24 Peaks – Day Two

So Day Two of the 24 Peaks Challenge began pretty much the same way as Day One had – with a 4am start! The one saving grace was that the herd of elephant children who had plagued our rest the night before, were probably all as tired as we were, and so everyone at least got a quiet night, unless anyone in the dorm heard me snore that is!! We were also two people down for day two – Peter and Margaret had decided overnight that there were much better ways of celebrating their anniversary than slogging away relentlessly up 24 peaks in two days – and I couldn’t blame them for that!

With breakfast and making sandwiches out of the way for the remaining six by about 5am, the trip to the drying room to pick up our kit revealed that it was every bit as damp as it was the night before. I was immensely glad that I had brought with me a spare pair of boots, even if mine were pretty dry-ish. The rest of my stuff though was sodden and heavy, not a good start to the day, even if the forecast didn’t look too bad – “early cloud, followed by lightning storms in the afternoon” sounded good compared to the monsoons the day before.

Stepping out of the hostel the cloud was low, but everything was unbelievably calm – and so incredibly beautiful that I could have stood there forever.

Looking south over Windermere, 8th June 2014, 5.30am....

Looking south over Windermere, 8th June 2014, 5.30am….

....and westwards....

….and westwards….

....and to the North West.

….and to the North West.

I find that the Lake District like this is the most majestic, captivating, and inspiring place almost of all places I have ever been. This was to be ultimately such an utterly fabulous day for beautiful Lake District vistas, that I simply never wanted it to end. How lucky I am!

And so before I knew it, we were back in the bus, this time heading for the North Eastern fells, and principally those on the Helvellyn range. Alighting around 6.20am at the top of the Kirkstone Pass, we headed straight up the steep ascent of Red Screes, a veritable stiff pull if ever there was one. Unfortunately however, we were already well into the cloud by the top of the Kirkstone Pass, so the climb up was about as unscenic as it could ever have been.

Ascending the steep drag up Red Screes - at least it wasn't raining!

Ascending the steep drag up Red Screes – at least it wasn’t raining!

Once at the top of Red Screes, we ascended over boggy moorland before starting the climb up towards Dove Crag and Hart Crag, which were fairly swiftly despatched. Passing Hart Crag we realized that we were now more than half way to our challenge (i.e. 13 peaks down out of 24), but realized in the same moment that there was still a very long way to go.

The next ascent was that of Fairfield, at the top of the horseshoe range at the top of the Ambleside valley. Fairfield is a fairly flat top, but features no pictures here, and afforded no views, as the cloud was so low and thick as to render our eyes almost useless. In fact we had to navigate off Fairfield to find the path down (or Matt and Kate, our guides did anyway, doing a double compass navigation to be sure).

There then followed a huge and steep descent down to Grizedale Tarn, where we had a break for lunch to get some energy before attempting the Helvellyn range, and also something quite remarkable happened – the cloud lifted!

Sescending towards Grizedale Tarn - hard work, but helped by the views at last!

Descending towards Grizedale Tarn – hard work, but helped by the views at last!

Up until this point, everyone had been pretty cold still, as we were all clad in yesterday’s soggy waterproofs, and it was dreary and windy inside the clouds. The lifting of the cloud made everyone feel better, and the realization that once up the steep climb of Dollywagon Pike, our next objective, we would be on the tops for a while, and be able to rattle off peaks number 14 to 18 in reasonably quick succession.

The climb up Dollywagon Pike was fairly hard work, but with the brightening skies was so much more enjoyable than almost anything we had done so far. The wind by now had also picked up too, and it was really gusty and strong by the time we reached the summit at around 2,800 feet.

Dollywagon Pike summit – don’t ask what we were doing!

From the top of Dollywagon Pike, the next four objectives were almost laid out in front of us (helped so significantly by the fact that we could now actually see!), and we quickly notched off Nethermost Pike, and Helvellyn, passing by a great view of Striding Edge and Ullswater.

The view towards Helvellyn, centre in the distance, and Nethermost Pike (foreground) from Dollywagon Pike.

The view towards Helvellyn, centre in the distance, and Nethermost Pike (foreground) from Dollywagon Pike.

View towards Ullswater from Nethermost Pike

View towards Ullswater (far left) from Nethermost Pike

I want to stop and mention the above picture. It was taken for me by Lucilia as my camera was feeling a bit wet and sorry for itself at this point, so she kindly obliged when I asked her to do so. The above view, whilst probably fairly innocuous looking, is I think my favourite view in the whole of the Lakes.

There are prettier vistas for sure, but for me it captures so many things: A part view of Striding Edge, the first walk I ever took in the Lake District as a teenager; the side of Helvellyn, my favourite Lake District mountain; Ullswater, such a fabulous unspoilt lake, and my favourite lake too; and down below the villages of Glenridding and Patterdale, evocative of magical and never to be forgotten childhood memories of my first treks to this beautiful land. The view is also one almost the same as a picture I have hanging in my house by Alfred Heaton Cooper, my favourite artist, and a Lakeland stalwart whose studio sits a few miles away in Grasmere, about which I will wax lyrical another time!

I stood here at this point and had a mixture of feelings from wanting to punch the air for joy, and tears of almost unbridled emotion (yes, really!) which well up in me even now as I write about this a week and a half later. That is what this place does for me, and more. That is why I go back, and why I will always go back to this corner of the Lakes.

