Saturday, 3 December 2011

Blencathra via Sharp Edge

Every year there is a small group of people in Britain who get ridiculously giddy at the first sign of snow on a British weather forecasters map. These people even have their own weather forums and in recent years have used Twitter hash tags to create a website that shows live snowfall as it happens. These people have even been known to stay up staring out of their windows all night, without even sleeping, in the hope of seeing snow flakes fall past the glow of their streets lights. These people travel around with a spare sledge in the boot of their car, even though they don't have children. I have to confess I am one of these people and some of my friends refer to me as The Snowman. So when I saw the Mountain Weather Information Services forecasts mention snow a few days ago I couldn't believe my luck, as I had actually booked two days off work. Deciding where to go on Thursday night was made easy when tweets started coming through on Twitter by reliable sources saying that a sprinkling of snow had fallen on the Lakeland fells over eight hundred metres above sea level.

Ascent path from Scales

I had originally planned to go to Scotland this long weekend but a combination of not being rich and extortionate fuel prices made me think again. I did want to do something I hadn't done before as I tend to find myself being a bit boring sometimes and sticking to my favourite walks. So I decided on the Newlands Horseshoe which I have wanted to do for some time. I packed my winter gear the night before as I knew I would need to set off as early as possible to get up to the Lake District, as there are not many daylight hours this time of year. So full winter gear packed, including ice axe and crampons, I set off at half six in the morning. Traffic was just before rush hour so I soon found myself dashing trouble free up the M6. As I approached the South Lakes junction I looked left and squinted through the windscreen trying to spot any signs of the white stuff. Unfortunately although I could see the tips of the Coniston Fells, none of them had snow on. 'Oh well' I thought to myself, at least I can just put my normal boots on and do a decent walk. Then it dawned on me, being in a rush this morning I stupidly hadn't picked up my walking boots!

Tarn Crags above Scales Tarn

Luckily I did grab my winter walking boots. These are obviously very stiff boots and not the kind of footwear designed for a long horseshoe walk, so plans had to be changed. Most of the tweets about snow the night before had mentioned Blencathra. Being short in distance and easily accessible from the main road it is ideal for a quick jaunt. It also happens to be one of the best mountains in the Lakes and I dare say probably my favourite. My preferred route being an ascent of the knife edge Sharp Edge ridge and a descent of the Halls Fell Ridge. As I passed the Howgills I was convinced the snow may have gone as none of the Howgills beautiful round lumps had white stuff on them. My faith was soon restored when crossing Shap. I looked left to see High Street and Helvellyn topped by the bright white stuff. With a Smile on my face I turned off at the North Lakes junction and made my way along the A66 towards Keswick. After a few miles a white topped Blencathra came into view. I pulled into the layby at Scales, parked up and kitted myself. From the A66 I could also see the Newlands Horseshoe which didn't seem to have snow on any of it's peaks.

Snow showers over Scales Tarn

I set off along the A66 then turned up the path between the houses to reach the open land below Scales Fell. I turned right and ascended the path above Mousthwaite Combe to reach the col between Souther Fell and Scales Fell. Looking back from the ascent path I could see that Great Dodd was the lucky mountain with the most snow cover. It even looked as though it had more snow on it than the higher Helvellyn. I turned left and headed up the Glenderamackin Valley to reach Scales Beck where I ascended it's banks to reach the stunning glacial hollow of Scales Tarn. I stood at the tarn soaking up its dark yet strangely calming atmosphere. The cliffs of Tarn Crags were lightly dusted with snow, making it's usually over powering cliffs look unusually gentle. I had to make a decision now, do I or don't I tackle Sharp Edge. I have done it in cloud and sunshine but never in slushy ice and snow. My heart was saying do it, my head was saying don't. My heart won and I set off on the ascent path to the start of the Sharp Edge ridge. As I climbed the clouds came down and wind picked up. It started snowing, that hail like Graupel snow that blasts into your face like sand.

Sharp Edge

I managed to get to the half way point along the ridge along the easier path that skirts the ridge to the right. Half way though the path disappears and I had to get up on to the crest of the ridge. With great difficulty I reached the crest of the ridge and made my way carefully along to the drop just before the infamous Bad Step. After loosing my footing on several occasions and getting more wet and cold I decided this was not a good idea. I couldn't get a grip at all and every time I put my boot on the slate it slipped down on the icy mush. I stopped when I reached the crest and put my Microspikes on but they just slipped on the angled slate and made balancing even harder. Crampons were complete overkill and made things much worse. I turned round and made a dodgy slippery descent back to the path then headed back down to Scales Tarn. I passed three lads without ice axes who were heading towards the ridge. I didn't lecture them on not doing it as I hate when people do that to me. Instead I just told them what the conditions were and wished them luck. As I had been putting my hands in puddles of mush, my gloves were absolutely frozen and soaking wet. I swapped into my mittens which were warm, dry and heavenly. I made my way across Scales Beck then up the ascent path on the south side of Scales Tarn.

Snowy Blencathra summit

This path is incredibly direct. I don't tend to use this path as I prefer Sharp Edge, but as I advise people to use it on my website for an alternative to Sharp Edge when it is impassible, it was good to give it a go. I watched Sharp Edge across the tarn and followed the lads progress. They got to exactly the same point I did and then sensibly turned round and headed back down the ridge. The path I was now on soon reached the snow line and the path had no footprints, so it looked like I was the first person to ascend it since the snow fell. I was surprised to find that in places the snow had filled up to drifts of a few inches deep in the path. Looking behind me as I got higher I could now see down the Scales Fell ascent path, another one of Blencathra's many routes that I had never tried. I presumed it was just a boring walk up a bulk, but I was pleasantly surprised to see it was actually another excellent ridge walk. I reached the summit plateau turned left and made my way to the summit. As I reached the summit the snow stopped falling and the clouds started to lift. Perfect timing and the views were awesome. The views along the rest of the long summit ridge would have been enough as the rest of the mountain looked incredible covered in white snow with dark brown and red ridges heading off towards the valley far below.

Doddick Fell

The views opened up all around and I could make out which mountains had been given a sprinkling of snow. It was certainly a select few that had been given a proper sprinkling. The Derwent Fells and Central Fells only had a very slight sprinkling on their highest tops. The neighbouring giant of Skiddaw was similar to Blencathra with snow above eight hundred metres. The best snow looked to be on the Helvellyn range and the Eastern Fells, in particular The Dodds. I had a look down the Halls Fell Ridge from the summit but it was covered in ice and snow. The last time I descended the Halls Fell Ridge I looked across to Doddoick Fell and thought it would be nice to descend that way one day. I looked across to the Doddick Fell ridge to see it free of ice and snow. Therefore I turned round and headed down the zig zags towards the Scales Fell descent. There were some scary spin drifts passing me at times like mini tornados. I turned off the Scales Fell path and headed down the Doddick Fell descent path. This route is steeper than it looks from a distance. The first section is quite a scramble and some crazy gusts of wind had me pinned to the rocks at times. The descent of Doddick Gill was windy but pleasant with views across the valley to the snowy Great Dodd. I visited Keswick after the walk but found the gear shops full of the usual overpriced ultra lightweight garbage lacking in longevity or features. I didn't need any new gear and I had already spent enough money on fuel to get here. Therefore the only thing I had to do before I left the Lakes was to make a detour to Ambleside to get the wife her favourite Chocolate Fudge. By the time I was leaving the Lakes it was chucking it down with rain and five degrees. If that was falling as snow on the high fells, there would be a significant amount of snow by now. Snow is forecast for most of next week too. It took its time, but winter is finally here!

