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

Take My Journey to the big screen!

In the fanfare of new camera equipment I forgot to mention that, ones of my clips I’m proudest of, got a display at one of the University Hiking Club open events:

Take My Journey on the big screen
Take My Journey on the big screen

They already use it on their website and apparently like it so much they wanted to enter it for a competition haha.

Whilst, in fairness, showing videos on a big screen is rapidly being superseded and showing to 100 people in a room is still a drop in the ocean compared to the (relatively few) 1600 views it has online, I’m still chuffed to have my stuff shown in such a retro form factor!

If you’ve not seen the clip, do have a glance. :)

Take My Journey

Over the past few years, I’ve done a lot of hiking, been to many places and see a great deal. To document it, I started editing together some of my clips several months ago. This is the result – thanks for stopping by for a look!

Switch it to HD, make it fullscreen, let it buffer, sit back and let it go!

Take My Journey

Special Thanks to:

The University of Manchester Hiking Club

For the tolerant, friendly and down to earth approach to hiking which has enabled me to see so much and share so many great moments. Thank you all for some great times!

Website: http://www.umhc.org.uk

I also really appreciate the enthusiasm of Jonathan Heathcote, Josh R, Jonnie Balls, Polly Plowman, John Colvin and Marek Isalski for agreeing to be test audiences and helpfully offering constructive feedback during the final phases of editing.

Equipment used:
Handheld Sanyo CA100
Kdenlive on Ubuntu

“I Move On (Sintel’s song)” from the open movie “Sintel” produced by the Blender Foundation in 2010.

Lyrics by Esther Wouda
Performed by Helena Fix
Composed and produced by Jan Morgenstern

Both the soundtrack and the video of this work are licenced under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Locations (in order of appearance):

  1. Ogwen Valley, Snowdonia.
  2. Stickle Tarn, Great Langdale, Lake District fade Stickle Tarn, Great Langdale, Lake District
  3. Near Boot, Eskdale, Lake District
  4. Glen Coe area, Western Scotland
  5. Loch Lomond, Scotland fade Loch Lomond, Scotland
  6. Nearish Avimore, Cairngorms, Scotland
  7. Striding Edge, Helvellyn, Lake District
  8. Buttermere – from in the lake itself, Lake District
  9. Stanley Ghyll or something, near Boot, Eskdale, Lake District
  10. Near Glen Coe, Western Scotland
  11. Goredale Scar, Yorkshire Dales
  12. Near Glen Coe, Western Scotland
  13. Ogwen Valley from 1/3 of the way up Tryfan, Snowdonia
  14. Great Gable/Scarfell/etc visible from the hill on the southern side of Wasdale that isn’t Scafell, Lake District
  15. Red Tarn and Striding edge from the summit of Helvellyn, Lake District
  16. Near Glen Coe, Western Scotland
  17. Sharp Edge, Blencathra, Lake District
  18. Jack’s Rake, with Stickle Tarn below, Great Langdale, Lake District
  19. Scrambling on Tryfan, Snowdonia
  20. Lyn Idwal, Australia Lake, Bristly Ridge, from the far side of Tryfan, Snowdonia
  21. Close up of my face, on Cairn Gorm
  22. Failing to practise Ixe Axe arrests and generally messing around in the snow, just before Charlemagne Gap, Caingorms, Scotland
  23. Near Glen Coe, Western Scotland
  24. Tryfan (ULGMC hut in foreground) from the Ogwen Valley, Snowdonia
  25. Ogwen Valley, Snowdonia

Catbells, Maiden Moor and High Spy from Grange

Several weeks ago I went on a walk with UMHC, up Catbells, Maiden Moor and High Spy from Grange:

Hike up Catbells
Hike up Catbells (Open Street Map CC-BY-SA)Skiddaw, Derwent Water and Keswick

I’ve been up Catbells before – in fact my first ever walk with the club was up Catbells from Keswick, but this time, we were dropped off at Grange and walked along the valley before ascending the hillside.

The weather was lovely – warm, clear and a surprising amount was on display for those who knew what to look for. Skiddaw, Blencathra, Derwent Water, Keswick were all laid out below us. The peaks of the mountains were lightly dusted in snow, yet at our height, it was ice free and actually reasonable warm.

