August 16, 2014

Sarek gear spreadsheet

by backpackingbongos

I have never done a gear spreadsheet before and I doubt that I will ever do one again. However with such a big trip coming up I thought that I would nab a template off of the internet and have a bash. The one attached includes all the gear and food that I am taking to be self-sufficient for 11 days in the wilds of Sarek with no resupply. I’m sure that I will get lots of disapproval from the lightweight brigade. I have to say that I’m a bit disapproving of all that weight myself as I have to carry it for 11 days! At least it will get lighter each day.

I have saved it as a pdf file, click the link below and it will open.

Sarek gear spreadsheet

 

August 15, 2014

Black Mountain Magic

by backpackingbongos

I am quickly coming to realise that it is pointless weather watching during the week leading up to a backpack. Each day the forecast changes and you watch in dismay when the promised sunshine is replaced by a weather warning. In the end I took it as an omen that the Lakes should never be visited during the mad season called the School Holidays. Instead I headed south to the Black Mountains, a promise of sunshine and a much quieter weekend in the hills.

14 kilometres with 640 metres ascent

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A small car park in the Olchon valley is a superb high level springboard for the narrow ridge that leads to Black Hill. It was a bit of a challenge finding it though the maze of narrow high hedged lanes. As I locked up the car the heavy rain on the journey south had been replaced by shafts of sunshine piercing the heavy brooding clouds. After being cooped up in the car for four hours, Reuben was given his freedom. He was lucky enough to be off lead from the moment he left the car until he got back in it the following afternoon. I’m very happy to say he acted impeccably, remaining within a couple of metres of my side the whole time.

The ridge to Black Hill is a gem. It’s nowhere near knife-edged but contrasts greatly with the surrounding rolling hills. Height was quickly gained, although I frequently had to stop to look at the views. The mountains of Wales finish abruptly and meet the green rolling English countryside. It really is rather beautiful and there is a good feeling of height walking the eastern Black Mountain escarpments.

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One final shower had me hurriedly pulling on waterproofs which were soon removed again. A warm and windy afternoon followed which made me glad that I had decided not to go to the Lakes.

Hay Bluff is a cracking viewpoint and the only section of my route that could be considered busy. The Gospel Pass gives easy access and there were also folk climbing up from the car park directly below. Looking north into the hills of Wales I once again told myself that I will have to at some point put some time aside to walk the Offa’s Dyke Path.

Descending towards the Gospel Pass the scourge of the Brecon Beacons shattered the peace. A trio of trail bikes were speeding down the path from Lord Hereford’s Knob. A cloud of dust, the whine of engines and the smell of petrol followed in their wake. Not a good mix with the hikers, families and dogs enjoying the hills. They also churn up the hills as I was soon to see.

On the summit of Lord Hereford’s Knob (or Twmpa) I found myself humming Half Man Half Biscuit as we sunned ourselves in a sheltered hollow.

Twmpa Twmpa, you’re gonna need a jumper

It gets a bit chilly on Lord Hereford’s Knob

Thankfully it was a warm and sunny August afternoon on the hill.

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The walk along the escarpment towards Pen Rhos Dirion was a delight in the late afternoon sun. The Brecon Beacons rolled off into the distance, the distinctive summit of Pen y Fan easily identifiable. There were still a few people out enjoying the hills, everyone friendly and happy to be out. One family was jealous of the fact that I was going to be spending the night pitched high on the hills. I did not envy them that they would soon have to return back to their car and civilisation. Walking on I have to admit that my hackles did rise a bit due to the state of the path, wide and rutted by the passage of many motorbikes.

I found an idyllic pitch right at the head of Cwm Cwnstab, so before putting up my shelter I went in search of water. I was pleased when I found a tiny trickle but less than impressed when right next to it I discovered a turd and piece of toilet paper. Instead I moved on wishing the culprit a slow and horrible bowel related death.

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In the end I settled on a substandard pitch on the moors above Grwyne Fawr, hidden from sight from anyone using the track. It was only during the night when I discovered just how substandard it was. It was both lumpy and on a slope. I had put some silicone on my groundsheet to stop my mat slipping off. This worked. However it did not stop me sliding off my mat. Every time I adjusted my position I could feel gravity slowly exerting its force. It felt like a long night.

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Day 2 – 13 kilometres with 530 metres ascent

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I had plenty of time during the night to ponder the importance of selecting a good pitch. Reuben had no such troubles, curled up on his mat he snored the night away. When we got up we surprised a nearby group with their long hair and long faces. I don’t think it had crossed their minds that a man and dog would emerge from the pyramid pitched in the middle of the moor. The whole family stood there in a line watching us, Reuben providing the most interest. If we moved then dad would rush to the front of the group and flex his muscles before they all backed up and reformed in a line. Mum had lovely long blonde hair which nearly reached the ground. It was awkward performing my morning ablutions in front of them but they did not appear too bothered by that.

