(Tour du Mont Blanc) Sunset over the Aiguille Verte and Dru, Chamonix

Alpine Exploratory's Blog - Reports from our recces, and more

Alpine Pass Route in October

Posted on Monday, 11 December 2017 . Permalink

 A first view of the pass. The APR goes over the minor col to the right of the main one.. on the horizon. What looks very snowy from below.. in fact made for good walking to the col. The route passes under slopes above and this will be a consideration for any groups.

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West Highland Way (2017 recces)

Posted on Tuesday, 27 June 2017 . Permalink

Suze Connolly made our 2017 recces on the West Highland Way, taking a few trips to and from the route. This included the ferry across Loch Lomond, always a fine way to travel!

Bluebell woods
Glengoyne on the way to Drymen
Loch Lomond
Ferns above Loch Lomond, near Ardlui
Refreshments and honesty box, a feature of the WHW
A Wee Treat To Help Along The Way
The feral goats near Rowardennan
Wild garlic
Towards Ardlui and Inverarnan
Stock up!
Setting off from Tyndrum, the WHW passes under Beinn Dorain

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Pete summits Chimborazo!

Posted on Friday, 13 February 2015 . Permalink

Following on from his climb of Everest and completion of the Seven Summits in 2012, Alpine Exploratory team member Pete Ellis has been out in the mountains again. This time, a two week trip to Ecuador climbing volcanoes, the principle aim being to climb Chimborazo, 6268m. Due to the equatorial bulge, this summit is the farthest point from the centre of the earth, approximately 2km further than the summit of Everest.

Pete Ellis at the summit of Chimborazo

After a 3 day acclimatisation trek, Imbabura, 4634m, was the first volcano to be tackled. Being without glaciers, this was relatively straightforward with some simple scrambling being the only technical difficulty. This was following by the glaciated Cayambe, 5790m, in poor weather. Whilst the rest of the group had a rest day in Quito, Pete took himself off to climb Pichincha, 4784m.

The final two peaks involved 11pm departures and climbing through the night to make the best of the snow conditions. Cotopaxi, 5896m, was done in another night of poor weather: low cloud and strong winds resulted in the climbers being coated in a thick layer of ice. The reward came on Chimborazo, with perfect climbing conditions for the 1500m ascent: a full moon and many stars visible, including the Southern Cross and The Plough. After 7 hours climbing, the summit was reached just as the sun was rising above the horizon, and another climbing ambition was realised.

Summit view! On Chimborazo

Tour du Mont Blanc (Guided) - join Pete on the TMB from 31 August to 14 September 2015

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Team members at the BAIML AGM weekend

Posted on Saturday, 13 December 2014 . Permalink

Stewart MacKenzie, Keith Miller and Pete Ellis in the Lake District, 7 December 2014
(Pete writes:) Five members of the Alpine Exploratory team recently joined 100 other International Mountain Leaders at the Annual General Meeting and Dinner of the British Association of International Mountain Leaders held in the Lake District. As well as the formal meeting and dinner, two days were spent refreshing skills and gaining new knowledge on some of the extensive range of courses on offer. A great week-end, and a good chance to catch up with mountain colleagues. The photo shows Stewart, Keith and Pete at the end of a day looking at Lakeland geology in typical wintry weather: a strong cold wind with bursts of sleet every half hour - a far cry from the usual warm and sunny conditions that we experience on our Alpine holidays.

People - more about the team!

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Anna-Maria on the CTC: Part 2 of 3

Posted on Friday, 27 June 2014 . Permalink

(Anna-Maria writes:) This was my second week on the Coast to Coast. After a first week reviewing the middle stretch from Kirkby Stephen to Danby Wiske (days 7 to 10 of the full trek), I picked up where I had left off a few weeks earlier, walking through to the east coast and Robin Hood’s Bay (days 11-14 of the full trek).

Introducing the Coast to Coast – Eastern stretch
The Coast to Coast is one of my favourite and most frequently recommended long distance routes in the UK. When people ask me which long distance footpath I enjoy most, my mind always returns to this one because of its many changes of scenery.

Of all those changes of scenery my favourite, by far, is the Yorkshire Moors. I love the rolling open scenery found on this particular stretch of moorland, especially during the first couple of days. These are days featuring wide views of colourful heather and a characterful inland cliff with fabulous rock formations.

On the edge of the North York Moors.

When I was last reviewing this section of the route, in 2012, the country was under attack from gale-force winds and had just suffered from a spate of flooding. I was hoping for better weather this time and an opportunity to enjoy the open moorland. In particular, this would be my first time seeing it when the heather was not in flower.

