Scott Jurek Interview | We Talk Veganism With the Most Famous Ultra Runner in the World

Jurek ran the 2189-mile Appalachian Trail in a record time… powered only by plants

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There has long been a prevailing wisdom in the mainstream that if you stop eating meat, your sport and athleticism will suffer. For a while vegans have always been regarded as ethical animal-lovers, who display admirable restraint in a world that includes bacon, halloumi and Haagen-Dazs, a meat-free diet had never been associated with sporting prowess or athletic endeavour.

Fast forward to now and many of the world’s top sporting titans have come out as vegan, including the tennis player Venus Williams and boxer David Haye, while others, including the footballer Lionel Messi, follow a vegan diet during competition season. Sportspeople shunning meat and animal products is by no means widespread, but mindsets are slowly shifting.

“He was often putting in 50 miles of running per day, a feat he kept up for almost seven weeks”

The American ultrarunner Scott Jurek has always been ahead of the pack on this. In 2013 he published his autobiography, Eat and Run, which chronicled his experience as a multiple ultramarathon-winning vegan athlete. It was a bestseller, and very much changed the conversation of what athletes should eat to perform at their best.

Jurek turned 40 the same year his book came out, but instead of quietly retreating from the punishing sport of ultrarunning he decided, like a hero in a heist movie, to take on one last challenge. He planned to run the Appalachian Trail (AT) in a record time and then bow out of the sport on a high. A feat he managed to achieve though only just, having faced injury setbacks at the start, and intense physical and mental fatigue towards the end. He’s now released a book about the experience titled North: Finding my way while running the Appalachian Trail. The title a nod to the fact he chose to run the trail from south to north.

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Enjoying the sunrise at McAfee Knob (Day 16). Photo: Luis Escobar.

“Nothing about the map – or the Appalachian Trail itself – invited even the contemplation of speed. For starters there’s the magnitude of it…2189 miles long…imagine running 84 marathons. Consecutively over the gnarliest and oldest mountains in the world…”

The AT runs between Georgia and Maine through a combination of deep, dank forest, wild grasslands and rocky mountain stretches. It’s thought to be the longest hiking trail in the world and as one of the oldest National Scenic Trails has a quasi-mythic status in American public consciousness. Over two million people are said to hike at least a section of it each year; it’s rarely something people attempt to run.

When I caught up with Jurek last month, he told me the AT had thrown up some interesting challenges for his veganism. “We were in remote locations. Down in the Deep South or even in the mid-Atlantic, where you’d think it might be easy, [finding vegan supplies] was difficult and challenging because we were so rural a lot of the time. You’d find cafes and a grocery store in town, but you don’t get the selection.” Especially compared to what he was used to back home in vegan-friendly Boulder, Colorado.

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Cooling off in Laurel Creek. Photo: Luis Escobar.

“I was craving Thai food, especially coconut curry but it was very hard to come by, so anytime we were close to a town I’d say to my poor wife Jenny: ‘Can you go get some Thai food!’ I’m also a big fan of Japanese food. I like things centred around tofu or tempeh, really simple food, so that my body and stomach isn’t irritated, but trying to find these ingredients in these small towns was tough.”

At home Jurek usually does the cooking but it just wasn’t possible while running the AT, as he was often putting in 50 miles of running per day, a feat he kept up for almost seven weeks. So it was left to his wife to cook from their campervan, where the two of them slept, Jenny having driven to their pre-designated rendezvous each night. Sometimes even dodging creepy stalkers along the way, as they both discuss in one of the more unsettling sections of the book.

“A stubborn, lingering vinegary scent was actually his body digesting its own amino acids”

Jurek needed to take on a lot of calories, at least 6-8000 a day, which was not an easy task. He says: “It was always about the density of calories. Jenny was adding olive oil to my pasta, and avocado and extra vegan mayo to my sandwiches to try and increase that calorific content. Smoothies were big too. She’d pour coconut milk in or a little extra flaxseed oil. They already had fruit and carbs but fat was really important.”

