Spain’s Resurgence of Long-Distance Shepherding

How hiking and shepherding work together to maintain a tradition as old as Spain itself

Alejandro Jiménez opens up a gate and whistles, watching as more than 500 sheep amble out of their pen and into a green pasture. I admire their soft fur and curved faces as they move past me, but they ignore us; their focus is the cool green grass around us.

Jiménez cares for these sheep on borrowed land. For over a decade, he has walked with them across Spain from his home in Valladolid to this pasture outside of Madrid—over 100 miles—where the warmer environment allows them to live out the winter with a healthy amount of grass. He is 80 years old, though he could pass for an easy 65. “It’s the goat milk,” he explains later, pushing a recycled plastic 2-liter coke bottle full of the stuff into my hands, insisting that I take it home with me. I don’t have the authority to doubt him, or to reject his generous gift. He is an expert in these things, as he has lived them his whole life.

Alejandro Jiménez with his flock outside of Madrid | Photo: Lara Hamburger

Every year since he was a young man, he and his flock have left his village of Carpio, in north-central Spain, saying goodbye to his wife and children, who he won’t see again for the next six months while he spends the winter in greener pastures. For the last 12 years, he has walked with his more than 3,000 sheep to a small village outside of Madrid. He’s used to living away from his family in the way that’s traditional for a shepherd: isolation, nature and lots of work.

The shepherding that he practices is known as the trashumancia, or the transhumance in English, and it’s a tradition as old as Spain itself.

A Short History of a Long Walk

The transhumance is an ancient practice in which shepherds hike with their flocks from warmer pastures in the summer to cooler and wetter invernaderos, or wintering pastures. The Iberian Peninsula is home to an intensely hot and dry climate, especially during summer months, which historically didn’t support intensive agricultural practices due to lack of arable soil and water. As such, raising livestock has historically been important as a food source and economic base for many rural Spaniards, and moving the flocks from place to place is an economical way to ensure the animals get enough fresh food throughout the year.

Over time, the trodden paths used by the shepherds and their flocks became roads, and while some roads began to be shared by horses and later cars, others began disappearing—either becoming smaller without the sufficient width to support an entire flock of sheep, or slowly incorporated into neighboring farms. Sensing the loss of valuable natural space and cultural history, the government voted to protect these livestock roads: That means that, despite the development of cities with their roads and highways, the shepherds maintain the same right-of-way that they enjoyed 500 years ago on nearly 80,000 miles of vías pecuarias, or drove roads, which crisscross the Iberian Peninsula.

Shepherds often have to use paved roads if the drove roads are inaccessible. Photo: Pixabay

The transhumance nowadays is not economically viable in the way that it once was. In the 18th century, the wool market was booming, but with the rise of the Chinese wool market and cheap synthetic alternatives, ranchers recieved less and less profit from their wool. Despite that, activists, shepherds and environmentalists continue to see shepherding as a valuable tool for landscape and resource conservation. Thanks to these important actors, the transhumance has not only remained viable in Spain but has experienced a resurgence in the last decade. This revitalization can be attributed to a variety of factors: environmental awareness, nostalgia for the past and a search for viability in an economy that has been rattled by nearly a decade of underemployment and austerity.

The Resurgence of Shepherding in Spain

Alejandro Jiménez, despite being in many ways a traditional transhumant shepherd, is part of this new resurgence. Although he learned his trade in the traditional way, on foot, he also tried his hand at more modern versions of the trek. He sent his flock by train and later on trucks, but 12 years ago decided to return to the traditional method, in which he would hike with his flock for over a week from one pasture to another. This tradition had been with his family for generations.

Those shepherds who still hike the long trails between pastures have several advantages, despite the hardships that they endure. One advantage is that, thanks to the environmental benefits of preserving this tradition, most shepherds are supported by a network of activists and conservationists. Additionally, they benefit from trails that are maintained by outdoor enthusiasts—hikers, cyclists and horseback riders enjoy the protected natural space afforded by the drove roads.

A flock left to graze by the Cantabrian Sea, Northern Spain | Photo: Lara Hamburger

While many day-hikers enjoy the use of these natural spaces, a few intrepid travelers join in on the transhumance for several days or a week. The shepherds can take advantage of this ecotourism by charging a fee for travelers, who in turn get to experience the hardships, blisters and beauty of the shepherd’s life—if only for a few days.

Jiménez’s long walk is generally 10 days, and he moves with the support and company of a team of shepherds, volunteers and curious outsiders who hike with him for a day or two. They are constantly utilizing new technologies to support their ancient practice: cell phones have become an invaluable tool for communicating about the state of the drove roads—and about what’s for dinner. Jiménez is the last surviving traditional transhumant who passes through the large and heavily populated outskirts of Madrid, but he is only one example of shepherds going back to the land in order to find meaning and economic stability from traditional practices.

