Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Memories of Getting High

Sometimes you cannot help but be in a reflective mood when you sit atop some mountain with the breeze on your face and the world laid out at your feet.  The mountains tend to create a mood to reflect, plan and clear the mind.  It's the perfect location to defrag the hard drive of the brain, but that said, it can also be something of a melancholy experience.

The Picos De Europa 
I met a friend I had not seen for perhaps 20 years while on the hill the other day.  We chatted about what we had been up to, compared our ailments, discussed plans for the future and generally caught up.  When we parted I felt really unsettled, almost a sense of loss.  Not for the loss of a friend, but of a lifestyle that had not just slowly slipped away, but simply stopped overnight.  

The year 1995 was a time of wonderful highs in cleanest sense of the word.  By that I don't mean the highs a drug gives you, I mean those life long endorphin highs the mountains give you.  The kind that leave their mark etched on your brain - from mountains hard won, from fears controlled and of friendships and hardships shared.

Of grand routes in southern Spain and Majorca in the spring, and of warm rock and the smell of rosemary and thyme in the hills.  A time when you knew you were truly alive, not just existing. 

 Getting high on the Espolon Central route Puig Campana, Costa Blanca Spain

Route Gubia Normal Gr3, St Gubia Mallorca
Of nights sleeping below thousand foot faces with nothing but a bivy bag and a down jacket in order to keep the weight down. Cold seeping into the bones, wishing the night away in fitful dreams - half sleeping half awake - who knows? but time passed as it always has. 

And when sleep would not come lying there staring up at a billion stars, listening to the sounds of the mountains, their dark silhouettes etched against the pre-dawn sky. The purr of the stove, endless brews and wondering if the others were awake.  They usually were - well apart from Carl, he always slept. Then still in the dark the act of forcing stiff muscles and cold bones across to the base of the route.

Sunrise striking the tops, but an age away from warming our bodies, instead warmth had to come through activity and those first few shaky pitches.  Confidence rising with the sun as the sun line came down to greet us.  Welcome at first, but with the glare from the limestone it would soon become too hot. 

Picos de Europa

The crux building in the mind with each move, inching forward, the void dragging at your heels. Being careful not to over-reach, use the feet, shake out the arms and clip the pro. Suddenly it's over, big holds, more protection and the tension eases. 

Al on La Nani (D sup), South Face of El Naranjo De Bulness (Pico Urriellu) Picos De Europa

A few more moves and a bomber belay awaits.  Safety checks done, toes on the edge, let the rope take the weight and lean out.  Looking down hundreds of feet past unseen companions somewhere below the overhang. 

More pitches, a bit of banter and laughter and a pause for the odd photo.  Now and again a hint of fear as arms tire and the protection begins to space out. Suddenly shouting in Spanish - a curse, or a warning perhaps, but then the sound of a falling rock thrumming past over to the left. I wonder what the Spanish is for BELOW?  A bit more laughter - nervous this time - but no harm done the overhangs protect us..... for now!

Pitch after pitch, nearly three hundred metres worth. Then the crest, easy scrambling and the summit beckons.  

Approaching the Summit of El Naranjo De Bulness (Pico Urriellu) Picos De Europa 

Suddenly we hear voices, French, Spanish and German perhaps.  It's the summit - cracking views and a little Madonna statue watching over us.  Chatting with the other climbers in a mixture of gestures and badly pronounced language, more laughter, some food and drink - relax - but only a little because the job is only half done.

Time to head down, time to refocus.  An un-roped scramble into the amphitheater, followed by tense abseils to the base of the route.

Nearly there, just about to pull down the last rope and then an unmistakable shout in French from above "ATTENCION".  Stones clattering down, a moments panic and I learn a new Spanish word from the team beside us, "Va, Va" GO, GO and everyone ducks in close to the rock. 

Back to the bivy site we grab some more food and drink and then its the long, long walk back out in the afternoon heat.  A days rest and then do it all again.  I felt as if I was living my life in HD.

Those were the last big routes I ever did and two months later I was in hospital with a knackered back and nerve damage in one leg, waiting for an operation.  It was nothing to do with climbing, just a lifting accident at work that took it all away. It was a lifestyle lost, but it still lives on etched in my mind. 

Text images copyright David Forster

Sunday, 13 April 2014

A Lucky Escape and Tragedy in the Yorkshire Dales

The Pennine hills have borne witness to many stories of epic struggles, lucky escapes and of course tragedy.  These stories don't always relate to hill walkers, or other outdoor enthusiasts and it may surprise some to know that aviation plays a significant part in the history of these lonely windswept moors. 

The Pennines have always been a place to fear for aircrew facing bad weather, or mechanical problems and the remains of numerous aircraft that have failed to return to base are testament to this.

I recently planned a walk to explore the area around Castle Bolton and working on the theory that time spent doing research is seldom wasted I managed to find out there were two such air crash sites on the high ground to the north of the village.  One relates to a Gloster Javelin Jet, which crashed in 1959 and the other relates to a DeHavilland Mosquito TA525, which crashed in bad weather in 1946.

My initial plan was to head up Apedale and return via a track which runs from the mining grounds on Bolton Moor back to Dent's house in Apedale and a further look at the map showed I could take in the two sites with only minor detours.

This is open access land and after making my way along Apedale via the bridleway I struck off over the moor to find the general area where the Gloster Javelin came down. 

