Saturday, 24 September 2022

40 Years Ago I Finished My Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike

Monument 78, September 24

On the 24th September 1982 I finished my walk along the Pacific Crest Trail at Monument 48 on the USA/Canada border. It was pouring with rain. I didn't mind. I'd just had the greatest adventure of my life. My only regret was that it was ending. 

View from Fire Creek Pass, September 17

The last two weeks of the walk were spectacular as the trail passed through the dramatic alpine mountains of the North Cascades. They were tough weeks too as over and over again the trail climbed to high passes, descended into deep valleys, then climbed straight back up to another high pass. But after over 2000 miles (3200km) of backpacking I was very fit and found the walking easier than back in the much gentler terrain at the start in faraway Southern California. 

Autumn larches at one of my last camps

After the touch of winter at Snoqualmie Pass (see this post) I felt the need to hurry even though I would have liked to draw out these last weeks, stretching every last minute in the mountains and on the trail. But winter was coming. The autumn colours were increasing by the day, the ground a swathe of red. Golden larches shimmering in the forests. Nights were chilly, the ground often white with frost at dawn. Days were hot in the sun but cool in the shade.

Mount Hardy from Methow Pass, September 22

But the weather held until the very last day and the mountains were glorious. This was the most dramatic landscape since the High Sierra. I had wondered if I would be tired of the trail and eager to finish after so many months walking. Not here, not in this magnificent landscape. I felt I could have walked here forever.

Cutthroat Pass, September 22

I couldn't of course. In two days I would be back home. The PCT would live with me forever though and my appreciation and joy in the walk would deepen over the years. 

The full story of my PCT hike is told in my book.


Tuesday, 20 September 2022

The other Huntly's Cave

Uaigh Mhor & Huntly's Cave

Huntly’s Cave is a popular rock-climbing crag set in a deep ravine with the Allt an Fhithich (Raven’s Burn) running through it. The crag lies a few miles from Grantown-on-Spey just off the A939, known locally as the Dava Road as it crosses Dave Moor. The Dava Way, which follows the old railway line from Grantown to Forres, passes close by. UKclimbing.com lists 31 climbs on the crag.

The cave that gives its name to the crag is named after George Gordon, 2nd Marquis of Huntly, who is said to have hidden here after his Royalist force was defeated in the early 1640s. His son is also said to have hidden here not long afterwards. (Information from Place-Names Around Grantown-on-Spey by C.J.Halliday).

However, there is another Huntly’s Cave just four kilometres to the north-east that’s far less well-known. Not much information is available on this cave. Halliday just comments that “it’s said one of the lords of Huntly found refuge here while proscribed by the government”. It lies in a little ravine, the Uaigh Mhor (Large Grave), in an attractive small rocky area on the boggy moorland west of Carn na Loine (Hill of the Marsh) on the northern border of the Cairngorms National Park.

After passing close by many times over the years – as with so many local places I’ve been meaning to “get round to” - I finally decided to go and have a look at it on a day of low cloud and drizzle when the high hills didn’t seem attractive. 

Starting out from home through the local woods I discovered recent storm-felled trees on top of the not-quite-so-recent ones, making the going interesting in places. The woods were damp and autumnal. There were many fungi. 


Once through the trees I was soon on the estate track that runs through the open moorland around the head of the Allt Breac (Speckled Burn). The rocky area holding Huntly’s Cave stands out amongst the bleak expanse of sheep-cropped and muir burned heather. It makes up the eastern side of 420-metre Carn a’ Ghille Chearr (Hill of the Left-Handed Lad) and the little crags are dotted with small pines and birches. The Uaigh Mhor lies at the northern end of the crags and runs down to the track.

The Uaigh Mhor

Whilst only some 150 metres in length the Uaigh Mhor makes up for this with its roughness. A tangle of dense juniper bushes, deep heather, rocks, and boulders makes for slow progress. There’s no path. Why it’s meant to resemble a grave I couldn’t work out – maybe with less vegetation it would be clearer. 


The cave lies near the top end of the ravine, a narrow damp cleft under a boulder. It’s around three metres deep with enough space for two or three people to sit uncomfortably. The floor is sloping and rocky. You would have to be desperate to spend a night here.


