Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

Scottish Winter – Lagangarbh Feb2016

Monday, April 18th, 2016

From the 11-14th February, the club headed to the SMC's Lagangarbh hut, sitting at the head of Glencoe beneath Buachaille Etive Mor. As we made the drive north on the Thursday night, a promising weather forecast and good winter conditions meant things were looking good for the weekend. The gamble to book for 3 nights and take a day off work for a long weekend looked like it may pay off, and we weren't disappointed!

Lagangarbh Hut, Glencoe

Lagangarbh Hut, Glencoe

On Saturday and Sunday a few of us were booked onto winter skills courses (see separate post) that the club had organised. everyone was free on the Friday though, so we were all keen to get out into the snow and make the most of the good conditions.

Warwick at Glencoe mountain

Warwick at Glencoe mountain

Peter, Dave, Mike, Warwick and Jake headed to Glencoe mountain for a day on the slopes. The cloudbase remained high enough to give some great views across Rannoch moor to the mountains beyond, and some nice powder on the slopes made for a good day's sliding. Peter tried out his new touring skis with a bit of skinning later in the afternoon before all retired to the Kingshouse hotel for an apres-ski pint. Leaving the bar, a couple of red deer were happily hanging out just across the river.

Deer by the Kingshouse

Deer by the Kingshouse

While some were skiing, a winter ascent of Curved ridge (II/III, 3) on Buachaille Etive Mor right behind the hut was the objective of most of the rest of the group. The fresh powder that the skiers were enjoying was probably less than ideal for the route, however everyone enjoyed the day out and the settled conditions.



Rob and Carmen on Curved Ridge

Rob and Carmen on Curved Ridge

On Friday night, the day's stories were shared over the obligatory YAC feast, before Graeme Ettle, our Guide for the weekend's winter skills courses arrived. He had a chat to the group and outlined the plan for the next couple of days.

Saturday dawned clear and cold, and Peter, Warwick, Mike, Jake, Jamie and Dave headed out with Graeme for the winter hillwalking course. Buachaille Etive Beag from the Lairig Eilde side being the chosen location for the day's activities.

Checking snowpack stability on the winter skills course

Checking snowpack stability on the winter skills course

Richard, Rob, Paul and Mark headed up the same valley to Sron na Lairig (II) leading up to the SE ridge of Stob Coire Sgreamhach for a good route and an airy finish, while Simon and Carmen headed off to ascend Ben Starav and also add a couple of tops to their ticklist. Graeme S headed out along the ridge of Buachaille Etive Mor. Unfortunately Liz was feeling pretty ill so opted to stay at the hut for some R&R, working her way through a book.

We woke on Sunday scarcely believing our luck, as the high pressure remined over Scotland, bringing a third day in a row of cold, clear weather. The weather was due to change later in the day, so people were keen to head out early and make the most of it.

Day 2 of the course was more focussed on rope skills for mountaineers, so Jamie, Mark, Mike, Warwick, Carmen and Peter headed off with Graeme to Nevis range to make use of the climbers Gondola up to Aonach Mor. Warwick decided the picturesque drive through Glencoe and along Loch Linnie was worth doing twice that morning by leaving his boots in the hut.

Liz was still feeling under the weather, so made an early exit back to York with Richard. Graeme, Jake, Dave and Simon headed off to the Corbett of Stob Dubh for some more excellent winter walking conditions and great views.

Simon on Stob an Duine Ruaidh

Simon on Stob an Duine Ruaidh

Back at the hut after a third great day out in a row, there was enough of Warwick's chilli left over to feed everyone with tea before setting off for the long drive south after an excellent weekend. We had been really lucky with the weather, some of the club had consolidated existing knowledge or learned new skills on the winter courses, and the evening meals and company in the hut had been excellent as always.

Sadly the weather we'd been lucky to enjoy all weekend had a sting in it's tail. As the weather finally broke, blizzards and a closed A1 on the way home made for some interesting driving conditions, and a much longer journey than planned for some.

