Friday, 16 December 2016

Easy As Pie

Bye-bye Myrties - for now
Radisson Blue - Stansted Airport
 We flew out of the tiny Kalymnos Airport to Athens, had 1hr 20 mins to get our connection - Ryanair to Stansted. 30 minutes after landing I was in the bath - it doesn't get any easier that!
The hotel is a bit up-market for use but Sherri has some great deals from various websites and we usually get a room with a full English breakfast for about a 50% discount at around £70. The fact that you can walk to the hotel in five minutes, so no need for transfers or taxi rides makes it a no-brainer.
The novelty of (fast) internet in bed, being able to drink the tap-water and a soak in a bath are great, as is a full pint of cold larger from the bar.
Tomorrow it is back the peace and quiet of the French Pyrenees, time to get stuck into the Lofoten Rock book which is due out some time around Easter. We will need to meet up with Thorbjørn somewhere to work on the book - we have pencilled in a visit to Gran Canaria in January - that'll be nice.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Peace Descends

High above the Vathi Valley
Another perfect sunset
Almost six weeks on Kalymnos, the place has gone wonderfully quiet, there are few stragglers left, but it has become quite unusual to share a cliff with another team which is how we like it.
We have visited most of the new cliffs that have been developed over the past couple of years, Arginonta Valley, Black Buddha and Milianos Cave have all been exceptional - always nice to find new routes to go at and new crags to visit.
We have eaten out on the terrace every evening since we arrived and only had to have breakfast in doors on two occasions because of damp mornings. The forecast is showing storms followed by a strong cold (4C!!!) northerly - but we really can't complain!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Into the Aegean Groove

Bumpy today in the Taxi-Boat
 Just over three weeks now on Kalymnos, 50+ routes climbed and lots of old mates bumped into. Of course they have all gone home now, the place has quietened down to just how we like it. Quite why folks choose to visit when it is hot and busy escapes me - it must be that they like sweating and crowds!
In the three + weeks I have had a frozen shoulder, a gout attack in my elbow and a short but rather unpleasant cold - not what we expect over here!
Bruno ensuring Sherri gets no work done
Despite that the climbing has been a pleasure as ever and we have visited some of the newer crags that have been developed. Arginonta Valleyhas been especially good, a short approach, shade all day and really good set of routes - hats off to Claude Idoux - as ever. I watched him start the development of the crag last winter and the scale of the job isn't to be underestimated.
We have a few other new venues to check out too, so it shouldn't be to difficult fill the next five weeks - what a pleasant prospect.

Monday, 24 October 2016

A Week and a World Away

Babis Bar sunsets take some beating
An easy journey via a night in the Stansted Radisson and we were back on Kalymnos in double-quick time.
Unfortunate Babis Bar was full so we were allocated a small, hot, dark 'cubicle' in the cellar - suffice to say we didn't sleep too well.
Next day we were upstairs back in the 'proper' world of blue skies and shimmering seas. Six routes just to 'get going' was a proper welcome.
The place is busy but we knew that would be the case with the last two weeks in October being the peak of the Peak Season.
it is interesting that even with all the new routes/crags that have become available the place is still packed.
Big fella bobbing in the briney
It will only be a week before the hoards start leaving and then we can get out to play.
I heard today that my Cot d'Azure guidebook has just about sold out so we are looking at a rapid turnaround to get a new volume out before the seasons starts next spring.
Interestingly it has sold quite well averaging over two books a day, every day for six years - and all that from a book that nearly didn't make it to publicationn

