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Sunday, 10 October 2010

A Brutal Learning Curve in Pakistan...

Severly Malnourished Child, Larkana, Sindh

I haven't posted for a while, as  I decided I'd make a move to learn a new part of the world. Life has been going well, I passed the academic year at Cambridge, and decided it was time to get on the road again. I'm personally burnt out on the Middle East, and everybody is now an 'expert'. I enjoyed my time there, but like everybody who has covered conflict, I suppose I spent too long going round in circles looking to recreate the effect Bosnia and Kosovo had on me. Never a day goes bye, and I don't think of the war years. I must confess I've never really got over them, and every mess I've made since then has been linked to this inability to move on and stop mourning the past, "my war gone bye, how I miss it so..."

Children living in a school building after loosing their home to the waters

So, a bit of soul searching and conversation with friends from the old days, I decided to learn South Asia, well to be more precise, Pakistan. I have a painful desire to go to Afghanistan, but have held off because of the level of control imposed on your movements, reporting, and what you can actually get. I will go, but Pakistan has always fascinated me, and here I am. Every province is like a conflict within a conflict, everything is different, but interlinked. What some guy threatens to do in the US decides if you can venture out from behind the wall. It is complex, fascinating, incredibley beautiful, there are mountains, and god, do I need mountains! The people are incredibly friendly, and at the same time the challenge can be how inaccessible the culture can be; it can be in front of you, but you may as well be a 1000 miles away at times. So the first chance that came, I took it and here I am, currently in Sukkur, trying to get my head round the tribal system and security risks in the areas towards Baluchistan.

Villages under water still, at least 10 miles from the banks of the Indus.
The floods, which are on a scale that cannot even be comprehended, even don't sink in when you see them. You can think that as the human race is capable of mind numbing destruction, but in the end natural forces can obliterate all. It is deeply humbling to realise this. 21 million people have been affected, but you cannot see it all at once, so it doesn't really sink in. For now, people have survived, but they are reliant on assistance, and if that doesn't materialise, it will become unstable; this is the risk, the clock is ticking, but still malnutrition runs at 20% in the children in Upper Sindh. This can only get worse. So, as I stated, I planned to come here, to get to know and hopefully, dream of understanding Pakistan. Self desire faced with real tragedy makes for a brutal learning curve...
Moving back...

Flood damaged house.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

When the Sun Does Shine...

Dave MacLeod swings like a true Celt only can in the Cairngorm National Park
Memories of what I'll guess was the last day of summer back in Scotland. Such a nice day erased the pain of a knee injury that has left me with a comedy shaped kneecap and an evening diet of pain killers. This is the shot that Visit Scotland have chosen to promote the adventure travel trade summit in Aviemore ( next month.
I'm sitting updating this in Sukkur, Pakistan. The temperature outside is now 42, and the air con in my room has decided to abandon ship, so the fan cuts the pre-cooked air and recreates the inside of an oven. The moral of the story is if you are Scottish and complaining about the weather today, look on the bright side...
I'll be out here probably until December, before heading back home to Kosova. I'll soon update on what work I'm up to, but pictures of those affected by the floods will appear soon.
Until then, chicken tikka for breakfast....

Chalk Sporran...

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Painkiller Photos

Dave about to get into position in his traditional climbing garb
A very quick line with a couple of sample images from last Thursday's shoot with well known media type and live broadcast superstar Dave MacLeod. I can't say too much about the shoot but the brief was mission impossible, and on one of the most beautiful days in god's country we went out to do the impossible. An incredible day was had, apart from a dislocated knee cap, but that is something else indeed. The shoot went well and I'll provide a link when they are used by the client. We seemed to race into the mountain, but struggled out, myself on a dodgy knee, Dave on a well publicised dodgy ankle, with stitches to match. I wish I could claim the romance of a rockfall on an overhanging face as the culprit for my undoing, instead a pile of heather, a hole and a rock claim the credit for my mishap...
Starting out on a big swing...
So, with the help of some painkillers I'm sitting writing with my leg in a brace, crutches to assist, and the realisation that I need to be on my feet by tomorrow. The joys of self-employment never stop! Seemed a good idea at the start. Anyway tomorrow is another day, and hopefully, leg permitting, next week is another start, as I'm due to head out to Pakistan to start a new position. If I can walk that is...
Reverse sporran...

