Saturday, 17 March 2012

Surf and turf

With a good surf forecast decided to catch up with Taran and Noel for a spot of surf training at Aberavon beach. My surf technique is pretty hopeless so this was deemed a good opportunity and to start to get a feel for surf techniques in a sea boat. Pictures stolen from Taran....he'd brough his big canon with biggg lense :-)

Heaps of airtime had by all getting beyond the break - yee ha!

And whilst in many of the shots it looked as hough I knew what i was doing......

 The reality was I spent alot of the time the wrong way up or perfecting bongo sliding...........

And Noel scored he most style points of the day! Great stuff and lots learnt.

Malcolm reunited with 'Copper'.
The day didn't finish here though as on getting home I had a cave rescue callout.... for a dog rescue (in fact we got two on the same day. So a few of us from the cave rescue team met the dog owner near some old tips on the edge of Merthyr. The dog was last seen in an old mine adit. Now old coal mines are bad news - loose, dangerous and real issues with bad air. However this adit was in shale and seemed fairly stable. We quickly explored the human accessible parts but no sight or sound of the dog. However one of the team, Ali, suggested the owner came into the adit for a quick look for his piece of mind. So donned with helmet and light we took the owner in and got him to shout down the small holes. At the end of the adit was a standing sized chamber with two very small holes going off. Malcolm (the owner) called for the dog, - nothing - then again - a small sound, the suddenly the dog appears out of one of the holes! Successful mission and a happy dog and owner!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Me, myself I - cave photography for one.

For various reasons I needed a day out of work so chose to use some flexi time and take the friday off. The plan was vague, but part of the reason was to start fettling kit for a caving exped over the easter period. This trip is basically a week in the Canadian Rockies carting kit for two cave divers who are pushing Canadas longest cave - Castleguard.

So with some new lights to play with, and wanting to test the cave photography kit a bit more, I slunk off to my local cave, Lesser Garth Cave. Not a major system but it has the benefit of being in the hill next to where I live - thus not far to travel, though the slog up the hillside is pretty entertaining!

So a little photo essay from the cave featuring me and taken by me (well on the cameras timer...) - all pictures taken on a Lumix G10, using a small tripod, some cheap radio slaves and a max of two flashes;

At the entrance.
The entrance has been the site of a number of archaeological digs and there is evidence of early habitation. The remains of around seven bodies have been found, the latest being medieval in age, and of course King Arthur is buried here somewhere........
In the main passage
After a climb down, which needs some care, the cave becomes pretty big and nicely decorated with much flowstone, Sadly though there is also alot of evidence of vandalism, with damage to the formations and rubbish lying around. I always remove some on these trips.
About halfway through the main part of the cave.
Roughly halfway a small pool is encountered and the passage narrows. This  pool surprisingly has a healthy population of the tiny groundwater isopod Proasellus cavaticus (a kind of aquatic woodlouse). These are true underground dwellers so tread carefully.......
Same as above but single flash.

At the 'second' pool.
A bit further and a second pool is encountered, and despite the attempts of careless visitors is still a pretty place. The cave continues a bit further but then ends at a boulder choke.
egg case of the cave spider Meta menardi
The entrance of the cave is not a good place if you don't like spiders. A number of species are commonly found here but the most striking is the large cave spider Meta menardi, a beautiful and distinctibe spider reddish in colour. The camera set up isn't great for macro stuff but I did manage to get a decent shot of one of the spiders egg sacs.

Another spider inhabits this cave, but is much smaller - a meer 2mm. This is Porrhomma rosenhaueri. This tint spider is a rare beasty and is in unique in the UK as it is our only true cave dwelling spider. For some reason it likes this cave and is another reason to tread carefully................

Porrhomma rosenhaueri (taken on previous survey work with a proper macro lense) - scale: the body length of the spider is 2mm!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Fog bound

Once again on the high seas with Stuart and Taran. The plan was pretty open - just meet at Llantwit and paddle down channel on the ebbing tide, to return on the flood. On arrival at Llantwit I realized there was another dimension to the days adventure - thick fog!

Paddlers in the mist.

We hugged the coast, initially exploring the caves along the Heritage Coast. Tides are currently pretty big and at Nash Point we were whisked along by the tide, clocking 12-14kph at one point.

After a bit we arrived at Witches Point where we hugged the rocks and I inadvertently found a fishermans line - oops sorry! Taran unhooked the line from the front of my boat. Around the corner and we are surprisingly virtually on Southerndown beach. A few small waves but nothing like the helter skelter experience I had last time I was here.

Southerdown with Witches Point vaguely visible in the background.

After some food and a pee we move on following a GPS bearing to Tusker Rock. I'm excited at the thought of visiting here. Reading other local seakayaer blogs I now knew there was some quite sizable wreckage on the rock. The old sea diver is still in me and I've always been drawn by the mystery and history of such wrecks.

