Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year for 2013

Well I've not really been up to much in the month since the last posting, the weather's conspired against me much of the time. A few shortish bike rides and that's been it. Oh well.

A quick review of 2012:

  • bumbled along with my climbing until the end of July when I couldn't be bothered and haven't actually done any climbing since then. 
  • Still closing in on completing the Wainwrights. Nearly there, about four days' effort and I should be done.
  • Quite a lot of biking in the second half of the year with two weeks of holidays (Scotland and Somerset) that happened to coincide with fine weather in both locations.

That seems to be about it! Let's hope that 2013 will be better both in terms of weather and getting things done.

All the best.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Cyclists rescue White Van Man!

Saturday night we went to see Elbow at the MEN Arena. A good show but a bit awkward when you only recognise three of the songs. We didn't get to bed till 1am, a bit on the late side for us, so it was nearly 9am when we got up.

Having not managed to do anything active on the Saturday we wanted to get out given the fine weather. Rather than head down to the Peak we decided on a mountain bike ride round the Ovenden windmills starting from Ogden Water. The last time I'd ridden in this area was a night ride over a year ago.

Moorland riding can be one of three things: a bog fest; dry dust; frozen. Given the time of year and the temperatures it was going to be the latter. The initial track is in a groove so was quite icy and needed the occasional dismount. The moorland wasn't quite as icy and we were soon down on the other side at the crossroads of tracks. A rider heading the other way said that the track we intended to take was very icy so we decided to follow the water leat round to the road on the far side of the windmills.

Just below the point where we joined the road there was a slope covered in ice but cars were heading down. One pulled up and reckoned we'd have to walk the next climb as it was very icy. As we were pushing our bikes up the lower part there was a revving of engine and a white Transit van came up the lower rise and gunned it for the big climb. Just as it looked as if he was going to make it, the revs went up, the speed went down and the wheels began to spin. With only two van lengths to go to the top of the climb he came to a stop and despite a scream of rubber on ice/tarmac he slid backwards. Fortunately he slid off the road to the other side to us.

The driver looked out: "f*****g t**t! F***! F*****g h***!" (Abbreviated, otherwise I'd be here all night writing) He got out of the van and promptly slid 30m down the slope! Fortunately he remained upright and by the time he was level with us he'd calmed down a bit. Then it was just a matter of getting him unstuck. Another cyclist arrived and between us we got him a bit further down the slope but then he got one wheel in to rushes and long grass and one on ice. The wheel on ice would just spin. As luck would have it he was a decorator and had quite a bit of kit in the van including a scaffolding board. Sticking this under the spinning wheel and persuading him to be gentle with the power he got moving again. A few more metres and he was on bare tarmac. He decided to get to Halifax by the main road.

In the meantime Cath was dealing with a car that had got stuck at the top of the climb! Unfortunately she couldn't push it as the road was covered in sheet ice. Not only that but another car was just behind though not on the ice itself, they had just come down the upper climb which was also icy. As we were dealing with these two, yet another car headed down the upper climb! Three cars between two icy slopes. We couldn't do much for the first two as we couldn't push them up-slope. The upper car decided he could make it out so made a 9-point turn and gunned it at the icy slope. A bit of wobbling and he made it.

We walked this bit as well. The rest of the ride was uneventful. Well, if you discount Cath dropping one of the car keys off the car park wall in to a thicket of rhododendrons and brambles!

It was interesting that none of the motorists had any kit to help themselves: tow-rope; shovel; old carpet (can be used under the drive wheels to provide grip). Of course one of them was "following my GPS", certainly not using common sense.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Cumbrian Cracker

The weather round here is a bit depressing, though nowhere near as bad as for those who've had their homes flooded. The dampness doesn't help when things clear out and frosty mornings return as everything is so wet that you get patches of ice here and there as Cath found out last week when she took a tumble on a bend near home.

This Sunday we headed over to the Lakes for the Cumbrian Cracker Sportive. This used to be known as the Christmas Cracker but bad weather (read snow) for a couple of winters led the organisers to move it slightly earlier in the year. Not that this guarantees good weather of course. As we drove over it was raining heavily and there were lots of short flooded sections of the A65 but by the time we got to Grasmere it was fine, if cold.

There was a large group from Skipton CC so we headed off together at about 9:45 apart from Cath who had set off a few minutes earlier. First up was Red Bank - as soon as we got to the steep bit I dropped to bottom gear and attempted to spin up it, OK until the 25% section when it became the usual grind. One of the group had a flat tyre at the top so after sorting that out we dropped down to Elterwater when someone else had a puncture! Fortunately this was the last of the mechanicals.

By the time we got through Coniston and were heading down the east side of the lake there were just three of us on the front and with the twisting roads soon lost sight of the others so after a bit of slowing down to see if they'd catch up, they didn't, we pressed on. The fast bit of the course is along the Holker Mosses and with a bit of teamwork we made good progress though by the time we got to Allithwaite and the climb up the hill there, my legs were feeling quite tired.

Cath was at the food stop in Cartmel when we arrived - she'd set off about twenty minutes before us - she was outside as the place was packed. By the time we got our food she was cold and ready to go. After about ten minutes the rest of the gang began to arrive in various small groups.

Getting cold ourselves we set off about ten minutes after Cath. The other two dropped me on the final part of the climb up to Bigland but I managed to pick them up on the descent and we remained together until just before the finish. We didn't catch up with Cath until Satterthwaite so she'd made good time. With just the pull out of Grizedale left we pressed on, got our photos taken and blasted down to Hawkshead. Shortly after this a determined group passed us so we jumped on to the back of them and blasted along the road towards Ambleside, we were doing over 20mph up the hills! 

All that was left was the small road round Loughrigg Terrace and the main road back to Grasmere. I got dropped here and it was only the speedy gang catching up after they'd had a stop that got me going again - though it was a bit of a cheat hanging on the back without doing any work. My final time wasn't brilliant - 4:33, slower than last year's 4:06 but we'd had the mechanicals so not too bad. Sat in the village hall with a cuppa I was just wondering where Cath was when she appeared in the meal queue, she'd not really lost that much time.

Once partially refreshed we headed back to the car and home.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Ice and Grit

It's been a quiet few weeks since the clocks went back, I suppose it's the start of the annual depression :-) 

The bearings and cones finally arrived for my wheels so everything now feels a bit smoother. I need to get hubs/rims, etc ordered so I can build my summer wheels but I'm still waiting for replacement gear and brake cables to arrive which is my next job. The current set have been on the bike since new - about 6000Km and are towards the end of their servicable life.

The weather plays a large part in what you can do at this time of year - it's usually either clear and cold or warm and damp. Last Sunday was a case in point as there were patches of ice on untreated roads so the club ride ended up on main roads (or at least well used B-roads). By the time we got back to Broughton, most of the group headed back to Skipton which left three of us to head down to Colne for a longer loop. Unfortunately for me, the other two were fast and it was a hard fifteen miles or so until I broke off and headed home.

This Sunday was clear but not as cold as the previous week and eleven of us set off up Wharfedale from Skipton. No point in going too quick at this time of year as you chill quicker than you generate heat, even with three layers on, so it was a steady 13mph or so up the dale. The climb out of Halton Gill is one of the steadier in the Dales - certainly it's no Park Rash or Fleet Moss - and after a break at the top for the two minute silence at 11am we dropped down to the cafe stop in Settle. Some needed to get back early so there were only seven left for the  back half of the ride through Rathmel and Wigglesworth to Gargrave which was somewhat quicker than the ride out. Then it was just the climb back home and give the bike a thorough clean: the bottom bracket had been clicking all day and it was filthy with road grime even though I've only done 500Km since fitting it. One of the downsides to winter riding I suppose.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Wheezing and Walking

Despite my best efforts last week I succumbed to the current lurgy doing the rounds. This led to a couple of days in bed feeling pretty lousy. Quite unusual for me - I normally only take days off work for things like physical injury or being hospitalised. Fortunately it struck early in the week so I was on the road to recovery by the weekend.

