A Stolen Heart

People know that I love New Zealand and you just need to flick through the evidence to see why and once you have I’m betting that you to will fall in love with a country that has a little bit of everything.

Many people know that my true and first love is that of Snowdon and Snowdonia, but this weekend my heart was stolen to another valley of mountains.

In short if I could have a job and place to live then I’d gladly call Mt Cook my home.

It has made me decide that mountains and the outdoors is where I belong and when, or maybe we should make that if I get back to the UK, then it’s off to the countryside and mountains I shall go.

It’s hard to explain, but my passion and love for rock that has grown out of the earth is something else.

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Mt Doom V’s Cook

It’s no secret, but then it could be I’m not sure… I think I have shouted it off the rooftops a good many times. Maybe I only whispered it to myself and forged an expression of excitement and enjoyment at the prospect of reaching summits and letting my soul be absorbed into the open wilderness that is The Great Outdoors. But I think I have and now I come to think long and hard my social networks and posts are fulfilled with entries and retweets about the outdoors and my love for the natural power of Mother Earth and her trophy cabinet of mountains. Yes I love mountains. Love to look at them, photograph, walk, climb you name it I’m in love with these rocky growths.

So with that being the case a trip to New Zealand was just what was needed. In part The Land of The Long White Cloud is known for its rugged landscape in part thanks to The Lord of the Rings films and this brings us to our first stop. I have been dreaming of doing the Tongariro Crossing from when I first started planning my trip. Yet another good reason to fuel my love for volcanos and the power that our planet has. I’m not and never will be a LOTR fan and so Mt Doom or Mt Ngauruhoe was always on the cards as it was a big hill, with an added bonus that it was an active crater volcano.

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Mt Cook on the other hand could never be climbed. Well not by me. A full on mountain experience with all the gear and very much more than just an idea of how you use it. Over 200 people have lost their lives to Aoraki, many unaccounted for, many just fallen. In recent years Mt Cook has shrunk, first a massive 10 meter rock and ice fell from its peak in 1991 and then in 2013 some boffins re measured the tallest mountain only to make it smaller still by 30 meters. But still standing proud and measuring in at 3724 meters or 12,000 feet in UK money it’s NZ tallest mountain and one I have longed to see.

Sure I could climb Mt doom and it was a tough hill to conquer, with scree and scrambles the 2,291 meters was the highest I have climbed (double the height of Ben Nevis UKs highest mountains) the view of the volcanic waste land of the centre plateau restored the energy banks and washed away any exhaustion my body felt. Staring into the main body of the crater surrounded by several active volcanoes soon wiped the fatigue from my legs. The crossing with its blue and emerald lakes and barren alpine rocky Mars like setting did more than evoke the senses. If it wasn’t for the herd of fellow walkers marvelling at this unique spectacular then I would feel like I was in another world.

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Mt Cook will be a mountain I’ll climb one day and as I walked to the glacier lake at its foot, the impressive imposing structure towering into the sky hiding behind his blanket of cloud only to uncloaks himself enough to spur me on to get that golden photo opportunity. Mt Cook has a wonderful tale connected to it which makes seeing the mountain so more magical.

Aoraki and his brothers while visiting their fathers (god of sky) new wife (god of land) was sailing trying to find land when their boat capsized in the ocean and turned to rock, forming the South Island. Aoraki and his brothers climbed up, only to also be turned to stone forming the mountains that go to make up some of the Southern Alps.

Mt Cook is a special place and to be in his shadow is a breath-taking awe-inspiring experience, the Crossing is as breath-taking but only when you walk the track. Aoraki gas the same power and commands the same respect by just sitting there, when I do return to climb him I know I’m going to be over powered by his charm, and true organic beauty.

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Both have been an experience to treasure and I feel lucky enough to have said that I’ve stood in their shadows. If anything my love has grown stronger and I want to explore more terrains of our planets wonders.

Before I Go!

There are a lot of things. A long list if you will. I have compiled this list to help me get my affairs in order before I arrive at terminal one and board my plane. There are the simple things like selling DVD’s and CD’s, which now has a big tick by it. Move stuff back to my parents, sell some clothes, pack, transfer money, pay tax bill, cancel phone, cancel internet and so the list goes on.

However the one item on the list that I really want to see ticked off, is the Welsh 3000. For those not in the know, and even some avid walkers don’t know then the 3000’s are 14 or 15 (if you count the extra one) peaks in Snowdonia that are over 3000 feet hence the name.

Now I have done the Snowdon Massif, and only have two more to bag for the Glyders, which I am hoping to do this week and then I just have the Carnedadu to complete. Forget bagging Wainwrights and completing the Southern West Fells, my dream and ambition before I depart the UK is to complete the 3000 mainly due to that fact that it gives me an excuse to go to Snowdonia.

So hopefully as my time draws ever closer to 25th June, I will be able to give a tick to finishing the Welsh 3000.

A Windy Hill Top – Part 2 of Weekend in the Lakes.

