Silver DofE practice expedition in the New Forest

walking in woodsLast week I went to The New Forest for the first time since I was about 5 years old. I wasn't alone but with 52 young people from a London school and 7 other Mountain Leaders. We were there to undertake a practice expedition for the Silver Duke of Edinburgh's award. While it was my first time working in the New Forest quite a few of the other ML's had worked there on a number of occasions so we had a fair bit of experience in the area. The plan was to set up tents and go over stove safety as soon as the participants arrived and then go for a navigational refresher walk.

 

We had decided that on this walk we would really focus on taking bearings and measuring distance as we identified these as the most important hard skills when navigating in the forest. My group lapped it up. I don't know if they were just a very good group or if there was something else involved. Maybe the forest environment with its lack of visible features (visual distractions) helps with the teaching of navigation, maybe it forces the learner to concentrate on what is close by which is much more useful than looking at things in the distance? This is something I am going to investigate further with groups in the future. After a few hours of navigation refresher we did a kit check, ate and then there was free time before bed.

 

rivercrossingThe next day we all set off on the practice expedition. My heart sank as all 8 groups seemed to be ready at pretty much the same time, I thought that we'd have groups following each other all day, however the number of different paths available meant that after the first 200m we were all on our own differing routes. The forest was great, with deer, ponies, squirrels, woodpeckers, baby foxes all seen by groups during the day. My group's route went past a reptile centre so I took the opportunity to take a look at some lizards (and a Goshawk nest cam!). I had been warned about lots of muddy paths and bog trotting in the New Forest but it had been dry for a few weeks so the mud that I was expecting didn't materialise. My group continued to perform well so by mid-morning I was hanging back and just letting them get on with it. By mid-afternoon I had decided to leave them completely and arranged to meet them further along their route by the end. 

 

wildcampWe had arranged with the forestry commission that we would have all 8 groups wild camping (on 4 different sites) so we filled up with water at a pub close to the end of our route and headed off to the campsite. It was wonderful. I absolutely loved the wild camp. It has been a couple of years since I wild camped with a DofE group and I have never done so outside of a mountain environment. It was so quiet, relaxed and serene. It made the experience so different to being on a commercial camp site. Obviously the participants weren't too impressed with the toilet arrangements but I would like to think they will look back fondly on it. We were treated to a cloudless night and a BIG red full moon.

 

The next day we got up and continued with the expedition with the group being remotely supervised the whole way. Yes, they got a bit lost on a few occasions but the navigation was hard. We have this group back in July in the White Peak and I expect they will find their assessment a doddle.

 

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sunset

Winter Mountaineering skills for Red Rope

cramponingWe do quite a bit of work for the Red Rope on Navigation training and Mountain Skills courses. Recently they asked us to provide a day of winter skills training for some of them during a February club meet in the Cairngorms. They were particularly interested to receive some instruction on security of steep ground (how to safely utilise the crampons and ice axe). We met up at 8 am at their accommodation and after a briefing and discussion on efficient ways of moving as a group we headed off to the ski area on Cairngorm Mountain. The winds were high and as we walked into Coire an t-Sneachda I was concerned that the conditions weren't exactly conducive to learning; our plan was to go to the west flank of the Coire to practice movement skills on the steep ground there. However, due to the wind I decided to switch flank as there is a little knoll that I thought would offer some shelter, it turned out to be a good decision as while we were battered by the wind on the walk in we were completely sheltered for the training element of the day. 

 

We spent the next hour or so going up and down the knoll utilising the crampons in different ways. It was the perfect location, there were a variety of gradients and depths of snow. We covered different stepping techniques and safe ways to walk in a group up a slope as well as ways to stop a slip turning into a slide by using the ice axe correctly. After we had completely churned up the snow on the slope with our repeated ascents we put it all into practice by climbing the slope that makes up the eastern edge of the coire slope to the 1141 spot height. On the way we had a brief stop to take a look at the snow pack and talk a little about the snow layers and avalanche risk. We even found a bit of an icy patch that those who wanted to could have a little climb on.

