Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Good, The Mad And The Ugly 1.1

Winter hillwalking in Scotland is a complex and dangerous activity pursued on a regular basis by lots and lots of people with a hunger for danger. Yes there are countless experienced individuals who do it well-equipped, with the level of experience and skills necessary (and also the much-needed ability to realise defeat and turn back if it all starts to go pear-shaped).
However, there are also others who approach it with a loose whimsy nothing short of a death-wish - jeans, fabric walking shoes, no emergency gear, you name it, its been done, and then the wonderful VOLUNTEERS of our mountain rescue services put their lives on the line rescuing them.
Hmmm, blatant and foolish risk taking = financial culpability . . sounds reasonable doesn't it?
I think so, but obviously things can (and do) go hill-shaped quite often through no fault of your own - a good day can end up a total nightmare, so you should always have an out - things you can do to mitigate the end result . . . BE PREPARED - like, f'rinstance, thinking about whether you really could sit out a storm with 6 inches to two feet+ of snow.
I think if the shit hit the fan most people's answer would be . . Er . . NO!

"So Sheephouse, how does this apply to you and why are you boring us with such shite?" I hear you cry . . .
Well, despite having walked mountains for a longish (20-odd years) time now, I've never done a proper Winter walk, and you know what, I probably won't as I like my days in the hills to be solitary  - ergo, it's only me in some very BIG nature - at 3500ft and a howling white out, I'd be the one on my tod with the brown trousers . . . no, I value my life more than to take a solitary risk.
But like that rash you get from too tight underpants in the summer, itching at the back of my brain is a need to photograph permafrost and ice and hard granite and snow . . . and with a large format camera too!
Sometimes itches have to be scratched.
The title of this blog though does tell the truth . . .
Lugging a 5x4 and its copious accessories into the wilds is not an undertaking for the faint of heart. I've done it a few times and the sheer weight of everything is enough to put you off as you heft your rucksack back in the carpark.
The heaviest part is undoubtedly the tripod (unless you can afford carbon fibre) - it is a total bastard to carry, weighs a ton, and is as awkward as it gets.
After this (if you are brave) comes (in equal levels of awkwardness) the Double Dark Slides (they're cumulatively heavy, not massively heavy each, but when combined, heavy enough to make you wish you'd only taken 4 . . . or 2) and the camera (well actually it's a toss-up between the two) - but in all cases, BULK is your main problem.
My ancient Wista DX is almost as light as it comes for a 5x4, but it is still heavy, however not as heavy as my Sinar F . . . now that is heavy and yet, strangely carryable.

Here's a brief aside:
The F stands for Field (Not Feckin' Heavy . . nope, that would be the Sinar FH) and yes, you can use it in a field - grab a 6 inch rail and it will entirely compact onto that, although if you fancy carrying a solid, all-metal, brick that is approximately 6 x 8 x 8" and awkward as fceck to pack, go ahead. Mine actually fitted into a Deuter 22litre rucksack, with the film holders in a click-lock box in the separate compartment at the bottom, the 12" rail in one of the water bottle pockets at one side, and the bag bellows viewer (undoubtedly one of the best LF accessories ever invented - look Ma! No Darkcloth!!) tucked neatly in beside the camera. My light meter was in a small Lowe pouch attached to the side of the rucksack . . . water was in a 1 litre Sigg bottle on the opposite outside pouch to the rail . . . and food? erm. Oh. Dried goods I'm afraid - oatcakes, dried fruit and a couple of bite-sized choccy bars . . . no room for extra clothing really apart from hat and gloves. The tripod (Linhof Twin Shank and Gitzo Series 5 [! - weighing about the same as the QE2]) was carried with a couple of ingenious handles knotted and cable-tied to two of its legs (the material was a stretchy fabric offcut) and the whole thing was stopped from going all splay-ey by a bungee cord. My boots at the time weighed over a kilo each too, so you can see, it is quite easy to nearly kill yourself with such a set-up . . and I nearly did. I've detailed some of it somewhere else on FB - if you want to find it, use the search . . I think 'nearly killed' would be the keywords.

