Bushcraft in the Lakes

Friday 2nd September
Chris and I made a good start, both managing to leave work early and setting off mid afternoon. An easy journey stopping of course at Lancaster services and loading up on caffeine and chocolatey goodies, just in case we never saw food again.
We stopped in Windermere and went to Booths as Chris had a desperate urge for instant hot chocolate and I got some trail mix. Then we drove down to the little ferry that goes across the lake and waited for it. £4 and 15 minutes later we were across the lake and parked up at the Cuckoo Brow pub in Far Sawrey.
We took some beer out into the garden and sat with the most handsome man on his own who turned out to be Steven, who we were meeting. Gradually the party assembled around our table. Woodsmoke‘s Land Rover no. 2 was being repaired and so this meant that we had to wait for some late people on the train. Eventually we set off, driving the car up the road to the front of a farmhouse, off the road, where we were leaving it for the weekend. Then all 10 or so of us loaded our bags onto the Land Rover which went off and  we set off for our 10-15 minute walk along the track to the woods. 10 minutes was more like 35 and when I looked on the map it’s over 2 km which even at 4 kph would be 24 minutes minimum so I felt Steven was a bit inaccurate with his measuring.
By the time we reached camp it was completely dark and really really dark as in the deep forest, well deep enough. The first job was to collect our bags and pitch our tents – “anywhere you like, plenty of flat and dry areas”. So off we toddled, having rooted out our head lamps, and gathered all our bags. We had not gone particularly lightweight owing to the promise of the Land Rover for the kit, however it might have been more sensible if we had as we now had to clamber across broken trees and a stream in the dark. We found somewhere flat but covered in branches, and then somewhere flat but soft and mossy so that’s where we pitched.
It was my first time with the new ultra lightweight tent, and I tried to put it up with the pole in the wrong place, fortunately Chris could see straight away what was wrong and helped me get it right.
We went back up the hill to the parachute which was strung up and provided a large dry circular area with seating and a fire for gathering round. We got the introduction talk which was mainly common sense and hygiene which is fine by me, we were a group of 13, with Chris the only girl, although I got added to her and we became a plural! Our leaders were Steven who lives in Edinburgh, John the apprentice and Willow, a Dutch woman who lives on a smallholding in Scotland. Then we got a tour of the camp, the hand washing area, the pot washing area, the badger bin, the bog box (loo roll box as signal that loo was occupied), the kitchen, and finally the latrine. By this time, I was a bit rattled and panicked as it had been quite a challenge putting the tents up in the dark and so I promptly made use of the latrine, someone had to start it off!
We then had some soup and bread and went to bed.
I slept quite well as the bed was pretty comfy and warm and then it started raining….

Saturday 3rd September
I woke to the sound of Chris gently snoring, her alarm and the torrential patter of rain. We got all the anti wet gear on and located the breakfast. You could have Alpen type muesli, Weetabix and corn flakes; tinned fruit salad or tinned pears and that was about it. I went for muesli and fruit salad. Then over to the parachute for tea, coffee or fruit tea. The coffee was instant and horrid but necessary. I didn’t want a coffee cold turkey headache.
Class started promptly at 9 and Steven, even more gorgeous in the daylight, introduced us to saws, knives and bevels. After a session of this, we went off armed with folding saws, to cut down saplings. We also did a bit of mushroom identification. This warmed us up although the rain showed no sign whatsoever of ceasing its torrent.
Steven showed us how to cut a piece of green wood with the knife and then how to cut a notch and a bevel and a spike to create a pot holder. This was very satisfying.
Willow had also brought back some alder that she had cut down, for us to use to make a butter knife. This was much harder and was a project we returned to in quiet moments and interludes, and for myself, made absolutely no improvement, but some really picked it up quickly and made some very acceptable shapes e.g. a fish, a whale.
Our companions were, Joe, Gez, Simon, Rich, Hugo, Ashley, Matt, Bruce, Andrew, Andy and the one I can’t remember who reminded me of Andy our builder.
By the time we’d done all this, it was lunchtime, actually I can’t really remember. Lunch was bread rolls with various nice fillings and salad and dressings, this was not bad at all.
Maybe the carving bit was after lunch. At some point we got a bit chilled in the wet again so off we went armed with saws, this time to cut a piece of standing dead wood.
Dragged this back to camp and this we used to make feather sticks, as demonstrated most expertly by Willow. Then over to us, and boy was this difficult.
Steven gave us a short lecture about shelters as the rain meant we weren’t going to get one made, he mentioned knocking up a loom in an hour and using soft rush to weave a mat in just another half hour. We didn’t try this but double all his timings!
Next, Steven showed us how to prepare a trout and pin it so that it would cook over our fire. Also gave us a fire laying lesson. We split into 2 teams for this, our boys all tried to be bossy all at once which was quite funny. Chris and I let them play with fire and she and I made split sticks and prongs from the green wood, to poke the fish onto for cooking.
I had never filleted a fish before so this was a new experience for me and not as bad as I had imagined. We got the trout cooking, boiled up rice in billy cans held over the fire on our pot holders and were given some sweet potato mash and onions roasted in the fire. That fish was gorgeous, best I’ve had since Chris and I did mackerel on the cliffs above Combe Martin with Mandy in the dark many moons ago. During the cooking, the rain eased and finally stopped.
Chris and I had been a little anxious about the huge foot deep depressions we each had next to our tents. These had completely filled with water during the deluge. They now started to go down a bit.
I don’t really remember what we did after supper, a bit of chat. Willow was going to read us a bit from Jack London but it didn’t happen as the conversation went elsewhere.
They brought us cake at 9 o’clock and we had thought it would be nice cake but it was like the biscuits, cheap and cheerful but actually cheap and a bit depressing.

