Back in Time – Pyrenees 1993 Part 1   16 comments

As new hikes are currently on hold its time to go back to the 1990’s and relive some memories from trips gone by. 1993 was a year of contrasts for me. I managed to get myself fired from my job and ended up up out of work and back living with my Mom and Dad for a year. On the plus side I managed a couple of superb trips to the mountains. This is the first of those and it remains a classic.

I’ve been very lucky indeed to travel to some wonderful places over the years including Australia but this trip still has a special place in my heart for reasons that will become clear through the next few posts.

1993 was a simpler time. An age without digital photos (hence the rather lower quality of images scanned from photo prints). It was also an age without the Internet so these trips involved planning by guide book, poor quality maps and a whole lot of guess work.

None of us had ever been to the Pyrenees so we thought it would be a great place for a May/June half term week away. Being the high mountain obsessed group we were, we wanted to climb Pico D’Aneto, the highest mountain in the range so we headed for Benasque, the nearest mountain village. Armed with climbing guide books and some frankly appalling quality Spanish military maps we were underway.

In those days we did some pretty intense travelling by car. This trip was started off by seeing Ben Elton (when he was still funny) in Manchester and then driving pretty much straight down to Dover, night ferry to Calais and then a very, very long drive to the Pyrenees via Paris and Bordeaux. At a guess it must be about 1200 miles which we did pretty much non-stop (other than the ferry) starting off late Thursday and arriving late Friday night. I don’t think there is any way I could undertake such a madcap journey now, but we always used to enjoy them. We had no idea whether Benasque had a campsite but as luck would have it did and we found it in the dark! Different times.

We felt we needed to “warm up” before tackling Pico D’Aneto so on our first day we headed off into the Estos Valley to find a wild camp base and climb some mountains. No idea what the valley was like, whether the path was any good or what we’d find. We just found a sign-post by the road, parked up and headed off. Different times!

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It was stunning. Green pastures, clear water streams and towering mountains. Magnificent

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Obviously with this being 28 years ago we all looked very young and had hair! Here is TBF, sporting a very 90’s hairstyle. I should point out that I didn’t have a camera in those days and Smartphones were a long way in the future. The photos are taken by UF and TBF which gives you the dubious pleasure of seeing yours truly in many of them which should give you a laugh if nothing else.

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Having passed the Estos Hut we spied a likely spot down by the river to camp and it was just magnificent.

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Perfect flat grass, right next to the river with mountain views, what could be better. For those of you old enough to remember that’s a Vango Force 10, classic! Lightweight backpacking tents were starting to appear at this point but we thought we could all squeeze into one tent, albeit a heavy one, to be sociable. Different times!

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Not a bad spot eh!

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For our first day out in the mountains we headed up towards the Pico de Posets, second highest summit in the range. I don’t recall if we were actually planning to climb it (much of my recall of the fine detail of this trip is sketchy at best) as its quite hard and loose.

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What I do remember was that bashing up the grassy steep slopes was hard and that in late May there is still an awful lot of snow in the Pyrenees. We had no idea or any way to work out what conditions were going to be like and were rather surprised to find all that snow when we’d expected bare slopes of rock. That snow was very deep, very unconsolidated, very wet and very hard work to climb. Different times!

If we ever did have plans to climb Pico de Posets, I can tell you we got nowhere near it.

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Not that it mattered. The scenery was magnificent and we did manage to climb a couple of small peaks. Looking at my guide book they may have been either or possibly both of the Agujas de la Paul, but in truth I have no idea.

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You can tell from the smiles in most of these photos that we were having a blast anyway. In case you were wondering, that’s me in the middle in the above photo, flanked by THO and UF.

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Summit photo with THO sporting the garden gnome look, me going through a phase of plastering my face and nose with white sun block and looking pretty stupid into the bargain. THO still owns and wears that hat. In fact looking through these photos has me feeling sentimental about t-shirts, shorts and hats that accompanied me on many travels. Different times!

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After hours battering through deep snow we were knackered and feet were wet so we headed back down. Through more wonderful high meadows backed by crags and towering peaks.

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We were much keener, much fitter and much faster in those days but even then we always found time for long rests.

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Still can’t believe how young both me and THO look in this photo! Different times!

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Back to the tent for an evening of fun and frolics by the tent. This involved a fun game of “chucking the onion” between me and THO. How long did that game last? Until the onion went in the river and was washed away of course. Evening meal of tuna, pasta and onion now reduced in taste and quantity by 30%!

