Mountain Talk

Mountain Talk
Closing Early on Saturday 21st October – Posted 17-10-17

We are hosting the AGM of Team 333 this coming Saturday evening so will be closing our doors early at 18:00 with last hot food orders at 17:30. Team 333 do stirling work raising money in support of our local Mountain Rescue team Ogwen Valley so we hope you’ll understand, rest assured the following Saturday we’ll be open as normal until 20:00.

Also a quick heads up that on the night of Doug Scott’s presentation (11th November) we will again be closing early at 18:00, however if you have bought tickets for the presentation we will be able to take hot food orders until 18:30 but please note there will be a restricted menu.

Reach Out for Nepal – Posted 09/10/17

We are very pleased to announce that our current fund raising total for Reach Out for Nepal 2017 has now reached £10,429 which is just a fraction short of our target of £10,500. When combined with the totals raised in 2015 & 2016 this brings the total raised for the fitting out of the Melamchi School to circa £24,500 almost exactly the amount budgeted for the costs of the fitting out of not only the main School Buildings & the Science Lab. but also for the Students hostel accommodation, it is far more than we ever envisaged in our early days after our first ROFN Day in 2015.

I have thanked many of the people who got directly involved this year so here I need to thank all those who donated & or took part in anyway on the day itself or indeed afterwards.

The culmination of this years fund raising will be the forthcoming presentation by Doug Scott OBE of his epic fight for survival ‘A Crawl Down the Ogre’ which he will be giving on 11th November at the Cafe. I am sure that it will be even more enthralling than his presentation last year which felt like an unbelievably relaxed & enjoyable evening at the Cafe so it promises to be a great round off for ROFN 2017 where we will be handed Doug a cheque for his charity Community Action Nepal to utilise on the fitting out works.

Doug will also be selling Nepalese artefacts, books & auctioning some of his signed photographic prints, all funds raised on the night as well as all funds from ticket sales will go to Doug’s charity CAN.

Looking forward we have to decide what lies ahead for ROFN for 2018 & on-wards. First priorities are to understand how the fit out works actually develop in practice. As I write this the school construction is well underway but we will be looking for an update on timescales from CAN & their contractors with a view to scheduling a visit by one or more of us at ROFN to view the completed works (these visits will be funded by the individuals themselves leaving all raised funds for the fit out works). If things progress well this could be in Spring 2018 but by Autumn 2018 at the latest.

We also need to look into on-going support in the years ahead. It is likely that some activities will be scaled back, in my case simply the physicality of the last 3 years running challenges finally caught up with me this year. Put quite simply if I can’t get any fitter then this years stunt should not be repeated – my body has told me quite sternly! But we are proud of what we have become a part of & the collective community & friendship which has grown around ROFN so if you have any ideas for 2018 please contact us, we would be delighted to hear from you.

For full details on Doug’s presentation please go to our Events page, the cheapest way of reserving & paying for tickets is by doing so at our counter, or you could phone us on 01690 720429, failing these for a small additional fee you can purchase through the Eventbrite website. Finally & please excuse the cliche but they are selling like hot cakes, we only have 30 or so left, so you do need to be quick off the mark to guarantee a seat.

Thank you from us all.

Paul

Paul’s Blog – Posted 06/10/17

It a very busy Saturday coming up if you are a runner in North Wales, as usual the various early morning park runs will kick things off. I haven’t done one yet but everybody I speak to who has seems to thoroughly enjoy them, my excuse is an early opening cafe, what’s yours?

Then we have the Trefriw Mill Fell race, could well need good navigational skills if the forecast comes to fruition. A counter for both the WFRA North Wales & Welsh championship so a good & large field is expected, good luck to Gill & her team & of course all the runners too, again I’ll be missing.

Next up is the first of this seasons XC Series in Wrexham, I owe Becky an appearance for her great support during our Reach Out for Nepal day but sadly not at this one, best I can do is say Good luck to Becky & the Eryri runners I am sure you can squelch through the mud to get Eryri a great result.

Finally there are rumours that my feet will finally be putting in an appearance at Coed y Brenin in the Petzl Night Race that kicks off at 6:00 pm, a race with a great atmosphere more or less in my back yard. An exit strategy from the cafe has been planned for 4:00 pm & involved me suggesting my support team bring their 3 kids along, motivation indeed to keep on running for the full 3 hours!

Hope you are taking part, or helping, or simply supporting one or more of these, whatever the weather throws at us lets get out & enjoy it, have a great weekend!

Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) – Posted 05/10/17 – Part 2

Day 4 – Courmayeur – Rifugio Bonatti

After a restful night the curtains are pulled back the view just couldn’t be better, the sky is a brilliant blue, the snow-capped peaks shining in White sandwiched between buildings in the foreground to left & right, can it get any better. Well yes it can actually, the two framed peaks are the la Tour Ronde & the Aguille d’Entreves which were my warm up climbs in 2015, ‘Dorina, come & look at this, I’ve…’. Having pre-booked the Bonatti hut for the night ahead today would be a shorter day but we planned to do a TMB variant route taking the higher paths which were part of the original TMB until a decade ago. I can only presume the soft ridge line that our route took may be a bit exposed in Thunder Storms hence the change but on a day like today you just wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. We had it all, wonderful forest climb with hut & coffee at the top, gentle ridge climb with 360 degree views, snow & icy river with a lunch time rock next to it, Marmots, Ibex & the isolation of being off the main route. We strolled into the friendly Bonatti hut ordered a beer & sat reading & gazing in the late afternoon sun. You’ve guessed Cheaters 1 arrived soon after us after a lift & the low route. Dorina’s highlights, simply the views.

