A Moment on the Trail to Engelberg

jochpass to engelberg

Looking down from the Jochpass at 2207m to Truebsee and the valley of Engelberg beyond

The early evening air is calm and the weather benign as I rest on the soft turf by the summit of the pass. Across the valley jagged mountains rise through the billowing clouds that seem almost as solid as the grey stone of the peaks themselves while a great distance below them the meadows and forests of the valley form a dappled green carpet. In the blue distance the lowlands of Central Switzerland hide somewhere beyond the end of the mountains while nearer at hand and perhaps a thousand or so feet below me was another small lake set in the hillside like a blue-green jewel. No sounds from below invaded this high world other than the faint wind-like sigh of the chairlift cables whose topmost tower was just below where I sat.

It had been a walk through some idyllic mountain terrain in near perfect conditions along the wide easy trail from the hamlet of Engstlenalp by the shores of the alpine tarn of Engstlensee and up to the Jochpass where I now rested. Ahead the path descended to the left below the steep rocks of the crest and continued at an easier angle down through the alpine meadows to the lake which my map revealed to be named Truebsee. This was my route; I would then hop on the gondola to continue to Engelberg which was still four thousand feet below me so avoiding a walk in the dark. Well I would soon; this was my last day in the high mountains and I felt a strong reluctance to leave…

alpine village of Engstlenalp

The alpine village of Engstlenalp is situated in beautiful surroundings at the end of the road from Meiringen and Innertkirchen

Titlis in the central swiss alps

The trail to Jochpass runs beside the tarn of Engstensee at 1850m. Jochpass is on the left and the peak of Titlis (3238m) up ahead

Truebsee Engelberg

Approaching the idyllic lake of Truebsee which is situated above Engelberg at an altitude of 1754m

Alpine lake above engelberg

If I didn’t want to leave Jochpass then Truebsee was even more of a challenge

engelberg truebsee gondola

Engelberg finally came into view from just beyond Truebsee still a long way below – the gondola was a good idea.

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Mountain Biking in Lancashire – around Winter Hill

With a touch on the brake I avoided the large rock ahead and the deep rut on the left of the track; freewheeling at a pace that seemed a good balance between being exciting and avoiding injury, I followed the part of the trail that looked the easiest. A large sheep moved out of the way ahead with a surprising agility and bounded into the heather – it was important not to hit one of those – and the high moorland landscape slid swiftly past while my eyes focused on the path and anything that might cause me to fall off.

The mountain bike gives much more of a sensation of moving through the landscape than hiking does – I guess the speed’s the difference there though pedalling up the steeper hills can be a damn sight harder walking up them. Rarely too for the Lancashire Moors, the sun was shining today with temperatures of around 24C or mid seventies and the speed of my bike also gave a welcoming breeze that could be absent when walking. I was at long last doing a route that had been rained off a couple of times – a circuit of the modest height known as Winter Hill lasting 20.2km or a bit over 12 miles that turned out to be about 20 miles due to where I chose to start and getting completely lost in the area of Dunscar Golf Club.

Another notable feature of this post is the lack of photos; this was due to a since rectified camera malfunction – no not a high speed encounter with a puddle but the far less interesting case of a memory card needing formatting. Why it should choose this particular moment I have no idea.

Mountain biking winter Hill

The route taken around Winter Hill marked in red. I rode in a clockwise direction from 2km east of Belmont on NCN route 91

Witton Weavers Way MTB trail

My approach route to the Winter Hill circuit. The start point is just off the A675 south of Abbey Village. You don’t have to go this way but it is good!

The route though was well worth doing and not too hard; the hills being mostly steady ascents though one path – the one below Delph Reservoir – was so overgrown that shorts are not recommended (copious nettles). The getting lost incident – well the main one – happened just after this where you leave the road along the nature reserve path. You go through one gate and come to another by a small bridge; keep straight on. I went left over the stream and rode down through the golf course which though a nice enough ride was the wrong way and entailed riding all the way back up the hill again. The next bit of the path cheered me up though.

