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How has hillwalking changed?

How has hillwalking changed?


Postby SummitStupid » Tue Jul 16, 2019 7:01 pm

A question for anyone who's been doing this for 20 years plus. How have walking, and the mountains, changed since you started? I read a lot of walking and climbing literature, and as with most things it seems like it was somehow purer, more honest, and just basically "better" in the past. Am I being naive? And what's changed? More people on the hills now? Better paths? Fewer navigational issues? Better food? Less snow? More blokes kitted out in 600 quid's worth of clothing in youth hostels, talking loudly to anyone who'll listen about how many Corbetts they've "done"? Anything you can think of, I'm all ears. I'd be fascinated to hear tales of any length from those longer in the tooth than me (I've only been doing it for five or six years, and I've spent the last year in China.)

Image
The first summit photo I ever took, in 2013. It was a walk up the Old Man of Coniston as part of an outdoor activity week for young people who'd had cancer. I was immediately hooked and my second mountain was Crib Goch.
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Re: How has hillwalking changed?

Postby Skyelines » Tue Jul 16, 2019 8:12 pm

My first hill was Cnicht, that was 51 years ago. I haven't clocked up many hills but repeated a few rather a lot of times mainly due to life's circumstances rather than choice and mostly in N. Wales and Lake district.

While I gather my thoughts I'll leave this little poem to be going on with.

In days of yore when young men were bold
And only canvas tents and packs were sold
Our answer to the rain and clag
Was wrap up stuff in a black bin bag.

In orange waterproofs we’d set
To beat the rain but still got wet
Labouring up the hill it was our fate
To get soaked through with condensate.

In dubbined boots the bogs we’d trot
While hoping to avoid foot rot
As dampness through our socks was felt
Water seeping through the boot’s stitched welt

In far off days come rain or sun
We always remember it was fun
The old-style gear it seemed was best
Whatever happened to the old string vest?

Now gear is “technical” or so we’re told
Much better than that stuff of old
In two weeks wages worth of gear we wrap
And find “technical” is just another word for cr*p.
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Re: How has hillwalking changed?

Postby jmarkb » Tue Jul 16, 2019 8:42 pm

Great question! It’s interesting to look back and try to remember. Here are some of my (possibly unreliable) recollections stretching back 45 years or so.

There are a lot more folk on the hills these days. Many modern paths simply didn’t exist, even on the Munros, apart from the most popular hills and old stalkers’ paths.

Bagging was confined to Munros and Tops: Corbetts were very niche and the Grahams list was not published until 1992.

Gear has improved greatly. Synthetic fabrics were just coming in (Damart thermals and nylon knee breeches) but woollen shirts and jumpers were still the thing to wear. Nylon waterproofs existed but were not breathable. Rucksacks were starting to evolve from the canvas bag type: American imports of external frame sacks were all the rage for a while before the modern internal frame designs came in. Camping gear was still very heavy: canvas tents and brass Primus stoves. Head torches did not exist.
Ice axes still had wooden shafts and crampons had the fiddly cross-cross straps.

Maps have improved a fair bit: the first metric maps were just coming in but they still used the old 50-foot interval contours from the one inch series. Guidebook descriptions typically amounted to a few lines of text and no sketchmaps. Compasses on the other hand have hardly changed at all. Magnetic declination was more important then (about 8 degrees).

There have been changes in wildlife too: these days you see more deer, buzzards and eagles but fewer voles and short-eared owls.

Winters were indeed snowier, as I recall, though still variable, and high pressure in May/June was much more reliable.

Hill food has changed a bit: Mars bars and Kendal Mint Cake were favourites then: trail mix didn’t exist and muesli bars were a new invention! Plastic water bottles existed but Sigg bottles and hydration bladders were way in the future.
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Re: How has hillwalking changed?

Postby Skyelines » Tue Jul 16, 2019 9:29 pm

Back for another bite.

We were acutely aware that we were going into a potentially hostile environment because we had to get ourselves out of the situation if things went wrong or be prepared for a night out on the hill if needed. It was unlikely that there would be any other walkers on the same hill to assist. Navigation was of vital importance, one had to know where one was at all times so no slacking on checking map and compass regularly.
We weren't going to get the mountain rescue out unless we had an incapacitated casualty which meant someone had to go down the hill to the nearest phone box and we would need the equipment to keep the casualty and oneself alive in rain, wind, snow or whatever for a good few hours before help arrived. I rather think that this had a bearing on how we estimated risk and made decisions.
Slow and secure was the way rather than fast and light.
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Re: How has hillwalking changed?

