Snow, sun and soaked.

There were some amateur mistakes this weekend if I’m being totally honest. From not taking a compass bearing, to sleeping on the floor of a shelter with no door, holes in walls and the weather god raining down carnage outside. I’m not mentioning the tarp again.

It had started brightly a few weeks back when Simon suggested a weekend’s wild camping with him and his dog Lottie. I thought it would be a genteel journey back into the outdoors this spring. The last real camping trip was an horrendously wet trip into the Lakes back in Oct or Nov last year, I’ve wimped out mostly since then and stayed in huts and bunkhouses, even a hotel or two. Anyways, there was no real plan other than pack a sack and see what the weather forecasts were like. I didn’t look at them after Tuesday and we found ourselves this Good Friday parked on the A5, below Tryfan, with snow everywhere. I was little surprised to be honest, I knew that they’d had snow over here but this much?

Fortunately, I’d been unable to find my Inov8s and I’d grabbed some boots for the trip instead. No crampons or ice axe but that wasn’t going to matter as the snow was slightly soggy. I’d only brought the Minim 300 with me and not’s it’s synthetic Drishell outer. I might be a little cold but at least the full length and heavy Synmat was in the bag, so I’d not feel the chill from the floor. After freezing all night during a scottish wildcamp in February, I had decent food and intended to eat it late, followed by some jumping around before getting into bed… I would not be cold.

I shouldered the 11kg sack containing a fine single malt, we strolled up to Ffynnon Loer taking our time, me throwing snowballs for the dog to catch and I kept turning round to have a look at the majesty of Tryfan in it’s winter raiment.There’s a nice wee flatish spot by the banks there but looking around there was standing water everywhere were there was no snow and what the guy who had skis on his sack, who we’d spoken to on the way up, was thinking as he’d set out that morning , I have no idea but it definitely wasn’t skiing conditions. The Laser Comp was pitched whilst the rain held off but almost immediately that pitter patter on the fly started and the tent would be occupied sooner than later. Dehydrated food can play havoc with my guts sometimes, so I’d packed heavy for the three days. Look What We’ve Found meals and microwave rice for dinners and some fruity oat bars to go with the chocolate limes during the day would keep my heavyweight belly happy. Food cooked up, a warm up jog on the spot and I was ready for the sleeping bag. We chatted for a while, until the wind became too loud and gusty to hear clearly and then I dozed off.

I know I popped out for a call of nature in just my undies and a down jacket, only to be confronted by howling winds and tortuously driven rain. That wasn’t fun but I’d forgotten a pee bottle and I couldn’t bring myself to use a cooking pan. I’m posh like that. I awoke about 2am, to find the tent pushed flat on my face – some strong winds had appeared and not checking the forecast was a bit daft now. The sleep mat had gone down, as it would the next two nights. Exped, hang your head in shame as I think it’s the valves that are the problem.The Comp pitched side on into winds will shrug off a battering far more ably than most give them credit for, it had it’s pole hood on and it’s a strong little beast then. Simon was having flattening issues in his three pole Voyager too, it was more than a breeze it seemed. On packing away camp on Saturday, we could see the thaw that had happened overnight and that would continue all day, water everywhere. I had a grumble or three about the mat but we soon headed off to the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen, which was a first for Simon. It was grim. Lottie the dog enjoyed the scramble up and looked pretty capable for a big breed. Onwards to Dafydd and the Carnedds really let rip with the weather. Plans to head out to Aber Falls or somewhere got lost in the mists and snow, a plan was hatched that involved Ogwen toilets and Diet Coke before they knock it down. It was horrible weather and we saw no one much till after midday. Neither of us ever having walked up Cnicht, we thought maybe to camp out that way as the sun was shining further south but a look on the map showed boggy ground and the potential for another very wet camp. Campsite it was to be, the forestry one just outside Beddgellert and at least the sun came out to dry our kit out. The wallet came out to pay almost £24 for one night too, that’s for two small tents and a car. A rip off but well smart it is, I was gonna enjoy my night there. My whisky too.

There’s a steam train hammers past, kids playing on climbing frames, seated tables to cook up the evening’s feast on and even a room full of sofas if you fancy a cossetted hour or two. Happy days, I mean one, couldn’t afford any more days here. Over a drink and food we decided to summit Cnicht early and then drive down to Cadair Idris for a camp overnight on the summit, if the weather got blowy and wet again, then there was always the shelter to take refuge in. Simon hadn’t been on Idris before, so let’s hope we wouldn’t have a mad dog when awakening. I’ve slept there before and I’m a poet me. Oh aye. My mat went down again. Unhappy Kelvin.

