Friday, 31 July 2009

picos de europa – arenas de cabrales to sotres

Although I enjoyed the day off I was keen to get back into the mountains. From the tourist information kiosk we’d picked up some bumf about local way marked routes and walks. The one that caught our eye was a route that followed a Roman Road over the mountains to Tielve which was on the road to Sotres.

From the edge of Arenas de Cabrales the route climbs steadily up switching back and forth to take the sting out of what was 1350m of ascent. We were hailed by a local taking a breather under a tree, he asked where we were heading and we replied, Sotres. We gathered from his reply that he was very impressed at what we were attemping because the route was long and arduous.

Unlike the routes that we’d followed on previous days although this was a way marked path there was a complete lack of them once we’d passed through a gate where the irrigation channel that runs through the Cares Gorge from the damn at Cain that cuts across the mountainside. Due to this and a number of confusing forks in the path we headed further east than we should have done and found ourselves in a high alpine meadow full of cows, goats, horses and deserted farm buildings. We followed the path across the meadow watching Griffon vultures circling on thermals, and when approaching the other side realised why.

There was a steep drop off the meadow. Back tracking across meadow we spotted a silhouette of a walker on the ridge in front of us, then another… We wasted no time heading for that point and found that we had rediscovered the route that we were meant to be following (this section actually had way marks). The route continued to follow this ridge climbing steeply to a meadow, then up to another hump of a summit, then another meadow and so on.

In the last meadow the path veered sharply up over a saddle and ahead of us we could see the gorge that we were going to follow tomorrow back to our starting point. We started our descent to Tielve. Originally we were going to head there, hit the road and follow that into Sotres. I’m no fan of road walking and as we were in some of the most spectacular countryside it seemed a bit silly not to make the most of it.

There were several paths marked on the map so we continued journey on those. This last part was particularly hard – it had been overcast most of the day and being up high there was a faint breeze but down in the valley the sun came out determined to make up for lost time, and in the shelter of the valley the breeze was no where to be felt. We were also tired; we’d done huge amount of ascent and descent and had covered at least 13 miles by that time. We were hungry too, I fumbled my last jelly baby as my hands were shaking from a hypo. A strawberry jam portion found it’s way out of my bag and onto my tongue, just enough to get me into the village.

We booked into Hostal Perdiz, had a saunter around the few shops picked up some more supplies, especially a couple bars of chocolate, one of which I part demolished. Back at the Hostal we took one look at the menu and were sitting at a table without hesitation; rice salad, followed by egg, chorizo and chips and a rice pudding. All the carbohydrate we could possibly want for us to sink our teeth into! After the meal we took ourselves up to our room and after shower it was lights out.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

picos de europa – stinky cheese, cider and bean stew

After three days of trekking we decided to take a rest day. We also needed to find some more supplies so we headed off to Arenas de Cabrales, which was only 6km away. Unfortunately as there was no path to follow it meant tramping along the road (it goes without saying that there wasn’t a bus service either!)

Our clothes and kit were still damp from yesterdays drenching but they soon dried out as we clumped along the road, it wasn’t busy but I was glad to get off it when we got to town.

We made a quick visit to the tourist information kiosk, and then we found ourselves a place for the night; a delightful room in a pensionne on a small square. A flurry of activity followed; kit was hung up, socks and smalls washed (along with the people who’d worn them), and with shopping bag in hand we set out for a tour of the town.

This area of Asturias in famed for it’s stinky blue cheese called Cabrales, cider and a bean stew called Fabada. The dish is made with white kidney beans, chorizo, morchilla and saffron. We bought some Cabrales cheese, restocked our supplies and tried some cider whilst avoiding a downpour.

The funny thing about Arenas is that it’s billed as the gateway to the Picos and it reminded us vaguely of Betwys y Coed, especially with the weather being a bit damp. There were even (not very good) gear shops to faff around it.