Helyg Winter Trip

Monday, March 14th, 2016

SAM_3042Helyg was opened as a Climbers Club hut 90 years ago and has undergone a few updates since but still retains a wonderful atmosphere and was our base for this months meet. Twelve of us made the trip, Pete B was outgunned on the distance, by Karl coming from Geneva.

Saturday was forecast windy and snowy, Donal, Jamie and Warwick took their bike to B-Y-C trails and had a good day riding 25Km and no accidents.

Paul relaxing

post run relax

Paul had a day alone, always enlightening in challenging navigation conditions and really focuses the mind as there is no one to discuss it with! Along the valley from the hut on trails to Cwm Idwal, up past the slabs and staircase of the Devils Kitchen to the summits of the Glyders (Fach and Fawr). These are rough underfoot and with snow around quite testing. Back along the ridge to Joe Browns at Capel Curig and a track leads back to the

An excellent full day out for anyone and alone in fell gear quite a challenge. Warwick repeated this on Sunday but I am not sure of his time or conditions, but it was quite wild when we were up there later that day.

The rest of the team piled into 2 cars, Mike Marven and Simon driving with Carmen, Dave Wiffen, Karl, Mike Shaw, Pete B and myself as ballast, and headed for Lech Du Spur (aka Crib Lem) above Bethesda. The long gentle walk in was really quite pleasant and we were sheltered as we caught up the team of 4 at the top of the slog up. We sensibly put Carmen out front doing her energiser bunny impression and we followed the foot steps of a soloist who had turned back. When the footsteps ran out, Simon set off swimming up the loose power. This was solid grade I territory and serious as a slip would have been bad. We all made it across with some retreating to the lower easier approach, previously occupied by the other group.

topping out partyOnce on the ridge it all went swimmingly, what makes it such fun is the ability to avoid or confront all the difficulties to suit ones preference. So obviously we sent Mike S over all the hardest bits. We moved up together taking a range of lines and staying roughly together to the end of the fun bits about 100m below the summit. Some debate about descent options (over the tops back to the hut or down direct to the car) were resolved quickly when we hit the summit ridge and the wind. Some nav practice saw us back at the cars and hut before dusk.


Jamie, Paul and I delivered another YAC spectacular repast, a Fridge-a-stronie soup, Chilli with Crispy Pitas and Crumble & custard filled us to bursting and an early bed for most.

Sunday the weather was meant to be better once we had lost Mike M and Pete to Mothers day duties and Donal to a Cnicht walk, the remainder (bar Warwick off to beat Paul's time) set off from the hut for a Bristly Ridge assault. 10 mins later Rob and Jamie set off again, this time with Rob's crampons.

Carmen dragged us up the path to the Tryfan col where we geared up and headed for the gullies which were full of poor snow and proved quite tricky. SAM_3049Paul and Mike S scared themselves in the main gully, the rest of us, in the gully just left, used a rope for two little steps, while Paul and Mike recovered their composure and waited (ie got cold!). From there to the top is full of pinnacles and great fun, much like the day before but a little less avoidable. Some great sport to be had never felt too serious, but a slip would not have been clever.

A trip over the top isn't complete without the Cantilver Stone pose and Summit cantliverand Castle of the Winds ticks, so it's a shame Mike failed to complete the hat-trick :o) The Gribin ridge is a great descent and reminds me of the top of Swirrel Edge, through some grade I ground with deep powder before easing where the False Gribin joins it from Cwm Bochlywd. We took the opportunity to peer down Cnifeion Arete and into the Cwm where Clogywm Du looked plastered in snow (hard routes had been climbed over the w.e)

A stroll back to the cars, tea and leftovers in the hut before a swift tidy up was all that was required after Donal Warwick and Karl had sorted it, and on the road for 6, York for 9


looking over to Tryfan


A great meet where we surprised ourselves with two good days walking and scrambling, running, and biking in a great little cosy hut.

Picture Links: (pix used from simon and mike the rest of theirs are below…)

Mike Shaws Pix.

