Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Friday, 11 January 2008

Wednesday 9 January 2008 - Crunchy Snow on The Nantlle Ridge

The weather forecaster described Wednesday as ‘a window of brighter weather in an otherwise awful week’, but with high wind, sunshine and showers forecast for the day, it could do anything! It was still and the stars were bright when we left home at 6.35am. The appointed meeting point was the car park in Rhyd-Ddu, where we learnt of John’s windy overnight camp at Capel Curig, and panic when his pegs appeared to be missing (they were just misplaced!).

The nine o’clock start later proved to be a good move – it was to be a full day, traversing the Nantlle Ridge and returning along the Cwm Pennant valley, over a pass, and back down to Rhyd-Ddu. Viewed from the slopes of Y Garn, the summit of Snowdon was clear and all the hills had a good dusting of snow. Rays of sunlight pierced the grey cloud and made silhouettes of the hills to our south.

The ridge was superb – short sections of scrambling, broad grassy shoulders, a narrow col, requiring great care due to steep rocky slopes either side, huge drops down into the adjacent cwms, and constant ascent and descent. The only prints besides ours in the virgin snow were those of a fox, which, amazingly, continued along the whole ridge. Early on, two showers narrowly missed us, but donning waterproof trousers was enough to encourage the sun to come out, reflecting the verglas on the rocks.

The rocks were of constant interest to amateur geologist, John, who broke open a few to determine that they were likely to be volcanic ash. His colourful geological map illustrated when we crossed to an area of different rock.

The obelisk provided shelter from the brisk wind for a morning tea stop and the walls on our final summit of Garnedd-goch (700m) formed a wind break for lunch. From here, Caernarfon Castle stood out clearly, Anglesey was nearly all in view, and the sunshine reflected off the sea.

A pathless descent through deep heather, crossing a stream above an attractive waterfall, brought us to the valley by Braichydinas. Immediately before the road, brambles caught both my ankles, causing a tumble – all would have been fine if there hadn’t been a rock beneath my shins…. They were not inspected in situ but stung for the remainder of the walk. Not a pretty sight when we’ll be wearing shorts in less than two week’s time! Anyway, my thoughts were soon diverted because the helicopters that had been buzzing around all day now flew low through our valley – they might have been helpful if my injuries had been worse! Were the three of them on exercise?

Climbing out of the valley, we passed dilapidated cottages, a large mine building with huge arched windows, and entrance shafts to mines, which John was keen to investigate. “Its warm in here,” he observed.

As dusk fell, we drained the flask and finished off an excellent batch of Martin's homemade fudge, before ambling off on what we thought would be a simple descent to the cars.....!

As the light started to fade, the fun began! The path marked on the map took a direct line through the narrowest part of forest, but somehow, we missed it. Initially, it was easy to walk down the trees between the rows, on soft needles. However, it soon became trickier, with fallen trees, holes and brambles underfoot and tightly packed trees. John’s practice in Panama at jungle bashing proved useful and we were very relieved when a forestry track appeared. Weaving through the forest, we finally exited it, in rain, minus a pair of gloves, about 2 km from the car park. In the dark and rain, we tramped along the narrow gauge railway track, enjoying John’s tales of his neighbour and their escaping bull!

Despite injuries sustained, this was a superb winter day! Hooray for not being at work and despite injuries, I am today feeling invigorated (so much so, the bathroom is sparkling)!

