Author Archives: iant

Hot Rock – Sicily 2011

Suffolk climbers migrate south for the winter

You know how it goes – the UK climbing season is drawing to a close for us fair
weather dudes so thoughts turn towards getting some sun on yer back with the
prospect of a bit of bolt clipping thrown in for good measure.

And so it went, Steve C started mumblings of a trip to Turkey or South of France
(anywhere but Spain apparently!) and was anyone interested. I had read a recent
article about some good looking cliffs at San Vito Lo Capo in NW Sicily so threw
that into the melting pot as an option. After a healthy(?) dose of good old IMC
faffing we eventually decided Sicily it was to be for Steve, Clare, Christina
and yours truly. After all, it’s a big ole island with climbing in areas other
than San Vito if it was crap there.

Then the jungle drums started a-rattling and before we knew it we were looking
for accommodation to suit 11 people with only one couple included – i.e. a BIG
place with lots of beds! Much cyber time later and Mr C, with Christina’s help,
had unearthed the very place, secured the booking and obtained commitment from
all interested parties. The game was on!

The usual rigmarole ensued; booking flights – you know the thing, “surely there
is a better deal than feathering Mr O’Leary’s nest”, but unfortunately not –
hire cars, transport to and parking at UK airport, packing, weighing and
re-packing bags, divvying up gear etc, etc.

But, finally the day arrived

So there we were, 11 bleary eyed climbers looking for strong coffee in Stansted
airport at early O’clock am on Saturday 8th October 2011. On arrival at Palermo,
Steve, Clare, Jiehan & Kristina got their hire car and headed off as advance
guard while I, Christina, Johnboy & Karen held back for Tom, Ali & Emma to get
their car sorted out. San Vito is about 1.25 hours from Palermo airport and is
even signposted along the way!

Much of the scenery is pretty scrubby and there is a general feeling of being
unspoilt by excessive tourism. I had this feeling throughout the week, but
couldn’t help wondering how long it will last.

The good thing about Steve going ahead is he could work out how to get to the
villa for the rest of us! Also, we all had to complete forms with name, age, UK
address, passport numbers and stuff to register our visit with the local
Polizia, so it was necessary for the villa owner to meet us on arrival. The
communication was interesting – us with a smattering of pigeon Italian and her
with slightly more lucid pigeon English! Eventually all was done, rooms chosen
and it was time to head down town for some lunch.

Down town took less than 10 minutes in the car, but 30 minutes trying to decide
where it was safe to park without risking having the car towed away! While
wandering around looking for a suitable eatery we discovered that this was San
Vito’s climbing festival weekend, so gear-fondling opportunities abounded! The
only purchases made however were of a fantastic fold out topo for all the cliffs
in San Vito showing a whole stash of development since any of the guide books we
had purchased in the UK were published (and about 1/3rd of the price).

Steve’s team had got into town ahead of the other 2 cars (a theme for the week!)
and were ready to go off and find some climbing while we sat and finished our
lunch. “Is that a brass band I can hear” someone said as a funeral procession
rounded the corner. It was a definite Don Corleone moment!

Tom, Ali, Emma, Johnboy & Karen all decided to hit the rock after lunch too, but
Christina and I opted for a more genteel past time – shopping!

“Yeah, yeah this is all very well, but what of the climbing?” I hear you cry.
Patience, dear reader, patience.

Come the evening, the rest of the assembled party went across the road to the
local pizzeria for dinner while C and I knocked up a tasty treat back at the
villa thinking we would wander over there later in the week. This, however, was
not to be as it appeared not to open for the rest of the time we were there!
Still, much fun was had with communal cooking, eating and general evening

Now, let’s get to the interesting stuff shall we?

Well actually I won’t recount every climb on every day with a blow by blow
account, but here are some highlights and personal favourite moments.

The coastal cliffs of San Vito Lo Capo run for about 5-6km and range from short
8m routes to 50m 2 pitchers – all bolted and with route names painted on the
rock at frequent intervals to make it impossible not to know where you are. Some
traditional purists might suggest this is cheating, but it certainly helps when
you’ve only got 6 days to explore a new venue. In addition to the physical
range, there are routes from grade 2 (yes, grade 2!) up to high 7’s/low 8’s – so
plenty for everyone.

One day C and I were bimbling around in one of the sectors when a local turned
up, did a couple of quick routes (not on our recently purchased topo) then set
his top rope up, whipped out his power tool and proceeded to start drilling
holes. We could see at least two new routes he was creating, so our new topo is
already out of date!

The rock is typical Mediterranean limestone with occasional areas of smoother
flowstone that gives a slightly different climbing experience. Karen
unfortunately had to return to Blighty on the Wednesday so Steve, Clare, Jiehan
& Kristina took her to the airport early doors and had a day climbing on some
cliffs above Palermo. Apparently this area had more of the flowstone type rock
than San Vito.

The Cliffs

View from the cliffs
The Cliffs (click on any picture for larger image) View from the cliffs

Just inland (by only 5 minutes!) is a big old lump of rock called Monte Monaco.
In front of this is a smaller pinnacle by the name of Pizzo Monaco. There are
several routes described in the guide book on both bits of rock but one that
took my eye during the pre-trip reading was the 6-7 pitch Pace Di Chiostro
graded at 5a overall on Pizzo Monaco, with trad gear backed up by bolted crux
sections and bolted belays. What a fantastic route! Christina and I took
ourselves off to have a play (after Steve & Clare had sussed it out and supplied
some beta). Many of the pitches were 35m-40m long which made communication in
the wind and without walkie-talkies (something had to be sacrificed in the
packing) tricky leading us to resort to the ‘tug on the rope’ system! And the
fun didn’t stop there – the abseil off the back of Pizzo Monaco was a 2 stage
affair and it felt like you were about to walk off the edge to find the first ab
station. Just to add an extra frisson of excitement, the wind kept blowing the
ropes into the fissure down the corner we were abseiling down and causing it to
get stuck on seemingly micro-protuberances of sharp limestone! But, all in all a
brilliant day’s climbing. Oh, other than the lucky miss at lunch break. There
was a German couple (lots of Germans there) nipping at our heels about half way
up so we decided to chill, have some food and generally soak up the atmosphere
to let them climb past. So as not to get in their way, we moved round the ledge
to under a bulge a few metres away from the belay point. Just as well it was
under a bulge, the leader set off up the diedre for the step left out on to the
face. The next thing we knew there was a shout and a whoosh as a lump of rock
about 0.5m square came hurtling down missing our ledge by cms (thanks to the
bulge above) before continuing on its inevitable, gravity fuelled, journey –
phew! After that we both hurriedly re-installed our helmets – although I doubt a
hard hat would have made any difference if that had bounced off your bonce!

