Thursday 31 October 2013

Snow in the Cairngorms

Cairn Gorm

A day of darkness and storms has brought snow to the Cairngorms. Wind and rain raged throughout the night and into the morning down in the glens. The hills were hidden in the dark swirling clouds. With +5C the highest temperature reached here at 300 metres I guessed that high up the rain would be snow. And so it proved when the clouds lifted a little in the early afternoon to reveal a ragged edge of white along the hills.
Bynack More & Beinn Mheadhoin

When the showers eased I ventured outside into the strong cold wind and strolled through the meadows and woods. Slowly the hills appeared, bright white against the grey clouds and contrasting with the vivid colours of the woods. Above the trees it's winter. In the forests it's autumn. Now as dusk falls the clouds have lowered again and the hills have vanished. I expect more snow is falling.

From the left: Bynack More, Beinn Mheadhoin, Strath Nethy, Cairn Gorm, Stob Coire an t-Sneachda, Cairn Lochan

The photos were taken handheld with a 55-250 zoom lens on my NEX 7 camera. I used fences for support as it was difficult to stand still in the wind never mind hold a camera steady. The low light meant I shot at ISO800 and the photos are quite grainy and slightly soft. I haven't tried to correct this as I feel the photos reflect how the landscape was as they are. The world wasn't sharp or clear! The trees were swaying in the wind, the clouds were racing across the sky, the air was dark and heavy.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z Review in The Great Outdoors

I've just reviewed the Sony Xperia Tablet Z as a tablet for outdoor use. My review is on The Great Outdoors website here.

It's a great tablet, especially being waterproof, but it is rather large. I'd love to see a version the same size as my Nexus 7, which I've been using for well over a year now and which I reviewed here in one of my most popular posts.

Of Wolves & Fences & Access: Alladale Plans Resurface

Alladale scenery

Way back in 2007 I wrote a series of blog posts about the proposals by landowner Paul Lister for a huge electrified fence round his Alladale estate in northern Scotland, inside which he planned on releasing wolves and other large animals. People would then be charged large sums to be taken on guided trips to see the wildlife. The proposals received a great deal of publicity - releasing wolves caught the media's attention and Lister had good PR people - but came to nothing other than a few small enclosures for moose and boars. Then in 2010 it was announced that the plans to release wolves had been abandoned and everyone concerned with this threat to access breathed a sigh of relief.

The last few days however have seen a sudden media blitz about the same proposal, mostly on BBC radio but also in newspapers and on TV. There doesn't seem to be anything different in the scheme other than Lister offering to talk to organisations like Ramblers Scotland and the John Muir Trust but he obviously feels it's worth reviving. I wasn't totally surprised to hear Lister promote the scheme again as he'd popped up with a question about releasing wolves at the talk by George Monbiot at the Edinburgh Book Festival I attended in August (see this blog post). Monbiot responded that he was in favour of wolf reintroduction. However in response to a later question Monbiot also said he was very opposed to any restrictions on access.

Unsurprisingly Lister's PR push has had a big response on the internet with much discussion on social networking sites. The best piece I've seen, which outlines the history of this story, is Cameron McNeish's on the Walk Highlands website, which I recommend.

My own view hasn't changed since 2007 when I said that the fence would be an eyesore and an insult to nature as well as breaching our hard-won access rights. I also wrote ' Lister says “it would not be practical to have people walking around Alladale while wolves roam". In fact there is no reason why people and wolves couldn’t coexist as they do in many other parts of the world. I’ve walked 1,000s of miles in wolf terrain in North America and seen wild wolves and heard them howling at night, which are wonderful experiences. I’d love to do so in the Highlands. Reintroducing wolves to the Highlands is a great idea but would only work with public support and in areas where the habitat is suitable. I’d like to see more wildness in the Highlands but not a safari park.'

