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GR20 Trip Report – Sept 2016

Introduction

The GR20 (Grande Randonnée 20) is one of the large network of waymarked walking trails found throughout France, especially in mountain areas. The route follows the spine of the central mountain chain of the island of Corsica. Running roughly from NW to SE, it covers a distance of about 180km and incorporates ascents of some 12,000m (with the same in descent). Due to the nature of the terrain and the facilities available, it is generally regarded as one of the toughest of all the GR routes. The “path” has been characterised as walking along a dry rocky riverbed for 200km. It’s not quite that bad but it is certainly a rugged mountain path that requires constant attention. The route is usually described as being 16 stages which translates into 16 days. However, there are a few short ones where it is possible to double up though doubling up means longer days of 10 – 12 hours.

Summary

On our journey from 1st to 9th Sept 2016 we travelled (N to S) as far as Refuge d’Usciolu. See the map above with the Refuge circled. At that location, according to our plan, we were two days from the finish but, due to a knee injury sustained on the stage into Usciolu, we opted to bail out. While that was a bit disappointing, so close to the finish and with the hardest sections done, overall it was a really great trip. The mountain environment is exceptional. We met interesting people and enjoyed their company and stories. The weather was excellent except for one day and we enjoyed each day’s trekking experiences. We used the hired tents at the refuges / bergeries and took the (luxury) hotel options at Asco and Vizzavona. We especially liked the northern section where the dramatic and wild beauty of the terrain is first revealed. We were less keen on the forestry sections the further south we travelled.  The route was challenging, as expected, but perfectly doable for your average fit walker.  Our preparation was good and that paid dividends.

We’d planned to do the GR20 in 2015 partly because we were attracted by its reputation and partly in memory of a friend who had passed away 10 years previously. Unfortunately, a broken hand sustained on a training run put paid to that. A convenient and acceptable alternative at the time was the Tour de Mont Blanc – no scrambling, no need to use the hands, better paths etc. On that occasion we set out from Chamonix with our hopes high and though the weather was poor, we hoped for better to come.  Unfortunately it didn’t and we arrived a few days later in Courmayeur, roughly halfway, in a day long downpour after days of seeing little of the famed beauty. With the forecast remaining poor and a niggling knee problem (precursor to 2016?), we decided to pack it in at that point. A TMB without seeing Mont Blanc just didn’t seem worth it. Comparing the GR20 and the TMB (what we did of each) we can say with certainty that the GR20 is a far more challenging proposition.

Preparation for the GR20

Fast forward to 2016 and the effort we put into preparing for Corsica Mark2. We did our research; we selected our gear and we got into shape.

Research was reading Paddy Dillon’s Cicerone guide and trawling through just about everything we could find on the net.

Gear-wise, we already had most of what we needed and, looking back, we feel we got most things right. Our packs weighed in at less than 10kg for Antoinette and 12kg for me. Plus water which was never more than 2 litres. We started out with some food and that got variously added to or subtracted from as the days went by.

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That’s a big bag, Sir. Does it weigh much?

In the 3 months leading up to the walk we each ran almost 1,000km and we did some hill walks and climbing. Some of the running was trail running.  Overall we felt in pretty good shape though we still worried about not spending more time carrying heavy bags and/or doing some multi-day hikes.

Logistics

We had already travelled to the French Alps a few days before the walk so we began by driving to Toulon and taking a ferry to L’Ile Rousse, 30km east of Calvi. Our plan for the return journey was an overnight sailing from Porto Vecchio (PV) – just south of Conca – back to Toulon, thereby avoiding a long trek back north. The PV/Toulon route appeared to be new for the 2016 season but only had two sailings per week.  The outgoing ferry was on 31st Aug and the return was set for 15th Sept. This already meant at least one double stage to avoid the risk of missing the ferry, though with a sailing time of 6pm, the risk looked small. For anyone contemplating a similar approach, make sure to book a flexi –fare for the return.

In Toulon we were able to park our van in the multi-story Mayol carpark beside the ferry port for a special rate of just over €6 per day, worth it for peace of mind. Plus we were able to sleep quietly in the van the night before sailing at 7.30am. Crossing took 6 hours.

From L’Île-Rousse we got a train to Calvi followed by a taxi to Calenzana, the starting point. We hadn’t booked accommodation in advance in the Gite d’Etape and as it happened Antoinette got the last bed while I got to sleep on the kitchen floor. We’d taken a last minute decision not to bring a tent and while that worked out fine, having a tent would have given a bit more flexibility and would have saved some money. We did bring sleeping bags and mats.

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Gite d’Etape Calenzana. Starting out in hope and anticipation.

Due to the alleged presence of bedbugs (subsequently confirmed), we planned to stay mainly in hire tents on the route itself and that posed no issue. We were usually offered a choice of tents. Being in Sept, the number of walkers was already declining fast.

Using public transport on Corsica can prove challenging, as we found out when we took the decision to leave the route. We headed from Usciolu to a village called Cozzano and on arrival there discovered that the Mon to Sat bus service leaves at 7am or so. As we arrived late on Saturday morning, we faced the prospect of looking for accommodation for two nights before (hopefully) making it to Porto Vecchio on time for the Monday ferry. Luckily after 2 hours of trying to hitch a lift from the village (with one vehicle every 10 mins or so) and then walking in the midday heat for over an hour, we were blessed to be picked up by a French couple (Merci Beaucoup) who drove us to a town on the Ajaccio / Porto Vecchio road where we were able to connect with a bus to PV.  That bus journey was an adventure in itself. Glad we had had a couple of beers beforehand, they helped calm the nerves.

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Luxury Accommodation. Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu . We slept in a tent in the dry stone compound.

Arriving in PV, we found, to our horror, that the only hotels available were costing €300+. It was a long night before we found a place to rest our heads – that too was an adventure.

Next morning, we were able to change our ferry from Thursday 15th to Monday 12th giving us a couple of pleasant days in PV to gaze at the gleaming yachts and ponder what it might mean to be really wealthy.

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Early morning on some slabs. Best avoided in the wet!

In retrospect, since we bailed out after 9 days, we couldn’t help asking ourselves if the possibility of finishing in 11 days had tempted us to push too hard. On balance, we don’t think so. We always expected to finish in 13 days or less if the weather was kind, which mostly it was. Also, we had little interest in some of the low level stages towards the end and we would always have extended ourselves to finish with a long day instead of another overnight. We enjoyed each day (with the exception of the bad weather one) and we never felt overly challenged or tired. We were very fit after all our preparations.  The only day we wished away was the double stage from Petra Piana to Vizzavona. That was our one bad day but as we had arrived in Onda (end of the first of the two stages) at 11.20am it was just too early to stop. Unfortunately the wet and windy conditions slowed us down on the seemingly never-ending descent into Vizzavona. 11 hours.

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Typical terrain in the northern section. Spot the path….

Finances

Doing the GR20 is not the cheapest holiday available! This is roughly what we spent for the two of us, excluding cost of getting to Toulon:

  • Ferry:  €130 (incl recliner seats for the return).
  • Train, bus, taxi: €60
  • Accommodation and food in Gites/ Auberges/Refuges: €400
  • Hotels and meals at Asco, Vizzavona and Porto Vecchio:  €600
    Total: €1,200

This was for 12 days on Corsica so roughly €50 pp/day.  Not cheap but well worth it.

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Awesome scenery. Faint path visible heading over to the left foreground.

