Crocodiles in the park March 2014
Ba Doom Ba Doom, Arghhh thats it, game over, my van left the carriageway and summersaulting the barricade at the side of the motorway smashed onto its roof on the steep slope leading down to the brown tumbling waters of the river flowing ever southwards at its side. The van then pitched forward into the river in a spray of broken glass and bits and pieces ejected from the drivers cabin crushed by the massive impact which was a result of my forward momentum and the weight of steel, plastic, glass and sundry camping and climbing equipment that had been packed into the back.
I looked for Choire who had been sitting in the passenger seat and saw nothing, the door was gone as was the seat he had been sitting in. The cold waters of the icy river enveloped my body and my vision was reduced to two or three inches of murk, my consciousness ebbed away.
Suddenly the brake lights on the lorry in front of me went on and I awoke from my dream, I had been playing my age old game of pretending the cats eyes between the lanes of the M5/M6/M74 were land mines and that to hit one when you were overtaking spelt death and destruction. Am I alone in this game? no way, and if I am how do other people relieve the boredom of long motorway journeys, listing to the radio? Death through bourgeois intelectualisim by Radio 4 or the mindless sensationalisim of Jeremy Vine on Radio 2.
We had travelled up to Scotland to see family and friends, take care of some movement of stuff southwards and hopefully do some climbing/walking. However the weather was not gonna let that happen, not easily anyway and was certainly not going to let us derive much pleasure out of the process. Last year the conditions had been excellent with a long spell of sub zero temperatures after a good dump of snow, this year, although I was seeing the occasional picture of stuff getting done on Facebook, the weather and conditions had to date been fairly rubbish. The weather patterns bringing storms and high winds that had produced the floods which had enveloped the South West had brought large deposits of unconsolidated snow to Scotland. The temperatures were warm and it was really just one big avalanche city.
We decided to explore the Fife coastline around Kirkcaldy and Wemyss.
We walked out through the economic disaster zone which was unfortunately Kirkcaldy High Street, past the house where Adam Smith, the so called father of political economics was born in 1723. God knows what he would think now if he could see this, crap shops selling rubbish, intersperced with boarded up retail units, 40 percent of them vacant. The high street however had had millions ploughed into new paving, a carbuncle of a building that housed a new swimming pool and a new sea wall, hopefully designed to withstand the increasingly severe storms headed its way. Just maybe someone in the council should read his book and put some of it into practice.
We continued walking out past the harbour, once a thriving fishing port, now the scene of a cheerless housing development which tried quite hard to look trendy with its chrome railed balconies but failed almost as much as the water in the harbour failed to attract any kind of bird or marine life to its oily depths. Past the water treatment works with a sign that advised “Odour sensitive site” and onto the “beach”
A heavy monochromatic sky sat on top of a flat monochromatic sea. Languid waves collapsed half heartedly onto a monochromatic beach with a sigh, to have said they “broke” would have been to endowed them with far more enthusiasm than they actually seemed to have. The beach had long since lost any of its natural colour having been stained grey from the pit spoil heaps which lined the coast. The now abandoned works themselves recalling an era of supply to the industrial powerhouses of colonial manufacturing, now a distant echo of times long gone.
We walked up into Ravenscraig park through a gap in the wall that encircles the area and which was build by Lord Wemyss, who owned all the mines in the area and who did not want the workforce to walk through his park, preferring for them to take a large detour inland. Nice guy!
In the park my eye was drawn to a bit of colour in an otherwise colourless landscape, up ahead on the path a flash of yellow shone like the barmaids eyes in a high street bar at 2400hrs on a friday night. We approached in wonder and were amazed to see a line of perhaps 10 nursery school kids walking along in a line holding onto a bit of rope. The rope had handles on it which kept each of the kids within touching distance of each other whilst at each corner of the rectangle of under five life was stationed a “responsible adult”. Everyone was bedecked a high viz jacket, the modern statement of authority and power in a world obsessed with Health and Safety and moving along at about the same speed as a depressed slug.
