Sun and snow on the Isle of Skye

Seeing as my last post was well over a year ago, I thought I’d best make an effort to keep on top of this blog from now on! I might even add some posts retrospectively if I get the chance.

This post is about a trip to the Isle of Skye from Friday 30 March to Tuesday 3 April. The aim of the trip was to have a look at parts of the Cuillin Ridge and get a general feel for the place. Skye is completely different to any other mountain range in the UK, feeling distinctly Alpine but with Scottish island weather to contend with. For this reason, it offers difficulties and challenges that the mainland Munros don’t – the fact that Cicerone’s Walking The Munros book has a separate introduction to the Skye section outlining the seriousness of mountaineering in the area says it all!

The shear quantity of exposed gabbro rock makes the mountains extremely attractive to mountaineers and scramblers, and some fantastic fun can be had on many of the exposed and intricate ridges of the Cuillin range. They are often regarded as the finest mountains in Britain.

Friday

Imogen, Lorna and myself set off from Burneside at just gone 10am, in rather dull and cloudy weather. The further north we got, the better the weather became and by the time we stopped at Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond for lunch, the sun was out in full force and it felt like the middle of summer.

We stopped once more on the A82 over Rannoch Moor to make the most of some stunning views by Lochan na h-Achlaise. It’s usually either pitch black or awful weather when we’re driving over the moor and so it was nice to see what this beautiful area looks like in the sun!

Loch na h-Achlaise

Loch na h-Achlaise by the side of the A82. Most scenic road in the country?

Seawater-erosion

Interesting erosion on the beach at Elgol.

Upon reaching Skye, we detoured to the scenic harbour of Elgol in the south of the island. It had turned a bit cloudy and the views over Loch Scavaig to the Cuillin Hills was particularly dramatic. There was some rather interesting seawater-erosion in the cliffs on the beach, where the water had eroded the rocks into circular hollows. Eventually, we got to the campsite in Portnalong at just gone 7pm and pitched our tents, made tea and got an early night. The others (Alex, Charles, Daniel and Alex’s Dad, Don), arrived at just gone 1am.

Elgol

Looking out over Loch Scavaig to the Cuillin Hills from Elgol.

Saturday, the Cuillin Ridge

The Inn Pin

The Inn Pin

The weather forecast was surprisingly good for the day and so we all got up early to try and recce as much of the Cuillin Ridge as we could. We headed to Glenbrittle and the initial plan was to have a look at TD gap (widely regarded as the trickiest step on the ridge, graded at VDiff but apparently much harder), King’s Chimney (Diff) and possibly the Inaccessible Pinnacle (Sgurr Dearg). The In Pinn is graded a Mod climb and the only Munro that needs a rope to ascend.

It turned out we had walked into the wrong corrie (Coire Lagan) however and were too far along the ridge for TD gap and the King’s Chimney. We slogged up a scree slope to the left to gain the ridge and scrambled northwards towards the In Pinn, for the most part sticking to the ridge. Dependent on what guide you read, the ridge proper for this section gets the grade of Mod or even Diff, but our scrambling didn’t seem that difficult and so I can only presume that on the odd occasion we strayed from the ridge we were missing out the difficult sections. I probably enjoyed this section more than any other part of the ridge and it felt great to be soloing such an exposed ridge with such good rock and fantastic views.

Next came the In Pinn and Dan led the eastern ridge (Mod), which I found surprisingly easy. There was plenty of exposure and a bit of a wind made it entertaining in places. An abseil off the western face brought us to the main summit area of Sgurr Dearg, where we picked up the ridge and scrambled onwards towards Sgurr na Banachdich. This time the scrambling was much easier, at its most difficult around grade 1. From the summit of Sgurr na Banachdich, Lorna, Imogen, Dan and myself headed down the ridge over Sgurr nan Gobhar, whilst Alex and Charles carried along the ridge over Sgurr a Ghreadaidh. Another scree slope led us down to grassy slopes above the Glenbrittle Youth Hostel and we sat down basking in the warm evening sun.

