Parc National de la Vanoise

We got back from the Alps at 3am last Wednesday morning and after a chaotic week of catching up with work whilst trying to sort out things before I go away on a summer school to Grenoble next weekend, I’ve eventually got the time to write a bit about it. I’ll split the holiday across a few blog posts, starting with this quick summary.

When looking at our options for travel, it transpired that the cheapest way to do it would be via coach from Lancaster to Paris, and then train down to the Alps. So that’s exactly what we did. This way, it worked out at a little over £100 return each – pretty good value for money! Upon arriving in Pralognan-en-Vanoise at 9:15am on the Sunday morning, completely worn out after the 31-hour journey, we were regretting that decision. The sleeper train we caught from Paris to Moutiers was quite enjoyable and rather comfortable, but the coach part was completely the opposite, the highlight of which was our driver (who didn’t speak a word of English or French) being threatened by UK border patrol: “If you drive through this checkpoint, the police will come after you”.

We stayed on Camping le Chamois in Pralognan for the two-and-a-bit weeks we were there, which at roughly €5 per night made a nice change from the expensive campsites of Switzerland we experienced the year before. The municipal campsite was just what we wanted – modern(ish) facilities, cleaned regularly and with friendly staff. It’s just a few minutes walk from Pralognan itself, which has two grocery shops – a Sherpa and a Petit Casino. The latter is actually quite big, and you won’t struggle finding all you need food-wise. Camping Gaz was hard to find, and the only place stocking it was a souvenir shop named “Les Campanes”. There are many gear shops in the town, as well as eateries of all different shapes and sizes – I recommend “Le Restaurant du Tourisme” for take-away pizzas at around €10 each. Importantly, there is a Bureau des Guides, who will give information about route conditions and who also sell climbing guides for the local area, usually in the form of photocopies of hand-drawn route descriptions (everything from local sport crags to multipitch rock routes in the mountains).

The weather we had was mixed: The first week consisted of heatwave temperatures in the valley reaching the mid-thirties and perfectly clear skies with only the odd shower; The second week was considerably wetter and we had a good few days of solid rain. All this meant that we only managed two Alpine routes (both in the first week), but this didn’t really matter as we did some fantastic walking, climbing and running in the second week:

All route descriptions I offer in the following posts are solely descriptions under the conditions we found when we were out there and should be treated justly. It is worth at least checking out other people’s trip reports and generic route descriptions such as those on Camp to Camp. I’d be being hypocritical to recommend buying a guidebook, as we didn’t and got by on route descriptions from Camp to Camp, but I would at least recommend having a look at the book Topo de la Vanoise – which can be found in the book shop in Pralognan for €26 (and I confess to checking our routes in the book in said bookshop to confirm what I’d read on Camp to Camp was correct).

After arriving at the campsite

After arriving at the campsite on Sunday morning. Petit Mont Blanc can be seen in the distance.

‘C’ Ordinary Route on Dow Crag

It’s the day before we (me and Lorna) head out to the Vanoise National Park in the Alps, and I’ve finally managed to catch up on writing blog posts! This one is about a day out we had on Monday – a final bit of Alps training and a final chance to make the most of the weather.

For a while we have been wanting to repeat Giant’s Crawl, a brilliant Diff route on one of the Lakes’ most popular crags, Dow Crag. With that in mind, we decided to head up to Dow Crag on Monday morning and go for a climb. However, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to do another three-star Diff on the crag that neither of us had done before – the Ordinary Route on C Buttress – as it would be much better “Alps practice” to do a route we’d never done before. I’d also read that the route was better than Giant’s Crawl, and after being recommended it by a guy I was working with at the weekend, the final decision was made.

Top of pitch five (i.e. our pitch three)

Top of pitch five (i.e. our pitch three)

We went for a “lightweight” approach, well, as lightweight as you can get with climbing gear. Owing to the weather, the waterproofs were ditched and replaced with a thin insulated jacket “just in case”. We sweated our way up to Goats Tarn, before checking the route and heading to the lowest part of the crag, which is where the climb starts from. I lead the first pitch, and no sooner had I brought Lorna up, another two groups arrived at the bottom of the climb – phew, just in time! Lorna lead the second pitch, before I accidentally joined pitches three, four and five together. This wouldn’t have been a problem, had it not been for the rope drag which made dragging myself up the slabs on pitch five hard work. The climbing was relatively straight forward, but in a fantastic position we great exposure – I can see where it gets its three stars from! Lorna take over once more for pitch six, which was by-far-and-away the crux of the route (though whether we were actually on the route is debatable). I was glad of the rope above me as I teetered around a protruding bulge before awkwardly pulling myself over a block with little hand-holds and plenty of exposure – good lead Lorna! The final pitch added some excitement in the form of a rightwards traversing gangway that threw me a bit off balance. I soon topped out onto Easy Terrace (another route on the crag that gets a grade 3 scrambling grade) and belayed from a massive block.