Right lets climb some mountains. We are after all surrounded by the beasts and whats the point of going to Lakes if you’re not going to climb anything. The original idea was to climb the Pike from Great Gable but with the recent dumps of snow the reports were still showing that both peaks were hiding beneath snow drifts and Great Gable was a little icy on some of the more challenging sections of her back.

The back up was to concentrate on the Coniston Fells. I’d already done the Old Man and some of the others to the south, but both of us had failed to do Wetherlam. Once told by a friend this mountain is off the tourist trail but can be reached via several routes.

As we started the walk, the word of the day was ‘Up’ followed by ‘Steep’ Straight away we were climbing through disused mines and quarries and before we knew it we were trekking our way down to the river bed through a forest only to climb out of the gorge to a field of sheep on the side of a hill. As the trail rounded around a corner we found ourselves with Wetherlam looking down on us from the left.

At this angle she looked like any other mountain, a sheer cliff face with a ridge over looking a valley floor. But as the path took us in a kind of horse shoe route up and down to her base, the true scale was revealed.

This was not going to be a usual ‘stepped out’ climb of the lakes. It was not going to be a steep walk. This was a scramble, this had scree, and as the clouds wrapped around the peak and the wind blew in the mist to haze our view of what lay ahead. We began with earnest to climb.

The start the hike was as you find on Crinkle Crags, or climbing to the summit of Bowfell. Steep rocks, with a kind of worn path leading you to the summit. From the start we spotted cairns every couple of meters suggesting this was not the straight forward walk we thought. Before long we had broken though the mist and clouds to find that the path we were following which zig-zag its way up the side was slowly being blocked and cordoned off by snow.

The sheets of snow that prevented us from continuing were just that. The water that was running down the mountain was melting the snow from the bottom up so what you had was a sheet of thick snow bridging across rocks leaving often large voids beneath. It was at this junction I thought best to turn back but my walking buddy found a way.

So we scrambled around snow covered path to find the path further on ahead. All the time trying to spy the next cairn and find a safe route to it. Say what you like about them, but these piles of rocks have helped me to navigate my way to the top and back down again several times when the path and visibility has not always been great. Onwards we trekked  and as the scramble turned into a bit of a rock climb as the steep path turned into a sheer climb, we hugged the rock face shouting warnings of scree as we clambered nearer to the summit.

The top of her was patched up in snow and as we navigated around the snow drift to attack the summit from the south we found that the wind carried us up to her crown. The wind ripped and roared past, over, below and through us, and with every gust it tried to push and shove us over in a playful spirit but with sense of underlining menace . Occasionally the wind would  get a little more frustrated that we were not playing and decided to out right attempt to blow us off the mountain in angry from s refusing to play its games.

The original idea of the walk was a circular one, taking in several more peaks before we returned to the car and as we headed east to come off her snowy peak we encountered several snow drifts, some on the edge. The wind was not getting restless at beating us black and blue and the wind chill was not adding to the fun. We decided that the only safe way back was the way we knew and to head on down. As we descended the cloud broke and we saw snow filling the ridges and troughs, giving the impression that the mountain top was flat like a dining table. While we were sticking to the path and making sure we were with insight of cairns we both agreed that we could have easily strayed away and  seeing how the snow was bridged further down the hill-side with the water melting the drifts from bottom up we knew we had made the right choice. None of us knew this mountain and I didn’t want to dance along on the carpet of snow to only to be buried at waist height, or sink into a tarn, swamp or bog.

I think that while the day was filled with excitement, the fear factor was stronger than when I walked Grib Goch, and there was something about the fairy tale opening of the walk with the empty mine shafts and blasted   out  quarries that nature had reclaimed which slowly changed into the bleak stoney atmosphere of a foreign planet with a mix of climbs as we grew closer to her summit.

The Lakes has always been a place at the bottom of my list. But the more I visit and the more I bag, my opinion of the landscape looking samey changes. But with the scrambles and scree this makes yet another Wainwright and mountain that makes me want to visit the Lakes more.

The Langdale Express – Part One of my weekend in the Lakes

The weekend was not going to be a rest day by any means. I had walking, camping and racing planned and that is exactly what I did.

Come Sunday morning I was waking at 6am ready to drive to Ulverston to meet a friend who would be participating in these activities. But first we had to get there and as my friend volunteered to navigate along the stereotypical roads that crisscross and meander through the valleys and around the foot of the mountains that stand tall and survey the landscape we found ourselves in Langdale.

The main object of the weekend was the Langdale 10K race, an undulating little number of there and back. Last year it was held over two days and had reached its 500 capacity on both days very quickly. This year had a capacity of 750, but for reasons unknown failed to get more than 100 on each of the days. As the rain lashed down and thoughts that I would finally get to wear my rain jacket which was a direct result of being left out in the rain for too long at Manchester Marathon, and the knowledge that Snowdon Marathon was notorious for its wetness I decided that a decent running waterproof was in order. Apart from the odd training run I had never really got to use it. But as the wind buffered the side of the car and the rain carried on falling I thought I would finally be fulfilling it’s purpose.

