I hate typing. But I enjoy writing. Writing with a pen lets my thoughts flow unbound by my incapacity to touch type. I think that’s why I’ve let blogging slip at times. I’d rather write my adventures down as I relive them in my head and feel the emotion. But I also enjoy sharing my journeys with others. So typing up my hand written accounts may just have to be a bit of a chore. I could photocopy what I’ve written; only no-one else would be able to read it.

I’ve been off the grid for the last three months or so. There is a simple reason for this. I’ve not been out. I completely lost my desire to go outside and sit on a mountain (and also as a result I’ve not been reading or writing about the outdoors). So what have I been up to? Expanding my mind. It’s resulted in me spending days recovering, but, despite times when I’ve felt I’m wasting the summer, I feel like I now know what I want out of the next few years of my life. I’ve spent a long time thinking and reflecting about life in general, and I now feel I understand myself better as a person. Now after all my soul searching I have an aim. Well, several to be honest.

First and foremost is to get outside enjoying myself as often as I can. Be it backpacking, running, walking, climbing or just sitting there, enjoying the view.

Secondly, I want to climb more, learn rope work skills and become more confident on the rock.

Thirdly I wish to complete the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc. Myself and a friend have found three races next year that give us the 7 points needed to qualify for the 2014 UTMB. These are, the High Peak Marathon, the Fellsman and the Ultra Tour of the South West. Completion of these will get us to Chamonix in 22 months time.

I’ve realised that the hills are my way of restoring my soul. When I get out I feel much more whole as a human being, and enjoy every aspect of my life more. If I don’t make the effort I find myself taking a more destructive route in my quest for happiness and solace. And that route is a dangerous and fine line. One from which several friends (and perhaps even myself) have come close to leaving over the summer. And as I watch my friends who are close to losing control, these thoughts have become ever more pressing in my mind. I’ve known for a while that hills and drugs do similar things to my brain. Only the feelings I get from hills are so much more natural and rewarding. So I’ll take that route thank you.

Langdale inversion, August 2012

For two weeks in July I’m going to be in Durmitor National Park in Montenegro with some friends. Despite being in the pipeline for a while I’m only writing about it now it’s all confirmed (I’ll be on a plane to Croatia at the very least).

Getting there is a little tricky, we have to fly to Dubrovnik in Croatia, before getting two buses to Zabljak, in the National Park. Along with all the faff of buying food and fuel for two weeks whilst out there, this will take a couple of days.

The park itself has been around 60 odd years, and contains the Tara river canyon, which I believe is the second longest river canyon in the world (after the obvious). Many of the mountains rise to well over 2000m. We’re planning to go over the 2500m mark on one or two occasions. Saying all this, many of the valleys are quite high up, Zabljak is at around 1500m so the acsent is probably comparable to Scotland.

If it were only me going, I’d be camping alone high up in the mountains. As it isn’t just me, and the others don’t seem so keen on that, we’ll be staying in huts/camping near them.

Why go? It’s cheap. Very much so in fact. Flights cost me £190, and apart from food and about £20-30 for the bus, there is no other cost. The huts we intend to stay in are free, and so is camping. At least as far as I’m aware. For once I’m not actually organising anything. So hopefully I’ll get away with spending well under £300.

It’s Alpine, without being massively overcrowded and as the picture below shows, very beautiful.

This will be my first time walking outside of the UK, so perhaps obviously, I’m rather excited.

And the other things? They’re not confirmed yet, so I’ll hold back on those just now. But they’re not all walking based. That much I’ll give away.

Firefox seems to be having a slight fit at the number of pictures in this post and keeps crashing. Perhaps a hint I went a little overboard with the photos? I still need to add maps, but I’ll do that when my browser decides to stop giving up the ghost.

The plan was simple. Walk over the Lairig Ghru and down to the Currour bothy. Sleep. Get up and walk the ridge of mountains to the west. At least it seemed simple at 11pm at night after a few beers.

At 10am the next morning the seven of us were standing by the bus ready to head off. It had snowed again in the night, bringing the snow level up to ‘quite deep’. It also looked like it was going to snow some more.

As we set off beneath leaden skies we immediately failed to find the path under the pristine white blanket covering the ground. After faffing around for 10 minutes and several cases of doubling back we just struck out across the heather in the hope of finding it later. We did, although even once we had a path our progress was still slow.

On the hill in the distance we could see the scar that was the Chalamain gap waiting for us. As we approached it the ground got more and more rocky, until for the last few hundred meters we had to creep over snow covered boulders with no real idea where the ankle breaking gaps in between were. We made it across and found a place out of the wind to eat lunch.

Soon we were all feeling cold, even when sheltered, so once more we began walking. The snow here was even deeper than lower down, now coming up to our knees a lot of the time. Progress was slow.

The snow got even deeper. Progress got slower. However it was hilarious to watch each other struggle and flail around.

The gorge blocking our way to the path over the pass was getting closer and we could see just how steep the far side was. In the end we had a sketchy descent down to the beck at the followed by an interesting ascent whereby we had to kick steps all the way up.