The climb on the road to the route’s high point of 370m is steady with ever expanding views to the south and when it is reached just below Crooked Edge an even better view to the west opens up so I had lunch here. The mast on Winter Hill up to the right dominates the skyline being just over 1000 feet or 300m tall – as high as the Shard or the Eiffel Tower – and it is from here that the TV pictures are beamed to much of North West England.

The last part is the best bit of the ride and begins with heading down and across below Rivington Pike and ends with a rough track that leads from what I am reliably told is “the pigeon tower” – a tall edifice just to the left of the main track – across wild hillsides to the Belmont road and a fast descent to the village of the same name. From near the top of this road (Hordern Stoops 324m) there’s another mountain bike trail that heads off to the left down to Belmont – I’ll do that next time as it looks better than the road though 40mph on a smooth surface is a joy after four over rocks and ruts!

The ride around Winter Hill can be started from anywhere on the route subject to where you can park. My start point for the circuit was the small (and free) car park 2.1km east of Belmont on the National Cycle Network Route 91 (Lancashire Cycleway) and the route from there starts along the path that runs initially parallel with the road before heading into a very pleasant forest – no hint yet of the nettles below the reservoir! My own start point for the ride though was the somehat larger (but also free) car park shown on the second map and I reached the main route along a 4.7km length of the path known as the Witton Weavers’ Way – an extremely enjoyable and not difficult mountain bike route on a bridleway. I can highly recommend starting here though it does mean riding back at the end of the route. Will post photos next time I do the ride.

Pete Buckley July 2014

 

 

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Views of the Lake District – Hard Knott and the Roman Fort

During a recent visit to the Lake District to climb Scafell Pike with my eldest son Josh; we were fortunate enough to be out on one of those perfect spring days that we’ve seen precious little of lately. The day before we headed off to the Pike we investigated The Roman fort at Hard Knott in the region’s quieter south western corner along with Britain’s most severe road pass and a remote summit that was a first for us both.

Setting out from the Eskdale valley in warm sunshine we followed the road towards Hard Knott Pass, soon leaving it to follow a path on its left that cut off some of the twisting hairpin bends. Every so often a car would descend amid the smell of burning brake pads while our path soon veered off and climbed some boggy ground to the gap in the solid stone wall above that used to be the main gate of Mediobogdum – the Roman Fort of Hard Knott.

Mediobogdum Roman Fort Hardknott

Looking towards the highest mountains in England – from one of the lookout towers – from L to R; Scafell, Scafell Pike, Ill Crag and Esk Pike

Medioboggum Fort

Along the wall to the next lookout tower with Esk Pike and Bowfell beyond

The fort which was built in the second century during the reign of Emperor Hadrian of wall building fame, occupies a commanding position high above Eskdale with fine views down-valley to the Irish Sea and up to the wild and rugged Scafell Range. The last time I was here – also at Easter – a sleet laden wind gusted around the ancient stones and snow topped the mountains in the North but today couldn’t have been different. Still I wonder whether the Roman soldiers patrolling here felt privileged to see this wild and remote corner of the Empire or just saw it as a cold inhospitable place populated by enemies. Probably the latter though it is one of my favorite places in the Lakes. The view up-valley incidentally will not have changed since they used to patrol these walls.

Hard Knott from the fort

Our path lay up the shapely summit ahead

Leaving Mediobogdum by its eastern gateway we followed a wide grassy and occasionally damp path towards the impregnable looking peak of Hard Knott to the East. The path narrowed and passed beneath gaunt crags that rose steeply on our left. Below and to the right was the road crossing Hard Knott Pass which with grades of 30% in places is one of Britain’s severest roads. The summit is marked by a cairn and views of the “back” of the Coniston Fells and the lonely valley of the Upper Duddon.

