Sunday, 10 February 2019

Britain’s 40 Finest Mountains

The Spring 2018 issue of The Great Outdoors magazine, as part of its “40th Birthday Collectors Edition”, included a supplement called Britain’s 40 Finest Mountains.

In the introduction to the list it is said that “Of course, any such list is highly subjective…” but it would be hard to argue against many, or perhaps even any, of the mountains that are included.  Although there are a few that I haven’t yet climbed – all of those are in Scotland – their reputations alone make me think that the list has been chosen on merit and I haven’t spotted any obvious exclusions.  Having said that, only Scafell Pike of the National Three Peaks does not appear but its neighbour Sca Fell does!

Some years ago TRAIL magazine published a list of “the 100 finest UK mountains” which I always felt contained some entries that were chosen based as much on their geography as on their mountain characteristics.  The TGO 40 doesn’t appear to suffer from that bias and I feel that it is a purer list, albeit quite a bit smaller.

Of the TGO 40 list, 37 of the mountains are also on the TRAIL 100 list.  The three that aren’t are Ben Loyal, Braeriach and Creag Meagaidh.

Of course, I now have to amalgamate the TGO 40 into my own combination of hill lists, but I only have to add two of the mountains as Braeriach is already on my list as a Scottish 4000 foot summit.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

East of Blaenau

Starting from a near empty car park in Blaneau Ffestiniog the road from the back led up to a quarry track, itself leading through cement pools made up of slate dust on a footpath marked by yellow-topped poles through the abundant rhododendrons before coming to a halt at a ruined winding house.

Moelwyn Mawr over the quarry

From here, open moorland beckoned with a sharp turn left the start of the ascent of a snow-dusted Moel Penamnen over the Moel Bowydd plateau.

Moel Penamnen

I took the obvious weakness up the south face which could, only with some imagination, be called a gully.  The small snow patches were hard to avoid and by stepping on them the snow compacted to ice rendering the tread on my boots quickly useless and causing a few slips.

Tryfan from the ascent of Moel Penamnen

Once on the summit ridge a short walk over the minor top resulted in some impressive views from the grassy summit.

Manod Mawr from Moel Penamnen

Allt-fawr, Moel Druman, Moel Hebog and Ysgafell Wen

From the summit a broad ridge led to Foel-fras, along which I kept Manod Mawr North Top in view, noting its snow cover and what looked like a steep slope to ascend.  A descent to the treeline and then to the fence over boggy ground led to a morass.  I tried to keep to the fenceline in the forlorn hope of keeping my feet dry but admitted defeat and took aim for a ruined building at the edge of Cwt-y-bugail quarry to escape the infinite bog.  It turned out to be a good lunch spot!

From here I saw a walker on Foel-fras following my track but they disappeared and I didn’t see them again.  The only other people I saw during the day was a group of four and then a couple were seen walking towards the quarry, probably from Penmachno.  East of Blaenau is definitely a place to escape the crowds!

Heading to Manod Mawr some care was needed over the loosely stacked slate rubble to reach a stile at the track before following the fence up an easy slope, complete with footsteps of previous walkers.  Unusual cubed piles of stones, topped by a single plinth stone, marked the way.  At the north top of Manod Mawr a large cairn on an attractive natural pavement marked the summit with the extent of the Graig-ddu quarry hidden by the flat top.  Time taken here to linger and enjoy the expansive view is well spent.

Manod Mawr North Top summit cairn

Tryfan, Moel Penamnen and Moel Siabod from the north top

I walked to the quarry edge with a sheer drop straight ahead and no obvious way off to the west, so I turned left and followed the edge to a disused track which led to the main quarry road.  Just before the road started to descend into the main chasm, I struck off towards Manod Mawr.

Locating the subsidiary top, even in excellent visibility, was challenging and I chose a small prominence to mark it, although it could have been any of two or three others.  When Moss compiled his list, I suspect that there was a single 2000-foot contour ring (or spot height) to mark the point, now long lost to metric mapping.

An easy walk led to Manod Mawr’s highpoint, with uninterrupted 360-degree views, from Moelwyn Mawr to Snowdon to Tryfan to the Carneddau to Siabod to the Arenigs and distant summits east and south.

The Arenigs from Manod Mawr summit

Manod Mawr North Top from Manod Mawr

The descent of the north-west spur led to a disused incline, the start of some welcome easier walking back to the car park following the sometimes challenging ground experienced on the day’s higher ground.

The way down

Friday, 21 December 2018

Ysgafell Wen

Three days after abandoning the plan to end my walk with a traverse of Ysgafell Wen I returned to finish the job.  This time I started from Gelli-lago in the west.

