Marantz MCR 610 – A Review

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As mentioned in my introduction to the review of the of the B&W 686 S2’s, a separate review of the  Marantz MCR651 would follow.

The Marantz unit was a replacement for the incredibly talented Yamaha A-S700 and CD-N500pairing that had served me well for around 12 months. There was nothing wrong with their performance – I simply had an itch to downsize my system and not sacrifice on sound quality.

When I was looking around at options under a budget of £500 there were a number of options from the likes of Teac, Onkyo, Yamaha and Denon to name but a few. Most of them had an iPod dock built into the top which, to me, made the system less appealing. I also wanted a CD Player built in which excluded a number of options.

The system that really caught my eye was the Marantz MCR 651. In terms of features it seemed to cater for virtually every eventuality (and more): CD, DAB, FM, Internet Radio, Wireless/Wired Network Streaming, Two Analogue inputs, Two sets of Speaker Outputs (for Bi-Amping as well as multiroom, optical digital input, Spotify and Last FM capabilities – the list went on.

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The dealer I discussed the unit with suggested that the performance of the CD Player and built in amp rivalled that of an entry level Marantz separates system and I was therefore intrigued as to how this box of tricks would perform and duly bought one.

Once I got the unit home I was truly surprised by how small it was. I set it up on a wooden unit and, at first, it looked truly lost.

I connected the speaker cables, ethernet cable and power chord and switched the unit on. I was stunned to find that within a few seconds it had synched with my home network and recognised my NAS drive. From the Marantz App I put in my user name and password for Spotify and I was good to go. It all seemed too straightforward.

As an aside I tried the Marantz in wireless mode and again all was good. It found the wifi signal with no problems and worked well.

So, 10 minutes after unboxing the MCR 610 I was listening to a Spotfy playlist and thoroughly enjoying the sound and convenience of having millions of songs at my fingertips.

I then access the music on my NAS drive and played some hi-res FLAC files. Again no problems. In fact all the functions on the unit worked flawlessly and I could not be happier with the performance.

I have read that it has a typical “Marantz” sound but having not owned any Marantz products previously I had nothing to compare it too.

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For a full description of the quality of the sound please look at my B&W 686 S2 review as my thoughts on sound quality are pretty much summed up there.

So all is great? Actually no. Here are the gripes:

· First of all the app is slow. Really slow. Whether it is selecting a new track or going between functions it seems to take an age. The Yamaha network player was far quicker as was the Squeezebox touch.

· And if it isn’t being slow the app crashes more than it should. Two or three times over a 2 hour period which I find unacceptable whilst using the app. If for some reason you come out of the app and restart it (especially when using a music server)  the music stops and you have to start again selecting the Marantz through the app and finding your music again. Very frustrating. To my mind Marantz need to put this at the top of their list to sort or it will put customers off.

Other than the above issues with software I am delighted with this little unit. Whether in the long run the app  drives me to distraction remains to be seen but for now I will simply enjoy it’s music making capabilities.

 

Bowers and Wilkins 686 S2 – Small is Big

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I have long been a huge fan of standmount speakers and have owned and, or, reviewed speakers from mainstream companies such as Wharfedale, and Kef to more esoteric brands like Sonus Faber, Harbeth and Totem.

It was change again this last week with the at home with the Yamaha set up I have been enjoying thoroughly for the last 12 months being sold and shipped to pastures new for me to enter into the 21st Century with (takes a deep breath) a one box system from Marantz.

A Marantz MCR610 to be precise and this will be the subject of another review where I will cover off my findings with this little unit.

The subject of this review as the introduction alluded to is a pair of standmount speakers: the new B&W 686 S2’s.

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The motivation for getting these speakers was the same as purchasing the Marantz – to downsize the hi-fi system and try and replicate something that would cater for my audiophile sensibilities without dominating my lounge.