Monday, 17 October 2016

Off We Go Again

The first sign of winter
Lovely conditions on Auzat

Two and a half weeks at Chez Arran have passed as quickly as ever. I didn't get quite as much climbing done as I hoped as Graham brought and ugly bug out from the UK with him, I caught it after four days and Sherri picked it up a couple of days later. One week on and we are on the road to recovery - but it hasn't been nice!
When we travel we make a point of trying to avoid picking up bugs with regular use of a nasal spray and antibacterial soap but there is only so much you can do if they are delivered to your home!
Anyway - it is the usual last few days of sorting, packing, stashing stuff in the barns and feeding the cats to a standstill. We are headed to the Radisson at Stansted tomorrow, the hotel is a bit flash for us but it is walk-able from the terminal, has a bath (wow) and includes a full-English in the price.
Then it is onwards to Athens - for the princely sum of £20 each - and with a bit of luck and a following wind, to Kos in time for the 18:00 ferry to Kalymnos.
It sounds like the season is still in full swing down there, not sure how hot or busy it is going to be but we fancy getting there before things cool down this year so we can do a bit of swimming and snorkelling - and of course some climbing.
As ever there appear to be quite a few new crags to go at - which is just great - a couple of months down there should do us just fine.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

66 and 100 Not Out

Orpiérre - cruising classics on deserted cliffs
From the Maurienne Valley (we will be returning there sooner rather than later) we headed back to Orpierre, we spent a couple of weeks there last autumn, and the place was so busy as to to be really unpleasant. We arrive on a Saturday - my 66th birthday - everywhere was shut so I had a lovely sandwhich for my evening meal.
This time round the whole area was much more how we like it - we were virtually the only people on the campsite and the cliffs were so much quieter that the climbing was a really pleasure.
I noticed towards the end of the week that I had done 100 routes since we left the UK on the 1st of the month - that isn't something that happens very often.
Then it was the long drive back the Ariège - Chez Arran was busy as everyone was getting ready to go off on trips away. We noticed that White Cat had a large swelling on her neck that was obviously causing her a lot of discomfort, so 08:30 Monday morning we were back at the vets almost a year since were there to get her ears sorted.
White Cat after 'Operation Abscess'
The vet was very matter-of-fact and when we picked WC up at 4:00 the change in her demeanour was great to see - all three of us slept much better that night.
Graham and Helen Parkes have arrived for a quick weeks climbing and relaxation - the weather has started a bit mixed but the forecast is great - my plan is to use his superior climbing ability to get dragged up as many routes that I haven't done before as possible - all systems are GO!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Wandering through the pre-Alps

Posh (and fake) Swiss Cottage at Courcheval 1850

We left Chamonix after a too-short eight days and took a drive round to the area around Bourg Saint Maurice and Moutiers, only an hour and a half away. Another new spot and well worth a visit despite it being a bit too hot some of the time. There is some good craging around the area and the road network up into the Trois Vallees ski resorts means it is possible to drive up out of the heat. Courcheval 1850 was especially worth a look, as the most exclusive ski resort on the planet some of the residences have to be seen to be believed. Apparently property prices for the top-end places start at around €37,000 per square metre!!
Some large random waterfall in the Maurienne
Then it was onwards again to the Maurienne, the big valley that runs up towards the Italian frontier. Again it was an area I had heard about over the years but never visited. It turned out to be an intruding place, with a long history, superb scenery and lot of good climbing. Looking the entries in the UKClimbing logbooks, the area seems to get precocious few UK visitors which is odd considering the quality and amount of climbing available in such a compact area. Several of the popular  cliffs don't even appear on the databases. What the area needs is a Rockfax - there, I have gone and said it!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Chamonix Spectacular

The Aiguille Vert and the Dru from the Lac Blanc path

The Glacier de Bionnassey
What a difference a week makes - from the humdrum UK to the bustling busyness of Chamonix - their season may be pretty much at an end but the place is buzzing, with car-parks full and queues for all the lifts. The weather has been superb, almost too hot, but we have managed - climbing and/or walking every day since we arrived.
Today we did the walk from the Index chairlift to the Lac Blanc then back down to the Flégère gondola. A great walk with fantastic views of the Mont Blanc massif and the wasting glaciers. The difference compared to my first visits here over 40 years ago is shocking to behold.
A couple more days here then southwards to more new (to us) venues.
Work on Lofoten Rock Climbs - the new title - continues, albeit rather slowly at the moment, there are trails to follow and rocks to climb.