Being a grouse moor you can never be too sure of the welcome you will receive if you are spotted wandering around well away from established footpaths, but a friendly wave and smile from a passing farmer on his quad bike gave me a little boost of confidence.  I know I have every right to be there but I think I still have a few hang ups from all those years before right to roam where people were regularly hassled by over zealous gamekeepers and landowners who claimed that having people on the moors at any time of year (other than them of course) harmed the wildlife.  Years into the right to roam such opinions are now seen for what they were - rubbish - and if anything the presence of the public is probably helping the wildlife in that we can now see what goes on.

Anyway it was with thoughts like this rattling around my head that I continued on my way.  Weather wise while the sun was shining the wind was pretty strong at times and on a couple of occasions I was blown completely to a standstill.  Fortunately the wind unintentionally helped me and as I moved up towards some grouse butts I heard the clack clack of metal hitting metal carried on the wind.  After a bit of a scramble out of a deep peat hag I spotted the wreckage scattered across the fell side about twnety meters away. 

A general view of the crash site with one of aircrafts tyres

This was the site of the Gloster Javelin F.A.W Mk.5 XA662 of 228 Operational Conversion Unit which crashed here 29th September 1959.  The story behind the incident is that the crew took off from RAF Leeming and while over the North York Moors one of the engines developed a fault.  A short time later the second engine was also shut down due to a fire warning.  Fortunately the crew - Flying Officer C P Cowper and navigator Cpt R E Nietz successfully ejected from the aircraft and survived. 

Engine Jet-Pipe
The wreckage is pretty extensive and spread over an area of around 200m.  The engine jet-pipe is perhaps the largest visible component at around 10 feet long. 
Close up view of the Jet-Pipe

Many components are partly buried

The occasional rattle caused by the two pieces of metal above that kept hitting each other in the strong gusts gave the place a bit of an eerie feel and after grabbing a series of shots I soon moved on.

Joe Bosher gives a short account of his role as a member of the RAF recovery team here.

The second aircraft lay a just over a kilometre as the crow flies on the other side of the hill, however as I also wanted to visit some of the mine workings here I struck off across the moor to have a look at these first.  Unfortunately very little remains of these other than collapsed shafts and spoil heaps and any photographic potential I thought they might have had when looking at the map was pretty limited, especially so considering it was midday and the light was rather harsh. 

Heading south I soon came across the shooting track which was followed for a kilometre or so to the area where the second aircraft lay.  Despite only having a general location for the aircraft I soon found the site.

This and some more wreckage further along the scar is all that remains of the De Havilland Mosquito TA525 which crashed here in thick cloud on the 14th February 1946, killing the 27 year old Dutch pilot Sgt Gebines La Hei instantly.  It is thought that Air Traffic Control had actually instructed him to climb but he did not manage to do so in time.


There is no memorial here only a pleasant view down the valley and the sad realisation that in those conditions there was little room for error and he probably only had seconds to react. 

There is a little more about the pilot and the incident itself here

Text images copyright David Forster www.bluestoneimages.com

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Helvellyn via Swirral Edge

While the weather was overcast it felt like spring had arrived as we left the campsite at Gillside Farm and sweated our way up towards Red Tarn. The illusion didn't last long and once we reached the col before the tarn we were met by a keen wind and soon changed back into winter clothing.

Across the tarn the north face of Helvellyn with its large cornices looked positively Alpine and it did not take long for us to decide on a quick break to take in the scene.

01M-8968 Helvellyn from Red Tarn in Winter Lake District Cumbria UK
Striding Edge on the left and Swirral Edge on the right, with Helvellyn in the Centre.
Our plan was to head up onto Swirral Edge and then enjoy an easy scramble onto Helvellyn. On the way up we met several people coming down who had abandoned their attempt on the summit because they did not have ice axes or crampons. Some even seemed surprised to find winter conditions up here! If you are heading anywhere in the Lake District it is worth checking out the Lake District Weatherline which provides a daily report on the conditions found on Helvellyn during the winter.


We soon made it onto the ridge seeking out the best scrambling to give some added interest. This was great fun and we followed the crest to get some shots which despite the hazy mist still gave a sense of exposure.

01M-9117 Enjoying the View from Swrirral Edge Helvellyn Lake District Cumbria UK
View towards Catstycam

01M-9063 Climbing Swirral Edge Helvelyn Lake District Cumbria UK
Moira and Sandra on the upper section

01M-9073 Hill Walker with Ice Axe on Swrirral Edge with Red Tarn Below Lake District Cumbria UK
Some nice exposure with Red Tarn below

01M-9185 Exiting Swrirral Edge Helvellyn Lake District Cumbria UK
Exiting Swirral Edge
We had a quick wander over to the summit, but after two busload sized groups turned up we plodded back to the Swrirral Edge exit cairn to have our lunch and watch a few lemmings without crampons, or ice axes gamble on a slide down to Red Tarn and afternoon spent with the local rescue team.

01M-9502 The Summit of Helvellyn and Striding Edge in Winter Lake District Cumbria UK
Looking along the cornice from the Swirral edge exit towards the summit

We then headed onto Whiteside and then down into Keppel Cove, before making our way back to the campsite via the high level path above Glenridding beck.

01M-9529 Photographing Swirral Edge and the Mountain of Catstycam in Winter Lake District Cumbria UK
Last shot with the view across Brown Cove of Swirral Edge and Catstycam

Text images copyright David Forster www.bluestoneimages.com