I auditioned a number of speakers and for one reason or another these were discounted due to the fact they didn’t have the musical balance or performance I was looking for. So what did I have on my wish list?

Basically, I was looking for a musical hybrid which would offer something close to the performance of two of my favourite speakers of all time – the midrange and vocal capabilities of the Harbeth P3ESR’s and soundstaging and the stupendous bass from a small box capabilities of the Totem Model One’s.

Oh, and all for less than £350. Or at a quarter of the price of the above two speakers.

A tall order and to be honest I was not holding out much hope of achieving anywhere near my goal.

As previously mentioned, I listened to a number of speakers and compared them to the existing Wharfedale Denton 80th Anniversary speakers at home including Dali’s Zensor 1 and 3’s, Monitor Audio’s BX2 and Q Acoustic’s 2020’s.

They all sounded fine – the Dali Zensor 3’s being the best of the bunch (albeit the biggest) – but were not as good as the Wharfedale never mind the Harbeth and Totem’s. I could never have lived with them over the longer term.

The dealer then suggested I push the budget slightly from the £200-£300 range to try the B&W 686’s S2’s. At just £50 more than the Dali Zensor 3’s I did not have much hope.

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These speakers are the latest incarnation of B&W’s entry level offering and have a number of changes from the previous model including improved tweeter, woofer and a smaller cabinet. Specifications taken from B&W website are:

Technical features: Decoupled Double Dome aluminium tweeter with Nautilus™ tube loading
Flowport™
Description 2-way vented-box system
Drive units 1x ø25mm (1 in) aluminium dome high-frequency
1x ø130mm (5 in) woven Kevlar® cone bass/midrange
Frequency range -6dB at 54Hz and 50kHz
Frequency response 62Hz – 22kHz ±3dB on reference axis
Dispersion Within 2dB of reference response
Horizontal: over 60º arc
Vertical: over 10º arc
Sensitivity (84)85dB spl (2.83V, 1m)
Harmonic distortion 2nd and 3rd harmonics (90dB, 1m)
<1% 110Hz – 22kHz
<0.5% 180Hz – 20kHz
Nominal impedance 8Ω (minimum 5.2Ω)
Crossover frequencies 4kHz
Recommended amplifier power 25W – 100W into 8Ω on unclipped programme
Max. recommended cable impedance 0.1Ω
Dimensions Height: 315mm (12.4 in)
Width: 160mm (6.3 in)
Depth: 229mm (9.0 in) cabinet, grille and terminals
Net weight 4.6kg (10.1 lb)
Finishes Black
White

The star of the above show is arguably the Decoupled Double Dome tweeter. Full technical details are on B&W’s website but it seems clear that the application of this technology works amazingly well.

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So how do they sound?

Set up on their dedicated stands in my lounge I connected them to the Marantz MCR610 one word truly sums them up: remarkable.

It is hard not to start each sentence with: for their size they are…… and then insert a description relating to an element of their performance which simply stuns you with it’s scale or clarity or soundstaging. Considering their diminutive stature they simply sound significantly bigger than they have a right to. My lounge is not exactly small (20ft by 13ft) yet the 686’s filled the room with music.

The way that they can three dimensionally portray a singer between the speakers is spooky. And there is height to the image which adds to the sense of realism. Turn the volume up and the image get’s bigger and bigger.

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I started my listening session in earnest once the speakers had been running for a few hours with one of my favourite test tracks that I have used dozens of times before: Broken Wings by Dougie MacLean from his Marching Mystery album. The track though the 686’s starts wonderfully with a fantastic ring and resonance to the acoustic guitar.

The bodrhan providing the beat, though, was the initial surprise. It was deep and authoritative and maintained it’s rhythm beautifully. The bass performance was easily the equal of the larger Wharfedale Denton’s.

The next surprise was when MacLean started singing. His vocals were startlingly real and set clearly and precisely in their own space. I was genuinely taken aback.