We’d left the site with most sleeping soundly, away by 8am to find ourselves in the car park at Croesor not much later. No views of Cnicht to be had as the weather was clagging in yet again, so we promptly headed up a little steep incline away from the village. The views behind were worth the odd stop and turnaround, past the crags of Tremadog and over to a sight of the sea being held back to the left of Porthmadog. There was no view ahead, just low cloud and I couldn’t help but thinking we may be about to walk up the Welsh Matterhorn but we wouldn’t be getting a view to rival the Alps today. Camera in pocket, firm and fast. The path rises smoothly, with a few false summits in the conditions we had, until you find yourself on flatish piece of grass, ideal for a wildcamp and a saving of £24. Hmmm, map reading skills need to be better. It’s a good scramble up to the peak, nothing too hard but still, it has an airy feeling even in the cloud as we were. Lottie again coped admirably.  There was some ex fell running geezer, a fellow decorator in the car park and we stopped to have a quite random chat with him. The fella’s name was Idris, he was off on his own to have a look inside a mountain as he could no longer go up them and he produced a sheet of A4 from the ‘Friends of Cwmorthin’. On another day, on my own, I’d have asked to accompany him as he was one of those people I took an instant liking to and he was off for an adventure I’d never even considered. One for the future.

A while later, car in a layby, we sauntered up the Pony Path before diverting across to Llyn Y Gadair across a damp and treacherous boulder field. I wanted a peep at Cyfrwy Arete, a legend of a route and a future scramble to be done. Nowt to be seen there, jog on. There’s a spot or two for a wildcamp I guess and the climb could be done next day.

The Foxes Path from Llyn Y Gadair heads up a steep scree slope that at times is just a little unstable. Not too harsh mind and a quick way to the summit. Lottie, not used to three days in the hills was starting to tire and her glances showed an almost human element of communication. The dog was pooped. I don’t think Simon enjoyed the scree but with his hill legs fit from a recent trip to walk up Killimanjaro, it was soon behind us and the summit in view. The weather was again grim and the wind buffeted our wet waterproofs. Into the shelter we go, conversations were struck with those that came and went and finally we were on our own. There was no way I was going outside to find a spot for the Comp. I’m pretty sure it would have held out but the shelter was damp if not dry and I was content in there. Simon put his inner up to sleep in, more to stop Lottie from doing a runner in the night if a sheep happened by and I laid a groundsheet on the floor, inflated the airbed, fluffed the down bag and overlaid it with my fly. Just in case the roof leaked. Home was the first picture posted and as you can see, the PHD bag looks rather damp under that fly. It wasn’t however, it was soaked. My mat deflated as expected and the water level built up under me, it was a good job I was wearing merino socks, leggings and tshirt – I’d have been bitter cold otherwise. I’m not a lover of merino, it takes too long to dry in my experience but there’s no denying that when it’s wet, it’s still warm. Not the worst night’s sleep I’ve had but far from the best and I awoke to a puddle a couple of inches deep all around me.

I’d never slept in a bothy or a hut before now and I’d made a right beginners mistake I guess. Never mind, it all adds to the colour of a trip and the bottom of my Minim is now a different shade, I’m hoping it doesn’t start to smell. Kit was launched into the sacks, a bearing wasn’t taken, we missed the right path and headed the wrong way for while as water from a heavenly bucket was emptied on our heads and the wind drove the H2O into our faces. I hate boots to be honest, my knee was complaining by now and I’d have done everything and anything to be in my Inov8s. Boots pull the knee forward when heading down and it’s painful, you’re out of balance and next your skidding around on wet rock with a heavy sack.

It was a decent trip in reflection, we hit a Little Chef on the way home for bacon breakfasts and the rain continued till Birmingham. Lessons had been learnt and legs stretched. The mind as usual, a peaceful place after a trip into the wild and Wales was a wild place over easter, except for our few hours on that jolly nice campsite. It was grand being out with a dog too, it put a different pace in the legs and a milder route to the paths we trod. Good stuff.

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Peanut butter sandwiches.

Hot toast and a good coating of melting peanut butter, it’s always been a fave even as a kid when my dad would disappear into the kitchen to make a bit of supper for everyone. I also like a brown sauce sandwich from time to time and eventually came to the conclusion that the best for bread combination was HP Sauce and Sunpat Crunchy. I’m starting to salivate as I write this…

It was all about adding a little kick, a trifle of tanginess to a sometimes dry experience. Some people turn their nose up at the thought the moment it’s spoken and that’s their loss not mine. I can’t see what the cousins from across the pond see in the jello and peanut butter combination, seems strange to me but you can’t doubt it’s popularity. My liking of hot food has slowly increased this last few years, either from age or scalding my tongue on too hot a mug of coffee at work. Either way, I’ve been adding a bit of chilli spiciness to my choices both at home and in a restaurant.

