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WEDNESDAY, JUNE 7, 2017

Rum and Whisky

A potentially strenuous week of sea kayaking around the Small Isles became a much more laid-back holiday due to the high winds that disrupted our original plans. Although we paddled on 6 out of 7 days they were only short journeys to get to some of the idyllic beach-side campsites that this part of Scotland can offer.

Among the skerries off Arisaig

The fact that tourist vehicles are not allowed on any of the isles will give you some idea of what to expect. Eigg is the most populated with about 100 residents. It is a community run island, and very welcoming and friendly. An Sgurr (393m), the island’s dominant feature, is an absolute must-do hill walk – an outstanding ascent with spectacular views.

The mountains of Rum & Skye from An Sgurr, Eigg

Thanks to a retired wildlife ranger who lived near our camp we could get up-to-the-minute weather forecasts and revised ferry timetables. So, the following morning we risked the waves and the wind to get back to the harbour and return to Mallaig on the mainland via the ferry.

Harbour ramp at Loch Scresort, Rum

Later in the week we got the ferry to Rum (a bargain at just over £8.00 return including our loaded sea kayaks for a 1hr 15min crossing). By contrast the people here were less welcoming (except the helpful ferry man and the energetic Kinloch Castle tour guide). Perhaps thousands of tourists and a National Nature Reserve with a herd of over 1500 red deer don’t mix, but we were glad to escape Kinloch and paddle around to Caves Bay on the east coast. We stayed on this isolated beach for 2 nights, where plenty of driftwood, food and whisky ensured hours of contentment sat on the beach by the fire. Tracks on the beach in the morning suggested that we were visited overnight by both an otter and red deer. During the day, we walked along the coast to the famous bothy called Dibidil before striking up into the hills where a golden eagle and many red deer graced us with their presence. Heard but not seen were the burrowing Manx shearwaters. Some 120,000 pairs live high on the mountain and only venture out to feed in the middle of the night. From the top of Rum’s highest mountain, Askival (812m) it was obvious that a complete traverse of the Cuillin of Rum would be a sporty scramble and would have to wait for a return visit.

Caves Bay, Rum

Perhaps our most usual wildlife sighting was what we first thought were dolphins and then porpoises. However, Martin made the crucial observation that they did not have fins! As we got closer it became apparent that they were young common seals ‘porpoising’ along. Not something either of us had witnessed before.

So, no midges, dramas or epics. Just a very satisfying paddling holiday.

Rum and whisky

 

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 7, 2017
By Chris Harle
The 'Book Man'

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Chris Harle
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MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2017

Discovering Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland of our childhood was a no-go country and has never showed on our radar of possible holiday destinations. However, my 86-year-old mum’s visit there last year inspired us to think again.

Despite dire warnings about the rough Irish Sea we booked the Birkenhead to Belfast ferry and enjoyed the flat calm of untroubled waters throughout the 8-hour crossing.

Calms seas leaving Birkenhead

We travelled in our small campervan using the luxury of proper campsites on 6 out of 7 nights. Perhaps we’re going soft but the electric hook-up, level hard standing, full facilities and quietness easily justified the expense.

The Antrim Hills were a gentle introduction to the charms of this new landscape with views in all directions including across the sea to Scotland. The following day the much-anticipated Causeway Coast Path was every bit as spectacular as expected. The 15-miles from Ballintoy to Bushmills via White Park Bay and the Giant’s Causeway was possibly the best coastal walk that we have ever done.

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge

While on the northern coastline we couldn’t miss the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge so we wisely arrived at the opening time to avoid the coach parties that would soon be arriving. Later that day we explored the unheard of before, Binevenagh Cliffs in County Derry overlooking the Magilligan coastal plain – a weird and wonderful place in swirling mists and haunted by squawking peregrines.

Then we moved south to Newcastle and the Mourne Mountains, where a bad forecast gave us the opportunity to visit Belfast. The highlights for us were the several second-hand bookshops we explored and the famous Titanic Quarter.

Our week’s finale was to be a mountain day in the Mournes to include a 3-star rock climb and an ascent of Northern Ireland’s highest summit, Slieve Donard (850m). I had really wanted Jane to be enthusiastic about the prospect of climbing Devil’s Rib on Satan’s Buttress, but all I got was a non-committal grunt. I interpreted this as ‘I’d rather not do it, but if you want to that’s just about OK with me.’

