What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago the mountains of Europe were awash, the summits wreathed in cloud and providing plenty of excuses for idleness. Now, just twelve months later, we were sitting at a bar in Ailefroide watching the evening sun fade from the tops and enjoying a welcome glass of beer (well three or four actually) after a long day in the hills. It's been a stunningly beautiful summer both in the UK and on the continent and, judging by reports, has galvanised the LMC membership into much activity.
For me one of the highlight of the summer was the LMC's trip to the Ecrins Massif, a spectacularly beautiful region of the Alps. The icing on the cake was discovering that the club had been successful with its funding application to Sport England. Now comes the hard bit; we have to complete the building and fill it full of people.
Once again, this newsletter is significantly late. Huge apologies to those who, months ago, submitted copy and have seen bugger all for their efforts. However here it is with some superb articles, meet reports, news of what's going on and details of up-and-coming events; a big thank you to all those who have contributed to the newsletter's publication.
Please send info to the Newsletter Editor, Roger Finn email@example.com (tel: 01600 773203)
A full programme of mid-week meets is planned for autumn. Jon Banks will circulate details via email.
If you want to come along then please contact Jon Banks - 07790 484358
If you would like to go on either of the meets listed below, you need to take action in the next few weeks.
After one of the best Scottish winter seasons for a long time and the success of the 2013 Laggan Meet, the club has reserved one of our old favourites from the days of "Bernard's Bashes" - the good ship Fingal. Facilities are even better than last time we were there with a high proportion of twin en-suite cabins and even a dish washer! More details at www.caledonian-discovery.co.uk Fingal is moored at Corpach at the top of the flight of locks known as Neptune's Staircase. The location is ideal for The Ben, Creag Meagaidh, probably a hundred Munros available, skiing, etc.
The good ship Fingal
Whether you are an old hand or you haven't felt ready for Scottish winter days but would like a bit of encouragement, you will be made welcome. It is intended to take bookings and monies once the club meets list 2014 is published. Numbers are definitely finite. If you are interested and would like an e-mail to remind you when bookings will open please let me know. Numbers expressing interest will determine whether we take up the option on Fingal's sister ship.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Cathy and I had a brilliant time in the Anti-Atlas of Morocco last March, staying at the Kasbah at Tizourgane on the north side of the hills. See: http://www.naturallymorocco.co.uk/
We resolved to go back next year and decided to make it a bit of a meet - since then the all-persuasive LMC Meets person has asked us to make it "an LMC Meet to go on the Card". So that's what we are doing.
This is advance notice because....there is limited accommodation at the Kasbah...maybe up to 35...and we have booked TEN places from Monday 17th March to Thursday 27th 2014. Those days are because convenient flights from/to Manchester fly to Agadir on Mondays and Thursdays. We obviously want two places and will allocate the remaining eight on a "first to confirm" basis [shortly to be followed by a deposit!]. A number of people have already expressed strong interest, but without knowing exact dates. We booked ten because we didn't want to over-commit.
If you miss being in the first eight, all is not lost - we'll give you the contact details of the nice people who run the Kasbah for you to make your own bookings if possible. If they are full, then there is unlimited capacity at Tafroute, on the south side, but that's an hour away by car (longer by camel).
A few details:
So - let us know as soon as practical if you are able to come.
After a lengthy delay, the NT has put in writing, its proposals for a new lease. Within the proposals is a relatively modest rental increase, an obligation to sort out the current septic tank and an option to develop the byre. Their document is now open for discussion.
We are now well on the way with the last major job to be completed on a DIY basis - putting plasterboard on the walls. The electric wiring is now in place and all the stud walls are completed, so the shape of the rooms can be seen. The large kitchen/ lounge with the high ceiling look quite impressive. The electrical supply has been ordered and paid for, though we have not yet got a date for it to be fitted. Some work has been done on a connection to the mains water supply and we are ready to order a digester to sort out the sewage.
Isn't it time for a tea break?