Comedy Moment

Pizzo Monaco
Comedy Moment Pizzo Monaco

Best single pitch sport route of the week? The 6a Oltre Manica in Sector
Calamancina 1. There was just something pure about this 28m open corner and face
route. The 6a moves were wonderfully technical and flowing with a little bit of
thought required on route finding and a pleasant bit of exposure near the top –
perfect. Plus the added bonus of only one other pair climbing in the whole
Sector when we did it.

The most unlikely route? The grade 3 in Sector Salinella Pineta. Seemingly
ridiculous moves out of a hollow in the foot of the cliff –but actually it’s
dead easy! There’s also a grade 4 starting in the cave at Sector Torre Isulidda
and traversing round just under the roof of the cave to the lower off – crazy!

Best spectator moment? Jiehan’s horizontal body jam and bolt clipping manoeuvre
on one of the more exciting 6a+ routes – an absolute comedy gem!

Most concerning locals? The ‘horse people’ as we came to call them. A community –
probably of Gypsy/Romany descent and most likely operating in an off-grid
economy – riding around in their carts and galloping (yes, galloping) their
horses along the tarmac road using hardly a saddle and only a rope halter. The
poor horse’s legs were splaying all over the shop and it looked as if it would
take a tumble at any moment. Not to mention the sparks from its shoes. Some of
these guys were also seen sitting on their horses outside corner cafés drinking
espresso, talking and generally gesticulating in an Italian manner.

To get a flavour of what the climbing at San Vito is like just click here. The
‘new’ routes are a bit out of date, but the pictures are worth a look.

How to get there?

As mentioned above, Ryanair fly to Palermo from Stansted. I think Sleezy Jet fly
to Trapani but I don’t know from which airport, certainly not Stansted.

Where to stay?

The usual internet search brings up a plentiful supply of apartments and villas
in San Vito itself and the surrounding area. But, if we were to go back, the
first choice would be El Bahira. If you can manage it on the meagre baggage
allowance allowed by Cheap Flights Ltd, you can camp here or, with less hassle,
rent one of the in-situ mobile homes or apartments – they even do a special
climbers’ rate between October and March. An added bonus if you stay here is
that every sector (other than Monte Monaco) is within walking distance, in fact
you will be quite literally under the climbing as Sectors El Bahira & Campeggio
are directly behind the site.

So, there you have it. I started this article thinking I would just do a few
words following Adrian’s last plea for copy, but I seem to have rambled on for 3
pages – an indication of how good we thought the place was. And we didn’t even
get to explore the area around Mt Etna and the E/SE coasts!


Lundy 2009

The return to Lundy, was it still as good?

The three year wait was finally over – we were once more off to Ilfracombe, eager
with anticipation for the IMC 2009 Lundy trip. At the risk of being branded a
lazy so-and-so, I refer the reader to my article written after the 2006 trip
The Magic of Lundy.

The BIG question – would this tiny island be able to weave its spell a second

The climbing was brilliant with only a few repeats and plenty of new
cliffs/routes visited. Great Lundy adventures were had with some tough pitches
culminating in a prusik escape from a wet Hot Rod in the intermittent light
rain! Other memorable routes include Alouette (* S 4a) Shamrock (*** VS4c,4a,4c)
for the right reasons and Solitaire View (* VS 5a ma!) for the wrong reasons.

We also explored the island a bit more, including a walk up to the North Light
and right back down the east side of the island, taking time to sit and watch
the seals watching us.

The answer to the BIG question – an emphatic “Yes”. It took a little while to hit
me this visit, but I put that down to the pace of life immediately prior to the
visit rather than to the island having lost any of its Magic. Once the Magic got
me again it was just as compelling as I remembered, and by the time it came to
leave it was with the same mixture of emotions and a hankering to return before
the usual triennial anniversary.

A Pembroke Adventure

A sea cliff, route finding, commitment, adventure…

Ian Thurgood – July 2009

“We really must do Blue Sky – the 3 star, 2 pitch classic VS at Saddle Head”,
says I.

So, we turned up in the morning on an incoming neap tide with high water due
around 13:40hrs – clearly not the time to abseil into Blue Sky, but we knew
that. Plenty of time to tick off a few warm up routes off the non-tidal ledge –

Now, picture the scene. Come mid-afternoon the tide was very much on the ebb, so
nothing for it but to get that ab line down and do the business. We knew it was
a neap tide so the platform from where the first pitch truly starts was never
going to be exposed, but if you read the guide books, they all say you can ab
down to a ledge about 5m above the high tide line and not take anything away
from the whole experience – there, what could possibly go wrong!

The first pitch is described in the guide book as following the corner from the
platform (or 5m ledge in this case) then moving right on to a wall to a cave and
ledge stance – VS4a. Having spoken to some lads earlier in the day after they
topped out on Blue Sky, I followed their beta and threw the ab rope down the
left hand side (looking out to sea) of the buttress, as they said you abseil
past the first stance. Well, I don’t know if we were just too far left or what,
and I did ab past a small cave and ledge stance to what could, I guess, be
euphemistically described as a ledge above high water line, but the first pitch
that followed was not as described nor was it anywhere near VS4a!

Having got down to the aforementioned un-ledge (I did manage to place one No.3
nut to attach the belayer) – not before noticing, as I was abseiling, that the
end of the rope was drifting a good 15m out to sea. So I dragged it out of the
water before it could get itself wrapped around any submerged rocks and
continued to abseil with one hand whilst holding and paying out soggy coils of
rope with the other! I radioed to Christina that the ab line was free.
Walkie-talkies on sea cliffs – an absolute flippin’ god send I tell ya.
Christina started abbing down and as she did so the ebbing neap tide decided it
wanted to have some fun with us and push the waves just that little bit higher
up the cliff – resulting in the inevitable salt water rinse – 3 times!! You look
like King Canute – or at least that’s what it sounded like Christina was saying
to me, but with all the noise from the seas crashing around and below us it was
difficult to be certain!

