Monday 29 June 2020

On my Yukon walk I reached Whitehorse June 29, 1990.

Ten days after setting out on the Chilkoot Trail from SE Alaska into Canada (see this post) I arrived in Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon and by far the largest town in the Territory.

From the Chilkoot Pass I descended to Lake Bennett, where in the winter and spring of 1897/98 thousands of gold seekers built ramshackle boats while they waited for the ice to break so they could float down the Yukon river to the Klondike goldfields. I continued on foot to the little vilage of Carcross, my first supply point. Collecting the first mail and supplies is always significant on a long walk. It means it really has begun.

Between Carcross and Whitehorse is a range of mountains, outliers of the Coast Range I'd crossed on the Chilkoot Pass. Knowing that beyond Whitehorse I'd be traversing the vast forests of the Yukon Plateau and it would probably be over a month before I could climb above the trees again I planned a route over these mountains, climbing 1773 metre Caribou Mountain and 2020 metre Mount Lorne. Appropriately I saw my first caribou of the trip, a cow and a calf, near the first summit.

Both mountains had rocky sections where some exciting scrambling was required. With my big pack this required care. The views were superb with wilderness stretching out all around. The weather was mixed with showers, sunshine, and a cold wind. I felt exhilarated and excited to be there.

My route beyond Whitehorse was sketchy, the outline depending on where I could reupply and whether I could cross some rivers, the detail depending on the terrain. I might find abandoned trails but some of the time I'd be going cross-country.

There are few places in the Yukon with post offices or shops - indeed, there are few places in the Yukon at all. Only one lay on my planned route between Whitehorse and Dawson in the Yukon, a walk of 600-650km through difficult terrain that looked like taking a month or more. However in Whitehorse I was able to arrange for a tour boat, the Youcon Kat, to take supplies to the abandoned settlement of Fort Selkirk. This split my route into three - I'd only need to carry ten days of supplies at a time. I hoped this would work okay.

I wrote a book about the walk. It’s long out of print but I expect there are second-hand copies around.
Photographic Note: I carried two SLRs, the Nikon F801 and FM2, plus Nikkor 35-70 zoom, Nikkor 24mm and Sigma 70-210 lenses, and a Cullman tripod. Films were Fujichrome 50 and 100 slide ones. The total weight with padded cases was 4kg. To digitise the slides I photographed them on a lightbox with my Sony a6000 with a Sony E 30mm macro lens.

Saturday 27 June 2020

Thoughts on Wild Camping

So-called 'wild camping' is in the news and not in a good way. Pictures of dumped tents and camping gear surrounded by trash are all over social media. This, we are told, is wild camping. It isn't. Mostly it's roadside camping, never far from a car. Sometimes camping gear is lugged a bit further before being dumped - there is the strange find of a wheeled suitcase, abandoned tent, and other stuff high up at Angle Tarn in the Lake District - but generally it's people wanting a party rather than an outdoor experience who leave this stuff.

Whilst it's always been a problem, people leaving rubbish seems to have got much worse in recent weeks. The vast amounts of rubbish collected from places like Bournemouth beach and The Meadows in Edinburgh show the problem is general and not just to do with roadside campers. Why this is has engendered much speculation. The gradual ending of the Covid 19 lockdown seems to be the general trigger. Unable yet to return to clubs and bars or visit resorts abroad closed and with little to do in cities and towns people who don't normally do so are heading for the countryside, many, probably, to act as they would in clubs and on foreign beaches or at music festivals.  It seems too many people have become used to assuming others will clear up after them. Dirt cheap disposable 'festival' camping gear contributes too. And in the countryside campsites are closed and there's no accommodation available. Day trips or roadside camping are the only options.

I doubt much can be done about this in the short term. Hopefully as more facilities open the problem will decline. But I suspect there will be an increase in visitor numbers to the countryside over the summer as people choose not to go abroad even if they can. To deal with this I think education and facilities are needed and that means clear signage at access points, more rangers, more litter bins (emptied frequently), and more toilets. Unfortunately there looks like being less of the last three in many areas (for example due to cash problems the National Trust for Scotland is proposing to drastically cut its ranger service - there's a petition against this here). Whilst some people are probably beyond educating there may be many who simply don't know how to act in the countryside. Information and advice is needed.

