Lying in a sterile Premier Inn hotel room last Friday night feeling neither here no there after my first working day at Kendal Mountain Festival, I found out I'd come joint first in category, in a photo competition run by the IUCN. The IUCN is probably best known for it's 'red list' of endangered species, but in general it's a scientific body that monitors and reports on biodiversity and wild nature. As for the eye candy - no prizes, no award ceremony, no entry fee, a facebook vote that was more about engagement I think since they had a judges panel, and categories but thankfully only 2 ('wild nature' and 'the changing world'). The (joint) winning shot sits in the 'changing world' category and is below, and there's a bit more on how I approached the shot here. Recently, I've also submitted 7 photos to the new Scottish Landscape Photographer of the year... which costs money to enter and I imagine has different priorities. I'd written something about how crazy competition categories and entry mechanisms are about two weeks ago, then deleted it. After all, I still entered...
I went to the The Great Outdoors Magazine Awards as a contributor rather than rep'ing work this year, but was overjoyed that John Muir Trust won campaigner of the year. I rushed out to text my old manager, realised I didn't have any credit, found a BT hotspot in the street and emailed instead. I read a few comments online begrudging them the vote on the basis of the last 12 months. Frankly, having worked in the sector, that isn't how campaigning works... or at least, it's not how the recognition for it works. You aim for critical mass, an organic trickle of awareness that grows into natural support. It takes time, it's not a press release about a castle in the sand. In my view, the Trust didn't win because they were a better campaigner this year than last. They won because they were good for the last X years and slowly more people have become aware of their work. Their work isn't just about lobbying and wild land either - it's alot broader, including environmental awareness and education. In short, this isn't a sports event... and if it were, it'd be a marathon not a sprint. Glad to see that NTS have joined the Trust in opposing Stronelairg - the significance of that is huge.
I escaped to the hills for a day or 3 before that. I haven't written it up here yet... but it was a good trip, and I got some OK shots. The Cruachan ridge is really beautiful, and pretty rugged considering how far south it is, there's loads of character once on the main stretch. It was kind of a research trip for another bit of writing elsewhere, and to scope it for a winter round. Under snow it will be a worthy challenge, especially at the western end - somebody really should have a tidy up, there's no path or anything. There's another photo from the ridge on the front page at the moment - I tend to change the image there every so often. On the way out to the car, I got stuck in a mudslide, which was less fun, alot less pretty, pretty scary for a minute or two.
The awards are a hot topic right now but were fun at the time - I talked Keith's ear off, Terry talked mine off, the drinks flowed and people enjoyed themselves - it was nice to see people who are becoming, well, friends. The day after the Award thing I met up with Chris and Tony who were out for a camp. I had to be back late that evening, so they kindly changed their plans a little and we talked and walked the Fairfield Horseshoe, setting off late in the day.
It's hard not to sound like a sycophant - everyone loves Chris, and what's not to love - he's so generous and enthusiastic, on the hill it's as if he's slightly animated by the weather - waving his arms around, pointing, spinning yarns, explaining past decisions and present thinking, namedropping some of the old guard (I'm a bit of a sucker for this, I always ask as I love the history)... but despite the fact that with 3 bloggers on the hill there's often a queue to get a word in edgeways, there's also genuine quietness and support here. And despite a sense of assurance that's learnt on big solo journeys, there's not a trace of hardness. No edge. Just humility, and a twinkle in the eye. Can you say that about yourself? Can I?
Just as Tony was asking about how good our navigation was, we all overshot the summit a little but pulled up short of Cofa and doubled back. It was all looking fairly Scottish in the cloud. I've always really liked the section down to Dove Crag, especially where it joins the wall, and today was every bit as good. Like a little piece of North Wales that's been lent to the Lakes. I left them here or hereabouts, and followed the wall back down to Ambleside, on the way seeking out a few, fun scrambly slabs under torchlight I had avoided before, to eat crisps and wait for the bus.
Kendal was interesting. Climbers are for the most part a self possessed bunch - precocious, brave and driven, free of so much everyday bullshit yet by their own admission often riven with ego. Mostly white, often male and middle class. This is not news, and what do I know? I can barely solo a winter mountaineering route without turning it into an epic. But UK climbing wears it's struggle and angst on it's sleeve, and I like it for that. And much like UK hillwalking, it's resistant to hyperbole - it does 'committed' and 'desperate', not 'psyched' and 'stoked'. There's also an ancient schism between amateur and professional that will be familiar to fell runners and hill walkers alike, whether we are fully conscious of it or not. It's part of our shared cultural outdoor heritage, for both good and ill. All of this means there's a lot going for this festival whether you're a climber or not, partly because of the shared outlook, but also because the content majors on character and minors on technique. It's niche, but put that aside and there's some incredible stories of people and places here.
As for me, I saw bits of a few films (not enough!), missed the girls, did some work, drunk a bit too much, met some new people and caught up with some old ones, said a brief hi to one of my photographic heroes, Jon Griffith, who was funny and totally relaxed (instead of funny and trying-too-hard), and interviewed Ueli Steck for one of the mags. It's difficult to know how these things are going to be - whether it was going to be managed, how tired he would be of covering familiar ground... about Everest, about Annapurna... but we were lucky and found a room to be in - and the Sidetracked guys who were working there were total gents and quiet as mice during the recording, so it felt kind of intimate for a while. He's reflecting alot on last year and didn't seem to mind sharing that, and whilst I know I didn't follow up or explain 1 or 2 of my questions fully, hopefully we caught a bit of that atmosphere for the interview. I left on the train at 3pm feeling pretty lucky to have been around so many slightly crazy, passionate people.