Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Two Good Early Season Days In The Cairngorms

One advantage of being old(ish) is that you can pick and choose when to do outdoor stuff. It's not everybody that can look at the forecast and decide to go when its good. More often than not (and I remember it well) your time away was dictated by work commitments and you just had to take what was on offer.

I saw the forecast for a fairly settled High this week and had two great days in the 'Gorms. Tuesday skiing, which although very limited in terms of runs available, offered excellent conditions. I'm a recent convert from the old style long straight planks to the new shorter 'Carvers' and I really got the hang of it this trip, kicking it up off piste coming down the 'Cas.' I am beginning to kid myself that I am getting quite good at it! More snow needed then onto the really steep stuff - then we'll find out!

Wednesday started badly. I had stayed overnight at the Scottish Mountaineering Club's Raeburn Hut at Laggan and drove up the A9 in the morning. I was just entering Aviemore and was debating whether to have coffee and a bacon roll before going up to the car park when, too late, I saw the cops! - 41mph in a 30 = 60 quid! - expensive roll!

It took me the first hour walking into Coire Lochain to reach a state of calm acceptance (honest). I climbed up a steep open snow slope at the side of the Fiacaill Ridge, topping out in beautiful sunshine, and what's even more unusual, absolutely flat calm. I then decended into Coire an t -Sneachda by a very steep and icy 'Goat Track' before a quick ascent of the gully line of 'TheRunnel' on iron hard neve. It was in quite lean condition and there were two or three steep steps in it that would normally be banked out, so it made it an exciting 'solo'!

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Boys Done Well - Review of 'The Boys Of Everest' by Clint Willis

We read "'to leave behind the tether of a single mind ...and deviate into the minds and bodies of others."
Virginia Woolf.

This book, by American author Clint Willis, carries the sub-title 'Chris Bonnington and the Tragic Story of Climbing's Greatest Generation' and for me, the book tells that story in a wonderfully compelling fashion. I think Willis' sucess with this book is in large part due to the fact that it does exactly what it says on the tin - tells a Story - rather than simply cataloguing the well documented events of this momentous era in British/World climbing.

The characters are well known, Whillans; Brown; Scott; Haston; Boysen; Boardman; Tasker et al the 'Tragic' part of the sub- title being, of course, that the majority of them died young in pursuit of their goals.

Willis has done his own extensive research and this is not simply a rehash of what has gone before. Obviously much is owed to the various 'expedition' books Annapurna South Face, Everest the Hard Way etc. but what makes the difference is that Willis goes beyond this into interviews with families and friends, extensive use of Journals , letters and other hitherto unpublished sources.

What could arguably have proven the most contentious parts of the book have, in my opinion, proven to be its greatest strength, that of moving into the realms of 'story'. I would hesitate to call this fiction because, although fulfilling all the rquirements of that genre, the passages I refer to go further than that description alone would suggest. The passages concerned are narrated by an omniscient presence travelling with some of these climbers shortly before their deaths and deal with emotions and feelings that only the climber himself could have known about. So yes, in one sense they are fiction, they are 'made up' but I would argue that it is in these passages that Willis sets himself apart from other more prosaic authors and thus ensures both a wide readership and a lasting place in the literature of climbing.

As editor of a climbing Journal, I receive many review books, rarely do I read them cover to cover first day - this is one such book.

cjo. Edinburgh 17.12.06

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Speaking for my supper - Mar Lodge, Braemar

I had the good fortune to spend a recent weekend at Mar Lodge near Braemar, as the guest of the Edinburgh section of the JMCS (Junior Mountaineering Club of Scotland). This was a 'freebie' for me as I had agreed to 'sing for my supper' as the guest speaker at their annual dinner. Mar Lodge is a Victorian Hunting Lodge which sufferred a major fire some years ago and has since been refurbished by the National Trust. It is a real step back in time and unlike some of these old buildings which are a bit worn around the edges shall we say, Mar Lodge is in pristine condition.
The main building is divided up into self contained appartments so it is possible to stay there for the weekend at a very reasonable price and have the run of the whole place. - Monarch of The Glen anybody!

Trail Running

The weather here has been absolutely crap for about the last week with really strong winds and torrential rain. I was looking for a reasonably sheltered place to run today and came across Ladybank woods just off the main Dundee Road near the village of Ladybank in Fife. There is a huge area of sheltered trails criss- crossing through this mixed forest area and the sandy sub soil means that even after days of rain the trails are still pretty firm. Well worth a visit.