Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Saturday 27 November 2010 - XXL Team Conquers Creag nan Gabhar

I'm here in Braemar for the XXL (Aberdeen/BP Hillwalkers) Club Annual Dinner at the Fife Arms. [Not that I'm currently a member, nor have I ever worked for BP or lived any closer to Aberdeen than Teesside.]

It's traditional for some to arrive a day early and go for a walk - it is a walking club after all.

So after yesterday's driving - those arriving from Aberdeen encountered snow - nearly thirty of us enjoyed an evening in front of the Fife's roaring fire. Until we were elbowed out by the Golf Club.

I also enjoyed a pleasant hour or two chewing over backpacking routes old and new with TGO Challengers Doug and Richard, who braved a snowstorm to reach the Fife from their respective homes.

We woke to more snow this morning. Apparently all roads to Braemar were closed. So why did a couple of buses arrive from Aberdeen whilst we were breakfasting?

Various walks were planned. Nine of us elected for the longest of them, Creag nan Gabhar, a Corbett to the south. Others would tackle closer objectives.

Laurence, sadly, faltered on the starting blocks and was disqualified by virtue of his non-appearance. That left me, Mark, Ian, Gus, Margriet, Paul, Jerry and Dave strolling up the road past the golf course shortly after 10am. The fresh snow glinted under the low sun on the branches of the trees on the walk to Auchallater (top picture).

The going got harder as we ploughed through deep snow to reach the track that leads to Lochcallater Lodge, a haven for TGOers in May (but deserted today). Why did I leave my snow shoes in the spare bedroom at home? They would have been ideal for today's knee to thigh deep snow.

A dark black cloud developed over Braemar, but the sun illuminated our pause for elevenses (bottom picture).

As we left the snowy track to ascend the rough hillside towards Sròn Dubh, Paul peeled off as planned, in favour of an easier outing.

A little further on, as the first flakes of a snow shower dampened his trendy sunglasses, Gus declined to continue, perhaps distracted by the stress of having to guide a timid driver (his bus shy wife) from Aberdeen to Braemar.

That left six of us on the long plod up the ridge in deep snow to the 834 metre cairn that tops Creag nan Gabhar. Mark and Margriet surveyed the surroundings. The rest of us had been there before (four times in Dave's case). It looked to me much as it had done on my previous visit (5 January 2005) - snowy, cold (minus 7C), and with a limited view due to its incumbent snow shower.

It had taken four hours. Time for lunch - in the coldest, highest, most exposed point of the entire walk. My phone rang; too deeply buried to be answered, but I guessed correctly that the next part of this trip had been abandoned.

We debated whether to descend to the road, but by consensus decided to retrace our steps, literally, to Auchallater, from where we would stroll down the road, across the golf course, and back to the Fife for 4.30, just as darkness was falling.

On the way we encountered grouse, deer, and a couple of cross-country skiers (I wish...!).

It was a nice walk despite the absence of much needed snowshoes, a satisfying 20 km with 700 metres ascent in 6.5 hours, featuring Deep Snow.

Now for the annual bash - it's time for cocktails.

Oh, and my trip to Poolewe tomorrow has been abandoned due to snow on the west of Scotland that has foiled a brother and his wife in their bid to reach Poolewe today (that was the lunchtime phone call). A shame, but Sue is pining for her catering staff to return, so it seems I will be welcome at home.

May try to pop up something on the way home tomorrow...

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Friday, 26 November 2010

On The Road Again

This morning's warnings of dire traffic conditions would work in my favour, I was sure.

And so it turned out. The wintry cloud over Manchester soon dispersed, to be replaced by bright sunshine as I travelled up the M6, past the frosted Howgills.

Further north, Cross Fell sported a sprinkling of snow on this cold day - the temperature having fluctuated between minus 3C and plus 3C by the time I reached my second refreshment point in Carlisle.

Beyond that, the border posts were deserted and there was virtually no traffic on the M74 motorway (upper picture) as it threaded its way through the much warmer Southern Uplands towards Glasgow.

