The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009
The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Easter days in Eyri - Wild camp in Wales

Easter week brought fine weather - blue skies and sunshine. I dashed to North Wales for my first expedition of the year and the last before I move to Scotland for the TGOC.

This was a chance to test equipment and review fitness. North Wales is a popular destination at school holiday time, but more by luck than planning I avoided the crowds and in 3 days walking spent many hours without seeing a soul.

Blaenau Ffestiniog is at the eastern boundary of the mountain area of the Snowdonia National Park. In every direction the slopes above the town are marked by the jagged grey slate which has be quarried here since the 1750s.

History has sculpted the hills with heaps of spoil from the mines, and with curious shapes buried beneath the grass where old equipment and structures have been abandoned. Grey buildings part dismantled dot the landscape without path or access road.

The twin tops of Moelwyn Bach and Moelwyn Mawr rise up above the town. Having arrived in the middle of the day I arranged with the local cafe to leave the car in their carpark.

A path leads up to the small reservoir above the town. From here I skirted south and scrambled up on Moelwyn Bach. I missed the route down towards  Moelwyn Mawr by being too far to the west leading to an uncomfortable scramble. The main path descends on the side closest to Blaenau (seen on the picture below).

Moelwyn Bach (l) with sea behind from Moelwyn Mawr and Moel Hebog (r)
Moelwyn Mawr provides dramatic views westwards towards the Snowdon range with the sea around Porth Madog to the south. In the forground is a vast pathless area with many remnants of the mining past. Traversing across here in good weather, navigating by sight, diverting to structures of interest - hours without a person in sight is a joy.
curious structure
deserted mining settlement
I did not see a soul until arriving on top of Cnicht.

This is a favourite small mountain. For years I've intended to camp near the water on the west side with views across to the sea in the south. For the first time in many trips I spied two tents beside the small lake below.

It was not difficult to find an alternative place, out of sight, for pitching the trailstar.

The next morning I headed south on a good path to Croesor. From here an old paved route heads west to the Nantmor road. From the bridge at Nantmor a rough path follows the Aberglaslyn gorge across the river from the A498 to join a pleasant paved river side path leading to Beddgelert.

Afon Glaslyn leading to the tea rooms of Beddgelert
Afon Glaslyn

Suddenly there are lots of people. Tea rooms. Cars.

Beddgelert forest track
Snowdon from Beddgelert Forest

A short way out of the town a track leads towards the forest. This extensive plantation is has many tracks, some paved for biking, others reserved for walkers. As plantation walking goes this is not too bad and by following one path, then another is it possible to reach the end of the ridge that dominates the skyline to the West.
After emerging from the northern edge of the forest a path traverses the hillside to reach the end of the ridge shown as Y Garn on the map (there are several places with this name in the area). A short haul up and we're in mountain area again.
Ridge Y Garn up Mynydd Drws-y-coed
Path to Mynydd Drws-y-coed
Looking east over Mynydd Drws-y-coed to Snowdon and beyond
This striking ridge demand a bit of a scramble. Remarkably, after the Beddgelert tea rooms this was the most busy part of my trip. 'Like a motorway' complained one runner with a dog in tow.
Looking South from Mynydd Drws-y-coed towards Moel Hebog
The picture above looks all the way back to the mountains above Blaenau to the left. The forest tracks below are busy with a few holidaymakers but even on this beautiful Easter Friday the route towards Moel Hebog is almost deserted.

Snowdon in view on approach to Moel Hebog
The ridge is not a great place to find water, but with a bit of planning it can make a good camping spot. As is often the case with trailstar camping in the UK I shared my tent with some clumps of heather.

On Day 3 I could follow my nose back eastwards to Blaenau.

For a spontaneous trip this worked well. The distances felt long, although in reality they were not ambitious. But recovery was quick which means my level of fitness is adequate for the Scotland next week, although my planned distances will need to be cut on the first few days. Weather conditions in Wales were ideal, and this is unlikely for the whole of a traverse of Scotland.

The gear was fine, although not tested by heavy rain - that has been done before for all but my boots. I need to make some small modifications to my pack if I can. The Ospey EXOS 45 has a large frame which often slips from my hips so I hope to shorten the hip belt.

road to Croesor

Ready to fledge - Great Tit update

So who do you think will go first?

That one down there on the right!

Hauling himself on top of the others

Ready to try out those wings

Sunday, 27 April 2014

TGOC 2014 route day by day

There has been some strange happenings with my access to OS mapping. After a couple of weeks it suddenly became unavailable. At first I thought it was a service problem, but other sites continued to work normally.

Without help from OS Technical Support all I could do was set up a new user ID and register my web pages exactly as before using the new access code. After waiting some time it seems that, with the new code, things are back to how they were before. Without knowing the cause of the problem however I cannot be confident that the maps will not disappear again!

If you want to see the whole route and you did not find your way there before use these day-by-day links. Click on each day to see the route marked in blue. You can pull the map around in the window below and zoom in and out. To return to the list use the browser back key.

Nettles are in Season!

The stinging nettle as food has always intrigued me, but upto now their handling has been a mystery. 'Young shoots' are usually required but, as I remember, new or old they always sting. And so, year after year, I have postponed trying them.

Well, this spring I assigned a couple of hours to nettle research and handling - resulting in nettle soup and nettle bread.

