About Me

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I'm Alex (also known as Midge, Al and the Guy in the Neon Orange and Black Leathers). Three main passions in life: Mountains, Motorbikes and Old Stuff. Currently in North Wales, at Bangor Uni with my Transalp 600 and Snowdonia on the doorstep. The purpose of this Blog is a combination of discussing the above and highlighting other blogs and videos of interest.

Slideshow Info

The Slideshow contains various pictures (all taken by myself), ranging from my Dogs to hanging belays at Gogarth. Hopefully they give you a flavour of what I get up to.

17/12/2011

Tumble and Fall.


This blog is not the one I had planned to type. I had been thinking that I would be telling you about a three day winter walk in Snowdonia, however the actual events are never exactly to plan.

The weekend before (3/4.12.11) was the BUMS Christmas meal on the Saturday, a good evening with friends, then Sunday was a trip to Parisella’s Cave on the Orme. The Parisella’s trip was cold and just avoiding the rain that was coming down all over North Wales. It primarily involved standing in a down jacket psyching myself up to have another go and to take the jacket off.

Pete Wanless in the cave.

Pete Globe in the cave.


I’d been talking to my friend Tristan about going on a walk and we decided on the next weekend (9-11.12.11) to go into Snowdonia, baging various peaks (inc. the Carneddu, Tryfan, Crib Goch and Snowdon) over the three days and to have a “play” in the snow.

Shopping and packing was done on the Thursday night, tent, crampons, ice axe etc. were in the bag (along with six malt loaves each for lunches). Friday morning involved me finishing an essay and we were off.

 

Setting off from Bethesda, the plan was to walk to the base of the Black Ladders at the Carneddu, turn left top out on Carnedd Llewelyn, then go roughly north-east to the bothy at Llyn Dulyn.

The walk to base of the Black Ladders is easy (and surprisingly warm) but with great views as these black, gigantic cliffs come into view and patches of snow and ice start appearing. It is some of the most foreboding scenery I’ve looked at. We turned to go up Carnedd Llewelyn, finding the aeroplane parts (the remains of a WWII bomber that crashed with the loss of all the crew) and almost magically frozen plants next to the stream. 

Looking up at the Black Ladders.

Black Ladders area.

The crashed aeroplane.

The frozen plants.

 

We then topped out on Llewelyn, time for full winter kit was the decision. It was freezing, you couldn’t have your gloves off for more than five minutes if you still wanted to be able to feel your fingers. With ice axe out, crampons on and goggles on it was time to descend and reach the bothy. Although the sun had gone down about half an hour ago the moon was bright and visibility good. Nevertheless my head torch came out, I needed to navigate. Tristan, psyched, followed me into the darkness. 

Tristan in winter gear.

Me in winter gear.

 

Knowing that there are dangerous cliffs around Llyn Dulyn I made the decision to descend early to ensure our safety. We started down a snow gully (roughly grade I possibly pushing to II in places), with fantastic thaw-freeze snow, the crampons were biting brilliantly. Tristan was above me with his mega-bright head torch, I was cutting the trail. 

Tristan up there.

 

Then, about halfway down, I started sliding. I still don’t know what caused it (all I can think is that I didn’t have a crampon in correctly and stepped down). This wasn’t in the game plan. I grabbed my axe in both hands and rolled into an ice axe arrest. The axe ripped out of my hands and I was tumbling, my head torch ripped off, now I was tumbling in the dark. Up, down, left, right suddenly became meaningless, all I could think was ‘any second now I’m going to feel a smack on my head and it is going to all go dark’. Those thoughts were strangely disassociated from my body, I don’t remember being scared just pissed off that this was it. I didn’t want to die, especially now, I’ve had got/still have got too much to do.