Lorna leading the crux pitch - the difficulties lie just above

Lorna leading the crux pitch – the difficulties lie just above

The difficulties weren’t quite over, and we struggled finding our way up the buttress directly behind the climb – we headed around to the right before branching up left, whereas I think in retrospect the best approach would be to follow Easy Terrace leftwards for a short while first, as we eventually found a path coming from that direction. After summitting, we descended via Blind Tarn, which gave us an opportunity to take a dip in the refreshingly cold waters without the crowds of people that we gathered around Goats Tarn.

Topping out on Dow Crag

Topping out on Dow Crag

Corvus: How to avoid the queues

How to avoid the queues on one of the Lakes’ most popular multipitches? By bivvying, of course! If you’ve read my last few posts you’ll have seen a recent trend of making the most of this fantastic weather we’ve been having recently, whilst get in some quality Alps training. Lorna and me were joined by Mouse, Calum and Sarah for a weekend in Borrowdale.

The weekend started off on the Saturday with a hot and sweaty slog up Sour Milk Gill to gain the summit of Green Gable. The plan for the day: A 20km semi-horseshoe over Green Gable, Brandreth and Grey Knotts, before descending to Buttermere and reascending to return via Robinson, Hindscarth and Dale Head. The toughest part was, as expected, the drag back up from Buttermere to Robinson. We decided to take the steep path skirting east of Goat Crag to gain the summit directly, and it really was quite tortuous in the intense afternoon sun. We had the summits to ourselves (except for a passing Bob Graham round heading the other direction) and it soon became worth all the effort.

Buttermere from Fleetwith Pike

Buttermere from Fleetwith Pike

Back at the car park in Seatoller, we had our tea and packed our bags with climbing gear, before setting off for the 2km walk-in up Combe Gill to the base of Raven Crag. As was expected, the bivvy was particularly midgey, but this time I was armed with a midge net and so had a much more comfortable night than last weekend.

Mouse's midge-proof bivvy setup

Mouse’s midge-proof bivvy setup

We were up early, and were greeted by a fantastic cloud inversion as we made our way up to the base of the climb (Corvus, D***), which we arrived at for 7am. Me and Lorna took alternate leads, whilst Mouse led the other two up behind us. I lead the first pitch, which after a few delicate traversing moves at the top led nicely onto a damp ledge for the belay. Lorna took over for pitch two – a groove that took a little bit of tought – before I combined three and four together. Pitch three was a scrambling traverse left-wards across the crag, whilst pitch four was back in the vertical with an awkward chimney graced with hand-holds aplenty – a bit of a squeeze with a rucksack on! Lorna took over once more for pitch five, which this time was a right-wards scrambling traverse, and that left me with the fantastic and (in)famous Hand Traverse pitch – a 10m traverse on a vertical wall with fantastic hand holds but a bit lacking in the footholds. I teetered my way off the belay ledge and onto the traverse, placing a nut pretty much straight away. The next few moves were a bit bare on gear, before a good ledge-like foothold was reached with a couple of great cam placements above (I was glad I took the advice of the guide I had read that recommended taking cams). The final few moves of the traverse again didn’t have any decent footholds to speak of, and after pulling myself up onto the next belay ledge my arms breathed a sigh of relief. I decided to belay there so I could lean out an take a few photos of Lorna making the traverse – which has equally as severe consequences for the second as it does for the leader. Lorna combined the next few pitches together, and we were soon at the top of the crag, basking in the bright morning sunlight whilst sorting out our gear.

The cloud inversion burning off in the early-morning sun

The cloud inversion burning off in the early-morning sun

The climb (Corvus, D***), which takes a devious route up Raven Crag

The climb (Corvus, D***), which takes a devious route up Raven Crag

The fantastic Hand Traverse pitch (on that good foothold I was talking about)

The fantastic Hand Traverse pitch (on that good foothold I was talking about)

Lorna following me over the Hand Traverse

Lorna following me over the Hand Traverse

The climb deserves every one of its three stars, and the Hand Traverse more than makes up for the broken-up nature of actual climbing pitches. We headed down over Thonrythwaite Fell, descending steeply eastwards off the its northern ridge to collect our bivvy gear. Setting off early was definitely the right choice, as we could see many other groups on the route which we’d had to ourselves.

P.S. Did you know? “Corvus” translates to “Raven”, and the climb is on Raven Crag.

Attack of the flies: Why not to bivvy without a midge net!

