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Crane and Able

Image for article Crane and Able

With the funding for the project not coming through until mid summer it was always going to be a tight schedule to be able to create all the images required - especially the climbing shots. The only way is to get a grip on things, so there would be less pressure as the autumn weather began to set in, and to keep a finger on the pulse.

Thankfully there are some top class climbers in and around the Lake District, and as the World Cup bouldering season had finished and there was short break before the World Championships it meant an opportunity to to shoot Leah Crane on some Lakeland test pieces. Leah was ranked 11th in the year long 2016 IFSC World Cup Bouldering series. A trip to Kentmere was in order so after a coffee in Wilf’s we drove down the valley, and after some parking faff headed up to Little Font and the 8a / V11 test piece Tourniquet. The sun was out and there was stiff breeze blowing to take the edge off what would otherwise have been a warm day. Leah was wrapped up warm in a duvet, with a bouldering matt on her back, and no doubt a beanie stashed somewhere.

The actual boulder with Tourniquet on it sits amongst trees on a hillside, fortunately virtually right in front of the route amongst the roots was flat rocky platform to set the tripod on. On thing that increases the blood pressure when using an ultra large format camera is being able to find somewhere suitable to position it, thankfully there was to be little tension while shooting Tourniquet.  I was being helped by a long standing friend of mine Prof Phil Leigh, who’s lent a hand on various photography projects in the past but this was his first time out with the Instanto. So amongst the dappled sunlight we got things set up, tripod, table, camera, lens, and dark cloth, while Leah warmed up on the problem and her partner Liam Lonsdale buzzed around taking shots of us for his own blog. As a seasoned professional Leah’s been on numerous photo shoots before, and came organised with a range of outfits and combinations from her sponsor Marmot. As the boulder was overhanging creating a dark shadow we need light colours to be seen in black and white. The great thing about shooting bouldering is that it’s much easier for the climber to move in and out of position on the route / problem - just jump down and wait as opposed to sitting in a harness or on an uncomfortable belay.
It didn’t take long to expose the three sheet of film, the last one hopefully being the ‘money shot’ as by then the sun was illuminating Leah fully against the shadow of the boulders underside.


Once everything was packed away we headed back down to the cars, myself and Liam engaged in photography chat while Phil, who has run several professional cycling teams and been Elite Performance Director for Cycling Ireland, talked training programs and event scheduling with Leah. All sports have similarities, and can also learn from cross fertilisation of ideas and methods.

After a brief lunch the next stop was Penrith for a brief meeting with Kelda Roe at The Mountain Heritage Trust, to keep them up to date on progress and then on to Stair to reload the dark slides ready for Saturdays shoot in Wasdale. Thankfully although it was the Friday of August Bank Holiday weekend the traffic wasn’t to busy.

Friday dawned sunny and still as we loaded the car and headed out of Stair for the 90 minute drive round to Wasdale from the north via Ennerdale Bridge and Gosforth. That was the easy part of the day. Phil and I met up with Simon Gee who was going to be belaying Chris Fisher who we’d shot bouldering at St Bee’s. Chris is one of the Lake Districts most able and versatile climbers, all we needed to do was make sure we were able to carry all the equipment up to what must be one  of the most awkward crags to get to in the whole of The District. Cam Crag on Wasdale Screes, location of Dave Birkett’s classic E8 Nowt Burra Fleein Thing So called because a former landlord of Wasdale Head Inn once commented that “Nowt burra fleein thing” would ever be able to climb the Central Buttress of Scafell. He could of course also have been referring to to scree escalator that we would have to climb to get to the crag !  An hours walk along the shore of Wasdale from the National Trust car park where we’d met up, then straight up the screes for the best part of two hours. Two steps up, then slide three back down.

And it was very steep in parts. And I was carrying 40lb of antique camera, and Phil 22lb of dark slides, and Chris 2 ropes and climbing gear and Simon a tripod. Cain had been envious of Able, so took out his wrath by murdering him, I did wonder if Phil would murder me for persuading him to help out on this mad cap escaped. “This is another…..”. Thankfully there wasn’t going to be a ‘photographer in the lake’ mystery. I simply reminded him he was a man of the Ras, so keep calm and carry on. Of course we were all envious of those enjoying a leisurely Bank Holiday picnic while enjoying Britain’s Favourite View. Mind you we had a far more more unique vista before us - but it could never be a favourite view as you couldn’t drive to it. I was just thankful to have a comfy backpack and an easily accessible drink via a Source Hydration bladder.

Being as fit as a fleeing thing Chris was up to the crag first and set about getting his gear  organised, and on arrival we grabbed a bite to eat, drink and set about getting the camera in position on a promontory looking across, and down the overhanging part of the route. There wasn’t a huge amount of room, but just enough for the tripod and darkslides. Certainly no room for a picnic. The route is graded E8 6c, and Chris has climbed grade 8 winter routes in the Lakes, as well as 8a sport routes and 8a boulder problems. It was such a still day, and sound was travelling up from the valley, I could hear an Ice Cream van playing it’s tune. All I wanted was a 99.

No time for bank holiday treats though. with Chris in position I exposed three sheets of FP4, took some digital images of our position and enjoyed the view.

At least gravity would aid us getting down. By mid afternoon things had warmed up and making your way down a steep heather filled gully, followed by a scree slope with rocks the size of football and bigger wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. Nimble foot work and steady away was the approach, especially with a valuable cargo on my back. What was wonderful though was seeing Wasdale from a position very few people have, both from a distance and close up. The trees that cling to the steep slope of Wasdale screes are gnarled and often covered in moss and lichen as they aren’t disturbed by grazing sheep or cattle, or tourists looking for a popular view, they are the view.

Eventually we got back to the lake shore, where sacks were removed and toes dipped in the lake, or is it a water? We weren’t bothered by the semantics as the liquid of most interest was a pint at Wasdale Head. We were all going to be able to sink one or two of those.


10 September 2016 by Henry Iddon

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