Sunday 26 June 2016

Images from the TGO Challenge

Sunset, Morar

There was much dramatic light on this year's TGO Challenge, on which I walked across the Scottish Highlands from Morar on the west coast to Montrose on the east coast. Here are some images taken in sunshine, thunderstorms, high winds and clearing mists.

Loch Morar

Luib-chonnal Bothy

Glen Feshie

Victoria Bridge, Deeside

Glen Doll

Montrose Beach

The Great Outdoors July issue + Summer Gear Guide

The latest issue of The Great Outdoors, in the shops now, comes with a big Summer Gear Guide, edited by Will Renwick (having put together similar guides myself I know how much work is needed and I'm impressed). I've contributed to the Gear Guide with reviews and pieces on my favourite tents and other items. In the magazine my Backpacking Column is about this year's TGO Challenge while in the gear section I look at eleven pairs of sandals and the Altra Lone Peak 2.0 shoes. Also in the gear pages Will Renwick reviews the gear he used on the TGO Challenge. There's a list of the gear I used too. I'll be writing about key items in my column on the TGO website over the next weeks - you can read the first review, of the same Lone Peak shoes, here.

There's a piece on this year's TGO Challenge elsewhere in the magazine too with some fascinating statistics (for example overseas Challengers this year included one from Barbados and one from Nigeria) and an unusual wedding. Also in this issue Rod Woodall, who has visited all 6,190 trig points, an extraordinary achievement, chooses his favourite ten, which range all the way from the Isle of Wight to St Kilda; Hunter Davies talks about his next and last book on the Lake District in an interview with Emily Rodway; Alan Rowan takes in the superb Fisherfield Round in the NW Highlands; Daniel Neilson seeks the sublime through the eyes of artists in the Lake District; Keith Foskett praises hammocks; Alex Roddie goes on the Tour of Monte Rosa in the Alps; and Ronald Turnbull sees if it's possible to do a two-day trip in the Yorkshire Dales without meeting anyone. In his Mountain Magic column Carey Davies considers risk-taking in the outdoors and the responses this can bring if it goes wrong while on his Environment page Roger Smith looks at the fracking debate.  Jim Perrin praises Ken Crocket's excellent Ben Nevis: Britain's Highest Mountain on his Hillwalker's Library page and also reviews John Noble Wilford's The Mapmakers, which sounds equally good.

Thursday 23 June 2016

June Snow In The Cairngorms

View across Coire Domhain to Ben Macdui

Snow lasts longer in the Cairngorms than many people think and in June there are often extensive patches remaining, patches big enough in fact to perhaps still merit the term snowfields. On the trip described in my post for June 20 I passed by much of this snow and crossed some of it. The continuing existence of this snow gives the mountains a wilder air. It's reminder of the winter gone and of winters to come. Summer is only a brief visitor here.

How long will this snow last? It's very hard to tell. Some was soft and visibly thawing. That will go first. Some was hard and packed into thick dense slabs. That'll take time to go. The weather matters too of course. A very hot summer and the snow will melt quicker than in a cool one. Most of the remaining snow is on eastly facing slopes as can be seen in the picture above. This protects it from much direct sunlight and from warm wet south-westerly winds.

I'm strictly a curious and interested observer when it comes to summer snow patches. I like to see what's there and how long it lasts but I don't measure it or keep detailed records. Iain Cameron does and anyone interested in summer snow should follow him  - +theiaincameron - for fascinating insights, information and photography.

In the meantime here are some pictures of the remaining snow on and around the Cairngorm Plateau on June 18th and 19th.

Snow-wreath at the head of Coire Cas

One of several snowfields crossed by the path to Ben Macdui  
Thawing snow patch along a feeder stream of the Feith Buidhe

Extensive snowfields round the upper corrie of the Garbh Uisge Mor

Snow on the upper slabs above the Loch Avon basin

Looking down the snowfields to Loch Avon

Walkers on the way to Ben Macdui

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Altra shoes on the TGO Challenge

Altra Lone Peak 2.0 shoes after the TGO Challenge

Back in May I walked 300 kilometres across the Scottish Highlands on the TGO Challenge. Footwear is always important on a walk like this. Having found them comfortable on day walks I decided to see how the Altra Lone Peak 2.0 shoes would perform on a long-distance walk. How did they get on? I've written about that in my latest column on the TGO website. You can read it here.

Monday 20 June 2016

'A weak ridge of high pressure'. Grabbing a quick wild camp in the Cairngorms.

