Posts tagged ‘backpacking’

June 20, 2016

When the Helm Wind blows – a North Pennine backpack

by backpackingbongos

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52 Kilometres with 1370 metres of ascent over three days.

Dufton is one of my favourite English villages, well it is on a quiet Friday when the place appeared to be deserted. Two days later on a Sunday afternoon it had been transformed into a large leafy car park, albeit more salubrious than Nottingham’s park and ride.

It had been a pleasant late spring morning whilst crossing the A66, however it was very windy in Dufton considering its sheltered position. The trees all in full leaf were making quite a racket as I shouldered my pack and walked along the road to the signpost for the Pennine Way. A local asked where I was heading and I said Cross Fell. He replied saying that the Helm Wind was blowing with the summit of Cross Fell being covered in a large cap of cloud. The helm wind is the only named wind in the UK, which happens when a strong north-easterly blows down the south-west slope of the Cross Fell Escarpment. He said that it was likely to continue for the rest of the day.

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I soon turned off the Pennine Way to pick up a track that contoured round the shoulder of Dufton Pike, a conical mini mountain. There I left the security of the track to descend to Great Rundale Beck before the long and steep climb to the summit of Brownber Hill. Next to the beck I found a small wire cage / trap containing a dead crow. It was like a very small Larson trap but I could not figure how it was meant to work. I left it alone and wheezed my way up the hill. When I was half way up a quad bike approached the trap, removed the crow then placed the trap on the back of the quad bike before driving off. I have to admit that I am a suspicious kind of guy when it comes to this sort of activity.

I squelched across the summit of Brownber Hill before taking a diagonal ascent across pathless moor to intersect the Pennine Way near Knock Hush.

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Despite it being mid May I was absolutely freezing by the time I reached the large cairn of Knock Old Man. I was glad to shelter behind its solid walls for a while. The wind was so cold that my face was frozen into a grimace. I even had to don gloves for the first time in months (I very rarely feel the need to wear gloves).

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The walk across the close cropped grass summits of Knock Fell, Great Dun Fell and then Little Dun Fell was less than pleasant in the very cold and blustery conditions. The cloud would temporarily lift from the summits giving views across the high and wild expanse of moors to the east.

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I found shelter on Little Dun Fell and hunkered down for another snack, working out whether I could be bothered to climb Cross Fell. The cloud had finally lifted but I was shivering, the coldest that I have been whilst on the hills for a long time. Therefore I descended to Crowdundle Head and took the bridleway that contoured high above the infant River Tees.

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From the map I thought that the bridleway would be easy to follow, however it quickly disappeared and I found myself contouring too far and too high. By then I was feeling really cold and was keen to dress in down clothing and get into my sleeping bag. I descended a bit and found a flat spot close to water on which to pitch the Hilleberg Enan. The sun was beginning to set as I crawled shivering inside. Once in my sleeping bag and after a cup of coffee and some soup I felt much better. It turned out to be a very enjoyable camp in just about the remotest spot in the Pennines.

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There was a big freeze during the night, my water bladders turning to lumps of ice. I was glad to wake up to blue skies, the rays of the sun soon warming my tent and melting the ice.

The walk down the upper River Tees was a delight, reminiscent of the Monadhliath in Scotland. This Part of the North Pennines is big open country, high moors intersected by a long, lonely and empty valleys. It felt like I followed the river for miles before I finally came upon the track that leads to the South River Tyne.

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With the Colorado Trail trip coming up later in the summer I was back in trail shoes after a year wearing leather boots. It can take a while getting used to the freedom you get, along with the need to be more careful with foot placement. The new pair of Inov-8 Race Ultra’s right out of the box proved to be very comfortable, it was like walking in slippers.

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After a short period of dry weather I was surprised at just how low some of the stream and rivers were. It’s something that I remember from previous summer trips to the North Pennines. It’s worth remembering if you are wild camping and relying on a particular water source. Many of the side streams had simply dried up.

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The track above the north-eastern side of Cow Green reservoir gave swift walking after the long meandering amble alongside the River Tees. After only seeing a couple of people in twenty-four hours the car park at Cow Green came as a bit of a shock. It was pretty busy with people setting off along the tarmac track towards the Cow Green Dam. This is the Widdybank Fell Nature Reserve. The patches of grass amongst the heather was covered in vivid blue flowers which after some Googling happen to be Spring Gentians. The native population of this tiny little flower is confined to the Teesdale area. There were numerous people on their hands and knees taking photos.

