Big Wall Climbing Course at Plas Y Brenin in North Wales

Posted on May 26, 2016 in Climbing

A medium term goal I have for myself is to climb El Capitan in Yosemite and in particular via one of the main routes called the Nose. With that in mind I took the first step towards this objective by attending the Big Wall Course at Plas Y Brenin in North Wales over a weekend at the beginning of May (the course is run twice a year at the moment). The course overview states:

If you’re planning a Big Walling trip for the first time, or wanting to fine tune what you’ve already learnt on your first epic, this weekend is worth its weight in gold. The weekend course is crammed full of practical instruction and advice on aid climbing, bivouacking, hanging stances and hauling. Exactly what you need to help you get the most from your trip.

I’ve learnt numerous forms of climbing such as bouldering, top rope, sport, trad and ice but one form of climbing that is required on a big wall climb is that of aiding. This involves the use of etriers (ladders) to lead a route and then jumaring up a rope when seconding.

The Course covered: -

  • Basic aid climbing techniques
  • Stance management, and fixing ropes
  • Jumaring - a variety of systems
  • Hauling systems
  • Pendulums and tension traverses
  • Pegging and de-pegging
  • Marginal gear - mashies, rurps, sky hooks, beaks
  • Bivouacing skills with and without porta ledges
  • A review of Big Wall areas

Here’s a couple of pics from the course, you can take a look at all the pictures here

Tim Neill aid climbing using etriers

Picture 1: Tim Neill shows us how to lead an aid climb using Etriers (Dave Kenyon belaying)

Aid Climbing using Etriers

Picture 2: Indoor aid climbing practise on Etriers

Richard Byrom jumaring up a tower using ascenders

Picture 3: Jumaring up a tower using ascenders

Aid climbing at the RAC Crag near Capel Curig

Picture 4: Aid climbing outdoors on trad gear at the RAC Crag near Capel Curig

Below is a short clip of Tim Neil showing us how to aid climb using etriers. I’ve also created a playlist for all of the video clips I created here on YouTube

I have to say that this course was superb, we had three really good and experienced instructors, namely Tim Neill, Dave Kenyon and Sam Farnsworth . Furthermore the facilities at Plas Y Brenin were great and overall it was a really enjoyable experience.

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PADI Night Dive Specialty - Leybourne Lakes

Posted on May 25, 2016 in

Last week I undertook the first of my dives to obtain the PADI Night Dive Specialty. In doing this specialty I’m trying to broaden my diving skills and also get more familiar with the equipment utilised.

According to PADI, Scuba diving at night teaches you to focus on what you can see in your light’s beam, on controlling your buoyancy by feel, on staying with your buddy and on paying attention to details you may overlook during the day. During three night dives, you’ll practice:

  • Light handling and communication techniques.
  • Entering, exiting and navigating in the dark.
  • Identifying how plants and animals differ or change behaviour at night.

The dive site utilised was Leybourne Lakes run by the Watersports Centre situated within the Leybourne Lakes Country Park. Their site states there are two diving areas in the 30 acres of water. The smaller area has 2 hard surface entry/exit points, 4 underwater platforms, 3 boat wrecks, gnome garden, life size statues, varieties of marine life pike, carp, tench, perch, eels, mitten crabs and terrapins. The depth is 9.5m. The map below shows the key features that would be of interest to divers (© Sellwood, published with permission).

Leybourne Lakes Scuba Dive Map

Being the first of the qualifying dives for the night specialty we did some basic skills primarily centred around the usage of our torches. I found the dive to be really enjoyable and it was the first time I had used my new Hammond HDS Pro-Elite Dry Suite which I’m pleased to say kept me quite dry and warm. I also got to use a new Oceanic Deluxe weight belt I had recently purchased and found this to be very comfortable and effective.

Below is a screen shot of the dive profile taken on my Suunto D4i Dive Computer, it was a 31 minute dive which reached a maximum depth of 7m and was at a reasonable temperature of 13C.

PADI Night Dive at Leybourne Lakes in Kent

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Hammond Diving Dry Suit - HDS Pro Elite

Posted on May 25, 2016 in DivingPADI

I obtained my PADI Dry Suit Diver Specialty quite soon after I qualified as an Open Water diver as I do a lot of diving in the UK and this type of suit is much more suitable for diving in colder waters. Dry suits feature seals and heavier insulating materials to keep the wearer dry in cold water conditions whereas wet suits let water in and are used in warmer water temperatures.

Until recently I’ve been used a rented dry suit which wasn’t always ideal since quite often the suit would leak and became more of a wet suit. Certainly some of this was down to my technique but quite often I felt the suit just didn’t fit me well. With this in mind and considering that I was planning to continue diving in the long term I decided to invest in a custom made dry suit. Having done a bit of research I eventually decided to get a suit from a company called Hammond, a locally run family business here in Kent. I liked the idea of supporting a British business and being local meant that the servicing and support for any problems would be easier.

