Tag Archives: Mountains

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.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
High winds near the summit – captured by Tyson who lead the group
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.
 DSC04796
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.
DSC04805
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.
 DSC04807DSC04815DSC04812
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.
 DSC04821
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:
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.
 DSC04829
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.
 DSC04830
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.
 DSC04832
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.
 C43A2315
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.
C43A2296.jpg
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.
16143454_1438587386182504_2988836461667304088_o
Photos courtesy of Brian & NE Rando Race Series
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.
16252496_1438587266182516_7651170757055946547_o.jpg
Photos courtesy of Brian and the NE Rando Race Series
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.
IMG_5781
Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 22.30.13.png
Experimenting with Move count app from Suunto
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:
and for those in the UK there is always the Scottish one:
IMG_5807

Munro Bagging


We started the week with an ambitious plan of routes, with the aim of bagging as many munro’s as we could whilst meandering our way through the Scottish highlands. We had slight trepidation with the weather set to change for the worst. After a couple of weeks of good weather and the bank holiday on the horizon it was a big ask for a further week of dry weather.

c43a1977
Photo of the day

Setting off for the most northerly point on our quest in our trusty Landy towards Glen Shiel and the gateway to the Isle of Skye. Arriving to a glorious evening where we ate at the nearby pub over looking Loch Duich before preparing for the next days long outing.

IMG_4772.jpg

We woke the next morning to an autumnal feel. Dew glistened on the grass and leaves whilst the colours looked like they were changing to slight hues of reds, oranges and yellows. It was looking to be a perfect day for a walk. Arriving at the start point we noticed a few other walkers covered from head to toe as if it was a freezing day. Getting out of the car we soon realised why they were covered as the Scottish midges were out and descended on us as fresh targets. I was nibbled within the few minutes I left my arms exposed.

IMG_4784.jpg
Avoiding midges

To escape the midges we quickly departed the car park and headed the meandering path towards the foot of the first munro. With hardly a breathe of wind we could hardly enjoy the view for a moment before they descended on us again, trying to nibble any exposed skin. The path began to zig zagging its way  up onto the ridge line where we were to follow for the day.

DSC04715.jpg
a warm start to the day

Seven munro’s stood before us on the South Glen Shiel ridge. Each hidden by the one before preventing us from seeing our finish point, which we were very thankful of in many ways. The day turned out to be a scorcher as our water began to run low and we certainly heated up.  Each summit was a mixture of rounded tops to the odd scramble. Despite this we met a few other walkers including a group on very good form despite not liking the occasional element of exposure.

DSC04736.jpg
This was to be the visibility for the rest of the week

C43A1972.jpg

IMG_4788.jpg
Enter a caption
DSC04719.jpg
Our journey a head
DSC04708.jpg
Our team mates for the journey, this stopped when the weather turned….

C43A1975.jpg

After a day of relatively good weather the final summit clouded over. With the guide book advising on a more direct route down to the main road we made a bid in this direction and soon picked up the start of a rough path. This however disappeared clearly at a point where people either turned back or everyone took on the ethos of “everyone for themselves”. Making our down steep boggy ground with no signs of it finishing. Until we came across a sheep track that meander alongside a beautiful stream where we could top up on some more water. Not without its challenges as the bottle top fell off and floated down stream before securing it with a walking pole before it descended the next small water fall. The final section finished with a small detour through woodland. Slipping and sliding our way down through the wet under growth before arriving at the road side. We had been joined by a couple from Edinburgh for the final descent who we had a quick celebration with before attempting to hitch hike back to the cars to finish the evening.

img_4797
Almost down

The pint of coke in the bar never tasted so good.

7 munro’s down:

  • Creag a’ Mhaim,
  • Druim Shionnach
  • Anoach Air Chrith
  • Maol Chinn-dearg
  • Sgurr an Doire Leathain
  • Sgurr an Lochain
  • Creag nan Damh

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-04 at 22.25.40.png
South Glen Shie; Ridge

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.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-08-46-45
Our Final Route

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.

C43A1318

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.

c43a1328
Striding Edge

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.

C43A1326.jpg
Memorial to Mr Dixon, 1858

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.