Postby Mal Grey » Tue Jul 16, 2019 10:40 pm

I started proper hillwalking in the late '80s.

The biggest single difference is the number of people doing it, which has led to lots more paths. Many of my earlier Highland forays were on pathless hills, including Munros. There aren't many of them now.

Transport has improved slightly, with better roads, but the amount of traffic has meant that getting to Scotland from England still takes as long, if not longer, as it did then.

Gear has definitely improved, but has made no difference to what we chose to do. The main thing is weight, and it matters more now I'm getting steadily more decrepit!

Most importantly, the availability of good beer and food in Highland pubs is in a different league to what it was then, when we would drive 2 hours for a pint of Bass as it was pretty much the only real ale north of Inverness! (Old Inn at Gairloch)

I also speculate that the way people plan and navigate has changed significantly. I might be wrong, but it seems that a large proportion of walkers simply pick routes from the internet or books. We used to read the books, yes, but always plan our own routes using the OS maps, to take in things that caught our eye, like corries or more obscure ridges.
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Re: How has hillwalking changed?

Postby Cairngormwanderer » Tue Jul 16, 2019 10:45 pm

Of course it was more honest, purer and better in the past: I was young, it was all new and fresh.
But really? I see young kids and DofE groups out in the hills today, full of the same excitement, sense of discovery and self discovery that I felt 50 years ago.
Sure, they've got better gear, but then after I'd been in the hills only a couple of years, my folks bought me state of the art gear. It was unbreathable nylon, but it was as modern then and as big a step forward as GoreTex seems to modern hillwalkers. It's important to remember that - when we were living through it we were living through our present, and it was as modern to us then as the present is to you now.
And people? We were told then how many more people there were in the hills, and all the decades I've been climbing there have been soaring numbers of new folk taking up the 'sport'. Then, as now, most flirt with it for a year or two and drift away. There are, certainly, more people in the hills than there were when I was 10 years old, but I can still wander the hills without seeing people. And attitudes? I've recently been defending attitudes to bothies, pointing out that there is probably less vandalism in bothies now than ever there was: people are better behaved in the hills - on the whole anyway - and, per person, there's less litter being left. When I was a kid I had a how to camp book that actually recommended that you bury your empty tin cans! Corrour Bothy used to have a great big hole in the ground outside, and that was where everyone dumped their rubbish.
Yeah, you'll hear all the great tales from the past - so did I 50 years ago. The past is always presented as a mythic golden age when mighty deeds were done and hearts were pure, but in reality, your present today is the golden age people will look back on in 50 years time - so live it well, have fun and don't feel inferior for not being alive 50 years ago. Make your own legends.
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Re: How has hillwalking changed?

Postby WalkWithWallace » Wed Jul 17, 2019 7:47 am

I've only been hillwalking since 2008, but I've noticed a difference already.

- The number of wind turbines and hydro schemes that have gone up has increased greatly.
- The honeypot hills are definitely busier and litter has increased.
- Instagram Nation & social media has took over from forums like this.
- Perhaps there is over reliance on GPS and lack of map reading skills out there?

Just realised they're all pretty negative, although it's great more people are getting active.
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Re: How has hillwalking changed?

Postby walkingpoles » Wed Jul 17, 2019 9:18 am

Since the 25 years I roam the hills, mainly from Alpine experience:

Shoes got better. I certainly get less blisters.

Enter mobile phones. Navigation got easier. It got easier to alert and direct rescue teams, which also changed the risk management of the hikers.

Most alpine huts now have proper bunks, inside access to toilets and some of them even installed showers and provide WiFi. At least the folks back home still believe me when I tell them that I was cut off. But that's gonna change sooner or later as well.

The glaciers got smaller and some vanished, often changing routes and raising the difficulty of climbs. Rockfall is a bigger issue than it used to be.

Everybody takes photos. A few bring drones.

Online guide books or material like this forum and online maps make the planning a lot easier than it was.

I still see people doing stupid and dangerous stuff.

In UK, the location of bothies is now online. Which helps my planning. :)
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Re: How has hillwalking changed?

Postby tweedledog » Wed Jul 17, 2019 11:00 am

My first Munro was Schiehallion back in the 1950s. Not much in the way of a path (certainly compared to what's there now) and we never met a soul all day. That, for me, sums up the key differences. Many, many more people out on the hills and, because of that, paths everywhere. Indeed, reading walk reports I sometimes have the feeling that people are astonished/offended when they find themselves on a pathless section. That said, it's still easy to find splendid walks without crowds or paths, at least if you keep away from the bagging targets. I often wander the pathless hillsides around my home in Argyll without encountering anyone.

