Bookman Walkabout 2012

The concept of my annual overnight walkabout is simple. Walk over 60 miles in less than 24 hours during the month of March. Following last year’s walk from Nottingham City centre to Cresswell Crags via parts of the Robin Hood Way I did something similar two weeks ago. Starting at home in Matlock I walked to Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, a 62-mile walk that took 21½ hours. It included the 46-mile Cuckoo Way from Chesterfield to West Stockwith following the line of The Chesterfield Canal, much of which is now operational or recently restored. Some might say that ‘cuckoo’ is an appropriate name for such a venture and I would find it difficult to disagree, particularly as I had done no specific training.

Half-way brew stop on canal bridge

En route the daytime temperature had risen to an absurdly warm 17°C. However clear skies would inevitably mean a cold night and after the sun set the towpath gradually became fog-bound. As tiredness and disorientation developed I came perilously close to falling into the canal. The long, frosty night was punctuated with a couple of stops to make a brew and eat instant noodles. It was enough to revive flagging energy until the new day dawned with a dramatic sunrise that burnt its way through the mist.

Sunrise near West Stockwith

At West Stockwith I turned south and followed the River Trent to Gainsborough where my wife Jane met me in the blazing sun. I felt relatively good and self-righteous as we sat drinking coffee in a café but reality hit when I tried to stand up. Seizing muscles and joints, and the inelegant waddle back to the vehicle were evidence enough that I could not have gone much further.

Chris is Outside's 'Bookman'

By Chris Harle
The 'Book Man'

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Chris Harle
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(Not so) Winter Climbing

As the bus wound its way through Glencoe, we caught glimpses of the little remaining snow and ice sitting high up in the corries and on the peaks. “Oh well” we optimistically pointed out “at least we have our rock climbing gear”.

John topping out on Tower Scoop III

John and I had made the long journey from Sheffield to Fort William to visit my brother; Ken (newly qualified MIC) in the hope of catching what was (rather quickly) looking to be the last of the winter action. Although the sun was shining as we reached Fort William the temperature was cool, giving us hope that high up on the mountains the ice would still be intact. Fortunately my brother had spent his MIC assessment the week previous on Ben Nevis and so he was able to provide us with some very useful information as to which routes were still in good or at least reasonable nick.

Good ice on Tower Scoop III

John had spent a week last winter getting to grips winter climbing with my brother and was keen to get stuck in again. The first day John and I walked up to the CIC hut it was drizzling and windy and little evidence of any snow. However, as we headed up into Coire Na Ciste, the Ben proved to be reliable late on in the season. The forecast had indicated that the wind would pick up considerably in the afternoon with the possibility of more snow/rain. So with deteriorating conditions against us we opted to head up Number 2 Gully, II. With some navigation needed due to low lying clouds we soloed to the base of the gully and geared up whilst noting some interesting runnels in the snow.

Summit of Ben Nevis

We geared up and I set off up into the atmospheric gully as the wind blew snow up into our faces. I led the first pitch past a spectacular ice cave, where upon John took over the lead until the final pitch. It was here that the reason for the runnels became clear. The spindrift was showering down from the side of the gully and flowing into the runnels like a white stream carving out these interesting features. The ice the whole way up was in great condition despite the recent thaw and I quickly led the final pitch out of the gully, careful to avoid the looming cornice perched above exit. As I topped out I was nearly knocked off my feet due to the winds which were now battering the summit of the Ben. I brought John up and in the ensuing white out we navigated our way down the mountain, whilst trying to stay on our feet! So a good start the week.

A team on the Douglas Boulder, Tower Ridge

The next day, with another wet day forecast, we risked the walk back up to the CIC hut. However, as we approached the hut, we found the river raging considerably higher than usual and so struggled to find a safe place to cross over. The rain was coming in sideways as we headed further up the mountain in order to find a place to cross the river. Eventually we found a crossing and headed up the scree slope to the bottom of Observatory Gully. As we stopped to gear up the weather decided that it hadn’t unleashed its full fury yet and the rain and wind intensified. We glanced around at each other and knew exactly what each other was thinking. It was enough to determine that the best place to be on a day like this was inside so we marched back to the car park and headed for some indoor climbing.

John on the Eastern Traverse, Tower Ridge

We found ourselves retracing our steps from the previous day in more pleasant weather. The river had dropped significantly over night allowing us to cross over lower down and again we geared up at the bottom of Observatory Gully. A few other teams were out, all with the same intention of finding the last bit of ice for the season. Our initial plan was to head to Good Friday Climb, III but with it being a popular choice for the day we opted for the classic line of Tower Scoop, III. We zigzagged our way up the gully on snow, into the mist, towards the base of the climb. Occasionally a rock or lump of ice would be spotted ricocheting its way down the gully to the shouts of 'Boulder!' Everyone kept their eyes fixed on the debris moving towards them and swiftly moved out of the way at the last minute in case it changed direction. Upon reaching the base of Tower Scoop we geared up and then enjoyed good quality ice which streaked its way, more or less unbroken, up the 2 pitches. One tricky bit involved initiating the gap in the ice, which had running water flowing over the protruding rock. After topping out we headed on up into Tower Gully, I and onto the summit for the obligatory summit photo.

Ken approaching Tower Gap

With the temperature rising for the final day we headed for the same part of the mountain with our sights set on Tower Ridge. The route looked mostly free of snow but we took crampons and one axe. Walking in, the clouds started to lift bringing about a very alpine feel to the place against the brilliant blue sky. We scrambled our way up into Douglas Gap East Gully which was still holding some snow and started the ridge proper. Several teams were out on the ridge making it a sociable place. We moved together and soon we were out of the shade and the sun was beaming down upon us. With only a few patches of verglas on what was a rocky ridge it wasn’t long before we arrived at the Eastern Traverse and donned our crampons to tackle the exposed snowy ledge that brings you onto Great Tower.

The view from Tower Gap with Loch Eil below

This led us to Tower Gap and spectacular panoramic views of the Cairngorms, the snowy peaks of the north west and even a glimpse of the distant Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye (which will see 2 members of the Outside team racing it in May so stay tuned). The slightly awkward step into the gap put us in a wonderful position looking down Glovers Chimney, whilst on the other side a couple of moves up placed us back onto the ridge leading to the snow covered exit and a sun drenched summit plateau. What a way to round off the week!

Phil and John both work at Outside Hathersage

By Phil Applegate

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Phil Applegate
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