If one of the kids let go of the rope everyone would stop till said miscreant took up his/her place like a husky in the reigns. What in the name of hell are we doing to our kids? When I was young the world was a constant source of adventure and wonder. What does that feel like? whats under that bush, how smelly is that, does that sting, can I climb it, will I fall down it if I try to walk there etc etc etc. What are we teaching these guys about the world in which they live, don’t go there its not safe, wear a high viz jacket and be seen, comply with the rules, are we creating a race of non risk taking individuals who conform to the rules because we are taking away their ability to think for themselves. Where will that take us, who will challenge the accepted norms, who will want to experiment just for the sake of it, we may end up believing everything we read in the papers and see on the open sewer that empties into our living rooms on a daily basis.
I walked out of the park feeling that I had witnessed something really dreadful, and in my mind I had. I train kids to accept responsibility for themselves in a fairly high risk environment, one of my biggest hurdles these days is getting said guys to understand that the responsibility is theirs. They just cannot accept it when I say, go where you want, take what you want ( all within certain constraints of course ) they look at me as if I am tricking them. “No its your expedition, you decide” This statement produces real concern with some, is this a result of treating people like they cannot be trusted, even in a park with total visibility!
Next day I set out to drive back south in a hire van with some worldly chattels. The van, a new Ford switched on the lights itself, switched on the windscreen wipers itself and regulated the speed and which they wiped in direct relation to the amount of rain falling.
The van gave me a row if I did not fasten my seatbelt, it told me when to change gear, if I had been driving too long, told me if it needed serviced or fuel, or if a tyre had lost pressure or if it was perhaps frosty outside.
Do people really like and want this? Well I do not, I want to think for myself, I want the responsibility of my own destiny in my hands not in some mindless bit of metal or motherboard which takes decisions for me. Have we really become so lazy as a race and so incapable of thinking for ourselves or so consumed with mindless trivia that we need these machines to take the stress of everyday life away from us.
If so I despair.
Live and Let Die.
Jane was away on her ML assessment, I had spent the last few days running up and down steep ground and navigating over endless bogs in the pitch black. Prior to this I had spent the last few weeks running up and down hills working. I am not complaining, I have the best office in the world, free air conditioning, free sun bed, brilliant views just a bit unpredictable perhaps but hey ho.
However I needed to do something to get out of the rut, I had an afternoon free so what to do with it. Having no one to climb with I decided to go do a scramble up the side of the crags in Cwm Glas and then head up to the Parsons nose and solo the arete there.
The scramble dispatched I arrived at the bottom of the arete in glowering conditions, I could see a party above me starting the final pitch some 300ft above, I swapped my boots for my rock shoes, shouldered my rucksack and headed off. It was a bit of a battle in my head, I had never done this arete before, I knew it was not technically difficult but I didn’t have a guide book and a fall from 200 ft or so does not become any less serious just because of the grade. I started off up the slab with the wind gusting and pushing me about, however the climbing was easy and enjoyable. Soloing at whatever grade really focusses the mind, the slab steepened and just as I stepped up on a side pull the bloody thing came off in my hand sending me barn dooring, the debris clattered off down the rocks and my heart beat went skywards. I settled my breathing and pushed on and made the top of the third and final pitch just as the other party were finishing coiling their ropes.
It was a young couple, I made eye contact with the lad as I stepped up over the final block and was lambasted with a tirade of abuse, I was called cavalier, a danger to be out in the mountains and a a danger to myself and others. I bit my tongue, put my fist in my pocket and walked away, I was feeling way too enlivened to be brought down by this twat.
However, on the walk down I reflected on his point of view. I have been out in the hills and seen people doing really stupid things, going out in winter conditions totally unprepared, throwing rocks off the top of cliffs etc etc and I have spoken up to them and been told to F**K Off and mind my own business. Now I tend to do just that, but I read a blog entry lately written by a French guide who advised that he felt a lot of remorse after seeing someone die the day after he bit his tongue and did not give the advice he thought the guy needed. He went on to say that it is our duty as mountain professionals to do just that, give advice and point out the error of someone else’s way.
