Farewell WordPress

I’ve finally got around to making myself a website, and so with some sadness this will be one of my final posts on this little blog I’ve kept going over the past couple of years. Fear not though, all the posts have been moved over to my new website and I will of course continue to post there. I’ll also keep this one open for the time being at least. And where is this new website, I hear you ask?

www.samharrison-ml.co.uk

If you enjoy reading my posts then I urge you to “subscribe” to me – there’s a box you can fill in with your email address on the home page – and you’ll get an email from me every time I post a new entry. There is (as there is on this blog) the option to comment on posts as well, and I’d love to hear comments from anyone that reads my blog, if for no other reason than it’s nice to know who actually reads it!

So, farewell WordPress and I hope to see you all over on my new site!

P.S. I’ve just completed my first post over there, which can be found here.

P.P.S. Some of the older blog posts might look a bit “funny” over there at the moment. Unfortunately transferring stuff across from WordPress to PyroCMS (the content management system I’ve used for the new site) isn’t that simple and requires quite a bit of manual editing, which I’ve done for the most recent 25-or-so posts but haven’t had chance to for the old ones yet. Likewise with comments.

The Glenfeshie Munros and Loch an Eilein

‘Tis the eve before Christmas (actually, it will be the wee hours of Christmas morn by the time I finish writing this post!), and to get you in a Christmassy mood and distract you from the storms hitting the UK at the moment, here’s a post about the snowy Cairngorms!

I still stand by the statement from my post about a backpacking trip to Braemar in February, that the Cairngorms is one of my favourite places in the UK. I love the wilderness, the vast scale of the mountainous terrain and the unique flora and fauna, from glens full of distinctive Scotts Pines to snow-white ptarmigans camouflaged against their snowy backdrops.

For the second year on a row, the Hiking Club decided to put on a winter skills course – provided by Paddy Cave from Mountain Circles – to introduce newer members to the world of winter walking, taking place on the weekend of Saturday 7 December. The rest of us took the opportunity to get out and do some quality walking in the area. Initially people had been talking about all sorts of routes, from Braeriach to Bynack More, but in the end we decided it was much easier to all head down to Glenfeshie for the two Munros to its east. The most northerly one, Sgorr Gaoith (aka Sgorr Gooey), a group of had done the year before, but the most southerly, Mullach Clach a Bhlair, most of us hadn’t. Some guys opted for an anticlockwise route (Mullach Clach a Bhlair first), with the option to miss out Sgorr Gaoith. Lorna, Imogen and Darren opted for Sgorr Gaoith first (which they hadn’t previously done) and in a bid to prove it’s not just about the bagging, I tagged along.

Despite the relatively good forecast, the clouds blanketed anything above 600m and there was a fairly strong wind to contend with. We’d had snow down to campsite level on Friday night, but the temperature quickly rose as the day progressed, and by the time we returned on the Saturday evening, it had all melted. After the usual excessive faffage on the campsite, we finally left at 8.30am and we were walking for soon after 9am. A good path lead us on a pleasant walk up through the Inshriach Forest and onto the western shoulder of Sgorr Gaoith. The path soon petered out as we made our way up the shoulder and onto the summit, using the opportunity of a partial white-out to practice our navigation skills. It was more micro-nav all the way across the plateau to Mullach Clach a Bhlair, and we made use of pacings, bearings, timings and plenty of contour traversing (namely around Carn Ban Mor) to reach the final summit.

The descent to Glenfeshie was via a 4×4 track that runs nearly to the summit of Mullac Clach a Bhlair, meaning we were down in the valley in less than an hour, and managed to make it back to the minibus in just enough light to save using head torches.

Summit of Mullach Clach a Bhlair, complete with

Summit of Mullach Clach a Bhlair, complete with “auxiliary contour”.

Good track all the way down from the summit.

Good track all the way down from the summit.

Loch an Eilein and the best tea shop in Scotland

I had planned all along to go for a run on the Sunday, and choosing Loch an Eilein as the location for the venue fitted well with dropping some others who were going Corbett bagging north of Glenmore. Me and Lorna have been for a few walks around Loch an Eilein in the past and its one of my favourite places in the area; indeed, it got voted “Britain’s best picnic spot” back in 2010! My run comprised of the small hill Ord Ban (which offered surprisingly expansive views of the surrounding mountains), followed by a loop of the loch.

