Friday, 9 August 2019

On this day ... on the Continental Divide Trail in 1985

Squaretop Mountain, Wind River Range, August 9, 1985

On this day thirty-four years ago I was approaching Squaretop Mountains and the Wind River Range on the Continental Divide Trail. It was my seventy-second day and when I set up my tent that evening I'd walked 995 miles from the Canadian border.

Some journal entries from the day:

"A frost. -1C in the tent. Boots frozen! A clear sky ay 6 a.m."

"3 cups of coffee this morning. Where is that sun?!"

"7.45 - sunshine! Time to pack up and move."

"Mislaid route hopelessly".

"Pitched the tent on the edge of the trees and facing up the valley to the steep, rugged edge of the mountains. A grand view, pink with the last rays of the setting sun."

The words bring back memories, the aroma of the trees, the feel of the landscape, the excitement of the trail. Close my eyes and I could still be there.

Next week I will be. The Rocky Mountains.  Not the Wind River Range but Southern Colorado, following the CDT and the Colorado Trail for 400 miles.

Excitement is building.


Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Planning: I still prefer maps and guidebooks


I'm well into planning my walk in the Colorado Rockies - which basically means finding out where there are resupply points, deciding what gear to take, and gazing at maps wondering about possible summits and variations to interesting sounding places.

I don't do detailed planning. I don't plan on a set mileage each day or where I'll camp each evening. As long as I know how far it is to the next supply point and how much food I need to get there I'm happy. As an average I reckon on 15 miles per day, as that's what it's been on just about every long distance walk for the last forty years, though I did end up doing more than that on the GR5 last autumn and the TGO Challenge this May. That's an average though. I may do 5 miles one day, 25 the next, depending on how I feel.

For me planning is a mix of practicalities and daydreams. I prefer the latter! Just looking at maps and flipping through guidebooks gets me excited about a walk. I love spreading maps out on the floor and tracing routes across them. That's one reason I still prefer physical maps to digitial ones. I also like them on the walk too because I can use them to see what's around me. Yes, you can scroll on a screen but you can't see the overall picture.

I do like digital maps and guides for navigation and information during the walk and I have the Guthook CDT guide and The Continental Divide Trail Coalition Map Set on my phone. I'm sure I'll refer to them frequently but it'll be the printed maps that I spread out on summits and passes to see what's around me. I wouldn't be without them.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Thinking about The Continental Divide Trail and my forthcoming Colorado Rockies walk

At the US/Canada border at the start of the Continental Divide Trail, 1985

"Bear tracks, some grizzly, on the trail". Journal entry, August 5, 1985.

I'd just left Yellowstone National Park for the Teton Wilderness when I saw these tracks. It was the sixty-eigth day since I set off and I'd walked 920 miles south from Canada. I still had over 2,000 miles to go. The Continental Divide Trail was proving a glorious, challenging adventure.

Soon I wouldn't need to worry about watching for grizzly bears and keeping a clean camp - not a good thing as it meant I'd be in places where the bears had been exterminated. There were still black bears though and wild beautiful mountains and forests.

Camp in the Wind River Range

By the time I reached Southern Colorado over a month later thoughts of grizzly bears were long gone. Snow was now my concern and it caused me to miss much of the CDT itself so I'm going back to finally walk that section this month, as I said in this post

The last week I've been finalising bookings, deciding what gear to take, and finishing off work and other stuff that must be done before I depart. It's all a rush as usual and makes me wonder how I ever planned a six-month walk back in 1985 when it takes this much effort to plan a month long one.

I'll post a gear list once I've made final decisions. Most will be much lighter than in 1985 when my pack weighed 7lbs (3.17kg) and my tent 6lbs (2.72kg).

Somewhere in the woods on the Continental Divide Trail

One big difference will be communications. Back in 1985 I sent postcards to people. That was it. Most of the time no-one knew where I was or how I was doing. There was no internet, no satellite communicator, no smartphone. I'll have both the last two on this walk and I'll be using the first to post pictures and updates whenever I have a signal. I'm sure the walk, though, will be just as exciting.

Camp in the desert, New Mexico, with replacement pack and water bottle after the first ones broke.





Saturday, 3 August 2019

What I've Been Reading Online No.10: Nature

Meadow flowers, Strathspey, July 18

The second part of pieces I've enjoyed reading online recently covers nature. Next will be conservation.

Could we introduce lynx to Scotland?
A persuasive case from the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

The Lost Words: An Illustrated Dictionary of Poetic Spells Reclaiming the Language of Nature
A lovely review of Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris's wonderful The Lost Words by Maria Popova.

Storks are back in Britain - and they're a beacon of hope for us all
Isabella Tree welcomes the return of storks and the message it sends.

Ragwort: friend or foe?
Biologist and nature writer Paul Sterry shows how this common wildflower has a bad name for no good reason.

Fascinating Wolf Pictures Captured By Michigan Photographer Mark Graf
A wonderful set of photos.  

Wildflower Verge or Colourful Eyesore?
Paul Sterry makes the case for leaving roadside verges uncut. 

A Short History of Scotland's Lost Species 1: The Elk
First in a new and fascinating series byDavid Hetherington, author of the excellent 'The Lynx and Us' and Ecology Advisor at the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

Can camera trapping help capture predator ecology?
Studying predators and prey in the Cairngorms National Park.

