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2015 review

The time has come and I can put it off no longer. It’s time to look back at 2015 and choose my 10 favourite images of the last year.

The coming of a new year often heralds thoughts of what we have done, things we could have done differently and the things we hope to do in the year ahead. As a photographer I suppose the obvious question is where is my photography going and where do I hope to take it in 2016? The answer to that is nowhere! My intention is to carry on exactly as I did before and have done since I started this journey 5 years ago when I bought my little Canon G12.

My raison de etre is, and has always been, to go out into the mountains, taking a camera with me in case I come across beautiful light. Things might change for me in the future but now, more than ever I know who I am as a photographer. I’m not trying to create something out of nothing in flat light nor am I trying to be clever; I’m not trying to be original or artistic. I am, however, trying to make a statement, and it’s a simple one…Eryri is special, it is magical and I adore it more than words can say. Perhaps that’s why I started taking photographs in the first place.

One thing I have learned is not to look over my shoulder and worry about what other very talented amateur and semi-pro photographers are doing, however many of them I have come to think of as friends. It’s none of my business what they get up to.

I have no desire to shoot the aurora borealis or star trails, I couldn’t be less interested in capturing airbourne war machines flying through our valleys and I am very sure that there won’t be many photographs from me of climbers, tour of Britain cyclists or anything else that fails to stir my soul. The mountains are my all consuming passion and when bathed in beautiful transient light they offer up once in a lifetime moments that can never be repeated and they are what I hope to experience and record on my wanderings on our hills.

This approach of being true to myself and not trying to second guess what people may like has served me well. Last year I led photowalks, gave talks, I was interviewed by various websites and enjoyed double page spreads and multi-page articles in the two biggest UK hillwalking magazines, something I could only have dreamed of when I first picked up a camera.

Closer to home, with the support of my partners John Rowell, Marion Waine and the Moel Siabod Café our ‘Soul of Snowdonia’ Gallery is going from strength to strength, another thing I could never have predicted!

I’m not a clever man, I work purely on instinct and please myself much of the time. I think being single and living in the mountains promotes this mode of being and has led to me being able to concentrate fully on what I am doing which is, purely and simply, enjoying my time doing what I love and immersing myself in the landscape. Long may it continue…it’s a good life.

Before I go, I’d like to sincerely thank everyone who has supported me in the past year, be it on Facebook, Flickr or in ‘real life’ where friends and family have been an invaluable source of comfort and have provided a kick up the arse when needed.

So, without further ado and in chronological order, here are my 10 favourite images of 2015.

For a larger version click on any of the images.

The Stand –Scots pines in Cwm Dulyn – March 3rd 2015 1.50pm

Canon 7D – f/10 – 1/250 – 40mm – ISO 100 – LEE 0.9 soft grad – Handheld

A planned walk over Craig Eigiau in the Carneddau was derailed when I caught sight of this isolated stand of pine trees in the distance. I spent the afternoon shooting them from all angles and lighting conditions after having my lunch in a deserted Dulyn Bothy, a spooky place in a menacing setting with just the wild ponies for company.

The Stand - Scots Pine in Cwm Dulyn

 

Play of light – Cnicht and the Moelwynion – March 24th 2015 4pm

Canon 7d – f/11 – 1/40 – ISO 100 – 17mm – LEE 0.6 – 0.9 soft grads – Tripod

On a dull day of drizzle and low cloud I was experiencing cabin fever and sorely needed to get out into the hills. Not wanting to walk around in mist I stayed relatively low and headed for the lakes of Cerrig Myllt, cradled in rock bound hollows on Yr Arddu, a fine rock peak which lies between the Nantmor Valley and Cnicht. It wasn’t long before breaks appeared in the cloud base and wonderful, ever changing storm light illuminated the surrounding mountains. I spent an hour in soaking showers and freezing gale force winds shooting frame after frame, oblivious to any discomfort and ecstatic to be witnessing such a show in complete solitude. Play of light - Cnicht and the Moelwynion

 

 

Castell y Gwynt – April 20th 2015 – 8.05pm

Canon 7D – f/11 – 1/10 – 19mm – ISO 100 – LEE 0.6 – 0.9 soft grads – Tripod

With April comes daylight hours that are long enough to do a day at work and get out into the mountains in the evening, a joy known only to those who live in mountainous areas. On this particular evening I hadn’t any solid plans but drove into the Ogwen Valley, ten minutes from home. I parked the car and realised it had been many years since I had done Seniors Ridge so that is what I did, arriving at the summit of Glyder Fawr totally alone but strangely dissatisfied, not being inspired by any of the compositional possibilities. I made my way over to Glyder Fach and the gothic architecture of Castell y Gwynt (Castle of the Wind) which I had shot a year ago in similar conditions. There I waited for the most vibrant light to arrive, rejoicing in having such an incredible place all to myself. I took the shot and quietly went on my way, descending the Gribin ridge in the gloaming.

