Bidean Nam Bian's snowy top

Aonach Eagach in pictures

As I wrote I might, I traversed the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glen Coe on Saturday.

We were on the ridge it in ideal conditions and it was every bit as exposed, long and committing (there are no escape routes once you’re on it) as expected. I was glad to be travelling with a group of experienced friendly scramblers whom I know and trust a great deal, with great visibility.

Here are some photos:

The ridge ahead
The ridge ahead (path sticks to the ridge)
The Aonach Eagach requires a good head for heights
The Aonach Eagach requires a good head for heights
Giving advice...
Giving advice…
Up up up up!
Up up up up!
Looking back along the ridge - can you see the path?
Looking back along the ridge – can you see the path?
Pose for a photo here?
Pose for a photo here?
People taking the highly unpleasant and unwise 900m scree descent from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh to the road
People taking the highly unpleasant and unwise 900m scree descent from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh to the road
Looking down over Glencoe...
Looking down over Glencoe…

Long weekend in Glen Coe

It’s a bank holiday weekend. Rejoice!

Umm, yeah, I’m spending the weekend in Glen Coe at Red Squirrel Campsite! Yay.

I’ve been to Glen Coe a number of times, some more successfully than others, and blogged about how to get there (even hitchhiking).

Glen Coe isn’t too far away from Ben Nevis, and its 24 hour, painfully dull tourist path:

But Glen Coe has many more exciting (perhaps less easily accessible!) things to do – the Aonach Eagach – serious and committing ridge scramble, not for the faint hearted, Bidian Nam Bian, probably one my favourite mountains of the area thus far, Ben Nevis’s non-tourist route – ascent via the Càrn Mòr Dearg (CMD) arete.

Aonach Eagach, The Mamores and Ben Nevis, from Bidean Nam Bian (2012)
Aonach Eagach, The Mamores and Ben Nevis, from Bidean Nam Bian (2012)

Bidian is a jolly fun mountain, but having already done it, the Aonach Eagach is what draws my attention. When I first came to Glen Coe some three years ago, my dad warned me not to go anywhere near it, and not to let anyone drag me to along it. I think that was probably good advice at the time, but with much improved climbing skills, I think it’s probably accessible as a scramble on around a Mod/Grade 3. Good visibility and good conditions are obviously important (and add to the enjoyment!).

The weather is reputedly quite nice on Saturday, rainy with poor visibility on Sunday and Monday, but little chance of strong wind, yet a bit chilly. The last SAIS report (over two weeks ago) showed snow on the tops, and a glance at the Glen Coe Ski centre webcams shows this is still the case – they’re still operating 3/7 ski lifts!

Anyway, I’ll go well prepared with kit, be sensible, and take a few books to read if it looks too grim. ;)

Aonach Eagach (May 2011)
Aonach Eagach (May 2011)
Gorse blooms in Glen Brittle

Looking back at our trip to the Cuillins in Skye.

On Saturday, after a blistering 12 hour minibus journey, I arrived back  in Manchester from a week in the Black Cuillins of Skye.

Gorse Bushes in full bloom!
Gorse Bushes in full bloom!

It was a memorable trip, and by the second evening I thought it was all over – I was in great pain and could barely walk.

In my socks, I’d excitedly tried to run to otherside of the hut, and had managed to kick my little toes on my left foot on the leg of a wooden bench. Hard. About 3 of my toes on my left foot hurt like hell, and instantly I could tell it was serious.

As I hobbled to bed in pain, I wondered what one does if one breaks one’s little toe, and concluded that most doctors would prescribe rest, painkillers, and would helpfully suggest perhaps not repeating the experience if possible.

The next day, I woke up and found I could barely walk. Swallowing Ibuprofen and warding off suggestions of herbal potions, I asked our friendly medical doctor whether the intense pain meant it was broken – to which I got a shrug and a smile.

Fortunately, it turned out not to be broken, and the subsequent day, I took myself up Sgurr Dearg, to look at the Inaccessible Pinnacle. The cloud level was about 3-400m and hadn’t risen significantly since we’d arrived, however it didn’t seem to be raining significantly, and the wind had dropped to manageable levels.


Before I left for the Cuillins, I wrote this (new emphasis added):

I’ll be taking a Garmin GPS with me – not for navigating (we want to be navigating visually), but for returning in poor visibility and avoiding navigation errors. The narrowness of the cuillins, and the slightly magnetic Gabbro they’re made of, means that compass bearing can’t ever be fully trusted, and so the GPS will give a lot of confidence.

The Black Cuillins stand out for me, as one of those mountain ranges that deserves significant respect. A navigational error of 10m in the Peak District, possibly might mean wet feet but realistically is consequence free. A 10m navigational error in the Black Cuillins stands a good chance of meaning you try and scramble down a 30m cliff.

My GPS and OpenStreetMap generated map showed the “easy”, “path”, up Sgurr Dearg. At least, what little existed in terms of path, was available to me in relation to where I was. I picked the route up Sgurr Dearg, specifically because the route was relatively well traced on OpenStreetMap, and should be easy to find (up the ridge on path between Eas Mor and Loch an Fhir-bhallaich).

