Our long distance backpacking trips have mostly been abroad- USA, Canada, Alaska, Nepal, Alps/Dolomites, Norway- and even England with the ‘Coast to Coast’ and parts of the South West Coast Path. In Scotland, with only a few exceptions, we tend to have spent our overnighters as weekend trips at 1-3 nights at a time. We have a particular attraction to camping on or near hill summits, with the winter solstice being a specific love and challenge given typical harsh Scottish weather conditions and the minimal amount of daylight around December 21st!
Summits in Scotland are relatively easy to reach and often afford decent, dry camping spots with short cropped vegetation- as long as you are prepared to hunt around a bit. The views can be panoramic and fantastic with the special light you can get at sunset and sunrise.
We have mostly used a 3 season tent, the Terra Nova Superlite Voyager (the best compromise we have found between robustness, roominess for 2 and lightweight at 1.4kg, but now see that Terra Nova no longer sell these) and occasionally its more robust and heavier sibling the Terra Nova Quasar for wild conditions.
The map below is a compilation of where we have wild camped in Scotland, along with bothies we have stayed in. Lots to go at still!
We have spent our lives out in the great outdoors of Scotland, whether that’s climbing, hillwalking, camping, sea kayaking, biking or just hiking and exploring. Here are just a few snapshots from all those years with perhaps more to come….
We returned in September 2020 for another week long section continuing from St Ives round the southern tip of Land’s End and Lizard Point to to the town and port of Falmouth.
In summary this was another great and varied hike, mostly following trails above coastal cliffs but also along beaches and through many small harbour towns. We camped all the way with a mix of commercial campsites and wild camping.
Day 1 St Ives to Pendeen 7th September 2020 We returned to where we left off last year at the Hellesveor campsite just above St Ives after a long drive south from Scotland, stopping to visit the weird and wonderful town of Glastonbury and hike up historic Glastonbury Tor.
Starting late morning, we walked a trail about 3/4 mile down to join the coastal path to the sound of booming atlantic waves. Heading south the trail was clear and undulating over granite boulders, making for slow but scenic going. It was hot and muggy and we were sharing the path with quite a few people- seemingly the stretch from St Ives down to Zennor is a popular day trip – helped by a regular bus service.
At Zennor we saw a group of rare choughs along with ravens and birds of prey. Bosigran provided a rest stop allowing us to look at the fine cliffs, scene of many past fantastic rock climbing trips for us.
At about 6pm we reached Porthmeor Cove, a wild spot with a huge swell producing crashing waves onto the beach. This provided a good spot to stop to cook up dinner on a granite boulder with a seal popping up in the breaking waves studying the beach.
After dinner we shuffled on looking for a decent water supply and wild camp site- it proved a bit tricky but just past Pendeen lighthouse we came to a road end and a very basic commercial camp site so we called it a day- and it was a fine start!
Day 2 Pendeen to east of Land’s End It was bright as we awoke and we set off early past a huge old mining area at Boscaswell with an atmospheric misty wisp to the air. Some of the derelict tin mines are perched down steep cliffs overlooking the sea and it’s a dramatic area.
After taking a valley inland for a bit at Kenidjack we soon reached Cape Cornwall, a small spit of land reaching out into the sea with breakers crashing on the rocks. Plenty of people around here including a painting class at the shore. We chatted to the NTS attendant who said that the sea was calm at the moment – but it looked pretty wild to us! On to the huge beaches of Whitesand Bay which led to the harbour of Sennan- again familiar to us from past trips for its climbing and surfing.
From Sennan it is a short hop to the touristy Land’s End but the views are great out to various small islands and lighthouse. We left the crowds to turn south east along the cliff tops for a way and found a superb wild campsite around Carn Boel. After scrambling down to the shore, Martina had a swim in an amazingly scenic tidal pool. We watched gannets soaring by the cliffs and diving into the water in the evening- another good day.
Day 3 Carn Boel to Penzance More cliff top hiking with good views in the morning and we descended down to the shore at Nanjizal beach to explore an arch and cave with seals lolling about in the waves just offshore.
At Gwennap Head we passed a lookout station above another familiar climbing area of Chair Ladder. Mist descended though so we moved on to Porthgwarra and its small cafe was an irresistible stop. A steep drop on stairs took us into Porthcurno – home to the cliffside theatre of Minack. The mist thickened a bit with us getting a soaking from brushing through the undergrowth at the sides of the trail. The air was super sticky and muggy and a fine drizzle added to the all over wetness.
