Powfect 2016

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I’ve just returned from one of the best weeks away I’ve had for a long time, the Powfect 2016 ski trip. Powfect is a trip organised by some friends of mine I met at university, it’s a ski and snowboard trip organised for their friends and friends-of-friends. Last year we went to La Clusaz and this year 78 of us went to La Plagne in France.

The trip was really well organised and one of the things that made it so fantastic for me was that I didn’t have to think about any of it. Pretty much everything was organised for us, by like-minded people who knew what we wanted to get out of the trip. All I needed to do in terms of preparation and thinking was pack up my snowboard and skis and get myself to Kings Cross on Saturday morning.

This year Andy and Jamie (the organisers) decided to use the tour operator NUCO to make handling the organisation a bit easier and ensure that they could enjoy the trip as well. The NUCO reps were great, Caroline, Zoe and Ben were there to meet us when we arrived in resort and looked after us really well throughout the week. They negotiated deals at some of the bars, shepherded us onto busses for a night out in Plagne Centre (we were staying just down the hill in Plagne 1800) and kept us entertained 24/7.

We travelled out on the Eurostar and only had a 45min transfer from the train station at the far end (Aime La Plagne). I’ve never got the train straight to the Alps before but it was so much easier than flying. With so many less steps to the journey (15min bus to Kings Cross, train, coach rather than get to the airport, check-in, go through security, find the gate, board the plane etc) it was really hassle-free, especially considering I always take both skis and boards to the snow. It also meant that a few of us could very comfortably prop up the bar on the train until it ran out of alcohol.

A bunch of us enjoying Après at Chauffe Marcel near La Plagne 1800.

A bunch of us enjoying Après at Chauffe Marcel near La Plagne 1800.

In resort we had 3 meals organised for us all together which was really nice, a designated Après bar every afternoon (Chauffe Marcel ended up being our regular) and a few on-running competitions with winners awarded every day. The daily photo contest which ran on the group WhatsApp thread had some great entries and the winners showed off that we had some really talented skiiers amongst us on the trip.

My favourite Picture of the Day was this shot of Jez.

My favourite Picture of the Day was this shot of Jez.

We were sceptical about the snow conditions on the way out but we turned out to be really lucky. The snowpack was very unstable (as is true across the Alps at the moment), and one of our group did get taken for a ride in an avalanche (he was shaken, but unharmed), but the snow was great. We had a couple of beautiful bluebird powder days which were really fun and despite a little rain early on in the week pretty much everything remained rideable throughout. We did get unlucky in that some of us had an off-piste guiding morning on the day after the rain, which meant that we spent the morning cruising pistes but it was still fun.

Me enjoying face shots on landing through the trees.

Me enjoying face shots on landing through the trees.

I had my GoPro out for a few days, although I was more focused on having fun than trying to get great footage. Hopefully I’ll pull together a video edit shortly, and I’ll post videos that others will inevitably pull together from the trip once they’re done.

Getting out of London for a week to play in the mountains, skiing and boarding with a fantastic group of people in an awesome place with absolutely no hassle meant that Powfect 2016 was one of the best holidays I can remember. A massive thanks to Andy, Jamie and the NUCO guys for making it so powfect.

Adventure Travel Show 2016

This weekend (23-24 January) was the weekend of the Adventure Travel Show at the Olympia in Kensington. I went along with a friend of mine on Saturday and it was a great day full of inspiration and motivation. There were three auditoriums hosting talks and panels, a load of stands for companies and organisations trying to sell their trips and services, and a photography exhibition. The two panels I went to were fantastic (a little more on them below) and some of the talks were great too; however a couple of the talks I went to were simply sales pitches which were of much less interest to me. Wondering around the stands was worth doing, and some of them more interesting and useful than others, however it was really crowded at times which made it pretty stressful trying to get anywhere.

Sometimes it was so crowded it made it very difficult to move around.

Sometimes it was so crowded it made it very difficult to move around.

The Yes Tribe
One of my favourite stands I visited was for the Yes Tribe. It was one of the smallest stands at the event, although I knew that in Dave Cornthwaite’s twitter bio he mentions that he founded @YESisadoingword  I knew nothing about what that was, so I thought it might be worth having a look. Turns out, it definitely was worth checking out; the Yes Tribe was originally started in London and describes itself as “… a community of people seeking to share friendship, support, positivity and energy in order to make all levels of life count.” It seems to be a group of like-minded people who love to get outdoors, go on adventures and generally say “Yes!” to the opportunities that come their way. On the evening before the Adventure Travel Show a group had camped out on Box Hill because, well, why not? They seem to get together and share adventure inspiration and encourage each other to go on adventures, I certainly plan to get involved soon. There’s more information about the Yes Tribe on their website.

Panel: An Adventurous Life
Sean Conway, Ed Stafford, Rebecca Stephens and Benedict Allen hosted by Dave Cornthwaite

The panel prepare for their 'Leading an Adventurous Life' session.

The panel prepare for their ‘Leading an Adventurous Life’ session.

