Friday, 31 December 2010

Survival Bag Put To Emergency Use!

Wow! Coming off the north slopes of Fan Fawr today, we were forced to use a survival bag for the first time I can remember in the mountains. Conditions were misty, the ground was steep and it was pretty hairy. In the end nobody was seriously injured and we managed to film some of the ordeal.

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Please do not try this at home (that's if you have a 700m mountain at home). We are experienced imbeciles and were fully unaware of all the dangers facing us during making of the above footage.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

I don't do kit reviews....

...but I am suitably impressed with two items of gear that I thought I'd offer my opinions.

I've had the Alpkit Gamma headtorch and a pair of Sealskinz Ultragrip gloves for exactly a year.


Despite only being out in the hills around every 4 weeks or so, I've managed to get a lot of use out of these two items. The headtorch in particular has been used for evening runs, clambering around the attic, sorting out the garden or looking for one of Isaacs toys after dark, etc. I reckon its a superb piece of kit for the money. There may be better headtorches out there with more powerful illumination, but this does all I need and more, and in 12 months the battery hasn't gone once.

The Sealskinz are advertised as waterproof and in my limited experience, that's what they are. And I find them warm, despite having hands like witches with poor circulation. Not once have my hands got wet and in heavy rain and snow they've performed admirably. I take a medium and when they first go on they seem very snug, but after a short use they tend to give and fit my hands perfectly. They're not as much of a bargain as the alpkit but still well worth the cash.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Joss Naylor

A requested Xmas gift was Joss Naylor's biography (thanks Sis and Ol), and what a good read it is. A truly inspirational man and, seemingly, one of the most down to earth people you could ever meet. I'd recommend this 100%. I kinda feel it wouldn't appeal to anyone who isn't interested in fell running, or just in running/hillwalking in general. It's well written by Keith Richardson who obviously spent a lot of time with Joss. His quirky traits shine through, and the use of Joss's own dialect in the book is a great touch.

Coooooooooooold.


Boxing day turned out to be the coldest day of the year in my locality - minus 12 when I got in the car at 6am for a prearranged tramp with Chopper and Nicholls through the snows of the beacons. As cold as that sounds, it was perfect weather. There was a slight breeze and cloud forecast for later on but the early part of the walk was forecast to be clear. We missed sunrise from the top of Corn Du due to kindly giving a hitcher a lift from Newport to Cwmbran after his car broke down. Still, some good photo opportunities arose.


Fan Fawr looking appealing in the morning light



We started out at 8am and got to the top of Corn Du after about 40 minutes.
The views were great. White as far as the eye could see.



I don't have a portable thermometer but it felt very cold on the summits. Probably not as low as the minus 12 when I set off, but the wind chill made up for that...and some. The only piece of gear I didn't have with me was a buff or a scarf and at one point, I thought my nose was going to drop off (that wouldn't be a bad thing in some respects!) so a spare beanie hat and a penknife were employed to make a DIY buff. Chopper had brought some freebie hand warmer things that were quite impressive. You get about 30 minutes of heat and one stuffed inside each glove was great.
We stopped in the saddle between PenYfan and Cribyn for a snack and noticed two Ravens coming quite close on the scrounge for food. This seemed to prove how bleak the past few weeks must have been up there as I've never know them to come near before. They enjoyed the peanuts and crisps we gave them. Big buggers!




At the top of Cribyn we decided, instead of retacing our steps exactly, to go down the north ridge and along the goat track. Good choice, out of the wind and good fun. Plus, Nicholls £4 hat blew off his head on the summit, straight over the north face. So he wanted to go and look for it....


Me


Chopper - Cribyn North Ridge
Guess what...no hat in sight!
Over on the north face of PenYfan, 4 brave (crazy?) souls were starting an ice climb. My zoom 'aint the best...

The wind was starting to whip snow about a lot, it almost seemed like it was snowing.

Nicholls in spindrift...whatever that is!

I took a few small videos with the compact and added a bit of (sarcastic) music with moviemaker. Let's try an upload...

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Thursday, 23 December 2010

2011

These are some of the things I want to do during 2011. Inevitably, I won't tick them all off, but here's hoping! Writing them down (or rather, typing them out) will help give me some focus.