Kick steps down this snow in a gully of death? I say no!
Kick steps down this snow in a gully of death? I say no!

And off I went! Several times when I felt like I’d lost the path, I pulled my Garmin out, walked 15m in one direction and found the faint ‘path’ I was supposed to be following.

The descent was a bit more hard work (to Belach Banadich (easy) and then down to Coire Banadich(complex)), the route/”path” finding was more involved (Q: Do I walk around this sketchy-looking snow, or do I risk kicking down-steps into it without an ice-axe if I fall? A: Walk around) but after several attempts at following the GPS down different parallel gullies I was able to scramble myself to the path in the valley without too much faff.


When I got back, I took off my boots, sat down, and almost straight away, I heard a call over the walkie talkie radios.

The late group's route card
The late group’s route card

Another group, with several friends in it, had been climbing Amphitheatre Arete (mod/diff) near the Cioch Buttress in Coire Lagan. The time they originally expected to be back by was rapidly approaching, and, as they told me, they were still abseiling down (having turned around at ~3pm).

It was 7pm. They told me they expected to be back by 10pm but if they weren’t, it might be time to call Mountain Rescue.

With nightfall expected around 8pm, tentatively, I asked whether there was anything we might be able to help.

“Well, if anyone was really generous and wanted to walk up here (the visibility is really bad) and help us work out where we are, then that’d be really generous and we’d be grateful – currently we’re above a big cliff that’s longer than our rope so we’re going to try and find a way around it.”.

Two of our group had been climbing in that area a few days ago, and we agreed to walk up there and try and find them. I wrote a note documenting the radio call, wrote a route plan, grabbed a walkie-talkie and briefed the other members of our group the situation, whilst the guys somehow grabbed a stove to make tea and a large quantity of food.

They also grabbed their climbing gear, by as we turned on our head torches, 45 minutes into the walk-in to our destination, we agreed that 5 climbers stuck up a cliff was worse than the 3 that already were. We would go to the bottom of their crag and help try to guide them down.

It was dark by this point, with thick mist that reduced visibility to 10-20 metres, and bounced headtorch beams straight back at you.

As reached a reached a point roughly parallel with the climbers, we took a bearing on the GPS for where we thought they might be, and left the safety of the path into the thick mist.

See full screen

We headed across the valley on a faint path, then started up the hillside where we though they were. After a while, (we could hear and see nothing), we decided to shout and see if they could hear us. An echoing shout came back… to one side…. so we traversed that way. We knew from the radio that they were still descending, and so we periodically shouted until it sounded like they were directly above us, and then headed straight up the hill.

For comparison: 'good' misty visibility in daylight!
For comparison: ‘good’ misty visibility in daylight!

This was probably the most difficult point. In daylight you can look 10-30m away and choose the easiest possible route up a scrambly hillside. In thick mist, with head torches bouncing back off it, you’re stuck with what you can see – and so the scramble went through bits of streams, through boulder fields, up scree-ish slopes. It was unpleasant and with every step I was making a conscious thought – can we reverse this in these conditions?

Eventually, we got the bottom of some wet slabs, and very sensibly, the lads reeled me in and suggested it’d be unwise to go further. If we turned off our head torches, we found we could occasionally see sweeps of a powerful torch, high, high above us.

We setup watch flashing headtorches up in that direction – we could see their lights directly yet – just the light of their torches occasionally as it swept above a rocky outcrop.

We radioed through to our base (who’d setup a listening post) with our position from the GPS, explained we thought they were several hundred metres above us, and that we had limited audio and visual contact. If they did call Mountain Rescue at this point, at least Mountain Rescue would know exactly where to go.

And we waited – the guys made tea, we watched their headlights slowly bob into view, and counted them off one by one. Communication between our team was really important – we’d put on all our layers, and drunk the now tepid tea we’d made for the others, and tried various ways of staying warm (including dancing).

Finally, we got a call from the group above us letting us know they thought this was their last abseil (we’d heard those words before) but we strained our eyes up and tried to imagine figures attached to the bobbing lights through the dark mist.

Eventually (around 11pm), one by one, they made it down the abseil to the bottom of the wet slabs where we were. The guys had made some more tea and so (expecting them to be frozen), we pushed the tea into their hands, and questioned them about warmth. They gratefully accepted the tea, but apart from being varying degrees of exhausted, none of them were showing any signs of hypothermia.. Certainly they appeared warmer than we were!

We radioed through to base that they were safe, but at this point our radios were running out of battery, and so whilst the most important basic information got through, our longer plans for our return did not.

We didn’t know what was below us on the slope, we only knew the route we’d come up was safe, so rather than taking a GPS bearing for the path, we were forced to micronavigate back along our GPS trail from the route up. If you want an idea of something that isn’t fun, micronavigating down scree-ish/bouldery/steep scrambles, with 30 metre legs between where you are and when you have to stop to configure your next GPS waypoint (take a bearing).

Being up there without a GPS would have been terrifying – it was definitely the conditions when you could quite easily almost walk off the edge of a cliff without seeing.

