Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 Done and Dusted

  • Ariege,

  • Catalunya

  • Kalymnos,

  • Orgon,

  • Orpierre,

  • Briançon,

  • Aussois,

  • Chamonix,

  • Sheffield(!)

  • Ötztal,

  • Pitztal,

  • Sheffield(!)

  • Ariege

  • Kalymnos,

  • Leonidio,

  • Kyparissi,

  • Nafplio,

  • Kalymnos,

  • Catterick for my father's funeral

  • Kalymnos

  • Ariege

 .... and probably a place or two I forgot

Monday, 11 December 2017

Goodbye Pops

Funeral programme

The wedding - same church 68 years earlier.
The journey home went off as easy as it could have and of course the funeral was as sad and traumatic as everyone expected - it is hard saying goodbye after so long.
Dad's 93 years more that a fair innings as many have pointed out, and to go as quickly as he did, has to be a blessing.
Two of my sister's children (in their 40s!) gave very moving eulogies about how Tom acted as a granddad to their kids - their own father, George Ramsey had died 20 years earlier.
Of course the worry if now for my mum, married 68 years and suddenly on her own - though we know she is made of steely stuff.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Nafplio - climbing in the sun
The trip to the Peleponnes was excellent, a lot of great climbing on a varied set of cliffs.We had a rather mixed bag of weather, with the whole gamut from pouring rain to almost too hot to move. Leonidio was very, very busy - up to the best/worst of Kalymnos. Kyparissi was beautiful, very quiet and totally idyllic. Nafplio was interesting, loads of history and a great set of cliffs. 50+ routes ticked in the trip wasn't too shoddy.
 After two weeks we took an early morning drive back to Athens, dropped the lads off and jumped on a plane ourselves. This was a day earlier than originally anticipated, but the storms forecast for Monday forced our hand. In the event, the Monday flight was cancelled, so that was a good call!
On the Tuesday I had a message from my sister that our father had a lung infection, but was on antibiotics. Three days later, and after perking up and being out for a walk he suddenly collapsed and died.
I don't believe in premonitions but I had had a heavy heart for a few days so who knows. Anyway, he was 93, had led a full and active life, was still driving and helping out at my sister's farm several times a week. I know it is trite but we all agreed it was the way he would have chosen to go.
Greek cat Nibble, watching out for us.

So now everything is in the air as we await details of the funeral, we need to get back to the UK for that once a date is fixed and then decided what is happing next.
He approved of our nomadic life and as dad used to say 'Do it now, before its too late' - I'll drink to that!

Friday, 3 November 2017

Pootling about the Peleponnese

Sampatiki - a great place to stay
Colin on another classy 6a+
An easy journey got us from Kalymnos to Athens where we collected Andy and Colin for the three hour drive to Leonidio, the current climbing 'Hot Spot' for the whole of the Peleponnese peninsula.
Through bad timing and bad planning we ended up arriving during the week of European Half Term holidays AND the date of second climbing festival to be held here. We were surprised and rather disappointed to see just how busy places were - the crowds were the very reason we had left Kalymnos!
First thoughts on Leonidio - well as many people have said - "It isn't Kalymnos" and I understand exactly what they are getting at.
 Positives - It has to be said first of all - the climbing is great, well bolted, good rock and with stacks to go at and with many really big pitches. The grade spread is good and the fixed geqr is all in excellent condition.
Negatives - The approaches are almost always quite long and steep - which can be a chore in the full sun. Also there isn't currently too much on offer in the shade, many of the decent cliffs face due south so would make great winter venues.
Leonidio is a typical Greek working town, dusty and noisy, with narrow streets and lots of traffic. It is a few miles from the sea and is surrounded by fields of fruit, vegetables and plastic tunnels - currently it isn't really set up for tourists, though climbing and coffee shops, plus assorted accomodations is becoming available gradually.
The locals are super-friendly, though they do seem slightly bemused by all the pale lanky strangers in their midst.
We stopped a short way up the coast from Leonidio in the small port of Sampatiki - which felt much more like the the 'typical Greek' holiday experience.
We are visiting Kyparissi and Napflio next so will report back in due course.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Travellers Tales

Manchester Airport - and the fun begins
I first flew way back in 1971 - a student traveller trip from London to Zurich - it was all very novel and exciting - the whole thing made you feel a bit special. Nowadays the whole travel experience has become a bit of a chore, with lots of queuing, crowds everywhere, security checks and the general feeling that you are less of a valued customer and more of a bloody nuisance.