Anyway, as I say the thoughts of carrying such a get-up to such heights as a Munro is nearly too much to bear these days, but I still wanted to photograph Winter.
Allied to this, I had a new (secondhand) rucksack to break in (long story cut short = upcoming camping trip/no wish to tear down compartments on Tamrac bag/not enough room for camping stuff = Karrimor Sabre 45!) hence the near genius idea of a decent walk, but at lower levels - if the permafrost was around there would be ample opportunity to photograph my chosen subjects. And you know what . . . I think I would have made it, were it not for a couple of things.

Number 1:

Low pressure and raised temperatures

Number 2:

Because of Number 1, all the snow was melting - little jumpable burns were now raging slippery torrents.

I had to re-plan on the hoof - the best laid plans of meece and men as it were . . . 
Basically, where I wanted to go, I had recc'ed a couple of years back - there were tiny, lovely, tinkling burns to cross before I got to a small gorge where the White Water forces its way between slippy stones and stunted trees at the edge of a boulder field.
It even sounds bloody great writing it!
My juices were flowing and my energy levels were up - in my minds-eye I could see great slabs of iced-water broken upon oval, water-smoothed, boulders.
I could see shapes and patterns, whorls and melt. It would be perfect.
But I'll go into it (and why it never happened) fully next time.
For now, are we sitting comfortably?
Good - it is time for a little Sh-Sh-Sh-Sh-Sheephouse Aside.


Wot is it Sheephouse? Wot, I said, WOT, IS IT???

Well, isn't it obvious?

Nah. It looks like a green bag to me, wiv some sticks and fings on it, innit.

(Sigh) OK and just because it is you -  . . . it's a Karrimor SF Sabre 45 - a military grade rucksack which holds a capacious 45 litres - on the sides you see some ex-army PLCE side pockets (or Rockets as they're known) these hold approximately 15 litres each - so basically it is a 75 litre rucksack!
That's a lot of room and way more than I would carry ever (if it was a cloth barrel, could you imagine carrying 75 litres of beer? Nope, me neither . . ) however it is necessary for Winter.
My normal LF rucksack is roughly half that size - it's a Tamarac Extreme 777, which just holds all my LF camera gear with little room for anything else - that is no good for me in the Winter, hence a larger sack was necessary.
Nefarious excuses for buying another rucksack out of the way - here's what it held:

Exped 40 litre dry bag - almost everything was in there, which was in turn within the main body of the rucksack
Wista DX (protected in a small Lowe shoulder bag)
Schneider 150mm f5.6 Symmar-S (inside collapsed camera)
Schneider 90mm f8 Super Angulon (in lens wraps)
Light meter - Gossen Lunasix-F with spot attachment (in Lowe digital camera shoulder bag - it's small)
Note paper and pencils
2 cable releases
Reading glasses (in hard case) for composition
Silvestri Loupe
Spare meter batteries
Tape measure
Spirit Level
Dark Cloth (a Craghoppers microfleece with a zip neck - breathable and very light tight)
4 Dark Slides in a Lowe bumbag + 4 spare in a cliptop box
2 litres of water
Enough dried food for a monster like me
Emergency space blanket
Map in waterproof mapcase
Small digicam case attached to waistbelt (to hold small Panasonic Lumix)
Ventile Jacket
US Army Poncho (in case of maximum wetness)
Buffalo systems hood and mitts (to match the Special 6 shirt I was wearing)
Ex-Army neck buff
Lowe Mountain cap
Spare cable ties
Leki Wanderfreund trekking pole (for crossing dodgy burns)
Oh and the tripod, which actually attached pretty well to the pack when I was using the Leki

Basically, if you can imagine carrying a toddler robot, you've got it.
I see the Army bomb disposal got there before me - sort of like this:

Or like this, but in reverse . . . if Altaira was carrying Robby, he would feel like the Karrimor Sabre fully loaded.

