24/7/83 Coniston Old Man from Dunnerdale
Route: Leeds Hut Duddon Valley – Grey Friar – Coniston Old Man – Seathwaite Tarn – Duddon valley
A frustrating slow start from the Leeds hut up to Cockley Beck. Once on the hillside proper, the pace improved somewhat. The path was hard to find. We had to take quite a few rests – not a fit party. Only myself, Mitchell and Duncan were fit enough. We went straight up the side, leaving one member of the six-person party as a dot in the distance. We arrived at the summit of Grey Friar to find IH and a brace of his kids, already there – having come up a quicker route, if that were possible.
The weather improved but remained hazy. As a larger party we pushed on down to down to a tremendous col affording a great view of Seathwaite Tarn, and thence up onto Brim Fell. From there, Levers’ Water was visible, as was Coniston Water itself, though almost hidden by haze. From there up onto Coniston Old Man itself.
From the summit we split again into two parties. IH and his family went over Dow Crag and back to Dunnerdale via the Walna Scar Road. We descended to Seathwaite Tarn for a refreshing swim. Thence along the side of the tarn, over the dam (it is a reservoir) and down to Hinning Ho. Then up the Dunnerdale road back to the Leeds hut.
My feet suffered because my socks were threadbare. Of the original party of six only two of us (one being me) brought water onto the hill!
26/7/83 Scafell Horseshoe omitting Scafell
Cars were dropped off at the Woolpack in Eskdale, thence, to the Three Shires Stone at the top of Wrynose. A good start, missing the first summit (Cold Pike, 2259’). Cloudy on the tops, no spectacular views. For the first time through the “shelter” on the eponymous Shelter Crag (2631’). First sight of Bow Fell from the three tarns, looked very impressive. Near Three Tarns one of our party got separated from everyone else here and committed the almost unforgivable sin of crying “Help! Help!”. We knew so little in those days!
Ore Gap – windy. Broad Crag saw the only photograph of the day, a hazy impression of Great Gable. Descend to the col before Scafell Pike, and up – impressive [when you’re 18 as I was]. Lots of tourists on the mountain. Over Scafell Pike, down to Mickledore. Here, the appearance of The Lord’s Rake put off Mr AP [who was reputably, Eric Clapton’s lawyer at the time] and so we did not go up onto Scafell. Instead, via Broad Stand down into a hanging valley, down into another, lower, hanging valley, and hence down into upper Eskdale – a river valley rather than a glacial U-shape. A long slow descent to Brotherilkeld [the roadhead, or the point at which the Eskdale road reaches the foot of Hardknott Pass] and then a painful two mile tramp along the road to the Woolpack where we’d left the cars. The walk caused blisters and some deep cuts to my toes from adjacent toe-nails. At the end I was limping. But a darned good days walk notwithstanding.
28/7/83 Kirk Fell
Route: Kirk Fell from Wasdale Head Inn
The tops were in cloud as J. Rivett and myself left the pub and started up. Fast, with one stop. We reached the summit thinking it was Great Gable. Both of us realised that we had climbed the wrong mountain; neither of us mentioned it. We were not close friends. We descended very fast back to the pub.
Back in the pub, few if anyone had actually even moved. This was that occasion at the end of my childhood when I said something coarse and someone said “He’ll never be refined”. We shall see.
29/7/83 Harter Fell
Route: Harter Fell (2129’) from Dunnerdale, through to Eskdale and back via col
A lively jaunt through the forests to the summit in cloud. A party of six of us including the legendary teacher “Doc” Hawley made an ascent of Harter Fell. Good views of Wrynose bottom before going into the clouds. Over to the Woolpack (arriving just in time for last orders) and back via the col, through drizzle, along a way-marked rout to Birks Bridge, thence along the road to the Leeds Hut.
9/8/83 Edale Skyline
Route: “Edale Skyline”: Edale – Grindsbrook – Kinder Downfall – Edale Cross – Brown Knoll – Rushup Edge – Mam Tor – Hollins Cross – Edale (11.5 miles/8hrs). Party: Myself, R.C.E Ball, C. Richardson, M. Briggs
Up on the train: a HST from Derby to Sheffield then a class 101 DMU to Edale. We noted with pleasure for later that the Ramblers Inn served Theakstons. On up Grindsbrook which was fairly easy though one member of the party was slower. Kinder was bone dry and very brown. Across to the Downfall was no problem at all. The Kinder river was dry; the Downfall was not even damp. We had a nice lunch there with some bouldering practice. Then, onto Kinder Low, Brown Knoll and Rushup Edge. A first-class and [then] little-trod walk across beautiful moorland. [I think this was the time when Rich Ball mentioned the concept of the “sun-soaked corner” – as in find me a “sun-soaked corner” for lunch…]
Visibility not so great with high summer haze. On to Mam Tor where we saw that for purposes of erosion control, the authorities [or the National Trust] were installing stone stairs from the summit of Winnats up to the top of Mam Tor. We saw hang gliders. There was a disagreement between Ball and I regarding whether or not we had time for Lose Hill as well. I argued not – and prevailed. We descended to Edale from Hollins Cross. We rounded off an excellent on the hill with a pint and a pub snack in the Ramblers Inn. A steak sandwich, with chips, and an apple pie, with a pint, was £1.70. We had a few games of darts before joining the 19:33 to Sheffield – a Derby-built DMU. Mitchell lost his train ticket, making it an expensive day out for him:
Original return ticket Derby to Edale: £5.50, Single Edale to Sheffield: £1.50, Single Sheffield to Derby: £3.50
We all chipped in though with a few quid each to cover his loss. Subsequent door-to-door service from Derby station to home, in M’s dad’s Triumph PI Automatic. I though, had a young person’s railcard, so the train travel cost me only £2.50.
27/8/83 Wasdale Screes
Route: A walk along the Wasdale screes
The four of us arrived in Wasdale after a lengthy drive engineered to avoid driving over Wrynose and Hard Knott. We had a pub lunch in the King George VI in Eskdale Green. Following this, the original idea of a quick flash up Scafell disappeared into the low clouds. It was, after all, already two-ish. So we decided to stretch our legs by a walk out over the Wasdale Screes. I had seen those impressive slopes before, but not my companions, whose first sight of them will have been as we motored in along the shore of Wastwater. So, after a lengthy walk-in we arrived at the first scree, and relaxed. We threw stones into the lake. I pulled a muscle in my neck doing this. An upsetting experience in which I was convinced blood was pouring from my ear. We spotted someone’s old Thermos flask, and stoned it to destruction from a distance. Thence, back to the car, and onto the Youth Hostel in Eskdale, where there were many Germans. We had a good night’s drinking in the Burnmoor, then in the King George VI, and finally in the Woolpack – all within walking distance of one another.
8/8/83 A walk in the Langdales
Route: Three Shires Stone – Adam-a-cove – Crinkle Crag – Shelter Crag – Three Tarns – Bow Fell – Esk Pike – Angle Tarn – Rossett Gill –Mickleden – ODG – Red Tarn and back to the Three Shires Stone. Party: Myself, the Mackervoy brothers, T.Nicholls
Notwithstanding having spent ninety minutes yesterday avoiding Hard Knott, Roo took the car over Hard Knott and Wrynose this morning without difficulty though it does call for aggressive driving. Parking at the Three Shires Stone we hared off, much faster than the same trip some weeks ago. Cloud deck was around 3000’. Clear air. Good views into Oxendale and Langdale, and Skiddaw was visible, as was Coniston Old Man, and the Scafell massif. Helvellyn, Windermere, the power station on the coast – all visible. At one point a couple asked us if we could identify one small tarn, and we considered it to be Devoke Water.
My condition at the end of the London run [the Ventures had recently run by relay, from Derby to Gilwell Park) had been good. I considered it gone now. T was fittest. We slipped off Bow Fell to Esk Pike, then down screes to Angle Tarn, a beautiful location where we took lunch. [Roo and I and others had camped here in Easter ‘81 when were barely 16, having walked in with expedition bags, all the way from the train station in Windermere. Including climbing Rossett Gill in early evening when already exhausted. I remember that walk still. 27/12/20]
Thence up to the lip of the descent of Rossett Gill – dreadful, steep, unpleasant in either direction. Once at the head of Mickleden we almost used up all our drinks, and then slogged along to the Old Dungeon Ghyll. At the ODG, we bought soft drinks and obtained fresh water. We also saw a newspaper and so learned of the Rams’ disastrous 5-nil defeat against Chelsea. Then we split: the two Tims went along Great Langdale to Chapel Gate, whilst Roo and I slogged up Oxendale non-stop up Brown Gill to Red Tarn, and thence back to the Three Shires Stone and the car. Down into little Langdale, where we caused a bottleneck at the junction while talking to a guy in a Volvo about where he might camp. We sent him over into the Duddon valley. We ourselves went to Chapel Stile to pick up the two Tims, and thence into Coniston to stay at the Holly How Youth Hostel. The entire weekend cost £13.25.
18/9/83 Knotlow Cavern (Monyash)
Route: Knotlow Cavern (Grade III?) Party: A. Mackervoy (Roo), S. Burns, A. King, myself
On the road to Ashbourne by 9, with detours to Steve’s house and my house for forgotten items – a flask in my case. Thence to Monyash, collecting the key to Knotlow from a shop in Monyash village. We noted that the “Bull’s Head”, which I’ve visited on at least three occasions, has re-opened as “The Hobbit”.
At Knotlow we took a look down the 210’ engine shaft, and opened the Knotlow shaft itself, a comparative baby of 50’. Returning to the Allegro [for it was an Allegro, alas] we moved our gear into the barn and suited up. It was windy and cold; the odd powerful gust of wind penetrated the barn, raising goose-bumps on naked hairy thighs. Back to the car for hardware, and over to the shaft. A single rope is made secure to a belaying pin, and I was first to abseil in, without mishap. Andy and Steve followed, and then our leader Roo. A ladder was left fixed for our return, and we descended to the second pitch, which was shorter. Another ladder was left here. Then we proceeded for some way through simple chest/waist high passages. Andy K and I were disappointed – this is in no way lives up to nearby Hillocks Mine, just across the way from here. Steve kept his gob shut – this was in fact his first time caving. A free-climb descent of ten or twelve feet was next. The other three went down this easy enough, then it came to my turn. I started well enough, chimneying down, and then I slipped…
Falls like this occur before you even have the chance to be surprised. I fell the 10’ to the rocky floor in an instant but it seemed slow – I perceived duration during that fall, though it could have only been a split second. I was unharmed and we proceeded. But all three of my colleagues were highly amused by the look of total, uncomprehending surprise (a “yokel look”, one of them said) on my face when I slipped.
A little further, came unpleasant surprises for us who did not know the route. The passage became a crawl, filled with six inches of muddy and unbelievably cold water. Then the crawl became a squeeze. The first squeeze was satisfyingly hard – not quite frustrating. The second was easier and wetter. The passage continued as a crawl. Our leader Roo suddenly started talking about “the Bung series” and “Nick’s claim to fame” [I was the largest member of the party by some degree.]
“You go first, Nick. Not meaning anything…no offence intended…if you can make it, we all can…”
The way ahead led through a smooth, rounded hole, not unlike the neck of a wine bottle. A couple of false starts and I realised I could not make it through this with a helmet and lamp pointing other than downwards. Off came the helmet and lamp, which was shoved in front of me by hand, and I wriggled through with some difficulty – quite satisfying difficulty. Shortly after that, my lamp [these were actual hydrogen carbide lamps] drowned and went out. We got it relit, and we pushed on. The crawls and occasional squeezes continued relentlessly, to the point of pain in the elbows, to the point of the overalls almost being shredded by stones on the floor. The crawl went on and on, and on. Just at the point it was beginning to be a serious pain, it opened into a small room. A little stream trickled through. Iron bars inserted into the rock aided a free climb of eight feet or so to another crawl, leading to a fissure, and the end of the passage, where we rested before turning back.
A brief halt to recharge our carbide lamps, and then back through the Bung Series and the watery squeezes. When it was time to stand up, so much time crawling ruined our sense of balance.
At the second pitch, everyone had difficulty getting up. I fell off near the top. This was a protected pitch, which was just as well, but it didn’t stop me emitting a healthy yelp of fear, much to the delight of my companions. The ladder was hauled up, and we cleared the cavern with no further trouble, emerging to a windy summer Sunday afternoon, about three o’clock.
24/9/83 The 1983 Kinder Walk
Route: The “Kinder Walk” of 1983: Chapel-en-le-Frith Scout hut – Chinley – Throstle Bank – Hayfield – Williams Clough – Ashop Head – Pennine Way to Kinder Downfall – Kinder Low – Edale Cross – Jacobs Ladder – Barber Booth – Chapel Gate – Rushup Edge – Sparrowpit – Dove Holes – Chapel-en-le-Frith Scout hut. 22+ miles, 7 hr 59’ (placed 10th out of 40 teams) Party: Myself, A. Mackervoy, the Burns brothers
A fast start to the race after a good night’s kip on the floor at Chapel, following the chaos of everyone forgetting various bits of kit. We were fast to the first checkpoint at Throstle Bank, jogging some of the way. Thence across a mist-shrouded moor, with a party behind us that could not catch us up. A quick descent to Hayfield, still running, still smooth progress. Once in Williams Clough, however, the pace slackened and one team got past us. Williams Clough took it out of me – I was dizzy, un-coordinated and slightly exposed by the time we reached Ashop Head. A couple of minutes lying down and some chocolate soon put that right, and then we were up into the clouds onto Kinder. Our time was still good. After what seemed an interminable tramp through the mists and ripping winds across Kinder, we reached the Downfall, which was running higher than I’d ever seen it before – not that we could see it – I was judging by the roar made by the waterfall.
We walked and walked ever southwards, but being forced to the east by a stiff westerly gale. It was balaclava weather. We were relieved to arrive at Edale Cross. It became apparent that we had lost time, but we could not move much faster. At that point it was already clear that my feet were damaged.
Jacob’s Ladder is strongly downstairs and that was painful – very painful. Along the valley with team #41 ahead of us, through Upper Booth and past the Derby Mountain Rescue Team bus, where we saw Andy Leonard acting as radio man. We got to the Barber Booth checkpoint at a road bridge under the Hope Valley line, just in time to see team #41 clambering into a car, obviously having dropped out. Good!