Anyway, on with the walk :)…..after a very windswept summit of Helvellyn, we headed north to Browncove Crags, before doubling back up the slopes we had just left to summit Lower Man (actually a subsidiary peak of Helvellyn) at 3,034 feet. This brought us to 20 peaks, and by now we knew (or I did, anyway!) that we would finish our challenge. It was a great feeling, and put a renewed spring in my step. In fact Matt, Ian and I literally fell-ran down the ridge off Lower Man towards the Dodds, which was totally invigorating.

From here there were really only one or two final pushes involved to get us up to the Dodds range, a much grassier domain than we had had previously been on, and a nice way to finish (well nearly anyway) our weekend. We first ascended Whiteside, and then Raise (peaks 21 and 22) in quick succession, before heading for the Dodds themselves. There are three Dodds I believe, but we only needed to do the two closes ones, being Stybarrow Dodd and Watson’s Dodd. And we’d done it! Watson’s Dodd is a bit of anti-climactic finish I have to say, if only because it is a flat, marshy, fairly featureless drag, but nonetheless it is 2,588 feet high, and our final objective, so it is forever memorable!

A celebratory moment atop Peak 24, Watson's Dodd.

A celebratory moment atop Peak 24, Watson’s Dodd.

And then all we had to do was descend, which we did via Thirlmere to our waiting minibus. There was still a long trek out, and this took us the best part of an hour and a half in what was finally bright and warm sunshine, a very fitting and perfect end.

In the car park at the edge of Thirlmere we met up with Jim our driver, and also Peter and Margaret, who joined us for champagne celebrations and a medal ceremony, which was a nice touch indeed.

Everyone happy and descended with medals to show for our endeavours.

Everyone happy and descended with medals to show for our endeavours.

So the stats for our second day on the hills were 14.9 miles covered, and 5,200 feet of climbing. A bit less than we thought we’d have to do, but still a lot overall, around 11,000 feet and 30 miles in what turned out to be around 22 hours on the hills:

http://www.strava.com/activities/151186482

I have to say that Global Adventures were brilliant throughout, with great organization and communications before and throughout the event. Both of the guides too were excellent, and allowed us to enjoy our weekend to the max, whilst providing exactly the right level of support when needed on the hills themselves, including the priceless navigation in the direst of conditions on Day One.

The route chosen for day two was the best walk I have ever done in the Lake District, and as I may have alluded to earlier, I’ll most definitely be back 🙂

 

 

24 Peaks – Day One

On the weekend of the 7th/8th June, I took part in the ’24 Peaks Challenge’, an organised/guided trek over 24 Lakeland peaks all over 2,400 feet, inside 24 hours. The challenge is spread over two days, with approximately 12 hours of trekking each day, and 10 mountains the first day, followed by 14 the next. The event was run by Global Adventure Challenges, an organisation I hadn’t come across before, but who were great, and I’d certainly use again.

The weekend was supposed to start by being picked in Penrith railway station at 5.30 on the Friday afternoon, but unfortunately a lorry fire on the M6 and a massive 15 mile tailback put paid to that for me and for most of the other attendees. In the end I was instructed to drive straight to our base for the weekend, the Youth Hostel in Ambleside. I got there after about a seven hour drive, which should have taken four.

We were eight people altogether, and all met over an initial drink. Sener (who was to have made a wise choice by electing to not stay in the Youth Hostel but in the 4 star hotel next door – more of that later), David, Peter, Ian, Jane, Lucilia, Margaret, and yours truly. No-one had met anyone else before with the exception of Peter and Margaret, who were there to celebrate their 40th Wedding Anniversary! After everyone had assembled, and all moaned about the same traffic jam that I was stuck in, we got fed and settled in before our briefing for the next day.

View over the north side of Windermere towards the Langdales upon arrival at the YHA.

View over the north side of Windermere towards the Langdales upon arrival at the YHA.

Our guides from Global Adventures were Kate and Matt, and our driver Jim. The very comprehensive briefing told us, amongst other things, we needed to be ready with our boots on at 4.45 the next morning, so that meant a very early night for us all. The forecast for the next day didn’t look good, with the prospect of “rain, with monsoon-like outbursts”. I was glad I had all of my waterpoofs with me, and a spare pair of boots too just in case for day 2.

Whilst Ambleside Youth Hostel is in a beautiful location on the shores of Windermere, and with great facilities, unfortunately, youth hostels aren’t really known for being the most quiet of environments, and this one was no exception. In the dormitory above our room were an unknown number of children, who couldn’t have made more noise had they been an unknown number of elephants. I feared at one point in time that the ceiling would come in, or the whole building would collapse, under the barrage of crashing around that was going on. Two of our dorm went to try to ‘have a quiet word’, but it didn’t seem to do an awful lot of good. I normally sleep like a corpse, but this was just impossible. Kids will be kids, I suppose!

The next morning came around way too quickly, but we were all soon tucking into breakfast rolls and cereal, and making packed lunches, ready for the day ahead. Stepping initially out of the Youth Hostel at about 5.30am, the weather was glorious, and the lake serene and calm. The calm before the storm perhaps? We would find out……

 

Ambleside Youth Hostel - a really great location overall - I stayed there only once before, when I was 16!

Ambleside Youth Hostel – a really great location overall – I stayed there only once before, when I was 16!

After a half hour drive to the Langdale Valley, we emerged in warm and sultry conditions (T shirts in fact, weird for the Lake District at all, never mind before 6am), and began our first climb of the day, up ‘The Band’, which would lead us to the first of the 24 peaks, Bowfell. Approximately two hours later, everyone stood proudly just below 3,000 feet, and were happy that a.) it was one down, and ‘just 23’ to go, and b.) that the rapidly approaching clouds from the South had not as yet unleashed anything in our direction.