We still have about 40 man days of work to finish the plaster-boarding, but hopefully this will be completed by the end of August - if anybody gets back from holiday! Plasterers will then be employed to skim the walls and after this Will Wheale will complete the electrical fittings. We then have some internal and external plumbing and internal joinery to do, but nowhere near as much work as has been already completed.
In early August Chris, Jim, Graham, Peter, Kev and Ian made a two day visit, sleeping in the hut so as to get a 6.00 am start (or near). The floor was completed and most of the boarding done in one of the back bedrooms. Upstairs was completed and the woodwork on the stairs finished.
Two craftsmen contemplate their handiwork
With the excellent news that Roger's bid for a grant from Sport England was successful, the hut can be completed next year to a very high standard. However, there is still a lot of work to be done on boarding and we urgently need more workers to complete the work - CAN YOU HELP? YOUR CLUB NEEDS YOU!
It has been quite a year up to now and not least because of the developments surrounding the building of the new hut in Beddgelert, Cae Ysgubor. Last year the club was awarded £48k from the Welsh Government but, we have just heard that Sport England are granting us £50k. The club now has enough cash to finish the hut in style. Thanks to Richard Toon and Roger Finn along with the many other contributors to the grant applications and also to Chris Walker and his 'Saga' building team. There is a new electricity supply pole in the field adjacent to the hut and connection to mains is imminent; mains water and sewage system will follow soon after. Phwew..!
As for my exploits, I spent an interesting week in Skye where we were nearly blown off the Island by the 'Great Storm' and had some excellent climbing and ridge scrambling. Noticeably the weather has been significantly better than the past two summers which is encouraging and enabled me to do a bit more rock climbing than is often the case.
The next big event on the calendar is the AGM at the Belmont Bull on October 1st. Try and make it if you can. Later on we have the annual Club Dinner in Llanberis on November 16th/17th; the dinner ladies are awaiting your bookings.
Thanks to all the committee and others for their support during the past year. I will not be at the AGM but I know that it will ably chaired by the vice chair. See you at the dinner.
Roger Gott (Chairman)
By now you should have sent off your booking forms for the social event of the year, the LMC's Annual Dinner. This year the event is being held over the weekend of 15-17th November 2013 at the Royal Victoria Hotel Llanberris. The dinner itself is on the Saturday night. The closing date for bookings is the 31st August but it may still be possible to attend. If you would like to go and/or require more information, please contact one of our Dinner Ladies (Cat or Jo).
Cat Toon (07769 695605)
or Joanne Whitely (07766 557063)
The AGM is on Tuesday 1st October at The Belmont Bull, Belmont (time, agenda and reports to be circulated). This is your opportunity to have a say in the running of the Club and tell them what you really think. You may even wish to stand for high office. Do come along, it's a good excuse to meet up and have a natter.
Jo and Seren, Loch Muick
Braemar was the destination for our Grampians Meet, staying at Rucksacks' Bunkhouse, a favourite haunt over the years. It was my daughter Seren's first stay in a bunkhouse, and Kate the owner told us that at twelve weeks she was the youngest guest they had ever had!
On the Saturday, Richard rode off on his own on his mountain bike to do Beinn a'Bhuird, which has a very, very long walk-in if you don't use a bike. Paul and Sarah went in to do Carn a Coire Boidheach from Glen Callater. This was Sarah's first ever Munro, and not an easy one either with a long walk-in and lots of unseasonal snow to deal with. Jo had dropped me off at Glen Muick so I could walk through to Glen Callater via Broad Cairn and Carn Bannoch, with the intention of meeting Paul and Sarah somewhere on the hills. Luckily we managed to do this; somehow they spotted me as I traversed the mountain below them. The walk through had been tough, with lots of snow, some of it thigh deep, to deal with. I would recommend this route; it is a great way to link the two valleys if you have a lift at the other end. The views over to the Cairngorm's were spectacular with the wintery air being so clear.
Sunday ended up being a short walk day for Jo, Seren and I up at the Linn of Dee. This is a lovely area with some great short walks for families and is the starting point for many of the Southern Cairngorm mountains. Richard, Paul and Sarah opted to do Glas Maol from the Glen Shee ski area. They reported foul weather and, sadly, no views for the entirety of the walk.