 

Once at the spot height we had a chat and rather than just go down they thought their lifts wouldn't mind them being a bit late so we continued up to the top of Cairn Gorm and then back down to the Ski Station.

 

If you would like to hire us for some winter skills training for you and / or your friends or your Mountaineering club then take a look at our winter skills training pages.

 

 

long on slope

 

3 day winter expedition in the Cairngorms

high raise

Two years ago I spent a great weekend with a guy called Cédric. Cédric had asked to be taken up Striding Edge on Helvellen in February (and thus winter conditions). We arranged to do Striding Edge on the Saturday and left Sunday open. We met up and tackled the Edge on the Saturday (I think that Cédric was a bit disappointed at how un-technical it was) and decided that rather than hunt snow to do some winter skills we would just go on a massive walk together the next day. So on the Sunday we walked up to Stickle Tarn from Langdale then on to  Sergeant Man - High Raise - Greenup Edge - Greenup Gill - Langstrath - Stake Pass and back to Langdale. Cédric is a fantastic photographer (all photos on this page are his, though cropped and photoshopped my me) and I still have quite a few of his photos from that trip on my computer wallpaper. Anyway, the next year when he called up looking for some mountain adventures I was away on my winter holiday with friends so Siobhan stepped in and they managed to combine some more wintery adventures and some rock climbing above Langdale. But this isn't about previous years in the Lake district, this is about 2017 in the Cairngorms - this time with the rest of his family.

 

I met Cédric, his wife Laure and two daughters (aged 11 and 13) from the train at Aviemore station at about 11:30 on the Saturday Morning. After a briefing in a local cafe and a sorting out of crampons, ice axes and goggles we drove  down to park up near Glenmore Lodge. We then shouldered our packs and started on our hike towards Strath Nethy. Our Day 2 objective was Bynack More so we tried to camp at the end of the North West ridge of Bynack Beg. Unfortunately we had a bit of trouble pitching on the heather, in the wind, so made a quick change of plan and crossed the river and with relief found some shelter behind a small spur about 500m away just as it was getting dark. There was still a lot of heather and it was a bit boggy at times but we had been mentally preparing for a long walk out again in the dark so it was very welcome.

 cedric camp

After a peaceful night we got up, packed up and started the long walk up the hill to Bynack More. We started off in sunshine but by the time we got to the top the cloud had come in and we were down to about 20m of visibility. The wind had picked up so we continued on to the Barns of Bynack (some impressive lumps of granite about 700m from the top) and sheltered behind them for lunch. My lunch consisted of alternate mouthfuls of lumps of cheese and crushed Warburton thins; in contrast the family got out a stove and cooked up some soup with tofu chunks!! We then marched off to the South West for a couple of km on a bearing and down to the Refuge at the Fords of Avon for the second night.

 

fords of avon

The final day plan was to get up early and go over Cairngorm. The forecast was for light winds in the morning strengthening to 75 mph by dusk. We got up before dawn and felt that the winds were not light so decided that the weather front must have come in early so elected to walk out north along Allt Dearg. This turned out to be a good decision as the winds we experienced in that relatively low walk out were strong enough to make progress difficult and even blow the youngest participant over at one point.

cedic day3

 

We had a fantastic though challenging few days and the tenacity of the girls was more than impressive. We covered 36km in the 3 days and camped in temperatures well below 0 degrees.