Castell Y Gwynt

 

 

Morning Mists – Llyn y Caseg Fraith – Sept 7th 2015 – 7.40am

Canon 6D – f/8 – 1/25 – 24mm – ISO 100 – LEE 0.9 soft grad – Tripod

After a wildcamp beside Llyn y Caseg Fraith I awoke to mist and seemingly no chance of the shot I had planned, the classic view of Tryfan reflected in the waters of the llyn. With no place to go and time on my hands I decided to stay put and just enjoy being there. Half an hour after sunrise things began to happen but still no sign of Tryfan. That morning was an example of the need to sometimes be flexible and work with the conditions to hand. As it happens, I find this shot of a half concealed Glyder Fach across the llyn more satisfying than the well know view I had come to capture such is its one off nature. Morning mists - Llyn y Caseg Fraith

 

 

An evening on Moel Ysgafarnogod – Sept 12th 2015 – 7.27pm

Canon 6D – f/11 – 1/25 – 24mm – ISO 400 – LEE 0.6 – 0.9 soft grads – Tripod

With little time to spare but a very real need to be in the Rhinogydd I headed over to Eisingrug with a view of getting up Moel Ysgafarnogod for last light. With two hours until sunset I raced off, wondering if I would make it in time. I needn’t have worried as I was stood breathless on the summit an hour after leaving the car! During my vigil the wind was ferocious and I noticed a band of rain heading towards me from Llanbedr. I was caught in two minds. Do I cut my losses and run or endure a soaking in the hope of better things to come? I kept the faith and after the deluge I was gifted with some of the most intense evening light I had seen in a long time. It was a bedraggled but happy Livesey that trudged down the mountain that night.

An evening on Moel Ysgyfarnogod

 

 

Lakes, mountains and sea – Moel Eilio from Bwlch Main – Oct 1st 2015 – 6.50pm

Canon 6D – f/11 – 0.5 – 33mm – ISO 100 – LEE 0.6 – 0.9 soft grads – Tripod

It was one of those afternoons where I felt little hope of capturing anything decent. It was hazy and the sky was cloudless and devoid of any interest, my least favoured conditions. Nevertheless, I was bent on an ascent of Snowdon and went up via the Rhyd Ddu path, reaching the top in just over an hour and a half. On my way down I decided to sit on Bwlch Main and just take it all in as it’s such a wonderful vantage point. As is so often the case on my days out I was all alone, a real privilege on one of the world’s busiest mountains. 20 minutes before sunset I sensed a change and set up my camera as the light built in intensity and rich saturated colours painted the mountain. I decided on this composition, looking down into Cwm Clogwyn and its lakes, book-ended by Llyn Cwellyn and Llyn Padarn with the Irish Sea beyond. A timely reminder of my friend’s maxim, “If you can’t be with the light you love, then love the light you’re with”! Lakes, mountains and sea - Moel Eilio from Bwlch Main

 

 

As far as the eye can see – Southern Snowdonia – Nov 2nd 2015 – 8.13am

Canon 6D – f/8 – 0.5 – 70mm – ISO 100 – Handheld

After capturing Castell y Gwynt in its autumn dawn glory I started my descent of Glyder Fach, resting a while on the Cantilever, a place apart, unlike anywhere else and often crowded in the hours between dawn and dusk. My gaze ranged south through the haze at the ranks of mountain ridges all the way to Cadair Idris, 30 miles away and the southern limit of Snowdonia. It was incredibly satisfying to know that there was barely a mountain in that panorama that I hadn’t climbed at some point in the last two years. Whoever said familiarity breeds contempt had obviously never visited Snowdonia.

As far as the eye can see - Southern Snowdonia

 

 

In the Moelwynion – Llyn Conglog and Cnicht – Nov 16th 2015 – 11.55am

Canon 6D – f/11 – 1/50 – 24mm – ISO 100 – LEE 0.6 – 0.9 soft grads – Tripod

Two weeks of rain (little did I know what was to come in December) had left me feeling like a caged animal so it was with relief that a brief weather window allowed me to get into the hills. I sorely needed solitude so chose Allt Fawr in the Moelwynion for dose of sanity restoration. At the top the light was very fine but the wind strong and mind-numbingly cold. For an hour I shot for five minutes at a time before retreating behind the summit escarpment to re-warm, moaning with discomfort before going out for round 1, 2, 3 and 4, by which time I was satisfied I had a good image, allowing me to return to the valley and seek out some warm food and drink. In the Moelwynion

 

 

Snowdon – 21st Dec 2015 – 2.24pm

Canon 6D – f/7.1 – 1/125 – 70mm – ISO 100 – Handheld

In December my home village of Capel Curig enjoyed over 1000mm of rain, smashing records as storm after storm rolled in off the Atlantic Ocean. We had 50 consecutive days of rain and for those of us whose joy comes from being in the mountains it’s been a difficult time. The opportunities for getting out to make images have been few and far between but when they have come I have jumped at them. This image was taken from a very quiet hill called Moel y Dyniewyd, the high point of a small mountain group that sits above Beddgelert. Once again it was in a searing wind that I stood for two hours watching the light and shadow over the Snowdon Massif and this picture really encapsulates the atmosphere of the afternoon spent up there. It was a joy to be out again.

Snowdon

 

 

Snowdonian Ridge Wandering – 24th Dec 2015 – 2.43pm

Canon 6D – f/8 – 1/100 – 24mm – ISO 100 – Handheld

As with the last image, this is a recent one where the weather gods allowed me to play. For the last 2 years at about this time of year and quite unplanned, me and my friend Dave Dear have headed over to Moel Eilio to walk the ridge in various directions. The weather always seems to be changeable and the wind is always strong to gale force. Perhaps that’s why we choose to do this walk along broad ridges where it would be very difficult to fall off! This image was taken on such a day when the light played tricks and the wind howled across the heights. I have included this one in my top ten as on all the other occasions we have walked here I have never had the light I wanted. I could have chosen a dozen images from this day alone and many more spectacular than this one, but to me it captures the atmosphere of one of our wonderful windswept battles on Eilio. Snowdonian ridge wandering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Attention – New photography blog

Greetings folks, a shameless plug I’m afraid!
Logo copy
As I have become more serious about my photography in the last 12 months I have started a new blog to showcase some of my images and share the odd musing on the very same. I’d be really pleased if any of my followers could have a look and maybe follow the new Nick Livesey Mountain Images Blog too.
The Bleak District
The appearance of the NLMI blog doesn’t mean that I will be neglecting ‘Livesey on Britain’s Mountains’ though. I’ll still be sharing tales of my adventures (and misadventures) on the UK hills here so you’ll have to put up with it for the foreseeable future!
Many thanks,
Nick

The Distant call of home

The distant call of home

Of mountains and me
Wales Nov with Andyukc 034
In just over a year’s time I will be celebrating an important anniversary and come August 2012 ten years will have passed since I took my first nervous steps into a world that has become not only an all consuming passion but possibly the saviour of my sanity.

