Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Saturday 17 November 2007 - Blog Goes on Holiday

Here’s the last Postcard from Sunny Timperley for a week, as sadly my blogging equipment is too bulky to take with me to next week’s exciting destination. So during the following week I’ll slowly catch up with things, and I hope the wait will be worthwhile. So reader (sorry, readers – both of you!), please bear with me until Sunday 25 November, when I should be back at my desk, duly refreshed.
In the meantime you could perhaps visit the time warp that is Ali and Lay’s mountaineering blog. As I write this they appear to be stuck in time on 24 June at the Cabane des Dix near Arolla whilst their vast readership waits in suspense for the next thrilling instalment.
I can also recommend Pam and Paul’s ‘Pacific Rambler’ blog. They started it just before I started this postcard, basically for the same purpose – keeping in touch with home whilst away on a long trip – and they are doing extremely well at reporting back from ‘The Pacific’.
And the list (‘blogroll’ I think is the geek term) to the right of this entry is worth dipping into – Weird Darren always has something to say, and most of the others are pretty active. Have fun!

We have a Prize Winner for the competition announced on 1 November! Paul Filby has correctly guessed that the header picture is a view up Loch Broom, taken from Ullapool. It was actually taken from outside Tigh na Mara during one of our several recent holidays in that excellent cottage, and Paul wasn’t even there, so well done, your bonus prize will reach you in due course. The prizes for guessing the locations of the two footer pictures used to date have not yet been awarded, though I’m pretty sure Paul has visited one of these places, he hasn’t worked it out yet, so be quick!

Friday, 16 November 2007

Friday 16 November 2007 - Altimeter vs Global Positioning System

Recent debate concerning the relative usefulness of these two bits of kit has stimulated two-penneth from me, for what it’s worth.
The Suunto Altimax weighs in at 50 gm and the spare battery is negligible in weight. I have had mine for nearly 4 years and the first battery lasted for 3 years. It’s an excellent watch and a not so effective alarm clock due to the quietness of the alarm. It gives a good indication of altitude but must be reset at frequent intervals. If you don’t do this you can go up a 2000 to 3000 ft mountain and the altimeter will record you as being up to 100 metres above the summit by the time you reach it. So you must compensate for pressure changes by frequently resetting the height at known positions, or be able to carry out complicated calculations in your head given the known change in pressure – information also given by this watch. The thermometer is useful so long as you don’t wear the watch on your wrist (I find it comfortably fits on a belt loop).
The watch gives rates of ascent and descent, and you can set it to provide all sorts of complicated logging of cumulative ascent and descent data. Apart from being tedious to set up the logging (my mind just refuses to memorise the process) the resulting data is unreliable due to the logging taking place at set intervals, and the tendency when stopped for the watch to flip between its 5 metre graduations, thereby increasing both the cumulative ascent and descent totals whilst the wearer rests. Psychologically fantastic perhaps, but factually inaccurate.
Finally, the pressure readings on the watch can be utilised to predict weather, but this is tricky if they are changing anyway due to ascent/descent. It is always worthwhile looking at this reading in the morning before setting off, as falling pressure may indicate the desirability of a lower level route or other precautions.

The Garmin GPS unit weighs in at 200 gm, and two spare AA batteries weigh as much as the Suunto watch.
It’s a wonderful piece of kit if you can work out how to use it. But the batteries only last a few hours, so even on a day walk you need spare batteries if you keep the device turned on all the time.
It has loads of functions, but the small screen can be hard to read.
Unlike the Vector, it has a compass, but it doesn’t have an alarm clock. I’m not going to reiterate its treasure trove of features here, but it does come with a 72 page manual.
So I think the GPS is fine to use and have on all day if that is all one is doing, or where spare batteries or nightly recharges are possible.
Personally I have not yet mastered that constant use of the GPS – I still prefer the comfort of a map and compass, which I can generally rely upon for a precise position. However, the GPS does these days live in my rucksack, with spare batteries, for use in any emergency and for the settling of any positional debate. Even with my sometimes wayward navigation, it rarely comes out.

