, and because they can’t see how much they have been manipulated and modified, they just keep doing it. There are so many untruths, half-truths and dare I say, lies. There is speculation and guess work written up as fact on a daily basis. It almost makes me long for the return of poor old Norrie, (unfortunately he died some time back) because at least we knew Norrie was prone to get things wrong and have the occasional rant, and at least Norrie was talking from a very experienced, all be it, fiery stance. I read stuff now that is written as serious; stuff about how we should climb, what protection we should use on certain climbs, and what protection we shouldn’t use. We are told where we should belay and what bits of gear we need to build a belay. We are even told that if a thing is too dangerous, it should be made safe. Oh my, I remember the days that climbing was about a person making decisions for themselves, and if they got it wrong, and lived, they learnt. Now they are castigated by the health and safety, internet lynch mob. Even people that are usually on it, are writing things incorrectly, that is then taken as gospel, and others add their own wild, and incorrect facts. The whole snowball of incorrect, turns into a massive avalanche of utter tripe. It’s like some kind of Greek mythology, but instead of the rock being repeatedly pushed up hill, it’s a big snowball of made up guesses rolling down to crush us all.
A large proportion of the climbing world now appears to be thriving on incorrect information, and making it worse by adding their own incorrect assumptions. How many times while reading something about a climb, or a climbing topic, do you read, ‘well, I haven’t done the climb, or visited the crag, visited the country, used the piece of gear, etc, etc, but here is my opinion on x, y, or z anyway.’ For pity’s sake, you don’t have to publish an opinion on a subject you know nothing about, you could say nothing, or even better, go and do a climb and get first-hand knowledge of whatever the subject it is you’re commenting on, and then, you’ll be in a position, garnered from experience (thinking about this, having read some of the incorrect facts being written at the moment on UKB and UKC about the bolts being placed on established climbs here in north Wales, it proves having experience of a climb, or an area doesn’t guarantee the facts are correct) to make an informed comment.
Taking the on-going pegbolt debate happening now on UKC as an example, it’s also quite concerning how much weight is placed on how loud a person shouts about themselves. People are using the lack of entries, either on social media or UKC logbooks as evidence that climbs are not being climbed. Not all climbers post about their climbs on social media or log them on UKC logbooks, so to use social media or logbooks as some kind of evidence is short-sighted.
I was listening to Radio 4 a few days ago the programme, Start the Week, featured an interview by the 2021 Nobel peace prize-winner, Maria Ressa. To say it was a revelation is possibly going too far, but when I hear well informed and intelligent people saying the same things that I think or feel, it relieves my concern that I’m going crazy, or becoming some mad conspiracy theory believer. I know there must be many people who feel similar, but here was a Nobel prize winning journalist and author saying the things I’ve thought for some time, hooray!
Ressa says she was the truest of true believers in social media until it attacked us, and so was I, I really did think the original concept gave us, the little people, a voice. But the voice it now gives, and spreads in general appears to be one of misinformation that Facebook, Instagram, (insert whatever SM platform of your choice) ignores. A few phrases she said made complete sense… “Social Media is the tech that has turned into a modification system.” It modifies our behaviour, just think about that, our behaviour changes because of what we see and read, and of course, it changes what we then publish on our own SM platform. Come on, be honest with yourself, how many times do you publish your climb, your trip, your good times on the crag because you want to keep up with the other people that are publishing their climbs, their travels, their ‘fantastic adventures’ or maybe you just want to return to the school yard and show us how good you live in comparison to your friends. She later goes on to say “peer pressure is what you would call high school, but Social Media causes species wide pressure. Social Media is designed to cause anger, fear, and hatred and this is what we are seeing all around the world.” Another thing she says is “meaning has been sucked out, gaslighting has become part of everyday life.” I’ve heard the phrase gaslighting repeatedly, but never really known what the actual meaning was, so here it is, Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic in which a person, to gain power and control, of another individual, plants seeds of uncertainty in another person’s mind.
Anyway, of course, don’t take my word for it, I may be gaslighting, have a listen to the programme here and stay with it to hear Ressa’s take on what needs to be done, which is, “Social Media has to be redesigned, because by design, lies, especially laced with anger and hate, spread faster and further than facts.”