Monday, 24 May 2021

A Day At the Crag

We are back in our previous bloggers dilemma of time pressure! The current workload is very agreeable to us but it doesn't leave very much time for writing. As such to keep things ticking over this month here are a few photos from a recent Canoes, Mountains & Caves Community Event at Great Wanney in Northumberland. It was another of those days that the Community is all about - an eclectic mix of folk who have rarely climbed, to those who are really quite talented; an age range from three years old to sixty years old; just a great social vibe!

Over the past few months we've enjoyed a number of great days out climbing in Northumberland, its our intention to write more fully on them when time permits but for now here are a few images from our last visit.


Saturday, 8 May 2021

Early May Weather


The early May weather in 2021 has been unseasonal to say the least!
Our last post which covered a canoe trip to the Loch Tay area over the period 01-03 May made several references to how cold the weather was. High pressure dominated over most of the weekend producing largely settled conditions but the air temperature was at times Baltic. The journey home from the Highlands on Monday saw a front move through which brought strong easterly winds accompanied by sleet, snow & rain depending on altitude.

Moving into the middle of the week high pressure continued to bring calm but cold conditions. On Thursday we headed out for some caving in Upper Teesdale. The early morning drive in was superb with snow covering much of the higher parts of the North Pennines. On our walk in it was pleasantly warm when the sun came out but when the sun went in the wind once again had an arctic feel to it.

Moking Hurth is a relatively small but interesting cave and it was good to be back there, it was Marion's first visit, unfortunately we didn't have very much time available for a thorough exploration so a return will be needed.

Today (Saturday 08th May) has seen us postpone a day of family canoeing in the Lake District: its rained heavily all morning with accompanying south westerly winds gusting up to 30mph. Although things look set to remain a little unsettled through the planned busy week ahead temperatures are set to climb out of single digits to something resembling the May average for Northern England.


Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Canoe Journey: Loch Tay & The River Tay


The vast majority of our extended open canoe journeys are organised and operated through the Canoes, Mountains & Caves "Community Programme" .  These events are usually fully booked up within 24 hours of us advertising them around "The Community" and this one was no exception, we'd hoped to be away doing something similar at Easter but restrictions did not allow, as such when we tentatively rearranged for the May Bank Holiday in the hope that Covid guidelines would allow just about all of those booked for Easter swiftly transferred across to the new date. As such on a damp, cool Saturday morning we met: Alistair & Iain; Maccy & Helen; Simon & Amy; Andy and Ian outside Killin Outdoor Centre. After a range of last minute items were purchased from local stores we set off to an arranged access point to Loch Tay in the area of Ardeonaig.

The earlier wet weather gave way to sunny intervals and the vehicle shuttle down to Aberfeldy was completed. We set off in flat calm conditions across the loch overlooked by Ben Lawers and its  surrounding subsidiaries all capped with snow whilst banks of misty cloud lingered just beneath their summits. In the sunshine the air felt warm but returning cloud brought a chill that didn't feel much like May!

There are one or two excellent wild camping spots on the north shore of the loch and we were delighted to find our planned target occupied by just a solitary fisherman for the night, the area was plenty big enough for us to share without us compromising his quest for solitude. The entire party had, rarely for a "Community" trip, all opted for tents on this occasion and we were quickly set up along with a communal tarp area for eating and socialising later in the evening. A late afternoon arrival allowed time for half a dozen of us to head off up the loch for a short paddle with unladen boats, however, a freshening wind ahead of a sharp shower curtailed this slightly and we returned to cook. Evening meal choices were varied but the Masterchef winner was undoubtedly Mr Johnson with his pan fried duck breast, asparagus and some sort of French beans!

There was much local dry firewood and as food was completed and darkness fell the evening saw "The Community" at its finest with much outdoor, socially distanced conversation and good humour continuing until late!

The night was a cold one, I slept well in a brand new Alpkit SkyeHigh 900 sleeping bag, Marion less well - feeling the cold slightly and now thinking that a new sleeping bag should be on the "wanted list"!

It was a bright sunny morning with just the lightest of breeze which aided our journey in an easterly direction towards Kenmore. Most of us dispensed with a layer for this leg of the trip, however, by the time we had reached the abandoned village of Lawers where we stopped to explore the sunshine had once again left us and the temperature plummeted. Despite having completed this journey on about seven previous occasions I've never stopped to explore Lawers, in fact to my ignorance I didn't even know it existed until this past weekend - its history including accounts of the mysterious Lady of Lawers is now on my reading list! Anyway, we continued on up the loch in mixed but fairly still conditions in the direction of Fearnan where we stopped for lunch. Below are some of the sunnier moments from the morning paddle

The more leisurely pace adopted on this trip allowed opportunity for wildlife observation, more specifically the bird activity was intense with a highlight being a Sparrow Hawk attempting to take a smaller bird from the water in a frenzy of activity and noise! Whilst eating lunch at Fearnan it was great to enjoy a short conversation with a local sailor about how the wind can behave on the loch, good knowledge! It was around four o'clock when we arrived on the island just offshore from Kenmore after paddling around 10 miles during the day. The island is another great camping spot and we were blessed to have it to ourselves for the evening. Another few hours in front of a roaring fire with good food and more conversation was enjoyed by everybody and it was nice to receive a visit from Beth Wallis who paddled out to visit us, great to catch up and even more local knowledge to be absorbed! From leaving Fearnan the temperature had noticeably dropped even further and as we looked back down the loch the snow line on the distant Ben More had descended markedly down the mountain - it was very cold for May and the weather forecasts, with some variability in their precision, were all predicting a rapidly deteriorating picture for the following day. As such the plan was hatched for an early start for the river section from Kenmore to Aberfeldy.