Danby Wiske to Osmotherley
This was a gentle start to the route, finishing the flat crossing between the Yorkshire Dales and the Yorkshire Moors, which had begun at Richmond. As I set out I was treated to a promising clear, deep blue sky with a warm sun. I wasn’t disappointed either – this glorious weather held up until long after I had reach my destination for the day. To match the summery weather, the songbirds were out in force, including a persistent cuckoo, which seemed to pursue me along my final climb through the woods at the end of the day.

Tall trees on the way to Osmotherley.

There was plenty to keep me busy on the reviewing front. As well as basic changes, like the removal of old stiles, a footpath had been closed where it crosses a railway line without any diversion being put in place.

In many ways this footpath closure was inevitable. The crossing of the railway line here is a definite safety issue. There is no bridge or tunnel and the stones placed around the tracks can make it easy to lose your footing and stumble as you cross this fast line. The new route I’ve written for Alpine Exploratory, using the nearby level crossing, is a much safer alternative.

Osmotherley to Clay Bank Top
This was the day I had been looking forward to. The terrain over this western section of the North Yorkshire Moors is different to any moorland already seen on the Coast to Coast. This is moorland that is wide and relatively flat with broad open views and periodic drops down into narrow valleys that cut across the moorland. The moor here is crossed on an excellent track, often laid with flagstones. The track follows an edge like an inland cliff, which allows long and distant views to the north over low, agricultural land, and simultaneously a sharp contrast with almost equally distant views south over the rolling expanse of heather.

Sadly the weather closed in a little so that the distant views were hazy with cloud and, through the afternoon a gently cooling drizzle fell. However, it was still an enjoyable day’s walk.

On the escarpment of the North York Moors, the plain of Teesdale to the left and the moors to the right.

I was pleased to find that the Lord Stones Café has reopened this year after being closed through the 2013 season for refurbishment work. The old café has been replaced with a smart new walker-friendly restaurant and shop where I was able to take a welcome break from the cool, damp weather and treat myself to a hot meal and pot of tea.

Clay Bank Top to Blakey Ridge
Any remaining luck I had with the weather finally broke overnight. I woke to semi-heavy rain. As I climbed up onto the moors again, the rain lifted to a gentle drizzle and warm breeze. Thankfully this is an easy day for terrain with none of the ups and downs that the previous day so it was possible to avoid any “boil-in-the-bag” situations – the unpleasant sensation of getting wetter inside your waterproofs than out when tackling steep ascents. Instead, after the initial climb, the route flattens out and takes a delightfully gentle, wide and sandy track all the way to the solitary and exposed Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge.

For the first couple of hours the temperature warmed slightly and the rain eased to persistent spray. In this way I wandered across the moor, frequently stopping to watch the moorland birds. There were large numbers of curlews and meadow pipits in evidence everywhere this week. I also confess to giving way to my inner child – splooshing through the middle of the largest and deepest puddles. After all I couldn’t get any wetter than I already was. After that the rain got heavier, the wind started blowing hard and the temperature dropped by several degrees, chasing me into my refuge for the night.

Blakey Ridge to Grosmont
Foolishly, I had hoped for an improvement in the weather but it was not to be. I was one of a large number of walkers setting out from the Lion Inn in the morning. As we looked out at the bleak grey clouds, obscured visibility and applied all our layers of waterproofing, we commiserated with each other, enjoying the shared camaraderie of the route.

This was, thankfully, a simple day. Despite the cold wind driving heavy rain into my face throughout the morning, I was able to squelch my way across the moorland on paths that started as boggy slime before switching to rough, rocky tracks. Compared to the previous day’s easy, sandy tracks, the tracks on this day are far less friendly to those with tired or blistered feet. I did see many opting to miss out the boggiest of the moor paths though, instead taking the longer route around the moor on the road.

The stone bridge, in Egton Bridge, that crosses the River Esk.

Much later, as I passed through Arnecliff Wood, a stunning stretch of woodland, the rain lifted. Suddenly every possible shade of green glistened brightly and scents of damp woodland assaulted my senses, making up for the slimy mud underfoot that threatened to fell me with every step. It is the moments like this that make walking such a special activity for me.

Grosmont to Robin Hood’s Bay
My final day began early, leaving before breakfast to ensure I arrived at Robin Hood’s Bay before the transfer bus left. This is a day of constantly changing scenery, with open moorland that gives way to a wonderful stretch of woodland, a brief stretch of wetter moor, and finally coastal walking. It was a day to enjoy, notwithstanding the early start I’d made.

