Category Archives: Hiking

A walk in the woods II: Shenandoah National Park 2013

After the success of last year’s inaugural Spring walking trip to the Shenandoah, and with family members visiting from the UK again, it was time for the 2nd Annual Spring walking weekend in Shenandoah National Park. This year our merry party consisted of yours truly, my girlfriend Alexis, my mum and her boyfriend, Dave. After a busy start to the year, with little opportunity to escape the city (apart from an early trip to Cape Town), I was yearning to get back to basics and immerse myself in nature again.

Shenandoah1311

View west from the Jewell Hollow Overlook

Day 1: Cedar Run Falls and Whiteoak Canyon Falls loop

Walks in the Shenandoah National Park still feel novel to me, a sort-of upside-down walk for someone accustomed to starting out at the base of a mountain and ascending to the summit. Thanks to the scenic Skyline Drive, a 105 mile road along the rooftop of the National Park, most walks begin at the high point of the day before descending off the ridge.

Sure enough, today’s walk began at the day’s highest point, before descending the steep and wild Cedar Run canyon, passing cascade after cascade, and culminating in the Cedar Run Falls itself, our “summit”, if you will. Of course, reaching the “summit” necessitated a lunch stop (a habit from UK hillwalking days where folklore has it that on any given hill in Britain, in any weather, at any time of the year, one will find a fellow walker proclaiming how pleasant it is whilst tucking into a home made sandwich). Our return route climbed gently up Whiteoak Canyon, where there are a number of impressive waterfalls and good views.

Shenandoah1302

Descending down Cedar Run Canyon

Shenandoah1304

Frequent river crossings were the order of the day

Shenandoah1303

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the sunshine – a Northern Water Snake catching some rays. I seem to average one snake sighting per trip at the moment – Australia 2012 and Shenandoah 2012

Shenandoah1305

Waterfall in Cedar Run Canyon I

Shenandoah1306

Waterfall in Cedar Run Canyon II

Shenandoah1307

Toothed mushroom – Sarcodon imbricatus – in the undergrowth

Shenandoah1308

Yellow Poplar – Liriodendron tulipifera – trees along the trail

Shenandoah1309

A hop, skip and a jump and you’re across

Shenandoah1310

Cedar Run Falls – check out Lexi in the bottom right corner for idea of scale

Day 2: Knob Mountain and Jeremys Run Loop

A longer 12 mile loop traversing the ridge of Knob Mountain and returning along the valley floor, with frequent river crossings of Jeremys Run. It felt like we had the park to ourselves today; it wasn’t until we hit Jeremys Run that we saw another soul. Up on the ridge of Knob Mountain we saw plenty of (fresh) bear scat. We were all excited (and slightly nervous) by the prospect of a potential bear sighting but sadly they remained elusive on this occasion.

Shenandoah1314

The closest we came to a “view” from the wooded summit of Knob Mountain

Shenandoah1313

Robust marker posts pointed the way

Shenandoah1312

Synchronised on the balance beam, crossing Jeremys Run for the 37th time* (*best guess)

Shenandoah1315

Jeremys Run

Day 3: Hazel Falls

A shorter, rainy walk to visit Hazel Falls, described as a suitable inclement weather destination on account of the large cave next to the falls. I can attest to it being a dry and welcoming harbour from the elements.

Shenandoah1316

Lexi still smiling despite the rain

Shenandoah1319

The team with Hazel Falls in the background

Shenandoah1320

Hazel Falls I

Shenandoah1321

Hazel Falls II

Hiking in Cape Town

Since my last update on this blog, we’ve seen North Korea conduct its third nuclear bomb test, witnessed a major meteor strike and seen a new pope elected. A dramatic start to the year!

Earlier this year I was fortunate to spend a week in beautiful Cape Town for a good friend’s wedding and managed to get in a couple of decent treks whilst there. I didn’t take my big camera so all the photos below are taken on an iPhone with a little bit of post processing in iPhoto. I’m loving the portability of a phone camera and the quality is getting pretty good nowadays.