Back to wild camping - real wild camping, which means taking a small tent into the wilds, staying for a night or two, and leaving no trace. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code says that wild camping "is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place. You can camp in this way wherever access rights apply, but help to avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals and by keeping well away from buildings, roads or historic structures."  That's how it should be.

A pleasant surprise a few days ago was the announcement that the travel limit of around five miles is being dropped on July 3, twelve days earlier than previously announced, and that staying away from home in accommodation with self-contained facilities will be allowed. I can't think of anything that fits this better than a tent out in the wilds!

During lockdown I have avoided planning hill days let alone overnights. I've found it easier to deal with the situation by  accepting it might go on a very long time and enjoying local walks and a tent in the garden. My last wild camp was on March 4, my last hillwalk March 13. I can't remember ever having anything like that big a gap between trips. I also think it must be over forty years since I stayed in one place so long, just going on short walks around home and driving the five miles into town for groceries once a week. Being able to travel will be wonderful!

Summer isn't my favourite time for the hills due to midges, heat, and hazy weather. However camping high or in breezy spots and being out early and late can make for good days. All the photos illustrating this piece were taken in July and August in the Scottish Highlands. I'm really hoping for some days like these the next two months. I'm not waiting!

Monday 22 June 2020

The Great Outdoors June issue

A belated look at the June issue of The Great Outdoors - I've only just seen a copy. It is still in the shops, though the July issue will replace it soon.

This issue features navigation. I review 8 navigation apps, and describe 2 more that are only available for Apple devices (I don't have any of these). Alex Roddie goes traditional and just takes map and compass on a winter trip to Torridon. In a separate piece Alex also describes how to get the most out of digital navigation.

I also review three ultralight waterproof jackets. I can say these were thoroughly tested (see pictures below).

Also in this issue editor Carey Davies walks the wonderful High Sierra Trail in the Sierra Nevada in California; and mountaineer Rebecca Coles makes a first ascent in the Himalaya and reflects on the experience. Both features have great photos. There's an excerpt from Terry Abraham's wonderful new book Life on the Mountains, illustrated with Terry's beautiful photos.

In shorter pieces Jim Perrin delves into the legends of The Roaches; TGO Challenge coordinators Sue Oxley and Ali Ogden look at the tents they've used over the years; Hanna Lindon asks what 'normal' might be after lockdown and in a separate article considers what returning to the hills could mean; also on lockdown Kirstie Smith, Stuart Ship and Mark Connelly describe their experiences; Roger Smith explores a local wood; and the online book club, led by Hanna Lindon, discusses Nan Shepherd's The Living Mountain.

There is currently a special lockdown subscription off for The The Great Outdoors.

Sunday 21 June 2020

What I've Been Reading Online No. 21

The Cairngorms on the solstice

The next collection of pieces I've enjoyed reading online. This time over the last two and a half weeks.


Abandoning Conquest

Why we need to drop the idea of conquering mountains or nature. Good short piece by MyOutdoors.

First Time on Tower Ridge. Sept 1972.

Heavy Whalley describes his first ascent of a classic route on Ben Nevis

One Minute Mountain: Beinn Eighe

The attractions of this superb Torridon mountain described by Alex Roddie

The Mystery of Sandy Irvine

Julie Summers on her great uncle and his disappearance on Everest with Mallory 96 years ago this month

The Going Lighter Guide 2020

First in a useful-looking series on how to lighten your load when hiking and backpacking by Andy Howells

Searching for the magical, unorthodox, and other in Britain's landscapes 

Thought-provoking interview with Jini Roddy, author of Wanderland, a book I'm looking forward to reading

In praise of Wild Camping

David Lintern on the myriad joys of camping in wild places, illustrated, as usual, with his wonderful photographs

Legends Series: Aleister Crowley

Ash Routen looks at the climbing career of the singularly unpleasant self-styled Wickedest Man in the World.

Surmounting Stereotypes with Zahrah Mahmood, the Hillwalking Hijabi

Dan Bailey interviews Zahrah Mamood about hillwalking as a hijabi-wearing Muslim woman

Epic off the In Pin on Skye - 1982

The story of a long difficult rescue after an accident on the Inaccessible Pinnacle.

