Sunday, 21 July 2019

Thinking About The Pacific Crest Trail

Castle Crags, July 21, 1982

Thirty-seven years ago today I was on the Pacific Crest Trail in the Castle Crags Wilderness Area in Northern California. I've been thinking about the PCT again as I've just finished reading Tim Voors' The Great Alone about his recent PCT thru-hike. I'll review the book more thoroughly soon but the main thought it leaves me with is how different the views of a long walk can be. My experience was very different to his. Compared with the PCT in 1982 The Crowded Trail would have been a better title for his book! I went for nature, wildness and the freedom of the outdoors. Voors did the same but seems to have most enjoyed the people he met.

Read my account of the PCT along with Voors and I think the contrasts are clear.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

The Great Outdoors August issue

Here's a brief look at what's in the latest issue of The Great Outdoors. Following Emily Rodway's departure this issue is edited by online editor Alex Roddie, who's currently away hiking the Pyrenean Haute Route. Next month new editor Carey Davies takes over.

This issue has details of The Great Outdoors Awards 2019. Get your nominations in!

My gear review is of fourteen sleeping mats ranging from minimalist closed cell foam ones to thick insulated ones as comfortable as your bed at home. Also in the gear pages Judy Armstrong reviews six pairs of women's lightweight boots.

The opening spread is a lovely misty dawn photo of Suilven from Stac Pollaidh by James Roddie. 

The BMC's successful Mend Our Mountains fundraising campaign (organised by TGO's new editor) offered various prizes, including days out with well-known walkers and climbers, or, in the case of Alan Rowan, a night out. Alan describes how the bidder for the night walk with him was Carles Ibanez, who he'd met in a bothy a year earlier. There's an interview with Carles too.

Following the 40th TGO Challenge organisers Sue Oxley and Ali Ogden (who did the Challenge herself this year) look at what makes the event so special.

Jim Perrin looks at Lakeland outlier Black Combe, a hill that inspired writer Harry Griffin, in his Mountain Portrait column.

Up in the Highlands Cameron McNeish writes about Kinlochleven as a perfect base for for walkers.

In Snowdonia Sarah Stirling goes swimming in mountain lakes and describes her favourite lake walks.

Daniel Neilson is in Snowdonia too and the Peak District and the Cairngorms as he goes in search of places with the devil in their name.

Tom Prentice has written a new guidebook to the Cuillin on the Isle of Skye and describes the explorations he undertook researching the book.

In the Lake District rain cuts short an attempt by Paul Beasley to follow a river to the sea.

Alex Roddie returns to the Mettelhorn in the Alps after a decade and finds that the retreat of the glaciers has changed the landscape greatly.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Trains, trade shows, thunderstorms.... and the peace of nature

Foxgloves and greenness. Strathspey, July 13.

Last week I was down south in Manchester at the Outdoor Trade Show, wandering hot, stuffy windowless halls looking at gear designed to be used in the open air and wild places. The contrast strikes me every year. The best aspect of these shows is meeting people, old friends and new. And some of the gear is interesting too - it'll be reviewed in The Great Outdoors over the next year (some isn't available until next spring).

View from the train.

After the three days of the show I was happy to make the long train journey north. Thunderstorms were forecast but the view from the train showed a sunny day. Texts from home told of torrential rain and damage to the track to our house. And the train was delayed due to flooding on the line. Then when I got home I found lightning had taken out landline and broadband, leaving just a very weak mobile signal.

Needing to escape from the frustration of trying to work on the phone I went for a walk. The day was muggy, drizzly and dark, the hills swathed in thick clouds. But there were flowers, many flowers, and wildlife - roe deer, buzzards, red squirrels, rooks and more. And the rich greenness of the grasses and trees was soothing. Calmed by nature I returned home in a more accepting frame of mind.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Inverness, Edinburgh, Manchester - Sandstone, DofE Gold, Outdoor Trade Show - July non-outdoor travels.

After sunset from a high camp, June 2018
The first half of this month is busy, very busy, with travels to different events all connected to the outdoors but all taking place indoors.

First came a trip to Inverness where my publishers Sandstone Press were holding a party to celebrate moving into new bigger offices. There I enjoyed talking to many people including fellow Sandstone authors Cameron McNeish and John Allen - the latter's Cairngorm John was Sandstone's best seller until recently. Now, unsurprisingly, it's Man Booker winner Jokha Alharthi's Celestial Bodies. There's a new updated edition of Cairngorm John due out soon - maybe it will regain the top spot!

