Finding Mt Ascutney

I was up in Vermont for the Martin Luther King weekend and it was turning out to be an epic weekend to be up north. Saturday had been a skimo race. Then overnight there had been about a foot of snow in some places of some fairly wet and heavy powder. The first day post snow dump turned into a fairly heavy day of moguls with a touch of powder up at Killington. As the day wore on the it slowly became mission impossible to find some clean untouched pow. A lot of the area had been tracked out by the time we got to the mountain.

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I had Monday off for Martin Luther King day. After asking around as to where to go and looking at the various options I decided on checking out a place called Mt Ascutney. That morning I was not feeling my freshest the after an evening fuelled by chicken wings and beer. This is not my normal go to post ski day food. Due to the restaurant we being overwhelmed (we think because of the lingering bad weather) we ended up eating whatever was on offer which turned out to be some guests food who had left due to an inexplicably long wait. Slowly but surely I dug my car out with snow pilled high up the wheels, over the roof and it was bitterly cold. I hadn’t managed to get into the car or seen a thermometer to know how cold it was. I could feel the cold stinging my face particularly when the wind blew, whipping up the snow in great swirls. Even with some thick gloves on my hands were chilling pretty quickly when I paused between a few shovel loads. It brought back memories of decamping up in the Arctic.

One of the buses carting skiers up to the mountain pulled up and informed me Killington was delaying opening due to the high winds and low temperatures. All skiers and boarders apparently would need full facial cover as it was getting down to -40F (-40C) with windchill on top. Given the delay I was pretty happy to be going and checking out a new ski area.

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Mt Ascutney is an old ski resort that shut down in 2010 after running for 80 years. Since then most of the infrastructure that supports a ski mountain from the lifts to the buildings have been stripped away. The woodland has begun to regenerate the once stripped slopes as it slowly returns to it more wild state. That was until it was recognised as a great spot for some back country skiing. With the trees already cleared for the most part it  just needed the relatively recent growth to be slightly more controlled. Since then a whole bunch of volunteers have been banding together to help maintain the trails during the summer which also helps make it a perfect playground for hikers, runners and mountain bikers. As the snow begins to fall and the trails fill up with snow its become a little back country haven. Since the early days where it was just a bunch of cleared trails there is now a seriously impressive warming hut at the base. Which given the temperatures  had risen a bit and were in the range of -10F to -15F (-23C to -26C) before wind chill made for a fantastic starting point before heading up the mountain. Check them out on the link below:

I didn’t realise there was a warming hut prior to arriving as I got my skins on outside my car in the freezing temperatures whilst they flapped around sticking to anything apart from where I wanted them to. Trudging up the slope to the base I spotted the hut at the base and meandered in. I was welcomed to a whole bunch of skiers and split boarders chatting away and getting ready for a days in the mountains. Having not been to the mountain before and looking for some good trails to ski I asked if I could tag along. It was a complete mix of guys and girls, skiers and split boarders and ages which was awesome to see. It also transpired that a bunch of them had been on a bachelor party/ stag do that had made it through various news channels local and national including BBC world service online. You can read about that below:

The first few strides up the mountain I could already feel the effects of the past few days mileage that I had put my legs through. They had certainly felt fresher. The hike up actually felt pretty warm as we were in amongst the tree line with a spot of sunshine and what ever breeze there was was on our backs helping keep us cool on the ascent. As we headed up you could still make out some of the structures used by the ski mountain before. The cut trails being the most obvious and then the occasional building or piece of metal work. A couple of the guys had skied the area when they were smaller and could remember and discussed the various cut throughs and secret ski spots that only the locals would know. As we got closer to the summit we could feel the wind picking up through the tree line. Coming out at the top we immediately felt the full force of the wind blasting our backs. Fortunately there was the remains of what I assume was the old mountain patrol building at the summit which we hid on the lee ward side of whilst removing skins and preparing to head back down. Having trekked up it was definitely time to get a whole bunch of layers on for the downward journey. 

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Heading down and we picked our way through powder snow and some small undergrowth. It was this first lap when I began to wish for some fatter skis. Occasionally my backcountry days have involved powder but the vast majority has been more like hard pack with a splash of ice and rocks. In some of the less steep terrain I was just sinking in the heavy snow and occasionally being driven to an almost an immediate stop on other sections. Which certainly added to the odd fall or ski loss. Nevertheless getting in a bunch of powder day turns was great. Having seen photos and videos from friends up north getting midweek morning powder sessions before heading to work it was great to have a shot at it myself. 