We had another rest before beginning our final push to the top. It turned into another punishing slog through snow that was still getting deeper, and whilst absolutely knackering, it was still great to be out in so much snow. The weather was slowly improving, adding to our spirits.

At about 3:30pm we finally crested the final rise giving us views far to the south. In five and a half hours we had managed 5 miles, with 3 and a half still to go.

A descent down a slope in waist deep snow lead up to the Pools of Dee for second lunch. By this point the cloud had lifted, giving us views of the summits. However here, and for the rest of the way to the bothy, the path would appear for 50m or so, and then disappear beneath waist deep drifts for another 100m.

I was getting hungry and fatigued, but the weather kept improving, and looking back we got a view that took the breath away.

A final push across some rough ground and a river crossing saw us to the bothy, where we all dived inside to eat and get warm. After Christmas pudding steamed in gin and whisky (I advise all of you to try this one), we all went to bed and I slept solidly until the morning. I nipped out a couple of times over the evening, and it was absolutely freezing, although by moonlight everything seemed to get more beautiful, albiet in an eeire way.

The next day started off nicely, a smattering of high cloud, but it looked to be a nice day. By the time we started walking the summit of Ben Machdui was no longer visible. As we started up the slope to the back of the bothy the weather steadily got worse. We could also now see that our planned route to the ridge was over a kilometre on the kind of terrain we’d been slogging through the previous day. Eager to avoid this we instead opted for a direct route up the Devils Point. We scrambled and kicked our way over rocks and up snow slopes, passing a couple of points I was dubious about my ability to retreat over without crampons. The weather really closed in on us to boot, with snow flurrying round us as we climbed. Surprisingly soon the gradient eased and we soon gained the summit and its welcoming shelter.

Carn Toul took hours to get to. Marching through the snow and ice in near white out conditions (all we could see was the cliff edge we walking by) combined with the cold really started to get to me a bit, and lunch was a welcome relief. It was strangely peaceful as I ate, unable to see anything but the cairn and my companions. Soon we all got cold again and so continued round the ridge.

Somewhere along here we made a navigational error (not the best thing to do in a white out) and ended up walking some way off the west side of the ridge we were following. I still don’t know how we did it. After several minutes of map reading we readjusted ourselves and luckily found the edge again.

From there we took a bearing across the summit plateau to Einich Cairn. It took a bit of courage to leave the security of the ridge, where we could see the cliff edge (albeit corniced in places) and walk into the whiteness. About 15 minutes later a cairn loomed up out of the sky/ground. We then aimed for a spot height in the middle of the plateau, but we were unable to find the top of a slight rise in the ground when there were no references at all. I admit at this point I started to get a bit nervous, as these were now the most ‘serious’ conditions I’d ever been. With the weather worsening and the summit on the edge of an almighty drop we weren’t entirely sure we’d be able to see, we decided discretion was the better option and bailed out to the north west down a very steep slope into Gleann Einich. From there we followed the track out to the road where we got ourselves picked up by other friends.

An epic two days in, for me, the most challenging conditions I’ve ever been walking in.

Two and a half years ago I got myself an Alpkit Pipedream 600 in the last ‘garage sale’ they held. £90 it cost me. Only one slight problem. It’s rated to minus 10. This is great in the middle of winter, but not so in summer. As a consiquence I have sweated my way through most backpacking trips scince.

Why would I buy such a bag in the first place, you ask? Well, it was £90. To a 16 year old with little money, a down bag weighing 950g (my previous bag was 1400g) this is a no brainer. As for the warmth, I had no experience in just how warm it would be. It’s almost always unzipped, and I tend to sleep with it ‘upside down’ so most of the down is underneath me.

I also bought it as an investment. My plans were always to progress into winter backpacking, and I felt this was a too good an oppertunity to pass up on a bag so warm.

As a result I’ve never felt I can give it a proper review, because I’m mainly using it in conditions it’s not meant to be used in.

To cut to the point in hand, I’ve saved up enough student loan to finally get myself a sleeping bag designed for use in summer (and some time either side). So, at some point in the next month or so a PHD Minimus down bag will be arriving at my door. I’ve ordered it with a full length zip; I like being able to ventalate. History has told me it’s a good option to have.

I’m already overly excited.

It turns out exams are slightly more stressful at university. And also much much harder. So I’m locked in my room revising, learning and coding at the moment. Not the most glamourous of lives, but I’m taking a break with a ‘luxury’ trip to Snowdonia at the weekend. Think cream teas and cheese boards on a mountain and you’re almost there. The idea is to have a laugh with some friends for a couple of days and hopefully de-stress.

And I’ve almost finished another post on the Cairngorms trip. Just photos et al to add. Hopefully I’ll get it uploaded tonight if I finish work with enough energy to spare.

Edit: Turns out the answer to that is no.

Getting up to the Cairngorms is no mean feat in a minibus that is helpfully limited to 62mph. Luckily I managed to convince a bunch of the Imperial lot to pick me up from Derby as opposed to making me get myself down to London. This saved 3 hours off the journey up there. In the end we arrived at a reasonable time having had a startlingly good run up.