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Leaving the Welsh Mountain ponies behind we retraced our route back to the track. This quickly led us to the Grwyne Fawr reservoir and typically I spotted loads of idyllic looking camping spots along the way. I was tempted to pop down to the tiny bothy but really could not be bothered to bash a way through the tall bracken. Having visited a few times in the past it’s not one that I would be interested in staying in unless in a real emergency. It’s far too accessible and small.

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After the relatively easy stroll the day before, I now had the challenge of crossing the grain of the Vale of Ewyas. This first involved a climb up to the intervening ridge, a long descent to Capel-y-ffin, followed by a bracken dominated climb to reach the Offa’s Dyke path on the border ridge. The route was stunning, the vale a myriad of greens and the general buzz of summer. The only downside was that much of it involved bashing through various tunnels of bracken. Half of the time I only knew that Reuben was there due to him banging into the back of my legs with his pack. I think he was glad of the shade from the summer sun though.

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There was one more long descent, this time down into the Olchon Valley. On the way I found a spring gushing with the coldest, tastiest water imaginable. I drank until my throat was numb and wetted my cap to cool my head. A lofty perch was found to sit and eat the rest of my food and take in the extensive views.

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We were once more descending through bracken and into the depths of the valley. It’s a quiet hidden place and I enjoyed the stroll through the fields and woods. There was some impressive fungi growing from a dead tree near the river.

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The handily located car park which I left the previous day was not so handy on the final climb of the day. The contours had not seemed very significant when I had been hurriedly throwing together the route. It was good to get back to the car and get my steaming boots off. Reuben quickly fell asleep on the backseat and provided no input on the drive home.

August 4, 2014

How to relax in a tent

by backpackingbongos

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July 27, 2014

Planning for a trek in Sarek National Park – route, travel and costs

by backpackingbongos

Sarek map

Around February this year all my waking thoughts were dominated by my planned trip to Sarek National Park later this summer. If I was not trying to find blogs in English I was watching YouTube videos, anything to give me a sense of what I am letting myself in for. Maps were bought and a route painstakingly plotted out on one that had to be imported from Sweden. This still proudly sports the price sticker, and it was not cheap! Sadly there are currently no guidebooks written in English. With a route finally worked out I then had a rough framework on which to organise travel to and from the trailhead. By the end of February this was all pretty much done and with months still to go I managed to shove it to the back of my mind. Now at the tail end of July and with only a month to go it is beginning to dominate once more.

Before I go into some detail about the route I have planned and how I am getting there I think that I should extend a big thank you to Mark Waring. Mark has provided me with a wealth of information about Sarek and trekking in Sweden generally, patiently answering my many emails. He has helped me translate various timetables from Swedish and generally been a good sport. Thanks Mark!

Travel

It is often cited that the journey is just as important as the destination itself. The journey to where I will start walking is a long and convoluted one. It goes as follows: Three hour train to Manchester airport. Two and a half hour flight to Stockholm. A night in Stockholm. One and a half hour flight to Luleå (dash around an unknown town to pick up some gas). A two and a half hour train journey to Gällivare. A night in Gällivare. A three hour bus to Ritsem. The final bit of travelling will be a forty five minute journey by boat to Anonjalme where I start walking. A mere fifty hours from my front door.

Thankfully getting home is a much less convoluted affair. I need to reverse the journey to Gällivare by boat and bus and spend another night in the town. I then fly all the way back to Manchester in a day on a single ticket. I do have to wait around some major European airports for a few hours but at least I will be in my bed the same night.

After the trip I will do a write-up about the journey there including timetable links etc. This will hopefully be useful to other folks travelling to Sarek from the UK.

Costs

The main elephant in the room is that Sweden is not a budget destination, but I think you already know that. However with a bit of judicious planning you can make travelling there a bit easier on your wallet. On my last trip to Sweden I walked into the Kebnekaise mountain station and paid their service charge (to use the shower, toilets and kitchen facilities), brought some couscous, biscuits and a can of coke. It came to £50. I still have not recovered from the shock of that. This time round I’ll make sure I have enough food with me in the mountains and not worry that I’ll be smelling like a restaurant wheelie bin on a hot summer day.