Slieve Donard from the top of the Devil’s Coach Road

After 1½ hours we reached the Mourne Wall and headed off towards the Devil’s Rib via an old smuggler’s path called the Brandy Pad. The strengthening wind then calmed down enough to encourage us to get geared up beneath an impressive soaring line. However, the advertised easier start was wet and after an initial slithering foray and I descended and started up the drier but harder variant. As I climbed up I just knew that Jane wasn’t going to like the awkward high stepping moves with loose handholds. Then I noticed that the views had disappeared, the clouds had rolled in and an up-draught of wind and drizzle were beginning to make things unpleasant. I managed to set up a belay in a slightly sheltered corner and hailed Jane. She immediately started to shake her head and mutter; this was not a good sign. It took a while but with a little helpful tugging, quite a lot of swearing, the occasional use of knees and much determination she made it.

Jane on pitch 2 of Devil’s Rib

Jane’s hands were visibly shaking so we quickly sorted ourselves out and I was off again up the exposed arête. Although marginally easier the damp rock, buffeting wind and unfeeling hands made it an un-nerving battle upwards. I tried to escape left but this was a mistake and wasted time. My fumbling hands dropped a karabiner while trying to protect the final moves but I didn’t care. I screamed into the howling wind for Jane to start climbing. There was more shaking of the head and cursing but she doggedly made progress. I thought that Jane would be really angry with me but amazingly she pulled over the top with a high-five and a broad smile in spite of the full-body shake through cold.

Jane smiling (?) at the top

We were strangely happy (or perhaps just relieved that we’d avoided an epic) with our adventure and quickly packed away the gear and re-energised with some chocolate bars. For the record the V. Diff grading with a Severe start seemed somewhat irrelevant in such conditions.

Back at the Mourne Wall on the col we deposited our sacks and completed the final 280m to the top of Slieve Donard. No views and too windy to stop but who cares – a grand day out celebrated with a pint of Guinness when we eventually got back to the car park in Newcastle.

The journey back across the Irish Sea was equally calm and we look forward to a return visit.

MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2017
By Chris Harle
The 'Book Man'

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Chris Harle
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FRIDAY, JANUARY 20, 2017

Classic Adventure Trekking in the Khumbu Region of Nepal…but in the middle of winter!

Sometime during the summer last year my wife Janet and I realised that for this year at least we might be able to escape the glitter, tinsel and mince pies of the festive season and quietly sneak off to Nepal for Christmas and New Year.

Our plans were to spent Christmas Day in Namche Bazaar, the de facto Sherpa capital, and do two treks, one in the Gokyo area and another up towards Everest, returning to Namche for New Year in between. After trekking we would return to Kathmandu and spend a few days visiting friends, including Phanden Sherpa and his family who added so much to our Nepal Earthquake fund raising efforts when he was in the UK last summer.

For the first section we would be five people. Janet, our friend also called Janet, two porters (friends and neighbours of Phanden’s) called Kami and Nima, and myself. For the second half, our friends Janet and Nima would descend due to a lack of holiday time, and we three would continue.

The Sherpa store in Namche Bazaar

We made Namche our base because despite having no road access it does have 24 hour hydroelectricity, shops and bars etc. For many years the quality of life was far better in Namche than in Kathmandu. Actually I should have said that Namche had 24 hour electricity because the system had failed and the village was without power for more than 10 days. The welcome was as warm as ever but the temperatures and facilities were not. We stayed at the Kangri Lodge run by Tenzing Sherpa, above the Sherpa Adventure Gear shop. Higher up in the mountains some other trekkers reported temperatures of -20°C.

I have trekked up the Gokyo valley many times before but our special treat was to climb the view point Gokyo Ri (5300m) and watch the sun setting on Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and Makalu. The descent in the dark using headtorches was fun and made all the more so when, just a couple of hundred metres from our lodge, we encountered three pairs of staring eyes lit up by our torches. Jackals on the look out for an easy meal (fortunately not us).

Sunset on Everest

On the Everest side we stayed in the village of Dingboche, a starting point for people who want to climb Island Peak (6189m) or Imja Tse as it is correctly called. There are many lodges here but only two were open and we were the only people in one of them. It was so cold here that the barrel full of water supplied to flush down the inside toilet froze solid in the night.

The highest settlement here is Chhukung where we met a small group of foreigners who were being guided up Island Peak by a local.They seemed somewhat ill prepared physically, mentally, and with their equipment for the cold ascent that lay ahead of them, so I hope they were OK. I have climbed Island Peak many times and it is not to be underestimated. There is more than 1000m of climbing from base camp to summit and it is especially cold as it is surrounded by glaciers and bigger peaks.

