An Alpine Day Out On Ben Starav

Oh boy, what a day this was. 

I've been rather unlucky this winter, in only getting one trip done this year so far - so my fitness has dropped like a stone, and I've been going crazy pining for the hills. Eventually, enough was enough - conditions were good, and companions or not, I was going up something big and snowy.

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Set off at 6am from Kilmarnock, headed north with the intention of knocking off Ben Starav and Glas Bheinn Mhor (the latter if I was feeling lucky!). After arriving at Coileitir and getting kitted up and ready to go, it was nearing 9am. Conditions looked ideal - not too cold, barely a breath of wind, clear skies. I had picked the right day!

On the walk-in, I noticed several other people also heading up the track - an older gent, and a rather boisterous party of three ridiculously fit and 'mountainy' looking chaps, who soon left all of us in the dust and disappeared out of sight. I fairly quickly caught up with the older gent, and he asked if I'd like to walk together. Both being alone, I decided some company would be good for safety's sake, and for the sake of having someone to talk to, so I readily agreed and we set off up the ridge at a leisurely pace. Conversation started to flow, he started talking about doing all the munros 'again' in opposite seasons from his original ascents - so I knew I was dealing with a completist - guy has clearly done a bit of walking. 


A bit further on, he drops some little anecdote about doing Mount Vinson. My brain stopped for a second to take in the information and consider the implications of this. The guy isn't some weekend warrior knocking off munros, but a hardcore mountaineer. Turns out he's done the 7 summits (with the exception of Everest), soloed the highest mountain north of the Arctic Circle (Gunnbjornsfjeld), did an unsupported expedition across Spitsbergen, and seemingly a hundred thousand other things which we never touched upon. Jesus. And there was me thinking I'd done a bit with my life so far.

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Anyway, back to the story - the initial pull up the ridge was pretty good, not too steep at all, nice easy pace, good conversation, and seemingly very quickly we found ourselves at the base of the 'proper' section of the ridge. Sprawled ahead of us was this amazing alpine ridge. It took some thinking to remind myself that I was in Scotland, not Chamonix. The only reminder being the lack of crowds! The snow was absolutely iron hard neve, so on with the crampons, and considering the view ahead of me, out with the camera!

Ploughing up the crest of this ridge, avoiding cornices, in absolutely amazing conditions was just perfect. I don't think I could have been any happier. It's that feeling you get when you're just so glad to be there and doing what you're doing. It's positively life-affirming.

All too soon, the summit was reached, and after a quick break to ask John to take an obligatory summit photo for me, we pushed ahead to the next top, where we were to soon part ways. This was a pretty straightforward nice walk, apart from one section where we traversed around some rocks which would have been a pain to cross in crampons. Wouldn't have liked to have slipped there as it was a little exposed with a big dropoff just a little further down the slope. Careful crampon work was order of the day! Still, we arrived at the bealach without incident, and wished each other good luck. He was heading over to Aighenan, and I was either going to head on to Glas Bheinn Mhor, or head down the corrie. With my mother at home having badly broken her wrist and not being able to do a lot of stuff for herself, I decided to head down to make it back in decent time to make dinner, rather than push on ahead. I'd have loved to have continued on, but it would have meant a much later return. Next time!

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Crampons back on again, and I headed down the initially very steep corrie wall on more of that beautiful neve. Eventually, found the path, and it was off with the crampons and on with the walk-out, which was just gorgeous. Took a while, it seems walk-outs are always never ending, but I had plenty of energy left in the tank and it was no trouble at all. It had warmed up considerably, to the point where it felt like a summer's day, I was walking along in possibly the most picturesque glen I can imagine, and I'd just had brilliant fun doing that ridge. Life was good. Unfortunately, I eventually arrived back at the car, and spent a short while there just soaking in the sun and the environment, before I eventually had to head back home. 

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In all, a stonking trip - and a reminder that I really need to get out more often. It's not often very practical for me though, with fuel being very expensive. Still working on that one.

