Returning to Skimo

It had been a year since my last (and first) skimo competition. Last season I had grand ambitions of filling my weekends with skimo competitions, possibly slightly ambitious given I had only just moved over to the US. Last year’s competition fell on my very first weekend in the US. I ranked it higher priority than, you know, trivial things like finding my nearest supermarket or studying for my US driving license. 

 

A year on and with slightly more of an idea of what to expect, I made the drive north to Berkshire east to kick off the season. Despite all my best intentions of arriving fresh to the start line the snooze button at 4am was too tempting. In a bid to speed up the morning I had packed the car and prepared breakfast and coffee the night before…The evening prep took much longer than expected. When I finally jumped into bed it felt like only a couple of hours before I was up again and rubbing my eyes awake as we drove north. 

The sunrise revealed an overcast day and as we reached the mountains the wind picked up, trees swaying and snow drifts forming and flowing at the sides of the road. Despite a heavy right foot we still hadn’t made up for the heavy use of the snooze button. Wife’s are useful for times like these for any extra pair of legs to help run around sorting the pre-race entry and parking the car.

Entry complete and caffeine level replenished we all stood together on the start line - a mixture of either Lycra clad, carbon covered racers to those with the intentions of maximising the workout with heavier telemark skis or setups designed more for a short hike from a nearby lift ideally. I was one of the latter, the additional weight of my skis were clearly going to make a significant difference to my time and general efficiencies over the mountain. After a year of hunting for the best American BBQ, burning off as much energy as possible fitted the bill perfectly. This year I opted for the short course rather than the full. Mainly due to preferring not to be spend as much time boot packing (hiking uphill with skis on my back) on this occasion. 

As the starter went, the group made a dash up the hill. Everyone letting the more competent and quicker competitors to go first. Soon a line was spread out up the mountain with our skis sliding beneath us. Compared to last year the cooler conditions felt much more enjoyable. Making it to the top of the first hill and I got tempted by the longer course for a lap. The shorter course is much more about taking part aspect so doing a hybrid certainly when I wasn't in a competitive position wasn't going to affect anyone. Skins off and tucked into my already sweaty top I skied back down the mountain before applying my skins and heading back up the mountain. The next stage included a couple of boot packing sections. Hidden amongst the trees and what felt at times like I was hiking up a small frozen stream with ski boots on I slipped, slide and scrambled my way up hill. At times trying to perch on anything I could. Trees, rocks and anything poking out from the snow became a possible hand hold. I am sure there is a better techniques for this but on this occasion it wasn't coming to me. I wasn't helped by my poor attempt at strapping my skis to my bag - resulting in my skis smacking off my helmet with every other step. Good thing it wasn’t my head. A final skin up and it was time to ski all the way back to the base of the mountain for round 2 of 3.

For the next 2 rounds I went back to my original plan of not boot packing and purely skinning and skiing. As the field spread out working out who was on what loop and which course became increasingly hard. Nonetheless I mostly ended up skiing along with someone for at least part of the lap,  which provided some distraction from my now burning legs as we headed up hill again. The second lap went by without any hiccups, my transitions seemed to be improving between skinning up and getting them off as quickly as possible before skiing back down the mountain. 

The third lap and my energy levels were beginning to dip a bit. I munched down some food and finished the last few remaining drips off water in my water platypus pack. As I was eating and drinking though I knew I had missed timed it. At this stage it would not give me much of benefit compared to if I had started slightly earlier. A learning for the next one.

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A tough race, but brilliant! The thing I really enjoy with skimo is how it uses so many different muscles and the satisfaction (smug feeling) you get from self-powering your way up the mountain. It certainly makes me appreciate the ski down much more than if I just jump on a lift. 

 

Its all about earning your turns.

In terms of top tips that I have learnt so far from doing skimo

1) know the course as best you can. It can be difficult converting a not to scale map of a resort with the various sections so ideally visit the area. 

2) practise taking your skins on and off your skis as well as how to pack them away.

3) most importantly enjoy the experience and hopefully you will end up doing it a few times. 

Something new! - cross country skiing

Despite my time spent pulling a pulk, the skills and techniques although similar to cross country are also certainly very different. With both pulk pulling and cross country skiing you are trying to build up speed as efficiently as possible. But having to drag additional 60 - 100kg’s or so of weight behind you certainly slows you down, makes you more cumbersome and changes your concept of speed. Pulk pulling uses large snow boots and bindings that clamp your foot onto the ski, kind of like a snowboarding binding. In comparison the cross country setup feels incredibly sleek and light weight. So despite having done some cross country skiing in Scotland (when the conditions allowed) it was time to get out on the slopes in the US. 

 

We are slightly spoilt for choice in the northeast US. With a trip to Lake Placid on the cards (home to the 1983 and 1932 winter Olympic Games), we had the opportunity to have a blast round their cross country course. The conditions had been pretty warm along with a forecast of rain, so going downhill skiing was a bit less tempting. Heading over to the the venue and we soon found ourselves kitted out with all the gear. Having spent years downhill skiing the difference in weight and feel of the kit still amazes me (comfy!). Admittedly the boots we had were very much the recreational type but its much more like wearing trainers (sneakers) compared to the heavy, rigid boots for skiing or snowboarding. And the bindings only clip the very tip of your toe to the ski. After a few pointers we were out on the course doing laps of the place - imagining ourselves as Olympians flying round the course in style (albeit a fair bit slower)! Having watched the olympics and the speed with which they can go round it is going to take some time and practise to reach those levels. That said, cross country skiing is relatively easy for snow newbies to pick up and much less intimidating than facing a steep downhill slope. I really recommend it if you are ever looking for a snow sport with friends of varying levels of ski skills and fitness. 

 

The course started in a large opening between the lodge and the old start line. There were kids, teens, grown-ups, octogenarians and even nonagenarians! flying all over the place with varying degrees of control, most of them a lot better than myself, clearly enjoying themselves and making the most of the break in the weather. We headed from the opening up towards the woods. The ice conditions in parts made for some interesting skiing as we got used to this relatively new sport. Particularly the descents, where despite being short and not very steep became quite challenging as I shot towards a tree…  That said the majority was of the snow was softening up making it slower and easier for us, the woodland had protected the course from the worst of the conditions. (Tip for newbies: fresh fluffy snow or wet slushy snow are the easiest to learn on. Hard packed icy snow is great for adrenalin junkies! When in doubt call ahead and ask the lodge for advice on what time of day to go).

On the other side of the venue there was a competition taking place. Passing some sections we could hear cheers and clapping with the occasional glimpse of a racer shooting past. It certainly gave us an appreciation for the speed that you see the racers going!

After a few hours the sky began to threaten with a few splots of rain. Time to head indoors to taste our first maple steamer - a perfect warm combination of milk and local maple syrup to end. We will certainly be back for more and hopefully to try out skate skiing.

