What Is….Potholing?

Potholing and spelunking. Depending on your frame of mind either sounds rude, or totally baffling. Not the sort of thing beginners could do, you might think. But actually, potholing, also known as spelunking, is the method of caving, which means simply, exploring caves with the right equipment.

Pot holing is simply the method of getting into the cave, but when you’re there, a beautiful world of tunnels, caverns, anciet stalagmites, rocks and fossils await you. With caves in Yorkshire, Wales, Derbyshire and beyond, caving is very accessible if you live in the UK, and you can give it a go, even if you’ve never been lower than the London Underground.

Popular in America under the name spelunking, and here in the UK as potholing, generally the nature and definition of potholing is the method of entering caves via ropes and ladders with full climbing equipment in order to explore the cavern.

Ropes are knotted and rigged and used to delve into the cave, and often, you may need to lie down and wriggle between walls of the cavern. Falling rocks and rising water as well as incoming water from above can all create a trap in the cavern, so safety is essential for potholing, it needs to be your number one priority.

“The thing is, caving is the general term for what we offer- and although that includes potholing we do say as a beginner, to come along first and get exploring and get some training. We offer half and full days and we always say get a half day because there is so much to see. Potholing is something that is usually undertaken by people with some experience” explains Ian Rennie from Go Cave.

“Some of these caves will be 120m deep and we use SRT methods, abseiling and using climbing ropes to get down. The key is – with training, anyone can go potholing. We can go for 3-4 hours, half a day, a whole day, or if you’re experienced we can even get you doing your leader awards as well. ”

Often, the heart of the pothole isn’t accessible on your first descent into a cavern or a mine, so you need to travel deeper into the cave. In these circumstances, squeezing through the tiniest tunnels, you do need to have good upper and lower strength to drag both yourself along. It is also key to relax your breathing through the tighter spots so you don’t push out your ribcage and extend your girth unintentionally! It is these tight spots that people often panic about or worry over when they think of caving.

I asked Ian how often he sees ‘surprise claustrophobia’ down in the caves.

“In 18 years? Once. It really is very rare. And the idea is that we are getting people to enjoy themselves down there, not to be scared, so they enjoy caving. Cavers themselves don’t spend a whole day on their bellies crawling through caves generally, and these sorts of routes again can be avoided. It’s the same with weight. Caving is fine whether you’re 6 foot 8, 16 stone, a rugby player or as slim as a model! We can get you in the appropriate cave as long as you’re relatively fit and healthy and above 8 years old- before that the suits don’t tend to fit!”

Once you have navigated the pitches and drops there are beautiful internal caverns to sit in, hung with stalactites and stalagmites, prehistoric untouched fossils, mud, and clear water to observe.

“Because you’re being guided with us you can hear about geology of the area, local knowledge and you will get the best route. The thing I love is every single day is different with caving. The caves are graded but the water level could make a grade 1 cave a 3 overnight. Caves are really wonderful.

I asked Ian why caving in the UK is unique.

“Whereas abroad you might have these massive vertical pitches whether you spend days underneath, in The UK we can do a lot of different routes in a smaller area and smaller time frame, so you can come for days at a time and keep taking in new pitches, new routes. The UK routes are really quite intense.”

And what about being kitted out? Do people need to buy climbing shoes?

“We get people all kitted out in the whole gear- wellies, fleece underlayers, jackets, trousers- the lot! We don’t want you to have to buy anything or have lesser gear than anyone else, never mind the instructor- so we supply the lot. All we would say is grab yourselves some thermals, it can be cold in the caves, and then you can put our layers on top. ”

Have you discovered caving? Tell us your stories!


Dressing For The Outdoors

Water beads off the Pumori - great for the British climate...

If you’ve got a week booked away for fun and adventure in the outdoors, whether that’s a week away in the Lakes on the water canoeing, kayaking and cliff jumping or if you’re on terra firma in Snowdon, climbing, bouldering, clay pigeon shooting and 4 x 4 driving, you need to be dressed right.

The North Ridge FireFly ready for action!

If you’re new to the outdoors, you don’t want to spend too much either, so here are the key rules to stay comfortable, warm and dry in the outdoors. I’ve even dressed myself for a day out kayaking so you can see how it all looks on. Even though this is a ‘feminine’ outfit (plenty of purple!) the basic rules still apply for men.

