Sunday 6 July 2014

The Liebster Award: Thoughts & Answers

The Cuillin & Loch Coruisk from Sgurr na Stri, Isle of Skye (see Question1)

A week ago I was asked by David Lintern to take part in the Liebster Award, something I'd never heard of before. It's a way of sharing blogs - a chain blog in a way - by asking bloggers to answer some questions and then pass on questions of their own to more bloggers. There seem to be several versions of the 'rules'.

After pondering the idea for a while I've decided to follow the examples of  Neilsen Brown and Martin Rye and answer David's questions but not pass on any questions. Instead, like Neilsen, I encourage readers to answer the questions on their own blogs or here or on David's blogs. They are interesting questions - thanks David for asking them. One reason I'm not passing the idea on is that many of the outdoor bloggers I would suggest have already been asked. Maths is not my strong point but I did wonder how quickly every blogger in the world could be asked to take part if everyone involved asks another eleven bloggers as is suggested. The same thought occurred to Neilsen Brown and his mathematical abilities being far superior to mine he came up with an answer, which is that taking the figure of 150,000,000 blogs after 8 iterations (11 to the power 8) every blogger would have been included. I'm surprised I haven't been asked before!

Of course no-one has to respond if asked but even so I felt uncomfortable at putting any pressure on other bloggers to do so. I'm not criticising David Lintern for asking me by saying this. It's just how I feel. Anyway here are my answers to David's questions.

1 Favourite island, why and when did you last visit?

That’s difficult. I have many favourite islands. But if forced to choose one it would be Skye because of the Cuillin Ridge, the Trotternish Peninsula, the wildlife and all the magnificent coastal areas. There’s even a malt whisky distillery – Talisker – though for that the island would have to be Islay!

2 Best book about the outdoors and why?

Again difficult. There are so many. Just one? OK. Colin Fletcher’s The Man Who Walked Through Time, which tells the story of the first through-hike of the Grand Canyon. Fletcher is a wonderful writer – intelligent, thought-provoking and intense – and this is the finest backpacking book I know.

3. Why blog?

To communicate. Which is why I write magazine articles and books as well. Long before the Internet I wanted to share my joy in nature and the outdoors and also to encourage people to realise the importance of wild places and to help protect them. Blogging is just another medium for doing so.

4. Solo or with others?

Solo, usually. Occasionally with others. Solo means being more in touch with the land and nature as well as being free to make my own decisions.

5. Have you ever had an encounter (not necessarily 'close') with a big predator outdoors and if so tell us about it.

I’ve encountered a few bears over the years on long walks in North America. I guess the most exciting was the first time I met a grizzly bear. This was on a walk the length of the Canadian Rockies. I’d been out quite a few weeks without seeing any grizzlies and I was becoming careless. It was raining and the wind was blowing in my face as I hiked above timberline with a noisy stream not far below the trail. These conditions meant I should have been alert as a bear ahead of me wouldn’t be likely to smell me or hear me. However due to the rain I was walking with my hood up and head down and not paying much attention to my surroundings. Then something moving across the creek attracted my attention. I turned and looked and froze. A huge pale grizzly bear was heading towards me. Elation at seeing a grizzly for the first time quickly turned to fear. The bear had its head down and almost certainly didn’t know I was there. Before it came close enough to feel I was a threat I needed to let it know of my presence. Noise was the way so I shouted, clapped my hands, blew my safety whistle (the only time I’ve ever used it) and jumped up and down. The bear stopped and raised its head, moving it from side to side and sniffing the air. Then it changed direction slightly and went off beside the creek. Starting to unwind I watched it as it ambled along, turning over rocks and rooting in the ground, before it disappeared into the willow thickets that lined the creek. Remembering this encounter still thrills me. I was so privileged to see this magnificent symbol of wildness right in the heart of the wilderness.

6. How many knots do you know and which ones?

Not as many as I used to! When I was rock climbing regularly (which was a long time ago and only at a very low standard) I knew quite a few. I still remember the names but if asked to tie a bowline, say, I’d have to look it up. The knots I use most are simple overhand and reef knots. The most technical knot I know is the tautline hitch, which I use occasionally on guylines instead of a slider as it can be slid up and down the line but locks tight under tension.

7. When were you last scared outdoors and why?

This last winter when a snow slope became rather too hard and icy near the top and I was suddenly aware of a big drop ending in a boulder field. I wasn’t wearing crampons and this wasn’t the place to stop and put them on so I had to cut a few steps before I reached easier ground.

8. On trail or off trail?

Difficult off-trail terrain in the Selkirk Mountains on the Pacific Northwest Trail

Depends. Off trail means more contact with the landscape. Sometimes that can mean too much contact though – especially in dense vegetation. At those times I long for a trail. I do prefer minimal trails though – narrow and winding and rough.

9. What is elegant route planning to you?

I’ve never considered route planning as elegant! I’m not even sure what that would be. I like rough route planning anyway. I don’t like too much detail or a precise schedule. I always like room to make it up as I go along. I like not knowing what to expect too.

10. How many tents do you own and how many should you own?

All the tents I have – and there are currently quite a few as I’ve just done a big tent test – have been supplied for testing purposes. Most of those eventually go to good causes such as Gift Your Gear – a few I keep for my own use and for long-term testing. I do have one tarp shelter that I bought a few years ago so that one is really mine. How many should I own? I think three would be fine. A tough winter one, an ultralight three-season and long-distance hiking one and a tarp shelter.

11. What was your earliest/youngest significant outdoor experience?

I was brought up in the countryside so playing in fields and woods was a major part of my childhood. One experience stands out though. Across a railway line from the village in which I lived were some pinewoods through which a path led to the sea. I longed to go there but wasn’t allowed to as access was by an unmanned level crossing. Eventually my father agreed to take me. I must have been eight or nine. But when we reached the level crossing we could see great clouds of smoke rising in the distance. A notice on the gate said the path was closed as there was a forest fire. I can still remember how exciting that seemed. I was disappointed I couldn’t enter the woods but knowing about the fire made them seem even more enticing.


  1. Brown bears used to scare the crap out of me until I got relatively used to them. If I see a Grizzly, and I'm sure I will some day, it will be a tough decision of whether to stay silent so I can observe (probably not the best advice) or make some sort of noise. Or, more likely, shit meself.
    Nice answers Chris, the Liebsters roll on . . .
    ~ Fozzie

  2. A really interesting set of answers there Chris (and intriguing questions as well).

    Re. Q.5 Big Predators...How did you protect your food supply in higher camps above the tree line? Have you used a Bear Cannister or one of the reinforced stuffsacs (Urscacs)? I'm heading to Canada soon for a section of the Great Divide Trail through the White Goat Wilderness and parts of Jasper. There are Bear Warnings in place!
    Dave Porter

  3. Dave, that Canadian Rockies walk and my Yukon one two years later were before bear canisters or Ursacks existed. Where I couldn't hang my food I simply left it some distance from my camp - but this was in areas unfrequented by hikers not in national parks. Since then I have used both canisters and Ursacks. For areas with bear warnings in place I would definitely use a canister now. I hope you have a great trip.

  4. OK Chris, thanks very much for that advice. I'll look into renting a Bear Canister.
    I've just ordered some of those new Odor Proof Food Bags from Lopsaks and a Sill Tarp2 for our "kitchen" in wet weather. It really is a different experience from our normal wild camp routines.

    Trying to avoid crowds in Jasper NP won't be easy - that's why we are heading for the White Goat Wilderness and Siffleur River Wilderness which also avoids most of the Permit Regulations that I seem to get so worked up about!
    Dave Porter