Friday 24 December 2010

gear we like, part 6: winter odds and sods

So, the winter season is well and truly upon us, and I’m still too ill to take any real advantage of it. Great. That said, the past few of times I have been out (both in Wales and a recent trip to the Cairngorms), I have been trialling and contemplating some very simple gear ideas, and it’s time to tell the world!

  • Cycling Glasses

Ok, what the hell am I on about now – cycling glasses for winter climbing? Oh yes. Check me out!


Ok, I look stupid.

So why am I wearing them? Well, since I started wearing contact lenses to climb, rather than just wearing my normal glasses, I’ve realised that I feel a little vulnerable in the face area, which is especially relevant to me as I seem to be a magnet for falling ice. I contemplated using a helmet visor, but the one available for the Grivel Salamander is more of a peak than a visor, and not what I was looking for, so the thought of ‘safety glasses’ struck me next, and hence, on a recent trip to Decathlon I found myself looking at clear cycling glasses, admiring the amount of face coverage they provide, and also feeling stunned by how cheap they were (£8 I think). They are now a constant companion on the winter hills – ace for protecting eyes from falling ice, spindrift, or even just the wind. They’re no replacement for goggles when the sh*t really hits the fan, but I’d say a good 90% of the time a pair of these are a great thing to wear as they’re comfortable enough that you forget you’re wearing them and provide you with a nice protective barrier to boot.

  • £9 Casio Digital Watch from Argos

Another slightly revolutionary concept here – a cheap but tough digital watch, but not to wear on your wrist…

When winter climbing you’ll inevitably be wearing multiple layers and gloves, which means that wearing a wrist watch is either not an option at all (i.e. if you’re like me and find the watch plus glove cuff combo excruciatingly uncomfortable), or you wear one but it is underneath your many layers and a total pain to actually be able to look at.

Really there are three main options for telling the time on the hill in winter: 1) wear a watch normally and suffer the consequences, 2) wear a watch over the top of your clothing layers and suffer the consequences, or 3) don’t wear a watch at all (rely on your partner, or have some form of clock stashed elsewhere).

So far this year I have chosen varieties of option 3 every time – usually either relying on my partner wearing a watch, or digging my phone out of my pocket, neither of which are particularly good options really. My latest notion, is to use a watch permanently attached to my rucksack strap, mounted upside down so I can simply glance down and see what the time is, no hassle! Now, obviously this won’t work if I’m not climbing with the bag on, but most of the time I spend out in winter I will be wearing my rucksack, or it will be close by, so theoretically this could be a great solutions, only time will tell (sorry!).


So there we go – as you can see in the picture, my new cheap retro casio fits onto the webbing strap of my Berghaus Arete perfectly – they’re almost made for each other! All I had to do was remove the watch strap, and refit the pins around the webbing (so the webbing is effectively just a replacement watch strap). I will admit that it was a touch fiddly, but the result is stunning – no cable ties or duct tape in sight!

The reason I chose this watch (I think the model is an F-91W or something), was because it was a) cheap, b) digital (don’t want an analogue watch as it’ll be more fragile with all the moving parts), c) water resistant, d) long proven to be pretty much indestructible (I know people who have had these for years, put them through hell and they just keep on and on working), e) low profile/thin/small and f) has a replaceable strap and not a built in rubber thing. In other words, it is perfect for what I wanted here – it even has the added bonus of having a light and functionality as a stopwatch or alarm.

Monday 13 December 2010

maesglasau falls–one of the best ice climbs in wales?

Maesglasau Falls IV, 4, Craig Maesglase. Five pitches of pure water ice, in Mid Wales.


Last Wednesday, myself and a certain Mr Williams (the man who thought so much of my belaying last year he decided to fall off of a route and break his heel after landing on me), decided that the weather had been cold enough for long enough, that we would make the trek into Craig Maesglase and have a crack at “one of the best ice routes in Wales” as it was known to be in condition (although the type of condition it turned out to be in was somewhat interesting…read on!)

This route has been right at the very top of my wishlist ever since I first heard about and laid eyes on it last year, and for good reason. Five pitches of steep pure water ice, only 35minutes from home…how can it get any better?


Ok well there is one way it could be better: the approach. Grim doesn’t even begin to describe how utterly disgusting and harrowing the final part of the approach up the stream to the base of the route is. But you can’t have it all can you? Parking is fine, and you begin your approach through the farm – please talk to the farmer on your way through if you head for this route, he is an absolutely stunning chap who is more than happy for people to climb his ice-fall, but who likes to know how many are on it and when so that should anything happen he can initiate rescue proceedings if needs be (there was apparently an incident a few years back where a solo-ist got trapped on the route in bad weather, leading to an absolute rescue epic).

The first pitch wasn’t really ‘in’, we simply solo’d up the side of the very thinly iced waterfall on frozen vegetation (think frozen spray on ice on fern fronds, very weird, but ok to get up really). The second pitch (shown above with Dave leading, and below with me following) was steeper than it looked and actually really good fun, but the meat of the route came in the third pitch – a steep and weirdly formed beast of an icefall, one where I was grateful I’d chosen to give my new nomics an outing!


