Saturday, 24 June 2017

Snow & Spate on the Pacific Crest Trail

Larry Lake crossing McCabe Creek

This year deep late snow has made the Pacific Crest Trail very hazardous from the High Sierra northwards with many hikers getting into difficulties - see this piece in Outside magazine. Stories from the trail remind me of my own PCT thru'-hike in similar conditions back in 1982.  That year the mountains were also snowbound late into the hiking season. I teamed up with three other hikers for the traverse of the High Sierra, during which we rarely saw the trail, and needed the ice axes, crampons and snowshoes/skis we were carrying every day. Going without these and the skill to use them would have been very foolish.

In the High Sierra

Some of the passes proved difficult and somewhat scary to cross, especially steep Forester Pass, the highest on the PCT. Fearful of avalanches we climbed to the passes early in the day when the snow was still hard, then tried to reach the base of the next pass before the snow became too soft even for snowshoes and skis.

High on the ascent of Forester Pass

Even more scary than the steep snow slopes were the creek fords in the Yosemite Wilderness as the snow began to melt. Over a five day period we crossed many raging torrents, sometimes crawling across spiky logs inches above the crashing water, sometimes wading and barely keeping our feet, sometimes using a rope.

Fording Tilden Creek

The traverse of the High Sierra remains one of the high points of my life. I hope those hikers there now have as an exciting and inspiring time and that they all make it through safely.

You can read more about my trip and see more pictures in my book Rattlesnakes and Bald Eagles: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

Friday, 23 June 2017

John Muir Trust takes on Helvellyn


After much discussion and deliberation the John Muir Trust has taken on the management of the Glenridding Common estate in the Lake District. This runs from Sticks Pass in the north to Striding Edge in the south and includes the summit and east side of Helvellyn plus Catstycam, Red Tarn, Birkhouse Moor, and Glenridding Beck.


The opportunity for the JMT to do this first arose in 2014 when the Lake District National Park (LDNP) said it wished to review the areas it owned. Last August a group of JMT Trustees (of which I am one) and Staff walked the estate to gain a view of the area and think about what the JMT could offer in terms of management. We decided this was something the JMT should do.

JMT Trustees and Staff climbing up to Sticks Pass

The LDNP undertook a public consultation before deciding to lease the estate to the JMT for three years. Richard Leafe, Chief Executive of the LDNP, said "we look forward to seeing how the Trust’s management will enhance and improve the environmental quality of this land". Andrew Bachell, Chief Executive of the John Muir Trust, said: “we’re looking forward to finalising the details of a lease and then having further conversations with local people and organisations to agree a management plan that will enhance and benefit the local area. We take the responsibility of managing this special landscape and respecting its cultural traditions seriously and feel delighted and privileged to have been given the opportunity to do so.” You can read the full statement from the JMT here.

I think this is an exciting move by the JMT - one I have supported strongly in Trustee meetings - and I'm looking forward to the next three years with great interest and hope. This is the JMT's first land management venture outside of Scotland and I think it could be really significant.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Back home from the OutDoor Trade Show, Friedrichshafen

Three days at the OutDoor Industry Trade Show in Friedrichshafen. Interesting new gear. Sore feet. Hot and humid. Too much artificial bright light. Conversations with friends and colleagues. Overall an enjoyable if tiring time. For the first time I tracked the mileage I covered tramping round the vast halls. It averaged 11 miles a day! Add on the 3 mile round trip to and from my lodging and that's 14 miles a day, virtually all on hard concrete and tarmac.

During the show I posted pictures and short comments on the gear I saw. You can find these on my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds. I also wrote daily summaries for the The Great Outdoors which you can find on the TGO website.

As well as the gear stands there are talks and presentations. I attended one from the excellent European Outdoor Conservation Association about the various projects its members fund.

I also attended the OutDoor Industry Awards presentation, for which I was one of the judges. You can see all the winners here.

The Outdoor Blogger Network had their own area at the show and OutDoor clearly regards it as having increasing importance. I was invited to their anniversary celebration and it was good to meet people I'd only had internet contact with or had only met briefly previously, especially Hendrik Morkel and Carsten Jost. I was also delighted and surprised to meet Glen van Peski of Gossamer Gear. Whilst the show is about looking at gear it's the people who really make it worthwhile.

Friday, 16 June 2017

OutDoor Show, Friedrichshafen, 2017

Tomorrow I'm heading out to Friedrichshafen via Aberdeen, Paris and Zurich for the huge OutDoor industry trade show. I'll be spending three days wandering the aircraft-hangar style halls looking at gear and searching for anything new and interesting. I'm there on behalf of The Great Outdoors and I'll be sending short reports back for posting on the magazine website and also tweeting comments and pictures on the magazine's Twitter feed - @TGOMagazine. I'll probably post some stuff on Facebook too.

