A Few of My Favourite Things

Well I had a day off and it was meant to be good surf early doors at Hell’s Mouth. It was good but a little big so had to head elsewhere. Anyway I heard this song last night and it inspired me to have a day doing a few of MY favourite things.

So whilst most people were in the office I was surfing, bouldering, and climbing. Just a few of the things that make me tick. After I got in edited the video and headed out on the Slate to climb Last Tango in Paris as the sunset. So a pretty good day for me!


Taking Liberties… or let me do your job for you for free!

So today I have had two people annoy me, in two different ways. First off I have been e-mailing back and fourth fairly extensive notes on how I think a charity should run a walk up Snowdon. After all I have worked on many and seen both side from a rescue team and professional management perspective, so I consider myself knowledgeable in the area. In one of my first emails months ago I put in what I charge for ‘managing’ an event with around 100 competitors and given at the end of the day am also the charities ‘fall guy’ should something go wrong, I quoted a charge of £250 a day.

Anyway after basically helping get the right information on joining forms and explaining the whole qualification system in the UK and various other tips they turn rounds and said, your quote, its basically more than we have paid previously. Given I showed then the MT website and the find a leader function, I basically said for them to trawl there for a leader, as someone else might charge them less but given I charge £180 for 1 to 1 instructions a levee of around £2 per person I was ‘responsible’ for seems reasonable to me.

However I get it all the time with charities, asking for a reduction in my guiding fees, as they are doing it for charity. Sadly my business isn’t in the position where I can essentially give stuff a way for free or worse loose money on a day. As such I always put a price in early so they can beg for a reduction and I can save myself the time and effort of pampering to their needs. So I am now having to keep a day free just in case this person can’t find someone to undercut me, so whose is the mug now? A very frustrating position to be in.

Just has I put the phone down to that chancer I then get the other type of blagger I encounter regularly. The TV film crew with absolutely no budget but staying in a five star hotel, need help finding a perfect location for a rock climb promo.

I am very careful with my email now with these people. Basically answering some questions telling them why their choice of venue is rubbish for what they want, and telling them I know of other better venues but not telling them where. Enough to let them know they are talking to the right person but not enough to be of any real help. I also give them my daily rate for location scouting, management and safety cover.

Generally you then get an email back, begging for the info or fishing at probable locations. Today I didn’t tell them that their location has essentially fallen down over the winter and is fenced off for safety. After all my knowledge has cost me a fortune to acquire over the years. If you like it is my intellectual copyright, and to gain access there is now a pay wall.

Given they had the budget to get up to ten people to the area from London, you’d have thought they’d be willing got pay a fraction of that so there time here was well spent. Given they also have octocopter, which are probably over a £2000 a day with pilots, cameras and camera operators, the mind truly does boggle as to how they justify the ‘no budget’ front. On the plus side they have bought North Wales Climbs so I made a couple of quid out of them!

So please if you want me to do your job for you for free, then do email or phone me there is nothing I like more then listening to your excuses when I talk about being paid for a fair days work,  although it is usually more as in both case you are hard to please.


Game of Ghosts

I laughed when I first read Joe Simpson’s This Game of Ghost, as it seemed inconceivable to me that I would loose friends in the mountains. I am useless at remembering dates (It took me two months to get my bin out on the right day despite many iCal alarms), and often it is only Facebook that reminds me of the tragedy I have shared with friends over the years.

Today is one such day, a day when in 2010 a friend was taken by an avalanche on the Buchaile Etive Mor. I always remember Chris from hanging out with him in Llanberis when he worked for Mountain Ventures. He fitted in well to the carnage of the late 1990s in Llanberis.

I also remember him from the winter of 2005. I had just left my job at the Beacon and was going to start work at Plas Y Brenin. I took a month off to head to Scotland and do my Winter ML training. The evening I finished in the Beacon, I drove up over night and was found in the Car Park in the morning by Chris who preceded to drag into the Norries.

I then spent a couple of weeks heading out to various places with him and others. The Lliatach Traverse in Torridon really stands out as one of the best winter days out I have ever had in Scotland, as we had near alpine conditions and Chris company was perfect as ever. A few days later we returned to Torridon to attempt Middle Triple Buttress.

As I approached the start of the route I was wading through deep snow, when just feet away from perfect plastic ice my whole world started moving and as I fought to stay on the top of the avalanche. Chris shout across at me “its OK, I’ve got you”. As the snow drove itself into a boulder field I came to a stop partly buried.

Five years later Chris was not so lucky and was swept away in an Avalanche and taken from us. I had not planned anything special today as I had forgotten it was this day in 2010 that he left us. But today I headed to the beacon for a climb and then out to catch the last of yesterdays swell. I am sure Chris would enthuisatically agree that was a good use of my time.