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Beinn Fhionnlaidh from Glen Creran

After Thursday nights adventures I spent most of Friday afternoon asleep in my cosy bed at the Clachaig Inn. On Friday evening a noisy knock at the door signalled the arrival of Elaina, who I was looking forward to seeing. Partly because she had promised me a batch of her delicious home made banana muffins. I followed Elaina down to the Bidean Lounge to join Kirstin, Iain and Steve and of course the star of the weekend Frank who I hadn't seen for a few years. This weekend was all about Frank, who the next day would be bagging his final Munro Beinn Fhionnlaidh. By final I mean the only one on the list of 283 Munros that Frank is yet to summit. Frank is still fit as a fiddle and to use the word final would be wrong as I know for a fact it won't be the last time he climbs to the summit of a Munro. Frank also wanted to have them all under his belt before he was sixty years old. It just so happens that Sunday would mark his sixtieth birthday, so the weekend was a double celebration. We ordered food and I stuffed down Haggis followed by a tasty Venison Burger. Over dinner I told everyone about the adventure I had on Thursday night. Of course sympathy was soon replaced by the usual mocking and mickey taking, not surprisingly a trend for the weekend.

Walking for Elleric to Glenure

After washing dinner down with a few pints of ale my Thursday night adventure had turned into a dramatic near death experience that I just had to share with the rest of the Clachaig Inn. Later on we were joined by the friendly folks from Frank's mountaineering club in York. Maria arrived having just come down from Buachaille Etive Beag. Maria who we nickname the Energiser Bunny, managed to cram in several Munros this weekend. I am fairly sure the next final Munro event will be Maria's. Gordy who I haven't seen for ages turned up with his mate Stuart, who I immediately bonded with. It may have been something to do with the fact we were both modelling the latest Movember trucker moustaches, or as other people referred to them, seventies porn star moustaches. It has to be said we did look like the chuckle brothers when we sat next to each other. Gordy and Stuart were a bad influence on us all and Steve in particular. The drinks went from ale to whisky and even to port. Much later on we were joined by Frank's son and daughter and their partners. I'd never met these guys before but was not surprised to find they were a great bunch. They had their soft boxer dog Maui with them who was an immediate hit with the dog lovers, myself included.

Lunch spot at 500m on Beinn Fhionnlaidh

As Steve ordered his fourth "last" drink of the night Frank declared that everyone should be at the car park in Glen Creran at the start of the walk for 9am. A few people looked tired in the morning though most of the Scots and Yorkshire contingent seemed to have not surprisingly managed to avoid hangovers. I picked up Maria from the Glencoe Youth Hostel and we drove to Glen Creran. We drove under the Ballachulish Bridge, past Castle Stalker then turned left on the Glen Creran road before the Creran Bridge. At the car park it was great to see so many people had turned up for the event. There were already twenty people. The only two missing were Gordy and Stuart who turned up half an hour later but soon caught up with us on the hill. We set off along the track from Elleric to the farm at Glenure. Steve and myself spotted a herd of Red Deer on the hill side above the farm as we approached. At the farm we turned left and carried on along a track through the forest. When you have dozens of people in a group like this you often find that despite usually keeping an eye on the navigation, for some reason everyone thinks that someone else is navigating. Unfortunately no one was and when someone finally did look at the map we realised we should have turned right off on to a less obvious track, almost immediately after the farm.

Fraochaidh and the Ballachulish Horseshoe

We retraced our steps and headed up the correct track. There were several Red Deer stags as we passed one of the farmers fields. The track soon led us on to the grassy western ridge of Beinn Fhionnlaidh. This route is not always the preferred route up Beinn Fionnlaidh, there is also a popular route up from Glen Etive. Frank decided on this route as despite it being a bit of a slog the terrain is fairly straight forward, and therefore easier on those less experienced who had joined us. There were a few people with us that hadn't walked up anything like a Munro before and a few who were returning after injuries. It can be difficult walking in a big group with varying abilities, but most people were understanding and just enjoyed taking their time. Personally I have never been someone who rushes up and down mountains. I spend my life in a rat race, why on earth would I want to do the same on a mountain. We were soon joined by Gordy and Stuart who looked surprisingly chirpy considering how much they had been drinking the night before.


Guard of Honour for Frank

The views behind us were now starting to open up over Loch Creran. The cloud level was lifting and revealing impressive peaks all around. Beinn Fionnlaidh really is one of those mountains, similar to Moel Siabod in Snowdonia, that looks like it has been placed by human beings for viewing purposes. It is completely surrounded by impressive mountains and wild glens. We stopped for lunch at around the five hundred metre contour. The banana muffins were being consumed at an alarming rate. The sun was shining now and everyone was in great spirit. We continued up the ridge, which is famous for its unforgiving slog and false summits. Passing the Lochan Cairn Deirg the views towards Beinn Trilleachan were awesome with the suns rays beaming down into the wild hidden glen behind it. The only sign of life two buzzards circling on the thermals. We headed along the upper section of the ridge which narrowed and gave us a few false summits. Three Ptarmigans in almost complete winter plumage came to say hello before scuffling off over the rocks.

Frank summits his final Munro Beinn Fhionnlaidh

As we neared the actual summit, around us the cloud had now risen above all summits except Bidean nam Bian. The summit trig point was now only metres away so everyone created a guard of honour walking sticks for Frank to walk through on approach to his final Munro. At the summit a bottle of champagne was opened and Frank gave a speech thanking his family, friends and walking buddies. I made sure he mentioned that I had nearly died getting there of course. Bagging all of the Munros is an incredible achievement, Beinn Fionnlaidh is one of the easier, but even climbing an easier Munro like this makes you really appreciate what a task it is. I am a long way off with only twenty two! Frank had some incredible adventures while bagging the Munro's and I was more than happy over the weekend to hear stories of the many ups and downs. All twenty two of the group had made it to the summit, which was fantastic when you consider some had never climbed a hill in their lives, some were recovering from injuries and some had lifelong ailments. The panoramic views from the summit were breathtaking. To the west looked over our ascent route and beyond Loch Creran. To the north the Ballachulish Horseshoe, the Mamores and a few minutes later Ben Nevis. To the south the pointy mountains around Glen Etive like the mighty Ben Starav. The wild hidden glens behind Beinn Trilleachan still basking in rays of hazy sunshine. By far the most impressive view though was east towards the Glencoe mountains and the Black Mount. As the cloud had only just lifted it was creating a natural roof just above the mountain summits. Both Maria and myself took a wander to the eastern edge to stand in awe of this sight.


Eastern ridge of Beinn Fhionnlaidh

We saw several people coming up the eastern ridge from Glen Etive. They made it to the summit just as most of our group had started the descent. It would have been quite a shock to have found twenty two people at a summit you would usually have to yourself. When they reached the summit Maria and myself explained to these guys why twenty people were descending from the summit area. They told us a fabulous story of how they were on a final Munro party a few years back when the guy turned to his friends and said "do you know guys I think I have already done this one". Brilliant! I left Maria at the summit and started the descent. I soon caught up with Steve, Maria, Gordy and Stuart who were understandably taking their time. Why rush away from such a stunning landscape. We also realised if we took our time we would get to see the sun go down over Loch Creran. I had a few moments on the descent where I just sat and tried to take it all in. I think most hill walkers have those moments on a walk where they split from the pack and wander off on their own to clear their head and think about how lucky they are to live and in such a beautiful world. Not only was the sunset something special but it also fell right behind my favourite place, the Isle of Mull. On the orange horizon was the silhouetted profile of the Ardmeanach peninsula, Ben More and A'Chioch. The ground underfoot on the final grassy part of the ridge was often an unsettling mix of wet slippery grass and mud so we ended up on our backsides on a few occasions. By the time we reached the woods and the farm at Glenure we were in full darkness but none of us wanted to ruin the atmosphere with our head torches so we made our way along the track back to the car park in darkness. The skies were clear and as well as a few bright planets we could also see seven stars that make up The Plough.

