Category Archives: Hiking

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.
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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

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

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

Crib Goch scramble and run, Snowdonia, North Wales – low on time, high on adventure

This weekend I planned to go away for a couple of nights to test my new ultra light tent and get some hill training in with Bo. The weather forecast was horrendous – wet and windy everywhere, so we decided a one night trip would be wiser. Short on time, our target was Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain at 1085m.  We planned to camp in the Llanberis Pass and run to the summit via the Crib Goch ridge.

Camping in Nant Peris, looking up to the Llanberis Pass

Camping in Nant Peris, looking up to Crib Goch obscured by cloud

Arriving at lunch time we quickly put up our tents, the only ones camping in the extended garden of a farm in Nant Peris, a small village located at the bottom of the Llanberis Pass.  From there we had a view up the pass to the ridge we would soon be on. Although it wasn’t raining in the valley and there was little wind, the top of the ridge was hidden by cloud.

The steep sides of the Pass host some of the UK’s most famous rock climbing routes, and from the bus window we took the opportunity to admire the scale of the landscape. Looking up to the familiar shape of the Cromlech, there were no climbers to be seen on the open-book Cenotaph Corner, just darker grey smears of wet rock.

Jumping off the bus we began running from the Pen-y-Pass car park. The well trodden trail trends steadily upwards over a mixture of polished rocks and sandy gravel, good running although not the easiest warm up. It wasn’t long until we reached the point that our route separated from the trail, the ground quickly got steeper and soon the only option was to scramble and climb.

Leaving the tourist trail to start the scramble to Crib Goch

A clear sign that it is time to leave the tourist trail and start the scramble to Crib Goch

The Rhyolite rock is almost crystalline in appearance, formed from a series of small angular blocks that create large handholds and decent footholds. Scrambling higher we entered the clouds and I felt very aware that I was clinging to a steep surface with no ropes. My view obscured in all directions I could see nothing but rock dropping steeply away below, while more rock rose to an unknown and invisible point above. With Bo leading, the only way was up.

Climbing up through clouds to find the ridge

Srambling up through clouds to reach the ridge

Finally there was no more up, we had reached the ridge and there could be no worries about route finding. We scrambled happily along, keeping our hands high on the pointing tip of the ridge and our feet low on the blocky sides. I took a moment to enjoy the incredible position. Cloud cover was coming and going at this point, the steep drop on either side intermittently revealed, the lakes below scraps of tin foil reflecting the silver grey sky.

Beautiful texture of the rhyolite rock on the pointed ridge of Crib Goch

Beautiful texture of the rhyolite rock on the pointed ridge of Crib Goch

Bo captured mid-scramble, the knife edge ridge disappearing into cloud

Bo captured mid-scramble, the knife edge ridge disappearing into cloud

Reaching the end of the ridge we laughed as we realised that we had clocked some of the slowest kilometres ever. Pleased to run again we joined the trail that passed the marker at Crib y Ddysgl, the second highest summit, then followed the train tracks leading the way to the busy Snowdon summit and cafe.

After a quick dash to the actual summit of Snowdon we began a swift descent down the Pyg track which involved hurdling a few tourists. The terrain is perfect, stepped and rocky, not too steep, and a lovely long run down hill back to the Pen Y Pass car park.

Lovely long downhill of the Pyg track

Lovely long downhill on the Pyg track

If you are short on time but want maximum adventure, Crib Goch is one of the best days out you can have. You can find more information about the route on UK Hillwalking http://www.ukhillwalking.com/logbook/hill.php?id=2032.