Stepping off the bus in Chamonix on a sunny June morning I did the first thing any sensible mountaineer would do. I went and got myself a good cup of coffee. My trip to Chamonix and the French Alps started a few months earlier when my colleague Andy asked me if I would supervise a DofE Gold group on their assessed expedition to the Alps. After a milliseconds deliberation I gave the obvious answer of yes!
I arrived in Chamonix in June in order to carry out the pre-expedition risk assessment. My plan was over four days to walk the route that the group had planned, check their campsites, find water sources, identify hazards and familiarise myself with the area. Their planned basecamp was in les Praz de Chamonix. From here I set out walking through a mix of forests and meadows heading gradually and then steeply uphill to the Col de Balme. Situated on the French/Swiss border at altitude of 2191 m the Col de Balme offers amazing views of Mont Blanc. Waking up in the early morning light to a stunning view of the highest mountain in the Alps was simply awesome…
Over the following days I continued checking out and risk assessing the planned expedition route. My days were a mix of forests, steep ascents on well-made mountain paths, coffees in small bars, and sleeping beneath the stars. My accommodation was a British army Gore-Tex bivvy bag that I had bought for £20 at least 10 years ago. On the fourth day of my trip as I entered the Col de Brevent I saw the cutest creature…a marmot! With a happy heart I continued to the summit of le Brevent, at 2525 m the highest point on the expedition. After a lunch of vegetarian lasagne served in the café that the French had cunningly built I walked the last few hours back down into Chamonix. A long coach journey brought me back to England I wrote up my expedition risk assessment, gave feedback to the DofE group on their planned route and completed the DofE paperwork.
Fast forward to August I found myself at Gatwick airport travelling with a great Gold group; Frankie, Hamish, Tom and James. After a day acclimatising and food shopping in Chamonix the group set out on their four day expedition. Despite some unseasonably cold and inclement weather the group absolutely smashed their expedition. They did exactly what a successful Gold group needs to do. They got their heads down, walked through forests and over mountains and had what was a life enhancing experience. Back in Chamonix after four days we all enjoyed ice creams whilst sitting in the Alpine sunshine.
If you wish to buy maps of The Alps we would recommend going to Stanfords
In 2014 Mountain Training (The national governing body of mountaineering instructor qualifications in the UK) launched a couple of personal proficiency courses called Hill Skills and Mountain Skills.
Lupine applied to be a provider of these courses and succeeded in being approved. They are great courses to both attend and to run. In August I ran a course in Ambleside for 3 guys. The format of the course is very basically...
- Meet in a cafe and talk about weather forecasting and some navigation theory.
- Go for a walk to do some practical navigation training and cover some other areas of the syllabus.
- Come off the hill at about 5 pm and 'freshen up' then meet in a cafe or pub (or go straight to the cafe / pub and carry on).
- In the cafe get out the guidebooks and maps and work out where we are going to go the next day.
- Go for a walk. The walk will hopefully take in a peak and a bit of time on steep ground and some time off the footpaths. We'll also cover other areas of the syllabus not covered on day 1.
Day 2 is great, it is what makes it a fantastic job to work on. Each time I have done this course we have gone somewhere new to me. While I have usually climbed the hill that we choose we'll always get there via a route that I haven't done before as it is up to the participants to decide where to go and the route taken. I think that too often I return to the same places as I know that it is beautiful and I will enjoy the walk rather than seeking out new adventures.
On this particular course we came down off Harrison Stickle in Langdale on a path alongside Dungeon Ghyll marked by a black dotted line on the 1:25000 map rather than a green dotted 'public footpath'. What a path. It is tiny and fairly exposed with the canyon of the upper reaches of the Ghyll on the left.
If you would like to book on a hill skills course or a mountain skills course our latest courses are listed on our hill and mountain skills page.