I joked that once we started the rain would ease off, and sure enough seconds after the gun the rain ceased to be. This must have been the strangest of races I have lined up for. I think in total there were 39 other people positioned ready to start and as I ran and ran fast it felt very much like a training run. The pack broke up quickly and within the first 30 seconds the distance between the runners were spread out along the valley road.

After a strong race, where I kept my position and managed to over take a guy in the last two miles my legs didn’t quite have the energy to pass the woman 500 meters in front of me but I still crossed the line in just over 43 minutes, that considering the course was a good time.

After the race we set up camp in the National Trust campsite which was empty apart from some rabbits and several flooded pitches. We found an area that we thought would remain dry and set up camp. After the comical chasing of tent bags due to a large gust of wind in which the blog takes its title we were set up. Now it was time for a walk.

The weather was still unsettled and a little apprehensive in what it wanted to do, but we began the climb to Pavey Ark. The river that runs down from the tarn was in full flow as it rushed down the valley, leaping off rocks kicking spray into the air. The usual route across seemed a little dangerous as the stepping-stones across the river were covered with white foaming water rushing along. After seeking an alternative we made it to the snow topped tarn and looked for a way to climb Pavey Ark. Again the river and streams were full to bursting and current was faster than a penderlino from London. We concluded no safe way and as the cloud cover and storm clouds began to circle we thought it wise to turn back for food and ales.

After a good many drinks and a very typical English tradition of paying Draughts, which I lost, we turned in for the night. This was when the fun began.

As I tossed and turned to get to sleep, I heard the rumble and howling of the wind coming off the mountains as she sped up running toward the valley and the campsite I heard it rush past the tent. Then there was silence, and like the after shock of a quake the full effect of the wind took hold. With no noise the tent blew, and shook trying to be lifted from its moorings, and then nothing. Then five minutes later the same effect. The noise of the wind followed by silence followed by the effect. This went off throughout the night and into the morning which made the packing of tents a very enjoyable experience as we battled with the gales to un-pin our shelters from the ground while still trying to keep said tents firmly in our grasp.

I later find out they call this the Langdale Express and sometimes the wind come from both directions and crashes in the centre of the valley.

After packing away and checking the forecast we moved on to climb Wetherlam. But that is a different story all together. As I when I say climb, I mean climb.

The first part of this weekend break was a fantastic adventure with good company. I had ran a good race, walked in one of the few places that I hold dear to my heart next to Snowdon and had a lot of good ale and fantastic food.

Leaving Party

I have already touched on this briefly, but as I look at pictures on Pinterest I find myself thinking that I need to go to Wales again.

We all know I love the place. But how cool would a weekend away in a cottage with just the couple of best mates that I have. Drinking, walking and talking. Exploring all the North West Castles for one last time.

At the moment it is a dream and will stay as such as they will all have excuses as to why they couldn’t possibly attend. Some with good reason others because they can’t take time out.

While I’m missing people now (not seen some for months)… I think it is good practice for when I do leave. After all I won’t be seeing these people for a year and who knows I might not even chat or talk to them again. For me this trip is a big deal… bigger than getting married, having a child. I want my friends to be there for me. This is only going to happen the once and while I am doing this for myself, I still need the comfort of my mates.

But it would be nice to have one last good bye…just in case I didn’t see them again. But maybe that’s just me… Maybe I know I won’t be seeing these people again. They may well be under the impression that in a years time we will be drinking again in the local (not that we have local). However anything can happen in a year.

It would be good to do a proper leaving party… and maybe my friends have it under control but I do fear that I may end up exiting quietly only to log on to Facebook in NZ to find messages of ‘Have you gone? We didn’t get to say goodbye’

The real question is should I bother to organise my own party. I suggested this to a friend, who said ‘You can’t do that!’ a couple of weeks later he sent a text asking what I wanted to do? To me that was as good as organising it…

If I am honest, then I don’t want a fuss. I want those who are close to me, and spend as much time as possible with them… Doing the things we have done together like drinking, walking, camping, cycling all just for one last time. If we really get to it, then there is only a handful of people I would like to attend, and I can count them off on one hand.

Off course I wouldn’t object to a big piss up as well, in a bar with everyone who I know.

My special place.

Really short one.

But for some reason and I am not sure why, I dreamt about death last night and what I would do if I died.

While the jury is still out on burial I know that I would like a bench to be placed on top of Snowdon. A nice circular one with a tree planted in the middle and if I did go down the route of cremation than I would have my ashes scattered over Snowdon and Cadir Idris.

I think this also cam about as a friend sent me a link on twitter ‘a song for @lddex’ The song was “Rambler” by The Houghton Weavers.

I like it, as the song is me…. and the line ‘But sooner than part from the mountains, I think I would rather be dead’ is true.

So let’s make this a legal document. When i do pass, I would like some sort of bench or tree to be planted on my favourite mountain looking over the place where i feel happiest.

the Song, Sung by a different group.