  • Layers are your friend. Lots of cheap, slim layers are much better than one thick, expensive coat or jumper. Rather than a big down jacket that will leave you sweating when you start moving, we say you should pick a baselayer t-shirt (these are made to mop up sweat, leave no stains or marks, and to keep dry, unlike cotton!) You can then wear a fleece midlayer for warmth, and then a waterproof jacket, or if the sun’s shining on you, just wear a windproof softshell jacket.
  • The key players in outdoor wear for waterproof, windproof and breathability are GORE-Tex, eVent and Dewpoint. They all work in slightly different ways to manage moisture (sweat) and to bring it to the outside of the jacket. We recommend these for waterproof protection that won’t leave you sweaty. A cheaper waterproof jacket might keep the rain off, but you will get really hot and bothered in it because it isn’t breathable (e.g. able to remove sweat) like a more expensive jacket can. The jacket i’m in is a North Ridge Pumori Jacket which is waterproof, windproof, breathable, with zips aplenty. It looks great with jeans too. The men’s version, The Kalias is also available.

The North Ridge Pumori Jacket gets an outing- despite lack of rain!

  • Good footwear is key! Get some good walking boots for those hills, willies for muddy activities like archery or clay  pigeon shooting, and cheap but cheerful lowland approach shoes for general use or for that bungee jump! Socks are also little thanked but often appreciated bits of kit, so get some thick ones or waterproof socks for your rucksack in case you’re walking or climbing.
  • Waterproof overtrousers are great for saving your trousers and you can wear them over other trousers when you go kayaking, paintballing, canoeing or monster trucking!  You can get a pair of walking trousers, leggings or thermal underwear or even shorts for use under these.
  • A nice pair of gloves and a hat are great for heights when you feel the wind more and are so cheap they are well worth buying.
http://www.youtube.com/user/gooutdoorstv#p/u/20/w7A0-sOX_A8 – Click here to see a GO Outdoors video on layering for even more information on what to buy before you go, go,  ‘GO Activities‘.

Before I got them dirty!

3 Peaks Challenge Tips

The Three Peaks Challenge is something you may have been asked to do for charity, you might want to do for fun, or you might have no clue about. Whatever your level of familiarity with the 3 peaks, this article will explain how to defeat the peaks with advice from people who’ve been there and done that!

Ollie, Tom and Henry at the top of Snowden

The three peaks are Snowdon in Wales (1085m), Scafell Pike in England (978m) and Ben Nevis in Scotland (1344m) although you can also take part in the Pennine Range Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge on  Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough in under 12 hours, however the aforementioned Three Peaks across England, Scotland and Wales are very popular. These aren’t the highest peaks, but they are the best for providing a feasible, logistical challenge to those who want to climb all three in a day.

After climbing up and down one, you travel, usually via a mini bus or car to the next one. The popular route is started at 6pm at the south of Ben Nevis’s sea level, where you drive to the walking point, and this route and timing allows you time to get to Ben Nevis when it is dark, Scafell at around 3am, and a finish with Snowdonia at the coast when it’s light. Most 3 peaks are undertaken within 24 hours and many people undertake it for charity so it involves some training to get prepared!

I asked Mark Rutter, 30, who is training for the 3 peaks in November about how he expects it to go.

“I wanted to take on the three peaks for charity in order to raise money for a local care centre with a friend. I’m not an experienced walker and in fact I have only just started walking during the past 2 months!  I have had a practice walk up to the top of Mount Snowden and I am using my treadmill at home to get fit. Over the past 2 months I have been gradually increasing the number of miles so that I am prepared and I’ve been reading various websites about clothing and which routes to take as they range from easy to very difficult! I have also been talking to friends who have completed the challenge before and staff at the GO Outdoors store in Stoke.

Our aim is to complete the 3 peak within 24 hours, however this will depend on traffic between each peak. After speaking to a number of experienced walkers I have been told that the hardest mountain will in fact be the smallest peak which is Scaffell Pike in the Lake District. Apparently the incline is very steep and there’s lots of rubble to lose your footing on!”

So loose rubble and traffic- what factors are key in surviving and successfully completing your goal of the 3 peaks?I asked and Ollie Kilvert, 26 who climbed the three peaks a few years back how it went and how he stayed awake!

