Friday, 30 July 2021

First Hilleberg Akto review - in 1996 after a trip to the Grand Canyon


Looking through old copies of The Great Outdoors for short quotes to use in current issues I came across my first review of the Hilleberg Akto in the February 1996 issue with pictures from a Grand Canyon trip the previous year. The Akto has been a favourite tent ever since.

I'd completely forgotten about this review. I'm interested to see that I start off by saying that "functional solo tents are rare". I also note that the Akto weighs "a mere 1.6kg" but "at £265 it is not cheap". How things have changed! There are many good solo tents now, most weighing less than 1.6kg, including Hilleberg's own Enan at 1.2kg. The Akto is still expensive though (£680 now), still top quality, and still a great tent.

Monday, 26 July 2021

Heat & Mist in the Torridon Hills

My first camp as the mists cleared on the second morning

Heading for the Torridon hills last week I was looking forward to some sunny weather and hoping it wouldn't be too hot, not something that often concerns me. I was planning on climbing some Corbetts I hadn't been on for many years, hills that lie between the Torridon giants and Loch Maree. Starting up the Mountain Trail from the latter I wondered about the forecast as the summits were all in cloud.

In dull evening light I found a spot to camp wondering what the view was like. I didn't find out the next morning as I woke to find my tent enveloped in thick mist and dripping with dew and condensation. Leaving it to dry I set off for Ruadh-stac Beag, a spur of Beinn Eighe that is most easily climbed apart from the rest of the mountain. Only when I reached the summit after some laborious final steep scree and boulders did the clouds begin to clear, the temperature rise, and the spectacular mountain landscape all around reveal itself.

The eastern summits of Beinn Eighe from Ruadh-stac Beag

The heat built rapidly and by the time I was back down the scree slope I'd drunk all my water and was longing for the first running stream. Many were dry as there had been little rain for several weeks.

A welcome water stop below Ruadh-stac Beag

As the heat increased I sweated my way up Meall a' Ghiubhais. Further west there was still cloud drifting round the hills. That's where I was going next.

Beinn an Eoin & Baosbheinn from Meall a' Ghiubhais

Back at camp late that evening the sky was clear though and the views of Beinn Eighe superb. 

Beinn Eighe

Overnight the mist rolled in and again I woke to a damp tent and no views. The sun broke through more quickly though and the sky was clear by the time I set off back down the Mountain Trail. The air was hot and stuffy, and I was feeling the heat so I took time to sit in the cafe in Kinlochewe with cold drinks for a while before driving along Loch Maree and round to the start of the walk-in to Beinn Eoin and Baosbheinn. My feet were sore and my trail shoes felt too tight so I removed socks and insoles to make more room.

By the time I camped near Loch na h-Oidhche the sun had gone. I was soon asleep. As on previous nights mist drifted in and moisture formed on the tent. The night was a little too hot but nothing like the heat that blasted me as the sun appeared over the shoulder of Beinn an Eion, making the dew on the grasses sparkle. I was quickly outside watching the clouds slowly fading from the hills. 

Loch n h-Oidhche and Liathach

A few midges appeared (most of the trip there were none) and I retreated to the tent for breakfast. It was cooler now, with the doors open. 

View from the tent

Not cool enough for long though and as soon as the midges vanished I was back outside to eat the rest of my muesli in the sunshine and drink plenty of coffee and water before setting off for Baosbheinn. 

Baosbheinn's behind me

The ascent of Baosbheinn, a wonderful and much under-rated hill, was hot and sweaty but I was beside a stream most of the way and so could drink my fill and regularly soak my hat and shoes to keep my head and feet cool. The views from the summit were superb. Westwards the sea was covered with another sea, a mass of white clouds. The Torridon hills shone in the sunshine. The heat had ended my plan of climbing Beinn an Eoin as well and I welcomed the decision as it meant I could spend time on the summit enjoying the wild landscape. It was a marvellous place to relax.

Beinn an Eoin & Beinn Eighe from Baosbheinn

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Munro Reminiscences: On the Cuillin Ridge on my Munros and Tops walk 25 years ago.


On July 24, 1996, I was joined by two rock climber friends, Chris Ainsworth and Paul Riley, for the Cuillin Ridge section of my summer long Munros and Tops walk. Although I had done a little rock climbing many years earlier and had climbed most of the summits at least once before I knew I hadn't the confidence to tackle the Inaccessible Pinnacle or the Basteir Tooth solo.

Chris and Paul arrived with a good forecast for the next day but poor the day after so the plan was an early start and do as much of the ridge as possible before the weather changed. We were off by 6 a.m. Very early for me! The peaks were in cloud as we went up Sgurr nan Gillean, which had been the last Munro of my first round in 1981. 

In clearing weather we continued along the ridge, cutting below the difficult Bidein Druim nan Ramh as there are no Munros there, to the Inaccessible Pinnacle. The views from the summit of this rock tower were sensational, the sky now clear. 

