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Sunday, 1 May 2016

TGO Challenge 2016 - Pre-Walk-Daunder - Part III or "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers!"

There's something odd in the water in Maize Beck. My water bag's first draught had a mosquito flying about inside and a tadpole swimming widths. Phil very kindly scooped me a fresh bag. Since then I've been having very strange dreams. 

MILES & MILES OF IRON COLD STRETCHING TO INFINITY AND BEYOND

The previous evening we very nearly witnessed a schism. The alcoholics fit young things in our party were on the point of mutiny and making a dash for the pub in Dufton. It was only their weak minds and a total lack of leadership that held them back. So they chose to remain, and suffer the rigours of hypothermia, frostbite and slide into a welcomed death with their companions. I would prefer to believe that their forge-hardened decency and ingrained moral code held them back, to remain true to the team. And this is what I shall record in the expedition diary.

I'll let the pictures tell their own ghastly story for a while. 
  
ICE COLD IN ALEX

SIR ANTONY GORMLEY, IN ANOTHER PLACE

THE HERBS AND SHREDS OF PLASTIC AT THE BOTTOM OF THE FREEZER DRAWER

WITH FUEL EXHAUSTED, LORD ELPUS CHUCKED IN SOME YORKSHIRE TEA AND CHEWED THE ICE CUBES.

Leaving the the break-away faction to fill in their shallow grave, the slower set set out for the final push to the last of the supply dumps. Rescue was out of the question and it was with Courage and True British Grit that we headed out off for the edge of the ice shelf.

IT WAS THE CLOSEST I COULD GET TO PUTTING THEM BEHIND BARS.

Pressure was taking its toll. Grown men, explorers of the highest calibre, were cracking under the strain.

ANDY WEEPS WITH FRUSTRATION. PHIL, CORRECTLY, AVOIDS EYE CONTACT.

Imperceptibly, the roar grew louder. And yet louder still. We could sense a mighty drop ahead of us, hidden in the mist and spray. Could it be? Dare we believe it? But more importantly, will it go?

OUR FIRST SIGHTING OF THE MIGHTY NIAGARA. 

ANDY & JAYME ARGUE OVER WHO HAS FIRST GO IN THE BARREL

There is a short and unseemly tussle over who should have first go in the barrel. The Pieman, experienced in such matters, settled the issue by kicking it, empty, over the edge of the yawning abyss. 

CRUELLY, LAS VEGAS HAS STOLEN ALL THE WATER AND THE 'MAID OF THE MIST' IS AGROUND ON THE ROCKS BELOW

In the years since my last visit it transpires that Las Vegas has siphoned off the water that used to leap majestically into wild freefall, for its pulchritudinous vice dens hundreds of miles away on the far side of the vast Gobi Desert. Today Niagara is but a sad trickle, dripping down onto the beached, bleached bones of the broken 'Maid of the Mist' far, far below.

THE AFTERMATH OF EATING YOUR DOWN PILLOW AND FARTING. IT'S NO LAUGHING MATTER

"Last night, I dreamed I ate a ten pound marshmallow. I woke up, and my pillow was gone."

THE CLOUDS OF DOWN SLOWLY CLEAR TO REVEAL YET MORE BLEAKNESS

With the bit firmly between their teeth, the Splitters hurtled down the long icy slope to civilisation and the tea shop at the Stromness Whaling Station. The more measured of our ranks strolled with dignity down the hill, now certain of the team's safety, and revelling in the satisfaction of a mission accomplished with fortitude, against startling odds. I made a note to mention Gerry in dispatches, for his unflinching attention to duty, logging the expedition's progress through thick and thin. Special mention should also be made of Lucky the Dog, whose boundless enthusiasm saw us all home safely. Lucky made it home, replete with all four legs.   

HOLE IN THE WALL PASS, JOHNSON COUNTY, WYOMING

Infamous landmarks came and went as we descended, down and down to the scattered huts, battered by year-round Antarctic blasts that made up the whaling station. The Norwegians were surprised to see us, the world having given us up for dead,  but set-to and provided fried breakfasts fit for kings.

DECORATED REMNANTS OF THE BERLIN WALL. 

