Page 1

top of the adventure class: the best outdoor gear!

£3.50 ISSUE 86 MARCH/APRIL 2010


the Trans-Himalayan highway

Fancy a

quickie? Mini adventures in Spain, France, the Lakes and Cornwall


Inca Trail


Peru’s top trek – Adventure Travel style




›› Tried & Tested Expedition rucksacks


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2 January/February 2010

›› Check out: P18 You really, really should try this before you die P36 Ubercool new kit P41 Lovely places for a quickie P110 The best of all our gear tests

Off your Ed


Off your Ed

Hello All,

he Adventure Travel office has been buzzing. We’ve had Rosie return from a multi-country mega adventure in South America; Gez, our new designer (actually she’s not new, she’s just returned from three in the wilderness), 'Oh no,years he's back'....I hear you. is on a mission to spruce up the look andput feel magazine, After being outoftothe graze for the past two years it's great to be back in and Lucy and Vicki have been working wonders the the Ed's chair at Adventure Travelinmagazine. And, what a couple of years it's been. When I typed my last 'Ed's Comment' life was all sunshine and flowers; boiler room. economy booming, the inspired. pound was worth something on the We’ve been busy the all right, andwas we’ve also been currency markets and Gordon In fact we’ve been setinternational alight by the number of ordinary folk Brown was screeching 'no more bust' a daily basis.extraorIt's all change now alright we’ve been talking toboom of lateand who areonundertaking But I'm here to drone about the state of the economy, in fact, I've dinary adventures all around thenot globe. I use theon word ‘ordifond memories of past recessions. Back in the days when The Police and Duran nary’ in the following sense: they are not professional explorDuran were flying high and 'Maggie Maggie Maggie, Out, Out, Out' was the ers with corporate financial backers and sponsorship money most popular song in the UK, I was a young quality control manager working but people just like you and me; they have jobs, mortgages, for Clarks Shoes in the Rhondda Valley in Wales. It was also a time when I families, bills to cover and taxes to pay. And they’ve decided made my first grown up economic prediction – 'my job is safe, people will to just go and live outalways some of their dreams. want shoes'. Two months later the factory closed down and I was made In this issue we feature a couple who hiked 700 miles redundant. around the Gambia and aLooking cyclistback, who it's packed bikemade redundant inspired me to travel. clear up thathis being and pedalled across the Himalaya. a previously With the local We’ve job prospects less than nil, I packed my rucksack and set off on unknown photographer who into the mountains a two yeartravelled adventure during which I hiked in the Alps and Pyrenees, picked andwith olivesa in sight of the Mediterranean and trekked extensively in of northern India andgrapes returned truly amazing set of Morocco. It was fantasticattime. images that brought him success andaawards the presforward to the gloomy economic tigious Banff Film Festival.Fast And then there’s our own Rosie days of the early 90's and another job that on led the to me taking for a her couple of weeks trekking through central who shares what she setback discovered Inca Trailoff during Turkey. It was another fantastic experience from which I returned home to my marathon South American adventure. family with a business idea that went like this...start a magazine called The above just scratches the surface of what’s in this Adventure Travel. Every they say. issue and of what’s to come in future issues of Adventure I hope you find inspiration between the covers! Travel. My hope is what’s between these covers inspires you – I know you’ve inspired me.


PS: If you’ve been travelling and want to get in touch, pop along to our website and let us know about it.


Adventure Travel Online

Do you want to comment on any feature in Adventure Travel magazine (or anything else for that matter)? Then head on over Adventure Travel online to and have your If you’ve any comments you’d say. like to make about this issue

of Adventure Travel or any Do you want a free blogging website to questions you’d like answered then pop along to www. write about your travels and outdoor and haveadventures? Then check out your say on the forum.

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What’s Inside this ›› Adventures - Places to go, things to do 14 Inside track Want to avoid the Brits abroad in New Zealand? We’ve got a local’s view on the best outdoorsy stuff


18 Try this before you die Stick overlanding near the top of your list, says Rosie Fuller

20 The adventurers In the first of a new series, we introduce a couple who hiked across the Gambia

22 Great African adventures What to do in this marvellous continent

50 Classic treks: the Inca Trail Tourist trap or top trek? Rosie Fuller investigates

62 Bike it: the Trans-Himalayan highway It’s recommended you do it in a jeep. Adam Richards tackles this mighty pass on his bike


73 The GPS challenge Will our fearless volunteer survive and, more importantly, be able to work the GPS?

84 Photography Sankar Sridhar captures the Changtang in northern India

94 Polar attraction Tim Moss is on his first Artic trip in Svalbard – it’s Norway, but not as you know it

98 Long-distance trails Charlie Proctor introduces the path from Patagonia to Peru

›› Short Breaks – Adventures for when you’re tight on time 42 Bike it: Meribel Fancy 2,000m of downhill? Go to Meribel, says Tom Hutton

44 Hike it: the Bob Graham round Sarah Stirling takes on one of the Lakes’ toughest challenges

46 Spanish selection Sometimes we wish we were in Barcelona. Here are nine reasons why

48 Bodmin Moor What’s fun in this often-overlooked area of Cornwall

4 March/April 2010


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Contents ›› News and Views 10 Celeb interview Basejumper and model Anniken Binz gets a grilling

12 Blow your mind Samantha Gore rounds up some staggering statistics


16 Readers exposed Intrepid Adventure Travel readers

26 Write on Reader letters of adoration. Ahem

28 Media mash up All the latest off the outdoorsy press

30 Pop the question Your niggling adventure-travel-related questions answered

38 Doing the 100 Steve Backshall hits a traveller’s turning point

80 The day job It beats the 9-5. Mark Kalch is a professional adventurer

128 Final call Magazines will live to fight another issue , says A J Daly

›› Gear Guide - Don’t buy any kit until you’ve read this… 34 How to buy: a family-sized tent It’s all about the space, man

36 Hot stuff New gear we love


98 On test: expedition rucksacks Alun Davies is carrying a heavy load

110 Best of the tests Top of the class in our latest reviews

›› Flannel Panel

98 6 March/April 2010

Editor: Alun Davies 01789 450000 Deputy Editor: Rosie Fuller Contributing Editors: Sarah Stirling, A J Daly, Tom Hutton, Sankar Sridhar, Tim Moss, Adam Richards, Samantha Gore Design Production: Gez Chorley Display Advertising: Lucy Smith 01789 450000 Classified Advertising: Vicki Hurley 01789 450000 Subscriptions and back issues:, 01789 450000 Editorial Enquiries: Editorial Submissions: Check the guidelines on Online: Front Cover: Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.

CAPPADOCIA, TURKEY’S MOST UNIQUE DESTINATION With its incredible landscapes, ancient rockcarved churches and underground cities, cave hotels, activities like hot-air ballooning and hiking and delicious local food and wine, the Cappadocia region in Turkey’s heartland in central Anatolia offers visitors a one-of-a-kind travel experience. Cappadocia’s striking, otherworldly landscapes are like no other place in the world, even featuring as a backdrop in a Star Wars film. Cappadocia is formed at the centre of a once volcanic region and millions of years ago two large volcanoes poured lava and volcanic ash across the landscape. Over time, the ash solidified into soft rock that was later eroded by wind and water, sculpting the sensual curves of the Cappadocian landscape and forming the pinnacles, plateaus and peaks now known as ‘fairy chimneys’. Today Cappadocia is Turkey’s most visually striking region. The area is also rich in culture and history: Early Christians settled in Cappadocia to

practice their religion in peace. St Paul visited here, and many sought the solitude of its lonely valleys filled with caves. Millions of visitors come from around the world to tour the Göreme Open-Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to dozens of medieval cave churches decorated with colourful frescoes. Zelve, Uçhisar

and the town of Avanos are other not to be missed sights – also don’t miss the underground cities, vast labyrinths of tunnels, caves and passages reaching deep into the earth. In recent years, Cappadocia has also become one of Turkey’s top destinations for boutique cave hotels – as well as an increasingly sophisticated restaurant and wine culture – indeed, Cappadocia is said to be where wine-making first originated over 6000 years ago thanks to its fertile volcanic soil. You’ll also be spoilt for choice with activities such as hot-air ballooning, hiking, cross-golf, horse-riding and biking tours through the endless valleys. Cappadocia is easily reached via the region’s two airports, Kayseri’s Erkilet International Airport and Nevsehir Airport. Whether one is looking for a romantic vacation spot or an active holiday for the whole family, Cappadocia’s unique blend of scenery, culture and adventure is certain to impress. +90 444 0 849

Turkish Culture and Tourism Office Tel: 020 7839 7778


)NĂ&#x;THEĂ&#x;%NGADINĂ&#x;3TĂ&#x;-ORITZĂ&#x;REGIONĂ&#x;OFĂ&#x;THEĂ&#x;3WISSĂ&#x;#ANTONĂ&#x;OFĂ&#x;'RAUB~NDEN Ă&#x; 3WITZERLAND´SĂ&#x;.OĂ&#x;Ă&#x;(OLIDAYĂ&#x;$ESTINATION Ă&#x;THEREĂ&#x;AREĂ&#x;MANYĂ&#x;PATHSĂ&#x; TOĂ&#x;PARADISEĂ&#x;WILD Ă&#x;IDYLLIC Ă&#x;LEISURELYĂ&#x;ANDĂ&#x;EPICĂ&#x;4HISĂ&#x;FEELINGĂ&#x;OFĂ&#x;FREEDOMĂ&#x; ANDĂ&#x;WELL BEINGĂ&#x;INĂ&#x;THEĂ&#x;MOUNTAINSĂ&#x;COSTSĂ&#x;NOTHING Ă&#x;ASĂ&#x;GUESTSĂ&#x;STAYINGĂ&#x; FORĂ&#x;ATĂ&#x;LEASTĂ&#x;TWOĂ&#x;NIGHTSĂ&#x;DURINGĂ&#x;THEĂ&#x;SUMMERĂ&#x;CANĂ&#x;USEĂ&#x;THEĂ&#x;FUNICULARSĂ&#x; ANDĂ&#x;CABLEĂ&#x;CARSĂ&#x;FORĂ&#x;FREEĂ&#x; The figures speak volumes: 320 days a year, the sun shines on the Upper Engadin, and transforms the lakes, the side valleys and the flanks of the mountains into a poetic play of light and shadow. The air is infused with the

metropolis is transformed every year into a mecca for top-calibre festivals, cultural and sporting events. 580 kilometres of footpaths are waiting to be explored â&#x20AC;&#x201C; on strolls, walks, longer hikes and multi-day tours and for every taste, there is a path to happiness. The views are particularly spectacular on the Muottas Muragl mountain, whose challenging paths offer a magnificent natural high. Strolls down in the valley, meanwhile, are especially idyllic, in the pleasantly shady Staz forest, for example, perhaps followed by an invigorating dip in a lake. Those who simply canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t get enough of hiking can plan a multi-day tour through the glorious natural landscape â&#x20AC;&#x201C; along the Via Alpina or through the Swiss National Park, home to an exceptionally rich wildlife.

The best thing about hiking is that it costs nothing. Guests who stay at least two nights at any of more than 90 hotels in the Engadin St. Moritz region participating in the â&#x20AC;&#x153;mountain transport includedâ&#x20AC;? package benefit scent of larch needles and the bark of Swiss from free travel on funiculars and cable cars stone pine trees. The intense blue of the sky for the duration of their stay. Several hotels is intoxicating to the eye; thoughts of day- additionally offer their guests free travel on to-day concerns feel as if they have been public transport. blown away by the pleasant cooling breeze. The Wild World of the Swiss National Park The fact that a stay in this paradise does The Swiss National Park extends for 170 not have to cost the earth is demonstrated square kilometres, and offers keen hikers all by our increasing amount of hotel packages manner of impressive experiences. Here naoffered through UK tour operators, offering ture is allowed to take its course, without top quality for every budget in St. Moritz any human interference. and the neighbouring village of Pontresina. Swiss Travel Service and Neilson Active Holi- Around 30 species of mammals and more days are two such companies. In the sum- than 100 species of birds can be observed in mer months, May to October, the Engadin Switzerlandâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s only national park. There are



two requirements for hiking in this natural oasis: a sound level of fitness and good equipment. Anyone keen to see ibex and marmots has a good chance of sightings on the route from S-chanf up to Alp Trupchun at 2,040 metres. Chamois and red deer are more likely to be seen on the trail to the Cluozza hut. 100 years of Rhaetian Railwaysâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; Bernina line â&#x20AC;&#x201C; all aboard! The Bernina line, the highest-altitude railway link across the Alps, began operation


Normal Swiss Travel Service booking

conditions apply, see website

100 years ago this year. In 2008, it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. Operating year round, the track comprises 61 kilometres of magnificent engineering against the background of the highest peak in GraubĂźnden, Piz Bernina. This year there are a huge number of celebrations to mark the 100th year anniversary.





0RIZEĂ&#x;INCLUDESĂ&#x;Ă&#x;NIGHTSĂ&#x;"" Ă&#x;FLIGHTSĂ&#x;WITHĂ&#x; 37)33Ă&#x;FROMĂ&#x;5+Ă&#x;TOĂ&#x;:URICHĂ&#x;ANDĂ&#x;3WISSĂ&#x;CARDĂ&#x; RAILĂ&#x;TRANSFERSĂ&#x;Ă&#x;


Closing date: 31 / 05 / 10, Terms & conditions apply, see website

Š Engadin St. Moritz | / Christian Perret



You thought we’d

ask you that We pin down Anniken Binz, Norwegian supermodel and basejumper, for a brief chat in among her expeditions which have included hurling herself from 1,000m cliff faces in Baffin Island, North East Canada – crumbs

10 March/April 2010

Nutter maybe, beauty definitely, but she’s more than just a pretty face. Anniken Binz studied social anthropology and human geography before securing internships with the UN and later working for an NGO in Pakistan. Her motivation to follow this path was her fascination with aid and relief work, but after a while she realised she missed the thrills of what had become her addiction: basejumping. Here’s more… Q If you had to have a desk job, what would it be? Programme manager/coordinator for an NGO somewhere far away Q Where is the strangest place you’ve found yourself naked? Pakistan Q What’s the biggest challenge on your list of ‘things to do before I die’? Settle down into family life Q Who would play you in a movie of your life? The girl who is always happy Q What’s your perfect Sunday? Not being hungover somewhere in the mountains Q What is the last thing that made you cry? A Swedish crime novel Q Marmite, love it or hate it? Tried it once… never again Q What one album or book would you wish for if you were stranded? 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez Q What can keep you awake at night? Daydreams Q What’s the greatest life lesson you’ve learned so far? Money and fame will not make you happy Q If you were to put something in a time capsule for future generations to discover, what would it be? A wingsuit Q What do you miss most about home when you’re away? My beautiful apartment Q What will your epitaph read? ’She lived life to the maximum’ Q What’s your ultimate indulgence? C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E! Q What’s your staple campsite/refuge/ solo exploring sing-a-long? ‘Baby please don’t go’ by Chicago Q Has your life ever flashed before your eyes? Yes. Once when base jumping I was too close to a ledge in free fall and just had enough lift to clear it






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Blow your mind

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Samantha Gore tracks down some facts that will make your pulse race with fear, excitement or downright bewilderment. Prepare to be enlightened 12 March/April 2010

Source Mountain Mayhem is an annual mountain biking race that takes place at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire, attracting thousands of competitors and supporters every year. Here are some staggering stats… The total number of laps ridden is 12,040, which is a massive 105,350 miles, working out at 4.25 times around the world. In fact, since Mountain Mayhem began in 1997, the equivalent number of times around the world comes in at 50, which is the same as getting to moon and back five times. The total number of riders circling the event last year was 2,351 with a hefty 15,000 spectators. The fastest lap of the whole event was by Nick Craig from the Scott Team: he finished the 8.75 miles in 38 minutes. Some nutters ride the Mayhem alone and the men’s solo fastest lap was Matt Page with 49 minutes; he completed 26 laps in total. It’s not all about men though – the women’s solo winner Meggie Bichard completed 19 laps with her fastest time coming in at an hour and three minutes. Power to the girls! It’s a hellish marathon of mud, rain, sweat and tears and the total number of Original Source showers taken by riders was 17,000 with 15,000 Source shower gels given away. After all that riding you need some refuelling, of course, and the catering team say that sausages proved the most popular snack with 1,536 munched, baked potatoes second at 1,100 and burgers a close third at 1,040. A frightening 50kgs of pasta was consumed as well as 1,000 flapjacks and 768 chocolate bars. That is a phenomenal amount of food, but the calories burned by riders was an exhausting 8,428,000 . This equals 10,805 quarter pounders with cheese and fries, or 78,766 bananas or 191,545 apples. Team Focus rider Matt Page proposed to his girlfriend Nia Harris on the finish line. She accepted.

Blow your mind

Norwegian supermodel Anniken Binz spent six days last year climbing through jungle and up a mountain to get to the top of Angel Falls – the highest waterfall in the world. She then jumped off and ‘fell’ the 1,000m down again. Basejumper or nutter? Well, she’s still alive.

‡63(&,$/,675(7$,/(5 ‡7(&+1,&$/$'9,&(

Kristi Leskinen is a blond bombshell and she is also a talented one. She was the first woman in snowboarding to ever land a rodeo 720 – two rotations while upside down. Yeah baby!

Swiss speed-skier Lara Gut became the youngest skier ever to win a World Cup Super G (Super Giant Slalom, that is) race at St Moritz in December 2008 when she was just 17 years old. A year before that, Gut notched her first podium (also at St Moritz), all the more remarkable because she fell and slid down the last pitch, crossing the finish line on her back, only 0.35 seconds off the winning time. Well, we’re glad she got there in the end.

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Inside track

Inside track New Zealand

New Zealand’s the country where adrenalin was invented. Kiwi Margaretha Western-Brounts tells us the best bits WHAT

Embracing the sea


The Bay of Islands, three hours’ drive north of Auckland

WHY The historic town of Russell should be your base for exploring New Zealand’s northern tip, the Bay of Islands – it’s so remote it feels like time hasn’t reached it yet. This is the place for water-based activities. You can fight a glistening marlin or swordfish on a deep-sea fishing boat, then cool off skimming along behind the boat barefoot waterskiing or swimming with dolphins. MORE INFO


Getting into hot water


Coromandel Peninsula and White Island volcano, in the north east of the North Island

WHY Hot-Water Beach, near a tiny town called Hahei on the Coromandel Peninsula, is a must at low tide: you can dig your own spa to a hot-water spring right along the waterline. From here, do a two-hour walk to nearby Cathedral Cove, where a spectacular rock arch soars over a small, sheltered beach that is only accessible on foot or by boat. The track also provides access to excellent snorkelling at Gemstone and Stingray Bays. Moving down, the active volcano of White Island, 50km off shore, is reached from the town of Whakatane by boat or helicopter. Bring your diving gear, or

hire some. Gas bubbles up through the sand and divers float through hot-water patches, while clouds of fish envelope you in their rainbow colours. Walking right into the main crater, smelling the sulphur and feeling the heat of the powerful steam, is unforgettable. MORE INFO;


Rivers of ice


flying machine in the world, and has been known to reach 106mph. Suspended from an overhead cable you sit in a rocket-like contraption and have control of the throttle and the steering – are you game to pilot this monster? Er, if the answer’s no, don’t worry there’s plenty of awesome hiking around Queenstown too, including the Routeburn trek, which will take two or three days. MORE INFO

Fox and Franz Josef glaciers on the west coast of the South Island




New Zealand’s glaciers rival those in Chile or even Alaska. The west coast of the South Island has a World Heritage Site that harbours a sorbet of glacial valleys near the small townships of Fox and Franz Josef. There’s loads to do; I’d recommend heli-hiking up then spending an exhilarating couple of hours climbing down the spectacular sculpted ice walls of the glacier. MORE INFO




Queenstown, South Island

WHY You’ll be tripping over the tourists in Queenstown, but it’s worth it for the smorgasbord of adrenaline-pumped fun on offer. There’s everything you could dream of, and lots you couldn’t: jet-boating, white-water sledging, bungy jumping, river surfing, heliskiing and perhaps the maddest, the Fly by Wire. This is the fastest tethered

14 March/April 2010

Hiking the wilds Stewart Island

WHY If you still have a yearning for the remote, take a ferry or fly to the island of the golden glow: Stewart Island (also called Rakiura), where sunsets are blood-red and the aurora australis is regularly seen in the southern sky. Hiking’s a perfect way to see the island, which is 85% national park. The classic and shortest trail is a 36km circuit, the Rakiura Track, that follows the coast and then goes up over a forested ridge. If you’re after something longer, the North West Circuit is 125km, or the glorious South Circuit is 105km, both with options to detour up the odd mountain. Department of Conservation huts provide accommodation along the way; you have to check in at the Rakiura National Park Visitor Centre before starting any overnight treks. MORE INFO

Beth Rodden doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty – because as a world-class free climber, it’s her job. Climbing has given Beth an amazing perspective on life, and on California. She’s looked down on Yosemite Valley after summiting Inspiration Point more times than she can count. And when she’s not taking part in climbing you can probably find her grabbing a bite at Strawberry Lodge outside of Lake Tahoe, before watching climbers ascend Lover’s Leap.

Find out more about Beth Rodden’s California at Photographed near Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park

Talking heads



Ever wondered what sort of chicks and chaps read the world’s best outdoor travel magazine?



fun! Want to be a reader exposed? (who doesn’t?)

NAME: Cathryn Birch AGE: 27 OCCUPATION: Scientific Researcher (Meteorology)

NAME: rebecca smith AGE: 41 OCCUPATION: computer stuff

Lifelong ambition: To complete some first ascents in Antarctica or Greenland Person you would most like to meet, and the question you would ask them? Barrack Obama. I’d tell him he’s doing a good job and it’s appreciated. Ideal travel partner and why: Someone who wants to be active, enjoys all kinds of outdoor activities and hates visiting big cities and going to museums. Because that is what I like to do! Previous outdoor history: Ski seasons in Canada and Switzerland; numerous days hiking and scrambling in the UK, Norway and the Alps; mountaineering trips to the Alps, Dolomites and New Zealand; single and multi-pitch trad climbing in the UK; winter climbing in Scotland; sport climbing trips to the Mediterranean;

Lifelong ambition: To live in the middle of nowhere and be happy Person you would most like to meet, and the question you would ask them? I’d love to go back in time and ask someone what it was like to travel squashed in or on top of a horsedrawn stagecoach, then be dropped in the middle of nowhere and have to walk the rest of the way Ideal travel partner and why: My credit card! Previous outdoor history: A year’s backpacking around Oz (where I worked as a Jillaroo in the outback), NZ, Hawaii, the west coast of America and Canada. Short trips to Morocco, southern India and Egypt, and lots of European skiing trips. A trip that started in Mexico and Belize and then took me across South America from Peru to the Rio Carnival

mountain biking on the hills and at trail centres all around the UK and surfing in various places around the world, although I am no expert! Most dangerous moment: Scrambling on the Cuillin Ridge when a friend dislocated his shoulder Most memorable moment: Seeing a beautiful sunrise over the Matterhorn while climbing in the Alps What do you miss most when you are on a trail: Fruit and vegetables Future travel plans: Mountaineering in Patagonia and surfing and other outdoor pursuits in Australia Favourite crap joke: What’s green and hard? A frog with tattoos Lucky item you always take with you: My GPS which I never use but keep in my bag for emergencies

16 March/April 2010

Most dangerous moment: I had heat stroke sandboarding in Peru. I hadn’t recovered when we got to altitude and was about to pass out when the bus driver waved 100% neat alcohol under my nose Most memorable moment: Having breakfast in a cafe on the beautiful square in Cusco, Peru, watching the locals parading their costumes in the carnival, and thinking about the Inca Trail the next day What do you miss most when you are on trail? Nothing: my thoughts are so full of the moment Future travel plans: I’d like to trek to Everest base camp, and I’d like to tick Chile off the list. But that will have to wait until my two toddlers are older Favourite crap joke: One grape lived for lying around in the sun. It was his raisin d’etre

Make yourself known to our Rosie (rosie@ atmagazine. Everyone we feature gets a free subscription to Adventure Travel – what a treat!


      

Try before you die

Try this before you

die :



was barely 18 the first time I went travelling, on a gap year doing conservation stuff somewhere in the north of Oz. I spent the first week living and working with five others in the rainforest. I remember how strange it all seemed, and how grown up we all felt. But the thing I remember most about that week is when it ended and I had to leave the crowd I’d been with.

