Tag Archives: Ulysses

Highland Hobo #6

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My favourite photo from the last month. Ben Alder, the ‘hill of rock and water’. A fitting title for a mountain which exhibits so flawlessly all the elemental aspects of the outdoors.

This is my final update before my Winter Mountain Leader (WML) assessment starts on Monday. It’s strange to think that I stepped onto the hillside of Lochnagar on New’s Year’s Day, a month ago yesterday.

 

I want to revisit briefly a legacy post to bring this little chronicle neatly to a close. I quoted from Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in Scotland, Skyfall & Ulysses and would like to mention The Charge of the Light Brigade in conclusion.

 

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

 

I’ve invested a lot of time, effort and money into working towards the WML award. There have been sacrifices – family, comforts and conveniences – and it’s taken a lot of determination, and it all boils down to this coming week. Perhaps the process has become all-engrossing; I do feel that it’s now do or die.

 

The reference to The Charge of the Light Brigade is not meant to create an overly-heroic or macho image. Life will go on after the assessment regardless of the result. However, I have thought a lot about family, fathers and children while I’ve been away – unsurprising, I suppose, with a small family at home and in the face of very harsh and unrelenting conditions.

 

Little boys and girls idolise their fathers, and love to maintain their daddy as a hero who does great things and then comes home for hugs. All fathers are human and prone to fault, but all too often the role model of a father is lacking. Children don’t demand perfection, they are willing to forgive, but do look for a true heart. I quote The Charge of the Light Brigade because I want to be an inspiring role model to my girls and to encourage other fathers to be all they can be to their children.

 

It’s not about war heroism, putting on a façade or being false. Let’s not be melodramatic, no one’s going to die, but it’s about getting a job done. It’s about being all you can be and giving it your all. The poem talks about carrying on in the face of errors:

 

Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.

 

This week the weather may have some tricks up it’s sleeve . It’s a bit of an unknown, wondering how you’ll cope in gales and storms, whilst juggling all the other demands of a winter leader – navigation, avalanche and group safety, route choice. At the end of the end of the day, though, I hope I can put aside replies and reasoning whys and simply put to good affect the skills, knowledge and enthusiasm that I’ve built up over the last while.

 

I’m looking forward to a big hug with my wife and little girls next Sunday too.

 

 

Simon is the Morocco Director and an instructor with The Mountain People. He is currently preparing for his Winter Mountain Leader assessment, as chronicled by the ‘Highland Hobo’ series.


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Scotland, Skyfall & Ulysses

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone

My next six weeks will be spent in Scotland preparing for my Winter Mountain Leader (WML) assessment. The WML award validates the individual to lead parties on hill walks within the UK under winter conditions. I will spend the time undertaking a number of short expeditions to various areas, to gain winter experience, practise the relevant skills (such as ropework) and, of course, do plenty of navigation, which is key in tougher, wilder, winter weather.

 

It seems hubristic announcing this so openly, with the obvious expectation that I will pass (the WML is widely considered to be the hardest of the UK outdoor qualifications physically and mentally). However, I want to share the experience, as I am able, partly because of my sheer enjoyment of the outdoors and partly out of a love of writing about my experiences and the thoughts and feelings that they prompt.

 

With this in mind, I was inspired recently, having watched the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, which borrowed several locations from Scotland: Glencoe and Glen Etive. It included the wonderful shot of Buachaille Etive Mor from the Kingshouse-Rannoch Moor direction.  The current weather forecasts are rather depressing with massive low pressure depressions battering the country. However, it was impossible not to catch the sense of wild and adventure from the film and project it forward for my yet undocumented adventure.

 

Skyfall also drew my attention to the poetry of the great Lord Tennyson, quoting the final lines from Ulysses:

 

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

What a joy, then, to hear poetry evoking the Classical era coupled with the fine landscapes of Scotland!

 

The speaker in the poem is, of course, Ulysses, probably known better by his Greek title, Odysseus, the hero who masterminded the downfall of Troy – well deserving of his heroic epithet, Sacker of Cities. He speaks of the end of his rule, the transfer of power to his son Telemachus. The tones are melancholic and mindful of the former glories, Odysseus all too aware that his strength is waning. However, the strength of his spirit remains powerful and resilient, and the call of his speech is clear: there is still much to be done!

 

Skyfall drew parallels with Odysseus and Telemachus (as well as Turner’s magnificent The Fighting Temaraire) to illustrate the dwindling influence of Great Britain – a nation with a great heritage, but facing an uncertain future – and the natural cycle of manpower within its constituent institutions. I particularly liked the appearances of the Union Jack bulldog – with its unmissable references to Churchill and British national spirit – precisely because, if you looked closely, it had been shattered, but put together again.

 

We often feel unprepared in life, unready for the works and challenges that lie ahead. This might be as a result of family circumstances, busyness, stress or fear. However, I think we should all draw from the example of Odysseus, as related through Tennyson: keep moving, don’t make an end, savour shared experiences with friends.

 

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

 

I am on the brink of what I consider a great personal endeavour, and cannot help but feel small. I take heart from Odysseus and encourage you to do so too. As I tackle each of my expeditions, I hope to share with you a small part of what I have endured, and hope that you will similarly be inspired.

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