Tobar nan Ceann Gang

The blog of a bunch of middle aged men trying to stay youthful…!

Oct-4-2011

The Cobbler

Thanks to some good fortune we found ourselves with a bonus free weekend and the opportunity to do a little hill walking before the winter sets in. The late arrangements meant that there weren’t many of us on the trip – just Craig, Jay, Jeff and Jock, but it was a good walk nevertheless!

The Indian Summer was in full swing in England – 27 degrees in Bolton at the end of September is pretty much unheard of! In typical TNC Gang style we decided to head for Arrochar in the South Highlands of Scotland to explore The Cobbler and discover the only place in the UK where it was raining and miserable!

The Cobbler – Our Inspirational Picture…

So the question had been – where shall we go? The answer was easy really and having seen pictures like the one above we knew that we wanted to do “The Cobbler”! Officially known as Ben Arthur, The Cobbler is 2900 feet high (848m) which is just short of being a munro, but its a great challenge nonetheless!

We left early on the Saturday morning to meet up with Jeff at Charing Cross in Glasgow. Marek had planned to join us but work intervened at the last moment leaving just the 4 of us. The drive up to Arrochar was broken into 2 with a welcome stop at McDonalds in Balloch at the foot of Loch Lomond, for breakfast. The rain was still falling steadily when we got to the car park on the banks of Loch Long. The loch is a sea loch and is tidal (when we got the tide was out). It is 20 miles long and extends into the Firth of Clyde at its south eastern end.

The walk got underway at about 10.15 and started with a trek that meandered back and forth up the steep hillside  away from the loch. The path went through forest, some of which had been cut down leaving swathes of seemingly unmanaged rough ground which is now peppered with the omni-present Himalayan Balsam – a nuisance everywhere you go these days. After the initial climb the layers soon started to get peeled off – it may have been wet but it wasn’t cold! For a while the walk was reasonably flat.

Visibility was poor and there was no sign of the peak that ought to have been clearly visible by now. Along the way we  saw many more walkers on the route – most notably Alex who was from the Czech Republic and spent much of the walk with us.

Along the route were many massive boulders which were pretty slippy in the conditions. The path also criss crossed lots of small streams that were getting fuller as the day went on. Had the conditions allowed, we would have known that we had got to the base of the main climb up to the summit. Our only clue was the obvious change in terrain as the path started to climb sharply upwards into the mist. Dotted around were plenty of small caves and cracks and crevices in the hillside. Some were like giant rabbit warrens although seemingly “too small for my girth…” – cheeky sods!

Eventually we made it to the top of the main climb and were presented with a choice of left or right to access the main pinnacles of The Cobbler. We elected to go right first and after scrambling up some large and extremely slippy polished rocks  we reached the North Peak which was marked by a small cairn. The views were non existent but it was apparent to all that the drops on all sides were substantial! As at Scafell Pike four weeks earlier, there wasn’t much time for hanging around, just a quick picture and away! We returned back to the ridge and then ascended the Central Peak which has the iconic rock and marks the true summit. Conditions however took a turn for the worse and the rain was heavy which (luckily as far as I’m concerned!) ruled out any chance of scrambling up onto the rock.  Again, there were a few quick pictures and we were away back down the hill.

The walk down was marked by an improvement in the conditions and the clouds parted to give us a view of the summit that we had climbed. Once we got to the bottom the tide was in and the loch was looking much better!

It was then appropriate to find a pub to toast ourselves – and Ben Arthur’s Bothy was just fine! In total we had been out walking for around 5 hours and had covered 7.2 miles. In better conditions we may have chosen to extend the walk to take in the adjacent Beinn Ime and Beinn Narnain but that will now have to wait for another time…


Click here for summary details from the GPS or here to download the GPX file for the route.

View The Cobbler Photo Gallery

Sep-11-2011

Scafell Pike Weekend

Skafell Pike

Back down to the Lake District for the latest adventure of the TNC Gang, this time to tackle England’s highest Mountain – Scafell Pike and to try the scary looking Via Ferrata on Fleetwith Pike at Honister. The weekend was also going to be the first time of staying in a Youth Hostel which given our ages, seemed inappropriately named!

Stevie and Jay were TNC debutants for the weekend and they were joined by Hammy, Jock, the two Johns and Toba from north of the border and Craig and Neal from Bolton. Previous TNC trips had seen some pretty favourable weather – not this time!!! Has anyone ever been any wetter?!

After very early starts from our homes we met up at Seathwaite in time for us to make a start on the hike just after 9am. The plan was to ascent Scafell Pike using a route in a recent ‘Trail’ Magazine that would also allow us to conquer 2 other Wainwrights – Scafell and Great End. As we set off from Seathwaite Farm, the rain was coming down steadily, the hills were shrouded in mist and the forecast was gloomy. The rivers in the valley bottoms were running fast and deep whilst the becks and waterfalls on the sides of the fells were white with fast, cascading water.