Eventually we all made it back home to our loved ones. However, sadly, the story does not end here. The call of duty is strong, and The Challenge is calling once again. In less than a fortnight, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers, will be setting off once again. 

I will leave you with Lord Elpus's rousing speech in the carpark in Dufton.





And for Mr Williams' delight, here's Lord Elpus's rousing encore!

Friday, 29 April 2016

TGO Challenge 2016 PreWalkDaunder: Part 2

I woke to this fabulous view. Okay, it's slightly marred by the Great Dun Fell Radome and a double fence. Nine out of ten Daunderers are camped to one side of this fence, which is the boundary of the Moor House National Nature Reserve, following the bank of the River Tees. The importance of this fence only hit home after I had taken a trip to examine the porcelain as dawn had broken. 

Walking away up the hill, away from the Nature Reserve, I was really taken aback at the sheer number of Fen Traps set across the little stream I was following. They were placed, I would guess, every fifty yards or so. All the traps appeared to be legal, though I did not spot any identification tags. However I also came across two very sturdy but rusty wire snares. I pulled each out of the ground - they were very firmly attached and this took some effort on my part.

It's clear to me that whoever owns or manages this ground has every intention of eliminating any sort of predator whatsoever that will compete with grouse. Shooting grouse - or any animal, come to that - for fun disgusts me to the core, and the elimination of competitive species is equally abhorrent.

IT HAD BEEN A VERY COLD NIGHT

LORD ELPUS FETTLING HIS STOVE FOR A CUPPA

A GLORIOUS START TO THE DAY

We all set off more or less together; Phil & me following Mike & Lucky down the right bank of the Tees, and the rest of the party either bagging a few raised lumps in the surrounding scenery or the left bank of the river. It was a fabulous start to the day with larks, geese and oystercatchers all doing their larky-oystercatchery-goosey things.

I don't recall seeing a single animal trap.

A RIGHT-BANKER

TWO LEFT-BANKERS

COMPETITIVE ANDY

DRY LIMESTONE RIVER BED 

I need to do a bit of digging about this place as Phil & I were positive that the Tees came and went as we followed it downstream. We're sure there's a lot of the Tees underground here in the limestone.

Both Banksters were reunited at the disused mine at the confluence of the Tees and Trout Beck. After lazing about in the sun (and perishing wind) we set off again to plod over Metalband Hill and then clamber up the tussocky hillside up to the path that would take us towards Cow Green. What was noticeable after crossing Crook Burn was that every twenty yards or so up the hill we would cross drainage ditches cut around the side of the hill. 

With my old Engineer's hat on, I'm pretty sure these will not have been cut to speed drainage into the reservoir, as the water will end up there regardless of faster drainage. I may be wrong (and please feel free to correct me in the comments section if I am) but I believe these are cut solely for the drainage of the peatland to make a better habitat for grouse. If it wasn't for the sodding great dam above Cauldron Snout this would make for a much flashier flood hydrograph, with inevitable increase in risk of flooding further downstream. Even with the dam there as a regulator, they will still have to release water sooner than otherwise necessary. 

Of course, if you believe in Man Made Global Warming, draining this peat also leads to massive releases of stored CO2 - not something that the Warmistas would want either. For whatever reason these ditches should be stopped up and left to infill to revert back to a natural peat bog.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: A GREAT PANORAMA: L>R: KNOCK FELL, GREAT DUN FELL, LITTLE DUN FELL & CROSS FELL

There is a magnificent sense of wide open country hereabouts and we were fortunate to see it with the wind and blustery little soft hail and snow showers at our backs. We popped into the estate bothy above Backside Fell for a bit of R&R and shelter. Whoever named things around here had a sense of humour. We had also been camped at Crossgill Pants, and had in view Great Cocklake...

Phil & I strolled over the dam to take the very steep concrete steps down the other side (The clamber over the gate almost ripping the crown jewels from my body  - not that there's any need for them these days.) We were rewarded with an up close and personal view of the wonderful structure. 

I LOVE DAMS.  BRUTAL SIMPLICITY.

By now my wayward left knee was really giving me a hard time and I was probably a bit quiet as we headed southwest, uphill following the Pennine Way alongside Maize Beck. 

GERRY, PETER, JAYME & MAD'N'BAD.

