Monday, 31 December 2012

White Christmas

Leaving the top telesiege to the Puy St Vincent ski resort we slide to the top of a black ski run called Carmen. But this is not our destination. We kick off the skis and strap them to our rucsacs - our adventure is off the back of the resort......

Mark leads the way, after all this is his backyard (and what a backyard....). We stomp up for a few hundred metres gaining the proper summit of La Pendine.

Late afternoon on Boxing day 2012 - Mark approaching top of La Pendine

Fellow skiers approaching the summit of La Pendine (taken two days later to the above)
The day is sunny and clear with glorious views of the mountains all around. We stop to admire before clipping back into the skis. Mark had already been this way today and knew conditions were good. Just as well as the Col we needed to gain was still over half a km along the ridge either side of which are cliffs and rock bands. Not somewhere to get your ski turns wrong.

Skis on we follow the side of the ridge following the tracks made by Mark and a few others earlier in the day. A few easy turns are needed but they feel alot harder knowing that error is to be avoided! We slither between a few rocks and a bit of side stepping up is needed before the final section to the Col du Bal is reached.

Mark on the ridge line looking to the end of the Narreyroux Valley
At the col I look down. The initial snow head-wall looks pretty steep! Fortunately its only the first move that's the hardest. As we ready for our descent we are joined by two fellow Brits, both of whom are friends of Mark.

Looking back along the ridge form the Col
I leave the Col following Mark, sliding to the right and avoiding the rocks. The first turn is made on an easing of the slope and its off! The snow is superb and a few good warm up turns are made, before stopping to take in the atmosphere and the terrain we're in.

Leaving the Col

Enjoying great snow!

The descent into the Narreyroux valley continues with whoops of joy as the four of us making fresh tracks all the way. Powder turns are made all the way into the valley floor, and its only when we reach the bottom track do the snow conditions deteriorate.

Mark on the descent (taken two days later after some more fresh snow)

Making tracks in the powder...... we start to approach the tree line.
All that remained now was to skitter back to the cars and a celebratory beer for a fine trip! This proved entertaining in its own right. The valley track was frozen solid and uneven - a right old knee bashing on the skis.

Descending back to the ski station in the last light of the day.
Two days later we both went for it again. Some fresh snow and the snow pack looking stable then it had to be done again! Conditions had changed on the ridgeline and we left the ridge before reaching the actual col. The descent was again superb and fortunately the bottom ski out was much nicer with the fresh snow. A real treat to have such good back country conditions over the christmas period.

Leaving the ridge on the second run two days later. A few more skiers around this time!

The route in blue.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Riding the Bore (at least trying to.....)

A 0430 start to meet Taran, Jay and Kate at Newnham for 0630. The reason - to have a bash at riding the famous tidal wave - the Severn Bore.

Saturday saw a predicted 3 star wave hitting Hewnham at around 0800, but many factors affect the wave such as weather, wind direction and water levels in the river. Thus height and time predictions are merely a guide - mother nature may well have other ideas....

Arriving at Newnham for close to 0630 I was surprised to find we were the only people there. However by the time the wave was due the place was buzzing with sightseers, kayakers and surfers!

This was he first time both seeing and riding the famous Severn Bore wave, and I have to admit to starting to get apprehensive about the idea. Was I going to simply get mashed up?

We got ready, sorted the shuttle, and got onto the river. Some experienced kayakers were on hand and I quietly quizzed them for advice!
Contemplating my fate..... Picture by Taran
The river levels were high and the current strong. Sand banks that were normally exposed were covered. Taran was in his sea boat and we joked about the expected bongo slid clearing a path on the wave!

You hear the wave before you see it - a distant rumble becomes apparent and then you see this river wide ridge of whitewater approaching. Ahead and amongst it a throng of surfers and kayakers.

Nerves clear as you get entranced by this amazing natural wonder thats sweeping towards you. No option now but to have a go.......

Taran of our group is first to greet the wave and is immediately swept into a bongo slide, all captured on his Go Pro. Enjoy the video!

Taking my cue from the other guys I start my paddle and the wave sweeps into me. An initial bit of bongoing and then I turn onto the top of the wave and hey I'm surfing... A bit of playing and I'm back on the wavefront and again sideways so get back onto the top of the wave. However I let myself drop a little too far back and can't regain the wavefront... My ride is over.

I regroup with Taran an we discuss options. Briefly we see if we can get back to Newnham on the current edges, but no chance against the tide. We notice Jay and Kate further upstream on the river edge and join them, and soon a group of us are whizzing along the tidal current to the get-out at the Severn Bore Pub.
Enjoying the 10 mile paddle to the get-out point. Picture by Taran

The paddle to the Pub proves an enjoyable trip, ripping along the tidal current and enjoying the scenery, company and varying weather. Both me and Taran finished with silly grins on our faces!
Journeys end. Picture by Taran

So whilst I was only on the wave for a few hundred metres it was a great experience and one I will try again. Well worth the 'stupid o clock' start!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Autumns End.........

