Archive for the ‘Backpacking’ Category

Wild Camping – The Next Generation   17 comments

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The delights of Wild Camping are not always obvious to the younger members of the family. We’ve been hatching a plan for a couple of years to get more of the kids involved after Mark took A out on a couple of trips and me, TJS, the Hardman and his eldest did the same last year

To coordinate a weekend is easier said than done so we just picked a date and agreed to decide closer to the time to see if was a goer.

Right on cue the forecast was really poor. I almost bailed out, not fancying spending a weekend in the rain with grumpy kids. However it was said kids who convinced me I was the grumpy one and we decided to give it a go. We had planned a trip to upper Eskdale but the weather looked truly awful so we plumped on a less ambitious route into the Howgills.

The Saturday morning was as horrid as the forecast, several hours of ceaseless rain had us lounging about Mark’s place while he filled us up with a nourishing soup. We headed out anyway and as luck would have it got delayed by a traffic jam on the M6 long enough for the rain to have pretty much stopped by the time we parked up. All packed and ready to go we headed for the hills

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The original plan had been to walk up Carlingill Beck. Its a superb valley and has possible camp spots at the far end. The wet weather had the streams in spate though and crossing them would have been a challenge. We changed tack and headed up and around the head of Carlingill by going over Linghaw and picking up an interesting looking traversing path high above the waterfalls at the head of the valley

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The horses kept us company clearly waiting for us to disappear so they could get up to mischief, more of this later

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Considering how poor the forecast had been the weather wasn’t all that bad. It had stopped raining and whilst it was windy, the cloud lifted a bit and we had views of a sort

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We easily picked up the high level traversing path and what a find (thanks to Mark). Even in gloomy weather it was a real delight, easy, yet elevated high above the deep cleft of Carlingill Beck

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We even had a few glimpses of sunshine on the valley below

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The path cut across the top of the dramatic Black Force

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The kids seemed in great spirits and were enjoying the challenge of the walk into the wilds

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There were even steam crossings to delight and amuse for young and old alike

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It was just a short walk from there to Blakethwaite Bottom, our intended pitch, having read favourable reviews online as a great spot. It was seriously windy and exposed but we found a great spot on the far side sheltered enough to make sitting outside the tents quite pleasent.

The Hardman had a new tent to try out, an enormous 3 -person Vango affair, in a discrete scarlet colour

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I lent Mark my large Lightwave 3 person tent for him and two of his dangerous offspring. He was very taken with it. So taken I’ve lent it to him long term as his kids are really taking to the wild camping and this tent really hits that 3 person spot. I don’t have much use for it any more (TJS prefers to sleep solo when there’s the three of us – I snore apparently as well) and I’d much rather see it in use than under my bed gathering dust

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We had a really enjoyable time cooking tea, messing about and having a laugh. The kids seemed to really enjoy themselves and being outdoors with a trio of middle-aged grey hikers

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We even had some brief sunny spells and decided to take an evening walk up Uldale Head

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It was brutally steep and when crested the top, amazingly windy.

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We had a few fleeting views but the real fun was had from surfing in the wind. The smiles on the faces below tell how much we all enjoyed being kids. We also discovered that turning cagoules inside out made a fairly effective parachute to drag us around the summit. I forgot to take photos alas

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It had been cracking day, all the better for the fact we hadn’t expected to get much out of it other than a soaking and long periods sat in the tent. In the event we only went under canvas when it was time for bed after an improvised game of Petanques with rocks, many brews of tea and lots of biscuits

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We woke the next morning with company. A small gathering of wild horses and ponies on our doorstep. A bacon breakfast got the day off to a grand start

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Soon there was celebrity death-match between some cows and the horses. The cows won and spent an age just stood close by looking at us curiously, nudging each other out the way for a closer look. Very comical. I’ve had a few run ins with cows recently but these were harmless if a little disconcerting but soon dispersed with a little encouragement

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We didn’t want to hang around as the forecast was for strengthening winds and rain in the afternoon. We packed up and headed back down but were hit by the only bad weather of the weekend. We walked straight into a cold deluge that had us all soaked within seconds and for a short period it was deeply unpleasent. It stopped soon enough though and apart from a few short sprinkles we stayed dry the rest of the day

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We dropped back down to Carlingill Beck by the side of Black Force. An impressive ravine and extremely steep so we took our time. Again I think the kids enjoyed the challenge and the rain hadn’t doused their spirits in any way