C43A1325

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.

c43a1336

c43a1356

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.

 

Scottish Ski Touring


After much deliberating over the last few years I finally took the a spur of the moment to get some ski skins after chatting to one of the team at a local ski and mountaineering shop in Perth. For those who haven’t heard of these, it is a material where all the hairs lie in one direction so when stuck to the base of the ski they allow the ski to slide in one direction but hold in the other. Along with a touring binding the whole setup allows your foot to pivot up and down so you can trek up hill.

IMG_3178.JPG
midnight prepping of the skis

The first trial trip was just at the end of a beautiful days skiing at glenshee however this coincided with the wind picking up. With the temperature plummeting and the skins flapping around I learnt a lot about the equipment and using it in poor conditions. Some of which I should have checked in the warmth of the house! The short notice of good conditions in the hills meant for a quicker trip and slightly rushed prep as I cut the skins to shape at midnight the evening before heading off.

IMG_3730

After the initial delay I was off. Gliding along the snow, over snow drifts, heather, ice and rock. I was rewarded with views from the high point across the valley. You could see the snow line across the valleys and the winding road up to glenshee. The nearby stream gleaming in the sunlight. All topped off by a great ski down. The little bit of effort rewarded with untouched Scottish powder, not quite the depths of the alps or further afield but powder nonetheless. I passed a couple making a similar journey up the hills.

IMG_3191

The second outing was much better with perfect weather and the snow was due to be good in bits despite the recent warmer conditions. Being in the hills covered in snow is a beautiful sight as was meeting a few like minded people up there. I stopped to discuss route options and snow conditions with a fellow ski tourer. It also gave me the chance to cool down despite the cool breeze I was vastly over dressed for the constant trekking and “warm” weather. If it had been the arctic I would have definitely been sweating far too much. As it brought back memories of the tougher days we had whilst trying to minimise any sweating to an absolute minimum in order to prevent our clothes from freezing.

IMG_3195
Glorious views, Glas Maol, the hill with the bowl on the left was where i was heading

Some of the more exposed slopes were quite icey. I don’t mind skiing down ice but skinning up hill in a zig zag fashion makes the turns quite interesting. Still perfecting my technique I slid back occasionally on the turns as I shifted round.

 

overheating in the exceptionally warm weather

It was slightly gutting every time about the loss in hard won height despite it only being a tiny difference. Once at a decent height it was time to head down hill. Skins off, realising I had forgotten the gauze that makes them easier to pull apart, I packed them away eager to hit some fresh snow. Heading down into some of the bowls the skiing improved and I could carve out some turns down the hill between clumps of heather. Before slowly making my way back to the car.

It was a great experience learning a new skill but there is the greater satisfaction knowing you put in the hard graft to experience and reach the area you wanted to ski in. I learnt about how using normal ski boots although does work is not only much heavier but you don’t have nearly as much flex in the ankle which ended up giving me a couple of blisters.

End of a good day

IMG_3185 (1).jpg

Despite skiing in Scotland being a bit of an experience compared to the likes of the alps. It often involves some rock, streams and heather avoidance. Its close, you can get some incredible conditions particularly if your willing to put some effort in and I will certainly be doing it again! Skiing and ski touring in particular in Scotland is certainly on the increase with the snow lasting well past spring if your willing to go away from the ski areas. As well as allowing you to visit areas with potentially more snow and certainly a lot less skied on gives that adventure and exploration experience.

If you have some ski or other touring experiences why not share the story or the pictures here or on Instagram #Mytour

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!
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!
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
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.

IMG_0519

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
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.

la flegere
la flegere

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.
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
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
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.

Mountain Leader Expedition


The final stage of the mountain leader training course is a 2 day expedition, with the aim of bringing together all the elements that had been covered into a more realistic scenario. Fortunately for us (not so good as a learning experience) the weather was due to be on our side, with predictions of glorious sunshine and little to no rain.

The next morning after a large fry up in what became a rather smoky kitchen, we sat in Pete’s cafe with large mugs of coffee to present Mat our mountain guru our idea. The place was filled with walkers, climbers, bikers and basically anything else outdoors in a whole assortment of clothing from leggings with flip flops to big puffer jackets.  All of us planning, dreaming and thinking of the upcoming days activities.