The trade-off is steep for these shepherds. Most continue this work—or seek it out—because they believe in it. They know that they are responsible for the conservation of an ancient practice and the maintenance of ecological stability in Spain, but making a living is difficult, so they find economic viability where they can. Some, for example, rent out their sheep to local governments as a fire prevention tool. Others try to tap into their newfound popularity and make a tourist attraction out of the practice.

A shepherd and his dog lead the flock across a field | Photo: Pixabay

Spending long days hiking alongside flocks of bovines isn’t the only way that the public can experience or contribute to the transhumance, though. There are dozens of festivals held yearly, plus museums, activities and art shows that celebrate the ancient pathways. What’s more, citizen pressure has proved invaluable in the protection and celebration of this rite. A small team of activists, which successfully lobbied to protect the drove roads in the 1990s, set their sights on the transhumance itself. In 2016, the transhumance was declared a manifestation of immaterial cultural heritage by the Spanish government.

The cultural heritage of the transhumance is celebrated and exemplified once a year in Madrid. In October, once the weather starts cooling, residents and tourists alike are invited to the Transhumance Festival. The largest streets of the city are shut down, allowing shepherds and their flocks to pass through. For many of us who are observers, the display is nearly laughable: It can be shocking to see so many four-legged creatures in a city environment. But for many Spaniards, it represents the reality of a country that modernized quickly and nearly lost its cultural treasures. It is history splashed across a background of modernity, rural realities juxtaposed with urban chaos and loud bleating, captured on thousands of cameras, making itself relevant once again in the soundtrack of Spanish life.

Sheep pass through Madrid during the Transhumance Festival | Photo: Lara Hamburger

Learn More

Although joining a transhumant walk has yet to become organized on the internet, many of the nearly 80,000 miles of drove roads are walkable and bikeable. Check out hiking and biking maps of the drove roads in Madrid, as well as maps of the drove roads in Andalusia. You can also participate in the Shepherd for a Day program in Basque Country, visit the Shepherd Museum in Soria, or sign up for the Live Like a Shepherd experience in Huesca or Trek with French Shepherds in the Pyrenees. Head to the Asociación Trashumancia y Naturaleza for information on the Transhumance Festival and other upcoming events.

The post Spain’s Resurgence of Long-Distance Shepherding appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

2017 UTMB Winner Sets New John Muir Trail Speed Record

Francois D’Haene set a new record of 2 days, 19 hours, and 26 minutes on the 210-mile Joh Muir Trail through the Sierra Nevada mountains on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017.

John Muir Trail speed record
Francois D’Haene runs the John Muir Trail on his way to an FKT; all photos by Damien Rosso

If you thought that outrageous mountain running records were the sole domain of Kilian Jornet then you need to think again.

Less than two months after his impressive victory at this year’s highly competitive UTMB, Frenchman Francois D’Haene established himself right at the top of the global ultra running scene with a new speed record for the John Muir Trail.

Francois D’Haene John Muir Trail FKT

To put D’Haene’s new FKT into perspective: It takes most hikers between two to four weeks to complete the 210-mile John Muir Trail. The route includes about 48,000 feet of elevation gain.

It took D’Haene less than three days.

The 31-year-old wine producer and elite trail runner ran across the Sierra Nevada north from Mount Whitney to Happy Isles in Yosemite. He smashed the previous record of 3 days, 7 hours, 36 minutes set in 2014 by American runner Leor Panitlat.

John Muir Trail FKT

At 5 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 17, D’Haene arrived in Yosemite Valley at the end of his record-breaking run surrounded by a support team. The group of close friends and family paced him over long sections and kept him refueled along the trail.

Francois D’Haene sets John Muir Trail record

The team spent months planning the attempt and developing gear capable of meeting its unique demands. From a lightweight sleeping bag-style cover that D’Haene could put on to keep warm during brief stops to nap, to light-yet-stable resupply packs that enabled pacers to carry large amounts of water, D’Haene’s record required a meticulous team effort.

Francois D’Haene Muir Trail fkt

Over the course of the challenge, D’Haene rested for a total of just 6 hours. He wore a prototype version of the Salomon S/LAB Sense Ultra 2, the same shoe that he ran to victory in Chamonix at this year’s UTMB that will be available in early 2018. He also wore Salomon S/LAB Modular apparel, S/LAB running jackets and a S/LAB Sense running vest.

“The John Muir Trail truly is the adventure that we were looking for,” D’Haene wrote on his Facebook page. “A simply unbelievable trail in a truly wild place. A small, closely bonded team who faced everything with real feeling. I really found my form over this distance and tried to handle all the new parameters as best as I possibly could.”

Mission accomplished – enjoy the rest Francois.

The post 2017 UTMB Winner Sets New John Muir Trail Speed Record appeared first on GearJunkie.

The Future of Scouting in America

Last week, the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would begin welcoming girls into a limited selection of programs—and both sides of the political spectrum exploded. “Strange, I thought that’s what the Girl Scouts was for???” tweeted Donald Trump Jr., a sentiment shared by feminist scholars who argued that the BSA wasn’t including girls and women so much as undermining them. After all, didn’t the organization’s announcement assume that even though girls have their own program, they’d prefer to join the boys’ club?

