1987-1989

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.

On Tryfan’s North Ridge, winter

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.

Y Garn and Llyn Idwal from Tryfan, over-exposed, February 1988

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.

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