Given the conditions the initial progress was quite slow and it was obvious that the longer planned route, wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. So we divided into 2 groups. The two Johns and Toba went off to Wasdale whilst the rest of us battled on up the hillside.

The higher we climbed the gloomier it got. We followed the path as best we could but there were times when we just weren’t certain where we were going! We did our best with the maps and GPS but eventually, soaked to the skin and waning in enthusiasm, we abandoned plans for a longer route and concentrated on getting to the top of Scafell Pike.

The route was made easier by the presence of many cairns marking the way. They were a godsend in the conditions and for all those campaigning to have them removed – think again! The upper slopes of Scafell Pike are characterised by large boulder fields. They were very slippy and awkward to cross and progress was very slow. Eventually though we made it to the top. Any expectations of feelings of euphoria were replaced by relief and a desperate struggle not to get blown over!

We didn’t stay long and promptly set off back down the hill. We chose to return to Seathwaite via Esk Hause and after a couple of wrong turns we were back on track and clambering over boulders, following the cairns. Much of the return was alongside streams which were still raging and thunderously noisy! On many occasions we had to try and cross them – ordinarily that would mean nothing more than stepping across but today it was about jumping, hoping and getting very wet feet!

Finally we returned to the car at Seathwaite Farm, surprised that the 2 Johns and Toba hadn’t yet got back down the mountain. Theirs is a separate tale…!

It was a good walk and very challenging in the conditions, but this is one that I would like to try again in the future – just in better conditions!

 

 

Youth Hostel

Overnight accommodation was arranged at the Borrowdale Youth Hostel. It was the first time that we had used any of the YHA properties and any worries about us being too old were well wide of the mark! If anything we were possibly the youngest of the 80+ people staying on Saturday night!

Having booked accommodation for 8 of us we were allocated bunk beds in the one 8 bunk room that they had… not ideal! The facilities were good though. Thankfully they had tumble dryers as well as a drying room; cooked meals (and kitchen facilities for anyone wishing to cook their own) and perhaps most importantly – alcohol was available from reception!

The fact that there was 9 of us meant that Jay had to stay at the nearby Gillecombe Bed and Breakfast accommodation. It was warm and comfortable and he was mothered by the landlady who made sure he was fed and watered and that all of his clothes and boots were warm and dry by the morning!

Sunday 4th September

Woke up with a slightly dodgy head but pleasantly surprised that I’d enjoyed a full nights sleep considering I was in a room with 7 other blokes! Thankfully the rainclouds of yesterday were replaced by bright blue skies and warm sunshine which was a relief for us all.

After a reasonable cooked breakfast at the Youth Hostel, we paid a visit to Keswick to see the Castlerigg Stone Circle. The circle is around 4,500 years old and is surrounded by fells on every side, a fabulous setting and well worth a visit, even if it isn’t quite on the same scale as Stonehenge!

But looking around the ancient stones was only really filling in time, waiting for the main event. Unfortunately the Via Ferrata wasn’t booked until 3pm so there was a little more waiting still to be done. This gave those not taking part the opportunity to leave for home and so goodbyes were said to the two Johns, Stevie and Toba.

After enjoying coffees and then lunch in Keswick it was soon time for the Via Ferrata which is located on Fleetwith Pike at Honister. Via Ferrata actually means ‘Road of Iron’ and involves ascending the steep rock face by standing on step irons drilled deep (hopefully!) into the rock. At all times you are harnessed and clipped onto a steel cable for safety but there are still places where fear strikes home!

There were about a dozen people in our party and after putting on the harnesses and hard hats it was time to make a start on the initial ascent up the mountain. The advertised 4×4 transportation turned out to be an old bus, but no worries as we bagged the back seat! There were also a few children in the party which took away any apprehension that I might have had!

After a brief walk through dark and wet mine tunnels we arrived at the start point on the cliff face and attached our harnesses to the cable. Every few metres or so, we would reach a point where the cable is fixed to the rock and so the harness had to be unclipped and then reclipped on the other side. Having two clips meant that you were always clipped on – unless you were daft enough to unclip them both at the same time!

At this point it’s probably worth mentioning that they don’t allow you to use your own camera. I thought that that was just so that you would purchase the official photographs, but its probably because a camera is easy to drop… gutted!

Anyway, its fair to say that I have had sweaty palms every time I’ve thought about the Via Ferrata for weeks. But in all honesty most of the climb wasn’t scary. I felt totally secure on the harness and had no problems leaning over the edge – totally reliant on the safety equipment. Possibly the hardest aspects of the trip were the ascent of vertical ladders (which relied quite a bit on upper body strength – not exactly my forte!) and climbing round corners that required a very long step – pushing out your foot and hoping to feel something secure to stand on!