But this is subjective, to the guy who lambasted me I was reckless and foolhardy, taking unnecessary risks, I was operating completely outside of his comfort zone but its my choice and it must remain so. The risks I set myself to ensure I feel alive are mine and mine alone, selfish yes but then all climbers, walkers and mountaineers are selfish.
The other point in this is what about the people who have to come rescue me or pick up the bits and pieces at the bottom of the rock face, well that what they volunteer to do and I have never met one of the MR guys who does not support someone pushing their limits and maybe getting it wrong.
I remember once speaking to the MR guys in the Cairngorms who had been pulled out to rescue two individuals who had become scared when they reached the top of the hill, I was scathing of these people but he said, thats what we do and long may it continue to be so. To me they were people tackling something outside of their ability, to him they were people who needed rescue after biting off something that they couldn’t handle.
There but for the grace of god go I, not that I believe in that mumbo jumbo clap trap but it does seek to emphasise the point.
The hills and crags are there for everyone to enjoy and lets let other people do just that and not set limitations on what they can and cannot do just because it does not fit within our frame of what is acceptible. Provided it does not spoil the environment for others that is.
The final straw came that day when I was recounting the story to Jane in the hut, someone was earwigging my story and came out with the line, Its only a Diff, what was the guy on about. What difference does the grade make? To me an E5 is something that I will probably never do, to others it is something that can be soloed, to that guy a Diff might be a life a death encounter with the rock and to see someone soloing it is an anathema.
What is the point here. Make up your own mind.
If it Ticks we must flea.
There’s nothing quite like discovering a tick on your body to make you squirm with disgust. That head buried in your skin, those little legs wiggling contentedly as it feeds on your blood. It’s a natural instinct to want to rip it out immediately, but wait. Tick-borne diseases are on the rise in many climbing and walking areas – stack the odds in your favour by removing the critter properly.
What are ticks?
Ticks are small arachnids, about the size of a poppy seed. They are external parasites that live off the blood of birds and mammals – including you. They are second only to mosquitoes for carrying diseases to humans, and in the UK can carry such pleasures as Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis and Bartonella. Plus in the USA and parts of Europe they can be responsible for transmitting Tick Borne Encephalitis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Colorado tick fever. Global warming and changes in farming practices mean that across Europe there are now more ticks in the countryside.
How do they attack?
Ticks live in the soil and emerge to climb tall grass, shrubs, bushes and low level tree branches up to a height of 20-70cm in search of a blood host. They attack when you, or an animal, brushes past and look for an area of soft skin to insert their feeding organ and suck blood. They can attach themselves almost anywhere but prefer dark creases like the armpit, groin and back of the knee. You won’t feel a thing, as the tick injects a toxin to anaesthetise the bite area and once embedded they will steadily engorge as they feed on your blood. They can also leave you with a nasty farewell present.
Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi (Bb), and many popular UK and European climbing and walking areas have Bb-infected ticks. But don’t panic, simply being bitten by a tick doesn’t mean you’ll contract Lyme disease – many believe that an infected tick has to be on you for over 24 hours to transmit the bacteria in their saliva. However the risk is out there – the Lyme Borreliosis Unit at the Health Protection Agency has seen the number of infected people increase year after year, from 292 reported cases in 2003 to 684 in 2006. However, they estimate around 2000 cases per year go unreported.
The most famous symptom of Lyme disease is a bull’s eye rash (erythema migrans), consisting of a red ring-shaped rash which gradually spreads from the site of the tick bite, usually with a fading centre. Kind of like a browny-red or pink expanding polo mint. It appears 2 – 40 days after infection and is the only sure-fire symptom of Lyme disease – so if you develop one take a photo immediately to show your doctor in case it disappears. Less than 50% of people with Lyme get this rash, and if left untreated a whole range of symptoms can develop, including a flu-like illness, facial palsy, viral-type meningitis, arthritic-like joint pains, nerve inflammation, disturbance of sensation or clumsiness of movement and encephalitis (swelling of the brain).
