Child protection policies mean that young mountaineers are not getting training from experienced adults. Cameron McNeish, editor of The Great Outdoors magazine, says: ‘How do young people get experience of winter routes today? When I was a kid you joined a club and there was always someone who was willing to take young people out. Clubs don’t do that any more as they are scared of the litigation and paedophilia angle. Across all youth activities we seem to have demonised volunteers, particularly male volunteers, and have put all kinds of barriers in the way of working with young people.’
Early outdoor experience is crucial. ‘I say, send young people to the hills because the only way that you can cope with these conditions is to experience them. But you have to go with experienced climbers and learn low. Go to the Campsies, the Pentlands and learn from there. We had some horrific escapes as youngsters but we learned from them.’
Mountaineers have traditionally started young. In May this year two 19 year-olds became the youngest Britons to climb Everest. The ‘Touching the Void’ pair, who scaled the perilous Peruvian Siula Grande, were 21 and 25 respectively. If climbers can’t get real experience until they are 18, their development and enjoyment will be severely stifled.