The Cuillin Ridge

Looking back along the Cuillin Ridge and towards Sgurr Dearg from near Sgurr na Banachdich

We had a bit of an altercation with the campsite owner (I won’t go into the details!) that evening and so decided to move to the Glenbrittle campsite the following day.

Sunday, rain!

The weather was pretty miserable when we woke up and after moving to Glenbrittle we decided the best option was a coastal walk. It didn’t really brighten up all day, though it was nice taking in some sea air and giving our legs a rest after the previous day. That evening a few of us headed to the Old Inn in Carbost, a lovely little pub with log fire, decent beer, Scottish music and a very cosy feel.

Monday, Bla Bheinn (Blaven)

Bla Bheinn

Walking across to Bla Bheinn's south west summit

It was rather windy on the campsite when we woke up and Lorna, Imogen and myself decided the initial plan to recce TD gap and King’s Chimney wasn’t such an attractive idea anymore, and so we decided to do a walk up the only Munro on the island not on the main Cuillin ridge – Bla Bheinn. The others still went ahead with the initial plan.

The weather was actually quite good and it soon turned out that the wind was purely a localised effect on the campsite, as it seemed rather still everywhere else. The route we took up with via Bla Bheinn’s south-eastern ridge to a col between there and the Corbett Clach Glas, followed by a short scramble onto the summit. It is reckoned that Bla Bheinn offers some of the best views anywhere on Skye and it was easy to agree with this as when the clouds cleared we were greeted with some breathtaking views out of the sea and across to the Cuillin ridge. The fact that you are looking right down to sea level makes the views even more impressive.

Our descent was down the south-eastern ridge of Bla Bheinn’s south west summit and then back down Coire Uaigneich the same way as we came up. We stopped for a painfully-cold paddle in Allt na Dunaiche on the way back, which definitely helped revive my weary feet!

It started raining again that evening and so once again a few of us retired to the pub. Unfortunately, this time, they’d ran out of draught beer!

South west summit of Bla Bheinn

Lorna and Imogen on the south west summit of Bla Bheinn

Tuesday, snow!?

We were initial planning on staying up until Wednesday, however particularly strong winds during the night resulted in a few bent tent poles and so we decided to head home early. Also, rather surprisingly, we awoke to a thin layer on snow on the ground in the morning. Driving back it became clear just how much snow Scotland had received – the north-western mainland had a very thick covering and the mountains looked fantastic. A stark contrast to the sunny and warm weather earlier on in the week!

A82

The view from the A82 on the way back. It couldn't be much more different to earlier in the week!

A day of white

The destination for this week’s walk was Grasmere, leaving open a whole host of opportunities and initially I had planned to do the Fairfield Horseshoe. However, looking at the snow, a few of us decided that Helvellyn was a better option for that little bit of extra height.

Start point: Lay-by opposite Swirls car park on the A591, just north of Grasmere, NY 316 169
Summits: Helvellyn (inc. Lower Man), Nethermost Pike, Dollywaggon Pike, Fairfield, Great Rigg
Distance: 9.3 miles / 14.9 kilometres
Ascent: 4110 feet / 1250 metres

Having the luxury of two cars (well, one car and one minibus) meant we could do a straight line walk starting from the shores of Thirlmere reservoir. We were going to park in the Swirls car park but after seeing the price of £5 and realising that we didn’t have enough spare change, we decided to head across the road to the free lay-by. A well formed path leads up beside Helvellyn Gill to Helvellyn Lower Man and eventually Helvellyn. We were in cloud within half an hour, which combined with the snow created some impressive complete white-out moments.

We bumped into a group of guys on our way up who asked for advice on directions (they wanted to head down over Whiteside Bank and Raise but instead were heading down the way we came up). After a quick consultation of the map we told them their best bet was to head back up to Helvellyn Lower Man and branch off from there. They had a map but I’m pretty certain they didn’t have a compass with them, or if they did they were reluctant to use it. Despite our advice they decided to carry on back down the way we came up – personally I think it serves them right if they ended up by Thirlmere and had to catch a cab back to where they started from.