If you suspect you have Lyme disease then head straight to your GP. There is a blood test for Lyme but it’s acknowledged to have a very high rate of false negatives, so if your GP suspects Lyme, they should begin antibiotic treatment right away, without waiting on the results. Medical opinion is fiercely divided on the best antibiotics and dosages needed to eradicate symptoms, so it’s impossible to make recommendations. However taking antibiotics prophylactically (‘just in case’) is a bad idea: the risk of catching a nasty from a single tick bite is very small.
Areas where infection has been acquired in the UK include Exmoor, the New Forest, the South Downs, parts of Wiltshire and Berkshire, Thetford Forest, the Lake District, the Yorkshire moors and the Scottish Highlands. Two confirmed cases of Lyme Disease have also recently been reported in the Peak District by members of Glossop Mountain Rescue Team.
Another treat carried by some ticks in Europe is Tick Borne Encephalitis (TBE) – a viral disease that attacks the nervous system and can result in serious meningitis, brain inflammation and death. TBE incubation time is 6-14 days and at first it can cause increased temperature, headaches, fever, a cough and sniffles. The second phase can lead to neck stiffness, severe headaches, photophobia, delirium and paralysis. There is no specific treatment for TBE.
Climbers and walkers are again particularly at risk from TBE and ticks carrying the disease are found in many new destinations growing in popularity. TBE is endemic in the forest and mountainous regions of Austria, Belarus, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and Ukraine.
Prevention is better than cure
Taking steps to prevent tick bites is better than digging the things out of your legs:
- Avoid unnecessary bushwacking and walk in the middle of paths.
- Keep your arms and legs covered. Light coloured fabrics are useful since the ticks stand out.
- Check clothes and skin frequently. Ideally do a buddy check every 3-4 hours. They’re large enough to be easily spotted in summer, but you need to look carefully in spring: they’ll be as small as the dot on this ‘i’.
Flushed into Space 20th June 2013
It seemed like a long time since we had been out into the hills just to enjoy ourselves. Summer brings the DofE and overseas expeditions and the days of organisation in front of a computer screen, the warm weather also gets us more interested in the rock rather than the mountains.
So we decided to head up to Snowdonia for a few days and just get out in the hills, the ropes and rack were also packed of course just in case we got bored trudging about.
Five hours, almost a record, put us into the CC hut in Llanberis and no sooner was the tent up than it started raining, hey ho its a nice place to be, no phone signal, no telly, a nice warm fire with a comfy chair and with a good book in hand ( The Wasp Factory as a tribute to the tragic passing of Iain Banks ) I settled down with a cold glass of white wine.
The rain continued throughout the night and into the next day driven by a banshee wind, so what, we had not come all this way just to sit about. Out we went. The tops were out as the wind was too strong for comfort so we amused ourselves by navigating our way around the slopes under Crib Goch in the low cloud. After five sodden hours we had had enough and baled back to the hut to fill the drying room with wet clothes and read in front of the fire. The next day continued in the same vein but again we got out into the hills around Yr Arran this time actually getting a clear spell on the tops, however by the time we were back at the car the rain was hoofing it down again. Even the ewes around the CC Hut looked miserable the next morning so we decided enough was enough, especially given that the forecast was for much more of the same and we fled back south to the sunshine and warmth.
Choire and I decided next day to head down to Cheddar Gorge and get onto a multi pitch bolt route called Space Tourist.
6A+, 6B+, 6B+. The first pitch is a bit of an access pitch to the real hard routes on the mega overhanging sunset buttress, The second pitch is a four bolt rising traverse which is more serious for the second ( guess who) than the leader, the last pitch has a great start, and even better sequence of moves through and out of a short bottomless traverse but then dissolves into a grotty finish protected by rusty pegs.
Not sure I would give it three stars but better than getting rained on in Snowdonia.
Jungle survival training, where ? Bromley of course. 10th June 2013.