I came to a stop, I don’t know how or why but I stopped. A wave of relief spread though me. A quick check, no broken legs/arms; good, left hand hurts; not good, there is lots of blood; not good. My forehead was bleeding and my left knee was sore. Looking up, I saw my head torch falling down the slope (minus the head band). I grabbed it and started yelling to Tristan. ‘I’m Alive!’, ‘Arrgghh, my hand/leg/head’, ‘Oh, F***’ and ‘S***’ were what I remember shouting. (Tristan says I also shouted ‘Hurry Up’, what a stupid thing to say to him after disappearing into the gloom. Good job he took his time, two casualties would have been a nightmare). Whilst talking once we were off the mountainside, I found out that Tristan reckoned I’d tumbled for about thirty metres.  

Tristan had found my axe, planted in the ice, pick completely buried. It would have held me if I’d have managed to hold on (another reason to get stronger). He joined me, did a quick first aid check, and then we had to move. We had no signal, I was bleeding, we were in the cold and sitting on snow, not a place to stop.

I slid on my backside down the rest of the slope, with the angle easing every few metres, using a combination of ice axe and crampon spikes on my heels. We then started walking. I’m not entirely sure of our route, shock, adrenaline and head wounds don’t make navigating easy. I recognised the cliffs and outline of the mountains in front of us we were in Cwm Eigiau, as kind of planned. I knew there was a farmer’s 4X4 track near the base and the path eventually led to Dolgarrog.

About thirty minutes later we got some signal. Tristan called 999, asked for the Police then Mountain Rescue (the correct way to get help in the mountains). We got off our names, injuries but not our location before we lost signal. Our only option was to keep walking, to find the path, to get signal again.

After around four miles walking we had signal, we were about half way down Llyn Eigiau. The cavalry arrived, the yellow bird of hope, the Squadron 22 RAF Sea-king Helicopter. Waving it in with the head torches, it landed. I was determined to walk onto it, I’d already made it off the mountain, another hundred metres was going to be fine and a stretcher was not an option. Within minutes I was at Ysbyty Gwynedd, A and E awaited.

The fantastic skill of the staff in all the departments I visited cannot expressed in words. They were extraordinary. Once my clothes were off, I was x-rayed. Luckily I’d only broken my thumb and wrist on my left hand. My knee and face required stitches. 

WARNING: GORY PICTURES!

My face.

Broken Wrist and Thumb.

In the ward.

 

After a weekend of being stitched up, plastered and forcing bits of my body to work I went back to my uni home. It had been a long weekend and certainly not the one I’d planned. Maybe I’ll get the route done next year. I’ll certainly be doing it in the summer.

My thanks go out to Tristan; for saving my ass, Hannah; for visits and deliveries at all times of day, James; for bringing me home, all those other visitors and well-wishers; for making it a much easier time, Llanberis and Ogwen Mountain Rescue crews; for looking for us, Squadron 22; for collecting us, and the great staff at Ysbyty Gwynedd (especially those in A and E and on Conwy Ward); for putting up with me and patching me up again. Thank you so much. I’m in your debt.

Now comes the recovery phase. I’ve got about eight weeks out, minimum. I’m going to get focused, plan a training schedule, build my core strength and generally work on keeping psyched. Anybody want a belayer? Single Pitch only, easy access, must provide a gri-gri, and be prepared for lots of moaning.  

Here are the links to Owgen and Llanberis mountain rescue websites:

Owgen

Llanberis

If you, or anyone close to you ever might need their services please donate, they are voluntary organisations with determined and dedicated crews. They do a fantastic job in the worst conditions.

 

In other news:

Here is an amazing video, it is currently on the home page of UKC, of two friends climbing regardless of disability. The determination that Paul Prichard shows is incredible, it just serves to show what can be done if you want something enough.

Christopher Hitchens has died. Although I may not have agreed with all his stances, in particular his weird view of the political arena, he was a great man standing against the religious nonsense that is spouted out by so many of those people in powerful positions.

Dave MacLeod is being a beast again: http://www.davemacleod.blogspot.com/

 

And for some more music:

Here is a song that kept going through my head in hospital: Bob Marley: Three Little Birds. 

Feeder: Tumble and Fall.

Rusted Root: Send Me On My Way. (Made famous in the film Matilda, and later Ice Age)

Thin Lizzy: Dedication.

 

The next few blogs hopefully will have some cool adventure stories rather than how I stupidly slipped and battered myself.

