Eas Mor, Glen Brittle

Destination: The Black Cuillins of Skye

The Black Cuillins are probably the longest sustained alpine-style ridge in the UK, found in Skye, Scotland, they’re very spiky and dramatic.

In 2012, in March, our trip to Skye was beautifully sunny and hot. So much so that we went swimming in the rivers and sea.

Last time round, I still thought of myself as very unfit, and inexperienced. I’d only say my confidence has increased since then, but I’ve also demonstrated my fitness to myself and grown my confidence in travelling over exposed ground. Last time, the only Munro I summitted was Sgurr a’Mhadaidh via An Dorus – and I distinctly remember being on the top of this narrow ridge of rock, looking down at everything else. I remember looking around and noticing there was a lot of empty space between us and anything else.

Path to An Dorus - the scree slope
Path to An Dorus – the scree slope

This time, we’re going to stay in Glen Britle for 6 days, and the weather conditions are unlikely to be anything as like last time. MWIS doesn’t cover the Cuillins in a great deal of granularity, but I’m looking and hoping for reports of relatively little wind and precipitation. I’m also looking for a greater than 50-60% chance of cloud free summits – the Cuillins are one of those places where visual navigation is really the only way of doing things safely, and everything else are just aids for if/when you get stuck in cloud and need to return. The local regional medium term weather forcast looks damp, but ok.

SAIS doesn’t have an outpost in Skye either, but the latest Torridonian reports are positive, and the reports for the rest of Scotland also show a low risk. Obviously, conditions change, and we’re probably best placed to observe them. Significant new snow, or significant rises in temperature at altitude, are probably the biggest obvious atmospheric things we can be aware of that could cause problems. When it comes to actual avalanche avoidance, there’s a lot one can do on a snow slope to predict whether an avalanche is likely. From the SAIS observations in Glencoe and Lochbar, I think the conditions are likely to be snowy at altitude – mainly icey wet snow that has refrozen. Somewhat slippy to walk on, but ideal for crampons and not prone to movement.

If only the snow would freeze all the scree slopes solid please, and not exist anywhere else – that’d be lovely. ;)

Obviously all excursions and outings are weather dependent, and I’m travelling very well prepared for the conditions I’m expecting – Scarpa Manta B2s & G2 crampons, Ice Axe, down jacket, are packed.

I’m hoping the weather allows us to get up Sgurr Dearg/In Pin, Sgurr Alisdair, Sgurr Nan Eag, Sgurr a’Mhadaidh, Sgurr Banachdich seems straight forward, but the standard route looks boring, so it might be an option for the first hike.

I think my climbing buddy would like to have a look Am Basteir’s tooth so we’ll take a look at that and maybe Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh too.

I might see (conditions permitting) if I can do a camping excursion from Glen Brittle up to one of the high corries… Probably one of the 3 closest ones. *shrug*

The Black Cuillins of Skye
The Black Cuillins of Skye

The Cuillin range is particularly interesting, as it one of the places in the UK where the 1:25,000 Ordance Survey maps just aren’t adequate. The 1:12500 Harvey’s map enlargements of the ridge, are considerably better, but no use alone. I’ll also be taking the excellent SMC Cuillins guidebook and the Skye Cicerone guide.

I’ll be taking a Garmin GPS with me – not for navigating (we want to be navigating visually), but for returning in poor visibility and avoiding navigation errors. The narrowness of the cuillins, and the slightly magnetic Gabbro they’re made of, means that compass bearing can’t ever be fully trusted, and so the GPS will give a lot of confidence.

However a GPS device can only tell you where you are in terms of a long/lat reference – if you don’t have a map for it to overlay that position on, then it’s useless.

Thus, over the past few months, I’ve been working to improve the OpenStreetMap coverage of the Cuillins – from the various data sources available – 6 inch maps from the 1800s, Ordanance Survey open data releases, and Bing aerial photography, and thanks to the kindness of some guy in Germany, this data is now available for your Garmin GPS (and is loaded on mine!).