I tried track after track and the speakers simply disappeared leaving performers perfectly placed in my living room. From blues to classical and folk to heavy metal these speakers continued to astound.

Admittedly, they are unable to move air on rock tracks in the same was a bigger speaker can but the bass performance always carried a significant punch and stunning weight for the size of the speakers.

Suffice it to say that they totally fit the bill in terms of the original brief. Are they as good as the Harbeth’s? No, they lack a some of that’s speakers refinement and midrange warmth and they way the P3ESR’s portray vocals is uncanny in it’s realism – more so than the 686’s.

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If I had one slight criticism with the little B&W’s it would be that, just occasionally, the treble would stand out slightly but this was mainly at lower volumes. Not a problem in the slightest but a noticeable difference with comparing with the Harbeths.

But the Harbeth’s retail at nearly £1,500!

How about the Totems? These, to me, are the soundstage kings. Width, depth, height. They have it all. They are remarkable in terms of bass too (for their size!). But they have a new contender.

The 686 S2’s.

The only area (and to be honest this is more from memory from when I had them) is in terms of soundstage width where the Model One’s have the 686’s beaten. Having said that I have not played around with positioning too much and so I may be to gain improvements in this area with some experimentation.

So the bottom line is at £350 these speakers are bargains. I would put my money on them being able to compete with speakers several times their price and show them a clean pair of heels in many areas. I am not familiar with the previous models and so could not offer an opinion here.

I would have loved to have pushed the budget for the 685’s but it wasn’t to be so. I suspect they would be even better in my lounge but for now I will enjoy the 686’s thoroughly.

Art on Skye

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The Skye Arts Trail

Other than sheep, the Isle of Skye seems to have an abundance of talented artists, photographers, sculptures, potters and weavers.

The Skye and Lochalsh Arts and Crafts Association produce a wonderful book detailing galleries and studios throughout the Island, their location and the types of work on display.

We have used this guide over the past couple of years to visit many of these and of the 42 artists and galleries features in the guide we have visited or seen the work of over 30 and detail our highlights below:

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Skyescape Gallery

Skyescape Gallery is situated on the Harlosh Peninsular and features work predominantly by Russell Sherwood – owner and founder of the gallery – but also by a few other carefully selected photographers. We fell in love with Russell’s work the first time that we saw it being displayed in Dunvegan and had to make the trip to his gallery to see the quality of his other work which we found to be wonderful too. .

Russell is very welcoming and more than willing to impart advice and information on the equipment he uses and his workflow. He also offers tuition for a fee and although we have not used his services can only imagine that this is great value for money and worthwhile to employ his services.

Russell is a member of F4 – four likeminded photographers whose work is dominated by the landscape of Skye.

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Tim Wilcock Photography

Tim and his wife run the Grasmhor Bed and Breakfast near Dunvegan and in addition Tim is also a talented landscape photographer. Tim’s work can be seen at the bed and breakfast where he has a small gallery and like Russell Sherwood, is more than happy to discuss how and where he captures his images.

Tuition is also available which I can only imagine is superb and good humoured.

Tim is also a member of the F4 collective.

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Dandelion Designs and Images Gallery

This gallery is situated in the beautiful, small village of Stein on the Waternish peninsular next door to the Stein Inn – Skye’s oldest Inn.

It features the work of several artists – Liz, Pat and Cathy Myhill predominate but there is also work on display (and to buy) by John Viles and Marion McPhee to name but two. We were particularly struck by the work of Liz Myhill who produces some beautiful and arresting art.

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Ellishadder Art Café

One of our absolute favourites not just for the amazing food and drinks and service but also but the wonderful art work created by Stuart and Maggie Quigley the owners and operaters of the Café.

Stuart produces some stunning paintinsg and pencil drawings of Skye and Maggie weaves amazing rugs which are works of art in themselves.

Again, as we have found with most artists on the Island they are more than happy to discuss how they create their work and it really hits home how much work actually goes into their creations.