I remember that first day well and the passing of a decade has done little to dull my memories of those few hours I spent on Silver How, that diminutive fell which stands above Grasmere in the English Lake District. I remember slipping around on wet grass in my trainers, fearing an imminent demise on loose scree and marvelling at the view from the top, realising that up there I had come upon that which for 29 years I had so spectacularly failed to find. It had been waiting for me my entire life and I recognised it immediately, for though buried beneath a morass of mediocrity, misguided ambitions and wrong turns it had been calling incessantly over a gulf of both distance and time. Finally and at long last, I’d come home.

As a young lad I quickly became aware that the world I had been born into could be a cruel place of injustice, unhappiness and pain. I became obsessed with the possibility of nuclear annihilation, dwelled on my parents break up and wondered what my father, a heroin addict and regular guest of Her Majesty was doing now that me and mum were gone forever. Though lost and confused I hid my worries in humour, cheekiness, football and later a prodigious musical talent in which I immersed myself completely. But, come early adulthood I had discovered the anaesthetic qualities of illicit self medication and by my mid twenties added alcoholism to the mix. Though loved, popular and blessed with a handful of true friends I was lonely and disconsolate, wondering how the hell I had got into such a mess and had almost given up hope of extracting myself from it.
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And then a strange thing happened; while visiting the local library I stumbled upon two books, ‘Wales’ by W.A.Poucher and ‘Fellwalking with Wainwright’. I took them home and before I knew it had a large fine to pay! Those books opened my eyes to real beauty and inspired in me a sense of timelessness which gave me a perspective transcending the modern day vision of how life should be and how far from fitting into it I was and could ever be. I was onto something.

I started thinking about the school holidays I’d spent back in Manchester with my large family and more to the point the journeys to and from these short breaks. Grandad would pick me up and unfailingly we would stop in the car park by the River Derwent in Baslow and then continue past Ladybower reservoir and over the Snake Pass. The wild environs thereabouts fired my imagination and sometimes when wind and rain lashed the summit I would drift off into those imaginings and wonder what it would be like to go exploring a land which seemed as remote and barren to me then as might be the North Pole or the Sahara Desert.

In Manchester I had many exciting things to do, shopping for trendy fashions in town, watching United or playing my uncles guitar, though on my return to Peterborough the things that stirred insistent within me were the mysterious hills of Peakland and the distant blue Pennines which often came unexpectedly into view around my grandparent’s house.
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That, I suppose, was the start of it and though long forgotten those library books flicked a switch in my head, one which refused to switch back. Before long I became an ‘expert’ on the Lakeland fells even though upon them I had yet to tread. An obsessive by nature I slowly became engrossed in waking dreams of Britain’s wild places until I could think of little else. Two years passed and then a chance encounter brought about a reunion with a dear but long lost friend who unbeknown to me had been living in Grasmere and Rowardennan on the shores of Loch Lomond. He too had fallen for the simplicity and truth of the hills and while I had been losing myself in books and magazines he had tasted paradise and was keen to share it with me having experienced for himself their healing properties. On the 10th of August 2002 we headed up to Manchester to watch United and after the match found our way to Grasmere where a night in the Red Lion Hotel was followed by our walk on Silver How. And that dear reader is, as they say, history.

And what times I have had, both with friends and alone among nature’s gifts…wild days on the Carneddau, endless summer days climbing on the crags of Lakeland, roaming the fells until the last rays of sun brought another joyous day to a close, Scottish winter days where the air was so clear I could see for fifty miles in every direction or dancing along airy ridges high above the clouds…almost too many to remember but each giving memories that will remain evergreen, and what’s more, health permitting I have so many more to look forward to. In a world where bad news seems all pervasive time spent in the company of the mountains makes any sadness a little easier to bear.

These days I rarely drink to excess and never use drugs. I am happier than I have ever been and credit the times I have spent in the hills for the almost miraculous turn around in my fortunes, that, and meeting the love of my life though some would say, only half jokingly that the mountains are my greatest love. However, what good is the freedom of the hills if there is no one waiting for you in the valley?

So why have I felt the need to tell you all this? The sole reason for writing about my adventures in this blog is not to impress my sofa bound friends with my ‘heroic’ deeds but to inspire them to seek for themselves the fun, excitement, camaraderie and peace that is to be found by anyone who chooses to look further than the limits of their home towns or foreign sun holidays. The wonderful set of islands we call Britain have so much to offer though sadly remain undiscovered by many of our countrymen. If you, like I did, feel lost or unhappy, confused or disillusioned  then why not visit North Wales or Lakeland, the Peak or Scotland? Go on, why not put your boots on and give it a try?
Lakes April bank holbest 086

We’ve been having fun all summer long

 

                                        We’ve been having fun all summer long

                                                              Tales of a bumbly summer
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It is early October and here in the Welland Valley the mornings are beginning to freshen, the mist hangs low and the foliage is showing signs of the spectacular changes that will soon turn our part of the world -and indeed my beloved uplands- into a wonderland of golden loveliness. Time then, to reflect on a summer of rare vintage. A summer filled with great climbs, inexplicable grade breakthroughs and dominated by a new-found love of gritstone climbing. Since the start of May I have been very active, climbing 114 routes in a variety of venues from grotty Leicestershire quarries to Lakeland Crags via the Peakland outcrops and of course my spiritual home in Eryri. 114 routes, many were forgettable, some frightening, others joyous but most of them worthwhile in one way or another.