From the cave I clambered out of the top end of the ravine and then followed the narrow ridge above back to the track. Another rocky ravine lay on the other side of this. There are many pines. This is a delightful little wild area in complete contrast to the moors just below. I enjoyed my mini expedition and I’ll be returning to explore more thoroughly.

Sunday, 18 September 2022

Surprising film discovery and old cameras in use, for a while


A chance comment by @alex_roddie on a Twitter photography thread that he couldn't find any colour negative film anywhere reminded me that I'd recently seen an old roll somewhere. A hunt in some long neglected drawers revealed two rolls of Kodak ColorPlus 200 film plus two film cameras with half-used films in them. The two unused films have expiry dates in 2009 and 2011. I sent the latter to Alex. I'll use the former myself, when I've finished the two films in the cameras, one another Kodak ColorPlus, the other Kodak Elitechrome 100. 

One of the cameras was a surprise, one wasn't - I knew I had it somewhere. That both had half-used films in was more of a shock. How come I'd never finished them? When did they date from? What might be on them? I have no idea of the answers to any of those questions.

I changed completely to digital in 2005 so the films are older than that. I have no memory of when I last used the Ricoh GR1s compact, the camera I knew I still had and which has the Elitechrome film in it. I remember I enjoyed using it. It's compact and lightweight at 218 grams. The 28mm f2.8 lens is very sharp if I remember correctly.

The last time I know I used the Nikon F50 SLR was on my Munros and Tops walk in 1996. I bought it for that walk because I wanted a lighter camera than the Nikon F801 I had used for a number of years.The F50 feels like a brick now! Even though the lens on it is a small Nikkor 24mm. I didn't like the F50 as I found the tiny button controls fiddly and soon after the Munros walk I bought a lighter, better designed Canon SLR. The film in the F50 isn't from that walk though as it's a print film and I only took slides. I mainly used colour print film for product shots for gear reviews. Maybe I kept the camera for that purpose?

I'm interested to see what images are on these films and how they come out. I hope the pictures already taken will be okay. I doubt the ones I'm taking now will be as the cameras haven't been carefully stored, though both work perfectly. When I've finished the films and had them developed I'll post some results.

I might take the GR1s up in the hills. The F50 will only be used locally. The 24mm lens is the only I have for it, which will limit what I can do. But then I'm not expecting much from the results. 

Using film again has brought back many memories. I took hundred and hundreds of rolls, probably thousands, between 1979, when I started taking photography seriously, and 2005. I don't remember film fondly! Of course there was no other option but looking back now it really was a hassle, especially on long walks. I remember sending back batches of film for processing, in many small packets in case any got lost, and then waiting to hear from home that they'd arrived and the pictures looked okay. Unable to see the results I'd take two or more shots at different settings most of the time so a 36-shot roll was more like 18-shots. I carried a lot of film but still had to limit how many photos I took each day.

Sending photos to magazines and for books was another hassle. Parcelling them up carefully, insuring them (what price for irreplaceable photos from long walks?), posting them, waiting to hear they'd arrived okay, waiting for them to come back okay, checking them on return for scratches, glue marks, fingerprints - all of which occurred at times. 

Once these films are finished I doubt I'll shoot anymore. The cameras will go.

Digital is a joy! I love it!

Thursday, 15 September 2022

A Walk On Beinn Lair & A'Mhaighdean: A Trip Report With Gear Reviews

View from Beinn Lair

Last year I began an occasional series of trip reports with the emphasis on the key gear used for The Great Outdoors. I posted the first one on this blog in January. This is the second one, an early summer three-night trip in the Fisherfield area.  I've edited it slightly and updated prices.

My walk started on the path from Kinlochewe to Loch Maree. This is a well-used path as it leads to the main ascent route up Slioch. After the turn-off for the mountain the path continues above the loch, rougher now as it’s less walked.. There are magnificent old oak woods here and I was pleased to see many young trees inside fenced regeneration areas established by the Letterewe estate. My first camp was above one of these, looking over Loch Maree to the Torridon hills. A breeze kept away the midges and I was able to sit outside, as was the case at every camp on the trip.

The next day I followed a good path up to Loch Garbhaig and then struck off uphill to Beinn Lair. This is a fine big hill but pathless as it only reaches 859 metres, well below Munro height. On the climb, going up the boggy tussocky slopes was quite arduous but once on the wide ridge short grass and stony ground made for easy walking and I strode along admiring the splendid views. I had thought of a high camp but thickening dark clouds, a strengthening wind, and some big spots of rain kept me moving all the way down to the Fionn Loch, where I made my second camp. The incipient storm came to nothing though, the wind dwindling to a light breeze.

