The Alpine Club, the world’s first mountaineering club, was founded in 1857.  For over 150 years, members have been at the leading edge of worldwide mountaineering development and exploration. 

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The Club is always looking for opportunities to make the Alpine Club a louder voice in influencing events in the mountaineering community.  To this end, in May the AC used its base in the Lakes to play host to the UIAA’s Mountain Protection Commission.  Delegates from Europe and Asia gathered at the club’s George Starkey Hut in Patterdale for the Commission’s annual face-to-face meeting. 

left to right outside the George Starkey hut are:

Rob Collister, AC Vice-President; Pete Barron, John Muir Trust Land Manager for Glenridding Common; Hussein Bagirov, Mountain Protection Commission member, Azerbaijan; Michael Maunsell, MPC member, Ireland, John Porter, AC President; Carolina Adler, MPC President, Switzerland/New Zealand; Stephen Goodwin, MPC member and AC Vice-President; Hélène Denis, UIAA General Secretary, France; Joop Spijker, MPC member, Netherlands; Rob Dyer, BMC Access and Conservation Officer. (photo taken by Gloria Scarano, UIAA sustainability coordinator, Switzerland.)

It was the first time any of the delegates had visited the Lake District and with the sun shining throughout their stay, England’s modest mountains made a favourable impression. Unfortunately a full agenda confined delegates to the committee table for most of the weekend, with just time for three guests to make a quick dash up Catstye Cam on Sunday morning for a panorama of the Lakes before rushing for trains and planes home.  

The Mountain Protection Commission (MPC) is the green conscience of the UIAA, the worldwide representative body for mountaineering. Through the MPC the UIAA focuses on the promotion of positive behaviour and education in mountain tourism and recreation, notably in climbing and mountaineering activities and therefore was perfect for the Club to support.  

The AC is an associate member of the UIAA and takes part in the work of the MPC through club Vice President Stephen Goodwin (myself). The principal UK member of the UIAA is the BMC with has representatives on several other commissions. 

Mindful of its carbon footprint, not to mention the expense, the MPC meets just once a year. All other business is conducted by email and Skype conferencing. The meeting at the Starkey hut was mainly of the nitty-gritty kind that bedevils most club committee’s: budgets (tight), membership (volunteers in short supply) and future strategy (constrained by the two fore-mentioned). The Commission is also responsible for UIAA’s Mountain Protection Award. Last year the US$5,000 prize went to a biogas project to treat human waste from Everest base camp - 12,000kg of it dumped at Gorak Shep each year - and thereby reduce pollution in the upper Khumbu valley. 

Five Commission members attended the meeting - Dr Carolina Adler (Commission President and a Swiss-based academic), Hussein Bagirov (Azerbaijan), Michael Maunsell (Ireland), Joop Spijker (Netherlands) and myself - plus Hélène Denis, UIAA General Secretary, and UIAA staff member Gloria Scarano, Sustainability Coordinator. 

 As a Lakes ‘local’ as well MPC member, much of the organisation fell to myself, greatly supported over the weekend by fellow Vice President Rob Collister (we even managed a couple of hours cragging beforehand), Stuart Worsfold and Jo Campbell, hut guardian Marian Parsons, and, not least, AC President John Porter who cooked a fine lamb curry for Friday dinner in the hut. (As we’ve seen throughout the BMC affair, John’s a man who can stand the heat of the kitchen!). Thanks to all, and to Lucie (Mrs G) who produced desserts and cakes to sustain delegates over the three days. 

To bring things a bit more down to earth - away from laptops and charts and back to practical mountain conservation - we invited Pete Barron of the John Muir Trust along to talk about the trust’s recent takeover of the management of Glenridding Common, with all its sometimes competing pressures from walkers, climbers, botanists and graziers. Pete is Land Manager for the 1,000-hectare common, which includes Helvellyn, Striding Edge and the popular winter gullies and buttresses of the Red Tarn face. 

Pete was joined in the ensuing discussion by Rob Dyer, BMC Access and Conservation Officer for England. Delegates were particularly interested in the new winter conditions monitoring system set up on the Red Tarn face providing hourly temperature data for air and turf. Climbers can check on-line if routes are likely to be in good nick for climbing or if it’s barely frozen and axes and crampons could be hacking rare alpine plants from their last mountain refuges. 

With delegates able to see the profile of Striding Edge from the Starkey hut doorway, and for some to view the Red Tarn face for themselves on Sunday, it was a great way of moving from the international and somewhat arms-length work of the MPC to the local reality of mountain conservation on the ground. 

The John MuirTrust has launched an appeal to help fund work restoring the wild character of the common, which has suffered erosion, high footfall and damaging floods. With the AC’s new base in Patterdale making us a part of the local community, the Club has heeded the call and Pete Barron was handed a cheque for £100 towards the appeal. 

 

Stephen Goodwin