Late Summer in the Alps

Early September and we’ve been back in the Chamonix valley. The inescapable mix of a small tent, pasta meals and some cheap plonk signalling an end of summer season hit of alpine climbing.

Other than the buzz of helicopters whizzing overhead everything had the quiet feel of late summer winding down into Autumn when we arrived – the sun taking that little bit longer to grace the campsite, the cooler mornings and the dusting of snow from last weeks storms, unmelted on the higher faces. In short conditions felt just about perfect.

We had toyed with the idea of heading straight up to do the Kuffner route on Mont Maudit but thought better of it. Instead we headed to the easier and slightly lower objective of the Forbes arete on the Aiguille du Chardonnet.

Aiguille du Chardonnet – East Ridge (Forbes Arete)

Tuesday saw early Autumn give way to Summer. It was easily in the high 20′s as we left Le Tour for the short chairlift journey upto the Col de Balme, a steady hour’s walk later and we’d reach the Albert Premier. Tranquil it was not, it is currently a cramped and noisy building site.

Aiguille du Chardonnet and the Glacier du Tour

We left the hut at 340am, heading out across the glacier in pursuit of a number of ENSA teams. By the time we had reached the upper Cwm it was gone 5am and we were out in front, weaving our way through the darkness across some rather sporting crevasses before breaking onto the icy slope that led upto the Bosses. Our unacclimatised lungs were gasping slightly as we broke onto East ridge (forbes arete) just after dawn.

Approaching the 'Bosses' at dawn

Approaching the ‘Bosses’ at dawn

The AC guide gives the impression that there is only one technical section (III) with the rest being straightforward. At no time is it difficult, but in the conditions we encountered it offered sustained mixed climbing, a mix of short cracks and walls, exposed ridge lines on rock and firm snow plus one short abseil mid-way from an in-situ sling and maillon (which may be possible to avoid on the left) – all of which went on for a great deal longer than we’d expected.

Rich Bailey on the Forbes Arete at dawn

Exposed climbing on the Forbes Arete

Despite that we stayed ahead of time and pulled round the last gendarme and onto the summit at 859, 5hrs and 19 minutes since leaving the hut.

Dropping off the summit we followed one of the ENSA teams who’d caught us up again and headed for the descent. Not straightforward at the best of times (having climbed the Chardonnet before via the Migot route) we were greeted with a 45 degree bullet hard icy couloir. As the ENSA boys carefully abseiled and lowered their clients down, we turned in, down-climbing ten metres apart with some hastily buried ice screws for security, a small slip here and we could kiss goodbye to a cold beer.

Rich Talbot and Rich Bailey on the summit of Aiguille du Chardonnet

Rich Bailey abseiling

Eventually we broke onto more amenable mixed ground, sticking left (not right as the guidebook suggests) we abseiled down a short wall and found ourselves at a snowy shoulder. Sucking up the slightly thicker air, we dropped down northwards, once again sticking to the far left of the steep convex slope that hid the vast rimaye until Rich was almost in it. A few careful steps and we were on safer ground, tracking back across the glacier, arriving back at the hut some 3 hrs and 15 minutes since summiting.

Contamines – Grisolle Route (Left Edge Route) Pyramid du Tacul

The weather forecast for the end of week was uncertain. Foehn Winds, high 0c isotherms and a potential breakdown were all mentioned as we scanned the Chamonix meteo forecast. Apart from one day of guaranteed good weather all there was, was uncertainty. Our time on the Forbes the day earlier had shown that despite moving relatively quickly, above 3800m we were not moving super-fast. The guides office spoke of longer than expected climbing times on the Kuffner; that coupled with an imminent breakdown of weather at some point on what would be our main climbing day and two less than acclimatised climbers, we regretfully decided to leave the Kuffner route on Maudit for another time. Instead we decided to head to the Pyramid du Tacul, the vast accessible playground that looms over the vallee blanche.

The Contamines  – Grisolle route is one of the ‘easier’ routes on the Pyramid, less steep than the Chere, which we’d both climbed before but longer and more committing. But it was short enough that it should be possible to do in a day push from the first cable-car. The guy in the Guides Office seemed to think it would be possible, preferable to stay at the Cosmiques Hut and get an early start, but doable nonetheless for a fast team in a day from the valley.

