Saturday 26 June 2010

John Muir Trust Petitions for Wild Land

Wild land has been diminishing in Britain for many centuries and there is now little remaining. Yet protection for wild land is poor and more is lost every year. Scottish Natural Heritage says that the amount of land in Scotland unaffected by visual intrusion from built development fell from 41% to 31% between 2002 and 2008.

The John Muir Trust, as part of its Wild Land Campaign, has launched two petitions, one to the UK Parliament and one to the Scottish Parliament, calling for greater protection for wild land. Information can be found here. Please sign these petitions and promote them to others. We need to show politicians that there are many of us who are passionate about wild land and concerned for its future.

Photo info: the Cam Loch in the North-West Highlands with Suilven to the left and Canisp to the right. Ricoh GR-D, ISO 64, 1/250@f8, raw file processed in Lightroom 2.7

Thursday 17 June 2010

Interview on Tracks and Trails

Clayton Kessler recently interviewed me for the website and this has just been published here. In the interview I talk about how I became involved in the outdoors, my favourite places, meeting bears, getting lost, long distance hikes and favourite websites and stores.

Photo info: In the Montana Rockies on the Continental Divide Trail, 1985. Pentax MX, Tamron 35-70 lens, Kodachrome 64 film. No exposure details. Scanned slide tweaked in Lightroom 2.5.

Monday 14 June 2010

Gear for the Pacific Northwest Trail video

Recently I spent a few hours with Cameron McNeish making some videos. Cameron has just posted one of these on his website. It's about the gear I'll be taking on the Pacific Northwest Trail this summer and you can see it here. What the video doesn't show is the increasing number of midges. My first bites of the season!

The photo shows the shelter I'll be using - the GoLite Shangri-La 1 - in use in the Glen Affric hills along with the Caldera Cone, a version of which - the Ti-Tri Inferno - I'll be taking with me.

There'll be a piece on the gear in the next issue of TGO too.

Sunday 13 June 2010

Threats to the Wild: Hill Tracks and Wind Farms

The last week has seen a rush of both good and bad news on conservation issues in the British hills. The debate on hill tracks in the Scottish Parliament took place on June 9th and many good points were made about the damage such tracks are doing to wild places. As a result the Scottish government is going to look at the lack of control over hill tracks. (See BBC News report). Hopefully this will result in effective planning controls. I urge anyone concerned about these tracks to support the Hill Tracks Campaign and write to MSPs and the Scottish Government.

News came in too of objections to proposed wind farms in wild places. The John Muir Trust is objecting to three proposed 77 metre high turbines that will be visible from the track to Sandwood Bay in north-west Sutherland. This is a gloriously remote and wild area of Scotland that would suffer greatly from the presence of wind turbines.

At the other end of Scotland in the Borders protesters have been campaigning against a 48-turbine wind farm in the Lammermuir Hills. (See this BBC News report). The developers seem to think that because this is one of the remotest parts of the borders building a wind farm here is a good thing.

Finally the excellent To Hatch a Crow website reports on a plan by Scottish Power for 26 wind turbines on the south eastern fringes of the Snowdonia National Park on the unspoiled upland range of Mynydd Mynyllod. This is the latest of 26 applications for wind farms in North Wales which conservationists say will be highly visible from every peak in north and mid Wales. I have good memories of hillwalking and backpacking trips in Snowdonia. If these wind farms are built I won’t return. It would be too depressing.

Further News: Monday 14th June.

I've just heard that the Scottish Government has dismissed an appeal against the refusal for the proposed Auchencorth Wind Farm, which would been visible from the Pentland and Moorfoot Hills. This is good news. Official decision here and reasons for objecting to the turbines here.

Photo info: Paul’s Hill Wind Farm, not far from the borders of the Cairngorms National Park. Canon EOS 450D, Canon 55-250 IS at 250mm, 1/640@f5.6, ISO 200, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.7.