Up to the left and a faint path led us between rocky knolls and up behind the wall of crags we had walked beneath to the summit ridge of Hard Knott – another of those modest but impressive peaks that are always worth climbing – where we sat for a while in the sun by the cairn on Border End overlooking Eskdale; the only people in sight.

hard knott pass road

The twisting hairpin bends of Hardknott Pass

Eskdale from Hard Knott

Looking west from our lunch spot by the cairn over Eskdale to the Irish Sea

The Roman Fort is at an altitude of just over 800 feet or 250m and is a short but steep uphill walk from the bottom of Hard Knott Pass. There is limited parking where the road passes just below the fort and also at the top of the pass where you van walk down the path we ascended. There are larger areas along the road in the valley and we set off from just after the bridge a kilometre or so east of the Youth Hostel. Please note that the road is narrow and very steep and is totally unsuitable for caravans, trailers or larger motorhomes. The road summit is at about 1290 feet. If you walk up to the summit cairn – worth it for the view – it makes for a round trip of about 4 miles/6km from the bottom of the pass. The cairn is about 500 feet above the road summit. In case anyone wonders how we got on the  next day’s trip to Scafell Pike, it’s on my Lake District walks page.

Pete Buckley April 2014

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Hiking From Grindelwald to Zermatt – A Long Walk in the Alps Revisited

During the summer of 2007 I hiked through the Swiss Alps from Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland to Zermatt in the Valais and wrote A Long Walk in the Alps about my experiences along the way. The story’s been out as a paperback for ages but I just got around to dragging it into the 21st century and publishing it as an e-book so there was a good excuse to look at all the old photos from the trip and share a few of them on here.

Grindelwald and the Eiger

The start point was the village of Grindelwald beneath the peaks of the Fiescherhorner 4049m and the Eiger 3970m to the top right

Schilthorn from the Eiger Trail

Looking across the depths of the Lauterbrunnen valley from the top of the Eiger Trail above Eigergletscher. The Schilthorn is just right of center above the village of Murren with the pass of the Sefeinenfurka to its left which the route crosses

Jungfrau from Wengen

The view from my balcony in Wengen. Evening alpenglow lights the 4153m Jungfrau peak while shadows overtake the Lauterbrunnen valley down to the right.

Bernese Oberland peaks

Looking back from the top of the 2612m Sefeinenfurka Pass to the Wetterhorn, Eiger Monch and Jungfrau as the route leaves the spectacular Jungfrau Region and descends to the Kiental

Bernese Oberland valley

After the heights of the Sefeinenfurka the route descends to the peaceful green pastures of the Kiental

In the Kandertal

Tranquil lake right behind my hotel at Kandersteg

Gemmipass

The wild high country of the Gemmi Pass where I crossed the Bernese Oberland from the Kandertal to the Rhone Valley. This pass at 2314m is on the continental divide between northern and southern Europe

Turtmanntal

The village of Gruben in the beautiful and unspoilt valley of the Turtmanntal. This valley is the closest one gets to a wilderness area in the alps and is the start point for the Augstbordpass

augstbordpass summit

At 2894m the Augstbordpass was the highest point of my route from Grindelwald to Zermatt. From here the route descends to St Niklaus in the Mattertal.

Jungen in the Valais

The alpine village of Jungen on its grassy shelf high above the Mattertal.

Randa

Garden at Randa in the Mattertal. The pace of life in this Valaisian village is well represented by the sleeping goat

Europaweg to Zermatt

The spectacular path known as the Europaweg which contours high above the Mattertal heading to Zermatt at its head. The view here is looking back along the trail towards the Dom which at 4545m is one of the highest peaks of the Alps

The Matterhorn in cloud

The famous peak of the Matterhorn 4478m scrapes the clouds as the Europaweg trail begins its descent to Zermatt

Schwarzsee and Maria Zum Schnee

The tiny chapel of Maria zum Schnee – Maria of the Snows – nestles at 2583m beside the atmospheric Schwarzsee at the foot of the Matterhorn’s final pyramid. This is the top end of the Matterhorn Trail and the end of my route.

