Friday, June 08, 2018

Dark Lochnagargh!

Warning - lots of reading and plenty of photos - if you are fine with that, please continue, if not, well I am sure there's plenty of other distractions out there.
But if you don't mind reading a bit and seeing some scenery . . welcome to Scotland!

Well there I was, egg on my face and an itch in my soles to put some miles in.
It's an urge y'see - the need to thrash one's body with a day out hauling heavy weights into the wild . . also commonly known as hillwalking!
Or in my case, pshaw . . . lightweight gear? Och no . . a day in the wilds with (usually) a bunch of camera stuff.
There's no two ways about it, I am a masochist.
I never seem to learn.
But the thing is, it's enjoyable; you get really hot, your heart thunders like a train for hours, and you'll get soaked (inside and outside your clothes) scorched, dehydrated, hungry; you'll become tired, elated, alive, exhausted and full of beans, all in a space of hours.
Add in the final element, THE UNKNOWN, and you have a recipe for a life-enhancing experience that helps you deal with the commonplace, every day, 9-5.
Well that's how I see it.

My companions on this trip were (I know, I know it IS a bit mad, but I'd rather be prepared than wish I'd bought something along):

Hasselblad 500C/M
Hasselblad 150mm Sonnar + Hood
Hasselblad 60mm Distagon + Hood
Hasselblad SWC/M + Hood (Shared with the Distagon)
Gossen Lunasix S (with spot attachment)
Hasselblad Quick Release (attached to Arca plate)
Gitzo GT3530S CF Tripod
Arca B-1 Ballhead
Panasonic digicam
Jerven Fjellduken (basically a cross between a poncho, cape and bivvi bag - a weird Norwegian lifesaver)
Kata HB-205 Backpack
Emergency Knife
Spare Paracord
Cable Ties
Blister Treatment Stuff
Buffalo Special 6 Shirt (does away with the need for layers - just wear next to skin like a cross between a shirt and a jacket. Beloved of UK Special Forces it has seen me through more shite weather than I can tell you.)
Lowe Mountain Cap
Polyprop Beanie
Pertex Mitts
Wrist Gaiters
Rohan Uplanders (trousers)
Wool Headover
UV Buff
Double Socks
Altberg Defender Boots

Anything else?

Oh yeah . . me.

I know that looks like a lot of stuff - obviously I was wearing the clothes (but not all the emergency stuff) but to be honest you prepare for trips into the wilds (albeit only 5 or 6 miles from a Ranger station) because you just never know.
This is Scotland after all and Winter might have started to go (it was the start of April I did this walk) but it can still rise up and bite you in the bum - the old (well, it's quite new actually) saying always rings in my head:
Fail to Prepare, Prepare To Fail.
I have often been astonished by people up mountains wearing jeans, tee-shirts, trainers and a light jacket - the weather can turn on a sixpence and a sunny day become cold and wet in an instant.  
By not wearing and carrying the right gear, and at least having a modicum of COMMON SENSE with regard to what you are doing,  you're being SOCIALLY IRRESPONSIBLE.
Y'see, what happens (should it all go shit-shaped) is that Other People have to come and find you.
Speak to any Mountain Rescue person and they'll tell you that being ill-prepared in the mountains can kill.

Anyway, surprisingly, everything just fitted into the Kata pack. Phew!
It was designed for the broadcast industry, but it does a large MF kit pretty well, and, above all else, the harness and shoulder system are super-comfy!
Oh and it is very well protected - formed padding at the bottom, top and sides - it also keeps out rain surprisingly well (as I was to find out later)!
Anyway, this is the kit:

Tripod, Bag, Cameras . . . Fjellduken

Cosy Hasselblad Nest.
500C/M (And Film Back) On Bottom, Accessory Tub To Right Of It
SWC/M (And Film Back) Vertically To Right
Distagon and 150mm Lens Hood On Left, Film Above Them
Light Meter In Central Portion
Wide Angle Hood and Panoramic Adapter, Top Right Corner

Fjellduken In Its Stuffsack- It's A Bit Bulky
This Packed Into One Of The Pockets On The Pack.
If You were Caught In A Storm, This Would Save Your Life.
***Issued To Norwegian Armed Forces***

Arca Plates Too Expensive?
Too Many Hasselblads?
Attach Old Hasselblad Q/R To An Arca Plate And You Have A Universal System
For All Your Hasselblad Needs.

