Saturday 31 August 2013

First Scottish Watershed talk at the Isle of Harris Mountain Festival

On September 17th I'm giving the first talk on my Scottish Watershed Walk in Tarbert at the Isle of Harris Mountain Festival - probably as remote from the Watershed as you can get in Scotland!

The Festival lasts from the 14th to the 21st September and includes hill races, raft races, barefoot walks, non-barefoot walks, kayaking and surfing. Leading natural history photographer Laurie Campbell will be leading a photo workshop and also giving a talk entitled 'From Paxton to Patagonia'. There's also a talk from Cameron McNeish - 'A Wilderness Walk with John Muir'. There's much more too - see the Festival website for details - and of course there's beautiful Harris with its splendid beaches and remote hills to explore.

Friday 30 August 2013

BBC Radio Scotland tomorrow - interview about the Cairngorms in Winter film.

A few days ago I was interviewed for the BBC's 'Out of Doors' programme about the Cairngorms in Winter film. The interview will be broadcast this weekend - the show is on from 06.30 a.m. on Saturday and 11.05 a.m. on Sunday. Then it'll be available on 'Listennow' for a week. The interview was around 15 minutes long. How much will be broadcast I don't know!

Tuesday 27 August 2013

A Visit to Loch Avon

The head of the Loch Avon corrie

Motorbikes, leather jackets, tattoos and loud rock music are not the usual accompaniment to the start of a walk in the hills, especially at a high ski resort car park. That was the case in Coire Cas in the Cairngorms though, the reason being the annual ‘Thunder In The Glens’ Harley Davison motorbike rally, which brings thousands of bikers to Strathspey. I’d passed slowly through an Aviemore heaving with bikers and bikes, many shops draped with huge Harley Davison banners (the most incongruous being the one filling half the window of the Red Cross charity shop with a white wedding dress in the other half) but I hadn’t realised they came up into the hills.

Coire Cas, August 25, 2013

Leaving Coire Cas to the sound of revving bikes and Black Sabbath’s Paranoid I headed up to the Cairngorm Plateau. I could hear the bikes all the way up but once I dropped down slightly into shallow Coire Raibert the noise vanished, leaving just the gentle trickle of the burn the only sound. In the upper part of the corrie a work party was repairing the eroded path with big stones. Further down I could see animals grazing. Used to human beings the semi-domesticated reindeer paid little attention to me and I was able to walk right through the herd. It’s always a delight to come across these reindeer, which range widely over the Northern Cairngorms, a reminder that this is a northern sub-arctic landscape. 

At the lip of the corrie I took the steep, rocky path that follows the burn down to Loch Avon, one of the most spectacular places in the Cairngorms and my destination for the day. Situated in a deep narrow trench the long loch is surrounded by steep rocky hillsides with massive cliffs at its head. I’d looked down on the loch earlier in the year when filming the ‘Cairngorms in Winter’ but we’d not found time to descend to it. I like to do so at least once every year, often camping there at least one night. This was a day trip only but I had allowed time to sit and stare, revelling in the great rock architecture, the crashing streams and the overwhelming sense of wildness. I wandered along the lochside and then beside the stream at its head below the huge rock buttresses of Carn Etchachan and the Shelter Stone Crag. High on the latter two rock climbers were inching upwards, their tiny forms dwarfed by the massive, fractured wall.

Carn Etchachan & the Shelter Stone Crag

Leaving the Loch Avon basin I climbed steeply back up to Coire Domhain and the Cairngorm Plateau. The effort of the ascent was eased by turning back frequently to gaze over the splendid scene I was leaving. Again the roar of a tumbling burn, tearing down in cascades and water slides, accompanied me. A final walk over Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and then a descent to a now quiet and almost empty Coire Cas finished a fine day out. 

Loch Avon & Beinn Mheadhoin

Saturday 24 August 2013

Food for Long Distance Hiking

A few people have asked me what I ate on the Scottish Watershed Walk and how I resupplied with food. The answer is that mostly I bought food in shops along the way (my family did send me one parcel of tasty organic food from Real Foods in Edinburgh). Specialist backpacking foods can be convenient but they are expensive and have to be bought in advance and then posted ahead. Buying food in shops on or near my route was simpler and cheaper. (And also supports local communities). The picture above shows a weeks supplies purchased at the village store in Crianlarich. All that's missing are some sachets of hot chocolate.

Of course this involves some compromises and occasionally buying items that aren't that tasty (the latte sachets pictured above were pretty horrible) but overall I've been happy with this method of resupply, which I've used on other long walks including the Pacific Northwest Trail.


