Where next: 2021 – COVID-19 Update

Here’s a copy of my Where Next page that I made today (26 March 2021). The page displayed all the optimism (and desperation) of January 2021. My updated “Where’s Next” page has a little less of both….

None of these trips are going to happen.

I’ve written off any foreign travel this year, and definitely no big trip – even if we’re vaccinated I can’t imagine Nepal will be, and the prospect of sitting in an aeroplane for 7-10 hours with a transfer in India or Dubai does not appeal. With Europe heading into its Third Wave and post-BREXIT relations already soured, Italy and Spain are highly unlikely. That said, I’ll be happy if we get to the autumn and I’m proved wrong.

Plus we’ve really not explored around here yet, and I really want to see family and friends – right now the prospect of being able to spend a long weekend in Pembs with the Everest Trek Crowd at the end of May is a huge highlight.


2021

I’m hoping to be able to do some of the 2020 trips that we had to postpone due to COVID-19, and to get to see more of the Marches and Wales.

I feel I got off lightly last year – 2020 was always going to be focused on relocating to Herefordshire and so I’d not made any Big Travel Plans. In fact the only trips in the diary were a return to northern Spain with Steffi and Hazel to walk the El Anillo de Picos in the company of Alfonso who led 2019’s week in the Picos plus a week or so in northern Italy for Michael and Katja’s wedding.


Trip No. 1 of 2021: Northern Italy (postponed from 2020)

Destination: Val d’Aosta, north of Turin

When: Summer 2021

What: City break + History + Mountains + Friends. Maybe taking advantage of Michael and Katja’s Aosta Wanderlust.

How: TBC – last year we ended up booking flights to/from Turin, but the idea of travelling there and back by train still appeals….

Why: For Michael and Katja’s wedding.

Trip No. 2 of 2021: El Anillo de Picos (postponed from 2020)

Destination: The Picos de Europa, Northern Spain.

When: August / September 2021.

What: Steffi, Hazel and I – plus Rache – return to Northern Spain to walk El Anillo de Picos.

How: In the wonderful company of Alfonso Gallego de Lerma who was our excellent guide/leader on Exodus’ Picos de Europa trip we did in July 2019.

Why: July 2019’s trip whetted the appetite even though the bad weather restricted our routes and made the Grade 5 trip closer to the standard Grade 3 holiday than any of us would have wished.

This time we’ll get to spend a long week in the Picos de Europa proper, hiking in and around  the three massifs. We will be staying in refugios and carrying “everything” with us.  That shouldn’t be as dramatic as it sounds – we are used to carrying wet weather gear and warm layers, plus lunch and water, in our day packs and will only need a sheet sleeping bag for the refugios which will also provide all our meals. I for one am not renowned for my vast wardrobe when I’m walking …. Plus we will have clean clothes to enjoy once we’ve competed El Anillo.

Itinerary: Factoring in travel to/from London, our itinerary is:

  • Day 0: Travel to London
  • Day 1: Fly to Bilbao. Travel to Arenas de Calabres.
  • Days 2 to 8: Trekking through the Picos.
  • Day 9: Relax and swim…. Drive to Bilbao or Santander. Visit the city.
  • Day 10: Fly to London
  • Day 11: Travel back from London

Trip No. 3 of 2021: Kanchenjunga Base Camp and Beyond …

Destination: Kanchenjunga, Eastern Nepal.

When: November 2021 TBC

What: Trekking to one/both of the Kanchenjunga base camps and out again. Route TBC. All Nepal side. Val ran through some options when we met at Steffi’s in 2020. With hindsight, getting everyone to Pembs then was a rare event! Options are:

  • North & South Basecamps (~5100m & ~4780m) – 25/26 days
  • North Basecamp & Lumba Sumba (~4700m) – 23 days
  • North Basecamp there and back via the Milke Danda & Tumlingtar – 21/22 days

How: Trekking with the amazing Val Pitkethly and Chhering. Not sure who else!

Why: More high mountains, more remote communities and another section of the GHT.