Before the Sandstone party had even finished I had to dash off for the last train to Edinburgh as the next day I was a presenter at the big DofE Gold Awards at Holyrood Palace. When I say big I mean huge. There were twenty-four presentations (I did two) to almost 1000 young people. Handing out the awards to the eighty young people in my groups I reckon I was photographed at least four hundred times! It was a rewarding, interesting and tiring day. I was well out of my comfort zone too - I had to wear a suit and shirt and tie, for only the second time in many decades. (Mountaineer Alan Hinkes, another presenter, has photographs!).

Back home very late in the evening from Edinburgh I've had two days to get ready to head to Manchester for the three-day Outdoor Trade Show where I'll get sore feet  - it's always more tiring than any hillwalking - wandering round the exhibition halls looking at new outdoor gear. I'll be posting snippets of anything interesting on social media. At the show I'll also be meeting The Great Outdoor's new editor, Carey Davies, along with online editor Alex Roddie and various people from the magazine's publishers.

Once home from the show I'm hoping normal business can resume and I can get out in the hills and gaze at scenes like the one at the top of the piece. That's what it's really all about.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

What I've Been Reading Online No.8

Backpackers in the Cairngorms, June 27

Here's the next selection of items I've enjoyed reading online, covering the last two weeks.


The Longest Straight-line Walk in the World
A fascinating mathematical exercise works out the longest you could theoretically walk in a straight-line is 11,241km from China to Spain.

A revisit: The PCT Hiker's Handbook
Paul Mags looks back at a seminal book of the modern lightweight backpacking movement.

The Case for Hiking with a Heavy Pack  
A somewhat controversial piece. Interesting but I think makes generalised and inaccurate assumptions about lightweight backpacking.

Time to retire 

Barefoot Walking Gives You Calluses That Are Even Better For Your Feet Than Shoes, Study Suggests
We didn't evolve to wear shoes. Calluses are good for you!

Another Afghanistan: Trekking in the Wakhan Corridor
Yes, you can go walking in Afghanistan. Sounds good too.

Common Spotted Orchid, June 23


Can planting billions of trees save the planet?
Patrick Barkham looks at TreeSisters and its work on reforestation. A heartening story.

Trophy hunting 'imperial' and 'unsustainable' 
Well-argued piece showing elephant trophy-hunting is not about conservation.

The weight of the law?
A powerful piece by Guy Shorrock of the RSPB about traps and snares catching non-target birds and animals.

'We are losing the web of life': why the global nature crisis is as dangerous as climate change. 
A worrying analysis.

Connections on Cairngorm
Peter Cairns of Scotland:The Big Picture describes the important and encouraging work of Cairngorms Connect to restore and revitalise wild nature.

Utopia isn't just idealistic fantasy - it inspires people to change the world
Why utopianism matters.

What Does Climate Change Really Mean for Cumbria? 
Excellent look at climate change in general and its effect on Cumbria in particular by environmental scientist Sir Martin Holdgate.

The legalised persecution of wildlife in our National Parks and the Protecting Scotland's Wild Mammals bill   
Nick Kempe of Parkswatch Scotland looks at the problem of wildlife persecution, especially of mountain hares, and questions whether proposed new legislation will work.

The Psychology of Wolf Fear and Loathing 
An interesting look at why people are so scared of wolves.

Welcome to the fastest-heating place on Earth  
On the Svalbard archipelago global warming is taking dangerous hold. 

The Voices of Birds and the Language of Belonging  
Lovely piece on bird songs and calls and us.

Global beef trade 'destroying the Amazon'  
The destruction of the Amazon rain forest speeds up as the demand for beef increases.

One of the Wells of Dee, high in the Cairngorms, June 28
The Unseen World Beneath Us: Places of Beauty, Danger and Wisdom
A wonderful review of Robert Macfarlane's Underland by Terry Tempest Williams.

'The Underland is A Deeply Human Realm' Getting Down with Robert Macfarlane
A fascinating interview with Robert Macfarlane about his new book.

After sunset, June 19

Strì an Fhearainn: Story of the Land
The importance of the land and who owns it in Scotland's culture and community.
Communing with the Dead: I followed the Grateful Dead to escape and ended up finding home
Social psychologisty Amy Cuddy finds a community with Grateful Dead fans.