Monday, 29 August 2016

England's Dreaming

A busy sunny Bank Holiday
We have been back in the UK for a little over two weeks now and we have got over the initial shock of how crowded the place always is - the contrast with where we spend most of the rest of the year always comes as a bit of a surprise.
With having so much time at out disposal we got stuck into giving the flat and the garage a good clear out - mouldy old camping gear, 600+ guidebooks, music CDs, old photographs - all these and much more have been the subject of a big purge. Much of the stuff has been passed on to people who might make more use of it than we do nowadays.
The weather has been an odd on-off mix of hot sweaty sunny days interspersed with rain - which has worked well - a day's climbing followed by a day's 'rest'. There has usually been a happy band of retirees out on the rock making the most of mid-week freedom and avoiding the mobs that descend on the Peak's popular cliffs on any sunny weekend.
Graham on Namenlos (HVS 5a) Stanage
We also got the chance to head up north and visit both sets of parents over the Bank Holiday weekend - the weather was superb and not unexpectedly the crowds were spectacular - no time to be on the road.
Anyway - duty done and it is time to bugger off south for the winter. It will be Chamonix for starters then wander our way towards the Ariége before heading for Kalymnos in the middle of October. This is a bit earlier than in recent years - the place will probably be quite busy but we fancy a bit of snorkelling, so we will have to put up with the crowds - from past experience the place should soon start emptying out. At this time of year we especially enjoy watching the convoys of taxis heading towards the port, packed with departing climbers always making a point of giving them a cheery wave. 

Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Long Trail

On the open fells near the Swedish border
 After nine weeks in the Arctic we had to think about heading back south - not that we were really all that keen. Three nights in Thorbjørn's cabin at Riksgransen were pleasant - we even had a bit of snow early one morning.
Then it was on the road for a seven hour drive though the never-ending forests of northern Sweden.
The next day it was Luleå > Stockholm > Manchester and back into the bedlam - a 25 minute queue to get back in to the country through passport control, then a hot sweaty train ride back to Sheffield - the crowds everywhere were a real culture shock.
Welcome back - we laid on a party for you
So Sunday it was Stanage - a bit green after the unsettled summer, and not TOO busy - except for Crow Chin where we decided to start our day. Apparently it was 'Trad-Fest" so a large group of noisy and excitable individuals arrived and took over the crag - we moved on!
Two weeks in the UK to get all the 'jobs' done then it is south - Chamonix for starters, whilst the cable-cars are still open, that should be nice - can't wait!

Friday, 29 July 2016

Lofoten - the End of Days

Lillemolla from Glåmtinden
Busy days on Bilberries - 20+ climbers
in a big convoy

 We have been back in Lofoten for a couple of weeks now, the weather has been a little mixed - apparently pretty much a 'normal' summer up here in the Arctic - but certainly nice enough to get plenty of stuff done.
The most striking thing has been how busy the whole place has become - admittedly it is 'High Season' but even so the number of camper-wagons on the roads, tourists in town and on the beaches and climbers on the crag has been a bit of a shocker. If you want to come here to climb the classics, a top-tip would be to avoid July at all costs!
Busy, busy, busy
Work on the new book has progressed well - most of the photos are in the bag - apart from the big remote cliffs out West - we are waiting for a settled spell before heading out there - though with only two weeks left it better come sooner rather than later.
Sherri has been busy booking ferries and planes - the next few months are sorted, UK > Chamonix > Briançon > Ariege > Kalymnos should see us through until Christmas time.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