So far I’d seen no-one. The next day there were others on the excellent twisting path leading up from the Fionn Loch and the Dubh-Loch to the col between Ruadh Stac Mor and A’Mhaighdean, both Munros, the latter said to be the most remote of all. For much of the ascent I was able to admire the huge, long cliff that makes up the north face of Beinn Lair, something unsuspected from its summit. 

View from A'Mhaighdean

From the col I went up A’Mhaighdean, to be rewarded by clearing skies and superb views and the summit to myself. After sitting a while gazing at the mountains and the sea and the lochs and the sky, I set off down the mountain’s south-west slopes. These are wide and gentle, a total contrast to the steep rock faces to the west and north, and I was soon down by Lochan Fada and pitching my tent for a third night. The mostly cloudy weather cleared here, and I had lovely evening and morning light. Then there was just the long walk-out beside the lochan and down Glean Bianasdail to the outward path and Kinlochewe.

Camp beside Lochan Fada

Planning and preparation

The forecast was for warm weather, mostly cloudy with the chance of showers and a strong breeze. I hope the last would keep away the midges (it did) but I still wanted a tent that would keep them out if it didn’t (and I packed head net, mosquito coils, and repellent). However, tents can get stuffy on warm nights, so I also wanted one with good ventilation. For sleeping a light mat and a bag that could also be easily vented seemed sensible.

Light clothing seemed best to prevent getting too sweaty but as always I wasn’t going without waterproofs and a warm top, though I reckoned light ones would do. The wind meant a windshirt might be needed - I usually carry one in summer anyway.

Recent hot weather had stripped away most of the snow. The ice axe and crampons were packed away until the first snows next autumn. It was time for trail shoes rather than boots too. In summer I prefer getting my feet wet from the outside rather than from sweat inside hot boots. As it was my feet stayed dry until the rain that feel for the last twenty minutes of the walk.

My gear was the usual mix of well-proven favourites, new test gear, and gear on long term test. At 16kg the pack was quite heavy for a four-day summer trip but not so much that it was a real burden. If I hadn’t been testing it I’d have taken a lighter weight pack with a simpler design. I could have taken a lighter sleeping bag too, but I don’t have one that’s as versatile as the one I took. I think I should have left the foam pad behind and saved 200 grams and I could have taken ultralight waterproofs. Overall though my selection worked fine for this trip.

EQUIPMENT

PACK

The pack beside Lochan Fada, Slioch in the background
 

Montane Yupik 65         £160    1.76kg  ****1/2   Recommended   

Likes:                       pockets, comfort
Dislikes:                   only one size, straps slip occasionally
 
Capacity:                  65 litres
Materials                  100D triple ripstop nylon, 420D base
Closure                     lid with twin buckles, 2 drawcord closures
Back system             adjustable, pre-curved aluminium frame, moulded back panel
Back length:             59cms
Compartments:         2
Pockets:                   2 outer lid, 1 inner lid, 2 zipped stretch mesh front, 2 stretch mesh side, 2
                                hipbelt
Sizes:                      one

Having had this pack on test for a while now I thought it time to take it on more than an overnight trip. With camera gear including a tripod as well as four days food along with my camping gear it weighed 16kg when I set off. The pack is capacious and easily swallowed all this stuff. I reckon 65 litres is conservative, especially given the excellent large very stretchy front pockets. I liked having nine pockets and two compartments as they made it easy to organise gear. The back system and well-padded hipbelt made the pack comfortable to carry, though on the roughest terrain I noticed it wasn’t quite as stable as more body-hugging packs. I also found the harness straps slipped a little more often than on other packs (they always seem to slip a little at times), though not enough to be very annoying. Overall, the Yupik 65 was fine for this trip. It’s quite light for a pack with so many features.

Note: in September 2022 this pack no longer appears in the Montane website so it may be discontinued.

