Welcome to my blog. I'm an outdoor writer and photographer with a passion for wilderness and mountains. Use the links above to find out more about me and my books and walks. Click on a blog heading to see any comments or to add your own. -Chris Townsend

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Reviews of Rattlesnakes and Bald Eagles


My latest book, telling the story of my Pacific Crest Trail hike, has been out for a few months now and has garnered some positive reviews. Many thanks to all the reviewers. Here are some quotes:

" Every mountain, pass, valley and river is recalled and described in vivid detail and draws the reader into the changing landscape of the PCT............ Chris’ passion for the trail – or more accurately, his passion for exploring wilderness through long distance walking – shines through this book."

Pilgrimchris.com

"A rattlin’ good read...... I had to force myself to take breaks between chapters in order to savour the experience."

Blogpackinglight.

"This is a great book, skilfully written with charm and authority, and it will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in backpacking or wild places."

Alex Roddie

"It's indicative of the simple honesty of using one's own two feet to cover long distances that is at the centre of all of Townsend's books, and this one is no different, but it has one extra quality that makes it important. It amounts to a walking manual - not a gear manual or a backpackers guide (he does those too!), but a manual on how to walk, think about walking, how to stop and not walk at times; and what you might get out of all of it. "

Two foot free

"Gripping reading at times ..... a real sense of life on the edge."

Rucksack Rose

"Lively and at times gripping account"

Roly Smith, Outdoor Focus

"Chris says the PCT was 'the defining walk of my life' and what followed was ' a continuation of the joy I found on that trail'. It's something of a privilege to share those feelings, all the way from beginning to end."

Roger Smith  The Great Outdoors

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Allt Duine, Wind Farms & Wild Land



The wide open spaces of the Allt Duine hills

Update: since I wrote this piece two excellent features have appeared on other sites. Cameron McNeish has written about wild land, what it is and why it needs protection for Walk Highlands and Alex Roddie has written about the proposed Caplich wind farm and the North West Highlands initially on his blog and then in an extended version for UKHillwalking.com. Both pieces are well-worth reading.

Also, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland has issued a new vision for Scotland's mountains and wild land along with a petition on 38Degrees which I urge everyone to sign.

The future of wild land in Scotland is in the balance. Since the encouraging new planning regulations and the wild land map were launched last June (see my post here) only a few wind farms that would impinge on wild land have been turned down. Many more are awaiting a decision. Whether these are rejected or not will determine just how meaningful the wild land map really is. I echo Cameron McNeish’s recent call for the Scottish Government to state now that no wind farms will be built on wild land areas. That, it seems to me, is one of the points of the wild land map – to say that this land is protected so proposing wind farms or other destructive developments is pointless.

One of the key decisions, long overdue, is about Allt Duine, a proposed wind farm right on the borders of the Cairngorms National Park. This is the fight I’ve been most involved in, as spokesperson for Save theMonadhliath Mountains, with many letters appearing in newspapers as well as several blog posts, the key one of which describes a walk in the Allt Duine area and shows with photographs just how wild the area is.
As well as Allt Duine decisions are awaited on Talladh-a-Bheithe on the edge of Rannoch Moor which I wrote about here; Cnoc an Eas above Glen Urquhart not far from Loch Ness; Caplich above Glen Oykel in the North-West Highlands (Alan Sloman has written excellent posts with detailed maps about the last two on his blog here and here); and Beinn Mhor on the edge of Glen Affric (Highland Council will make a decision on this on February 24th). These five are the most potentially destructive currently proposed wind farms in my opinion. They are not the only ones of course. Highland Council has recently produced a Wind Farm Map of the region that shows all suggested and built wind farms that is very useful for seeing the possible spread of wind farms into wild land.

Ben More Assynt - the Caplich wind farm would be clearly in view from this magnificent peak
 
Then there is Stronelairg, a huge wind farm in the Monadh Liath that was excluded from the wild land map, though it should not have been. Planning permission has been given for this but the John Muir Trust are mounting a legal challenge. Please support them.

Pressure from wild land lovers is important to try and prevent these wind farms going ahead. Write and email objections and comments to Highland Council and to the Scottish government.  Objections to Caplich can be made in the comments section on the Highland Council website here. Comment on social media too, tagging ministers and Highland Council, and support those organisations fighting for wild land – the John Muir Trust, Mountaineering Council of Scotland, Save the Monadhliath Mountains, Keep Rannoch Wild

Wind measuring mast in the Allt Duine hills
Note: anything I post about wind farms usually gets some responses about the whole issue of wind farms, climate change and wild land in general. I gave my view here. I haven’t changed it. And no-one is going to persuade me that wild land is not worth fighting for or that sacrificing it is necessary to combat climate change.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

An 'Easy' Day On Carn An Fhreiceadain

Carn an Fhreiceadain



Away to the south and west thick rolls of cloud covered the hills, clouds that were forecast to reach the Cairngorms and the Monadh Liath hills before the end of the day. Starting late I went for what I thought would be a straightforward walk up Carn an Fhreiceadain above Kingussie, a hill that can be climbed on bulldozed tracks. Whilst unprepossessing in itself Carn an Fhreiceadain –the cairn of the watcher – is a splendid viewpoint for the Cairngorms and the vast rolling expanse of the Monadh Liath. It lies on the western edge of the Allt Duine area, site of a proposed wind farm (about which more in a forthcoming post).

