The Angry Corrie 34: Nov-Dec 97

TAC 34 Index

Chris Townsend writes:

I feel I must comment on Val Hamilton's entertaining piece about walking in Canada (TAC33, pp4-5), and not just because I get an oblique reference. Certainly, the scale of the Canadian wilderness is so vast it can seem overwhelming at first (it certainly overwhelmed me), rather as the Highlands can to visitors from the south used to the Pennines or the Lakes (and yes, the Highlands overwhelmed me too). However, it's not true to say that day walkers can't escape the forest or reach the peaks. It's just a question of picking the right place to start from. In his superb The Handbook of the Canadian Rockies (Corax), Ben Gadd lists a dozen or so day hikes of 3km to 20km in length, and there are masses more in Brian Patton and Bart Robinson's The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide (Summerthought). I do think taking a tent up into the mountains is the best way to appreciate the Rockies, but then I think the same about the Highlands.

As to the wildlife, citronella has no effect on midges either. I've found midges far worse than mosquitoes, as the latter are easier to repel. In the Rockies I've sat outside with a mosquito coil burning in front of me and had no problems. I defy anyone to try that in Glen Brittle on a calm summer evening!

The nasties in the water aren't the problem they're made out to be either. Land managers tend to worry about being sued, so they overstate potential problems. No-one's going to sue the estate if they get sick after drinking from a Scottish burn. In 41/2 months in the Rockies I never treated my water once nor did I ever get sick. Water filters are a rip-off - a good way to sell unnecessary gear. If water does need treating, iodine is best - it kills all the nasties the filters let through. And as for that duck - where do you think Scottish ducks pee?

The way to get bears into perspective is to remember that you're far more likely to be knocked down by a car when crossing a road, to get hit by lightning, to fall off a cliff, or to drown when fording a stream than to even see a bear. And all those can occur in the Highlands too. During my summer in the Canadian Rockies I saw one grizzly and a handful of black bears. The only minor problem I had was with a black bear in a camp where others had left food scraps: it wouldn't go away when I chucked rocks at it while I was having breakfast. I packed up and left instead. I only made a noise when I thought I might come on a bear suddenly - generally they'll smell and hear you from a long distance away - as doing so tends to ensure you don't see any wildlife at all. The place where precautions are needed is camp - I always hung my food from a high branch and cooked a hundred yards or more from where I slept. In the rain I used a tarp as a kitchen shelter.

Two standard stories you hear about bears are these. How do you tell if the bear charging you is a grizzly or a black bear? (This is important, as you should play dead if it's a grizzly but try and fight it off if it's a black bear). The answer is to climb a tree. If it's a black bear it'll climb up after you. If it's a grizzly it'll knock the tree down. The next story involves two hikers (this is North America, walking is for wimps) who suddenly come upon a bear which charges towards them. One of the hikers pulls off his boots and starts putting on his running shoes. "Why are you doing that", says his friend, "you can't out-run a bear". "I don't have to," comes the reply, "I just have to out-run you".

Turning to other TAC topics, I'd just like to say that walking poles are wonderful. I took mine round the Munros and Tops last year and they saved my knees much hammering apart from all the other advantages. I'm afraid though that I can't claim my poles have done all the Munros as per George Sobala's letter (p19): I didn't bother with them in the Cuillin as I couldn't see how they'd help me on the Basteir Tooth or the In Pinn, and I forgot them on Ben Lomond. Oh well. (You'll just have to go round again - Ed.)

Speaking of Munros, my view of the revisions is that I'm glad they didn't come out last year right in the middle of my walk! Overall though, it's just a list and my main interest is that it's an excuse to get out in the hills when laziness threatens. I've got a few Tops to pick up now ....

Chris's new book, The Munros and Tops, an account of his 1996 walk, is now out, published by Mainstream, #15.99. This might quite possibly be reviewed in TAC35 or TAC36.

TAC 34 Index