Saturday 27 June 2015

The Great Outdoors July edition: Continental Divide Trail & Backpacking Tents

Rest stop on the Continental Divide Trail in Montana, 1985

The July issue of The Great Outdoors is in the shops now. My backpacking column is about the Continental Divide Trail, which I was hiking thirty years ago (see this post for more pictures). Looking at my CDT journal I see that on this day, June 27, in 1985 I was in the Helena National Forest in Montana and I walked 15 miles from one woodland camp to another, passing the 350 mile mark - so still early on in the 3100 mile walk.

In the gear pages I review ten of the latest backpacking tents. Elsewhere in this section mountaineering instructor Kirk Watson looks at some kit for serious scrambling - ropes, harnesses, protection, helmet, footwear - and Daniel Neilson tries the new Berghaus Light Speed Hydroshell waterproof jacket.

Also in this issue there's a report on this year's TGO Challenge (2015 saw the 8000th crossing and age ranges of Challengers from 22 to 85), plus suggestions for thirty-three adventures in Britain ranging from the Cuillin Ridge Traverse and backpacking the Pennine Way to building an igloo (with a picture of me sitting on one on the Moine Mhor in the Cairngorms). Ronald Turnbull follows in the steps of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge's night-time walk over Helvellyn in 1800; David Lintern describes his recent coast to coast trip via Scotland's highest peaks by foot and packraft; and Max Landsberg hikes the Alpine Pass Route in Switzerland. Back in Britain Ian Battersby suggests a leisurely approach to the Three Peaks of Yorkshire; Carey Davies finds nature in a sliver of woodland in Manchester; and Roger Smith worries about litter. In his Hillwalker's Library column Jim Perrin writes about William Holgate's Arka Tagh: The Mysterious Mountains, a book and mountain range I have to admit to not knowing about before. I shall certainly look for the book as it sounds entertaining and in the vein of Eric Newby's A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. In the Hill Skills pages there's advice on hillwalking in the Alps from Nancy Chambers of Glenmore Lodge, guidebook writer and trek leader Kev Reynolds, and guide Hilary Sharp, plus a brief look at alpine flowers from Gillian Price, author of Cicerone Press's Alpine Flowers.

Thursday 25 June 2015

Grantown-on-Spey 250th Anniversary

The 28th June sees the 250th anniversary of the laying of the first stone of the first building of the planned town of Grantown-on-Spey, which has been my home for just over 25 years - 10% of its existence.

The history of the town can be found in the excellent Grantown Museum, which is well worth a visit.

To celebrate the anniversary the town is putting on a series of events every day this week, details of which can be found on the Grantown 250 website. Yesterday was the day for local businesses, especially shops and cafes, under the banner Totally Locally as Grantown is the first town in the Scottish Highlands to join this excellent project. We had a family day out to join in the celebrations and managed to support quite a few local businesses.

To capture some of the eighteenth century feel there was much dressing up with some impressive costumes and some surreal scenes as 1765 mixed with 2015. Gentlemen in powdered wigs, ladies in mop caps and lace and big dresses, a hedge-witch and others mingled with summer visitors and street attractions ranging from musicians to stilt-walkers. The atmosphere in the town was wonderful, despite the rather dull weather (at least it didn't rain), and it was a grand day. Afterwards we felt that an annual event of some type would be a great idea for the town.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Keith Partridge Book Launch & Interview

This Thursday adventure cameraman Keith Partridge is launching his new book The Adventure Game in Inverness (Waterstone's bookshop, 7pm). I'll be doing a Q&A session with Keith as part of the launch.

Keith's film credits include Touching The Void, Beckoning Silence and Human Planet. I'm looking forward to meeting him. I hope some of you can come along too.

You can read about The Adventure Game here.

Friday 19 June 2015

The Profligacy of Nature


Sometimes nature can be overwhelming in its power and beauty. From two recent walks brilliant colours and light dominate my memory. The first, pictured above, was a corridor through fresh spring woodland lit by the evening sun on the way up Ben Vrackie above Pitlochry in Perthshire. The woods were rich with new life, the air heavy with forest scents, I felt buoyed up by the sheer fecundity of nature.

