Yr Wyddfa

At 1,085 metres above sea level, Snowdon (or Yr Wyddfa in Welsh) is the highest summit in England and Wales, it’s also one of the busiest. We set off from London at 6pm on Friday and queued on the M1 with others desperate to escape the capital for the weekend.  Several hours of uneventful travelling later we found ourselves in the Smithfield Bell, Welshpool where we ate an average meal before concluding our journey to a log cabin near Dolgellau.

Whilst Snowdon may be the tallest point in England and Wales it’s certainly not the most difficult climb. It’s a mountain of the people, accessible to all, there’s even a train that can take you to a cafe at the summit. There are numerous climbs and scrambles up Snowdon but the vast majority take one of the six major trails. We had chosen to ascend using the Snowdon Ranger path. The path was named after the Victorian mountain guide John Morton who was the self proclaimed ‘Snowdon Ranger’.

350px-SnowdonMapThe path is gentle and forgiving as it winds it’s way up the western slopes of the mountain. We has perfect weather and climbed slowly enjoying some great views.

IMG_0814As we reached the ridge we were rewarded with fantastic views across to the east face and an ant like trail of walkers crawling their way up the steep section from the top of the miners path and the Pyg track. The summit was heaving with walkers and tourist queuing patiently for their turn to be photographed with the trig point. As we admired the views and reflected on our achievements we couldn’t help overhearing several phone conversations “Hello, I’m calling from the top of a mountain” or “You’ll never guess where I’m calling from”.

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Having luncheoned on cheese and pickle rolls and scotch eggs we descended via the Rhyd Ddu path. As we descended via the steep slopes we reflected that our path up was an easier climb, a view echoed by the red faces of those we passed. The Rhyd Ddu is a great trail with stunning views to either side of the ridge but arguably one of the best features of the Rhyd Ddu is that it ends at the fabulous Cwellyn Arms with its nine guest ales!

CwellynWe arrived in Rhyd Ddu with seconds to spare and caught the Welsh Highland Railway the two miles back to the Snowdon Ranger car park. A great end to a fantastic day’s walking in the hills.

2011 02 24 Welsh Highland Railway  Rhyd Ddu  Merddin Emrys admires Snowdon

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New Jacket

Whilst perusing the local Cotswold store one lunchtime I noticed a huge discount on this cherry red Trinity jacket from Mountain Hardware. The jacket uses the soft shell technology and feels soft and comfortable unlike more traditional waterproofs. I was assured that the jacket is highly waterproof and every bit as breathable as Gore-tex. On it’s first trip the jacket performed well albeit in only very light rain.  Jacket

Training Walks 2 & 3

Training walk two was a weekend walking in Oxfordshire. A couple of 10 mile walks across flat terrain. The weather was bitterly cold but thankfully stayed dry on both days. However, the ground was very wet and the rivers were in spate. The Oxfordshire farmland countryside was beautiful and the lambing season was well underway. The food, beer and service at the Star Inn Woodstock was exceptional. With England winning their game in the six nations it was a great weekend!

IMG_0711IMG_0720IMG_0727IMG_0729IMG_0732star_(3)Training walk three was originally intended to be the Brecon Beacons but due to bad weather we decided to scale back our ambitions to a 10 miler over the Mendip Hills, not so cold as Oxfordshire but equally squelchy underfoot. The walk provided 1,500ft of height gain and with such low cloud cover the top of black down was in the mist giving me an opportunity to test my new soft shell jacket. With the weather being so cold this year it was noticeable how far behind all the plants are, a fantastic display of Snowdrops but maybe not what you might expect in mid March.

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Training Walk 1

Almost two month have passed since committing to climb Kilimanjaro, so about time I tried a training walk! At 2,634 feet and being the twelfth most prominent mountain in the UK, The Old Man of Coniston seemed like a good place to start.
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On a beautiful winters morning I set off up the miners track towards the youth hostel.

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It was hard work up the track but before too long I’d reached the snow line and an abandoned slate mine.IMG_0631

Not long after the slate mines I reached a frozen glacial tarn called “Low Waters”, at an altitude of 2,000 feet I could think of a more accurate name.

IMG_0641From Low Waters things got much tougher, the path winds round into the shade and gets steeper and icier. The party of climbers in front of me stopped to attach crampons leaving me feeling decidedly under equipped.

IMG_0645A short scrabble up an icy path later and I reach the ridge and the sunshine, with a brisk wind now blowing and the path steepening it seems to be getting tougher. Fortunately there are several other climbers struggling with the same route all of whom seem to be in agreement that they were glad they didn’t have to come down this route (unfortunately I was planning to descend this way).

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The views from the top were fantastic.IMG_0648

But how to get down?

IMG_0657After consulting the map I decided to head along the ridge and pick up a path running down a gully, surely it couldn’t be any more icy than my route up?