Our direction turned to the north east now towards the town and harbour of Mousehole. A scenic and popular tourist destination it was too, but we headed on in the hope that we could find accommodation in Penzance for the night to ‘de-stick’ and dry out. The way to Penzance was built up but the hiking was pleasant. During this time of Covid-19 closures, there were fewer hotels and B&Bs open and nothing was available for the night, so we hiked through to the other side of Penzance to find an ok urban campsite- at least it was next to a Tesco grocery store for food supplies!
Day 4 Penzanceto Porthleven After posting my defunkt camera back home we hiked north out of Penzance alongside the beach with the distinctive island landmark of St Michael’s Mount on the horizon. Today was a mellow sort of day with wall to wall sunshine and lots of people out enjoying themselves on the beaches- including some dudes on weird motorised surfboards zipping around.
An early stop for cakes at Marazion town opposite the Mount was hard to resist- this is not a route for losing weight with so many cafes along the way! Easier hiking along a rocky low shore followed and we managed a stop for a swim in beautiful green blue waters.
We arrived in the evening at Porthleven – another busy but picturesque harbour town. After pizza at the quayside we hiked uphill for a bit to locate the spacious Treva campsite for the night.
Day 5 Porthleven to Lizard More mellow cliff walking and pretty harbours in a south easterly direction took us to Lizard Point- the southernmost point in mainland Britain. The rock is more metamorphic here (after the granite of Land’s End) exposed in twisted and contorted cliffs. Just below the lighthouse and foghorns at the point we found a superb tiny spot for the tent looking out to open water. After bathing our feet in a gurgling rock pool we settled in with the sweeping beam from the lighthouse above us and the odd light on the horizon from shipping – a superb spot!
Day 6 Lizard to near Porthallow The cloud descended about 5am with rain and this triggered the foghorn from the lighthouse right above us- so that was us very awake!
After breakfast though the cloud cleared and we set off in the sun. The downside of the early shower was that we got a bit of a soaking on the trail from bracken and other vegetation overgrowing the path. But the going on undulating cliff tops was pleasant with a flat sea below as we had now turned generally northwards and were sheltered from the winds.
We stopped at Kennack Sands cafe for the obligatory tea,coffee and cake whilst the tent and sleeping bags were drying in the sun. More pleasant walking took us to Coverack for lunch overlooking the harbour. From there the going was flatter, past a fairly ugly quarry at Dean Point, although it was nice to see the crystalline igneous gabbro rock there (famously good climbing rock occuring in the Isle of Skye in Scotland).
An excursion inland for a wee while made for a bit of a change along hedgerows and through fields before we popped out at the ‘Fat Apple’ cafe. We couldn’t resist and ended up camping here with the availability of showers sealing the deal.
Day 7 PorthallowTo Falmouth A clear night with plenty of owls and woodland bird songs in the morning with our campsite being away from the coast. There was some dew early on but the trail was drier than yesterday and it was easy hiking as we headed west into the huge Helford River estuary. This was quite mellow, through woods down to the water and a few pleasant small coves.
We waded the muddy inlet at Gillan Harbour and just managed to get across with the tide coming in. Strangely we met another backpacker just before who had hiked past quickly saying it wasn’t possible to cross, but we have heard that many times over the years and like to look and decide ourselves- it was fine!
Further inland on the estuary we reached Helford town and set a yellow sign up at the ferry crossing to signal for the boat. After a little doubt, it did come over and gave us a lift across to the northern shore, weaving through the many sailing boats moored in this sheltered water.
The sun was out, and being Sunday, the area was mobbed with sailing boats and people enjoying the beaches. It was hot going back along the northern shore of the bay and we made it to Maenporth for late lunch. This was the busiest beach we had seen so far but we did manage at least to buy a couple of paninis and crawl away to eat them in the shade.
From there it was just some straightforward but hot and sweaty hiking into the large port town of Falmouth- and this time we had managed to get a hotel room for a good clean at the end of our hike.
This was a grand 7 days of hiking around the south tip of England with a good mix of cliffs, beaches and towns. Falmouth turned out to be a fine place for eating out and we were able in the morning to get a bus and train back the short distance to our car and start point. What to do next to relax in St Ives area? Surfing was the only option!
Castella to Burney Falls 28th August. The next section of the hike was through guidebook Section ‘O’ for 82.5 miles to the small resort of Burney Falls. This area was still being actively logged and we had heard that the trail disappeared for miles on end under a tangled mesh of fallen trees and bulldozed dirt tracks.
Martina had heard enough about this section to decide that she would skip forward to Burney Falls by bus via the town of Shasta City. I set off on my own in the early morning with a lighter pack- I left the tent outer and the water filter with Martina- and four days of food.
