Thorpe Cloud winter solstice #microadventure

Thorpe Cloud winter solstice #microadventure

Alistair Humphreys first gave me the idea of a winter solstice #microadventure (check out his Lap of the M25). The idea is simple: grab a sleeping bag, bivvy bag and a mate, and sleep out on a local hill on 21 December.

The winter solstice holds no real significance to me, other than being the shortest day of the year with the longest night. It’s also an excuse for a bit of manly fun before Christmas.

The forecast seemed to suggest that the solstice itself would be rather wet, so we delayed to 22nd and headed to the nearest prominent hill we could think of – Thorpe Cloud, just outside Ashbourne in West Derbyshire.

Mark, my friend from church, came with me, and had suggested Thorpe Cloud. I’d wanted to do a winter solstice #microadventure for a few years, so with a willing partner, the game was on!

The logistics were simple: sleeping bag, thermarest, bivvy bag, stove, a few layers and a rucksack to carry it all.

We set off from Derby just after 8:00pm, and were soon parking up – maximum 25 minutes after leaving town.

We took in the traverse of Thorpe Cloud itself (a mere 285m or so), the limestone slopes of which were very muddy and greasy, and then found the bivvy spot soon after.

It was a lovely, cold, clear night and ice crystals were soon forming on all exposed surfaces. Sadly it clouded over before dawn, with the front of Storm Barbara coming in, so we missed out on a dawn photo shoot.

This #microadventure was no different to any of my other trips, prompting plenty of thoughts.

Fresh memories

I was vividly reminded of my last Christmas outing in 2009, when I slogged up Great Gable (899m) on Christmas Eve in deep powder with my brother. We were greeted by amazing views and I remember just standing in silent wonder.

It made me appreciate the time I had taken to document and write down my experiences in words and pictures. Until a few days ago, I had not looked over this blog for years.

I was struck by the importance of making and recording good memories to enjoy adventures and the company I have been in for many years to come.

Real company

It was a pleasure to spend a few hours with a friend, enjoying the landscape, fresh air and experience itself.

Too often when we are closeted in the office, car or indoors we miss the opportunity to be real with each other and talk.

It was refreshing to strip away the comforts of modern living for a little while, make fire and experience the elements as they really are.

Field notes

I’ve purposely not pinpointed our bivvy site to reduce impact on the environment. Please be aware that as a wild camper, you have no legal rights in England and Wales. Check out this UK Hillwalking article for further advice.

I used the following kit (excluding discontinued items):

  • Rab Andes 800 – 4 season down sleeping bag. Warm, packable and not too heavy
  • Therm-a-Rest ProLite – go-to, do-it-all insulated mattress
  • Rab Storm bivi bag – a simple, robust bivvy bag that can get you started. Look out for seconds on
  • MSR EGK-EX stove – sounds like a jet engine, but is an extremely reliable multifuel stove. Not the lightest with fuel bottle and pan added in
  • Black Diamond Icon headtorch – solid mountaineering headtorch. Winter glove friendly and has a button lock
  • Scarpa SL boots – classic leather 4 season boot which has gone through many iterations. Crampon compatible. A bit heavy, but a workhorse
  • Montane Flux Jacket – solid but lightweight synthetic insulation, with lots of pockets and a good hood
  • Rab Baseline Jacket – a decent alternative to the classic Patagonia R1 hoodie

Scotland Winter Mountaineering & Skills Courses

It’s been a while since I last posted – I have spent the last two months in North Africa investigating a potential move of home and family.

However, I am proud to announce that I am now part of a mountaineering company, The Mountain People, and will be helping out on two courses in February 2013.

If you are looking for either a beginner’s Scotland winter skills course or a more advanced winter mountaineering course, then you might consider what we have to offer.

Whilst there are many courses and outfits that offer variations on the skills and mountaineering theme, we invite you to into a tight-knit community of like-minded people – friends and families – who are passionate about the outdoors. Our courses are not just about what you do in a week, but the shared journey with others, which forms and shapes us.

Have a read through the brochures and see if you agree:

Scotland Introduction to Winter Skills page

Scotland Intro to Winter Skills

Click to download brochure


Scotland Winter Mountaineering page

Scotland Winter Mountaineering

Click to download brochure

Exploring the Ardèche

Looking across the old course of the Ardèche river at Pont d'Arc

Unfortunately there was no sport climbing for me last weekend, but I did get out for a little outing with the family. We drove into the Ardèche gorge itself and took a quick look at Dent la Rez, which was helpful for getting my bearings and better orientated with the area.