On a related note, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of people on the summit without ice axes, and presumably without crampons as well. Although Helvellyn offers some gentle ascents and the snow wasn’t frozen enough to warrant ice axe or crampons, they are surely still an essential piece of kit with conditions like they were? It could have easily been a lot icier up there.

The summit was very busy as usual, even despite the less-than-perfect weather forecast. Quite a few people had seized the opportunity to make the most of the winter conditions over Striding and Swirral edges, and in fact we nearly decided to descend Striding and come back up Swirral to make the most of it ourselves, however time was pressing and having done Striding Edge just before Christmas we decided Fairfield was a better alternative (though in hindsight we probably did have the time to do both).

Summit of Helvellyn

Setting up the camera's automatic timer on the trig point - quick, before it blows off!

Summit of Helvellyn

Everyone in our group on the summit of Helvellyn - kindly taken by a passer-by

Helvellyn is famous for its flat and expansive summit – in fact the first mountain-top landing of a plane in Britain occurred here in 1926 – and in conditions like we had today it’s easy to see how people get lost. Many a compass bearing was taken and many steps paced out to our next few peaks, before heading down the clear zig-zag path to Grisedale Tarn.

From the tarn we could see the other group from the Hiking Club descending the ridge to the west of Fairfield, however we decided to take the more interesting route up north east onto Deepdale House and then along the ridge running from St Sunday Crag to Fairfield. This is a fantastic route up that I’ve never done before – a small rocky and grassy path is etched into the fell side, as it ascends giving expansive views over Grisedale (we were even out of the clouds for a bit!). The ridge itself was also good fun, offering a tiny bit of very easy scrambling if you pick the most direct lines (the actual path, or at least the footprints in the snow, bypass all of this).

Fairfield itself and indeed the whole horseshoe is a walk that I have fond memories of, being one of the first walks I vividly remember doing on a beautifully sunny day many years ago. I remember thinking then that it was one of the best walks I had been on and that memory has stuck with me ever since. Although the summit today was a white blur, it still felt great to be back up there.

We didn’t hang around for very long as the wind was bitterly cold. Our descent was via Great Rigg and Stone Arthur, bringing us out just up the road from Grasmere, where we joined the rest of our party in the (rather busy) Red Lion – where a glass of coke costs £2.80 but a pint of beer only £2.75 (I know which I’d prefer!).

Mud, wind and rain

What a weekend!

Saturday – Parbold Hill Race

I decided on a spur midweek to sign up for Parbold Hill Race on the Saturday, with a group of guys from the Running Club at uni. I’m very glad I did as it was a fantastic race. A great course, on a mix of road, track and muddy fields, with the odd stream thrown in there. The organisers have done a brilliant job of picking an exciting and fun route which made sure – especially with the recent rainfall – that we all returned caked in mud. I was very pleased with my result, 47th out of around 450 and in a time of 50 minutes. Next month I’m in the Edale Skyline Fell Race so this acted as a bit of a warm up (albeit a very small warm up) to that.

Sunday – Haweswater

On the Sunday I went up to Haweswater with the Hiking Club, an area I really haven’t been to much. The reservoir sits in the valley of Mardale and its controversial construction saw the flooding of the two farming villages of Measand and Mardale Green. In times of drought when the water levels in the reservoir are at a low, the remains of the village can still be seen.

The original plan was to walk the whole ridge from Harter Fell up to Wether Hill but no one else wanted to come on my walk so I tagged along with a group with the intention of Harter Fell and High Street. We headed up the Gatescarth Pass before branching off over Harter Fell and down to the Nan Bield Pass. However we had a rather slow member in the group and the progress was so slow and the weather so terrible that no one apart from myself and the two other leaders on the walk wanted to carry on, so we decided to head back down.