Friday, 27 August 2010

Fighting with Landscapes...

A rainbow forms in a storm crossing Rannoch Moor

I've quickly added four images from a series of landscapes that I have been working on. I'll put the whole gallery on my website once I've finished them, but until then here is a preview. I'm working in colour, trying to haul myself away from my black and white obsession, but as ever, they tend to to be dark and stormy. This is one of several projects I'm currently working on, the other main one being a long term examination of Glasgow, and does she deserve her violent reputation that the statistics make out. I'll preview it as I go along, but in meantime here is the view after a late afternoon run up Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor. Enjoy!

Looking to the head of Glen Coe.
Slightly cliche in the popular view of the Buachaille, but what the hell, the light was good!
Rannoch Moor.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A River Runs Through It...

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.”

Norman MacLean

I have tried to live my life successfully or perhaps it could be argued more convincingly unsuccessfully, but I have always, always tried to ignore the word regret. If I could erase one word from the English language it would be regret. But lately, like many times before, regret has forced its way into my mouth, bitter, unpalatable, but somehow on the end of my tongue. I really should have gone and visited a friend, an awkward one, but I didn’t find the time. I never replied to that message on my answering machine, thinking I’d do it next week, the week after, life was applying the usual pressures, but somehow, I had no time. The only way I have time now, I have convinced myself, is by purchasing it. I couldn’t afford to make the transaction of putting aside some of my precious minutes in return for a few hours lost, god forbid, even regret, the transaction of seeing an old friend. So I convinced myself. Peter went out on his bike and never came back. Now the bike could go 180mph but, in the twisted logic of reality, it wasn’t even at full tilt. But all you need to know is he didn’t come back. We went fishing together, many an hour wasted in the vastness of Loch Lomond, many an epic gale faced in the Clyde estuary, in a small 13ft boot. Stupid really, out in 20 foot swells in such a small boat, no power in the engine, but for the sake of fishing, and that unspeakable powerful bond created in awe of nature, be her happy, mellow, angry or fierce, our silence was comfortable, a rare commodity in a world where we run a couple of hundred friends on our social networking sites, but can only be truly comfortable in silence with those that can be counted on one hand. My childhood fishing partner Neil, died tragically early. Hence the solace of Norman MacLean. I truly am haunted by waters.

In Scotland, to fish a Salmon river, for me it always has certain characteristics. Where you can see into the water, you never catch a Salmon. You always catch the fish on the edge, in the black water, a comfortable black, dark enough to maintain mystery, intrigue, but also dark enough to make one almost fear. I may sound morbid, but trust me, the only thing the black water of a river is comparable to, is the black of the dead’s eyes. When confronted with the dead, you have this fear of looking straight at them, as the hollowness of the black seems to suggest a hideous emptiness, and an understanding of questions, stretching way beyond what we want to think about. To stare at the black is to stare at our own mortality, perhaps the pointlessness of waste. Who knows, but I have no problem admitting they scare me, my own mortality, and the foolishness of craving risk, something that has dominated my life. Perhaps that is why I gain such solace from rivers. The black is black enough to offer the mystery of our reality, but when an ocean grown creature returning to its point of birth pulls from the black I gain incredible hope. Life is an incredible journey, and one can only hope. Once the current workload is passed, I’ll go up to the River Orchy. It will be nice to stare into the black in the company of old friends once again.

An Atlantic Salmon, released back into the Lochy, a truly remarkable visitor

I have finally got round to dealing with the website, and will continue to put new galleries online. At present however, I'm once again lost to an attempt to generate my final essay for Cambridge, which will see me complete the first academic year in my Masters. It has a been a strange journey, with very mixed emotions from start to finish. On one front I still have the working class chip on my shoulder, very alienated by the experience. On the other side, it has allowed me to have a priveleged view of another world, a very long way away from Clydebank High School. I have met some wonderful friends, probably had more fun in my 3 months there than in my other 7 plus years of other further education. But still it is another world, in a still divided Britain, hence my heart when not in the mountains and rivers of Scotland is settled in Kosovo. It has taken a long time, but I finally know wher home is.
For now though, on with the struggle of representation, which is oddly what I'm writing about. I'll post regularly now and update the galleries on my website every two weeks. If you can point anyone else interested in my ramblings, please point them to the above link.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Is it Really Worth It?