That all these arguments have to be restated is disappointing but if Lister persists in promoting his ideas it's necessary to do so. No-one can be allowed to override access rights, whatever the reason. At the same time opposing Lister's fence does not mean opposing rewilding or the reintroduction of missing wildlife.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Autumn Colours, Anagach Woods

Into the woods

The stormy weather of recent weeks has not made the hills very attractive. They've been cloud-capped, windswept and wet. Struggling over them on compass bearings in thick mist and driving rain has not been very appealing and it's a few weeks since I ventured onto the tops.

In Anagach Woods

However at this time of year the woods offer a bright and colourful alternative to the greyness of the hills. Autumn colours are peaking now and this year the display is really glorious. I spent a day wandering round Anagach Woods on the edge of Grantown-on-Spey marvelling at the intense colours. The gentle rain that fell - gentle in the shelter of the trees that is, in open areas it was harder and wind-driven - only served to amplify the brilliance of the leaves.

The leaves are falling
In Anagach Woods

Anagach Woods are not ancient, being planted in the 1760s, but they are natural with much regeneration. This is not a plantation. Scots pine and birch are the dominant trees but there are many others including sessile oak, beech, elm, hazel, aspen, rowan and willow. The land is undulating with many glacial ridges and hollows, making for interesting terrain.

Hollow & Ridge

There are waymarked paths through the woods, including the Speyside Way, but I don't usually follow any one route, preferring to wander freely, following up anything that catches my eye, which on this walk usually meant flashes of colour. The woods are close to the River Spey and I ended up on its banks. After all the rain the river was high and fast. Goosanders and mallards swept past, allowing the river to drive them downstream. A coot skittered across the water, half running,. half flying. On the banks a fringe of trees glowed bronze and gold.

The River Spey

Today strong winds are ripping the leaves from exposed trees. The temperature has fallen. Snow is forecast for the summits. Winter is coming. The glories of autumn will soon be gone.

Anagach Woods

Sunday 27 October 2013

Shelters for Backpacking

Camping with Terry Abraham on Mullach Clach a'Bhlair in the Cairngorms

This year various people have expressed surprise at my choice of shelters - the GoLite Shangri-La 3 single-skin floorless tent that appears in The Cairngorms In Winter film and the Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar shaped tarp and Oookworks Nest that I used on the Scottish Watershed walk. A few years ago I wrote a piece for The Great Outdoors on shelters. Here it is:

Tent or tarp? Or maybe just a bivi bag? There are several ways to sleep out in the wilds. Recently there has been a debate on several outdoor blogs arguing that one or other is in some way superior or better than the others. I think this is nonsense. They all have their place and it comes down to personal preference and, often, the conditions. Many years ago a friend and I did a two-week trip in Yosemite National Park. The weather was calm and I slept out under the stars in just my sleeping bag every night. My friend slept in a double-skin tent with the inner and outer doors zipped shut. We were both happy, which is what matters. 

Perfect camping on the Arizona Trail - no shelter needed

My preference is for the most minimal shelter that will be comfortable in the conditions expected. Ideally I would always sleep out in just a sleeping bag. However if there is more than a slight breeze, if bugs are biting or if rain is falling or likely to fall then sleeping under a roof makes life easier and I want my camping to be as trouble-free as possible. I prefer tarps to bivi bags as there’s more living and storage room, which is important when it’s stormy. And if it’s not stormy I don’t need a tarp or a bivi bag. I like big tarps too – ones where I can sit up, cook inside, store all my gear and keep away from any rain that comes in under the edges. Small tarps can be uncomfortable. I remember a night in one high on Ben More Assynt in the Northwest Highlands. A wind sprang up overnight so I lowered the tarp so the perimeter was close to the ground, which stopped the wind ruffling my sleeping bag. However that meant I couldn’t sit up and couldn’t use the stove under cover. The tarp fabric hit my sleeping bag too – I couldn’t decide which was worse, flapping nylon or the wind. I slept badly and the camp was not enjoyable. I expect camping to be comfortable and fun, whatever the conditions. I’m not out there to suffer.