It’s not often that you get perfectly still bright sunny days out in Snowdonia, which probably describes why bringing a midge net didn’t even cross my mind on a bivvy trip me and Lorna did a couple of weeks ago. Bad mistake…

The Saturday was spent enjoying an impressive spectrum of colours and smells in the gardens of Powis Castle with my Mum and Dad, before we all headed to Snowdonia on the Sunday. The plan was for us to do a walk on Sunday and then for them leave me and Lorna there few a couple of days of Alps training. The walk we chose was the popular Carnedd Llewellyn horseshoe from Llyn Ogwen – comprising of the summits of Pen yr Ole Wen, Carnedd Daffydd and Carnedd Llewellyn. It’s a route I know well, but one that Lorna hasn’t done for many years. Unexpectedly, it was quite cloudy and Carnedd Llewellyn – the highest mountain in Wales outside of the Snowdon range – has a whispy covering for most of the day. It was still very hot though, and this made for hard work; by the time we were back at the car I hardly felt like the walk-in to our bivvy spot of Llyn Bochlwyd!

Powis Castle

Powis Castle

Clouds rolling over the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen

Clouds rolling over the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen

We picked the windiest spot we could find for the evening, though that only amounted to the odd breath every now and then. After a quick swim, we settled down for our tea of couscous and quiche, and before too long a black cloud of midges had descended. Even after applying Avon Skin So Soft (which apparently is a good midge repellent, though I’m not so sure I agree now), we were still being plagued, and so headed to bed. Unfortunately for me, the drawstring closure on my bivvy bag (an Alpkit Hunka) doesn’t close properly, and even if you do close it properly it’s very difficult to breathe inside the bag – a bit of a design flaw. This meant that I was still being plagued and after an hour or so of torture I gave in and somehow managed to squeeze into Lorna’s hooped bivvy bag (it’s a good job we’re both thin!) and finally got some sleep.

Lovely sun set

Lovely sun set

 

Main Gully Ridge, 3***

The midges were still out in full force the next morning, and so our breakfast of Sainsbury’s Basics scotch pancakes (surprisingly tasty!) was rather rushed. We dumped our gear around the far side of the Llyn and started the slog up to the base of our route – the three-star grade 3 scramble of Main Gully Ridge on Glyder Fach’s northern face. The route follows a vague ridge line that borders Main Gully on the right, before traversing left across the Chasm Face and joining up with other routes on the face for a few hundred metres of fantastic grade 1/2 scrambling. Even though it was only 7am, it was already very hot work and we had to have a large rest at the base of the route to recover.

The line of Main Gully Ridge, 3***

The line of Main Gully Ridge, 3***

We decided to move together at the start, but after gaining the ridge by an easy groove I was presented with a foothold-less chest high block that I didn’t like the look of. I think the guidebook talked about “pulling strenuously over a block”… I shouted down for Lorna to put me on belay, placed my trusty number 4 nut safely in a crack and awkwardly heaved myself over the obstacle. The next couple of steps weren’t much easier and so Lorna stayed belaying me whilst I worked my way up the difficulties, placing a few slings along the way. After creating a nice belay, I brought her up before pitching the next bit again to overcome pretty much all of the difficulties that the route posed. It is this section that gives the ridge its grade 3 rating.

The start of the grade 1 Main Gully (left) and Main Gully Ridge (right)

The start of the grade 1 Main Gully (left) and Main Gully Ridge (right)

From then on, we moved together, practicing placing gear on the rope between us even though it (or the rope) weren’t really necessary at this point. This style of movement – moving together in “Alpine style” – is different to usual “pitched” climbing in that no belays are taken and both climbers move at the same time. It is generally used on “easier” ground where the chance of a fall is less but still present, and it is typically used in Alpine ascents where moving at speed is imperative. Coils of rope are taken around the chest to leave 10-20m of rope between climbers (depending on how hard the ground is). The leader places gear – known as runners, as the rope runs through them – which the second then removes, trying to keep two or three bits of gear on the rope at the same time. The rope can also be wound around rocks to help increase the friction in the event of a fall.

Moving together at the top of Main Gully Ridge

Moving together at the top of Main Gully Ridge

This initial plan was to then drop down to Llyn Bochlwyd, pick up our bivvy gear and walk over to the base of the Clogwyn y Person arete for the following morning. However, we were both far too worn out (I blame the heat!) and so instead we simply headed down the Gribin ridge and stayed at Llyn Bochlwyd for a second night – totalling an impressive 3km for the first day’s walking! Of course, being the weather as it was, another swim was simply compulsory!

Lovely views of Castell y Gwynt and Glyder Fawr

Lovely views of Castell y Gwynt and Glyder Fawr

 

Bristly Ridge

It wasn’t quite as midgey on the Monday night, but I still had to resort to Lorna’s bivvy bag again. The following day, instead of climbing again, we thought it would be a good option to take our bivvy gear with us and walk out to Capel Curig over Bristly Ridge. This proved as strenuous as I had feared it would be with 15 kg of gear on my back (I weighed it when we got home!), but it definitely served good Alps practice. For me, Bristly Ridge surpasses most other scrambles I’ve done – it is such a good quality route for its grade, and there is lots of exposure to be had by taking the most direct line.