Kit

Our gear was good. Osprey rucksacks, NeoAir Thermarests, down sleeping bags, quality lightweight clothes etc. We used walking poles and they were helpful on the long descents. We also used water bladders which meant we didn’t have to stop to drink. Most importantly, we paid attention to our footwear…we used approach shoes (Five-Ten and Scarpa) matched with Superfeet insoles and good wool socks. We brought plenty of ‘stuff’ for blisters in a pretty comprehensive first aid kit.

Things we brought but wouldn’t if we went again:

  • 2 plates and 2 mugs. We could have done with 2 bowls or even one.
  • A little too much toothpaste, ointments, sunblock, insect repellent – all semi-liquid and adding weight. Better estimation needed next time;
  • Paddy Dillon’s Cicerone guidebook plus the French GR20 topo guide. In the end we tore up the Dillon guide (it was the Cirque de la Solitude version) as we completed each section. Maybe photograph key pages?

Things we should have brought:

  • Ear plugs to block out snoring (not just me!) and other noise, including on the ferry;
  • Spare camera batteries instead of a charger.

Luxuries we did bring:

  • Solar charger,
  • Extra socks,
  • Sleeping mats though they were in fact needed in a couple of places.
  • A blow up pillow (Vango) weighing virtually nothing but really comfy.
  • Tea bags and powdered milk especially to make the mornings a little more humane.
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Auberge U Vallone. Stunning location. What a place to spend the night.

The Stages

The table shows the stages we completed and in the times shown. The exact distances and ascents / descents are not our calculations. We’ve taken them from other sources so can’t vouch for their accuracy.

In relation to the guidebook timings, we were generally 15 – 20% faster on most stages but we did find one or two where we needed pretty much the full allocation for whatever reason.

Day From To Distance(km) Time (hr:min) Ascent (m) Descent (m) Comments
1 Calenzana (275m) Ref d’Ortu di u Piobbu (1,520m) 12 05:30 1,360 60
2 Ref d’Ortu di u Piobbu Refuge de Carrozzu (1,270m) 8 06:00 780 917
3 Refuge de Carrozzu Haut Asco (1,420m) 6 04:40 790 640
4 Haut Asco Auberge U Vallone (1,440m) 9 07:00 1,250 1,230
5 Auberge U Vallone Refuge de Manganu (1,601m) 32 11:00 1,260 1,350 Double Stage
6 Refuge de Manganu Refuge de Petra Piana (1,842m) 10 05:50 830 580
7 Refuge de Petra Piana Vizzavona (La Foce, 1,100m) 22 10:30 1,200 1,700 Double Stage
8 Vizzavona Bocca di Verdi (1,289m) 32 10:00 900 800 Double Stage
9 Bocca di Verdi Refuge d’Usciolu (1,740m) 16 07:30 1,290 880
10 Refuge d’Usciolu Cozzano + road walk 15 05:00 50 1,200  Escape
Totals 162 73:00 9,710 9,357

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Some Highs and Lows

After so long in planning, we were psyched to begin (to borrow a phrase from our American friends). The first 4 days blessed us with magnificent scenery and walking, made even better by great weather and the sense of embarking on a big adventure.

The guardians at the refuges were friendly and helpful and the people we met were interesting.  We hope the Swiss lady who left her wallet at Ref Manganu got it back. A tribute to the honesty of all who stayed that night…the wallet was still hanging unclaimed on the door to reception the next morning.

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Beautiful, but frozen for 6 months of the year.

It was nice to see a few (literally, 3) Irish faces. It was also nice to meet a few “father and son” teams and it was great to see some young people on the trek.  In fact everyone was very friendly even where language barriers made communication more difficult.

Seeing some of the wildlife (people excluded!) added to the walk. The black and yellow Corsican Fire Salamander was spectacular to see in the wild, as were the Mouflon near Asco. On the other hand we were forced uncomfortably close to feral pigs on the final descent into Cozzano.

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A tough ascent with a dramatic finale.

The low points included when Antoinette developed a stomach bug and all that goes with it on Day 2 at Carrozzu. Being unable to eat dinner, this looked serious but fortunately all was well again by morning. Phew!

We tried to stay in the Bergerie de Vaccaghja about 40 mins before Manganu. They refused to take us even though we could have slept outside. At that stage we had been walking for 10 hours and really didn’t want to pick up our bags and begin climbing again. It was a bit strange as it didn’t look at all full.

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Share the love. It’s not all about rocks. Doesn’t look a day over 300 years old (the tree, that is).

Day seven was misery weather wise. Taking the unplanned and longer low level route due to mist, rain and high winds, we arrived in Onda at 11.20am. There we took the decision to press on, despite the arrival of two walkers who had set out earlier and who were forced by the bad weather to return to Onda having reached 1,900m. We were a bit worried what we might find high up but they told us others had gone and so we figured we had a chance. As luck would have it, the wind eventually died down, though the rain and mist got worse. In the end it was two miserable walkers who arrived at the quaint and historic Hotel D’Oru, at the Col de Vizzavona where we enjoyed a lovely meal in the restaurant and a sound night’s sleep.

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Dawn at Refuge d’Usciolu, our last one. Level campsites at a premium.

Our final disappointment was in having to quit. We know we could have completed by turning a planned two days into three or four but we had no real interest in just struggling on. The GR20 is a great trek but to be honest, it’s not that good, especially on the southern low level options.

What’s Next?

With retirement from work now looming on the horizon (actually, shining like a welcoming beacon) we will hopefully have more time, good health and resources to repeat the experience of stepping away for a while from the complexity and stress of our 21st Century lives.  The Sierra High Route? Torres des Paine? Manaslu circuit? Who knows…

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Mediterranean dawn in Porto Vecchio on our last day on Corsica.

Dalkey Climbers’ Marathon or “The Dalkey 40”

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“People on the outside who either don’t do our sport, or don’t do it to the same level, look at the things we do and put an impossibility label on it. But really what we’re doing is trying to find things that are on the margins of what is possible for us” Tom Randall, No Sleep Till Bakewell, 2015.

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In early 2015 Mick Savage and I were at Awesome Walls in Finglas, Dublin, and realised we were both going to be 40 that year.  I remembered some challenge someone did somewhere doing a number of somethings in a day, on some significant birthday. I had also just seen the Wideboyz Eastern and Western Grit challenge short film, and next time we were at Awesome Walls said “Howabout we do 40 Severes in Dalkey in a day as we’re both 40 this year? Mick was up for it and so began a year or so of preparation. We loosely agreed it was 40 within a 24-hour period but didn’t get much more into the logistics. Both are busy working Dads and we do not manage many trad climbing sessions together – it was easier for me to get down to Dalkey on a weekday evening than for Mick who generally works late so I drew a map and went through the guide to create the Severe graded list; the guidebook starts at VS.

Starred routes in Dalkey between Severe and E1 (not to scale!)

“Why Severes? Why not 40 E routes? ” Dave Ayton asked, with a smile – we were looking for advice and had heard Dave had climbed some high volume of routes in a day in Dalkey.

My climbing career has been chequered and though I got out a lot between 2000 – 2003 in England and Wales I have had many years since with no trad climbing, only getting out regularly again in 2014. This Dalkey 40 project was partly to give a structure to my climbing – some purpose helps me focus. So at the start of 2013 I was falling off Severes and in 2014 I had consolidated VS confidence, but for a speed climbing endurance challenge I felt sure I needed to pick a grade we could lead comfortably at volume.  Mick was in a similar position with trad confidence despite climbing way harder than me indoors so we thought if I focus on the trad craft and preparation the two of us would balance out for the event.

 

I got 23 routes recced in 2015 and my first HVS routes and by the end of the season my first two E1s – delighted to say the least. Massively helped by reading the Rock Warriors Way and applying the concepts in my mental training.