We missed the first cable-car by 3 places. And that was already an hour later than normal since the Aiguille du Midi had switched to its Winter time-table. It was 9am by the time we reached the top-station. Heading straight out the tunnel we tracked across the Vallee Blanche as quickly as our lungs could reasonably muster.

Geared up, we crossed the rimaye, and began daggering up the 55 degree snow-slope. It was scorchingly hot, and we were in the middle of a 200 metre snow-slope that was soaking up every last ray. Soft snow gave way to bullet hard ice and back again. Not a great place to be. Keen to get to the relative safety of the mixed ground above, we ran it out, Rich Bailey taking over the lead on the second half of the slope.

Rich Bailey in a hurry on the Contamines - Grisolle

Squeezing back into the shade, I took over once again as I pulled through a small choke that saw us off the steep snow for the time-being. From here the route weaved its way through intricate mixed ground, bullet-hard plate ice every-where, interspersed by spikes and chimneys of bleached granite.

Mid-way on the Contamines - Grisolle Route

Conscious of time ticking-away, we pushed on upwards, a mixture of simul-climbing and direct belays affording us some security. Reaching the upper snow-field, I was running low on gear, out of extenders, prussiks were looped to the few wires I had left, ice-screws clipped directly, but didn’t want to stop to re-group so in the end I just ran it out.  We pushed on until we had reached the final spur that led up towards the summit of the Tacul Triangle. Here we could re-group, re-sort the rack and climb the last few metres over easier mixed ground.

Crossing the upper snow-field on the Contamines - Grisolle route

Originally we had planned to join to the normal route and continue onto the summit of Mont Blanc du Tacul but with it already 1245 and cumulus cloud bubbling up all around us we took the option to descend. A short climb along the snowy ridge brought us to a potential traverse line, from where an exposed traverse brought us down to the Voie Normale.

Hours later, sat in the campsite we read through numerous UKC posts about epics on the route we had just completed, benightments, route choice errors and simply sustained climbing among the list of comments about a route which perhaps isn’t always that straightforward. In that context our 3 1/2 route time from bottom to top didn’t seem so bad.

 

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Frozen Warmth

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The central fells from High Street

Another stunning day in the Lake District, but with virtually no winds, feeling much warmer today.

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Steph and Seren running on High Street, a frozen Hayeswater far below

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Looking across to Fairfield and Helvellyn

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Running across a frozen High Street

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Rich and Seren on High Street

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Descending back towards Hayeswater and Hartsop

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No Lamb, just lions

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April in the Helvellyn range. Steph Jones with Catstyecam behind hikes up to the snowline.

What a sensational end to March. Our equal second coldest March on record in the UK, the fourth coldest on record in Cumbria, persistently sub-zero conditions on the fells and mountains and with easterly winds blowing for the most part, the first decent spell of dry weather we have had in certainly a year and possibly two.

Heavy Snow, Storm Force Winds, deep drifts, bullet-hard neve, sunshine, sublime ice and sunburn. We’ve had it all. Climbs that felt too easy, tours that felt like fights for survival and in between just some really nice days out. The saying goes that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, well not this year, the few lambs that were around, were mostly sheltering in barns. Rather than get warmer, March just seemed to get colder. Pictures speak a thousand words so here goes:

No.6 Gully Aonach Dubh

Rich Bailey exits the crux pitch on No.6 Gully, Aonach Dubh, Glencoe

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Steph looks back to ‘The Old Man of Coniston’

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Gillian Hines on a cold and snowy round of the Coniston Fells

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Short changed. Rich Bailey packs up after ‘a bit short and a bit easy ascent’ of No.6 Gully, Aonach Dubh, Glencoe. We climbed it in a day hit from Kendal.

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I struggle with storm-force winds and skis acting as sails above Thirlmere. Photo courtesy of Richard Bailey.

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Steph Jones and Rich Bailey soak up the sun above Kirkstone. Not just a Good Friday but a Great Friday. Easter 2013.

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The hunter earns his reward. After some searching, I savour a thousand feet of continuous vertical descent from Stonycove Pike.

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Steph is quickly back in the groove, linking turns on Stonycove Pike

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Above Kirkstone Pass

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I enjoy my lightweight Dynafit set up and alpine-like conditions above Kirkstone

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Dan Shacklock and Steph Jones do battle with a late March storm

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Rich Bailey and I mull over the options in search of a snowy descent. Nr Kirktsone.

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Ski to Road. Steph Jones descends into Thirlmere.