With the modern miracle of the internet I paid and booked much of the travel and accommodation several months ago. Advance planning really does pay off. The two flights to get me to Stockholm and then Luleå came to a total of £135. The additional train, bus and boat look like they will come to around £90 on top of that. My return flight to Manchester from Gällivare cost £150, with an additional £60 to cover the return boat and bus trips.

Therefore all transport is likely to come to around £435, give or take a few pounds. It sounds a lot but to put that into perspective the fuel and ferry to get the Bongo to Harris and Lewis earlier this year did nearly £400 of damage to my wallet.

Accommodation in Sweden can be booked fairly reasonably if once again you do this in advance. I have managed to book three nights in hotels for £140 in total, probably cheaper than you can get in the UK.

As I will be taking my backpacking food with me (some of which will be homemade and dehydrated) there are not that many extra costs. I will need to eat out on the journey to and from the trailhead. Alcohol will probably be avoided as from experience that is not cheap! There will be the option of mountain huts at the start and towards the end of the trek, these could be tempting if the weather is bad. They come in at between £30 and £40 a night for a bed, adding on another £10 at STF (Swedish Tourist Association) huts if not a member. I did not stay at any when I trekked the northern section of the Kungsledden but sticking my head in they always looked clean, warm and comfortable (but basic).

The Route

The route that I finally chose takes in three national parks, these being Sarek, Padjelanta and Stora Sjöfallet. When I first laid the map on my lap there was the temptation to try and do too much and cover too much ground. Although the Calazo map that I purchased is pretty good, it is a very poor relation to the Ordnance Survey we have in the UK. For a start the scale is 1:100,000 and there is nowhere near as much detail. Translating what is on the map into what will be on the ground has been tricky for someone used to the OS. On the plus side my whole route is on one lightweight map and it is printed on Tyvek so should not fall apart if it gets damp.

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 (Click on map to enlarge)

I have ten full days in the wilds between travelling, plenty of time for a good exploration and to get a feel for the place. Being a bit of a slackpacker I decided that I did not want to overstretch myself. The aim is to spend an extended period of time in the wilderness, soaking up the atmosphere and exploring its hidden corners. I do not fancy rushing though, head to the ground in an attempt to eat up the mileage. I would much rather be enjoying a camp days from civilisation. I’m lazy like that.

With ten days food and no chance of resupply my pack is going to be heavy. Another reason to keep the daily mileage manageable. I decided that I would stick predominately to the valleys, without any major ascent and descent. I also wanted to keep clear of the numerous glaciers, not places to explore solo when you have no experience of them.

In the end I came up with a nine day trek of 144 kilometres, leaving me with one day spare in case of bad weather. The route splits nicely into three sections of equal distance with each section having a different character.

Section one takes me from the pier at Anonjalme and along the Padjelanta trail through mixed birch forest to where the three National Parks meet. I then cross over into Sarek and follow the impressive Ruohtesvagge south-east into the centre of Sarek. Although this is not a marked trail it is meant to be easy to follow and probably offers the easiest way into the National Park. Although I am following the valley bottom I will be walking at altitudes of up to 9oo metres, much of it above 800 metres. Not to be taken lightly when you are north of the Arctic Circle. I plan to camp at Mikkastugan which is the centre of the park, several long valleys radiating from this point. There is a locked hut there which I am sure will tease me if the weather is bad.

Section two will be a bit more difficult as I follow another long valley called Alggavagge to the west. As I approach the lake of Alggajavrre there will be the challenge of head height dwarf willow to push my way through along boggy ground. I will then come to a Sami chapel and (hopefully) a bridge over the Mielladno. Once across the bridge I leave Sarek behind and cross into Padjelanta. I then head across trackless country via the large lake of Alajavrre to get to the Sami settlement at Arasluokta. This could prove to be the trickiest day as I will be crossing a high plateau, I just hope that the clouds do not roll in. Once at Arasloukta the hardest trekking is behind me and I have the option of staying in a Sami run hut. Apparently there is a shop there which sells smoked fish and maybe bread, although this is not something that I will count on.

Section three should be the easiest as I follow the Padjelanta trail back to Anonjalme and a boat back to Ritsem. Three days on a good trail with the option to sleep in huts if I fancy it. The final day will be a repeat of the first. However there is the option of branching off and taking the Nordkalottleden trail to Vaisaluokta where I can pick up the boat back to Ritsem.

I am hoping that it will be a fine walk in the largest wilderness area in Europe. A couple of weeks ago when I was casually Googling Sarek I came across a website from 2006 in which the exact same route as mine was taken. It is good to know that it is doable and the photos have whetted my appetite even more. The only difference is that they took thirteen days to walk it, compared to my nine. The website can be found here.

