North Wales Wanderings

North Wales Wanderings
My Salewa adjustable crampons, which had seen service since 1976, were finally replaced today as I purchased a lovely pair of yellow crampons from the Cotswold Store in Betws Y Coed, North Wales.  It was clear that there was snow on the mountains but the weather forecast was just abysmal.  It was one of those days when an afternoon with a good book by the fire was preferable to struggling up a wind blasted Welsh mountain side.
Amazingly though the torrential rain, which had been a pouring down for the last couple of hours, stopped as I walked out of the shop and so the reasons for not going on the hill were rapidly disappearing.
I decided to follow the path into Cwm Tryfan, hoping that I would get some shelter from the wind and if at any time the conditions deteriorated too much it would be relatively easy to retrace my steps.  As it turned out I had an interesting few hours and didn’t see anybody else all the time I was walking.
Sadly though I didn’t get to use the new crampons.
 Leaving the A5, conditions were really wet under foot but it was clear that there was snow higher up.
 The east face of Tryfan, disappearing into the cloud.
 Looking up towards Glyder Fach
 I headed up this slope to Bwlch Tryfan.  On the way up I has considered crossing the col and heading back to the car by Cwm Bochlwyd but the gusts of wind were so strong I preferred the shelter of my ascent route.
Just starting the descent, back into the relative quiet of Cwm Tryfan, trying to seek some shelter from the strongest gusts of wind.
It almost appeared as if there was some sunshine in the Ogwen Valley but it had certainly disappeared by the time I got there.  Replaced by heavy rain and a howling wind.  It was just past this point that I was blown off my feet by a particularly strong gust.  Time for coffee and cake in Capel Curig.

India Walk About – Day 4

India Walk About – Day 4
After another cold night it was an early start as we aimed to reach our highest camp of the trip before crossing a col tomorrow and starting our descent into another valley.  We knew that the crossing of the col would be the most challenging part of the whole trek so we needed to be in a good position if the weather was in our favour.
In the bright sunshine we walked through an increasingly rugged landscape.   One section of the walk was particularly exposed but we did manage to get a phone signal at one of the bends in the path.  The information wasn’t good, poor weather was heading our way and above a certain level the precipitation would be falling as snow.
We spent the night in some huts but were concerned about the incoming poor weather so we decided to get up before dawn ensuring that we were ready to head towards lower pastures at first light.
Just above where we camped the previous 2 nights and preparing for the first section of uphill of the day.  The peak behind is the one we had climbed the day before.
Some distant views of the Indian Himalaya’s as we walked along some broad ridges.  The temperature had been modified by the altitude, resulting in perfect walking conditions.
One of the few steeper sections.  Just before starting this ascent there was plenty of evidence of bears in the area although unfortunately we didn’t see any.
Traversing towards are high camp.  Small patches of snow indicated the weather conditions of a few days previously.  Just before this position we had manged to get a mobile phone signal so were able to check the weather forecast.  It was not good.
There was a feeling that we were at the heart of some significant mountains.
Just below our high point of 3907 metres.  We knew that this would be our last night at this altitude.  We were due to go over a col tomorrow, which required further ascent but in light of the weather forecast we were heading downhill in the morning.
Looking down on the huts where we were going to spend the night.
Celebrating Maureen’s birthday before going to bed early.  We were due to get up at 5.45 the following morning, with the potential for it to be quite a hard day.