The Cairngorms
 
Sometimes finding a way out of a town and into the hills can be the hardest navigation of the day. Kingussie has a good path network and the track up Carn an Fhreiceadain isn’t hard to find so I wasn’t expecting problems and on the ascent there were none, though I did notice a closed bridge, path relocations and some new hydro construction. Climbing through lovely old birch woods to frozen Loch Gynack I had wonderful views across Strathspey to the Cairngorms shining white in bright sunshine though the views west along the loch showed dark overcast skies. Those clouds to the south-west were coming closer though and soon the first of them swept high overhead, casting the land into shadow.

Loch Gynack
 
Once above the trees there was soon enough snow left for me to use my snowshoes. Some of the drifts were deep enough that walking would have been slow and arduous as the snow was soft. Even with the snowshoes progress was quite hard work. I couldn’t use the snowshoes all the time however. I was climbing up long open slopes towards the subsidiary top of Beinn Bhreac and wherever the angle turned the track towards the sun, which was frequently, the snow had gone. The snowshoes came off and went on again many times, slowing me down. The mist was just touching Beinn Bhreac as I approached the summit. Away to the north-east I could see the rapidly fading Allt Duine hills. Mountain hares raced across the snowfields, pausing occasionally to glance in my direction, and grouse flew low over the ground, chattering quietly. Otherwise all was quiet and still. 

Mountain hares
 
From Beinn Bhreac to Carn an Fhreiceadain the mist was thick. If the snow cover had been complete I’d have been in a white-out. As it was I could always see rocks or heather in the distance though the snow in front of me appeared completely featureless. A few times I stumbled when the ground rose or fell unexpectedly. Again my progress was slow.

The clouds rolling in
Eventually the summit trig point loomed up, banked by snow but otherwise surrounded by a bare stony plateau. The wind was cold and the time late with sunset not far away. I didn’t linger but was soon descending the track that runs down the Allt Mor glen. Sheltered from the sun the snow here was deeper and unbroken and I was finally able to make good progress on my snowshoes. In places the snow was banked at steep angles across the track and I edged across cautiously, wondering about avalanches. Coming out of the dense cloud I could see tendrils of mist writhing across the glen below me and seeping into the dark trees.

Descending out of the cloud
 
By the time I reached the forest it was dark and under the canopy I needed my headlamp. The track was still snowy and I kept the snowshoes on. The mist drifting through the trees meant I couldn’t see far even with the headlamp as the beam bounced back off the thick air. I passed some big earth movers and various signs warning of the hydro work before reaching a cleared area with sheds and machinery. Beyond this the track reached some fancy gates and a private sign. A building with lights on lay not far inside the gates. I’d seen no junctions but knowing I must have missed one I turned back. Casting round the cleared area I found a half-hidden signpost pointing down a now-muddy track through the trees. Off with the snowshoes and then careful walking as although cleared of snow there were icy patches on the track.

I could hear the rushing waters of the Allt Mor becoming louder and louder, my hearing sharpened in the darkness, then a wide bridge appeared with a blue rope strung across it. Snow covered it and I could see many footprints. I followed only to come to an abrupt stop on the edge of a dark void high above the water. The bridge was not complete. Whether new or damaged I couldn’t tell but what was clear was I couldn’t go on. Back over the blue rope I skittered down the steep loose bank to the river and boulder-hopped across, my feet getting slightly damp as some of the rocks were under six inches of water, to haul myself on to the snow above the steep farther bank. I hadn’t expected to be fording rivers in the dark, my snowshoes clutched under my arm.

The walk had now taken a somewhat unreal air. I’d lost track of the time and seemed to have been in the dark mist-wreathed woods for hours. I knew I couldn’t have far to go yet felt as though I was in a remote wilderness. Eventually a sign appeared pointing back down to the river and to Kingussie. This time the bridge was complete. Up the other side I found myself on the edge of the Kingussie golf course. Again I cast around for a sign or a path. Nothing. Mist drifted over the links. I set off down the fairways, still feeling I was in the middle of nowhere. The golf course seemed to go on for ever. Eventually the club hut appeared and a road and soon my car, an hour and a half later than estimated. 

Thick mist, soft snow, broken bridges, confusing tracks – it had not been the easy day I’d been expecting. But it had been much more interesting.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Slow Thaw Continues

Strathspey and the Cairngorms

As the sunny weather continues and the daytime temperatures creep up to 4 and 5 degrees C, so the gradual thaw continues down in the straths and glens and on the lower hills, though the High Cairngorms remain white. The still low sun means that anywhere with even the slightest slope to the north or east is still snowy whilst anywhere exposed to the sun is mostly bare. This leads to a striped effect on the landscape with lines of snow lacing the hills and fields. The trees though are brown and grey, the heavy snow that decorated their branches just a few days ago gone completely.
 
