Thursday, 26 March 2020

Far away and twenty years ago: On the Arizona Trail

Antelope Peak

On this day twenty years ago I was on a cross-country section of the Arizona Trail, walking through the desert below Antelope Creek. Part of the day was spent in aptly named Bloodsucker Wash, though the bloodsuckers plants not vampires. In my journal I wrote "slow going picking a way through cactii and spiky catclaw and mesquite bushes. Teddybear cholla especially bad as lots of small pieces on the ground - stabbed several times, used poles to remove them".

Monday, 23 March 2020

Some reading for when we can return to the hills

With plans for walks long and short on hold for the foreseeable future I'm spending time thinking about where I'll go when all this is over. Daydreaming is a way to cope.

Over the years I've posted dozens of features on all aspects of walking on this site. They're all free to read and maybe they can give some inspiration and enjoyment during this difficult time. I've gathered lists of some of them together. Here they are:

Lightweight Backpacking


Backpacking Photography

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Music Review: The Woods by Hamish Napier

Music is always a solace in difficult times like these. Much music is inspired by the outdoors and that's the case with a new album I've been listening to over the last few days, The Woods, by local musician and composer Hamish Napier. Commissioned by Cairngorms Connect The Woods is inspired by the Caledonian Forest.

There is a tune for each of the eighteen letters of the Gaelic alphabet, traditionally taught as the old names of native trees, plus ones for various forest fauna and flora. The music, which Hamish Napier says is 'rooted in traditional Scottish folk dance tunes forms', is rich and complex, a weaving together of many elements, just like a forest. It's repaying many listens.

A booklet accompanies the CD with a page on each tree packed with information plus lovely artwork by Somhairle MacDonald and photos by David Russell.

This is a tremendous piece of work and highly recommended. It can be bought from Hamish Napier's website. 

Friday, 20 March 2020

A spring equinox walk in the woods, thoughts on a dark time

A beautiful sunny spring equinox, the air sharp and crisp after a deep frost. I went to see how spring is faring in some favourite local woods. It's barely noticeable. Only clusters of hazel catkins show any change from winter. There are no flowers on the forest floor, not even any green shoots. Leaf buds are tight and brown. But this will all change soon. Despite the chill east wind the sun felt warm on the skin. Every day its power grows.  Far across the trees the Cairngorms rose, shining white. More snow now than at any time this winter. Curlews called from a meadow, back from the coast to nest. They know the seasons are changing.

Alone in the woods I could forget for a while the deep crisis affecting the human world. Whilst I was in the trees the government ordered all bars, restaurants, cafes, clubs, gyms and more closed, to try and halt the spread of coronavirus. The world in turmoil. Social distancing, self-isolation. I'm used to solitude and can probably cope more easily than most. I saw no-one all day and was quite happy with this.

Everybody is affected in some way though. For the outdoor world - my world - it means a closure of facilities from outdoor centres to walkers pubs. Many people are self-employed and working as much for love as for money. What now when the work ceases? I know guides, instructors, cafe owners and others who are seriously worried about the future. No-one knows what support will be available. Even the experts can't say how long it will last. Three months? A year? Too long, for certain.

I've only lost a little work so far. Books and magazines are still for sale. For those far from the hills this could be a time to catch up with outdoor reading and support the many self-employed outdoor writers. 

Nature brings solace, for those of us within easy reach. I am thankful I live here, on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. Is it responsible to go out? I think so, as long as little contact is made with others. Advice from Mountain Rescue, Mountaineering Scotland, the British Mountaineering Council and others is that going to the hills is healthy and good but risks should be avoided. Sticking to familiar places and safe routes is wise.

I hadn't meant to write about the coronavirus crisis but I've found it's all-pervasive at present. We will have to live with it for quite a while. Once restrictions are eased supporting people and businesses will be important. Outdoor guides, cafes, pubs, campsites, accommodation will all need lots of customers.

I wish everyone as easy a journey as possible as we move through this dark time.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Snow, clouds, sky, light.

A few days ago I wandered up onto the hills above Glen Feshie. The sky clouded over as I reached the snow and the light was shining and grey. The lines of the hills were accentuated by the low sun cutting under the clouds. I was fascinated by the shapes and shades, the curving lines, the cold northern feel.

The snow was deep in places, hard going even with snowshoes, and there was a bitter wind sending waves of spindrift spinning across the landscape.

Towards the end of the day as I dropped down below the snow there was finally colour in the landscape, orange and yellow in the western sky.

The Great Outdoors April Issue

The April issue of The Great Outdoors is in the shops now. My contribution is a review of ten head torches. Also in the gear pages there are pieces by two new testers - Lucy Wallace reviews five pairs of women's waterproof trousers and Mark Waring tries four packrafts. Mark also has a feature on the trip in Knoydart on which the packrafts were tested, with photographs by David Lintern.

The opening spread of this issue is a wonderful photo by Simon Atkinson of a winter sunset over Liathach in Torridon, taken from high on Beinn Eighe.

Aside from packrafting the big features are a piece on four Lake District horseshoe walks in winter - Fairfield, Kentmere, Newlands and Coledale - by Ronald Turnbull; James Roddie climbing Ben Nevis via the Carn Mor Dearg Arete; and Mikaela Toczek snowshoeing in Slovenia's Julian Alps. All the features are illustrated with mouth-watering photos.

Elsewhere in the magazine Hanna Lindon gives advice on how to climb Mont Blanc; Roger Smith considers calls for more national parks in Scotland and reviews John Murray's Reading the Gaelic Landscape; Sue Oxley and Ali Ogden look at what makes for good company on a long-distance walk; and Jim Perrin praises Dduallt in Snowdonia.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Video interview with The Trail Hunter

A few days ago I sat in the Craigellachie birch woods getting wet and being filmed and interviewed by The Trail Hunter for his YouTube channel. By the end of the interview I was getting rather cold, especially my hands, but I didn't mind as I was happy to indulge in reminiscences about the Pacific Crest and other trails and about my life as an outdoor writer.

Russ - The Trail Hunter - is on his way to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Somehow he found time to edit and post the interview before he left. Here's the link.

An interview with Chris Townsend - Pacific Crest Trail and Writing for a Thru-hike