It took a lot of planning, even for a race nutrition pro like Jurek who had competed as a vegan throughout his 15-year plus ultrarunning career, which had included multiple wins in the Badwater Ultra, Hardrock Hundred Miler and Spartathlon 152-miler in Greece amongst other victories.

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Restocking somewhere in Central Virginia. Photo: Luis Escobar.

At one point in North he describes realising that a stubborn, lingering vinegary scent was actually his body digesting its own amino acids. He also mentions a photographer who joined him at the start and end of his challenge finding him almost unrecognisable physically from the person he’d been at the beginning of the AT.

Jurek hadn’t grown up vegan. “I was definitely at the other end of the spectrum,” he says, and then proceeds to paint a picture of an idyllic wild and nature-filled childhood. “I was a hunting and fishing boy from northern Minnesota. I lived out in a really rural area. I didn’t have neighbours or kids close by, so I had to find ways to entertain myself and that meant going to the woods behind my house, building forts and chasing animals. I would go out for hours at a time, relatively close to home but I always had the freedom of exploring the surroundings.”

Does he think that feeling of being comfortable in nature helped him later with his ultrarunning, especially in the kind of brutal conditions you can encounter on the AT? “Oh definitely. That adaptability and connection to nature, and just valuing that time outside and understanding it as such an important part of being a human being.”

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Wrapping up 53 miles on day one. Photo: Luis Escobar.

Jurek tells me he didn’t like running as a kid. He did local cross-country races and watched the Olympics but was more into basketball and baseball. “Running was kind of punishment for a lot of the sports that I did, you’d be sent off to do laps,” he says. In high school he got into cross-country skiing and was told to run in the summer to stay in shape, but he still wasn’t keen. “I remember dealing with all the side-aches and runner’s trots, having to go to the bathroom all these things, I really didn’t like it.”

But then in college in his 20s, his skiing friends introduced him to trail and ultrarunning. He says: “I’d looked up to these individuals for their free thinking, eccentric lifestyle and I thought: ‘Wow this sounds kind of wild and crazy, and kind of stupid…’ There was something attractive and appealing about it.”

“You have to suffer for a little bit but you come away from it a changed person with a different perspective”

Jurek placed second in his first ever 50-mile race, a phenomenal result and surprise to many of the officials as he was very much the long-haired hippie rather than serious-looking athlete at the time.

“It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, amazing and agonising at the same time. Right away I said: ‘Never again, one and done!’ but then it started dawning on me that maybe this is my thing, maybe I should explore it a bit more.”

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The beginnings of knee trouble (Day 6). Photo: Luis Escobar.

“I loved running in the woods, so it was kind of a natural progression to be able to handle those things and have fun. It seemed more appealing than just going out and running on pavement.”

A sentiment he still holds: “I’ve done some road races but even in my darkest times on the AT there was still always a beauty to the trail, and things to be happy about, like the orange newt running across the trail or the views.”

“Even in my darkest times on the AT there was still always a beauty to the trail”

In North, Jurek writes of the wonder of running through green tunnels of vegetation, of seeing fireflies on the trail at night and the pretty blue smog given off by the plant life. He talks of taking power naps on rocks and in patches of leaves. He describes his fear when stumbling upon a black mama bear guarding her cubs and blocking his path north, and his amusement at a naked hiker who had a strategically-placed sign which read: ‘Hey Scott Jurek, this sausage is vegan!’

He also mentions a stretch of the AT around Bear Mountain, where he guides his friend Thomas, a blind runner, for two miles. I ask how that went? “I’ve paced blind runners in ultras and marathons before and it really is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had because I’m getting to see for two people.”

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Crossing the Fontana Dam (Day 4). Photo: Luis Escobar.

“So I’d try to relay for him what I was seeing, and also giving him all the strategies like we’re hitting a hill, there’s a hole, but I was also trying to give him the experience of other senses so it’s like the rain is really doing this… I found it to be a really interesting perspective in a sport I’ve been doing for a long time.”

