Since returning from lots of snowy Torridonian excitement, I’ve been missing my chances to head out into exciting bits of the country and have been soaking up the joys of Manchester.
Glen Coe is a stunning location near Fort William, surrounded by possibly some of the best hiking in the UK. Ben Nevis is obviously the big name that world+dog forever is walking up the tourist path to the top of for charity, but there’s so much more to the area than the Ben Nevis tourist path. In fact, if you asked me to name my least favourite place in the area, it’d probably be the Glen Coe tourist path. Seriously, don’t do it. If you must do it, know that it will not be enjoyable.
 In my book, Torridon currently outranks it by a hairlength.
But Glen Coe has many more exciting (perhaps less easily accessible!) things to do – the Aonach Eagach – serious and committing ridge scramble, not for the faint hearted, Bidian Nam Bian, probably one my favourite mountains of the area thus far, Ben Nevis’s non-tourist route – ascent via the Càrn Mòr Dearg (CMD) arete.
Just north of Glen Coe are two ranges of munros – the Mamores and the Grey Corries Ridge – both ridges which aren’t too easily accessible by car, but which look like epics in themselves.
The coming week I’m planning to head up to Glen Coe, spend a few days doing day hikes from a campsite, and them embark on a 4-5 day trek across the Mamores and Grey Corries ridge, starting in Glen Nevis, and finishing at the station in Fort William.
Can I compare this to anything I’ve done previously? Possibly this time in Sweden – except there I followed a valley route, it was much colder, and I stayed in huts about 50% of the time, it’s somewhat comparable to both of these expeditions to the lakes, though I’d envisage camping at a higher level than I did on either of those occasions, and largely, following a set ridgeline, rather than making a crossing of several valleys.
As it’ll be interesting – not outrageously challenging, but there will be some scrambling involved, I’m trying to cut my rucksack weight to an utter minimum. My tent, sleeping bag etc, kit is all very light (apart from my camera!), but I’m going to be testing a theory, and I won’t be taking a stove at all.There’s a theoretical weight trade off between taking a stove, so you can rely on dried food like pasta, noodles, etc and “just adding warm water”. My theory is, that whilst that is true for long treks, it is less true for relatively short moves, where you can trade off the weight and simply take food you can eat cold. Of course, cooked food is nice and warming… but that train of thought fails to take into account what you’re supposed to do whilst it’s cooking (answer: freezing your bollocks off outside!) and whether it might be warmer to get inside your sleeping bag, and then eat some food.
Obviously, it remains to be seen, but the number of times I’ve taken stoves and dried food, and then not used them, for an entire two day trip, means that it’s worth the trial.
What am I going to take? I asked this question on Facebook and didn’t realise that it’d be such an emotive topic. I’m not sure. Probably a list of my favourite cold food: bread, cheese, tomato(s), peanut butter and that sort of thing. It’s 4-5 days, I won’t starve. (Did you know that the longest recorded of someone going without food is a year and 14 days?).
I currently have a resident knee injury, but I’m hoping my poles, plus liberal helpings of ibruprofen will see me round. If not, I’m not the person to do silly things – I give up and head back along the valleys.
What will it be like? I’m not sure. I think this will probably be my most lightweight trek thus far (in one of my lake district hikes – I carried a laptop – meaning I can now claim to have carried a laptop to the top of Scafell Pike… whatever that’s worth!) and that should make things quite a bit easier. In addition, hiking poles can really help steady you when you’re unbalanced due to a weighted back.
I’m looking forward to it. The camera is ready, the bag is half packed and I’m raring to go!
Bring it on!
I recently got back from an epic backpacking adventure in Northern Sweden. It was essentially 12 days of walking through the Swedish mountains, in the Arctic Circle, on my own. Every day (ish) I made a video blog, and whilst I’ve not finished (not started actually!) processing the mass of photos and video I took, I’ve finally got this sorted and uploaded.
Take a look:
Update 1 – Day 1 – From Nissunjåkka campsite near Abisko
Update 2 – Day 2 – From wild camping just outside Abisko National park, ~2km from Abiskojaurestugorna
Update 3 – Day 3 – From wild camping 10km between Abiskojaurestugorna and Unnas Allakastugorna
Update 4 – Day 4 – From the woodshed – Unnas Allakastugorna
Update 5 – Day 5 – From the hut – Allejaurestugorna
Update 6 – Day 6 – From the hut – Tjäktja Stugorn
Update 7 – Day 7/8 – From the mountain and Nallostugan
Update 8 – Day 8/9 – From wild camping at top end of Vistas Vagge and Radugastugan Shelter
Update 9 – Day 9 – From outside the huts at Abiskojaure Stugan
Update 10 – Day 10/11 – From Nissunjåkka campsite near Abisko/Abisko
When I first thought about going hiking in Northern Sweden, I had considered doing it in summer, with beautiful sunshine beating down, swimming in glacier fed lakes… In fact, I chose not to do it then because I didn’t fancy 24 hour sunlight if I was trying to camp in a tent…
In October, there will be no swimming lakes. With an average temperature of 5 degrees, it’s no exaggeration to say that this is probably going to be the toughest expedition yet, and to make things even better, I’ve barely prepared myself in terms of kit, let alone physically or psychologically.
