The scourge of litter on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is not new; in fact, things are actually very much better now than they were over a century ago. By the latter part of the 19th century, the original wooden summit huts had been there for 50 years, and despite the much lower number of visitors, discarding rubbish at the summit was a normal event. A writer in 1887 wrote:
Over the escarpment on which [the hut] is built is a glacier-like declivity of tea-leaves, egg-shells, bacon-rind, crusts of bread, and the other nauseating rubbish which emanates from civilised existence.
A writer in August 1890 similarly referred to this pile of “egg shells and bacon rind [which] lies in a nasty heap sliding away down a precipice behind the hut”. It was also commonplace for empty bottles of ginger beer to be thrown from the summit by “athletic sportsmen”, a practice which climbers on Clogwyn y Garnedd did not appreciate; it was not unknown for climbers to have to dodge litter and stones thrown from the summit.
Following the arrival of the railway in 1896, it was written: “… the accumulated refuse and rubbish from the hotel and trippers is left to lie in heaps where it chances to be thrown.”
A writer in 1902 also tells us about the ‘washing line’ which also adorned the summit: The whole of one side seems given up to debris of the most varied description. Broken bottles, old fruit and meat tins, and other abominations, lay scattered about in profusion, while the glorious panorama had the further disadvantage of a clothes-line stretched across the line of vision, and containing a choice and varied collection of garments unmentionable …
Waste from the toilets ran away in pipes, to then just run down the mountain.
The summit in the early 20th century. The place was a filthy tip.
In 1925 litter was still being “emptied too frequently into the gullies of Clogwyn y Garnedd”, and even as late as 1957, long after the removal of the last of the wooden huts, the cliff was described as being “strewn with debris from the former summit huts”.
In 1936 a writer suggested: “Perhaps there will come a time when Snowdon is ‘cleaned and tidied up’ so that the summit may be left clear and unlittered, and we may be able to regain something of the atmosphere of a mountain shrine, a fit place for lofty thoughts.”
By 1937 the last of the former wooden summit buildings had been removed, and it is recorded that these structures were simply pushed down into the cwms below. (The grandfather of a friend of mine was a witness to this.)
Jump forward 70 years, and although the summit was much improved, in 2008 the Guardian wrote: “Even if you miss the signposts for the main tracks, there’s always the trail of banana skins and plastic bottles to follow.”
More recently, considerable efforts have been made to reduce litter on the mountain. Since 2014 there has existed a team of volunteer wardens who patrol the main paths at busy times and – amongst other things – pick up litter. Other organisations also join in at times.
People frequently express surprise that there are no outdoor bins at the summit, even when Hafod Eryri (the summit building) is closed. How would that work, then?
These days the most common discarded items are plastic bottles, cans, tissues, fruit skins and food wrappers. Most litter is mundane, such as cigarette butts, dog-poo bags, boot soles and walking pole ferrules, but other items found over the years have included tins of all kinds of food (both empty and unopened), plates and cutlery, all manner of clothing including underwear (often soiled), used tampons, cigarette lighters, camping chairs, dumbells, bags of sand, trampoline parts, BBQ items, tents, a vehicle tachometer, a man-size penis costume, bongs (if you know, you know), a rucksack full of drugs …
Some litter is, of course, accidental. And who are we to say that the wind hasn’t crushed that Coke can and blown it into that crevice? Nevertheless, I think we’re winning.
(See also our page on ‘Leave no trace’.)