It was at this point that my camera’s zoom lens really came into it’s own with me being able to get wonderful shots of scenery that one rarely sees from the other side of the valley and almost never sees in sunlight. There’s something quite magical about being able to look around, recognise and name so many peaks from such a low vantage point.


Outlined against the sky
Outlined against the sky

Grange from above
Grange from above

The walk was relaxed yet with people who also wanted plenty of time to stop and admire the views. I think this is the first time that I’ve really just thought “wow” when looking at Lake District landscape.

Ultimately, we descended before Dalehead and followed the stream back into Borrodale, where we followed the river up to Seatoller where the coach was waiting for us.

The Bogle Ramble :: 26 miles across Manchester on foot

You can sponsor my efforts here on mydonate and let mySociety know how much you appreciate them!

The Bogle Ramble was an interesting challenge: throughout the day I made a video blog, capturing my thoughts, messages of thanks to my sponsors and other notable moments.

The Eighty Three Bus,
Overtakes me once again,
please let me ride you!

After we started, there was this guy who seemed intent on running it, but didn’t know his way to Oldham Road through the centre, so I jogged with him across the city centre to Oldham Road where I let him move onwards at an incredible pace, whilst I resumed walking to catch my breath. From there until Failsworth (Checkpoint 6), I only encountered one other Bogler – a lady who had also been jogging a fair bit.

Walking and jogging…
Staple bogle essentials.
Checkpoint seven soon!

On the stint between Checkpoint 6 and Checkpoint 7 I overtook a good number of clearly exhausted Bogle Strollers. One lot seemed to be limping so badly I jogged across the road and gave them a bunch of chocolate bars from my bag; their eyes showed their appreciation which they didn’t seem to be able to find words to express.

Crossing the River Irwell in Kearsley
Crossing the River Irwell in Kearsley

After Checkpoint 7, I noticed a lot more Bogle Strollers, many sitting on walls, comforting friends… or just plodding along. I’d been told that between Checkpoint 7 and 8 there were some hiking club strollers which I really wanted to catch up with. Once I reached “checkpoint” 7.5, I met up with them and found they’d dropped out. After stopping for a brief chat, my first snack and a friendly face, I headed on for Checkpoint 8 at Kearsley.

Shortly before Checkpoint 8, it started raining, which, given I hadn’t brought waterproof trousers with me, was unwanted, and quite depressing. Ultimately though, the rain broke away to sun and there was a DOUBLE RAINBOW.

Sunshine through the rain,
an inspiring sight to see,
a rainbow of hope.

Double Rainbow!
Double Rainbow!

From there on, I started to really notice that I was no longer up to short periods of jogging downhill and was it was beginning to lose it’s edge. I was largely walking following the signs the Bogle team had put up on lampposts and occasionally falling back to my map/route instructions for the bigger picture. Somehow however, I managed to completely walk past Checkpoint 9. From then onwards, then on, I suspect my average speed dropped quite a bit. I started to find people overtaking me, rather than the other way round. As I walked through Salford, I started to notice bunches of youths apparently eyeing me up and so I pressed on to checkpoint 10, just 2.5 miles from the finish line, and then onwards towards the finish.

The Bogle tired me in ways I hadn’t previously anticipated. I knew it would be a physically tiring time. I knew I’d have to tell myself just to keep going and that I was going to finish it. I didn’t expect the fatigue and stress of the previous few weeks to be brought close to the surface due to Bogle fatigue and for me to feel like I inexplicably was going to burst into tears. This, I was completely unprepared for.

I finished The Bogle at 17:57. About 8 hours, 37 minutes, 26 miles after I started – an average speed of about 3mph. There were no blisters or other injuries.

You can still sponsor me here!

Conquerored: Beda Knott, Loughrigg Fell

Last weekend, I went to Patterdale, in the Lake District on a weekend trip. It’s nice to get out of Manchester, and even though the weather wasn’t fantastic, there was still plenty to do.

A more energetic group wanted to do St. Sunday’s Crag, Fairfield, Helvellyn, Striding Edge, which sounded good and strenuous and exciting, but wasn’t my idea of fun given the icy conditions about about 500m.