 

Catskills 3500

Not long after moving to the US I came across the Appalachian mountain club in my search for some backcountry skiing. After chatting with some fellow skiers they introduced me to the Catskills 3500 club. It's a group who wish to climb the highest 35 peaks in the state of New York. To "officially complete" the 35 peaks you have to repeat 4 specific ones in winter as well. Since spending more time with the guys  and girls in the group many have finished their first round and are now well into multiple rounds. More on that later.

 the 35 peaks within the Catskills

the 35 peaks within the Catskills

 

Every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year they have a selection of hikes. One free weekend earlier I got in touch with the groups leader. Not long later we got a reply saying we were all good to join them. These guys volunteer their personal time to take other folk up the mountains. There are of course safety briefings and waivers to be signed but none the less a cool experience just being able to rock up and meet someone who knows the mountains, surrounding areas and of course where to get some great food and drink afterwards. 

First up was a couple of mountains called Vly and Bearpen. It was described as a bush wack. Sounding much more like an exploration through the Australian outback than some mountains in the north east of the USA. Which a bit like "mountains in Scotland" are not quite the alps but some brilliant playgrounds nonetheless.

Waking at the crack of dawn we made our way up north on what has become a standard weekend route. Coming across an ideally placed Starbucks on route for a coffee boost before the walk. This was also to become part of our Catskills hiking routine as long as we hadn't overslept the 5 or 5.30 am alarm on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  

Rocking up we met up with a whole variety of people who had travelled from near and relatively far to hike these mountains. Unlike the vast majority of the UK version of 3000+ ft's these mountains turned out to be coated in a landscape of trees. Making it difficult to see or in some cases know when you have reached the summit. 

We made our way up a muddy track past some go kart like off road vehicles making our way steadily up the mountain. The canopy of trees above us shading us from the increase heat of the sun as it began to rise above us. We soon reached the point where the "bushwack" began. A cross road and the saddle between the two peaks. Turning off the main path we wondered along what looked like a sheep track heading in a meandering fashion upwards. The odd tree marked with a blue splosh which turned out to indicate the boundary of a local land owner. The false summits came across even more bizarre as with all the trees in the way it was seriously challenging to work out whether the peak had been reached with no visual clues to go by. We passed a sign marking the crossing of 3500ft and the start of the no camping zone. Rounding the corner we came to a clearing with a can suspended high up on one of the trees. It turned out this small area marked the summit. Opening the can up we signed our names to show we had completed the hike to the top before turning back round and heading down to the saddle of the mountain. It was still mid morning as we reached the saddle. Being out in the hills in a new environment felt like an incredible experience and with it still being mid morning by the time we reached the saddle where we had cut off the main track very satisfying to think we had seized the day to get up here so early. 

Vly down and on wards and up wards to Bear pen.

One of the cool aspects of these mountains is how visible the changes in flora are as the altitude and direction of the slope change. From dark and damp corners with lush vegetation dripping with droplets of water to the upper slopes covered in pines which look stunted in growth. We also witnessed areas on a number of summits showing what happens when the trees are cleared. Although revealing gorgeous views over the valley the irony is the scar left on this lookout point of a treeless, dry, bare patch of soil and rock on what otherwise from above looks like a pristine environment.

We meandered our way past a closed up cottage which made me think of the books I read on cabins in the far flung reaches of Canada and Alaska such as in call of the wild. 

Heading up the hill we soon made it to the top. I was thinking it would be more like the alps with treeless summits and potentially the chance for some paragliding. Instead the narrow passages back down the mountain between trees Im sure would make for a daunting if not virtually impossible take off point. We came across another group who had a 70 and 80 year old in their group. I very much hope I'm still hiking up mountains at that age!! As we got chatting to the group it transpires one of them had once owned a now long gone ski slope that was once situated on the mountain. Some remnants of the lift we still evident on the hill side. 

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A quick bite to eat we headed back down the way we had come and out to the cars at the base of the hill. Our first two US 3500 footers. The day was still pretty early so we opted for searching out a good place to eat. We came across a place called the gunk house. Recommended in an awesome wee book called 36 hrs in New York and the east coast. Serving up wholesome German inspired food food overlooking mountains and apple orchards. 

 

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Now just 33 summits to complete....

Since then we have knocked off a few more and are almost half way at 23 to go.

If you are in the north east of the US check out:

http://catskill-3500-club.org/ - for the catskills 3500 club

http://www.outdoors.org/ - for the Appalachian mountain club

And for those in the UK why not set the challenge of the munros, corbetts or wainwrights 

https://www.themountainguide.co.uk/highest/

 

Kite Skiing - In the White Mountains

For the last couple of years I have been playing around with kites trying to get into kite surfing and although I haven’t done masses it is something i have really enjoyed. 

Back in the winter months I met up with Jamie from our Baffin Island expedition with the idea of heading to the white mountains for a spot of kite skiing and any other mountain activities we could squeeze into the time up there. 

A couple of weeks out and the conditions were looking great. We were then hit by a heat wave as I watched the snow quickly melt. It was February and instead of spending the weekend skiing I was down on jersey shore in shorts and a t-shirt flying a kite instead. 

Despite hoping for a final dump of snow it never came as we hit the road for the drive north. Conditions in Quebec looked marginally better but the additional day spent in the car wasn't going to be worthwhile. We soon found ourselves reaching our destination of Conway. A wee town with mountains on its door step. 

The following day we met up with our instructor Zeb who has amassed an amazing breadth of experience in kiting and any activity that involves the mountains to the ocean. The conditions for the week were quite mixed which provided a perfect balance of classroom time going through theory of kite flying as well as working through everything kite related from setting it up to taking it down quickly and under control. All in the warmth of the mountain store. 

Indoor Kiting Skills

 

As conditions improved we headed out to a nearby frozen potato field. Patches of ice shone turquoise blues in the sunshine. Pulling out the kites we laid them on the ground. Stretching out the lines as we had done been practising, it was certainly a different sensation doing it with large mitts on rather than board shorts . The final part of hooking ourselves in and putting our skis on. 

One of the biggest differences of kite skiing vs kite surfing is you don't have the same challenges of the water start and that initial period of having to get just the right amount of pull to get yourself out of the water. Instead you are standing as we launch the kites and as soon as they pick up enough power we are soon gliding across the snow and ice. 

Kiting Conway

As we got more used to the kites and conditions are confidence grew. We were soon zooming across the ice. We would occasionally hit patches of hardened ice where our skis would skip and skid as we tried to find some grip and purchase on our edges. 

 

The next step was heading up wind. This involved digging our edges in even harder  and working the kite in the wind to start tacking in the direction we wanted to head in. Bit by bit we began to get the hang of it making it slightly further up wind with each attempt. There were of course mistakes along the way as we got to grips with the setup. Factoring in trees, the large overhead watering system, the odd pipe and the occasional patch of solid ice was certainly different to kite surfing. And a bit like how I was told there are either paraglider who have hit a tree or those who will the same seems to hold true with kite skiing. As we got one of the kites spectacularly held up in one of the trees. Fortunately there was no spectacular crashes of being lifted into the air and ceremoniously dumped onto the ground.  