Fire gang
Fishy on a sticky

Sunday 4th September
I slept really well especially as the rain had stopped so I wasn’t fretting it was going to come in through the big pool.
Same old breakfast.
Off promptly for a walk, great as it was a lovely day. Down to the boat house where Woodsmoke keep some of their kit including some ancient snow shoes and saws etc.
We passed Three Dubs tarn next to the camp, and also Moss Eccles tarn which has a Beatrix Potter connection. A bit more plant identification and then we sat on a little hill and Steven gave us a lecture on water. Good information, all really useful. He is a very knowledgeable young man as well as easy on the eye.
Then back to camp and rolls again for lunch.
A bit on sharpening our knives and how to make sharpening boards which are easier to carry.
Our last activity was to attempt to make fire. Steven gave us a cracking demonstration but even he was panting afterwards and he is incredibly fit. Some of the others did manage it but Chris and I took quite a while to get the bow and spindle to make an ember. We managed to make a pile of dust which could quite feasibly have turned into an ember had we longer to practice. We were slightly hampered by giggles.
Then we got our bags into the Land Rover and travelled in it down to the bottom of the track with John.
Chris and I did a bit of pfaffing with our gear and then the boys turned up on foot and we said our goodbyes and got kissed by some of them.
We drove to Grizedale visitor centre, used the lovely loos with hot water and soap, and then walked up Carron Crag (one of Wainwright’s outlying fells) from where we had great views all round.
Back down and parked up in the National Trust car park for Beatrix Potter’s house in Near Sawrey. We had roast beef dinners in the Tower Bank Arms which were huge! And beer.
Then back to the car park at the bottom of the track and a walk that took at least 35 if not 40 minutes mostly in the dark back to camp. We even took a wrong turning right at last bit and ended up back by the boat house.
We said hello to the next lot of people who were staying for a week and then into the tents. The rain had started up again but we managed a drop of whisky each.

Three Dubs Tarn
Steven the Woodsman
Chris and boat house
Cloud inversion
Pike o’Stickle
Do Not Eat

Monday 5th September
I thought I would sleep well but neither of us did. I was too hot, then everything felt clammy and damp with the excessive amounts of rain. None came in just it was all around.
We packed up the tents, said goodbye to some of the newcomers and headed off loaded up back down the track. We ate flapjack and chocolate in the car. The rain was stop start so we went to Hawkshead and had bacon, Cumberland sausage and beans and toast and not very good coffee.
Then back to Near Sawrey and a tour round Beatrix Potter’s house which was lovely. As well as having a cup saying “A gift from Hastings” she also had netsuke, even a hare with amber eyes. The house was surprisingly small. We took our anoraks off so as not to give the army of volunteers more work to do, they were drying off people’s coats somewhat ineffectively with a tea towel. I didn’t check to see if it had bunnies on it.
Then we went to Ambleside and did a tour of outdoor kit shops, just for a change. We went to a coffee shop where I had had nice coffee before but today it was too weak. I took my watch to the jewellers to fit a new battery. I returned 10 mins later than the time he had said and he said he needed another 10 mins. I went back for it after lunch, all well and good but this same man had done the same thing when he took a link out for me back in March, perhaps poor timing is endemic in this part of the world? We lunched in Dodd’s Restaurant which was very good Italian fare. Mine was a bit more soup like than Chris’ – she had opted not to have the wild mushrooms. Can’t think why as now we know which ones we can eat!!
Back home, we both thought we would sleep well after the not sleeping. I dreamt that an atom bomb had gone off over Bristol and that I had to find a source of water…

