Confessions of a Numbers Man

“You’re only a numbers man”. At first I thought she was referring to the “1” in my geocaching name but as the conversation progressed, I realised that it was some form geocaching insult. Or, at least, a jibe that insinuated that I was more interested in amassing a large score than savouring the experience of an individual search.

“Not so” I asserted. “Take, for example, my trip to Bardsey Island this summer.” I had her with this one – a whole day devoted to one cache. It could be argued that it was a whole weekend, as I had to camp on the Llyn Peninsula on the Saturday night in order to catch the boat first thing the following morning. I just won’t mention the five caches that I did on the drive down.

Islands have a certain charm. They are often remote, difficult of access and exert the same attraction as I find irresistible in mountains.  A small, almost uninhabited island, complete with a geocache, off the Welsh coast was something I couldn’t ignore. I had wanted to go there for some time but the opportunity only arose this summer when a group of Amateur Radio colleagues proposed a trip as part of our annual get-together.

“You see – this entire trip was based around a single cache” I explained pompously. I have been told that all Radio Amateurs are pompous, so I make no apology. Enlli, Further West Than Way Out Westis the cache in question. Hidden on the shore in a small cove on Ynys Enlli to give the island it’s Welsh name. To get there you have to catch the little white catamaran belonging to the Bardsey Island Trust. This is an experience in itself.

Confessions of a Numbers Man Geocache

The Bardsey Island Trust ferry at anchor not far from the cache location. In the foreground are seals coming out to bask on the rocks as the tide falls.

Phoning up to book a place (www.enlli.org) I was told that you only pay when the ferry is actually under way as the sea conditions often lead to the summer-only service being cancelled. As one of our party works for the Met Office, we had ordered up superb weather for the day we sailed. Parking the car in a field near to Abadaron, a walk down a rough track takes you to the traditional fishing cove of Porth Meudwy.

On the pebble beach below the cliffs you don a life-jacket and a small rubber dinghy ferries you out to the catamaran waiting a little way off-shore. When everyone is aboard, it is only twenty minutes after the marine engines roar into life before you arrive on Ynys Enlli. But what a journey! Close below the spectacular cliffs until you clear the end of the Llyn Peninsula then a bumpy ride across the fast-moving waters in the channel between the mainland and the island.

Looking forward you can see the slopes of Mynydd Enlli grow larger as you approach with dozens of seabirds in full flight. Looking back you can pick out Mynydd Mawr on the northern tip of the peninsula. This is the location of the Way Out West cache that spawned the one that I was after. Closer in to the island the sea is alive groups of seals and the odd dive-boat with their frogmen dropping into the water.

Confessions of a Numbers Man Geocache 2

Mynydd Enlli as seen on the approach to the island.

High tide on arrival, so the catamaran had just enough time to land us at the crude jetty before anchoring in the bay.  The GPSr put the cache a few hundred metres away across a grassy field on the other side of the island – it is a very small island! However, I bowed to peer pressure and climbed Mynydd Enlli first.

The summit was the last one I needed to ascend in region 30A of Alan Dawson’s list of Marilyns. These are British hills with a minimum of 150 metres of re-ascent from any neighbouring summit. As Mynydd Enlli rises straight out of the sea, it is one of the lowest peaks on the list. The name Marilyn comes from association with that famous list of Scottish mountains: the Monros.

Ascending all of the mountains in England and Wales is an activity dating back to the 1940’s. Edward Moss scoured maps to draw up his own list and completed the first round in the summer of 1951. When I started in 1974, I used George Bridge’s new definitive book. However, by the time I finished the campaign exactly 20 years later there had been several mapping revisions and four other lists published.

Now, you really have to climb even the relegated peaks just to make sure that you don’t miss anything. So 483 summits later I had the 50th recorded completion after Edward Moss. With all of the mountains in the bag, I am now working on the hills. A numbers man, no not really.

The group of us arrived on the summit of NW-072. It had been something of race, I suppose, as we were activating this rocky top for SOTA (Summits On The Air). This Amateur Radio scheme uses the Marilyns as the definition of a British hill top – other countries have had to work out their own lists. We all wanted to be the first to make the necessary four contacts on the radio to grab the point for activating the hill. Extra Brownie points for being the first to work radio from the hill this year.

Confessions of a Numbers Man 3

Alan M1EYO takes a break from working radio in the shade of the summit rocks on NW-072 Mynydd Enlli.

Photograph courtesy of Roger MW0IDX.

Since the SOTA (www.sota.org.uk) programme started in 2002 there has been healthy competition to reach the highest award of 1000 points. Healthy competition? Cut-throat more accurately. Not unlike geocaching some would say. One cold January morning this year, I set the antenna on top of Pendle Hill in Lancashire to activate my 212th summit in 22 months to be the first to reach the magic number. A numbers man, no not really.

“So you didn’t go there just for the cache?” Well, to be honest, I had said too much already and I was back-tracking fast. Better to try a new tack.

“No, it is a question of savouring the whole experience. The walk across the island, the hunt for the cache in a small cliff above the beach. Watching the seals bask in the sun as you fill in the log.” Dramatic pause – I told you that I was pompous.

“You see, I was just making the most of the search. I even went to the lighthouse, WAL-001 for the new Worked All Britain radio award scheme. First ever activation and another point in the bag……

…. OK, I’m a numbers man.”

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