Some pictures from two backpacking trips, taken two months apart, and under very different conditions.
Back in mid-March I headed up to the Lake District to try to catch the very last of the winter conditions. With impeccable timing I managed to choose the weekend that the “Beast from the East II” blew-in and caused a fair amount of difficulty. My route started at Ravenglass, proceeded over Muncaster Fell to Eskdale Green, then up Miterdale to Burnmoor Tarn before descending to Wasdale. Then the next day, over Sty Head to finish as Rosthwaite, and then home.
Conditions were by no means full-on winter, and the snow cover was fairly modest; but it was extremely cold, with icy sleet and snow blowing in on a strong westerly wind. Crampons and goggles were frequently needed, but I didn’t use my ice axe. This wasn’t a long or ambitious walk but it was sufficient given the conditions (and limited daylight).
Here’s your author nearing Burnmoor Tarn, and looking grumpy after about half an hour of being sandblasted by high-speed wind-blow spindrift:
And here’s the icy conditions at Sty Head the next day:
The tarn was almost completely frozen over, and crampons were essential right down to the valley floor.
The full gallery is here.
Two months later I made the journey up to Mull with the intention of walking up the island, and then along the Ardnamurchan peninsula. The weather was very different: very hot and bright with little breeze. Finding water was often a problem, and by the time I got to Ardnamurchan I was content to just head over to the other side of the peninsula for the night and return the next day.
The full gallery for this trip is here.
I’d like to get up to Scotland again before the year is out – especially as we’re not having our usual family holiday there this year. And I’ve also got some ideas for a weekend Forest of Bowland to Howgills walk, and a couple of days in the northern Cumbrian fells (preferably in late Autumn). And next year some trips earlier in the winter – probably in mid-January. This has been a promising start though.
As a service to those new to indoor climbing walls, I have collected together the following rules as a guide to contemporary de rigueur behaviour:
1. Save time and impress other wall users by arriving with your harness already on. Keep it on when you leave, too, as this will provide endless opportunities to for conversations with people you meet on your journey home.
2. If you’re climbing in the trainers you arrived in, rather than using old-style rock shoes, any mud or grit on the soles will provide valuable additional friction as it sticks to all but the the smallest holds.
3. The machines that let you climb on your own are called “The Pulleys”. The term “auto-belay” is regarded as rather old-fashioned.
4. When climbing indoors, it is important to carry appropriate safety equipment. This means as couple of prusik loops and a screwgate. Some experienced indoor climbers choose to add a spare belay device, pulley, slings and/or Mini Traxion.
5. If carrying a smartphone to take selfies, videos, or phone calls when on a route, remember to tuck the phone into the back of your harness when it is not in use. This is called “racking”. Pro tip: marking your phone with coloured tape will help make sure you get it back if you need to share your “rack” with other people.
The following apply mainly to bouldering:
6. For safety reasons, when bouldering, it is important not to climb below another climber – as they may fall on you. However, climbing above another climber is considered perfectly safe.
7. Easy V0 or V1-grade bouldering problems are a perfect opportunity for your friends/family/colleagues/club to film you with a smartphone or video camera. Background sounds add interest to any video, so be sure to encourage them to cheer loudly as you jump down.
8. Stand out from the crowd while bouldering by wearing your harness. To really get noticed, consider wearing a chest harness and/or jumars.
9. Help other wall users to keep cool in hot weather by shaking excess sweat onto them from your arms, legs and/or hair as you climb. Bouldering topless makes this considerably easier, and you will quickly notice the gratitude of the people around you.
Disclaimer: Really, really, really don’t do any of the things above. Some of them are very unsafe and can get you killed or injured, or can kill or injure other wall users (or annoy them, which may also get you killed or injured). Just don’t do any of these things.
Herein some words and photos of a recent walk from Ullapool to Sandwood Bay, in the far north of Scotland.
Back in September 2003 I walked from Shiel Bridge to Ullapool, following the route described by Denis Brook and Phil Hinchliffe in their book North to the Cape. The book described a long-distance walking route from Fort William to Cape Wrath. I’d already walked from Glenfinnan to Shiel Bridge – roughly the first third of their route – and wanted to go further north. After an epic week walking through Torridon and Fisherfield I ended-up at Ullapool, crossing Loch Broom via the small Altnaharrie ferry in its last season of operation. A truly excellent week that I still look back on twelve years later.
The next day was Sunday, and, as there were no ferries to Stornoway on that day back then, there were no buses out either and I had a day to kill. I walked up one of the woodland paths behind the village, up the side of Maol Calaisceig and looked north. More mountains. Cul Mor, the Cromalt Hills, Cul Beag and Meall Dearg, maybe Quinaig. Not as high as the hills I’d passed through, but it looked very remote and romantic. I decided I’d come back and walk up to the Cape.
