Far from the Maddening Crowds – Helvellyn via Eagle Crag

Far from the Maddening Crowds – Helvellyn via Eagle Crag

Helvellyn is a mountain I’ve stood on the summit of a few times now and every time my route has been via Striding Edge. It’s the classic lakes ridge scramble (grade 1) that every hill walker should try at least once and it’s one of the defining routes from Alfred Wainwright’s series of books.

On this occasion it wasn’t really about the summit, like I said I’ve been there before, this time it was all about the ascent. I realised Striding Edge was going to be busy, it was still the school holidays and the weather forecast was good. Overcast, light winds and a high enough cloud base to give an 80% percent chance of cloud free summits so I had to pick my route carefully.

After a rummage through some guides I decided to go up via Eagle Crag, a grade 2 scramble at the head of Grisedale Valley which you can get to from either Glenridding or Patterdale, I parked at Glenridding as its less far to drive for me.

As I predicted Striding Edge was chocker block, yet during the walk along the Grisedale Valley I didn’t see another soul. Even Eagle Crag was being neglected. I though I might have seen some climbers on the crag but the muggy conditions weren’t ideal for the steeper stuff and was probably putting  them off.

Striding Edge from Eagle Crag

The scramble itself is easy to navigate with a nice feeling of exposure, by this I mean it’s exposed but at no point does it feel dangerous. I’m talking with a little experience under my belt so it’s not the place you want to be taking a complete newbie to scrambling or someone who doesn’t like heights.

At the head of the valley there’s a ruined slate building. From here you head up a small rocky shoulder where a second ruined slate building sits at the foot of Nethermostcove Beck, then follow the right hand side of the gulley to the top. Once at the top of Eagle Crag there’s a nice opportunity to rest and take in the view down the valley before continuing the ascent up to, the first Wainwright of the day, the summit of Nethermost Pike (891m)

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Looking back along the Grisedale Valley from Eagle Crag

At first I was tempted to by-pass the summit of Helvellyn (950m) and head straight for Striding Edge to complete my decent back to Glenridding but somehow it didn’t feel right. I’d come this far it would have been rude not carry on for a couple of hundred meters or so.

I got my timings spot on and missed the worst of the crowds along the ridge and as always Striding Edge provided an enjoyably lofty experience.

Helvellyn via Eagle Crag

 

Staithes to Port Mulgrave

Staithes to Port Mulgrave

After weeks of doing battle with my internal demons and feeling a little down in the dumps I was beginning to miss the wilderness, I needed to escape. I wanted the mountains. Wanted them badly. Alas, it wasn’t going to happen so I had to consider an alternative that still took me away from the crowds, felt a little adventurous and contained some interesting features to keep me entertained and take my mind away from the black hole it was being sucked into.

Cue a trip to local beauty spot, just a little way down the coast from where I live, in the North Yorkshire Moors. To be honest it’s a spot that, more often than not, gets overlooked due to its locality but it’s walks like this one that really make you smile and make you glad to still have blood pumping through your veins.

I parked the car near in the public car park near the caravan park and the Captain Cook public house and set off down the hill to harbour. My intention was to walk along the rocky foreshore to Port Mulgrave and then back to Staithes along the cliffs following the Cleveland Way, part of which follows the coast from Saltburn to Filey.

A couple of words of warning before I progress.

  1. This section of coastline, from Staithes to Port Mulgrave is completely cut off at high tide and there are no exit points, so make sure you check the tide times carefully before setting out and allow yourself enough time. You can check the tide times at www.tidetimes.org.uk.
  2. The cliffs are very unstable and rock fall is almost constant. Most of it is insignificant but occasionally bigger chunks come down. I was hit on the shoulder by a hand sized lump and was lucky it didn’t cause injury or hit my head.
  3. The rocks on the foreshore can be very slippery, especially when they are still wet.

Don’t let that put you off though. I did say I wanted a walk that felt adventurous and for me this fitted bill perfectly. Once I’d left Staithes and the surfers behind I didn’t see another soul until I reached Port Mulgrave. The secluded feeling and the sound of the nesting sea gulls, the waves crashing and the rattle of the falling rocks reverberating around the amphitheater like cliffs made the place feel really atmospheric and I felt like I had been transported into a different, almost prehistoric, world. The walk isn’t even that long, less than four miles, but I spent so long looking at the millions of fossils entrapped in the rocks and soaking up the atmosphere that it took me a good four hours to complete the walk.

A thoroughly enjoyable bimble along an amazing section of coastline, which I would recommend to anyone visiting the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. Whether you’re local or traveling from afar.

As the Greek physician Hipocrates (460 BC – 377 BC) once said “Walking is man’s best medicine” and after this walk I think his point is proven beyond doubt.