Eventually, we made it back onto the path – and just a 40 minute walk to the hut… arriving back at 12:40ish or something. We’d been able to radio through some ETA’s to the hut once we were on the path, and like super-legends, they had amazing hot food ready for the tired climbers and rescue team when we got back.

All’s well that ends well, and we were all happy with the result – most importantly everyone home safely – but also reducing the risk of a prolonged ordeal for the climbers, a great deal of worry for everyone else in the hut, and, potentially, a spurious call to MRT.

What the climbing guidebook said...
What the climbing guidebook said…

If it were to happen again (and to be clear, I don’t want to have to navigate in those poor visibility conditions again), I think I could have communicated better with the hut team (they weren’t aware that hypothermia had been fully ruled out).

The climbers maintained that they weren’t actually in trouble, just the descent took much longer than they anticipated – even given they started 5 hours before nightfall, and estimated they abseiled ~10 pitches on their 60m rope. Possibly they went off route, or possibly they were closer to the top than they thought when they turned back – we’ll never know for sure.

What I do know, is that calm and professionalism of everyone involved – including the bravery and teamwork of the two guys (whom I had only known for a few weeks!) – and the patience and responsiveness of the hut team, contributed massively to making sure everyone got home happily.


Several days later, I decided to see if the main Cuillin ridge from Sgurr Banachdaich to Sgurr a Mhadaidh was possible in the weather conditions. This is a Grade 3 scramble – and is one of the trickiest and most committing parts of the ridge.

I set off with a less experienced group of 4 (including me), via Coire Eich, to the Sgurr Banachdaich summit. This is supposed to be the easiest Munro ascent in the Cuillins, and I can well believe it – it’s largely a slog up scree. In our case, in thick mist above ~400m.

Looking down Core Eich with the best visibility of the week!
Looking down Core Eich with the best visibility of the week!

With the OpenStreetMap maps I had loaded on my GPS, we found the winding paths through the scree and got to the summit without incident.

So we decided to give the ridge a go – and here the OSM coverage ends – the ridge is just too narrow, too rocky, to even attempt to mark a “path”. In addition, simply routefinding through scrambly bits of boulderfields becomes a challenge – given the thick mist.

At one point, we had to skirt below an icy old snow field on top of a scree slope, but above a steep misty gully. For every step between the boulder stepping stones on the scree, we sent small rockfalls into the vertical gully below. After passing that somewhat terrifying section (clearly Grade 3), we made it to Belach Thormaid.

From here, we tried to find a route to Sgurr Thormaid. I can read now, that I made an error and followed a ‘false path’ and tried to skirt round down on the left side, rather than somehow going up to the right. Fortunately, we made the wise decision, given the conditions, ability levels and difficulties in route finding, and retraced our steps (not without drama – the rockfally bit was twice as bad the second time round) and made it back to Sgurr Banachdaich, and returned back down Coire Eich.


I think (in complex and scary situations) I’d prefer to hike on my own, than with less experienced people whom I’m effectively responsible for making sure are within their ability zone.

Window Buttress and the direction of Belach na Banachdaich with Sgurr Dearg in the mist behind, from Coire Banachdaich
Window Buttress and the direction of Belach na Banachdaich with Sgurr Dearg in the mist behind, from Coire Banachdaich

The Cuillins are mountains with such a complex and unforgiving topography, that to navigate safely, you need to have studied the route incredibly thoroughly. Guidebooks, different flavours of maps, asking people, photos, crag diagrams can all massively help you – but given the distances are so short, yet the mountains so spikey, this is what one needs to do.

Being able to navigate visually only is likely to make things slightly easier – at least you may be able to route find more easily, and there will be fewer opportunities to misnavigate, but these mountains should be given a lot of respect, even in good visibility.

OpenStreetMap definitely meant better navigation abilities and GPS+OSM is a winning combination in mist made my life considerably easier and more enjoyable.

I think I prefer the solitude of solo hiking when that much is at stake, because my own mistakes don’t impact others in the same way, and I had a better understanding of what I’m not capable of.


Eas Mor with Sgurr Dearg and even Window Buttress covered in cloud....
Eas Mor with Sgurr Dearg and even Window Buttress covered in cloud….

It was a jolly fun trip – despite the dramas and relatively little time on the mountain, I had a very relaxed time(!) which was just what I wanted.

It’d be nice to go back in better visibility, and perhaps (with the right people) in full winter conditions with good visibility – I’m sure there would be several fun routes within our reach.

I thinking of maybe going as soon as the midges die off, or perhaps later in the year.

Where will the footprints lead next?
Where will the footprints lead next?
Eas Mor, Glen Brittle

Destination: The Black Cuillins of Skye

The Black Cuillins are probably the longest sustained alpine-style ridge in the UK, found in Skye, Scotland, they’re very spiky and dramatic.

In 2012, in March, our trip to Skye was beautifully sunny and hot. So much so that we went swimming in the rivers and sea.

Last time round, I still thought of myself as very unfit, and inexperienced. I’d only say my confidence has increased since then, but I’ve also demonstrated my fitness to myself and grown my confidence in travelling over exposed ground. Last time, the only Munro I summitted was Sgurr a’Mhadaidh via An Dorus – and I distinctly remember being on the top of this narrow ridge of rock, looking down at everything else. I remember looking around and noticing there was a lot of empty space between us and anything else.