In many ways, the trip that I suspect will have prepared me most was a 2 day epic in the Lake District in January, over a damp and very windy weekend, except longer, and hopefully not as grim.
As backpacking goes, I’ve dedicated an inordinate amount of weight to food, and cameras, whilst minimising weight on clothes. Let’s do a bit of a kit list:
Sleeping and Shelter:
- Mountain Equipment Xero 550 down sleeping bag
- Themorest Neoair
- Vango Helium 200
- Silk sleeping bag liner
Food and cooking
- 3 litre Platypus
- Trangia stove + 1 pan + 500ml meths + flint/steel spark lighter
- 1 plastic spork and two sharp knives
- 2KG spaghetti
- ~1KG of “just add water” ramen noodles and rice
- ~1.5 KG of cheese in one-per-day-sized sealed packets
- Tomato puree and salsa as ad-hoc sauce.
- 1kg of dried fruit
- 24 chocolate bars
Cameras and electronics
- Nokia N900 smartphone
- Sanyo CA100 + spare battery
- Propono external battery pack (fits above devices) + continental charger
- Canon 5D mkII + 24-205 f4 lens + camera bag
- About 88GB of CF storage and 16GB of SD storage
- 9 Canon batteries
- Glidecam XR 2000
- 3 quick drying lightweight t-shirt vests
- 2 lightweight/quick drying synthetic long sleeved shirt
- 2 cotton/slow drying thermal long sleeved shirt (thanks Zhelyo!)
- 2 pair of shorts and one pair of tracksuit bottoms
- 3 pairs of boxers
- 2 waterproof, windproof, breathable microfibre fleeces
- 1 pair of padded sallopettes
- 2 pairs of dual lining socks, 1 pair of fluffy ‘extra warm’ socks
- 1 pair of Raichle hiking boots
- 1 pair of fingerless neoprene sailing gloves
- 1 pair of thick, padded sailing gloves
- Osprey rucksack
- Whistle, compass, headtorch and spare batteries
- Collins SAS survival guide
- First aid kit (painkillers, general meds, plasters)
- General toiletries
- Space blanket and towel
- Ice Axe
- Glasses and sunglasses
So the big question: how much does it weigh? I’m not sure. More than would be completely comfortable, but I think I can optimise the weight distribution further to put some heavy stuff higher up my back. I tried wearing it round the house and running up and down stairs a few times with it on. Unsurprisingly, after 6 or 7 sprints up and down the stairs, I was a bit tired, but I think it’s probably a good sign – it wasn’t completely unachievable.
Clearly, in the time not spent walking, sleeping, eating or thinking, the cameras are my main source of entertainment. The mobile phone is largely going to be left switched off. It’s worth noting that, for me, this is a quite bold technological setup as it does not include a laptop. As strange as this may seem, almost every serious expedition I’ve been on, has included a laptop for battery/connectivity/extra storage reasons. This is not very efficient, so hopefully I can manage without it. It’s also worth noting that this is likely to be the longest time I will have spent without internet access for, years(?). We’ll see how that goes.
Clearly, with minimal clothes, I’ll be forced to do some washing of clothes – hence the preference for quick drying synthetics that will drip dry, even in cold weather. The gloves sound a bit unpromisingly, but work surprisingly well together. I’m a tiny bit nervous that an extreme burst of very cold weather, or very wet weather, I might not be very well prepared for, but I think I have effective waterproofs, and I think that in the event of cold, putting on the maximum layers (or simply pitching the tent and calling it a day) should work ok.
I’m flying to Stockholm Arlanda, then getting the 19 hour sleeper train from the airport station, to Abisko – a tiny hamlet, in the Artic Circle in Northern Sweden and the trailhead of the Kungsleden. My plan is to do a 12-13 day circuit to the south of Abisko, returning on the 15th to head back to Stockholm and Manchester.
One thing is for certain: this trip will be like nothing I’ve done before it. Probably.