 

TENT

Camp above Loch Maree
 

MSR Hubba NX 1            1.26kg                       £455  ****1/2   Recommended

Likes                              lightweight, roomy
Dislikes                          flysheet doesn’t come right down to the ground
 
Flysheet                         silicone/PU 20D ripstop nylon, 1200mm hydrostatic head
Inner                               ripstop nylon/nylon micromesh
Groundsheet                   30D PU ripstop nylon, 3000mm hydrostatic head
Poles                              DAC Featherlite NFL
Pegs                               9 MSR Needle
Porches                          1
Inner Dimensions             216 x 76cms, 91cm high point

With the likelihood of warm nights and also midges if the wind died down I wanted an airy tent that provided good protection. The Hubba NX 1 fitted the bill. It’s large mesh panels on the inner and flysheet that doesn’t come right down to the ground makes for good airflow whilst the porch is big enough for cooking with the doors closed if the midges are bad or it starts raining. For a two-skin tent that’s roomy for one the weight is quite low. It packs up small too. It does pitch inner first, but I wasn’t expecting much rain and I knew I could pitch it very quickly if necessary. As it was there was no rain while I was camping nor any midges, so I never fully closed the flysheet door. The breeze that blew every night was enough to prevent any condensation from forming while the tent kept enough of the wind out to stop it disturbing my sleep. Overall, it was an ideal tent for the trip.

SLEEPING BAG


Sierra Designs Cloud 800                875g       £300    *****    Best Buy

Likes                          lightweight, comforter design, foot vent
Dislikes                      expensive
Fill                             800fp DriDown
Shell                          15D nylon ripstop
Construction               box wall
Zip                              no
Length                        regular 198cm, long 213cm
Rating                        comfort -3C, comfort limit -10C
 
When I reviewed this bag in a three-season sleeping bag feature last year I recommended it. I’ve used it a fair bit since and grown to like it more and more. Now I’d give it Best Buy. I chose it for this trip because of the comfort and versatility. In early June I didn’t think night temperatures would be too warm for a bag with this rating due to its unique design. There’s no zip but the bag still opens wide at the top as there’s a wrap-around comforter than runs over the top half of your body. You can easily wrap this round you for warmth or open it up to cool down. It gives a feeling of freedom you just don’t get with a zipped bag. There’s a vent for your feet in the lower part of the bag too so if they get hot you can just stick them out. On the bottom there’s a large uninsulated sleeve designed for a sleeping mat. I don’t use this as it restricts movement. I find the bag roomy enough that I can move inside, and it stays under me. This is one of the most comfortable bags I’ve ever used.

SLEEPING MAT

 

Klymit V Ultralite SL        293 grams (420 grams insulated)                    £100      **** Recommended

 
Likes                       ultralight, comfort, cost
Dislikes                   nothing
Type                        airbed
Materials                 20D polyester
Dimensions             183 x 51cm
Thickness                6.4cm
Rating                     R-value 1.3
 
This unusual mat has V-shaped air tubes with side rails to keep you centred whatever position you sleep in. Sleeping mostly on my front I find this design more comfortable than ones with simple straight tubes. For summer the V Ultralite SL is ideal. It packs really small, it’s exceptionally light, and it’s thick when inflated. However, at present it’s not available – I hope Klymit bring it back. There is a warmer version with exactly the same design and synthetic insulation inside. This has an R-value of 4.4 and should be warm enough for frosty nights. However, it weighs 454 grams, still light but a fair bit more than the uninsulated version.

I also took an OMM DuoMat (200 grams, £22), which I intended to use under the Klymit mat if the latter felt chilly and which would do as an alternative if the Klymit sprang a leak. Neither of those happened and I just used it as a sit mat on wet ground.

STOVE SYSTEM

View from the camp beside the Fionn Loch

 Trail Designs Classic Ti-Tri with Kojin burner   156 grams       $80        *****    Best Buy

 

Likes:                   ultralight, windproof, simple         
Dislikes:               minimal flame control
Cone material:      titanium   
Burner                  aluminium with inner batting and screw-top lids  
Fuels                    meths

I’ve used the Ti-Tri system on long walks for over a decade now. Consisting of a titanium cone that forms both windscreen and pot support with a meths or solid fuel burner inside it’s simple to operate. For many years I used the little aluminium 12-10 meths burner, taking great care not to crush it as it is somewhat fragile. Recently though I’ve replaced this with the even smaller Kojin burner, which weighs 19 grams, and is much tougher as it’s just a screw-top tin full of batting that absorbs the fuel. This design also means that any unused fuel can just be left in the closed burner, which doesn’t leak. I find it more efficient than the 12-10 too, boiling water faster and using less fuel to do so. Simmering isn’t easy – I use tent pegs through holes in the top of the cone to hold the pan higher above the flame – but I didn’t have any long simmer meals on this trip. The cone does have to be the right size for your pot. This one fits my Evernew 0.9 litre titanium pot, which I’ve had well over twenty years.

