March 2001

A mighty big score to settle

One of the RAF's most experienced climbers, Flight Lieutenant Ted Atkins has an old score to settle. Thirteen years ago he came within 800 yards of achieving a dream but had to turn back.

His feet frozen, Ted retreated from his summit bid on the world's highest peak, Everest. He had already climbed the north face of the Eiger and scaled mountains in Antarctica never before even seen, far less climbed, but missed out on the big one.

Next month, however, he will lead a team of 13 RAF mountain rescue personnel in a determined assault on Everest by the traditionally British north ridge route - the climb made famous by Mallory and Irvine in the 1930s.

The RAF hope to be able to put more men on the peak than has ever been done before.

With a £133,000 budget, some of it still to be raised, they face a mortality rate of one-in-five who tackle Everest and the logistical nightmare of just getting into Nepal and Tibet.

"We are good, we are strong and it is still a huge challenge. I have climbed all over the world and this is still the greatest undertaking," Ted said.

Most of the climbers are from the RAF mountain rescue teams in Scotland based at RAF Leuchars and RAF Kinloss, with others from RAF Leeming and RAF Coltishall.

Planning on the second attempt began after the failure of 1988 but only put into operation four years ago. The costs were enormous. Climbing Everest is big business for the Chinese authorities. It costs £6000 to "book" Everest and making an attempt at the same time is an Australian military expedition, two commercial projects and an assault by an international women's expedition.

The release of key personnel from the RAF has to be paid for, Sherpa mountain men retained, yaks hired to carry all the gear and an acclimatisation spell in Nepal has to be funded.

The team has to buy a collapsible boat to negotiate a glacier expected to be in spate by the time they return from the foothills of the mountain in early summer.

The advance party will set off on March 15 to Katmandu in Nepal for altitude training, because pulmonary and cerebral oedema are potentially deadly if the body is not allowed to acclimatise properly.

The route was carefully chosen because of the 1988 failure. Ted continued: "That expedition failed because the route was too long. It was a logistical nightmare. The north ridge route is more technical but involves fewer logistics and has less objective danger, meaning dangers you can do nothing about like avalanche or falling rock."

His experience on Everest 13 years ago sharpened his desire to stand on the roof of the world. On the day before his anticipated sprint to the summit he had advanced to 800 yards, dug a snowhole and left his sleeping bag. The plan was to return, get a night's sleep in his bag and go for it.

"When I got there another team had been in the area and my bag was gone. I tried to sleep in my rucksack but in the morning my feet were shot. I was gutted and miserable but, as it turned out, no one got to the top."

Hopefully, this time things will be different, but the weather is the key to the entire expedition, especially as the booking fee is for 50 days only.

"We are starting as winter finishes but we have to finish before the monsoons arrive at the beginning of the summer, when huge amounts of snow arrive. But if the winter runs on and the monsoon arrives later, the time on the mountain runs out.

"We believe it will only be the weather that stops us. The team is exceptionally strong and the plan is to put as many as we can on top. Only the base manager will be left in camp." He said all 12 who are climbing have the ambition and the ability to get to the top.

"That has never been done but it will not stop us trying," he said.

Scotsman's North Pole bid

A Perthshire man will set a world record if his attempt to reach the North Pole is successful. Dave Mill, from Kenmore, will be repeating his bid to walk solo and unsupported to the geographical North Pole from Canada, covering a distance of approximately 500 miles. The expedition is expected to take Dave around 50 days and when completed it will be a world record for Great Britain.

Dave took over the sponsorship for the last expedition from Sir Ranulph Fiennes, whose own attempt had failed when he suffered the loss of several fingertips through frostbite.

Frustratingly, Dave had to abandon his own journey after 200 miles because his batteries failed in the -60C conditions, meaning he was out of touch with his base for 20 days. He re-established contact by taping together nine 1.5 volt batteries, strapping them to a ski-pole and pointing the makeshift aerial to magnetic north.