Christina got half way between the espied cave and ledge stance and a slightly
damp around the edges Ian before making the decision that further descent was
inadvisable. Trouble is, the foot ledge she was dangling near was not suitable
as a belay – a sloping ledge and bulging wall coupled with only one piece of
protection. So, I decided to climb up to Christina without placing gear but
using a sling prusik round the ab rope as my leader placed protection.*
Fortunately the climbing was pretty straightforward so I was soon standing next
to Christina, whereupon, as Fagin would say, we reviewed the situation. Having
reviewed, it was decided that this really wasn’t a good place to set up a dodgy
belay! So, Christina stayed where she was connected to a No.6 nut and the abseil
rope whilst I transferred my prusik to the ab rope above her and carried on
climbing using the ab rope as pro. I carried on climbing, that is until
prevented by an absolutely desperate move out of a lovely secure corner onto a
wall to the right – gotta be British 5b/5c in anyone’s money! I know that
because I was unable to make the move without pulling the prusik really tight
and hand over handing up the ab rope for a few feet – horrible! Not to mention
the admiring audience from their nice dry, flat, non-tidal ledge round the
corner – no round of applause though ☹. Anyway, I had got to the cave and ledge
area we passed on the abseil down, which now seemed very small for 2 people and
2 ropes. But, this is where we would have to stay as Christina would have to
follow the line of the abseil rope, due to the fact that I would be belaying her
on said rope – yes, we still hadn’t flaked out the climbing ropes at this stage.
I managed to find two OK gear placements to anchor myself, flake out the rope I
was carrying (what a relief to finally get that weight off my back) and tie
myself onto the climbing end. All went well until Christina reached the horrible
move right. Bear in mind that not only was Christina climbing with 50m of 8.6mm
rope tied to her back, she was also tied in along the ab rope as the loose end
was soaking wet, so she had the added weight of several metres of 10.5mm sports
rope hanging off her waist loop! Not only was it a horrible, difficult move, but
I couldn’t take her on a tight rope as it would pull her away from the corner.
Eventually, after much investigation of alternatives, Christina stepped out of
the corner on to as tight a rope as I could reasonably give her and by a process
of combined tactics (including huffing and swearing) she arrived at the ‘stance’
– and was able to sit in the small cave to regain some composure!

After a little breather we flaked out the second rope, much to Christina’s
relief, tied on, and I set off to find the second pitch. I was not sure that the
stance we were at was the correct one, so I moved up and left of our stance to a
much larger, and I have to say more people friendly, cave and ledge stance –
damn! The route went up the corner from this stance then right across a short
wall under some overhangs. Looking up at the rightwards traverse from the
stance, the angle of viewing makes it look desperate, but once there, it is an
absolute gem. A flake running at hand height with positive holds all the way
along it’s length, coupled with a fantastic break at foot height (suitable for
the tall or the vertically challenged) made this one of the most pleasant
traverses I have ever come across – the only trouble being that it was over all
too quickly. On exiting the traverse, you are right out there on the arête
enjoying the most stunning climbing position with easy, protectable climbing to
finish. A pitch that deserves all of the 3 stars it is rightly given. If the
second pitch is as good as this what must the correct first pitch be like?

The belay was easy – just use the ab rope anchors! So I made safe and radioed
down to Christina to start climbing.

“ Shall I pull the ab rope up to this stance?” asked Christina

“ No, there are a couple of girls wanting to use it while we finish climbing.”
Replied Ian

“Ooh, hang on, where does this go?” said Girl 1

“Down to Blue Sky.” I replied

“ Oh, no, I don’t want to do Blue Sky” said Girl 2 running away!

By which time Christina had begun climbing, so the ab rope was left hanging and
coiled in a nice neat pile (we hoped!) way down at the first un-ledge I was at
about 2.5 hours ago! Christina made short work of the fabulous pitch – for those
that know Christina prepare to be shocked – she enjoyed the traverse!! – and
appeared on the arête wearing that smile that only a happy climber can wear.

As Christina started sorting out the climbing ropes, I stayed anchored in and
began tentatively pulling up the abseil rope. I knew I had untied the stopper
figure of eight so that wouldn’t catch on any rock. All was going to plan until
………. uh-oh resistance, the rope is stuck! If only those girls had got their
bearings upon arrival and I hadn’t stopped Christina from pulling it up to the
first stance. Luckily, letting out a bit of slack and gently teasing it back up,
the rat’s nest responsible for the scare appeared, swiftly followed by the end
of the rope and the end of our Pembroke adventure.

Fun and adventurous as it was, half a route is not the full tick, so we’ll be
back! Not so much sayonara Aozora (goodbye Blue Sky) as Ciel à bientôt Bleu
(until we meet again Blue Sky!)


* Editor’s note: Ian is well aware that a prusik isn’t safe in the case of a fall
onto it. So, if you didn’t know that, please don’t get the idea that it’s a
recommended method of self-protection. If, on the other hand, you did, then
you’ll know that it’s up to you to weigh-up the pros and cons according to the
particular case.

Cornwall Easter 2009

Ian’s account of the Official IMC Easter trip

A brief resume of the IMC trip to Cornwall Easter 2009

….and not a cream tea in sight!!

Christina myself and Monty took the decision to drive down over night to avoid
the bank holiday traffic blues having travelled this way on our foray north of
the border in early March. We left home at 01:30hrs after a few hours of sleep
in our nice comfortable bed and arrived Trevaylor camp site at 08:30hrs just as
the rest of the crew were having breakfast. The others (except Elena of course)
had decided to go to Bosigran, but we had thought we would warm up gently at
Sennen Cove. So, after pitching the tent and partaking of a leisurely breakfast
of toasted hot cross buns (well, it was Good Friday) with copious quantities of
tea, that’s where we went.

A lovely starter with Corner Climb (V Diff) followed by the excellent classic
Demo Route (HS) – which the Royal Marines Commando instructors used to
demonstrate to their new charges in standard issue boots and big packs on! At
this point, the lure of ice cream and a wander along the beautiful Sennen Beach
was all too much so we packed up climbing and did just that. Unfortunately Bilbo
the 14 stone Newfoundland lifedog (no, honestly, google him!) was not on duty.

After dinner it was getting a tad chilly sitting at the camp site so there was
nothing else for it but to repair to the local hostelry to swap tales and make
plans for the next day’s adventures. As the others had all been to Bosigran and
C and me decided we couldn’t tick the much talked of Commando Ridge (no prizes
for guessing who used to use this route as part of their training!) outing as it
wouldn’t be fair on Monty, a mass IMC assault on Chair Ladder was agreed.

Whilst other parties were bagging routes left right and centre, I was having a
bit of an unenthused day. We eventually half scrambled and half abseiled down
main gully and wandered around for ages trying to decide on a route we both
liked the look of! We eventually settled on Mermaid’s Route (3 pitch V Diff)
which turned out to be a fantastic climb with some rather interesting bits for
the grade. Much lazing in the sun followed whilst, once again, the others
bustled about and climbed loads. After some time Christina persuaded me that we
should ‘get on with it’ so we headed for pinnacle gully descent (where I knew
Steve C had installed an abseil rope and reckoned he wouldn’t mind if we used
it) with a mind to tick Terrier’s Tooth – another classic. Of course, having
faffed about for so long, the tide was now on it’s way in with a few of the
larger breakers splashing over the belay ledge. Being a bit of a route purist I
opted for the original line up the initial wall of pitch 1 which follows a
quartz seam that is unprotectable 4b for the first 3m or so and even then you
wouldn’t want to fall on the gear! It’s a fantastic line though. The wall after
the half way ledge on pitch 1 is damn near unprotectable as well, but it’s
amazing what concern for the belayer’s welfare on an incoming tide can do to
ones climbing speed – although Christina did in fact get a little wet at one
point! The next 2 pitches went according to plan and I was able to chat with a
guy on the route next to us and get some beta for getting off the pinnacle.
Well, what a scary descent that proved to be!! First of all you have to make a
down-slide off the belay block into a niche above a wall in the right of the

Bottom of Terrier's Tooth Coastal View from Fox Promontory
Bottom of Terrier’s Tooth Coastal View from Fox Promontory


Once in the niche it’s safest for one person to belay the other who down-climbs
the wall placing gear on the way down to protect the second. All well and good,
but then the second has to down-climb the wall removing all that lovely
protection on the way so, should they slip, the bit of pro that would arrest the
fall is below them!! Once the wall is negotiated it’s a walk off to the side to
a suitable spot in the gully to have a breather and sort the ropes etc. Like
many things in life, this descent is lovely when it’s over!!A quick dinner on
the camp site, wash up and it was back to the pub – hard and thirsty work this
climbing lark! More tale swapping ensued whilst a plan was hatched to descend
upon Fox Promontory – a small cliff of mostly single pitch routes just along the
coast from the main Chair Ladder fleshpots – on Sunday.