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Staithes – Port Mulgrave

Grasmoor via Causey Pike

Grasmoor via Causey Pike

This is a hike I have been after completing for some time now but have never got round to, until recently. This walk was supposed to be one of my last training walks for an epic long distance trek called the Whitby Abbeylands Trail round the North Yorkshire Moors National Park I completed in 2011. It’s a 52 mile trek in total and I was aiming to complete in under 24 hours completely unsupported to raise money for the Great North Air Ambulance. Unfortunately due to a busy time at home it never happened and has been sitting on my tick list ever since.

An impromptu visit to the Lakes to visit my brother and his Mrs proved to be the ideal opportunity for this walk as we were staying near to Braithwaite. The weather was good with a high cloud base and little wind although it was bitterly, bitterly cold. This, however, didn’t put us off as we were all well prepared for the cold and considering much of the fells further to the south and east were still in full winter condition requiring the use of crampons and ice axes. I think we got of quite lightly with no ice or snow to contend with and the cold was just an excuse to keep moving and keep warm.

It offers just about everything a hiker could ever want with some easy scrambling and lofty ridges offering up the excitement along the way not to mention the stunning views. The good thing about this walk is there are plenty of exits along the way so you can make the walk as long or as short as you like. You don’t have to go all the way to Grasmoor, you could walk as far as Sail for example, or you could climb up to Grisdale Pike on the way back to Braithwaite if you have the legs for it. It’s also very easy to navigate in good weather as it’s a case of following the ridge on well defined and well maintained paths to Grasmoor and then descending towards the cobalt mine on the slopes of Scar Crag.

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The distance is approximately 12 miles and you should allow around 6 hours depending on the weather and your fitness.

To view more pictures from the hike please visit my galley

Grasmoor from Causey Pike

Hay Stacks via Grey Knotts

Hay Stacks via Grey Knotts

This was more than a just a hike for me. For me it was a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage to the final resting place of one of my personal heroes, the late, great Alfred Wainwright whose legacy has inspired generations of hikers of all ages from all over the country to get off their sofas and go exploring the great Cumbrian mountains.

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As it was late in the day when we set off we decided to park at the Honister Slate Mine which costs £5/day, which isn’t a bad price as far as Lake District parking goes. The route offers fairly simple navigation, in good weather, as its a case of following the fence line all the way up to Grey Knotts, then Brandreth from which Hay Stacks is clearly visible. Hay Stacks itself though can be a very confusing hill to navigate in bad weather so care must always be taken.

To view more pictures from the hike please visit my gallery

Hay Stacks

Harrogate Winter Bouldering League Round 4

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I had high hopes for this round after such a good performance, by my standards, I hasten to add, in round three. But alas it just wasn’t to be. My dermatitis was trying to throw a spanner in the works and I had somehow managed to pick up a bacterial infection on my hands as well which left me in fair amount of pain, at the time, and unable to do much of anything.

After a couple of weeks off, a course of antibiotics and some potent hydrocortisone cream my hands still weren’t fully recovered, they still aren’t now nearly six weeks later, however they were a lot less painful and I could finally start holding onto stuff again. So after a couple of easy finger boarding sessions I decided I should give it a go. I had nothing to loose and nothing ventured nothing gained.

After my first session I managed to match the golden number of 200, admittedly I spent the first 15 minutes creating little zinc oxide tape gloves for the worst affected parts of my hands and this worked very well but still left me feeling pretty uncomfortable afterwards.

I had still a few problems in the bag for a return session and I was sure I’d be able to nail them down after a couple of tries but during my second session of this round my head just wasn’t in it and I struggled to get into the zone. After flailing around for a little bit I just felt completely drained. I was tired after hiking the best part of thirty miles the week before and completing eight Wainwrights and was in the middle of getting ready to return offshore so I felt rushed. Then I remembered a statement from Dave Macleod’s video Echo Wall in which he says something along the lines of “it’s not what you can do but how much you want it.” On that note I decided to call it a day and concentrate on looking forward to the day my hands are fully recovered and round five begins.

It just goes to show how big a part psychology plays in climbing.

Harrogate Climbing Centre Winter Bouldering League Round 3

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Ever since the final round of last winters competition I’ve been trying to break the 200 point barrier in a single round. Without much success if I’m honest, but those of you who’ve been following my progress will already know this and how frustrated I’ve become due to my lack of progress. Despite my best efforts. I think one of my main failings was the fact that I have been putting myself under a lot of pressure to try and beat my previous scores and I was starting to lose track of the real reasons for taking part. Fun and enjoyment.