While alone in the Arctic Dave also undertook experiments in extra-sensory perception for Dr Caroline Watts at Edinburgh University and hopes to repeat them this time round.

There is a theory that the human mind is more receptive in isolated conditions and Dave, a confessed sceptic, admits to seeing "weird" images and hearing sounds, experiences which he thinks require further investigation.

If the dangers presented by failing equipment and some of the worst weather conditions for 30 years were not enough to contend with, Dave was also attacked by a polar bear which had been tracking him for three days.

He said: "We had an intense negotiation to decide who would succeed and who would fail. It was lucky I didn't have to shoot her. Thankfully I managed to scare her off with firecrackers and rubber bullets."

Despite this close encounter, Dave explained that the threat from polar bears accounts for less than 1% of the total risk to the explorer. Thin ice, poor visibility, bad weather and equipment problems present far greater dangers.

Travel across the chosen route on any one day is entirely unpredictable due to the collisions of pack ice and the consequent pressure ridges that are formed. Ridges can be 100m high and take 4-5 hours to climb.

The shifting ice is propelled by the winds and currents and can be pushed back by 10 km a day, having the effect of walking up an escalator the wrong way.

The ice may break up, forming open leads of water, and ways must be found to walk round these or wait for the ocean to re-freeze, which can take up to a few days. Temperatures can range from -20C to -60C but the wind chill factor can make the temperatures feel like -50C to -90C.
The objective of Dave's expedition is to raise money for the £500,000 Aberfeldy Hall project, which will extend sports facilities for local school children.

The decision to "go" will be made before a March 16 deadline. Once it is taken Dave will set off from the UK in April and fly to Resolute in northern Canada. He will then travel for a further 10 hours, flying to Ward Hunt Island to begin his expedition.

If Dave does succeed in his attempt it will be the longest unsupported expedition to the North Pole, but he does not attach great importance to that fact.

"It's the adventure of the whole thing and to test all your knowledge and experience," he added.

Pressure growing to ease foot and mouth access restrictions

Scotland's countryside effectively remains out of bounds, but pressure is mounting for restrictions imposed as a result of the foot-and-mouth outbreak to be eased.

Tourism is being badly affected by the ongoing farm crisis and the Scottish Executive has committed itself to a rescue plan for the industry.

But questions are increasingly being asked as to whether or not closing down the countryside is the right thing to do - and what people's rights of access to rural areas really are.

Frank Fletcher runs a guest house on the West Highland Way and he said he has no idea what to tell walkers when they phone for advice on access.

"We are actually unsure, we have been told by the Scottish Executive that the West Highland Way is open, but you can see when you walk around there are signs on every access off and into the West Highland Way saying it is closed," he said.

Mr Fletcher said the signs had been put up by a number of different groups: "The landowners, farmers, Scottish Heritage, National Trust for Scotland, Forestry Commission, SNH, all those sorts of people."

And he added: "The official position is that the West Highland Way is open, but it's actually closed."

On Tuesday a crisis forum - of rural, tourist, sports and government bodies affected by the outbreak - met in Edinburgh to consider how the countryside bans can be lifted.

But real progress is unlikely to be made until next week when another meeting will be held to reveal the results of site-by-site risk assessments.

Risk assessments are what the executive urged conservation groups and other interested bodies to carry out a week ago.

Roger Smith, of the National Trust for Scotland, said: "We now recognise that there are potentially safe ways forward, based on the veterinary advice we heard today, but it is not possible for all restrictions or even most restrictions to be lifted immediately.

"Everyone at the meeting considered that risk assessments could and should be carried out at local and national level and that in general and in particular the public must avoid any contact with livestock and enclosed places where livestock are kept.

"Land managers need to review as quickly as possible which areas can be opened to the public, especially places where there is no risk of contact with livestock and this includes urban and semi-urban sites."