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Skyeline Ceramics

Skyeline Ceramics is situated in a very small workshop in Broadford. The workshop is renowed for the exquisitely crafted sculptures of sheep. The attention to detail is amazing and each of the small creations is unique giving them their own personality.

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John Bathgate – Dun Studio

John Bathgate’s studio is just outside of the town of Dunvegan and is a treasure trove of beautifully painted scenes of Skye. John is great company and, like most artists on Skye is happy to share his inspirations.

John uses various media including acrylics, oil, mixed media and collage to capture the atmosphere and grandeur of Skye’s landscape. His work is available in original form and limited edition prints.

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Alan Campbell

Alan is an incredibly gifted photographer based in Broadford. He exclusively uses medium format film to capture both dramatic and atmospheric images.

When you look has his work you appreciate the increased dynamic range and wonderful colour that it seems only film can capture.

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Nigel Grounds Gallery

Using bold, dramatic colours Nigel’s paintings are stunning in the way they capture Skye’s landscape. His gallery is probably the first you will encounter after leaving the Mallaig to Armadale ferry – it is literally 100 metres on the right hand side as you head towards the main road.

Nigel regularly exhibits his work in galleries across Scotland.

These are just a handful of the artists and photographers we have visited and our favourites so far. There are many to discover and we look forward to doing this on our future visits to Skye.

Links:

http://skyescapegallery.zenfolio.com/

http://www.timwilcock.com/

http://www.dandelion-designs.co.uk/

http://www.ellishadderartcafe.co.uk/

http://www.skyelineceramics.com/

http://www.dunstudio.com/

http://alan-campbell.com/

http://www.nigelgrounds.co.uk/

It’s life Jim but not as we know it………

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So, following on from the initial Blog post…….

I returned home after work on a Friday afternoon to find a large box with Wharfedale and 80th Anniversary emblazoned on the side. The Denton’s had arrived.

I was naturally, eager to set them up and within no time at all had them had them connected to the new Yamaha A-S700 amplifier (where’s the Rega you may ask – that may be the subject of a separate post!).

But to back track I must mention the packaging. This is superb. The speakers were packed in their own cotton bag which was in turn packaged in heavy duty plastic bags. They were nestled firmly in Styrofoam inside a very well made cardboard box. There was also a plastic wallet in the box which contained a pair of cotton gloves, manual and a booklet detailing the history of Wharfedale. It may not sound like much but the way that a company cares for their products says a lot about their quality.

And in terms of build quality I was not disappointed. Every element from the veneer, to the binding posts and the way the 80th anniversary stickers are applied to the rear of the speakers oozed quality. They feel solid and have a reassuring heft to them. Very impressive.

And, so it was with hopes raised that I switched on the amplifier and started to put the speakers through their paces with some tracks that I am very familiar with. I didn’t have the Harbeth’s on hand for a direct comparison but their sound signature is so unmistakable to me differences in sound quality and presentation are straightforward to evaluate.

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The first song that I listened to was Broken Wings by Dougie Maclean from his Marching Mystery album. I must have listened to this song a hundred times or more over the years and never tire of it.

It is a simple track dominated by a bodrhan, acoustic guitar and Dougie Maclean’s voice. Even the most straightforward of tracks are easy to get wrong on some systems and this one is no exception.

Each of the instruments has their own part to play in moving the track forward. If the rhythmic, almost hypnotic drumming of the bodrhan becomes overblown or lost in the mix it loses it’s ability to act as the drive behind the song. The acoustic guitar needs to be clear and resonant, the chords should stand out from the mix with Dougie’s voice sounding plaintive with the burr of his beautiful Scottish accent coming through.

Needless to say the Harbeth’s get all of these elements to me perfectly balanced. The Denton’s offer a slightly different version of the truth so to speak. The first thing I noticed was that the bass response was deeper but this should be expected as the this is a ported design with a slightly bigger cabinet and bass driver.