I'm looking at possible targets for next time - thinking the Cruachan group is a possibility. I'm also wanting to do a couple of trips to the far north - to the likes of Torridon, Skye, Ullapool, Fisherfield etc. These would be quite big trips though, involving several people and lots of camping. Hoping to get something sorted out for maybe May/June time. And, if money allows, I'm gasping to get an Alps trip done. It'll be serious 'scrimp and save' mountaineering on a shoestring - good thing I like baked beans then! 

Year of Change - 2012 In Review

On the sands of the Kyle of Tongue, Sutherland.

A Year of Change

This year has been a pretty interesting year for me personally. It's also been a remarkable year in terms of my photography. It's largely been a year of two halves - the first six months, I had an absolute blast, did some amazing things, and was generally a very happy camper. 

Being a miserable bastard really does make you more creative.

For various reasons, the second half of the year was not quite so much fun. I've generally felt terrible, stress has went through the roof, and there have been many, many days where I really have though 'fuck all of this'. Something interesting has happened though. I've shot better stuff, more of it, and completely rethought my approach to what I want to say with my images. Whether it's through a natural progression of my skills that would have happened anyway, or whether being a miserable bastard really does make you more creative, I can't argue with the results.

High points of the year included an amazing trip to Sutherland, at the most northerly extremes of Scotland, to climb Ben Hope - the most northerly Munro. In unseasonably glorious May weather, four of us took this long trip, the furthest north any of us had been. The walk itself was comparatively short, but the scenery was truly breathtaking. I've yet to see anywhere else in Scotland that left me so dumbstruck with awe.

Other high points included a brilliant mountaineering trip to Buachaille Etive Mor, by D Gully Buttress, finishing on Curved Ridge. No proper images from the trip - as I did not have my SLR, only a few crappy phone pictures exist of this brilliant day.

On Beinn Dorain

Equally brilliant (and totally different) were trips to the Arrochar area with Rory and Steven, in wonderful conditions - and a very physically punishing day out - and a solo winter trip to Beinn Dorain. I can never quite decide if I like solo trips or not. I love the solitude of it, and the chance for introspection. On the other hand, good company is brilliant, and adds safety. Ultimately it comes down to practicality - if people are able and willing to go with me or not.

I've also properly started down the path of music photography. It's been very demanding work, probably the most intense shooting I've ever done. The learning curve was brutal, as I pretty much got thrown in the deep end, with my first gig being metal A-listers Iced Earth. Thankfully, I seemed to - if not swim - at least avoid drowning. I've shot many gigs since, and built up a fairly sizeable portfolio of work, which should hopefully lead to more opportunities for bigger and bigger publications. 

Low points of the year included a messy relationship breakup, and all of the associated, nasty fallout, that sent me into a complete tailspin for a while. It was completely unexpected, from my point of view, and I can only liken it to sustaining a massive blunt force trauma. For a while I thought I was kind of 'set', and had you asked me even the day before it happened, I'd have bet my bank account that nothing was going to happen to that relationship. It's probably been one of the biggest factors in casting a pall over the second half of the year. Onwards and upwards though, you get on with it - which I have done, and I'm incredibly excited about the future!

Fear Factory, at the O2 ABC, Glasgow

I've also had a couple of injury scares this year, from a bouldering fall where I landed funny, and a much larger (30-40ft) leader ground fall. The latter was a true emergency case, with a spinal fracture heavily suspected. I dodged an almighty bullet with this one, although I do now have some long term damage to my left foot. I'm still awaiting proper physio to see if the damage can be repaired. Psychologically though it was a massive deal, and I have never felt truly comfortable climbing since - although I have been back at it many times. I'm absolutely determined that I'll get over it, but the psychological injury seems to be more serious than the physical one.

Other worries, like leaving university for the 'big bad world' and a dearth of paid work have contributed a handsome dose of stress to life. I've got solid plans though, and although they haven't come together yet, the plans are good and should work.

Looking at where I was, this time last year, there are evident changes. I'm not as happy, as a person - and that's something I'm still dealing with and digging my way out of. I feel much more grown up though, as a person. I've had to make hard decisions, think seriously and realistically about things, and I feel creatively I have come on leaps and bounds.

In all a mixed year personally, but photographically a very good year. Let's see what 2013 brings. I wish you all the very best in the new year, and ask you to keep an eye out for what I'm doing, because I have plans for this year!

