Learning to navigate, take bearings and use a map

Given my liking for going off into the hills for a few hours on my own, sometimes late into a summer evening and sometimes in bad conditions, I thought it was probably about time I learned how to use a compass correctly.

I’ve always considered I’m pretty good at ‘map reading’, and by that I mean interpreting what’s on the map (knowing we need need go across a footbridge, or that we should be going through woodland or up steep contours), and working out the general direction we should be heading in. Having said that, I do tend to walk on fairly well marked paths and rarely across featureless landscape, which clearly presents much more of a challenge.

But even after spending about an hour or so online Googling ‘how to take a bearing’ I have never managed to convince myself I do actually know how to use a map and compass in order to find my way. So now with the added responsibilities of being a father, I thought it was time to get wise.

I booked on an Introduction To Navigation course led by Michael and Jane Hunt. Based in Foolow in the Peak District (within reasonable reach of Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and the East Midlands), Mike and Jane are both highly experienced and highly qualified International Mountain Leaders with years of first-hand knowledge of navigating the mountains of the UK and also abroad. So in that respect they are ideal teachers – plus for just £30 it seemed a bargain.

The day started with a cup of tea and introductions for our group of 11 (from my age to 60s plus), in the tiny village hall in Foolow. We started by learning about different types of maps and some basics about what the most common features denote. We then moved onto learning about plotting a route between features, taking a bearing and plotting distance and how you would then use your compass to ensure you were walking in the right direction.

We spent some time putting this into practice to ensure we understood the basic principles and then headed out into the countryside just North of Foolow, for a walk. One of the first things Mike told us about was pacing, and we calculated how many strides we took for every 100m on a range of terrains. This can be very useful if you are trying to find quite insignificant features or visibility is poor, as if you know you need to go 100m and you take many more than 62 (for me, on the flat) steps, you know you have gone too far.

We then started using our compasses to find some small ring contours we had identified on the map earlier. Working in pairs, we learned about leapfrogging, where you use another person as a marker, which enables you to follow compass bearings accurately in poor visibility.

All the way Mike and Jane give you useful tips, setting little challenges for you, such as using your compass and map to identify the name of a farmhouse across the hill.

After a short lunch break (when thankfully the rain held off), we were given a card that gave approximate times taken to walk distances at different speeds (you can find a similar one here). We then put this into practice, before the real tests started.

From a point on a fairly well marked path, we were tasked with navigating to a hidden sheepfold, across open, fairly featureless undulating land. Working in pairs, following a bearing and using leapfrogging, we completed this, before (for our final task) then being tasked with finding a stone circle on top of a distant hill, using a bearing, leapfrogging and pacing.

All in all it was a great day out with a group of like-minded people, and for six hours worth of instruction and insight it was a bargain at £30. The trick now is to put what I have learned into practice, as this is the key to getting better and making sure I don’t forget any of what I learned.

I managed to do a bit on a family walk out from Wincle in Cheshire yesterday, calculating bearings to check direction, checking distances using pacing, and working out the names of farmhouses on the opposite hillside.

However, more of a test will come on Tuesday 24 April, when I plan to do a crack of dawn walk up William Clough onto Kinder Scout, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the famous Trespass. After a 5.30am start (well, that’s the plan), once up on the tops, I am thinking of trying to find a few old aircraft crash sites on the featureless moorland using my new skills. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Further Reading

* Navigation in the Mountains: The Definitive Guide for Hill Walkers, Mountaineers & Leaders

* The SAS Tracking & Navigation Handbook

* Hill Walking: The Official Handbook of the Mountain Leader and Walking Group Leader Schemes

* Ultimate Navigation Manual

* Map and Compass: The Art of Navigation


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Burning, sore throat and headache cycling to work; time to invest in a mask?

The last two times I have cycled to work, I have ended up with a burning throat and, today, also toothache. The first time it happened I thought nothing of it, and assumed I was bit under the weather. But it happened again today and so I’m starting to think it’s more than just coincidence.