 

FOOTWEAR & CLOTHING

TRAIL SHOES


Merrell Moab Speed     624 grams (size 9)    £110    *****   Best Buy

Likes               lightweight, good grip
Dislikes           nothing
 
Uppers            mesh & TPU
Sole                Vibram Ecostep
Sizes              men 6.5-14, women 3.5-8.5

This was my second trip of several days with these shoes and again I was impressed. This was a tougher test than previously as I was carrying my full pack the whole time and there was plenty of rough, steep terrain to ascend and descend. The shoes felt secure and comfortable throughout and my feet never got hot and sweaty in the heat and I had no blisters. I wore the shoes with light merino/synthetic mix ankle socks and the combination was excellent. The uppers are mesh for breathability with a wide rand to protect against abrasion. So far, the shoes show little sign of wear despite much scraping on rocks and tough vegetation. The Vibram sole hasn’t started to wear either and provides good grip on every type of terrain. For me these are great trail shoes for warm weather, especially as they fit me perfectly, being quite wide at the forefoot whilst narrow at the heel so my feet don’t slip in them. They’re lightweight too.

T-SHIRT

Columbia Zero Ice Cirro-Cool T-shirt    145 grams (L)   £45   *****     Best buy

Fabric:        57% recycled polyester/43% polyester, side panels 94% polyester/6% elastane
Sizes:         men S-XXL, women XS-XL 

Four days backpacking in mostly hot weather is a tough test for a base layer claimed to keep you cool and dry fast. I’m pleased to say this Columbia t-shirt came through with flying colours. I may have been sweat-soaked at times, but the t-shirt wasn’t. Sweat just passed through it and evaporated and the fabric always felt cool. Where it did get damp, under pack straps and hipbelt, it dried amazingly fast as soon as it was exposed to the air. It was still working fine on day four too. Many synthetic base layers I’ve tried start to go stiff and feel sticky after a couple of days use. On the third day a cool breeze meant I wore a windshirt over it. The t-shirt was just as comfortable. The fabric is soft and comfortable and feels great against the skin. It’s one of the best synthetic base layers I’ve worn in hot weather. It’ll be coming on more trips.

WINDSHIRT

Paramo Fuera Smock     £80     300 grams (M)     £80   *****   Best Buy

Materials           polyester microfibre
Hood:                adjustable, wired peak 
Pockets:           dual access chest 
Cuffs:                Velcro 
Hem:                drawcord
Sizes:                XS-XXL

Good designs last. I’ve had this old favourite windshirt for over fifteen years now and I still find it as good as ever. Paramo has brought out several windproof tops since the Fuera but happily has kept it in the range. With a forecast for windy but mostly dry weather it seemed ideal for this trip. In fact, I only wore it on one day but then it was just the right garment to keep off the cold wind. I also wore it in camp when the breeze was chilly. The design is functional. The hood has a wired peak and drawcords and doesn’t blow off your head in strong gusts, as too many more basic hoods do. The big chest pocket is excellent for map, phone, and other items. The neck zip is long enough for reasonable ventilation. I love the wide cuffs which are great for airflow and allow the sleeves to be easily rolled up if your arms do get hot. The fit is roomy – the Medium is bigger than some current Paramo Large sizes – and getting the Fuera on over the head is no problem. The fabric is soft and comfortable against the skin. It’s tough too, the garment showing little sign of wear after all these years.

Other clothing

Camp beside Lochan Fada

I wore Mammut Runbold trousers throughout. These stretchy nylon trousers are cool in the heat and proved just wind resistant enough. For warmth I had the Patagonia Micro Puff insulated jacket. I only wore this in camp when it was a little chilly. My waterproofs – the 66 North Snaefell jacket and Berghaus Paclite trousers – were never worn, though they could have been if the rain that fell during the last twenty minutes of the walk had started earlier. As it was, I just got damp. I also had a Smartwool Beanie for warmth in camp and an old baseball cap with a neck cord for the sun (it stays on in the wind). Neither saw much use.