Working our way up wind

As the week wore on our confidence grew along with our skills we were soon making it up to ends of the field we had been looking at all week. To continue spicing things up we also started including drills to take them down quickly in an emergency. 

It had been a fantastic week with a huge amount to absorb but we both certainly wanted more time playing about with kites in the snow. Packing up we were sad to see the mountains grow small in the mirrors as we made our way south to warmer less mountainous areas. 

Of course only a couple of weeks later the snow finally came and temperatures plummeted.

Windiest Place on Earth

Mount Washington The chance to ski on the windiest place on earth. Why wouldn’t I turn that option down.

Not long after moving to the North east I found out about an organisation called the Appalachian mountain club who were organising a ski tour up the Cog railway on mount Washington. Situated in an incredible area known as the white mountains in New Hampshire. Mount Washington I quickly discovered once had (only relatively recently beaten into second place) the highest recorded surface wind speed outside of a tropical storm coming in at 231mph.

It isn’t the closest ski area but with the warmer than usual temperatures in the north east it was always going to be about travelling further north to get the best snow possible. Unlike the previous weekend, the temperatures had certainly begun to cool down. As I started to make the drive north the weather began to change and by the end of the night it was snowing. I was seriously looking forward to getting out the car after a fairly brutal 7 hour drive after a full days work. As much as I wanted the snow I didn’t really fancy the slowing down of the journey.

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Arriving at the lodge I crashed out as soon as I hit the mattress, it didn’t feel like many hours later than the first people began to stir, all trying to get the best conditions for the day. Munching a quick breakfast all washed down with large mugs of coffee, I made my way to the meeting point. Now despite it once having the highest recorded wind speed on earth there is still a railway to the summit along with an access road. Our plan was to follow the train tracks up the mountain and once out of the tree line see what the conditions were like. Summiting was highly unlikely with forecasts of high winds and a thick layer of cloud covering it.

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I had enjoyed the ski mountaineering racing but this was a completely different experience again. The pace obviously much more sedate with the emphasis being on efficiency and trying not to sweat. Compared to my race strategy of trying to go as fast and efficiently as possible. Which was more of a brute strength and endurance exercise. And certainly less care for the amount of sweating going on. It was however a lot colder, hovering around the -5 to -15F , a balmy -20 to -26C and the  wind chill on top. Despite this it still felt quite warm as we meandered up hill surrounded by trees which looked incredible. Like frozen statues dotted all the way up the mountain side. Pausing occasionally to have a drink and admire the views behind and in front of us, despite the large bank of clouds hiding the summit. It wasn’t the blue bird day we had all hoped for but still fantastic being out on the mountain.

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Arriving at the first split point and we soon bundled up as the temperature plummeted. We had come out of the trees and the wind now had us in its sights. The rail line had clearly taken the full force of this onslaught for quite a while as its frozen structure looked like something from another planet. Not even in the arctic had I seen buildings covered in ice to this extent.

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A few of us opted to continue slightly further up the mountainside. It is safe to say we needn’t have bothered. All that proceed was some skating around on an icy surface of wind stripped mountainside. We tried to get purchase on what little friction we could get but despite this effort we hardly made it any further up for a lot more huffing and puffing. With the wind battering our faces and bodies it was only sensible to head back down. There was no chance of a summit today and the possibility of some better powder round the corner was never going to happen without some more hardware of ice axes and crampons. Even then we were not convinced there would be any great powder.

It was a quick turn around to get out the wind. I say quick but the ice and strong winds made it tough work wrapping up our ski skins to get them put away. Its like trying to roll loose duck tape up in a strong gale into a neat organised bundle.

And then the bit we had built up for, the ski down. Despite the odd patch of ice there were some great stretches of powder. The three of us who had tried to go a bit higher made the most of the descent getting in as many tight wee turns to float on the powder. In the hunt for some I managed to find a fairly lightly covered rock. Skiing over it I stopped almost instantly, trying to recover my balance from the forward momentum only to finally pop out of my bindings. Unfortunately one of the guys saw the whole thing unfold in a particularly slow and  inelegant fashion.

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We made it down to the bottom and back to the lodge for a well deserved hot shower and drink.

The next day I headed up to the in famous tuckermanns ravine. You can check out a couple of pro skiers hitting this on the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CM7YknhIKeU

It isn’t recommended generally to ski it until later in the season but whilst in the area I at least wanted to have a peek at what it was all about. I followed the trail up which is incredibly well marked. Past people snow shoeing up and a number of groups up for the weekend as part of a nearby ice festival learning about avalanche rescue techniques. The wind certainly felt less strong and it was definitely a warmer day than the previous one. Snow occasionally fell from the trees. It was a pretty magical sight.

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Slowly but surely the ravine revealed itself. Each glimpse between the trees showing a bit more until I came round the corner and caught sight of the whole area. With clear views of the summit of mount washington in the background. There in front the huge tuckermanns ravine and the steepest ski descents in the north east, or at least one of the better known ones.

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Arriving at a small cabin and there were groups continuing up as part of their avalanche course as well as some skiers who despite the now windy conditions had opted to try a few routes. It looked pretty incredible and in places pretty intimidating even from a distance. I headed on up the mountain as I wanted to see the full face of it. Some of the slopes are up at 40 - 50 degree range. The wind had certainly picked up though and I was now taking a bit of a beating even if it was warmer than the previous day. Arriving at the bottom of tuckermanns and I could finally take it it. I definitely want to return to the slopes here and take on some of these descents.

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Heading back down the mountain and my legs could finally enjoy a bit of a down hill ski. After trekking up it made for a nice change. Despite this I still had to walk a few bits at the top due to not being able to find a decent route to ski down as well as the path I walked up being really quite tight between rocks, trees and a small stream that with the warmer conditions wasn’t completely covered in snow.

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I soon found myself down the bottom  of the mountain just in time to munch a load of food in the car and before the return journey back down south to new jersey.

Skimo - Berkshire East

Over the last few years there has been a huge increase in the number of ultra running races and trail races around the world with people looking beyond the standard road marathon to get their athletic fix. Regardless of what I do the option to go out running in the hills and mountains is always tempting.

The winter months give an opportunity for some down time, change the activity or generally prepare the coming season. For a while now I have been reading and watching more about skimo racing also known as randonee and ski mountaineering. Which from a racing stand point and ignoring the degrees of difference in technical descents and ascents basically involves hiking up hill either boot packing (going up hill with skis on your back), skinning (ski up hill with special material on the base of the skis called skins) and then descending the mountains as fast as you can.

When I moved to the north east of the U.S. and with the mountains nearby I went about searching for an event to enter. I found the north east rando race series. A series of events around the north east of the US and the timing was perfect. My first weekend in the U.S and there was an event on.