The Great Pinnacle. The way down in to the right.

The Great Pinnacle. The way down in to the right.

There are lots of feral goats on the Gylders. It's impressive watching them negotiate the steep rocky steps that us humans struggle with!

There are lots of feral goats on the Gylders. It’s impressive watching them negotiate the steep rocky steps that us humans struggle with!

The walk out seemed to go on forever, made only worse by hoards of horse flies that bugged us (pun intentional!) for most of the descent of Y Foel Goch. After what seemed like an age, we arrived back in Capel and caught the bus to Betws-y-Coed and then the train back to Chester, via Llandudno Junction.

Exploring the hills of south Wales

I have very fond childhood memories of holidays in and around Hay-on-Wye, and some of my first ever hills (albeit carried on my Dad’s back!) I went up were Black Hill and Hay Bluff in the Black Mountains. Of recent, however, they’ve become somewhat neglected in favour of the bigger mountains of Scotland, and it’s not very often that we get the chance to travel south to explore the hills of south Wales once more. Another bank holiday weekend meant another chance for a few days away in the mountains, and as my parents and aunt and uncle (Paula and Pete) were heading to Pencelli – just outside Brecon – we decided to tag along to make the most of the opportunity.

The campsite was Pencelli Castle, which is probably one of the most expensive campsites in the UK. The facilities are good and the site very well maintained and with a lovely atmosphere, but I find it hard to see how they justify £23.80 per night for two people in a small backpacking tent – you can stay in a youth hostel for much less than that!

We headed to the quieter Black Mountains on the Saturday, and did a brilliant loop of Black Hill and Hay Bluff from the Glospel Pass. It was a lengthy but enjoyable walk in down the quiet and peaceful Monnow Valley – to the east of Black Hill. We traversed the entire length of the hill, over open fields and through wooded paths, before joining the more popular main route up from the southern tip of its south-eastern ridge. The ridge itself is spectacular, offering a good deal of exposure but always on a good solid path. I’ve come to think of the Black Mountains as big rounded lumps, so this surprised me a bit! From the main summit, myself and Lorna – under the false promise that point 703m directly to the west was another Nuttall – hacked across the heathery mass of open moorland to gain the Offa’s Dkye as it passed over, before jogging along it to catch up with the others who had taken the more conventional route to the summit of Hay Bluff (which was “deleted” from the Nuttall’s list a number of years ago for not having the required prominence).

 

Black Hill's southern ridge

Black Hill’s southern ridge

 

The pub we were heading to for tea wasn’t open until 7pm, and we were well ahead of schedule at this point. Fortunately, the weather was, as it had been all day, nigh-on perfect – warm sunny skies with just the odd breath of a cooling breeze from the south. This meant it was perfectly comfortable to lounge around in the sun, and we did so whilst watching the scores of paragliders attempting to take off (albeit somewhat unsuccessfully for the most part) from the summit. Those that did manage to take off and caught the updrafts correctly soon soared thousands of feet above us – mere dots in the sky. It looked like mighty good fun and I made a mental note to check out how much it would cost to get a license.

Paragliders on the summit of Hay Bluff

Paragliders on the summit of Hay Bluff

Pete and Paula chose the pub – the Bull’s Head in Craswall. It’s a unique little place with great beer and cider straight out the box, and absolutely delicious food. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area, even if it’s just for a drink!

The campsite on Sunday morning

The campsite on Sunday morning

The following day, we joined hoards of others on the route up Pen-y-Fan from the Storey Arms. We continued along the ridge, taking in all of the Brecon Beacons’ main summits in our traverse which ended up back at the campsite in Pencelli, via the Royal Oak for a well-deserved pint of course! The weather was, again, hot and sunny, and we used the opportunity once more to have an hour-long snooze on the summit of Cribyn. The route got steadily less tourist-tastic the further away from the Storey Arms we got, and we had the final few miles almost all to ourselves.

Lorna infront of Fan-y-Big

Lorna infront of Fan-y-Big

This traverse is one of my favourite routes in area, if not the country. It takes in some fantastically interesting scenery with some lovely views. The Beacons themselves are quite unique and I struggle to find anywhere else in the UK quite like them. From a distance, they look like that they should be made up of rocky crags and buttress, but up close you realise that most near-vertical slopes are mostly turf and grass.

We couldn’t have the weather completely our own way, and it got considerably cloudier, windier and wetter for the bank holiday Monday itself. As we were driving back that afternoon, a shorter route was picked, up Fan Frynych from Cwm Du. The route passed through the Craig Cerrig Gleisiad Nature Reserve, a beautiful area playing host to many rare Arctic-Alpine plants, and it made a great change from the previous day.