I had a 2 mile road walk to return back to the PCT but was happy to accept a lift from someone who stopped in his car to offer. The first few miles of trail zig-zagged up through forest and I made good time by taking a direct route steeply up through the trees and manzanita undergrowth. It was hot forested and fairly dull hiking once back on the PCT but at least the trail was in good condition as I stopped at Squaw river for lunch. That evening I made it to Ash Creek campsite after 30 miles ( a record for our trip) but discovered it to be closed for campers so I hiked on a bit and settled down on a gravel clearing for the night.
Next day I am off at 6.30am on a long grueling but gentle angled ascent up Grizzly Peak. I hit my first clear-cut forest and tree blow downs here and the going got a lot more difficult stumbling over trees and through manzanita bushes. I diverted onto a logging vehicle track to make some miles, though I was a bit unsure from my map exactly which track I was walking along as the map didn’t reflect all the recent logging activity. A stop at 5.30pm to cook dinner on the trail provided some rest for my legs then I set off again, only to lose the trail slithering on steep dusty slopes before I eventually slid down in a cloud of dust onto a wide logging road before dark. I followed this until 8.30pm looking for a good bivvy spot but only found a marginal clearing right by the dirt road in the dark. Since I wasn’t sure where I was I could only guess that I had made about 30 miles again. That night I had some visitors in the form of mozzies buzzing my head making sleep a bit difficult. At some point I heard snuffling and saw vague shapes of what I think was a group of coyotes wandering past on the track. Thankfully they weren’t interested in me in my prone form lying on the ground in my sleeping bag.
At 6.30am again I am up strolling on in the dust of the logging track and after a few miles I was relieved to be able to confirm my location and work out I had only 20 miles to go to Burney- so I made it my target to get into town that day. With the blanket of dust the consistency of flour covering the track, I was as dirty as I could ever remember (and that took some doing!), so I rejoiced when managing a wash at one of the few rivers encountered – Peavine Creek. The gradual descent down to town meant hotter and dustier conditions but I did get some nice views including out to Mt Shasta and Mt Lassen.
A rather hot wearied hiker arrived amongst the tourists at Burney Falls around 4pm and sat down outside the store sipping cold drinks and eating ice cream. Here I met Sundog and another PCT hiker Bootleg Neb who I think had hitched to this point and I chatted to them. I was surprised when a park warden came up to me and asked if I was Martina’s boyfriend- she told me Martina would be arriving soon. I was confused as to how the warden knew me or the whereabouts of Martina but I thanked her for the welcome surprise and carried on with the important task of eating and drinking.
An hour later Martina arrived in a car with two PCT section hikers Annaliese and Rob. Martina had seemingly met these two in Shasta City and had had her own adventures which will be added here later! The hikers are friends with another park warden called Shirley and before I know it we were invited around to Shirley and her husband’s house for the night. We had a rest day the next day and Shirley arrived back with another hiker, Sideshow, who we had met off and on for the previous month.
This was a short backpacking trip by Brian to the north coast of Scotland during a summer of Covid-19 travel restrictions. I have seen a lot of Scotland over the years from bagging the Munro’s (almost twice now) , Corbetts and Graham hills to rock climbing, sea kayaking, cycling and general meandering. This area in the far north is somewhere where I haven’t been to too much though and I thought a coastal backpack would be a good way to explore. The downside was that August is not my favourite time to visit, mostly due to the midge, a particularly gruesome insect!
Summary This was a scenic hike with stunning coastal cliffs and expanses of sand but was tough going due to a few factors. There were very few trails on the coast in between the town and road sections and the terrain above the cliffs was heather and peat, mostly not too bad for walking but at times very wet and tussocky. The midges were pretty awful at camp as feared, even when pitched on a sandy beach at high tide level. Very little sitting outside the tent with a cup of tea gazing at the scenery here! There was a bit too much road walking in places, such as the 6 miles of busy road to get round the nuclear power station at Dounreay. Having recently been backpacking in Cornwall, the towns of the north lack the ‘cuteness’ and interesting old buildings found down there. However this was balanced by the lack of crowds- hiking on the coast away from towns, I saw virtually no-one else hiking- maybe for the reasons above!
So if I was to try another section of coast in the north I would go in March/April/May/early June- with maybe May being optimum depending on the weather.
Monday 17th August 2020 The weather was set fair for the next few days as I left my car near Tongue, ready to hike east following the coast as much as I could. Tongue is on the side of the ‘Kyle of Tongue’ sea inlet– which surely must rank as one of the most beautiful places in Scotland with huge expanses of white sand exposed at low tide, a jagged mountain backdrop inland and a number of islands dotting the horizon out to sea.