The clouds started to clear a bit on the way down and I managed to get a few photographs of the very swollen Mardale Beck.

Haweswater in the distance

Haweswater in the distance

Mardale Beck

Mardale Beck

Walking down the Nan Bield Pass

Walking down the Nan Bield Pass

It really was very foul weather, even my GoreTex jacket didn’t withstand the downpour and in fact my boots are still drying out, nearly a week later (and that’s after being stuffed with newspaper). I think a good Nikwax-ing session is in order.

We stopped off at Bampton in the lovely but quite eccentric Mardale Inn – you’ll understand the “quite eccentric” part if you ever frequent the gent’s toilets in there! Next week (or, as I write this, tomorrow) we’re off to Grasmere and at the moment I’m rather tempted by the snow sitting on the top of Helvellyn, but we’ll see.

A weekend in Glen Nevis and a day on the CMD Arete

I’ve been waiting to climb Ben Nevis for years now and I finally got my chance this weekend with the Hiking Club’s trip up to Steall Hut in Glen Nevis. The hut itself is owned by Lochaber Mountaineering Club and is a rather basic cottage, boasting gas and running (cold) water but not much else. Apparently they had a generator but it got stolen a number of years ago. It’s the perfect kind of place for me, in a beautiful location a few miles walk up the glen from the end of the road and across the river by a wire bridge. I think I may have fallen in love with the place.

The wire bridge

The wire bridge. Crossing it upside down is optional!

Steall Hut

Steall Hut in Glen Nevis

The journey to Scotland wasn’t without incident. We had particularly high winds and the going was very slow up the M6 and M74 – down to 40mph in places. The amount of cars pulled over on the hard shoulder because of the winds was unbelievable. Because of this we didn’t get to the hut until 2 am and weren’t in bed until 3 am after settling in and having a wee dram of whiskey.

Day One

Up early-ish the next morning to see a noticeable change for the better in the weather. The wind had died down and the rain had disappeared, which was good as the plan was to ascend Ben Nevis via the CMD Arete – a route that I didn’t fancy in the howling winds of the night before!

Start point: Steall Hut, Glen Nevis, NN 178 684
Summits: Carn Mor Dearg, Ben Nevis
Distance: 7.7 miles / 12.4 kilometres
Ascent: 4480 feet / 1370 metres

The route started following the well-trod path up Glen Nevis alongside the Water of Nevis, before branching left up one of its tributaries just before Steall ruins. This brought us into a quite stunning flat bottomed valley between the CMD Arete and Aonach Beag. At this point the sun came out and gave some quite magical views over the Mamores to the south.

The Mamores

Sun breaking through the clouds with views out over the Mamores

The Mamores

Looking out over the Mamores

The valley raised to form a col between Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Mor, giving even more spectacular views. The snow had started to harden at this point and it was time to don our crampons and brace our ice axes.

The Mamores

The Mamores from higher up in the valley

The route up to CMD was particularly steep and hard work. 400 metres vertically were climbed in 800 metres horizontally, which would have been tough even without the snow and ice. The views from CMD over its Arete were worth it, although the wind was so ferocious up there that we didn’t hang about for long. Fortunately it died down somewhat whilst we were on the Arete and I managed a couple of photographs towards the end. The snow conditions were ideal for me, nice and frozen making the crampons as effective as possible. There was a lot of water ice frozen on the rocks but it didn’t pose too much of a problem.

The Arete is a fantastic ridge, narrow enough to offer fantastic views and a little bit of exhilaration but wide enough to make you feel comfortable. It’s long as well, which adds to its appeal. I’ve never been up Ben Nevis before but I’m very glad that my first time was via this brilliant route.

The CMD Arete

Crossing the Carn Mor Dearg Arete.

CMD Arete

The end of the CMD Arete from half way along

The ascent to the summit of “The Ben” saw our first cloud of the day and make navigation rather tricky in the near whiteout conditions. Fortunately we have an extremely competent leader within the group who was able to pace out our ascent and descent with pinpoint accuracy.