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We had a brief lunch by the river and embraced the challenge of a couple of river crossings

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The walk along Carlingill Beck is superb and provided a fitting finish to what was a superb if short trip out to the wilds

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I wasn’t sure how the kids would take to a wild camp in less than perfect conditions but they were all superb company. My abiding memory of the weekend was smiles and laughter. They took everything in their stride and were a pleasure to be with from start to finish. For me, there was a real sense of pride that they enjoyed it far more than I hoped and seemed to share in the simple pleasures of just being out in the mountains. Their youthful enthusiasm was infectious and I hope we can do this on a much more regular basis. Cracking stuff. If only those pesky ponies I mentioned hadn’t sheltered by my car and barged into it, denting the front wing, the little pests. Still that’s why we have insurance I guess

 

That brings my blog back up to date. I’m out of action for a few weeks having just had some minor surgery on my left knee. All went well and healing nicely so blog service will be resumed in a couple of weeks

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Wild camping in Big Country Part 3   8 comments

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Sleep comes so much easier when the wind isn’t roaring and your mind starts to imagine scenarios of tents blowing down and trying to rescue everything in the dark of night. All we had was gentle rain to soothe us. By morning it had stopped and there were tentative glimpses of sunshine. Enough to tempt us outside for breakfast. Life was pretty good in a boil in the bag sausage and then porridge kind of way

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There was no urgency to head home so we took a walk back up towards Corrour. There was plenty of blue sky and sunshine but it was still windy high up and pretty chilly. On a whim I decided to head for the skyline to the south as it looked moderately interesting. A chance to make a summit

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TJS was less convinced by the bog and tussocks to reach it so he returned to the tent while I covered the ground more briskly than I thought

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Having crossed Creagan nan Gabhar, Sgor Mor didn’t look much, just a bare high point surrounded by heather

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I traversed over to the SW ridge and found it pleasantly rocky and a joy to climb very easily to its summit. The view became ever better as I ascended, both north to the main Cairngorm summits and south across Glenshee and Beinn a Ghlo.

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I got my reward for making the effort as my stay on the summit coincided with a lovely sunny spell. I grinned to the sky at my good fortune and sat on a rock to ponder

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I tried another attempt at panorama shots but I still haven’t sussed them. Either I’m moving the camera too slowly or quickly but there is always a break in them at 2/3 across. Not quite sure why. If you click on them you can see a larger version. The second one (looking south) is much better and there is a video 360 in the slideshow at the end

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I particularly enjoyed the views to the south as I hadn’t seen much of those the previous couple of days. It reminded me of a backpack through to Bynack Lodge many years ago, a trip remembered for very heavy showers, a very scary crossing of the Geldie Burn and two days of wearing shorts when I really should have known better

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I also thought of the many bloggers who I read and enjoy who will (about now in fact) be walking through this area on the TGO challenge. If any of them are camped up near White Bridge and get a decent day they could do worse than take a trip up this fine mountain. Sitting between the bigger ranges of hills its a perfect vantage point across some wonderful wild and remote landscape

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When  I got back I was further cheered to find out it was a Corbett. It doesn’t look high enough until you realise that all the valleys are already at 500m in these parts. Didn’t make the last few hundred meters to camp through some of the deepest heather I’ve ever seen any easier but at least I had another tick on the round of Corbetts that I’ll never finish

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All that was left was to have lunch in the sun outside the tent, pack up, and head back to the car. TJS resisting the photo call from dad to fall in for some extra blog novelty value

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The trudge down Glen Lui was just as long, perhaps a little longer with a heavy heart of great trip nearly over

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A last look along the Lui Water and we were back at the surprisingly empty Linn of Dee car park. Best part of 50 miles walked over the 5 days which we were both well chuffed about. As we finished getting ready to leave it started snowing!

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I commented on the previous post how I look back on this trip as an adventure in challenging conditions. By Cairngorm standards it was pretty benign but when I think of the fact it was cold, windy, snowy, that we were in some remote spots, that we saw few people hiking and almost no-one wild camping the feeling of achievement grows still further. This is especially true for TJS as he still has limited mountain experience and for me as I am ultimately responsible for keeping us safe (as opposed to leaning on the experience of friends). It would have been easy to bail out to a B&B or a campsite (and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider it at a couple of points) but we stuck with it and got reward with some fine spells of weather, great views and for TJS one the UK’s great summits and another long trip into the mountains under his belt.