A nice big tarp
This tarp is too narrow

Tents have two places in my camping trips. The first is when snow is expected. Then a double-skin tent can keep snow from blowing all over you and, if a strong design, stand up to the weight of a heavy fall. That said, I have sometimes used a single-skin floorless tent in winter and dug the perimeter into the snow to stop snow blowing in when it's windy. Indeed, on a ski tour across the Sarek National Park in Arctic Sweden I did this for two weeks. Again personal preference came into play as my two companions were so dubious about the security of my single-pole floorless shelter that they chose to sleep in a much smaller geodesic dome tent, leaving me to the vast space of a three-person shelter. 
Snow camp with a double-skin tent - Tarptent Scarp 1
Snow camp with single-skin floorless tent - GoLite Shangri-La 3

The second situation when I regard a tent as essential is when insects are biting. Head nets, closely woven clothing and repellents may all protect against being bitten but they don’t stop midges buzzing round your head in clouds and the first two can be hot and stuffy. I much prefer being able to sit inside an insect-free tent. In calm dry weather just a mesh tent is adequate. On the Pacific Northwest Trail I often just pitched the mesh inner of my tent when mosquitoes were likely and rain wasn’t. There are mesh inners available for some tarps and single-skin floorless tents now, which I intend trying this summer to see if they make these shelters usable in midge season. (Note: And I did, with success, resulting in my using such a combination on the Scottish Watershed walk this year).

GoLite Shangri-La 1 used without inner. The doors stayed wide open all night.

GoLite Shangri-La 1 Nest used to keep off mosquitoes on a dry night on the Pacific Northwest Trail

When the midges are swarming or wind-driven rain is battering the tent being inside with the doors zipped shut can feel very secure. However doors don’t always have to be closed. One of the arguments I’ve read about the supposed superiority of tarps is that tents cut you off from the outdoors while tarps keep you in contact with nature. Actually this depends on how you use a shelter and not what style it is. I only close the doors of a tent when insects are biting or rain or wind is blowing in. This applies even in very cold weather – the tent is to keep off the weather. Warmth is provided by my clothing and sleeping bag. I like tents with big doors too so when they are open I have a wide view. I don’t want to be out of touch with the outside but I do want to be able to keep the outside from getting inside if it turns nasty. Often, I’ve woken during the night to feel rain or wind on my face and have only then closed the tent doors. Midges are a more serious threat though and I don’t want to be woken by them biting me so I always close the inner tent door when they are around. To reduce the feeling of being enclosed I like tents with mesh inner doors or at least mesh panels in the door so I can still see out, if somewhat hazily.
Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar & Oookworks Nest in a midge-ridden forest

Saturday 26 October 2013

Filming for the Adventure Show

A dusting of snow on Cairn Lochan   

Sometimes the weather just works out for the best. A few weeks ago I'd arranged to do some filming with Triple Echo Productions for The Adventure Show. The date was last Thursday and the forecast earlier in the week was not promising. But it changed and Thursday became 'the best-looking day of the week' in the mountain forecasts. And so it proved, a day of dryness in a week of wet weather. The night before was chilly with the rain falling as snow on the highest summits. It was still windy and we had to find sheltered spots to record voices.  Clouds tore across the sky, layered and fractured, with rare flashes of sunlight slanting occasionally slanting through them. The air was cold, hat and gloves cold, which was good as we were filming for a piece about the Cairngorms in winter. Appropriately, the clouds lifted at times to reveal a fresh dusting of snow high up.

Keith and Meg, cameraman and producer, heading for the Chalamain Gap

Filming takes time, as I know from making the Cairngorms in Winter film with Terry Abraham last winter. On this occasion we wandered across to the rocky ravine of  the Chalamain Gap and back again, a distance of around 8 kilometres. We were out for five hours. I walked much more than that distance though as I repeated several sections so they could be filmed from different angles and vantage points. I also carried a full pack so I could be filmed pitching camp and then sitting in the tent talking about winter camping. 

Reindeer ignoring us

Our route took us past a big enclosure where the Cairngorm reindeer are often found when they're not scattered over the hills. They were there that day, studiously ignoring us, though one did stare intently when I was pitching the tent.

