Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Castle Ridge

Castle Ridge 8-11 Feb 2001

With the usual bad weather forecast for the weekend people were dropping out of the trip left right and centre. In the end there was only three of us, me and Will from Newcastle and Sally from Charlton

This trip was Sally’s introduction to ice climbing but it began with a series of personal disasters for me. First of all, Scottie dropped out and when Janet and George said they were snowed in at their mountain retreat just outside Dundee, I was left with the nightmare scenario of having to climb in a rope of three. Worse still one of the three was Will, my very worst climbing nightmare and nemesis. My subtle propaganda exercise extolling the virtues of the easier Ledge Route also failed and even having Sally, who had never climbed any ice as the third member did not deter him from announcing we were going to do Castle Ridge. A reasonable choice I’m sure, given that we were a rope of three, consisting of an occasional ice climber and a beginner on a route with a rather avalanche prone approach. Did I mention that Will was a madman? Unfortunately he’s a North Shields madman so you don’t dare disagree with him. As a final straw, even the weather turned against me, the fine spell was due to last until Friday and we had decided to go on Thursday. There was to be no escape

We left Tyneside at 4pm with only a stop at Dalkeith for fish and chips and reached Roy Bridge at 9.30pm, in plenty of time for a couple of pints before turning in. The next morning we were up at 5am, had some tea and toast and were at Torlundy car park by 6.30am. We were the first there but this didn’t stop what seemed like half the population of Fort William from overtaking us by the time we reached the CIC Hut.

As we approached the hut I thought I would regale my flagging companions with some morale boosting anecdotes of previous club adventures on the Ben. Just below the CIC hut I pointed out the campsite of the ill fated 1987 expedition. This was when Andy, PT and I had to carry all of Alan Morton’s gear back down the mountain after he’d he had the good fortune to be helicoptered off after a bad fall. And just over there was the gully he fell down headfirst. Then there was the story of the week long Winter meet at the CIC hut in 1984 when it rained every day. This was the time when Robin and I got fed up with dossing around, went out to do a climb and in zero visibility walked in a big circle and very embarrassingly ended up back at the hut 2 hours later.

Walking under the cliffs on the traverse to the start of our route we saw a man soloing up a corner that was seemingly totally devoid of ice and with no apparent way of escape. Well, he looked as if he knew what he was doing but just to be on the safe side we hurried on and in any case watching him wasn’t very good for our nerves. We let Will go first across the avalanche prone slope below the North and South Castle Gullies, which took us to the starting point of Castle Ridge.

Will led off up a steep slope of snow whose condition could best be described as crap. Sally, on her first winter route was remarkably composed when he suggested that she might like to climb up a bit so he could reach a belay. (Perhaps this happens a lot when she goes rock climbing? I’ll have to ask). By the time I came up, Will was already half way up the next very easy bit. “Bastard” I thought, “I could have led that”. He did though offer me the lead of the next pitch but a cursory glance at a rather evil looking little chimney was enough to make me decline. A few minutes later as I was desperately scrabbling up it I congratulated myself on one of my better decisions. We all agreed that it must have been one of the two difficult pitches the guidebook mentioned. A slight touch of wishful thinking as it turned out.

I led through and naturally enough belayed as soon as the going started to look hard. Up ahead loomed a short rock wall that seemed to form a complete barrier to any further progress. So with a casual “You may as well do this bit, you’ll be much quicker than me” I handed over the lead. Will did not disappoint and made short work of the only possibility of escape, a steep rock groove. We lesser mortals had an interesting time of it. In the summer it’s probably a moderate, in winter, in the cold, wearing gloves and crampons it’s f****** unbelievable. It took me an awful lot of swearing, not to mention a bit of whimpering before I got up it. I led the next pitch after getting accidentally committed while “bouldering” out the moves. I felt quite pleased with myself. Unfortunately when the others came up my remark about the “awkward little rock step” was met with a look of blank incomprehension from Will and a polite silence from Sally.