  • Spend loads of quality time with my family, especially my little 3 year old lad!!
  • Climb Kilimanjaro (I'm 40 in October and the plan is to do so around that time).
  • Submit a script to the BBC writers room. From my blog, you wouldn't guess that I dabble with comedy - I know, it's not funny at all is it? For 9 years or so I've written a successful adults pantomime at my local rugby club - so successful that we've raised over £35000 for worthy causes and given nights of hilarity to more than 3000 people. So, encouraged by comments from many, I plan to write a sitcom script using an idea I've had in my head for a number of years. If it comes to nothing, I won't be too bothered, as long as I've given it my best shot.
  • More artwork. Those pencils of mine are going to be put to use. Maybe some outdoor themed pieces. Watch this space.
  • Tidy up my allotment and grow some bloody veg - rather than using it as an overflow dumping ground for my garden junk.
  • Get a 2nd hand mountain bike a ride a few trails.
  • Keep up my jogging regime.
  • Visit Scotland. I've a mate who I haven't seen for many years and I've always promised him I will visit him up in Bonnie Findochty. He also likes running so entry into a local 10k or something, followed by a wee (read enormous) swallie! Then there;s the highlands. I want to see the highlands.
  • See a cloud/temperature inversion!
  • Blog more.
That's probably enough to be going on with. I shall report back in 12 months to see how many come to fruition. I think the only 100% definite will be the first in the list :)!

Mark

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Short slog in the snow

I managed to get out for a short walk in the snow last Saturday morning, and had to settle for the local hill, Twmbarlwm, due to time issues and the possibility of poor roads up towards the Beacons.
But it was certainly worth it. It doesn't seem to matter where you walk when it's been snowing, it always feels like somewhere different.
The snow was fresh powder and made everything look pristine. I only did about 4 miles at a leisurely pace but took the camera and snapped plenty of pics.



Why do I look such a gimp in this photo??



Sunday, 21 November 2010

Blinking Black Mountains Blisters

Last Saturday I did a 10 mile Classic Horseshoe in the black Mountains - a route I hadn't done for about 19 years! I was out on my Jack Jones again due to the unavailability of walking buddies, so I opted for an early start. I found somewhere to park the car north of Llanbedr and I was walking by 7:15am just as it was getting light. By 7:30 am I noticed some rubbing on my right heel. It didn't feel too bad at first but I should have known it would turn into a full blown blister! A scholl blister plaster was deployed from my pack but I'd forgotten my trusty jar of Vaseline (A Welshman always carries vaseiline in the hills!!)

2 miles later, the other heel started showing the same symptoms. I don't know what it is with my Scarpa SLs (pre M3 model) that I've had for around 7 or 8 years. They've only given me blister trouble now and again, and on other walks have been okay. I think I'll try a pair of superfeet insoles to lift the heel slightly and hold it better. The last 5 miles of this 10 mile round were pretty painful, and I've been unable to go jogging in the 8 days since. Knew I should've worn my Invo8s.

Blisters aside, it was a decent walk. Cold winds, but clear views. And, as is par for the course in the Black Mountains, I only saw two other walkers all morning.

Following recent rains, the summit area of Pen Y Gadair Fawr and Waun Fach were saturated to say the least. On Waun fach, in particular, I had to pick my way through a bog, walking 20 metres to the left or right, for every ten metres travelled forwards. Gaiters were left at home - a schoolboy error as it turned out.

Early Morning Views towards the rising Sun


Pen Y Gadair Fawr Summit Break




Descending From Waun fach with views to Pen Y Fan

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Cardiff Half Marathon

I took part today and what an event it was! Superb weather, incredible atmosphere, brilliant crowds, and a stunning route with the last two miles across the Barrage a real highlight. I finished my first half in 1hour 30 minutes and one second! Bit disappointed not to dip under one and a half hours, but hey, I'm well pleased with that as I targeted 1 hour 44. My legs feel like two chicken drumsticks now...time for a weeks rest!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Blog Design

I just can't find the right design for this blog. I've been messing with the banner photo and the colour settings etc and will probably continue to do so until I'm happy. Blogger isn't the most flexible tool for this purpose and has limitations so I'll investigate other options and see what I come up with. If I knew more about html code I could customise it easily enough.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Dog Tackles The Cat(s back!)

A planned early saturday walk in the Black Mountains with Chopper and Nicholls turned into a hastily rearranged run in the Black Mountains on my 'Jack Jones' following cry-offs from the other two (any website links for removal of thumbprints from foreheads will be gratefully passed on).