Oh the despair! Life, I thought, could never be the same without my newfound friends – I felt I knew them better after seven days than people I’d known for seven years. We exchanged email addresses (I think they’d been invented), promised to stay in touch and forgot about each other fairly swiftly. Older and much less wise, I’d since put the experience down to the beauty of youth. Until, that is, a chunk of years later, knockin’ on 30, I found myself in similar caverns of despair in Lima. No, I did not want to move on to the next stage of my trip and meet up with my oldest friend from university. No, I did not want to hike the Inca Trail. All I wanted to do was not leave another set of new friends – the crew from my overlanding truck. ‘Overlanding’ is a travelly word for getting about in massive, purposebuilt trucks that are stuffed with camping and cooking equipment, so you can pull up and sleep or eat anywhere you like. The leaders from the overlanding company I was with, Dragoman, build the trucks themselves. This means they get very angry if you call them anything other than trucks, like buses or vans. One fellow passenger, Duncan, even referred to our truck Amber as a car. It was a delicate moment. I did a three-week trip from Quito to Lima. There were 16 of us on the truck as passengers – eight in their 20s, three retirees and the rest in their

30s and 40s – plus two leaders. Most of them were staying on board for far longer than me, which was part of what made leaving so terrible. So what is it that bonds 18 people together like this? Is it the dizzying excitement of the unknown; the joy of being let loose with other adventurous souls – or the sheer relief that the folk you’re going to be stuck with for the next few weeks aren’t idiots? Whatever the reason, the group spirit is one of the big pluses of overlanding. And as well as getting you from A to B, overlanding is about being active. In my three weeks I went canyoning, rafting, hiking in the jungle, surfing, sport climbing and trekking up to 4,500m – and probably more. But equally as fun and astounding as the outdoorsy stuff was the journeying. “The best way to get around South America is to fly,” a well-travelled friend had said when I was planning my trip. Until I left Amber and took public transport, I thought he must have been crackers. Even whole days spent on the truck are fun. Firstly, there are lunch stop Truck life: an overlanding

18 March/April 2010

Rosie Fuller gets sentimental about a 13-tonne truck called Amber ‘One fellow passenger, Duncan, even referred to our truck Amber as a car. It was a delicate moment’

16 or so people you can choose from to talk to: work out what sort of conversation you’re in the mood for and then pick who you sit by. I played a lot of cards. Secondly, you can see the scenery from a truck far better than from a bus or even a plane. Thirdly, you get to stop in all sorts of remote places – places you’d pass straight through or over in public transport. Before I did the trip I’d feared that overlanding might be a bit tame, a bit packagey. Not likely. Far from being tame, it gives you confidence to do things you might not have dared, especially as a lone traveler, from bush camping to eating guinea pig. And far from being packagey, you never quite know if you’re going to get to the place where you’re meant to be spending the night. Like the time when we left Ecuador but ‘lost’ Peru. Driving round no-man’s land with 16 gringos in a 13-tonne truck asking ‘¿Donde esta Peru?’ – you don’t get that on your standard package holiday. ■

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Gambia In the first of a new series on adventures even more outrageous than usual, we meet a couple who hiked round the Gambia for charity. Introducing the adventurers…

White people don’t walk,” laughs Helen Jones. “That and ‘your donkeys will die’ were the most common things Gambians said to us when we explained what we were doing.” Helen and her partner Jason Florio walked 600 miles round the whole of the Gambia, a small country in West Africa, in November and December of last year. It’s not surprising the locals were dubious. Whites in Gambia get around by 4x4 and Gambians don’t venture far from their home villages. The pair reckon they’re the only people to have ever done the trip. “The Gambians we were with had barely left the small area they grew up in,” says Helen. “That was one of my highlights – showing three people their country and seeing how thrilled they were to make such a historic journey.” The couple did the expedition to raise money for Gardens for Life, a charity that teaches children to grow gardens so they can sustain their villages and ultimately have a way of trading. After half a year of planning and very little training (“we ran out of time”) they teamed up with Janneh (the translator), Momadou (the donkey handler), Samba (the Gambian culture expert) and Neil and Hadley (the donkeys) and set off into the heat and dust of the red roads. “The heat was the biggest issue to begin with,” explains Helen.

On the road: Ja son and Helen

Ordinary people – extraordinary adventures

“We’d get up at 4am to be on the road at five, and by nine or 10am it was unbearable.” The team completed the mission in six weeks, averaging 25km a day – the most it was fair to ask of the donkeys. They walked from village to village, camping in the village compounds once they’d introduced themselves to the Alkalos, or village chiefs. “Once Samba introduced us the people were incredibly welcoming,”

20 March/April 2010

says Helen. “They let us stay in their compounds, made sure we were safe and let the whole community know we were there. “Everyone was always so excited to see us – we were their sole focus of attention,” she continues. “We were surrounded by children watching us all the time. They always wanted to touch our skin – one girl looked at her fingertips afterwards as if she expected the colour to come off on to them. Gambia’s a Muslim country, which meant two things to our adventurers: the lack of beer (Jason lost a stone on the trip and blames this) and the attitude to women. “Women are the backbone of

© Helen Jones

A short walk around the

© Helen Jones

s r e r u t n e v d A The

The adventurers

The adventurers

te We did it: the team celebra

›› The mission To walk round the Gambia (about 600 miles) to raise money for Gardens for Life

›› The team Helen Jones and Jason Florio from the UK, Abdouli Janneh, Momadou Bah, Samba Leigh from the Gambia and Neil and Hadley (the donkeys)

›› The time Six weeks

›› The most

important piece of kit

PG Tips

›› The best


Extra luggage allowance on the flight

© Jason Florio

the country,” explains Helen. “They do all the work and run the compound, looking after about 30 kids, while the men sit around and brush their teeth. “It was sometimes a bit frustrating with our guide Samba, who was slightly older. He had two wives and generally expected me to fetch and carry stuff. But it was interesting too.” For both Jason, who’s a freelance photographer, and Helen, who’s a trained massage therapist but now works with Jason producing his photo shoots, the highlight of the trip was crossing the River Gambia right at the end of the expedition. “It was a tiny flat-bottomed boat, and donkeys are scared of water,” says Helen. “It was such a mission to get them and the cart on, and at the other side they practically skipped off – and that’s unusual for donkeys.” And as ever, it was more of a culture shock for the couple to come home than to arrive in Africa. “When we were walking it was like we didn’t know anything else,” Helen says. “Life is so simple there – there’s so much more freedom.” So what are they going to do now they’re back? “We’re already planning our next trip.” Spoken like a true adventurer. And, obviously, the donkeys didn’t die.

Donkeys and water don’t mix… March/April 2010 21


African adventures

Overlanding Africa

Great African O adventures

East African Adventures


or adventure seekers, the year 2010 is for visiting the Land of the Sun: Africa. With the football World Cup down in South Africa this June, the talking point is the places worth visiting on the African continent with untempered nature, zero carbon foot print and gifted with a rich diversity of flora and fauna. To this end, Twende Safaris Tours and Travel will take you through some of the top East African adventures: that is in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. Gorilla tracking is a star attraction. With three-quarters of the world’s mountain gorillas living in Uganda’s Bwindi impenetrable forest National Park and the Virunga mountain forests of Rwanda, staring into the pensive brown eyes of these gentle giants who share 95% of their genes with humans is a thrilling adventure achieved after a challenging walk through the dense and thick undergrowth of the rainforests. Gorilla tracking is done with only the habituated gorilla families which are proved to do no harm to humans. Also in the jungles of East Africa, chimpanzee tracking is a favourite. This is an encounter with man’s closest relative, a

© cristiano galbiati

Breathtaking’ is a word that’s used a lot in travel writing, but when it comes to Africa, it’s justified. Or perhaps ‘spellbinding’ would be better. Or ‘magical’. Africa’s the land of endless plains, of sunsets, of National Parks and game reserves. It’s also a continent of variety – and this is shown by the range of adventures offered below. Whether you want to watch wildebeests migrating, white water raft at the source of the Nile, climb Kili or see the continent from an overland truck, here’s some inspiration. And this is only tip of Table Mountain…

verlanding is the place to find out about what’s involved in overlanding, get an idea of what type of African overlanding is possible and book the best possible trip to suit your travel style. With 30+ countries, 700+ tours and 3,000+ departure dates per year we can offer you an unbeatable range of trips to suit all budgets and travellers. These trips are ideal for travellers who have time constraints, want to see a lot and want to travel through Africa with a group of like-minded people. We’ve got everything from 40-week epics that will take you all over Africa, to shorter small-group safaris with a bit more class. Overlanding uses our 30+ years of experience to bring you the best Africa budget tours, at the best price, which cover the best highlights, national parks and activities in Africa. Whether you want to camp in the African bush or choose to upgrade to budget accommodation, we have the trip for you! WEB: EMAIL: PH UK: 0871 28 44 99 1

delightful and intelligent ape, as well as with other primates like the Black and White Colobus Monkey, the golden monkey, baboons, vervet monkeys and more. Besides the primates and the rainforests, the diverse eco-system of grassy plains, highlands and fresh water bodies provides a variety of adventures that cannot go unnoticed. And if you’re after adventurous gameviewing safaris, East Africa has a wealth of unmatched wildlife, from Tanzania’s Serengeti, Kenya’s Masai Mara and Rwanda’s Akagera to Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park. Here you can see zebras, giraffes, antelopes, buffalos, elephants,

22 March/April 2010

warthogs and leopards, not forgetting the tree climbing lions of Ishasha Sector Queen Elizabeth National Park. Bird watching trips take you to see a rich bird life of over 1,000 species. And for mountain climbers with the desire to go to the high altitudes of East Africa, you can’t miss Mt Kilimanjaro at 5,895m, the beauty of Mt Kenya at 5,199m, the wilderness of Mt Rwenzori at 5,109m and caving on Mt Elgon 4,322m. The many fresh-water lakes and rivers provide a number of adventurous sports, like 30km of white water rafting at the source of River Nile, bungee jumping, jet boating and boat excursions on Lake Victoria. We didn’t have enough space to do the above adventures justice, but a visit will let you explore nature at its best, and give you memories that will last forever. Subscribed by Lukwago Julio Musoke (Safaris Coordinator) Twende Safaris Tours and Travel Ltd Plot 555, Sir Albert Cook Rd P. o. Box 36834 Kampala-Uganda Tel: +256 414 274 191 Mob: + 256 772 302 668


African adventures

Drifters Adventure Tours - Southern And East Africa


stablished in 1983, Drifters have built an enviable reputation for offering unmatched adventure packages throughout southern and east Africa. Our very regular, guaranteeddeparture Adventure Tours are between five and 30 days in duration and are aimed at the active 18-55 year old market. All tours are led by English speaking South African guides and our small groups are made up of international travelers from all corners of the globe. Countries included in our wide range of adventure itineraries are: South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Drifters’ expansion has been gradual, but with increased client numbers our investment in supporting infrastructure has been extensive – the result is that no other company can match Drifters in terms of quality, value for money, and inclusions in the packages offered. Drifters’ custom-built safari vehicles and equipment reflect our two-and-a-half decades of experience and are widely regarded as setting the industry standard. Depending on the region being visited, Drifters packages include a mix of fixed accommodation (bush camps, cabins, Drifters Inns, etc) and camping. The concept is that we never camp for budget reasons, but rather where there are no alternatives or where we can offer a true wilderness experience. We regard camping as a means to experience remote areas of Africa that are seldom visited by mainstream tourism. Wherever practical, Drifters has purchased property or has negotiated with private landowners, national parks, etc to allow our groups to be accommodated in wilderness areas not open to the general public. Over the years, Drifters has invested both physically and financially in numerous environmental and community projects. While we have never tried to score cheap marketing points with

A Drifters custom-built safari vehicle

‘Carbon Credits’ and the like, clients will witness first hand the results of our efforts: Nature Reserves that we have created, extensive environments that we have rehabilitated, schools that we have sponsored, communities that we have incorporated into our business, etc, etc. Be assured that a considerable percentage of any client’s tour fee is being invested in order to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the same experiences that our clients enjoy today. Botswana is one of the unique destinations covered by Drifters. A country almost the size of France and with a tiny population of some 2.5 million, Botswana arguably boasts the finest wildlife viewing in Africa. With over 25% of the country designated as National Park and much of the rest as Conservation Areas, it is an adventurer’s dream! Drifters offer a weekly 16-day tour starting and ending in Johannesburg that includes the Okavango Delta, Moremi, Savuti, Chobe, Victoria Falls, and the Makgadigadi Salt Pans. The tour is conducted in specialist 4x4 expedition vehicles that are totally self sufficient and allow us to traverse the remote areas in comparative comfort – the rewards in terms of wildlife viewing and experiences are unmatched! For adventurers visiting the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa, Drifters have the perfect ultimate tour package – hire a fully equipped 18 seater safari truck and follow your

Making a splash with Drifters

team around the country making up the itinerary as you go along! No need to pre-book accommodation as the truck is fully equipped for camping. This package will also allow you to visit game parks and other attractions between the matches without the need for a pre-booked itinerary. For details on the above and on the other Drifters offerings – please browse our website www.drifters. or send us a mail at drifters@ Be sure to browse the ‘Customer Comments’ pages on our website to see what our many clients have had to say about Drifters over the years. Tel : + 27 11 888 1160 Fax: + 27 11 888 1020 March/April 2010 23


African adventures


Africa Adventures

ravel made Personal. Travel through the countries of South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique and Malawi and discover a diversity and variety seldom seen elsewhere. We shy away from mass tourism and take you into a timeless and untamed Africa which we love and want to share our experiences with you. Our Safari guides are highly experienced, professional, and respected in their field, chosen for their interpersonal skills and ability to communicate and educate in the ways of Africa. We utilize the skills of local guides wherever possible giving you a true insight into real African culture. We endeavour to make the least possible impact into the areas that we travel so that the environment is maintained for generations to enjoy and marvel. As seasoned travel professionals from the region, we bring you an African adventure that is individually tailored for you. So whether you are watching the annual animal migration in Kenya, chimp trekking in Tanzania, scuba diving in the pristine and beautiful Lake Malawi, white water rafting in Botswana, traversing the Namib Desert, on a night walking safari in the world famous Kruger Park, gambling at Sun City, shopping in Johannesburg, whale watching in Hermanus, shark diving in Gansbaai, wine tasting in the cape or on a honeymoon at a secluded eco lodge in Mozambique, our specialist knowledge will ensure your trip is a unique and authentic African adventure! Email:, Tel: +44 (0) 8456121330 Mob:+44 (0) 7773331176,


Serengeti Savannah Camp

he Serengeti Savannah camp is about the ‘bush’ experience and simple luxury of a private safari camp without the high cost. Each fully equipped camp replicates traditional safari style. Superb service, fantastic food, camp-baked fresh bread, cold drinks and the legendary, traditional Tanzanian warm welcome add to the discerning traveller’s life-changing experience. The emphasis is in our motto: ‘Everything you need and nothing you don’t.’ The camp is semi-permanent, moving between two locations to follow the Wilderbeest Migration. From June to mid-November it is at Central Serengeti, and from December through March every year it’s at the southern short grass plains in Southern Serengeti. In Central Serengeti you will be able to enjoy the fantastic game drive though the Seronera Valley, seeing large prides of lions and other big cats like leopards and cheetahs. You can also visit Maasai Kopjes Moru klopjes and do day excursions to Western Corridor along Grumeti River. The camp will not be moved while you are there – this will be done prior to your arrival. Please contact your travel agent or local operator for more information.

Contact us on: Cell:+255 784 268 117 Landline: +255 27 254 7066 Email: Website:

24 March/April 2010


Tropical Adventures

emorable holidays and safaris in East Africa. Whatever your safari dream, Tropical Adventures will tailor-make your Kenyan safari adventure a dream come true. Choose your safari package and send us your request. Should you wish to change an existing itinerary, you are welcome to do so. Kenya is the original home of African safari holiday (safari means travel in Swahili). It is the most popular African country for safaris. Diverse natural resources include the world-famous annual Wildebeest Migration at Maasai Mara game reserve and coral reefs. There’s the rich culture and traditions of the old-age Maasai community, plus breathtaking sceneries and mountain peaks. And history is not to be left out: history has it that man’s earliest ancestors may well have originated here in Africa, Turkana, Northern Kenya, as long as five million years ago. The weather favours holidays almost all year round. As a nature lover, you will be at home here – there is so much to see and do: lodge safaris, mountain climbing, trekking, water spots, camping trips, cultural visits, ballooning over Maasai Mara, or simply sipping your sundowner’s drink, watching the sun set, at the end of a long day.

Contact us on:

Tropical Adventures Ltd, Mountain View Gate 123 Westlands-Nairobi. P.O BOX 66494-00800 Nairobi, KENYA. Landline: +254 20 243 77 84; Email: Website:


Ecological Wilderness Adventure

cological Wilderness Adventure is a safari outfitter based in Arusha, Tanzania, and has been fully operational for the past eight years. Our aim is to offer our esteemed clients the adventure of lifetime. We mainly focus on all types of safaris in East Africa, plus mountain climbing (Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru) and gorilla tracking (Uganda and Rwanda). We offer different types of safaris to Tanzania, Zanzibar, Maasai Mara and Tsavo. Ecological Adventure style is that our clients overnight in tented camps, hotels and lodges, but when requested we can set up mobile camps for a better experience and to get very close to the game. For our itineraries kindly visit our website at: There are different types of itineraries on the website but we can still design one according to your interest.

Contact us on: Cell phone: +255 758 463806 Landline:    +255 27 254 8728 Email:,

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write on Ordesa ordeal

Dear Alun, Intriguing that your whole article on the Ordesa Gorge in the Spanish Pyrenees [Issue 85, Jan/Feb] referred to it by the name of Ukraineâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s main port. Surely you know better than to trust spellcheck with geographical names? Tim Burford AT: Yes Tim, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s surprising what you find at the Russian seaside in these enlightened post-communist days. Our proof reader for example.

Spot the difference: Odessa (above) and Ordesa (below)

News, viewsâ&#x20AC;Śoh all right just complaints from our lovely readers

Weighty issue

Dear Alun, As a regular consumer of your most admirable organ I wish to complain in the strongest terms concerning the shocking picture which appears on page 60 [Europeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Grand Canyon, Issue 85, Jan/Feb]. You clearly pride yourself on extolling the virtues of the healthy lifestyle, so why is there is a picture of what can only be described as a pair of salad dodgers admiring an object outside of the frame? I can only imagine the object to be a giant pie, as the one on the left has clearly consumed a whole bakery-full and from the look of rapt wonder on his facially challenged features has just received the welcome news that he will be receiving an extra familysized slice. The greedy bastard. I am old enough to remember the government posters featuring a pregnant man with the slogan, â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;You would be more careful if it was you who got pregnantâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;. Clearly this joker has not been listening â&#x20AC;&#x201C; he looks to be at least seven months gone! The picture on the right carries the telling caption â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;First stop for Gateaux Basque.â&#x20AC;&#x2122; Well you can bet it certainly wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t the last. Exactly how much gateaux did this pair eat to get into a shape like that? I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t get to be the size I am today by wasting time wandering around the landscape eating

Our dashing models everything in sight. I can do it here in Stratford â&#x20AC;&#x201C; you wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t want to get to the buffet after them! Yours truly, Bob Carruthers Honorary vice-president of Stratford Weight Watchers (retired) AT: The two gentlemen you refer to Bob are actually models on work experience from modelling school. We will forward your suggestions to their agency. If you want to apply for any similar work with us, send a CV and a photo (or poster if you need more space) to the editor.

Kicking up a stink


Hi Alun, I love getting my Adventure Travel magazine and reading the articles, but itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s always with a bit of trepidation. What a whiff of chemicals hits you as you read it, from the paper that the magazine is printed on. Can you replace the stench of chemicals with the wonderful smell of the great outdoors instead? Kind regards, Ewan Hastings, via email

Our summer brochure â&#x20AC;&#x201D; order at or download a PDF version.

AT: Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve contacted our printers about this one Ewan, but thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s been no response. Hopefully they havenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t already suffocated. Meanwhile, our editorial team has been despatched to produce the finest eau dâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;outdoors aroundâ&#x20AC;Ś coming to a Body Shop near you soon.

26 March/April 2010


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media mash-up

We round-up the latest from luvvie land

›› DVDs Title: The Asgard Project Director: Alastair Lee Running time: 85 mins price: £19.99 The Asgard Project follows Leo Houlding and cronies as they try to make the first free ascent of the North Tower of Mt Asgard, which is on Baffin Island in the Arctic – as remote as it comes. For the unenlightened as I was, ‘first free ascent’ means the first time anyone’s lead climbed it without having to rely on gear, so the climbing perhaps wasn’t as terrifying to watch as I was expecting; the gnarly-ness comes more from the extreme conditions and the remoteness of the Tower, which meant even reaching the base of the climb was an epic. And what really got my hands tingling was the wingsuiting, which Leo practises in various locations before the climb. These people have a different mentality to the rest of us, and fear’s not a part of it. As well as being adrenaline-stuffed, The Asgard Project is made in the style of a blockbuster, and it’s funny. It’s an unashamed display of blokey machismo, and you also get the feeling that they were after any excuse to make a climbing movie, but if this is the result, yes please and more please.; 01455 611185 Title: Karen’s Ultimate Challenge Running time: 60 mins price: £15.99 Karen Darke was in a climbing accident in 1993 that left her paralysed from the chest down – the technical term for this is paraplegic but she uses ‘weeble’. This DVD follows her and her partner, mountaineer Andy Kirkpatrick, on a kayaking expedition in Patagonia. The trip begins with a slight disaster as Andy hurts his back picking Karen up: “people are going to think this is a comedy,” she laughs as the two of them struggle to get in the kayak on the first day. The film is not an all-action, adrenalinefuelled thriller as with The Asgard Project – it’s an inspiring demonstration of problem solving,

endurance and determination. However, at the crux, where they round a headland to cross fastflowing rapids, it’s probably scarier, because you can hear the real terror in Karen’s voice. The couple are also keen to point out that even though there’s a film crew there, they’d be in trouble if they fell in. When you see the film crew’s boat you realise that they’re not just saying that to sound good – if they went over, it would be nasty. Throughout the film the pair talk openly about their lives, from Karen describing how she has to go to the loo (she says it’s very traumatic) to the break up of both their previous marriages. What comes across most is that these are two people who like to push themselves further than most, as they do here. It’s a great watch.; 01455 611185

›› website Want to go on the trip of a lifetime, but don’t have time to organise it, or any idea where to start? Help is just a few clicks away. The Next Challenge is run by experienced expedition-ist Tim Moss. Tim used to work for the British Schools Exploring Society, organising trips to the Arctic, but left full-time employment to set up a business helping others plan their challenges. Among his organising portfolio is the Commonwealth Antarctic Expedition that saw a team of women ski 900km across Antarctica to the Geographic South Pole. As well as the logistics, Tim can help with fundraising, setting up websites and act as a sounding board for ideas. And if you don’t need any help, the website’s fun anyway, with ideas on everyday challenges (we like the lunchtime jailbreak), and light-hearted debates such as the pros and cons of Tweeting on an expedition.

28 March/April 2010

›› brochures Who are they? Oonasdivers Oonasdivers offers diving adventures across the world for beginners, experts and everyone in between, specialising in the Red Sea, Malta and Gozo, Thailand, South Africa and Mozambique and more recently the Caribbean waters around Tobago. It also does kite-surfing, windsurfing and hydrospeeding (never heard of it? See page 30), and has branched out into non-water-based activities such as trekking, biking and caving. The company has been going for 25 years and this is its anniversary brochure, which includes a mini history of diving in each resort and plenty of pictures sent in by clients. There’s inspiration in there for everybody. Who are they? Intrepid Intrepid’s values haven’t changed since the company began over 20 years ago – small-group, off-thebeaten-track, good value travel. Intrepid trips come in various categories: Basix (cheap ‘n’ cheerful: simple accommodation, local transport); Comfort (slightly plusher); Active; Short Break; Overland; and Out (gayand lesbian-friendly trips). This is the company’s 2010 Latin America brochure, with everything from overlanding from Quito to Rio de Janeiro, to a short break for the Inca Trail, to the swinging Rum & Rumba in Cuba trip. It’s comprehensively laid out, so deciding which trip to do from a great selection is easier, and there are glorious pictures.

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pop the question


I’m female, 5ft 10" and can never find women’s baselayers that are long enough in the arms. Any ideas? Helly Hansen is the answer from our long-armed researchers. They reckon its products are good because Norwegian women are taller than British ones. We’ve also found that Merino baselayers have a more generous cut than synthetic types, so why not be doubly sure with either Helly Hansen’s W Freeze ½ Zip (SRP £50) or W Ice Crew (SRP £40) baselayer? They’re part Merino, partLANDSCAPE synthetic and are AW 10/7/07 17:00 0000 BENS HALF PG 2007 Well-armed: super snugly. The W Ice Crew For more see

Your pressing travel questions answered by the Adventure Travel experts and guests. This month, we deal with mozzie bashing, long-armed ladies, crazy sports, and one reader’s just lost two pints…


W   hat on earth is ‘hydrospeeding’? Where are all these weird sports coming from? Hydrospeeding is something like bodyboarding down white water rapids, apparently. You steer your, New craze: hydrospeeding in er, hydrospeed with flippers. Enthusiasts France with Alpine Elements like it as it as it’s adrenaline-fuelled and gets you even closer to the river than rafting does. If you want to try it, Alpine Elements offers it as part of its adventure holidays in France – see We think the government has set up a random-sport-generating machine (RSGM). You can also get speed flying (a combination of paragliding and skiing), volcano boarding (a step up from sandboarding), Page 1 and our favourite, wife carrying (self explanatory and it’s on Wiki so it has to be true). Now we just have to work out its motive…

Natural for little Ben.

Maximum Deet for big Ben.

Ben’s insect repellent is your best travelling companion. Whether you need a chemical free spray to protect the kids on the beach, or a maximum strength solution for high-risk conditions, you’ll find it in the Ben’s range.

HELPLINE & MAIL ORDER 0800 1957 400 or Instore at Superdrug, Asda, Lloydspharmacy and all good chemists.

30 March/April 2010

”‘–‡…–›‘—”•‡Žˆ ™‹–Š‹™ƒš̺ ‹–‘–‘’̻ ’”‘†—…–• ‹™ƒš̾‹–‘–‘’̿ ’”‘†—…–•ƒ”‡†‡•‹‰‡† –‘’”‘–‡…–›‘—ˆ”‘ „‹–‹‰‹•‡…–• ƒ†–Š‡•—Ǥ Ȉ Ȉ


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I’m heading to mozzie-invested parts and I don’t want to get bitten. But I’m also scared that some insect repellents will erode great holes in my body. Any ideas? Hundreds. The first thing to do for insect-biteprevention is completely natural: cover up. Wear long sleeves and trousers, and sport the everfashionable trousers-tucked-into-the-socks look. Make sure you’re wearing baggy stuff too: if clothes are tight, mozzies just see them as an extra layer of skin to chomp through. Boots are the best footwear (don’t they just love the ankles), and spraying your clothes with repellent, if you decide to go for one, can also help. We got David Perkins of Ardern Healthcare to help us with the technical advice. “The most effective natural products contain PMD, derived from lemon eucalyptus,” David says. “PMD is in brands such as Ben’s Natural and Mosi-Guard. “But let me put your mind at rest regarding chemicals such as diethyl-mtoluamide, known as DEET,” he continues. “DEET is still the

the question best and most widely researched repellent, and it’s entirely safe if used correctly. Even products containing small amounts of DEET (minimum concentration 30%) will give you the most effective and long-lasting protection on the market.” Adventure Travel’s top DEET tips are don’t spill it on you tent, and don’t, please don’t, forget that you have it on your hands when you go to take your contact lenses out (if you wear them). Everyone say ouch. From the scientific to the strange, other suggestions for repelling mozzies include eating foods such as Marmite, brewer’s yeast, garlic and plenty of vitamin B1. We haven’t tried it, but if you do, get in touch and tell us the results. And our final tip: take ear plugs. Once you’re well protected, there’s nothing worse Once bitten: than that high-pitched drone of the mozzie ideas for warding off that got away and is determined to keep you mozzies range from scientific to, er, pungent up all night.