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Next years plan is already forming for more adventures. My friends that went to Arran had a good time but didn’t wild camp saying its too early in the year. What do they know! 🙂

I need to backpack while I still can as I don’t know how many I have left in me (private joke!)

Wild Camping in Big Country Part 2   8 comments

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The wind picked up overnight. Quite dramatically so. One of those winds you can hear coming before it batters the tent. My new Nigor Parula 2 tent is not classed as 3 seasons (by the manufacturer anyway) so my remaining concern was how well it would stand up to a Scottish gale. Answer is very well. It does flex quite a bit (as its supposed to) but withstood the battering flawlessly. It was a restless night but we woke to bright skies and decided to stick with our plan to move on, hopefully into the area below the Lairig Ghru. We left behind our home for the past few days and made tracks.

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We agreed to take the alternative path down the west side of the river. Inspired. We were out of the wind, the sun came out and the forest was stunning. This short stretch was one of the highlights of the weekend. Photos don’t really do justice to how gorgeous it was

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We then headed west into the strong wind along the upper reaches Glen Lui. I’ve walked through here a couple of times but hadn’t recalled how stunning it was

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We headed up towards the Luibeg bridge to avoid the ford but as we reached it the skies suddenly darkened and we were hit with an extremely heavy hail and snow shower. The wind roared and I felt the Lairig Ghru would be hugely exposed and I didn’t fancy camping there. I’d spotted a patch of green down by the ford and we headed down primarily to shelter.

It was a wonderful spot, an almost perfect wild camp site. I figured we could tuck the tent in behind some of the trees and gain a small degree of shelter so we pitched here on the spur of the moment. It was right next to the path but this is a remote spot en-route to even more remote areas so only and handful of people passed by while we were there

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The showers were nasty while they emptied but they were few and far between and when the sun was out the views were stunning. We took an afternoon stroll up the path towards the Lairig Ghru and Corrour bothy

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The views back down Glen Lui were sublime and up towards the massive peaks above the Lairig Ghru dramatic

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As we wandered back down the light became even clearer and the now abundant sunshine bathed the forest and heather in glorious colour

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When we reached the tent the wind seemed to have dropped completely and it was warm enough – just – to cook outside in the sunshine

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No better feeling than tucking into a well earned meal in the wilds under an evening sun. One of the joys of backpacking and wild camping

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We’d hoped the weather would be sunny the next day but it dawned rather grey and gloomy although without the winds of the previous day. We were well placed for an attempt at Ben Macdui with good paths around an obvious horseshoe. There was light snow in the air all the way up but the path and then the easy terrain had us most of the way up Sron Riach in great time

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The summit plateau is a wild and lonely place and deep snow cover still lay on the ground. It was an amazing contrast to the wild winds of the day before without so much as a breath of wind on one of the most notoriously windy places in Scotland. There were even wisps of blue sky to encourage us it might clear but it never did

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TJS was well chuffed to reach his second munro and the second highest peak in the UK despite the mixed weather

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After a celebratory cup of soup we headed on towards our second peak of the day. Its a long and tiring descent down the seemingly endless SW slopes of Ben Macdui

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Carn a Mhaim is a fine peak and different in character to most of the Cairngorms. Rather than the extensive plateau its a long ridge with a couple of moderately rocky sections and excellent views into the depths of the Lairig Ghru far below

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We stopped for a second lunch and brew on the summit to celebrate TJS third munro (only 280 or so to go). For a time it looked like the skies might clear and our ascent route and the summit of Ben Macdui was revealed. Alas this was a goodbye rather than a greeting. It began to drizzle on the way down which turned into a steady rain that lasted the rest of the day

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We had to cook inside again due to the rain but it mattered not. We’d earned our feast and slept well without the wind and with the patter of raindrops on the nylon

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It had still been a grand day, 10 miles and 4000 feet of climbing on some true big scale mountains from a wild camp base. Epic!

 

Wild Camping in Big Country Part 1   12 comments

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The annual Easter wild camping trip. We’d made some plans to meet friends and pay a second visit to Arran. However the weather looked more settled in the East and while they stuck to their plan for Arran we headed east for TJS first visit to the Cairngorms, Scotland’s Big Country.

