Saturday, 26 June 2010


I have just competed an article on Shelters. I have been looking at my own tent - the Fly Creek - and thinking about trying tarp camping as well. As I was researching all of this, I wished someone had got all the really useful analysis into one place and that's what I've tried to do. Also, there's a plethora of extremely useful discussion on your blogs and I've linked some of the ones that spring immediately to mind.

I have made the article a permanent "page" so anyone can stumble across it, but some commentary from you all would be welcome. You all have experiences of various types of shelter and I may have made some controversial points - please feel free to correct my analysis or make contrary arguments. I don't think I have actually come to any conclusions - that was not my intention - but discussion moves us forward and there are plenty of people who could benefit from it.

Martin - I have used a photo from your site. I hope you do not mind, if you do, contact me and I'll remove it.

The article can be found just below my header above, to the right, headed "Shelters". But I have linked it here.

Friday, 25 June 2010

The Armchair Adventurer

I take some pleasure in writing. I delight in others reading my inane scribblings and enjoying them. Of course, it takes time and effort to put together a piece of prose and to create, by words and images, the narrative necessary to stir in someone positive emotion (something I continue to strive for). This means I understand, when I read something really good, how much has gone into the creation of that and it's worth recognising and sharing. Take a look at this rather enthralling account of a 4 day trip into the Rondane area of Norway - hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Dave Hanlon's blog, the Armchair Adventurer is also worth exploring.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Tour du Mont Blanc Route Planning

I have been scrutinising the various options for us to complete the Tour du Mont Blanc in August, in particular, how far we will be walking each day, what the ascent and descent will be each day and where we will be stopping each night. We're looking at 11 days and nights before we get back to our start point, Les Houches. In summary form, here it is and time taken for each section is probably a touch generous but does not include breaks:

Day 1 - Les Houches to Les Contamines
Distance: 16km
Ascent: 646m
Descent: 633m
High point: Col de Voza 1653m
Time: 6hrs
Sleeping: Various

Day 2 - Les Contamines to R. de la Croix du Bonhomme
Distance: 18km
Ascent: 1316m
Descent: 929m
High point: Col des Fours 2665m
Time: 6hrs
Sleeping: R. de la Croix du Bonhomme

Day 3 - R.. de la Croix du Bonhomme to R. Elisabetta
Distance: 15km
Ascent: 1004m
Descent: 258m
High point: Col de la Seigne 2516m
Time: 5hrs
Sleeping: Refugio Elisabetta

Day 4 - R. Elisabetta to Courmayeur
Distance: 18km
Ascent: 460m
Descent: 1560m
High point: Mont Favre Spur 2430m
Time: 6hrs
Sleeping: various at Courmayeur
Day 5: Cormayeur to R. Bonatti
Distance: 12km
Ascent: 860m
Descent: 698m
High Point: Tête de la Tronche 2584m
Time: 5hrs
Sleeping: R. Bonatti
Day 6: R. Bonatti to La Fouly
Distance: 20km
Ascent: 895m
Descent: 1410m
High Point: Grand Col Ferret 2537m
Time: 7hrs
Sleeping: La Fouly hotel
Day 7: La Fouly to Champex
Distance: 15km
Ascent: 420m
Descent: 565m
High Point: Champex 1466m
Time: 5hrs
Sleeping: Champex hotel
Day 8: Champex to Col de la Forclaz
Distance: 14km
Ascent: 1199m
Descent: 1139m
High Point: Fenêtre d'Arpette 2665m
Time: 7hrsSleeping: Col de la Forclaz
Sleeping: Col de la Forclaz dortoir

Day 9: Col de la Forclaz to Tré-le-Champ
Distance: 13km
Ascent: 1069m
Descent: 1178m
High Point: Aiguillette Des Posettes 2201m
Time: 6hrs
Sleeping: Tré-le-Champ Auberge
Day 10: Tré-le-Champ to La Flégère
Distance: 8km
Ascent: 733m
Descent: 257m
High Point: Tête aux Vents 2132m
Time: 4hrs
Sleeping: La Flégère (private hostel)
Day 11: La Flégère to Les Houches
Distance: 17km
Ascent: 772m
Descent: 1546m
High Point: Le Brevent 2526m
Time: 7hrs
Sleeping: Les Houches and the back to the UK.

