Saturday, 25 November 2017

Mallorca Meet

Another winter draws in and Spanish limestone calls again.  Whenever I do this I’m struck by how easy it is, when you get down to it.  Two hours after landing at Palma we’re gearing up beneath delectable slabs in a quiet mountain valley, climbing high above the tree line to enjoy views across the flat plain that stretches south from the rocky northern spine of the island.  We lark about on hanging belays and confuse locals with our trad-influenced rope technique.  Grade targets are achieved early and the week stretches ahead of us full of hope, promise, and crimpy finger pockets.

Alice on Baba (4c) Kieran on Ses Tres Maries (6a+)

Alice has done a great job finding our villa, a luxurious spreading bungalow nicely hidden down a dusty side road, complete with a population of cats and a pool that we never use (this being a climbing holiday, after all).  It is the perfect base from which to explore, with nowhere more than an hour’s drive away.
            Top of the list of places to visit is the peninsula at the far northern tip of the island, a place of remote rugged beauty with shapely ridges running out into the sea, and home to an excellent collection of routes, clustered together to facilitate enjoyable levels of sociable fun.  Some superb lower-grade routes are topped off by some harder technical wall climbs, and my limestone head is clicking into gear. 
            The next day we head into the mountains, to where a vast scooped-out punchbowl of rock is bounded on its northern edge by a 200 metre high fin jutting out into the valley.  The front arete of this impressive feature forms a classic trad line, while bolted routes scale the faces on either side.  This allows for a pleasing symmetry, with Tom, Kieran and Justin tackling the trad route (Albahida, 4c/HS) with John and Chris on one side (La Ley Del Deseo, 5c) and Dave and Neil on the other (Supernova, 6a).  The latter two teams make short work of the bolts, meeting in the middle, Livingstone/Stanley style, to munch sandwiches in the sunshine.  A pleasant ridge scramble takes us to the top of the mountain and stunning views across the whole island.

John on La Les Del Deseo (5c)

       A pleasant day by the seaside follows, with yet more perfect rock, lapped by the gentle brine below. The routes here are intense and full of character, sometimes steep and gloriously juggy, sometimes fingery and fiercely technical.  We surmount tufa blobs, lie about soaking up the sun, tackle sea-level traverses and take relaxing swims in the sheltered bay.  A sleek-looking sailing boat pays a visit, dropping a dinghy for a brief paddle before departing along the coast.

            The setting for the following day’s climbing is a little less delightful, at an urban crag behind a derelict bodega littered with industrial remains, but the unusual rock quality more than compensates, as does the helpful beta of a local German who appears to have bolted the entire crag himself.  Grades are pushed further with his encouragement, Kieran deserving special mention for his ascent of Que Chulo (6b+).  Contender for route of the week is 3D (6a+), featuring wild bridging up apparently impossible cavities scooped from the rock.
            Our friendly German turns out to be the owner of the boat seen the previous day, onto which we are cordially invited for a taste of Mallorca’s famous deep-water soloing.  So off we motor over the warm (18C) blue Mediterranean to the ‘Rich Bitch cave’, a hidden beauty spot overlooked by a low glazed palace with perfect lawns.  Getting off the boat onto the steep limestone wearing only boots, shorts and a chalk bag was a fantastic feeling, and climbing with a new incentive not to fall resulted in gripping hard and lots of friendly encouragement.  However the inevitable splash-down happened for most of us on our second climb, an improbable 7a jump for a jug.  How refreshing the water was, the fear broken with a desire to do it all again!  The undoubted highlight was Kierans’ brilliant on-sight of Balso Boys(7a +) which had him shaking out nonchalantly with his body horizontal 4m above the sea.  More great climbs and scary splash-downs followed, and sailing back that evening to the setting sun, most felt this was the best day of a brilliant week.
Then it’s back to the mountains for yet more superb routes.  By now our brains are wired into the patterns of the rock and the moves that climbing it necessitates.  Bolting here is generous by any standards, making it safe to tackle lines that would inspire dread done trad.  We pull hard on millimetre-wide crimps and stand on sloping smears, high on exposed vertical faces, soaked in climbing and wanting nothing more.
            Even on the day we leave there is time for some of us to visit one more crag, to tick off a final few delightful clip-ups, to enjoy a beer as the pump finally defeats us, and the journey back to the cold and damp begins to beckon.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Nicky Nook and Grizedale Walk

Six members and guests turned up for the walk on a perfect winter day.  Nicky Nook Hill gave the most amazingly clear views over the plain of Lancashire and Morecambe Bay; unusually the hills of the Lake District were clearly visible.  There is a short cut to the walk from the summit of Nicky Nook to the reservoir but all the party opted to extend the walk to take in the beautiful Grizedale wooded valley.  The Priory Pub at Scorton was a welcome rest stop after the 11km morning walk.