At Barber Booth we learned that six Viking Venture Unit teams and one mixed team had already passed ahead of us – making us EIGHTH. This tremendous news was an amazing tonic, a remarkable shot-in-the-arm. We allowed ourselves a very long rest, perhaps seven or eight minutes. [The mixed team was from Spartan/Phoenix VSU’s]
The next bit up to Chapel Gate we did in a slight spray of rain, and only when descending to the A625 Rushup Edge road did we notice two teams rapidly overhauling us. The first team, an efficient-looking mixed outfit, was team #20, and they remained eighth, just a few hundred yards in front of us, for several miles, before pulling away for a strong finish. The second team, #6, were about fifteen minutes behind us in time, so we could let them about a mile in front of us before worrying.
All along the main road into Dove Holes we struggled, and coming into Dove Holes, team #6 left us behind. We arrived at the last checkpoint in tenth place, a position we retained over the last couple of miles of road over the hill into Chapel. A great walk but owing to the fit and condition of my boots, damaging to my feet. [four days after the event both heels were still raw burns; I lost all ten toe-nails and I was limping for weeks including when I started university a bit over two weeks later; indeed there is some evidence that this one walk inflicted permanent damage to the skin on my heels. It is literally true to say that “they have never been the same since”.]
29/10/83 Idwal Skyline
Route: Idwal Skyline: Llyn Ogwen (Milestone Buttress car park) – Tryfan’s north ridge – Bristly Ridge – Glyder Fach – Glyder Fawr – Devils Kitchen – Y Garn – Capel Curig Party: Myself, Phil Bender, T. J. Walmsley
Dawning very cold and crystal clear, it was an ideal day for hillwalking. We left the minibus at Milestone Buttress and started up the North Ridge [of Tryfan]. From this angle you can make it as easy or as hard as you like. The route we followed was sussed out by Phil Bender who had climbed Tryfan many times. We were the novices here. It ranged from easy strolling to some very exposed scrambling. [In those days there was not the obvious path up the North Ridge that the climber will find today. 29/12/20]. Much of the time we were climbing rather than walking [The North Ridge is very steep, almost 45 degrees when seen from afar. When climbing a wall of 45 degrees angle, it will feel and seem almost vertical. Tryfan may be the only mountain in the UK outside Scotland, the summit of which cannot be reached by just walking.]
Fantastic clarity of scenery. From the A5 to the Adam and Eve stones at the summit, 100 minutes. It was very cold at the top. We could see Cardigan Bay, Anglesey, the Flint hills, and even Cader Idris and the hills of central Wales.
We moved on in sunshine, down the south ridge. One has to watch out for being led into impossible descents, and pick one’s route with care. At Bwylch Tryfan (the col) there were remarkable views down into Nant Ffrancon. We started up Bristly Ridge as a walk, which turned into a gully, and became steady upward scrambling. Phil climbed a wall, thinking himself pretty cool, and found himself on a spire, from which he had then to come down again. It IS possible to walk up Bristly Ridge, but why would you? We found it quicker, easier and more satisfying to climb. The ridge levels out onto the summit of Glyder Fach, where there was a little snow in evidence. Here we enjoyed a pleasant lunch in spite of the cold, marvelling at the clear air and visibility. This was one of the clearest days I’d ever experienced on the high tops. The sun shone off Cardigan Bay; St David’s and Pembroke [??] visible in the far background whilst the coast of North Wales was visible behind Tryfan, which looks small from this angle. Snowdon itself was dark and menacing, blocking the sun.
Onward from Glyder Fach – the path to Glyder Fawr lies across easy moorland; we followed the edge, looking down into the Nameless Cwm and in turn down into Cwm Idwal. On Glyder Fawr the reflection of the sun off Cardigan Bay was blocked by Snowdon. Y Garn, our next summit, looks lovely from here, the head of a succession of peaks marching off down the west side of Nant Ffrancon – a fine looking ridge walk for another time.
There is a very steep descent to the top of the Devils’ Kitchen. The sun disappeared behind fair weather clouds. At Devil’s Kitchen, a notch in the cliffs above Cwm Idwal, the ground was still frozen. We spent time here chatting with an old fellow from Lichfield, who belonged to the same mountaineering club as a man who did the Welsh Fourteen three times in succession.
We trundled on up Y Garn, glancing behind at the lake Llyn Ogwen, and in the dark shadow of the corrie, the cliffs and slabs of Idwal. Y Garn saw us all strung out, arriving breathless on the summit, seeking shelter from the cold breeze.
From Y Garn, Snowdon again seemed to hide the sun. The enormous quarries at Dinorwic were grey on the horizon. The way ahead for us lay down a ridge, steep at times, sweeping clear away to Cym Cywion on the left and Cwm Clyd on the right. Descent to the valley put us in the shadows, and we enjoyed a leisurely tramp across Cym Idwal and on down to Idwal Cottage.
An excellent short day, ideal for autumn, winter or spring. The visibility was superb. I shot off nearly a whole roll of slides.
12/11/83 Ireby Fell Cavern
Route: Ireby Fell Cavern (grade III)
Party: 11 persons including myself, led by “Caving Nigel”.
We staggered across half a mile or so of fell from the minibus to the cavern entrance, and then underground. There was some sitting around as pitches were set up. This was a novice trip. Down the first pitch, then the second pitch, then on down the wet third pitch, making a total of around 90 feet of descent. Through a tunnel, then two wet and slippy free climbs of around six feet or so. Then along a bit and through a squeeze, a tight bit which took a bit of thinking to get through. Then hundreds of yards of narrow, twisty phreatic passages all around 12-18” wide. There were several ducks easily accomplished. After a lot of caving at quite a fast pace, we arrived at the head of the fourth pitch. The ladder for the fourth pitch, however, was at the top of the first pitch. It had been forgotten. There was some discussion. Caving Nigel, as the person responsible and our leader, volunteered to go back and fetch it, and started back alone.
However, after waiting half an hour we decided in favour of Ingleton chippy, and turned back ourselves, hurrying. [9/1/21: There’s an unwritten story in there: the nominal 2 i/c of the party was “Climbing Nigel”, a very outspoken (gobby f***er would be putting it more accurately) Outdoor Ed student from South Shields. He would have led us back.] All straightforward caving except for the squeeze, which for me took about three tries. Up the third pitch, up the second pitch, getting tired now and needing to rest before the first pitch. I had no ladder technique; only the safety line kept me on near the top. Cleared the cave and retreated safely the minibus – a good day out. [I have a very vivid memory of two cavers taking the first pitch one after the other using what was then called SRT (Single Rope Technique), whilst we were waiting at the foot of the pitch for our turn.]
The following day we did Calf Holes which I remember well for it was a sight we passed about two years earlier when we walked the Pennine Way.]
3/12/83 A walk above Borrowdale
Route: Seathwaite, Borrowdale – Sprinkling Tarn – Esk Hause – Langstrath – Stonethwaite, Borrowdale. Party: T.J Walmsley, A. Durrant, myself
A poor day to begin with, clouds down to 1000’ throughout. We had the intention of reaching Sprinkling Tarn, dropping down to Sty Head, flashing up Great Gable, down to Sour Milk Gill and on home. We had Lake District tourist maps and our map-reading was indifferent. We never even saw Sprinkling Tarn. We blundered about in the grey, at one point even thinking ourselves on the Corridor Route on Scafell Pike. Completely lost, we got annoyed; we dropped down into a valley. It was Langstrath – the long valley – and we had a four mile traipse down the valley back to Seathwaite. A learning exercise. [9/1/21 Langstrath I have not visited since, but the name remains in my mind. This day was a key day in learning about mountain navigation through bad experience.]
4/12/83 Cat Bells and High Sty
Route: Manesty – Cat Bells (1481’) – High Sty (2143’) and down followed by some scrambling on Low Scawdel. Party: T.J Walmsley, A. Durrant, myself
Left the minibus at Manesty, affording me memories of coming to the Newlands valley on my first Scout camp in 1977. We slogged straight upwards in clear air. The weather was in contrast to the Saturday, clear and clouds at around 2600’. A medium height ridge would do just fine.
At the col we were greeted by a howling gale, our constant companion for the rest of the day. We nipped up to the summit of Cat Bells, and rested briefly, waiting for the summit of Skiddaw to appear for photographic purposes. Then along the ridge in the shrieking, howling – but at least dry – wind. As we moved south, clouds boiled over from the central massif, grey and obscuring the sun. Behind us the weather remained stable. When we arrived at High Sty the clouds swirled at around 2000’. We had our lunch in the wind, then descended a long, sweeping path. When we got to the bottom, it seemed too early, so we applied ourselves to scrambling on Low Scawdel, which was listed in the “Official Scrambles of the Lakes”. After some difficulty getting onto the hillside over fences and such, we scrambled up to the summit, then descended again, past a water works, to arrive at Grange about 3.30pm. A nice day.
18/2/84 Ben Nevis
Route: Ben Nevis from the youth hostel. 8 hrs, 6 miles
This was the time when we had a puncture at coming along the main road at Ballachulish, very late in the evening. I can’t swear it was before midnight – in those days it was a long drive from Sunderland, and we had not left Sunderland until around 5pm. We’d take the A68 straight through the interior, rather than the (then, as now I suspect) much slower and longer route up the coast on the A1. The road led over Carter Bar and through Jedburgh. Again, in those days there was no Edinburgh bypass, and we had to go right into the heart of Edinburgh, right to Haymarket, where we sometimes stop for chips. I remember piling into a chippy near Haymarket, 15 English students, and the atmosphere in that chippy going distinctly frosty. You’d think they’d be happy for the custom of 15 hungry students: obviously not. I confess I’ve taken a dim view of Scots nationalism ever since. But I digress.
The minibus ground to a halt and we laboured to get the spare out, get all the gear out and get the bus on jacks to change the wheel. We never needed to get the jack out. This was because the spare tyre was flat. “This is best yet” (as in best cock-up) Alister confided to me. He was in his second year and more experienced with the mountaineering club. Someone went to the nearest phone – itself miles away – and called for help, which I seem to recall was hours coming. Suffice it to say it was the back end of the small hours before we all so much as unpacked a sleeping bag at the Tin Shack Hut in Glen Nevis.
Next morning, a fine early start for a party of six including Tim, Alister and myself, led by “Climbing Nigel”, a very opiniated but able Outdoor Ed student from South Shields. We went up the tourist path with Matt Harding and J.T headed for an ice-climb on Nevis. Breathless at Halfway Lochan. We met some American B.Ed students, from Colorado, at the lochan. Some way above the lochan we met the first snowfields and stopped to practice ice-ace braking for a while. Then we moved on up interminable deep and thick snowfields around 35 degrees steep. We put on crampons to move up a particularly steep slope of very hard snow. The wind whipped our clothing; the mist closed in causing temporary whiteout. Eventually the slope evened out and we crossed to the summit in a screeching gale. The mist cleared every so often to reveal stunning vistas. Above 4000’ the ice formations – frost crystals – on this highest of British summits, I found fantastic to look at. The rocks not completely covered in snow were completely iced over with opaque pointed crystals, each aligned with the prevailing wind direction. The ruins of the observatory on the summit were almost completely buried, indicating metres of snow cover. Such stonework as was visible was iced over, covered in inches, no, feet, of frost crystals.
It was, to quote W.H Murray, “a strong shouting day, but harmless”. The gale was too strong for us to remain on the summit for long, so we quickly got off the top and out of the wind. As we did so, the weather improved; clouds disappeared from the summit, which remained clear as we moved downwards.
We descended a steep snow-filled gully, doubtless a stream bed in summer. We tried glissading but the snow was too soft. As the gully steepened, we found we needed to avoid the footprints of others, where the snow had frozen very hard. Some way down, Tim slipped, lost his axe and went sliding downwards. He zapped past Nigel and I. Nigel cried out, “spread out, lie flat” – the injunction being to make your contact area with the snow (and hence friction) as large as possible. Tim stopped after a few hundred feet and was uninjured save for a cut to his knee. He retrieved his axe and we moved on. We stopped to chat with some Scotsmen who had not made it to the summit. They had seen Tim slipping. We spoke of the distance the English need to drive in order to get onto the hill in the Highlands, and their subsequent desire to get on the hill no matter what. This, the Scotsman opined, was the cause of “nearly all the accidents” on the Scottish mountains.
The gully brought us back to the first snowfield where we had originally practiced. Here we rested before continuing down to the Halfway Lochan. On the tourist path, Nigel found an abandoned or lost pair of Dachstein mittens.
Conditions on high looked superb, and we were of the opinion that we had come down too soon. “We should be up there now, not down here” Nigel said. We finished at 4p.m. We were on the hill for around 8 hours. 8600’ covered in the vertical, and around four and a half hours to the summit.
19/2/84 Benighted in the Mamores
Route: Am Bodach and the Mamores including an unplanned overnight bivvi
The same party as yesterday set off from the tin shack hut in Glen Nevis, about nine o’clock. We headed up a valley which my notes call “a tributary valley” leading to the main ridge of the Mamores. Someway up the valley, one of us turned back. The rest of us continued until we got to the edge of the first snowfield. At that point – this was the right and useful influence of the Outdoor Ed students – all stopped for a thorough session practicing ice-axe braking.
Onward over hard frozen snow. To our right, Stob Ban soared – grey rock and white snow against the blue sky. Against a fierce wind, we arrived at the lip of the corrie and saw the summit ridge. The corrie was a metre or deeper in snow. We sheltered from the howling wind in a snow cave built by some other mountaineers. On the corrie floor, were the remains of an igloo.
After lunch we continued, refreshed, but nonetheless into the teeth of the gale, up onto the ridge. Absolutely magnificent scenery – I had never seen anything like it. Mountain after mountain was stacked up on the right, off to the horizon, whilst behind us, the rest of the ridge arced away. Still in the company of the shrieking wind, we climbed up to the summit in bright sunshine, under blue skies. Over the summit, down the other side, an enormous and steep descent, corniced on the left. On the right, a corrie filled with snow, no single rock in sight. I found the descent hair-raising but would not have missed it for the world. We came to a col; on the left, far below, was another tributary valley of Glen Nevis. It was a hanging valley: it did not at that point cross our minds that the cliff over which the stream descended into Glen Nevis, might prove impassable. It was 3pm.
We moved onto the next peak in the ridge, Am Bhodach. Breathless on the top, we spoke briefly with another party there. We gazed down the ridge; a party were slowly hacking their way up to the summit. We ourselves moved onto the very steep valley side, and carefully, our more experienced colleagues cut steps downward. [22/1/21 At getting on for 40 years remove am not sure why this was necessary when we all must have had crampons and were familiar with their use. It must have been very steep and very hard snow.] A little way along, Nigel thought we’d be better turning back; he climbed back to the ridge, cut through the cornice, and prepared to belay us all back onto the ridge. There was a disagreement; the party felt that this was not the way to go; we continued downwards slowly, two or three times on a rope, through a lot of cut steps, until the slope slackened to the extent that we could glissade harmlessly to the valley floor. Unfortunately, it was now dark.
