Monday, 24 March 2008

Rich again...

An Easter break in Cornwall, visiting parents and dipping tootsies in the sea, saw me try a couple of runs but there is something wrong with the roads down there - they all seem to be very steep! I really noticed it in my legs and didn't get anywhere near as far as I had wanted to. Add into that the choco-fest that is Easter and suddenly the 2 weeks until we go to Wales doesn't look long enough. I hope Karl is feeling as fat and unfit as me or I could be in for a shoeing...

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Well, I seem to have recovered from the stomach bug and 2 of the lost 4lbs have gone back on, which is still a victory as I see it. Put another short run in at a decent pace and it was okay, but it seems each time brings a new ache - this time in the arch of my right foot. Luckily, some really bad storms have hit the UK and running looks rather unattractive. So I shall break out the bike and turbo trainer and sit on that for an hour. It's a great way of getting your heart rate up and down, only it can get a bit dull - but that's what iPods are for, right?

Started pushing the website now (thanks James at KentLyons) and the money has started to come in. Two things have struck me. First, we are doing this for real - this is real money, that people are really giving (and therefore going without) that is really going to help children and families like us. Second, people's capacity for kindness and generosity is, as far as I can tell, bottomless. I am deeply humbled by their commitment and I hope that they know it...

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Karl here...

Not been into much exercise since I hung up my rugby boots as Ireland had overlooked me for selection, but given the impending challenge I’d been jogging a few times every week since Christmas so was pretty sure I’d cope ok during the first of 2 planned training weekends prior to attempting Mont Blanc. 22nd Feb I flew in from Paris and met Rich and his friend Nick before heading up to Bridge of Orchy, where we were staying in a bunk-house.

After a very interrupted night’s sleep, between the frog-chorus snoring and the rain on the window, then a huge Scottish fry-up, we got our gear on and headed out into the horizontal rain. We hadn’t gone very far on the very wet, boggy ground before it became clear my boots had lost whatever waterproofness they ever had – to be honest they looked more like trainers next to Rich and Nicks’ professional kit. The low cloud meant we couldn’t see to far ahead but Rich had his map out and led us up to Coire an Dothaidh. We were aiming for the summit of Beinn Dorain but the weather was awful so we decided to head over the saddle in search of some snow for some winter-skills training.

We saw some deer and an arctic hare on the way up, plus Nick rescued a sheep which was stuck in a bog; all grateful distractions from the rain constantly hitting your face. We found a slope with some snow and spent some time practicing stopping with the ice axe if you fall, and walking in crampons, before heading back down over the saddle and down towards the valley floor. The highlight of the morning for me was watching Rich demonstrating how to jump a stream and ending up in the fast flowing water to his waist; shame I didn’t have a video camera as Jeremy Beadle would have loved it…

We then headed to the climbing wall in Kinlochleven where Rich taught us some basic climbing skills, after which we watched Ireland beat Scotland in the Six Nations. Headed back to Bridge of Orchy for a massive serving of haggis whilst watching England beat France (in a bar full of Frenchmen…)

After another night of snoring, this time enhanced by some pretty strange aromas in the room, and another big fry-up we headed north to Glencoe and started walking up towards Coire nan Lochan on The Three Sisters. The rain had stopped and I was finding that my new mountain boots purchased in Kinlochleven were a great investment. As we reached the Coire, above the snowline, the cloud came in and snow started swirling around. We found a bit of cliff and Rich set-up some ropes for Nick and I to do some climbing – scrambling might be a better name for it.

After some food we got the crampons and ice-axes out and headed up a gully just to the east of the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan. When the angle got to about 45 degrees, Rich got the ropes out and we roped up, belaying each other up the rest of the gully. It took 4 belays to reach the summit ridge, the gully getting steeper up to about 70 degrees just below the summit. I’m glad we were doing this now in Feb rather than closer to July when we go to Mont Blanc as after some of the belay ascents, where you’re moving each hand and foot in turn to try to stay secure on the steep snow and ice, I was pretty knackered.

The rate that the weather can change up there is amazing, one minute it’s clear enough to see all the way to Ben Nevis, the next it’s a complete blizzard. It was 4pm when we were on the summit ridge at 1080m and we needed to get off the hill before dark. We headed down the ridge and across a snowfield back down to the Coire. We made good time heading down the track back towards the road, pausing to appreciate the amazing scenery and beautiful evening glow on the rocks across the valley, and were back in the car for 6pm, tired and smelly but very happy with a good day’s work.

All in all, I felt really good at the end of it, with a few creaky joints and knowledge that I need to get fitter. Bring on our next trip to North Wales in April!

Couple of 5 mile runs last weekend were pretty hard work, and I’m struggling to find time during the week. Might have to get a personal trainer…
Done a few gentle runs to see what effect the weekend away has had - the first one hurt like hell but the second was much better. Then succumbed to the stomach bug that has gone through the family and have lost 4 pounds overnight. There goes any hope of running in the next few days - mind you, if I weigh less, will I go faster? Perhaps some Lucozade will help...

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Rich here...
Started running again in the New Year, being very wary of the dodgy achilles tendon in my right ankle. Felt a bit stiff (must be my age!) as the miles built up but as our first trip away got closer, the number of runs decreased as the distance increased. With a week or two to go, a hilly 8 miles was taking an hour and felt pretty good - although my ankle is a definite concern!