IMG_0660Shortly after dropping into the gully I began to wish I’d stuck to my original route, the gully was every bit as steep and icy but without any other climbers. In places the snow was deep and whilst the frozen crust held my weight most of the time occasionally a foot would slip through allowing snow into the top of my boots. I now understand the value of gaiters. Much slipping and sliding later the gradient shallowed and I reached the edge of (the very beautiful) Levers Water.IMG_0682

On the banks of tarn I met a fellow climber who asked me whether I recommended the path I had  taken, I explained that I didn’t think it was the best I also pointed out his correct position (he thought he was at Low Waters!). From Levers Water it’s an easy ramble back past the copper mines and into the pretty village of Coniston.

So lessons learned. Firstly you need the right kit for the job, crampons and an ice axe would have been really handy. Secondly, it’s not a great idea to go alone, particularly when moving off the well beaten routes. Thirdly whilst hill walking is exhausting and can raise your heart rate very effectively, one always has the option to walk slower. In fact, observing the more experienced climbers (those that stopped to attach crampons) they set a very slow but very steady pace.

And what of the new boots? I’m happy to report not a single blister and other than the snow that made it over the top, completely dry!

New Boots

Given that my walking boot had now reached the fine old age of 25 I decided to invest in a new pair. I had read a few reviews online but wanted to try some on before buying so I headed to Cotswold Outdoor in my lunch hour. Walking boot technology certainly seems to have moved on over the years and I’m glad I took advice from the shop staff rather than chancing the internet. Apparently leather boots aren’t necessary for Kilimanjaro and the new fabric boots are much lighter. The store assistant measured my feet (in a pair walking socks) before advising me of a few options. The North Face Vebera were on sale but unfortunately not available in half sizes and  felt tight across the toes. The Meindl Softline Light GTX looked like a really well constructed boot but didn’t fit so well on the heel.  Fortunately the Salomon Mens Quest 4D GTX fitted really well on both toe and heal and felt as comfy as a pair of slippers. The shop assistant put me on a ramp and got me to perform calf raises to check that my heals weren’t lifting then asked me to stamp my feet down the ramp to check that the toes weren’t going to bash the front of the boot before fine tuning the fit for my high arch with a pair of Superfeet Green Trim Footbeds. Overall I think I’ve made a good choice and look forward to thoroughly testing them in my training walks.

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Progress

Over one month has passed since I committed to getting fit to climb Kilimanjaro. I have dutifully logged every item of food that has passed my lips, I have climbed the stairs to work each and every day and I have walked the 13 miles home from work each week. The results of all my hard work? 16 pounds of weight loss and a 4 percentage point reduction in my body fat to a level that could (just) be described as average.

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Everything was progressing so well, but then came the dreaded annual medical screening. With the knowledge that my body mass index was now below 30, I was hoping for a clean bill of health. After two hours of examination and having received some much improved blood test results, all that was left was the dynamic fitness test.

The dynamic fitness test is not for the faint hearted. Wired to an ECG the blood pressure and heart rate are monitored whilst one pedals furiously on an exercise bike with ever increasing resistance. The physiologist enters results into a computer and magically the software determines a measure of your fitness known as your VO2 Max.

And the results of my fitness test? A VO2 Max of 31, “is that good?” I enquired sheepishly, “Well it puts you in this category” the physiologist tactfully replied as she pointed to a column in her chart labelled “poor”. I tried to console myself with the fact that there was a category labelled “very poor” but there again there was also “average” and “below average” separating me from where I wanted to be.

Whilst weight loss is surely a great achievement, it strikes me that to climb a mountain one needs to be fit rather than thin.  What get’s measured gets managed but perhaps I’ve been using the wrong measure?

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The Long Walk Home

How wonderful it must be to run home from work? With my current state of fitness and 18 kilometres separating my places of work and abode this really doesn’t seem like option for me, but what about walking home? At twenty past six on Friday I set out from my offices on Bishopsgate heading North. Three hours later I arrived in Barnet with slightly tired legs but notwithstanding feeling quietly proud of my accomplishment.

Walk Home

It’s certainly not the most tranquil of walks, impatient motorist screeching by most of the way, keen to start their weekends. The scenery along the way could hardly be described as the most beautiful but it was, nevertheless, an interesting and unusual way to spend a Friday evening. It’s true that one notices a great deal more when travelling on foot, not least just how many restaurants there are in north London (it’s also amazing just how good grilling meat smells when you’ve restricted yourself to 400 calories for lunch).

I don’t think I would want to make a habit of walking home, it’s not a particularly strenuous feet of athleticism and it just seems to takes so long. I was however, pleasantly surprised to learn from the mapmywalk application that I had burnt 1,700 calories enough to fund a couple of pints for Sunday night!

I wonder how many commuters of suburban London have worked their whole careers without connecting their homes and work places by foot? There’s something liberating about walking home, a little like the first time that one realises that it is possible to travel from Covent Garden to Piccadilly Circus without the aide of the tube. Cyril Connolly, once said that no city should be so large that a man could not walk out of it in a morning, I tend to agree and I am pleased to report that London is definitely not too large!

3D Fly by Tour