“I ate bananas, flapjacks, and lots of high carb stuff like pasta to keep going but it was quite challenging and there were times when we did want to stop, luckily I did it with my Dad and brother and as we are all very competitive,  no-one wanted to show weakness and we pushed each other along!  Tiredness was expected, but it is okay as you do get the rest when you travel. Scafell at 3am is a bit much! But as soon as we got to the top it was sunrise, so it was worth the effort.

For me, training was a struggle given that I lived in Norfolk at the time with 100m high hills to practice on, so it was on to Mum’s cross trainer most nights! My advice for people would be to definitely pick the longest day of the year for the most sunlight, and to be careful that your designated driver is switched between drives, as having them exhausted on the road is not recommended.

We did the Three Peaks in aid of Cancer Research so we dyed our hair blue too and we raised about £4500 which was a success, and the only notable touch and go moment was at the final mountain’s car park, where my Dad passed out with exhaustion- still, we did do it in 19 hours so it was a bit of a push!”

We also spoke to Mark Jubb, 27 from Sheffield who got involved with the charity MIND for the walk, as well as for himself. Someone who wasn’t particularly ‘outdoor orientated’ we caught up with Mark to discuss the 3 Peaks from the angle of a complete beginner.

“It was a challenge that I wanted to do so I could feel I have achieved something. We also did it for charity which was an added bonus. The charity was MIND who help with mental health issues. I did this with work who made Community and Mental health software so the MIND connection was quite apt as we were actually helping a charity related to us. ”

What made you want to do the 3 peaks? 
The challenge of doing it. I felt I wanted a physical challenge to focus on that was actually quite difficult. I also did want to do something for charity and help others. As a team we raised just under £10, 000, which feels really good.  Also when the opportunity arose it felt like something that I would only do once and it would have been foolish to not get involved as the opportunity may not come by again any time soon.

Where did you find the information before you went on what it would be like? 
The MIND charity arranged a lot of the finer details for the team. There was 19 of us in the team. They used a 3rd party company named ‘Adventure Café’ who arrange a lot of out door activities, including the 3 peaks.  As such transportation, accommodation for the first night up in Scotland was all done by these guys. In fairness they were really good and all the little things were sorted. I was even able to hire some walking poles from them as I had ‘overlooked’ this when purchasing my kit.

Did you train on any local hills?
The team did about 6 training walks. These varied from simply starting in Hope and walking round the Yorkshire peaks out towards Derbyshire, to going up Snowdon twice in one day. They also did Scafell Pike about 4 weeks before the challenge.
However, I only did one of the training walks and separately went up Snowdon once. So- my training was not as in-depth as others in the team.

Was it what you expected? 

No. To be fair even though my training was a bit rubbish I felt my base fitness would get me through it, and I think it did. However, the lack of sleep is what makes it really, really difficult. As mentioned the first peak (Ben Nevis) is the highest and the longest but I found this quite good. Then we got on the mini bus to Scafell Pike and started this at about 5 in the afternoon.

Going up this was ok, but coming down in the dark and in the rain was really difficult. By this point I had been up since 6am and it was 11pm and I had quite poor rest on a cramped mini bus. Due to this I went to quite a dark place in my head…A little ironic since we were doing it for a mental health charity. The lies of the guide (saying it was 20 minutes ahead whenever asked!) were also not helping me either. He then decided we would go up Snowdon via the miner’s trial, which is steeper than the Pyg track.  We did manage to get up but my right knee was feeling every step and by the end it was shot. No way would I have been able to do another one, and to be fair a few of us were feeling it!

Overall I would say it was harder than I expected, but for different reasons. In a way it did make it more satisfying at the end as it was harder.

Tell us about the weather and how long it took you? 

The weather was varied. On Ben Nevis it was really nice, and I think this helped me enjoy it more. However it went progressively down hill and basically rained on the other two. When we got to the top of Snowdon (the last one) it was really misty and visibility was really poor which was a shame as it would have been good to get a group picture with the view.

Did you manage to sleep? 

No. As we were on the mini bus it was hard to sleep. That would be the one thing I would try and change. Use transport where you can sleep.

And do you have any advice for people looking to do the 3 peaks? 