Photographer Lucasz Warzecha appears at the top of The Hurting after a fruitless day...

 I have spent long enough involved in the British climbing scene to know not to get involved in the ethics debate. Having witnessed first hand many of the hardest routes put up in the UK, a few the hardest of their specific kind in the world, it is really amazing to then see a link to a forum and see them berated, usually by some lonely individual logging into a forum in the middle of the night. Now I’m on dangerous ground here, and will probably encounter the personal bile of many a poor tortured lonely moon-tanned forum lover, capable of a basic climb, but no world-beater. I’ll indulge in this subject, once and once only, as my main point of having a blog was so my kids could see what I was up to, and to let my clients know what jobs I'm working on and where I am. As a poor climber, I really shouldn’t have too much of an opinion, but having been involved in many of the hard routes, both winter and summer, I actually do. I tend to respect the effort made by the individual, having seen their incredible amount of dedication, physical and mental, and view the line established, in the context that it was done. As a photographer, some routes don’t float my boat, so to speak, but some just grab at the heartstrings, and blow you away. If it is obvious how hard the line is by looking at it, great, but some are subtler, they look innocuous, but could literally kill you. Others defy the obvious, and appear harder. This is something I have learned while out on these lines. Anyway this is how I form my opinion, but, the classic quote, comes in here: "Opinions are like arseholes – everybody has got one." Particularly so when it comes to Scottish winter climbing.
Climbers on the ridgeline, Coire an t Sneachda

Lucasz jugs up the fixed rope above The Hurting

Yesterday, I went out will Andy Turner, so he could have a look at Dave MacLeod’s line, The Hurting, one of his hardest, in the Cairngorms. Now Andy has had a fantastic season, particularly with his first ascent of the Tempest, something I feel he deserves more credit for. The talk on the wonderful forums that I should ignore, but what the hell, it was late, I couldn’t sleep, felt lonely, thought I’d only peek at the comments. The obsession seemed to be with Dave’s onsight, but I think 90% of the people, both positive and negative, missed the point; if Andy hadn’t done the line, Dave wouldn’t have been able to onsight it. Someone had to remove Neil Gresham’s gear from the line, so it could be done in ‘pure’ style, taking away the onsight from Andy. Dave will be the first to point this out. So credit due, the route really belongs to Andy, someone whose name seems to have disappeared in the comments on the route. As for rime versus ice, dry tooling, bolts, I’m not even going there, but remember if someone has the focus to push something forward they should be admired, not berated.

Anyway, back to what I’ve been up too children! We went up to the gorms to look at the Hurting, Andy got on it, but it was incredibly plastered with ice, to the point the protection, which is few and far between on the line on a good day, didn’t even exist. I don’t know if I should even mention it, but Andy got about 20 feet up, before down climbing to keep the onsight alive. There, enough technical climbing crap, we had a good day out in the Cairngorms, battled 70mph winds, you can watch Andy and myself doing so here: drank coffee and are still waiting for some of the snow to melt before we have another push.

And so finally to the point of blogging today; yesterday reminded me of the realities of trying to photograph Scottish Winter Climbing, a 300 mile round trip, crawling up the hill to the ski car-park at 10 mph behind people with second names for first ones, a few thousand feet of ascent, battling with the elements in sub-zero temperatures, all while carrying a hideous amount of kit not to be used, all to be criticised by arm-chair experts when something incredible does happen. Perhaps pointless, but somehow I’ll be out again next week.

The day before, I visited my great friend Stephanie Wolfe Murray at Glen House, in the Scottish borders. Being with old friends and in the Scottish Borders when the sun makes an appearance does make life better. We walked the dogs on the estate in stunning light, and it made me feel so happy and optimistic for this year. Strange what the sun does for you when you live in a place that tends to starve you of it’s healing hand…

Stephanie, Gus, and Holly
Stephanie and Holly
Glen House
Angel looking, well, angelic...
Gus and Holly

Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Tempest: Act 4, Scene1, Glencoe.