Soon Tusker emerges from the mist and with it the remains of what is thought to be the SS Steepholm. Quite a bit of scrap still clings to the rock including the remains of hull plates, winches, parts of the engine and propeller and a large boiler. Wandering on this rock on a low tide in the fog is also quite surreal.

The remains of the SS Steepholms boiler firmly located in a gully on tusker rock

Time is pressing and we paddle onward. Stuart seems keen to locate the Nash sand bank on the return. However we have a brief interlude as we realise a dark shape is following Taran - turns out to be a large Bull seal who tempts us with photo opportunities, only to disappear before we can take the shot, although Stuart does manage one!

A bit of wandering trying to follow bearings in the featureless mist and the Nash bank suddenly appears. Another surreal experience as we have a quick explore of the sand bank, but the tide is racing in and its onwards, following the bank until it disappears.

On the Nash bank
Again the flow of the tide around Nash Point picks us up. Taran goes for a frantic paddle to reach the Nash Buoy itself which appears out of the mist, then onwards back to Llantwit. We keep in vague sight of a surf line, though the swell has picked up. Some shapes appear in the mist - surfers - we're back at Llantwit beach. A quick surf to shore and and we're back..... well almost. the tide is very low and we have a looong carry back to the carpark.......

And whats happens once changed? The fog clears and the sun comes out! Cheers chaps - great trip again!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Bog Monster Cometh.

Its just gone 11.30pm on a friday night. I'm standing with three friends, Tom Gibbs, his good missus Astrid, and Gary Davies in Edale village hall. Around us are still an assortment of like minded souls similarly equipped with headtorches, running sacs and other fellrunning kit - its the start of the High Peak Marathon........ 

To quote the website 'The High Peak Marathon is a 42 mile night time navigation endurance challenge for teams of four.  The route traverses the Derwent Watershed, starting and finishing at Edale Village Hall, Derbyshire. The event is independently organised and run by Members of the University of Sheffield High Peak Club, past and present, and is fully insured and affiliated through the Fell Runners Association.' 

Competitors awaiting their start times.
We were in the mixed team category along with some dozen or so other mixed teams amongst the fifty taking part, many of which were looking very competitive. Of our team, 'Run MDC' , only Gary remained a 'HPM virgin'. The rest of us had done it a couple of times before and knew of the misery that awaited us!

The hope for this event is to have clear and frozen weather so that the infamous peat bogs remain hard and frozen. Alas this was not to be. The forecast was for around 5C with some wind, with fog and rain coming in later. However before the start the local hills disappeared into a foggy blanket - navigation was going to be extra fun.

We kept the start steady. Initial pacing in this event can be hard to judge as you catch slower teams, and faster ones overtake. The key is not to get carried away - the initial 10 miles is fairly easy going compare to the middle bog section that awaits, and 42miles is a long way.

Visibility was poor - very poor at times. Headtorches  became little use on the head in the fog and had to held lower in the hand. I was further blinded by my glasses fogging up and leaving me half blind alot of the time, and the burden of navigation fell to Tom. His navigation is superb but it did leave him with a major task for the race.

Ascending Kinder Scout
Gradually check points are picked off as we crack on, each manned (and womaned!) by cheerful Sheffield students, usally garbed in some sort of fancy dress - you cant fail to smile! The group works well and we stick close. Over the bogs Tom and Gary do a great job of keeping us on what constitutes a path over the proper peat bogs on the route to Bleaklow. This is the toughest section where you do your best to avoid the bog monster, who if you are careless will suck you in and leave you waist deep in the black ooze as you to try and drag yourself out and try not to lose your footwear!

Daylight properly arrives as we approach the Pennine Way but no glorious sunrise in the fog, just a gradually brightening. Toms navigation skills keep us on track and we continue to make good time. At Snake Pass food, tea and cakes can be had, along with more good cheer from the marshals (this is probably the best marshaled event in the world!). We don't stop long - still 12+ miles to go..... however we seem to be in pretty good shape still and Astrid is running very strongly!

Kinder Scout is a pretty section, but sadly the fog doesn't give great views today, although running past the mist shrouded outcrops on the top does have a sort of eerie magic. Then onto Brown Knoll where the bog monster makes a last strike as Gary attempts to leap a section but gets caught to just below the knees and has to clamber his way out! It's not far to the finish now and Astrid continues to push us blokes along. 

Run MDC - happy now finished!
After 10hours 11minutes we make the finish dib. 10th overall, 4th in the mixed category and 30 minutes faster than last time. A very tidy result, but my legs are knackered now... must learn to train a bit more..... 

Big thanks to the High Peak Club for their organisation and enthusiasm who make a really good job of his tough event.