Do lots of training, ensure you have the correct kit and food and if possible rest as much as you can in-between. Also make sure you really want to do it! Get some good gear.  The best kit was my boots. Obviously feet are really important when walking so having the correct socks and boots is a huge thing. Changing socks for each peak was also a good tip. I also changed my trousers and top for each one which helped me feel fresher. A head torch is a must for the night waking. One thing that really helped was walking poles. (Alternatively a helicopter would make this sort of thing a lot easier! )

If you want to get out on the 3 peaks challenge you need a strong kit.

Helicopters aside, a minimum kit list would look something like:

  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof overtrousers
  • A good baselayer top
  • Walking trousers
  • A fleece midlayer
  • Gloves, a hat and spares
  • Headtorch
  • 35 litre rucksack
  • Walking poles
  • Map
  • Compass
  • Pencil
  • Whistle
  • First Aid kit and towels/emergency blanket
  • Snacks
  • Water/drinks container
  • Walking boots
  • Walking socks

Have you undertaken the 3 peaks and survived?  What time did you do it in? Comment below!

What are Bothies?

If you find yourself out and about in the wilderness and bad weather comes in (perhaps your tent doesn’t survive the gales, or if you just want 4 walls between you and the wildlife) then a bothie could be the answer to your literal prayers out on the hills.

Bothies are usually farm houses that are often refurbished or maintained in the same way that they have been left  for years, and are unlived in but kept in a safe condition by the Mountain Bothie Association to to allow overnight protection in the hills. Even though they are many centuries old, bothies offer the same rural viewpoint as wild camping allows, but the bothy means you aren’t in danger of pitching up on private land or causing unknown damage for the night and are free as well.

These aren’t hotels, huts or yurts though, so you need everything you would for a night of wild camping like a sleeping bag, a stove, food, water, as well as shovel for waste. (Most bothies will be maintained so there is a brush and a spade, but just in case, take a small one of your own,)

So why are there so many bothies? After World War II with new shortened working hours hill walking grew in popularity, whilst there was depopulation in rural areas and a decline in hill faming. This lead to many leftover houses left on the hills.

‘Bothying’ became the name for staying in these houses overnight and the MBA formed  in 1965 to help create or maintain basic shelters.

Are there any rules for bothying?

  • It’s not a case of ‘first comers have the bothy’ as bothies are open to everyone, so you could well find yourself offering a newcomer a cup of tea as you settle down for the night.
  • You can be a member of the Bothie association, but you can stay, member or not, although long stays or groups of 6 plus should call ahead.
  • Try and tidy up and if possible, leave some fuel (don’t cut local trees, fences or anything live down.)
  • Don’t bury rubbish but do take a spade to bury bodily waste.
  • If you use a stream, go downstream past drinking water- especially for cleaning day old walking socks.
  • Leaving non-perishable items, such as unopened tins is OK – but not perishables.
  • Check that the fire is out and all doors and windows are securely closed so sheep don’t sneak in!

Bothies are a great alternative to wild camping and with around 96 bothies known to the Mountain Bothie Association they tend to be widespread enough so you can find them instead of pitching on someone’s field.

You can pay a members fee of £20 (eligible for Gift Aid) a year and this money goes towards the tools and maintenance work on the bothies. Some bothies are destroyed by fire or accidents, or just wear and tear in the bad weather, so any work you can do to help is beneficial.

You can help by reporting on the bothies after a visit, so a maintenance person can come fix things before they escalate. Look at the slates, tiles, gutters and the roof. Is it secure or damp? Are there any broken windows, and cracks in the stove or a choked ash pan with ash or cans? (This can be sorted by you!) Is the floor springy? Or is there any concrete cracks?

Don’t forget to report all issues (or non-issues- good news is welcomed) so that your favourite bothy can live on.

Have you stayed in a bothy? How did you find it? Less or more equipped than you wanted?

What is Munro Bagging?

Munro bagging is a strange phrase that always brings to the mind an image of bagging shopping. Munro bagging?  What is it? Simply put, munro bagging is the process of climbing all the munros, which in turn are Scottish mountains over 3000ft high. 

The first list of climbable munros was published in 1891 and are so called after the namesake of the list writer, Hugh Munro. The job is now given to the Scottish Mountaineering Club, who have concluded that there are 283 Munros that can be ‘bagged’!

The view from Ben More

Monroes are found in Sutherland, the Cairngorms, Glencoe, Balmoral, Loch Lomond near Glasgow and on the Isle of Skye.

