Wednesday 29 June 2022

Book Review: The Royal Meteorological Society Weather A-Z

Like many outdoors people I’m obsessed with the weather. I check forecasts daily and have several weather apps on my phone, including the wonderful Blitzortung lightning map and of course the Mountain Weather Information Service.  Whilst detailed knowledge of meteorology isn’t essential weather does play a major part in outdoor trips so I think it’s wise to know at least a little about it, especially with regard to aspects that can affect safety such as wind speed, blizzards and thunderstorms. I often change route plans to suit predicted conditions. As I write this a hill walk tomorrow may be abandoned as thunderstorms are forecast.

Weather is a complex subject with far more to it than storms and sunshine, as shown by this fascinating book from The Royal Meteorological Society. The book covers every type of weather phenomenon worldwide and is packed with spectacular images from the annual Weather Photographer of the Year competition.

As well as the A-Z of over 600 weather terms explained in scientific and geographic detail the book has more detailed special features on fourteen phenomena, such as snow, jet streams, halo phenomena, and cloud spotting for beginners – the last written by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, author of The Cloudspotter’s Guide.

I’ve been dipping into this book on and off the last few months and have learnt a great deal of wonderful stuff about the weather I didn’t know before. Common terms are explained too. I didn’t know that drizzle specifically means very small water droplets with a diameter between 0.2 and 0.5mm or that mist is when visibility is more than 1km and relative humidity is more than 95% but if the visibility is less than 1km it’s fog.  

For anyone interested in weather this is a very useful and entertaining book.

The Royal Meteorological Society Weather A-Z is written and edited by Adrienne Le Maistre with sections by Gavin Pretor-Pinney and Viel Richardson. It’s published by the Natural History Museum, London, and costs £12.99.

Apology for missing comments

For some reason all comments since mid-January this year have disappeared. I apologise to everyone who's commented on my posts for the last five months. My Internet connection has been very unstable the last few days - I don't know why. This may have something to do with it. Or I may have pressed some wrong command.

Anyway, again, I apologise.

Monday 27 June 2022

In Iceland, 36 years ago this month

In June 1986 I spent a week backpacking in Iceland, the only time I've been there, all intentions to return having come to nothing so far. The weather was stormy, there was still much snow from the previous winter, and rivers were in spate, so it was not an easy trip. Often conditions determined my route. I was though very impressed with the wild Icelandic landscape.

This was the first trip on which I carried a tripod so I took plenty of self-portraits and low light pictures  whenever the weather allowed. On previous walks I'd relied on balancing the camera on a rock and so didn't take many pictures of myself and virtually none in low light. However at times I was with others and so had people to photograph and people to photograph me. I met hardly anyone else on my Iceland walk so I was glad of the tripod as I wanted a figure in many of the images to show the scale. I've carried a light tripod on every trip since.

Thirty-six years is an odd aniversary. Mostly we think in five year intervals, with perhaps a break for 21st. It is in fact by chance that I'm posting these pictures. I hadn't even remembered it was the 36th anniversary of the walk. Only after scanning the slides did I check in my journals which month and year it was. And I only scanned the slides because they were the first ones that came to hand when I was trying out a new solution for holding films while you scan them called the Pixl-Latr

Previously I had just placed a slide on an old lightbox and then photographed it with the camera on a tripod. Keeping the slide still and positioning it correctly was difficult and I had many skewed images, resulting in my rarely bothering to scan anything. The Pixl-Latr makes this much easier. I think it will prove even better for negative film, which needs to be held flat. I will be scanning some soon.

The camera was a Pentax MX SLR - the same one I'd had on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1982 and the Continental Divide Trail in 1985. It was a tough little camera. The lens was a Tamron 35-70mm zoom. Film was Kodak Ektachrome 200.

