Does Social Media Destroy the Magic and the Mystery?

I can remember the first time I really became aware of the use of social media by hill walkers.

I was on the TGO Challenge and walking for a week or so with Phil Turner, who was a lot younger than me. Phil spent much of his time playing with a very new innovation — Social Hiking — which I don’t think was quite available to the public then. Phil and I were taking a very early stroll through the Balmacaan Forest. There were no tracks here (well not back then, pre wind farm). We bashed on through the heather on a gorgeously clear morning. Phil rushed on ahead. Every now and then I would loose him. I’d stop and look around up above me. There I would find Phil on the highest point he could easily reach, trying to get a signal on his mobile phone.

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In the Middle of a Wild Camp: Let There be Light

I often find it difficult to describe the real joys of wild camping. Each month I get several emails asking about wild camping, often from people who are taking up hiking in middle aged; it all sees a bit daunting and frightening to them.

Wild camping is often spectacular, especially in mountain regions that are being explored for the first time. But a wildcamp on familiar territory can be just as fascinating as the landscape — no matter how well you know — never really looks the same from one camp to another.

I only had time for a quick overnighter this weekend. Looking at the weather forecast it seemed Friday would be a good day to avoid others. Dreary weather was forecast but the prospect of it clearing on Friday evening and Saturday morning and ushering in a week of high pressure.

The weather was indeed poor, a bit like a bad spring day in the Highlands. I walked in waterproofs all day and was buffeted by a strong and cold North Westerly wind. I walked late into the day and by the time I’d put up my shelter and settled down it was dark. I discovered I ad not packed a head torch.

My food for the evening consisted of several packets of left over dehydrated stuff, some which seemed of dubious vintage. The sky was very overcast and the wind was blowing hard. Everything was pitch black. I decanted some of the food into my pot and added some dried potato. In the darkness it was impossible to discern what I was eating, though I suspect it was an old chicken and spinach curry that had lost its zing. I added some old tomato leather and this tasted a bit rancid. I tossed the food aside and settled down to read an ebook before heading for an early night. At the train station I’d bought a couple of chocolate bars as my evening luxury and after the disappointment of the meal I was keen to find them but in the dark I had no chance.

After a couple of hours of sleep I was aware that everything had become quite bright. I had no watch but I knew it was too early for dawn. The absence of birdsong proved the point.

Through one corner of the shelter I spied light. I fixed back on half of the shelter door, one of the advantages of the Tramplite shelter. There — big in the sky — was a wonderful looking moon with a sprinkling of stars shimmering through the night haze. The lunar light cast lit up the heather and grasses of the hillsides. I settled back down on my mat, door open, to simply take in the illuminated night. Yes, it was quiet and peaceful (the winds had subsided) but this was top entertainment.

The moon didn’t shine through for long. The clouds returned and a light rain began to fall. I closed up the shelter door.

The approach of dawn was heralded by the first of that morning’s bird song. I opened up the door again and the familiar line of the hills was now shrouded in an ethereal mist. As I brewed coffee and ate the inevitable porridge I watched with fascination the every-changing shine of the hills, the emergence and deepening of shadows and the slow burn of the morning mist.

For some my spot may not have seemed that exciting and the absence of more modern and obvious forms of stimulation have been some cause for distress. By my hill — and the moon and the morning — have given me hours of pleasure.

I had just one night on the hill but the cares and stresses of the world had been washed away. I was up and walking again by first light, walking alone on high ridges for four or five hours before I descended to a cafe for breakfast.

As I approached the village the weather was showing signs of clearing and the first explorers were heading to the hills on foot and on bike. They were no doubt relieved that the weather had changed. They were no doubt looking for forward to a high walk in clear skies and sun. And they would have had no idea of the magic and drama of my night on the hill.

Austerity, Sport and the Outdoors: From Brazil to Snowdonia

Towards the end of last year I wrote an opinion piece for TGO (The Great Outdoors) magazine which questioned the way in which spend on fitness and leisure was being allocated. My main gripe was that in the wake of a successful Olympic Games elite sorting personalities — and governing bodies — were seeking to bounce government in ring-fencing funding to elite sports at a time when all other leisure related funding was being dramatically reduced.

In preparation for that article I asked here for readers to let me know about how government funding cuts were impacting on all kinds of outdoor activities — those kinds of fitness building pursuits to which those of all ages can have easy access to. You took your allocated task seriously. Emails came in detailing cuts in Duke of Edinburgh schemes, community sport facilities. The selling off of outdoor pursuit centres and much more besides. You brought to my attention a whole host of local and regional campaigns from all kinds of groups and organisations.

The conclusion of my TGO piece was that while we can all admire the achievements of our Olympic athletes they should not be allowed to set priorities for spend on programmes that benefit all of us.

I could have gone further and was being rather diplomatic. Events like an Olympic Games cost a fortune. Not only did we pay for the event through taxation and lottery spend but we also payed a fortune through advertising and through the BBC License Fee. While events like the World Cup and the Olympics can be exciting, entertaining and inspirational to many, the sheer sale of their costs can leave you cold.

So, seven or eight months on I find myself contemplating all of these issues again in the light of contemporary events.

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This Everest Madness

A few days ago I found myself opening the Guardian newspaper and staring at arguably one of the most grotesque photographs that I have gazed on for quite long time. In front of me was an image of a long line of people all wearing outdoor, protective, clothing. The queue snaked away into the distance. A line like this could have been seen at an outdoor show at one of our major exhibitions centres or even at a football ground in winter. In fact this was a line of people queuing to tackle the last section of the climb to the summit of Everest. I was stunned even though I know that the short Nepalese climbing season is now under real pressure. While many people around the world stagger on through this global financial crisis the picture in front of me was a stark reminder that there are still many people with more money than sense, egos the size of planets and who are vainglorious to the core.

