What’s in a name? Are you a mountaineer, a climber, a hill walker or a rambler?
In the last couple of weeks, both the two main mountaineering bodies in the UK – the British Mountaineering Council and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland – have changed their names. The BMC has become ‘Climb Britain’ and the MCoS has become ‘Mountaineering Scotland’. Inevitably, social media has had plenty to say about this but the BMC name change in particular has not gone down very well.
I can kind of see why. If someone asks me ‘do I climb’ I’d immediately think of rock climbing. I might say ‘I’ve climbed Scafell Pike’ but the reality is I walked up it. I’m quite definitely not a climber – I’ve tried rock climbing once, a disastrous session at the Ice Factor in Kinlochleven. I was, to put it mildly, hopeless, and I haven’t been near a climbing wall since. The new BMC name sounds like it’s an organisation for rock climbers, not hill walkers. As a self confessed pedant it’s also inaccurate – you can’t climb Britain, you climb mountains/ crags/ whatever ‘in’ Britain (even if you have been to the highest point in Britain, i.e. the summit of Ben Nevis. Yes the picture below is the summit of Ben Nevis though realistically it could be bloody anywhere.)
But what I do isn’t mountaineering either; I might strap on some crampons and pick up an ice axe for the odd winter walk on a straightforward hill, but I’ve no intention of doing anything that would be classed as ‘proper’ mountaineering. I’m a pretty risk averse person, for starters, and rather like having a full complement of digits; Scotland in winter is plenty cold enough for me!
What about ‘rambling’? I must admit it annoys me when anyone describes me as a ‘rambler’. This is probably because I once emailed a local branch of the ‘younger’ Ramblers to find out what it was all about. I received an email back saying I was too old (I was 40 at the time) and might want to consider a different and more sedate age group. Now at 47 I may no longer be in the first flush of youth but I am not yet ready for gentle low level walks to tea shops. Nothing wrong with that and when I’m older it may have more appeal… or it may not (I know plenty of people much older than me whose hill walking exploits put mine to shame). But the word ‘Rambler’ does conjure up images of sedate low level pottering about.
What I consider myself as is a hill walker – two words that don’t appear in the old or new names of any of the organisations. I’m a member of both the BMC (through my walking club) and the MCoS; do I feel they represent hill walkers? I think so; the magazines they produce do have features on hill walking, although over the years I’ve been a member I’ve noticed an increasing focus on indoor climbing. I suppose the worry about the BMC name change is that it might indicate a change in focus to hardcore rock climbing and ‘proper’ mountaineering – the more technical end of the scale – and the interests of those of us who simply like walking up mountains and enjoying the view get left behind.
I hope that isn’t the case; the mountains of Britain are there to be enjoyed, whether you like scaling crags, walking up Lakeland fells, or balancing on a knife-edge ridge in the Highlands in full winter conditions; whether you call yourself a rambler, a hill walker, a fell walker, a climber or a mountaineer. I hope that the name changes work out for the BMC and SMC, and that they can continue to represent the interests of all of us who love the mountains.