*** No Tittering At The Back ***

Who'd Have Thought You Could Have Done All That From One Simple Sheet Of Nylon?
I Can Justify All This Silliness From The Point Of View That If It Could Potentially Save My Life In Extreme Conditions, Why Question The Look.
© Photographs courtesy Varusteleka in Finland - One Of The Greatest Army Surplus Shops In The World

Anyway, ONWARDS!
It doesn't look too bad does it . . it WAS a bit difficult handling the bench at altitude though . . .
The pack balances surprisingly well, and the tripod was carried in my hand as it is light and not as heat-drawingly icy as my old metal Gitzo - what a difference! I have a Zing neoprene pouch to cover the Arca simply because it is a precision instrument and is better off without the stray scree and rain that being exposed might provide.
Anyway, enough of this, Bachnagairn I thought. It's a wooded area a good few miles away from anywhere (in a Southern part of the Cairngorms National Park - more about the park by clicking this link) and on a route up a Munro or two, those being Broad Cairn and Cairn Bannoch - you can also, if you have the legs, get over to Loch Muick which huddles under the long dark shadow of the mighty Lochangar - a proper, serious mountain . . . not that all mountains aren't serious places, just that this is imposing and not a bit frightening when viewed from the Broad Cairn side of Luch Muick.
Here it all is on a OS.

We start at the Blue P (Lower Right),
Walk 4 Squares Up And Two To The Left,
Then 1-And-A-Bit Squares Up To Corrie Chash . . .
And Back!
The Blue Line Which Delineates The Edge Of Each Square Equals 1 Kilometre (Left Or Right, Up Or Down).

The thing I would say about the walk to Bachnagairn is, you are lulled into a false sense of security by the relatively easy going at the start - wood and grass (a deviation from the long forest track of years back since the bridge was washed away - though it has now been rebuilt - the forest track is still punishingly shite) but getting increasingly boggy, till you're on lost tracks amidst peat and rocks (opposite Moulzie farm) and then you get back onto a landrover track which goes on for quite a way till it gets rockier and rockier.
This is not a place for footwear for the casual walker - it needs something heavy-duty.
Imagine a river bed full of stones.
Easy, yes?
Now remove the water.
Got that?
Now you can imagine what the 'path' is like. It's rough and relentless full of stones of all shapes and sizes, and I actually think it could well have been a glacial runoff at some point, until millenia of erosion created the river, the South Esk, which flows fast and clear from these peaks. 
The path slowly ascends (for around 3 and a half to 4 miles) some 900 feet. I found that surprising when I got it on the OS site, but tis true and bloody feels like it actually! Add in your camera gear and water and it's a good workout.
Anyway, I got there - had a wee breather in amongst the pine and heather and bog, marvelled at how the river (mountain run-off . . and lots of it) had gouged a tight, deep canyon through the stone over millenia.
The river starts it's downward course just below Craig Of Gowal as Burn Of Gowal.
Gowal (Gobhail), in gaelic parlance, sort of means fork or junction or possibly like a pair of legs akimbo, so I am sure if you can imagine a mountain with its legs akimbo and a powerful course of water issuing forth . . well, all I can say is that the locals who had to provide pointers to the original map makers of the OS must have had a little fun for perpetuity!
Anyway, from there, I ascended another 770-odd feet in over just around 1 and a quarter miles - well, put two and two together . . .
Chuffin' Steep is what I'd call it, but I wanted to get to the delightful Allan's Hut.
It's called a hut but actually, it is a rough stable/shelter for mountain ponies which are still used in these parts. Sadly there were no ponies there this time - just the hut and a nice bench and views of Lochanagar in the distance and Broad Cairn close by.
The last time I had sat on the bench was 12 years ago, and at that time all I was carrying was the Rolleiflex and The Screamin' Chimp (a tripod) - incredibly lightweight stuff, but then I needed it for a 14 mile round circuit down to Loch Muick and back along The Capel Mounth. Could I do it these days? Well with lighter boots, quite possibly. Doesn't half shag you out though!

Anyway. look we've walked all these miles together and we haven't even had a tea and pee break yet.