New diversions - Noodling around Narvik

Reflecting on life
There's a moose in the garden!
We the forecast of a little unsettled weather in the pipeline and a need to get Colin a little nearer Evenes Airport for his homeward journey, we moved over to Thorbjørns 'seaside' cabin close to the small city of Narvik. As with hall his and Lutta's residences, it is well appointed and has been a superbly tranquil spot to stay.  So far we have had a great mix of taking it easy, hiking in the spectacular mountains that surround the area and working on the new version of Lofoten Rock which should be out by the end of this year - apparently they just sold the last copy of the old book in Henningsvær and the season is still in full swing so demand is going to be high.
High above Narvik and still miles to go.
Thorbjørn turned up for a couple days, to escape the current madness (Disneyland) in Henningsvaer. That gave us the chance to do some serious socialising and making good progress on tying down many of the loose ends that research for the book has thrown up. Details of many of the newer long routes out in the west have been difficult to track down, we have a trip out there pencilled in for the next spell of good weather.
On one on the clearer days we caught the cable-car  up from Narvik and hiked to the top of Naviksfjellet - the big hill right behind the town. The views were spectacular with unknown peaks arrrayed in all directions and bizarrely it was rather too hot for comfort - in the Arctic!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Loitering on Lofoten

 After a cool week at Riksgransen on the Norway/Sweden border, with snow showers and night-time lows of 2C we made the four hour drive to Lofoten and booked into a cabin on the Ørsvåvær campsite for three weeks.
Colin flew into Svolvær after a trouble free journey, and we nipped out the same afternoon to do the classic Pianohandlers route on Pianokrakken. The weather was great and to our surprise we had the crag to ourselves - a rare thing in the high season.
10 days in and the weather has been quite unsettled, with a number of grey days, though there has been little 'real' rain as we have manage to get out and climb on a regular basis.
The whole place is busy with tourists and camper-wagons but there doesn't
appear to be a huge number of climbers about - the camping area at Gandalf has never had more than 3 or 4 tents there,
Colin leaves in just over a week, then we can go back to working on the book and taking it easy - the forecast is much better too!
Talking of 'the Book',  work on the Lofoten rewrite has progressed well and most of the popular areas around Henningsvær are pretty much finished. We will need to spend some time visiting the remote crags out West and for that we will need some proper summer weather - we have all on July and part of August to work with, so bring it on.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Round the Circle

Down some lazy river - summer in the Ariège
The month in the Ariège passed too quickly, but it always does so that shouldn't have come as a big surprise. The journey home was as easy as ever though the queues at Carcassonne airport were a bit of a shock to folks not used to travelling in the summer - good job we didn't leave it too late arriving there.
The call of the Grit - mint conditions on Stanage
The UK was a bit of a contrast, initially three days of a chilly northerly and temperatures around 10C - it didn't feel much like June.
Then the sun came out,and a jolly team assembled on Stanage for a day on the Grit. It was very convivial, loads of routes were done and there was plenty of time do discuss aliments, injuries and operations - the joys of growing old.
Anyway, the big bags are packed - time to head for the far north again. For the second summer we are flying into Sweden en route for Lofoten as the car hire prices there are about 1/3 of those in Norway. It currently looks a bit cold and unsettled up there, I don't think the short Arctic summer has started properly yet. We will need to pack plenty of warm clothes but hopefully we won't need snowshoes or skis!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Herault - somewhere Different

Our place in the country
Escaping the Gorge de Joncas
After 10 days back in the Ariège I fancied trying somewhere new - Sherri would probably have stopped at Chez Arran and looked after the cats but I was aware that long-time acquaintance Keith Sanders has a pad in a small village to the north-west of Montpelier - about three hours drive away in the Herault region.
I had never been to the area but there appeared to be quite a bit of climbing scattered around, so it had to be worth a look. Keith's pad was very well appointed as well as nice and central, it suited us just fine - apart from my involuntary descent of the stairs on our first night there - the bruising has nearly gone!
We visited four different cliffs and did a couple of decent walks too, one up the highest peak in the local area, the Pic de St Baudille and another around the edge of the Lac de Salagou. The climbing was a good and varied and the weather was fine but we did get a bit scorched one day in the Gorge de Joncas where there wasn't a breath of wind and the cliffs were full in the sun. Looks like the area would be worth a visit at a cooler time of the year - we will have to pencil it in.
Just under two weeks more in the Ariège then it is time to think about heading north - the Artic beckons.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Back to the Pyrenees