Previous days summit photo

Previous days summit photo

After warming up at the base in the hut to let some of the facial hair icicles melt it was time for lap two. The hike up went surprisingly quickly once I knew the route, meandering our way back up the mountain. Arriving at the summit and with a bit of a larger group we bundled into the open basement of the old ski patrollers building to remove our skins. The temperature had dropped a bit so we made the most we could from what remained of the building whilst the bitingly cold winds roared on. It was a touch of luxury sheltered from the elements whilst having a quick bite and getting some layers on.

For this lap we chose a different trail in search of more powder. It is safe to say the combined factor of the previous days skiing and the prior lap I could definitely feel my legs burning on the descent. I think before next season I need to spend a lot more time on the bike and doing some leg weights to get into a better ski shape but I wasn’t about to change my ski fitness over night or mid lap. Coming round the corner and hitting a slightly flatter section I suddenly ejected from one of my skis. Fortunately after a short hunt I found it buried beneath the snow. Clipping back in and I was back on my way down the mountain to join the rest of the group. It made me think about the old ski tracers we used to use years a go for powder days back in Europe with my family. A bit old school but maybe worth bringing out for the next season either that or some new fatter skis….

Reaching the end of the run my legs felt done. Back in the hut and grabbing a seat I decided it was time to hit the road. After a chat with the guys I was told about a great spot for some post ski grub down at the Brownsville Butcher & Pantry. If you are in the area I would definitely recommend making a stop with delicious food it made for the perfect pit stop. They also have a fantastic beer selection, perfect for post drive when I finally managed to get home.

Photo courtesy of the Brownsville Butcher & Pantry, Vermont

Photo courtesy of the Brownsville Butcher & Pantry, Vermont

Catamount Trail Skimo Camp

Thank you Aaron Rice for letting me use your photos in this post. On a complete side note he is an awesome guy who climbed and skied 2.5 million feet in a year. Check him out at

https://airandrice.com/

I’m a bit behind writing up about this but back in December I found out about the Catamount Trail Association who not only organised a skimo and backcountry ski camp but also hold a number of ski touring days. There is still plenty of snow out on the trails and trips going on this season. If you are interested in ski touring, backcountry skiing or even for the summer there are options for various tours and routes to check out.

http://catamounttrail.org/

Anyway we headed up late on a friday night. It’s safe to say between work taking slightly longer than expected, as did the drive we arrived and got to sleep a bit after midnight. An ideal bedtime prior to a 5 am wake up to get over to the ski area for a morning tour up the mountain. I rose the next morning trying to be as quiet as possible before Laura my wife kindly drove me over to the venue before heading back for some much needed sleep. The excitement of the day a head certainly helped overcome the tiredness of minimal sleep. As did a spot of a sugar rush as I grabbed a cereal bar to eat on the drive over. 

After a quick briefing in the morning twilight with the other skiers and a few split boarders before we got underway in the blue light of the morning. Although it was just light enough a few people opted probably more sensibly to bring out a head torch as beams of light cut across the trail as we started to hike up. It felt great being out on the skis for the first time of the season. I had unfortunately not been able to make the most of THE snow dump that happened back in November. Many of the skiers regaled tales of some of the best snow and powder days they had seen in seasons. Despite the crisp cold conditions we all soon heated up as we picked up pace heading on up the mountain at Bolton Valley. Having never been there it was a great spot to see with some dedicated uphill trail routes to skin up. This was the warm up of the day and for me a great re-introduction into ski touring, everything kind of felt a bit familiar yet rusty. We headed up past a mountain hut that you can stay in overnight during the winter which looked like an awesome spot for another day! The trail took us further up the mountain weaving between trees and over frozen streams as the sun began to rise. It was a cloudy morning unfortunately, so there was to be no golden sunrise. Rather an overcast blue grey glow. The group slowly spread out up the mountain as micro groups found their rhythm heading up the trail. 

Starting off in the morning twilight

Starting off in the morning twilight

Reaching the top and it was time to strip the skins from the base of our skis and ski down. Helmets on, skins off and we were flying down the mountain side. Having mainly done skimo races where you don’t necessarily take in how everyone else is performing their transitions it was great to start seeing the varying levels of efficiency and proficiency at the top. As we got closer to the base we began passing a number of other ski tourers heading up for their own first lines of the day. Arriving back at base camp we came through the doors of the classroom area to a row of donuts and coffee. Despite the earlier breakfast in the car the caffeine and sugar hit was exactly what was required. This was not to be the breakfast of athletes or champions I expect but it was certainly a welcome treat. 

It was then time for class.

The day was broken down into 2 sections, the morning for some indoor teaching, Here there were a couple of options. Essentially 2 sessions were more focussed on an intro to ski touring and backcountry. Then another 2 which were orientated on performance and race perspective within a ski touring setting. A lot of the principles are completely transferrable to a backcountry setting. I opted for the two focussed on performance. 