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

Italy 5th – 9th July (Valsavarenche)

Monday 5th July
This day’s breakfast was excluding flies and seemed a bit better, croissant with jam inside, not sure about this, I like them plain.
The shoes/luggage superstore was shut until 3.00 in the afternoon so this was no good but Bennets was open and had a household section with very cheap luggage in it, so I bought a holdall on wheels for €19. I then had a coffee in the shopping centre which was nice but decided not to linger as the customers weren’t so delightful. I got a taxi to Stazione Dora. The queer ticket girl told me to go to platform 1 but actually the train went from platform 2, this meant a rush to get onto the train. Very nice train, new and air conditioned and quick to get to the airport. Annie and Caroline were sunning themselves next to the taxi park! I got under a shady tree and we just waited a couple of hours for Mel and Liz. We all got food – I had a huge aubergine, courgette and mozzarella sandwich as well as my own home made sandwich.
Lovely to see Mel and Liz, Liz is now the 7th person with an arm in a sling! We drove up to the mountains which takes about an hour and a half and stop in the village of Villeneuve where we stopped to get a map for Mel and then had a beer in a cafe. I rang home in case this was the end of my mobile signal.
After another half hour we were at the Hotel Genzianella which is a lovely old hotel in the hamlet of Pont near the head of the Valsavarenche valley which is in the Valle d’Aosta. Now that we were in the countryside everything was all clean and lovely.
We got settled in and I have the bed near the window. We devised some rules like a rota for showering, and no hairs in the plughole! The room was lovely – all wood panelled but the bathroom, complete with bath, is very dark. A and C wrinkle up their noses at the idea that someone might use the bidet!
We had dinner, the first course was pasta with ham and cheese, the second was slices of pork braised in wine, mashed spuds and mixed veg. Finished off with creme caramel.
We went to bed early. Not exactly a peaceful night but quite long (9.5 hours) so we must have had some sleep! Annie sleep talking at first which gave me a jump as had forgotten she did this.

View from hotel
Airport reflection!
Tuesday 6th July
Breakfast of muesli and yoghurt, sweet croissant, ham and cheese and an espresso. We, as in A, C, M and I set off just after 9.00, leaving Liz with the Italian phrase book and various supplies rejected from our picnics.
We went up the road through the remains of Pont, sad old timber houses left to rot, and past the other big hotel and the campsite. Beautiful walk going up and up – lots of Alpine flowers, a marmot, a chamois, big birds of prey and some wolf poo! In general, we walked in the order Mel, Annie, Caroline and me taking up the rear. I was a puffing Billy all the way up. It gradually cooled as we rose in height which was lovely. At Grand Collet (nearly 3000m) we stowed the bags and walked up the boulders a bit more. This gave us fab views across to France. We had our first lunch up here.
We slid down some steep scree to a big wide U shaped valley. On the plateau we had our second lunch. We met a couple of gay girls and A got very excited! It was flat for a good long stretch, following the river. Lovely clear rushing water and falls. We reached a cross with a plastic pink crucifix on it looking over to Gran Paradiso. It seemed quite a way down from here but my knee was being a bit rubbish. Whilst having a short rest I took my hat off and forgot to put it back on.
Soon back at the hotel for beer with Liz. I had a shower in M and L’s room as A and C managed to dismember the rota system causing themselves great confusion! A and I went to the campsite shop and I bought a new hat, a better one, baseball style with a flap at the back to keep my neck shaded like a French Foreign Legion hat. Seeing as how both hats made me look stupid there wasn’t much in it! Whilst I was busy buying the hat, A was busy chatting up the girls from earlier, so this was a bit of luck for her, and I still hadn’t really noticed them! I also bought a lip salve as mine had disappeared.
Dinner was pasta and ham, pork and polenta and salad followed by an eggy pudding – bit heavy. Lots of wine.
We went into the lounge where a fire was burning because the bloody football was on the telly with a great crowd of Dutch people watching it. We sort of supported Uruguay to annoy them. I had a sip of L’s genepi – nice! but I had a headache so went to bed, I had thought I’d be able to escape football in the mountains. Our beds here have 2 blankets and a big cover on them.
Camp site at Pont
Let’s all play with our cameras
Head of the Valsavarenche
GP in the background

Wednesday 7th July
We left the hotel at 8.50, a slow, steady climb through the forest all along the side of the river. Very lush and green. We went all the way to the head of the river and the first snow/glacier ice. At this point we had our first lunch.
After lunch it was straight into the ice axe arrest, we did this in the following ways, getting it right and then moving onto the next, more challenging way of falling.