By now time was passing, which is nothing unusual, except that our prospects of getting up before dark rather too much of it had already receded into the dim and distant past. Doesn’t time fly when you’re three on a rope? It was becoming clear that this could well be one of those routes that was just a bit longer than the guidebook suggested, it was also clear that the first little chimney hadn’t been one of the difficult bits because in front of us was another awkward bit of iced rock. Luckily we had Will to lead it. Watching him lead, it dawned on me that he actually climbs rock in better style wearing crampons and gloves as opposed to EB’s and bare hands. Funnily enough he didn’t seem to think this much of a compliment. Anyway, he reached the top just as twilight overtook us, but by the time Sally had got up full blown night had fallen. I think she deliberately took her time so that when it was my turn I had to climb by the light of my headtorch and the silvery moon.

And still we weren’t finished, but at least the going was easier, a pleasant little knife edged arete led to an easy angled snow slope and soon after this, the top and relief for Sally as she at last found a place where her mobile phone could get a signal and made what was possibly the first phone call from Ben Nevis to Charlton, London, SE7. All that was left now was to find the way down.

TO achieve this Will decided to take us on a tour of the mountain, or at least that’s what it seemed like. We traversed downwards and so far left that I was sure we were going to end up in Glen Nevis, but as he never stopped reminding us, it ensured that we avoided walking over the crags. Personally, the thought of plummeting quickly downwards over a crag seemed infinitely preferable to stumbling down the never-ending snow slope we were on. I couldn’t believe how absolutely knackered I was, I just couldn’t understand it until I remembered I’d carried Will’s rope on the walk in. Yes that must have been it, perish the thought that I might just possibly have been a touch unfit.

Still, even bad things come to an end, albeit eventually, and so it was that just after 9pm we reached the dam on the Alt a Muillin. Mind you even this wasn’t easy to cross as the pathetic excuse for a bridge was encrusted in ice, fortunately I was still wearing my crampons. We finally reached the car at the horrendously late, hour of 10pm. (For me it was late, it was still early for Will who normally reckons he hasn’t got his moneys worth unless he finishes on a different day), Funnily enough aand unlike on the way up, we weren’t passed by a single soul on the way down. We stopped at the pub for a pint or two of orange before returning to the chalet and crashing out. We were far too tired to cook a meal or drink our wine, but by God we made up for it the next day.

On Saturday the weather was kind to us, it rained all day. Mind you we were so knackered that doing another route was out of the question and even just climbing into an easy chair was almost beyond some of us. The day began with a lunchtime breakfast at Nevis Sports followed by a browse around the shop and finally a couple of pints in the bar. Then it was back to the chalet for a pre dinner bottle of wine or two. (I can’t remember if we managed the dinner). After all this indulgence we decided a walk was in order which accidentally took us to the bar of the Stronlossit Hotel and several pints of very good real ale. Back at the chalet another bottle was opened and disposed of. Will succumbed first and retired just after midnight and Sally’s last words were “Better open the last bottle Dave” just before falling asleep on the sofa.

Amazingly no one had a hangover on Sunday but as the weather was even worse, it was blowing a gale and raining, we decided to head for home. In fact we were all well enough to stop off at the Kings House for Sunday lunch.

It had been an excellent weekend with a great route done on a day of perfect weather. It was the last of the Ben Nevis ridges for Will, the best ice climb I’d ever done and a hell of a first ever route for Sally. Unfortunately she also got the icing on the cake, as we two Geordies had to listen to Charlton beating Newcastle on the car radio. Talk about beginner’s luck!

Duddon Fell Race 2008

The Duddon Valley Fell race 2008
My First Lakeland Classic

I had just successfully done the 12 mile Guisborough Moors fell race, my first “Long” class race and I thought I could try something a little harder. Oh and to forestall any criticism, from you armchair fell runners out there, I fully realise I'm stretching the meaning of the word “successfully” by applying it to a bottom 15% finish, but in my defence I am pretty crap at this lark. Anyway, I scanned the fixtures list and my eyes fastened on the Duddon Valley Fell Race, a big 18 mile, 6500 ascent race which incorporated the option of a more reasonable 10 mile race. This seemed a good option and so plans were laid.

Now there isn’t much accommodation in the Duddon valley and I had no transport so this was going to be my first camping trip in 10 years. I splashed out and bought a new lightweight tent, a Terra Nova Sololite which proved to be excellent value at under £100. I arranged a pick-up at the nearest railway station from a friend from Yorkshire and all seemed set fair, until a fortnight before the off I picked up a bit of a groin injury. It wasn't enough to stop me running but I had to be realistic and I resigned myself to doing the 10 miler instead. There was always next year for the big one and to tell you the truth I was secretly relieved about this.