The Bodrahn seemed bigger with more of a bass thud. It was also slightly “muddier” if that is a decent term to use and lost a little of it’s rhythm.

The acoustic guitar sounded warmer too with slightly less ring and resonance to the strings than I am used to. The Harbeths seem to hold onto the notes a little longer and the guitar comes across a little smaller but more akin to how a real acoustic guitar would sound. The Dentons offered a presentation where the guitar sounds slightly larger than life.

And so to the vocals. They came across with the Dentons as slightly more recessed. They didn’t get lost in the mix as I have heard them on some speakers but Dougie’s diction was slightly less clear. Not unpleasant. Just not as real as through the P3ESRs.

Denton rear

There’s a couple of things with the above – firstly I am comparing a speaker in the Denton’s that is a third of the price of the Harbeth’s. I am also comparing a “home” speaker with one that is essentially a “domesticated” studio monitor speaker which has to sound clear, precise and totally natural or it would be missing the designer’s brief by a wide margin.

Taken in isolation away from the “studio” presentation of the Harbeth and for the money the Dentons sound superb and are a wonderful loudspeaker.

I have tried them out on a wide range of material and at no time did they offend. They presentation of music is warm and graceful allowing the message of the music to come through.

Are they as good as the Harbeths? No – the Harbeth’s are significantly better and I cannot wait to be in a position to get my hands back on a pair of the P3ESRS. For other people though they could be just what they are looking for as you can listen to music for hours with no fatigue or irritation. If you listen to rock music then I would steer clear of them but then again I would say the same with the Harbeth’s.

To me the Harbeth’s present the truth albeit a smaller scale version. The Dentons are slightly bigger and warmer version of that truth that I can live with and not be constantly looking over my shoulder to a time when the Harbeth’s were in place which, to be honest, I never thought I would find at this price level. Throw in the fact that they are beautifully veneered and made and you have a speaker that you would struggle to significantly better for less than £1,000.

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Is there life after Harbeth?

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Harbeth P3ESR – in a league of their own.

If you read my previous review of the Harbeth P3ESR’s you can easily establish that I am huge admirer of these loudspeakers. In fact having owned dozens of pairs of speakers over the last 20 years including brands such as Proac, Linn, Living Voice, Tannoy, Gamut and Reference 3A to name but a few I have found that the little P3ESRS are the head and shoulders above the rest.

It was with some regret recently, then, that I had to sell my treasured Harbeth’s and opt for a cheaper speaker. The reasoning and detail behind this decision are no particualroy interesting so I won’t go into that here.

Bottom line is that with the Harbeth’s sold I had a budget of around £500 for a new pair of speakers. A considerable amount of money to some – friends wouldn’t dream of spending that on a whole system. But coming from such lofty heights I was concerned at what I would find at a price point almost exactly one third that of the P3ESR’s.

I also had a fairly simple and short criteria for the new speakers – somewhere between what I wanted and what my wife would accept.

Ideally the new entrants would be a stand mount and a similar size to the Harbeth’s and have an attractive real wood veneer.

I looked at many brands from Tannoy, Kef, Dali and Mission but couldn’t get excited by the looks nor the sound of any of them. Not a great start!

Doing some more research I came across a couple of reviews of the Wharfedale Denton. A limited edition update of a classic Wharfedale speaker.

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The Wharfedale Denton

They seem to have everything – decent wood veneer, not much bigger than the Harbeth’s and they also had an excellent heritage not only from the manufacturer but also the speaker itself. At £500 they were also within my budget.

As a bonus, having done some more research into the brand it seemed that they take a cradle to grave approach to manufacturing their speakers – designing and manufacturing their own cabinets, drive units and wiring themselves to retain control over every step of the process. They also, apparently, manufacture their own packaging to ensure that their products arrive in the condition they would expect.