Kanchenjunga Routes - Val's map
Kanchenjunga Routes – Val’s map

Trek prep: Portered treks – Tips for first timers

With travel off limits for most of 2020, I can imagine that lots of people have been dreaming of Big Trips for 2021.

I have 🙂

So, for those folks considering going trekking in Nepal – Everest Base Camp do I hear you say? – or similar for the first time, here are some of the key things I’ve learned about doing portered treks over the past 10 years.


Altitude and acclimatisation

Gain height gradually. The Annapurna Circuit was a good trek to start with – a gradual ascent allowing the body to acclimatise steadily. With the road building I’m not sure how much of our route remains road-free. Road walking is no fun with the the dust and fumes generated by local traffic, let alone the risk of a close encounter with a motorbike, bus or other vehicle as it careers along the rutted mud “road”.

You don’t need to be walking though. Even the day long bus ride from seaside Lima to Huaraz (3000 m) works on a similar basis. I still think gaining height by walking has to be better though.

Give yourself time, for your body to generate more red blood cells and to get past the jet lag. I’ve mistaken a jet lag headache for an altitude headache in the past and when they combine they’re extra nasty. Allow yourself a day or two of chilling out at the start of your trip, keeping sightseeing / trekking to a minimum then too, and you will enjoy the rest of the trip much more.

Flying in to Leh (3500m) after l-o-n-g overnight flights from London we spent the rest of the morning catching some shut eye and then relaxing in the garden before Pemba took us out on a short orientation tour of the bazaar.

Afternoon tea at the KLC
Afternoon tea at the KLC

We had plenty of time in Ladakh, which mean we could spend our first week in Ladakh sightseeing in and around Leh, including a half day walk around the city plus a scramble up to the prayer flag cairns above the Khardung La (5359m). As a result, everyone in our group sailed through the Markha valley trek and its two 5000m – or thereabouts – passes.

Start slow. On more than one occasion I’ve seen fit guys struggle with the need to give their body time to adjust. A Stop/Start approach to hiking at altitude doesn’t do you any good – and it’s not realistic to expect your body to behave the same at 3000m as it does at sea level, even if you are a marathon runner. Starting slower than you think you can go gives your body time to adjust to the reduced O2 and means you’ll be able to speed up sooner.

Drink lots of water / juice / tea, and avoid caffeine (Coke, coffee). I aim for 3 litres a day. I can drink a lot of tea 🙂

Me at Larke Tea Shop
Me at Larke Tea Shop

I take Diamox with me, but I’ve never needed to take it to acclimatise. I have taken it when a cold or stomach trouble has meant I’ve run out of steam sooner than I would have done had I been 100%. Both times it’s been on the advice of my trusted guide, and with a decade of trekking at altitude holidays behind me.

For headaches do hit, I take paracetamol (1000mg) as soon as poss. Once a headache sets in in earnest it is hard to get rid of. I’ll confess a complete ignorance of paracetamol vs ibuprofen vs aspirin when I started going to altitude. Now my rule of thumb is:

  • Headache – paracetamol
  • Muscle aches / pains – ibuprofen
  • A long flight at the end of stint at altitude – (mini)aspirin. I take  1 the day before the flight, 1 on the day of the flight and 1 the day after to reduce risk of DVT from my red blood cell thickened blood

Kit

I’ve written a whole blogpost about my kit.

My top tip would be to take a pair of trekking poles (no point in limiting yourself to one). They are invaluable when descending steep slopes – dirt or snow – and in warding off overly enthusiastic guard dogs.

One thing I didn’t cover in that blogpost and which I get asked about a lot is what camera I use on trek.

For the past 10 years I’ve used a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V. I chose that model because it captures your GPS coordinates when you take a photo, which means my photos map themselves automatically on Flickr. I also wanted a camera that is small and easy to use and which comes with a good zoom plus the option to take panoramas.

The GPS feature has become less and less common in more recent models, and with my trusty 9V breaking last week I’ve just ordered the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V which came out in 2015.

Dolpo Expedition: Packing
Dolpo Expedition: Packing

If GPS isn’t a key feature for you, then a couple of other friends use and love the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ80.