The rest of the day was spent in a fantastic little tea shop called The Potting Shed, drinking plenty of coffee and sampling some of the impressive number cakes they had on offer. The place was charming and I’d highly recommend a visit to anyone in the area!

Cheese, cheese and more cheese

Today is my final day of a three-week summer school in Grenoble. Our timetable has been hectic at best and so my apologies for the long delay in posting my final posts from the Vanoise, something that I will do over the course of the next week. I’ve also had some pretty amazing adventures in the mountains around Grenoble whilst I’ve been here, so no doubt you’ll hear about them in due course.

Three weeks is a fair amount of time to spend away, especially when coupled with the two-and-a-bit weeks we were in the Vanoise shortly before this, and I’ll admit that I’m definitely missing Britain. So, in a break from my tradition of only writing about mountains, here are my (intendedly light-hearted) reflections on what’s good and what’s not about staying in France.

Why I miss Britain

  • Wholemeal bread. Don’t get me wrong, I love baguettes, but after three weeks of them I’ve had enough!
  • British weather. There, I said it! I’ve always maintained that I enjoy Britain’s weather, and I definitely feeling that more than ever now. I’m longing for a damp and misty day up on the moors, or a wet and windy day scrambling over some ridge line in Snowdonia; you can’t beat it. All this sunshine (ironically it’s just starting raining as I write this) is great for a change, but it lacks the dynamicicity and unpredictability of good old Blighty.
  • British cheese. We’ve been given more cheese in the past few weeks than I’m likely to have for the rest of my life; they definitely lived up to their stereotype! I do like French cheese, and some of my favourite cheese include Tomme de Chevre and Blue d’Avergne, but I still maintain that we have the better selection at the end of the day. Though apparently, no one outside of Britain knows about our great selection – I spent a good part of my three weeks educating people!
  • Driving on the left. I hired a bike whilst I was here, and I never did get used to cycling on the right; it just feels wrong.
  • British mountains. The Alps are all well and good, but they’re still not a patch on our hills. I’m also fed up of following signs and am longing to do some proper mapwork again!
  • Rock quality. Whilst we’re on the subject, I’m fed up of crumbly Alpine rock and having to test every single handhold before making a move. It makes me appreciate how lucky we are in Britian to have such good rock!

Why I’ll miss France

  • Tomatoes. Well, fruit and veg in general, but I’ve picked tomatoes as there’s probably the biggest difference between Sainsbury’s tomatoes (tastless and watery) to Carrefour’s tomatoes (rich, juicy and full of flavour).
  • Croissants and pain au chocolat. I do love a good croissant, and they’re just not the same over in the UK.
  • Good coffee. You’re hard pushed to find a bad coffee in France!
  • Provisions for cyclists. As far as a city goes, Grenoble is really good for cycling around. Cycle lanes are marked out everywhere, for the most part bikes get priority over cars and drivers genuinely seem aware of their two-wheeled counterparts; possibly because there are so many of us.
  • Cheap wine. I refrained from writing “good wine”, because you can get very good wine in Britain, it just costs one heck of a lot more! For around €2, you can get a decent red wine that would probably set you back £5 in the UK.

So, c’est la vie! And until next year at least, adieu la France!

Our group at ESONN, the European School on Nanostructures and Nanotechnologies

Our group at ESONN, the European School on Nanostructures and Nanotechnologies

A luxurious weekend away in the country – Steall Hut

Steall Hut, taken in February 2011.

Luxurious might be pushing it a little bit, but for £4 per person per night, Steall Hut is definitely well worth the money. After a recent refurbishment, the hut not only comes with a gas supply, but also a gas-powered generator and running water (provided the stream said water comes from isn’t frozen…). The hut is situated at the base of Steall Waterfalls, in the stunning surrounds of the tranquil Glen Nevis. Here, the Nevis river peacefully meanders along a the flat-bottomed valley, providing a perfect backdrop for a weekend’s get-away. The word Steall itself actually translates as “spout”, and the traditional name for the falls, An Steall Ban, means “white spout”, and the area itself contains a number of ruins of a past settlement.

The hut itself, owned by Lochaber Mountaineering Club, and also the path up Steall Gorge, managed by the John Muir Trust, have both seen upgrades in recent years. Most notably, new gas hobs have been installed, the previously-stolen generator replaced, and an arguably over-dramatic “Danger of Death” sign installed at the end of the public road and the start of the Steall Gorge path.