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Chris Jakeman savours a leisurely start on the first day of ‘British Summer Time’ on Raven Crag Gully (III / IV). We left the Car Park at 5:15pm!

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Running pitches, we climb the Cold Climbs classic, Raven Crag Gully in just 2 hours. Good thing, it would be dark in one hour. It was 730pm!

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Its 7:55pm. Chris Jakeman steady away on ‘possibly the finest pitch of ice in the Lake District’ as twilight fades to night.

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Rich Bailey traversing the exit slopes of No.6 Gully, Aonach Dubh, Glencoe

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I struggle to stay upright as windslab loads onto the leeward slopes beneath Brown Cove Crags. Photo courtesy of Richard Bailey.

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Approximately 7pm on the first day of British Summer Time looking towards Skiddaw. Magical.

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I’m ready to go with one relatively light ski pack. Steph is behind, taking a photo!

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Steph Jones skinning towards Stonycove Pike

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Little sign of spring. Low Water locked in ice.

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Catstyecam (LH), Swirral Edge and Helvellyn from lower slopes of Raise.

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Me en route to Raise, Catstyecam behind.

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A cold and deserted car park in Thirlmere. Note how much snow lies on the relatively low slopes behind!

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Back on it….

I’d finished last weeks Kendal Winter League on Scout Scar in an indifferent mood, which was firmly reinforced by a Facebook notification from Mike Vogler, which I’ll paraphrase, 42 miles and 11′oooft this week. Put my five mile jaunt around the scar into perspective.

Clearly I needed to get back to running and after thoroughly tough week in which my courageous cousin lost her battle with illness, there was a renewed kick to stop wasting my time and finding excuses.

And so as the morning darkness began to relinquish its grip on the day I found myself on Saturday driving into Langdale to meet up with Mike to join him on a training run. He’s got his eyes set on a Paddy Buckley Round in May, I simply needed to get going again, and for the time being, ensure my training is at least at the same intensity as last year. That frankly doesn’t mean very much but is better than doing nothing. Mike was keen for a steady run around the tops of Langdale. It sounded perfect.

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Winding my way along the lanes out of Chapel stile I was greeted with clag and an obvious snow-line at 500m. A slight change of plan saw us heading straight up the Band, Thunacar Knott in the clag seemed like an unnecessary slog.

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By the time we had traversed into the top of the gully high above Three Tarns, a cold, damp, numbing wind was blowing. Rime Ice was steadily building on the rocks all around, and a perfect ankle busting layer of ice and snow was laid out for us to enjoy. Hardly ideal and neither of us had thought to bring any micro-spikes. And so with no views to enjoy, and both keen to keep any form of tempo up, we didnt hang about made the quick switch-back to Bowfells summit before heading back across Crinkle Crags.

We took a slightly circticious route to Long Top, the clag was down and in the white haze spotting any line, let alone the fast one was difficult. From here the clouds began to lift and as we rejoined the main path, dropping down over the bad step, we picked up the pace once more en route to Pike O Blisco. The final pull onto Blisco was thankfully short lived, and some 15 minutes after leaving its lofty top we found ourselves back at Stool End Farm.

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Kendal Winter League

2013 has come in rather as 2012 finished, a bit damp, and the conditions for the first race in this years Kendal Winter League were little different.

Training has been somewhat lacking lately, a combination of excuses amounting to a handful of runs and a couple of track sessions since mid November. And so yet again the fierce fury of Scout Scar would be the perfect tonic for underused legs.

I set off too quickly, struggling with pacing and the reality of not being as quick as I would like currently. The mist was doing its best to tear itself apart from the Scar but there were few views this Sunday. Slightly longer than last years course, we wound our way around the Scar, losing a steady handful of places as I settled into a more realistic position.

Was this year more painful than last? I couldn’t remember, but if my chest was to contract with oxygen debt any more I would be crippled, I felt my body accept a slightly lower gear, I had reached it’ll do mode. My legs had struggled to open into anything like a stride, the whole run had felt force. Remind me to not switch to that mode again.

Some 33 minutes later and I was running hard down the final incline towards the finish. The winter league is just training, it doesn’t matter. Yeah right, and I am also not competitive…some 24 hours later I was back at the track with some rekindled desire.

Position: 27th TBC Time: 33 minutes TBC

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Swiss Valais

Peak Bagging in the Valais, Swiss Alps

Just back from a brief visit to the Swiss Valais.