For Jurek veganism and ultrarunning have always gone hand in hand, as he got into them both around the same time, but he had to ditch a love of junk food first. He says: “In college I was eating McDonald’s at least once a day. I was running and skiing so I could get away with it, but then some of my friends influenced my thinking on food. I started looking at more wholesome foods, more wholefoods… It was interesting for me to think how can I do this now with a plant-based diet? I found reading the research behind it fascinating.”

“At the same time I’d been working in hospitals, my mother had suffered with MS. I wanted to avoid chronic disease but also maybe help my performance along the way. There has been this ingrained mentality of: ‘If you want to be strong, you have to eat meat and have animal protein.’ But I’ve been able to test that. [Being vegan] has made me stronger and actually feel better. It takes a bit of learning and a bit more planning initially, but it’s opened my eyes to what I can do for my human body to allow it to perform at its best.”

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The southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Photo: Luis Escobar.

Does he think being vegan has helped him run faster? “My energy levels increased. I did lose a little extra body fat but my muscle mass stayed the same, all those were great things to have happened but it’s really been the long term benefits. It’s helped with my recovery, and longevity in the sport, which is very applicable to the AT. I was 41 years old, towards the end of my career but still able to do something as demanding and gruelling as that. Diet isn’t everything, it’s just one piece of the puzzle but it’s a very important piece of the puzzle.”

Jurek is a humble guy, who doesn’t see himself as extraordinary, in spite of all evidence, the records, the race-wins, to the contrary. He tells me an ultramarathon is within reach for all of us. He says: “A lot of people assume: ‘Oh I can’t run very far, I’ve got bad knees…’ but unless you have bone on bone osteoarthritis or something significant, for most people their knees or joints get better when they run. You have to be willing to challenge yourself, it’s really about getting over that mental hurdle, and starting to open your mind to the possibilities of what you can do. Even I struggled with that on the AT, it was hard to get out there and put myself in that situation day after day [for 46 days…] but the rewards are exponential.”

“Diet isn’t everything, it’s just one piece of the puzzle but it’s a very important piece of the puzzle”

“Nowadays our lives are so comfortable. We live in climate-controlled buildings, drive cars that allow us to travel at great speeds… we don’t have to challenge ourselves much to achieve. So putting ourselves in the arena of challenge and adversity, those are transformative experiences; something you can’t buy or obtain by hitting a button on a computer. You have to suffer for a little bit but you come away from it a changed person with a different perspective.”

It’s a compelling mindset, and the fact Jurek has achieved all that he has without eating meat or animal products makes it even more impressive and inspring.

North: Finding my way while running the Appalachian Trail is published by Penguin Random House and out now.

For more info on Scott Jurek, head here.

For more from this month’s Green Issue, click here.

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A Land Faroe Way | Exploring the Green Haven Of The Faroe Islands

The setting for the climbing film ‘Land of Maybe’ is aiming for 100% renewable energy by 2030

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Photo: Jack Clayton

“Where you off to then?” asks my early morning Uber driver.

“The Faroe Islands,” I reply, still very much half asleep.

“Faroe Islands? Never heard of them, mate.”

“They’re… er… sort of between Scotland, Norway, and Iceland.”

Before being invited to visit the Faroe Islands, my knowledge of the place was minimal to say the least. I knew roughly where it was, I knew that the people there were mad keen on whaling, I knew that their national football team had been a thorn in the side of Scotland on more than one occasion and I knew that the landscape there was becoming an increasingly regular feature on my Instagram newsfeed. I did not know much about the Faroe Islands.

“The sea turned red with blood”

I wasn’t the only one. A friend, for example, had them pegged as a part of the UK when they’re actually a self-governing part of Denmark. This overriding sense of mystery about the place is evident in the title of The North Face’s Faroe-set climbing film ‘Land of Maybe’; a 15 minute short that focuses on James Pearson, Cedar Wright, and Yuji Hirayama tackling one of the world’s highest promontories – Cape Enniberg. The climb up the 754 metre-high sea cliff saw the trio battle bad weather, unpredictable terrain, and even an army of puking birds.