Simon's Pix

Snowy Lakes

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Karl looking for a filing cabinetKarl and I made a second trip to the Climbers Club hut in Grange, Borrowdale, the first was Christmas eve where we did a damp and cold Corvus, this time it was winter walking on the cards.

A early start on Sat, delayed by a lost sleeping bag (not stolen!) saw us gearing up in the morning sunshine at Seathwaite and leaving the car about 10.30 for the walk upto Great End. We overtook many groups but as expected it was heaving up there. South East wasn't complete but Central and Window Gullies were very busy. We counted 14 people gearing up at the base of the screes as arrived, put on some crampons and wandered across to Custs Gully. By the time we had left another 12 were there. Great neve took us all the way to the summit, soloing, with just a brief stop to allow three climbers to kick snow on us on their descent.

On the summit we were treated to magnificent views of all the lakes hills and Scottish southern hills clearly visible. It was a busy day with many teams on bowfell (including pete b with another team staying in Ambleside) and Scafell Pike – our destination, bristling with summiteers. We made our way across the plateau ticking Ill and Broad Crags and joined the masses. I estimated  1 in 8 had crampons and whilst not liable to fall over any cliffs it would have made their walking a lot easier and less slippery.


Broad Crag with poser

We descended via a Corridor Route variant, taking us behind round how, a lovely quite little cove overlooked by some knarly looking cliffs and hanging icicles beneath Broad Crag's summit. We picked up the CR and headed via Sty Head tarn back to the road arriving just after dark, or pub time as we like to call it. Swift pint then to the hut for an enjoyable evening chatting to Chris G and Martin H (both Yorkshire climbers).

The long walk had done for Karl's so a shorter day was called for on Sunday, but what a day, cold crisp frosty but clear blue skies, stunning place to be. We headed up to a stripped Brown Cove Crags, where only 2 other parties were in evidence, Helvellyn was very busy as snow condition were great. On the left hand side of the crag we found a suitable short route going up the rib between two gullies, one with plenty of avalanche debris from a collapsed cornice, not much snow low down but all frozen up. We left the sacs, I took a short rope and we made our way up the mostly frozen block, choosing the most awkward route and pitching 2 short sections. We both really enjoyed it even though short lived was entertaining and engaing the whole way up – it's given II which felt right. We downclimbed the neighbouring gully (grade I) doing some snow anchor practice, bucket seats, lowers to add to the boot-axe belay and other tricks we had used yesterday. We collected the sacs and headed down, Karl's knee giving him lots of grief, but we were treated to wonderful views and it was still light.

A top weekend out, shame Mike was being a property tycoon and couldn't join us, next time maybe

Set in drab moorland, this isolated hill has little to commend it…

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

Beinn Bhuidhe…is what Irvine Butterfield said about Beinn Bhuidhe in his classic book on the Munros. That's probably why we left it until our 8th-from-last Munro, I'd even thought about saving it for a bad day's quick hit. But the forecast for last weekend was good so we decided to combine it with some climbing on the Cobbler.

And what a magnificent day it was! Cold and sunny with little wind, and hardly another soul to be seen – we met a couple of other parties at the Loch Fyne car park, both going to cycle up the glen for a quick there-and-back ascent of the hill. But we fancied making the most of the weather by staying up high for as long as possible, so we ascended steeply up the hillside to Clachan Hill at 658m.

Arrochar Alps

A long flat ridge over Beinn Chas (680m) was slow going, as the hard nevé alternated with a breakable crust and soft powder underneath, but the views made up for it – the Arrochar Alps to the south east, Crianlarich hills to the north east, Ben Lui and Ben Oss to the north, and the unmistakable Ben Cruachan in the north west. And all the while the long summit ridge of Beinn Bhuidhe looking Alpine in the spring snow.