The weekend of the race soon came around and I left Newcastle on Friday on the 10.24 train from Newcastle and changed at Carlisle onto a train bound for Barrow which made an unhurried, meandering way down the West Cumbrian coast. I alighted at Foxfield, (excellent pub), where Steve “Merrylegs” Foster, was waiting to pick me up. It was a lovely late spring afternoon when we arrived at Turner Hall Farm where I was introduced to Steve’s wife and his two kids and their enormous tent. The camp site was the fullest I had ever seen it and it was lucky I had such a small tent. In the early evening Derek and Gerry Dewhurst appeared in their mobile home, or rather their mobile pub as it was popularly known.

We met another friend, Ian who was also camping and had a meal in the pub and afterwards I also ate the pasta I brought along as well. There was plenty of talk of the long race and when I turned in my resolve to just do the shorter race was beginning to crumble.

Race Day. Turner Hall Farm Camp-site
When I awoke at 6am after an excellent night’s sleep it was already warm and sunny. I breakfasted on several wholemeal rolls and a huge bowl of cornflakes which nearly fell into twice. I noticed that Steve was drinking lots of water and I followed suit. At 9.30am George Bate aka “The Master” a moniker earned by his prodigous amount of posting on the FRA forums appeared with the eagerly awaited new white Fell Pony Club vests, and very smart they looked too. He wasn’t racing because of a calf injury which surprised me because I didn't know he kept any livestock. He said Amex was turning up to do the short race which would be his first run since a major leg repair operation. The day was turning into a rather impressive gathering of Ponies.

I had a last short jog round the camp-site and my leg felt fine for the first time in a fortnight. I was still unsure of which race to do but when no one said I was daft when I mentioned it, I decided to throw caution to the wind and enter the long race. At 18 miles it was 6 miles further than anything else I'd ever ran so it was a bit of a gamble to say the least. So at 10.15 am I registered at the village hall for the long race and the die was well and truly cast. Leaving the hall, we wandered through the woods to the starting field and met Karl Edwards, known as Ambrosia Kid because of the amount of rice pudding he ate on his Bob Graham round, who took a team photo. It was already very hot and we sheltered under trees to try and keep cool. George kindly offered to carry some water up for people and said he would be up near Swirl Howe later on. I gave him one of my bottles.

Apart from Ian and Karl, all of the Ponies started well to the back of the back of the field. We set off just after 11am. After leaving the starting field the route follows a boulder strewn farm track bordered by a dry stone wall and it was here that disaster struck for Gerry. She tripped and had the bad luck to bang her head on the wall. She was visibly a bit groggy as Steve and I gathered round her and helped her up. She told us to go on which we did just as soon as a bystander came and took care of her. And to think she was only having a gentle run round as preparation for her Bob Graham round at the end of June! When we set off again Steve quipped, “Well our chances of winning have gone now!”

I soon lost sight of Steve but I just kept plodding gently along as we skirted Wallowbarrow Crag before turning to go up the first climb of the day, Harter Fell. My plan was to take it nice and steady on the climbs to keep something back for the flat and the downhill bits later in the race and this worked as I arrived on the summit after 56 minutes feeling reasonably fresh and had a good run down to the Wrynose/Hardknott Pass road.

The next climb up to The Knott (1 hour 30 minutes), passed off uneventfully as did the run down to the foot of Little Stand. The climb up this badly misnamed hill more than lived up to it’s reputation, it was a real bastard that just kept coming at you. Thankfully by the time I was on it, the sun had disappeared behind some clouds which for a while threatened to provide what would have been a welcome shower. But threaten was all they did and the sun came out again on the descent from Little Stand. Half way along this rather meandering descent, somewhere about the 9 mile mark I began to struggle and struggle really badly. I was even struggling to keep moving when I was going downhill. Drinking and eating made no difference. The feeling that I just could not go on any further began to take hold and the mere thought of having to do the 1400 foot climb up to Swirl Howe appalled me. As the road at the Three Shire’s Stone came into view I had made a decision. I was going to pack it in. I would say that apart from being knackered my groin was hurting again and I felt that with this added impediment I couldn’t go any further. As I reached the road, I may even have assumed a slight limp, I was certainly shaking my head in a resigned sort of way when I heard voices that I recognised. It was Gerry and Derek. Gerry yelled out something like “Forget about your injuries, just keep going you lazy F***er ” and Derek gave me a drink of something or other. At that moment I resented their encouragement because I felt as if the option to stop had been cruelly taken away from me and so resigned to my fate I reluctantly started on the long climb up to Swirl Howe.