The trick in handling is to use gloves of course . Picking nettles in April - any will do. The big bunch in the picture came from one corner of the garden and yielded around 400 grams of leaves.

After picking swap gardening gloves for Marigolds and wash in cold water before stripping off the leaves and draining in a colander. The more-or-less dry leaves are then put in the microwave 200gm for 2 min on full power to reduce the stinging potential. After this they can be handled with bare hands and easily chopped to make ingredients.

Nettles are supposed to be a good source of iron. But then look here - there's loads of other stuff too calcium, histamine, serotonin (this seems like fantasy to me). Mature nettles contain upto 25% protein apparently! Here are some information videos, including one with a man describing his harvest of nettle roots 'sold for $10 a pound' to make prostate medicine. And here is a 'traditional' nettle eating competition from Dorset held at the Bottle Inn, Marshwood, Bridport, DT6 5QJ (the 2014 event is due on June 7th).

So for nettle soup I recommend Darina Allen's recipe, but go easy on the cream which robs the subtle nettle flavour. I replaced the chicken stock with a strong fish stock, mmmm tastey!

For the bread use about 300 gms of roughy chopped leaves and mix into the dough. I used 60% wholewheat flour; probably a larger proportion of white will let the subtle flavour of the nettles shine through more.

The leaves turn dark in the baked loaf and the flavour is not very pronounced. The loaf above has about 220gm of leaf, probably too little.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

New light weight boots from Scarpa

Scarpa Rebel Lite

On the last long walk my feet suffered badly from Scarpa SLs.

There's half a size or a bit more difference between my feet, and getting a perfect fit is impossible. Walking long in Scotland means walking with wet feet, and good fitting shoes and thoughtful foot-care is essential.

There are many who forego the traditional mountain boot for light-weight trail shoes. It is liberating to walk in shoes that weigh so little, but for a long trek with a backpack over rough ground I need more support. Over the last two years I've tried many boots, and eventually I bought the new Scarpa Rebel Lite GTX.

If you look at the website here they seem to tick all the right boxes as a combined mountain and trekking boot.

Are these perfect? I don't think so. I replaced the footbed with Superfeet and, for my smaller right foot, I added a heel wedge. I Still have some small movement at the heel.

So far I've used them for a few day walks. Much on grass rather than rock. To simulate mountain terrain I walked back and forth on steps near St Aldhelm's Head 11 times - probably 800+ metres up and down - without any foot problems.

Taking them on and off seems easier than many boots and shoes - something to do with the design of the tongue and lacing system. Scarpa call this 'sock fit' and it does feel a bit different. With Gortex lining they are quite warm (memo to myself to take my boots off when I stop for a rest) - it is unfortunate to have feet that are wet from perspiration.

They fail to grip in chalky mud (Dorset) which clags in the sole. Mud from peat (Derbyshire) is handled better.

Update. Three long days walking on mixed terrain in North Wales confirms that these are great on rocky ground. The stiff-ish sole levels out uneven stone surfaces and the slight flex is fine on road and prepared tracks. Traversing sloping ground they are reasonable supportive and on uneven, pathless terrain and on wet, soft ground they remained waterproof and attached to my feet. There were no blisters or other contra-indications.

Each boot with a Superfeet footbed weighs in at 850 gm (size 46 / UK 11) - to my surprise this is not much more that double that of my Inov8 Terrocs. The sole seems reliably stiff, and can take a crampon, but also flexes slightly when striding out. Not as thick as some other boots.

Ueli Steck is said to have a hand the design. If you've not come across this phenomena look here. There are several other films of this mountain speed king including some in Scotland. Does his amazing performance give something to these boots?

Having read about them on Scarpa's website my dilemma was to find a stockist and get them fitted. They seemed quite rare in January. From previous experience I know that it is good to have boots to wear around the home for several days to confirm the fit - our local Cotswold shop is one supplier that encourages this. I found that Snow and Rock had stock and I ordered two adjacent sizes. After two weeks I decided which I wanted (forgoing the temptation to take one boot of each pair for my odd sized feet) and send the second pair back for a refund.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Revealed at last: TGO challenge 2014 route day 1 Torridon

The TGO Challenge requires each participant to plot a route from one of several points on the west coast of Scotland to the East coast. Each year the chairman lists the more unpopular of these starting points and urges members to use these. One such place is Torridon. Probably less popular by virtue of being the most northern, and also not so well served by public transport.

On the map it looks very attractive - with hill, beach, youth hostel, and pub.

The earliest sign-out time is 9:00am, regarded by many as a late start and thus deserving a short first day. My route leads to a popular camping spot on the other side of Achnashellach, but at 32km with some significant ascent this is really too far. I want to take in the two mountain tops of Sgorr Ruadh and Fuar Tholl.

With fine weather a high camp near Fuar Tholl by Loch Coire Lair is an attractive option on the map, but this will leave me with 6 or 7km to catch up on the next day, probably impossible. The obvious alternative is to camp in the valley near the river, but this does not look discrete enough.

The OS Map show above can be pulled around in the frame and zoomed in and out.

This page can also be accessed from here.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Bird Update

It has been a busy few weeks for our great tit - finding more and more fine nesting material and tucking it into place. Making just the right shape.

This pose though, seems to be more about arranging the content of the nest than its structure.

Eventually, all is revealed. Eight eggs!

And elsewhere in the garden an heavily loaded blackbird is making up for lost time!
Blackbird with nesting material