Thanks for reading.

01/12/2011

Trad at Tremadog (and some motorbike stuff)

After what had been a wet week and a rainy night Sunday was proved to be a sunny, warm day. BUMS headed out to Tremadog, parking at Eric’s CafĂ© (I’d gone on the motorbike) we set off for a day on the rocks.

I partnered up with Ellie. We first looked at Grim Wall area but it was running with water. Passing the guide book to Ellie, she picked a route called Scratch (VS 4c). The only problem was that it is at the other end of the crag (Craig Pant Ifan) and a long scramble up, so by the time we were ready to climb to it was about midday. 

Scratch is a two-pitch route.  The first pitch led by Ellie, is a bit dull but with fairly sparse gear. The second is fantastic: A long corner crack climb, followed by a rightwards traverse, then another jamming crack to the top.  We abseiled off, almost sixty metres to the floor.
Ellie leading up the first pitch of Scratch (VS 4c).

Looking down Scratch from the top (Ellie is at the Belay).

Ellie at the start of the traverse.

Ellie joining me at the belay.
Next up was Barbarian (E1 5b) due to laziness and my misreading of the guidebook. We had considered doing Scratch ArĂȘte (HVS 5a) however I was looking at the wrong thing in the guidebook and by the time Ellie pointed this out I’d psyched myself up and our bags were conveniently at the base of the route. Ellie led off, again up a fairly easy pitch but with sparse gear into a really cool belay position. Then it was my turn… ‘Oh dear, this looks hard’ was the first thought through my head, looking up at two roof sections to come. Racked up and psyched up, I set off. A major faux par occurred, as I was standing above Ellie’s head I looked down and calmly stated: ‘Watch out, if I fall you’re going to get my nuts in your face’. After messing around over the first roof section, you travel up a slab and hit the second roof. Throw in a hex and a large cam and you’ll be safe travelling out to the belay. Embarrassingly I got mentally boxed out, not realising the belay was so close, therefore plenty of swearing and eventually a rest on the rope was required. As soon as I saw the belay my head calmed down and went straight there. The plan had been for me to do the final pitch as well however with bad rope drag and needing a breather I set the belay up. Ellie cruised up the first roof and slab. She had plenty of fun with the last roof, including a wonderful leg/hip jam half way out of the roof. She soon joined me at the belay then pushed on to the top. We ab’ed off as it was getting dark. Getting back to the road was fun with one head torch.
Watching Gwen, Meg and Will doing the first pitch of Scratch from the first belay of Barbarian.
Ellie at the first belay, note guidebook down top. My faux par was to happen in about five minutes.

Looking up at the roof sections to come.
Looking down from the second belay, notice Ellie's little blue helmet in the corner.
A fantastic day out for both of us. 

As for motorbikes, the Transalp is running fine, apart from giving a false neutral whilst overtaking the other day (a heart in mouth moment!) but that was more down to my error and having to now wear winter gloves (also Hondas are known for it, it does feel like the smoothest first to second gear change ever, though!) Yes it is now cold, winter gear is out and I think that the thermals will be out soon as well. I’m looking at getting metal panniers and other luggage, if anyone else is interested this company gets good reviews and is reasonably priced: http://www.touratech.co.uk/.  

Charley Boorman is doing silly things again in Canada, involving motorbikes and other adventures. The T.V. show is called Extreme Frontiers, it is being shown on Channel 5. Web address: http://www.channel5.com/shows/charley-boormans-extreme-frontiers.  

There is a great charity in Africa that has realised the potential of motorbiking, ‘Riders for Health’. Their website: http://www.riders.org/default.aspx. With it being that horrible time of year (Christmas), it might be worth looking into them as a present for family, friends etc. 

And for some music:

P.s. Malt Loaf is a wonderful food for cragging and I would recommend it becomes a staple requirement in any climbers rucksack. 

21/11/2011

Sunshine on the Slate


Winter is well and truly on its way, but as usual in the U.K. it is unpredictable. Dark nights, check, rain every other day, check, cold weather, not arrived. Recently the unseasonably warm weather has been providing great opportunities for climbers in North Wales. 

