A short run up to Sarnia Skala

With low cloud in the sky and constant drizzle threatening to turn to rain I wanted to get out for a walk but not a big mountain day.

While only a quarter of the Tatras National Park sits in Poland there’s still a wealth of shorter walks for wet days.

Sarnia Skala 10km 660m ascent

Sarnia Skala is a small rocky outcrop sitting on the edge of the national park and easily accessed from Zakopane by the black route which runs along the edge of the park from the snowland ski slopes.

The black route is popular with runners, being relatively flat. It is however, as I discovered as I set off in my running kit, quite slippy in places when it is wet.

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Tatras: The quieter route up Kasprowy Wierch

I knew that travelling to the Tatras National Park in November for hiking meant one of two things – either there would be quiet trails or terrible weather and I’d have to find a plan B. I also knew I needed to be prepared for hiking in the snow and so was armed with crampons, axe and loads of experience.

As it was, I was blessed with really good weather for most of the week I was staying in Zakopane, so managed to get out every day to hike or run in the mountains.

It had rained solid the day I arrived in Zakopane and knowing the day after would be cold I anticipated some snow on the mountains. I wasn’t disappointed!

Kasprowy Wierch west ridge – 16.6km 1400m ascent

Having caught the bus to Kuznice and arrived before 7am I took the long walk up the blue trail to Schronisko Hala Kondratowa hut. I should add that if like me you like early starts, this means you arrive before the National Park is officially open – meaning free entry (not the 7 zloty is expensive).

Its not a steep walk to the hut, so I got there much quicker than the suggested travel time of the signs. Most guides books tell you to take the yellow or green path to the summit of Kasprowy Wierch which are the more direct route, but by that account are also the busiest. If you want a quieter alternative the blue route to Hala Kondratowa Hut is much better.

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Iceland: Hiking the Laugavegur trail

We only had a week in Iceland and were keen to hike to explore the landscape. The Laugavegur trail is one of the most popular in Iceland due to its close proximity to Reykjavik, its easy access by bus and good huts along the way.

Most guidebooks will recommend around 4 days for the route despite it only being 54km. We had limited time and hoped to do the continuation route of the Fimmvörðuháls and end up in Skógar to the coast so planned to do the Laugavegur trail in 3 days.

There’s a lot of blogs out there on the trail due to its popularity but the one website you really want to check out is the one operated by the Icelandic huts – here you can find out about the trail, river crossings, and hut bookings.

As this is a very popular trail don’t expect to be able to get into the huts to stay, we had to carry a tent for the hike as we couldn’t get booked into the huts despite calling months in advance. And this was at a time of covid travel restrictions.

The start of the trail
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Giro dell’Etna

Its impossible to deny that Mount Etna is fascinating – the most active volcano in the world, its impact on the local landscape and history of Sicily cannot be ignored. Surrounding the volcano the landscape is covered in smaller vents, plateaus of lava and rock formations from centuries of eruptions.

It is however incredibly touristy.

At Etna South, the southerly main active crater, there is a cable car and chalets reminiscent of a ski centre. It is indeed a popular ski area in winter, but in summer you must be guided to the summit on foot or by vehicle.

As two mountaineers the prospect of being guided up a large dome of ash and lava didn’t appeal to us. Thankfully there are alternatives and hiring bikes turned out to be the perfect day out.

All around the Etna national park there are trails, both hiking and mountain biking which are well marked and available on the national park map. As it was, the company we hired the bikes – Etna bike tours – from gave us a pre-loaded GPS for the main trail – the Giro dell’Etna. Including the descent back to the rental place in Milo the total loop would be 55km.

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Hiking Monte Inici

Having managed to escape the UK for only a week this year and finding ourselves in Sicily for sport climbing and sunshine, I was surprised that there wasn’t more information on hiking in the mountains given that Sicily is quite mountainous. In fact the only map I could find was of the Etna region.