Path to An Dorus - the scree slope
Path to An Dorus – the scree slope

This time, we’re going to stay in Glen Britle for 6 days, and the weather conditions are unlikely to be anything as like last time. MWIS doesn’t cover the Cuillins in a great deal of granularity, but I’m looking and hoping for reports of relatively little wind and precipitation. I’m also looking for a greater than 50-60% chance of cloud free summits – the Cuillins are one of those places where visual navigation is really the only way of doing things safely, and everything else are just aids for if/when you get stuck in cloud and need to return. The local regional medium term weather forcast looks damp, but ok.

SAIS doesn’t have an outpost in Skye either, but the latest Torridonian reports are positive, and the reports for the rest of Scotland also show a low risk. Obviously, conditions change, and we’re probably best placed to observe them. Significant new snow, or significant rises in temperature at altitude, are probably the biggest obvious atmospheric things we can be aware of that could cause problems. When it comes to actual avalanche avoidance, there’s a lot one can do on a snow slope to predict whether an avalanche is likely. From the SAIS observations in Glencoe and Lochbar, I think the conditions are likely to be snowy at altitude – mainly icey wet snow that has refrozen. Somewhat slippy to walk on, but ideal for crampons and not prone to movement.

If only the snow would freeze all the scree slopes solid please, and not exist anywhere else – that’d be lovely. ;)

Obviously all excursions and outings are weather dependent, and I’m travelling very well prepared for the conditions I’m expecting – Scarpa Manta B2s & G2 crampons, Ice Axe, down jacket, are packed.

I’m hoping the weather allows us to get up Sgurr Dearg/In Pin, Sgurr Alisdair, Sgurr Nan Eag, Sgurr a’Mhadaidh, Sgurr Banachdich seems straight forward, but the standard route looks boring, so it might be an option for the first hike.

I think my climbing buddy would like to have a look Am Basteir’s tooth so we’ll take a look at that and maybe Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh too.

I might see (conditions permitting) if I can do a camping excursion from Glen Brittle up to one of the high corries… Probably one of the 3 closest ones. *shrug*

The Black Cuillins of Skye
The Black Cuillins of Skye

The Cuillin range is particularly interesting, as it one of the places in the UK where the 1:25,000 Ordance Survey maps just aren’t adequate. The 1:12500 Harvey’s map enlargements of the ridge, are considerably better, but no use alone. I’ll also be taking the excellent SMC Cuillins guidebook and the Skye Cicerone guide.

I’ll be taking a Garmin GPS with me – not for navigating (we want to be navigating visually), but for returning in poor visibility and avoiding navigation errors. The narrowness of the cuillins, and the slightly magnetic Gabbro they’re made of, means that compass bearing can’t ever be fully trusted, and so the GPS will give a lot of confidence.

However a GPS device can only tell you where you are in terms of a long/lat reference – if you don’t have a map for it to overlay that position on, then it’s useless.

Thus, over the past few months, I’ve been working to improve the OpenStreetMap coverage of the Cuillins – from the various data sources available – 6 inch maps from the 1800s, Ordanance Survey open data releases, and Bing aerial photography, and thanks to the kindness of some guy in Germany, this data is now available for your Garmin GPS (and is loaded on mine!).

Scree Slopes of Coire Lagan, below the cliffs of Sgurr Sgumain
Scree Slopes of Coire Lagan, below the cliffs of Sgurr Sgumain

Like when I went to Kyrgyzstan, I’ll be taking my Spot satellite pager device and will periodically fire off A-OK’s which will go out via Facebook and twitter. It’s not the same level of remoteness though, and though there will be mobile signal on the top of the mountains, we will also be carrying walkie talkie’s.

Spot will tell you my GPS position at the time I fired off the A-OK and I’ll mark the exciting and tricky bits of scrambles, and summits with custom alerts, saying they’re exciting.

I figure you might like to see where I am, but SPOT uses Google maps which are a bit rubbish in that area, so you’ll have to find a way to use the SPOT co-ordinates with this rendering of OSM: http://umap.openstreetmap.fr/en/map/black-cuillins-skye_4548#16/57.2007/-6.2260 perhaps you can hack the URL?

For next time I go away, I want to use the Spot API (go look – you may be able to hack something? *shrug* that pokes the co-ordinates auto-magically into the umap-osm thing – or at least, provides neat links to show where I am on a better map.

Anyway… Time for me to get packing! I’m excited! I hope to return with stories, and photos! :)

The bridge in Glen Brittle, with Sgurr Alisdair in the background
The bridge in Glen Brittle, with Sgurr Alisdair in the background
Descending Beinn Alligin, Torridon, 2013

Try not to be amazed, confused and maybe a bit tearful, when you read my plans for 2014

My first plan for 2014 is not to use upworthy-style headlines to drive people to my blog again, but since you’re here, why not take a glance?

Over the past few years, I’ve tried to make plans for the upcoming year.

Read over some of my plans for the coming year from 2013201220102009 – all guaranteed to make me cringe, and you giggle.

