Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Remembering Steve Perry

Steve Perry on the summit of Ben Hope at the end of his winter Munros round

Last week a mountain accident on Ben Hope shook the outdoor world. Deaths in the mountains are always tragic and sad but this one affected more people than most as the two mountaineers involved, Steve Perry and Andy Nesbit, were very well-known and well-liked. I didn't know Andy, though I had heard of him through his amazing number of first ascents. I did know Steve, though I hadn't seen him for quite a few years. Here I want to remember him and his achievements.

John Manning and Steve Perry on Ben Hope

Steve Perry bridged the worlds of long-distance walking and mountaineering. I met him through my friend and colleague John Manning, Lakeland Walker editor and former TGO deputy editor, who had been a close friend of Steve's for many years. At the time Steve was undertaking some phenomenally long and hard walks. First he walked from Land's End to John O'Groats taking in every 3,000 foot peak along the way. Then came what is arguably the toughest walk ever undertaken in Britain, a continuous round of the Munros in winter. Previously only Martin Moran had done the Munros in one winter, a great achievement, and he had van support and did most of them as day walks. Steve did them as a backpacking trip. No-one has repeated this astonishing journey. Steve wrote about it for The Great Outdoors and the piece has recently been republished on the TGO website. The determination, strength of mind, and skills needed to do this trip astonish me.

I was honoured to be invited to climb Ben Hope, the last peak on the winter Munros round, with Steve and a party of friends. The weather was stormy, with cold rain low down and sleet and snow high up. The traditional champagne wasn't opened until we were back down in the glen.

Steve Perry after completing his winter Munros round

I saw Steve quite often for a few years and we had many long talks on walks and mountains and gear and plans for the future. We were kindred spirits, sharing a love of mountains and wild places. 

The news last week left me stunned. It's taken a while to sink in. Writing this has been difficult but I wanted to say something to honour someone I liked and admired. Steve's achievements are astonishing. Knowing him was a privilege. He will be missed. And Ben Hope will always be his mountain in my mind. I'll never go there or even hear the name without thinking of him. 



Saturday, 9 February 2019

Video on gear for winter hillwalking

About to start talking!

I've just uploaded a video of the gear I use for winter hillwalking. My first video like this. Took three attempts - frozen camera, inaudible audio, wind noise all problems. There's a weird colour change two-thirds of the way through that I can't get rid of or explain. I'll learn! Anyway, here's the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8X6VrV-XOpg

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Gear from long ago performs well


For the first time in a few years the snow has been deep enough for local skiing so I retrieved my oldest skis from the garage. Bought in 1987 for a six-week ski tour in the Canadian Rockies these have become the ones I bring out for skiing from home as they're the only waxless skis I have and for short trips I don't want to mess about with waxes. I don't mind if they get scraped or scratched either. I thought they'd have collapsed long before now. Not that I have any new skis. My most recent pair are eighteen years old.


In their day these Asnes Nansen skis were wide. They look narrow now. As I was using such old skis I also got out my Swix Mountain poles, which are a bit younger, dating from the early 1990s. These non-adjustable poles are very tough and have big baskets with leather cross-pieces and leather grips. My boots are the same age as the poles - Garmont Tours, which are really just leather walking boots with a sole with that square toe that clips into three-pin bindings. There are supergaiters permanently attached to the boots. I haven't removed them for decades. I just flip off the toes to stop the tension curling the boots.


To go with the old ski gear I dug out some old clothing. Most ancient of all was a Helly-Hansen double-pile jacket dating from 1982 and which I took on the Pacific Crest Trail. Fleece wasn't around then and fibre-pile jackets were standard for walkers and climbers though not for general wear as they very quickly looked scruffy - the rough soon outers covered in balls of fibres, known as pilling. The double-pile jacket didn't suffer from this as it has pile on both sides, as the name suggests. This makes it very warm for the weight (580 grams). It's longer than most modern fleece jackets and has cuffs with thumb loops, an extended back, handwarmer pockets and chunky zips. I wore it a great deal in the 1980s but haven't done so for many years. It's still in good condition.

To go with the pile jacket I found a ragg wool hat and a Ventile jacket, both from sometime in the 1990s. The hat is double-layer and very warm. The jacket is double-layer too. It's called the Snowsled Wilderness and is longer than most modern jackets, which I like. It has a good wired hood and five roomy pockets. Ventile is soft, quiet and breathable and excellent for cold, dry conditions. I remember it does keep out rain but goes stiff when wet and takes ages to dry. I found the Wilderness jacket very comfortable. It's heavy at 1.19kg but I didn't notice this when skiing.



All this old gear performed well, just as well as modern gear would, on a ski tour in sub-zero temperatures and with a gusty cold wind at times. It's all lasted well too. Good gear has always been durable. Taking this stuff out reminded me that I was as comfortable in the 1980s and 1990s as I am now.


Tuesday, 5 February 2019

The Great Outdoors March issue


The latest issue of The Great Outdoors is in the shops now. I've contributed to a piece on favourite gear for winter along with Judy Armstrong, David Lintern, and Alex Roddie. I also review ten of the latest headlamps.

Unsurprisingly several features have a winter feel. Stefan Durkacz describes an interesting snowy backpacking trip to the remote hills south of Achnashellach. Conditions were perfect and David Lintern captures the splendour of the areas in his photos illustrating the piece.

David Lintern also writes about a winter navigation course in really challenging conditions in the Cairngorms, also illustrated with his dramatic photos - it takes great skill and commitment to get good pictures in such weather.


A frozen Pendle Hill is climbed by Jim Perrin for his Mountain Portrait page and he also looks at the history of this famous hill.