I headed up the east side of the inlet at first on a pebbly shore before I was forced up a steep slope above the sea by a cliff. I had to bushwack through head high bracken for a bit before popping out at some houses and taking a gravel access road back out to the main A836 road at Rhitongue.
An overgrown trail past a river valley took me to some cottages at Skullomie and then I had a really cool stretch north on sheep trails to ruins at Sletell. The views over to Rabbit Islands and Eilean nan Ron were grand. Some more bracken bashing followed before I picked up a sequence of short trails and minor roads to Skerray and on to Torrisdale Bay. I was finding that the vegetation was really high and difficult to hike through near to houses, but away from there and on the coast it tended to much better short cropped heather.
Crossing the River Borgie via a footbridge I then hiked round the sandy dunes of Torrisdale Bay to Invernaver- another lovely stretch. I road walked into Bettyhill town, arriving about 7pm to find the grocery store was closed, but I picked up water at the public toilets. So I headed on and dropped down to the smaller beach of Farr Bay. There was one surfer riding to waves at twilight as I stopped to pitch the tent on the beach at high tide level.
The wind died down and midges descended as I pitched, and I ended up eating whilst walking along the edge of the water to keep them at bay. Lovely spot though!
Tuesday 18th August 2020 Midges chased me off in the morning as I headed north to Farr Point. Wild cliff scenery around the point and past the ruined Borve Castle made for dramatic hiking. I struggled a bit zig zagging through the cluster of houses at Swordly, with some head high bushwacking to get through an overgrown path.
A better jeep track over the hill eastwards down to the road at Kirtomy provided some easier walking and then I had another good jeep track up the hill north of a big antenna with lovely views back west across Swordly Bay. At this point I headed cross country north east a bit inland to the ruins and trail at Poulouriscaig over quite remote feeling ground. A stop a bit further on on top of an old concrete building allowed me to dry off and carry out some minor repairs to the tent guy lines. My feet were also suffering a bit from the continuously wet underfoot conditions and sand in everything.
Easy tracks down to Armadale road and I picked up a signposted route down to Armadale Bay- an expanse of sand with no one else on it strangely. Lunch was had above the cliffs on the east side as the sun came out and a breeze kept the midges away. I was able to relax with the stove out for a couple of cups of tea with the Bay as a beautiful backdrop.
Next up was a long hike up northwards on the west coast of the peninsula of Strathy Point. I walked through heather and grass mostly above cliffs, zawns and islands. The rock mostly seemed to be ‘gneiss’ with some cool distorted and striped rock. The final couple of miles to Strathy Point lighthouse was particularly cool – natural arches and white water dashing against the cliffs. The sun also appeared again which helped!
I took the minor road back down the east side of the peninsula to Strathy and through some rare woods to a new trailhead toilet block area above Strathy Bay where I cooked up dinner. This is a good spot for surfing in Strathy Bay and on a warm sunny evening it made sense.
A strange sight on the way was a car driving slowly down the road with the sheep leading ahead of the car – very obediently. Normally sheep would just spread out off the road back into the fields.
The roads here are quite busy with campervans with the coastal road being part of the very popular ‘North Coast 500’ driving (and cycling) route. It would be a very scenic drive but you will be sharing it with a procession of vans, RVs and cars. One benefit I did find when road walking though is that when its cold and a campervan drives past I was getting a refreshing blast of warm air to heat me up!
I took water at the toilet bock – water availability is a slight issue as I have been a bit wary of streams at the coast flowing through the heavily farmed areas with lots of cattle. I am carrying aqua mira water purifier tablets but have opted to take water where I can from towns and public water supplies.
The hike east along the cliff tops from here in the evening with the low sun behind me was one of the highlights of the trip and I found a wild camp spot near Rubha na Cloiche. A good varied day but the feet are blistering a bit!
Wednesday 19th August 2020 A few midges last night but not the apocalyptic swarms of the previous night! I had a soggy hike along the coast a bit then out to the A836 road to walk into Melvich. There is a campsite here so I stopped to dry the tent out and buy coffee and cake at the campsite store- the first open shop I had come across.
There was a bridge marked on the map over the Halladale River at the enigmatically named ‘Big House’. To get there I walked back up the road again then took a track down to the sand dunes to the bridge. But arrrgghh, the bridge had a locked gate with a sign saying no access. I looked at the river but it appeared to be swimming rather than wading depth. So reluctantly I retreated back round to the campsite then along the verge of the A836 to the south over the river and picked up tracks back to Big House. Maybe only a 90 minute detour but it was frustrating that the bridge was closed to the public – not sure why, maybe to preserve the fishing rights?