Looking down towards Barry de'n Bas in the Ariège
Seven weeks in Kalymnos were great and I felt a rare rare sadness when we left - but it was getting busy, hot and bug-ridden so we really had to go. A couple of nights in the Radisson was our 'treat' - internet and TV in bed were real novelties.
Then it was an easy flight to a windy Carcassonne and onwards to Chez Arran. The cats met us on the drive and were starving - good job we had stocked up with cat food and treats 'en route'.
It is great to be back in the mountains, the high peaks still look pretty snowy, we need to head up there to have a look around as soon as possible.
We have both been stuck by the amazing greenness of the place - spring is here and the fresh growth and the bird song are fantastic. We have a month to play with before heading north to the midnight sun - a bit of climbing would be nice.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Into the Wide Blue

Telendos with humid cloud cap
Almost six weeks since we arrived on Kalymnos and it feels like summer is just around the corner. It has been noticeably hotter that normal, almost too hot to climb some days and warm enough to swim in the sea - which is definitely unusual. Also the spring greenery is starting to fade, it looks like there will be precious little rain now until the autumn.
I have continued to climb and as always have especially been on the look-out for routes I haven't done before - I have completed almost 750 different climbs on the island now and there are still new places to visit, such is the continued pace of development.

Still looking for new routes to do
A couple more weeks to go and then we will have a month in France before heading to the far north for the rest of summer again to complete the work on the new version of Lofoten Rock. Currently Kalymnos is 30C and solid blue, northern Norway is snow-bound with temperatures around 0C - I guess variety being the spice of life is as true as ever.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Peace and Quiet

Easter Sunday on Skalia Balcony
We have been in Kalymnos almost two weeks now and it has been great. The time has been notable for two things - firstly much of the time there has been a nagging northerly wind keeping the the temperatures down and secondly the place is incredibly quiet.
This is the fourth spring we have spent on the island but the 1st when Easter has been so early - Greek Easter isn't for another month yet - and the place is virtually deserted. The lack of flights from northern Europe into Kos appears to be the main reason. Colin and Andy flew in via a change in Athens and we are all enjoying the peace and quiet - having crags to ourselves that are normally rammed. I guess the hoards will be arriving some time soon!

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Round the Loop

Day 1 - Route 5

Back to Kalymnos (or at least s far as Kos) was pretty easy - though as there’d been no boats for two days we thought we might be stuck in Mastichari. In the event the place looked pretty much shut up and the famous ‘Pirate Boat’ - the Anna Maria was in harbour. After some consideration, and with considerable trepidation we hopped aboard. The crossing wasn’t quite as horrendous as some of the tales we have heard, but it was pretty bumpy and quite a few of the locals (it was packed) started throwing up. Plastic carrier-bags, paper towels and wet-wipes were produced rapidly to stem the tide!

Day one was five easy routes on Sea Breeze just to start the skin growing game, finishing off with tea on the terrace and a classic Kalymnos sunset - it felt nice to be back and to be a little bit ahead of the crowds that are forecast to be arriving this weekend (plus Andy and Colin on Monday) - always assuming that any of them can get across the water!
Same as it ever was!

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Over the Hills and Far Away

Almond blossom and deserted roads
Our time in the Ariège is winding down, we need to head back to the UK in about a week, though only for a few days - just enough time to get sorted before heading to Kalymnos for the glorious spring season.
 We decide on a quick 'slider' trip and so drove back over the Pyrenees to visit Colin and Jane at Santa Egracia above Tremp in Catalunya.
We climbed on a variety of cliffs, several of which were new to me, which is always nice. The contrast between the Spanish and French sides of the mountains is always interesting with it being so much quieter on the Spanish side. The almond blossoms were especially spectacular at this time of year.

Sunset at Sant Egracia - above it all
I have continued working on Lofoten Rock - due out towards the end of the year -  and that is going pretty well. We are looking forward to getting back to the Magic Islands and the Land of the Midnight Sun in June and spending a couple of months up there working on the book. I started getting my State Pension back in October which is a bit of a depressing thought - but it is more funds to put in the 'travelling pot' - maybe getting older but there is no time to stop just yet!

