Saturday, 3 March 2012

Maps and Compasses - The Basics

So this is going to be a very basic introduction to maps and compasses and how to use them. These two tools are essential to make mountaineering enjoyable and to avoid getting lost! Its like riding a bike really, once youve learnt how to use them efficiently and correctly - you'll never forget!


Right. In the UK we have a very efficient mapping system called Ordnance Survey. The people at Ordnance Survey have being creating maps for more than 200 years. These days they have covered the whole of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Island) in both scales of 1:25000 and 1:50000. That's a total of 607 sheets - only for leisure! They also do many road maps and mapping for business etc - but we're not interested in those. The 1:25k and 1:50k maps are the ones used for our scale of hiking.
1:25000 map exctact of Moel Siabod - (See Route)
Image produced from Ordnance Survey Get-a-Map service.
Image reproduced with kind permission from Ordnance Survey

1:25000 - Basics
  • 4cm on the map is 1km in real life
  • Contours are 10m apart
  • Individual buildings tend to be marked
  • Large majority of fence-lines and paths marked
  • Mainly used for micro navigation
1:50000 - Basics
  • 2cm on the map is 1km in real life
  • Contours  are 10m apart, but much less detailed
  • Towns are much less detailed
  • Only major paths and boundaries shown
  • 1:50000 map exctact of Moel Siabod - (See Route)
    Image produced from Ordnance Survey Get-a-Map service.
    Image reproduced with kind permission from Ordnance Survey
  • Much better for large-scale navigation - from peak to peak for instance.
So now you should know your basic way around a map, more on actually using them, different symbols etc, in a later post ;)

So compasses, despite their simplicity - can be quite difficult to use - especially in their most efficient way.

A basic mountaineering compass

Right so, to the left. That's a compass. One you can actually use for navigation. Not the dodgy one you get on your iPhone!

The main way of using one is obviously to find north. Now the red needle always points to magnetic north.

Now that is slightly different to grid north on the map - but only by a few degrees so for our purposes its negligible.

Again, in my next post about this sort of stuff Ill say some more on the lines around the main part but for now, if you turn the map so its top faces the same way of the needle - you will have set your map!

This means that if you follow a path along on the map - it will be going in the same relative direction on the ground - this makes navigation much much easier for beginners.

So there's the basics. I hope to develop on this into much deeper detail in the next couple of weeks so watch this space!

Please leave any feedback in the comments section below :D Thank-you!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Snowdonia - Llyn Idwal

Sunday :D Finally! Today was the last day of my most recent trip to Snowdonia. Again, only a half-day walk (and a very relaxed one) as we needed time to get back home :) Not a bad day, just relatively simple and boring!

Weather Forecast - UNKNOWN. Obviously, we had lack of Internet and MWIS only forecast three days in advance. However, it was snowing as we got up and was due to continue all day.

As I said above, today's route was very meh. All paths and mediocre in the difficult-ness. However, the views in the snow were stunning. Unfortunately, I once again did not have my camera so no pictures of the snow were taken*. However, I do have some pictures of it from a few years ago - not so snowy, but you'll get the idea :)

*I promise in the future I will make better effort to take my camera out whatever the weather!

Now we did the route around the lake clockwise - but of course you can do it either way around. In fact, Id recommend anticlockwise for reasons you'll see later.

The route up to Llyn Idwal is very simple. Where the A5 bends around the end of Llyn Ogwen, there is a hotel and toilets etc. This is where the very obvious path up to the lake (and most of the Glydders) starts. It is nicely paved, and just ignoring any turnings off, follow it over the river, round and up to Idwal.

Here, we turned left and made a start on our very basic route around the lake, taking in the beautiful views. As you come to the back of the lake, a path bends off to the right - which cuts round nearer to the actual water - however, we continued upwards on the path the Devil's Kitchen. 

We did start to gain height at this point, gradually. The view from the lake here was spectacular, as the snow began to fall more and more heavily - to the point where waterproofs became justified. 

Eventually, we came to quite a large stream running steeply down from the back wall of the corrie, which the path went straight across. TAKE CARE! Both my feet did leave the ground in order to cross, so just be careful and support each other across.

After the stream jump we had gained pretty much all of our height for the day and carried on along the back wall for a little while. We came to a large jumble of scree and rocks, where the path seemed to turn straight upwards. 

Llyn Idwal and Devil's Kitchen on a dry day.
Regrettably, our route did not go that way and we had to find our way down to the path coming up from the other side of Llyn Idwal. This is where coming round the other way seems more sensible. This involved quite a bit of one-handed scrambling and when its wet, going downhill is not the safest of things. Lots of slipping did happen but luckily we did find the path.