At that fashionable hour that Spaniards go out for dinner we headed out for what was the best food of the trip; a humongous bowl of Fabada, washed down with a bottle of agreeably robust local red wine.

picos de europa – posada de valdeon to poncebos

The day didn’t go entirely to plan (there seems to be a theme developing here!) The guide book mentioned that there was a bus service running through to Cain at the start of the Cares Gorge. Having wandered around the village the evening before we were unable to find the bus stop and as the park information service office was shut we had no option but to pop back first thing in the morning.

The very helpful Park Warden rang the bus company for us and was told that the bus needed booking twenty four hours in advance. Not very useful. Kindly she asked whether it was at all possible for them to run the bus but the driver had taken his family (presumably in the bus) for a day trip to Bilbao.

We briefly thought about catching a cab but I swiftly dismissed the idea by exclaiming that we were on a walking holiday after all! It happened that after checking the map, and having another chat with warden, there was a path called the Camino de Bustio that ran along the west bank of the Rio Cares all the way to Cain.

The path was well signed, good underfoot and mostly in shade which was good because the day had dawned bright and sunny. The verges were busy with butterflies and an abundance of wild flowers. Grasshoppers jumped on to the path and back out again and common lizards scurried away as we crunched down the path.

After a few kilometres we arrived at the Mirador del Tombo across the river from Cordinanes; we craned our necks up across the valley and traced the faint line of our descent route from yesterday afternoon. From here it looked incredibly steep and made the North Ridge of Tryfan look remarkably easy angled. From the Mirador the path wanders along between the road and the river until finally you have no choice but to use the road. Just off the road is the Chorco de los Lobos near to a couple of settlements that was used by the valleys farmers to catch wolves, presumably to eradicate them. Whilst on the road to Cain we were passed by a bus (no doubt following it's ill informed Sat Nav).

At Cain we stopped for a cafe con leche and the now obligatory piece of tortilla before heading off down the gorge. The first kilometre or so of the path is carved out of the rock, and it also happened to be the busiest. Partly due to to those walking it’s full length are getting into their stride, the narrowness of the walkway along this point but mostly due to the day trippers that walk in huge groups 500m up the gorge from their coaches, take a few snaps and then walk back, again in huge groups.

The gorge is seven miles long and as you head north it opens up, drops in altitude until it starts climbing up to it’s highest point before dropping steeply down into Poncebos. The path was easy going with places to stop to admire the views and as we progressed we were accompanied by the occasional rumble of thunder and shower. None of this was a hassle as there were places to stop and stand out of the short downpours.

We put waterproofs on once but overheated in no time, so we just waited the showers out. It hadn’t taken me long to realise that the ideal piece of kit for this weather was an umbrella. On the last haul up to Los Collaus the skies opened and we were soaked in minutes.

What timing! There we were crossing the highest, pointiest bit of the gorge at what was probably it’s widest point, naturally I was very worried about a lightning strike, we wasted no time scurrying down to Poncebos.

Despite the drenching it had been an enjoyable day with about thirteen or so miles covered with over 500m or so of ascent/descent thrown in. So we celebrated with some cheap local wine and an ensalade ‘Poncebos’ (something of a road accident) and a plate of Patatas Bravas (chips with chili sauce).

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

picos de europa - potes, fuente de to posada de valdeon

The only time on the trip we set the alarm so we wouldn't miss the bus. Having scouted the bus stop and time the evening before we strolled confidentially through Potes picking up breakfast - a piece of tortilla and a cafe con leche - on route to the supermercado handily sited opposite the terminus. Despite all the advance planning we missed the bus. Penny was convinced that it went through earlier without stopping however I wasn't so sure, what she thought was the bus was going in the wrong direction.

With only two buses a day we weren't keen to hang around until late afternoon, so we strolled back down the main drag to the taxi rank and employed the services of Jose Angel and his glass roofed Merc, which he took great pleasure in rolling back so that we could see the mountains. Despite speaking no English we picked up that that he didn't like the mountains because he suffered from vertigo. And when I saw the cable car in Fuente De I had to agree with him!

Outside the cafe we sorted our gear and filled the platys from the near by spring. A rough plan had been formulated the evening before and we were going to climb up to Tomos de Liordes crossing Vega de Liordes and find a bivi spot the other side of Sedo de la Padiema most likely near Llagu Bajero for water as there appeared to be a few flatish spots close to the lake.