The very first thing we did when we arrived at the show was head to a panel that we knew was about to start. The session had no real structure which left it free to wonder over a variety of topics, a format that worked really well. The session ended up as a mixture of entertaining and inspirational stories and anecdotes. Dave Cornthwaite said something that really resonated with me, aligns with the Yes Tribe ideology and my thoughts when originally setting up Beyond The Smoke: “Humans are wild animals, and here we are living in this big city and it’s not natural. To thrive we need to get out there and go on adventures, even if that’s just getting on a train and spending a night in a bivvy bag before getting to work on time; there are plenty of places within half an hour’s train journey from London that you can do that”.

Somehow the discussion moved onto embarrassing moments in adventuring and other entertaining anecdotes, Sean Conway told a story about ending up having to use a dead sheep’s rib bone as toilet paper in the desert during his round-the-world cycle. Ed Stafford told us that he got expelled from school for chopping down a tree the Queen planted. Benedict Allen told us about when he underwent an initiation ceremony to become “a man as strong as a crocodile” which involved him being cut many times with bamboo blades and then beaten four times a day, every day, for six weeks, until he was deemed to have achieved the objective. I guess you could say that leading “An Adventurous Life” involves a variety of adventure, mischief and embracing unfamiliar surroundings!

Panel: Meet the Adventurers
Dave Cornthwaite, Leon McCarron, Duncan Milligan and Anna McNuff

The 'Meet the Adventurer' panel included some impressive individuals.

The ‘Meet the Adventurer’ panel included some impressive individuals.

The second panel that we attended was a similar format to the first, and was allowed to wonder across a variety of topics. All the speakers were really inspirational and had some entertaining stories too. Discussion moved to the impact of social media on the life of the modern-day adventurer and it was interesting to hear from what you could argue as very different ends of the spectrum; Duncan Milligan isn’t even really on Twitter from what I can see, compared to Anna McNuff who shared her full range of emotions experienced during her run through New Zealand. Anna also touched on an interesting point, that she thinks it’s important to share both the good and the bad moments, to give those following on social media a full picture. Her first video showing her crying got more interaction online than her other videos, which corresponds with Sean Conway’s story about his video of him falling and injuring himself whilst trying to take a ‘Selfie’ being one of his most popular; but perhaps thats just because people get a kick out of seeing the weaknesses of others?

One of the points that Dave Cornthwaite and Anna emphasised was that anyone can get out there and have these adventures, you just need the ambition and (perhaps more importantly) the guts, to go for it. In my own way I agree with this, whilst I’m at a point in my career as a Civil/Structural Engineer that isn’t conducive to embarking on a major adventure; one of the reasons why I set up this website was because so often people say to me “I wish I could go on adventures like you at the weekends”, to which my answer to everyone has always been “but you can!”

Talk: Blind and Just a Little Bit Dangerous
Dean “Deano” Dunbar

Deano's presentation was one of the most impressive of the day.

Deano’s presentation was one of the most impressive of the day.

One of my favourite talks of the day was by Dean “Deano” Dunbar. Deano was born with full sight, aged 9 his sight suddenly deteriorated over night, causing him to be registered as “partially sighted”. For the next 15 years his sight remained pretty static. Then in his mid-20s, his sight dropped again. This time he was registered “blind”. Deano’s done some incredible things, including quad biking, skydiving and tandem speed flying (it’s really worth checking out the video below about this). It was really inspirational to hear about some of the stuff he’s done and the challenges he’s overcome. I was really impressed with how well he presented, he definitely had the most polished talk out of everyone I saw at the show. 

Deano’s video of him speed flying is inspirational. 

One of the other highlights of the day was a talk by Sean Conway on #FindYourBeard which was both inspirational and entertaining.

For some time I’ve had a bit of a pipe-dream of going on a ski touring/splitboarding trip to Iran. I went and tried to speak to a few stalls who said they operated in Iran, however I was really disappointed by the combination of their total lack of interest in talking to me about the country, what they could offer, getting around the country, or anything to do with snow sports. I guess it may be best to try and go down a different route when trying to plan my trip.

Overall I got a huge amount out of the day, and learnt a lot. I bought a book on overland adventure planning as food-for-thought, I joined the Yes Tribe for further inspiration and future adventures, and I was inspired by all the presenters and panelists to keep on pushing mini-adventurers now whilst preparing for some major adventures in the future!

 

First Paddle of 2016

This weekend was my first white water kayaking trip of 2016. It was a river leadership skills training weekend with Regents Canoe Club. The primary aim of the weekend was to learn more about leading groups down white water, particularly on rivers we’d never seen before.
We set off from my house in North London after work on Friday night and after 5 hours driving we’d arrived in Betws y Coed in North Wales. Once we arrived the three of us from my car joined the other 17 Regents Canoe Club members and had a theory session over a beer  before getting a good night’s kip in Vangabond Hostel.
After a full English fry up on Saturday morning we had another theory session. We covered a whole range of topics relating to leadership on rivers including; leadership techniques and styles, roles and responsibilities, river planning and safety. We then discussed which river we were going to paddle, we decided we’d go and have a look at the Conwy to see whether there was enough water flowing down it to run, unfortunately there wasn’t.