Here’s an outline of our route, which ran to 19 km, 1300 metres of ascent, and took us just over 8 hours.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Sunday 6 January 2008 - Mow Cop in the Sun

The Dishy Pharmacist and I found time to fit in a brief stroll on our way home from St Albans, via Solihull, Eccleshall and Congleton.The DP had wanted to visit Mow Cop for some time and now finally, before our appointment in Congleton, she had her chance. We made our way by a circuitous route to Mow Cop Castle’s small car park, where a National Trust warden worryingly advised us not to leave anything visible.
Just above the car park is a memorial stone, placed in 1957 as a 150th anniversary commemoration of a meeting that began the revival of Methodism. The inscription reads:

"TO THE GLORY OF GOD. Camp meeting near this spot on May 31st, 1807, began the Religious Revival led by Hugh Bourne and William Clowes known as Primitive Methodism."
We moved on to look around the ruins of the ‘Castle’, which turns out to have been built by one Randle Wilbraham, on the site of a prehistoric camp, in 1754. It was in fact an elaborate summerhouse built to look like a medieval fortress and round tower.
Some summerhouse!
To mark the occasion in 1937 when the Castle was given to the National Trust, over 10,000 Methodists met on the hill.The area around the castle was nationally famous for the quarrying of high-quality millstones ('querns') for use in water mills. Excavations at Mow Cop have found querns dating back to the Iron Age. Though visitors were originally allowed inside the folly the area surrounding it has sadly been fenced off due to an instance of suicide off the cliff edge.On the turn of the millennium in the year 2000 a large fire was lit beside the folly as part of a network of communicating fires across the country.
Turning along the Gritstone Trail path, we found our way to a trig point that overlooks the 65 feet high ‘Old Man O’ Mow’.

To me, this looked like a strange natural rock form, but it turns out to have been deliberately left behind by the quarrying activities hereabouts. This was the site of an ancient cairn, destroyed by the quarrying. Perhaps the ‘Old Man’ was left in memory of the cairn.
We had excellent views on this fine sunny day, with the white orb of Jodrell Bank’s telescope shining brightly in the foreground.

Time was pressing, so we headed off down the trail, soon turning left along the South Cheshire Way. A nice field path led us to the boggy woodland of Roe Park, where the eagle-eyed DP spotted a bird in the distance, high up a tree.
This was a challenge irresistible to her new camera, and the result is shown here. Not bad considering it was about 20 metres away. My camera managed to capture the Great Spotted Woodpecker as a blurred black blotch on the tree trunk.

We emerged from the wood and found a magnificent tree sprouting from the centre of a field.
We soon passed under the main line railway; it occurred to me how little space this takes up compared with the wide swathe of a motorway. The railway sits neatly next to the Macclesfield Canal, beside which we tramped happily up to Congleton, encountering many other walkers, cyclists and fishermen on this scenic section of canal. The cyclists were in fact walking, which is a measure of the state of the towpath after recent wet weather.

A convenient picnic table in Congleton provided a good lunch spot where we were joined by three friendly swans. We then continued through Congleton, a fine railway viaduct soon coming into view. Despite the frost enduring all day in the shade, the warm sun had encouraged Mallards to get very frisky, and the Great Tits were also exhibiting amorous tendencies.
Now we descended to the disused railway line that provides a conduit for the Gritstone Trail at this point. We soon abandoned the wide path edged by golden bracken, in favour of the Staffordshire Way (all the paths seem to be named today, even the canal section is called ‘The Cheshire Ring Canal Walk’) and up a track to a pub where a cheery chap was downing a pint whilst hanging on to his horse. Across a road a narrow boggy path took us to the crest of Congleton Edge, in a wood beside which some trail bikes were tentatively wrestling their way around a tantalisingly technical scrambling course. The noise, whilst not quiet, was muffled by the trees; the bikes were not encroaching onto public land; marshalls were in evidence. This (or similar) is a place where the bikers who terrorise our friends in Bonsall should be coming.
Rejoining the Gritstone Trail and the higher volume of people attracted to that path, we headed up a road towards the prominent radio masts that adorn the summit of the hill topped by Mow Cop.
Horses munched in the bright green fields above Biddulph to our left, but as we stopped to slurp the dregs of our flask of tea, to our right we watched the embers of the sun struggle behind encroaching clouds on this clear day. The Peckforton Hills showed prominently in front of the clear outline of the Berwyns, some 40 miles away.
The view was overlooked by a number of memorials, one being to a 19 year old Royal Marine Commando who died in 2004. It was unclear how he had died; perhaps in a car crash at this point.
And so, we returned to the Castle by 3pm, refreshed after this excellent little circuit in the sun.

