14 Nov 2011

Charity Challenge: harder test, lower impact

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Ribblehead Viaduct

After becoming involved, against my better instincts, in an on-line forum on the subject earlier in the week, my thoughts returned to the pros and cons of charity challenges during a congenial weekend in North Yorkshire.

A captivating autumn day, engaging company, added to the  treat of starting and ending our ascent of  Whernside by the spectacular Ribblehead Viaduct; what wasn’t to like?

But while we took full advantage of our day, marvelling at the engineering skills of Victorian railway builders, taking our time on route to the summit – admittedly,  because of my catalogue of recent injuries – while admiring the autumnal panorama, the majority of our fellow hikers  appeared oblivious to the views and the location in their desperation to ascend and descend the hill within some set guideline for an organised charity event. And even on a November afternoon, there were still plenty of competitors about to ascend as late as 3pm.

But,so what?  Surely we should be celebrating that so many people are out enjoying the great outdoors; particularly if they are raising money for worthwhile charities at the same time? Well, yes, but it is certainly debatable if everyone was enjoying themselves: the majority of the expressions suggested it was more of an ordeal.

Ingleborough in the Clouds

And, of course, with so many people involved – competitors climbing, then descending, three or four abreast, outside the assigned path, the litter, the vehicle support – we also move into the thorny issue of environmental damage and whether the money raised justifies the harm to the habitat and rise in emissions.

I have mixed feelings about charity challenges. While, in principle, I support any activities that get people out in the fresh air, get them fit and enable them to raise valuable funds at the same time, I also believe that any associated environmental damage must not be simply disregarded as an unfortunate, but less important, side effect.

In addition, I see little point of holding these challenges in beautiful places if the majority of the competitors are unable to appreciate the unique setting of the event.  It the overriding objective is to complete a certain number of physical challenges within a specified time and, as a result, participants are too exhausted or too preoccupied to enjoy the locality, what’s the point of hosting it there? A physical challenge of this sort could just as easily be completed using cardio equipment in a gym.

Autumn in the Dales

Particularly culpable in this case is the Three Peaks Challenge where the three highest mountains on the British mainland have to be scaled within a strict time period, often 24 hours.  As a result, the challenge is as much about the logistics of getting to the mountains in time, as it is about climbing them and, consequently, convoys of vehicles tear along motorways with teams of drivers and support staff, often disrupting local communities by arriving and departing in the middle of the night.

But I do not advocate the abolition of the Three Peaks.  Instead, I suggest we make it a proper test where competitors would also be aware of, and able to enjoy, the beauty and challenges of the environment, with a much reduced carbon footprint.

Firstly, and most importantly, the 24 hour time limit would be abolished.
Secondly, participants would have to arrive at their first peak and travel between the subsequent ones on foot, by bike, or by using public transport (including ferry if the challenge is extended to include Ireland).
Thirdly, the time limits now imposed would be flexible and reflect the mode of travel and length of journey to the first mountain; days if travelling by public transport and an appropriate number of weeks if on foot, or by bike.

So, what do you think? Should charity challenges should be banned? Does the money raised for good causes outweigh any adverse effects? Any other suggestions?
Over to you…….

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