Guest Editorial - Pat Littlejohn - What has Climbing done for you?

Pat Littlejohn was recently awarded an OBE for his services to mountaineering. He is the author of countless new routes worldwide and one of the most respected figures in British climbing.

Pat Littlejohn
I suspect it doesn't come naturally for climbers to step back and look objectively at the part climbing plays in their lives. I certainly never gave it much thought, but recently something came up at the BMC which made me and others try to evaluate the 'worth' of climbing, both to ourselves and to wider society.

It's no secret that over the past few years government funding (via UK Sport) for climbing/mountaineering has been drastically cut. Grant-aid for expeditions was halved then stopped altogether; funding for competition climbing has gone and money to send representatives to international forums like the UIAA is much reduced and more difficult to obtain. Perhaps it's all because of the Olympics and once they're over funding for non-Olympic sports will start flowing again – but I wouldn't count on it, and anyway we're looking at several years time.

Recently the Sports Council for England invited governing bodies of various sports to submit ideas to help form SCE's future funding policy. In effect this was inviting each sport to justify its worth to society and the aims of this government – something that climbers are not at all used to doing. Having climbed enthusiastically for more than 40 years I started by thinking about what benefits climbing has brought to my own life. These are a few of the things I came up with:

1. It's a sport that gives you lifelong fitness. You can enjoy it at some level till you drop off your perch and (despite the odd accident) it keeps you fit, supple and a healthy weight. Hence low NHS bills and no problems with obesity.

2. It trains you to be rational and level-headed. Faulty reasoning when climbing has serious consequences. Some climbers may bullshit in the pub (easily spotted by one's peer group) but any bullshit when climbing is swiftly punished by the cliff or mountain.

3. Climbing makes you an expert at weighing up risk and this can be usefully applied to any aspect of life. Climbers tend not to be paralysed by silly phobias nor are they easy victims for crackpot faiths, cults or fanatical ideologies.

4. Climbing takes you to some of the most beautiful and spectacular places on the planet. It teaches you to respect and conserve those places and to educate yourself about them. Climb for long enough and you can't avoid becoming an amateur geologist, ornithologist and botanist, with bits of geography, glaciology and navigation skills thrown in for good measure.

These are some of the broader benefits from my own experience – there will be many more as well as personal benefits which vary according to people's time of life and circumstances. So, what has climbing done for you? Is it a sport that society should encourage and support, or are we a fringe group to be tolerated at best or even ignored?

Read Pat's UKC article detailing a sea cliff adventure 'Your First XS'

Support UKC

As climbers we strive to make the kind of website we would love to visit, with the most up-to-date news, diverse and interesting articles, comprehensive gear reviews, breathtaking photographs and a vast and useful logbook system. As a result, an incredible community has formed around the site - we’ve provided the framework but it’s you who make the website what it is today. If you appreciate the content we offer then you can help us by becoming an official UKC Supporter. This can be a one-off single annual payment or a more substantial payment paid monthly or yearly which includes full access to Rockfax Digital and discounts on Rockfax print publications.

If you appreciate then please help us by becoming a UKC Supporter.

UKC Supporter

  • Support the website we all know and love
  • Access to a year's subscription to Rockfax Digital.
  • Plus 30% off Rockfax guidebooks
  • Plus Show your support UKC Supporter badge on your profile and forum posts
UKC/UKH/Rockfax logo

25 Mar, 2008
"3. Climbers tend not to be paralysed by silly phobias nor are they easy victims for crackpot faiths, cults or fanatical ideologies." Blimey,he's obviously not spent much time on UKC then.(too busy climbing I guess)
26 Mar, 2008
Climbers had always been on the fringes of society, viewed by many as a good thing. Although they may have been affluent middle-class, as well as working class....whatever strata of society they were brought up in...they used to never fit the mold of a conforming automaton. Which is one of the reasons so many find climbing attractive! It's about living outside....rather than rotting inside. Here is one of my heros, David Brower... Mick
26 Mar, 2008
Good article, along similar thoughtful lines as 'The Mountaineer as Artist' by George Mallory, only more practical.
27 Mar, 2008
31 Mar, 2008 more point to add, climbing shows you can get a huge group of people across countries, cultures etc etc and they can create and largely follow a self-policing set of ethical standards etc. That's kind of cool, don't you think? By way of contrast, just imagine what climbing would be like if we imported the moral culture of football: people jumping up to grab your ankle and pull you off the route while claiming to be somewhere else entirely etc etc etc...
More Comments
Loading Notifications...
Facebook Twitter Copy Email LinkedIn Pinterest