Hannah, Ken, Yvonne and Jud with guests Stuart and Liz. 

After the excellent pub meal someone shouted that the ice-cream shop was open - irresistible. The way back to the car park is a short 3 km so how could we resist!

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Clywdians Walk

The walk in the Clywdians Hills (Offas Dike) near Mold took the smaller limestone hills to the east of Llanferres.

The walk passed Pothole Quarry then continued by tiny paths not even marked on the map to the limestone pavement highpoint of Bryn Alyn (408 metres) giving great views of the higher Clwydians Hills and the hilly eastern forests.   Continuation of the walk passed by real caves (relics of 4000 year old human remains and later Roman remains found there) and a potter about at Pot Hole Quarry. 

Elevenses at Bryn Alyn

The group at Pothole Quarry

Moelwyns Climbing and Walking Meet

I don't know why this meet is not more popular.  Wonderful climbing on south facing cliffs with a micro-climate similar to that of Tremadoc with hard 2-pitch routes and easier 6-pitch slab routes more than a 100 metres long.  Accommodation was at the 'Lancashire Caving and Climbing Club hut at Tanygrisiau just 20 minutes away from the climbing cliffs.
After saying this area is blessed with good weather it was not to be this year.  It rained heavily all night and with lighter rain in the morning we were wondering what to do.  The three of us, Ken, Yvonne and Neil decided on a walk direct from the hut along the Ffestiniog valley.  Mercifully the rain stopped and we entered the Ffestiniog Railway station of Duallt to discover that this was a special "Victorian" weekend for the railway with many extra trains with tiny old carriages on a Victorian theme.  A goods train carrying a few small wagons looked as though it had just come out of the box of a toy train set.  For those railway buffs, there is a video attached of the normal scheduled steam train working hard up the slopes above Duallt.
The walk continued through forestry and by swollen rivers and waterfalls and it started to rain.
Nice to get back to a warm, comfortable hut and a hot meal.  The nearest hostelry, 'the Kings Arms' is just over a mile away.  We were made very welcome by the locals who were curious to know all about these hill walking strangers.
Sunday was forecast to be a dry day in the Ffestiniog region but so much rain had fallen in the previous 24 hours, low level cloud kept rolling in over the rock climbing crags.  Eventually we decided that climbing would be on damp rock and decided on a walk.  Walking in the mountains in this region is more of an industrial archaeology outing. Our walk took us by the massive Stylwan Dam (pump storage scheme), onward past many mines to two massive mined craters 300 feet deep in the middle of a mountain plateau.  One of these craters connected via a mine tunnel to the abandoned mining village of Cwmorthin over a mile away.  We were fascinated at all the mining history around us, mines, villages, waterwheel housings, inclines and slag heaps, tramways and were determined to 'google' the history of the region when we got home.   

A pleasant meet in spite of wet rock.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Pembroke Climbing & Coast Walking Meet

Kieran & John on "Gone" Alice climbs 'Heart of Darkness'

PEMBROKE gave a great long weekend enjoyed by all on these superb limestone sea cliffs. Brilliant weather, wonderful beaches and friendly pubs all make this a must go to destination for all keen 'trad' climbers. Notable ascents were Chris and Alice on 'Heart of Darkness' (HVS 5a), and Kieran and John on 'Army Dreamers' (HVS 5a) and Pavla and Stuart ascents and first abseils.
The final highlight was the magnificent 'Threadneedle Street' (S) which saw Kieran, John and Chris finishing the weekend off.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Alpine Meet

The Alpine meet is run every year but is not put onto the St. Helens Mountaineering Club card because it is organised by the Alpine Club.  It is a requirement that everyone on the meet is experienced in Alpine Climbing or has a mentor to show the ropes.  St. Helens members have been major participants in the past but this year we were fewer than usual with only 4 members.
Ken had gone on his own and expected to be mainly walking but a good run of fate was awaiting.  One of the “Climbers Club” girls (Claire) wanted to climb whilst her husband was cycling the passes.  This led to some great climbs in the Albigno valley up to 10 pitches of perfect granite including ‘Via Meuri, Pix Dal Pal, and Piz Balzette’. 
Dave and Tom arrived with a wish list of challenging routes.  This was Tom’s first Alpine Trip and he was feeling macho to the point of death defying but thankfully Dave was on hand to tamper down his ardour to realistic expectations.  Their first series of climbs, however, were enough to frighten and tire even the most experienced alpinists.  They tackled the 7 pitches of Via Felici (7a) then the 16 pitches of Spazzacaldera and the 5c Fiama. No wonder Tom looked doolally after this tiring, hard experience.