In one major sense, this is true: the BSA’s Eagle Scout award holds cultural cachet that the GSUSA’s Gold Award has never achieved, as an all-male institution will almost always be more venerable than an all-female one. But this power dynamic between the two scouting organizations, which has lasted a century, may shift in the near future. It’s already apparent that the scouting experience will change on both sides as the programs struggle to differentiate and recruit, and one of the major unintended front lines will be girls in the woods.

In an ideal world, the U.S. would have a single scouting organization with the benefits of both programs available to everyone—as is the case in almost all other Western countries, including Norway, where I was a scout. The BSA provides a challenging and well-rounded outdoor program and has a track record of getting American kids in the woods for more than 100 years. Some of the loudest cheers over the BSA’s decision come from current and former Girl Scouts who have grown sick of sewing sit-upons while their brothers pack rucksacks and sleep under the moon.

The GSUSA, by contrast, has a history of being civic-minded: Girl Scouts were earning badges in journalism and aviation before their mothers could vote, then volunteering to babysit so women could go to the polls. Today, GSUSA’s focuses include getting girls involved in STEM, reuniting daughters with incarcerated mothers, and ensuring accessibility for all (Juliette Gordon Low, the founder, was deaf).

A coed organization would balance out both programs’ weaknesses, which stem from a historical emphasis on traditional gender performance. The BSA is famously conservative, and in classic manner of conservative nostalgia, it enforces a clear-cut gender divide that never really existed; the first transgender Boy Scout was accepted only earlier this year. On the ground, of course, there have always been gay and transgender and female-identified Boy Scouts, because American youth have always been queer and complicated and uncontrollable. “As much as you want to police masculinity, the reality is that people will be diverse,” sociologist Barbara Arneil says. But that hasn’t stopped the BSA from trying. It was, after all, formed for the very mission of policing masculinity, funded on the promise of returning “feminized” urban boys to their frontier roots.

While the GSUSA makes a point of celebrating all kinds of diversity, the girls’ complaints have long centered around the program offerings, which skew toward crafts and twee slogans. When the boys earn a badge in geology, the girls earn one in “Rocks Rock!” Until recently, other offerings included “Looking Your Best” (pro tip: dress for your skin tone) and “Eating for Beauty,” which was changed this year to the cutesy-but-neutral “Eating for You.”

Although the GSUSA purports to celebrate outdoor learning, that has never quite translated into widespread practical experience in the wilderness, especially for girls from poorer families. The problem, in large part, is generational; a 2014 study by the Girl Scout Research Institute determined that although girls often requested outdoor adventures, their leaders hesitated to follow through, often because of their own lack of experience and “high expectation of perfection in the outdoors.” How do you teach women to lead girls in a venue where they themselves have never been encouraged to explore and succeed?

Unfortunately, America’s scouts are not likely to combine into one coed super-organization; their sibling relationship is historically fraught with conflicting values. When the GSUSA formed in 1912, the BSA immediately sued the organization for including the word “scouts,” which it determined to be a purely male accolade. To this day, the BSA excludes atheists and demands allegiance to God; the GSUSA has an asterisk in its pledge that allows girls to replace the dutiful “God” with “Gods,” “nature,” “supreme power,” “science,” or anything else they deem worthy of loyalty. And this summer, while the BSA released a week-late lukewarm apology for Donald Trump’s sexist remarks at its national Jamboree, the GSUSA promoted a major program called G.I.R.L Agenda, designed to get scouts involved in civic activism for “issues related to girls.” Sure, G.I.R.L. Agenda is publicly nonpartisan, but efforts highlighted on the website include climate change awareness, welcoming refugees, and combating misinformation about Muslims. Like it or not, when our president grabs pussies, a female-led organization is inherently political—and a male-led organization that doesn’t speak up is political, too.

The BSA’s prominent abuse scandals and tepid commitment to political values have lost support for the organization across the aisle over the past decade, and its enrollment numbers slipped 27 percent between 2003 and 2015. The Mormon church, which sponsors more than a third of BSA dens nationwide, announced in May that it would no longer automatically enroll its teenage boys. (Although the withdrawal was not explicitly tied to the BSA’s decision to allow gay leaders and transgender scouts, the timing lines up.) Perhaps anticipating a comeback strategy, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, president of the GSUSA, published a letter on BuzzFeed in August pleading with the BSA to not admit girls and instead “stay focused on the 90 percent of American boys not currently participating in Boy Scouts.” The BSA’s decision to allow girls is response enough. For an organization that has shown nothing but reluctance to stand up for nontraditional scouts and that is now publicly poaching from its so-called sister organization, this business decision may be the cleft that divides American scouting for good.