  1. Feet first, on back – left and right sides.
  2. Face first, on front – both sides
  3. Head first, on back – both sides
This was tiring as each time we had to go back up our slides to start again, thus requiring a second lunch!
We moved further on up the glacier to 2550m and then practised walking in crampons. Up a slope, down a slope, across and up, across and down. This was harder this year than it had been last year, partly because of my knee not being as good as it could be (M and I worked out that my knee goes “back a long way”!)
After all this, we went back to the hotel, we only saw 2 people on our whole way up and down. We went through the campsite, there was a hat very similar to mine that someone had put on top of a big pole but it wasn’t mine. C and I asked in the shop, which was plunged in darkness, making shopping even more fun, for snow baskets for our poles. Both C and I were using our poles a lot to take pressure off our respective ankle and knee. We had to explain that we had no money on us and would return later. Back at the hotel for a beer and then C went off and got our baskets which cost €3 for a pair. I had another shower in M and L’s room and then rang home from the big rock across from the hotel.
Liz had found a hat, which was very similar to mine but not mine, however I gratefully accepted it as it was better than mine! I also found my lip salve which had somehow got under the bed.
M came and told me and C what to pack which was fun just flinging stuff out, got our packs nice and light, but he could not be persuaded to go for soft shell at all!! L had given me a couple of stamps which I then promptly lost during the flinging.
Dinner was mushroom risotto, turkey and gravy plus chips and Swiss chard followed by choc mousse or ice cream, not sure which but I couldn’t quite manage it.
There was more ruddy football but less intrusive. M and I shared a whisky.
Each night I have a short read using my headlamp but don’t like to overdo this as A and C are trying to sleep and C sleeps very lightly.

Head of Valsavarenche
Most arresting!

When I was in the French Foreign Legion …
Thursday 8th July
A leisurely start but we were ready by 9.00. Farewell to L. A nice walk up to the Federico Chabod Rifugio which is at 2750m, we started just down the road from the hotel at 1861m.
The refuge is lovely, clean, welcoming and civilised, the total opposite of the Gouter Hut from last year. It has flush loos, loo paper and running water and electricity.
I had pasta and tomato sauce for lunch – huge portions. C and M had gnocchi with leek and Gorgonzola which they said was delicious and I developed a hankering for this.
We had a bit of a rest after making up our beds, also nice and clean – cleaner than a YHA at least. We had a room with 6 bunks in it. I was in the top one above M, and C and A are in the bottom ones. A had Stephano the guide above her, so to speak!
We then went off for what turned into quite a big walk along path 10a, going up to about 3200m. It was quite exposed in places and there was some scree so we said we didn’t want to go back that way. We got up to the snow field with M testing the snow very carefully. To get down we went down the boulder field, some of which were enormous. We had a scary moment when a big slab had moved a bit when M passed it, a bit more when A got to it and then when C was at it, it just shot off down the mountain. M and A moved out of the way really fast and we were all ok. I was well out of its trajectory. We got back to the refuge after about 4 hours out and met Stephano the guide – a nice, gentle but firm man!
Dinner was more pasta and tomato sauce, pork slices and greasy veg. Where do all the pigs live? No pigs to be seen anywhere. I was a bit anxious about the big walk but decided to do it.
We all went to bed early after looking at the sunset. We saw the guy who ran the hotel we’d stayed in in Chamonix last year. It was very hot in the refuge and even hotter in bed, I felt roasted alive and was drenched from head to foot in sweat, just in my thin sleeping bag.
Hotel Genzianella
Looking back to hotel