Success on the Fiama      

Dave went on to climb the 3900 metre snow covered Piz Palu from Diavolezza with two Wayfarers Terry and Dave.  The wind was so fierce that they turned back just below the summit.

Piz Palu snow ridge      

Other places visited by the team were Vho crag, a granite outcrop blasted out to make the old road, and the excellent via feratta routes of Chiavenna.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Working Weekend at the hut

The main task of the weekend was to improve the pathway from the main hut to the annex.
Simon was the architect and arrived at the hut with his father's truck laden with 2.4 metre decking board and stakes.  The idea of staking out the area for the decking board was worrying as there are unmarked water and electrical services between the two properties.  In areas where there might be a potential disaster, the stakes were only lightly put into the ground.
Tiles and a permeable fabric layer formed the base layer finished off with two tonnes of Honister stone  The cost of the project was under £300.
The turning circle for cars at the hut was also improved.  Ian had provided plastic hexagons which were laid on a prepared surface, filled with sand already stored at the hut, and covered with Honister stone.  The track at the other end of the turning circle was also flattened with much mud and vegetation removed.  We'll see how it goes once the ravishes of wet weather take their toll.
Car parking has always been a problem because the main track is lower than the car parking areas.  The rise onto the car parking areas has been much reduced so a slower drive on can be made.

The solar panels for the fridge battery were in line with the roof and at a good angle for a country like Spain rather than England.  In a trial, one of the solar panels was elevated from, 30 degrees to 60 degrees.  Immediately the power to the fridge battery increased by over 50%

Stuart, Simon W, Ian and Ken work on the path.

Ian was wishing to add to his list of 'Wainwrights.  He persuaded Ken to join him in the ascents of Barrow and Outerside starting at 7pm on the Saturday evening.  To our surprise, there were hundreds of people ascending Barrow.  We learnt that they were preparing for the "Keswick Festival of light".  The idea was that over a thousand people should ascend the peaks of Barrow, Outerside and Stile End then walk just after sunset 5 metres apart with torches in the colours of the Nepalese flag into the valley of the Coledale.  On the top of Barrow we could already see hundreds of people ascending Outerside.  As the procession started, everyone switched on their head lamps now coated with colours of red, green, yellow and white.  It was indeed a spectacular sight to see these hundreds of light descending the three ridges of Barrow, Outerside and Stile End into the Coledale valley.

On the Sunday, the work of re-angling the solar panel was quickly done leaving time for an ascent and scramble of Hall Fell Ridge on Blencathra.  It was a quick ascent but even quicker on the way down for Ken who slipped and cut his hand needing medical attention at Keswick Hospital.

Thanks to the efforts of Brian S we have at last got a qualified LPG engineer to look at the shower at the hut.  We were hoping that it just needed a service, but the engineer is unfamiliar with the brand and will be fitting a new unit in compliance with modern legislation.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Winter Meet at Braithwaite

We expected to be brandishing ice axes in the snows of Scafell on this meet but when we arrived in the Lake District not a flake of snow was visible even on the highest hills.
On the Saturday the high hills were covered in cloud but Cat Bells and Maiden Moor were clear.  We set off early from the hut taking the lovely path by Newlands Beck then by Skelgill Farm and the arduous traverse to the summit of Cat Bells

Atmospheric pictures of Skiddaw and Causey Pike from the slopes of Cat Bells (before the rain)

It was already starting to rain but the weather forecast was good and we thought it wouldn't last long.  We were aiming for a new path, a mile after Bull Crag on Maiden Moor but it was going to be hard to find.  It appeared to begin 100 metres after a "cairn" marked on the map shortly after a point where crags came close to the path.  After passing many large cairns we noticed a faint trace and a second smaller cairn heading in the direction of Borrowdale - this had to be our path.  After a while we passed a third cairn and a slope by a stream giving shelter from the wind - our dinner spot.  The path was still tiny but beckoned further towards Borrowdale before turning and traversing northwards by Nitting Haws towards Derwent Water.  This excellent path was going to cut out any tedious road work from Grange to the start of the shore paths of the lake.  It was still raining and we arrived back at the hut, soaked to the skin after our 12 mile trek, to a warm fire and a welcome cup of tea.

Sunday was bright and snow had fallen on the higher hills in the night.  We reckoned the new snow would be treacherous on the steepest ground so opted to climb Barf overlooking Bassenthwaite Lake.  Parking at Thornthwaite village we took the steep path by the "Bishop and the Clerk" emerging to snow on the summit of Barf.

The summit of Barf with snowy Skiddaw in the background

With wonderful views all around we wanted to stay high and walked to the summits of Lord's Seat and Broom Fell.  Descent was through the forest of Winlatter and the lovely Comb Beck to our start point.