Ready to go! About 5.55am looking towards the Band, and Bowfell, unseen in picture.

Ready to go! About 5.55am looking towards the Band, and Bowfell, unseen in picture.

And looking back down from the top of the Band towards the Langdale valley.

And looking back down from the top of the Band towards the Langdale valley.

Over the course of the next two peaks, Esk Pike and Great End, the weather began dominating evertyone’s conversation, with some people saying “we might just be lucky you know”, and others including me (I’m a pessimist when it comes to these things) expecting a bit of a bath. I’ve been up in Cumbria enough times to know that it isn’t called the Lake District for nothing. I also knew that we were in very close proximity to Seathwaite (which would be the finishing point of day one) and this is the wettest place in England, with an annual rainfall of about 125 inches. It was going to rain!

And towards the top of Bowfell, looking towards Scafell Pike in the distance.

And towards the top of Bowfell, looking towards Scafell Pike in the distance.

By the time we got to Allen Crags, peak 4, one of the guides, Matt, suggested we all get our waterproofs on, “now”. At first even I thought twice, if only as I hate having waterpoofs on on warm days unless I really have to. Within less than five minutes however (I guess he’s not a guide for nothing :)) it had started. And it started with hail, and with massive cold gusts of wind. Within five minutes more, despite having on now four layers of clothes, woolly hat, two pairs of gloves, and waterproof overtrousers, I was actually cold.

This is actually one of the last pictures I took all day, somewhere around Broad C

This is actually one of the last pictures I took all day, somewhere around Broad Crag, I think.

We all trudged on in the general direction (compasses out now for Kate and Matt) of Scafell Pike, England’s highest point, if now lost in the squall of relentless lashing rain and cloud that we were enveloped in. I began to think that our day would end at four peaks, and that the only thing to do from here would be to descend (and if I’d been on my own at this point I probably would have done), but we ploughed through it, thinking it may be just a shower or two. The next two peaks, Broad Crag, and Ill Crag, were memorable for the fact that I didn’t see either of them at any point, other than as piles of stones beneath my feet. The wind and rain were relentless and almost overpowering. I was beginning to already think that I didn’t have enough clothing with me.

Amazingly when we reached the gully just before the approach to the summit of Scafell Pike, the clouds suddenly lifted. Kate told us it was all due to ‘orographic lifting’ or something like that. Whatever it was, it was very strange, but very welcome, and we got to summit peak number 7 of the day without precipitation, and a part view to Wasdale Head way below. The view for me was significant, as in two weeks’ time I’d be approaching by that route in the middle of the night during the Three Peaks Challenge. I was already wishing that I only had three peaks to face this weekend, instead of another 16 being as wet as I already was.

Great Gable (right) and Green Gable from just below Scafell Pike

Great Gable (right) and Green Gable from just below Scafell Pike

 

Summit of Scafell Pike (excuse the slightly over the top celebration!), Peter, Margaret and Sener in foreground.

Summit of Scafell Pike (excuse the slightly over the top celebration!), Peter, Margaret and Sener in foreground.

Our guides, Kate and Matt, Scafell Pike - they were happy too!

Our guides, Kate and Matt, Scafell Pike – they were happy too! As you can see, we were all dressed appropriately for this nice June weather.

Thankfully the rain kept off as we descended by the corridor route towards Styhead Tarn and towards peak 8, Lingmell, where we stopped for a well-earned devouring of our packed lunches. As Styhead Tran approached however, this was the last view of anything we would have all day, and the rains came back in persistent and powerful anger.

The corridor route down from Scafell Pike towards Great Gable - definitely the last time my camera came out o

The corridor route down from Scafell Pike towards Great Gable – definitely the last time my camera came out of my bag!

The walk up Great Gable (one of my favourite mountains anywhere on this planet) was I can only describe as absolutely miserable. The rain hammered down, the wind was howling from the side (meaning rain just forced its way through your hood and down your neck and back), and the visibility was at best about five yards. Even cairns in front of you couldn’t be seen, and by the time we eventually made the top I was already mentally descended and anywhere else but there. Shame.

To get off of Great Gable and towards Windy Gap for the ascent of Green Gable was an exercise in brilliant mountain guiding from Matt and Kate. Armed with dual compasses, they got us down a steep scramble, through torrents of water, in a situation that would have otherwise have been perilous to say the least. I wouldn’t have been able to complete that part of the event with without them, it is as simple as that.

The final trudge up Green Gable was only slightly more pleasant than that of Great Gable, but only because it was shorter, and the wind was now behind us. Visibility was almost zero at times. I remember at one point seeing a poor dog walk past us. It looked like it had been practically drowned, and I only hope it got to find its owner and get a.) reunited and b.) spoilt rotten when they eventually got down. This weather was now for ducks only, and then brave and hardy ones at that.

Coming down the steep and slippy path back down to the far side of Styhead Tarn was an exercise in survival for most of the way, and I couldn’t wait to get down. The cloud level was practically below the tarn itself, although once we had passed this the cloud thankfully finally lifted, and by the time we had completed the further one and a half hour walk back to Seathwaite from here, the sun was practically out.

