Monday 30 December 2019

Last Online Reading List 2019. No.14.

The Cromdale Hills in late December 2019

Here's my last list of online reading I've enjoyed in 2019. This covers the last two weeks.

The Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hiker Survey (2019)

Interesting and comprehensive annual survey.

Walking for Mental Health - Doom, Gloom and Green Shoots in the Scottish Hills

Alex Roddie goes from despair to hope in the ecologically devastated Blackmount hills.

The Deep Sea 

A fascinating and surprising scroll-down graphic showing the depths at which various creatures live.

The World's Oldest Forest Has 365-Million -Year-Old Tree Roots 

The oldest forest shows tree roots are much older than thought. Important findings and research described by Katherine J.Wu.

New Year Power Ups

Rewilding Britain lists some positive rewilding stories from 2019.

The religious case for Christmas is well known. But there’s a scientific one too

Alice Roberts says a midwinter festival reflects a real, celestial rhythm.

Werrity - a long wait for not very much

Mark Avery is disappointed in the Grouse Moor Management Group to the Scottish Government, describing it as 'an inexpert report which helps no one'.

Carbon carnage: the real cost of grouse-shooting 

Excellent description of the disastrous effects of grouse-shooting by Lisa Rausing.  

Solstice reset

David Lintern marks the solstice with a contemplative 24 hours in Glen Feshie. Illustrated as usual by his superb photographs.

Lessons from Australia – the environmental crisis, dingoes and deer!

Nick Kempe considers the environmental crisis in Australia and looks at a book showing how the environmental destruction caused by livestock farming there could be reversed, and says this has lessons for farming and re-wilding in Scotland’s National Parks.

Beaver fever – the wonderful benefits of bringing back the little people

Ben Goldsmith praises the beaver and says its return is something to celebrate.

‘Humans were not centre stage’: how ancient cave art puts us in our place

The anonymous, mysterious cave art of our ancient ancestors is exhilarating, says Barbara Ehrenreich. 


On the anniversary of John Muir’s death, a wish to see Hetch Hetchy restored 


John Muir died on December 24, 1914, a year after it was decided to drown the Hetch Hetchy valley in Yosemite National Park, which he had campaigned to save. Barbara Mossberg says restoring Hetch Hetchy a 'wound will be healed, as the valley itself begins to re-establish its flowers and falls and flowing streams and fauna'.


History's Largest Mining Operation Is About to Begin 


Mining the sea is going ahead and the negative consequences are unimaginable says Wil S. Hylton in this disturbing piece.


'Mother Nature recovers amazingly fast': reviving Ukraine's rich wetlands


Finally some optimism. Vincent Mundy shows how removing dams and bringing back native species have restored ecosystems in the Danube delta.





Sunday 29 December 2019

Favourite New Outdoor Gear 2019

Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor

Here are my favourite items of gear for 2019 after another year testing gear for The Great Outdoors. As in previous years they don't necessarily replace old favourites and they're in no particular order. More detailed reviews of some of the items can be found in my column on the TGO website, along with other reviews.

Kl├Ąttermusen Loride 2.0 EtaDry 

Windproof jackets are my favourite outer wear and this is one of the best I've tried. It's made from soft organic cotton that feels lovely. There's a good protective hood, big pockets and a zip that curves away from the chin. At 475 grams it's not that light but it is more protective than thinner windproofs. I love it!






Columbia OutDry Ex Featherweight Shell

With the waterproof layer on the outside this jacket needs no DWR or reproofing. The taped seams are on the outside too and the jacket has a shiny look. It works well though. I used it on several days of heavy rain on the TGO Challenge this year and stayed dry. The design is fine though the hood could be a bit better fitting. At 225 grams it's lightweight.

Lightwave Firelight 350  

Very comfortable and lightweight (620 grams for the Medium size), this is an excellent sleeping bag. The Polish goose down fill has a very high fill power of 900 (EU standard). The comfort rating is 3°C, the lower limit is -2°C. I've found it very warm at +2. The bag is a bit roomier than most mummy bags so you can move easily inside. The top zip is easier to adjust than a side one. 

Tilley Tec-Wool

This tweed-look hat is a bit more high-tech than it seems.The outer is wool but inside there’s a polyurethane Schoeller c-change membrane that opens when the temperature rises to allow heat to escape and closes when the temperature drops to keep heat in. I've found this works quite well.The hat also has stretchy ear flaps that fold inside when not needed. The hat is comfortable and warm. Not one for the high mountains but for woodland and valley walks it's great.


 Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60L

Having used it for a few overnights I took the Flex Capacitor on my month long Colorado Rockies walk last summer. It performed really well, even when overloaded with nine days food. It's unusual in having a zip-round lid and volume adjustment straps across the front. The latter make it easy to reduce the volume without affecting the balance. At 1.2kg it's lightweight for a 60 litre pack, especially one that will handle 20+kg loads. It has a rigid curved frame and a well-padded hipbelt.

 Altra Olympus 3.5

For several years my favourite footwear has been Altra Lone Peaks, in various versions. This year I wore a different model, the Olympus 3.5, on my 400 mile Colorado Rockies walk and found them very comfortable.  Like the Lone Peaks they have a wide toe box and a zero drop sole. The Olympus shoes have much thicker cushioning though, which was nice on hard surfaces. At 600 grams for a pair of size 9s they are lightweight too.

Extremities Furnace Pro

These warm waterproof gloves are much softer and more flexible than similar ones and really comfortable to wear. They have a knitted wool mix outer, Primaloft insulation, and a soft lining. The fingers are curved and have touchscreen pads so you can use a smartphone with them. I've worn them often this winter.

Alpkit Woodsmoke 

An alternative to a microfleece jacket or pullover the Woodsmoke shirt is a soft, warm shirt made from stretchy hollow fibre polyester. It has big pockets and stud fastenings so it's easy to adjust. The material is fast wicking and drying. The Large size weighs 380 grams.

Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated

This mat is one of the most comfortable I've ever used. I took it on the TGO Challenge and found it superb. It's made up of multiple air pockets that conform to your body. It's warm too due to the synthetic fill and a metallic reflective layer. At 540 grams it's not that light but it is extremely comfortable.

Rab Xenon Glove

These ultralight flexible gloves are insulated with Primaloft and have a Pertex Quantum outer, making them surprisingly warm. They weigh just 69 grams. The flexibility means it's easy to use your hands while wearing them. Last winter I wore them far more than any other gloves.

 Montane Prism

This winter I've been wearing these ultralight flexible gloves which have Primaloft insulation and a Pertex Microlight shell. They weight just 70 grams and perform the same as the Rab Xenon gloves. There's nothing to choose between them.

Montane Minimus Mitt

At 30 grams these are the lightest waterproof shell mitts I know. They're made from Pertex Shield and have taped seams.

PHD Wafer Ultima K Down Pullover

This is the warmest garment for the weight I have ever used. It is astonishing, weighing less than 200 grams yet being much warmer than the thickest fleece jacket. I took it on the Colorado Rockies walk and it kept me very warm in frosty camps. It has a half-length zip and a big handwarmer pocket. Fill is 1,000 fill power down, unique to PHD.

Billingham 72 

Billingham camera bags are arguably the best available. The 72 is the smallest model and just right for my Sony a6000 camera with 18-135 lens. I took it on the TGO Challenge and Colorado Rockies walks. It's a simple well-padded bag with a flap and front pocket. It's waterproof and very tough. The best camera bag I've used.

Alpkit Gravitas

For the Colorado Rockies I took this ultralight 165 gram waterproof, hoping it wouldn't be needed much, if at all. In fact in the second half of the walk I had many big thunderstorms and several days of almost constant heavy rain so it was worn a great deal. Happily it performed really well.

PHD M.Degree° 100 K Down Sleeping Bag

Like the Wafer K Pullover this bag is filled with 1000 fill power down and is astonishingly light, just 245 grams. It has a rating of +10°. The design is simple. It's a mummy bag with a hood. Being from PHD there are many options of course - side zips, different fabrics - and sixteen possible sizes. I took the basic bag on the Colorado Rockies walk and it was excellent, keeping me warm on its own on the warmest nights and with clothes on frosty ones.

Friday 27 December 2019

Christmas mists

Christmas has been cloudy and quiet with drifting mists, the landscape soft and subtle, a subdued beauty. Walking in the woods and fields has been calming and relaxing. At home, family, food and fire.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

The Solstice on Cairn Gorm

Top of the Fiacaill a'Choire Chais

A walk on the solstice to celebrate the turning of the light. Now the days grow longer. I went up onto the Cairngorm Plateau. My plan was to go over Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and Cairn Lochain and gaze down the cliffs to frozen lochans far below and across the white snowy sweep of the plateau to Ben Macdui.

Cairn Lochan

But clouds swirled over Cairn Lochan, shrouding the plateau. Ben Macdui was hidden. Cairn Gorm, though, was in sunshine. I changed direction and cramponed up the hard icy snow to the weather station. The ragged edge of the clouds was just breaking on Cairn Gorm, strands drifting over the summit.

The Cairn Gorm Weather Station

A party of walkers was just leaving as I arrived. Then I was alone, with the Cairngorms spread out before me and the sun sinking in the west. 2.30 pm. The shortest day.