The piece will be broadcast in the Adventure Show on BBC2 Scotland in early December and will include clips from The Cairngorms In Winter film.

Friday 25 October 2013

Dates & Times: Cairngorms in Winter at Kendal Mountain Film Festival

Update to my October 23 post. The Cairngorms In Winter festival edit will be shown every day during the Kendal Mountain Film Festival. Here are the details:

Brewery Screen 2, Thurs 8pm
Brewery Screen 2, Fri 4.30pm
Brewery Malt Room, Sat 1pm
Brewery Studio Sun 4.30pm

Wednesday 23 October 2013

The Cairngorms in Winter at Kendal Mountain Film Festival

Cairn Lochan, Northern Cairngorms
I'm pleased to say that Terry Abraham's film The Carngorms In Winter will be shown at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival next month. The film is too long to be shown complete so Terry has produced an extract for the festival - hopefully those who see it will want to see the complete film.

The date and time of the showing have not been announced yet. I'll post them here once they are available.

Monday 21 October 2013

Autumn at Killiecrankie Pass

The River Garry

On my way home from the launch of Peter Wright’s book Nature’s Peace, described in my last post, I stopped at the Pass of Killiecrankie and took a walk amongst the splendid woods that line the deep gorge of the River Garry here. The day was grey and wet with low clouds and heavy showers. Everything glowed with dampness. Sometimes these are the best times to visit forests, especially in the autumn, as the colours stand out on the wet leaves. This year the autumn has been mild and in mid-October many trees are still green. The deep reds and yellows are mostly still to come but there have been enough changes for the woods to look magnificent, the solid green of high summer long gone.

The Perth to Inverness railway viaduct above the River Garry

The paths were slick with mud and sodden leaves and drops of water fell from every branch or bush I brushed past. Down in the heart of the pass the River Garry was a swollen torrent, the water thick with debris. High above mist was drifting over the tops of the trees on the rim of the pass. The sky was darkening rapidly as dusk fell. Gone were the long evenings of summer. The air was thick with the smell of autumn.
Killiecrankie comes from the Gaelic for Wood of the Aspen but there are many more trees here – massive oaks and beech, delicate rowans and birches and more.

Soldier's Leap

The Pass is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and there is a visitor centre and cafĂ© by the car park at the entrance but both were closed on this visit. The Pass is famous for a battle that took place here in 1689 when the Jacobites defeated government forces. One soldier is said to have escaped by leaping the River Garry at a narrow rocky section now known as Soldier’s Leap. The history is interesting but it’s the forest and river than make this a wonderful place. Soon the autumn colours should be really spectacular. I hope to return before the final leaves fall.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Book Launch: Nature's Peace: A Celebration of Scotland's Watershed by Peter Wright

Peter Wright signing copies of Nature's Peace

Peter Wright's Ribbon of Wildness was the inspiration for my Scottish Watershed walk (see all my posts for June and July this year). Yesterday Peter launched his new book on the Watershed, Nature's Peace, which is a celebration of both the Watershed and John Muir. Appropriately the book launch was held in the John Muir Trust's Wild Space in Pitlochry. Next year is the centenary of John Muir's death and the book is also intended as a reflection on his important and inspiring legacy. The title comes from Muir himself - 'Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves'.

As well as Peter's thoughts on the Watershed and on Muir Nature's Peace also has what must be the first comprehensive set of photographs of the whole length of the Watershed. To achieve this Peter compiled work from over 30 photographers, including myself (though none from my walk as this was too late to fit into the design schedule). Many went out and took pictures especially. Looking through the book brings back many memories for me and the pictures should inspire any lover of wild land to go out and explore at least some of the Watershed.

Saturday 19 October 2013

The Great Outdoors Awards 2014: Vote Now!

Autumn Leaves
The Great Outdoors Awards are open for voting now. There are nine categories open to readers, including Outdoor Personality, in which I've been nominated, and Outdoor Books, in which my book Grizzly Bears and Razor Clams has been nominated. There are plenty of alternative worthy 'personalities' and books if you don't want to vote for me! But do please vote.