With snacks for the drive bought, I woke in the early hours of the morning to make the 4 hour drive up the road. The conditions over the last few weeks had been warm and the day was looking to continue this trend.

Despite this there was still a chill in the morning air and with this came the occasional blanket of fog which made for some spectacular scenery particularly where there were small clearings.

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Arriving at Berkshire east and there was one guy making an early start on the course in shorts and t-shirt. Which was a long way of my ski trousers and jacket. I hoped the day would stay cold, otherwise I was going to be ridiculously hot scaling the mountain. After getting organised it was time to start the race amongst a group of people ranging from the lycra clad to the occasional ski tourer.

Making a dash up the mountain the group soon dispersed as we made our first lap up the mountain. Before the first corner my jacket was as off and for the ascents only my helmet soon came off too. It was sweltering. First up hill done and it was the transition back to skiing down hill. The skins were off the bottom of the skis and everything switched back into ski mode for a brief ski half way down the mountain. This sounds much quicker than it was in practise, initially with the skins flapping all over the place  nothing helps speed things up with either bad weather or the time pressure of a race. That and a desire to cool down on the descent. It was then a walking stage up a steep wooded part of the route with our skis on our backs before we exited the forest and could get ours ski’s back onto ski touring mode for the last bit back to the top of the mountain. Skins off and it was time to go full speed down to the bottom of the mountain to repeat this a three more times. On the way up I ended up chatting to one of the local ski patrollers and another guy who turned out to be the owner of the ski resort which passed the time and made sure we were going at a steady pace up hill. With the U.S elections only just completed it was certainly interesting to start getting more of a local insight into it.

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With the day heating up I stopped to get some water from a nearby stream having used up my small water bottle over the first few laps. Despite it being in january most people had switched to open jackets or just a thin shirt. One guy had even opted to go topless.

After the third lap it was time to head to the second stage of the race on the other side of the mountain. Amazingly some people had already finished. The skiing down became increasingly harder as my legs became more tired. This was my first ski day of the season, ski touring race and I had literally arrived in the US three days earlier.

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Despite this i finished the final couple of laps and very quickly ended up in the cafe for a well deserved feast of food before the prize giving. It was at this point I realised the quality of the field. Ranging from those competing for positions in the US team to the previous record holder Ed Warren for the fastest ascent of Denali before this was taken by Kilian Jornet. Certainly an impressive range of athletes.

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All in all I seriously enjoyed the north east rando race and will certainly be working out how to fill the next seasons schedule with races. It mixes mountains, skiing and running into a pretty epic combination. By the end I was sufficiently knackered, yet despite this my legs still felt good enough the following day to tear through some laps of a nearby mountain before the rain descended on the area. I can certainly see why this is the perfect winter trainer or event in its own right when you have mountains nearby.

Bring on the next season.

For those interested check out:

http://nerandorace.blogspot.com

and for those in the UK there is always the Scottish one:

http://www.skimoscotland.co.uk

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A long day in the Ben Lawers

With a waterproof map case at the ready this time we headed back to where we had started he previous day. It was a bit of a déjà vu. The weather hadn't really improved but we set our sights on the Ben Lawers and the first summit of Beinn Ghlas opposite the previous day's attempt. All being well we would continue on peak by peak and see how we got on with the aim of doing a wee circuit.

The first part of the walk took a route through a protected part of the hill. It was amazing to see how diverse the wildlife was there compared to the normal heather covered hills. Would be awesome to see those areas increased!

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Heading on up we were in the shelter from the wind heading up switch backs towards the summit. We soon arrived, feeling good and the weather not being too bad despite being wet, windy and very cloudy we continued on.

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Heading up Ben Lawers was equally quick. With no spectacular views to be distracted by we headed on to An Stuc. The route up was fine then coming over the summit the track leads down a crumbling, rocky and steep path. Fortunately it was in the lee side of the wind, it was certainly an interesting route down and one I would say was much more challenging than some of the ridge scrambles I have done in the past. Making our way down we soon reached the next shoulder to make out way a long.

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Our route then slowly took us back up to the top of Meall Garbh. The temperature had begun to drop and the wind picked up. We huddled just beyond the summit having a munch to eat and a check of the map for our route. Following a fence line almost all the way to the summit of the final rolling mounds of the last Munro of the day. This section of the route was one of the wetter and muddier parts of the day. With our boots sinking into the thick peattie mud. Some areas previous people had dropped leftover planks and fence posts into some of the more boggy areas in an attempt to create a basic bridge across. These made for a fun balancing act mid walk. Marching on up the final ascent we reached the top where we were finally below the cloud level and could admire the route we had take along the ridge line. A quick bite to eat before dashing down the hillside to a small track servicing a number of mini dams along the hillside. It was an interesting network of mini dams spread across the all the main tributaries and redirecting the water back to a few main dammed up areas. It was pretty impressive. Trekking along and soon the heavens opened. After being dry most of the day we were soon walking a long hoods up and very much looking forward to a hearty evening meal.

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We had been using a cicerone guide to the region which suggested taking a beeline traversing around the hillside along a back to the car park. In principle it was a good idea. It was the most direct route. However once we started it proved to be slow going. With a number of small ravines to negotiate along with the sodden ground our boots and clothing were soon clean of any mud. My ankle still recovering from the previous event didn't appreciate the unevenness of the ground and despite the drop in height we opted to get into the road as soon as possible before regaining the height. In retrospect it might have been quicker heading all the way down to the loch side before heading back along to the turn off.

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Making back to the car we were one of the last out of the car park. It had been a fantastic day. Although we weren't initially sure about heading round the full ridge it was certainly worthwhile.

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 Munro's:

An Stuc

Beinn Ghlas

Ben Lawers

Meall Garbh

Meall Greigh

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Although the week hadn't gone quite as we had planned we had achieved between us the total of 30 munros in a week as part of a celebration for our 30th this year. Made me really appreciate the effort that it would take to take on something like the bob graham or the Ramsey round.

Weather is on the Change

Looking at the mountain weather forecast for the coming days was not great reading. Cloud free summits at between 10% and 30%, rain heavy at times and wind speeds hitting gale force levels as the days went on. Perfect Scottish walking conditions.

The plan was to go for 4 munros for the day. Heading up the valley we soon spotted a vey clear path on the opposite side of the river to the part we were walking on. Our track soon came to an end as we trudged back to the start.

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Finding our way through yet more wet sticky bog to reach the path we had seen became an interesting challenge in itself with elements of the route feeling more like a series of small streams. We finally made it onto the path and route up the valley we had spotted previously. It was also at this point that we spotted the route we could have taken if we had continued slightly further a long our original route on the other side of the river.

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All about us small streams trickled off the mountain side allowing us to stop for an occasional drink from these whilst basking in the sunshine. It was starting out to be a glorious day. Heading up the onto the saddle between a few hills the wind hit us. Clearly we had been sheltered by this in the lower valley.