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Once past the dam I left everyone behind and started the climb up the track to the remote farm at Birkdale. The Pennine Countryside does not get much better than this area. Falcon Clints provided a great backdrop under a blue sky with fluffy clouds lining up to the horizon.

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Unfortunately the beauty is spoilt after the farm where a new vehicle track has been built. This obliterates the old Pennine Way trail, the walking now reduced to a trudge along sharp stones that are uncomfortable underfoot. Built in the name of the ‘sport’ of grouse shooting.

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It was a relief to leave the track behind when the Pennine Way finally descended west to the banks of Maize Beck. It was good to be back on a ‘soft’ path which took me to the bridge across the greatly diminished river. A little further on I found a flat grassy spot, prefect for a night of solitude.

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I awoke to another frosty dawn and I packed up again under blue skies. If you arrived without a map and compass and had not been to this area before you would be totally unaware of the spectacle that was about to come. Crossing almost flat and featureless moorland there is just a slight dip on the horizon to the west.

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Then all of a sudden the spectacle of High Cup Nick is upon you.

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It really is one of the most jaw dropping places in the Pennines, out of character with the surrounding landscape. I sat for a while at the head of the great chasm listening to a trickle of water making its way to the valley below.

Not many people appear to walk the south-eastern rim, instead using the Pennine way on the far side. I followed a narrow path, stopping frequently to glance back at the way I had come.

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I left the path after a while and contoured on a band of grassy limestone before dropping steeply down to Trundale Gill and a welcome spring of cold and clear water. A steep climb out of the Gill led me on a course to the shapely summit of Murton Pike.

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With a cold northerly breeze the views were exceptionally clear, the Lakeland fells standing proud above the patchwork of greens in the Eden Valley.

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A good track leads steeply down to Murton village from where I took a series of footpaths across fields back to Dufton. It was much longer than walking along the road but worth it for the views back to the high fells and a profusion of fragrant spring flowers.

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June 5, 2016

Slackpacking Nidderdale

by backpackingbongos

For some reason Nidderdale was not included in the Yorkshire Dales National park. It is a fine Dale and I have no idea why it was left out. I could do some research and use this blog as a vehicle to inform and educate but I can’t really be bothered to do that. Go and look it up on the internet yourself dear readers, if you find out please let me know.

The cynic in me tells me it is because the surrounding moors are prime grouse shooting territory, the landowners probably did not want oiks crashing across their land. Unfortunately due to these grouse moors dogs are banned from the CROW land so Reuben had to be left at home. That was a shame really because the route was short (25 kilometres split over 3 days) and there was no wind, rain, heat or severe cold, all of which he is not a fan these days.

The car was left in the small car park at Lofthouse where after a bit of a picnic I set off into the hills with my friend Rae. It is probably a year since we had backpacked together so it was good to catch up.

The tarmac lane led up past How Stean Gorge where the owners charge you to look at the scenery, we gave it a miss and carried on. We were soon following a beautiful river path along How Stean Beck. The wild garlic was just beginning to come out. A month later and the whole place would have been a riot of green.

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We were soon climbing and once past the abandoned High Riggs farm we took a landrover track onto the moor.

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Landrover tracks are an eyesore but this one was a few years old and had blended well into the scenery. It ended at a shooting hut, one side of which was unlocked and would provide good shelter if the weather was bad. The nice section was locked so we pushed our noses against the glass to have a peer inside and imagine the lunch time feasts that take place during shooting season.

I had expected the walk across the moor and down to the Angram reservoir to be a bit of a rough and boggy slog. We were pleasantly surprised when we found a good path linking together the shooting butts. It made the walking a pleasure as it wound its way around the bogs.

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We soon arrived at a flat grassy area sandwiched between the soggy moorland and where the hill drops steeply into the valley below. It was breezy and exposed and there was rain forecast later that night. However it was a lovely spot, close to water and we were not sure that we would find anything decent lower down. The ground below us looked rather tussocky from a distance.

Tents were soon pitched and water the colour of tea was collected.