The buttresses of  Ben Hope, Ben Lomond, Ben Macdui, Ben Nevis, Beinn Eighe- there are plenty of ‘Ben’s’ to be climbed, but despite their name, the munros are extremely difficult to climb, as they sit close to the cold, foggy and often freezing Arctic weather. In Winter, the danger is even more difficult, with ice routes,

After completing all the munros your name is attached to a ‘completers’ list, which is over 4000 at the time of writing. You need to keep a log of dates that you climb the munroes, and also have a photo of yourself at the peak of your final summit. Include how long you have taken, the first and last hills, your age, and plans for the future and send it of to the SMC.

For completing them all you receive a Munroists number so you can purchase a tie, or a brooch and you will also get a Completion Certificate.

Many mountaineers comment that climbing munros is a great way to get into the outdoors and climbing Scottish mountains, but that Munro bagging becomes less of a motivating force after you get out on the hills. Either way, many people still complete and send off forms to enter the completers form with the SMC, so munro bagging is still popular.

Starting to bag munros is a choice usually made on the height and steepness of the munros, as well as your fitness, although most of them are steep and short.

Schiehallion, Corrie Fee and the Tarmachan ridge are usually recommended as the paths are relatively clear for easier navigation.

What to wear for munro bagging depends on when you intend to go. A Scottish winter is severe, so you will need a waterproof, insulated mountaineering jacket as well as a inner midlayer, a long sleeved baselayer, thermal baselayers for your legs as well as waterproof overt trousers.

You would also be well of with B3 boots that can hold crampons. Take some in your rucksack, along with a first aid kit and plenty of other essentials.

What are Guided Walks?

 If you’re new to walking, or even training for Kilimanjaro, a guided walking tour might be the solution to getting you on the right level of where you need to be in fitness and knowledge before you go out solo. I discussed why a walking guided tour is a great idea with Cath Lee, owner of Peak walking adventures based in Belper about why guided walls and walking tours are a great idea for any level of walker.

A tour in Stanage Edge

Cath has lived at the edge of the Peak District all her life and is a qualified Mountain Leader and member of the Mountain Leader Training Association (MLTA).

Hi Cath, thanks for taking the time to speak to GO Activities!

No problems- you’ve caught me just back from a tour of the lakes with a group who I was guiding out there. Even though I own Peak Walking Adventures I still like to get out there.

Who are the guides?

 We have a team of professional walkers all educated to Mountain leader standards with first aid training so walkers are in really safe and capable hands.

We usually have one guide for every 8-10 participants and the guides know routes like the back of their hands as well, which is a great asset for anyone who wants to walk but isn’t sure which route to take, or quite what’s worth seeing- you can let us take charge so you make the most of your time.

A tour on Fairbrook

What sort of walks do you offer?

There are 2 choices, you can hire your own personal walking guide or you can join one of our group walks, available on a few days each month.

Both of them are great ways to get outdoors and you will be looked after by professionals. We see plenty of hen parties coming for the hired personal guide, and these are really good days out for the whole family too.

We also offer the group walks which are a fantastic way to meet people in the Peaks and get a taster of the outdoors- or if you’re already experienced at walking, these are great for training you up for serious walking events.

So what is the benefit of a guided walk over getting out there on your own with a compass and a guidebook?

 There are plenty of reasons why guided walks are interesting. The heart of what we do is bringing the outdoors to life, so instead of walking to a destination, it’s about taking in what’s there on the route.

We take small groups usually of six or so, and it’s a good way to hand over the task of navigating to us, allowing you to catch up, chat, or just take in the scenery as you go.

The other thing is that beginners may not have walking navigation skills yet, at least not for the high hills and moorland routes so they are usually a safer alternative if you aren’t quite ready to go it alone.

Our guided walks could help you get acquainted with what’s actually out there before you learn how to use a map and compass. As well as letting us get you there safely, we also want to pass on knowledge, so the walk will give you advice on wild flowers, the history and geology of the area and just all the things that a local guide picks up by living and working nearby.

 Are there any restrictions in terms of age or fitness for a guided walk?

 It really depends what walk you pick. If you want to get up Kinder Scout or train for the 3 peaks then you need to be fairly experienced and fit. Otherwise, if you want a gentler 2-3 mile walk like the nature trail, all you need is to be capable of walking that and to get over turnstiles- there are quite a few here in the peaks!