We hurried along the valley, singing. When the darkness was quite complete, the valley became a gorge. The path became very tricky, frequently covered in frozen puddles which were lethal in torchlight. The thunder of the falls came to our ears as a death knell, as it were. There may be a way down from above the Steall Falls but we were not going to be successful in finding it in darkness. It just fell away from us in distant tantalising shapes. It was very much with the taste of defeat in our mouths, that we conceded the need to bivouac. It was Sunday night. We were very much aware of the trouble this would cause.
Apart from a change of bivvi site during the night, the bivvi was harmless. I spent quite some time with my feet and legs in my rucsac to keep them warm. We were away, shivering like leaves, at 7am. In the grey light of dawn we backtracked, crossed into the next valley, and descended into Glen Nevis to meet our fate.
16/4/84 Eastern edges of the Peak District
Route: The Oread Hut (“Heathy Lea”, Birchens and Baslow Edges, Wellington Monument, Baslow/Curbar/Frogatt edge to Grindleford Café, back along the river to Hathersage and back to Baslow
Rich and I took an early start from Heathy Lea, up to the Robin Hood, thence wandering under Birchens edge and then up onto Gardoms. This well-trod route brought us out onto the A621, and thence on the path up to the Wellington Monument, where a long discussion about music began. Baslow, Curbar and Froggatt Edges passed as we comfortably moved along. Leaving the edges, we consulted the map for the first time, and consequent to that, descended to Grindleford Café for a pint of tea. Here it was that a “Cafes of Derbyshire (deliberately following the popular “caves of Derbyshire”) was mooted. The next step would be Eric’s in Stoney Middleton, followed by the café in Eyam…
It was not to be, however. I needed some cash, so we hotfooted along a pleasant riverside path into Hathersage, and had a pint in the “Little John”. I tried to get cash from Williams and Glyns Bank, and eventually succeeded in obtaining some in the NatWest [this was long before cashpoint machine ubiquity.]
We returned south more slowly, along the road. My feet were hurting. Robin Sedgewick [one of our teachers, Oread MC member and one of the organisers of this weekend] passed us, and several lorries ran very close to us. We returned to the OMC hut through the forest and directly over the fence opposite the hut, rather than following the path.
22/7/84 Coniston Old Man from Dunnerdale
Route: From the Leeds University mountaineering club hut at Dale Head in the Duddon valley, up Grey Friar, Swirl How, Coniston Old Man, Dow Crag, Brown Pike and back to the Leeds hut. 12 miles, 7 hours. Alone.
A huge assault on Grey Friar straight from the Leeds Hut brought me to the summit, drenched in perspiration, after 54 minutes. The weather, as on this hike one year previously (the hike that opens this account) improved as I moved round to Swirl How. I passed a cross and the remains of the undercarriage of a WWII fighter aircraft. Looking back I could see people in Grey Friar; I moved on. Both Coniston Water and Windermere were visible, though photography was out – too hazy. I stayed the pangs on Brim Fell with a cup of tea and a Mars bar [10/1/21 did I take a flask in summer?] Noon saw me on the summit of the Old Man, which was crowded with both people and biting insects. “Bobby” G, and Laurie, and Matt arrived on the summit some ten minutes after me, followed shortly by J. Rivett and Claire G. [All of these people in the sixth form in my year or the years above or below me.]
We all remained on the summit for a while before Bobby G and Laurie set off to do a route on Dow Crag. Rivett, Matt, Claire G and I followed at a leisurely pace to Dow Crag. [10/1/21 I remember this walk for a snippet of conversation, Rivett saying to Claire “…and that’s why you’re doing Combined Studies at Mickleover” (Mickleover being one of the campuses that became the University of Derby years later)]. At Dow I found myself alone again as those three trod the path for Seathwaite Tarn, whilst I stayed on the ridge down to the Walna Scar pass.
Very slowly, for there was no hurry, I dropped down into the Duddon valley, enjoying some pleasant navigation work across the valley floor farmland. I passed Birks Bridge and found Rivett and Matt swimming in the pools there, so I joined them for a refreshing swim at the end of a rather enjoyable day.
23/7/84 To Three Tarns from Dunnerdale
Route: From the Leeds University mountaineering club hut at Dale Head in the Duddon valley, up to Cockley Beck Farm (the junction with the Wrynose road) then up Red Howf/Little Stand, onto Adam-a-cove, Crinkle Crags, Shelter Crag, Three Tarns, down Lingcomb Beck to Mosedale, then Yew Bank, Hard Knott, and back to the Leeds hut. 13km 8 hrs. Alone.
In shorts and cut-offs, I proceeded under clear blue skies to the Red Howff. There was no path to this summit. I went straight up through gulleys, bracken and rocky bits. It was a wet, boggy summit. From here, a short walk to Adam-a-cove, one of my most visited tops. Butties here, before moving on. I felt just a twinge in my heels as I passed the next crags. At Three Tarns, I decided, rather than pressing on up Bow Fell, to drop down into the valley of Lingcomb Beck.
It was a long, hard and hot descent. Three Tarns disappeared and I found myself in a huge green amphitheatre. The sun was without mercy. I continued downwards and had a very refreshing swim at a small hole in the riverbed. The valley was deserted.
I moved along the valley and then up to the head of Mosedale. The entire horseshoe of mountain ridge was visible behind me – a splendid view, if spoilt slightly by the hazy summer atmosphere. I thought I’d end the day on a top with a truly magnificent view, so I moved onto the summit of Hard Knott, above the pass of the same name. On a clear winter’s day the view from here would be worthy of a 360 degree panorama.
I dropped off this top into the valley well satisfied, realising that the most famous hills and the highest tops don’t necessarily offer the greatest reward. W. H Murray, a hero of mine, said that the mountains “reward those who turn aside from commonsense routine”.
24/7/84 Scafell Horseshoe
Route: Scafell Horseshoe: Three Shires Stone – Adam-a-cove – Crinkle Crag – Shelter Crag – Bow Fell – Ore Gap – Esk Pike – Esk Hause – Broad Crag – Scafell Pike – Mickledore – the Lords Rake – Scafell – Slight Side – Quarigg Moss – Eskdale (the Woolpack). 14 miles, 8.5 hours
Four of us, along with Ian H and his six-year old son John, were given a lift to the top of Wrynose by RS. It was a bright blue morning – shades weather – but somewhat hazy. I was fit; this was the third day of walking. I led at what I considered to be a restrained and controlled pace, and Chris and Claire kept up, although they said afterwards that the first mile was done at a “ferocious pace”. Ian and his son John were left far behind, and the long haul up to Adam-a-cove opened up the usual scenic splendour. Eventually I stretched myself a little and burned up onto the summit, where some preventative first aid was required for my feet which were getting tender after three days hard hill-walking.
Ian arrived, gasping for breath, with his six-year old son John blond and unconcerned, not even breathing heavily. [15/1/21: Ian I recall was a school-teacher with six kids. He had worked in Afghanistan, where he had heard it said in some villages that young boys were “not considered men until they had killed a white man”…we may assume by “white man” they meant Soviet Russians. This was in the days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.]
Together we moved on, sighting RS running down to Three Tarns as we laboured up Bow Fell. RS, as a hard Alpinist had already done everything up to and including a summer ascent of the North face of the Eiger. Seeking new endeavour, he had become a fell runner. As such, he decided to run the horseshoe! I resolved to beat him to the top of Bow Fell; I underestimated myself and beat him by about five minutes. We all collected for lunch on the summit of Bow Fell. RS took some chemical drink (referred to as “reconstituted sweat” by Ian) and burned off. Claire G, as a red-head, was already looking sunburnt.
Up to Esk Pike – no great difficulties there. Onwards under glorious blue skies to Esk Hause and Broad Crag, then descending the boulder field to the foot of the climb to Scafell Pike. By the simple expedient of following a lady wearing pink shorts, the ascent of Scafell Pike seemed to pass in but an instant.
From Scafell Pike we twisted and turned over the boulder fields down to the green notch of Mickledore. On the left, a sharp descent down into the hanging valley that flows eventually into upper Eskdale. Ahead, Broad Stand, the direct route to the summit of Scafell, involving a short rock climb, the first move of which slopes outwards and is quite tricky after generations of boot nails have worn the rock smooth as marble. On the right, another steep rocky descent down scree, to the Lords Rake. At the foot of the Lords Rake you can see Wastwater far below. This is tremendous rock scenery, a barren place surrounded by magnificent cliffs. The Lords Rake looks worse than it is; from a distance, rather like Aaron Slack on Great Gable, it can look vertical. It isn’t. It’s just scree and loose rock.
Nonetheless Claire was shaken. At the top, the path goes down, then up, then down, and then up the Lords Rake (part II). Claire was very much not happy about going up this. Ian found an alternative for her, going over solid rock, so we all turned left prematurely, past an ancient and illegible noticeboard. What did it say? It said – DANGER – NO ROUTE TO SUMMIT.
We moved upwards, and gained views of Wasdale, Mosedale, and Pillar, Haycock and Steeple. Claire was happier now despite sunburn. The boy John scrambled along as fast as any of us, obviously tired but able to draw on great reserves of youthful strength. Ian disappeared into a gully to the right, dislodging rocks, but had to withdraw. The way ahead, such as it was, lay across steep but easy to climb rock faces. Ian suggested withdrawing – there is, ostensibly, no route to the summit this way for walkers. But little John continued up the rock without noting any difficulty, and soon the summit lay before us.
On the summit we could see the whole of the horseshoe route before us. We could see Wasdale, Mosedale, Ennerdale, the Burnmoor Tarn, Pillar etc. A worthwhile effort it is, getting to the summit of Scafell Pike’s shorter but harder to climb brother.
As we moved on from the summit, there was a short moment when by chance every person in the party happened to be in front of the little boy John. He burst into tears, saying that we were all going to leave him behind. It was interesting to see the effects of exposure and tiredness even on a very hot day. His dad Ian succoured him, and I took care thereafter to ensure I was always behind him.
We dropped down to Slight Side, and from there onto Quarigg Moss. We noted what was clearly a dried up lake on our left down in upper Eskdale. Eventually we made it down to the road in Eskdale, through fields of bracken, and once on the road, swiftly to the Woolpack for a much deserved pint. A superb, long day on the hill.
27/8/84 Derby to Edale by bike
Route: From Derby to Edale by bike, 55 miles, six hours, riding a Dawes Lightning. Alone.
My decent Karrimor jaguar 4 [why would I use it for such a trip??] being in the hands of one of my sister’s friends, I had to use an even more capacious monstrosity belonging to my sister. I left, this green thing hanging three-quarters empty off my back, at 11.45a.m. The first ten miles along the A6 were less than ideal – fast cars, fumes, sticky. It was a pleasure to reach the Derwent Inn at Whatstandwell and leave the road to take to the Cromford Canal.
I was comfortable in shorts although a little saddle-sore – I had no Brooks leather saddle [that came later I recall]. Along the canal through the greenery, seeing the odd person (this was a weekday), and through the first tunnel of the day, the Gregory Tunnel on the Cromford Canal towpath.
Trees and plants in bloom gave way to open vistas as I passed the Wharf Shed. Here it was that I did my year 6 residential in 1976. The trees closed in again as I started the vicious 1 in 7 mile of Sheep Pasture Incline. Middleton Bank swiftly followed, almost as steep. Hopton bank, the last of the three going north, is not at all steep for the cyclist, nor particularly long. Once past the three banks, the railway rolled under me until I reached Parsley Hay, where I rejoined the road.
At Monyash there was a market in progress and considerable traffic. I saw that the “Bulls Head” had been renamed “The Hobbit”. From Monyash to Taddington was an uphill granny-gear grind. I arrived at 3.40p.m. Thence fast downhill over rough, awful roads for a touring bike, past a village called Priestcliffe, which reminded me of the village in “An American Werewolf in London”. Then murder it be…
I took a wrong fork and had to backtrack. Taking the right fork led me onto still worse, rougher roads. A bad road became a bad bridleway became an indifferent path. [This was years before the “mountain bikes” we use today, with which I could have taken such terrain in my stride.] The saving grace was that it was pleasant country. I pushed on, and after much overgrown road, joined another deserted thoroughfare, which in turn, joined the B6049 at Millers Dale.
At Tideswell I had a pint and a Mars bar. From there to Lane End I found tiring and slow going for some reason [I knew very little when I was 19 of blood sugar levels.] Once on a northbound minor road the wheels started singing again and I whizzed along through the heat, down dips, making light work of the occasional grade. This is cycling in the Peak District at its best, the minor roads, the scenery, the summer.
Dropping down into Castleton, I was hindered by passing cars and I had to keep my speed down to 20 mph or so. It could have been a fast downhill stretch. Castleton itself was packed with tourists. It was 4.30p.m. At the foot of Winnats I stopped to rest my back which was aching, and made some corrections to the back wheel, which had shifted somewhat. The rear tyre was almost touching the frame. I had to tighten the rear axle nuts considerably. The climb through the Winnats gorge itself was a long walk. At one point, a falling rock the size of a fist missed me by a few metres. I rode a little near the top and pushed the bike up the grassy hillside to the summit of the pass rather than take the long dogleg of the tarmac road.
The descent to Edale – the highlight of the trip!! A completely car free raceway; my brakes came into full use, and I must have touched 40mph. I recommend it in summer in shorts; put your head down and go. Let gravity do the work. [Though it must be said you’d be a long time in hospital getting skin grafts if you fell off dressed like that at that speed.]
In Edale I had a pint. Lots of people around. The shop shut as I was there, at 5.30p.m. I took train at 6.05p.m back to Derby. An excellent, epic, endless cycle ride.
13/10/84 Dale Head from Borrowdale
Route: Grange (Borrowdale) – Manesty – High Spy – Dale Head – Hindscarth – Scope End and back via Newlands valley and over ridge back to Borrowdale
Myself and T. J Walmsley, accompanied by three others from the club, did this walk. It was drizzling as we climbed; and the rain poured as we traipsed drenched along Maiden Moor and Eel Crags. The rain rose to an unpleasant crescendo as we lunched at the head of the Newlands Valley, and then, it stopped. Clouds remained thick as we laboured up Dale Head, and the wind force 7 easily on the summit. My second visit to this top not graced by great views.