Overall, a good meet was had. Braemar is a great centre to discover the area from, so hopefully we'll get back there again soon.
Originally labelled as the Loch Coruisk Meet this meet was based partly at Loch Coruisk and partly at the Sligachan camp site due to some unseasonal weather which struck the team at Loch Coruisk!
The assembled party included Andy Bond and Christine, Richard Toon, Roger Gott, American John and Nancy from the 'states, Dave and Julie Sudell and finally Kate Hawkins.
The team all travelled to Loch Coruisk on Saturday arriving at various times and using the 'soft option' boat approach from Elgol and what a fine approach it is, less frequented than the Glen Brittle side but equally dramatic.
The next day most of the team set off for the excellent Dubhs ridge and made a safe return to the camp site at the head of the loch. Andy and Christine did part of the coastal traverse to Glen Brittle and then headed up towards Ghas Bhein although completely underestimated the terrain and difficulty of returning via the coastal path and didn't get back until nearly 10pm!
By which time the mother of all storms was brewing, the weather took a dramatic turn for the worse and tent poles were already beginning to bend, exposing the folly of the beautifully situated but horribly exposed camp site! All survived the night but only just, several tents suffered damage and quite a few sleeping bags had to be dried out the next day.
The team decamped to the relative shelter of SMC hut at the loch Coruisk landing stage to dry out and soak up the suns rays.
The rest of the week passed in a more relaxed manner with ascents of Blaven by the all of the team on separate days, rock climbing by the more athletic on the northern coastline and a traverse of the Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gilean by Dave, Julie and Roger which proved to be one of the main highlights of the week.
On a slightly more comical note American John spent most of the week trying to find a cash machine which would dispense him some dosh as his credit facility seemed to have been withdrawn on leaving the 'states! A very wise move on the part of the banks I say.
Together with Jeanette, Lucy and Roger,
a rare Lakeland Sausage Hound inspects
Weatherlam's summit cairn.
Although on the card as a day meet, partly due to the fantastic weather since the end of June, several members decided on making a weekend of it. Therefore there were 15 of so members and potential new members at a very enjoyable BBQ on Saturday evening on Howe Farm terrace . With many members either already in the Alps or en route, a big turn out was not on the cards.
Sunday dawned as yet another fantastic day with clear blue skies. Jim C was up early and cycling around the Lake with two cameras (1000 shots taken on Saturday), whilst Sarah, Christian & Ebben took a low level walk. Four members , Roger G, Lucy , Janette & Mark took in the classic Coniston "Round" of Weatherlam (Via Red Dell), Swirl Howe, Brim Fell and The Old Man. Hot, dry, and superb views- although surprisingly chilly wind on The Old Man.
Gregory on the summit of Mt Pelvoux
Roger, Gregory and Julie on the summit
of the Barre des Ecrins
What a great venue for our club and for the 29 people who attended. The Ailefroide campsite is huge but in a quite beautiful setting and surrounded by towering crags. However we were never short of space and we seemed to have more or less carved out own little field with welcome guest appearances from Poles and Germans. There are lots of facilities (bogs and showers) although some could do with an update. But the onsite pizza van was a real hit, especially when returning from the hill late and not really wanting to cook.
The young Turks racked up many rock routes over a couple of weeks with route lengths up to 350m and grades up to ED, 7b. The older Turks also did a few long routes up to 6a. Richard and Julie made a successful ascent of a hard route on the SW face of the Sialouse; a magnificent climb, one of the best in the Ecrins' massif.
It was hot, up to about 32C, but lots of walking was tackled with ascent to the huts of Ecrin, Sele, Pelvoux along with Bosse de Clapouse and Glacier Noir, sometimes with little people in back packs. A first LMC ascent was made of the Tete de Vautisse (3156m) which is a fine walking peak. To complement the mountain views there were lots of beautiful flowers (deep blues, cerise, yellow) adorned with butterflies - black with red spots, orange with black wind tips, spotted white and others. Big mountain routes included the classic traverse of the Pelvoux with a long trying descent via the Violettes glacier (due to the shrinking of the glacier now 10 abseils separated by scrambling - a long, trying day!). Seven members made an ascent of the magnificent North Face of the Barre des Ecrins and/or the Dome de Neige.