The current advice from the executive is that as long as people avoid direct contact with livestock the risks from walking along forest paths or rights of way across arable farms are low.

But land where livestock grazes or has recently grazed remains a high risk and the problem for land owners is assessing areas like moor land.

The government's official advice as to where you can go allows considerable freedom, but the reality is that popular attractions and vast areas of the countryside remain closed as everyone from landowners to local authorities adopts a precautionary stance.

A man has been rescued after falling 300ft on Ben Nevis. The man, whose name has not yet been released, was climbing in Green Gully when he lost his footing. He was found by members of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team and was taken to the Belford Hospital in Fort William for treatment for head and back injuries. The mountain was only partially re-opened to hill-users this week, amid ongoing precautions against foot and mouth disease.

Altitude sickness study

Medical students from Edinburgh University hope to shed some light on the mysteries of mountain sickness - at a height of more than 5,000ft.

The team set off on a 10-day expedition in Bolivia where they will study the effects of altitude on the human body. The six students hope their work will increase understanding of human physiology at high altitude and of the ways in which humans adapt to environmental change.

The research may also help clarify why certain medical conditions - such as asthma and chronic bronchitis - are caused, or complicated, by a shortage of oxygen.

The Apex Bolivia expedition will conduct a series of experiments - some at a unique laboratory at a height of 5,200m, and the rest during the ascent of Illimani, a 6,461m mountain above the Bolivian capital city of La Paz.

Their bid to shed new light on potentially fatal physiological conditions which can strike at random at high altitudes will be caught on camera by a crew from the BBC's Tomorrow's World programme. They will also be accompanied by three doctors and another 17 medical students who will act as experimental subjects.

During the visit they will carry out research into pathologies such as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACE).

Expedition leader Kenneth Baillie said: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. Human function at altitude is one of the most neglected, and least understood, aspects of physiology. At high altitude, for example, you hear of highly trained athletes being outrun by couch potatoes, but the reason remains a mystery. The team has its theories about why conditions like AMS occur and we can't wait to find out if our hunches are correct."

Mountaineer Reinhold Messner was the first man to climb all the world's 8,000m peaks, and the first to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen.

He said: "This is a unique expedition combining cutting edge research with a stunning high altitude environment and the energy of youth."

A diary recording the team's progress will be broadcast on the Tomorrow's World website, while the film about the expedition will be televised in late May.

Ben Nevis re-opens

As the foot and mouth crisis continues, restricted access to the north side of Ben Nevis has been agreed subject to strict conditions, the John Muir Trust has confirmed. The body hopes that other mountain areas in Scotland where there is low risk of contact with livestock may also soon be re-opened.

Access to the Ben is available again from Saturday, March 17. The trust said that two access points with disinfectant footbaths are being provided and climbers and walkers are being asked to use these and to avoid all contact with livestock and deer.

The new arrangements cover only the north side of Ben Nevis and the neighbouring peaks of Carn Mor Dearg, Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor but includes the cliffs on the north-east face of Ben Nevis and cliffs on both Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor.

Agreement to withdraw the request to climbers and walkers not to visit the area was agreed by the landowners - the John Muir Trust and Alcan - after a risk assessment was carried out by the trust following the advice of the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department Foot and Mouth Policy Co-ordination Unit.

It has been agreed that tThere will be two access points on the north side, one at Nevis Range Ski Centre at Aonach Mor (already in place) and a second at Torlundy Car Park. All climbers and walkers will be required to access and exit the mountains at these points and to move through disinfectant footbaths.

Access is agreed for the high ground between Aonach Mor, Aonach Beag, Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis and the climbing cliffs above 2,000 ft on these mountains. There is also a walking route from Torlundy Car Park via the Meall an t-Suidhe link path and then by the Upper Ben Path to the summit.

The lower Ben path from Achintee and the Youth Hostel in Glen Nevis remain out of bounds as does access through upper Glen Nevis and the Steall Gorge and the southern slopes of the mountains because of the risk of contact with livestock.