With good weather forecast for the weekend I decided to head over to the Lakes to grab some more Wainwrights. The Northern Fells seemed like the place to go since the number of fells I had never been near has always been far greater than in any other book and nearly 2/3rds of the remaining tops were in this group. 8:15am saw me at Longlands on the edge of the Uldale fells and ready to go. It was all very easy walking and very quiet - I was passed by a solitary fell-runner as I approached Brae Fell and met another walker as I dropped down to Trusmadoor from Meal Fell but apart from these two I was on my own. With six tops done I headed round to Dodd and just managed to get back to the car inside the time allotted by the car-park ticket.

Sunday was another bike ride - Skipton - Ilkley - Otley - Greenhow - Appletreewick - Skipton: about 60 miles including the bits to and from home. There were just seven of us but there were lots of other cyclists out enjoying the autumn sunshine. We held a steady pace but even so I struggled quite a bit on the bigger climbs like Norwood Edge so my lungs haven't fully recovered.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

In Memoriam - Darren Holloway

During the Ian Hodgson Relay on Sunday, Darren Holloway, a member of Pennine Fell Runners, collapsed with a suspected heart attack and despite the best efforts of other competitors and others in the vicinity sadly died. Like many these days, Darren was someone I knew virtually but not personally via on-line conversations. There have been very few deaths in fell racing, this is I think only the seventh ever, little consolation I know to Darren's family and friends, but worth considering in the face of the inevitable knee jerk reactions that will appear in tabloid comments sections by those who view anything outside the bubble of their own small mind as needing controlling or banning.

Sudden deaths like this leave people with a sense of missed opportunities and unfinished business - "We were going to ...", etc. Lack of closure as the Americans would have it. My father once said that we mourn for ourselves and our loss not for the deceased. Life will go on, memories will fade, eventually we look forward again.

Looking at the messages on the FRA forums it is clear that Darren was much loved and respected amongst the small fell running community. Perhaps that is as good a legacy as any. 

Friday, 28 September 2012

Four down

Another early start saw me back at Lorton and climbing Fellbarrow and Low Fell, the fells I'd not done last week. Although low in altitude they are sufficiently isolated to provide good views of both the inner Lakeland fells and out across the Irish Sea. Both the Galloway hills and the Isle of Man were clearly visible.

Looking up Crummock Water  from Low Fell with Meallbreak on its right
Then it was up to Honister, once I'd managed to negotiate all the tourists stopping on blind bends to look at the view that is. True to form I'd got two hills left that weren't close to one another: Fleetwith Pike and Base Brown. The summit of Fleetwith Pike is at the Buttermere end of the fell so is a brilliant viewpoint. There was a motorised paraglider flying over the valley and the sound of the engine came and went with the breeze.

Derelict shed in the workings on Fleetwith Pike

Getting to Base Brown was a matter of contouring round tops following tracks and non-tracks to avoid too much up and down. Whether it was any quicker than following the main paths I'm not sure. So with the summit gained I'd completed my fourth Wainwright book, The Western Fells. By the time I was back at the car it was mid afternoon so time to head home. Just 21 tops to go.

On the Sunday ride there were enough to have an A and a B ride. The A ride was pretty quick, the average speeds are creeping up. This is probably because we are getting used to each other's riding styles so have started to ride closer together thus gaining extra benefits from drafting. We headed out via Barnoldswick to Downham (café stop) then back via Bolton by Bowland, Hellifield and Otterburn where I short cut for home. It did feel a rather cold day with an easterly breeze and I didn't feel particularly warm at any point on the ride. On the plus side I did get home before the deluge started.

The deluge brought its own problems a couple of days later when our kitchen flooded again :-( after an hour and a half of mopping up I managed to get outside and figure out what the cause was. With luck I'll be able to stop it permanently. I feel sorry for the people who get flooded regularly.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Back on the Wainwrights

Given a fine forecast for the Saturday with encroaching rain for Sunday it was time to head back over to the Lakes and grab a few more Wainwrights. So, having woken at 5am I'd had breakfast and was on my way by 5:30. The A65 was surprisingly busy, in fact it was busier than the M6, don't know what was going on.

My target were the hills around Loweswater - this is an area of the Lakes that I really don't know having rarely ventured further than Buttermere. A bit of investigation revealed that the ground between the fells had a reputation of being "damp" so with recent precipitation it looked like it could be interesting.

I left the car at 0750 and headed towards Burnmoor Fell. Basically a steady plod up through woods then by means of missing the path a steep section to reach the ridge and so the top. For the next couple of tops (Blake Fell and Gavel Fell) it was simply a case of following the fence line on the ridge. The ground was damp but not overly so. It was after Gavel Fell that things got interesting.

White Moss is known for being wet ground and it didn't belie its reputation, however since so few people cross it the vegetation is still intact so it's possible to stagger from grass lump to grass lump. All a bit slow going though and it was a relief to get on to the firmer slopes of Hen Comb.

Buttermere and Fleetwith Pike from Hen Combe

Taking the fell runner's line (i.e. straight down) to Mosedale meant some very steep ground avoiding small rock outcrops on the way. A bit of a detour to cross via the bridge then it was straight up Meallbreak. It was here that I saw (not met) the first people of the day and a short while later passed a solitary walker near the summit. Apart from a couple of parties near the fell gate they were the only people I saw on the hill.

The next objectives were Fellbarrow and Low Fell but as I set off I realised that my knee wasn't going to be able to handle it - with the bad summer weather I've done so little walking to crags or anywhere else that I'm just not used to it. So home it was.

Sunday's bike ride was out to Feizor and back - there weren't many of us out (seven) so we all jumped in to the B-ride! After a very nice tea and scone at the cafe we returned in increasing rain for a total of 88Km of riding. On Wednesday there were twelve out riding and the pace was pretty brisk, with the nights drawing in there were lots of new lights on show - Hope Vision 1s being quite popular as well as the Lezyne. With all the flashing modes of the tail lights it was quite a disco heading round the roads to Thornton.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Biking in Somerset

A slight delay in postings due to being away on holiday. It had been a choice between Scotland or the South West, the SW won so after booking some accommodation we headed down to sample the delights of mountain biking on the Quantocks, Exmoor and Dartmoor.

The Quantocks are only a short distance away from the M5 so made for a good afternoon destination before finding our B&B. We only did a short loop but managed to go right instead of left when climbing up a wooded valley so wondered why 40 degree slopes with exposed tree routes had appeared on what was meant to be an easyish climb. The rest of the route was very good though.

Cath making a splash

The following day our route began with a ridiculously steep climb, we were on route this time, and we began to wonder if we were going to get totally beasted with the supposed gradings. The rest of the route was straightforward with some nice sea views. We decided to do another route straight after so headed east towards Minehead and another steep push. Once on the ridge it was all very easy and we decided to drop down via a different path and head back to our accommodation via back lanes rather than following the guidebook route.

Heading inland we settled on a loop from Withypool but couldn't find any parking so headed over to Winsford instead. One of the longer rides in the guidebook, it was actually quite easy despite being graded the same as our coastal route the day before. Even the black section was straightforward. The next day we did the Withypool loop, though started from our hotel further downstream and had a hard time following the "bridleway"! The actual route was very good with open views and good riding and surprisingly easy to follow given our record on the earlier routes.

Heading down a quiet lane.

Finally down to Dartmoor and a couple of routes: one on the moors south of Okehampton using military roads felt properly wild - the routes on Exmoor felt more like riding through farmland with small bits of open land. The second route was characterised by lots of river crossings using stepping stones - these were tricky if you had short legs or cleated shoes! There was also a large cat aiming to steal my cream tea!

On Dartmoor above Okehampton

Cath on yet another river crossing.

Somewhat amazingly we didn't have any rain all week, unlike Scotland, so it looks like we made the right choice again. I'd put up some links to the slideshows on my website but I've currently got an access problem so can't upload/update files so things will have to wait.