Summit of Ben Nevis

Myself on the summit of Ben Nevis. Apologies about the quality, but it wouldn't be the same without a summit shot!

The descent down was in the dark and followed a short ridge emerging at the start of the flat bottomed valley we started the walk in. It was then just a case of retracing our footsteps back to the hut for a few beers, some home-brewed blackberry wine and dehydrated vegetable tikka and rice (yum yum!). Unbelievably we were out for 11 hours!

Day Two

The next day we took it easy and took a leisurely wander up the glen, having a look at Steall waterfall along the way.

Steall Waterfall

Steall Waterfall

Steall Waterfall

Steall Waterfall across the Waters of Nevis

Glen Nevis

Looking down Glen Nevis towards Steall Hut

Inside Steall Hut

Inside Steall Hut

Steall Hut

Steall Hut

Overall we all had a fantastic weekend and will definitely be returning next year. I highly recommend the hut to anyone wanted a bit of peace and tranquility – it’s a fantastic place to get away from the stresses and worries of life.

The day I forgot everything

Ten minutes after setting off to catch the minibus I realised I’d left my camera sitting on my desk. A bad start to the day, but one that at least pretty much guarantees good weather. The destination today was Buttermere and the walk was pretty much identical to Nuttall’s 3.5 (obviously, in the England volume). It follows a diverse ridge from High Crag to Red Pike, consisting of a mixture of rough, craggy sections interspersed with gentle grassy slopes. This is one of those iconic ridge walks boasting good views for the majority of the walk – weather prevailing of course!

Start point: Buttermere, NY 174 170
Summits: High Crag, High Stile, Red Pike, Dodd
Distance: 7.5 miles / 3100 foot

From Buttermere it was a short walk along the lake before the ascent up Scarth Gap. The original path was badly damaged in the floods of winter 2009 and a large portion of it has literally been swept away. A temporary fence has been put in place around the damaged area however, and it can be easily bypassed.

At the top of Scarth Gap we stopped for lunch, where I realised the second item of the day that I’d forgotten. Yes, my lunch! Fortunately I was kindly donated a cereal bar and along with my flask of coffee I managed to keep going until the end. I would normally carry a considerable amount of Kendal Mint Cake in my bag but this all got used up when we got snowed in, in Eskdale, at the end of last year.

From Scarth Gap it is as simple as following the ridge along until you reach Red Pike. The wind was particularly bitter and I think everybody was feeling the cold. I was very glad for my Rab down gillet I got for Christmas. From Red Pike was descended the steep scree slope to Dodd and then Bleaberry Tarn. A small patch of completely frozen snow posed a few problems on the way down but steps had been cut so it wasn’t too bad. Bleaberry Tarn itself was coated in a good layer of ice, though not enough to walk upon.

The path down from Bleaberry Tarn is particularly knee-bashing and passes through Burtness Wood before reaching Buttermere. The Fish Hotel was closed and so we ended up in the Bridge Hotel and I wasn’t driving this week so I could indulge in a very nice pint of Black Sheep bitter and a well-needed bag of crisps.

Panoramic lakes in the Lakes

Back up at university now and the first walk back of the term saw us in Borrowdale for what MWIS and the Met Office promised would be a rain-free day with cloudless summits. They kept their promise and despite the large amount of dull cloud cover its base was well above the summits and we got some beautiful panoramic views.

The walk itself was a particularly picturesque one, starting off up to Styhead Tarn from Seathwaite, up Great and Green Gable and then back to Borrowdale via Brandreth and Grey Knotts, two hills that were completely new to me. I took my assessment to become a “leader provisional” (LP) for the Hiking Club and am pleased to say I passed so I can now plan my own routes. I don’t have entirely free range however until I gain “leader extraordinaire” (LE) for which I’ll have to show my skills up in Scotland and in more “tricky” conditions.