Huge changes in equipment, of course. Back then my weather protection amounted to an ex-Army camouflaged cagoule (from the blessed Army and Navy Store) and a pair of clumpy boots (from the same source) which in my memory at least came half way up my calves. I also recall some kind of ex-army knapsack, made of what I suppose was heavy duty canvas. It was certainly heavy even before you put anything in it. Navigation involved a compass and the old 1" maps - came in useful when I found myself part-time teaching O level geography in an FE College in the mid-60s - and emergency supplies were, well, unhealthy and full of sugar. For years many folk met with on the hills would have waterproof map-cases hung around their necks, as did I. Now my venerable map case is hanging on the back of my study door, while the map and compass mostly live in the rucksack and there's gps on my belt and on my wrist.

There are probably more people around now who are ill prepared for the conditions they might meet, but that's because there are simply more people around. Lack of preparedness was always thus, at least on some mountains. I recall a lovely, blue sky September day in the late 60s taking a novice hill walker up the Pony Track on Ben Nevis and being gobsmacked at what the many shivering people were (not) wearing up on the summit plateau.

"The past is a foreign country," wrote L.P. Hartley, "they do things differently there." But maybe not that differently on the hills, which still place upon us the same mental and physical demands and provide the same glorious pleasures.
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Re: How has hillwalking changed?

Postby NickyRannoch » Wed Jul 17, 2019 11:07 am

Hamish Browns Mountain Walk took place in 1974.

Its 50% amazing and uplifting 50% state of the nation, criticising other hillgoers, it was all better in the olden days, boring old git has a moan. So that hasnt changed

In my 10 years the number of hikers pubs or hotels has been decimated. Either gone completely or catering for a different crowd.

The roads are far busier and you are not always sure of getting parked at popular hills.

More bulldozed hilktracks.

SYHA is no cheaper than a hotel.

One the upside i see more women as in lone women and groups of women on the hills now.

The communication between most estates and walkers seems better.
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Re: How has hillwalking changed?

Postby ChrisButch » Wed Jul 17, 2019 12:10 pm

One of the biggest differences from, say, the early 1970s was the almost complete absence of sources of advice and information. The only guidebooks for the Highlands were the SMC area guides, which were hard to get hold of outwith Scotland, and not very practicable on the hill. There was the inimitable W A Poucher, with his Jag and his lipstick. But otherwise there was no Munro-specific guide before Richard Gilbert's self-published 'Memorable Munros' in 1976, soon followed by Hamish's Mountain Walk. the original inspiration for many. There were no hillwalking magazines ('Climber' at the time did feature hillwalking, but it wasn't its main focus). Even the otherwise excellent OS one-inch maps were sketchy for large areas of the Highlands - notoriously so in the case of Fisherfield Forest. The only sources of gear, other than a few specialist single-outlet shops, were Blacks and army surplus stores.
So if you were new to the game you had to learn as you went along - and in my case that meant at least a decade of bad mistakes before I got the hang of things. Nowadays the problem is, if anything, too much information rather than too little.
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Re: How has hillwalking changed?

Postby DopeyLoser » Wed Jul 17, 2019 6:15 pm

I started out in the 1970s. Things that come to mind additional to what's been mentioned already:

- As well as more hillwalkers paths, which can be quite eroded, there are also some constructed paths in highly trafficked areas.

- Bothies are on the internet; back in the day they were not secret but you'd find out about them through conversation, e.g. around the fire in a bothy.

- Hostels have gone in many areas e.g. north of Glasgow no more Inverbeg, Ardgartan, Loch Ard, Loch Venachar, Balquhidder, Killin, let alone Fintry, Glendevon. Stayed at some of those. Wish I'd stayed at more. Of course the idea was that you could walk from one hostel to the other. Nowadays car ownership has increased hugely so people drive out of the city to the hill then back on the same day.

- There are now many private hostels. I imagine it's about economics and work regulations, the reduction in 'Hostelling Scotland' hostels, and rise in private ones

- Safety: we don't seem to have the kind of tragedies that happened in the 1970s e.g. groups getting lost / frozen on the Cairngorm plateau. In fact it surprises me how few incidents there are, given the large numbers of people on the hill.

- we used to camp. Nowadays we don't camp, we "wild camp".

