Category Archives: Camping

Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) camping – packing/kit list

I have received a lot of messages asking if I’ll share my packing list for the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) hike, so here it is: Continue reading

Fastpack Tour du Mont Blanc – 180km, 11,000m ascent, 5.5 days

The Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc (UTMB) is one of the world’s best known ultras, and one I dream of entering. For now a 100 mile race is beyond me, but I still wanted a taste of the UTMB…

So instead of racing, with my running buddy Bo, we fastpacked the Tour du Mont Blanc trail, setting off from Chamonix where we watched the start and some of the finishers of this year’s UTMB.
img_2026

A promise of the mountains from Chamonix centre at the UTMB start line

Day 1 – Chamonix – Les Houches – Les Contamines (France)
A day of two halves – spectacular views of glaciers from the Brevent (2526m), followed by an exhausting and seemingly never ending descent into Les Houches (1007m). 

Continue reading

Thinking about wild camping? For inspiration read Extreme Sleeps by Phoebe Smith

I thought about wild camping for quite a while, but it seemed like a bit of a mysterious world. With so much freedom I almost didn’t know where to start.

Extreme Sleeps by Phoebe Smith showed me how it’s done, and gave me the encouragement I needed to stop thinking about it and just get out there! Continue reading

Trolltunga hiking guide – Odda, Norway

Trolltunga, or the Troll’s Tongue, is a spectacular natural rock formation hanging 700m above the ground. It’s one of Norway’s most iconic locations, only accessible via a 22km hike out and back with 1,400m ascent and descent. You can hike it in one big day, or wild camp as part of a multi day hike. Continue reading

Best lightweight camping gear – 5 essential pieces of kit

Buying new camping gear is an investment, there are so many options it can be hard to know what to choose. I do a lot of research and look for a combination of functionality, light weight/small pack size, and best value.

My top 5 essential pieces of camping kit have been thoroughly used by me and tested in all conditions, and I would recommend all of them!

1. Tent – Terra Nova Laser Competition 1 (970g packed)

anna paxton blog outdoors
The Laser Competition 1 is Continue reading

Tour du Mont Blanc camping: your TMB questions answered

I’m often contacted by people preparing to hike and camp the Tour du Mont Blanc asking questions about my TMB experience. It’s great to hear from everyone and I’m glad you’ve found my Guide to Campsites on the TMB helpful. This post is a summary of the questions I get asked most often. I hope this is useful, please feel free to comment with more questions or advice! Continue reading

Tour du Mont Blanc – solo hiking and camping trip highlights, July 2015

In July I solo hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc, camping along the way. It was physically the hardest thing I’ve done so far, involving 9 days of sustained effort to carry all my camping gear through three countries, over 170km, and up and down 10,000m of accumulated ascent/descent.

It was also one of the most rewarding experiences, with incredible views, physical and mental obstacles overcome, and many lessons learned. Here are a few of the highlights of my trip: Continue reading

Tour du Mont Blanc camping: A guide to campsites on the route of the TMB

I hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc over nine days in July 2015, camping every night, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I was able to stay outdoors rather than the shared dorms of the Refuges. As there is no pre booking I had more flexibility about the distance and route I covered each day, the cost was lower, and it was satisfying to feel totally self-supported. Unexpectedly though, finding the campsites at the end of a long day was one of the most stressful elements of the trip for me.

I used the Cicerone guidebook, which is aimed at walkers staying in Refuges on the route, but I found that it didn’t provide adequate information for me. Some campsites were a little off the standard route of the TMB, meaning that I had to walk further at the end of the day on a route not described in the guide. In some cases it was necessary to extend the day described in the book to reach the next place to camp. These are not real problems, but I would recommend a little extra planning to supplement the guide.

Here is the information I wish I’d had for the route I followed (all prices are for one person, one tent, one night): Continue reading

Ultralight backpacking – what are the essentials…?

The first ‘proper’ scramble I did was Pinnacle Ridge on the Scottish Isle of Skye. It’s an 11km hike involving easy rock climbing and an abseil over 6 Pinnacles on the Cuillin Ridge. It reaches a high point on the summit of Scurr Nan Gillean, a Munro with a height of 964m (3162 feet). I’d never done anything like it before. I didn’t know what to expect or how to prepare, and I carried all sorts in my bag including, for some reason, flip flops.