A few days later far to the north four of us went to Findhorn to walk on the beach and watch the sea. Passing through the heathland to the shore we were taken with the vast amount of bright yellow gorse flowers, far more than we could remember ever seeing before. This was summed up by the bush above, a dense mass of flowers.

Isn't nature wondeful!

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Ultralight Sleeping Bag & Vest Review in The Great Outdoors

On recent trips, including the one in Snowdonia described in this post, I've been tested some ridiculously light down gear from PHD - the Elite Racer sleeping bag and the WaferLite down vest. My review has now appeared on The Great Outdoors website here.


Sunday 14 June 2015

The Great Outdoors Latest Issue; Stoves, the Pennine Way and Alpkit poles.

Here's a quick look at the June issue of The Great Outdoors, which is available now. In it I review 11 backpacking stoves plus Alpkit's ultralight CarbonLite Ultra trekking poles. Also in the gear pages Daniel Neilson reviews 8 windproof jackets, and gives Best Buy to one of my long-time favourites, though I see the design has changed a little with what looks a better hood and an extra pocket.

My backpacking column is about the Pennine Way which is 50 years old this year and which was the first long walk I ever did. Elsewhere in this issue Terry Abraham talks about making his film Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike and shares some of his favourite photographs (I'm delighted to be in one of them).

There's much more in the magazine too. Jessica Tradati who was in Nepal when the earthquake struck in April talks to people there about it and looks at what is being done; Will Renwick makes a two-day trip over the Welsh Three Thousands; Ronald Turnbull looks at the north faces of 6 Scottish mountains; Ed Byrne goes heli tramping in New Zealand; Vivienne Crow visits the other Borrowdale, Wasdale and Langdale; Daniel Neilson revels in hill running; Carey Davies looks at High Cup Nick; Roger Smith looks at prospects for the environment following the General Election; and Jim Perrin discusses The Lakes of North Wales by Jonah Jones. In the Hill Skills pages Myles Farnbank from Leave No Trace gives advice on how to do that plus there's advice on ticks and how to treat sprains and strains.

Saturday 13 June 2015

A Wild Camp in the Glyders: corrected version - I thought I knew where I was!

A spectacular camp site

A few days ago reader Bob Wilkins contacted me to ask if I was sure that the photo labelled 'Cwm Bochlwyd with Cwm Idwal below' was actually taken in that cwm as it looked to him as though it was taken in Cwm Cneifion. I checked the map, my memory, my notes and my photos and replied that I was sure. Bob replied, very politely, that the view could not have been taken from Cwm Bochlwyd. I checked the map more carefully and realised he was right, which wasn't surprising as he knows the area really well having spent over ten years as a member of the team at Yr Hafod, the Welsh Scout Council base at Ogwen, taking out parties of Senior/Venture scouts and their leaders for instruction and assessment. One of the things we did, wrote Bob, was to encourage close scrutiny of maps and angles. Clearly this was not something I'd been doing.

Thanks to Bob for pointing out my error. I now had a dilemma though. Just exactly where had I been? I had climbed from Cwm Idwal into Cwm Bochlwyd, walked round Llyn Bochlwyd then headed uphill looking for a sheltered site. How had I been in a position to take that photograph? In search of inspiration and information I looked at photos from the area on the web. One of the first showed the back wall of a cwm. It was labelled Cwm Cneifion. I knew immediately it was taken from near where I'd camped as it was the same scene as shown in the photo below captioned 'camp in the upper cwm'. So I'd camped in Cwm Cneifion not Cwm Bochlywd. How had that happened? Somehow whilst searching for a site I'd managed to cross the intervening ridge without realising I'd done so. Bob did tell me that 'it is quite easy to migrate between the two cwms if you do it at the right level.'  