DE Trek & Trail Collection at Check out all tents and the new VAU 660 and catalogue hotline 01665 510

32 March/April 2010




My friend told me that you can’t use compasses on the Isle of Skye and I’ve bet her two pints that she’s wrong. Please tell me that’s bullshit? Oh – half and half. She’s not making it up completely, but she’s being a bit extreme. It’s all to do with the rocks in a certain part of the island. “There’s a bit of magnetism in the Cuillin Hills that affects compasses,” explains mountain guide Tony Hanly (, who’s also a member of the Skye mountain rescue team. “But it’s not true – on the rest of the island you’re fine.” We’ll leave it up to you two to decide who wins…cheers!


The right direction: compasses are fine on most of Skye


Who’s John Muir and why has he got his own trail? We didn’t do it in GCSE history… John Muir (1838-1914) is the don of the national park system. Although he’s probably best known for the John Muir Trail in the States, he was actually Scottish, born in Dunbar near Edinburgh. He loved the natural world from a young age, and when he went to Yosemite as an adult he was enchanted: “Here I could stay tethered forever on just

bread and water,” he said. But he didn’t like the damage caused by logging, mining and sheep, and campaigned to preserve Yosemite, resulting in it becoming a national park, hence the trail is named after him. The John Muir Trail takes three weeks to walk all in one go, starting in Yosemite and finishing at Mount Whitney at 4,418m. We’ll be covering it in our series of classic treks in a forthcoming edition. If you’re not thinking of going to the US any time soon, the John

Muir Way in Scotland is about 70km and links East Lothian with Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders. Pebbles Adventure Travel ( organises treks on the John Muir Trail (you can do it over two parts if you can’t get three weeks off work), and for all you need to know about the man himself, see the John Muir’s Birthplace Trust’s website ( – it’s a warren of information. And they really need to sort that history syllabus out.

Photo: Kai Stuht

Soul stealer: John Muir’s beloved Yosemite March/April 2010 33

How to buy

How to buy

a family-sized tent

These behemoths of the outdoor world are perfect for a family adventure or as a social basecamp for a group of friends. Here’s how to choose the best

Capacity The old rule of thumb is: if you need a tent for five, buy a sixth berth. Well, what are rules for if not for breaking? The golden Adventure Travel rule is: if you need a tent to sleep five then pick up one that sleeps seven and enjoy the extra space. Bear in mind that tent capacity is generally based on floor space and how many standard sleeping bags will fit in – manufacturers do not allow for comfortable elbow room in their calculations.

Rooms The walls may be paper-thin (I know, they’re polyester), but you’ll come to love the imagined extra privacy and the actual visual barrier when camping with a group over an extended period. Rooms also help with keeping your stuff a little more organised. A quick check of the floor plan and layout of the rooms before buying is advisable.

Height One of the great features of a big family tent is that you can stand up straight when walking around inside. Check that all sections of the tent offer enough head space.

Pack size Family tents, even when packed down, can take up a large amount of boot space in a car. If you need a big tent there’s not a lot you can do about the packed size, though some are smaller than others. Overall, pack size is low down the priority list but worth considering.

Weight We’ve checked out tents that are so heavy even Arnie would have a problem lifting them out of a car boot. Again, weight is not a critical feature as you’ll never be carrying or lifting a tent over any distance, and there are more critical considerations, but it’s a good idea to get one you can pick up without doing your back in.

Living space Check the floor plan to make sure you’ve enough living space to do the basics comfortably. Ideally you’ll want plenty of room for a table, chairs and for lounging around – especially if you get rained on during your holidays.

Ease of erection The easier a tent is to put up the better. But at least with a tent of this size you’ll probably be staying in one place (rather than moving on like a backpacker) so you’ll only need to erect and dismantle once.

Windows Even on small backpacking tents windows in the porch are a a nice feature. With a big family tent they’re essential.

Poles Poles generally come in fibreglass or aluminium alloy. For

34 March/April 2010

Family fun: the beasts of the camping world

a large family tent aluminium is the better bet. Tubular, solid, and shock-corded together they are more durable and better suited to cold weather. However, if they break they are more difficult to repair.

Material Canvas tents are more durable than polyester-based materials but they are far heavier. While you can still buy a canvas tent, polyester models are by far the most popular. Check that the groundsheet is made from a thicker, more durable material and that all fabric seams are sealed for waterproofing. ■

In The Backcountry, Having The Right Shelter Is Crucial

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Explore all that your local countryside has to offer in Vango’s fabulous range of family tents. This range is named after rivers, conjuring up idyllic views and peaceful days spent by the water. Luxurious colours and eye catching designs are available in a range of styles and size options giving you a wealth of choice. Couple great design with 3000HH waterproofing, sewn in groundsheet with robust fiberglass or steel poles and you have a product that not only looks great but performs well too. All models in this range are flysheet first pitching, with cable entry points for convenient access to electricity hook ups and have mesh doors allowing the cool breeze in but keeping flying insects out. Drop down groundsheet at doorways allow easy wheelchair or pushchair access. Cleaning the inside of the tent is also made simple as grass and dust can be brushed straight out of the door. Designed with first time family campers and groups of friends in mind, Vango have developed products which are easy to put up, technically sound, feature packed and offer excellent value for money. Try one. We’re sure you’ll agree.

Mille Porslid

Go to and order a free copy of our 2010 catalog.




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Hot gear

Hot stuff

Cool gear we’ve been using and abusing that has come up trumps


Technicals Men’s Merino Zip Baselayer Top £34.99

Technicals is a brand owned and sold exclusively by Blacks, the UK’s largest outdoor gear retailer. The idea behind the Techicals brand was to introduce a higher specified range of clothing to compete with the more established (and more expensive) outdoor brands. Our experience with Technicals has been a case of hit and miss, though we’re happy to say this baselayer is a goodie. Merino wool is a superb fabric for undergarments offering warmth when damp, drying quickly, and being much more comfy next to skin than the manmade alternatives. And best of all, it smells as fresh as a daisy even after multi-day use out on the hills – OK, maybe not a daisy but you know what we mean. So for all those reasons Merino is our current number one choice for baselayers, and this long-sleeved top complete with chest zip does the job just fine at a good price.

Global Equator 70 £100 Over the past few years there’s been a noticeable move in the Adventure Travel office in favour of travel packs with wheels, especially for short trips to Europe. Are we really that old, decrepit and downright lazy? Why yes, but these packs are also comfortable, practical and perfect if you’re staying in one location. For example, as I type this review my Global Equator 70 is fully loaded and ready to depart (with me) on a ski trip in the French Alps. This rugged, uncomplicated Karrimor pack comes with a stowable shoulder harness and all the necessary internal pockets and pouches you’ll need to stash your gear in an orderly fashion. The price looks pretty good too. Berghaus Pro Rush Mid 11 £120 The Pro Rush Mid 11 is the second coming of this boot. Version 1 was a flexible, low-cut, three-season boot

36 March/April 2010

with grippy soles which was super-comfortable out of the box. However, the soft, flexible nature of the boot must have been putting buyers off, as the mark 11 is noticeably stiffer, a little higher in the collar and more rugged all round. We’ve been wearing the Pro Rush Mid 11 almost non-stop over the past month and it’s been put to test in snow, mud and just about all

other underfoot conditions, and we have to say these are still seriously comfortable three-season boots. The updated sole unit provides excellent grip, the level of forward flex is comfortable for all-day use and the restyled upper grips the foot like a glove. They’re almost 100gr heavier than the older version, though at 598gr the weight is acceptable. If you like your boots stiff and supportive then look elsewhere. If you value all-day comfort and performance put the Pro Rush Mid 11 on the short list.

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Steve Backshall

A traveller’s

milestone On the eve of his 100th country, Steve Backshall battles with his conscience over traveling


his April, when I land in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan (to begin a sixweek expedition attempting to film tigers and snow leopards), it will denote something of a traveler’s turning point: I will have visited 100 countries. The ticklist has tumbled over relentlessly over the years, thanks to the jammy accident of being born to travelobsessed parents, and a working life spent writing travel guidebooks and filming wildlife programmes for the National Geographic and BBC natural history unit. It’s perhaps a bit of a meaningless milestone. In order for a country to qualify, you only need to have slept a night there, so I’m including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where I just had to go and stay in a hotel when flights were delayed. I’m counting all the countries of the UK separately (which the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish would doubtless approve of), and I’m certainly including Tibet as a country, no matter what the invading red army says. So it’s all pretty flimsy, egocentric and tenuous, but a milestone of note nonetheless, and also a good time to look back at my travels – done doubtless for selfish reasons – and ask what I’ve achieved, and more importantly, what damage I might have done. The second question is one that any decent, green-minded international wanderer ought to ask themselves almost all the time. If a jumbo jet can burn up over 200 tons of fuel in one flight, I must be responsible for releasing about the same amount of carbon gasses into the atmosphere as General Motors, and it’s only been in the last five years that I’ve started to seriously offset my emissions. A good pal who lives in Amazonas Brazil has been offering for years to buy up some virgin rainforest and ‘retire’ it for me.

This is just one of the many grand ecoplans I’ve had fine intentions to do, but never quite got round to (note to self – get your chequebook out Backshall!). However, I have been pretty good at offsetting my flights, a salve for my conscience if nothing else. But what of our effect on the peoples who have taken me in as a son or a brother over the years? On last year’s expedition in the jungles of New Guinea, we lived with huntergatherers who had nothing at all, but were genuinely happy. When we left, all they wanted was our generators, laptops and sat phones, and were prepared to go to war with their neighbours to get them. This is obviously an extreme example, but is certainly pause for thought. When I first started backpacking, I was a real traveler. I stayed for long periods of time in each country, made a massive effort to learn the language, and did everything possible to respect the people’s customs. I treated other westerners like lepers, and lived among remote peoples as one of them, ensuring every penny I spent went straight into the pockets of people who really needed it. In retrospect I would have been a repulsively smug inverted-travel-snob. I’ll never forget as a 19-year-old coming back from four months in the most far-flung reaches of eastern Indonesia, much of which had been living with an animist tribe who had never seen white people before. I’d drunk stillwarm buffalo blood at their funeral rites, prayed over the corpse of my host’s daughter, and lived on nothing but rice and rock salt. When I got back to Bali, I accosted the first foreigner I could lay my hands on – an attractive British girl – and proceeded to unload what I saw as the greatest adventure story ever told. At about 10 o’clock she yawned loudly and headed off

38 March/April 2010

to bed, as she “had an early flight the following day”. Just half an hour later, bumbling around looking for someone else to entertain with my tales, I saw her in a bar laughing loudly with a group of backpackers. Ouch. Lesson learnt. You can take yourself way too seriously at this traveling lark. But nowadays I sometimes fear I’ve gone too far the other way. As a television crew, we may strand ourselves in the jungle sleeping rough for months on end, but when we get back to civilization, it’s straight to a plush hotel, probably a multinational chain with zero money going to the local community, hacked out of virgin mangroves or bulldozed over local village lands. We eat meals that would cost more than villagers a mile away might earn in a month, swim in the pool, surf the internet and act like tourists the teenage me would have disdained. On a recent trip to Madagascar, my cameraman spent every spare minute watching movies on his laptop, ignoring the wondrous world rushing by outside our air-conditioned minibus. These are times when I feel thoroughly ashamed of what we have become. Every traveler, whether they’re on a weekend break or a year’s wild wanderings, should have an ethos, and I’d like to suggest the surgeon’s maxim: ‘first of all do no harm’. Ultimately we travel for selfish reasons, but we’re all educated enough to think carefully about the legacy we might leave behind. Travel is so easy nowadays that almost anyone can potentially get to places that are as yet unspoilt. As long as I’m not the Ozzie surfer punching out an Asian fisherman who wanted to hold his hand, as long as I’m not wearing a bikini on a beach in an Islamic country, as long as I’m not the one doing the spoiling… perhaps I can make do with that. ■

Swimming with Sharks

tents tipis tarps and shelters Here at green we are committed to creating beautiful, high performance outdoor products that are a joy to use and don’t harm the environment during their creation, life or disposal.

Who’s writing? Steve Backshall is a naturalist and adventurer who’s led expeditions on every continent bar Antarctica, and is about to pass the 100-countries-visited mark. Well versed in all-adventure sports, he’s summitted 8,000m peaks, run the Marathon Des Sables, paddled Himalayan rivers and nearly been eaten by humpback whales on an Alaskan sea kayaking expedition, but claims to be just as at home rock-climbing in Wales or paddling the Thames near his home. He can presently be seen in his BBC series Deadly 60, and his expedition to find new species in New Guinea can be seen on Lost Land of the Volcano on BBC1.

To find out more email or call 08455082814

eco-friendly outdoor kit


shop online at

We’ve got everything but the kitchen sink. (That’s what the stream is for).

At Tiso we know you’ll need the right gear whether you’re trekking in the Himalayas or sea kayaking in New Zealand. That’s why we’re geared up for you. Because we like to test the gear that we sell in the only way we know. Out there. We know what it’s like to bag your first Munro and and we’ve fallen in more streams than you could imagine. So when you leave the store you’ll have the best advice and the right gear.

Visit your nearest Tiso store or shop online at

40 March/April 2010

Short breaks

short breaks

In need of a quickie? This section is dedicated to adventures for when you haven’t got much time, or are low on budget. We’ve got trips from one day up to a week. They may be short, but that doesn’t mean they’re not spectacular

Inside this edition… Page 42 Meribel downhill There’s endless mountain biking at the popular French resort. Tom Hutton’s never coming home Page 44 Bob Graham round Training for an expedition? Sarah Stirling is, and she’s put to the test in the Lake District Page 46 Barcelona Adventure Travel style Nine fab outdoorsy things within an hour of Barcelona airport – and the sun (nearly) always shines Page 48 Unsung Cornwall Explore the gentle countryside of Bodmin Moor and you’ll even get to climb Brown Willy. Oh we’re so easy to please March/April 2010 41

bike it

Short breaks



X-Country Mountain Biking – Alpine Style


e’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – Alpine mountain biking is a contender for the most fun you’ll ever have with your clothes on. What’s more, as it evolves, it’s becoming easier and easier to find the right trip and the right trails for both you and your bike. Tom Hutton’s a Cross Country boy through and through and he chooses the ever-popular French resort of Meribel. Hands up if you thought Alpine mountain biking was all about full body armour, full-faced helmets, huge rigs, monster jumps and berms and drop-offs, and words like ‘awesome’ and ‘radical’? You wouldn’t be alone. And it’s perfectly understandable – the myth is continually perpetuated by riders, magazines, DVDs and tourist boards. But the truth is, while armourclad gladiators peering wild-eyed through mud-splattered ski goggles make good photographs, the major-

ity of mtbers ripping around the majority of Europe’s out-of-season ski resorts are just normal people like you and I. And their bikes are more often than not the same ones that they use to tank around Gwyder or Grizedale or Glentress week in and week out – although maybe with some fatter tyres and some heavier duty tubes. The only real difference between what they are doing here and what they do at home is that they don’t need to pedal all of the climbs here, which means they’ll get a few more metres of descent in than usual. There are some resorts that specialise in the more gravity-fed aspect of the sport and if that’s your poison, go and enjoy. But others do a better job for those of us that don’t need eight inches of suspension and big air, especially if we don’t mind a little bit of pedalling too. Meribel is one of them. In skiing terms, Meribel is massive. And the Three Valleys ski area

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that loops around it claims to be the biggest in the world. But in mtbing terms, the mighty M is smaller, more exclusive and extremely good. It doesn’t want to compete with Les Gets or Verbier for the adrenalinefuelled berm-bashing that afflicts the mountains from July to September. Instead it’s set itself out as a resort for cross country and trail riders, opening its lifts for around six weeks in the middle of summer, offering kilometre after kilometre of quality trails – most going down, a few going up. If anybody tells you using lifts for mountain biking is cheating, they definitely haven’t been to Meribel. This isn’t about making things easy, it’s about getting some serious miles beneath your tyres. The added bonus is that you get to cruise trails that are so high up the mountain, you’d never get there in daylight if you relied on muscles, lungs and 27 gears alone. Two-thousand metres of ascent is a lot for even the fittest climber. A classic example of this was

WHERE: Meribel ACTIVITY: Mountain biking TIME: Long weekend to a week DIFFICULTY: Moderate to expert LOOK OUT FOR: Endless descents, sinuous singletrack, good food and drink, the odd uphill

Short breaks the run that ended the first day of our long weekend. We’d been up and down a few times by now and we were in the groove – important if you’re hiring bikes. But we’d had some lunch in a mountain restaurant – yes, this really is the civilised side of life – and were all feeling a little lethargic when Alex, our guide and one of the most talented mtbers I’ve ever set eyes on, as well as a bloody nice bloke, suggested we went for the ‘big one.’ Uh oh. We were going to get as high as we possibly could, which in Meribel, in summer, is around 2,700m. And then we were going to drip-feed ourselves gravity at the most miserly rate possible so we could run not just out of the ski area, not just down to Brides les Bains in the valley floor, but all the way to Moutiers – a distance of nearly 30km and a vertical drop of over 2,000m. OK, we did have to turn the cranks a tiny bit near the top. We also needed a guide with Alex’s knowledge to have found all of those trails – most of which don’t exist on the trail map and probably don’t exist on any map at all. And at the end, as we raved about what we’d just achieved while sipping a cold beer and waiting for a trailer to come and collect us – luxury again – Alex suggested that tomorrow’s ‘big one’ would be even better.

He was right. This one wasn’t quite as long though. And it didn’t drop from quite such a heady height. But rather than burying us in the woods for the upper section, which the previous day’s big one had done, today’s kicked off by following singletrack along the airy ridge that separated the Allues Valley from the Belleville Valley. The views were incredible and so was the riding. And there were one or two places where you definitely didn’t want to make a mistake. We eventually dropped off the ridge, but only after a fairly hefty climb to reach its high point. And then, in a repeat of the previous day’s adventure, we wound our way down the valley on a succession of tracks and trails that came in all shapes and sizes. Some were technical, but only in the way that Glentress or Coedy-Brenin are technical. Some were exposed. Others were steep. Again, none appeared on the map. I was starting to think that perhaps Alex had built them all himself. It seemed to go on forever. We wished it could. But all of a sudden we were somewhere we’d been before – Moutiers – and we were soon sipping long cold ones. We all agreed it was the best day we’d ever had on a mountain bike – that’s some accolade. But maybe Alex was just about to suggest that tomorrow would be even better… ■

need more info? ›› Getting there The best airport is Geneva, which is served by easyJet, Flybe, BMI Baby and Jet2. Alpcycles, who arranged our trip, picked us up from Geneva. If travelling with another operator they may do the same or will be able to advise on other transfer services. ›› The longer, greener option Take the Eurostar to Paris, hop across the city to pick up the TGV and take this to Geneva. The whole journey will take less than 10 hours and a bit of searching can reveal some bargains. Bikes still need to be bagged though. ›› Book the package Alpcycles has a reputation as a road cycling company but it also offers an excellent package for mountain bikers that includes comfortable chalet accommodation, breakfast, afternoon tea and an evening meal with wine. A full week in July or August, with airport transfers and in-resort transport, comes in at around £500 per person. It doesn’t include guiding but this only costs about €50 a day – not much if there’s a crowd of you. Long weekends can also be catered for. Also recommended is Aktiv Experience, which provides holidays based in private chaltes in Meribel. ›› extra costs? Local joints aren’t cheap, thanks to the good old euro, but with food and accommodation paid for, you only need to think lunches, lift passes (a steal at €41 for the week when we went) and a few beers. ›› The bike If it’ll take a big day out in the UK then it’ll handle the riding here. But definitely fit some heavy-duty tubes (and take some spares) and if you run skinny tyres, perhaps up them to at least 2.35. Bike hire is another option and can add another €50 per day. This means for week trips you are probably better taking your own, but for long weekends it’s a good option once you consider flight charges, bag costs and the time taken to strip it down and then put it back together again at both ends. ›› What to take Clothing – the same as you’d use for summer riding in big mountains in the UK, including waterproofs, waterproof socks, a spare layer etc. It’s worth thinking about leg and arm padding as you’ll be doing a lot more downhill than you’d do in the UK, and you don’t need to worry about carrying it or getting hot on the climbs. And a full-face lid could be helpful and give you a bit more courage. But none of this is essential.

Endless single track in Meribel

›› Contacts;; March/April 2010 43

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f you’ve got your big summer adventure planned already (and if not why not?!) now is the time to start your training. Sarah Stirling goes on a pre-expedition training challenge to find out exactly what she’s made of… I’ll soon be off to Uganda to climb Mt Elgon (4,321m), an extinct volcano that straddles the Uganda/Kenya border. It’s a challenging route involving a week of ascent and descent, so mountaineer Mark Lewis of MSL Mountaineering, who will be my expedition guide on Elgon, suggested we go on a pre-expedition training trip six weeks beforehand to start my preparation. Apparently the best way to train for a big adventure is to go on a slightly smaller-scale adventure. As well as making sure I’m up to the bigger challenge, I’ll have a dress rehearsal at packing minimum survival essentials in a small bag, and check my kit is in good order. Mark suggested the Bob Graham Round in the Lake District. The 42-peak route is one of Britain’s most

lake district


Pre-expedition training trip: Bob Graham Round gruelling challenges; the hardcore challenge being to run it in under 24 hours. Thankfully Mark proposed that walking it in three days, taking everything we’d need on our backs and sleeping in bivy bags en route, would be more appropriate training for Elgon. We met at Mark’s house at 6pm on the Friday evening, and he showed me the intimidating Bob Graham route. It spans several OS maps, so I was glad he would be navigating. After going through the kit I’d brought, Mark suggested I ditch a few items, such as a stove as we could share one. There had been a little snow over the Lakes that week, so we strapped axes and crampons to our packs. In case the weather worsened, Mark

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had planned several places where we could escape the route if need be, and had noted the grid references of some mountain bothies that we could sleep in. Bothies are old buildings now used as mountain shelters: you can find out where they are by joining the Mountain Bothy Association (or by becoming a qualified Mountain Instructor like Mark). We set off up the M6 to get an evening’s walking in. At 8.30pm, under head-torch light, we piled on warm layers. Mark was busy counting paces in the dark and soon we summited Robinson. A full moon flitted from behind clouds and it was silent apart from the swish of our waterproofs and the crunch of the light snow dusting. Next we climbed Hindscarth, from

WHERE: The Lakes ACTIVITY: Hiking TOTAL TIME: Three days plus DIFFICULTY: Nails LOOK OUT FOR: Crazy runners

Short breaks where we could just make out the ranks of other peaks we’d be climbing tomorrow. So far so good! After summiting Dale Head, Mark took a bearing and soon Dubs Bothy loomed in the darkness. Once inside, we cooked boil-in-the-bag dinners with Smash, fluffed up our sleeping bags, tucked them into our bivy bags, then tucked ourselves in afterwards. I woke to the sound of gales outside the hut. Rain was thudding on my head from a roof drip. All was dense and white outside the cracked bothy window. Mark, who’d been up for a while, had received a PDF of the mountain weather forecast on his Blackberry (how modern!): “… wind as high as 60mph with gusts 80mph, snow giving blizzards … difficulty walking into the wind at lower levels, and on higher areas any mobility will be difficult. Severe wind chill … blanket could will shroud hills, less than 10% chance of cloudfree hills … often near-zero visibility in snow, will feel as cold as minus 17 Celsius…” Rather than just leading people around in the mountains, Mark aims to make his clients more self-sufficient so they can head out on big expeditions themselves. “It’s up to you whether we press on or go home,” he said now. “The weather and other variables can change quickly in the mountains, and part of expedition planning is knowing when to press on, and when to cut your losses and go home.” A few minutes later, fully waterproofed, we set off up Grey Knotts, although we couldn’t see much of it in the dense whiteness, then slogged up Brandreth and Green Gable. The weather was steadily worsening as we approached Great Gable, which at 898m was almost 100m higher than any peak we’d climbed so far. A cloud of sleet whipping and roaring round the black rocks of the mountain sum-

mit made it look like the Black Gates of Mordor. I looked at Mark. “This is our last escape option for the day,” he said. “If we press on, we’ll be sleeping in our bivy bags, in the bothy if we reach it, or on the mountain side. It’s up to you.” As we approached the summit the wind increased to howling, and repeatedly pushed me off my feet. I crawled across the top. Mark was waiting on the other side. “I think it’s time to go down!” I shouted. We descended via Kirk Fell, and soon entered the peace of the sheltered Wasdale valley and then the famous climbers’ pub, the Wasdale Inn. What an upgrade after the bothy! What a wimp I felt now that the blizzards felt so far away! The next morning we rose early for an alpine start. The tops were fully dressed in winter white, so with crampons on we tackled Pillar, Steeple, Red Pike and Yewbarrow, then slogged up the big one: Scafell. The day had dawned to sunshine and the rain, sleet and snow had saturated the landscape so it was all bright colours: Wast Water was vibrant blue and the fell sides were rich green. We continued over rough ground to Bowfell, Rossett Pike and the Langdale Pikes, High Raise and then descended to Dunmail Raise. After more boil-in-the-bag and Smash we settled in for the night. Our packs felt like part of our bodies by day three, when we tackled Hellvelyn, continued along the grassy ridge to Clough Head, and then made for the great Skiddaw before returning to Keswick – hooray! And my thoughts? My boots and pack had been comfortable over long distance, I’d got to know Mark, I now had a clear idea of what gear and food I’d need to bring for Elgon and I’d proved I was ready for a big challenge. Bring on Mt Elgon! ■

need more info? ›› The courses Mark Lewis runs MSL Mountaineering and Trek Uganda. The main British courses are: mountain walking, navigation, ridge and gully scrambling, mountaineering, summer skills, winter walking, winter navigation, winter scrambling, winter mountaineering, winter skills, intro to rock climbing, intermediate rock climbing, intro to multi-pitch rock climbing, intro to sea cliff climbing and rope work/self rescue skills. Expeditions include Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp, Snow Lake (Pakistan), Aconcagua and the Inca Trail. ›› Getting there The Bob Graham Round traditionally starts from Keswick Moot Hall in Market Square in the town centre. By car take junction 40 off the M6. By public transport, Penrith station on the West Coast mainline has bus links to Keswick. To get around the Lakes, the main bus service is the Lakeslink, which runs from Lancaster to Keswick via Ambleside (number 555). ›› Sweet dreams We stayed in mountain bothies. If you want to know where these are, you need to join the Mountain Bothy Association ( Alternatively, if you have more time, you can divide the route into sections with a proper bed at the end of each. For example, doing the walk the traditional way round, you could walk from Keswick over Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra and then get a short taxi ride back to Keswick; then the next day do the Dodds and Hellvelyn leg over to Grasmere; then do the section including Scafell to Wasdale and stay in the Wasdale Inn; then continue over peaks including Red Pike and Great Gable to the YHA at Honister; and the final leg would be over Dale Head, Hindscarth and Robinson back to Keswick. ›› What to take I took a 45-litre backpack, full waterproofs, warm layers, good boots, food for three days (including two hot dinners and a cooking stove), walking axe and crampons, head torch, sleeping bag and bivy bag. ›› Contacts ›› Who was Bob? Your uncle. Oh all right – Bob Graham was a hotelier from Keswick who was the first person to run up and down all 42 peaks in under 24 hours. This was in 1932, when he was 42 years old. He was taking on a challenge that fell runners still do today: trying to run up and down as many hills in the Lake District as possible. Bob’s record wasn’t broken until 1960, when Alan Heaton knocked an hour off his time. For more info, see the Bob Graham 24 Hour Club’s knowledgeable website:

A snowy Sarah March/April 2010 45

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Short breaks

Montserrat mountain



What to do and where to go within an hour’s drive of Barcelona


he main draw for Barcelona airport arrivals has long been the Costa Brava: tourist developments first sprung up on the ‘Rugged Coastline’ in the 1950s. But nowadays Spain’s second largest city has a well-developed adventure infrastructure, too. Plummet from a plane, explore the seabed scuba-style, try one of 15 mountain bike trail centres or hire a bike and explore the cycle-friendly city’s World Heritage Sites and the surrounding countryside at a Mediterranean pace. Walking routes through spectacular mountains are well-signposted. Climbing areas offer everything from steep gorges to sandstone bouldering. And, in

the evenings, you’ll find everything from cheap taverns to glitzy restaurants. Both Ryanair and easyJet fly to Barcelona, so plan a quick summer escape!