 

If you are interested in a winter expedition or winter walking day then please take a look at our winter pages

Gold Assessed expedition in the Picos de Europa 2016

I’m going to let you into a secret…the Picos de Europa is the most amazing mountain range in Europe. Forget the Alps, forget the Pyrenees, forget the Carpathians, and book a trip to the Picos de Europa. I first visited the Picos over 10 years ago. Travelling with a group of friends we wild camped, trekked through amazing forests of oak, pine and beech and generally marvelled at the limestone peaks. After that first short visit I have returned regularly on a mix of personal, university and DofE expeditions.


picosCaresGorgeSituated on the north coast of Spain the Picos de Europa national park covers an area of 646 km2. The park is divided into three limestone massifs; eastern, central and western. The central massif contains the highest peak Torre de Cerredo 2650 m and is divided from the western massif by the Cares Gorge. If high limestone mountains and deep gorges are not enough to draw you to the Picos the flora and fauna is unlike anything we have in the UK. There are bears, wolves, wild boar, wild cats, vultures and a diversity and abundance of wild flowers that is mind blowing.


I had the pleasure of visiting the Picos twice in 2016 in May and in October. In late 2015 Bedford Modern School had asked Lupine Adventure to put together a Gold DofE expedition to the Picos. After meeting the group and supporting them in their route planning I headed out in May to check campsites, walk their planned route and complete the expedition specific risk assessment. I based myself at Camping La Viorna on the edge of the town of Potes. A great campsite with modern clean facilities, friendly staff and good cheap food and wine I would totally recommend this campsite as a base for a visit to the Picos.

ViewFrom PotesCampsite
View from the campsite at Potes

In October I travelled down to Bedford and joined the students and staff travelling to the Picos. We drove down to Portsmouth early on Saturday morning and boarded the ferry to Santander. The ferry journey allowed lots of time getting to know the students and staff from Bedford and lots of relaxation time as well. We arrived in Santander on a Sunday morning and drove 100 km along the coast and up into the mountains and arrived at our campsite in Potes. In anticipation of the fact that supermarkets are generally closed on Sunday in Spain we had brought from Bedford Tesco food for our first evening meal. Utilising all our Trangias we cooked a feast of rice, mixed fresh vegetables, Quorn ‘chicken’ in Chinese style sauces. That’s the great thing about Trangias, you are not limited to boil in the bag style meals…you can actually cook proper food.


Monday was an acclimatisation day spent food shopping (Potes has amazing local cheese), discussing emergency procedures, acquainting the group with their Spot beacon and re-familiarising the group with the 1:40000 scale maps of the area. Over the subsequent four days from Tuesday to Friday the group from Bedford Modern worked hard and totally earned their Gold DofE awards.


PicosMountainStarting at Cosgaya the group trekked north-west along forest tracks and camped at Refuge El Redondo in Fuente De. From El Redondo (which is another campsite that I would totally recommend) they headed west over the mountains to Santa Marina de Valdeon. One of the things that most impressed me about this group was that at lunchtime they asked if it was ok to summit an adjacent peak before continuing on with their planned route. They worked out that it would take an additional hour to summit and return to their lunch spot. I approved this and supervised them as they summited Alto de la Triguera 1890 m. After a night wild camping on the edge of a forest the group headed north along the Rio Cares and down through the magnificent Cares gorge. Another night of wild camping followed before the group faced their final day and biggest uphill push. From the Cares gorge the headed north-west and up into Vega Maor where they stopped for lunch. Transhumance agriculture is still practiced in the Picos and Vega Maor is an upland pasture that is used for grazing cattle and goats during the summer months. From Vega Maor they continued west and finished their expedition at Lago de la Ercina.


After spending the Friday night at a campsite near Covadonga we drove to the beautiful coastal town of Sant Vincente de la Barquera. A nice walk on the beach and a seafood lunch followed before we drove back into Santander and caught the ferry back to the UK. Safely back in Bedford a team of happy but tired students were collected by parents and I had one last cup of coffee before heading back up the M1 to Leeds.

 

If you are wondering where to do a gold DofE in Europe, we think that the Picos de Europa wins hands down.

 

For more information on our European Gold DofE expeditions please visit our International DofE pages.