Monday, 3 September 2012

More Bike related Japery

Last week Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on another world, died. One of my abiding childhood memories is being woken at four in the morning to watch the moon landing. For a farmer to wake his kids to watch such an event that had no conceivable direct link to him shows just how much the whole Apollo effort captivated the world.

Armstrong could have used his fame in so many ways but he chose to head back to engineering and instill his enthusiasm for aeronautics in to others. Perhaps his attitude is best summed by his quote: "It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small."

It took a day or two for my legs to get back to normal after the Ride with Brad, the climbs at the end definitely having packed a punch!

Nine of us turned up on a dull drizzly morning for Iain's "epic" trip to Bowness. However Cath decided that the pace was a bit much for her so went her own way then after a sprint towards Settle ( I thought use of the whip was frowned upon in racing?) Phil decided that he'd rather not reacquaint himself with his breakfast so headed back, meeting Cath at Rathmell as it happens.

At Clapham we left a worried looking Andy & Andrew in the hands of Tim and his mate who all needed to be back a bit sooner. So while they headed over Stainforth and Halton Gill to get home the remaining three pressed on ever westward towards an increasingly sunny Lake District. We joined the A65 at Goat Gap and by the time we got to Kirkby Lonsdale we decided to keep going as we (by which I mean I) didn't know the back roads between Kirkby and Endmoor to avoid it.

It wasn't too bad as it wasn't desperately busy, then it was in to Kendal and try to figure out what they've done with the one-way system this year. By the time we got to Bowness we were all ready for a rest. We just had to find the cafe where Iain and Sean were meeting their wives. One cafe stop and lots of food later and we were ready to head home.

Sean and Iain decided on following the A65 all the way for the return leg. I spent the next three hours hanging on the back as we pushed for home. We had a pit stop at Ingleton for Sean's inevitable mechanical then at Gargrave they had stopped and I suddenly became the hare and just managed to hang on until the roundabout before town.

Iain's 52 miles each way turned out to be nearer 60 and we averaged 17.4mph for the whole trip which felt fast. Perhaps more surprisingly we did nearly 10,000ft of climbing, lots and lots of small ups and downs.

Not wanting to face the climb back up home I'd rung Cath to pick me up from the Narrowboat :oops: Phew!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Ride with Brad

Sunday saw the first run of the Ride with Brad sportive, a 100Km or 160Km ride based around the Forest of Bowland. This is basically the route of the old Pendle Pedal rides. Cath had signed me up for the 160Km and herself for the 100Km. Hmm.

An early start saw us registering at Barnoldswick, the longer ride was starting first so by 7:41 I was in the starting pen with about 40 others. Five big hills and quite a few smaller ones lay ahead. The initial miles via Bowland by Bowland to Waddington went easily enough and then the fun began. Unlike most of the other big climbs I'd never been over Waddington Fell before so wasn't sure what to expect. In the event it was a steady ride with a steepening near the top then a blast down the other side and along the valley to Slaidburn and the first food stop. 1hr15.

The climb out of Slaidburn begins straight way but it's a false summit and after a couple of miles you drop to the beck before the  real fun begins and you head up to Cross of Greet. "Did you see Brad?" asks a lad as he pulls level, "Sky top and a yellow helmet", "Oh, you mean the blur?" I respond not realising that The Man had gone past. One of the stranger sites of the ride awaited me further on: a Peregrine Falcon stood on the roadside with a pigeon, totally unconcerned about the hundreds of cyclists riding past. The riding on the other side is fast and we are soon at the food stop in Wray. 2hr20.

To keep us away from main roads the route then crossed the river Lune and headed towards Lancaster before the next big climb loomed ahead: Quernmore. I've done this a few times before and not really enjoyed it. Sunday was no different. Then it's another fast descent and through the valley towards the Trough of Bowland enlivened by the rider ahead of me making close acquaintance with several metres of a barn wall! Fortunately only cuts and bruising - he was from Norfolk apparently so didn't understand hills. The Trough of Bowland is actually a straight forward climb from this side with only a couple of slightly steeper bits. As I passed over the summit the first spots of rain began, by the time I was down at Dunsop Bridge it was heavy rain but I decided to delay putting on my jacket until the foodstop in Chipping. 4hrs25.

However by now it had stopped so decided against it. Just as well as making a right turn the road reared up to 20% and just headed straight up the hillside of Longridge Fell. What the ... Bottom gear and big effort with encouraging words from those who'd got off and were walking. Fortunately the rest of the climb was easier, well apart from the hairpin at the top. Easier riding now lead to Whalley with heavy rain now set in and before the last of the big climbs: Nick o' Pendle.

Luckily this was from the "easy" side, right. A few more walking now, plus we'd begun to catch up the tailenders of the short ride. A blast down the other side to Sabden then the real work began. An unamed, well any name wouldn't be printable on maps, climb on to the ridge had at least half the field walking. I'd ridden everything up to now so wasn't going to give in but the effort had me struggling on the following flat for a while. A steep drop back in to the valley led to another 20% climb on the slopes of Pendle. Not long to go now, except it wasn't. Descending in to Barley I could see a line of riders/walkers snaking up the road ahead.

This is more of a drag than the previous climbs. Halfway up a lass asks "How much further?", "Five miles or so", "What! This hill is five miles long?". Then a level section before dropping down and beginning another climb, the last one I promise myself, except it isn't and two more short sharp climbs appear in quick succession before it really was the last. The rider next to me checks his high tech gadget: "Nearly 4000kCals today" he announces with pride, I look down: "I had a belly before this". Finally it's back through the fenced off section and the clapping crowds to the finishing line. 7hr30.

Results here: - I came 262nd out of 628 so not as bad as I thought

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Olympic Games

What a fortnight! I have to admit to being somewhat cynical about the Olympics prior to them starting, mainly due to the heavy handed enforcing of corporate sponsorship and the Olympic torch relay really didn't do anything for me. 

All that changed. From the amazing opening show (lots of "The Daily Mail aren't going to like that" moments) the games were a brilliant mix of enthusiasm, inclusiveness and British quirkiness, plus how is anyone going to top the Queen and James Bond? It helped of course that British athletes did so well and performed beyond all expectations - 65 medals with 29 golds. We rode past the gold painted postbox at Hebden (rower Andy Hodge) on Sunday and all wondered how long they were going to remain like that?

Interesting that the only time the dour Jacque Rogge clapped during Sebastian Coe's closing speech was following the mention of the volunteer Gamesmakers. 

My favourite moment of the games was Mo Farah's daughter running across the track to congratulate her dad on winning the 10,000 metres. Pure unbridled joy, lovely.

Can I go back to being cynical now?

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Over the Hills and Far Away

Some months ago Cath signed me up for the "Ride with Brad" 100 mile sportive. This was actually before the start of the Tour de France so not really jumping on any bandwagon. However I'd not really done any long rides so when Skipton CC posted that Sunday's ride was heading over Fleet Moss to Hawes and back via Kidstone Gate I thought I'd better get out and do it.

Six of us set off from Skipton and from the start the speed was high. It didn't look as if any quarter was going to be given. In short order we were at Burnsall where Tim discovered that the rattle on his bike was a loose cassette lockring. With no-one carrying the requisite tool he decided to head home.

Grassington, Conistone and Kettlewell came and went in short order and before long we were on the long drag by the upper Wharfe before the climb proper of Fleet Moss. There's a short intro which begins suddenly with a sharp right hand bend and a couple of hundred metres of 14% before the road drops in to Oughtershaw. 

Then the fun begins. Mostly it isn't too bad as there's an easy section to recover after every steep bit. Of course the steepest bit is right at the top where a sharp hairpin forces you on to the opposite side of the road to the easiest angle hereabouts. As I was approaching this a car full of Chinese went past with cameras hanging out of the window. Having not got enough of my wonderful visage they stopped on the summit area and took more shots as I went past! Regrouping on the summit, the Chinese went past then it was time for the fast descent in to Gayle. Except we were now gaining on the Chinese who then proceeded to take shots of us as we descended. Not often you get your own press car whilst on a club ride!