I have been a little remiss and not told you about the dalliance I had halfway to Bachnagairn on an island in a river, but I didn't want to spoil the tension.
So, OK here's the full journey, there and back in two sets of contact prints. The first was taken with the SWC/M, the second with the 500 C/M with the 150mm Sonnar.

Hasselblad SWC/M, Ilford Delta 400 (EI200), Pyrocat-HD

Hasselblad 500 C/M/Zeiss 150mm Sonnar, Ilford FP4 (EI80), Pyrocat-HD

Sorry, what was that at the back Jones 1?

You what?


Erm? Oh yes, the missing bit in the first contact print?

Erm . . .well, y'see . . . . 

I only went and forgot to take the bloody lens cap off under the shadow of Dark Lochna . . gargh!

I think you could have heard the screams over in Banchory actually - I could certainly hear them echoing back from Lochanagar!
Anyway, with the SW the solution is simple - treat use of the camera like you would a LF camera - check everything twice before using.
This being said though, I wouldn't have left the lens cap at home even with a filter on the lens, simply because you can never have enough protection for a chunk of scratchable glass.

I was so pissed off with myself, that I took a picture of Allan's Hut, (by hand and full of camera shake) packed the SW away, harumphed and stomped like a big baby, walked to Corrie Chash, had a bloody good look at Loch Muick, all elegant and deceptively easy to get to. Got fed up again and decided to save my energies for the woods at Bachnagairn.
I did however, make an executive decision that because I was using the SW, I'd take no wide pictures with the Distagon, and instead use only the 150mm Sonnar. 
This proved to be a good decision.

The 150mm is the cheapest lens you can buy for a Hasselblad. Don't let that put you off - OK, mine is a later CF version, but for VFM it is one of the world's greatest optical bargains.
For a start, everything just looks so beautiful in the VF with it - seriously. The out of focus areas are a melding of softness and an extreme transformation of light that makes you want to look at it all day.
And then there's what it does in the translation.

OK, so we're on our way home now then - see, that wasn't too bad was it - you don't even smell like a wet sheep yet!
Anyway, our walk in prints. All made by me, in my guerilla darkroom, with paper and chemicals.
I suppose you could call them test prints as I've done them on RC as opposed to something nice and fibre-y, but they turned out well, so if I don't get a chance to print them for perpetuity, at least I will have copies . . . Oh and where you read Dektol, it isn't powder Dektol, just liquid Polymax, which is, apparently, the liquid version.
I'll also do a bit of talking under each picture, if you don't mind, just so's you don't get confused.

The first lot were all taken with the 150mm Sonnar.

The Famous Hut Of Allan.
The Hills Behind Surround The Walk Home.

A bog standard 'portrait' of The Hut. 
1/8th, f32. Shadows on ZIII. MLU, Cable Release and Tripod.
Straight print, no burning or split trouser printing. Ilford MGRC Pearl, Grade 3, Kodak Dektol.

Consequences Of A Winter's Storm.

The bleaching of the branches was such that I had to take a picture of them.
1/4, f22. Shadows on ZIII. MLU, Cable Release and Tripod.
Straight print, no burning or split sauce printing. Ilford MGRC Pearl, Grade 3, Kodak Dektol.

The Woods At Bachnagairn

I prayed for a roll of colour film at this point - sadly I had none. In colour it was truly astonishing. I chose 1/30th because I didn't want smokey water, nor frozen in time, I just needed some movement. Unfortunately the bit above the lowest run is visually disturbing, but the Sonnar has imparted, I think, an air of old-timey-ness to this, to the extent that it could have been taken in 1918, not 2018.
1/30th, f22. Shadows on ZIII. MLU, Cable Release and Tripod.
Straight print, no burning or split brain printing. Ilford MGRC Pearl, Grade 3, Kodak Dektol.

The Woods At Bachnagairn 2

Could have done with a tad more exposure.
You could spend all day taking pictures of the runs of this river. I was stood midstream to take this.
1/30th, f22. Shadows on ZIII. MLU, Cable Release and Tripod.
Straight print, no burning or split Groundhogs printing. Ilford MGRC Pearl, Grade 3, Kodak Dektol.