Chris’ friends and family set up the Chris Walker Memorial Trust that both funds expeditions to the greater ranges, avalanche training for instructors and mountain guides and a free off piste skiing course.

Chris was the first friend I lost to climbing, sadly more have followed him and as I get older you start to understand that this really is a Game of Ghosts as Simpson put it.

Sometimes it is awful, I have just got in from a great surf and seen on the news that two climbers are thought to be caught in an avalanche of Ben Nevis. My thoughts instantly start to wonder who I know up there, among all the guides, instructors and climbers I know who are north of the border. Even if I don’t know the climbers, they are still brothers or sisters in arms. We can only hope for happy outcome.

Bye Bye Welsh Winter and more damnation

So the last three days I have seen the snow strip back, to be honest on the scoured slopes and ridge the cover was only a few inches deep. Today even more has gone, and I cancelled another welsh winter skills course.

Don’t get me wrong there is probably still loads of snow in the gullies and if the freezing levels drops then they will be in great condition. However the Met Office are predicting more warm and no doubt wet weather this weekend. So whilst it may not be over, I am pretty sure it is for the time being.

Today I managed to get in the sea, and it was way warmer than a couple of weeks back, probably because of the recent warm weather and sunshine! Caught a few good waves, some chunky sets coming through at cable bay.

In the mean time I am trying to catch up with all the comments people made on my last post. A few general questions answered. Yes I deliberately used Damned as a word. Yes the title was to gardener response and it seems to have worked as many people saw it and shared via various social media. Lots of people were unaware of what was going on at that specific site, I was surprised by how many people could not give two hoots about such a development in the national park.

I learnt that there were some 70+ planning applications in the National Park (The someone from the BMC said they simply can’t track them all!), most backed by a company that has seen a niche similar to you getting solar panels and not paying a dime as they take the fed in tariff to pay off the cost.

The BMC claim to have mentioned this at local area meetings (not been recently) and published Tom Huttons piece which I did read but it didn’t mention the pass specifically (although how could he mention them all with 70 of them!). However more people I know locally did not know about the development in the Pass than did. Hopefully that shows the BMC that they need to do more about engaging with the majority of local climbers in ways other than areas meetings and their website.

Also and most interesting the new director of planning at SNPA, used to work for Renewable UK and West Coast Energy (I don’t know if he has any relation to company involved in this project). Add in that the government change the planning ethos to aim at commerce and jobs rather than protecting the environment, we are starting to look done for.

I am not against all these micro hydro developments in general, many are in more urbanised areas of the national park, some are even closer to my house. I just don’t want this one to be built, simply because of its location in a wonderful valley, around 400m from the main road on the side of Snowdon. I do see the need for ‘green energy’. However I will add a few comments here, one of my favourite quotes from the Ford car company, “The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones!”. Similarly the dependence on fossil fuels will probably end because we find a better technology.

On that note, in the last month scientist have created a fusion reaction. (What essentially drives the sun, or clean nuclear energy). The experiment for the first time produced more energy than it used to contain the reaction. Maybe funding nuclear fusion technology would help speed us to a point where it is commercially viable and when energy has no carbon footprint.

Similarly, I think that helping the local community reduce their carbon emission by providing cheap/free insulation and energy efficient household systems may be of more benefit than giving a private company money to put up dams in beautiful areas. Also how much is this going to cost and how many houses could have had free solar panels fitted for that cost?

Final someone said that they are not damming the stream but building a weir. Total semantics their, and another of favourite quotes, “You can’t turn a horse into a cow, simply by calling it a cow”. It is a concrete structure design to hold back water. It is a dam!

Llanberis Pass Damned by Hydro Scheme

I haven’t been up the pass for a while, probably since september or maybe even july last year. I have also not engaged with the BMC other than to give them my subs on a yearly basis. As such maybe I have been out of the loop, with all things in the climbing community. So when I headed up into Cwm Glas this week and saw a line of wooden post hammered into the pristine mountain hillside, I had to ask myself what the hell are these marking out?

So I tweeted the picture and the question to the BMC and Snowdonia National Park twitter handles. What kind of pissed me off was I received a response from neither. Given I pay through both taxes for one (The Warden) and subs for the other (BMC). I would have thought someone could have spent the 30 seconds to reply.

Instead it took a friend who used to be a warden, answer the question by supplying a link to a planning application that has been accepted to build a dam, turbine house and underground pipes and cables. The stakes I saw were marking out the line of the pipe line, right in the middle of the pass and pretty close to the centre of the national park.

