Xmas / New Year lull by Jerry

Toward the end of December there's a strange tradition on Bird Island of celebrating the birth of a 2,000 year old hippy. I can't say I understand it but it's good fun.

Late afternoon on Christmas Eve we took mince pies and mulled wine over to the seal team on their Special Study Beach (SSB) and sat there enjoying the festive spirit while watching the seals below us.

On Christmas Day itself I was out with Ruth, more searching for petrels and prions so more crawling about amongst the tussock grass with arms down burrows. Returning in time for a good wash and donning smart clothes, but a bit too late to help out in the kitchen, I was very ready for the huge meal we'd all chipped in with (but Tamsin and Craig should take the credit for the majority of the work done on the day). As well as turkey, ham, nut roast, potatoes, yorkshires, stuffing, other veg and loads of wine we had a massive stack of cakes and puddings, several of which are still around a full five days later!

The meal was excellent and followed by an increasingly raucous game of Balderdash, with only a break for washing up and then to watch the colourful sunset at about half eleven. We then stuck loud music on and danced like idiots until about five in the morning.

I opened a few presents throughout the day - a few chocolate treats, a harmonica with which to annoy the others and a scrapbook full of embarrassing pictures of me that I unrealisingly opened in front of everyone else. Thanks Mum.

The next day I was out again on a Geep and Skua round, battling the effects of a late night as well as a ferocious, cold wind. Since then I've been out over various places in the island marking new Wandering Albatross nests. This is a big job that everyone is getting involved in, a great excuse to head to new places and I got to ring my first Wanderer yesterday - quite a difference from the Wrens and Willow Warblers I got used to on Skokholm.

When it's wet and cold outside, and warm and dry in, the puppies will gravitate toward the kitchen. If the door is left open they'll even start to invade.

 Take one for the Christmas card. Although this one has more seals in it we vainly decided it didn't show us clear enough.

 Sitting down for Christmas meal, all scrubbed and smart.

 Christmas cake number one (of about five). The big seal is 3D, raising itself up, and I should explain that 'oof choof' is their all-purpose call.

Another Christmas cake, this one Craig, Steph and Jen's construction of a pair of ginerbread houses.

Christmas Eve on SSB - almost the full team as Steph was back in the kitchen making dinner. (Tamsin's photo).

Jerry.

Merry Christmas Y'all by Jerry



Just a quick one to wish everyone a merry Christmas and happy new year.

I woke this morning to a blizzard. As you can see, that died away, but the very cold wind remains. I was out earlier reaching down burrows, looking for petrels and prions on which to deploy GLS trackers. With these we'll find out more about where these birds feed at which times of the year - vital information if you're trying to help save them.

People are working hard, not just on mapping the newly egg-laying albatrosses and counting all the newly-born seal puppies, but in the kitchen too. I can tell tomorrow's meal is going to be legendary.

Hope everyone out there has a good a time as I suspect I will.

Gentoo chicks. by Jerry

With a few days or nice, sunny weather on Bird Island we've been trying to cram in as much outdoor work as possible. In particular plotting all the Brown Skua nests. This has involved trekking backward and forward over every patch of the island, marking nest sites with a GPS. The skuas look very much like Scottish Bonxies, but in general they don't dive bomb you so much. Instead they will sit tight on the nest shrieking.

Like the searching for shag colonies, this has been a good excuse to explore more bits of the island. Yesterday I volunteered to walk the high level route up near where the grass becomes moss banks then scree. There were a few snow patches but it was too soft to sledge down properly. Today has been sunny enough I've been out for the first time in shorts with no salapets over the top.

The season seems well underway, with Wanderers joining the other albatrosses on eggs, Gentoo chicks getting big enough to run around in pursuit of their parents and Fur Seal puppies being left on the beach to form little gangs as their mothers go off to sea to feed.