A head of us lay a large swathe of boggy ground before the initial ascent of ciste dubh. The start of the route zig zagged its way up through soft, thick brown sludge. As we came over a crest of the main ridge taking us too the top lay in front of us. It was a spectacular sight.

Overhead the clouds were beginning to build and the wind pick up. We continued trudging on up with a shear drop to one side and a steep slope to the other and views over the nearby lochs it was building up to be the favourite summit of the tour. The thought of these being snow covered and skiing down these slopes would be incredible with the right conditions.

The final part of the ridge was marked by a series of false summits. Each once getting our hopes up before another peaked its head above again. Finally reaching the top, the views were spectacular. After spending the previous day on a ridge line being on a single Munro surrounded by the other peaks was incredible despite meaning we had to go all the way back down before making another ascent.

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Despite some of the challenges on the way up, the down was remarkably quick. And we were soon heading up the other side, a steep grassy slope towards the next summit. The winds were really beginning to build up and we only stopped briefly at the top before heading up toward the next summit. As we dropped onto the saddle the winds would increase until we were back into the shade of the ascent. Each time we got buffeted by the wind the temperature would plummet.

We were on a role but as we made our way towards the third summit of the day the wind was beginning to be a considerable force which with a considerable drop on the down wind side was certainly less than welcome. The winds were due to pick up to around 50mph. With this beginning to occur and a natural route down off the hills we made the decision to call it a day and head down.

The route off was initially a lot better than the previous day with a gentle decent back into the valley. This became less than ideal as we hit a fenced off wood land. Skirting round this was definitely possible but the ground was sodden and despite the wet weather a number of bugs and beetles sought refuge in our clothing, faces and hair. You could feeling them crawling all over us. Each one raising a number of expletives as we were attacked from all angles and our feet sank deep into muddy puddles.Hitting the main road was a delight.

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Despite our delight it was short lived as we became shocked at the amount of rubbish that lay just next to the roadside amongst the beautiful highlands.

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Don't leave a trace.

Munro's

Ciste Dhubh

Aonach Meadhoin

Visiting far places and cycling Great Glens

After a day of enforced rest due to yet more high winds. We opted for a tour to the furthest westerly point in mainland UK. Ardnamurchan.

This gorgeous peninsular involved a short ferry trip before creeping along the roads that meandered along the coastline. It was gorgeous particularly as the colours were changing as autumn approached. Behind us lay a bank of cloud while the sun shone down on this peninsular.

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We finally arrived at the end point. A lighthouse perched on a rocky outcrop and protected on all sides by stone built walls. We even became aquatinted to the local goat population. Before heading to a nearby beach to enjoy the white sandy beaches of Scotland. Almost like Barbados just a tad on the cooler side of things.

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The next day we woke early from our cosy glamping hut at wigwam. Our sights set on some nearby hills. Coming to our first option the wind began to increase and so we adapted our plan to a nearby summit. Later we found out this one was renowned for being windy. Making our way up the wind was increasing dramatically and the cloud level dropping. As we got closer to the top and with and the wind increasing substantially I thought it wiser to come down rather than to keep slogging for the sake of it. We managed it a few days later under slightly calmer conditions. The route up would have been ok particularly as the slightly more technical part of the route was in the lee of the wind.

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We made up for it with a fantastic cycle from Killin to Lochearnhead along a fantastic cycle route. The going was great heading quickly through the valley past streams and squeezing over cattle grids. We came across a Canadian cycling round Europe and was looking to head further north before it became too cold we headed our separate ways wishing him luck. With only an occasional shower and with the sun poking its head out we could enjoy the change of pace. Turning round we realised it had been a bit more of a downhill than we realised and the wind had been behind us. It was going to be tight with the bike hire place shutting. The last mile we lost our luck with the weather and it chucked it down.

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Finishing up we headed to our accommodation for the night. With views over the loch it was a gorgeous setting despite the clouds.

We certainly felt fresher for the more relaxed day and the cosy accommodation.

Helvellyn Circuit

With a weekend of spectacular weather on the cards and a wide range of walks across the Yorkshire moors, Dales or the Lake District to choose from we were certainly spoilt choice. After much debating over these options and gaining some local knowledge we set our sights on Helvelyn in the Lake District. With a choice of routes to go up Helvellyn including the famous striding edge it was set to be a fantastic outing.

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Waking the next morning and rushing for the curtains I was welcomed to a view of low cloud and overcast hills. Not quite what we expected. Stepping outside the cool weather was perfect for walking and so I began filling a couple of flasks with hot water in preparation for some cooler ascents.

As we headed out along the a66 with awesome views over the Pennines the cloud began to lift. As we drove down onto the western side of the pennines we were greeted to glorious sunshine. The temperature began rising and the thought of no sun cream along with the hot flasks of water all began to seem like daft ideas.

Arriving in Glenridding the car parks were jam packed with rucksack and map carrying hikers. Brilliant to see but dashing our thoughts of being in the wilderness. Gathering a few final essential supplies including the sun cream and chocolate bars we were ready to begin.  The chocolate unfortunately did not make the journey as it was eaten in advance before we started.

We headed on up the valley.

Wondering along side the stream that flowed through the village. Huge chunks of it were missing and the foundations of some houses completely exposed showed just how powerful this meandering stream had become in the floods over the winter. There was still a decent amount of work to be done before everything was back in order. Still evident from the number of trucks, diggers and reinforcements being put in place.

The route up was a path that carved its way up the hillside with only a short detour taking us away from the swathes of groups heading up the hill. In front and behind of us were a steady stream of harden walker to enthusiastic opportunist, young and old, tourist and local as well as a few dogs thrown in for good measure.

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As we reached a small plateau in front of us we could see striding edge with the silhouette of walkers making their way across it. The sun was beaming down on us and it's safe to say the sweat was beginning to stream off me at least.

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The edge itself was great fun, certainly in this weather. Despite being occasionally exposed it wasn't like tryfan or crib goch in Wales and in this dry and sunny weather it made for a great outing. Despite this you there were reminders to tougher times with a memorial to Mr Dixon who fell off it in 1858 whilst running with hounds, as well as  the occasional scrape from crampons left over from a previous winters. It would certainly be a challenge in cold, wet and icy conditions. One for another day! Darting over the rocks we paused occasionally to soak up the views and let some of the blockages on route ease up. The final chimney proved to be the biggest pinch point of the ridge yet despite this we watched as one guy virtually ran along the length of the ridge swerving round people while a rather elderly looking gentleman made this chimney look a piece of cake. There were of course many others for whom this was not quite so simple but seeing the elation and satisfaction from everyone on conquering striding edge was awesome to see.

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Making the final ascent up to the summit which flattens into a great plateau we reached the top. To beautiful views over the surrounding valleys. Sitting down with our feet dangling over one of the slopes we munched on some sandwiches as we watched the start of some fell runners coming up from the other side looking remarkably fresh. We briefly joined the throng of supporters cheering on the competitors before they made their descent.