On my 4 week treks, I take 5-6 spare batteries, fully charged and that usually keeps me going for the duration. To help retain their charge, my batteries and camera join me in my sleeping bag every night.

I sometimes pack my charging kit if a trek mate has a solar charger but we don’t always have time to charge and of course you do need some sun. You can often pay to recharge batteries and other electronics in lodges, but the price gets steeper the more remote you go.

Accommodation: Camping vs lodges / tea houses

The first two treks I went on were classic tea house treks in Nepal – Annapurna Circuit and Everest’s Three High Passes. The lodges were clean and well run with great food and we soon became adept at timing our arrival in the dining room / lounge for the 4pm lighting of the yak stoves.

Inside the Apple Garden Lodge, Junbesi
Inside the Apple Garden Lodge, Junbesi

But the bedrooms were unheated and at night it gets c-o-l-d…. And a room of cold air takes longer to warm up with body heat than a tent does.

So don’t be put off by the idea of camping in the Himalayas. All my treks since 2013 have been in tents. By and large the tents have been three person ones shared between two with plenty of room for a kit bag each and two sleeping bags plus thermarests.

Inside our tent
Inside our tent

Camping lets you venture further from the main trails and tweak your route as you go. And if camp does happen to be at a lodge, then you get to enjoy the food, company and stove there too.

Away from lodges, a dining tent has provided the place for meals and socialising and in small groups has doubled up as the kitchen too.

What about the bathroom? I hear you ask….

Tea houses etc will have loos and campsites will usually have toilet blocks. Both will be basic!

Loos at our Khola Kharka camp (4200m)
Loos at our Khola Kharka camp (4200m)

In the absence of local facilities, there has been a loo tent. And from personal experience toilet tent zips do have a tendency to jam. I have known fellow trekkers who have had to commando crawl out in an emergency… A trick I learned from Chhiring on our Dolpo trek is to rub a candle over the zip – that sorts out the dust that often causes the jams.

A bowl of washing water in the evening lets you get rid of most of the sweat, dirt and sun cream that accumulates during a day’s trekking. A small towelling glove flannel, a small piece of soap or shower gel – a complimentary bottle of the generic stuff you get in hotels usually does me for one trek (3-4weeks) – and I use a microfibre cloth as a towel – again as small as possible, you’re not going to be wearing it as a bath sheet, and the priority is having something that’s quick and easy to dry. If still damp (or frozen) in the morning, I fix the flannel and towel to my daypack with a couple of safety pins.

In the morning, a wet wipe wash starts the day. Biodegradeable wipes can be hard to come by, but you should make the effort given you’re likely going to bury or bin them once used.

I usually don’t bother to wash my hair while I’m on trek, but the metal bowls of warm water work for that too. You can pay to use the showers in tea houses too. Be warned that solar showers need some sun to heat the water…

Keeping warm at night

Keeping warm at night hasn’t turned out to be a problem for me, but I know it can be for others.

A few tips:

  • Don’t get cold before you go to bed.
  • A shared space is warmer than a solo space – two bodies doing the central heating.
  • Don’t be tempted to wear all your clothes to stay warm – it’s back to body heat: you need to heat up your sleeping bag before your bag can keep you warm in return. If you’re cold, it’s better to lay your down / fleece jacket over the top of your sleeping bag rather than putting it on. A Thermarest should insulate you from the ground.
  • Your water bottles can double up as hot water bottles overnight and provide cold water for drinking over night and the following day.
  • Make sure the bottles are fastened tight and get them into your sleeping bag ASAP and let them do the warming up before you have to. I usually wrap my PJs around the bottles and then put them right at the foot of my sleeping bag before loosely rolling the rest of the bag around this core.
  • I use metal bottles, so wrapping them up not only warms my clothes but also means that I avoid getting burnt overnight.
  • If the bottle is still too hot to touch when you get into bed, wrap it with your next day’s clothes.
Bottles
Water Bottles

Sleep

On trek I get 10-12 hours sleep a night, compared with 8 hours back home.

I’m usually in bed by 8pm, and morning bed tea (and, on some treks, a bowl of warm washing water too) usually arrives sometime between 6.30am-8am depending on the day ahead, the weather and how shaded the camping spot is (sunny spots allow al fresco breakfasts as well as earlier starts).

