2018 - Landmarks of the Mountain Year

From extraordinary peak bagging feats to stunning records on some of the UK's toughest running rounds, 2018 was a year of some note on the British hills. Here is our pick of the year's news highlights.

Harry Baker Photography © Harry Baker Photography
The Lakeland Festival of Light illuminates Cat Bells in May - Harry Baker Photography

February - Fast New Time on Winter Cuillin Traverse

On 26th February Uisdean Hawthorn set a speed record for a winter Cuillin traverse, knocking over one hour from the previous known fastest time. Seizing an opportunistic weather/conditions window, and with minimal planning, Uisdean set off from Sgurr nan Gillean just after 8am. Travelling solo and unsupported, he capitalised on good firm snow cover (and no little talent) to reach Gars-bheinn at the southern end of the ridge just 4 hours 57 minutes and 7 seconds later.

"I thought 7 hours would be good and maybe closer to 6 if everything went absolutely perfectly" he told us. "I wouldn't have thought it possible to do under 5."

"I could be way faster if I just went hill running all year, rather than going on expeditions and wasting away in a tent at altitude! I'm not really that into speed records so can't see myself doing it faster unless conditions are really good again one year and I feel like a nice day out..."

But what's our excuse?

Uisdean on the In Pinn © Lukasz Warzecha
Uisdean on the In Pinn
© Lukasz Warzecha

March

The BMC launch the Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million campaign, a massive drive to raise funds for path restoration projects on heavily-used hills in each of the UK's National Parks.

So why do our mountains need 'mending'? We asked project co-ordinator Inigo Atkin:

"A cocktail of problems have led to severely worsening conditions in some of our most popular upland areas" he said.

"The most significant is increased visitor numbers. Sport England estimate the number of adults who regularly go hill-walking is similar to those playing football. This has meant that popular routes in places like the Peak District, the Lakes and Snowdonia have been battered by increased footfall over recent years."

Mend our Mountains Make one Million

"This has been compounded by a few things – serious storm damage in consecutive winters has increased workloads (footpath repair teams in the Lake District estimated that during Storm Desmond in 2015, storms caused a year's worth of damage in one night), and many of the park authorities have faced serious funding cuts at the same time which means the resources to combat this damage are limited."

"Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million is a call to action to everyone who cares about the hills. The need is significant but we believe that stepping up to that challenge is hugely important for the future of our mountains and hills."

The initial target of £1million may have proved ambitious, but to date the project has secured well over £500,000...

April - Expensive Beverages Come to the UK's Three Peaks

A lukewarm reception greeted our announcement, on April 1st, that branches of the coffee giant Starbucks were planned for the summits of Ben Nevis, Snowdon and Scafell Pike. We suggested that coffee-related sponsorship deals for the National Parks would soon follow.

In preparation for crowds of summer coffee fans, branding is already in place on Snowdon © indigo
In preparation for crowds of summer coffee fans, branding is already in place on Snowdon
© indigo

The story, which we broke first on UKH in a hard-hitting world exclusive, followed the news that an outlet of the chain had recently opened in Yosemite. From the Gore-Tex Scottish National Trail to the BMC's commercial partnerships, the corporate takeover of the outdoors is already well underway - and who could argue with that? Well it seemed some readers still had a problem believing this one...

May

In early May the Lake District fells were once again lit up at night in a spectacular light show, as the third annual Lakeland Festival of Light came to Catbells. This charity event enlists hundreds of volunteers to create huge light trails on the hills after dark.

Tom McNally Photography © Tom McNally Photography
Tom McNally Photography

The 2018 fundraising efforts by the Lakeland Festival of Light team netted over £13,000 for various charities. The next event is due to take place on Catbells on 4th May 2019.

June - BMC Gets First Female President

Lynn Robinson - the BMC's first female President. © Alex Messenger
Lynn Robinson - the BMC's first female President.
© Alex Messenger

At the BMC's AGM in Kendal, Lynn Robinson was elected on a landslide, becoming the organisation's first female president, while John Roberts came in as new Vice President. A new constitutional arrangement was also approved on an overwhelming majority. This should make for a more accountable and transparent governance structure, ensure continued Government recognition of the BMC's status as the umbrella body for mountaineering in England and Wales, and its continued eligibility for Sports Council funding.

June - Double Ramsay Round for Nicky Spinks

In late June the indomitable Nicky Spinks became the first person to complete a double Ramsay Round in a time of 55:56:38.

Nicky on a reccy of the round © Nicky Spinks
Nicky on a reccy of the round
© Nicky Spinks

The Ramsay is a classic 24-hour challenge which begins in Glen Nevis and takes in 58 miles and 28,000ft of ascent over 24 peaks (including Ben Nevis among many others). Nicky was no stranger to doubling up on the big hill rounds, having already done two Bob Grahams back-to-back in 2016, a feat documented in our film Run Forever:

However the Ramsay is far more technical than the Bob Graham Round and involves some much more remote sections, which make it logistically harder to support. This may help explain why she fell behind her original target of sub-48 hours. But who's counting?

July - Kilian Jornet Breaks Bob Graham Record

Another eye-opening achievement took place on the hills during the July heat wave, when ultra running sensation Kilian Jornet smashed the speed record on the Bob Graham with a time of just 12 hours 52 minutes. The previous record for the fastest time, Billy Bland's 13hr 53m, had stood since way back in 1982.