 

It had dawned on me quite quickly that strictly sticking to Severes as a rule for the challenge was going to end up with us doing some fairly dull routes. As my confidence went up I broadened the scope to starred VS and HVS routes. By mid 2016 I had recced 30 more routes and we had enough that would work for the challenge, so we picked a date in mid September and got a couple of training sessions in together. Other physical training and some research on endurance nutrition was also in the mix.

We realised we would be spurred on by some external purpose than this arbitrary number 40 so decided to get sponsored and raise some money for the Down Syndrome Centre, who are a great help to my eldest son as well as lots of other children with Down Syndrome. This also stopped us being able to wriggle out of the commitment! It dawned on us just before we launched our Everyday Heroes page that we may have an issue with donations if we did not hit the 40 so dubbed it a “Climbing Marathon” rather than “the Dalkey 40”, which did sound a bit like a wrongfully imprisoned band of activists.

A number of people were very generous with offers of help – moral support and photography on the day, lending climbing gear, wives and children with giving us time to train and loads of friends and family were kind with donations. We had 2 grand collected and JCs Supermarket contributed another grand via their Making a Difference campaign – so with €3,000 of support the pressure was on!

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Our Rules:

1. No soloing – neither of us are into the risk level of soloing

2. No top roping. All trad and routes to be climbed ground up

3. Sensible amounts of gear placements – we were aiming for     fast but safe.

4. Try to use cams wherever possible, for speed of cleaning as much as placing.

5. As many routes as possible within 24 hours, pre-rigging of top anchors allowed before starting the clock.

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Suddenly it was 16th September, the day before the challenge, felt very real, and the weather forecast was good – various last minute texts: “Do we need glow sticks?” “What time shall we leave?” “What routes can we really climb in the dark?”

Full of great intentions about getting a super early night I hit the hay two hours later than planned at 22:30, alarm set for 2:45, car packed apart from the food in the fridge.

00:30 – youngest                        son wakes up crying, I get water for myself, milk for him, and immediately start worrying if I have got everything “head torch? backup head torch? will I need wellies?  Mick is bringing water, you need to get back to sleep!”

02:45 – quick, get up and start eating

03:10 – get out the door, text Mick, drive out of Donabate

03:30 – Mick’s gear is in the car, we’re heading out of Swords for the M50

04:15 – arriving in Killiney park

 

Start rigging 04:35 – top of Jameson 10

 

We had planned a rigging phase in the dark – worked out we could pre-rig a number of anchors safely by headtorch – the most westerly routes between Jameson 10 and Dirty Dick, and then round to the easterly routes of the west valley, as well as three ab ropes, one each on Paradise Lost, Jameson 10 and Yorkshire Pudding.

It was really dark

The rigging went slower than we had hoped but was well worth doing as it sped us up later when we were tired.

05:40 – finished rigging

We went in with a light rigging kit first, then came back for the rest of the climbing gear and the day’s food. Eating a reasonable breakfast we were geared up and ready to start the clock … and the climbing!

06:30 starting the first route, Mick led

  1. Paradise Lost

by headtorch, the dawn breaking through above us and the birds not yet awake

2. Yorkshire Pudding

Topping out to see a fantastic sunrise gave a really optimistic boost to our psyche level.

 

 

 

 

Using the two pre-rigged ab ropes worked well for these. Then down to the beginning of the easternmost routes in the West Valley:

07:20

3. Graves

Mick heading up Graves in the post dawn light

4. Pilaster

5. Mahjongg

Mick led Mahjongg and while belaying him I heard rustling near the bags. Looking across I spied three Magpies lashing into my food bag! Short of things to throw at them I tried shouting but they were seriously persistent. Luckily they didn’t break through the Tupperware and steal my stir fry.

6. Levitation

09:30 After this route we headed over to Jameson 10 to make use of all our early rigging and get a good number of routes racked up nice and close together

7. Jameson 10

Mick at the spike
Top of Jameson 10 – feeling fresh and on a roll

 

8. Superette

We were on great form, warmed up well and the system was working – leader carrying the rope bag and coiling it in while the second climbs up. Second racing down as soon as untied while the leader strips the anchors.

We remembered to eat some of Auntie Jessie’s excellent fruit cake:

Very important cake shot!

10:30

9. Delectissima 

10. Tramp

11. Dirty Dick

Over to the other side of the West valley for:

12. Northern star

13:15

13. Scavenger

This is the point I regret going off plan. We had discussed our approach a lot before the event and in the pub in comfort it made sense to say ” no on sighting on the day “; only climb what we had done before, no surprises or new ground should mean greater speed. In our training session I had led Scavenger / Exertion –  the variation designed partly to make the route more interesting. Replace the lower quality Exertion start with the exceptional Scavenger start and avoid the run out Scavenger finish with the excitement and good protection of the Exertion finish. Indeed, as I weighed up the top pitch of Scavenger, in the training run, it looked devoid of gear, and I headed straight for my onsight of the crux of Exertion.

On the day, however, with adrenaline at a premium, the prize beckoned

“We’re on route 12. If I do Scavenger, Mick does Exertion, we are one ahead of the plan”

Knowing we were a little behind on time I looked at Exertion, then stepped left to take another good look at the fall consequence and holds on the Scavenger finish. “I’ll just make a move up and see what the holds like like”. It was all there, I was in some kind of flow state, the holds were great, the sun was out, suddenly I was at the top – a nice bit of on sight to add to the day’s successes.

 

Photo: Stu Wallace

What I had not really considered was that this added an on sight for Mick, the first section of Exertion neither of us had done. The second section Mick had seconded in training but not led for a few years.

Though neither of us realised it at the time, we had not been eating. We had bags of food in the base camp but we were carried away with the task – had not been drinking much water either. I think the last decent food  was Auntie Jessie’s fruit cake at the bottom of Superette. That was at 10:30. So apart from the odd energy bar and handful of nuts we had not been re-fuelling.

14:00

14. Exertion

So Mick led the first section well though it is off-balance, then got to the big top crack and put gear in. As he climbed to the crux the awkward finish got the better of him and he fell about 3 metres onto the ledge below, the gear held and reduced the impact – a controlled fall, thankfully no injury. This happened once more, then got back on it again with different gear placements and finished it, pumped!

The crux of Exertion HVS – Photo: Stu Wallace
Photo: Stu Wallace

 

That fall took its toll on our psyche and with the lack of food we realised we needed a break. We ate and recharged, giving ourselves a good hour, then got back on:

15. C route

16. D route

17. D route Staircase finish

18. E route

19.  Honeypot Crack which was where I slammed into the fatigue – it felt really hard, like an E1. The plan was always to finish on easier ground, so as Mick led it earlier, I did

20:06

20. Paradise Lost

Starting to second Paradise Lost by headtorch

 

topping out

then decided to finish with

20:41

21. Winders Crack, though a Diff and not on plan, I reasoned we were exhausted, it was dark and we could sail up it to finish – we had an anchor sat there waiting for us at the top. Got to the base and flicked the headtorch light across the rock – the crack was sopping wet! It had not rained at all and for a minute we could not understand where the water was coming from, til it dawned on us the water was within the rock and seeping outwards…

Head torch at the base of Winders Crack
The last route

So the “easy finish” turned into teetering up a sopping crack with gingery, slippery footwork. Bomber gear though 😀

20:45 we finish climbing, fatigued but elated

Finished!

 

21:45 all abseil ropes and anchors de-rigged and heading back to the car

22:45 back at Mick’s in Swords

23:15 home in Donabate

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My son Ben checking the cheque at the Down Syndrome Centre, Sandyford, Dublin

 

Massive thanks to all who donated! The money has been spent on the Occupational Health service delivery.