The Cromdale Hills

Underfoot the snow is crunchy and crusted, breaking when weighted and making walking difficult. Wandering through the fields I took a zigzag route, avoiding the snow wherever possible. Rabbits darted over the grass, able now to eat without having to dig through the snow. A roe deer ventured out from a copse but soon trotted back into the trees. A flock of rooks were noisy in one field and fieldfares called loudly from the trees. After the big freeze nature is coming back to life.

Some of the snow drifts were still deep and extensive with windblown banks pile up in rows against crumbling stone walls. It will be interesting to see how long these last.
  
Snow drifts           





In the sunbshine the air felt warm with hat and gloves superfluous but stepping into the shade or encountering a breeze was a reminder that it's still winter.

Green grass, white snow

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The Great Outdoors Latest Issue: Green Gear, Loch Lomond Camping Restrictions, Insulated Jackets

Camp in the hills high above Loch Lomond

The March issue of The Great Outdoors is in the shops now. In it I've written about environmentally friendly gear and the proposals to further restrict camping around Loch Lomond plus reviewed eight insulated jackets.

The theme of this issue is Winter and there's a big section on the Highlands in winter for which I've written the introduction and suggested some places for wild camping in the snow. Also in this section guidebook writer Dan Bailey chooses three top ridge walks, mountaineer Andreas Heinzl looks at climbing Ben Nevis, instructor Mark Chadwick gives safety tips, author Alan Rowan gives his favourite spot for night skies and wildlife expert and photographer Laurie Campbell suggests birds and animals to watch out for in the snow. And Andy McCandish has an exciting and challenging stormy cycle trip to Ben Alder.

The Winter Lake District is also covered in a big feature by Alan Hinkes. Further afield Alec Forss skis across the Muddus National Park in arctic Sweden.

Winter features in the Hills Skills and Gear sections as well. Terry Adby and Stuart Johnston give advice on how to walk on snow safely and Kirk Watson looks at essential winter gear. Also in Hill Skills Steve Long looks at navigation techniques that are essential year round.

The magazine opens with some splendid snowy vistas too - the Langdale Pikes by Stewart Smith, Helvellyn by Alan Hinkes and the Moine Mhor by David Lintern.

There's much more in this issue of course, Roger Smith looks at global warming and its consequences and pays tribute to conservationist Martin Litton; Ed Byrne experiences a climbing wall; Carey Davies reflects on why Blencathra is special; Jim Perrin praises the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth; and there are reviews of the Montane Axion Neo Alpha jacket and the Vivobarefoot Tracker boots by Daniel Neilson and James Reader.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

A Perfect Day on Cairn Gorm


Dusk over Glenmore and Meall a'Bhuachaille

Thick chilling mist swirled across the road as I drove to Aviemore past fields of soggy, dirty, thawing snow. Not a good day for the hills it seemed. High above though the greyness had a blue tinge, a hint of clear skies. And soon I was leaving the mist behind as the road climbed out of the Glenmore woods and into the mouth of Coire na Ciste. Here I swapped the car for skis and set off up the east shoulder of the long, narrow, steep-sided corrie. 

Coire na Ciste

As I gained height the hills began to appear above the mist. Across Glenmore Meall a’Bhuachaille appeared at first as a tiny tip of white above the clouds but soon became a distinct cone far above the gloomy clouded glen. The snow was glazed and icy, refrozen after a surface thaw, but my climbing skins gripped well and I made steady progress towards the broad north ridge of Cairn Gorm. Many others were about on this fine day – ski tourers and snowshoers making good progress, walkers doing less well as they sank into the crusty snow. 

Meall a'Bhuachaille
 
The air was calm and the sun warm and I soon discarded hat and gloves, not a common occurrence in early February in the Scottish Highlands. The clarity of the air was superb and I gazed across a vast array of snowy hills to distant summits. Once on the ridge I headed for the busy summit of Cairn Gorm. Just for a time a cool breeze swept the slopes and I felt quite chilly even after my hat and gloves were back on but the summit itself was calm. The weather station was decorated with fantastic wind-carved frost, ice and snow. The views were superb.

The Cairngorm Weather Station
 
Retracing my steps, or rather tracks, I went back down the ridge, skittering somewhat on the hard wind-rippled snow, and over to the quiet minor summit of Cnap Coire na Spreidhe, where I could sit alone and watch the landscape and the sky. The mist in the glens was beginning to dissipate now, as it continued to do when I skied on along the ridge, reluctant to leave this spectacular day behind. The sun was dropping towards the horizon though so eventually I turned and traversed back to pick up my ascent route and follow it down to the car. 

Last Light
 
The last hour of the day brought a final burst of beauty as the sky turned pink, then orange then deep red. The lights of Aviemore appeared in the distance as I skidded down the last slopes. What a glorious day!