So what tips and tricks have we picked up over the years to ease the whole process?

Checking a hold bag? Common sense maybe but don’t put your ‘essential’ stuff in there, just in case it gets lost or delayed. So money, pills, travel documents, car and house keys (on the way back home) and a pair of rock shoes should stay with you.

Hiring a car? Don’t use the airline’s recommended provider if you want to avoid a big queue on arrival. Sending the main driver on ahead while someone else collects the bags can be a great way of jumping the queue, just make sure the rest of the team know which desk, or if the company is off site. If you travel more than a couple times a year consider buying an annual policy (around £35) to cover you in case of damage - much cheaper than short term cover, though you do have to actually pay any bills then claim it back. Check the prices of some of the main stream providers (via a price comparison site) against the bargain basement guys, you might be surprised. Avoid Goldcars.

Stay well? How often do you go on a trip and fall ill within a couple of days? Airports are dirty places full of dirty germ ridden people - or maybe that’s the best way to think. We carry a small antiseptic hand soap and a nasal spray and use them before and after every flight - it might be kidology but we appear to get less bugs than we used too. The cooling air vent above your seat is a great idea - for spraying everybody’s recycled germs in your personal space for a couple of hours, so turn it off.

Queues? One of my personal bugbears is queuing, I know it goes against the dirt-bag climbers code but paying a few quid for fast track certainly eases the start of a trip.

If you are driving to the airport and have to pay for parking (we use the train a lot nowadays which is often cheap and very convenient) it might be worth looking for  hotels that offer ‘free’ parking with an overnight stop. That way you avoid both a pre-dawn start and the rush hour motorway for a more civilised start.

Go light? It isn’t usually possible on a climbing trip, but travelling with just hand luggage is very liberating - more like catching a bus than a plane. Today the plane from Manchester touched down in Kos at 15.55 and by 16.21 we’re on the ferry - folks who had to wait for bags missed it.

So there you go, hope some of the tips help - Happy Trails

Friday, 6 October 2017

Patched up and Good to Go

Down (by) a Lazy River the Inn
Boulder Hopping Mad
The five weeks in Austria were excellent despite what the locals described as the 'Worst September Ever'. We climbed, hiked, explored and ate loads of sausages!
We were impressed with the area, the friendly locals, the high standard of everything and the generally inexpensive nature of the place. We already have plans to give the area another try next year hoping for a 'proper' autumn.
Then it was homeward via the German autobahn network - the traffic was pretty grim, with lots of delays, nose to tail queueus and several minor bumps - they need to take a lesson from the French maybe?
Sunday we arrived back home and Monday I checked into the Claremont Private Hospital - courtesy of the NHS - to get my toe sorted. By early evening I was back home, bandaged up and wondering how long the recovery might take - there was some talk of 'up to 12 weeks' at the hospital.
Three days later I hiked (slowly) up Mount Stanage, five days spent a couple of hours belay duty at Awesome Walls and ten days visited by docs to have the dressing removed before heading to Manchester Airport and the Ariege. Easy does it - but so far so good.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

September Snows

View-point at 10,945'
 We left the UK towards the end of August and the first 10 days were as expected, with everywhere being hot and busy. Then the forecast offered something a little different; unsettled and cooler - and it was spot on. After a damp couple of days the clouds parted to reveal sparking snowy summits.
With a complimentary Ötzal Card (many thanks to the kind staff at the Local Tourist Office) we took the highest cable-car in the region - the Schwaze Schneid, which deposits you at 3247m (10,653').
First week of September - who would have though it!
From there we continued up a snowy trail to a spectacular view-point at 3336m (10,945').
The view were fantastic, covering the surround peaks of the Tirol and away to the south, the distant Dolomites. A brisk wind blew out of the north and my watch showed -4C, with the added wind-chill we didn't tarry too long - though the hot drink and sandwich Sherri had 'smuggled' up to the top were much appreciated.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Austrian Alpine