This last week has been one of completing university tasks and staring out of the window at the remarkably sunny, dry hills of Snowdonia (wishing the work to be done). If anyone wants to do some research on the concept of national identity in England, Wales and Scotland during 450-1000 I can now point you in the right direction.

Wanting a mid-week fix, Gwen and I went on Wednesday afternoon to Australia Quarry (the Sidings Area). We did a series of routes that I’d done in September (why when repeating a route is it always harder?). Gwen raced up Orangutan Overhang (F6a+) and Cyber World Sl@teheads (F6a+). Both are good routes. Orangutan presents some cool overhanging slate climbing with an ace heel opportunity. We did a couple of others then set a top rope up to try Shorty’s Dyno (F7a). It was fairly dark and some (small) progress was made. I reckon with a strong span (therefore training is needed (typical!)) I can get it to go static.  
Gwen half way up Orangutan Overhang (F6a+), with the roof still to go.

Sunday rolled round far too fast (with no climbing in). The rain the night before, the closing nights and a half marathon around the Orme limited us somewhat. Guess what: We were back at the slate, Australia again. Splitting off with Tristan we went to the Looning the Tube area. However it seemed as if all the climbers in North Wales had thought the same thing, it was the busiest I’ve ever seen it. Tristan hasn’t been climbing that long but is improving rapidly so I got him on some more challenging routes. He did a couple of F5+/F6a routes then seconded happily up Maximum Tariff (F6b), Brief Encounter (HVS 5b) and Looning the Tube (E1 5a). I completed Turn of the Century (E2 5c) an interesting route in a corner, it feels a bit hairy going for the second bit of gear (a bolt) with possible decking potential if it goes badly wrong. With several routes in the bag and darkness closing in we called it a day after topping out on Looning the Tube. An excellent day and the sun had been out all day long.

Turn of the Century (E2 5c) in the corner (just left of the rope).

Australia Quarry in the sunshine.

Two climbers on Looning the Tube (E1 5a).

Henry and Pete on a sport route (on the left-hand side).

The Gaggle

The Kendal film festival was on this weekend (results are on UKC). The series of short films that form Vertical Sailing Greenland are great. I love nutters in it, the humour, the music (however bad) and the places they visit make the film something fantastic. 

Whilst on the topic of films, I hope everybody has been watching Frozen Planet on the BBC. It is amazing! Not much gets cooler (pun intend) than filming animals on the North and South pole. 

As for motorbikes, the NEC Motorcycle Live show was on this weekend. I’ve been looking on MCN at some lovely, shiny, expensive motorbikes today. I wonder if I can have a new BMW GS with full metal panniers for Christmas. Doubt it! Also watching the North Wales rally on the BBC made me wonder if there is a bike version. I’m looking forward to being able to kit the bike out for green-laning. 

I genuinely think that people who go out seeking adventure, (even if it is just an afternoon out) need a sense of humour even in the middle of an epic. It just makes things so much easier, especially in an epic.

11/11/2011

Mini Post: Adventures of the Year National Geographic.

Have a read. Some fantastic stories.
http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/adventurers-of-the-year/2012/

I can't make my mind up on who to vote for. So many interesting travels and adventures. I'm tempted to vote for Alastair Humpherys as I've seen some of his mini-films and they are interesting. He makes adventures possible in various ways and points out that you don't need to do the North Face of the Eiger to have a tale to tell. 

The picture of Cory Richards is great, I'm going to try for the frozen face look this winter.

I like reading the National Geographic (and you should to). It is always a source of inspiration for me of places to go and things to see. Also being a bit of an eco-hippy I think it vitally highlights various ecological issues that are of worldwide importance. Finally they often have "old-stuff" in which appeals to the historian me.

Also this is a little video and bit of music that keeps me happy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrdYczRLXkE

09/11/2011

Poor Weather and Reading Week

A fill in post due to poor weather.