In these conditions we had to resort to map and compass bearing to get us safely off this summit; the wind hurled itself at us along the narrow ridge above Buttermere. A sudden gap in the clouds, and the Buttermere valley and the Honister Pass appeared before us in magnificent aspect. But only for a second.
Our route led us onto the next ridge to the right (Hindscarth and Scope End), and down that ridge into the Newlands Valley. Then, over the Cat Bells ridge at Skelgill Bank, back to Borrowdale. A poor day really, fit for little more than a teashop, but not bad use of it made.
[16/1/21: This day, and this area, are the inspiration for some of the setting of my story “Force Crag Mine”]
1/12/84 Bidean nam bian from Glen Etive
Route: Bidean nam bian (3766’) starting and finishing at Inbhir Fhaolain (Grampian Mountaineering Club hut in Glen Etive) 7 hrs, 9 miles approx.
Myself, T. Walmsley, Alister and Fiona, were accompanied by four others – a large party. Eight of us left the excellent Grampian Club hut. I was the Club secretary who had booked the hut. We struck up the mountainside at the edge of a plantation, to the right of a gully. Extremely steep. We gained the summit after 90 minutes. Along the ridge the north-facing slopes were slightly corniced. We saw the Lost Valley. In the distance, Nevis, with a light stripping of snow on the shoulders. Good ridge walking.
The weather went from good to merely OK, though visibility remained. It was biting cold. I suffered from terrible cramps in the hip on the second top, Stob Coire Sgreamhach. From here to the highest top was the best bit. The snow curved away steeply for nearly a thousand feet on the North side. Our ice axes were as yet unused and still strapped to the back of our rucsacs. Don’t slip here!
From Bidean nam bian we took ice axes in hand and descended over icy rock and scree and the occasional snowfield. The snow was safer; there was insufficient ice and snow on the rock for crampons, but boots alone were not adequate on the icy rock. We were happy to have axes for security. The slope grew steeper and steeper, ever icy, and turned into a series of gullies. I would have roped up here and incurred some serious delay in exchange for security, but we all descended that gully free without mishap, but causing a good deal of rockfall. The gully took an hour or more of serious effort; so concentrated an effort that we didn’t notice how tired we were. We cleared the gullies in a long line, Tim at the front, and Ian far in the rear.
As we descended, we saw a strange effect at the col far below (Bealach Fhionnghail). Clouds materialised (or perhaps “condensed” is the better word) in the left-hand glen, and flowed like a river over the col into the right-hand glen. This was picturesque in the extreme, especially at the start, when streamers of cloud (presumably resulting from a temperature inversion) swirled at speed over the col. It increased in magnitude until the col, and in due course both glens, were lost in a swirling, seething mass of white cloud. The beauty of it! It was too big to be photographed. It was a remarkable sight, deep in the mountains.
We stopped for a bite to eat, descended to a col, and from there over extremely difficult ground down the very steep river valley of Glen Fhaolain. The low clouds had cleared, and we walked in winter afternoon overcast through a trackless valley. The valley and the forest beyond it fell to brute effort, though our party got split up in the woods and we spent some time in failing light pushing through pine trees, branches and twigs whipping at us. We came to a weir on the river, crossed the river and met up with the others. We reached for headtorches, and continued back to the Grampian hut as the sky faded to blue.
19/1/85 Christmas Pot
Route: Christmas Pot (grade III) six hours, Flood Entrance Pot (gr. IV). Party: “Caving” Nigel, Matt, Mick, Simon, Stuart, myself
Arriving in the Dales in time for lunch in the “Craven Heifer”, we moved onto Clapham to get ready. This pot has a long walk-in. More than three miles through six inches of snow. An interminable sweaty stagger through Trow Gill and up onto the moor, where it was very cold. The entrance to Christmas Pot is an oil drum set at a forty-five-degree angle, at the bottom of a doline. It took some time to set up the first pitch in the icy cold. By the time all six of us had descended the 90’ windy and broken pitch, darkness had fallen outside.
From the foot of the first pitch, crawling passages, including passing over a hole in the floor some 30’ deep. I was in front [in caves the leader tends to bring up the rear.] Beyond that, some easy crawls, then up a bit, arriving at the start of a climb which led us to the second pitch. Down that using ladder and lifeline, some twelve feet or so. Onto a clean free descent to a gallery, which swiftly led downhill to the top of the third pitch. This pitch, thirty feet or so, led into an aven. From the aven, under a low roof, brought us to a low chamber full of pretty stalagtites and stalagmites, straws and curtains. Simon and I moved through this whilst the rest of the party were being belayed down the third pitch. Then through a light streamway, under a low boulder, past a huge stalactite and more pretty formations, and we came to a huge chamber strung about with pretties, about 10’ x 15’ x 40’. Ahead and down through a steep tunnel, and then time to turn back.
Back up the three pitches. The 12’ free climb Nigel and I managed to do free and solo, but Nigel had to belay some of the party up it. We cleared the cave into the open air about 9pm. I pushed on ahead of the party carrying a full tackle bag across the moor, fighting a strange and irrational conviction that our outward-bound footprints lead nowhere. It took me a full eighty minutes to walk out from that cave back to the minibus in the icy cold darkness, and I was ahead of the rest of the party.
[This trip marked the zenith of my life’s potholing experience. The following day, we went to Flood Entrance Pot. The entrance is a tight squeeze downwards. As I was in it, Nigel unwisely said that I might have trouble getting back UP through it on the way out. I could have done the squeeze, and could certainly have done it without a wetsuit, but the psychological effect of Nigel’s words at that moment were to increase my chest size by several inches, and I found it necessary to withdraw. It’s only partly coincidence that I have not been caving since. ]
26/1/85 Stob Coire nan Lochan
Route: Stob Coire nan Lochan (3657’) via C gully starting and finishing from the Lost Valley
This was the “Walking contingent” in SPMC at that time: T. J Walmsey, Alister Durrant, Fiona, myself and Ian, Leaving the minibus in the Lost Valley parking space, we crossed Glen Coe under brilliant blue skies. Alpenglow rendered pink the distant summit of Bidean and the Church Door Buttress. It was –10 C and very clear, promising magnificent work.
Up into the Lost Valley through deep snow, down into the Valley itself through drifts waist deep. All of the high tops were now rosy pink with alpenglow. We moved up the right-hand side of the Valley, in very deep powdery snow. We could see B gully with no snow but a formidable ribbon of ice visible in it.
We continued up into a “shallow couloir” or snow-filled corrie hanging below the summit ridge. The snow was fresh, and footsteps collapsed even as you stepped out of them. It was tiring, uninspiring work. About half-way up we passed from shadow into sunlight, and instantly, it was warm. Snow crystals beckoned. The sky was a blue so deep it almost hurt to look at it. A camera could not have done justice to that blue. As we moved up, we saw more of the high tops, whalebacks and sometimes sharper ridges, against the more delicate pale blue at the edge of the sky.
In due course we noticed frost crystals on the rocks and spindrift being blown over – a sure sign we were approaching the ridge. Over the top and the view opened up in full. Behind us, Bidean and the Church Door Buttress; to the left, Glencoe village, Ballahullish, Loch Leven and every mountain from here to Nevis. I could only gape.
The pleasure was lessened by having to walk through a good foot of powdery snow to the summit, where we lunched in sunshine.
Advice on our progress from another climber saw us moving onward down the ridge. We were spread out; this was good work though tiring. There were so many footprints we had no trouble route-finding. Downwards to the coire nan lochan and onwards in the afternoon light, slow and oddly thirsty work, eventually bringing us back to the Valley and back to Glencoe for about 4.30pm. We then had a four-mile walk-out back to the Clachaig. No matter; we were there by 5.30pm after a glorious day on the hill.
27/1/85 Dinnertime buttress/No. 2 Gully Aonach Dubh
Route: Dinnertime buttress/No.2 Gully of Aonach Dubh. Party: Dr Terry, T, J Walmsley, myself, Fiona
A late Sunday morning start, 10ish or so, with climber “J.T” (Dr Terry) accompanying us walkers on a buttress route from the guide-book. The route looks huge, vertical and very exposed when seen from the road. It was windy and slightly warmer than yesterday. Existing snow was drifting as we crossed the valley floor. As we laboured up the steep walk-in, spindrift became a real nuisance, hiding everything, getting in the eyes, in the clothes, everywhere. I took my glasses off; driven snow made it impossible to see with them on. Over to the right, a gully was avalanching non-stop. Had anyone been in it they would have been “well f**ked” according to J.T.
Spindrift storms and driving wind kept our heads down and our eyes closed as we moved up the deep snow and occasional grass or rock shelf. Clouds gathered and it became apparent that the weather was deteriorating – it was going to snow.
The route unfolded; we moved from the buttress into the gully, over a rock rib and up more snow until J.T stopped. I lead around a rocky bulge until I got to a stop. It was snow at eighty degrees or a rock face. We chose the snow which was quite safe, and quite soon were at the top. A veritable hurricane was channelling over the top of Aonach Dubh. We lunched under a snow drift before walking and glissading back down again.
This route inspired me, captured my imagination and whet my appetite for more winter climbing. For a walker it was exciting. For the more experienced ice-climber like Dr Terry, it was “horrendous. I only did it for the tick in the guide-book”. Well!
22/2/85 A failed attempt on Helvellyn; hitching in the 1980s
Route: A failed attempt on Helvellyn in winter – without crampons
Tim W and myself hitched from Durham to Darlington, and had to walk round the centre of Darlington with big bags. Then we hitched to Scotch Corner with a soldier. Two hours late at Scotch Corner, after a false start we got a lift in a Mini 1275GT bound for…Ullswater. Result!
On the Saturday, after a night of driving rain and gale-force winds, we set off for Helvellyn without crampons. Bad idea.
Later, we were on the headwall above Red Tarn (which was frozen) on a surprisingly busy mountain. Grade I/II snow-filled gullies led up to the summit ridge, but we were not in a position to get on that hard snow without crampons. I learned on this weekend never to go on the hill in winter without crampons.
The next day we had to walk out from Patterdale all the way to Penrith, the entire length of Ullswater and more. 13 miles in four hours. We left Patterdale at 8.50a.m and my watch bleeped 1pm as we crossed the central strip of the A66 one mile from the M6 crossover (junction 36).
We hitched from Junction 36 (Penrith) to Scotch Corner with a wealthy Scottish barrister. An opinionated Yorkshireman in a sales rep Vauxhall Carlton estate treated us to his views on Swedish masseuses and Arthur Scargill, all the way to the tunnel entrance at Jarrow, from which we easily took the train home to Sunderland, change at Heworth.
9/3/85 Crib Goch, Snowdon and Y Lliwedd – a reverse Snowdon Horseshoe
Route: Rhydd Ddu, Y Lliwedd, Crib Goch, Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), down the Clogwyn ridge to Rhydd Ddu – alone
Staying with the SPMC at the Oread Mountaineering Club’s “Snowdon House” (Tan-yr-Wyddfa) I resolved to repeat the reverse Snowdon horseshoe I’d done with A. Mackervoy in the summer of 1982 as Venture during Scout camp in the Lleyn Peninsula. The route would start and end at Rhydd Ddu. My colleagues opted for the more traditional technique of starting and finishing at Pen-y-pass.
Seventy-five minutes of hard walking brought me past the col Bwlch Cwm Llan, crossed the valley beyond and saw me breathless on the Watkin Path. Clouds swirled around as I toiled upward; sometimes dark and oppressive, sometimes the hidden sun brightening things up somewhat. On Y Lliwedd the wind was so strong I had trouble breathing. The scrambling here is good – though the visibility was poor today in these clouds. The snow-spattered cliffs and the edge were all to visible though. One has to take care here, especially alone.
I carved my name in old snow on the east summit, leaving at 1130. As I moved on towards the west summit the weather cleared slightly, and Llyn Lydaw far below, appeared briefly. Still the wind buffeted, save for precious few moments in the lee of the ridge, and so pre-occupied was I struggling, I missed the path down to the causeway. I found the path, rejoined it, and ran down to the causeway in improving weather. It improved still further as I started the climb up to the Pyg track at around 1pm.
The long scramble of Crib Goch was perfect. I could see for miles north and east. The route is technical enough in places to demand all your attention, certainly the best and most difficult scramble in the UK outside Scotland. Crib Goch was all in view, snow-spattered. Snowdon itself remained hidden.
This was good. I was lucky; I later found that my colleagues taking the more traditional route, remained in cloud all day long. All along Crib Goch there was a harsh wind; I was carefree, but not that carefree – it’s a long way down from here. Move to fast on Crib Goch and you’ll spend the rest of your life in Snowdonia – about ninety seconds.
Up onto Crib-y-ddysgl and from there, following the snow covered ridge until it met the railway line – easy work. Thence up the railway line – slow work. On top, a strange “cloud sea” was visible to the west. I looked at it for a while before stampeding down the south ridge in clearing weather. The south corrie, Cwm Tregalan, and the Watkin Path, were visible far below on my left. On the right, the sloping country down to Nant-y-Betws. I reached the slate quarried col at 4pm, and swiftly onto the OMC hut as the sun came out. A very good, even classic day.
17/4/85 Langdale to Buttermere via Great Gable and Black Sail
Route: Great Langdale (ODGH) – Mickleden – Rossett Gill – Angle Tarn – Esk Hause – Sty Head – Great Gable – Kirk Fell – Black Sail hut in Ennerdale – over Scarth Gap to Buttermere (16km, 10 hrs)
Rich Ball and myself hitched into the Lakes from Sunderland the previous day. We were up and away early in the morning under low clouds. Nothing was visible until we were well up Rossett Gill, when the other side of the valley briefly appeared.
Angle Tarn was briefly visible as the weather improved. There was some snow present up on the ridge. Weather and visibility improved, such that by the time we reached Esk Hause, it was a fine day. At Sprinkling Tarn we stopped for a brew and some food [we were backpacking with full kit]. The energy required to tackle Great Gable indicated this wise policy. Soon we were labouring up Aaron Slack with the sun beating down through the haze. Sometimes the mist cleared revealing the view back to Sty Head. At Windy Gap there was a party of lightly laden children. After a brief rest we continued; tremendous scenery appeared off to the ENE. We pushed on to the summit of Great Gable. There was the odd tantalising glimpse of the surrounding country, but for the most part it remained invisible, hidden behind the mists.
We moved down the very steep scree slopes on Great Gable’s east face, in thick mist, hearing voices and a stream below. “We are too low” cried Rich. “Rubbish” I replied. We were too low… Kirk Fell reared before us and we made the most of the scrambles, getting to the top in no time at all. From there we could see all Ennerdale, the Black Sail hut and Scarth Gap, our route ahead. The cliffs denied us access, so we moved round to a deep gully which gave us some real sport in descending. A rope to lower our gear would have been helpful, a big rucsac being a danger to balance.