On the summit of Sgurr Nan Gillean with Castle Mountaineering Club and flip flops...

On the summit of Sgurr Nan Gillean with Castle Mountaineering Club and flip flops…

As I gained more experience, I learned to focus on what is fundamentally important, the basics of survival – warmth, water, and food. Anything beyond that becomes a luxury. Continue reading

Simple living – the answer to life’s big questions…

In September this year I was fortunate to travel around California for the best part of a month, and I was looking forward to the holiday as a period to take time out and reflect on the big questions I felt life was asking me.

It’s the longest time I’ve travelled and I was able to take so long because, as a result of the continuing public sector cuts, I was offered voluntary redundancy. After five years at the same place the time felt right to move on and I saw it as an opportunity. But needing to take potentially life changing decisions naturally caused me to question… What do I really want to be doing? Where do I want to be heading? What am I doing with my life??!

We flew into LA, driving for hours through hellish traffic to arrive at Joshua Tree national park in the dark, grateful to find a free space at the Hidden Valley campground. Our headtorches illuminated the bulk of the boulder-like formations that the camping spaces nestled beneath.

We were woken by coyotes howling, one group yelping frantically nearby and another replying from somewhere in the distance. It was 6am, but with an alarm call like that there was no way we were going back to sleep. The sun had just come up, and looking around at the unfamiliar rocky landscape I felt I had travelled to another planet.

Scrambling to the top of the tall ridge that formed the far side of the campground, I looked back down and saw an expanse of white sand and pale yellow-white granite. Over the other side lay a vast and perfectly flat plain crowded with the Joshua Trees themselves, their unusual shapes poised like joyful dancers.

Joshua tree is beautiful and like nothing I had ever seen, and as the sun rose, the mountains on the horizon glowed a deep wild-salmon pink.

Tiny campers nestled in the rocks, and a red sunrise

Tiny campers nestled in the rocks, and a red sunrise

A coffee moment in Camp 4, Yosemite Valley

A coffee moment in Camp 4, Yosemite Valley

When you’re car camping in California, life is simple. Finding it too hot in the south, we travelled up Highway 395 through Inyo County, the High Sierra mountains always visible to the West. Passing through Bishop, Mammoth, and on to Yosemite National Park, we stopped off at Pleasant Valley, Twin Lakes, and Tuolumne Meadows campgrounds.

The days assumed a rhythm that started with the ritual of coffee. I love that solitary time in the morning before most people wake up, listening to the muted blaze of the stove for the moment that the pot bubbles announcing the arrival of coffee. The day seems suspended in that moment of waiting, perfect in its possibilities before caffeine catapults me into action.

Each day we would climb, locating new crags, navigating walk-ins, and tackling the routes. Or I would hike, almost disbelieving at the start of the day that I really would be at that highest point of the horizon, and back again before dark. As darkness fell the various climbers, boulderers and hikers would reconvene at the campground to hear about each other’s days and plans for the next day. Food and drink tastes better when you’ve earned it, and as we clustered around the blue stove flames to cook we savoured the taste of local brewed ale, inventing ingenious ways to remove the bottle tops.

Some nights the milky way would appear bright in the clear sky, and I watched its rotation feeling insignificant, peaceful, and incredibly lucky. As each day started with coffee, it ended with making the beds, another ritual which involves clearing the back of the car and making sure the roll mats are smooth, creating pillows out of down jackets, laying out the sleeping bags in the exactly the right position. And then – glorious sleep.

Car camping, Pleasant Valley

Car camping, Pleasant Valley

Moment by moment by moment, I was absorbed. I didn’t think about the future, or worry about what might or might not happen. As a way of living, it felt so simple and so pure, focusing all my attention on each event in my day as it happened. I know it’s not possible to be on holiday constantly, I don’t want to run away from my life and become a rootless traveller. There’s a danger in living for future plans, as much as there is in living in the past.

I went away thinking that time out would give me perspective, and I came back wanting the opposite of escapism. I want to be present right here, right now. Too much reflection can become a distraction, so maybe I did find the answer to the big questions… stop questioning.