Stats – 16K, 26,400 steps, 1,597m of ascent, 698m of descent, 6 Hours & 16 Minutes.

Day 5 – Rifugio Bonatti – la Fouly – Champex

Dawn as yesterday but having got up earlier we also were in time to see the violet skies & pink to orange tints transform nighttime into day, we set off early at 7:15 after a typical hut breakfast (contrast as ever with an excellent evening meal), our plan is to stop at la Fouly. Early on we pass a group of French guys before frustratingly descending almost 300 metres into the Val Ferry. Soon the path headed up again for an 800 metre climb passing the closed Refuge Elena to reach the Grand Col Ferret (at 2,537 metres). The initial descent looked tricky on a North facing slope through lying snow yet to be touched by the suns rays but difficulties were soon behind us & we were soon resting at la Peule with coffee & crisps. It was soon after on the continuing descent that Porter Paul became aware of a problem in the name of left shoulder pain. A leftover from a former life which included far too many miles in a manual car, my age hit & would do so mostly in the afternoons from here-on. There were times when Dorina offered to swap bags but of course being a chivalrous (aka bloody minded) man I soldiered on despite my feet going the same way some time soon after. At last la Fouly appeared, a lunchtime rest, an expensive Swiss lunch, but I have to say it was so good & it was worth it. Discussion ‘it’s still early, I know we planned to stay here, but…..’ We moved on both at a bit of a trudge (by now Dorina’s ankle was hurting her) but we had walked away from the groups we were moving on & the sun shone. 4 hours later after a forest climb lit up by carved animals along the way we entered Champex to the surprise that we were at the top of the St. Barnard pass. That might explain the cost of the hotel, food & wine, bloody Switzerland how can they justify it? Dorina’s highlight, those animal carvings helping to distract her on the last 400 metre climb.

Stats – 35K, 49,700 steps (should have got lost for 300 more), 1,375m of ascent, 1,975m of descent, 10 Hours & 20 Minutes, it had been a long day.

Day 6 – Champex – Col de la Forclaz – Tre-le-Champ

Warmer but a hazier day with broken high cloud meant the gods were still largely on our side saw us set off at 7:37 with Col de la Forclaz as our aim, a short day after the exploits of yesterday. On the forest climb up to Refuge Bovine a shot rang out, 5 minutes later 6 Off road vehicles nearly blocked the wide forest track, as we passed looked right, two hunters with an Ibex carcass at their feet. We were a bit wary after this but no more shots though it did seem odd that hunting is permitted so close to the TMB whatever you animal politics might be. Views followed over Martigny & the Swiss Alps before a descent (shoulder & feet returned) to Col de la Forclaz for an early lunch at an extortionate price! Discussion ‘I know we said we might carry on for 30 minutes & stay at Trient in the valley but it’s early, do you fancy Tre-le-Champ, it’s only 18K….’, ‘It’ll avoid another expensive night in Switzerland & give us two shorter days to follow’, I added enthusiastically (aka miserly)’. Again an annoying descent before a big climb of almost 900 metres began. Early on the climb a straggling group of Chinese passed us, with one of the back markers asking ‘have I got far to go’ I avoided a terse response ‘We’re the ones going up mate!’ & encouraged him with ’10 minutes’ instead. In fact our climb went well & led to a short descent before a very pleasant rocky climb to the Aguilles des Posettes & it’s glorious views. ‘See that Dorina, that’s the Petit Verte, I’ve climbed that (it looked like a pin prick under the shadow of the Aguille Verte but she did her best to look impressed & massage my ego) & over there that’s where the accident happened on the Argentier’ I enthusiastically added. The descent to Tre-le-Champ was steep and long but we were rewarded with a pleasant hut (Auberge la Boerne) where we got lucky with the last two bunks, shower & 5 minutes late for the meal which was spent in the company of an Israeli couple (we’d passed them on Day 4 but they were too pleasant to be referred to as cheaters) & a Dutch camper who’s bag was heavier than mine! With 6 runners who had reserved their bunks in advance arriving at 8:30 & then going on the lash in Argentiere until 2:30 am it was not a pleasant night but my Angel slept through it, I bit my tongue & then accidentally made my own racket when we got up at 6:30, the Entante Cordialle is still alive & KICKING! Dorina’s highlight, the forest climb to Col du Balme, more pleasant & went better than looked posible over lunch.

Stats – 29K, 44,600 steps, 1,801m of ascent, 1,860m of descent, 9 Hours & 39 Minutes.

