Mountains, Deserts & Cities – a trip to California – Part 1



A trip abroad was long overdue. The last few years have been spent doing up our old house, moving and doing up our new one – well at least starting on it!  We always enjoyed the fantastic scenery of  the Western United States, and so we decided on a touring trip of California with a small incursion into Nevada. Half of the holiday would be spent in National and State parks camping and half the time in San Francisco with a side trip to Las Vegas. Vegas  is an experience, whether you like that thing or not. I have been several times on business conventions, but the rest of the family had not.

We invited our boys along who are 22 and 19. I guess ordinarily, they probably wouldn’t have come with us if I’d said fancy coming to France or the Lake District but it’s different if Dad says fancy a trip to California and Dad is paying!

We were taking 3 backpacking tents, sleeping bags, mats, stoves etc on the plane packed into two Mountain Equipment 100 litres Duffel bags.  A gear list will posted up in a later post.

All camping equipment for 4  in 2 duffels

All camping equipment for 4 in 2 duffels

A Saturday in late June saw us travelling down to Heathrow to stay overnight for a morning flight the next day to San Francisco.

Crossing Southern Greenland

Crossing Southern Greenland

Arriving after an 11 hour flight , we got a taxi to our accommodation in San Francisco. I was surprised how expensive even reasonable quality hotels are, so we found that renting a house for 3 days in the Castro district was a much better bet. We could come and go as we pleased and we had far more space.

The house was a fine Victorian example on 18th Street close to some good restaurants and one of the best whole food stores we have ever visited.

Our  house was the one on the left.

Our house was the one on the left with the tree in front of it

The blue house next door turned out to be rather famous.  We saw a constant stream of people who turned out to be all French photographing the house. A small plaque on the front of the house told me why.


Maxime Le Forestier, the French singer made the house famous in his song – San Francisco in 1972. The area at the time was a hippie commune. Some details here if you are interested.

A nice garden out the back

A nice garden out the back


sun trap


A well equipped kitchen!


Two nice bedrooms – far better than a hotel.

A very well stocked local whole food store  a couple of blocks up the hill meant we ate in most of the time.

An impressive display of  vegetables!

An impressive display of vegetables!

Tram stop in Castro

Tram stop in Castro

Near the Rainbow Crossing

Near the Rainbow Crossing

Downtown San Francisco

Downtown San Francisco



Bay Bridge

Bay Bridge

San Francisco skyline from the docks

San Francisco skyline from the docks

At the ball game - Giants versus San Diego Padres

At the ball game – Giants versus San Diego Padres


Padres were thrashed

Ready for the next leg of the journey - to Lassen Volcanic Park

Ready for the next leg of the journey – to Lassen Volcanic Park

After a relaxing stay in San Francisco, it was time to head north to Lassen Volcanic Park, a four hour drive. San Francisco had actually been quite cool, particularly in the morning with cloud and fog. In the afternoons it cleared up, but it did live up to its reputation and I was reminded of the quotation supposedly by Mark Twain – ‘The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco”. We left San Francisco with temperatures in the mid 60’s F and by the time we crossed the Bay Bridge to Oakland, a few miles away, the temperature was in the 90’s. The Pacific together with the proximity of the mountains has a very significant effect on the temperature of San Francisco.

We drove up the Central Valley, a wide flat valley put aside  exclusively  to agriculture and the many crops that sun and irrigation can provide. California is in a severe drought with little rainfall over the past four years.  Passing rice crops, it didn’t seem to be the best use of scarce water resources.  The temperature climbed in the afternoon heat to 105F by the time we reached a supermarket to stock up on provisions for our trip into the mountains. Getting out of our mini-van we were hit by the heat, the cool of England and San Francisco already a distant memory.  Most importantly we purchased a Coleman ice chest and plenty of ice to go with it.

The TV news the night before reported that the whole of the west was in the grip of a  heat wave from Death Valley in the south to Seattle in the north, having unusually high temperatures. Seattle had recorded its highest ever temperature for this time of year.

I was banking on the fact that camping high in mountains around 8000 feet would bring us some cooler conditions, but maybe it would not.