Last official day of Autumn - winter from here! Weathers looking pretty OK so its a flexiday off work and a late afternoon run on the hill with the dog......

I go for the classic Central Beacons loop. Easy to get to and it will be quite on a friday afternoon. Park up at Storey Arms, up to Corn Du, Pen Y Fan and Cribyn. Down the Gap road then across the valley at the reservoir to regain the ridge and back to Y Gwynt. Then down the 'toilet track' and back to the car.

Up the track alongside Storey Arms, with Fan Fawr just holding onto a wisp of cloud.

Banks of cloud swirl over the col between the classic flat tops of Corn Du and Pen y Fan.

Looking back towards Corn Du from Pen y Fan.

The flat summits are an ancient seafloor. How many walk across these tops but never notice the fossilised sand waves under their feet?

Still water at the reservoir before beginning the return leg of the run.

Cloud hugs the side of the ridge and the main peaks, highlighting further the texture and shapes of the landscape.

The sun sets as I run along the ridge. Cloud obscures the view on the horizon.........

....though a final glimpse of the last sun of autumn is just gained as it sinks behind the distant hills.

Looking back west across the Brecon Beacons from Y Gwynt.

Dog at dusk.

A final view of last light before the final run off the hill and back home. A definate 'Autumns End'.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Voyage of the Dawn Treaders......

Finally a weekend arrives where some sea paddling becomes viable again! An excellent forecast sees Taran come up with an ambituous paddling plan - Sully to Steep Holm, then across the Brean Down and back.... oh and we had to be on the water by 7.00am. Early start then.

A dawn start................

Stuart and Eurion joined us for the fun so I with some serious seakayaking expertise. The morning was cold and clear and twilight was in the sky as we gathered the boats on the beach. As we set off the causeway to Sully Island had only just flooded, and some sporty tidal waves greated us as we past the island. Taran returned through the waves for seconds!
As we paddled out on a wide vector for Steep Holm island we were greated by a superb sunrise. Soon we became pretty spread out, with me gradually starting to lag behind the others - think I need a faster boat or bigger arm muscles......

Sunrise on the water

Steepholm in the distance

A quick stop is made on Steepholm to stretch the legs and empty the bladder. However our intended destination is looking less likely. We were later on the water than ideal, and were running out of time before the tide turned. We paddled on for about a mile, but decided the better option was to turn round and use the tide to get us to Flatholm.

Mist caps Steepholm as we turn to head for Flatholm

A following sea and some lumpy waters made the ride to Flatholm fun. A stop was made to stretch legs and scoff some fodder, and whilst on the island we met up with another paddler Hywel who joined us for the journey back. By the time we set of again the tide had well and truly turned and flatholm had soon whizzed past, though in the wrong direction. A hard paddle angle was needed to cross the tide and return to Sully Island without missing it!

Preparing to leave Flatholm

Stuart playing in the tidal race around one of the Cardinal bouys

Soon we're in the calmer waters at the back of Sully Island., and its still only midday. A good trip, cheers guys.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Running up that hill.......

The Snowdonia Marathon - the first 'proper' marathon i.e. my first official event of 26.2 miles of mainly road running. This event had long been on the radar to do, in fact I did once plan to do it (when you could still enter on the day) but a cold bug had other ideas.....

To me this road marathon has allot going for it - good atmosphere, great scenery (if its not raining...) and a challenging course. Its also cheaper to enter than many races less than half it distance, though if you want value for money misery then do a decent fell-race (provided you're prepared for it)!

During the week before doing the race didn't look good. After an evening run with the local fell running club I once again come down with streaming snot and lots of sneezing. Several early nights and some severe Lemsip overdosing I find myself meeting up with other Les Croupiers club members in a guest house on the edge of Llanberis. A good evening of chat, food,and a few gentle pints* is had before retiring to bed.....

The morning and we're treated to a fine sunset and the start of a beautiful day - a rare treat for this event! Wandering to the start I'm approached by an S4C crew and asked about my well speaking abilities. My reply yng gymraeg must have said it all as they replied 'I was safe'!

The first few miles are run gently - its a long way and the second half is tougher so no need for heroics..... I plod on enjoying the view and remembering some of the climbs on the classic crags all around, from the mighty Mot and the fantastic Cromlech.

After around 4-5 miles you are at the top of the pass. From here its effectively downhill into Beddgelert and the half way mark. I continue reasonably gently but a mile or two of offroad is soon met. I can't resist and off come the brakes..... soon its back on road, and after  a short and sharp pull uphill its back onto the main road.