Day 7 – Tre-le-Champ – Les Houches – Bossons Camp Site

We had planned to rise early having decided over the evening meal to complete it in one day partly because the Lac Blanc hut was apparently full & also because the weather was due to turn, the fact that I could get out of the noisy bunk early was a bit of early icing on the cake. We climbed steadily with hardly a cloud in the sky (surely the forecasted rain was a hoax) & caught up with the Israeli couple by the famous ladder sections with Ibex above & below. Carrying on we reached Lac Blanc (we had decided on this additional variant simply because I wanted to show Dorina the famous views of the Mont Blanc Massif with the lake in the foreground). Our decision was rewarded with not a soul in sight, not many visitors can say that, camera & phone clicked away in splendid isolation. Soon we were joined by Isaac & Einav ( the Israeli’s) & took each others photo’s before parting for a final time, they to Chamonix, us to further afield. The final sections saw a hard climb as clouds built above the Brevent (at 2,525) before the long descent towards Les Houches. As feared the Bella Chat hut was closed so we fuelled from our bags, stiffened our upper lips & headed on down. This was a wearisome end to a classic route that un-fortunately I knew about all too well. Dorina disliked it as much as I, in fit running mode it’s a great descent but with Dorina’s ankle & my shoulder & feet it went on & on & was always going to be followed by an extra 5K trudge from Les Houches back to our Bossons camp site. A scar on our memory, in truth at the time yes but not now just part of the mix that is the wonderful TMB. Dorina’s highlights, the Ladder Section & those private views from Lac Blanc.

Stats – 29K, 46,700 steps (our strides were shortening), 1,845m of ascent, 2,100m of descent (that hurt) & 9 Hours & 40 Minutes.

I won’t say too much about knowledge gained because the guidebook covers most aspects of the do’s & don’ts but I think we got our timing about right (17th to 23rd September) it was so much quieter than when I’ve skipped over little bits of it in July. The temperature was pleasant despite the snow & allowed me to do it all in shorts with more often than not just a T shirt & there were just enough huts still open (the Northen section was surprisingly where hut closures could have affected anyone on a different schedule). We did it in 7 days rather than the 9 or possibly 8 I’d planned, this didn’t feel rushed & avoided lengthy afternoons lolling around in huts but I wouldn’t recommend that our approach was for everyone. As for Dorina, she loved it & did really well, as usual she put me through my paces on the descents, I think for once I only retaliated on one ascent, in truth that was more to get passed ‘Cheaters 2’ the first time we came across them as dozen or so of them wouldn’t move out of my way, it’s a ME thing!

We rested for a day afterwards before saying goodbye to Tim & meandering back over 3 days through France where I found a lovely little lake to run around 3 times either side of a good nights sleep & a glass or two of wine.

Thanks are due so here goes, to Gaby & those we left behind at the Cafe, to Tim for weather advise & booking our first hut, to our camp site in Bossons who didn’t charge us for keeping our tent up & car parked for 7 nights free of charge. Indeed the total charge for a tent & car (12 nights) & 2 people (5 nights) was half the cost of 2 people (1 night) in Switzerbloodyland)!!

Finally thanks to Dorina for her smiling & loving company & putting up with a grumpy old shoulder whilst having her own very swollen ankle which we only properly saw after she completed the Tour & took her sock off.

O.K. Kean I admit it was still quite a bit about me but I did try, didn’t I?

Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) – Posted 05/10/17 – Part 1

Having been back for almost a week & been a good boy trying to catch up with cafe business including Reach Out for Nepal (watch this space in the coming days for a full update) it is time to put pen to paper on Dorina’s & my trip to the Alps. I am going to try & focus it from Dorina’s point of view more than mine because although it was a shared experience I have been focusing too much on my summer’s exploits whilst Dorina has been holding the fort so this post season sojourn should deservedly put her in the spotlight.

As with Pik Lenin I’ll do this in two parts as indeed the Tour fell naturally into two parts for us.

Part 1

Dorina’s chauffeur drove her down to the Bossons camp site in the L’Arve valley over two days where in un-seasonably cold weather he erected (with Dorina’s laughter & help) the tent which would be their base for the next 3 nights. The pleasure of this cold & damp camping experience can be apportioned to Kean who had introduced me to it in a warm July back in 2014 prior to our Monte Rosa traverse.

Our first full day was spent doing a warm up walk climbing some 800 metres to enjoy lunch at a very quiet Chalet du Pyramide from where we could look down onto the lower reaches of the Bosson Glacier. The following day Dorina’s chauffeur gave her the day off (or was that her decision) whilst he went for a 15K run with the justification that he was recceing the beginning of the TMB. Re-united we then headed for Chamonix for lunch & to buy a small bag for Dorina to help her lessen her Porter’s load over the coming days. I had tried to justify a new Salomon bag would fit the bill (cunningly to be used back in the UK as my new winter running bag) only to lose out to Dorina’s more appropriate choice of an Osprey bag in female only Turquoise!

After a third cold night we woke up early & at just after 7:00 am our attempt at the TMB was underway.

Day 1 – Bossons – Les Houches – LesContamines-Montjoie

Having met Tim Blakemore the night before where he gave us the thumbs up on the weather ‘not great but why not, go for it’ we were anxious to make good progress under cool but bright skies before the forecast rain arrived. By starting at Bossons we added 5K to just get to the start of the TMB, the porter was feeling sorry for himself under his 17K load & hangover whilst contemplating the demands in the days ahead. Dorina was in better spirits but seemed to catch the mood as we started on an arduous & distinctly un-pleasant climb up to Col de Voza (never felt this bad on a ski lift in February a few years ago). Thankfully this was probably the low point for both of us, as the ground levelled out we began to hit a rythem which we were to keep almost constantly from here-on. Dorina’s highlights for the day were a bridge over the outflow of the Bionnasay Glacier & a fabulous lunch at Refuge de Miage (both well worth taking the more arduous variant path for). Shortly after the rain began we arrived at Les Contamines-Montjoie which resembled a ghost town (Sunday afternoon out of season), first hotel closed, a speeding Mercedes was noted as we trudged to the next option. When we got there we discovered the speedster had been the hotel owner whizzing back from Anneccy to open up this hotel for a group, luck just about on our side.