I was shocked, no flabbergasted. As tweets came in it turns out Elfyn the BMC access officer for Wales had mentioned the project at some point at a local area meeting and no one took him seriously. As how could the national park allow a development like this in the middle of the park. After all, isn’t their job to protect the unspoilt nature of the park?

Given I have heard stories of them stopping people build sheds i  there gardens under draconian planning laws. If you live inside the parks boundaries you have to use vastly more expensive local slate rather than cheaper imported slate and one person told me they made them move a new build house 10ft to the side for no apparent reason. (If you have any ridiculous planning stories please share them in the comment section below).

Now I know I am join the likes of the ‘Not in my back yard’ brigade, but I have to say I have not been that bothered by wind farms on the borders of the park or out at sea. But the Llanberis Pass is one of the most breathe taking mountain valleys in the UK and the Park have agreed to build a dam and turbine house in it.

Yet for some reason the first I have heard of it was literally tripping over the surveyors posts. Why haven’t the BMC made more out of publicising this? I have search their website and found no mention of it. I in part blame myself, but after four thankless years volunteering for the BMC I really feel I wasted enough of my time engaging with them.

My subs should mean this sort of thing is highlighted or flagged up. Tom Hutton wrote something on other schemes but never mentioned the Pass scheme. Which makes me wonder how they managed to get that under the radar of everyone. I am starting to think that maybe they cut a planning corner, like failing to notify people and interested group. I of course know nothing about planning law but you’d think there was some need to inform.

On twitter I joked that Elfyn goes on too many holidays, but I know he drives all over the UK and works more than his 40 hours a week. Meaning he soon accumulates all that holiday, but whose catching those curve balls when he is away? Does Wales need more than one officially appointed officer from the BMC, whose is also responsible for some work across the border. So we can’t even say that our one officers is full time.

I don’t know what to do. The decision seems to have been made and unless someone who understands planning in the national park wants to come up with a way to fight this development  for a hydro power station in the middle of Llanberis Pass. Running on what is essentially such a small stream that its effect on climate change is going to be the preverbal drop in the ocean.

At the moment maybe our only  option is emailing poor Elfyn at the BMC, to get a better plan together to try and appeal the decision.

I guess the question is what should we do? Do you care? Have we all turned into totally apathetic climbers?

Bob Hats: Handcrafted Hats

I always think that a hat for an outdoor enthusiast is an immensely personal thing. I hate buying a new hat as fit and looks alone make the choice somewhat bewildering. Is it long enough to cover my ears but short enough that it won’t cover my eyes. Can I look vaguely professional in it, does the logo go with my other logos?

If you are an ethical buyer then you are often faced with a dilemma as whether or not your hat was stitched together by small children in a bangladesh sweat shop that is filled to near collapse by workers.

The answer might be Bob Hats, these handcrafted beauties have been made with love and care in the back of a large van by two climbers who are currently in North Wales. I have worked with Becky and Will who are two really nice people trying to live the climbing dream out of the back of that van.

To fund a trip round Europe they are trying to start a small business, making these hats. Will is currently laid up knitting, as he waits for his heel to mend after falling of the last move of Jerry’s Roof when a foothold broke. You can see what they have to offer on the website (here)


Welsh Winter Bites Back

This post was going to be on the lovely day I had today with a client. We took to the hills at 9am and climbed Pen Yr Ole Wen, Carnedd Dafyd, Carnedd Llewelyn, Elidir and then across Craig Y Yfas and onto a peak I can’t for the live of me get close to spelling without the map.

Each time my client suggested we keep going I had no excuse not to, so we ended up doing 18km in some of the best welsh winter conditions in a long time. It was alpine till about 1pm. After that it was still OK, just a little more wind and occasional cloud.

We had a lot of sun, some wind and amazing views. We also noticed that the big yellow taxi was pretty busy. I have to say that before I left the house I was pretty sure avalanche conditions would be high. It didn’t take long to come to that after the amount of rain that would have fallen as snow high up and been blown onto the lee slopes by very strong winds. It was a day that for Wales I thought would warrant a steady approach and avoidance of those loaded aspects.

As we walked round Cwm Lloer we could see the tops of the gullies bulging with windslab that looked 20-30ft thick in places. Nearly all the ridge lines demarking the lee slopes had either a definite edge or a cornice. On the way across from Dafydd, I managed to get to the top of what I think was pygmy ridge, as I could see there was no cornice, I looked back at the top of the black ladders, to see some good sized cornices for wales.

We also came across some loading on sheltered locations although none were over 20 degrees in angle so way under what would be concerning. Although we came across one short steeper sections quite a way down from the summit of Llewelyn as we descended, it made me pause and think about my choice of route, I looked down, a short clean runout into an open slope. I went first and then my client followed, back on the neve it was time to relax again.