We wasted no time getting stuck into the ascent a steep zig zag up to a pass in the mountains, the Trail Blaze poles eased the climb. At the pass the path levelled out and we entered a wide alpine meadow ringed with sharp pointy limestone peaks. There were still traces of snow at the top of the pass and on the higher peaks. Mid way along the meadow we stopped to eat a late lunch and to top up our water supply from a spring - the sun had been beating down relentlessly and I'd already drunk the two litres that I left the town with. From the meadow we followed a faint track westwards weaving in and around boulders, patches of snow, and on one occasion a small herd of cows protected by a very large, loud dog.

Early evening we stopped, there was no sign of the lake that we were going to bivi next two, so I whipped out the Geko and switched it on and got a map reference. Ah! I said, If I'm not mistaken the lake is over that ridge! Climbing up we passed a flat tussocky spot that was to become our bivi site for the night. Edging over the ridge the lake came into view, I dumped my rucksack got out the platys and descended to the lake side. There wasn't any where flat to be had that side of the ridge and that was fine with me. The meadow was studded with boulders that looked like they'd fallen from the massive head wall on the north side of the lake so there was some risk hunkering down there.

With our mats out we ate supper watched by curious but nervous Iberian chamois, as the sun set the limestone peaks around caught the last rays turning a pinkish tinge. The air temperature dropped as the sun lost it's fight with the horizon and we settled into our bivibag clad sleeping bags, and we soon drifted off to sleep as the stars began to appear in the sky.

We woke to glorious sunshine and after a brew and breakfast we descended a scree covered gully zig zagging our way down carefully to Vega de Asotin, a high alpine meadow filled valley at 4,000ft.

Crossing the valley we began a torturous descent involving a good number of grade one scramble moves - a highly entertaining finish to our mountain crossing and giving a surprising added value to our chosen route. Although Penny had a lot of climbing experience under her climbing harness she hadn't had much of scrambling with a rucksack on. There were a few expletives and complaints of having short legs but otherwise she descended in decent style. And more importantly without mishap.

For me I enjoyed the switch in focus from putting one foot in front of the other to using my limbs in co-ordination. At Cordinanes we headed down the road next to the Rio Cares to Posada de Valdeon where we spent the night.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

folding esbit stove – quick test

I shuffled various pots and pans around on top of the stove with varying degrees of success. With all stepped pot supports there’s a danger that some of your favourite pot or pans will just not sit happily on the stove. This was certainly the case with the Snow Peak 900 but the smaller Snow Peak 600 was fine. Wide based pans like the AGG three cup pan obviously have no such problem.

For the test I chopped a esbit tablet in half as the tray is slightly smaller than this and put 500ml in the Snow Peak 600. I didn’t bother to time the exercise nor weigh the chunk of esbit. The test was carried out indoors in a well ventilated room with a windshield in place.

The fuel got the water to a good boil with some to spare. There was spillage of the flame up the side of the pot. This was due to the pot’s diameter and, perhaps, the size of the chunk of esbit used. Cutting the tablets in quarters and stacking two on top of each other should help concentrate the flame under smaller diameter pots.

The next step is a quick test to ascertain the fuel efficiency, speed of boil and to see whether it integrates with my Bush Buddy.

Doing this quick test reminded me why I used my old army solid fuel cooker; it’s simple and effective. But as with all stoves it’s not without it’s downsides with the fumes and blackening of the pots.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Tibetan titanium folding esbit stove

Before heading off to Spain there was some discussion between Trevor Gamble and Darren and I about hexamine or esbit stoves. I vowed that on my return I’d purchase one for some old school stove fun – one of my first camping stoves was one of those folding army solid fuel cookers.

One of the above duly arrived this morning and on my way home I’m going to buy some tablets and have a trip down memory lane with the added bonus of it being ultralightweight one – the stove tickles the scales at a mere 12g.

Here’s a snap to keep all you stove pornographers happy.

