Eco climbing (Alpine climbing)

Previously published in Climb magazine, August 2006. My knowledge has moved on a lot since I wrote this, but the general thrust of the article still rings true. I’m planning on adding a page to the website with some advice and links to help people get to climbing destinations without flying.

Ski home

Ski home

Global warming is in the newspapers and on TV on an almost daily basis. Ice caps melting, glaciers receding, Kyoto protocols, emissions trading, political wrangling, lobbying, bluffing and spin. Outside of the popular media, amongst scientists the world over, there is now little doubt that humans are having a huge and potentially catastrophic effect on the worlds climate through the burning of fossil fuels. Against this confusing and overwhelming background it can be difficult to know how we can each reduce the impact we each have on the environment. We have to live our everyday lives, which for us climbers, means going climbing. In this article I’ll try and suggest a few ways in which we can all reduce the impact our everyday lives, and more particularly our climbing, have on the world.

Carbon footprints

These are an attempt to quantify the impact an individual is having on the global environment by asking a short series of questions on the way we live. They estimate the total amount of Carbon Dioxide (the principal gas responsible for global warming) produced annually by a given lifestyle. Althoughthey are somewhat crude, they are a good starting point and allow you to evaluate the likely affect any changes might have. Do not be downhearted by the results, as citizens of a first world country our values will almost certainly be higher than the global ideal, or even the global average. It is not so important that everyone’s impact is reduced to a certain level, some of us have jobs or family situations that make living a low impact lifestyle very difficult. What is important is that we identify where changes are possible without compromising our chosen lifestyle and make these changes, that we identify further compromises we are willing to make to our lifestyle to further reduce our impact, and that for those areas of our lives in which we aren’t able or willing to compromise we are at least aware of the likely impact of our choices.

As climbers, the majority of our environmental impact invariably comes from traveling to and from climbing venues. Here are some ideas for how this impact might be minimised:

In the UK: short trips

When traveling to a climbing venue, try to car share as much as possible. The impact of four people traveling in one car is, about a quarter of the impact of four people each traveling in separate cars, simple really! If you don’t have three friends to fill the car, try advertising your lift on a climbing website, these often have a “lifts and partners” forum, which can be used for just such adventures. This obviously works best if you know in advance where you are going. Climbing clubs can also be useful things to join both to offer and take advantage of lifts.

For some journeys it may make more sense to offer the lift on a more general lift sharing website, for example if you were driving to Scotland from London you could offer a lift “London to Edinburgh/Glasgow/central belt” There are many such sites around and they have the advantage of far more people looking for lifts than on climbing specific sites. Liftsharing can also save you a lot of money.

If you and your climbing friends are travelling from different starting points, rather than both driving the whole way, why not meet halfway and share cars from there, or take only one car and meet at a nearby rail/bus station?

Domestic UK flights seem to have become the norm in the past ten years. For longer distance UK travel, many only consider the flying option, assuming that it must be both quicker and cheaper. In actual fact for many journeys, when the time and cost of travelling to and from the airport is taken into account, it is often both cheaper and quicker to travel by train.

Try going to venues that are easily accessed by public transport. The best of these are places that have easy hitch hiking (think areas with high proportion of outdoorsy types). It works quite well to catch a train/bus to somewhere central to the area, and hitch around to access specific crags. Areas that I have found work well for this are Glencoe/Fort William and Snowdonia, but any area with a good number of outdoor folk around and reasonably compact climbing locations should be similar. Hitch with your rope on the outside of your pack-people are more likely to pick you up if they see you are a climber. If you are driving and see a hitch hiker, why not pick them up?

Try going on fewer longer trips, rather than many short trips, this maximises the amount of climbing you get done for a given amount of travelling. If possible, try and be flexible when planning trips. If you are planning to winter climb, have several different venues in mind and decide at the last minute according to where looks best. This is made much easier with the use of internet reports, webcams and weather forecasts. If it looks like it’s going to be a wash out everywhere, consider doing something else for the weekend.

If you don’t have such flexibility, or are surprised by bad weather, it’s easy to feel that a trip has been wasted. Try and have a good selection of things to do for different weathers. If it’s raining, why not go for a hill run or walk? Or take bikes and go mountain biking? All these make a wet trip seem less of a waste of time than they often do.

