(Precis of Notes of a talk given at the International Mountaineers' Meet, Darjeeling, May 1973)


  1. Introduction
  2. Wilderness of Peace
  3. The Wilderness Association
  4. Wilderness and pollution
  5. Basic attitudes
  6. Political wilderness vs. population
  7. Park and wilderness management
  8. Conclusions



1. Introduction

MY first association with Mr. Sarin was when my wife as a member of the first Womens' Overland Himalayan Expedition, having stayed in the Y.W.C.A. in Delhi and related to her Indian contemporaries, was lucky to call on the late Pandit Nehru who received the girls kindly and encouraged them to trek over the Inner Line to Padam.

In contemporary terms I hope this Meet does not prove that mountaineers are 'male chauvinistic pigs'; certainly my wife's foray must have been the beginning of 'feminine mountaineering liberation'. However, we do know that many worthy mountaineers exist amongst the fairer sex.

Subsequent to this experience I corresponded with the H.M.I., and the late Nandu Jayal made it possible to send a group of 15 Australian boys on an adventure course. We watched results and, as half came back to India, continued this scheme with the kind co-operation of the I.M.F. and Indian Government.



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2. Wilderness of Peace

Some years ago I read an excellent book by David Howarth called "Sledge Patrol". Two Nations were at war in Greenland and the Esquimaux became mobilised to 'war'—however, when it came to the point of looking along the rifle sights they couldn't understand why they should kill fellow men and declined—"after all, all men are united in the common challenge of wilderness survival!" Thus I suggest that mountaineers in their very way of life must be essentially larger than petty feuds.

In 1958 I was a founder member of a British Pakistani forces Himalayan Expedition to ascend to Rakaposhi which we did. As a sort of an ideal we wanted Pakistani mountaineers included in the expedition as climbers in full. This worked. I am sorry I cannot see some of my mountain friends from there . . .

But the same token I express interest in the philosophies and attitudes of Cninese and Kaissian mountaineers, already toucned on by Lord Hunt. Alas, circumstances seem to forbid their presence?

Rakaposhi led to the British Indian Forces Expedition that climbed Annapurna. The same ideal worked.

Perhaps if we all climb enough mountains together we can give a lead for peace?

In 1956 after an expedition to Alaska I met a wonderful couple called Olaus and Mardie Murie. They had formed the Wilderness Society of U.S.A. I never thought of preserving wilderness or that this would be needed! Subsequently I was lucky to enjoy all sorts of wilderness environments—deserts, oceans, rain forests, antarctic and mountains. In 1964/5 I led an expedition to climb Big Ben on Heard Island in the sub- Antarctic. We voyaged in a 63 foot gaff rigged schooner and I invited W. H. Tilman to be our skipper. Five months with Tilman and his sensitivity were important as was the excitement of the sub-Antarctic where ice, snow and sea and wildlife form a complete ecological cycle of which Man is the intruder. In 1970 with some friends of like background I formed a Wilderness Association, its aims briefly being to "explore, enjoy, research and preserve wilderness, its forests, waters and wildlife". Preservation is different to conservation of course.



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3. The Wilderness Association

The Wilderness Association began to explore the meanings of wilderness and we have now reached broad definitions:

  1. 100,000 acres minimum with no man made improvements (i.e. on your flat feet only!)
  2. Limited access for science and/or recreation.
  3. No access at all.

"Value of Wilderness": It is impossible to put a monetary value on wilderness and difficult to describe its value without raising issues of philosophy with which the inquiry would not be concerned. Wilderness, however, must be recognised as having from Biblical times a special value and appeal to certain people or people generally at certain times. Its special significance is not so much that it is there to be used, but that it is there. George Eliot expressed the view a hundred years ago that "there should be some unknown regions preserved as hunting grounds for the poetic imagination" and an American wrote more recently: “Save a piece of country like that intact and it does not matter in the slightest that only a few people every year will go into it. That is precisely its value . . . We need to put into effect, for its preservation, some other principle than the principles of exploitation or usefulness or even recreation. We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope."

Aldo Leopold expressed the view that "Wilderness without wildlife is merely scenery!"—perhaps in the mountains we are the wildlife. Raymond Dossman of the American Conservation Foundation suggests the need for 'Danger Parks'—where we sign a release of risk form and enter to try our luck against cliffs, rivers and tigers!