Also started to review gear - I need two of everything, so started borrowing as much as I can from mates (thanks Julian!) and buying things that I think I'll end up reusing. Getting a bit fed up with Ebay as people keep out bidding me but ends up being just as cheap for brand new gear a lot of the time! Not sure how they do that but they seem to be really cheap. Had a problem with helmets but found a great place at where I could hire some very cheaply. Good stuff.

A trip to Glencoe was planned and travel ended up being nicely complicated. A lift to East Midlands airport with a friend and his wife, fly to Edinburgh, hire a car, wait for Karl to arrive from Paris with his wife and son, squash everyone and everything into the car (thanks goodness we got an upgrade - thanks, drop them off at Falkirk and drive to the Bridge of Orchy (via legendary fish and chip shop in Callendar, complete with Hungarian waitresses). Packing climbing gear for a flight is always a challenge, especially on the budget airlines. 20kg and 1 bag in the hold proved impossible, so paid to have 2 bags in the hold and put anything that was heavy but blunt in my carry-on luggage (and put my mountain boots on!). Ended up spot on 20kg in the hold but was nearly thwarted as Nick tried to take his crampons through security and onto the plane. They said no.

The weather as we drove up the A82 was grim - windy and squally showers, which in the dark on unfamiliar roads in a hire car is always fun. 'Nevermind' on the CD player though and we made it alive, despite my driving. The Bridge of Orchy Hotel ( has an excellent bunk house next to it, complete with drying room and is in the middle of nowhere. A good choice, as the next morning we were on the hill for 8:30am, heading east up to the col between Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh in the driving rain and gusting winds, pausing only to haul a stranded sheep out of a bog.

Once in the lee slightly south of the col, we found a decent patch of snow on which to practice ice axe arrests. Before going anywhere serious or steep, I had to have confidence that Karl could get himself out of trouble as quickly and easily as he could get himself into trouble! Once you overcome the initial alien feeling of deliberately throwing yourself down a snow slope, it is actually fairly easy - you just have to keep a cool head. Karl got it no problem, although found out why so many winter climbers wear salopettes as his topped filled up with snow! A quick look at crampons and two things became obvious - firstly, Karl needed a decent pair of boots and second, he needed to get step in crampons. Other than that, our first piece of learning was a success. Being thoroughly wet from the rain, we returned to the hotel, pausing only to watch me fall in a small but surprisingly fast flowing river. What a nimble footed mountain goat I am.

In the afternoon, we drove up to Kinlochleven to the indoor climbing centre The Ice Factor ( A well equipped shop solved Karl's boot problem, the harnesses came out and we got on the walls. Being able to put on a harness, tie in safely and belay well is mandatory for Karl so we practiced for a few hours, which also allowed Karl to discover the muscles on the inside of the forearms, just below the elbow. Not ones non-climbers use very often, so to find them aching suddenly was a bit of a shock. Luckily it didn't affect his ability to hold a pint while we watched Ireland beat Scotland in the 6 Nations in the bar.

A return to the hotel and another cold one was waiting for us while we ordered haggis and mash and settled in to watch the France - England match. Weirdly enough the bar filled with Frenchmen and as the best haggis I have ever had disappeared, it became clear they were on a canoing trip. Fortunately the English pack wore the French down and a late try from the new scrum half Wigglesworth sealed the victory. Phew. An early-ish night and a night of unheard snoring followed...

Up and on the road for 8:30 on Sunday morning and the wind seemed to have dropped a bit, the lashing rain had eased and the temperature had dropped - all good signs. We parked next to the helipad in Glencoe and started up the steep pull into Coire nan Lochan. Karl's new boots didn't seem to be causing any problems, but his lungs did - a pack full of climbing gear and a steep path is guaranteed to get you puffing. An hour and 40 minutes later and we were on level ground at the head of the Coire.

From there we had a great view of the summit crags of Stob Coire nan Lochan, the day's objective. We found a small buttress and set up a fixed rope so the boys could get used to the feeling of climbing wearing all their winter gear over rocks covered in snow, ice, dirt and heather - a bit different from the nice colour-coordinated holds of the indoor centre! A quick abseil with a prusik safety ensured that if things got gnarly on the steeper ground, we could back off in relative safety.

Then we had a bite to eat and set off for the bottom of one of the gullies that leads to the summit. The ground got steeper, the snow turned to some great nevee and we roped up by a small rock outcrop. Having seen the discomfort moving on rock had caused, I picked a line that stayed on the snow and ran out a couple of rope lengths. Karl belayed admirably and Nick followed on, clearly enjoying himself. As we approached the summit we were hit by some fairly nasty swirling winds, but they only lasted a few minutes and after four pitches (including one unpleasant belay off two axe placements when the rope wasn't long enough to reach a rock outcrop) we pulled over the steep (about 70 degrees) top of the gully and looked back at the journey we had made. It was a little after 4pm, we had the place virtually to ourselves and the view was something else.

Moving East, we descended over broken ground, taking great care over our foot placements as most accidents happen on the descent, until we could turn North and rapidly descend the long and easy snow slopes that took us back the Corie floor, which we reached around 5pm. Stowing the climbing gear, we slipped our headtorches into our pockets (just in case) and stomped off to the valley, reaching the car at 6pm, just as the light started to fail. A drive back to Falkirk to drop Karl off and a night in a Premier Inn saw us dropping the hire car off early the next day and a delayed flight back to East Midlands. My wife picked us up and I was at my desk working away before I knew what was happening. Blimey.