Sunday dawned with more blue skies and warm sun (a bit of a theme for the weekend
so far ) and the added bonus of chocolate Easter eggs! So, off we all sped to
Fox Promontory – apart from Steve and Carol who headed for Chair Ladder and
Clare who unfortunately had to return home. C and me watched the others
negotiate the especially horrid looking scramble descent down the sunny south
face, so decided we would set up an alternative abseil rope down the colder
north face – this proved to be a great time saver for the rest of the day’s
activities – but even to get to the abseil point involved scrambling down to and
over the ridge of the promontory. Steve & Joe and Martin & Guy were ticking
routes off like men possessed, but, again, Christina and I adopted a more
leisurely approach! We managed The Whisker – a lovely little VS4c albeit a tad
steep at the top – followed by the fine left slanting black quartz seam of
Reveille (HS4b) before scrambling back out for sustenance in the sun.

Perfect end to a perfect day
Perfect end to a perfect day


Christina had already mooted the idea of driving home over night Sunday as
Metcheck had forecast rain for Monday. From my point of view, it seemed anathema
to pack up after 3 such fantastic days on the basis of, at best, a computer
probability! But, pack up and drive we did and by the content of the texts the
following morning, this turned out to be a cunning plan (a plan so cunning you
could pin a tail on it and call it a fox) by chief strategist Christina!

All in all another excellent Cornish Easter weekend with beautiful scenery,
magnificent climbing on exquisite sea-cliff granite and perfect company. It’s
memories such as these that keep us going through the grim daily grind in our
dingy old offices!

Here’s looking forward to dry summer weekends, more good climbing and even more
good company.

Lakes Feb 09 – Or – My first winter lead

The usual trudge up the A14 and M6 after work on Friday evening, saw us arrive at
The Brotherswater Inn just as last orders had sounded. Luckily, Steve & Martin
had set off about an hour beforehand so they purchased a small libation whilst
I, Christina and Joe threw a few bags into the bunkhouse. Pete & Lou arrived
about 45 minutes later and the posse was complete. Some discussion ensued as to
possible venues for the next day’s action. Well, I say discussion but in truth
we were more than a little reliant on Steve & Martin for suitable, in
“condition” routes. After all, I had a shiny new pair of Scarpa Charmoz boots to
put through their paces!

The view down the valley on Saturday morning, showed signs of promise for a gully
or two in winter conditions, so 5 of us set off for Patterdale and the walk in
to Tarn and Falcon crags. After a couple of hours walking, we arrived at the
foot of the slope below Dollywagon Gully (on Dollywagon Pike funnily enough!).
The new boots were doing marvellously – comfortable, easy to walk in and
crucially, no blister hot-spots.

Dollywagon GullyDollywagon Gully

Time for a quick bite to eat before gearing up ready for my first potential
winter lead! Steve and Joe set off apace whilst Martin hung back with me and
Christina for the first pitch, imbuing me with confidence for this new game. The
unfortunate traffic jam at the boulder choke soon cleared and Martin let us off
the leash and reverted to Plan A by teaming up with Steve and Joe. So this was
it – second time in crampons ever and about to embark on, what I later found out
to be, a grade II/III winter gully!! A couple of pitches of easy angled snow
(one of which Christina soloed with a rope!) and now it all starts to get a bit
more serious. One problem is that C n me are running with a 35m rope so we end
up belaying in some rather uncomfortable, calf-burning spots – e.g. part way up
to the first pitch that had any real ice – I get to place ice screws! Another
fantastic pitch with some proper ice led to a belay stance where Steve had
kindly left a couple of warthog anchors for me to clip (more gear I had not used
before!). By this time the calves are really stinging, but instead of swapping
the belay with Christina and leading the final frozen turf pitch, I ask
Christina to lead on through (well, solo really as she didn’t have sufficient
gear to protect it!). Judging by the glowering looks and the sotto voce
grumbling, she also was feeling somewhat fatigued! All’s well that ends well
however, she made it successfully to the top and utilised another of Steve’s
belay stances consisting of 1 deadman, a snow seat and a sling connected to an
ice axe buried in snow, to belay me to the finish. Fantastic!

Crikey! Quarter to four. How did it get that late!?! As the other chaps had been
standing around in the wind and the cloud for a while, we only had time to throw
a sandwich and some warm soup down our throats before packing up and walking
off. Time didn’t allow for a summit of Dollywagon Pike either – but the view
would have been non-existent thanks to low cloud! The walk off was a 2 hour
trudge, but now I know I can do a full day in the new boots, so …..”Bring It

Christina and I had a romantic bowl of pasta Bolognese followed by white
chocolate covered raspberries in the bunkhouse (it was Valentine’s day
remember!). Steve, Martin & Joe went to the pub to eat.

Pete & Lou had a good walk up on the snowy/icy tops with most of the day spent
wearing crampons by all accounts. They ate in the tent, then joined us in The
Brotherswater Inn. Plenty of talking done in the pub that evening, but not much
planning for Sunday!

Sunday dawned much milder than Saturday and the snowline was visibly higher. The
previous day’s activities had taken their toll on us all (with the exception of
Joe I think!). This, coupled with the fact that C & I needed to be back in Eye
to collect Mont by 8pm, meant a short walk in 3 season boots. We opted for a
wander up to Place Fell (above Patterdale) which turned out just right as the
cloud lifted as we neared the summit and we were back at the car by 1.30pm.

P & L had a pleasant walk up to Hayswater and beyond before departing for home.

All in all a great weekend with obvious highlights for yours truly.

Ah, good old Swanage!

Having fun in Dorset

For some the mere mention of climbing at Swanage instils fear and dread! OK, so it is generally steep, intimidating limestone sea cliff climbing and doesn’t have a wealth of quality low grade routes akin to the Peak District gritstone fleshpots, but good times can be had if you’re prepared for the whole ‘experience’ and not just route ticking!

Here is an account of a typical IMC Swanage trip.