Rifugio Federico Chabod

Big un
I want this wood pile

Friday 9th July 
Woke at 3.30 with swimming head, I knew immediately it was BPV (benign positional vertigo), I don’t get the paroxysmal bit. I firstly negotiated getting out of the top bunk and finding my specs, finished packing, wobbled drunkenly from side to side down the stairs to breakfast of grapefruit juice, cornflakes and milk, bread and jam and coffee. I mentioned I was feeling dizzy to Mel but didn’t go into the whole thing about BPV as usually people get completely misled by the word vertigo and don’t understand the condition.
We set off at 4.30 up the scree in the dark, headlamps aglow. I was struggling to stay upright and it was only my poles that kept me balanced. After about an hour Mel and Stephano asked if everyone was OK, I told Mel I was still dizzy and struggling, and explained about the BPV. Mel immediately understood as he has suffered from this himself. I’ve had this happen since I was a teenager and just to put the record straight it has nothing to do with altitude vertigo, for me it gets set off by stress and not enough sleep. It can go on for days or weeks but usually these days occurs quite briefly and passes off once I can get stable. I went for loads of tests about it years ago but only actually found out what it was from reading a book by Barbara Kingsolver called Prodigal Summer. In the book she actually describes a procedure which can help to clear the symptoms, the Epley manouvre, however it is not something you can do up a mountain as it involves  basically twirling yourself over and over backwards and forth whilst horizontal!! I definitely hadn’t slept very well being so hot and was a bit anxious about the climb up.
Mel and I said farewell to the girls and Stephano and set off back down to the refuge. On the way we were very privileged to watch a group of 9 or so ibex doing their clashing horns ritual for a good long time. Mel held onto me so that I could safely tip my head back and watch them without falling back through dizziness. We got to the refuge about 6.30 and left at 6.45 as M didn’t want to hang around there waiting all morning. We went straight back down to the car park in 1 hour and 45 minutes. It was a lovely cool walk and we only met a park ranger, complete with his gun. They carry guns because when the park was set up, hunters still hunted in the park and the only way to stop them hunting was to meet fire with fire. Thankfully no park ranger has had to fire his weapon. On the way to the car park, I ate half a granola bar.
Back at the hotel, Liz was much surprised to see us. I had a 2nd breakfast of coffee and 2 pains au chocolat. Mel had a coffee and went straight off back to the refuge (he did it this time in 1.5 hours!)
I had a bath and then Liz and I left the hotel at 10.30 and walked up to the big green valley we had come down on Tuesday. We were out for quite a while and I had 1 and a half granola bars but did not give any of them to the hungry fox we met! It was a lovely walk, very hot. We got back at 4.00 and A, C and S had just got back with M and so we helped them to celebrate their successful ascent of Gran Paradiso at 4061m. They said I would have hated the exposure of the very top bit.
We drank lots of beer and ate lots of crisps.
I had another bath, did a bit of packing and found my stamps. All lost items now recovered.
A herd of bullocks went up the road, very sweet and on the menu later.
Dinner was pasta and tuna, veal which was yet another item that turned out to be pork and salad. Liz and I went for a short walk to the campsite and had a look at the bullocks in their new field. Everyone was early to bed.

Ibex clash

Liz and neat bit of path
Scabby foxy

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

Lizard impersonation

Night nav on Blackstone Edge 07/05/10

This one is specially for Peter M!
This was a welcome relief from the real nastiness that’s been exposed because of the E word. I was in good company and we didn’t even touch on it.
BB met me and CD at the biker pub in Littleborough. BB assured me that the bikers were mature and quite nice really. Sadly just these ones were not very handsome, well there was one who I wouldn’t have pushed out.
After a quick meal and change of clothes, CD and I drove up to Blackstone Edge and parked up in the layby at 8.30. It was very cold and windy so we headed off first south along a good path and then east along a less good one, all in daylight. We had to go fast just to keep warm, and this was with both of us wearing 4 layers. As we approached the road, we could see the moor was on fire but we worked out it wasn’t blazing just where we were going and also that the wind would be taking it away from us.
By the time we got to where we had to cross the road, the light was going and here we made our first mistake, by thinking we were further down than we were. This meant we were not the side of the gully that we thought so we did a quick change of plan to follow the gully. We stood under the pylons in the dark trying to take a bearing, Cath convinced the electricity was affecting her compass but actually it was her phone. Basically we stomped around in the clumps and dips for a while  and eventually reached the top of the gully.
We had decided to aim for a spot height, however both forgetting or not seeing that there was a water way to cross! Another change of plan, to handrail along the drain which we did, using timing and pacing. And then lo and behold, in the middle of all this nothingness, was a little footbridge and post to cross the drain. So we did, then more pacing to find the spot height. This was harder to locate as the local map is marked in 5m contour intervals and so a spot height would be hard to find in daylight let alone at night.
We next headed due West for another drain with a name like Cold and Windy Drain which we found although it was about 20-30m beyond our estimation. We followed this drain to the fence whereupon Cath said “what’s that white line?” “it’s the road!” At this point, she decided to roll around on the tussocks. First Aid was not needed. I dazzled some cars with my beacon headlight and soon got back to our cars. It was nearly 11.30 by then!
When I got home I was so cold I had to put the heating on, make a hot water bottle and drink whisky. I didn’t really warm up properly until lunchtime today!

