Archive for November, 2013

Newlands Valley

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

It was a cold autumn Friday evening as we headed north from York after work towards the Lake District for our weekend in the Newlands Valley. After a stop off to buy supplies in Penrith, the club met up in the Swinside Inn – closest pub to the hut. Once everyone had arrived, we made the mile long drive south down the rough track to the hut in convoy, blissfully unaware of the drops down to the river on the right hand side through the darkness as headlights picked out the track ahead and the line of red tail lights snaked its way up the valley.

Arriving at the hut it was bitterly cold and already freezing, but the clear autumn night provided a fantastic display of the stars, helped by the lack of artificial lights in the valley. We soon had the pot-bellied stove stoked up and burning away to warm the hut, and the kettle on the hob. Bunks were claimed and sleeping bags lain out before the serious business of planning the following days' adventures over a cup of tea or beer got underway.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny, and once the sun hit the bottom of the valley the hard frost of the previous night was soon burned off, and my choice of the winter boots the forecast had persuaded me to bring seemed a little optimistic! After a good breakfast a group of us headed back along the track before scrambling up onto the ridge towards Maiden Moor. Donal had a scramble in mind from his guidebook, but this didn't look obvious so we took the easier way up through the heather.

Heading along the ridge we walked over High Spy before dropping down for a spot of lunch near Dalehead Tarn. This was a short stop due to the biting wind which was strong for the whole day. We then headed up the steep climb to Dale Head, and a long Hindscrth Edge with great views back down the valley to Bassenthwaite lake. Most of us bared right to Hindscarth, while those who wanted a slightly longer walk continued towards Robinson. Dropping back down the shoulder into the valley we paused above the mineworkings to watch a shoot going on in the valley below, before heading back to the hut in time for tea and flapjacks.

Simon, Carmen and Graeme had been fell running to get in some mountain marathon training, while Alan had also been for a fell run over towards Sail, managing to finish in the pub!

Once all were back we set to work cooking the now legendary YAC Saturday night meal, which seems to grow in size on every meet. This time we enjoyed an excellent pea soup made by Simon and Debra, followed by Chilli con carne from David, Peter and Louise and then Mike's fruit pies for dessert. Alan's home made cheese and biscuits followed, all washed down with wine or beer. The fire was again roaring and the down jackets of the previous night were instead replaced by t-shirts and a reluctance to sit in the seat closest to the stove unless you fancied an impromptu sauna!

P1020272Sunday was again cold and windy but dry. The group dispersed with some heading back early to York, or choosing to browse the outdoor shops of Keswick. After a good fry up, packing up and cleaning the hut, we left Simon, Debra and Jamie to go for a walk from the hut, while the rest of us headed to Braithwaite village to park the cars and head up Grisedale Pike, Alan and Carmen setting an early pace the likes of us non fell-runners couldn't keep up with. The views on the top were excellent, looking north across the Solway Firth to the Galloway hills. We found a sheltered spot out of the wind for another quick lunch, which is unfortunately when David realised he'd left his sandwiches on the side in the kitchen! We dropped down to the saddle then climbed back up to Eel Crag, which was feeling very wintery, coated in a thick white frost and just above the cloudbase. We headed over Sail, then dropped left to descend towards Braithwaite, following the grassy, rolling descent from the top of Barrow back to the village.

A hot chocolate with the 'full works' of cream and marshmallows in the Royal Oak provided a great end to the weekend before hitting the road back to York. It dawned on me on the way home how much I'd enjoyed getting away from all. The hut has gas lighting and cookers, with the coke stove for heating and no electricity. There was no phone signal in the valley and we hadn't touched a tarmac road or been past a settlement at all on Saturday, giving the weekend a real rustic, wilderness feel despite being only 4 miles as the crow flies from Keswick. Just what was needed before beginning December and the busy run up to Christmas!

Caption Competition

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Caption Competition

The Great Storm of 2013?

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

"Britain is braced for a repeat of the devastating Great Storm of 1987" screamed the newspapers. It could only mean one thing – it was time for the OMM. Could we be in for a repeat of the ill-fated 2008 event? There was only one way to find out.

This year was a return to the Brecon Beacons, where it was last held in 2004, not an area I was familiar with. I'd heard horror stories of bogs and tussocks, surely they couldn't be as bad as the Elan Valley?

The weekend's weather started relatively benignly, there was even some sunshine, but the clouds had already gathered, occasionally lowering over the hills.

As usual we'd opted for the long score class, where we had 7 hours on day 1, and 6 on day 2, to collect as many points as possible. A 40 minute walk and 30 minute bus ride eventually took us to the start, and half an hour later we were off.

There were 2 obvious starting points – a loop to the south, or a loop to the north. Since the southern option seemed to have a break midway without any controls, we headed off north. We began cautiously, to allow for being slowed by the promised tussocks and bogs, but the terrain turned out to be mostly friendly. So making faster progress than expected, we changed plan completely a couple of times and ended up looping back to the south of the map. Here we met Alan and partner, also doing long score. They were running up hill so we didn't chat for long!

Undecided how many controls we had time for near the finish, we opted for a zig-zag that allowed us to visit as many or few as we could. In the event, a long there-and-back detour allowed us to mop up the whole area, finishing with a final sprint and just under 3 minutes to spare, for a score of 290 and 31st place out of 141 starters.

With impeccable timing, the heavy rain had arrived about 20 minutes before us, but we just about managed to keep the inside of the tent dry while putting it up. We'd invested in a new one for this year, a Nordisk Telemark 2. Only 880g, but a genuine 2-person tent (unlike the standard Laser series, which weigh a little less but are only really big enough for 1). Three hours later, the rain stopped and we briefly emerged from the tent to find that we'd somehow made the chasing start (the top 5 mixed teams are included) and our start time the next day brought forward by over an hour.

This was just as well, as a problem with the pegging of the tent meant that one of the pegs came out, and we woke up at 5am with wet feet. Moral – try a tent out at home before taking it on a mountain marathon!

The forecasts had apparently changed slightly, and the Great Storm was now due to arrive on Sunday afternoon, rather earlier than initially predicted. The organisers had therefore wisely opted for the bad weather courses; for us, this meant a time limit of 5 hours instead of 6. This meant that some controls were now too far away to justify.

Again, we adapted our plan as we went. The streams were swollen after the overnight rain, so we decided against a loop to the west for some high scores as this would have mean crossing a stream that was marked on the map as difficult when in spate. Also, there was a strong westerly wind with some occasionally heavy rain, and we didn't relish the thought of battling face-first into it. So instead we headed up to the top of the map, heading up and over the impressive summits of Mynydd Du on the way.

A final sprint back through the forest, already churned up into a mud bath, brought us to the finish over 20 minutes early (there were no more controls close enough to get to in that time). We were slightly disappointed by this, but turned out to have done better than the day before, finishing 26th on the day with 190 points, and also 26th over all. Alan also did well, finishing 61st overall and 7th veterans team.

All that remained was to get the car out of the camping field, a task that for most of us was only achieved with the help of the farmer and his tractor!

And what of the Great Storm? It never turned up. The storm's path stayed further south and in any case it didn't arrive until much later. The headline writers didn't seem to want to mention this though!

Some links:
a superb tent