First up was transitions. Regardless of the mountain being able to switch from boot packing, skinning or skiing in any combination as quickly as possible it’s hugely beneficial. In a race it allows you to not loose precious and non valued adding time. When you are not in a race it is safer and allows you to stay warm as you keep moving. For those that might like to take photographs, grab a quick summit bite to eat or something this time saving buys you some additional time whilst your mates are faffing to get ready. 

The biggest and most memorable point I came away with was the mantra of boots, bindings then skins. And always doing it in that order. That in itself has made my transitions more organised, deliberate and smoother. 

There were also some tricks of the trade for removing skins as quickly as possible. Below are some examples of some great transitions.

The second part of the morning was more into discussing training and nutrition as part of your training or race day program. There is loads of nutrition advice out on the web and with there being so much I often find the information contradicts one another when it comes to which is the best diet to perform on. Regardless of diets during any activity staying fuelled and hydrated is key and this came through in the presentation also. I haven’t always been that great with specific evening and pre-race nutrition regimes but when I have eaten properly the night before, drank a load of water or sports drink the morning of and then continued to fuel through the race. Unsurprisingly I have felt and performed better.  This presentation was quite fitting though as my evening meal had been grabbed on the go and wasn’t exactly nutritious while breakfast had been a cereal bar, coffee and a couple of donuts. 

If you are interested here are some resources (i am not affiliated with them nor an expert, if its something you would be interested in me doing more about nutrition then let me know!)

https://www.uphillathlete.com/high-fat-low-carb-diet-ultra-endurance-performance/

https://feedzonecookbook.com/

The afternoon was spent testing out equipment and putting into practise what we had been discussing in the morning around up hill technique and transitions. Having the day structured like this so we could hear about how to do it in the warmth and partly see some demonstrations before practising outside was fantastic for really practising good technique. I managed to borrow some Salomon s-lab skis. The comparison to my all mountain skis with a particularly heavy touring setup made a huge difference. I also learnt some key points. Such as them not having brakes to save weight. It is great but when transitioning on a slope you need to keep hold of your skis. In the event of running after them grabbing new skis by the edge is equally not a great plan. I ended up cutting a finger which was a pain but fine. It however then bled everywhere and on everything I touched. The conditions were really quite warm on the day so I had opted to not wear gloves the whole time. So if in doubt always try to wear gloves even if they are incredibly lightweight ones. And always hold onto your skis!

We finished up for the day with a raffle and some epic prizes! I cam away with some gloves and managed along the way to pick up some second hand skimo skis. Missing bindings but I will come onto them later.

All in all I would highly recommend this workshop. I will definitely be checking it out next season. You cant ask much more than to meet a load of super friendly ski touring buddies along with learning some tips and tricks.

Thanks Aaron Rice for letting me use your photos!!

Thanks Aaron Rice for letting me use your photos!!

1000km Ride Across Canada

Last year I was at a work event when a presentation came up about a bunch of colleagues who cycled 700km from Montreal to Toronto, in Canada. With them using the ride to raise money for Save the Children. I sat there listening, thinking about one of my last cycling adventures and how it would be a great way of seeing part of Canada. Fast forward a year and I was up visiting my Canadian colleagues when one of them mentioned in passing that a similar ride was happening this year and that I should drop the team a note. Not long after that I soon found myself signed up for a 1000km cycle from Quebec to Toronto via Montreal where we would visit three of our offices and manufacturing sites in Canada. 

Admittedly I was a bit late to the game and on top of this between other commitments and post running race recovery I didn't quite fit in the number of training rides that I had wanted to fit in. 

One key thing I did manage to do pre-event was to get my bike properly fitted at Hilltop Bicycles. It is safe to say that if I hadn’t done this the ride would have been significantly less pleasant. Pre-fitting I would get on my bike and after an hour cycling it felt like someone had severely kicked my rear end. Even on a short cycle into work, the return leg had become pretty uncomfortable. I ended up spending a happy evening in the bike shop being measured and fitted to my bike. My bikes is now over 10 years old and apart from when I first got the bike where the focus was mainly related to my height vs the bike, this was the first time that I had everything checked and adjusted to fit me. Everything from where my cleats on my shoes sat all the way up. The crucial element for me came with measuring my bottom. I sat down on this slightly squidgy seat and after a few minutes got up to see 2 little dimples marking where my sit bones were. Immediately I was informed my seat was the wrong size, good to know as it explained a lot. From here it was a quick exercise choosing the seat to fit my width. It was such a difference from what seemed like a fairly random exercise selecting a wider, narrower, shorter seat etc in the hope that at the end of the day it felt better. After a few further alterations the job was done. My wallet a bit lighter but certainly a lot better than a whole new bike. The next day I took it out for a ride and the difference was immediate. I was more comfortable on it than I had ever been and felt a lot more efficient in the process. All that needed to be done closer to the event was to take it all apart to fly up to Canada in a way that doesn’t wreck all these adjustments. 