I've no idea what the weight was, but it was heavy . . . however (and strangely) with the pack on properly, waist belt clipped so my hips were taking the strain rather than my shoulders and with the sternum strap done up, it was surprisingly comfortable.
I was expecting to get truly hot and sweaty, but I was alright - so was the rucksack - nary a complaint - it is built like a brick sheephouse after all.
I'm not sure if I'd like to climb a Munro with that level of stuff though - I could probably slim things down a bit, to lessen the weight, but not that much. It would be a huge test of fitness.
Anyway, suitably ladened and after having had a quiet word with myselves in the carpark, off I marched into the wilds for 5 miles of phun and phrolics.


Phew, that was tiring wasn't it!
Well, this is what your intrepid reporter looks like after a sweaty yomp into the far beyond. Jings that load was heavy.

Your intrepid reporter, feeling less sweaty now the toddler robot has climbed down and is off for a play in the woods.
Note extreme wide-angle, off-axis, enlargement of facial features (Official Nikon F & Nikkormat Manual, p38).
Or am I just reverting to my childhood porkieness?
I prefer the technical answer.

But isn't it incredible, that even in the middle of nowhere, there's still some f'er taking a 'selfie'. 

Another Sh-Sh-Sh-Sheephouse aside . . .
Sorry to say it folks but I genuinely believe that Ali and me invented the modern one back in the very early 1990's, except we called them self portraits then . . and they were on film . . . but the concept was the same:

Point and shoot camera.
Reverse lens back to the picture taker.
Arm out, with that now oh so familiar pose.
Say cheese
Autofocus at work.
That was it.

Nowadays you can even get a feckin selfie-stick so you can get all of yourself in . . er . . isn't that what self-timers are for?
Selfies have lost any meaning they might have had.
They used to work - the unusual angle, the self-proclamation of 'I WOZ ERE', it all led to a different slant on things, rather like the woman who managed to catalogue a visit to Egypt with her disposable 110 camera reversed so that every shot featured her ear (!).
You laughed at her mistake, but seeing most of the Wonders Of Egypt with an ear attached to them wasn't just a laugh, it was almost ART.
Nah, selfies, as common as dog muck and I hate them with a vengeance . . .
However, seeing as we invented them, why not . . . .

Er wait a minute Sheephouse . . . is that really you?

Och bugger . . . spotted again. Indeed it is. 
If you can find me in public and come up to me and say
'Your name is Herman Sheephouse and I claim my free sticker now' 
I can guarantee you'll get a special prize . . .

Anyway, where is all this going?
I am not sure actually, as it looks to me like I am just twiddling my fingers and writing the first thing that comes into my head . . . marking time I think my Dad would have said . . and he would have been right.
Well, I haven't developed the film yet. Well I have now actually, however no contacts have been made - more of that next time. For now let's just say, LF Photography Makes Men.
It's like a boot camp for the visual arts. it really is.
More next time in an epic and exciting episode:
The toddler robot returns, the weather turns, I have a turn, and, after nearly walking away disgusted, eventually end up whiling away a happy couple of hours next to a raging river.

Exceptionally precarious

TTFN -  and remember if the blue pills don't work, there's always the green ones.


  1. You make that LF experience very tempting, Phil! Would a Pentax67 count as an alternative in masochism? :) I'm dreaming about what I could do with a P67 and the 105/2.4.

    Thanks for writing what is a very enjoyable read. Looking forward to the results.


  2. Hi Omar - nice to hear from you again - I was beginning to wonder whether you'd vanished!

    As for the P67 - pretty much nearly counts as LF, though musch easier to manage film.
    Please though read my blog about it before you buy one.
    They are lovely cameras, BUT, the first generation are fairly unreliable (at least mine was); second generation were better by all accounts, however the 67II are now not repaired by a number of Pentax specialists . . so make of that what you will.
    I am totally tempted to buy another one, but have to keep telling myself about my experiences with the old one.
    That being said, the lenses are wonderful and there are numerous users in the world who have no problems at all. Maybe it was just bad luck for me.

  3. Everything in that mighty sack except piston rings for the rescue helicopter.
    Cable ties? SPARE cable ties? Sometimes I've taken a small roll of toilet paper, but cable ties?

  4. I've had a sole get loose, laces break, strapping fail, so . . cable ties - they're tough, strong and useful. Everyone should carry them.


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