The weather was now at it’s best; all was clear save Great Gable. We trampled out of the gully, round Kirk Fell and after a good while, down the Black Sail path into Ennerdale. This valley being full of trees and bounded by high ridges, has a very Scandinavian look about it. At about 5.30pm we arrived at the Black Sail hut and contemplated camping there. We decided to move on, and we did so, refreshed by some fizzy drinks and by conversation with an army type on a 128 mile hike.
The Scarth Gap Pass proved to be no obstacle, and we lingered at the top, absorbing the clarity of evening around us. All the hills and valleys were splendid, whether dark or sun-filled, brown, green, blue.
A steep descent into Buttermere, and we tried two campsites. The first we rejected. The second was closed. Very tired now, and very fractious, we went back to the first one and stayed there – more than adequate after such a long and tiring day on the hill.
18/4/85 Buttermere to Braithwaite – Hopegill Head and Grizedale Pike
Route: Gatescarth, Buttermere – Lanthwaite Green Farm – Whiteside – Hopegill Head – Grizedale Pike – Sleet How – Kinn – Braithwaite
The day began with a five mile road walk-in. We stopped at the youth hostel in Buttermere to take on supplies at which point a dog relieved itself all over my rucsac while it was on the ground. We didn’t hurry, but moved at a reasonable pace along the side of Crummock Water, which was a really pretty blue against the fells. The weather, which had been crystal clear at break of day, was becoming hazier as time went on. It was warm – shorts and T-shirts weather.
Rich had a pulled muscle in his thigh and this kept us a bit slow. We had to take a lunch break somewhere below the ridge of Whiteside. Above us was seemingly never-ending scree, bounded by thick heather on both sides. Difficult labour upwards. Rich was slower than I but less knackered on attaining the summit. At the top, we couldn’t see much owing to haze in the west and south. To the north, mist threatened. We moved along the ridge – this, in winter conditions, would be really scenic. We observed on one side, mist and grey; on the other, a summer afternoon, hazy and blue. Rich was still suffering from his pulled muscle.
Over some interesting gendarmes to the summit of Hopegill Head, and without further ado or delay, straight onto Grizedale Pike. From here, the path drops extremely steeply before running along a long ridge – Kinn – which brought us to Braithwaite, that village a few miles from Keswick.
An interesting point on the following day regarding the extremes of luck involved in hitch-hiking. Dickie could in no wise walk out to Keswick, so we had to hitch from the A66 right there in Braithwaite. We were taken from there direct to junction 36 at Penrith by the third vehicle that passed us. We were carried across the Pennines by the driver of a Foden freighter, but we waited more than two hours for a lift at Scotch Corner.
Rich and I arrived in Keswick in early evening rain and camped up at Castlerigg. Not a great campsite. The next morning we set off late – what’s the use of hurrying in summer? Through Keswick and onwards, an ascent of Skiddaw by the basic straightforward route. Clouds about 2000’ so the last 1000; we were in the clouds. Not a difficult hill. On the summit there were some very cheeky and persistent sheep. We stampeded back down again through Keswick to Castlerigg where the weather was blistering hot. Three hours to go up and down, a good warm up day, loosening up the muscles.
25/7/85 Blencathra and crossing Sty Head in a thunderstorm
From Castlerigg into Keswick to buy jeans for Rich. I picked up some new headphones too. Then we tramped out, eventually hitting the disused railway. It was a hot, hazy, blue sky day. Under the big A66 bridge, and some of the old river bridges had a very Canadian feel to them. Splendid scenery. We left the old railway and crossed several fields to a road, which we followed down into a ravine. We stopped in the shade by the babbling brook, a lovely spot encouraging lassitude, but eventually we pushed on.
Up the hillside as the sun beat down on us – this is your Mousthwaite Combe. We laboured up a grassy path up onto the shoulder, which offered amazing views. FM radio reception was quite remarkable – we were listening to Q102 Dublin on our walkmans – in stereo. We continued onto the summit, not taking the route via Sharp Edge on this occasion. We dropped back down to the road arriving at the Salutation Inn in Threlkeld for an excellent bar meal. From there after a pleasant drink, we walked back to Castlerigg in the gloaming.
Next day, 26/7/85, it rained. In a lull in almost continuous thunder, we struck camp and caught the bus to the head of Borrowdale, arriving at Seathwaite lane end. In rain and thunder we walked over Sty Head. Climbing up to the top past Taylorgill force, there had been mostly sheet lightning, but as we arrived at Sty Head tarn it started forking onto surrounding summits. We found that deeply unfunny. We left sharpish, hurrying down the Wasdale side as fast as we could. The thunder was deafening; quite a novel experience to be so close to the heart of the storm. It died off as we moved down into Wasdale. We stayed at the Barn Shop campsite, at a cost of £1/night but no showers. The following night we struck camp again and moved to the National Trust site – same cost, £1 per night, but with a shop, hot and cold running water, free showers and facilities. These National Trust campsites (one in Wasdale, one in Great Langdale) are excellent.
Route: Pillar from Wasdale
Down Wasdale and up a valley not recorded in my notes – perhaps Nether Beck. After endless tramping in the mist, we ended up on a wall where we met another chap. We learned from him that we were between Haycock and Steeple. The chap was overdressed, inexperienced and over-equipped, but he knew what he was at. He accompanied us up over Scoat Fell, down to Wind Gap, and up Pillar. Pillar required scrambling lower down, but was flat and boring further up. From Pillar we descended again, getting out from under the clouds, into some excellent visibility and scenery. Ennerdale, that tree-filled valley, looked spectacular and somewhat artificial. The regimented rows of trees, the arrow-straight fire breaks, the careful square boxes and unnatural straight lines defy nature. Would that the Forestry Commission let nature take her course somewhat more.
Down to the summit of the Black Sail pass, we parted with the other fellow who was headed for Honister Hause. We ourselves stampeded down the Black Sail pass into Mosedale, onto Wasdale and our tent.
28/7/85 Scafell from Wasdale
Route: Wasdale – Lingmell Beck – Lingmell cove – the Lord’s Rake – Scafell and off via Burnmoor Tarn
Someone at the campsite recommended Lingmell Beck as a good route up to Scafell. As both Rich and I were fit from five days of hillwalking, we did not find it as difficult as it looked. The path climbs steeply to a fork, leading into the cove between England’s two highest mountains – Lingmell Cove. Grey rock towered into the cloud on either side. The last hundred feet or so is scree, leading to the foot of the Lord’s Rake. The Lord’s Rake itself led to the right from here, very wet and greasy. We followed the route I had learned the previous year with Ian H., turning left after the first descent after the Rake. Turn left over scree and rock, into a gully. Carry on up the gully over sloping, easy rock. It was wet, and by the standards of a pure hillwalker, desperate stuff. This made up for the boring uphill slogs.
Rain now began to fall in earnest, and by the time we reached the summit, it was absolutely siling it down. We felt that to reverse the climb we’d just done, in these conditions, would be pushing our luck too far. So, we bore south, then east, towards the green notch of Mickledore. The mist swirled and there was visibility of barely 15m. And the rain came down. We saw a party struggling up a muddy gully near the cliffs, the mist and the closed-in atmosphere of the surrounding cliffs causing a cave-like acoustic effect. The gully led to Mickledore, but again, looked too steep to go down in wet weather. We had no rope.
Onwards; we eventually found ourselves in another big steep gully, full of water. We climbed down and to the left over greasy wet grass and wet rock, which was sloping dangerously away from us. As we curved across the face of the mountain, we came to a halt. A nasty corner found me temporarily trapped in what felt like an irreversible position. I got out of it by herculean effort, a muddy grass hold and dirty water down my sleeves. Scary for a moment: below was a fifty foot drop and then scree.
We continued left, and all of a sudden, we knew where we were: we were on Broad Stand. Below us, no more than thirty feet from us, was Mickledore, and there were people. The phrase “so near yet so far” was never closer to us than at that moment. We dared not free-climb down Broad Stand. It was way beyond our skill in this weather. A rope might have helped us and changed the course of the day, but it was not to be. And so, wearily, we turned back.
Back, over the rock shelves and platforms, to the gully. In the gully I dislodged the greatest rock I ever dislodged in my life – easily the size of a small car. This huge boulder bounced down the gully, and there was a sickening silence as it fell into space, save for the rattling of smaller rocks and debris. The rumble of that minor landslip seemed to go on forever. Four is the number of times I shouted “BELOW!!” but the mist seemed to muffle my voice.
On regaining the plateau, we bore west over wet grass and scree for a seemingly endless time, until we dropped below the clouds, and sodden and tired, we saw the Burnmoor Tarn far below. More thundering downwards in wet boots, over flooding streams, through waist-high bracken, down into Wasdale. A very full day on the mountain, and the descent in the rain shook my love for the Lake District to the foundations. We struck camp the following day and headed out, our week over.
16/8/85 Bad weather with an inexperienced partner
At a dawdle we left the side of Derwentwater and proceeded up Cat Bells. It was a lovely day and we could see for miles. I had brought my girlfriend to the Lakes for a few days, to let her see what hillwalking was like. We continued over High Spy, and boggy High Scawdel, and thence down to the Honister Hause arriving at 3.17pm. We could see Buttermere and Crummock Water. The cliffs looked tremendous – Yew Crag and Honister Crag.
We left the top of the pass at 4pm, refreshed, and moved on up the ARROW STRAIGHT bridleway up Fleetwith. It grew cloudy, though not excessively so. It was windy, but not so as you’d worry. So far it had been good. Borrowdale was visible and May Crag on Hindscarth looked especially eye-catching. We turned off the arrow-straight bridleway, intending to contour round to avoid the up-and-down. We passed over endless vast tracts of bilberry and heather. Every so often, a splash of rain.
We got around and were back on the path to the top of Haystacks when the heavens opened. Or perhaps hell. Pouring rain and force 4-5 winds came up very quickly. We’d lost time in contouring round, and we struggled on. I was ill-equipped. I had ONE waterproof coat, no waterproof trousers. She was in trainers. I had no bivvi bag, and no reserves of emergency food. Considering all this we escaped lightly: And I was solely responsible.
With her in my Kagool, we struggled over Haystacks in the teeth of the wind and driving rain. She was becoming tireder and more exposed by the minute, much less fit than I, ill-clad and unaccustomed to being outdoors in such conditions. Eventually we could see Ennerdale below. Our troubles were not over. It took more than an hour to descend over screes and past cliffs. I was addled myself, being very wet and cold, but I realised she needed to be gotten off the hill soonest. I put my backpack down (it was a bright orange/yellow Jaguar 4) to concentrate on getting my girl safely off the hill, and went back to collect it later.
Eight years hillwalking and fourteen separate trips to the Lake District, and this weather came as a surprise to me. It ought not have – I should have been better prepared, better equipped. [19/1/21 Of course this was nearly forty years ago when weather forecasting was not what it is now, but the principle is unchanged. This experience taught me much about mountaincraft: it was a lesson won at modest cost.]
We stayed that night at the Black Sail hut, then, as now, the remotest youth hostel in England. I remember that night because we had bilberry crumble for dessert after supper. The next day we crossed the Black Sail Pass into Wasdale and spent some time there.
23/8/85 Keswick to Black Sail and back
On the previous trip, serious hillwalking had ceased at the point we arrived at Black Sail. My breeches were wet, and when we walked out to Wasdale the next day, I must have necessarily worn other trousers – for I left the breeches behind. So I went in again to fetch them. Their value to me was far, far higher to me than the cost of a weekend in the Lake District.
I repeated the previous route, albeit a good deal faster. I reflected as I walked along the High Spy ridge in rain showers that this was my fifth traverse of the said ridge. By the time High Spy was behind me, it was pouring with rain and I was wet, thoroughly drenched, particularly without decent walking breeches.
I reached Honister Hause at 1.30pm. I tramped on up Fleetwith at fine speed as the rain held off. As I reached the old quarry, the rain returned with a vengeance. Bloody Lakes weather! Through the ups and downs of Haystacks, so pleasant in good conditions. I dropped down to Scarth Gap and from there, swiftly to the Black Sail Hut.
At the hut I retrieved my trousers, put them on, and had a cup of tea with the warden, who I seemed to recall had worked for years in the Tropics. I recall curtains of rain passing across the hillside as I sat with the tea. But onwards: back over Scarth Gap to Buttermere in heavy, driving rain, and then across the Buttermere valley floor to Gatescarth Farm. I filled up on water there, and started the long footslog over the Honister Pass as the light faded. I needed some food half-way up. 75 minutes of walking, not counting breaks, and I was at Seatoller. The time was 6.40pm.
12/10/85 Scafell and Great Gable from Rosthwaite Borrowdale
Route: Rosthwaite Borrowdale – Comb Gill – Glaramara – Allen Crags – Esk Hause – Scafell Pike – Sty Head – Great Gable – Green Gable – Sour Milk Gill – Borrowdale. 11 miles, 9 hrs
A big SPMC party of 12, led by myself and T. J Walmsley set off from Rosthwaite on a beautiful autumn morning. It had been a very cold night; there was no cloud in the sky, no wind. Breakfast had been dealt with by the time the sun rose over the side of Langstrath, and we set off in the shade.
Up onto Thornythwaite Fell and one person dropped out. In brilliant sunshine and as clear conditions as ever I’ve seen in the Lakes, we slogged slowly up to Glaramara and Allen Crags. It was beautiful. We lunched overlooking Esk Hause, observing hundreds of fell runners thundering over the pass below. A little haziness crept into the sky as we continued round, past Great End and without mishap down to Narrowcove for this my fourth ascent of Scafell Pike. The top was crowded – as usual. A lot of school parties.
A clear day: we could see the Seascale installation, the Duddon estuary, Windermere, Derwentwater, Skiddaw and Blencathra, Pillar, Grizedale Pike. Some few photos taken on this trip [if which one or two are still extant; 19/1/21]
After Scafell Pike we stampeded back down to Narrowcove and then down the Corridor Route across this great mountain, to arrive at Styhead at 3.50pm. At Styhead three members of the party retreated down the pass direct to the cafe at Seathwaite. The rest of us did Great Gable. We were limber and ready for action, we were twenty years old. From Styhead to the summit of Great Gable in forty minutes, to find the top occupied by cragsmen. A highly recommendable view from here – the best bit probably the Buttermere valley and Crummock Water, and in the sun, Wasdale. [19/1/21 I think this was the occasion I took a picture of the view down into Wasdale. It was so good I had it enlarged and for many years a copy of it was framed on my mother’s wall. I was using a Zenit E SLR at the time.]