As an explicitly “all-girl, girl-led, and girl-friendly” organization, the GSUSA is unlikely to begin accepting boys, but recent programs suggest that it’s seeking other ways to differentiate and step up its outdoor adventures. Since the 2014 study, GSUSA has initiated 17 new outdoor-related badges, including seven just this summer, as well as an online program meant to coach mothers through outdoor decision-making (What happens when it rains? Is it okay to accept help pitching a tent?). Local councils have implemented classes for adult women to learn from outdoor instructors in a low-pressure environment before bringing girls outside themselves, as well as offering grants for troops without the resources to buy equipment.

On the other side, if the BSA wants to prove that its newly coed programming is anything but a money grab, it will have to make public peace with the girls and women at GSUSA, as well as step up its welcome of transgender scouts, who should be able to join the gendered den that matches their identity. Not least will it have to change its name (perhaps, like the YMCA, switching to an acronym) so girls aren’t second-tier citizens in their own organization.

Luckily, the national politics of scouting have always been very separate from on-the-ground scouting experience, which means that despite their drama, the BSA and GSUSA both provide formative experiences for millions of kids. Transitioning from frenemies to explicit competitors won’t change that. In fact, it might even help. More options for girls to get outside is good for American girls everywhere—which should, after all, be the whole point.

6 Tips for Climbing with Kids

Watching her little fingers search out and tentatively latch onto an in cut edge I see the confidence blossom on her face as she shifts her weight onto the higher foot which is wrapped in the cutest little blue climbing shoe. The times that I get to watch my daughter climb are always inspiring. As a climbing instructor it has always been one of my joys watching others explore and learn about climbing and the most special of these times have often involved watching kids get out there. When climbing with younger kids there are also many potential challenges that I have stumbled across over the years. Here are some suggestions and thoughts worth considering when planning your day or climbs.

1. Be prepared for a short session in the beginning. Kids may not share our desire for a full on day at first. If you are planning to stay and get some laps in on your project have some toys, games, or pre-planned activities prepared as well as a spare responsible person for supervision of the younger kiddos. The times I have been up on the sharp end trying to send a route and trying to field questions from my daughter made me feel like I was being halfway engaged on both tasks. Fun for no one.

2. Start slow and easy. For really young ones like 4 and 5 years setting a rope up on 4th class terrain may be a great start. Have a parent or older sibling climb next to them and offer encouragement and support. Another option to consider is top belays for climbs in the beginning. A child is often more comfortable climbing toward the safety of a parent or primary care giver than they will be climbing away from them when a bottom belay is used.

3. Know how to adjust the difficulty of sections of a climb for shorter arms and legs. Maybe you can plug a piece of gear in and hang a 48” runner or a cordelette tied into an aider at a hard bit. Another option is to fix a rope along the route from the top with butterfly knots tied every couple feet. Kids can bail to the rope at times if needed.

4. With the smallest kids have a plan to get them down. It is the worst when they are ready to get lowered and maybe freaking out some but are too light for the friction in the system to be lowered! This is a great time to have an adult climbing alongside who can use techniques like attaching themselves to the child’s rope with a friction hitch and then when the adult gets lowered it helps pull the child’s rope down as well. Another option is to have the child climbing be attached to a trail line anchored to the tie in point of their harness. This trail line can then be used to help pull them down as they are being lowered. For younger and smaller kids a full body harness is also a necessity. A seat harness only is for older kids who have clearly defined hips and good balance and core body strength. Can the child easily right themselves if they flip upside down? When in doubt stick with the full body harness or a seat and chest harness combo.

5. Helmets are a must! Even if you as an adult choose to not wear a helmet at times your child needs to wear a properly fitted climbing helmet. Kids are often less coordinated and constantly adjusting to a growing body. They are more prone to trip or topple over and be less agile when they fall. Even when not climbing you need to have a master sense of awareness of potential rock fall or dropped objects by parties above you. I have seen a metal water bottle dropped at Looking Glass bounce off into the woods 30 feet from the base of the route. An easily recognizable and conservative zone should be established by you in which kids need to have their helmets on. Make it clear where they can go to take it off when needed.

6. Keep it fun! Coaching and encouragement can get easily loaded with my own insecurities and frustrations. Trying to instill a love of climbing means figuring out why they might enjoy it and knowing that they do not have my same history with climbing. I will sometimes place a small toy or prize on a ledge or hold as a way of setting a fun goal for the kids to reach. Know when they are done and don’t push them too hard in the start. My ten year old will rarely climbed to the anchors or top. She is still developing her comfort with heights. If she wants to climb up ten feet and bounce around and swing on the rope that is what we will do. Pushing kids into their stretch zone of fear should be used like a spice. Sometimes a little is all you need.