The outdoor gear section of the awards will be voted on by a panel including myself. Products will be tested - I've been doing so recently.

The Awards will be announced at a ceremony in Kendal on November 13th.

Friday 18 October 2013

The Great Outdoors Gear Reviews Online

Camp in the Southern Uplands on the Scottish Watershed Walk
The Great Outdoors magazine has revamped its website and uploaded many recent gear reviews. These are organised individually under various categories though the introductory words show which ones were in the same article in the paper magazine. You can find the index for the reviews here.

As an example here is my review of the Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar, picture above.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Misty Autumn Cairngorms

Coire an Lochain

The Cairngorm Plateau is always a favourite place, even when the weather is stormy or cloudy. On this week’s trip it looked as unpromising as possible with thick clouds hanging low over the Northern Corries. Hoping that the mist might lift a little I crossed the base of the corries, staring up at the splintered cliffs vanishing into the greyness. After recent rain and snowmelt the burns were full and thundering down and I was glad of the steeping stones. No sign now of the summer dryness. The green of summer has gone too, the grasses burnt orange, making the slopes look a burnished gold from a distance.

The first hint that the clouds might shift came as I looked into Coire an Lochain. Rather than a solid dark line the mist was swirling and breaking, revealing dark crags and the last remnants of the snowfall of five days ago. As I climbed the shoulder of the corrie I went in and out of bands of mist. Looking back I could see the Meall a’Bhuachaille hills rising above mist-covered Glenmore Forest.

Beinn Mheadhoin streaked with remnants of a recent snowfall

On reaching the Plateau I could see the cloud was dense to the south, a solid wall of darkness hiding the hills. But along the rim of the corries, the northern edge of the Cairngorm Plateau, the mist was disintegrating into strips and patches that drifted gently over the tops. As I walked over the summits of Cairn Lochan and Stob Coire an t-Sneachda I went in and out of the cloud, the visibility shrinking to a few metres then spreading to tens of kilometres. Beyond the hills in Strathspey the sun was shining. Up here the air was chill and damp and I was soon coated in a layer of fine moisture. The air was barely moving but even a gentle breath felt cold on the skin.

Drifting clouds at dusk

I’d set off late in the afternoon, planning on being high up at dusk when the light can be magical and intense. I had the hills to myself, others having descended before I’d even set off. They missed the best of the day. As I reached the top of the Fiacaill a’Choire Chais, the ridge down which I would descend, the first hints of pink appeared in the north-western sky. I stopped and watched as a streak of colour spread below a dense band of cloud, quickly deepening into a rich red. Drifting clouds caught the last rays of the sun. Then the sun itself appeared briefly between the cloud banks before sinking out of sight. Quickly the world turned to grey and darkness swept in as I dropped down the stony ridge.


Later, when I drove home after a few hours in the Glenmore Lodge bar* with Daniel Neilson, The Great Outdoor’s Acting Editor and up here for a course you’ll be able to read about in a forthcoming issue, the mist had spread through the valley and I crept along, headlights dipped, visibility reduced to a few metres. Twice deer at the side of the road froze as I passed and I narrowly missed a few rabbits and pheasants, not seen until I was almost on top of them.

*Beer and whisky for Daniel, coffee and ginger beer for me as I was driving, though I was sorely tempted by the Lodge’s superb whisky selection. I made do with a glass of Black Bottle, my favourite blended whisky, when I got home.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

The Great Outdoors latest issue: Scottish Watershed gear report, celebrating autumn, softshells review, new gear for 2014, staying warm in winter .....

Autumn in Strathspey
The November issue of The Great Outdoors is out now and I have more than the usual amount of stuff in it, mostly about gear. There's a report on how my gear performed on the two-month Scottish Watershed walk earlier this year. A walk like this really does test gear. I also review 12 softshell jackets, look at some of the new gear that'll be appearing in the shops next year and describe what I carry to keep safe and warm in winter. Away from gear my backpacking column celebrates autumn.