Beddgelert is reached in 1:30 - faster than anticipated. The question is now whether its too fast? The second half will soon tell. Its effectively steadily uphill out of Beddgelert and the miles soon start to grind, made harder by a surprisingly strong wind. I cheekily tuck behind a couple of runners. I would have done a turn at the front but the pace keeps picking up when I try and so I settle in behind for a mile or two.

The runners I'm with gradually disappear ahead, and I let them go. Meanwhile I pass a gradual but steady stream of slowing runners. Around 18/19 miles and the calfs are feeling tight and close to cramp - the lack of road running miles is starting to be felt so I start to tuck into my emergency gel and energy sweets.

At the last decent hilly section the 4th placed lady comes steaming past in fine form. My fell legs feel road swamped so I grab more gels, flapjack and water at the Waunfawr feed station - a veritable feast. I steadily plod and feed for the next half mile or so and lose a few places.

Gradually pace returns and the legs bounce back a bit. I up the grind pace and reclaim some lost places. Soon its time for the last mile. This is a rough dirt track, and its downhill back into Llanberis. Now downhill is often harder than up, especially on mashed legs, but the fell runner emerges and I go for it, flying past a good half dozen or so of fellow runners on the way.

A final dash to the finish and the marathon is completed in a decent 3hr 12mins. A very pleasing result though going down stairs did hurt for a couple of days....
On the finishing straight. Picture Gafin Griffiths,

So would I run it again? Certainly! Its a hard but enjoyable race thats friendly, organised and in a great part of the world.

*A decent local brew of 3.6% called 'Bog Standard'.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Mind runs.

There are many reasons to go running. It could be to simply keep fit or to do hard training to push those personal bests or simply to keep mind and soul together.

Often fitting in the running is a slog - a combination of time and motivation. But when a run feels 'right' then you know its worth it.

Such runs needn't be about a competitive best. For me its usually a classic hill run when the body is going well and the mind needs the therapy of a decent run.

Last week was such a 'mind run'. With the Snowdonia Marathon coming up I'd been trying, rather badly, to get some focused training in. Many things kept getting in the way - cave rescue callouts; work; family needs.....

I'd ended up in Yorkshire for the weekend, partly to attend a cave rescue conference, but sadly also to attend a remembrance ceremony of a friends wife tragically killed by a speeding motorist whilst on a cycling trip. Gillian was killed outright whilst Paul suffered serious injury. The ceremony celebrate Gillians life but also brought home how loved and missed she will be.

So Sunday afternoon and the conference is over. The long drive down the M6 awaits but the day is too beautiful to waste. The mind is also too full of stuff such as Gillian and Paul, uncertainties with the job, and all the usual stuff of our lives. So I go for a run.

I set off from Clapham along the classic Thwaite Lane. This is definity the Yorkshire Dales - the whole texture of the landscape is so classically 'Dales'. After a few km I turn onto the Crummack Lane. Constantly I admire and absorb the karst landscape all around - the light, the landscape is simply superb.

Looking back down into the Austwick Beck valley
I pick my way along the bridleways and am soon following the route roughly alongside Austwick Beck. Just before the Beck emerges from its underground origins I swing up onto the Moughton Scars and the classic karst pavement landscape the area is so famous for. Ahead is Pen Y Ghent whilst behind is the summit of Ingleborough - two of the classic Yorkshire 'three peaks'.
Ingleborough in the distance

Pen Y Ghent

The running feels so right and the body good. I've no water and only a bit of food. I've also no set plan of where I'm going.

I follow the path across the scars to pick up the 'Sulber Nick' path. I had initially thought I'd run along this to pick up the route back to 'Long Lane', but the day is too good and the mind is demanding more. So I keep going - onto the flanks of Simon Fell and along the path to the summit of Ingleborough itself.
Summit of Ingleborough

From the summit is a fine vista with views out to the Lake District and beyond, and a wealth of cloud scapes from brooding dark sky to bright sunshine. I stop to absorb it all, however time was getting on so it was a rewarding mad dash back to Clapham via the classic cave country found on the flanks of this fine hill.
Looking towards the Lake District

After about 25km of running I'm back at Ingleborough Hall and the only car left from the conference is mine. A quick slug of water and a flapjack and it was time to face the joys of the M6. At least the mind felt better to deal with it......