Breakfast, Jalja La camp

I’ve never found a pair of ear plugs which stay in my ears / work, but if I could then I would pack them every time. Night time disturbances have ranged from snoring tent mates to wind chimes to barking dogs to a 4am dawn chorus.  That said, I’ve slept through helicopter landings and the blood curdling death screams of a monkey being killed by a jaguar. So!

Being Sociable vs Personal Downtime

One of the things I enjoy about trekking is the afternoon / early evening downtime at camp when the group usually gathers in the tent or dining room for tea, biscuits and a bit of socialising.

In some groups Scrabble has dominated, but you need to make sure everyone is of a similar-ish standard or else it’s no fun. For mixed language groups, dice win out. Ten Thousand is the game of choice, with a side order of Yahtzee if someone can remember the list of things and their scores. Card games with easy rules, like Rummy, work too.

Scrabble!

I’m a pretty sociable person but I need a bit of quiet time every now and then.

I’m a big reader, and I usually pack a book or two but I rarely read on trek (unless I’ve embarked on a complete page turner on the flight). Books are what I often leave behind in the hotel or when we have the chance to lighten the load for part of the trek. If you’re a Kindle convert, then that’s obviously a great way to carry a lot of reading at little weight. You’ll need to figure out when/how to recharge your device though.

Instead I’ll often settle into my sleeping bag and enjoy having the time to think back over the trek so far, or to plan ahead. I’ll often go on a Mind Ramble™ or two, letting my brain wander at will….

… which is how this blogpost originated.

What about….?

If I’ve left any burning question(s) unanswered – and I’m sure I have – then feel free to email me.

Herefordshire Week 051: Tuesday 15 – Monday 21 December 2020

A truncated edition of weeknotes for the penultimate week of our first year at Forty Acres.

The return of relentless rain hasn’t managed to stop us from starting to get into the Christmas spirit.

Feeling Festive at Forty Acres (Triptych)
Feeling Festive at Forty Acres (Triptych)

Thursday brought the surprising news that Herefordshire was moving into COVID Tier 1, despite our lack of coastline.

I got back to 40A on Friday evening, in time for Friday night pizza à la Phil. The drive was OK, just a lot of big puddles this side of the Severn which slowed me down a bit.

Very soggy underfoot when I went out for a stroll around “The Estate” on Saturday. The ditch by the train set is full of water and appears to be making a bid to join up with the big pond, plus we’ve a third pond up by the small pond (temporary I hope as it’s where the first snowdrops bloom). And we seem to be acquiring a moat!

Squelching around the grounds and across Thistly Field reminded me of last February’s floods.

Waterlogged (Triptych)
Waterlogged (Triptych)

While I was away, Phil had hauled up the brash from the lower slopes to “The Quarry”. Now all we need is some dry weather to lop and burn ….

Lots of Bonfiring still to do in the Quarry
Lots of Bonfiring still to do in the Quarry

We put up the Christmas decorations on Saturday evening, lit the log stove and Phil got his Christmas Selection playing from the Sonos, all of which made us both feel a lot more festive.

I did manage to spook myself overnight though. It turned out to be the flashing light was coming from the printer in my office – not aliens or burglars.


Podcasts:  History Extra, The Night Driver (didn’t make it further than the start of ep2), The Memory Palace,  Shedunnit, Books and Authors, and David Crowther’s educational and enjoyable The History of England on the drive home.

Telly: 12 Puppies & Us (still lovely!) and We Are Who We Are .

Blogposts and Articles: Not my normal telly routine over the past couple of weeks and I’ve done more reading on my iPad instead, including:

I’m looking forward to the possibility of a big trek in Nepal next November, so there were some Kanchenjunga related posts including Mark Horrell’s 2018 Kangchenjunga base camp trek (N&S) and Drohmo Ri ascent:

and Derek’s October 2013 Kangjendzonga Base Camp Trek

But not to ignore telly completely, I’ve noted down lots of future TV viewing from The Guardian’s Christmas TV guide 2020: the festive shows you can’t miss.