Start point: Seathwaite, Borrowdale, NY 235 122
Summits: Green Gable, Great Gable, Brandreth, Grey Knotts
Distance: 6.3 miles / 10.1 kilometres
Ascent: 2900 feet

Starting from right at the end of Borrowdale it’s a simple tourist trod right up to the very picturesque Styhead Tarn. I camped here with my Dad when I was much younger when it was blowing a gale, but today it was deathly still – not even a ripple on the water and the surrounding mountains were perfectly reflected.

Crossing over Stockley Bridge

Crossing over Stockley Bridge

View back down into Borrowdale

View back down into Borrowdale from Stockley Bridge

Path to Styhead

The rest of the group heading up the path to Styhead Tarn

Styhead Gill

Styhead Gill

I’m not sure why I didn’t take any photos of Styhead Tarn itself, I regret it now! Lunch was had by the shelter box before we headed straight up Great Gable and then onto to Green Gable. We popped off-course momentarily to take a few snaps of Wastwater – England’s deepest lake at 79 metres, which allegedly boasts a gnome garden. Three divers died here in the late 1990s whilst they were apparently searching for the gnome garden, which was subsequently removed because of the incident. However, rumour has it that gnomes have started reappearing at a greater depth, beyond the 50 metre depth limit that police divers are allowed to go down to.

Wastwater

Wastwater from half way up Great Gable

The group

Part-way up Great Gable, having a quick break

There was a chill breeze on top of Great Gable and we didn’t hang around for long. There were still a great deal of poppies around the memorial plaque from the Remembrance Sunday service at the end up last year. The plaque commemorates members of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District who died in World War I.

Great Gable is renowned for its vast panoramic views from the summit, which certainly didn’t fail to impress.

View from Great Gable

View from Great Gable

It was then on to Green Gable, Great Gable’s smaller and slightly, well, greener neighbour, via Windy Gap which for once wasn’t that windy. There was a large patch of snow to contend with but it was quite powdery so don’t pose any problems. I personally prefer Green Gable, perhaps because of it’s less harsh summit or perhaps because of the stunning views down Ennerdale and to the north.

Great Gable

Great Gable from the summit of Green Gable

Summit of Green Gable

View from the summit of Green Gable

Me on Green Gable

A photograph of myself on the summit of Green Gable

The final part of the walk was over two summits that were new to me – Brandreth and Grey Knotts. Both offer expansive panoramic views over Buttermere, Ennerdale Water and you can even catch the odd glimpse of Windemere. Although the day wasn’t perishingly cold and despite a considerable thaw occurring recently, we still found a small tarn completely frozen over with a thick layer of ice – my ice axe hardly made a scratch on the surface – perfect ice skating conditions!

Ice skating

Testing the ice on Giillercomb Head

Summit of Grey Knotts

View from the summit of Grey Knotts

From Grey Knotts we skirted down around the contours to descend back into Borrowdale via Seathwaite Slabs and after a short minibus journey found ourselves in the Scafell Hotel for a welcome pint, or in my case coffee as I was driving the minibus back. Whilst being on the upper end of the price range when it comes to pubs in the Lakes, the Scafell Hotel has a lovely bar with a big log fire and I highly recommend it – perhaps because last time I was in there I knocked an entire pint over and the barman replaced it free of charge! They also have a rather addictive game of trying to balance a 10p coin on a lemon in a glass of water without it falling off, for a free pint. Of course it’s nigh-on impossible to do and most people end up loosing their 10p (all proceeds go to Borrowdale School I believe), but I’m told that it can be done.

Anyway, I shall leave it there. Off to Buttermere next weekend and then Steall Hut in Glen Nevis the week after that. Should be a busy month!

A sunny Sunday stroll over Striding Edge

This was a walk I did with the Hiking Club at uni on 12 December 2010, but I enjoyed it so much (and got quite a few half-decent photos) that I thought I’d post a bit about it here. Helvellyn is famed as the second highest mountain in England, and that fame certainly makes it a popular choice. I’ve been warned that during summer Striding Edge becomes the Lake District’s equivalent to the hiker’s motorway that is Snowdonia’s Crib Goch. Understandably so though, as it is a beautiful and rewarding ridge with an equally rewarding summit at the end.