As someone who generally dislikes the run-up to Christmas it's been great having so much work on and such great weather to concentrate on, but I did help decorate our tree (or decorate one small patch of it with all the baubles I could find).

Jen with our Christmas tree.

 Gentoo Penguin feeding chick.

 Fat, self-satisfied Gentoo chick.

Smart King Penguin that had wandered up the wrong beach.

Jerry.

more photos at blipfoto.com/JerryATG

Apologies to anyone annoyed at how many times I posted the last blog. It's a fault with using blogger on very little internet.

Shags and 'bergs. by Jerry


A really good day today as we went to explore the east side of the island – the far less studied side and with being so busy elsewhere I'd not had a chance to get over. We had our legitimate reasons though – I'm starting to map the Blue-eyed Shag colonies and Tamsin needed to check on the rat bait boxes (we have to be constantly vigilant about the possible presence of rats as they could totally devastate the bird life if they ever found a way over). So Ruth agreed to take us on an expedition to Farewell Point.

Whereas most of the walking on Bird Island is through very high Tussock Grass, on the way out we went quite high so were able to use the more mountainous tracks.

Toward the east point it started to snow, heavily. By this point we were looking for Shag colonies, and looking through binoculars was like peering up close at a snow globe. But the weather here is predictable in it's inconsistency and shortly afterwards the clouds moved over and we were able to climb onto the ridge and eat our lunch in glorious sunshine.

From up there we saw the most exciting thing of the day; icebergs! Two of them basically on the horizon but still looking huge, square, bright white things. Also out there was the JCR, the ship we'd come down on. It was completing it's return journey and science cruise after dropping others off at Signy.

The sun held as we returned closer to the coast where the walking was harder, like most of the rest of the island. Thankfully there were plenty of spots to rest and take photos of penguins and seals. The distance from us to South Georgia mainland looked minimal – 100m or so of clear blue water. Of course the water is freezing cold and with a powerful tide. Then if you wanted to get to civilization as it is on South Georgia it's another 50 miles over some huge, barely touched mountains.

So I think I'll stay here.

Jerry.

 Blue-eyed Shag; one of those of that which we was trying to see.

 After the brief blizzard the clouds lifting to give us ghostly views of South Georgia.

 A short time and a short climb and we're counting Shags from the ridge.

 That massive white thing on the horizon is an iceberg. Even with a zoom lens it would be tiny but with a 16mm it's just a collection of pixels.

Grey-headed Albatross in front of Middle Mac (more Macaroni Penguins than at Little Mac, but not as many as at Big Mac).

 Tamsin and Ruth heading out along a well-established path across the scree. So much easier than through the tussocks.

Gentoo Penguins with some chicks almost big enough to be left alone. South Georgia looking imposing again in the background.

Looking back on Mountain Cwm and South Georgia.


More photos here.

Giant Petrels by Jerry

I finished my last blog with us just arriving. So much has happened since then it would take me a few days to write it all up, but in summary:

We spent two long, hard days unloading all our supplies from the JCR. This ranged from food (all fresh veg to be checked for damage and invasive insects) to fuel (180 drums) to more general science kit, clothing, household objects (24 wine glasses). The biggest and most challenging bit was a load of big wooden timbers and three huge bulk fuel tanks that had to be landed directly onto the beach. It was a testing time but so many people put in hard shifts that it passed without too much incident. Since then we've been straight into work; trailing the winterers around, hoping some of their vast knowledge will rub off on us.

Most of my work thus far has been with the Giant Petrels, known here as Geeps. It's getting toward the end of their egg-laying period but we still need to do daily rounds to check for any new nests, any failures and trying to get the ring number of every breeding adult in the study area. Like most of the work here, this is a long-term monitoring project that has been going on for decades, looking at changing population dynamics.


 Northern Giant Petrel with chick.


The Geeps are really charismatic birds. Generally very calm when you're near them, they're the vultures of the area and can be quite brutal when you witness them ripping apart a dead seal or penguin.