I need to start looking at flights and buses but with our kit largely sorted out, all I want to do now is get a map and start getting a clearer idea of the terrain. I am currently taking the view that my Scarpa boots will be on my feet. This will be rocky, mountainous terrain and I am not satisfied whether the path will be easy going or poorly maintained in places. From some of my research it seems to vary from tarred roads to craggy, demanding terrain. I am comfortable and reasonably fast and nimble wearing those boots so there is currently no good reason to change. There is every chance there will be snow in places, even in August, so I am convinced they are the way to go.

My kit list is on the Gear Page, and I'll review it nearer the time and after testing some more kit on our next weekend overnighter, probably in July in Snowdonia. As usual, I am happy to invite comments!

Monday, 21 June 2010

New Design!

I've been tinkering with the background and layout for The Journeyman Traveller and I hope you like the new blueprint. I hope it makes it easier to read and enhances your ability to see more at once.

Scafell Pike and Bowfell: In the Shadow of Ogreish Giants

We arrived in Penrith (North Lakes) late Friday evening, before appropriating a hire car and speeding through the Lakeland country lanes to Ambleside. We were in time to find a thronging local hostelry to watch the England game. Of course, we wished we hadn’t bothered and soon after repaired to an Indian restaurant to continue our tradition (inflicted by circumstance rather than self-imposed) of pre-hillwalking curries. It is a sad by-product of living in London that we cannot get to any decent hills on a friday night so we camp after ticking off the lion's share of the journey and do the rest in the morning, typically starting walking about midday. It was rather like that this weekend. So it was that, on Saturday morning, we set Ambleside in our rear-view mirror, raced over the Hardknott Pass and parked at Eskdale Youth Hostel before setting off for the hills.

However, before that, I should like to make a few comments on the Hardknott Pass. Some of you will already know this but what a road! Perhaps the most simultaneously exhilarating, terrifying, thrilling and panoramic of roads I have been on for some time. Without a high level of driving competence, it should be taken very, very slowly! The Warden at Eskdale YHA, in return for a modest contribution to local trail upkeep, permitted us overnight parking at the hostel from which we headed to Scafell Pike along the lustrous valley dominated by the River Esk. The first 6 or 7km was sedate, tranquil fayre and the warm, gentle sun smiled down on us like a benevolent father, as we threaded our way along the myriad paths next to the bouldery, rock-strewn river. This route into the Scafell Pike fells was blissfully quiet.

Following a perfunctory climb up from Lingcove Bridge to Scar Lathing, it was not long before we reached the base of Scafell and Scafell Pike. As we munched on welcome ham and cheese sandwiches within a sheep-fold, we contemplated our route up, eventually settling on the rather more interesting Broad Stand/Mickeldore route which would permit us a bit of scrambling as well and give us a chance to deal with demanding, loose scree slopes. It was punishing, technically challenging and a real test of our endurance. It would be good training for the Tour du Mont Blanc. Periodically, we would pause to savour the views behind us, as we ascended. Much of it was three-points-of-contact stuff, but relatively uncomplicated.

Once we reached the edge of the scree field, before we traversed the bouldery bedlam approaching the summit, we adjourned to scrutinise the activity on Broad Stand, leading to Lord's Rake and the massif's malignant, magnificent understudy, Scafell. We gazed, somewhat wistfully, at the scramblers making their way up - had we time, we'd have tipped up their too, but we had our route and our timetable. Taking on fluids, for it grew ever hotter, we then made our way to the summit of Scafell Pike.

The weather was so ridiculously clear and beautiful that, when we reached the apex of England and the summit shelter, we swiftly donned our windshirts to repel the whirlwind swirling throughout the rocky crest, and perched to savour the spectacular topography, gazing wistfully at the majestic hills all around us. Sadly, it being a summer weekend on England’s highest peak, so were dozens of other people. The sense of achievement, being voiced by so many of them, rather than annoy me because of the natural desire to have a peak summit to yourself, actually made me smile in acknowledgment. I would far rather people enjoyed the hills, even if that meant some were a bit more crowded on occasion, than people not understand the majesty of our wild spaces.

As the afternoon wore on, we clambered like inebriated mountain goats to Esk Hause and took the easy path heading down to Angle Tarn to pitch in the shadow of Hanging Knotts. There were a few others joining us across the other side of the tarn but, otherwise, it was quiet. After some time searching for a suitable pitch, we unpacked our kit and settled in. We ate well that evening, as the sun descended, casting a rosy hue over the craggy outcrop keeping watch over us, and planned our ascent of Bowfell and Esk Pike for the following day. We’d, sadly, forgotten our port and rather missed that but still had a good night’s sleep. As the sun dipped below the horizon, the warmth of the day was forgotten as the temperature plunged sharply to around 4C. Snuggled within the cocoon of my Summerlite, I sat and gazed at the stars, clear and bright with no ambient light to ruin their sharp, unadulterated perfection. It is a boon of the Fly Creek that the angle of the porch, not suited to cooking in inclement weather is ideally suited to stargazing in good weather.