Anyway, we got back down after an amazing day and as soon as I got home my Facebook page starts filling up with the worst new of both an avalanche and a cornice collapse on snowdon. The avalanche from Facebook photos looks massive for Wales, a crown wall approaching a metre in height and over 20m long. The guy survived, but was injured which is a miracle.

There was also a report of a climber falling 150m through a cornice above Cwm Glas, where I was last week working. There was a good start of a cornice back then before we had a 100mph winds driving snow across there!

The moral of the story is to be careful out there. At its simplest if there is lots of snow (bare in mind the rain was biblical on saturday!) and high winds (we have just had one of the biggest storms of the season) then the avalanche risk will be high in certain areas, there will also be cornices. Both are things to avoid.

If you like to know more then either book on a welsh winter skills course or check out the book A Mountaineers Guide to Avalanches (there are links in the menu on the left for both kindle and iPad)

Free Climbing Film: The Pinnacle by Hot Aches

Hot Aches are a great little power house in climbing film production. They regularly knock out really good film. They have also experimented with releasing film free of charge before they start selling them. With The Pinnacle they released the DVD first and have just announced a few days where you can watch the film for free.

If you are unaware of what the pinnacle is about, it recreates two climbers historic week on Ben Nevis in the either the late 1950s or early 60s. I have forgotten the exact date. The week is legendary, as the climbers weren’t front point, they didn’t have ice screws or two drop pick axes. Instead they cut steps and holds all the way up every route, often starting later and finishing in the dark.

One of the climbers features heavily as do other historic scottish winter climbing figures. The film is both humbling and inspiring for any wannabe Scottish Winter climber. Andy Turner and Dave Macleod help the film along and make some of the routes look far from easy. I was left wondering just what those winters were like in the 1960s?

Anyway join Hotaches mailing list. I have been a signed up for a while. They don’t spam you excessively but they do keep you up to date with their projects. For the price of your email you can watch the film until 24th Feb. Here’s the link

Memory Lane

I had a great session in the climbing wall this evening, mainly doing stupid circuits. Which are slightly soul destroying at first but I have got over that initial problem that means fall short of your targets and can now fly round 4x4s on the circuit board at the beacon.

Today the Crook was in, something of a mix between a local legend and enigma rolled into one. He was doing his own form of circuits that included finding loads of obscure tenuous bridging rests. Which to be honest was probably more relevent to what climbing I am likely to be doing rather than hanging to to a 30 degree overhanging board for a few minutes.

We got talking as you always do with Martin, and exchange training ideas and motivations. His reason for coming to the wall is to get the problems dialled before inviting a friend along to burn off. I have to say I have never done that, well I have tried to but even after a month solid training Caff came back from Patagonia and burnt me off!

We also chatted about the mythical Plas Y Brenin wall, which back in the day was in what is now the stores. There was one problem that and a key way to do it. Those who didn’t know what the key was would not be able to do the problem as other could hold themselves on a seemingly impossible brick edge.

The key was, quiet literally a key, that you took out of your chalk bag and inserted in a slot and quickly removed it having done the move! Anyway always good to catch up with Martin, he has pointed us towards some obscure bouldering wall if the weather sorts itself out and the rain stops for long enough.

Articles in Climber Magazine

So I can’t remember whether I have shared this news on my blog. I have mentioned on my Facebook page. So long story short I have managed to get a number of article accepted by Climber Magazine this year. For the next few months to come there are going to be one or two pieces by yours truly.

Although it seems to have started already as I had a piece on Jack Longland and Outdoor Education  in last month’s magazine. If you got last months magazine and read the back page you’ll also know that I am about to embark on a series of one page articles on the history of climbing technology and gear. It is very similar to my Hanging By A Thread book, but in very bite sized chunks.

I have also written a piece for them called ‘Our Own Worse Enemy’ which essentially argues that the biggest threat to access is climbers themselves. The above photo was taken yesterday or today. It was tweeted by @mikerraine who is well worth a follow if you do the twitter thing.

Anyway I actually directly mention inappropriate camping at Tremadog by climbers, to show that it happens regularly we can see mike photo and I have one that I sent in with the article from earlier last year. It is quite shocking when there is Eric’s Campsite just down the road that only cost a couple of quid per person per night.

I will try and leak the stories as and when the previews are mentioned by Climber Magazine. As I think we have a few really unique articles in the planning. I just hope the readers enjoy them.

If you do have any old climbing gear, or photos of old climbing gear then please feel free to send me some hires images. You never know I might just use them in the articles.

PS EDIT – I got sent more photos the one below shows that there are still a number of climbers out there, hopefully in the majority who will di the good thing and tidy up others mess!

2014-02-13 12.23.36
Those unsung heroes of the climbing community who are tidying up others mess!