We worked out we climbed 320 metres of rock.

 

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Galtees Trip, January 2017

Emma Hand, Sé O’Hanlon, Gerry Galligan, Peter Wood and I met up in the Ballyhoura Hostel in Kilfinane on the Friday night.

On Saturday morning we were treated to cold frosty weather and good visibility. We broke into two groups and did variants of the Galtymore horseshoe, Sé and Gerry ascended Galtymore and Galtybeg by the steep North flank; Emma, Peter and I took the long scenic route via Slievecushnabinnia (774m), Galtymore (917m), Galtybeg (799m) and Cush (641m).

On Sunday we slogged up Temple Hill (783m) from Anglesborough enjoying fine sunshine at times.

Moonlight Challenges

Recent interest in the organised Moonlight Challenge and all this talk about a super moon reminded me of a time when we used to hold night hikes once a month from November to February, on the Friday night nearest to the full moon.

These were all night affairs and on each of these trips we would have a nominal leader, plus half-a-dozen rival candidates for the post, which often led to some good humoured banter.  Sometimes we had moonlight, sometimes we had cloud and rain and, sometimes, we had snow.

The shortest of these walks was the Glenealo Horseshoe, starting from the hut.  We tackled Lug from several different points.  Starting from Glenmalure we climbed Lug via Art’s Lough and a scramble up Bendoo, returning via Cannow and Table Track.  From Aughvannagh we approached via the Ow Valley and the main gully in the South Prison, continuing on via the Three Lakes and Camaderry, and down to Laragh in time to catch the St. Kevin’s early morning bus back to town.

If the weather was wintry enough we would head up from Fenton’s pub at Seskin, bringing the tents with us for our winter camp on the summit.  From Knockree we crossed Maulin and Djouce, down to Lough Dan, on up to the Military Road and up and over Tonelagee and down for the bus.  From Blessington we went via Sorrel Hill, Black Hill and Billy Byrne’s Gap to Mullaghcleevaun and on to Tonelagee and Laragh.

On one of these excursions we had deep snow drifts and dense mist all the way from Billy Byrne’s Gap, making for tough going and difficult navigation, but Joan Flanagan, our leader on the night, coped admirably.  We had our reward as we descended towards Glendalough.  The skies cleared just before dawn and, as the sun peeped up over the horizon, it painted the snowy summit of Tonelagee a delicate, blushing pink, which ripened to a deep red, then orange and, finally a cheerful yellow.

The most testing of these night hikes was the Lug Walk, which at one time was considered to be a must prior to any Alpine trip.  On one of our Lug Walks, with Des Doyle as leader, we had starry skies, a full moon and a sharp frost.  Visibility was excellent, there was no call for map or compass and we skipped along over frost-hardened ground.  Well, some of us did.  Sean Barrett was breaking in a new pair of boots (plastic Koflachs, if I remember rightly) and by the time we got to Mullaghcleevaun, his feet were in rag order.  But he finished with the rest of us.

There was a time when our club fostered interest and competence in walking by organising fortnightly Sunday walks during the winter months, details of the routes being published in the monthly newsletter, or revealed on the previous Thursday night, so that those who wished could plot the bearings beforehand and put them to the test on the day.  These walks started from a wide variety of locations in Wicklow and we also made day trips to the Cooleys, Mournes, Galtees and Comeraghs, areas which can be reached much more quickly and easier now, with the proliferation of motorways.  The walks took place regardless of weather conditions, on the basis that foul weather provided the best test of navigational skills.  The result of all of this was that the club always had a core group of experienced walkers, with a wide knowledge of our mountain ranges which they were always happy to pass on to newer members.

Learn by Doing was the tried and trusted concept back then and it worked admirably well.  Nowadays the emphasis is on doing courses, but it never ceases to surprise me that anyone, least of all the members of a mountaineering club, should feel it necessary to take formal instruction in something as basic as hill-walking.  The thing is, for donkey’s years Dubliners, as children and as adults, have enjoyed walking in the Dublin/Wicklow mountains, without fuss or palaver.  When An Oige was in its heyday, back in the fifties and sixties, their Wicklow hostels would be packed to capacity every Saturday night as young people explored the nearby mountains.  As chisellers in Harold’s Cross, gangs of us would regularly throw a couple of hard-boiled egg sambos into our schoolbags and head off for a day in the hills and no-one would look up or down at us.  It was as common and everyday as using your jumpers for goalposts when playing street football.  In those days the schoolbags would have been the only bit of kit we took with us but, nowadays, we are urged us to tog ourselves out in expensive gear and equip ourselves with all kinds of gadgets before setting out for the hills.  It wasn’t always thus.

In his book, The Neighbourhood of Dublin, published back in 1912, Weston Joyce extolled the virtues of walking the Six Hills (the area between Stone Cross and Kippure) at a time when Dublin hardly extended beyond the canals and Glenasmole was so remote from the city that the Irish language had survived there until the nineteenth century.  And the gear Joyce recommended for these outings?  A pair of stout boots and a walking stick.  At that time I’m sure some would have regarded the use of a walking stick as smacking of ostentation.

J.B. Malone, the doyen of Dublin hill-walkers, in his book, The Open Road, published in 1950, was frugal in his choice of gear, too. He recommended what was known as The Russian Roll.  This was a raincoat, rolled width-ways and worn like a bandoleer, draped over one shoulder and fastened beneath the other with the coat belt, with the lunch stowed in one of the pockets.  Many of us, in those frugal times, would have regarded owning a coat with a belt as being a blatant example of conspicuous consumption.

Bill Murray, in his book, Undiscovered Scotland, recommended going out, alone, at night, in the depths of winter and trekking the snow-clad summits by moonlight, advice that would probably be frowned upon nowadays.  It is increasingly rare for us to be blessed with decent snow cover on our hills but, if the opportunity arises, you should try it.  The silence, the serenity and the soft, subdued light reflecting off the glittering snow slopes all adds up to a magical experience.

Our mountains are small by international standards, but they can provide much enjoyment and, sometimes, challenges, too and learning to cope with these challenges may serve well elsewhere, on more distant hills.  So, go on, spread your wings, get your boots wet and test yourself.  After all, we are members of a mountaineering club.  Shouldn’t we be doing what it says on the tin.

Donegal Shenanigans…

With the promise of blue skies for the weekend a last minute decision was made from myself and Jason to head to Donegal for vertical tomfoolery. The plans were loose and flexible; Muckross Head, Sail Rock or sea stacks. We headed for Killybegs and decided upon Muckross Head.

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I’d been to Muckross Head years ago and was just starting out on my trad odyssey at the time. I recall thinking the climbing was hard and scary with most grades outside my remit. However this time with a different perspective the place blew me away. I couldn’t get over the fact that for most of the day we were the only people climbing! The crag is amazing, in a stunning setting, with top class lines… only in Ireland a crag like this is empty!

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Regardless of what grades one is climbing, there is a savage days climbing to be had at Muckross Head. The climbing is amazing and very similar in parts to the limestone in El Chorro, but with more horizontal breaks.  The highlight of the day was two *** HVS routes – ‘Primula’ (a smashing *** route with acrobatic climbing) and ‘Joy of Fogs’ (a traverse from the gods!). I would suggest that Muckross Head is worth visiting alone for these two routes. I’d further suggest the IMC needs to have a meet here… which I’ll organize later in the year.