The rough Route

The rough Route

It was the day before I was due to fly, and I was breaking down my bike so it could fit in a bike box when I became stuck removing the peddles. They just wouldn’t budge. Not wanting to spend too much time on it, I took it to a local mechanic to see if they had better tools for the job. The first peddle came off quickly enough. The second was stuck and needed to soak over night. Not really the answer I wanted but at least there was some progress. Having ridden in all sorts of weather and conditions it turned out that the grease I had put in over a year ago had finally all oozed out creating a pretty solid seal. The next day I turned up and the peddle was finally off. I quickly got back to the house to finish off the job and get it packed up for the flight to Quebec. Soon enough I found myself sitting relaxing on the plane as we taxied to take off. It felt like we had only just taken off when we were on our approach. The first surprise when arriving into Quebec was the fact that the dead pan immigration officer did not seem surprised or interested in the fact that my reason for being in CanadaI was that I was about to cycle from Quebec to Toronto. He clearly hears far more interesting stories through the day. It was a quick stamp and called out "Next!!”. 

It was great to finally meet the rest of the team who I would be cycling with for the coming seven days. It was a pretty impressive group with a mix of nationalities and backgrounds from national level kayakers to head ski patrollers and everything in between. We even had one guy who had committed to complete the 1000km on a fat bike. Riding by yourself or with other fat bikers is one challenge but as I was about to be reminded doing this on a fat bike in a peloton of road bikes is something else. Equally being in a peloton for the journey meant we could chat with one another and given that this was the first time i was meeting everyone meant listening to some great stories along the way.

The route itself followed the St Lawrence river from the outskirts of Quebec City up river to Montreal and the mouth of Lake Ontario then on towards Toronto. Going up river there was a marginal incline as well as being in the direction of the prevailing winds. 

The first couple of days were to be the easiest with ride distances in the 85 - 140km range making for a good warm up, allowing us to break into our stride. There was of course the odd coffee stop. Occasionally we came across a good caffeine stop shortly after starting the days ride.  

The distances then started to crank up as we left Montreal for the leg to Mississauga, Toronto. The first of these coming in at 171km (106 miles) and although not massively hilly the temperature was in the range of  30 - 35C (above 90F). Making the middle part of the day excruciatingly hot. It was not the conditions I was expecting. I had left the Carolina’s only the previous week as hurricane Florence had started its approach with the rain beginning to fall and the temperature dropping. We drove out fo the state in increasingly wet conditions. Then whilst doing final preparations in New Jersey the aftermath of this storm had started to drift north causing it to become much cooler and wetter in the process. I had just assumed those same conditions would slowly drift north. Fortunately not! A high pressure engulfed the part of Canada we were cycling through with cloudless skies and one seriously burning hot sun. There was already some interesting tan lines with various bits of cycling apparel. The mornings ride took us through corn country with significant sections that were as straight and flat as an arrow with only the odd pothole providing a slight deviation in our route. Later on we ended up stopping by the riverside and after admiring how clear the water looked and how tempting it was for a swim we finally broke. After one of the team dove in, the rest of us quickly followed, most of us diving straight in with our cycling kit on. They may have padded shorts but we were fairly certain this heat would dry them out in no time. It turned out to be a fairly long and hard day but filled with some luxuries.  On the outskirts of Montreal we spotted an ice cream and chocolate shop called Talie Chocolat, quickly pulling over and were soon spoiled by the taste and selection of treats. An ice cream and some of their home made cold chocolate milk hit the spot after a hot days cycle! Getting back on our bikes, we had hardly ridden at all when we overshot our destination. After some road and traffic negotiations we made it to our final stop of the day. 

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This marked the start of some challenging days a head with the distances increasing. This meant there was to be less rest in the evenings, our days would start as the sun began to rise. Meandering out of the towns as the commuter traffic began to start up. The mornings were glorious. Sunrise provided some beautiful sites across open fields and forests, silhouetting the riders a head. It was my favourite part of the day, picturesque and the temperature at its best. Not to cold or too hot. I felt like I could ride for hours during those early morning sections and in many ways it reminded me of the conditions riding in the UK. The first of these was a 210km day. Our route taking us a long the St Lawrence river in the region of the Thousand Islands. The flat meandering road provided the odd opportunity for a bit of a sprint mid cycle ride to break up the monotony with a mixture of thrill and dread given the distance still to ride. I ended up making the decisions late in the process as some of them had broken away making catching them and then continuing on all the more difficult.  The bursts of speed along with the spectacular views made for a long but epic day. Although some of the team went for a dip I didn’t feel quite as overcome by the heat as the previous day so held off. We did however find ourselves at a vineyard. Like the original Tour de France fuelled by wine we pulled over for a small glass. Sitting there looking out over the vines and having a few sips of wine. The remainder of the day cycling through Prince Edward County. With some incredible views and great roads to cycle along. 