 Giant Petrel in the snow, looking through rare clear skies to Willis Island


Going out doing the Geep round has allowed me to see a good chunk of the island in a whole variety of weather conditions, often within a few hours. It also leads me past several pairs of Wandering Albatross that are starting their amazing courtship dance and juveniles that are not far off fledging so are jumping and desperately flapping their huge wings.


 A rare view across to South Georgia, with one of the Fur Seals that has climbed really far up the slope in search of a bit of breeding space.


Other jobs have included preparing a set of geolocators for further science work, testing the penguin weighbridge and helping with a Black-browed Albatross census, but all that will have to wait for a different blog.


Wandering Albatross spreading it's wings in hope of getting a bit of air.


Jerry.






The Journey South by Jerry


Sunday 11th November, 4pm. Half the BI team (Tamsin, Hannah and I) gather in BAS HQ in Cambridge and get on the minibus. On the way we think it's really funny to send Steph a massive long list of things we've forgotten and ask her to pick them up (bread, cheese, balsamic vinegar, watermelon, socks, shower cap, fax machine, stepladder, bowling ball and shoes (x2), christmas tree... you get the idea).

By 8pm we're at Brize Norton where we meet up with Steph (who hasn't got our requests) and Craig, who we've only just met there and then. By 11 we're on the plane and heading South, enjoying their cheap and nasty drink and meals along with the handed out iPads.

Monday morning. Two hour stopover in Ascencion while the plane refuels. We spend this time standing around inside 'the cage', a fenced off bit of tarmac preventing us going anywhere while the low cloud prevents us from seeing much of anything. Still, we try and enjoy our last bit of warm weather.

Monday afternoon. Arrive in Falkland Islands and discover if anything it's even warmer here! Our journey Stanley is by another minibus, this time one that loses part of the side of it half way along the big dirt track. In Stanley we get straight onto our ship, the RSS James Clark Ross (JCR). The cabins are comfortable, there's three 3-course meals a day and the bar prices are incredibly low. After a meal onboard we head into town and find a pub full of British flags playing 80s tunes on the video jukebox.

A broken bus in the Falklands

Tuesday. We were due to depart in the morning but plans change and we get an extra day ashore while they test the lifeboats. After various safety and evacuation drills we again headed into Stanley. As with yesterday it takes us ages as we're stopping all the time to look at the gulls, vultures, ducks and a few dolphins. It was still really hot so we grabbed lunch from the supermarket and sat with an ice cream under the whale-bone arch. After a little gift shop browsing we were about to head off to find a penguin beach when a landrover pulled up and it's occupants informed us we had to be heading back to the JCR.
Looking towards Stanley

The whale-bone arch in Stanley, with us posing near it, thinking about ice cream.

The ship had to pull away from the jetty to allow another, with a medical emergency, to come in. So we went and sat in the bay for a while. From up on the top deck, the 'monkey deck' we could see everything around us – Fulmars and Giant Petrels especially. Just before tea we spotted the tiny, black and white, Commerson's Dolphins feeding very close in. Me running round and Hannah screaming was the first of our daily tellings-off for being over excited. The day signed off with a partial solar eclipse.
RSS James Clark Ross

Wednesday. After what seemed like an eternity of lifeboat drills we finally headed off. As we pulled out from Stanley we could see a group of penguins, probably Magellanic, on a distant beach. We were also joined by our first albatrosses – Black-browed – but all too soon ran into a big bank of wet fog. Later that evening we got our first Wandering Albatross, standing out as being absolutely massive, even amongst all the other huge birds.