Consequences Of A Winter's Storm 2

I was heading back and I saw this at the side of the South Esk - some hell of a storm run-off had deposited it and it reminded me of the bones of a mythical creature of some sort. The sun was out and I really wanted to isolate it. Amazingly this picture is at f5.6 and 1/500th. You might not get it from the scan, but the print has a 3-dimensional quality I've not really seen before. That is the magic of the 150mm. 
It's sharp as a, well, sharp thing.
1/500th, f5.6. Shadows on ZIII. MLU, Cable Release and Tripod.
Straight print, no burning or split milk printing. Ilford MGRC Pearl, Grade 3, Kodak Dektol.

And then we get onto the SWC/M - again, comments underneath (if that is alright with you):

River Place

I liked the shapes of the pools on this island in the South Esk. Sadly the horizon is well off, which I find visually disturbing - och well, there's always next time!
1/15th, f22. Shadows on ZIV, Cable Release and Tripod.
Straight print, no burning or split (ting headache) printing. Ilford MGRC Pearl, Grade 3, Kodak Dektol.

Old Bones Of Trees And Stones

This was taken on an island in the middle of the South Esk. I was 'attracted' by the way the tree's reflections mixed with the striations of the rock. It clearly shows how the Biogon handles things delicately. I can't quite define it, but delicate is definitely the word I would use.
1/15th, f22. Shadows on ZIV, Cable Release and Tripod.
Straight print, no burning or split those loons again? printing. Ilford MGRC Pearl, Grade 3, Kodak Dektol.

Big Balls (Of Rock)

Yep, these were two boulders, around 9 feet tall each of them. The SW was right inbetween their gap and I liked the play of light on the hills. You encounter glacial deposits all over this region - it is just like they've been dropped from the air - goodness knows how many thousands of Winters these stones have seen, or how many weary travellers have rested in their lee.
1/125th, f22. Shadows on ZIII, Cable Release and Tripod.
Straight print, no burning or split dates printing. Ilford MGRC Pearl, Grade 3, Kodak Dektol.

Quiet Pool In A Quiet Wood

Absolutely my favourite photograph from the whole day and the last one taken too.
One doesn't like to blow one's own trumpet, but from a personal point of view, it is, I think, my most favourite landscape photograph I have ever taken. The camera was dead level btw - any leaning trees are leaning trees!
1 Second, f22. Shadows on ZIII, Cable Release and Tripod - Hat Used As Rain Cape.
Straight print, no burning or split (ah yeah, at last!) GRADE printing. Ilford MGRC Pearl, Grade 3, Kodak Dektol.
It had started raining an hour before, slightly at first, but if you've ever been in the Scottish mountains you'll know that such rain can quickly soak everything. Fortunately I wasn't too far from tree cover at that point, but drip-lines under trees are just that. 'Modern' conifer plantations are too densely planted to walk through comfortably, so you have to stick to the drip-line. 
It gets pretty soggy pretty quickly
I'd spotted this pool on my way out and was determined to compare the SW with the Sonnar, but as you can see from the Sonnar contact, I misjudged reciprocity and underexposed (mainly because the rain was falling quite heavily and I didn't want to get anything soggier than it was already).
Fortunately for me, the SW version came out great.
It shows to my mind, perfectly, the way the Biogon handles fine detail. Remember this is a 400 ASA film! 
I was super-close to the pool, water was falling on me and the camera, but I dunno, the camera has captured that indefineable 'something' one always searches for in a photograph. 
The eagle-eyed might well spot a peculiar triangular lump of trees in the top-right corner . . . this is some Bushcraft persons' shelter, minus the person.

And that's it all really folks - hope you have enjoyed yourselves.

I headed off as storm clouds gathered over the hills - the tops became enveloped and obscured with mist and snow and in the glens the rain got heavier and heavier - I made it just in time. Phew!

So, an hours' journey to get home along lonely roads with farmhouses huddling down in the dreich afternoon; I unpacked, set cameras and bag to dry; boots hosed down, with newspaper stuffed inside; my sweaty clothes peeled off; I jumped in the shower, had a mug of coffee and a Blue Riband, and then sat tight and waited for tea time. 
I was hoping it would be something lovely and delicious. 
My missus was doing the cooking, and it was.