Above is my standard backpacking breakfast (and actually my standard breakfast at home too, though with fresh milk) - muesli (about 125 grams) with dried milk and sugar plus coffee (decaffeinated if I'm feeling awake, caffeinated if not) and dried milk. That's enough to keep me going for a few hours.

The picture also shows my stove and my two titanium pots - 600 and 900ml size.

During the day I snack regularly rather than have a big lunch. Oatcakes, cheese, flapjack, chocolate, dried fruit, nuts grain and fruit bars, boiled sweets (good for dry throats) all find their way into my pack.

The picture shows a day's snacks - though the dates and cheese spread would last several days.


Here is a typical evening repast. Two packets of Cup-A-Soup to start (good for restoring liquid and salt) then a dried pasta meal with added cheese, fresh garlic and, in this case, olives. If I have enough cheese and garlic I'll add some to the soup as well. Other flavourings I sometimes carry are dried herbs and spices such as chilli powder.

Immediately before going to sleep I'll have a mug of hot chocolate, made from two sachets.

I don't know how many calories this diet supplies but I never ran out of energy on the Watershed Walk though I did lose 9 kilos in weight.

Thursday 22 August 2013

The Cairngorms In Winter, Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, August 28

Terry Abraham filming in a stormy Lairig Ghru
The Cairngorms In Winter film has its Scottish premiere at 8pm on Wednesday August 28 at Eden Court in Inverness. I'll be there for a Q&A session afterwards.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

September Great Outdoors: Watershed Conclusion & Hiking Trousers

On the Scottish Watershed in the Fannichs

The September issue of The Great Outdoors magazine has just appeared. My backpacking column, headed 'From storms to drought on the Scottish Watershed', covers the second half of my walk, which I finished just a month ago. In the gear section I review 12 pairs of hiking trousers, including the ones I wore on the Watershed (as pictured above), which, unsurprisingly, are my Best Buy. Also in the gear pages are reviews of six backpacking rucksacks by John Manning, six trekking poles by Cameron McNeish, two insect repellent shirts by Daniel Neilson and the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent, also by Daniel Neilson.

The big feature in this issue is by Mark Richards, author of the Lakeland Fellranger guidebooks, and covers less popular ways up Lake District hills. Elsewhere Mark Gilligan talks to Terry Abraham about his forthcoming film on Scafell Pike; Simon Yates answers questions in a feature called 'My Hills'; Jon Sparks looks at the Eiger; also in the Alps Ed Byrne fails to climb Mont Blanc; James Reader goes scrambling and camping on the gritstone edges of the Peak District; Keith Fergus describes the River Tweed and its attractions for walkers; Aaron Millar follows a sea kayak route up Scotland's west coast; Roger Smith comments on the HS2 high-speed rail link; and Jim Perrin praises C.E.Montague's The Right Place (a book I've not come across before). The Hill Skills section has a good illustrated guide to wading birds by the RSPB's Grahame Madge; David Lintern on pack rafting and safety advice on river crossings by Mark Chadwick of Glenmore Lodge.

Monday 19 August 2013

Thoughts on George Monbiot's 'Feral'

Wild elephants in Britain? Rhinoceros? Hippos? George Monbiot certainly knows how to grab the attention with ideas that are both outrageous and thought-provoking. In his recent book Feral and in a talk I attended at the Edinburgh International Book Festival he argues that as the bones of such huge beasts have been found under London and our trees and shrubs are adapted to cope with such big browsing mammals we should consider reintroducing them. That quickly grabs the readers or listeners attention.

Monbiot is very serious though. Perhaps not about those giant creatures, at least not yet, but definitely about the need for rewilding, including bringing back previous inhabitants – boar, beaver and lynx the more likely ones to start with.  He’s a good speaker and the book festival talk summed up the main points of the book in a passionate and stirring manner. The book itself I’d enjoyed reading a month earlier, during my Scottish Watershed Walk, while lying in my shelter in the evenings, with wind, rain and the call of birds the only sounds. Monbiot mixes tales of his own outdoor adventures, on foot and in kayak, with detailed arguments and information on how impoverished the natural world in Britain is today and how much richer it could be. He also shows how hard it can be to recognise this due to the wonderfully named ‘shifting baseline syndrome’, which basically says that we perceive the world as it was when we were young as the ideal state. So we see that the natural world isn’t as diverse as it was but not that it was already depleted in our youth and that trying to recreate that is still aiming for a degraded ecosystem.

