Talk at the Grampian Club - 3rd November 2016

The 2nd of 2 parish notices today.

I'm doing an illustrated talk at the Grampian Mountaineering Club in Dundee on the 3rd November, 2016. It's about our coast to coast crossing of the 4000ft tops by foot and paddle - C2C4K.

Barring life getting in the way, it's looking possible that the drunken boaters will be reforming for the mother of all Scottish packrafting trips next year - one that has been attempted twice before but so far remained elusive - so I'm looking forward to revisiting some tales of slug attacks, whisky rations, rancid baselayers, gaffa tape repairs and vitamin I from last year.

C2C4K - update 4

For those that followed our coast to coast over the 4,000 foot tops... I've been waiting on a couple of publications before I posted anything further. Those are both now out and about in the world.

The Great Outdoors Magazine designer Paul did a fantastic job on the layout, and a nice idea of editor Emily to make it very timeline specific. The July issue is still out at the moment.

The Sidetracked story is the opposite. I got rid of the timeline altogether, tried to talk about the mundanity as well as our own little high dramas... but it's increasingly tricky to write about the latter without crying wolf. I'm just back from OutDoor and couldn't be more alert to over-egged epic and bokeh'ed, vignetted 'moments'. Imitation in marketing is a measure of the magazine's success, for sure - an unfortunate side effect. What words will we use when they've all been sold back to us? Anyway, that sounds way more cynical than I feel about both words and outdoors stuff. Back to the article though: It wasn't all that easy to write but I do stand by it in the main - it's not necessarily how I feel now, but it is how I felt at the time.

Never mind all that. Between us, David and I planned a really bold route that I'm still proud of. Linking the highest mountains with extended boat travel in such a clean line was superb, but I'd be lying if I said it was all great. It was the longest I'd been away from home since my daughter was born, and David and I had pretty much freaked ourselves and each other out the week before we left, as any chance of spring weather evaporated, and winter returned with bells on. That made us both pretty unsure of ourselves, and I think, each other. Despite having done alot of trips together beforehand, this felt different: Now we were under pressure. Whether that was the fundraising aspect, or just that it was long in the planning, I'm not sure - probably both. I was suffering from some sort of extended flu/virus, and caught a new strain just a few days before we were due to leave. We postponed a day to allow a day's bed rest. None of this made for a confident start.

It was a journey in the round, though; a challenge to do justice to the ambition of the route; to stay on target and be honest to it, ourselves and each other. I'm still not good at compromising on any of those, but it did make me realise that pulling priorities from that list in the heat of the moment is more complicated than I previously thought.

Here's a few more images from the trip - ones that didn't make the cut for either magazine for whatever reason: Hover for description, click to change.

If you've enjoyed the ride and still haven't put your hand in your pocket, please consider making a donation to the John Muir Award via our fundraising page.


C2C4K - update 3

Regular readers will know a friend and I have been planning a big trip for a while. The idea is to travel coast to coast by foot and paddle over all 9 4,000ft mountains - the highest tops in the UK. We're fundraising for an outdoor learning scheme called the John Muir Award. We're due to leave on Friday 8th May.

After last months mostly beautiful weather, we were hoping for some more of this

Unfortunately, the new improved May weather has decided it's going to look quite alot more like this.

In the meantime, there's been some of this


and alot more of  this

There are 3 pinch points: Cairn Mor Deag and it’s arête, the Aonachs and the Cairngorm 4K’ers west of the Lairig Ghru. But on each of these except perhaps the last, there are escape routes. We can use the pony track for Nevis if necessary, and make Cairn Mor Dearg a short day up and down from the CIC. We can give up on the plan to continue high on the Grey Corries from the Aonachs should the snow prove too much on the descent, and drop back down and walk through Glen Nevis. On the last, we’re posting extra food to our Dalwhinnie resupply point, meaning we can sit out a day’s bad weather in Glen Feshie before we get onto the plateau, should we need to. And of course, in each case, we can attempt to summit, and abort if conditions are too dangerous.

Right now, we're anxious about those conditions. I'd put our chances of completing a coast to coast at about 90%, and our chances of completing all 9 tops into the bargain at under 20% - not the odds we were looking for. But acceptance of possible failure is one thing, expecting it is another. Meeting the mountains on their own terms is key - with neither hesitation or blind ambition. I'd quite like to meet them without high winds, deep snow and a lingering cough as well, but that isn't going to happen.

Mmmm - suddenly this trip got quite serious.

A huge thank you to everyone who has donated so far to the John Muir Award - the donations keep coming in, the response has been really great. There's a good deal of need in other parts of the world right now, but if you can spare some extra change for those who could benefit from more contact with nature and the outdoors, please click here.

And if you can't manage to give anything right now, it's still worth a look at the Award. It's a great way of engaging more with the outdoors as a family or club. I've seen it work wonders. Check it out here.

Oh, and we'll try to post the odd tweet from @gridnorth and @selfpwrd when we're not being knocked to our knees in a hoolie. Wish us luck.

C2C4K update #2 ... after a fashion

I'm back a week from a week long trip, first to Assynt in the Northwest, then to the five Munro's around Loch Treig. This was amongst many things a training trip for the coast to coast, and as usual I came back with a notebook full of weird, barely legible meditations on being immersed in wild places, as well as copious scribbles inside the front cover about which kit to fix, take or leave behind come May. I also came back with some photos, a few of which are below.

Four days carrying my boat in my pack and my pack on my boat confirmed that if I'm only paddling, I may as well get a canoe. Packrafting also means hefting my boat up mountains, and that's heavy work, especially amongst the spaced out, boggy bulkheads of Assynt. The point here is continuous travel.... that and time. There are also contour lines, and then there are the contour lines of the Northwest! I spent a night in a cave with a dead deer as a neighbour, a place that shall remain nameless here due to it's popularity with coach tours in the daytime. I got strong and felt weak and re-iterated my daughter's cold into something thin and indestructible, watched the sun set on the pink sands of the secret coire of Cul Mor whilst brown trout played in the shallows, rationed food on 'big island' in a squall, bounced from mossy mounds to pine cone encrusted woodland floor on a bluebird day, dossed in a dead stalker's bothy and crawled to the top of my penultimate hill in high winds and spindrift. I found noise, and I found quiet. I coughed up some blood and slept alot.

Preparations for C2C4K are in the final stages. After testing and discussions, we've decided not to share a shelter (better weather resistance in the Trailstars, a little more personal space after long days, the weight penalty over my new family shelter, the Wiki 3, is negligible), but cooking is a joint effort which will save a little time and weight. I've yet to make up the food parcels and post on to our 2 resupply points but it's mostly bought and paid for. We'll be packing lightweight axes and flexible crampons from the start, but will send on river knives and helmets to our resupply point in Dalwhinnie - there are (almost) no rivers until the Avon in our itinerary now. The key to the CIC hut has arrived. We leave for Oban early on Friday 8th May, hop onto Mull for a couple of hours and then onto another ferry bound for Kilchoan. Which reminds me, I might need to register a postal vote.

As for you - I hope however you vote, you'll be voting for boats on hills come what May!