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

WGL training 17th Feb 2010

Last day. We do some more class work, then out in the minibus to a moor that is amazingly bleak next to a frozen reservoir. Bitterly cold. We charge off and work out how to correct an incorrect map i.e. showing a path that doesn’t exist. Practise with GPS, very useful and gives me confidence to get on with mine.
Lunch on a freezing tussock, then Steve clearly frozen, yomps us all off and demonstrates aspect of slope. Still not sure have quite got the hang of that one. We are all so cold it is surprising we are smiling in the photos.
Thaw out in the bus and back to PYB for more lectures, shower, then pack up and finish off with evaluation and feedback. My feedback is Good, Good and Do more camping!! What more?!
Good byes all round and then 3 hours and I am home. The snow is falling as I take my bags in the house.

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

WGL training 16th Feb 2010

Tuesday, no more Dave. On to Steve. We do more classroom work and then out to take turns leading a leg. Davy races us up a hill and most of us are panting, he isn’t but then he is militarily fit. As I get my leg to nav to, 2 women of a certain persuasion appear and want directions. I am convinced they are Steve’s stooges so am on my best behaviour and show them where they are. Very good practice as we have just negotiated a tricky non path.
I tramp the group across the heather just for fun. We finish up having to do a steep descent.
Back to PYB for more lectures, tea, cakes, showers.
We get a special early dinner because we are going out night navigating. Steve drives us about 2 miles down the road. It is frosty. We tramp up a hill again going far too fast straight after eating 3 courses. Then we send 2 ahead to walk on a bearing and direct from behind.
Once we work out we haven’t walked for long enough to reach our river, we continue and then find it. Our next stop is a spot height which we find by aiming off. Am very impressed that the techniques work. We aim off to a wall and descend back to the bus. Hannah gets stuck in the freezing bog, but no problem as the drying rooms are very efficient.
We only did a couple of kilometres but it was great that the principles worked and we achieved our aims and found the places on the map, fab.

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

WGL training 15th Feb 2010

Arrived at Plas y Brenin on Sunday 14th, after a good journey taking just over 3 hours. I checked in, unpacked my bags in my twin room with just me in it. I have a brand new en suite and the rooms are warm and comfy. No TV which is great.
In the bar, I chat to a woman who is going to do kayaking and eat a burger and chips and salad, well I didn’t eat the chips, very nice home made burger.
Go to bed quite early after orienting myself around the rabbit warren on the place, it’s an old coaching inn for travellers from Dublin and has a staircase and selection of corridors at every turn. It’s been a mountain training centre for over 50 years.
In the morning, go to breakfast, eat various things on toast and fill a plastic bag with rolls for lunch, all labelled with day and contents and all very neatly filed, also fruit and a piece of home made cake.
The only criticism I have is that the coffee is pants, yes all the food is included which is great but they could do with a proper coffee machine.
Go to Introduction Lecture with the Director of the Centre and meet Lorraine who is in the WGL group. We all hive off with our trainers who are Dave and Steve. Follow them across the road to our training room in Berwen. Steve says he’ll see us next day and leaves us with Dave.
We are Lorraine, nurse from Cardiff; Cath, a DoE scheme leader from school in Surrey; Hannah, the same; Peter, retired construction firm owner from Brecon; Davy, who old deaf ears here thinks is called Steve, about to leave military intelligence after endless years; and me.
Dave the trainer does some talking and then we’re off in the minibus for about half an hour up to the north wales coast but inland a bit to spend the day practising our nav.
Cold and wet all day, we get to use the group shelter to eat our lunches, bit squashed but keeps the wind off well.
Then back to PYB for a shower, a bit more lecture, then tea and cake, then more lecture, then dinner of roast beef – very nice. Then more lecture. Working us hard.
A swift drink in the bar then bed.

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

Thursday 10th September Day 3

Both my heritages, left for pater, right for mater!
This is a rocket, right!

We did this earlier on, aaargh!

Having recovered from the ladder experience, this day was to present a different challenge. Before setting out all our bags were carefully inspected by Stephane, much got chucked out and packs were much lighter. I also chucked out my heel lifts and was instantly more comfortable and able to balance properly.