Climbing with my daughter and her friends is by far one of my greatest joys as a parent and lifelong climber. I see how it excites and inspires her and mostly is just flat out fun. As with all climbing skills the techniques I describe here are not something you should ever just wing it on. Practice when the kids are not around so that when you do use these tools you KNOW with certainty you are doing it right. If I am bumbling about and not showing confidence it certainly can make my child more afraid to trust the systems we are using. Seek qualified instruction from a certified instructor who is insured and properly permitted for the area they are working in. Don’t assume that everyone offering a service is properly trained and credentialed, Caveat Emptor. Most of all I hope that when you go climb with your family and friends children that you have fun together and enjoy quality time outdoors. I hope to see you out at the crag.

Adrian Hurst is an instructor with Fox Mountain Guides, a North Carolina Outward Bound Climbing Specialist, and a Appalachian Mountain Rescue Team Board Member.

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Walking the John Buchan Way: Broughton to Peebles

After checking the weather (rain and some sunny spells with a fairly stiff south-westerly wind) I suggested to my friends Mark and Becca that we walk the John Buchan Way in reverse, from Broughton to Peebles.

Most routes on-line detail the 13-mile walk through Tweeddale, in the Scottish Borders, in the opposite direction, but since it is waymarked it mattered not. I thought that it would be preferable to have the wind (and rain) at our backs.

We had two cars and left one in a free car park in Peebles and the other in Broughton, close to the start of the mostly off-road walk.

What we did not realise until we started walking the JBW from the A701 in Broughton and towards the hills of Broughton Heights is that there is a “walkers’ car park” part way along the route. The car park is around 1km from the road and 500m past Broughton Place, a grand home in the style of a castle, next to a shepherd’s cottage.

If you are looking for an easier start to the JBW, this is a good place to park.

John Buchan Way route.

Who was John Buchan?

John Buchan was a Scottish writer and diplomat. He was also the first Lord Tweedsmuir. Most people will connect him with his most famous book, the Thirty-Nine Steps. My mum has a collection of John Buchan first editions so I know he wrote many more novels, such as Greenmantle, The Island of Sheep and the Gap in the Curtain although I can’t recall any more! (I admit I had to check the titles of even these!)

He was born in Perth and graduated from Oxford University before becoming editor of The Spectator. He served as Member of Parliament for the Scottish Universities, became director of Nelson’s the publishers and was also High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

In World War I, he served in the government as Director of Information and wrote many articles about the war. In total he wrote some 100 books of which 40 are fiction. He died aged 65 after becoming Governor-General of Canada.

The Buchan family have many links to the Tweeddale area. John’s parents had grown up in Tweeddale and family holidays were spent with relatives in the area, so Buchan developed a passion for the Borders countryside and its people.

Buchan’s brother Walter was town clerk of Peebles and with John founded the solicitors, J. & W. Buchan WS.

His younger sister Anna wrote novels under the pseudonym O. Douglas. She lived most of her life in Peebles.

The John Buchan Society, which has members all over the world, has close links to the Buchan family and with the John Buchan Centre (now closed) in Broughton. There is a small John Buchan Story Museum located in the Chambers Institution in Peebles.

Walking the John Buchan Way with friends

There are a few things I love about a long walk with good friends. First, there is the fun of the planning. We are all busy people and when we finally came up with a date and a location it felt like a really special event to be meeting up.

We like to walk in new places and the JBW was new to all of us, although I had walked sections before by chance because my home town is Peebles.

The drive to the walk ­– and the many walking miles  – afforded us plenty of time for a big catch up on each other’s news, family life and work. We met through journalism.

The sense of achievement and shared memories mean this walk will be long remembered by all of us.

One problem with a walk with friends, however, is that when you are chatting you forget to look at the map and the signposts.

I confess we got lost during the first half of the walk from Broughton to Stobo and then, during the second part of the walk, it was only Mark’s eagle eye (I never imagined I could write this, Mark!) that saved us from getting lost a second time.

While Becca and I were deep in a conversation about something important, Mark noticed we had walked past a signpost. Thanks Mark for saving the day! (He asked me to promise that I would not write this sarcastically!)

John Buchan Way: Broughton to Stobo

Most people start the linear (A to B) walk in Peebles. You can see a John Buchan Way route description on Walk Highlands. I downloaded a GPX file on to my OS maps app and Viewranger app. This meant that I could see the route as we walked, even when there was no 3G.

We started at Broughton village, where there is easy car parking, and headed towards hills known as Broughton Heights. Rather than climbing over the hill summits, a track, very muddy in places, heads between the hills.

The landscape here is wonderfully undulating and the views as we climbed were magnificent, especially with the stunning autumnal colours. I think we reached a height of around 400m, that is all.

A long descent, with a few small ups and some flat, led us towards forestry. It is here that we went a little off track. I think we ended up off route because we missed a waymarker, but there were many tracks in the hills and it was probably an easy mistake.

Fortunately, I was able to spot our actual location on a map app and navigate us to the route again. We enjoyed our wee detour past Stobo Castle and through beautiful grounds.

Because of our detour we had to walk a longer stretch along the B712 towards Stobo but it was a fairly quiet road and we also found a nice roadside picnic table for our lunch outdoors. It even had a fence around it so I could let Wispa the Wonder Whippet off the lead while we ate.