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For those climbing at E2/4…. there are some *** lines worthy of attention. http://www.uniqueascent.ie/uploadedfiles/Muckross-Head.pdf

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After our day of climbing we headed to Iain’s place to pick up a dinghy for Sunday’s action. He was kind enough to put us up for the night and ‘loan’ us a dinghy. I’ll expand upon the ‘loan’ part in a minute!

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On Sunday we left a little late and headed to An Port (a must visit venue for any adventurous soul in Ireland), packed a small rack, abseil rope, climbing rope and dinghy. The walk in to our destination was about 50mins with sections of uphill while handrailing along a stunning coastline dotted by immense sea stacks. Our approach to the storm beach involved a tricky grassy descent followed by an abseil. On arrival at the beach one is faced with two towering monoliths, Cnoc na Mara and Torrmore Island. To go no further than visiting this beach is in itself a massive adventure.

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Jason got to work straight away by inflating the dinghy as I packed for the *** VS 4C arete climb on Cnoc na Mara. I personally feel that it’s difficult to place a conventional grade on such a climb as the approach and objective danger are significant.

I grabbed the dinghy and waded out before jumping in as the set of waves gently rolled us back and forth. Jason threw the gear in and jumped in. We paddled the 150m out to the base of the stack and had to pick a point to access the stack by bringing the dinghy in sideways and Jason jumping onto a small platform while the boat heaved up and down by the swell. We’d made it.

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I placed a nut on the stack and tethered the dinghy to a sling. We kitted up and started off on a 35m solo on easy climbing but with significant objective danger as if you looked sideways at a block or handhold it would move!! A little more additional spice was added by two fulmers either side of us preparing to discharge a projectile of vomit. We were barely breathing as we tiptoed pass them and finally reached our first belay ledge.

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We kitted up for the next short 25m traverse pitch on easy ground, but once again with ‘observable’ objective danger. It was at this point that I realized that myself and Jason were in very different head space. Jason can’t swim, had hopped in a dinghy and then soloed sketchy terrain with significant objective danger between aggressive fulmers!! We had a chat and decided to go to the next belay and reassess.

I lead off across a slabby jenga traverse with one bit of gear for 25m and found the nice belay ledge with good gear. Jason followed up and we sat there for quite some time chatting. The situation at the second belay is immense and the scenery stunning. It was decision time! If we committed to the next pitch it was 35m of balancing up a knife ridge with 100m of air between each leg, followed by another 55m monster knife ridge to the summit.

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The way I now look at climbing is that if one is not enjoying the situation and climbing then the summit/goal just becomes a box to be ticked. If it’s not enjoyable then why bother, we decided to bail. Jason down climbed to the first belay and I followed. We then set up a retrievable abseil and I went first dancing between fulmers and loose blocks towards the dinghy. I was pleasantly surprised that the dinghy was still full of air and in good nick. I was sure we’d puncture it on the landing.

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As I took off the kit, bagged it and changed into shorts for the ferry journey to land, Jason appeared above me and to the left of the dinghy. All of a sudden a massive block trundled down the last few meters and bounced off the dinghy! In the time it took Jason to to abseil the last 5 meters the dinghy had changed in form, from solid and reliable to a little soft and less inviting. I half joking and half serious asked him, ‘You’re only messing about not being able to swim, right?’ He informed me he certainly was not messing and there is no way he’d be able to swim back to shore. It was at this point that I revealed to him that the block he’d dislodged had punctured the dinghy…. Jesus… I laughed so hard!!!

It was a race against time.

I threw the dinghy into the sea and Jason quickly boarded. I was sure it would not hold his weight, but it did. I threw the rope and gear into it and hopped in fully expecting it to take water and sink… but it didn’t. We paddled furiously towards the shore and only slowed down when were were half way there as the waves were kindly bringing us in to land. On being gently guided onto the stone storm beach I jumped out and watched Jason drag the dinghy forlornly behind him… I laughed hard.

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We packed up and started the horrible super steep journey out of the storm beach. Jason was ahead of me and I must admit to stopping at times because I was laughing at the situation that had unfolded; days like these are like gold dust. We finally made it to the van and met a local couple who had been camping nearby. We chatted for a while as Jason recounted our epic day and they kindly reciprocated by pulling out a small bottle of home made poitin, it was a nice finish to a superb day of full on adventure.

We had assumed at this point our adventures were over for the day, but boy o boy, how wrong we were. The road to An Port is single file in places and very remote. About 10 minutes from leaving An Port we pulled over slightly to let a car pass. The van started slowly sliding gently, as though it was on a moving carpet into the a massive hidden ditch. It was almost on it’s side!! We were completely and totally stuck beyond question. Jason hopped out and the guy we pull over for gave him a lift up the road as he searched for help. We needed a tractor or something bigger.

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There was no flaring tempers or throwing the toys out of the pram. We just treated it as another problem to solve in a day that contained many and got on with it. About 30mins later Jason arrived with an elderly man on an old tractor and his son in a car. They tried several times to pull the van out but to no avail, it was well and truly stuck. They gave it one final go and the van started to move backwards…. it was coming out…. BANG!! I looked over my shoulder to see the farmer had driven his tractor into the deep ditch on the other side of the road. You couldn’t make this shit up!!

We spent the next 1.5hrs trying to get the tractor out involving shovels, stone slabs, planks..etc. At one point the elderly farmer who was as strong as an ox was flung 180 degrees while trying to grab the tractor wheel to push it!! It was turning into a dangerous situation with poor decision making due to frustration. Finally Jason and the two locals jumped in a car and went in search of a larger tractor. I stayed with the van and tractor which were now blocking the road completely.

A car approached and the passenger, bedecked in his Sunday best, without hesitation jumped into the tractor to help. We spent the next 30 mins placing blocks underneath it and almost succeeding before the others arrived back followed by a monolithic tractor. Over the next 10 minutes all vehicles were pulled from their respective ditches and the adventure was finally over.

Without doubt one of the best days I’ve ever had in Ireland and with great company.

Adventure is alive and well in Ireland, you only have to look for it.

Culdaff Climbfest 2016

Climbfest Topo here.

Finbarr Wall – Dublin IMC and Donegal crew

All in it was ace – lovely, lovely people & lovely crags – it’s mecca for climbing…and the weather was good. We had a really fantastic time.

Dave at Finbarr Wall

It was well set up, I especially like the topo’s and the ethos was get new folk climbing! Very supportive group. First day was all about beginners/first time climbers, the lad organising gave everything to this cause.

Finbarr Wall B. Mosquito, Sev 4a
Finbarr Wall stance
Finbarr Wall – Lichen on Granny Long Legs (HVS)

Orange Blossom is the crack I loved but could not do, Dave and Barbara did it, hard to describe how cool it was….it’s the route everyone wants to do….an inverted corner and bumpin up it with nout but a heavy left arm lean until you can grab something, not much for feet as it is an over hang to start then lashing in a hex into a hole in the inverted corner (blue hex fits) and battering up a kind of obtuse chimney….(hard to describe)

We also did Finbars Wall and Brasil Rock ….

Dunmore Head – Inland Wall. Orange Blossom, HS 4b, 12m (Probably the seminal climb everyone wants to do)
Brasil Rock
Brasil Rock
Brasil Rock

Some of the Donegal climbers (‘Colmcille’ is the club name) said specifically they wanted to try climbing in Dalkey and I said we will organise a meet for that (no bother) and, sure, if they are coming Dalkey why not try Glendo, and I tell you they are very much up for it.