A delayed journey saw me making an impromptu connection in my former home city of London – it was a spectacular sight to fly over:

IMG_2229

Hike 1: Table Mountain via the India Venster route

Free from the office and near a mountain? Well let’s climb it then! At the trailhead with my good climbing buddy Steven (of South America and Alps fame) and girlfriend Lexi (who has no idea yet what lies ahead 😉 )

IMG_2261

I can’t say we weren’t warned…

IMG_2282

Spectacular view of Lion’s Head as we get higher up Table Mountain. It was a beautiful day. I got the impression that every day is like this in summer!

IMG_2292

We ended up slightly (ok, very far) off route and were picking our way gingerly around the cliffs. We pushed on thinking we could take a short cut back to the path but there was a final barrier – a steep cliff that was too dangerous to down climb – blocking our way. Back it was then. Better a live donkey than a dead lion!

IMG_2309

I’d still rather take the trail any day of the week:

IMG_2311

Back on the official route and enjoying the “climbing” section – a mini via ferrata:

IMG_2328

The views from the summit down to Camps Bay were stunning:

IMG_2372

Duly noted! (this sign was at the top of the climbing path route we came up but we were taking a different path down, which although less direct, was more mellow)

IMG_2353

It still had the occasional steep section and ladder to negotiate:

IMG_2389

Late evening sun on the descent (a panorama stitch on the iphone):

IMG_2402

We had a full day on the mountain, from 9 until sundown at 8.30. From there it was a race to the nearest cheap and cheerful Italian restaurant to satiate our gnawing bellies. Sunset near the trailhead:

IMG_2420

Hike 2: Lion’s Head

IMG_2530

iPhone panorama of the trail up Lion’s Head, with Camps Bay and Table Mountain in the background. It was another stunning day with spectacular views.

IMG_2535

Another steep band to climb using the chains and steps in the rock. Adds a little bit of excitement to the walk:

IMG_2541

Nearing the summit with Table Mountain in the background:

IMG_2542

Lexi on the summit:

IMG_2546

Yours truly enjoying the setting

IMG_2556

iPhone panorama from the summit showing how extensive the Table Mountain massif is:

IMG_2560

A walk in the woods: Shenandoah National Park 2012

A selection of photos from our inaugural Spring walking weekend in Shenandoah National Park, Memorial Day weekend, May 2012.

Shenandoah1203

View over the Shenandoah National Park

Day 1: Along the Appalachian Trail to the summit of Mary’s Rock

Alt Text

Introducing Lexi, on the Appalachian trail

Shenandoah1202

Introducing Mum, on the Appalachian trail

Shenandoah1204

Views over Shenandoah National Park and the valley

Shenandoah1209

An Appalachian Trail hut

Shenandoah1210

Signing the Trail register

Shenandoah1211

Look bear scat! Although no sign of any bears this time.

Shenandoah1212

Shenandoah1213

View over Thornton Gap from the summit of Mary’s Rock

Shenandoah1214

Reading the guidebook to see what’s next

Shenandoah1217

On the trail

Day 2: Falls of Overall Loop

Shenandoah1234

On the trail


Shenandoah1220

A rather large snake (about 7ft long, possibly a Black Rat Snake?) blocks our way, only reluctantly slithering away after we stamped our feet for a while

Shenandoah1224

Cooling our feet in the river

Shenandoah1225

Shenandoah1228

Me sitting at the outlook

Shenandoah1229

Me and Lexi at the outlook, with Virginia’s mountains in the background

Shenandoah1230

Overall Run Falls

Day 3: Robertson Mountain

Shenandoah1241

A young deer calf

Shenandoah1237

Summit panorama from the summit of Robertson mountain

Shenandoah1243

Summit celebration

Shenandoah1248

Customary lunch break on the summit

Shenandoah1245

We had these beautiful views all to ourselves, not a soul around

Shenandoah1242

Wilting in the afternoon heat

Shenandoah1238

Soaked by a late afternoon thunderstorm, less than a mile from the car

Ancient Citadels of the Northwest Highlands

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” – John Muir

Wise words, and more so than ever before in this day and age. I was, or rather more accurately, am, one of those tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people and a return to the natural environment was the only likely cure to a cabin fever as bad as I’d felt in a long time. Since summer last year, I’d spent perhaps 6 or 7 days running or walking in the real outdoors (runs along the Thames in central London don’t count). Last year’s hard won experience had faded and the skills picked up during those journeys long since forgotten. It’s been a highly productive year in other aspects, but hardly a vintage outdoor year.