“Ah it doesn’t look that bad, it’s not that steep!” are words you should never ever utter just before you set up the crux of a rarely formed welsh waterfall. You should also pay attention to where the party in front of you chose to climb the route…

What you can’t see in the picture below is the actual formation of most of the ice in the steeper upper section – it wasn’t a nice uniform homogenised fall, as would be ideal, it had actually formed as a load of mushroomy blobs, that could only be climbed by hooking your axes way over the back of them – hitting just wasn’t an option, nor was placing decent gear in much of it. I ended up run out and a little scared after I’d taken what turned out to be the incorrect line and crossed the still running fall…

…I was left with two options, reverse the terrifying and damn near irreversible and unprotected traverse I’d just made, or climb up the edge of the still flowing waterfall to where I could cross back into the finishing groove. Not being a fan of traverses or admitting my mistakes, of course I carried on upwards, where I was to find myself thanking my lucky stars that I had for the first time in many years decided to completely ‘armour up’ in waterproof hardshell gear.

I feel like I’m a much more ‘rounded’ and ‘experienced’ ice climber, now that I’ve finally experienced what it’s like to have ice water running down my sleeves, down my back and my belly, down my legs, down everything. “I didn’t realise you were getting wet up there” whimpered a completely ice coated Dave upon arriving at the belay after seconding the pitch…


Sat at the belay, having battled to find enough solid ice to sink three ice screws after finally regaining my breath and lowering my heart-rate back to somewhere nearer normal, I couldn’t stop a big grin spread across my face as I realised we were going to do the route. The view out across the valley was beautiful, and the view back down the crux pitch had been breathtaking, mesmerising even, and I was finally able to start taking it all in. This is why I love ice climbing.

As I sat watching the hills start to turn a gorgeous shade of pink, our late start and status of being at the very back of a long queue of climbers on the route that day suddenly hit me. “Oh god, we’re going to end up climbing in the dark!” Quite why that thought bothered me I’m not really sure, I mean I’ve climbed in the dark plenty of times, and in winter it’s often all part of the game. I had a good headtorch, and the hardest pitches were over, I shouldn’t have been at all worried, but somehow I was.

Dave flew up the next pitch and through the weird cavey section where I just stood and gaped for a couple of minutes, not quite able to work out the best way to proceed (obviously being a caver helps when squirming through semi iced-up narrow stream gullies), and eventually we somehow ended up stood at the foot of the final pitch with enough daylight for me to get up the slab and out at the top whilst it was still light! Dave had some fun finding foot placements in the rapidly fading half-light…


So, yeah, we did it, and thankfully the walk-off is nowhere near as unpleasant as the approach (although it did take a while with us both being tired and Dave suffering a bit of foot pain by that point).

Is Maesglasau Falls one of the best ice routes in Wales? I think so. Was it worth the effort? Definitely.

Unfortunately, it’s taken me a while to write this blog entry as I made the mistake of having a crappy fast food meal in the evening before going home, and ended up with a nasty bout of food poisoning. I guess it served me right for choosing to eat crap but I really wouldn’t wish this kind of illness on my worst enemy – spending 4 days without sleeping more than 1-2 hours at a time, expelling 20 times* your own bodyweight, and living with a constant throbbing headache really isn’t fun.

*The amount may be a slight exaggeration

Monday 29 November 2010

i have a problem…

Disclaimer: I deserve no sympathy. I am actually an idiot who cannot afford another expensive hobby, hence the problem!

Last week I met Paul. Paul is a pilot and owns an aeroplane called G-SKNT. G-SKNT is a Pitts Special S-2A.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to fly. For a very long time learning to fly remained a mere pipe dream, until I found the means to actually do something about it back in 2008. I undertook my training at RAF Halton, which was conveniently just across the road from where we were living, and in 2009 I passed the skills test to gain my PPL. During the time I was training I quit my job as an engineer and then moved to Wales (I actually passed my skills test two days before we handed the keys back for the house in Aston). Since then I have worked the occasional contract, but primarily relied on my ever-so-long-suffering husband to keep me in clothing, cake and chocolate (the bare essentials), hence I had to stop flying simply because there was no way to afford it.

My most recent contract in Devon has given me the chance to get back into aviation – something I’ve been longing to do for…well…ever since I last stepped out of the cockpit back in 2009.

Brilliant! Fantastic!

So…where is the problem?

The problem originates with the deep rooted desire I have harboured ever since I first went to Halton and saw a tiny little stunner of an biplane in the hangar…I wanted to fly a Pitts Special.

I had no real thoughts of doing anything other than simply ‘having a go’ in one at some point, so when I got chatting to Paul, heading down to Shobdon to aquaint myself with G-SKNT seemed like an excellent idea – I was only going to have a look after all, with a view to one day maybe going for a spin.

Aerobatics. Seemingly an activity designed to provide a terrifying and expensive method of simulating the kind of hangover you wake up with the morning after having drunk two bottles of wine at your husband’s cousin’s bonfire party…So not something you’d particularly want to put yourself through really is it? A bit like winter climbing…and well, we all know how that goes (in case you aren’t a regular reader – winter and ice climbing are my greatest obsessions.)

Last Tuesday I flew G-SKNT.

I will admit now that I was terrified when I climbed into the front seat of that aeroplane, I knew that Paul was going to put me through something terrifying and traumatic, and I had a good idea that I was going to find it as horrifying as the rollercoasters my niece dragged me onto at Thorpe Park a few years ago (I don’t like rollercoasters). Somehow though, I also knew the real reason I was so afraid: I knew wouldn’t be able to just walk away having ‘done it’…

I had no intention of even trying aerobatic flying, let alone deciding I wanted to learn to fly aerobatics. A superb instructor, and his beautiful little aeroplane G-SKNT have changed all that.