Scree Slopes of Coire Lagan, below the cliffs of Sgurr Sgumain
Scree Slopes of Coire Lagan, below the cliffs of Sgurr Sgumain

Like when I went to Kyrgyzstan, I’ll be taking my Spot satellite pager device and will periodically fire off A-OK’s which will go out via Facebook and twitter. It’s not the same level of remoteness though, and though there will be mobile signal on the top of the mountains, we will also be carrying walkie talkie’s.

Spot will tell you my GPS position at the time I fired off the A-OK and I’ll mark the exciting and tricky bits of scrambles, and summits with custom alerts, saying they’re exciting.

I figure you might like to see where I am, but SPOT uses Google maps which are a bit rubbish in that area, so you’ll have to find a way to use the SPOT co-ordinates with this rendering of OSM: http://umap.openstreetmap.fr/en/map/black-cuillins-skye_4548#16/57.2007/-6.2260 perhaps you can hack the URL?

For next time I go away, I want to use the Spot API (go look – you may be able to hack something? *shrug* that pokes the co-ordinates auto-magically into the umap-osm thing – or at least, provides neat links to show where I am on a better map.

Anyway… Time for me to get packing! I’m excited! I hope to return with stories, and photos! :)

The bridge in Glen Brittle, with Sgurr Alisdair in the background
The bridge in Glen Brittle, with Sgurr Alisdair in the background

#TimOnTour Kyrgyzstan 2013 – Exploring Central Asia’s lesser known mountains

What’s going on here?

I’m on a two week trek, exploring a lesser known part of Kyrgystan, in central Asia. I’m publishing my location (with a Spot device) and that I’m OK, at regular intervals.

Where are you right now?

Back in the UK.

Where did you go?

Have a look at this map.

What do different update types mean:

OK/Checkin:

  • Just that I am at location and everything is ok. (Two thumbs up, absolutely ok, things are going great)

Custom:

  • Slept here
  • Lots of wow noises due to surroundings at that point
  • Summited something
  • Met someone here
  • Something of interest happened here
  • Repeatedly, over protracted period, with no intertwined OK/Checkin’s -: everything OK, but not ‘awesome’, no assistance required. Probably coincides with return to civilisation.

Note: none of these updates can mean I need help. There is a unique Help alert that carries that meaning and is dealt with separately.

Who is guy anyway?
Who is guy anyway?

How do you pronounce Kyrgystan?

“Kur-gur-stan”

Where is Kyrgystan?

Central Asia. South of Russia, West of China

What timezone is that?

KGT. +5 hours from BST

Who are you travelling with?

I’m going on my own.

How are you getting to Kyrgystan?

Turkish Airlines: Manchester to Osh, via Istanbul.

How long are you  going for?

2 weeks (30th September – 15th October)

My flights
My flights

Where are you going?

Osh for a couple of days, then down to Bakten province, and up the Karavshin valley, right up to the Jiptik (джиптик) valley.


Where I’m planning to go.

Why Karavshin & Jiptik valleys?

There are unclimbed peaks in the area which I plan to scout/photograph. In addition, the scenery is reputedly comparable to Yosemite but in my 300 page guidebook of Kyrgzystan (2011), Batken province was given just 3 pages, and the Karavshin/Ak-Suu area was mentioned in passing in just one paragraph.

Also, it’s the only state in Central Asia with no visas for UK-visitors.

The area is traveled but certainly not well traveled. Seems like enough reasons to me!

What are you aims?

Meet and understand the landscape and people of the Karavshin & Jiptik valleys.

Where will you be staying?

I will probably mostly be camping, though I may do a few homestays in yurts.

Is it easy to get there?

No, it’s a bit of a ballache. Kyrgystan is 90% mountainous, but also, due to the Soviet Union days of Stalin, there are lots of enclaves and exclaves of various different countries in the area… and the main roads go through them. This means that to drive from Osh to Batken, I have to drive round Sohk, and Uzbek enclave (as I don’t have a transit visa), and the avoid the Uzbek border. When I leave Batken for Karavashin, I have to avoid or otherwise pass through the Tajik enclave of Vorukh…. and to go to the Karavashin area, I need a permit allowing me near the border, as it is close to the border with Tajikistan.

And that’s just the access issues.

Actually finding out everything above was also pretty challenging (and perhaps not accurate!). I don’t expect execution to be as simplistic as I explained.

I’m using a local travel company – Karavshin Travel – in Batken to help with a few things, but I’ve no idea how it will play out.