Surveying the surrounding routes we opted to not go for the well trodden path up Catstye Cam but to meander round along a flat ridge line. The sights and smells brought back memories from many a previous trip up into the hills.

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On reaching what we thought would be our final summit, with us both still feeling pretty fresh and the day still young we set our sights on a further peak and ridge line. Passing school groups and walkers relaxing on the slopes whilst soaking up the afternoon rays of sunshine. It was definitely far too hot for the still steaming bottles of hot water I had packed in the cool yorkshire morning.

We made our way along a final ridge with hardly a soul about. It felt much more like the walk we had both expected being slightly more out in the wilderness. With the sun beaming down on us the occasional sip on cool stream water was incredibly satisfying.

The final descent into town was through a field packed full of blue bells lit by the soft evening sunshine. It was a pretty spectacular find for the end of the day, especially as this bit had been an unplanned extension to the day. Before the final descent into town.

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Sitting down to a plate of chips and a pint of coke was a delight. We could relax enjoying the evening and the feeling you get from being outdoors all day. A mix of tiredness and satisfaction at what has been achieved. All that was left to do was get some flip flops on, essential after any walking trip and head back to yorkshire for the night.

Chamonix with Run the Wild

It has been a couple of years since I found myself in chamonix during winter or summer. Finally I was heading back albeit for a very quick trip with Run the Wild. Jumping on the last flight to geneva followed by alpybus a shared mini bus trip up into central chamonix. Despite the late night arrival it all worked really smoothly as I had forgotten how quick and relatively easy if is to get there.

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We awoke with views out onto Mont Blanc, relatively early to get all the supplies,equipment and other bits and pieces ready a head of meeting the runners we were due to be taking out on the mountain. The plan was to meet them for a food and water stop before joining them part the way along the route to run in the final section together.

A Glacier Tumbling down the Mountain, much shorter than they used to be!

Despite it being September the sun was out in full blast, I was wishing I had some sun cream!! The views of Mont Blanc were fantastic with clouds occasionally covering the summit, known as a lenticular cloud. The weather despite looking fantastic was not to last with high whispy clouds showing the high winds at altitude and the change that would happen. For the moment though we could enjoy it! With fresh legs at the ready the gang of runners set off from St Michaels church in Central Chamonix.

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We pulled up and jogged out to get some action photos amongst the woodland. The timing was perfect as within moments they came round the corner. In good fashion a local dog also decided to join the photos.

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Running back to the food stop and we could catch up on the days running so far as we went along. The food stop had a fantastic spread with everything from gu gels to local cheeses and of course hot tea. Having not run and sampled the morning breakfast quite heavily, I found myself still pretty full.

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IMG_0510 As they headed off we had to quickly pack up drive over to la flegere and get up the 1000m to the refuge in a pretty quick fashion! With my Aarn bag packed with some essentials and then it was straight onto the trail as we route marched past walkers enjoying the scenery whilst we flew past them. Sweat dripping down our faces and our already, or at least mine was, soaked tops. Despite this we manage to talk about what Si had been learning about on the topic of fauna for his up coming mountain leader assessment. I was trying to work out how he was managing to continue speaking which turned out he was wondering how I kept being able to ask questions.

The time remaining certainly made if quite tight with meeting them, as we got closer I was checking my watch constantly to see how much time we had remaining. As we ascended the gaps between the trees reduced till we were basking in the sun rather than the shade of the woodland. Coming round the corner we could see the restaurant marking our meeting point just as the runners heads poked above the crest of the ridge. Perfect timing. We stopped for photos, a quick drink and a chat.

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Joining the group for the descent was a welcome change in pace and gradient. Taking the slope in our stride we began weaving down the mountain, avoiding the exposed roots and stones that littered the trail. I am always amazed at the route and how technical it is as there is a famous ultra race called the utmb which covers some 160km and around 8000m of ascent. Si who we were running with, did this race the other year and hearing the stories first hand on the brutality and beauty of the event, it was certainly inspiring whilst jogging along.

The trail was a series of switch backs all the way down the mountain some sections you could let your legs stride out where others demanded a lighter step between the obstacles. Coming round the bend we had arrived at a beautiful cafe perched on the mountain side. It was the perfect place for a quick coffee before the short descent into chamonix.

Cafe stop on the mountain.

We reached the church where the day had begun, despite the weather due to turn against us it was still sunny. Heading back to the hotel and the spa that awaited us. After a days good running we could stretch out on the grass surrounded by mountains taking in the views before a sauna and a trip into town.

We went along to meet up with the team from Ravanel & Co which is a treasure trove for trail running equipment in the summer and no doubt in the winter equally well equipped. Not only that but the staff are all seriously impressive athletes themselves. Would definitely recommend them, next time will probably take a much emptier rucksack.

Piolet d'or (the golden ice axe award), mountaineering award

Waking on Sunday and the weather had closed in with thunder storms forecast it was not the day to be in the mountains. Instead we opted to explore the local area and head for a short walk further down the valley before heading off to the airport.

Walking in the lower valley

Arriving in london and it had been such a fantastic yet quick trip, certainly one that I could happily repeat. If you fancy experiencing trail running whether just breaking into it or want to be beasted on the trails in the uk or abroad then check out run the wild.

Scambling Tryfan

Following a better nights sleep due to us not sliding down the hill, we woke to a beautiful morning, unfortunately it was not due to stay that way. LLanberis Mine Opposite the campsite

Heading into Llanberis and we hadn't decided exactly where we would head but first thing first was breakfast and sorting out some new boots due to the fact that they had completely stopped being waterproof. Not ideal during the welsh summer. Joe browns outdoor shop turned out to be a great place for kit and advice. We had soon narrowed down the selection on both the boots and our route for the day. We had decided to go for the classic Tryfan ascent which I had described to Laura as not much of a path and a bit of a scramble. The whole thing can be a good scramble if you choose the right route and equally certain parts can be a full on climb or a gentler route up. So there is something for all levels.

Our route to the car was slightly diverted to a shop packed with honey, I had never realised there was so much choice. We found ourselves being given a master class and tasting by one of the bee keepers from numerous different jars that covered the counter. Each one had its own distinct flavour and he could tell where the bees had sourced it from as different flowers had come into blossom. Not being able to resist I came away with some tasty souvenirs. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. You can check the place out on the link below.

http://www.snowdonhoneyfarmandwinery.co.uk/

The weather started off not looking to great with a bit of a shower but it soon cleared enough that the heat of being in waterproofs far outweighed the slightly damp weather as we scrambled further up the route. We started at the same point as another couple but within moments had opted for different routes each preferring the look of a different part of the mountain. Its part of the beauty of tryfan there are a huge number of different routes you can take depending on how adventurous you are feeling.