Friday, 24 July 2009

picos de europa – day one

The ferry journey to Santander was uneventful. We tried to avoid the entertainment for as long as we could but failing light and the fact that once you’ve done a couple of laps of the ship there isn’t any where else you can go, we retired to the piano bar for a bottle of overpriced Bordeaux and catch the pianist doodling tunes in a tux on a white grand.

We arrived in Santander in a mizzling drizzle, not a good start and once we found the bus station and checked the time the bus left for Potes we went walkabout. Typically Spanish, the place was closed from two until five, which given that we wandered off the boat at one and the bus was at five, we had several hours to kill and nothing to kill them with. At least the bus station had a cafe.

Arriving at Potes we booked into the aptly named Hostal Picos de Europa dropped off the rucksacks and wandered around the town looking for supper.

Two things I’ve learnt (and it seems I keep forgetting and having to relearn them) is that don’t go to supermarket hungry and don’t wander round a foreign town is the same state. Passing a restaurant where a woman was tucking into a huge salad with a side of tortilla it seemed the ideal solution for our needs, sadly the food when it turned up was not as we thought we’d imagined it. I’ve never ever seem fake shrimp and crab before and don’t really want to again. Needless to state I hoiked the offending items off my plate. Penny, blessed with a sense of adventure that may lead to her insides undoing, ate some of them. They sort of tasted fishy but had the texture of overcooked pasta was how she described them. The cheap local wine was very drinkable however.

On the run up to the trip food had been a major worry for me and this didn’t bode well. We found a supermercado that was going to prove itself useful the following day and offered me some hope for the days ahead.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

ridgeway kit list review

Snapshot of the kit that I took for my recent overnighter. I wasn’t sure how warm the evening was going to be so I packed the RAB Vapour Rise top, which along with the beanie, I could have left out. The groundsheet was included because I was expecting the ground to be damp and to protect the NeoAir. As it happened we only had one downpour and because it was so warm the grass dried in a matter of minutes, helped by the fact we were camped on chalk down lands. And as the storm didn’t break, the evening air temperature didn’t plummet and it remained warm and humid.

I created a version of Jim Wood’s spreadsheet to calculate the weight and have been in the process of weighing and re-evaluating bits and pieces of my kit. What is missing from the list is wash kit, insulin pens, blood monitoring machine, spares and other medicines, and of course, fuel, water and food. It gives me the opportunity to swap in and out items, for example there were two of us in the Hut so a double groundsheet was packed. Whereas if I was on my own a lighter weight single person one would have been taken instead or left out altogether.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

the ridgeway part2

I awoke at 4am and watched the rising sun colour the sky; with a full bladder and still being half asleep it didn’t occur to me to find my camera and capture the moment. And when the sun finally struck the silnylon it began to heat up it was time to rise and have breakfast.

Continuing with my ultra lightweight experiment I dropped the usual dish of muesli for breakfast and went for a couple of cereal bars instead. The thinking behind this was that I’d save the weight of fuel used for heating the milk that I’d eat it with, and that of the milk or milk powder that I would be carrying. And there’s no washing up to be done which is an added bonus. Unfortunately I started to run out of steam with in an hour of starting the walk so some refining of this approach is required (read as need to eat three cereal bars!)

Poppies on field edge

From the campsite we dropped down to Bennett End to pick up Grange Farm Road which we followed until reaching Crowell Wood and despite still being early in the day the shelter of the wood was welcome. Over the other side of Crowell Hill we pulled off the path for a quick breather and the view from the field where we stopped across the Vale of Aylesbury was quite expansive. Dropping down the hill we picked up the Ridgeway Path and followed this north east past the Chinnor chalk pits and onto the Midshires Way at Hempton Wainhill which we followed into Bledlow.

Ridgeway waymark

A lunch stop was taken at the Lions of Bledlow where some of the party sampled the small but perfectly kept brews. Back on the Midshires Way we rejoined the Ridgeway at Thickthorne Wood, We crossed wild unkempt meadows on the way up to Lodge Hill where wild strawberries, grasses and orchid grew in abundance, whilst pairs of Marbled Whites, Blue Damsel Fly and Spotted Burnetts (seven spotted, I think) flitted across the hill. Brian and I were very much enthralled by this place and vainly tried to stalk the butterflies with our cameras. At least the orchids kept still!