A hot drink, a snack, another jacket, warmer gloves, camera on tripod, waiting for the sunset. The summit was hazy as thin tendrils of mist drifted over, then bright with sunshine, then hazy again. The clouds were thickening and rising though. The sun was disappearing.

For a few brief moments I was above the clouds, watching their tops turn gold and the sky darkening. Then the mist enveloped me, cold and damp. Time to descend.

Sunday 22 December 2019

The Great Outdoors February issue - feature on my Colorado Rockies walk

The February issue of The Great Outdoors has just come out (yes, in magazine land it's already the second month of next year).

I've written a feature on my Colorado Rockies walk of last summer plus reviewed a dozen midlayers. There's also a feature on The Great Outdoors Gear of the Year, for which I was one of the judges.

Gear turns up again in Hanna Lindon's piece Tread Softly, which looks at the ethics of flying, greener gear, how to make gear last, and using public transport.

The theme of this issue is epic walks and Ben Lerwill has compiled a list of ten from across the world. James Forrest describes his ascent of the Inaccessible Pinnacle on the Isle of Skye, part of his six-month round of all the Munros. He also gives advice on how to climb the Munros in a single push - but doesn't mention what, in my view, is the best way, a continuous backpacking trip.

In New Zealand Kat Young and Liv Bolton walked the South Island end to end on the Te Araroa Trail and each describes a sections of this.

The issue starts with a lovely photograph of a winter sunset on Blencathra, taken by editor Carey Davies. Away from the epic walk features and gear reviews Roger Smith discusses the increasing proliferation of named trails, Ronald Turnbull reviews The Munros: The Complete Collection of Maps from Harvey Maps, Alex Roddie has high praise for Benedict Macdonald's Rebirding: Rewilding Britain and its Birds, TGO Challenge organisers Ali Ogden and Sue Oxley look at how to prepare for a long-distance walk, Jim Perrin describes Mynydd Ddu in South Wales, and Glenmore Lodge instructors advise on 16 steps to avoid making mistakes in winter.

Friday 20 December 2019

Wild Camps of 2019

In the Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado, looking to the Rio Grande Pyramid. September 10.

This year has been a great one for wild camps (most years are!). My longest journeys were the TGO Challenge across the Scottish Highlands in May and 400 miles in the Southern Colorado Rockies in September and August. You can see more photos of camps on those walks here and here.

By Loch Beoraid, TGO Challenge. May 12.

Shorter trips were all in the Scottish Highlands, mostly the Cairngorms. Unlike the last two years no nights were spent in an igloo - plans to build one foundered on a lack of snow.

Here are some of my favourites.

On the Moine Mhor, Cairngorms. January 3.

With Alex Roddie by the Allt Toll a'Ghiubhais, Torridon. February 21.

Below the Shelter Stone Crag, Cairngorms. March 5.

Below the Shelter Stone Crag, Cairngorms. March 6.

Strath Nethy, Cairngorms. April 28.

Loch Beoraid, TGO Challenge. May 12.

Below Binnein Mor and Binnein Beag in the Mamores, TGO Challenge.May 16.

The Pools of Dee, Braeriach, Cairngorms. June 28.

Below the Continental Divide with Andrew Terrill, Colorado. August 29.

Unnamed pool and Mount Aetna, Colorado. August 29.

In the Lost Trail Creek valley, Colorado. September 8.

Below the Shelter Stone Crag, Cairngorms. October 14.

Wednesday 18 December 2019

In the woods, in the snow.

The snow has been lying for several days now. The land is quiet, the light soft, the air chilled. Winter. December.

A thaw is predicted. All the snow will probably disappear in the next few days. No more is forecast until after Christmas.

I went for a walk in the woods and fields. All was still. Rabbit and fox tracks laced the fields. A buzzard perched on a high dead tree watching me then slowly flew into the woods. A flock of rooks passed overhead. Trees exposed to the wind and brief touches of sunshine were bare of snow. Down in hollows and ravines they were still white, spectral. Underfoot the snow crunched, hard and crisp. A burn too fast to freeze trickled, the green of water plants bright against the monochrome woods.

Tuesday 17 December 2019

My Countryfile feature on winter in the NW Highlands

I have a feature on winter in the NW Highlands in the January issue of Countryfile magazine. Writing this certainly made me think I need to go there again soon. And hope for more wintry weather than on my last winter visit when I joined Alex Roddie in Torridon on his Cape Wrath Trail walk last February. It was an enjoyable trip but it rained most of the time and there was no snow. I'd like to see the area looking as it does in the spectacular pictures accompanying my article (none of them mine).