The climbing holiday

Climbing abroad: The foreign cragging trip has become firmly entrenched in the minds of most UK climbers and many take more than one a year. First there is the spring bolt clipping in the sun, then the summer road trip, the autumn bouldering and the winter ice cragging holiday. Almost everyone seems to fly to these. There are obvious reasons for this; it’s quick, and it’s often cheaper. Such luxuries however come at an environmental cost, and the alternatives are often not as difficult, or as expensive, as you might think.

Train: Traveling to Europe by train has several advantages over air: there is no baggage weight limit and it is easier to cancel at the last minute if the weather/conditions look to be poor. When booked in advance prices compare favourably to many airfares. A journey to the alps or the south of France is comfortably manageable by train within a day from the UK.

Car and Ferry: This is a good option if there are several of you to fill a car, especially if you can share the driving. With four in a car going to somewhere like Norway can often be cheaper than flying and hiring when you’re out there. Many ferries sail overnight so although long, much of the time is spent sleeping. There is also several great rail/sail offers for trips to Ireland. Fairhead, mmm.

International bus: long and uncomfortable, but cheap as chips and usually bookable last minute

UK trips: The UK has a huge variety of climbing, how about replacing one of your overseas trips with a UK one? I was ashamed to realise the other day, when looking at pictures of Pembroke sea cliff climbing, that although I have been to many exotic foreign venues, I’ve never climbed there!

Everyday life

Commuting: What if you could combine some useful training into your daily routine with no loss of time? Sounds too good to be true? Not really. By cycling to work you get all the cardiovascular training a climber should need, and you are saving money and often time into the bargain! Most importantly you are doing your bit to cut urban congestion and pollution. Buy a helmet, some decent lights and an extra large high visibility vest (from a builders yard) that can go over both yourself and your rucksack. It helps if you have showers at work, but even without it is manageable as cycling tends to be a fairly low sweat afair due to the self created breeze. Anything up to 10 miles each way is relatively easily manageable. If you don’t fancy it every day, try it one or two days a week, and see how you go!

Cycle to the wall: This also has a valuable training benefit in terms of warming up and warming down. Most wall users turn up, do a few stretches and jump straight on some routes, eager to get their money’s worth. This runs a high risk of injury, and does little to maximise your performance. Cycle to the wall to get your warm up, and cycle home again for a warm down. I notice my arms are considerably less sore if I have cycled home from the wall than if I have got a lift or the bus home.

At work: If there isn’t already one in place, why not do an environmental audit of your office/place of work?

Ten easy things you can do in everyday life outside of climbing

• Reduce: Reduce the amount of packaging you buy; try to buy stuff with less packaging; try to buy less stuff!

• Reuse: Reuse what you can before throwing it away-use single sided paper as scrap, reuse envelopes by sticking address labels over the old address.

• Recycle: Recycle the waste you can’t reuse. This saves energy in manufacturing and reduces the need for deforestation and mining. It also saves a large amount of emissions in transporting raw materials from abroad. Buy recycled products where suitable alternatives exist.

• Compost or Greencone your food waste if you have a garden. Food waste sent to landfill can release methane – an extremely potent greenhouse gas.

• Turn the heating down. Lowering the thermostat by just 1 degrees celcius can save as much as 10% in heating bills.

• Turn the lights off when you aren’t in a room. Replace your incandescent lightbulbs with low energy lightbulbs (compact flourescents).

• Draft proof your doors and windows.

• Switch to a renewable energy supplier with a variable rate tarif (to encourage you to use a greater percentage of your electricity at night using timer switches etc on dishwashers, washing machines etc, when there tends to be an excess).

• Buy locally produced vegetables and other foodstuffs. Supermarket food tends to have done shocking amounts of food miles, and by buying from a local farmers market, or having an organic veg box delivered to your house, you are helping the local economy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and eating well!

• Support political movements that you consider appropriate ways of tackling global environmental problems. This is perhaps the most important of the lot. Without global action, individual actions will have little effect, so we need policies that encourage global change.

• When asked why you are travelling by train rather than flying, or planning a holiday to North Wales rather than New Zealand, tell your friends what you are doing, and why. It can be easy to be shy about it, for fear of being accused of being an idealistic tree hugger, but why should we feel this way? Climate change is one of the most serious threats the human race is likely to face in the next century, and we should be proud to be doing our bit!

Ok, so that was eleven!