About Me

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Way back in time before the onset of adulthood I enjoyed countless days heading into the hills of Yorkshire with nothing more than a squashed sandwich & youthful sense for adventure! Despite long past youthful and work commitments keeping me in the city, the sense of adventure and love for the outdoors never left me. After digging my boots out and returning to the hills I attended a number of courses to improve my hill knowledge and skill base, during one of these courses it was suggested I join the Mountain Leader Training scheme and was delighted go on to gain the MOUNTAIN LEADER Award in April 2012. As well as spending time on the hills and mountains of the UK I have also enjoyed trips to the Nepalese Himalaya, Swiss & French Alps, Mallorca’s Tramuntana, Andorran & French Pyrenees, Morocco’s High Atlas, Tanzania’s Mt Meru & Kilimanjaro, Argentinian & Chilean Patagonia and winter expeditions to Norway’s Hardangervidda. Since gaining the ML I have also gained the SINGLE PITCH AWARD, INTERNATIONAL MOUNTAIN LEADER AWARD and the WINTER MOUNTAIN LEADER AWARD. I am now enjoying working in a freelance role whilst trying to get out climbing as much as possible.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Winter in Morocco - Oi Geldof, I Reckon There Will Be Snow In AfricaThis Christmas Time!

 The end of November saw me travel to Morocco with intention of climbing a few 4000m peaks, including Toubkal, and get my winter 2014/2015 season under way. I would be joining members of the Llanberris Mountain Rescue team and some of their friends as well as an expedition led by my 'mountain mentor' and friend (despite 4 years of unflattoring remarks about my weight!) Rob Johnson of Expedition Guide and Bryn Williams.

 Due to a deep 'kink' in the Jet Stream Morocco had experienced exceptional levels of precipitation in the weeks before we travelled  which had led to some roads having been washed away in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and the unfortunate deaths of some people washed away in flood waters, it had also led to approximately 4 metres of snow fall high up in the mountains.
 Arriving in Marakech on the Saturday afternoon we were told travelling to Imlil would be impossible that evening as rainfall had again washed part of the route away and so we headed to a riad in Marakach and spent the evening looking around the food market and medina. Travelling up to Ilmlil on Sunday morning damage from the recent weather was obvious though the road had now been repaired and we arrived after a couple of hours, as there had been a further half a metre of snowfall forecast for the mountains during Saturday it was decided that we would spend Sunday night in Ilmlil to give the snowpack time to settle before starting our walk up to the refuge Monday morning.

Monday - leaving Imlil after breakfast we set off to make our way up the mountain track that would take us to 'Refuge Les Mouflons' which would be our base in the mountains for the next week. Rising from Ilmlil at 1740m to the refuge at 3200m we would take the journey slowly to hopefully keep any symptoms of altitude sickness at bay. We found the snow line at around 2200m and the amount of snow on the ground quickly increased until we were following a track which was knee deep at the sides. The path took us under some terrain where there had been obvious avalanche activity with snow pack mainly in the form of 'sun balls' or 'point releases' ( where the sun had warmed rocks which had then led to a warming of the snow pack causing small slides) and we kept some distance apart from other member of the group whilst we passed these areas.

They had had a spot of snow at the refuge!
Tuesday - Myself, Stuart and Mountain Rescue Rob headed up following the gorge that runs through the high valley above the refuge to gain some height for acclimatisation and also to look at the snow pack. We found an area where we thought would be good to dig a snow pit to see if we could find any obvious week layers and dug a snow pit down to ground level some 2.5metres below! We found a top layer some .55m deep of fairly soft but compacted snow followed by a layes .6m deep of harder snow, below this were several layers made up of hard Icy layers and some of weak layers containing large rounded snow crystals. 
I then followed this by practicing building an emergency shelter as I will have to do during the Winter Mountain Leader assessment in February next year where a shelter big enough to provide protection from the elements has to be made within 20minutes using only an ice axe, I hope the snow is as soft in the Cairngorms as it is here this week and I have a willing client like Bob to try it for size. This simple scrape to 7minutes.
Imperial Bob gets cosy.