We eventually arrived at Tom’s Field about 11.15pm Friday night having spent thirty minutes just getting off the A12 onto the M25! Steve and Guy had already gone to bed as they had arrived on Thursday and had been climbing all day Friday. Simon Chandler, Alex & Andy had arrived not long before us and had their tents up.
A disturbed night followed with some truly awful neighbours being very noisy in to the early hours of the morning.

Saturday dawned with fog and a general damp feeling in the air so much faffing ensued. Simon and crew went off to Subluminal in typically optimistic spirits whilst Steve, Guy, Christina and I pondered some more. About 10ish the sun was doing its best to break through the fog so it was finally agreed to walk to Blacker’s Hole as Steve had some stuff he wanted to have a go at and there are a few VS’s for C and me to have a crack at. And there is the added bonus of a scramble approach rather than abseil, in the event of any escapes required! The fog cleared on the way and things were looking good. Steve and Guy set off to warm up on Tobacco Road (VS 4c) but got seduced by an E1 (can’t remember the name – Rufty’s Roll Up E1 5b ** Ed.), which left Tobacco Road for C and me to bag. What a great route – although a bit steep at the final headwall. While S and G went off to do another E1, C ‘n’ me did Zig-Zag (seems like a popular route name!) which used to be S4a but now upgraded to VS4c as the second pitch has apparently suffered from various rock falls. Not easy to protect perhaps, and a bit wobbly near the top, but definitely not VS4c – a good route that is nice and low in the grade.

After that, as S&G set off for Tobacco Road, C ‘n’ me walked over to Guillemot Ledge to do Batt Crack (VS4c) as recommended by Mr C – hereafter known as Sandbag Steve! All started well as a nice couple let us use their abseil rope, which saved a little time, and we found the start of the route with no problems. But, all good things must come to an end – what a chuffin’ nightmare that route is (VS4c MA!). We both did at least manage to get to the top of the thing but not without a Herculean struggle and much sitting on gear in the very strenuous corner crack of the first pitch – this is more like the Swanage we know and love! We topped out at around 18.30/18.45 just as the sun was sliding round the headland. As we were walking back to Tom’s Field Sandbag Steve – complete with headtorch – came wandering up the path looking for us (but no rescue team – we weren’t THAT late!), and we got back to tent about 19.15 after a brilliant day out.

All the rest of the IMC contingent were back, fed, watered and waiting to go off to The Square & Compass in Worth Matravers as a change to The Kings Arms in Langton Matravers. So, a quick heat up and scoff of curried chick peas (yum, I hear you cry!) and we were off on the two mile walk to said hostelry

What a wacky gem of a pub! Stacked full of country charm with so many delights: gravity fed ale from the barrel; real ciders and parries; a room full of fossils and stuffed animals; furniture made form driftwood; friendly locals mixing with weekenders and off-grid eco-warriors alike; and with the added bonus of live music most Saturday nights.

This particular Saturday’s entertainment was “Moveable Feast”, a brilliant folk-based band with a phenomenal fiddle player (stunning cover version of The Devil Goes Down To Georgia). Needless to say, we all stayed longer than expected and didn’t get to bed until nearly one in the morning – but at least the noisy neighbours from the previous night had moved on.

Sunday dawned without a cloud in the sky. Despite a little cider-induced resistance, I managed to convince C that we really should go for a last long training run before the following Sunday’s Felixstowe half marathon. We got back to the campsite just after 9am to find S&G packed and about to leave for Durlston Country Park (keen burgers!). Simon & crew were not so sharp off the mark, which was good really as we had arranged for Simon to travelling back with us as his friends live in Cambridge. By the time we got sorted out and a decision made it was about 11.30 before we arrived at Dancing Ledge for a spot of sport climbing. Well, how hard can it be?

I did at least manage to dog my way up John Craven’s Willy Warmer – supposedly the easiest route on the crag at F5+ – and got up a F6a that Simon had lead after I had backed off it. In the end it was decided that the place was not for mere mortals so we packed our bags and moved along the coast to Hedbury Quarry. Tip of the day – do NOT rely on the Rockfax diagram and approach directions! Eventually we arrived at Hedbury at about 4.30pm and had a play on some much more amenably graded routes, although Simon did manage an excellent looking F6a+ over some beautiful flowstone that no one else wanted to second.

We left Tom’s Field at 6.30pm but still got caught in traffic queues on the A31 and batches of slow moving traffic on the M3.

For the more adventurous, this is how Steve C described his Sunday.

Guy and I headed off to Boulder Ruckle (far East) on Sunday to try a few routes around Old Faithful. Our original plan to start on an HVS was scotched when we saw the route – it was described as fingery, but the guidebook failed to mention overhanging and unprotected. We’d done the other HVSs in the area so we picked an E1 called October Lady. Guy led the 1st pitch with no problems but the excesses of the previous night caught up with me on the crux pitch and after much whimpering and dangling on gear a convoluted abseil off in 2 pitches was arranged. We made it out, via Old Faithful, for lunch at 3 pm in the end. After a bit of refuelling we decided to head down and do battle again and managed to restore some honour with an ascent of Snowdrop – this time with Guy on the crux pitch!

To find out what happened on Monday follow the link.
The Cake of Mortality

Having started this piece saying that good times can be had, the astute reader will have spotted that none of the routes mentioned are below VS. That’s not to say there aren’t any lower grade routes, but we’ve all climbed most of them before and the quality climbing is generally (although not exclusively) at VS and above. It’s definitely not good for beginners, but there are some areas that are reasonably easy to access with some V Diffs and Severes to have a go at. So, why not work towards getting on one of next year’s Swanage trips? Just cut your leading teeth on grit, hone some skills on the more readily accessible inland limestone, and give it a go!

….. but finally, a cautionary postscript. The Cliffs of Swanage have a reputation to defend and will do their damnedest to catch you underwears!

South Africa – the short version!

Many of you will know that in March of this year (that’s 2008 if you’re reading this in the future) Steve Culverhouse, Christina and I joined an international climbing meet organised by the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA), Johannesburg section.

It’s not often you get an opportunity to visit a climbing area that you haven’t climbed in before and have ten days of dedicated hosting by local climbers, so the first duty this article must undertake is to thank all our hosts – in particular Ulrike Keifer for organising the meet and keeping her cool when the weather did its damndest, and Sakkie for his excellent hosting and driving us around for the last seven days of the trip.

We also decided that it’s such a long way to go for a ten-day climbing meet that we ought to add some time on to see some of the vast country. Unfortunately, my work commitments meant we had to add a week to the beginning of the international meet rather than the obvious choice of staying on after gleaning local knowledge.

So, very briefly, this is how it panned out:

  • Spent a few days in Cape Town then drove eastwards to Port Elizabeth taking in some of Route 62 and The Garden Route;
  • Flew from PE to Jo’burg to meet our designated driver and taken to the first campsite in The Magaliesberg mountain range for three days;
  • Driven to Magapansgrat wild camp for two days;
  • Then to Waterval Boven for two and a half days sport climbing;
  • Finally to Blydepoort resort for the remaining three days before returning to Jo’burg airport.