Black-browed Albatross

Thursday and Friday. Daily life on the boat consisted of getting up for breakfast, going out on the monkey deck to look at the birds, tea break, birds, lunch, birds, tea break, play a game or something, birds, dinner, birds. It was a nice crossing with only a small feeling of sea-sickness mixed with the lethargy from taking anti-sickness pills. On the Friday evening, after having Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses flying close most of the day, we saw our first seals. Out on the moneky deck we looked down at increasing numbers until we came across a feeding frenzy that must have contained 300-400 individuals, all popping up, diving and porpoising through the water. Shortly after we passed them there was a distinctive whale-blow in the distance, followed by several more closer in and finally a (probably Minke) whale surfacing just in front of us.

Pair of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross in a brief synchronised display flight.

Saturday. We'd been up on deck in the morning looking out for land, but gave up because of snow, fog and cold. Then, about 11, someone came into the bar and announced 'we're there'. Bird Island looked ominous and intimidating – low cloud with steep, snow-covered slopes leading up into it. The five of us, plus our luggage, were taken ashore in the little Humber ribs to meet the current occupants, those who'd just over-wintered; Ruth, Jon, Jen and Rob, as well as Jaume who'd come down a month earlier. We were shown around base and tried to settle in as the excitement welled up at seeing the beach covered in male Fur Seals (a few females and even a few puppies close by the jetty), Gentoo Penguins (and one ill-looking King) standing around looking confused and various albatrosses circling overhead. The captain decided it was too rough to do any real unloading so were had the afternoon to get to grips with our new home, an afternoon during which the sun came out and we were able to enjoy and gin and tonic on the jetty.
Welcome to Bird Island: (l-r) Hannah, Jaume, Jen, Steph, Ruth, Craig, Rob, Jon.
(kneeling) me, (setting up her camera so absent) Tamsin.

Jerry.

It's a very small amount of internet we've got here so I won't be putting up too many pictures on the blog. Instead I'll try and regularly post some here.


Ready to go by Jerry

It's almost time for departure. My bags are packed and I've said all my goodbyes. I'm spending my last few days visiting friends, couch surfing, and occasionally popping into the office.

In the last few weeks I've been sorting out those last-minute jobs like banking and phone cards. I haven't had to do too much panic buying, though there's been a few additional requests to take more stuff with me - either goodies for those already down there or bits of scientific equipment that we'll be needing.
A rare nice day in the Lake District with plenty of autumn colours.

I managed to have some time back in the Lake District. Unfortunately the weather was Bird Island-like; wet and grey, so I wasn't able to do much in the way of exciting walks. Instead I managed a few muddy runs and had plenty of time to pack my bags. I also took my new camera out to try and get some practice before going south.

Dipper and Blackbird by the River Kent.

As someone who isn't really bothered about Christmas I wasn't too fussed about missing it, but I had a very enjoyable evening as my Mum cooked an impromptu one for the family. I found myself packing a few wrapped gifts and leaving a few too - the earliest I've ever prepared for Christmas by about two months.
 November Christmas.

I had an enjoyable weekend in the land of car-parks and roundabouts that is Telford. From there we were able to get out in the sun to the Stiperstones (where we found the first snow of the year), Ironbridge and Wrekin.


 Stiperstones and old mining buildings.

I feel alarmingly laid-back about the massive adventure I'm about to go on. I don't know whether it's because I've been preparing for it for so long or because I still can't really believe it's happening


One of my last meals out with my parents - sandwiches in the back of the van in the wet, grey Leighton Moss car park.

Jerry

Last trip to Skomer by Jerry

This week sees my last few days in the office in Cambridge before spending some time back in the Lake District. The weekend just gone was a fun one though...

I headed down to Pembrokeshire on Friday night, to The Griffin in Dale, where people had gathered for what should have been the final episode of Dream Island, the documentary about Skokholm made over the last two years (due to last weeks football it was actually episode 5, the last one is next week). It was great to see assorted programme-makers, boatmen and volunteers, as well as Chris and Sarah, enjoying our work and applauding loudly during the end credits.