Friday, 19 February 2016

Away From It All

Crowds - Yeuk
Two week back from Lourdes and back into the groove - working, climbing, wandering, wondering. We only have a couple of weeks left then we need to find a way to get us and the car back to the UK (nothing booked as yet)  - albeit briefly before travelling back to Kalymnos to catch the best of the spring - before the hoards arrive.
And there's the problem, we like nice places but hate crowds, noise, queues - people in general really. Sadly you can't expect to have Paradise to yourself!
Sweet Solitude.
The photographs illustrate the issue, and a solution - the Plateau de Beille is a superb area of high land at around 6000' and only a 30 minute drive from Chez Arran. Head up there on a good day in the French winter holiday season - which is most of February - and you will find it rammed - I reckon there were 500+ cars up there a couple of days ago.
We drove back down the hill about  a kilometre, bumped off the road and headed into the wilderness, pristine snow with a few animal tracks and total silence - perfection really!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

A Change is as Good as a Rest

Cirque de Gavanie
Pont d'Espagne
 We fancied a break for a few days - the seaside was one possibility but in the end we headed over the small town of Pierrefitte-Nestalas which is tucked in close to the Pyrenees to the south of Lourdes, where the roads to Cauterets and Gavarni split.
It is an area we visited briefly over 10 years ago and never made it back - a return was long overdue. The weather was a bit 'mucky' on the first couple of days but we managed a days climbing and a visit to the magnificent Cirque de Gavarni - the place was atmospheric and deserted, just how we like it.
The third day was clear and cold: -3C in the car park at the Ponte d'Espagne but climbing was possible on the small granite cliffs that pepper the valley-side.
On the final day we visited another small granite/gneiss crag in glorious weather before making the steady drive back to the Ariège - almost 20 routes ticked, I think it will be a lot less than 10 years before we are in the area again.
Now there is the small matter of a guidebook to Lofoten that needs addressing!

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Old Games, New Diversions

Perfect snow-shoeing conditions in Andorra
We have been back in the Ariège a little over the week - winter has started to bite a little, with a good depth of snow on the mountains though the colder days have been interspersed with warmer spells. This has meant we have been able to snow-shoe and rock climb within days of each other, both in near-perfect "Goldilocks" conditions. One especially memorable day in Andorra was probably the best conditions we have ever come across - and only a short tramp from the ski crowds and we were in a pristine white wilderness with just animal tracks and the silence for company.
Poets - sample screen shot from the Rockfax Kalymnos App
The big new is that next week should see the release of the Rockfax App for smart-phones and tablets to sport climbing on Kalymnos. I have been working on this for four years and it includes a massive 2600 routes - which is a couple of hundred more than the recent 'definitive' guide to the area. It will be interesting to see the reception the App gets - as ever there will doubtless be a few folks that moan and a lot that enjoy the work we have put into it.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Catalunya Cruising

Casa Mauri - really out in the wilderness
We had to move house at Chez Arran due to a long-standing booking so we thought we would take a trip over the mountains and into Spain to visit Colin Binks who is stopping at Casa Mauri - Jane Newman's place above Tremp. It is something we have been meaning to do for a long time.
The 1st attempt failed because of an epic snow-fall the morning we due to travel - we turned back just above Ax-les-Thermes, but the 2nd attempt went better and we drove though spectacular scenery and along quiet roads to arrive at Jane's place which has the most amazing setting.
Climbing in the Collegats Gorge
We have had a few days reacquainting ourselves with this great area, we spent a lot of time around here more than 10 years ago, before other destinations and projects got in the way. I have been climbing with Colin on some very varied rock-types, it has to be admitted the grades are a little on the tough side even compared to the Ariège cliffs, which have always been regarded as a bit stiff.
I have been photographing all of the cliffs as we have gone along - old habits die hard, and the shots may come in useful down the line.
Colin appears to have got himself semi-permanent a job here helping with the reconstruction of one of the buildings/garden areas so I am sure we will be back sooner rather than later.

A month in Switzerland

Gornergrat - rammed A month passed in Switzerland and it has been very pleasant, climbing, hiking, chilling and even doing a bit of to...