Richard Byrom in his HDS Pro Elite Dry SuitThe suit I decided to get was the HDS Pro Elite, pictured here. Hammonds web site states this is for the more experienced technical diver with a robust Cordura to Cordura fabric for a longer life and is fitted with a wealth of extras as standard. The extras/custom specifications I went for were: -

  • Neoprene socks and rock boots – I was told this would be better than fitted boots when it came to maintaining my buoyancy
  • Self Donning – to allow me to be more independent
  • Comfort zip

In addition to the dry suit I also bought a 4th Element Undersuit. Another nice extra supplied by Hammond was a suit bag. Hammond Dry Suit Sports Bag

I’m looking forward to using this suit in the future. I have a pool dive scheduled to test it out before I jump into a lake or the sea.

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Ben Moon - Statement of Youth

Posted on March 29, 2016 in ClimbingClimbersBen Moon

I recently had the pleasure of reading the Ben Moon Story which provides a great history of British climbing and one of the people that helped make it.

Statement: The Ben Moon StoryOn 14 June 1990, at Raven Tor in the Derbyshire Peak District, twenty-four-year-old Ben Moon squeezed his feet into a pair of rock shoes, tied in to his rope, chalked his fingers and pulled on to the wickedly overhanging, zebra-striped wall of limestone. Two minutes later he had made rock-climbing history with the first ascent of Hubble, now widely recognised as the world’s first F9a.

Born in the suburbs of London in 1966, Moon started rock climbing on the sandstone outcrops of Kent and Sussex. A pioneer in the sport-climbing revolution of the 1980s and a bouldering legend in the 1990s, he is one of the most iconic rock climbers in the sport’s history.

In Statement, Moon’s official biography, award-winning writer Ed Douglas paints a portrait of a climbing visionary and dispels the myth of Moon as an anti-traditional climbing renegade. Interviews with Moon are complemented with insights from family and friends and extracts from magazines and personal diaries and letters.

‘Ever since I first set foot on rock at the tender age of seven years, climbing has been the most important thing in my life. In fact I would go so far as to say it is my reason for living and as long as I am able to climb I hope I will. It is from climbing I draw my inspiration for life.’

One of Ben’s most notable early ascents was Statement of Youth (8a) at Lower Pen Trwyn which he climbed when just seventeen. Having made history with Hubble (9a) at the age of twenty four he subsequently went on to send his second 9a, Rainshadow at the age of forty nine, twenty five years later! Certainly Ben has had a long and impressive career in climbing and he’s still in really good shape. I quite liked this ascent of Hubble by Sean McColl as it shows how difficult a climb it is even for the younger generation of climbers

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Ice Climbing Course in the Cairngorms

Posted on February 13, 2016 in ClimbingWinterPlacesGlenmore Lodge

I recently wrote that I was going to be attending an Introductory Course on Winter Climbing in the Cairngorms which is in the Scottish Eastern Highlands just south of Inverness. Last weekend it all happened and I have to say it was one of the best experiences of my life and truly enjoyable for many reasons. Here’s just a few:

  • The Cairngorms National Park where the course was run is a truly stunning location. It ranks right up there with one of my other favourite places in the UK, Snowdownia National Park in North Wales.
  • Glenmore Lodge was a great choice of training centre for this particular type of activity. Everything just seemed to run very well.
  • The instruction we received was really good. I’ve certainly broadened my climbing skills and reinforced other skills I already had. Our instructor, Karl Atherton really took the time to explain various climbing techniques as well as the conditions in which we were climbing.
  • The conditions were extreme and I found this a nice challenge.

Here’s a quick overview of the trip:

I flew up to Inverness via Easyjet on Friday afternoon and having hired a car was able to get to Glenmore Lodge within an hour. By the time I entered the Cairngorms National Park it was starting to get dark but even then I could see what a beautiful place it was. After checking in at the lodge I went to pick up my kit from the stores. This consisted of crampons, karabiner and sling, ice axes, springer (for attaching the ice axes to your harness) and plastic boots. Additionally I was supplied with specific equipment to deal with avalanche rescue, namely a probe, transceiver and spade.

Glenmore Lodge Ice Climbing Kit

After receiving my kit I went to try out the lodge climbing wall which was quite quaint. What I really liked is that I got to do my first indoor crack climb

Glenmore Lodge Climbing Wall Crack ClimbGlenmore Lodge Climbing Wall

Day 1

After an early morning briefing and breakfast we met up with our instructor and got kitted up. Before leaving for the crag we assessed the weather conditions, there was a reasonable amount of snow but we knew the main issue would be the wind which was clocking speeds of 30-40mph.