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Caminar es Atesorar!

” To walk is to gather”. a Spanish saying.

I like that. Thanks to Robert MacFarlane.

I’m off to Snowdonia in the morning. It looks like the only things that I shall be gathering are gale force winds and rain. This really is getting a little tedious now! Still, I have some nice new bits of kit to try out — more when I return.

Lightweight Industry II: Golite, The Ultralight Ecology and the Importance of Knowledge Transfer

For the last few days I’ve been musing on what my next contribution would be to the debate that has been started by Ron Moak of Six Moon Designs. Some of the comments to my original post and given me some things to think about.

The Ron comes back and asks me a direct question about the recent move by Golite to reject its established retail channels and sell direct. Damn you Ron, you are making me think to much!

Anyhow, I think I have found a way to connect up my latest set of jumbled thoughts. In this article I will be looking at changes in sales strategy from not only Golite but some of our other specialist producers, consider what could be thought of as the lightweight ecology and the symbiotic relationship between specialist retailers and manufacturers, and finally to argue of the importance of knowledge transfer in creating sustainable businesses and a sustainable business sector.

If this all seems a little too much, then you can always change the channel …

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The Future of the Lightweight/Ultralight Industry

You may have seen it, or you may have missed it. One of the most important figures in the ultralight gear industry — Ron Moak of Six Moon Designs — has recently been thinking aloud about the future. In a series of 7 thought provoking essays Ron has reviewed the history of the industry and contemplated the challenges in moving forward, sustaining progress and hopefully moving on to new levels.

Ron was provoked by a piece from Ryan Jordan of in which Ryan bemoaned the recent lack of innovation from manufactures. The gist of ryan’s article was that without innovation the industry would wither and die. Ron was outraged.

“My first reaction was the desire to grab Ryan by the collar and shake him violently while yelling “You fool, you stupid fool.” Upon reading the article, I knew immediately I couldn’t let this one go by without a response.”

“After several days of turning the problem over and over through my head, I was finally able to devise a scenario in which I was actually in agreement with Ryan.”

To be fair Ron, I’ve often had that reaction to some of Ryan’s posts. But after pondering this quite hard for a few days (during which I’ve had to fight off requests for attention from my nearest and dearest with — yes but I’m thinking about Ryan …) I came to the conclusion that I can agree with Ryan as well. But maybe not quite for the reasons he might think.

I thought I’d my two penny worth to the debate. I may not be an outdoor manufacturer of retailer but I do know what it is like to struggle to run a business that is aimed at a narrow niche, and I have also watched UK gear heads struggle with the realities of trying to develop a healthy business.

So, this is my (first) contribution of the subject, which finishes with my own take on what the ultralight industry needs to do well in order to survive. Warning. This is a long article designed to be read at leisure!

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Ten Magical Outdoor Memories of the More Mundane Kind

I’m not list kind of a person. But I was on a train this week and started chatting to a guy who was a keen outdoor person. As we talked it became clear he was one of those people who been everywhere and done everything: trekking in Nepal, horseback riding in Patagonia,  hacking through the Amazon, canoeing in Scandinavia, telemark skiing, wilderness hiking in Alaska and goodness knows what else.

My own little record of exploration was very modest indeed compared to the list of adventures. But it did get me day dreaming about memorable moments and memorable moments of the more unexpected kind.

So, here are ten of the experiences which stay with me. These are not my ten best, but just ten that I have fond memories of.

What are yours?

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Bad Gear? Is There Such a Thing?

Earlier today I realised that I haven’t yet posted a proper blog this year so I thought I’d better get on with it in case any of you have missed me! It’s time, I think, for a bit of a philosophical ramble!

A couple of weeks ago I found myself reading a piece from a fellow blogger that asked the question as to whether there was bad gear. His argument seemed to be that there wasn’t (I go into this below) but many of the comments seemed to agree with me that, sadly, there is.

And this got me thinking …


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Shooting the Wilderness Breeze in Old Soho

Lovely evening last night with David Lintern who many of you will remember as the producer of a series of podcasts with Chris Townsend, Alan Sloman and myself. David was also a Guest Blogger here while I was away on last year’s TGO Challenge.

We met to catch up with each other, to talk about his trek along the Pyrenean HRP last summer, to compare notes for our routes for next year’s TGO Challenge and to talk about David’s new Challenge as he prepares to move North and develop a new career with the John Muir Trust.

Our conversation was a reminder that in these difficult and austere times the exploration of wild land doesn’t need to be massively expensive and yet can still provide you with one of those rare, life changing, experiences. There is – quite frankly — nothing I like better than talking about the Pyrenees. As we sat in a Pizza Express in Soho we ranged across the globe and backwards and forwards in time as we discussed the life of great wilderness explorers and mussed on the challenges faced by wild land over the coming years.

I was pleased that David remains an optimist although as a seasoned campaigner he appreciates how hard it is to really win your case. In my experience the best and most successful campaigning organisations are those who retain a real idealistic edge to their philosophy but who are focussed and pragmatic in their campaigning. I pleased to see that the JMT fits into this category and I’m sure we are going to see some interesting campaigning from them over the next few years.

I’ve supported JMT in the past but now I thing I’m going to become a member. They might be the kind of organisation to make a real difference in just the way — to be fair — that they have in helping communities in wilderness take control of their own destinies, like they did when they became key partners in the creation of the Knoydart Foundation.

Evenings like this are not only fun and exciting but I come away from them brimming with ideas. Now, all I have to do is to spend some time making a few of them happen!