Craters of the Moon is a little-known, seldom-visited lava field in southern Idaho. Sil and I had the chance to visit earlier this week on our way from Colorado to Vancouver Island. The scenery really is other-worldly. Oozing lava weaves its way through the landscape like a giant snake. Huge tubes and bubbles of lava cooled then dramatically shattered leaving behind a chaotic mess of sharp blocks. Spatter cones are caught frozen in time, as if caught in the action of spewing out molten rock for an eternity. It feels like a desert – hot, dry, intense burning sun. Temperatures regularly soar to 110F in summer and the surface of the blackened lava can reach 150F! And yet, just below the surface are a series of cool caves formed by “lava tunnels”. Scrambling down into one of these caves brings instant relief from the heat of the day and urges you to explore deeper. We found one that even had ice covering the walls and cold water dripping from the ceiling!
Only 1% of visitors venture beyond the interpretive trails and walking paths along the scenic loop road. We wanted to venture a little deeper. A wilderness camping permit is free and lets you stay out as many nights as you want. We had only enough time for a single night but walking even a few hours into the remote lava fields and camping with not another soul in sight was exceptionally peaceful.
I’ve just returned from my second backpacking adventure with Andrew Skurka. Two years ago I joined Andrew for a 3-day Backpacking Fundamentals course in Washington state’s Olympic National Park. This time I wanted to do a more intense 5-day adventure in the Colorado Rockies.
Next week I’m heading to Colorado for a 5-day backpacking adventure with Andrew Skurka through Rocky Mountain National Park. I first met Andrew, along with Mike Clelland, in 2013 when I attended his Backpacking Fundamentals course in Washington’s Olympic National Park. I’d already done a fair bit of backpacking and didn’t really consider myself a novice so I was surprised and very happy that I learned so much during the 3-day trip. That’s why I’m back again this year.
Day 10 – A Challenge Party
Braemar to Lochcallater Lodge 12:30-14:30 (2 hours), 9 km
I left Braemar after enjoying a tasty breakfast at Gordon’s Tearoom. Nothing like bacon and black pudding to fuel a day’s walk. Two hours later I arrived at Lochcallater Lodge. A few other Challengers had already set up tents just outside and more were inside enjoying hot tea. I was really excited to be at Lochcallater, perhaps one of the most prominent landmarks in TGO Challenge history. Every year Challengers gather here to celebrate, sing songs, and eat and drink late into the night.
Day 5 – Crossing the Monadhliath
Ault-na-Goire to River Findhorn 09:50-17:20 (7.5 hours), 26 km
It was hard to say goodbye to Ault na Goire and the warm hospitality of Janet and Alec Sutherland. After a very filling breakfast I took my tent down and set off toward the Monadhliath Mountains. Not so much mountains as long, rolling hills, this was perhaps the area that I was most excited to see and also most anxious to get across. In bad weather with rain and fog, navigating through these indistinguishable hills can be notoriously difficult. But what I really wanted to see was the impact of rapidly expanding wind turbine developments. Wind power is a controversial topic in Scotland. In most places it’s thought of as a clean form of power. But in the Monadhliath you can see first-hand how it’s rapidly changing the face of the landscape. Construction and access roads criss-cross the land and heavy machinery thunders by. What’s left of this wilderness is fast disappearing.
About as soon as I could I left the wind turbine roads and started walking across the boggy, wet moor. At times I had to make large diversions to avoid steep muddy drops into ravines. I counted at least a dozen stream crossings on the ascent, each feeling colder than the last, as I approached freshly melting snow. Yet, it felt good to walk through wilderness, away from the roads and to follow the tracks of deer and rabbit. While it did rain off and on, there was little fog and I found the navigation within my capabilities. In heavy fog it would be quite the challenge! Continue reading “Walking across Scotland – the TGO Challenge (part 3)”→
Day 3 – The Weather Turns
Orrin River to Kiltarlity 07:15-19:15 (12 hours), 33 km
The first two days of my walk across Scotland were sunny, warm, calm, and really just perfect. It was hard to believe I was actually walking in a place renowned for its heavy rains and violent winds. When I woke up on the third morning of my journey, Scotland decided to give me a taste of the weather it’s famous for.
Rain, mist, wind, more rain. This change in the weather coincided with my first true track-less walking of the trip. As I followed the Orrin River downstream to the Orrin Reservoir, I enjoyed taking out the map and practising my navigation skills. The Scottish Highlands are a great place to sharpen your navigation capabilities. Features such as hills are often rounded without distinct points, making them difficult to distinguish from one another. Often, the best way to navigate is to follow waterways (burns, creeks, rivers, etc.) up over the hills then connect with a new waterway to find your way down the other side. Continue reading “Walking across Scotland – the TGO Challenge (part 2)”→
I love long walks, especially when they take you right across a country from one coast or border to another. That’s the idea behind the TGO Challenge. Design your own route starting on the west coast and finishing at the North Sea, get advice from experienced Scottish hill walkers, and start walking. This isn’t my first country-crossing journey on foot but it is my first time hiking in Scotland and I was very grateful for the wise advice on such things as where to find beautiful camp spots and where I might want to avoid wind-farm construction. Continue reading “Walking across Scotland – the TGO Challenge”→