I awoke only once during the night to relieve myself and, as if waiting for me to appear from my slumber, four dark silhouettes with ghostly white light emanating from their heads strode purposefully up the hillside above us. A quick check of the Suunto demonstrated, the hour being close to 0300, that I was either dreaming or they were deranged lunatics in need of psychiatric help. I repaired to bed, trying to get the image of night hillwalking nutters out of my head.

Sunday morning, we were up early, broke our fast with some porridge and hot tea and strode up to Ore Gap directly from Angle Tarn. Again, we chose a tough ascent rather than taking the path as a bit of a test of both technique and stamina. Even in base-layers, and at 0800, the sun was hot and so were we! Needing both hands and feet, we soon reached the top and the gale from yesterday re-emerged. Windshirts on we headed for Esk Pike and then Bowfell.

Wainwright appraised Bowfell as his 6th favourite peak and it's easy to understand why. A bit of scrambling to get to the summit cairn yields a quite simply awe-inspiring panorama. We both stared, perhaps even open-mouthed, at the wonder surrounding us. I could hardly feel the wind as I sat and drank in the vista, intoxicated by the elation of being there so early and having Bowfell to ourselves. It is the true exultation of wild camping that you can have the hills to yourself both in the evening and the morning after. For me, I feel far closer to the hills I’m climbing when I sleep beneath them after everyone else has gone home with their day-sacks.

It was an ugly 600m descent over 2km to Lingcove Beck over wet, rocky and boggy ground on a path which disappeared from time to time and we made slow progress as we wound our way down, rock-hopping and bog jumping. The sun was searing and intense - and we both came away scalded on open parts of our body. That we were walking alongside Lingcove Beck was a blessing as we cooled down and re-hydrated in equal measure. It was a pleasant walk out after that and a reasonable journey home despite Virgin laying on only 5 coaches on the train home - intriguing train management, that.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Scafell Pike and Bowfell: The Gear Debrief

I have always been a fan of PTC would call the “What Gear Worked and What Gear Didn’t” evaluation and what others call “Lessons Learned”. I think most hillwalkers and hikers conduct this post-mortem analysis anyway, but I’ve always called mine my “Debrief” so I’ll continue to call it that.

The Gossamer Gear Gorilla performed superbly. It is supremely comfortable, a fact attributable to the wide shoulder straps, the excellent hip-belt and the curved aluminium stays which push the top of the pack towards your shoulder blades. It clung to my back, limpet-like, and the side pockets are very easy to access whilst on the move, which I find of assistance. I have added bungee cord all the way down on one side to ensure that, when scrambling, my camera cannot escape from the side pocket. Those side pockets have a 210 denier base meaning the mesh will not be damaged by rock-hopping. I’m a huge fan of the large mesh front pocket where I can stuff my hat, gloves and Lite Speed. I found that I had the Lite Speed on and off several times during each day’s hillwalking, constantly adjusting my temperature in the heat and the wind, which was easy because it was immediately accessible and because the Gorilla is so easy to shrug on and off. The Y-shaped roll-top lid strapping is also very effective. The 210 denier fabric is tough enough for pretty much anything and, as we rested atop Scafell Pike, the Gorilla sat amongst the rocky terrain in confidence. I prefer it to say, the Mariposa, as I am far more comfortable with the fabric.

The Montane Lite Speed is simply incredible. That something so diaphanous and ethereal can protect from so much and cost so little, in terms of weight, is something that has been stressed repeatedly on blogs, forums and magazines so I won’t repeat it except to add my voice to the plaudits and to say there will never be an occasion when it will not be in my pack. Suffice to say that I am convinced that in most dry conditions it will be sufficient with a base layer - long-sleeved or short depending on the temperature.