South Haven, Skomer

Despite all expectations the weekend was sunny and calm and we were able to get over to Skomer. Porpoise passed us on the way, seeming to celebrate my return. It's a lovely time of year to be there as the low sun brings out the greens and browns of dying vegetation, while plenty of migratory birds are making their way through. There wasn't anything too rare this weekend but it really felt like autumn as Sunday morning brought several hundred thrushes as well as finches and others passing overhead. Flocks of Jackdaws and Starlings are hanging around, enough to hear the 'wooooosh' as they fly past.

Grey Seals on North Haven beach.

Probably the real draw of this time of year though are the Grey Seal pups. It's the middle of the season down on Skomer and around 130 had been born already. A big storm last week had moved them around a little, with big waves picking up some and depositing them on different beaches. This can potentially be very bad news as pups get injured, cold or separated from their mothers, but the majority we saw were sleeping away all fat and happy.

Fat, healthy, moulted pup on the slipway.

Because of the storms and the high number of pups still being born Dave is very busy running round recording and identifying them. We got to go with him down to the bottom of The Wick, an exciting part of Skomer only accessed at this time of year. A bit of a scramble takes you down to the shingle where many years worth of driftwood has piled up and young seals are surprisingly camouflaged. The seal pups are marked with an agricultural dye on their white coat. This moults before they head off on their own and is used to differentiate them and record how successful a season it has been. There was one or two particularly aggressive mothers down The Wick so it was useful to have one person distracting them while the other nipped in and marked the pup. I'll report how different work on Bird Island is, where each angry seal is surrounded by thousands of other angry seals.

 Trip down to the bottom of The Wick to mark and record seal pups.

We departed on Sunday afternoon and stopped briefly by my Grandma's house, a wonderful place looking out over Tenby and the beach, where I spent many happy childhood holidays. It's the last time I'll see it as it's being sold, so saying goodbye was harder than saying goodbye to many people. There was time for an stroll down to the beach in the evening sun before stopping at another pub for tea.

Looking along the beach to Tenby.

A damp day in Cardiff followed by a long train journey back to foggy Cambridge couldn't detract from the joy of two sunny days on the Pembrokeshire islands, including my last chance to swim in the sea.


Jerry.

Training continued. by Jerry

A month to go now before I depart. We got the disappointing news the other day that our flights have been put back from the 7th to the 11th November. The ship is due to leave the Falklands on 13th and we were looking forward to a few days exploring there, but I doubt we'll get to do that now. We'll be taking the quickest and most direct route possible; flying from Brize Norton to the Falklands via Ascension Island, then on the RRS James Clark Ross to Bird Island. That'll take us five days (if the sea's calm enough to get straight in to BI, if not we may get to see a bit of King Edward Point and Grytviken on South Georgia as she unloads there).
After the excitement of conference and field course it was a bit frustrating to be back in the office when we really just wanted to get going, especially as others have already departed, at least on their pre-deployment holidays. But we've had quite a variety of other courses to keep us busy, mainly introductions to lab, biosample and data record management and identifying squid beaks and otoliths (fish ear bones) so we can work out what our animals are eating.

We had interesting tours yesterday of the aquarium and ice-core store. In the latter we got to play with some 20,000 year old ice while in the former we saw a range of weird creatures - bright sea lemons, large sea spiders and an old fish.

The weather's generally been pretty good in Cambridge, though there's a noticeable chill and darkness when I leave and return to the house. I've been jogging to work fairly regularly to try and ensure I'll be fit enough to keep up with the guys already down there when we have to stride out over the notoriously difficult tussock grass.

One of the stupidly ostentatious Cambridge colleges I go past on my journey to work.

It's been a few years since I was on the mainland at this time of year so I'm rediscovering the spectacular autumn colours as the trees turn yellow and red. On Skomer and Skokholm the few trees that there are tend to lose their leaves all in one go with the first severe autumn storm, over here I can collect conkers and kick big piles of leaves.

Enjoying time in the woods before I leave for another treeless island.





