Don't forget to check our Facebook page for ad-hoc activities/ informal meets.

A Night and Bad Weather Navigation Course

posted 10 Jun 2019, 13:05 by Swindon Mountaineering   [ updated 10 Jun 2019, 13:12 ]

Trip report! At the end of March, 5 of us from the club went to North Wales to attend a Poor Weather/Night-Time Navigation training course. It was subsidised by the BMC and run at Plas y Brenin... on a very sunny weekend.

Myself and Ed traveled up Friday night so we could get some climbing in on Saturday morning (after a hearty fry-up of course). We climbed at Little Tryfan, a nice and popular little slab crag.

We met up with Lee, Theresa and Jane back at PyB in the afternoon for the training course. Our instructor was brilliant and very knowledgeable. He got us doing pacing exercises, where we would count how many steps it takes to walk 100m. It's a little antisocial counting steps whilst you walk, so an alternative was to time how long it takes to walk 100m.

Using these techniques help you keep track of how far you've walked. In zero visibility, you won't be able to see any reference points to help you.

We also covered compass bearings and back bearings, a part of the course where we all got to admire Theresa's state of the art compass.

Our guide also gave us some great map reading tips. A green dotted line on the map indicates a route with a public right of way.... but that doesn't necessarily mean there is a path there. A black dotted line indicates a footpath, ideally you want a black and green dotted line together. It's not uncommon to see a green dotted line on its own on the map and spend time looking for a path that doesn't exist!

Map clutter: sometimes there's too much information to display on the map, so some of it is left out. We used a river crossing which had been left off the map to make room for the name of a hostel (which they had likely paid to have on the map).

What can you trust on a map? Fences can move and can be taken down. Footpaths can become disused when shortcuts are found and become more well trodden. Be cautious when choosing features on the map to navigate with; what you see in reality might not match up. Stone walls are less likely to move, mountains... even less likely. Have features you expect to see along your chosen route which you can use to confirm you're still on track (tick features). Have an obvious feature to look out for that will indicate you've gone too far (check feature).

We found a flat forested area on the map, but when we arrived it was a hill! Sometimes discrepancies are purposely put on maps. If this "flat" region appeared on a rival map, it would show that the competitors had simply copied the map instead of surveying the area for themselves.

We finished the course by hiking up to the top of Crimpiau and back down, all in the dark. The technique here was to feel the steepness as we walked and constantly assess whether this matched with the contours on the map, using the lines as a guide.

We all really enjoyed the course, and learnt a great deal of new skills and refreshed old ones.

Sadly Theresa and Lee had to leave Sunday morning. Jane went for a walk, keen to test her navigation skills no doubt, and Ed and I went climbing again. This time we went sport climbing in the Australia quarry crag. I was blown away by the sheer scale of the quarry and thankful to survive my first time climbing on slate!

Thank you to Andy for organising the course and to those who came for making it so much fun. Hopefully we can organise something similar in the future!

Peak District April 2019

posted 10 Jun 2019, 13:03 by Swindon Mountaineering   [ updated 10 Jun 2019, 13:15 ]

Peak District 18th -22nd April 2019

Thanks to all who could make the Peaks over Easter. We camped at Upper Booth campsite just outside Edale, some of us arriving after work on the Thursday night and others arriving on Friday and Saturday.
Friday we all climbed at Birchens Edge and on our return to the campsite made the best of the weather by having a BBQ .
On Saturday Andy, Hannah, Tom, Vanessa and myself were joined by Chris, Dom, Marnie and their dogs Rufus and Winston from bucks Scouts climbing Club. We walked up the highest point in the peaks Kinder Scout. Chris and I took a small rack and a rope and climbed a route on Kinder Downfall called Zigzag. Theresa and Lee spent the day climbing at the plantation on Stanage Edge. On our return to the campsite we were joined by Ed and Emily. That evening we all enjoyed a hearty pub meal in Edale.
Sunday we all headed to a venue called Windgather, a friendly crag with grades for all abilities. That evening some of us walked into Edale for some well deserved pub grub.
Monday, after packing up from the campsite some of us went off and done the Hathersage traverse (shopping and breakfast) while others went walking and running, all making the best of the weather and putting off the journey home as long as possible.
Great trip guys, look forward to the next one!