Everyone was back at the minibus by around 6pm, a long day since our early start, but happy that we had all got though it successfully, with ten peaks down, and ‘just fourteen to go’ the next day. The minibus took about an hour to get back to Ambleside, and sat in wet gear this wasn’t pleasant. Everyone was clearly exhausted too, and from what had been a lively day with lots of banter earlier on, I don’t think I heard anyone say a single word on the return journey. I sat and shivered, and was still shivering when back in the hostel by about 7.30pm.

Thankfully the showers in Ambleside Youth Hostel are magnificent, and I could have stood there under that hot steamy water for an hour or more. I can say that with the exception of the most memorable shower I ever had in my life (that which followed a week of grime up Kilimanjaro), this was probably the second most welcome. It just shows you that a day in June which started so warm can end up so different, and teaches you that you must always be prepared for bad weather in the mountains. I made a mental note after this day to always have one more layer with me than I think I might need, and have some more (or better) waterproof gloves too.

We were all glad when finally back to find that the Youth Hostel had a drying room, although unfortunately everyone else there had filled it full already, and it couldn’t cope with the amount of kit. I hung my stuff out anyway, hoping that by some miracle that by the time 4am the next day came around, it would have magically dried. I was to be disappointed….

Here are the stats from day one…..14.2 miles of ground covered, and 5,700 feet of ascent:

http://www.strava.com/activities/151189307

 

The 24 Peaks are getting too close!

Well next weekend is getting very close indeed. Like 5 days away close, and that is scary.

The reason for such trepidation is that on Friday I will head to the Lake District for the so-called “24 Peaks”. It is an event that I only came across a few months ago, and thought “why not?”, whilst right now I just find myself saying “why?”.

The challenge is to climb 24 peaks above 2,400 feet in the Lake District in 24 hours trekking time, but spread over two days. There are 36 miles of walking, plus around 13,000 feet of climbing, including Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England, a tough climb in itself, and others such as Great Gable, Helvellyn, and Bowfell.

http://www.24peaks.co.uk/challenge/challenge.htm

The full list is as follows, as modified for the route that I am taking through Global Adventure Challenges, the expedition leaders:

Day One: Bowfell, Esk Pike, Great End, Ill Crag, Broad Crag, Scafell Pike, Lingmell, Great Gable. Green Gable. About 18 miles of walking plus the climbing.

Day Two: Red Screes, Dove Crag, Hart Crag, Fairfield, Seat sandal, Dollywagon Pike, High Crag, Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn, Browncove Crags, Lower Man, Whiteside, Raise, Stybarrow Dodd, and White Stones. Again about 18 miles of walking.

Walks start both days at around 6am, following a minibus ride to the start, so 5am for breakfast both days in the bunkhouse.

I haven’t trained specifically for this, but am hoping that I have enough residual fitness to get me through it. I suppose having done the Yorkshire Three Peaks, the Welsh Three Peaks and a fair amount of other walking (I’ve just done 37 miles this weekend alone for example) should help a lot, but we will see.

I’ve done so far this year on my measured walks 227 miles and 33,800 feet of ascent. But that is since March. How much will that help me? Well some, for sure. I am set to find out though, and very soon.

I am maybe in for a shock…..

 

The Welsh Three Peaks – done

On the weekend of 17th and 18th May, an outstanding weekend was had. Accompanied by 11 work colleagues, a trip to do the “Welsh Three Peaks” was undertaken, and a massive success all round it was too.

The Welsh Three Peaks are Pen Y Fan, Cadair Idris, and Snowdon. The name is due to the fact that they are the highest peaks in South Wales, Mid Wales, and North Wales respectively, at 2,907ft, 2,930ft and 3,560 ft respectively. It was part of event know as the Snowdon 500 Welsh Three Peaks Challenge, and was a charity event in aid of Prostate Cancer. About 650 people took part, 150 on the whole three peaks, and 500 for just Snowdon on the Sunday.

Leaving work at around 3pm on the Friday afternoon, we hired a minibus for our adventures, and arrived in South Wales that evening at around 7pm.

It was to be a very long weekend, and with the assembly point for Pen Y Fan being 4.30am on the Saturday, we left our hotel in Merthyr Tydfil at 4am, having had not enough sleep from the previous night (despite a remarkably sensible amount of alcohol being consumed), but everyone made it just fine.

The crew assembling - 4.20am :O

The crew assembling – 4.20am :O

By literally 4.30 or so, everyone was walking the ‘motorway route’ up from the Storey Arms car park up past Corn Ddu to the summit of Pen Y Fan at 2,907 feet. It is an easy path, and blessed by ridiculously fine weather for Wales in May, everyone strolled up to the summit very easily. Here we all are, assembled just after sunrise at about 5.45am:

On the summit of Pen Y Fan at sunrise

On the summit of Pen Y Fan at sunrise

So from left to right we have: (back row) Lyndsay, Carmen, Liz, Simon, Eifion, Sophie, Kuldeep and James, and (front row) yours truly, Neil, Khilna and Mark.

This shot was taken just after sunrise looking east towards Brecon:

Looking down from the summit of Pen Y Fan just after sunrise

Looking down from the summit of Pen Y Fan just after sunrise – I’ll never make a photographer will I?

There are not many more beautiful things on this planet than seeing the sun rise from the top of a mountain, no matter which mountain. It makes the effort of getting there in the first place so worthwhile, and blessed with weather like we had, I counted myself very lucky to be there.

With everyone back down and in the minibus by about 7am, we began the 2 and half hour journey up through Wales towards Cadair Idris, at the southern end of Snowdonia, and near the west coastline of Wales. Despite a lack of sleep, and no sausage sandwiches (a promised “burger van” never materialised), we had a good journey up and arrived just before 10am.