The Swedish Tourist Association – read “Tourist Information” – which looks after all of the paths and trails had this gem on it’s website. Clearly, those annoying puzzles that have irritated school children and programmers for years about Foxes, Donkeys, rowing boats and rivers originated from Sweden, because this was actually on their website:
Rowing trails with at least one rowboat on each shore are located where the trails traverse larger watercourses or lakes. Those who use the boats are responsible to ensure that one boat is on each side of the water. This can mean that the rowing must be done three times.
First, you have to row over to the other side to get the boat there, row back with it in tow, pull this boat up on the shore to then row over again to the spot from where you will continue you hike.
In October, I’m going to do something I’ve been wanting to do for sometime. My plan is travel to northern Sweden to a place called Abisko in the Artic Circle and the walk southwards, on the long distance hiking trail called the Kungsleden (The Kings Trail), through one of Europe largest remaining wilderness areas.
I’ve no idea how far I’ll get, what detours I’ll take or any specific details, but the time is booked, the travel sorted. All I need to do now, is make sure I’m fit enough!
Bring it on!
A few weeks ago as part of my ongoing campaign to challenge myself, I walked to the Mount Toubkal. At 4,167 m, it’s the highest Mountain in Morocco, and, in fact, North Africa. At 4000 metres, it’s a good deal higher than the next highest thing I’ve climbed – Ben Nevis (1344 metres) – the highest mountain in the British Isles.
To be fair, whilst this all sounds very impressive, I have to now put this all in perspective and explain why I don’t think it’s such a big deal.
Ben Nevis isn’t a very difficult mountain to walk up (by its easiest route!). It’s physically tiring if you’re not used to walking up things and that can be tough, but the main path is well made, well marked, relatively gentle and so long as you go slowly, the weather is good and you’re well dressed and determined you’ll eventually summit. It’s really that simple.
Toubkal isn’t quite that simple, but it’s close. There is a walk in from Imlil (or Aremd [2000 metres] where we’d spent the previous night), to Nehtmer where there are mountain huts and where most groups camp via a well marked, well trafficed (I mean, people, mules, goats etc!) path. From Nehtmer (3207 metres), it’s only about 2km/960 metres) away.
Think about that, Ben Nevis is 1344 metres and you climb it in one day, almost from sea level. With Toubkal you only have to do 960 metres on summit day, and perhaps 1207 metres the day before. Maybe think of it as two Ben Nevis’s on consecutive days.
Toubkal does have some challenges that Ben Nevis doesn’t: Altitude and Sun. On a lucky day, you might have an issue with sun on Ben Nevis, but on Toubkal, once the temperature gets up, it gets unpleasant. The altitude also starts to become noticeable. At “lowish” high altitudes like this, if you can expect a few things: you find it more difficult to breathe or you notice yourself being out of breath faster than you’d expect, and you’ll start to notice gentle signs that you’re high up. You can also expect to experience “gentle” mountain sickness symptoms if you’ve not acclimatised enough – in my case, mild headaches.
The cure to being out of breath is to walk R-E-A-L-L-Y slowly. The cure to mountain sickness symptoms is, well, in the short term, drinking lots of water. It’s a complex subject, but drinking lots of water makes a big difference. That was I think the only time I managed to completely drain my 3 Litre Platypus – everytime I noticed I had a headache, I drank. One of the other guys and I had quite a lot of fun singing acapella kareoke of popular songs on the way up this hill and noticed that, for me at least, the singing was keeping the headache at bay. I dread to think how much everyone else must have wanted to strangle us given they must have had rubbishy headaches and then had to suffer our rubbish singing.
To be honest, I don’t think “climb something high” was a very good challenge to set myself. Height in itself, is not necessarily very challenging, or very enjoyable.
I had a great time in Morocco, I greatly enjoyed walking through the mountains, I’m glad I reached that summit, but I don’t think the fact it was 4,000 metres high was what made it.
I’m going to consider this challenge done, but with a note to make sure that challenging things I do in the future are actually difficult, and don’t just sound difficult.
A couple of weeks ago I had a spare few extra days and wanted to go and do a longish hill hike. The Peak District is the most accessible and I was busy til late afternoon so I figured I’d get the train to Edale, then walk up the Pennine Way through the night.
I walked from Edale station, to Upper Booth, up Jacobs Ladder, onto Kinder Low, past Edale Rocks, along the edge of the Kinder Plateau, past the downfall, past Mill Hill. Over the Snake Pass, up to Bleaklow Head – at this point, dawn broke and I got to enjoy the view.
