Sunday, 3 May 2015

Two Birds in Cage

Many years ago I was a  Cub Scout, I belonged to the 1st Winlaton pack for a few years and thoroughly enjoyed it. Unfortunately I never took it any further, unlike my (much) older brother who reached the heady heights of Venture Scouts and seemed to be permanently involved in some sort of epic adventure (I'm sure he remembers it differently). I let my interest wane and through a combination of moving house and sheer, bloody laziness I stopped going. I never even made Sixer.

Now at the age of 39 I'm happy to say that, for about the last 5 years, I've been involved in Scouting again. First as a parent helper with Beavers, then as a Sectional Assistant.

I've even got a Woggle.

Kay and Jo, looking quite sane...for now.
I help out as much as work allows and find it very rewarding. I've had great fun introducing the kids to activities like climbing and hiking. I've also made great friends of the other leaders. All the leaders are amazing people, they give their time freely and with no financial recompense to teach your children skills that will last them a lifetime.

Two of these awesome people are ladies called Kay and Jo, they have been the Beaver Section leaders of my local Scout group, 1st Lingfield and Dormansland, for over ten years.
Both my bairns and those of many of my friends have benefited from their leadership and the great start they've been given in their Scouting lives by this pair of superstars. Now the ladies are embarking on a bit of an adventure, let me explain.

In the middle of our village there sits the village jail, known to all as The Cage. Now this isn't the plush, modern super jail that TV would have us believe exists, this was built in 1771 to house poachers and drunks and its as cold and dark as the deepest recesses of Cthulhu's mind. It's also rumoured to be haunted and infested with all kinds of nasty creepy crawly.
The Cage...into what antediluvian depths do the roots of that tree delve?

What, I hear you say has this to do with Jo and Kay? Well, at 6pm on the 22nd of May they're going to lock themselves in the Cage for 24 hours (or as long as their sanity lasts....queue evil laughter...). They're embarking upon this descent into ancient creepiness to raise much needed funds for the Scout group. So please, pop along to their 'mydonate' page, Two Birds in a Cage, and give what you can.

They'd love it if you popped along to Facebook and liked their page as well.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Are you sure...?

I've just spent the weekend in North Wales, once again staying at Jesse James' Bunkhouse near Llanberis. A smaller group than last August's outing, only seven of us, Mrs W and me, our two offspring, our friends Simon and Wendy and their daughter, so rather than the main bunkhouse we stayed in Castell Gwynt, a smaller, cosier annexe to the main building. Our plan? On Saturday to climb Glyder Fawr via the Devil's Kitchen, bag Glyder Fach and then descend back to Ogwen Cottage by way of Bristly Ridge and Llyn Bochlwyd and on Sunday to do a little climbing on Lion Rocks before sating our need for discount outdoor clothing in Betws y Coed.

Down the valley toward Tryfan and Llyn Ogwen
In the weeks leading up to our weekend away Simon and I had sat down with a route card he'd used when he first did the planned route in 1992 and plotted the route on an OS map so as to familiarise ourselves with it, buying a new map to ensure that we had the most up to date information. Arriving at Jesse's on Friday night we sat down with him and discussed our planned route with him for a spot of local knowledge, so, at 0930 on Saturday morning when we parked up at Oggy Cottage we were more than confident that we knew what we were doing and off we set.

The morning was perfect, not to hot, not to cold and the main thing, dry. Apart from an abortive attempt at Tryfan via the North Ridge I'd no experience of the Glyderau so was really looking forward to the coming adventure, although the prospect of both the Devil's Kitchen and Bristly Ridge were peaking my fear of heights. Our chosen route was to take us around the northern shore of Llyn Idwal before peeling off to strike up the Devil's Kitchen, sure enough, as we left the shore of the lake we encountered the expected steep ground, which kept getting steeper and steeper and the views across to Tryfan kept getting better and better as we went up and up and up.
After around two hours of almost constant height gain, the application of one compeed patch and a splodge of lip balm to a warm heel (Vaseline left at Jesse's) we arrived at a cairn just below the final rise to the summit of Glyder Fawr. A quick lunch and a cup of tea, well done Wendy, and we gained the summit. 

As we stood, admiring the view, feeling very proud as we looked at the ridge we'd just climbed, a dawning realisation crept over the adult members of our little band of adventurers. A ridge? Hang on a minute, the Devil's Kitchen isn't a ridge. Those two lakes we passed, shouldn't they have been on the right of the path, not the left? And why the hell am I looking south at Llyn y Cŵn?

Are you sure this is Glyder Fawr? 

A quick check on our position via electronic means showed a little problem, we'd climbed the wrong mountain. We were, in fact, standing on the summit of Y Garn. Oops.