From reading the thread below, it does seem that this can happen when it’s a bit colder. It was certainly fresher this morning (but not cold) and I was a bit chilly in just one layer when I started my 8-mile commute to work. The wheezy, sore sensation really hit me after a fast downhill section followed by a fairly steep uphill, so it could just have been cold air hitting my throat. I also developed a mild headache.


What’s also interesting about this thread is it talks about not tensing throat muscles and also the importance of hydration if you’re going to be doing intense cycling.

Here are two possible reasons; I was in the highest possible gear going down the hill, and although conditions were dry and traffic light (everyone queueing for petrol?), I do sometimes have a propensity to tense up when I’m flying along at 30mph, slightly fearful of a random pothole springing out of nowhere.

I was also pretty thirsty when I woke this morning and my half a glass of water probably wasn’t enough – that might explain the headache. Or it could be a combination of cold air, tensing up, breathing through the mouth too much and dehydration. But it’s too early to draw conclusions, and interestingly, I was fine on the way home tonight, although the cold beer I sunk minutes after arriving home probably helped soothe things! And of course, that might explain the headache tomorrow…

So I’m going to monitor it and see how I go;  but it has got me thinking about whether it was something to do with the atmospheric conditions and the pollution levels hanging around at my level – do I need to starting wearing a mask?

I’ve got my eye on the Respro City anti-pollution mask; it gets good reviews and only time will tell whether I need it or not.


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Have baby, will travel. A review of our Deuter baby carrier rucksack

A while after our baby daughter was born, I noticed someone at work was selling a Deuter Kid Comfort baby carrier rucksack, virtually unused, for next to nothing. Probably being slighty delirious due to lack of sleep, I purchased it immediately, deciding I’d worry about whether we’d actually use it at some later date. It remained in the cupboard at the top of the cellar stairs for a few months, until we ventured off to Wales for a camping trip. By this time our daughter was about 7 months and one of the heavier babies for her age.

An initial experiment went well, and she seemed fine in the carrier, dropping off to sleep at the end of our initial 30 minute run and staying alseep even after I took the rucksack off and rested it on the built-in stand. A success, we decreed, and the next day off we went on a longer walk, with the same said baby in the carrier. She duly fell asleep but on waking proceeded to howl and howl and eventually we had to get her out and carry her back to the car in our arms, which proved a real test of strength and endurance! Our mistake, we realised, was having her sitting a little too low in the carrier, and as a result she had grazed her cheek on the fabric, which soon got sore and caused the endless sobbing. Had we adjusted it properly, it wouldn’t have happened, but it was a lesson learned, Needless, to say, that was the end of that, on that holiday at least, and back into the cupboard went the Deuter Kid Comfort baby carrier rucksack.

Until the other weekend that was. A free Sunday beckoned, the weather looked okay, so we set off for a pub walk from Combs Reservoir in Derbyshire, near Chapel en le Frith. A quick test before we got into the car revealed our 13-month old daughter was quite happy being strapped into the Deuter and hoisted onto my shoulders. So off we went.

The carrier uses a five-point harness system to strap your young ‘un safely into the Deuter Kid Comfort Carrier, so if you did slip and fall, baby would remain in situ. I was also reassured by the sturdy metal frame, which would protect baby if I fell backwards.

The carrier’s back panel features mesh, and it does not rest directly on your back. This system allows sweat vapor to escape and prevents heat buildup so your back won’t get damp while you cart the little pickle around.

The metal frame also incorporates a handy metal stand, which allows you to rest the pack with baby inside on the ground – very useful if baby falls asleep while you are out and need to stop for lunch or a rest.

The Deuter Kid Comfort Carrier has contoured and padded shoulder straps for comfort, and has both a hip belt and chest belt. I found that by loosening all straps to start with and then gradually tightening them, starting with the hip belt, I was able to get all the weight nicely distrubuted. My wife found it just as comfortable without the chest belt, which isn’t that comfortable for the ladies due to their anatomy!

Below the carrier seat is a storage compartment to hold essentials such as nappies, wipes, change of clothes, food and the rest. In total you have 8L of storage space.

The walk we did was about  three miles with a fair bit of very muddy ground, which is hard going with extra weight, and also a bit of a climb (total ascent about 50m).