As is usually the case, we didn’t leave campus until gone 5pm on Friday, and so it was gone midnight when we started the half-hour walk in to the hut. The walk in involves an infamous wire bridge, which always seems much more daunting in the dark. After a quick discussion about the routes we were planning for the following day, we headed to bed.

Richard and myself had originally planned to do the Ring of Steall, but owing to the very windy weather forecast and the members of the group, we decided exposed scrambling probably wasn’t the best option for the day. Instead, I chose a horseshoe of Sgurr Eilde Mor and Binnein Beag. Jim and Calum, who originally had planned to go climbing, instead opted for a scramble up the NE ridge of Binnein Mor, and Richard tagged along with them.

The walk in to the base of my route was a rather long 7km up the valley, and a few others who wanted an easier day tagged along until we started the ascent. We had started in the rain, but by the time we were half way up Sgurr Eilde Mor’s NE ridge, the clouds had started to lift and we started getting some great views. The descent route down the SW ridge was a bit hairier than I’d imagined. It started off with a narrow ridge, before deteriorating into a steep boulder/snow slope. Alex, who was new to crampons, did well to negotiate this steep section without too much difficulty.

We had a quick break at Coire nan Lochain, before picking up the obvious path leading to the col between Binnein Mor and Beag. The ascent of Binnein Beag’s broad southern shoulder involved a bit of scrambling up boulder fields and rocky steps, but it was only made tricky by the amount of ice that was about (we had opted to remove our crampons due to the lack of snow on the ridge). The shoulder was in a great position and offered a considerable amount of exposed, making it fun, exciting and well worthwhile. The summit, whilst being quite broad, is in a prominent position and offers great views in all directions. We spent a while refueling and taking in said views.

Summit of Binnein Beag

The walk out seemed to take an age, and we eventually arrived back at the hut at 8pm, pretty knackered and ready for an evening of cheese, wine, port and whisky.

The next day, we awoke to a perfectly clear sky and quite unbelievable visibility. We’d talked about the two Munros on the western end of the Mamores the evening before, and with the weather being as it was, any achey legs and tired eyes were ignored in favour of another day out in the hills. Jim, Richard, Calum, Laura and myself were the only ones that fancied the option, and so we set off at 9am back to the minibus, dumped our heavier gear and drove further down the glen.

Great views across to Ben Nevis from Mullach nan Coirean

The ascent of Mullach nan Coirean’s northern ridge was arduous, not just because of the day before but also because the sun made it quite hot work. We were pleased to find a well-made paved path (described by Laura as “cute” in reference to it looking a bit like a garden path!) weaving its way up through the forest at the base of the ridge – this certainly made things easier going.

As I thought might be the case, as soon as we reached the summit plateau, we were faced with a bitterly cold wind. We didn’t hang around too long – just long enough to take a few photos and grab a bite to eat. Jim described it as one, if not the, coldest day this winter, and I’d be inclined to agree. The weather closed in slightly as we traversed the ridge to Stob Ban, but fortunately the views still remained when we reached the summit.

Stob Ban’s northern ridge

One of the main reasons for doing this walk, for myself at least, was Stob Ban’s northern ridge. Jim, Calum and myself had been over it almost exactly a year ago, in the pouring rain and with zero visibility. Even then, we got a good sense of exposure and I made a mental note to myself that I must do it again in good weather. The ridge starts with a narrow exposed section with a little bit of scrambling, before descending steeply over a number of tricky rock steps. Last time, we found it awkward and time consuming as the rain had made the ridge very slippy, but this time everything was frozen and with crampons on it felt much easier. One of the aforementioned rock steps had a bit of ab tat (a piece of rope tied around a rock left behind by someone to abseil off) and so I thought I’d test out the club’s new scrambling rope that I dragged around the walk with me, and also practice South African abseiling before my Mountain Leader Assessment in a few weeks.

Looking back on Stob Ban from the ridge

It started snowing quite heavily on the way down, leaving a good thick layer on the already-frozen ground, which was quite lethal. Added to that the fact that we were a bit behind schedule and so making a fast descent, this resulted in numerous falling overs, including a quite comical one where Calum seemed to end up facing completely the wrong direction.

The drive home was quite eventful as well, and at times we were in a complete white-out on the motorway – something I’ve never experienced before (and don’t wish to experience again!).

The Southern Cairngorms – a wilderness paradise

I haven’t been to the Cairngorms much, and whenever I had in the past it was always to Aviemore, arguably the tourist centre of the Scottish Highlands. Looking at the map, I was excited at the vast areas of remote hard-to-get-to land south of Aviemore and as soon as a Hiking Club trip to Braemar was decided upon, I made sure I was free to go!

