Monday, 24 October 2016

Through the desert, Death Valley.

Alien worlds at the finish of this superb walk. This morning I woke alone in the desert watching the day awaken. This evening I'm half way up a hotel tower in Las Vegas. Outside there are searingly bright artificial lights. Thunderous music surges up from the street. In between these places I walked across the weird Death Valley playa, 280 feet below sea level, crunching through the salt crust, and then hitched two rides, both with very pleasant Canadians (thanks folks), to Furnace Creek and then Las Vegas, the latter mostly in heavy rain, the first of the trip.

Before this surreal last day I'd crossed the Inyo Mountains, walked through the Joshua tree forest of Lee Flats, then descended from the Darwin Plateau to pretty Darwin Falls, the first water in 55 miles. Then came restaurant food at the Panamint Springs Resort followed by a walk across the flat shining white Panamint playa and then along the valley and up to the Panamint Mountains and an ascent of Telescope Peak, at 11,048 feet the highest peak in Death Valley National Park. From the summit I looked over Death Valley itself, far below, and out to mountain ranges vanishing into the distance, perhaps the best view of the whole walk.

Now it's time to go home and see how the Cairngorms are getting on. In the meantime here are some pictures of the last week.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Through the High Sierra

Since my last post I've crossed six passes over 10,000 feet high, descended into Kings Canyon, climbed Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the High Sierra and in the 48 contiguous States, and finally descended out of the mountains to Lone Pine in Owens Valley, the first place with a good Internet connection since Reds Meadow. Most significantly though I've revelled in the beauty and splendour of the wilderness.

Now the Sierra Nevada is behind me. Tomorrow I will head up into the desert Inyo Mountains laden with water.

Here are some pictures of the last two weeks.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Hot Weather to Reds Meadow

After the last Scottish summer I wasn't prepared for the heat of a High Sierra autumn. The sun has blazed down every day with few clouds in the sky. Ascents have been arduous, especially as I've had to carry much water as many creeks are dry.

From Yosemite Valley I climbed up past Nevada Falls then left the masses on this popular day hike for the solitude of the Illilouette Creek valley. Here I met a black bear with two cubs close to the trail. The latter immediately scrambled up tree trunks and clung on while their mother hissed at me and charged a few steps. I backed away slowly until she was almost out of sight. Then she moved towards her cubs and further from the trail. I continued and she hissed one more time to remind me to keep away from her cubs.

Since then the walk has been uneventful. I've crossed two spectacular passes - Red Peak and Isberg -, wandered through magnificent red fir forest, gazed over beautiful timberline lakes, slept out under the stars, and then descended to this quiet resort and the luxuries of a cabin and a café.

From here I continue south to King's Canyon, wondering how long the heat will last.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

In Yosemite Valley

After hour on planes and trains and buses I finally arrived in Yosemite Valley last night. The ground was wet after a day of rain but above the tall trees I could see stars and today the dawn was clear and cold. Despite the masses of people it was quiet and still as few were yet awake. I wandered through the silent forest and gazed at the reflections of the already sunlit cliffs in the waters of the Merced River. Soon I will take my first steps on the trail.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

A Walk from Yosemite Valley to Death Valley

In a few days I'm off on a long walk in California. If all goes to plan I'll be going from Yosemite Valley through the High Sierra to Death Valley picking up a few peaks along the way.

The High Sierra is one of my favourite places and this'll be my first visit in fourteen years, which is far too long to stay away. I've been there in spring and summer before but never in autumn. I've never been to Death Valley before nor the mountain ranges surrounding it. I'm hoping to climb the highest summit 11,049 feet (3,367 m) Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range before descending to Badwater in Death Valley itself at -282 feet )-86m). I've wanted to visit the Panamints and Death Valley ever since reading Colin Fletcher's account of crossing the area in his wonderful book The Thousand-Mile Summer many years ago.

