12 Rules…the ten mile principle.

Title picture : High Sierra country.  Jason Collins photograph.

Post 2 in this old hiker’s ’12 Rules for Hiking’.

Walking locally, exploring locally.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden and the 10 mile principle.

Blog time : it’s a cold and damp morning in mid February, me and my partner have both had breakfast, i obviously am doing my first morning session at the computer writing and editing posts.  In a few minutes my partner will leave the house and she’ll be off walking for the next few hours.  Me, once iv’e done an hour or so writing and editing i’ll stuff my feet into an old pair of walking boots, grab my day pack and hiking staff and head out myself for an hour or so.   The important thing to note here is that both of us will walk out of our house and start ‘hiking’ straight away…..both of us will walk a route within a few miles radius of where we live , we’ll both have a combination of paths, tracks and back lanes, and both of us will return to the house on foot.

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This post is most likely to be the most paradoxical of my 12 rules for hikers series because it’s inspiration came from a place many thousands of miles away after a international flight and another couple of days travel.  That time and place was many years ago, in the High Sierra back-country, way above Yosemite valley on a peak called Clouds Rest which looks down on the more famous Half Dome.

That morning i left out tent/cabin in Curry village well before first light, i walked the short distance to the trailhead at the east end of the valley, picked up the last of my water and waited along with another half-dozen or so hikers, for the light to break just enough such that i could see the path under the dark pines.  A few hours later and i’d speed-hiked up past Vernal fall, through the little Yosemite valley, past the junction with the Half dome trail and up, up and on up to the top of Clouds rest.  There, i made a brew over my little camping stove, i stood, taking in the huge scale of the High Sierra wilderness and than sat to study my walkers map.

For a sense of scale here remember that i was looking down on Half Dome with it’s 5,000 north-western face and that’s already 8 miles from the valley floor….way out in the distance there is the face of El Capitan itself down near the western end of the valley ; and it’s mere 3,000 foot main wall.   To the east i think i could pick out Banner peak, Mount Ritter and possibly Lyell mountain….but the scale is so large that it becomes an endless series of white granite peaks and deep forested valleys.  It was an ecstatic moment, quite possibly the longest, fastest and highest day hike i would ever do and the place where i thought “i could be here”.   Within ten miles of my little centre of the universe right then i could see more country than i would ever have the time to explore….even if my knees survived that long !


Landing back at Heathrow airport a week later, in the rain of course, was a huge come-down ; i’d trained and prepared well for that trip, and after ‘routine’ 3,000 feet ascents just to get to the valley rim the hills around my home on the edge of Plymouth just weren’t a challenge.  When i got back from the High Sierra i felt lean, fit and trail hardened, i brought back great memories but sadly i have no surviving photographs as it was well before the digital era and i lost all the negatives somewhere along the way.

What i did bring back was as many books about the American outdoors as i could find and stuff into my cabin luggage : Edward Abbey, Jon Krakaeur, Gary Snyder and Henry David Thoreau…..sleepless on the flight home i immersed myself in ‘Walden’ that strange essay by Thoreau which is so difficult to get to grips with : a bit like reading Nietsche on a bad day !

Many readers of outdoor literature will be familiar with at least one of Thoreau’s ideas ; going to the woods to ‘live deliberately’ always comes to mind.  For me, the one Thoreauvian statement that seems almost like a throwaway is what he said about having ‘adventure’ : i’ll paraphrase here rather than quote…..

What he said , sort-of, is that he could find all the interest and adventure within 10 miles of his cabin next to Walden pond that he wanted or needed.  Having sailed around the world the hard way and flown thousands of miles to walk in a place that is utterly unlike the south west of a soggy UK i had to disagree : that sometimes it’s totally worth the air fare and long, tedious journey to get to somewhere like Yosemite or as we did, the drive over the Sierra and down into Death Valley…..perhaps the strangest, dryest and most austere place i have ever been.

Thoreau had a point though and once i was back home i pulled out the OS map of my local area and asked myself just how much of that i had walked out, how much of it i knew ?….and the answer was ‘not very much’.   I should explain that i lived then just north of Plymouth, near to the main hospital and literally on the edge of a side valley of the Plym river itself.   For sure i knew the tiny local woodland quite well and i’d walked both up the Plym to find many of it’s springs on the moor and walked all the way down the valley to the sea : a mere 6 miles.     The 10 mile radius from my home took in large parts of Dartmoor, the south Hams and even parts of the south-west coast path and i only knew small sections of any of that…..remember that a 10 mile radius contains some 314 square miles of countryside and in my case , city , estuary and sea.

Well, it’s twenty years and more since i made my brew on the top of Clouds rest that morning and no, my knees didn’t survive particularly well.  I didn’t get to go back and thru-hike the Muir trail ; instead we had different adventures in the deep bush and mountain country of New Zealand…but that’s a different story for another rule !.

Now, i live in one of the truly odd corners of the UK ; east Cornwall up against the Devon border and my home patch is the Tamar valley.  Now, it’s a longer walk down to the open sea and quite honestly a boat is better for that walk but once again i have a vast area to slowly explore, even during a daily walk of just an hour or so.

From my home now i can chose to walk up or down the valley and ‘left bank’ or ‘right bank’ as i so desire.  From my front door i can be on a narrow track, in trees, within a hundred yards and most days i don’t see anyone at all, maybe a dog walker on a busy day.   I can, if i chose, walk out of the valley, cross into another watershed and drop down into the nearby market town from which there is a regular bus service to get me and my dodgy knees back home again.  Ten miles from here would get me up onto Dartmoor or further into Cornwall via little known lanes and tracks and even now there’s most of it unexplored and unknown to me.


So. here’s rule no 2 in a nutshell :

The ‘big trip’ to somewhere special is totally worth the effort and i’d definitely agree that some parts of the outdoor world are so awe inspiring as to make a once in a lifetime trip essential.

However….why not just put a pair of boots on, grab your pack, and go exploring within a ten mile radius of your own home : no long journeys, no car to park, just you and a map maybe.  Now, i know it’s not going to work for everyone, urban walking is sort-of ok-ish sometimes, in fact i used to quite like urban exploration when i lived in Sheffield…..but a determined walk out of the city even then had me into better country within the first hour out from my front door.

Reminder…my new Keto/health group : https://www.facebook.com/groups/524455598277075/

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