Bit of a snow pit!
 Wednesday - rested and acclimatised myself, 'Mountain Rescue Rob' and 'Rock Bottom Stuart' decided to head from the Refuge up the valley to the 'Tizi n Ouagane' col at a height of 3735m if possible. We would put a track in on snowshoes that we could retrace the following day if we were to attempt the summits of 'Ras' and 'Timesguida', this would also give us further benefits in relation to acclimatisation. Heading out at 9am the weather was crisp to say the least though as we continued up the col we soon began to warm up. Taking note of what was happening around us with the weather and snow we continually discussed our route and plan of action. On reaching ground which was steepening beyond the use of snowshoes we switched to crampons and ice axes before ascending up a rocky outcrop in the middle of the ascent to the col after which we found ourselves in deep snow which we all had reservations about. We were on a slope of not much over 20 degrees but the gradient ahead of us was noticbly increasing, after doing a couple of quick snow stability tests which failed easily we decided to forget making the col and return down the slope.

Mountain Rescue Rob and Rock Bottom Stuart battling the wind - I took that pic!

Thursday - with a weather report predicting a further 20cm of fresh snow to fall over night Thursday the desicion was taken to head back to Imlil later that afternoon. A fresh 20cm of snow on top of the snow pack which was starting to consolidate and form a surface crust due to being subject to the strong Moroccan sun through the day and sub zero temperatures overnight could have caused us concern if walking out the following day. We spent the morning in two groups, one looking at and practicing ice axe arrest whilst the other group built a snow shelter. Leaving the refuge at lunch time we descended along the valley following the track through the deep snow and over sections of avalanche debris until we left the snow line at approximately 2350m near the shrine at Sidi Chammharouch and reaching Imlil 4.5hrs later, unfortunately our kit would be arriving the following morning!
Siany practicing ice axe arrest.

Al gets cosy in the snow shelter.
Mountain Rescue Rob with compulsory 'man leg' pose!
Descending back to Imlil

Watch for this pair of characters in the mountains!

Over all another great trip. Despite not making any summits and in fact deciding to retreat from an acclimatisation col I took lots from the week. Summits are great and the main objective of most trips but I am at a stage where I need to be learning and experiencing the variables that can contribute to create avalanche conditions, reading books is fine but some of it actually sinks in when I'm seeing it in real time!
It was pleasure to spend the week with Rob (Expedition Guide), MTA Bryn, 'Imperial' Bob, 'Rock Bottom' Stuart, Ady & Amy, Mountain Rescue Rob & Siany, Rich & Jo, Al, Dan and Steven.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Setting The Bar Higher - Bar Folks Yorkshire 3 Peaks.

 A chilly late September morning and the week started off in good style when I took a group of the 'glitterati' from the Leeds bar scene around the route of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks.  For Ross, Andy, Jenny and Owen this would be their first attempt of the famous challenge, Sam was a member of a group who I'd led on the route last year, Clare had completed the route some years ago whilst still in education and for myself this would my twelfth time.
All smiles as the day begins.
 An early start saw me travel to the Yorkshire Dales with Ross (Shears Yard), Clare, Sam & Owen (Mojo's) and Andy & Jenny (Blind Tyger) for a day in the outdoors. The assembled group were all willing participants and a world away from the view of bar folk as generally up all night and drinking as much as they serve......?
 After stashing water around at points around the route we set out from the 'Old Hill Inn' and made our way towards the first hurdle of the locally named 'Devils Staircase'. The groans that come from every group as they near the steep winding stone staircase were slightly delayed due to the heavy mist but were audible as soon as the ascent became visible. With everybody getting 'stuck in' we were soon above the staircase and making our way onto the gritstone plateau, we then made our way through the mist and buffeting side winds to Ingleborough summit.
Team Mojo get carried away with themselves.
Ingleborough Summit (723m) and no view of Morcambe Bay today.
Leaving Ingleborough
 A brief photo stop on Ingleborough and we headed down the 6mile/10km path through the limestone  landscape and on towards Horton In Ribblesdale where we made use of the conveniences, refilled our water bottles and had a bite to eat, Clare's version of a hard boiled caused some debate!
The mist had lifted and the late summer sun was over head as we made our way up Pen y Ghent. There are a couple of trains of thought as to where the name 'Pen y ghent' originated, in Cumbric language 'Pen y Ghent' may have meant 'hill on the edge or border' whilst a translation in a close Welsh dialect would have been 'hill of the wind'. In my experience I can easily see where the Welsh meaning is close to the mark.
The mist lifts heading up Pen y Ghent.
The path up to Pen y Ghent.
Clare nears the top of Pen y Ghent.
Pen y Ghent summit (694m)
 The walk up to Pen y Ghent summit I feel is often under estimated and can test the legs of those attempting the 3 Peaks route for the first time, this being our second summit it was a case of dig in a get it over, which every one did.
 From Pen y Ghent it is then the long 7.5mile walk to the Ribblehead Viaduct. We stopped at 'Gods Bridge' for a bite to eat and a welcome change of socks (the key to a comfortable completion of the route in my opinion) and the group 'banter' helped the miles go by.
Heading for Whernside.
looks 'like a bridge over Ribble water'!
 We had another brief stop to fill water bottles before setting off on the path up Whernside. Some of the knees and feet were starting to ache on the last ascent but spirits were high and we soon made the summit.
Whernside looms!
The always impressive Ribble Head viaduct.
The long path up to Whernside
Andy & Jenny with some of the locals
Whernside (736m) summit, nearly done.
 From Whernside summit it is a steep and sometimes tricky decent for fatigued legs down to Philpot Farm and onto the Old Hill Inn. Approaching the farm we stopped to speak to two farmers who scratched said they couldn't see the attraction of undertaking the route before informing us the pub was closed on a Monday, much to their amusement but not ours!
Descending Whernside
 All in all a good day which I believe every one enjoyed, some didn't enjoy getting out of the vehicles after returning to Leeds but there has to be a price to pay for completing 23.5miles and 5200ft of ascent in under 12hours, otherwise it wouldn't be a challenge!