Leaving the heat of the valley floor near to the town of Redding, we climbed and climbed and gradually the temperature started to drop. By the time we reached our campsite, the temperature was a cooler 78F.

At campground, with Wikiup 3, Power Lizard & Soulo

At campground, with Wikiup 3, Power Lizard & Soulo tents and bear proof container

All campgrounds have fire rings

All campgrounds have fire rings

Over the next few days, we took several hikes in the area, with the highest altitude being around 9,000 feet.  I will let the pictures do the talking for this is a beautiful area and surprisingly the least visited National Park in the USA, according to my guide-book.

Mt Lassen

Mt Lassen

Close up Mt Lassen

Close up Mt Lassen

Wild lupins were in abundance

Wild lupins were in abundance


This is a volcanic area. Sulphur and rotten eggs smell in some area

This is a volcanic area. Sulphur and rotten eggs smell in some areas


Mt Lassen view from one of the many Lakes

Mt Lassen view from one of the many Lakes

Well that’s the end of part 1. I will post up more including Sequoia National Forest,  Ancient Bristlecone Forest, Death Valley and much more!

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A short walk in the Galloway Hills

Just a picture post on my blog. We intended to be out longer than we were, but gale force winds forecast with late snow was enough to shorten our route, but it was great to get out and have a backpack with my youngest son William.

Before setting off we camped at Glentrool

Before setting off we camped at Glen Trool

Looking  out from Robert the Bruce stone

Looking out from Robert the Bruce stone

Gairland Burn

Gairland Burn

Gairland Burn

Upper reaches of Gairland Burn

 Beautiful Loch Valley

Beautiful Loch Valley

Loch Arron

Loch Arron

After a warm day’s walking, we set up camp near to Loch Enoch, a wild and remote place on a very small patch of flat ground amongst a sea of tussock grass. If I had known we could have carried on to pitch near the beaches of the Loch on the far side.  The forecast for the next two days was bad and we made a decision to strike camp early the next day and  head over the Merrick, the highest point in the Galloway hills.

The wind and rain lashed at us and it was difficult to even stand up at times let alone take any photos. In the low cloud it was pointless anyway. Eventually as we neared the forest which cloaks the lower slopes of the Merrick, the weather started to clear.



An  almost apocalyptic scene with mist and the chaos of a clear felled forest.

An almost apocalyptic scene with mist and the chaos of a clear felled forest.


Weather clears at the end of our journey, the road back to Glen Trool

Weather clears at the end of our journey, the road back to Glen Trool

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Five days in Lakes, photo storyboard

A five-day trip back in June 2014. Two days were solo and I then joined Terry Abraham and Chris Townsend while making their DVD – Backpacking in the Lake District. At the time I didn’t want to take too many photos of Chris and Terry and post up on my trip report as I didn’t want to give anything away. This is a picture story board of the trip and shows mainly the beautiful scenery and excellent weather we were lucky to have.  Just like to say that I had no commercial involvement in the film and the music used in this short clip is ‘Elephants’ from Free music archive –  cannot find the artist from my download file!

Backpacking in the Lake District is available from Striding Edge and other outlets and is priced at £14.99

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MYO Ultralightweight tripod

I couldn’t find a tripod weighing less than 500g so I decided to make my own. 32 cm selfie stick, 3 pieces of Dyneema and 3 Ti pegs. Total weight 220g and is ideal for my new GoPro Hero 4 Silver.




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Snow shoes on Buckden Pike

If I can get out tomorrow and get up to the Peaks I will have an outing with my snow shoes, although the weather forecast suggests a windchill of minus 17C  – will I go or will I stay under the duvet in the morning ? Here is a short video of me using them a couple of year’s ago on Buckden Pike just  in case I don’t get any footage tomorrow!

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A review of Backpacking in the Lake District a film by Chris Townsend & Terry Abraham

Let me start by saying that I review this video from a different position from anyone else.  I was lucky to be there for a good portion of this trip (although I am not in it) so I had both a unique insight into the film being made, but also it has become a record of that  trip with Chris and Terry.