Until this point we were feeling extremely lucky to be walking in mostly dry and sometimes sunny weather. The forecast had not bee too good.

A novel use of tennis balls and duct tape to make the steps easier to climb over.

John Buchan Way: Stobo to Peebles

From Stobo, after our wee detour, we found the John Buchan Way again and headed up into more hills. The climb was a little steeper this time, although still mostly on good tracks.

At a waymarker (the one we almost missed but did not thanks to Mark’s amazingness) the route became steeper and very muddy. We were walking along the edge of farm fields and it has been very rainy in recent days.

This is when we started to see the clouds closing in. By the time we reached a place in the middle of the rounded hills, The Glack, the rain and wind had picked up. We were thankful to have the wind mostly behind us but we were quickly wet though.

The rain came on so quickly that we did not have time to put on waterproof over-trousers. We were also required to walk through a field with a mean looking bull in residence.

Becca was nervous so we skirted around the edge of the field and encountered a deep, gloopy mud mixd with cow poo. Yuk!

Again we reached another section of quiet road, this time a very minor road. We were wet and a little chilly and starting to feel weary.

I offered Mark and Becca a choice: To walk back to Peebles along the road or to stick to the route and head over another hill, Cademuir. I had walked Cademuir many times before so I didn’t mind what we did.

The decision to follow the road at a lower level was probably the right one. It added a little extra distance on to the route but it felt more direct and it was easier than ascending another hill through muddy, wet fields.

Despite being at a lower level for the rest of the walk we were still treated to yet more beautiful views of rolling hills, the bright leaves of autumnal trees and small copses of evergreens. I can’t think of a better time to visit the Scottish Borders and the walk reminded me of the times when I used to take my nan for a drive for her birthday tea at a country pub.

Autumn is a truly glorious time of year to be out for a walk.

Although the rain stayed off we were all still quite damp as we plodded into Peebles, via Kingsmeadow Road. We walked past houses I recall form my school days and Peebles High School itself, where I was educated from fourth year.

Driving back and a café stop

Driving back to Broughton in the car we had left in Peebles we were all dreaming about tea and scones. We imagined we would need to return to Peebles for a warm café stop but as it turned out the very welcoming Laurel Bank Tearoom on Broughton main street was still open. The fruit scones were delicious and the service was excellent.

We agreed it had been a superb day out with a mix of all the things that we really enjoy: Great chat, friendly banter, beautiful Scottish views and exercise. It’s a route I would like to do again, this time without getting lost, and perhaps from Peebles to Broughton next time.

There is a pdf download of a John Buchan Way leaflet, although it states there is a John Buchan Centre in Broughton, which I believe has now shut.

The post Walking the John Buchan Way: Broughton to Peebles appeared first on FionaOutdoors.

Dog Leashes Made From Discarded Climbing Rope

Flowfold Trailmate Leash

Flowfold, an outdoor retail brand focused on minimalist gear for everyday adventures, teamed up with two other well-known Maine outdoor brands — L.L.Bean and Sterling Rope — to create the made-in-Maine dog leash. The Trailmate Dog Leash comes from reclaimed Sterling climbing rope and will be sold in a variety of L.L. Bean stores, thus keeping materials from unnecessarily heading to landfills

Every Sterling climbing rope is made in the USA and inspected by hand. Rope that is not first quality is set aside, and that’s where Flowfold comes in. Flowfold, which made a name for itself by recycling non-biodegradable racing sailcloth to make wallets, repurposes the otherwise discarded rope to make fun and colorful leashes that are perfectly suited for you favorite furry friend.

The five- to six-foot Trailmate Dog Leashes come in a variety of colors and can be found either online from Flowfold or in L.L. Bean stores. The dog leases retail for $25.

The Road: Full Plate

When Aaron Brill—the founder of Colorado’s Silverton Mountain and owner of Alaska’s renowned Silverton Mountain Guides—first told me that I could get free heli-bumps to steep shots of untouched powder in the boundless wilds of Alaska’s Central Chugach,  my answer was immediate and unequivocal: “Yes please.”

“There’s a hitch.”

“Doesn’t matter. Not listening. I’m in.”

Maybe I should have paid more attention to that hitch: I had to cook three meals a day for 20 people. But heliskiing in Alaska, without the $10,000 price tag and returning home with a paycheck? Dude, how bad could it be? 

I soon learned that waking before dawn to cook a hot breakfast for a lodge full of mega-amped skiers is hard. So is prepping a couple dozen custom-made sandwiches with fresh-roasted meats. So is driving two hours every other day and towing four shopping carts around the Fred Meyer grocery in Palmer, Alaska, checking off a list that spanned several pages of legal tablet. And a four-course dinner six-days a week? Man, that is some serious work.