By going in autumn I'm hoping to avoid the first winter snow in the High Sierra and also the summer heat in Death Valley. My route across the High Sierra has been planned with the excellent Tom Harrison Maps and R.J.Secor's comprehensive book The High Sierra Peaks-Passes- Trails, which I'll have with me as an e-book, plus knowledge from my previous trips. Once I leave the High Sierra I'll follow in reverse Brett Tucker's Lowest to Highest route.

One aspect of the walk I'm particularly looking forward to is sleeping under the stars, something I rarely do in Scotland, especially in summer when the midges are biting. I'm hoping for camp sites like the one in this picture, taken on a 500-mile circular route in the High Sierra back in 2002.

I'll be posting updates and pictures here and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram when I can get a connection.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

A Wander Over Helvellyn


A few weeks ago on a brief trip down south to the Lake District I spent a blustery sunny day walking over Helvellyn, a hill I haven't climbed for many, many years. I'd forgotten how its central position gives such wonderful spacious views over the Lake District and beyond to the Pennine hills, the Solway Firth and more.

The Vale of Keswick, Skiddaw and the distant Solway Firth
Our way into the fells led up through the old Greenside Lead Mine, which closed in 1962 but which in the 1940s was the largest producer of lead ore in Britain. Today the signs of the mining are slowly fading on the scarred hillsides. Climbing steeply beside Sticks Gill we entered the wide and long upper valley of that stream and followed the path to Sticks Pass on the main south-north Helvellyn ridge. This is surprisingly quiet country for the Lake District, without many people about even on a sunny August day.

View over the Greenside Mine to Glenridding and Ullswater

This changed abruptly as we reached the summit of Helvellyn. Suddenly there were people everywhere, most coming from the direction of Striding Edge. After gazing at the vast views we debated going down that rocky ridge but decided that the numbers of people meant progress would be very slow. There aren't many places you can easily pass others. Instead we went down the shorter Swirral Edge, along with many others, and then down to the foot of Red Tarn.

View down to Red Tarn and Ullswater

Crossing below Catstycam we lost most of the people and also the wind, making it a hot final walk back to the cars. As we took out last steps I thought of many previous trips on this fine big hill. Swooping along it on skis on a snowy day, skittering down an icy Swirral edge with crampons and ice axe, pacing a friend through the night on his Bob Graham Round, bivvying on the summit to watch the midsummer sunrise. It was good to return.

Looking back to Catstycam

Monday, 12 September 2016

Update: Funding secured for three years. Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) threatened with funding cut

Difficult conditions in the winter Cairngorms
Update from MWIS on September 14. There has been a resolution and finding has been secured.

For many years now I have consulted the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) forecasts and made decisions about my hill activities based on them, especially outside of summer. I know of no other dedicated forecast that provides the same detailed information, let alone in such an easy to understand manner. That I’m not alone in this was shown over the last weekend when there was an outpouring of comment on social media after it became clear that the future of MWIS is threatened by a funding cut. I’ve rarely seen so many comments, shares and likes on any outdoor topic before. MWIS is clearly important to many people.

Statements have been made by Geoff Monks of MWIS, Mountaineering Scotland (formerly the MCofS), SportScotland (the funding body), and Shaun Roberts, Head of Centre at Glenmore Lodge, Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre. These can all be found on The Great Outdoors website. Reading them makes it clear that there is disagreement between the various parties but that none of those disagreeing with Geoff Monks deny the plan to cut funding.

This, I think, is a serious situation. I agree with Mountaineering Scotland when it says that MWIS offers unique features that have earned massive support in the mountaineering community and made it the number one choice.' At present there is no credible alternative for forecasts that can be critical in winter. These forecasts are important for safe decision making. 

Whatever the causes of the dispute that is obviously going on it needs resolving fast. The first winter storms will soon be here. Given the amount of work Geoff Monks has put into MWIS it would be a shame if the service ceases. What is most important though is that we continue to have a dedicated mountain weather forecast service at least as good as MWIS. Nothing else is acceptable. This is a safety issue.

There's a petition about this here. Please sign if you'd like to see MWIS continue.