In the gorge

The obvious destination was the town of Vallon Pont d’Arc and the nearby Pont d’Arc itself, a magnificent natural rock arch, which was created when the Ardèche river eroded and finally broke through the neck of the meander.

The natural rock arch of Pont d'Arc

Standing at river level, the eye is continually drawn skyward by the cliff faces of limestone. As I did so, it was hard not to wonder where the rock climbing routes were. In fact, the whole area is full of outcrops, gorge walls and clean, blanched limestone – a veritable climber’s paradise.

Pick your line and climb...


Just returned from picking up the minibus from the upper Coire Cas carpark. Snow is coming down hard now at glen level, but no sign of the high winds yet. Hope to be able to get out on a local walk later, if possible to a Munro, but that will probably unrealistic.

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A Storm Brewing

As I get ready to travel to the Cairngorms this week, I thought I’d test WordPress for Blackberry.

Unfortunately, a depression which is making its way off the Atlantic will coincide with this visit, bringing with it rain and warmer temperatures.

That’s the nature of the Scottish winter beast. Conditions and weather can vary vastly from week to week, let alone year to year.

Thw challenge is to make the most of it, and I expect there will be good opportunities for foul weather navigation practice…

More soon.

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

He Who Dares

Oxwich Bay in the rain and wind

He who dares wins, goes the motto of the Special Air Service, but in our case, we got thoroughly wet…

In spite of the fierce depression that has been battering the UK for the past few days, Tom and I took a chance and headed back to the Gower. Our thinking was that the deep frontal system might blow through more quickly than expected, as the forecast was to improve today.

Crossing Pennard Pill

This was not the case. We took a look at Great Tor East, but the rock was running with water, and we got a thorough soaking. Out of interest, we then walked across to Three Cliffs and took a look at the classic line of Scavenger VS 4c. One for another time.

Despite not climbing, it is healthy to take a daring attitude, otherwise there can be a tendency to be held captive by the experience and opinion of others, or the given, accepted advice. Sometimes you just have to throw that all out the window, get outside and have a look for yourself.

Whilst most sensible climbers are winter climbing in Snowdonia, Scotland or on the sofa, we seem to be an anomaly. To be fair, though, we spent Saturday afternoon at Dynamic Rock in Swansea, which was a valuable opportunity to work on technique.

Three Cliffs: Scavenger follows the crack and corner on the right of the cave mouth

Reflections on a Run

Image courtesy of Cliff, Trawler Pictures

The other day I went for a run up St. Bees headland and over to the neighbouring Fleswick Bay. On my return, I had the fortune to witness the lifeboat being launched from the beach. It was a striking sight, as I paused and stepped off the coastal path which overlooks the sand and rock platforms.

The tractor reversed the trailer with lifeboat and crew aboard into the surf. My gaze was first drawn to the tractor; the incoming waves steadily buffeted it, higher and higher as it progressed into the tide. I felt slightly anxious that the weight of the water might overwhelm it and knock it off course. However, it remain steadfast, immovable in the face of the mighty sea, which on this occasion was fairly clement.

My eye then turned to the trailer. It was effectively a cage in which the lifeboat nestled until the depth of water was sufficient for the boat to be released. The trailer was at the same time protection and a prison for the boat; whilst on land it held the lifeboat back from its natural environment and purpose, and yet without it the boat would be grounded and rendered useless.

Lastly, there was the lifeboat itself. It waited patiently, perched within its steel cage, ready to be unleashed. After what seemed a long time, when I began to wonder how deep the tractor would venture, the bright orange hull nosed out slowly. Then the throttle was opened and it sprung forwards over the swell, lunging skywards, straining towards the setting sun on the horizon.

Ultimately, I was just struck by the bravery and commitment of the men who were huddled in the craft. They derived an element of security from each part of the scene – the specialist tractor, the cage of the trailer and the lifeboat itself. However, once released into the open sea most of their security would be stripped away. They faced a vast, deep and powerful body of water that punishes impartially anything  in its way in bad weather.

I watched the boat leaping over the waves and then turned and ran back home. I looked over my shoulder a few more times, reluctant to leave the scene – the sunset was a dramatic one too. However, I felt inspired by nature and how men venture out into it; it is both frightening and heart-lifting at the same time.

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