At the end of our 210km day it really felt like we had broken the back on the ride with the longest distance day over. 

As we edged ever closer to Toronto the route began to meander away from the city in a bid to get as little traffic as possible. This resulted in us taking a few dirt tracks, which on our road bikes was a fun little challenge. One of the team however was on a fat bike (and had been for the entirety of the bike ride so far) who was now in his element storming up the dirt road hills as we tried desperately to avoid getting a puncher. Just before the finish we even had time for a stop at a skate board park where some of the riders tested out their skills down stairs and around the park. We finished the penultimate night with a team BBQ. A perfect way for brining the ride to a finish before we arrived at the finish to be dragged in multiple directions as friends, family and colleagues were expected to be at the finish line the following day.

The final day arrived all too soon, thinking back to hours in the saddle to reach this point. All the sites, sounds and experiences we had over the last week as we cycled across part of Canada. It had been a great experience that was coming to an end all too soon.  Although the final days distance was only just over a 100km we needed to be done by midday and we did not want to be late. WE rolled out of the hotel car park very much in the commuter traffic for the first couple of hours as we weaved about the roads, past traffic and picking up a few last punctures for the trip. It was also due to be the hilliest of the days. A perfect way to finish the ride. We set off at a steady pace. But as the day progresses the excitement of finishing built up. There were a few more direct road sections to complete and then a final coffee and cake break where we met up with some of the other riders before hitting the hills. The hills provided a chance to see some of the training area for some of the riders compared to a lot of the relatively flat riding around central New Jersey. With it being the final day we let loose a bit of the hills chasing one another up and up the switch backs to the summit. This was a glimpse of what was to come. Its safe to say the last miles were very much a sprint finish. It started with some decent chases between stopping points, where I found the limit of my gears where some of the group were able to keep peddling downhill mine had reached the limit as I effectively free wheeled down until i could start getting some purchase on the gears. Once we re-grouped into our now tight knit peloton we entered the final 20 - 30km to the finish for a brief lunch stop prior to the final km’s for the finish. Our speed cranked right up, our heads were down and fortunately the cooler weather fo the final day helping with this final speed burst. It certainly made me appreciate the level pro riders operate at as i think our speeds still paled into insignificance to their coasting riding speeds. Reaching the outskirts of suburbia it was time to start winding down the speed whilst we worked our way through the streets and suddenly we were at the final stop of the ride. The place was to try and ride into the finish as one huge group. There were two groups of multi-day riders then another 50 or so riders who had gone out for day rides. Unfortunately with punchers and mechanical issues slowing up some of the groups we had to make the final miles before all groups could make it as apparently there was quite the crowd building at the finish. Cycling the final few kilometres to the finish as a group of maybe 30 - 40 riders we came round the final corner to roaring crowd of supporters.

We had cycled from Quebec City to Toronto over 7 days with single and multi day riders. The team had overcome challenges from punchers, mechanical issues and a couple of unfortunate crashes. After just over 1000km we all managed to cross the finish line safe, sound and up for more cycling!! 

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All that was left was to disassemble my bike for the return journey back to the US.  


Mt Mitchell - North Carolina

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This was the first long holiday of the year and after much debate we had settled on exploring Asheville and the Black Mountain area in North Carolina. Renowned for outdoor activities and a lot of breweries! The first task was for a casual 11 hour drive down to the area from New Jersey. With a car full of people and kit. Loaded up with snacks for the drive we began making our way south.

One of the first spots we visited was a natural slide. Hidden in Pisgah National forest we braved the slightly cooler weather for the chance for a wild swim. By the time we got there their were only a few people milling about and sliding down the rock face into the plunge pool at the bottom. With it being the end of the season we had definitely avoided the crowds which you could imagine being the norm in the heat of the summer. After spending some time sliding down and hiking up it was time to head on back to our base for the next few days. 