Monbiot’s answer to this is rewilding – by which he means leaving nature alone and accepting however it develops. The only human interference he advocates is the reintroduction of missing animals. Indeed, in places in the book he berates conservationists for trying to manage nature. I’m with him here. Rewilding will occur naturally if allowed to. The results might not be as expected or even desired but it will be wild nature.

The ideas in the book are not particularly new. I enjoyed Monbiot’s polemic against sheep and the damage they do to the uplands but he’s only echoing John Muir, who called them ‘hoofed locusts’ back in the late nineteenth century after seeing the devastation they wreaked on meadows in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. Monbiot’s ‘wet desert’ description of the Welsh hills follows on from Frank Fraser Darling’s use of the phrase to describe the Scottish Highlands back in the 1940s. It was from my own visit to the Sierra Nevada and from reading Muir and Fraser Darling that I learnt how to overcome ‘shifting baseline syndrome’. Hiking through the Sierras I discovered what a really wild forest was like. Until I read Fraser Darling’s The Highlands and Islands in the Collins New Naturalist series I thought the Scottish hills to be pristine wilderness that should be preserved as they were. Only after seeing the Sierra woods and reading about overgrazing by sheep and deer did I see just how degraded much of the Scottish Highlands have become.

The importance of Monbiot’s book, which is well-written, entertaining and well worth reading, lies in part in his prominence as a campaigning journalist, which means that the ideas it contains will receive far more prominence than when expressed by less well-known writers. The ideas are expressed well too. We need more writing like this.

Thursday 8 August 2013

Camping on the Scottish Watershed Walk

One of the joys of backpacking is camping out in wild places and spending nights close to nature. On the Scottish Watershed I had forty such nights in a wide variety of habitats and a wide variety of weather. Only once did it look as though anyone else had ever camped where I did before so these really were wild sites. Here's a selection:

May 28. First camp. With Peter Wright in mist and rain on Deadwater Moor close to Peel Fell and the start of the Watershed

May 31. On the col between Comb Hill and Wisp Hill in the Southern Uplands

June 5. Morning. Camp with Tony Hobbs below Lochraig Head in the Southern Uplands.

June 5. Evening. Camp with Tony Hobbs in the Risingclaw Burn glen in the Southern Uplands

June 9. Camp in dense forest in the Gladsmuir Hills in the Central Lowlands

June 12. In the Kilsyth Hills looking towards Tomtain, Central Lowlands

June 18.Camp in the rain near Loch Katrine in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park

June 19. Camp between Parlan Hill and Creag Bhreac Mor in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park

June 22. My second camp in very stormy weather on the bealach between Ben Oss and Ben Lui. I moved my first camp at midnight as the wind threatened to rip the Trailstar off the mountain. This camp was 50 metres lower. Still very windy but sheltered enough for me to get some sleep.

June 25. Evening. On the Bealach Breabag below Ben Alder

July 5. Stormy weather above Loch a'Bhealaich, West Affric

July 8. On the bealach between An Cabar and  Creag Dhubh, west of the Fannichs

July 10. Just out of the cloud in the Fannichs. Sgurr Mor in the background.

July 14. In Rhidorroch, above the Clar Lochans.

July 16. Above Gorm Loch Mor in Assynt.

July 21. Last camp. In the vast expanse of the Flow Country.

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Red Squirrels

Whilst returning home from the Scottish Watershed Walk has meant dealing with the inevitable mass of emails, paper mail, phone calls and other desk stuff one of the delights has been watching the red squirrels in the garden. These are in their bright summer coats now and really living up to their name. On the Watershed I saw much wildlife - black-throated divers, golden eagles, hen harriers, peregrine falcons, badgers, red fox, deer and more - but the only squirrels were grey ones in the Central Lowlands so it's been good to watch our red ones again.

Monday 5 August 2013

Latest Great Outdoors: New Waterproof Jackets & Scottish Watershed Report plus a look back to the July edition: three-season sleeping bags & more

Cloud Inversion on the Scottish Watershed Walk

In the August issue of The Great Outdoors, in the shops now, I review thirteen new waterproof jackets, including the Rab Myriad that I wore on the Scottish Watershed Walk. The latter also features in my backpacking column, which I wrote on my tablet in a hotel room in the Great Glen halfway through the walk.

