Monday, May 22, 2017

Fun With Rocks (And Mist)

Well, I think fun is stretching the michael a bit, but combined the two are kind of interesting to me.
Let me explain myself - I've got screeds of lengthy stuff coming up, but haven't even started writing it yet, so consequently, recently whilst looking through some prints for Bruce and Omar (yes, I haven't forgotten!) I rediscovered some prints I'd made years ago from a couple of really rather lengthy hillwalks.
If you've ever done a hillwalk you'll know two things - mist is often inevitable, and there are lots and lots of rocks. OK, stay on the beam, I'll get there . . .   
When a good mist comes in, there's really nothing quite like it, because it is disorientating and fast, often thick, cold, wet and blanketing. All external sounds are draped and you become acutely aware of your heart and the noise of the bood in your ears and your breathing. It makes you stop in your tracks sometimes - it's that surprising. The world looses all colour and becomes completely grey - even the brown upland grasses and heathers loose their colour and if you are really unlucky and haven't taken rough bearings things can start to deteriorate pretty quickly. I call it brown-trouser walking, because believe me, losing your bearings for even a few minutes is incredibly worrying. But that's why people carry a compass. Or do they? It's incredible the number of people you meet on the tops who are dressed in jeans and trainers, no obvious map or compass, a lot of times no rucksacks . . .really amazing! 
As I can attest from the photograph below, your surefootedness can quickly turn to "Oh shiiiiit!".

A Cautionary Tale

You see, for some reason, I'd spotted this rather dull rock, which had a nice patch of permafrost running away from it, so I left the path I was on and walked the 50-or-so yards over to this to see if I could  make it look interesting. Those were the days when all I carried were the Rollei T and my Slik Baby-Bambi tripod.
Now I was stupid moving off the path without first looking round, because I would have seen that things were closing in rapidly, but oh no, a stroll over to the rock and whammo - Mist-out! Right I thought, no problem, I marked a heel gouge in the grass and told myself I'd come up to that. No problems, just go back exactly the way you came and you'll be fine, but take the photo first. Duly taken and things packed away, I searched in vain for my heel gounge and could I find it, could I fecundity! So I went to the rock and thought, well if I move like a spiral around the rock, I am bound to find my mark. So that's what I did - clever thinking thought I - and the further out I got, the dimmer the rock got until I realised that the rock was the one sure thing in the whole world of mist I was encompassed by. No gouge was to be found, so I headed back to the rock in panic.
At times like that, clear thinking very much takes a back seat and it really is only through a force of will that you come down to straight thinking. It is bloody difficult though, because every ounce of your being is saying, "This Is It - You're Lost, You Stupid Bastard!" Visions of the old yellow Mountain Rescue helicoptors stooping over my emmaciated corpse weeks hence were very real!
I hunkered down against the rock and tried to calm myself down. Oatcakes were eaten, water was sipped and then I realised a friend was to hand - my map and compass.
I roughly knew where I had been before the mist came down and could see from the map that the path should be approximately due North from my position, so in an act of daring-do which I have never repeated, I let my compass do the talking, got up, and headed into the unknown, with only a slip of magnetised plastic between me and oblivion.
You see that's the weird thing about mist - it utterly removes you from the normal world.
I must have walked for a good 15 minutes on that compass bearing; I sweated buckets; every hump and drop of landscape was some new torture. But I held as true as my bearing and eventually stumbled out between two hillocks onto a path.
It is a Sheephousian Truism that "it might look no far on the map, but it's further than you think on the ground".
I can see where I went wrong now, it was a Sheephousian triangle I was on and I ended up heading on the long edge of that . . . but I got there in the end and I suppose the thing I learn from this is that I really should brush up on my compass skills!

Near Broad Cairn

And as is so typical of the mountains, I stumbled back to safety and the mist lifted and this massive big puddle lay before me, so I celebrated photographically as it were. Bambi held the Rollei safely and I lived to fight another day. The misty horizon encompasses the whole of Broad Cairn (998 metres high, and on OS sheet 44) a massive, stone-strewn lump on the Mounth Plateau (for those of you of a geographiocal bent); the heady drop down to Loch Muick is on my right. I have never actually made it to the top of Broad Cairn simply because every time I tried . . . yep, you guessed it . . mist. I've wandered very closely to it though, just never actually climbed it proper as it were.

