I’ve had a number of revelations since starting to hill walk, climb and generally play in the mountains. My first discovery was that a committed city boy could actually go and play in our country’s most splendid environments without having to ask anyone for permission (mostly) and just roam about. Anyone can go to these amazing, wild, remote, beautiful paces and just absorb the staggering loveliness of it all. Just park the car and walk in! (The picture below was only an hour’s walk from the car park!)
Next surprise was that I could access areas which I had previously thought were off limits to normal blokes like me, like the cliffs hundreds of feet above pointy rocks as previously mentioned. Another revelation was that the terror I felt when first going up these cliffs/crags gradually disappeared and in fact morphed into excitement. Not only that, but that excitement became necessary, essential, addictive and irreplaceable.
The desire to get out and about “up there” began to shape my lifestyle. All of a sudden, life revolved around weekends away in the Lakes, Gore-Tex fabrics, 4 way stretchy pants, active protection…ooh Matron, and all things outdoorsy. Fab!
The only problem…..I lived in the North of England. Not renowned for it’s constant blue skies and balmy temperatures. Not a major problem as I had changed my wardrobe from “going out on a Friday night” clothes to “doesn’t matter what the weather is doing, you’ll be alright” clothes.
And everyone knows you couldn’t climb in the rain…right? Queue another discovery. Er actually you can. You just have to pick your routes carefully as I found out one miserable, grey, horrid, lashing down day at the bottom of St Sunday crags in the Lake District. Pinnacle Ridge was my first “foul weather” climb.
And just to make it a little bit more fun, I only had walking boots, no climbing shoes. I was a bit apprehensive but was told it wasn’t really a climb it was something called a scramble. Not quite a walk, not quite a climb, something in the middle. “Cool, I’m game, let’s do it!” So we did, and it was fantastic fun. Yes we got a bit wet, our hands were cold as we weren’t wearing gloves, but it was a laugh.
Another time, we did Giant’s Crawl on Dow Crag in horrid conditions. My buddy Julian and I went up there slipping and sliding on what, when dry, is a really easy, pleasant, steady climb with amazing views of The Old Man of Coniston and a spectacularly placed tarn. In the rain, it definitely got my attention. (Julian leading a pitch during a lull in the weather.)
What a giggle, “I’ll definitely do that again” I thought. And I have.
Gimmer Crag this time with another pal John, a hardcore E2 climber who was more than patient with my less than hardcore performance on a mizzly, drizzly, cold day. (Pictured below just before the rain started was John leading a tricky section when just what you don’t need is a bit of rain!!!)
Another instance was on the same crag with my mate Ian, when the weather was so horrid that we abseiled off and called it a day. The need for flexibility is key to staying safe. “If in doubt bail and come back another day” has become my motto.
Fast forward to my 2nd outdoorsy winter, and there had been a huge dump of snow across Cumbria. The issue was that there had been no freeze-thaw cycle (melt, re-freeze, melt again then re-freeze etc.) This is necessary to bond the loose and powdery snow together to form the best kind of snow and ice for climbing on. So we went back to Pinnacle Ridge as it was safer than heading to more avalanche prone slopes nearby. Yes, there are avalanches in the Lake District!
Well the snow might as well not have been there as it was so powdery our axes and crampons didn’t bite into to anything, so we just used them on the rock and climbed it anyway. This was so called mixed climbing I was told. A bit of rock, frozen turf, some ice and lots of powdery snow, maybe a little more technical but again, great fun if not a little scary for the first time.
(Picture of me actually descending on Pinnacle Ridge.)
So it seemed we could climb in the rain………….check. We could climb in less than ideal snowy conditions……….check. But what about rock climbing when it’s cold? Check again as you actually get better grip when the temperature is low. I didn’t know that, that must be why boulderers clear snow from their routes and climb super hard stuff in the dead of winter……check!
So to the point of all of this. The one thing you cannot do however, is climb, cycle, walk, mountaineer or anything remotely fun in 100mph plus winds. Sadly that is the condition in all of the places available to me at the time of writing this. Chimneys are coming off houses, lorries are being blown over and people like me are sulking all over the country. Ha!
So what can we do? Well apart from training indoors for whatever activity we enjoy outdoors, we can plan. And that’s what I have been doing. I have been planning trips for when the weather should be ok and the midges not be too troublesome. Hopefully they will involve a few of the things from my New Year wish list as most of them seem to start in Glencoe then head North. I will also be doing some more wild camping with my girlfriend when the weather improves, as we really enjoyed what we did during the summer.
(Taking a dip outside out tent underneath Pavey Ark)
Outdoor cycling will resume when I’m not likely to be blown ten feet into the air! And the training will begin for the planned C2C bike ride. So many adventures to cram in and so much cool stuff to do.
I’d love to able to write and tell you all of snow covered mountains and daring-do high up on icy slopes, but sadly, it just hasn’t happened yet this year south of the Far North of Scotland. The current outdoor sports weather has been unkind but this time last year it was a winter wonderland to behold.
Hopefully things will improve and in the meantime, choosing walking routes carefully based around the weather, I have still managed to get out and enjoy dramatic scenery in the Lakes on some lovely wintery days. But strong winds prevented me from taking the planned routes and an essential skill I have found, is to be flexible and plan an alternative route on the move or even better before you set off. I am writing this at home so I must have made it back safe!
(The picture below is from a walk starting in my favourite place in the Lakes, Langdale, see next blog.)
So whatever you do in this current horrid weather, plan it well, have a plan B, and stay safe. Have a safe and Happy Outdoorsy New Year.
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