I wanted to try somewhere I hadn't previously visited and found myself eyeing 'The Cats Back' with interest. I worked out a round route of some ten miles and set off early. The starting point was a small carpark near Llanveynoe.

By 8am I was running, I mean walking, up the steep initial incline of the Cats Back Ridge. And what a stunning morning it was!!

I was quite impressed with the knife-edged ridge of The Cat's Back - alright, it's no Crib Goch or Striding Edge, but it's very picturesque in its own right.


By the time I got onto the higher part of the ridge I was able to break into a jog and made good progress towards Hay Bluff. The views back along Offas Dyke were fantastic in the morning sun.


First Trig point of the day was Black Hill. Whoever named the various peaks and regions of the Brecon Beacons was obviously too busy to come up with plenty of original names so they just used Black and many variants of. Black Mountain, Black Mountains, Black Mountain (yes, again), Black Hill, etc etc.


Onwards to a deserted Hay Bluff (I did actually spot one other runner approaching the Bluff from the North and turning around to head straight back down. Then I had the summit all to myself for a spot of breakfast - A cereal bar and a banana.


The Met Office Mountain Area Forecast had promised exc ellent visibility that morning and as usual, they were spot on. You could see clearly for miles on end. The Malverns and herefordshire hills were visible to the east, nearby Penygadair Fawr and Waun Fach were easy to spot, and further west, PenyFan and the Carmarthen Fans were outlined against the blue sky.



After a ten minute break I ran back to the south and headed along Offas Dyke. I had never walked any part of Offas Dyke before. I have to say, Offa, if you're reading, you've done a bloody good job. The thick riven pathway along that section of the Dyke is pretty impressive. I made pretty quick progress down to a point in line with Capel-y-fin, where I detoured left down a steep path that avoided the steep crags to the east along that part of the dyke. A quick mile back through the lanes to the carpark and I'd done 10 miles in around 2¼ hours (with a few photo stops as well as my breaky break!)

Friday, 1 October 2010

Day 3 - Helvellyn

After a late night (3am) in Keswick, I woke at 8am feeling not too bad considering. That's more than I can say for the others. Chopper and Nicholls could not muster the energy to drag themselves from their tent to go for a walk as planned. Dave was more awake but complaining of a dodgy knee. He did, however, go for a dip in the Lake before dropping me off for a short but steep walk up Helvellyn.

The path from Thirlmere is very steep and the small hangover I had was quickly ejected through my pores with litres of sweat! The weather was nice again with a strong breeze. The Helvellyn Triathlon was taking place and it was impressive to watch the competitors dragging themselves up Swirral Edge. I took some pics of Swirral Edge and Striding Edge and I will definitely return and cross them one day.

I was up and down in just over two and a quarter hours and found Chopper and Nicholls waiting for me with Sunday papers and a smile, ready for the long journey back to South wales. What a great weekend.




Friday, 17 September 2010

Day 2 - Scafell Pike

Day 2 in the Lakes was a planned walk up Scafell Pike (we couldn't not do The Pike on our first Lakes Trip!) from Seathwaite. I'd read a route article in TRAIL that seemed ideal because it combined the walking with some good looking gully scrambling that went off the beaten track and away from the hordes. So we decided to follow this route as closely as time and conditions would allow.


Reservoir Trekkers
 We set off from Seathwaite Farm - well, some 800m down the road from Seathwaite farm due to the sheer number of vehicles parked) - at 10am, following a cooked brekky in Keswick. Conditions were good once more. Sunny intervals with some high cloud cover. It was all set to be a great day. First though, we had a laugh at the expense of my shorts, which were likened to Glen Hoddle's in his heyday.

Idiots


The first mile to Stockley Bridge is easy and lets you get warmed up. At the bridge, I started to take the first of my 300 photos for the day (Chopper and Nicholls think I was a Japanese Tourist in a previous existence). We crossed the bridge and took the left hand path alongside the river up towards Grains Gill. The plan was to get up to Sprinkling Tarn, drop down to Styhead Tarn, then continue towards the pike.