Anyway, onwards, so there I was, about a month earlier (yeah, weird eh? - no permafrost or snow in the above ones!) - it had been a wild sort of morning, with mist clearing to a wonderful crispness. The big snows of Winter hadn't yet started, but the permafrost was starting and new showers were coming in and the ground was hard as iron, smattered with new snow and the air was as sharp as a knife. I was climbing a well-known Munro and I was nearly there when I spotted this rock on the horizon. Had I not been footering about and observant I could have easily missed it, but it looked interesting and I took a detour, and discovered what I will call (and have ever since called) "The Watcher".
I think it's quite something and who knows what it (HE? almost certainly a he) has seen in the last 11,500 years since the glaciers tumbled him there!
You get that a lot - improbably gigantic boulders, I mean some of them are larger than a modern detached house, just sitting on a hillside minding their own business, waiting for time and more time to wear them down.
Anyway, back to the photo - this one is made with something I never use . .  Acros 100. The Acros was shot at box speed and developed in 1+50 Rodinal - you see the power of those notebooks - it was the 26th of October 2003 and this was the 3rd frame, shot at 1/60th and f22 . . . no tripod.
I've always liked this, but for some reason have never made a decent print of it.

The Watcher

Coo, all this walking has drummed up a hunger - I'm STARVING - now, where's the dumplings? Anyone got some? And follow that with a heavy dob of mashed potato and maybe even a deep fried pizza and a white pudding supper.
Full yet?
No? Well satisfy your gums with this stodgy, heavy-handed feast.
A true vintage Sheephouse print!
After hours of searching it seems to be the only one I have, sadly.
The thing is, the negative is gloriously tonal, and I know I can get a decent print out of it . .watch this space.
It was made with the Rollei T in 645 (or 16-On as it is known) mode!
Wonderful, because you are using most of the central portion of that lovely Tessar.
It also features the glorious tone of Ilford's FP4 and the Rollei Blau filter!
You know what, the older I get the more I think FP4 is just about the perfect film for tones. It seems to have them in spades, and whether that's because it's an old skool, medium speed film or not I don't know, but I like it.
Developer was 1+50 Rodinal again and this was made in October of 2003 - I seem to have done a lot of walking that year.
It wasn't really a misty day, but you can see that it wasn't exactly crystal clear either

The Cairn On Mayar

And now our last serving of carbohydrates.
It might not look it from the print below, but mist definitely stopped play.
This is where I carried a Sinar F, 2 Lenses, Linhof Twin Shank Tripod, Gitzo Series 5 head, 8 Film Holders, Loupe, Dark Cloth, Glasses, Emergency Gear, 2 Litres Of Water, Lunch and the heaviest 4 season boots I had (nearly 2kg a pair) up to a coll in an attempt to scale a Munro on a misty day.
It took me three hours to climb something that normally takes an hour and a half, but I got to the top of the coll and the bloody mist came in and draped me in doubt.
Memories of previous brown-trouser walks swept over me, so I retreated, rather than thinking it worth going on.
In truth I was utterly knackered and nearly dead by the time I got back to the car, and the one thing I learned from this is that you don't need battleship stability to make a photograph.
And yes, if you are wondering, there's no trickery involved, the path does ascend that 45 degree hillside.
 Details from notebook: 15/11/2009 - film foma 100 ei 80, 1+50 Rodinal

Shank Of Drumfollow

And that's it folks - in truth this is just a patch job - I've been taking loads of photos of stuff over the Spring/Summer along with my usual Summertime DIY projects (oh joy!) but rest assured, normal printing will resume as soon as possible.
And remember, if you pick that scab again it isn't going to heal . . .


  1. Excellent post, as always. I've only once ever gotten lost in the Korean wilderness. My friends and I were up on Palgong Mountain longer than we should have been and the sun set. We struggled along a path for a few hours until we decided that just going straight down the mountain might be our best hope of reaching civilisation. So down we slid on our arses until we came to a temple where we scared the you-know-what out of the monks there who probably thought we were an ambush of tigers come to have a midnight snack. We asked them for help but they wouldn't come out of their rooms or answer us. Hrrmm. Anyway, a man in an SUV happened to come by (why, at 3:00 in the morning?) and gave us a ride back to the city. Hours of fun. A good memory.
    I've been reading your blog back from the very beginning. I sometimes want to comment but the comments sections are closed. I can't find an email address, either. Is there an email address hiding in a place I haven't thought to look?
    Have a great one.

    Marcus Peddle

  2. Hi Marcus - after the sun setting is something else altogether, at least in mist and daylight there's the chance it might lift, but no sun . . . ! ! Bet you were all exhausted. There's that feeling of elation isn't there . . you're not dead . . yet ';0)

    As for comments, well THANK YOU (it's appreciated) if you've read back over all of that - goodness knows there's enough of it! But anyway, I shall look into the comments thing - there's no reason as to why you shouldn't be able to. And there used to be an email address somewhere on there too - no idea why that has disappeared -will try and re-add this morning. Off to work the noo . .