We do allow under 18’s with a parent, and we do allow friendly dogs if the group is okay with them, you just need to call us first so we can check!

What kind of routes do you head to on a guided walk in the Peaks?

 As I mentioned before, the highest walk is Kinder Scout which is really popular, and we also go into both areas of the Peak district, the dark peak with the grit stone and the high and remote hills, and the white peak, the side with the gentle rolling hills and limestone gorges, so we really go wherever the group is keen to.

What sort of gear do you need for a guided walk?

 It’s all about comfort, so we really recommend a good pair of walking boots, comfortable clothes and waterproofs too.

What prices are these guided walks?

You would be surprised how cheap the guided walks are compared to some other activities, especially for larger groups like hen parties.  Typically we charge £120 per day for each guide that we provide, so the cost could be reasonable for a bigger group.

You can also take part in existing group walking activities which are even cheaper and allow you to explore specific routes like Keswick in the Lake District, ‘Undiscovered Derbyshire’ guided walking weekend and challenging walks in areas like Hathersage.

Have you been on a guided walk? What did you enjoy about the experience? 


Wild Camping- Legal or not?

After hanging up the office phone with a cheery ‘Thanks anyway!’ to the 8th person of the morning on my hunt for wild camping information; including chats with the Police, the National Parks, the National Trust and Leave No Trace, my only conclusion was ‘The first rule of wild camping is;  don’t talk about wild camping’.  No-one could give me a clear response. (Sorry for the spoiler.)

There were opinions; sometimes, but most people seemed a little sheepish even recognizing that wild camping existed. I started to doubt it existed.

GO Activities- Definatley Not Wild Camping.

To the uninformed, wild camping involves bedding down in the middle of your walk, ramble or climb.  That might, depending on your attitude to life; sound idyllic or the sort of thing you wake up in a sweat about at 3am.

Wild camping is one of those activities that just seems to divide people. Wild Camping is either a feasible right and a good way to spend an evening, camping onland like the moors, undisturbed by other campers, running water or electricity hook up points and paying to pitch, or it’s one of the reasons the very same land is littered, left with fires, erosion and in general disregard.

The fact is, wild campers are notoriously hard to pin down south of Scotland, where it is allowed.

Farmer owned land is obviously private property, and their permission should always be asked, but in the case of the Peak District, a lot of land is actually owned by large conglomerate companies like Yorkshire water and Severn Trent. It’s a bit hard to get access to them, so this land is off limits. Other land is protected as conservation land. The problem with wild camping is you risk stumbling into land that really needs to be left alone.

The fact is if you wild campers, are at a basic level trespassers with tents and if farmers want, they can report  you to the police. Although a night in the cell might be warmer than one on the moors, here’s the low down on wild camping.

Some people turn up at national parks and land to pitch for free. These people aren’t real wild campers according to Simon Wright from the National Trust.

“There are people who misuse the land, leaving things and are just there for a good time. It’s that side we want to get rid of. The true ‘wild campers’ are people who leave no trace, except maybe a hole in the ground. If they are passing through, leaving no sign of themselves, that is more likely to be acceptable. It’s the people who leave traces, damage and litter that keep all over bans enforced.”

Where can I wild camp?

The Land Reform Act in Scotland allows for wild camping but when it comes to England, getting the same consistency is a problem. Some places allow it, but not everywhere. And you need landowner permission. But this isn’t always clear. I spoke to Mike Rhodes of the National Park in the Peaks, who said that the situation varies all around the country.

“I think you can camp in certain heights in mount Snowdon, I think it’s allowed in Dartmoor, and not at all in the peaks, I can see why people are confused. It’s one of those issues that has grey areas. Sorry. ”

Dartmoor! My shining beacon of hope. I rang the National Trust in Dartmoor. Well, via Cornwall and Devon first. I was finally through to Sally Erskine, who I was informed was the relevant ‘camping contact’. She seemed apologetic that she couldn’t offer me advice.

“You can wild camp in some of it.” She explained “How do you  know?” “Well, we don’t have an absolute guide.” It turns out that Sally looks after some of Dartmoor, some other areas. The lapsing in areas in how the trust is divided means there is no hard and fast rules. She did tell me that it wasn’t as simple as I thought. “You could have wild flora issues, various demands on the environment means it can’t just be opened up to wild camp on. The only thing I could recommend would be looking at Leave no Trace. Sorry.”

