Archive for January, 2016

January 27, 2016

I’m walking 486 miles for the John Muir Award

by backpackingbongos

On the 1st August 2016 I will leave Denver and walk 486 miles across the Rocky Mountains to Durango. Over the space of 6 weeks I will pass through eight mountain ranges, six National Forests and six wilderness areas. The trail rises to 13,271 feet with an average altitude of 10,300 feet. There are 89,000 feet of ascent and descent before I get to Durango. It’s a big physical challenge and a huge mental one, as I will be hiking alone and unsupported. All gear and food will be carried and most nights will be spent in a tiny tent in the wilderness

Being passionate about the wild places both in the UK and abroad, I have decided to raise money for the John Muir Award. The aim of the award (run by the John Muir Trust) is to encourage participants to increase their awareness, understanding and engagement with nature and wild places. When more people connect with nature and wild places, more people will care for nature and wild places.

The trip is self funded so all money raised will go straight to the John Muir Award. Although a bit clunky to use I have decided to set up a page with Givey.com. That means that every penny you donate goes direct to the John Muir Award.

You can donate here.

January 22, 2016

Planning my first US thru hike – The Colorado Trail

by backpackingbongos

 

Colorado trail map

(Click to enlarge)

I have wanted to do a through hike in the US for a long time, for years being obsessed with the Pacific Crest Trail. DVD’s were collected and time spent reading books and trip reports. However the dream has never been realised. Life¬†gets in the way and a job, marriage and owning a dog make disappearing for six months a distant dream.

About a year ago I stumbled across a trip report about the Colorado Trail. This starts near Denver and makes its way south-west across the Colorado Rockies to Durango. At 486 miles long it is for me a realistic proposition time wise with most people completing it in four to six weeks. Last summer¬†I spent some time negotiating with my wife Corrina about jetting off for a couple of months. It’s not a prospect that she is thrilled about, but being a star she agreed. The next step was to approach work. They have been great and now August and most of September have been booked as unpaid leave. I’m good to go!

The Colorado Trail is a high altitude route ranging between 5,520 feet just outside Denver to 13,271 feet below Coney Summit. The average elevation is above 10,300 feet. It passes through eight mountain ranges, six National Forests and six wilderness areas. Adding that to the 89,000 feet of ascent and descent during the entire trail and I think that I will be physically tested to my limit.

It’s the first time that I’ll trek in an area where bear sightings are a real possibility, so this is something that I need to do research on. Last summer the first segment through Waterton Canyon was closed due to bear activity (article here). Bear canisters are not a requirement for the trail so¬†I will be storing my food in an¬†Ursack.

I’ll be trekking through the Colorado ‘Monsoon’ season. This means that afternoon thunderstorms are a regular, often daily occurrence. The reading that I have done so far indicates that these can be¬†very violent with frequent lightning strikes. I’m not ashamed in admitting that my greatest fear in the outdoors is lightening (after a near miss a few years ago). It terrifies me! They are meant to be fairly predictable though, building up from about 1pm and often clearing by evening. This will mean dawn starts to ensure that I am off exposed high ground by around midday. A new mindset will be needed for this late rising slackpacker!

There are opportunities for resupply, although they will involve a hitchhike, something I used to do regularly in my early twenties but have not done since. Towns like Leadville (the two-mile high city) and Silverton look very pleasant and somewhere I would be happy to rest up for a couple of nights. Resupply is going to be the major bit of planning, working out when to leave the trail, how to get into town and then get back on the trail. I’m not going to bother sending packages ahead, I’ll live with what I can find in the shops. This may mean travelling a bit further to somewhere with a proper supermarket. I have already purchased the most up to date data book but am waiting for the new guidebook to be published in the spring.¬†I’ll start planning in earnest when that has been released.

Data book (1)

One of the best resources I have found online is by Paul Mags, link here. The blog that really sparked my imagination and gives a day by day account with loads of photos is here.

As someone who purposely seeks solitude and most of the time avoids established trails and busy areas, the Colorado Trail will probably be a bit of a shock to me. Although not many people through hike it, the 28 segments each with a trailhead mean that it is accessible for day¬†hikers and weekend backpackers. Also apart from the wilderness areas it is a shared trail and¬†popular with mountain bikers. Therefore I will have to change my mindset and look at it as a cultural experience as well as a backpacking one. When I receive the maps I will look for a few detours off the main trail and work out what 14,000 peaks I want to bag. One exciting thing is that I’ll be sharing about 300 miles of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) if I take the Collegiate West option.

