Icelandic Trolls, Rock Balancers, and Responsible Mountaincraft

These stacked stones on a cairn on the plateau of Kinder Scout reminded me of a walking holiday in IcelandKinder-cairn-for-blog a few years ago. There I saw many little stone towers, and was told by locals that they were said to be built by trolls. I quite like this piece of folklore, but I'm not sure if it can explain the stones on Kinder Scout.

Recently I came across the concept of stone balancing which might do more to explain things. I have to admit that I was sceptical of it as an art form, until I saw this website which converted me:  


In many mountain areas of the UK cairn building and cairn removal have become a problem. New cairns have reduced the usefulness of those that are placed to aid navigation, and the large numbers of people adding to cairns can cause problems with habitat/erosion. On the other hand the altering or removal of cairns has also caused problems. Having been brought up always to add to cairns in the interest of responsible mountaincraft, I now find myself encouraging people not to do so for the same reason.

This article explains some of the issues:


The Lynn Eigiau Dam Disaster

During a recent expedition in Snowdonia a group from Warwick school spent a night wild camping near Lynn Eigiau in the Carneddau.


One of the school staff had produced a fact sheet on the Eigiau dam disaster of 1925, when the reservoir dam breached resulting in several deaths. The dam is still in place today (providing a nice windbreak for the campsite) and the breach can clearly be seen.


I've thought for a while that 'disasters' makes a good theme for outdoor education - the British countryside is full of the sites of plane crashes, industrial disasters and of course mountaineering deaths. In this case it was the breach of a reservoir dam resulting in the loss of 17 lives. There is of course a risk of appearing heartless or macabre when dwelling on these disasters, but there is equally the potential not only for increased awareness and thought but also for igniting genuine interest in the wider historical, geographical and political contexts of these events as well as in the mountains themselves.  


The Eigiau dam was built in 1911 by the Aluminium Corporation to provide water for a power station, to power the aluminium works at the nearby village of Dolgarrog. Its construction was the cause of controversy over allegations of corner cutting by a contractor and today the dam can be seen to have been inadequately constructed.  In 1925 following several days of heavy rain the dam failed releasing huge quantities of water down the valley to Coedty reservoir, the dam of which then also failed releasing the flood water into Dolgarrog and resulting in 17 deaths. It is thought that the death toll could have been even higher had not many of the villagers been in the local cinema. In 2004 a memorial walk was opened by the last survivor of the disaster, Fred Brown, who had lost family members in the flood.


The breach in the dam wall at Lynn Eigiau

A sunny day on Kinder Scout

It almost felt like the start of Summer on Kinder Scout yesterday, during a day spent there with a group of walkers from the charity Julian Support  (


We walked up by way of Grindsbrook Clough then along the plateau edge past the Wool Pack rocks to descend by Jacobs Ladder. Discussion ranged from the natural forces that had sculpted the wool pack, to the  Kinder Scout mass trespass of 1932, to the benefits of home made jerky as food for the hills.




Hill and Mountain Skills Tutor Training



In April 2014 Mountain Training are launching their new Hill Skills and Mountain Skills courses. Lupine Adventure Co-operative put in an application to be one of the first wave of providers for the new courses and were accepted. Before we can run these courses all course tutors have to attend a two day training course.


I attended mine in the Peak District last week, as with any training that one is obliged to attend I had all the usual concerns. Will it be a waste of time and money? What sort of snacks will be provided? will the other Mountain Leaders like me?


My fears were without foundation. The course was great, the lunch awesome and the other attendees in my group were a lovely bunch. After various introductions on the first day we split into groups and, using the syllabus, we worked out a sample programme and went into detail about the different ways we could deliver the various aspects.


On day 2 we went out for a walk in our groups and each took it in turns to deliver a topic. One person taught, one person gave feedback and then we all gave feedback on the feedback (It actually worked quite well even if it sounds a bit silly). My group were great, no massive egos meant that we all had a chance to show what we knew and learn from each other. I picked up a few new tricks for teaching about contour lines, pacing and timing.


I elected to do my talk on movement skills and in particular 'how to walk up-hill' not a topic that I would choose to cover on every course but something I have a growing slightly nerdy interest in (I've even written a sheet on it). We were accompanied by an Editor of Grough magazine so I got this rather nice picture of me instructing a group of Mountain Leaders how to walk up-hill.


Photo courtesy of Grough Magazine:


Lupine Adventure will be delivering Hill Skills and Mountain Skills courses from May 2014. Visit our dedicated Hill and Mountain Skills website for more details.

The Ring of Steall



devils-ridgeEvery winter for the past few years I have spent a week or two wardening the Alex Macintyre hut for the BMC. This year I've been inundated with friends come an join me for different bits of it. On Sunday Archie came up and yesterday we embarked on the Ring of Steall. The Ring of Steall is a 12km route taking in 4 Munros (peaks over 3000ft) starting and ending in Glen Nevis. Early on in the day you have to cross the 'Devils Ridge'.


I'd done bits of this route before in winter 10 years ago, including the devils ridge and thought nothing of it. Yesterday was a good reminder that in winter, conditions are everything. There was a lot of snow up high and while last time we skipped along the ridge slightly disappointed this time we were gripped on an horrendously steep edge on brittle ice with a soft snow top wishing we'd brought two axes each. A slip from here would have been un-stoppable. This 20m section took an age and left us both with aching left arms, due to (over) gripping the axe. We were now 5 hours into the walk and had only gone 5 km, this was when the cloud came in. The rest of the day was a bit quicker only slowed down during periods of complete white out when we had to inch along the ridge trying to work out which side of the fine peak of wind sculpted snow would be safest to walk on.


We got back to the car after 9 and a half hours of, at times, pretty extreme ridge walking, for a grade I.


If you would like to learn more about winter mountaineering or to be taken on a walk like this (or maybe something a bit less challenging), visit our winter skills and expeditions page.




Deep Survival


I've been reading Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales over Christmas. It's basically anecdote after anecdote (or case study after case study if you prefer) about things going wrong on mountains, in boats, on surfboards, in jungle - In the wilderness. 


I am only half way through but the basic premise is that having more experience can mean in certain circumstances you are more in danger. This due to applying successful past outcomes of actions to similar but different situations rather than assessing each situation on its own merits. The dangers of heuristics. He is also of the opinion that being experienced can just mean that you've been getting away with doing things wrong for a long time!


 I'll leave you with this fantastic quote.


"The environment we're used to is designed to sustain us. We live like fish in an aquarium. Food comes mysteriously down, oxygen bubbles up. We are the domestic pets of a human zoo we call civilization. Then we go into nature, where we are least among equals with all other creatures. There we are put to the test. Most of us sleep through the test. We get in and out and never know what might have been demanded. Such experience can make us even more vulnerable for we come away with the illusion of growing hardy, salty, knowledgeable."


Congratulations John Sherburn!


We were glad to hear that John qualified as a Mountain Leader earlier this month. 


He spent several days out on the hill with us earlier in the year, coming on our both our standard and advanced navigation courses in preparation for gaining his ML award.


Congratulations John from all at Lupine for your success. It was well earned.


Hope to see you out on the hill in future...


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