I headed east again along the cliff tops over tussocky heather past more grand cliffs. The rock type changed to sedimentary here with tilted bands and some massive overhanging rock faces. Later on this section became a bit of trudge though over continuously peat haggy ground then heavily dug up areas as I passed Sandside House and into Reay. I had hoped for a shop here but everything seemed closed – I did at least pick up water from a hose pipe in the local cemetery.
Now I had to face up to a long road walk on the A836 to get round Dounreay nuclear power station. I hiked fast and used the rough verges when cars passed, but walked the road when it was quiet. Not my favourite hiking experience it has to be said, but the views of Dounreay were strangely fascinating, changing slowly as I passed by at hiking speed.
Well, all good things must pass, and I soon picked up a track heading north back to the coast across some pretty wasted cattle farming land. The coast was cool though and I had a stop and brew of tea on slabby rock strata dipping into the sea. I decided to hike on to Thurso today as I couldn’t see much in the way of decent camping up to there and my feet were blistered!
The wind farm at Hill of Lybster was fun to hike past, as was the Chapel and bridge crossing at Crosskirk. Mist and some drizzle came in as I hiked field margins past Brims Castle and then uphill to Ness of Litter. There is a Caithness Flagstone quarry there perched right at the edge of the cliff but the visibility had reduced now and it was just me and lots of sheep dodging around. I took the track down to Scrabster and by now the mist was down at sea level so I put my head down to walk into Thurso to finish. A long day of maybe 26 miles to wrap up the trip!
Charles’ Walk A round Britain coastal hike in 2018 with informative daily blogs.
Our first visit to the United States in 1996 was to the stunning Sierra Nevada mountains of California- home to the iconic Yosemite valley and John Muir Trail where we did some rock climbing, backpacking and touring around. After this taster, we came back in 1998 as part of our longer Pacific Crest Trail hike between Mexico and Canada. Since then we brought the climbing gear back in 2006 and then in 2019 explored the mountains by hiking some cross country.
Listed below are our outdoor trips- with links to blog posts.
We visited California in 2019 and this time went out backpacking, exploring some of the Sierra mountains away from the popular John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails. Our aim was max out on the scenery with some off trail and scrambling over mountain passes and ridges. We used Steve Roper’s excellent ‘Sierra High Route‘ book as a reference along with some very useful websites and blog posts. See an overview map of our 2019 hikes.
Tuesday 24th September 2019 The final hike of our holiday and we chose a southern part of the Sierra mountains near and over Mt Whitney. We picked up a permit easily again and left the car near the town of Lone Pine, relying on hitching a lift to the start at Cottonwood Lakes.
Up at Cottonwood Lakes at just under 10,000 feet it was clear, cool and windy and a forest of Foxtail and Lodgepole Pines poking out of the dry soil. We hiked up for quite a few miles on good trail towards New Army Pass. The scenery was stark with dazzling white granite boulders and rock, blue sky and the odd snow patch. The pass was windy so we nestled down behind some rock ledges then headed down an easy zig-zag trail on the west side to Rock Creek.
We turned off the main trail at Rock Creek, heading up Miter Basin, initially a wide valley with steep granite walls, gradually narrowing and becoming more rugged as we reached Sky Blue Lake in the evening. The sun dipped here and it was rather a cold wind that swept the lake surface so we decided to call it a day and camp at the north end in a wild alpine scene.
After a very windy night we were glad to move on and upwards leaving signs of trail behind as we worked our way up over slabs and a few scrambly sections to a lake at 3697m. Here we sheltered facing the sun for a stop to take in the glorious views. A further easy climb from there and we arrived at Crabtree Pass. The descent down the other side was easier than it looked, on the east side of the gullys on broken slabs. Down at Crabtree Lake we sat watching a pika gathering grass for winter before hiking a wonderful cross country route down the valley past various Crabtree Lakes. Meadows, granite slabs, some scrambling but nothing too hard- this was great! At the final lake we spotted some golden trout as we meandered down through Foxtail Pine again on faint trails.
We picked up a more heavily used trail going back up east to Crabtree Meadows Ranger Station and saw a few people camping around here. This was us back on the JMT with big trails and people! We hiked past Crabtree on the path up to Mt Whitney with views back west gradually improving until we headed off trail to find a lovely granite slab to camp on below Guitar Lake.
This was our last day hiking on the holiday but we aimed for a cool day by climbing over Mt Whitney and down the eastern side back to the Whitney Portal Trailhead and to hitch a lift back to our car lower down the valley.
We were flying by now, climbing steadily up the trail to Whitney Trail Crest with more than 4 weeks hiking fitness behind us. Some fantastic views higher up across the fluted mountains and lakes and we passed a few hikers coming up from the other side of the mountain. Saw some marmots and pikas on the way. After we had bagged the highest point of Whitney we then started the long, long descent east to the road- 6,500 feet roughly. The top half was particularly grand seeing into Whitney’s rocky east face and dotted lakes below.