Andy E.

Scotland, Ben Nevis and Glencoe, 4th March - 12 March 2017

posted 26 Sep 2017, 09:57 by Swindon Mountaineering   [ updated 10 Jun 2019, 12:58 ]

Participants,  Clive, Andy D, Sid, Mike P, Chris, Ed, Lee, Theresa, Martin, Simon.

Organised by Chris and Theresa.

As has become an SMC tradition, the winter meet travelled north to Scotland, and for 2017 was based in the Glencoe and Fort William area.  Three four berth cottages were booked for eight nights in Ballachulish in Glen Coe, and in addition a number of nights were also booked in the CIC hut located under the north face of Ben Nevis.  This allowed some flexibility depending on weather and conditions.

The 2017 Scottish winter had so far been one of the mildest on record, and any snow and ice buildup had been quickly depleted by a succession of warm winds from the south and west. Therefore, as we travelled north on the Saturday, expectations of good winter conditions were suitably realistic, more so as we passed the Lakes looking more summery than wintery.  However, as we arrived in Glen Coe, at least the weather was good and was forecast to stay so for the next few days.

Our three cottages were fairly modern and well equipped, although a succession of toasters, kettles and storage heaters gave up the ghost during the week.  Importantly, the website promises of nearby facilities (always a critical factor in selecting climbing accommodation) were fully met - a pub, restaurant, supermarket and a fish and chip takeaway, all within a couple of hundred yards. We checked out the pub that evening.


An early start, I seem to remember 7.30 am, saw us driving north through Fort William to the north face car park, from where the path to the CIC hut started. It was a cool sunny morning and, shouldering heavy packs with enough gear and food for up to three nights, we started the two hour slog up to the hut.  A well made path took us through the conifer forest on to the mountain side and increasingly impressive views of the north face with a reasonable snowcover. The sun had now cleared the cliffs of the north east buttress, and necessitated removal of excess clothing.

On arrival at the CIC,we had a quick look around and spread sleeping bags on vacant mattresses , and as the day was yet young, decided to do an easy climb up to the summit plateau. No 5 Gully seemed to fit the bill, a 450m Grade 1, easily angled snow all the way to the top.  The hoped for 50 mile views out to the Western Isles failed to materialise as the clear summit views seen on the walk in, were now obscured by cloud. A short walk south over Carn Dearg summit brought us to No 4 Gully which, although initially steep, was the standard descent route back to the hut.


Simon had joined us late the previous night, having dallied awhile in a Fort William cafe building up his fat reserves for hard days on the hill.

With a good weather forecast, two ropes of three tackled Ledge Route, one of the best routes of its grade on the North Face. It takes a zig zag route along a series of, (unsurprisingly), ledges, which alternately look down into No 5 Gully, and out over the Great Glen.

Descent was north down the slopes of Carn Dearg to join the path rising up from Achintee and along the Allt a Mhuilinn back to the hut

Two others made an attempt on Tower Ridge, fired up by enthusiastic talk from a guide the previous evening but missed the start in misty weather.


The forecast was for deteriorating weather conditions later in the day so most of us romped up and down the Douglas Boulder Gullies, and were back at the hut for some lunch by midday.  We then packed up and walked out back to the car park and a welcome shower back at the houses.


A windy and stormy day meant a trip to Ice Factor for many, a windy bike ride for one and a minor epic on the Pap for another.


A wet start to the day but clearing to a brilliant sunshine with distant views. Six spent a long day on the Aonach Eagach and two climbed Dorsal Arete.


A poor weather day, with visits to Glencoe tea shops and local sites.


Several people drove home and others climbed Dorsal Arete along with many guided groups.


The remainder departed on the long drive south, and so ended the 2017 Winter Trip.