Matterhorn north face

Walking down the Matterhorn Trail from Schwarzsee to Zmutt and finally to Zermatt. Here at just above the midway point are spectacular views of the Matterhorn’s north face

Looking back it’s easy to forget the hardship of carrying my pack up the Sefeinenfurka in the blazing sun of a mini heatwave only days after shivering in the snow atop the Schilthorn but on balance I’d do the route again tomorrow – well not tomorrow as it’s still winter but sometime soon.

The rest of the photos are on my alpine trails blog along with a page per day route description while the full story is now available on e-book (with free preview of course) from Amazon (kindle) in the UK and US or from Smashwords if you need another format. In the meantime instead of wandering the hills for days on end I have been helping to look after the kids whilst working on the Yuri Medev stories; the first of which, The Colonel of Krasnoyarsk is now available with a free preview on this blog as well as at the US and UK Kindle stores.

As for more trips like this… well it’s harder to organize with the kids the ages they are but I’ve had the maps out again and the Pyrenees are looking a possibility… then again I haven’t been to Austria yet. For the immediate future though it’s me in front of the TV for the next two weeks as it’s that Winter Olympics time again – Enjoy SOCHI 2014 and I’m very jealous of anyone who’s going!

Pete Buckley February 2014

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Dreaming of a White Christmas? Here’s Skiddaw in November Instead…

There were a few flakes of snow just now – well sleet but I guess it’s close – falling outside or rather being blown in ahead of yet another of the heavy rain showers barrelling in from the North Atlantic. Any dreams of a White Christmas here in the UK are rapidly fading so for a suitably seasonal post – with some snow – here’s a few photos from a walk up Skiddaw I did just over a month ago in early November.

Skiddaw in snow

The path from Underskiddaw is the easiest and quickest way to England’s fourth highest summit

Sun and snow in the Lake District

A snowy scene at the col just before the final rise to the summit of Skiddaw

Skiddaw summit

The sun and snow leant an alpine summer feel to the summit – the wind was cold though

View of Blencathra from Skiddaw

The far side of Skiddaw is high remote country compared to Keswick. The picture shows Blencathra from the summit.

This route from Underskiddaw known as the Tourist Route is not the best way to Skiddaw; that being the Longside Edge Route from the North West – but it is the quickest and easiest. Besides you don’t get too many days like this – especially at this time of year – and I enjoyed a walk in warm sunshine without too many tourists up to 3054 feet where an icy wind reminded me that it wasn’t summer in the Alps after all but November in the Lake District.

Happy Christmas…

Pete Buckley Dec 2013

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The Colonel of Krasnoyarsk – Chapter One

A free preview of my first novel The Colonel of Krasnoyarsk isYuri Medev The Colonel of Krasnoyarsk already available at Kindle and Smashwords, but several people have asked me why it wasn’t on here too. Thinking about it, that made a lot of sense so here’s chapter one of the story. There’s a short introduction before this in the book. At some stage I will also post profiles of the main characters in the story though it is at the moment uncertain when I’ll actually get around to doing that and not just talking about it. I guess at least I won’t have to go up a mountain in the rain or snow for that one but there will be some of that too. Hope people like it; the introduction by the way is now on my new Goodreads blog.

Chapter One

The American Airlines Boeing 767 broke through the cloud ceiling at about 4000 feet but the man seated in the aisle seat just in front of the exit was denied the aerial view of New York City and Long Island Sound as the pilot made a banking turn to begin their final approach into JFK. He felt relaxed and didn’t think of what lay ahead, preferring instead to observe his fellow passengers; the large man seated next to him was clearly in fear of flying and looked as though he would rather be somewhere else, the man in a suit two rows in front was drunk – as were several other passengers – and the blonde stewardess kept looking at him when she thought he wasn’t looking himself.

