Sunday 27 August 2017

Interview on Backpacking

In the High Sierra on the Yosemite Valley to Death Valley walk

Three years ago I did an interview about backpacking for The Great Outdoors. Here it is, with updates in italics. 

What does backpacking mean to you? 

Many things. Freedom, adventure, nature, beauty, space, room to breathe, room to really live.

What was your most memorable experience out on the trail? 

There have been many! Watching wolves in the Yukon, camping on the snow-covered summit of Ben Nevis, meeting a grizzly bear in the Canadian Rockies, spending ten days without seeing anybody in the Yukon, climbing a snowy Mount Whitney on the Pacific Crest Trail. These are just a few. 

Climbing Mount Whitney

What is your average pack weight on a long-distance walk?

That has varied over the years and with different walks. The overall average is probably around 15kg, though that doesn't mean much. My base weight, that is without food, water or fuel, was around  15kg when I began. Now it's more like 8-9kg. Supplies add around 1kg a day.

My pack on the Yosemite to Death Valley walk

What are your five key items of kit?

Shelter, stove, pack, footwear, sleeping bag. At present these would be Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar shelter, Trail Designs Caldera Ti-Tri Inferno stove, Lightwave Ultrahike 60 pack, Inov8 Terroc trail shoes and Rab Infinity 300 sleeping bag as I used all these on my last long distance walk (and the stove and shoes on the one before that too). On last year’s Yosemite to Death Valley walk I used the ULA Catalyst pack and the PHD Sleep System and these would now be my first choice for pack and sleeping bags. 

Trailstar on the TGO Challenge

Are there any unusual items that you find particularly useful to carry with you?

I'm not sure what constitutes unusual! I used to always carry paperback books to read in camp and on boring road walks. Now I take a Kindle. I also carry mini binoculars for watching wildlife and studying terrain ahead.  I know many other backpackers find both these unusual.

What was the first long-distance walk you took?

The Pennine Way was the first walk longer than weekend but the first really long-distance walk was Land's End to John O'Groats.

What was the biggest lesson you learnt on that trip?

There were two equally important ones. The first was that I really enjoyed multi-week solo backpacking and wanted to do even longer walks. The second was that I preferred the wildest country - the Scottish Highlands were the highlight of the walk.

What advice do you have for anyone walking their first long-distance route?

Allow plenty of time, be determined, change your footwear if its uncomfortable (nothing worse than sore feet for ruining a trip), accept that there will be periods when you'll wonder why you're doing it and when those occur just keep walking.

What route would you love to do next?

Either the Hayduke Trail or the Grand Enchantment Trail, both in the deserts and mountains of the SouthWest USA. After two rather wet long-distance walks I fancy sun and heat! As my last long walk since writing this was in sun and heat I’d now add the Great Divide Trail. Next year will be the 30th anniversary of my walk the length of the Canadian Rockies. Maybe it’s time to go back.

In the Canadian Rockies in 1988

What are your top backpacking tips?

Know your equipment well. Take your time. Be prepared to alter plans if necessary - weather, tiredness, difficult terrain can all be reasons. Enjoy yourself.

What would you say are the best backpacking routes in the UK and the world?

In the UK I'd say a continuous round of the Munros, the Scottish Watershed, the Cape Wrath Trail, the Lake District 4000' summits and, of course, The Great Outdoors Challenge. In the USA the Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail for multi-month walks and the John Muir Trail for a three week one. In Canada the Great Divide Trail. In Europe the Kungsleden and the Pyrenees High Level Route.

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