Sunday 27 March 2011

Pacific Northwest Trail: Final Report

The final report on my Pacific Northwest Trail hike last summer, covering the section through the Olympic Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, is on the TGO website here.

Photo: Sunset above the clouds in the Olympic Mountains.

Friday 25 March 2011

Scottish Elections: Ask Candidates About Wild Land

A recent spate of wind farm approvals and applications in the Highlands shows that wild land in Scotland is under an ever increasing threat. Scottish Natural Heritage says that the amount of wild land has dropped from 41% in 2002 to 28% in 2009. That’s 13% gone in 7 years and we’ve lost more since then. Have a look at the map of confirmed and proposed wind farms in the Monadh Liath area on Alan Sloman’s website to see just what is happening.

Many people feel helpless as wind farm after wind farm is granted permission, seemingly regardless of the damage to the landscape and to wildlife and even to tourism (you might expect those with no concern for mountains or nature to be at least interested in the money they can bring in but it seems not if there’s a wind farm to be built). However there is an opportunity now to let politicians know what you think at a time when they are concerned about people’s opinions as there’s an election coming up.

As part of its excellent Wild Land Campaign the John Muir Trust is running a campaign to Make Wild Land An Election Matter. On the campaign page there are templates for letters to candidates for those eligible to vote in the Scottish elections, letters to party leaders for those outside Scotland concerned about wild land and letters to candidates for those in England, Wales or Northern Ireland who have council elections in areas with wild land. For the Scottish elections there are also links to the main five parties’ lists of candidates with their constituencies. Most candidates have email addresses (or should have – not all the parties have their lists up at the time of writing).

Please send emails and letters to these politicians, let them know wild land matters.

The picture shows Beinn an Eoin in a still unspoilt part of the Highlands. Let’s keep it that way.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Southern Uplands Way on Walk Highlands

My description of the Southern Upland Way has just appeared on Walkhighlands. Most of the photos are mine but luckily Walkhighlands had some of the Glen Trool area, which I walked through in rain and very low cloud - the fourth time I've been there and the fourth time I've not seen the hills.

The picture above, taken on a rather better day, shows the hills between Sanquhar and Wanlockhead.

Monday 21 March 2011

Dolomites, Skis, Snow & Polartec Neoshell

Three evenings, two days and most of a morning in the Passo San Pellegrino ski resort in the Dolomites were sandwiched between days spent on trains, coaches and planes, which made for a somewhat hectic and slightly unreal experience with too little sleep and a surfeit of good conversation, rich food and snow. In the midst of this came the launch of Polartec's first waterproof fabric, Neoshell, garments made from which I and others tried out on the ski slopes and, in my case, for a steep wander up untracked snow in the forest on snowshoes. A full report on Neoshell - what it is, what it's supposed to do, what I think - will appear in the June issue of TGO. Suffice to say for now that after trying two jackets and a pair of trousers in different weights of Neoshell I am tentatively quite impressed.

This part of the Dolomites - an area I had never visited before - is a vast web of interlinked ski resorts boasting 1200 kilometres of pistes. Above the tangle of lifts and runs rise the big limestone rock peaks, dramatic mountains inviting closer involvement though there was no time on this trip for more than standing and staring. A day's piste skiing was enough for me. After that I felt a great desire to escape the confines of lifts, snow fences, manicured snow and equipment that would only let me go in one direction - down. Borrowing some snow shoes (FTX - an Italian make that someone should import into the UK as they were excellent) I escaped for a few hours and broke my own trail through deep, heavy snow in quiet conifer forest to the base of some little crags covered with thick curls of snow. The climbing was sweaty and arduous and going back down not much easier. Movement was slow and I didn't make much distance. Yet it was still far more satisfying than sliding fast down a piste. (And a better test for the breathable qualities of Neoshell).

Wednesday 16 March 2011

A Perfect Day; Polartec

Today was a perfect day in the Cairngorms with a clear blue sky, a gentle breeze and the landscape shining white with all the new snow that has fallen over the last few days. Dusk came with a soft, subtle light as the sky gradually darkened and the first stars appeared. I was only able to enjoy the mountains from afar during a short walk in the local woods and fields but anyone up on the tops should have had a superb day. The picture was taken at ten past six this evening.