I then head down past the Wain Stones towards Torside Clough. I was pretty tired by this point so I threw up my tent in a shallow depression out of the way and slept for 10 hours… until 4pm!
I then walked along the Pennine way, across the Torside Reservoir Dam to Crowdon and took the easterly path up to Black Hill… which was incredibly boggy. Dusk came just before the summit.
On the way back, I was able to walk along the Pennine way,which fortunately is paved, because I really think more peat swamps in the dark would be been highly unpleasant. Ultimately, I got down to Crowdon by about 1am.
From Crowdon, I walked back across the dam, along the Longdendale Trail, off , up a little road, between the twin reservoirs, up Padfield main road and all the way down Woodhead Road to Glossop.
I did a bit of a videoblog, there’s not a whole lot to see, but it’s nice to document the highs and lows of the journey. My camera messed up slightly a few times so a few clips didn’t really come out too well.
Distance: 29 Miles/47km
Ascent: 4243 Feet/1293m
Notable summit: Kinder/Bleaklow/Blackhill
Walking Hours: 18.5
Sleeping hours: 10
Daylight Walking Hours: 6
Headtorch Walking Hours: 12.5
Over the past few years, I’ve done a lot of hiking, been to many places and see a great deal. To document it, I started editing together some of my clips several months ago. This is the result – thanks for stopping by for a look!
Switch it to HD, make it fullscreen, let it buffer, sit back and let it go!
Special Thanks to:
The University of Manchester Hiking Club
For the tolerant, friendly and down to earth approach to hiking which has enabled me to see so much and share so many great moments. Thank you all for some great times!
I also really appreciate the enthusiasm of Jonathan Heathcote, Josh R, Jonnie Balls, Polly Plowman, John Colvin and Marek Isalski for agreeing to be test audiences and helpfully offering constructive feedback during the final phases of editing.
Locations (in order of appearance):
- Ogwen Valley, Snowdonia.
- Stickle Tarn, Great Langdale, Lake District fade Stickle Tarn, Great Langdale, Lake District
- Near Boot, Eskdale, Lake District
- Glen Coe area, Western Scotland
- Loch Lomond, Scotland fade Loch Lomond, Scotland
- Nearish Avimore, Cairngorms, Scotland
- Striding Edge, Helvellyn, Lake District
- Buttermere – from in the lake itself, Lake District
- Stanley Ghyll or something, near Boot, Eskdale, Lake District
- Near Glen Coe, Western Scotland
- Goredale Scar, Yorkshire Dales
- Near Glen Coe, Western Scotland
- Ogwen Valley from 1/3 of the way up Tryfan, Snowdonia
- Great Gable/Scarfell/etc visible from the hill on the southern side of Wasdale that isn’t Scafell, Lake District
- Red Tarn and Striding edge from the summit of Helvellyn, Lake District
- Near Glen Coe, Western Scotland
- Sharp Edge, Blencathra, Lake District
- Jack’s Rake, with Stickle Tarn below, Great Langdale, Lake District
- Scrambling on Tryfan, Snowdonia
- Lyn Idwal, Australia Lake, Bristly Ridge, from the far side of Tryfan, Snowdonia
- Close up of my face, on Cairn Gorm
- Failing to practise Ixe Axe arrests and generally messing around in the snow, just before Charlemagne Gap, Caingorms, Scotland
- Near Glen Coe, Western Scotland
- Tryfan (ULGMC hut in foreground) from the Ogwen Valley, Snowdonia
- Ogwen Valley, Snowdonia
Several weeks ago I went on a walk with UMHC, up Catbells, Maiden Moor and High Spy from Grange:
I’ve been up Catbells before – in fact my first ever walk with the club was up Catbells from Keswick, but this time, we were dropped off at Grange and walked along the valley before ascending the hillside.
The weather was lovely – warm, clear and a surprising amount was on display for those who knew what to look for. Skiddaw, Blencathra, Derwent Water, Keswick were all laid out below us. The peaks of the mountains were lightly dusted in snow, yet at our height, it was ice free and actually reasonable warm.
It was at this point that my camera’s zoom lens really came into it’s own with me being able to get wonderful shots of scenery that one rarely sees from the other side of the valley and almost never sees in sunlight. There’s something quite magical about being able to look around, recognise and name so many peaks from such a low vantage point.
The walk was relaxed yet with people who also wanted plenty of time to stop and admire the views. I think this is the first time that I’ve really just thought “wow” when looking at Lake District landscape.
Ultimately, we descended before Dalehead and followed the stream back into Borrodale, where we followed the river up to Seatoller where the coach was waiting for us.