It wouldn’t be adventure travel, if I knew all the variables.

What are the dangers?

Have you done anything like this before?

Sort of.

I have solo cultural experience in Eastern EuropeBaltic StatesWestern Russia and I live next to Rusholme.

I’ve a good deal of solo trekking experience in England and Scotland and notably last year I spent 2 weeks backpacking through the northern Sweden, in the Arctic circle

Kyrgyzstan doesn’t speak English, even as a second language, how will you communicate?

The locals may speak Kyrgz, or they may speak Tajik, Uzbek or other central Asian languages.

Kyrgyzstan’s second official language is Russian, a foreign language I scored an A in, many years ago, at GCSE. I don’t speak Russian very well anymore, but I can read/spell out Cyrillic and, with the help of a phrasebook, I expect to be able to make myself understood.

Are you taking a satellite phone?
No. If you want to catchup, drop me message and suggest sometime when we can chat when I’m home!? Catchups are good. :)

What happens in event of an emergency?

In the event I require assistance, my SPOT satellite device will alert 10 friends/family who will probably then contact my travel company in Batken. They will look at the information available to them and make decisions on that.

Are you scared?
No. What is there to be scared of?

If you buy a car, but are too scared of scratching it to take it out of the garage, then there’s no point having such a nice car.

If you have a nice camera but are so scared of losing it that you refuse to take it to places where you’d want nice photos, then there’s no point having such a nice camera.

If you have a nice life, but you’re so scared of taking calculated risks that you don’t get to have fun, then frankly, what’s the point?

I see the world, not as a world of dangers, but as a world of opportunities.

I’ve written about this in more detail in two blog posts:

My prints of 1980s soviet military maps.
My prints of 1980s soviet military maps.

Is Google Maps the best maps you have?

Fortunately not. I’m navigating off a 1980 1:200,000 Soviet military map, that I have printed to A2 (each square = 4km), and several fragments of 1:100,000 that cover the same area. You can browse the maps with ease on toppomapper.com.

How bad will your withdrawal symptoms be through lack of internet?

Pretty bad… my hair may start falling out. Oh wait, it already is.

I’m kind of looking forward to it – last October I did 12 days in Sweden without internet.

How much does your rucksack weigh?

Too much.

18kg (inc camera, ex. water)

If you're Tim, this is the electronics you take, including spare batteries
If you’re Tim, this is the electronics you take, including spare batteries

What’s in your rucksack?

Kitlist

Surely you don’t need XXXX?

If I didn’t feel it was necessary, I wouldn’t be taking it. We may have to agree that we have different definitions of “necessary”.

What money are you taking?

Kyrgyzstan uses the “som”, which isn’t a very strong currency. I’m taking US dollars and some euros I have left over and am going to change them on arrival.

This doesn’t seem very organised, how long have you been planning this?

About 9-10 days from concept to takeoff.

Basically, I had been mis-counting my holidays, and so when I noticed the end of my holiday year approaching, I did a check, and rather than finding I owed holiday, I found I was owed about 2 weeks of holiday…

At that point, began the rush to find a way to make use of my time. After much thought, this was what I decided on.

This sounds very stressful. Wouldn’t you prefer to sit on a beach somewhere and have a casual beer?

I think by “stressful” you mean “exciting”. Having said that, I love beer and beach holidays as much as anyone else, they’re rarely “exciting” though.

No expense spared on food!
No expense spared on food!

Aren’t you vegetarian? Won’t that be tricky in Kyrgyzstan?

Well, for me, it’s a lot less tricky, as I’ve 22 years experience at it, but it’s true to point out that most Kyrgz recipes start with “first you kill your sheep”.

Being sufficiently polite and respectful is far more a concern for me than starvation – bread is an important part of Kyrgz culture and I’m certain I’ll find something to eat.

Why are you vegetarian?

It’s a long story. 22 years long, and I’ve summarised why in a previous blog post.

What will you be eating?

Whilst I’m in the mountains, I anticipate eating expedition food which I spared no expense in buying from a British supermarket. Food is a strangely polarising subject, and I anticipate no end of criticism for my choice to carry food from the UK.

How long will it take you to get your photos online afterwards?