Ah ha. I’ve spoken to Leave No Trace trainers before.

Where do Leave No Trace stand on wild camping?

The key is- to leave no trace, according to Pete March at Derwent Pursuits.

“Plan ahead and prepare, so you are ready for the night. Learn how to keep food safe and how to  minimize waste. Make sure before you camp that you are careful with what trails you use. When you are bedding down, make sure you make cat holes and wash in the wilderness downstream past drinking water. (This is the same for dishwater and other waste products). I would also say that Leave No Trace would emphasize being careful with your fire.”

If you are keen to read more visit Pete’s site at www.leave-no-trace-training.co.uk

What will happen to me if I wild camp?

Speaking to the Derbyshire police who work near the Peak District we were told that it is a civil wrong not a criminal offence. “The distinction means that it would be something that solicitors and courts would get involved in rectifying the situation which is classed as trespassing. If a landowner wanted the police to come they would be justified in doing so, and this would lead it to being a criminal offence.”

 Why is there such a problem with wild camping?

The bottom line is it is usually banned for the area’s conservation. There’s a fire risk, damage to the moors, effects on local wildlife, litter, it all detracts from the land over time.

 If you do decide to wild camp

  • Clear the area
  • Spit toothpaste into a bag to take with you.
  • Don’t wash with soaps in rivers
  • Don’t use fire pits.
  • Clear up waste and food scraps to avoid damage to the animal population
  • Take a shovel to make a toilet and fill it in before leaving.

Are you brave enough to admit to a pas of ‘wild camping’? Why did you like it? Let us know!

What is Via Ferrata?

What Is…. Via Ferrata? Sometimes spelt with capitals like God, or Monday, Via Ferrata is name that doesn’t really lend itself to revealing what it is. Via, is fine, but Ferrata? Immediately Ferrets and Frittatas spring to mind. Mine at least.

So the one sentence explanation. A multi pitch rock climbing route meaning ‘road of iron’ , this is a popular activity outside of the UK, and involves  clipping yourself on to pre laid hooks, stemples and climbing ladders instead of using ropes, karabiners and other trad climbing gear in order to reach a summit.

The Lingo:

You are going on a Via Ferrata route. Context – “ Me and big Dave are off Via Ferrata.”

Or in the plural – “I climb via ferratas, in the Dolomites mostly.”

What are the Dolomites and why does everyone mention them when talking about Via Ferrata?

Sometimes climbing gear is described as suitabke for Via Ferrata or for the Dolomites.

Simply, the Dolomites are a set of hostile Alpine, snow covered mountains that were fought from between Austria and Italy in 1915 to 1917.

The high peaks made excellent site points and the Dolomites were amended with ladders and ropes to help make ascending quicker.

These are the first ever Via Ferrata and they are still climb-able, with the addition of new iron and steel ladders that can be used for extra holding power.

Why climb Via Ferrata?

As they are already pre-laid, all you need to do is climb a Via Ferrata route.  You can get down and up the mountain quicker, and it isn’t as tricky as scrambling or trad climbing. I asked Tom Livingstone, a climber taking his ML awards why he also enjoys Via Ferrata routes.

“It’s a safer terrain really and it takes down that level of anger. It wasn’t originally designed for leisure climbers obviously, but with the addition of solid rungs, you can climb quite safely and reach the summit with less resk.”

Where are the UK Via Ferrata Routes?

The Lake District has Honister, How Stean Gorge, and there is also the Elie Chainwalk in Fife.

What do you wear for Via Ferrata?

It depends where you go but it tends to be nice and warm so you need your climbing specific gear on, your approach shoes (which are lighter and stiffer than normal climbing boots) as well as a climbing helmet, a harness and lanyards.

Have you been on a via ferrata route? What have your experiences been? 

Professional Mountain Leader Awards

 Love the outdoors?  Spend every weekend walking, hiking or bouldering? Want to escape the confines of the office and do it for a living? You can. Or maybe you just want to know why your activity provider is proudly stating they are ML qualified – what exactly is this ML- and why is it so important?

In short, ML Is a mountain Leader qualification, a voluntary but useful certificate gained from many hours of assessed training on the hills.