Day 1: Driving into the wilds. Fumbling around in the glove pocket, tuning the radio, tying bootlaces, looking at the map, then suddenly looking up and out. Boom. The mountains yonder. It’s the magnitude – the bulk – of these hills when seen from the roadside that causes a sharp intake of breath (ok, so this photo doesn’t quite convey this!). You notice the beauty second, as you exhale. This first glimpse of the mountains always sends my spirits soaring. Excitement builds as the adventures planned – Ed – can you plan an adventure? – for the following days are shortly to begin. Accompanied by my long time walking partner, Alistair, we planned to base ourselves at Shenavall bothy and spend a few days walking and scrambling in Scotland’s Great Wilderness.

Wester Ross  001

Roughly 6km after leaving the car, we crossed the shoulder of An Teallach and gazed down upon Loch na Sealga and the Great Wilderness. Before us lay a mountainous stronghold, peak after peak thrusting upwards; dark terrible citadels of the North West Highlands. Steep cliffs, striking ridges and crenellated summits promise much to the adventurous walker.

Wester Ross  002

Shenavall Bothy, a remote and basic cottage in Wester Ross, with the corbett of Cul Beag Mhor behind. It’s a popular spot and justifiably so, occupying a splendid position in the heart of the Great Wilderness, right at the foot of iconic An Teallach (one of, if not the finest mountain on mainland Scotland).

Wester Ross  003

We dropped the camp gear at the bothy and had a late lunch of cheese and salami wraps. Leaving the bothy at 2.30pm for An Teallach wouldn’t normally be advisable but we had the month of June fighting our corner. He guaranteed us light until 11pm so we took heart and set off – to do what we mountaineers do best. Puff and sweat our way uphill, questioning exactly why we keep subjecting ourselves to such ordeals. Why we come back year after year. Of course, we all know why. The answer lies just a little higher, perhaps just along the ridge, cresting it and looking down into a new world. A world promising more beauty, wonderment and adventure. The photo shows Alistair heading upwards over the interminable boulder fields of Sail Liath, 954m, the first top on the ridge of An Teallach.

Wester Ross  007

The splendid main ridge of An Teallach, from the summit of Sail Liath. The two munros are the prominent peaks to the left and right of the lowest point of the ridge in the centre of the picture. They are Sgurr Fiona, 1060m, and Bidein a’ Glas Thuill, 1062m. Between us and them lay a scramblers paradise, a rough, serrated ridge of impeccable sandstone.

Wester Ross  009

Tempestuous weather filling in as we look to the west, towards the corbetts of Beinn Dearg Mor, 910m on the left, and Beinn Dearg Beag, 820m on the right. Clouds scudded in the from the south west, ending our hopes of scrambling along the ridge in late afternoon sun. The light was quite splendid where the beams of light pierced through the dirty quilt above our heads.

Wester Ross  016

Now the fun begins. Alistair climbing the superb layback crack as we ascend one of the numerous pinnacles along the ridge. The climbing was easy enough, but exposed. The sandstone was rough and holds were plentiful, inspiring confidence and allowing the enjoyment of movement over rock to suppress those jangly nerves.

Wester Ross  004

Further along the ridge, more exposure, more hands on experience. Elevated heart rate, blood pumping round the body, mind focussed entirely on the metre of rock above and below, only vaguely conscious of the wider surroundings. It was a thrilling mountain ridge – a noble opponent that didn’t yield without a good scrap.