Damn you Paul.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

brand new 2010 petzl nomics and elite mountain supplies

So, I’m now the proud owner of a pair of the brand new for 2010 Petzl Nomics.

I will write more about these once I’ve started using them, as a simple play on the board doesn’t really count, although they did feel fantastic for this.

I have a couple of minor gripes, but they really are tiny and I will be writing more about these in a short while, but overall I’m really rather pleased with them.

I just want to say a thank you to Adam at EMS for the fantastic level of service he provided when I placed my order, and just send a shout out to anyone looking to buy any climbing equipment in the near future as he is offering a 20% discount on the rrp of all of his stock to members of the BMC, MCofS and a good number of climbing clubs. 


Bring on the ice!!!!

Monday 8 November 2010

devonshire cream teas

It’s about time I got round to writing this one, after all I have been back home for nearly a week now.

Living and working in Devon for nearly two months was certainly an experience, and certainly not one I regret in the least – living with Jenny was hard work at times, but never dull, in fact we spent probably 90% of our time together laughing – from minor kitchen epics, to supermarket fiascos and random ‘youtubing’ competitions, oh how we laughed.

Anyway, the main point of this post is simply to provide the reader with our guide to some of the best cream teas we sampled during our time in the county, so here we go!

  • Fradgley’s, Lynmouth Street, Lynmouth EX35 6EH

9 out of 10. I’m cheating a little with this one, as this time round we didn’t make it up to the north coast, but on my last Devonian work trip this place scored a huge hit – a cream tea here consists of two HUGE scones, decent jam and beautiful clotted cream in ideal amounts (although for me perhaps more cream than was really necessary!). I don’t remember much else, so the tea must have been acceptable – I can recommend this place as somewhere it’s worth skipping lunch to visit, the scones really were massive.

  • Primrose Cottage, Lustleigh, TQ13 9TJ

7 out of 10. This place really is a lovely place to stop for afternoon tea, situated in the Dartmoor village of Lustleigh, it would be well situated for the casual walker. Jenny and I stopped here for a ‘site meeting’ one afternoon after having attempted to visit the day before only to find the place closed – the opening hours and days do vary. Very nice tea, beautifully made scones, with nice jam and reasonable clotted cream, although perhaps a touch on the expensive side – a cream tea here costs £5.00 per person and the scones aren’t of an overly generous size, unlike some of the others we experienced. That said, for me they were an ideal size – perfect for an afternoon treat and not requiring an empty stomach to accommodate.

  • The Fingle Bridge Inn, Drewsteignton, EX6 6PW

9.5 out of 10. The only reason these guys don’t score the full 10 out of 10 is because the scones on offer were plain, there was no option of having a fruit scone which is normally my preference. Colossal freshly baked scones (and I mean freshly baked – these scones were not warm from having been thrown into the microwave for a few seconds, they were warm from quite literally having just been pulled from the oven. Admittedly this may not be the case on every visit – we were there mid Saturday afternoon at the beginning of the half term break, so prime time really) greeted us alongside gallons of proper tea (with a milk jug that actually poured!), pints of wonderfully fruity jam and several kilos of the thickest clotted cream I have ever seen – I kid you not, the cream was the stickiness and consistency of treacle, truly gorgeous.

Unlike the previous two venues mentioned, the Fingle Bridge Inn is in fact a pub and not a tea room, and you could easily be forgiven for not necessarily considering that they might in fact be the purveyors of what for me, was certainly one of, if not the best cream tea in Devon!




An honorary mention must go to the Service Station at Okehampton, just off the A30, for serving simple, decent cream teas, at a reasonable price, in a roadside diner that once used to be a Little Chef. The scones are smaller than the likes of the Fingle Bridge epics, but similar in size to what you are served in Lustleigh, and come warmed (likely in the microwave), with an adequate amount of proper clotted cream and some simple sachets of jam. This is not a gourmet cream tea, but I like the place and I always enjoy the teas here – not at all pretentious, ideally positioned for the hungry driver in need of a break, and open into the evening. Ideal!

Friday 5 November 2010

help support mountain rescue

NEWSAR launches its supporters group on November 25th, so anyone interested in supporting us should check it out.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

dartmoor wild camping: snowdon summit

Yes, you read correctly – I wild camped on the summit of Snowdon, Dartmoor. Well I had to didn’t I?

Work is driving me slightly mad, I swear it, why else would I keep doing this to myself? I mean, sure, Dartmoor is lovely in it’s own way, but I can’t help but find it a little dull. I also don’t really like wild camping, let alone solo wild camping, although strangely enough the more I do and the more I work out my systems, the more I’m beginning to enjoy it.

That said, the only reasons I keep heading out like this are: 1) I need an escape from work, and the wilderness is the closest I’ve got down here to the mountains. 2) I need to log more ‘Quality Mountain Days’ and wild camps for my ML logbook (oh yes, I still intend doing it, even though the urgency has lessened somewhat now) and 3) it is all good practice, especially the navigation in the fog or in the dark, and I need to do something to ‘keep my hand in’ for MR, at least psychologically.