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I have recently swapped over from using gas to a lightweight alcohol stove for cooking. I have to admit that I am enjoying using it even though it is not as convenient as the Jetboil. If it was lashing it down with rain and the wind was strong I would want the Jetboil for speed, however for a relaxed camp you can’t beat cooking with alcohol.

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I am also trying not to rely on freeze-dried meals so much as I feel they are overpriced, especially if you are out backpacking every other weekend. My current cheap meal of choice is an ugly mixture of instant Smash, some Babybel cheese and a couple of veggie wieners. Very satisfying when eaten on a hillside.

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The breeze died down during the evening and when the rain arrived it was not too bad. The weather system totally cleaned the sky and we woke to warming rays of sunshine.

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Upon descending to Angram Reservoir it turned out there were plenty of decent spots to pitch a tent but I was glad we had chosen our lofty perch.

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The soggy path around the reservoir was reached and we squelched our way through the tussocks towards the footbridge that took us to the north shore.

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It’s a pleasant stroll along the path that would eventually lead to the car park below Scar House Reservoir. Once past the Angram dam we took the track that heads north over the moors and into Coverdale. There we got mobbed by a flock of sheep who thought we were providing them with dinner. The noise as they all ran over was deafening and it is a little unnerving to be followed by so many beasts.

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Sadly the track is a right old mess on the steeper sections, heavy use by vehicles has removed the top soil and the weather has done the rest, tearing deep channels which are difficult to cross. It was all left behind though on a trudge across pathless moorland to reach the unmarked and insignificant summit of Dead man’s Hill. The only reward you get for climbing it is a tick in a book and a boot full of heather.

Descending towards the reservoir we spotted a large flat area above some extensive quarry workings and pitched the tents. Water was provided from the tiniest of trickles off of the moor, it took an age to fill each bottle but there was no alternative.

It was an evening of threatening clouds building up from the west and we could see rain tracking across the hills on the horizon. It avoided us for a while but eventually the rain closed in and we retired to our tents.

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Soon after dark the sound of the rain changed. The usual sound of rain pinging of a taught fly sheet became muffled. I popped my head out into a white world, snow being driven in as soon as I unzipped the tent. As I went to sleep I hoped that we would wake to a white winter wonderland.

In the morning it was not the snow that was impressive (just a mere dusting) but the colour of the sky. It was of the deepest purest shade of blue. The sun however gave no warmth and the cold nipped my fingers when taking down the tent. The higher Great Whernside however had attracted much more snow and I imagine it would have been a splendid place to be that morning.

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The track down through the quarry took an indirect route, good for warming up the legs rather than plunging straight down steep slopes. The view up both reservoirs is pretty good as well.

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Whilst descending we were watching a group of walkers on the other side of the valley. We could not figure what was going on as they were really taking their time. An hour later we finally caught them up to discover they were a group of men engaging in what could only be described as a ‘niche’ hobby. They were each controlling a remote control car, slowly making their way up the track. They looked to be taking proceedings very seriously.

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The track took us across the moor to the village of Middlesmoor which is perched on a hill above Nidderdale. It’s a picture perfect place and we sat on a bench near the church to eat our lunch whilst enjoying the view in the sun. That just then left a short walk back to Lofthouse down through the fields and past a one eyed and very sad-looking dog tied to a gate.

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May 31, 2016

Black Hill bog packing

by backpackingbongos

I have to admit that I have lost my blogging mojo recently, any motivation for keeping Backpackingbongos up to date has been severely lacking. There are loads of great backpacking trips that I have yet to put into words. I’m going to rectify that over the next couple of weeks but will keep the words to a minimum and the photos to a maximum. I’m sure that the rambling two thousand word blog posts will return some time in the future!

March is that time of year when Winter and Spring battle it out. It is also the time when people start arguing over Meteorological and Astronomical Spring. I tend to go for the former as that’s when the weather people on the telly box say it’s spring. Anyway one weekend in mid March I set off with Chrissie and Reuben for a short backpack in the northern most reaches of the Peak District. We explored such delights as Ramsden Clough and Black hill and all the wet and boggy bits in between. It was the sort of walking where a set of waders and snorkel would have been appropriate attire. The sounds of the weekend consisted mostly of the sloshing of water and swearing when a boot got trapped by a bog. I would climb the steep bits as quickly as possible, being towed by an enthusiastic hound. This would give me just enough time to capture a photo of Chrissie and the awfulness of the slope behind her. She obliged by wearing red to contrast with the greens and the greys of a bleak Peak District weekend.

