One of the joys of hiking up a mountain is the sense that we are exploring a wild and remote landscape that has been unspoiled by the interference of humans. As the world has fewer and fewer of these places, they seem all the more precious. Upland areas are havens for rare species of plants and wildlife, and it is a privilege to visit them.
Mountain climbing is rightly accessible to everyone, and more people are starting to discover the beautiful wild landscapes we have on our doorstep here in the UK. However, the increasing popularity of outdoor activities such as hiking has brought with it some conservation challenges.
A growing problem is the amount of rubbish that is being left behind along the climbing routes even the highest of mountains, including the UK’s tallest peak, Ben Nevis. The Times reports that recently walkers made the bizarre discovery of an ironing board abandoned beside the observatory at the summit.
The unusual item of rubbish was left after an ‘extreme ironing’ event. This is described by the Extreme Ironing Bureau as an “outdoor sport that combines the danger and excitement of an “extreme” sport with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt. It involves taking an iron and board to remote locations and ironing a few items of laundry.”
“Extreme ironing, also called EI, can take place anywhere under the sky and borrows disciplines from other extreme sports, such as rock climbing, skiing, scuba diving, sky diving, and running.” Competitors must use an ironing board with legs that is at least one metre long and 30 cm wide, garments ironed must be bigger than a tea towel.
Whether this qualifies as a real sport or not is still a matter of some debate. It is thought to have been invented in England in 1997 when a Leicester resident, Phil Shaw, decided to make his laundry chores more interesting by ironing outdoors. This led to the idea of combining ironing with his hobby of rock climbing.
Extreme ironing events have taken place on Mount Everest, underwater, even during bungee jumps, and now evidently, on Ben Nevis. Although the ‘sport’ is meant to be lighthearted, leaving household items behind in sensitive ecological areas is no laughing matter.
A spokesman for The John Muir Trust, which helps to manage Ben Nevis, said: “A lot of people raise money for great causes on Ben Nevis, and we don’t want to discourage that. Those unfamiliar with outdoors culture don’t always understand the first unwritten rule of the hills, which is leave nothing behind but your boot prints.”
Litter is unfortunately a reality on some of Scotland’s most beautiful mountains, despite the ‘leave no trace’ ethos and the requirement in the Scottish Access Code to take all litter away. Discarded rubbish not only looks unsightly, but it can also cause injury or death to wild animals, and food scraps could potentially spread disease.