Craig Llyn-llagi

I followed the path towards Llyn Llagi and then aimed for the switchback of the path up to Llyn yr Adar which was initially hard to find.  I overshot the turn and climbed too high but from above the path was much easier to see.  Although the path looked a lot less accessible than it actually was I was soon at the shore of the Llyn.

Llyn yr Adar

The lessened visibility coaxed me to take a bearing towards Ysgafell Wen and I touched the tops of all of the likely candidates for the highpoint within the larger of the 670-metre contour rings.  A short drop to the col and then up to the pronounced outcrop saw me on the Nuttall summit.

Ysgafell Wen summit

Cnicht (in the distance) from Ysgafell Wen

It didn’t take long to reach the north top and then the far north top before continuing across some mildly boggy terrain (as most of the day turned out to be!) to take aim for the WASHIS summit of Moel Meirch.  The cloud base had risen affording ever-improving views with Cnicht and the summits of my previous walk particularly caught the eye.

Cnicht and Llyn yr Adar from the north top

Moel Druman, Ysgafell Wen and the north top from the far north top

The final ascent was not well defined; the lack of classification of the hill obviously deters visitors and therefore only indistinct tracks, if any, found their way across the heather and jumbled rocks.

Moel Meirch

It is obvious which is the highpoint, it being an impressive looking pyramidal tor, especially when seen from the east.  Actually reaching the top takes an easy scramble from the more accessible western side. And the juxtaposition of the top block and Yr Aran gave the opportunity for some interesting photographic compositions.

Moel Meirch summit rock

Descending the valley eating jelly babies, the cloud was lifting from Snowdon and Lliwedd; Crib Goch was already in clear view.  Snowdon was clear for about half an hour before the cloud descended again, but I managed to take plenty of photos.

Yr Aran, Snowdon, Lliwedd and Crib Goch

Snowdon, Lliwedd and Crib Goch

The final off-road walking needed some careful navigation, using field boundaries as the major aid to keep on course but once on the road, the last kilometre gave me the chance to cover some ground quickly before eventually reaching the car and a welcome removal of boots.

Friday, 19 October 2018

The Allt-fawr Affair

The Crimea Pass car park makes the ascent of Allt-fawr that bit easier as you start at over 1200 feet which is more than halfway up before you’ve even laced up your boots!  But the smug feeling was tempered by the grey conditions, matching the grey quarries hereabouts.

above Llyn Iwerddon

Light drizzle accompanied me along the ridge and up to the final slopes as they rose above Llyn Iwerddon before I entered the mist that was obscuring the summit.  As there was no view of note, my attention turned to reaching the next objective of the day, Moel Druman South Top.

I decided to take a route that would skirt the south shore of Llyn Conglog and lead me to the isolated Moss summit.  But the mistake I made was to use my live track on my GPS unit as a way of navigating instead of taking a bearing.  Finding myself descending a re-entrant a lot wider than anticipated I checked the map and decided to carry on as, although packed with close contours, I felt that the ground ahead wouldn’t pose any problem to traverse and that the height I had unnecessarily lost could be easily regained.  The reality was a little different!

The ground was steep but looked reasonable to cross.  Ahead I spotted a group of sheep who had seen me and headed away on a traverse line that I decided would be my way across.  It turned out to be a very narrow trod – often narrower than the width of one of my boots – and it led across steepening ground.  My ankles had to work hard to support me on the slope and although walking poles would have significantly eased the traverse, I reckoned that getting them out of my rucksack would have been a greater risk than just carrying on.  This headwall of Cwmorthin wasn’t letting up and a slip here would have been calamitous.  I checked the ground above looking for any weakness so I could directly ascend but none was forthcoming; it was steep and grassy and wet.  I had no option but to continue the traverse until the ground eased, which it eventually did.

I followed the stream up to the outflow of Llyn Conglog and although easily crossed, I still ended up with one leg plunged knee-deep in peat.  Easy ground led to the two 630-metre contour lines which I crossed but I wasn’t able to clearly work out which one held the summit.  But I went over both and claimed the tick.

the face of Moel Druman

The shroud of mist continued to lay down as I continued to Moel Druman, passing an eerie profile of a face outlined in a rock outcrop, and the poor visibility dissuaded me from staying on high ground towards Ysgafell Wen.  I decided to head back to the car and crossed the northern slopes of Allt-fawr before rejoining the ridge above Llyn Iwerddon at which point the mist had lifted and I could now see the highpoints of today’s route.