12794911_1114226181934502_7503434133664158715_oThe avalanche forecast was for considerable risk on south through east aspects, which of course was the direction we were approaching from. If all else failed we'd be able to traverse a few km to the foot of the west ridge. But although there were plenty of loaded snow slopes guarded by big cornices, we found a route up a steep grassy spur followed by a short traverse to gain the east ridge just a few hundred metres from the summit. Here we found the footprints from the other walkers, and could see them a long way below us as they headed back to the valley. Other than this we saw nobody all day, nor any footprints in the snow.

12792292_1114235601933560_7021446749372056390_oFrom the summit we descended to the col where the normal approach comes up. Rather than descend immediately we decided to go up the other side to the unnamed NE top, before descending its SE ridge to pick up the normal route. We were expecting a steep pathless descent to the valley and a long walk down the glen, but there have been a lot of new tracks bulldozed up this side of the hill recently, with copious use of dynamite by the look of it. Much as I hate this sort of thing, at least it was made slightly less of an eyesore by the covering of snow, and it had the advantage of taking us on a mostly-gentle downhill across the flanks of Newton Hill and back to the valley just a few km from the car.

Far from being as uninspiring as we'd expected, this turned out to be one of the best hill days we've had in Scotland. Presumably Butterfield never visited in winter!

1After a chilly night in the tent (about -6C when we got up on Sunday), we headed for the Cobbler – Carmen's first ascent, and my first in winter. The weather was if anything better than the day before – not a breath of wind, and not a single cloud in the sky.

12794774_1114236015266852_6634526237604187597_oMany more people around today, unsurprisingly, but still not as many as you'd find on a wet and windy November day in  the Lake District! And once we left the main track to contour to Chockstone Gully (grade II) we were on our own again.

We moved together up the first long pitch, Carmen going first and placing gear before belaying in a cave under the eponymous chockstone. I led from there to the top, avoiding the squeeze exit option  by the surprisingly heavily iced slabs on the right – I even managed to place the token ice screw I'd brought "just in case".

10394841_1114229325267521_7786127929327546860_nFrom the top of here it was a short walk to the foot of Great Gully (also II). We moved together again up here, but with the novel variation that I had all the gear while Carmen went first. Oops. Topping out it started to get busy again, with worrying numbers of people slithering about above big cliffs without crampons or axes, but nobody fell off and at least they weren't muppet enough to be roped together!

Across at the main summit, almost everyone restricted themselves to the easy top opposite the true summit, accessed by a short, easy, but very exposed scramble (grade II in winter). Since we had climbing kit with us, we of course went to the top, a long spiral through the window, along a ledge, and back up to finish directly above the starting point.

12764336_1114230701934050_4985023918196950196_oWe skirted under the south summit and were back at the car in time to get home at a civilised hour for once.

One of those superb weekends that make up for the wet and windy weather we normally enjoy so much!

Lots more photos here

Christmas/New Year Meet

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

This year we stayed at the Raeburn hut. A great hut which we hadn't stayed in for a few years.

It offered a sheltered location from the driving wind and rain which occurred at times. Whilst no hills are on the door step, there are lots of hills, climbing and mountain biking available within a short drive (and a distillery).

Attendees (for varying length of stays between 2-8 days) Simon C, Carmen, Simon F, Debra, Annie, Peter E, Peri, Mike S, Stuart M, Peter W and Sarah W.P1000539

27th December – gave us the best day of the week. Plenty of fresh snow, blue sky and light winds until later in the day. With the best forecast for the next few days Simon and I chose a long walk to Creag Mhor (a Corbett behind Bynack More) which took 5 hrs to the summit. We would never have made it without snow shoes! Meanwhile Simon F, Debra and Peri went munro bagging with a cycle up Glen Tilt to approach an ascent of Carn A' Chlamain. The evening was rounded off nicely with Peri's poached pears and Welsh cakes (which she had prepared the night before just to keep Simon F happy).

P100056428th December – Annie, Pete E, Simon and I headed up another Corbett – The Fara. Annie cheated and hitched a lift to the start of the walk. It would have been good to do the whole ridge – but not in the very strong winds we battled against on top today. Peri enjoyed an exploratory cycle ride from the hut (especially enjoying the downhill sections). Debra cycled whilst Simon F ran around Loch Laggan (about 14 miles) and took him over his target of 1000 miles run in 2015 – so he was reasonably happy yet again.