What to do


  Free, free falling   Barcelona is well set up for sky diving and paragliding – the city plays host to international competitions and there are many ‘drop zones’. Aero clubs in and around Barcelona offer everything from full courses to equipment rentals, and the Freefall Company just outside the city is a renowned and reliable club. The Freefall Company, (+34) 972 454563

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2   Sunny rock climbing

The area around Barcelona offers many varied rock climbing venues, with everything from steep gorges and tall pinnacles of rock to sport climbing in a mountainous environment or sandstone bouldering. Try Sierra de Prades (in Costa Daurada), Les Bruixes and Berga to the north, or Montserrat, just 40km northwest of Barcelona, where towers of conglomerate mountain rock overlook an ancient monastery. There are hundreds of routes in Montserrat, both sport and trad rock climbing, many of which are multi-pitch. Spanish Mountain Sports Federation (Federación Espanola de Deportes de Montana y Escalada), (+34) 934264267,

WHERE: Spain ACTIVITY: Plenty! TIME: A weekend+ DIFFICULTY: You choose LOOK OUT FOR: Sunshine and sangria

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3   Walk the coast

There is plenty of beautiful walking along the coast near Barcelona. The route from la Fosca to Calella takes in some of the most secluded beaches, as well as shaded pine and cork woods. Stop for a swim and picnic in the beautiful Mediterranean surroundings. Hire a guide: www.creativecatalonia. com

4   Laze on a beach

If you’d rather skip the walk and just laze on a beach, Barcelona has loads – but you’re better off hopping on a train to find the quieter, cleaner ones, where your bag won’t get nicked. Try heading to Sitges, a pretty resort half an hour from Barcelona. There are about 10 beaches here. El Garraf has good facilities, is not usually overcrowded and is an easy walk from the station (Baixador del Garraf).

5   Mountain bike

There are over 15 dedicated MTB centres (called BTT centres in Spain) near Barcelona, offering circuits for all levels with maps and signs showing the degree of difficulty, bike facilities, bike hire, parking, washing points, shower and toilet facilities. Climb from sea level to summits with lovely countryside views, then wind through forest along fire trails and single trail back to base. A list of the BTT centres is here: (select language top left).

6   Natural Park it

Half an hour from Barcelona, the Natural Park of Sant Llorenç del Munt i de la Serra d´Obac is carefully managed to provide unspoiled Mediterranean nature at its best. Expect mountains, crags, forests and, in spring, carpets of primroses and

Bonita: Barcelona

violets. Access it from Terrassa (north of Barcelona). The highest peaks are La Mola (1,095m) and Montcau (1,053m) and there are sign-posted trails. More info: Centre D’informació del Parc (+34) 938317300. Hire a guide,

7   Montserrat

Following several ‘sightings’ of the Virgin Mary in the Montserrat mountains, the Montserrat Monastery was built in her honour in the 12th century. It’s perched high on the rocks, and its mountain setting provides many lovely walks (there’s a leaflet of them in the nature centre at the top of the railway). Montserrat is 40km from Barcelona, and you can get there by train, then cable car or rack railway. Barcelona Tourist Office: (+34) 932853834

8   Diving

The Costa Brava coastline is perfect for diving. There are underwater caves, thousands of exotic fish, shipwrecks and reefs in warm clear waters. Most dive centres offer everything from courses for beginners upwards to just renting out equipment and filling air tanks. Diving in the Costa Brava is relatively cheap compared with the UK and USA.

9   Cycling

Barcelona City Council promotes cycling as an alternative form of transport in the city, and you can also save time by flouting the oneway systems. And the countryside around Barcelona is a great place for cycling, with rolling plains, vineyards and olive orchards dotted with rural villages. Oficina de la Bicicleta in Barcelona (+34) 934023434; or do a guided tour: ■

need more info? ›› Get There Ryanair ( and easyJet (www.easyjet. com) fly to Barcelona. easyJet flies directly to Barcelona International Airport (also called El Prat); Ryanair flies to Reus and Girona-Costa Brava airports – Reus is 100km south-west of Barcelona and Girona is 100km north-east, but there are easy transfers. ›› The longer, greener option It’s dead easy to get to Barcelona by train – take the Eurostar ( from London St Pancras (15.02) to Paris Gare du Nord (arrive 18.17). You can then take the ‘trainhotel Joan Miro’ at 20.34 to Barcelona for 08.24 ( ›› Stay there - Posh You’ll find posh hotels like the Hilton ( Barcelona) in Barcelona’s Avinguda Diagonal. Princesa Sofia Gran Hotel (http://princesasofia.concorde-hotels. com) has hydrotherapy pools, a gym and a large solarium. If you like a hydro-massage bath in your ensuite, try Turo de Vilana ( - home from home Within the Natural Park of Sant Llorenç del Munt and 150m from the centre of the village of Rocafort, Masia El Prat, is a 14th century country house which has been restyled into comfy accommodation with walks on the doorstep. - Happy camper There are few better campsites than Camping CambrilsPark in Tarragona on the Costa Dorada. It has an excellent farmhouse restaurant, a lagoon pool complex and a fabulous jungle-themed children’s pool. The campsite is 400m from the beach, the towns of Tarragona and Reus are a 10-minute trip by car, and Barcelona city is an hour’s drive away. ›› Go out there - Culture Fun in Barcelona rarely ceases and if you got out in the evening, you’re likely to spend an entire night out. Start with a performance at the Palau de la Musica Catalana music hall or theatre at Teatre Lilure (www.teatrelliure. com), or for free entertainment watch the dancing fountains at Montjuic. Have dinner, then head for the Barri Gòtic district with its drinking dens, ritzy cocktail lounges, cheery pubs and classy wine bars. - Beer The local brew is Estrella Damm and San Miguel is also widely drunk. A local speciality is sangria de cava, a champagne-based mix that’s also known as tisana. - Food So many restaurants! Tapas and seafood are the best bits about Barcelona, or try mar I muntanya (‘sea and mountain’) which is a meat and seafood combo. And remember the Spaniards are owls – if you go for dinner before 10pm everywhere’s likely to be deserted or closed. March/April 2010 47

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›› INSIDER INFO Mark Camp started exploring Bodmin Moor when he was 11 years old. Now, over three decades on, he’s used his knowledge and love of the moor to write five books about it and set up in business as a tour guide. See


idden away from the surf, sand and fishing villages of Cornwall is a small piece of wild upland ignored by many but loved by those that take the time to explore it. Bodmin Moor is less than 10 miles wide but contains some fantastic walks, the best inland climbing in Cornwall and plenty of quiet lanes for the cyclist to enjoy. Those with an interest in history will find everything from Neolithic hill enclosures to abandoned WWII airfields, plus the remains of Cornwall’s tin and copper mining industry, now awarded World Heritage status. Much of the moor now has open access status although, unlike its neighbour Dartmoor, it is not a National Park and almost all the moor is in private ownership. Many of the hills are topped by rocky outcrops known as Cheesewrings – eroded piles of granite sculpted into fantastical shapes that often seem to defy gravity. Lots of these tors offer short bouldering problems, while the most



Bodmin Moor is one of Cornwall’s best-kept secrets, and a top destination for walking, biking and climbing, says Sarah Stirling famous and original Cheesewring stands on the edge of Stowes Hill and the quarry that takes its name. Here climbers of all abilities will find something to suit them. The quarry lies just north of the village of Minions on the southern side of the moor. A popular spot with visitors, the village is a great place to start and finish walks and it’s where the Copper Trail, a 60-mile circumnavigation of the moor designed to be walked in five or six days, begins. The whole of the moor is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and, as well as the rocky tors, offers some stunning wooded valleys where the moorland streams leave the

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granite uplands and tumble down on to the softer rocks. Golitha Falls on the Fowey River are easily accessible, but those who want to explore beyond the reach of ice cream vans and Sunday afternoon dog walkers should make for the DeLank valley between Blisland and St Breward on the west side of the moor. Hidden among ancient oak woodlands rich in lichen, the river was once used to drive turbines that powered the granite quarries on the hillside above. Nowadays, unharnessed, the river thunders down to join the River Camel ignored by the many that walk or cycle the adjacent Camel Trail.

WHERE: Cornwall ACTIVITY: Biking, hiking, climbing and bouldering TOTAL TIME: Day-trip plus DIFFICULTY: Mostly easy LOOK OUT FOR: Brown willies

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need more info? ›› MAPS AND BOOKS OS 109, Bodmin Moor Introduction to Bodmin Moor by Mark Camp

Bodmin scrambling

The Camel Trail is best known for the stretch between Padstow on the north Cornish coast and Wadebridge, five flat miles inland. From there it continues to Bodmin before branching off to run along the western edge of the moor. This former railway line was built to serve both the quarries and also nearby china clay works, now closed. The north side of the moor tends to be wilder with a mixture of high hills and open spaces crossed by bogs and covered in mists. Those that are prepared to explore it are often rewarded with solitude and stunning views. Brown Willy (stop smirking in the cheap seats), the highest point in the county at 420m, gets its fair share of walkers although WALK THIS The High Points of the Moor: the joy of exploring the moor for me comes from just heading off in a general direction and seeing where you end up. For this walk start at St Breward Churchtown (SX097774) and then head for each landmark listed – Lady Down, DeLank Waterworks, Carkees Tor, Scribble Downs, Garrow, Butters Tor, Brown Willy, Showery Tor, Rough Tor, Louden Hill, Alex Tor, Treswallock. Taking in the highest summits on the moor, and in Cornwall, this walk has everything from views to history through the ages and a great pub at the end. CLIMB THIS Cheesewring Quarry: often described as the finest inland climbing in Cornwall, this granite

most climb straight to the summit cairn and then return without exploring further. But by taking the route described below you get a true Bodmin Moor day out, including Brown Willy and its near neighbour Rough Tor. Being small, the moor is easily accessible from any of the towns and villages dotted around its edge. Even the coastal resorts of Padstow, Tintagel, Looe or Fowey are only a halfhour drive away, giving the added bonus of water-based activities. The town of Bodmin lies just off the moor and offers a selection of accommodation, pubs and restaurants. The main London-Penzance railway line runs just to the south of the town, as does the A30. ■ quarry on the southern side of the moor offers routes of all grades on what must be described as a man-made cliff. It’s 40m high at the max; the main face has a southerly aspect and it should be approached by walking along the route of the former railway line from Minions village. BIKE THIS The Western Edge: leaving Bodmin, take the eastern route of the Camel Trail that leads up towards Wenford Bridge. At Tresasrrett leave the trail and head uphill to the pretty village of Blisland where you can pick up the National Cycle Route and follow it through St Breward to Camelford before returning via the lanes to Wenford Bridge where you pick up the Camel Trail again.

›› GET THERE M5 from Bristol then the A30 from Exeter. By train, Bodmin Parkway station is on the main Paddington Penzance line. From here it is a short bus journey into town. ›› GET AROUND Corlink (0845 8505556) operates a service that works like a taxi but with bus prices on the west side of the moor – book a day in advance. In other areas public transport is pretty poor.   ›› stay there: posh Tredethy House, Helland Bridge, 01208 841707 Just north of Bodmin overlooking the River Camel, this former home of a Thai Prince offers seclusion among grounds full of bluebells in early summer.   ›› HOME FROM HOME Bedknobs, Bodmin, 01208 77553 Just five minutes’ walk from the town centre, the owners of this Victorian Villa welcome walkers and cyclists to come and relax after a hard day on the moor. Great green credentials and quality accommodation.   ›› HAPPY CAMPERS Colliford Tavern Campsite, 01208 821335 Very central, just off the A30 in the centre of the moor. The campsite is just beside a tavern and B&B… look out for the rabbits!   ›› EAT: SUPPLIES There is Morrisons, Sainsburys and Asda in Bodmin as well as a good selection of local shops.   ›› EAT: LUNCH Blisland Inn, 01208 850739; A proper pub serving proper beer and proper food in a fantastic location on the edge of the moor.   ›› DINNER  Bodmin Jail, 01208 76292 Enjoy a meal inside the former county jail, originally built in the late 1700s and the scene of many a hanging. The jail can also be visited as an attraction in its own right but the restaurant is open till 10pm. ›› Free guidebooks! Best of Bodmin Moor, the area’s tourist association, is giving away copies of the Copper Trail guidebook free to Adventure Travel readers (it normally costs about £5). Just contact them quoting this article via the contact form at March/April 2010 49

Classic treks

Word in the travelling world is that Peru’s most famous trek, the Inca Trail, is past it. Rosie Fuller goes to find out


hat’s the hardest part of the Inca Trail? Hiking at altitude? Carrying a heavy rucksack up and down thousands of knee-busting steps? The 3.50am start on the last day to catch Machu Picchu at sunrise? Not for me. My biggest challenge is persuading my super-hardcore mountaineering friend Cathryn that it’s worth doing. “It’s only 45km,” she says, flicking on to the next pages of the guidebook. “We’d have to go with a tour group, so it would be full of slow people. And besides,” she finishes in disgust, “I’m not paying for someone to carry my tent. Humph.”


(OK, she might not have actually said ‘humph’– no-one says that – but I reckon she thought it.) Normally that would be it. Cathryn and I do a lot of hiking together. She likes planning and organising and I have wonderful followership qualities, so that’s how we work. But not this time. “I think we should do it,” I say, quaking slightly. “We can’t go all the way to Peru and not do the Inca Trail. It’s popular for a reason. So meh.” (Oh all right, I didn’t say ‘meh’ either. It’s my favourite word, but it doesn’t suit every situation.) And, caught off-guard by my inspired display of decisiveness, Cathryn agrees. Major victory.

50 March/April 2010

The classic Inca Trail is a four-day hike to the world-famous Machu Picchu along a path laid mostly by the Incas some 600 years ago. To reduce the monstrous numbers of people on the trail, Peruvian authorities decided in 2003 that all trekkers have to walk it as part of an approved, organised group with a guide, and that no more than 500 people can start the trail per day, including porters. Cathryn isn’t the only one with reservations: more and more travellers think the classic trail sounds too touristy and look for an alternative way to get to the sacred site. But I wanted to find out for myself. And, unlike Cathryn, I didn’t think it was going to be easy.

Classic treks

The team: Rosie (left) and Cathryn the Hardcore

Look who’s walking People we met along the way…

Prickly stuff along the way

Name: John Whitty Age: 26 Job: IT engineer From: Kilkenny, Ireland Trail highlight: Getting through the second day and definitely the food. Incredible! Trail lowlight: It was my own fault – I got blisters on the first day and had to struggle through. Bring good hiking boots.

Name: Sarah-Jane Elliffe Age: 26 Job: Psychology student From: Kildare, Ireland Trail highlight: Actually reaching Macchu Piccu on the final day after getting through the four days. The views were breathtaking. Trail lowlight: The initial hit of altitude sickness within five minutes of starting the trail. Luckily it passed!

Name: Kate Shakespeare Age: 25 Job: Assistant psychologist From: North WALES… whoop! Highlight: I loved the way our guide Freddie incorporated so much education about the folklore of the Quechua and the significance of the trail into the trip. I liked his approach that we were on a pilgrimage and it was a historical discovery. We had come across a few people that had looked

down upon the traditional four-day trek as if it was a contrived affair for tourists, but he really brought back the magic that had inspired us all to go in the first place, which meant arriving at the ruins was more poignant. Lowlight: Over ceremonious clapping from the porters when we reached the first campsite. I felt a little ashamed since they had worked harder then we did throughout the day, and we had paid to go on the trek and so had no right to feel like we needed a round of applause before our three-course meal. But I don’t know, I loved every part of the trek really. March/April 2010 51

Classic treks ‘Ah well,’ I console myself, ‘maybe there will be some slow people in our group.’ “It doesn’t look like there are going to be any slow people in the group,” Cathryn whispers as we gather for a team photo at the start of the trail four months later. She’s right. All 16 of us are young and fit – aged from 25-34 – and it turns out there are only about 20 minutes between the first of us to complete the trek (Cathryn of course) and the last (not me, honest). There are about 20 porters to go with the group. You understand why they need so many when you see the service. Our meals include alpaca medallions, flambéed banana and, of course, a cup of coffee delivered

to the tent every morning. Not only that, but they put up a big tent with table and chairs for us to eat all the meals in, and on one day when it’s raining, they pitch another tent so we can put our rucksacks in it while we have lunch. Five-star or wot? As well as the porters we have a guide, Freddie, who’s hysterical. He starts each day with ‘Freddie’s forecast’, which involves looking out of his tent and saying, “it is raining” or “it’s not raining.” He’s passionate about all things Inca and Quechua (the Quechuas are the indigenous people of the area), and explains how he’d cried when a piece of the sundial in Machu Picchu got damaged when a beer company was filming an advert there. He’s also

‘More and more travellers think the classic trail sounds too touristy and look for an alternative way to get to the sacred site. But I wanted to find out for myself’

75,000 The number of

by numbers

people walking the trail per year, before restrictions were put into place in 2003

13,780 The highest point of the trail, in feet… 4,200 …And for the discerning metric fan, the highest

point in metres

1430 The year the Incas began building Machu Picchu 1911 The year the Inca Trail was rediscovered by the

West, by an American historian chappie called Hiram Bingham


The maximum number of people who can now start the trail per day. Of these, about 200 will be trekkers and 300 porters

45 Distance in kilometres of the trail… 26 …And here it is in miles 25 The price, in nuevos soles, of a burger at the

restaurant at Machu Picchu. No chips mind. This is the equivalent of about £5.50 – or four nights’ accommodation in Peru


The price, in nuevos soles, of the beautiful, adorable toilets at Machu Picchu. Worth the price of the burger, I reckon

Typical pic: the group at the start of the trail

52 March/April 2010

Classic treks

Inca Trail day by day

Incredible: Machu Picchu



Highest point

Day one




Day two




Day three




Day four



2,700m March/April 2010 53

Classic Treks

5 alternatives If you’re still not convinced by the classic and want to take an alternative route to Machu Picchu, there are heaps of options. Here’s just a selection Climbing higher: The Lares Trail This is another four-day trekking expedition and it takes you higher than the classic Inca Trail, to about 4,500m. You’ll still get to hike on stone trails laid by the Incas; you’ll pass glacial lakes and rivers and camp at the beautiful Queullacocha lagoon. South America Adventure Travel offers the trek:

A Quechua experience: the Inca Trail Peru Community Project This trek is unique to the overlanding company Dragoman, and means you get to spend two of the nights staying in Quechua communities, meeting the locals and trying traditional Peruvian cuisine, with some of the costs going back into the community. And it’s by no means softcore – on this one you hike to 4,800m – now we’re talking. See

Short and sweet: the two-day option Too many treks, not enough time? This trek picks up the classic Inca Trail on its penultimate day, so you still get a bit of trekking and to see the fantastic Wiňay Wayna ruins before reaching Machu Picchu via the sungate. Llama Travel offers it:

The monster mountain bike trip This two-week bad boy combines stunning scenery, Inca ruins and single-track downhill finishing at Machu Picchu. Not for the faint-hearted (so you’re all alright) and serious fun. It’s called Mountain Bike Peru from Andean Trails:

Cool combo: paddle it, bike it, hike it Oh all right, this trip includes the classic Inca Trail – but the way you get there is far from traditional. The Raft, Bike and Hike trip from World Expeditions involves white water rafting and cycling to the start of the trail, taking in the Sacred Valley’s both cultural and adrenaline-pumping sights as you go. See

54 March/April 2010

Mystical: cloudy mountains

dedicated to pacha mama (mother nature) and we carry out a ceremony for her on the highest point of the trail, Dead Women’s Pass, making a pile of stones and pouring our first sip of team rum on the ground before we all drink. His belief stops it feeling contrived. Freddie is keen to make sure that we bond as a group, calling us all his family, and by the end of the first evening we feel like one. He also asks that we don’t use the word ‘porter’ but ‘chesky’ (erm, my spelling) which is the Quechua word for messenger. It’s a small touch, but it’s

appreciated by us at least – a group of people who are all slightly uncomfortable with being waited on. Hiking the trail is tough, but never to the extreme that I feel I can’t go on. Day two is billed as the hardest as you have to climb 1,200m to reach the highest point (4,200m). Bar a one-day trek in Northern Peru I hadn’t walked at altitude before, and the second day is difficult – it’s amazing how near you can be to the top but still need to stop for a rest. But tougher is going down the hundreds of stone steps on day three, which the cheskies

Classic treks

Great guide: Freddie’s words of wisdom

Sun spot: chilling out alo ng the way

call the ‘gringo killers’. I’m definitely one of their number: my knees are shot. I stop thinking less of the ‘tourists’ who had bought trekking poles at the start of the trail as I hobble round Machu Picchu propping myself up against the ruins. The scenery is fabulous. As you do the trail you pass from drier climates into the jungle, and the mountains are shrouded by cloud as in all the best photos. It’s busy, of course. Everyone stays in roughly the same campsites and 500 people walking the same stretch of the same trail is a lot. But apart from

the last day, which is a bit of a bottleneck, the groups spread out after about the first half an hour of walking as everyone finds their own pace. The people we see the most are cheskies storming past and putting us to shame, especially as they’re wearing sandals and ponchos and carrying packs three times the size of ours. I expected the highlight to be the walking, but I was wrong. It’s the number of Inca ruins along the way, almost unheard of because of their famous cousin Machu Picchu, and how incredible they are. I’ve

‘Toughest is going down the hundreds of stone steps on day three, which the cheskies call the ‘gringo killers’. I’m definitely one of their number’ March/April 2010 55







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56 March/April 2010

Classic Treks Who’s writing? Rosie Fuller spent three months in South America before starting work as deputy ed of Adventure Travel. She likes climbing in the sunshine, posh crisps, the RAC and the inventor of the contact lens. She is yet to be convinced by mountain biking, pea and ham soup and conversation in the morning.