May was the month of a strange obsession fuelled by my move to the Leicestershire/Rutland border. Esoteric ‘delights’ close to home became the objects of my desire and a Saturday morning ritual developed centring around the Leicestershire Climbs website and the UKC logbooks. “Where shall we climb today” was the call and in due course we took in the polished hornstone of Beacon Hill, Markfield’s igneous intrusion, the day-glow orange precambrian slate agglomerate of the Outwoods and even a spot of buildering at Slawston Bridge. Things were starting to get a little weird and my fevered dreams were giving cause for concern so a departure from our local outcrops was in order and where better than the mountains of Lakeland to sooth a troubled mind?
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So it was off to Borrowdale for Lucie’s first taste of multi-pitch on Bentley Beetham’s big boot extravaganza ‘Corvus’ followed by an afternoon at ‘Shepherds’ where we added to the polish on Brown Slabs. Accompanied by Croc and Peter the highlight of the weekend (for some) may well have been our scenic drive home through North Yorkshire and a well earned meal at the Tan Hill Inn but Lucie will tell you that it was her ascent of Brown Slabs Crack after one of our number ignominiously called for a top rope. She can be a cruel, unfeeling wench.
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June was a bumper month with wall to wall sunshine enabling me to bag 46 routes. Three out of four weekends were spent camping in the Peak with only a trip to Craig Buddon in Leicestershire bucking the trend. We started with Lucie’s first visit to Stanage’s High Neb where cracks, corners and bold slabs were climbed. Most memorable for me was struggling up a short severe trying desperately not to fall on poor gear only to top out to a mob of marauding teenagers, one of which enquired as to my well being, “Are you ok”? “No, I’m fucking well not” came my terse reply!
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So, on to the compact rock of Craig Buddon which overlooks the picturesque Swithland reservoir. Only two routes were climbed; one a dirty and forgettable VDiff and the other a stiffer proposition. Starco (HVS 5a) turned out to be a complete bastard and largely gearless save for a shiny new piton which took our weight on more occasions than I care to mention. Stiff moves to vanquish the overhang proved too much for a short arse and soon I was pumped. The bouncing Czech fared no better and was soon back beside me wondering when we could go home.

Inspiration was sorely needed and came in the form of a magnificent display from a spitfire which flew overhead performing a number of breathtaking aerobatic manoeuvres. Suitably inspired I jumped back on the route reaching the crux overhang only to glance down at my ‘attentive’ belayer who was gawping in every direction but mine as our airborne chum continued to throw shapes high above. Poise turned to rage and in a blur of flailing limbs I suddenly had two hands on a huge jug and pulled through the move roaring out my victory in no uncertain terms. A one move wonder and a terrible dog but I’d climbed my first HVS. Now we could go home.
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The next weekend found us back at Stanage, this time at the (ever) popular end where an early start paid dividends. With the crag to ourselves we bagged route after route including the wonderful Black Hawk Hell Crack, Flying Buttress, Hollybush Crack, Heaven Crack and Lucie’s first lead on Straight Chimney.
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By mid June we were really finding our rhythm and headed north again stopping off at Birchen en route to our camp site. As has become our custom we soloed a few Vdiffs as an aperitif before moving on to better things. Captain’s Prerogative fell easily (HS my arse), Fo’c’sle Wall felt stiff at VS 4c while Wonderful Copenhagen served up a perplexing 5a move before I could add it to my newly bulging log book. The route I really wanted though was the ‘Classic Rock’ tick of Topsail. I had seconded it a few years ago and had harboured a desire to lead it ever since, now seemed as good a time as any to bag it. Sadly the crux put up absolutely no resistance whatsoever and I regret to say that it was a complete anti climax, a timely reminder that to get the most from certain routes they must be tackled at just the right time in one’s climbing career; as it happened I had missed the boat my about a month!

The following day was a ‘two crag’ day and an early start found us at a deserted Bamford Edge. Now, although Lucie was none to keen I have to say that I found this quiet and wonderfully positioned crag a balm for the soul and will surely return before too long as a certain Gargoyle Flake is sounding the clarion call. First though I need a willing friend to take my picture on the photogenic finishing moves which will adorn our mantelpiece. Anyhow, we climbed some nice little numbers with ‘Possibility’ (S4a) giving me a chuckle-some scare as a startled pigeon parted my hair on the hand traverse but best of all by a country mile was the brilliant ‘Brown’s Crack’ (HS4b), a wonderful arrow-straight line affording a sustained but well protected orgy of jamming. Haven’t climbed it yet? Then put it on your list and see for yourself, you will not be disappointed.