By the time we reached the Bealach Mhic Choinnich clouds were rolling in and rain was starting to fall. It had been a brilliant day but after 16 1/2 hours and 14 summits it was time to go down. This turned out to be a very sensible decision as the storm that blew in was quite ferocious, battering the campsite where we were staying. The next day we went to the Sligachan Hotel for breakfast and stayed there for six hours watching the rain lashing the windows. The rest of the Cuillin would have to wait.

The pictures are from my book about the walk, The Munros and Tops (Mainstream).

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Backpacking Borrowdale feature in Lakeland Walker


For the first time I have a feature in Lakeland Walker magazine. Earlier in the year editor John Manning asked me to write a piece for the Great Lakeland Walks series, which is about personal accounts of walks of discovery, and this has now appeared in the July/August issue. 

In the piece I describe the backpacking trips on the fells round Borrowdale I made with Terry Abraham when we were filming the Backpacking in the Lake District DVD and talk about my discovery of the Lakes and how my first backpacking trips took place there. A few of the illustrations were taken on one of those early trips in the hot summer of 1976. 

A Look At The August Issue Of The Great Outdoors

The August issue of The Great Outdoors is out now. In it I have a feature on the gear I used on the walk in the NW Highlands I described in this post plus a review of the Columbia Zero Ice Cirro Cool T-Shirt (two reviews of the latter actually as it also appears in the gear trip report). Away from gear I review Andrew Terrill's marvellous book The Earth Beneath My Feet.

Also in the gear pages Alex Roddie has a detailed look at eight GPS watches. There are three more Alex Roddie pieces in this issue too. He writes about map-reading fundamentals in a piece with Plas y Brenin senior instructor Helen Teasdale, has an interesting comment piece on why social media gives a misleading impression of damage to the countryside, and describes Tryfan via the North Ridge in the first of a new series of detailed mountain route profiles with illustrations by Jeremy Ashcroft.

The main features this issue see James Forrest describe a weekend trip with three friends linking seven highlights of the Lake District, Peter Macfarlane taking a friend wild camping in the Arrochar Alps, Peter Elia on how group adventures have changed his life, and Jessie Leong backpacking through Iceland's most north-westerly peninsula. 

All four main features are beautifully illustrated with excellent photographs and another superb image opens the magazine, the view across Assynt and Coigach from Sgurr an Fhidhleir by Simon Atkinson.

Also in this issue members from a diverse range of walking groups share their experiences, Hanna Lindon looks at why our national parks are failing to protect nature, and Jim Perrin praises High Neb, the high point of Stanage Edge.


Friday, 16 July 2021

Munro Reminiscences: Sunny weather 25 years ago on my Munros & Tops walk - but not 40 years ago on my Ben Lomond to Ben Hope walk

Picture from my book The Munros and Tops

July 16, 1996, was the second day of the longest period of dry weather - five days - I had on my walk over all the Munros and Tops. On that day I walked from Culra Bothy over six summits, including Ben Alder, and camped above Loch Ossian.I wore sandals, shorts and sunhat all day. 

I'd now been out 56 days and had climbed 266 summits. That left 251. I'd passed the half way point the day before on Geal Charn and Diollaird a' Chairn when I'd climbed the Aonach Beag hills on a day trip from Culra Bothy.

In the next four days I climbed the Loch Treig, Grey Corries, Aonachs, Ben Nevis and Mamores summits - 47 in all - in glorious sunshine. Then the weather broke and I cycled to Skye - but that's the next bit of the story.

Fifteen years earlier in 1981 I'd had a tough day over the Monadh Liath Munros walking into a strong cold NW wind that brought heavy showers.This was on a walk from Ben Lomond to Ben Hope over Munros I hadn't climbed before so this was my first time in the Monadh Liath. "Very wild and lonely", I wrote in my journal. 

These walks took place before the 1997 revision of Munro's Tables. There were 517 summits listed in 1996 - it's 508 now. In 1981 there were six Munros in the Monadh Liath - two have since been demoted. 

I wrote about the early part of the Munros and Tops walk here and the start of my Lomond to Hope walk here.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Roe Deer in the rain


The last few days the weather has been, frankly, dismal. Low cloud, drizzle and rain, no wind. The hills are hidden, the woods and meadows damp and dripping. Walks need to be brisk with few stops to look at flowers or wildlife as any pause or slowness brings out midges. Oh for a breeze or a gale to blow them away along with the clouds!

The best place to observe nature has been from inside the house and I've spent probably too much time (I do have books to write) watching birds, squirrels, rabbits, and, today, a roe deer in the garden. This doe has been around a few times today, wandering around grazing in the rain. She's a beautiful animal with a sleek coat the same colour as that of the red squirrels and that combination of delicacy and strength that typifies roe deer with her slim but powerful legs and long neck. 

The photos were all taken from my study window with my old Sony NEX 7 camera and new Sony 70-350mm lens. Given that they're taken through glass that I must admit isn't as clean as it could be I'm quite pleased with the results. Below is a crop from the top picture.

I'm checking the forecasts every day waiting to get back to the hills when I can see something (and take some needed photographs for a book) but until that happens I am enjoying the garden wildlife. Standing looking out of the window doesn't constitute exercise or work though. I really ought to be at the PC or out for a walk!