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Each turn we took we could choose a variety of different routes which made the journey all the more fun, sometimes heading up a section to turn back and sometimes forging on. What became very noticeable was the degree of adventurousness improved as the rock dried out and our appreciation of what we could do changed. We also invariably kept crossing paths with the original couple at the bottom of the hill. Making parts of it seem a bit like a race. I am not entirely sure they were thinking the same thing....

One of the first highlights of the day was coming across this huge sticking out rock that we decided to clamber on (find out what it is called)

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Having a closer look

Heading on up and the ground flattened out before sharply rising upwards. The route we took skirted round the side of this. It followed a small track round the side with a steep ish drop to our left down grassy gullies. We could watch climbers coming up the side of the mountain which was amazing to watch as the occasional head poked above a rock.

With dog in tow

Weaving our way round we found ourselves at the bottom of a gully with a number of people and quite unexpectedly a Labrador. As we clambered up finally passing them we ended up having to go back and give the couple a hand getting the dog up the route. It wasn't an easy situation with both the route ahead and behind being very difficult for the dog.

Coming out the of the gully and we were at the top confronted with the stones of Adam and Eve. People were already on top of them and jumping between them. After a drink and some well needed food it was our turn. Looking down from them and they certainly felt a lot higher and the gap wider!

Preparing for the Jump

Adam & Eve at the Summit

We continued on down the mountain scrambling away as we picked our way down to the path off the hill. You can link it together with the glyders which would be a really good walk but that would have to wait for another day. The environment and surroundings constantly changed as we descended; from the craggy rocks, to heather and finally to a well trodden path with streams merging together. We found ourselves coming out further from the car than we had wanted so finished up along the road before that great feeling of switching boots for flip flops.

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Our search for food that night started at pizza and a pint but due to it not being open settled for a fantastic pub filled with people and massive portions.

The next day we woke to a cleared out campsite as people had left due to the weather turning bad. Due to me mixing up the breakfast order we found ourselves on breakfast round two. Back at the honey shop for welsh cake! Certainly not a disaster.

With the rain set to continue and a long drive a head we detoured to the slate mine with some huge zip wires. Unfortunately both that and the tours of the mines were full. We found ourselves wondering around checking out the area before making the long and incredibly wet drive back down south.

Check more of my photos out from the trip below:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bennorawlinson/sets/72157646928749422/

Bank Holiday in the Glyders

The august bank holiday came round incredibly quickly, the weather was looking a bit touch and go. Despite the grand plans of finding the perfect campsite in the few weeks beforehand, I found us both searching frantically for one with space on the Friday morning we were due to head to Wales. If you have found the perfect campsite wherever it is then please share! We found one right near llanberis in the heart of snowdonia national park and it had space more importantly, you can check it out on the link below.

http://www.campinginllanberis.com/

It looked like it was a great spot with some fantastic views and it all sounded very promising with camp fires allowed. A big positive was with it being near Pete's Eats cafe, which is a great spot for a pre-walk feed that I had been introduced to on my previous trip.

Following what seemed like a fairly epic drive post work in London to the north west of Wales and it was time to setup camp in the pitch black whilst not waking the whole campsite. Fortunately despite our late arrival there were others in a similar situation. Like the rest of the perfect pre-planning of the trip I had never put the tent up before nor seen a picture of it, neither of which are a great start. I would generally recommend you do at least one of those before heading out with a tent. The weather despite the down pour as we drove into the village had subsided for long enough to find a pitch in the dry and get the tent up first time. Something was on our side! Trying to be as quiet as possible with a foot pump is a bit of a challenge with it wheezing and coughing with every compression. Before trying to squeeze in the ridiculously large double air mattress that was literally bulging out of the tent . It was a last resort due to the lack of a smaller one. As drops of rain began to descend on us it was time to jump in.

We woke surprisingly early with the tent being heated like a sauna in what felt like a very short space of time.  Although there was the occasionally wriggling about in the close space thanks to sleeping at the wrong end of the tent and the realisation that the "slight" slope actually meant sliding into one another all night.Due to the heavy one me squeezing the air out of my side,however we still felt relatively fresh.

With map in hand we headed down for breakfast at Pete’s Eats cafe, my head was beginning to kick into gear with some ideas of where to walk that day. With steaming mugs of coffee, a big plate of food each and a map sprawled out on the table the idea of heading to the glyders came about. It would be more quite than some of the other hills especially as more rain was set to come in.

The Glyder Range
The Glyder Range

It was soon chucking it down as we headed down the road in the car, looking at each other the thoughts that we were being a bit daft was certainly drifting through both our minds. Waterproofs on and that first step out of the car, which is always the hardest. After that with rain bouncing off our hoods we were off.

a wee stream, playing with a slower camera speed
a wee stream, playing with a slower camera speed

Making our way up the hill with the odd detour to take in some of the sights and have a bit of an explore. The intermittent rain, low cloud and a touch of sunshine made for only fleeting glances around at the spectacular views shrouded in thick cloud. We stopped part way up to admire some waterfalls and fill up on some fresh welsh stream water, which tastes so much better than the London water. No surprises there!

Valley Views
Valley Views

We made our way up to Glyder Fach where we had a bit of a scramble up and around the rocks including on the “famous” cantilever stone. Perching on the end surrounded by cloud certainly didn’t reveal much of our surroundings. As we made our way off the summit the cloud would occasionally lift to reveal the area we were walking as well as Castell y Gwynt meaning castle of the winds. Although not the highest peak on the ridge the stoney outcrop is still over 3000ft high but is not included in the welsh 3000’s list due to being classed as a Nuttall, Regardless of this it is a great one to scramble up as the jagged rocks are a pretty awesome sight. They were also quite sharp as I noticed a bit of a crimson mark on my trousers which after a quick look round was coming from my hand.

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The final section was up Glyder fawr, the wind was rushing up the valley and over the ridge line, with the low cloud and mist this did make for a rather spooky scene. With the time ticking on we needed to head down. As we lost height the scene became a lot clearer and so we carried on down a steep gulley which looked like there was a path at the bottom towards a wee lake and from there we could head back to the car. By the time we reached the bottom of the initially gully, the “start” of the path was in fact some rather soggy ground. The remainder of the trudge down was slow going as the paths carved out by sheep seemed to dot around the place. We scrambled over rocks, through heather, streams and boggy ground occasionally watched by a nearby sheep.

Finally some sunshine
Finally some sunshine

Finally reaching the (lake) Llyn Cwmffynnon and the stream leaving it. Despite the weather it was very tempting to go for a swim, until we felt the temperature and the thought of the walk back still to do. One for another day!

We arrived at a packed pub full to the brim and with food orders on hold the only option left was to start with a couple of cold pints with a packet of crisps before the main of a huge burger turned up. Lamb of course.

Heading back to the camp-site the place was a light with camp fires in front of every tent, it was beginning to rain again as the temptation was quickly replaced by that of jumping into our sleeping bags. .