Winter Climbing in Scotland

In between soloing Great Gully Ridge and a one-day round trip to inspect the slushy snow on Howling Ridge, Dave Keogh managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Scotland, cramming in an impressive array of climbs.
He doesn’t even enjoy climbing apparently and only does it to annoy Ken. But what a fine job he’s doing. Over to Dave…


Scotland Winter Jan 9-13

So after 2 canned trips during the Christmas period due to pish weather I made a last minute trip to Scotland.  Colder weather was forecast and things looked promising.

€8 flights to Glasgow ➡️ Bus to Fort William ➡️ Bus to the north face car park ➡️ 2hr walk with provisions for 5 nights & 4 days ➡️ CIC hut.

Situated at 680m and just below Ben Nevis’s north face it provides an ideal base for a few days.

I had 4 quality days, 2 of which I spent with a climber I met through the UKC website after an 11th hour shout out for a partner.

Day 1
Climbers on Good Friday

•Tower Scoop (III** ice climb)
•Good Friday Climb (III*** ice climb) – Down Gully no. 3 (I**)
•Gully Buttress No. 3 (III,3*** ice & mixed) – Down Gully no. 3 (I**)

Day 2 (with my UKC blind date)
Lost The Place (V,5*** mixed) – Pitch 1

•Lost The Place (V,5*** mixed) 3 pitches 40,25,40m located high on Coire na Ciste. A really good route with a memorable top chimney pitch.

Day 3 (2nd date)
Cutlass
Cutlass (VI,7** mixed)
Horrible slab pitch to start Cutlass
P2 Cutlass
Cutlass – Pitch 2
Coming up P2 Cutlass
P3 Cutlass
Cutlass – Pitch 3
Setting out P3 Cutlass
Setting out P3 Cutlass
SW Ridge Douglas Boulder
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Finishing up Cutlass

•Cutlass (VI,7** mixed). A lot of snow and a couple of other factors had us setting our sights low on the mountain. An excellent route which went in 5 pitches to the top of the Douglas Boulder. The climbing on pitch 2&3 (corner/chimney) is so good.

Day 4 (dumped)
1934 Route (II/III**)
Looking up at Tower Ridge ice pitch
TR Ice pitch
Tower Ridge ice pitch
TR little tower
Tower Ridge – Little Tower
Tower Ridge – Eastern Traverse
Tower Ridge – Fallen Block
A tight squeeze, but fun

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TR top
Tower Ridge – Nearing the top
Parties behind negotiating Tower Gap

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TR finish to summit
Tower Ridge – Finish to summit

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•1934 route (II/III**) up onto Tower Ridge
•Tower Ridge (IV,4****). Snow has yet to really consolidate so it was well banked out. Being first on the route this meant a lot of clearing ledges and cracks for axes. A real shoulder workout.
•CMD Arête (I**)

Tower Ridge was a day to remember. One of my best. Cold (minus 6 on top), no wind and blue skies made things perfect.

A good start to winter!

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On the summit of Ben Nevis

Just a week later and Dave returns, to mixed conditions, this time with Cearbhall…


Scotland Winter: Thaw & Storms Jan 20-31

Myself and Cearbhall Daly had an interesting 8 days or so Winter Climbing in Scotland. It was a real mixed bag of thawing conditions, wild weather and some excellent climbing. We got to see a few new venues and even had a first attempt at some dry tooling down in the cave at Dunkeld. All the climbing was mixed as the ice routes haven’t formed at this point. Below is a list of the routes and areas we got to.

  • Cairngorms
    • The Seam IV,5**
    • Savage Slit V,6***
    • Hidden Chimney Direct IV,5*
  • Ben Nevis
    • No. 2 Gully Buttress III***
    • Wendigo IV,4**
    • Thompsons Route IV,4***
    • No. 3 Gully Buttress III***
    • Jackknife V,6
    • SW Ridge Doulas Boulder IV,5***

I stayed on a for a couple of days after Cearbhall left and climbed with a friend of a friend at Stob Coire nan Lochan and yesterday we did Scabbard Chimney V,6***, Twisting Gully III,4*** and Dorsal’s Arête II/III***

I learned a fair bit more about Scottish weather and climbing conditions which play a big part in dictating your route choice.

Wednesday 20th Jan – The Seam
Coire an t’Sneachda
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Climbers on Coire an t’Sneachda
The Seam
Looking across to Fiacaill Ridge and climbers on The Seam, probably David Keogh [Photo: Alistair Hurst]
Midway point on The Seam
Midway point on The Seam
Nearing the top of The Seam
Nearing the top of The Seam
Thursday 21st Jan – Savage Slit

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Friday 22st Jan – Hidden Chimney Direct
Thawing conditions on Hidden Chimney Direct
Top out after Hidden Chimney Direct
Wednesday 27th Jan – The Wendigo
Wendigo
Toping out on Wendigo
CMD Arete from the top of Wendigo on a rare calm day
CMD Arete from the top of Wendigo on a rare calm day
Sunday 31st Jan – Scabbard Chimney
Parties climbing at Stob Coire Nan Lochan
Scabbard Chimney
Pitch 2 Scabbard Chimney
Pitch 3 Scabbard Chimney

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Where next….?


Travelling Light in the High Atlas Mountains

 “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, and find your eternity in each moment.” – Henry David Thoreau

Mount Toubkal, in the Moroccan high Atlas Mountains, is the highest mountain in North Africa.

On a sunny morning in May, after leaving the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh, we find ourselves in the small Berber village of Imlil – the gateway to the high Atlas Mountains.

Imlil
Imlil

Imlil is a small tourist village featuring a number of outdoor shops, guiding services, muleteers and places to stay.

The journey to this isolated part of North Africa began after an après-hike conversation in the Wicklow Mountains, when a friend suggested climbing Toubkal.

After having completed my Mountain Leader training program in Donegal a month earlier and with an enthusiastic frame of mind eagerly wanting to put my new navigation and survival skills to the test. I convinced my friend to do the climb without a guide and without the support of mules to carry our supplies.

I did some research, ordered a 1:50,000 map of the high Atlas Mountains from Stanford’s map shop in London and now felt that I was ready to explore the highest mountains north of the Sahara desert.

Standing in the small Berber village clutching my map and compass with a 10 kg backpack, I reflected on how it is the simplest things in live that provide the most happiness and value.

The weight of a backpack can be a good metaphor for travelling lightly without clutter throughout ones life.

I find myself thinking of a quote by the nineteenth century American transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone”

The stuff that you have in a backpack becomes a very mindful burden when it has to be carried for six hours up a 1500 meter ascent over 10 kilometers. The journey becomes a contemplation of what is necessary and what, as Thoreau would say, ‘can be let alone’.

The village of Imlil is situated at the base of the high Atlas Mountains at an altitude of 1,749 meters. Following the main road through the village we reach a well-marked track that begins our ascent towards the refuge which will become our base-camp.

Leavinvg Imlil
Leavinvg Imlil

The beaten track is well marked and one would nearly be inclined to dispense with the map and compass.

However, as the day unfolds and the evening approaches the map will become a vital necessity.

At this early stage, we are enjoying the blue skies and the beautiful scenery. We pass many other trekkers using guides and mules.

Passing mules on the small tracks requires some awkward maneuvering: firstly to get out of the way of the mules and secondly to avert my friends gaze as I’m sure he must be thinking ‘why are we carrying all of our luggage up the mountain, when no one else is?’.

Hiking up this valley is a very relaxing experience and there are many little shops along the way to buy provisions.

Along the way, we have a very friendly conversation with a local young man and his father who are gathering sand to build a house.

The Berber people in the mountains don’t have very much, but they appear to be very happy and contented. Tourists that go to the markets of Marrakech will encounter some persistent selling and may leave the country with a less than positive impression. But when you go beyond the tourist hotspots you encounter a real genuine people, who are living simply and are just trying to get by.