Above it all
With a date for getting my toe sorted we decided to push off for a quick (well five week) trip, but where too?
Something on UKC recently had caught my eye, about the Ōtztal valley in Austria being a great venue for rock climbing in the lower and middle grades. It wasn't a place that was on my radar, so a peruse of the book shelf in Outside was in order, where I discovered the 600+ page tome that was 'Sportclimbing in Tirol'.
After a quick flick to check the potential we started by booking the Hull to Zeebrugge ferry and a couple of days later we were aboard and headed south.
The upgrade to Club Class was as welcome as ever and the crossing was silk calm. Two easy half days on the autobahns and we checked into the very classy Allgäuer Appartementhaus in the lovely Bavarian town of Pfronten. (When I booked the place I actually though it was in Austria, though it turns out it was in Germany - hey ho!)
Day One, Crag One, Route One
We spent four days there, climbing, hiking and exploring the area. Being August, it is still pretty warm and everywhere is quite busy, but another week should see the masses heading back to work and everything starting to cool dow.
Then it was onwards to the Ötztal via few routes on the odd slabby crag of Arzbergklamm before we headed to our residence of the next couple of weeks - Top Tirol apartments, right in the middle of the valley. The rain started just before we arrive but the forecast is fine, hopefully it will be a bit cooler up here at almost 4000'

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Ready, Steady, Go

FFS - raining again!!
 It has been six weeks since we arrived back in the UK, it is amazing how the time rolls buy.  It has been a sociable time with plenty of walking and climbing with the usual suspects though the weather has been a bit of disappointment - I guess some things never change.
One of the reasons we came back was to try and get an old injury to my big toe sorted out. I have seen my GP, had X-Rays, seen a specialist and finally got a date for him to shave the bone back to something like its normal size. I guess six weeks for that from the NHS for something so trivial is pretty good going. I had the same operation done 30+ years ago, but the wear, tear and pressure of too many tight boots and shoes means it finally needs doing again.
Toe the line
Anyway a date towards the end of September means we can shoot off for a month, so Switzerland and Austria here we come. Possible venues include the Øtzal, where we have never been, and the Val di Mello, where we haven't been for about 15 years.
After that it is back home to get the 'procedure' done with the hope I will be fit enough to push off to Greece by mid October - about three weeks later. We have appointments with Kalymnos and the Peleponnes and they won't wait.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Still Here, Still Waiting

Graham on a 6b+ at Sit Down Buttress
 Four weeks ago today we hopped aboard the Zeebrugge to Hull ferry - four weeks back in Sheffield that have passed rather slowly! We have been pretty active with jobs climbing and walking - but generally we have been killing time, waiting for the NHS, doctors and dentists and thinking about where to go when we get released!
Summer has long been a problem, Europe is too hot, everywhere is busy and expensive - we can't wait until the school summer holidays are over!
Currently Northern Norway is still the favourite for an August trip, but already we are looking towards the autumn and escape. Current plans include Austria, Switzerland, the good old Ariège, Kalymnos and the Peleponese.
We managed 10 months away last time we left - might have to try and beat that next time around.
Sherri on top of Carl Wark with Higgar Tor behind

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Back to Blighty

Yarncliffe Quarry - hot
After a great 10 days in Chamonix it really was time to get back on the road - a steady ride to Zeebrugge and then the ferry back to Hull - with the usual free upgrade to Club Class was as easy as it gets.
We arrived into heavy rain, thick spray on the motorway and traffic jams - oddly that was exactly the kind of welcome back to the UK that we had been expecting despite it being the end of June.
In the first week it was the usual round of visits to the Doctors (x3), the Dentists, the Hospital (x2), the Garage, the Opticians and a ride up North to visit our parents - never get a minute to yourself.
Colin - Horse Thief Wall, Stoney Middleton
Then Colin came to visit, he did some very useful work on the flat and we went out climbing several days on the trot which was very nice.
We mixed it up, alternating bolt clipping on the limestone with days on the Grit, and despite the rather oppressive heat it was novel to be back climbing in the Peak.
Already we are getting itchy feet - we will have to see develops. I am hoping (hopping?) to get a minor operation done on a bony lump on my big toe - but maybe we can fit in a slider whilst we wait for the NHS to sort me out.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Mostly Rambling Northwards

Panorama above the Col de Galibier
The Maurienne - off the beaten track

We left Briançon and made the short (1hr 30mins) journey via the very pricey (€44) Frejus Tunnel back to Aussois, and the same apartment we used back in September. Just like then the area and the accommodation were deserted.
Despite a small patch of dirty weather we explored the area and did some great climbing. After the week was up, and despite the fact we were supposed to be heading towards the UK via Chamonix, we decided to double back to Briançon for another week. A good call as it turned out, we walked or climbed every day and managed to avoid both the heat and the crowds that were starting to appear.
Then it was really time to get on with the journey home - 3.5 hours saw us in Chamonix at Thorbjørn and Lutta's lovely apartment right under the Bossons Glacier. A week here should just fit the bill before we are obliged to head for Zeebrugge and the ferry 'home' - almost 10 months after we left!