Western Mountaineering Summerlite weighs in at 596g with a stuff sack (although I may well get a lighter stuffsack which compresses the bag better) but its rating of 0C/32F is likely to be spot on. In a Smartwool top and merino leggings I was perfectly ok at 3C whilst we camped at Angle Tarn and I sleep quite cold. The fit is perfect for me, even wearing an insulating layer like the Patagonia Nano Puff pullover. It’s slightly snug, but that is exactly what I am looking for. There is no shoulder baffle, like the Mountain Hardwear Phantom 32, which I am not too perturbed about, but some might be. One thing I prefer about the Summerlite, quite apart from the obviously superb workmanship and build quality, is that the cord to pull the hood in is slightly heavier than on the Phantom so lies outside the hood when pulled and locked using a cord-lock, rather than flapping around on your face which the Phantom has a tendency to do. This is very, very good bag.

The Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 was everything I expected it to be. There has been a lot of debate, particularly recently on the Nordic Lightpacking founder member forums, about tarps, the Duomid and dual-skin tents. Right now, the Fly Creek suits me perfectly but I cannot add anything to the review I did earlier as the conditions were perfect for camping. The ultralight nylon groundsheet material on the felt strong enough on the grassy floor - my only real concern about the tent hitherto. In terms of condensation, the only place there was any was on the interior of the fly where the porch is and that was minimal (you can see in the photo, I have opened the porch to expose the inner part of the fly to the sun which dried it off). I felt cosy and there was plenty of room for me in the Fly Creek but that’s a personal choice - it is a smallish shelter (far smaller than the Power Lizard from Vaude) but I can sit up in it, the porch swallows what kit I leave outside the inner and, when inside the tent, I can change, sort my kit out and sleep comfortably. I am very much an advocate of making sure you are comfortable in your shelter rather than finding the lightest possible shelter and at 970g, this for me is not far short of perfection.

The Montane Bionic Sportwool SS is just about as good a summer base layer as I could ask for - mixing synthetic and merino wool fibres, it does not smell after two days of 6hrs+ each day of hard work, it breathes excellently and dries virtually instantly. It’s great but expensive.

Evernew DX Titanium cook system and the MSR Titan Kettle both continue to perform as required. The former fits in the latter with matches, a kitchen foil windshield held together with a paper clip and some Hammaro tinder card all inside a Ziploc sandwich bag. I usually take 200ml of meths with us in a 330ml water bottle, also inside a Ziploc bag. At 40ml to boil 500ml water in 6-7 minutes, this means we can have a couple of mugs of hot chocolate, a Be-Well Expedition meal each and porridge in the morning before we depart and have a little meths spare, just in case. I love the fact that the DX system is a wood-burner as well, and I carry the tinder card as a back-up option. I also have some esbits on order.

I’ve been walking for the last 2 years in
Scarpa ZG-40 GTX boots. As a size 12, they were all that was available at the time and they were on special offer from Snow and Rock so I went for them. They continue to perform superbly for me and I will soon need to replace the vibram sole. I clean them after every trip and treat the upper with NikWax to re-invigorate the waterproofness. It works every time as my feet remain dry but breathe well. I am watching the debate on both the linked issues involving trail-running shoes - namely whether to use them at all on rocky terrain and whether you should look at getting your feet warm and dry after a wet hike rather than trying not to get wet at all. I will weigh in on that debate shortly and I certainly do not have a settled view yet, but I felt a couple of occasions where my ankle went over on unstable rocks this weekend and, in trail-running shoes like Innov-8 Terroc 330’s (which I have and love for travelling in), I am by no means confident that I wouldn’t have been in some difficulty. We’ll see how that debate pans out but it’s not a new one.

Patagonia Nano Puff Pullover is unfeasibly warm for such a lightweight top. It is nice to wear, packs small and acts as a windshield as well. It’s a great insulating layer and exactly what I needed for throwing on when I’ve stopped moving and need something warmer than the Lite Speed as its the air that is cold rather than the wind. Very happy with it.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Patagonia Nano Puff Pullover Initial Analysis

The Patagonia Nano Puff pullover arrived via a friend on a trip to the US recently and will become my insulating layer and camp wear for some time to come. At 268g on my scales, the same weight as a 100 weight fleece or 200g/sqm merino base-layer, the outer is made of wind-resistant, moisture-shedding 'Deluge' DWR finished 100% all-recycled polyester shell (15 denier ripstop - roughly half the strength of Pertex Microlight) and the lining (also DWR treated) is 22 denier nylon. The insulation fill is low-bulk, hydrophobic, highly compressible 60g PrimaLoft One which Patagonia remark "...traps heat with remarkable efficiency, even when wet". It's a claim often made by Primaloft garments and it is certainly going to be more effective when wet than down, but it's important not to overestimate Primaloft's ability to retain warmth when wet. The deep front zipper allows for easy, effective ventilation. 