Photos: Herefordshire week 51 on Flickr.

Phil: Weeknotes for w/e 2020-12-20.

Herefordshire Week 040: Tuesday 29 September – Monday 05 October 2020

Unpacking and sorting, plus a wet and windy weekend in Pembrokeshire with walking worked around Storm Alex.

Sunset, from the caravan
Sunset, from the caravan

Tuesday morning was taken up with weeknotes, a walk in the sunshine down to Riverdale and back and a speedy mow as rain features heavily in the forecast for the next week or so. Unfortunately heavy dew made the mowing somewhat superficial in places. Better than nothing.

Weds = work with a lunchtime dash to the Hospice Warehouse in Ross. Thursday = work plus Elaine’s first day back which means my stint as caretaker team manager is coming to a close.


With Pembs still pencilled in for the weekend, albeit without Dave and Charles, Hazel arrived on the train from Paddington just after 10pm. I’d squeezed in a speedy ASDA shop en route, and we managed a bit of cheese and wine back at Forty Acres.

Friday was decidedly dark and rainy when we got up, but we managed to cram everything for Steffi into the car without needing to put Hazel on the roof rack. And to absorb the news that Trump has COVID 19. How fortuitous for a timely taking back of complete control of the press narrative in the run up to the election.

A good drive West, taking the A roads skirting the north of the Brecon Beacons again, and dry for most of the way. The rain caught up with us shortly after we’d arrived (but after we’d unloaded) and we spent the rest of the day inside. Val and Nicola materialised during the afternoon, and we feasted on the customary array of splendid curries before heading off to the van.

Sat was surprisingly dry, albeit windy, which allowed for a lovely walk along the coastal path from at Martin’s Haven to Dale and back. Seals and pups in lots of the more sheltered stony coves and even down at the beach where the boats leave for Skomer in normal times.

Seal, Mouse's Haven / Deadman's Bay
Seal, from the Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Boozy evening back in the van and the rain arrived together with a superb sunset.

Storm Alex settled in overnight so Sunday was spent chilling out in the van. Leisurely breakfast, then chatting, reading, looking at Steffi’s photobook of last year’s trip to Nepal, Ten Thousand. Hazel headed off just before midday making the journey back to London with Mikes.

Getting Blown Away, Steffi's Van, Newgale
Getting Blown Away, Steffi’s Van, Newgale

An early night and another early start on Monday – Nicola and Val driving north, and I headed east getting home in time for lunch, finding Phil hard at work cutting the bookshelves down to size.

A good weekend – if only everyone could have come.


Spent Monday afternoon catching up on admin and watching the birds on the bird feeders. The woodpecker is back – just one, perhaps the juvenile, and there are flocks of fieldfares feasting on the berries in the yew trees. And contemplating sorting out of more removals stuff – clothes or office boxes??

Neither, as it turned out – we assembled the bookshelves instead.


TV:  The Tunnel, season 2 (excellent). The Tunnel, season 3 (ep1 – so far, so good!!!)

Podcasts: More of the History of England.


Photos: Herefordshire week 40 on Flickr.

Phil: Phil’s weeknotes for w/e 2020-10-04.

Where next: 2020 – COVID-19 Update

Here’s a copy of the update I made to my Where Next? page today.


2020

2020 is going to be a rather different year as Phil and I are moving to Herefordshire in January to try out the country life (but not Country Life). I’m still aiming to get a few trips in, but living in Herefordshire opens up a whole new world of walking opportunities, and travelling further afield means getting to grips with regional flights or factoring in a 3 hour plus train journey to/from London.

Naturally, there are some travel plans – but the only one booked is a return to northern Spain with Steffi and Hazel to walk the El Anillo de Picos in the company of Alfonso who led last year’s week in the Picos. I’ve already got weekends in the Northern Lake District, Pembrokeshire and St Andrews booked into my diary, and Phil and I are off to Northern Italy for Michael and Katja’s wedding in June. That still leaves a chunk of time for a Big Trip, but what, where and when depends on what Phil and I decide come June on the Herefordshire front….. About which, read on….