We arrived at the car park and proceeded to walk the crag we intended to climb, namely Central Gully. It was probably one of the toughest walk ins I’ve ever done to the crag as it was really windy and this contributed to a significant drop in temperature. The ground was quite slippery and walking on it in plastic boots was pretty hard work - it took us two hours to walk two miles. The clip below gives a brief look at what the conditions were like

Once we arrived at the crag we donned crampons and harnesses and started to climb up. We had a quick practise session with our crampons and ice axes and then undertook a multi pitch ascent. We managed to do three pitches and then abseiled down rather than climb all the way to the top as it was felt the windy conditions might make a walk off rather difficult.

Cairngorms Climb Central Gully Belay PointCairngorms Climb Central Gully SecondingCairngorms Climb Central Gully Ice ClimbCairngorms Climb Central Gully Abseil

The pic below shows the route detail provided by my Garmin Fenix 2 watch overlaid onto Google Earth – the total elevation of our climb was 140m

Cairngorms Ice Climb - Garmin Fenix Google Earth Elevation Profile

Day 2

Ice Climbing Training Wall Glenmore LodgeOn the second day conditions had become much worse as more snow had fallen overnight and the wind was now blowing even harder than the day before. There was also significant risk of avalanche. For this reason we climbed lower down in an area called Central Couloir and did a small pitch. We spend most of the day learning additional techniques and considerations for ice climbing as well as practising some skills like fall arrest and crampon use. Lastly, we got to learn how to use a transceiver and probe which is used to undertake a rescue of anyone trapped in an avalanche.

Having finished the course I then stayed in Inverness for the Sunday night and flew back home early Monday morning.

After this experience I find myself having a new found respect for people like Ueli Steck who are just so incredibly fit and tough that they can do this kind of thing all the time.

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Banff Mountain Film Festival 2016 - UK and Ireland

Posted on February 10, 2016 in

It’s that time of the year again and having heard about this event on many occasions I now finally get to attend the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Wikipedia describes it as an international film competition and an annual presentation of short films and documentaries about mountain culture, sports, and environment

This year the 2016 Banff Mountain Film Festival UK and Ireland Tour held in March will feature two unique and entirely different film programmes - the RED and BLUE film programmes. I’ve managed to get tickets for both events being held in London, visit Tickets and Locations to get yours. I’m looking forward to seeing the films and writing up a short review on this site.

Banff Mountain Film Festival UK and Ireland

Here’s a short synopsis of what’s going to being shown in the programmes and the promo video

Blue Programme

Red Programme

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Climbing Magazine’s 2015 Golden Piton Awards

Posted on February 9, 2016 in ClimbersDaniel WoodsMegan MascarenasKevin JorgesonTommy CaldwellAshima ShiraishiWill Gadd

Climbing Magazine has just announced their 2015 Golden Piton Award winners. According to their web site: -

Climbing Magazine 2015 Golden Piton AwardsSponsor-laden Instagram posts, video clips, and news blips come and go, but some climbing achievements truly are destined for immortality. Each January, Climbing re-examines the past 12 months of great ascents around the world and chooses a few standouts for our top honor: the Golden Piton Awards.

For 2015 we’ve selected eight climbs and remarkable climbers to celebrate. Without further ado: Climbing’s 14th annual Golden Piton Awards.

This is a really good selection of the top climbers and climbs and has made me aware of some climbers that I didn’t know about.

Ashima Shiraishi is a 14 year old climber who has gone from strength to strength this year. What stands out for me this year is her double gold at the 2015 IFSC World Youth Championships and becoming the youngest athlete to send a 9a+ route.

The climb of the Dawn Wall by Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell was something I also followed quite closely. I got to see glimpses of the climb as its featured in the Reel Rock 10 video but I’m looking forward to the day they release a full feature film since what’s shown in Reel Rock is just a snippet.

As for Will Gadd, being the first person to ice climb Niagara Falls is an amazing accomplishment and quite unlikely to be repeated, firstly because it’s normally illegal to do it and secondly because the freezing conditions that caused the ice build up this year were also quite unique.

Daniel Woods ascent of the first v16 Boulder problem "The Process" also captured in the Reel Rock 10 film has certainly taken bouldering to new heights. More recently it was good to watch him and Megan Mascarenas competing at US Nationals this year.

I’m wondering if these climbers actually receive a "golden piton" or something symbolic of that.

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MAMP- Apache, PHP, mySQL on Mac OSX

Posted on February 2, 2016 in SoftwareTop of the PopsSoftware

I talked in a recent post about WampServer, I’d like to mention the Mac OSX equivalent, namely MAMP. According to their site MAMP installs a local server environment in a matter of seconds on your Mac or Windows computer. Personally, I need this software solution to run local copies of my web sites on the collection of Mac’s I have.