A Three Peaks Up and Under, by Stephen Oldfield - Book Review

 

I was really pleased to get this book for my birthday, recently. It’s a sort of outdoorsers’ travel guide to Lupine’s backyard, in the Three Peaks area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It’s a place we often find ourselves privileged to inhabit in our work and play.

 

three peaks 188x300

 

It’s mainly written in two “books”. First comes the Up, explorations above ground, and then the Under, ventures below ground into some of the district’s more accessible caves. The premise is that, while the area draws its crowds to the summits of Ingleborough (the author’s particular favourite), Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent, there is much delight to be had in venturing off the beaten track to discover its lesser known places.

 

Before getting to the main events however, the author underpins the text by explaining the geological processes that have formed this limestone region. I found it gave a really good “potted history”. Just enough to support the text, reinforce the understandings I already had and add a little detail without being dry or overly technical. Indeed, the book is dotted with personal observations and anecdotes which communicate an enthusiasm (verging on obsession) which I found really engaging. The hand of the primary headteacher and exuberant dad is strongly evident. Occasionally the text seems a little “folksy”. The summits in one chapter are characterised as contestants in a beauty pageant - Penny, Ingle and Whernie. I guess some, perhaps younger, readers might enjoy this playful conceit (it didn’t bother me) and it’s an entirely accessible book for an adventurous and literate teenager.

 

Both the Up and Under sections are presented as a number of Adventures with practical details, grid references and directions supplied, such that it is possible (with the aid of a map and a little planning) to follow these itineraries for oneself. The advice on equipment is sound and useful, especially for novice hillwalkers and those considering venturing underground for the first time.

 

The Adventures provide quite a thorough exploration of the area uncovering some gems of landscape and natural and social history along the way. Some really stunning locations are included. A Three Peaks Up and Under would be useful to any questing soul planning to make repeated visits to the area or advising others where to go “off the beaten track”. With this in mind I’ll be using it to inform my Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and other expedition work in the area and sharing the routes and stories with my own kids.

 

•A Three Peaks Up and Under is available, direct from Scratching Shed Publishing, via our Kit and Bookshop page.

 

The author maintains an informative and entertaining blog at – www.oldfieldslimestone.blogspot.co.uk  

 

If you would like to take part in a Yorkshire 3 peaks challenge event in a group or on your own, please take a look at our Yorkshire 3 peaks pages

5 Days of DofE and Mountain Skills

Each year we work for South London School in Snowdonia. They have a 3 year rolling programme to complete their Gold DofE expedition section.

  • Year 1 Training
  • Year 2 Practice expedition
  • Year 3 Assessed expedition

Each year the whole group comes up and carries out their 5 day programme. This year, for the first time,  we put all the training group through the Mountain Skills course as part of their training. We had 2 groups on training this year and decided to run the Mountain Skills course in the first 2 days of the programme before setting out on a 3 day training expedition involving a wild camp above Pen-Y-Pass.

 

On day 1 we did much of the navigation part of the Syllabus from Capel Curig making our way up to Crimpiau via Clogwyn-mawr. We had fine views from the top to the North East over Llyn Crafnant Reservoir. Our decent was an ambitious drop off the edge down steep heathery slopes.

Llyn Crafnant

Day 2 took us up Moel Siabod via the South East Ridge. This meant we could cover steep ground really well and as they were an 'up for it' group it meant that we could take the sporting line for the entire ridge. As we approached the top I learnt that a group can download an app on their phones which then links the phones via bluetooth that means that all phones play the same music chosen by one of the group. The group learnt (after I got over the wow that is so cool factor) that I don't appreciate groups listening to music in the mountains.

siabod

The 3 day expedition started at Capel Curig headed west to Little Tryfan then over the Miner Track and down to Llyn Cwmffynnon for the night. This meant there was a big hill to climb with low cloud and a strong south wind to welcome us when we got to the top. It was my first time over the Miner's track and the low cloud and the lack of a track on the ground meant that their navigation and in particular relocation training from the previous few days was put to the test. After a water stop on the way down we found our camping spot and I managed to find somewhere a little way away from the group with awesome views but with a bit of a slope on it.