For 2014, there are various things I’d like to do: (in no order)

  • Pass my driving test and take lots of post-test tuition.

    • I don’t need or want a car in central Manchester, but I would like to be able to drive/hire cars for long trips.
    • I’ve taken about 30 hours of tuition in central Manchester in 2013, but haven’t sat my practical test yet.
    • I’m not really interested in it for the ‘reduced’ insurance premiums, and I think I’ll find motorways relatively similar to motorway-style dual carriageways.
    • My aims are to:
      • be a safe driver by having experience evaluating the complex and worst case road scenarios and thinking through the best course of action.
      • be able to park and manoeuvre with impressive precision.
      • get experience driving different vehicles (small vans, automatics, non-power steering, 4×4, trailers etc.)
      • get experience with less-than-optimal road conditions (snow, single-track, rain, night, steep hills etc)
    • I’ve booked my practical test in early February, so I’ll prepare for that, and we’ll take it from there.
  • Learn a new sport (or several)

    • This year I’ve learnt to climb. I wouldn’t say I’m very good, but I know enough basics to pass them on to other people.
    • Often people pose the question, “what would you do if money was no object?”. Well, I’d learn a new, exciting adventure sport (or maybe several). So that’s what I’m going to try and do.
    • I’m quite interested (at some point) in learning to:
      • snowboard
      • hangglide/paraglide
      • pilot/glide
      • jetski (without being a dick)
      • windsurf
      • surf
      • kayak (whitewater and/or sea)
      • ski (cross country and/or downhill)
    • Other stuff that is on the list but isn’t really as appealing:
      • skydiving
      • caving
      • horse-riding
    • For the moment, I’m learning to snowboarding at chillfactore in Manchester, and we’ll take it from there.
  • There are several skills I’d like to develop:

    Climbing indoors in Manchester
    Climbing indoors in Manchester
    • Photography:

      • I’m really pleased with what I’ve done in 2013, it’s been a big step up from 2012
      • I’ve started combining it with climbing, and I want to do more climbing/mountaineering photography
      • I’m hoping this year that perhaps I can take more landscape/action sports photos with people in shot.
      • I want to be better at framing and composition – specifically I want to break ‘the rules’ more – things like:
        • overexposing the sky on purpose
        • chopping off the top of peoples heads (just on photographs though!)
        • shooting greyscale
    • Climbing:

      • I’m really pleased how can far I’ve come since I started in March:
        • Indoors: I’ve led some 5+’s. I can currently top-rope some 6a’s.
        • Outdoors, I’ve done various little bits, but most significantly I’ve seconded a trad HS route.
      • This year, I’d like to:
        • Develop my stamina on overhangs (which are often within reach in terms of difficulty, but are too tiring).
        • Do more outside:
          • second more easy trad routes.
          • setting up some top ropes on easy climbs/grade 2/3 scrambles, to make fun scrambles better protected.
        • Improve my knowledge of different roping techniques, such as:
          • what to do if you drop your belay device
          • how to get down from high places
          • how to place simple gear on easy trad routes
          • how to setup a belay
          • do more multi-pitch trad routes
          • gain knowledge in snow related ropework and belays
    • Descending Beinn Alligin, Torridon, 2013
      Descending Beinn Alligin, Torridon, 2013
    • Mountaineering/Hiking/Walking

      • I’ve done a lot in 2013:
        • Snow camping on Pennines, camping to Langdale, winter mountaineering in Torridon, backpacking in the Mammores, exploration/backpacking in Kyrgyzstan
        • Assorted day hikes
      • Whilst I’ve done some impressive things in 2013, I feel I got out less frequently in 2013 than I did in 2012. I’d like to spend more days on the mountains in 2014
      • I’d like to improve my micro-navigation skills.
      • I’d like to do more things in snow.
        • In Jan/Feb/March, I’m planning to do several days winter backpacking fun, possibly in Scotland.
      • I’m going back to Skye around Easter and am on standby to decamp into a tent in the Peak District at the first sign of a snowy weekend.
    • Public speaking

      Speaking at FLOSSK13 in Pristina, Kosovo
      Speaking at FLOSSK13 in Pristina, Kosovo
      • I’ve done various bits of public speaking in the past, this year I even ‘keynoted’ at the FLOSSK13 conference in Pristina,
      • I think I have what it takes to be quite good at public speaking – confidence, interesting anecdotes, and the patience to try and breakdown high level concepts into things other people can understand, all wrapped up in a compelling narrative.
      • I’d like to do more public speaking events, of all sizes, and I need to establish a way of doing that, and find a style and set of topics I’m comfortable with. I’m considering joining Toastmasters.
    • Systems Engineering

      • I quite enjoy making systems do things. In the past when I’ve been on holiday, after several days I’ve found myself designing scalable live video streaming platforms in my head.
      • In the past I’ve blogged about systems a bit, but I’d like to investigate and play with more tools and test them different situations.
      • In particularly, I’d like to become more familiar with Varnish-ESI, which is currently powering this blogs Recently Added Articles box (though not in a very effective way) and discover and play with more server tools like that, which can do exciting things.
      • I’d like to play with Varnish-ESI, Icinga,
    • Personalised mug at Barcamp Blackpool 2013
      Personalised mug at Barcamp Blackpool 2013