Suncream at the ready, and sandwiches packed, it is time to leave the van behind again...

Suncream at the ready, and sandwiches packed, it is time to leave the van behind again…

We took the “Minffordd Path” horseshoe route, the first time I had done this, and great route it is too. It is a ridge walk in the main, at about 7 or 8 miles, and tough going in places too, especially as hot as it was.

Beginning the climb up the Minffordd path at Cadair Idris

Beginning the climb up the Minffordd path at Cadair Idris

And the summit eventually comes into view....

And the summit eventually comes into view….just look at that sky – this is Wales!

The path up got fairly steep in places...

The path up got fairly steep in places…

...with some precipitous drops down from the ridge to the lake far below.

…with some precipitous drops down from the ridge to the lake far below.

Everyone made the summit at around 1.30pm or so, despite some false dawns (from me!) about how far, and around which corner, the summit actually was, and we earned a well deserved break for lunch.

At the summit of Cadair Idris, and a great spot it was too.

At the summit of Cadair Idris, and a great spot it was too.

Walking down from the summit, three of us (Neil, James and I) took a separate path to the summit of a subsidiary peak, Mynydd Moel, at 2,831 feet (well it would have been rude not to, as it was there in front of us), which was an easy walk, but afforded great views back to the summit of Cadair Idirs and the Barmouth Coast and the Irish Sea beyond.

Looking up to Cadair Idris from Mynydd Moel, the Irish Sea in the distance.

Looking up to Cadair Idris from Mynydd Moel, the Irish Sea in the distance.

The next shot puts in good perspective the ridge walk around the lake (Lyn Cau) and Cadair Idris itself:

Taken from just below the summit of Mynydd Moel, the horseshoe walk that we have just undertaken comes into view.

Taken from just below the summit of Mynydd Moel, the horseshoe walk that we have just undertaken comes into view.

And then the path down from here back towards the car park is pretty steep in places:

The steep path down to join the earlier path we came up on - hard going on the knees!

The steep path down to join the earlier path we came up on – hard going on the knees!

Having assembled all together again at about 5pm, we set out off up to our resting point for the evening in Caernafon, a further hour and a half drive, and about a 15 minute drive from Llanberis, from where we would start our ascent of Snowdon the next morning. After being well fed (for a Premier Inn anyway!) and after a couple of well deserved drinks, everyone hit the hay for a lie in until about 5.45am for the final leg of our journey.

Leaving Caernafon shortly before 7am in the end, we parked up in Llanberis for a bus to take us along with a number of other walkers on the Snowdon 500 to Pen Y Pass for our ascent of Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain at 3,560 feet. After some facing around for registration and the like, and a briefing on the bus, a somewhat colder and cloudier start to the day saw us start up the Pyg track at close to 8am.

Setting off up the Pyg Track, Crib Goch in the background.

Setting off up the Pyg Track, Crib Goch in the background.

Looking south over the Snowdonia National Park.

Looking south over the Snowdonia National Park.

As we got higher up the walk, the summit was unfortunately never to be seen, being shrouded in cloud the whole time.

Kuldeep tries to imagine how big or how far the summit is away....

Kuldeep tries to imagine how big or how far the summit is away….

The cloud just kept coming in....

But the cloud just kept coming in….

...until finally we made it to the top!

…until finally we made it to the top!

By the time we reached the top, the cloud was thick, and it was windy and cold. In fact for those of you who have stood on top of Snowdon before, the cloud was so dense that you couldn’t even see the cafe (a good thing, I hear most of you say :)).

After a refreshing cup of tea (well the cafe is there, so we might as well use it) and a regrouping, we set off back down the Llanberis path this time towards out minibus and the end of the journey. The Llanberis path is a 4 mile windy path that follows the train (yes, really) line, and so is neither steep or very spectacular.

The Lake at Llanberis, and our finishing point, come finally into view.

The Lake at Llanberis, and our finishing point, come finally into view.

Upon reaching our final destination, the Royal Victoria Hotel, we were presented with a certificate and managed a very refreshing drink before boarding the minibus for the five or so hour drive back to Milton Keynes.

At the finishing point, with our finishers T shirts.

At the finishing point, with our finishers T shirts.

All in all it was a fabulous weekend. I did manage to mar mine very slightly by walking into a sign in the car park shortly before we left, and cutting my head, but I have always been a bit of a klutz!

Altogether we climbed around 7,500 feet, and walked around 21 miles or so – the details are attached below from my Garmin.

http://www.strava.com/activities/142011475

http://www.strava.com/activities/142235311

http://www.strava.com/activities/142586565

And finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, we managed to raise in doing this over £3,000 for Prostate Cancer Research. The sponsorship page is still open at the time of writing, so if you can, please give us a little more if you can? Thank you 🙂

http://www.justgiving.com/Pinnacle3PeakChallenge

My next adventure is the “24 Peaks” in the Lake District in two weeks time – which I fear at 36 miles and 15,000 feet is going to hurt! Until then……

 

 

Brecon Four Peaks – done.

So I did it, as suggested in my previous post. The Brecon Four Peaks is ticked off the list, good and proper.

It nearly, I have to say, didn’t happen at all, due to nearly not being able to find the starting place. Having looked at the map the night before, I knew that I had to head through a place called Pant, just north of Merthry Tydfil, and then head north towards the Neuadd reservoir. However, if I hadn’t have known the name of the reservoir, I’d be lost altogether still. Pant is pants!