Saturday 25 June 2022

40 Years Ago On The Pacific Crest Trail: Out Of The High Sierra


Article in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza

On June 25th 1982 I was in Little Norway, a hamlet above Echo Lake, with Larry Lake. The second longest section of my PCT hike was over. The 178 miles (286km) from Mammoth Lakes had taken 16 days. But now the tough crossing of the snowbound High Sierra was over and the lower walking ahead looked easier. It needed to be as I'd now walked 942 miles {1516km) in 83 days, just over 11 miles (18km) a day. With around 1660 miles (2670km} to go I needed to up my daily mileage to reach Canada before the next winter began. As it was, this turned out to be quite easy. I was now so fit that much longer distances on good trails involved no extra effort. Lighter packs helped too. Hoping for less snow and warmer weather ahead we sent home some cold weather gear, 10lbs (4.5km) worth in my case, double that in Larry's. We only needed to carry a week's food to the next resupply point as well. 

While at Little Norway a reporter from the local paper, the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, came to interview us as the first hikers through the High Sierra that year. Mike Lewis sent us a copy a few weeks later. He described us as "looking like miners out of an 1849 gold rush photograph". I guess we did look a bit rough!

Susie Lake, Desolation Wilderness

From Little Norway we went through the Desolation Wilderness and the even lower northern Sierra Nevada before leaving the Sierra for the first volcanic landscapes of the Cascade Mountains. Less snow did make the walking easier and there was a profusion of spring flowers. Against that there was the desolation of clear-cut logging in a few areas.

Larry hiking through Mountain Mule's Ears in Northern California

Monday 20 June 2022

Book Review: Thunder Road by David Lintern

This little book is a real gem. It arrived while I was at the Outdoor Trade Show in Liverpool and I've only just found time to look through it properly.The book is about the Cape Wrath Trail, which the author walked in 2021 with two companions, , but it doesn't resemble other accounts of long distance walks. It consists of many photographs and few words, but those words are important as they come from the people David Lintern met along the way, both locals (new and old) and visitors. There are portraits of them alongside their words.

Other photographs show the landscape, both with and without people and human artefacts. This is a beautiful land but also one that is lived in and the images show both, from romantic wild scenery to roads, petrol pumps and buildings. They're all part of the same place. 

The images are subtle and understated. These aren't the brash colours of tourist brochures and guidebooks. They are excellent though and repay careful consideration.

In a thoughtful afterword David Lintern gives his view on the trail and and the contradictions between nature and people that he found along the way.

Thunder Road was a small run edition and is now sold out. All proceeds were donated to the refugee efforts currently underway in Ukraine and Afghanistan, via Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC).

I think this is an important book giving a different perspective on the Highlands. It would be good to see it reprinted. In the meantime some of the photos and an essay by David Lintern on the Cape Wrath Trail covering the same themes as the book can be found on The Guardian website - The Cape Wrath trail: walking Scotland’s hidden roads – in pictures.

Saturday 18 June 2022

Forty Years Ago On The Pacific Crest Trail: River Crossings

Larry Lake fording Tilden Creek, June 17, 1982

In my last post on my 1982 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike I wrote that the spring thaw was underway and that "the most dangerous part of the whole walk was about to start". This was due to the rapidity of the thaw, which meant we had many raging torrents to cross every day for six days in the Yosemite backcountry. Guessing this might be the case I'd bought a 60 foot length of 7mm climbing rope in Mammoth Lakes. We used this frequently. It was just long enough. 

Larry Lake in the Yosemite backcountry

The four of us who'd gone through the High Sierra together decided to split into two pairs at Tuolumne Meadows. I've long forgotten the reason but it was unwise. A group of four would have been much safer and more reassuring through this difficult section. As we were on the same route we did meet up occasionally but mostly I was just with Larry Lake, who like me had set off solo at the Mexican border. 

Crawling across logs over McCabe Creek, June 13, 1982

Where we could we crossed creeks on fallen trees, a slow process as the logs were wet and slippery. The roaring water just below was deafening and disorientating and the whole procedure unpleasant.