I carried my daughter – who is about12kg – for about two of these three miles and found the carrier comfortable and balanced. I reckon a couple of hours of continuous walking would be have okay, but I wouldn’t want to be out all day – that said, our baby is heavy for her age so she does add a fair bit of weight. The carrier itelf is a 2kg unladen, and our version came with a rain / sun hood which slots on the top of the carrier.

Having recently used a BushBaby carrier, which is much more expensive, I can certainly say that there wasn’t much difference in comfort. However, if you are planning long sustained hikes you may want to invest in a BushBaby, which seems a little more ergonomic an adjustable. But for short rambles and bimbles puncuated by pub lunches and picnics, the Deueter Kid Comfort is a great budget bet.


Deuter Kid Comfort III
BushBabyElite Baby Carrier

Other options

Osprey Poco Premium Child Carrier
Little Life Freedom Child Carrier


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Commuting by bike, aggression and staying alive

Most people would agree that I am a fairly calm and mild mannered person, rarely prone to outbursts of swearing and anger. In a car, I occassionally blast the horn (which is pretty pathetic sounding) at stupid bits of driving, but I tend to let things go.

But put me on a pedal bike, send me off in the general direct of work, and I’m a seething mass of energy, anger and agresssion. I recently tried to work out why over a few glasses of wine with friends, who were amsued at the thought of me as a lycra lout.

The conclusion I reached was that the aggression stems from the fact I’m pumped up, mega alert and concentrating hard on trying to defend my space on the road and stay alive.

My commute takes me along the busy A6 into Stockport and while some of it offers the relative safety of a bus lane, other parts are two lanes of traffic moving at between 30 and 40mph. Needless to say, with a busy bus route thrown into the mix, you need to have your wits about you.

It’s probably fair to say I’m often quite psyched when I’m on my bike, a Trek 7.2FX, pedalling hard to get to the next set of lights before they change, putting on a burst to blast past a slow cyclist, but also battling hard to avoid getting bullied and swallowed up by the heavy traffic behind me.

My kevlar-lined Schwalbe Marathon Plus back tyre at 900g, pretty much guarenteed to prevent annoying punctures, has slowed me down a little of late (but it means less late arrivals home).

I always like to think that I am good at anticipating what other drivers are going to do, and so the incident that ‘set me off’ tonight remained, thankfully, a near miss.

Coming up to lights which were red, a driver overtook me and then inexlicably cut into my lane (even though they were not turning left), causing me to break hard and swerve towards the kerb to avoid them. The red mist descended and I yelled at the driver, who was oblivious, that they needed to ‘f*cking look’ as they nearly had me off. I continued to rant at them, knocking on the window for effect, for a good 10 seconds, using some more expletives, before moving into the green cycle box and waiting for the lights to change. A bit calmer, I shook my head as they passed me and that was that.

We all make occasional mistakes when driving but this person’s driving was stupid, careless and dangerous, and I wanted to let them know that. I was still stewing about it when I got home, but it was only on reflection that I realised how out of character my outburst was.

I generally find cycling home from work a great way to de-stress after a hard day, and will often go hard at it to give myself a good workout and get it all out of my system. But sometimes the smallest thing, like a driver passing too close, causes me to swear and gesture and the blood starts to boil.

I’m interested in whether other people experience this Jekyll and Hyde effect when they jump on a bike to undertake a commute through traffic – or is it just me?

Anyhow, in the spirit of co-operation between the cyclist and the car driver, I’ve just ordered a few books that will hopefully help me ride safer, more positively and perhaps prevent drivers even thinking about doing daft things when I’m around.

1. Cyclecraft: the complete guide to safe and enjoyable cycling for adults and children

2. Watch Your Line: Techniques to Improve Road Cycling Skills, Second Edition

3. “Bicycling” Magazine’s 1,000 All-time Top Tips for Cyclists: Top Riders Share Their Secrets to Maximise Fun, Safety and Performance

4. Complete Book of Road Cycling Skills: Your Guide to Riding Faster, Stronger, Longer and Safer (Bicyling Magazine)

5. Cycling for Everyone: A Guide to Road, Mountain, and Commuter Biking (Knack: Make It Easy (Outdoor Recreation)

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Climbing Snowdon in Winter

Two climbers on Central Trinity gully on SnowdonThis photo shows two climbing pals of mine on Central Trinity gully on Snowdon on 2nd Feb 2012. Jealous? I was when I saw it. While I was stuck at my desk, no doubt writing some dull report, they were out there in lovely Wales, going up this gully in some great looking conditions. They tell me it wasn’t as steep as it looks, but it still looks pretty exhilirating to me. They were buzzing so much when then finished it, over a bottle of single malt they started talking about the North Face of the Eiger! A little optimistic perhaps but it was that type of day.