Well done all!

Friday, 19 September 2014

IML Summer Assessment Preparation - A tale of flowers and stress!

 I recently returned from a trip to the Grand Massif area of the French Alps where I had travelled to spend some time doing a recce of the area followed by summer assessment for the International Mountain Leader Award.
 Choosing to travel down to the South East of France by car on the evening of August Bank Holiday may not have been one of my wisest decisions but hindsight is a wonderful thing! Travelling down with Matt (Trekking Skills) we had thought it may be good to have the car as we would be free to head to different areas of the Grand Massif without relying on public transport but the 23hr journey was slightly less than a pleasure after sitting on the M1 motionless in a UK summer downpour for longer than comfortable if we were to make the ferry!
 On reaching our base in the village of Samoens we debated our plan of attack for the next few days which would lead us up to assessment.
 The IML assessment would cover a whole range of topics that may be required should I be out taking a group out in the surrounding area such as flora & fauna, geology, local history, industry, local food and culture as well as the mountain skills of navigation and emergency ropework etc, I'll be quite honest and say I have never considered myself anything like academically gifted and so the syllabus was giving me more than a few worries!

 We would have 3 days walking around the Samoens 1600, Pointe d'Angolon and Refuge de Boston areas to gain an insight of differing habits and species. We would then be spending a day with a local accompagnatuer, who Matt had had the foresight to arrange before we left the UK, to give us a broad insight into the locality and a view of the standard that we should be aiming for to become an IML.
  3 days of looking for and trying to identify the alpine flora followed by evenings writing up notes and doing research was far from how I would like to spend my time when away from work so I felt quite relived when Saturday arrived and we would be listening to our local guide rather than searching through reference books.
 Meeting at the Bureau des Guides in Samoens we explained what we wanted from the day and despite joking we hoped to one day return and take the jobs of the local IML's Harvey quickly set out a suitable plan to educate us, very nice bloke!
 We began with a visit to the 'Gorge de Tines' and a walk through the old gorge to look at the specialised flora and smooth limestone walls created over thousands of years by water and ice before heading back to the car to drive past the impressive 'Cascade du Rouge' waterfall and to the starting point of what would be our walk up through the valley on the GR5 long distance path and on to the Refuge De Sales, which is found in the 'Natural Reserve of Sixt Fer a Cheval'.

Whilst not easily being able to get into the flora aspect of the syllabus I have discovered I am slightly better with trees, possibly due to spending most of my boyhood years hanging from the branches of varying species!
 We made our way higher and through the varying habitat as trees have way to sub alpine species before reaching the Refuge de Sales where we had lunch then had a look at the alpage (higher grazing area) before retracing our path back down the GR5 to the car to drive the short distance to the 'cirque de sixt fer à cheval', a natural formation of limestone cliffs and waterfalls which is nearly as impressive as Malham Cove in Yorkshire!

 This brought my personal pre assessment studies to an end (there is only so much information my head can handle) and I spent Sunday getting my kit ready and checking all my paper work was in order.

Happily I am pleased to say my preperation was enough to get me through and I gained a pass on the assessment which means I can now I on to the winter assessment based in the Pyrenees in March 2015 and hopefully gain the full award, fortunately the flowers will be under snow so I don't have to go through flora terror again!