We had a late start on the Friday evening drive, and didn’t get to the Linn of Dee car park until half past midnight. Most opted to bivy outside the bus, or pitch a tent, but myself and Lorna couldn’t be bothered doing either and so spent a surprisingly comfortable night bivying on the minibus. I had the driver’s row of seats and Lorna the first row of passenger seats.

Glen Derry

Glen Derry

Darren had suggested going to the newly-refurbished Hutchinson’s Memorial Hut for the Saturday evening, and Lorna, Imogen and myself opted to as well. Some others went to Corrour bothy and the rest went climbing on Lochnagar. We decided to take tents as the hut is quite often too packed to stay in, and it gave us an excuse to use out our new Hilleberg Jannu which I got a few months ago.

Hutchinson Memorial Hut

Hutchinson Memorial Hut

I really do love the Cairngorms. I’m not sure what it is about them that strikes me as being so unique and beautiful – maybe the open forests of Scotts pines, or the vast rolling mountains, or the meandering streams and rivers. Or perhaps it is just because the offer some of the most remote walking available in Britain. I was thinking about this as we walked up past Derry Lodge (where many more sensible people had mountain biking up to and left their bikes) and up Glen Derry – itself a vast flat-bottom valley with a number of new tree plantations.

Lovely lighting to the west of Derry Cairngorm

Lovely lighting to the west of Derry Cairngorm

There was a lot of snow about, and by the altitude of the hut there wasn’t much on the ground but snow. We dumped our camping gear, had some lunch, and headed due south towards the summit of Derry Cairngorm. A steep snow slope scattered with a few rocks offered a bit of entertainment on the way up, before Derry Cairngorm’s north-east broad ridge took us to the summit. A lot of the cloud about earlier in the day had disappeared at this point and we were left with some stunning views and equally as stunning lighting.

First proper use of our new tent!

First proper use of our new tent!

Some useful information posted inside the hut...

Some useful information posted inside the hut…

I think we were all in two minds as to whether we should carry on to Ben Macdui or not, but seeing as it was a new Munro for me I decided it was worth it, followed suit by the others. This time the clouds didn’t lift and we were left with a pretty good whiteout, but at least it gave us chance to practice our navigation! Back down to the hut, and we pitched our tents on the flattest snow patch we could find, before making tea and hot chocolate for which it took about 30 minutes for the water to boil – then again it was a good deal below zero. Our route turned out to be 24km with 1200m ascent, which isn’t bad considering 13km was with camping gear!

The following day none of us had much motivation to do anything other than walk out, and so that’s what we did, making the most of the beautiful surroundings once more.

It’s been a mixed year

Last time I posted, back in July last year, I mentioned an ankle injury that I had aggravated  Unfortunately, that ankle injury stayed with me most of the summer, being succeeded only by a hip injury in September, which lasted until December when it randomly transferred over to my other hip and became a lot more painful. Are the three related? I’d kind of like to think so – either that or I’ve just been tainted with bad luck for the better part of a year now.

Regardless, however, I’ve managed to get a lot of very good days out in the fells here and abroad, my only limitations being that I struggled with anything long distance and I haven’t been able to run at all. Fortunately a brief spell between injuries coincided with a trip to the Swiss Alps.

Arrola, Valais Alps (August 2012)

Over our two weeks in Arolla (Valais Alps), we managed four summits in a spell of fantastically settled weather. They were: Mt Brulé (PD-);  Tete Blanche (F); Pigne d’Arolla (F) and; Mont Blanc de Cheilon (PD). The fantastic views and breathtaking climbs we did were only slightly marred by appalling quality rock, a nocturnal Beast stealing our food whilst we were at bivis and our ice axes getting lost on the Eurostar. Oh, and being struck by lightening on one of the rainier acclimatisation days…

Bivying below the Bertol Hut. Taking my summer sleeping bag was definitely a mistake on this sub-zero night.

The summit of Tete Blanche (left), The Matterhorn and Dent d’Herens (right) from a subsidiary summit of Tete Blanche.