Also in gear Daniel Neilson reviews 13 pairs of softshell trousers (a much better use for these fabrics than jackets in my opinion) and tests a luxurious and expensive merino wool midlayer from Icebreaker and an Arc'teryx jacket in the new Gore-Tex Pro fabric while James Reader tries Hi-Tec's V-Lite SpHike Mid WP lightweight boots (the name's an unwieldy mess but they do look good).

There are some great photographs in this issue including a really dramatic one of Loch Tulla from David Lintern. In words there's Everest mountaineer Doug Scott on My Hills; John Manning talking to Stephen Pern about his 3,482 mile walk round every bothy in England, Wales and Scotland, which sounds a fascinating trip; Hanna Lindon scrambling up rakes in the Lake District, with a great opening shot of the author tackling the crux of Jake's Rake; Ed Byrne joining members of the Cairngorms Mountain Rescue team on a walk up Braeriach;  Ronald Turnbull exploring the drovers roads of Atholl; Ben Lerwill walking Tasmania's Overland Track; and hiker historian Edoardo Albert wandering along the Northumbrian coast.

My thoughts on rewilding in the previous issue appear to have stimulated reactions from columnists Jim Perrin and Roger Smith. In his Hillwalker's Library I am delighted that Jim goes back to one of the key sources for rewilding ideas, Aldo Leopold's superb A Sand County Almanac, a book worth reading many times. Roger is cautious about introducing big predators but I have to say I don't think he quite understands why they are needed for rewilding and the effect they have on habitats. Leopold's books and those of Jim Crumley and George Monbiot I discussed in the last issue are worth reading on this and there's also my post from August and the discussion it elicited.

The Hill Skills section also has some good stuff with a guide on how to identify deciduous trees in winter from Sarah Ryan; Alan Halewood of Glenmore Lodge on avalanches and heuristic traps; and Lindsay Mears from the Met Office on changeable mountain temperatures.

Monday 7 October 2013

Books & Paintings: A Visit to Edinburgh

Mount Adams, Pacific Crest Trail

A few days down south in Edinburgh recently included a meeting with a publisher, an art exhibition and a talk at a book festival as well as time with family.

The publisher was Sandstone Press and my meeting with head man Bob Davidson and designer Heather MacPherson of Raspberry Creative Type was to finalise details for my book on the Pacific Crest Trail, Rattlesnakesand Bald Eagles. I now know the format, how many words (I’d better start writing!), and the picture requirements. My photos are all Kodachrome 64 slides, the walk taking place long before digital, and I’ve just spent an evening sorting out 200 to send to Bob and Heather so a cover and around 150 for inside can be selected and scanned. For hours now I’ve been back in 1982 on that glorious walk.

Two days after my book meeting I was talking about wilderness writing and reading from Grizzly Bears and Razor Clams at the Portobello Book Festival. I shared the event with Kellan MacInnes, author of Caleb’sList, and it was interesting hearing how another writer works – not so differently it seems, except that he’s writing before I’m usually awake. After the event a stroll along the sea front and a pint in a pub with fellow outdoor writers David Lintern and Phil Turner was a good way to unwind.

Between the publisher and the book festival I visited the Peter Doig exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery. I didn’t know much about this artist but I was attracted by the big banners and painted pillars outside the gallery. Doig is an artist who does big, bold paintings with dense deep colours and solid powerful images. He’s a very ‘painterly’ painter in that whilst his works aren’t abstract they aren’t naturalistic either and you can see the daubs of paint and the trickles where it has run. This exhibition was about his work since moving to Trinidad in 2002 and the landscapes were lush and tropical. I liked the colour and the power and the size of the paintings. He’s an artist I’ll look out for in the future.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

In Search of Ancient Pinewoods

Camp under a magnificent ancient pine tree

I like trees and over the years I’ve bought many books on woods and forests. The latest, just out this year, is Clifton Bain’s The Ancient Pinewoods of Scotland. Subtitled A Traveller’s Guide this book describes 38 woods spread across the Highlands. The author visited every one - by public transport, bicycle and foot – and as well as a description and a little history provides travel notes with suggested routes.