So, anyway back to the walk – I parked the car up at Combestone Tor right after work and thus proceeded to walk up to the summit of Ryder’s Hill (the highest point on the southern moor). I then headed over to Snowdon, SX 6684 6840, via what was possibly the boggiest, most unpleasant track I’ve had the misfortune to encounter recently. It looked so innocent…right up until you found your foot engulfed in a horrible gelatinous sludge, or more to the point, when I found my foot engulfed in a brown mucky goo that seems to have violated my boots and left them permanently traumatised…and the bog seemed to go on forever…


Snowdon is actually a chain of cairns on a moorland high point, one of them even has a summit shelter, the point visible in the centre of the picture is actually Puper’s Hill, there is another Snowdon cairn out of view to the right 


Just to prove it, yet another crappy tent photo – cairn and summit shelter are visible behind

So yes, yet again I have put myself through a kind of semi-torture, but oddly, once again I really rather enjoyed it in some ways – the sunset was beautiful, and the sky was once again crystal clear for much of the night. The solitude was less eerie than last time, and more cathartic. I was even treated to a flare display by the MoD over on the Merrivale range.

I do still hate packing up a wet tent in the morning.

Saturday 9 October 2010


I’d never climbed on Cornish granite before, never climbed on our far south western sea-cliffs, not until a couple of days ago that is.

Now, I have climbed on sea-cliffs before – Gogarth and Swanage being the main examples, but I can’t say I particularly like it. In fact, I can quite categorically say that I do not like climbing on sea-cliffs. I find the whole experience morbidly terrifying, I really do. I’ve never liked the water (and this stems from a near drowning experience I’d had at the age of 2), and as such, the thought of climbing above a broiling, tumultuous froth of angry ocean, is for me really rather harrowing.

So there’s my excuse. There’s my feeble attempt to explain why I couldn’t scramble down to the cliffs at Sennen and climb back out. Demo Route still has to wait.

Thankfully though, Bosigran isn’t quite the same kind of sea-cliff – you don’t have to downclimb to a sea-washed ledge and then start climbing directly above it. The main face at Bosigran is set back from the actual sea somewhat, and has a nice simple grassy path underneath the crag, although it’s still a little close to the water for real comfort – I still get mesmerised by the violent swirling cauldron of waves below, and the thunderous sound of them colliding with the rocky landmass still makes me uneasy.


Doorpost. This HS 4b is supposedly the route of the crag. Three very different pitches of really rather wonderful granite climbing, up the main section of the cliff.

I know it was an easy route, but for me ‘Doorpost’ was more than just an easy rock climb – it was my first time climbing on granite (excluding my forays onto Dartmoor with the bouldering mat), my first time climbing in Cornwall, I had to swallow my apprehension of the sea-cliff environment, and the first pitch was a traverse…

Oh yeah, I probably haven’t mentioned my hatred of all routes that go sideways have I? There you go, in this one simple blog entry I have just revealed that I’m really rather pathetic as a rock climber – scared of sea-cliffs, and scared of traverses. Great.

Anyway, I led the first two pitches of Doorpost – the traverse and the crux, then seconded the last pitch so Patrick could take photos of my face rather than just my arse again, and actually, I really rather enjoyed it. I’m not sure Chair Ladder will be on the cards for a while yet, and I still don’t know if I’ll ever suck it up and manage to climb at Sennen, but Bosigran is definitely somewhere I’d like to climb again!

Thank goodness.

IMG_1511 Look! I’m leading a traverse!!

IMG_1523 The crux, a surprisingly awkward little sequence

SDC11872 Patrick coming up the classic ‘Alison Rib**’, Diff as an alternative to the walk out!

Monday 27 September 2010

dartmoor: yes tor and high willhays wild camping

Yep, another wild camp on Dartmoor. This time though, I wasn’t alone, and the mist didn’t feature.

Phil and I headed up onto the Okehampton Range to do a walk up to Yes Tor (highest tor on Dartmoor) and High Willhays (the highest point on Dartmoor, and indeed the highest point in Devon), which are satisfyingly right next to each other. The depressing part of the enterprise, however, was the fact that this particular section of Dartmoor is far from remote or wild – you are only minutes away from some of the Range tracks and indeed some sections of track that seem to be open to public traffic!!

We parked in the village of Belstone and walked up across the range from there, which meant that our walk up took a fair while and was almost entirely on vehicle tracks (apart from the section of bog I decided to take us through in the name of a ‘shortcut’ – served me right when I ended up knee-deep in the mire…). So the walk was rather dull, the area was busy, and the views were frankly rather boring too (ok so I’m spoiled by the mountains – barren moorland simply doesn’t inspire), BUT, that said, we did have a nice time camping near the top of High Willhays once we’d found a suitable spot.

The walk back down was a bit better. Neither of us could face the tedium of returning down the same old Range tracks, and so we headed off down to Dinger Tor and across the moor (on mostly good tracks) up to Oke Tor from where we followed a rather lovely ridge path. Higher Tor and Belstone Tor were also taken in before we headed back down through Nine Stones to the village…and on to a cream tea!


High Willhays, seen from Yes Tor


Our camp site, the cairn on High Willhays visible in the background


  The view from the Range marker just as you leave Belstone village – the ridge of Tors just visible

Phil will hopefully now feel a little happier out on the hill with his mates (or even, lord forbid, on his own!) as we spent a good portion of the walk back doing some basic navigation drills, some of which he’d not done before, and all of which were good practice for me. It did all make the dull bits a little more fun too!