You'll note the new very deep sharp-stoned track behind the old lags. This has been built in a National Nature Reserve. Mike filled me in with some of the ghastly details. Utterly depressing. This used to be a beautiful bouncy-earth (occasionally boggy) peat track which was a delightful surface to walk. Now it's a bloody road.

MIKE & LUCKY THE DOG

CLICK TO ENLARGE

The photo above has been stitched (rather poorly) from two pictures, but it serves well enough to show the very recent muirburn on the northern flanks of Mickle Fell. Again, this is in a National Nature Reserve! WTF?  Feel free to comment about this, but anyone who gives me any "conservation" bollocks will be given very short shrift.

"IT'S NOT A ONESIE!"

We flipped the shelters up past our original destination, (as the Army wanted it for some stupid with a flare gun) alongside Maize Beck before you get to the footbridge. We all found a place to stay and readied ourselves for what promised to be another very cold night indeed. 

LUCKY THE DOG

I've not mentioned Lucky, Mike's wonderful companion, that much so far. He is an astonishingly good little dog, who very generously hauls his man up all the steep bits. But even more wonderfully he is a fantastic waste-disposal unit. Today, I had been carrying the bulk of a reconstituted Adventure Food Chicken Curry (which I thought was pretty tasteless and very boring), but Lucky gave it 10/10. That's an excellent review, Adventure Food! As recommended by Lucky the Dog! Stick that on your packaging and it will sell like hot-cakes! They might not be back to order again, mind...

LUCKY GIVES THE CHICKEN CURRY TOP MARKS

Trinnie Trailstar is a very happy shelter and whisky was passed around and a generally sociable time was had (while I mainly lazed in my rather snug sleeping bag).  Lucky enjoyed curling up inside as well. Mike had to haul him away from his comfortable bliss.



As I dozed off, very cold northerlies were bringing fresh soft hail to rattle against the shelters. It was all quite blissful. And besides, the dreadful walking had stopped, for a while at least.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

TGO Challenge 2016 PreWalkDaunder: Part 1

Scotland's hills are an empty place. Nothing there but from grouse moors and wind turbines. In an effort to match these conditions we choose the Northern Pennines for this year's PreWalkDaunder. Although here we will not find any wind turbines.

NICKED FROM THE DAILY MAIL. CLICK TO ENLARGE

This year's clutch of Daunderers descend upon Dufton from as far south as Croydon, as far east as Holland and from Aberlour, way up north. I haven't done the arithmetic but I would guess that between them they've finished over a hundred Challenges, and with an age range of some forty years.

HOW MANY GROATS TO THE POUND? LAURA'S PICTURE

Shoe-horned into a tiny patch of grass we flip up the shelters and head off to the Stag Inn for the rest of the night. It is warm and comfy in there. It is very cold outside. 

LUCKY THE DOG'S HUMAN (NO - LUCKY ISN'T HUMAN)

OUR CARNIVAL QUEEN

MORPETH, CROYDON, PETER & GERRY

LORD ELPUS

AFTERMATH OF A NASTY ACCIDENT WITH A CHAINSAW

THE LATE RUNNING POOLER MAJOR

EDITED TO REMOVE BEER CAN FROM TOP OF HEAD

BENEATH THAT TABLE THERE ARE SOME VERY SUDDEN TROUSERS

***

Natural Navigators will already have noticed that the shadows in the next picture are cast in a different direction to those of the tents further up this post. Apparently this is because it is now the morning. I'm not a morning person. Some idiot had been belting around the campsite on a very powerful quad-bike since ten past bloody six in the morning and clanging anvils against gigantic sheets of steel, dumped here by the Chinese. Thoughtful. And there are the crows, of course, around about five o'clock. Bloody countryside. How do you post comments on Trip Advisor?

ROOM FOR A FEW MORE?

So what lies ahead? It always looks so easy on the map, but the first day is about thirteen miles with well over three thousand of Her Majesty's imperial feet of uppishness. That's one hell of a lot for a lowlander whose idea of a walk is strolling around Waitrose leaning on a shopping trolley. The second day looks to be around twelve miles in a perishingly cold wind with the uppity bits cleverly concealed in bog and upon dreadfully constructed sharp-stoned roads, built presumably to transport chinless tossers in Range Rovers to go and kill birds for fun. All grisly things come to an end eventually, and the last day will be wonderfully downhill on what I remember to be soft green paths, but we should still suffer cold northerlies with snow showers.

