I almost started this post by stating that the move to autumn was my favourite time of the year. But in reality, the change from one season to another is always a very special time. I’ve written about this before but the joy of the UK climate is the changing of the seasons. They seldom disappoint.
Autumn is now coming in strong after a long and dry summer. Yesterday, there was a little edge to the early morning air and yet I spent most of the day walking in sunshine. The skies clouded a little at lunchtime but a brisker wind soon whisked them away and the weather for the rest of the afternoon was glorious.
Working for yourself is always a mixed blessing. When things are quiet — as they are at the moment — there is a temptation to sit at the computer most of the day and generally create a false sense of productivity by, well, not doing very much in particular. Far better to get out there to the hills. A good hill walk calms the nerves and puts life back into some kind of perspective. For me, there is nothing quite like chilling out on the hills.
Mid week is a good time for a snatched walk as inevitably you have the hills to yourselves. It was the kind of day that suggested a ridge walk or two. Although the days are shortening an intimate knowledge of your favourite hills allows you to squeeze the most out of your time. To extend the walk — and to preserve the solitary nature of the day — I chose to drop down form the ridges down on the of steepest, most scrambly, ‘batches’ in this part of the world. There’s nothing dangerous here but you have to have you wits about you. There is a steep drip down into Barrister’s Gully (how did that get named)? A narrow path descends sometimes over bare rock and sometimes crosses small reaches of scree. The path stays high above a small stream, the descent below a sharp and perspicuous one. There was no real need to use hands but at times progress was slowed simply because of the necessity to be sure about where you were planning your feet.
In all my years of walking this ‘batch’ I have never ever met another soul here. The paths while narrow are well defined and evidence that others do pass this way. It’s not just me and the sheep.
When you know your hills well you know where to make the most of the changing season and this is certainly the case as autumn arrives. Locally, I may not have the majesty and the splendour of, say, the Rothimuchus to experience but if you know where to look there is a lot to see and in autumn this walk can be stunning, the old oaks and beech trees sheltered from the prevailing wind so as to preserve their autumnal foliage.
In truth I was probably a week too early, the colours changing but not yet saturated in colour. However, one weekend storm can blow away the colours before you can blink. I might return next week, maybe for an overnight, but only if the prevailing winds have obliged.
The lateness of autumn suggests that this season may be short. Soon the biting chill of the winter winds will arrive and the same walks will take on a wild and barren feel. The walks will be just as enthralling in their own way but very different of those of today.
Meanwhile, make the best of the season when you can. The extended summer and relatively calm weather promise some wonderful autumn displays.
For a couple of years now I have been looking tropical my main waterproof. This has served me well but after almost a decade of use the fabric has got thinner and the jacket stopped being properly waterproof a few years ago!
Choosing a replacement has been difficult. I’ve tried on a couple of jackets in shops that seem to be sized weirdly, X Large jackets that seem not to the right size across the shoulders. The next problem has been price. The cost of the latest designs and fabrics has become quite ridiculous. I’m simply not going to pay silly money for something that might be a wee bit more breathable.
It was fellow Challenger that first recommended the Alpamayo to me two or three years ago. Gordon is a sensible chap. He likes his gear lightweight but not at the cost of comfort of effectiveness. Everything from PHD I hoverer bought has been top-notch and so in the end I finally got round to following Gordon’s advice!
The first thing you notice about the Alpamayo is its size. PHD size their jackets to allow for the wearing of their down jackets below which is helpful I think. The smock fits nice and loosely but is not flappy. There is no scope tail but the smock has a decent, protective, length to it which I like.
The main zip on the jacket is tough and solid and protected by a proper baffle and waterproof seams. A single chest pocket also uses a similar zip and waterproof protection. There is also an inside pocket with a key holder. The hood is properly adjusted and is probably the best hood I have used on a waterproof jacket. The wire frame is tough and the hood is easily adjusted by an adjuster at the read and my two adjustable toggles on the base. The smock cuffs feature very tough and solid Velcro adjusters. Everything about the construction is very solid and the smock oozes quality. The fabric is not thin but is smooth to the touch
In the use the smock is totally waterproof and windproof without being heavy. The walk on the Black Mountains was a real test of any waterproof garment; the smock design proved more comfortable and protective than I think a jacket would have been. The sealed zips and zip protection proved to be very effective.
While the weather in on the Black Mountain Trip was pretty foul it was mild. Fighting against the wind meant working hard and at no time did I feel the smock lacked for breathability.
The Alpamayo uses PHD’s own HS3 fabric. I’m not exactly sure what this is as many waterproof fabrics — including eVent — can be licensed to be used under individual brand names. What I do know is that this fabric is more than breathable enough for me.
My Alpamayo is X Large size and weighs 470 grams. It costs £259 and can only be obtained from PHD using website. Long experience of buying from PHD tells me that you cranky on their sizing guide — for example, you would have to pretty large to have to go up to the XX Large size (which can be ordered). I idk the over sizing as I thing the option of using a down jacket in cold weather — that is not compacted too much — can be a real bonus. There is a jacket version of the smock available which adds about another 100 grams.