Thursday 23 September 2010

dartmoor wild camp

Walking up under crystal skies, I watched the sun’s embers slowly burn out over the horizon, moisture rising from the moors. Gradually enveloped by a thick blanket of mist, the world was soon bathed in a simple diffused moonlight, warm, delicate and calming to the soul.

I will admit to finding it all a little unnerving at first, sat within my little orange cocoon, staring out at nothing but a gentle off-white world, but the moon appeared occasionally through the mist. It felt like he was watching over me, relaxing my mind, encouraging me to see the beauty of the world from a less cluttered perspective. After a while I wasn’t scared anymore.


The sunset just as I crested the rise near Puper’s Hill


Moorland through the mist and my guardian moon


The campsite by the old China clay tramway during a brief, blissful clearing of the mist on the tops


Heading home

Whilst I’d come to accept the moorland mist in the night, in the morning I was delighted to see it lift and gift me back my vision for a while, enabling a wonderful clear view of the hilltop, and the cotton wool still filling the valleys. Unfortunately (or fortunately from a navigational test perspective), this break in the white mask only lasted as long as breakfast, and no sooner than I’d finished drinking my tea, I was once again back in the damp, relying on my compass to guide me home.

Monday 20 September 2010

devonshire place names, part 4

Do I need to say more? I didn’t think I’d be posting many if any new funky place name entries, but today I found these two ‘hamlets’ in remarkably close proximity to each other:

Hole. Wouldn’t you love to live in a place called Hole? Just for the novelty.


Holes Hole!!! Huh?


Utter genius, I mean seriously? Holes Hole? I’d love to know the origins of some of these names…

Sunday 19 September 2010

devon: redux

The land of clotted cream teas and the Hound of the Baskervilles, yes, I’m back in Devon again, this time for a month or so. Sadly this isn’t a month-long cake and climbing orgy, but a month of driving and work again (for anyone unfamiliar with this blog, I came down here back in March for two weeks to work doing some radio drive testing, and now I’m back doing it again, but in more detail and with slightly modified kit). Despite having my climbing and outdoorsy-ness suddenly curtailed, I am actually glad to be down here as a) I’m earning money and b) I’m going to spend some time on Dartmoor. Hell I may even wangle c) some climbing in Cornwall…

So anyway, the blog may be a bit quiet for the next month or so, unless anything interesting happens. The vast majority of my time will be spent simply driving, although the nature of the roads and the area mean that ‘simply driving’ can be somewhat more difficult than one might think…


Yes, that is a tree across the road. Yes the road was a very narrow single track where I couldn’t turn around. Yes I had to reverse back up it through the ruts and with both wing mirrors in the hedges on each side simultaneously. Yes it was about half a mile back to the junction where I could finally turn. Yes I was laughing the whole time.

Thursday 9 September 2010

bumblie’s bimbles 2: aran fawddwy

For anyone that knows me, the idea that I have decided to gain the Mountain Leader qualification may be rather suprising, but there you go, I’ve registered with the MLTW and have a log book and everything, I just need to fill it.

And that’s why I’ve managed to get up off of my lazy butt and go for another decent hill walk, up another mountain I had yet to experience – Aran Fawddwy.

Situated not far from the village of Dinas Mawddwy, Aran Fawddwy is the 16th highest peak in Wales at 905m (and is only 9m off being classed as one of the Welsh 3000’ers), but being relatively inaccessible is actually pretty quiet.

The route I took went from Cwm Cywarch (parking, and also a massive set of crags I’m desperate to climb on, so if anyone fancies some slightly adventurous rock climbing and would be willing to head back here with me, please drop me a line!), up to Waun Camddwr, along the ridge bog boardwalks, across a completely unnecessary section of marsh where I realised that not following the fence had been a mistake, back to the fence line and up to the summit. The descent was back down Drws Bach, past the cairn (which is a memorial to Michael Robert Aspain a member of an RAF Mountain Rescue team based in St Athan who was killed there by a lightning strike in 1960 whilst on duty. He was 18 years old.) and onto Drysgol, eventually heading down the long dull slog of a path back to Cwm Cywarch.

Have some pictures.


A pretty valley view

SDC11421The view back down the edge of Craig Cywarch  

SDC11424Aran Fawddwy for the first time, still a horribly long bog slog away

Saturday 4 September 2010

a Swiss holiday part 2: the valleys and being a tourist

SDC11196 The church tower in Evolene (definitely a tourist photo!)

SDC11208 The Aiguille de la Tsa (or Tza) – a peak I really want to go back and climb, it is also known as the Matterhorn of Arolla valley due to it’s unmistakeable shape

SDC11290 The Grande Dixence Dam, tallest gravity dam in the world at a mind boggling 285m high – well worth a click on the link to see some info about it, this dam is one of the start points for the approach to the Dix hut

SDC11314 Phil on the walk up to Lac Bleu

SDC11365 The Pyramids of Euseigne, bizarre features naturally sculpted out of moraine left behind by a retreating glacier – you actually drive through these on the drive up the valley to Evolene and Arolla. Very very weird.

a Swiss holiday part 1: the Pigne d’Arolla

Another long silence for which I will apologise, despite knowing that no-one cares about the apology…

I arrived back home late on Thursday after a marathon drive home from Arolla, Valais, Switzerland. Yes, I’ve been back to the Alps! This wasn’t an ordinary Alpine climbing trip though, this trip doubled as mine and Phil’s summer holiday, and also my first meeting with Alex*.

