Thursday, 25 February 2010

Kilimanjaro Introduction

I climbed Kilimanjaro (the above behemoth) a couple of years since and have a diary of the trek which I've been keen to compile and get in some semblance of order at some point. No better time then the present whilst them nights out there are dark and the evenings are spent in front of the box. I'll start it here and add the days as I finish them....

The seed was first sown to embark upon such a beast of an expedition when I'd returned from Peru having tromped the hiking trail of the Inca Trail. Geoffrey broached the idea of trekking to Everest base camp or indeed to the top of Kilimanjaro (namely Uhuru Peak). Whilst the Inca Trail was a great challenge and gave you an enormous sense of achievement it wasn't overly taxing. I therefore looked at this one as being for the challenge. There are two Everest base camps (one in Nepal and one in Tibet) which sit at 5360m and 5208m respectively, at least 500 metres lower than the summit of Kilimanjaro at 5895m. That stat combined with the fact that the achievement of getting 2/3rds of the way up a mountain would never compare to the sensation of standing literally on top of the world (as indeed it does standing atop Kilimanjaro which itself towers above the plains).

Geoffrey took no persuading in the Kilimanjaro direction and we both agreed that it would be a great trip. We then put the word out for other recruits whilst Geoffrey diligently went about selecting an appropriate operator to go through. It was only days until we had what consisted of our team, myself, Craigy, Geoffrey, Otto Jon and Jo. Others showed interest but shied away in the end, fair play it was a once in a lifetime trip but it came with an appropriate price tag (I think it was this that really put other dudes off). There was also the huge appeal of a Safari on the Serengeti and time on Zanzibar - one of the finest paradises on earth, it would have been criminal to miss either opportunity whilst we were over there.

Routes and companies were scrutinised as these two factors were to play a huge part in our chance of reaching the summit. This really was a one off opportunity so we had to up the percentage chance of success even in the planning stages of the trip.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Scrubbing Skiddaw

As the first leg of our Lakeland 3000's yomp training we were due to head up the hiking trail to the summit of Skiddaw on Sunday as training and route familiarisation. Not to happen - the fiercest winter for 30 years has struck again surprise surprise. With the tragic hospitalisation of the 2 guys on Monday on a hiking trail near Patterdale in the Lake District as a result of the avalanche, widespread weather warnings are rightly now in place across the region. May we wish the 2 guys a full and speedy recovery at this point. As a result it just isn't even worth considering until the warnings have been lifted and conditions have improved. Always better safe than sorry in this event.

We'll have to schedule another date to scale Skiddaw to aufait ourselves with the route in advance of the Lakeland 3000's walk. As easy as the Skiddaw route is due to be we'll all feel more comfortable knowing it off the back of our hands rather then pick our way through it on the actual day in the dark, risking the time loss. For Sunday we may well look towards some lower level hiknig trail instead to get the legs moving which may well be done over the Pennines, Dales or Peak District save the long drive north. Saturday may be an option too just so long as I'm well parked on the sofa, Guinness in palm at 4 o'clock awaiting the Twickenham Kick Off - come on England!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Clogs for my fat feet - Meindl Bernina Review

After running my last boots into the ground to the point where they leaked like old boots (ha ha). I decided I was long overdue a new pair seeing that they would see a fair amount of use this year what with taking on the Lakeland 3000's and the National 3 Peaks as well as whatever other yomps I'll get out for.

I went over to see the guys at Trailblazer Outdoors in Pickering, who I have to say are awesome. They spent an age with us and walked us through (still going..) different uppers/soles etc of boots and the benefits/drawbacks of each (attention and knowledge you certainly don't get in the likes of Blacks or GoOutdoors). Once we'd got the jist of everything we then went to their boot room to try on the wares.

It transpired however that my feet are like dinner plates and are about as wide as they are long which is a bit of a pain in the derriere when tasked with finding suitable sturdy footwear. Starting with a normal fit boot suiting my spec I was pretty crippled across the widest part of my foot (big toe to little toe). I then moved up to a wider boot which felt little different. Boots seemingly do give with wear but not to any great extent so if they don't fit when you first try them on they will likely always give you a bit of grief. When these didn't fit, shopkeeper Andy told me to take the boots off so he could have a look at my feet.

Meindl Bernina

A sharp intake of breath through gritted teeth ensued. Seemingly I have very odd shaped feet which were only to be accommodated by the Meindl Bernina, and if they didn't do the job I would have to revert to the workshop to fashion something out of old hose, tyres and bits of string - not the best for the frosty days. Fortunately they fit like a glove, they are by far the most comfortable boot I have worn to date.

The Meindl Bernina isn't the cheapest of boots but at the end of the day if your footwear isn't comfortable you are in for a bit of a grind of a day and we all want to go out and enjoy the hills as much as we can.

We went out shortly afterwards onto the North York Moors to test drive them and they seem tip top. Fair play I did get a touch blistered but even with already broken in boots I get blistered if I havn't been out in a while so that is nothing too out of the ordinary. That aside though, they aren't to weighty and they offer as much support as I will ever need them for, an all round winner.

I would say that the only downside with these is that they will require a touch more attention to aftercare then most boots as they aren't goretex but that's no great shakes. You should always wash your boots after a yomp and it takes all of 2 minutes to rub waterproofing on them.
Bernina Meindl

Friday, 19 February 2010

The National 3 Peaks

I had a chat with the brothers and another good dude, Ken, last night. We've decided that along with Spike we are going to give the National 3 Peaks a shot. The hiking trail ascent (and descent) of the highest mountains in each of Scotland (Ben Nevis), England (Scafell Pike) and Wales (Snowdon) within a 24 hour period. Officially you are supposed to touch the sea to start and again at the end to complete the walk in its entirity.