View to Cairn Gorm (left) and Beinn Mheadhoin from my camp.

After a week of drizzle and rain and the hills covered in cloud down to their lower slopes a forecast for a brief respite from the dreich weather was worth seizing. ‘A weak ridge of high pressure’ was meant to bring sunny skies Saturday afternoon followed by a cloudy night and morning before rain returned Sunday afternoon. Hardly an inspiring forecast but the best there’d been for a while and just right for a quick overnight camp in the Cairngorms.

Coire an t-Sneachda
In Coire Cas the sun was shining but a cool wind meant I set off wearing a jacket as well as sun hat and dark glasses. Looking into Coire an t-Sneachda as I climbed I was surprised at the still extensive snow patches. After much warm and humid weather I thought they’d have diminished rather more.  (I remained surprised at the amount of snow throughout the trip – I’ll post a separate selection of pictures soon). Once I reached the Cairngorm Plateau the wind eased and hot sunshine accompanied me over the stony ground and snow patches to Ben Macdui. The grey harshness of the plateau was broken by the bright green of fresh grass and moss and the multi-coloured lichen on many boulders. The sense of space and vastness always found up here in clear weather washed over me, removing tensions and worries, soothing my mind. This freeing of my thoughts is always welcome and useful too as it’s usually followed by ideas for writing, photography, exploration. Positive thoughts overwhelming any negative ones. I think better when walking in wild places.

Camp above the Garbh Uisge Mor

The sky was darkening as I reached the summit. A snow bunting watched me from the trig point then hopped around hoping for crumbs. Clouds rushed in and the wind strengthened. The view shrank and vanished and I left the summit in thick mist, following the snowmelt-filled headwaters of the Garbh Uisge Mor (Rough Big Water). Others were camped here. I passed one tent high in the broadening corrie and far below I could see another beside a small pool. I camped on a shelf well above the damp ground beside the stream, just below the mist and, I hoped, sheltered from the increasingly strong wind.

Beinn Mheadhoin appearing through the mist

The last turned out not to be true as the wind changed direction and blew across the corrie, rustling my little shelter and knocking the fabric against me. I slept briefly, woke, half-slept, woke, dozed, before finally falling asleep properly as the sky lightened in the early hours and the wind eased a little. Heat woke me a few hours later. The sun was shining and the temperature had risen from a chilly +5°C to a hot +22°C that had me overheating in my sleeping bag. Wriggling out of it I was soon outside looking at the hills shining in the bright light, the colours of the vegetation and the rocks and the whiteness of the snow vibrant and sharp. Beinn Mheadhoin rose above clouds boiling up above hidden Loch Etchachan. Anyone camped down there would be in the mist.

Garbh Uisge Beag & Loch Avon

The lovely start to the day didn’t last. Within an hour the sky was overcast and the chill wind had returned. I spent the morning water watching,  following the Garbh Uisge Mor to its confluence with the Garbh Uisge Beag on the edge of the steep slabs and crags dropping down to the Loch Avon basin. Filled with snowmelt the streams boiled and surged with white water, crashing and foaming over the rocks. The sounds of rushing water were everywhere, stimulating and exciting.  Far below the dark loch lay placid under the grey sky. The last stream was the Feith Buidhe, tumbling down the steep slopes below Hells Lum Crag. Many snow bridges crossed the wide water. I was tempted but decided they were probably too rotten so I tried boulder-hopping instead and ended up with wet feet anyway when a rock tipped as I put my weight on it. The near-freezing water was bitterly cold but my feet soon warmed as I climbed the slopes above back into the mist in Coire Domhain. Only when I neared Coire Cas and the end of my trip did I drop back out of the clouds. I was back home though before the rain started, rain that hammered down for hours.

The Feith Buidhe heading for Loch Avon

Thursday 16 June 2016

Wild camps on long distance walks

On Bald Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness, Cascade Mountains on the Pacific Northwest Trail

This is an edited, updated piece that first appeared in 2016. I've been thinking about wild camps again!

As my recent post of wild camping images from this year's TGO Challenge proved popular I thought some of you might like to see a selection of these wild camping pictures. They go back to well before digital photography came in so some of them are scans from slides, hence different colour casts. I did some of the scans myself with a fairly crude set-up using a macro lens and an old lightbox. I haven't come near to perfecting this yet!

I've given the names of the shelters in the pictures - someone always asks!

Anyway, here they are, in chronological order.