It is currently my reading week. Wanting to see the family and carry out some maintenance on the motorbike, I've travelled home.
Hoping for good weather and knowing that the BUMS Peak District trip is at the end of the coming week (12th/13th) I brought home my Trad gear. It hasn't left my room yet (typical after spending time packing it all). I hope the weather improves for Saturday.
A trip to the Nottingham Climb Centre on Monday was good. I think it can be useful to visit other climbing centres now and then. Your training and thinking become stuck with the style of your regular centre, going elsewhere helps to prevent stagnation (the fear of most climbers). 
I'm hoping to have a wander on Kinder Scout later this week. It hopefully will provide some entertainment, bog-trotting is amusing particularly after lots of rain.

I've spent sometime this week with an old friend, Harry Barnard. His adventures revolve around ornithology (bird-watching) in Central and South America. Working as a guide for eco-tourism he is one lucky guy. With amazing pictures of animals and the jungles I've been feeling rather jealous, in particular when he showed me a photo collection of birds that only a few people (including himself) in the world have seen.  

I'm currently trying to work out a few international adventures of my own. A 'Camp America' trip, and with the motorbike: An Alps circumnav (France, Germany, Austria, Italy and back to France) and another trip to Morocco (via France and Spain). Inspiration coming from motorbiking friends and the epic journey that is 'The Long Way Round'. Anybody got any clues where to get cheap(ish) metal panniers/top box? Any mods needed for alpine trips or desert riding?

With the weather changing, becoming cold, wet and windy, I'm looking forward to winter coming in properly. I'd much prefer to deal with snow and ice than cold rain, at least it makes hiking interesting and winter gully climbing possible (however bad motorbike driving weather). Also winter provides those adventures and epics I like to seek out.

Hear is to hoping the weather improves (or just snows).

31/10/2011

Sea Cliff and Slate Cracks

I’ll start again by discussing the weather. It has improved (slightly). This past week has been generally grey, overcast and damp in the mornings however about dry enough to get some climbing in.
After a reasonable Indy (Indefatigable Climbing Centre on Anglesey) session on Wednesday the forecast was good for the next two days. Not wanting to waste what maybe some of the last few days out before winter hasty arrangements were made with Dale for the possibility of two day out.

Thursday (Day 1): Holyhead Mountain.


After pondering where to go as Llanberis Pass (the Pass) and Ogwen Valley looked very wet, we decided upon a day of Trad climbing at Holyhead Mountain. There were two reasons for this a) Dale had only climbed V. Diff  and b) it is easy access and single pitch in case the weather changed.

Convincing Dale to climb something a bit harder was not difficult, and having Sport climbed with him I knew that he was more than capable. He quickly dispatched Tempest (S 4a). I then led Black and Tans (VS 4c), a good route with a couple of interesting moves. After bringing Dale up on the second he only needed a little persuasion to try something harder. Tension (VS 4b) was plenty enough of a challenge, a cool route with increasing exposure as you get higher, but not to worry there is plenty of gear. Seeing Dale tackle the crux and then proceed to top out was great. He was buzzing at the top. He had only planned on doing a top grade of a Severe.

Dale pre-crux on Tension (VS 4b)

A rather pleased Dale

I had been saying all day, ‘If today goes well, wanna go and do a sea cliff at Gogarth tomorrow?’ and after seeing Dale comfortably climb I was confident in him. So plans were a foot.

Friday (Day 2): Castell Helen, Gogarth South Stack.


Motorbike laden with abseil rope, climbing ropes, gear and people we headed off. Plans were to go and do at least Lighthouse Arete (VS 4c).

Set the abseil up, showed Dale how to ab with a prussic and down we went. Dale had been quite worried, the names Gogarth and sea cliff demand a lot of respect. If things go wrong they can be a nightmare to sort out. We reached the belay. The position was amazing, high tide was in and the sea was a couple of metres away. Dale suddenly relaxed, mind blown I think. I set off on the first pitch, completed with ease. Dale was up next. He cruised along. A misreading of the guide book by me resulted in him not only doing the 4b pitch but him continuing and finishing the 4c section. Calm and collected the whole way, it was great to see such a change from the apprehensiveness he’d displayed the night before and that morning. I finished, a bit miffed at myself for doing myself out of the crux pitch. We topped out, had lunch and called it a day. The weather was changing, wind was up and thick grey cloud was forming. We considered going back down to do Pel or Rap (both VS 4c) however there had been groups on them. 