Some more web trawling though unearthed a company in Bristol selling the speaker at a special offer price of £350 for a brand new pair. Despite the fact that hadn’t seen the speaker or heard it this seemed to be a bargain too good to miss. I don’t put too much faith in magazine reviews and star ratings but the one’s I read seemed to be consistent with describing the musical presentation of the Dentons and this suggested to me I would enjoy the speaker and so I ordered a pair and awaited their arrival with anticipation.
Part two to follow………..

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One Camera, One Lens – The Evolution

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Canon 5D and 24-105L

Around three years ago I lugged with me the following whenever I went on a day trip or vacation with the family:

- Canon 5D Mk2
– Canon 24-105L
– Zeiss 35mm
– Zeiss 50mm
– Zeiss 21mm
– Canon 430EX
– Filters
– Ipad

I had on hand – other than for wildlife photography – a lens for most occasions: landscape, portrait (the 24-105 was pretty good for this), walk around, architectural. All were catered for with some of the best glass that money can buy along with a fantastic body incorporating the a full frame sensor in the shape of the 5D Mk2.

What was not to like? Well, as I have mentioned in previous a blog, the biggest downside was the weight and bulk.

We would regularly take two trips to Canada and the States each year and from where we live this would invariably involve two or three flights. This big bag of camera gear had to be lugged on and off various aircraft with three tired children to manage and cajole with their assorted paraphernalia.

And then it got to the point where I didn’t want to carry this bag with me at all and so the decision was made was to downsize but get the best “small” camera I could that would rival the 5D’s full frame sensor and the quality of the Zeiss optics.

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The M9 followed the 5D Mk2

The way to go? Leica (of course!). So I assembled a system around the Leica M9 with a 50mm Summicron, 35mm Summarit and 24mm Elmar. This little lot in small Billingham bag came to around half of the weight of the Canon/Zeiss kit in a much smaller bag. Oh and probably cost around twice as much! initial review of this camera is here: http://wp.me/p1hetB-as

I used the M9 for around 6 months. From an image quality perspective I will still say that in the right conditions it gave me the best “look” I have ever had from my photographs. Sharpness, contrast and colour were all superb. The Leica glass really lived up to it’s legendary reputation.

The M9 with it’s quirks – average sensor, poor screen, poor high ISO to name a few – was fun to use and really reconnected me with photography. It slowed me down and made me think a little more about shots.

But then the frustrations started. Whilst the size of the camera and the associated lenses meant I could take it anywhere I realised that I was missing more shots than I was getting. As I said above the majority of my photography takes place whilst vacationing with the family. It is one thing taking your time for a landscape shot but quite another taking pictures of the children playing, running or even moving.

Also, If the light wasn’t right getting focus was a pain using the rangefinder.

Also, when changing lenses the M9 seemed to attract more dust and dirt on the sensor than any other camera I had owned (it doesn’t have any form of dust reduction system) and post processing to remove the spots and splotches was becoming a chore.

So, despite the superb image quality and lightweight yet another system’s flaws start to outweigh the benefits……

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Fuji X-E1 and 18-55 Lens

And so the M9 went and the 5D Mk3 was ushered in with history quickly repeating itself over size and weight. Eventually it was replaced by the Fujifilm X-E1 and 18-55 lens a review of which can be read here: http://wp.me/p1hetB-eY

The system fit the bill in terms of size and weight and now, owning one camera with one lens (albeit a zoom lens which offers a degree of flexibility) I am liberated.

Everything is simplified. No longer is there a requirement to consider which lens for which shot. With the Fuji 18-55 ( 27-82mm 35mm equivalent) lens, I have found is good enough for 99% of the situations I find myself in and the images I want to capture. From landscapes to portraits to cityscapes I have never felt short changed.

Admittedly it is not appropriate for sports or wildlife but for most other situations it is fantastic.

No more worry about dust or dirt on the sensor. Not happy with the field of view? Be more creative and find an interesting new one.