Tea stop in Hawes avoided most of the rain storm that past then it was down to Aysgarth and the climb out of Bishopdale. I wasn't looking forward to this as it feels steep enough in a car. It starts steadily then steepens and steepens until the last few hundred metres are at 16%. I seriously considered getting off and walking but managed to keep going. The descent through Cray and down to Buckden is excellent though.

By now I was getting tired so kept getting dropped. By the time we got to Kilnsey I was just going to hold the others up so they sped back to Skipton. I wasn't that slow on the flat but any slope saw me down to a crawl. A short stop at Rylstone to get an energy gel down me followed by a steady pace to Skipton meant that I managed the steep hill to get back home (another one I really thought I was going to have to walk). 

All in all I did 85 miles in 5hrs30 which given the hilliness of it wasn't too bad. Another reasonable length ride next Sunday should see me good for the Sportive.

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Valley of Eden

Actually managed to get out climbing for once! We had intended to head over to The Lakes but the weather looked a bit (actually a lot) iffy so when Simon arrived at he had another plan. The Eden Valley. Despite growing up in the South Lakes, the only crag I'd been to in this area was Armathwaite so plenty to go at. 

We decided on Windmore End as it was supposedly quick drying. When we got there, the small walls facing the sun were dry whilst those in the shade were damp. It then began to rain so a retreat to the café was in order. On returning the rain began again in earnest so we headed down the valley to The Hoff an easy access crag near Appleby. Except there were big signs on the gates stating that climbing was now banned!

Running out of time our next attempt at getting some climbing done was Kings Meaburn. No ban and it was dry! Ivy Crack at HVS looked good to start with so Simon set off but took several goes to get through the crux start. It was pretty hard and we later found out it's been upgraded as there used to be a tree to help with the bottom section. After an easy lead for me, Simon lead Marik. Given VS it too has been upgraded which is probably fair as leaning limestone with hard to read moves is probably not VS. Very good climbing though and a real pity it didn't go on for twice as long.

On the way home we grabbed copies of the new FRCC guide to the peripheral Lakeland crags, only to find that the section of Windmore End that we'd been on is also now banned.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Wet and Dry Cycling

Thursday's evening ride was, to put it mildly, a bit of a washout. No sooner had we met up than the heavens opened and we had to wait under a nearby tree for around fifteen minutes before setting off.

We had just got to the top of the road underneath Earl Crag (AKA The Pinnacles) when there was a big clap of thunder and it began to rain quite heavily so we decided to head back down in to the village. It was "interesting" heading down one of the steepest roads in the area with so much water around. It had got so bad by the time we got in to Sutton that we headed for the park benches that have a wooden canopy.

To say the rain got worse would be an understatement and the thunderstorm was pretty intense. Eventually we called it quits and headed home. The roads were more like rivers and I was having to avoid golfball sized stones being washed down the hill. I got home to find that we'd had four power cuts and that the kitchen was flooded in one corner.

Saturday's ride was a steady affair, livened by one of my cleats breaking - I should have replaced it some time ago - and by having to get one rider back in to Skipton before his parking ticket ran out! Rather bizarrely it was quite sunny and I've a prominent tan line on my arms. Normal service was resumed later in the day as I was mowing the lawn in a race against an approaching thunderstorm. I lost by about ten seconds!

Sunday looked like it was going to be fine in the morning so another 0900 start saw about 17 or 18 of us head out on the Grassington road. Once again it began at a rapid pace and it was more like a spread out chain gaing than a steady ride. By the time we got to Hetton a split had developed so we ended up with an 'A' and a 'B' group though on the same route at least as far as Settle. Somehow I was with the 'A' group - hopefully I wouldn't be too far off the back.

The idea was that we'd wait at the cafe for the others to catch up. As it happened they weren't too far behind plus one of our group had had a mechanical - his front tyre exploded due to the heat from braking down Stockdale Lane! Fortunately it happened right outside the cafe not on the hill so it was a short walk to the bike shop on the other side of the square.

Once we got going again the speed really picked up and with no-one willing to sit up (!) we flew through Rathmel and Wigglesworth. I got dropped on the short climb out of the latter (I really need to figure out my gear selection for these short steep climbs) and spent the next 5Km hammering along at 50kph+ to catch the group. At Bolton By Bowland we got a breather due to another mechanical but then it was another long effort over to Halton West before the final effort through Bank Newton to Gargrave. Then it was just the usual hill to get home which wasn't as hard as I thought it might be.

Definitely tired after the speed, and concentration, needed on the ride though my legs aren't as sore today as they were after last week's ride.

Monday, 2 July 2012

A Tale of Two Clubs

The weather's been pretty dire for the last few weeks which hasn't been that condusive to climbing. Consequently I've been doing more cycling.

As it happens there are two new(ish) cycling clubs in the area: South Craven Wheelers and Skipton Cycling Club. South Craven meet up down in the village so one Thursday I headed down for an evening ride. Due to the weather forecast there were only three of us. One of these was the cyclist with whom I'd had a "male competitive syndrome" ride in to work a while back. With perfect timing there was a heavy downpour as we set off but after that there wasn't much precipitation. Rather than the advertised ride it was decided to go for a hilly option with West Bank being the first climb - eek!

A couple of more hills later we arrived in Elslack and decided to go for a longer loop out to East Marton and Gargrave. Once back at Elslack we just had the one big hill up on to Pinhaw in our way to get back home. Not a bad ride done at reasonable pace. (Missed the next Thursday ride due to going to watch Alan Davies at Grassington Festival)

This weekend there were two rides organised by Skipton CC: Saturday's was advertised as being a gentle 25 miles and Sunday's was to be a bit brisker, more like South Craven pace. There were a dozen there for Saturday's ride on bikes ranging from carbon fibre racers to city commuting models. The route went round Barden Moor via Bolton Abbey, Appletreewick, Burnsall, Thorpe and Cracoe. Apart from a heavy shower as we passed through Thorpe it was a pleasant ride with a bit of a blast back along the Cracoe - Skipton road.

Sunday's ride was of sterner stuff. The route was Skipton - Cracoe - Threshfield - Halton Gill - Malham - Airton - Gargrave and back. There's a steady climb out of Skipton up to the bypass, this was taken at pace such: "lively" I thought to myself. I began to think that I was likely to spend the day getting dropped out of the back of the group. With regular regroupings we got to Cracoe where I was about 60 metres behind the lead group of four when without warning they sped up and began to pull away. I managed to regain ten metres or so but couldn't close the gap as we were blasting along the flat at about 26MPH. Eventually I caught them up when they pulled up at Threshfield.

I was ready for the next break/effort as we headed towards Kilnsey and didn't have much problem sitting in the small group. Together again we headed up Littondale with the day's main climb ahead. By now it was raining and pretty miserable. There was a bit of a hiatus as we helped out a young lad whose chain had jammed round his bottom bracket but then it was time for the climb. It's not too bad with only a couple of short steep sections but once we got to the top we were in the full force of the wind and I was going at a slower pace on the flat than on the climb! By now we were all soaked from the driving rain so a café stop was called for.

The farm shop at Airton is most welcoming in these situations and after a refuel we were ready to go again. Except that when paying the staff caused the till to lock up so I was late back to my bike. Fortunately, three of the group had waited for me, unfortunately they were keen to catch the others up so another high speed blast down to Gargrave ensued. I got dropped off the back on a short steep pull and wasn't able to regain the group. Once at Gargrave the rest of the group were heading back to Skipton so I headed straight home with just the hill up from Elslack to look forward to again. 

My legs definitely feel the exhertions from the efforts. Still it will do me good.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

White Rose Classic 2012

A little bit late but the blogs seem to be a week or so out of date at the moment, I'll catch up.

We headed over to Ilkley on a day that appeared windier than forecast and rather cloudy and parked up amongst a host of cheap cars and expensive bikes. Having got Cath sorted and away, I dropped from the long course to the medium as I didn't feel I was fit enough for the former.