Here’s a map of the 14 km route, involving 350 metres of ascent. It took us 3 ¼ hours.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Thursday 3 January 2008 - So Much To Do, So Little Time!

Today I jotted down a few jobs (see above) that have become imminent. There are lots more to go with the ‘Top Ten’. So if I miss a day of the blog, I’m not going to try to ‘recover’ unless there is a walk report to write up – I do want to keep on top of those.
I’m trying to encourage Nallo Lady to contribute, and I do plan some ‘Time Warp’ items – reports on Alpine trips, for example, that I’ve been intending to do for ages and which the ‘bite sized’ format of the blog may make less daunting than the compilation of a full report. The entries for a specific trip would be given a special label and be input over a period.
So, after 95 days of continuous entries, containing over 40,000 words and over 170 images, some ‘gaps’ will now appear. The blog gets about 20 visitors a day. Regular viewers enter directly, but Google picks up names and terms etc very quickly, so there have been numerous hits on some items of ‘peripheral interest’ such as The Battle of Culloden, and Il-Quccija.
Most of the visitors are friends and family, plus a few of the outdoors bloggers, for which I have to thank quite a number for providing encouraging links. Thanks – Darren, Alan, Duncan, George, Phil, Lay and others. Sadly, there have just been a handful of comments, but maybe that reflects the contents...(read into that what you will - the important thing is that I get great satisfaction from doing the blog).

Monday, 7 January 2008

Wednesday 2 January 2008 - The Art of Iglooism

We have had a touch of snow in parts of the UK, and for some reason (probably struggling to think of a suitable blog topic) the following tale related by Mark Seaton about a trip he did back in 2006 with some clients, including my friend John, came to mind.
Mark had no objection then to my printing his report in a newsletter that I edit, so I trust he has no objection to my repeating that exercise here.
Given all the brilliant reports on his trips from John and others, if I ever use a Chamonix guide I will seek Mark out. He sounds a really excellent guide, so even though I have never met him, I would unreservedly recommend him for any level of Alpine guiding, summer or winter. Check him out here. And the pictures on his blog indicate that he has been practicing The Art of Iglooism quite recently, as has Chris Townsend who reports in February's TGO magazine on a trip in Yellowstone with 'Igloo Ed' the man behind the igloo making kit used by Mark.

The Art of Iglooism

“So you’ve bought what? Did I hear you right?” John asked

“Yes I’ve bought an Igloo making machine!” I proudly reconfirmed and then added

“We are going to take it into the mountains and build a perfect igloo. And then we are going to sleep in it.”

“Who are we?” Peter asked

“You guys seem like good candidates!” I offered

“No way!” they chorused

“Okay” I shrugged while secretly banking on them taking the bait

Picture the scene. Peter, John Nigel and I, their Mountain Guide, were all sitting in a mountain restaurant. It was snowing like mad and the avalanche danger was getting higher and higher and our options as to what we might do were rapidly diminishing.

“More wine anyone?” Peter asked

The Igloo would not leave the conversation and the team could not resist asking more questions:
"Have you tried it out yet?" Asked Nigel

“Yes I built a 7 footer in the garden for the children.”

“How long did it take?” They asked.

“About 3 hours. It was perfect.” I boasted

More wine anyone?

“Will it be cold?” John asked

“No the temperature hovers around zero - I have some sleeping bags you can borrow.”

“I have always been fascinated by Igloos - maybe it would be a good idea.” Nigel reflected

“Another bottle?” More questions and then suddenly we had an Igloo Building Team.

So an adventure was born. I had been searching the web attempting to find out how I could build some snow sculptures for my daughter’s birthday party when I came across Grand Shelters and the “Ice Box.”