You would think, that with a place like the Brecon Beacons, that there’d be signposts somewhere wouldn’t you? Well, there aren’t – none at all in fact. I drove around all manner of housing estates in Pant and Merthyr Tydfil (not a pretty place I have to say, sorry :o) and just guessed in the end as to which road might head north.

After miles of twisty single track roads with virtually no passing places, I eventually found a sign at the side of the road saying “Neuadd”, and something else in Welsh, and so I pulled in. Thankfully there were a few other cars in there with people donning walking boots, otherwise I would have just thought I was lost in the woods. Maybe the people of Wales just don’t want people/tourists to find their nice mountain paths? It doesn’t make sense to me at all I’m afraid, so if anyone has any insight into this, I’d love to hear from you.

Anyway, after setting out with fullish daypack (my fairly recently acquired Osprey Talon 33 – which I am really pleased with) and equipped with food and drink aplenty, I followed the good folk of Wales (or wherever they had come from) up towards the hills in the distance. Seeing what I took to be Pen Y Fan in the distance (it wasn’t, but I wasn’t far off, it was Corn Ddu, it’s neighbour), I set off up to the nearest ridge line, a fairly good pull but not too long. It took me up to about 2,000 feet, from where I could walk towards the approaching hills and see all before me.

Start of the walk near the Neuadd reservoir, the Brecons in the distance.

Near to the start of the walk near the Neuadd reservoir, the Brecons in the distance.

The day was a very dull one as far as weather was concerned, and around five or six degrees C at the start I’d say. I started with a heavy fleece on in fact, unusual for me, but I soon got warmed up when walking, as I always do.

Looking back down towards the Neuadd Reservoir....

Looking back down towards the Neuadd Reservoir….

And then towards the peaks - Corn Ddu on the left, Pen Y Fan in the middle, and Cribyn on the right.

And then towards the peaks – Corn Ddu on the left, Pen Y Fan in the middle, and Cribyn on the right.

From the ridge the walk was all very straightforward. The path eventually led right to Corn Ddu and Pen Y Fan, separated by a very short and well trodden path, and both summits were a simple short climb to rocky flat tops.

A closer view of Corn Ddu and Pen Y Fan (right).

A closer view of Corn Ddu and Pen Y Fan (right).

On the top of Pen Y Fan, the highest point in South Wales.

On the top of Pen Y Fan, the highest point in South Wales.

The view from Pen Y Fan towards Cribyn (foreground) and Fan Y Big (just over and beyond from Cribyn).

The view from Pen Y Fan towards Cribyn (foreground) and Fan Y Big (just over and beyond from Cribyn).

The two summits both duly done in short order, I thought I would get some ascent and descent in by heading down to the ‘motorway’ path. This is the path down from Pen Y Fan to the Story Arms Outdoor Centre, the path most frequently used up the mountain. This took about 45 minutes down and precisely 56 minutes back up again.

The path back up Pen Y Fan from the Storey Arms centre.

The path back up Pen Y Fan from the Storey Arms centre.

From Pen Y Fan I went down and up to both Cribyn, and Fan Y Big. Whilst neither are as high as Pen Y Fan, both have steep ascents, if not overly long, but both make you pause to ‘admire the view’ whilst you are on your way up!

Pen Y Fan and Corn Ddu as seen from the top of Cribyn.

Pen Y Fan and Corn Ddu as seen from the top of Cribyn.

And finally Cribyn, Pen Y Fan, and Corn Ddu, as seen from the top of Fan Y Big.

And finally Cribyn, Pen Y Fan, and Corn Ddu, as seen from the top of Fan Y Big.

At the top of Fan Y Big, perched out onto a ledge with what appears to be a 1,000 foot drop immediately below it, is the so called ‘diving board’ (pictured above). No-one will know whether I was brave enough to stand on top of it or not, except for me 🙂

With my limbs and faculties all happily in one piece, I then headed back down the other side of the valley back towards the reservoir and my car.

It was a really good walk, and I’d love to go back there again. I covered about 15 miles altogether, and did about 4,400 feet of ascent. Details are here:

http://www.strava.com/activities/136895580

And so finally, this weekend, I’m off to Wales again! This time it is for the Welsh Three Peaks Challenge. We will do Pen Y Fan early on the Saturday (like 4.30am early), and then drive to mid Wales to do Cadair Idris (which is about a six hour romp). We will then drive to Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain, which we will do at about 7am the next morning. Altogether it is just shy of 3,000m of ascent (9,900 feet) and about 21 miles. I’m taking 12 work colleagues with me in a minibus, so it should be a great adventure, and hopefully a lot of fun. We are also raising money for a cause close to my heart (Prostate Cancer), and so if you are able to, please sponsor us at the link below. Many thanks!

http://www.justgiving.com/Pinnacle3PeakChallenge

 

The Brecon Four Peaks

Well this could be my shortest blog post ever, if only as I don’t have time to write it up. This is because, having just got home from work (it’s 8.20pm on a Friday evening), I’ve decided to do the ‘Brecon Four Peaks’ tomorrow.