Looking at the sea from the first belay

The sea again

The first pitch


Dale cruising up the second and third pitches


Sunday (Day 3): Rainbow Slab/Walls, Llanberis Slate Quarries.


Plans made at 1.30am that morning with Lewis with a proviso that the weather looked okay proved to provide a great day out.
Warming up on Horse Latitudes with Horsing Around Finish (F6a/b), was a good starter. Then the clouds looked very threatening on Snowdon and the wind was blowing our way. So more sport was called for. An attempt was made by us both on The Speenal Flick (F6c+) however it out foxed us both. Lewis feeling strong got on Gerbil Abuse (F7a) with only a couple of rests on the crux sequence he topped out. My turn, on the second, from about half way up I was cursing my lack of technique, strength and the route. Finally I cracked the crux move, a real sense of elation came.  A good route for those strong monsters out there as it combines a fierce lay-back and slightly overhanging slate. The day was getting on, I’d been looking at Pull My Daisy (E2 5c) all day, I was clear and as a last route of the day I psyched myself up for it. I really wanted the onsight, so it was do or fly, there was to be no backing off this route. The climbing is good but small in places up to a pipe a bit over half way, you clove-hitch a sling round this and push on. There is no gear for all least another ten metres. I was grateful for having my tri-cams, as there is a shot hole as the last bit of gear. Topping out was a combination of relief and joy. 

Rainbow Slab

Lewis on Gerbil Abuse (F7a)

Me on Pull My Daisy (E2 5c)

Me near the top of Pull My Daisy



P.s
With climbing seeing others succeed is always a great feeling I find, whether it is on a Mod or some mental E grade. It is a challenge that they put themselves to and find a way to overcome it. It is even better when they are unsure of their chances and still manage to complete the route. (With some thought as I was typing I realised this applies to life in general).

25/10/2011

Testing, Testing. One, Two, Three.

As first Blogs go this one will be pretty poor.
The weather currently in North Wales can't make its mind up, rain showers and sunny spells seems to be the order for the last week and coming weeks. Rubbish weather really for the nature of this Blog.
Enjoying the outdoors regardless of weather is a fairly tricky task. However having friends that are either a) brave, b) insane or c) some useful combination of the two, seems to provide a way forward.
Two such instances occurred over the weekend. Firstly Saturday evening resulted in night (read head-torch) climbing with Jack (a.k.a. Ginge) on the Slate at Bus Stop Quarry. After one windy route (Equinox VS 4C), Ginge fancied a beer rather than another route.
Sunday proved just as interesting, if not more so. A text mid-morning from Pete asking whether I was wanting to do some easy multi-pitch mountain route, was unexpected yet appealing. It was like daring the weather to be the worst it could be with the way recent weeks have been. Grooved Arete on Tryfan's East Face was selected. After completing the first pitch and handing over to Pete, route-finding seemed to go out the window. We reached a ledge but nothing like that described or pictured in the book. The top was insight, so we went up anyway. Reaching Adam and Eve as the last of the light disappeared we were at the summit. At this point the real difficulties started, I'd not packed any food and Pete had no head torch, to make things more fun the wind was blowing such a gale that walking in a straight line was nearly impossible. Nearly three hours later we were back at the car; having walked down, fallen over, bog troted, Pete braking a shoe lace and having the skin on our faces well and truly scraped off by the wind.   

Motorbiking at the moment is wet and cold, it still beats a car however! The chain was replaced last week, why do no-one say that O-Ring chains are a nightmare to get off and on the bike? Replacing the front end exhausts soon. I'm looking forward to kitting it out with bash bars and plate for some off-roading fun.

Good Night.

P.s. After being out with Pete, I remembered that I can't complain really a) we had a great day out (what better way of doing it than hanging around on a mountain) and b) I knew that days out with Pete are all ways epics, so why should Sunday be abnormal.
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