Despite being there for a week we ended up with just a 3-day weather window, during which time we managed ascents of the Zinal Rothorn (4200m) and the Ober Gabelhorn (4065m).

Both peaks retain their big mountain feel, both over the illustrious 4000m mark and both requiring full valley-up ascents, with no cable-cars to access this big and wild region of the high alps.

Relaxing in the valley. Zinal Rothorn behind.

River crossing on the approach to the Rothorn Hut

Still smiling in the early hours of the morning

Descending the Zinal Rothorn. Another party can be seen descending from the Notch.

Circa 3850m on the Zinal Rothorn

Dawn on the approach to the Ober Gabelhorn

Climbing on the upper ridge of the Wellenkuppe around 3700m

Dan on the summit of the Ober Gabelhorn

Descending from the Ober Gabelhorn

Rich abseiling from the Wellenkuppe. Zinal Rothorn behind.

Grappling loose scree and tangled ropes high above the Trift Glacier

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Martin’s most excellent adventure

Martins most excellent adventure. 1st installment.

It’s ten to eight in the evening. Across the expanse of a slate blue lake, the sun is slowly edging its way down closer towards the jagged skyline of pine forest that carpet this corner of Idaho. The sounds of the radio are being drowned out by the constant drone of the concrete covered interstate, through the noise I can hear an advert for a bank that offers concessions for US military personnel. Martin, one of our UK sales reps had done such an excellent job at immersing himself in US culture, short of turning up in a Stetson, that we’d decided we would name our Impromptu road trip back north after him. Martins most excellent adventure was in full swing.

Fuelled by an unhealthy mix of M&M’s, Coca-Cola, Barbecue-Flavoured crisps, Snickers bars and the occasional Twix we had been on the road for nearly 36 hours. Crammed into a Chrysler Astra van, Craig, Josh, Martin and myself were on our way back to the home of Mountain Equipment Inc. We’d covered a solid thousand miles, visited the states of Utah, Wyoming, Montana and now Idaho and were still some 350 miles from journeys end in the north-western corner of Washington State.

Outdoor Retailer

Just a few days earlier, we had all been in full swing at the USA’s major outdoor trade show, Outdoor Retailer, which unusually for something stateside is, for once, a smaller affair than its European cousin. Protected from the searing desert heat outside, we went about our business in the ‘Salt Palace’, managing to squeeze in some 50 odd appointments from our 30 by 20 foot patch of ground, which was the temporary hub of all things Mountain Equipment, running through our product lines with prospective retail accounts, journalists, bloggers and the mildly curious.

In the evening we would escape the metropolis of Salt Lake City and head up to Park City, some forty minutes drive to the East. Once a mining town, this small town on the edge of the Wasatch mountains is now more famous as a major ski resort and home to the 2002 Winter Olympic bob-sleigh run and ski jump. The remnants of the old town still remain, with a crowded mix of highly colourful, small wooden buildings lining the main street surrounded by an ever increasing number of Condo’s, apartments and houses. Hard-Up miners and settlers have given way to those with the money to live in this now affluent ski resort and a steady throng of tourists.

The Wild West

Heading out on I-80 towards Evanston and the state-line, we left Park City on Monday morning. Wyoming would then beckon, mile after mile of the mid-west, only occasionally punctuated by small towns. Each one guarded by a sign detailing its population and elevation. None were bigger than 500 or so people, most were considerably smaller. In between were dotted farmsteads and ranches, dry brush-land smattered with the occasional intense burst of lush green grass from the huge irrigation systems that are the life-line to those making a living from this wild land. It would be nearly 5 hours before we reached the first big town, another major mountain resort, Jackson Hole.

Entering from the South it is easy to question what makes Jackson Hole so special. Travel just a few miles further North and as the forested hills give way to an expansive plain and the jagged peaks of the Teton mountain range come into view, there is little to doubt. Jackson is a wonderful town but it happily plays second fiddle to the natural wonder that surrounds it. Running along a geological fault line, the Teton mountain range was formed during a major uplift a good few million years ago and they’re still growing, rising straight up from the valley floor to over 13,000 feet. At its base, a flat valley floor that is home to the National Elk Reserve and to the North, arguably the most famous national park in the world, Yellowstone.

The Teton Range, Wyoming, USA

I’m not sure the herds of Bison, Grizzly Bears or Wolves make much distinction between the Teton National Park and Yellowstone but to help us humans there’s a big sign and ranger post. Like all National Parks here in the USA you can’t just wander in, it’s tightly regulated and you have to pay.