I think it is difficult to be wholly independent because of this, but this does not detracted from the fact the film is an excellent introduction to backpacking and wild camping. Although the DVD is aimed at the beginner or someone who is contemplating this fantastic pastime, it equally can appeal to experienced backpackers.  I can tell you that this trip was nigh on perfect. The weather was settled and warm both during the day and night, the scenery and sunsets were fantastic and the company good.

The DVD shows a 3 day backpacking route starting and ending at Keswick walking through a wide variety of scenery – woodland, moorland and the more typical rugged Lakeland mountain terrain.

Terry and Chris were able to capture these elements and convey a trip that has all the best that backpacking has to offer. This is not some adrenaline filled DVD but a gentle look at the sheer joy of being out in the mountains.  Importantly unlike day walks. wild camping allows you to immerse yourself much more into the environment.

For the novice, there is sound advice from Chris on the basics  such as choosing a wild camp site and what gear to take from a man who probably has more experience  than any one on wild camping and walking in the mountains . The more experienced viewer will be able to compare and contrast Chris’s take on camp craft with their own and I am sure will still learn something new. Particularly good is Chris’s unpacking of his pack, with him going through his gear.

Terry Abraham is building himself something of a reputation for high quality mountain films, with Scafell Pike, Life of a Mountain and Helvellyn with Mark Richards and as Terry is a keen backpacker he has shot the film with the target audience very much in mind.

As this film is shot in the Lake District and not some far flung corner of the Pacific North West, it is easy for people to get out and do this, to replicate what Chris is doing on the film, if that is you, buy the DVD and be inspired.

Backpacking in the Lake District is available from Striding Edge and other outlets and is priced at £17.94

My report on my trip with Chris and Terry is here and part 2 here

Disclosure : Although I was on the trip during filming, I have no financial interest in the film and paid for the DVD from my own pocket.

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Two month review of Ecco Ulterra mids

Ulterra mids from Ecco

Ulterra mids from Ecco

I was approached by a company working for the Danish shoe manufacturer Ecco. They asked me to try out a pair of their new Ulterras and review them. I was very interested after reading some good reviews from a number of outdoor bloggers who had used the Biom Hike and decided to go for the mid version of the Ulterra which launched this autumn.


A mid style boot utilising unusually Yak nubuck uppers and a Goretex lining.  Yak leather is used in a number of Ecco boots and I am not aware of other companies using this material.  A size 41 weighs 510 grams (weighed by me).


An attractive mid boot in red and grey. The boots would look good either on the hills or in town.

In use

I always seem to find quite a break in period with footwear and have rarely found that straight out of the box experience which is often quoted. I think this is me rather the boots or trail shoes.   I have a further problem in that my orthotic inserts raise my feet slightly in any footwear and it takes awhile to settle down. After this initial period I found that the Ulterra were one of the most comfortable boots I have ever worn. Possibly it was the Yak uppers or the foot beds or both but whatever it is, it feels spot on.

I have used the boots on daily dogs walks around the Wolds and a one day walk since receiving them in September, so they have had quite a good test. I  would have like to have done more but my recent house move has meant  backpacking has been thin on the ground.

The sole is quite aggressive and has coped well on rock and stony areas, on road and on dry surfaces.  The walks directly from the house are on areas  of  very heavy clay and at times I have slid on the very sticky surface. I would probably find this with other footwear with similar soles. Only boots with deeper soles or specific trail shoes for mud would have coped better. Over the last two months I have seen a small amount wear on the sole and I was able to clean them up so they looked almost brand new for a  business trip to Copenhagen. The Ulterras look good in the urban environment and they kept my feet dry and warm during strong driving rain and temperatures around 2C over the three days I was there.


Comfortable with a good fit.

Attractive looking mids.

Good grip on most surfaces, only slippage on heavy clay.

I would recommend them for spring and early autumn usage.  In the summer I use by and large non Gortex lined footwear because they are often too warm for me but of course this is personal choice. Little to be negative about other than the Goretex lining.

The Ulterras can be bought on-line here and I assume they will be available in the Ecco retail outlets in the UK. I certainly spied a pair in the shop window in Copenhagen last week, but they do come from Denmark!



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