      Marketing

        • In 2013, I’ve spent a good deal of my time thinking about marketing, promotional and communication questions – from reading a book on crisis PR and blogging about epic customer service, to visiting 20+ conferences for work and getting personalised mugs into the hands of thousands of people.
      • In 2014, I’d like to:
        • improve my analytical skills in rapidly prototyping and iterating campaigns and pulling conclusions from from them.
        • find better ways to understand of the potential customers, so as to tailor things to them as best possible.
        • improve at identifying areas where the users see the most pain. and then optimising those processes to reduce wasted unnecessary steps (essentially applying the Toyota Way to web-service end users).
        • understanding and using ‘clever’ and perhaps underused strategies to create self-amplifying campaigns.
        • improve my understanding or how good and bad PR works, in industries I’m unfamiliar with.
    • Programming

      I'd like to learn to understand programming better
      I’d like to learn to understand programming better
      • I can write basic bash scripts, and in the past I’ve written trivial programs in PHP, C++ & Javascript.
      • For a long time, I’ve largely been only able to read/hack around with high level programming environments. Obviously this has lots of benefits and can get you a long way, but even a small, self-written bit of code added to an existing codebase which does something I need, would be a massive step forward.
      • My ambition here isn’t really to become a good programmer, but simply be more literate, and able to use tools better to get things done.
      • I’d like to
        • Meticulously go back through a basics book for a common programming language to make sure I understand the concepts that frequently occur correctly.
        • Make sure I under some basics in procedural programming.
        • Learn to use these limited skills to manipulate a library/existing codebase that does stuff I want.
        • Have a look round and see where I want to get to next.
  • Lose weight

    • At the start of January 2013, I weighed 11 & 1/2 stone. I currently weigh 13 & 1/2 stone.
    • Losing weight makes Mountaineering easier (less weight on knees), it makes climbing easier (less weight on arms) and whilst it doesn’t make photography easier, it would leave more room for weighty camera gear!
    • I have enacted low carb diet, round two.
    • In 2014, I’d like to reach and maintain 11 stone, and then develop a sustainable lifestyle around that weight band.
  • Blog More

    • It’s super embarrassing that there are 3 months in this year where I didn’t publish a single blog post.
    • I don’t expect anyone reading to find it embarrassing, but I do – I enjoying writing blog posts. It’s challenging, and often very fulfilling to get my thoughts into a coherent shape..
    • I’d like to do a month of blogging again, but I don’t feel that frenetic “months of blogging”, with large gaps in between them, is the way it has to be.
  • Read more.

    • I grew up without a TV and when I was a child, before I had a computer, I ingested most knowledge through books. Then dialup came along, and suddenly, everything was a short-form article or video consumed  through a screen of distractions.
    • I am resistant to DRM-encumbered ebook platforms, but I enjoy dead-tree-style reading materials and have a great deal of books I’d like to read.
    • In 2014, I’d be very happy if I got through 24 decent length books from my “unread” shelf. I think its ambitious, but not unrealistic.

      Smoke and Lasers!
      Smoke and Lasers!
  • Socialise more.

    • Over the past year, I’d say I’ve done quite well at channeling and training introverted & extroverted sides for different tasks. I love my solitude, but I also enjoy catching up with friends.
    • Last autumn/winter, I held two ‘epic parties’, that were great, but on reflection aren’t going to be repeated. (Too large, too inpersonal, too disparate).
    • This year, I think I’ll try and arrange several gatherings, that are smaller in size, but more focused and perhaps easier to enjoy.
    • I’d like to try to perhaps aim to spend at least one day a week socialising with people who I don’t see every week – which is a great excuse to make contact with old friends.
  • Travel as much as is appropriate

    • I don’t have any particularly noteworthy travel plans, nor do I have particularly strong urges to go anywhere right now.
    • Most plans, I have tend to be semi-spontaneous, or preplanned and then rapidly executed when the occasion arrives.
    • On balance, I probably prefer solo-travel due to reduced communication requirements, and not feeling responsible for others’ welfare.

      Me and my fixer Jules in Kyrgyzstan
      Me and my fixer Jules in Kyrgyzstan
    • My current travel interests
      • Currently I’m interested in (historically) Russian/Soviet influenced areas (particularly Baltic states, Eastern areas of Europe and Central Asia), the Middle East and Northern Africa.
      • I have a personal preference to climates that don’t stray far outside ~-10C -> ~25C whilst I’m there.
      • I’m not a fan of painful insects (mosquitoes, midges, etc), parasites, viruses or large omnivorous animals (bears).
      • I prefer countryside to cities, cold to heat, cheap to expensive, obscure to well-touristed, quiet to busy, self-planned to chaparoned.
      • Selfishly, I prefer countries where a significant proportion of the population’s first or second language is English, Russian, French or Swedish.
    • I’d like to do more travel on a bike in 2014. I don’t really have an ideal bike for this, not that it’s stopped me before.
    • The chances are 2014 offers a few scenic tours of the UK, perhaps with one trip somewhere cool abroad, but if the opportunity presents itself, you’ll just see a blur as I grab my stuff and go!