I think what happened was that I simply wasn't bothered about route-finding or my location at the time and was just wandering about looking for a camp site and not paying attention to the overall terrain. Similarly the next morning I was just looking for a way onto the main Glyders ridge above, something the map was no help with so I didn't consult it. So I managed to camp in Cwm Cneifion without knowing it. As it happened this didn't matter but I will be a bit more careful with checking where I am in future (if I'd switched on my phone and checked on ViewRanger I'd have realised where I was but I didn't because I thought I knew).

Here's a revised account with corrections to the photo captions and the story.

Lashing rain blasting past the windows of Plas Y Brenin, driven by winds that sent white-capped waves down Llynnau Mymbyr, didn’t encourage an early start for an overnight trip into the Glyder hills. Rather it spoke of another coffee and a relaxing morning studying the maps, browsing the web and reading outdoor magazines. 

By lunchtime the rain had stopped. The wind hadn’t and the trees were still thrashing wildly. I ventured out for the short walk to Capel Curig and shelter and lunch in a cafĂ©. Just that stroll in the wind was enough to change my plans. Heading up the long broad ridge from Capel Curig to Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr with a high camp on the mountainside wasn’t an attractive idea in this wind. Instead I decided to stay low and walk along Nant y Benglog to Llyn Ogwen before heading into the northern cwms (or corries, bowls, cirques) of the Glyders (or, correctly, Glyderau) in search of a sheltered camp site.

Gwern Gof Isaf

Battered by the wind down in the valley I quickly realised this was a sensible plan, as long I could find that sheltered site. Not that valley camp sites seemed attractive. I passed the one at Gwern Gof Isaf and noted the tents shaking noisily in the wind. One had collapsed. Several looked very unstable, partly due to poor pitching, mostly due to the wind. 

Cwm Cneifion (not Cwm Bochlwyd) with Cwm Idwal below

After a coffee from the stall at the foot of Llyn Ogwen I headed up to Cwm Idwal. Evening now and many people were descending. I soon had the mountains to myself. Many years had passed since I was last here but the memories of many visits – and, undoubtedly, seeing photographs of these iconic places many times – gave the scene a familiar air.  On I climbed into Cwm Bochlwyd where I thought I might camp. I circled round the lake. The wind swept over me. Still too strong for comfort I thought and continued on beside the stream into the narrower confines of the upper cwm - or so I thought, this is when I must have left the stream long enough to cross into Cwm Cneifion and then follow the stream there. Everywhere flat was windswept and, mostly, also waterlogged. Eventually I found a not too bumpy, not too sloping, not too boggy and not too windy site. It would do.

Camp in Cwm Cneifion

As evening turned to night the skies cleared though the wind still roared strongly. The temperature fell to barely above freezing, cold for June even high in the mountains. The wind woke me a few times during the night, as did the less than level ground. Morning came with a slightly less ferocious wind and a return of the clouds.

Clearing skies at dusk

Leaving my spectacularly situated but not that comfortable camp site I started exploring the broken rocky terrain above, searching for a way onto the hills above without losing any height and without getting into any difficulties. Eventually some easy scrambling and a wide gully took me onto the broad ridge roughly half way between Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach.

Castell y Gwynt

Despite my memories of all those past visits the starkness of the rocky terrain was still startling, the splintered rocks seeming almost unnatural and other-worldly. So many rocks twisted, contorted, standing on edge like giant stone knife blades; this is a hostile landscape. I crossed the rocks to Glyder Fawr then turned and headed for Glyder Fach past the most famous of the rock piles, the Castell y Gwynt – the Castle of the Winds –, and the equally well-known Cantilever Stone, on which people were queuing up to stand. 

Glyder Fach

Unsurprisingly, despite the cold wind, there were many walkers on these popular summits. As soon as I left Glyder Fach and headed east over Y Foel Goch and Gallt yr Ogof the people vanished though, as eventually did the rocks, making for much easier walking. I left the dark clouds behind too and was soon in sunshine though whenever I looked back I could see them hanging over the higher peaks. A final descent down slopes rich with bluebells and fresh bracken fronds was a complete contrast to the sterility  and harshness of the rocky summits.