Still, faint heart ne'er won fair maid and all that bollocks, so we decided we'd push and bag Glyder Fawr anyway. The scree slope up to the summit of Glyder Fawr is not in good nick and made for an interesting, taxing, slippery scramble before a fun hands and knees job on to the actually pointy, summitty bits which the kids loved. We looked across to the summit of Glyder Fach and discussed whether or not carry on but all three kids were, shall we say, less than enthusiastic so we decided to take advantage of a planned escape route down Y Gribin.
Looking down Y Gribin

This provided a great deal of entertainment as we hadn't realised it was something of a cliff, necessitating the use of not only hands and knees but also backsides. After 7 and a half hours we arrived back at the car and drove back to the bunkhouse via the grog shop for a bottle of scotch to soothe our aching limbs. 

Sunday morning and climbing with Jesse at Lion Rocks. We turned up to find two instructors with a school group had roped the vast majority of lines on the first level, which caused a little consternation on our part. Jess knew of a line on the second level which we scrambled up to for a play. The kids thoroughly enjoyed this and we were very lucky to have Jesse's local knowledge to work from. 

Despite our navigational "error" we've had another brilliant time in North Wales. Next time Tryfan and Glyder Fach, hopefully we'll get the right mountains.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Jesse James' Bunkhouse, a recommendation.

I know what you're thinking. I want to go to Snowdonia with 20 or 30 of my closest friends and spend some quality time walking up and down big things, throw in a spot of rock climbing and a fairly large splash of booze and you're looking at recipe for the perfect weekend. 

Hang on, did you say 20 or 30 friends? Yes, well what you need is a bunkhouse. Namely Jesse James Bunkhouse just north of Llanberis, right in the heart of the mountains and crags of the Snowdonia National Park. Coincidentally I've just spent a weekend doing just that all thanks to friend and fellow outdoor enthusiast, Wendy, who decided that the above description sounded like the perfect way to spend her 40th birthday. 

Founded by the eponymous Jesse James in 1966 the bunkhouse is the manifestation of Jesse's lifelong philosophy of 'Lo-tech Pragmatism', a kind of make do and mend writ large. It's packed with homemade furniture and memorabilia from a lifetime of climbing and  outdoor pursuits in north Wales. The main bunkhouse sleeps up to 25 and has ample room for kit, boots and bags as well as a drying room, a comfortable lounge and a large dining room. The kitchen is well equipped and we had no problem catering for 20 hungry mouths. 

There is plenty of garden space for kids and barbecuing, although being North Wales you may need a brolly. Jesse also assures me that there's parking for upto 16 cars with a little driver cooperation. As well as the main bunkhouse there are four other smaller accommodation options varying in levels of luxury. 

Jesse himself is a real character and is always around to share a beer and chew the fat, he has a wealth of knowledge of the climbing world and is more than willing to share his expertise. He also makes awesome flapjacks, huge thick, chewy flapjacks, more than able to fuel a busy weekend in the mountains. On our final evening we shared a meal (and a bottle of scotch) with Jesse and sat until late listening to his tales and sharing stories. 

I can't think of any other way to recommend Jesse's bunkhouse more highly than just to say use it, it's a wonderful place, full of character and in the perfect location. 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

A quick plug

I know its bad form to publish the same post on two blogs however in this case its for a very good cause, below is my latest post from the Arctic Challenge 2013 blog - please give it a read and take a look at our just giving page.

Nearly there....a progress update.
In just over a month we will be on our way to Norway, so I thought an update was in order.

Speaking for myself training and preparation is going well. I have most if not all of the kit I need, including the elusive Bridgedale Summit knee high socks which are apparently the footwear equivalent of rocking-horse shit, I'm sure other socks would suffice, however I used the Bridgedales last time I was in Norway, they served me very well and I had no problems with my feet. I finally tracked them down to Global Adventurer in Forest Row.

The other bit of kit I was determined to source was a Vapour Barrier Liner for my sleeping bag. Last time out I was forced to use a bog-standard, orange plastic survival bag, which was absolutely horrendous to sleep in. This time I've managed to source a Rab VBL from a nice man on UK Climbing.

Training too, is going well. Since October I've really knuckled under and have been in the gym a lot, so much so that one of the comedians I work with has changed my phone number to the extension in the gym. According to Runkeeper I've cycled, cross-trained, rowed and run nearly 300kms and lifted a cumulative weight of over 66 tons. I have to say I'm feeling pretty damn good and am certainly fitter than I was when I last travelled in Norway.