And that’s it! I think that’s all my current plans and aspirations for 2014. What do you think?

Do you think I should be focusing on something I’m not?

Explain in the comments! :)

Which is best? My 20 favourite photos of 2013.

Last year, I did a round up of my favourite photos of 2012, this is my roundup of my favourite photos of 2013.

In 2013, I took just over 18,000 photos, with the vast majority (and all of my favourites from this year) being on my Canon 5D mkII, with either a 50mm f1.8 lens or a 24-105mm f4 lens.

Which do you think is best?

A very young programmer, Manchester Raspberry Pi Jam, Feb 2013
A very young programmer, Manchester Raspberry Pi Jam
Looking up Low Pike, Lake District, UK
Looking up Low Pike, Lake District
A sticky ascent up Beinn Eighe, Torridon, Scotland, March 2013
A sticky ascent up Beinn Eighe, Torridon, Scotland
Search & Rescue Helicopter, Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig, Torridon, Scotland
Search & Rescue Helicopter, Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig, Torridon, Scotland
Climbing Beinn Alligin, Torridon, with Loch Maree in the background, Scotland, UK
Climbing Beinn Alligin, Torridon, with Loch Maree in the background, Scotland
Avoiding mud, Buttermere, Lake District
Avoiding mud, Buttermere, Lake District
Scale Force, Buttermere, Lake District
Scale Force, Buttermere, Lake District
Scrambling up Haystacks above Buttermere, Lake District, UK
Scrambling up Haystacks above Buttermere, Lake District
Buttermere, Lake District
Buttermere, Lake District
Aeoniums,  St.. Agnes,  Isles of Scilly, UK
Aeoniums, St.. Agnes, Isles of Scilly
Troytown Beach, St.. Agnes,  Isles of Scilly, UK
Troytown Beach, St.. Agnes, Isles of Scilly
Jiptik Valley, Batken Province, Kyrgyzstan
Jiptik Valley, Batken Province, Kyrgyzstan
Mountains by night, Jiptik Valley, Batken Province, Kyrgyzstan
Mountains by night, Jiptik Valley, Batken Province, Kyrgyzstan
Camping in Jiptik Valley, Batken Province, Kyrgyzstan
Camping in Jiptik Valley, Batken Province, Kyrgyzstan
Unclimbed mountains by night, Jiptik Valley, Batken Province, Kyrgyzstan
Unclimbed mountains by night, Jiptik Valley, Batken Province, Kyrgyzstan
Shepherds tend to their flock, Near Karavshin, Batken Province, Kyrgyzstan, October 2013
Shepherds tend to their flock, Near Karavshin, Batken Province, Kyrgyzstan,
A Seal, San Francisco, USA
A Seal, San Francisco, USA
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco at Dusk, November 2013
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco at Dusk
Zhelyo grapples with a tough hold, Manchester Climbing Centre, Manchester, UK
Zhelyo grapples with a tough hold, Manchester Climbing Centre
A misty boxing day walk, Winchester, UK
A misty boxing day walk, Winchester

British Muzkol Expedition Departs for Tajikistan: Unclimbed Peaks Await

Two local mountaineers from Greater Manchester, left this afternoon to attempt to summit an unclimbed 6000m peak in a remote area of Tajikistan.

Jonathan “Jonny” Davey and John “JP” Proctor flew out from Manchester this afternoon bound for Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan – one of the former USSR republics of central Asian, starting a month long expedition in which they’ll attempt to climb several unclimbed peaks..

Assisted by a Goretex Shipton-Tilman grant, they each have 23 Kilos (50kb) of equipment each, which will support them through the heat of the central asian summer (35C in the shade) to high in the mountains (glaciers).

John Proctor climbs a rocky outcrop in Snowdonia is the pouring rain. © Tim Dobson 2012. CC-BY-SA 3.0
John Proctor climbs a rocky outcrop in Snowdonia in the pouring rain. © Tim Dobson 2012. CC-BY-SA 3.0

John, living proof that the physics lecturer stereotype is outdated, is a veteran of such expeditions, having attempted this expedition last year, only to have to turn back because of political tensions. Known to be an ambitious climber, he recently surprised his friends by completing a 50km (30mile) fell run to get fit for this trip.

Greatest fear: changing snow conditions throughout the day
Favourite alcohol: “not sure”

Jonathan Davey hiking in Torridon 2013. © Tim Dobson. CC-BY-SA 3.0
Jonathan Davey hiking in Torridon 2013. © Tim Dobson. CC-BY-SA 3.0

Jonathan, from Todmorden  has completed numerous long distance hiking routes in the UK, is an active climber. and is a known by his friends for his almost encyclopedic grasp of British mountains.

Greatest fear: “3 weeks in a tent with John”
Favourite alcohol: “pure undiluted ethanol”


Whilst many high mountains get lots of attention, in the Alps, in the Himalayas, there are scores of high, barely mapped, mountains in remote areas of the world, that present an immensely inviting challenge to mountaineers wanting to step off the beaten track, off the documented paths and summit their own route into the history books.