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Another New Hill – Burrow   16 comments

My last walk before the lockdowns started to take effect. Looking out of the window at cloudless blue skies and sunshine for the past week, this walk in the midst of the endless days of rain and storms seems a very long time ago not just two weeks back.

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We were on the lookout for a shortish walk in another window between the heavy rains. Strong winds were forecast ruling out the higher mountains so a trip to the wooded hills of Shropshire was the choice. There was a route from Aston on Clun that I’d had in mind for a while taking in a new Marilyn and nice circuit.

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The lower fields and green lanes were as muddy as expected but passable with care to avoid wet feet and excessively muddy trousers!. First summit was the high point of the day, Burrow. Its only just over 1000 feet high but what it lacks in height it makes up for with brutal steepness. Easily as steep a climb (albeit much shorter) than any we did in Scotland the previous weekend.

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Its an old hill fort and the maps showed it to be forested at the top. In fact the trees are very sparse and we timed our arrival for a spell of brighter weather and the views were superb. Out over the Welsh Marches and beyond.

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In fact the summit area was really rather lovely as you can see. The raised earthworks created a maze of small ridges, valleys and paths and save one lone walker (who we saw several times during the day) we had the place to ourselves.

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Views to the Churchstoke Hills as I refer to them.

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And the Shropshire Alps (again my naming convention) around Church Stretton.

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We spent a happy hour wandering around the summit and a stop to take on a few snacks.

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Another very steep descent and re-ascent to pick up the Shropshire Way down to Hopesay Village.

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The fields were a little muddy but some of the views across the green fields were splendid.

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I thought about a walk across the fields to reach Hopesay Common and Hill but I’d had enough of muddy fields for now and the lane looked like a quite and more efficient way to the top.

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Hopesay Hill was fine stretch although the weather turned very gloomy while we were up there. It looked like we were in for a spell of heavy rain but it never arrived fortunately.

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Burrow over to the right.

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We dropped down to the wonderfully named Perry Gutter and thought about finishing off back via the road. We stayed on the paths and glad we did. There was a huge expanse of daffodils in the bottom of the valley and the grassy path across the fields was largely mud free and a very nice finish to the day.

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We clocked up almost 8 miles, not bad for what planned to be a short walk.

So for now, I’m rediscovering my inner cyclist and exploring the lanes and byways of my Herefordshire home to stay fit and healthy. As promised there will be a few blasts from my past to keep the blog juices going.

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Garway Hill Clouds   9 comments

It’s a very different world now to the one when I went on this walk a couple of weeks back. After a day working at home I decided I’d had enough and with the days getting longer headed out to Garway Hill for a brief walk to clear my head.

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Some wonderful cloud effects made it well worthwhile making the effort to head out as well as some welcome fresh air.

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The wild pines kept me company as I was the only person up there. Good practice for the new term of Social Distancing we all are now only too acutely aware of.

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Since then things have escalated quickly and now we are in total lockdown to try and stem the spread of the virus, protect the NHS and above all save lives.

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I went out for a few walks in the weekend leading up to the escalation to full lockdown. We are lucky that our local Black Mountains are quiet and isolated and not widely explored so by careful selection of start points and routes (as well as heading out at 6am for a walk before work) we never met anyone. I won’t be posting about these walks until we are back to normality as I’m still unsure if I did the right thing at the time.

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I have one more walk from a couple of weeks back to write up. After that it will be blog silence for a while. Well, not quite. I’ll be going back into my photo collection from pre-blog days and writing up some of the trips from way back. Nostalgia for me and a chance for people to see what we all looked like when we had hair and hairstyles we’d like to forget! I have some classic holidays and adventures from my youth that I’ve often wanted to share but never found the time. Time is one thing we will all have plenty of in the coming weeks.

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Time to spend quality time with the family, binge watch box sets and lots of cycling around my local lanes. All the very best wishes to everyone and their families in these difficult times.

Posted March 25, 2020 by surfnslide in Local Walks, Walking

Tagged with ,

Showers – and – Sunshine!   16 comments

The Sunday didn’t start well with dark skies and regular heavy showers. We figured the further south we headed away from the bulk of the Southern Highlands would give a better chance of drier weather as well as knocking an hour off the journey home.

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We parked up in the village of Luss based on my plan to climb one of the Luss hills, Mid Hill, that seemed to fit the bill for a summit, not too high but with potential for good views. There was even a path marked, always a bonus in Scotland. It rained on and off during the protracted time we spent faffing around in the car park and on the first part of the walk. We did at least start to get some views over the island studded lower part of Loch Lomond.

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However it was still pretty damp and it looked like another day with waterproofs on.