Wester Ross  005

Looking ahead to yet more sandstone outcrops on the ridge, minutes before the cloud descended further and engulfed us. The infamous Scottish murk had finally settled in and held us in its grasp for the remainder of the evening.

Wester Ross  006

The summit trig point of Bidein a’ Glas Thuill, 1062m, the highest point of An Teallach. We reached the summit at 7.30pm in a good ole’ blow and thick, wet cloud.

Wester Ross  008

Stopping to layer up in the worsening weather before the descent down to camp. It was past 8pm by now and 10.30pm by the time we reached our tents (pitched outside the bothy). Being so far North in the middle of June meant we had daylight until past 10 and it didn’t get properly dark until 11 so we could afford to have long days.

Wester Ross  010

Day 2: The next morning, camp outside the bothy.

Wester Ross  018

River crossing. Crocs borrowed off Alistair as I hadn’t really thought through my plan for the river crossings.

Wester Ross  011

Wonderful views across to Beinn Dearg Mor and Loch na Sealga:

Wester Ross  012

On the summit of Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh:

Wester Ross  013

Celebrating with a dram of whisky on the summit of Sgurr Ban, Alistair’s 200th munro.

Wester Ross  014

Alistair near the summit of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, looking back down the valley to Beinn Mor Dearg and our base near the head of Loch na Sealga:

Wester Ross  015

We enjoyed a beautiful evening walk back down the valley, our weary legs carrying us home to camp:

Wester Ross  020

Looking back at the reflection of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair in the evening light:

Wester Ross  017

Day 3: Home, sweet home. A Golite Shangri-La 1 tent and inner, pitched with trekking poles. Inside a Rab Neutrino 200 sleeping bag, Karrimor roll mat, Platypus 3L water carrier, Golite Pinnacle rucsac, MSR pocket rocket stove, titanium billy and Asolo boots. Lastly of course, and most important of all, a cup of tea.

Wester Ross  021

Scrambler’s eye view:

Wester Ross  019

Views westwards to the sea from the summit of Beinn Dearg Bheag. Spectacular situation.

Wester Ross  022

Wild flowers – some kind of orchid I think:

Wester Ross  023

Loch Toll an Lochain and An Teallach’s western spur in the background. It felt unusual to be walking along a beach, half way up a Scottish mountain. But we were not the first – deer prints ran all the way along the beach, though we never saw the creator.

Wester Ross  024

Whisky this way. On we press, a quickening of pace, grumbling stomachs hurrying us back to camp. A tricky descent down the outflow of the loch, down climbing a gorge over clumps of heather kept the senses sharp and the fatigue at bay.

Wester Ross  025

Another crossing of our old friend the Abhainn Strath na Sealga river, with the first munro of yesterday, Beinn a’Chlaidheimh, in the background.

Wester Ross  026

Cooking up a well deserved dinner in Shenavall bothy after a superb day:

Wester Ross  027

Racing the evening light to get back to the car:

Wester Ross  028

Day 4: The misty ramparts of Slioch, hill of Spear, 981m, rising above Loch Maree.

Wester Ross  029

Near the summit and in the cloud:

Wester Ross  030

Victory – on top of Slioch, not much of a view:

Wester Ross  031

Alistair walking along the ridge line of Slioch, showing the scale of these vast Scottish mountains:

Wester Ross  033

The weather improved dramatically over the course of our day and we enjoyed a sunny afternoon as we descended back to the car:

Wester Ross  034

Trees reflected:

Wester Ross  035

Day 5: Slioch, seen across Loch Maree. A brief parting in the clouds teased us. Blue sky peeped out between the torn, ragged edges of the white duvet. Slioch revealed much to us. Flanks stretching all the way from the loch shore to the fore-summit, but still the top itself remained elusive. Moments were passed in wonder, gazing at this behemoth, remembering to put the camera to one side to soak up the view whilst I still could.