29th December – Pete E, Annie, Mike, Simon and myself cycled up Glen Garry. While the others carried on cycling to Kinloch Rannoch and back, Simon and I dumped the bikes for a quick ascent of the Corbett Beinn P1030946Mholach. Simon and Debra went bird watching/walking around Rothiemurchus forest – finding that the birds only seem to reside in the car park.  Peri headed back to York to check the extent of the flooding.

30th December – S & D decided they would head off back to the Dales.  As forecast it was very wet and very windy so the rest of us were content with a trip to the Dalwhinnie distillery (unfortunately no tours available – but we were given a free small dram), food shopping in Aviemore followed by a stop in the Laggan cafe (the old store has now re-opened as a cafe and with a few basic shopping supplies) – a nice cafe with a proper fire and much more relaxed than Aviemore.P1000579

31st – After several failed attempts in the past Peter E and Annie enjoyed an ascent of Meall a'Bhuachaille (a Corbett behind Glen More lodge). Simon and I went up Meall na h-Aisre (a Monadhliath Corbett) from Garva Bridge. We extended the walk as conditions were really good in the morning/early afternoon. New supplies of YAC folk arrived in the evening and we stuffed ourselves with soup, haggis and cheese. Given the good conditions forecast for the 1st we were all in bed soon after midnight and were up fairly early the following day.

1st – Stuart, Peter and Sarah W, Simon C and myself went to do the classic horseshoe of Creag Meaghaidh. We remained mainly P1000631out of the cloud (with just one session of walking around in circles in the clag) with only a strong wind to contend with. Stuart and Simon entertained themselves sledging down a snow slope (repeatedly) and Sarah fell through a cornice (not over the edge thankfully). With Annie suffering from blisters and a lack of enthusiasm for cycling, Peter and Annie went up a Munro by the A9. Back at the hut Simon proved himself to be the undisputed board game champion (well Connect 4 and Scrabble).

2nd – After a slow start deciding what to do in the wind and rain – Simon and I went for a cycle around Rothiemurchus forest, with Pete and Annie opting for walking around the forest. Stuart met some people in a bothy and they joined him in his walk near the ski centre.  Peter and Sara W went Munro-bagging with ascents of Stob Coire Sgriodain and Chno Dearg in the cloud.

Overall a good trip and we did quite well considering the weather. Surprisingly  we failed to make much of a dent on Annie' s drink cabinet (apart from the gin).

Some more photos here


Saturday, February 28th, 2015

The last meet saw us heading to Crianlarich. Unfortunately, the ideal winter climbing conditions did not last and there was a thaw just before our visit.  However, that did not deter Rob, Will & Paul from heading up a day early. After a not particularly early start they headed up to Ben Nevis and climbed 2 pitches of The Curtain (IV, 5) before an abseil retreat.

Ascending Ben Lawers - spindrift

Ascending Ben Lawers – spindrift

By the time they arrived back at the hut a number of us had arrived. Sat was forecast to be the best of the remaining days – with unknown conditions for local ice-climbing Simon, myself and Pete W opted for a walk. I was keen to get a few more munros ticked off – so we headed over to the Eastern side of the Ben Lawers range. It was a snowy walk in (but not too deep) and once higher up on the ridge progress was easier – that is when we weren’t head on into the wind.

Ascending Ben Lawers, An Stuc in background

Ascending Ben Lawers, An Stuc in background

There was a strong wind on the initial ridge up Ben Lawers with plenty of spindrift making it atmospheric (balaclava and goggles remained on for the majority of the day).

Starting descent from An Stuc

Starting descent from An Stuc

We carried on to An Stuc – the descent from which was more than a walk – with some careful route choice and front-pointing required. The rest of the walk proved a lot simpler, and with the wind behind us was more pleasant. 4 munros in all – making a good winter circuit.