Elaina and Stuart passing Lochan Cairn Deirg

The return journey back to Glencoe took twice as long as the outward journey as we got stuck behind the slowest land rover in Scotland. As we approached Glencoe via Loch Leven, through the car windscreen we could make out the black outline of the Pap of Glencoe. I headed to the Glencoe Independent Hostel where a vacant bed awaited my arrival. Paul who I hadn't seen for a very long time had arrived in the afternoon. He soon put us all in a good mood by telling us how happily in love he is, and as well as the soppy story he also provided more Whisky. That night in the Clachaig's Boots Bar we all celebrated Frank's incredible achievement and celebrated the old boys 60th birthday. He received a cake with fireworks and a five foot tall silver sword to cut it with! Unfortunately the events of Thursday and staying up late the night before had taken its toll on me so I was seriously lacking energy. I chatted to two of Frank's friends who happened to live round the corner from me back home. We moved to the Bidean Lounge later in the night as the Boots Bar was absolutely rammed and roasting hot. As I decided not to drink on Saturday I helped the others by escorting them back and forth to bunk houses and youth hostels. I made several trips up and down the minor Glencoe road that night. On a few trips I nearly ran over drunken walkers and on one trip i nearly ran into a young Red Deer crossing the road. I was so tired that the only memory I have from the Bidean Lounge that night was looking up to see Maria stood at the bar lifting a local Scotsman's kilt! That night most people stayed up till the early hours in the youth hostel, I however rested my eyelids and dozed off so I would be fresh for the long drive back home in the morning.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Ben Lomond from Loch Lomond Wildcamp

The first glimpse of Scotland's most southerly Munro, Ben Lomond is one of many favourite moments during trips north to the Scottish Highlands. Ben Lomond is like an old friend sitting by the side of Loch Lomond welcoming you back to what us outdoor folk think of as the real world. Despite admiring Ben Lomond many times through my car windows from the A82 trunk road on the western side of Loch Lomond, I have never actually climbed it. I have seen many impressive photos from my Glasgow-based friend's adventures up the mountain that is often dubbed "Glasgow's Mountain". I took a few days annual leave and decided that I would head north with a plan to drive up the eastern side of Loch Lomond to Rowardennan, wild camp on the Ptarmigan Ridge then bag the summit of Ben Lomond in the morning. I booked off Thursday and Friday so I could do the wild camp on the quiet Thursday night. One of our outdoor friends Frank was climbing his final Munro of Beinn Fhionnlaidh near Glencoe on Saturday, followed by celebrations in the Clachaig Inn for his 60th birthday, so I could combine the wild camp with that too.

Bonnie bank of Loch Lomond at Rowardennan Pier

I had a busy start to the week at work: I was sent to Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester in three days. I packed on Wednesday night and checked the MWIS and Met Office weather forecasts. Damp, cloudy, drizzle and breezy were all mentioned, which didn't exactly inspire much energy the next morning. I set off on time and travelled up the M61 then M6 with no problems. It was dark and cloudy with the odd shower through England. As I approached the Solway however, the clouds gave way to blue skies and hazy sunshine which lasted all the way through Scotland. I used the newly extended section of the M74 that skirts south of Glasgow city centre. It was quite a novelty seeing the city from a new angle and took half an hour off the journey. When I reached the roundabout at Balloch - the one with the eyesore of a sculpture - I turned right and passed through Balloch. The last time I was in Balloch was 1996 to watch Oasis, one of the most memorable events of my younger years. I have never driven up the road from Drymen to Rowardennan via Balmaha that skirts the eastern side of Loch Lomond. It is a rather stunning area with incredible views across Loch Lomond. The parking and camping along the road seems to have changed a lot over the years so it was hard to find information on exactly where to park. When I reached the Rowardennan Hotel and saw a few free parking spaces behind the hotel I decided to park up. I left in great spirits as the weather was far better than had been forecast. The night before I wouldn't have believed I would be seeing the views I was about to across Loch Lomond. I walked along the road passing the proper car park where I should have parked, then reached the bay by the pier at Rowardennan.

Sun setting over Loch Lomond
The views from the small bay across the still and silent loch were breathtaking. Looking up I could see the rocky knoll on the end of Ptarmigan high above and to its right the gloomy looking Ben Lomond shrouded in cloud. I walked past the Rowardennan Youth Hostel then past the park ranger offices before turning right on a path through the woods by Rowchnock House. The path passed by a tumbling burn, through a gate and ascended the hillside passing a sheep fold then continued ascending the hillside towards a waterfall on Sput Ban. I continued to follow the ascent path, pausing every so often to look back and admire the ever-opening views across Loch Lomond. The path, which wasn't too bad, continued a fairly simple route across Spat Bun skirting a small forest. As the path passed the long crag on Tom Fithich the sun was just starting to set to the west over the Arrochar Alps. The views were absolutely stunning at this point with blue skies and contrasting dark clouds. I crossed a small stream then the path started to get a little steeper and end up at the foot of some tricky zigzags. The zigzags were tough, though only because I'm not used to the weight of a pack of wild camping gear these days. I was eventually on the top of Ptarmigan with the first proper view of Ben Lomond which looked quite foreboding shrouded in windswept grey cloud. Ahead I could now see the small lochan that was the planned wild camp spot.

Loch Lomond from Tom Fithich
I reached the lochan and hunted for a decent flat area to camp. The only problem was the wind. Up here on the ridge itself it was getting windy, so with that in mind and realising the wind direction was coming from the east I headed round the lochan and down the western side of the ridge. I soon found a flat spot out of the wind and set up camp. The view down Loch Lomond from the camp spot was awesome, looking down almost its entire length. However, by the time I had set up camp the sun had set, it was getting breezy and where Loch Lomond had been, now there was cloud and the flicker of lights from Inverbeg, Tarbet and the A82. I settled in for the long night. It is easy to forget how long winter nights are; I would not see daylight for another fourteen hours! I made tea using the Primus Eta Express stove which I have been given to test and of which I will do a full review later this week. After tea I snuggled up inside my lovely new Rab Alpine 600 sleeping bag, which was major overkill as it was surprisingly warm for mid November. Due to the long night ahead I had downloaded an entire series of Big Bang Theory on to my iPhone. I lay in the tent watching my brilliant iPhone screen while outside the clouds were dropping lower, the air getting damper and the gusting winds picking up all the time. I looked outside at one point to find I was now in total darkness and a thick cloud.

The lochan on the Ptartmigan Ridge

By 8pm I started to get sleepy as I had got up early that morning and driven for several hours to get here. The winds seemed not to be giving up and were instead getting worse, so I grabbed my ear plugs and tried to doze off. A short while after the tent above me inverted and plunged toward my head. I am used to this and the disorientating flapping of a fly sheet in strong winds, so I just put my head back down and carried on trying to ignore the ever increasing winds. This went on for another hour and the tent inverted more frequently almost smacking me in the face a few times. By 9pm it was starting to bug me and a few times I had to put my hands up to stop it hitting me in the face. By 10pm I had adopted a bizarre position in the tent where my body in my sleeping bag was in the inner, my body above my chest was out into the porch. The reason for this was that I had to hold the structure of the tent in place, kind of using my body to complete a geodesic structure and stop the tent from constantly inverting and snapping the poles. It was also at this point that I packed everything away other than my sleeping bag and readied myself for the frightening possibility that I may have to abandon camp at 750m and descend the mountain in pitch black darkness, severe gales and thick cloud! Every so often the tent got brighter giving a false sense of security tricking my tired and exhausted mind into thinking it was a gap in the weather. This brightness was actually the white cloud coming over the crest of the ridge and down what I thought would have been the sheltered side of the ridge. The gusts were getting very serious now and almost flattening the tent. I lay in the bizarre position holding the tent for five horrific hours, getting more and more cold, hungry and tired.