We also have a site dedicated to the Hill and Mountain Skills scheme with a bit more information
Glencoe, famous for its big mountains and infamous for the massacre of 1692 was the venue for Lupine’s 2015 vegetarian and vegan walking holiday. We arrived on the afternoon of Saturday 9 May and found our cottage in the pretty village of Ballachulish. We welcomed back some regular and much loved guests; Adrian, Frank, Sheila, Tony and Wendy. We also met Chris, a mountain leader based in the Cairngorms who was working for Lupine on a walking holiday for his first time. Chris is vegan, an amazing cook and leader and is perhaps the only vegan in the town of Kingussie?
On Sunday morning we set out to scramble and walk up School House Ridge with the aim of claiming two fine Munros, Sgorr Dhearg (1024 m) and Sgorr Dhonuill (1004 m). Strengthening winds and low visibility caused our intrepid guides (Chris and Dave) to change the plan and we rerouted to the summit ridge of Sgorr a’Choise (663 m).
On subsequent days we headed up Glencoe and climbed up past the late lying snow to summit Stob Coire Raineach (925 m), Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (967 m), the Pap of Glencoe (742 m) and Meall Lighiche (772 m) before returning for a second (triumphal) traverse of the Ballachulish Horseshoe. After walking up the heavily forested and amazingly beautiful Gleann a’ Chaolais we climbed past the aptly named Dragon’s Tooth before summiting Sgorr Dhonuill (1004 m), Sgorr Dhearg (1024 m) and finally Sgorr Bhan (947 m).
On an evening we ate great food, with Chris proving himself to being an amazing vegan cook. We took a trip down to the famous Clachaig Inn. Luckily we had nobody with the name Campbell in the group as the Clachaig bans anyone with that family name from entering. Google the Glencoe massacre and you will find out why. It seems that theScots have long memories! We also drank a celebratory glass of wine and beer or two to celebrate the news that Frank and Sheila were getting married later in 2015.
After a great week we had to pack up and drive south. Chris drove east towards the Cairngorms National Park. We will hopefully be seeing and working with Chris again as the venue for our 2016 vegetarian and vegan walking holiday is the Cairngorms National Park.
The last weekend in August saw Lupine supervising and assessing groups of Gold Duke of Edinburgh participants from a school in London. They started in the valley of Borrowdale, which serves as a great starting point for many of the other beautiful valley’s the Lakes has to offer… This proved a bit of a problem however regarding their route choices; my Gold practice group had tried to fit in everything, jumping to Wasdale to Langdale to Buttermere and all the mountains in between, and unfortunately most days had to be altered as their routes proved too long. A good learning point for those with assessments coming up however.
The start of expedition was frequent heavy rain showers and strong winds, making it feel almost like winter! They arrived at Wasdale Head campsite just before they changed the sign to FULL, as this site doesn’t take bookings. The group had done very well and were good at navigating in the low cloud conditions we experienced on top of Green Gable. An easier second day was had to avoid their original plan of Scafell Pike, which was a shame, but not a good idea with the threat of thunder and lightning…it’s always important to have an escape route planned!
A long third day saw the group setting up an impromptu Wild camp, which they were well prepared for and enjoyed a lovely starry evening in the mountains, improving their view on wild camping somewhat!
It finished off with glorious sunshine for their last day, which was a nice ending to an otherwise typical Lake district weather experience, and a chance for me to enjoy a last ice cream before the end of Summer! Overall a great few days with these young people getting them prepared for their assessments coming up.
Never have I been so glad of my midge net…note to self; next time carry spare midge nets to make forever grateful friends of those who have forgotten!
Apart from the midges however, it was a fantastic setting for these ambitious Air Cadets to challenge themselves on their Silver and Gold expeditions, which Lupine trained, supervised and assessed for 4 days in the last week of August.
