The nineties

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.

28/5/94 Ben Nevis by night

J. Parkinson and myself found ourselves in the lucky position of being drivers and delivering someone to Glen Nevis. We left Derby at 5.30pm on the Friday night, and in spite of heavy traffic on the A516 and on the M6, and road widening on what was becoming the M74, we made it to Glen Nevis, with two brief stops to change drivers, in 7hrs and 20 minutes. We said from the outset that if the weather was good, we’d try for Nevis.

After a beer and some curry at the campsite at the roadhead, we set off back to the Youth Hostel on a clear, starry night. There was a good moon, and when we started up the hill, around 2a.m, the sky was already lightening in the north-east.

The first two hours slogging our way up the shoulder to Halfway Lochan, was terrible, though there was silvery moonlight. I found it really tough going, in spite of the magical light. When we reached Halfway Lochan at 4 a.m I was feeling really weary. The sky to the north-east was a beautiful sight as dawn approached. A further 45 minutes or so of uphill slog saw us onto a deep snowfield. Jim’s progress up this snowfield, with neither ice-axe or crampons, was somewhat delicate to say the least. It was now fully light.

The snow continued all the way to the summit, which we gained at 5.30a.m. As we approached the summit I could see it was going to be special; I said to Jim “You’re about to see a manifestation of the glory of God” and it was true. Visibility as perfect, absolutely and literally awe-inspiring. Between us we shot more than 45 frames of superb scenery. [This would have been for me, one of the final episodes of great analogue photography before we started going digital a few years later. I cannot easily find the prints of this trip, though they must be somewhere in the house…]

On the summit it was extremely cold. We started down at 6a.m. High up, we met two persons who were wardens or advance scouts for an oncoming crowd of “Three peaks” walkers. Further down, even so early, came an absolute horde of walkers. To meet three hundred or more people coming up the hill before 8a.m is astonishing anywhere in the UK. Even a cursory examination of the way these people carried themselves and the way they were dressed, made me think that barely a quarter of them were equipped, whether literally or morally, for conditions on the summit.

We got back to Halfway Lochan a little before 7a.m, and stampeded down the path, running some of the way, to arrive at the Youth Hostel just before 8a.m. Thus, we could say we climbed Nevis in six hours.

Our return to Derby, however, seemed slower. Tired as we were, from an 8.30a.m start, with four breaks, home by 4.30p.m. We were gone from Derby 23 hours and 19 minutes. The drive north took 6 hours and 50 minutes plus ten minutes for driver change. The drive south took six hours plus two hours for much-needed breaks at Tyndrum, on Loch Lomondside, at Burnston on the M74 and at Forton on the M6.

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.

J. Parkinson on Striding Edge, January 1997

This was the time when we descended on the cafe in Glenridding and had chip butties, and ate nearly all of their butter.

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