Dave MacLeod scratches his way up Neil Gresham's M9 in Glen Coe, The Tempest.
All photographs copyright Steven Gordon

On Thursday, Dave MacLeod and myself made the slog up to Stob Coire Nan Lochan, to take a look at Gresham's route The Tempest. Gresham first climbed the route with all the gear pre-placed, hence its continental style grade. Our friend Andy Turner had managed to climb the line ground up, the week before grading the route IX, 9. Andy had looked at the line a couple of times before his brilliant ascent, so we went to have a look. Dave got on the line and managed to get two-thirds of the way up before coming down shattered after spending two and a half hours on tiny hooks, digging out the protection and managing not to fall off, just... He down-climbed, so he could clain the onsight, but it was a hard push. The face was really plastered with snow, so most of the effort went into clearing the line, rather than pushing skywards. I was staring up from the belay on one occasion, well more craning up due to the steepness of the line, when his whole body appeared silhouetted against the blue sky heading for the ground. Some how, he held on to one rather dodgy axe placement, and hauled himself back onto the line. I was sure he was off, and had jumped off the belay to brace for his weight being transformed onto a somewhat iffy peg placement, when the expected weight never arrived on the rope...don't know how he did it, but he did. Nice one Dave!
Dave MacLeod on the upper third of The Tempest

The Tempest, Stob Coire Nan Lochan, Glen Coe

Dave returned the next day to finish the route, after nearly running out of protection on his first attempt. After a call to Andy, he discovered he used nearly double the amount of runners, so properly equiped, Dave returned to bag the fourth ascent of the line, and the first onsight.
I'll be back out in the hills next week, but till then it is the usual mixture of work, work and more work. I was in the garage earlier fueling the car, and looking around you realised that everybody had that look of an easy weekend, and I must confess to feeling jealous. Even writing this blog is rushed, as I need to get back to studying, before putting a shift in tonight and tomorrow. When I'm rich, it will be all worth while but till then, back to the gindstone, as ever.

Cold, Cold and more Cold...

Dougie Vipond, Fred MacAulay, and Neil Baxter kayaking on Loch Lochy with the north face of Ben Nevis behind.

As ever, it has been a busy few weeks, hence the enforced radio silence on my blog. I spent a couple of days away working for the BBC on the comic relief project were Dougie Vipond and Fred MacAulay had to kayak the Caledonian Canal. They rather admirably managed this, considering what the Scottish weather threw at them. They had to walk many of the canal stages due to the ice, while coping with temperatures down to -15C. The views in this amazing winter were, as ever in the Highlands, spectacular. I was there for the two 'cold' days, and managed to escape down the A82 in a blizzard that night before the snow gates on the road were closed. The last day was a nightmare for them, kayaking head on into an evil North Easterly, with massive swell on Loch Ness, as well as blizzard conditions. Here is a link to the BBC website for a gallery of pictures:
They had to camp out, so here is a picture you won't see on the BBC website. Have a look at the picture of Fred before his first night under canvas on the above link, and here is one of said Fred the morning after...

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Celebrity Munro Bagging and Library Avoidance...

Trying to hide from a blizzard while not in a university library...

Sorry for the lack of posts as I have been otherwise engaged in the pursuit of my academic career, namely I have had a load of essays to do and haven't been climbing. As I write, the snow is falling outside, in fact it started today when I was appropriately positioned on top of a mountain. Rather wonderfully it covered the hideously icy path I came up turning the decent into an absolute nightmare, meaning it took me two and half hours to the top, but three and a half down. Not nice, and I've the bruises to prove it.
I've been working on an essay on the Middle East that has managed to remove all my memories of a vibrant emotive place with one of complexities, but most likely not in the right order. The mantra of always answer the question was lost in a rambling, mixed up prose lacking the detail and thought I'd like to think I put into my articles on the said Middle East. Basically I'm making the excuse for it before I get it back, and am looking for another part of the world to cover, unfortunately the topic of the essay I'm, or should be working on now. Above this text should be a picture of me in the uni library, rambling happily on the keyboard. But due to the stress of 3 days waiting in for three mornings, for deliveries that have not arrived, well one did and I got it from the neighbours when I got home, but that is beside the point I had to get out. So I did in a blizzard. And my books that I need to finish this essay have still to arrive, one month after ordering them. Arghhhh! Anyway enough ranting, and after only going up stupid climbs for several years, so far this year I've inadvertently climbed through no plan, three munros. Two of these with celebrity climbers as well, who are probably as shocked that they have become munroists. Evidence below...Anyway back to Kashmir...
Celebrity Munroist no.1 Dave MacLeod on Buchaille Etive Mhor
Celebrity Munroist no.2 Andy Turner on Beinn Dorain

Friday, 22 January 2010

A Varied Life...

