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Looking Down The Upper Section Of The Hohlaubgrat On The Allalinhorn Switzerland
Looking down the upper section of the Hohlaubgrat on the Allalinhorn, Switzerland

What Cicerone staff have been doing this year... 2018

Everyone who works at Cicerone is a bit of a fleece-wearing outdoor adventure junkie and we try to practice what we preach. Here's what we've all been up to in 2018.

Lorraine, Finance Manager:

This year I turned my attention to the Highlands of Scotland and set off on a wee daunder between Fort William and Inverness, aka The Great Glen Way. The end of June seemed a good time to go, long daylight hours and a good possibility of some sunshine. What I didn't expect was a heatwave and walking in 36 C degrees everyday - I had to keep reminding myself where I was! I walked for three long and enjoyable days as far as Drumnadrochit but decided to leave the last stage to Inverness until the autumn - I had far too many photos of bright blue skies and wanted some autumnal hues. It's an easy route to follow and has some gorgeous views of the lochs, although some of these views have been obscured by the coniferous woods. I was surprised how few people I encountered on the route, my longest stint of solitary walking was about 4 hours - plenty of time for contemplation and singing to myself! The area is definitely worth another visit, maybe from Loch Level in a canoe next time.

Verity, Production Editor:

We've kept our adventures very local this year, mostly hanging out in the Lakes or the Yorkshire Dales. Joss, now two, has almost entirely boycotted the backpack, having discovered the delights of exploring the fells on his own two legs. Nothing seems to give him greater pleasure than picking up pebbles from the streams and throwing them back in with a splash, or running uphill only to run back down. Inevitably our adventures end with a shoulder ride and a banana or seven.

Verity 2018
Verity and Joss

Natalie, Production Editor:

This summer, whilst my colleagues were busy running ultras, completing triathlons and hiking, biking and climbing all over the place, I was conquering the tarns of Lakeland on a giant inflatable unicorn. Of course, there are a few places that are just too rugged for delicate (read puncturable) unicorn hooves, and so I was left to rely on old Shank’s pony, but the freshwater jacuzzis of upper Eskdale more than made up for the more humble mode of travel.

As well as connecting with my inner narwhal, I also enjoyed some very pleasurable short hikes in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the mountains and valleys of the Lake District, and further expanded my knowledge of local coffee shops.

Laura, Office Manager:

Another year has passed and what have I done? I needed to think about this as age seems to make me more forgetful but looking back on this year I realise I have managed to pack in a few events and experiences. I spent a good part of the beginning of the year skiing which did not leave me much holiday time to spare. Nevertheless I managed to complete the Caledonian Etape (85 miles) in May, visit the Shetland Isles in June, and cycle part of the Wild Atlantic Way in August. Sadly, I didn't make much headway on the Wainwrights but 2019 is going to be the year. Finally I might be able to pop that bottle of bubbly!

Caroline, Production Designer:

The outstanding highlight of our 2018 was a trip to New Zealand in February - our first long-haul for many years. We skipped the Beast from the East, donned our jandles (flip-flops) and spent a warm laid back month visiting family and exploring the lush pacific delights of the North Island.

John, Production Designer:

I am the newest member of the Cicerone team and joined the design department in October. When I’m not strapped to the desk creating stunning guidebooks I enjoy getting out and about to gulp down lungfuls of Lakeland air with my ever faithful spaniel companion, Bew. Cicerone is a truly inspirational place to work and with such a gargantuan library of adventures now at my disposal I’m excited to see where future escapades will take us..!

Sarah, Sales Director:

Earlier this year I took on the challenge of the Sella Ronda MTB whilst on holiday in the Dolomites. The mountain bike version of the route is around 60km long with nearly 4500 metres of descent down gnarly tracks interspersed with vertiginous descents and sweet flowing singletrack.

An epic crash half way round nearly put an end to my day, but I managed to dust myself off, have a serious word with myself and get back on to ride through to the finish. It was one of those “glad I’ve done it / will never do it again” type of days in the saddle.

Clare, Production Designer:

This year has flown by; I'm not sure where it has gone! This year took me to Nepal where I experienced the most amazing scenery. I felt incredibly lucky to sit looking at the Himalayas. It was a shame that it wasn't as clear as I had hoped but I was able to recognize Langtang in the distance. The sunrise and the wildlife outside my window was amazing and something I will never forget. Another thing that I will never forget is this fella. You may have all been asking yourself for years about the Yeti. "Does it exist? Doesn't it exist?" Well, I can now put all your minds at rest. I saw it with my own two eyes! I found him skulking in a corner in the International Mountain Museum, Ghari Patan, Pokhara.

Joking aside, I have worked on many books on this area and it was thrilling to see some of the titles available in Kathmandu and visit the places which are mentioned in the books.

Sian, Production Manager:

The last time I camped properly was as a ten-year-old in a neighbour’s field – I had so much fun I never did it again. Fast-forward to July this year and Laura wandered up to me in the office. “I’m going to be filmed walking bits of the Cape Wrath Trail. Do you fancy coming along? It’ll involve some camping.” Why not? It was only a couple of nights, I had no other plans and it couldn’t be that bad.

