Friday, 29 January 2010

Packing Frenzy

Off to the Lakes for the weekend with friends. Which is ace. It's a two-axe trip, because with luck and a bit of thaw/freeze something solo-able and high and scenic might be in nick. Cue mental HD visions of thunking axe placements in glorious neve and white, icy space beneath my feet.

But between the inception and the execution falls the shadow,  in the form of the darkness that is a packing frenzy. Funny how the 'Fancy a weekend in the Lakes' - 'Yes, brilliant!' exchange takes seconds, yet the practical preparation can expand to fill all available time and space to the point where it blots out the tingle of anticipation.

And 'Have I packed the sleeping bag liner?' 'Do I need a harness?' 'Which crampons for easy gullies?'  'Do I need to eat at all?' 'Is that gas canister half empty or half full?' thoughts spin around the room like frantic bluebottles.

And funny too how, if you don't look it in the eye, kind of sneak up on it while it's not looking, it suddenly shrinks and whimpers down into manageable proportions. And you can smack it over the head with a handy duffle, remember that your camping stuff is actually carefully and neatly stowed away ready to use and suddenly you wonder what on earth you were worried about.

Except thatdidn't quite work, so I'm getting an early night, getting up at the crack of pre-dawn and driving north first thing tomorrow. So now I can have a beer with my packing. Result.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

What a great word 'dreich' is...

It was properly dreich out today - not much more to say really, dreich just about sums it up. Rubbish really. But a great word.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Pillow Fight On The Snake Pass

Had a lovely Saturday on the trails riding decomposing snow above Hope, chatting to friends - some old and some new - and struggling gently to remember how to ride full suspension when your speed isn't limited by slippy, frozen things. And lovely to be reminded how astonishingly beautiful the Peak District is and how 'lucky' I am to live with it as my back yard.

Friends and leftover snow.

I say 'lucky' as I live here because I chose to live here. It wasn't a random accident of birth or a flying saucer delivery from a far distant galaxy, unless you view London as an alternative universe. I'm here because I chose to be here. Kind of an environmental migrant. And hats off to anyone else who makes the same choice; it's proper grim darn sarf.


It was, ranting aside, a lovely way to spend a Saturday. Gradually getting my trail mojo back, remembering what the bike can do and relaxing into it, trying to stay loose and smooth, cruise the climbs and relax into the downhills. Tea and flapjack and hot chocolate and nice people. One of those days when a ride shared is a pleasure exponentially multiplied.

Sunday was going to be a ride shared as well, then it dawned morose and cross looking with frowning, leaking clouds and a 'I don't feel too good this morning' text. So just me then. And Mog. Road kit on, faffing and indecision over what to wear - how cold; snow has recalibrated my internal thermostat I think - and, quick enough to nip any negative thoughts in the carotid, out of the door and down the road.

Relaxing into the familiarity of the climb up the Snake and very - deliberately - not - noticing - the - rain - turning - into - snow because then it's not...  Until on the plateaued summit I find myself pushing through a swirling cloud of dancing pillow-fight snow flakes just a degree away from settling on the road. I-hope-it-doesn't-do-that-moments.

And then down.

Eyes lashed and watering by shot-blasting snow. On the brakes too much because I can't see. And too much clothing becomes not enough. The normal big-ring hammer down the long straight becomes a squinting, faltering dither.

But slowly, as height is lost, the snow shrugs, smirks and retreats into gentle rain and by the time I reach Ladybower the sun is peeping through the loft insulation up top and smiling softly. Snake Summit feels like another world. Another time.

It's wet and not exactly warm, but it's lovely being back on the road. That whole sinuous, smooth hit of pure, seemingly effortless speed. The hum of Kysriums on tarmac. The 'what the hell' decision points where the 'easy option' doesn't get a look in - sorry Winnats - and the last-minute detour to add just one more series of rolling climbs to the mix.

And finally, four hours later, tumbling trashed and smiley through the front door for freshly-baked bread and sausage sarnies with hot legs and ketchup.

Later, quite a lot later, I press the entry button on a solo at 24/12. Just one. Only one. Just to see if I can. And what it's like. Slightly scared. Slightly scarred.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Dangerous Feet

These feet are only slightly dangerous, note the horizontal front points, slightly bendy winter walking boots and poxy, low-grade, granular snow sitting on the top of the left boot.