Fran too, has been hard at it and puts my mediocre training to shame, she has been posting her progress to our JustGiving page, why not take a look and donate while you're there.

Our fundraising efforts have been thrown into sharp relief by the SusSAR team SSV (Search Support Vehicle) failing its MOT last week. Although the problems have been fixed and its back on the road, the failure shows that the team desperately need a new vehicle from which to mount our searches and that the money we raise will be going to a very good cause.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The 2012 Hillary Memorial Lecture

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the 4th annual Hillary Memorial Lecture, in aid of the Himalayan Trust. Hosting the evening was Rebecca Stephens, the first British woman to stand atop Everest and top of the bill was the British climber Al Hinkes, still the only Brit to have summited all 14 of the worlds 8000m plus peaks*. However, to start the evening Rupert Band, the son of George Band OBE, treated us to a reading. Rupert took the stage, and read to us an extract from his father's diary where George had written about his summit-day experience on Kanchenjunga. There then followed a short film in tribute to George, who died last year. George was the youngest member of the 1953 Everest team and went on to be the first to summit Kanchenjunga along with Joe Brown in 1955, although in deference to local beliefs they did not actually touch the summit. He also went on to be one of the driving forces of the Himalayan Trust and President of both the BMC and Alpine Club. The film was, in most part an interview of Sir Chris Bonington talking about George interspersed with old footage of the man himself. One clip in particular showed how the world of climbing has changed, there was Mr Band being interviewed following Kanchenjunga dressed, smartly, in a suit, shirt and tie without a hint of a sponsors label, bring him forward 50 years and he'd be standing there in technical clothing festooned with labels. Which would we rather I wonder? 

Then it was the turn of Mr Hinkes to take to the stage, having had some contact with Al through the twitterverse and having already formed the opinion that he is a thoroughly top chap, I was looking forward to hearing him speak. Al comes across as an affable, likeable Yorkshireman, he is, you get the impression, rather proud of his Yorkshire heritage. His speech although sometimes a little hurried is warm and funny. His lecture, he informed us, would, although taking in each of his fourteen massive achievements, revolve around his ascent of Kanchenjunga. He regards Kanch as the gold medal of high altitude mountaineering, more challenging than K2 and certainly more difficult than Everest.

The lecture took the form of a showing of a programme from ITV filmed mainly by Al himself, with a pause every few minutes for Al to give us an insight into what we had just seen. It almost felt like we had been invited in to the Hinkes' household to view the film and although my initial feeling was "Oh, right, we're just going to watch a TV programme..." the presence of, and explanations from Al, made it an enormously enjoyable, funny and informative evening. There was the obligatory gory shot of an injury, sustained in this case when Al fell from a trail and speared his leg on a branch, he told us that had he fallen just a little further to one side the branch would have speared his scrotum, prompting Al to raise the question,

"Can I say Scrotum in the RGS? Anyway imagine the trouble if it had speared my scrotum and ripped my Gonads off?”

From one whose experience of “high altitude” mountaineering stops some 18000 feet below that of Alan Hinkes achievements, I was enthralled by his story. Over 18 years he battled to achieve his goal, overcoming three major injuries – as well as the branch/nearly scrotum incident, his first attempt at Nanga Parbat ended in prolapsed disc and his first attempt on Kanchenjunga ended with a slip into a crevasse and a broken arm. He is not one for grand gestures, not one for carrying a Union Flag to each summit rather; he carries a picture of his daughter as inspiration to make it down again. He, like Ueli Steck, considers that no mountain is worth a digit, never mind a life.

Al ended his lecture with Whymper’s famous quote,

“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”

This sums up my overriding impression from Al Hinkes – there’s always a reason to come back. Thanks Al, a great lecture.

*Al’s 14 8000 footers -
1987 - Shishapangma
1988 - Manaslu
1990 - Cho Oyu
1991 - Broad Peak
1995 - K2
1996 - Mount Everest
1996 - Gasherbrum I
1997 - Lhotse
1998 - Nanga Parbat
1999 - Makalu
2002 - Annapurna
2004 - Dhaulagiri
2005 - Kanchenjunga

Saturday, 14 April 2012

"Runner's High Plus"

