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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Battling through the snow we agree that we are not going to be able to complete our target.
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.
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.
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.
Drinking tea, we discuss our plans and agree we made a few but had a fantastic day out.
We will be back in the summer to finish what we started. Hopefully this time from A to B.
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!
Outside’s Christmas book competition offers one lucky reader the chance to get inside the minds of climbers, mountaineers and hillwalkers ranging from the Hollywood persona of Andy Pollitt to the 40 something neuroses of Graham Wilson.
Our selection of four books explores our shared relationship with the outdoors, and the diverse responses we have to success, adversity and failure. Why do some people respond with maddening flamboyance, while others take their strength from logic and rationality? What do we find out about ourselves when we reach our limits, and how do we deal with the consequences?
Read our review of the four books and answer our cunningly devious multiple choice question for your chance to win them all and discover a world of insight and adventure.
High adventure in the high mountains
In the summer of 2012, a team of six climbers set out to attempt the first ascent of one of the great unclimbed lines of the Himalaya. At 10 kilometres, the giant Mazeno Ridge on Nanga Parbat is the longest route to the summit of an 8,000-metre peak.
After 11 days two of the team, Sandy Allan and Rick Allen, both in their late fifties, reached the summit. They had run out of food and water and began hallucinating wildly from the effects of altitude and exhaustion. Heavy snow conditions meant they would need another three days to descend the far side.
In Some Lost Place is Sandy Allan's epic account of an incredible feat of endurance and commitment at the very limits of survival.
Published by Vertebrate Publishing
Driven to extremes
We should all have seen it coming. Climbing’s film noir episode was genre defining: the charming hero with flowing locks and smouldering eyes, driven by ambition and the expectation of his peers to take ever greater risks in the pursuit of first ascents like The Hollow Man at Gogarth and Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door on Curbar Edge.
Andy Pollitt’s autobiography, Punk in the Gym, shows the man behind the Playboy image without flinching, laying bare a fragile ego riven with self-doubt and tangled with personal loss, drugs, drink and depression.
From the opening scene the denouement is obvious, but like all the best film noir the journey is what’s important. Frank, surprising, engaging and complex, Punk in the Gym is a dark treat cloaked in Pollitt’s characteristically flamboyant style.
Published by Vertebrate Publishing
Nine walking challenges to take you off the beaten track.
As middle age loomed, Graham Wilson faced a dilemma - 40 and fit, or 40 and fat? His response was to explore long-distance walking routes in northern England.
Forty Plus is the outcome of that exercise: nine walks of 40+ miles through the less frequented parts of three National Parks, featuring hand drawn maps and evocative photos provided by Chris Harle.
Published by High Tor Publications
A philosophical look at life and death decisions in the mountains.
Choices made above the clouds aren’t always black and white. The most rational mind can be affected by personalities, hopes and expectations, and the line between adventure and misadventure can be alarmingly narrow. Judgement Days is Tom Richardson's story of over thirty years’ climbing in the Himalaya and Karakoram and a reflection on the decisions he has made.
“A marvellous compendium of adventure, knowledge and insight about the mountains and how to stay alive in them” Dave Pickford Climb Magazine
Published by High Peak Books
I remember as a child watching ‘Journey to the West’, a famous old Chinese story featuring a stone monkey with super powers, fantastical monsters and even more surreal and fantastic landscapes. Who knew one day, climbing would take me to that same landscape.
We started our journey in Hong Kong. We could have flown to any of the major cities in China but we had heard that there was a lot of good climbing in Hong Kong, most of it very close to the city centre. However, with jet lag setting in and limited time to explore the concrete and glass jungle, we chose to do a bit of sightseeing and dumpling eating instead, before taking the one-hour flight to Guilin, the gateway to Yangshou.
The amazing karst towers of Yangshuo came into view as we left Guilin airport, the multitude and vastness of this was lost on us as the sun set and we were left to watch the lights of passing traffic.
Yangshuo is a major holiday destination for mainland China, outnumbering the foreign tourists who come to explore the cycling and walking trails as well as taking the famous bamboo rafts along the Yulong river. The level of English spoken in the town centre is excellent and most of the restaurants had English translations on the menu, although sometimes it seems more like Chinglish so you still don’t quite know what you're getting!