It was late afternoon by the time we made our way into Yellowstone National Park, we didn’t have much time but Craig was determined that we would at least drive through the park and experience what we could of this amazing natural wilderness. Amazing is an over-used word but not for Yellowstone. We stopped briefly at Lewis Falls, glimpsed Osprey hovering in the thermals above magical river basins and caught a glimpse of the giant Yellowstone lake. Dinner was beckoning as was one final highlights of the day.

Old Faithful

Turning off the highway I’d not fully grasped what a major tourist venue Yellowstone quite was. That was until we reached the site of what is probably the most famous Geyser in the world. Nestled amongst the forest, Old Faithful is just one of several Geysers that erupt from the bubbling thermal springs, but it’s the only one to erupt practically like clock-work. Every forty odd minutes, every day, super heated water erupts from the lunar like landscape into a sky-high fountain to the delight of the thousands of tourists that sit patiently on the boardwalks. Just a few hundred yards away, Old Faithful Lodge is a historic megalith of a structure, now joined by a modern visitor information centre and large hotel. It wasn’t quite the isolated, unspoilt natural beauty I was expecting but the lodge is in its own way, an impressive sight. It’s giant internal wooden structure looms impressively high, one of the finest timber constructions I’ve seen. Less than a hundred years old but looking like some medieval scaffolding, the raw outline of tree timbers reach high into the open roof, four of five storeys high.

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park

By the time we sat down for dinner we had managed to miss Old Faithful twice. Reliable it may be but to the second it is not. Twice we had scampered across to the steaming, sulphurous mound to be greeted by the sight of dispersing tourists, all with satisfied looks on their faces. The next eruption was scheduled for 17 minutes past 9. It was our final chance to witness it before nightfall. As the light began to fade over Yellowstone, a quiet hue fell across the sulphurous landscape as the excited chatter of expectation grew. Slowly the rising steam gave way to bubbling water and then shortly after ten past nine, Old Faithful was true to her name, albeit a little early.

Authenticity

Earlier that week, talking to the many journalists who were wandering the exhibition halls of Outdoor Retailer, I’d been cornered by a journalist, keen to learn more about our mysterious British brand. What’s your USP? What makes you stand out from all the others? After 3 days of presentations I was beginning to feel a little jaded, I muttered something about the small details, the subtlety of design all too easily missed and a few other things that I can’t quite remember, but the reply back was that, without wishing to sound cliche’d, it was refreshing to see a truly authentic outdoor brand.

Is it that time of day already? Rich & Craig awake in Yellowstone NP

It was now 630 am, I was lying in my sleeping bag, in the open, on the edge of the Yellowstone National Park. Ten yards away, Josh who had been asleep, crammed into the van, was now thumping my climbing pack, trying unsuccessfully to silence the alarm on my mobile phone. It wasn’t the first time that week that I’d left my phone to accidentally wake someone else up. Under the fading stars, Craig, Martin and myself had been blissfully unaware of this electronic intrusion, only the stirring of the air as dawn broke over the horizon gave any indication that it was time to wake up. It was a scene from a 21st Western, blankets had given way to down sleeping bags, tethered horses had made way for a four-wheel drive van, only the Corale we were lying beside and the mountains in front remained unchanged. It wasn’t the usual standard of accommodation I was used to whilst travelling for work, but that night, it beat any modern, soul-less hotel. I hoped the previous weeks journalist would approve.

My sleeping bag was damp with a heavy dew as I did my best to wake myself. Craig was already doing his best to add further annoyance to Josh by tapping on the steamy van windows. Across the valley, the white steaming mound of Mammoth Springs could be seen, looking more like some industrial intrusion billowing unknown toxins into the sky, it was actually another of Yellowstone’s geological natural wonders. Sooner or later, this entire geological crater will erupt, and wipe out much of what can now be seen, and begin another chapter in this constantly evolving landscape. Luckily all was quiet this morning, other than a steadily increasing number of tourists. We packed away our things and readied to leave Yellowstone.

A proper cup of tea

Sitting down for breakfast, Martin was showing enormous British reserve as he attempted to define the word ‘Hot’ to the hostess. I thought i drank a lot of tea but Martin surpassed even my best efforts. His first pot of tea had arrived in a usual luke warm state and he was keen to help this little diner in Gardiner become possibly the only one in the state of Montana trained in the art of serving a proper cup of Yorkshire Tea.