Finally I will leave you with the best videos I have found on Sarek. Excellent stuff.

 

 

 

July 23, 2014

Baking at the Bleaklow Stones

by backpackingbongos

Geoff and Tilly offered their company for a short, sweet and sweaty night on Bleaklow in the Peak District. They were duly picked up from chez Crowther and transported to Old Glossop where I parked the car. This is a less than glamorous spot from which to start a walk onto the moors, a large factory dominating the end of Shepley Street. There is however plenty of parking close to the start of the Doctors Gate track.

Both of our packs weighed a tonne, or to be more accurate 20 kilos each. With a trip to Sarek getting closer I wanted to get used to a heavy pack on rough terrain. I had also dug out my old Lowe Alpine ‘beast’ as I will be carrying ten days supplies on that trek. I wanted to check that it was comfy and up for the job. Another reason why both our rucksacks were so heavy was because of all the water we were carrying. We had five litres each, hopefully enough to last until the following afternoon. The moors were parched and it was not worth the risk of camping high and dry without anything to drink and cook with. Water is bloody heavy. Reuben carried his own water supply with two litres in his panniers.

Total Distance  – 18.5 kilometres with 500 metres ascent

Bleaklow stones

The climb onto Bleaklow via Yellow Slacks was a hot and humid one. Although late afternoon the temperature had failed to dip and I felt every gramme of my monster load. I’m glad that Geoff was equally as laden, it’s always easier if someone else is sharing the struggle. Reuben and Tilly had more life in them but were also taking things easy.

There was actually water flowing in the upper reaches of Yellowslacks Brook, at least what was in my pack was not the colour of ale. The infant stream led us to the Hern Stones, a good spot for a break before picking up the Pennine Way to Bleaklow Head.

The plan was to camp in the vicinity of Bleaklow Stones, across what used to be a wade through oozing black peat hags. It’s been a while since I have visited this side of Bleaklow and was amazed at the transformation after the recent regeneration project. The plateau is now a prairie of lush grass, no longer the dark and foreboding place it used to be. I have to say that all that grass played havoc with both myself and Geoff’s hay fever. Until I got back to the car the next afternoon it was the worst it has been for years.

I think that it is fair to say we were both a bit sloppy with the navigation on the way to Bleaklow Stones. First of all we got lured into following the path that leads into Near Black Clough. Realising our mistake we got back on track and then found ourselves veering too far south. The Bleaklow plateau is no knife-edge ridge and even in clear conditions can be a confusing place.

The grass near the stones is lush and lumpy but we both managed to find a good place to pitch our tents. It was late by the time we had done this and the sun was ready to dip below the horizon. It’s not often that you can watch the sun set from a high level camp in just a t-shirt, I did not need to put anything warmer on all night. A pleasant evening was spent emptying the contents of my hip flask before retiring to our respective tents to sneeze the night away.

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I woke just after dawn to find Reuben sitting upright with his back to me, the odour then hit me. He had managed to regurgitate his dinner into a large pile of stinking mess. Not only that but he had done so in the inner of a tent that I was using for the first time. Thank you Reuben. It took a while to mop up, especially considering that I did not really have the tools for the job with me. When I finally settled back down to sleep I kept one eye open, ready to leap into action and let him out in case he decided he needed to get more out of his system.

I think it may have been Reuben that woke up Tilly in Geoff’s tent. He did not get much sleep after that when a big brown labrador decided it was getting up time.

The hot sun had me up early anyway, it’s hard to sleep when slowly being roasted. We had a lazy couple of hours around camp before packing up and setting off. My hayfever was still really bad and I was beginning to feel dreadful. I was actually looking forward to getting back to the car, winding up the windows and putting on the aircon.

We did much better at navigating back towards Bleaklow Head, this time following the widely spaced wooden poles along the ridge. Once back on the Pennine Way we saw the first people since leaving the car the previous afternoon. The nearby summit of the Snake Pass road gives very easy access to the high moors.

At the junction of Doctors Gate Geoff and I parted ways, he heading for home in Hayfield via Kinder Scout, Reuben and I returning to the car via Shelf Brook. I took my time on the Doctors Gate path, stopping frequently to rest in the hot sun, making sure that the panting Reuben drank lots of water. I had not come this way before, a grand valley leading directly into Old Glossop. It was with relief that I got back to the car and ditched the heavy pack. The hay fever and heat had wiped me out, I’m not sure if I had lost most of my fluids through sweat or snot.

Once again a short and reasonably local backpack had provided a great weekend escape from work and city living.

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