ANIMALS IN THE MOUNTAINEERING/CLIMBING ENVIRONMENT
by Gary 'ZAG' Hill
The British Mountaineering Council & Mountain Rescue Organisation Incident Reports for this year, 1995, have reported a significant increase in the number of incidents involving animals in the mountaineering environment.
As we have no statistical evidence to show how many animals venture onto our mountains and crags without incident, it is difficult to visualise the incidents as a percentage. It may be reasonable to draw a parallel with human endeavour, and translate this as a very small percentage, in which case we can conclude that the vast majority of animals venture onto our mountains and crags in relative safety. With regard then to the few that do not, we should perhaps consider the causes of these incidents in the same way that we would for humans.
Suggested possible causes of incidents involving animals on mountains and crags are:-
a) Over estimation of ability.
b) Lack of qualified and experienced leadership.
c) Inadequate clothing/equipment.
a) Over estimation of ability - most of the incidents involved sheep and lambs but two incidents involved a horse and a calf. In the case of the horse more detail would perhaps show that the size of the horse and the size of the chimney climb may not have been compatible, and thus there had been some evidence of poor judgement of its ability. In the case of the calf, being somewhat smaller, the same cannot be said. However, there is some doubt on the selection of a suitable climb for this animal on this occasion. This incident might not have occurred had the animal in question started modestly on Calf Slab and progressed to Cow Crack for example. With regard to the sheep and lambs, I do not feel the same can be said. I have come across the remains of their mountain adventures many times over the years and I do feel overestimation of ability is the cause.
b) Lack of qualified and experienced leadership - Some of the animals I have met on the mountains and crags have not, quite frankly, been totally aware of their whereabouts, and have lacked adequate leadership. That the number of incidents has not been higher has been helped by conscientious climbers stepping in and offering leadership back to the right decent path. This has in the past been voluntary effort, but is not a satisfactory basis for the future. One suggestion is an examination in Animal Leadership for those with such an interest. A scheme could be set up called the Animal Leadership Examination on the Downs & Upper Peaks. Anyone wishing to take animals climbing/mountaineering could then simply go and get A.L.E.D. U.P. and thus provide animals with this amazing facility.
c) Inadequate clothing/equipment - It has to be said that in most of these incidents the animals in question were without a doubt inadequately equipped. Sheep and lambs have been found on the mountains and crags in wet and cold conditions wearing wool. Although wool retains some of its insulating properties when wet, it does become heavy and slow to dry. If sheep could be encouraged to wear fleece jackets and salopettes instead, this might be a considerable advantage. The cow likewise whilst it might have been heavily into leather, which is breathable like Gortex®, should have been aware of its lack of insulating properties. A good two pair of walking or climbing boots would also appear to be good advice. Although most people prefer to see sheep in wellies, if possible their own! Head torches and helmets were not in evidence, I believe, in any of the recorded incidents. Animals also seemed to be severely lacking in either the equipment or the ability to safely protect pitches. Perhaps they could be encouraged to attend training sessions in both this and possibly self rescue. They do however seem to have a natural ability to descend pitches, the problem seems to be more of ascent than descent.
In conclusion I feel that far more research is required in this area. The above are merely suggested causes based on the little statistical evidence available but any information that can confirm or contradict these suggestions, could be penned along with supporting evidence. I feel sure that this information would be received and treated in a befitting manner by the majority of the Mountaineering Community.
(Adapted from: Gincheek. T., "ANIMALS AND THE UNDERGROUND ENVIRONMENT", Derbyshire Caving Association Newsletter, No.83, April 1994, p5-6).
HILL G. J., ‘Animals In The Mountaineering/Climbing Environment’, Snaplink, Wellingborough Mountaineering Club, No. 83, 1 Feb. 1995, p24-27.