Summit of Fan Frynych

Summit of Fan Frynych

All three walks were completely different, re-affirming to me that south Wales is one of the best walking areas in the UK, with so much to offer. I’m already looking forward to our next visit to the area!

A week in Snowdonia

It felt a bit strange packing ice axes, crampons and full winter gear when setting off for a week in Snowdonia for my summer Mountain Leader (ML) assessment, but such is the weather of the UK! Most ML courses being run last week were actually cancelled, but fortunately Snowdonia First Aid, who were running my assessment, were imaginative enough to think up a plan to still get in all the necessary stuff but whilst (nearly) avoiding the snow. The plan involved a trip to Holyhead Mountain for the “steep ground” day, a small but very complex sub-400-metre-high hill south of Beddgelert and a two-night expedition to the northern Rhinogs.

I headed up a few days before my course began, under the premise of getting some last-minute practise in. However, the lure of the pristine snow-covered summits was too strong and I spent a good deal of my time exploring Snowdonia under a not-insignificant blanket of the white stuff.

The broad northern ridge of Moel Eilio

The broad northern ridge of Moel Eilio

I got a lift to Llanberis with my Mum and Dad on the Friday, and we went for a walk up Moel Eilio, one of my favourite hills in the area. Its gentle slopes are more akin to the Lake District than Snowdonia, but it offers some grand views over to the Snowdon range. Indeed, if you’re feeling energetic, it offers a great way up Snowdonia’s highest peak. There was a good amount of snow and ice, and crampons became necessary for the final part of the ascent. Take a look at the picture of the summit shelter, which was encased in a thick layer of ice – something I’ve never seen before!

Summit shelter of Moel Eilio

Summit shelter of Moel Eilio

Back in Llanberis, we tried the little cafe attached to Joe Brown’s corner shop, called “The Pantri”. I make a point of mentioning this as they served a particularly good cup of coffee, something which is quite a rareity in Wales!

Starting the ascent of Tryfan

Starting the ascent of Tryfan

After a rather chilly night at the campsite in Llanberis, the following day I decided to combine nav practice with a bit of fun in the snow. The fun comprised of the north ridge of Tryfan, whilst the nav practice came the other side of the Glyders, just off the Miner’s Track. There was a veritable motorway of mountaineers ascending Tryfan, obviously all making the most of the Alpine-esque conditions. The route was challenging in places, and definitely warrants its winter climbing grade of I/II, especially with the amount of snow that was about. Said snow transformed the fun summer scramble into a real mountaineering route and made the summit feel a lot taller than its 914m.

Last section of the north ridge of Tryfan

Last section of the north ridge of Tryfan

Impressive drifts in Bwlch Tryfan!

Impressive drifts in Bwlch Tryfan!

The following day, I rather reluctantly decided that I should concentrate solely on nav, and so devised a route up the ridge to the north of the Llanberis path. This ridge would make a fantastic route up for anyone wanting to avoid the crowds up the Llanberis path itself, offering grand views of Snowdon, Moel Cynghorion and Llanberis.

Snowdon from near the summit of Tryfan (no, not that one!)

Snowdon from near the summit of Tryfan (no, not that one!)

Moel Cynghorion glistening away in the sun

Moel Cynghorion glistening away in the sun

I dropped down to the Llanberis path later in the day, mainly to marvel at the masses of tourists attempting the ascent in their trainers and jeans, with no gear whatsoever. A scene of chaos was ensuing just below the Clogwyn station, where the path steepened and the cramponless tourists where desperately slipping and sliding all over the place. I hasten to add that, for me at least, crampons were necessary at this point, where hundreds of boots had trodden the snow into a lethal icy slope. I hung around for a while to make sure some struggling parties descended safely, before making the decent myself. Unsurprisingly, and to reassure you that I wasn’t exaggerating, Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team were called out that evening to assist a group that were stuck on the same slope.

For a bit of comfort and relative luxury, I booked myself into Pete’s Eats bunkhouse for the ML assessment itself, and it was there that I stayed on Sunday night. I was impressed by the place, which was very clean and which boasted a self-catering kitchen (hobs and microwave, no oven), large flat-screen TV and importantly, nice and powerful showers.

The next day – the first of the assessment – was spent seeking out little contour features and the like on Moel y Dyniewyd. Our instructor, Steve Howe from Snowdonia First Aid, gave us each features to navigate to in turn, whilst the others tried to follow the legs blind and point out where we were at the end. Although a bit nerve-wracking at first, I soon settled into it and started to enjoy the challenge of navigating through the undulating terrain of this little hill.