Roadworks around Cumbernauld permitted a long glance at an impressive silver lady who now graces the western embankment. Quite a distraction really; perhaps the 40mph speed limit should be made permanent?

I'd originally planned to break my journey by nipping up nearby Lendrick Hill or Dumyat, but given the dire warnings and the information that several roads were closed, I pressed on to reach my destination in daylight.

After I'd dodged some kamikaze pheasants, the light began to fade at Blairgowrie. The temperature plummeted and there was evidence of a sprinkling of snow. By the Spittal of Glenshee the snow was deeper, and beyond that the road stretched ahead over the Devil's Elbow (lower picture) like a black thread on a white fleece.

It was blowy up there. Beyond the summit of the pass a thin covering of spindrift rendered that black thread white, well disguised on its white background! Unlike the hundreds of red deer that had assembled near the road. 'Not so easy after dark' I thought, as I pulled up outside Braemar's Fife Arms shortly after 4pm.

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Last Leaves / First Ice

The Bridgewater Canal, Timperley, 25/11/10

The Bridgewater Canal on Thursday.  Sadly I missed both the sunshine and the dancing ducks, but the transition from autumn to winter is clearly taking place.

The full transition may be experienced tomorrow.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Tuesday 23 November 2010 – The Langdale Pikes, The Greater Traverse, including a variant of Great British Ridge Walk, Number 13

Lunch on Pike O' Stickle

I was due to pick Rick up at 7.15.  The alarm rang at 6.30; Sue woke, assumed I had left the bed, and went back to sleep.  I didn’t hear the alarm at all, but woke with a jolt at 6.59.

Somehow I managed to be only 5 minutes late at Rick’s house, and we made it up to our rendezvous point in Lancaster a couple of minutes before Stuart pulled in to collect us for the onward journey.  He had Peter and Richard with him, but the Jeep fitted us all comfortably.

The day’s plan was to walk Bill Birkett’s route ‘LAN5’ – The Greater Traverse of The Langdale Pikes, featuring nine ‘Birketts’ and six ‘Wainwrights’, not to mention seven ‘Lakeland 2000ers’, for those who count such things.

We started up Stickle Ghyll at 9.50am, at something of a sprint that left Richard searching from time to time for more lung capacity.

Approaching Stickle Tarn from Stickle Ghyll

An icy north easterly wind greeted us at Stickle Tarn, but we soldiered on and enjoyed the easy east ridge of Pavey Ark.  As we ascended, the ground became increasingly slithery due to a veneer of grease that could just as well have been ice.  In fact it turned to ice as we neared the summit.

We had decided against tackling Jack’s Rake, and those who did go that way seemed to be taking their time in today’s greasy conditions, so our easier route was a good call.

After stumbling around on the lumpy rocks of Pavey Ark’s broad summit, we headed off to gain Thunacar Knott’s easy summit.  The cloud base had been lurking just above our heads and had indeed obscured some views – mainly those towards Bowfell and the Scafell range – so we were pleased when it lifted a little, gracing us with sunny periods for the rest of the day.

Our highest point of the day, Harrison Stickle, came next.  Its summit rocks sported an icy rime.  We slithered some more before heading off to climb Thorn Crag.

But none of us was sure where Thorn Crag was.  I think we concluded that it was the small lump on the left of the picture below.  If so, we missed it, as we descended directly from Harrison Stickle to the heathery hollow.  Then we traversed the entire ridge from the centre of the picture up to Pike O’ Stickle, from where the picture was taken.  I now think the first of those summits may be Thorn Crag, after which we met a couple who had traversed below it on their way to the loftier summit of Loft Crag, seen here to the right of the picture.

Looking back to Harrison Stickle from Pike O' Stickle

It had taken three hours to reach the top of Pike O’ Stickle, and we were pleased to find a sunny position on the summit (pictured at the head of this posting) that was sheltered from the wind and afforded excellent views.  Rick was particularly happy to have made it – his dickie shoulder had not appreciated the vertical variant route chosen by Peter and Richard!  Our eyes were however particularly drawn to a figure that was half way up the sheer face of Gimmer Crag, pictured below in the distance.  The figure failed to move during our tenure at the top of Pike O’ Stickle, despite much shouting.  We were worried for the person concerned, but saw no evidence of a rescue taking place.  The jets and trainer planes that buzzed us for a while weren’t capable of hovering.