Stats – 23K, 38,000 steps (no I didn’t actually count them), 1,580m of ascent, 1,418m of descent, 8 Hours 13 Minutes.

Day 2 – Les Contamines-Montjoie – Les Chapieux (Tim had kindly pre-booked this more isolated hut)

An easier schedule allowed a proper rest & saw us setting off at 8:22 again with weather which was scheduled to deteriorate. By now we were beginning to see repeats in the human form. These were in the guise of two groups who became known as Cheaters 1 & 2, apparently you can do the TMB guided & some guides organise lifts on road sections or roads that bypass other sections. Looking back you can see that this opens up scenery to those who may otherwise not tackle any of the route but to us it simply had the effect of making us feel rather smug about our own efforts & the ease at which we were to catch & pass them despite not exactly racing around ourselves. As we climbed towards our high point so far (Col de la Croix Bonhommie, 2,433 metres) it was clear that we would breach the snowline well before. The porter considered downing tools to get the two sets of Yak Tracks out of his load but instead settled to un-strapping two walking poles for the slippery but safe descent. At the Les Chapieux hut we were greeted warmly by it’s guardian & treated to a double room with it’s own shower ‘Dorina, this won’t happen at every hut so make the most of it’. Dorina’s highlights for the day Overtaking the Cheaters groups 1 & 2 as well as several others on the climb & walking through deep snow making up for a lack of views.

Stats – 18K, 28,500 steps (no, my watch!), 1,316m of ascent, 929m of descent, 7 Hrs 3 Minutes.

Day 3 – Les Chapieux to Courmayeur

With the worst forecast yet we’d planned a short day with the aim of climbing over the Col de Seigne (at 2,516 metres) & stopping soon after at the Refugio Elisabetta. We left late hoping other groups would break the trail above the snowline, with both the ‘Cheater’ groups getting a lift to give them well over an hours head-start this was a perfect & ‘indestructible’ plan. Snow flurries soon merged to an almost blizzard, the porters thoughts turned to ‘this could get serious & I’m still wearing my shorts!’ whilst Dorina focused on the missing views. Then after some 3 hours ‘what’s that up ahead? It’s the bloody cheaters!’ as we passed they looked on in dis-belief, we looked forward & were breaking trail, I know how Hitler felt when his similarly indestructible plan fell apart at Stalingrad (also in the snow)! Reaching the cull the ground was frozen, visibility 30 yards but luck came beckoning from the North as 3 English guys came up the ‘path’ we needed to find for our descent. Soon below the cloud base & snowline with snow easing off we descended to reach the Refugio Elisabetta. A coffee, a discussion, ‘it’s too early to stop, let’s carry on to Courmayeur it’s only another 18K, lets do it’.

The afternoon was a long one after an already stiff morning climb but our moods took in the brightening skies, the Marmot cries & the thoughts of good Italian food (Porter Paul has some knowledge of Courmayeur’s gastronomic delights). To the Porter’s pleasant surprise the hotel he had in mind was actually bang on the TMB but to both his & Dorina’s shock 5 minutes after checking in Cheater group 1 did likewise, in all the hotels in Courmayeur just what are the chances of that (for clarity yes they had received a 2nd lift, we had slowed as the day wore on but not that much!). Dorina’s highlight as yesterday, overtaking, overtaking & the looks on their faces on that first climb of the day, I think she’s caught my competitive flu (in truth it took our minds off the lack of views). We dined very well with (un-like in France) some genuine Lemoncello to wash it down & went to bed hoping the new day would dawn to blue skies & views.

Stats – 33K, 43,600 steps (no), 1,514m of ascent, 1,868m of descent, 8 Hours & 26 Minutes.

So that’s it for Part 1, things were about to change & oh how they would change.

Summer Opening Hours are Coming to a Close – Posted 22-08-17

Just a quick reminder that from Bank Holiday Monday onwards we will be closing at 6:00 pm with the exception of Saturday’s where we will remain open until 8:00 pm.

We hope you have found time to enjoy our extended summer opening hours at some point this season.

Paul’s Blog – Pik Lenin – Part 2 – Posted 18-08-17

The third part – After returning to ABC we spent 3 nights there using the middle evening to comprehensively review our individual acclimatisation, how we should divide into teams & what each teams strategy was going to be in order to maximise our chances of summitting. Kyle was able through his gadget to give us a 5 day weather forecast (these were less than totally reliable but did seem to give a good basis to think that it may well play ball with our preferred plans). We agreed to divide into two teams, mine consisted of Troels & Georgio, with all 3 of us having been to camp 3 & been on the summit of Razdelnaya & two of us having spent a night above 6,000 metres our team was better acclimatised. Based on this the agreement was that the other team would re-ascend first spend a night at Camp 2, then a night at Camp 3 before descending to ABC to make an actual summit attempt later. We on the other-hand would set off a day later ascend to Camp 2 for one night then to Camp 3 the next day & then a push for the summit the day after, we all went to bed feeling finally things were coming together as we reached the crux of the expedition.