No, the really dangerous feet are in the attic, champing at the bit and wondering if a mooted trip to Rjukan make sense.

The really dangerous feet have vertically-orientated, razor-sharp monopoints. Secondary points like shark's teeth. And a ridiculous name, erm, Terminators.

The really dangerous feet only come out when the ice is deep frozen. And vertical.

Right now though, really dangerous feet, you need to talk to the ailing elbows. The ones that got trashed dragging a mountain bike across Toulouse and still hurt when trying to wield the really dangerous axes.

Because without the really dangerous axes, the really dangerous feet are about as much use as, well, a very useless thing.

Damn it elbows, I want to go ice climbing. Sort yerselves out please.

Tami Knight - Climbing Tales of Terror - genius.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Tightrope walking on dubious snow...

Ace day in the Lakes on Monday testing kit and clothing, or at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it. My mate Chris just bought a Mazda Bongo with camper van conversion, so we headed up on Sunday evening, parked up, pubbed up and went to sleep.

It'd be nice to say that we got up bright and early and embraced an alpine start so we could watch the sun rise as we reached the summit, but the truth is that we woke up quite late, pottered about gently with porridge and coffee, geared up in a desultory, random sort of way and finally set off up Helvellyn.

Snow conditions lower down were frankly crap. Wet, unconsolidated cack of variable depth, but things got better as we got higher and hit the start of Striding Edge proper. Weird conditions, soft and slidey except along a foot-wide trail of tramped-down, cramponed snow, mostly along the crest of the ridge. Mostly straightforward, but some interesting, floaty, high-wire walking with steep drops on both sides.

Crampons feeling quite alien after not having used them for over a year, so full-on relaxed concentration to avoid catching a point and going arse over tit into the abyss. At which point, according to Chris, Type One Fun, would have become Type Two and significantly less fun. Fortunately it all stayed as Type One despite the iffy snow.

Down the final scrambly down-climb - two moves, snow firm fortunately - then a scamper up and onto the plateau. Lunch at the summit shelter, banter shared with two men hiding under a blokka bag, then a gentle meander back down via Dollywagon Pike and a frozen Grizedale Tarn because I wanted to recce the bridleway.

Rrrright... It looks like a toboggan run, god only knows what's underneath... And just occasionally the clouds would lift to reveal seductive glimpses of tiger-bread mountain flanks, then just as suddenly, the curtains would be drawn across hiding it all again.

Back down in Patterdale and drowned by memories of the last time I was there. In the summer. When it was different.

Cracking day. And good company. I like mountains.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Folding Tyres...

I've been folding tyres, well, that's what they're for. It even says it on the packaging 'folding tyre'. So I've been folding them, about 27 or 28 of them in a therapeutic sort of way - well, more rolling them up, then sticking a ring of chopped-off downhill tube around them. It was the only way to stop them getting out and taking over the kitchen in a sort of anarchic rubbery invasion.

Worryingly I seem to have more tyres than, say, for the sake of argument, socks, which can't be right, can it? Still, it stops you thinking.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


Feels like it's always been this way. The white. The snow. The ice. The crunch under your wheels. The cold, hard tug at your lungs on the first steep climb of the ride. After a while you forget what's underneath it all – rocks and mud and line choices – and just tune into how it is.

The last few days' outings have kind of blended into one, time drumming on like something from a praire blizzard in Little House on the Praire. The odd run up the A57 Snake Pass where a vague notion to 'just go and have a look' predictably turned into a wind-beaten slog to the top, just because...

Windblown on the Roych - Dave's pic, my bike...

The three-hour trek across the Roych to meet someone because she was there, a strange mix of wading through thigh-deep drifts in sunken lanes, downhills powder skiing on two wheels and strange and delicate snow formations, cornices even, topped with frosted sugar-thin petals of glinting fragile snow. Stuff I'd never seen before, even in – clang – the Andes.

I like the people you meet out in the snow. The mutual recognition of a secret pleasure shared while the rest of the world dozes in front of the box and moans about the lack of milk in Tesco.