Sliding Rock

Sliding Rock

After checking out the weather that evening and various trails available we settled on heading up Mt Mitchell. Mt Mitchell itself was high on the wish list for our time there. Partly because its the highest peak east of the Mississippi and eastern North America (when you exclude some of the Arctic region) standing at 2,037m or 6,684 feet. Making it about 400ft taller than Mt Washington up in New Hampshire or roughly 2,200 feet taller than Ben Nevis in Scotland. The mountain and surrounding area have an interesting history as well. Originally the Cherokee tribe were one of the more prominent in the Black Mountain region until settlers took over the region. Since then it was first climbed by a French Botanist and Explore named Andre Michaux (who commenced quite a few expeditions from New Jersey & New York). Making a climb to the top all the more relevant having travelled from New Jersey albeit far easier to get there compared to his travels. A Professor from the University of North Carolina, Elisha Mitchell, explored and studied the height of the mountain before confirming it as the highest mountain in the East of the US. He later unfortunately went on to die on the mountain after an accident. 

The trail up Mt Mitchell

The trail up Mt Mitchell

In the 1940’s a road was created along a ridge that runs 469 miles between Virginia and North Carolina, with a stop off at the summit of Mt Mitchell, creating the Blue Ridge Parkway. However since then the environment has had a tough time. A mixture of effects have been damaging the eco system. From logging and fires through to foreign invading plants and animals. The more recent effect has been acid rain, which is still to this day severely affecting the forest and killing many of the trees. In 1993 it was declared an International Biosphere by UNESCO. Despite the challenges it still has a rich environment. Its not surprising that its one of the most visited national parks in the US. Due to its popularity there are a variety of options to reach the summit including a drive almost to the summit or horseback ride. We opted to hike from the base starting at the Black Mountain campsite.

Blue Ridge Parkway meandering below us

Blue Ridge Parkway meandering below us

The adventure started with the drive over there. Plugging the campsite in as the start point for our hike we soon found ourselves driving up a rough track road with ever tighter switch backs. Higher and higher we headed up the mountain. What we had not appreciated when going with the route the GPS suggested was that this would take us the off road route. It showed the importance of having a road map of the local area! It was quite the experience driving up with sheer drops to one side and some fairly impressive pot holes amongst other parts. It turned out the road should have already been closed for the season. We had managed to sneak through for a final ascent whilst they were conducting some maintenance. As we climbed our expected time of arrival got later and later. It felt like we had driven to the top of the mountain as we emerged onto the main and perfectly tarmacked road. Trying to find the second segment for the onward journey, which unfortunately had been closed for the season, we began searching for alternative routes. After trying a few different ones we were finally heading in the right direction on the only remaining route to get to the start of the trail head. The trail started from the Black Mountain camp ground. We soon enough arrived far later than expected but there nonetheless . The campground is tucked in beneath the mountain. Parking up we crossed over a bubbling river to get into the camp group which was filled with campers and surrounded by towering trees. 


Some wooden signs directed us towards the start of the trail, with a fairly flat section to warm us up into the hike a head of us. This however did not last long. We soon found ourselves in amongst the trees and working our way up wards. The cooler weather making for some perfect conditions for hiking. 


One of the plants of interest for the day was poison ivy having spoken to a few people about the various poisonous plants in the US. We had spent some time over breakfast reading a few warnings and articles about poisoned ivy, oak and a few other plants as well as how to spot them. We were on the look out for these plants in a bid to avoid them. Not being your flora expert anything that looked remotely similar suddenly became a hurdle to overcome. Not wanting to be covered in the resin that these plants secrete which waits up to 48 hours before revealing the blisters of the infected area. Unfortunately you can spread it around during this time so in the event of getting it on your hands imagine all the places you might touch during a 48 hour time period….

Slowly but surely we made our way further and further up wards. With most of the mountainside covered in forest we did not have much of an opportunity to take in the views around us. Until we reached a small clearing which had been carved out to make way for a electricity pylon that was strung up the side of the mountain and also headed for the top albeit in a much more direct fashion. Straight up. This gave us a small glimpse into what we would see from the summit and it was already pretty spectacular. 

I find it fascinating seeing how the environment changes as we meandered our way along and higher up the mountain. We passed through thick groves of rhododendron’s as we climbed and the scenery slowly changed from chestnuts and oak trees to fir trees as we made our way higher and higher. Unfortunately we didn’t see any flying squirrels or local black bears. Admittedly not seeing a bear up close although an amazing experience would have been a bit nerve racking for the group and the bear. 
You can read about my last bear experience in the link below

We were not disappointed on reaching the summit. The 360 degree views were pretty awe-inspiring. We even met some cyclist that had made a bid for the summit under their own power as well. Munching away of some snacks before the second leg of the journey we watched large grey clouds moving in on the area. With the weather on the turn and due to it taking longer than expected to reach our actual starting point we made the decision to make a dash for the bottom rather than continue along the ridge to some other nearby peaks. Part the way down the first rain drops started to make their way through the foliage. We stopped briefly for an attempt at some easy bouldering before pressing on quickly to the bottom. We got back down in pretty quick time, with the rest of the evening to explore the nearby town and its array of Breweries and Bars. 

