After a few days in Quito we headed out for acclimatisation walks and Lake Cuicocha was a beautiful place to have on the list.
We’d spent the night in Otavalo, a nearby town which was very friendly and laid back. After a morning wandering round the market and having coffee in a cafe we drove to Lake Cuicocha.
Lake Cuicocha is a 3 km wide caldera lake at the foot of Cotacachi Volcano. The name comes from the Kichwa, a variety of Quechua language and means lake of the guinea pigs – referring to the two humped islands.
“I’m going to struggle with that crux pitch” I said, as I watched an Italian guide following his client up the rock face and wobbling on his crampon points as he went. When his foot slipped it crossed my mind that if he was finding it difficult to keep his crampons on the tiny slots cut out of the face, I was going to do more than struggle.
I hate caving. I know hate is a strong word but having had a go I can honestly say, I hate caving. Wading around with wet feet inside cold wellies wearing a rubber boil-in-the-bag suit with a fibre pile onesie underneath so any physical exertion leads to being really sweaty. Having a mild panic attack in the dark, when the choice presented to you is to either wriggle through a tiny slot barely big enough to fit in or to slide down rock and somehow avoid landing in the pool of freezing water at the bottom. I feel a bit sick just thinking about it now. There’s always the choice to turn around but I’m not a quitter and like to push my boundaries of fear.
But I didn’t know any of this when I agreed to give it a go. I thought ‘It’s a bit like rock climbing, but underground’. Walking through passages marvelling at rock and fossils and wandering into huge caverns.
The reality is more like grovelling in the dark, wedging myself through rock and losing my dignity and nerve as I lower myself over the void to disappear into the abyss, dangling in free space.
The joy of being a Duke of Edinburgh Assessor is being able to spend time in the hills and meet groups of young people who are learning new skills and challenging themselves with being self reliant in the outdoors.
This weekend I got to assess a friend’s group, which meant I also spent the weekend with his gorgeous dog Beamish. The scout group were more hardcore than some gold groups I’ve met recently as they were wild camping for three days straight as part of their Gold expedition in the Lake District – hiking from Keswick to Borrowdale, over to Grasmere and then up the Thirlmere Valley.
Sometimes charging up a pointy mountain of rock and scaring myself silly is all I want to do. Other times I need peace and quiet and chance to recharge – this bank holiday was the latter. Knowing Snowdonia was going to be busy and having an urge to visit somewhere I’d never been, I headed to the Berwyn Mountains in mid-Wales.
More like rolling hills of peat bogs and open grass land the Berwyns at 832m remind me of Skiddaw or the Howgill Fells. Open, vast and crucially – quiet. I saw three people all day. Bliss.
It was a last minute decision to go the the Lake District over Easter, one I thought I was going to regret as I sat parked in traffic on the M6 watching it rain.
I’d arranged to meet Tony from the Yorkshire Mountaineering Club at their huts in Coniston to find out more about the club and make the most of the weekend and 4 long hours later I arrived.
The Club’s huts are located near the Coppermines Youth Hostel, up a dirt track about two miles out of the centre of Coniston. As someone who camps regularly and is only an occasional user of Youth Hostels I thought the huts are a bargain for guests to stay in (less than camping!) and are in a fantastic location.
Waking up at 6am to the sound of the dehumidifier in the drying room, it was clear that Tony is an early riser and was keen I was too. We’d decided the night before to head round to Eskdale to go up Sca Fell and so set off bright and early.
The path up the River Esk is a gentle start to the day, which was good as while Tony is a keen mountaineer, in his 70’s now he’s certainly not running up fells anymore.
Ok, so I didn’t get out on a big hike this weekend – and all I really wanted when I woke up Sunday was a fantastic coffee and to play out in the snow which is still on the hills around the South Pennines.
So, with no great trek involved I headed the longest way I could manage down the valley to Slaithwaite for a coffee and lunch. Lazy I know, but just look at the views whilst I headed on the Colne Valley Way from Marsden up to Cupwith Reservoir and down Merrydale Clough into Slaithwaite centre. All in all about a 6 miles circle, heading back along the Huddersfield Canal.
The Colne Valley Way is a fantastic 13 miles walk around the top of the valley – but as much of it is on either the moors or farmland it is boggy, unless you tackle it at this time of the year when the ground is frozen. Its a great walk though with some fantastic pubs en-route and this is certainly my favourite section.
I missed the opportunity to play out in the snow last week as by the time the weekend came around it had all but vanished from the hills of West Yorkshire. Nevertheless I needed air and to stretch my legs so headed out around the Holme Valley in the winter sunshine.
Starting from Holmfirth, we headed up the hillside to Cartworth Moor Road which we followed until reaching the track at Elysium farm, where we swung a sharp left to follow the track towards Hollin Hill Reservoir. Mud galore today! The mountain bikers across Cartworth Moor Road were certainly covered in mud from head to toe.
It didn’t take long for me to find Hong Kong’s claustrophobic feeling too much, and my lack of interest in shopping required me to finding something further afield. The weather wasn’t ideal for hiking, which is a shame as there are some interesting routes on the islands.
So I decided more temples was in order. I headed to Ngong Ping to see the Big Buddha, and though I was initially disappointed to find the cable car wasn’t working I was eventually thankful. It meant it was a bit quieter and my first impression hadn’t been tarnished by departing the cable car into yet another shopping area.
Hong Kong – the place that kept my baggage for a few days while I was in Siem Reap. Having to change flights here again on my way home, I’d planned a week in the city to break up the journey. But being almost 20 degrees colder than Cambodia, a huge city of towering skyscrapers and every metro station leading into a shopping mall (and I really do mean every single one); it was a culture shock in more than one sense.
Hong Kong is a fascinating city, though requires energy to withstand the pace, which I lacked on first arrival. I’d come from a laid back Buddhist Cambodia where the pace was slow, so it took me an afternoon to adjust to the pace. As well as the price of food and goods and the endless shopping. At least a 3-day Oystercard for the Metro was a reasonable price.
Staying in the popular Wan Chai district, within walking distance to the huge shopping centre of Times square, I did spend my first night wandering around admiring the lights, being shocked that it was Christmas (I’d managed to avoid this fact in Cambodia) and eating noodles in a little back street cafe. Despite the culture shock I found the ideal first night, seeing the lights around the Harbour from the Conference centre.