An overnight in Perth, a hearty breakfast in The Bothy in Braemar and round to Linn of Dee ready for a 5 day trip into the heart of this wild and remote corner of the Scottish Hills

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We took the long walk in along Glen Lui, weighed down with 5 days supplies for a 4 night trip. Skies were threatening and spots of rain were in the air but never heavy enough for waterproofs

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It’s a long walk along the glen but there is a real sense of heading into the wilds. TJS has had a trip to Lochaber where long ridges predominate. The Cairngorms promise something different I told him. Long, deep valleys, high sculpted corries and extensive tundra-like plateaus.

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We passed Derry Lodge before turning north for Glen Derry. In my youth you could use the building for shelter, albeit a draughty one with all the windows and doors open to the elements. Its boarded up now with unfulfilled planning permission for something grander. There were a couple of people camping in the woods nearby, the only other wild campers we saw all weekend

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Our plan was to camp in Glen Derry. It’s a fabulous valley, broad, open, surrounded by towering summits and studded with natural scots pine

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I wanted to return to a spot I’d camped in around 20 years ago and managed to find it! It’s an idyllic spot by the river and we found a sheltered spot under a tree

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We spent a couple of hours making it our home and having lunch. It was more tussocky than I remember and the photo below from the first trip proves it was indeed a much flatter grassier spot (although it was late May rather than Easter). That was a memorable trip for many reasons. Good times

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I wonder if it was the time of year or whether the translation from grass to tussock is part of the natural evolution of the landscape.

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We took a stroll in the late afternoon with a view to reaching Loch Etchachan. It was sunny when we set off but we caught a couple of heavy, wet snow showers, the only time we really got wet the whole weekend

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We passed by the Hutchison Hut, clearly now much improved, as are most of the Cairngorm bothies. We got a good way up towards the Loch before the cold and wet sent us back down to the tent to eat tea and get cosy in the tent for our first night in the wilds. A day of 11 miles and just shy of 3000 feet of ascent. Off to a good start

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The next day dawned overcast but bright and cold. We had a vague plan to repeat a walk I done on the previous trip, down to Loch Avon and back via Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui. The walk over the Lairig an Laoigh takes you into some real wild and remote country and its a stunning walk even on a grey day

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We crossed the Fords of Avon without too much difficulty and took a peek in the Refuge. This has been massively improved to say the least. Last time I was here it was in effect, a small, squalid dark cave in a large cairn. Now its a wooden shelter (albeit with no windows) and rather snug and cosy for a couple of people.

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We pressed on to Loch Avon. One of the most dramatic locations in the UK if you ask me (I’m sure someone should). After a brief lunch stop at one end we walked to the other. The weather had dipped a little and it was snowing when we reached the other end

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We stopped for some soup and the sun came out! The beach is rather splendid and the water crystal clear, if a little chilly for a swim. There are plenty of spots for a tent so I must pay the place a longer visit.

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By now we’d decided that the main summits were out-of-bounds with the weather so unpredictable, so a circuit around Beinn Mheadhoin seemed better. Onwards and upwards to Loch Etchachan with snow flurries still in the air but gorgeous views across Loch Avon as we climbed.

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After a heavy snow shower we had one of the best spells of the day at the Loch. It’s a magnificent spot, a dark corrie and lake, one of the highest in the UK. I camped up here with TBF and my dog Harry many years ago and this visit rekindled some fine memories. I took a bonus circuit of the smaller lake to take it all in

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We had a spell of abundant sunshine and blue sky on the way down to Glen Derry and all was right with the world. I can handle a few brief soakings if the spells between are as good as this

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TJS seemed to be enjoying it despite the cold weather. The Cairngorms has miles of high quality paths and he hates off-piste walking. He soared ahead of me most of the weekend waiting for me to catch up and show him how to cross awkward rivers and the like!

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A view down Glen Derry. Our pitch is by the two dark trees in the right centre of the shot

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TJS feasting on his preferred snack of choice, Jaffa Cakes

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The day ended in fine fashion.  A few isolated showers and chill wind forced us to retire inside to cook.