The Nano Puff also packs down to a small 15cm x 10cm x 6cm package and stuffs into a single chest pocket that has a carabiner clip-in loop. Unlike the Montane Fireball Smock, there is no beard-guard which is a shame as that is pleasant feature. The wrists and waist are elasticated lycra and simple with no drawcord loops - I prefer that as adjustments are unnecessary are something this lightweight and therefore unnecessary weight.

It's neither snug nor loose, but somewhere in between, so can be used comfortably in a layering system with more than one layer beneath it, but is sufficiently close-fitting to be worn in a sleeping bag. It is not warm enough, in my view, for true 3-season use without something else like a second merino base/mid layer, but it sits alone with a single base-layer during late spring to early autumn. I may well use it in my WM Summerlite for sharp drops in temperature in the spring and summer months, and as part of a layering system in winter. It has the advantage of being capable of being used on the move as well as a quick rest stop pull-on. All in all, I like it and it will be the cause of me ditching a fleece for some time to come.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Kinder Scout and Friends

I don't care what you say, the campervan has its hillwalking advantages. I had some time off and, apart from hillwalking, there were some other things I needed to do so I blatted up to the Dark Peaks with a view to a few choice day hill-walks followed by the comfort of the 'Van after the walk (and a shower). It was a chance to bag a Trial 100 peak as well as some fast hills besides Kinder Scout.

One of the advantages of joining the Caravan Club, besides it paying for itself in insurance discounts, is that you can stay at Certified Location sites which are normally farms or fields, often in beautiful locations, where only 5 caravans of vans are permitted. They tend to be far more rural and isolated. One such CL was where I stayed near Hope near Hathersage. It meant I could do some decent, long day walks straight from the 'Van. Throughout my stay, there was no one else around - joy!

Day One was Kinder Scout. It was ugly weather - no rain, but close and saturnine clouds hanging low overhead and lending the air an ominous portent. The wind was ferocious and unrelenting. I was carrying little and moving fast but the wind was utterly energy-sapping.

There were a few others in the hills but, thankfully, not too many and it was only 3 hours before I had reached Kinder Scout and I sat to munch on some Granola bars as I enjoyed the desolate loneliness of the summit. It was great to be away from the pressured environment of my profession and I savoured every moment. It took a similar period to get back but I clocked up around 28km that first day and it felt good.

Day two came quickly and I had other things to sort out before I sprinted up Losehill Pike (Ward's Piece) and darted over to Mam Tor. Darkness was not far off by the time I was able to get away and the belligerent wind had not absented itself but it was joined now by a gentle, drenching drizzle. Undeterred, I sprinted along the ridge path to Mam Tor and then onto Lord's Seat. It was invigorating to be doing this so quickly, knowing that darkness was coming and the weather turning nastier by the second. It added a sense of urgency that pumped adrenaline through my body. It was just about what I'd been looking for.

Day three, conversely, was far more sedate and stamina-testing. 30km in total in the hills buttressing the Ladybower Reservoir, it was my final day before I left so I wanted to put some real mileage in. The weather was fantastic most of the day and, although the ubiquitous bullying wind had not yet departed, the sun had joined it instead of rain for which I would be eternally grateful. As I ascended, enjoying the more dignified pace, I took a quick chance to enjoy to panorama surrounding the reservoir below as well as a group of pensioners happily conversing as they took a less difficult path.

As I reached the main path leading along the top of the hillside, and headed towards Lost Lad and Back Tor, the sun darted behind clouds periodically before re-appearing and casting a warm glow over the landscape. I saw no one else that day and I enjoyed the solitude. I sat and munched on a sandwich at Lost Lad before emailing a photo to my work colleagues. The sun had chosen that moment to return from a brief sojourn behind a darkish cloud so it was a perfect time to send a jealousy-inducing image.

I dropped down off the hill from Lost Lad and skirted round to the eastern coast of the reservoir and walked along it before arriving at the Ladybower Pub for some local food and a well-earned ale. Three days of walking and, each time, the luxury of returning to the 'Van was very pleasant - shower, toilet and cooking facilities (as well as some very nice wine). I will admit to missing the sunrise the morning of a wild camp but there's a lot to be said for creature comforts too...

Tour du Mont Blanc

Some time last year, 2009, my hillwalking compatriot and I, whilst quaffing an ale or three in local hostelry in London after work, concluded (perhaps as a consequence of the ale) that a walk along the Hadrian’s Wall Path in Northumberland would be a good way to combine a long-distance path and a mutual passing interest in military and ancient history. So it was, that in October of last year, we walked the path over 5 days and, profoundly enjoying it, promptly began to plan our next long-distance jaunt.