Access is conditional on there being no outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the Highlands and Islands; that all climbers and walkers accessing and exiting the mountains only through the agreed access points and passing through the disinfectant foot baths; that climbers and walkers completely avoiding all contact with sheep, cattle or deer; and that climbers and walkers living in areas of the country where there is foot and mouth disease do not visiting the mountain.

The situation is being kept under review and may be amended in the light of changing circumstances or non-compliance with the conditions.

The co-operation of local and mountaineering interests is vital to the success of the plan. Local mountaineers and business interests are helping to establish, meet the costs of and supervise the disinfectant access point at Torlundy Car Park.

The agreement is in accord with a growing awareness of the need to open up the countryside where this can be done without unacceptable risk and under strict conditions.

A number of other areas considered to be low risk are currently the subject of risk assessment by other owners including the National Trust for Scotland and it is hoped that other mountain areas will be opened up under similar conditions to those for the north side of Ben Nevis.
Access has already been agreed for the Northern Coires of the Cairngorms, Invercauld Estate, near Braemar, and for Aonach Mor via the Nevis Range ski Centre. All Scotland's five ski centres are open.

Nigel Hawkins, director of the John Muir Trust said: ''We hope that other areas with low risk can open soon and that there will not be undue pressure on those areas which are already open. It has been possible to agree access to part of Ben Nevis and neighbouring mountains because of the goodwill and help of mountaineers and local businesses, the agreement of the graziers, and the co-operation of the owners, Highland Council, and other organisations.

''Climbers and walkers have been magnificent in heeding the advice to stay off the hills during the current foot and mouth crisis. This partial opening up of Ben Nevis recognises the responsibility they have shown. We are sure they will continue to show this responsibility in meeting the conditions at the Ben.''

The access position at Ben Nevis represents an exceptional case for the John Muir Trust which is still asking climbers and walkers not to go to its other estates in Skye, Knoydart, Sutherland and and Schiehallion in Perthshire because of the risk of contact with livestock and the concerns of crofters and other local people. Visit the John Muir Trust's website at

WaterAid Munro Challenge 2001

For the third time, overseas development charity WaterAid is looking for people to take to the hills and head for a place in the Guinness Book of Records. The WaterAid Munro Challenge 2001 will attempt to set a new world record by putting a team on top off all 302 mountains over 3,000 feet in the British Isles on Saturday, June 16, 2001. This year they have the support, and possibly even the participation, of Alan Hinkes, the UK's top high altitude climber who is attempting to set his own record of becoming the first Briton to climb all 14 of the world highest peaks. The original Munro Challenge took place in 1995. Teams were placed on all 277 Munros and in total 3800 people took part, raising £174,000. The Guinness Book of Records accepted the challenge as a world first and the event also won the 1995 professional Fundraising Gold Award from the Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers and the Award for Excellence from the Scottish Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers. In 1997, the Scottish Mountaineering Club re-categorised the mountains and set the number of Munros at 284. These additional peaks, and the strong interest from the general public and supporters throughout Britain, led to the decision to stage the Munro+ Challenge in 1998. This Challenge also included mountains over 3000 feet in England and Wales, bringing the total to 302. Over 3000 people took part in the Munro+ Challenge in 1998, raising £217,000. However, only 301 peaks were actually climbed during the challenge's timescale. The 2001 event will allow WaterAid to conquer all 302 peaks throughout the British Isles and the aim is to raise £250,000 to help change the lives of children and adults in the developing world. Organisers are looking for teams of between four and six to take up our challenge. All participants MUST be over 18 years of age. The 2001 Munro Challenge is being organised by staff from across the UK water industry who have volunteered their time and expertise to make it a success. The focus of their activity is the Munro Steering Committee organised around the WaterAid Office based in Glasgow. If you would like to find out more about the WaterAid Munro Challenge, how to take part, fitness and kit requirements, or general enquires then please contact them emailing or call 0141 355 5730.