When I get back I'll write a fuller report for the August issue.

Long journey tomorrow. I'm hoping it's going to be worth it.

Coincidental Entanglement: the John Muir Trust and the OutDoor Show

Loch Linnhe, Fort William

Just over two weeks ago I was in Fort William for the John Muir Trust AGM and Members' Gathering. On returning home I had one day free before I headed off to Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance to be one of the judges for this year's OutDoor Industry Awards.

A side note from these two trips: in Fort William I had time for a stroll beside Loch Linnhe, and noted how this arm of the sea looks like an inland lake. In Friedrichshafen I visted Lake Constance and noted how this inland lake looks like the sea.

Lake Constance and Friedrichshafen

Now having those two meetings follow each other somewhat inconveniently closely is something I'd probably have quickly forgotten. But it's about to happen again. On June 16 I go down to Pitlochry for a John Muir Trust Trustees meeting. Then the very next day I go back to Friedrichshafen for the OutDoor Show itself. From conservation to gear again. Both about the outdoors, though in very different ways. And both involving spending a lot of time indoors.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Coire Garbhlach, a 'secret' canyon

In the heart of the canyon

Cairngorm corries are generally big and wide, spacious curving bowls carved out of the mountainside and visible from afar. Coire Garbhlach is different. Coire Garbhlach is narrow, twisting and hidden, more of a canyon than a coire, a deep cut gouged deep into the hills. A side valley of Glen Feshie it's passed by many walkers. Few ever venture into though. That I think is because from below, from the path that crosses the Allt Garbhlach on its way up Glen Feshie it doesn't look special or even very interesting. That's because you can't really see it. You're only looking at its mouth, a green V between steep slopes. Venture through that V and a marvellous hidden world is revealed.

View up the canyon

With rain and high winds continuing a day on the tops didn't seem appealing so I decided to visit Coire Garbhlach again during a short gap between much desk work and many indoor meetings. This was the first time I'd been there since winter floods had ripped out the path at the confluence of the Allt Garbhlach with the River Feshie and I wondered what I'd see upstream.

Following the burn is hard work, not due to the angle, which is gentle, but due to the terrain, a mass of heather tussocks and boggy grass. Often I followed the banks of stones lining the stream, finding wobbling over these loose rocks easier than fighting through the vegetation above. In many places big sections of the hillside had collapsed and there was much loose rubble. There's no path, just a few sketchy deer tracks.

Looking down to Glen Feshie

With no rain since the previous day the burn wasn't in spate though it was still deep and fast, roaring noisily down the canyon. There were many flowers on the banks - tormentil, butterwort, violets, daisies, buttercups, lady's smock, moss campion and more. Grey wagtails and dippers darted along the waters edge. A deer watched me from above, probably startled to see a human here.

The waterfall

Once round the first curve in the canyon the outside world vanishes. Glen Feshie is gone, the summits above hidden. This feels a closed-in, secretive place. I wandered as a far as a fine waterfall then sat and watched the water, mesmerised by the delicate yet powerful torrent and the constant sparkling of the falling drops. Above these falls the canyon splits in two and ends in steep stony slopes rising up to the Moine Mhor. With no time to climb these this day I turned and descended back to the open space of Glen Feshie, refreshed and content.

Monday, 12 June 2017

June 12, 1982, I was on the Pacific Crest Trail in Yosemite National Park

Dave Rhebhen in soft snow in Yosemite National Park, trying to follow the PCT. June 12, 1982

This year Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail hikers are having to deal with deep snow in the High Sierra. The same was true 35 years ago for my PCT hike. After taking 23 days to cross the snowbound mountains from Kennedy Meadows to Mammoth Lakes I'd left the latter place after several days eating vast quantities of food with 17 days food and a pack weighing 92lbs - and that was after I'd ditched crampons and snowshoes!

Travelling with three American companions it took four arduous days slogging through soft snow to hike the forty miles to Tuolumne Meadows which we reached on June 12. On that day we forded ice cold, thigh deep Rush Creek and crossed Donohoe Pass, the last pass above 11,000 feet on the PCT for northbound hikers. From there we descended to Lyell Canyon, which was snow free so the last nine miles to Tuolumne Meadows only took three hours.

The full story of my PCT hike is told in my book Rattlesnakes and Bald Eagles.