With my electronic tag checked at the start it was off towards Otley. This was much easier than the last time I'd been this way as there was no headwind. Then it was a simple matter of turning north and heading towards Norwood Bank, the first of the main climbs. Not too bad but very rough surface in the lower half but still got nowhere near the 7mins that it supposedly should take according to the 100 best climbs book.

By now the club teams were out and zooming past me. A couple of peculiar loops took us to the A59 then it was the long climb up to Greenhow Hill. Mostly this is steady going but there are a couple of dips with steep climbs leading out the other side. I caught Cath on the second of these. Then it was in to the wind and down to the food stop at Grassington with a very nasty road surface at the foot of the descent to Hebden (Yorkshire Council take note!). I got to Grassington in 2hrs9mins which I was fairly pleased with as 2hrs was my fast target time.

After some refuelling and restocking of water I was on my way again heading towards Halton Gill and the next big climb. On the way I teamed up with a rider going at around the same pace which helped with the effort in to the headwind. No more big teams passed us so presumably they were all doing the long ride. The main part of the climb, being sheltered, was OK but as soon as we got on to the flatter bit at the top we were faced with a strong wind which made getting to Settle hard work.

Getting out of Settle meant Stockdale Lane, which is steep especially after 50 miles. By the time it came to the descent to Airton, my glasses had steamed up and I nearly wiped out, just seeing a huge hole at the side of the road in time. 

More food and refuelling at Airton then I missed the others leaving so ended up doing the last section on my own. No big hills for the most part but lots of short steep ones to slow you down. The one big hill is saved for the end - Langber. I wasn't looking forward to this with 80 miles in my legs. As I approached the second steepening I could see my earlier companion struggling just ahead, fair to say I struggled as well. When it came to the main climb I could see that the efforts were taking their toll on him and he came to a halt about halfway up slumped over his bike. I came to a halt about 50 metres earlier  and walked the rest.

After that it was a few miles of more rolling terrain before the descent in to Ilkley and the finish. My bike computer showed 6hrs 19seconds but with the food stops my actual time was 6hr20mins - bronze standard. Cath came in about an hour later looking about as tired as I felt. I think a lot of people had a hard time as on the medium route only two riders got a gold standard (by just a couple of seconds) and only 17 got silver. Still it was a good ride out. 

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Bike Touring in Scotland

In an attempt to get away from the cringeworthy toadiness of the Royal Jubilee we decided to head up to Scotland for a week's bike touring. It seemed like a lot of others had the same idea as we eventually had to head north on the Friday as all the bike slots on the trains were already reserved. It took over an hour to find spare reservation and sort the tickets out! Our itinerary apart from the first full day was on roads or in areas that either we had never been to before or that it was several decades since we'd been.

The one problem with public transport is connections: it's rare that you get to a station with the next train just a platform away and ready to leave in ten minutes. So it was that with an hour waiting at Carlisle and three hours in Glasgow (though with a change from Central to Queen St stations), getting to Oban took over nine hours. The plus points? Riding along two of the best railway journeys in the world: Settle-Carlisle and the West Highland Line.

A bigger delay was at Oban with the ferry only leaving at 1530 on the Saturday so a lot of time to fill. We did a bit of biking up and down the coast getting used to the loaded bikes but in the end still had a couple of hours hanging around at the ferry terminal before we could embark. Again we weren't the only ones - there were nearly 40 bikes on the ferry - we just hoped that they weren't all on the same itinerary as ourselves. Once on Barra it was clear that there was a pretty keen northerly wind, not good for heading north and it was quite hard work getting to our B&B on the other side of the island.

Looking back to Barra from Eriskay

Sunday morning was our only real rush - we needed to get the 0900 ferry to Eriskay as the next one wasn't until 1130 and would mean that heading up the Uists would be unneccessarily pressured. Long summer days and accommodating hosts meant that we got there with half an hour to spare so we could relax somewhat. There were just seven other cyclists on this crossing. Sunday on the Western Isles is, err, interesting. Pretty well everything is shut and the further north you go the more likely this is to be the case. Our big problem though was the wind, not as strong as yesterday but still northerly and with no shelter to speak of. A cafe after fifteen miles provided shelter but the cafe at a museum on Benbecula was shut (as in shut shut - letters from the council stacked up outside) so it wasn't until Kirkibost that we got another break. It was then just another ten miles or so in to the wind to the B&B. We did have a break at a beach we'd camped at the last time we were here but it wasn't sunbathing weather.

Monday was another push to get the ferry crossing (had to get this one as spring tides meant that the midday crossing wasn't running) but with an hour and a half to do ten miles it wasn't really a problem but we did have a ferry to catch at 1600 from Tarbert. Crossing the Sound of Harris is tricky, the ferry makes 22 course corrections in the 9 miles (according to a crew hand) to avoid submerged reefs. Once at Leverburgh, the other cyclists (same group as on the Eriskay ferry) went looking for "The Cafe from Heaven" (?!) whilst we turned right and headed for "The Golden Road". This is a small road that links the communities on the east coast of South Harris and let's just say it's lumpy! No big hills but lots of small ones that are occasionally steep. We had our only rain showers of the trip whilst riding along here, one wasn't heavy enough to stop to put on waterproofs. After tea and cake at a wonderfully eccentric community run cafe in Liceasto we arrived in Tarbert and promptly found another cafe - never under any circumstances pass up the opportunity to eat cake! We were stopping in Portree so had to do the big climb out of Uig followed by a long fast descent or two in to the town. Portree has changed massively since I was last there, generally for the better, perhaps best described as being more cosmopolitan. 

Heading towards the Cuillin on Skye

We were undecided as to which way to go on Skye, we had to get to Armadale for the ferry back to the mainland, but eventually settled on crossing back to the west coast before rejoining the main drag at Sligachan. Definitely an interesting road and far from quiet at nine in the morning. It was also rather steep in places which was a bit of a shock. Whilst on the main road on the west coast we saw something I'd never seen or even heard of before: a finch or similar sized bird mobbing a cuckoo. A bit of research showed that it is known behaviour. After something to eat at the Sligachan we headed on southwards but took a side road that had been recommended to us by the hostel owner to avoid the big hill on the main drag. I don't think I've ever been on a road with as many pot holes! Dinner at Broadford then it was down the new road to Armadale getting there just in time for the ferry to arrive. We were stopping at the Backpacker's Hostel in Mallaig so didn't have far to go at the other end. Well recommended with excellent food in the restaurant downstairs.

The first part of Wednesday's ride I'd visited 34 years ago but there have been significant road improvements since then and I can't remember anything about the old road anyway. We decided just to head out on the new road and get it out of the way before we cut right and headed down to the Ardnamurchan Peninsular, the most westerly point of the British mainland. There were a couple of signs about the road being shut at certain times of the day - sure enough we got there when it was shut - new road being built. After half an hour we were on our way again and once over the hill and having avoided the fire engines heading to a heath fire we stopped for lunch. A short hill dropped us down to Salen and then it was along the coast. On the map this looks fine, on the ground it was lots and lots of short steep ups and downs with little opportunity to keep a pace going due to blind bends and recent laying of chippings. In fact it was easier once we turned away from the coast and tackled the big climb to get round to Kilchoan. We arrived just as the ferry was pulling in - good timing. Our night's stop at the youth hostel was just yards away from the terminal in Tobermory.

One disadvantage of spending the night by the sea on a hilly island is that you have to go uphill and Thursday started with a vengeance straight up from the harbour. Eventually it eased off and we went up and down hills and in and out of coves on the way to Calgary with some very nice road conditions and almost alpine like passes. The tea room at Calgary hadn't opened yet so we pressed on - mistakenly as it turned out as there wasn't anywhere to grab a bite for a long way. At the high point of the road we passed a radio mast in place for the Mull sportive a few days later then it was more undulations, declining the ferry to get to a pub. Cath was getting hungry and wasn't too keen on doing the next loop so we cut across the road at the neck of the island to Salen (another one) for tea and cakes. Then it was a case of heading straight for Craignure on the main road, which was pretty quiet really. We had the benefit of chasing down another group of cyclists before we got to the pub where we were stopping. A pint and an ice cream later it began to rain - the first real rain of our holiday, if we'd gone the long loop we'd have got wet - so we headed indoors. In the restaurant that night the waitress picked up my empty plate and remarked that very few managed to finish the fish stew as there was so much of it. I must have been hungry, besides I know how to eat!