But you know what was even harder? Standing there watching every morning as a bright yellow AStar full of giddy rippers disappeared over the horizon, headed out for lap after powder-filled lap in one million acres of the Last Frontier.

Then came the day when I finally got to ride in that AStar. After a few hours ripping 5,000-foot laps of pillowy pow on kitchen-weary legs, Call me Cookie! I was ready to sign on for a 10-year contract.

A confession: I’m a heli-skiing junkie. I’m not a cook. I was. More than 20 years ago. I worked the line at a San Francisco joint that would churn out as many as 1,200 Mediterranean-inspired dinners a night. I cooked burgers and steaks as a ski bum in Vail, shredding all day and working all night. I spent weeks in a tent, serving pre-dawn breakfasts and high-end suppers to elk hunters out in the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness, packing everything I needed in on horses.

But that was a previous life, a quarter century ago. Back then, I had energy. I was in my 20s and could ski six hours, work eight hours in the kitchen and then drink beer for four hours. And do it all over again the next day. Now, dangerously close to 50, I can do one of those three things per day. Today, I drive around and type and talk on the phone and ski on the weekends, chasing two daughters who are quickly becoming better than me. Oh, and every night, I cook dinner for my family.

Cooking for four does not, however, translate to cooking for 20. So I was not prepared to shop, prep, cook and clean for a revolving posse of super-fun, goggle-tanned skiers who were dropping mad cash for the trip of a lifetime. And, truthfully, I’m not really prepared to drop into 50-degree funnels of snow that will move and chase you, requiring fast-twitch maneuvering that simply isn’t needed in 99 percent of the world’s lift-served terrain.

I’d like to say I spent weeks poring over menus and training for the skiing. But life is busy. I pounded on this keyboard and chased kids down the hill right up to departure. I had a day to prep on the ground in AK and told myself I’d spend it online at the lodge and create a week’s worth of menus that I could repeat for each group. So it was somewhat disconcerting to learn that the lodge did not have internet.

Those were some long hours in a tired truck in the parking lot of the Fred Meyer, working an overheated phone to create the right dinners and chart the necessary ingredients. Brill’s crew—the hard-charging guides who I’ve know for years—had little faith in me. Why would they trust me to make their meals? To provide them with all the calories they needed to ferry 20 clients through 18 heli rides and upwards of 50,000 feet of vertical? Up to that point, I was the fun-loving guy who’d visit with his own crew of fun-loving guys for turns at Silverton Mountain. None of them had actually seen me work before. They certainly hadn’t seen me cook. They questioned their leader’s wisdom in selecting a clown on fat skis as a chef. Even I was skeptical of Brill’s decision-making in this particular instance.

Unlike a chef with experience, I was extremely inefficient. But it worked. Biscuits and gravy, omelets and pancakes and endless trays of bacon every morning, with fresh fruit, coffee and juice. I roasted beef and turkey and chicken for fresh-made sandwiches, each built to order. Dinners included homemade soups, salads with custom-made dressings, steaks, crab, pistachio-encrusted salmon, halibut in a lemon caper sauce, grilled polenta, roasted red peppers, pureed cauliflower with roasted garlic, seared Brussels sprouts in browned butter. Desserts were simple: fresh berries and whipped cream with maybe a store-bought cake. It may not have been fancy, but it was definitely quality.

The folks at Fred Meyer didn’t take long to notice me. The department heads wondered how certain products were disappearing every other day from the shelves. I would buy up all of their halibut. All of their salmon. All of the pistachios and polenta and red potatoes. All of their fresh-sliced bacon. Every clamshell of berry in the produce department. Eventually they caught up with me and asked how long it was going to last. You see, they said, we order food on ships from Oregon and I was blowing up their supplies.

I probably could have ordered ahead or even used a food service, but I slid into the cooking gig at 100 miles per hour. Even the 14-hour shifts in the kitchen and grocery seemed like a respite from the daily grind at a newspaper where the workload is always increasing while staff numbers are constantly dwindling.

Once I was in the kitchen though, I planned and prepped ahead. For good reason, and it wasn’t about being a good chef. You see, the call to jump onboard that AStar could come at any minute.

Every so often, a client would bail for an afternoon, or God bless them, an entire day. Silverton Mountain Guides is not AK 101. Clients start the first run of the first day on the stuff that most helicopter outfits reserve for grizzled veterans of Alaska heliskiing. Since guests are vetted back home in the helicopter on Silverton Mountain’s notoriously terrifying terrain, there is no need for the gradual stepping up into the AK goods, a time-worn strategy employed by just about every other helicopter outfit in The Last Frontier. With Silverton Mountain Guides, the day features gut-churning exposure on every run and stays full-throttle throughout the week (the operation prides itself on offering 10-18 runs a day as opposed to the measly six that the usual heli outfit guarantees).


When the guests would return from that first day, I would scan them for the weak-link. I became familiar with the signs of fear: They pass on beer and cocktails and wine. They leave food uneaten. They huddle on the couch in the dining room—the only place where cell phones work—and whisper to spouses back home. They ice ankles and knees and shoulders, staring into the middle distance. They retire to their cabins early with a stack of DVDs from the lodge library.

