WE can all revel in little victories. That’s two big mountain walks in succession where I haven’t had to pick up a scrap of litter.
I’d like to think the Leave no Trace message is hitting home, but I suspect the fact I was on more remote hills with far less footfall is the reason. I expect normal service to be resumed on the next Munro outing.
Still, a 35km hike without any signs of human debris was a relief in more ways than one. Any additional load to an already heavy pack in stifling heat wouldn’t have been welcomed.
Most of my friends now carry a spare plastic bag and do their bit on the hill. And I’d like to think that a good proportion of the litter is left by accident rather than on purpose.
Like so many others, I have accidentally left items behind – a pair of gloves on the summit cairn of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan some 20 years ago, for instance. I wasn’t going all the way back up there so I hope someone was able to put them to good use. They certainly weren’t there on my last visit a few weeks back.
I did, however, have to re-climb one peak after I’d realised I had left my camera at the top, and just last week I made a second circuit at the Birks of Aberfeldy to retrieve a jacket. Nothing so drastic as the guy who, on reaching the car park after a day on Bidean nam Bian, realised he had left his keys at the summit. Now that would be soul destroying.
My favourite tale in this vein involved two former colleagues, who from this point shall be referred to as Wullie and Davie. They had been talking about plans for the weekend, and Davie mentioned that he was heading over to climb Mull to climb Ben More on the Sunday.
“That’s a coincidence,” said Wullie, “I’m going up Ben More on Saturday.”
Nothing more was said, but an idea started brewing in Wullie’s mind.
The following week, Wullie was regaling us with his Mull adventure. Then he spotted Davie.
“How was Ben More?”
“Oh, ended up we didn’t go.”
Wullie’s demeanour started to change.
“What do you mean you didn’t go?”
“It means we didn’t go. We decided to head elsewhere.”
Wullie was now turning a deep shade of red. Turned out he had thought it would be a great laugh to write a letter, put Davie’s name on the envelope, and leave it pinned under a rock on the summit cairn for him to find the following day. Except, of course, Davie never went.
As it was unlikely to have been found by a passing postie – it was Sunday, after all – there was only one thing for it: Wullie would have to get back to Mull as soon as possible to retrieve the offending paper.
I hadn’t seen a single piece of mail cause so much angst since Joe Cocker warbled and writhed his way through a performance of The Letter back in the late 1960s. Joe’s big moan was that he had to get a ticket for an aeroplane, because he didn’t have time to take a fast train. Wullie, on the other hand, would have to take his chances with the ferry. The man was genuinely distressed by the thought of leaving litter at the top of the mountain.
He was big into preaching about respecting the environment, but now, in his own eyes, he was just another litter lout and he would have to right that wrong. We were enjoying the moment and pitching in wherever possible.
“Sad days when the likes of yourself are leaving rubbish on the hills, Wullie.”
“Always thought you were a man of nature, Wullie. So disappointing to hear you littering our great outdoors.”
It was the perfect example of someone dropping litter accidentally on purpose.
We never found out whether the offending letter was retrieved. Any enquiry was greeted by a dirty look and a sullen silence, not even a grunt.