Despite his features bearing witness to many Siberian winters and the harsh mountain sun of Chechnya, he looked much younger than his thirty nine years with his brown eyes and youthful face giving an air that appeared determined but not unkind and the stewardess who served him was intrigued by his dark looks and calm polite manner:

The name on his boarding card was Stefan Romanski and he looked to be in his early thirties. He wore a plain dark blue baseball cap and she could see that his dark hair at the sides had been shaved recently and she wondered whether he was in the Military – on the one occasion he had left his seat on the flight from London he had walked with the confident upright gait of a soldier. He looked a shade under six foot; was of a slim but wiry build and clearly very fit. She had been further impressed by the fact that he had drunk only black tea and bottled water on the long flight when several of the passengers in her charge were already drunk even though it was only mid afternoon in New York.

 The mystery man gave her a little smile and she was embarrassed that he’d caught her looking at him. She smiled back and continued to serve the businessman two rows in front with bourbon. He was reading a leading article in the New York Times about the recent increased activity of Russian spies in the City. She thought all that had gone away with the end of the Cold War…

Earlier that morning Colonel Yuri Medev had left London Heathrow in a rainstorm after arriving there from Krakow in Poland and was now near the end of a three day journey from his current base of Krasnoyarsk in Siberia.

The British passport he carried declared him to be Stefan Romanski – a Polish immigrant to the UK – which was the reason for his diversion to those countries. His identity would be scrutinised more if he arrived on the Moscow flight. His English was excellent but heavily accented and he would not have passed for an American or an Englishman, hence the Polish identity.

He thought back over the events that had brought him here which had begun even before the raid on the Mafia gang’s apartment in Krasnoyarsk a month earlier. Medev was a colonel in the GRU or Military Intelligence and until recently had been a commander of Russia’s elite Special Forces known as the GRU Spetsnaz.

When that division had been reorganised and no longer came under the directive of GRU, Medev had effectively become a full time intelligence officer though he retained his attachment to the Special Forces and was still able to participate in some operations. Most colonels of his age did not choose to get involved in the action to the extent that he did but then again most colonels of his age did not climb mountains and go cross country skiing for fun. Perhaps it was a subconscious effort to deny that he was approaching forty years old but he still got involved as much as he could.

His superiors too were happy to still encourage his direct involvement. They were quite aware that his experience with Special Forces went back many years to when he was with VDV the Airborne Division; long before he was even recruited by Intelligence. They recognised the value of that experience as well as the fact that most of the men would follow Medev anywhere whether they were ordered to or not.

He glanced up from his comfortable seat to see that the stewardess was heading back up the cabin presumably to get more drinks for the passengers seated in front of him. She had nice legs he thought and wondered idly whether she went running or to a gym. The engine tone decreased, meaning the pilot had reduced power again for their approach.

Officially he had been in his new job for several months but this was his first mission as a GRU agent and not as a Spetsnaz Commander. He thought about the noisy military transports he was used to flying on compared to this and the fact that when he reached his destination today there would be nobody trying to kill him – luxury.

Normally a criminal case such as this would not have involved the GRU at all once the gang had been located and the raid completed but there was an unusual difference here which had come to light with the investigation into the activities of the gang leaders they had apprehended at the apartment. He remembered studying the list of items found there which included a large sum in US dollars – in itself not unusual with these people – passports from the US and UK along with those from a number of other EU countries – chiefly Romania and Poland.

A large quantity of cocaine had been found at another location in the city after the questioning of those who had been arrested but other than that the inventory had all the hallmarks of people trafficking. It was something else that had come out in the questioning of the gang members that made this case unusual. They all maintained that the main people they did business with were based not in any Russian city but in the United States. It was this apparent US connection that had aroused the interest of his organisation.

The man in the seat next to him visibly tensed as the aircraft hit a patch of mild turbulence and Yuri observed with interest that he closed his eyes each time the aircraft gave a lurch. He supposed he was being unfair in his assessment; he had jumped from more aircraft than most people ever fly in and flying in these modern jets with no one trying to shoot him down gave him no fear at all. In fact he found it a relaxing occupation and staying awake was his biggest challenge. Of course there was always the possibility of terrorism…

When questioned further about an American involvement to their operations two names kept coming up; That of Jim Bergman – though none of the detainees seemed to know anything about him – and a man known simply as Nikovich. No-one seemed to know anything much about him either – or at least they were not saying; apart from the fact that both men were based in New York and to their knowledge had never even visited Russia.