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Orpierre versus Briançon

Orpierre, even the out of the way cliffs were busy
From Orgon we moved on a couple of hours northwards and had a week in Orpierre. The first few days were pleasant, there were quite a few climbers around but it was possible to get stuff done by being flexible and shuffling around. Then came Thursday and the Bank Holiday/long weekend - I have never seen so many climbers in one place - every cliff in the area was packed.
Of course this is the downside of Orpierre as a destination - despite it being a lovely mellow spot, the fact that you can walk to many of the cliffs means that it is always popular and especially with 'groups'. Also many of the routes are badly polished now, which detracts from the overall experience.
Briançon - a bit more like it
Briançon is a different kettle of fish, a small city, high in the mountains and surrounded by cliffs of all shapes, sizes and rock types. The extra altitude (4,400') means it is cooler than most venues at this time of year. The sheer amount of climbing on offer means that cliffs are generally quite - though it is always worth keeping a look-out for mini-buses in the parking areas and having a Plan B.
Next week it is onwards to Aussois and the Maurienne - if our experience from last September is anything to go by, that is one area that should be really quiet.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Orgon for Beginners

Sherri above of Orgon
Orgon - polished but pleasant
The slow journey home started after a couple of pleasant weeks in the Ariège, and initially we decided to head to Orgon, about four hours northwards. The venue was well known for its hard climbs many years ago but it was a spot I have never visited. It turns out to be a lovely little area, a quiet campsite, ringed by the cliffs, with 300+ routes to go at across the grades. It has to be admitted that a lot of the climbs are pretty polished now - a common problem with lower grade limestone routes across France - but the approach is short, the setting is sunny and the bolts are fat.
It is looking like May is a good time to be wending our way through France - it is pretty hot - up to 28C - but everywhere is so quiet - just how we like it.
From here, next stop is Orpierre, then after that - time will tell, we expect to be back in the UK in about a month, so no great rush.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Flying Visit

Stanage perfection
It was my mother's 90th birthday and we were called to attend. A Friday afternoon flight to Manchester was on time and easy, collect a car and booking into an airport hotel was the easy option - better than the UK motorway network on a Friday night.
Saturday was a long day, driving, talking and celebrating before we arrived back at our flat in Sheffield 8+ months after we left. A bath, the big chair and boring TV were our reward.
Sunday was Stanage with a large jolly team and perfect weather. I did half a dozen routes including top-roping a couple of E3 climbs that I made the first ascent of about 30 years ago - phew, must have been pretty good once!!
Then Monday it was back to Manchester for the flight back to Carcassonne - it is amazing how easy travelling is nowadays.
A week in the Ariége then we head off on a slow drive back to the UK - first stop Orgon.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Spring is in the Air

Lindos Acropolis on Rhodes
Andorra late April - unusual conditions
The six weeks on Kalymnos had been great and now it was time to move on. Flight back to the UK from Kos were pretty expensive but much cheaper from Rhodes so we decided to make a 'short break' of it. We caught the high-speed catamaran, and had a few nights at the Agla hotel in Kos town, where we did a bit of 'touristing'.
Compared to Kalymnos, Rhodes was pretty busy - it is effectively a year round destination nowadays. The high-light was visiting the Acropolis at Lindos - the first temple was built there at around 400BCby the ancient Greeks - though the area has been occupied for around 5000 years. It has been added to by the Romans, the Knights' of St John and the Ottomans - amongst others.
Then it was back to the Ariège via a night in Stansted. We arrived to cloudy skies and sleety drizzle - what a contrast. After a couple of grizzly days the sun came out to reveal the Pyrenees in all the snowy glory. We have a couple of weeks here before we head off on the slow drive home - and some climbing.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Deserted Island