To carry on with some sort of travelogue at this point would only get long-winded and guarantee to put you off. What I would say is that should you get the opportunity to go, take it! The place is a true experience, not just a holiday or a climbing trip. Obviously there are many political and cultural issues requiring serious discussion, but that’s for another time and place. In the meantime, here is something to whet your appetites – my potted A-Z of the trip (OK, not totally complete, but what’s a missing Nquxy between friends?)


Addo Elephant National Park Set up as an Elephant sanctuary in the 1930s. Now a National wildlife park with many species.
Blyde River Canyon Too many superlatives and too many pictures for this article

BaboonBe wary of climbing too late into the evening and watch out for Baboon poo on those ‘thank God’ ledges!Cape TownSuperb tourist city bound by the Atlantic ocean and Table Mountain. As safe as any other major city in the world providing you keep your wits about you. A great base to see lots of The Cape Peninsula and surrounding Winelands.

Cogman’s KloofEn route to Montagu. Apparently, a major climbing area of SA – although we didn’t find this out until a week later when we met up with our MCSA hosts :(Cango CavesDo the ‘Adventure Tour’. UK HSE would have apoplexy!Devil’s PeakThe true summit of Table Mountain (left in the picture above)Dung beetleHave right of way in Addo Elephant Park

ElephantYes, we did see some at Addo and I’m sure you all know what one looks like.Foxy boardwalkSounds vaguely saucy, but actually is the walkway constructed to see the penguins at Boulder Beach.God’s WindowLooks out over the low veldt from the edge of the high veldt

Homestead’Step-back-in-time’ B&B/self-catering accommodation a few miles from Addo National Park.Informal settlementNot a shanty town – really. Mandela’s vision was to give all residents of SA access to water, sanitation and electricity. Currently around 30% of the population are still denied these basic facilities.Jo’burgOr, more precisely the rather disturbing sign we saw in at the airport.

Kloof Corner RidgeThanks to Steve’s pre-departure research, our brilliant route up Table Mountain. A four hour walk/scramble (including three pitches aided by steel-link chains!) as opposed to a seven-minute cable car ride.Loslyf CragUnusually accessible climbing in Blyde River Canyon. But, see “Baboons” earlier!Magaliesberg – Cedarberg KloofSeventy-two hours of constant rain. What a shame ‘coz the kloof (gorge) looked a stunning place to climb on excellent compact sandstone.

MagapansgratBeautiful wild camping and fantastic climbing AND only our party there

OudsthoornThe self-styled ostrich capital of the world!!ProteaThe South African national flowerRed wine!mmm, hic!Star Wars WallAt Blyde River Canyon. This is the flake pitch on Chewbacca’s Traverse

Table MountainNo report on SA would be complete without at least a mention! See Cape TownVervet monkeyAs seen in Addo Park, but apparently a tad pesky in many regions – like nicking your lunch!Waterval BovenWell-developed sport climbing area about 6km outside the town of WB along a very bumpy track.

ZebraNo, not the horse like critter, but the name of our first backpacker hostel in CT. Although we did see some of the stripy fellas in Addo.


The Madness of King May

Back in January of this year Christina and I made plans for a week in the French Pyrenees. A luxury week in IMC terms as we planned to rent a gite with the Aged P’s (my parents to the uninformed!). As the months sped by and the planning progressed, all was looking well. We were opting for the l-o-o-o-ng drive from Dunkerque to Regat nr Foix – 675 miles – because we couldn’t leave Black Shuck behind could we! Although we persuaded the Aged P’s to fly Stansted to Perpignan and hire a car for the week. Not wanting to lose too much holiday time, we booked the 02:00 Saturday sailing from Dover planning to have a restful evening and leave home around 10pm Friday night.

Then what happens, Lou only decides she can’t let her ‘0’ birthday slip by without a knees up, so she arranges a barby for the Friday night! Well, it would be churlish to decline, so a large proportion of the 48 hours of Friday and Saturday was spent snatching dozes and loading up with caffeine!

This is where the screenplay goes into flashback just to annoy the be-jaizus out of you! Sometime around the middle of April, Christina got the opportunity to attend a conference (boring work stuff, so we won’t dwell on that!) in Florida – nice one! 3 star hotel, 5 star conference facilities, where’s the catch? Well, it was the 4 days prior to May bank holiday so she would return to UK totally shattered and we wouldn’t get out into the hills over an all too precious long weekend. There was a solution, however. Why don’t I fly out to Florida for the weekend – so this s what we did! OK, it wasn’t very eco-friendly but what a chance; and we certainly crammed in the sightseeing.

Day 1 – a wander round Palm Beach amongst the beautiful people and an amazing outdoor sculpture museum

And back to the hotel via a motor dealer trading beautifully restored classic American cars who opens his showrooms for all to view his gleaming treasures.

Day 2 – a trip to the Everglades. 15-mile cycle circuit spotting wildlife and being in awe of the space


Gator (click on any image to view in Flickr) Viewpoint

Plus a visit to Everglade City (hick town more like!) via the world’s smallest Post Office and on to Smallwood Store a fascinating old trading post turned into tourist trap/museum!

Day 3 – a chance to check out the Art Deco architecture of South Beach Miami before checking in for our (separate) return flights.


It was a bit of a whirlwind tour that couldn’t do the area justice – we’ll just have to go back!

Now here’s where it starts to get mad! Given that this was an unplanned trip when we booked our Pyrenees holiday, we felt somehow bound to go straight to work after getting off the overnight flights. So there we were, Tuesday lunchtime back at the coalface. But not for long, as we had already booked Friday off to prepare for the drive through France starting from Ipswich at 10pm!

Now we flash back again to paragraph 2 (annoying isn’t it!). 7.30pm sees us helping Lou to celebrate her momentous milestone whilst Pete is under a gazebo barbecuing in the rain – top effort Pete! Unfortunately we had to leave just as things were beginning to liven up. Just as well we left in good time what with the 45 minute detour due to closure of A.12/M.25 slip road! The ferry crossing was uneventful as, fortunately, was the drive, albeit very long and very tiring. The Aged P’s eventually arrived at the Gite so it was at last time to crack open the vino collapse!

So what’s the French Pyrenees got to offer? Loads! You’ve got buckets full of history from the Cathars through to French Resistance smuggling chaps over the Spanish border.

Cathar Castle

Cathar Castle History

Even though there are hardly any peaks over 3,000m you’ve got some spectacular views. We were there in mid May and the snow line was around 1,800m. This one – The Dent D’Orlu – we have a return match with having navigationally mucked up by approaching from the wrong valley and being forced by the steepening, icy terrain and not enough equipment to beat a retreat. Our attempt to reach the climbing from the proper direction later in the week being foiled by that damned precipitous wet stuff!