Further investigation had revealed that Bergman was an agent of the American FBI and somehow mixed up with this gang though he appeared to be some kind of go between rather than any sort of leader. They concluded that he was probably a corrupt agent in the pay of Nikovich though it could not be discounted – as Yuri himself had pointed out – that he could be working under cover. There was no information at all forthcoming on Nikovich.

As the investigation had continued along these lines Medev’s immediate superior General Koriakin had asked for a meeting to discuss with him the course of action to be taken. This had been seven days before he’d boarded this flight though the meeting was as clear in his mind as if it had been that morning.

He had left his apartment in the officers’ accommodation block and walked across the base to meet with Koriakin in his office. It had been a day of pleasant sunshine but the shade was cool – by September summer has left Siberia – two soldiers saluted him as he walked at his usual brisk pace towards Koriakin’s office. He touched his cap back to them and continued to the General’s office.

His mood was buoyant and was helped by the soldiers; there had been recognition on their faces – they had not simply saluted his uniform and senior rank. He felt proud that the men of the base respected him and dare he say it even liked him. These two had certainly looked pleased to see him and not simply saluted out of a sense of duty. This happened a lot with Colonel Medev.

General Koriakin was tall and lean like Medev but his hair was much lighter and tinged with grey though neither man looked their true age or showed any sign of putting on weight like many of their age and rank. Both believed in staying as fit as the young soldiers they commanded and they often – voluntarily – shared their training regimes which won them the respect and admiration of the men.

“Yuri” beamed Koriakin at the younger man. “We have more news from Moscow.”

“What is the latest?” he replied curiously.

 Koriakin had given him details of the watch their agents in New York had placed on Bergman, one of the US suspects.

He was indeed an agent of the FBI though nothing else had been found to link him to the gang in Krasnoyarsk. The name of Nikolai Nikovich had come up on US court records relating to a recent organised crime case that Bergman had been involved with so there was a link between the two men after all. Nikovich had been acquitted by the court on several counts of conspiracy to murder and human trafficking. He was described by the American press as being connected to the Russian Mafia though no reference to him was found on FSB files or those of the police in any of the major Russian cities.

The investigation at home though had revealed some more about those operations. The people from the apartment were involved in the trafficking of young girls who were promised passports and jobs in the US and Western Europe in return for payment. When they got there, their new lives turned out to be rather different than expected and the promised jobs ranged from prostitution to working for a pittance in illegal factories.

This was nothing new for Russian and Eastern European mafia groups but Yuri still thought this human trafficking that amounted to a modern day slave trade was a most despicable crime and wished his unit had killed more of the gang during the raid. The group with which Bergman and Nikovich were involved in New York appeared to be the recipient of these girls. As payment the New York gang were sending cash and consignments of cocaine to Russia which was much in demand by the increased number of rich businessmen here – a new development.

“So – if the American FBI had the confessions from our Apartment Gang they would have probably have convicted Nikovich. It seems as though lack of provable evidence was the obstacle.”

“That may be true but we don’t currently cooperate on that level with the US” returned the General “perhaps we should consider it in certain cases.”  Yuri couldn’t help thinking that his phrase “in certain cases” could be replaced with “when it suits us” but he agreed with what Koriakin had said.

It was true though and both men realised it whatever their outward views on the matter. If the gangs were now cooperating internationally then their law enforcement had to do the same – at least to a degree – or the criminals would have the advantage. As for corruption, that was still a problem here so why not in the US too.

It had been decided though that the priority was to find Nikovich who was almost certainly the leader of the New York organisation. He clearly had Russian connections despite there being no trace of him in Criminal Records in the FSB and if allowed to continue he would find another gang and simply start up again. There was too much money at stake.

The Krasnoyarsk Gang had been responsible for the deaths of several police officers and civilians to say nothing of the girls sent abroad on false promises before Medev’s Special Forces had stormed into their hideout to spoil the party. No-one wanted to go through all that again and he had to be stopped so Yuri was not surprised when the General gave him his instructions to go to New York.