Wester Ross  036

Soon after the photo was taken, dark, ominous clouds rushed in and clobbered away the blue sky. The remainder of the day was spent in a monochrome world of varying shades of grey. A cold wind blew up. Rain slanted sideways, and increased in intensity as we wended our way up the corbett of Meall a’ Ghiuthais, 887m. Energy levels were depleted after the long days earlier in the trip. Each step required a conscious mental effort; it was a case of the destination being important, not the journey. Determined to “bag” one final hill, we slogged upwards and eventually won out. The summit may have been ours, but the enjoyment belonged mostly to the weather gods.

The final image from the trip was of this lone pine, standing tall above the mountainside, impervious to the weather. Directly across from Slioch, a sentry from yesteryear, knowing not the whys, the hows, the reasons, the excuses of us walkers, passing by in a fleeting moment. Through hail, rain or shine, the lone pine just stands, watching the four seasons play themselves out on Slioch’s stage. Just standing. Existing.

Wester Ross  037

Across Spain on foot – an introduction

Spain 10

Between 9 May 2010 and 7 August 2010, I walked 1,789 kilometres (1,115 miles) from the western most point of the Spanish mainland to the eastern most point of the Spanish mainland. I attempted to document the landscapes that I walked through with a series of landscape photographs.

The full set of photos can be seen here on my flickr stream. As time permits, I’ll upload more stories and photos to this website.

I spent 74 days walking through farmland, along coastlines and over mountains. I swam in the sea, slept on beaches, crossed raging mountain rivers, slid down snow slopes and stood on summits with far reaching vistas. Throughout I made a documentary record of the landscapes I walked through and the wonderful scenery I saw along the way.

Map of my route across Spain

Map of my route across Spain

Spain consists of seventeen autonomous communities. I passed through seven of these that ran coast-to-coast across Northern Spain: Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Basque Country, Navarre, Aragon and Catalonia. I also passed through Andorra.

I planned this project in March and April of 2010, unsure how successful the combination of a long wilderness trek and landscape photography would be. It certainly required a degree of compromise in each discipline. I couldn’t carry as much photographic equipment as I’d have liked and yet the weight of what I did carry certainly impacted on my walk. At times the photography felt like a burden, one that I wish I could dispense with, so that I might travel lighter and faster and just enjoy the purity of the journey. At other times, it would have been wonderful to stop in one place for several days, exploring and taking photos at will.

I present this collection of photographs as a documentary project that spans the width of Spain, rather than as individual landscape photographs. Once the walk was underway, I did no specific planning for individual shots, other than choosing what I thought might be interesting viewpoints to finish at each day. However, constraints of weather, food supplies and fitness often dictated where I would stop for the night, so sunset and sunrise shoots did not always happen.

I became highly proficient at spotting photographic opportunities over the course of the trek; which were the ones worth stopping for and using a tripod and filters, if necessary. Inevitably, the better photographs were those that were more considered; when I had stopped and taken the time to compose and capture a scene. That said, a number of photos in this book were taken as handheld shots.

Walking is a slow way to travel but, in my opinion, if one has the time it is surely one of the best ways to travel. A hugely enjoyable aspect of the trek was meeting the local people and other walkers, to ask for directions or to share in the wonders of the surroundings. Throughout my time on the Camino del Norte route, I frequently became lost and quickly became adept at asking for directions in Spanish. This usually led to a conversation about the area, my walk, the weather and the World Cup. On more than once occasion it resulted in an offer of a drink, and, once, even leading to an offer of a lawn to camp on, a beer to drink, half a watermelon to eat, a table and chair to sit on, and the gift of a walking stick!

The trek was everything I had hoped for and more. It was challenging, rewarding, suprising and mundane at times. At times, I felt tired, footsore, hungry, thirsty, sleepy, scared or nervous but these feelings would pass and the wonder at my situation would return. Sometimes on the trail, for no particular reason at all, I would feel incredibly happy and break out into an inane grin. Other times I struggled to shake off the feeling of pressure that the photographic element of this project bestowed upon me.

If there was one wish for an outcome from this adventure, then I hope it inspires you to go forth, out your front door, walking boots laced up and camera in hand. There’s a wonderful world of adventure and natural beauty out there awaiting you. I hope you enjoy the photos and the journey!