We booked a hostel just 20 minutes outside the city centre as we'd heard that it could get potentially noisy in the evening due to the many bars and clubs in town. As luck would have it the owners of the hostel were also climbers, and they organised a scooter for us to rent, as this would be the best way to access the majority of the climbing. (Note: riding a scooter in China involves a lot of dodging - dodging cars, other scooters, people, random animals, big pot holes…so if you have a little bit of the artful dodger in you it should be fine, otherwise there are bicycles and taxis that can be taken to the crags).
As the temperature hit 30°C with humidity set to 100% we headed to our first crag, Wine Bottle. This is one of the easiest crags to find as it’s situated along the main tourist road out of town and opposite a huge butterfly sculpture. As we rode out of the town centre the horizon full of limestone towers loomed all around us, most covered in greenery, however the rock that was exposed looked absolutely amazing. For anyone wanting to put up new routes this would surely be the place to go, as the potential is there as far as the eye could see.
We had heard that the grading was a little stiffer than those found in either Thailand or Greece, which is what we attributed falling off most things at Wine Bottle down to, or it could be the sweaty crux that was encountered halfway up the routes.
The rest of the first week was spent following our hosts Daniel and Frieda to different crags. They must have known we would get lost trying to find the different areas, even with a guidebook the majority of the crags needed local knowledge to find.
The climbing was varied, there was technical face climbing on small crimps and tufas at Swiss Cheese and Spearhead; long, massive and pumpy roof climbing at the famous Moon Hill; some very 3D manoeuvres at Treasure Cave and the very stiff grades at Lai Pi Shan where all the locals hang out on their projects.
Just as we were getting used to vertical bikram yoga, the second week brought cooler weather, 21-25 degrees of relief took us to white mountain, an impressive face that got more overhanging and harder as you progressed along it. Many years could be spent just at this one crag, however we only had another week left to try get in another few places. This took us to Baby Frog which contained some friendly grades, and the many faces of White Cliff and Banyan Tree (which famously has an 8a trad route put up by Steve McClure, the locals thinking they were doing him a favour bolted it later!).
As the trip drew to a close, we realised that we had not even begun to explore some of the non-climbing related things to do, as well as leaving a trail of routes to finish. It’s always good to have lots to come back for.
Try the local dish of beerfish, bring a clipstick some of the first bolts are pretty high, go and see the large local market, (not for the faint hearted). A huge thank you to Daniel, Frieda and Chocolate the poodle at the Stonebridge Hostel for showing us around, belaying us, cooking the best fried ribs ever and making us feel at home.
Some people will have heard of Hanwag, many people will be new to them; however they are not a new brand and have been making footwear since 1921. Distribution to the UK has been sporadic at best, however long term investment here began 6 years ago and they are looking to increase stock.
Hanwag are based in the Bavarian region of Germany where they still make some of their footwear, while the rest is made in their Croatian factory. They specialise in traditional boot making, only making proper lasted boots and old school double stitched boots (click these links for more info on their cemented construction and double-stitching). They are the only company we work with that only uses these 2 methods, even for their shoes. This means the starting prices for Hanwag are higher than other brands, but you always get high quality construction; their priority is not selling the greatest numbers.
For the last 3 years Hanwag have organised an Alpine Experience event, inviting people from all over the world to learn more about the brand and have a lot of fun at the same time! Two places were given to the UK, one for a Hanwag rep and the other was luckily (for me at least) given to Outside.
The plan was to climb the Zugspitze, which is Germany’s highest mountain at 2962m, by one of four different routes (the Reintal, Juilaumsgrat, Hollental and Stopselzeiher in increasing difficulty). We opted for the Hollental as it looked like an interesting route with a bit of glacier crossing and lots of via ferrata. For the week before we went, I was checking the weather, which looked perfect... until the weekend we were supposed to get there! The temperature on top was dropping down to -3 with 10cm of precipitation due the night before and another 10 on summit day. We also received an email a couple of days before the trip saying that the hardest route, the Stopselzeiher, wasn’t going to happen as snow was forecast down to 2000m. Hmmm.