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April 26, 2016

Backpacking Walden – Yorkshire’s hidden dale

by backpackingbongos

West Burton is one of those picture perfect Dales villages, stone cottages surrounding a large village green. The only thing spoiling it was the long line of cars parked along the narrow road. I added to it, leaving the Doblo overnight as I headed up the Dale for a horseshoe walk around Walden.

I really want to call it Walden Dale because it is a Dale and a fine one at that. However the OS map simply has the words ‘Walden’ in the middle, so Walden I will call it.

Total distance – 26 kilometres with 800 metres ascent

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It was one of those filthy late winter days, cold, grey and murky. The tops of the hills were invisible, much of the views obscured by haze even in the valleys. I set off along wet tarmac before squelching my way up a bridleway and onto Carlton Moor. There is a Carlton about half a mile away from where I live in Nottingham. Sadly there are no drystone walls, moorland grasses whispering in the wind or fresh invigorating air there.

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I caught my breath on the summit of Harland hill, just in time for the murk to part for a while. My weekend route was at my feet, painted like a faint watercolour, soft greens and greys, the sun providing no visual warmth.

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It’s a long moorland trudge following the watershed to the summit of Brown Haw. Instead I dropped down to the north and followed a landrover track as it wound its way through an increasingly snowy landscape.

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I eventually had to leave the comfort and security of the track and the easy progress that it provided. A thin sheep trod took me upwards and onto the summit . The views once again briefly opened up, this time with Walden widening out to the north towards Wensleydale.

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Brown Haw was defended from the north by a brand new and very sturdy fence. That in itself would not normally be a problem as without barbed wire fences are easily hopped over by the long-legged. The problem was the following garish sign that was posted every few metres, a big long danger zone snaking off into the mist.

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This provided me with a bit of a dilemma. Did I want to risk being sterilised as I attempted to step over? There was no stile or crossing point in view in either direction. As I child growing up in Suffolk one of the challenges we undertook was seeing how long we could hold onto an electric fence for. Therefore I took a deep breath and, nothing. There was no shock involved. In the end Brown Haw was a bit of an anticlimax.

With dusk arriving early I soon found a level pitch at the head of the dale, an area of limestone providing good firm grass. It soon got cold, a damp chill in the air and I was glad to get into a nice warm winter sleeping bag.

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A light snow fell in the night and I awoke to a thick mist, the snow emphasising the general gloom. It had been still, cold and humid leaving the inner tent dripping with condensation. I was warm and snug inside my sleeping bag but the warm air from my body had reached the outer which was soaked due to the dew point being reached.

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I love wild camping mornings, the ritual of waking up in the wilds and making a brew whilst snug and warm in bed. It was the first time I had used an alcohol stove for many years. I had decided to get a Flatcat Bobcat Jr to take to Colorado in the summer. On its first use I was impressed at just how fuel-efficient it is, although it is much slower than using gas.

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Once packed and walking the cloud level lifted for a while and I began to get hopeful that it would clear as forecast. Alas this was not the case and much of the rest of the day was spent walking with heavy snow blowing in my face, visibility often falling close to zero.

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Rather than climbing to the summit of Buckden Pike I stuck to the landrover track for a while before finally striking off up rough slopes to the summit of Naughtberry hill. From there to Wasset Fell the going was probably the least fun way of spending part of a weekend. A shooting hut was marked on the map at Wasset Fell but it was clear it had fallen down years ago. Instead I stood on the exposed fell and shivered whilst I wolfed down some food.

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Floutgate scar provides a bit of drama, the end of the high moors before they drop into Bishopsdale. In the distance I  could just make out Castle Bolton in Wensleydale, the castle itself illuminated by a brief shaft of sunlight.

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Spring finally arrived as I crossed the fields in the dale, the sun chasing winter away. The contrast between moor and valley could not have been greater.

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Once back at the van in West Burton the sun and clouds had a brief atmospheric battle before once again the clouds took control.

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January 22, 2016

Planning my first US through 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.

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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!

 

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