Wild camping above Loch Lomond

The whole time I was thinking in my head was I doing the right thing riding out the storm. One extremely settling factor was that I did have reception on my iPhone, which I turned off at 9pm to conserve battery life. Knowing I had decent waterproofs, warm kit, enough food and decent head torch made a big difference too. With these things in mind and seeing as the tent had lasted so far, I decided staying in the tent was the right thing to do. The alternative after all was descending in the dark, damp and severe gales on an unfamiliar slippery path. Not only that but also with a heavy pack, exhausted, hungry and somewhat mentally shaken up. At 2am I checked the time and was glad to think I only had another five hours to see out. Then it all went wrong at around 2:30am: several gusts at the same time slammed the entire tent by my arms down flat to the ground. The tent, as it is designed to, popped straight back up, but two of the poles came out of the eyelets on the inner and threw themselves out. The tent was now all over the place and turned into a wind sock with myself inside it. I couldn't really tell what, if any, damage had been done and couldn't do anything to get it back into shape or even get hold of it. I bent over and stuffed my sleeping bag in its dry bag then the rucksack and made my way outside into the scary dark nightmare that I would now have to navigate for the next few hours with extreme care. Rescuing the tent was probably the hardest part of the whole night. I had to tie the doors around my legs then get on top of the tent and pull the pegs and poles out. This was while the entire thing was flapping around like mad. I was aware of the poles swinging around dangerously in the air. After throwing the tent and poles in the rucksack I made my way up the slippery and steep western side of the Ptarmigan Ridge to the small lochan. Getting back round the lochan I made a point of taking my time as I knew one slip and I would have been in the lochan.

The moon eventually helped out

I found the ridge path and despite the winds now blasting into me trying to push me over, seeing the path which I could now follow was a massive relief and made me feel a lot better. My pounding heart was now telling me to get down as quickly as possible to a more sheltered environment, but at the same time my head and experience were telling me to keep calm, and my eyes were on the ground below (now lit up by my head torch held in my hand). It is incredible just how much of an obstacle and annoyance wearing glasses and effectively having no eye sight without them can be a a time like this too. On the ridge in the cloud they steamed up immediately and I had to hold them on my head to stop them blowing off. If they had, there is no way I would have made it off the mountain by myself. Luckily the path was fairly clear and I was hugely relieved at finally reaching the bottom of the zig zag section. It was at that point that the wind started to ease as the path descended the more sheltered western side of Tom Fithich. It was also at this point that I smiled for the first time in several hours. I knew as long as I didn't trip or fall I would be safe. As the path swung in slightly and crossed the stream, the full moon appeared like a huge floodlight and even Loch Lomond could be seen. I could also see the lights of the youth hostel and hotel a Rowardennan. At the lower section of the path I did unfortunately slip on wet grass and upset an old football injury of my medial collateral ligament of my right knee. It was just a short walk through the woods then along the track back to Rowardennan where I sat in the dark on a bench by Loch Lomond. I looked around at the quiet, inky rippling water, the dark shapes of the mountains silhouetted by the moon, and it all felt so calm and innocent and a complete contrast to the scary nightmare just a few miles up the mountain on the high exposed ridge. I tried to sleep in the car when I got back to it but only managed around half an hour. I set off feeling relieved to have escaped from what could have been a bad situation and proud of myself for dealing with it so well. The trip up to Glencoe was great as the sun was only just rising and created stunning scenes around the mountains. Some of the ridges had cloud rushing over them at speeds I had never seen before. I arrived at the Clachaig Inn at around 8:30am where I was given a taste of true Highland hospitality. They made me a free bacon sandwich and pot of tea, then arranged a room for me that I could sleep in during the day, re-energised ready for the arrival of the rest of the folks later on.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Gore-Tex Bloggers Summit

Saturday morning we all appeared at the breakfast tables looking far from fresh. Mainly due to a lack of sleep and the consumption of German beers the night before. After breakfast we all headed outside to the coach where we were hit by a wall of very cold air, frost on the cars and freezing fog. Luckily the fog soon lifted to make way for perfect blue skies and sunshine yet again. The views from the coach window were stunning as we made our way to Gore's offices near Feldkirchen-Westerham. Myriad fields and trees backed by a horizon of jagged Bavarian Alpine peaks. Each village as pretty as the next with classic alpine style housing and each with its own majestic Bavarian style church.

Gore-Tex Bloggers Summit at Gindelalm in the Bavarian Alps

Gore are a huge company with an annual revenue of over three billion dollars. However as we entered their impressive offices we could have been forgiven for thinking we had entered the offices of a small local cottage industry. The staff who are all active fans of the great outdoors were friendly, helpful and positive. They were all clearly happy in their jobs and you could tell they worked as a close knit community in a open team driven working environment. We were surprised to find that most of their staff don't even get given job titles as they see everyone in their company as being equally as important as any other. The reception area has many awards on the walls that the company has received internationally for being a great place to work. Every member of staff we spoke to gets outdoors regularly and jumps at the opportunity to get involved with the company's many promotional and community events.

Gore offices in Feldkirchen-Westerham

We were welcomed to the offices and introduced to the members of staff that would be spending the day with us. Amongst them was Timm Smith, Gore's product development specialist who helped design the new Active Shell product. The introduction was given in an open area where there were examples of new jackets from many of the top brands that are creating garments using the new Active Shell material. There was also a huge sculpture on one wall of a close up of a Gore-Tex membrane magnified. After the introductions we were given a presentation and talk about the history of Gore and its products. I was surprised to see that Gore are also involved quite heavily in other industries including electronics, medical, emergency services, musical equipment and even the space industry. After the company presentation they gave us a an eye opening demo of how well a Gore-Tex Expanded Polytetrafluoroethylene based membrane, or ePTFE membrane for short, can work at moving warm moisture vapours from our bodies. Firstly they showed the difference between standard non-breathable materials and the breathable ePTFE membrane. They gave us a glove cut of normal plastic material and one of the ePTFE membrane. The hand in the plastic material began to sweat badly after only a few minutes yet the other hand in the membrane glove was completely dry and very comfortable. They then asked for a volunteer so Dave stood up and volunteered. I have to admit, the presence of a bucket of cold water put me off volunteering.

Tom & Dave with their Gore-Tex membrane demo gloves

For the second demo they asked Dave to put his bare hand in the cold water to soak it wet. They then asked him to put his wet hand inside the membrane glove and put his hand in glove into the bucket of cold water. We couldn't really figure out why they had asked him to do this. Then after five minutes they pulled Dave's hand out of the bucket and asked him to take his hand out of the membrane glove. Much to our surprise Dave's hand was now completely dry. What was then explained to us was that as the water on Dave's hand got warmer against his skin in the glove, it turned to moisture vapour, which the clever membrane allows to escape through its tiny holes. Thus keeping Dave's hand dry and comfortable. It was an excellent example of moisture control which is key to the breathability of their products. They also had a demo machine that showed steam coming from below the membrane and passing through it.