Katie Laffoley by Steven Gordon

Its been a busy week. It started with the usual nightmare journey up the A82 in a mixture of rain and sleet on a slidely road avoiding the crack suicide deer squad of the West Highlands. Then up Buchaille Etive Mhor, in the most painful rain, then sleet, then snow, then ice powered on a hideous wind for Mountain Equipment. Dave MacLeod came along, as we rediscovered the joys of walking up a Munro in proper style. They  were taking the staff of Cotswolds on the annual winter skills course, and boy, did they get winter! I realised how spoiled you become by only photographing the routes at the high end of climbing; if the route isn't right, you go home; if it snows, to hell with it, time to go home. Once upon a time you went out whatever the weather, and Sunday was one of those days! Harsh but a pleasure, followed by tea in the Clachaig Inn, somewhere that brings the happiest youthful memories flooding back. But miserable weather... More at

Not too bad to start...

Proper kit needed up top...

Is it rain? Is it snow? Character building, whatever it is...

Dave goes for it on a soggy waterfall

Later in the week I was working for Enable Scotland, and got to photograph the delightful Katie Laffoley, with her inspirational mother Mhairi. Katie was born with part of her brain missing, and has the cognitive ability of a 5 month old baby, but has the most absorbing, wonderful character. Her family spend every bit of energy on her, and worship every move she makes. Her life is very emotionally intensive, but with the care her family give, it is an absolute inspiration. Enable Scotland allow her parents respite and support, and it was a privilege to photograph Katie and Mhairi. More can be read on Enable Scotland at

Today I photographed the actor Alfie Willcot, ending a busy week. I love the variety and privilege of dealing with people in different circumstances. Don't think I'm ready for an office job just yet....

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Finally Some Pictures and Less Text

Dave MacLeod on his new line Jane's Weep, VIII 8(I'd say!) on Aonach Dubh, Glen Coe. Photograph by Steven Gordon

The A82 tried it's best to stop me getting out and shooting some pics but a few rants and some nifty sliding in the snow got me to Glen Coe two hours late. I'd arranged to meet up with Dave MacLeod and Blair Fyffe, who had spotted some new ice lines on the east side of Aonach Dubh. I'd set off at a leisurely 8:00am thinking to myself that one of the greatest pleasures in life is heading the opposite way than the rush hour traffic. When one is headed into the mountains for a day's work as opposed to an office, the perils of the work seem to disappear. Just as my smugness was reaching an irritating level, I ran into one of the worst traffic jams in history. The A82 was closed again, this time by an over-turned lorry, cargo spilled over the road as well as a genourous quantity of diesel. Strathclyde's finest were busy trying to make it worse by sending lorries down side streets and diverting cars going in the opposite direction back into the jam. An hour and a half later I finally abandoned, heading back into Glasgow watching the last cold forecast of the week slip by, thinking that the Mr.MacLeod would be laughing on fat ice while I couldn't make it more than 5 miles out of town. A ridiculous diversion, a dodgy snowy road and 2 hrs late, I was heading up the path for Stob Coire Nan Lochan in Glen Coe. An hour uphill, bit of a sweat and I found Blair disappearing up the last stretch of a beautiful line of thin ice with a mixed start. By the time I was set up Dave was onto the middle line, the one photographed above. A sketchy mixed start, onto an ice dribble, then a push for better ice but slightly overhanging. I'll update the grades and names of the routes, but for now enough of my rambling and here are the pics.

All Photographs, Copyright Steven Gordon

Dave MacLeod

Blair Fyffe

Team Pic, hmm won't be using this for my profile pic...