Friday was basically, get to the ferry (oh, 500 metres); ferry to Oban, walk over to train station and get the train south. As we headed down the Settle-Carlisle (or should that be the Carlisle-Settle) it was apparent that there had been a large amount of rainfall with the becks foaming brown. All in all we did around 320 miles of biking. The only bits of kit that I took that I didn't use were my overboots and the midge head mask (really glad about that one!), even the waterproof didn't get a lot of use which shows just how dry the weather was.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Is Summer Here?

Having put my name down for the long route in the White Rose Classic, all 115 miles of it, I thought I'd better get some biking miles in to my legs. There were a couple of hills that I'd not done before so it was time to check them out.

First up (literally) was Stockdale Lane out of Settle. A couple of rides on successive weekends saw me getting to it after 25 & 35 miles and even though I was in bottom gear it didn't seem *too* bad. The first time up it was harder as there was a headwind. 

The next bit to try out was the first twenty miles or so out of Ilkley and up to Greenhow Hill. This all started nice and steadily, though with the obligitory headwind, climbing out of Otley then dropping down in to the Washburn Valley. The next section was steep and a bit of a grind but once the first half of the hill was over it began to ease and the crest was soon reached. Unfortunately this led to a taste of things to come as getting to the A59 was hard work in the wind. The road up to Greenhow had a few surprises in the form of a couple of 25% hills but it was the final miles to the summit that were depressing with a slow road surface; a subtle constant climb and an ever present wind. Once at the village things picked up and the miles heading home were easier, even when heading over Halton Heights.

A seeming constant over the past few weeks has been a strong breeze often a wind and it's been a real pain to bike in. Saturday was no exception - Cath was going biking round Clapham so I blagged a lift and  would bike home, taking in a hill or two on the way. However, after what seems like an age, warm weather has finally arrived and combined with the wind would make it a much harder ride than I had planned for, generally my speeds were about 25% down on what I normally manage. Oh well.

Sunday was looking like a day for climbing and with the forecast set fair we settled on Neckband Crag as Lionel had never been there before. The last time I'd been up here I'd done Razor Crack in very damp conditions - I thought this was only a couple of years ago but when checking my guide it turned out to be a full ten years. Climbing as a three meant we could be sensible about gear. So one person had the rack and the other two a rope each. My rucksack still weighed masses though as I'd about 4 litres of liquid on board!

Plodding our way up The Band in the heat there was a loud "Fancy meeting you lot here!". It was the Phizacklea/Matheson team on their way up to Flat Crags. After chatting for a while they pressed on and we dropped over the col and down to the crag which was still in the sun. Things looked dry if a little dirty.

First up was Glorfindel, a HVS which starts up Mithrandir and finishes up the original finish to Gillette. I'd not done this before so Lionel led off with a bit of huffing and puffing on the first bulges but then he got in to his stride and made short work of the upper section. Then it was my turn and the huffing and puffing went on for a bit longer:-) Good climbing though. Once Simon had followed we abseiled off (in common with a lot of Lakes crags these days it seems that they are increasingly being set up for abseil descents).

Lionel starting the upper crack of Glorfindal

Simon wasn't impressed by the vintage of Lionel's gear.

Then we pointed Simon at Razor Crack, the classic E1 of the crag. When it came to my turn to follow I found it significantly harder than I remembered it and struggled quite a bit. It's very good climbing though and you get good no-hands rests between moves. Lionel and Simon then did Gillette Direct, one of the best E2s around. I didn't fancy getting hauled up it so sat this one out. By the time they were down from the route it was time to go.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Swiss Route, Les Courtes

An Alpine retrospective.

There are times when you realise that some things just aren't for you. So it was with big Himalayan trips. In 1986 eight of us went to Gasherbrum IV to attempt the second ascent (Walter Bonatti and Carlo Mauri made the first ascent in 1958). The west face "The Shining Wall" had been climbed in one a fantastic ascent by Robert Schauer and Woyteck Kurtyka though they were so far out on a limb that they didn't traverse the 200m or so of the summit ridge to the true summit, preferring instead to turn left and head to safety. This is probably the pre-eminent super-alpine climb of the 1980s.

The Himalaya are a big step up from the Alps, even the big stuff like the Eiger or the Jorasses, and the amount of climbing done ended up being very little in comparison to the time spent doing everything else. Of course the fact that we didn't summit meant that we were downhearted - Greg Child and Tim McArtney-Snape made the second ascent of GIV that season by the ridge that Kurtyka and Schauer used as descent - but even so, it didn't feel like an aspect of the sport I wished to continue.

I'm sitting on the Mer de Glace crying and screaming with pain. I've been skiing down from the Vallee Blanche after climbing one of the couloirs on Mt Blanc du Tacul and just hit a pressure ridge in the glacier, done a backwards somersault and landed on my thumb. For the second time. Over the next few days my hand swells ominously but isn't too painful.

I'm looking for an objective to solo, it needs to be big but not too big. My first thoughts are to the Nant Blanc face of Le Verte but Phil Thornhill reckons that the face is almost never in good condition for its entire length - there'll always be one section that is very tenuous - and suggests the Swiss Route on the north face of Les Courtes as an alternative. Sounds good to me.

A couple of days later I'm at the Grands Montets telepherique ready for the first cabin of the day. There's a good forecast for the next three days. My plan is to take an easy day getting over to the Argentiere hut, spend the night there; climb the route the following day and down to the Couvercle hut then down to the valley the following morning. So food for a couple of days and a minimal set of kit to abseil with - 60 metres of 6mm cord and a few old wires. If you are obviously a climber then the telepherique staff take no notice of you but skiers tend to get shepherded around "for their own safety" so no-one says anything as I head out of the top station and drop down in to the back country.

The snow on the glacier is firm and I'm making good time so I change plans and head directly to the route. There are a couple of teams considering setting off on the route so rather than get stuck behind them I head to the rimaye (bergschrund) and get going. Getting established on the face proves to be trickier than expected and requires plunging my axes and arms deep in to the soft overhanging snow of the far side of the gap, quite exciting with a large dark bergschrund gaping beneath you.

Whether I'd destroyed the placements on getting on to the face or the other teams decided on something else, I don't know, but I didn't see anyone again whilst I was on the face. The route was in excellent condition with near perfect neve ice for much of the route. The crux was a narrowing of the ice and slightly steeper but not too hard and soon I was on the upper ice field. The ice on this began to change: getting harder and more brittle. By the time I reached the final 100m arete leading to the summit ridge it was bullet hard winter ice taking several swings of the axe to get a placement. I get to the summit after just 5 hours.

I've never been here before and the summit ridge is a bit confusing so rather than drop down to the south face I decide to descend the NE slope. This is slightly risky in that it's known to be avalanche prone but it's also been skied! The deciding factors are the encroaching darkness and the turning weather. The slope is quite deep snow so I keep to the side rocks in case it all begins to slide. As I get lower I get braver and take bigger and bigger strides, by the foot of the face I'm almost running and simply leap over the bergschrund to land in soft snow. It's now dark; I'm near the head of a snow covered, crevassed glacier and I'm on my own. Oops!

I've no real option but to begin to head back down so after a brew and something to eat I set off. The next three hours are highly worrying but eventually I come across the upper edge of the Grand Montets ski runs that drop down this side and I can relax. Another hour of plodding down the slopes and I re-enter the apartment just 13 hours after leaving that morning. The following day a storm hits the range.

When I get home an X-ray shows that I've broken the thumb on my left hand, the consultant reckons my tendons were stronger than the bone and pulled it apart! "You're lucky" he says "You don't want to tear soft tissue. This will be right in a month not six".

