Fells Fix it for Blind Mountaineers
Blind Mountaineers find the repair work carried out on the upland paths, invaluable, during their visit to the Lake District. Repairs to upland footpaths are part of the Fix the Fells project
The Milton Mountaineers is a group of blind and partially sighted hill walkers and their friends, which was founded in 1969 by David Scott-Blackhall - a blind BBC presenter. David Scott-Blackhall broadcast an item about a climb of the highest mountain in Africa - Mt Kilimanjaro, by blind people and remarked that it would be great if blind people were able to climb Britain's highest mountain - Ben Nevis. The group was named after the Milton Hotel, where they first stayed during their climb of Ben Nevis
After the ascent of Ben Nevis, the group became a charity and has continued ever since, doing one trip a year to Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England in rotation.
Tim Duckmanton, Volunteer Coordinator for the Lake District National Park Authority said: "Volunteers and rangers have assisted the Milton Mountaineers several times in the past. The group visited us in August to climb up Grisedale Pike (700 metres/ 2290ft), Helvellyn (950m/3,118ft), Scafell Pike (978m / 3,210ft and Skiddaw (931m/3,053ft). The group had a fantastic time and found the paths repaired under the Fix the Fells project, really helped them access the higher peaks. Stone pitching was particularly easy for them to to walk on, compared to the eroded paths."
Fix the Fells is a partnership that works together to prevent further erosion of upland paths, through work carried out on them by contactors, staff and a large volunteer force. The partnership is run by the Lake District National Park Authority, the National Trust and Natural England - and is further supported by Friends of the Lake District, The Tourism and Conservation Partnership and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Fix the Fells is a five-year programme, which needs to raise £3 million to pay for upland path repair. In addition to the financial support provided by partners, the project also relies upon donations made by the public. £2.5 million was raised under the previous project that successfully repaired 102 Lake District upland paths, with 74 still in need of desperate care.
Sighted volunteer guides, from the Lake District Volunteers Service, helped the Milton Mountaineers climb their mountains, with the use of careful guiding. David Carrington-Porter, Organiser for The Milton Mountaineers - and is also blind, said: "We were very ably supported by volunteers from the Lake District National Park Authority.Tim Duckmanton, the Volunteer Co-ordinator, put in a lot of work arranging mountain leaders and sighted guides for the blind walkers.
"This year the Milton Mountaineers were celebrating their 40th trip, so in addition to the planned ascents of Grisedale Pike, Helvellyn and Skiddaw, we also wanted to reach the top of Scafell Pike - England's highest Mountain, (978m / 3,210ft ), to celebrate our 40th anniversary in style. Scafell Pike is a challenging climb for blind people, not only because of the long climb, but particularly because it is very rocky -and at the top there is a boulder field, making it very difficult to balance your way across it, especially in wet conditions. That said, the improvements made to the paths by the Fix the Fells path teams, did a lot to reassure us. Blind walkers followed their sighted guides with a hand on their rucksack, when the terrain was uneven - but once the terrain became more stable, we were able to walk side-by-side, holding our guides elbow. Regretably, we were unable to complete the ascent of Scafell, due to poor weather conditions, but we appreciated the decision of our mountain leader, in considering our safety. We had a good laugh when our guide added that in any case there wouldn't be good views on the summit because of the thick cloud cover!".
Ruth Kirk, Volunteer from the Lake District Volunteer Service and guide for both Helvellyn and the Scafell Pike trip said:"I enjoyed the experience of assisiting the Milton Mountaineers immensely. In fact it's been one of my best days out in the National Park - really special. Other leaders from the Lake District Volunteers Service, were David Emery, (Grisedale Pike) and John Whittle (Skiddaw).
The trip was completed with a toast - a drink of sparkling wine, which one of the volunteers provided.
David Carrington-Porter's final comment was: "I'm sometimes asked why I climb mountains, if I can't see the views! It's not only about the views, it's about sensing the atmosphere of the mountains, listening to water gurgling in streams, feeling the wind on your face, fresh air and exercise, the sense of achievement and enjoying the company of like minded people, who act as our guides and describe "the views" to us. I would sincerely like to thank all the volunteers and the Fix the Fells path team, who made this year's trip such an enjoyable one"