The groups of young people were well prepared and their navigation was generally very good. The main problems they came across however were down to the nature of the Highland terrain and the fact that it is all open access. It is great that we are free to roam anywhere in the mountains and valleys of Scotland, however it does require a good knowledge of the terrain so as to plan appropriate routes, given there are very few footpaths marked on maps and indeed in reality on the ground. This is something we therefore put a lot of focus on to help improve their route choices and planning for future expeditions. Some of the main points they learnt were to do with Safe River Crossings, and to have alternatives when it is not safe to do so, as many small streams marked on maps can become raging torrents within a few hours of heavy rainfall, which is not uncommon in the Highlands! Coming across 7ft tall deer fences were another issue when the groups originally planned their routes, as there are infrequently gates/stiles where you want them to be. Last but not least, yomping through knee high heather up steep mountains with a heavy expedition pack takes it’s toll, and unless you’re a super fit SAS type you’re not going to keep 4km/hr up! Having said that, although they set themselves a tough challenge, taking in 24km a day generally, including some mighty munros, and not to mention wild camping every night, they managed and succeeded very well and I was genuinely impressed with their achievements.
On Sunday Trev and Charlie took a group of 15 participants from AGE UK around the route of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks.
They set off at 08:10 and it quickly became apparent that there was a wide range of experience within the group. Some were regular hill walkers and some had a lot less experience. The group quickly split with Charlie taking the fastest 10 and Trev bringing up the rear with 5. They continued around the route pretty much in this formation with 9 of the lead group of 10 completing the route in under 11 hours (some even raced off ahead on the last peak and just missed a 10 hour time).
Andrew Fearnley from Age UK Calderdale & Kirklees had these kind words to say regarding the day.
"Both Charlie and Trev showed good leadership skills and were very helpful to all members of Team Age UK. I have no hesitation in recommending Lupine Adventure Co-op and the excellent service they provide, to any other group who are doing a similar challenge event."
If you are interested in running a sponsored walk around the Yorkshire 3 Peaks (or other areas) then take a look at our sponsored events and challenges pages. If you are organising a big event we have a specific charity event organisers page too.
Return of the Reds!
Last year while waiting at a checkpoint for a group walking the Yorkshire 3 Peaks I watched a squirrel run along the top of a dry stone wall, just a few metres away from me, and then disappear out of sight.
There would be nothing particularly unusual about this except that this looked like a red squirrel, and I’d thought that there were no red squirrels in these parts. Maybe, I thought, it was in fact a grey with a reddish coat (coat colour varies a lot within both species and often causes confusion). A few minutes later the squirrel ran past again and this time there was no mistaking it; the tufts on its ears stood out clearly, and grey squirrels do not have ear tufts. This was a red.
Red squirrel numbers in the UK have been in decline since the 19th century when the larger grey squirrel was introduced to this country from America. In Yorkshire, as far as I knew, they were limited to areas further north and west than my sighting, though it seems that they have been spreading. Perhaps my sighting was a one-off (I have heard stories of squirrels being captured by gardeners and then released some miles away, which could explain my sighting, whilst also being a problem when greys are released into areas still populated by reds), but perhaps not. Reports of sightings in Yorkshire have been on the rise since records began in the late 1990s, and conservation work is now being carried out at several sites in the Yorkshire Dales including Wensleydale.
There are many reasons to walk the Yorkshire 3 Peaks (not to mention any number of other walks in the area), and any number of plant and animal species and other sights of interest en-route. Let’s hope that red squirrels are soon added to the list.
Red Squirrels Northern England is a conservation organisation active in the north of England. If you see a red squirrel then they want to hear about it. http://www.rsne.org.uk/
Lots of information about the Yorkshire Three Peaks and surrounding area: http://www.yorkshire3peaks.org.uk/
Lupine Adventure’s Yorkshire Three Peaks page: http://www.lupineadventure.co.uk/sponsored-events/yorkshire-3-peaks-sponsored-event.html
A road sign from Paterdale in the Lake District. Let's hope these become a sight on the roads of Yorkshire.