The other issue I had with all the lenses I used to own is that I was always looking for the next one to buy. One that could fit into a small segment of photography be it macro, portrait, wildlife, super wide angle etc. GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) is a very expensive condition that always makes you feel as though you need that next fix, err lens.

Now I am happy with the one lens – if it doesn’t do exactly what I want I consider a way round it. I have enjoyed photography more than ever and for me, the sheer enjoy,eat of capturing an image you are later proud of, is what it is all about.

Conquering Taft Point – Well Sort Of…….

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Taft Point – The View

After an hour and a half of pushing, pulling, straining and heaving I felt as though I had done an extensive work out at the gym. My arms and shoulders ached from the exertion and I greedily drew in deep lung fulls of the thin mountain air. According to the sign to my right we had come half way along the trail in twice as long as the guidebook suggested. After a few mouthfuls of water I pushed on.

What now seems in hindsight a slightly foolish idea, I had taken it upon myself to push my 10 year old son in his wheelchair along a trail situated at the side of Glacier Point Road to Taft Point in Yosemite National Park, California. My boy has Cerebral Palsy which affects the movement in his arms and legs and consequently his only form of mobility is his wheelchair.

The guide book I had read back at the hotel that morning over breakfast suggested that it was an “easy” hike. Easy on two feet maybe but taking myself and the four wheels of a wheelchair was an entirely different story. I soon discovered that the trail was more challenging than I had thought.

This is where most guidebooks fall down in my opinion. They seem to be written from the perspective of the single traveller or a small group. There is little account taken for those whose mobility maybe limited or the brave family dragging their gaggle of children through the backwoods of America.

Admittedly we weren’t in the back woods – there are too many cafes, souvenir shops and visitors centres to give you the feeling you really were in the middle of nowhere.  But it strikes me that this kind of information would more than useful – if only so that you know it is possible to traverse a trail with a pushchair for example. It certainly would have been useful for us in any case.

My wife and two other children aged 11 and 3 pushed on acting as reconnaissance to any new and interesting barriers that we may come across. They would shout back about what to watch for and then stand there at what seemed some impassable point on the path.

“You’ll never get through this part” they would say.

“Just watch me” I would retort.

“Are you sure, Dad” my son would ask quietly. “No,” I would admit next to his ear so the other’s couldn’t hear. “But let’s give it a try, shall we?” He would smile, the cue that he was happy to let his crazy father bounce him over and through the next obstacle.

There was a good deal of flat ground that meandered through stunning trees and calm wild flower filled meadows, however, the large rocks and boulders that occasionally filled the path forced us to take stock and work out a route over and  around these obstacles and this slowed us considerably. Once the chosen route was decided we bumped and wobbled our way through, on occasion scraping away at the metal of the wheels of the wheelchair.

One particularly awkward challenge was stream with it’s steep embankments to traverse. The wheelchair tipped this way and that at precarious angles. The cool waters of the stream eased my and weary feet as we paddled through. My son to his eternal credit gave only words of encouragement as he tenaciously gripped the arms of his wheelchair.

Occasionally, fellow hikers would stroll past do a “double take” and offer help out what most have looked like a slightly deranged father and family needlessly putting themselves through hell. Especially as some of them will have been aware that Glacier Point, with it flat easily accessible tarmacked paths, café selling food and cool drinks and safely walled look out points, was only two or three miles up the road. I guess it pays to read the guidebook a little more carefully in future and plan these things with a little more thoroughness.

We were reliably informed that the effort was going to be worth it and were complimented more than once for our tenacity. I have always had the philosophy that I will not let the wheels of my son’s wheelchair stand in our way on vacation. I have always found that the extra effort always pays off.

After the arduous and strangely fulfilling upper and lower body work out of the trail we eventually arrived at the top of a hill, the midday sun beating down on us. We looked down to where the path opened out to a huge flat area and then elevated towards the “point” where a lone piece of railing was the only structure that stood between you and a 3,000 feet drop.