Kit wise I’m pretty much ready to go. I’m not going to be spending hundreds of pounds trying to knock a kilo off my base weight (although I do need to knock off a few kilos from my body weight!). One thing that I have just invested in though is a new meths stove, currently making its way across the Atlantic (Flat Cat Gear Bobcat Jr). I’m a big fan of my Jetboil but it looks like meths will be available in places that don’t have outdoor shops. I think it is yellow Heet that I need to look out for when resupplying. Another investment will be in trail shoes. In the wet and cold UK I am happy in leather boots most of the time as I am usually up to my knees in a bog somewhere. The Colorado Trail is meant to be pretty easy-going underfoot, well-drained and with a good surface. Along with generally warm temperatures during the day (can get cold at night), I don’t want to be clumping around in boots. The rest of my gear is what I usually use, nothing special is needed.

So, with flights now booked the trip has become a reality rather than just a dream!

 

January 7, 2016

A New Year week in Weardale

by backpackingbongos

We managed to bag ourselves a cheap cottage for the period between Christmas and New Year. This was in Weardale in County Durham, an area of high moorland in the North Pennines. The drive up on Boxing day was horrendous, the north of the country being deluged by rain and floods. The A1 was a world of spray and a couple of accidents, whilst the A roads were often hidden under water. The river Wear was a thunderous beast as we drove along the road through the valley to the village of Westgate, and our rather compact home for the week.

Myself and Reuben managed to get out and about on the hills most days, with Corrina joining us for half of them. The weather continued its mild, damp and cloudy theme, although the sun did occasionally put in an appearance. I have to say that I am rather smitten with this part of the North Pennines. It’s wild, rugged and empty once you climb onto the hills. Only two people were passed whilst out hiking. Here are a few phone pictures giving a flavour of the hills and dales.

IMG_0420

The first morning dawned clear and crisp so I walked straight out the door and onto the hills. Under blue skies patches of mist were draped over the higher hills. This is looking towards Fendrith Hill.

 

IMG_0432

The high moorland watershed between Weardale and Teesdale, again looking towards Fendrith Hill. I was on my way to the summit of Westernhope moor. The ground was very wet.

 

IMG_0430

Heading back into Weardale above the hamlet of Brotherlee.

 

IMG_0455

At the top of the Boltslaw incline is the ruin of the engine winding house, very atmospheric in the mist that plagued us that day.

 

IMG_0449

Easy walking on the moors above Rookhope. My top tip when visiting Rookhope is not to park in the village hall car park. This now appears to be for the exclusive use of the nearby residents. The gate was locked when we got back and we had to go door knocking to find someone with a key…….

 

IMG_0448

Corrina does not go into the hills with me very often so I promised her big views into Northumberland from the summit of Bolt’s Law. Visibility was down to a couple of hundred metres.

 

IMG_0451

A very well camouflaged dog. He now has a flashing red light on his collar so we have at least a small chance of spotting him.

 

IMG_0462

A golden dawn on the moors above Stanhope.

 

IMG_0495

Summerhill Force in Teesdale was rather disappointing in its volume considering all the rain that had fallen.

 

IMG_0536

However on the plus side you could walk behind it.

 

IMG_0532

Atmospheric old mine workings alongside Rookhope burn.

 

IMG_0533

Currick on the Northumberland / County Durham border.

 

IMG_0534

A boggy trudge to Dead Stones from Killhope Cross.

 

IMG_0535

Looking towards the shelter near the summit of Dead Stones. It looks like the roof could cave in at any moment.

 

IMG_0537

Climbing out of West Allendale.

 

IMG_0538

Ewe looking at me? Sheep keeping a close eye on Reuben in West Allendale.

 

IMG_0539

Dark clouds building over the summit of Hard Rigg.

 

IMG_0540

I stopped for a while on the summit of the A689 at Killhope Cross, at 623 metres it’s the highest A road in the country. The rain started to turn¬†to snow.

 

IMG_0541

The hills above Cowshill are full of the remnants of the lead mining industry.