Our final task was to get a lift which we managed quickly and were soon munching bagels in Lone Pine after another fantastic little backpack. Now back to Scotland!
Thursday 19th September 2019 The lower part of the Escalante River above Stevens Canyon is an area we haven’t visited before, so we put together this approx. 4 day loop hike taking in the river plus a few interesting other new places for us.
We drove for an hour down the dry and sandy Hole in the Rock road to make it to the Hurricane Wash trailhead- last seen when we hitch hiked out of here after a long, fantastic stretch of the Hayduke Trail in 2014. It was a hot, dusty and windy spot and we quickly set off from the car down Hurricane Wash at about 13:30.
The sun and wind were at our backs keeping the temperatures down a bit and we could admire the vibrant, technicolour sandstone landscape. Soon the canyon began to close in and we were hiking on good trail down the lush lower part of Hurricane Wash with water, cottonwoods and some willow.
At the Coyote Gulch confluence we headed upstream into new territory and the steep red walls and vivid greens didn’t disappoint. We saw some pictographs high up on an alcove and soon after reached the ‘Sleepy Hollow’ canyon confluence. Not sure if we found the right route up Sleepy Hollow as we had some thrashing through vegetation before it opened out a bit. We were looking for an exit out onto the slickrock plateau above and soon found it- a steep step up assisted by standing on a pile of stones then some slabby moves before it eased off. Brian went up to have a look around for camping spots but it was windy out of the canyon and with little water around we decided to head back to the confluence with Upper Coyote Gulch. On the way back down we found an easier, less brushy route and soon settled into a fantastic camp under a huge alcove.
Friday 20th September 2019 Cool night sky with the milky way framed by the roof of the alcove. Camping is great out here! This morning we aimed to cross the plateau above the canyons before dropping into the Escalante River via a route called ‘The Bobway’. From the start the hiking was beautiful over undulating slickrock with the early morning light casting long shadows. We aimed northward for a small saddle at the top of the Sleepy Hollow drainage before trending south east for a landmark hill called ‘Rock’ on the map. We had a look for water on the way and found one pothole with water deep down- another sign that this season is a dry one as I had heard reports of more water than that in this area.
Eventually we arrived at the top of a huge sandy bay leading down to a small canyon which hopefully would take us to the Escalante River- the Bobway. The Bobway is a short but lovely canyon with a mostly slickrock floor and a little scrambling. Nothing too hard though and there are faint signs of a trail in places. Soon we were at the Escalante and, as it had got a bit hotter, we sheltered under a boulder for some lunch.
We started down the Escalante with deep wading and bushwacking but the going gradually eased as the afternoon progressed and it cooled down too. We did one shortcut over a col to cut out a huge hairpin bend. The scenery improved downriver to top notch Escalante red walls, reflected light and alcoves. We passed the confluence with Stevens Canyon and headed on to find a camp spot right under the huge Stevens Arch- another wonderful camp. We haven’t seen anyone since shortly after leaving the car.
Saturday 21st September 2019 In the morning we waded further down the Escalante then climbed up on a faint trail to visit Stevens Arch itself. The arch was amazing- quite hard to describe, but this is one of the most fantastic sights we have seen in canyon country. Some ravens drifted around checking us out as we spent a while scrambling around and exploring. Reluctantly we left and were soon down at the Coyote Gulch- Escalante confluence. We were heading into a more popular area here and soon met a hiker group. There are a cool succession of waterfalls in Coyote and one fairly easy scrambling section on rather sandy slabs.
We continued upstream enjoying the iconic sights including Coyote Natural Arch and Jacob Hamlin Arch and the easy hiking on trails. On reaching the Hurricane/Coyote confluence, we continued up Coyote again for a while to camp in a quiet spot under cottonwoods. Another great day!
Sunday 22nd September 2019 A chilled out hike back up Hurricane Wash to the car in the cool morning air. We had a huge lunch at Escalante Outfitters before deciding to start the drive back to California so that we could get another final hike in the mountains before returning to Scotland. It’s been a short trip to Utah for our ‘fix’ of canyon country hiking but its it’s been fun!
Saturday 14th September 2019 We had an incredible drive heading east from California to Utah across the middle of arid and barren Nevada. We had been driving into the night, and started looking for places we might camp by the side of the road, when we saw some lights on the horizon which turned out to be the tiny settlement of Rachel. At the edge of Area 51, and famed for its UFO conspiracy theories, the ‘LittleAleInn’ is an oasis and we happily spent the night here instead of camping. Delighted to see photos on the wall of the bar of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost taken here whilst they were looking at sets for the superb movie ‘Paul’ .