India Walk About – Day 3

India Walk About – Day 3
After a bitterly cold night, I can’t remember the last time I slept in my down jacket inside my sleeping bag, we woke to a beautiful blue sky.  We were camped at 3390 metres, with some of the group starting to feel the impact of the altitude.  Today had been planned as part of the acclimatization process, walk up a nearby peak, which was just over 3700 metres before dropping back to the camp site.  For some relaxtion before moving higher the following day.
As we were pretty much above the tree line, the walk had a totally different feel to the previous couple of days.  Open mountain sides and distant views, it was almost like walking in the British mountains apart from the occasional glimpse of glaciers.
The climb up the peak took much less time than we anticipated so the afternoon was spent catching up on sleep, reading and just generally relaxing.  Tomorrow we head higher.
India Day 3
It took quite a while for the frost to melt, particularly in the shady areas.
India Day 3
The toilet tents had a superb view. Our route for the day was along the ridge to the right of the tents.
India Day 3
t was always good to start the day with some group stretching or, as on this day, with some laughing yoga.
Indai Day 3
This could almost be the Welsh mountains, if it wasn’t for the altitude.
India Day 3
This was our high point for the day at 3740 metres. It had been quite warm as we climbed the ridge and lunch on the summit started off as a very pleasant affair with great views and some reasonably warm sunshine.
India Day 3
Within minutes though the temperature plummeted as the clouds swept in, obscuring distant views and forcing a speedy search for warmer clothing. This wasn’t a day for hanging around for too long.
India Day 3
Clothing for the descent was somewhat different to what we had been wearing about an hour earlier as we came up the ridge. People were generally looking forward to a couple of hours relaxing in the tent or reading during the afternoon.
India Day 3
Back at the camp site at 3390 metres. There were some pretty large clouds building on the surrounding peaks, fortunately where we were camped remained clear but the weather indications for the next few days were not looking good.
Indai Day 3
The views across the mountain ranges were always quite special. What surprised me at night though was just how many lights appeared on the hillsides. During the day you could pretend that you were the only people in the area but at night the lights indicated just how many people called this area home.

A few days in the mountains

Last week we managed to spend a few days wandering around the mountains of Snowdonia, making a really pleasant change from being out on the sea, off Jersey.  I lived in North Wales for a few years towards the end of the 1970’s, working in a number of outdoor centres and spending every available day meandering around the hills, from Cader Idris in the south to the Carneddau in the north.
We passed a relaxing day heading up Cnicht from the Gwynant Valley, with views stretching from the coast off Porthmadog to the crags on the south side of the Glyders.
Our second day involved a rising traverse from Cwm Idwal to the summit of Foel Goch, a mountain I have largely ignored in the past, followed by a reasonably steep climb to the snowy summit of Y Garn.  In retrospect snowy is too generous a term, it was more like closely compacted ice pellets.  Lunch sheltering in the lee of the summit cairn was as cold a meal break I can remember for years.  It wasn’t a place to sit and savour the gastronomic delights purchased in Capel Curig.  As we headed down via the Devil’s Kitchen I couldn’t help but remember a bitterly cold January day in 1979 when all of the streams were frozen and we had a really memorable day ice climbing.
For the final day, there was only one real option, Tryfan by Heather Terrace.  I have lost count the number of times I have reached the summit of Tryfan, it must be in excess of 50 times, but each time it just re-inforces my belief that Tryfan is the finest mountain to be found almost anywhere.
Reading the walking magazines one gains an impression that British mountains are so crowded that it is almost impossible to find space for your feet.  In these 3 days we saw 4 people and only one was close enough to speak to.  So the moral of the story is if you want the hills to yourself then midweek in December is a good starting point.

Moel Siabod from the car park at Tyn y Coed. Lovely start to the day but not the best conditions for practicing navigation.
Pete below the final slopes of Cnicht. It must be one of the best little mountains anywhere.
A perfect reflection in Llyn Gwynant.
Heading up the final slopes of Y Garn, a bit slippy underfoot.
The route from earlier in the day. We followed a sloping route to the summit of Foel Goch.
A picture from an earlier decade. Cwm Idwal in January 1979.  A memorable Snowdonia winter

Mousa Broch

Mousa Broch is probably the finest example of broch surviving today and is just over 13 metres high.  Built about 2,000 years ago it provided shelter and protection in troubled times.  It is probably in such good condition because situated as it is on a small island it was more difficult to remove the stones for more modern buildings.  The tower is formed from two concentric stone walls, which were made from local stone.  A narrow spiral staircase rises between the walls giving access to the top of the Broch, from where there are stunning views.

We visited the island one late evening in July, paddling out from Sandwick to ensure that we arrived at the Broch as darkness fell.  We explored the insides then sat and waited.  Gradually the whole area became alive to the sound of soft churrings as the Storm Petrels, which call the inside of the stone walls and the hollows under the surrounding boulders home, returned to their nests.  It was truly one of the most amazing experiences I have ever encountered.  The birds fluttered literally inches in front of our faces.

