Monday, 17 February 2014

Winter Starter - Brown Cove Crag and Helvellyn

It's been a pretty awful winter so far, with storm after storm battering the UK. On the plus side this has left huge amounts of snow on the Highlands. Sounds good you say; yes, but the problem is that the wind has barley dropped for long enough to make moving on the tops possible and on the occasions where it has done it has left the slopes loaded with windslab. Not conditions to chance the petrol money to head north of the border.

 Looking towards Skiddaw, not much sign of snow
Thats better!

So the middle of February had arrived and I was yet to swing an axe in anger a deeply frustrating experience. Finally yesterday the weather relented to offer the promise of a good day in the Lakes with light winds and clear tops, and the rumour enough snow was hanging around to make the trip worthwhile.

Brown Cove Crags was covered in the white stuff and the gullies were well banked out;  thanks to the slightly milder conditions down south they were also reasonably consolidated with good neve most of the way. I ran up Right Parallel Gully (grade I in current conditions) before descending back town its left hand twin (also I) having broken my way through the cornice.

Looking up, Right Parallel Gully

And down...

After heading back up Central Gully (I) the clag which had accompanied the walk in cleared a bit and although bitter it was worth heading up to the summit of Helvellyn, and once there the obvious thing was to pop round the horseshoe and the frozen red tarn. The ridges (down Swirl (I) and up Striding (I)) were well covered and busy including a few people with neither axe, crampons, and I'm assuming consequently brains.

So appetite temporarily stayed and with the reported snowfall hopes high that once the weather settles a long season will be in order.

Striding Edge looking towards Helvellyn

Looking towards Great End and the Scar Fell peaks

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Skye Cycle Touring - Day 3

When I first planned this trip today had been the exciting one, finally getting to visit the Trotternish. During my previous visit to Skye I had caught glimpses of the Trotternish from afar, a great line of eastward facing cliffs, and the narrow needle of the Old Man of Storr flitting in and out of view on the horizon, familiar from a hundred pictures, vivid in my mind. Today's ride would take us up and over the peninsular before diving down a great gash in the escarpment and traversing along beneath it on what mush surely be one of the great stretches of road in the UK.

Looking back towards Uig as we start the morning with a climb.

The day starts straight out the blocks with a tough little pull uphill out of Uig as we clamber up on to the moorland via a couple of switchbacks, the gradient then lessens as the road turns inland climbing steadily to the horizon. Again the weather is cold but brilliantly clear with a deep blue winter sky over a calm sea which appears to glow in the sunlight. Today there is also very little wind to pit ourselves against. Easily distracted I spend my time stopping regularly to take pictures looking back out to sea and Lisa soon pulls out a big lead.

The single track road winds its way through a landscape of open moreland with no hit of the geological bonanza that awaits us just over the horizon. The brown and yellow hillside is coated with a thin frost and icicles cling to the vegetation where the road cuts into the earth. After about 45 min of steady climbing the edge of the plateau begins to appear as the moorland fall sheer for a hundred meters or more in a great line of black cliffs leaving isolated pillars of rock like crazy ruined castle towers pointing skywards.

Looking north along the escarpment as the road winds down like a miniature alpine pass

The small car park at the top of the pass must have one of the finest views in the UK a celebration of what our planet can do given enough time and energy. The view is almost other worldly and slightly mythical no wonder the place is a favourite for film and TV crews. For the cyclist there is also the thrill of what is to come; the road a narrow line of tarmac drops away sweeping steeply down through a weak point in the cliffs then straightening to charge towards the sea.

Once through the initial twisty section it is easy to build speed and the dial soon creeps over seventy which is fast enough on a slightly rough surface. My new bike has been a joy to ride so far, dancing up hills and now feeling really nimble on the decent. The wind chill from such a rapid decent is terrific and once we arrive at the junction with the main road it is decided a trip to a tea shop is in order.

Looking south after a thrilling decent

 Checking out some more funky geology

Freshly warmed up with tea and biscuits (always an essential part of any good ride) we begin to follow the coast road south towards Portree. The escarpment runs along side us to the west although it occasionally disappears behind the lower rolling coastal hills and forestry plantations. Two and a half days into the riding and my legs are beginning to show signs of tiredness, Lisa is certainly much stronger than me in the afternoon and I'm always playing catch up.

The view of the Trotternish's most famous landmark the Old Man of Storr are quite poor from the road either blocked by mounds of grass or merging with the massive cliffs in the background. The best views are from further afield where the Storr stands in sharp profile against the blue sky. The quite road briefly turns into a busy tourist trap around the parking  for the Old Man of Storr; but with nowhere safe to leave the bikes and little enthusiasm to lug them up the hill to get a close up we press on and enjoy the fast sweeping decent down into the town.
 The Old Man

Is there a much more inviting view for a road bike?

From Portree its a simple traverse over to Sligachan with the Cuilin forever growing in grandeur ahead of us until we rejoining our road of two days previously. Although we plan to stay at the inn tonight the thought of the short tip back to Broadford the following day seems a bit pointless so putting the peddles hard down we dash back to collect the car. 

The following day for a rest we pop up a nearby hill to take in some amazing views of the Cuillin, bikes where not involved. 

The Black Cuillin

Looking towards the mainland