Browsing through this beautifully illustrated book I found many woods I’d never visited. One was close to home, along the River Dulnain in the Monadh Liath mountains. I’d visited the treeless upper Dulnain many times (see here for a trip last year) but had never walked the lower section. Inspired by this book I decided an overnight trip would be a good way to experience the woods (and also get a feel for how valuable the book was in the field – though I didn’t carry it as it’s too fine a book to risk damaging it and also rather heavy).

The River Dulnain

A single track road through lovely birch and pine woods led from the little town of Carrbridge to a road end by an abandoned farmhouse. The forest stretched on beside the river, here twisting and turning in a wide valley. No path was marked on the map but there was one, narrow and, in places, sketchy, that led through the big pines and riverside meadows below the steep slopes of Garbh-mheall Mor. The day was warm for late September with no need for a jacket. The forest was open and varied, with some dense stands of pines, some big individuals standing alone and some scattered little copses. This was a natural forest with all the diversity that brings rather than a regimented plantation. 

Geal-charn Mor

After some six kilometres the main section of the forest ended abruptly. Remnants of an old fence showed that it had once been enclosed, preventing grazing by deer and the sheep I could see dotted on a far hillside. Beyond the forest edge a few last old pines grew. I found a good campsite beside one of these and pitched my tent with a view across the Dulnain to rolling heather moorland hills, an idyllic spot. A faint, briefly pink, sunset gave way to an intense starry sky. I lay in the tent with the doors open watching the heavens before falling asleep, to wake just once when a gusty wind shook the tent.

The Cairngorms & Strathspey from Geal-charn Mor

Dawn came with a temperature barely above freezing. I could see the sun slowly creeping down the far hillside towards me. Despite the cold I sat outside over breakfast watching the world come to life. A golden eagle flapped slowly down the glen, massive and silent. Red grouse called loudly from the heather. Then as the sun warmed my camp a few midges appeared – I had hoped they were gone for the year. A couple of bites had me packing up and moving on. Following a side stream up beyond the woods I headed for the highest summit in the area, 824 metre Geal-charn Mor, from where I had wide views of the spreading Monadh Liath. A cold strong wind swept the top. To the south dark clouds hung over the Cairngorms, though there was blue sky above them.

Scattered pines

Turning from the summit I made a slow descent beside the Allt an t-Slugain Dhuibh, a tributary of the Dulnain.. Slow because here the trees appeared again, well spread out and scattered across the hillsides. As I descended I noticed more and more dead tree trunks, bleached white with age. From The Ancient Pinewoods I learnt that these are the last remnants of a big fire over 70 years ago. Also and with delight I noticed many pine seedlings pushing up through the heather. Bain says that sheep grazing was stopped in the 1990s. These new trees are the result. In a decade or so this area will look very different.

Dead pine, new growth

Clifton Bain’s book had taken me to some wonderful woods that were new to me and told me much about them. I’ll be using it to visit other woods in the future.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Trekking in the Himalaya - New Book from Cicerone Press

The latest book from Cicerone Press is filled with mouth-watering photos of the greatest mountain range on Earth along with accounts of twenty treks. The book is edited by well-known Cicerone author Kev Reynolds, who has contributed seven of the chapters. There are seven other authors, including myself with a chapter on trekking to Makalu Base Camp.

My copy of the book only arrived today so I've not had time to read much of it yet. I have flicked through the pictures though and been entranced and inspired. The blurb on the back cover says the book will 'feed the dreams and ambitions of all who love wild places'. It's certainly worked on me! I now have a great longing to return to the Himalaya. The problem will be deciding just where. The Manaslu Circuit looks marvellous. But then so does both treks to Kanchenjunga. And there's Nanga Parbat and the Nanda Devi Sanctuary and... and... and...

Trekkers dwarfed by Makalu