Anyway after spending, both, Christmas and New Year offshore working night shifts I was neither physically or mentally in the right shape to even consider attempting a session. Instead of doing my usual and hitting my local climbing wall Rock Antics and my finger board with a vengeance I persuaded my mate to take me Park Nab, near Kildale in the North Yorkshire Moors to have a play about on some sandstone. Nothing serious, just a top rope session on some easy but classic routes. The main aim was to practice gear placements and it proved to be time well spent. Then a few days later we headed to to Caley Crag for a bouldering session in, what can only be described as, less than perfect conditions. The rock was slimy, green and frighteningly dangerous to climb on, so we didn’t really do a lot.

After a week of recovery now complete I finally felt ready to tackle my first session on the problems of this latest round of the competition. It was pretty successful, I managed to flash all the pinks and yellows, something I’d have struggled with last year, and one of the blues. I fell from the next two blues I tried, on the main overhang, because I was starting to feel slightly pumped and decided I should call it a day before I lost too many more points but the beta certainly proved useful later on.

My second session involved one of the toughest drives I’ve had for a long time due to the snowy conditions which gradually got worse the closer I got to Harrogate. This didn’t do my mood any favours and by the time I arrived I was wishing I hadn’t set off in the first place! But I wasn’t about to admit defeat so I put the snow to the back of my mind, I could think of worse places to get stuck than the climbing wall, and settled into a nice warm up on the easy pinks and some of the overhanging yellows. I’ve got no idea what happened next but I flashed a blue, then another and another. Was this really happening? I had to give myself a slap to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I even managed the two blues I fell from in my first session without too much difficulty and before I knew it 200 points was in the bag.

Mission accomplished. Bring on round 4!

Great Dodd and its Neighbours

Sometimes I just cannot resist the temptation to get to the Lake District especially when the Mountain Weather Information Service predicts a 90% chance of cloud free summits and little precipitation. It just had to be done.

As with the last time I visited the Lakes it meant a super early start, slightly later than I’d have liked which meant that I missed most of the sunrise but I did happen to get a lovely shot of Blencathra catching some early morning sunshine.

Blencathra soaking up the sunrise.

Blencathra soaking up the sunrise.

The walk starts from the National Park Authority car park at Legburthwaite at the very northern tip of Thirlmere and heads north up the road a little way until the disused Bram Crag Quarry is reached. The route then takes the path through the quarry a little way before heading up what is called Fisher Wive’s Rake. A fairly steep but easy path up towards the summit slopes of Clough Head, the first summit of the day.

Fisher Wive's Rake is on the right of the shot and is not to be confused with the two gullies on the left which looked like a more serious proposition.

Fisher Wive’s Rake is on the right of the shot and is not to be confused with the two gullies on the left which looked like a more serious proposition.

In the fine conditions the route was easily navigable and it was quite a pleasant experience to just stuff the map away in my rucksack and concentrate on the walking and the lovely panoramic views. From Clough Head the route follows the easily discernible path to Calfhow Pike, a small rocky outcrop approximately halfway between Clough Head and Great Dodd. From the summit of Great Dodd it’s a case of following the ridge line towards Watson’s Dodd and then Stybarrow Dodd before the long decent back to Back Lane. Raise is always an option if you have the time and the legs to make a little extension onto this route.

As I wasn’t sure what the conditions on the ground would be like and just how steep and technical the route I’d planned was going to be I decided to play it safe and take some gear to protect myself if I came across anything I didn’t like the look of. Namely my walking axe and my Grivel G10 crampons. As it happens I didn’t need to use them but as the tragic events of the past week in the Scottish Highlands, which have accounted for 5 deaths, prove it’s always better to air on the side of caution. I like risk and adventure as much as the next person, nothing makes you feel more alive, but it’s not worth dying for. Going out into the hills unprepared is not only dangerous but it is highly irresponsible. Just think about those brave volunteers of the mountain rescue teams who would have to risk their own lives to come and rescue yours!

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Harrogate Climbing Centre Winter Bouldering League Round 2

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Well round 2 is now well underway in the winter bouldering league at the Harrogate Climbing Centre, in fact it will draw to a close in a few days time, and I was really hoping to crack the 200 point barrier in this round. A milestone I’m yet to achieve in this competition despite my best efforts. Unfortunately for me this round was no different to previous rounds and despite scoring slightly more than I did in round 1 I’m still seven points short of my goal. I’m also totally busted on attempts, except on the super hard problems, and although it pains me to admit it I’ve had to welcome defeat, once again, with open arms.

Despite scoring a few extra points this time the problems seemed really fiendish and there was a few comments from climbers about how hard the problems were in this round. It was, however, my problem solving that let me down once again. Reading the problems was one of the first things that resident coach Ellie Howard commented on during a bouldering session I had with her a couple of months ago, that and the fact I’m a weakling, and is something that I really need to focus my attention on in the next round in the new year. My problem is reading the problem before I set off climbing. Once I’ve had a few goes on the problem the key to the crux move become all too clear but obviously when scoring points this is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard.