We arrived at the lovely Eibsee Hotel on Saturday afternoon, greeted by the enthusiastic Hanwag organisers and grey murky overcast weather. After checking in and enjoying some German buffet food we headed down to a conference room for the briefing. It was a great atmosphere with everyone excited about staying in a great hotel with views over a lake, and a massive pile of fresh Hanwag boot boxes behind us. We were introduced to the Hanwag team and organiser Chris Wittig, a great character with a massive ginger beard. The poor weather was eventually mentioned as Chris introduced the guides ending with the phrase “we have to talk”. Everyone knew what this meant, but instead of boos and groans there was a lot of grinning and laughter, which set a great precedent for the trip.
We were informed that the latest forecast went from bad to worse over the two days on the mountain. With 60 people that the guides had never met before the decision was to play it safe and for everyone to attempt the most straightforward Reintal route. I was a bit disappointed as I’d been looking forward to scrambling around on ladders and cables, but it was the correct decision to ensure everyone had a chance at reaching the summit.
The next morning we strapped on our new boots and headed off to the evocative 1936 Winter Olympics stadium where the route began. From here we quickly got into the Partnach gorge, which was one of my highlights of the trip. It’s a steep limestone gorge with a glacial sediment rich river running through it. The path runs next to the river, but it is almost entirely carved out of the cliff, rather than a natural open path. This gives it a great atmosphere with the echoing sounds of the river, dark tunnels and many drips from the seeping limestone. Well worth a visit.
We continued on our way to our first hut where we stopped for coffee and cake. It’s probably worth pointing out that for the whole trip we never walked for more than 3 or 4 hours without reaching a hut where you could get a hot meal. This was my first experience on this hut to hut style of walking and it makes these areas incredibly accessible and safe. A holiday experience rather than an expedition. I was also shown the alpine umbrella waterproof. This would never work here as there’s usually too much wind, but low down on a hot day they were the best option. You know it works when all the guides are using them!
The rest of the day was basically a lowland drizzle walk to our accommodation at the Reintalanger hut at 1366m, but it was a great opportunity to plod on and meet some new friends. This was a fantastic hut, built in 1912 and you could feel the history of it. It’s a great setting next to a river, and high enough to feel away from everything. Once the whole group of 60 had arrived and drinks started to get served the whole place came to life. Lots of chatter, laughter and some live music meant everyone had a great night despite the 6am start the next day. We actually found a few people on benches in the hall the next morning who hadn’t made it to bed and looked a bit sorry for themselves!
After an excellent breakfast we headed up the valley and began to notice patches of snow. Before we knew it we were in full on winter conditions. Definitely time to stop at the Knorrhütte at 2000m for some hot chocolate and cake! The wintery theme continued as we made it up to the Gletscherrestaurant Sonnalpin. The guides started gathering, looking sceptically at the massive group with no winter kit, as there is a cable car stop at this restaurant. We were told that the route was going to get much more challenging and anyone who had doubts should get the cable car to the top. It wasn’t far to the top at this point, less than 400m, but enough for some to take the easy option.
There was stress in the eyes of the guides at this point with lots of shouting information down the line. It wasn’t long before we got to some steep ground and found some via ferrata cables, but with no equipment we just had to hold onto the cables with our hands as we scrambled up. The conditions were better than everyone had feared though as no ice had yet formed and our new boots gripped to the powder snow. We all cruised our way to the summit hut. Before we could get stuck into the strudel though we had to make it up to the summit pole, the very top of Germany and of course the most technical ground we had covered all day, but with the hazards guarded by guides everyone made it.
The best part was we didn’t even have to get ourselves down from the mountain. It took us 2 days to climb up and about 10 minutes in a cable car to get down; followed by an arduous 5 minute tarmac walk back to the hotel for a shower and a relaxing afternoon. The event finale was another great buffet in a large wooden hall, complete with a traditional band dressed in lederhosen, who seemed to get bored half way through, giving up on traditional German folk to performing rockabilly covers! It was a wonderfully weird final evening that I had the pleasure of sharing with some great new friends and a memorable ending to the trip.
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