Wild orchids

We left the Ridgeway and headed south over the last hill of the day to pick up the Chiltern Way back into Radnage. On the way into the village I spotted an owl on the telegraph wire but fumbling map and camera it flew off before I had a chance to take a snap.

Despite the threat of heavy weather the day passed dry and sunny. It was good to get out and meet up with Chris and Anne, and catch up with Brian and Jill again. And meet a couple of new, to me at any rate, club members.

Monday, 6 July 2009

oh doctor beeching!

Bramley Station opened in 1865 as part of the Guildford - Horsham Branch Line. In 1876 a second platform was added and in June 1888 the station changed it's name to Bramley and Wonersh to encompass the nearby village of Wonersh.

On the 16th December 1942, a German plane dropped a bomb on a train leaving the station, badly damaging the train and killing 7 people, including the driver and the guard.

The Guildford - Horsham line was the only branch line in Surrey to be axed by Dr Beeching in 1965. Shortly after the main station building was demolished and a post box is all that remains.

The line took on new life in the 1980’s as it was redeveloped into the Downs Link, a public footpath and bridleway linking the North and South Downs. There's a series of caches along the line that with a bike to whizz you along between sites would be a grand day out.

In 2004, the local parish council and Bramley Historical Society renovated the station area by reinstating decorative crossing gates and a waiting room on one of the platforms.

lowe pro terraclime 30

I picked up one of these from the camera shop after buying the TZ4. I wanted a pouch type bag that allowed easy access to the camera that I could hang from hip belt of a rucksack.

It’s made from 35% recycled materials and it has the feel of a heavy cordura type fabric with minimum padding. Internally there are two pockets for SD cards or spare batteries, there’s a belt loop on the back, and it comes with a removable shoulder strap. The bag is secured with one of Lowe Alpine’s innovative zed buckles. On my postal scales it weighed 77g.

A straight forward modification of two Alpkit mini ‘biners clipped to the loops for shoulder strap were all that were required to hang it in place off a rucksack hip belt. In use on the Chilterns trip it was hassle free. An added bonus is that I can hang the bag off the belt loops of my walking trousers in the same way. Simple and effective.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

happy birthday blog

You’re one year old today.

And as a special birthday treat I was going to bake you a cake but as this is a virtual world I found something better suited.

A blog about cakes, not specifically birthday ones, but cakes all the same. And these are special because they are professional made cakes, although to look at some you have to wonder what profession the cake maker is in because clearly it isn’t making cakes!

Now blow out the candle here and enjoy!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

further musings on rucksack options

Following on from my ultra lightweight packing experiment at the weekend I had another think about whether the Talon 44 was my only option.

I did a search of gear shops and online gear sellers looking for possible alternatives to the Talon 44. The reason being is that the bag weighs 1100g (manufacturers weight) whereas the bag it is replacing, the OMM Villain, only weighs 930g in the configuration that I have used it in (this is with a 3/4 length mat in place of the back panel).

Looking at the alternatives, and there aren’t many it must be said, they all manage to weigh in at over 1500g. My philosophy when buying gear is simple if it is replacing something then I’d like it to weigh less, so you can imagine my dilemma when faced with a 170g hike in weight. This is where the US gear manufacturer Gossamer Gear comes in, they do a smaller version of their Mariposa Plus bag called a Miniposa that has the required capacity. And better still it weighs less than 500g. Very tempting especially as I like the look of it’s big brother however, although there is a UK supplier, it’s out of production. Another consideration is that it needs a pad or mat to form the back support. With the NeoAir being my mat of choice I’d have to draft in something specific for the task, and with it the additional cost and weight penalty. Along with cancelling the benefit of the double use of mat and back support. The same happens with the Villain; pack the NeoAir and I need to add the back panel. This takes the overall weight up to 1118g. The Miniposa is still the lighter choice but the Talon still holds a slight edge in my mind.