After a hundred yards or so I was once again wallowing in self pity because no matter how slow I went I just felt more and more wrecked. Just as I was thinking that I could not go any further a runner drew up along side and she asked If I thought a faint track branching off from the walker’s path was a short cut. I said I thought it could be and we decided to follow it and from then on I had something of a recovery. Whether it was a belated effect of the food I'd eaten, the result of Derek’s drink, or the prospect of some company to spur me on, I couldn't say, but my physical condition, at least as my brain perceived it, improved from extremely exhausted to merely exhausted. The rest of the climb was almost bearable. There was even time for a laugh with my new companion. We came to a fork in the path and were wondering which was the best line. I said “It’s typical isn’t it, in every race I’ve done over here I’ve always been just behind the same local runner who always knows where to go”. No sooner had I said this then the said chap, Karl Fursey of BCR appeared on the hillside just above us. I said to the woman in an exaggerated stage whisper “Psst, that’s him!!!” which made her laugh. Another lady runner joined us as we trotted together along to the Summit of Swirl Howe.
Now, even though there were still 6 miles and 1200 feet of climbing left I somehow knew I was going to do it, barring a catastrophic attack of cramp, something I'd never suffered from before. I was slightly worried about the lack of water because there was no sign of George and my water bottle at Swirl Howe. I needn't have worried because a couple of hundred yards further on, there he was with his dog, Mitch and the all important water.

On we went. It was a beautiful day and everyone was remarking on the beautiful scenery we were running through. On the long descent to Goat's Hause, I left the two ladies behind and and began to close on Karl. As the descent wasn't exactly done at breakneck speed, I had time to pick out my favourite rock climbs on Dow Crag. Arete, Chimney and Crack, Murray's Route, Leopards Crawl, Eliminate A, Eliminate B, C Ordinary, all good friends of my climbing days. I couldn't help but think how easy climbing was compared to fell running! A stumble suddenly brought me out of my reverie and back to the harsh reality of today's task and specifically, the 750 foot climb up to Dow Crag.

I passed Karl half way up Dow Crag. I also passed another guy who was suffering from cramp and really struggling. He said he was giving up at Dow and I tried to encourage him to go on. It seemed a shame to get so far and not finish, but then I couldn't tell how much he was hurting. I like to think he stuck at it.

From the checkpoint on Dow I started to gain on two more people, one was an old chap who was also suffering with cramp but he started again later and the other was a woman who collapsed with the same trouble just as I was passing her. She swore she was OK and so feeling slightly guilty I pressed on. I needn't have worried because she certainly was OK because she passed me just before White Pike and soon left me far behind.

Plodding on it was a bit of a blow to realise just how far I had to drop down before starting the climb up to Caw, the final summit, but it had to be done so on I went taking it very easy on the way down. Just before the last climb I went thigh deep into a bog with one leg and it was a considerable struggle to get out of it.

I was rapidly gaining on another runner but I made a conscious decision to stay behind him all the way up. I did not want to risk a blow up so close to the finish and as a result on the summit I felt as fresh as could be expected after 17 or so miles of effort spread over the last 4 hours 52 minutes. Just before the top I saw where some other runners were descending but this knowledge didn't stop me missing their path. Fortunately I'd turned too soon but it turned into a bit of a short cut as I rejoined the right path ahead of the guy I'd been following. Just then footsteps heralded someone approaching fast from behind. He soon passed me and it turned out to be Andy Gittins a BCR runner who always beats me on descents although I have the edge on him on the climbs. With the finishing field and pub in view all the way, I picked up speed and passed two struggling runners and almost caught another just before the finish. It was good to realise there were people suffering more than me. We were both given the same time in the end.