Spending a few days in Castellamare del Golfo we were making the most of the beaches and the sport climbing in nearby San Vito. Castellamare del Golfo is busy little fishing town which has a typical touristy beach and restaurants. Its is also overshadowed by Mont Inici.

Despite the dominance of the mountain on the town it seemed few people walked up there, with no maps available and very unloved footpaths and trails. There were however intermittent signposts at junctions making it possible to see that once it had been a popular area to hike.

So, armed with digital mapping (which turned out to be pretty accurate on all our walks in Sicily) we set off on the tracks from the view point above the town.

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Tough decisions on the Jungfrau

Crossing the 1 foot wide ridge of snow I was very aware of the snow melting under my feet and becoming unstable. I held my breath and walked confidently, eyes ahead.

We’d already lost half an hour on the ascent waiting for a team ahead of us to climb the snow to the ridge line, their guide leading the way and belaying them up. When we crossed the ridge we had to wait again for the guide to cross the couloir, digging a foot deep through the snow to place ice screws, securing the traverse to the metal stake and beyond to the rocks.

Waiting on a route is never ideal, especially when the snow under our feet was fresh and only had one night of freezing. And the sun was already high in the sky, melting it.

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Scrambling on the Wetterhorn

Towering over Grindelwald town the Wetterhorn is captivating, its ridges and high glacier catch the eye. Its also less likely to be shroud in cloud than the Eiger so looks seriously impressive.

The route up the Wetterhorn from Grindelwald takes in the Wilsgratli ridge up to the Wettersattel and then snow or rock to the summit. It’s not immediately obvious from the town as it is a narrow ridge in the centre of the Crinnen glacier.

Knowing the ridge was AD- there was a long discussion about its complexity, and whether I was going to be able to haul myself up it without too much whinging.

In hindsight, we should have also had a discussion about coming back down.

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Tschingelhorn – a Bernese Oberland initiation

Acclimatizing well is at the core of a successful mountaineering trip to the Alps. So starting low and working our way up the altitudes was a sensible approach to our plans in Switzerland. It’s easy to do when you’re somewhere like Chamonix where you can reach high altitudes with relative ease on the cable cars, but the Bernese Oberland proved to be a different beast entirely.

We chose the Tschingelhorn due to it being a low alpine summit at 3562m and having a straightforward summit route, graded PD (French for a little difficult) so we knew it was achievable. Having to walk in also meant that we would be able to acclimatize as we went.

What we hadn’t banked on was a mammoth walk to reach the Mutthorn hut at the base of the Mutthorn ridge, almost in the middle of the glacier, and 2000m of ascent from the start at Stechelberg. It didn’t look that far on the map, but when you add in the ascent to get there, and the hot sunshine, it was a hard slog.

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Cogne: Cascades de Lilliaz

We had checked out the popular and only easy to access climbing spot of the Cascade de Lilliaz at the start of the week. It looked like a good plan for when we would be too tired to do more long walk ins and when the weather was predicted to be less reliable.

The cascades is the only climb which isn’t a committing route as you can bail off at any point along the river route. This also means it is very popular with climbers and spectators.

We had only intended to do one day of climbing there but after Moliene wasn’t in condition we headed back there on both Friday and Saturday.

There had been heavy snowfall and any thin ice had been covered enough for us to momentarily forget about it. So on Friday we headed up and climbed pitch 3 on the right side.

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Cogne: Valnontey ice climbing

Standing on mushy snow with my axes hooked around a thin lip of ice, I got that horribly familiar sensation in the pit of my stomach when I really don’t like where I am stood. And I had to traverse off the mushy snow to get on to the ice.

Valmiana

Having had a fantastic time climbing on Il Sentiero dei Troll a couple of days earlier, we headed back to the Valnontey valley to climb the waterfall next to it, Valmiana another WI3. My initial reaction was that the first pitch looked massive and steep, but I tried not to let that put me off.

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