The rain had stopped, and lid of cloud finally cleared at lunchtime. The sun even made a full blue-skied appearance for my final 6km round the coast path. Despite all this though, the theme of the day was very definitely mud.

After trekking across the first stretch of moor on a road and seeing my only pair of peewits of the week (also known as lapwings) I dropped down into Little Beck Woods. Here the mud assailed me and I slimed and slid my way with difficulty over the next 3.5km through this beautiful woodland. It was nothing compared to the final moor crossing though – a notoriously wet stretch, even in the driest weather. I was treated to moments when I sank nearly to my knees in the bog-weed as I crossed the marshy terrain.

The path in woods becomes a muddy challenge.

All of this toil was quickly forgotten as I walked along the final coastal stretch. It is an uncharacteristically flat stretch of coastline with high views over mud flats and the sea and was in full colour with the gorse glowing bright and yellow, making a strong contrast to the blue sea and sky and emerald coastal grasses.

A glimpse of Robin Hood's Bay, with its beach at low tide, from the final coastal miles into the village.

Looking forward
I’m taking over a month off the Coast to Coast now before returning to walk the very start. In mid-July I will be walking from the west cost at St Bees, across the width of the Lake District to Kirkby Stephen.

Have you walked the Coast to Coast before? If so, what is your favourite section? Do you also love the wideness of the Yorkshire Moors or are you a fan of the rugged Lake District? Let me know through the Alpine Exploratory Facebook page!

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On the Coast to Coast: Part 1 of 3

Posted on Friday, 30 May 2014 . Permalink

(Anna-Maria writes:) It has been six months since I finished last year’s reviews with a sodden stretch of the Pennine Way in the Peak District at the end of October. Usually I would start reviewing again in March but I was glad to have waited until relatively late this year before starting again. May often brings stable weather in the UK and as I had hoped I was treated to a little warmth in the wind and plenty of dry days.

This first reviewing week saw me returning to the Coast to Coast to review the middle stretch from Kirkby Stephen to Danby Wiske (days 7 to 10 of the full trek).

Open walking high above Swaledale

Introducing the Coast to Coast
The Coast to Coast is one of my favourite and most frequently recommended long distance routes in the UK. When people ask me which long distance footpath I enjoy most my mind always returns to this one because of its many changes of scenery.

Last year’s review of the Pennine Way introduced me to a wider variety of different moorlands than I had previously appreciated could be found in the UK. Ultimately, though, all moorland does have a similarity. In comparison, the Coast to Coast broadly splits into three very different sections as it crosses three of the UK’s National Parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors.

Each of these National Parks looks gloriously different. It prevents any boredom building up from walking through similar scenery day after day for an extended period of time. Instead the views change completely just as you become accustomed to them.

The Lake District grasses are tough, clinging onto the rocks of the crags, but still glowing with a pale green. The craggy rocks here give the land a distinctive lumpy appearance that can be recognised instantly.

Crossing into the Yorkshire Dales the lumps melt away and the hills become lower, smooth and rolling. Classic English countryside. Meanwhile the colour changes too. The grass, now on thick and fertile peat, becomes a deeper, lush green.

Finally you climb steeply up onto the glorious North Yorkshire Moors. This is my favourite section of the route. A natural inland cliff edge provides a guide as you walk along this elevated moorland. Wide, flat and surprisingly dry moors, coated in heather, spread out like a pale green and purple carpet.

For my first review week I tackled the Yorkshire Dales. I chose to start here to give me with a gentle warm-up to the review season, leaving the worst climbs until a little later in the year.

Kirkby Stephen to Keld
Starting out from Kirkby Stephen I quickly made my way up the long, steep but steady climb to Nine Standards Rigg. This was only the second time I had been treated to clear visibility while on this summit and I found it made staying on the route much easier than usual as I picked my way through the peat hags keeping watch for marker posts ahead. Even several dry days had failed to make a difference to the wet peat and marshy ground which is some of the wettest terrain on the entire Coast to Coast. Fortunately the rest of the day was drier underfoot as I gently contoured around the edges of valley bottoms to reach the tiny village of Keld.

The cairns on Nine Standards

Keld to Reeth
Leaving Keld the next morning to walk the length of the Swaledale valley I elected to review the official high-level route rather than the low level alternative that Alpine Exploratory has provided through the valley bottom. This quickly took me up onto the moor tops and away from the classic Dales dry-stone field system. It is a relatively short day, but despite this the two climbs of the day are definitely designed to get your heart pumping. The first challenge is to get onto the moor top and then, soon afterwards, you have to drop steeply to cross Gunnerside Beck near some old ruined mine buildings and climb equally steeply up the other side.