At midday we’d (read Lucie had) had enough of Bamford’s skin shredding ramparts but were still eager to climb more so we headed off to Burbage North which I was sure would hit the spot and keep the Bouncing Czech smiling…it did and she found herself rejoicing (perversely I might add) in Green Groove and Sentinel Chimney, grot encrusted fissures which have since become her speciality. With her appetite for constriction satiated she more sensibly commandeered pole position for her first leads at the grade of severe, collecting Ring Climb and then Still Orange after which she goaded me with claims that I was a cheating wimp for taking a slightly lower line on the short traverse. The girl was getting too big for her Mammuts and suffering from delusions of Dawes-like natural ability but since it had taken me two years of climbing before I managed my first severe and her a mere six weeks I had scant grounds for protestation. Playing the long game I held my tongue until a suitable opportunity to redress the balance of power presented itself. I didn’t have to wait too long and when I came upon Black Slab (VS 4b) I lost no time in jumping on it. Moving smoothly and in my mind’s eye with great style I made it look easy and to me it was, I like slabs. Lucie however doesn’t and wobbled amusingly up on thin moves emitting snorts of displeasure. Male pride was restored.
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Next weekend saw us back at Burbage where 12 more routes were added to our collection. After our customary solos we got onto the good stuff with three brilliant VS cracks, Brooks’ Layback, Greeny Crack and most satisfyingly Amazon Crack which I had struggled to climb on top rope a couple of years ago. It was about this time that I started to feel like a real climber and wanting to prove it beyond all doubt I got on Bilberry Cake, a slabby little number which at HVS 5a flatters the ego and makes one wonder where the 5a move is. Strangely I have climbed harder Vdiffs! Lucie meanwhile was continuing her reign of terror though I am not sure who was more terrified when after a guide book reading error she found herself soloing Right Recess Crack. Sketchy moves saw her to the top and not wanting to be outdone I engaged with the bugger before losing my resolve and down climbing. A brief consultation of Eastern Grit revealed that our Vdiff was in fact Hard Severe!

The following day we headed off to Higgar Tor as I was keen to climb on the leaning tower. A cold and blustery wind kept our endeavours to a minimum and after climbing Hecate we scurried away and drove to Manchester to visit my Grandad. On our return home we decided to take a detour through Western Grit country for a quick reconnoitre of Ramshaw and the Roaches. By the time we reached Hen Cloud it was 7 pm and I was fairly itching to climb but dared not broach the subject for fear of being branded a crag glutton. Now, I have for a time suspected that Lucie is the perfect woman but conclusive proof arrived when without any prompting on my part she got out of the car and pulled our sacks from the boot, the words “Let’s climb something” were music to my ears. As had been the case in Derbyshire earlier in the day it was very, very windy but from memory I knew of a Vdiff (The Arete) which we could get done without too much fuss.

The climb starts with a boulder problem on an elephant’s arse and for the life of me I couldn’t make the move, yo yo-ing ignominiously and quite convinced I was going to fall off. This amused the bouncing Czech enormously until I was forced to silence her mirth with a stern “Shut up”! She then pointed out that maybe I was taking the wrong line…she was right (as per usual) and soon I was below the steep and exposed crux with the wind threatening to rip my helmet off. An exciting manoeuvre led me to easier ground and the first belay. Lucie followed easily hooting at the exposure and climbing like a monkey. The next two pitches were uneventful and we topped out in the evening sunshine to a round of applause from and old gentleman who had been watching our antics. It had been a strange day but Hen Cloud had provided just the tonic we needed to fortify us for the long journey home.
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A week lifting carpets whilst dreaming of rock followed and I was glad when the weekend came around. Sadly Lucie had to work so with ‘Team Demon’ member Gavin I made for Froggatt where tales of bold slabs had me gagging for some action. After a couple of warm up climbs I made a bee line for that doyen of debate, Three Pebble Slab which I climbed with no apparent difficulty. In less than three months I’d gone from a confirmed Vdiffer to leading my first E1, or at least I thought I had, TPS has since been downgraded to HVS but I am taking the tick folks! Full of bravado and puffed up with pride there was only one climb I was interested in, Tody’s Wall which surely would go without incident. In actuality it didn’t happen and after surmounting the overhang in a most unorthodox fashion I found myself in a tangle of limbs knowing that any move I made would see me plummet earthwards. I had to do something but what could I do? Before I could puzzle out the answer I peeled off backwards and in a flash was hanging off Gavin’s brand new ‘Dragon Cam’ sporting a nasty rope burn on my hand. Never again will I berate university freshers grappling with a three star classic. Well, not until I can myself dispatch the said classic with aplomb, though I like them should stick to the less popular routes until developing the prerequisite skills!
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So, whilst enjoying my cragging immensely it was time to get back to the mountains, this time with Gavin and ‘Psycho’ Simon Perkins. Unfortunately we arrived in Eryri to a forecast of rain and more rain but unperturbed we waited for a break in the deluge and legged it over to Grooved Arete on the East Face of Tryfan. We all knew it was a bad idea but dogged optimism allied with a mongoloid bent found us abseiling off the third pitch. We must have made a sorry sight soloing Tryfan Bach soggy and dishevelled on the way back to the car. The next day was no better so off home we went stopping only to grab an impromptu couple of routes at Castle Inn Quarry, one of which (Route 1 5+) proved to be an absolute beauty with some fantastic flowstone features.
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Now then, up until this point (mid July) I had been out climbing or walking every weekend since early April and when my progress was derailed by a three week hiatus I apparently became a pig to live and work with (my sincerest apologies are hereby extended to my nearest and dearest), so it was a great relief to everyone involved when once again Lucie and I found ourselves back home in Eryri.