He made a couple of small alterations to give us more options on the night navigation as with the weather forecast we weren’t going to be able to demonstrate our skills in poor conditions. We drove out to the starting point where despite all the reports we had watched and read it soon began to drizzle. Typical British/ Welsh weather.

changeable conditions
change able conditions

 

A misty summit
A misty summit

With the first point marked on my map case we were off. Slight issue as instantly the point was in a different place due to the case and map shifting in opposite directions, I quickly gave up this approach. We started making our way up into the hills each of us taking it in turns to lead to the next point, choosing the route, checking the time it would take. The aim was to head up towards Carnedd Llewelyn before dropping down into a wee corrie called Ffynnon llyffant. Although we knew this was the plan, after the first few points where everyone knew the direction, the remainder of the day was spent either leading to a random point or following and then trying to work out where we were.

Carnedd Llewelyn - wee loch on the right of it is our camping spot
Carnedd Llewelyn – wee loch on the right of it is our camping spot

Arriving we soon discovered one of many aircraft wreckages that litter the hillsides in the UK. We later found out that some people go out on walks to try and find these wreckages instead of always aiming for a summit or similar fixed point. After finding a suitable place it was time to set up the tents in this beautiful spot. Wild horses, including a foal and a rather aggressive white horse charged up and down the valley as the sun began to set. With it getting closer to the longest day we were in for a long wait for darkness as food was cooked, eaten, washed up and slowly more clothes were worn as the night began to cool.

IMG_9080

Plane parts scattered over the area
Plane parts scattered over the area

Finally dusk was setting in so with head torches at the ready and maps in hand it was time to head off into the darkness for a night navigation session. It was at this point the lack of light coming from my lightweight head torch became more evident as it’s glow just about made it to the ground in front of my feet. Having not done much of this it was a really different challenge working between points on the ground, counting footsteps, timing the route and compass reading all in aid of reaching the right final point. As the night progressed we developed from the specks of light over the hillside as our group dispersed in different directions to more of a single glow as we converged on our destination. As we got closer to camp our thoughts became more wrapped up in the thought of slithering into a warm sleeping bag. The almost full moon certainly helped in taking in our surroundings once the head torches were off, to reveal a crystal clear and starry night.

Night Navigation area
Night Navigation area

The sun glowed through the tent as I stumbled out of it for a bit of breakfast, freeze dried curry. What better way to start the day than by a wee corrie loch, sitting on part of the old aeroplane wing and eating curry with the sun rising up. The plan for the day was to take it in turns to navigate point to point out of where we were, heading back towards the cars.

We weaved our way along the side of a cliff face before heading up a gully towards to top of the peak. Passing a variety of plants Matt pointed out the different varieties. Not realising this was part of the assessment I just assumed this was just one of his interests until he started recommending different topics and books that would be worth reading up on. At which point the penny dropped, part of the final assessment is showing your knowledge of the local flora, fauna, history or geology I believe. Probably need to check this out before I finally do it in more detail.

The route took a beautiful stretch along a ridge line where we stopped to take in the views, have a quick stop for a bite to eat and some photos. This area also gave us the chance to test our risk assessing abilities over rockier ground with larger packs on. It was certainly a different challenge when you have a larger weight on your back and feeling a lot more cumbersome.

IMG_9119 v2
the ridge we followed

I did find the experience amazing as compared to a 2 day mountain marathon when speed and light weight are the essential ingredients the slower going meant we spent more time on our feet and ended up carrying more weight despite the journey being the same length as the need for more layers and the odd luxury makes a big difference which soon added up in more weight.

Happy Campers
Happy Campers

The other big difference I found was moving compared to navigating point to point over large distances and generally to obvious features in my running to much more micro navigating to very specific destinations or features.

The final section for the day was not so much a slog but more a random straight line through bracken, streams and a long sheep tracks before arriving at the final point of a cafe by the car park for biscuits and a coffee. The course had certainly been a success especially in terms of working out what I needed to work on. The next stage is to get more time in the hills in a variety of weather condition, more to come on how this goes.