Picturesque: an Inca house

never been into ruins, but these are spectacular, made all the better as I’m not expecting them. They also make us appreciate having a guide – Freddie really knows his stuff. And what about the point of the whole trek, one of the seven new wonders of the world, Machu Picchu? I hadn’t thought about it too much – I’d signed up because I wanted to go on a wonderful trail through the mountains. But the final day is amazing. We get up at 3.50am, and the stars are out. The plan is to get there as early as possible to beat the tourists, hence the horrendously early wake-up call (yum, but we get pancakes). As we go along, the sun comes up over the Andes. It’s surreal checking in to Machu Picchu at about 6.30am and knowing we’ve been up for hours. And when we get in I realise it really is something quite special – and this feeling is heightened because we’ve walked there. I feel so much better than the tourists who have

On the move: Inca trailin’

Respectful: the pacha mama ceremony March/April 2010 57

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Classic treks

1 2

Even the most hardcore of travelers own hand sanitiser

‘I feel so much better than the tourists who have got there by bus and even feel qualified to give them advice on altitude sickness’

 You can understand and explain the 17,000 uses of the car horn


 Your most treasured possessions are earplugs against said car horns


 If you haven’t been to 5,000m or more above sea level you are just, like, so un-gnarly, man


 You can cycle down all the 5,000m volcanoes you like, but for real adrenaline kicks you get a taxi across town

6 7

 You like your coffee black and your showers cold

 The Spanish for guinea pig (cuy) features highly in your minute Spanish repertoire


 One of the many things you’ve used to wash down malaria tablets is coca tea – tea made from the leaves that are used to make cocaine (good for altitude, apparently)


 You look both ways before crossing a railway line – not for trains, but for someone selling drinks


  If you go to buy cigarettes from a street vendor, they open the pack and try to sell you one cigarette (Adventure Travel has not tried this personally, of course, but this is what reports from independent researchers have shown)

Yum – guinea pig

Glorious ruins

got there by bus and even feel qualified to give them advice on altitude sickness, making sure I look as smug as possible. I found the Inca Trail harder than I imagined, about as touristy as I expected, and more beautiful and far more interesting than I would ever have thought. But my opinion’s not important. What about the ultimate test – Cathryn’s verdict? “My scepticism about doing it with a group disappeared immediately after meeting my fellow trekkers,” she says. “They were all really friendly and the social aspect turned out to be one of the highlights of the trek. The limited number of

trekkers maintained the wilderness experience. The tour operator was excellent; the porters were treated well and the food and equipment we received was really good. “It was one of the highlights of my time in South America.” Didn’t I tell her so? I’ll be unbearable now. I wonder if she knows this means I’ll be planning every trip in future…■ Rosie was at Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail before the floods at the start of this year. Reports as we went to press suggested the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu would be open by April 2010. March/April 2010 59

Classic treks


Let’s go

Want to do what Rosie did? Here’s how you can ›› Getting there All international flights to Peru go to Lima. Prices range from about £550 to well over £1,000, depending on the season and when you book. There are no direct flights from the UK. We went with the Spanish airline Iberia, which goes via Madrid (www.; other options include KLM via Amsterdam (, or Continental Airlines with a change in New York ( The tours pick you up from Cusco, the gringo capital of South America, to start the trail. To get there from Lima you can get a plane or bus. The flight lasts for about an hour and a half. We went with TACA (www.taca. com) which cost £50 per person, however this was off season and we booked early: many travellers told us they hadn’t been able to find any cheap internal flights. The flights are often delayed, especially in rainy season, because of thick cloud in Cusco (all the Lima-Cusco flights were at least four hours late when we went), so it’s worth getting an early-in-themorning flight, when at least there’s no backlog of delays. The bus from Lima takes from 17- 27 hours depending on the route (either via Arequipa or via Nazcar) and costs from about £15. You’ll also have to pay one or two nuevos soles ‘ticket tax’ (about 40p) before you get on the bus – we tell you this so you don’t wonder what on earth they’re going on about, rather than because of the great expense! Going by bus is a better way to get used to the altitude gradually – Cusco is at 3,300m. Bus stations in Peru are bewildering and generally consist people trying to guess where you want to go and then shouting the name of that place without pausing to breathe, but we didn’t get a bus in Peru that was late. ›› When to go Not February, as the trail is closed. Other than that, May to September are billed as the best months to go, as it’s the dry season and you’ll get to see the views, although these months are much colder at nights. December to

March is the rainy season. We chanced it towards the end of November and had just one morning of rain. ›› Booking and cost Book at least three months in advance – this is a popular trek with number restrictions. Our trek, including all food, entry to Machu Picchu and transport to and from Cusco, cost $450 (£285-ish). When you look at the cost of doing Machu Picchu alone, this is good value. ›› What to take Tents and food are provided by the trekking company and the porters carry them. We had to carry sleeping mats and bags (oh the hardships!), although this may differ between firms. These we hired for an extra $15 – the sleeping bags were synthetic but easily warm enough; the mats were fine but bulky, so bring a dry sack (or a bin liner) in case you can’t fit it in to your rucksack. For clothing, nothing special – just walking boots, waterproofs and warm stuff for the mornings and evenings. I carried everything in my 65-litre rucksack which was fairly empty; Cathryn took her 35+5-litre daysack which was full – both were fine. Pretty much all of the hostels in Cusco will let you leave extra luggage with them. We were easily provided with enough food, but it’s worth taking some snacks and buying them in Cusco (or even better Lima), not on the trail, as it’s cheaper. ›› Water Peruvian women in traditional dress sell water along the trail, and if the leaders knew there was a long gap between stalls they would also boil some at meals. There was never a time when we didn’t have enough. ›› Passports You have to have your passport with you at all times on the trek, and it has to be the same one that you used to book the trek with. They’re checked before you start, and also once you reach Machu Picchu – but it does mean you get a cool Machu Picchu passport stamp.

60 March/April 2010

›› Facilities The Inca Trail has toilets all the way round it and they are dreadful – the kind where you hold your nose and wish that you could just pop behind a bush (but the reason they built the toilets was to stop people doing that so we felt we had to use them). There are hot showers at the campsite on the last night that cost five nuevos soles (about £1) – I didn’t try them, but reports from others in the group were good. ›› Tour operators Since 2003, trekkers can only do the Inca Trail as part of a group with an officially sanctioned tour agency, or independently with a guide. However, finding a guide is close to impossible – tour operators are not interested in hiring out their guides, but all the guides are employed by the tour operators, which is why you never hear about this option. See www. for more. As for tour operators, there are hundreds – narrowing down the options is bewildering. We went with Peru Treks: Other recommended companies are: Intrepid, as part of it’s Inca Trail Express trip, www. intrepidtravel. com; World Expeditions, www.; Lima Machu Picchu Llama Travel, Cusco www.llamatravel. com; South America Adventure Travel, www. southamericaadventure. travel; Active South America, www.activesouthamerica. com; Peru Adventure Tours, www.peruadventurestours. com; and Dragoman, www. And if you want to do the trek for a charity, see www.

Bike it: India

High altitude

highway Reaching over 5,300m, the Trans-Himalayan highway is claimed to be the highest motorable road in the world. Adam Richards tackles it on his bike


’ve never liked 4am starts. It was day one and we had to get going early. The first day is about establishing a routine, which in this case was packing our panniers, attaching a trailer, checking and greasing the bikes and having a good stretch. The only stretch I bothered with was yawning. Alex, our appointed leader, surveyed my gear, which was strewn over my hostel bed. “Did you bring a roll mat?” “No.” “Puri-tabs?” “Puri-what?” “Torch?” “Still no.” “Bike pump?” “About that…” I could already see I wasn’t going to get out of this one. “So what have you got in that rucksack exactly?” asked Alex, pointing to my bag in the only neat corner of the room. “Two cameras, three lenses, two flashguns, a diffuser umbrella, a tripod and two hard-drives.” I smiled, which did not help the situation. “Twat.” My hopes of picking up a roll mat in Manali ended as we cycled through the city. India, I thought, was a country of early risers. But at 5am only a few people were on the streets, all stop-

ping to stare at four cyclists trying desperately not to get lost through the narrow streets. Only the cow ignored us; she continued, oblivious, to devour a newspaper on the side of the road. Thinking of the ride ahead I decided I didn’t want to leave Manali, even though our introduction to the city had not been particularly pleasant. The 840km bus journey from Delhi had rattled our bones from their sockets. The remnants of jet lag and the further loss of 16 hours’ sleep meant the panoramic views of India’s alpine playground were passed up in favour of a bed. In the morning, though, the mountains emerged from the clouds and I could finally see what we are up against. “It’s gonna be fun going over those things,” Alex reminded me. I sighed. “So I guess that’s an end to the going-round-the- mountain idea.” The plan was to cycle the TransHimalayan highway. The highway connects Manali in Himachal Pradesh to Leh in Jammu and Kashmir, part of the North-West Himalayan range. At some 600km long it doesn’t do things the easy way, scaling five passes culminating with the Tanglang La pass at 5,328m high. We were starting at 1,800m. Our plan (written in pencil) was to take 12 days to complete the route, including two rest days. In bold were the names of the passes: Rohtang

62 March/April 2010

La (3,978m), Baralacha La (4,890m), Nakeela (4,768), Lachulung La (5,064) and Tanglang La (5,328m). The guidebooks frequently cite the route as the highest motorable road in the world. They also recommend experiencing it in a jeep. As with any expedition, the first few days are the hardest. Your body struggles to adjust to a new, calorieburning schedule and likes to let you know that it’s doing so. I told myself this as I stopped for a rest 20 minutes after setting off. Over the next two days we had to scale Rohtang La pass. Although the lowest, it is the longest continual climb of the route. After a point of no return (naturally), Alex decides to enlighten me that La is Tibetan for pass and Rohtang is a Persian word meaning ‘Pile of dead bodies’. Clearly Persian doesn’t have a word for ‘white lie’.

WHERE: Himalayas WHEN: June to September HOW LONG: 12 days DIFFICULTY: Not technical biking, but very tough physically MUST SEE: Traditional dress in Ladakh

Bike it: India

There were two types of cyclist in our group of four: those that liked the straight, long, shallow uphill sections and those that preferred the steep but short switchbacks. I preferred 5km of switching back and forth climbing up the mountain to 20km of monotonous, deceptively shallow uphill riding. Halfway into the trip we had an extreme version of both types of cycling. To scale the Nakeela pass you have to conquer what are known as the Gata Loops: 21 loops of half a kilometre each. All the cyclists (and motorcyclists) we had met who were heading our way referred to the Gata Loops with fear in their voices. (Incidentally, any cyclists coming the other way, down the loops, thought these loops were better than sex.) I thought the fear of these loops was unfounded when I was admiring the view at the top. What

nobody mentioned was the long, shallow path that snakes to the summit of Nakeela. Twenty kilometres of “it’ll just be around this corner” slowly wore me down to the point where pushing the bicycle (to the laughter of people passing in a jeep) was all I could manage. I quickly learnt to ignore the laughter – pushing the bicycle happened a lot. We had decided to be entirely self sufficient during the trip. This meant that we were carrying camping equipment, food, water and anything else needed for 12 days in the wilderness (which to me means 12kg of camera stuff). The majority of people we met cycling were doing it as part of a tour. These tour groups were jeep-supported; you could leave all your equipment with the jeep team, who would have everything waiting for you at the end of the day, including dinner and a

set-up tent. Our student loans couldn’t extend to the £1,000-plus price-tag of such a luxury. Our compromise was a light (albeit expensive) extrawheel trailer to manage some 35kg of gear. The obvious downside was that lugging 35kg up a mountain was considerably hard work. The difference in effort required was nicely illustrated at the top of Lachungla pass, the second pass of that day: seven hours of uphill

‘The guidebooks frequently cite the route as the highest motorable road in the world. They also recommend experiencing it in a jeep’ March/April 2010 63

Bike it: India riding, including the Gata Loops, with an ascent of 1,200m. After taking the required picture with the sign at the summit we were joined by a Lycra-clad German. He was part of a tour group who had caught up with us. He had gone at his own pace and was some 20 minutes ahead of the others. “Are you tired?” I asked. He looked at me, confused. His reply was deadpan: “We Germans do not get tired.” Resisting the usual ‘5-1’ comeback I tried to save some face: “Try it with a trailer – then you’d be tired.”“Maybe,” he replied, walking off to see the view. “But if I had a trailer I would have trained harder.” Training. That was a word I wish I’d heeded more. I had graduated from university the previous month – ‘training’ involved late nights of liver implosion and hang-over fry-ups. I told myself that my youth would carry me through. This was partly true; I did complete the ride with little training. I was also burned up a hill by a guy who told me that this route had been on his retirement things-to-do list – and in this case I didn’t have the supported ride excuse. One of the great aspects of cycling the route was the people we met on the way. My encounter with the German cyclist was a little frosty but that was my fault for being jealous. Over the 12 days we met a whole host of characters, from a Northern Irish couple cycling the route in reverse, using bikes from the 1970s complete with hard plastic seats, to a French trio cycling the route as part of their ride from Hong Kong to Paris, using only bungee cords to attach their awkwardly shaped rucksacks to bike racks. The Indian tourists provided the best encounters. We were often stopped by them so they could have their photo taken with us. Ten people would jump out of the car to surround us in our sweaty and breathless state. Sometimes we would have to hold a baby, a decorative prop for the photo. After the shots were taken, shots of a different kind came out. I turned down the whisky – even my student ways didn’t include whisky at 7am. The main draw of the route is Ladakh. Described as ‘Little Tibet’, it is the highest, most remote and least populated region in all of India. It was only in the 1970s that the ban on tourists was lifted. Ladakh’s peaceful population comprises Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus – a sharp contrast to the

Funny road sign

Smile! Local kids playing with Adam’s photography kit

neighbouring district of Kashmir. This air of tolerance allows each of these different cultures to proudly display their heritage. Small Hindu temples adorn the roadside while at each pass Buddhist prayer flags flutter over small pebble stupas built by grateful passers by. I never tired of photographing people strutting though the street in their traditional Kullu caps, or women wearing traditional Tibetan dress (Chuba). This isn’t to say that the tentacles of globalisation are absent. I saw more Chelsea shirts here than at Stamford Bridge. This globalisation wasn’t necessarily a bad thing though – being able to buy a coke in the middle of nowhere provided many a needed sugar boost to help me to the top.

64 March/April 2010

‘At any point along the route the landscape would have taken my breath away, but the altitude meant there was none to take’

Bike it: India


Five top tips for completing the ride


Even when you’re not thirsty, drink


Know how to change a tyre

Your body’s saying no and you’re going to the toilet every five minutes but it’s better than a pounding headache.

Regarding punctures, it’s not a case of if but when. The shards of weathered rock rip through inner tubes, so knowing how to repair or replace an inner is a must.


Pimp your saddle

If you are new to long distances in the saddle then you’re going to have a very sore bottom. Choose your saddle carefully and add a padded cover to it. Throw in some padded cycling shorts and getting on the bike the next morning will be a lot easier.


 Carry your gear well Panniers or trailer is a personal choice. You’re looking for something that is well balanced and produces minimum drag. Don’t make life harder for yourself with poorly-packed equipment.


The entire length of the route we had one principle enemy: traffic. The Manali-Leh road is a main supply artery for Leh. Tata trucks, jeeps and oil tankers compete for space on the narrow twisty roads. There is also military traffic. The route was initially constructed for their exclusive use; Leh, bordering China and Kashmir, is of key strategic importance to India. The road was only opened for non-military traffic in 1988, and no matter how awkwardly placed on a mountain you are, the military has automatic right of way. Furthermore, catalytic converters don’t seem to be part of India’s military arsenal. The air was thin enough without having to breathe sulphurous, soot-saturated exhaust. When I had my first proper

shower at the end I discovered that my nice dark tan was mostly caked soot! People told us that AMS (acute mountain sickness) would be our main obstacle. However, simple procedures helped to avoid it. The golden rule of ‘climb high, sleep low’ was easy enough to follow. On reaching a pass there was always a glorious downhill trail, allowing rapid descent to where we would camp. Drinking large amounts of water was paramount. The route was, apart from the desert plains of Moray, full of water sources giving us no excuse not to drink. My previous experience at high altitude showed that I am more sensitive to AMS than others, but drinking lots and sleeping low meant that I never suffered from

Just do it

Reading and pondering the figures (highest motorable road, altitude sickness etc) make the ride seem intimidating and daunting. Don’t be put off. You’ll never know until you do it.

anything more than a headache in the morning. The first thing I was asked when I arrived home was if I would do it again. It was a tough question. The 12 days were some of the most physically exhausting I’ve experienced and yet I don’t think I have ever been to a more beautiful region. During the trip we cycled through lush green foothills and descended into valleys that reminded me of James Hilton’s descriptions in Lost Horizon. Then upon rounding a corner we entered barren, high-altitude desert complete with incredible March/April 2010 65

Bike it: India sandstone sculptures. The complex ecology of the Himalayas meant that over a short distance the landscape could change character entirely. At any point along the route the landscape would have taken my breath away, but the altitude meant there was none to take. Going back to our German friend – he had cycled all over the world and claimed that the route was by far the most gorgeous and technically one of the easiest he had encountered, but overall it was the hardest, because there is no oxygen. Whenever I read accounts of amazing trips I am always put off by the level of resources and equipment required. What some people managed with to complete this trip with: knackered bikes, plastic seats, panniers held together with duct tape and bungee cords, shows that it can be done by anyone who really wants to. Don’t over-think it from an armchair, just go (though I really recommend bringing a roll mat). ■

Who’s writing? Adam Richards recently graduated from Durham University. By mumbling about the current economic climate he feels he has justified staving off responsibility for a few months. As a side project to the trip he also helped raise £1,000 for the Indian Schools Project, a charitable foundation set up by another of the team members, Alex Jack, to provide basic equipment (including chairs, sports equipment and on one occassion a roof) for schools in the Git Dabling valley in India. See

Five top touring bikes When choosing a bike it’s easy to be swamped by all the different types. For the transHimalayan highway pretty much any bike would do short of a drop-bar racing bike. However, there are a few things to look for that would make your life easier: forks with lock-out; strong frame (the steel vs aluminium debate) and a good range of gears to help you on the inclines. Here is a pick of a very large bunch…

1. Tout Terrain Silkroad (£2,250) Frequently cited as the ultimate touring bike, it may not look special but it’s built to carry a load and has the gears to get you up any mountain. By paying a little bit more you can include front suspension to soften the ride.

66 March/April 2010

2. Thorn Raven Stirling (£2,099) If money is no object then buy British. This is a high performance mountain touring bike, ideal for heavy loads and rugged roads.

3. Cube Kathmandu (£1,144) The name gives it away. Designed for getting you around the world, Cubes are light, strong and low maintenance. While still stretching the bank balance, it would be an investment for life.

Bike it: India

›› Five other great

mountain ranges to bike The world has no shortage of mountains for an intrepid cyclist to conquer and the Leh-Manali highway is just one of the many great mountain biking tours out there. Having caught the bug to do more cycling, here are a few on my quickly expanding tick list:


The Highland Coast to Coast

You don’t have to go far for a tour of the mountains – just head to Scotland. Start at Fort William on the west coast and head through the Highlands finishing in Montrose on the east coast.


The Peruvian Andes

Any excuse to see llamas in action. Start in the southern Peruvian city of Arequipa and climb through the Andes to Cuzco, the capital of the Incas. On finishing the ride you might’s well do the Inca Trail to the legendary Machu Picchu.


The Alps

Tackle big alpine climbs and enjoy incredible descents. Europe’s mountainous backyard offers more routes than I can count. Cycle across Switzerland or pretend you’re Lance by tackling sections of the Tour de France. There really is no excuse not to go.


 The Friendship Highway


 Middle Earth

The itinerary says it all: Lhasa in Tibet to Kathmandu in Nepal. Cycle through the great Himalaya admiring the largest mountains in the world: Cho Oyu, Shishapangma and Everest. However, check the political and visa situation for Tibet before planning a trip.

Stupendous: a Buddhist stupa at Marhi

4. Specialized Rock Hopper (£524.99) This was my choice. It’s not specially designed for touring, but the light aluminium frame was strong enough for our stuff and the gears and brakes coped perfectly.

Cycle through the Lord of the Rings set by touring New Zealand’s south island. There are a multitude of routes starting in Christchurch. See Mount Cook, the mountain where Hillary learned a thing or two, or continuing further south takes you to Fiordland National Park. Google it, I don’t have the vocabulary to describe it.

5. Dawes XC 1.0 (£224.99) Alex found this bike in the dusty corner of his garage – a little grease and it was good to go. The cheaper alloy frame meant it was stronger than more expensive mountain bikes and the travel of the forks wasn’t overkill. A great bike for those on a budget.

Tight fit: trucks have priority over most things on the route March/April 2010 67

Bike it: India ›› Getting There British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Air India fly direct to Delhi from London. Depending on the time of year and how far in advance you book, a round trip can range from £400-£500. However, it is important to note the baggage restrictions. Virgin Atlantic allows for one item of sports equipment weighing up to 23kg in addition to its standard two-bag allowance. BA and Air India only allow two bags which are subject to size restrictions – check their websites to see their policies and recommendations for packing bikes. Specialist bike boxes are recommended, though a local bike shop may be able to give you an old cardboard box that new bikes are shipped in, a cheaper and equally effective way to pack and protect the bikes.; com; From Delhi the most common way to reach Manali is by bus. Prices range from £2-£15 depending on the type of bus (you pay for ‘comfort’). Be prepared for a sleepless 16-hour journey. Tickets can be bought practically anywhere in Delhi – ask at your hotel, if they can’t do it directly then they will know 10 people who can. At the end of your trip there are two ways to leave Leh. Flying is by far the most painless: Jet Airways ( and Kingfisher Airlines (www.flykingfisher. com) all fly several times daily. We had no trouble loading bikes and trailers without bike boxes and they all arrived in one piece at the other end. Priced at roughly £60 one way, it’s worth it just for the views of the Himalayas below. If you are a glutton for punishment then you can retrace your steps by jeep back to Manali. This method takes a minimum of 22 hours and be prepared to have a passenger on your lap! It is certainly the more difficult of the two options, but at £20 it saves some pennies. ›› When to go The road is officially open from the first week of June until 15 September. Outside of these dates jeeps will still try their luck until the

snows make the route impossible, but it’s not recommended as the weather becomes highly unpredictable. ›› Red tape, visas and insurance It is essential to get an India visa before leaving the UK. This can be done by going to the embassy in person or online (see http:// Some travel guides say that you need a permit to visit Ladakh. This is not true. Ensure that you have your passport close to hand throughout the ride as there are a number of police checkpoints along the way that require passport verification. Comprehensive insurance is a must for both equipment and yourself. This should include coverage for helicopter rescue. India does not have any commercial air rescue service which means you have to rely on the Indian Air Force who are under no obligation to conduct a rescue and will charge you heavily for the privilege. No foreign SIM cards will work in Jammu and Kashmir, so don’t rely on your mobile for potential emergency calls. It’s not essential to have a satellite phone but then I am saying that retrospectively. It’s up to you. ›› Going it alone Many of the bikers we met were doing it independently. The route requires no specialist navigation skills. However, independent travel requires extra responsibilities and precautions. For example, it would be your responsibility to organise contacts for potential air rescue. For safety reasons it is not recommended that you cycle solo and if you do, ensure relevant people are aware of where you are. Going independently is far more complicated – but worth it. ›› To camp or not to camp? It is entirely possible to complete the trip without having to camp. There are Dhabas (tents and roadside shops) in most villages along the way which, for a fee, you can sleep inside. They are usually very cheap (£1.30 a night) and provide food. There are no restrictions on where

68 March/April 2010

On the road to…where?

you can camp. As a result you can go to sleep in some of the most incredible places, though a tent and all the gear adds weight which you will curse going up those hills. ›› Going with a tour I haven’t been too complimentary of tours throughout this article, but there were many occasions when I looked enviously at the cyclists sitting outside a huge tent, eating a bowl of something delicious, talking about how nice not having a trailer is. With a tour, you get what you pay for: less logistical hassle and then a sliding scale in food quality with the more you pay. Tour guides can be organised in person in Manali or through international guides such as Redspokes Adventure Tours ( ›› Equipment The route does not require extravagant bikes. Of our group of four, all of our bikes were under £400, and two were bought second-hand.

Bike it: India The terrain does not require full suspension; in fact, suspension can make life harder when going uphill as a lot of energy is wasted in bouncing up and down. However, front forks with the ability to lockout are advised. Bring along as many spares you can manage. You will get a puncture, so spare inners and repair kits are essential, as are lubricants such as WD40 to keep things working smoothly on dusty roads. Make sure that all bags are waterproof and strong enough not to tear if grazed by a rock. Remember that weight is your primary concern so ensure that any equipment is as light as your budget allows. ›› Health Before leaving, visit a travel clinic to ensure all necessary jabs are up to date. The route is outside of malarial zones, however, malaria prophylaxis should be considered for any prolonged stay in Delhi or the lowland regions of India. Many stalls along the way sell bottled water for drinking, but it is worth taking either chlorine or iodine tablets so that you can fill up from streams and rivers, or better yet, invest in a bottle with a built-in iodine filter. Staying hydrated is vital and some stretches don’t have any water, so ensure when you set off that you know of areas to fill up from. From the start there is a serious threat of AMS (acute mountain sickness). Take your time ascending, follow the golden rule of ‘climb high, sleep low’ and stay hydrated. Most importantly, ensure that you are well aware of the symptoms of AMS and have a plan to deal with it should they start to take effect.

Last-minute packing in Heathrow’s delightful terminal three

Pump it: the main water source in the high-altitude desert

Leh Manali


›› Maps and Guides Editions Olizane publishes a series of 1:50000 trekking maps of Ladakh that is available from Standfords’ Maps online (www., and is highly recommended. Laura Stone’s guidebook Himalaya by Bike (www. is possibly the most valuable item you could take – indispensable on the road and well worth reading before you even think of planning a trip. March/April 2010 69

We have touring bikes to satisfy the traditionalist as well as those seeking something a little more cutting edge. Take the Horizon for instance using the reliably strong yet light Reynolds 520 chromoly frame, equipped with 24 speed Shimano Alivio gears and fitted with a Selle Italia FLX saddle for unrivalled comfort. This is just one in a range of bicycles designed with the highest quality equipment to safely escort you to your destination. To add to your peace of mind we now offer FREE third party insurance worth ÂŁ25 with every sale of a bike within our touring specialist range.


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24 Hours



A volunteer is given GPS-related challenges in sealed envelopes and 24 hours to complete them. Rosie Fuller is this issue’s victim


Minus about four months I take on the 48-hour GPS challenge for November’s Adventure Travel. I surpass all of my expectations by managing to complete one of the three challenges, and feel invincible. Technology will never outsmart me.

Minus one month Alun, the boss at AT mag, tells me that the Garmin challenge is getting a makeover. Instead of tearing around the country looking for places to bike and hike, we’re going to concentrate more on our GPS skills. The challenges will all be based in the same area, giving us more time to focus on something called geocaching. Geocaching is not in my dictionary. I look it up online and begin to feel a little queasy.

Minus three weeks Garmin kindly agrees to loan me a member of staff for a couple of hours for a crash course in GPS and geocaching. This is wise. Super Greg, one of the product managers, tells me things beyond my wildest GPS dreams. Did you know, for instance, that you can wire up a GPS so it monitors your heart-rate? Way. He also tells me important stuff like how to put in the batteries, how to load a map, and, even better, what geocaching involves. I’m ready to go. Maybe.

As I leave, they give me something called a Geocoin. I feel like I’ve joined a cult and that I’m meant to do a secret sign back, so I perform my version of the Masonic handshake. Security escort me off the premises.

Minus two weeks I join and do some research. The geocachers look very professional and I doubt they’ll appreciate the likes of me joining their number. In setting

one, there looks serious scope for a cock up. I wonder if Alun fancies hiring a replacement.

Minus four days They put out one of those severe weather warnings that they’ve become so fond of. Dammit – there go my chances of a sunny day.