Arriving as we did in the middle of the day we took in a brief tour of the Dinorwig quarry and whilst there I gave Lucie her first taste of the slate on Equinox, Seamstress and First Stop, one of the bolted routes at Bus Stop with a lower off attached a dangerously loose block, if you know what’s good for you etc. Though a little unsure of the climbing style, Lucie was very impressed with Dinorwig’s sombre and other worldly environs. Indeed, I foresee another visit before too long.
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The next day dawned beautifully bright and dry so it was back to Tryfan for my forth ascent of First Pinnacle Rib and Lucie’s first multi pitch leads. The girl did good and as a result we monstered the climb in less than three hours which left plenty of scope for more. With that in mind we descended the South Ridge and contoured around Y Gribin to have a play on Sub Cneifion Rib which was even better than I remembered it to be with lovely delicate pitches bookending a scrappy middle section. We left the mountains more than satisfied but I’m told that for the following 20 days I was a grumpy arse and a complete nightmare to live with. Can anyone see a pattern forming?
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Anyway, I became the perfect partner after another blast in the mountains, this time with my ‘Team Desperate’ cohorts Andy and the Nobz. A great day on Sentries Ridge was augmented by some more rain dodging on Craig Caseg Fraith Isaf where polished severes were the order of the day. That evening we were joined by the bouncing Czech who I had missed terribly and possibly more so than the mountains whilst in exile so it was great to be with my two true loves again, a happy man was I. With a half day to play with we dragged Andy to Cwm Idwal as Lucie had developed a preoccupation with the eponymous slabs and knowing her as I do there was no danger of me getting any peace until she had got to grips with their polished holds. As per usual the more popular courses were busy so we chose Faith which gave a pleasant outing and an abject lesson in why I insist that Lucie faces in to the rock when descending steep ground. A lesson she hasn’t quite taken on board resulting in a lower off from some in situ tat.

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So, to bring us right up to date we must visit Cwm Graianog -home of the Atlantic Slab- with big Peter Lane and ‘Dangerous’ Croc. Readers will already be aware that I am big fan of climbing in Graianog so I won’t wax lyrical but merely give you the facts. Our main objective was the fantastic Left Edge but first big Peter insisted that we warm up on the Red Slab. Lucie and I chose Underlap, an uneventful Vdiff but a good introduction to the climbing style there whilst ‘Team Dangerous’ enjoyed Savannah. After our warm up some nasty scree bashing led us the bottom of Left Edge where as soon as I set foot on the first pitch the rain started and refused to abate until we reached the car some hours later. Ok, so it wasn’t the best way to end a spectacular summer season but it was much better than nothing and who knows, it’s only October, the weather for the next week is looking good and I will be spending that week in beautiful Lakeland. Watch this space.
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Leicestershire Rock

Leicestershire Rock

Beacon Hill and Markfield Quarry

I have recently had the great pleasure of moving from the flatlands of East Anglia to the slightly less flat Leicestershire/Northamptonshire/Rutland border. It’s a beautiful area of rolling hills, wide river valleys and quaint villages affording some wonderful walking which I fully intend to explore extensively. However, more attractive to me is the fact that here we have climbing crags within 40 minutes of our home, a real luxury to a Peterborough boy.

Now then, all this might not be as promising as it sounds as Leicestershire is hardly a Mecca for climbers and word has it that the crags range from esoteric to downright abysmal. That said, I am of the opinion that any rock has got to be better than a climbing wall but we are going to have to find out for ourselves whether or not this holds true. So far our first two trips out have been very successful. So, I give you…

Beacon Hill

To start our exploration of the local crags we made the short drive to Beacon Hill, the second highest point in Leicestershire where we found a delightful country park with curious outcrops of extremely polished ‘Hornstone’ rock. From the car park ‘Summit Crag’ was clearly in view so armed with a rope and rack Lucie and I strode off to sample all it had to offer. Within half an hour we had soloed everything on the crag bar the E3 and HVS which at the time of writing are far beyond our meagre abilities (but watch this space!).

Disregarding the strange looks we were attracting from dog walkers and families out for fresh air we continued on to ‘Beacon Face Right’, which though of similar height is more impressive, resembling the smaller gritstone edges of the peak. We didn’t tarry long for the green rock was less than welcoming but we did solo two routes whilst wondering if it had been worth the effort of lugging all our gear from the car. Outside wall (severe 4a) is a delightful little climb and provided an anxious moment when Lucie fell off at half height, narrowly avoiding broken bones with some nifty boulder hopping. Next we climbed ‘Slippery Slabs’ (VDiff). Lucie’s fall had clearly given her pause for thought as nearing the top she wobbled and a call went out for assistance. However, by the time I reached the top of the crag she was up and laughing again.

We then legged it to ‘Number Three Crag’ which comprises of a striking set of 10 metre pinnacles split by dank little gullies. I quickly soloed Forest Wall (VDiff) before roping up for ‘Starlight’ (Hard Severe 4b) which fell without a fight. Across the way we found ‘Number four Crag’ and soloed ‘Bow’ (VDiff) a climb small in stature but big in quality, a short excursion into jug pulling up overhanging rock. Though we were going well the sky was threatening rain so we decided to finish off on ‘Jack in the Box’ another HS. This one proved to be a steep, fingery beast and we frigged it for over an hour, admitting defeat only after taking a leader fall each.

So, Beacon Hill, a pleasant place for an afternoon of soloing if the Peak is out of reach and time is short. We will be back, if only to settle the score with a recalcitrant Jack in the box.

Markfield Quarry

The weekend after our trip to Beacon Hill I persuaded Lucie to accompany me to Markfield Quarry. I’ve heard a few good things (relatively speaking) and a lot of bad about the place and wasn’t expecting anything other than a manky, tottering pile of choss, furnished with burnt out cars and rusty shopping trolleys, but so desperate was I to climb I was willing to give it a go. Well, there certainly is choss to be found if that is your peculiar bent and the broken cider bottles are testimony to the presence of local chaverinos but there is also a very good little crag of sound rock (Betty’s Slab) to play on and that is where we started.