The other Ponies cheered me in and were really nice in congratulating me on what was nothing for them but a really big something for me. My time was 5 hours 6 minutes, Karl did 4.27. Steve 4.40 and Ian 3.52. I was 205th out of 245 starters of whom 17 failed to finish, a high attrition rate probably due to the heat and humidity. Amex successfully did the short race on his comeback from his operation and Gerry was battered but OK so we were a happy team. We stayed for the prize giving and I drank glass after glass of orange as we relaxed in the afternoon sunshine.

Steve and me had a paddle in the river to get rid of the bog mud, he had gone in at the same place as me! Back at Turner Hall Farm Derek gave us a can of ice cold cider from his motor home's fridge. Considering it was cats piss, it tasted beautiful today!

At 6pm we were back at the Newfield to eat and to listen to the band. We chatted with many other runners including one guy who had finished in 6 hours and only did so after spewing up six times en route. He almost showed some guts in more ways than one. At 9.30 the midges drove me back to my tent. As I lay there, exhausted but content, one thought in particular struck me. Gerry's bad luck, turned out to be my good luck. If she hadn't fallen at the start, she and her husband wouldn't have been at The Three Shires Stone to encourage me on. Without that I would have packed it in, of that there was no doubt. It was a sobering thought. It was hard to get to sleep but eventually I drifted off thinking, and this sounds rather silly, but I felt that with this race under my belt I had finally served out my fell running apprenticeship! It all seemed slightly unreal.

The next day it was raining. Steve drove me Oxenholme station and I caught the train home. That evening it was really nice to see that everyone had also put their congratulations on the FRA Forum!

Duddon Split Times

Section Miles Ascent Time Speed
Start to Harter 3.6 2093 56.2 3.84
Harter to The Knott 2.25 700 33 4.09
Knott to Little Stand 1.5 1300 44.8 2.00
Little S to 3 Shires 2.1 0 26 4.84
3 Shires to Swirl 1.9 1352 48.16 2.37
Swirl to Dow 2.02 750 30 4.04
Dow to White P 1.8 0 22.2 4.86
White P to Caw 1.65 479 31.4 3.15
Caw to End 1.2 0 14.4 5.00


July 14 1985 Wales-Tremadoc

George Ridge, Dave Mould, Mike Lowry

After leading Devil's Edge, HVS 5a, at Kyloe a few days previously I set off full of confidence for
what was intended to be a fortnight's climbing in North Wales.
Nobody had any cars so we took the train to Blaenau Ffestiniog and bus to Porthmadog. The train
journey was one long drinking session culminating in an apple fight near Llandudno (I have no
recollection of that. ed.). It was quite late when we got to Eric's Barn at Tremadoc so there was just
time for dinner before going off to the pub in Porthmadog. The pub was exceptionally dull and we
bought some cans to take out. The journey back to was enlivened by a beer can fight with a Scottish
climber we'd recruited in the bar. Back in the barn no one could work out what had happened to all
the cans we bought.

Mouldie had a severe bought of beer induced runs and Mike had a hangover so it left to me and
George to uphold the tenuous honour of the club. At the crag we warmed up on Poor Mans Peuterey
a severe, which gave us a glorious romp up a series of light hearted slabs. More serious was Scratch
VS4c. We reckoned the second pitch that George led was pretty hard for the grade. After this we
went to to Eric's Cafe for lunch where we met Mouldie and Mike. They came back to the crag with
us and we decided on a team ascent of Leg Slip a HVS5a. Mouldie led off and managed ¾ of the
first 5a pitch before illness overtook him again and I reluctantly took over the sharp end. I pushed
on very cautiously up the 2nd pitch when just before the belay, disaster struck. I was just about to
make a tricky step from a groove onto the arete when I heard the tinkling of metal from below that
could mean only one thing at a crag. Either a steel band had turned up to give an impromptu and
not very profitable performance, or one or more of my runners had fallen out and were sliding
merrily down the rock face. A quick glance assured me that whilst my sense of hearing was safe, my
sense of touch could be about to receive a severe shock. Panic ensued, but somehow I didn't fall,
instead I down climbed in a completely uncontrolled manner, managing to grab onto a few holds on
the way to avoid too much acceleration before I reached the stance and safety. I was encouraged to
have another go and I was wondering how to get out of it when I was saved by a nosebleed! I
brought Mike up, promptly bled on him and with the stance starting to resemble the site of a
chainsaw massacre a proposal to give up and go the pub was accepted unanimously. It was also
getting perilously close to closing time which might have had more to do with it.

