Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

Walking to Cape Wrath Day 1, May 11, 2022

May 12th, 2022

Walking to Cape Wrath day 1, May 11, 2022

In 2014 I walked the Pennine Way, finishing at Kirk Yetholm just across the Scottish border. What I remembered most about that hike was wandering the Yorkshire Dales and the crazy weather up on the ridges, but the last part was in the Cheviots, a different topography and sensibility. Obviously settled by farmers for millennia, the granite mountains are humped, rounded hills covered with close-cropped grass— the work of sheep over centuries. That world doesn’t change at the border, so today was spent climbing cheviot humps, covered with grass and sheep— it’s lambing season— and rimmed with gorse (loved by Eeyore, enjoyed at a distance by walkers, but a brutally difficult plant to manage).

Technically I started the Scottish National trail yesterday at Kirk Yetholm as I left the village to stay in Town Yetholm (1/4 mile) at a campground. I set up my new ZPacks duplex tent— my original Soloplex lasted through the Te Araroa, Nepal, the Camino, TransSwiss, Laugavegur, Tasmania, and the Benton Mackaye before finally giving up the ghost. I’m loving the replacement. The wind was brutal even though I was pitched in the lee of the shower house, but I slept like the dead, causing a late start.

That first night in Town Yetholm I stopped at The Plough—the town pub and a classic rural establishment. Late afternoon a crowd of locals had gathered, picking up on the stories they probably had been telling the day before— lots of good natured ribbing which they soon directed toward me. My ear not yet attuned to the accent, I missed half the comments, but from their demeanor, none of the insults were Ill-intended. And of course there was the obligatory large dog sleeping in front of the fire.

I was reminded how close the community is in rural pubs—composed of locals and the many walkers who fill the paths all over the country. They returned from their walks and burst through the pub door. You can see the wind still in their faces. It takes a moment for the outdoors to leave them, then they set their inside faces, warm from the day’s walk and the close air of the pub. I half listened while eating bangers and mash, soon dozing off, so rousting myself like a dog from the fire, I made my way back to the campsite huddled against a strong wind.

Before setting off in the morning, I stopped at the local post office/convenience store where I got McVitties Digestif crackers (fundamental hiking food) and some cheese and crackers. While sipping my coffee I was greeted by a stream of farmers stopping by to pick up a newspaper before returning to the fields. Even the gruffest were quick with a greeting and smile. Just before I left, the woman running the store stopped by the front door. We were looking out over the Cheviots with their gorse lit up by the morning sun. She asked where I was going, smiling approvingly when I said I was heading up to the hills. We talked the weather and she explained how much of this area have their own micro-climates—that in the winter one village will get snow and the next won’t. Then she looked up to the hills declaring it a wonderful place to live— something for her that was simple fact.

The morning’s walk was a long slow climb out of the valley, occasionally crossing the river and fields of sheep—it’s lambing season, so sometimes a wide berth was necessary. Late morning the trail worked up to the top of the ridge with the wind continuing to howl.  Most walkers on this section are doing the St Cuthbert, and they start from the west to hike to the sea. I passed many of them, all with the wind at their backs, while I plowed ahead face first. Sometime later in the morning I crossed Wideopen Hill. Measuring 1207’, it is the highest peak on the St. Cuthbert Way, which just is a reminder this is part of the Lowlands. By midday I was in Morebattle eating a big lunch, and then set off for a pretty difficult afternoon— first some nice forest walking, mostly in beech and birch woods. There are no accommodations at the standard endpoint (and unlike most distance walkers here, I’m not using a baggage and van service), so I needed to push forward, making a long day even longer, finally landing at the Lillardsedge campground around 6:30– too long for a first day trekking. Still, a nice place and I slept once again like the dead

T. Hugh Crawford

Walking to the Smoky Mountains, Day 11

June 9th, 2021

Walking to the Smoky Mountains, Day 11, June 8

Sandy Gap — Tellico River 15 miles

In the middle of the night, the rains came in, and I had that moment of satisfaction being in a well-pitched, well-designed tent. Just had to check around the edges to be sure nothing leaned on the tent “tub”, then lay back to listen to the drops. By morning the clouds had moved off, and even with the typical early fog (after all, I’m close to the Smokys) it looked to be a clearer day than the last few. And of course, I’m on my way to town, a hot meal and a soft bed.

This was an interesting stretch. I’d stayed in a more or less dry camp (feet hurt too bad to seek out possible water 1/4 mile away). As it turned out, water was no problem after about 6 miles as the trail crossed and recrossed Brookshire Creek all morning. A fascinating watershed where dozens of small streams fed the creek up fairly high on the mountain, making quite a torrent all the way down the ridge. Guthook labeled a number of crossings as “fords”, but thankfully only one (at the top of a wonderful falls) actually required wading. The others I crossed rock hopping. The afternoon was a climb up the Bald River watershed (the river of the famous falls), followed by a fast descent to the Tellico.