This Summer, twelve years and twelve Summer walking trips later, I went back to Ullapool and went North. North to the Cape had evolved into the Cape Wrath Trail – a mostly better route that seemed to be getting increasing amounts of attention – and the gear I was carrying was substantially lighter than twelve years before. The hills were still there, waiting for me.
My route called for about fifteen miles per day; with stops at Duag Bridge, Benmore Forest, Inchnadamph, Glendhu Bothy, a loch near Arkle, and Sandwood Bay. Setting-off on Sunday, my plan was to reach the Cape the following Saturday, leaving the following day to travel home. The total milage would be just short of 100 miles over seven days. I had originally planned to finish at Sandwood Bay as I couldn’t find a way to get back from Cape Wrath within my time constraints. However, late in the planning process, I found a combination of minibus, ferry, and scheduled bus that would work. The timing was tight, so I decided to put off the decision and just see how things worked out.
I’m not going to narrate the walk in detail – solo long-distance walks are rarely exciting in that way – but the first three days went to plan. Here are some pics:
I arrived at Inchnadamph late on Tuesday afternoon. Curtains of rain were blowing in off Loch Assynt, and it rained hard all night. Fortunately I was staying in the Inchnadamph Hotel – my mid-walk reward – so I kept dry in the bar.
Next morning the hills were obscured by fog, and a strong easterly wind was bringing the still heavy rain in horizontally from the west. A dreich day. Reluctantly, I decided to take a alternative route to Glendhu bothy: following the road to Ardvreck Castle, a path from Acmore Farm to Loch na Gainmhich, the road again to Kylesku, and then the loch-side path to the bothy. After three days I was tired, and the prospect of a day on rough paths in the fog just didn’t appeal to me.
Glendhu Bothy is in an amazing setting – fjords and “Wagnerian” come to mind. The bothy was empty when I arrived, and I camped outside as I tend to do. Later three Danish students arrived and we got a fire going using some driftwood I’d carried-in from down the loch. We talked late into the night.
At Kinlochbervie I attempted without success to contact the Cape Wrath minibus. My “plan” called for me to leave Sandwood Bay at first light and walk eleven miles over pathless terrain to get to the Cape Wrath lighthouse in time to meet the second and last minibus back to the ferry at West Keoldale. I knew that the second minibus only ran on request, and if there were enough passengers making the round-trip – which seemed unlikely given the poor weather conditions. Since I couldn’t guarantee not to end-up stranded at Cape Wrath I decided that the walk would end at Sandwood Bay.
And it turned out that Sandwood was a fitting end:
All in all, a magnificent week of walking that was more varied than I’d expected. I still regret detouring in the middle of the week, but on balance I think it was the right decision given the conditions and circumstances. It is possible that staying in accommodation at Inchnadamph, instead of camping, led to me making the decision too easily – but I see no point in second-guessing myself. I was there and I walked the miles. I have some great memories. And I’ll be going back to the far north next year.
Late last night I got back from three days backpacking in the Eastern Lake District. This was my first trip out this year, and anticipating decent weather I had planned a fairly ambitious four-day route. This didn’t survive contact with the actual conditions on the hills though.
My intention was to follow the High Street roman road to Kidstey Pike and camp at Angle Tarn above Patterdale. From there I’d follow Grisedale to Grisedale Tarn, down into Grasmere, and camp in Easedale. From there to Greenup Edge, High Raise, Rosset Pike, and down camp at Wasdale Head. On the final day I intended to take the magnificent path over Eskdale Fell to Boot in Eskdale.
Due to public transport delays I didn’t leave Pooley Bridge until nearly 1pm. It was very hot, but by the time I got onto high street the mist had come down, the wind was blowing hard, and it was raining intermittently. This was the start of five hours of walking into the wind, either on a compass bearing or following walls, with visibility that was (at best) about 50 feet. Basically, it was like this:
Camping on exposed ground at Angle Tarn seemed a bit riskly, so in the end I descended to Hayeswater and camped near the dam. It was very wet and blustery. Despite pitching behind a rise to shield me from the wind, about every fifteen minutes an enormous gist would hit the tent and I’d have to sit up and grab the tent’s single hoop to stop it being flattened. By morning I was pretty tired, and although the wind had dropped it was raining steadily.
Feeling somewhat dejected I plodded down to the valley and walked to Patterdale arriving at about midday. After some food at the pub I decided to walk down Grisedale as planned, and camp at the end of the valley.
Grisedale was lovely. My first visit, but not the last. There was a reasonable amount flat-ish land at the end of the valley.