Day two of the assessment focused on “steep ground” work at Holyhead Mountain. This covered everything from managing groups up steep rocky or grassy terrain, through to confidence roping nervous individuals and setting up impromptu belays for emergency situations. The ML award is seeing a diminishing amount of rope work, due to the argument that if an ML is using a rope they are out of their remit area. However, I would argue that the basic skills taught are invaluable should a leader find a member of their party needs help on ground that is definitely within the ML remit, which from experience can sometimes be the case. The kind of ground I am talking about is easy scrambling such as Striding Edge, or just steep scree slopes such as that to the east of Bristly Ridge. As a climber, I’m glad to have learnt these techniques that can be used without a harness or indeed any other gear than the rope itself.

South Stacks lighthouse on Anglesey

South Stacks lighthouse on Anglesey

The remaining three days and two night were the “expedition” part of the assessment. In an attempt to avoid the snow, we traveled down to the northern Rhinogs and the Wednesday morning, and Helen took over from Steve in assessing us. That day, we followed a similar pattern to day one, each taking turns to navigate to certain features. We also got assessed on picking a suitable wild camping location (which proved harder than we initially thought!) and general “campcraft” skills. Our chosen location for the first night was beside a partly-frozen Llyn Caerwych, the ice on the llyn hinting at how cold it was! That night, we were assessed on our night navigation, in a similar fashion to the daytime navigation.

Llyn Caerwych - the campsite for night one

Llyn Caerwych – the campsite for night one

The terrain around the northern Rhinogs is very complex and made for great testing ground. The area is truly beautiful and also unfrequented – a refreshing change to the hustle-bustle of central Snowdonia over the Easter weekend. In the whole three days we were there, we only saw two other people. Because of the snow (which is definitely outside the summer ML remit), we didn’t head up onto any of the summits, which has definitely given me an incentive to revisit the area and explore some more.

The second day of the expedition was similar in format to the first. The night nav this evening was a bit more challenging, or the terrain turned from the boggy grassland it had been the previous evening to heather-covered fields strewn with boulders and crags to negotiate – which I’m told is quite stereotypical of the Rhinogs! The following morning, we walked back out to the cars and were back in Pete’s Eats for our debrief at 1030. Helen commented that it was one of the coldest ML courses she’d been on, and I agree – my insulated jacket didn’t come off for the entirety of day two!

Campsite for night two, by Nant Steicyn

Campsite for night two, by Nant Steicyn

I’m pleased to say that I passed the assessment and also learnt quite a lot from the week and the people who were on the assessment. Anyone’s progression through the outdoor world is an ever-learning one and I look forward to learning and experiencing much more in the years to come – be it when leading groups, with groups of friends, or just out on my own.

First time around the Kentmere Horseshoe

I decided that due to the brilliant weather forecast last Tuesday, I’d take a day off the PhD and head up to the Lakes with Lorna, Imogen and their Dad. I’ve been itching to do the Kentmere Horseshoe for quite a while, and seeing it bathed in the sunshine the week before whilst we drove straight past cemented the idea in my mind.

We struggled to find a parking place in Kentmere, but fortunately just as we were driving out of the village, one of the locals offered us use of his drive! The weather was just as good as we expected it to be, and we got some stunning view heading up the Garburn Pass out of Kentmere. A lot of the Lakes had a clear inversion layer just below the summits, and whilst the Kentmere hills didn’t, it was beautiful to see.

From the summit of Froswick. Great inversion layer going on in the distance!

From the summit of Froswick. Great inversion layer going on in the distance!

We headed north from the Garburn Pass, over Yoke, Ill Bell and Froswick, ending up on Thornthwaite Crags. There was quite a bit of snow and it was very consolidated, which made descending some of the steeper slopes a bit tricky without crampons. The summit of Thornthwaite Crags was crowded with people and their dogs – presumably most had come up from the north as the Kentmere hills themselves were relatively quiet.

Summit of Froswick again.

From here, it was on to Mardale Ill Bell and then down the Nan Bield Pass to Kentmere Reservoir and back to Kentmere. I took note of some of the gullies onto the Yoke – Thornthwaite ridge, and there looked to be a multitude of easy gullies and interested mixed lines that I haven’t seen described in any book. I was a bit annoyed I couldn’t take another day off and come back armed with climbing gear.

A rather busy Thornthwaite Crags.

We’ve been really lucky with the weather recently and I felt very grateful to be out in the Lakes in such good conditions.

More sun on the Isle of Skye

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was last on Skye, but the Hiking Club was running a Jubilee bank holiday weekend trip to Skye for four nights, and as a driver I got the trip for £20, so I couldn’t really miss out on the opportunity! This trip took place from 1-6 June.

Elgol

Boats in Elgol Harbour

It was rather dull when we left Lancaster on Friday afternoon, but the further north we headed, the better the weather got. Rannoch Moor and its surrounding mountains looked fantastic as we drove over it in the evening light. After a few stops at Lesmahagow (for chips!), Hamilton (for tents), Luss (to swap drivers) and Fort William (for money for the campsite), we finally arrived at the campsite in Sligachan at just before midnight. It was still surprisingly light and I managed to pitch my tent without a head torch.