In the Cascade Mountains near the end of the Pacific Crest Trail. Wintergear Eyrie (still available as the Terra Nova Gemini). 1982

On the slopes of James Peak in the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies, Continental Divide Trail. Wintergear Voyager (now the Terra Nova Voyager). 1985

In Waterton Lakes National Park near the start of my length of the Canadian Rockies walk. Phoenix Phreeranger. 1988

In the Tombstone Mountains on my south-north walk through the Yukon Territory. Phoenix Phreeranger. 1990.

In the Jotunheimen Mountains on my length of Norway & Sweden walk. Hilleberg Nallo 2. 1992.

On the slopes of Stob Coire Easain on my Munros & Tops walk. Hilleberg Akto. 1996.

In the San Francisco Peaks on the Arizona Trail. Kathmandu Trekking Basha-Tent. 2000.
In the High Sierra on a 500-mile circular walk. GoLite Cave. 2004.

Below Mount Baker on the Pacific Northwest Trail. GoLite Shangri-La 1. 2010.

In the NW Highlands on the Scottish Watershed. Mountain Laurel Trailstar. 2013.

In the High Sierra on the Yosemite Valley to Death Valley walk. Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar. 2016.

In the French Alps on the GR5 from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean. 2018

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Montane Air Jacket reviewed for The Great Outdoors

On recent rainy days I've been testing the new Montane Air Jacket. I've now written up my thoughts for my column on the The Great Outdoors website. You can read about the jacket and how I got on with it here.

Monday 13 June 2016

Mist & buttercups & a ptarmigan's nest in Coire an Lochain

Coire an Lochain with buttercups

Having turned back from a walk to Coire an Lochain last week due to a possibility of thunderstorms (see post for June 9) I set off again and this time made into the corrie but almost didn't see anything due to the mist. The forecast had suggested it might lift later in the day so I'd set off mid-afternoon watching the clouds rolling off the Cairngorm Plateau. The cliffs of the corrie came and went, almost appearing out of the mist but then soon fading away again.

Coire an Lochain

As I wandered into the corrie I noticed a broken eggshell on the ground. I spotted another and then a depression lined with dry grass plus a scattering of white downy feathers. A ptarmigan's nest. I couldn't tell whether the eggs had been taken by a predator or had hatched. I didn't see any chicks but they were likely to be hiding amongst the stones. I did hear ptarmigan and saw one perched on a rock.

The corrie itself was both sombre and bright. The grey crags faded upwards into grey mist. The waters of the two lochans were steel-grey and cold. But the fresh grass was green as was the moss on the boulders and brilliant yellow buttercups shone in damper spots. And the big snow patches glistened in the damp air. The corrie was noisy with the sound of rushing water, the sound of thin waterfalls crashing down the rocks from melting snowfields. Though not as extensive as in some years theree's still a fair bit of snow left despite the hot weather of the last few weeks.

The wind was cold and the air damp. Soon the mist started to drift downwards. I turned to leave. This was far enough for today. I had no desire to wander in the mist. Below the crags and on the shores of the lochans I noticed much debris - dead vegetation and bare soil thrown on top of rocks and grass. The aftermath of floods, snowmelt or avalanche? I couldn't tell. Maybe all three.

I turned back for one last look at the corrie only to find it had vanished into the mist. Crags, snow, lochans, buttercups, ptarmigan, all were gone.

Saturday 11 June 2016

Wild Camping on the TGO Challenge

Camp in Glen Doll

For me backpacking is as much about wild camping as walking. Where I camp and how long I spend in camp are important. Camping is an opportunity to stop and spend time in a place in contrast to moving through it during the day. Staying overnight I can watch a place change with the light, the pattern of clouds, the sunset and the sunrise. On this year's TGO Challenge I had many fine campsites and enjoyed much time both wandering round the sites and watching them from inside my shelter. Here are some wild camping pictures from the trip, featuring the Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar.

First night's camp by Loch Morar after a frosty night
View from the Trailstar at the camp by Loch Morar
One advantage of the Trailstar that's not often mentioned is that it's roomy enough to set up a camera and tripod inside and take pictures like the next one

Chceking the map before heading out on a cool windy day
A flash of sunshine after a very wet night in Glen Banchor
Dusk at a camp in upper Glen Feshie

I've written about my TGOC trip for my column in the July issue of The Great Outdoors. That issue will also includ a piece about the gear he used on the Challenge by Will Renwick plus a list of my gear. I'll then be describing how key items performed in my online columns on the TGO website.