Thursday, 11 August 2022

The Grand Canyon & Lowe Alpine Memories,

Back in 2017 I wrote this piece on the classic Lowe Alpine Expedition, which was the first ever internal frame pack. A year later I posted it on this blog and forgot about it. Until yesterday when I had a request for a brief inteview from a writer for Backpacker magazine in the USA who had come across my article. Corey Buhay really wanted to talk to someone who'd used the original pack but reckoned I'd do as I had used one in the 1980s. As the original came out in 1967 I guess there's not too many people still around who used one.

This reminded me that I did have photos of a Lowe Alpine pack from the 1990s that had an updated version of the original back system that had revolutionised pack design. I'd used this pack on a two-week trip in the Grand Canyon and it had been excellent. I posted some black-and-white photos two years ago on the 25th anniversary of my trip. Now I have an excuse to post them again!

My 1995 pack was a Lowe Alpine Alpamayo with a capacity of 70 litres. I needed a big pack as I only had one resupply and so twice carried a week's food and also regularly carried two gallons of water - the Grand Canyon is a dry place and water sources are far apart. I also had 9lbs/4kg of camera gear. My notes say that my base weight without the cameras was 26lbs/12kg, which doesn't sound bad. However add in the cameras, a week's food, and all that water and my total load reached 66lbs/ 30kg at the start of each section. I needed a pack capable of handling that weight. And the Alpamayo did so comfortably. At 5.6lbs/2.5 kg it was quite heavy in itself but it was made of tough fabric that stood up well to the abrasive stony and sandy terrain and the spiky vegetation of the Grand Canyon. 

Having been founded in Utah by the mountaineers and brothers Greg, Mike and Jeff Lowe Lowe Alpine has exchanged hands a number of times over the years and is currently owned by British company Equip Outdoor Technologies, whose other brand is Rab. Under its various parent companies Lowe Alpine has never stopped making packs. I recently reviewed a recent one for TGO magazine. It's good that this pioneering company is still going.

The Grand Canyon walk was superb, one of the best shorter backpacking trips I've done. The Canyon is unique, extraordinary, spectacular, beautiful. I loved it.

Photography note.I had two film SLRs - a Nikon F801 I used with Fujichrome colour transparency film and a Nikon FM2  I used with Ilford FP4 Plus black-and-white film. My lenses were Nikkor 24mm, Nikkor 75-150mm and Sigma 28-70mm. I also had a Gitzo Loisir tripod.

I photographed these prints with my Sony NEX 7 camera with Sony E 35mm lens and processed the raw files in Lightroom. For this piece I processed the raw files again in DxO PureRaw and then Lightroom. The reprocessed images are sharper and less noisy, though this isn't really noticeable in the low res images posted here.

When (if) I locate the negatives I may be able to get better results.One day I will also scan some of the colour images.

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Walk For Harriers, Dava Moor

Grouse moors and the amazing propensity of raptors to disappear when they visit them have been under increasing public scrutiny in recent years. A major part in this has been played by the various events organized under the Hen Harrier Day banner. 

On August 6 this year HHDay Highlands (@HHDayHighlands) organised a Walk For Harriers on a grouse moor on Dava Moor. As this is just five kilometres from my home I thought I’d better attend! And I’m very glad I did as it was an informative and inspiring event with stops along the way for Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland, and Max of the Revive Coalition to talk about driven grouse moor management and how disastrous it is for wildlife. 

The walk on a windy day (no midges!) was across open moorland with a great sense of space and freedom.  Despite its use for grouse shooting this is a lovely place. How much more attractive it could be if it was used for the conservation and restoration of wildlife rather than its destruction.
Thanks to the organisers for running tbis event. It was heartening to meet others concerned about raptor persecution and the environmental degradation caused by driven grouse shooting. 

For anyone concerned about this issue I’d recommend attending any similar event. There’s nothing like visiting an actual grouse moor and listening to the experts explaining just how it’s run. 