Meanwhile, Rob, Will and Paul were still keen to climb and this time headed for Beinn an Dothaidh to climb Stairway to Heaven (III) which was rather banked out with snow. Peri, Liz and Mark headed off with the plan to traverse the Aonoch Eagach, however, the snow conditions called for a change of plan (they meet a couple of other teams retreating) and decided to head up a Corbett instead. Karl, Jamie and Russ also went for a winter walk taking in Ben More and Stob Binnein. Mike unfortunately soon realised that he was not fully recovered and had to turn back and headed back home.

Sat night saw us eating Rob’s leek, potato and chilli soup followed by oodles of cream courtesy of Pete’s whisky cream (to accompany the ton of haggis) and extra cream in the marmalade bread and butter pudding from Peri – thanks chefs. Sat night we checked the forecast hoping that it might have improved – it hadn’t and had actually got worst with gusts of 60-90 mph forecast, along with snow/rain. With a similar but less windy forecast for Monday, a number of lightweights (sensible people) headed back to York.

Simon & I got up early and headed back to the Ben Lawers range to take in a Corbett (Meall nan Maigheach) close to the road. This plan paid off, although the drive was much longer than anticipated due to the ungritted road and finding a sensible place to park.  Navigation was easy as we followed a wall until it stopped and a short walk on a bearing took us to a cairn– not knowing whether this was the highest summit we took a bearing to the other cairn and then retraced our path back down.  It took us just over 2 hrs – even with the car parked further downhill than ideal.

Rob, Mark, Paul, Pete and Will went for a low-level walk along the West Highland Way and returned to the hut rather soaked – at least we had only been snowed upon. Everyone else had fled. Pete decided a bit more exercise was called for and headed out for a run.

By Sunday night we were down to 3 (Simon, myself and Pete) we enjoyed a smaller variant of the communal meal I had planned. We opted for an earlish start on Monday – to get out before things deteriorated. We were a little surprised to look out the window and see everything was now covered in snow at ground level. Attempts to push the car were unsuccessful, so after a session of shovelling we finally made it away from the hut (thanks Pete). We attempted a Corbett just down the road from the hut. Unfortunately, strong winds and deep powdery snow meant that we did not make it to the summit – even using snow shows we occasionally sunk up to our thighs. At just over 700m the wind was unpleasant, visibility was almost zero and we had lost all depth perception – it was time to give up and head home. Meanwhile, Pete opted for another run from the hut before catching the train to Edinburgh.P1120221

Nothing ventured…

Friday, February 13th, 2015

Scafell ShamrockWe spent most of Saturday running across snow covered moors in the Peak District on the first RAB Mini Mountain Marathon of the season. Which isn't really relevant to this blog, but I have to mention it so I can drop in the fact that I finished 9th out of 183 – success is rare so I need to make the most of it when I can!

Anyway, after this my vote was to return home and spend Sunday eating food and watching films. But since we'd packed a car full of camping and climbing gear, Carmen outvoted me and 4 hours later we arrived in Wasdale. After a thaw earlier in the week we weren't confident that there'd be anything much left to climb, but if nothing else we'd take the kit for a walk. Again.

PillarAfter a chilly night we cleared the frost from the inside of the tent, broke camp, and set off up Scafell. Early brightness led quickly to clag, as a thick sheet of fog rolled in across Wastwater. But we soon climbed through it and were rewarded with a magnificent cloud inversion, which last for the rest of the day.

The snow was quite patchy and nowhere that extensive. But as we got higher, some of the white took on a blue tinge, and a number of icefalls came into sight. Most notable was a large frozen waterfall high on the right of the Shamrock. Luckily was on one of the routes we were hoping to climb – we just weren't sure which one, as the guidebook was pretty hopeless in identifying anything, so after some dithering we just aimed for the most obvious ice.

TThe main pitchhe first pitch up a narrow icefall didn't look too hard so I led off. Of course it was steeper than it looked (aren't they always), about grade 3, but 2 or 3 ice screws calmed the nerves. Carmen took the next pitch, easier but with enough steep ice to make it interesting. Two more easy pitches on ice alternating with deep powder snow, led us to the foot of the main icefall. By now we'd worked out that we were climbing The Direct Route (II/III **), though the pitch lengths given were totally wrong.