And the nights? They're forecast to be well south of freezing. Deep joy. A bit of a Challenge.

THE ROUTE: CLICK TO ENLARGE

Within half an hour of setting out we're grateful for the views back to the hills of the Lake District, so we can pause to identify old friends. After a few moments it's back to the day job and hauling far too heavy bags up the side of Knock Fell.

LAURA COUNTING CONTOURS

PETER JETTISONING THE HEAVY STUFF

Around about here Young Morpeth (currently well into his eighth decade) decides that he is not yet hill-fit and needs to go back down to the comfort and warmth of the pub. Peter had a triple bypass only a few months back and to get as far as this is frankly very good going indeed. It's going to be a slow recovery, but already he is looking years younger with colour back in his cheeks and a glint back in his eye. In fact he looks a lot perkier than I currently feel. But this is situation normal for the train crash that is my frame.

PHIL'S PICTURE: HARD WORK FOR A FLATLANDER, CLAMBERING UP KNOCK FELL

By now our unwieldy group of ten remaining Daunderers have split fairly naturally into the capable and incapable. I nail my colours to the mast of the latter group. And speaking of masts we notice the twin masts of Shackleton's HMS Endurance, dragged up the hill by Naval Cadets in the fifties and given a ceremonial partial burial at the top. These days the old girl's masts are used to house aerials so folk down in Dufton can have a decent TV picture. 

The large white dome is a more recent addition, added by Richard Branson as a memorial to one of his aborted balloon sorties. It does have dual use - inside are six mezzanine floors of Eastern European call-centre workers.

JUST THE MASTS REMAINING OF HMS ENDURANCE. A DOME MARKS THE SITE OF THE WRECK.

It's a cracking roller-coaster of a walk from Knock Fell, over Great Dun Fell, Little Dun Fell and up onto Cross Fell. And today we have views in every direction. The first time I was here (1976, with Bob Butler) it was a blizzard and we saw sod-all. The second time was on my LEJOG in 2007, in thick very cold cloud.

It's a surprisingly big flat top with a brand new shelter incorporating the dome of the mosque dismantled brick by brick and rebuilt with care here many years later, after they flooded Cow Green reservoir.

THE NORTHERN LAKE DISTRICT. CAN YOU SPOT TERRY ABRAHAM?


THE PIEMAN

ALISTAIR SITS ON THE  ROOF. THE BULK OF THE MOSQUE IS UNDERGROUND

It's a delightful yomp, mercifully downhill, to collect the stumbly track to Greg's Hut. To the north and east there is nothing but moorland stretching away forever.



OBVIOUSLY NO DRESS CODE ON THE INVITE...

Greggs Hut (wrongly spelled as Greg's on the OS maps) is believed to be the very first location of the massive Greggs business now found in every town centre. Unfortunately, Mike Knipe is at the head of the queue and scoffs the last of the Pies. By the time the rest of us arrive it is past closing time and the counter staff have nipped off to the party back at the Great Dun Fell Pleasure Dome. 

It's a cracking location, but I think the Damp Proof Course needs attention.

GREGGS PIE SHOP


MAD'N'BAD WINS THE PRIZE FOR PRETTIEST HAT - A WHALE CONDOM.

NO ONE WANTS TO LEAVE BUT THERE'S A FAIR CHANCE IT WILL BE WARMER IN THE FREEZING WIND OUTSIDE.

It's a lovely stroll above Skirwith Fell before we turn right and drop down to just beneath 2,000 feet to flip the tents up in the last of the sunshine in a field of thistles alongside the headwaters of the River Tees.

TEN PITCHED IN THE THISTLES NEXT TO THE INFANT TEES

This feels like a very big place. It's wonderfully quiet with just curlew, larks and geese for company. Hip flasks are passed about the place as the sun sinks below the shoulder of Cross Fell and the temperature drops like a stone. Snuggling into the luxuriousness of my winter bag I'm soon away with the faeries.

EIGHT OUT OF TEN IN THE LAST OF THE SUNSHINE