“Bergman is our only connection to Nikovich and as he is unlikely to agree to tell us everything, we must find out what we can. We must start with his computer and his apartment. If he is working for Nikovich, any records will be there. He would not keep them on an FBI computer or at their office.”

Koriakin had made it clear to Yuri that he was not ordering him to go and that another agent could be found if necessary but he stressed that it would be an opportunity to directly attack the people trafficking gangs knowing that the younger man was always going to accept such a mission. It was then that the general hinted at a second part to his assignment.

“What does this second job involve?” Yuri asked with a look that could be described as cynical.

“It just needs someone in place on the ground – I will elaborate soon but it is much less risky than finding Nikovich. And that job should be straightforward too – we just want the hard drive from Bergman’s computer. Our tech people will decode what is on there and then we will issue further instructions regarding Nikovich; you just need to get into his apartment and steal it.” It was clear to Yuri that those further instructions would probably involve the termination of Nikovich just as soon as they had enough proof to justify it. He also wondered what the second job could involve as any of their agents currently in New York could steal a hard drive. Most of them would know what to do with it too.

He had a vague suspicion that the mystery job was the real reason behind sending someone to the States and that the Bergman hard drive thing had been to get him to volunteer because it was an attack on the people smuggling gangs. If he himself had been unwittingly hand picked for this job it meant that whoever had ordered it considered it of top level importance and secrecy. Despite the lack of information he trusted Koriakin and believed him as to the level of risk.

There was a dull clunk somewhere below the cabin floor as the landing gear went down. The man next to Yuri had his eyes shut and he gripped the arm of his seat tightly.

“We will be just fine” Yuri said to him in English in a calm voice. The man said nothing but appeared to relax slightly. The aircraft made a perfect landing and the pilot engaged reverse thrust to rapidly slow their hundred and fifty mile an hour dash along the runway.

 His British passport gave no problems at US immigration – it shouldn’t have done being genuine – and he went through the security checks without incident so he was soon at the taxi rank awaiting a ride to his hotel which was situated near the theatre district of the city.

It was definitely still summer here and he felt over dressed in his pale grey sweatshirt, matching combat trousers and baseball cap. Once they were off the freeway and into the city the traffic was as bad as he’d seen anywhere – well apart from Moscow and he hardly ever went there – and he didn’t envy the taxi driver as he weaved in and out of the speeding cars avoiding grid locked lanes at junctions and talking constantly.

“Can we go via Broadway” Yuri butted in to the driver’s relentless jabbering.

“Sure – you like the theatre? You’ll be taking in a show while you’re here then?”

“Yes I hope to.” replied Yuri who actually knew nothing whatsoever about theatre but he knew Broadway to be a short distance from his hotel and he wanted to be sure that his taxi was not being followed.

Satisfied after the short diversion that he had no tail, he paid the driver using cash and walked up the steps of the hotel carrying his baggage which consisted of a single large rucksack weighing fifty pounds. He went up the steps two at a time and through into reception where the blonde woman on the desk greeted him with a pleasant smile. Soft jazz music played in the background and the marble floored room was filled with an impressive array of plants.

“Mr Romanski, a letter arrived for you” she said, handing him a brown envelope with what felt like a greetings card inside, as he filled out the form. He set off for his room choosing to take the stairs after his long internment on the aircraft.

“Can I take your bag for you sir?” enquired a bellboy

“Thanks – but I think I can manage okay myself.” The man’s expectant puppy like look turned almost to a scowl which Yuri returned with a beaming smile before jogging up the stairs to his room three floors up. The man had been after earning a tip.

One of the keys he recovered from the piece of corrugated cardboard in the envelope opened the locker matching the number printed on it at the nearest Subway station and Yuri took the cardboard shoebox contained within back to his hotel room to open. The contents included a 9mm Glock pistol with silencer, a box containing 200 rounds of ammunition, a small transponder device or bug and a portable hard drive.