Two weeks later it arrived from the US. Bought straight from the Internet. Fundamentally it is a bottomless box which you pack snow into to form a block. The “Former” is attached to a long adjustable pole, which is stuck in the snow. You make a brick then move the former and make the next brick going around in a circle. The pole makes sure the Igloo is perfectly round. Once you have made the first layer you shorten the pole and continue until you spiral up and in and voila a perfect Igloo.

Traditionally Igloos are built out of hard packed snow which is cut out in blocks using a saw. Generally this type of wind packed snow is difficult to find anywhere other than the Arctic. Sometimes you can build them in the Cairngorms but it requires great patience and skill and it is very likely that there will be big gaps and cracks, which are hardly conducive to a good night’s sleep. In the British and European mountains the preferred method is to build a snow cave. [Extremely effective and an essential survival skill to develop if you plan to walk and climb in the Highlands in winter.] But snow caves are hard work to excavate and you need a massive drift of snow. In addition you get soaking wet building them. Hardly the ideal state to be in prior to sleeping in any sort of cave let alone one made of snow.

Anyway I was a bit worried that the team, in the cold light of the next day would have backed down. On the contrary their resolve seemed steely and Peter set off to buy what turned out to be formidable supplies. Food: A Gourmet spread from one of Chamonix’s delicatessens. Wine, which would be okay at room temperature: Champagne, plus [unbreakable] champagne flutes. Candles - for atmosphere.

We drove to the ski station of Combloux which is part of the huge Megeve lift system, manhandled our larger than normal rucksacks on to the lifts and rode them to the top. We attracted some strange looks, especially me because I was the only person skiing in France’s most fashionable resort with a saw strapped to his rucksack. (For cutting the door.]

We struck off the piste and with the aid of our ski-touring skis headed off to the “building site.” I must say that we choose a simply stunning position to site our Igloo. It was stuck out on a promontory looking across to the Mt Blanc Massif. Huge pine trees that were covered in fresh snow surrounded us.

We tramped the snow down with our skis and unpacked the Ice Box. I then announced that we would build an “11 footer.” This was a gigantic mistake probably brought on by a pique of over enthusiasm that seems to have beset recent British architectural projects. We started building at 3.30pm by 8.00pm the thing looked like a Millennium Dome and was about as on schedule for completion as the new Wembley stadium.

By 7.30 pm we had witnessed one of the most glorious sunsets that the Mt Blanc massif could ever deliver. But in spite of determined work we still only had a structure that looked a lot like a giant pudding.
By 8.30pm we had not managed to close the dome, which sported an opening the size of a pool table.
Suddenly all notions of Igloo authenticity deserted me and I decided that we should botch the roof by throwing some branches over the top and lobbing snow on the crown.

“There finished.” I said in a way that was meant to suggest that the branches had always been the Eskimo’s preferred method of Iglooism.

The night’s silence was broken by a “pop” as Peter opened the champagne [nicely chilled] and we strolled around our Igloo as if we were at some sort of bizarre themed cocktail reception.
Next I fired up the stove ready for our soup while we sipped champagne and passed the hors-d’oeuvres between us as we now sat in our sleeping bags.

We retired to bed by merely blowing out the candles. It would be untruthful to claim that we had an entirely peaceful nights sleep, but this was down to one of our team being in the British snoring team and nothing to do with sleeping in an Igloo.

Next morning we were awoken by the sun streaming in through our perfectly positioned easterly facing door. Inspiring us for another day in the mountains.

Foot note.
Although we journeyed through the mountains on skis, snowshoes would be functional. So anyone wishing to build Igloos in the Alps need not be able to ski.
The Ice Box can be bought through http://www.grandshelters.com/. It comes with an instructional VHS video.
Further information from Mark Seaton. E-mail markseaton@wanadoo.fr

© Mark Seaton - 2006