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When we emerged for the usual post meal chores and ablutions we were treated a decent late evening light show for as long as our cold hands and other extremities could stand it before retiring

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A highly satisfying and enjoyable day out in wild, big country and another 12 miles and 2800 feet of climbing under our belts. Not bad for ageing and novice sherpas

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Madcap Backpack in the Black Mountains   8 comments

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I’ve been making promises to myself to get out and do more back packing and wild camping. I read lots of blogs and trip reports about cracking trips, mostly short to take advantage of quality weekend time but I never seem to get around to it. That’s all going to change. Armed with a new tent and after a rushed packing/eating session we’d eaten tea and were out walking in the Black Mountains by 6pm

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It was great to be out after work. Less than two hours after shutting the lid on my work laptop at home I was on my way up the Cats Back ridge

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As we raced up the sun went down

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The light was spectacular and of course at this time on a Friday we had this most wonderful ridge to ourselves

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We hurried on past the trig pillar on Black Hill towards our intended overnight stop

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I’d had my eye on a spot a mile so beyond for several years. A small sheltered area of grass just off the path. Its always been dry but after the recent snowfall and heavy rain it was very soggy. We managed to get the tent up and settled inside just as it got dark.

Also had a new tent to play with. Since the demise of my Quasar I don’t have a two-person tent (other than my Lightwave which is really for 3 people and is pretty heavy). Bring on the Nigor Parula 2. I’m pretty impressed as it’s amazingly light for a two-person tent (around 1.8kg) and fits my needs for two porches and an ability to sit up in comfort. I’m still getting used to its pitching subtleties (especially the porches to stop them sagging) but so far so good. It did pass my first major test in that the very light and thin groundsheet was pitched on some seriously wet ground without any water ingress. I should however point out that seriously impressive tents are seriously expensive!

Not the driest or flattest pitch but we slept well through a cold night.

We woke the next morning to a frosty and damp tent and glorious sunshine

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I left TJS to snooze while I wandered about to soak up the scene. I can almost see our village from the top but it felt a world away up here.

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I smiled as abundantly as the sun shone, and settled down for a hearty and not very healthy breakfast of bacon butties and jaffa cakes. TJS joined me eventually and we savoured the morning and a long leisurely feast

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Packed and ready for the off we considered our route. It was only a one night outing as I’d planned some cycling in the Peak District the following day. Originally we were just going out to Hay Bluff before returning to the car via a round of the Olchon Valley. As the weather was so grand we decided to extend the walk by taking in Lord Herefords Knob and heading back to the car via Capel y FFin

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The high level path along to Hay Bluff was superb

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The views from the summit over the Wye Valley to the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountain even better

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We both seemed untroubled by the heavier packs than we’d use for a day walk and made swift and easy progress to the summit of LHK.

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The views were still superb but there was a very keen and very cold wind so we didn’t linger. Rather than walk along the Darren Lwyd ridge, right into the wind we opted for the Nant Bwch valley for some shelter

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Its a lovely valley with a series of small waterfalls and grassy patches for a lunch stop. Make a decent camp as well although its only a few minutes from the end of the road

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The Vale of Ewyas is one of the finest valleys in the UK in my opinion. A walk along it or above it as always a pleasure especially on a warm sunny day. Spring really did feel in the air down here

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The downside of the walk extension was having to climb up, over and down one of the Black Mountains main ridges. Sheltered from the wind it was a steep and sweaty climb. I was beginning to think I should have brought shorts

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That changed swiftly as we reached the ridge. We were exposed to the wind and thoughts of shorts turned to thoughts of hats and gloves. It was bitterly cold and we had to move quickly to descend the other side to try and reach shelter from the next ridge

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Ample compensation was provided in the views across the pastoral Herefordshire countryside and the ridge we’d walked the night before

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One last steep descent and one last final climb back up to the car completed a very fine short overnight adventure.

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TJS hasn’t been out much recently and he really seemed to enjoy the trip and the long walk in the sunshine. He’s badly out of shape though and was stiff for the next day or so and struggling to keep up with the old man on the ascents. He does take over on the downhill bits but I have my bad knees excuse for that

First part of adventurous weekend for me. More two-wheeled outdoor action planned for the Sunday

Pyrenees Grand Tour Day 6 – The end of the Trail   8 comments

Alas this was our final day. Time to to make the long walk back to the car and begin the journey home. The original plan had been to cross two more passes and spend a final night in a hut before a descent to the car. The difficulty and snow cover rendered that a tough ask and we agreed that we’d just retrace our steps from the first day. I was little disappointed not to continue my planned tour but our new plan gave us chance for a final visit to the wonderful Campoplano and hopefully see some views of the Arrens Valley we’d walked up on that first day. Ample compensation we hoped.