Dent d'Orlu
Dent d’Orlu

It also has it’s fair share of single pitch bolted limestone crags with routes ranging from easy to silly ‘ard.

So, we’re back in blighty on the 19th May – which gives just enough time to wash out the smalls and pack for the spring bank holiday IMC foray to The Lakes the following weekend! It’s not as if we can decide not to go or leave the decision to the last minute as we’ve arranged to meet up with Greg and Marika who are en-route from Jerusalem back home to Oz. Anyway, it turns out that The Lake District sees some fantastic weather and Christina and I manage to tick another Ken Wilson classic by the name of Bowfell Buttress. This included getting out of bed by 6am on the Saturday morning after arrival 11pm Friday night. Other fun activities for the weekend were a scramble up Pavey Ark involving linking a Moderate climb to a Diff climb and crossing Jack’s Rake; and Helvellyn via Striding Edge with Monty and a 6 month pregnant Clare Lambert!

Now, to you young bucks out there this sequence of events might not seem like much, but to us of more advanced years it felt like madness – but brilliant fun and an overload of experiences. Roll on the summer!!

The Magic of Lundy

It was early (05.30hrs or some such) when the trip began in earnest (or was it Ipswich?). An uneventful journey meant the relaxing began with time for a wander and an ice cream in sunny Barnstaple. We were full of chatter with great plans and long tick lists of route upon route.

The island’s reputation had been hyped for many of my 11 years in the IMC and I had been looking forward to my inaugural visit for at least 2 of those many. I only hoped that I wouldn’t be disappointed.

As a first-timer, the island begins to get under your skin as the MS Oldenburg approaches the small grey/green ‘blob’

Approaching Lundy
Figure 1. Approaching Lundy (click on any image to view in Flickr)

and starts to tantalise with silhouettes appearing on the top and the cliff; features gradually showing themselves – and this is only the quiet East side!

Approaching Lundy2
Figure 2. Approaching Lundy 2

It continues to wheedle its way deeper and deeper into your psyche as you walk up the cliff side to the collection of beautiful stone buildings perched on one corner of the plateau, passing the magnificent Millcombe House with its inverted roof for the collection of rain water designed by those pioneering chaps of the early C19.

Millcombe House
Figure 3. Millcombe House

You may be only 11 miles off the coast of mainland Britain, but you don’t have to be on
the island for long to make it feel like 1,100. No papers, no television, no radio in the
barn. Some were able to stay in touch with the outside world by the use of natty hand
held devices, but didn’t impose their findings out loud to the occupants of The Barn, so
one could choose to remain blissfully ‘out of touch’ if that was your preference (which
was mine and Christina’s – we were switched off, man!)

Apart from those used by the Landmark Trust employees and farmers no additional
vehicles or dogs are allowed, and the Landmark Trust limit the number of people on the island at
any one time. There is no need for cash money as the tills in the shop and pub are linked
so just a single settlement is required before you leave – like a large open plan

Oh, and there is climbing a-plenty ranging from V Diff to E silly. If you want a list
of climbs, look in the guide book or go to a website such as or, better still,
visit the island yourself. This article is not a diary of my week spent there – how
boring would that be!?

But with such atmospheric places to practice our skill and art as …

The Devil’s Slide

Looking up the Devil's Slide

Starting the Devil's Slide
Figure 4. Looking up the Devil’s Slide Figure 5. Starting the Devil’s Slide

Flying Buttress

Shade in Tha Battery

The Flying Buttress
Figure 6. Shade in Tha Battery Figure 7. The Flying Buttress

Sunset Promontory

Sunset Promontory
Figure 8. Sunset Promontory

Arch Zawn

Arch Zawn

Figure 9. Arch Zawn Figure 10. Ian and Christina on Frontspiece


… who could possibly not want to climb there?

But, its appeal extends way beyond the climbed cliffs and far deeper than the dived wrecks lying off its rugged, boulder-strewn coast line.

All too quickly the week is over and it’s all aboard MS Oldenburg for the return crossing back to the hustle and bustle of kiss-me-quick hats and crowds of sun-burnt grokels after being allowed by this wonderful place to share a few days of its geological existence. There’s a lot less chatter this time. Admittedly it’s blowing a hooly and the shallow drafted Oldenburg is a-pitching and a-rolling like a pitching and rolling thing (witness Alex “6 bags” Harper!), but somehow I can’t help thinking the lack of chit-chat is in part attributable to the sadness of leaving – or is that just romantic twaddle?

You may feel – and justifiably so – that one is waxing lyrical over a lump of rock. Knowing that it would take a more competent wordsmith than myself to do adequate justice to this fragment of pink granite peeking its ancient head just above the surface of the water, I can only apologise for my lack of literary skills.

It truly is a magical

Figure 11.

and relaxing place

Figure 12. Relaxed


  • .. did it disappoint? Most definitely not
  • .. did it live up to the hype? Oh, yes
  • .. will I return? You bet ya! We were among the front runners when Martin Hore manfully stepped forward to organise the 2009 trip. It won’t matter if the same routes are climbed then as were in 2006; each route has a unique and special feel that is worth savouring time and again.

Five Have Fun in the Rhinogs

“Fancy a walk” said Jeff “I know of this ‘interesting’ little route in
southern Snowdonia”

So that’s how it started – our big day out on the Rhinog Ridge.

Friday 18 Feb 2005 saw the Rhinog posse – Jeff Farr, Nigel Walker, Sheila
Norman, Christina and me – arrive, almost simultaneously (and nearly at the same
time!) at Llys Ednowain Heritage Centre and Hostel in the village of
Trawsfynydd. This was a plum find by Jeff. Not only is it only about 1 mile or
so from the start of the walk proper, but also it was only opened April 2005 so
is clean, warm and very well equipped – definitely not for the rufty-tufty
camp-at-all-times contingent (El Pres!).

Although arrival time was only 8.30 pm (the latter part being through
sideways sleet wondering what on earth we’re doing here!), fortunately we had
actually thought the logistics through and made sure we allowed time to get one
of the cars down to Barmouth – the other end of the ridge – and return to
Trawsfynydd at a reasonable hour. Sleep was important as an early start was
scheduled for what we now call ‘Ridge Day’. Anyway, Jeff and I scuttled off to
Barmouth, deposited Jeff’s car and headed back up the road.

On the way back we decided to recce the roadside parking possibilities at
the start of the path (see previous mention of early start – this would save us
about 20 minutes which it would turn out we were extremely thankful for!).
Having located the start point, I found a suitable space and reversed the car in
to see how it would fit. Looks good, plenty of space for traffic to pass by.
OK time to go – whoops, wheels are spinning but we’re not going anywhere! I’d
only gone and got the car stuck!! Jeff leaps out of the car and starts pushing
‘n’ shoving and eventually we’re free. On the way back I decide a better place
to park in the morning would be a few minutes down the road beside the Mountain
Rescue Mobile Unit!