We made good ground up the solid but well trodden path until we reached the junction at the foot of Great Ends North face - more fun would be had up there a little later. A quick consultation with the map (although it was very obvious with the looming spectacle of Great Gable to the West) and we were off on a welcome downhill section towards Styhead Tarn. So far, so good. It was a quiet route. Most walkers would no doubt be plodding up the path to the other side of Seathwaite Fell to pick up the Corridor Route. In actual fact, the route in the magazine went straight over Seathwaite Fell from Stockley Bridge, but as we were first timers to the area we decided to get some mileage in early on good paths.


Sprinkling Tarn


After joining the Corridor Route at Styhead Tarn (which was a busier route) we came to our first exciting detour of the day - Skew Gill! Despite our constant checking of the map to make sure we didnt miss it, the mouth of Skew Gill could not have been more obvious in the clear conditions.


Skew Gill Mouth

Off we went. It was steep, with some good grade 1 scrambling. Professor Bryson (of Bryology fame) now started to get excited as there were plenty of mosses and Lichens to get his juices flowing. Chopper and Nicholls disappeared up ahead whilst Dave and I photographed plants and generally ar*ed about at the rear. We heard a shout from above warning us of the rotting sheeps carcass in the stream in the centre of the gill! There was no option but to pass within a metre of it and it stank! The poor thing had probably slipped up above and fallen to his fate in this deep cleft.

Steep Skew Gill


Clambering out of Skew Gill


Soon we reached the top of the Gill and clambered up the fairly easy final section to a small grassy plateau halfway up 'The Band' - a rocky ridge to the North West of Great End. An ideal spot for a food stop. Whilst Nicholls was have a Ray Mears moment with his new pocket knife,

Nicholls' Bear Grylls Moment


...I suddenly felt the urge to use the amenities. (I blame all the lager we consumed in Keswick on the Firday night). All I knew was I had to go. Good job I was prepared with plastic trowel and loo roll. Although this was a very exposed ridge, it was totally deserted apart from us lot. So I scampered behind a waist high rock just a little downslope from the others and dug my latrine. Quick as you like, I was done and back with the guys where I commented on how I was glad this was a practically unused route! Cue four walkers appearing over the crest some 5 metres from where I was just stood,...err, crouched! Cue also, spontaneous laughter from the 4 of us when we realised how that could have been a slightly embarassing (for me), and probably even funnier, situation had I gone 60 secs later.

Now that we were fed (and some of us emptied) we pressed on. Next stop, Custs Gully. It took us a few minutes to locate it, but then it was obvious. A bloody great knife wound in Great End's north face.


Custs Gully (centre)


Professor Bryson

It looked inviting. We picked our way slowly up the steep slope to the entrance and dived straight in. The scrambling was great fun, and we were amazed at how damp it was in the gully, despite dry preceeding weather. In fact, it was saturated. Moss grew in abundance everywhere causing more ridiculous excitement from Professor Bryson.




Custs Gully Moss!!

As in Skew Gill, Nicholls led the way and found a tricky step up about threequarters of the way in. He managed to clamber up, but then Chopper (who is 4'6") got stuck. For five minutes Dave and I stood behind him, coaxing him, encouraging him, and taking the p*ss out of him, until his leg started to shake in Elvis Presley fashion! He finally got up followed by Dave then I, and even though I'm 2 foot taller than Chopper and much bendier (should that read supple :/) it was a tricky manouevre.



Me in Custs Gully
 We all finally made it to the top and were rewarded with great views in all directions. We exchanged the favour of summit shots with another group of walkers then set off across the summitt plateau towards Ill Crag, Broad Crag and Scafell Pike itself. this bit was a bit mundane, but easy enough on the lungs.


Great End Summit




Ill Crag
We finally got to the top of a crowded Scafell Pike at around 2pm.


The Summit of the Pike


Scafell Pike Summit
A few photos, a snack and we were off down to pick up the corridor route for the return journey. Earlier in the day at Sprinkling Tarn, we had toyed with the idea of taking a detour up to Great Gable at the end of the walk, but it was obvious now that we weren't really going to have time to do so.


Great Gable and Styhead Tarn

We pushed on down the Corridor Route and I was outvoted by three to one against going via Piers Gill on the descent. As we got lower down and looked back up Piers Gill, I could see that the other three were right as there looked to be a number of difficult climbing sections that we would have to negotiate on the way down.


Piers Gill

We eventually got back to the car at about 5pm - a 7 hour round trip - and I loved every single minute. Teh scrambling was superb, the views excellent and the sheer scale of the Scafell Pike Massif was so, so impressive! One of the best walks I've done.