Minus two days Disaster! My beautiful car, Frieda, who made a guest appearance in the Nov/Dec edition of Adventure March/April 2010 73

24 Hours

There’s nothing like going on the M6 Toll to make you feel like you’re part of Britain’s elite Travel, explodes. Actually she comes to a whimpering halt, but either way I don’t have transport. I hope challenge one isn’t too far away. What’s a cam belt?

Minus one day I blag use of my mum’s rather plush Fiesta. She hands me groundsheets to put over the seats and tells me off for smoking in the car before I’ve

even got in it. But I’m not complaining, as she is the saviour of this month’s challenge. Thanks Mum.

24hrs I open challenge one at about 5pm, thinking that if it’s far away I can drive there that evening and begin the challenges early the next day. Oooh – alchemy quest – I’m immediately excited. It’s like looking for

74 March/April 2010

Rostrud tionsequat ilit utatisim del ip et iriustrud eugait vel utatetum qui ex eniamcorpero


You will need your mountain bike. In your car, drive here: N 52° 45.100 W 001° 58.508, British Grid: SK 01776 17119. Park up, and on foot, find the Geocache ‘Alchemy Quest ~ Tin (Staffordshire)’.

24 Hours an Oregon 550T – with no hassle. Crumbs.


park as a waypoint (technical GPS term don’t cha know), and am even expert enough to give it a name: ‘car’. I then click on the geocache button and there it is – the Alchemy Quest – Tin. I press something else right and it shows me how to get there from my current location. Or it shows me the direct route, but with the mapping on the gadget, I can work out a route that uses paths.

Doesn’t seem such a good idea the next morning.

5hrs 30 mins

22hrs I use the time I’ve saved journeying to drown my sorrows about the loss of Frieda. In fact, I spend some of the £60 the scrap man gave me on the project.


Rostrud tionsequat ilit utatisim del ip et iriustrud eugait vel utatetum qui ex eniamcorpero

I retrieve my bike from where it’s been banished since the last time I used it (four months ago for the last challenge – I’m not much of a cyclist). The back tyre, I notice, is flat. I don’t own a pump: this would imply I actually wanted to ride the bike.

8hrs I load the bike into the groundsheet-protected car and set off. First stop, the local bike shop to ask them sheepishly to pump up the tyres.

7.30hrs The bike shop man is very kind, so I also ask him to show me how to tighten the brakes, as they were getting a bit dodgy last time. He explains that I need new cables and brake pads. Ah. Oh well, I tell him gaily, they will have to wait for now, as I’m on a very important and topsecret mission. He does not look suitably impressed.

7hrs It starts to sleet as I reach Birmingham.

6hrs 45 mins Rostrud tionsequat ilit utatisim del ip et irius

Horcruxes in Harry Potter. The coordinates it gives are in Staffordshire, at a place called Cannock Chase. I live in Coventry (ever-beautiful) so it’s not far – no need to mission anywhere immediately.

23hrs I leisurely look up the geocache on the website and, thanks to my lesson with Super Greg, download it to the GPS –

Can’t believe it’s working. A friendly chap with a dog asks me if I’ve got far to go. “I hope not,” I reply mysteriously.

5hrs I’m pretty much on top of the geocache. I leave the track and delve in to the woodland, as instructed. The GPS beeps and says ‘arriving at geocache’. Awesome.

4hrs 45 mins Slightly less awesome. I have spent 15 minutes beating round some trees with a stick, sure I must be walking on top of the cache, and can’t find it. I try pressing the ‘hint’ button on the GPS, but it says that I must be a premium member of to be allowed one. Knew there was a reason I should have gone for the $30 option.

4hrs 30 mins After more hunting and feeling foolish rummaging around under trees, I give up, reluctantly as I know I’m close. But I want to have time for the other challenges. This geocache was rated three out of five stars for difficulty – I don’t want to try a five-star one. And at least the GPS acknowledged I was there – pretty good for a

There’s nothing like going on the M6 Toll to make you feel like you’re part of Britain’s elite. I hope I can claim it on expenses.

6hrs I arrive at my destination, which is the Birches Valley Forest Centre in Cannock Chase, a noted place for mountain bike trails. What’s more, it has a bike hire shop. And it’s open. And it’s stopped sleeting. Result.

5hrs 45 mins Again thanks to Greg, I mark the car March/April 2010 75

24 Hours

The trailâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fun. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s single track, but not too steep and I even do a drop off. And push round some.

Rostrud tionsequat ilit utatisim del ip et irius

76 March/April 2010

24 Hours


Walk back to your car and ‘follow the dog’ on your bike, hiding the AT Geocache at a point on the route. Have fun! beginner, I console myself.

4hrs I arrive back at the car and open challenge number two. Follow the dog? Are they being funny? I can’t see a dog. Bike shop man #2 explains, as he sorts me out with a bike that can stop, that ‘follow the dog’ is one of Cannock Chase’s favourite trails. It’s only seven miles, which I reckon even I can manage. Before I see the sign that says it’s a trail for proficient bikers as it has berms, cambers, drop offs and other obstacles, that is. What’s a berm? I wouldn’t allow it in Scrabble. Even though it’s stopped sleeting, it’s still cold, so I go for the helmet-over-woolly-hat look. It’s coming back in.

3hrs 45 mins

Rostrud tionsequat ilit utatisim del ip et irius

The trail’s fun. It’s single track, but not too steep and I even do a drop off. And push round some.

3hrs 30 mins This is it. The big moment. I look for somewhere to plant my geocache. I have got everything according to the instructions on the website: a Tupperware container (my friend’s lunchbox); a logbook; a pen; a treasure (a picture of the thing most dear to me – Frieda, my ex car). I also include a note explaining how the first person to find this cache will win a free subscription to Adventure Travel. They’ll be fighting for it. I prowl around clutching my Tupperware, feeling guilty and looking suspicious. I eventually settle for a spot right next to half a tree stump (oops – mustn’t give too much away) about 10m from the track and mark it on the GPS. I call it ‘Frieda’.


Rostrud tionsequat ilit utatisim del ip et irius

Rostrud tionsequat ilit utatisim del ip et irius

The deed done, I’m free to enjoy the rest of the trail. And I really do enjoy it. I’m overtaken by about a dozen mountain bikers who all check that March/April 2010 77

24 Hours I’m all right and having fun, and I can honestly tell them that I am. Good grief.

2hrs It starts to sleet as I drive home through Birmingham. Must have a microclimate.

1hr I check in my bike to be mended. This suggests I might even be planning to use it again. Maybe.

30 mins I register my geocache on It turns out someone has to review it before it goes live on the site. Uh oh. I’ll never pass. I’m scared they’ll blacklist me from their game and send the geocaching Mafia out to get me. In case it never makes it on to the website, you can find it here: N 52.73954; W 001.97303. But shhh….

15 mins Ah. What was that other unknown object I got from Garmin? A geocoin? That will be top of my list to understand next time… ■

Rostrud tionsequat ilit utatisim del ip et irius


Rostrud tionsequat ilit utatisim del ip et irius

78 March/April 2010

Adventure Travel is new to geocaching, so this one is bound to go wrong. But you can find it here: N 52.73954; W 001.97303; buried under some undergrowth next to old tree stump on the Follow the Dog bike route at Birches Valley Forest Centre in Cannock Chase, Staffs. If you find it first, you’ll win a free sub to AT – and if you have any expert advice on geocaching, please tell us and we will love you forever.

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The day job


day job Do you dream of earning a living from a life in the outdoors? Mark Kalch has the coolest job title around – he’s a professional adventurer (told you). We find out more…

I still cringe a bit when I tell people what I do,” says Mark Kalch. “They always get a slightly confused look on their faces. But it’s a good dinner-table conversation if nothing else!” Professional adventurer Mark was born and grew up in Australia, but he’s been based in London for the past 10 years. His most recent expedition was a solo trek through the whole of Iran, starting at its northern border on the Caspian Sea and finishing at the southern border on the Persian Gulf. “I chose Iran was because I wanted to reveal a country that’s much misunderstood and misrepresented in the West,” says Mark. “I trekked and climbed through subtropical forest, 5,000m-plus mountains, high plateaus and desert landscapes, but the highlight was the people – they were unbelievably friendly and let me stay in their homes, school sports halls, Mosques – anywhere. I really can’t describe how friendly they were.” It sounds like the dream job – and he doesn’t deny it – but there’s more admin than you might think. “My trip to Iran took two years of planning for just a two-month expedition, and most of that was sitting behind a computer,” Mark says. “You have to sort the route, the maps, what kit you’re going to take… Some people might have been able to organise it more

quickly, but that was how long it took me – and nothing went wrong anyway!” Before becoming a full-time adventurer, Mark was a white water rafting guide in South Africa. “Whenever we had time off we’d organise our own mini expeditions, so it was a natural progression really,” he explains. “And it meant I didn’t have to get a real job.” Nice. But how does being a professional adventurer pay the bills? “I do a lot of speaking – for example public speaking, or giving talks in schools. If it’s to sixth formers, for instance, I talk about things like leadership, teamwork and motivation, or if it’s younger kids I can bring to life what’s on the curriculum – like what it’s like in the Amazon jungle, and what impact humans are having.” “There’s also sponsorship,” he continues. “I have great, continual sponsorship now [his sponsors include Rab, Meindl and Sony] but when I first started I had to phone around potential sponsors for every expedition. I got about 1,000 rejections for every one that took me up on it.” The worst bit of the job is also the best: the uncertainty. “I had a normal nine-‘til-five back in 1999 and even if I didn’t work very hard one month, I’d still get paid,” he says. “You can spend a whole month just getting by. If I get distracted now, I don’t get paid.”

80 March/April 2010

Another aspect that’s both good and bad is getting to the end of an expedition. “It’s a strange part of the job. For example in Iran I arrived at the southern border in the afternoon. It was such a big deal for me, but everyone else was just going about their business and looking at me as if to say ‘there goes another Westerner’. “And then you have to start organising how you’re going to get home.” Mark’s certain that if he wasn’t an explorer he’d still need to have a job in the great outdoors. “I think I’d like to be a pro-freesurfer. My brother sent me some DVDs about it and they reminded me of what I miss about Oz and Bali. Not that I’m good enough to be one, but it sounds a cool job.” And, most importantly, what’s the next big adventure? “I’m thinking about the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan. It’s a thin section of the country separate from where all the troubles are, near the Chinese border, and there are some really high mountains. But instead of just turning up to climb a big mountain, I’d rather explore the region in which the mountain sits, meet the people and find out more about the area. A proper expedition, not just grabbing a trophy summit. “But we’ll see. The beauty is, I can just ponder my map of the world, find somewhere that looks interesting and that’s where I’ll go.” ■

The day job

Mark says

Age: 32 Occupation: Professional adventurer   What’s the biggest challenge on your list of ‘things to do before I die’? To lead a life worth remembering.   What album or book would you wish for if you were stranded? Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa. It’s an inspirational read that will give anyone the motivation to escape.   What can keep you awake at night? Pre-expedition nerves and that damn rooster!   What do you miss most about home when you’re away? My family, my friends and being warm.   What’s your ultimate indulgence? Living my comfortable, decadent, western existence.   What’s your worst ever injury and how did you get it? I wish I could regale you with my death-defying parachute accident in Africa which broke my back and forced me to leave the SAS but alas, I have been pretty lucky. A couple of knocks to the head and overuse injuries resulting in fractured vertebrae, separated AC joints in both shoulders and a dodgy knee is about it. No worries.   What’s your best characteristic? Not wishing to settle for a ‘normal’ life. It keeps me always wanting more and makes things a hell of a lot more exciting and unpredictable.    And your worst? See above!   What’s your best tip for aspiring explorers? Forget records, first ascents, first descents, highest, longest and all that rubbish. Just go!   Any role models? In adventure and exploration, South African hard man Mike Horn. In life I admire anyone who strives to better themselves.   And finally: blondes, brunettes or redheads? I try not to discriminate (better odds!). March/April 2010 81



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ind speeds of 90mph, temperature fluctuations as wide as 20°C between day and night, annual rainfall of about 10mm and average winter temperatures of -25°C. That's what one of the harshest living environments in the world is made of.

The Changtang is a high-altitude cold desert that stretches from the northern tip of India into Tibet. Its average altitude is almost 5,000m. It's a land, as legend goes, that nurtures only those who strive to become part of it. A common adage is that in the Changtang, a person sitting with half his body in the sun and the other half in the shade can suffer sunburn and frostbite at the same time. The Changtang has a reputation for being desolate, barren and lifeless, and it has zealously guarded this reputation. Its sands allow neither crops nor roads to take root, and tourism has been staved off by the area's proximity to the Chinese border. Life here is limited to a sprinkling of hardy grass, a handful of hardy animals and the Changpas â&#x20AC;&#x201C; a hardy race of pastoral nomads. But on closer look, clouds, vegetation and minerals conjure up landscapes that embarrass even the lushest of Himalayan regions. Underground streams and the mighty Indus River that cleaves the plateau support a dizzying array of vegetation, and what the land lacks in blooms and other colours we associate with mountains is more than made up for by passing clouds, sheep running trails and the minerals that brush the mountains in myriad shades. And we've not even started speaking about the seasons yet. I have travelled with the Changpas for long periods over six years, as part of a personal project to document the lives of the remote communities in the Himalayas. Theirs is a primal existence that hinges on continuous movement and making the most of the rarest of commodities: air, water and the short season of spring. This set of pictures explores some of the remotest regions of the Changtang. Some of them are off-limits to trekkers, even Indian. I had the opportunity to explore them only because I was sunburnt enough to pass off as a nomad. These images are an ode to the colours of desolation, and a salute to the characteristics of what is popularly considered one of the more lifeless regions on this planet. March/April 2010 85


Pictures clockwise from left: ■ Endless ripples of earth and sand bear testimony to the seismic upheavals that thrust what was the bed of the Tethys Sea to the Ladakh we know of today. Beds of sediment offer fertile grounds that feed thousands of sheep and wild animals ■ Sheep-running trails zigzag across a gravely mountain near Hanle valley. The valley is the nomads’ wintering ground, and also has a state-of-the-art observatory for stargazing ■ Lichens and grass paint a hillside in the Hemis National Park in vivid oranges and greens after a sudden shower ■ A Himalayan Cough adds to the sense of intrigue in a shot of the Spiti river

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Five top tips for shooting in Ladakh ➊ Keep depth of field in mind: Ladakh is all about horizons and vastness. Maximise your depth of field to ensure all elements in your frame are sharp. Ladakh is almost always sunny, so you don’t need to bother about increasing the ASA and worrying about the noise it could generate. ➋ Remember the foreground: Though Ladakh looks wonderful when you’re there, many photos look bland because of all the dead space in the foreground. Look for points of interest that lead into the horizon.

They also help create the sense of depth in two dimensions. ➌ Chat up the locals: Some of the best images (and friendships) are made on hikes. Chat to locals and ask them which places they find most beautiful. If people who see these stunning landscapes everyday still find a place special, know for sure it’s worth an overnight stay, at least. ➍ Forget the sky: Not all landscapes need the sky to complement them. Including the sky will more often than not rob the image of

the many textures that the calloused mountains boast. Try using a telephoto lens for composing images, rather than a wide angle. You’ll be surprised at how wildly different and wonderful the compositions look. ➎ Ignore the ‘golden hours’ rule: If there is any place where the dawn and dusk rule doesn’t work, it’s in Ladakh. Because the mountains here are a load of mineral-laden mounds, they change shade through the day, as the angle of light changes. Some of the best shots of Ladakh come just after midday. March/April 2010 87


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Pictures clockwise from below: ■ A sulphurous sheath of ice protects a geyser bubbling with hot water in Chumur, one of the least-assimilated corners of Ladakh ■ The marshlands of Tso-kar, a brackish lake in Ladakh frozen in the deepest throes of winter. The ice is strong enough to support the weight of hundreds of yak, prized possessions of the Changpa which are most at home in these high and cold altitudes ■ A pool of clear spring water reflects the world that Kuyul is. The homes in the picture belong to the Changpa, nomadic herdsmen of Tibetan stock and the only people to inhabit the Changtang plateau ■ A scene of white at the Parang peak’s (6,400m) glacier is broken with a flash of red as a trekker clears the ridge line March/April 2010 89


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Whoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s snapping? A travel writer and photographer based in India, Sankar Sridhar has spent most of the last 10 years documenting remote Himalayan communities and landscapes under threat from progress. He is the author of Ladakh Trance Himalaya, a visual travelogue spanning a decade of trekking through the highaltitude desert. He has spent many months with the nomads of Ladakh, the Changpas, as part of a project to document their way of life and showcase the larger environment they live in. Sridhar received the Mountain Adventure award at the Banff Mountain Photography contest 2009. To see more of his photos, check out

Bleached mountains turn blue as clouds scuttle across overhead. In the foreground is a herd of Kiyang, or Tibetan wild asses, the most prolific of herbivores in this high-altitude desert March/April 2010 91

Arctic adventure

Northern delights He’s never skied before, but Tim Moss is off to Norway’s northern tip, Svalbard, for some polar exploration


’ll admit to being a little confused. It’s to be expected after international flights – losing track of time as you cross different zones and spending infeasible periods in queues and uncomfortable seats – but I’m pretty sure it should be dark by now. Stepping out of the airport the first thing that strikes me are my nasal hairs. They’re frozen. The second realisation is the confusing one. Why is there still sunlight? Technically speaking I’m in Norway, but even the cheapest airlines wouldn’t take three flights and the best part of a day to reach mainland Scandinavia. No, I’m in Svalbard (you may recognise the name from the Philip Pullman novels). Svalbard is an

archipelago in the high-Arctic, about half way between the North Pole and the top of Norway, and its largest island is called Spitsbergen. Still, that doesn’t answer the question that’s baffling my body more than my mind. Is the sun coming up or going down? If you’re ever lucky enough to visit to Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s main town (which happens to be on Spitsbergen – are you keeping up with this?), then you’ll know that it’s at 78° north. Not because you left ‘Norway’ several hours ago and only just landed. Nor because it's decidedly colder than wherever you started your journey. Not even because of the confusing thing that's going on with the sun (up, it’s definitely coming up). No. You’ll know that Longyearbyen is at 78° north because every other tshirt, hoody, down jacket and snowsuit you see around town is emblazoned with a logo announcing it as such. So, it's somewhere around midnight and the minibus we flagged down outside the

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airport, taking it in shifts to stand outside with frozen nostrils, is travelling a little too fast for my liking. Especially given that the road is made of snow. But I presume the driver's used to it. My suspicion is that this might not be the first time the white stuff has fallen on his town. I'm here with three friends – Gareth, Freddie and Carl – to train for a big polar trip. We'll be spending the first few days with the old hands of the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) for a crash course in cold survival. The BSES leaders, who I know because I used to work with them, are here with a team of a dozen or so teenagers about to embark on a mind-boggling 10-week expedition, skiing out of town with laden ‘pulks’ (explorer speak for sleds) and coming back a month or two later, a little smelly with thousandyard stares. We'll tag along with these guys until we find our feet and are ready for a baptism of frozen fire. First stop? The rifle range. “100 yards... 80 yards... 60 yards... 50 yards!” and the air fills with the screeches and pops of flares and, finally, a booming noise that wrenches your gut and shakes the ground as smoke trickles from the barrel, the rifle's wry acknowledgement of its attention-grabbing accomplishment as the imaginary bear gets too close for comfort. Polar bears require constant vigilance in Svalbard. Last time I was here, one of them strutted across the airport runway (a slightly more convincing explanation for transport delays than ‘leaves on the track’) and later ate someone's dog. But, generally speaking, you can consider yourself safe in town. Out and about, however, someone in your group should probably be carrying a weapon. In our case,

Arctic adventure Who’s writing?

Bear watch: the team taking their bear duties very seriously

WHERE: Between mainland Norway and the North Pole ACTIVITY: Polar exploration TIME: A week plus DIFFICULTY: Not too hard if you’re comfy on skis LOOK OUT FOR: Polar bears, of course

we have a single rifle between us and we're each carrying a small pen flare which looks a little like a small Maglite. My teammates all have military backgrounds so the only quibble is about who gets to carry the big gun and “pop the sucker” when he arrives (although we're aware, of course, that shooting a bear is a last resort and serious offence). Imparted with the requisite skills, arsenal and machismo to shoot the sixth Rambo film, all that remains is to learn how to ski. I've never had the opportunity before – not even for those downhill holidays that people keep raving about – but how hard can it be? After half an hour impersonating a drunken Bambi-on-ice, sliding my way down to town, and a good 90 minutes slogging my way back up cursing loudly as I suspect Bambi might the morning after, I discover skins. There is an explanation of what skins are and how they work that is both technical and logical. But I don't know it so I'll just say that they are like long bits of Velcro that stick to the bottom of your skis and let you go forward while stopping you from sliding backwards. Couple those with 30 kilos of pulk behind you and skiing suddenly becomes less like tight-rope walking and more like walking in clown shoes: not very graceful but infinitely easier. And with that, we are on our own. BSES have imparted their knowledge and the four of us are off.

Minus 20 sounds pretty cold doesn't it? And I certainly make it sound that way when I tell this story down the pub but, in reality, once we got moving it was fine. The sun was shining, the air was still and the pleasant, mild exertion of dragging fibreglass over frozen snow made for a wonderful introduction to ‘polar exploring’ (the quote marks indicate that we weren't exploring anything that the multitude of skiddoos flying past hadn't discovered with their clients earlier in the day). Still, that didn't stop me pushing my sunglasses up and pulling my balaclava down to say worriedly: “Gareth, what's that on your face?” There are two things you need to keep checking for in this sort of environment. The first is bears, and we had opted to address this particular need by crying “Bear Watch!” every few minutes followed by a series of nature documentary-themed jokes (as well as scanning the horizon – the original purpose). The second is cold injuries. For the most part, it's easy to tell whether you and your extremities are hot or cold. Your face, however, remains at least partly exposed in anything but the most severe of conditions and it's not always easy to tell the difference between chilly cheeks and the beginnings of frostnip or bite. In this instance, the white blister that had appeared on Gareth's left cheek disappears swiftly with the application of a warm palm.

Following a rapid initiation to the adventure club courtesy of the central Asian Tian-Shan mountains, Tim Moss became a loyal member after travelling around the world using 80 different methods of transport. He temporarily settled down to spend two years organising Arctic and Himalayan expeditions for the British Schools Exploring Society but now works freelance helping other people to undertake adventurous projects and planning a few of his own, all of which he writes about on adventure website

It reaches campsite o’clock. “What about over there?” I offer with a jab of the ski pole. “It’s fine here,” responds Carl in reference to the patch of ground more notable for its immediate proximity to us than its properties as a good spot. “Ram it,” comes the chorus of agreement from the team. Unclip harnesses. Unstrap boots from skis. Unzip pulk bags and unpack tent. A good camping routine can be the highlight of any adventurer’s day (OK, it can be the highlight of my day) but there is nothing quite like the ritual of preparing a campsite in Svalbard. First you dig a platform of snow. This ensures a level ground for sleeping and gives you large piles of white paperweight with which you secure your tent – four-inch aluminium pegs are not much use out here. Shovelling may be a bugbear for the manual labourer but for the office-bound pen-pusher like myself, it’s brilliant. It’s also a great way of keeping warm, a key issue once you stop moving. It’s -20° here. Did I mention that? Platform dug you then have to pitch your Arctic tent. This is like a normal tent except you pitch it in the Arctic and take lots of photos to impress your mates. Bundling in in all March/April 2010 95

Arctic adventure your layers, the next objective is to melt snow for cooking and drinking. My watch was permanently set to thermometer mode, so I didn't pay much attention to time, but it felt like the stove was on for about two hours solid each evening. First came hot drinks, then soup, then a main course, dessert, another hot drink, a thermos for the morning and a hot water bottle for the night. With that great a volume in your belly there is little option but to lie back, shut your eyes and wait for sleep to come. You might think that nighttime would be cold, but it wasn't. This could be because the almost 24-hour daylight removes the cooling effect of an absent sun. Or it could be because I had three sleeping bags. The big down one probably would have done the job on its own but putting a cheap one-season bag over the top collects all the condensation that freezes on the outside, keeping the goose feathers dry and me warm. The fleece liner on the inside was because I'm a chicken. We make it to the coast and a frozen vista of sea-ice and distant mountains. Skiddoo traffic dissipates to nothingness as we veer off the beaten track and along the jagged rocks that

run down to the sea. Several days of skiing through white remoteness have left us with a hunger to get back to civilisation. Well, that seems to be what the others are getting at – I was rather enjoying myself – but they reckon we should keep going through the night so we can get a warm bed and some food that doesn't come sealed in foil with a best-before-date of after the London Olympics. Of course, there are worse places to ski through the night than Svalbard, and there are worse days to do it than this one. “Happy Easter, boys!” I mumble through my balaclava, backed up with ski-pole semaphore as the sun begins its loop again, half-obscured behind the mountainous horizon. The reason for the urgency is the steep wall of snow we came across earlier in the day. Impassable with pulks strapped to our waists, we resorted to a game of tug of war – four young men versus four pulks and gravity. We won but Newton had the last laugh as we rounded the corner and realised that, having got up our snowy staircase, we had reached a dead end and had to go back down. We were now faced with two options: drop down the perilous slopes to the coast and see if we could continue our way around, or back-track the way we'd come over the last few days. “If we don't get down there we're pushing that beacon,” said Freddie, in reference to the emergency beacon I was carrying for, well, an emer-

gency. This was a little drastic given we had plenty of supplies for another few days and were well within schedule, but not everyone was as comfortable with this as I was. We tried to get down to the coast but the slopes were dizzyingly steep to try walking down, let alone to drag a pulk down and, disappointingly, we found a spot with mobile phone reception. Retracing our steps might have been a bit boring but it would still have beaten a few days in the office. However, the guys wanted out and phoning for a skiddoo to meet us a few kilometres away was a reasonable compromise from pushing the big red button and paying £20,000 for a helicopter. We skied with fresh vigour along the route we had carved in the previous days until we saw tiny blips of motorised salvation appear in the distance and thunder towards us. We had made many a joke about being rescued by hot, young Scandinavian ladies, and we were not the slightest bit off the mark. My memory is about as good as my Norwegian but I'm pretty sure the first words that came from the brunette's mouth were: “Are you boys looking for a ride?” ■

Five top Polar tips


To stop your drink freezing, fill your bottle with hot water and stick it in a woolly sock. Drink that first then use your Thermos later in the day. Put fresh, dry socks on your feet at night and dry out the damp ones inside your sleeping bag (ideally on your chest, tucked into your base layer if you can stand it!). This is good for hats and gloves too. Use a cheap, synthetic sleeping bag or fleece liner over the top of your main sleeping bag to collect condensation and stop the main one getting wet or frozen overnight. Keep camera/torch/GPS batteries in pockets close to your body so they stay warm and don’t drain in the cold (put Mars bars there too unless you enjoy them frozen solid). When melting snow, pour a little water into the pan first. This speeds up the process and stops the snow ‘burning’ (you’ll see what I mean if you don’t!).