Burnmoor TarnA ramp leading up to the left was topped by a line of impressive ice. The next pitch was supposed to take a direct line up the right side of these, but luckily there was no way that would go at the grade – fragile-looking, too thin to take screws, and dripping with water. So instead I climbed up the ramp and exited by another steep icefall at the end. Again, harder than it looked, a good grade 3 with ice that in places wasn't fat enough for screws – at one of these points my foothold gave way, giving me enough of a scare to stop faffing and get to the top PDQ.

Scafell summitOne final pitch took us to Lords Rake, which we followed rightwards to reach the sunshine at last, the marked temperature difference hitting suddenly and forcing a lunch stop! The warmth didn't last long as we walked up to the summit and a strong cold wind hit. So after taking summit photos we headed straight back down the hill and into the valley cloud, where it was a grey miserable afternoon, no sign of the fantastic conditions above.

Some more photos here



Blea water crag (video blog)

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 12.25.59

It's time for YAC to enter the 21st Century, Rob and I headed to Blea Water Crag, with a video camera in the pack. We set off from York around 7 (Dave W was clearly keen as he'd headed over there around an hour earlier!). At the head of the road leading to Haweswater Rob spotted a red squirrel, it made his day and for a moment I thought we may be knocking the climbing on the head. But we persevered, up past Haweswater, made interesting by plenty of ice. Getting up to the crag (alpine conditions and everything) we could see at least two groups on the classic route (III – Blea Water Gill Icefall) so we plumped for Birketts Gully (II/III) which looked like it had good ice low down. But you can judge for your self, here is a video of Rob climbing the first couple of pitches.

Here is another video, the entrance to the gully follows a set of easyish ice steps. These are a little higher than the last lot:

As I was too cheap to buy a decent camera there is no more footage due to the battery running out….. (also thanks for all the wonderful and inventive alternative to GoPros suggested by club members – you know who you are!)

The mid pitch of the gully was not in great condition. The ice was thawing and starting to fall down, Rob decided to head to the left which put him on some quite exposed ground, I opted to go right scrambling up a bit of a waterfall! Neither was a good option but my choice was decidedly less scary (isn't hindsight a wonderful thing). The upper sections turned out to be in good nick but we roped up and pitched these sections. We topped out into howling wind and clag. Thinking the weather had turned for the day we opted for a gentle walk back to the car via Small Water. The weather cleared after about 30 minutes leaving nice views down the valley, and the walk back.

In the dark

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

We didn't have the best of preparation for this year's Dark Mountains. First Carmen went down with her annual cold/cough, then I duly caught it and turned it into full blown man flu. A week off work was followed by another week wishing I was off work, then the morning of the race I was so tired I thought about pulling out.

But it's become my favourite event of the year (OK, equal favourite with the LAMM), and this year was held in my favourite running area, the Howgills. So I had no choice.

After a brief kip on the drive over I was feeling a lot better, but our aim as we started will still just to get round in one piece, and not to repeat last year's miscalculation which left us in joint last place. Of course this resolution lasted until we were given the maps, at which point I immediately checked where the highest scoring controls were and worked out if it was feasible to get to them! (We were were doing Long Score – 10 hours to get as many points as possible).

We spent a good 10 minutes planning a route, and decided on a vague line to get to the east of the map for a line of high scoring controls. We'd then pick up whatever we had time for before heading for home where there was a concentrated group of controls near the finish.

This plan lasted approximately 2 minutes. There seemed to be more tracks leading away from the start than were marked on the map, and we weren't sure which to take. And we also decided that it would be better to pick up the grouped controls at the beginning, to be sure of getting them all. So that's what we did.

I'd like to say that we found them all first go, but we didn't. However, we found most of the more elusive ones 2nd or 3rd try, without losing more than a few minutes. A couple more changes of mind followed, and we soon found ourselves on the summit of The Calf, with about 4 hours 15 minutes gone.