This w/end just passed we held an expedition briefing and a jungle survival skills course for all the pupils from Ravens Wood school who are all coming to Borneo on the Jungle and Mountains expedition with us this year.
The location for this training may not have been quite as exotic as the one they will be putting these skills to use in but for the w/end the woods of Bromley became the tropical rain forests of Borneo.
Simon took the guys through the appropriate use of Hammocks, mosquito nets and Bashas, Fire lighting and cooking as well as the delicate subject of the art of relieving yourself in a rain forest environment. Of course the subjects covered are just too many to detail here but the guys from Ravens Wood school took it all on board and demonstrated some really good skills in jungle camp management.
Now its time to practice, get fit, finish exams and sort out those final kit issues before we meet at Heathrow airport in just over 4 weeks.
Really looking forward to being in the rain forest again.
Snowdonia 6th May 2012
The May bank holiday traffic was awful. When I am supreme ruler of the universe, as my starter for ten I am going to ban caravans
Almost from the outset our journey was plagued with setbacks. For starters the A46 from Bath to the M4 was closed due to an accident, probably caused by a caravan. Then choosing to ignore Jane’s directions I ended up in the centre of Bath, imagine the abuse I received for that. Actually Jane didn’t say a word, but i could imagine what was going on inside her head. Then the A5 towards north wales was choc a bloc with, guess what – yes – caravans.
However seven hours after leaving Frome we arrived in the Llanberis pass to find Baz and Dunc already there. Well in fairness Baz had been shopping in Betsy and our lateness, due to the caravans; did I mention the bloody selfish caravan drivers? had not really inconvenienced her that much.
This was our pre Peru get together and the plan was to get out the ropes, get some practice in, moving together on steep ground and stretch the legs at the same time.
0630 the next morning saw us (well me n Jane n young Chris) up and quaffing our coffee and porridge. B&D flustered up just a little bit later but by 0830 we were on our way into Cwm Idwal to find a nice big grade 3 scramble to play on. Main Gully Ridge gave us our sport for the day
It was just over a bit too quickly. However it was really cold and snowing (so can this be claimed as a winter ascent?) to be hanging about so once we hit the easier ground we just kept on cruising up to the summit of Glyder Fach and then over the other side and back down to the CC Hut via Pen y Pass. That’s the beauty of having two cars at your disposal. So once we had retrieved the Gangster from the Ogwen car parks we settled down to a hearty dinner before the many in residence climbers returned to fill the hut to bursting point.
Next day we were again up and at ’em early doors. The sun was shining as we watched a Ring Ouzel foraging on the grass outside the hut. The forecast however was not so great, with snow showers being forecasted for the late morning/afternoon, so we decided to have a walk. May bank holiday… snow showers… below freezing at night… hmmmm it’s that boiled frog again.
Anyway, we returned to the Ogwen valley and parked up at Helyg, walked along the road, crossed onto the access land and headed up the ridge towards the summit of Pen-yr-Ole-Wen. By the time we hit the summit ridge of the Carneddau the snow storms were threatening.
It really did feel wintery up there once the snow started but it gave the day a great edge which made it really enjoyable.
It was never bad enough to make it uncomfortable but it was a challenge which kept us on our toes and our minds alert.
We made our way along the ridge between Dafydd and Llewelyn, weathering the storms, and after lunching (whilst sheltering in the summit howf) on the top of Llewelyn we continued westwards to drop back down to Helyg via the Bwich Eryl Farchog and Y Braich.
The weather had also kept most of the bank holiday crowds down off the hills, so whilst we did not have the hills to ourselves, the number of punters out did not detract from the enjoyment of the day.
The weather on the descent produced one its rare spectacles; the snow was melting on the ground and evaporating in the heat of the sun to produce a rising steam through which the falling snow crystals were being lit by the sun’s rays to look like falling diamonds.
Twas a marvellous effect and one that just could not be captured in a photograph.
The next day the weather crapped so we packed up early and headed back home to our respective abodes. A good weekend jaunt, bring on Peru.
However not before Jane and I have two weeks of climbing in El Chorro, I need a holiday!