So if you fancy some winter walking, what technical gear would be useful?

Here are a few ideas if you’re planning to head for the hills while it’s all white. Some of this kit is used by me, some by friends, some has been recommended by others;

Scarpa Manta four season boot – 6 times winner of Trail’s best 4 season boot, the Manta is hard to beat for comfort and fit on more technical mountain walks.

Grivel G12 Newmatic Crampons – A classic 12-point crampon that can be adjusted by hand, thus eliminating the need to carry tools which add weight and are often lost. Designed for moderate to mid-grade snow & ice and mixed routes, the front points can also successfully tackle the occasional pitch of steep or vertical ice.

Grivel Munro ice axe – From November to May in Scotland (and all year-round in the Alps) mountain walkers trekking above the snowline appreciate the security afforded by a solidly built ice axe. From cutting steps to arresting a slip, the Munro is a trusty friend.

Rab Neutrino Endurance Jacket – The Neutrino Endurance is the benchmark goose down jacket for modern mountaineering and lightweight ascents.

Of course, it goes without saying that you should only head out once you have all the proper gear, have suitable experience and skills, and the proper provisions and relevant emergency equipment.

The mountains in Winter are no time for mucking around, so always make sure you know what you are doing and that you have told someone exactly what you are planning and where you are going. Start your education here.

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A flat tyre and a cheap bike pump from Aldi do not a happy man maketh

Yes, I should have known better. A £3.99 hand bike pump from Aldi was never going to be the most reliable piece of kit. It served its purpose a few times, and on the last occasion I even made a mental note that it was dodgy, sporadically leaking air faster than it went in, and needed replacing.

It was never intended to be a long-term solution, just something grabbed while buying a few other bits and pieces of shopping.

But like so many mental notes, it blew away somewhere into the depth of my mind, lost amid thoughts of work strategies, DIY tasks and what to make a small child for tea.

After an frustrating two hour trip home from work on a wet Friday night (all of 8 miles), thanks to an impressively lacerated bike tyre and a pump that refused to do its jobs, I realised I had illustrated perfectly the folly of false economy.

Two hours of my life lost, missing my baby daughter’s bath time after not seeing her for two days, missing an indoor climb and a pint with a mate, and ending up in a foul mood. Was it worth it for the sake of saving £10 or so for something more robust? No.

Thankfully, a fellow cyclist came to the rescue with his CO2 powered Genuine Innovations pump. With Schrader valve converter deployed, in 5 minutes I was on my way, hands resembling a coal miner’s, tired, hungry, chastened and cross, but on my way home none the less.

So thanks to Andy – another wonderful illustration of the kindness of cyclists when finding others in need. It never fails to amaze me how many offers of help you get when you’re at the roadside changing a flat. The other week a GB cycling team car even stopped to offer assistance, them being based nearby at the Velodrome in East Manchester. On that occasion the incessant ringing of my mobile by my wife had brought me to a halt, as I sheepishly explained.

So what lessons hath one learneth from this incident? One, buy a decent bike pump. Secondly, don’t ask a policeman for help fixing a flat. A bobby on a bike passed me as I was pushing my wheels along. He asked if I was okay, and when I asked for a pump, surprisingly he said he didn’t have one. What they do when they have a flat is anyone’s guess. Call out a patrol car I suppose.

Anyhow, taking my queue from my new friend Andy, I’ve gone straight out an invested in a Genuine Innovations high quality hand pump with a CO2 inflator built right in – but with the option of using the manual handle if you run out of gas.