Three types of Snowdonia fun

posted 31 May 2017, 02:22 by Andrew Dennis   [ updated 1 Jun 2017, 14:56 ]

Snowdonia meet, 26 - 29 May 2017
Organised by Ross
Article written by Natalie

Ah, the ‘Great British Bank Holiday’! Across the country mountaineers ventured to a range of National Parks scattered from North to South. Swindon Mountaineering club found themselves in Snowdonia for the final bank holiday of May. With over 823 square miles of diverse landscapes and 26,000 residents, Swindon Mountaineering club were bound to find something adventurous to do in Snowdonia over the long weekend.
Despite a glorious weather forecast of unrelenting sunshine in the week before the bank holiday meet; by Friday of the meet merciless wind and downpours threatened to cast a shadow on the meet. Early bird Andy was first to arrive at our home for the weekend, Gwern Gof Uchaf; a campsite situated at the foot of Little Tryfan and its larger counterpart, Tryfan. Whilst other meet attendees battled the bank holiday traffic, Andy summited Tryfan in the sunshine. On his return from the summit Andy took on the role of chief campsite navigator; fielding calls from lost, deliriously exhausted or just confused mountaineers. A job which lasted late into the night!

Rising with Saturday’s dawn it quickly became apparent that there had been a few navigational errors the previous evening. Instead of camping at Gwern Gof Uchaf, one member found themself at Gwern Gof Isaf. Arguably an easy mistake, especially as Ross (meet organiser) and I had found ourselves at the same campsite -about to pitch the tent- before realisation dawned. After a few navigational text messages, obligatory gear faff and a leisurely breakfast; Andy, Emily, Pet, Ross, Sarah and I headed out of the campsite to climb at Little Tryfan. Rather than climbing, Mark set out for a day’s walking around the Carneads. At this point Martin was also on route to the campsite; stopping to pursue some epics in Southern Snowdonia. After bidding Mark farewell, we donned sun cream, repellent and braved shorts (sun in Snowdonia!) The climbers managed several multi-pitch climbs before the heavens unleashed their torrents. Sarah experienced her first crowded ledge (at one point there was five of us) and the euphoria of finally topping out from a climb in the rain.

Retreating back to the campsite we headed in to Betws-y-Coed for dinner, some light gear window shopping and an evening talk at Plas-y-Brenin. Most weekends there is a talk presented by one of the instructors at the centre, this weekend it was a talk titled ‘Suffering for your art- Winter Climbing’ by Keith Ball. In the usual SMC fashion, club members travelled near and far to attend a good social. This lecture was no different! Simon ventured over from Bala to join us, Martin and Mark managed to tear themselves away from the hills –or should that be mountains?- and ex-member James was taking a break from a kayaking holiday to attend the lecture. Keith Ball’s lecture was honest, insightful and inspiring. Aside from learning about the journey which Ball’s passion for the outdoors has taken, his grading of fun was particularly memorable. Ball explained that in all pursuits there are three types of fun: Type one- fun at the time of the activity; Type two- not fun at the time, but definitely fun afterwards (the source of many great stories); finally, Type three- not fun at the time, never fun afterwards. ‘Typing’ our fun was quickly adopted into the rest of the trip.

Saturday night was blustery and rainy. Rain had managed to seep into my tent whilst we were at the lecture and the storm was reminiscent of a steam train whizzing past the tent. Type 2.5 fun. In the morning things had cleared considerably, but drizzle threatened. With the exception of Martin (who had an epic planned) the group decided to summit Tryfan. After an invigorating scramble up the north ridge (Type one fun) the group lunched at Adam and Eve and headed back down a friendlier path. Emily and Sarah headed back to the campsite to bag a hot shower whilst Andy, Mark, Pet, Ross and I headed up Bristly Ridge. After Ross’ Type three experience in a greasy chimney, the group completed the ridge and headed back to the campsite with rue smiles. Dinner was had in a local pub and the group headed to bed for a relatively early night (once Martin had eaten his sticky toffee pudding of course!)