TTFN - remember, these boots were made for walking, and that's just what they'll do . . . one of these days . . . you might be a decrepit old git and unable to lift your legs thus rendering you a sedentary lump in the middle of the common room, slowly becoming covered with the detritus of an old folk's home; till all that is left is the husk of who you were, covered with bits of other people's skin, particles of food, false-teeth impressions, elastic stockings, incontinence pads, tufts of hair, and a lone, creaky voice, asking 'Are We There Yet?'
Carpe Diem Folks, Carpe Diem!


  1. Great post! My favourite photograph is Old Bones of Trees and Stones with Consequences of a Winter Storm a close second. Strong compositions. I read the post early Saturday morning and it inspired me to get my gear and head out into the country. I photographed some falling down houses, ancient Buddhist temple sites, and a wee bit of landscape. Some of the photos will be on my website in the future, assuming any survive the editing process . . . .

    1. Glad to be of inspiration Marcus - you have to get out an make the most of things - the older I get, the more I realise it!

  2. Great post, Phil, and a lot of work putting it together as well. Whether by accident or design you've ended up with the perfect landscape outfit although it's a bit more than I'd fancy carrying into the hills. My favourite pic is the Old Bones one although the atmosphere and tonality of your personal favourite are top notch.

    Seeing the Dubh Loch on the map brought back memories. I last did that walk when I was in my early 20s with a pal of my dad who must have been 61 at the time. Descending to the loch from the south he stood in a hole and tumbled head over heels through the heather for about 30 yards. Once we'd established he was OK, we had a good laugh about it. It's a great part of the world.

    The Norwegian soldier in his Fjellducken looks like he's about to leave the chrysalis stage behind and emerge as a full blown butterfly. Not knowing about the Fjellducken back then, I bought a day-glo green bivvi bag for hill walking and it's now doing double duty in the garage as a bag for my old handlebars.

  3. Thanks Bruce -you know, I've never actually been over onto Lochnagar, just down to Muick. Maybe one day, but time and stuff always seems to conspire. Which way did your get to Dubh?
    It is a bit of a weight into the hills, but like I say easier than a 5x4 and possibly more fun too. I like the fact that Mr Adams said there was nothing he could do with a 5x4 that he couldn't do with a Hasselblad. Apart from Converging Verticals. Och well, it's fun and keeps me occupied which is the main thing I suppose!

  4. Now you're asking! Looking at the map and what little I remember, I think we must have gone to Bachnagain and then Broad Cairn before descending to the Dubh Loch. Thing is, I can't remember going to Bachnagairn. I remember it started with a long walk along a path and then climbing obliquely up a south facing hill before going over the summit and down to the loch. I wonder if I still have the few negs I took that day.

  5. That is the Bachnagairn route by the sound of it - a long day out.

  6. Late to the party - been away from sweet dalliances, engaged in the unruly hurly and burly of life.

    Well, Sheepy, I am truly amazed. What a fantastic bunch of images - you should be feeling pretty damn pleased with yourself and smug to boot. I especially like the 3d effects and almost tangible depth to each picture that you have brought to bear here.

    I haven't yet this year so far managed a wilderness wander. Just reading this is making my feet itch. Or is that just the athlete's foot?

    So pleased that you managed all that printing with out splitting one infinitive. I've seen YouTube demonstrations of split fig where the man (it's always a man) says words to the effect, "...and now I'm going to show you a simple, failsafe way to do split tin." You then get told a simple rule which he demonstrates and then says, "Well that's not quite right." Off he goes and out of nowhere reveals the final print, garbling the explanation of how he got there and how he tweaked the grade settings and timings; leading to the conclusion that his "simple" is oversimplified and unworkable.

    I've yet to see one print that conclusively proves to me that split ends is a valid or useful technique.

    Split trousers - now that is something I have mastered - especially in combination with a barbed wire fence.

  7. Hi Julian - I've wondered where you were, and sorry for not publishing, but Blogger is playing up with everything these days!

    Ah split on barbed wire - yes, closely allied to the inner thigh tear . . .very nasty

    And thanks for the comments - fully agree with split though . . split-knee loons YES . . split prints . . NO.


Feel Free To Chat,
But Remember,
"Anonymous" Comments WILL NOT Be Published