Sunday 15th September 2019 Anyway, we eventually arrived in Escalante, southern Utah in the late afternoon the next day. Our rough plan was to hike into The Gulch and Boulder Creek, two tributary canyons north of the Escalante River that we hadn’t visited before. For ideas we used our bible (but aging) guide book – Steve Allen’s Loop Hikes in Escalante – plus our own knowledge of the area and many other references including Jamal Green’s superb website.
With a late start, we had a short evening hike from the point that Highway 12 crosses the Escalante River. We hiked trails along the river, then crossed into the dry Phipps canyon and walked up valley for a while to camp.
Monday 16th September2019 Lovely moonlit night and we enjoyed nice cool temperatures for breakfast in the leafy but dry lower part of Phipps Canyon. Setting off back down the Escalante River, the river level was low with some faint trails, river crossings and a little bushwhacking to keep us alert! The Escalante is lined with vertical sandstone cliffs and escape points are mostly via confluence canyons. After passing Boulder Creek confluence at about 11am we arrived at a different type of exit point that makes use of a slabby break in the cliffs on the north side. A short steep hike up above the river took us to a ‘line shack’ wooden hut – this route has been used by cattlemen in the past.
From here we hiked on undulating slick rock slabs and sandy washes heading north then south east paralleling above the Escalante River. Our idea was that this would give us easier hiking to reach the canyon of The Gulch than following the meandering Escalante River itself. It was pretty hot though and involved a fair bit of up and down but with the plus of extensive views across the plateau.
Eventually we found a cool rock rib descending steeply down into the green canyon of The Gulch – another route used in the past by cattlemen. Unfortunately for us the ‘perennial stream’ at the bottom of the canyon was dry, so we decided to drop our backpacks and head down The Gulch for about 20 minutes to pick up the Escalante River again and fill up our water bags there. Heading back up canyon with heavier backpacks, The Gulch has a fair bit of vegetation so the hiking was slow but with some interesting overhanging alcove walls. It was hot and sweaty and we were glad to find a camp in the evening by scrambling out of the canyon floor onto a grand slick rock perch.
Tuesday 17th September 2019 Another lovely morning with the moon dappling the canyon walls and we set off up canyon to reach an exit scramble avoiding some dryfalls further on. Still no water in the canyon at all so were glad of diverting to the Escalante yesterday. After clambering up some rock ledges on the west side we picked up a faint trail paralleling the canyon with some great views back into The Gulch. We dropped again hoping to descend back into the canyon and reached a cairned point at the top of a slab/wall. We looked at this drop for a while and decided to give it a miss as it appeared too risky for us! Maybe would be easier in ascent…..
Instead of heading further up The Gulch as we had hoped, our new aim was to cross country over to Boulder Creek and head up that canyon. This again was nice viewful hiking in pleasant temperatures winding our way over to the ‘Bingham Tea Bench’ and actually crossing our tracks from a hike in October 2017. We reached a col and then descended very gradually in a superb slickrock valley south west towards Boulder Creek. This is gorgeous country out here and needless to say we hadn’t seen anyone else yet (nor would we til we hit the road- Highway 12- tomorrow afternoon).
We passed a few deep potholes and gratefully took some water. It appears that we are in a dry period as this year there doesn’t seem to have been the usual wet spell in late summer to replenish the water sources.
At the point where the pothole drainage drops into Boulder Creek it looks impossible to scramble into the creek. However about 300m to the north we found ‘The Crease’, a 30 foot slabby corner that provides a doable way down- maybe about Class 4 in descent? We were happy to lower the backpacks first to make the slightly slippy scrabble a bit easier.
We were now just above the Boulder Creek Narrows, a tremendous narrow canyon with the river running through a subway style rocky cleft. Leaving the backpacks behind we waded downstream for a bit. I guess it would be a lot harder if the water levels were higher, but as it was, we turned round at a pool which would have required a swim to cross.
Back at the packs, we now headed up Boulder Creek. The canyon walls were not too high, but narrow, and the river itself was pretty chocked up with vegetation. At times we hiked up above on slabs, at times we hacked through the willowy brush, but often the easiest way was up the bouldery river (as per the name!). At one point Brian was suspended above the creek pinned to willow branches, with lots thrashing he managed to disentangle from the shrubbery with some scrapes and tears to show for it.
After we passed the confluence with Deer Creek the water volume went right down, but even then there were some waist deep pools to wade through. It felt tough going upstream and we were again thankful for the low water levels. An interesting sight was that the river was packed full of fish – rainbow and brown trout- plus the odd snake.