Climbing steeply out of Gunnerside Beck with boulders either side of the path

Mining is the theme of this day from Keld to Reeth. Crossing the moors I passed many ruins of old mining buildings, chimneys from old smelting mills, and wide stony areas that have been left as barren moonscapes long after the mining has left. Everywhere I turned there seemed to be reminders of what was once one of the main industries in this area.

Reeth to Richmond
Taking the crossing from Reeth to Richmond there is a definite sense of departure from the Yorkshire Dales. Using a series of green and lush valleys, each broadly parallel to the next, the route takes a diagonal approach. First traveling along the valley from Reeth before climbing briefly over the ridge into the next valley to resume this gentle walking in the valley bottoms or partway along the hillsides surrounding the valley until you are pushed out through a funnel into the wilderness of the land beyond the Dales.

My favourite part of this day’s route is the woodland of Whitecliffe Wood. This is a meandering wander through classic English deciduous woodland, filled at this time of year with fragrant wild garlic and a carpet of blue from the bluebells. It is also the equivalent of passing through a magic doorway.

Applegarth Scar on the way into Richmond

As I entered the trees I looked back for a final view along the cliffs of Applegarth Scar and the rolling green hills of the Dales. Emerging just a few kilometres later the scenery had changed dramatically. Suddenly there were no hills in sight. Instead, beyond the pretty market town of Richmond, a vast flat plain lay ahead of me – the flat lands across to the Yorkshire Moors. Distantly visible through the mist the Moors reared out of this flat field system. A climb for another day.

Richmond to Danby Wiske
This was a day for earning my keep as I trundled along long stretches of tarmac under clouds heavy with threatening rain. Days across agricultural land are often my least favourite as a route reviewer. Unlike moorland, fields have a tendency to change with alarming regularity. Field boundaries are removed periodically while stiles and gates move, change, appear and disappear quite frequently. All of these changes have to be recorded as I go so that I don’t lose track of how many gates or stiles I have passed. Often these days become days of regular stops and starts.

This particular day usually has the pleasant benefit of spending the first half of the day enjoying field paths beside the ever-widening River Swale. It was particularly pleasing to find that many of the old, broken and unstable stiles that used to characterise the route out of Richmond have been replaced with clean new gates. A number of clear wooden signposts marking the Coast to Coast had also sprung up – great news for any walker.

Low, flat fields in the Vale of York

Unfortunately a few diversions had also appeared. Major roadworks on the A1 have created a long diversion for walkers along a farm track and a main road to reach Catterick Bridge, removing a pleasant riverside ramble and adding some extra tarmac miles to a day that is already long for the Coast to Coast. Fortunately this is advertised as only being in place until September this year. Further on, quarry works have been extended, permanently shutting a permissive footpath and again diverting walkers out to the road and away from the fields. This year I was reviewing the main route, rather than the alternative options offered by Alpine Exploratory. This took me along a section of the route that seems to me to be some of Wainwright’s least inspired route-finding. Instead of a pleasant route from Ellerton Cross to Danby Wiske mostly along fields (a route now adopted by many guide books and an alternative offered to Alpine Exploratory’s clients), Wainwright chose the simpler but foot-pounding alternative of nearly 7km along roads. While they are not busy roads, my feet were certainly aware of the miles of tarmac by the end of the day. I cannot recommend the field alternative heartily enough, unless you are determined to stick to Wainwright’s original route!

Wildlife on the route
This was a lovely time of year to be out in the Yorkshire Dales. The characteristic dry stone walled fields were still filled with young lambs. Many were old enough to have recently started to boldly venture away from their mothers and explore their enclosures. Despite that they would quickly run back to the ewes if I started to approach across the field.

Meanwhile the moors were home to ground nesting season to the birds. Everywhere I went, ground nesting birds would fly up out of the grass and heather to try and draw me away from their nests. Some, like the grouse and peewits, both with very distinctive calls and markings, I recognised. Many others I didn’t recognise and only got close enough to see their markings for the first time on this trip.

Bluebells in Whitecliffe Wood

Looking forward
I have two weeks of the Coast to Coast left to review. Next time I’m out, at the end of May, I will be walking my favourite stretch. Starting out from Danby Wiske I will be walking over to Robin Hood’s Bay on the East coast.

Have you walked the Coast to Coast before? If so, what is your favourite section? Do you also love the wideness of the Yorkshire Moors or are you a fan of the rugged Lake District? Let me know through the Alpine Exploratory Facebook page!

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