- we used to buy one of the few tents that was in the Blacks catalogue and we were quite content with it. Nowadays we go on the internet to ask which model out of hundreds of models we should buy. After buying it we are on the lookout for another one that is slightly different.

- we used to take our tents and pitch them at a convenient safe spot at the end of the day. Now we go on the internet to ask for a list of "wild camping" sites, preferably on the top of a mountain for the best experience.

- if our tent blows away we phone the Mountain Rescue to help us (okay, one group did, at Ben Lomond ...)

Oops, getting old and grumpy, sorry.

I will just close with something that has, surprisingly, not changed. When you're on the hill and you pass someone, you'll not only acknowledge each others' presence (rare exceptions) but more often than not there'll be some conversation. Maybe checking the view together, talking about where you've come from etc. And then you move on, just a little bit enriched by the experience. It's wonderful, and has not yet changed.

I have a lovely memory from just last year of being in the absolute middle of nowhere, feeling tired and stressed on a long walk that I wasn't sure I could manage, and on passing near a couple of campers (excuse me, wild campers) being asked "Would you like a cup of coffee?" What a wonderful half hour we spent, chatting and drinking coffee, before going our separate ways. That fellowship hasn't changed. Long may it continue.
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Re: How has hillwalking changed?

Postby gaffr » Wed Jul 17, 2019 6:48 pm

Getting to the hills took more of an effort in the 1960's :) Choice of hitching a lift to Glencoe or travelling on the JMCS bus usually twice a month on Saturday afternoon leaving from Waterloo Place in auld reekie.....The Ferranti club were very helpful to young lads wanting to get to the distant hills in an old canvas topped land rover....freezing in winter.
Think of the effort to get to the Coruisk hut then. I had to pick up the key from a gentleman, Mr. Thrippleton, who lived near to Motherwell by way of a bus straight from work. He very kindly 'ran' me to Glasgow to reach the early morning train to Fort William....train to Mallaig…ferry boat to Armadale ...Post bus to Broadford...and then another Post bus to reach the track to Camasunary and finally the grand walk around the coast to Loch Coruisk....evening meal in the refuge. Our first visit to Skye did feel like a grand adventure just getting there. :) Outside was, to us, an untrodden landscape. :D
I agree then camping was just camping then whether at sea level or at an elevated location. Don't know but I have the feeling that all that stuff about 'bucket lists' and the Wild stuff and conquering stuff has come from the Sunday Magazine folks....like all that stuff about one European walking route being the hardest you will find....it is not but nothing more that a beautiful walk in very fine surroundings.
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Re: How has hillwalking changed?

Postby SummitStupid » Thu Jul 18, 2019 5:59 am

There's too much to reply to individually here, so thank you to everyone for your contributions. Some really fascinating posts here, and exactly what I was looking for. I particularly like the observation of how "camping" somehow gained the "wild" prefix.

The demise of hostels is sad, particularly to those like me who don't drive, and for whom getting to some of the more remote places in Scotland is a real problem. I suppose this is mitigated somewhat by what I imagine is improved public transport.

As for the greater variety of clothing and gear available, I think that only affects you if you happen to be interested in perusing all the myriad options now available. Some people are REALLY into their gear, and discussing all the pros and cons thereof, which is harmless. But it can make choosing a new pair of shoes or a tent quite bewildering.

I recently read an article in the Guardian about how walking is becoming more popular with the "Instagram generation". I have lots of opinions about this, but no matter how I might phrase them I would only come across as unsufferably snobbish so I'll keep them to myself. But there is a suggestion that perhaps hillwalking is starting to change again, and I wonder how long it will be before there are queues to get onto the Cuillin ridge, or impossible to find a quiet pitch in Glen Nevis.

Thanks again for being so interesting, you knowledgeable lot.
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Re: How has hillwalking changed?

Postby Giant Stoneater » Thu Jul 18, 2019 8:32 am

Hillwalking has increased massively since I started 20 years ago and not for the better either,you just need to look at the amount of online posts at some of the queries etc is there a path,will it be boggy,how easy is it to the summit,do I need a map,how much snow,will I need ice axe,crampons,where do you park,will I need waterproofs etc .
People also seem to be following the "book" routes more often these days rather than look at a map and discover and explore new ways to tackle hills,where is the imagination.
Campsites have become less and less as lodges have taken over sites.
Youth hostels are becoming more like mini hotels.
The throwaway society has become a massive problem,litter,tents etc.
All gear has got lighter but more expensive.
I have more stamina now than 20 years ago and stopped smoking.
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