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As we climbed it stopped raining and there was a little more brightness in the sky. Then as if by magic patches of blue appeared.

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They formed together into larger blue patches and then, miraculously, the sun came out.

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It was fiercely windy but we were happy and surprised just to see sunshine. The forecast wasn’t really promising any but it looked like the decision to head south was paying dividends.

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Even Ben Lomond appeared even though the main Southern Highlands still looked gloomy, dark and stormy.

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Our spirits soared and all was right with the world. The air was clear and the views stupendous. Ben and Loch Lomond make for very fetching views indeed, as do the rest of the Luss Hills range.

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It was a steep climb and very exposed to the wind but with the sun finally appearing we soared up towards the top.

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We were even lucky enough to find a sheltered patch of snow to sit in for lunch. Result.

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The steep ridge ended on the first top Beinn Dubh and onwards to the expansive plateau summit.

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The weather was way better than any of us expected and what had been looking like a bit of a washout weekend was transformed with a superb walk on a little known mountain.

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There are a couple of substantial corries, Coire na h Eanachen and Coire Carlaig that gave a bigger mountain feel.

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Views to Beinn Bhreac that we climbed a couple of trips back.

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Ben Lomond.

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The Trossachs.

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By the time we reached the high point we’d used up all our weather good fortune. We were blasted by a severe and very nasty snow and hail storm you can see approaching below.

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For fifteen minutes it was as nasty a spell as I’ve been out in for a while. We were all coated in icy wet snow and mad a very swift exit down the ridge above Glen Striddle.

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As quickly as the blizzard arrived, it stopped and blue skies came back although not for very long as the rest of the afternoon was punctuated by several short showers.

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We still had our couple of hours in the sunshine and sometimes when the weather in Scotland is in an unsettled phase you have to take that.

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All that was left was to walk/squelch down the ridge to the road and the walk back along Glen Luss to the cars.

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It was a longer day than I thought, over 7 miles and even though we only crested just over 600m, we had started pretty much from sea level and it felt like a proper mountain day with all the weather thrown at us.

In the end a weekend we all look back with fond memories. Sometimes just a couple of hours of sunshine is enough.

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Rain!   12 comments

A short post entirely in proportion to the amount of time we spent outdoors.

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The forecast was biblically bad. Heavy rain from the previous night, all through the day and into the following night. Not a day for high mountains (although a couple mad fools took on a Corbett and got a soaking). We opted for a short walk around Glen Orchy just to make sure we had some fresh air and exercise.

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The rain was as heavy and persistent as promised “near-incessant rain almost everywhere” was the MWIS forecast) That at least meant that the waterfalls on the the River Orchy were very impressive (the one above is the Eas Urchaidh). We kept the good humour going as best we could but in all honesty it was as miserable a day as I’ve been out in since my Dartmoor soaking a couple of years back.

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We had a plan to follow an easy forest trail into the Caledonian Pine Forest Reserve around a lake, and back down to the Glen. We had one very soggy river crossing and then came across this ford on the Allt Coire Thoraidh!

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I imagine in normal weather it would be a rock hop across. Today it was completely impassable and had you fallen in you would have been very lucky to survive. We poked around for a bit looking for anywhere to cross but it was pretty obvious our route for the day was over. On the way back the soggy crossing we’d managed before was now wider and wetter. At least everyone’s feet were equally wet!

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We walked up this track a couple of years back in the Beast from the East, walking alongside the Allt Broighleachan. I barely remember it but today it was a deafening torrent!

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Back at the car the Orchy had risen several more feet while we’d been out. Where the were rocks and falls was now just once crashing torrent water. I thought I had a comparison photo from when we crossed earlier. Unfortunately one of my friends thought it would be a laugh to bounce the bridge while I was leaning over to take the photo and it came out rather blurred – lucky I didn’t drop my phone. Funny eh!

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The river Orchy is a big one but I’ve never seen it even remotely this high in numerous visits over the years.

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The forecast for the next day, whilst better, was still not terribly encouraging but we were hopeful and we had a nice hotel bar to relax in.

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Back on Skis!   6 comments

Several hours in the car and it’s time for our annual highland gathering up at Bridge of Orchy. No shortage of the white stuff on the first day before most people arrived so time for a day on skis.

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Me, THO and The Plant Scientist parked up at the Kingshouse (next to the swanky new building which isn’t as much of a eyesore as I’d been told) and loaded very heavy packs with winter mountain gear and ski gear for a couple of miles up the track to Black Corries Lodge to reach the snow.