Looking at the get-on for the Conwy, we decided there wasn't enough water to run it.Looking at the get-on for the Conwy, we decided there wasn’t enough water to run it.

We decided we’d head over the Tryweryn, a reliable dam-release river that’s home to the National White Water Centre. We ran the lower section, which is a bit easier than the upper, for two reasons. First, we didn’t want anyone to get into too much difficulty as the weekend was about learning leadership skills more than personal paddling skills development; second, many of us know the upper fairly well as we’ve run it a lot but the lower we hadn’t paddled for a long time and couldn’t really remember – this was beneficial for practicing leading down a river we’d never seen before. We put into practice the theory we’d discussed and experimented with different leadership styles and techniques. Towards the end of the section we got to run the (apparently) Grade 4 Bala Mill Falls. Personally I’m not sure I could have paddled the falls much worse whilst remaining upright (I included a clip in the video below for your entertainment – you can hear me giggling as I mess it up).

After we’d got out and got changed we headed to the pub for a few drinks before another theory session that was followed by dinner.

On the Sunday we got up and headed straight to the Clywedog which was around 2 hours away from where we were staying. Getting on the river was very atmospheric with fog limiting the visibility, lots of low hanging trees and very few eddies (see video below). We continued to practice the leadership skills we’d discussed as we moved down the river.

It was pretty atmospheric at the Clywedog get-on.
It was pretty atmospheric at the Clywedog get-on.

One of my group decided it’d be a good idea to test our boat recovery skills, when she went upside down on a rapid rather than roll herself back upright and continue paddling she swum out of her boat and let her paddle go. Once we’d made sure she was safely on the bank three of us chased after her kit. I picked up the paddle and chucked it onto the bank but none of us could get to her boat before it became thoroughly pinned in a tree.

This boat was thoroughly pinned on the Clywedog.
This boat was thoroughly pinned on the Clywedog.

We ended up using three throw-lines (ropes), some slings, carabiners, mechanical advantages and a vector-pull to free the boat. You can see some of this in the video below. This wasn’t necessarily the best or the quickest way of recovering the boat, but we knew we were in a relatively safe spot and had time on our side. Whilst some of our approach could have been improved by hindsight I don’t think we did a bad job and we achieved our objective of safely retrieving the boat. Once we’d retrieved the boat we paddled down the rest of the river, catching up the others that had gone past us whilst we were dealing with the pinned boat whilst they were scouting a feature.

The trip was a success, it was really nice to be out of London for a stress-free weekend with good people having fun in the outdoors.

 

 

Weekend Costs
Share of petrol: £28
Accommodation & food: £60
Boat & paddle hire (from RCC): £12
Beers & snacks (definitely optional costs): £30
Total: £130

Banff Film Fest. Tickets

Every year for the past few years I’ve been to the Banff Mountain Film Festival’s showings in London, and this year will be no different. Banff Mountain Film Festival claims to be the outdoor industry’s most prestigious mountain film festival, and it’s probably justified in that claim. The festival started in Alberta, Canada in 1976 and is a competition (and presentation) of short films and documentaries about mountain culture, sports and environments.

The festival itself is held in Autumn and then a selection of the best films goes on tour around the world, visiting approximately 305 cities in 20 countries. This year (2016) the tour is coming to the UK January-May and has showings in London in Angel during March. The showings are held in the Union Chapel, a church in Angel that’s an award winning venue. There’s something quite nice about being welcomed into a venue that’s a bit different with a few free Clif bars and some competitions to enter before sitting down to watch some amazing people do some pretty awe-inspiring stuff. There’s normally competitions to win prizes from the sponsors, this year the tour is presented by Cotsworld Outdoor and Keen with partners including Osprey, Buff and JetBoil you can be sure there’ll be some good stuff up for grabs.

There are two programmes of films, a Red and a Blue (occasionally there’s a bonus Green too). I try to see them all each year and I’ve never regretted a trip. This year the Red programme is packed full of films that sound great, including ones about climbing, ultramarathons, female skiing, wild horses and dogs. There’s also a mountain bike segment from UnReal, which you may have seen at the Adventure Film Festival which was on in Whitechapel a few months ago. I’m really excited about the Red programme. The Blue programme includes one of my favourite films of the year; Eclipse, about a photographer called Reuben Krabbe trying to capture the perfect picture of a skiier during the 2015 solar eclipse. The Blue programme also features one of the films I’m most excited to see in this year’s line-up; 55 Hours in Mexico, which is all about weekend worriers (people that work in office jobs but try to go on adventures over the weekend) going on a trip to Mexico to climb and ski the continent’s highest volcano during a weekend.

If you want to buy tickets to this year’s tour they’re onsale now on the Banf Moutain Film Festival UK website, I’d really recommend booking tickets, it’s always a great evening.

2016 Begins!

2016 has begun and I decided to kick it off with a bouldering session at The Arch North in Burnt Oak. Read more about bouldering in London on the activity page here. This centre opened in September 2015 and it’s only the second time I’ve visited. It was blissfully quiet and we had all the time and space we wanted as we struggled to haul our holiday season bellies up the walls. We even had enough space to try out some interesting dismounts on the rings.

The Arch North The Arch North The Arch North The Arch North