Certainly I believe that we are not far removed from the old hunter/gatherer and need 'throw-back experiences'. It was perhaps a sad day for the wilderness when the hunter/gatherer, i.e. wilderness man, learned to cultivate and became 'producer and consumers' man! Dr. I. McTaggert Cowan in his excellent paper "Wilderness Concept, Function and Administration" "Uni. of Cal.) discusses the philosophy of Wilderness:

  1. Historical and religious hang ups exist that regarded enjoyment of wilderness as "immoral", (Western attitude I should add!).
  2. Pioneer attitudes to wilderness are that it is hostile, must be tamed and made productive. These attitudes carry on in such countries as Australia.
  3. Capitalistic society regards unproductivity as uselessness. (It would have been fun to have heard the communist theory here . . . ?)
  4. He faces the fact that it seems that a true 'wilderness experience' can be psychedelic in the fullest meaning of that word; here in parenthesis I have studied possums on my own wildlife refuge and realised that their seeming neurotic attitudes are purely a sensitivity to the total environment—which I have shared after prolonged weeks in the wilderness. Thus, perhaps Man seeks to asuage these senses often now in harmful substitutes.
  5. He suggests that we may have to recover wilderness (i.e. after logging) to regain these areas we need and maintain them like giant parks.



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4. Wilderness and pollution

  1. Litter. This is easily solved, purely a matter of education and discipline.
    It is interesting to note that in sophisticated Western society people sometimes complain to me about 'dirty villages or areas5 yet that dirt is organic and not half as insidious as the hidden terrors of air pollution (and moral decay?) in some of the places they come from!
  2. Pressure has been brought to bear on outfitters so as to stop deforestation (firewood) in delicate places and I have just heard of an experiment to take gas stoves to high places such as Tilicho pass (Nepal). Sherpas and guides can be trained. (Here the 'wilderness manners' are distinctly different to the old burn back bury techniques of tidyness.) As an example now in the High Sierras camps are forbidden in the delicate high alps where a handful of twigs or a tent gutter can change things irrevocably.
  3. Basic altitudes: I suspect that tourist groups of trekkers are less to blame for litter etc. than expeditions. These groups are there often because they are sensitive to environment and can be controlled by leaders, etc. Expedition aims are often short: "Namely success on the mountain". The garbage around Thyangboche is mainly expedition junk!
    What of noise/air pollution? I don't want to enjoy my mountain under a sort of Delhi airport condition of commuting helicopter. In U.S.A. low flying air flights are forbidden in wilderness areas.



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5. Basic attitudes

  1. Irving on Everest: "Will be conquered by the very thing in which this present age excells, the skill to use material things that nature has provided."
  2. Tilman (Everest 1948) : "All's fair in love and war and the habit of talking of the assault and conquest of a peak may lead us to think that the same holds good for mountaineering and that mountains are foes to be subdued rather than friends to be won!
  3. J. P. Farrar, President of the Alpine Club 1917-19, Editor of the Alpine Journal 1920-26, reviewing the 1922 Everest expedition states:
    "The conquest of the mountain must be kept steadily in view, and its attainment attempted—with every available resource!
  4. The recent Italian expedition to 'conquer Everest' is appoint in case. I sometimes wish that we could all “Knock the bastard off”1 then we could, settle down to enjoying our mountains again?
    Accepting that mountains can be good safety valves for aggressions (James: "Moral equivalent to war"?), current trends appear to mirror the consumer society and we see already the tren- diness of climbing hardware keeping pace with the hems of women's skirts. We also have to beware tourist agencies flooding areas with people for profit with no checks and literally loving the wilderness to death.
    Here I agree with Chris Bonington about the aesthetics of pollution on the mountain wall and technology that can be to produce a 'clean' nut or cracker in lieu of a 'dirty' bolt is valuable. It is simply a matter of attitude.
  5. Non-Expedition. Recently I was at a meeting where committees were about to be formed to form expeditions to conquer peaks! We chucked around ideas and came up with the 'non expedition ethics'—No letter heading, no publicity and positively no free milk—shades of Bill Tilman: "If you can't plan your trip on the back of an envelope don't go!"
    FARCE. More recently retuned to Australia was F.A.R.C.E. (Fantastic Australian Rock Climbing Expedition). Four young men took off overland to U.K. and proceeded to return home climbing everything they could find in Europe, Iran, Afghanistan and the Himalaya. They had a grant of $50 from NZAC (Aust. Sec.)