I anticipate taking 2000-5000 photos, perhaps 2-6 hours video footage. I’d anticipate that only about 5% of that will be of interest to most people. Separating that 5% is time consuming and somewhat draining – 6 hours work in several stages. I’ll get it done, but it’ll take time and energy, both of which I won’t have. Expect a multiweek lag.

Who’s paying for your trip?

I’m entirely self-funded.

Are you receiving support from anyone?

Bytemark Hosting Logo
Bytemark Hosting are helping provide 24 hour response to alerts

My employer, Bytemark Hosting – has allowed me to hook my emergency SPOT alerts into the 24 hour s alerting framework, Mauve, that we use for monitoring servers 24/7.

When an alert is raised via this system, the oncall engineer is alerted and/or woken up, and goes and deals with the problem.

I’m very confident in my colleagues, and so, by hooking my call for help into Bytemark systems, my colleagues can help alert my ground-team straight away, so help can be sent straight away.

I’m very grateful for Bytemark’s support on this front – not every organisation would be comfortable with such a thing – so I really appreciate working with people who are happy to watch my back.

Any words of gratitude?

I’d like to thank my family, for their positive outlook on everything. It’s really been a great influence on me.

My awesome girlfriend Clara for happily letting me go off and do my own crazy things, and then happily suggesting we go camping in March in the UK. <!–more pukeworthy comments–>

John Proctor for suggestions and moral support and for his part in the Muzkol 2013 expedition with Jonathan Davey, which partly served as encouragement and inspiration. John’s other climbing buddy, Ed Lemon, also deserves a pint for map assistance.

Anita Wilczynska, my former trekking buddy from Morocco, for moral support & encouragement – it’s appreciated!

My sister & her partner for being part of our safety web – thanks!

My colleagues at work, and the building security guard for putting up with most of Amazon, being delivered to our office, for the past 2 weeks. ;)

Who’s influenced and inspired you?
Jessica WatsonLaura DekkerRobin Knox-JohnsonPete GossEllen MacArthurMike PerhamJoe SimpsonTom AllenTheodora Sutcliffe and Zac Sutcliffe, Alexis OhanianTim Moss

Both sets of grandparents’ own style of epic voyages and casual “jaunts” round unusual places.

Who are you raising money for?

Nobody.

Can I pay for your holiday?

I recommend giving money to your favourite charity instead. ;)

Target: Glen Coe.

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.

Aonach Eagach, The Mamores and Ben Nevis, from Bidean Nam Bian (2012)
Aonach Eagach, The Mamores and Ben Nevis, from Bidean Nam Bian (2012)

Glen Coe is a stunning location near Fort William, surrounded by possibly[1] 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.

[1] 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.

A land of high places (Bidean nam Bian, 2012)
A land of high places (Bidean nam Bian, 2012)

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.

My vague, expected route over the Mamores and Grey Corries back to Fort William tiles by Open Streetmap/Open Cycle Map/Andy Allan
My vague, expected route over the Mamores and Grey Corries back to Fort William tiles by Open Streetmap/Open Cycle Map/Andy Allan

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.

Aonach Eagach (May 2011)
Aonach Eagach (May 2011)

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!

#timontour Kungsleden/Abisko – Video Blog

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:

timontour : Kungsleden/Abisko 2012″>#timontour : Kungsleden/Abisko 2012

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

I have returned! #timontour – Kungsleden/Abisko 2012

So despite many exciting stories, I’ve returned from Northern Sweden, better than ever.

A particularly exciting day
Hiking Sweden

Over the time I was there, I managed to amass about 80GB of photos (JPG not RAW) and video – that’s roughly equivalent to 57,000 floppy disks or 117 CDs. As my current storage capabilities at home need a bit of a refresh, there may be a slight delay whilst I process things, breath, and start to write things up. :)

#timontour Abisko/Kungsleden 2012

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
About two weeks worth of food
About two weeks worth of food

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

Clothing

  • 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

General equipment

  • 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
Packed and ready to go!
Packed and ready to go!

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.


Aside

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.

#timontour in Tallin & Estonia

Some time ago, I was looking for new places to explore on Wikitravel and so I flew to Tallin, in Estonia, hired a bike from CityBike and spent two days visiting old soviet military bases, the Baltic sea, waterfalls and taking in the Estonian countryside.