Start point: Glenridding, NY 385 169
Summits: Birkhouse Moor, Striding Edge, Helvellyn, Raise
Distance: 8.9 miles / 14.3 kilometres
Ascent: 3300 feet

Believe it or not, this was my first ever time along Striding Edge and on top of Helvellyn. It’s one of those hills that I’ve had in my sights for years but have never got around to. As such I was very-much looking forward to this walk and I’m glad to say it didn’t disappoint. The area had been in full winter conditions the week before and I was initially annoyed that the majority of the snow had thawed when we got there, but in hindsight it was probably for the best that my first time over Striding Edge wasn’t laden with ice axe and crampons.

Although there were clouds in the sky, the sun still shone through and we got a fantastic view out over Ullswater whilst making the ascent to Birkhouse Moor. Unfortunately this was marred somewhat by a dirt-biker that was up there churning up the countryside.

Ullswater

Ullswater and Glenridding from the ascent to Birkhouse Moor

Striding Edge looked absolutely stunning bathed in the sunshine, a sight that no photograph can do justice to. It was a real pleasure and I felt almost a privilege that my first time across the ridge was in such glorious weather. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, despite patches of verglass making it a little tricky. We thought that crampons might be needed for the final slog up to the summit but as it turned out convenient steps had been cut in the snowy areas.

Helvellyn, Red Tarn and Swirral Edge as seen from the base of Striding Edge

A few of our group headed off up one of the gullies on the face of Helvellyn – not for the faint hearted!

Striding Edge

Striding Edge in the sunshine

Striding Edge

Looking back on Striding Edge

Helvellyn

The final drag up onto Helvellyn

The summit of Helvellyn offered some lovely views back over Striding Edge and Red Tarn. It was, as predicted, rather busy up there.

Striding Edge and Red Tarn

The view of Striding Edge and Red Tarn from the summit

Summit of Helvellyn

View from summit of Helvellyn

Summit of Helvellyn

Cornice on the summit of Helvellyn

Apparently a girl from the University of London fell through a cornice on the summit of Helvellyn a few weeks before we were there. She was okay, but unfortunately in subsequent weeks two men fell to their deaths on Swirral Edge, unrelated incidents whilst the ridge was in full winter conditions. These tragedies highlight the danger mountains can present, as well as the care that needs to be taken.

Shelter on the summit of Helvellyn

Shelter on the summit of Helvellyn. Those snow patches were as icy as they look!

It wasn’t long before the clouds came in however, and by the time we’d finished our lunch we were completely immersed. From Helvellyn we went on to Raise. The clouds did clear but it was dark by the time they did, so no opportunities for photographs. It was a rather bright night and despite the darkness we managed to finish the walk without needing to reach for the head torches!

We finished in the Traveller’s Rest pub, which – to my dismay – boasted beers from one of my favourite breweries, Hesket Newmarket. The dismay was due to the fact that I was driving the minibus back and couldn’t drink, hence ending up with a cup of instant coffee, which along with the log fire, was still very welcome after a long cold day in the hills.

Convoluted scrambling up Siabod

Moel Siabod is often overlooked, falling short of the 3000 foot mark but only just, standing at 2861 feet. It is no less of a mountain than its taller counterparts however, and boasts a number of interesting and varied ascents with arguably some of Snowdonia’s most rugged and interesting scenery. The best of this scenery can be seen via the ascent of the mountain’s east ridge, Daear Ddu (Black Earth). The ridge offers a variety of different paths, mostly scrambling of lower-end grade 1 difficulty, but this can nearly all be bypassed. It is a great introduction for those less experienced.

I received both Nuttall’s books for Christmas and as Siabod was one of the first mountains I ever climbed (at the age of 5) I decided it would be the first walk from the books I completed. I was certain I had never done this exact route before, but I’m now having second thoughts as I recognised a good deal of it. I did the walk  today on my own – I saw a brief spell of good weather on the forecast and decided to go for it. I was hoping for a bit of snow but unfortunately it had all thawed.