campsite

After a wet and windy night and morning, day 2 of the expedition took us over Snowdon. and despite having been up Snowdon in excess of 20 times this was the first time I've seen the trains running while on the mountain (I'm normally that way either in Winter or on a Welsh 3000's challenge at about 6am). We camped the night in Llanberis and did a treasure hunt / wide game / navigation type activity in the areas around Llanberis on the last day.

train

It was great to have a group for 5 days and the Mountain Skills syllabus fitted beautifully into their training package. Looking forward to meeting them next year for their practice expedition.

October Yorkshire 3 Peaks for 95 Liverpool Medical Students

PYGThis is the second year of running a Mountain Challenge for Liverpool Medical Student Society (LMSS). The LMSS is huge. I have no idea how many thousands of members they have but they seem to almost be a student union of their own with their own sub clubs for sports, dance and other hobbies and interests. I guess they are at uni for 5 years rather than 3 of most other courses so that must swell their numbers. Anyway the LMSS is huge and has it's own charity fund raising wing.

 

This year they were again raising money for a Children's Hospice in Liverpool (Claire house) and added a Liverpool based charity that helps the homeless (The Whitechapel centre).

 

Ninety-four (did I mention it is a big society) members of the LMSS arrived in Horton-in-Ribblesdale in 2 coaches just before 7am. Thanks to the ruthless efficiency of the two LMSS organisers Maddie and Alex all the participants knew pretty much how the day was going to run and we had all consent forms collected, and collated, so after we'd issued a few bits of kit (our definition of a waterproof jacket tends to differ from other people's definition) we set off from the top car park in the village and waited outside the toilet block.

 

94 flushes later they were off.

 

The groups moved fast and the lead group were soon on Pen-y-Ghent. At about 9am I got a call from someone who had missed the coach as he overslept. He was asking if he could catch them up if he got a taxi from Liverpool. We looked at train times but they didn't work out so in the end he got a taxi to Ribblehead and joined in from there. I think he will take the cost of that taxi to the grave with him.

 

InglebroughJust after getting the taxi call one of the instructors radioed in with a request for assistance with a drop out. One of the participants who was wearing a pretty heavy duty knee support was struggling. She had a historical knee injury (football in year 7) and it was flaring up. She had thought she would be OK. In fact she was so confident that it would be OK she had been out drinking until 3am that morning, had 20 minutes sleep and then got up at 4am to catch the coach. I went up to meet the tail enders at Tarn Bar and walked back down to Horton with the knee injured, hung over student medic. Rob (our instructor at the back) prescribed 8 hours sleep and a kebab and thought she may be able to do the last peak. Unfortunately the 3km back to Horton pretty much finished her off so it was game over.

 

With the nights drawing in we had set a relatively early cut off time to get to the last road crossing at the Old Hill Inn before Ingleborough and had arranged for one of the coaches to swing by at about 4pm to pick up the expected drop outs. However, by the time the last group had passed we only had a total of 3 retirees due to injury so I was able to bring them back to Horton in my car. By the time I got back to Horton the first 2 groups were in.

 

In all out of the 95 who took part we only had 3 retire, the fastest group came in in just shy of 9 hours and the tail enders got it all wrapped up in 12.5 so a nice fast day for everyone.

 

We're waiting on news for the total amounts raised but I think it is going to be high. (On 11th October they reported that they had raised £17,261.31

 

We had a strong team of Mountaineering Instructors and Mountain Leaders out and were ably assised by a couple of volunteer trainee Mountain Leaders who made a big difference to the running of the day.

 

Thanks very much to Maddie and Alex and all the participants as well as to our fantastic team of instructors for making it a great day out for everyone.

 

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If you have a group who would like to do the Yorkshire 3 peaks or if you would like to join with others then have a look at our Yorkshire 3 Peaks page and / or our Information for charities page

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