After a 4-mile walk carrying all of our gear, we wild camped on the beach at Sandwood Bay. Considering the heatwave the rest of the country was having the weather was unexpectedly drizzly, I was too cold to sleep (moral of the story, don’t go swimming in the Atlantic, go straight to bed in a tent and expect to be warm) and the food I’d brought was inedible. I got home and decided to buy a tent.

My one-man Saunders Spacepacker, bought from ebay and laughingly referred to as an ‘antique’ by my supportive colleagues, arrived in the post, at which point the sun vanished and our hosepipe ban got rained off in the space of four days. Despite the usual Cumbrian weather, the tent and I have been on a few camping adventures (complete with car, duvet, pillows and super noodles) and it hasn’t leaked yet!

Andrea, Editorial Manager:

In June we headed to the Swiss Alps for a week’s walking. A seamless journey of plane, three trains and postbus brought us the small village of St Antönien, the starting point for our tour of the Rätikon Alps. The next few days took us along one side of the Drusenfluh, Kirchlispitzen and Schesaplana, over the Gross Furgga into Austria and back along the other side, then back over the Plasseggenpass and into Switzerland once more. A multi-day walk always has its own rhythm, but there was something especially appealing about standing on the top of the Schweizertor looking down on the path that we had walked along 5 days previously, lying just a couple of hundred metres below. Above all, it was a very pretty route: grey, spiky, almost dolomitic peaks foregrounded by green pastures studded with wildflowers.

Later in the year we were travelling again, but this time on four wheels. We picked up an RV in San Francisco and headed off to discover the Sierra Nevada. We spent some time exploring Yosemite, including a superb walk up North Dome with amazing views across to Half Dome and down into Yosemite Valley. But the highlight of the trip was the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest above Bishop. Standing among these gnarled and venerable trees – 3,000 years old and the oldest living creatures on the planet – was a haunting experience and certainly put life into perspective.

Hannah, Marketing Manager:

This year has been a very busy one. I almost can't believe that some of the things I have done are so recent - they are already in the memory banks and feel like old and almost dreamy recollections of a younger fitter self! But according to the laws of time and physics I did actually cycle 170 miles across the north of England in June 2018 and 100 miles round London on a single day of July 2018. I've also done the Via Ferrata in the Lake District, completed the Great North Swim and Total Warrior, and, most impressively, finished a very large jigsaw puzzle. Nobody said I was cool.

Joe, Business Development Manager:

This year has seen some great adventures in the mountains and other steep places. Here's what I did: escaping the UK weather in January to go sport climbing in Malta; many weekend trips up to Scotland to go winter climbing throughout the winter (the highlight being the traverse of An Teallach); scrambling, running and rock climbing in the Ben Nevis/Glen Coe area in perfect summer weather; a fastpacking adventure on the GR5/52 in the southern French Alps; finally doing one of the classic long Lake District fell races (Wasdale); and climbing the Allalinhorn (4027m) in Switzerland a few days before running the 105 mile Ultra Tour Monte Rosa.

How to choose my favourite experience? It's probably the climb up the Hohlaubgrat on the Allalinhorn in Switzerland with my partner Caroline. After failing to climb any alpine peaks on our trip in June, we really wanted to have summit success when we returned to the Alps in September. So, we chose a simple, but interesting, classic route on a mountain that's new to me. Setting off from the Britannia hut an hour before dawn, we crunched up the snow-covered glacier with 12 metres of rope separating us. As the ridge steepened and the snow conditions worsened, our fitness allowed us to overtake a dozen military climbers who were also headed for the summit. Three short pitches of steep, snowed-up rock gave us a chance to test our ability to climb rock in crampons, before a final horizontal ridge lead to the summit. The descent past enormous seracs proved straightforward, and we were soon at the cable cars, ready to be taken down to the thick air of the valley below. The summit had been shrouded in cloud, but that hadn't dampened our joy of climbing a big mountain together.

Lesley, Marketing Director:

It's been a year of ups and downs, in more than one sense!

We had never been to Mallorca so in April we decided to walk the GR221, known as the Drystone Route, and it was easy to see why – the mountains of Mallorca are very stony, but the scenery is beautiful, and we had a great start to the year.

With Jonathan’s 60th birthday trip cycling the Route des Grandes Alpes in June, there was much to look forward to. I had started the year with some new health issues, in addition to the back and hip niggles that had become a feature of any bike ride during 2017, so it was becoming apparent that I needed a bike with a more upright riding position to reduce the strain on the hips, but I was also very concerned that I would never be strong enough to manage the tough alpine climbs with Jonathan. An e-bike presented itself as a perfect solution!

Once the worst of the winter weather was behind us, we spent much of the spring on bike rides, building up distance and stamina in preparation for our big trip in June. We started with outings of around 2 hours at the weekends, but as the daylight extended evening rides were added, and finally two multi-day rides in the Yorkshire Dales and Pennines brought us to a point where we thought we were ready for the challenge ahead.