Initially, I pondered the Alpine Haute Route. I had long yearned to walk in the Alps, but when contrasting it to the 100 mile (160km) Tour du Mont Blanc, I was, in the twinkling of an eye, seduced by the latter. So, we booked our time off in mid-August and I commenced some research.

There are a few first-rate websites and the Cicerone “Tour of Mont Blanc” Guide, by Kev Reynolds, is detailed and comprehensive (as well as small enough to pack). As a consequence of my ensuing fact-finding, it seems clear to me that, at our level of fitness, 15km coupled with 1000m of ascent and descent, on average, each day, is eminently tolerable but the walk will, at that pace, take 11 days. We’ve been typically hitting the gym once a week and I am running 5km, every other week, in preparation. I’d expect that to increase shortly, work permitting, but in order to enjoy the walk we both feel a certain level of fitness is required.

We’ve decided to stay in refuges rather than camp but we’ll take the Vaude Power Lizard UL with us in any event as it is a perfect emergency shelter for two should the need arise. The advantage of billeting ourselves thus is that we’ll need to carry only one of the big three each - a rucksack - and Lizzie between us. No Sleeping bag required or, consequently, sleeping mat. Immediately, our pack weights drop considerably. Further, food is conveniently available en route, and at each refuge, so that, again, reduces our pack weights. I am always astonished at the amount people carry on trips like this - even the authors of the excellent TMB website carried something like 13kg each. Not quite sure why they needed that much kit, but there you go - I’m looking at a base weight of 6-6.5kg as we’ll need to carry some items you’d not normally take hillwalking. Additionally, it will be a more stimulating venture if the opportunity to meet and get to know others presents itself - far more plausible in refuges.

My proposed Gear List is on my Gear List page (but, of course) however, I also link it
here. I was thinking about taking my Osprey Aether 60, but when you analyse exactly what is necessary by way of kit, the Gossamer Gear Gorilla, at 45 litres, will inevitably be sufficient. One thing that I will have to shell out for, which is not something I think I’ll be using otherwise, is a pair of Integral Designs Hot Socks for wearing within the refuges. I know some people use them in sleeping bags when wild camping but, until winter hits, a spare pair of Smartwool socks performs double duty for my purposes. There is some suggestion that each refuge may provide a pair but that’s not a risk I’m willing to take (or pay for).

We will start from Les Houches, which we’ll reach by flying to Grenoble and catching a bus, and take the anti-clockwise route. This is the route Mr. Reynolds suggests and I am all for heeding an expert. We found Hadrian’s Wall a challenging route in 5 days (typically covering about 20km each day) but we had slightly heavier packs because we were camping. Conversely, there was not much in the way of ascent each day although the terrain was relentlessly undulating. There is no real way of ascertaining how tough a particular trek is going to be until you’re in it so I am adopting the approach of assuming it be as hard as possible and packing and training accordingly. That said, we’ll be staying in refuges overnight which is slightly more comfortable than camping so it will likely be an easier proposition than if we were wild camping each night, in addition to the obvious weight advantages.

Anyway, I’ll leave it there for now and update nearer the time. It is my intention, if I can, to update this journal during the trip. If I cannot, I’ll take notes in the iPhone and upload them when I get back, along with pictures.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Glaskogen National Park, Sweden

In May 2008, my Danish brother in law and I decided we'd spend 4 days hiking in Glaskogen National Park, near Arvika in Sweden. It was a cold May and there had recently been, and was to be more, quite a bit of snow. Temperatures were ranging from just above freezing to just below. Rain, as is so often the case in Sweden, was falling heavily. Poring over a map of Glaskogen, we decided to hike all the way around the circumference of the Stora Gla (literally translated into Big Lake, as I recall) and stay, apart from one night in Norway en route, in small open wooden shelters with the capacity for open fire. I met him at Gardermoen (Oslo Airport) and off we drove.

We arrived at Arvika and secured a (comedy) map of the area we'd be hiking in. It's not particularly difficult to navigate in Swedish National Parks, or at least the one we were in, as the trees by the path have an orange painted line on them to delineate the path much like major trails in the Alps. We parked our car within the boundary of the park, locked it and headed off knowing it would be some days before we'd be back. I half wondered if it would still be there, but I think that's the mistrustful Londoner in me.