You won’t see this garment reviewed that often as it doesn’t use one of the main name fabrics. However, this is a first rate piece of kit that simply won’t let you down.
Over the next few months I will continue testing and report back with a long term review.
Fuji X-Pro1, 1/125, f11, ISO 400. 18mm (28 — 35 equivalent)
In this internet age it is tempting to think that we know all about the great trails of the world even if we have never ever hiked them ourselves. There are many tells journals to read. There are many hikers who now blog or micro blog as they walk. We know all about the trail infrastructure, we can download the maps and, of course, we all now know about the famous Trail Angels of the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT.
Chris Townsend walked the PCT over 30 years ago. Back then the trail was a reality but it was nowhere near as popular as it is today. I think the year Chris hiked it only 11 people completed it. It has taken 30 years for Chris to produce this book and it seems he only embarked on the task after encouragement from his new publishers, Sandstone Press. Sandstone should take a bow as this is a very fine book indeed. When reviewing Chris’ recent Grizzly Bears and Razor clams (I think it was) put forward the view that Chris’ writing is just getting better and better. Rattlesnakes confirms this.
The PCT is an epic trail and 30 odd years ago walking it was even more epic as the trail infrastructure that we have today simply wasn’t there. To make things even more dramatic Chris walked the PCT after one of the heaviest snow falls recorded making much of the first section of the walk quite a challenge.
The PCT runs for 2,650 miles, starting at the Mexican borders and running North (at least that’s how most people tackle it) through California, Oregon and Washington States. The trail takes in the Mojave desert, the High Sierra Mountains, The Cascade Mountains and many of the great US forests along the way.
This PCT walk was Chris’ first mammoth hike and this book combines both the excitement of that youthful walk with a maturity of reflection that is simply beguiling. Above all else it is the natural drama of the trail environment that is the star of this book but the way Chris details the development of the PCT (both before and since his walk) is fascinating.
A modern journal on the PCT would inevitably feature a lot of words about gear and while this is a book about moving through landscape there’s enough to keen gear junkies happy. For this trip Chris was provided with some of the first Gore Tex waterproofs that landed in the UK. It was also on this trip that Chris saw the light and turned (mid trip) to lightweight trail shoes from heavy boots. There is the drama of a broken pack and the search for a replacement. But mostly this is about the walk.
The heavy snowfall results in a trip that seems a very different one to many accounts that I have read. Chris is famous for walking alone but the snow heavy sections dictated walking in small groups for safety. Not only was there a lot of snow to cross but tiny and often dry creeks had turned into raging torrents. What comes over nicely is the relationship that is built up amongst these trail companions. Chris remarks towards the end of the book tat he had walked much of a thousand miles with some of them and yet they ended up knowing little about each other’s lives back in the ‘real world’. However, you do get a great sense of the trail intensity of these friendships. While not having undertake a venture like this myself this — levelling of human experience — is a feature of any long trail walk and, I think, is one of the reasons for the longevity of the TGO Challenge where you often have little idea about the people you are walking with save for their own views of the immediate experience
A lot of the other usual ingredients are on show here, stories of serial breakfast eating in tiny, backwater, trail towns, the joys of a shower after weeks of walking and so on.
But what makes this a joy to read is the sharing of Chris’ discovery of life on a trail like this, the beauty of the desert, the joys of the high mountains, the fascinating variety of the forests and the glorious wildcamps along the way. I wish I could describe this all a bit more eloquently but you’ll just have to go and read the book!
This was the trip that I guess formed the Chris Townsend that most of us know today. I’m glad that he took a long time to write this as I think we’ve ended up with a fascinating and probably more enduring book.
When I finished reading the book I rang up Colin Ibbotson who told me that the book had made him want to go out and hit the trail again. I know when he means. Putting the book down I had to go out for a walk and spend a night camping on the side of the hill, a far more modest experience without doubt but this is what Chris’ books do. They shake you out of lethargy and install in you that love of the natural world that keeps us all going.
This is very firmly recommended.
Over the last few years rumours have spread about the writing of song in tribute to the TGO and the Challengers. Some lucky souls have even joined in the singing — usually as we tramp through the Fetters Forest to the coast.
There is bit of a collective project to record this but — in celebration of the Challenge 2017 — I thought I’d give you a limited, sneak preview, of the song.
This is the rough demo that has been sent out to all of those who have agreed to contribute. A reminder to these people; you need to get cracking. Anyhow,and for a limited time only, here is the preview:
It is a demo with some space left for solos! Enjoy.
A number of people have emailed asking just where I am or have been! True enough, this has been a quiet summer but all is well and the posts will return shortly.
This summer has been a good one for casual walking. I’ve not had any long, ambitious or interesting walks but I have been making the most of this year’s decent summer weather. Strolling through England’s countryside on a gorgeous summer’s day is a great thing to do but it doesn’t inspire me to write that much. And I’ve decided to try and go for quality content rather than quality.