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Wintry North Wales

A bit of catchup with activities from a while ago.

On Good Friday we headed down to N. Wales for some slate action. After a leisurely breakfast just off the A55 (we weren't slow, just the service), it was off to the quarries.

Everything was somewhat white, in fact there was around 20cm of snow on the ground so I hadn't high hopes that we'd get anything done. After ploughing up to the bottom of Australia, an area I'd never been to before despite living in the area for nine years, it seemed that there were a few dry routes. Now slate dries quickly after rain has cleared but melting snow is slightly different and some routes were getting wetter by the minute. The whole feeling was somewhat alpine with rockfall on the scree slope in the middle of the quarry.

Steve heading out on Looning the Tube.

After a couple of VSs and an easy sport route we'd got damp enough so we headed back along the A55 and did a couple of routes at Llanddulas Cave before the rain called an end to activities.

A bit of biking action on the Sunday - heading round the Bingley Loop, in daylight for once.

It now looks like the summer monsoon has arrived early :-(

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Eastern Lakes Rock

In looking around to figure out where to go for the weekend's climbing both Mike and I had thought about Gouther Crag in Swindale near Shap. Mike had never been and it had been 3 years since I'd last visited. It's a cracking little crag with a range of good routes from VDiff to E4. A team of three since Steve was joining us.

When we got to the car park it was packed but it turned out that these were all walkers and we had the crag to ourselves for most of the day. We started off with The Fang, a classic easy VS. I have to say that I wouldn't like to be doing it when breaking in to the grade as the first 10 metres or so are pretty hollow and you have to be careful with gear, then you run it out for quite a way until you get good gear. Good climbing though.

None of us felt up to leading Bloodhound (bold E2) which is one of the best slab climbs around, so we top roped it. Next up was Hernia, a steep crackline. It used to be HVS but was upgraded to E1 in the latest guide. There's only one hard move though the crux of the VS that it joins near the top felt just as hard.

Mike on the crux of Hernia - E1 5b

Mike and Steve wanted to play on Castration Crack, one of the classic E3s of the crag. I'd done it a few times in the past so just chilled (literally) and watched them. The lower half is well protected but once past the crux it's a dirty slab -it was likely that this was the first ascent of the year.

I've still plenty to do here so will have to come back again.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Three down, Four to go!

Things are getting a bit repetitive! Another day in the Lakes, another of Wainwright's books completed. This time it was the Far Eastern Fells. 

After a very foggy start when leaving home we broke in to the sunshine around Settle and had bright sunshine for the rest of the day. Cath dropped me off at The Queen's Head in Troutbeck and headed off to go mountain biking. The target was to pick up the last four tops on a linear route to Howtown, the first few kilometres were on tarmac but then it was up hill on to the lowest fell in the book, Troutbeck Tongue. The boggy ground to the north mentioned by Wainwright was fairly dry so soon I was on the first of the big climbs of the day up the old Roman Road on to the ridge leading to High Street.

This was very warm work despite taking it steady, the only people I saw were a couple of fell runners. The ridge itself was fairly quiet until Thornthwaite Beacon and along the ridge to Gray Crag where I lunched. Then it was a steep drop down to the outflow of Hayeswater and back up to climb on to Rest Dodd.

The sun was taking its toll now and I wished I'd brought a hat to provide some shade. One more top to do, The Nab, and it's one that used to be out of bounds as it lies within the Martindale Deer Reserve but these days access is permitted. Fortunately the very boggy ground between the two tops was nearly dry so it made for easy, well cushioned walking. 

With just a surprisingly steep descent down in to Martindale there remained only another long section of tarmac to gain the pier at Howtown and grab the ferry to Pooley Bridge for some well earned scram before Cath arrived and we headed home.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Two Down, Five to Go

With fine weather promised for Sunday it was time for another trip over to the Lakes. This week's target was to finish off the tops in Book Six - The North Western Fells. I'd only five left to do but they were spread out in four groups so no simple pickings.

I've reached the point where walking poles are a necessity not an affectation but I'd forgotten where we'd stored them so quite a bit of time was spent locating them - senility!

The advantage of early starts ( 5:30AM!) is that the roads are pretty clear so getting over to the Lakes is relatively painless. So it was before 8am when I left Buttermere for the first top, Rannerdale Knotts. There had been some spring snowfall on the higher tops and with the sun yet to reach the valley it was pretty nippy for the first climb. Once on the ridge it was simply a matter of traversing the false summits to the true summit. Being separated from the main mass of fells means that it is a wonderful viewpoint and with the snow on the high fells it was a classic Lakeland spring scene.

Look up towards Buttermere from Rannerdale Knotts

Back to the car then up to Newlands Hause for the Ard Crags - Knott Rigg ridge. Apart from the initial climb this is very easy walking, slightly spoilt by having to retrace my steps as there's no sensible alternative return route. I was finally getting used to the walking poles. Again these are small summits set apart from the main tops so the views are better than you'd expect.

Pillar and the High Stile range from Knott Rigg

Then it was on to Barrow - parking close to the wonderfully named Uzzicar Farm. Finally I began to see other walkers on the fells - I'd begun to think that there was a ban on stepping away from the road. The last top in the book was Castle Crag in Borrowdale, the lowest top in all seven books. Unsurprisingly this was the busiest with a large and noise family at the summit.

Skiddaw from Barrow

My current tally of fells from the seven books is:

Book One: completed
Book Two: 4
Book Three: 8
Book Four: 2
Book Five: 19
Book Six: completed
Book Seven: 9

I had originally considered doing a hill or two out of the central fells book as well but my legs felt I'd had enough so headed home among the crowds on the A65.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Back on the Bike

A bit of biking this weekend: mountain biking on Saturday and road on Sunday, plus an explanation for a persistent ache.

Cath wanted to go biking on Saturday but having not been out on any bike for ages, I didn't want to do something too technical so we ended up biking on the lanes around Bank Newton, West Marton and Coniston Cold. I hadn't been on many of the lanes and those I had I'd only ever done in the opposite direction so it all felt quite new. It was pretty muddy though :-)

Sunday saw me heading out on the winter bike for a quick blast over to Colne and back. It all felt quite hard work though there was a bit of a breeze for the first half. Fortunately biking in to work on Tuesday was a bit easier so maybe it was just winter cobwebs.

My shoulder is still sore so I had the physio look at it on Monday: whiplash is the likely explanation. Certainly hurts and I'm hoping the exercises I got given sort it out.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Lakes and Wales

A double header this weekend. Another couple of Wainwrights visited on Saturday and a trip to a couple of new to me crags on Sunday.

The fells on the western edge of the Lakes are pretty remote for those of us that don't live in West Cumberland hence there's a reasonable number of outlying tops that I've never been to. As usual they aren't in convenient groups so it's a case of picking off the odd top here and there. Having dropped Cath off in Broughton to go mountain biking I headed over a very foggy Corney Fell to the west coast and then up towards Ennerdale Bridge. The targets were Lank Rigg and Grike, the westernmost fell in the Lakes. 

Unusually the walk began with a long steady descent in to an intervening valley. It was while walking along this that I heard the sound of fell hounds braying, eventually I saw them on the skyline and after a few minutes they were scouring the hillside. The next time I looked a fox, their quarry, was heading towards me and was perhaps only 50 metres away. Five minutes later and the hounds swept past me, pausing only to sniff me and check that I wasn't what they were after. Then once again the valley fell quiet and it was on with the walk.

The clag hadn't lifted by the time I got to the summit of Lank Rigg so it was on over the interestingly named Whoap to join up with the route of the Ennerdale Horseshoe. While sheltering behind the Ennerdale Fence (actually a substantial stone wall) some of the hunt followers went by, so obviously the fox was still evading them. I wasn't totally sure if I'd been on Crag Fell so visited the top just to make sure, then it was on over boggy ground to Grike before heading back to the car just before a heavy shower passed over.

The clag had cleared by now and there were wonderful views of the western fells on the way back.