Mid way through the ascent was a zip wire crossing which added to the overall experience but in truth that was over just a bit too quickly! After that it was back on the steel rope and up to the top, passing a few psycho mountain sheep that make light work of the terrain. Group pictures were taken at the top before a speedy walk back down the hill to the café that was now closing for the day.

All in all the activity lasted for about 3 hours and was very good value at £35. I personally think that it would be very good to help anyone overcome a little fear of heights – I know it worked for me!

Why not have a look at the weekends photo’s, Scafell Pike Weekend Photo Galleries

Jun-19-2011

Ben Lomond

 

 

Following the success of the last TNC hike up Blencathra in the Lake District, this time we returned to Scotland to embark on our first Munro – Ben Lomond – and at 3196 ft. (974m) it was our highest peak to date.

There was a good turn out for this walk. Craig and Neal came up from Bolton to join Hammy, Jamie, Jock (Larkhall) Jeff, Marek (Glasgow) and Tober (Falkirk). We met at the Rowardennan car park on the Eastern shores of Loch Lomond at 9.15am and after half an hours preparation we were off and away up the trail.

Ex para-trooper Hammy showed a keen turn of pace to leave most of the group wishing that Stuart had turned up – even if it was just so that we got more rest stops along the way! Hammy also brought with him something that had been missing from the TNC for some time – local area knowledge! Previously we had got by with half truths and just made up the bits we didn’t know – but with Hammy it was a whole new ball game!

The path up Ben Lomond (tourist path) was steep and relentless. Being the most southerly Munro it is one of the most walked. Consequently the track is worn and the mountainside eroded, quite badly in places. Volunteers have worked tirelessly to put down a hard rock surface to ease the environmental impact but this can also be a problem for the walkers as much of the ascent is like climbing a hard staircase and it wasn’t that much fun on the legs.

All week, the forecast had been for sustained periods of heavy rain and everyone was prepared for the worst – but once again the fortune of the TNC meant that we escaped from the worst of the weather and even saw some sunshine! Unfortunately though, the top of the mountain was stuck in the clouds which made for a bit of a low key celebration at the top. Visibility was down to a few metres, it was windy and raining – not a very pleasant place to be.

So after a few minutes and a number of photos we set off back down the mountain, we took the alternative, harder descent, going down the rocky path north-west from the summit. The descent was very steep until we were out the cloud then we stopped for a bite to eat and a well-earned rest before climbing south-west to Ptarmigan at 731 metres. From here the route followed a nobly ridge for much of the descent which was more challenging and the overall path a little longer than the tourist path, the plus side we had excellent views down Loch Lomond.

In total we covered about 12.5 Km (7.7 miles) and were back down and in the pub by 3pm for a well earned pint and a bowl of chips!

Once again it was a good walk, we had new members (Hammy and Marek) and everyone was keen for another walk to be organised in the near future. Another success!

One Munro down, 282 to go…

GROUP PHOTO

Click here for the Ben Lomond Photo Gallery

Apr-5-2011

Lake District – ‘Blencathra via Sharp Edge’

In early April 2011, 5 members of the TNC Gang met up near Keswick in the Lake District for what proved to be a great weekend of hiking and scrambling. Numbers for the walk were depleted thanks to Mothers Day but those that did attend were pushed to the limits of their ability whilst tackling Blencathra via Sharp Edge and Foule Crag.

The 5 involved were Craig, Jock, Stuart and Neal along with debutant TNC member Harvey. Excellent Bed and Breakfast accommodation was provided at the Scales Farm Country Guest House and this is very much recommended for anyone staying in the area. Alan, the guy that runs the place even doubled up as taxi driver to and from the pubs in Keswick on the Saturday night – first class!   –   Don’t forget to visit our personal Photo Galleries

Saturday 2nd April 2011

Having arranged to meet in Mungrisdale at 9am it came as a shock to find that Jock could not remember the meeting point.  Having no phone signals made the confusion even worse! That minor issue was soon overcome and by the time we did meet up, the heavy rain had slowed to a drizzle and we set off from Mungrisdale (pronounced Mun-GRIZE-dl, with the emphasis on Grize) taking a pathway up the side of Souther Fell.

The skies were grey and heavily overcast but the rain petered out without wetting us too much. The ascent wasn’t particularly difficult but was an initial shock to the system for those bodies that hadn’t done much walking for a while! Once close to the top, Souther Fell (pronounced Sooter) became a very long and mainly flat plateau of land – perfect for getting into our stride having worked the muscles on the way up.

As we headed towards Blencathra, the view of Sharp Edge became visible as the cloud level started to lift. Slowly but surely blue sky started to become visible and a short time later the rain clouds were gone and we were left with clear skies and great weather – if a little windy in places!