I decided to do this because a.) I’m looking for somewhere to go over the weekend and I need some proper hills, b.) there are proper hills there, c.) they are about the closest proper hills (about three hours away) to where I live, and d.) I’ve never been there before. Oh, and e.) I’d like a recce of Pen Y Fan before I go and attempt the Welsh Three Peaks in two weeks time. Finally f.) Pen Y Fan itself is only about a three hour walk, and so I thought I’d combine it with something a bit longer 🙂

I’d never, until about 12 minutes ago, heard of the ‘Brecon Four Peaks’ before (I suppose that should have been point g.) above), and having just google the Brecons, it came up with this as a suggestion.

http://www.walkingbritain.co.uk/walks/walks/walk_b/2074/

It is 11 miles, and consists of Pen Y Fan, Corn Du, Fan Y Big, and Cribyn. Doesn’t sound too taxing, but “why not” is all I can say. I’ll be off at about 6 in the morning, probably.

Oh and there is a place near the top of Fan Y Big called “The Diving Board”. Best not get too close to the edge :O

The Diving Board, Fan Y Big..

The Diving Board, Fan Y Big..

That’s all 🙂

Have a great Bank Holiday Weekend.

The Yorkshire Three Peaks!

So here I am for only the second time in my life in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. For those who don’t know, the Dales are at the westernmost fringe of Yorkshire, the largest county in England, and border Cumbria, home to the Lake District. The Dales are essentially valleys, and there are many caves and hills too to punctuate the landscape. A very rural area, some of the Dales have become rightly famous for all manner of means, including Wensleydale for its cheese, and a number of dogs too, including Airedale.

I am here of course for the Yorkshire Three Peaks, but it is such a shame to be anywhere and not look around you and appreciate the area itself for what it is. Arriving last night after a long drive from Buckinghamshire (made considerably longer by a combination of Bank Holiday traffic and people making the most of the beautifully sunny weather), the first thing I did upon arrival was to have a further drive around the area to get my bearings.

Although this is early in the season as far as the total beauty of the landscape is concerned, the one thing that struck me more than anything else was the fact that we are still at the end of lambing season. There are lambs absolutely everywhere! – a truly joyous sight – there is little more pleasing sight in this country for me than a field of gambolling pristine white baby sheep. Bliss!

So my arrival in the evening was all about settling in for the next day. The trek was to start at 6.15am (I arranged an organised trip through the same company I am doing the subsequent Three Peaks Challenge with). I struggled to find accommodation in the area, and the nearest place I could find was a pub (what a shame!) called the Craven Heifer in the village of Stainforth, about 5 miles from the meeting point. The folk at the pub were wonderfully accommodating, illustrated by the following: Upon arrival they asked me what time I would like breakfast, to which I said that I was doing the Y3P, and that I would therefore need to leave at 6am. They immediately without hesitation said that they would have breakfast for me at 5.45, to which I thanked them hugely, knowing that a good breakfast, even at that time in the morning, was essential to get me through 26 miles.

The breakfast was indeed something to savour, and at precisely 5.58am I was out of the door on my way to the departure point in Horton in Ribblesdale, on a very cold morning, under stunningly cloudless skies, accompanied by a frost to boot. The temperature was -2 degrees.  A coach awaited us to take folks up to Chapel Le Dale, where the trek over to Ingleborough, the first hill, would start.

The churchyard in Horton in Ribblesdale, Pen-Y-Ghent in the background.

The churchyard in Horton in Ribblesdale, Pen-Y-Ghent in the background.

At Chapel Le Dale, about 100 trekkers had congregated, and people were being assigned into various groups, of about 10 each, and each group was accompanied by a mountain guide. I was put into Group 1, and was then asked if that was ok as it would be the fastest group. I said yes, and was pleased with this, if a little trepidatious, as I was not sure that my physical shape was going to be good enough to stand up to a quick pace. As I joined Group 1, I discovered that I was the only male, and my immediate thoughts (because I am just stupid sometimes) was to think “have I joined the right group, can this really be the fastest one?”

Well at 6.50 precisely we were underway. It was a straight shot up Ingleborough, and the path became fairly steep within the first mile. The idiocy of my presupposition that the group of ‘girls’ that I was with wouldn’t be the quickest group was immediately dispelled. Firstly they were steamrollering ahead of everyone, including the guide, and secondly I overheard one of them say that “this would be much easier if we could run it”. It turned out that they were mostly marathon runners from a running club in Cheltenham. Lessons to be learned from this little exercise are innumerable, but I learned my place, and suffice to say that it was at the back!

Ingleborough looks like the most innocuous and frankly easy of peaks, but it is far from it. There is a very steep, if not overlong, approach at probably 55 degrees or more. It certainly got the old heart pumping. The walk was all uphill to the summit at around 2,400 feet which came just under three miles in. We had been walking for exactly one hour. Our guide Trevor, of whom more later, told us that an hour and a half was the norm, so that made us all feel pretty good, and me pretty out of breath.

From near the summit of Ingleborough, looking back down towards Whernside and the Ribblehead valley.

From near the summit of Ingleborough, looking back down towards Whernside and the Ribblehead valley.

The weather by now was wonderfully clear, as it would stay pretty much all day as seen in the photograph above.

From the summit of Ingleborough, and after turning back on ourselves at the trig point, we set off on a long downhill meander towards Horton in Ribblesdale prior to hill two, which would be Pen-Y-Ghent.

The trig point on Ingleborough, adorned with QR code - an interesting blend of the old and the new.

The trig point on Ingleborough, adorned with QR code – an interesting blend of the old and the new.