Mountain Leader Training in Wales

We spent the evening driving over to a hostel called Pete's cafe which has a well deserved reputation for huge breakfasts and a bit of a Mecca for all things outdoors in North Wales. Compared to the last hostel of having an entire flat to myself it was time to go back to a shared room. It was a beautiful evening, a ripple less lake with the back drop of the setting sun basking the hill tops in golden hues. Apart from around the bobbing orange head as one of the group opted for an open water swim. The rest of us chose a cold beer, should have taken my swim shorts! The area for the day

The next morning we sat in the hostel drinking large steaming mugs of coffee and pouring over maps, before deciding on where to go. Parking up outside the National Trust centre at Caneddau and Glyderau with large slate stones marking the start of the path. Heading straight up into the Glyders towards to top of Y Garn.

Views part way up

The objective for the day was to put into practise our risk assessing of groups on scrambling terrain, with the idea being to understand when assistance was required and in its different forms. After a few alterations to our initial route we weaved our way onto the beginning of the ridge. We came to the conclusion (admittedly it had been pointed out to us before hand) on the importance of route planning from a distance by using what you can see of the terrain as well as hints from the flora and fauna. So once you are on a section of it you have a rough picture in your head of any key features or obstacles. So on this occasion if we strayed too far to the one side we would find ourselves off the ridge and if we went too far the other the ground resembled more of a rock climb than a wee scramble.

Supporting Each other up the ridge

Making it look much easier

Making our way up and along the ridge line we stopped occasionally to discuss areas of concern and have the odd snack. The weather had done a complete change and was beginning to warm up as sweat began to slowly drip from us. Arriving to the top and it was time to find the path downwards. For this we opted to find a mountain goat track.

Found the route down, somewhere to his right

From the top it certainly didn't look like a route as we tracked our way down by the side of a stream and taking it easy to make sure we didn't slip or dislodge the loose rock onto those below.

Our route down

The track narrowed as it followed the slope across the hillside with a bit of a drop to one side and water flowing down it. We finally reached the devils appendix which I believe is an area for ice climbing when the conditions are right. As it was not cold enough this provided us with a quick shower instead. Making it to the bottom beside a crystal clear lake our instructor, Dave, opted for a route that would bring together the skills we had learnt with getting groups up a challenging scramble as well as the risk assessing/ route finding that we had done previously. With some larger steps up rock faces being involved we certainly had to think a lot more and it was certainly not something we envisaged doing when we have large packs on our back. Reaching a good stopping point we turned around and repeated the process down hill. The interesting bit being that heading down the hill is much harder to do as you can't see as easily where to put your hands and feet, which if you had to do unexpectedly really highlight the point of knowing your and the groups skills. We cris crossed a stream over, down and around rocks some of the group making it look far easier than myself. All comes with practise apparently!

Checking out the valley below, it was quite a steep drop!

The nights activities was to plan our expedition. With maps, empty mugs of coffee and beer bottles littering the table, fingers traced different potential routes across the grid lines in front of us as plans began to hatch. Ensuring it would be a realistic distance to cover in the time period and give us enough potential to test our navigational skills. Each route was discussed at length as we each tried to sell our ideas. Part of the fun in all these is in the planning. That initial building of an idea into a concept and looking at try to realise it. In the end we decided to present a couple of options to our instructor the following day one of which was Matt.

Mountain leader training stage 1

Having been on the cards for a while I had the opportunity to go on mountain leader training with peak mountain training who are based up in the Peak District. Driving up with forecasts of rain and relatively high winds wasn't the most appealing to be out in the Peak District but it would certainly make for a more interesting experience!

My room in the bunk house, with beautiful views onto the hills

After the long drive I reached the bunkhouse at Pindale Farm where it turned out I was the only one in my room out of a possible 7 others. So with kit spread out I began making myself at home and although relatively basic it had everything I wanted and was comfortable enough. I woke early the next day to get all my kit ready and have a look over the map to see where I could head on my first day. Normally the course is a 6 day course but for a number of reasons outside of my control I could only start it after the first day. My plan for the day was to make a loop around the local hills before heading back. The forecast hadn't improved as I sat with my coffee cupped between my hands viewing the map but with a plan, lunch packed and kit ready it was time to go.

Planning time

The initial section was heading up a valley with a castle overlooking the area; the recent weather had turned the path into a wee stream as water swirled between the rocks and my feet.

The Castle overlooking the valley

The day was certainly one of all seasons with patches of sun mixed with rain, strong winds and hail that stung any patch of skin that was exposed to it!

One of a couple patches of sunshine

While I saw quite a few groups hunkering down behind stone walls avoiding the worst of it.

My turn to hide behind a wall

I made my way round admiring the view from each of the peaks despite it being slightly imposed on by a rather large cement factory. I finished up at a cafe full of cyclists, motorcyclists, walkers and runners enjoying a final blast of coffee and a sugar hit before heading back to make homemade pizza.

another wet evening

The next day was much more classroom focused with us learning about risk assessing both before and during an expedition, understanding weather patterns and looking at emergency situations involving mountain rescue. This was quite appropriate given the wet conditions outside. The afternoon was spent out in the hills to put into practise the risk assessing we had been doing in the classroom into practise. Heading to some of the steeper areas I had been on the previous day where we would consider the potential for an accident and the severity of it. We also practised the art of walking slowly and I mean really slowly to the point where one bystander stopped to witness the event. Stopping for a bite to eat we tried experiencing how it would feel just needing to wait around in a relatively cool day to see how quickly we would start feeling the cold. The results were quite surprising in terms of the speed by which our body temperature fell and certainly highlighted the need for the right equipment in the mountains. Heading back for some cold pizza, soreen malt loaf and setting my tent up to make sure it was all ok ahead of our expedition phase.

Day 1 sunshineDay 1 rain and hailDay 1 strong winds

The next day was our last day in the Peak District and it was due to be a pretty interesting one. The morning began in the classroom, planning expeditions before we decided to head to an area called Stanage Edge to do some scrambling and rope work. The emphasis of the exercise was that rope work within mountain leading is definitely a last resort but if the terrain, group and/ or conditions require it then we need be to able to do it safely. Soon we were all tying ourselves in and climbing up and down areas. For those interested it was using the remote belay using a rock as an anchor as it is designed to be safer method if anything goes unexpectedly wrong.

Remote belaying and the challenge of finding a suitable anchorFinally in a suitable spot

Whilst standing admiring the surroundings we could make out bands of rain rolling towards our position as it rain began waterproof trousers and jackets were donned. The area is very popular with climbers particularly in the area and you could certainly see why with options of bouldering and climbing on shorter pitches. The final exercise was leading an individual down and up steep slippy terrain which was now in perfect condition thanks to the recent rain. The idea wasn’t to create the impression of danger but more act as a confidence rope. With the exercises all done it was time for a quick bite to eat and driving over to Wales for stage 2 of the training.

Stanage Edge on my way to Wales