Forgotten Images of 2012

Like most photographers - amateur or professional, every year I shoot many thousands of images. Most of them are discarded for one reason or another, and maybe 1 in 100 will become a final image (if I'm lucky). There are some though, that while being good images, simply fall through the cracks.

There may be some niggling imperfection, or I have a very similar image that I decided to go with instead. They're not 'bad' images, by any stretch - and one or two I would really liked to have used, but simply couldn't justify two very similar images, even if I loved both.

I'm going to do a 'year in review' post, where I go through some of my favourite images of the year, but I also thought I'd draw some attention to the ones that haven't yet seen the light of day.

Rory, looking towards The Cobbler from Beinn Narnain. Metal t-shirt and horns obligatory. Ultimately rejected because I used a similar image. A shame because I really love this one!

Looking south from Beinn Dorain on a glorious winter morning. An amazing sight to behold - but lens flared to buggery and beyond.

The Arrochar Alps, seen in summer from Ben Lomond. A nice enough image, just forgot about it and figured it didn't really have enough punch to work well. Also, the annoying bit of hill on the bottom right.

Claire, in Dundee. Not sure what the tongue is about - but looks happy anyway!

Eglinton Park, North Ayrshire. Forgot about this one, and ultimately didn't grab me enough.

Kangchenjunga Inspiration

In this post, I'd like to share a fairly lengthly video, shot by a French-Swiss expedition on Kangchenjunga (the third tallest mountain on earth). This is exactly the kind of place I want to be going. As an aspiring mountaineer, a photographer, and a human being, this excites me on every level. It's an electric shock of pure inspiration for me.

From a photography standpoint, I look at many of the shots in here and think 'that's exactly what I want to be capturing'. There's so much in here that translates directly to still photography. Watch the video, and see there's many points where, if you simply pause it, the frame would make a stunning still image.

So, I guess you could say this is a really good example of where I'm wanting to head, and the sort of things I want to capture, albeit in a very slightly different medium.

Learning To See

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The more you know, the more you realise how much you don’t know — the less you know, the more you think you know.
— David T. Freeman

The creation of a new website is a very exciting time for me. It's been a time for reflecting on the past, and my process of learning and growing as a photographer - and looking towards the future, which really does feel like an endless field of opportunity for expression.

I've been shooting seriously since I was about sixteen. Five years on, I have learned a great deal. It's also becoming more and more apparent to me just how little I know - and that thought excites me. There's so much...more...out there, than I ever could have dreamed. 

Depending on how you approach it, photography can be considered an art or a craft. Your own definition of where the line between art and craft lies will no doubt differ from my own. Through things like my music photography, I've come across photography as a craft - as a commercial industry. It's exciting, fast-paced work which I enjoy immensely.

I'm also, however, just starting to become aware of the immense power of the camera as a tool for self expression. I'm starting to think about things in a slightly different way, finding that I have ideas that I'm interested in exploring.

The idea of being considered an 'artist' is still very odd to me. It seems like such a high and lofty label, reserved only for people of extraordinary talent, drive, and creativity. I don't feel any more talented than the next photographer - indeed, I feel like I'm constantly playing catch-up with my own skills. Nor do I feel spectacularly creative most of the time - although I do have my moments.

There are a few out there, people whom I respect immensely, who do consider me to meet their criteria for the label of 'artist'. I have no idea if that's how it works - if it's something that can only be bestowed by others on you. Whether I consider myself one or not, I'm incredibly flattered that they think so highly of what I do - especially when I'm often dumbstruck by their own talent and think "Well, I'm nowhere near that level of talent and creativity".

I do feel, though, that I am slowly getting somewhere. Inch by inch, I'm continuing to grow. And sure, I'm not as good as some of these people whose work I love - but then, it's still very early days for me. Five years is nothing compared to the rest of my life. I aim to keep improving for decades.

A new website is a small thing, a small change in how my work is presented. It nonetheless feels like a new chapter of 'me' as a photographer. I still have so far to go, but it feels like the blindfold is ever so slowly slipping off, and I'm learning to see for the first time.