Despite another disappointing performance overall, I’m pleased I managed to beat the previous rounds score, albeit marginally and I’m looking forward to another attempt and breaking the 200 point mark in the New Year when round 3 kicks off. If anything this round has made me even more determined to beat 200 than I ever have been before!

New years resolution = Must try harder!

Harrogate Climbing Centre

Boulder Yorkshire

 

 

Helvellyn Horseshoe

Helvellyn Horseshoe

A couple of weeks ago I managed to get out and enjoy some of the winter conditions in the Lake District, conditions were by no means perfect underfoot but the weather was absolutely spectacular! Martin from North East Climber and I both commented how rare it was to for us, personally, to experience such pristine sunshine and clear blue skies in the Lakes given our fleeting and irregular visits to the area.

To complete the planned route up to the summit of Helvellyn via Striding and Swirral Edges in day light it meant we had to set off no later than 5am from home on the east coast. Not an easy task when it’s -5ºC outside. Road conditions were less than ideal with the coldest temperature we witnessed being -7ºC as we were crossing the Pennines. The journey to Glenridding took a little longer than expected due to the icy conditions and we arrived literally minutes before the sun started rise.

Heading out into the dawn

Heading out into the dawn

The sunrise was actually hidden behind Striding Edge as we were approaching our first rest stop of the morning at Red Tarn but we were greeted by some of the most amazing colours reflecting from the snow and what little wispy bits of cloud there was. Even the brilliantly white snow turned a striking peachy orange colour as the sun came up and with the almost full moon still visible it felt like we were pioneers exploring some recently discovered alien world.

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After a quick breather at Red Tarn we made a bee line for Striding Edge, crampons weren’t required at this point as the snow conditions were soft underfoot and it was easy enough to kick secure steps into the snow. Once on the ridge though it was a different storey and things became a little hairy on the slippery, icy, rock. Fortunately the path was well trodden and easy to navigate and we made good progress along the ridge towards the summit. The lack of other people on the ridge helped but it was a bit surprising given the excellent weather conditions. I remember the first time I tackled Striding Edge we had to queue at certain points which wasn’t very pleasant in dense cloud, pelting rain and a howling gale!

The summit was however quite busy and after a quick spot of lunch we made our down Swirral Edge and summited Catseye Cam on our way back to the car, where we found a nice little slope with virgin snow to practice self arresting which is always a wise move in my opinion as you really don’t want to be learning how to do it when the proverbial is hitting the fan.

It was one of the most enjoyably days I’ve ever experienced in the Lake District and I’m looking forward to a lot more like it soon!

If you would like to view more pictures from the days walk please visit my Gallery

Helvellyn Horseshoe

 

Dixon TEPS 2 Glasses

Dixon TEPS 2 Glasses

Over the summer and the start of this winter I’ve been using these glasses I bought from an on-line optometrist called Rock Spex, who specialise in prescription eye-ware for sport and outdoor enthusiasts. They also cater for people, like me, who don’t require a prescription but are looking for some functional eye protection that they can rely on whatever their chosen activity may be.

The DIxon TEPS 2 glasses with photochromic lenses from Rock Spex

The Dixon TEPS 2 glasses with photo-chromic lenses from Rock Spex

As you know it’s the mountains and crags of the UK that are my preferred playground and I was looking for something that would cope with pretty much anything and everything that Mother Britain could throw at them.

After a good discussion on twitter with Andy from Rock Spex my mind was set on the Dixon TEPS 2 with the photochromic lenses as an added extra. The service and advice from Andy was second to none with regular emails telling me about the progress of my order. Which arrived swiftly and well packaged.

In the box you get the standard frame complete with standard lens, prescription insert, any extra lenses you ordered, a rubber gasket which provides extra protection from wind and spin drift and interchangeable elasticated head band for converting them into mini goggles. There’s also a soft cleaning cloth and a soft case for storing everything in. So you get lot of eye wear for your money but at over £100 a pair including the upgrade to photochromic lenses I think it’s to be expected.

I’ve been using them regularly whilst exploring the UK in all it’s varying degrees of weather and I find them light and comfortable when worn for long periods. The large size of the lenses offers far greater eye protection than a standard pair of shades, but the best thing about them for me are the photochromic lenses which have a range from completely clear to very dark. This means they can be worn in any light conditions making them incredibly versatile, which for me is their main selling point and exactly what you need when trying to travel light and fast in mountains.

As an added little sweetener Rock Spex are also offering a 10% discount to new customers.