Chatting to a gnarled, weather-beaten SARDA dog handler – his dog died last year – gone puppyish in the snow. Chatting to grinning walkers who not unreasonably can't quite believe you've dragged a bike through 'this'.

But 'this' is fun. In a strange way. Though riding it would be better. Relax.

Then there was the ride that wasn't a ride because pretty much every trail I started was blocked by feet of thigh-high snow with the unforgiving consistency of wet sand and finished with a 60-minute push along the Pennine Bridleway below Lantern Pike that degenerated into actual carriage. And then wall climbing. And finally pushing up the minor road from Rowarth.

So finally I took the hint and yesterday went walking with mates from the front door. A brilliant, grin-inducing slog across snowy moorland paths you couldn't see for snow. Comedy sinkings into hidden groughs and cloughs and snow-filled bowls with Kinder all togged up in white looking positively alpine in a hulking, glowering sort of way. The path at Kinderlow End, which is normally a rocky staircase, had been banked out into a smooth, steep snow slope and the drop into William Clough, normally a grassy slope, looked like the entry to a high mountain couloir.

Which was about when my legs and feet and brain started to remember that I'm supposed to be a mountaineer and able to move fast and sure on broken snowy terrain and occasionally even did. Which was nice. But not as nice as the open fire, hot bread roll and soup and beer in the pub at Little Hayfield. And the warmth of friends and chatter heading home under Lantern Pike or the sausage and freshly-baked bread sandwiches in my kitchen afterwards.

All of which were immeasurably better just because of the unseen presence of the snow outside.

Cafe culture, Glossop style...

And now it's thawing. Like it always does. And in a few days time it'll feel again like it's never been this way at all.

Postrscript: snow's demise much exagerated and the Woodhead Pass is strangely beautiful. Without the artics. On a mountain bike. With ice tyres. In the moonlight.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


Six inches of snow overnight. Blankets of it on snoozing cars. Snuck out and a gentle jog ended up being a run up to the top of a very closed Snake Pass. And back. Surreal in a strange and muffled world. Legs tired and hot. Trashed but happy.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Snow Changes Everything

I went for a walk yesterday, Saturday even. The MWIS forecast of occasional light snow showers translated into pretty much all-day, persistent white stuff and the hills were properly plastered. Rubbish for bikes but ace for boots.

A gentle stroll across the park and its motley selection of shivering dog walkers, snow-buzzed, snow-balling kids and solemn ducks and then it was on past the pongy factory and onto Doctor's Gate. I've never really understood why anyone would ride Doctor's Gate, despite it being a bridleway - there's no flow, lots of bog and the only access is via the tarmac of the far too fast A57 Snake Pass - but it makes for a cracking walk and a really good run.

Especially when the path is completely obscured by fresh snow.

Something quite lovely about moving at a slower pace, looking around instead of looking for lines and noticing the fine details obscured at the speed of bike. Hanging icicles. Sulky grice - yes, if mouse is mice, then grouse ought to be grice, so grice it is in this house - and artfully camouflaged arctic hares.

Some faffing over the correct route beyond the footbridge, then a steady climb up towards Snake Summit, the final steeepening and the junction with the Pennine Way. I love the way heavy snow transforms landscapes. Up top the culvert that crowns the track had filled with drifting snow and the simple, flat white had robbed the perspective. Not quite a white out, but not far off and I managed to fall off a snowy bank that I'd walked up without noticing. Doh...

Quiet and eerie on Snake Summit. Wheel tracks but no traffic and, on the other side of the road, no tracks or visible path. A quick hack around and we decided to walk down the road and back into Glossop. Quite surreal walking down a road you've driven and biked so many times, but oddest of all was being passed by a grinning Vauxhall Astra driver towing a small 4x4.

A really nice and slightly odd walk down followed by coffee at Costa. Snow changes everything.

Friday, 1 January 2010

All out of words.

Two cracking snowy rides either side of New Year. Over Jacob's Ladder and back across the Roych on New Year's Eve then a gentle roll around about Hayfield today. Last ride of one year and the first one of a new.  I don't have many words left. Not sure why.

Sunset at the top of the Roych, 10 miles from home and a
trail blocked by massive snow drifts

And it was all going so well.

Essentials - Bowmore and Ice Spikers

Happy New Year.