Pre-deployment training by Jerry

The last two weeks have been filled with the pre-deployment conference - a very busy time in which we're told and taught everything we need to know.

This started last Sunday afternoon when Girton College opened it's doors to 100 or so scientists, technical staff, field assistants, chefs and doctors heading to Bird Island, South Georgia, Signy, Rothera and Halley as well as those going further into the field like the Subglacial Lake Ellsworth team.

The official photo of those going south in 2012/13

We started off with a lot of meetings with our teams and talks about our specific locations as well as being informed on more general company type stuff. Mixed in with this were presentations about bits of research going on in different disciplines across the continent. There was a lot of first aid training, as you'd imagine, with many varied practice scenarios thrown at us in quick succession. Amongst the rest of it we got to practice (not play) with fire extinguishers and were taught all about teamwork from the classroom.

Probably my favourite part was the Sea Survival Training in Lowestoft. This involved an early start and a load more Powerpoint, but after lunch we got in the pool for real training. We ran through a few drills and ended up with an 'abandon ship' scenario; mostly pitch black with occasional flashing lights and the noise of the wind machines whipping the pool up to about 5ft swell as the sprinklers rained down cold showers. We had to run up stairs, put life-jackets on, drop the 3m into the water, swim over to the raft and get everyone in and safe. We possibly carried on a bit too long as we started desperately bailing out with our shoes, but you could feel the adrenaline flowing through the group. We all survived and were pretty efficient, and from what I understand the Southern Oceans aren't that different from a heated pool in Suffolk.

Following a week of glorious sunshine we were enthusiastic about our trip up to Derbyshire for the Field Course. As you probably know, this turned out to be in the middle of the worst September storms for 30 years. Our campsite was a mudbath when we arrived and we spent the first evening learning basic campcraft stuck inside a tent.


Our dining room. Note the mud and puddles.

The next day we got out to Curbar Edge to learn how to rescue ourselves and others from crevasses. So we abseiled down and jumared back up the cliff in between sheltering from the elements. Even though Bird Island doesn't have any crevasses I hope some of this will be useful in the future. It's a while since I've abseiled and I haven't used the jumars before, so it felt worth it.

Sheltered behind a rock on Curbar Edge.

 Hannah, concentrating more on the camera than the large drop below.

Chris, jumarring back up the cliff.

Sandwiches and tea in a cramped cave.

Back at the site we ran through a couple of search and rescue drills before cooking and heading to the pub, where we filled a large room with wet coats, boots, socks and other layers.

Eagle Rock and a Highland Cattle we passed on our walk back.

 Practicing search and rescue in a simulated blizzard.

Drying off in the pub. See the pile of wet clothes behind us.

We were back on the ridge the next day, running through navigation and more search drills in the rain, fog and boggy ground that sounds quite representative of Bird Island. 


 Another lovely day in the Peak District.

More white-out search and rescue.

We headed back to Cambridge that afternoon, a day early but I think another night in the rain and mud might have broken our spirits. I know it'll be colder and wetter down south but I'll also be better equipped and with a base to go back to.

It's been hectic but good fun. It was great to meet so many others who are heading south and finding about what they're going to be doing. I look forward to hearing their stories and seeing photos once we're out there.
Team Bird Island: Hannah (seals), Jerry (penguins), Chris (buildings), Tamsin (base commander) & Steph (albatrosses).


1st week training by Jerry

This time last week I was still frantically trying to find somewhere to live in Cambridge. Happily that got sorted in time for my arrival late on Sunday to start with an early walk across town and my first day at work.

There's been a lot of information thrown at us but it's been a fairly relaxed week so we've had plenty of time to read through it. There's been lots of meetings with former Bird Island residents and others who've travelled the Antarctic; people with plenty of stories and advice that've got us all excited. I've got a running list of extra bits of kit I should be taking, from chocolate to knee-pads.

