Recalling a Crisis

A failure of crucial safety equipment leads to a tragic death.  Major manufacturers issue urgent recalls of the equipment and an emergency meeting of the industry body decides to review safety standards.

If this were a story about a major consumer product, it would be major news.  It’s not.  This is a story about a piece of specialist mountaineering equipment – via ferrata lanyards.   For this reason you won’t find this story mentioned outside the specialist press.  It’s a story with a lot of the features of a crisis.  Although the response to it has been swift, it raises all sorts of questions about the regulation of mountain sports and the accessibility of the mountains to the public.

Climbers on the Via Ferrata Sandro Pertini

Vie ferrate

Vie ferrate are a way of enabling access to mountainous areas that would normally only be accessible to experienced mountaineers or rock climbers.  These “iron roads” have a mixture of attachments to the rock to help people climb past the sections where the rock climbing is a bit harder. Read more

Rocking stag weekend

The Plan

Rock climbing certainly had to be part of it.  My best man, Jim, and I agreed that pretty early on.  My stag do would have to involve adventure and I’m a keen climber, plus I had met all of my friends who would be on the trip through rock climbing.  However, there were some issues with this idea.

Climbing on Glaciated Slab in Borrowdale.

My brother isn’t a climber and had been less than enthusiastic when I had taken him to a climbing wall in the past.  My friends also tend to be wall and sport climbers, with little experience of the trad climbing that is more common in the UK.  The solution, I thought, was to find somewhere with some easier, single pitch climbs on which I could set up a top rope.

I also thought this would be a great opportunity to try out something I’d been interested in doing for a while – the via ferrata at Honister Slate Mine in the Lake District.  I’ve done lots of via ferrata in Italy and I was curious to try out England’s first via ferrata.  Climbing on ladders and stemples (i.e. big staples punched into the rock) while attached to a safety cable also seemed more accessible than full rock climbing, while still being a mountain experience and adventurous.

The plan was to do the via ferrata on the Saturday and rock climb on the Sunday.  To get round the fact that my friends don’t own tents, we would stay in a yurt.  This was something else I’d been interested to try now that there are a few companies providing them as a more glamorous alternative to camping.

In a big estate car, we would drive up to Seatoller (in Borrowdale and just below the Honister Pass) on the Friday night and then be ready to go the next morning.

This was the plan, but plans don’t always go as you expect. Read more