COVID-19 Update – August 2020

Well, we made our move to Herefordshire at the right time! Although not the trial we’d anticipated, it’s certainly proving to be a better place to be this year than London would have been.

As lockdown has been easing I have made it to Pembrokeshire for a weekend with Steffi and Phil and I have had a week in Walton on the Naze. All other trips – foreign and domestic – are all now cancelled.

Who knows what 2021 will bring? ‘More of the same’ would not come as a surprise.

Trip No. 1 of 2020: Relocating to Herefordshire

Destination: Abbey Dore, a hamlet half way between Hereford and Abergavenny.

When: January – June 2020, possibly long term. We’ll see how it goes.

What: Living in rural Herefordshire, with Phil. Working remotely for LW (I got the official approval this week).

How: With the cooperation of family, friends and work.

Why: I’ve spent a lot of my life in Herefordshire, whilst growing up in Solihull, studying at St Andrews and Chester, and working in London. We’ve had a holiday home there since I was tiny, which is where Phil and I will be based, and dad and Jean live half an hour’s drive away.

I did my first walking in the Black Mountains, up Skirrid and along Offa’s Dyke. I love the history of the Welsh Marches, and the fact that we have a Cistercian Abbey and a Saxon Motte and Bailey castle (remains of) within walking distance, and stone castles scattered across the landscape. Not to forget Bacton, Kilpeck, Craswall and Cwmyoy.

I’m ready to spend some time living in a green world rather than a grey one, with space to grow things and to make and store things. The preserving pan and sewing machine will be coming with us.

“But why leave London?” I hear you ask –

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” — Samuel Johnson

Well, I am somewhat tired of London. I love the fact that everything is on the doorstep, from shops to cinemas to museums, that I have family and friends within easy reach, that every Wednesday I can meet friends for wine and pizza, and that trains and flights offer a boundless choice of destinations near and far.

But I don’t love the noise, the early morning dustbin lorries and delivery vans announcing to all and sundry that they are reversing or turning left, the late night drunken revellers shouting and singing as they try to navigate the residential back streets of the Barbican, the police helicopters hovering over possible crime scenes in the middle of the night or monitoring protests and public gatherings during the day. The construction sites, providing relentless background noise of jackhammers and power tools at play, for new luxury developments in place of buildings with civic and social worth, signifying the Corporation of London’s distain for its residential communities and neighbours.

So. Watch this space.

Forty Acres sign post, Kerry's Gate
Forty Acres sign post, Kerry’s Gate

Trip No. 2 of 2020: El Anillo de Picos – POSTPONED July 2020

Destination: The Picos de Europa, Northern Spain.

When: August / September 2020.

What: Steffi, Hazel and I – plus Rache – return to Northern Spain to walk El Anillo de Picos.

How: In the wonderful company of Alfonso Gallego de Lerma who was our excellent guide/leader on Exodus’ Picos de Europa trip we did in July 2019.

Why: July’s trip whetted the appetite even though the bad weather restricted our routes and made the Grade 5 trip closer to the standard Grade 3 holiday than any of us would have wished.

This time we’ll get to spend a long week in the Picos de Europa proper, hiking in and around  the three massifs. We will be staying in refugios and carrying “everything” with us.  That shouldn’t be as dramatic as it sounds – we are used to carrying wet weather gear and warm layers, plus lunch and water, in our day packs and will only need a sheet sleeping bag for the refugios which will also provide all our meals. I for one am not renowned for my vast wardrobe when I’m walking …. Plus we will have clean clothes to enjoy once we’ve competed El Anillo.

Itinerary: Factoring in travel to/from London, our itinerary is:

Day 0: Travel to London
Day 1: Fly to Bilbao. Travel to Arenas de Calabres.
Days 2 to 8: Trekking through the Picos.
Day 9: Relax and swim…. Drive to Bilbao or Santander. Visit the city.
Day 10: Fly to London
Day 11: Travel back from London

Steffi has  booked flights and Alfonso is booking hotels and the refugios (turns out four clients is a good number, as is Alfonso’s price), so we are All Systems Go!