On the way down to Horton, at about 7 and a half miles in, I spent some time talking to our guide Trevor. It turns out that he is a very keen cyclist, as well as a qualified mountain guide, and we got talking about all manner of cycling escapades. It turns out that he had once cycled from the tip of Argentina to Alaska, some 16,000 miles, over 10 months, amongst a number of other amazing achievements. he was quite inspirational, and his company was one of the highlights of an amazing day. Amongst other things that he does, Trevor runs a tandem hire business in Yorskhire too, called Times Two Tandems, so if you ever find yourself there and are looking for a great way to explore, do look him up – his link is here: http://www.timestwotandems.co.uk

After a ‘bio break’ and an energy bar or two, we then headed from Horton straight up to Pen-Y-Ghent. Again, this hill looks really innocuous from the road, but proved to be quite a good pull. Again it was about 2 and a half miles of ascent, to the summit at about 2,400 feet. The top was almost a scramble in places, and my hands were down a couple of times.

Towards the top of Pen-Y-Ghent - they have done a good job with paving these areas to help stop erosion.

Towards the top of Pen-Y-Ghent – they have done a good job with paving these areas to help stop erosion.

And getting closer now to the very summit.....

And getting closer now to the very summit…..

And finally on the very top, just to prove I made it :)

And finally on the very top, just to prove I made it 🙂

From the top of Pen-Y-Ghent, after taking lunch there in the well designed S-shaped shelter (it’s a bit of a windy spot), we headed down again for the long trek to Whernside.

Starting the long trek to Whernside (far right) - Ingleborough can be seen in the far (centre left) distance too.

Starting the long trek to Whernside (far right) – Ingleborough can be seen in the far (centre left) distance too.

Peak to peak, Whernside is about 12 miles from Pen-Y-Ghent, although only about 8 or 9 until you start your ascent from the Ribblehead viaduct. The Ribblehead viaduct is rightly famous for one of the UK’s most picturesque train journeys, on the Settle to Carlisle railway, and was built in around 1870.

The walk down is straightforward, and was nicely punctuated by a tea and cake stop from a minibus, provided by the organisers. Tea, I have to say, never tasted so good, and it was nice to have a brief rest and a sit down, even if I was itching to get up and go again before most of the others were.

Upon reaching the Ribblehead viaduct we began on a meandering path along the edge of the railway, which gradually then began to talk a big wide S turn to a ridge leading up Whernside itself.

Underneath the mightily impressive Ribblehead Viaduct.

Underneath the mightily impressive Ribblehead Viaduct, the lower slopes of Whernside in the distance.

The climb up Whernside is fairly long, but reasonably gentle, and well paved for most of the way. About two thirds of the way up though, the wind (which had been very gentle for most of the day) whipped up along the summit ridge to the point where it made just standing up a significant challenge. I have to say it was about the most brutal wind I have ever encountered, and had it been in our faces, I am sure that many people would not have actually made the top at all. As it was, the wind blew sideways, and so it was a mere balancing act, albeit still of some at times epic proportions.

The summit of Whernside is flat, and characterised by a wall with a trig point on the other side of the path from where the summit ridge is. The trig point is actually in the neighbouring county of Cumbria, from where I took this photograph:

From the trig point on top of Whernside. in the far distance below you can just make out the Ribblehead viaduct.

From the trig point on top of Whernside. in the far distance below you can just make out the Ribblehead viaduct way below.

As you can see from the above, I’ll never make a photographer, but never mind, at least it means something to me!

The descent from here was for the most part cold (everyone put at least two layers on at the top, and hats and gloves too), and steep, making for very achy legs after 24 or 25 miles of walking. The group split at this point, and everyone basically took the descent at their own pace, which for me is quite quickly. I find it more tiring to go slowly on a steep descent, and find I just have to go at my own pace. The guides had described the descent here as a bit of a staircase, and I’d say it is steeper than that for the most part. I’m just glad it was dry on the day I did it.

From the bottom of Whernside, there was about a flat mile through farmland back to the start at Chapel Le Dale, and the appropriately named Hill Inn. A very pleasant pint of Black Sheep Bitter later, and our certificates duly despatched, it was all over.

My finishers certificate - we were in the first group to finish on the day. 'Average' time is apparently around 12 hours.

My finishers certificate – we were in the first group to finish on the day. ‘Average’ time is apparently around 12 hours.

The tale of the tape then reads as follows: Mileage covered 25 miles, ascent about 1,700m, or 5,600 feet. Total time was 9 hrs 40 mins, of which just over 8hrs was actually walking time. Here are my stats from my Garmin:

http://http://www.strava.com/activities/132258938

My takeaways from the day are so many. For one, I was so lucky with the weather. The Yorkshire Dales can be incredibly wet, even in the summer, and this was just the most beautiful of days. Secondly, it was a great group of like minded and lovely people to be walking with, and that always helps a huge amount, especially when you are away on your own. Thirdly it gave me an appetite to come back to the Dales, it is a beautiful area and needs more exploring. Fourthly I met a great guide in Trevor, who provided me with advice, inspiration, and not just a desire to do more of this sort of thing, but also he actually helped me (inadvertently or not, who knows) to look at myself from a different angle. To question myself, and to push myself, and to realising that life is sometimes just too short. More of that in a later post perhaps…….

All I’ll say for now is that my next post will be about Yoga For Dummies! I’ll say no more for now 🙂

My final thanks go to The Three Peaks Challenge

http://www.thethreepeakschallenge.co.uk

who were brilliant throughout, from point of booking, to follow up emails, and all sorts of help along the way. I’m doing the Welsh Three Peaks, and also the National Three Peaks with them in the coming two months too, so it seems like I have chosen very well, which is a great thing. Look them up, if you are considering a challenge like this, and then book with confidence – you are in very safe and knowledgeable hands.