Reasuringly sturdy, alloy and stylish, it has a magnetic closure to keep the barrel locked firmly in place and a hidden container inside the handle containing a Schraeder adapter and two glueless patches. Just brilliant, and it makes me wonder what the hell I was doing before.

Andy also suggested I should think about thicker tyres, and having picked up a number of (seemingly always) back wheel punctures on my trips to and from work, I’ve finally called in the kevlar and gone for some Schwalbe Marathon Plus 700X35C. You only have to look at the Amazon review to see how great these are.

Sure, you have to live with the extra weight, but this is only going to make you fitter in the long run. So here’s to plenty of puncture-free commuting and more time spent bathing babies.


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Ice climbing on Kinder Downfall

It’s been pretty cold around Stockport in the last week or so but I didn’t realise just how cold it had got just a few miles down the road in the Peaks.

These stunning images from the Derby Telegraph show a wondefully frozen Kinder Downfall, on Kinder Scout, with ice climbers making the most of the conditions.

It’s a few years since the Downfall froze well enough to be climbed safely – some tried last year, amid the low temperatures, and had to be rescued. The mountain guide quoted in the newspaper article says that it’s hard to tell by the colour when it’s safe, due to the peat in the water.

Kinder Downfall holds a special place in my heart – it was the first traditional route I climbed outdoor. It was pretty much bone dry during May 2011 and as a Mod, we opted to solo it.

Latest reports suggest it’s now thawed, which is a shame as I have a pass out and the car on Sunday, and fancied having a ‘look’. I’ve even got my kit out from the cupboard and ready to go;

But it seems we’ll be sticking to the rocks of Stanage.

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Dangerous Sports Club : pioneers of extreme sport in the UK

I recently learned about the Dangerous Sports Club, a wonderfully heady mix of English eccentricity and a thirst for the spectacular, the untried and the downright lunatic and dangerous.

It immediately appealed, being a fan of hopelessly optimistic dreamers like Maurice Wilson (a fellow Bradfordian), who died trying to ascend Everest in the 1934, despite having no mountaineering credentials or equipment – you can read a fantastic acount about his amazing journey in ‘I’ll Climb Everest Alone’ by Dennis Roberts.

Starting its colourful life in the 1970s, the DSC’s founder members invented the now popular sport of bungee jumping in April 1979, when they leapt off the Clifton Suspension Bridge tied to the now familiar large piece of elastic cord, clad in something appopriating morning dress.

This band of champagne-swigging toffs, who often wore top hats and tailcoats during their exploits, also pioneered early forms of zorbing and BASE jumping, as well as a surrealist form of skiing, in which competitors were required to devise a sculpture mounted on skis and ride it down a mountain. One famous photo shows a giant red elephant careering down  the slopes.

And their mascot? A bandaged mannequin in a wheelchair, sporting red Y-front and displaying an ‘excited’ state, shall we say.

The club enjoyed a lot of media attention in its prime, staging a stunt for Noel Edmonds’ Late, Late Breakfast Show. At one stage Monty Python star Graham Chapman was a member, helping tout a film about the exploits of the DSC round Hollywood. His untimely passing brought that to an end.

Founding member David Kirke still runs the Club, and is apparently seeking £200,000 funding to fly a 100-feet wide inflatable horse from Mount Olympus to Libya. You can read more about him and his endeavours at his endearingly basic and slightly shambolic web site.

Of course, there were plenty of mishaps and failures; the fine for flying a hue kangeroo-shaped helium balloon without a licence, nearly drowning while trying to zorb down the Thames. A TV stunt saw Kirke fired from a 700ft cliff using a catapult, causing him spinal injuries and pain even to this day.

In 2002 two former members brought the club back into the headlines. A trebucket that fired volunteers 100ft into the air was built. Unfortunately, despite dozens of successful and safe tests, in November of that year an Oxford student died after missing the safety net. The pair were charged  with manslaughter but the case was eventually dismissed for lack of evidence.

And that was the last the world heard of the DSC until an article in Esquire earlier this year, which bought the collective to my attention.

Unortunately, despite the £20,000 advance Kirke for in 1989 for a book about the DSC, it has never appeared.