It had clearly been raining through the night and the sky was mix of blue and threatening blacks and greys. It made for some impressive sunlight shots as we ate breakfast, packed and set off from the hut

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Campoplana was just as magnificent as before and we made light work of the two stream crossings that took us back towards the short steep climb to the Col de St Martin

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Near the top I actually put my waterproofs on as there seemed to be heavy storm approaching. It never amounted to anything and they were soon back in the pack. It was the only time I wore them on the entire trip 🙂

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On the way up on the first day the last 30 minutes had been entirely on snow. Six days later and the reduction was dramatic. Merely patches now. The spot where I’d filled the bottles for a brew rather than being in middle of a huge snow patch was now in the middle of a boulder field.

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The weather seemed to brighten immensely and as hoped we had some wonderful views of the Val D’Arrens that we’d seen nothing of on the way up. Rather than being a repeated walk it was like a brand new route and its a very fine valley and walk

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The Lacs de Remoulis looked stunning under the bright sunshine

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On that first day we’d walked through what seemed like a wide, flat, grassy meadow that would have been perfect for a picnic had we not been walking in dense, cold fog. You can see  it now much better in the image below

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It proved to be the case and we had a long, leisurely and final mountain lunch lazing on the grass by a clear, cold, mountain stream. We made a brave attempt to eat the remaining food we had left but we made only the merest impact on our vast supplies

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The walk through these meadows in the sunshine was a fitting final memory of the trip. A stunning spot that barely gets a mention in the guidebook

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All that was left was the last 3 miles along the track back to the car passing the Lac de Suyen we’d seen nothing of on the way up

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And that was that. Back to the car, another night in a local hotel and long drive home via Caen and the ferry to Portsmouth the next day. As a special treat for sticking with the story (and the mid-season break!) you get the bonus of some nice pictures of Portsmouth and the Spinnaker Tower from the ferry

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A fantastic trip. Superb walking, amazing weather, stupendous views, some eventful moments and a lot of lessons learned. Great excuse to go back and do it all again 🙂

Pyrenees Grand Tour Day 5 – Back on the Trail   9 comments

Enough rest, it was time to continue our adventures. Having decided to avoid the direct route to the next hut we needed an alternative. The hut staff were again marvellous in helping us arrange a taxi that would take us from the road-head below this hut to the end of the road nearer the Respumuso Hut from where we could continue our walk. I was a little disappointed that we were “cheating” but it was the sensible decision and the replacement walk was very fine indeed

After another bright morning with sunlit clouds we were back underway again

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It was a steep and very rocky descent down to Banos de Panticosa. The path took us steeply down towards a deep gorge with thunderous waterfalls before another steep drop down to the village

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The path was very narrow in places and several stretches were protected by cables and handrails

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After all the adventures and edgy moments of the previous few days the closest I came to real mishap was on a tourist path just above the car park. I lost my balance (no doubt due to a shift in cake position in the rucksack) and flailed about desperately to avoid a tumble down a short gravelly slope to a picnic bench. I still don’t know how I managed not come crashing down and do my self a nasty one.

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The taxi arrived bang on time and the very nice lady and her young baby son took us to the road-head at the La Sarra lake above Sallent de Gallego. From there we had an easy steady climb along the valley of the Rio Aguas Limpias.

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The route initially took us through wonderful grass meadows with lots of butterflies for company

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From there it was up through a deep and rocky gorge with more waterfalls and rapids and up through the bouldery slopes towards the hut

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We stopped for lunch below the dam admiring the now expected spread of colourful wild flowers that were a constant and delightful feature of every day

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Before too much longer we were back at the Respumuso Hut we’d visited a few nights before

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The hut was much busier and having arrived relatively early we had a nice lazy afternoon reading and enjoying the surroundings. There had been the threat of heavy showers and rumbles of thunder all day but after the only light shower the skies cleared for some dramatic evening views across to the same magnificent mountain ranges we’d admired from before

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The Pico del Infernos were again catching the eye with their dramatic outline

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This was to be our last night in the mountains and it was a pretty fine one. Tomorrow is was time to start the long journey home

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