Coincidentally I had another old chum (she's not old but I've known her a while if you know what I mean) over for dinner last night who has done all sorts of long distance strolls and she told me that the National 3 Peaks is easier in some respects than the Yorkshire 3 Peaks, mainly due to the fact that so long as you stretch after each descent you actually get the chance for a rest in between each mountain.

So the plan as we've loosely battered it out is that we will dip our toes in the water in Fort William (the official National 3 peaks route starts at the sea and finishes at the sea). We shall then travel the mariginal miles to Ben Nevis and get that under our belts first as this is the biggest at (1344m), for sentiment we do not want to spend the day yomping up hill and down dale along the hiking trail of each mountain knowing that the grand finale will be bigger then anything we have done throughout the day - not great for morale (nor legs for that matter). Naturally we'll then drive from here to Wasdale Head. We'll ascend Scafell Pike (978m) from here as this is the shortest ascent route rather than cutting out the car miles and hiking in from Boot (we can't afford the time). Whether we take the short steep or the long flat(er) route is yet to be decided however I think that we'll probably end up going the easier route up. From there we'll jump back in the A-Team van and fire down to Snowdon (1078m) where we'll meet up with our respective better halves and yomp the hiking trail up Snowdon. We'll then drag ourselves off the hillside and get back in the wagon to drive into the sea whereby we will touch the drink and complete the route, our mission and the National 3 Peaks.

Then back to a hotel in North Wales for tea and medals (as previously mentioned - nosh and pints).

We've decided to drive ourselves but we're gonna take a Merc Vito long wheelbase van so that we can lay mattresses out in the back and get some good shut eye in between the mountains. Save the cash for the spa hotel.

A great opportunity to tick one off and get some hill miles in for training for the Lakeland 3000's.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Oh deer!

I wasn’t so much roaming last week but I did go out for a drive in the hills to a spot where there are renound to be a few herds of deer. They are having a horrendous year this year, as accustomed as they are to the cold this winter has proved really bad for them. All the snow has made it impossible for them to feed which has led to starvation on a large scale (view here, listen here). I’m definately no expert in this matter but the deer we saw looked quite healthy to me – I will concede though that I am very much the untrained eye here.

Anyway here are some photos we took whilst we were up there;

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Wednesday, 3 February 2010

A failed attempt at A' Chailleach and Carn Sgulain

Scottish Highlands A' Chailleach and Carn Sgulain

Date: December 2008
Yompers: Me and Craigy
Hills Climbed:
Map: OS Explorer 402 (Badenoch and Upper Strathspey)
Distance: 5 1/2 miles

I really wanted to get out there and do some top quality yomping and nailing some hiking trails in the snow whilst ticking off a couple of Munros. So whilst I was working up in the Highlands I decided to make an attempt on A' Chailleach and Carn Sgulain as they were both real close to where I was staying and with the short days you haven’t got the light, and as a result time, on your side.

We drove up out the back of Newtonmore and parked in the small car park at the end of the paved road (693997). The hiking trail heads north here running alongide the western side of the woodland. There was already an awful lot of snow even at this level and the path was like an ice rink which made it pretty trecherous and slow going (although in the greater scheme of things we were making good ground at that time). It was really easy to navigate however and we just followed the path which ran along the river. There is a ford marked on the map which in fact appears as though it is more for vehicles then to be attempted by foot so I wouldn't recommend relying on this, especially if the river is running.

Not wanting to retrace our steps to cross the footbridge we dodged over the rocks firstly to an island in the middle of the river and then over to the far side. This is always a load of fun (unless you go arse over breast and land in the drink – on this occasion however we didn’t).

We again followed the river, now on the other side until the hill opened up. We saw a mountain hut half way up the side of the hill (687023 - pictured) where we decided to take a break and eat our lunch. In fairness it was pretty full of sheep dung and was fairly nasty so we savoured the sunshine and ate outside. After a reasonable break we trudged on. It is beautiful in the snow but it can make it really hard going and with no hiking trail in sight you end up wading through it knee deep and not knowing where you're putting you're feet always makes it that bit more taxing. Navigating is pretty hard too as you have few points of reference and all the minor streams are covered.
We did plug on for the top of the ridge where we hit a plateau (675038). In places here where it had drifted it was now up to my thighs. Now we were on this plateau it was really hard to pinpoint how far it was to the summit. It was a really clear day but with a total snow covered top there was little in the way of reference points. With time running a touch low and folks already descending we decide that it was time to play it safe and head back, this was certainly not the place to be caught out after dark. It was at this point when a sat nav device would have been handy just to take stock of precisely where we were and the distance to the top. Without it though safety is the best policy and we took the decision to head back to the car.

We did take a moment to absorb the white panorama before us and it really is stunning in the snow!
Heading down, the snow made the descent a load easier on the knees and a hell of a lot quicker than trudging up although you don’t really get to take much of the scenery in when you are bouncing down in a semi jog.

We passed the hut we’d taken lunch near not long later and stuck to this side of the river until we crossed the river via the foot bridge (691013) to avoid any chance of taking a tumble into the drink. After all this was clearly all snow melt which would have been just a tad on the brass monkeys side!
Over the bridge and we skated all the way back down to the car on the sheet ice, this was some kind of exciting hiking trail. Fair play we’d achieved not a great deal but we’d had a great few hours out in the wild and seen some great hills in the snow. I’ll come back at some point soon and have another go at them, possibly in a bit less snow.

View Highlands December 2008 in a larger map
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