Further south Rich Bunce recalls venturing out in Wharfedale during 'the Beast from the East' storm last winter while in the Lake District James Deboo has a winter packraft trip on Ullswater.

Much, much further south Judy Armstrong praises ski touring in Greece, not a country I'd ever thought of for that before. Judy makes it sound very appealing.

Away from snowy stories Richard Baynes visits the new Kingshouse Hotel at the head of Glencoe, TGO Challenge co-ordinators Sue Oxley and Ali Ogden celebrate the bonds forged on the event, and Roger Smith looks at the proliferation of small hydro schemes in Scotland.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

On Meall a'Bhuachaille in the snow

Cairn Gorm & the Northern Corries from Meall a'Bhuachaille

Leaving behind the magical forest described in my last post I started the climb up Meall a'Bhuachaille. How quickly the world changed and opened up, the views vast, the confines of the trees vanishing far below. My interest now stretched to far horizons over rolling white mountains. Underfoot the snow was soft. Off the path it was deep and I was glad others had beaten down the path the summit. I met a walker, descending past me and taking a direct line through the soft snow, easy enough going down. I stayed on the path.

Walker descending to Ryvoan Pass

Even though the temperature was below zero there was no breeze and climbing was hot work Once on the summit I quickly realised how cold it was and was glad I'd brought a down jacket. It was an hour before sunset and I was planning on staying to watch the light change.

On the summit

The panorama from the summit was superb. This is one of the great viewpoints of the Cairngorms. Out along Strathspey layers of mist shrouded the towns and roads. Over there was my home. It looked as though it was under a grey gloomy cloud.

Strathspey

Down in Glen More sparkling Loch Morlich was almost completely ice-covered, a pale lozenge in the dark forest. Far to the west the sky was beginning to turn pink as the sun slid towards the horizon.

Loch Morlich

Out beyond the Cairngorms thin mist was forming in the glens as the hills darkened into ethereal silhouettes. Clouds on the horizon caught the last of the sun.

Mist forming

Sunset came with a flash of orange. Pink light briefly suffused the snow. Then it was cold and grey, the only brightness in the thin band of clouds above the now hidden sun. Time to go. I crunched down the snow, aware of the increasing cold.

Sunset

The brilliant colours on the horizon held my eyes as I descended towards the forest, pulling me on. As I reached the first trees there was a final glorious burst of brightness then it was into the dark forest, my headlamp needed to light the way.

Last light

Meall a'Bhuachaille is a favourite hill. I climb it several times a year. Every time is different, every time is enjoyable. But this was special.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

In the Winter Forest


With a promise of sunshine and clear views I headed out intending to climb to the Cairngorm Plateau and revel in the snowy mountains. But driving to Aviemore and then down Glen More I was distracted by trees, trees shimmering and glistening with fresh snow, magical in the clearing mist and first shafts of sunlight. The idea of walking in the winter forest was enticing. The trees were calling.


By the time I reached Loch Morlich my plans had changed. The forest had won. I would wander through the trees to Ryvoan Pass and then head up Meall a'Bhuachaille, combining forest and hill.


Sun and snow and trees, a magical combination. Scots pines heavy with great slabs of snow, birches delicate and fragile, dressed in thin silvery shards. There was no wind, no sound. My boots were noisy on the crisp snow. Stopping often I absorbed the silence, the quiet adding to the feel of another world, the familiar landscape transformed by snow.


Lochan Uaine was frozen, the ice covered with snow, a white lochan now. Tracks showed where people had been out on the ice. Frosted trees stood silently round the shore, waiting maybe, but for what?


As the trees began to thin it was the last birches that stood out, entrancing jewels shining in the sunshine.




An icy path led out of the trees. I looked back, down through the forest and out to distant hills. Now it was time for the hills. But that's for my next post.



Wednesday, 30 January 2019

What I've Been Reading Online Recently No. 2

The snow returns. Strathspey. January 27.

Here's the second instalment of interesting pieces I've been reading online. This covers the last two weeks.

OUTDOORS

The winter Cape Wrath Trail gear list 

Nest month Alex Roddie sets out to walk the Cape Wrath Trail. Here he lists the gear he'll be using and his thinking behind his choices.

How to go Munro bagging by train

Fiona Outdoors describes some excellent Munro walks that can be accessed by train.

What is a thru-hike?

Paul Mags looks at possible definitions of thru-hiking.

The CDT Gear Guide: Class of 2018 Survey

A detailed look at the gear used by Continental Divide Trail hikers last year. It's very different from the stuff I used in 1985 when I hiked this magnificent route.

How Does The Insulation In A Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Work?

Philip Werner explains how these air mattresses keep you warm.

How Scotland can create a network of world-class walking routes 

Some ideas from Scottish Wildlife Trust chief executive Jonny Hughes

Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Uberlite sleeping pad review

Comprehensive review and test report of this astonishingly light new sleeping mat by Andrew Marshall.


CONSERVATION & ENVIRONMENT

Trust pays tribute to legendary mountain ecologist Adam Watson

Adam Watson: an appreciation

The sad death of mountaineer, conservationist and Cairngorms expert Adam Waston is marked in these tributes from The John Muir Trust and Cairngormswanderer.

Insect collapse: "We are destroying our life support systems"

Disturbing piece about the disappearance of insects

It's time to make space for nature

Jonny Hughes of the Scottish Wildlife Trust worries about the homogenization of nature

What is a wildcat?

Dr Andrew Kitchener of Scottish Wildcat Action looks at the different types of wildcats

Is wilderness our home?

Thought-provoking essay on the dangers of idealising wilderness

Oceans Are Warming Faster Than Expected

Worrying climate change report

Evolution is Not the Cause of Selfish Capitalism

Douglas Rushkoff says nature is a collaborative act