In order to suss out the place we chose ‘Elderberry Corner’ (VDiff) for our warm up route and though less than impressed with the climb itself the rock (Markfieldite, a type of granite) is excellent compared to the Hornstone of Beacon Hill. After Elderberry Corner I was feeling a little short changed and so plumped for ‘Crown’ (severe*), a climb which takes an uncompromising line straight up the 10 metre face, a delightful route with reachy moves and rockovers on small holds. Betty’s Slab is characterised by a lack of protection and Crown is no exception though I managed to find placements where it mattered most.

Bolstered by our success on Crown we then chose ‘Clearway’ (Severe**) and found it a tough one to crack. The first 5 metres are unprotected and technical (possible 4b/c) requiring thought and finger strength to overcome. The final 5 turned out to be a head game with indifferent placements but eventually I summoned up the nerve to top out and felt a surge of elation bubble up from my toes. A really fine little climb. With things going well and the sun beating down Lucie decided it was time for a solo and picked her way up ‘Go Home’ (Diff) scaring me witless in the process. It certainly didn’t look like a diff to me but on closer acquaintance the holds kept coming to provide a nice airy solo.

Not wanting to do any more of the vdiffs on ‘Betty’s’ we turned our attention to the ‘Grey Slab’ which from below looked completely free of protection so more soloing was in order. First we tackled ‘Gorse Slab’ (VDiff) and then ‘Baby’s Bottom’ (Severe) which certainly lived up to its name. To finish off we both soloed ‘Left Edge’ (VDiff), a nice little route festooned with jugs making a pull through the bulge a joy to behold. It had been a fantastic afternoon and we were both impressed by the quality of the climbing at Markfield. We are sure to return as there is a few more interesting looking lines for us to explore.

Trinity Face Snowdon Feb 2009

                                                             Trinity Face

 

Photo copywrite Ian Archer

Photo copywrite Ian Archer

It’s early February 2009 and in the mountains we have been enjoying the best snow conditions for many a year. Winter mountaineering in the UK is alive and well; routes of all descriptions have been climbed but amid all the prolific activity a grave price has been paid by too many of our fellow hill goers. The climbing community is stunned at the carnage and on a personal level I am extremely saddened.

At the time of writing the mountains we all love have claimed 8 lives so far this year, one of which was snuffed out on the day I will shortly describe. I will spare you such platitudes as “They died doing something they loved”, or “No mountain is worth a life, but without mountains perhaps no worthwhile life remains to be lived”, for whatever truth lies within these statements it will be of little comfort to those left behind. We must also resist the temptation to enter into hearsay or to speculate on the minutiae of the accidents, pointing out failings which in hindsight may become painfully clear. There for the grace of God go we.

 

    The media have naturally been quick to publicise the recent tragedies, for them it is good copy and a wonderful accompaniment to their hysterical reportage of “major snow events”. Armchair pundits have also been active, taking great pleasure in condemning those of us who take to the winter hills. They brand us as irresponsible idiots, egotists and adrenaline junkies. I have long since given up trying to explain let alone justify that which makes mountaineering such a rewarding activity. That they will never understand is a terrible shame for them, but free will is a blessing and we must all follow our own roads knowing not the outcome of our choices. It’s called life, and I intend to live my version of it as fully as I can; for me that means visiting the mountains as often as possible and in all weathers.

 

    So was I, after meditating on the above, disinclined to head for the hills once again? Did I fear for my safety or wonder if I would become another statistic? The simple answer is no. After being bereft of mountains for 6 long weeks I was straining at my leash, eager to get things done while winter climbing conditions remained favourable.

 

    As is usually the case, enforced inactivity had reactivated my tendency towards obsessive behaviour. What started out a few months ago as a vague ambition had quickly become a fixation and more often than I’d care to admit my thoughts were monopolised by it. My flights of fancy were circuitous, triggering powerful emotional responses and even physical though psychosomatic symptoms which further fed my compulsion. Its attractions are manifold, the most compelling of which is a beautiful direct line up the North East face of the highest mountain in the land of bards.  Something had to give; I was in dire need of release so when Jeff and Moira Smith proposed a weekend in Wales I started packing immediately, relieved that a cure had at last been found.

A wonderful day for a winter climb-Pen y Pass

A wonderful day for a winter climb-Pen y Pass

 

    We arrived at Gefnan in the knowledge that it was a Wellingborough MC weekend but reasoned that they wouldn’t begrudge us three bed spaces. As it turned out, we were not the only interlopers. We enquired in the barn about the availability of accommodation and were told that the PMC were installed next door, in fact we outnumbered them on a ratio of 3 to 1. It soon came to light that Charles Clay and Ben Robotham also had plans to climb on the Trinity Face so Moira kindly offered to drop us all at Pen y Pass in the morning.

 

    After a fitful sleep plagued with apprehension I rose and breakfasted with a knot in my stomach. My obsessions often lead me into situations of extreme terror and I wondered what the day ahead would bring as thoughts of recent events formed a cloud that followed me around the hut. I tried to reassure myself that my course need not be unswerving and I could back off our route if I felt at all unhappy about the snow conditions. Indeed it was avalanche hazard that had been worrying me of late but the forecasted wind direction pointed to minimal risk.

 

 

Charles and Ben with Crib Goch beyond

Charles and Ben with Crib Goch beyond

                At Pen y Pass in the early morning light the mountains were majestic and with purposeful strides we made our way up the Pyg Track. Six weeks away from the hills had been detrimental to my fitness but I managed to keep up with Charles who set a blistering pace ensuring that we made good time to Bwlch y Moch. There we could see that Cwm Dyli was in fantastic condition and it had an effect on me; no more anxiety did I feel, just the desire to get to Trinity Face and climb it.

