Hannah Mitchell is an Aspirant AC Member, an outdoor journalist and the driving force behind ‘Tidy Climbers’, a new initiative aimed at cleaning up our crags. We sat down with Hannah to learn a little more about her, her work and her penchant for litter picking.
Hannah climbing at Castle Rock of Triermain - Andy Milton
Hi Hannah. Could you kick off by telling us a little about what you do for work?
I’m primarily an outdoor and adventure journalist. My work is for adventure magazines and websites and I also do copywriting for outdoor brands.
And how long have you been doing that for?
I’ve enjoyed writing most of my adult life in one way or another. I was working in a Youth Hostel in the Lake District and during the COVID lockdowns I wrote an article for the BMC magazine and realised that this was the sort of thing I liked doing most. And I feel like if you can do what you like for a living, then brilliant!
I decided to take the leap and I did a Master’s degree in Journalism which I just finished at the end of last year and I’ve been writing for a living for a couple of years now.
Obviously you’re focused on the outdoors, but are there any topics within that field that you’re particularly interested in writing about?
That first article I wrote for the BMC was about disparities in financial support for outdoor workers and guides during COVID. The outdoors is the underpinning theme in just about everything I do, but I like to hone in on social and environmental issues. I’m also really interested in championing women in outdoor and mountaineering spaces and amplifying the voices of people you don’t typically see in those areas.
Speaking of environmental issues, that leads us quite nicely to Tidy Climbers. Could you explain what it is?
So I think with issues like litter at crags, it’s very easy to get bogged down and feel helpless, or frustrated, or angry, or even sad. And whilst I think it's really important to acknowledge those feelings, I think sometimes a far more positive way of tackling issues like this is to amplify the good stuff that's going on.
I was aware that a lot of climbers like myself were habitually picking up rubbish when they went climbing. Having a little clean up, either of the parking area or the crag. It’s something that quite a lot of people do already. One element of Tidy Climbers is to celebrate the good work that people are doing. Whilst they're probably not doing it for recognition or anything like that, I think it's really important to thank people and celebrate the positives.
The second, and probably the most important element, is to inspire behavioural change in people who perhaps don't already do that. It’s hard to force yourself to pick up someone else's mess, but hopefully by seeing other people doing it, more of us will just habitually take two minutes out of our climbing day to have a little root around the bushes or the car park and pick up any crisp packets or finger tape, or whatever we happen to find there.
Access to a lot of crags is a privilege for climbers and if areas are being trashed, it jeopardises that access, even if the rubbish isn't being left by climbers. So it benefits the entire climbing community if we all just do that little bit. And finally, it’s important to remember that these places aren’t just there to serve us as a recreational space – they’re habitats and ecosystems that we have a duty to take care of if we want to share them.
Was there a particular inciting incident that inspired you to start Tidy Climbers?
Oh, there have been plenty! I live in the Lake district, and it tends to be that I find less rubbish at crags, particularly high mountain crags, just because they're less visited areas. It's usually on the walks in and out that you come across all sorts of awful stuff like abandoned camp sites . A friend and I walked off Needle Ridge in The Napes and we found a completely abandoned campsite by the tarn and we basically just bagged and gathered everything up that we possibly could and then enlisted the help of some walkers to carry it all down. I guess that was the final straw!
Climbing on Dow Crag - Garry Smith
How would you most like other people to get involved with Tidy Climbers?
What's really putting a smile on my face at the moment is the fact that I'm getting contributions from people from all over the UK. I've had people send pictures from north Wales, from the Peak District and from Scotland. So it's really nice that it's kind of uniting people up and down the UK. I think just having people get involved and experience that feeling of community is one of the most important parts of it.
I'm constantly on Instagram trying to get people to send pictures of what they've picked up over the weekend, even if it's just like a handful of sweet wrappers. I just want people to get involved and engage with it.
How did you discover climbing?
I've always been outdoorsy, but I came to climbing relatively late in a bit of a baptism of fire. I’d maybe been indoor climbing a handful of times and then ended up going on a sport climbing trip to Spain and was just sort of thrown in at the deep end. But luckily I was surrounded by lots of people who were far more experienced than me and really willing to stand by me and hold my dead rope!
On the summit of the Dent du Géant following a successful Aspirants' Meet
I believe you’re heading to the Aspirants’ Meet this year. Is that part of why you joined the Alpine Club?
Since joining, I've spoken to a lot of people, particularly women, who've said “Oh, no, I couldn't join. They wouldn't let me in. I've not done X or Y.” And it's kind of like that thing where you apply for a job and they say “Well, you haven't got any experience…” and you reply “Well, where do I get the experience if I don't get the job?” So I think it [the Aspirants’ Meet] is great, because, for me, I've done a lot of mountain trad climbing and I've done odd bits of alpine style climbing, but nothing like what I'm about to go and do next week. So it's amazing to have that opportunity and to be able to get a real grasp on the very important skills that you need to be a safe and reliable partner.
This interview originally appeared in the Winter 2023 issue of the Alpine Club Newsletter. Previous issues of the newsletter are available to read here.