The pathway curled round and up Blencathra alongside a tumbling stream that came down from Scales Tarn at the foot of Sharp Edge. The ascent was fairly easy going and the not always complementary references to Julia Bradbury were pretty regular! Soon the tarn was reached and the quiet banks of the water were chosen as an ideal place for a spot of lunch. From here, Sharp Edge and Foule Crag loomed high to our right and the excitement started to build. There were no suggestions of taking the easier route to the left of the tarn and everyone knew just by looking, that this was going to be an achievement to be proud of!

Lunch over and it was time to tackle Sharp Edge which had now become the only reason for the weekend. The pathway up to the rocky edge was steep and soon the clear path gave way to rocky outcrops that needed to be scrambled over. Craig and Neal in their haste, sought the naturally easier route without realising that they had missed the start of the more challenging traverse of the ridge whilst thanks to Harvey, Jock and Stuart did the whole of Sharp Edge from beginning to end.

From a personal point of view I found the experience of Sharp Edge very satisfying. The drops on either side were spectacular and focussed the mind on staying alive! For me there was definitely an element of fear, my heart was beating fast and although the actual traverse wasn’t that difficult, I knew that a single slip would certainly hurt a hell of a lot if not prove fatal. I had one dodgy moment when I needed to turn round and come down a section backwards – my inexperience really showed and I don’t mind admitting I felt “a little scared”!

The fear only added to the sense of achievement on getting to the other end and a well earned rest before tackling Foule Crag which is (apparently) a Grade 1 Scramble. That means it’s as hard a climb that there is before ropes and climbing equipment are required! Bearing in mind that the drop beneath us was now even further than on Sharp Edge, the fear soon returned and the legs started to wobble a bit!

Again, as a result of inexperience there wasn’t that much planning put into my route up the Crag and I hit a spot about 4 or 5 metres up where I just didn’t know where to go! My fingers were in crevices and my toes on small ledges and for a minute I couldn’t go either up or down. However after giving myself a good talking to and heard the words of encouragement from Jock (well sniggers and piss take) composure was regained and the ascent continued.

Eventually the climb became easier as the rock face got less severe. Crikey was I buzzing when I got to the top! The adrenaline rush was amazing and I don’t think any of us noticed any of the remaining walk to the summit of Blencathra.

The views from the top were spectacular – Carlisle, the Solway Firth and Scotland to the North; Penrith and the Pennines to the East; the Irish Sea to the West and the spectacle that is the Lake District in the South. Awesome stuff!

Having spent some time wallowing in our own glory we set off again, this time in the direction of Bannerdale Crags and then on to Bowscale Fell. From there we completed our circular route back down to the New Inn in Mungrisdale. After Blencathra the walking was pretty sedate with the most challenging section the final descent off the ridge at Raven Crag and into Mungrisdale.

Bannerdale Crags as a summit was barely noticeable although the large stone cross formed by white rocks in the ground added some interest to an otherwise barren moorland. Stuart laid himself out on the cross for comic effect and then topped it off by producing a kilt from his rucksack!

It was all to much for Harvey who made his excuses and left us early and departed alone via ‘The Tongue’.

The end of the walk was marked with a pint in the New Inn in Mungrisdale – a fitting end to a very good days walking! All in all, our hike was about 9.3 miles long, involved almost 4000 feet of ascent and took just under 7 hours to complete.

Wainwright’s Completed

Souther Fell – 1713 ft (522m)

Blencathra – 2848 ft (868m)

Bowscale Fell – 2303 ft (702m)

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Sunday 4th April 2011

Quite a few beers were consumed on Saturday night so it was a bit of a surprise to wake up on Sunday and feel reasonably fresh and with very few aching muscles from yesterday’s walk. After a good Full English, we agreed on a further walk although there was a little disagreement on whether this would involve going up a hill or round a lake! Anyway by majority of 3 to 1 it was agreed to go up a hill and after Craig failed miserably to find St Johns in the Vale Church (to climb High Rigg), Stuart eventually chose ‘Barrow’ as our hill for the day.

Without posing anything as challenging as Saturdays walk it was still good to get out and stretch the muscles! Again the weather was kind to us and the 3.7 mile route was done in around 2 and a half hours. We parked in a small lay-by just outside Braithwaite – places to park not being too easy to find and then took the route up the northern ridge of the hill. At 455m, Barrow isn’t particularly high but it does offer some stunning views from the summit.

The route back down was through the Barrow Gill which included an impressive deep ravine carved out by a small stream.

The end of the walk marked the end of the weekend with everyone departing in different directions. It was a great weekend and a pleasure, as always to spend time in such good company!

Wainwright’s Completed

Barrow – 1493 ft (455m)

Apr-5-2011

Blencartha Via Sharps Edge