It would have been better still an hour later, at sunset, but we left the summit after a good rest, to descend the unpleasant steep slope to Windy Gap, to trample the red soil of Green Gable, and then down the steep path into Sour Milk Gill, the archetype of all hanging valleys. Off the hill at dark after an epic, classic hill-walking day.
13/10/85 Blencathra via Sharp Edge
Route: Blencathra via Scales Tarn and Sharp Edge, down to Threlkeld
Another large party of ten for a mass ascent of Blencathra! From the inn we moved along a road and struck left into a short valley, across the headwall of which, could be seen our path, forming a diagonal upwards. Mousthwaite Combe. At the top, we found ourselves on a broad whale-back, with a deep valley below. In it, the gloriously Tolkienesque River Glenderamackin. [Tolkienesque to me that is, not to the younger fellow who wrote this account in 1985; he knew nothing of Tolkien when he was 20.]
Along the left side of this valley, before climbing steeply up into the corrie of Scales Tarn. This is really impressive rock scenery, particularly Sharp Edge. One member of our party, somewhat afraid of heights and exposure, went up the screes to the summit. The rest of us went up Sharp Edge, with Karen and Rob at the front, and myself and Tim shepherding one or two less experienced walkers in the rear.
It was my first time here on what became and what remains probably my favourite route. I found it passably sharp, suitably impressive and very exposed, but too short. It looks a lot worse than it is from a long way off. When you think of the great ridge walks in the British Isles, the Sharp Edge of Blencathra is by no least among them but is certainly one of the shorter routes, only a couple of hundred yards if that. Crib Goch is only a few hundred yards of really sharp rock ridge mixed in with a mile or so of reasonably narrow ridge walking. For sustained narrow rock edge work you have to go to the Aonach Eagach above Glen Coe, which is miles long. But that’s not passable in winter conditions for walkers.
The route lies up over some gendarmes and up onto the summit where we had lunch. To the north there are many kilometres of wild moorland, but not particularly exciting hill country. At the top, it started to mist up. Blencathra has little to recommend it but Sharp Edge, and the descent was tedious in the extreme. This being a Sunday, had to be a short day – 4 hours on the hill. But satisfying for all that.
26/10/85 Snowdon Horseshoe
Leaving the campsite at Ynnys in the Pass, we walked the few miles uphill to the top of Llanberis just to warm up. It was a bright sunny day, though not totally clear. At the top of the pass, onto the PYG track and we opened up the pace. One person turned back. We were all spread out, and the PYG track was very busy. I was feeling very good, cram full of energy, full of beans, and was accused of “going at running pace without being seen to run”.
Eventually we burst into the sunshine on the ridge and looked about us. Behind, the valley floor down to Capel Curig was filled with cloud. Mountains poked out from above the milky clouds. Being above the clouds was going to be a theme of the day. Up the steep rock to Crib Goch, seeing the scenery unfold behind us as we climbed. It was extremely bright. The sun was reflecting off Lyn Lydaw, right into our eyes.
At the top, the start of the ridge, there were about thirty people gathered, chatting. People were having to queue up to get along the ridge. The islands in the sun, distant mountains, were a wonderful sight. I tried my hand at a panorama through about 250 degrees. [This was a resounding success and for many years preserved.]
Under the sunshine we moved along the red ridge, balancing on the very top. Crib Goch gets more impressive every time I do it [this would be the third time.] Along the eighteen inches wide strip of rock, seeing the ground whizz by a thousand feet below out the corner of your eye. We followed the crest of the ridge, busy at was, up onto Crib-y-ddysgl. It was a summer day, almost. As we ate our lunch we could see heat haze by Llyn Glas.
We dawdled up to the summit of Snowdon and stayed for over an hour. There were at least sixty people around the summit cairn. As a party we were well split up; we didn’t know, but three of us were already far ahead. On the sharp drop from Snowdon to the col, we spread out again, but were all together again when we got to the top of Y Lliwedd.
It was suitably late as we stampeded down the track to the Causeway. An RAF “Chinook” helicopter rumbled across the massif as we walked. The sun was at such an angle that actual sunbeams could be seen between Y Lliwedd and Snowdon – a remarkable and picturesque effect. An epic and full Horseshoe traverse.
Three of us were still together on the long tramp down the miners road to Pen-y-pass, the others far behind. And at the cafe, a welcome cup of tea. And what a pleasant surprise, one of the earlier finishers had brought the minibus up to collect us and run us down to the campsite at Ynnys. A brilliant day.
13/1/86 Stob Coire nan Lochan
Route: Stob Coire nan Lochan via the Lost Valley. Seven hours.
Myself, T. J Walmsley, M. Taylor and W. Wallace accompanied Raymond and J.T up into the Lost Valley; difficult work through pouring rain, rattling wind, and muddy, leafy valley floor. We split up near the thirty-foot boulder; the four of us tramped across the floor of the Lost Valley, and then, up and over fresh snow. A stream bed became a ravine, then a gully, as we climbed higher. The snow was deep and wet, and leading was a bind – tiring work. Far easier to follow in someone’s footsteps. A picture of life itself.
Moving upwards we could look back on our footprints, a line of steps over the steep snow. Sometimes the snow grew harder; at one point I had to cut steps up a steep step onto shallower higher ground. We climbed into a couloir and the light was such that the snow seemed featureless; we could no longer even see our own footprints. Distance seemed to mean nothing. On the left, cliffs. Ahead, the headwall of the corrie and a col. To the right, mountains heaped up. The last fifty feet of snow up to the col was rock hard; we just cut steps up it.
On the ridge, the wind was coming over gale force. A person could not admire the stunning view in the teeth of the wind, but that the wind would bring tears to the eyes and fling their breath back down their throat. We took lunch in shelter below the ridge, but it was still cold and windy.
After lunch, crampons on, and along the ridge towards Bidean nam Bian – but we had to turn back; it was just too windy too continue. We thought to withdraw, but decided to continue in the opposite direction, towards Stob Coire nan Lochan. This we did, staying on the windward side over mostly very hard wind-slab – good snow for crampons. We made the summit, and continued onward. Clouds gathered out west. We stampeded down a rocky east slope over very hard snow, passing the tops of several named ice and rock routes – Twisting Gully, SC Gully etc. We needed to find a gully we could descend glissading; we rejected several before finding an obviously straightforward snow gully which we started down. [23/1/21 I’d suggest looking at the map that we descended somewhere slightly north of Pinnacle Buttress.] At first with caution, and then with wild with abandon, a swooping glissade. Two of us climbed back up to do it a second time, so much fun it was.
Then down into Coire nan Lochan. An Allen bolt on my right crampon got lost, but one of my colleagues had a spare. Another glissade; a lot of straightforward walking, and in the end we could see the minibus in the distance in the car park on the Glencoe road. Ray, J.T and “Climbing” Nigel could be seen throwing stones at us. A good day!!
1/2/86 Winter traverse of the Aonach Eagach
What proved to be an excellent day’s mountaineering started at 9.20a.m when five us – M. Taylor, D. McAuley, R. Carter, a fellow called John and myself, left Rob’s car at the top of Glencoe near the white cottage. The snow lay uneven on frozen grass, as we read with interest the warning sign “Do not leave the ridge before Sgor Fionnadh”.
The approach lies straight up the side of Am Bodach, a tedious slog. It was redeemed by the ever-changing view of Glencoe unfolding behind us. I approached this day’s work with trepidation, and was accompanying persons with more rock and ice experience than I. For hillwalkers, the Aonach Eagach is potentially formidable in winter conditions. It is a grade II ice route, and even the blase Nevis guide warns that parties must move fast to complete the route in daylight. As a matter of comparison, it has several miles of the kind of sharp, challenging ridge traverse mountaineering of which there is on Crib Goch, at most perhaps a couple of hundred yards.
After around 90 minutes we reached the summit of Am Bodach in mist. The route runs north from there along the ridge, then swings west, arriving at the first technical difficulty, down a forty-foot rock cliff. Darren managed OK, but the rest of us were lowered off by Mick Taylor, who then descended to the left, swearing a lot, but also saying things like “Grade II – easy”. One of the non-climbing three of us appeared unable to tie a bowline and also had no crampons – he had an epic day! [23/1/21 I’m tempted to omit this anecdote…it seems unreal – but there were practicalities involved: he it was whose car we used to get onto the hill.] At that point a party of two wearing Glenmore Lodge caps were level with us. We moved on.
The next problem was an “awkward slabby descent” according to the guidebook. We went down this using a rope as a handrail. This was followed by a lot of sharp ridge walking. Our weaker colleague needed coaxing along some of the sections, particularly over the all-too-frequent “bad steps” over deep gullies going down a thousand feet. He was lucky to get along the ridge at all.
Along the way one or two pinnacles posed satisfying and interesting rock problems, made all the better by the exposure (though I seem to recall it was not a clear day and we were in cloud much of the time) but tricky in crampons, particularly – as happened on one occasion – when one of your crampons gets stuck in a crack about eight feet up. Fortunately I was in balance and in control at the time, but it was a hairy few minutes before I managed to work it free. I noted at the time that this would be a first-rate scrambling trip – very extreme hillwalking – in summer conditions.
We continued up and down over sharp, steep and frequently icy mixed ground. Worried by the guidebook’s estimate on the time taken for the route, we endeavoured to hurry, but there were parties ahead of us and behind us – it was a busy route. A sloping rock chimney, followed closely by a sharp, steep descent, followed in turn by a huge pinnacle, proved to be the most entertaining parts of the day’s work. We had the rope out three times. As a hillwalker I would not advise trying this route in winter conditions without a rope and knowing how to use it.
The route ended in late afternoon, on easy slopes, as a ray of sunshine touched the valley floor below. The way down was a glissade or bum-slide down to the top of Clachaig Gully, then turn to the right and descend over really steep, very difficult ground, frozen rocks and scree, to the Clachaig. We arrived there at dusk after a very satisfying, tremendous day’s mountaineering.
I have a memory of sitting afterwards in the warm of the chalet we’d hired, having microsleeps – but being woken from them by dreams of falling. Interesting to note what five or six hours of concern that you might fall, five or six hours of extreme concentration, can do to the subconscious.
2/2/86 Sgorr Dhonuill and Sgorr Dhearg, Ballachuluish
We left the car around 10a.m, at a layby on the main road, probably near the chapel. Five of us – the same party as yesterday – moved off up a forest road which wound for miles it seemed, through the woods, before swinging round to the left and south, rising into Gleann Chaolais. Soon we were hiking through six inches of snow. One person turned back (the same person who had been yesterday been dragged along the Aonach Eagach without crampons).
We crossed a stream deep in a broad and tree-lined valley. A spur of the ridge, forming two corries, towered snowy over us. Through trees and about fourteen inches of fresh snow, we continued until we got to the tree line. At this point, where we were afforded the prospect of a grey rocky corrie above us, another of our party turned back. This left the three most experienced mountaineers to continue.
What seemed to be the longest walk-in for ages continued, right up into the corrie – Coire Dearg. Pausing only for a bite to eat and to strap on crampons, we started up the eastern wall of the corrie. The weather improved as we climbed steep hard snow and frozen grass; patches of blue sky began to appear. As we gained height it grew brighter, and more distant peaks began to appear.
We came across several strangely multicoloured icefalls, which we attacked with vigour, but the ice “dinnerplated” after a few blows, peeling off in the shape of large saucers. Darren led up a steep rock/ice corner, which was interesting work, given the exposure and the slope. Above this was a slabbed snowfield, which he and trampled up, releasing great slabs of snow onto Mick’s beleagured head as he battled up the corner below. To the right above the snowfield there was a narrow ribbon of iced-over rock above a steep grassy step, bounded by bare rock on each side. I arrived below it as Darren got stuck on it. To my surprise – for he rarely put a foot wrong – he needed guiding down from it. I was surprised until I tried it myself. Getting over the grassy step was OK, but the ice beyond proved too hard with only one ice-axe. Two were needed to obtain purchase.
Conscious of the hard snow below, over which I would quickly slide to my premature demise if I slipped, I started to withdraw. I changed my axe hand back and forth several times and used hand-holds. Sometimes I hung on with both hands. Getting good axe placement for security was a problem. Just as I was starting to be in danger of cramp, I succeeded in withdrawing safely. We turned the route to the right, over aa very exposed iron-hard almost unbreakable snowfield above a band of rock. After a few dodgy axe placements, it became merely very hard work, crampons and axe, until we reached the summit ridge where wind and sun played.
Once all three of us were up on the ridge, we moved along over rocky ground ruinous to crampons. This continued through the afternoon. We glissaded off one peak after an impressive steep section, slogged up the next, and witnessed strange chutes or fountains of spindrift shooting up from the tops of the gullies, in rows along the ridge. After Sgorr Dhearg we glissaded down into another north-facing corrie (Coire Giubhsachain – don’t even ask me how to pronounce that!!) and continued, in the shade now of course, down the valley to the tree-line. Once in woods, there was even more variety – crawling through dense stands of pine, rock-climbing down waterfalls, slipping down muddy slopes, exploring deep, damp mossy ravines for a way ahead. By good luck we managed to find a path and get out onto the road before it was dark. A brilliant, excellent day’s mountaineering: we were well and truly knackered and still had to motor all the way back to Wearside.
By the time we were ready to set off, it was dark and the wind was rising. As we sped up the main road through Glencoe, we could see a series of lights on the mountainside, little specks of torch-light, each one a mountaineer hurrying downwards in a little circle of light towards dinner, each one with a story to tell.
8/2/86 Coniston Old Man in winter
Brim Fell – Coniston Old Man – Dow Crag – Grey Friar – Swirl How (winter)
Five of us left the hut and walked up the path, passing two of our climbing contingent watching other climbers attack the Low Water Beck ice-fall (Grade III). Myself and my usual partner in crime T. J Walmsley were accompanied by three others.
A tedious slog saw us into the Low Water corrie in deep snow, where we practiced ice techniques for a while on a large, gently sloping icefall. We went on up a gully to the right of Low Water Crag. Apart from a steep grassy step, it was easy snow climbing, bringing us out onto the unconscionably cold and icy summit of Brim Fell.
