Saturday was certainly an epic with even the most disinterested telling me that they were glued to their sets watching Dave Macleod and Tim Emmett make their Great Climb on Sron Ulladail. Watching the events unfold behind the scenes on-site was quite an experience and the quality of tele-visual drama a testament to the quality of team that Richard Else and Triple Echo Productions had put together for the event.
Base-camp in Glen Ulladal
Robin and I set out for the cliff face at 11am from the dam at Loch Chliostair, passing members of the public on the way who were already heading out on their 4 mile walk to the cliff. We set up a viewing point on the opposite ridge and with the telescopes offering a 50x magnification were able to see events unfold clearly (That is when it wasn’t raining and when we weren’t being attacked by midges!) A number of folk joined us and we were able to see a lot of the drama, not least when Tim fell off on pitch 2. (Someone pointed out today that having sat in a hanging belay for 1 ½ hours will have meant that he was quite cold at that point and should not be judged unfavourably for it).
Shortly after 2.30pm we left the telescopes in the hands of others and descended into the glen for the prospect of a live interview as part of the filler material for the programme. We were greatly relieved on arrival to be told that the climbing was so dramatic that they no longer needed us for that purpose! It did give us a great opportunity though to observe the team in action. About 15 people were crammed into 2 portacabins at the bottom of a scree slope approximately 600m from the forward unit where the interviews and filming were taking place. About 8 fibre-optic cables linked the 2 places and the signal was beamed to a satellite that was only a few degrees above the horizon – they really were working at the limits of what technology would allow.
Inside the production tent
Monitors showed pictures from all the cameras and the director would call for transmission to switch from one to another to give the audience the best possible view of what was going on. My favourite moment was the director saying something like “He might fall here Camera 8, so go wide to catch all the action”! The drama inside the cabin was palpable as Tim’s foot slipped on his traverse on Pitch 3. David Harron the BBC Executive Producer was verbally urging him to make it and there were cries of “Yes” as he managed to hang on. By all accounts viewers found the action rivetting, showing that the cameras were in the right place and the right shots chosen. I expect a string of awards should be forthcoming for this piece of work.
The comentry tent
We moved on to the forward production site and were surprised to see the commentators sitting under a gazebo working away and completely accessible. If it had been any windier I suspect that the gazebo would have ended up in Loch Ulladail. There were a few locals around here who found that the best way to watch the action without getting a crick in your neck was to lie on your back and point your binoculars up the towering cliff. Sron Ulladail always looks impressive but it is not until you see people on the cliff looking miniscule that you realise how massive this piece of rock really is.
Blue sky at last
We left as the guys were climbing the last pitch in order to get home at a reasonable hour and met a couple coming down the glen at 6.30pm. They had not known that the climb was on until they saw it in the TV listings in the paper that day. Having started to watch the programme they decided that they just had to come down and see it in situ. They drove for perhaps an hour and a half from Back in Lewis and then walked out for a similar amount of time. I told them that if they hurried they should be able to see Dave finishing the final pitch. If they did see the closing seconds of the drama their walk will have been well worth it.
Climbers and camera men on the 4th pitch
Congratulations to Dave and Tim, everyone at Triple Echo and the BBC, and especially to the cameramen for making it all possible and producing a truly great spectacle on the day. It was a great day for climbing, a great day for TV and a great day for Harris. Anytime you want to put up another new route just give us a call……