With a tinge of disappointment, I looked at the steepness of the path and the way it twisted and turned horribly and realised that I had come as far as I could do. I was confident of getting him and his wheels down to “the Point”, however, in the thin air at the 7,800 feet elevation and the heat of the sun I was less than confident of getting in back to where we now stood, never mind the car.

At that point, a quick decision was made and I reversed him under the shade of a tree for shelter and, after enjoying a hard earned bottle of water, I descended the trail, camera in hand to go and see what all the fuss was about. My wife agreed that we would take it in turns to go and investigate the famed vista and waited with the children whilst I disappeared.

The view from the point is nothing short of spectacular. It reminded me of the feeling I had the first time that I went to the Grand Canyon and looked out at that enormous chasm in the earth. Nothing prepared me (or could have done for that matter) for the sheer scale and majesty of that sight. The sheer size and vastness of the canyon as the red and orange stone drops away from you is awe inspiring.

But in some ways it is also a little surreal because it feels almost unreal when considering the statistics of the canyon. The Colorado River looks like a small stream but it is a mile down in the canyon and has an average width or around 300 feet.  The length of the canyon is around 280 miles which is 80 miles further than where I live in the North of England to London. That’s a 4 hour drive or 2 hour train journey away. It is around 18 miles wide rim to rim – Yosemite Valley itself by comparison seems small at only 8 miles long. To me these distances are difficult to assimilate whilst you stand and take in the majesty of this natural wonder.

On the other hand Yosemite Valley and Taft Point is not on such a huge scale. The reality of the fact that you are standing, precariously in some ways on a 3,000 ft high block of granite seem to hit home that much harder. I have to confess that I have never been afraid of heights and yet when I peered over the edge and saw that there was nothing between me and a long, long fall during which time I would have plenty of opportunity to empty my lungs of scream after scream before my body splattered into the rock. With the Grand Canyon I felt there was a crumb of comfort in that if you fell there would a ledge or two that would break your fall and possibly save you from certain death. With Taft Point you know that there would be no second chances.

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Stunning Yosemite

And so it was that I found myself gripping onto the rail near the edge slightly harder than I would normally and marvelling at the incredible scale of the valley and breath-taking vista. The number of superlatives to describe this place quickly ran dry. I turned to see in the distance my family, tiny dots on the mountain side where they awaited my return. I stuck a hand up to wave and watched them wave back. It was sad that I hadn’t been able to take my son all the way down to the edge, especially after coming so far. I was also aware though that if my boy had been able to make it, so would my 3 year old and I know that I would have had to have maintained a vice like grip on her as she would surely have been too tempted to peer over the edge.

Looking over the valley, I imagined John Muir, back pack filled with bread, tea and a blanket as his only provisions, standing at this point and resolving to protect this area for all time. He spent a great deal of his life investigating the valley and it’s surroundings recording and publishing his findings in the hope that he could inspire people to see this natural wonder and nature itself in a new light and not just as an opportunity for profit and gain. He battled to have the park protected as he watched the lumber companies and farmers slowly erode the lowlands surrounding the valley destroying the meadows with their abundance of wild flowers.

He managed to convince no less than an American President – Theodore Roosevelt – to segregate the valley and surrounding area and make it one of America’s first national parks thereby inspiring a change in attitude and philosophy that generated the National Park system that is in existence today.

At this height you look down on the granite monolith that is El Capitan. Down to the valley to the Merced river below. The railing at the end just doesn’t seem substantial enough and one could imagine a gust of wind could lift you from the lofty perch and deposit you over the edge in an instant.

I quickly absorbed and photographed as much as I could and then followed the path back to where the family had been patiently waiting. Whilst my wife and elder daughter made their way down toward the Point to experience the natural wonder for themselves, I gave my son a full debrief in as much detail as possible and showed him the photographs. Today this was the best that I could do.

Tomorrow, would bring new challenges. Everest anyone?