If you want to work as a freelance or full time outdoor leader, you need either years of experience, or a recognized qualification. These courses aren’t essential, but what we have found is that many people expect outdoor professionals to have them. They also give you evidence of your competence on the hills, should anything go wrong and are cheaper, and more specific than many degree courses. They are also really fun to take part in, with training being a great way to meet people, sharpen your skills and to get outdoors.

The courses vary from:

  • Walking Group Leader award (WGL) – teaching you to lead walking groups in summer conditions on the hills
  • Mountain Leader award (ML) – for leaders of walking groups in summer conditions in mountainous terrain and ML-W for Winter specific routes or International Mountain Leader awards (IML)
  • Single Pitch award (SPA) – for leaders supervising people on single pitch crags and climbing walls.
  • Climbing Wall Award (CWA) –For the supervision of climbers on indoor climbing walls or CWLA- Climbing Wall leading Award

These are all examples of the leadership awards which indicate a level of skill and competence in a particular outdoor activity. Most of the hill and climbing assessments are run by Mountain Leader Training UK (MLTUK). These are really worthwhile as they show not only that you have ‘passed an assessment’ but that you have also taken part in specific, relevant required experience prior to that- a prerequisite to attending.

Mountain Leader Training is more than just turning up, leading a team and getting your certificate though. You need 12 months hill walking experience before you even apply for the basic course. You must have completed a minimum of 40 quality mountain days and have logged some leadership experience, have a current first aide certificate and be a member of a mountaineering council before you take your assessment- and that’s just to do your Summer leading course.

Winter Mountain Leader training taken after your ML if you want to lead walking parties on the hills and mountains of the UK under winter conditions. To take part in the assessment for a winter ML you need to have completed an absolute minimum of 40 Winter Quality Mountain Days with at least 20 of them gained in Scotland, distributed over a period of at least three winter seasons. You also need to have completed at least 10 Grade 1 named Scottish winter climbs and to have held a First Aid certificate recognised as appropriate for the scheme.

The term ‘quality mountain days’ doesn’t mean ‘a good day out’ either. It tends to mean you got involved in the planning and leadership, spent over 5 hours in the hill or worked with a diverse weather unmarked paths or practiced safety skills- in other words, you were challenged.

We spoke to Tom, 21, at Bangor University who is presently studying for his ML awards.

“ I’ve logged over 60 hours of mountain days on my own in the UK, as well as in the Alps as I’m taking my ML this November.  It started as a sideline to my degree in Sport Science, but I really want to get my MIA (Mountain Instructor Award) so I can teach in the Alps and on mountain routes with the Alpine Guides, and the ML is the first step towards that. As well as making you well rounded professionally, in case I want a career as an outdoor instructor,  you do learn plenty of interesting stuff as well.  My hobbies are climbing, kayaking, surfing, scrambling and biking and I love a climb in Gogarth, Swannage, Scotland or Wales, so getting out on the hills and meeting people is what I would be doing anyway. There are lots of aspects to the ML and it helps you get that essential experience. I really recommend it.”

ML training courses are run over six consecutive days or a series of weekends. ML assessment courses are run over 5/6 days, either in a single block or in two three-day blocks, and they tend to cost around £300 plus. These are lead days of instruction and learning where you pick up on all you need to know.

Many of the courses are specific and very in depth. They will teach you all you need to know, which amongst many other things includes how to:

  • Identify windslab, neve, graupel and other snow types.
    identify possible windslab and cornice formation on a particular slope as a result of snowfall intensity
  • Make and use snow holes suitable for occupation as an expedition base.
  • How to carry an ice axe when kicking steps up, down and across slopes of hard snow.
    and in a way that allows rapid deployment for self-arrest.
    from any sliding position.
  • How to adapt your crampon technique to suit a variety of underfoot conditions, for example, water ice, hard neve, new snow and soft wet snow.
  • Demonstrate rope management including knots, tying on and fluent handling while belaying (including lowering).
  • Identify the signs and symptoms and then apply first aid to treat mountain hypothermia, frostnip and frostbite, snow blindness and sunburn.
  • How to interpret meteorological forecasts and synoptic charts, convert sea level forecasts for altitudes up to 1200 meters, recognise cloud formations and alterations of wind direction and temperature that are indicative of weather changes.

Many of these skills are things you would never know without a course guiding you, which is why only a handful of people attend the assessment without prior specific training.

Have you taken the ML or a similar course? What has been your experience of it?