Safely back in the hostel it was time for a nice cuppa, pack sacks and
generally prepare for the morning. To bed at midnight.

Who’s idea was it to set the b****y alarm for 05.30 hrs!?! Christina was up
and at ’em first making sure the rest of us didn’t roll over and go back to
sleep. Cups of tea and assorted breakfasts were consumed, accompanied by a deal
of jolly banter surrounding Nigel’s flaps zip – and, to preserve Nigel’s
reputation, I shall make no further reference to this particular piece of
sartorial practicality (unlike on the day itself!) – and, with flasks of hot
drinks packed, we were off up the road with a hiss and a roar at 06:35. ‘How
come it took over an hour to get out?’ I hear you cry. Well, the official line
is that, due to the walk’s reputation, we didn’t want to start it until
daylight. Unofficially, Sheila’s debilitating fits of giggles over the position
of Nigel’s zip could be cited as a delay!

06:45 sees us togged-up and marching. The weather was ideal being dry with
a light wind and, importantly, good visibility. We had all agreed beforehand
that Jeff and Nigel would be map-readers and navigators because the walk is
notoriously difficult to navigate and they are both experienced and competent in
such matters. The other three of us were just along for the ride! Anyway, no
problems bagging the first ‘peak’ – Moel y Gyrafolen at 535m; and Diffwys, at
577m, was dispatched soon after. So far, so good. Along to Foel Penolau at
614m followed by the first trig point on Moel Ysgyfarnogod at 623m.

Trawsfynydd from Moel Y Gyrafolen
Trawsfynydd from Moel Y Gyrafolen (click on any picture for image in Flickr)


Descend in to the col and back up the other side – some thing that will
become an all too familiar scenario by the end of the day! – and then a few more
times. Some of it was almost a scramble being rather on the steep side!

Some flat
Some of it’s flat …

Some not
and some of it ain’t!

Time for the first group discussion – do we take in the ‘minor’ peak of Clip
(circa 590m) or turn left (roughly SE at this point) to continue past Twr Glas
and Craig Wion (566m). The democratic vote was for the latter which, in
hindsight, was a good call!

More down and up with a bit of flat-top (interesting boulder arrangement up
here) thrown in just to ease the pressure on the knees, down into the col,
across The Roman Steps and it was 1 o’clock, time for a lunch stop – but not
before an ‘interesting’ traverse across a slippery slab and broken ground to the
other side of Llyn Du! Too chilly to stop for long though – 15 minutes and it’s
time to get moving again.

Towards Llyn Du
Towards Llyn Du

A short, sharp burst fuelled by lunch and we’re atop the first Rhinog –
Rhinog Fawr at 720m. Huzzah – one third of the way!

Down again – blimey, it’s a bit (understatement!) steeper this time – and
straight back up the other side on to Rhinog Fach at 690m. It was the ‘short &
direct but steep’ route versus ‘easier angle but quite a lot longer’ debate –
short & direct won! Hold on boy, not so fast this is a false summit, got some
more up to do yet before the true summit at 712m – fortunately not quite as
steep though.

Rhinog Fawr from Rhinog Fach
Rhinog Fawr from Rhinog Fach

Oh, forgot to mention that the possible bale out route was in between the
two Rhinogs – so no going back (or sideways come to that) now!

The descent from Rhinog Fach is another steep little number, but the worst
is now over and it’s a gentle – a relative terminology – rise up to Y Llethr at
756m from where we can see the final peak – and consequently last bit of uphill!
– of the walk. A quick stop for more photos and we’re off along Crib y Rhiw to
the top of Diffwys (not the same Diffwys as earlier however!) and the final trig
point at 750m.


It’s still daylight – though only just! – so time for yet another snack stop
before the long walk off. The wind has re-surfaced blowing snow at us from over
the right shoulder so it’s a case of button up and plod on, and on, and on (you
get the picture!). A couple of hours later though, the cloud clears and it’s a
beautiful moonlit night with a light covering of snow to assist with visibility.

Time for group decision number 2. It’s nearly 8 pm and everyone is
absolutely cream-crackered! So, do we follow the path straight along which
involves another slight uphill bit to Bwlch y Rhigwr or contour along the hill
at a more gentle angle. After deliberation – and a share of the last drops of
Nigel’s warm, sweet coffee! – not surprisingly, the gentle option was voted in
and at 21.15 hrs we reached the road – only 2km to Jeff’s car! At this point
Jeff’s Duracells kicked in and he sped off down the road to collect said car and
drive back up to pick up the rest of us – top man! By 21.30 hrs we were on the
way back up the road – 30 minute drive remember! – to Trawsfynydd having been on
the hoof for a mere 14.75 hours!

The day had been free of serious injury, but admiration has to be given to
Sheila whose knees had been giving her ‘jip’ (is that the right spelling?) from
about half way along and Nigel who got cramp between Y Llethr and Diffwys – but
made a speedy recovery after consuming a snack size packet of mini-cheddars!

Ian, Christina, Sheila and Nigel

Now, here’s the science bit –
Walk length (in 2D only!) – approx 27-30km
Up and down stuff –
Grade – a tough little (?) number; definitely harder walking than the Yorkshire 3 Peaks which were ‘bagged’ February 2004.


Fortunately, Jeff had had the inspired idea of taking a pre-cooked meal with
us – “just in case we didn’t feel like eating out” – as we wouldn’t have found
any of the local hostelries serving food at that time of night! So, after quick
showers all round, we were sitting in the positively luxurious kitchen at Llys
Ednowain tucking into vegetable korai, rice and naan bread – and it was only
half ten at night!

First job in the morning – after breakfast, of course – was to drive back
out to collect my car from where we’d parked it early on ‘Ridge Day’. But, no
lie-in as we need to be out of the room by 10 am. I’m sure the hostel warden
put us in a first floor room deliberately! OUCH, my legs hurt!

Christina and I couldn’t face another hill walk so opted for breakfast in
Bodwyn café – well spotted by Christina – followed by gear fondling in Betws y
Coed (a size 2 DMM 4CU for only £25!) before heading home. The other 3 being
made of sterner stuff, wandered up Arenig Fawr for a few hours before departing
back to the flat lands of Suffolk – how do they do it!?!

All in all a fantastic achievement and great walk, but not to be undertaken
lightly. The paths were tricky enough and the terrain strenuous enough with the
weather being kind to us, so any sort of poor visibility conditions could make
it rather treacherous in many places.

Many thanks to Jeff for suggesting and organising, and to all the party for
being such brilliant company. I think we’re all in agreement when we say “glad
to have done it, got the tick, NOT DOING IT AGAIN!”

It’s worth pointing out that Llys Ednowain Heritage Centre is
ideally situated for the classic MTB routes of Coed-Y-Brenin and is obviously
geared up (excuse the pun!) for such with a secure metal cage for bike storage.