I was tempted to leg it down the path to pick up a 50-pointer to the south, but Carmen was more cautious (ie sensible). Instead, a 30-pointer loomed in a re-entrant a couple of km away. This looked quite tricky, with no obvious attack point from above so we decided to miss it out – then changed our minds, and were soon counting paces as we traversed the hill before a diagonal descent to the check point. Of course once we reached the re-entrant and got to the right altitude, there was no control. Wrong re-entrant.

A study of the map suggested showed 2 possibilities for where we might be – one slightly too far east, the other slightly too far west. At this point Carmen mentioned some other possibilities, chiefly about what would happen to me if we were late back and lost all our points again. Luckily I made the right choice and we traversed west into the control.

Up and over the hill again, and down to a control inside the Andy Goldsworthy sheepfold above Cautley Spout. We'd been there before on the 2012 OMM, but that didn't stop us running straight past it and having to retrace our footsteps. From here, if we'd been feeling more optimistic then we might have headed north east to pick up a line of good scoring controls. But this would have left us with a long way to the finish over trackless terrain, and I was starting to feel sick, so we decided to play it safe and headed north along the ridge instead.

The downside of this was that we ended up running out of controls to visit, and after a series of climbs and descents to pick up every available checkpoint between us and the end, we finished with some 35 minutes spare. With hindsight we'd probably have had time for that 50-pointer, but better 35 minutes early than 35 minutes late like last year!

Much to our surprise we finished 4th in the long score, and first veterans team (at last, an advantage of middle age!)

Another excellent event, brilliantly organised as usual and with some well designed courses (I might not be feeling the same if we'd done Elite and been faced with a 14km leg to the first control!). Plenty of choices were available on our course – though pretty much everyone did a variation on the same thing. In some ways I wish we'd gone with our initial plan – just to see how it would have compared (almost certainly worse!). The only disappointment was the weather – far too benign! And the lovely snow that had covered the hills a couple of days earlier had pretty much all melted, leaving just a couple of large snow fields and some water ice on the odd occasion that we ended up following footpaths.

Our route here – about 32km and 2000m ascent.

Results here

N York moors winter walking and Nav practice

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

On Sunday Steve, Rob and I met up at Sutton bank on the Western edge of the Moors for a walk, having hatched a plan the day before at the Thirsk adventure film festival. The weather forecast was looking good compared to areas further west, overcast but dry, with a chilly winter wind.

Planning the walk at Steve's 'Bonnet' (should that be boot?) briefing

Planning the walk at Steve's 'Bonnet' (should that be boot?) briefing

After going through some route options at Steve's 'bonnet briefing' we began walking from Sneck Yate, near Boltby at 9.45. We set off at a blistering pace north up the Cleveland way, along some of the Sutton Bank bike trails and farm tracks that make up the byway. Snow was laying in places along the tracks, and the compacted ice from vehicle wheels made it slippery going on the track.

Checking the map

Checking the map

At Hambleton end we decided to do some navigation practice, discussing route choices and walking on a bearing. Pacing and estimating distances was interesting, as we were all about the same on the flat, but going downhill or through high heather I seemed to overestimate compared to Steve and Rob. Doing this kind of exercise in good conditions, when we could see where we were going and mistakes weren't going to be costly or serious was really useful, and will hopefully help me in the next whiteout!

Great views across Ryedale

Great views across Ryedale

Having dropped down into Ryedale, and a quick bite to eat, we headed south through fields, woodland and lots of mud to Arden Hall. By now we had some blue sky, the threatened rain hadn't arrived, and out of the cold wind it was very pleasant walking. From Arden Hall, a short sharp climb up onto the top gave us a 3km easy walk south back to the cars for 3pm.

Arden Hall

Arden Hall

It was great to get out, stretch the legs on a fine clear day, and do some Nav practice. Thanks to Rob for the photos. 13.4 miles, 5hr15mins.