In addition there was a modified but ordinary looking cell phone, several maps of locations in the city and of a small town just to the North, some photos of a smartly dressed blond man and ten thousand dollars in cash. More curiously there was a small plastic bag containing a large number of what appeared to be small lights similar to those used on a Christmas tree though they were not connected by a wire. Yuri had absolutely no idea as to their purpose.

As he wondered at the lights he noticed a map showing an area far to the North East and close to the Canadian frontier – almost certainly the second part of the mission; maybe the lights were for use there. Yuri wondered more about what it involved as the kit he’d received made it fairly clear what was expected of him here. He glanced at the photographs – he would have to think about Bergman soon but first of all he would get his bearings and have a look at where he was staying…

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Walking in Wales – Y Lliwedd and Snowdon

Mountain hiking has always been one of my favorite activities so it’s also perhaps a good thing that the weather is also an interest as the one certainty with venturing into the hills is that you will encounter lots of different types of weather; most of which are going to make you either cold or wet or both. Not all mountain conditions are so hostile however and just occasionally one encounters conditions that are not only benign but also beautiful.

Snowdon and the Miners track

Snowdon from Llyn Llydaw just off the Miners Track from Pen y Pass. The route heads along just behind the skyline ridge

This temperature inversion which I walked through in North Wales on the way  from Pen y Gwryd to Snowdon fell into the latter category. A temperature inversion occurs when a layer of cool air is trapped beneath warmer air so reversing the normal state of affairs that it gets colder the higher you get. On this day in September – this phenomenon is commonest in autumn and winter – I journeyed from grey and overcast skies at low lying Betws y Coed into cool mist and light drizzle between Pen y Gwryd and Pen y Pass (800 to 1200 feet) and finally into warm sunshine over a sea of cloud above about 2500 feet.

Y Lliwedd view

Summit view from Y Lliwedd looking towards the Glyderau and Pen y Pass

Y Lliwedd Snowdon route

This was my lunch spot on the route looking southwards over Wales most of which was below the cloud layer while we had the sunshine

The route I took today was the path from Pen y Gwryd to Pen y Pass and then the Miners track to Llyn Llydaw before which I took the left fork and left that route to scale Y Lliwedd and follow the southern half of the Snowdon Horseshoe route to the summit of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) which at 3560 feet or 1085m is the highest point in Wales. This is the longer but probably easier side of the famous horseshoe; not crossing the knife edge of Crib Goch though there are a few easy scrambles amid rough ground on both sides of Y Lliwedd (898m/2946ft).

Snowdonia cloud sea

Looking south from just below the summit over a sea of clouds. Bottom left is where the Watkin Path meets the South Ridge Route over Bwlch Main

Nantlle Ridge and Llyn Cwellyn

Looking more towards the West with the Nantlle Ridge visible on the left and Llyn Cwellyn bottom right. The sea can be made out in the far distance

The final ascent up to Snowdon was steep but on a much wider path called the Watkin Path which ascends from Nantgwynant. More awesome views over a sea of cloud that spread out to the South greeted me on reaching the South Ridge where there is a stone pillar. The summit, which lies a short way up the ridge from here, was in a higher cloud layer so the views vanished once more.

Lakes of Snowdon

Descending the Pyg Track back below the clouds with Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw seen ahead and below

The route down is a case of following the path beside the railway until you reach the col between Snowdon and the next peak Carnedd Ugain aka Crib y Ddysgl. The top of the Pyg and Miners’ Tracks is marked by another stone pillar and descends steep and rugged slopes initially on stone steps. Following the railway path goes to Llanberis which though a pleasant enough town is almost seven miles from where I’d left the car.

A word about parking – it is now £10 to park at Pen y Pass for over 4 hours (£5 for under) a cynical move as the average person will take closer to 5 hours for the return trip to Snowdon. The new parking areas near Pen y Gwryd are much cheaper and the lay byes further along the road are free.

Pete Buckley October 2013

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