The Ochils Donalds

The Aberlour Child Care Trust is organising a charity trek over the Ochil Hills next month to raise funds. The Ochils Donalds event on Saturday, April 21, 2001, covers 14 miles. Starting in Glendevon, the route will take in nine 2000 foot plus peaks in the range, including Innerdownie, King's eat, Ben Cleuch and Blairdennon. Event organiser Lindsey Spowage said: ''This is not a walk for beginners as there is considerable ascent and descent in the course of the day's walking. It is, however, achievable by hillwalkers with average experience and reasonable stamina. This will be a classic and memorable hike with many fine views of Central Scotland - weather permitting.'' Each entrant has to raise a minimum of 45 sponsorship which will go to the charity, one of Scotland's largest independent voluntary organisations. It works in partnership with local authorities, health boards, grant making bodies, charitable trusts, businesses and the wider community providing hill quality front line services for disadvantaged children. For a registration form call Nina on 01786 895021 or email

Assert your right to roam

By Ian R. Mitchell
Finally we are seeing some welcome signs that the ability of the powerful, though declining, agricultural lobby to determine the agenda not only in the countryside, but for all of us, and to our detriment, is being challenged. Media comment, letters to the press and actions on the ground are all indicating that to be the case in the foot and mouth situation. The psycho-panic created by this animal disease outbreak dwarfs the much more serious danger that tuberculosis could become endemic in the human population in the UK.

Here we have a disease, foot and mouth, which does not harm humans, even if they eat infected meat. Neither does it often kill infected animals, who mostly recover. Why then the slaughter? Infected animals lose weight and give less milk, thus lowering farm incomes. It is more economical for the farmers to slaughter the beasts and have the taxpayer foot the bill - as we will surely do. Thus the entire campaign, from beginning to end, is to protect the incomes of less than 1% of the population, at the expense to the rest of us, of meat shortages, increased meat prices, the use of our taxes for compensation, and the banning of access to the countryside and the cancellation of a wide range of legitimate leisure activities affecting millions of people.

Only 10% of farmers are insured against foot and mouth; they plead poverty.

Is it a defence for a driver who is not insured when he is in an accident that he was on a low income, or unemployed? Or a haulage company that times were hard? No, and neither should it be for farmers. If they cannot insure their activities, even when 50% of farm incomes in the UK come from subsidies, then they should not be in business.

And let's look at the selectivity of the measures introduced. Walkers are banned, or requested not to walk on hills hundreds of miles from the nearest outbreaks of this disease. Meanwhile skiers go on their hills in their thousands. Why? Could it be that the same landlords who wish to exclude walkers are keen to preserve the viability of the skiing industry which pays them huge rent? I took a drive to Galloway to give a talk on March 6. Those farms which were offering B&B, with 'Vacancies' signs, had 'Dip your Feet' requests; those without B&B had 'Keep Out' - so presumably again walkers spread the disease, but paying bed and breakfasters do not?

Are we seriously suggesting that the interests of a tiny, subsidised minority should bring the country to a halt and affect the incomes of many other sectors? Farming brings in less income to the countryside than recreational tourism. Are hotels, outdoor centres, heritage centres, cafes, shops and petrol stations to be forced to don an economic hair shirt for months in defence of the farming sector? (And meanwhile, in areas where restrictions on access are still in force, such as the Grampian region, stock is being moved and slaughtered again! Square that circle, if you can.)

Naturally the public should avoid farmland during the present infection, a case of little more than severe athletes foot and some cold sores, affecting farm stock ,but there is absolutely no justification for any restrictions on access to mountain land now or in the future. A quarantine period of a month would send the wrong signals to all those thinking of visiting Scotland as tourists or walkers, that we live in a land where some dreadful plague is rampant. It is time, way beyond time, to call the economic bluff of the farming Mafia.
Assert your right to roam!