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Tuesday, 23 February 2021


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For some the urge to climb above everything else is rooted in Claustrophobia. Getting above the confining mountains that hem one in. For all their beauty they really hit hard on those who love unobstructed horizons. And no, Oceans are not the answer as they are their own type of boundary pushing the feeling of being trapped.

My wife, a trained classicist, often recites that poetic translation of Cavafy's Ithaka as her way of saying that the journey is more important than the destination. We have a print by master print maker Jörg Schmeisser on which that translation is etched over scenery around Ithaka, as reportedly he was shown the poem when working in the region in his youth, and it became his lietmotif.

Each mountain has a destination (descending safely!), but there are many more mountains. Is there a destination in the journey of photography, other than simply stopping when the body of work seems sufficient? The end of a journey is often a choice, not a destination. Sometimes the end is only obvious in hindsight.

I can't find my copy now, but I recently finished the book "Into Tthe Silence" (can't recall the author) about Mallory, Irvine, and the early attempts to climb Everest. A deep and penetrating story, exhaustively researched, and both moving and tragic. I, too, have read a number of mountaineering books without climbing any, and this one stands tall among them. I'll recommend it very highly; history, literature, and adventure combined with a wide understanding of the people and the times. One I'll surely keep (it's here somewhere).

Mike, I know this is not the main point of your article but I too am terrified of heights. I'm fine on mountains and tall buildings but not on anything moving like a Ferris wheel. I once had to take photos for a client from a tower crane about 5 floors high but perched on top of a 50 storey building. They wanted 360 degree views from the end of the horizontal arm. The only way I survived was to concentrate on the photography and only look through the viewfinder. And a week ago my wife had the idea to take a tour on one of those open top double decker buses of our city (we live in Shanghai) and little did I know he would drive at high speed round a high circular onramp to a bridge in the outside lane (of course it had to be the outside lane) with the bus listing heavily where I could see right over the edge of a 12 - 15 storey drop down on the city below. I had to abandon my family who were loving every moment of it and go downstairs until we were on ground level again.


"A Greek Egyptian, like Cleopatra"

Oh dear. Saith Wikipedia:

"Cleopatra VII Philopator was the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. As a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, she was a descendant of its founder Ptolemy I Soter, a Macedonian Greek* general and companion of Alexander the Great."

As the Ptolemaic dynasts practiced rigid inbreeding, she was almost certainly a direct, blood line descendant of Ptolemy I.


"Cleopatra VII ruled ancient Egypt as co-regent (first with her father, then with her two younger brothers and finally with her son) for almost three decades. She was part of a dynasty of Macedonian rulers founded by Ptolemy, who served as general under Alexander the Great during his conquest of Egypt in 332 B.C. "

This is of interest to me, as I am a documented direct descendant of her aunt, Cleopatra Selene, and thus almost certainly of Ptolemy I.

* "Macedonian Greek". Or Greek Macedonian, as as even before Alexander the Great, Greece was ruled by Macedonia for a long time. Which culture was dominant is a matter of speculation and argument among historians. Cleo was, in any case the descendant of 300 years of Ptolemaic Dynasty rulers in Egypt, and had no hereditary or cultural connection with the Greeks of her time.

Ancestry.com and a daughter-in-law with way too much time on her hands at one time . . .

Have you read Touching the Void. An amazing true story.

Mike: My passion when I was much younger was rock-climbing. Fear of heights is quickly overcome as you immerse yourself and learn to treat every movement on the rock as both a puzzle and a physical challenge. Mountaineering by contrast is 99% slogging upwards with nature providing most of the elements of danger.

When I retired from climbing in the early nineties, I took up photography. At that time, one of the best places to learn about the subject was at the eponymous 'Photographer's Place' in Derbyshire, UK. Run by the wonderful photographer, Paul Hill. One of his most famous photographs is, 'Legs over High Tor.' I believe he managed to persuade his daughter to sit on the edge of the cliff—though she was in fact, tied to a tree.

Even though I had climber several routes on this vertical limestone cliff in my youth, Paul's superb photograph still makes me shiver!


Interesting article on translating Cavafy:


I too like to read about mountain climbing but have no desire to actually do it. Many people are aware of how dangerous climbing Mount Everest is but climbing K2 is much more deadly. 29% of K2 climbers have died on the mountain vs 6.5% who die climbing Everest.

I read this story somewhere, though I don't know if it's "authentic".

An enthusiastic young Zen student seeks out a teacher and asks, "Master, if I work hard, how soon can I find Zen?" The teacher says, "Ten years."

"But master, if I work even harder and apply myself wholeheartedly to my goal?” "Twenty years."

"I don’t understand," says the student. The teacher says, "When one eye is fixed on the goal, you have only one eye on your path."

How about you get a large dog to hold you firmly to planet Earth as you watch "Man on Wire". Scary as heck but HOW ON EARTH DOES ANY HUMAN DO THAT!!! Best wishes from the flatlands of Norfolk UK.

Tim Macartney-Snape was the first Australian to climb Everest and the first to do so from sea level. He started his climb in Calcutta walking to the top of Everest without oxygen.
His book is worth a read.
Philip, a bushwalker but not a climber.

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