We have been on Kalymnos for almost four weeks now and as ever the spring conditions have been superb; warm and sunny, without the oppressive heat of later in the year, and delightfully green and floral.
Flowers and greenery
Despite the pleasant familiarity of the situation something is different - the almost total lack of climbers is really surprising - though not in a bad way - at least for us. The locals appear rather stunned by the silence, all the shops and restaurants that geared up in good time for 'the rush' are largely deserted and some are even closing early.
The reason behind the lack of traffic is pretty simple - RyanAir pulled out of Kos last year because of some wrangles with the mayor/council - and flights from all over Europe stopped.
What really surprises me that climbers - fun loving, adventure seeking, individualistic types can't cope with having to change planes in Athens!
All quiet in paradise
We had friends here for a couple of weeks and they manage Manchester - Athens - Kos - Kalymnos comfortably in day and the same for the return, using the time in Athens to have a meal. And for a very reasonable £170 return.
Bizarrely I have even heard of teams of climbers booking a fortnight's package holiday in Kos, but heading to Kalymnos
instead - paying for accommodation twice just for the convenience of flying from a local airport.
I am sure the season will pick up in May, and Kalymnos will once again be crowded with jolly climbers enjoying their two weeks bolt clipping in the sun and the locals will be happy. As for us - we will be somewhere quiet!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Peak Greek Season

Andy climbing at Black Buddha - prime conditions
Two weeks ago today we made the bumpy crossing back to Kalymos, and back to Babis Bar. The first week was cold with  a brisk northerly, we got a bit of climbing done, and a bit of taking it easy.
Pretty much all of the cats have made it through the winter thanks to 'Cat Man Steve's' daily visits to scatter a bit of biscuity happiness about. Sherri has ensured they have all done a bit of 'beefing up' since we arrived - with a couple of regular feedings every day.
Sherri's Cat Cafe is open for business
Andy and Colin arrived five days ago and brought some proper summer weather with them - we have taken to climbing in the shade it has been so warm. The various Arginonta Valley crags have been the main venue of choice, good long routes, accessible, shade plus some climbs we haven't done before.
The place has been exceptionally quiet which is just how we like it - and so green and floral - not the Greece that most people expect.
Doubtless the crowds will start to arrive soon and spoil everything, but we will work round them!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Coming Soon

Lofoten Climbs Edition II Cover - photo Andrew Burrr
We have been in the Ariège for about 10 weeks now, and it is six months since we left the UK - way back on September 1st.
The peace and quiet of the mountains is always a great place to get work done - no distractions means I can really crack-on. The first job was a refreshed 2nd Edition of my Cote d'Azure guidebook which is due in UK shops next week.
Next in line is Lofoten which we have been working on for a couple of years now. We have rephotographed the whole area and added in 100+ new routes, many of which are very significant and redesigned the whole look of the book. Some great photographers have been involved with the project, American Andrew Burr bagged the Front Cover (left) with an iconic image of Vestpillaren, Lofoten's most famous route. We hope the book will be available in time for the main Lofoten season - currently we are aiming for early May.
Next weekend we head back to Kalymnos, to grab the prime spring season before the crowds arrive. It is definitely time for a bit of Greek sunshine and more importantly - some climbing - you know what they say about "all work and no play"!

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Home and Away

Perfect snow-shoeing at Beille
Getting back from the hustle and bustle of Gran Canaria to the peace and quiet of the Ariège was as pleasant as ever. We have had some glorious days snowshoeing in some of the best conditions we have ever known in the area. The main resort section were rammed and the car parks were over-flowing, but as ever with just a tiny bit of imagination it is possible to escape the melee that so many people seem to enjoy.
Book work has progressed well - working on two volumes at once is always a tussle but Cote d'Azur is done and dusted and should be in the shops in a couple of weeks.
Castelldefels and the endless beach
Lofoten Climbs is not too far behind and is looking even more magnificent then the previous award winning volume. We have added the Stetind area which should add the books already considerable appeal.
Chez Arran was very full over the French holidays so we booked a few days stopping just south of Barcelona for a bit of beach time and some climbing.
Unfortunately after one day on the rock we had a meal out on the 2nd night and the fish platter made me very ill - five days later and still suffering!
Break your own 'Golden Rules' at your peril.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Deep South

Thorbjørn and Lutta's house on Gran Canaria - lush
Maspalomas Beach - another world
 After three weeks in the Ariége and some rather cold and unsettled weather we had to head south to meet Thorbjørn for a final push on the new Lofoten guidebook. He could have come north but on occasionally you have to suffer for your art :-)
Of course the day we were due to leave the snow came down and blocked all the Pyrenean passes (just like last year) so we had to go the 'long way round' - 5.5 hours rather than 3.5 hours but at least Barcelona was sunny and warmer.
An easy flight and we were in the semi-tropical paradise of Gran Canaria. The place was really busy but I guess it is peak holiday season, especially for Scandinavians escaping the 'dark'.
In the event, it has been rather pleasant - work sessions morning and evening, with a break for a bit of down-time in the middle of the day. There may be pleasanter ways of making a living but non spring to mind.

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...