Georgio, Troels & I set off early on Sunday 30th July joined by Dave who having arrived on the Wednesday was on his own acclimatisation schedule but like us needed the security of a rope through the crevasse field which by now was becoming increasingly unstable. We roped as two pairs with Dave setting a good pace with Georgio & Myself & Troels following, the weather was less kind as snow swept into our faces on the lower slopes only to be replaced by spindrift higher up. At least Camp 2 wasn’t going to scorch us today. We again reached Camp 2 after some 5 hours only to find it inhabited by both our other team as well as a Swiss/French team who were also inhabiting our ITMC tents. I won’t beat about the bush, a few direct discussions followed, options were considered but our team stuck to our guns & plans, this was our agreed summit push & took the priority it deserved.

The rest of Sunday was dominated by a German climber who fell 20 feet into a crevasse whilst in our supposedly safe Camp, in fact Camp 2 had always been a bit of a shithole, now it was one that was literally opening up into a very dangerous shithole. The poor German did well to prussik himself out but then the delayed shock & injuries took over & 3 hours later he was on a man made stretcher being pulled off the mountain by a porter & 7 of his fellow teammates, their descent ended in the dark at ABC some 6 hours or so later, he was helicoptered out from there the next morning having been diagnosed with spinal fractures. Sadly this wasn’t the only incident where the mountain flexed it’s muscles, a week before a Russian who had slept in our Mess Tent the day we arrived in ABC died of altitude sickness near the summit having tried a 5 day ascent to replicate his own achievement 30 years earlier. An Iranian died on the knife section of the summit ridge the day before our own summit bid was due, a woman who bivvied at 7,000 metres presumably having failed to turn around at a reasonable time suffered serious frostbite & had to be rescued (no helicopters fly above ABC so that’s a big rescue operation by other non-rescue mountaineer’s) & another Iranian guy seen forcing himself onto Camp 3 when clearly he needed to turn around passed me & Troel’s on our first climb to Camp 3. When we saw him he was bound in a stretcher & being lowered back to Camp 2, at least his head was moving.

Monday dawned the weather window had arrived, under clear skies we set off at approx. 9:00 am, now all wearing Green (by chance), our Green Team ascended well, in just 3 hours I walked into Camp 3 to soon be followed by Georgio & Troel’s, what a difference a week had made, we were all going well. We were joined by the Skiing team who had by now decided not to make a direct ascent of the North face, snow conditions being well & truly against them, they would aim to join with us & then two of them would make an easier ski descent via our ascent route whilst Kyle would abandon his ski’s & come up & down with us. So that was it 6 of us would leave early tomorrow & together. The rest of a long day in Camp 3 was spent melting snow, drinking what we could & eating surprisingly pleasant dehydrated expedition food. Earlier in the day I had suddenly realised that tomorrow would be the 1st of August the third anniversary of Ian’s death, that realisation did not sit well at all. However I slept well, the wind began to blow, just after two Georgio asked ‘Paul, are we going for it’, the reply was yes & no further questions were asked.

Just after 3:00 we set off with a few headtorches up ahead, our group was not quite on our own. The push starts with an annoying 100 metre descent to a Cull before a big 400 metre climb to Camp 4 (rarely used these days). This climb is tough our pace was slow & it felt hard despite my bag now being only half the weight I’d been carrying on previous days. With one inner mitt on my right hand & a big outer mitt on my left hand this was no time to discover that I couldn’t grip my ice axe with my outer mitt securely thereby making the axe useless. Stop, outer mitt back in bag, inner mitt on, that’s better, but what would I do on Cho Oyu drifted through my mind. Two thirds up the climb Ernst stopped, un-beknown to me both he & Rob had contracted the shits (probably in Camp 2), less than 3 hours in & they were both out of the climb, we were down to four (high mountains, shits & safety are not good bedfellows when hydration is a matter of necessity).

Kyle continued to lead, we reached Camp 4 after 3 hours & took our first break near a solitary tent (Camp 3 had 30 or so tents so really is the main base these days prior to a summit push). The going from here became easier with a mixture of level or gently ascending ground, the sunrise became magnificent lighting the peaks all around with breathtaking views particularly to the South into Tajikistan where 5,000 & 6,000 metre peaks go on for ever to the distant horizon, our photographic stops almost distracted us from what lay ahead, ‘the Knife’ loomed ever steeper, ‘get over that Paul & the summit is not far’.

The knife is in fact a gully albeit a pretty steep one (probably 40 degrees) it has the summit days sole fixed rope but in truth it’s not needed going up, as you approach the knife the ground noticeably steepens before you reach it, this was our excuse to rest which we & another couple of groups of two did also. Then Georgio led off (the first time Kyle hadn’t led), I followed & my day changed from here-on. Having felt heavy until now I suddenly felt un-leashed, this was going to be hard, that’s what I do isn’t it, so go on get it done. Georgio called me through, I was on the Knife, I was up it, I was off. Some ten minutes above the Knife having gone past a solo guy & catching another resting at a cull I let the adrenaline subside & waited, Georgio & Troels’ joined me, the solo guy I’d passed informed of the route (someone in his group had summitted the day before) ‘we climb, we cross a wide plateau, we climb, 3 hours we get to the summit’, the Knife was not the gateway to the summit I’d been dreaming of. But the weather was good, we were feeling good, we set off together but tackled it alone from here, it was quite simply an invigorating experience of isolation on a very big mountain. My pace was now set, steep sections 70 paces, stop for rest, easier sections multiples of 70 paces i.e. 140/210/350 & rest, less than 2 hours later I passed Kai (a very friendly Australian who we’d befriended in the lower camps) coming past the other way ‘Paul, if I’d known I’d have waited for you’, he’d been the first to summit that day & literally turned around walked back up hill 10 metres to point to the summit cairn, I was 10 minutes away, Kai & I hugged, clicked the camera’s ‘see you later’.