Whilst the exact target of John and Jonathan’s efforts is somewhat under wraps in case of competing teams, the area is as well documented, as far a largely unexplained corner of the world can be, with satellite pictures and old soviet military maps assisting their navigation.

Having said that they’ve explained much of their itinerary which in itself, illustrates the massive challenge they have in simply getting to the start line!

I’ve known Jonny and JP for several years. Jonny first taught me my first winter mountaineering skills, and later introduced me to climbing is a safe and engaging way. JP has been a familiar face at social events, always filled with exciting stories involving mountains and a great enthusiasm for loud hard rock music!

Last night as they finished packing and kicked by and put some drinks inside them, they seemed eager to get on and give it a go.

You can follow their progress on twitter, facebook and their blog.

After a few drinks last night and they were, in fact, ready to leave. © Tim Dobson 2013. CC-BY-SA 3.0
After a few drinks last night and they were, in fact, ready to leave. © Tim Dobson 2013. CC-BY-SA 3.0

Target: Glen Coe.

Since returning from lots of snowy Torridonian excitement, I’ve been missing my chances to head out into exciting bits of the country and have been soaking up the joys of Manchester.

Aonach Eagach, The Mamores and Ben Nevis, from Bidean Nam Bian (2012)
Aonach Eagach, The Mamores and Ben Nevis, from Bidean Nam Bian (2012)

Glen Coe is a stunning location near Fort William, surrounded by possibly[1] some of the best hiking in the UK. Ben Nevis is obviously the big name that world+dog forever is walking up the tourist path to the top of for charity, but there’s so much more to the area than the Ben Nevis tourist path. In fact, if you asked me to name my least favourite place in the area, it’d probably be the Glen Coe tourist path. Seriously, don’t do it. If you must do it, know that it will not be enjoyable.

[1] In my book, Torridon currently outranks it by a hairlength.

But Glen Coe has many more exciting (perhaps less easily accessible!) things to do – the Aonach Eagach – serious and committing ridge scramble, not for the faint hearted, Bidian Nam Bian, probably one my favourite mountains of the area thus far, Ben Nevis’s non-tourist route – ascent via the Càrn Mòr Dearg (CMD) arete.

A land of high places (Bidean nam Bian, 2012)
A land of high places (Bidean nam Bian, 2012)

Just north of Glen Coe are two ranges of munros – the Mamores and the Grey Corries Ridge – both ridges which aren’t too easily accessible by car, but which look like epics in themselves.

The coming week I’m planning to head up to Glen Coe, spend a few days doing day hikes from a campsite, and them embark on a 4-5 day trek across the Mamores and Grey Corries ridge, starting in Glen Nevis, and finishing at the station in Fort William.

My vague, expected route over the Mamores and Grey Corries back to Fort William tiles by Open Streetmap/Open Cycle Map/Andy Allan
My vague, expected route over the Mamores and Grey Corries back to Fort William tiles by Open Streetmap/Open Cycle Map/Andy Allan

Can I compare this to anything I’ve done previously? Possibly this time in Sweden – except there I followed a valley route, it was much colder, and I stayed in huts about 50% of the time, it’s somewhat comparable to both of these expeditions to the lakes, though I’d envisage camping at a higher level than I did on either of those occasions, and largely, following a set ridgeline, rather than making a crossing of several valleys.

As it’ll be interesting – not outrageously challenging, but there will be some scrambling involved, I’m trying to cut my rucksack weight to an utter minimum. My tent, sleeping bag etc, kit is all very light (apart from my camera!), but I’m going to be testing a theory, and I won’t be taking a stove at all.There’s a theoretical weight trade off between taking a stove, so you can rely on dried food like pasta, noodles, etc and “just adding warm water”. My theory is, that whilst that is true for long treks, it is less true for relatively short moves, where you can trade off the weight and simply take food you can eat cold. Of course, cooked food is nice and warming… but that train of thought fails to take into account what you’re supposed to do whilst it’s cooking (answer: freezing your bollocks off outside!) and whether it might be warmer to get inside your sleeping bag, and then eat some food.

Obviously, it remains to be seen, but the number of times I’ve taken stoves and dried food, and then not used them, for an entire two day trip, means that it’s worth the trial.

What am I going to take? I asked this question on Facebook and didn’t realise that it’d be such an emotive topic. I’m not sure. Probably a list of my favourite cold food: bread, cheese, tomato(s), peanut butter and that sort of thing. It’s 4-5 days, I won’t starve. (Did you know that the longest recorded of someone going without food is a year and 14 days?).

I currently have a resident knee injury, but I’m hoping my poles, plus liberal helpings of ibruprofen will see me round. If not, I’m not the person to do silly things – I give up and head back along the valleys.

Aonach Eagach (May 2011)
Aonach Eagach (May 2011)

What will it be like? I’m not sure. I think this will probably be my most lightweight trek thus far  (in one of my lake district hikes – I carried a laptop – meaning I can now claim to have carried a laptop to the top of Scafell Pike… whatever that’s worth!) and that should make things quite a bit easier. In addition, hiking poles can really help steady you when you’re unbalanced due to a weighted back.

I’m looking forward to it. The camera is ready, the bag is half packed and I’m raring to go!

Bring it on!