The south face of Lhotse

Janet and I went and explored a small (5400m) hill that squeezes between Chhukung and the south face of Lhotse called Chhukung Ri. An excellent summit with dramatic views of Ama Dablam, Baruntse and all the surrounding glaciers.

Chhukung Ri with Ama Dablam behind

For our final objective we aimed to cross a pass between two peaks that I first climbed in 1991, Kongmatse (5820m) and Pokalde (5806m). For a while Pokalde was quite a famous mountain as for a charity event two of my friends had guided Sarah Ferguson to the summit. In the main trekking season the pass is a steep rocky ascent but in mid winter there are sections covered by waves of hard ice and boulderfields covered in snow. The top of the pass, the Kongma La is quite sharp with a steep drop off the other side. Definitely not a place to slip, so looking at the stunning view has to be done before leaving the top or after arriving at safety lower down near a small lake below.

Janet crossing the Kongma La

Kami and Janet descending from Kongma La, Buruntse in the background

Some days later, after trekking down to Lukla we made the short scenic flight back to Kathmandu and had one final celebration, my 62nd birthday.

Now that’s what I call a Christmas Holiday!

FRIDAY, JANUARY 20, 2017
By Tom Richardson
Footwear and expedition specialist

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Tom Richardson
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FRIDAY, JANUARY 13, 2017

A Winter Welsh 3000 goes according to plan. All the plans.

Even the best laid plans need adapting to the weather, or the traffic, or any number of factors. On Snowdon, we ran the gamut from A to L.

Me, Tom and John decided to head over to Snowdon to attempt the Welsh 3000 in winter.

For those unfamiliar with this challenge, in order to complete the Welsh 3000s you need to reach the top of all 15 of the 3000ft+ mountains in Wales within the space of 24 hours, without using any form of transport. It’s about 24 miles, but walks to the start and finish can take it over the 30 mark.

Snowdon Plan A

After leaving work we will drive over to Wales, drop Tom’s car off at the end of the route and proceed to Snowdon. We will all bivvy at the summit of Snowdon for a first light start.

Plan B

The weather is not kind to us, so a bivvy at the base of Snowdon seems more doable; we will wake before dawn, then head up to the summit to start at first light.

Plan C

It's freezing, far too cold for me. We will sleep in the car instead, then start before dawn breaks.

The inevitable happens; we are so comfortable that we oversleep.

Plan D

We set off at 07.30. It's been light for half an hour. It's cold but dry and we can see the tops covered with snow. We head up the miner’s track and eventually reach the snowline. Me and John immediately step in behind Tom and let him take the lead; we know our place on the mountain. Progress is slow but we keep on keeping on. 

Follow my leader

Plan E

Battling through the snow we agree that we are not going to be able to complete our target.

Plan F

We could just do Snowdon and the Gwydyr then back to the cars. We march on relentless and on reaching the summit we take the obligatory photograph and head slowly and carefully back down.

 

Summit selfies

Plan G

We head back down the miner’s track meeting several people along the way who upon discovering we have been to the top are very impressed.

 

Plan H

We reach the car and decide to get changed and head to Plas y Brenin for a cup of tea then go over to collect Toms car. 

Plan I

Drinking tea, we discuss our plans and agree we made a few but had a fantastic day out.

Plan J

We will be back in the summer to finish what we started. Hopefully this time from A to B.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 13, 2017
By Paul Morris
Sales

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Paul Morris
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TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2016

Gritstone Round Up 2016

With the autumn season in the Alps being a non-starter and Scottish Winter conditions seeming to disappear (for now!) I’ve been focusing on some more local projects. A few routes I’ve been eyeing up for a while have finally been laid to rest. London Wall has been on the list forever, I see it every day on the drive home, staring at me saying “come and have a go, if you think you're hard enough!”. Well, a few years ago I wasn't, and took the ride from the last move. I finally went back and very nearly took the same whipper, but not this time!

Also my Foster 5 tick list came to a close with a headpoint ascent of Balance It Is (E7 6c). It has been brilliant having a real goal so close to home. As satisfying as completing a climb or tick list is, it always leads straight onto the next, and Neil Foster has conjured up another list straight away (hold tight for Another Foster Five!).

Many of these ascents were captured on video, usually as a bit of an afterthought with a phone propped up in a shoe, this explains some awful footage, sorry! I hope you enjoy the video and don't take it too seriously, I’ve never made one before so it may not be up to scratch with the modern ones out there now but what the hell!

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2016
By James Turnbull
Director

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James Turnbull
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