Monday, August 9, 2010

Conquering Snowdon

I'll get my own pic soon...
In a couple of weeks' time, @squiggle7, a wiley fox named Robin and myself will be travelling to Wales to climb up Mount Snowdon for no reason other than because we feel like it. I thought it'd be prudent to find out a little bit more about mountains in general before we went.

Mountains were first invented in 1732 by London-born but Lancaster-settled Edward Taint, from whom they gained their name: after an amusing leg-humping incident involving a prospective financer's dog and Edward himself, the erections became informally known as 'mount-Taints'. This caught on, and the marketers contracted the name to 'Mountains' for the sake of simplicity and common decency. Originally marketed as scenic devices, they quickly caught on as tourist attractions and there are many famous examples the world over, of which Snowdon is just one.

The first range of mountains to be exhibited by Taint's company were the Pennines, running from Derbyshire's Peak District* up to the West Pennine Moors of Lancashire**, and become known as the 'backbone of England', presumably due to the not inconsiderable number of jobs created during the fourteen years of its installation, which secured England's place on the world financial scene.

The building of mountains was originally licensed only to Taint's company, and for around fifty years it developed ranges specifically for use in the British Isles: The Brecon Beacons range, for example, was snapped up by the Welsh, the Grampian range was designed specifically for Scottish use, and the Wicklow Mountains was a special commission for the Irish tourist board.

The Pennines close to completion
Around a century after their inception, Wales installed Snowdon on the site of an old hill (Snow-don meaning 'snow hill') that was destroyed in a freak accident. It became the highest mountain in the world, and the phenomenon started to generate overseas interest for the first time. Taint's ancestors felt that the record should be held by the country of origin, so they built Scafell Pike in Cumbria's Lake District in an attempt to smash the current record. Unfortunately, due to a problem involving conflicting units of measurement on the original plans, Scafell Pike fell short of the record by over a hundred metres. Not wanting to be left out, Scotland joined in and went a bit mad, ending up with the ten highest peaks in the world at the time. Even today, they remain the ten highest peaks in the UK, with Ben Nevis topping the list.

Everest today
By this time the interest from overseas was so much that Taint's company couldn't keep up with demand, and licences were produced that would allow other countries to develop their own ranges under the 'Mountain' brand name. Many mountain ranges were developed for various purposes, not least the 'solution' to the great Indian-Tibetan conflict at the time, which was to install the Himalayas between them. The cost of this in terms of labour as well as finances was so great, and the building time so long, that by the time the mountain range was in place, many of the causes of disagreement between the two countries had been sorted out as a necessity of working together to get them built in the first place.

Mauna Kea: A source of contention
The Americas inevitably joined in, and they did so in style, building the tallest mountain the world had ever seen, Mauna Kea, using an innovative new technique of pumping liquid rock up through the base of the mountain which cooled as it rose and solidified at the top. A south-east Asian conglomerate put together the finances to beat this in a move which has long been regarded as underhanded: they built a new mountain on top of the previously existing Himalayas range. They have since proudly claimed Everest to be the tallest mountain in the world, but American groups steadfastly and consistently label this as cheating and refuse to this day to acknowledge that it beats Mauna Kea: Although Everest certainly reaches a higher altitude, Mauna Kea's base is nearly 20,000 feet below sea level, which is where the American mountain lobbyists say that measurements should start. As a quiet response to this, Asian groups have installed a system based loosely on Mauna Kea's production techniques that is causing Everest to grow by as much as six centimetres per year. They have stated that with an increase in funding (probably from tourism) they will be able to accelerate this growth, eventually making Everest's claim indisputable.

Don't get me started on Chimborazo.

* These were known as the Derby Flatlands prior to the building of the Pennines.
** Previously titled the East Lancastrian Moors.