Saturday walk in Patterdale
Saturday walk in Patterdale (c) Open Street Map 2012 - CC-BY-SA

Fortunately, I really wanted to explore the landscape to the east and so, with low lying cloud looking like it was going to obscure most felltop views, we left the bunkhouse in Glenridding, and walked north along the side of the valley, next to Ullswater.

Once we reached Martindale, we started up Winter Crag, Beda Fell, Beda Knott. The original plan (in green) was to go on to Angle tarn, but time was running tight and we weren’t sure on the light, so in the end we cut shot and dropped back down into Patterdale and headed home!

Place Fell, Patterdale from Beda Knott.
Place Fell, Patterdale from Beda Knott.

The next day, we headed up Loughrigg Fell near Grasmere from the car park at Rydal. Although the walk was quite easy, the weather was much better and the views were stunning.

Sun on Snow on Loughrigg Fell
Sun on Snow on Loughrigg Fell

Someone had brought along a horse’s head, so we had a lot of fun, wearing a horseshead whilst walking up the hill. One thing we learnt very quickly was that “why the long face” became unfunny very quickly, but the expression of surprise and confusion on people’s (strangely, mainly adults!) was hilarious.

Horse navigates on Loughrigg Fell
Horse navigates on Loughrigg Fell

As you can see, it was good weekend! :D

Langdale is lovely

Last March I went hiking with UMHC to Langdale for the first time. This was the first time I did, Jack’s Rake, Harrison Stickle, Pike o’Stickle, Pavey Ark etc.

I made a bit of a video that day and it came out rather well. It did help that it was a beautiful day of course:

Pavey Ark, Great Langdale

Snowdon is snowy but dry stone walls are an oxymoron

Yesterday I climbed Snowdon; the highest mountain in Wales for the first time with UMHC. I’m not quite sure what’s taken me so long to have a go at it, but I think it’s status as a major tourist attraction was probably part of the story (Snowdon has a railway up the side and a visitor centre on top). That means in the last 12 months, I’ve done all of Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon.

UMHC Snowdon2012

We ascended from the Rhyd Ddu side up a relatively unnamed path (according to the map) and returned, largely, via the “Rhyd Ddu” path..

My guess at our route... (Original Map (c) OpenStreetMap CC-BY-SA)
My guess at our route... (Original Map (c) OpenStreetMap CC-BY-SA)

There was no snow at the bottom in the carpark, but above about 800 metres there is a significant amount of snow, packed and frozen. This made the somewhat exposed ridge section just before the summit (which we navigated twice!) particularly “interesting”. Shortly before the summit we encountered our second group of other walkers of the mountain – a breakaway section of another UMHC hike that had decided things were going to slowly. We had lunch at the summit (the visitors centre was closed and looked like a Bond-baddie’s frozen hideout).

On the way down, I thought we were making good time, but it became clear we were going to be late for the 5:30 bus. Unfortunately there was no signal so apart from sending some SMS and hoping my phone would find some signal to send them with [it didn’t], there was nothing we could do.

Towards the end, I think we lost the path, possibly in our esteemed hike leader’s rush to return. In hindsight, I’d suggest that the “the straightest route to the lights” is probably not always the best route. It was getting dark by this point and even though I had a head torch, not everyone else did. We ended up walking through significant numbers of bogs, climbing over several stone walls and gates; it was entertaining – bordering on farcical towards the end.

We were over an hour late back to the bus, having not been able to make contact with them. It turns out they were not happy bunnies, being a bit worried that something bad had happened, compounded with the coach driver threatening to leave if we didn’t turn up within “the next 10 minutes” someone had just been dispatched to call the Mountain Rescue; thankfully we were able to stop them in time.

The UMHC committee has an award called “embarrassment of the week” for committee members. I think our esteemed hike leader has probably won it for the next few weeks in a row!

Ah well, all’s well that ends well. :D

#timontour VBlog: Western Lakes 2011 (Epic-navigation-fail edition)

As you may have seen, I’ve been hiking around the Western Lake District over the past few days as part of #timontour.

I’ve just uploaded all the video blog entries I made over the last few days… Enjoy!