As I travelled, I made video. This is that video. Have a watch. :)

#TimOnTour: Tallin and Estonia

Shot on a Sanyo CA100, edited in Kdenlive on Ubuntu

Licenced under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 licence.

Soundtrack:
Lullaby by Ghost (feat skoria and brad sucks) – CC-BY-NS 2.5
Sea of Something by i am this – CC-Sampling Plus 1.0
Computer by State Shirt (stateshirt.com) – CC-BY-NC-SA 2.5,
Kopeika by et_ – CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0

Some photos:

The Tallin Old Town
The Tallin Old Town
Inside an old Soviet Army base...
Inside an old Soviet Army base...
It's a long way down!
It's a long way down!
Woop woop Waterfall
Woop woop Waterfall
Marriage padlocks - a Russian tradition
Marriage padlocks - a Russian tradition
The Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea
Swimming in the Baltic
Swimming in the Baltic

#timontour: Central Fells – 5 Wainrights

I have known that I really wanted to go camping (as in backpacking) sometime in January for quite a while.

Why? Why January, you might reasonably ask. You might point out it’s cold, the weather is rubbish and so the mere concept is bordering on crazy. Perhaps I should “go and watch TV instead”…

After the annual hype balloons of Christmas and New Year are ceremoniously popped, January begins with an anticlimax; nothing happens, no one wants to socialise, everyone wants to recover from Christmas, people must go back to work, students have exams… Instead of letting the infectious gloom of January get to me, I decided to head off to the Lake District for some wild winter camping fun!

#timontour: Central Fells – 5 Wainrights

After work on Friday, I caught the train from Manchester to Windermere, from where I caught the last Stagecoach 555 bus from Windermere station to Grasmere, arriving about 23:30 From Grasmere, I walked up Easedale, past Sour Milk Gill (given how pretty it was in the dark, it must be doubly impressive in the day) and up to Easedale Tarn.

I’d been warned about the wind a few times – my dad had mentioned it, the bus driver mentioned it, I’d thought of it anyway and read the forcasts; from what I read it didn’t look too bad.

As I turned the corner up to the tarn (00:05 by now), the wind hit me head on. It was strong. Very strong. I battled forward, the full moon supplementing the light of my head torch, illuminating massive crags round the tarn. It looked amazing. Well, it would have looked amazing, however, the wind was blowing so hard, it make it unpleasant to look directly into it. Finally, I was through the gap and the wind, subsided, minutely. My head torch could pick out white horses on the tarns surface. It was seriously windy. I briefly considered turning round and descending a couple of hundred metres to where it was a lot more sheltered, but I’d been told that there were some lumps and bumps one could pitch a tent behind – I went in search of them.

After failing for some time to find any respite from the wind, I noticed my head torch reflecting off a strange object near the shoreline; three reflective points shone back at me in a triangle; I walked closer and then suddenly, over the wind, I heard a shout – it was a tent. Hastily, I retreated my steps – it hadn’t been my intention to surprise any other campers – I hadn’t even considered there might be people as mad as me!

I pitched my tent relatively nearby. Well, let’s say I attempted to pitch my tent. Tents are in many ways like kites, except that they’re not meant to fly. Pitching a tent in a strong wind however, requires thought, and some planning. My Vango Helium Superlite 200 is easy to pitch compared to other tents, but still not a trivial task in those conditions. After some time it seemed to be largely “up”, so I went round to tighten all of the pegging points to their maximum. It was at this point that I noticed that points I’d tightened seemed to be getting untightened in the time it had take me to tighten something else. I ended up tying little knots and half hitches in then just to make sure it didn’t loosen. I pegged and repegged some points to make sure the pegs (shorter than standard ones to save weight) were in at the optimum angle (very shallow!). Having come to the conclusion, there was nothing much else I could do, I put me and my bag in the tent and sorted out the tensioning system (arguably my tents answer to guy ropes). It was now about 01:15 and it still felt very dicey, but there was nothing for it so I made myself as comfortable as possible, burrowing deep into my down sleeping bag.