The office space is somewhat different from Skokholm. The view here isn't as good, but I didn't have to make the desk from old kitchen cupboards. I'm afraid the array of skulls in the Skokholm office is easily beaten by the stuffed Chinstrap Penguin on one desk here.

It's been a really sunny, hot week here and cycling to and from work would have been a pleasure if it wasn't for a bike that sometimes loses it's chain three times in five miles. I need to work out a route that doesn't get lost among the colleges and I can start jogging in.

Packing and fitting by Jerry

My working life with BAS starts properly on Monday, so I'm enjoying my last weekend in Cardiff before heading over to Cambridge.

I was there earlier in the week, filling a packing case with a load of clothes and other bits of junk. Mostly things to keep me entertained through the long winter - a variety of art stuff and a hard drive full of films being the most obvious examples. I also checked over my BAS issue kit bag, checking the boots, thermals, fleeces, hat, gloves, jackets and insulated boiler suit all fit me. Although a fairly functional task it was quite exciting thinking about next time I'm going to be wearing those clothes it's going to be for real.

Prior to this packing I was back home very briefly and before that spending my last week on Skokholm. It was the first week of autumn work parties and you can read more about it here and here.

It felt great to be back, there's always a great sense of camaraderie when the work parties are going on and I'm sorry to be leaving before seeing everything to completion.

The Skokholm team (with apologies to the departed Molly); Will, Teresa, Me, Leighton and Lewis.

Before leaving I accomplished two things that felt like making my mark on the island. Firstly, burning a lot of my accommodation and, secondly, hiding a gnome in a mystery spot.


I look forward to checking up on these in two years time.

My final view of Skokholm before disappearing around the corner into Martin's Haven.


Jerry.



Hyper-Bala by Jerry

We've been staying in a cottage near Bala, North Wales, for most of the week, with Ric, Nic and Paddy. The plan was just for a nice holiday with no real agenda. The previous week had been gloriously sunny and hot while this one promised wind and rain. 

With it lashing it down the first morning we decided to avoid the mountains and headed up to Alwen Reservoir. Shortly after we arrived it got much warmer, so much so that Charlotte and I, who had decided to run around the reservoir we soon stripped down to the bare minimum of clothing.

Picking bilberries while waiting for the others to return. Later in the week we had them all over cheesecake.

Who can resist crushing a handful of berries and squashing them into your mouth?

The next day we headed up to the white water rafting centre on the Tryweryn. This was the principle reason for coming to this part of the country as we did a bit of rafting in Sri Lanka but found it too warm.


We got four good runs down, highlights included paddling hard upstream into a large rapid so that Charlotte and Nichola got soaked (picture below), me half falling out and drifting along with the boat for ages before before Ric and Charlotte managed to pull me back in, and Paddy shouting 'urgh... it's wet' when a wave hit him.



The weather the next day looked better so we decided to go for it and hit Snowdon. It was quite a late start and longish journey over, so by the time we got there we had to park pretty far away and we thought we'd have to walk several km up the road before starting the mountain. But then along came the bus and we were on our way.


We started off up the Pyg Track, before Charlotte and I split from the others and headed up Crib Goch.


The low clouds lifted as we ascended so we had clear views of the ridge and it was just about clear when we got to the summit.


We only passed about 20 other walkers along the route and there was a sense of camaraderie as we all felt superior to the hoards going up the main tracks and those going up the train.


We met the others near the top, just as they were starting to descend. After pushing through the crowds to touch the trig point we got a cup of tea and found a quieter area to eat our sandwiches. We headed down the Miner's Track quite quickly, trying to catch the others, but interrupted our rush for a quick swim. Then down to finish with an ice cream.


The day after that was far wetter, so we headed out to do a gorge walk near Dolgarrog, Conwy. Pulling up in the car park we knew we were in the right place as a large school group was getting kitted up in full wetsuits, buoyancy aids and helmets. We headed out in t-shirts and shorts, dashing to get in front of them. This was a pretty good scramble with enough water coming down to get wet. Some of the climbing was quite tricky, with slippery wet holds, and I ignored one part after watching Ric jump balls-first onto a rock below a hard bit. When we got back to the car it was really raining hard so we headed back for a lazy afternoon.