Looking in to Wasdale from the west coast road.

With a band of rain passing over the country, Sunday's plan was to head west and get the other side of it. We ended up at Dyserth climbing on a couple of south facing crags that were out of the chill NW wind. Our first venue was Waterfall Crag where we did six routes which were pleasant enough - without seriously upping our game to get on the routes over the big roof we effectively did all the routes we could.

Myself climbing at Waterfall Crag

The second crag was Dyserth Castle Quarry which is basically an easy angled, 60deg or so, slab with four main routes from F6a to F6b+. Genesis, the 6b+, was the best of the lot as the rock was reasonable quality, that on the others was very friable and just the weight of the rope rubbing across the surface was enough to loosen material. I didn't lead any of these as I don't seem to have got my head in order regarding climbing and was also concerned about my knees should I fall.

Gaz on the F6a+ at the right side of the main slab

Mike casting a shadow on Genesis - F6b+ on the main slab at Dyserth Castle.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

One Down, Six to go

Another quick hit in the Lakes getting minor Wainwrights done. This time I was in the Eastern Fells, Wainwright's first book. I'd only four left to do but they were all isolated from one another and there wasn't really a sensible route to do them in one walk so it was a pair and two singles. 

First up were Arnison Crag and Birks, both pimples on a spur from St Sunday Crag really. Being early in the day I didn't see anyone on the fell. Then it was round to Glenridding to tackle Birkhouse Moor. There was a hunt setting off so getting parked was slightly tricky. I decided to head up the NE ridge which Wainwright describes as an easy scramble but then anything that involves taking your hands out of your pockets is a scramble to him! In reality it was just steep grass across a rocky steepening.

The summit is all of 10 metres above the surrounding terrain, again a pointless summit. I was pleasantly surprised that I could walk properly on the descent - the physio on my hip is obviously paying dividends. On getting back down to Glenridding the police arrived - it looked like a group of anti-hunt protesters were filming the hounds out on the fell and some hunt supporters weren't happy.

The final top of the day was Hartsop above Howe, yet another excrescence on a long spur. The going was easy angled if a long way for such a minor top. After lots of false summits the highest was reached and Book One could be put to bed. I'll still visit but only the major tops like the Helvellyn range and the Fairfield Horseshoe.

Am now getting to the climbing wall several times a week - handy that there's now one ten minutes from work so no excuses :-) I'm slowly getting fitter but I think it's going to take a while.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Climbing and Skiing

It's been a bit of a gap since I've posted anything - I was away skiing last week but have also got a (little) bit of winter climbing done.

I went to Brown Cove Crags with Steve a couple of weeks ago - another Lakes winter crag that I'd never been to before. The weather was wild and forecast to get wilder but Steve needed a haircut so we didn't get away until mid-morning. After a bit of a plod up in to the mirk on the Helvellyn path we reckoned that we were at the right spot to traverse in to the crag. There followed a traverse across a scree slope with legs disappearing down large holes with a bit of a descent to get round the toe of the first buttress.

We settled on Right Buttress Crack, a grade III, which proved easy apart from a squirm round a chockstone halfway up the main pitch. The route is a lot longer than given in the guide with three pitches of close to 60 metres and the other a good 40 metres. It was by now very wild on top and it was fortunate that the descent path was close by.

By the time we got back to the car there was about 6 or 7cm of fresh snow. I then made the mistake of turning left out of the car park and heading back over Dunmail Raise. It seems that despite the last two winters UK drivers still haven't learnt how to drive in snow and we spent some time sitting around waiting for people to get up very shallow slopes. At least we had our flasks with us! After two hours we had only got to Newby Bridge (the Windermere road was solid with stuck cars) and it was another 2 1/2 hours before we got home.

Last week we had a week's skiing based in Morzine. Good snow with reasonable weather but I came back with yet more injuries having pulled a muscle in my shoulder/back and rather bizarrely getting thwacked in the head by the foot rest of a chairlift that hadn't properly returned to the up position. Fortunately I didn't do any obvious damage to my knees or legs.

It now looks as if winter is over for a while with temperatures rising to over 15C, time to get training for summer.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Turning the Tables

Not such good weather this last weekend but good enough to get out to Gigg South for a few routes. Due to the constant rain and snow melt, the crag was as wet as I've ever seen it. The crag is a little bit steeper than Robin Proctor's and my lack of rock fitness showed again. Ah well.

As it happened I knew nearly everyone at the crag, all golden oldies, presumably the youngsters are inside cranking on the plastic.

Slightly more amazing was that we finally got the table installed that we'd ordered nearly three years ago! We'd put up with IKEA/PCWorld computer tables for ages but now we've got a bespoke oak table and it's lovely and looks the part.

Our new table :-)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A dream restored

Many years ago as a young child having been left alone one evening I remember watching a grainy black and white TV programme about an attempt to climb a rock spire. The attempt failed but the fantastical outline of the rock spire was one of my inspirations to start climbing, a dream spire to aspire to.

That rock spire was Cerro Torre in southern Patagonia, Argentina and its climbing history as I was to discover was as amazing as the peak itself. Only 3128 metres high but with the last 1200m of that being near vertical rock, it has long been regarded as one of the hardest mountains in the world. First real attempts were in the 1950s but it was in 1959 when the modern tale begins.

Two Italian climbers claimed to have succeeded in climbing the peak from the north. Unfortunately one of those, Tony Egger, died on the descent and the other, Cesare Maestri was in a very poor state. The climb was hailed as "the ascent of the century" and appeared to be far ahead of its time in difficulty and commitment. Over the years however doubts began to emerge about the climb.

In 1971 Maestri returned to Cerro Torre to silence his critics but rather than raising his game he resorted to hauling a 100Kg compressor on to the South East ridge and placed between 350 & 450 bolts in to the route. Many of these were next to good crack systems which even with the rudimentary kit of the day were protectable and climbable. Quite a few were on pitches previously climbed without by the British attempt. Maestri didn't even summit stating that the summit mushroom "wasn't part of the mountain" and also removed some of the bolts as they descended - the compressor is still hanging from the wall. The climbing world was appalled: Rheinhold Messner wrote his piece "Murder of the impossible"; others spoke of the rape of the mountain.

Following this episode Ken Wilson, then editor of Mountain magazine, interviewed Maestri. The interview was described to me by the interpreter Alan Heppenstall, whom I climbed with for a while in the 1980s, as "abrasive and confrontational".

Maestri's fit of pique backfired as it focused more attention on his previous claim - subsequent attempts on the line failed to rationalise the ground covered with Maestri's description: areas that Maestri described as difficulties of the highest order were found to be simple scrambling and no-one has been able to locate the line taken on the headwall at the grade claimed. Further to this no trace of their ascent has been found above around 300m above the glacier. Rolando Garibotti did a full investigation of the claims and came to the conclusion that the base of the triangular snow-patch halfway to the Cerro Torre - Torre Egger col was their high point.

The true first ascent of Cerro Torre was by another Italian team but from the west side. The SE Ridge route was finally climbed to the summit by two Americans in 1979. Since then the "Compressor Route" as it has become known has been by far the most popular means of climbing Cerro Torre. Incredibly some have seen fit to add yet more bolts - the worst example being David Lama who in attempting to free climb the route added up to sixty more, again in situations where they weren't necessary.

However not everyone was happy with the state of affairs and over the years a series of variations avoiding the bolts were made (usually at a fairly modest standard) that meant climbers could get to the base of the headwall without using any of the bolt ladders. It was only a matter of time. In 2011 two Canadians managed to eliminate all but the last 40 metres of bolt ladders. This year one of those Canadians along with an American partner managed the whole route without recourse to the bolts.

While descending they removed around 100 of the bolts on the headwall. This has angered some people who see it as elitist and denying other climbers of a historic route. In truth Maestri should have left the climb to better climbers - the only real loser has been the mountain itself. After the bolts were removed David Lama returned and free climbed the route at an estimated grade of F8a.

A dream has been restored.