2 3 4 5

Heavy going: ploughing through the white stuff

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›› Arctic

‘ Let s

Want to do what Tim did? Here’s how you can All white on the night: an Arctic camp, complete with bear trip wire

›› Getting there Flights go from Manchester or London Heathrow via Oslo and Tromso to Longyearbyen. The airline is Scandinavian Airlines (SAS),; prices range from £400-700. Longyearbyen Airport is a short taxi ride from the town centre, or there’s a regular bus. It’s maybe an hour or so’s hike. ›› When to go You can visit Svalbard at any time of year but the most popular times are spring and summer. The polar night runs from late October to mid February and daylight reigns from late April to mid August. Spring offers opportunities for trips by skidoo, ski, dog-sled, snowshoe and boat. This is a great time for ski-touring and ski-mountaineering. Summer gives the chance for hiking, glacier travel, mountaineering and more boat tours as well as other activities like kayaking and horse riding. ›› Organised/ self-supported Whether you go by yourself or with a company, the main things to think about are the remoteness, the cold (particularly in

spring where -20°C and below is not unusual) and polar bears. Bear defence is likely to include a rifle and possibly flares and a trip wire if camping. These are things you need to research in advance. If you’re going it alone there’s a great shop in the town, Ingenior G Paulsen (‘Paulsen’s’), which is great for anything from last-minute hats and gloves to ammunition and flares, skidoo hire and fuel for your stove. igp/eng;; +47 79 02 32 00. There are plenty of companies that will either run or help organise a trip. The British Schools Exploring Society has over 60 years’ experience of organising Arctic expeditions. It focuses on youth development (16-23yrs) but also runs an Arctic skills course for any age, and always needs volunteer leaders (23+yrs with cold weather experience).; 0207 591 3141. The Polar People specialises in hand-crafted Arctic holidays, from dog sledging to small ship voyages and land-based exploration.; 029 20 704 987. Spitsbergen Travel is a local tour operator and travel agency

Arctic adventure


that organises cruises, tours and expeditions and runs the reasonably priced (by comparison) Spitsbergen Guest House. www.; info@; +47 79 02 61 00. Basecamp Spitsbergen organises snow mobile journeys, multiday ski tours and overnighting in a boat stuck in the ice among other things.;; +47 79 02 46 00. S3 Adventure is a UK-based company offering tailored, guided adventures for a wilderness experience: ›› Facilities The town has a supermarket (Svalbardbutikken), gear shops and restaurants/pubs. Norway is expensive, northern Norway more so and Svalbard the worst. It’s best to take all your kit unless you need anything really specialist. ›› More info Svalbard Tourism,

Longyearbyen March/April 2010 97

Long distance trails


e t a m i ult

l i a r t I f you don’t know what Chile looks like, take an atlas and find the country with the most outrageous shape. Averaging only 180km in width, and at 4,300km in length (that’s the same as travelling from London to Tehran), it’s a geographical absurdity that beggars belief. But the ridiculous shape has some real advantages. The first great plus, aside from being able to scuba dive in the morning and ski in the afternoon (which has to be any adventurer’s dream, although probably not advisable), is the effect it’s had on the country’s development. Chile is squeezed between the craggy peaks of the Andes and the rugged coast of the Pacific, and capped by the fjords of Tierra del Fuego and the arid plains of the Atacama Desert, which has given the country an island-effect and kept it separate from the rest of South America for millennia. This has allowed it to develop a unique array of flora and fauna as well as leave its impressive and diverse wilderness largely untouched. For travellers and hikers though, the greatest advantage is the way

In the first of a new series on longdistance trails (and we mean long), Charlie Proctor introduces El Sendero de Chile – the path from Patagonia to Peru

in which it does away with any need to travel east or west. Chile is like a Yo-Sushi conveyor belt of natural wonders, serving up a stunning assortment of delights. From glaciers, lakes and ice fields in the south to the Mars-like landscapes of the Altiplano in the north, it is a melange of contrast and all the traveller has to do is set their compass north or south and they won’t miss a thing. If this wasn’t enough, the Chilean government is now on it’s way to completing a project that will arouse the aspirations of any avid hiker. Called simply El Sendero de Chile (the Chilean Path), it is a mammoth undertaking to link all the breath-taking regions of this country, from Patagonia to Peru, with one seamless trail. When completed it will cover a staggering 8,500km and it may well be the most impressive trail in the world.

Don’t miss The Altiplano: Located in the extreme north of the country, this high-altitude desert region is like something out of a Star Trek movie set and offers some out-of-thisworld scenery.

El Sendero de Chile: the hard facts

Trail start: Punta Arenas, Patagonia Trail end: Arica, at the northern tip of Chile Length: 8,500km Fully completed so far: 1,600km Highest part: Las Salares in the north, which has consistent altitudes of 4,000-4,200m Expected date of completion: 2011-2012 Dangers: UV radiation (especially in the south), dehydration in the desert regions, altitude sickness (especially in the Altiplano) When to go: the northern sections can be trekked any time of year. The ideal time to trek the south is between December and March, otherwise it can be extremely inhospitable. Estimated time to walk the whole route: nine months

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Short stroll: the approximate route of the El Sendero de Chile

Southern spectacular: The Torres del Paine national park

Patagonia North: The trail here starts in the city of Coyhaique. You can see the typical Chilean traditions, the Mapuche (the indigenous people of Chile) and fishing villages, as well as rugged coastal views, glaciers, verdant mountains and sub-tropical rain forests. Patagonia Austral: This includes Magallanes to the Antarctic region. It boasts some world-class trekking, including the awe-inspiring Torres del Paine.

What you need ● Sun-cream: there is searing desert sun in the north and high UV radiation levels in the south ● Waterproofs and thermals: fierce, cold winds from the icecaps and lashing rain are common in the south. Desert temperatures can plummet below zero at night ● A guide: areas in the north are extremely remote, and some trails are currently not marked. ● Spanish phrasebook: English is not widely spoken in Chile so be prepared

Short on time? Don’t panic. The trail has been separated into 10 different sections: Altiplano; Interior Desert; Coastal Desert; Valley Traverse; Central Andes; Araucania; Woods, Lakes and Volcanos; Patagonia Norte; Patagonia

Austral and Tierra del Fuego. There’s information on each at

More info For more on the trail and its progress, see (the official site, in Spanish), or for info in English, plus maps, see www. ■

What they say “El Sendero de Chile is incredible and hallucinating,” says Sebastian Infantes, who manages the trail project.

“The big trail from north to south is about 8.500km long, making it one of the longest trekking trails in the world, and it can be done on foot, horse or by bicycle.” “Lots of the trails are inside the National Parks, so it’s safe and everyone always has maps to guide them,” he continues. “The most difficult and challenging part is the Carretera Austral [Austral Highway] because of its weather conditions. In both winter and summer you can find yourself with a lot of wind, rain and low temperatures. But this part of the trail is more varied than the northern part that goes through the desert.”

Fascinating facts about Chile 1. The Mapuche (Chile’s indigenous people) were never conquered by the Incas and fought off the Spanish for 300 years. It wasn’t until the 19th century that Europeans settled in Araucania, the area regarded as their homeland. 2. It’s home to the world’s driest desert (the Atacama) 3. The region around Torres Del Paine has the world’s most temperamental weather system 4. Easter Island (Rapanui), a special territory of Chile, is the world’s most isolated island. It lies about 3,500km from Chilean mainland 5. Chile is known as the England of South America, because of our cultural influence (they still have elevenses!) 6. It’s the safest country in South America. Recently ranked less corrupt than France or Japan, Chile offers a safe, dependable police force and a relatively low crime-rate (although normal precautions apply in any large city) March/April 2010 99

Gear guide: expedition packs


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Gear guide: expedition packs

pack to the

future Which big load carrier is perfect for your next adventure? Alun Davies finds out If you’re travelling independently, wilderness hiking, winter mountaineering or camping overseas then the chances are you’ll need an expedition-sized rucksack with a storage capacity of over 65L. There are exceptions: hikers who follow the minimalist approach to backpacking where a tarp will replace a tent, and every item of gear is weighed and stripped back to its bare essentials – even to the extent of cutting off manufacturers’ labels – can make do with far smaller packs. In the most extreme lightweight cases, where sleeping under makeshift shelters, catching food on the hoof and generally living in purgatory is the appeal, a stick with a knotted hanky will suffice. If you’re travelling on an organised tour, with a specialist adventure company, then you’ll no doubt be accompanied by porters, pack animals or a support vehicle. In which case we reckon, as do most of the tour operators, you’d be better off with a cargo bag (for the support to carry) and a day pack for your personal use. In essence expedition-sized packs are bought and used by either travellers who pack more gear than they need (join the gang), those who intend to camp rather than stay in hotels, B&Bs and refuges and by full-on explorers. The basic gear you’ll be hump-

ing on a long distance trek or expedition – tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, clothes, stove, fuel, food, water etc – takes up a lot of space. If your adventure includes any climbing, you’ll also need to find room for heavy ropes and gear. And that’s why you’re going to need a minimum carrying capacity of 65L and a pack designed to be comfortable with all the additional weight.

Comfort You’re going to have to face it: at the start of a journey carrying a fully loaded expedition-sized pack is going to be hard work (albeit enjoyable hard work) and can be extremely uncomfortable if you buy the wrong rucksack. But the good news is, whatever pack you buy, your body will adapt over time. Carrying the pack will get easier as you get fitter and the discomfort of shouldering such a heavy burden will reduce as you become more conditioned – a rugby player would call it ‘match fit’. And there’s more good news: I have yet to find a more efficient and enjoyable way of losing weight and those spare inches than hauling a large backpack on an overseas adventure. Having said all that there are ways to make the experience more comfortable from the off, and the three most important things you can do are: buy a pack that fits your back length; make sure it has

a supportive hip belt that fits on your hips, and pack your gear with an eye on keeping the centre of gravity low and as close to your back as possible. When we test and score expedition packs we’re well aware that what fits us (and therefore is comfortable) may not fit you. When it comes to the crunch (on trail) the most important feature you need is a good fitting backpack. Get it wrong and you will regret it. Just about all expedition backpacks come with back length adjusters, but it’s the overall frame length that contributes most to comfort. Length adjusters should be thought of in terms of fine-tuning. A well fitted pack will sit comfortably and securely just above the hipbone. If the back length is the right one for you then the upper straps will sit on the shoulders and attach to the top of the pack roughly four or five centimetres below the shoulder line. If the fit is good, you’ll know it and feel it – it’s like being strapped into a comfortable pilot’s seat. When buying, check out a few brands for fit: you’ll be amazed at the variations of back lengths and the difference in fit. It’s possible to fine-tune the pack more by bending the frame to suit your back shape, though we doubt that you’ll find a shop that will allow you to do that before buying. March/April 2010 101

Gear guide: expedition packs

What’s on the back? ›› Back system Picking a frame to suit your back length is your most important decision. Just about all expedition rucksacks come with an internal frame structure which is sandwiched between the harness and the main carrying compartment. Made from lightweight plastic sheets, alloy bars or fibreglass/carbon poles, the frame gives the bag shape, supports the weight and transfers the weight of the load on to the hips. We’re not too fussed about ventilation features on a pack of this size; a sweaty back is unavoidable.

›› Shoulder straps Don’t make the mistake of thinking of the shoulder straps as the main load-bearing feature – that’s the job of the hip belt. Too much weight channelled through the shoulder straps will make life on trail painful and uncomfortable. Think of them in terms of stability and make sure they’re not so close together they dig into the neck or so wide apart they slide off the shoulders. Good padding helps but as most of the weight

should be channelled through the hip belt it is not as critical as you may think.

›› Hip belts The difference between a good fitting, supportive hip belt and an ill fitting one is huge. Hip belts and frames are the two vital features that you need to get right. A wellpadded belt that sits snugly above the hipbones allowing the pack load to be spread evenly with no pressure points or hot spots will be your best friend on trail.

›› Chest straps Chest straps are all about stability and securing the shoulder straps in place. In use some people find them uncomfortable and too restrictive.

›› Top tension straps This is the webbing that connects the upper part of the shoulder straps to the main pack. If tensioned correctly they pull the pack closer to the back, improving stability, balance and load transfer to the hips.

Rucksack features ›› Lid

Go for a lid that has at least one zipped pocket for storing close-to-hand items

›› Accessory loops Usually positioned on the lid or base for securing additional gear to the outside of the pack

›› Haul loops Originally a robust feature for ‘hauling’ sacks up climbing routes, now more commonly used as a handle for everyday pack carrying

›› Hydration pouch Useful if you use hydration pouches but not essential

›› Wand pockets Narrow open pouches at the base of the sides useful for securing the likes of tent poles, trekking poles etc

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›› Side tension straps These connect the waist belt to the pack and can be tweaked to provide better stability and fit.

›› Weight A low pack weight is good, but in our experience choosing a pack for its weight (over comfort and fit) is folly. Painful experience has taught us that the ultra lightweight obsession with outdoor gear just does not work with a heavy load carrier. Better to go for comfort than save a few ounces on weight. You can always cut down on weight by picking a pack with fewer features but remember: comfort and fit are kings of the hill. Got that?

›› Waterproof liners Despite the claims of some manufacturers we’ve yet to find a conventional rucksack that’s totally waterproof – and have the soggy gear to prove it. A rain cover and waterproof liners are essential unless you like your kit wet and cold.

›› Daisy chains/elasticated storage points Useful features for lashing all kinds of useful stuff to the outside of the pack

›› Rope compression straps These are found on dedicated expedition and climbing packs between the lid and main compartment and used to secure climbing ropes in an easy-to-get-at position

›› Ice axe/trekking pole loops For carrying axes and poles securely on the outside of the pack. If you use poles and axes then you need them

›› Side compression straps Useful for securing gear to the side of the pack and for compressing the main sack to fit the internal load, which is a great aid to pack stability

Gear guide: expedition packs

top tips


for packing an expedition rucksack On-trail harmony is… knowing how to pack your big-load carrier

If you’re packing liquid camping stove fuel there’s always a risk it could leak and contaminate the rest of the gear in your rucksack. It’s therefore advisable to stash cooking fluids in a place where a spill will do as little damage as possible, for example in a wand pocket. Also, carry a stuff-sack to separate your worn and whiffy clothes from the clean and fresh.


Close to hand

Rain covers

The number one secret for big-load carrycomfort is to make sure the centre of gravity of the pack is as near to your lower back as possible. Pack all the heavy stuff too high in the pack and it becomes unstable. If the most weighty gear is all in the bottom of the pack it’ll pull unduly on your shoulders; if the weight is too far back in the pack then it’ll be unstable, uncomfortable and pull you backwards. The best place to stash your heavy gear is just above the sleeping bag compartment and as close to your body as possible. Use lighter clothing to pad out the outer reaches of the pack.

When you’re out on trail you’ll be taking rest stops during the day and there’s always the possibility you may not reach a campsite until dark. And the last thing you’ll be wanting to do is rummage through your pack every time you stop – especially if it’s wet and windy. When packing your rucksack make sure that the stuff you need to access (snacks etc) at rest stops is either in the lid of your pack or in one of the outer pockets and therefore easy to get to. Packing a headtorch in the lid of your rucksack is always a good idea, especially for when you run out of daylight on trail or arrive in camp at dusk.

There are a few specialist waterproof rucksacks on the market but they tend to be impractical in their layout for long distance hiking and not very comfortable in use. All other rucksacks are water-resistant up to a point but none are waterproof, which means in wet conditions your gear is going to get soaked. To keep your gear dry we advise you go for a belt and braces approach and pack a rain cover for the outside of the pack and waterproof stuff-sacks for inside the pack, for the gear that you absolutely need to keep dry.

›› The test regatta 65L


adventure tech

The Adventure Tech is an economically priced 65L rucksack that’s better suited to student backpacking trips, general travel and hikes where you need extra packing space but will not be carrying full loads, for example hut to hut walks in the Alps. Regatta has long been known as a company that offers great value-formoney products that do an acceptable job and in some cases an excellent job. So the Adventure Tech 65L is no full-on expedition pack, but that’s not to say it’s a substandard product. First off, the 65L capacity is small when compared to other similar-sized packs, and the back system and hip belt are not in the same comfort or support leagues as other big load carriers tested here. You also don’t get any compression straps for securing loads or compressing the pack and the lid is fixed which means no adjusting for load expansion. What you do get is a pack that’s essentially an oversized day sack with the following features: a fixed lid with two zipped pockets, one of which contains a rain cover; an inner hydration pouch; twin wand pockets, and a large exterior zipped pocket on the back of the sack. You also get pole and axe loops plus a small daisy chain attachment point. The Adventure Tech comes with what looks like a lower zipped entry to a sleeping bag compartment, but surprisingly that’s not the case. You actually gain access to a small pocket with organiser pouches and we’re struggling to work out what benefit the designer had in mind with this feature.

In a line: An oversized day pack best for general travel and inter-railing

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Gear guide: expedition packs


65L 2.3kg



The Vango Sherpa 65L is what we think of as an old-school rucksack with a couple of protruding side pockets – the sort of pack you’d imagine using on a Duke of Edinburgh scheme. In fact, it is DOE-recommended kit. The price is competitive but it’s also clear where the production costs have been minimized. The back system on this pack comes in two lengths (small and regular) and is fully adjustable for fine-tuning. And while it’s OK for low to medium loads, there are far more robust, comfortable and supportive packs for carrying heavier expedition kit. Indeed, it’s even worth checking out the Vango Pumori. From the top down, you get a fixed non-extendable lid with three zipped pockets, one containing a rain cover, another a key holder. The main bag comes with a draw cord divider to make a lower sleeping bag compartment should you wish, and access to the pack is via the top and a zipped entry to the lower section. Features include twin side pockets, side wand pockets, an inner hydration pouch, a small zipped map pocket on the rear of the pack, twin ice axe and trekking pole attachment loops, elasticated cord for attaching loose clothing or gear, plus grab handles at the top and side. When measured against more expensive packs it would be easy to criticise the Sherpa, but when price is taken into account this pack works out just fine for hut to hut hiking in the Alps and long weekends up in the UK hills. Its limitation is as a top-end load carrier.

In a line: If cost if your priority this is a good value for money pack for medium loads


Blacks 80L

alpine 80


I’ve a soft spot for Blacks which dates back to the early 1980s when the retailer was my local outdoor shop and the manager an enthusiastic outdoor and travel activist. His technical product knowledge was second to none, and when coupled with his practical experience he knew if a product was up to the job – and I’ve little doubt what his view of the Alpine 80 would be. Blacks markets this pack as suitable for trekking, travelling and backpacking. As a general travel pack it’s OK, ditto for backpacking (backpacking in the gap year sense as opposed to serious backcountry hiking). However, if you need an 80L backpack for carrying big loads on a trek, the Alpine 80 does not come close to being suitable – and I’m sure my old friend the manager would agree. The problem with this pack is the back system. When fully loaded, the metal staves actually bend under the weight and the soft, flexible hip belt does nothing to promote carrying comfort. And at that, I think I’ve said enough about its ‘outdoor’ capabilities. As a gap year ‘travel pack’, where it’ll spend more time in cheap hotels than on your back, it starts to have a purpose. The lid and bottom storage compartment are double skinned and secured by a waterproof roll closure (think map case) and as near to waterproof as you’re going to get without buying a dedicated waterproof pack. But other than the competitive price and good rain-proofing we are struggling to find a positive with the Alpine 80, and happy to say it’s not representative of other Blacks products.

In a line: A general travel pack only

▲▲ 104 March/April 2010

Gear guide: expedition packs


60L 1.48kg


Wildtrek 60

Strictly speaking the Wildtrek 60 shouldn’t be included in this test as our criteria for expedition packs is a capacity of over 65L. However, with a nod firmly in the direction of the lightweight hiker, we’re pleased we did. The Wildtrek comes in two fixed back lengths (50cm and 58cm) and there’s also a 55L female-specific version available at £120. It comes with a number of innovative features, including extensive use of welded and taped seams, making it more waterproof than most, plus a supportive lightweight back system and a superb hip belt that combine to make the pack far more comfortable than we expect from lightweight load carriers. Lightwave is claiming a comfortable carrying weight of 15kg; we’ve packed over 20kg and been happy enough. For such a lightweight pack (1.48kg), we’ve also been seriously impressed with the quality and robustness of the fabrics – a combination of robust 420d Dynatech fabric and a 300d micro-ripstop polyester. The main compartment is split in two, with the lower section accessed through a water-resistant zip around the base rather than a zip half way up the back of the pack. Unlike some of other expedition packs we’ve been checking out, the Wildtrek is not feature rich, but what you do get for your money are the essentials. It comes with a lid pocket, ice axe/trekking pole loops, an inner hydration pouch, a rugged haul handle and elasticated stash points on the lid. Our favourite feature is a couple of superbly positioned and useful stretchy mesh pockets on the hip belt, a feature we’d like to see on all packs.

In a line: Lightweight hikers – you’ve just found 60L of rucksack Nirvana



70L 2.1kg


aether 70

When you first pick up this Osprey pack the complexity and number of straps can be off-putting, but they’re all there for good reason, so stick with it. The Aether 70 (women’s version Ariel 65) is a lightweight, medium (weight) load carrier with a recommended carry capacity of around 23kg. In use we had no complaints with the comfort level, but if you’re going to be carrying seriously heavy loads you might be better off looking elsewhere. The back system on the Osprey feels insubstantial for a pack of this size but this is where hands-on design plus top quality components and construction work together to produce a stable rucksack that transfers weight efficiently on to the hip belt, which you can get custom-moulded for precise fit. We didn’t get the hip belt on our test pack tweaked, but it still performed spot-on. The lid of the Aether is detachable and doubles up as a bum bag – a great feature if you’re planning day hikes out of a wild camp site or need to take off the pack for scrambling or climbing to a summit. You don’t get any side pockets on this pack but you do get two enormous elasticated wand pockets and a big stretchy back pouch, which we reckon are just as (if not more) useful out on the hill than zipped side pockets. And back to the array of straps. These are perfect for load compression, stability and lashing stuff to the outside of the pack, plus you get axe holders and a loop for climbing gear should you need it. The main compartment can be accessed from the top and via a back zipped entry.

In a line: Excellent combination of low weight, comfort and practicality for all but the heaviest loads

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Gear guide: expedition packs


65+10L 2.8kg


air contact

There’s a good reason why Deuter rucksacks are moving up the bestseller charts in the UK. They are excellent load carriers and we’ve yet to score a Deuter pack with anything less than top marks. You can buy lower-priced packs and lighter packs but when it comes to getting the basics spot on and all the components working together you’ll be hard pushed to buy a better all-round rucksack than the Aircontact. The essential features of any rucksack are carry-comfort, robustness and ease of storing gear close to hand, and this pack has those three features covered. The Aircontact back system does not appear to be as elaborate as some but the combination of a supportive frame, good padding and an excellent load-bearing swivel hip belt make this as comfortable as any. The back system is also easily adjusted for fine tuning fit. Working our way down the pack, the top lid floats to accommodate larger loads in the main sack, and you get inner and outer zipped lid pockets. The main sack is divided into upper and lower compartments and has a neat, uncluttered look. It comes with all the necessary features including twin zipped side bellow pockets and wand pouches, a zipped map pocket, an inner hydration pouch, an integral rain cover, axe/pole holders and various additional gear attachment points. The fabric and build quality of this pack will outlast the user and we always think highly of a pack with a hip belt pocket – they are so handy. Again, why don’t they come on all packs? We’ve put some miles on this pack and have to say we’re looking forward to lots more.

In a line: We can’t think of a reason not to buy one


lowe alpine

65 85L 2.3kg tfx appalachian 65 85


TFX is short for Torso Fit eXpedition which is essentially the company’s TFS (Torso Fit System) but for bigger, heavier loads. The emphasis, as the name suggests, is on getting the right fit – essential for happy big load carrying. To help out, specialist Lowe Alpine TFX dealers offer prospective buyers the opportunity to customise the fit using load simulation and a colour-coded adjustment scale. It’s good to see a company taking fit seriously. The original Appalachian back system comprised a TFX6 frame, a Torso Fit Expedition back panel and a standard fit hip belt. For 2010 this has been upgraded to the TFX8 and that means a pack with a recommended carrying capacity of 30kg. Fully packed we found the comfort level good, but if we’re being picky we prefer a slightly firmer foam in the hip belt – a feature of the more expensive TFX10 packs. But generally, we’re happy campers. Moving on to features and starting with the extendable, floating top lid: you get two outer and one inner zipped pockets. Pocket one is a dedicated rain cover pouch, rain cover included. Outer pocket two also comes with a glove-friendly zip pull and is big enough to take all those close-to-hand essentials, plus you get a key holder. The zipped inner is spot on for carrying passports, cash etc. The main sack has upper and lower compartments with a zipped divider. There are twin zipped side pockets, two open wand pockets plus compression straps and a handy elasticated gear attachment strap on the back. Axe loops and dedicated pole holders come as standard.

