Page last updated at 08:37 GMT, Friday, 10 April 2009 09:37 UK

Risks of seeking mountain heaven

Graham Davies (picture: Peter Macmillen)
Graham Davies first got the mountain bug at school

Thousands of walkers and climbers will take to mountains again this Easter. While the vast majority will be safe, rescuers are concerned that some will be unprepared and ill-equipped, with the death toll on Snowdon, Wales' highest peak, having reached five this year alone.

One mountaineer Graham Davies, 45, told Wena Alun-Owen about its appeal, but also how "common ignorance" can lead to danger.

I first got a taste for going up mountains when I was at school and I did the usual trip up Snowdon.

I really enjoyed it, then left school, went to work, joined rock bands... and about 10 years down the line I thought I'd really like to get back into the mountains again.

I had no gear at all, but did know quite a few friends who were experienced climbers and mountaineers.

I went off on various adventures mainly around the Carneddau, the Glyders part of Snowdonia and basically I started learning mountain craft - basic navigation skills, requirements of all your gear, the right clothing, procedures as in route finding, weather observations, what to do in an emergency, basic first aid skills.

Graham Davies
It's pretty profound as a craft goes, there's a lot to it
Graham Davies

A lot of people who go out on the hills are on the edge of it: they buy the gear, map and compass, they might buy a GPS, then they basically start learning and improvising whilst they're out there.

Other elements we know go up Snowdon in the trainers and trackie bottoms. I saw quite a few of them when I went up the Snowdon path up to Clogwyn.

Of the 100 people I saw in the space of two hours about 40% were wearing trainers and not the adequate trousers or coats. Most of the others had basic waterproofs on, but no ice axes or crampons, and these people were heading up to the snow line.

So I was quite alarmed by the majority of people up there who had no experience nor had any intention of gaining the experience.

They are very much what you'd call a day walker. It's 'I'll go in my trainers and take a butty, packet of crisps and a bottle of water'. And they improvise: most come away unscathed, which probably leads other people to think they can do it as well.

I think it's basic common ignorance. We all have this chain of thought where we assess what we do on a day-to-day basis.

They feel like they're going about their everyday business just like any other tourist. Not everybody can say they know qualified mountaineers: really, I would suggest if you don't know anyone who has the experience to go to somewhere like Plas y Brenin.

Graham Davies (picture: Peter Macmillen)
Ice axes are essential in bad weather

It is difficult because there is no official code of practice which is recognised. You have the Highway Code for the road, but there is nothing like that in the mountaineering fraternity.

I'm really humbled and impressed by all the rescue teams and team members who put in so much work, dedication, training, and raise the funds. They often pull people off mountains who are inexperienced.

Some say it's OK if they go out for the qualified or experienced mountaineers, that it seems to be more justified.

I used to go up in quite bad weather, but I've learned there's no point. Sometimes you have to deal with it when it happens, though.

Six weeks ago I happened to be out on the Carneddau range. I was with my father-in-law and brother-in-law and the weather forecast on the website in the morning was gusts of up to 45mph.

So we thought, we'll be OK, it'll be a little tough, but then the wind got stronger and stronger and when it got to the point where we could barely stand up and you could see other walkers being bowled over like tumbleweeds, it became apparent that we had to get off the hill, and that's what we did.

Graham Davies (picture: Peter Macmillen)
Fitting crampons at the snow line

Some people might have more bravado and think 'come on, be a man get up there in any conditions, it'll toughen you up'.

It's OK if you want to go down that road, it's entirely up to the individual, but it's up to that individual to get themselves out of it too.

Say for example you have somebody who's driven 50 or 70 miles, from the Midlands or wherever, they've made up their mind that they're going up Snowdon.

They've looked at the weather forecast and it was a bit hit-and-miss, but they think they'll go anyway because they've got it in their mindset that they're determined and they're going up.

I think they make that decision before they even leave the house. And it is like a stubbornness, so when they come here it can be 100 mph winds, lashing down with rain, but they think, 'Well, we've come all this way we're going up'.

My last ideal day was on Ben Nevis last year, two days before I got married. There was snow starting about 2,000 ft up, nice deep crusty snow. The weather conditions were idyllic, clear skies, just a few white fluffy clouds, and zero wind.

It was just idyllic, beautiful, sheer mountaineering heaven.




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