At just before 10:00 am I reached the summit, touched the scalp of Lenin’s bust & cheered myself at what I was seeing & had achieved. Down Jacket came back on, as did big Mitts, Buffs & Jelly Babies were gobbled as I waited for the others. Some 30 minutes later I stirred from an increasing slumber ‘no good Paul, cold, must move’ I left the summit alone as I’d found it. Roughly where I’d met Kai I met Georgio & gave him the same good news Kai had given me, next was Troel’s, followed by 6 other climbers we’d passed on the way & then Kyle too, for such a busy mountain that was are summit day (11 climbers, this was no Snowdon or Everest we could all enjoy our achievement in relative isolation). My descent felt as glorious as the last 2 hours or so of my ascent, with Kai stashing ski’s there was no catching him so I remained alone, took it steady, tied to the rope on the descent of the Knife & negotiated myself onto the safest central line on the long descent from Camp 4. Frequently my mind considered ‘go here Paul & no one will have a clue what’s happened to you’ but despite this I felt calm & in control (I genuinely felt this ‘solo’ was a big step up in my game) but there was still one final battle – the 100 metre climb back up to Camp 3, after 10 hours that’s not to be looked forward to. I stopped at it’s base, drank, ‘it’s not going to go away, get on with it’. 70 paces, don’t stop, 140 paces, don’t stop, 350 paces, don’t stop, 1050 paces, haven’t stopped, I’m in Camp 3, f…… good effort!! It was by now 1:30 pm, 7 hours up 3 hours down, felt a much bigger day than that!

Kai was asleep in his tent, so the celebrations would have to wait, I too fell asleep & missed Georgio & Troels’ return at some time between 3:00 & 4:00 but had awoken to greet Kyle who came in shortly after 5:00, our party of four were all safe. A bad night’s sleep followed, Kyle descended early with a bad cough, I almost feinted at the start of my descent which Georgio spotted & gave me a sugar releasing Twix, then duly recovered I did a slight diversion above Camp 2 to tag another couple of sub-peaks before walking back into the now horrible stench of the Camp. From here we roped up, the route through the crevasses was by now un-recognisable, once past the major difficulties my inability to re-hydrate the night before caught up with me, from the back of the rope I shouted ‘guys I need to stop’ to roars of laughter Georgio & Kyle yelled ‘I never thought I’d hear Paul ask to stop’ well I did & I needed to!

I’m going to gloss over the 4th & final part, it was basically several days spent in ABC waiting for our other group to return from their summit bid whilst some of our party made early returns to civilisation. They weren’t to make it firstly weather & then events early on their summit day worked against them but a sensible decision made sure they all got back down safely. For me these days felt a bit anti-climatical but I’m glad I stayed on, got to know Dave well & enjoyed Beer in his & Troel’s company. Sun-bathing, reading & a couple of relatively safe ridge excursions on my own helped to past the time but I was itching to get back to Dorina & a normality which I have yet to find.

On the summit day itself I had for some ‘clear’ reason kicked Cho Oyu into touch but now back Cho Oyu has been googled, 1:1 Sherpa, do I need to pay for that, probably not, Tim has been e-mailed, the wheels to one more high challenge before I seek ‘retirement’ in the Alps & ‘lesser altitude’ might just have begun to turn.

Too many people to thank but everyone at ITMC for some good friendly support throughout & a genuine look of pleasure at our achievements felt great, the certificates you gave us on the morning we left BC for the last time were a lovely icing on the cake. Georg & Simona for logistics of getting me to & from Manchester & of course the members of our group who made the relative discomfort much easier to handle, to name but two would seem un-fair but: Georgio for passing me his half litre of tea on summit day rather than disposing it when my own water bottles had frozen solid & Kyle for a good & knowledgeable tent partner. Last & never least Dorina, occasionally we were able to text or even speak but I have never missed you so much, told the guys, if you kissed my beard it meant you still loved me & of course you kissed it before making me run for the razor!

Paul’s Blog – Pik Lenin -Part 1 – Posted 18-08-17

In drafting this I’ve decided to blog in two parts simply because the length needed to cover 27 days in my usual plodding way can possibly create suicidal tendencies in those attempting to keep at it.

Can I really have been back for more than a week already, well I have but from a functioning point of view it probably is a reality of no more than 2 or 3 days at best. Dorina knows me too well & hasn’t expected anything better but we were both a bit surprised by my being hit for six for most of Wednesday by my ulcer deciding to remind me that it doesn’t like unpredictable eating habits, behave Paul you should know better!

So here I am 100% not back to reality but feeling I need to make sense of Pik Lenin & everything he (or is that she) had in store for me, so here goes.