Up on the final morning for six o'clock we were on the water before seven thirty. The temperature continued to hover just above freezing and the breeze had changed direction to a south easterly. Its only a short paddle under the bridge at Kenmore to pick up the River Tay. The river level was low at just 0.5m on the Kenmore gauge but there was adequate water to get down with only minimal scraping. The highlight of the trip is undoubtedly the Chinese Bridge rapid, maybe 250m or so of excellent grade 2 water which although less bouncy at this level still provided great entertainment for us all. We continued on down to Aberfeldy in ever deteriorating conditions as the wind increased in strength adding chill to the already cold air. Its interesting to note the extent of beaver activity on the Tay, which is now extensive on the river and evident on the loch itself.

We were off the river before ten thirty and heading off on our various onward journeys.

What a great few days an opportunity to re-connect with real people; re-connect with our created environment; sharpen old skills and learn new ones, so good to be a part of this "Community".


Sunday, 25 April 2021

Alum Pot - Just a Few Photos

After a very lean year for caving during 2020 its been a real highlight of the last few weeks, as we have emerged from lockdown, to get back out caving with friends. Its always a joy to "lead" folk underground but the more relaxed atmosphere that accompanies a social time in the outdoors is always both welcome & enjoyable. Yesterday as the dry, sunny and settled weather continues Marion & I headed out to Alum Pot with: Andy -J, Maccy & Simon. It had been a while since Maccy had done any SRT and Simon was on ladders so a few pitches and a chance to soak up the sun down at "The Window" was the plan. The Yorkshire Dales was busy with walkers; bikers; and there were plenty of other cavers out too. We entered Lower Long Churn through the Diccan entrance and descended into Alum Pot in two separate parties via the Dolly Tubs pitches and on further down the pot hole.

Below is the story of the day in photos:


Thursday, 22 April 2021

"Big-ish" Day in the Mountains

Yesterday was our second trip into the Lake District in order to climb mountains since the end of Lockdown 3.0 the fine Spring weather was forecast to continue so it all looked good! 

We often find ourselves in conversation with folk on the subject of a "Quality Mountain Day" and try as often as possible to make our days in the mountains fit the criteria of such. Mountain Training suggest a number of key features that a QMD should possess and some of those that we think are particularly relevant in our planning as a provider of this sort of day out are:

- the need to plan / design a day rather than simply copy what others have already put out there

- to journey / navigate away from well trod paths

- to create opportunities for ourselves or others to increase knowledge / practise skills

- to ensure safety

- to spend more than five hours on the journey

- to climb a substantial mountain

Yesterday's journey, in our opinion, fitted the bill quite well.

Our trips down to the Langdale are fewer & further between than those to the more northerly Lake District Fells simply because of the travel time involved. However, a good weather forecast; the opportunity for a relatively early start from home and the knowledge that mid-week in April would surely offer a less crowded space than what is likely to come in the summer holidays all contrived to motivate us!

The plan was to do a round taking in: Pike o Blisco; Cold Pike and Crinkle Crags with a bit of "off-piste" navigation and maybe a little steep ground work. As such we arrived at Sticklebarn at 09:30 and were on our way  about ten minutes later. There was a bit of a road walk down to the gate of Stool End and then a sharp left up the lane; uphill before leaving tarmac and following the path alongside Redacre Gill, it was a steady ascent crossing the gill before the ground gradually levelled out for a while and Pike of Blisco summit came into view. There were a few rocky steps to negotiate before finally gaining the summit at around 11:30, an hour and threequarters after setting off.

Despite the high cloud not having cleared to the extent that either the Met Office or mwis had forecast the summit views were excellent and the protection offered from full sun exposure welcome. We plotted a slightly off the beaten track route to Cold Pike by descending over a series of rocky steps to Red Tarn, this worked really well with the navigation being easy in these conditions and what would undoubtedly have been boggy ground being quite firm after the dry early Spring weather. Eventually the main path from the Wrynose Pass was intercepted and the summit of Cold Pike gained shortly afterwards.

Next up was the obvious route to Crinkle Crags, I've only been once before and they didn't disappoint on a second visit: high, rocky and with superb views. The traverse across them was the highlight of the day, even on this popular section the number of folk we saw only reached a total of ten! Viewed from the vantage point of Crinkle Crags Bowfell was an outstanding spectacle (see photo at beginning of this post). A brief stop at Three Tarns reminded me of a wild camp here some sixteen years ago when doing Mountain Leader Training, a great night with temperatures down to minus eleven degrees and a night navigation exercise on Bowfell and Esk Pike!

Our descent from Three Tarns was via "The Band" in ever clearing skies and brightening sunshine. It was good to be able to view everything we'd done through the day from this perspective. With only having done one previous day out in the high fells since the end of lockdown we were feeling pretty fatigued and flat ground for the last fifteen minutes or so back to the van was welcome.

We were out for just about eight hours and the total distance covered on this route was a little over 10 miles.