Crossing Kerrick Creek, June 16, 1982

The going away from the creeks was arduous too. The trail was rarely visible, still snow covered in places or else under water in a flooded forest. In meadows the snow was a mass of suncups - hard edged hollows that were difficult to cross.

Flooded Yosemite forest

The landscape was spectacular and I did at times enjoy it but overall this wasn't my favourite part of the trail. There were just too many creek crossings and the feeling of contant danger was wearing. I was glad when it was over and I could go back to trail hiking. Looking at my photos and reading my journals now I'm thankful and surprised that we survived. I think it's the most continuously dangerous period of hiking I've ever done.

Yosemite mountains

The full story is told in my book.


Tuesday 14 June 2022

Liverpool & the Outdoor Trade Show

Big cities are strange places. At least they are when you haven’t visited one for a long time. The noise! The smell! The people! The buildings! The traffic! Wow!

The city in question was Liverpool and I was there last week for the Outdoor Trade Show (OTS). I’ve been to such shows many times over the decades in places as varied as Harrogate and Friedrichshafen. Rarely has a year gone by without my attending at least one. Due to the pandemic this was the first since 2019, however. Indeed, it was the first time I’d been out of Scotland since then, and only once had I left the Highlands. Other than that brief visit to the edge of Edinburgh the biggest place I’ve been in the last three years is Inverness, a city itself but hardly Liverpool scale.

The show itself was down in the newly developed docks area, right on the banks of the River Mersey. Inside it felt familiar and just like every other trade show. Somehow this was reassuring. I was there to look at outdoor gear, but much enjoyment came from meeting people I mostly hadn’t seen for three years. One of the best aspects of shows like this is the community feel. OTS may be about business but it’s also about the outdoor community and it was good to feel part of that again. Online meetings don’t adequately replace face-to-face ones.

I’m not going to write about the gear I saw here. We made some little videos on some of the most interesting stuff that’ll appear on The Great Outdoors website soon and I’ll be reviewing items on the same site the rest of the year and probably into next year as some of the gear won’t appear until then. For now, I’ll just say I was pleased that sustainability was a major theme. I’m aware that some companies are probably only doing this because they feel they have to and there’s undoubtedly elements of greenwash around. However, I think that whatever the reason it’s better companies do something rather than nothing and that the outdoor industry is at least moving in the right direction.

Away from the show I had a little time to wander round the Albert Dock and Mann Island areas, now redeveloped and modernised and a big tourist draw. I hadn't visited the area for many decades (I was brought up in Formby just up the coast and so came to Liverpool quite often as a child and teenager) and it was just about unrecognisable. The development is attractive and there are informative signs as well as museums for a deeper look at the history – I had no time for these, unfortunately. There is somewhat of a clash of architectural styles though, with the red brick of the functional dock buildings and the pale grey of the classical Liver Building and its neighbours somewhat at odds with the hard angles and flat brightness of modern glass and steel constructions. 

After the show I spent a very enjoyable few hours with my brother John who lives not far way and who I hadn’t seen for quite a few years. I mentioned to him that I could do with a decent coffee, that in the hotel and at the show being, frankly, vile – I’d abandoned several almost-full mugs from various outlets (oh, I have got fussy!). “There’s a speciality one next to your hotel”, he said. And there was. Root Coffee. And it was excellent. How had I failed to see it? Because it lay the other way from the show and the docks. Thanks John!
As well as visiting England for the first time in three years I also hadn’t been on a train in that time. To be travelling on one again seemed quite exciting! Actually six trains there and back. Of these three were cancelled yet somehow I arrived only slightly late and got back to Aviemore at the right time. Perhaps oddest was that the London to Edinburgh train I was meant to catch at Wigan was cancelled but only from London to Preston. So I caught a train to Preston and caught the almost empty train there.

As always crossing Drumochter Pass was a joy, even though it was grey and windswept. Home again!

Now I’m back my blog will return to normal. I don’t think there’ll be another city for a while. The hills beckon.

Note: the show pictures were taken right at the end, just before packing up began. Most of the time it was busy!