  3. Marcus - contact form now there - older blog comments appear to have been disabled for some reason - need to go through and enable them all - that'll take time.

  4. Great news. Keep up the writing!

  5. Thanks Marcus - I'll do my best - bit time poor at the moment . . .

  6. Love the misty, wet, damp, sodden rocks.

    From a very early age my lack of sense of direction and ability to get lost were legendary and a great source of mirth to all those who witnessed my professions of complete dislocation when only a few yards from home. With greater maturity, or at least the passing of the years, I have, to a certain extent, developed coping strategies such as really making an effort to memorise turnings and where I've been.

    Often, though, my head is so full of stuff like what I had for dinner, what I'm going to eat next, what somebody said to me in 1973 and what I'd have liked to say back to them given only 44 years to think of a spontaneous witty riposte, that I find I can walk a mile and not remember how I got there. Like last week in the hills above Llangynog, inspired by your photographic examples above. I had my map, compass and waterproof coat. But it was raining, so to your list, I'd add a see-through plastic thingy to keep the map dry.

    Even given all of the above, I still managed to find my way back to the road via a completely different route from the one I'd taken on the way up. Which is amusing given that wetness was the only problem. Not so funny if there had been visibility issues.

    Anyhow, I'd taken 3 cameras, the Canadian, the Russian and the Japanese each of whom had partly used films in them, with the object of finishing them all off so I could develop them. And I was successful in that.

    Now you well know I don't practice the esoteric arts of development using the blood of a cockerel slaughtered in the light of a full moon whilst intoning Ansel's words of wisdom, but I have noticed that for the films I used (FP4, Delta 100, HP5) if you develop using ID11 at 1+3 then the recommended time for all those is 20 minutes which means you can do them all at once. And 20 mins for 4 films (HP5 in both 35mm and 120) represents quite a time saving.

    All I've got to do now is print the blighters and see if it was all worth it. Just praying for rain at the weekend so I might be spared gardening duties and disappear into the darkroom!

  7. Hi Julian - plastic map thingy is super important - I've had mine for years and years and it has been a real boon, the only problem being how to fold a OS neatly into it . . .

    Being able to develop multiple films at once is something I have never tried - I dunno - never trusted myself actually. But you're on some classic combos with ID 11 - John Blakemore f'rinstance - everything is FP4 and ID 11, and the tones on some of his work is extraordinary, so I really hope they've all worked out OK and look the way you want them to.

    So Llangynog (just looked it up) is near Pennant Melangell? I remember seeing the shrine on a series about Britain's sacred palces a few years back and was taken aback by how beautiful and peaceful it was - the sacredness of the site virtually oozed out of the earth - something much older and deeper there methinks. But I am glad you made it back safely . . when in doubt head downwards, though in the case of the Capel Mounth (a stomping ground about 35 miles away and site of the above circumstances) if you head down the wrong bit you could well end up in a different district altogether with the only redress, around 40 miles back to where you parked your car (by road)!

    With regards to sense of direction, it really helps if you try and remain aware as you're walking. You can still be thinking about that super bag of gob-stoppers, or a nice bath, or both at the same time, but just take the time to look around as you're heading on. There's actually an awful lot of very good navigation books around ranging from the bonkers but works variety, right through to a proper 'mountain leader' this is how you do it, guide . .

    Thanks for commenting - as always, lovely to hear from you!

    1. Yup v. near the place you mention.

      I inherited a 5 reel Paterson tank which will take, er, 5 reels of 35mm or slightly fewer 120s. I do love the sense of jeopardy whilst mass-processing. The stakes are that much higher. As I have no sense of balance, nor a head for heights, those sorts of risks are to me as bungee jumping, tightrope walking or rock climbing are to others; film developing as an extreme sport if you will.

      Will practise my walking around in controlled conditions until I can confidently point to the map and say "I'm here." And be right!

  8. Well, that sort of processing makes sense actually - saves huge amounts of time and maybe I should think about it as I am not getting any younger!

    Have you been to the shrine? I hope I've got the right place - it's pretty ancient and at the end of a valley.

    As for maps - can I recommend:

    Understanding Maps [Ladybird Series 671]

    It's as basic as they get, but is a very good starter and was handed out to squaddies back in the '80's to understand basic map reading prior to being shiped off to The Falklands. It worked (apparently)!

  9. Haven't been there yet... will do one day, hopefully this year.

    Ladybird books are very good!



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