5 things to do when we are allowed out!
Well this all a bit of a testing time at the moment, especially when your in the adventure
tourism game. Also, generally people who work in the outdoors and in the adventure game are not generally the type of people who are keen to isolate and stay indoors. But we must be mindful of whats going on and not flout the rules just because we don't like it and we can’t go rock climbing. But that doesn’t mean we can't reminisce about previous adventures and plan for what to do when we are allowed out to play again. I've put together five top adventures and I can refer you to the providers, all of whom are trusted friends and people I would never doubt to provide a fun, safe and amazing experience. Hopefully, the following adventures provide a little inspiration for better times!
1: Tour Du Laikipia, Kenya
Probably one of the finest bike rides on the planet. There are not many places where you can enjoy great off road biking, spot the big five from your saddle and lie in your tent at night listening to lions roar. This ride travels through the Laikipia area in Northern Kenya passing Masai homes and through areas dotted with elephants, giraffe and other big game. Kenya is somewhere I came to first with a bike but then returned shortly after for work. Since then it has become a home. Something always attracted me to Africa and to this day I’m not that sure what it is, perhaps the freedom, the kindness of people, plus I definitely like warm weather or perhaps it's just the huge endless African skies. Adventure travel in Kenya and the African continent's potential hasn't really been realised yet, but it is most definitely there. This ride takes a journey across what is known as the Laikipia Plateau. Descending from the lush Mt. Kenya area it takes a route that plunges into what people would often see as the classic Africa scenery - plains studded with Acacia trees, dotted with big game, wandering Masai and a sense of big open country. One thing you can guarantee when this terrible outbreak is over, I will be back biking across Laikipia and Kenya as a whole, passing remote villages with familiar faces and camps which have given me many happy experiences over the years. There is nothing more satisfying than waking in the African bush armed with a bike and needing no more than a spirit of adventure to get the day going.
2: Off Piste, Chamonix, France
As the late Doug Coumbs said ‘you haven’t skied steep until you’ve skied Chamonix’. It is a place I fell in love with at a very young age. One of the greatest Christmas presents I ever received was aged ten as I went downstairs to the Christmas tree and it was with great delight that I was given a pair of Dynastars Coup Du Monde skis, but the real delight was in the card... two tickets for my father and I to get the sleeper train from the UK to Paris and on to St Gervais and Chamonix. Navigating Parisian subways with skis and having a pizza on the Shondalise in the middle of the night and waking on a train to see snow capped peaks is one of the fondest memories I have as a child. Two weeks of excellent skiing and the Belvedere where we were staying was a self catering place but my Dad is not that keen on cooking so we had great pizzas out every night. I have spent many months since and up to six months at a time either summer mountaineering or skiing in the winter in the Chamonix valley. Argentiere where I first stayed with my father at the Belverdere is still a place I think of warmly and have stayed many times since. But it is the skiing which makes the place, lift access to some of the greatest ski descents on the planet. The Vallee Blanche running from the highest ski lift in the world; the Aiguille Du Midi, is also probably the most expensive lift in the world. The off piste from the top the Grand Montets or the Pas du Chevre are among the best on the list. It was on the back of the Grand Montets when I was called by the director of RVA and offered a spot in Africa. Unfortunately, in my excitement to find out more and answer the call, due my gloved icy hand the phone slipped straight of my hand and slid downhill into a crevasse. A mad dash then followed to get off the mountain and down to the railway station, the only place I could think of with a payphone. I recall another crevasse incident in Chamonix a few years earlier, this time in the Valle Blanche just above the Requin hut with a young lady, who I was trying to impress. Going through the junction where big crevasses lurk and the glacier drops in height there was a short section, steep with a large crevasse under it. The lady was not that confident on skis at all, as it turned out, instead seeing this as a menacing obstacle and that perhaps I had overstepped the mark from romantic to reckless, I delivered a quick brief that all you have to do is hold your edges and traverse across it and not look down. At which point an Italian arrived and the scene, I suggested just watch him and then follow and I will be right behind. The Italian set off and almost immediately lost his edges and slid straight into the crevasse. I launched into action and skied part way across and made contact. Luckily he had landed on a ledge part way down. I set up an anchor dropped a rope and got him out. Needless to say the lady was not that keen to cross by this point and after I roped her through I think the last I saw of her was when we got down. But it wasn’t the end of a love affair for me with Chamonix that has stood the test of time. So when we are allowed out again put the ‘valley of the gods’ on your list.
3: Scottish Winter Climbing, UK
The ephemeral and often fickle Scottish winters are an amazing playground for winter climbing and the perfect schooling for Alpine climbing and the greater ranges. But the Scottish Highlands provide their own adventures, with days being wide and varied from one day to the next. The UK's mountains may be small in altitude but in winter offer the full range of skills from navigation in the famous winter whiteout, avalanche awareness and understanding and of course the use of ice axe and crampons along with all the rope work needed for pitched climbing.