After a noisy night, I awoke to find out it was about 09:00 and it was light. Everything seemed ok. The tent was still here. I didn’t appear to be floating in tarn… A couple of minutes later, after a large gust of wind, I noticed that the end of my tent where my head was seemed to have collapsed. Not good. Little problems can turn into big problems very quickly if left unattended; I dashed outside – it looked like the tail end peg had been completely pulled out and then catapulted over the entire tent (length ways) downwind. I fixed it up, but took it as a hint to start taking down my tent – again much easier said than done in gale force winds.

As I was just finishing the guys from the other tent who’d just finished packing away wandered over to say hi. After asking whether it was me last night, one of them exclaimed:

Oh I know you! You’re from Youtube!

Which completely floored me for a few seconds – the probability of being recognised from those videos hadn’t even crossed my mind. It turns out he’d seen my video of wild camping at Stickle Tarn.

Codale and Easedale Tarns, Helm Crag, Fairfield in background
Panorama of Codale and Easedale Tarns

Soon, conversations complete, it was time to go and I marched up the path towards Segeant Man, passing Codale Tarn as I did and getting some stunning views of Stickle Tarn as well. After an exciting ascent, I was slightly disappointed that the lump itself had nothing noteworthy to define it. From there, I set off (with help from my fully working compass), in the direction of High Raise. The route from Sergeants Man to High Raise is boggy, but nothing compared to what was to come later. High Raise was intensely windy but the stone shelter there provided remarkably good cover and I took a moment to consult Wainright on what was to come. I had decided not to ascend Ullscarf as originally intended on the basis that camping anywhere above 200 metres would probably be a lot less fun given the wind I was encountering. The plan was to head down to Greenup Edge and then head up Calf Crag, with a view to possibly doing Gibson Knot and Helm Crag as well. Originally I’d intended to do this ridge, but on the second day and now, as I realised that I needed to descend a lot, before I could even consider getting my tent out again, I figured I could have a shot at it all in one go.

The descent from High Raise to Greenup Edge was hellishly boggy and slippery, as was the descent from Greenup Edge to the head Wythburndale. Wainright describes the Wythburndale as being isolated and boggy and in my short experience of it, the boggyness definitely was a defining feature.

Squelching up Calf crag, the wind hit me once again, this time from behind, and I learned how difficult it is to keep your balance when being pushed from behind. I noticed the wind blowing the water of a tarn and sweeping spray up into the air in a menacing fashion. This was still no place for tents.

I continued along the ridge, which largely lacked anything particularly notable apart from birdeye views of upper Easdale. As I started to get towards Jackson’s Knott, I realised that the question I’d been toying with – whether I’d reach Grasmere in the light – was irrelevant. I could jump on a bus and go home whether it was light or not – I didn’t have to go searching for a new sheltered camping spot and something else to climb tomorrow – I could just scoot home and be happy with what I’d achieved. With an extra burst of energy, I passed Gibson Knott and soon climbed my way up Helm Crag.

Clearly Helm Crag has a beautiful view, however as the light was fading, as was my energy, I started to descent down to mountain and back to the busstop and the delights of civilisation.

Things I’ve learnt:

  • That much wind is more than I want to put that tent through again
  • Sourmilk Gill needs revisting in the light.
  • Easedale tarn needs revisting in better weather
  • Wythburndale is boggy
  • Helm crag is probably quite an accessible climb for families etc
  • I can tick off 5 Wainrights
  • I’m tired after all that. :)

#timontour VBlog: Western Lakes 2011 (Epic-navigation-fail edition)

As you may have seen, I’ve been hiking around the Western Lake District over the past few days as part of #timontour.

I’ve just uploaded all the video blog entries I made over the last few days… Enjoy!

#timontour: Skye & Rasaay 2011

Whilst I’m hiking round the Lake District, I thought you might like to see what I got up to, the last time there was a #timontour. Here’s my videoblog:

#timontour: Skye & Rasaay 2011

I got the train from Manchester with my bike and panniers, all the way to Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast of Scotland. I then cycled over the Skye bridge onto Skye, up to Sconser, and then partly influenced by the awesome local blog “Life at the End of the Road“, I took the ferry to Rasaay, cycled up Calum’s Road and then came back the way I’d come.

It was really, really good fun. :D