We found another great campsite above the creek bed on a superb wide slickrock bench. A great if slightly tough day.
Wednesday 18th September 2019 In the morning we had an explore of the slabs around camp before heading back into the creek again. Good to see some hummingbirds and we now came across a fair bit of beaver activity- with chopped trees and a few dams.
In late morning we made it to the middle exit point described in the Steve Allen guide and picked up a way out of the canyon and climbed fairly easily out on slabs all the way up to Highway 12. We had about 3 miles to hike south down the road to the car at the Escalante bridge and this was surprisingly pleasant with cool winds and little traffic.
Monday 9th September 2019 Our aim was to do a loop hike starting at the North Lake trailhead, west of the town of Bishop, hiking north on a chunk of the Sierra High Route, returning via the John Muir Trail and then finishing with a cross country meander past Darwin Lakes and Lamarck Col.
We started with a trip to Basin Bakery for some great bagels then the Bishop Visitor Centre and again managed to get a same day permit for the hike with no trouble. It’s a lovely drive climbing steeply out of the Bishop valley with some final dirt road to North Lake trailhead.
From the trailhead we had an easy gradual on-trail ascent past multiple lakes to Piute Pass at 11,423 feet. There were a few other hikers around and we met a nice guy with a donkey! The west side of the pass is gentle going over a plateau like area but we soon split from the trail to head north cross country to Puppet Pass. The area is flattish, dotted with boulders and lakes with mountains on the horizon all around. The descent from Puppet Pass was to the north of the lowest point – bouldery and slow going but the Puppet Lakes below were beautiful. We made it northwards to Elba Lake to camp in a lovely spot with sun and some shelter in amongst krummholz whitebark pine.
Pretty cold overnight with our water bottles freezing- I guess we are quite high at about 11,000 feet. Our start was a relaxed cross country descent down to French Canyon to boulder hop across the frost fringed river. We were both glad no wading was required as it was still frigidly cold! After a relaxed 1 mile hike west on trail we split again with some faint trails and xc up to Merriam Lake sitting in stark alpine surroundings. Easy going from there up a remote feeling valley across meadows and slabs to La Salle lake before a steep granite boulder and slab push to Feather Pass at about 12,300 feet. We met 2 guys here (first since Piute Pass yesterday) who are out for 10 days.
The descent was on better rock this time with some fun scrambling on grippy granite then onto a snow slope to easier ground. We then wound round various lakes with bear related names and all in a grand wild setting before reaching White Bear Pass with its beautiful lake near the top. The descent from this one though was a bit of a pain with endless willow scrub, gravel and loose rock! We were both glad to make it to flatter terrain and past two more lakes to reach the Hilgard valley where we would split west from the Sierra High Route.
A trail was marked in the valley but we found some rough going initially before a rugged trail gradually became a bit clearer. Cool valley though with granite slabs and green meadows. We made it to about 1/2 mile short of the John Muir Trail and pitched the tent fairly tired after a long rough but excellent day.
Boy was it cold in the morning- our shoes had frozen as well as our water. We soon hit the JMT and headed south on a long gradual ascent to Seldon Pass – drying the tent out in the sun on some granite slabs. The lakes below Seldon were scenic and on the other side the trail was easy as it descended 3,000 feet down to Muir Ranch. This is a place where JMT hikers are able to resupply and stay the night. There is lots of spare food here, left behind by JMT hikers and we were able to stock up on bonus nuts and raisins and a few bars – superb!
Suitably replenished, we headed on south following the steep sided San Joaquin River on a grand trail camping just below Evolution Meadow after a fine day of JMT trail walking.
We started the next day with more chilled out JMT trail walking through Evolution Valley before striking steeply uphill off trail to Darwin Bench. Actually there was a pretty good ‘use trail’ much of the way but with some boulder hopping round the fine turquoise Darwin Lakes. After Lake 4 we stopped at its small beach before hitting the 1,000 foot climb up to Lamarck Col. The views opened out as we followed various sandy trails with the odd scramble to pop out at the col in late afternoon at 12,800 feet. A grand spot.
The descent involved crossing a snow slope which was in the shade and had hardened so we got out the micro spikes and ice axes to cross to the boulders below. From there it was easier arid slopes with a trail forming lower down. We stopped at a trickling water source then looked around a bit for a good viewful camping spot, eventually finding a wonderful place on the ridge above. What a view east over to Owens Valley and the White Mountain range. Even better was a full moon popping out over the jagged ridge to the south and no wind to rattle the tent even on this exposed spot.
After taking a few pictures over breakfast in the morning, we headed down steadily on trail in the morning back to the North Lakes trailhead. Another great loop !