We set off on a big cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi. This station is at 3842m and you change cable cars half way up. The station has a rocket on top. Not a very good or beautiful rocket, more of a Thunderbirds type. We got out and cramponed up with axes at the ready.
Straight away, the first thing we had to negotiate was an arete (ridge) of mind numbing terror. My mind did go numb and I just stopped. Being roped to Ann and Stephane, I guess this was not a very bright thing to do but I did nearly lose it. However, on looking ahead, the actual ridge was not very long. I had seen people coming up it when we got out of the cable car and had taken a photo, as you do, thinking “blimey, some people do mad things!” little dreaming that I was about to be one of them.
But once done, soon forgotten and then it was across the Vallee Blanche which was just as described. We crossed crevasses, wending our way for about 5km in lovely weather, and consolidating the skills, crampon wise of the day before. Whilst roped up I got a phone call from the manager at the residential home where my aunt lives, I’m not sure he believed me when I said I was crossing a crevasse! A short stop for lunch, so short I didn’t get any in my mouth and then a short walk to the Helbronner cable station. This station is on the border of France and Italy so I celebrated my dual heritages by spreading myself across the border whilst Ann took photos of me under the flag signs.
The return journey from Helbronner involved a very small cable car which I shared with Annie and Caroline. They started jigging about to Leona Lewis and Steps and it got a bit worrisome for me. Annie stopped when I mentioned my fears were similar to hers of being stuck in the big cable car with lots of people. Fantastic views of where we’d walked. Then all the way down from the Aiguille du Midi to Chamonix and refreshments in a cafe. Walked back to the hotel and evening meal followed by seriously sad and quite weird film about a creepy young guy and his girlfriend Lucille, who he clearly thought was not really human, and their attempt to climb Everest. The attempt resulted in both their deaths. She falling down a crevasse and him just dying hopelessly. The film was strangely edited and the subtitles stopped even before L went down the hole. Just what you want to watch before climbing your first very big mountain!

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

Wednesday 9th September Day 2

Mer de Glace

Lots of continental breakfast to sustain us for the day ahead. Into town in Mario’s minibus to a little station to take a little train to Montenvers railway station which gives access to the Mer de Glace. We set off walking in our full winter gear (well I did), plus ice axes, helmets and crampons. After a short walk we came to a sheer cliff face which we descended via about 7 or 8 long ladders. My estimate was that the distance covered by the ladders was about 100m. When I read an article from the Independent (22/08/09) which has a photo of the ladders, the writer reckoned it was 200m. Go to More Photos and scroll through to see the wretched ladders! For me, going down, I quite enjoyed the ladders, it was only later on that I felt differently about them.

A few boulders and then straight onto the glacier. My only previous experience of a glacier was the Jostedal in Norway, which Chris and I just walked on very briefly in our ordinary shoes before a stampede of Japanese tourists arrived. I hope that is the right one!
Getting used to the crampons by tackling shallow slopes and then steeper ones. I do like crampons and feel very secure in them, I had really enjoyed the weekend in the Cairngorms with Chris Conley and Chris H learning to use them.
We moved onto some rope work – this means climbing up a slope using crampons and axe whilst attached to the rope which was attached to a fixed point. Again, this was made gradually steeper until finally we climbed a vertical wall of ice. I just about managed to do this, although did not make a very pretty picture! However the abseiling down was just fab, loved it!
We walked around and into sections of the glacier, wonderful ice formations.
Eventually it was time to return to ascend the cliff. I was very hot, and my pack was full, I also was having a problem balancing as my heel lifts had slipped to the middle of my boots so was pretty much totally out of kilter. Getting up those wretched ladders became a major challenge and there seemed to be many more of them than there had been going down. Both Pierrot and Stephane said my pack was too heavy.
We went back down on the little train and got picked up by Mario after a refreshment stop! A bit later we had our evening meal and then a bit of an old 50s climbing film where men wore corduroys but still dangled upside down from terribly high places.

Going down into the glacier
Going down into the glacier
Ice climbing
Ice climbing
Alpinism oh yes!
Alpinism oh yes!


Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

Training for Mont Blanc

St. Sunday Crag 090809
Parked in the hotel car park at Patterdale. £3 for the day.
From Patterdale went through field with cows all lying down. Then up Thornhow End and Harrison Crag, no scrambling. Whilst stopped for short break, 2 women came past with concerns about the bull in the field who had been lively on their way up. I reassured them that all the cows were lying down and that I hadn’t spotted a bull and then forgot about him!
Carried on along the contour on the side of Birks and then up along the ridge to St Sunday Crag. There was one man and two girls on the summit, well we all arrived at the same time and all looked a bit like we wished the others weren’t there. I stuck it out and had my lunch in peace on the top! Whilst there a flare went up from the sheer scree east side of Helvellyn and a helicopter spent a lot of time trying to do something. I found out afterwards that a woman had fallen 3 metres from the top path onto a man on the lower path. She had hurt her leg. She also managed to get herself to hospital after being rescued. Given that the Mountain Rescue is a charity and receives no government funding, it seemed a lot of effort for someone who was walking wounded.
I went across to Gavel Pike as it was about a hundred metres away. It was a lovely spot, quite different, and worth the short hike. Then cut back to the main path and returned the same way.
When I reached the field with the cows, the bull was up and about, he was a very big chap in every way. I just said hello as I had done before and gave them a good wide berth. No problem.
High Street 020809
Parked for free on the road at Mardale. It was a bit busy here but then Julia Bradbury had been on the TV going up High Street earlier on in the week. After all, that had made me think of it too.
First turned towards Haweswater to reach the far end of the ridge. Then up along the ridge all the way to the top. The ridge is quite craggy and scrambling is needed. Could be a bit scary to those who don’t like heights. The top is fantastic, really does look like a Roman road, which it is, from I think, Ambleside to Keswick. Lot of effort up there in a toga I can tell you. It was very nippy and I had to put various winter layers on. Bit busy on the top.
Went across to Mardale Ill Bell and then down the Nan Bield Pass. Pleasant route via Small Water.
Shipman Knotts and Kentmere Pike 260709
Parked for free at Sadgill.
Took the path towards Stile End. Then turned off right to ascend. Quite a lot of scrambling on Wray Crag to get up to Shipman Knotts, by this time in thick mist so have little idea of what it looked like. Continued up following a wall and then fence which I kept in sight. There was one bit when I couldn’t see the handrail but fortunately this part was served by a good path. Got to Kentmere Pike and have no idea whether it has a lovely view or not. Very wet indeed.
I met 2 people on this walk. The cloud lifted a bit on the way down and surprised me with what was there, i.e. lovely views across to Longsleddale but quickly shrouded again.
Grey Crag and Tarn Crag 190709
Parked for free on the roadside at Sadgill which is at the end of Longsleddale. Very small road to get to it and Sadgill literally is the end of the road.
Straight up from the road onto the fell, through a lot of very high bracken, up what AW calls an easy gully, ha ha, there is no scrambling but it’s quite wearing. Onto Great Howe and across to Grey Crag. So far so good as good weather but would be hard in mist with no marked paths. From Grey Crag (the E in GrEy very important as there is another fell called GrAy Crag), I could see Harrop Pike was only a couple of hundred metres away so skipped over there, then skipped back and across to Tarn Crag. Then I decided to head back and thought I would go a different route from that planned. Over confidence rushing in here having detoured to Harrop Pike. I tried to get down but it was too steep, didn’t panic, just came back up again and went off an easier way, and followed the fence line across and then back over to just below Great Howe, some very steep bits where I had to hang on to the fence. It was ok and I found a handrail of a wall I recognised and then was back on track. Got back to the car and felt in trouser pocket for the keys, pocket was unzipped and no keys in it. So gave myself several moments of sheer unadulterated panic. Then remembered they were where they always are, on the key ring in the rucksack. Lessons learnt – make plan and stick to it, don’t go off piste unless completely sure of navigation. Be fully prepared and confident in knowledge that I can accurately navigate and not make mistakes.
Red Screes 110709
Parked in Ambleside in the college car park, opposite the main car park. £6 for the day. The route went up the Stock Ghyll waterfall which was nice but quite busy. I didn’t really need to do it to get onto the hill. But once past, a pleasant route up Red Screes. Notable for the big walls. Also no actual scree slope to cross, that’s on the east side, and yes the stone is red.
Quite a long old trudge up to the top but once there, the delight of reaching the trig point and then the reward of the view to Brothers Water. Fantastic and a surprise. Had the summit to myself. Came back down the same way.
Scafell Pike 010609
Parked in the free village car park at Wasdale Head. Went into tiny little village church, very sweet and cool. Headed on up along the valley. Whilst having a rest got interrupted by a man from Bangor who wanted to chat, at this point I managed to be quite pleasant to him but he was clearly quite needy.
Further on up the road, he had stopped just where I needed to, it being a very hot day and I had to do a reccy. Then 2 more people who wanted to chat to him came along, the man of the couple was a bit weird and asked me what I was laughing at in a very defensive way i.e. hostile. I decided I didn’t need any of it or them and so left them all to it, after all my walk was nothing to do with any of them, and I’m not a social worker.
I went up the corridor, a nice interesting route with a bit of low level scrambling. Stopped again for my lunch and they all went past so I happily ignored them. Carried on, the worst bit was the scree slope to get to the top but that done and then I was there, on top of the highest mountain in England, along with a great many other people. Needless to say, the man from Bangor, who I thought I had lost, appeared with another new friend. He asked me if I’d worked out a route down for US. At this point I said I’d found one for me and that he would have to find his own, I know it was rude but then so was his imposition on me.
Came down the west side which was a nice easy route, I had no idea it was there! I’ve done the big one now and feel no need to repeat it. Bit like Snowdon really, there are lots of nearly as high mountains without crowds or indeed loonies. I will go up Ben Nevis just to be able to say I’ve done the 3 Peaks and I am quite happy that Snowdon was done with the assistance of the train. At least we did walk all the way down it!

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.