So whilst the Suunto Altimax is a constant companion on the hill, and is a fantastic aid to contouring over difficult ground, the Garmin GPS is normally just a hidden security blanket. I did take the latter on the TGO Challenge this year, where I was walking alone for days at a time in a remote area, and it was useful for recording the precise positions of my wild camps. I’m glad I only had to use it for that, and I didn’t encounter any of the Military Jamming referred to here.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Thursday 15 November 2007 - Happy Days

Whilst it was as delightful as ever in Timperley today, I thought I would take a break from the local Autumn scenes (they will no doubt be kept in reserve for dull winter days to come) and recall one of many Happy Days from this summer.
The picture is one of my favourites, despite tonight being rejected from the shortlist for our 2008 calendar. If any of my readers doesn’t recognise the fabulous outline of the Tre Cime mountains a few miles north of Cortina d’Ampezzo in northern Italy…you have a treat in store. As they are iconic in stature these three peaks arguably provide better views for non-climbers like us than they do for the brave souls who actually try to get to their summits.
And so it was on 16 July 2007 that the five of us parked up at the end of the toll road by Rifugio Auronzo and headed off to Forcella Lavaredo for what has become a traditional self-timed snap. As usual, the sun beat down and we headed on for drinks and ‘apfelstrudel’ at Rif 3 Cime, with more fabulous views. After taking lunch at a small col just beyond the refuge, Julia left to walk around the neat little mountain named Torre Toblino whilst the rest of us donned our Via Ferrata kits for a more sporting traverse of the 2617 metre summit.
I recall, on my last ascent of the VF delle Scalette route, being hassled by aggressive Germans. But the etiquette this year has been impeccable as we have encountered mainly Brits (very courteous) and Italians (prone to coach parties but not deliberately rude or incompetent). And so it was that the Italian party ahead moved aside to let us pass, and it was a delightful, traffic free ascent to the compact summit. I had the place to myself for 30 minutes before the others (they have a more purist technique that if I employed would result in unnecessary injury) arrived, and then we regrouped to descend via the easier Sentiero del Curato Militare Hosp route, leaving the Italians to enjoy the lovely weather on the summit.
Soon we were reunited with Julia outside the chapel next to Rif 3 Cime. There was a sad note on a scrap of paper next to some dried flowers lamenting the death, yesterday, of Silvano, a young man in his 20s.
We continued our stroll around the iconic mountain that continues to exact its toll on human life, despite no longer being a war zone, following the Alta Via 4 route back to Rif Auronzo, past a herd of cows desperately sipping water from the only small stream to be seen.
Compared with the difficulties and the ecstasy and agony of success and failure on Tre Cime, our day had been easy and relaxing, the only stress arising when the car failed due to having had its lights left on all day. And with power needed to release the electric handbrake, it was fortunate that we quickly located a friendly local with jump leads who happily took a break from supping schnapps!
And so it was that we got back to Cortina before the shops shut, and enjoyed a fabulous al fresco meal back at camp, with the usual cold beers and lovely evening light.
A day to remember – and the photos could fill an album.

Wednesday 14 November 2007 - Worsley Woods

I wisely brought forward today’s evening walk by six hours, so instead of enjoying my own company in the dark, I had a lovely 12 km stroll on a sunny autumn afternoon.
The £3.20 Metro journey to Eccles gets me there in 40 minutes from Timperley, so this really is a fairly local walk. A full description of the route is here, the footnotes from which are reproduced in the Notes below.
The walk starts along urban roads before entering the quiet sunny woodland of the well-named Broadoak Park, where the old railway (see Note 1) heads over the long embankment pictured above, and then through cuttings towards the gathering roar of traffic on the M62. On this occasion the chirpy blackbirds and robins were making a good effort at drowning the unseemly noise, with mallard, goldfinches and other residents helping to maintain the woodland atmosphere.
Then, beyond the tunnel under the motorway, the junction at Roe Green (see Note 2) brings the railway section to an end, in favour of a woodland route past antique cottages, eventually leading to the canal basin at Worsley where the area around the Packet House (see Note 3) would have been a hive of activity 200 years ago. It is still active as a leisure facility, and a pleasure to walk through.
An open section of canal leads back to the urbanity of Monton and Eccles, and a squashed tram journey back home.
The paths were quiet today, but dog walkers, joggers and fishermen were all about, enjoying the peace of the countryside within Greater Manchester. Those who wanted more crowded company were no doubt crammed onto nearby golf courses! (See my 1 October entry.)

Note 1: The former London and North West Railway Company Ltd was officially opened on 1 September 1864, and helped to provide a link between Eccles Junction on the Manchester/Liverpool line and Tyldesley Junction on the main west coast line. The former Monton Green station was opened in 1887 to cater for commuters to Manchester and Liverpool. Traffic included everything from coal, to David Brown tractors from their Leigh factory, to holiday specials to Blackpool.
The line was finally close to all traffic on 5 May 1967 by British Rail.
Since the 1980s the line has been progressively reclaimed and now forms an integral part of the Salford Loopline network of ‘Strategic Recreation Routes’.
Wildlife abounds on the loopline, where the steep sides of the embankment were originally planted with sycamore and beech, since when oak, ash, rowan and birch have joined the party. Dog Rose, Blackthorn, and the Common Blue Butterfly are residents here. Keep your eyes open for kestrels, woodpeckers, yellowhammers and foxes, as well.