Upon arrival the sensible thing would have been to relax and get an early night in. We didn’t. Instead we set about creating a giant cake we dubbed ‘the beast’, made of cereals, marshmallows, flapjacks, brownies and biscuits; all of which was held together by 12kg of chocolate. Our ‘healthy’ snack for the week complete we finally retired for the night after the second bus arrived. Outside the snow was already falling.

Date: 03/04/12

Distance: 8.4 miles

Ascent: 1770 feet

As we got up the sun was shining and the ground was carpeted in snow. So we quickly got ready and were soon on our way. The going was slow as we trekked past Glenmore Lodge. Walking in a large group of a dozen or so people is always thus, especially as several of the club are more inclined to the ambling side of walking, but today the snow was slowing people down even more.

We eventually emerged out of the forest and immediately headed straight up the flank of Creag nan Gall. The wind had picked up and it was now very cold, even whilst walking. The views all around were simply stunning. It was fantastic to be out.

In the distance we could see large showers moving in from the east. Nobody stopped for long on the summit, the wind was far too bitter, and we were soon ploughing along with the intention of following the ridge up onto Cairngorm.

However soon enough we got caught in one of the showers we’d seen approaching and in the ensuing white out a lot people let it be known that they really wanted to head back down. Soon we were out of the cloud and down the flank of the mountain and the shower passed, giving lovely weather once more. I was a little fed up having suspected this would happen as we quietly plodded round the base of Cairngorm for a while before making the way back to Glenmore.

That evening over a few beers seven of us hatched a plan. It involved a bothy, and a nice long walk…

The snow fell mostly on the first night. A few more showers the following day topped it up. Unfortunately the only time the tops were ever free of clag we were wading down the Lairig Gruh in waist deep snow. So when we did get up high things tended to be one colour. White.

A dreamlike dawn ascent of Cadair Idris to watch the sunrise turned into a surreal experience in a world of mist and ice before a hasty descent from the bitter cold summit revealed a spectacular early morning view.

More on this and other antics from the weekend soon.

Date: 18/02/12

Distance: 15.0 miles

Ascent: 4500ft

Saturday looked crap as I stared out the window of the hall. The clag was down and the rain looked set in. So Jack and I decided to form a splinter group and run/walk the Helvellyn ridge as 4 Inns training.

As we pulled into Patterdale the rain stopped and the clag lifted, showing the snow covered tops all around. Only I’d purposefully left my camera back at base. Sod. We could have decided for a gentler walk for the day, but my mind was geared for a challenge, so we decided to do it anyway.

The path up Grisedale, was as ever, delightful. The route climbs gently and soon we were at the edge of Grisedale Tarn. We made quick progress up Dollywagon Pike, passing over the snow line in the process. Taking a couple of breathers we admired the frankly astonishing views down to Windermere and across to Langdale. This was not the day to be without a camera.

Two hours into the day and we were on Helvellyn. We had a brief chat with some climbers about the chances of those trying to cross Striding Edge. It was incredibly windy by this point. On the decent off Lower Man I almost came a cropper as I was caught by the wind on a steep patch of ice and almost blown clean over the edge. I took the remaining section down the pass very slowly indeed.

Up and down we went, getting blown over once or twice all the way to Great Dodd. Then  the weather turned and in came the cloud and the hail. Quickly we sheltered in the summit shelter, before covering our faces and braving the elements to somehow navigate off the correct side of the hill (using a compass with a buff completely covering your face is rather tricky). The mist lifted as we neared the summit of Clough Head, before a thrilling and speedy decent all the way to the A66. Four hours fifty in total. Then we went to the pub.

Date: 19/02/12

Distance: 5.7 miles

Ascent: 3000ft

Sunday was a beautiful day, one of those where words just won’t do my experiences justice. It was quite possibly the best days walking I’ve ever had in Lakeland. So I’ve skimped on words and just added lots of pictures. This time I made sure I had my camera.

The northern fells seemed to have the most of the snow, and so we had Skiddaw in our sights before heading back to London.

As we walked up through the woods around Dodd we were all in base layers in the strong sun. Winter is losing its grip to spring at last.

It stayed warm even out of the woods until upon cresting Carl Side we were forced into fleeces and waterproofs to keep off the wind.

The final stretch of hillside then presented itself to us, and I had to kick steps in the ice in one or two places to stop myself slipping. It was a good job I’d opted for my boots unlike the day before.

We had lunch just off the summit, and I spied one or two likely looking wild camp spots in the depths of the northern fells. The views in all directions were amazing, in the distance we could see the snow capped Pennines and to the north the snow covered Galloway hills. We then took a quick detour to Little Man before following the tourist track back to the road.

Yet again I’ve let things get out of hand. Currently the weeks are just a blur of activity, and the weekends no better.

I’ve finally taken the plunge and entered the 4 Inns with a couple of mates who are up for making a wreck of themselves. At the moment I”m training most days.

The Lakes are calling however, and as such they are my destination for the weekend. In the pipeline for Saturday is a jaunt round the barren northern fells, where I’m hoping for a lack of people. Sunday will probably consist of a short walk before the long drive back to London.

It’s been far too long.