Wednesday 30 December 2009

Looking Back at the 2000s

As the 2000s draw to a close I’ve been looking back at my outdoor activities over the last decade and thinking about some of the more memorable trips. The 21st century began in fine style in 2000 with a hike along the beautiful Arizona Trail, a two-month walk in desert, forest, mountain and canyon that was challenging and fulfilling. The next year I went ski touring in the Brandsetdalen region of Norway in the spring, traversed the Uinta Mountains in Utah in August (after attending the big Outdoor gear show in Salt Lake City) then did a circuit of Glacier Peak in the Cascades in Washington State in the autumn, a walk made special by the spectacular autumn colours. In 2002 I ventured north of the Arctic Circle for a ski tour in Sarek National Park in Sweden then spent 5 summer weeks on a circular hike in the High Sierra in California, a wonderful trip on which I slept under the stars almost every night. Dry weather didn’t allow for that on my two longest trips in 2003, a summer walk along the Southern Upland Way in Scotland and an autumn trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire enlivened by wet snow blizzards. Stormy weather continued for a ski tour I led for the Inverness Nordic Ski Club (now the Inverness Skiing and Ski Touring Club) in the Halingskarvet region of Norway in the spring of 2005 though we did have a superb final day with sunshine and perfect snow for an ascent of the Hardangerjokul ice cap. In the autumn I led the TGO Reader’s Trek to Makalu Base Camp in the Himalaya, a magnificent trek that is the finest of the three I have done in Nepal. In 2006 I hiked the rugged and rocky GR20 long distance route in Corsica with Cameron McNeish, an impressive trip in fantastic mountains though it is busy. Even more crowded is the trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, which I led for KE Adventures in the autumn. The mountains are stupendous but I’ve never done a hike amongst so many people. 2006 was the only year of the decade when I didn’t go abroad (though visiting the Western Isles almost felt like it). The last three years have seen ski tours in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming – in Yellowstone in 2007 and 2008, the Wind River Range this year – during which we built and lived in igloos.

As well as all these foreign trips I was also out most weeks in the Highlands on day walks and most months saw at least one backpacking trip. I spent two weeks in May on the TGO Challenge six times as well. In the second half of the decade the Highlands became the focus of my writing and photography. Crossing Arizona, published in 2002, told the story of the Arizona Trail hike and in 2005 the third edition of The Backpacker’s Handbook appeared but after that it was all Scotland. For the last six years my book work has been concentrated on a big Scottish Mountain Guide for Cicerone Press, which involved masses of research, in books, libraries and on the web as well as on the hills. I finally finished the writing just before Xmas and am now selecting the photographs. I also researched and wrote the Guide to Walks in the North-West Highlands for Aurum Press, which came out in 2007, and three little Classic Munros guides to Glen Coe, the Cairngorms and Ben Nevis and the Mamores for Colin Baxter Publications, which came out in 2008 and 2009. Once the final details of the Cicerone book are complete I’ll be working on further Classic Munros books (one on Skye is finished and should come out next year, then there’ll be one on the Southern Highlands) and a photo book on the Cairngorms.

And of course I’ve written gear reviews in all 120 issues of TGO that appeared in the 2000s along with other articles and my current backpacking column. In my next post I’ll have a look at the gear that impressed me most and which I’ve gone on using.

Photo Notes. During the 2000s I changed from film to digital. Initially I saw digital as a back-up to film with the convenience of easily downloadable images for the web. In 2000 I used a digital camera for the first time, a Ricoh RDC-5000 2.3mp digital compact camera, which I took on the Arizona Trail along with two film cameras. Pictures from the Ricoh appeared on the web (on the Bluedome outdoor site) but film ones were used for the book of the walk and in magazine articles as the quality was much higher. The photo here shows Picketpost Mountain and was taken with the RDC-5000 at 1/80@f6.7. The JPEG was processed in DxO Optics Pro. Film remained my main medium until 2004 when I bought a Canon 300D DSLR. For a while I still used film, often taking the same shot on film and digital, but slowly digital became the standard and film was used less and less. The middle photo here was taken in 2005 with the 300D on Kala Patar, the high point of the Everest Base Camp trek. The settings are 18-55mm lens at 33mm, ISO 100, 1/125@f9 and the raw file was processed in Lightroom 2.6. From the 300D I moved to a Canon 350D and stopped using film altogether and then my current cameras, a Canon 450D and a Sigma DP1. The last photo of the Wind Rivers in April 2009 was taken with the DP1 at ISO 50, 1/200@f8. The raw file was processed and cropped in Lightroom 2.6.

One change that I think will come early in the next decade is a change in cameras. The 450D and DP1 both take excellent images but the former is quite heavy and bulky while the latter has a fixed 28mm lens, which I find limiting. Until 2009 high quality images meant carrying the bulk of a DSLR and lenses or the DP1. The introduction of micro four thirds cameras has changed this now and the Panasonic GF1 and the Olympus EP cameras offer high quality images and interchangeable lenses with less weight and bulk than a DSLR. I expect to be using one of these or similar on my next long walk.


  1. Some great trips and experiences. Just hope you offset your carbon footprint caused by all those flights.

  2. Wow. I'm jealous.....and looking forward to the book. I always enjoy your writing. Your Munro/Tops book and the Arizona book were fantastic really evoking the spirit of both trips.

    If I was being cheeky - in the light of previous discussions - I'd also observe that you must have quite a "carbon footprint" with all those foreign trips ;-)

  3. Thanks Chris.

    I thought my carbon footprint would be raised!

    My carbon footprint from flights was even higher in the 1990s when I was a ski tour leader and sometimes taking 20+ flights every ski season. But carbon footprints were not something anyone knew about it back then or even at the start of the 2000s.

    Flights are still only a small part of carbon output of course - households, industry, cars, food production, deforestation are all more significant. I'm not a back to the caves zealot anyway. I think the answer is for everyone to do a little rather than a small number of holier than thou types to make great sacrifices then crow about how superior they are.

  4. Of course in between the flights my carbon footprint is minimal as I walk everywhere and sleep in a tent!

  5. You need to get out more, Chris. ;)

    I enjoy your writing, so here's to more good stuff from you in the next decade.

    A happy new year to you.

    Mike fae Dundee.

  6. Hope you have many more memorable trips over the next decade! And that you are enjoying all the snow up your way!

  7. An amazing decade of walks and experiences. I enjoy still finding books by you and reading them. I have your Crossing Arizona and High Summer to read at the moment. Long backpacking tales just draw me into the journey the author undertakes. I hope there are still many long walks ahead and books as well. Have a great next ten years.

  8. I am very fortunate to have been a part of your full decade, thank you for that, and I look forward to what the future brings.
    Although igloos are nothing new to you, I enjoy seeing the pleasures you experience on our trips.
    For me, the highlight of all the trips is building the igloo you have pictured and moving in for the evening. But then there was Smoke Jumpers Hot Springs.

  9. Did you write about your Uintas traverse? I summitted King's Peak after the (I think) 2001* OR show and ran into a father and son on the traverse. I really want to do that sometime. The logistics of getting to the eastern terminus are troublesome to say the least.

    Happy New Year. Thanks again for signing that rock for me (via a friend at the Gathering in, what, 2003?).

    *could have been 2002

  10. Charlie, I wrote a feature on the Uintas in TGO back in 2002. I climbed King's Peak with the GoLite group then hiked to the eastern end on the northern side of the range and back west along the Highline Trail, with a few higher diversions. The whole trip, including King's Peak, took 11 days.

    I was at the 2003 Gathering. I'd forgotten about the rock!