In mist we continued south along the ridge, which looks quite alarmingly sharp in winter conditions. Snow can sometimes have the effect of making the British hill look alpine, giving the appearance of difficulty to what is merely straightforward. Coniston Old Man was iced over, but not completely covered; the Lakeland summits are not high enough to permit a serious build-up of snow. We left north, as the mist cleared to reveal Goat Hause and Dow Crag. We stopped for lunch at Goat Hause and continued across rather rough mixed ground – hellish on the crampons. This would be scree in summer and there would be a perfectly obvious path to follow. We were aiming for a snow gully at the northern end of Dow Crag. The first section was just drifted snow, but soon it became some rather trickier frozen-over grass and rock steps. Nearer the top we moved over a rocky rib into the next most southern gully, which was well in condition, packed with hard snow, especially near the top. It twisted away below us down to Goat Water.
This was fulfilling and satisfying work, a great end to the route as we scrambled out onto the summit of Dow, to clearing weather and the sight of the Scafell massif absolutely plastered in snow. The weather was photograph-clear. From Dow, we considered our options, and moved onto Grey Friar. When we got there, it was cold, and windy, and we were becoming rather tired. We thundered around the hause and up the gentle slope to Swirl How.
From Swirl How there is a very steep ridged descent – the “Prison Band”. This was excellent sport downhill to Swirl Hause, and from there, down to Levers Water through a good foot of soft powdery snow. That was hard going. In the sky, pastel hues of pink and yellow, a beautiful evening in the making. A grand day. Down past the iced-over quarry roads in Coppermines Valley, arriving at the hut around 5pm.
9/2/86 Bow Fell and Rossett Pike from the Old Dungeon Ghyll, winter
Three of us thundered up Oxendale from the ODG. It was very warm. I was walking in a sweater with the sleeves rolled up. Never was I so warm in winter. Eventually we got to the snow under Shelter Crag. Up onto the ridge, where thankfully it was colder. The wind had scalloped the ice into weird shapes. The Shelter itself was virtually obscured by deep snow. Tim struggled through, but Pete and I climbed up over the icy rock round the Shelter, to the top of the crag. We sat down for a rest in as good winter weather as you can get. Most of the Lake District was visible, albeit through haze. We could see yesterday’s destination, Dow Crag, to the south.
On the summit, a large raven regarded us balefully. We moved onwards towards Three Tarns; the raven flew past us and twice stopped to look at us, its curved beak and shiny black feathers a stark contrast against the snow. Ravens are ostensibly birds of ill-omen.
Down to Three Tarns, where we lunched sitting on rocks next to an icefall. Then, up steep mixed ground to the start of a gully, to the extreme right of Bowfell Buttress. It was a steep snow slope, only partly consolidated, but even so, we were up in a trice – easier than walking! We remained only briefly on the summit of Bow Fell before continuing the well-worn path to Ore Gap. Ice and hard snow ran over the drop from here to Angle Tarn; we continued down this slope, slipping and sliding, until we got to Angle Tarn, which was of course frozen, completely snow-covered and misleadingly almost invisible. We practiced ice-climbing for a while on some small 10′ ice falls, before continuing. It was at this point that we learned the hard way – fortunately in practice – that full reliance for ice climbing cannot be placed on a walking axe. The angle of dangle of the pick is such that the axe will pivot out of its placement when full weight is applied. Around us we could see ice-climbers on various of the Angle Tarn icefalls.
At Rossett Hause we looked across to Rossett Pike, and headed for a snow slope below it. It looked small and piffling, but it was a hundred feet and the steepest snow we’d seen yet. The cornice at the top was fortunately very soft and we pushed through it onto the ridge and onto the summit of Rossett Pike. Then we continued to Black Crag, before descending through soft, deep snow to the top of the Stake Pass, and thence down into Mickleden. There were ski tracks ahead of us here. We slid and walked down through soft snow to Mickleden. As we reached the snow line we experienced a kind of “colour shock” as our eyes once again became accustomed to colours – even the drab greens and browns of deep winter – after four or five hours or more in the snow. One feels dizzy, overwhelmed, one’s eyes feel overworked.
Back down the valley to the bus, arriving at 4.30pm.
30/1/88 Idwal Skyline, winter
To me, the classic North Welsh weekend is to do both Snowdon Horseshoe and Idwal Skyline. I have neglected good mountains in order to concentrate on these two splendid routes, and in consequence, I am well familiar with both.
The 45 degree angle of the North ridge looked well wintry as myself, A. Mackervoy and R. Davison drove in along the A5. It was well wintry: at points on the climb we were gripped. There was a lot of hard snow on the route, and the rock itself was iced quite low down. It is of course north-facing so that is to be expected. We clambered up the frozen snow and iced-over rocks, reaching the summit after about ninety minutes.
In bright sunshine we continued down to the col and on upwards onto the Glyders. We decided against the rock tower of Bristly Ridge, thinking that the ice would make it too difficult. Instead we turned to the left up a huge snow slope which led all the way to the top. It was soft, fresh snow over very hard frozen snow underneath. I used crampons, but it was an extremely hard and tiring slog to the top.
We paused for lunch on Glyder Fach, before moving on. On our way we saw loads of climbers coming up a snow gully. The descent to the Devil’s Kitchen was through thick, deep snow. We skied without benefit of skis down the path as it twisted downward to the col, which was just on the snowline. It was also boggy, though thankfully frozen, and we nipped across it sharpish and started up Y Garn.
I’ve written this before, but it’s always windy on Y Garn. The wind out of the southwest was carrying flurries of hail. Y Garn was covered inches deep in very hard ice. My companions did not have crampons, and progress was slow and frustrating. Nearer the summit, a snow chute offered better traction. At the top it was so cold we didn’t linger, but hurried off down the ridge, again sliding through thick snow. It is an impressive descent, very steep. Almost at your feet lie the trees and houses at Idwal Cottage.
Below the snow line the path grew muddier. As we descended, hail began to fall heavily, blotting out many of the surrounding hills. We finished with the gentle walk along Llyn Idwal, with the cliffs of the Devil’s Kitchen on our right, and thence down the tourist path to Idwal Cottage. We refreshed ourselves here as hail fell. Another full. satisfying day on the hill.
11/2/89 Blencathra and Sharp Edge – withdrawing safely
On a windy day, myself and J. Parkinson walked into Blencathra through low cloud. There was a fair amount of snow visible in the corrie of Scales Tarn. Sharp Edge itself was in cloud, and was exceptionally greasy to the fingers and to the boots. There was little snow on the ridge itself, but a fair bit on the face at the end.
We did not reach the summit: My friend noted that he was in his element roofing, sitting on the crown of a house in the urban environment, and had no problem with heights, but the conditions here put us both out of our element. The rock cold and greasy, we withdrew safely.
Always know when to turn back. A key lesson for the mountaineer, learned here at no cost. I’ve been fortunate over many years to learn some important lessons in mountaincraft at very, very modest cost.
8/5/89 Napes Needle and Needle Ridge Direct, Great Gable
Go up Styhead from Wasdale, and turn left at the top for a stuff uphill walk through exciting country to the cliffs of Great Gable. I was experiencing trouble with new boots. We roped up for Napes Needle, which we climbed in two pitches, the first in a chimney, the second, much more exposed. In big boots I needed a tight rope from T. J Walmsley in order to get up.
Then we roped off, although getting our rope free from the Needle proved extremely tricky. Hobbits with Elf-rope, we were not. Next, to Needle Ridge Direct, which I recommend to everyone who likes a scramble. Some nice moves for the pure walker, never challenging for climbers, very exposed. Some shiny, polished rock in places. Excellent mountaineering. The upper section leads over dirt and boulders to the summit.
9/5/89 Scafell Pike and Scafell via Broad Stand
Today I needed to use paracetemol to be able to walk or climb at all, in these new boots. It was gorgeous weather so I took them willingly. I think I took 6 or 7 grammes during the day – a significant overdose by any standards – which caused some shivering and loss of sleep that night.
We turned right halfway up Styhead, into Piers Gill. This was great sport, scrambling up a stream bed with towering wet cliffs. Eventually we left the gully and continued climbing free up exposed crumbling rock, which was gripping stuff. At the top of Scafell Pike, we took a detour back to visit the summit of Great End (which is often passed by.)
Back to Mickledore then, and the route lies through a narrow crack and on up Broad Stand. The first move is greasy, slippy and slopes outwards and down, with a high chance of damaging yourself if you fall. We encouraged a lone mountaineer up the move and then we followed, myself with some difficulty. Thereafter, following that initial move, the rest of Broad Stand is easy scrambling and walking to the summit of Scafell.
We dropped down to the level of the Burnmoor Tarn, and thence down into Wasdale through Lingmell Beck – an excellent day on the hill notwithstanding pain from ill-fitting boots.
18/9/89 Pavey Ark via Jacks Rake
Four of us including my friend J. Parkinson and his step-father, took a very slow stroll up Stickle Beck. By the time we reached Stickle Tarn, it was looking decidely grey and gloomy. It looked worse than it was. We had with us someone relatively inexperienced in judging mountain weather, and they weren’t too happy, but the worst of the weather held off. We all successfully got up Jack’s Rake to the top where clouds streamed by under a good Force 6-7. We beat a hasty retreat round the side back to the tarn again, and back down to Langdale.
18/11/89 Aonach Eagach West to East
The weather broke for our last trip of an Autumn visit to Glen Coe. With mist on the tops, myself and A. Mackervoy slogged up the ever steep path by the side of Clachaig Gully to start a west-east traverse of the Aonach Eagach. We’d dropped the car at the head of Glencoe the previous day. It took ninety minutes to reach the top of the gully proper (which of course mere walkers cannot enter) at the base of the clouds. The view into the gully offers dramatic scenes to the passing walker.
One crosses interminable moorland ridge country to the first peak, Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (sounds like “White hill” to me…) at 967m, with trig point. The ridge itself proved excellent sport in summer conditions, notwithstanding the clouds and mizzle. Lots of pinnacles, steep scrambles up and down, plenty of narrow bits and “bad steps”. To the experienced scrambler or hillwalker a summer-conditions traverse of the Aonach Eagach is no more serious than Crib Goch in Snowdonia or the Sharp Edge of Blencathra in the Lakes. You need a good head for heights, that’s all.
Half-way along I lost my day bag, just past Stob Coire Leith. We’d stopped for some lunch, sat on the ridge in thick cloud and howling wind. I opened my bag, to retrieve some lunch, and somehow or other, a gust of wind whirled it away down the north facing slopes into Coire Cam. Visibility at the time as perhaps twenty yards. The rucsac – unfortunately a drab olive green – bounced and fell a long way.
The most grevious loss was perhaps my lunch, every bite of which was snatched from my grasp. Also, a half-decent camera with whatever pictures were in the can; a Slaters down duvet jacket, a Petzl head torch, and sundry other stuff like map and compass. We had to drive all the way to Nevissport in Fort William that afternoon, to buy another headtorch for me. The following day we drove round to Loch Leven and hiked into Coire Cam, spending a fruitless few hours searching for it. It will be there yet! One day it may be found.
I did in fact claim on my house insurance for this, and the claim was allowed. It is an interesting reflection on house insurance over the ensuing 30+ years to the present (2021) to wonder if such a claim would even be worth making today, much less actually being honoured. The camera I bought with it was probably the last camera I had before photography went digital in the late 1990’s. I bought a black Berghaus duvet jacket as well which was excellent although a little too small for me. It served well enough well into this century before finding its way to a charity shop.
But onwards! The last or easternmost top, Am Bhodach, provided a sting in the tail (or an early technical start if coming from the other direction) but even then, in summer conditions, not so tricky really. The way off the hill is towards the white house, down the steep grassy slopes.
23/10/93 Idwal Skyline
Seven hours on the hill – an excellent day’s hillwalking with J. Parkinson. There was some frosting on the North ridge of Tryfan. Bristly Ridge was good fun. It was very busy – a half term Saturday. Above Snowdon we saw paragliders. Good visibility and great views – good weather all day long.
13-14/7/95 Hill walking by night – Snowdon Horseshoe in the dark
J. Parkinson and I, at this point in time busy people working for a living and raising kids, wanted to get away hillwalking, but we found that the time could not so easily be spared. After our successful overnight assault on Nevis of the previous year, we thought we might resolve this conundrum (and spend less time away) by the simple expedient of doing some classic hill-walking overnight. On this occasion we did the Snowdon Horseshoe; on another, we made a noteworthy attempt on Idwal Skyline, and bailed after rather too long spent on Tryfan – of which more later.
We left Derby at 7.35pm. We parked at Pen-y-pass and started up the PYG track at 11.30pm. The drive in along the coast road had taken 2 hrs 40 minutes. There was some moonlight on the climb up to Crib Goch. We had of course deliberately chosen a clear night as near as was practical to full moon. I walked in up the PYG track, and out along the Miner’s Track, in trainers, only using big boots for the actual route itself.
Unfortunately the moon disappeared behind clouds and our traverse of Crib Goch was accomplished in darkness without benefit of moonlight. It was windy; both of us found Crib Goch technically very demanding in the dark. Scary, in fact.
Up and over Crib-y-ddysgl, up the railway and onto the summit, which lost it’s cloud cap only while we were there, about 3a.m. We found that route-finding on the ridge was impossible by torchlight; there was no way of looking ahead. The light of dawn started to appear as we crossed from Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) to Y Lliwedd. As we descended from Y Lliwedd, there was beautiful, transcendent morning light. We were back at Pen-y-pass at 6.40am. Seven hours on the hill.
On another occasion – I can’t find any paper notes for this but I remember doing it – we decided on an attempt on Idwal Skyline in the dark. We picked a moonlit night of course, and set off from Derby, arrived in Snowdonia, parked up at Milestone Buttress, and set off up the North Ridge of Tryfan.
The North Ridge…what we hadn’t bargained for, what we had not implicitly understood, was some basic astronomy. The moon shines from the same direction, more or less, as the sun. It is never found in the north in the Northern hemisphere. I ought have known this, having worked at or near the equator and seen the rather odd spectacle of the moon being DIRECTLY overhead – something you’ll never see the UK. Ever tried climbing the North Ridge of Tryfan in the dark? Don’t. A fit party might climb the North Ridge from the road to the summit in slightly over an hour. I’ve done it many times, summer and winter, in between 70 and 90 minutes. It took us three hours. That was a salutory lesson. Wisely we opted not to climb Bristly Ridge. We descended to Bwlch Tryfan and from there straight back down to the road.
2/1/97 Helvellyn from Greenside, winter
J. Parkinson and I left Glenridding at 9.15am, and we were back by 4.30pm after an absolutely exquisite day on the hill, taking advantage of a lucky weather window. Soft snow prevailed throughout except above 3000′, where the snow was a good deal harder. The snow at lower level could have been heavy going, but it wasn’t too deep.