The Glacier Blanc (Dave, Gregory, Linda,
Mark, Lucy and Julie)
Following a star lit bivvy above the Glacier Blanc hut, a party of six made the difficult ascent of the South-West face of Montagen des Agneaux, via the Jean Gauthier glacier.
Other pursuits enjoyed included rafting on the river Durance (excellent fun), a number of via ferratas which are quite spectacular, hammock snoozing, cycling, swimming, sailing and the odd beer after a long hot day.
The continental bogs on the campsite were a reminder of French days gone by. The dilemma was choosing the squatting strategy that ensured accuracy. Failure was unthinkable and there was much discussion about the merits of the complete as opposed to the demi-squat.
A wonderful meet and the challenge will be finding somewhere as good next year.
Approaching the summit - Mt Agneaux
A large arse casts a shadow
over the crag - note the climbing harness!
If my memory serves me correctly it all started in a tent in Randa, Switzerland in 1984, not the actual Haute Route of course, but the idea of doing it. We were sitting round a bottle or two of red wine when the talk turned to ski mountaineering. Not that any of us had done very much but we were all young(er) and keen. It was suggested that we start with the Haute Route. Why not? At least we had heard of it. And so it was decided, we would do it next spring. Information was not all that easy to obtain but I unearthed a copy of Eric Roberts' guidebook in Fishers of Keswick which was studied avidly from cover to cover. The appropriate maps were acquired and we were up and running. At least two of us had transceivers, bought ex-hire from Glacier Sport in Preston. Two shovels were considered to be sufficient, one at the front of the party and one at the back. We had never heard of avalanche probes but were quite confident that our ski poles would do with the baskets removed. Something about fools and angels springs to mind.
Julie and Bernard ascend to Plateau Coulior
Unfortunately, or probably fortunately, when we arrived in Chamonix it was pouring down and of course, dumping snow on the hills. We booked into the Brevent bunkhouse and watched it pour for a few days before deciding to abort the mission and go piste bashing. God was looking after us. The final insult was to find the Les Arcs resort closed "storm bound". We returned home disappointed but unharmed.
After a gentler introduction to Alpine ski touring in the Silvretta Alps the following season we returned to Chamonix a little more savvy in 1987. Better equipped now, we began with a descent of the Valle Blanche in fabulous conditions and perfect weather. It never occurred to us to book any of the huts and of course we didn't have mobile phones so we just turned up, as you did. We caught the afternoon 'frique up the Grand Montets and skied across to the Argentiere Hut where there was, needless to say, loads of room. My memories of that first trip are all good. The weather was superb for the whole week, the snow was good and we were fit. I remember sitting at the Col de Chardonnet watching other parties descend. Techniques varied from abseils to short swings. We settled for somewhere in between using the sideslip perfected in Scottish queues together with a handline. The ski down the Val d'Arpette was brilliant and we arrived in Switzerland to find that we had forgotten all the Swiss money. Eurocheques came to the rescue as none of the huts took plastic and there was no ATM in Bourg St. Pierre. We shortened the next day to the Valsorey Hut by mistakenly following another party who were going to the Velan Hut. We liked this hut and it was quiet so we decided to stay.
Other memories that remain are the warden of the Valsorey refusing to serve breakfast until the yellow snow was removed from the terrace, a German guide with the strange name of "Eckey" whose client was a blacksmith of traditional stature and was getting by with snowplough turns. It was he who persuaded us to miss the Vignettes hut and use the Bouquetin instead, a hut of which we were blithely unaware. It was a good move, shortening the final day significantly. But my everlasting memory is sitting in the sun on the Col de Valpelline with the Matterhorn and the whole Mischabel range in view, enjoying a pipe of tobacco and knowing that it was all downhill to Zermatt.