Sadly, the weather was once again against us and we got very little done climbing-wise (only one super easy ‘acclimatisation’ route and some bimbling on a cruddy little sport crag actually, although the chilling out and wandering the valleys was really rather lovely), but I would just like to confirm that the campsite in Arolla is fabulous for bumming around on continually making tea and eating biscuits, although needing 1F coins for the shower is a little bit of a pain.


The Normal Route on the Pigne d’Arolla, 3796m (Facile)

The Pigne d’Arolla is a lovely mountain at the head of the valley overlooking Arolla itself. Two huts serve as bases for an ascent – the Vignettes hut and the Dix hut. Often the peak is climbed in conjunction with Mont Blanc du Cheilon as a long traverse – the route up and over the Pigne being graded Facile, and the ascent of the East ridge of Mont Blanc du Cheilon being graded AD (the normal route on MBdC, and the descent from the traverse is a PD).

Our plan had actually been to make an ascent of Pigne d’Arolla, from and back to the Vignettes hut as our first ‘acclimatisation’ foray, hopefully to be followed by an ascent of l’Eveque, also from the Vignettes hut. Sadly this wasn’t to be as the weather didn’t want to play ball and we had several days of storms, snow and general mank meaning we abandoned the idea of heading up l’Eveque. (We also later abandoned our plans of heading up Mont Blanc du Cheilon from the Dix hut too owing to a combination of bad weather days and me falling ill on the last [irritatingly clear] day).

After ‘tagging the top’ via the Facile route, Alex and I headed straight back down with a brief stop back at the hut to retrieve the kit we had stashed behind and to have a drink of tea.

The route up itself is pretty unremarkable, being as it is a simple snow plod and a short section of moraine path, with only a few obvious crevassed sections to negotiate. The views however, are stunning. The views on the approach are fabulous but from the summit the panorama truly is breathtaking, with the Matterhorn visible in one direction, Mont Blanc in another, and lots more in between.

SDC11199 The Pigne d’Arolla as seen on the approach to the hut

SDC11226 Alex and the glacier approach (that for once was refreshingly straightforward – I do hate crevasse hopping!)

SDC11233 One of the stunning views of l’Eveque from the balcony of the Vignettes hut, an objective sadly abandoned due to the weather

SDC11287 The Vignettes hut, as seen on our way back down.

Alpine climbing is a wonderfully varied experience – from the hustle and bustle of Chamonix or Zermatt with their expensive shops and even more expensive uplift options (cable cars, trains etc), to quiet secluded village bases such as Arolla. Where you base yourself has a huge impact on your experience in the mountains, a place like Arolla granting you the very basic essence of it all – the mountains themselves all around you, with no flashy shops or expensive bars to distract you from what it’s all about. I liked it, lots, although I do still hate long hut walk-ins…

*Check out Alex’s blog: Glencoe Mountaineer.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

moel y gest

Monday yielded a visit to another new crag (to me). Somewhat foolishly I agreed to go to Moel y Gest* to check out ‘some of the best rock in Tremadog’, not realising just how bad the bracken at the base of the crag was going to be.

Dave W was my partner for the day, and he only has himself to blame for the walk-in proving to be rather more of a fitness challenge than he had imagined, as he was the one who chose the crag (Dave had a rather unfortunate accident just over a year ago whilst climbing with me – he fell off of a hugely polished limestone horror at Pot Hole Quarry, ripping out the only runner he’d had in at the time. Somehow he managed not to land on his head, merely landing heavily on the heel of one foot, fracturing it rather badly. He’s now determined to get back into climbing, but walking seems to be the greatest hurdle).

One steep uphill slog, and one short painful battle through the head high bracken and ankle grabbing brambles later, we arrived at the base of Bulkhead Buttress (continuing on further to any other sections of the crag truly would be a horrendous brackeny epic at the moment), where I selected a nice looking route to warm up on, that Dave’s printed topo* indicated was an HS 4b called ‘The Ancient Mariner’…

HS my buttocks. The Ancient Mariner is neither HS nor 4b, it is a loose, vegetated, scary VS with mediocre gear and a 4c crux. I seem to have a way with choosing horrible sandbag routes as warm-ups (my visit to Craig Rhiwarth being a case in point). A lovely heathery descent back to the bracken topped off the ‘esoterica’ experience…

I’ll be honest, upon regaining our gear stash I was ready to call it a day – my arms were scratched to bits (note to self: when going to new esoteric crags, wear long sleeves and NEVER wear shorts), and I had bits of heather and mud in places I daren’t mention. The sheer effort we’d gone to (especially Dave) just to get up there meant that only climbing one short route was unacceptable. I was going to try something else. I had my eye on a couple of harder lines further to the left of our first route, Dave assured me that they were actually very good and probably worth some stars in fact (he’d climbed them before), so I chose an E1 5b called ‘Antur Madog’.