After half an hour, we reach the village of Aroumd (the locals pronounce it as “aremd”) – a real authentic Berber village.

Sidi Chamharouch
Sidi Chamharouch

Next we pass the tiny settlement of Sidi Chamharouch. This little settlement has grown around a Muslim shrine and is a local pilgrimage site.

From here the path crosses a stream with a quaint little waterfall and climbs steeply uphill to the right side of the Isougouane valley. This is the halfway point between our climbing that started in Imlil and will finish at the refuge base-camp.

We continue on for another few hours but the higher altitude brings a slower pace.

As we near an altitude of 3,000 meters the change in altitude is much more noticeable. Breathing is deepening, walking feels harder, and I can feel my ears popping every so often. We are becoming very tired now.

As we hike on, I notice dark clouds forming. I say nothing to my friend but take note of emergency shelters that we pass along the way. Visibility is falling sharply too, as clouds and mist start covering us. Suddenly visibility is down to 100 meters. We can still see the well-trodden path.

But as we continue, visibility is now down to 20 meters and even the track becomes less distinct. The large shadows create mirages of what might be the outline of our refuge but turn out to be just hauntingly large boulders.

There is something about mist in the mountains and the shadows that they form, which stokes the imagination and conjures up all kinds of supernatural fantasies. Although a world removed from the moors of Yorkshire, there is a haunting sense of mystery that might be described in a Bronte novel. I am studying my map closely and estimate that we should be at the refuge, but we can’t see a thing except fog. Suddenly, the large outline of a refuge appears. Had we diverted more than 20 metres from the track, we would have completely missed it.

Les Mouflons refuge
Les Mouflons refuge

We arrive at the refuge around six o’clock and fortuitously they still have plenty of spare beds. This refuge is located at an altitude of 3,207 meters or 960 meters below the summit.

The electricity in the refuge is rationed – being switched on from 7:00 pm to about 10:00 pm, which is the only window to recharge any electronic devices.

After a long walk in the fresh air of the mountains, nothing beats a fine meal. We are served a large and delicious Tagine, which is something like an Irish stew but with several different spices added.

Sleeping at altitude takes some getting used to and despite being tired my sleep is disrupted.

The next morning at about 8:00 am, we start our summit attempt.

Still Snow in May
Still Snow in May

From the refuge, we follow the path that crosses the stream and then leads into a snowfield. Although it is already late in May there is still a lot of snow remaining. Climbing in the snow isn’t much of a problem, and although crampons would have been useful, they weren’t necessary at this time of the year.

After the snowfield, we approach a steep scree slope to the east and enter a valley to eventual reach a col (a col is a low point between two peaks) between Toubkal and Toubkal West. This col is called “Tizi’n’Toubkal” and sits at a height of 3,940 metres.

At this col, we take the route to the left (northwards) towards the summit ridge of Mount Toubkal. The track to the summit is obvious and quite steep, but flattens off at the summit.

Mount Toubkal Summit
Mount Toubkal Summit

The summit, at a height of 4,167 metres (13,671 feet), is marked with a pyramidal metal structure.

Europeans first ascended this peak in 1923. Today, 92 years later, on the 20 May 2015, we reach the top of this beautiful mountain.

Feet in the clouds
Feet in the clouds

The effort of the climb was rewarded with amazing panoramic views of the Atlas Mountains with some streaks of snow that hadn’t yet melted.

Let sleeping dogs lie
Let sleeping dogs lie

Curiously, we found a dog sleeping on the summit. Later we learned that every morning this dog follows trekkers to the top and then returns in the evening to the refuge to be fed.

We descend by the same route to the col (Tizi’n’Toubkal), and then continued straight on to reach another summit—Toubkal West (4,033 metres).

After having climbed two 4,000 meter peaks in one day, we retrace our route back to the refuge and then return to the village of Aroumd.

Aroumd, at a height of 1,850 meters, is about half an hour’s walk from Imlil and is the largest village in the Mizane valley.

a18_MizaneValley_FloraThe tiered fields consisting of barley, walnut trees, cherry trees, onions and potatoes, contrasts with the arid landscape of Toubkal. The track into the village is surrounded with very fragrant purple and yellow flora.

That night, we stayed in a local gîte offering stunning views of the Mizane valley from its large terrace. The local Berber people of this village live a very simple life but appear to be quite happy and relaxed.

The next day we used the services of a guide to explore the Mizane valley.

Towards the end of the week we returned to Marrakech and then flew back to our beautiful emerald isle.

We spent most of our week’s trip to Morocco in the mountains. The stunning beauty of these mountains surpassed my expectations and I look forward to returning someday. There is so much to see and do that one could spend months here.

 

INFORMATION ON CLIMBING TOUBKAL

In May of 2015, the exchange for the Moroccan Dirham (DH) was approximately 11 DH to €1. The prices shown below are based on this conversion rate.

Travel to Morocco:

Ryanair return flights from Dublin to Marrakesh: €120From the Airport, take the number 19 bus (€3) to the Jemma El Fna (Marrakech main square).

Accommodation in Morocco

There are a number of hotels near Jemma El Fna in the Medina. We stayed in the Sindi Sud hotel (€ 21 per night per room for two people), which was basic but comfortable and clean.

Transport to Mountains

The taxis which take you to the mountains are called “Grand Taxis”, as opposed to the “Petit Taxis” that are used in the city.

Take a Petit Taxi (€ 2) to the Grand Taxi rank at the Bab er-Rob taxi rank.

The journey from Marrakech to the village of Imlil is about 90 minutes. A shared taxi will cost about €5 per person sharing or about € 15 for an un-shared taxi, but be prepared to spend some time haggling to get that price.

Getting a taxi from Imlil back to Marrakech is more expensive and will cost €20 to €30 for a private taxi.

Mountain Refuge

There are three mountain huts clustered close together, with the lowest one being Les Mouflons.The Les Mouflons refuge costs €30 half-board per night.

Guides

Guides are available in Imlil and you will also meet them along the route and at the refuge. To get a good price, you will need to haggle. There are also options to use mules to carry your gear.

Hiking around the village Aroumd

A Gite with half-board (bed, evening meal and breakfast) should cost around €15 / night / person.

 

Rock Climbing in Ireland by David Flanagan

Although ultimately printed on paper, this book is truly a product of the digital age.  Throughout last year I followed its inception over Facebook & Dave’s own blog as crags, and the merits of the various routes on them, were discussed.  In addition, the production as a whole was open to debate with various topo photographs being optioned and even a discussion on the colour schemes for route markers (with consideration of the visually impaired).  It is this level of attention to detail that comes through repeatedly in the publication.

As a relative newcomer to climbing myself, and especially as we tended to go off to new crags by ourselves, the interpretation of route descriptions has always been part of the challenge of the climb.  Indeed, the idiosyncratic & euphemistic nature of route descriptions combined with distant blurred photos, criss-crossed by vague, thick dashed-lines, made me wonder if this was some kind of rite of passage into the climbing world; you can’t just go to a crag and climb something, you have to work for it?

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In that respect, the topo photographs and route marking in the book are excellent.  The accompanying text gives good detail with appropriate insights where necessary.  Introductory rubric for each crag covers driving directions, parking, approach & descents together with any local conditions to be aware of (waves, midges, etc).

With any guide that attempts to cover the whole of Ireland, there will inevitably be quibbles over content.  But that restriction can also work to the book’s advantage as it results in a necessary reduction in the number of routes shown on any crag, focusing on the popular and representative routes.  A taster, and if a particular crag is to your tastes, you’ll go á la carte and buy the local guide.

