The 2006 Issue - Preview
(A summary provided by Editor C.J Orr)
The Forcan Ridge and the Saddle summit. Photo: Roger Robb.
Summary of 2006 Journal Articles
The opening article in this years Journal breaks with editorial policy in that it has been published elsewhere. Simon Richardson’s outstanding piece Under The Weather - in essence an overview of Scottish winter climbing to the present day - firstappeared in last years American Alpine Journal. It was commissioned by the editor John Harlin who had become very aware of just how often top international climbers were citing Scottish Winter experience as being a cornerstone of their success on major mountain routes in all parts of the world. I was very keen to use it for a number of reasons, not least the excellence of the writing. I also felt that it bore repetition in order to bring it to a wider audience and in the hope that it will inspire those of our number who are pushing the standards, to take time to record their efforts in the pages of the Journal. A further benefit of its inclusion, if one were needed, is that it stands as a fulsome record of the progression and current standing of Scottish winter climbing.
An unsuspecting Pilgrim is lured by an evil Lord to his castle deep in the snow-bound Scottish mountains with promises of good wine and convivial dinner parties. The Pilgrim is so impressed by the Lord’s siren-song that he even packs his silk shirt along with his winter climbing gear which has been gathering dust in his lowland attic for many a long day. No, this is not a long lost Tolkien or J.K. Rowling branching out – although our intrepid pair do in fact battle with a Maneater. This Maneater is simply a beast of a climb, even more difficult than the conniving Lord himself had planned – and the article, an excellently crafted, two-handed tale of exploratory winter climbing in the north-west by John Mackenzie and Ken Crocket.
Ever spent a while mulling over how robbing a bank might ease some of life’s burdens for you. Morton Shaw and mates clearly have, although I suspect names have been changed to protect the guilty. In this instance however the target is somewhat different – not a bank, a train. The ingredients are much the same though. Gelignite supplied by the Wee One when he was ‘working on the hydro,’ a gun retrieved from 'under the boards at the Ville.’ All this and much, much more as this band of brigands plan and execute The Wee Train Robbery on the train carrying the payroll to the Aluminium factory at Kinlochleven – dates it a wee bit – when Shaw was a lad!
The ever lessening presence of Scottish snow and ice in recent times seems to be spawning a number of articles of futuristic fiction pre-figuring how the ice-climber might practice his/her craft in the years to come. There was a ‘virtual reality’ ascent of Crowberry Gully in the 2001 issue and this year Hot Ice. ‘On the cliff, a viewing gantry with 300 seats was nearly complete for the evening’s extravaganza. Speaker systems spat out screechy static, spotlights were positioned and tested. Trickle pipes alongside the air-blast freezers had the ice forming up nicely into a row of ten free-hanging icicles, each being, eventually 20m. long. The tip of each icicle dripped ominously into the void.’ David Adam shows you the north face of the Ben as you’ve never seen it before. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to the British Hot Ice Competition 2075.’ – Well, ‘The Ice Factor’ is just down the road and there’s 50years still to go!
In the 2004 issue Julian Lines managed to induce sweaty palms in his readers when he wrote about solo climbing in Skye Is The Limit. Well he’s done it again here, not solo this time, but with various partners, rejoicing in the names of ‘Stork’ and ‘Stick’ and Matt and Mike among others, (perhaps chosen to lend alliterative appeal to his prose) he takes the reader into the very heart of the ‘Shelterstone.’ His Shelterstone Saga details the ascents of a number of cutting-edge rock routes on this crag over a number of years. Julian somehow manages to describe these climbs, at times move after nerve-stretching move, without losing the reader’s attention. His sense of the joy of climbing comes across clearly even while employing a commitment that most of us can’t even imagine. If you can’t do these climbs, this is as close as your going to get.
‘Danger elderly persons’ takes on a whole different meaning when you read With Midges In High Places. Leading Shining Cleft on Sgurr a’Mhadaidh in one’s 70’s with your ‘less experienced’ second in her sixties probably shouldn’t feature on your retirement home application. But then the thrust of this piece is to point out the necessary change of attitude and style required by a leader in such circumstances. Malcolm Slesser, after jumping the queue for the toilet at a midge infested Sligachan camp-site, leads us in style up this classic climb.
In his fine piece Three Hits and a Miss, Phil Gribbon takes a wry look back over some mishaps and near things in a long climbing career. From exploratory days on the Dairsie Crags in Fife and cragging on the Solway coast, to somewhere big and scary with glaciers. In Phil’s classic roundabout way, he never quite gets round to telling us where it is – not that it really matters.
More reminiscence from the standpoint of advancing years comes from Cairns Dickson. In his essay Rambles in the Alps he and his buddy take a trip up to the Argentiere hut with big plans but, finding the pull of gravity much increased in that area since his last visit in 1979, he submits to the inevitable and takes to pondering the unlikely thought that he was ever on these massive faces at all. He was - and although he regrets the march of time, he has the memories which he shares with us in his own inimitable style.
Scandinavia is the setting for Carl Schaschke’s fine piece Chance Encounters In Norway. His Norwegian friend is not what one would call conventional –‘Who else fills in his lottery ticket without paying and then sits in front of the National TV show hoping his numbers don’t turn up? “At the end of the programme you haven’t won and you haven’t lost any money either.”’ There is a certain logic to it don’t you think?
An ascent of Store Skagastolstind – with thankfully also answers to Storren – is the much sought after prize, after which it seems customary to celebrate with a glass of beer, ‘What else could possibly justify parting with one’s life savings for a glass of ol?’ – Beer expensive then is it?
Former W.H. Murray prize winner Peter Biggar takes us on a fictional traverse of the Cuillin Ridge in Laughter Of The Birds. Again there is a theme of ageing and lost youth running through his narrative (really must get more youngsters writing for the Journal! Shining Cleft at 70???) Anyway back to the Cuillin. Those of you who have been on the Island of Rum may have heard the Manx Shearwaters returning to their burrows and it is from this that Peter takes his title. Admirers of Peter’s previous work will not be disappointed with this finely crafted and evocative tale.
Finally, and aptly named, The Final Destination is an excellent piece by first time contributer (at least during my reign) Guy Robertson. To say that this is an account of a Grade VI first ascent of a mixed route on Beinn Dearg tells you what the subject matter is but gives no real hint of the style of writing to expect. I’m tempted to leave it at that and let you find out for yourselves. What I will say is that Guy writes with a unique style which, with his clever use of imagery and metaphor, paints word pictures that surprise and delight. He has the ability as McCaig so aptly put it to ‘see the extraordinary in the ordinary’ and it is in this way that his prose at times approaches the realms of poetry.