Essays on lone trips, mountain-craft and other hill topics
The book contains a somewhat eclectic selection of essays, which are briefly
reviewed in turn.
- 1. Dangerous thoughts
on the mountain organisation-man
- The word "dangerous" in the title gives a clue that much of this essay is
written "tongue-in-cheek". It was originally written in 1975 and it is interesting
to see what has changed over the last 40 years. We are still troubled by developers,
although instead of roads and ski areas, they are promoting wind farms. Access
legislation has tamed many of those lairds who will use any excuse to exclude
walkers, although we still have a few rogues. The rise of bureaucracy continues,
generating ever more requirements both for those in outdoor education to prove
their "competency" and for children to take part in organised outdoor activities
rather than learning for themselves. His "general desire to fight against
the rules " will resonate with many of us. The essay finishes on an optimistic
note that dangerous thoughts might soon become commonplace. Actually, things
have probably got worse. As I said above, this is an interesting view of how
things have changed (and not changed!) over the last 40 years.
- 2. Seton Gordon compared with some recent writers on the Cairngorms
- In this essay, Adam compares Seton Gordon's books, including the classic
"The Cairngorm Hills of Scotland" (1925) with four recent
(recent being defined as before 1990 to avoid giving offence to living authors!)
books on Cairngorms wildlife. It is, of course, a hard yardstick and, not
surprisingly, the recent books all fail the test! Interestingly, one of the
recent books that he chose was Nan Shepherd's "The Living Mountain"
(1977). As he acknowledges, this book is well known and "revered by some".
He provides a list of detailed criticism on the theme "Her book is firmly
rooted in her personal experience of the area and a very few of its local
indigenous folk." I'm not sure how valid this is, as most people read
her book for the very personal description. I leave it to you to make up your
- As in all of Adam's writing, the essay is peppered with sound advice and
true wisdom. Here, as he comments about so-called "fanciful" writing,
he rightly warns against the dangers of looking for "salvation"
in the hills. He is absolutely right.
- 3. Deerstalking, deer fences and walkers
- Despite the title, this is really the story of an argument between Adam
and two prominent landowners, Lord Dulverton of Glen Feshie and John Grant
of Rothiemurchus. It shows the lengths that such people will go to in order
to protect their "sporting" interests. In my experience, this is
a tale of the past, as today many landowners allow reasonable access even
during the stalking season.
- 4. Professor Vero Copner Wynne-Edwards, 1906-97, a personal sketch
- This portrait of Wynne-Edwards brings to life an important local figure
in ornithological and ecological research. He was a professor at Aberdeen
University, with considerable influence on moorland research and Adam's early
direction. The sketch contains numerous insights into his character, showing
him to have been a complex individual who helped many people achieve important
- 5. An unofficial history of the formation of ITE Brathens
- This essay outlines the history of moorland research in this part of Scotland,
which leads to the formation of a branch of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology
(ITE) at Brathens, near Banchory. It is an interesting story, complete with
vignettes of a time now long gone, charting the early days when funding was
less of an issue, and ending as Adam retired. The ITE at Brathens is no more
but this history provides useful background information for those interested
in the key figures in local moorland research and how it has developed over
- 6. Lone ski-tours and climbs
- This is the largest and most important essay. It outlines how Adam came
to value lone trips in climbing and ski-mountaineering. His love for and confidence
in being in the mountains comes shining through the descriptions of some of
his more memorable outings. The essay contains a lot of useful advice. His
lessons on paying attention to the weather developing and detailed attention
to the terrain are important for us all. However, some of his advice is probably
less generally applicable. He advocates not going on courses and instead learning
slowly and relying on your own abilities. Certainly, attending courses can
give false confidence, but the answer can't be to not go on courses; just
be more realistic about your capabilities at the end of them. He can be safe
without a map and compass but, I suggest, that most of us would be foolish
to venture out without them.
- One thing is for sure. Going into the hills by yourself, heightens your
senses, improves your observation and can lead to a better experience. This
last essay is a call for more such trips.
Chasing the Ephemeral:
50 Routes for a Successful Scottish Winter
How often does the winter climber arrive below his/her longed-for route only
to find that the turf is unfrozen/there's a waterfall under the ice/the rock
is bare (delete as appropriate)? Frustration increases further the next day
when he/she searches the internet only to find that routes were being climbed
in a coire a few miles away; perhaps those climbers were just lucky or perhaps
they had read Simon's book!
Distilling decades of experience, Simon explores the elements which increase
the likelihood of choosing the right route on the right day. Firstly, Simon
analyses the factors which make up a 'strategic approach' (temperature; wind
direction; height etc); then, under the umbrella of 'tactics', he considers
such aspects as fitness, equipment, protection, partners and psychology. The
bulk of the book puts this all together by describing fifty routes across the
grades, and the 'stages' of the winter ('Early Bird'; 'Cold Snaps'; 'Lean times';
'Top Nick'; 'Late Season') when these can come into condition, as examples of
how to apply logic to a fickle activity.
Chasing the Ephemeral is a unique contribution to the literature on
the Scottish winter game. Even the most experienced practitioner will learn
something new from Simon's analytical approach, while the average climber is
guaranteed to increase their 'hit rate'. The book is beautifully produced and
liberally sprinkled with superb action shots of the chosen routes.
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