The bike trip was amazing – as you will see from Jonathan’s account – and the e-bike similarly fantastic. We also had brilliant weather for our filming in the Alps just north of Chamonix – again, more from Jonathan on that.

Returning to work at the end of June, we had six weeks to turn our legs from ‘cycling legs’ to ‘alpine walking legs’. All was going well, until three weeks before going to the Alps to update the Chamonix to Zermatt guide I pulled/tore a muscle in my right calf – the Soleus apparently. Physio, a stretching programme, and a foam roller got it to a point where I thought I would cope with what lay ahead. Our first afternoon of walking out from Chamonix after a flight and road journey suggested otherwise, as I limped painfully most of the way. I was going to need to be careful.

Most of the time I managed fine, and the muscle was clearly benefiting from the exercise, but steep uphill paths were damaging, and at one point I felt it tear again, likening it to the sensation of a rusty zip pulling apart down the back of my leg. That was enough to enforce a bus ride the following day! At Zinal the weather kept us in the valley for three days and everything recovered nicely, so I was able to walk the final sections of the route in and above the Mattertal valley in reasonable comfort. The weather was great, the views astonishing, and we had updated all 27 stages and variants in the guidebook between three of us – quite an achievement.

Home, and new problems emerged. This time Plantar Fasciitis in the left foot. At least now I was limping on the other foot! More physio, more stretches, exercises and acupuncture. The pain had gone and I felt I was ready for our final trip of the year, this time it was to be a proper holiday walking the Camino Primitivo between Oviedo and Santiago de Compostela through Asturias and Galicia in northern Spain. The first day we walked around 28km, much of it on paved surfaces. My foot was not happy. For the following ten days I combined buses and taxi rides with walking in order to minimise the pain, in all walking just over half of the distance. A lesson learned – plantar fasciitis doesn’t go away quickly, and only gets worse if you try to rush recovery. Maybe 2019 will be injury free!

Jonathan, Publisher:

April saw us in Mallorca checking out the GR221 or Drystone route. Great walking, all very civilised. Mallorca I thought, trainers will do. No. Mallorca is made of stones and they put them all on the path. Lesson learned, but it was still a cracking few days, meeting Jaume Torte, Paddy's friend and the local trail guru.

My delightful 60th birthday present from Lesley was to cycle the Grandes Routes des Alpes all over the cols from Thonon near Geneva on Lac Léman to Menton on the coast. 650km, 15000m of climbing. Is she trying to get rid of me? Aravias, Roseland, Madeleine, Galibier, Izouard, Bonnette and more, all the legendary cols. And then she goes and buys an electric bike whilst I have to pedal! Hard! Actually it was wonderful, the uphills, the downhills, the whole thing, even the Galibier in snow. We did well in the first half so dawdled a bit after Briançon, taking 9 days where we could probably have done it in 7. Anyone up for 50km of downhill? Heck yes. And many many thanks to the cycle shop just outside Embrun that changed my brake pads, just in time. It was in June, in places there was 5 metres of snow banked up, but it was fun. Not bad for our third cycle tour! Pyrenees next?

After our cycle trip we spend three days filming with Matt and Tom in the Samoens area. Now I have been Lesley's model ever since she got into video (poor viewers of the Cicerone YouTube channel) but being done by a professional is a very different experience. I think they were just trying to stamp their authority. Doing the 30th take of my hut exit at 5:30am, interesting. Happily the day went uphill from there. Right towards the Col until we were defeated by deep snow. At least the drone got up it. This is all for a short movie we are doing to celebrate Cicerone's 50th. It should be out soon, let us know what you think.

Late August is our normal time for an alpine trek, making the most of the quieter September huts and (after the inevitable end of August storm) the calmer September weather. This year we went to update the Chamonix Zermatt Walkers Haute Route guide. As ever it's a wonderful trek, great places to see and people to meet. Yes there was some bad weather and Lesley and Madeline both suffered a bit from existing injuries. Yes I got a flu-like cold and had a couple of really, really hard days whilst getting through it. Yes the first half of the Europaweg was closed by rockfall. But the new 500m Europaweg bridge, wow. What a piece of construction. Solid as a rock. And then a few days helping Joe run the Ultra Trail de Monte Rosa. Mad man. CZ is absolutely a great trek. Totally recommended.

Gosh there's more. Last year we walked the Camino Frances from Leon to Santiago in late October and this year we gambled again and (largely) won with excellent weather on the Camino Primitivo. This runs through the Asturian part of the Cordillera Cantabrica mountains from Oviedo to Santiago de Compostela. It's much less walked than the main route, but is hillier and visits charming out of the way villages. Again, great weather and a lovely walk, with some great photos as well. I have to say I am gradually warming to the idea of walking the whole of the Frances, the fellow feeling, time to think and ease of accommodation all add up. The roads less so but these are much fewer than they were.

I seem to have escaped a bit more this year. Plenty of exploration, checking writing, updating as well as the day job. Movie making. A sign of things to come?

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