After a damp start to Monday morning, Martin left the group early (before most had risen to greet the beautiful Welsh weather) to get breakfast in a local café and to plan another epic. Finally, the rest of the group parted ways, with Sarah and Mark visiting a relative. Andy, Emily, Pet, Ross and I headed to Eric Jones’ café in Tremadog with the intention of climbing locally. Once we realised that the drizzle was unrelenting, we then ventured on to Harlech to take a walk along the white sand beach, salt marsh and sand dunes. Mysteriously there were hundreds of jellyfish washed up onto the beach in a range of sizes; tea-cup to dustbin lid sized. As we were about to leave the beach, a pod of at least five dolphins made an appearance. Their graceful movements had caught the eye of Pet, who stopped Emily and I to watch their journey along the shoreline. Stunning (Type one fun)! Simon met us in Harlech and once again the group parted ways. Emily and Pet remained behind to go for a swim, whilst we headed back to Wiltshire. By the end of the day most of the ‘beach mountaineers’ had a light suntan (no, it wasn’t dirt).
In summary:
Meet attendees: Andy, Emily, Mark, Martin, Natalie, Pet, Ross, Sarah, Simon and guest appearance from James.
50% of the group went to the wrong camp site initially.
25% of the group actually camped at the wrong camp site.
3 types of fun were had during the course of the three day weekend.
600m is the accepted height of a mountain.
5 dolphins were sighted.
100s of jellyfish were poked.
100s of midge bites itched per person.
1 absolutely cracking weekend- thank you Ross!


“There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”

posted 29 May 2017, 06:26 by Swindon Mountaineering   [ updated 29 May 2017, 06:28 ]

Yorkshire Meet, 12-14 May 2017

If ever there was a mantra for enjoying the outdoors it must surely be that quote from Alfred Wainwright MBE (1907-1991). Though a son of Lancashire, Wainwright had a passion for the high fells across the whole of the north of England, including those in neighbouring Yorkshire. His Walks in Limestone Country is the best-selling walking guide to Yorkshire of all time. Quite simply, Yorkshire is walking country. (Unless you are a caver of course! – Steve).

And where better to walk than in the magnificent Yorkshire Dales National Park! Established in 1954 the park covers an area of 1,762 sq km (680 sq miles) across the counties of North Yorkshire (the largest county in England) and Cumbria, straddling the central Pennines. On its western edge lies the area known as the Three Peaks; a reference to three particular mountains: Pen-y-Ghent (694 m), Whernside (736 m), and Ingleborough (723 m).

This was the 3rd SMC Meet in the Three Peaks (following on from 2009 & 2015) and, once again we used Helwith Bridge, by the side of the famous (and very recently reopened) Settle-Carlisle railway line as our base. There was a strong turnout featuring (in alphabetical order): Andy D, Celia, Clive, Javier, Lee, Marta, Natalie, Ross, Theresa, and organiser Steve. For Javier & Marta this was to be their first visit to God’s Own County!

The M6 on a Friday evening is never a great place to be, but as everyone – except for Celia, who didn’t need to use it – made their way north on the Friday evening, it rapidly became apparent that it was going to be a ‘special’ evening.  Depending on where people were coming from, the M5, M40 and M42, also proved to be magnificent warm-up acts! Even Mother Nature decided to take a hand with some spectacular, but highly localised, downpours enroute!

Celia & Steve managed to coordinate their arrival in time for dinner in the pub, whilst everyone else made it in time for last orders... but then decided to defer their pints in order to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for the long day ahead. (Now you’d never catch cavers doing that! – Steve).

Reveille was sounded at 06:30, 06:45, and 07:00 by various watches and mobile phones and, by the time everyone had finished their breakfasts, plans had been hatched: Clive, Javier & Marta would walk the Three Peaks Circuit for the first time, accompanied by Andy & Steve who had done it before; Lee, Natalie and Ross (who had also walked the Circuit before) would ‘run’ it this time; and Celia and Theresa (who was allegedly nursing a sore ankle) would go for a cycle ride instead (though, ominously, they were seen perusing a printout of a stage of the Tour de Yorkshire!).

The Three Peaks Circuit is 38.6 km (24 miles) and includes 1585 m of ascent. The ‘official’ start and finish is Horton-in-Ribblesdale, conveniently just up the road from Helwith Bridge. (On our previous visits we had started and finished at Helwith Bridge itself, but the extra distance, particularly at the end of the walk had not, shall we say, proved very popular!). During the more clement months numerous people undertake the Circuit, often under the guise of a ‘challenge’, usually for a Charity. The objectives are usually to: a) complete the Circuit and, b) do so in less than 12 hours. Not something Wainwright approved of. In researching this particular weekend Steve thought he had avoided these events...