The Weather Turning

The Weather Turning

If you are interested in reading a bit more on Mt Mitchell and the surrounding area the link below has a bunch of info.
https://www.ncparks.gov/mount-mitchell-state-park/ecology

Views from the Summit

Views from the Summit

Trail Run Racing North East USA

I recently took part in my first running trail race in just over a year and prior to that one it has been a couple of years. It also happened to be my first since arriving in the USA.

The race was along the Shawangunk ridge in the state of New York. It's a beautiful part of the state as well as being a tree covered ridge line with enough hills to add to the difficulty. The event had 4 choices of race lengths; 70, 50, 30 miles and half marathon distances. Each followed the same route you just jumped onto the course at different stages along the way. The beauty of it being point to point is the added interest along the trail. When looking out for races I managed to find a large number of them in the northeast of the US that did laps of a trail circuit. Both options have different benefits. But for my first one back in a while a point to point was perfect. You can check out the race details on the link below

https://www.longpathraces.com/shawangunk-ridge-trail-run

I had opted for the half marathon, having not had a suitable amount of time to train up for some longer I was thinking of using it to get me used to races run in the US as well as a good stepping stone to some longer events later in the year. 

Turning up to the event early on a cloudy and cool Saturday morning I had estimated my finishing time. Not on many hard facts for this one just rough estimates based on the distance. As I got chatting to people at the start line it transpired that my estimation was probably off, a quick time for the half marathon and winning time the previous year was just over the 2 hour mark. Along with this a number of people mentioned various points in the course where it was difficult finding the route. There are route markers but they are intermittent and are just the normal Shawangunk ridge trail markers, rather than any additional ones being used other than at the end where some occasional additional red strings of tape had been used. I picked up the map which being for the full length of the course (70 miles long) didn't provide great detail on a side of A4 to really navigate by. With the route on my gps I thought this would suffice. But after speaking to the fellow runners I decided to try to download the route map onto my phone as a back up. Being out in the middle of  nowhere with limited reception this took until part the way through the race to download fully. Better late than never. 

My first yellow bus journey

My first yellow bus journey

Boarding a couple of yellow school buses at the finish line we headed to where the half marathon started. It was my first time on one of these American icons. Boarding the buses made me realise the vast array of runners from whippets at the front to experienced runners right through to those who fancied the challenge for a weekend. Arriving at the start line we all bundled out and did our final preparations before the race started. This along with the race briefing where getting lost was mentioned again. I hoped this would not be me...

We were set off in waves according to our running numbers and I quickly got into a rhythm following behind a few people. We were making good progress along the trail and had made the transition from the little tributary of a trail the half marathon started on to the main trail. It followed beneath pine trees on a hard packed trail as the day began to heat up. Well above the temperatures I was expecting. Rather than being in the mid teens (60F range as I get into the US metric) it was well into the high 20's ( high 70F low 80's).

All was going well till we passed another runner but he was heading in the other direction. It turned out the girl who I was following was his wife. They had a brief chat and she carried on. Now I assumed that he had come out to meet his wife on the trail and as she had continued on we must be heading on the right direction. Turned out this wasn't the case he was doing the 70 miler and we were going the wrong way. About 15 to 20 of us spread out along this part of the trail. Checking and re-checking the maps we turned around and headed promptly back in the reverse direction. We had travelled about 30 mins round trip in the wrong direction. Not ideal on a race that was already due to be a tough half marathon.

Turning around and it was back the way we had come. Sweat already soaking through my top. I met up with a runner who it turned out spent a lot of time of the years running in the area and knew some of  the tougher sections of the course. It was great way of passing the time chatting away as well as getting some local insight on the course or at least pointing out some cool looking areas which I may have otherwise just run past without looking up. Despite being hard packed trail we had already passed one guy limping the other way having gone over on his ankle on one of a number of roots, which I had almost slipped on as well. The trail meandered along a spectacular ridge line with views up into the Catskills. The odd tree hinted at the transition to autumn or fall with the colours beginning to change but there was still a way to go for the real show to begin.

Views from a clearing

Views from a clearing

 

Making it to the second a final check point marked the start of a long ish up hill section. As well as a short scramble through a boulder field to reach the top. A definite possibility for some scrambling or potentially some bouldering at a later date. I had heard the area was famous for roped up climbing as well. 

