Yesterday I got into a discussion on Facebook about equipment being put on mountains to assist climbers and hikers. I clearly won the argument. Because despite being respectful and balanced, the Kerry Climbing group just chose to delete my comments. They don’t seem to like engaging with anyone who disagrees with their view point.

Trail shelter

Adirondock style shelter on a Swedish hiking trail

That view is that no one should put artificial aids in the mountains for climbers and walkers. No signs, no steps, boardwalks, or chains (used to help people on steep ground). Or rather not in Ireland. Because every Irish walker and climber who has spent time beyond the UK and Ireland has used these things. This hypocrisy is one thing that bugs me about this position. I was given a line about “Irish ethics” being different. But in 20 years of climbing and hiking in Ireland, other than a vocal minority, pretty much everyone I know would be happy with the idea of having trails in Ireland like you see elsewhere. And I have yet to see some of these fundamentalists refuse to use things in the few places they are in Ireland – like the bridge over the Dargle above Powerscourt waterfall for example.

The safety angle is the one most often cited: if you put these things in place then people who have no business in the mountains will come out, and get in trouble. Funnily enough that argument sounds exactly like the discredited “abstinence only” approach to sex education – the answer to young people having sex and getting pregnant is to tell them not to have sex.

The fundamentalists in each case are wrong. People will have sex, people will want to enjoy the mountains. So if you are worried about their safety then you have to be realistic and focus on doing what you can to reduce the risks. You recommend they go with experienced groups, who can teach them about navigation, mountain conditions, and so on. But you also lay out safe trails with transparent difficulty levels, provide signage to keep people from getting lost, and provide infrastructure to help ensure they don’t get caught out by difficult sections.

Erosion on Djouce

Erosion on Djouce from hikers.

The other benefit to all of this is the sustainability one. It would be better to direct hikers onto prepared trails that can take hundreds of walkers, than have them contribute further to erosion or have them open new paths as they try to avoid damaged areas.

The impression I get is that many of the objections are just elitist snobbery. They say “you are not fit to be in the mountains” and only those of the right calibre should use them. And this exclusionary attitude is damaging to the perception of the sport and the uplands as well. Why should the general public care about mountains and access issues if they are being told that these places are not for them to enjoy as well?

Boardwalk above Glendalough

Boardwalk above Glendalough

I am not arguing for trails and paths everywhere. I appreciate the wilderness feel of getting away from it all on unmarked routes as well. But popular areas (like Carrauntoohil), or sensitive ones where traffic has lead to damage (many locations in Wicklow) should have options that are equipped. This should be planned, and done to a high standard like the boardwalk above the Glendalough lake.

And those that then attempt to remove these items should not be praised, but should be treated as vandals.

 

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