The Angry Corrie 65: Jul-Sep 2005


Headcamming for the Scottish hills

Glen Coe Scrambles, by Headcammer Productions, 2004

DVD available though http://www.headcammer.co.uk/, £15.10 (£16.61 inc p&p)

Review: Perkin Warbeck

An exclusive: the Headcammer DVD is the first of its type, and TAC appears to be the first reviewer. Glen Coe Scrambles offers guided ascents of three classic routes in and around Glen Coe: Curved Ridge, the Aonach Eagach and Sron na Lairig. The main gimmick is that Gordon Old (the head Headcammer) does the routes with a video camera attached to some sort of headtorch-type device, and the resulting format is of a guidebook with footage, with grid refs and map numbers overlaid on the screen. There is also a disclaimer telling you that if you fall off the Aggy Ridge you can't go blaming the DVD. Fair enough.

An introduction illustrates what is meant by "scrambling". Five grades are defined. Terms such as "sustained", "exposed", "inescapable" and "technical" are discussed - if all are used, then it is a Grade 5 scramble such as Tower Ridge. One person's technical is another's stroll in the park, however (my wife and me respectively, for instance), but this can be got round on DVD by showing clips to illustrate the idea of exposed. "This is not scrambling," states the narrator as we see someone clinging to Rannoch Wall. Some of the advice is clearly aimed at the novice: "climbing up is easier than climbing down". And some is to my mind a wee bit eccentric - eg the suggestion that winter boots with their stiffer soles might be preferable for scrambling. I don't know of anyone who takes this approach, but maybe it's worth a try.

The feel of the DVD is decidedly low-budget in terms of the filming, but it is a labour of love. Unfortunately for the Headcammer boys, we have been exposed to a few decades' worth of helicopter footage - almost to the point of taking it for granted - so some passages drag slightly. And although there is great attention to detail, given that we subconsciously expect helicopter shots it might be worth Headcammer doing a deal with Kevin Woolley (http://www.geomantics.com/) for some simulation aerials. As it stands, the routes are superimposed on stills with two-colour overlays - much like Poucher's routes in The Scottish Peaks. Introductory shots are from adjacent hills, so each of the scrambles must have involved two or three filming visits.

image from The Angry Corrie

Something must be said of the music. I guess there has to be music in a production of this ilk, but it's almost impossible to get right. As Bruce Springsteen said when asked why he didn't do videos: "It would be like painting a moustache on it." There is almost no way to put the right music on footage of landscape - or, if there is, I haven't yet seen it. Muriel Gray came closest by avoiding the wittery-mist-and-moonshine genre and going for something more "urban". But think of Hamish MacInnes' various outings with backing tracks from Moira Kerr...

I must make it clear that there's nothing wrong with the music on Glen Coe Scrambles. It just doesn't really do it for me. There are uillean pipes and flutes and the usual Celtic stringed things - although strangely, because of the flute, it actually sounded like the Moody Blues at one point.

OK, let's get down to the routes.

Curved Ridge (Grade 3)

As mentioned already, the DVD is set up like a guidebook, so the "chapter headings" include such as: Approach, Finding The Start, The Arête, Wall and Chimney, Crowberry Tower, Summit Views. The overall style is quite academic, with occasional use of humour. The Great Herdsman is given his official title, but we are told that Bouncer would be a better description.

As I once opined in these pages, I have never used the same route twice to the start of Curved Ridge. Thus I was interested to see how the Headcammer crew dealt with the notorious problem of finding the start. Having watched Glen Coe Scrambles, I'm convinced I could follow the route outlined - although with the Great Bouncer of Etive towering over me it might not be the same. So although a DVD has some huge advantages over a guidebook, one can at least carry a guidebook in the rucksack. Such musing led me to wonder whether a few well-chosen printable location pages might have been an idea.

Aonach Eagach (Grade 3)

I formed a hypothesis on watching the Aggy Ridge chapter that it was recorded last. It has the most humour, as if they've relaxed into a style. Hence in a section entitled "The Entrance Exam", detailing the tricky descent that tests the scrambler early on, the narrator intones: "If you feel the need for a cuddle, the rest of the ridge might not be for you." Mention is made of polished rock and slipperiness, but all the filming was done on a dry day. Having done the Aggy in the wet, I wonder if some film of a wet day might have given the novice more of a feel for how different it can be. Of course one of the big deals on the Aggy is the final descent, in particular the importance of avoiding Clachaig Gully. This is duly dealt with, although it could have been laboured even more: maybe with film of some poor sod teetering on the gravelly precipice.

Gearr Aonach was climbed just to film the Aggy from afar - I liked that. And having expressed doubts about the music, there's a good bit here where the music changes to a solitary funereal drumbeat - pretty much like the Braveheart scene where Mel is in the cart en route to dismembering. This coincides with the scrambler approaching the tricky pinnacles section, and is highly appropriate.

Sron na Lairig (Grade 2)

The one scramble on the DVD I haven't done. Does it make me want to? Certainly does! - this looks like a hidden gem. I'm pretty sure I can find it, having been duly warned about taking the wrong route up a particular slab where Mr Headcammer (after much wobbling of his headcam) eventually sighs "that was desperate" after having made the wrong choice. I'll be fixing that image in my memory (or even trying to print it out).

A word now about the footage. The headcam is perched above the scrambler's head and totters around bigtime. Frequently it gives the impression of falling backwards as he feels for holds, and my overall impression is that it makes the scrambling look much more risky than it is. There's a place on the Aggy Ridge where you can walk along a narrow bit about a foot wide. Here it looks lethal. This makes for good telly, but I wouldn't use the footage to try and convince my significant other to give it a go. (Mind you, she describes the baggers' path up Ben Vane as "technical", so it's not really an issue.)

It must be weird having your every move filmed. Any scramble I do involves several somewhat graceless wacky moves that I wouldn't want preserved for posterity. Mr Headcammer is obviously aware of this, so we see him testing holds with the heel of his hand and generally looking pretty careful.

So, in summary, my overwhelming reaction is to take off my hat (and my headcam, if I had one) to these boys. They have a first on their hands. It is a work of dedication, with scholarly attention to detail and no small amount of humour. You could use it as a guidebook, and I am told there is another DVD in the pipeline, probably of Ben Nevis. I eagerly await it.


TAC 65 Index