MAMP comes in two flavours: -

  1. Mamp Free – a One-click-solution for setting up your personal webserver.
  2. Mamp Pro - Configure an unlimited number of virtual hosts, DynDNS, email…

Once again MAMP is really simple to install and once this is done copying across your web server files will have your web site running locally in no time. You can use the admin page pictured below to access myPhpadmin and administer mySQL. 

MAMP Administration Page

This video shows how to install and configure the software. Furthermore you can also watch tutorials on

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WAMP Server - Apache, PHP, mySQL on Windows

Posted on February 2, 2016 in SoftwareSoftware

Recently I discovered WampServer which according to their Web Site is a Windows web development environment. It allows you to create web applications with Apache2, PHP and a MySQL database. Alongside, PhpMyAdmin allows you to manage easily your databases.

Since I run my own web sites and have been doing so for quite some time I wanted to find something that would allow me to run my web sites on a local machine. This would effectively allow me to run a copy of my web site for testing and simulation rather than using a live environment for undertaking these kinds of activity.

What I liked about WampServer is that it is really easy to install and configure. This clip shows you how.

Once you’ve installed WampServer it’s as easy as copying your web server files to the local Wampserver directory to get your web site up. If your site runs off a database (which mine does) you simply need to import a copy and establish a database connection, all this is possible through PhpMyAdmin as shown below 

phpMyAdmin installed through WampServer

What I also like about WampServer is that it is available for free (under GPML license) in two distinct versions : 32 and 64 bits. Wampserver 2.5 is not compatible with Windows XP, neither with SP3, nor Windows Server 2003. Older WampServer versions are available on SourceForge.

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PADI Deep and Wreck Diving Specialties at Stoney Cove

Posted on February 2, 2016 in DivingPADIPlacesStoney Cove

In October 2014 I passed my PADI Deep and Wreck Diving Specialties having completed the required dives at Stoney Cove near Leicester. I had previously attained my PADI Advanced Scuba Diver Certification which qualifies you to Dive to 30m but I was quite keen to have the possibility of diving deeper as the Deep certification allows you to Dive to 40m. Furthermore, I’ve always wanted to have the opportunity to Dive wrecks in various locations around the world.

What you learn in the Deep Speciality Course

Your training starts by reviewing reasons for deep diving and how important it is to know your personal limits. During four deep dives with your instructor, you’ll go over:

  • Specialized deep diving equipment.
  • Deep dive planning, buddy contact procedures and buoyancy control.
  • Managing your gas supply, dealing with gas narcosis and safety considerations.

What you learn in the Wreck Specialty Course

There are many different types of wrecks, some of which are protected by laws that guard their historical and cultural significance. Your training starts by reviewing guidelines for researching and respecting wrecks. During four dives you’ll learn:

  • Safety considerations for navigating and exploring wrecks.
  • Surveying and mapping a wreck.
  • Using penetration lines and reels to guide exploration.
  • Techniques to avoid kicking up silt or disturbing the wreck and its inhabitants.

I really enjoyed doing these two specialties and I also got to do my dives on Nitrox having passed that specialty two weeks earlier. The Stoney Cove Dive Site has plenty of features and wrecks to explore as shown in the map below

Stoney Cove Dive Site Map


1 Viscount Aircraft Cockpit
2 Nautilus
3 Archways Beneath the Pub
4 The Wessex
5 The Bus
6 The Monster
7 The Galleon

8 Aircraft Wreck
9 Deep Hydrobox
10 Submerged Trees
11 Tower (pole)
12 Blow-Off Preventer (BOP)
13 4-metre Block House
14 Wooden Boat

15 Stanegarth
16 FV 432 APC
17 Landrover
18 Block House
19 The Winch
20 Work Frame
21 Small Hydrobox

22 MG Cars
23 Anchor and chain from Stanegarth
24 Tug Boat Defiant
25 Trawler MV Belinda
26 Gresham Ship c1570

For my wreck certification I explored an old Tug Boat called the Stanegarth.

Richard Byrom undertaking his PADI Wreck Dive Specialty Stanegarth at Stoney Cove

As part of my Deep Certification I got to dive down to the deepest spot at this particular dive site and managed to get down to 35m. Here’s the dive profile provided by my Suunto D4i Dive Computer

Richard Byrom's Dive profile from the Suunto D4i at Stoney Cove

Once you pass the PADI course you’ll obtain a card in the post which looks like this. Of course you can always have an electronic copy via the PADI App. I certainly recommend these two certifications if you want to take your diving to the next level.

Richard Byrom's PADI Wreck Dive Specialty CardRichard Byrom's PADI Deep Diver Specialty Card

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