The first day was intriguing for me. Normally a hillwalker, the route was predominantly through tall, ancient evergreen forest, punctuated by heathland, and areas where controlled forest fires had been set. The altitude rarely peaked above 300m. We sporadically glimpsed the mysterious and spellbinding Stora Gla through the densely packed trees and, although we periodically we peaked sufficiently to sneak outside the woodland's caress and gaze longingly over the forest-veiled landscape, it was the bush trekking that fascinated me. It felt murky, enigmatic and otherworldly, as if we were trespassing on some ancient land, guarded by steely sentinels - eyeing us warily. Snow still adorned the heath-covered ground in places and we treaded lightly.

The weather, that first day, was not too bad at all - a frigid chill clung to to the air but the rain was pleasingly absent. Had we known what was to come, we might have sped back to the car and locked the doors. The first night, we found a shelter which was surprisingly unoccupied. We carried a tent with us, just in case the shelters were occupied - as it was, not once did we see anyone else throughout the four days. We did encounter a moose, but he simply eyed us with disdain before bounding off into the forest. Beside the shelter, some yards away, under protective sanctuary of a huge tarp, were thick blocks of wood for the fire. We grabbed some and shoved them into the corner of the shelter. Once inside, we dispersed our kit, laying gratefully on our Thermarests and sliding into the comforting warmth of our bags. We powered up the stove, enjoying its vicarious heat and voraciously devoured dinner. Still cold, even after a good feed, we made ourselves a fire watching the flames dance, casting a rosy hue across the shelter in the pale blue moonlight. The vista across the Stora Gla from our shelter was ethereal and peaceful. We sat, warmed by food and our bags, and chatted well into the night before drifting off to a tranquil sleep.

The second day dawned and brought with it a change in the weather and, in turn, the milieu which became dark and foreboding. It had rained during the night - not that we'd noticed tucked up in the shelter - but the ground became slippery underfoot and boggy in places and we carefully threaded our way through the woodland as the walking became more technically challenging. The rain began to fall heavily and we were soon feeling the effects. We stopped for lunch under the cover of some heavily laden pines and silently gave thanks for the sylvan canopy providing respite from the lashing rain. Frequently, throughout the day, as we climbed above of the forest roof, we were treated to what would have been spectacular views were it not for the cloud and mist permeating the air, but even in that weather, it was a magical, arcane place to be.

We eventually located our next shelter and settled down, glad to be out of the insistent precipitation. The map we had, the sort of thing you would see on a low-budget pirate flick, with detail distinctly lacking, showed roughly where all the of the various shelters were - there were a multitude of them placed within reasonable walking distance of each other - usually around 15-20km apart. It was therefore easy to plan a route around the Stora Gla which permitted varied overnight stops at different shelters - there was not one single route circumnavigating the lake.

Sparking up the stove again, we were ecstatic to get ourselves warm and a little more dry and began again hungrily gorging ourselves. Overnight temperatures dropped and there seemed to be more snow on the ground as we made our way through the forest. It was grimly portentous.

In fact, the snow was indeed to come. As it got colder we realised we were in for a horror of a night as it was clear temperatures were going to drop rapidly. As we climbed again, beset by sleet and snow, we happened upon the most amazing thing - a moose, initially startled by our approach, regarded us with contempt, before bounding away through the forest but not before we'd had a chance to observe it, perhaps only 30m away, for more than a few seconds. As mist puffed from it's nostrils, and the sleet beaded on its thick hair and dripped to the forest floor, it was clear here was a fellow far more suited to the inclement Swedish weather to come than we were!

We arrived at our final camp, tired from the rain, snow and wind and realised, that, if the fire was to keep us warm, we'd need to protect it from the weather as much as possible. We cut down fern branches and used longer branches, already on the ground, lashed together with cord we were carrying, to create a shelter to protect the fire from the rain. We hung our wet gear to dry and snuggled into our sleeping bags. The temperature dropped to -3C (according to the Suunto Vector I had with me) that night and it took quite a few layers to keep warm. The fire, thankfully, continued, unabashed by the weather, and I suspect the temperature outside the shelter was even lower. We checked the internet a few days later and it was allegedly -7C. Food was getting low and we were glad it was the last day. Tired from the wind and the rain, and from constantly keeping warm, we slept well that night.