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Cloudy day but it was largely dry and wind-free which is much as you can hope for in Scotland. Buachaille Etive Mor and the Blackmount looked very impressive.

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The snow was pretty much down to Black Corries Lodge so we strapped the skis on and headed up. The snow was frozen after the overnight frost but a couple of guys walking nearby seemed to be post-holing and struggling. Skis come in to their own in these conditions, gliding over the surface (although you lose the time gained taking them on and off and removing/putting on skins).

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Almost unnoticed we moved from partial to total snow cover as we headed up towards the summit ridge.

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Our target was Beinn a Chrulaiste but we thought we may as well bag the top at the eastern end, Meall Nan Ruadhag. Pleasingly its a HUMP so one one more done in my quest to complete all 3000+!

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Time for a short downhill stretch into the col before the climb to the middle twin summits of Meall Bhalach.

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We stopped on the top while it was fairly benign for lunch

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Another nice but short downhill stretch before the steep climb to the main summit.

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We were pleased we stopped earlier as it was far from benign on the top. In fact it was a complete white-out and we had something of a challenge finding our way back off the top without plopping through a cornice.

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The descent at the top would have been superb had we been able to see anything but care dictated skiing in pitches and slow careful progress. As we came out of the cloud we dropped into Coire Bhalach for a wonderful easy paced cruise over deep and complete snow cover.

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A few action shots of me courtesy of THO.

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Inevitably as we approached the car park the snow cover thinned and what snow there was was wet, patchy and punctuated with rocks. After falling over 2 or 3 times in the pace of a few yards I decided that was enough, strapped my skis to my pack and began the short walk down to the car. TPS also went one turn too far and ended up in a heap in the bog.

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We’d done pretty well, with just a couple of miles walk up the track to reach the end of the ridge and no more than a few hundred yards back to the car (although it was an outrageously boggy few hundred yards). We’d kept skis on for almost the whole day and it had been a pretty good tour.

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As we reached the car we even had some patches of blue and little watery sunshine.

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Perhaps the forecast could be wrong and Saturday might not be that bad. A quick pint back in the hotel bar, outside to return to my room and it was chucking it down. A taster of things to come!

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Winter on Crug Mawr   12 comments

It may not look wintry in the photos, but trust me, it was bitterly cold, ferociously windy and I was blasted by a couple of very nasty snow and hail showers.

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After yet more rain the Grwyne Fawr river was higher than I’ve ever seen it at the Pont Cadwgan car park where I start my walk to take in Crug Mawr. It’s another of my favourite walks when I need a shorter outing, here grabbing another short window in the foul weather. Sunny intervals and very heavy showers was the flavour of the day. As I strode out through the forest I noticed how tall the trees are in here, having looked up to admire some rare blue sky.

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Its a steep and dark climb through dense woods to summit ridge and I timed my arrival perfectly coinciding with a spell of clear skies and sunshine albeit very windy.

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A tumult of clouds whisked past in the sunny skies and there were clearly very heavy showers and squalls pushing through.

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It’s the big advantage of days like this when the breaks deliver a clarity to the air unmatched in other conditions.

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Taking photos from the top was a challenging task. The wind was blowing me off my feet and several images had to be deleted as they looked somewhat off kilter and blurred – natures inebriation.

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Not a day for lingering and I legged it off the summit lest one of those showers catch me in the most exposed spot of the walk.

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One of said showers tracking over Ysgyryd Fawr as I descended.

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This walk is perfect for a day like this. The beautiful old church at Patrishow sits at the halfway mark. It offers plenty of spots to shelter out of the wind which I did to have a cuppa and some lunch.

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A muddy descent to the road and back up to the ridge on the other side of the valley before I was blasted with a vicious hail and snow shower for 10 minutes. You can just see the melting remnants in the next couple of photos.

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This stretch of path that traverse across the flanks of the ridge used to be one of my favourites. I say used to be, sadly the trail bike plague has discovered it and churned large stretches into a muddy mess. I had walk up on the bank by the wall to avoid most parts. I’m not sure what the answer is here, it must be near impossible to enforce a ban. What I can say with certainty is that they they are tearing the Black Mountains apart with their selfish activity.

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The sun was out again and all was glorious once more.

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Well for a while anyway as more heavy showers raced across the sky.

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I tried a slightly different route to avoid a soggy section near the car park. All it meant was I found a different one. I’m learning quickly just to take each route as it comes, trying to avoid the soggy mess this winter has left behind is near impossible. Trail shoes and socks dry out eventually. Not a bad day, another one to file under “glad I made the effort”

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