Saturday

The next day, we decided to ease ourselves in with a walk up the fantastic mountain Bla Bheinn (Blaven). It’s the only Munro on the island not on the main Cuillin Ridge, but arguably offers better views. When there sun is out and there are no clouds, the panoramas from the summits are simply stunning. The traverse of Bla Bheinn and its neighbour Clach Glas is a mountaineering classic, offering extremely exposed climbing at Diff level. Unfortunately I only read about the traverse after I’d got home and so it was too late! As it was, our ascent up the eastern ridge gave plenty of fun scrambling opportunities.

Bla Bheinn

Bla Bheinn south west top from the main summit

Blaven

On the south west summit of Bla Bheinn

After the walk, we drove further down the road to the little harbour of Elgol, and spent a while exploring its rocky beach and interesting sea cliffs. Boats from Elgol will take you to the beautiful secluded Loch Coruisk.

Elgol

The Black Cuillin from the beach at Elgol

The In Pinn

Mouse taking shelter under the In Pinn

Richard, Mouse and myself had planned an Alpine start on the Cuillin ridge for the following day, and so that evening we drove the minibus down the Glen Brittle and bivvyed outside. The Alpine start was for a number of reasons: To avoid crowds on the In Pinn; to avoid the heat of the midday sun, which I never thought would be a problem on Skye; simply to give us more time to get more of the ridge done and; it’s good practice for the Alps! After a rather uncomfortable night’s sleep with a large rocky digging into my back, we were up at 4am and walking for twenty-past.

Sunday

Our route was up Coire na Banachdich, firstly to the summit of Sgurr Dearg and the In Pinn. The walk in started without a cloud in the sky, but by the time we had got to the summit, the clouds has rolled in and were whipping up over the summit with impressive speed. The sight of the In Pinn silhouetted against these fast-moving clouds made it look rather daunting. The wind was cold and even with an insulated jacket on I struggled to keep warm at the belay points and on the climb. It was Richard’s first outdoor climb, and what better what to start than with an exposed ridge followed by an even more exposed abseil, all in bitterly cold winds!

After the climb, we took shelter on the other side of the summit and had a bite to eat – I say a bite, neither of us had eaten since breakfast at 4am and I consumed three bagels in quick succession and Mouse demolished a whole Jamaican ginger cake.

For Sgurr Dearg, we followed the ridge towards Sgurr na Banachdich and onwards over Sgurr a Ghredaidh and Sgurr a Mhadaidh. The section after Sgurr na Banachdich is absolutely fantastic – it’s not technically too difficult, but has some fantastically exposed scrambling with breathtaking views. There were a few parties on this section roped up, but we didn’t feel it necessary at all.

Loch Coruisk

Loch Coruisk from the between Sgurr na Banachdich and Sgurr a Greadaidh

Sgurr a Mhadaidh

Me on Sgurr a Mhadaidh

From Sgurr a Mhadaidh, we headed down towards the col before Sgurr Thuilm. This was the descent route described by the book “The Munros” by Cameron McNeish, however we soon found ourselves presented with a knife-edge crest with a number of roped parties climbing towards us. Whilst descent would have been possible, the down climbing wouldn’t necessarily have been easy and we have just got in everyone else’s way who were ascending. We instead cut off the ridge and headed directly down scree interlaced with rocky steps and boulders into Coire a’ Ghreadaidh. In retrospect, the best option would have been to retrace our steps to An Dorus (The Door) and descend the large path from there. In the coire, we stopped by a stream for a good half an hour and took in the afternoon sun. We were back at the minibus for 3pm.

That evening, after Sarah set fire to a trangia by putting petrol into it instead of meths (possibly my fault for storing my petrol by the meths…), we headed to the pub to sample some of the Isle of Skye Brewery’s finest ales – I particularly recommend Pinnacle Ale! We chatted about the day and our adventures – the other group had been up the Corbet Glamaig via some very steep scree slopes.

Monday

I think we must have still been tired from the previous day, because Mouse, Richard and myself all opted for some coastal bagging as opposed to another day on the ridge. We drove north, firstly to the Old Man of Storr. The Old Man is one of many rock stacks protruding from the mountain The Storr, each one as impressive as the next.

Needle Rock

Needle Rock next to The Storr, taken from the base of The Old Man of Storr

Staffin Bay

A bit of promotion for the Hiking Club at Staffin Bay!

For lunch, we headed further up the coast to Staffin Bay, where some brave souls decided to take a dip in the sea – it was a bit cold for me! After a spot of lunch, we drove back to the campsite so everyone else could grab their swimming gear, and then down Glen Brittle to the Fairy Pools. This time, nearly everyone entered the water, but not for long as it was rather cold! The highlight had to be swimming under an underwater arch in one of the many plunge pools.