However, a former member Martin Lyster pubished his account in 1997, and it is still available via Amazon. The reader reviews – reveal how upset Kirke was about this, claiming several inaccuracies. The author disputes this.

Watch and read more on extreme sports

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Banff Mountain Film Festival, Sketchy Andy Lewis and slacklining

Great turn out at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in Stockport last night. Organisers said that nearly 900 attended, which is a record for the UK tour. Some great films, particularly the final one on an extraordinary character called ‘Sketchy Andy’.

Andy Lewis is a professional slackliner – and if performing at the megabucks Superbowl with Madonna gyrating in your general direction, while 110 million people look on, is anything to go by, he’s certainly carving out a good career for himself.

Slacklining has an interesting history, starting out as something climbers used to do in their downtime to practice their balance. In the DVD Don Whillans Myth and Legend, Whillans can be seen slacklining while waiting for the weather to clear on some foreign expedition. Indeed, Lewis was a sport climber himself until he dislocated his shoulder.

But Lewis has taken the pursuit to a whole new level, not only soloing dizzyingly high slacklines with multiple-hundred metres drop below (yes, that’s without a harness, relying on his hands to catch himself if he falls), but developing all manner of increasingly dangerous tricks and stunts, such as base jumping from the line, and rigging up huge canyons swings to add interest to the dismount. But then, before he found slacklining, he was into extreme off-road unicycling, so arguably he’s moved to safer pastures.

His latest challenge is to perform – and land – a backflip while on a highwire. So far, it hasn’t happened but you wouldn’t bet against it. You can read more about Sketchy here.

If you missed the show at Stockport, the UK leg of the Banff Mountain Film Festival moves on to Birmingham on 17 Feb. You can also catch the ‘Sketchy Andy’ film at the Hope Valley Adventure Film Festival in Derbyshire on 25 Feb.

If you fancy giving it a go, slacklining looks a lot of fun and is the sort of thing you can rig up in your back garden. Gibbon lines, coming in 15m and 25m varieties, can be bought relatively inexpensively.

With Sketcy’s help, I can see it becoming extremely popular about six cans into a summer barbecue, or even after a red-wine fuelled dinner with friends during the winter months, the snow serving to soften the inevitable crash landing.

And if you’re a climber, it can only help with improving your balance – with or without the aid of six cans of Speckled Hen. Now I just have to think how I can explain **another** Amazon delivery to the wife.

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Banff Film Festival, Ueli Steck and the Eiger

On Saturday night I’ll be eagerly heading to the Stockport Plaza for the UK leg of the Banff Mountain Film Festival. There will be a pint or two beforehand, during and probably afterwards, and then a curry with my climbing pal Matt. So a top night beckons with some top climbing films in the line-up.

Last year was my first experience of the Festival, with the highlight being a sneak preview of Ueli Steck : The Swiss Machine. Steck, who holds the world speed record for a solo of the North Face of the Eiger, is an extraordnary individual.

This video, an extract from The Swiss Machine, shows you why. The exposure on this route is mind-boggling and on two occasions he slips slightly, leaving your heart in your mouth. “I know if I do a mistake, I fall off” he says, matter-of-factly.

“You want to keep moving, having a progress in your life”, he says on the commentary, as he’s shown bounding along the ridge, on his way to a time of 2hrs 47 minutes – over an hour faster than his previous ascent the year before. It’s a philosophy most of us would recognise, but he pushes it to dizzying extremes.

Steck is a true hero amid many heroic explorers and adventurers, as this stunning new book – Mountain Heroes: Portraits of Adventure (Face to Face) – acknowledges and celebrates.

But it’s his taming of the ferocious North Face that enthralls me. The face is famous and infamous in equal measure, with pages of text and hours of film dedicated to its history and the horror stories around it.

Forget Everest, for me it’s the most enchanting, alluring and fascinating mountian going. Here are my top five Eiger-related books;

1. The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer
2. The Beckoning Silence by Joe Simpson
3. Anderl Heckmair: My Life: Eiger North Face, Grand Jorasses, & Other Adventures
4. The Climb Up To Hell by Jack Olsen
5. The Eiger Obession: Facing the Mountain That Killed My Father

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