I watched them like a lion on the edge of the herd and I cooked the next breakfast in my base layers. Just in case. Most often they left in the morning. But when the ship returned for midday re-fuel, chances were good the fearful/nervous/worked would be onboard. And there would be Cookie at the helipad, dressed to ski.

“Oh really, there’s an empty seat? Wow. Well, we can’t let that happen.”

The oven was on low, the steaks were seared, dinner was prepped and I was ready to join skiers who’d trained for months and were days-deep in their heli adventure.

I’d catch the first ship home at the end of the day and race to the kitchen in my Langes. I cooked more than a couple of dinners in ski pants. My legs wobbled. My grin didn’t.   It’d crack my sunburned face for the next week despite the four-hour trips to the grocery, stacks of dirty dishes and 4 a.m. alarms.

It worked. I worked. And I was getting paid to go heliskiing in Alaska.

Jason Blevins lives in Eagle, Colorado, and has covered the ski industry, mountain business, and adventure sports for The Denver Post since 1997. last season, he logged more than 60 days on the hill, most of those with his wife and two daughters.

The post The Road: Full Plate appeared first on Elevation Outdoors Magazine.

Three Capes Track, Tasmania

46km, 4 days

Maximum 48 hikers starting each day.

When the Three Capes Track opened two days before Christmas 2015, it immediately set a new benchmark for Australian bushwalks, creating a hike that’s both heady and hedonistic, combining the raw beauty of the southern hemisphere’s highest sea cliffs with comforts and interpretation unsurpassed by any other trail in the country.

… its finest moments come when the track teeters along the cliff edge on its approach to Cape Pillar and the Blade. As the Roaring 40s winds inevitably howl in from the Southern Ocean, there’s a humbling sense of being poised at the edge of the world. …

How to walk Tasmania’s Three Capes Track

3CT Map

Before you get too excited know that this is a private hike – cost AU$495.

Book here.

Ask Me: How’s November For Hiking in the Grand Canyon?

Hi Michael:

During the second week of November, a buddy and I are considering a rim to river to rim hike in the Grand Canyon. We are planning to descend South Kaibab Trail, walk along River Trail, and ascend via Bright Angel Trail. Plan would be to start early and complete the hike in the same day. We will carry survival gear. Neither of us has been to the GC. One of us is very experienced (and in excellent physical condition), and one of us has moderate experience (in very good physical condition).

We would appreciate your comments on hiking in November—weather, trail conditions, and anything else that may assist us. We both prefer not to hike in the wet, and neither of us wants anything to do with snow! Also, if November is the wrong month to do this, we would delay until next year.

Also, I have not seen anything on the Internet about, at the end of the hike, how we get from the top of Bright Angel Trail back to the parking lot for South Kaibab Trail.

Thanks for assisting us with our plans. We are trying to make this a fun and positive experience.

Best regards,
Toronto, Canada


South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon.

South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon.

Hi Dale,

I have backpacked off the South Rim in the Grand Canyon, from the New Hance Trail to Grandview Point, in the first week of November. It was beautiful, sunny all three days, highs in the 60s in the canyon bottom with nights/early morning in the 40s, and cooler but comfortable at the South Rim. The trails were completely dry with no trace of snow.

You could encounter a snowstorm at that time of year—snow at the rim, but rain in the canyon bottom—that may force you to cancel or alter your plans. It really depends on the short-term forecast. But a heavy snowfall is somewhat rare in the first half of November, and if it snows then, it tends to melt and dry up pretty quickly once the sun comes out. Unlike in spring, when you have months of accumulated snow on the upper parts of the trails at the South Rim—sometimes requiring microspikes on your shoes or boots for traction on icy trails—in the first part of November, it’s very unlikely you’ll find icy conditions. Not impossible, but unlikely.

So, yes, November is often a really nice time of year to hike in the Grand Canyon. Of course, the only drawback is that days are quite short.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by USA Today and others. I invite you to get email updates about new stories and gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box in the left sidebar, at the bottom of this post, or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon.

South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon.

You should check the park website about transportation, but there’s no public parking allowed at the South Kaibab Trailhead. You’ll have to either get dropped off there or take the first park shuttle bus out there to start your hike. Leave your vehicle at the top of the Bright Angel Trail, there’s parking close by.


Got a trip coming up? See my reviews of the best hiking shoes and 6 favorite daypacks.


By the way, although I’m sure you’ve already searched The Big Outside for my Grand Canyon stories, let me point out my feature story about hiking rim to rim to rim and two Ask Me posts, one about hiking rim to river to rim and another suggesting a different, big dayhike in the canyon. Perhaps the last one will give you a goal for your next visit!

Good luck, let me know how it goes for you.



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Thanks for the reply. Your info is very useful and will definitely assist us.

Best regards,


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