Looking down on Pen y Pass from the Pyg Track

Looking down on Pen y Pass from the Pyg Track

 

    Above Glaslyn the path became an ice sheet on top of which lay a thin covering of powder snow. Here we decided to put on crampons and while doing so a serious looking solo climber approached us. He was wearing plastic boots, ski goggles and carried a single technical axe. We asked him about the condition of the face which was now lost in cloud. His report was that it was too dangerous to climb and was waiting to avalanche. I was crushed. Having invested so much nervous energy contemplating the climb it now looked as though the game was up. In the distance we could see a party making there way up to the Spider snowfield that lies below the Trinity gullies. We could hear their shouts but couldn’t decipher the words. After a time it became clear that they were retreating; surely that was the end of it, would Trinity Face remain as elusive as it had been while I was in exile in the flatlands?

Climbers making their way up to the Spider snowfield

Climbers making their way up to the Spider snowfield

 

The author, apprehensive about what lies ahead

The author, apprehensive about what lies ahead

    Charles and Ben seemed unconcerned and were intent on having a first hand look at the face so we left the Pyg Track and descended into the snow bowl. Soon we were traversing a steep slope of perfect nevé en route to the bottom of a small buttress where we geared up. We then started our ascent to the Spider and before long we were climbing loose powder. Alarm bells were ringing. “Jeff” I called, “I think I ‘m going to sack it. This snow is shit”. Jeff, who was some way above with Charles and Ben, offered some encouraging beta, “It’s much better up here, the snow is solid”. I followed unconvinced but sure enough the powder gave way to good nevé as I made my way up the Spider.

Jeff on the Spider below Central Trinity

Jeff on the Spider below Central Trinity

 

    On reaching the bottom of Central Trinity Jeff and I dug out a ledge so we could get roped up. By this time Charles had disappeared from view and Ben was starting up behind him. Below us a number parties were coming up to the Spider so we decided to move together for speed and I led off easily into the gully.

 

    The initial pitch was at a relatively easy angle and I made light work of it by plunging the shaft of my axe for balance. I then came upon a chock stone which formed a tricky step. After surmounting this obstacle I realised that to reverse it would be very difficult, an alarming realisation as the gully had steepened and from now on had to be climbed using axe placements and firm kicks with my crampons. It then dawned on me that I hadn’t placed any protection and a brief inspection of my surroundings revealed that there wasn’t any. I was feeling insecure, nervous and was starting to feel my legs cramping up. To buy a little time I cut two large steps and gave myself a good talking to.

 

    Just as I was beginning to calm down, an object that felt as big as a brick hit my helmet. This did nothing for my nerves which were starting to unravel. I looked up to see Ben, high above and hacking wildly with his axe, “There’s an ice pitch here” he cried, audibly thrilled. With the prospect of more missiles I waited until he had climbed out of sight before resuming my ascent. I had by now resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t find any protection so used every bit of concentration I could muster to climb safely, making certain that every foot and axe placement counted. Then I came to the ice pitch.

The author getting a little gripped on the ice pitch

The author getting a little gripped on the ice pitch

 

    This stopped me dead in my tracks and Jeff came up to join me. The gully was now full of climbers and if one fell they would take out everyone below them, no one had placed any protection and the situation took on a seriousness that left me nauseous. As we pondered our predicament we let two teams pass us and with their technical axes they climbed the ice with ease. Jeff and I had only one axe each and the thought of tackling the ice didn’t hold much appeal, but to retreat? No dice. The only way was up and Jeff now showed great resolve and carefully picked his way up until the rope ran out. “How’s it looking Jeff”, “It’s not too bad, I’m above the ice now and I’ve got you on belay. It’s not very good so please don’t fall off mate”.

 

   

Still not happy

Still not happy

I chose to ignore his last sentence and started up the pitch, immediately appreciating the comfort of a rope above me, however illusory my sense of security may have been. I struggled to find good axe placements, the ice was brittle and my tool blunt but after about 20 feet I was on snow again. Above, the gully widened and before long we left its confines, emerging onto the upper snowfield.

On the upper snowfield as the clouds parted

On the upper snowfield as the clouds parted

 

    Below us the clouds momentarily parted and I became all too aware of how high up we were. I felt beautiful, almost touched by the divine. The snow was steep and hard but with care we would soon be up. We could see Charles and Ben peering down at us and taking photographs. The last 30 feet steepened and for the last time I allowed myself to look down before the final push. My legs were screaming but every bit of worry and discomfort was a price worth paying, for my position on that special mountain was priceless.

The team, totally ecstatic after a wonderful climb
The team, utterly thrilled after a wonderful climb

 

    Jeff and I topped out ecstatic; handshakes were exchanged along with hearty back slaps and huge belly laughs. Celebration was in the air and we will surely remain aglow for quite some time after what was a fantastic climb. Charles and Ben were eager for more and left us on the summit to climb Y Lliwedd on their return leg. For me and Jeff though, anything other than a slow walk down the Pyg Track would have diluted the purity of our ascent. It was time to descend and for me it will soon be time to find a new obsession.

 

    On my return to Peterborough I learned that while we were celebrating on Snowdon the mountain had claimed yet another life. Please go out and enjoy our precious hills, never stop, but always take great care and go home safely. To conclude I’d like to quote Edward Whymper…

 

“There have been joys too great to be described in words, and there have been griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell; and with these in mind I say: Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end”.



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