The walkers set off first, squeezing into Steve’s car for the short hop to Horton. By the time Steve had rediscovered his parallel parking prowess in the lay-by – evidence that we would not be alone on the Circuit - a light drizzle had started to fall. Suited and booted we headed off in the direction of Brackenbottom and the direct path to the top of Pen-y-Ghent.

The higher we went, the fouler the weather became. Drizzle turned to rain. All views were obliterated under a blanket of grey murk. And the wind blew: a lot! The forecast had only been for showers; nothing like this! What had been clothing dilemmas barely half an hour earlier at the bunkhouse now proved wise choices. We wondered about the runners; of necessity they would be ‘travelling light’: would they discover that Wainwright knew what he was talking about?

Natalie, Lee & Ross at the summit of Pen-y-Ghent (Photo: Natalie)

The final scramble to the top of Pen-y-Ghent, over the slick wet rocks, required some attention, but basically all we wanted to do was get out of the wind and rain. So the trig point at the summit was given but a cursory nod as we turned on to the Pennine Way and hurried down towards Birkwith Moor, marvelling at the concrete pavement the NPA volunteers had laid to ease erosion since we were last on the mountain. All it needed was to be painted yellow! But, as we descended, the clag actually started to break up and the weather could be seen to be clearing from the northwest.

Lee & Ross crossing Whitber Hill (Photo: Natalie)

These days the Circuit takes the Whitber Hill route towards High Birkwith, rather than the old route across the forebodingly named Black Dubb Moss (where one of the 2009 SMC group came to grief in a boggy patch). Where these two routes converge is also where the route of the Circuit leaves the Pennine Way. Shortly after you cross Cam Beck and then the River Ribble (which was just a dry river bed given the lack of rainfall this spring), then join the road between Horton and Ribblehead for a mile and a half walk to Ribblehead itself. It was on this stretch that the runners caught up with the walkers! By all accounts the runners had had much fairer weather on Pen-y-Ghent. It just goes to show what an extra mug of tea at breakfast can do for your day!!! The two groups wished each other well and separated again.

Ribblehead was a zoo! The profusion of flags and support vehicles gave testament to the fact that there were clearly some organised challenges taking place. But, on the plus side, the sun was now out more, so we stopped for lunch.

Ribblehead is famous for the impressive, 400 m long, stone-built railway viaduct across Batty Moss, built between 1870-1874. The continuation of the Circuit parallels the east side of the viaduct right at its base, and then runs along the side of the railway until it crosses the line just before the mile long Blea Moor Tunnel. This is where the ascent of Whernside commences.

Force Gill waterfall on Whernside (Photo: Clive)

If Pen-y-Ghent is a short, sharp, ascent followed by a long, gentle, descent; Whernside is the complete opposite! The route up is a long circuitous curve, and the trig point is necessary to tell you when you’ve actually reached the summit! Though the weather was now set fair, the whole way up the spine of Whernside we were headlong into the wind.

Natalie, Lee & Ross at the summit of Whernside (Photo: Ross)

Marta, Javier, Steve & Clive at the summit of Whernside (Photo: Andy)

Javier showing himself to be a proud member of the SMC! (Photo: Andy)

On departing the summit, you continue west along the spine of Whernside for a short distance before a steep, loose, eroded descent of its south flank brings you to Bruntscar. Just below, nearer the valley floor, Philpin Farm now supplements its income by offering drinks, snacks and ice cream. By the time we arrived it was definitely time for tea! Fortunately Andy had remembered to bring some money; the rest of us hadn’t!

Mmm, chops on the hoof! (Photo: Clive)

From the Farm it is a few hundred metres to The Hill Inn on the Ingleton-Ribblehead road and the start of the path up Ingleborough. The going is easy at first, gently ascending the grass-clad limestone terraces of Southerscales. Steve pointed out Braithwaite Wife Hole to the walkers, but was unable to shed any light on the etymology of its name. The path then becomes duckboarding over a moss until it reaches the foot of Ingleborough’s northeastern escarpment. At this point the path becomes a Grade 1 scramble zig-zagging up the side of the rock face. It’s not particularly high or particularly exposed, but it is very steep, and was clearly more than many of the challenge participants had bargained on. At the top of the climb you take a short ascending detour to the Ingleborough summit plateau.