The main areas in the Scottish Highlands range from the rugged west coast mountains to the more rolling Cairngorms in the East and the sharp and serious mountains of the remote North West. Having spent a decade of climbing and guiding and often thrashing about in a blizzard, I feel I can comment on this with a few recommendations on where it is best to head. Often the Cairngorms seem to get the earliest hints of winter and the Northern Cairngorms with its plethora of mixed climbing offers a good start to the season with some essentially snowed up rock and frozen turf and easy access from a high car park. Whilst the West Coast seems to take a little bit more time to get the build up. Ben Nevis, the UK's finest winter climbing venue, relies more on a good build up of ice to come into it's own. Having spent many years introducing winter skills and the basics for getting people out in the mountains, teaching the essential skills to get going, I can safely say that it's not a "have a go" sport and that getting the right skills in place are essential to keep you safe. But those initial skills and first days out often trigger a life long love of the winter mountains.
4: Sea Kayak, Gulf of Oman
Many seem to think that being in the Middle East means people driving around in Hilux pick- up trucks with machine guns on the back but actually it couldn’t be further from the truth in the UAE, Oman and the Gulf Community Sates, which are very stable and hugely friendly places to be. The Musundam is one such place that not many people know about - next to the UAE is a spit of land, which is Omani, and is essentially the end of the Arabian peninsula sticking into the Straits of Hormuz forming the entry to the Arabian Gulf. It's actually where the phrase ‘going round the bend’ comes from. The British had a repeater station situated on the end of the peninsula where undersea communication cables reached to Africa and India and two people had to be stationed there to keep it running. Khasab is a very remote place to be and it was reported that those unfortunates who where stationed there often suffered from the remoteness and isolation. The phrase "going round the bend" was from the boat which collected wardens from the station 'round the bend' out from the Arabian Gulf through the Straits of Hormuz back to India, where no doubt during their time had gone 'doolally' which is also a phrase the British came up with from a mental hospital in India situated in Deolali. However, we didn’t go round the bend but instead I took a group on a sea kayak expedition for a week along the Musundam coast, committing to waters teaming with sea life. It’s the only time I have seen whale sharks which when passing under a sea kayak did make me wonder if they really are harmless; it can be likened to a London bus swimming under you. This area is wonderful and very much a wilderness area. Omani people are also wonderful and perhaps a little known fact, the Omanis in the Musundam consider themselves the Shihu people and neither Omani or Emiratis but Arabs from the Musundam. Camping in wild secluded bays among remote ancient Arabian villages gives a wild and remote journey.
5 Salkantay Trek, Andes, Peru
I first did this trek when I was offered my first ever overseas commercial expedition. I was tasked with taking a young group from a Glasgow school to Peru. I have to admit I was only just older than the group and wasn’t that aware of Peru, other than it being where Paddington Bear came from. It was to be a baptism of fire for me as an expedition leader, as many new and unexpected issues arose. For one, I have always been fairly good with eating off the streets but it turned out not everyone is and people seem to get upset tummies from simply just going abroad or eating Guinea Pigs! Even small discipline issues I wasn't used to dealing with arose, such as after a refuelling stop in the Caribbean the kids decided to kidnap a giant crab from the airport set on a beach and release it down the aisles of the plane. I recall the American air hostess coming to get me ‘errrr are you with theeeeese guys they are like causing problems I think they have crabs’, ’Er what no nothing to do with me. I think they are from Scotland though, so best to be careful’ and quickly got back to my Lonely Planet which I purchased on the way to the airport to find out where Peru was.
But the trek phase, an alternative trek to the Inca trail, was a superb 14 days of traversing high cols, battling snow and getting to Machu Picchu was amazing. Two years ago I was offered a trip back there, which was almost twenty years to the day and it was wonderful to see that the trek was still the same but actually revenue from the trekking industry had been put back into the trek making the campsites nice and facilities along the way well set up, not to detract from the wilderness feel but to protect the trek. It's probably one of the finest treks I have led in terms of getting you to a very high altitude and into the big mountains or greater ranges without getting too committed to technical ground. There is only one section called the Seven Snakes Path which becomes very exposed but it is on a path and on this section it is vital to stay on the inside lane when the horses pass! It's a hugely recommended trek and far better than the Inca trail and on both occasions we didn’t see anyone else. During the first trip I still recall being dropped at the road head where ten horses where waiting for us and ten gauchos wanted to know what the plan was, so clutching my now well thumbed Lonely Planet, I tried to get the ball rolling by shouting as Brits tend to do as if it will make people understand English better ‘WE ARE GOING TO MACHU PICCHU WHICH I THINK IS NORTH WEST OF HERE BUT I AM NOT SURE, WE ARE FROM SCOTLAND AND ENGLAND CI CI CI I HAVE A COMPASS AND A MAP’ total blank looks all round 'GREAT TO MEET YOU LETS FOLLOW THIS VALLEY IT SHOULD BE FINE WE HAVE RICE AND PASTA I THINK MACHU PICCHU IS BEHIND THAT BIG MOUNTAIN SALKANTAY CI CI!?!?'
It turned out to be one of the finest treks I have been on. I hugely recommend this and also seeing Machu Picchu, which although it can be full of crowds, is one of life's "must sees" and is worthy of being on everyone's bucket-list.