Dave putting his hand in a bucket of cold water

I have to say that the term breathability is not something I have ever really believed in until this weekend. I walk very hot and sweaty so I was physically the ideal testing candidate for any claims of breathability and mentally too as I have not found many products I would say work for me on the hills when I am working hard. For the next few hours the bloggers were split in to two groups. My group headed to another room where Timm Smith, Gore's product development specialist who helped design the new Active Shell product, was going to give us a presentation on Comfort Science. I have to say I learned more about outdoor clothing in the hours spent with Timm and in the testing labs than I think I have ever known before. Timm who in his spare time is also a climber and outdoor enthusiast, was brilliant, he answered all our questions extensively and opened our eyes to how membrane based waterproof and windproof products technically work. He made us look at the three layer system as not just a line of linear layers but side on and three dimensional. This helped me to understand that three layer Gore-Tex membranes use a combination of a DWR ( durable water repellent ) protected closely woven outer layer for the first line of waterproof defence, followed by the membrane which not only acts as the secondary waterproof layer but more importantly moves the moisture out, followed by the soft inner layer that protects the membrane and helps hold moisture and distribute it before the membrane moves it out. I have to admit I had always thought of DWR based materials and membrane based materials as being two separate technologies generally. What Timm showed us was that the three layer system combines them and they all work together.

Timm Smith, designer of the new Active Shell membrane

One question I put to Timm was how does the membrane move the moisture through the outer layer if it is covered in a DWR. Timm explained that the outer layer is a closely woven fabric but when magnified you could see it does have tiny openings. These openings are not completely blocked by the DWR. Instead the DWR coats the surface facing sides of the threads, so that moisture droplets just drip off the closely woven and none absorbing surface. These tiny openings allow the warm evaporating moisture coming through the membrane to leave the garment. Timm went on to explain the importance of moisture control in products like Active Shell. The Active Shell range has been designed by Gore primarily for fast and lightweight users. The range is more geared towards runners, cyclists and lightweight adventurers. It compromises ruggedness and durability for breathability and lightweight. These are sacrifices those users are more than happy to make and Gore have done well to recognise that and come up with an amazing product. They are trying to get this message out to potential buyers and were great at listening to our ideas on how they could achieve that by means of education through retailers, online material and labelling in shops.


Examples of Active Shell jackets on the market

We had lunch and sat with bloggers from around Europe, networking and exchanging thoughts on what we had seen so far. Dave set about asking a few of the bloggers why they felt bloggers from different countries don't tend to talk to each other much. It seemed that the German blogs in particular preferred to be more technical and to the point whereas the British blogs were more about personal experiences and opinion. The other obvious difference being the language barrier, this could of course be dealt with on blogs by giving the option to translate the blog or using browser translator plugins like those built in to Chrome. We also got a chance to speak to one of Gore's branding chiefs Tom Bugg who was over from America. Dave was keen to make his point about people seeing Gore-Tex as just Gore-Tex, not the three or four types of Gore-Tex that are now on the market. Each type of Gore-Tex is specifically designed and fit for its specialised purpose, I agree with Dave when he says that most people in the UK still don't realise this. Tom assured us he would take this opinion away with him. It does seem that this problem is something which it looks like Gore are now trying to resolve and Tom did say watch this space.

Gore-Tex testing labs in Feldkirchen-Westerham, Germany

After lunch my group were taken to the test lab area. This test lab had now moved to a different location so was no longer in use. Instead what they have done is left everything in place and created an educational lab environment where they can show the likes of us how things are done. The lab experience gave me a huge respect for the companies technical integrity. Gore-Tex based products carry the Gore-Tex guarantee "Guaranteed to keep you dry". When you consider that the final product is actually created by the brand and not Gore-Tex themselves this is a brave guarantee to make and keep. However after seeing the lab tests I now know how they can keep that guarantee. We asked about the guarantee and how they carry the promise through. They told us that every contact made via the guarantee system is dealt with personally and is followed through until the user is satisfied. The products are sometimes fixed and if required are replaced. Sometimes customer education is all that is required or a reapplication of the DWR.

Example of a fabric that failed colour tests

The way that Gore-Tex works is that the brands such as Berghaus, The North Face, Mammut, Haglofs etc will provide Gore with a test sample of the outer fabric they want to use. Gore then make a sample of what would be the finished three layer product by bonding their inner layer and the membrane layer to the outer layer provided by the brand. This test product is then put through incredibly stringent tests, of which there are over a hundred. If the product fails to work for whatever reason then the brand must provide a more suitable outer fabric. Gore protect their excellent reputation for quality this way. Gore claims that "Products engineered with Gore-Tex fabrics are durable, water and wind proof combined with optimised breathability." It came as no surprise then to find that all of the tests had at lest one of these four criteria in mind. One question asked was if Gore also tested its products against its main competitors such as Event, Paramo, Polartec and the brands own inventions. They said they do also test against competitors both in the lab and outdoors in real life situations.

The Gore-Tex Water Tower

One of the tests is to wash the product for over five hundred hours. This prompted another interesting question to the lab specialists which was, how was it best to wash your Gore-Tex garment. The answer given was to wash in a washing machine but without fabric conditioner, then when the garment is still slightly damp apply a DWR via spray to only the outer layer of the garment, then tumble dry. We asked why a spray and not a wash in DWR treatment, which I have always used. The answer was actually fairly obvious, you don't want to apply DWR to the inner layer or the membrane as it will block it and therefore stop moisture from evaporating and destroy the effectiveness of the three layer system. Blatantly obvious I suppose but to this day I have always used the wash in Graingers type DWR treatment, I won't be doing so any longer on my membrane based waterproofs. The breathability tests are not only done by Gore but also by a recognised external testing labs. The waterproof tests are done to ISO 811 standards. Once the final product has passed all the strict tests, the material is bonded by Gore. They then provide the final fabric on rolls to the brands and they manufacture the final product into a clothing garment. Gore do work very closely with their brands and make sure that the brands staff are skilled up and capable of handling their products. Seem welding is one skill required for example. After the labs they showed us the Water Tower where they simulate various weather conditions for both testing and fault finding. There was also a Wind Stopper tunnel for testing windproof garment.

The forest walk to Gindelalm

A final presentation was given by Timm Smith on Active Shell, which I will talk about in detail on a separate post in the future as there is easily enough to fit on a full post including my own experiences with the test garment they have given me. They wanted us to test for ourselves an Active Shell jacket, so they organised a cracking short ascent in the Bavarian Alps. So after the Active Shell presentation we all gathered our belongings and headed out to the coach. The weather was now absolutely glorious. It is no exaggeration to say that in three days over in Germany I didn't see a single cloud. After another lovely drive we arrived at a car park in a forest. The coach had to do a very interesting three point turn before he left us. We all kitted up and looked like a right bunch all wearing the exact same jacket. On looking German hikers were somewhat bemused. We were soon joined by Benedikt Bohm, a Gore athlete and the best known Extreme Ski Mountaineer in the world and now father and Managing Director of the ski mountaineer gear manufacturer Dynafit. We walked a fairly steep and winding five kilometres through an enchanting forest. At one point where the path crosses a stream, I stood photographing the view upstream from the bridge and watched in amusement a Black Squirrel run down one side of the valley, crossed a log over the stream then run up the other side. Unfortunately I had left the main group of walkers at this point so couldn't point it out to anyone.