Friday, 5 August 2022

A Look At The September Issue Of The Great Outdoors


The September issue of The Great Outdoors is out now. In it I have a trip and gear report on a three day venture in the Cairngorms during some superb summer weather. I also review the Garmin InReach Mini 2 satellite communicator.

Also in the gear pages there are 3-season boot reviews by Kirsty Pallas and Peter Macfarlane.

In the main features Francesca Donovan camps on top of Cadair Idris then walks to the sea, in a photo essay Nick Livesay traces his journey from a council estate to Mountain Leader and landscape photographer in Snowdonia, Alex and James Roddie undertake the classic Suilven circuit in Assynt, and Andrew Terrill seeks solitude in the popular Mount Evans Wilderness in Colorado.

Shorter pieces include adventure filmmaker and climber Rachel Sarah as Creator of the Month, Hanna Lindon on how climate change is making mountaineering more dangerous, Emma Schroeder on lessons from her ongoing walk round Britain's coast, conervationist Matt Stanick on how sewage is killing Windermere, Lewis Jevons on completing the Wainwrights without a car, Jim Perrin on Mynydd Enlli on the island of Bardsey, and guide Suzanna Cruickshank on safe wild swimming. 

Two good-sounding books are reviewed. Ian McMillan's My Sand Life, My Pebble Life by Francesca Donovan. Lee Schofield's Wild Fell by Roger Butler. 

In the Wild Walks section Vivienne Crow has a walk over Four Stones Hill on the eastern edge of the Lake District, Andrew Galloway makes a summer exploration of Winter Hill in the West Pennines, Fiona Barltrop traverses the New Forest, James Carron visits lonely Steele's Knowe in the Ochil Hills, and Roger Butler walks the Golden Road in the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire.

Sunday, 31 July 2022

Book Review: Everest 1922 by Mick Conefrey

A hundred years ago the members of the British 1922 Everest Expedition were slowly making their way back to Britain, the first ever attempt to climb the mountain having ended in an avalanche in which seven porters died. But before that tragedy the expedition had been remarkably successful, achieving the highest point ever reached and the highest camp ever established, all with equipment and in conditions that seem astonishingly primitive today.

Everest 1922 is a detailed account of the expedition and brings to life a very different time, far removed from the ease of access and the crowds on the mountain today. Just reaching Everest was difficult as the whole area was poorly mapped, and no westerner had been near the mountain. Nepal was a closed country too, so the only access was through Tibet, which was reached via a long march from Darjeeling in India.

The book initially covers the 1921 Reconnaissance Expedition which found the way to Everest and reconnoitred various possible routes to the summit. For the western mountaineers this was real exploration. The Tibetans in the villages closest to Everest didn’t have any useful information on how to reach the mountain itself, let alone set foot on it. Once at the mountain the expedition members probed the valleys and glaciers on its flanks for an ascent route, eventually reaching the North Col, the key to climbing Everest from Tibet. The next year they returned with the aim of climbing the mountain.

The story of the 1922 Expedition is fascinating and gripping and Conefrey tells it well. The cast of extraordinary larger-than-life characters and their motivations, conflicts and relationships are brought to life. The descriptions of the difficulties in organising and financing such a massive venture along with the machinations and politics involved set the scene in the world of public school and military men back in London.

Mallory is of course the name associated with the first Everest expeditions and his obsession with Everest, which would end with his disappearance high on the mountain two years later, comes across strongly. He’s uninterested in the land they pass through, its natural history and the culture of the inhabitants, unlike some of the others. He just wants to climb the mountain.

Everest 1922 very well-researched and very-well written. I found it compelling reading, an entry into a long-gone world. Recommended for anyone interested in Everest and the story of mountaineering.

Everest 1922 is published by Allen & Unwin and costs £20.

Camping in the NW Highlands. Book research!

Whilst my latest book is a guide to day walks in the Torridon region I actually did much of the research on backpacking trips, mostly in the last two years, and I have included some suggestions for such walks. There is one camping picture in the book. Here are a dozen more.   

The book can be ordered direct from the publishers -