A while back, a couple of mates of mine started their own business making chilli sauces not more than a couple of miles from my abode. They got the branding spot on, up there with Levi Roots in my opinion and they’ve slowly been building a presence in the UK chilli industy, winning awards and increasing sales. If you’ve a few minutes, have a sense of humour and take your chillis seriously, have a watch of this youtube video, it’ll brighten your day. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdr2S1avRDA&feature=player_embedded

The range has increased and as seen in the chillifoundry link they now make pickles, plus luckily for me – a range of chilli spreads, using almond, cashew and of course the old favourite, peanuts. Can this compare to brown sauce and peanut butter sandwiches? I wasn’t sure, I’m still not but it’s adds another option for one’s palate. Now I’ve seen the care that goes into the making of Paul and Kelly’s creations, emptied a pot of chilli peanut butter and have been comparing the spreads. I’m pretty useless at describing flavours and no expert on how food should and does taste, suffice to say that that I like the peanut one best. I prefer it on oat cakes as a snack before climbing in the evenings. Chilli for breakfast is too much for me unless I have a hangover. Then it works somehow.

I’d hazard a guess that the chilli cashew butter would be the choice of most. The jar is pretty much just nuts and is a cut above Sunpat or other alternatives. Chalk and cheese if you like and I can’t help but liking. Sinful Sauces – Made in Northampton. Sounds good to me!

http://www.sinfulsauces.co.uk/     

Spikes for feet… and not for golf.

This year I managed to get a fair few days in wearing crampons, weeks actually. As the years have past, the spikes in my hair have fallen by the wayside, only to be replaced by woolly hats.I bought the daughter an Indianna Jones replica hat once, to go with a replica knife my mate Matty found in Torture Garden. Anyway, I digress…

Crampons.

I now own three pairs of the things, seemingly a little greedy on this wet isle we call home. In my defence however, the Petzl Vasaks did need resharpening this year after the mixed climbing abuses they received in the Atlas and the Hillsounds where a surprise addition from stage right.

I have some Grivel G10s and what’s to say about them? They work well, have a flexible bar that enables them to be used on  flexible boots but it would be remiss of me not to mention – you shouldn’t be doing that folks. Anyway, I have and it worked fine for me on both Meindl Borneos and Asolo Flames. Put them on my B3 boots however, strap them tight and they are rock solid. I’ve happily gone up Grade 2 winter stuff in them and have heard tales told of people using them on tougher technical terrain. Grivel surpassed themselves with the anti-balling plates and snow clumped underfoot has never been an issue. Whilst they’ve not been used much this year, I can’t see me ever getting rid of them. They’ll be loaned to friends, kept as a back up and used when ice and steep snow isn’t in contention for the day’s route. Top kit.

The Vasaks were bought as my winter ambitions increased, leaving the G10s behind. In hindsight, I should have bought a shiny new pair of G12s to start with but that just seemed overkill back then, one never knows where one’s path may take one’s self to use a cliche. I was a fair bit more of a canny lad this time and bought secondhand from someone who had outgrown them himself and purchased something suitable for ice. Just the £40 and I was now a winter warrior, ready in my spikes to battle with mixed Scottish terrain and snow gullies. Hang on… didn’t I do that in my G10s? Aye, I did. The big benefit is the front points being nearer to the horizontal, all the better for kicking people in the shins. Ignore that, I’d forgotten it was climbing post and had sidetracked to a midfield maestro’s footballing nirvana. There were times this year when I was glad to have made the change, tiny cracks that the G10s just couldn’t have found purchase on and there I was, delicately balanced on a few millimeters of Petzl’s finest steel. It could only be referred to as delicate until the disco leg cut in and then all style went out of the proverbial window quite smartly. The trousers are no longer smart, full of holes from when I was daft enough to think I didn’t need a gaiter. A good buy, proof that secondhand can work and work well, provided you do your research and know that the fit will be right for your boots. All hail the interweb!

There’s plenty of folks in the hills that wear those seriously flexible crampons when it’s winter, those a bit like a big rubber band that you step into, with spikes on chains below your sole. ‘Not for me’ I’ve said more than once and heard much the same from people who’s opinions and experience I respect. I’ve also watched as other mates who garner the self same respect from me, head off into the High Andes with homemade, high altitude, insulated gaiters fitted to Inov8s, that were settled on top of baby spikes with that giant rubber band for attachment. Strange how we all differ as to what’s suitable, I reckon we’re all right and wrong as well.

I was given some of the Hillsound Trail Crampons to test in February whilst up in Scotland and can’t say I was thrilled at the idea. Trying to give the appearance of a rebel, I strode upwards on snowy paths with them slung on the pick of my ice axe. No pack for me, just a few Werther’s Originals in my pockets  and with the aim of finding some icy rocks to put the Hillsounds past their limits. How could crampons provide security when they are attached by elastic? I had pictures of them squirming around and me taking a tumble. Fitting them was simple, step in and then secure with the velcro strap. Done. Some people find God and become born again, for once there was no such gore and amniotic fluid in this revelation but I had surely seen the light! No movement, no squirreling about and I was happy to stroll around in them. Happy to stand on an iced up edge, the photo is by ptc* by the way and there’s a link to his site at the side. It best illustrates the complete change in opinion I had over the Hillsounds.