Bluebells & Bracken

Thursday 11 June 2015

Snowdonia and Ilkley Moor: a rather different trip

Snowdon from the slopes of Moel Siabod

Seven days away, twenty-three hours travelling, twelve trains (and two cars and one van), five nights indoors (outdoor centre, guest house, hotel),  three talks on three different topics (and listening to other talks), a day’s filming and getting sunburnt – it was not my usual trip. But amongst it all I did manage to grab one wild camp and some hill walking.

Setting up for filming

Snowdonia is a long way from the Cairngorms and it took eleven hours from my door to Plas Y Brenin outdoor centre where I would stay for three nights. Here I met Carey Davies, the BMC’s Hillwalking Officer, and, the day after I arrived, film makers James and Matt, with whom I had made some hillwalking videos for BMC TV last autumn. On that occasion stormy weather had limited how much we could do (see my post here and the two videos that resulted on BMC TV here). This time the weather was as good as it could be. The only risk was sunburn. We wandered up through the forest to the open slopes of Meall Siabod and great views of the surrounding hills, especially Snowdon. Here we spent the day making short films on everything from grid references to choosing footwear that will eventually appear on BMC TV. As the day wore on high thin cirrus clouds streaked across the sky, presaging the weather to come.

I had other duties in Snowdonia and that evening I gave a talk to the PALOES (Professional Association of Leaders of Outdoor Education in Schools) Conference taking place at Plas Y Brenin. After my talk, which included rather a lot of pictures of igloos, Tori James gave a really inspiring talk about her progress from doing the D of E Award to reaching the summit of Everest. 

Stormbound Snowdonia

The next day came with heavy rain and high winds. Dark clouds raced over the peaks. I was glad the filming was over. I had another talk to give to PALOES in the morning, following a double act from two MPs concerned with the outdoors, Huw Irranca-Davies from Labour and David Rutley  from the Conservatives. I followed their talk of Parliamentary procedures, outdoor education and the difficulties of promoting the outdoors in the political sphere with the Pacific Crest Trail. Tori James also spoke again, this time about her Beeline Britain adventure.

Up into the hills

The conference over I now had two days free before I was due in Ben Rhydding to give another talk, this time to the BMC Yorkshire Area meeting. Two days. Snowdonia. A wild camp obviously. And also some summits in an area I hadn’t visited for many years. And a wild camp I had, on a very windy night high in the hills. That’ll be the subject of my next post.

Back down from the hills it was another night inside, this time the very comfortable Mary's Court Geust House in Betws Y Coed, then back on the trains to Yorkshire on a beautiful sunny day. Arriving with a few hours to spare I took up Carey Davies suggestion and headed for the Cow and Calf rocks and Ilkley Moor. It was just a stroll and the sun was out so I didn’t take anything with me other than a windshirt in case it was breezy. The rain started just as I reached the top of the Cow and Calf rocks, heavy rain driven on a fierce wind. Quickly soaked I soon retreated, back down through green flower-strewn woods rich with that heady after-rain aroma to the warmth and dryness of the Wheatley Arms.

The rain approaches the Cow and Calf rocks

That evening I gave a talk on my Scottish Watershed walk, a walk on which it rained often. I was never as wet on it as I was on Ilkley Moor though. Several of those at the talk were TGO Challengers, most of whom I’d met before, along with some old friends and it was good to meet them and chat afterwards. Also there were old friends John Manning,  PCT hiker, TGO Challenger and currently Lakeland Walker editor,  and Chris Ainsworth who I’d shared a flat with in Skipton a long time ago. Whilst living there I’d given a talk on my Pacific Crest Trail walk to the Craven Mountaineering Club at the Craven Hotel in December 1984. Now I couldn’t actually remember where or exactly when I’d given that talk. Deidre Collier, secretary of the BMC Yorkshire Area who'd organised this night's talk, had been there though and she did remember. Sometimes I think the outdoor world is quite small.

The rain sweeps in

Another day on trains and I was home again after an unusual trip that seemed very long, the filming on Moel Siabod having faded into the past already.