Saturday 5 June 2010

Snow and Sun in the Cairngorms

When one piece of work is finished (in this case a review of sleeping mats for TGO) I find it refreshing to spend a day or two in the hills before starting the next project. That way I can empty my mind of the completed task and open up to the next one. In this case heading to the Cairngorms for a high camp was ideal as a photographic book on these hills is what I’ll be working on next. There couldn’t be a better way to think of the words to use in the written section than amongst the mountains themselves. The forecast was for fine weather too and the sun was shining through thin hazy clouds as I headed up onto the Cairngorm Plateau in the early evening. A few late walkers passed me descending then I had the mountains to myself. From below it had looked as though much of the snow had gone, with just large drifts in gullies and below crags remaining. Once on the plateau I saw that this impression was false and much of the land was still snowbound, around 70% between Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui I estimated. Most of the snow was fairly soft, making walking safe but rather arduous, but in places it was hard and icy and once on a steep section I looked down a big snowfield to an open stream and thought it would have been good to have an ice axe. Trekking poles were adequate though and I made it to the snow free summit of Ben Macdui without a slip.

Finding somewhere to camp proved more difficult than I expected due to the snow and the waterlogged ground around it. Anywhere flat was either sodden or an actual pool. The snow itself was too wet and soft for a comfortable camp. Meandering down towards Loch Etchachan I eventually found a flattish and dryish patch of tussocky grass on the edge of a snowbank. The site looked out over the loch to the deep trench hiding Loch Avon with Cairn Gorm rising above it, a fine situation. A cold wind swept off the snowfields and chilled the air, making me glad I’d brought a thin insulated jacket at the last minute. The temperature in the tent fell to just above freezing and in the morning there was ice on the pools of melt water. The sun struggled to pierce a band of thicker cloud and the dawn was subdued and subtle. Crossing back over Ben Macdui I descended into the Lairig Ghru and walked out over this pass and through the rocky ravine of the Chalamain Gap. I had thought that descending into the Lairig Ghru would mean an escape from the snow but the long heart of the pass was full of deep drifts, some of them hanging over the Pools of Dee. At times I could hear the stream roaring under the snow I was crossing and I passed a few places where the snow had collapsed into the water, forming big craters with the crack lines a long way back from the stream. The sun was beating down now and the temperature was high. The fierce heat on my bare arms and the dazzling light reflecting off the snow made sunscreen and sunglasses essential. The effect was alpine rather than Scottish. To have this much snow with the sun this high in the sky is very unusual in the Highlands.

Photo info: Early morning at the camp, looking towards Cairn Gorm. Canon EOS 450D, Canon 18-55 IS at 39mm, 1/160@f8, ISO 100, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.7.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

July TGO - Pacific Northwest Trail & New Boots

The July issue of TGO is just out (yes, I know it’s only June 1 in the real world but it’s a month later in magazine land). My backpacking column is about the Pacific Northwest Trail, which I’ll be setting out on next month. The accompanying pictures were taken in the North Cascades, which the PNT passes through, on the Pacific Crest Trail back in 1982. They’re not digital of course but Kodachrome transparencies. They don’t look bad for film!

In gear I’ve reviewed 15 pairs of boots that have appeared on the market in the last year, including the brand new ultralight Inov-8 X-Talon 240s. I’ve also got a piece in the Wild Walks section on Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis, which I think is one of the finest hill walks in Scotland and which I’ve been lucky enough to do in superb conditions twice in the last two years.

Elsewhere in gear John Manning has been busy, reviewing 15 synthetic sleeping bags and 18 sun hats, while Eddy Meechan describes how to use a tarp in a wind with some interesting information on orographic wind flow. Eddy uses a fairly small rectangular tarp for this – he says his sleeping bag touches the tarp at the foot end when that is pitched down to the ground. Personally I prefer a larger tarp despite the extra weight as I can pitch it as a pyramid or with enough length to keep it off my sleeping bag.

Also in this issue, most of which I haven’t read yet, there are articles on trig point bagger Dave Woffenden, the South Downs by Kev Reynolds, walking with a dog in the Lake District by Andy Stothert, the GR221 in Mallorca by Paddy Dillon, the death of the wild – an excellent environmental piece by Ed Douglas and the ancient roads of the Mounth in the Eastern Highlands by James Carron.

Oh, and there is one piece of news. TGO has a new Editor. From next month Emily Rodway, currently Deputy Editor, will be taking over from Cameron McNeish, who becomes Editor-At-Large, which will see him writing a monthly column and some gear reviews and roaming the country finding bases for hillwalking

Photo info: In the Northern Rockies on the Continental Divide Trail. Pentax MX SLR, Tamron 35-70 lens. Kodachrome 64. Exposure unrecorded. Scanned slide processed in Capture One 5.