As we paddled back to Sandwick the short Shetland night gave way to a new dawn but it had been a memorable visit to a superb historic site.

Spar Cave – Skye

I can’t quite believe that after 15 years of visiting Skye to go sea kayaking and paddling in this specific area on numerous occasions, it wasn’t until May this year that I actually stopped off at Spar Cave and managed to explore its inner recesses.  It was a fascinating place to visiting and well worth the effort.
It was one of the paddles at this years very successful Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium and it was whilst crossing over to Boreraig for lunch that I think I finally decided to help run another Symposium in Jersey in 2014.
Actually finding the inlet wasn’t straight forward and a gentle swell meant that landing was more entertaining than some of us had hoped for.
Looking towards the Cave.  Apparently when Sir Walter Scott visited the cave in 1814 he had to climb over the wall, which is just visible at the top of the green slope.  On the right hand side can be seen the gap, which it is now possible to walk through.  This supposedly, appeared as a result of a passing boat firing a cannon.
There are two cave entrances, it is the left hand one which is the one that is of interest.
Initially the floor of the cave is very muddy but this turns into a steep slope covered in calcium carbonate, which is quite spectacular and has surprisingly good friction, for climbing up.  Many of the spectacular rock formations, both stalagmites and stalactites, where taken by Victorian trophy hunters.
Some of the smaller rock formations have managed to survive intact.
After the excitement of Spar Cave we crossed to the north shore of Loch Eishort to have lunch at Boreraig.  Allowing plenty of time to explore the ruins and to find the ammonites.
  Unfortunately one of the group also decided to dislocate their finger, which resulted in rather more excitement than we had planned for at the end of the day, but that’s another story.

Sea Kayaking Destinations

If like me you end up spending a lot of time on aircraft ( an inevitable consequence of living on an island) there are plenty of opportunities to get some unusual pictures of some classic sea kayaking destinations.  This is just a selection of some of the views I have seen over the last 30 years.  Most of them were taken either heading towards a paddling trip or coming home from one.  Great memories.

 This is possibly my oldest aerial shot.  Scanned from a slide it was taken as we approached Spitsbergen in June 1983.  We were just about to embark on a two month sea kayaking expedition along the west coast of the Arctic archipelago.  I still remember the excitement as we approached Longyearbyen, we really were heading into the unknown.  
 This is home.  It was a steep take off as we headed towards Gatwick en route to a Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium.  Although many people consider Jersey to be crowded the overall impression is still of a green island and once on the water it is possible to escape any crowds which might exist.
 This must be one of my favourite sea kayaking destinations, the Ecrehous.  We were flying back from Cherbourg, in an aircraft that was nearly 60 years old, when we were able to do a few circuits above the reef.
This is the only photograph I didn’t take.  It is from the same aircraft as the Ecrehous shot though.  I do like it particularly as I am in the party of kayakers who are playing off Noirmont point on the south coast of Jersey.
The Needles and Hurst Castle Spit as we headed home one evening from Gatwick to Jersey.  Great paddling but I am almost embarrassed to admit that I haven’t paddled in these waters since 1983.  I really should do something about it.
Another south coast headland, Berry Head.  Again somewhere I haven’t paddled for years, the last time my paddle was dipped in these waters was 1996.
 The Solway Firth taken whilst heading home from a Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium.  We took off from Glasgow on a beautiful Sunday morning and the whole of Britain was free of cloud.
 En route to another Symposium, this time Shetland.  It was a beautiful flight up from Aberdeen with great views of Fair Isle.  It was just a pity that the weather didn’t stay like this for the following week, but the beauty of Shetland is that there is always somewhere sheltered to paddle.
Another Scottish island. Stornoway from about 40,000 feet as we headed into Heathrow from Seattle.  The whole of the west coast of Scotland looked superb, it was easy to see why it is one of the great sea kayaking areas.
 Take from Ilulissat with the ice fjord just south of the town.  Views like this can’t fail to excite you.

So next time you fly try and get that window seat, have your camera at the ready and hope for clear skies.