The expedition was a 27 day affair starting on 15th July & ending (hopefully) on 10th August. It was organised through members of the Austrian Alpine Club & Alpine Club & consisted of 12 members, 8 from the U.K., & one each from The Netherlands, Denmark, Canada & The Lebanon. 11 Males & one Female. I deemed that it was to be an un-led expedition where we would clearly need to form an effective group with teams, we would be supported by the ITMC a member of Kyrgzstan’s own Alpine Club for travel logistics, BC & ABC cooking & tents as well as tents up to Camps 2, 3 & 4. Some of us also paid for Porter support to the higher camps too.

I had not paid for the Porter support above ABC but generally found ITMC’s staff helpful & friendly throughout although our BC experience was considerably better on the way back out than on the way in, simply a change of cook made it all click so much better. If a complaint could be made it was that ITMC seemed to have in-sufficient porters for the higher camps, the ones they had worked hard & carried heavy loads but logistically the shortage did cause problems for those not carrying all of their kit, again that said everyone got all of their kit back down so these problems were ultimately resolved in the end. The other logistical oversight we made as a group was the lack of suitable radio communications available to us, big mistake & lesson learned, I wouldn’t tackle this type of expedition again without at least one radio per two people.

Of course some people like to lead & this did become apparent during our first night in BC, I am often led but believe in consultation & not presumption so this for me did cause some problems in how I interacted with one member of the group as we seemed to be focusing in my opinion too much on training & not enough on the logistics of tackling the mountain. I am always happy to admit my skills lag behind my motivation but I had practised specific skills significantly before going out there & had not signed up to a Mountain Skills Course. Been there, done that & will hone those skills by asking for advice when I need it & building experience in reality thank you. Enough said, we can all have different views & be entitled to them.

Pik Lenin stands at 7,134 metres, that is 23,406 feet in old money which is a couple of thousand feet higher than I’ve been to before. This clearly meant it would be both a physical & altitude test for me despite it’s reputation as being a relatively un-technical climb. I’d booked it as a significant stepping stone to possibly tackling Cho Oyu next year. By going as part of the AAC’s expedition the costs were being kept low, my package was less than £1,500, pretty cheap for 4 weeks but with flights & the inevitable improved items of kit plus some Beer money for the post summit experience I would hazard my total expenditure was nearer £3,000, still not bad all things considered & off course I still have the kit & memories if not the Beers.

The climb itself was the experience I’d been hoping for, it contained those elements I was looking for as prep for Cho Oyu, group dynamics, days spent in ABC with only the challenge ahead to really focus on (un-like an Alpine trip where scenery & goals change daily). Acclimatisation plan to formulate & adjust as realities & climate dictate, the mental & physical challenges to be met as well as the mountaineering aspects where I would be un-guided for the first time in a higher range. Self supporting loads (except tent) to be carried to the higher camps to enable a summit bid with everything needed being in the right place, sleeping bag, down gear, food, cooker, jelly babies (well you get my drift). All of this together with a good deal of good company meant there were rarely dull moments despite the seeming monotony of it all if looking on from outside.

I could split the climb into four aspects, the first of these was acclimatising ‘off’ mountain. This consisted for me two nights in BC at 3,400 metres (split by a daytime climb to ABC where I accompanied our three ‘skiers’ Kyle, Rob & Ernst into their chosen higher resting place). This was followed by 6 nights at ABC at 4,400 metres, from here a couple of short acclimatisation wanders were beefed up by moraine ridge climb on day 4 to 4,460 metres & an ascent of Yukhin Peak on Day 5, at 5,075 this would be my shortlived 3rd highest peak of my life.

The second aspect of the climb was to actually get on the Mountain proper, Day 9 of the expedition saw us head off at 3:00 am in three groups of 3 (one expedition member (dave) was yet to arrive from the Alps & two were held back by the early altitude illness to one of a party) to head up to Camp 2. I led a rope up through a crevasse field for the first time & felt good doing so, a new box ticked. The climb to 5,340 metres took 5 hours & was followed by a day of blazing sun & heat, Troels our Danish member recorded an inside tent temperature of 52 degrees! Despite the heat I was feeling good & began to discuss a possible change of plan for the next day ‘we could camp at Camp 3 tomorrow & if we feel good could make an early attempt for the summit, do you fancy it Troels? He is also a runner so obviously said yes, I asked the Porter, Daniel, if there would be a tent at Camp 3, the strong Russian promised there would be. The next day saw five of us set of for Camp 3 under glorious skies & un-roped for the less dangerous slopes leading to Camp 3, two of us to camp, two to Ski back down (Kyle & Ernst) & Georgio for an acclimatisation walk before heading back down to Camp 3. The last 300 metres was seriously steep & we plodded up it slowly but after a little under 5 hours Camp 3 appeared on an exposed & windy knoll at 6,100 metres. There was time to bag the nearby summit of Razdelnaya, at 6,148 metres my new 3rd Highest Peak of my life before Troel’s & I said goodbye to the others & headed for the warmth of our tent. I had carried a bag of over 15Kgs up here with basically anything I lugged up to Camp 2 the day before which would be off use both in the tent & for a summit bid. It allowed us to cook & eat, gave me a good nights sleep but having not originally intending to push for the summit so early my big Down Jacket, Big Mitts & Down Booties were still far below in ABC (simply could not carry everything up in one bag or in one push). The alarm was set for 2:00 am but the wind had already sent us an alarm call, it picked up in the early evening & gave our tent a bit of a pummelling, in truth it wasn’t as strong as it tried to make out but with Troel’s showing concern & with me knowing key bits of kit were not going to be to hand it was an easy decision made at 2:10, we are going down & coming back another day.