The route from now on was simple enough a baby could have navigated it. We were back on the main paved path and walked round, through a gate onto almost a pebble beach at the bottom of the tarn, and back down to the A5 by Llyn Ogwen.

In summary, this was by no means the best trip Ive had to Snowdonia - but it was just as enjoyable. A test of navigation in poor visibility is always a good thing and testing gloves, hats and waterproofs to their limits. Now, just a six-hour bus ride to look forward to!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Snowdonia - Llanberis end of Snowdon Ridge

Right, day three of four of the trip. Getting up at silly o'clock is getting more difficult now - especially to the rain thundering on the roof. However, was definitely worth it - best day of the weekend :)

Weather Forecast - 60-70mph northerly winds, extensive wind chill; Snow and hail showers; Low cloud basing above 900m; -5 degrees centigrade at 900m; 50% chance of cloud free summit
Courtesy of MWIS

Today's route was nice and satisfying - despite the lack of Snowdon, after coming so close, but the ridge does do Moel Eilio, Foel Gron, Foel Goch and Moel Cynghorion, in that order :) Due to be a 17k route with 1.1k of height gain. 

Disembarking off of the bus in Llanberis gave us a nice surprise before we had even set off. It had stopped raining! Must have been the first time since we had arrived in Wales! The first, and probably the most difficult task of the day was to navigate out of the town and onto the hill.

OS Explorer Maps are not the best for road navigation and it took several guesses to get the right road which led us to a track up out of the little Welsh village. Quite a steep incline led us to a style, which we used to cross into National Park land and continue upwards. Despite the wind, this certainly was not as bad as the weather forecast had..forecasted! Really did start to regret leaving my camera at the hostel today :/

In time, we made our way round to the bottom of the spur on which the path led us up. From here it was a very easy climb to the summit one of four for the day which had a dry stone shelter on it - ideal for cowering behind for a bit to eat (the wind was bitter up there - height of 726m)

From this point in the day (around 1200) you could have mistaken it for mid-spring if not summer. THE SUN CAME OUT :D :D IKR ;D Horrible not having a camera - especially when you can see more than 100m infront of your own face ;)

The ridge with only slightly bluer sky than today - thanks to this website
Taking a break from the route lets talk about this beautiful picture. Obviously, its a pretty standard ridge, and the route was from the back of this picture (Moel Eilio) and towards whoever took the photo, who is standing just below the summit of Foel Goch - seen in the foreground.
Just thought some clarification would be nice. 

Now, the next couple of hours, our miserable-ness had been destroyed by the presence of the sun. It had granted us a spring in our step, turning our trudge into a hike :) 

The uppy downyness of the ridge was just normal - fun even. Smiling and laughing at the occasional person falling over due to the gradient of the downhill - how walking was supposed to be. At last, by 1315 (our pace dramatically picked up due to the weather), we arrived in the saddle between Foel Goch and Moel Cynghorion.

We had planned on making a decision at this point, and bearing on mind on the time, we could definitely down after doing Moel Cynghorion. At this point, we thought it would be best to strip off some of our waterproofs (for the first time in nearly two days ;)). We did so and proceeded to continue along and up the ridge.

We had an amazing view of Snowdon and Crib Goch :) And our route was planned to go around the bowl between the two main tracks up to Snowdon. We descended back into the final saddle before the bowl and some snow set in very quickly! Thankfully, it passed reasonably quickly so we had a clear view again.

Unfortunately, this enabled us to see the large amount of scree that needed to be negotiated in order to get up to the corrie, let alone get around it. Instead, we made the sensible decision (considering we were all quite tired) to follow the obvious tourist track, back through the saddle after Foel Goch and down into Llandberis, where the bus was already waiting for us with delicious chocolate brownies - finally feeling that we had had a worthwhile day :D

Friday, 17 February 2012

Snowdonia - Carnedd y Cribau

Today was by far the worst day of the trip - as Im sure you'll see if you bother to read on!

Weather Forecast - 35-50mph westerly winds, extensive wind chill; Rain and drizzle; Low cloud basing around 500m; 4 degrees centigrade at 900m; 10% chance of cloud free summit
Courtesy of MWIS

Today's route was, to be honest, quite dull. Not much height or distance, but did turn out to be quite a challenge!

We were dropped off at a viewpoint on the A498, directly to the west of the first summit we were aiming for. (Obviously, nothing could actually be seen from it!). A fence was hopped immediately, to get into the national park, and our ascent commenced - following a bearing due east.

More wall hopping (it did become the theme of the day) and continuous, shallow ascent, across the most horrible bog eventually got us to what appeared to be a sharp drop. We had not followed out bearings sufficiently and had tapered off to the left a bit, meaning we needed to head south to get us to where we wanted.