The picture doesn’t do the route justice, the guide describes it as being ‘easier than it looks’, and in this regard it didn’t disappoint. The gear was reasonable, the rock was gorgeous (now I know why they say it’s some of the best in Trem) and the moves flowed beautifully with holds only appearing as you got to them. In all honesty, I think it’s probably one of the nicest single pitches I’ve ever climbed, and considering I’ve been such a total coward of late, climbing an E1 that hasn’t scared me but has simply allowed me to revel in the moves, is really saying something. Mind you, lately I have been primarily hanging on minging tiny crimps on 7a limestone sport routes, so this was a refreshing change…

All in all, I think I would recommend the crag to anyone who doesn’t mind a little bit of a walk for single pitch routes, the rock itself really is of the highest quality I’ve climbed on pretty much anywhere, but it’s probably worth seeking out a little local knowledge with regard to which routes are worthwhile and which ones really aren’t. It’s also probably best to go in the Spring or Autumn/Winter to avoid having to battle through the bracken that completely obscures the paths at this time of year, although if you’re a bit of a wildlife fan, we found the place to be a real haven for the common lizard – whole groups of them would pop out from cracks in boulders to sun themselves next to us, truly incredible – I’ve never seen so many in one place.

*Check out the Wiki if you fancy climbing here, there is a link to a pdf document showing all the new routes at the base of the page.

Thursday 12 August 2010

rock, heather, slime, rock, heather, loose bit, rock…

What on earth am I going on about this time? To be honest I’m not entirely sure myself – is this a blog post about walking? Is it an entry about climbing? Is it about scrambling? Well actually, it’s a bit of all three…

A few days ago (or was it longer? I forget…), on a random, boring, everyday Monday, I found myself without a climbing partner on a day where the sun was shining and all was lovely in the world, so of course I had to go out. I had also just acquired a rather lovely new pair of boots (La Sportiva Trango S Evo if you must know) that I was desperately wanting to try out. Now, for me these boots are quite the investment – for starters they cost me a small fortune, even with a fairly hefty discount (and for someone who is currently jobless, spending a small fortune is no trivial matter), but they also mark a changing point in my life, for you see I have grown as a person. I am now learning to embrace the mountains for what they really are, a stunningly beautiful environment that we should not ever take for granted or underestimate, and not merely a ‘playground’ for the enthusiastic rock climber.

In a round-about way what I’m trying to express here, is that I’m beginning to appreciate simply being out in the mountains without necessarily having to be tied into the end of a rope, focussed entirely on the small patch of rock in front of me. I will never be a hill-walker, but I am now beginning develop the skills of the mountaineer – the ability to navigate, to cope with weather of all types, the confidence to cross both simple terrain and the complex, I am beginning to feel at home in the mountains and in the wilderness. No longer am I scared to venture away from the path and discover things for myself, no longer do I feel the need to follow in the footprints of others – the wilds and the mountains are areas of beauty best appreciated with a confident, exploratory bent.

With all that in mind, on that random ordinary Monday a little while ago (was it last week? The week before? Is this the beginning of early onset Alzheimer's?), I ventured out, away from the path and onto a tangled mess of rock, grass, heather and slime…oh and goats.

SDC11055Welcome to the Rhinogs!

I’ve been out into the wilds of the Rhinogs before, the first time I picked an atrocious day and scuttled back to the car after nearly getting blown off of a small outcrop by gale force winds, the second time I dragged a tent and cooking implements out with me, oh and my husband.  This time however, I wasn’t out for a simple bimble, I was out to test out my new scrambling and alpine climbing boots. Armed with a vague description of a supposed Grade 3 scramble to the summit of Rhinog Fawr, I made my merry way to the Bwlch where I was meant to begin, and took my first look up at the day’s objective, the full horror yet to become apparent…

I mean no disrespect to the guys who wrote up this ‘scramble’ as I’m sure that deep down they are nice guys who don’t really want to torture and torment people, but seriously, why the hell is this route in a scrambling guide? If I had chosen to follow the description exactly I would have been met with the occasional short lump of rock to meander my way up, but mostly I would have been dealing with deep cavernous clefts of heather growing over bottomless boulder and scree fields, bogs, grass and lots of slime. Sorry guys – your route is crap.

I did make my way to the summit, and I did sort of vaguely follow the general gist of the scrambling route, but I needed to touch rock more, I needed to add interest – so I chose the hardest possible lines up the short rocky buttresses, turning a supposed grade 3 scramble into what I would describe as a ‘meandering mountain game of snakes and ladders, punctuated with the occasional section of VDiff rock climbing’. Yes it was a new route, no I probably wouldn’t ever be able to repeat it, although the two or three climbing sections would probably be identifiable, but in all honesty I could never recommend this to anyone who doesn’t have a fetish for mountain mankathons.

SDC11069One of the few [very] short, steep sections I chose to tackle head on – this may or may not be one of the bits I would have deemed to yield a couple of moves of Diff or VDiff, I honestly can’t remember. 

Some of the day’s highlights included my encounter with one of the herds of wild Rhinog mountain goats, playing with butterflies, prodding huge caterpillars and of course, reaching the summit trig point to find a load of manky old prayer flags tied to it…

WTF? Prayer flags? I don’t get it, I really don’t, but needless to say I cut down and removed these offensive pieces of unnecessary litter. Seriously people, this kind of thing just isn’t appropriate, especially when left in conjunction with empty bottles and crisp packets…

The goats and caterpillars were cool though.



Tuesday 3 August 2010

aim high…

…and you’ll almost certainly overshoot…

Or at least you will if you’re ammunition is good and your sights are set straight and true.

Sounds like I’m getting all philosophical doesn’t it? Well maybe I am a touch, but this post is actually really about guns and shooting – yet another semi-hobby of mine. I say semi-hobby because it isn’t something I do terribly often, seeing as our guns are very kindly being kept by Phil’s cousin over in Northamptonshire somewhere – this does of course mean that any shooting trips have to be accompanied by evenings of deep inebriation, followed by a horrendous hangover, which is of course exactly what you want when someone is having fun with a shotgun right behind you.