A Short History of Scotland's Lost Species 2: The Bear
Second in David Hetherington's new series.

Bearded vultures soar again in Alps after breeding scheme
A successful wildlife comeback.

Can I take it home? Nature's collectibles and the law 
Mar Lodge ranger and nature writer Ben Dolphin looks at the complexities of the law regarding taking home bits of nature.




Friday, 2 August 2019

What I've Been Reading Online No. 9: Outdoors

Evening light over the Cairngorms, July 27

I've found so much of interest to read online in recent weeks that I'm dividing it up, somewhat arbitrarily, into sections, starting with outdoor activity topics.

Walkers are middle-aged, hikers are cool
An interesting and encouraging article about how young people are taking up walking (or hiking, or whatever anyone wants to call it).

Digitised Diaries - Gwen Moffat: Storm on La Meije, 1959
A dramatic day in the Alps described by Britain's first female mountain guide 

Adventurer to follow in footsteps of trailblazing nature writer Nan Shepherd 
Elise Wortley is setting off into the Cairngorms following the walks of Nan Shepherd 

How an app made hiking easier - with unintended consequence  
A phone app has made hiking America's long trails much easier

Searching for Russell's caves on the Pyrenean Haute Route 
Researching a new guide book for the Pyrenean Haute Route Tom Martens has an adventure searching for the caves built high in the mountains in the late nineteenth century by pioneer Henry Russell

40 years of Walks and Climbs in the Pyrenees  
Kev Reynolds tells the story of his classic guide to the Pyrenees, which is now is forty years old. 

The Battle for the Cambrian Way
Establishing this route the length of Wales was a big struggle.

New Hampshire Hiker Sets Epic, 576-Summit Speed Record on White Mountains Grid
Story of Philip Garcia summiting 48 peaks over 4,000' every month for a year.

On Reaching the End of the Trail 
Facing up to being unable to hike any more

Wild moment: The playground of giants
A long run in the Cairngorms in the footsteps of Nan Shepherd


 

 

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Off to the Colorado Rockies! Unfinished Business on the Continental Divide Trail

View from James Peak, September 12, 1985, Continental Divide Trail

Back in 1985 I hiked the Continental Divide Trail from Canada to Mexico. Winter came early to the Colorado Rockies that year - on September 7 I crossed the inappropriately named Farview Pass in a blizzard in the appropriately named Never Summer Wilderness. After that snow became more and more of a problem, forcing me to take lower routes and often meaning I saw little. This entry from my journal is typical 'took three hours struggling up to 12,700' unnamed pass, last 6-700' in knee-deep breakable crust snow .... saddle on far side corniced. No chance! Snow just impossible'.

Eventually I conceded that I had to stay lower where the snow was thinner and I was out of the clouds and bitter wind. That meant much road walking, often in rain and wet snow. Rather than enjoying the mountains I was looking forward to leaving the Rockies for the lower, drier deserts of New Mexico.

I've meant to go back and see the mountains I missed ever since and finally this summer I'm going to do it.

Camp on the shoulder of James Peak, September, 1985

In 1985 there was no set route for the CDT in Southern Colorado. The first guidebook only came out a year later, Volume 5 of Jim Wolf's Guide to the Continental Divide Trail. I'd used the first four volumes and before the walk had contacted Jim who was very helpful with my planning. The route I tried to follow in Southern Colorado was suggested by Jim. The year after my walk he sent me a copy of the Southern Colorado guide. This summer I'm finally going to use it. My plan is to walk the route in the guide from Copper Mountain to Cumbres Pass, a distance of some 410 miles.

On this trip I'll be supported by my Colorado friends Andrew Terrill and Igloo Ed, both of whom I hope will be able to join me at times. My original plan had been to walk the Colorado Trail, which coincides with the CDT in places and goes through the same areas. However on hearing of this plan Andrew commented that the Colorado Trail 'seems to miss the best of the regions it passes though, skirting the finest parts of the Lost Creek Wilderness, the Holy Cross Wilderness, the Collegiate Peaks, and the Weminuche', all  areas I wanted to see. On looking at the maps I saw he was right and that the CDT took a higher line more in the heart of the mountains, so that's what I'll be doing. Snow permitting.

Before the snow. On Lost Ranger Peak in Northern Colorado



Saturday, 27 July 2019

Wildlife is wildlife, never 'vermin'


The indefatigable conservation campaigner Chris Packham has written an excellent piece on Vermin. He's also offering a t-shirt design. I might well get one made as this is something I feel very strongly about. Words are so powerful. Here's what I wrote about these destructive words in Along The Divide. 
 
'I shudder when I hear anyone refer to ‘vermin’ or ‘pests’ in reference to any creature that might eat other creatures that hunters and gamekeepers want to kill. These negative words essentially say that such creatures aren’t worth anything and it’s fine to slaughter them, indeed it may be a duty to do so. That way hen harriers, eagles, red kites, foxes, stoats, pine martens and more can all be dismissed. Often those saying this claim their aim is to protect wildlife. This is to divide wildlife into good wildlife and bad wildlife, rather like the deserving and undeserving poor of the nineteenth century (and a view that hasn’t gone away unfortunately). Wildlife is wildlife. All wildlife. No species is more deserving than another.' 

Photograph of the fox taken in my garden earlier this month.