Personally I found this even worked well for crags I had some knowledge of, such as Glendalough Main Face, where the number of routes can be intimidating for a newcomer; but reduction to a selection of choice cuts makes the whole crag much more approachable.  I initially imagined the market for such a book to be first time visitors, and in this respect it fits the bill perfectly (and, indeed, I have recommended it to a number of climbers I’ve met outside Ireland).  But I find it works equally well for residents.

In his introduction, Dave hopes that we will find the book “inspiring and informative” and that’s exactly what it is.  Not only does it make you want to climb yet to be visited crags in Ireland, it also makes you want to revisit familiar crags and try lines you’ve perhaps been ignoring or forgotten.  What better recommendation can there be than that?

 

Rock Climbing in Ireland by David Flanagan
Published by Three Rock Books
(288 pages, 16×1.8×18.5 cm)

rockClimbingInIreland-frontcover

A Scotsman, an Englishman and an Irishman went on a climbing trip to Wales.

5am up, bags packed the night before. Breakfast consumed on the drive north to Dublin to meet Irishman and Englishman before catching the ferry to Holyhead. Second breakfast and coffee on the boat, where we met up with another two parties heading over to the IMC Wales meet. Guide books strewn over the table, discussion and anticipation of where to go and what to climb, Gogarth and the Pass being top of the list. We arrived in Wales to overcast skies and showers – not what was forecast. The parties went their separate ways for the day. Irishman was concerned by the wind strength and direction for Gogarth so we headed into the thickening cloud to the Pass, dropping our bags at the hut on the way.

Englishman was getting excited on the drive round and talk turned to the routes on the Cromlech: Left Wall, Cenotaph Corner, Cemetery Gates and Ivy Sepulchre, we should climb them all he exclaimed not able to choose between the four. Drizzle turned to rain, Englishman’s top lip began to quiver, his excitement drained by the worsening weather. We stopped at the boulders below the Cromlech and fingered the permanently dry but immensely steep routes, too hard for us. Down to Llanberis for tea and to devise another plan. The weather brightening towards the coast and time getting on it was decided that we would not have time to drive back to Gogarth or south to Tremadog. Enda another Irishman turned up making us a four, it had brightened slightly so we headed back to the Pass as time was getting on.

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The rock still wet we geared up anyway. At least it had stopped raining and there were some V Diffs we could do in the wet. The wind picked up on the trudge up the slope, bringing with it some light drizzle. The two corners were soaking wet as was Left Wall, Cemetery Gates too hard to tell from a distance. Englishman made a beeline for the main corner on the Cromlech. With his stiff upper lip he proclaimed that we would climb Cemetery Gates his heart still set on climbing at least one of the four he had earmarked for the day. The two Irishmen opted for the slightly easier Spiral Staircase. We scrambled up the wet slabs to the base of the route, no queues today that was a certainty.

Englishman made steady progress on the initial ramp proclaiming it to be only hard severe, he reached the steep pull into the sculpted vertical groove “watch me here” the climbing getting notably harder at this point. Up he went gear and holds a plenty, some intestinal explosions helping to propel him upwards into the growing darkness. I looked out across to cars far below driving down the valley, headlights lighting up the road, only 4:30 the day foreshortened by the incoming cloud. Light rain again blowing sideways on to the cliff. Some more grunting and Englishman was on the girdle ledge 2/3 of the way up the route. I only have two extenders left he shouted down. Should I go on or belay? It’s up to you I retorted unable to see beyond the ledge he was stood.

“Safe”, “Climb when ready”, “Climbing”.

Up I went the rhyolite providing plenty of unexpected holds by the way of side pulls. Hands cold but thankful for the four layers I was wearing, concentrating hard on my footwork due to the wet rock. I was soon up to the girdle ledge, forearms aching from the effort to grip the rock with numb hands. Englishman was still buzzing, eyeing up the steep final crack he offered me the lead. Personally I would have gone for the arête rather than up the finger crack to the slimy left slanting crack that led to the top. He was determined, this could be interesting I thought to myself. You can go on I said, he had wanted to do the route in one pitch so why deny him the vile looking crack.

Off he went, fingerlocks followed by hand jams resisting the temptation to cross to the arête he continued up to the slimy left slanting crack, no turning back now. More gear placed he started climbing the crack, body to the right of it with one foot sliding to get traction on the slimy rock. I struggled to see where he was going to go from here, at this stage he had accepted the crack was too wet to climb, presumably he had not appreciated this from the belay ledge. More grunting “watch me here” he was now between the crack and the arête, trying to keep it together just two meters from the top. His lip quivering once more he wobbled upwards letting out a yelp as he lunged for the arête. Somehow he latched something through desperation managing to stay on, whoops of relief as he topped out. He later found out that what he had been attempting in the rain was the Dirty Dick finish and the easy looking arête had been the line of Cemetery Gates.

I joined him at the top, by this point it was dark our head torches safely stowed in the tops of our rucksacks at the base of the route. We fumbled our way to the tree above Cenotaph Corner and managed to ab down to our bags in a oner. Head torches on scrabbling down the scree to the car, mountains of food at Pete’s Eats then back to the hut. We were joined by ten more IMC members at 2am in the morning having gotten the late night ferry across after work.

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Saturday it rained until early afternoon so we opted for a walk up Tryfan and on Sunday we decided to head over to Tremadog as it had proved a better bet weather-wise for other parties who had climbed here the previous two days. I was with Irishman today as Englishman had had his fill and was off fulfilling his Training Officer duties with the new members. First route (One Step in the Clouds) of this wet weather in the mountains crag, it started to rain! I seconded up the first pitch in the rain to the now wet second pitch requiring delicate footwork on small holds, great. Your feet do stick in the wet, it’s all in your head, until you fall off, was what I kept telling myself. Crux pitch dispatched one easier pitch lead to the top. Down to Eric’s Café for tea and cake and to wait for the inclement weather to pass.

Brightening up and second route selected (Meschach) we wandered back up the hill. Having planted the fact that there was a peg at the crux Irishman was easily convinced to take the first pitch. Some intricate route finding across a slab he was at the belay. I’m pretty sure I would have found myself lost and off route so quite relieved in that respect. Off I went through the bulge and then a long pull up to the ledge with the peg, a delicate traverse from the peg lead to a rising traverse to the top. Irishman followed making friends with the peg ensuring it was seated well on his way past.

Final route of the day was to be The Plum, time was getting on. We climbed up to a buttress and managed to convince ourselves we were in the right place. I set off aware that I was running out of daylight. It was steep! I pulled through the initial bouldary crux at the start, perched above my gear puffing more than I should have been, doubt crept in, I had been in this position before. I opted to jump off before getting more committed. Transpired I was not even on the right buttress let alone the right route, oh well not the first time my eyes had picked the wrong line.

Monday turned out to be the best weather day, but we only had till early afternoon as we were on the 5pm ferry. We got sunny weather in the Pass and took some of the new climbers up some multipitch routes. The rite of passage of dropping gear on your first multipitch was achieved by most, all was retrieved so no harm done. It reminded me how much satisfaction you get from taking someone out to experience something new and challenging to them and was enjoyable to all new and old. Back to Pete’s Eats for some more low calorie diet food, then to the ferry. Englishman decided to have one last moment of excitement by flattening his car battery in the queue by having most electrical items on in his car whilst we waited. Some embarrassment later we were up and running again and on the rather choppy ferry home.

It was a most enjoyable long weekend and my first time climbing in Wales, something would have been wrong if it had not rained once at least every day.