Too Much Fun by Jerry


After a day trying to avoid the rain, during which we still managed some fun stuff like traversing the cliffs round Humphrey Head, we decided to head over to Wasdale Head and have a go at scrambling up Ill Gill on Kirk Fell.


Turns out this is definitely several stages harder than the ones we'd been doing the last few days.


The volume of water coming down wasn't too much of a problem. But when we got to a bit we couldn't pass I foolishly suggested we climb up the side of the gorge rather than go back downstream a bit. After a worrying climb through mud, heather, gorse and crumbling rock we were relieved to get onto solid ground.

After a short breather we went back into the gorge, but soon found ourselves avoiding the algae-covered main stream and on very fragile, crumbly rock on the edge. After a bit of a fall we decided we were fed up of trying to kill ourselves and headed back down.

Our original plan had been to climb Ill Gill one day, then bivvy out somewhere again and go play in the River Esk the next day, But after our trials we decided to head down the Duddon Valley and go for a swim in the Froth Pot.


While it looks a beautiful spot, and a great place to swim, the amount of water coming down meant getting very far against the current was really difficult. So I decided to head further upstream to jump in and drift down. There I learnt the true meaning of the phrase "look before you leap".


Jumping shin-first into a boulder just under the water's surface was the last straw for that day. We were done feeling like we were in Final Destination, so packed up and came home.

The next day we decided for something more sedate. As we'd been driving home we'd seen a sign for a 'geocaching megaevent'. I'd kind of explained to Charlotte what geocaching is (a man leaves some stuff in a box in the woods for other men to find) and we thought we'd give it a go. After an unsuccessful first attempt we were becoming frustrated so for the second one used map, gps and website instructions and hints,


And we found it. I'm not sure it was as rewarding as we'd hoped, but we celebrated by eating some blackberries.


Further on through the woods near Milnthorpe we found an old abandoned cottage in the woods. Spooky, what would we discover inside?


An old dirty photo, obviously.


Overall a good excuse for a day out.




Gill scrambles and testing bivvy bags by Jerry

We've been in the Lake District for a few days, enjoying a bit of walking. With us both wanting to do a bit of scrambling, and getting wet, we headed for Langdale and Browney Gill. This is an old favourite - a nice mix of scrambling, climbing and walking. It takes you straight up the south side of the Langdale valley to the east end of the Crinkle Crags, from where you can head west over them to the foot of Bowfell.


Unsurprisingly there was a large volume of water coming down the mountain, enough to give rough, white water in many places.


Traversing along the narrow gorge walls is possible most of the way up, but at some points you just have to put your feet down and get wet.


In other places scrambling up alongside the flow is enough to get you wet.


Then there are one or two places where you just have to get out and walk round.


At this point Charlotte jumped in, lost her sunglasses and struggled to get out.

After traversing the Crinkle Crags we headed down for a few drinks and a meal at the pub. Around 9pm we packed up and climbed up to Stickle Tarn, finding a suitable place to bivvy for the night.


Our bed for the night was a disassembled hut. Unconventional but flat and dry. It was located about halfway up the path on the picture below.


The night was clear, with a big, near-full moon. Waking up intermittently I saw a brilliantly clear pre-dawn glow to the horizon. However, when next I awoke the tops were covered in clouds and we could barely see the tarn below us.

Despite our early start we were not the only ones up on top of Pavey Ark, with a few other small groups checking directions with each other in the mist. The clouds cleared as we headed back down the valley to Stickle Tarn, where Charlotte had a swim and I had breakfast.


Back down at the car park we decided to do a quick dash up Stickle Ghyll, again quite a different chalenge from normal with the sheer volume of water running down it, but all good fun.