The next day was sunny and breezy, and I climbed up to Grisedale tarn and then descended to Grasmere. Due to the Jubilee celebrations it was swarming with people. At this point to decided to finish the walk. There wasn’t time to continue with my planned route, and the weather forecast for the next day included phrases like “heavy showers”. This seemed like an ending, so I tllk the easy path around the lakes to Rydel to meet the bus to Windermere train station and home.
So. Not really what I’d planned, but a nice three days fully used in some wonderful countryside. And a reminder that plans sometimes have to be changed.
New gear on this trip was a North Face venture jacket and a pair of Salomon Exit Peak Mid boots. Both were very light and performed well. I also took a firesteel for lighting my stove, but this proved to be almost impossible in even a light breeze so I used a cheap butane lighted instead.
All the photos are here.
below is a copy of my letter to the First Minister of Scotland regarding the environmental destruction about the be wrought by the upgrade to the Beauly-Denny power transmission line. For context on this see here and here and here and here and here.
[My address removed]
9th November 2009
Rt. Hon. Alex Salmond MSP
Office of the First Minister
St. Andrew’s House
Dear First Minister,
I am writing to you regarding recent media reports that the proposed upgrade to the Beauly-Denny power transmission line is about to be approved by the Scottish Government.
As someone who has visited Scotland many times to enjoy the unparalleled beauty of its mountain and wilderness areas, I am saddened that such a development is being considered. The industrialisation of parts of theCairngorms National Park and the imposition of enormous pylons across large areas of Highland landscape will destroy the very qualities that draw so many people to visit Scotland. Once the 200 foot pylons, access roads, and transformer buildings have been built, the damage will bepermanent.
I appreciate the need for enhancements to Scotland’s transmission capacity. However, I urge you to consider alternatives: upgrading the existing East-coast line or the use of sub-sea cables for example. While they may be more expensive, they would go a long way towards preventing further environmental damage and would demonstrate to the world that Scotland is as serious about protecting its natural heritage as itundoubtedly is about preventing climate change.
I do understand that you are a busy man. But I urge you: before making a decision, visit some of the spectacularly beautiful areas whose landscape will bepermanently changed. See what is at risk, and what will be lost to us all – including generations to come – by this reckless development. Please, for all our sakes,exercise brave leadership and seek an alternative.
It’s now two weeks since I get back from a very enjoyable week spent backpacking in the Scottish Highlands, and a blog post is long overdue.
On the first day I took a rather long route following valleys to camp in a glen above Kinloch Hourn. The next day was an incredible walk in bright sunshine along the side of Loch Hourn to the remote settlement of Barrisdale. On the following day I climbed a bealach (mountain pass) into the Knoydart peninsula, finishing the day at the village of Inverie. After a day off in Inverie, during which time I made extensive use of its excellend pub – The Old Forge – and bought some more food, I set-off for the final three days walking. On the first day I walked over to the head of Loch Nevis, spending the night in the wonderful Sourlies bothy. From there I took a high path over to Glendessary and camped on a headland at the end of Loch Arkaig. On the final day I walked through an amazing V-shaped valley into the alpine looking Glen Finnan to finish near Glenfinnan village, passing under the famous viaduct.
(when I figure-out how to, I’ll post a kml file of the route).
I passed through only one village, Inverie. Apart from the short section of road at Inverie,which isn’t accessible from the rest of the UK road network, I passed over no roads during the week. I camped five nights, spent one night in a bothy due to heavy rain (I had intended to camp nearby), and slept for two nights in the Knoydart Foundation bunkhouse at Inverie. It rained several times every day (I had expected it to), usually for about half an hour at a time, but was generally fairly warm.
I took a few new, untried items of kit with me. The Primus Gravity stove worked well but seemed quite heavy. I appreciated its stability, though. On a previous trip to Scotland my Pocket Rocket stove tipped-over and dumped my food on the ground – rather alarming at the end of a long, hungry day (didn’t stop me eating it though!). I also carried two 1 litre platypus water containers instead of a heavier Sigg bottle and Ortleib water bag. As well as being lighter the Platypus bags didn’t seem to taint the taste of the water. I used one while walking, and both when camped. Although I took chlorine tablets, I didn’t find it necessary to treat the water I drank.
I also took a new Sprayway Compact jacket, which did a good job of keeping me dry in some quite heavy rain. At the last minute I also bought a Sony DSC-W130 camera, which I’m quite pleased with. The photos are here.
Apart from a long weekend in the Lake District a couple of years ago, this was my first first time away backpacking for about five years. I used to spend a lot of hiking and backpacking, but having a young family has meant that such things become much less frequent. Although I missed my family a lot, it was great to be out there with my own thoughts in such a beautiful place. I’m very grateful to Debra (who became a solo parent for the week) for the opportunity.