In many ways I’m much more excited about the onset of autumn. I’ve said before here that one of the things I love about walking in Britain is the changing seasons and after something of an ‘Indian Summer’ the pace of seasonal change has now picked up. I’m looking forward to a bit of a chilly bite in the air and maybe some wind and rain on my face. And with a bit of luck there is still time for a few overnights before the nights get really short. I hope to be out with a camera in the next few days.
On other news. The writing of this yer’s Challenge Journal is gathering space. Many people like to write their journal’s quickly, capturing the excitement and spirit of the event. I like to wait a while and to reflect on the experience and I often tie my journal publication to the application date of the Challenge (about now). I’m now at Braemar so there’s not long to go.
Throughout the summer I’ve continued to receive emails about feet and heel problems (fallen arches and Plantar Fasciitis). I started off walking this year’s Challenge in bit of a mess — viruses and such — and a nervousness about the heel problems. In the event the walk was fine although I did have a more gentle start to the event than planned. The Plantar Fasciitis only reared its head on the long road walk from Braemar to Ballater. Since returning, I’ve had no problems at all over the summer and, indeed, everything feels better than it has done for years. I’m not quite sure why this is but there are a couple of factors in the frame. I think for much of last year I was wearing shoes most days (off hill) that I just think made things worse. Too much cushioning seems to be a problem. I have also changed the inserts that I have been using in my Inov-8s, following one of the recommendations here. These seem to be more supportive. And finally, the calf stretching exercises that were recommended seem to really work. I’ll write a post about both the shoes and the inserts shortly.
So, summer is at an end. It’s time to start the writing again!
August has seen me pretty much city-bound. But even in the city, or the urban conurbation, there is a lot of walking to do. Meet my fried Phil. Phil works in cities all around the world. He described himself as an ‘urban therapist’. No, I don’t know what that means either, but Phil knows a lot about urban cultures. Phil started walking a lot a few years ago. He lives in Yorkshire and does hit the hills regularly but he also loves urban walking and, being a lover of the unusual, Phil likes searching out slightly odd walks. He decided earlier this year that the ‘Black Country’ was a bit of a gap in his urban experience. He told me he wanted to sped a couple of days walking around it. And so a date was set and a week or so ago we set out on our journey of exploration. I’ve written quite a bit about urban walks and each of these posts is read boy an astonishing number of people. There is something fascinating about an urban walk, as fascinating and as exciting as a hill walk; but very different.
Phil Wood: Urban Therapist !
An exchange with @trickygreen (in the comments section) has raised an issue that I have thought about writing about. Actually, the issue is a feature of my TGO Challenge Journal (which is now almost finished).
@trickygreen raises he wearing of trail shoes on the West Highland Way. Now, I have not walked the West Highland Way but I have done sections of it. I really dislike walking on this surface mainly because (own the sections I know) they are strewn with rather too large stones which are unpleasant and some times uncomfortable to walk on.
On this TGO Challenge I set out to create a route that minimised tarmac walking. I walked along a number of tracks that I have walked in the past. On more than a couple of times i found myself looking forward to a stretch of a walk only to find the track surface to be quite unpleasant.
I suppose a lot of these tracks have been improved or ’maintained’ to be better able to take heavy weight vehicles.
Is this just my imagination or route planning?
While I’m on the subject of feet, I’ve had a number of emails about the achilles/Plantar Fasciitis issue. There will be a bit of a focus on this in my TGO Journal (which is nearly finished) but ….
… the change inches back to the Inov-8’s has made a big difference. The Plantar pain has completely disappeared and I’ve been walking pain free all summer. Looking back, it seems that the the built up sole unit of the Brooks Cascardias were a bit of a disaster for me. On the Challenge the only really difficult day I had was the long road walk from Braemar to Ballater, where the achilles began to complain rather loudly. I shan’t be doing this stretch again (at least not for a while).
The 295’s have done well although I noticed last week that the sole on my left foot has collapsed inwards. I’m still hill walking with these shoes but my impressions that I won’t get as much life out of them as I did with the Terrocs. Those with more sensibly arranged feet might not have this kind of problem, but it is something to consider!
News from Bob at the Outdoors Station. Bob has been exploring the wonderful world of internet radio — he’s finally got round to buying an internet radio! All of the details can be heard on the podcast and it gives you a good idea about what internet radio has to offer.
Tune-In is a service that effectively broadcasts radio stations (and programmes) from all over e world. Tune-In is a built in feature in not only internet radio but smart TVs and in-house streaming systems such as Sonos. You can also get hold of this stuff over your PC and MAC as well.
These new radio services have transformed my listening over the last couple of years. Follow country music? No problem, here is most of Nashville for you? Jazz — any kind you like will be there. Folk and classical music are also served. But almost any subject you can think of from news to leisure and current affairs is now easily available over a ‘radio’ type device.
The Outdoors Station is now featured on Tune-In and other internet radio services. This will not only bring a new audiences to the podcasts but will allow the development of new programmes and new services. There are some new innovations coming soon from Cartwright Towers but in the meantime, catch-up with the podcast and catch up with the internet radio revolution!