Natalie, Lee & Ross at the summit of Ingleborough (Photo: Ross)
Andy & Steve on the Ingleborough summit plateau (Photo: Clive)

Marta, Andy, Javier & Clive sheltering on the summit of Ingleborough (Photo: Steve)

The final leg of the Circuit involved re-tracing our steps almost to the top of the zig-zag climb, then forking south beside Simon Fell and on to the limestone pavement of Sulber, before eventually descending into Horton. From the top of Ingleborough to Horton is 6.5 km (4 miles) but all agreed it seemed to go on forever! Still, by now the sun was properly out, we were finally sheltered from the wind, and the early evening sun was illuminating Pen-y-Ghent in all its glory.

The walkers arrived back at Steve’s car 10 hours and 20 minutes after leaving it (so well within the challenge time!). Ross and Natalie completed their Circuit in 6 hours 16 minutes, whilst Lee just dipped under the 6 hour mark! But to put all these times in perspective, the current record for the Three Peaks Race is an insane 2:46:03!!! (And a month before our visit the 2017 race saw a new women’s record time of 3:09:19; Paula Radcliffe’s London Marathon record is 2:15:25!).

Ross' run summary!

By the time the walkers arrived back at the bunkhouse the cyclists had also returned. Celia and (supposedly injured) Theresa had done a mammoth 96 km ride. And as if that wasn’t enough, they’d even cycled UP the hill beside Malham Cove!!!

After (too much as it would turn out) lounging about with mugs of tea we decided it was time to get some dinner. Unfortunately the pub next door turned out to be fully booked. L We retreated to the bunkhouse for some frantic Googling and a few phone calls, only to discover that everywhere seemed to stop serving food at 20:30, even on a Saturday night! But finally The Fisherman Restaurant in Settle said it could take us provided we could get there by 20:30 (so they deserve a plug here!). We looked at our watches: it was already gone 20:00... Some swift driving followed! Post-dinner we returned to the pub for more celebratory beers.

On Sunday morning, after a bit of a lie-in, we headed over to Ingleton for a fry-up brunch at the local outdoor institution, the Inglesport Cafe. Somehow Ross managed to put away the ‘Welly-Filler’ breakfast (basically double everything)! Afterwards Natalie, Ross, and Marta and Javier who were car-sharing with them, departed. The rest of the party headed over to Malham as a couple of the group had never been there and it was sort of on the way home.

The gate guardians at Malham Cove! (Photo: Clive)
Malham Cove (Photo: Celia)

Malham was very busy. But we found an expensive piece of grass to park on and wandered along to Malham Cove where we watched some climbers on the Central Wall for a while. Steve then headed off while the remainder decided to go for a walk to the top of the Cove.

Climbers on the Central Wall at Malham Cove (Photos: Clive & Steve)

The top of Malham Cove (Photo: Clive)

The view from the top of Malham Cove (Photo: Celia)

Peak District Meet (April 28 - May 1)

posted 13 May 2017, 15:38 by Andrew Dennis   [ updated 29 May 2017, 06:36 by Swindon Mountaineering ]

by Ben Fitzgerald

A select band of SMC members answered Bernard’s call to rise to the gritstone challenge of the Peak District’s Stanage Edge over the bank holiday weekend.

Keen Friday night arrivals at North Lees campsite made it before darkness descended and were able to set up camp in the luxury of daylight.Later arrivers Sarah and Mark set themselves the fun challenge of finding the others via a series of cryptic text messages and then threw themselves into the amusing task of erecting their tent by head torch - something I can only accomplish with a stream of grade one swear words - so well done to them.

I on the other hand had pressing business back in Swindon (involving sleeping in an actual real bed with pocket sprung mattress) and after getting up at a mind-numbing five o’clock in the morning, blindly followed the smug voice of my sat nav up the spine of the country towards my destination; not entirely achieving full consciousness until Leamington Spa. By the time I arrived at the loose cluster of tents surrounding Rick’s canvas semi-detached Oztent fun house, plans were already in place to take a hike around the nearby peaks.