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Ardeche Caving Part 3: Traversée Rochas - Midroï

For me this was the trip of the holiday, a traverse of the Rochas to the Midroi. We had done a previous visit to the Midroi entrance a few days before. This had been an early morning stomp into the gorge, with caving chums Ali and Dom, to rig the lake traverse. However this proved to be quite a bit of frigging with ropes (probably easier to take in a few dry bags for flotation and paddle across - its not that long and the water warmer than Dan yr Ogofs Green Canal!). We had a quick explore beyond the traverse but time was running out and had to return for the afternoons family activity - a mass South Wales Caving Club canoe trip on the Ardeche!

Changing in the Midroi entrance.
South Wales Caving Club Ardeche armada invasion.....
Four days later and we manage to fit in the Rochas - Midroi through trip. Morning was spent doing various family and other club trips, but by around 3.00pm, myself, Ali and Dom were joined by Pete, and we headed off for the Rochas. Armed with lots of rope (a 40m, 60m and 80m) and hangers we set off in the sweltering afternoon heat for the Rochas entrance. Fortunately the entrance was only about 20 minutes from the car, gained by following a track that skirted high cliffs on the side of the Ardeche Gorge.
Glamorous Brit cavers abroad!
Still sweltering even in the shade of the Rochas entrance.
We had a very sweaty change in the cave entrance which seemed little cooler than the outside before sliding through a narrow slot past a selection of large spiders into the cave proper. Almost immediately we are greeted by a feast of fine formations as we follow the chamber to the start of the pitches. Gaining the head of the first pitch needed some care on the polished stall floor. Ali rigged trying to find the best hangs through the range of old spit placements. The P28 is initially a clean hang but soon needs a deviation, followed by a rebelay before hitting a sloping calcite floor. Off here is a fine gallery, whilst the rope is needed to get down the last section of calcite slope.

Ali rigging the P40.
At the base of the pitch a short slippery climb up (better gained by traversing round) gains the head of the P40. Rig along the wall until it seems appropriate to drop the main wall. I think if you are planning to take the P60 off the bottom, then traverse further. We were planning on the P55, but that doesn't seemed to be the recommended route in the current online descriptions. If looking left at the base of the P40 (looking out from the pitch) there was a sort piece of rope coming out of passage and this is probably the route to the P60 option.

The P55 itself is gained by descending the greasy slope at the base of the P40 which needs a bit of care! Rigging started at a suitable stall thread and continued to follow the slippery slope. A few spit placements are encountered, and a bit more rigging added before the pitch goes properly vertical. However spits for good hangs were not in evident, though a piece of 7mm tat in a drilled thread made an excellent deviation (note: there are alot of drilled thread placements so a stock of suitable rigging rope useful). This served for the hang until some steel 10mm hangers were found in place which served for the final part of the hang onto a large calcite flow. From here we rigged the last few metres to the large blocks at the base of the pitch.

The cave here is superb - huge calcite flows and very glittery formations. Very beautiful. We then started to look for the Midroi connection, and hoped the pseudo-siphon was dry! After furtling down a few grotty muddy holes we found the correct route. If facing out from the base of the P55 this is in the rock jumble on your right and has a piece of tat dropping into it. After the short rope climb down the route is then along a rift and the area where the pseudo-siphon is usually found - for us fortunately dry... From here its a case of following the howling draft through a series of small passages until you pop out in decent passage again in the Midroi.
Large areas of passage had these 'knobbly' pendants

A blurry picture of the pools which were very beautiful

Ali on the start of the traverse out of the Midroi.
The passage in the Midroi is superb, with fine formations and blue pools. The way out was found using the description we found on the Cerberus caving clubs site. Too soon we arrive at the traverse which needed some further frigging to de-rig, and then it was a final muddy wade and slither out of the cave.

All that remained was to stomp out of the gorge! Fortunately the setting sun painting the gorge sides a delicate pink provided a serene back drop to our tired but contented stomp, and cold beer was waiting........

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Ardeche Caving Part2: Exploring the Peyrejal

The Event de Peyrejal is part of an extensive system linked via long sections of submerged cave. Our trip took us into part of the system now gained via the dry 'entree artificielle'. A small hole covered by a rough bit of metal and a rock dropped us into a series of short pitches for which an 80m was almost enough to get to the bottom (a short piece of rope is useful for the last short descent which the 80 reached but didn't go down!).

From here you can explore a fine series of phreatic passages, most ending (for the dry caver) in sumps. Carbon dioxide levels are also noticeable in parts of the cave. Generally the caving is pretty straight forward, although there is the odd awkward climb to deal with. The passages are very sculptural and if you look carefully there are some great fossils to be found in the rock, whilst a couple of species of cave beetle were also spotted wandering around.

Last short descent into the cave

Looking downstream (?) towards a sump

Ammonite fossils in the cave floor

Superb phreatic passage

Iain Miller enjoying a fine borehole type passage!

Just up passage from the entrance pitches


Enjoying close to 40C heat after a caving trip - damned hot!