Benedikt Bohm at our table in the Gindelalm restaurant

We reached the top of the ascent at the Bavarian alpine hut of Gindelalm. One of three huts situated at an altitude of 1242m between Schliersee and Tegernsee in the saddle between the mountain and the Auer Gindelalmschneid. I checked my back at this point and found that my base layer was completely dry on my back, in the last decade I don't think I have ever had a dry back after a hill walk, so the Active Shell had passed its first test with flying colours, I even took a photo just to prove it. The sun was just going down and the view towards the higher Alps was stunning. It was pretty cold so we all crept inside the cosy warm hut for a final presentation, this one by Benedikt who had carried his presentation kit up in a rucksack. It was a brilliant presentation, some of the adventures he'd had were just mind blowing and totally over whelming. Stories of seeing people die in the death zone, coming close to it himself at times contrasted with some stunning photographs of himself and his mountaineering buddies stood on top of the the highest mountains in the world. Benedikt was rather popular with the females it has to be said. The girls were very smitten by the rugged yet well groomed blond German athlete. After his presentation he sat with us at our table to eat. The food was delicious and the beer went down well. It was great having Benedikt on our table and he was asked many questions about his adventures and received a lot of attention from the girls. If there was one theme from Benedikt's presentation it was will power, he constantly used the term and looking at where he had been and what he had achieved it was no surprise that he though it to be the most important factor in his achievements.

Fiona & Sylvain in Munich

After the meal and drinks we were all asked to go outside as we had to now descend back through the forest by moonlight. Most people had brought head torches but we were also provided with fun real flame torches which really added to the atmosphere. The descent was trouble free. Obviously handing out fire torches to thirty beer and wine drinking walkers and telling them to descend a steep winding forest path for an hour in the dark isn't the smartest idea, but it went well. We got back on the coach after putting out the flame torches and headed back to the hotel. Most of us too tired to even consider having another beer. The following morning we said our goodbyes to the many people we had met and got on the coach which took us back to the airport. We had several hours to kill again so Tom, Fiona, Sylvain and Myself headed into Munich for what was my second flying visit this weekend. We looked around the beautiful city then settled down at a typical continental cafe and had delicious bread, wine and pasta. After sitting in the sun we headed back to the Airport and went our separate ways home. It is impossible to describe how good this weekend was. I feel like I was treated like royalty by Gore but also with huge respect. They have not only educated us more than we could possibly have imagined but at the same time listened to our views and taken on board what we had to say. I would like to thank Gore and Massklusive for giving me such an amazing opportunity. A big thank you to the other three UK bloggers Dave Mycroft, Fiona Russell and Tom Evans who I spent the most time with over the weekend, there is nothing better than decent like minded people. I still can't believe how much we laughed at weekend as we all got on so well. Anna McNamara who works in Marketing Communications for Gore in the UK at their Livingstone offices looked after us the whole weekend and soon became part of the gang. So thanks to those people but also to all the staff from Gore and of course the bloggers and journalists from around Europe. Fantastic weekend I won't forget in a hurry!

I have uploaded all of my photos from the weekend here.

There is also an official Gore-Tex Flickr album here.

Bloggers who attended this event...

Dave Mycroft http://www.myoutdoors.co.uk/
Tom Evans http://www.exceedpossibility.co.uk/
Fiona Russell http://www.fionaoutdoors.co.uk/
Sylvain Bazin http://sylvainbazin.blogspot.com/
Gregory Herlez http://www.greg-runner.com/
Alexander Bardu http://www.outdoor-professionell.de/
Jens Nordmann http://www.hiking-blog.de/
Steve Auch http://www.uptothetop.de/
Sven Linckels http://www.freiluft-blog.de/
David Schaffler http://freizeitalpin.at/
Sebastian & Rike Bonner http://www.beuteltiere.org/
Christian Forjahn http://www.kletterfieber.net/
Uli Strelzing http://www.auf-den-berg.de/
Axel Jansen http://outdoorseite.de/
Thomas Hubner http://www.happynewshoe.de/
Marcel Naumann http://www.ausgeruestet.com/
Markus Vaas & Veit Schumacher http://www.airfreshing.com/
Federico Casnati & Rafaela Zingler http://www.neveitalia.it/
Julio Fernandez & Juliana Aristizabel http://www.blogbtt.com/

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Gore-Tex Bloggers Summit first day in Munich

It has been a great first day in sunny Munich at the Gore-Tex Bloggers Summit. I set the alarm clock last night for 5am knowing it would not be easy getting up at such an early hour. The only benefit of getting up that early is that I can get revenge on the cat, who usually wakes me in the early hours everyday. So being cruel I crept down stairs and gave her a shock and wake her up.

I stupidly decided to update my iPhone and iPad to iOS 5 before this trip which wasn't the best idea as it meant spending the last two nights loading all my content back on as I wanted it for the trip. Despite that taking up my time I still just about managed to pack in time the night before and kept things to a minimum. The only consideration was a few warm clothes as the forecast temperatures are below freezing for the next few days. I left behind around half the kit I had originally planned on taking.

Taxi arrived at 5:15am as booked. The airport was extremely busy and full of noisy holiday makers and stag parties, just what you need when you are half awake, a bunch of drunken chavs shouting. I grabbed myself a bite too eat then queued up at the boarding gate where I was soon joined by Dave Mycroft from www.myoutdoors.co.uk who I already know and would be spending the next few days with. Manchester was grim but as soon as the plane had raced down the runway and burst through the clouds we were in the most heavenly surroundings lit by a morning sunrise.

Flying is something that fascinates me, I find it hard to comprehend how incredible it actually is for us to be able to fly as we do. As well as spotting geographical landmarks out of the window I was also watching the excellent 127 Hours movie on my iPad which was a great, until the moment when he cuts off his arm, that bit I just could not watch! The flight was a breeze and Lufthansa was quite a refreshing change to some of the cheaper airlines i have been on recently.

The weather in Germany for today and the next few days is blue skies and sunshine. Crossing Germany from north to south was a real eye opener, so many trees and so much open farmland. As the plane approached Munich and lost altitude I could make out a long line of dark mountain peaks reaching high in to the sky, some higher than the plane. It was of course the Alps and they were looking awesome. Most of them had patches of snow on them. There were many pretty villages with churches and castles dotted around the countryside near Munich as we came in to land and a surprising amount of Solar farms.

We landed and got through the airport very quickly as neither Dave or myself had any luggage other than our rucksacks which we had packed light. We had several hours to kill at the airport as the shuttle bus that would take us to our hotel was not due for another five hours. We sat at a cafe outside the airport and had a long chat about outdoor gear and other geeky outdoor related subjects then decided to hop on a train and head in to the city.

Everywhere including the airport, the train station and the city streets were incredible clean and free of litter. No queues anywhere, efficient transport, trouble free efficiency in every aspect of every thing we had to deal with. These German traits I had been told of but had never been to Germany before to experience. Marienplatz was our destination which is the main square in the centre of the city. We had a look around a fantastic old building in the platz then headed along a street to find somewhere to eat and drink. We found a well priced bakery come cafe that had a good beer and well priced food.

We soaked up the sunshine and watched the people of Munich go about their normal daily lives. The citizens of Munich seem to be a very civilised, polite, calm and relaxed bunch. After sitting in the sun for a while we made our wayback to the airport, after getting a little lost and confused in the multi level train station. Back at the airport we tried to find Fiona and Tom, fellow UK bloggers who had flown from Edinburgh on a later flight. We eventually met up with them at the meeting point where the shuttle bus awaited our arrival. At the shuttle bus we also met around a dozen other bloggers from other parts of Europe and the Gore-Tex team themselves. The coach took us to our hotel in Miesbach, a good hour south of Munich.