Without breakfast, very cold feet, those Down Booties would be welcomed at Camp 3 a week later, we headed down just after sunrise, it was a good decision, a short rest at Camp 2 before we carried on towards ABC, Troel’s was to tire before we got back down through the Crevasse field, we had not been ready but we would soon be back in the safety of ABC having had a good night of acclimatisation at Camp 3 which would prove to stand us in good stead 6 days later.

So endeth Part 1, we came back for more later, will you?

Paul’s Blog – Posted 12/07/17

This’ll be the last you here from me for a while but hopefully no longer than that.

A few thank you’s are due so here goes:-

Firstly to all our customers & in particular to anyone who visited us on Sunday 9th July when we were more or less full from the moment we opened until early evening, you all seemed to wait patiently understanding we were doing our best & working our socks off. We are not quite sure why this particular Sunday was easily our second busiest day ever but if the trend continues there is only one piece of advice I can give. If you are planning to visit us before you head for the hills get here early & with time to spare & use the time before the food comes out to prepare, chat & relax, the hills will wait for a good breakfast to be had.

Secondly to Dorina in particular as well as Gaby, Ady, Nick, Simona, Titi & Rebecca in advance for what they are about to experience in the 4 weeks of my forthcoming trip to Kyrgyzstan, this is extended in turn to John & Marion for their continued support during our busy weekends. I do feel an element of genuine guilt but life has to be lived & I am sure your time will come when you need it most.

Finally to my ex, it was her abuse of my mental state that led me to Cader Idris & so much more that has followed, like me I actually do hope you have found a better place too, life is simply too short not to. My lesson has been clear, it has been learned, I simply want to spread that word, if you are not happy never fear change, embrace it!

Whilst I’m away please don’t forget that we have our next Open MIC Night on 29th July & that throughout July & August we are open from 7:30 am to 8:00 pm (last hot food orders at 7:30 pm) 7 days a week.

Well that’s it, I’m nearly packed & looking forward to two days with Dorina before I go & get rid of some of this nervous energy that’s gurgling inside me, have a great summer, Paul.

Paul’s Blog – Posted 05/07/17

My hectic June has now come & gone, I have survived it in one piece feeling physically pretty good & mentally very pleased with how it went. July started with one more obstacle to overcome, the Moel Siabod Fell Race, before I could finally focus my mind on probably my toughest challenge for the year. I won’t go into the Siabod Race as you should soon be able to see both the results & race report on the WFRA web-site, for those who cannot wait any longer for the results feel free to e-mail me at paul.hodges@hotmail.co.uk & I will send you a copy.

Now to that challenge, PIK Lenin in Kyrgystan, can it really be less than two weeks away having seemingly only recently been accepted as an Expedition team member back in late January, where have the weeks & months gone?

PIK Lenin stands on the border with Kyrgystan & Tajikistan in the Trans Alai Mountain Range, it is a hulk of a mountain topping out at 7,134 metres, not a particularly technical climb by high mountain standards but still 2,000′ higher than I’ve been before. Add to that the fact that this is not an organised trek but a self-organised expedition containing 12 members who mostly didn’t know each other a few months ago & the fact that I’ll need to carry my own supplies from Advance Base Camp onwards it is clearly a climb which introduces several new challenges to me.

Lasting 27 days we hope to be making our summit bid (weather & other factors permitting) after some 20 days of acclimatisation on 4th August. The acclimatisation includes 3 peaks the highest of which is only 12 metres lower than Island Peak, indeed our Camp 4 will be at circa 6,400 metres close to the height of Mera Peak the highest I’ve been thus far. To sleep at this height could be very difficult & that is before you factor in the nervous energy that will be pulsing through my veins.

Of course nothing can be taken for granted, will we find the journey to the mountain to be safe or is it bandit country, will I acclimatise, will we avoid avalanche & crevasse risks, will the weather play ball & will I be up to the task physically & mentally if these other hazards do not step in my way? Questions that can only be answered once I am out there, as they say only time can tell.

I have at least paid quite a lot of detail to my preparation despite other events seemingly getting in my way. I have taken time to meet up & practice with some of the other Expedition members. I have been practising Crevasse rescue techniques with & thanks to Tim Harrop. I have been gradually sourcing the extra kit I need, much more than my initial first thoughts. I have maintained & arguably improved fitness despite a seemingly mad schedule in June & have been adding to my aerobic fitness by continuing a regime of core exercises.

There is still a lot to do, test stove, test high calorie expedition food, pack, re-pack & pack again until the kit fits into the Camp criteria’s but whereas on Sunday I was tense (partly caused by the realisation that my flights were 3 days earlier than I thought, me and Airports…..) I am now feeling focused & more in control of the final lead-in. This state will no doubt fluctuate in the coming days but what an adventure lies ahead.

As ever the support of Dorina in particular allows me to follow my dreams & dessert a busy cafe, if you have to wait for your food during our busy summer periods be as patient as she is with me, it’s only a wait whilst you plan or reflect upon your enjoyment of Snowdonia, not that bad all in all is it.

Have a great summer whatever you’ve got planned.