Many years later I was being pestered by my daughter Claire, who was now a much more accomplished skier than her parents, to take her along the Haute Route. I was most reluctant, knowing the difference in skill and fitness levels between the generations, especially as the trip had to be at the busiest time of the year, Easter. In the end I relented as usual, provided she booked all the huts and organised the logistics. The huts were booked in January. Even so we were still only on a reserve list at the Vignettes. How things had changed.
Seven members met in Chamonix where, needless to say, it was raining. Some things never change. We warmed up with a day skiing in zero visibility at Le Tours. Even the girl at the caisse asked us if we really wanted a ticket. On the way back, based on an optimistic meteo, we bought tickets for the Grand Montets teleferique for tomorrow, and booked a 7am. taxi from Nigel's apartment.
Where the f---s the hut?
On arriving at Argentiere we found a JCB clearing the snow. Things didn't look good. Having failed to book the Argentiere hut in January by failing to answer "yes" to the crucial question "do you have a guide?" we needed an early start to make the Trient hut in a day. The bad news was that the lower section may open at 9am and the upper section maybe tomorrow. A phone call confirmed that the Argentiere hut was "complet". We were snookered. As we had only three days of decent weather forecast we needed to be off immediately, so it was decided to start the tour from Bourg St. Pierre. During the drive over the Col de Forclaz Claire was busy on the phone rearranging the hut bookings, the upshot of which was that we now had beds at the Vignettes hut.
We stayed at a lovely chambre d'hote in Bourg St. Pierre and were away early the next day to the Valsorey hut. There were no mistakes this time. We made sure we went to the right hut. It just seemed an awful long way. The long skin up the final, steep approach set us up nicely for a beer or two. Whist enjoying it on the terrace we noticed a sign prohibiting the formation of yellow snow, so breakfast seemed assured. We were told that a guided party had failed to make it onto the Plateau de Couloir on the previous day due to large amounts of unstable snow, so it was with some misgivings that we set off on our second day.
Climbing the Col du Mont Brule
It was touch and go at times but all was well and we passed this crucial section safely and in good time. The two descents down the Sonadon and the Durand glaciers were superb in fresh powder with only one party in front of us to put in tracks. The Chanrion hut was very quiet as the crowds must still have been waiting in Chamonix or setting off from Verbier as many guided parties seem to do.
As we now had a reservation at the Vignettes hut the logical route was over the Pigne d'Arolla. We had used the Otemma Glacier as a route to the Bouquetin hut in 1987 but the ascent of a peak appealed to our younger companions on this occasion. Encouraged by a friendly guide who volunteered to put in the track, this was to be our route. It proved to be a long day with the final descent in very poor visibility.
The Vignette hut is where we met the crowds. The place was rammed full of guided parties doing short trips from Arolla. The ski room was total chaos and Claire was forced to take whatever ski poles were left as hers had disappeared, although I think she came off best in the end.
This was to be the end of the window of fine weather but Zermatt was close and the morning dawned fine. Only three other groups headed for the Col de Brule and Zermatt but we decided to go for it anyway.
The weather held until the approach to the Col de Valpelline when it suddenly started to snow and all visibility disappeared, along with the rest of the team. Within minutes all tracks vanished and although we were not far apart by LMC standards it was with some difficulty that we regrouped. We now went into serious navigation mode with GPS, compass and very careful skiing. We were eventually joined by one of the other groups and between us we managed to cross the final ridge... somewhere near the Col de Valpelline! The descent under the Matterhorn is not straightforward but although all previous tracks had disappeared it was sometimes possible to feel them under the fresh snow which was somewhat reassuring. We eventually emerged from the cloud to enjoy the final run down the Zmutt glacier into Zermatt. It had been a totally different experience from the first trip a quarter of a century ago but nevertheless just as satisfying. We had managed two thirds of the HLR. It was as much as the conditions allowed, you can't do more than that.
Cast: Act 1. Roger Gott, Richard Toon, Bernard Smith.
Act 2. Dave & Julie Sudell, Bernard & Josie Smith, Duncan Scattergood, Claire McClellan, David Toon.