Ups and Downs - the story of Handbook of the Scottish Hills

Myrddyn Phillips tels the story of EJ Yeaman's little-known but significant classification of the Scottish hills. One for those who like hill lists"

3 Best Satellite Messengers 2020

Good detailed review by Adventure Alan


Mallard with ducklings, River Spey, June 18

Constructing a house with no tools other than the ones God gave you… a bird-brained way to build your own home

An entertaining and fascinating piece on how house martins build their nests by Ben Dolphin

Pheasant or Pheasant's-eye? Nature Connection and Conservation

Miles King on the need to explain difficult aspects of conservation and why a simple love of nature is not enough

Shaun Tan: 'We’re not being mean to animals – but there is evil in obliviousness'

Interview by Sian Cain with the author-illustrator of Tales from the Inner City on animal rights, veganism and winning the Kate Greenaway medal

Political wildlife protection

Mark Avery says wildlife protection is, and should be, a political matter

Please Don't Throw Light-Sticks Into A Waterfall

After a photo magazine published an article on throwing lightsticks into a waterfall (since withdrawn after protests) Andy Wasley explains why this is a really, really bad idea

Nature notes: this week’s nature and wildlife photography, 21 June 2020

Alex Roddie has a great week photographing wildlife

The wild youth of legendary Scottish naturalist John Muir

First of a three part series on the life of John Muir and his relevance today by Hamish MacPherson

Protect NTS ranger and ecology services

An important appeal by Neil Reid about the need for the NTS to keep their rangers, with a link to a petition. Please sign! 


Twilight, Strathspey. June 19

 2020: Waking Up To The New Travel Normal

Holly Tuppen discusses how post-pandemic wanderlust could be a force for good.

Highland tourism: Like the birds, hoping for an income, fat and seed to feed us after an extra-long winter

A look at problems and solutions for the Scottish Highlands when lockdown ends and tourism begins again 


Louise Bacon considers the problems of how to educate the large numbers of people visiting the countryside in a non-patronising and understandable way

Nature Post-Lockdown II

In the second of a three-part series about nature after lockdown Mark Cocker considers the problem of humans failure to give value to the living world 

‘You don’t know what you’ve lost till it’s gone’ – Lockdown Diaries

Lizziwake records her thoughts and activities during lockdown. 'The greatest gift of this time has been the slowing down of life'.

Friday 19 June 2020

On June 19, 1990, I started my walk through the Yukon Territory

On the Chilkoot Pass

On June 19, 1990 I stood on the windswept banks of the Taiya River in SE Alaska. Here, where the river meets the arm of the Pacific Ocean called Taiya Inlet, once stood the town of Dyea, the starting point for thousands of gold seekers heading for the Klondike in 1988. From Dyea they hauled goods and equipment up to the Chilkoot Pass, where they entered Canada, and then went down to Lake Bennett to build boats and float down the Yukon river to the goldfields. 

Turning away from the coast I took my first steps on a walk that would take me 1,000 miles through the Yukon Territory. I knew little about the country ahead as there were few sources of information.

For the first few days though I would be following the 53km (33 mile) Chilkoot Trail, which follows the route of the gold seekers to Lake Bennett. After that there would be no marked trails, indeed, few trails at all. The journey really was into the unknown and I wondered just how feasible it was.

All that lay ahead as I left Dyea and followed the trail into dripping rainforest beside the raging river. High above glacier-clad mountains rose into the clouds. The last of the winter’s snow still lay up there too and I knew I’d be crossing much of it as I climbed to the 1067m (3,525 foot) pass.

Along the Chilkoot Trail there are campsites, some with cabins. As there are bears here (as there would be the whole walk) I used these for cooking and eating and gear storage, so I didn’t have to hang my food. I slept in my tent. 

The weather was mixed, with some heavy rain, brief bursts of sunshine, and gusty winds. The climb to the pass was steep, the terrain a mix of rocks and snow. 

The clouds were streaming across the sky as I looked into Canada for the first time. The journey had begun.

I wrote a book about the walk. It’s long out of print but I expect there are second-hand copies around.

Photographic Note: I carried two SLRs, the Nikon F801 and FM2, plus Nikkor 35-70 zoom, Nikkor 24mm and Sigma 70-210 lenses, and a Cullman tripod. Films were Fujichrome 50 and 100 slide ones. The total weight with padded cases was 4kg. To digitise the slides I photographed them on a lightbox with my Sony a6000 with a Sony E 30mm macro lens.