Saturday, 29 August 2015

Mountain Leader Training 2015

Each year Bristol SU subsidises six UBESters to go on a mountain leadership course in Snowdonia. Despite my (very) last minute application to the course, I was lucky enough to gain a place to learn skills invaluable for anyone hoping to lead walks.

The day before the start of the course the six of us congregated at Gwen Gof Isaf, a campsite right in the shadow of Tryfan. On Sunday, we met our guides for the week- Paul and Rusty- some of the most experienced mountaineers I’ve ever met, who had a story to tell for any situation and an unbeatable knowledge of plants! We then headed out for a day of micro nav, a challenge that felt like we had to find the right blade of grass on the mountainside using only a map and a compass. I quickly learned that wearing hole-ridden, ancient boots was a bad idea when wading through bog

Later in the week we learned to body belay and some basic emergency management, and paid a visit to the Llanberis mountain rescue base. The next day we put the skills into practice with an ascent of the east ridge of Y Garn, during which we were treated to spectacular fly pasts of RAF jets. We managed to keep ourselves entertained in the free evenings: highlights included an ill fated attempt to blend car and tarpaulin into a cooking shelter, and a forlorn ramble up (what turned out to be) a cliff, to try and find a cave Alasdair had spotted on the map.

The course culminated in an overnight trek to a beautiful lakeside, where we set up camp for the night. I tried to get a rest before the night nav exercise, but was reluctantly awoken by “Ben, camera!” The magnificent sunset over the mountains proved well worth getting out of bed for! To round off the week in true UBES fashion we headed to Canaervan in full hiking gear for a well-earned Spoons.

Ben Towers
If you're interested in taking part in ML training next year check out our website for more info.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Australia: A weekend in the Blue Mountains

For anyone hoping to start exploring the Blue Mountains, a good place to start is in the town of Katoomba. There being good train connections to Sydney, many different hostels to choose from and one of the more famous sites in the Mountains- The Three Sisiters.

 I started off my Friday visiting this site, the town and walking to Katoomba Falls. After dramatically staring a various rock formations and bits of falling water for the day, I retreated back to my hostel. The Blue Mountains Backpacker Hostel was large, located near to the train station and equipped with a kitchen, fire, pool table and of course the all important free Wi-Fi!  ‘Twas here I rested on Friday night with plans to head out early the next morning to visit the very striking and extremely beautiful Wentworth Falls.

There are many walks to choose from in this area ranging from those meant for people so fat and lazy they can barely walk 10 meters for their car, to those for people experienced in the mountains, needless to say I was more than able to spend a day entertaining myself here.
I started off following the Darwin Walk from the village of Wentworth Falls to the falls themselves. It took about half an hour and when I arrive I was gifted to some views of the beautiful surrounding countryside complete with terrifyingly high cliffs, captivating cascades and an amazing temperate rainforest (photos to follow). If you follow the paths all the way to the bottom of the cliffs you will be greeted by the massive waterfalls plunge pool. This is an ideal place to stop for lunch and a great place to swim, temperature permitting. From here one can follow either the Wentworth or the National Pass, taking you through the rainforest and along the cliffs respectively.
Following the National Pass is a definite must as it takes you along the middle of the cliffs via a man made path, it has been one of the most travelled walks in the mountains for a century. 

After whiling away my days wandering all the possible paths in this area I returned to Katoomba and my hostel. After watching the Wallabies beat the All Blacks in the first Bledisloe Cup match I retired to bed with the next day promising more excitement.

On Sunday I chose to visit Scenic World, one of the few attractions within walking distance of Katoomba. Consisting of cable car rides around the mountains and boasting the ‘Worlds steepest railway’ at an angle of 54˚. An entertaining day, good for the more casual walker as they have boardwalks through the rainforest and lots of information about the mining industry within the mountains. For experienced walkers this can be a bit boring, so following the walk from scenic world to the three sisters and the giants stairway is a good way to brighten up the day.

After a more casual Sunday I return to Sydney by train (about 2 hrs). One noticeable difference in walking here compared to in the UK is all of the villages are built on the tops of the mountains (which are very flat-peaked), and most walks go down into the valleys. I would definitely recommend the Blue Mountains to anyone who visits Australia. Even for those who’re not fans of walking, as there are many other activities on offer (climbing, caving and canyoning to name a few).  10/10 would visit again.