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6. Political wilderness vs. population

The Wilderness Association recognises that wilderness is in inverse proportion to population and sent a questionnaire to all political parties.

  1. No party had heard of Wilderness. To them parks are for people with apparently no restraints, especially where the tourist dollar is concerned.
  2. Population. Questions were asked on migration, (with 4% of G.N.P. growth essential in capitalist societies there is no question of not encouraging growth—however the new Australian government has cut migration 21% and at least is slowing the future down). Legalized abortion, free sterilization clinics all raise moral and religious questions that have yet to be thought out in the light of our future.
    1 To those not conversant with modern 'sporting English'—terms such as Bastard, Swine, Bitch, Sly, Fox usually convey the feeling of awe, respect, admiration, difficult challenge, etc. For example "He is a real bitch at tennis," "His leg-breaks are real bastards." It is in this context that Everest was referred by Sir Hillary on returning the summit—Ed.
  3. Wilderness Act 1964. U.S.A. The first such in the world. We were able to study the erosions on this and are thus forewarned. Generally compromises has been permitted on such things as lumber and mining but these interests are to phase out by 1984. Thus the Act got the foot in the door . . .



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7. Park and wilderness management

Four examples will suffice to make my point:

  1. Kinabalu National Park, Sabah (Malaysia) . Well organised, good accommodation and excellent nature trails and huts on the 13,450 ft. Mt. Kinabalu. Entry by booking only. (i.e. rationed usage) . Dusan hill people in 12 years since Merdeka have become guides, some trained at Kuala Lumpur Uni, and with degrees in the natural sciences. A fine example.
  2. Kiliminjaro. Dirty huts, dirty trails, dirty guides. Covered with tourists 'conquering' the 19,000 ft. Uhuru Point. I told the Director of Parks and Director of Tourism I would not come back under these conditions and a letter indicates that action will be taken.
  3. Mt. Kenya National Park. W^ell organised, good huts, sound Kikuyu guides beginning to learn the ropes as for Malaysia.
  4. Cradle Mountain, Lake St. Clair National Park, Tasmania. With a 20 strong Sierra Club group I led in February, I recommended that we could not return due to poor trail and hut maintenance. The Director of Parks replied: "I don't have enough money and more and more tourists keep coming." The Director of Tourism (doing his duty) replied: "It isn't my business!"
  5. The Choice: Do we jump on a picture of the Mona Lisa? sell the Taj Mahal as a car park or desecrate our lovely mountains? Intangible values can be converted to financial revenue —and some of this must be converted to conserving beauty?



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8. Conclusions

What could I do?

  1. In 1965 we organised a centre or a wildlife refuge in the Kangaroo Valley N.S.W. (a mini wilderness?) There, all ages but particularly children aged 8-13 are introduced to free, unprogrammed play in the natural environment. The results are adventures in pottery and painting canoeing and exploring but more to the point, laughter and happiness and, one hopes, fond memories that will breed a sensitivity to people and environment . . .
  2. Just before coming here with two members of the Wilderness Association we called on the Federal Minister for Conservation and the Environment to commence our lobbying for a Wilderness Act for Australia—as a hobby we make expeditions to the wilderness to research them for future legislation.

I will finish by reading from one of our Australian Poets:

Notes on wilderness
A genius is a person
who is trying to restore
a small piece of our lost wilderness.
He is not a person who
wins Nobel prizes for recording
the human dilemma or discovering
a cure for cancer.
His work is silent, without reward.
He doesn't wish his son
to be a bankerv
or a plumber
His wish is life.

Andrew Southall.

Note: The Ausventure Wilderness Association has members world-wide AU$3.00 per year or AU$20 life. I.McTaggert Cowan's paper is available at AU$2 (incl. post.)

All from: P.O. Box 54, MOSMAN. N.S.W. 2088.


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