Within the space of one week, spring has decided to show its face. It has taken its sweet time arriving!
If I’m honest, I have been loving the extended winter that we’ve had; I’ve had so many adventures out on steep mountains and fallen in love with the view from my bedroom window each morning.
There are still snow patches on the mountains doing their very best to stay until next year, but they will soon be gone, and the midges will arrive in their stead. BOOOOO! This time of year is jam-packed full of its own merits though. Allow me to expand….
With the sun waking early and setting late, outdoors life can take place outside of work time without the need for a torch. Whether that be a walk, run, paddle, fixing my car, sitting outside and reading a book or searching for a photography subject, the world is your oyster!
Now whilst I love to wear my big down jacket, winter boots and accessorise with different gloves and beanies, I also love to don my shorts and T-shirt and let the sun warm me and the wind gently lift away excess heat. I have broken into my summer wardrobe and the white linen trousers have made several appearances already. I even had to buy a new shirt, on a day trip, last Monday as, somehow, I had overdressed!
Lightweight bags in general
With the savage harshness of winter out the way, hill days are now much faster and lighter as I’m not bogged down by all the extra gear and clothing needed to survive in the winter mountains.
Those pesky little flying teeth haven’t quite worked out, yet, that winter is over and they can start feeding and irritating every living thing in Scotland. This means that every single day, until they arrive, is the best day of the year!
We’ve had lambs about for a few weeks now, but they have just started to form gangs and charge around the nearby fields. It’s so much fun to watch them just enjoying life. About a month ago I was talking to Marvin, one of the Gappies from Germany, and he was saying how Scotland is really dull and miserable as everything just seems to be dead!
He was talking about the trees, grass and other flora but he is right. Having grown up in Kent, about as far south as you can get in the UK, I remember my first “spring” in the Borders. I remember being subconsciously aware that something was wrong. It took me a while to realise that I was expecting to have seen the trees spreading out their tender new leaves but they were weeks overdue. It’s even more extreme up here in the Highlands, especially with such a long and harsh winter. Now though, everything is blooming. The cherry blossom is incredible. The Ash leaves uncurling above the uncurling bracken is like a well choreographed dance.
The fields are vibrant with fresh grass for the sheep to munch on. But most excitingly, the bluebells are just starting to appear. With so little footfall in the woods around here, the carpets of colour will be pristine and prime for exploring.
And now for a couple of quotes from John Muir… take it away John!
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”
“Come to the forest, for here is rest.” – John Muir
Getting out and about, exploring nature, free from modern distractions is a blessing that I am relishing at the moment.
It is so liberating just wandering and bimbling about without any agenda. On Thursday I get to take nine primary school children out to explore, discover and enjoy the local environment too — what an honour.
Now then, a couple of years ago, I purchased an old 35mm film camera. I wanted to play with depth of field in my pictures and improve my discipline in choosing a subject and composing my images well.
I send my films off to be developed and receive them back a week later. The patience required to see whether the image was captured how you pictured is immense.
One of my last films had a noticeable light leak and I was a bit upset. I feared the worst: that my camera was dead, and that was bad news especially as I had just bought my most expensive film to date. A roll of Fujifilm Velvia 50.
If you Google “Velvia film”, the vibrancy of the pictures that are developed is awe-inspiring and so I had to try it myself. I tested for the leak with another film, which surprisingly (to my joy) came back clear of disruption, but when I opened the back I noticed a distinct lack of light seals! Needless to say I fitted some new seals and have loaded the roll of Velvia into the camera, ready to go.
Here are some of the pictures from that last developed film:
The devil’s ridge – Ring of Steall
Stob Ban – Mamores
Blackrock Cottage – Glencoe
I’m so glad all of the above images came out clear of light leaks, but am also pleased to have replaced the seals and therefore eliminate any disappointment in the future. If I can find equally fantastic scenes to capture with my latest film, I can’t wait to see how they turn out.
Mountain Rescue Training
We arrived a few minutes late, which meant all the kit had been taken up the hill by everyone else — what a nice treat. It had been raining that morning but was already clearing up and the sun was starting to peak out from behind the clouds. The plan was to practice some rigging for “pick off” rescues with either a rescue harness or the stretcher. Some of the team also practiced setting up an abseil and descending with a prusik.
The stretcher we used is a chunky beast that splits in half and has to be carried by two people. It loves to grab hold of anything you walk even remotely near… trees being prime candidates! It also like to clatter and jangle loudly in your ear’ole!
Rigging up a rescue system requires a different mindset to that of the usual crag user – the climber.
A climber takes certain risks and may back things up but in a rescue scenario, nothing is left to chance. Every system has 100% redundancy built into it.
We find a bomber tree: it’s never going to move with a load that we could put on it. Two slings go around it for two Petzl IDs (elaborate belay equipment) with a rope in each, each being attended by a team member. The slings are backed up by another sling threaded between two rocks further up the crag. The ropes are clipped into a rigging plate (piece of metal with lots of holes for attaching things!) Into the rigging plate are clipped two Petzl Grillons (adjustable positioning system) for the rescuer and two for the casualty… are you getting the picture?
This setup does require a lot of equipment, but it is safe, and with some practice, quick and easy to set up. Surely if we are called out we need to prevent further casualties from manifesting by looking after ourselves?
I loved playing with new shiny equipment, learning and trying out new techniques in a real environment. Being lowered was just the first part of the rescue, stage two requires you to be hauled back up to the top to tend to the casualty. Yet more equipment is pulled out of a bag and in a flash, a 3:1 hauling system is rigged and ready to go.
It is a most bizarre sensation to be hoisted up nearly vertical terrain with minimum effort required from you but to walk forwards! Once you add the stretcher into the equation everything changes. What started as hanging about on the end of a rope turns into a vertical wrestling match. With heather, trees and rocky slabs all over the place, manoeuvring a stretcher, at a pace determined by others, is an interesting ordeal. I’m glad to have had a practice without the urgency of a real casualty waiting for help.
A quick safety notice for you all. There may be loose rocks at crags! Whilst that may seem obvious we had a close call at the end of the day packing our rucksacks at the bottom of the crag that makes me mention it. A rock the size of a large fist flew down from above, somewhere, and landed within two metres of me, but so close to Mark that he “heard the air move!” A little too close for comfort.
Here are a few pictures from the day.
Steven being lowered off to “pick off” the casualty.
Attaching the harness.
Waiting for the command to start hauling.
Rescuer and casualty arrive safely at the top.
Low-res photo borrowed from Facebook showing yours truly starting my descent with the stretcher.
The banter with the team was top-notch throughout the day and with the sun kissing our skin, there could be only one way to finish the day’s training exercise. Pop to the pub for a pint. Excellent.
Well that’s it from me this week. I can’t wait to see where I get to in the next week or so and the adventures that are bound to happen when you live on the South shore of Loch Tay. Until next time.