I tweeted a question earlier this week - "If runner's have their "high" then what do we climbers have?" We couldn't have "high" even if it hadn't already been taken; it's just too bloody literal. I got a variety of replies including a four tweet epic from Mr NICAS himself, Ian McKenzie, but the basic gist of all the replies was that whatever we call that combination of superhuman and battered-to-hell set of emotions we experience after a session at the crag or after completing a grade-pushing pitch it's definitely a mix of elation at the achievement, the endorphin release from the strenuous exercise and the adrenaline shot of fear. My original question came from having completed my first overhanging lead during an evening at Craggy Island. It wasnt a tough grade (only a 4) and had it been on less steep ground I'd have danced up it, but, I find overhangs deeply intimidating. They stir something visceral which just makes me want to run and hide. I've got to say it was bloody hard work, definitely not elegant and I made some glaring errors (including z clipping the second quickdraw and having to down climb to rectify) but I got to the top and I felt incredible. By the time Matt had lowered me off I was a quivering, sweaty mess. My legs and arms turned to jelly by the adrenaline and lactic, my mind singing from the endorphins and I was on top of the world. What I was feeling was akin to the "runner's high" but the extra loading of fear turned it into something far more powerful.
It started me thinking of the concept of the "sublime" as described by Robert Macfarlane in his excellent Mountains of the Mind. This concept of sublime is not the modern use of the word so beloved of Loréal and the like where Cheryl Kerl minces about telling us her hair "feels canny sublime, pet" This is the Sublime where you are elevated closer to your respective deity by proximity to the force of nature, the search for this Sublime is the force that drove respectable Victorians to swoon at the sight of a glacier and to haul cases of claret to the summit of Mont Blanc to quaff merrily in sight of their god whilst their toes (and servants) succumbed to frostbite. To my mind this is what we Climbers are experiencing, this "Runner's High Plus" we attain, is actually a little bit of The Sublime.

We know now, in the 21st Century, that this feeling is just the effect of a few molecules of hormone on our bodies and minds, but to reduce this awesome feeling to mere science doesnt, Im afraid, do it justice so Im sticking with The Sublime and I intend to keep grabbing little bits of it whenever I can.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Blaming others for your own stupidity.

Warning. This post is a rant.

I have the pleasure of being a member at Craggy Island Climbing Centre in Guildford, it is a great place to go and climb, there is a fantastic atmosphere in the centre, the staff are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable and, thankfully, there are routes that cater to all abilities. I suppose what I’m trying to say is the place has a great vibe and I love climbing there.

Then, yesterday, while taking a break from housework and admin stuff for the search team I went to the UK Climbing website and had a glance through the forums and I came across a thread about this article –

I have long been opposed to the “compensation culture”. Don’t get me wrong, the right in law to sue someone for compensation when they, through their error, have caused you harm is an important one and if I was to be injured through the action or inaction of another then I’d be all for exercising that right.
However, what I object to, and boy oh boy do I object, is blaming someone for your own damn stupidity and I’m afraid to say that Ms Pinchbeck is guilty of just that. She chose to take part in an activity that is inherently dangerous (don’t look at me like that, the adrenaline is part of why we do it) and she took a decision to jump from a wall and in doing so broke her ankle. I say again Ms Pinchbeck CHOSE to take part. She didn’t HAVE to.

There is no requirement at Craggy to leave your common sense at the door, no locker in which to pop your innate understanding that “if I fall down, I might hurt myself”. There is, of course, the BMC participation statement writ large –

The BMC recognises that climbing and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions.

A version of which you have to sign as part of the registration process before climbing, there is no addendum which states

“That is unless I hurt myself, abrogate my own personal responsibility and decide to blame someone else”

The Telegraph article states that Ms Pinchbeck was a keen runner, I ask her, if you’d slipped from the curb whilst out running and caused the same injury who would you have blamed then?

It enrages me that the judiciary appear unwilling to look at these cases rationally and say “Sorry, you were stupid, you made a mistake and now you’re trying to blame someone else, get out of my court room and stop wasting my time”.

This whole sorry episode is indicative of the blame culture, where personal responsibility appears to be a thing of the past and no one is willing to admit that they may have made a mistake or been a tad stupid. So I say lets have a return to common sense, if you climb there is a likelihood that at some point you’re going to injure yourself and it will be no one’s fault but your own, just as there is risk in any sport which involves physical activity. I recently took part in a session of laser tag, outdoors in the woods; I tripped while jumping a log and cracked some ribs, and it was nobody’s fault but mine. I’m not about to start blaming the owner of the site, or the bloke who chopped the tree down or anyone BUT ME.

The people who bring these ridiculous lawsuits because they cannot face taking responsibility for their own actions are setting a terrible and dangerous precedent. Its time Ms Pinchbeck and her ilk took a long hard look at themselves and realised the error of their ways.

I will continue to climb at Craggy, as will I continue to recommend it to anyone, and if they have to raise their prices to pay their insurance premiums, which will inevitably rise, then I’ll pay the extra because it’s a great place and I love climbing, but when I do I’ll be thinking “Thank you Ms Pinchbeck, for making the experience a little less pleasant.”