We meandered through the beautifully bleak open moorlands before scoffing lunch amid improbable protrusions of rock boiling out of the landscape. At this point, Natalie declared that everyone should discover the joys of weaseling (is this even a thing?) - which apparently involves squeezing yourself through the tightest possible gaps in the rock. She met skeptical looks with an assurance that it was perfectly safe and that she had even encouraged children to take part during school trips - with only the occasional youngster becoming permanently wedged and needing to be freed using a combination of diamond tipped cutting equipment and olive oil. We rounded off the stroll with a visit to Derwent Reservoir (famously used by the Dambusters for bouncing bomb target practice).

By the time we arrived back at camp, the drizzle had eased off enough to heft ropes and metalwork up to the ‘popular end’ of Stanage Edge - where even late in the day climbers were happily pushing themselves to their personal limits up every available stretch of gritstone with cries of ‘that’s me’, ‘climb when ready’ and ‘are you really sure you’ve got me?’ echoing around the rock.

After attempting a few aptly named v.diff climbs and suffering from increasingly cold hands it was generally agreed to take the shortest possible route to the pub for an evening of pie-based food and a cheerful argument about Brexit.

Ed, Pet and Rick, who stayed back at the campsite, insisted that they had been visited by a cohort of caterpillars, a newt and possibly a talking dodo in our absence - however it has been shown that even slightly out of date food can produce some quite vivid hallucinations.

As if we had not risked life and limb enough - the following day saw most of us hit the grit with renewed determination, proudly sporting our SMC branded hoodies and t-shirts - representin’ the Swindon massive.

Bernard appeared to be in several places at once, scampering between climbs - guidebook in hand - fearlessly leading some ridiculous routes, absent mindedly shoving in a bit of protection here and there. My fellow climbers Ross, Natalie, Pet, Ricky, Emily and Ed made it look easy - their climbing experience shining through.

As a relative newcomer, I managed to slay a few demons, thanks to the support of Ricky and Emily who encouraged me up a variety of vertical nightmares and revealed the secrets of hand jamming and lie backs. Amazing weekend - thanks Bernard for organising!

Frictional Events

posted 22 Nov 2016, 01:33 by Steve King



The BBC’s spectacular Rio Olympics coverage verified that there’s still mileage in Greek ideas about the aesthetic drama of the human form. As one couch potato took in the high-definition and ultra-slow motion footage, occasionally making his own strenuous efforts to reach for the remote control, it became apparent that several sports take place inside a soft white fog of chalk dust. It rises from the hands of gymnasts, weight lifters and hammer hurlers – a pallid mist captured by thousand-frames-per-second video, following gently in the draught of an athlete’s movements as if sad to have been turfed out of its resting place.

Gymnasts’ chalk is always magnesium carbonate (MgCO3), but beyond that baseline fact there is a variety of recipes and forms, with users developing understandable loyalties to whichever version best prevents them from colliding with the mat. The goal is consistent: judiciously control friction, stop sweat, and kill bacteria, a delicate balance that magnesium carbonate turns out to be ideal for. Actual chalk chalk – the calcium carbonate used to write on blackboards – tends to be more soluble in water, making an unintended descent from the asymmetric bars all too likely once a gymnast’s hands start to perspire.

The pool of scientific research into chalk’s role in gymnastics is shallow, though its use is backed by a vast programme of empirical testing in gyms throughout the world. The same rule holds outdoors, where rock climbers also use chalk and where the penalties for loss of grip can be rather more severe than missing out on a medal. Climbers can in theory use chalk more judiciously, applying it when they feel the rock under their fingers is slippery and greasy, or to counter the body’s natural sweaty reaction to anxiety, an occupational hazard.

There is historical overlap between the two arenas. John Gill, considered the father of modern bouldering – the kind of ascents carried out without ropes or harnesses – was a gymnast before he tackled rocks. Starting in 1954 by climbing Stone Mountain in Georgia, US, Gill honed his technique by seeing rock climbing as a gymnastic activity rather than an extension of hiking, one that should involve what he called ‘a serious use of momentum’. ‘No gymnast would work on challenging releases without chalk – neither should a climber,’ he once said.