On route as we got closer to the hotel we also got closer to the mountains, which looked absolutely stunning. At the hotel we were treated to a Gore-Tex goodie bag containing a test jacket of the new Gore-Tex Active Shell. I was given a large, despite most of my clothes these days being medium. However it was a good job as the jacket is an active close fitting. First impressions, simply by examining the jacket and materials, are very positive. The jacket packs down to nothing, the material is very comfortable, even next to the skin and it is unbelievably light in weight.

When we booked in to our rooms at the hotel i realised they had me down as Bassnett, Jamie Frau! Last time I looked i am sure I was a man! Dinner tonight was an excellent buffet. We sat with the many representatives from Gore and spoke to a few bloggers from around the continent. It was great to meet up with the German bloggers and hear their perspective on blogging. Tomorrow after breakfast we are being whisked away to Gore's testing labs to be shown how they test and design their products which is going to be a real eye opener and a fantastic experience. After that we are heading in to the Bavarian Alps for a hike to a restaurant where there will be a special presentation by record breaking extreme ski mountaineer Benedikt Bohm. Following the meal and presentation we will be descending back down the mountain by head torch before heading back to the hotel.

Here are a few of the photos taken today...

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Millers Dale from Monsal Head

Last weekend I went to the Monsal Head Social Meet to celebrate the Peak District National Park's 60th anniversary. The meet was organised by Terry Bond who has gained himself a reputation as one of the best outdoor short film makers in the country. One place Terry seems to have taken to heart over the last year is the massively underrated White Peak area of the Peak District National Park. The idea of the meet was to bring together Walkers, Backpackers, Wild Campers and Newbies with a particular focus on those who are regularly contributing to the the ever growing outdoor related social media networks. Twitter, Facebook and Blogs in particular have created a network of like minded individuals, most of whom had only met each other via the internet. So this weekend was a great chance for me to meet many people I had never met in person. The meet which took place at the Park House camp site was as a huge success. I was really impressed with the site, it was clean, friendly and had decent pitches. It is also just a five minute walk from Monsal Head where there is a cafe, hotel and pub as well as dozens of walking opportunities. Terry was spot on with the venue!

Monsal Head

Outdoor gear retailers and manufacturers were present. They helped provide gear for a raffle Terry organised that raised £160 for Kinder Mountain Rescue on Saturday night. There was Ali from Terra Nova who showcased a few of their excellent lightweight tents. Gareth Jones from Webtogs showcased some innovative tents new in from Nemo in the states and also joined us on our walk. Luke from Ellis Brigham who along with his missus were very friendly and knowledgeable as I have come to expect from Ellis Brigham staff. Luke handing me a free pair of thick Smart Wool socks was certainly a good start to my weekend! Amanda from Chocolate Fish Merino was wondering around with a folder full of technical information on the many types of Merino Wool and good and bad ways in which it is sourced. On Saturday night Mark from Rab turned up with a car boot full of Rab's next season gear, most of which was admiringly fondled for a long time. The scene, a field of outdoor gear geeks fondling each others tents and dealing out of car boots, must have been quite a bizarre one for any onlookers. The new Rab Microlight Event jacket was the star of the show from Rab, but with an RRP of £275 will be out of most people's budget unfortunately. Dave Mycroft of the My Outdoors website provided a few test tents on show. These tended to be more my kind of thing to be honest. One particularly nice one was the Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2.1 tent. I could list all of the folks who attended the meet but instead have decided to add a list to the bottom of this post, listing some of the people who attended and their respective Tweets, Blogs and Reports.

Webtog's Gareth Jones tent demonstrations

Friday night saw us all down the Stable Bar behind the Monsal Head Hotel consuming local ales and surprisingly impressive food. My choice of ales is usually the sweet one and I chose the Farmer's Blonde. It washed down my Green Thai Curry and Sticky Toffee Pudding very well. After a head torch lit road walk back to the camp site a large group of us decided to stay up for an hour or two talking. Over the two nights Terry's drunken Monologues became legendary. I went to bed eventually, soon to be woken by a screaming baby in the neighbouring tent. This pattern followed on Saturday night too and I didn't get much sleep over the weekend. I had taken my ear plugs but even they couldn't stop the screaming keeping me awake. I woke at around 8am and started up my stove to boil water for my tasty home made Spicy Fruit and Nut Porridge which I make using the Freezer Bag cooking method. I was quite content with my porridge until I decided to wander across the field in the direction of the others who were all huddled around Dave Mycroft. Dave was knelt down over a large stove with two frying pans full of delicious rashers of bacon, handing out tasty bacon sarnies. I was showered, packed and ready to go walking by around half past eight but soon realised that no one else had quite the same eager attitude. It was at least an hour before anyone else was ready. Instead of going off on my own I decided to wait and was glad I did so as Gareth Jones, Phil Sorrell, Pilgrim Chris, Giles Babbage and Mike Beaumont all showed intentions of doing the same route I had chosen. The fact that this route involved a half way stop at a well reputed local pub may have been something to do with this.

The Red Lion at Litton

We set off in good spirits and the weather was looking good. The night before, my journey to Monsal Head was a nightmare with heavy rain all the way to Buxton and a Friday night rush hour on the A6. At Monsal Head at the start of the walk there is a stunning viewpoint down the dale from Monsal Head, with the Headstone Viaduct adding to the typical White Peak scene. We made our way down a steep and slippery path. Phil was the first to nearly slide down it on his backside. The path eventually reached the bottom of the valley and on a track now passed a field full of Geese. The track met the minor road which we then followed through Upperdale until it reached Cressbrook. At Cressbrook we stopped to marvel at the huge Cressbrook Mill which has now been completely restored. Across the road Mike spotted a beautiful large Grey Heron on the old mill pond, it flew across the pond of course as soon as my camera was ready to take a shot. The lads decided to take the higher route along the road in to Cressbrook Dale and I took my preferred route along the lower and quieter track passing Ravensdale Cottages. Ravensdale Cottages are in a stunning setting with a crag high above them and surrounded by natural green woodlands. I met up again with the rest of the guys at the footbridge to Cressbrook Dale. Heading through the woodlands we suddenly heard someone behind us on the path. It turned out to be Mark from the meet who was about to head east off the main path to ascend to the top of Wardlow Hay Cop. We left Mark and continued up the dale which opened out after the forest like so many of these White Peak dales. We headed west from Cressbrook Dale into Tansley Dale and ascended to farm fields. The weather was great, the company was great, the conversation was great, and it was a great day to be out. As we approached the quaint village of Litton we crossed a few stiles. At one of the stiles several toddlers were running towards us so we let them cross the stile and all made comment on how good it was to see young children out in the fresh air.

Trout in River Wye

At Litton we made our way to the Red Lion. This is a delightfully cosy pub with low ceilings, set in a quaint and quiet village. The staff and locals were really friendly, even giving us recommendations on the local ales. Some of us had packed lunches, but those who ate there were really impressed with the food. I had a pint of Barnsley Bitter recommended by a local at the bar. One of the locals pointed out the strongest on tap so Gareth had an evil plan to give a pint of that to Phil. It backfired as he accidentally gave it to himself. We sat out the front on benches in the sun. Some of the folks who use their phones as GPS loggers were using the latest Power Monkey solar chargers to charge their battery hungry mobile phones. After enjoying a well deserved rest at the Red Lion at Litton we set off along the road through Litton Dale towards Tideswell Dale. We crossed the road at Tideswell Dale and then headed south along the road, before crossing again to the footpath on the other side. The path passed through a car park at Tideswell Dale then took a lovely stream side route through woodlands flanked by small limestone cliffs. At one point we found a large wooden sculpture of a water vole, which if you are extremely lucky can be seen in the area. There is somewhere on the web a photo of me dry humping this large creature. Surely this photo has to have been photo shopped as I am far too sensible to have done such a thing? The path split here and we took the one on the west side of the stream. The path eventually reaches a minor road which took us in to the small hamlet at Litton Mill. We stopped to look at the River Wye. Looking in the river we saw several large trout. We continued past the huge Litton Mill which has also been restored and is now posh apartments. What an incredible place to live was all I could think as we were passing the mill.