Moel Druman and Ysgafell Wen

Allt-fawr and Moel Druman

It’s now obvious that my approach to navigating in poor visibility isn’t as accurate as it could be.  My problems arose from an unjustified confidence in navigating using a small screen, despite the undoubted accuracy of the GPS system.  The use of a map to see the “bigger picture” and a compass to direct me on accurate bearings needs to be brought back into my hillwalking method.

I think only my experience and confidence of crossing challenging terrain got me out of a situation that many may have seen as one to call for help on.

A lesson has been learnt.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Gragareth Revisited

I’d been up here before I added the Moss and Wright lists to my own seemingly never-ending ticklist and with those lists came Gragareth North Top and Green Hill South Top, both of which I might have walked over on the previous visit but I couldn’t be sure.

Eight of us plus Pebbles the dog started the walk from Leck Fell and headed uphill into the fog towards the Three Men of Gragareth.  The cairns made for a welcome photo opportunity, particularly for three women, before we walked to the trig pillar and then the rather nondescript true summit of Gragareth which is marked by a small and unimpressive cairn.  Surely the highpoint of the county of Lancashire deserves something of grander stature!

Gragareth North Top lay just west of the path and was easily bagged although it was probable that I hadn’t previously been to that point.  Green Hill South Top lay on the path and no extra effort was needed with a high likelihood that this had been reached on earlier walk on these hills.

There was a fair amount of snow on the ground but nothing that merited the use of axe or crampons as the recent warm spell had ensured that the ground beneath was not frozen.  There were some colourful exclamations from party members when the occasional bog plunge occurred!  We followed the ridge to Green Hill, Great Coum and the trig point of Crag Hill before descending the broad spur to Bullpot Farm.  From there an easy path led to the bone-dry bed of Ease Gill before we trudged up the long heathery slope of Leck Fell to the cars.

Inevitably, the group was keen for post-walk refreshment and quite by accident we found The Royal Barn in Kirkby Lonsdale, home of the eponymous brewery, where the fine selection of ales and dog-friendly bar provided a very welcoming atmosphere.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

A Winter Follais

In the days immediately preceding this day out, Storm Fionn had taken her toll and dumped so much snow in such a short period that the M74 was closed because of the number of stranded vehicles and Police Scotland had, at one point, issued advice to not use the roads at all.  The drive to the Cairngorms wasn’t too bad in the aftermath but it was obvious that much of the snow on the ground wasn’t going to be consolidated.

Seven of us left the comfort of Milehouse Cottage and strode out along the East Highland Way towards the day’s objectives of Creag Dubh and the Argyll Stone.  After a snack stop at Drake’s Bothy the uphill started in earnest, weaving our way through the forest at the lower part of Coire Follais.  Both the Ordnance Survey Explorer and Landranger maps indicated a path up the coire but even using GPS to place us right on top of it, we found no sign that it existed.

Drake's Bothy

Progress was slow as we plodded through unconsolidated knee-deep snow resulting in some colourful language from one of our shorter-legged ladies!

Monadhliath from Coire Follais

It became quickly apparent that the group was not going to reach the summit and descend in daylight, or even dusk.  Three of our fittest continued as the rest of us turned tail.  The sky was clear and the view good enough for us to make out a lone walker at the Argyll Stone and also note the slow progress of our summit party.  Deep drifts took their toll on them and they also decided to turn around head downhill.

The Argyll Stone

Although we didn’t actually achieve very much on the day, the laughter and good company will last long in the memory.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

2018 Targets

Lists to tick

My target ticklist is a combination of unclimbed Nuttalls, TRAIL 100s, WASHIS, Simpsons, Dawsons, Deweys, Mosses, Wrights,Bridges and Buxton & Lewis summits.  At the start of 2018 there are 459 individual summits on my ticklist.

In 2017 I added the Dawsons, Deweys, Mosses and Wrights to my list which increase the total by 137 summits.  My previous goal of completing the list in 2023 has been extended to 2026 because of this, which now gives me 9 years to reach the target.

Still to be ticked at the start of this year are 201 of the 445 Nuttalls and 38 of the TRAIL 100 summits.

This coming year

In simple numbers, 11% of my remaining summits based on my remaining 9-year plan should be an achievable target for 2018, as long as I have some significant multi-summit days out.  11% means 51 summits, but I’m going to round this up to 1 per week.

Which means I’m aiming for 52 summits, amongst which should be 23 Nuttalls and 4 TRAIL 100s.

Because of a number of years of not meeting targets with regard to specific summits, this year I won’t be naming any but I do hope to claim a few that lie further afield.

It’s time to start studying the maps!