Note 2: Roe Green junction is where the Eccles to Wigan (1864) line met the Worsley to Bolton (1870) line. On 28 March 1874 the local paper reported gleefully that…"the long looked for new line between Bolton and Manchester on the London and North Western system will be opened for traffic and will meet a great public requirement by the supply of additional means of railway with the busy cottonopolis.”
[Given my squashed journey home, the modern day analogy is the ‘great public requirement’ for more tram units during busy times, and no doubt an extra lane on the M62 that would further decimate the woods.]

Note 3: The Packet House was built in the late 18th century as separate dwellings, a mock Tudor frontage being added later. From the stone steps in front of the Packet House travellers were collected by the Duke of Bridgewater’s packet boats for journeys to Manchester, Warrington and Runcorn. The golden age of the canal ended with the advent of the railways on the disused lines of which this walk starts. So whilst the canal would have been a hive of activity 200 years ago, whilst today it is more of a recreational zone, it still works and is full of water, whereas the railway lines are long gone…

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Tuesday 13 November 2007 - Autumn Gold

Back in Timperley there were strong golden scenes on a morning that started dull and drizzly, so there wasn’t a camera in sight to record the striking scene that the low sun later brought to the party. By the time I got out again this afternoon the best I could manage is this patchwork of leaf litter.

Monday 12 November 2007 - Another Hot Day

Here’s a view of a typical hillside near Madeira’s more populated southern coastline.
Dave and I said our goodbyes today to the Marie Celeste (our commodious accommodation) and to Alan and Christine in the apartment below. Then it was back up to Camacha for a final couple of hours of strolling on the Levada da Serra, before lunching in Camacha’s sunny square next to the monument that declares that the first game of football ever played in Portugal was completed here in 1875. And Madeira still produces footballers – Man Utd’s Ronaldo originates from a (once) poor nearby family.
At around noon we witnessed a flock of pigeons wheeling in circles just like those starlings that Bill Oddie brings out of his video library whenever he can. A surprising and spectacular sight, they eventually split into smaller groups but continued their graceful activity. Maybe they were ‘on manoeuvres’ practicing escapes from the ever present mewing buzzards.
The temperature today was 24C, our hottest day of the week. It has been unseasonably hot and dry even for Madeira at this time of year. A lovely day.
So it was a bit of a shock to get back to a chilly 5C and a cool drizzle in Manchester – I’m sure my readers will appreciate the distress involved! But to be fair, Thomsonfly did their best to stay away by aborting the first attempt to land, Sue was there to meet us, and we have, as Dave exclaimed when he entered our house: “Carpets!”

Monday, 12 November 2007

Sunday 11 November 2007 - The Roof of Madeira, and a TGO Challenge update

Here we are on the highest point in Madeira, Pico Ruivo – 1862 metres, in the company of a woman with nits. In fact we were third up ‘the hill’ today, but still had to succumb to the Bavarian music of some earlier arrivals. Whilst Dave slapped his thighs I went to sleep in the sun. After several November weeks spent on this island the last two days are the first that I can recall when the summits have been entirely free of cloud. A bonus from last night’s visit to a wi-fi hot spot was the BBC weather forecast showing a bright sun over Madeira today. Whilst that didn’t really transpire, it inspired this day out, on which the weather was very good – warm and clear – if blighted by high cloud that made the wonderful views appear rather ‘flat’ on film. [Coastal visibility was apparently very low due to haze, so we were lucky.]
We met about 70 people on the way ‘down’, many of them being guided. The 7 km path from the car park at 1800 metres is more or less entirely paved and for much of its length is also protected by a well maintained wire fence. Nevertheless, freedom from vertigo is a prerequisite for this walk, and the return trip involves ups and downs of over 1000 metres. So it was with some relief that we found the car park café open on our return from the 6 hour walk to Ruivo and back.

That refreshed us for a quick return from 12C at Pico do Ariero to 25C at Monte, where we enjoyed the good path to Curral dos Romeiros, returning via a vertiginous section of the Levada dos Tornos. Then it was back to the Marie Celeste for a quick bath before joining Alan, Chris, Keith and Iris for an excellent meal in Canico, followed by a trip to a pub. Something of a contrast to last night’s excitement with The Lavender Hill Mob.

TGO Challenge News
We are in, so my secret pre-booking of certain accommodation (which we would have used anyway) is a triumph and we are set to start from Glen Shiel after a comfortable night in a bed. Great News!