View from Canedd-y-Crinbau on a good day. Thanks to this website
We did so and did finally reach the first summit - which really wasnt that spectacular at a mere 591m. At this point, our route continued south along a very long fence line. Simple, you might say. Oh no! Due to the ground quality this fence was more of an obstruction than a guide to our route. We must have jumped over it more than twenty times to avoid drenching our boots in deep bog - and it turns out it was all a lost cause anyway.
The long winding fence did at last come to another point on the map we could recognise, a crossing with a bridleway. At this point, we made the decision that, due to the weather, we were not making enough progress to get past Llyn Edno and down into Bethgelert, but were forced to cut down towards the road just before Moel Meirch.

This, of course, meant continuing along the fence line - just not as long as we had planned. So we did. Eventually, we got to where we thought the path should be on the right, just shot of reaching Moel Meirch and headed west, and down.

Most awful part of the day in my opinion. The mud and wet was unbearable. By this time, most of our boots were already sodden and it was just refreshing the water within them to be fair, but it was not great on the feet one bit. Otherwise pretty much the same as the long slog along the fence line.

Slowly but surely, the ground to eventually begin to level out and the road was almost in sight, just one obstacle in our way - a maze of rhododendrons. You might say "Its only a few bushes - itll be fine!" but no. Just no. It was actually just horrible. 

We attempted to navigate ourselves through this labyrinth but it was no use. Every time we started crawling or climbing through a bush - it became too thick to get through or push pass. Jumping dry stone walls didnt help and we were eventually just going round and  round in circles - we had to find an alternative route out.

This, of course, meant heading back up - luckily only 200m or so to the river - which could be easily followed down to the road - or so we thought... 

Thankfully, we were correct, it just wasnt that simple. Following the river would involve swimming and therefore, getting round some more rhododendron bushes was necessary. However, they were more dispersed and fine to tackle.

Finally down on farm land we crossed the footbridge and eventually got back onto the A498. But, this was not the end of our route. We had arranged to be collected in Bethgelert. Yup - you guessed it. We had to trudge along the road for 2k or so before getting on the bus - just as wet as yesterday if not more, and much more miserable...

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Snowdonia - Moel Siabod

So for the last four days of half-term, I decided that it was about time I got some more hiking done, and get kick-started for 2012 and Snowdonia seemed to be the ideal place to do this. Unfortunately, February is not great if you're hoping for good weather so, all I can say is, the waterproofs got a good bit of testing! Also, I didnt get many photos taken as it was so wet, it wasnt worth the risk taking my non-waterproof camera along out, so apologies for that ;)

Weather Forecast - 35-45mph westerly winds, extensive wind chill; Isolated patches of drizzle; Low cloud basing around 650m; 1 degree centigrade at 900m; 10% chance of cloud free summits
Courtesy of MWIS

Today's route, which was only a half day as we spent the morning travelling, was to get to the top of Moel Siabod. A simple enough route, being able to walk out of Capel Curig up and back down before dusk.

Moel Siabod - concealed by cloud
At first, it was a reasonably straight path, quite steep, through a farm and up towards a very ominous looking mountain, mostly obscured by cloud. So far, the rain had been quite nice and what one would consider to be perfect shell jacket weather; however, it was persistent and a change to full waterproofs had to be made before we continued. 

We got to the end of the easy to follow track at a style, crossed and headed to the left side of the mountain on a smaller path, passing quite a picturesque tarn (lake in a corrie), and slowly began ascent.

Fancy a dip anyone?
At this point we hit a lake displayed in this picture to the left, which didnt look to be much of a tarn, but maybe an ideal bathing spot for the summer! This was where we stopped to refuel of jelly and chocolate before making, what we thought would be the massive push to the top.

The gradient increased as we made our way through an ex slate mine but unfortunately, emerging from this, the path just sort of disappeared and the ground became very very boggy. It became flat once again as we made our way, following a very unobvious path which seemed to come and go quite a bit, but did eventually start its ascent towards the top.

Eventually however, it faded and it was just a scramble to the top - very rocky and slippery in the rain but eventually, in the harsh wind and cold, we found the trig point at the top - height of 872m :)

By this point, my hands had just died. Silly me hadnt thought to put gloves on before touching the cold, wet rocks and I could just not move them. Luckily, we just had to get down, and it only took us an hour or so.

A bearing of around 40 degrees took us down the spur we wanted and hopping over more rocks and bog, we finally made it back down to the track back to the farm. (I would go into more detail but downhill is always the most boring bit).

Very wet, we got back into Capel Curig and boarded the bus back to our hostel - optimistic for the rest of the week. Unfortunately, the high hopes were soon demolished...