Dull and cloudy. Mouldie and I did Grim Wall another VS with me getting the crux pitch. Mike
followed us up but George was apathetic. This spread to all of us and we went back to the barn and
had a game of indoor cricket. For a change we walked to a pub in Prenteg at the other end of the
valley. Things took a turn for the better here as we chatted up a couple of young ladies and had an
arm wrestling contest

Mouldie and did a severe, Christmas Curry and then I teamed up with Mike and I led him up One
Step in the Clouds, a brilliant VS4c which had a sensationally exposed pitch near the top. Then the
rain came on with a vengeance and we retired to the barn to play Trivial Pursuit, which I won. After
tea it was back to the pub, the girls and lots of pool.

Torrential rain. We went to Porthmadog and had a game of golf. We were getting pissed off because
we really wanted to climb in the pass (Llanberis pass ed.). There was talk of going home but the
girls in the pub prevailed and spirits had revived by closing time.

Cloudy and damp again. We had breakfast at Eric's and Mouldie and Mike who were now sober
decided to go home. George and I stayed and were rewarded when the weather improved after
lunch. When the crag had dried out enough we decided to have a go at Scratch Arete, HVS 5a I'd
long fancied leading. The crux pitch is superb, up a delicate steep slab to a narrow overhanging roof
and a bomb proof runner. It took me half a dozen attempts to suss out how to get over this, but when
you reach up to the edge of the roof there's some great holds to pull over on. I was fairly buzzing
after this success so we tried for another HVS called Mesach. That had a crap first pitch but another
big overlap on pitch 2 which was much harder than the one on Scratch Arete. I believe I may have
stood, accidentally of course, on a rusty old peg to get up this!. To celebrate we had a good meal in
Tremadoc and had a great evening chatting with some other climbers who'd just arrived. One was a
dead ringer for Andy McCluskey of OMD fame. A year later we found out he was a member of the
Sheffield gang we often climbed with and was called Des.

Back came the rain, but it faired up in the afternoon, so I took George up One Step in the Clouds.
We finished with an ignominious defeat on A VS but we may have been on the wrong line. Later on
the rain returned.

We decided to go home when without even trying to hitch, we were offered a lift to Caernarvon
train station. We were home by 7pm.

I was over the moon with The HVS climbs I'd led but sick of the weather that had kept us at
Tremadoc all week and made us bail out a week early. It was a pretty dismal summer

Tuesday, 15 October 2013


 Ahoy there people.

This is one of my retirement projects!  I am in the process of properly writing up my old  climbing and walking journals and anyone is free to peruse them. There will be some running entries before long but at the moment they are mainly accounts of rock climbing days I have had!  When complete they will be available in their entirety elsewhere, but this Blog will do for now

New stories will appear on the list on the right hand side of the blog

This is very much a work in progress and what is so far written here is by no means the finished product, but feel free to read and praise or criticise as the fancy takes you!


Breathless I paced the haunts of childhood, Earth seem’d a desert I was bound to traverse, Seeking to find the old familiar faces.   Charles Lamb, The Old Familar Faces.

This little collection of short stories is an attempt to pass on some of that feeling of adventure and perhaps more importantly, fun that rock climbing, hill walking and fell running have given me over the past thirty-five years. I suspect that the “enjoyment” aspect is the more important and enjoyable times certainly outweighed the disappointments and occasional near disasters.  In particular whenever I think of my rock climbing years the overwhelming impression is of a time of non stop fun and laughter, so much so that I sometimes have to look in my journals just to convince myself that this "golden era" was real. Needless to say the proof is always there.
That these days were so enjoyable wasn't down to me or the climbs or the beautiful places where I climbed. No, rather it was due to the people I had the good fortune to spend those days with.  I couldn't have wished to know a better bunch of people. Many years ago the climber Colin Kirkus wrote a few words which happen to also sum up my feelings to perfection. And so this book is dedicated to all the people with whom I’ve shared my days on hill and crag, and who have proved to me on countless occasions that Mr Kirkus got it absolutely right when he said, "Going to the right place, at the right time, with the right people is all that matters, what one does is purely coincidental.