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Sharing the mountains

Something I have always been conscious of, as a guide, is that as canyoneers, we should be very mindful of other mountain users.

If you've ever been in the vicinity of a commercially run canyon, you'd know the sounds of a tour as it makes its way down the stream; the clink of hardware on the harnesses; the occasional whoops or screams of delighted and frightened participants; the big splashes of someone jumping from somewhere up high.

If you've come to the mountain for the peace and tranquility, you might find these sounds intrusive - and you'd have my sympathy. When I venture to the mountains alone, I too am seeking some peace and quiet, some respite from the noise and bluster of the city.

However, the canyoneer moves through without lingering - or if they stop, they do so to enjoy their own moment of quiet. And if the canyoneer observes best practice, they'll have moved through without leaving anything to mark their passing.

On an early trip, here in Korea, back in the summer of 2015, we had a rather unfriendly encounter with one individual on the mountain.

I won't name the mountain or stream, as it would be far too easy to identify this person.

We were nearing the end of our descent; in fact, there was only one final drop to descend.

As the person rigging the drop, I was positioned at the edge of the fall. I spotted this person below, smiled, and gave a nod of the head. My intention, as it always is, was to communicate that we're here for a shared reason - a mutual love of the mountains. Often, a smile, an acknowledgement of their presence, is enough to calm tensions before they mount towards anything else.

The smile was not reciprocated.

Nothing was said until I dropped our rope. Then, the person at the bottom began screaming and ranting - we were not to abseil!

Their reason - was because we'd mess up the pool.

And the reason that this was an issue for them is because they ran a small photography service, with the waterfall and pool featuring as the backdrop of their shots.

The fact that there were no potential customers anywhere near did little to deter them from making rather forceful complaints.

My companions at the time did not want any confrontation. We retrieved the line, and descended by alternate means. The individual at the bottom was in no mood to discuss anything and was getting rather loud, so we left.

At the time, I completely understood my companions desire to leave without arguing or engaging with this person.

After the event, I stewed over the incident, reflecting upon the decision. Were we in the wrong?

I'd say not. This individual was attempting to monopolise one waterfall for their own profit and gain. If their customers were present, we'd have stayed out of shot and waited - we had no desire to cause unnecessary disruption.

I often think back to this moment and wonder whether or not our position was something worth defending. Should we have allowed this person to exert their will so freely?

In a time where smartphones and selfie sticks are so prevalent, how busy would they have been anyway?

We ceded ground that we ought to have claimed. We only want to share the mountain, we don't seek to dominate it.

Unrelated shot of another canyon, in Korea.


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