Anyway, yes, I can shoot. I prefer rifle shooting to shotguns primarily because I’m pretty good at rifle target shooting, whereas I’m completely useless when if comes to clay shoots. A couple of people have made somewhat scary comments comparing me to Lara Croft – after all I can climb, I can fly, I ride a motorbike, and I can shoot. Frankly though, I’m more realistic about the comparisons – my boobs are too small and I don’t look overly brilliant in tiny little combat shorts.

The weekend was spent very entertainingly (and relaxingly) eating, drinking, and shooting the crap out of whatever we could find as a target (I got bored of patterning on actual targets – making holes in pieces of paper simply isn’t as fun as watching large chunks of glass or sandstone explode into thousands of tiny pieces). I favoured the .22 rifle and managed to get through a fair few boxes of ancient ammunition (some of it was dated 1944), whilst Phil and Arthur took it in turns with shotguns and Phil’s compound bow (archery is not my thing).


Great fun!

Saturday 24 July 2010

gear update, Alpkit Pipedream 400

Following this blog entry I wrote back in May, I figured I should actually get round to writing down some of my thoughts about my latest gear aquisitions, now that I’ve actually used them.

Firstly, we have the sleeping bag, an Alpkit Pipedream 400. What can I say? It does the job! I bought it as an ‘in between’ bag, mainly for use in the UK outside of winter (when it’s really cold I use a rather lovely Marmot Pinnacle), but also for use as a summer Alpine bivi item as it’s light and packs down remarkably small. I’ve not really used it for any standard UK camping yet, although a night spent in a bunk in the Ogwen MRO base seemed fine…

As a bivi sleeping bag it seemed to perform quite nicely – I used it inside my bivi bag when we slept out on the glacier on the Vallee Blanche a couple of weeks ago, and whilst I did get cold (despite also wearing my down duvet jacket inside the bag), this is probably a greater reflection on my pathetic temperature tolerance, and the fact that I was sleeping on a 3/4 length super crappy foam mat and with my feet on my rucksack, on snow.

The build quality is reasonable, although it is obvious that it’s a more ‘budget’ offering than many of the super expensive top end bags out there, but for the money the Pipedream is fantastic value and has all the features you would expect – hood and storm baffle, double ended zip etc. I did find myself having to even out the spread of the down within the baffles each time I laid it out, as downless spots seemed to present themselves quite regularly, but really, this isn’t a big deal.

Size-wise I find it is a perfect cut for me, which means that anyone with a larger build than myself (I’m about average height-wise for a woman, and slim) might find the bag a bit tight – Phil did complain about this when he tried it out.

Packed size is great, and Alpkit helpfully supply you with two stuff bags along with the big cotton storage bag (you shouldn’t store a down bag compressed as it compromises the lofting capability of the down – the feathers end up all intertwined and less able to separate and ‘loft’, meaning your bag isn’t as warm as it could be). One bag is a compression sack with pull tabs, and the other a straightforward lightweight tight stuff bag. I haven’t used the compression bag yet, as when I played with them at home initially, it seemed to me that because the ‘normal’ bag is such a tight fit, the compression bag didn’t actually provide any advantage, but simply made the whole package heavier. Admittedly, the compression bag is easier to pack as it is bigger to start with, reaching the same size as the smaller ‘normal’ bag only after you’ve used the compression straps.

All in all I’m pretty happy and would recommend one of these to anyone (who’s not really tall or bulkily built) after a decent quality down sleeping bag for use in the UK or the Alps where weight is a consideration, they are great value for money, built pretty well, lightweight and pack down tiny. If you’re not so concerned about the weight and pack size, Alpkit’s slightly cheaper SkyeHigh range are another good option, and also come in different lengths (I also hear they aren’t cut quite as tight as the Pipedreams, so if you’re broad of shoulder they may well be a better bet!).

Saturday 17 July 2010

chamonix 2010, more photo highlights

Now I’m back at home sitting here feeling rather ill for some inexplicable reason, I have been going back through some of our Alpine photographs, and I’ve decided to post up a few of my favourites that haven’t already been used on the blog. Some of them are mine and some are Patrick’s (he did grant me permission to use them so don’t worry, I have also noted which ones are his in the annotations).

(Disclaimer: should you want to use any of these pictures then please drop me a line, please don’t just copy them. Thanks.)


The Midi-Plan Traverse:

SDC10780 Just starting the Traverse after the initial descent of the ice arete, we overtook the French pair ahead and didn’t see them for the rest of the day

SDC10782gimped Three Germans ahead of us, just heading down into the base of one of the ‘cruxes’ – the exposed gulley

IMG_0695 The Tour Ronde viewed from the Requin hut (Patrick’s photo)

Mont Blanc du Tacul:

IMG_0657 Tiny trail of ants heading up Mont Blanc du Tacul or the Three Monts route, viewed from the Midi-Plan

SDC10842 Mont Blanc du Tacul in the cloud

IMG_0775 Posing just before the summit of the Tacul (Patrick’s photo)

IMG_0786 Posing just after the summit of the Tacul, Aiguille du Midi in the background (Patrick’s photo)

SDC10957 My favourite photo of the trip, climbers descending from the summit of Mont Blanc du Tacul