I couldn't head up into the mountains because I'm off on a press trip for the launch of Polartec Neoshell, a new waterproof/breathable fabric about which great claims are made (and which I have already tested on the Southern Upland Way and will be reporting on in the June issue of TGO). The launch takes place at a ski resort in the Dolomites as part of a Telemark ski festival called the Polartec Scufoneda. It's only a short trip and I've no idea what it'll be like but I'm looking forward to finding out.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

New TGO and Scottish Mountaineer magazines

In the April issue of TGO, just out, I have a feature on how to reduce your pack weight and a review of 15 40-50 litre packs, the ideal size for lightweight backpacking. My backpacking column is about forests and their significance for me. Elsewhere in the magazine John Manning reviews boots costing £100 or less, Cameron McNeish calls on the Ramblers to renew support for Scotland and Wales and explores the Howgill Fells, Emily Rodway meets up with Natural Navigator Tristan Gooley, David Gray has a wonderful winter's day on Buachaille Etive Mor, photographer Ben Collins backpacks from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean across northern Spain, ten years after the foot and mouth debacle Chris Webber considers the changes it has wrought and Les Hudson looks at hitchhiking and hillwalking (I last hitchhiked last summer on the Pacific Northwest Trail when I needed to go off-trail to resupply).

Editor Kevin Howett interviewed me for a piece in the latest edition of The Scottish Mountaineer, the magazine of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, and there's a review of my "Scotland" book. This issue also has an interesting piece on Ben Macdui in David Jarman's Roundabout Way up Scottish Mountains series (I think this is the first one where I was familiar with all of the route described),a chilling Hamish Brown story about an accident on the Aonach Eagach and an exciting account of a week long ski tour from Ben Nevis to Ben Avon by Roger and Finlay Wild.

The photo shows a forest camp on the Pacific Northwest Trail.

Monday 7 March 2011

Southern Upland Way completed

After thirteen days I completed the Southern Upland Way on March 4. This was my second walk of this long distance path, the first being in August 2003. Despite the seasonal difference the weather was rather similar! Cool in August with rain and low cloud, warm in February with rain and low cloud. Of course it was colder this time around but not as wintery as I'd expected, with frosts only occuring on four nights and day time temperatures often reaching 12C. The landscape is greyer and more washed out looking than in August and I missed the green leaves of deciduous trees and the flowers - though there were many snowdrops (I reckon May is probably the best month for flowers and forest scenery). The main changes were nothing to do with the seasons however. Many of the coniferous forests along the way have been felled so there is more walking through cleared areas and along logging roads. Against that more deciduous trees have been planted to soften and break-up the regimented conifers and provide a better habitat for wildlife. And the conifers are escaping too. On many hills, especially in the east, self-seeded Sitka spruce and larch are spreading up the slopes. The other big change is the growth of wind farms. I can only remember seeing one back in 2003. This time I saw one or two every day and the path passes close enough to two of them to hear the blades turning. More are proposed. Less obtrusive are the increasing number of artworks dotted along the way.

Given the time of year I wasn't surprised that many facilities along the way were closed nor that I met no other long distance walkers and few day walkers. I was delighted to learn that there was accommodation in Cockburnspath at the eastern end of the route, something lacking in previous years. Given the lack of a cafe or pub as well this could mean a rather downbeat end to the walk. My last journal entry for 2003 is terse: "Rain. Long wait for bus". This time I stayed at the excellent Cockburnspath House B&B, which made for a relaxing end to the walk. (See Southern Upland for details of accommodation and facilities along the way - this is based in the Clachan Inn in St John's Town of Dalry, where I also stayed and can recommend).

I'm writing a route description for the Walk Highlands website and also a report on the gear I used for TGO so the Southern Uplands Way will be in my thoughts for a little while yet.

The photo shows Cove Harbour on the east coast near the end of the route.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Southern Upland Way

Ten days into a walk along the Southern Upland Way. Not the ideal time of year but a last minute commission to write a route description meant it had to be now so I've undertaken a long distance path in winter for the first time. Four days of heavy rain and thick mist at the start did make me wonder if it was a good idea. However the weather has improved since then with clear skies and a frost the last two nights though overall it's not been very wintery. As well as researching the route I've been testing some interesting new gear for a TGO feature. Now in Galashiels I should finish in two or three days. The photo shows my camp below Deuchar Law between St Mary's Loch and Traquair.