A morning warm-up on Yellowstone’s western entrance

He was making steady progress as the second pot arrived with our breakfast. Grasping the pot to wait for that tell-tale sensory sensation of heat, he grasped it for slightly too long before realising a further round of training would be necessary. For a nation who had introduced us to warnings of hot water in their beverages, Luke warm, weak tea was a hard one to fathom. I opted for a warm, brown liquid resembling coffee as I tucked into my bacon and egg.

Big Sky and Prolite Mountain Gear

Back on the road, we head north along the Yellowstone river into the state of Montana. Expanses of thick forest had given way to wide open mountains, grass and broken woodland. This was the Montana I was expecting, this was big sky country.

We headed north and then West towards Bozeman, a growing college town on the edge of the Bridger mountain range and home to one of Mountain Equipments first supporting gear shops in the USA, Prolite Mountain Gear. Bozeman is an attractive town of some 40,000 odd residents, modest brick buildings, boutiques and art shops mark the makings of a town that’s got plenty of life in it. And so too has Brad, Prolite’s general manage. A larger than life character in every respect and passionate Montana resident. It’s not difficult to see why.

Within 20 minutes of the shop is some great climbing, both in summer and winter, great skiing, great fishing, great rafting. How anyone has the time to a run a shop in these parts is beyond me. Come the winter, they run demo evenings every Wednesday where you can turn up, grab some boots and tools and go find some steep ice. It’s little wonder they have seen rapid growth in their relatively short history, the place just oozes enthusiasm and passion for the outdoors.

Brad talks kit with Craig at Prolite Mountain Gear

Brad was keen to go and show us some of his beloved Montana but sadly on this occasion time wasn’t on our side, we still had many hours of driving to go. So after a quick 45 minute tour of the shop which included a look around their workshop where a spirited staff were making and modifying bits of gear to their own requirements we were on the move again.

We headed West towards Butte (or butt as Martin had decided to call it), once one of the copper capitals of the world before continuing Westwards towards Missoula, the administrative centre of Montana and home of the University of Montana. Cruising along the interstate through the sweltering summer heat, Butte would be an easy to forget place were it not home to one of the largest open cast copper mines in the world.

Anywhere else and it would have overwhelmed the landscape but here in an endless sky it was just another hole in the ground that had brought considerable wealth and prosperity. Guarding its deep cuttings and levels was a network of lift towers that had served the deep shaft mining operations that ran in parallel to the open cast mine. It’s vast economic wealth attracted many immigrant workers from all over the world, including the UK, and is apparently one of the few places where you can buy a Cornish Pasty in the USA. It also brought huge environmental damage, and vast sums of money have been spent in the past 30 years attempting to rectify it.

The French Connection and journeys end

We had been driving through Montana since early morning, it was early evening before we crossed the state-line into Idaho. As the sun began to lower in the sky, a raft of French place-names, Coeur D’alene being the most obvious, gave clues to the French Canadian fur trappers and missionaries who had settled here in the infancy of the modern state in the early 18th century.

We were cutting through our densest forest since leaving Yellowstone and our flirtation across the Northern half of Idaho was a relatively short lived affair. As darkness fell we reached our final state.

Washington is one of the most mountainous states in the US but on its Eastern side it’s a vast semi arid plain. We drove through Spokane, a rather plain and ordinary looking town that serviced the agricultural industry in this corner of Washington as well as being home to Mountain Gear, another of our supporting US retail partners. It wasn’t quite like driving across the M62 but the high moor-like landscape had certain similarities as we passed dinky sized combines carving their way across vast expanses of wheat fields.

As the darkness finally swallowed up any trace of remaining daylight we began our descent from the eastern plains towards the vast Columbia river, one of North America’s great waterways. Draining a vast basin of the North-Western United States and cutting a great chasm through Washington state it marked the gradual climb back towards the Cascades. We could see little of its enormity other than a dark snaking outline some half a mile wide as we crossed the shadowy outlines of Vantage bridge. Ahead only a series of warning lights that traced across the night sky revealed a vast network of wind turbines.

Climbing up along he Snoquamie pass we had reached the Cascades, the mountain chain that dominates this region, that runs from Oregon right to the Canadian border and that signalled the nearness of journey’s end. It would be another hour and well past midnight before we reached Stanwood, our final destination an hour or so to the north of Seattle.

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