This issue also features some great photographs: a wonderful atmospheric picture of the Langdale Pikes by Stewart Smith and an even more atmospheric and moody picture of Loch Lomond by Damien Shield. Elsewhere David Lintern interviews Charlie Ramsey on the 35th anniversary of his run over 24 Munros in 24 hours, known as Ramsey's Round (which took me four days on my continuous Munros and Tops walk); Keith Fergus looks at the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs area in literature from Sir Walter Scott to Alastair Borthwick; Cameron McNeish explores the spectacular far North-West of Scotland; Daniel Neilson visits the Val Venosta in the Alps and Jim Perrin praises Dorothy Pilley's Climbing Days. There's a big feature on walking and camping with kids by John Manning and the Hill Skills section has more on this. In the gear section Daniel Neilson reviews six knives and multi-tools; Geoff Barton tries the Thule Perspectiv Day Pack camera bag and David Lintern tests the unusual Therm-a-Rest Altair sleeping bag. David Lintern also pops up in the Wild Walks section with an excellent piece on an ascent of Bruach na Frithe on his first visit to the Cuillin.

The July Great Outdoors came out while I was on the Watershed Walk and I didn't see it until I returned home. It has my review of fourteen three-season sleeping bags, including the Rab Infinity 300 I used on the walk, plus my first report on the walk, sent from Moffat. Daniel Neilson reviews hydration reservoirs and filtration systems (neither of which I took on the Watershed) and also the Fjallraven Keb jacket and trousers plus the Komperdell Ultralight Vario 4 trekking poles.

There's also an interview with Terry Abraham about the Cairngorms In Winter film, with a short bit from me about still photography, and a review of the film by Andy Howell. The Hill Skills section is mostly about photography too with advice from photographers Ray Wood, Mark Gilligan and Chiz Dakin.

Elsewhere Carey Davies spends midsummer night on Suilven; Mark Gilligan looks at Lakeland tarns; Ed Byrne learns about rescue dogs; Paul Beasley looks at the impact of military training on Dartmoor; photographer Ray Wood records a scramble in the Carneddau with an iPhone and Jim Perrin praises Showell Styles' The Mountains of North Wales.

Saturday 3 August 2013

The Cairngorms In Winter Film News

Whilst I was away walking the Scottish Watershed Terry Abraham was busy promoting and distributing the film we made last winter as well as working on his next film Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike. Terry has produced a DVD with extra scenes and outtakes. It's available now from Striding Edge and will eventually appear in some outdoor shops. It's also available as a download from Steep Edge.

I returned from the Wateshed Walk in time to attend a showing of the film at the Rheged Centre in Cumbria. It was somewhat unnerving seeing myself on the huge IMAX screen. The landscape sections looked fantastic at that size though. 

The film's Scottish Premiere will be at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness on August 28.  Terry and I will be there.

Other showings aren't confirmed yet but Terry has entered the film for the Kendal and Banff Mountain Film Festivals, which both take place in the autumn.

Terry was also interviewed about the film by UK and by Summit and while I was interviewed for the BMC website

The film has continued to receive amazingly good reviews, which is very pleasing. Here's a few quotes and links:

"kept me enthralled for a full 90 minutes." Dan Bailey. UK Hillwalking

 "Full of breathtaking scenery and Chris’ rich narrative ...... Terry Abraham does a masterful job capturing the bigness of the Cairngorms in his first big screen epic, which is certain to cement his reputation as an outdoor filmmaker".    Gossamer Gear.

"Terry did a marvelous job weaving Chris’ narration with glorious landscape shots and close-up encounters with Chris where his knowledge and enthusiasm about the region shine through." Section Hiker.

"a film unlike any other - a real love letter to the mountains ...... this film reflects the true nature of the landscape better than any other film I have seen about mountaineering. It's more like a painting or a symphony than a film as we understand it - a true work of art." Alex Roddie.

"This is quite simply the best film about the British landscape ever made." Jake Lunniss.

"The photography is superb and to my mind has the look of the grandeur of say BBC’s Yellowstone Park series.  This is Terry and Chris’ first full length film running as it does for 96 minutes, although the time passes quickly and you wish there was more to view at the end of the film." Mark's Walking Blog

Friday 2 August 2013

The Speed of Light: Loch Morlich at Dusk

The Beginning: 8.22pm
The Build-Up: 8.30pm
The Finale: 8.35pm

Returning from a walk on the Cairngorm Plateau under overcast skies I sensed a lightning of the clouds as I drove past Loch Morlich so I stopped and strolled down to the shore. Thin clouds were reflected in the gently breeze rippled water and although the sun had set the sky to the north was brightening rather than darkening. Within a few minutes the clouds were turning orange and pink, colours that rapidly intensified to create a glorious scene. Then, after less than a quarter than an hour, the light faded and greyness returned. But for a while it was wonderful, a brief flash of colour on an otherwise subdued day.