My favourite day was when Lorna and myself tackled Mont Blanc de Cheilon via the Voie Normale, whilst Calum and Jim went for the trickier AD-rated traverse. After a horrible scree-covered ice slope up to the Col de Cheilon, we gained a fantastically exposed ridge (described as the SW ridge). As the sun rose, we worked our way over pinnacles, up chimneys and along the crest, admiring the extensive views over the Valais area, all the while hooking slings over spikes and taking belays where necessary. The technical difficulties were minimal, probably UIAA II at most, but the exposure made it seem much more daunting. The next section of the route I can only, and honestly, described as the worst slope I have ascended in my life – imagine a scree slope littered with so many boulders that you end up with a moderately-graded scramble, but with all the looseness of a scree slope. Every move had to be careful and precise, and every rock tested for stability before trusting in the slightest. The only thing that made it worse was the knowledge that we’d have to descend the same slope later in the day. A broad snow slope took us up to a final ridge, which was of much better quality rock and even more exposed than the first ridge, probably coming in at around British grade II scrambling. This took us to the summit, and after admiring the views for a good while, we retraced our steps and prepared to do battle once more. Unfortunately, the horror-slope hadn’t disappeared as I was hoping, and as expected it was much worse on the way down, and took us a good few hours to move a few hundred metres. We eventually arrived back at the campsite nearing 6pm, 14 hours after we set off. Whilst the scree slope did put a negative aspect on the day, the quality of the other ridges and the sense of achievement after conquering the mountain more than made up for any of this negativity.

Myself near the summit of Mont Blanc de Cheilon

On our final day in the valley, we walked to Lac Bleu and went in search of the Satarma Needle, a spectacular needle of rock protruding from the forest. The climbing was easy (UIAA II+) and the route well-bolted, but the position made up for this.

The Satarma Needle from the high-level route back to Arolla

The rest of the summer

There was a short period when we got back from the Alps when I was uninjured, and in that time I managed a trip to the Edale and Stannage Edge with Lorna, and also a sunny weekend in Rhyd Ddu for Darren’s birthday.

Groundslow Knoll in Edale – one of my favourite places in Britain. September 2012.

Brilliant weather on the Nantle Ridge, September 2012.

Back at uni

I started my PhD at Lancaster University in October, and of course carried on going out with the Hiking Club. The most memorable trip for me last term was to Grasmere, where we made the most of some early-season snow to traverse Striding and Swirral Edges, which were both in almost perfect Alpine condition. The lighting that day was stunning, with the reds and golds of autumn contrasting vividly again the pristine white of new snowfall.

Near the summit of Helvellyn, November 2012.

Fingers crossed, my hip is on the mend. I’ve been to see the physio and have a list of exercises to do, and so with a bit of luck I’ll be up and running (hopefully literally) in the next few months! Hopefully it’ll be in time to make the most of the new snow the country has seen this week.

First words

I have made many attempts over the years to keep some kind of journal of my adventures, be them mountain-related or not. I also have a large collection of photographs documenting these adventures, all gathering metaphorical dust on my computer’s hard drive. Any serious attempt at combining these has, in the past, always fallen by the wayside for numerous different reasons. With stoic determination, however, I have decided to make a last-ditch attempt to create something meaningful out of the array of blurred memories stored deep within my mind, as well as adding new entries as new events unfold.

Of course, as the title suggests, the contents of this blog will be mainly mountain-related, with a focus on combining descriptions of walks I’ve been on with the photographs I’ve taken on them. My motivation for eventually starting this blog is two-fold. Recently I’ve become more actively involved in hill walking and have even started venturing out on the snow-covered fells in the winter months. I am determined to become more confident on the technical aspects of being in the fells, such as scrambling and maybe one day rock or even ice climbing. My second reason is closely related. As I start to become more adventurous in my pursuits, I’ve found blogs similar to this not only interesting but also useful. I would love to think that one day something that I write becomes interesting or useful to someone else.

As well as enjoying hill walking, I am very enthusiastic about fell running and hence will use this blog as a method for documenting notable runs I have been on and races I have competed or intend to compete in. No doubt I’ll end up writing about other parts of my life and I’m sure that I will – probably with regret in hindsight – use it to vent my political feelings once or twice.

When I get the chance I will start adding photographs and descriptions of previous walks I’ve been on, most likely starting with a very cold walk over the Clwyds with my Dad from just before Christmas. I’m planing to go out to Snowdonia on my own next week, possibly up Moel Siabod, so no doubt if weather prevails photographs will appear here soon.

I shall conclude here, so for now, au reviour!

A sign on the wall of the Refuge de Goriz in the Spanish Pyrenees

Refuge de Goriz in the Spanish Pyrenees - taken whilst staying their during the summer of 2009