Not all grand ideas and trips work out as planned: sometimes it's our unpredictable maritime weather, sometimes just bad luck. This particular venture in the depths of a deep Atlantic depression was fated to be one of those. It began with a frantic phone call. I've got to get away. I'm going crazy with cabin fever. The days were short, the weather horrendous, but who could ignore the needs of an old friend? He had to get off the island.
It didn't take more than a few minutes to throw the gear in the back of the car, but it did take longer to convince my beloved that a few days without me might be quite calming, even beneficial! Then I was off, up the M6, trailing a plume of spray. I met Gromit and pack at Central Station and soon we were chuntering our way further north, past Loch Lomond over the Rannoch and through Fort Bill; low cloud and heavy rain filling the gleans, misty and ethereal over Loch Eilt.
Somewhere on the Mallaig road we turned off onto a potholed remnant of the Road to the Isles. The light was fading away, but Gromit knew where the bothy Glean du Ligh was, so no hurry. The sacs were packed and last, boots dug out, then came the surprise; my right boot wasn't the right boot, it was a left - I had two left boots! In the mad rush to pack, the boots had become mixed up - now what?
There were looks of disbelief on the faces of the guys in the bothy when we tramped in dripping wet and they spotted the boots. Aren't they uncomfortable? Too right they were: doesn't it show? But how else was I to get there! Boots off and relief, we sat around the fire to dry off, blethered and shared the craic; all thoughts of a stravaig dismissed as the rain continued to thunder down on the wriggly tin roof.
But the next day Gromit was restless, wanted to be off despite the weather. He wanted to find the Secret Bothy that Stan the Man had waxed lyrical about. The track back down through the forest was awash and the left boot on the right foot was just agony.
Back on the Mallaig road again, now minus the two left boots, I followed Gromit's instructions, dodging giant puddles in the road, squinting through manic, screeching windscreen wipers - this was jolly and for some reason we had the road to ourselves!
A farm lane led off and under trees and some respite. It's over that away, he said. With cags and sacs, one left boot and one right shoe on, we headed off, got confirmation from a farm that the Secret Bothy was indeed over that way; that it was well-known (secret), well-used, and would we mind closing the gates after us - they didn't spot the boot/shoe combination.
We found the beach and at one end a huge pinnacle of rock; a tin roof poked over the edge - this was the Secret Bothy. We scrambled up the rocks and sidled round a narrow ledge to a small door with a steep drop below; you wouldn't want to go for a piddle at night here and fall over the edge! Inside it was very cosy; perfect for two, but three would be a crowd. A long slot of a window looked down on the beach, much as a wartime pillbox might have, maybe the original owner was a twitcher? A logbook was found and yes, this bothy was one of those best-kept secrets that everyone knew about - almost daily entries filled the pages! But it was still a neat place and perfect to kayak to.
Back at base we gathered up dead wood from the nearby forest and dried off by a roaring fire. We ate well as we always do, slept well, but the following day was dreich and dispiriting, but Gromit had another plan up his sleeve; another bothy unvisited yet. Again we plodded down the wet, wet glen to the car, changed footwear, set off.
The lone bothy was easy to spot across the far side of the loch, but how to get there? The Mallaig railway line ran along the other side of the loch and there was no footpath to be found at either end of the loch. Columns of rain swept across the grey waters, sometimes hiding the bothy from view and flooding across the road in sheets and giant puddles. I saw hesitation on Gromit's face: the fire fading. The railway line was the only way and we remembered the stern orders Our Workmeister - you DO NOT walk on the railway line!
Damp in body and now spirit we decided to save that one for another day; that the warm hearth and a good dram back at the bothy was a much, much better idea and that we did - to blether and plot another escape in the spring.
NB: I now tie my boots together with the laces - always!
Ed's comment: John Burrows please take note!
The LMC welcomes contributions to its newsletters. Please send text and photos to Roger Finn firstname.lastname@example.org. Copy for the next newsletter should reach him by 31st October 2013.
Grateful thanks are extended to all those who have contributed to this newsletter.
Roger Finn, Newsletter Editor