Making it to the top and my legs still felt pretty good I bid farewell to my running buddy for the morning and headed off. The trail flattened out and was beginning to descend towards the finish I passed by one of the 70 mile racers who was running in sandals although he was doing incredibly time wise looked to be struggling a bit. Think I would have looked distinctly worst at that stage of a 70 mile run! The heat of the day had clearly had an impact on me as I could feel the odd twinge of cramp setting in. I just hoped a random movement wouldn't set it off. Easing up on the pace for a bit I was trying to minimise the risk of it happening before picking up again. The course by this stage was a gentle descent through cool and damp under growth. With old pine needles littering the floor making for a soft cushioning feeling for the body. 

Warm conditions out on the course

Warm conditions out on the course

 

I came across a few more runners not really knowing which course they were on I greeted them as I passed them by on route to the finish. Coming round the corner and I was greeted to the bridge I had driven under earlier in the day. By now the day had well and truely cleared from the initial clouds of the early morning to reveal the view across the valley. I quickly stopped to admire the view before the final few hundred metres to the finish line. 

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Crossing the finish line and being welcomed to cold drinks, a toast with a very small beer and a slice of pizza was a perfect finish for the race. Before making a rather sweaty journey back south again. 

16th place in 3hrs 10mins. Shouldn't have got lost for 30 mins! 1st place was completed in 2hrs 8mins. I think i will be back for one of these events next year.

Blinded by the sun a great shot...

Blinded by the sun a great shot...

Got any race recommendations? Or have any questions about trail run racing? 

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.

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.

Nearly at the start line

Thanks to everyone for your messages over the last few days. Our launch date at the start of the week has been knocked back a little for a couple of reasons - firstly due to what we assumed was a minor airport-caused sniffle, but developing into full-blown respiratory infections for first Alex and Jamie soon after. Benno has miraculously side-stepped the biological onslaught. Secondly, our freight was nigh on destroyed by the carrier, so a half-day repack became three days of painstaking re-organisation and finding lost items. The weather has been stable at around -30 to -35 degrees and with a little wind, settling at around -40. It looks to be staying that way so it's really only our frustration that has suffered from the delay. It's been vital for Jamie and me to recover fully, otherwise we'd be sure to take another health dive after the toil begins. We think we're more or less there now and so, packed, we're looking to move north soon. A final factor is that the snowfall here so far this winter has been huge. Even skidoo-powered hunters are returning with news of tough surfaces. This means that we have taken the decision to ship some of our supplies up the coast to pick up later in the journey. In the interests of full disclosure, this means that although we will travel man-powered (what some still refer to as unassisted or unsupported), our status with now be 'with resupplies'.

The hiccup in preparations have allowed us to integrate into the community here in Qikiqtarjuaq and our heartfelt thanks go to Louis, the guesthouse host and enormously so to Chris, Glen and Halie from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who have taken us into their home and offered every help possible.

So, with a brief show of the northern lights, hour on hour of repacking and wistful looks towards the headland we want to aim for first, we'll get going as soon as possible. We need to ensure we are all able to sleep fully the night without wheezing and major signs of illness and without any elevated temperature first though. Being impatient will only end in tears after all and we have time. The ice ahead appears to be 'okay'. A couple of broken sections which we'll avoid due to the bears that will congregate and the tough navigation they'll cause. Stay tuned to Twitter, the tracker and the blog all! Cheers.

Food for Thought

A lot of people ask how the trip works, what we will be taking with us and especially what food we will be eating.The expedition aims to be unsupported and unassisted. The unassisted part means we have to do it under our own power; no kites, dogs or any other method of assistance is allowed. Our dogs are being used solely for warning against possible risks from polar bears. The unsupported means that we carry everything with us from start to finish that we might need.

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To achieve this we are taking a huge amount of equipment, fuel and food. Each person will be pulling around the 250kg mark. This is the equivalent of 3 average sized adult blokes on a sled being dragged along. Or to put this into numbers 260 freeze dried meals 650 maxi nutrition protein bars, black friar flapjack and cake 70 large packs of chocolate buttons 60 packs of Wild West jerky Then a couple of treats like mixed nuts, wine gums or saucisson. Drinks include hot chocolate, tea and maxi nutrition shakes. These do vary between each team member but it gives you an idea of the quantity and volume of the food alone. This all results in us having 2 rather plump and considerably heavy pulks (sleds) to pull each.

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This is heavy on a flat icy surface but when it come to having any fresh powder or the gentlest of slopes then it's more like a rugby scrummage session. More of either can result in us having to shuttle our pulks along 1 at a time. Let the pulling commence!

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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.

Alpy bus has arrived!

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.

St Michael's Church

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.

Our first stop

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.

Tryfan a head

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/