It was a long, wet walk to the car the next day and by this point we were enervated after a long, hard hike. All in all, it had been extremely challenging and immensely rewarding, despite the rain, and even though I did not bring waterproof trousers with me, I was wearing Montane Terra pants which, even soaked such that I had to wring them out on that last night to dry them before pulling them on and getting into my bag, they kept the wind at bay. Anyone who wants a gear list can email me and I'll let you know what I took. It's a magical, mysterious and recondite place, the forests surrounding the Stora Gla, and I would recommend it to anyone.

Moelwyns and Cnicht

It was recently that I wrote about the Vaude Power Lizard UL and its first trip in the Moelwyns. The review dominated that post and I didn't say much about the following morning after we'd packed away the tents and headed up Cnicht and Moelwyn Mawr or indeed the day before from Beddgelert. It was beautiful weather that second day, permitting a memorable vista which will be seared onto our retinas for years to come. It's the true delight of wild camping to be on a hill when most people have not even awoken from their slumber or are casually perusing the Sunday broadsheets and we were blessed with the perfect weather and, frankly, a perfect hill in the diminutive but utterly endearing Cnicht.

It was a long walk in from Beddgelert as we started our walk into the Moelwyns, in reality, at the north end of Llyn Gwynant heading up to Bwlch y Rhediad. The ascent up to the Bwlch was pretty torrid as we battled through a small forested area, the bridleway disappearing into obscurity within a maze of sheeptrails inside the sylvan canopy. We took a short recess at the conclusion of that energy-sapping climb and sat, ate and savoured the first views. It was the first time my old friend had been to Snowdonia and, hitherto, his experiences had not included hills above several hundred metres. This was new to him and his surprise and excitement was rousing.

As we followed the fenceline to Moel Meirch to bag our first peak as a team - a scrambly 607m - we were starting feel something akin to pure joy. The weather was good - breaks in the cloud, cool and fresh with little in the way of rain. The ground underfoot was boggy this is not novel in the Moelwyns. There was wind of course, an omnipresent phenomenon in any hillwalking I do, and it was draining but not even that could dampen our enthusiasm. We pass Llyn Edno - one of the wonderful things about the Moelwyns is the proliferation of mountain Llyns - and head up to Ysgafell Wen. The wind catches us and we sit in bewildered awe at the hills around us.

The area around Llyn yr Adar, our chosen spot for the overnight camp, was implausibly boggy and it was some time before we settled upon a reasonable place to pitch. As we set our stove to do its work, we sat and began to comment on the day. It was a enthusiastic, enlightening conversation that set the tone for all our trips in the future - a sense of what we both sought from our partnership in the hills. We resolved to assault Cnicht, less than 2km away, in the early morning light and munched through our dinner with contented chatter before sipping away at the port we'd brought - which had become something of a tradition after our Hadrian's Wall Path trek the year before. As the sun set on the Moelwyns, we delighted in a great day.

The next morning, after we had warmed ourselves with a mug of hot tea and breakfasted on some sugary honeyed porridge, we packed our kit away and headed off for Cnicht. The weather was exceptional - a cool wind (strong, as usual) but a lustrous, steel blue firmament and deep, warming sunshine. The air was as crystal clear and we could see for miles. Keeping Foel Boethwel to our right and taking in Llyn y Biswail, we began to walk up to Cnicht's North Top. The views of Moelwyn Mawr to the south were breathtaking.

Leaving the North Top behind us, we pushed on to Cnicht itself. Within what seemed a few scant moments, we were scrambling easily up to the apex of the sharp, craggy peak of what has become one of my favourite mountains. At only 689m, Cnicht is not the highest Trail 100 peak but it one of the most loved. It is simply a wonderful peak and shall occupy a special place in my heart from some time to come. Perhaps the wonderful weather and the spectacular panorama unfolding before us, gifted by the crystal clear air surrounding the indomitable champion, are to blame. The wind had been around 45mph the day before, according to MWIS, and it had certainly felt fairly draining as we'd battled our way towards our camp spot via Ysgafell Wen. It had not got any less ferocious overnight. Recalcitrant and invigorated, we carried on.

Looking back along the ridge to the Cnicht North Top:

And, rather strikingly, the views of Yr Aran and the Snowdon range to the north were awe-inspring. We had to be fairly dragged away from the peak of Cnicht and it was with genuine remorse that we headed back to Beddgelert but with memories forever.

Whatever the wind, it had been worth it. We had to get back home to London so we did not have time for anything more than Moelwyn Mawr but we'll be back - Moelwyns are a rather special range I think, and we had a great walk over Moel Meirch and Ysgafell Wen the day before, but Snowdonia will have to wait as this coming weekend, we're off to Scafell Pike and Bowfell...