Visibility was remarkable. All the Pennines, the hills of Galloway and even the Three Peaks of Yorkshire were in clear sight, as were the gas production platforms in Morecambe Bay.
Crampons and ice-axe were barely necessary on the final climb onto the shoulder of Helvellyn, but provided that extra bit of traction and security. It was a busy mountain; we had a good chat over some pleasant lunch on the summit, with quite a few folks.
The drop down onto Striding Edge was very steep but not yet hard snow. Moreover, a previous mountaineer had already cut good steps. Descent was not easy but by no means technically difficult. As we went along Striding Edge a fast-moving front of mist came over the hills, destroying the visibility for an hour or so. This cleared as we descended to Red Tarn. On the walk-out down to Greenside Mine, it began to snow. Behind us over Catsty Cam was a sky of the most beautiful pink. We reached the car as darkness fell.
This was the time when we descended on the cafe in Glenridding and had chip butties, and ate nearly all of their butter.
31/5/05 Cairn Gorm and Beinn MacDui
After a trade show in Aberdeen, I picked up a rental car – a Megane – and drove west. I stopped at Alford to buy provisions at around 7p.m, and again in the Nethy Bridge area. I parked up at the lower car park on the Coire Cas road, just above the tree line of the Queen’s Forest, and pitched my tent in an Eden of diverse vegetation down by the stream, some half mile from the car.
Next day, it was gloomy. From my camp in the rough ground, I slogged up into Coire Cas, taking a steady pace, arriving at the Ptarmigan around 11a.m (after a start at 8.23a.m) and at the summit of Cairn Gorm a while after that. On the summit I looked at the automated weather station, and had a chat on the mobile with a friend of mine – in order to make him jealous.
From there to Ben Macdui took a long time, with some close compass work in dense mist, and even some use of the GPS. An added complexity in this area, is that the map grid reference eastings and northings can be very similar. Point 000000 is nearby in a small corrie above Loch Echtachan. It is possible to be somewhere like 981983 and confuse eastings and northings.
It probably wouldn’t matter in clear weather. But the mist came down and I had to cross a large and very old snowfield, in what became effectively near white-out conditions. I got in due course to the summit of Ben Macdui, and more compass work brought me to the cliffs, which could not be missed. Thence to the right down the ridge, into the valley. This was a wild and deserted place. I camped at Dunbeg Bridge or thereabouts, and I experienced some difficulty in fording the river, which cost me half an hour backtracking to the bridge. It was pouring with rain and I was bone tired, though happy enough, after a hill day of eight and a half hours. I met four people on the hill all day – it was mid-week.
It rained on and off all night, and I was a little dismayed to find on this second night under canvas, that my tent was still soaking wet on the outside in the morning. I’d had difficulty sleeping because of light, and because of sore hips. I took brufen in the morning, also to help with my feet. So after a wet strike, a little before 8a.m., I started off up the Lairig Ghru. There was some heavy rain as I walked in, fortunately at my back. Up and over the pass was not so time consuming as I had thought it would be, and I was taking lunch around 1p.m at the Sinclair memorial at the foot of the north side of the pass, in a rare blast of sunshine. Thence across to the “Chalamain Gap” which is just that – a dry gap – and down to the car in pouring rain.
16/6/07 Tryfan and the Glyders
Myself and J. Parkinson made a good start from the Milestone Buttress around 10.30a.m. We climbed separately, each of us completely familiar with the route. The North ridge of Tryfan is one of the classic mountain scrambles of the UK; it needs little further description here. Rough rock and a widening vista as one rises above the A5 and the lake far below.
I reached the summit breathless after a little under two hours – recalling ruefully that when I first climbed this mountain nearly 25 years ago, it took me one hour and seventeen minutes from the road to the summit. When Jim arrived we paused to reflect on how often we had visited this well-loved summit. Since my first visit in the crisp, clear cold of late October in 1983, I’ve been on Tryfan at night, in winter conditions, and with at least four different parties on at least six occasions. Never alone mind.
Down then, to Bwlch Tryfan, which was like a railway station, and on upwards. Rather than sweating up the screes we climbed Bristly Ridge. The ridge has many towers, spurs and disappointments. One must be able to downclimb to avoid frustration and danger.
At the crux of the scramble we found ourselves climbing rock that was at best “Diff” (as in “Difficult” – the technical rock climbing jargon in the UK for “easy”) or possibly even “Moderate” (technical rock climbing jargon for a rock climb equivalent in difficulty to say, a child’s climbing frame or a steep ladder). But we were climbing free – unroped and unprotected. It’s the exposure that makes the difference: if you fall off here, however easy the climbing is, you die – if you’re lucky. No-one ever does fall off – I can’t think of any such fall from Bristly Ridge coming to my attention in the last 40 years. At one point we noticed that we were climbing above and to the left of a lot of folk who were roped and wearing climbing helmets. We became conscious that our womenfolk back home might take a dim view of our position. We had perhaps been pushing our luck, and we were were glad to reach the summit.
Then, along the tops in misty conditions and high winds, and down to the Devil’s Kitchen, as steep and gloomy a descent as there is anywhere, though spectacular. A bit like Rossett Gill but much more dramatic. And like in Rossett Gill, in the Devil’s Kitchen you’ve to be thankful you’re going downhill.
Thence a pleasant stroll past Idwal Slabs and the walk-out down to Idwal Cottage, where tame chaffinches ate crumbs from round our feet.
27/6/09 Great Langdale – a slow stroll up the Band
A four day holiday,a winding down, in the Lake District. I am in the Lakes, in Great Langdale, with my friend J. Parkinson, his wife, and an old school-friend of hers. On the Friday after a leisurely start we went very slowly up The Band, taking over two and a half hours to reach Three Tarns below Bow Fell. I was and had been somewhat blasé; I thought the weather would hold firm, but it did not. It broke big time, though no rain fell. My mountaincraft is shot to bits through lack of practice!
30/5/10 Snowdon via Crib Goch
My son and I went to North Wales and we had a tour de force Snowdon Horseshoe traverse. We set out what we achieved to do, which was to climb Snowdon via Crib Goch. I never saw the mountain so busy. There must have been a thousand people above the top of the Miner’s Track. We probably passed another thousand coming down the Miner’s Track, and on the whole route, only on the walk-in along the lower part of the PYG track, were we at any time more than twenty yards from another human being. So much for the solitude of the hills on a summer Sunday. W.H Murray would be turning in his grave.
I would have needed to pay for parking too. I tried and failed to park at the Pen-y-pass, perhaps should have known that this would not be possible mid-Sunday morning in summer. We had to park in a lay-by on the main road, and take a minibus to the top of the pass. I did not buy a parking ticket.
I confess I have never before climbed Yr Wyddfa on a Sunday! It has always been either mid-week or Saturday. Mind, times change in the eighteen years since my first ascent (in summer 1982 with A. Mackervoy) and hill-walking today is mighty popular. We got back to the site (itself a backup site since our first choice, the usual one opposite the Tyn-y-Coed hotel, was full) and we had mashed potatoes and steak cooked on a Trangia. A nice dinner for camp. Thence to Cobdens Hotel for a game of pool in the cave at the rear (deserted in this season) and a pint.
27/5/12 Askeval, Rum
There is no cloud in the sky, and it is somewhat hazy, and getting worse. It has not taken much effort to get up to this summit, just moderate care and plenty of rest and fluids – and a hat. On this hot Bank Holiday weekend in May, this is no place for the bareheaded. The view is stupendous – literally and not metaphorically beyond description. It will be better still at dusk when the air clears and the light takes on the delicacy of evening. A common camera can do no justice to the view; you would need a chopper full of IMAX camera to begin to do justice to it.
There is no single person on the mountain but myself. Today I doubt if there is a comparable mountain in all the UK of which that will be true. I know there at least half a dozen mountaineers hiking somewhere in the interior of Rum, because I saw them on the ferry yesterday, but for the moment I am alone.
I got back from my walk about 5.30p.m. Any longer and I should have been in trouble through lack of fluids – it was a very hot day. I lack the Ranulph Fiennes-like qualities needed to drive my body through damage in such circumstances (though my wife might disagree with that statement).
12/8/12 Coniston Old Man
Yesterday my wife and I drove through from Red Lodge in the Trent valley, to the Lakes. We stayed at High Grassings near Hawkshead, and had an OK dinner at the Queen’s Head in Hawkshead. Today a good walk up the Old Man of Coniston via Brown Pike and Dow Crag, starting by a long trek up the Walna Scar Road. There was a rain shower when we were on the top. It’s a long walk down through Goat Water and Lever’s Water and past the copper workings. This was the first time ever that my wife has joined me on a proper hillwalk.
7/8/14 Jacks Rake
Today to Stickle Tarn in bright sunshine. A slow start as my climbing companion was at that point in time a much less fitter man fit than I. From Stickle Tarn we walked round to the start of Jack’s Rake and climbed up it. I had climbed Jack’s Rake alone, with a big rucksack almost 25 years ago. I knew I could do it; I knew it could be done.
We succeeded, although my companion struggled with some of the simplest climbing moves: not because they were difficult, but because at point he lacked the strength – whether arm strength, leg strength or core body strength. It took twice as long as it would have had I done it alone. I’m happy to see he’s as a serious climber these days.
From the top we went to High Raise, and then back down to the top of Mickleden, and on home. That is to describe in a few lines, a long and pleasant afternoon’s hillwalking, for we were not home and dry until after 6pm. An eight hour day.
Then after a quick shower, into the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel for supper. Good solid tucker for £21 total for two us. A couple of pints of Lakeland lager at 5% left me feeling pleasantly p*ssed, and shivering with cold, though it was a fine evening.
26/6/15 Blencathra via Sharp Edge
To Lancaster from Red Lodge, leaving at just after 9a.m and arriving at the University at 11.25a.m. Much heavy traffic round Stoke and a stop for coffee at Charnock. Great to see my son Nat. We set off forthwith for the Lakes taking the Kirkstone Pass – because we could. We stopped briefly near Aira Force, but had no change for car park fees levied by the National Trust – £5 for two hours. We’d bought lunch from the corner shop in Patterdale. We drove through to Scales and set off up Blencathra at about 2pm. Nat hared off ahead of me in fine fettle; the weather was good.
As we got into the corrie of Blea Tarn, the weather broke big time, and our scramble up Sharp Edge was lethal. Conditions were very greasy and slippery underfoot. The mist was down, and for a time it rained quite heavily. Nat struggled with confidence and technique in foot and hand placement, and we got up Sharp Edge only after long meditation and careful consideration on his part, and gentle coaxing, on mine. In any case, to withdraw from Sharp Edge in those conditions would have been even more – much more – hazardous than going on. An ascent of the Sharp Edge of Blencathra is no mean achievement in ANY conditions.
So on and up we went and soon finished. We were further encouraged by three friendly men making their way slowly up the ridge with much talk and laughter.
After the summit we descended through pleasant afternoon sunshine to the car, and drove directly to Honister Hause YHA. We checked in and had the cup of tea we as Englishmen had been desiring for some time. I saw that Youth Hostels are now licensed. Supper was steak (for me) and Cumberland Sausage (for Nat) at the Fish Hotel in Buttermere, taken outside, on a very clear and pleasant evening.
Next day, it turned out that Nat had slept poorly, but I was fine. We went to the Honister slate mine, which was an inspiring and excellent experience, good value for money. Thence a walk from Seathwaite, Borrowdale, and on up to Taylorgill Force and back.
The walk back down was enlivened, as I recall, by having to provide technical and moral assistance to a group of young DofE bronze expedition hikers who had been sent this way by their teachers, who clearly knew nothing of the route at all. The main route over Styhead lies on the left bank of Taylorgill Force going uphill. There is a path down the right bank; you would have to know from experience that it is over very steep ground above rapids. A very close reading of the high scale 1:25000 map does tell you that, but anyone might miss that. They had made neither a proper recce visit nor a close reading of the map. They had no idea what they were doing sending Bronze DofE students with big rucsacs along such a route. I had to hold my tongue when we got down and the concerned teachers saw us and asked if we had seen their charges. We told them we had; the youngsters were safe, if shaken. I said nothing more: it’s not worth it.
Thence, tea in the Scafell Hotel, and then back to Lancaster. Supper we took burgers at Oscar’s Wine Bar in the centre of town – good service, good burgers, a good trip.
15/8/15 A walk above Osterbo Fjellstove in the Aurlandsdalen, Norway
By bus from Flam to Osterbo, this cost about Nkr 75. The coach ran empty through amazing scenery to a place called Vassbyggdi, whereupon it filled nearly full of Norwegian hikers. Then the road ran through a series of mountain tunnels until we emerged into the upper part of the Aurland valley – Aurlandsdalen. It resembled North Wales or parts of the Lake District, but with more trees, better waterfalls, and the scale of the place was much greater. You could see at height there was still 2-3% snow coverage.
We dropped bags off at the Fjellstove (hostel) and walked up Langsdalen (the long dale – rather like “Langstrath” in the Lakes). The route was a winding path through rich woods with again, a wide variety of wild flowers and a much broader selection of flora than you would see in the UK. The route opened out above the woods, passing a hydroelectric dam. The stream was no mountain beck in the British sense but a completely unfordable torrent. We curved round to the right and higher into a biting wind, though it be mid-August, and crossed several snowfields before arriving at a falls by some huts. There was a footbridge. The falls were comparable with High Force on the Tees, though perhaps half the height. The river – for such it was by British mountain standards – could not be forded safely at all, even in mid-August at low water. I doubt if there a half dozen such mountain rivers in all the UK, and this is just a side valley into a side valley in fjord Norway, and quite unremarkable as such.
We walked higher, towards a further series of falls, but Mrs H did not feel well and was not really that comfortable with the weather, the wildness and the biting wind, so we retreated about 1pm.
Our dinner that night – in a kind of upmarket youth hostel atmosphere – was cream of mushroom soup, followed by sliced reindeer with brussels sprouts and boiled potatoes with a very good gravy, and something rather like cranberry sauce. For dessert, “cloudberry” parfait or ice-cream. She had two glasses of a very sweet Reisling at the reasonable rate of NKr 59 (about £6.50) per glass, and I had a pint of one of the local Aegir brews. The waitress offered us seconds of the food. Though it was a pukka restaurant in a pukka hotel the place felt like a youth hostel more than anything else, complete with common rooms full of old books including R.D Blackmore novels in Norwegian, and board games, Dotted round the walls were diverse stuffed animals including several foxes, a brown bear in the common room and an enormous polar bear in the dining room.