Several big names in British hill running were there to help out over the day, including Martin Stone, Steve Birkinshaw and Shane Ohly. Record holder Billy Bland was at Dunmail Raise to shake Jornet's hand in passing.

Kilian on Bowfell about 5hrs45mins in, still looking fresh © Paul Taylor
Kilian on Bowfell about 5hrs45mins in, still looking fresh
© Paul Taylor

July - HuMPs Ticked

At a rather slower pace, July also saw the first completions of a mind-bogglingly massive tick list, when Rob Woodall Alan Whatley climbed the Old Man of Hoy as a grand climax to the 2985 HuMPs. The name stands for Hundred Metre Prominence, a list which includes every top in Britain with a drop of 100m (or more) on all sides.

"The lists do become a bit addictive" said Alan.

"I started with the Munros and Corbetts and it took about 20 years to do those. Then I did another round of the Munros in 18 months and thought, 'What next?' What next was the Grahams, then the Marilyns, then the HuMPs. You get caught up with the lists, the people who do them, the social side and a bit of friendly competition."

August - Making Molehills out of Mountains, and Vice Versa

Following a height survey, the obscure bump of Miller Moss in the northern Lakeland fells was promoted to the ranks of the Nuttalls, one list of the 2000 foot (610m) summits of England and Wales. By this definition it qualifies as a new 'mountain'.

"[It] is not the most spectacular hill in the Lake District and is rather dwarfed by its neighbours Great Lingy Fell and Knott. However, there is tranquillity here compared with the much busier fells south of Blencathra and Skiddaw" said Graham Jackson, of the survey team responsible.

A few days later, work by UKH contributor Myrddyn Phillips revealed the Brecon Beacons eminence of Fan y Big to be not so big as previously thought.

On Fan y Big, Brecon Beacons © AllanMac
On Fan y Big, Brecon Beacons
© AllanMac, Feb 2012

The summit may be 717.6m, said Myrddyn, but a new drop measurement obtained using satellite technology was recorded as 28.5m, thus ruling it out of the list of 2000-foot Hewitts. On this more stringent definition, Fan y Big is no longer considered a 'mountain'.

To those not well versed in the arcane lore of hill lists all this may have been a bit confusing. So what's the difference between a Hewitt and a Nuttall?

Well the Nuttalls are hills in England and Wales that are at least 2000 feet (610 metres) high, with a relative prominence of at least 15 metres (49.2 feet). The more rigorous Hewitts, on the other hand, are hills in England, Wales and Ireland that are at least 2000 feet high and with a relative height of at least 30m. Of course the hills are simply there, and still worth climbing, whatever list we choose to put them on...

August - Route Cards Revitalised

We pick the best routes, on the best hills... © UKH
We pick the best routes, on the best hills...
© UKH

Big news for UKH this summer was the long-awaited return of our Route Cards to full functionality after a hiatus of several years. It took a lot of development work behind the scenes, but thanks to the support of our new sponsor, Sprayway, we were able to iron out the bugs to create a smoother user experience and a more attractive layout which is designed to be equally usable on a desktop, tablet or smartphone. Since then we've been releasing new routes every few days, on classic hills from around the UK...

"We are delighted to have been able to support the UKH team in the redevelopment of this platform" said Duncan Machin, Sprayway's Marketing Manager.

"Getting everyone inspired and participating in the outdoors is what we are all about and the UKH route cards library fits perfectly by giving end users of all abilities free, simple-to-use access to a host of amazing routes across the UK."

September

Early autumn saw the completion of a major path repair project on Suilven. Over years of heavy use, the standard northern route on the figurehead community-owned mountain had got into a poor state.

Around 2.5km of the path has now been upgraded, in a partnership project between the John Muir Trust and the community owned Assynt Foundation. The renovation, costing over £200,000, involved two specialist contractors working for nine months over the last two summers.

Path Officer for the John Muir Trust, Chris Goodman, who has been managing the work said, "This is the biggest single project I've been involved with yet. The hard work of the path contractors A.C.T. Heritage and Arran Footpaths has made a massive difference transforming the path and repairing a lot of the damage caused by erosion."

Suilven © Garbhanach
Suilven
© Garbhanach

October

The UK Government announces plans to nominate North Wales' slate quarries as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Included in the bid are key sites that define Welsh slate: the Ogwen Valley quarries, Dinorwig, Nantlle, Blaenau Ffestiniog, the quarries in Cwm Pennant; and in the south of Snowdonia, Bryneglwys, Abergynolwyn a Rheilffordd Talyllyn and Chwarel Aberllefenni.

Doubt is subsequently cast on the whole exercise when Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt is rumoured to be planning to pull the UK out of the global body altogether; but in what these days passes for a display of governance, No.10 subsequently 'slaps her down' (we hope figuratively). Can we presume the World Heritage bid is back on for now? Does anyone know anything?

October

Cumbria-based outdoor writer James Forrest completes an epic journey around all the mountains on the island of Ireland. There are 273 entries on the 600m+ Vandeleur-Lynam list, scattered widely from the Mournes down to Kerry; James climbed them all in just eight weeks - the fastest known time.

"I'd only ever been to Ireland twice before - both student booze-ups in Dublin!" he told us.

"I was particularly wowed by the beauty of the mountains in the west and south-west of Ireland. I loved exploring those wild places – it was breathtaking..."


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