In a line: Neat, comfortable and solid. Just how we like our backpacks

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Gear guide: expedition packs


60 85L 2.3kg


cheetah 60-85

The £140 price point is highly competitive for expedition packs with superb large carriers available from the likes of Deuter, Low Alpine, Osprey and Lightwave. So with all that competition in mind we packed the Cheetah and set off for the hills. When compared to most packs of this capacity the new Karrimor SA2 back system looks a little insubstantial, but in use it’s surprisingly supportive with all but the heaviest of loads. The system looks basic and old fashioned by today’s standards and comprises two metal staves with little else to provide support and load transfer on to the hips. The fact that it actually works so well is in part down to the excellent pre-shaped hip belt which hugs the top of the hips just right. The back length can also be fine tuned. The main sack has upper and lower compartments, two big side bellows pockets and a fixed lid that extends for larger loads. You get a couple of zipped pockets and a bungy cord for external gear attachment on the lid. The upper main sack has an internal hydration pouch plus top and side entry access. There’s a zipped pocket on the back, axe/pole holders and two side mesh pouches. Lower down the sack is the sleeping bag compartment. The internal divider has a zip opener which means you can turn the Cheetah from a dual compartment into one big sack. At the base of the pack is a pocket containing a rain cover. There was nothing to dislike about this hardwearing pack but the competition is red hot – this would be a good buy with a big discount.

In a line: Good pack and a good buy if you got a discount



70+10L 2.8kg


c7 2 series 70+10

Back in 2006 I was impressed with the first version of the Berghaus Bioflex back system that featured on the C7 1 Series. The ability of the pack to move, swivel and pivot in tune with body movement was a revelation and the pack proved its worth on major overseas treks. If I had any concerns they were limited to the complexity of the back system rather than its performance on trail and I felt load-carrying stability diminished under seriously heavy weights. So, what of the second coming of Bioflex? Has Berghaus maintained the comfort? Has it made the system less fussy and beefed up the load-carrying capacity? In summary, that’s a yes and, er, a no. Under normal loads the comfort and stability are still top-notch and we love the way this pack moves with the body, but we were still getting a wobble when carrying heavy loads. And that’s something you’re going to need to consider if you’ll be packing the proverbial kitchen sink on your next adventure. The top lid is seam-sealed and the zip is water-resistant so you get above-average protection even before fitting the integral rain cover. The main bag has upper and lower compartments with a generous 70L capacity, with the twin side pockets providing an additional 10L. You can access the main compartment from both the top and back, which is handy. Wand pockets, an inner hydration pouch, axe and pole loops, a zipped back pocket and a neat stretch mesh pouch all have their uses on a pack that just misses a five-star rating.

In a line: Perfect for all but the heaviest of loads

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Gear guide: expedition packs


90L 1.6kg


odyssey pack

You sort of know what to expect from a company named GoLite and it ain’t going to be a fully featured bells and whistles lead-weighted backpack. This company is all about producing stripped-down gear with weight reduction as the Holy Grail. On occasion we’ve criticised GoLite backpacks when we’ve thought comfort has been compromised by weight reduction past the point of common sense, but they’ve also achieved some five-star ratings. The Odyssey 90L is a huge pack – with the main pack extension sleeve fully expanded it’s so cavernous that, should you want, you could pack a three-piece suite on trek. But therein lies the problem: fill this monster sack with gear weighing over 20kg and the comfort is compromised. Keep it below that weight and it’s an acceptable comfy carrier. To keep the weight low, GoLite only provides what it thinks to be the essential features, and we like the practical simplicity of this pack. The main sack comes with a removable divider and a zip entry to access the lower sleeping bag section. You get an internal hydration pouch, one good-sized top lid pocket, twin wand pockets at the lower sides, a big, practical zipped pocket on the back of the sack, compression straps and twin pockets on the hip belt. The hip belt pockets are a great feature, though the hip ‘belt’ is better described as two short fins rather than the full supportive belt that usually comes on a pack of this size.

In a line: A big, lightweight pack and comfortable to go


kathmandu 75L 3.1kg

c7 2 series 70+10


The Interloper is what we’d call a ‘travel pack’ rather than an ‘expedition rucksack’, with a back system that zips away when not in use (handy for airports) and a detachable day pack. This Kathmandu model is too heavy and impractical to be considered as a serious multi-day trekking pack, but it is one of the most comfortable and hardwearing hybrid backpacks we’ve used. It’s a good choice for general travel with the occasional hike and far better suited for fully supported treks where you’ll not be carrying it. One of the interesting features of the Interloper is the modular back system where the pack comes in three back lengths and the hip belt and shoulder pads are interchangeable for fine tuning to your body shape. We’ve not come across this level of detail on a travel pack and generally speaking we’ve been impressed with the comfort and support, which has proved to be better than some of the dedicated trekking packs we’ve checked out. As you might expect with this type of pack, the features are not user friendly for expeditions; for example there are no easy-access exterior pockets or axe and pole attachment points. What you do get are more internal pockets and gear storing/organising options and even a mesh laundry bag. The build quality is good, the fabric strong and robust and with the back system zipped away you can carry this pack as you would a suitcase. The detachable day pack is small and better suited for around town use than on the hill but for the occasional day walk it’s fine.

In a line: Excellent quality, robust and above average carry comfort for a hybrid travel pack

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Gear guide: expedition packs

the north face 70L 2.3kg


primero 70

At just under £220 the Primero 70L is competing with the equally expensive Vaude plus a whole bunch of good packs at £60 less expensive, so we were looking for something special. And we found it. The essence of a big load carrier is a supportive and comfortable back system and the Primero passes that test. The back system comes in the form of an X-shaped metal frame (TNF calls it its X Radial Backframe) and a stiffened back plate. What’s interesting is that the pack swivels in use using the middle of the X as the fulcrum. Add to this a swivel hip belt and the Primero is possibly the most naturally unrestrictive backpack we’ve used. The body contact ‘padded’ area of the back system is also unique in that it is made out of an injection-moulded EVA rubber panel – the same stuff they make Crocs shoes with. In a shop it looks uncomfortable, in use the reverse is true. The main sack is one big single compartment with top, side and lower access and it contains a hydration pouch. Features include a detachable, floating lid which allows the pack to be expanded for extra large load carrying. You also get a couple of zipped pockets in the lid and the seams are sealed for water resistance. There’s a useful-sized external mesh pocket on the back of the main pack plus a handy hip belt pocket. You also get a wand pocket and a forward-tilted water bottle pouch which makes grabbing a drink on the move easy. It has lots of welded waterproof seams and it appears to be robust.

In a line: Comfy, expensive big load carrier



70+10L 3.4kg


versametric 70+10

If NASA was in the business of making backpacks for a multi-day trek on the moon there’s a good chance the outcome would look and perform like the Vaude Versametric. Vaude threw the history book out of the window when it came to designing the Versametric back system, along with all those metal staves and flexible plastic sheets. The back system on this pack is a rigid Polycarbonate panel, pre-moulded in all the right places and padded where it needs to be. The result is a back system that does not buckle or bend under load and transfers weight to the hip belt super-efficiently and in a controlled manner. And it doesn’t stop there: the hip belt swivels when you walk, and unlike other swivel belts this one pivots higher up the back which means it’s more stable under heavier loads. Additionally, both the hip belt and the back length can be tweaked for fit while on the move. And before we move on to traditional features, the detachable top lid is adjusted by a mechanical ratchet device as opposed to buckles and straps. But how does it all work in practice? In a word: superbly. It’s a heavy pack, it’s not perfect and the stiff feel of the back system is a little odd when first worn, but we’re talking five-star here as it is one of the best and most comfortable load carriers we’ve ever used. If we have a reservation then it’s how these ‘mechanical’ parts will perform over an extended time on trail – though we have no reason to doubt the robustness. It comes with a rain-cover, a good pocket combination and additional attachment points.

In a line: Expensive, luxury load carrier with space-age features

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Best of the tests

Best of the tests Need to buy something that we haven’t tested this issue? Here are the products that scored highest in our recent reviews



Accessories Product name Trekking poles Gelert Ascent Trekking Poles Black Diamond Trail Pole Leki Thermolite AS Vango Walker Mountain King Super Trekker Trekking socks Thorlos Light Hiking Falke Trekking TK2 Teko Summit Series Trekking Lifa Warm Hiking Sock Regular Warm Teko Summit Series Women’s Light Hiking Multi-activity socks Teko Mens EcoMerino Mini Crew Wig Wam Ironman Tail Wind Pro Extremities Adventure Racer Sock The North Face Men’s Multisport ¼ sock Inov 8 Debrisoc 40 Mountaineering socks Patagonia Ultra Heavyweight Mountaineering Sock Bridgedale Endurance Summit Extremities Long Mountain Toester Falke Women’s Trekking TK4 Expedition Brasher 4 season Windproof winter gloves Rab Baltoro Soft Shell Glove Mountain Equipment G2 Alpine Glove Marmot Work Glove Lowe Alpine Hot Grip Glove Regatta X-ert Mountain Gloves Liner gloves Marmot Driclime Base layer Glove Mountain Hardwear Women’s Power Stretch Glove Icebreaker Glove Liner Mountain Equipment Touch Glove Patagonia Lightweight Glove Liners Gaiters Lowe Alpine Mountain Gaiters Inov 8 Debrisgaiter Mountain Equipment Alpine Pro Shell Gaiter Paramo Long Gaiters Rab Women’s Ultar Gaiter

Price In a line

Star rating

£20 £65 £90 £18 £60

Great value and highly recommended budget buy Poles don’t get much better than these The ultimate for fast moving hikers Amazing price, shame about the wrist straps Excellent kit, buy with confidence

5 5 4 4 4

£11 £12 £15 £15 £12

Quick drying synthetic super socks Think leather sports seats for your BMW On-trail support for heavy loads Excellent value warm weather hiker Nice to the planet, and your feet

5 5 5 5 5

£13 £11 £9 £11 £15

The greener performance choice Superb multi-activity sock, but the ironman logo is something to live up to Good value multi-sport comfort Total comfort, no matter what you’re doing A simple way to keep mud out

5 5 4 4 4

£19 £14 £16 £15 £12

High quality for the high mountains Solid, reliable mountain socks A classic piece of mountaineering kit Versatile choice for winter trekking Good all rounder for those who feel the cold

5 4 4 4 3

£30 £35 £60 £45 £15

Great value all round cold weather choice Buy them now Hard to find a fault with Money well spent Excellent value buy

5 5 5 5 5

£12 £18 £18 £16 £15

Excellent value base layer buy Snug, super warm base layer Slimline underwear for your hands A must have for the mountain kit bag Super light long fingered liners

5 5 4 4 3

£30 £10 £40 £45 £25

Top notch performance and a choice of colours! For year-round runners and riders Well made, durable protection They’ll last you forever Excellent value and light weight

5 5 5 5 4

110 March/April 2010

Best of the tests

Jackets Men’s lightweight windproof shells Keela Neutronic Smock Paramo Fuera Windproof Smock Golite Ether Wind Jacket Merrell Bullet Jacket The North Face Hydrogen Jacket Women’s lightweight windproof shells Montane Lite-Speed Jacket Salomon Fast Wing Hoodie II Jacket Berghaus Prompt Windshirt Dare2B Repel Women’s Windshell Marmot Ion Windshirt Men’s trekking jackets Mountain Hardwear Cohesion Jacket Montane Meteor DT Jacket Outdoor Research Foray Jacket Columbia Aravis II Parka Due North Navajo Jacket Women’s trekking jackets Issue 83 Paramo Valez Adventure Ladies Smock Due North Sioux Jacket Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket Columbia Aravis Long Parka Rab Drillium Jacket Thermal jackets – men’s down Issue 85 Go Lite Inferno Jacket Rab Neutrino Endurance Jacket Berghaus Furnace Down Jacket Patagonia Fitzroy Down Jacket Mountain Equipment Vega Jacket Thermal Jackets – men’s synthetic Issue 85 Rab Generator Jacket Mammut Broad Peak Jacket Paramo New Torres Smock Crux Plasma Jacket Keela Belay ADV Jacket

£33 £50 £50 £50 £65

Basic, lightweight, does the job Yet another great Paramo product You won’t notice it’s there until you need it Good for sports, not so great for travel Ideal for adventure racers

4 4 4 3 3

£50 £50 £60 £40 £40

Spot on for all activities Well designed cool looking jacket Versatile and well considered Nice Multi-sport jacket but a touch over engineered Low key, sturdy and protective

5 4 4 3 3

£120 £140 £175 £140 £65

Lightweight, packable, highly speced jacket For lightweight mountain enthusiasts Consummate lightweight trekking jacket Great for cold weather trekking and snowsports. For outdoor urban activists

5 5 5 4 4

£180 £60 £300 £160 £160

Outdoor classic. Stylish and great value Top notch kit, but ouch the price Long line, casual jacket with technical performance High Quality, low weight all rounder

5 5 4 4 4

£125 £220 £160 £190 £230

If you can buy one better than this, let us know Yet another winner from Rab Fantastic lightweight alternative to a mid layer fleece Neat, good looking jacket for seriously cold conditions. Top Spec, great performance

5 5 5 4 4

£200 £170 £100 £275 £70

A lightweight fanatics dream and competitively priced. Throw away your fleece and buy one of these The business for seriously cold winter mountain activities Waterproof features for alpanist climbers. Check the wrist closure is not too tight – otherwise a great buy.

5 5 5 4 4

£16 £60 £35 £89 £40

Fantastic budget buy Is this the perfect base layer? Can’t fault it Mind boggling design and attention to detail Tight fitting well designed base lyaer

5 5 5 4 4

£40 £40 £55 £20 £55

Merino magic No faults, just buy one. You’ll wonder how you lived without them. Transform your kit bag with these tiny additons High performance for demanding riders.

5 5 5 4 4

£47.50 £80 £60 £45 £45

Confidence inspiring shorts for the committed rider. Spring, autumn, winter – wear this All you need. Two for the price of one. Good value, comfortable and performs well Bomb proof, highly speced off road shorts

5 5 5 5 5

Clothing Base layers Regatta Base Zipneck Mammut Alpine Long Sleeve Zip Warm Mountain Equipment Altus Zip T X Bionic Winter Trek Mid Compression Dare2B Body Base T Cycling kit: Women’s Smartwool Ewetpia2 Jersey Cannondale Classic Short Sleeve Jersey Cannondale Rush Capri Smartwool Armwarmer and Kneewarmer Protective Eve Women’s S/S Top Cycling kit: Men’s Montane Persuit Ergo Shorts Montane Torque Jersey Vaude Dundee Zip III Jacket Endura BaaBaa Tech Zip Neck SS Jersey Endura Humvee Shorts March/April 2010 111

Best of the tests

Camping Product name Tents: 2-3 man tents Wild Country Duolite Tourer Lightwave G2 Ultra Hilleburg Nammatj 3 GT Jack Wolfskin Lighthouse II RT The North Face Tadpole 23 DL Tents: 1 man tents Gelert Solo Vaude Hogan Ultralight Argon 1525g Lightwave T0 Trek XT 1850g The North Face Solo 12 (Flight series) Jack Wolfskin Termite 1 1820g Tents: Family tents Khyam Harewood Outwell Nevada M Kid’s Room £60 Vango Albany 400 Gelert Ottowa 4 Wynnster Raven 6

Price In a line

Star rating

£200 £395 £540 £270 £250

Go buy one and bike/hike the world Near perfection comes at a price. The tent will outlive you Buy with confidence Lightweight minimalist, two person backpacking only

5 5 5 4 4

£30 £230 £230 £175 £225

Give yourself more money for your holiday, buy it. Ticks all the right boxes Start saving now and you’ll not regret it. Small and light, good for fast movers. Buy with confidence.

5 5 5 5 4

£588 £250 £150 £150 £200

Great quality, stable desirable residence For the adventurous family A base camp that’s stable and goes up in time Competitively priced for fun packed summer hols Stable base camp for six

5 4 4 3 3

Bags and sacks Rucksacks: Men’s mid-sized packs Mammut Granit 40 Exped Mountain Pro Marmot Eiger 35 OMM The Villain MSC 45 + 10 RL POD Black Ice 42 Rucksacks: Women’s packs The North Face Women’s Terra 40 Gregory Jade 50 Osprey Xenon 70 Berghaus Womens Arete 45 Go Lite Quest

£70 £60 £70 £99 £140

Find a fault on this pack, we can’t. You’d be glad you bought this for wet adventures Biggest and best 35 litre pack we’ve come across in the last few years Designed by people with a passion for outdoor sports, and it shows Expensive, but flawless

5 5 5 5 5

£80 £125 £180 £50 £120

If you love mountains you’ll love this pack Worth every penny Top spec trekking partner Female climbers should check this out Lightweight adventurers look here

5 5 5 4 4

Sleeping bags Summer sleeping bags Snugpak Travelpak Lite Haglofs LIM 50 Technicals Transition 200 Robens Down Trend Lifeventure Sleeplight 750

£35 £75 £100 £100 £50

Fantastically versatile summer only sleeping bag Perfect for outdoor athletes and weight watchers Versatile, super lightweight down performance High quality, low weight summer choice The complete travel kit – Pillow and a bag

5 5 5 4 4

£100 £155 £160 £210 £120

Highly desirable, heavy duty three season boot Das Boot! Pricy, slightly bland but otherwise excellent The word desirable was invented for these boots Your wide feet will love these

5 5 4 5 4

£80 £65 £145 £155 £145

They don’t come much better than this Great price, great quality, great performance Just buy them, OK? Solid, old style leather comfort No faults in this three season hiker.

5 5 5 5 4

Footwear Trekking boots Men’s Technicals Pelmo eVENT Meindl Vakuum Men GTX Raichle Mt Envy GTX La Sportiva Trango Alp GTX Keen Oregon PCT Trekking boots Women’s Karrimor KSB Peak eVENT Regatta Ridge Peak XLT Hanwag Lima GTX Lady Alt-Berg Mallerstang 2 Zamberlan Vioz GT

112 March/April 2010

WIN a Go System Fly - The Lightest Go System Stove Ever!

Be one of the first to get your hands on this new ultra light stove, ideal for outdoor adventures when pack weight is all important. Go System are releasing 5 brand new stoves to the UK this year including the Fly (Ti) made from titanium and weighing in at an unbelievable 50g! Despite itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s weight the Fly will boil 1/2 litre of water in just 2mins 15secs. The stove also has precision flame control, folding serrated pan supports and economical gas consumption to further minimise total carry weight. In fact the Fly will burn continuously for 2hrs 15mins on one 220g gas can. This stove is brand new to the market, and there isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t a lighter stove available, so if you want to be one of the first to receive one just answer the question below: If you are more interested in wide footprint, remote feed stoves Go System also have the Sirocco and Appollo - coming soon to an outdoor store near you!

Q. How much does the Go System Fly weigh? Name .......................................................................................... Address ..................................................................................... .................................................................................................... How much does the Go System Fly weigh? .......................... Email .......................................................................................... Telephone .................................................................................. Send entries to: Go System Competition, Adventure Travel magazine, 5 Alscot Workshop, Alscot Park, Stratford Upon Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 8BL Entrants have to be 18 years or over. Strictly one entry per person. Winners will be drawn 26th April 2010

Call Burton McCall on 0116 234 4644 for nearest stockist details. March/April 2010 113

Web Directory

Website Directory Adventure Tour Operators

›› Adventure Holidays in the Himalayas: +44(0)1722 327178 ›› African Conservation Experience: 0845 5200 888 ›› Belize Adventure Tours: 0800 404 9535

›› The Walking and Climbing Company: 01964 551029 ›› Tropical Adventures Ltd +254 20 243 77 84 ›› Undiscovered Alps: 0845 009 8501

Diving & Watersports

›› Borneo Travel: 01492 650 225

›› Aquatours Scuba Diving Holidays 020 8398 0505

›› Cape Hiking: 0027728264046 01275 874606

›› oonas Divers: (0)1323 648924

›› Crystal Mountain Treks:

›› PADI: +44 (0) 117 300 7234


›› Discover Adventure 01722 718444

›› Alternative Airlines: 0871 222 9222

›› Drifters Aventours: (+27 11) 888 1160

›› SAS Scandinavian Airlines 0906 294 2772

›› Frontier 0207 613 2422

Places to stay

›› Intrepid Travel: 0203 147 7777

›› Luang Prabang Hotels: 00856 21 262530

›› Mountainbug Adventure Holidays

Outdoor Gear & Equipment 00 33 5 62 92 16 39

›› Granfors Bruks Axes: 0046 652 71090

›› Mountain Tracks: 020 8123 2978 ›› Nepal Uncovered 0845 130 4849 ›› Oasis Overland Adventure Travel 01963 363400 ›› Projects Abroad: +44 (0) 1903 708 300 ›› Skyline Treks: 0061 2 4982 5972 ›› Skyline Treks: 00977-1-4212737 ›› Southern Africa Travel 01483 425 533 ›› Tanzania Serengeti Adventures Ltd 00255 272544609

114 March/April 2010

›› Nite Watches: +44 (0) 1202 487757 ›› Nite Glowrings: +44 (0) 1202 487757 ›› Safari Quip: 01433 620320 ›› Summerbee Products: 01803 212965 ›› Trekmates: 0115 9409 174

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our insurance isn’t availableTofor all travellers Advertise here call Vicki on 01789 450000

BMC insurance will give you peace of mind, wherever you travel.

Eastern Europe Asia small group • Cover for hill walking, climbing andand mountaineering adventures. • Discounts for online purchases 0207 183 90 15 • Policy details straight to your mobile phone ‘TH WeekenE (when you apply online) Kiev, Is ders’ • Special rate for couples t Tel Avivanbul, an Any surplus we generate from the sale of insurance misore... d reinvested into the valuable work we do on your behalf – so the only one to profit is you.


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Trek to the summit of Snowdon in aid of prostate cancer research on 22nd and 23rd May 2010. In the UK more than 35000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. Help us find a cure for this terrible disease by taking part in the Snowdon 500 Challenge. Over the weekend of Saturday 22nd May and Sunday 23rd May up to 1000 people will be trekking to the top of the highest mountain in Wales to raise vital funds for the Prostate Cancer Research Centre. Sign up now to join them and be a part of this unique and spectacular event.

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108 January/February 2010 112 January/February 2010

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Trek to the summit of Snowdon in aid of prostate cancer research on 22nd and 23rd May 2010. In the UK more than 35000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. Help us find a cure for this terrible disease by taking part in the Snowdon 500 Challenge. Over the weekend of Saturday 22nd May and Sunday 23rd May up to 1000 people will be trekking to the top of the highest mountain in Wales to raise vital funds for the Prostate Cancer Research Centre. Sign up now to join them and be a part of this unique and spectacular event.

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112 January/February 2010

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108 November/December 2009 March/April 2010 121

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108 122 January/February March/April 2010 2010



offers offers •• Technical Technical courses courses and and technical technical services services available available •• Air up to 300 bar • Twinset hire • Nitrox, Trimix • Rebreather Air up to 300 bar • Twinset hire • Nitrox, Trimix • Rebreather friendly friendly •• Shore, Shore, hard hard boat boat and and RIB RIB diving diving available available •• Well Well stocked dive shop • Transfers • Accommodation stocked dive shop • Transfers • Accommodation •• Car Car Hire Hire

Traveland Diving and watersports companie Adventure TravelAdventure Diving, sailing watersports companies January/February 2010 115

Providing quality service since 1981 The friendliest Dive Centre in the Med Over 50% of our business is repeat business • PADI Courses from beginner to Instructor • Nitrox - courses/ offers • Technical courses and technical services available • Air up to 300 bar • Twinset hire • Nitrox, Trimix • Rebreather friendly • Shore, hard boat and RIB diving available • Well stocked dive shop • Transfers • Accommodation • Car Hire

Adventure Travel January/February January/February 2010 2010 115 115 March/April 2010 123

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The iPad will never stamp out the magazine, says A J Daly. You can’t even wipe your bum with one


You can stroke them Think about when you bring home a nice new copy of Adventure Travel. Isn’t it shiny? Don’t you want to run your hands all over the front cover? I sometimes even lick mine. But you couldn’t do that with an iPad, oh no. Just think of the finger and tongue-prints on the screen.


You can use them as loo roll Not the most comfortable

weapon of choice, but certainly acceptable in an emergency. But you’d never be able to wipe your bum with an iPad would you? Not even if you were as wealthy as me.


You can hide porn behind them Prestigious magazines such as the National Geographic, The Economist and Adventure Travel are perfect for sneaking something feistier behind so you don’t get disapproving looks on the tube. But if you want to look at something slightly more, er, unsavoury on the iPad, there’s nowhere to hide.


You can cut eyeholes in them Like the best spies in the best spy books, people can never tell you’re looking at them if you have a pair of artfully cut eyeholes in a mag. Don’t see how you can cut a computer screen – so meh.


You can kill wasps with them Nothing better than a glossy for a good swipe at a wasp. And once it’s sufficiently annihilated, they’re also a good shape for scooping it up and out of the window. You don’t even have to get your hands dirty.


You can recycle them Magazines are so environmentally friendly. Once you’ve read them, you can recycle them, and the paper will be used again.

128 March/April 2010

courtesy of Apple


he ancient tradition of magazine making is under threat. It’s been under threat for a while, what with the advent of the internet, compu’er games, illiteracy, Eastenders – but now there’s something else on the list of evils vying to overthrow the age-old art form. Apple has launched the iPad – its latest 20-gazillion-app device that some say will redefine newspapers, textbooks and, most disturbingly, magazines. Knowledgeable people in the publishing industry think this could relegate magazines to the same status as the cassette, say. We’ll smile fondly when we talk about them and laugh about the days when we had to turn pages – what a bore! A few of us might keep the odd one for nostalgia, or to bring out at a party to prove how cultured we are. It’s a big worry for people like me. I have a lovely time writing my bi-monthly column in Adventure Travel, and it keeps me very happy in my mansion by the sea thank you very much. I don’t want it to end. So here are eight reasons why magazines will always be better than iPads.

There is the argument that the iPad doesn’t create any paper, but then you don’t get the warm, I’ve-justsingle-handedly-saved-the-planet feeling that you do when you recycle.


You can roll them up into tubes and make funny noises down them like ‘aaaaaaaahhhhhhh’. Enough said.


They make great fanbrellas ‘Fanbrella’ is a new word that hasn’t reached the dictionary yet. But it describes magazines perfectly – they can be fans if it’s too hot and umbrellas when it’s raining. The iPad can’t be either. How rubbish. We might rename them the iBad. See? That proves it. The iPad will never take off – you read it here first. You just have to believe. ■

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Adventure Travel March/April 2010 Issue 86  

Outdoor activities in adventure destinations