River Wye in Millers Dale

After Litton Mill the next few miles are simply stunning as the River Wye makes its way through the eastern end of Millers Dale. This is one of the best parts of the Peak District I have ever seen. The River Wye is absolutely teeming with large trout, and unlike most trout, do not flee at the first sight of you, instead they just swim around occasionally surfacing to feed on surface insects. We walked past a weir where one trout decided to sit in a beam of sunlight long enough for me to get a great photo. By this time I was starting to slow down as I do when I enter somewhere as beautiful as this, I could have sat for hours in one of the trees just staring in to the river. The woodlands surrounding the river were also stunning and full of bird life. The woodlands themselves were flanked by ever increasingly higher sheer limestone cliffs. The guys kept politely waiting for me but eventually I told them not to worry about me and go on ahead without me. One of the great things about being out with fellow regular walkers is that we all knew that if one of us separated it didn't matter one bit as we all knew where we were and would make our own way back safely. As the river approaches Cressbrook it slows down significantly as the weir at Cressbrook creates a huge pond in the river. As I approached the slower and wider River Wye the incredible white limestone cliffs of Water-cum-Jolly Dale took over the view across the way. There are trees over hanging both the path and river at one point, which provided a great way of seeing the trout in the river that were literally a few feet away. As the path approaches Cressbrook the impressive Rubicon Wall of limestone hangs over the path.

Weir at Cessbrook Mill

The rest of the guys headed through Cressbrook Mill and back along the minor road route we took earlier in the day. I decided to do a slightly different route back via the Monsal Trail which I had heard so much about. So instead of heading through the Cressbrook Mill I instead turned right and headed over the bridge that crosses the River Wye weir at Cressbrook. I took a few slow lens shots of the weir then ascended the path on the other side. The path heads along a contour on the hill over looking Cressbrook before reaching the Monsal Trail. The Monsal Trail is a brilliant facility for cyclists, walkers and horse riders. The trail uses the route of an old railway. In the last few years a project by the Peak District National Park Authority costing over two million pounds funding from the Department of Transport has seen the tunnels repaired, resurfaced and lighted to extend what was already a great trail. The tunnels allow people to pass from one dale to another in a unique way that wasn't possible before. I read some of the information boards along the trail mainly on the old railway and why it was there, then headed south east along it to reach the Headstone Viaduct. I have to admit I wouldn't like to walk the route of the trail as it is mostly in a complete straight line and the views are obstructed by trees. Walking in a straight line gives you an odd sense of not gaining distance. I'd much rather be down in a dale walking alongside a winding river any day.

My Terra Nova Superlite Voyager tent & my car Keisha

The views from off the Headstone Viaduct were of course pretty stunning, though the thing that stunned me the most on the viaduct was adults allowing children to throw some of the stones off the viaduct in to the dale below. There are a few paths that pass under the viaduct with walkers on them so throwing stones off from height was probably not the brightest idea! I crossed the viaduct and found Chris and Alex who had been down to Bakewell. They had some incredible photos of the numerous trout from the bridge in Bakewell. We ascended  the steep path from the viaduct to Monsal Head. The guys had all either gone back to the camp site or the Stable Bar. I spotted Mike outside the Hobbs Cafe enjoying a cake and cup of tea so went inside, grabbed a hot chocolate and flapjack, and joined him in the sun to have a chat about the good things in life. That night we all fondled more gear, had more laughs and spent the night in the Stable Bar before heading back to the camp site for more of Terry's drunken monologues. Martin from the Postcard from Timperley blog, whom I have met before as he lives round the corner from me, arrived on Saturday night too so it was good to catch up as he often has tales from far away places he has just visited. Sunday saw me heading home to watch the United match. I would have loved to have stayed another day and night but wanted to watch the match, had to feed the cat, and was on call for work on the Monday. A fantastic weekend with fantastic people and I can't wait for the next meet!

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...


Just some of the folks who attended the Monsal Meet...


Terry Bond
http://www.twitter.com/terrybnd
http://terrybnd.blogspot.com
http://terrybnd.blogspot.com/2011/08/monsal-head-shenanigans.html
http://terrybnd.blogspot.com/2011/08/update-monsal-head-social-meet-fri-26th.html

Dave Mycroft
http://www.twitter.com/MyOutdoorsUK
http://www.myoutdoors.co.uk/

Gareth Jones
http://www.twitter.com/Gareth_JS
http://www.twitter.com/Webtogs
http://jonesnow.org
http://www.webtogs.co.uk
http://www.flickr.com/photos/familyjonesnow/sets/72157627432854241/

Giles Babbage
http://www.twitter.com/gilesbabbidge
http://theactivephotographer.com
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.262963067058692.63121.215021038519562

Phil Sorrell
http://www.twitter.com/DaylightGambler
http://www.twitter.com/socialhiking
http://new.socialhiking.org.uk/
http://about.me/daylightgambler

Mike Beaumont
http://www.twitter.com/59MikeBeaumont
http://www.walkingforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=15552.0
http://www.flickr.com/photos/leaping_jaguar/sets/72157627415926773/

Pilgrim Chris 
http://www.twitter.com/PilgrimChris
http://meetpics.tumblr.com/

Matt Hobley
http://www.twitter.com/northernwalker
http://northernwalker.wordpress.com
http://northernwalker.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/a-long-walk-to-lathkill-dale-from-the-monsal-head-social-meet-2/

James Boulter & Rueben
http://www.twitter.com/bpackingbongos
http://backpackingbongos.wordpress.com
http://backpackingbongos.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/peak-district-social-meet/

Alex Atkinson
http://www.twitter.com/atkypne
http://atkypne.blogspot.com
http://atkypne.blogspot.com/2011/08/monsal-head-meet-videos.html

Chris & Laura Sumner
http://www.twitter.com/chris25119600
http://chris25119600.blogspot.com
http://chris25119600.blogspot.com/2011/09/monsal-social-meet-26th-27th-august.html

Paul Bates
http://www.twitter.com/themuss78
http://paulswildcamping.blogspot.com

Mark
http://markswalkingblog.wordpress.com
http://markswalkingblog.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/backpackersbloggers-social-meet-26-28th-august/
http://markswalkingblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/initial-impressions-of-demonstration-tents-at-the-monsal-meet/

Alvin & Gema Vassoodaven
http://www.twitter.com/AVassoodaven
http://www.twitter.com/GemaVass

Mark from Rab
http://www.twitter.com/Rab_outdoorgear
http://www.rab.uk.com

Luke from Ellis Brigham
http://www.twitter.com/ellis_brigham
http://www.ellis-brigham.com/

Amanda from Chocolate Fish Merino
http://www.twitter.com/ChocFishMerino
http://www.chocolatefishmerino.co.uk

Ali from Terra Nova
http://www.terra-nova.co.uk

Martin Banfield
http://phreerunner.blogspot.com

Andy H
http://www.twitter.com/mixedupmessedup

Craig
http://www.twitter.com/glove159