That evening, we practised a bit of crevasse rescue on the campsite, before heading to the pub once more.

I think we all wished we could have stayed for longer, but the minibus was due back on Wednesday and so unfortunately Tuesday was home time! To break the day up, we set off early in the morning and stopped off a few times along the way. The first stop was at the iconic Eilean Donan castle, near Glen Shiel – we contemplated going in, but it was £6 each and so decided against it. We stopped once more at The Clachaig for lunch, and of course in Lesmes for chips a few hours later!

The combination of good weather and the fact that we were on the island for longer than our usual weekend trips means this trip will stick in my mind for a long time. It was a brilliant weekend!

Eilean Donan castle

Eilean Donan castle

A run around Langdale

Time for more Welsh 1000m Peaks training! I did this run on 29 May 2012.

I thought I’d better try and squeeze another long fell run in before the Welsh 1000m Peaks race, and being car-less meant I was limited to where public transport could get me. Fortunately, the Lakes has a good (but expensive) public transport network and it’s relatively easy to get from Lancaster to Ambleside, albeit with a rather early start. I caught the 7am train to Windermere and then the bus to Ambleside and finally the Old Dungeon Ghyll. I dropped my bags off at the National Trust (who were more than happy to look after them for the day) and set off on my run.

From the Stickle Barn car park, I headed up to Stickle Tarn and then east onto Martcrag Moor. I took a direct (pathless) route across the moor to the Stake Pass and then the runner’s trod up Rosset Pike, finally joining the main path just before Angle Tarn. From here, I went on to Esk Hause and then up Scafell Pike via Great End and Broad Crag.

The run started in heavy cloud cover, but by the time I got off Scafell Pike it had started to clear. There was a surprising amount of people up on the hills for a midweek day, and a worrying number with very little gear or no gear with them.

Scafell Pike

A cloudy summit of Scafell Pike

I next went over Esk Pike and Bow Fell. My plan had been to top up my water bottle from the stream in Ore Gap (between Esk Pike and Bow Fell), but with all the dry weather recently, it had completely dried up. After Bow Fell I was forced to drop down a few hundred metres before I found a small trickle in Buscoe Sike – not ideal but I didn’t have much choice! I tried to pick out the racing line under the scrambly ridge of Crinkle Crags, in practice for the Langdale Horseshoe in October, and I managed to stick to it pretty much perfectly. It fortunately took me over Rest Gill, which was flowing quite fast, and so I replaced the dodgy water I’d acquired previously. The final hill was Pike o’ Blisco and it was the first one that I had to myself. I spent a good 15 minutes sitting around on the summit, taking in the glorious views and sun.

Pike of Blisco

Summit of the Pike of Blisco – lovely and sunny!

Back down in Langdale, I had about an hour to wait until my bus and so had a pint of shandy in the Stickle Barn whilst drying out and watching the world go by – lovely!

Langdale

Back down in Langdale

Howgills with Sir Chris Bonington

Bivvy spot

Bivvy spot first thing in the morning, with Andy Goldsworthy’s work of art behind us.

Report of a trip with LUHC to the Howgill Fells that took place on 27 May 2012.

As chancellor to Lancaster University, legendary mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington occasionally joins us for a walk. We got in touch with him last term and he suggested a trip to the Howgills, as the only other time he’d been up there (apart from a winter ascent of Cautley Spout) was two years ago with the Hiking Club again, and the weather was awful!

It couldn’t have been more different this time around, and the forecast was so good that Lorna, Imogen, Darren and myself decided to bivvy at the top of Cautley Spout the night before. We picked a spot alongside Force Gill Beck, in a sheepfold that it turned out included a work of art by acclaimed artist Andy Gouldworthy, who from 1996-2003 took about in restoring 46 sheepfolds around Cumbria and further afield. It was a bit windy, but once wrapped up warm in my bivvy bag I had a fantastic night looking out at the stars overhead. It stayed surprisingly light all night long.

The morning after, we walked back down to The Cross Keys to meet the minibus and Chris. By then it was already shorts and t-shirts weather. We headed up the side of Cautley Spout and along Force Gill Beck to The Calf. From there, we took the large footpath down to Bowderdale and then back down to the minibus by the Cross Keys. The Cross Keys is one of the only temperance inns left in the UK, and the building dates back over 400 years. It has only been a temperance inn since 1902 however, after the then-landlord drowned trying to rescue a drunken customer who held fallen by the river banking. I was quite surprised to find the Ginger Beer had an alcoholic content of 0.5%!

Cautley Spout

Walking down beside Cautley Spout in the morning.

It was great chatting to Chris about all of his adventures and expeditions and I think he really enjoyed chatting to us about everything from politics to climbing. He has written about the day on his own blog, as well as a bit about how day with the Mountaineering Club the day before.

The Calf

Everyone on the summit of The Calf.