Start point: Pont Cyfyng, SH 735 571
Summit: Moel Siabod
Distance: 6 miles / 9.7 kilometres
Ascent: 2400 feet

The weather forecast wasn’t entirely accurate as the first mile of my walk was in pouring rain. It did clear up slightly but there was still a considerable amount of cloud about, hence the lack of photos.

From Pont Cyfyng, a tarmac track crosses the river by the Cyfyng Falls. A signposted footpath branches off this and winds its way up to the disused Rhos Quarry first of all, and then the natural lake Llyn y Foel. The path is very well defined and well used right up to the start of the Daear Ddu ridge itself. From here it’s theoretically as easy as following the ridge right up to the summit, picking the difficulty of route you wish. However I made the mistake of branching off too far to the west on a path that seemed to be skirting right around the southern aspect of the mountain. I decided to leave this path and as a result ended up heading directly north onto the summit (instead of north-west along the ridge), a route that involved some pretty tricky scrambling. So, a word of warning, it is by far best to stick as close to the ridge as possible!

The summit itself was very icy, but with only the odd patch of left-over snow. I stopped for lunch in the small shelter and managed the below photo in a momentary break of cloud.

Summit of Moel Siabod

A rather icy summit of Moel Siabod

A compass bearing led me off the summit and down to Coed Bryn Engan, a small forest with a network of different sized tracks that eventually led me back to the A5, albeit about half a mile further down the road than I intended.

Winter on the Clwyds

This is a walk I did with my Dad on 21 December 2010. The initial plan was to head to Snowdonia for a walk over the Glyders but snow was forecast for the afternoon and we were worried that our car would get snowed it. As it turned out our route back, the A470 through Llanwrst, was described as barely passable and so it was probably wise we decided to stick closer to home.

Start point: Cilcain, SJ 177 652
Summits: Moel Famau, Moel Dywyll, Moel Arthur
Distance: 14.9 miles / 24.0 kilometres
Ascent: 3390 feet

Whilst I’ve been up Moel Famau and along the ridge to Moel Arthur countless times, I’ve never carried on over Moel Arthur before, so this was a first for me. Starting in Cilcain we headed straight up Moel Famau past the water station and the smallest of the reservoirs. This brings you out at cross-paths at the edge of a forest.

Signpost on the way up Moel Famau

A signpost at the cross-paths on the way up Moel Famau

From here it’s just a short walk up by the side of the forest to the summit.

The summit of Moel Famau

My Dad on the summit of Moel Famau

As you can see the snow conditions weren’t bad at all – just soft and powdery stuff that was easy to walk on. From the summit we carried on along the ridge (on the Offa’s Dyke path) via Moel Dywyll and then dropping down to the road before Moel Arthur before carrying on over. Surprisingly considering we live so close, this was my first time on the top of Moel Arthur. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t very good and hence I didn’t take any photographs.

The Offa’s Dyke path carries on past Moel Arthur. We took this route, which after a short decent to another road rose up alongside a forest that I’m informed is a good place for mountain biking. It then opens out and eventually leads down to a small track. It is here that we leave the Offa’s Dyke path and head south west, skirting around the ridge until eventually bringing us back to the road to the south of Moel Arthur. The trek along this track was hard going, which I’m putting down to the ever-so-slightly uphill gradient and fast pace we were going at.

From Moel Arthur it was back down a forest track leading right off the road, taking us past two “viewpoint” car parks and eventually back into Cilcain for a well-deserved pint at the White Horse Inn. I thoroughly enjoyed the walk, probably one of the most rewarding I’ve been on over the Clwyds. The weather stayed good in the end, and although it was very cold we even got a slight hint of sun in the afternoon. I plan to run this route before I head back up to university.

Me on the summit of Moel Famau

Me on the summit of Moel Famau

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