DofE 14: Yorkshire Dales.

14°C, rain and gales. Gusts up to 40mph.

14.0 Arrived about 11.30am for a Gold Qualifying expedition. The minibusses wouldn’t arrive for at least 2 hours so I went up Whenside for the fun of it. People were up there half way through the Yorkshire 3 Peaks challenge. The group at this summit were in good spirits and all stopped for a cigarette. Did they do this on each summit?

Afterwards, we spent the afternoon organising the kids and routes. I did not sleep well. Perhaps I should have stayed the night in my tent.

(Formerly) hurricane Helene struck us in the night. This morning the full force revealed itself further. Now it’s known as Storm Ali.

14.1 Tuesday: I’m managing 2 groups and each had a decent ascent onto Whernside (a 736m English mountain). The gales built up rapidly over the hours. I walked north from the Ribbleside Viaduct. The gusts grew fierce and the showers heavier. Group 1 sounds distressed on the ridge because of the wind. Pete, our asessor waited on the summit and between us, we saw both groups. All of them were quite dispondant, soaked and battered by blasts. I let them off the final summit (Blea Moor). They’re delightful kids and deserve encouragement.

14.2: Wednesday and a big storm comes. They’ve named it now: ‘Ali’. I can see it rolling in the other side of the valley, it will be here in 15mins. Trees here are thrashing like that scene in Harry Potter. 10 minutes sunshine remain while the car rocks side to side.

First rain started at 11.19am. Eventualy, both groups passed through. Group A had a pretty miserable lunchbreak in the woods during heavy rain. The others arrived in a brief sunny spell. The wind roared and we staggered drunkenly. Across the road, Open Access land flanks of Ingleborough. This is a lenghy sea of grass with shakeholes everywhere. I took off to Clapham to backtrack from the east. The climb up from “A Pennine Jouney” was fabulous. It’s a less well trodden route which is worth a trip. The gorge tapers to a narrow funnel with overhanging black cliffs and an ominous dark cave on the left.

I spent some hours on the traverse. I passed one shakehole with a tent in it, another had scrap metal. The land is pockmarked like an ancient battlefield. All the time, the rain drove on, and visibility was poor. Navigation was fine but I missed my colleague in the downpour.eventually, I dropped down via Maybury in failing light. One group was still on the moors he said. We met up hoping to walk up from Clapham. Neither of us could really understand why they were so slow. One factor is their late start time, they begain walking at 08.30. 07.30 would be a more reasonable beginning.

Finally, the rest of our staff team arrived in the minibus to rescue the four girls and with plans to get pub food for us. Today is a late one.

14.3 the wind has dropped but heavy rain is due this afternoon. routes are low level giving us time to recover.

The kids are getting better. They’re snacking more which maintains a more constant energy level. They need to drink more and start the day earlier. Last year, groups set off at 7am. If they prepare bags in the evening, and organise the stuff in tents, then the morning will happen more smoothly. There is more to expeditions than walking and pitching tents.

14.4: Pen-y-Ghent. (last day). Another storm arrives today; the morning starts chilly at 5°C and a strenghtening breeze. By lunch, heavy showers and gale force gusts to 40mph, more at height. My job was to man the checkpoint on the summit. On reaching the shoulder, before the scramble section, the wind ran full force over the pass.

The shelter at the top is just like the one at the top of Whernside, two semi-circles with seats to hide from the blast.

Two old guys arrived soon after me and we had a nice natter. Each carried big flasks of tea which from which they gave me cups. Warm tea was very welcome. To keep warm, I walked the ridge to looking for reception, or my groups. The groups came first but on the windward side of the wall. My message to suggest the downwind side never got through. Oh well, they were in good sprits even after the hailstorm.

Group Two arrived not long after, cold, wet but also contented. It was their last day, a fact that kept them going. Thats quite a lift from Tuesday when they asked about quitting. Each day, they made incremental improvements that made the harsh conditions bearable. This week is the worst DofE weather we have ever had: two named storms and yellow weather warnings.

Debrief was great in the storm shelter and all participants were obviously relieved and quite pleased with themselves.

This was a poignant time for me too. I’ve led these groups through bronze, silver and now- Gold. They even discussed which royal they’d like to receive their presentation from.

For me, I’m satisfied that I could spend tbe day on a mountain in harsh conditions and remain comfortable.

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