And after a week and a 1/2, I finally encountered another thruhiker— actually two— heading southbound a few miles apart.  It highlighted just how solitary this trek has been. After my first night at Three Forks, I’ve been the only tent in any campsite I’ve pitched in (except of course the mystery empty tent back at Halloway Gap). The first was a man probably about my age who had to abandon the BMT last year midway (something these blisters might require me to do) and was now doing the second half. Nice man. Then I bumped into a serious hiker from Birmingham who has done many trails in these mountains including the Pinhoti last year. Clearly fit and experienced, we had a brief but good talk. There’s much common understanding between experienced trekkers that forms a baseline for conversation.

I’d like to think today was a short day, but measured out at 15 miles, which has been pretty much the total for most days. I got to the Tellico Trail Head at 2:30, and by a little after three, Jacob (the guy who Lance, from Trout Mountain Inn had recruited to pick me up) arrived, and soon the miles were ticking by at an unfamiliar pace as we made our way to Tellico Plains— a small Tennessee town where most of the main businesses are out on the highway, but with a couple of blocks of old downtown with classic old storefronts which is where Trout Mountain is located. Lance, Cheryl, and Ammon are wonderful and interesting California transplants who make some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted. Before shedding my shoes, I trudged out to the strip mall to get resupplied, pick up some beer and a gallon of lemonade, along with an early dinner at The Bears Den pizza place— another kind and interesting cook running the place.

Feet still brutalized, but a satisfying day, and a good place to rest up.

In Patagonia Day 17

March 8th, 2018

In Patagonia Day 17
El Chaltén —Poincenot Campground

As is often the case with full day trekking, it was a day with a split personality. None of these sections involve any real distance, so I caught the 9:30 shuttle to the trailhead, accompanied by a number of folks including two American couples with a baby packing in steaks and eggs. The first part of the day felt like any number of Te Araroa days. The bus was more of a truck with a compartment on the back— you entered from the rear by climbing a pullout ladder. The road was gravel and followed a fast moving braided river. The bus turned at the opening of a smaller river valley and dropped us off. I made haste to get distance from the crowd. Just like so many days on the South Island of NZ, the path followed along a fast moving glacial stream, slowly gaining elevation, then after a bit turning uphill and gradually climbing to a saddle which is usually crossed around midday. This was not a a hard climb but it was beautiful, passing a high mountain glacier feeding a nearly as high lake which of course emptied via a high waterfall. The wind was strong and occasionally there were sprinkles but the morning was mostly in the sun. I arrived at the campsite midday. It which was in a grove of very old growth Lenga trees. Previous campers had piled large logs and branches upwind on the camping clearings, signaling the weather to expect. I set up my trusty Zpack solo, ate some cheese and crackers, put my foul weather gear in a daypack and took off for Laguna de Los Tres, which was only a few kilometers up from camp. In these mountains, the glaciers crowd the peaks, with their meltwater converging in high mountain lakes which spill out to form the milky torrents cascading to the valley. Laguna de Los Tres is one such lake, catching the water from glaciers coming off the Mount Fitzroy cluster. At first the climb was easy and still sunny, but soon it was incredibly steep and the rain started to settle in. I pushed on, wishing I had my trekking poles (I had left them holding up my tent). By the time I was 3/4s up, visibility was near zero, the wind was strong enough to blow off my glasses, and I was soaked completely through. Yes a schizoid day. Made it to the top, the clouds held back long enough to take in a view (barely got pictures as it was too wet to get my phone to open), then proceeded to the long slow climb down, arriving back after a long hour’s descent. Quickly made some pasta and climbed into my tent just as the rain really hit. It poured and howled all night, soaking many fellow campers, but, as usual, my Zpacks solo (which is the merest wisp of a tent weighing in at 1 lb.) held firm and kept me dry. What a brutal evening.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Patagonian Day 10

February 27th, 2018

In Patagonia Day 10
Lago Grey—Grande Paine

Slept in a bunk room at the Lago Grey Refugio and in the morning snagged coffee from the dining hall while the sound system played Bob Marley—odd breakfast music, but all part of the experience. The park is truly magnificent, but the tourist experience is overwhelming. Last evening, while sitting outside watching the setting sun reflect off the mountainside, I had to put on headphones to drown the chatter from the sitting area inside. Never quite understood the need to fill up all the air and time with words. Imagine my exhilaration this morning when I walked the trail up the lake (away from Grande Paine) for about four kilometers, crossing two long swinging bridges to sit on a rock high above the glacier. The path went up through old beech and was absolutely quiet—no sign of any hikers until my way back. It was sacred. The only sound on my rock was the occasional crack of the ice and the faint tap-tapping of some type of woodpecker. The wind blows so hard here, it’s rare to hear a bird call, but I had noticed nesting holes in the older beeches and so had been puzzling about tappers. Never saw it, but she kept me company this morning. The hike back to the lake and my campsite tonight went fast, though by midday there were hordes heading up the trail. Found a good place to pitch my tent and discovered stuck on the back a campsite sticker from trekking in Iceland—a well-travelled tent. Tomorrow I repeat the transport cycle back to Puerto Natales, but tonight I get to sleep outside.

T. Hugh Crawford