One consequence of this has been the appearance of magnesium carbonate in locations where geology didn’t originally put it, in the form of hand-sized patches on otherwise naturally formed and weathered rocks. This has led to a question of physics acquiring a more ethical dimension. Chalk plus sweat plus weather can equal a slimy layer of muck on the rock surface, an eyesore if not a permanent marker, and a potential conflict with the broadly ecological mindset of outdoor sportsmanship. David Black, an author and climber, once said that ‘there is no real ethic regarding chalk, possibly because modern climbers have no ethics’.

While climbers may debate that, the less adventurous among us might note the symbolic potency of human hand prints anywhere on natural rock, examples of which are among the oldest signs of human existence going back nearly 40,000 years. The global ubiquity of the stencilled image of a hand, outlined in a spray of pigments like iron oxides, kaolin, or manganese oxide, ties the ancients and modern climbers into the same dialogue via pigment or chalk: a palmate proof of life. ‘I was here,’ says the climber’s hand print. ‘I was here first,’ says the rock.

2016 AGM

posted 21 Nov 2016, 05:49 by Steve King

The 2016 SMC Annual General Meeting will be held at

The Wheatsheaf Alehouse, Newport Street, Old Town, Swindon


Tuesday 29 November

commencing at 8pm

All past, present, and potential members are welcome to attend.

Annual Dinner Weekend 2016

posted 23 Oct 2016, 15:20 by Steve King   [ updated 25 Oct 2016, 02:52 ]

October can mean but one thing. No, no Halloween, but the SMC Annual Dinner Weekend!

This year's, organised by Chairman Steve, was once again held at Priddy, on top of the Mendip Hills, just a few miles from Cheddar Gorge. The weather was much better than last year too (once the morning fog had burnt off!). Indeed, some members even went climbing in the Gorge. Others contented themselves with a ramble, and a few went caving. The dinner itself was held in the Queen Victoria Inn in Priddy.

This year's prize winners were:

The Altitude Award
- went to Lee for summiting Stok Kangri in the Indian Himalaya; a magnificent 6153 m.

The Photo Competition
- went to Andy D (again!!!) for a picture of Ed in the Mont Blanc range taken this Summer.
Ed in the Alps

The Fancy Dress Prize
- for the best representation of a 'climber of yesteryear' went to Martin who not only donned a tweed jacket with a hank of rope, but had also managed to source a 1946 pocket book on mountain climbing!!! Apparently you should always make sure your climbing partner is 'a stout fellow' !

Chairman's Meet 2016

posted 9 Jul 2016, 03:58 by Steve King

Mainly due to the Chairman's busy work schedule and general unavailability(!), this year's Chairman's Meet became a day meet on the south coast near Swanage on June 18th. Rather than heading to 'Subluminal' (again), Lee suggested Winspit as an alternative.

Around the end of the working week it was looking odds-on that 11 people would be attending, but by breakfast on the Saturday this had reduced to 6. The excuses given by the no-shows were all honest and understandable, even if one bordered on the 'must try harder next time'.

Winspit is not a crag I'd been to before (technically it's an abandoned quarry/mine), but it was clearly popular. You climb from the level of the coast path, set back from the cliff edge, and there are faces with easterly, westerly and southerly aspects. Each is slightly overhung so the faces are protected from seepage (and drizzle!). Though you could climb trad, there are lots of bolted routes from grade 4 up.

Several of the routes had lower-offs I'd not come across before, twisted pieces of stainless called 'pigstails' or 'cowstails'. Once you overcame your nervousness about relying on an anchor that your rope only went over and not through they were fine (and clearly an advantage over untying and tying back in)!

My personal feeling is that the guide books were under-grading a bit (eg, there was a bold step up to finish a 4+, and the bit from the penultimate anchor to the top on another route was well into the 6's - IMHO - despite the climb overall being graded 5!).

Sadly we didn't get the weather we paid for: it was thick overcast for most of the day with a chilly northwesterly at times meaning we all ended up putting clothes on. And certainly no one was brave enough to venture in for a dip!

(Photo: Steve - yes, that is the Club bouldering mat in use!)

Thank you to those that came, it was a good day out in good company! And always good to try somewhere new!

The Climbers: Steve, Theresa, Lee, Sarah, Andrew R & Simon

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