They do have limits, a lack of points at the very rear of the heel being the main one for me. We were scrambling down some shallow chimney-like depression and at times there was no grip where both my Vasaks and G10s would have had plenty but then we were well outside the design profile. What can I say? I ended up buying them. They certainly have a place, maybe not in the High Andes but for walks were there may be an icy path, as a ‘throw in the bag’ solution to the usual spills and thrills that sub zero temperatures and a damp atmosphere provide – they’ve got me hooked. By a spike or twenty.

So I was wrong about crampons with elastic bands. Or was that right? I’d have died if I’d tried to use them on some of the routes I did this year but certainly, they would have gotten me to the top of Toubkal, by the South Cwm on the days I ascended it. Not that I’d suggest you do that, you’d limit your options when it comes to going off track and we all know that’s where the fun starts.

Crampons. Spikes for the feet, not the head.

Off for a wildcamp…

Daughter is housesitting, well, when she’s not out getting tipsy and losing her phone AGAIN like last night. The Villain is packed, this time with real food, the Comp, a tarp and groundsheet… if that seems overkill, I’m away with Simon and his dog. The weather hasn’t got clue what it’s doing and I’d like a few options for sitting around in the evening. Cadair Idris and the Carneddau, in some order or another but essentially, there’s been no planning. I’d like a nose at Cyfrwy Arete and Simon wants to wake up mad, so that’ll be Sunday night sorted.

The half bottle of Jura Origin I managed to pick up in Tesco for 12 notes last night, will be long gone by then. Oh yeh – 11kgs, plus water and whisky. That’ll hurt.

Peteboghorror 0 Irons 2

It doesn’t do to look into the past, rose tinted glasses are in the same league as beer goggles when it comes to distortion. Men of a certain age (me and my like) will often remark to young whipper snappers (like my son and his mates), whilst watching that new fangled Sky Sports – “Back in the day, we had proper atmosphere. It were carnage when a goal were scored and we didn’t stop singing for the whole ninety minutes!”

“Yeh, yeh… and this is were you tell me, it’s never been the same since they did away with terracing blah blah blah.” I bet the youth have heard it a thousand times… they’ll hear it for the rest of my life.

Now and again, in a bid to reclaim some memories past, I’ll go and watch Northampton Saints down at the Franklin Gardens and take my beer onto the Gordon Terrace. It’s not the same, never was. Rugby doesn’t have the tribalistic traits of Association Football and I never settle when the opposition fans are standing next to me. It just feels wrong.

Now relegation from the Premiership can cost a club and it’s fans dearly, to the tune of many millions. There is the odd brucie bonus however and when the fixture list was set way back in the summer, there was one match that just had to be done. Away to Peterborough, arch rivals of  the Cobblers (those were the days) and possesors of terracing still. Forget the whys and wherefores… one word, and only one word mattered. Terracing. Ridiculous overnight temperatures of -15c put paid to the Saturday fixture but finally, Tuesday evening of last week, Hooper and myself found ourselves stood on a football terrace for the first time in many moons.

The singing started some half hour before the game kicked off and I honestly don’t remember it ceasing except for the halftime break. Voices lost, old songs sang, abuse screamed and not a miserable face to be seen… well, not in our end anyway. A veritable moshpit ensued whilst the Okey Cokey rang out and two goals were fired in. Big Fat Sam was told in no uncertain terms about the style of football we expect and Greeno? Aye, he knows we want him to stay. I hugged people I didn’t know, then shoved and pushed the self same people, all the while with smiles on our faces and crossed Irons in our hearts.

Rose tinted glasses added nothing with the years. For once, the reality surpassed the memories and many an older fan went home happy. The kids? Listen long enough and you’ll hear them say – “They were right you know.”

Sweaty Rock at Stanage

Now there’s a thing I didn’t expect – rock that seems to seep in the sweltering sunshine that we’ve experienced this last week of March. Grit is odd, I’ve not worked it out at all. This was my first visit to the legend that is Stanage Edge, we climbed just above the Plantation and it was only my second time on grit.

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It’s a cheat’s way to climb, the friction is just unbelievable when smearing but you pay in other ways – not many positive handholds, just rounded lumps of rock to slap a hand on. The worst bit is not going anywhere, I like my mountain routes and I’m definitely more of a mountaineer than a crag rat. Still, it was better than being at work and thanks to Pete and Mark, I had a great day.

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Watching Mark solo happily behind us and than wrap a rope around his waist to scoot up a slab – there’s a lot to learn about grit, a different style of climbing and kit-wise, cams seem important here. Even more kit to purchase.

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