Lunchtime view from Pike O' Stickle, with Windermere and Blea Tarn

As we moved on across Martcrag Moor the low sun cast a lovely light on Allen Crags and Glaramara and beyond to the Skiddaw summits.  It was a glorious afternoon, with innumerable Lakeland peaks laid out before us.

Heading across Martcrag Moor, with Great Gable conspicuous to the left

Whilst the path hereabouts has been improved, there remain boggy sections that tested our footwear.  It passed the test – I don’t think anyone’s feet got wet.  My new Scarpa Mantas, on just their third outing, were superbly comfortable and supportive – just the job for these conditions.

Stuart adopted a classic pose.

Stuart, in his Russian shepherd's outfit

We reached Stake Pass soon after 2pm, so had plenty of time to enjoy the low ridge that leads over Black Crag and Buck Pike to Rossett Pike, the last of today’s summits.  It wasn’t so icy up here, and there were lovely views down Mickleden, with sunlit Pike O’ Stickle standing as a sentinel above the deep glacial valley.

An afternoon view down Mickleden

A group of four men were the last people we encountered, having seen about 20 others on these hills today.  They were bumbling around in the Rossett Pike/Black Crags area, and eventually descended Rossett Gill, way behind us.  I suppose not everyone is as familiar with this terrain as our little group may have been, but those four men did seem to make hard work of getting off the hills!

We were happy to reach the Jeep at 4.50 pm, shortly before darkness took over.  The Stickle Barn was shut, but we managed a fireside pint and post walk banter in the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, before wending our way homewards, deeply satisfied after yet another successful outing.

A full slide show (29 images) is here.

Our 16 km route with 1100 metres of ascent took seven hours and is shown in outline below.  It’s a good one, and would be relatively easy even in winter conditions.

Our route - 16 km, 1100 metres ascent, in a leisurely 7 hours

The header refers to ‘Great British Ridge Walk Number 13.  This is ‘The Langdale Pikes via Jack’s Rake’.  Variants are allowed.  So, as we climbed all the summits and walked the ridge, I think we can say that walk was accomplished.  Jack’s Rake will however be revisited in dry conditions.  It’s a great route that I haven’t been on since backpacking it with Andrew and Gary on 8 June 2005.  Here they are on the route; happy days…

Gary and Andrew on Jack's Rake - 8 June 2005

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Sunday 21 November 2010 - Porth Dinllaen and Penrhyn Nefyn

We are back at home in Timperley tonight after another lovely day on the Lleyn Peninsula.

After parking up at Morfa Nefyn the six of us strolled along the beach (pictured) to Porth Dinllaen, taking care not to step on the stranded jellyfish.

"Are there seals around here?" enquired Jenny.
"I don't know" answered Richard.
"Maybe 'yes'", observed Sue, pointing to a large blubbery mammal that was foraging in some nearby surf.

Circumnavigation of a golf course was then achieved by way of the delightful coast path, with flocks of turnstones, shags, starlings and skylarks in evidence, as well as lone rock pipits and stonechats.

A muddy path led back to a scenic lane (pictured) towards Nefyn, and our afternoon's perambulations drew us on towards luxury residencies of that small town, past a baffled buzzard that had been mugged by crows.

More beach and coast paths found us back at the cars all too soon, after we had rounded the headland of Penrhyn Nefyn in fading light on this last day of our holiday.

Today's was a lovely beach and cliff walk, in beautiful light and with excellent views to the heights of the Peninsula and north to Holyhead Mountain. Curiously, there wasn't a boat to be seen in the vast arc of ocean that was open to our view.

I'll do a brief summary and a slide show next week, if there's time. Meanwhile, thanks go to all who contributed to the enjoyment of our week based in Porthmadog - it was great, we hope to be back soon.

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