After a two hour flight to Copenhagen followed by another two hour flight to the Faroe Islands’ only airport, I find myself standing on Vágar; the third largest of the 18 islands that make up the Faroe archipelago. Vágar has an area of 69 square miles, which is roughly a ninth the size of the Isle of Skye. Despite being only 336 miles (as the crow flies) from Inverness, it feels other-worldly from the second you get off the plane. Factor in the scenery, on top of the pervading sense of isolation, and it’s easy to imagine Luke Skywalker living in exile here.

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Pictured: The Faroese village of Bøur. Photo: Jack Clayton.

We drive straight from the airport, 10 minutes down the road, to a Faroese village called Bøur. Along the way, we go past the town of Sørvágur and down the bay it’s nestled neatly at one end of. This, we’re grimly told, is a location commonly used for whaling.

Last summer, when they were on the islands for the ‘Land of Maybe’ shoot, climbing power couple Caro Ciavaldini and James Pearson witnessed the controversial practice firsthand. The hunt resulted in the death of over 100 whales.

“The sea turned red with blood,” says Caro.

During my stay on the Faroe Islands, the topic of whaling comes up a lot. It’s clear the locals, who share out the spoils of the hunts amongst their community, are passionate about the tradition and feel that many of the outsiders who criticise them for it are guilty of hypocrisy. One of our Faroese hosts, for example, tells us of a popular old t-shirt slogan which said “In the Faroe Islands, we kill whales. In America, you kill people.”

A quick search of the internet, and you’ll soon find yourself reading a piece published on The Spectator website with the eye-catching headline: “Yes, I butcher whales. What’s all the fuss about?”

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Pictured: Wind turbines on the Faroe Islands. The territory is aiming for 100% green energy by 2030. Photo via Getty Images.

Written by the lead singer of the Faroese folk metal band Týr, Heri Joensen, in the wake of a campaign to stop venues from booking his band after he posted a picture of himself cutting up a long-finned pilot whale on Facebook, the article defends whaling by highlighting how many of the people who are against whaling happily turn a blind-eye to the fact that a lot of the meat they consume stems from factory farm cruelty. In a YouTube video, Joensen mockingly states that “People get this Disney-fairytale-like relationship to meat where livestock is willingly and painlessly slaughtered behind closed doors and wildlife is sacred.”

Bøur itself is as typically Faroese as you can get; a tiny little church that looks halfway between a real church and one you’d get at a model village, epic scenery as far as the eye can see, and grassy sod roofs scattered about the place like they’re the most normal thing in the world. Minus a load of dead whales on the beach, and an embarrassed Scottish football team, it’s basically the Faroe Islands I’d imagined in my head before coming.

“The territory is aiming for 100% green electricity production by the year 2030”

I soon discover that it’s not only the grassy roofs in the Faroe Islands that are green. In a move that should be celebrated by environmentalists everywhere, the territory is aiming for 100% green electricity production by the year 2030. This renewable energy will come from a combination of hydro, wind, wave, tidal and, to a certain extent, solar power sources.  

Based on the fact that, during my stay, I’m battered by some of the most extreme winds I’ve ever encountered, it seems that wind farms are a logical step for the region. And while the Faroe Islands’ carbon footprint might be virtually microscopic when sized up next to those of giants like China and the USA, it’s nevertheless heartwarming to see them taking such a step in response to overwhelming evidence about climate change.

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Pictured: British climber James Pearson during the shooting of The North Face film ‘Land of Maybe’.

After sampling some local soup, and moreish homemade bread at a traditional Faroese house called Pakkhúsid, we’re all taken upstairs for a screening of ‘Land of Maybe’ and a talk from James Pearson. “This project began because I decided to google ‘biggest sea cliffs in the world,” says James. “Cedar [Wright] was convinced it was going to take just four hours but the whole climb took somewhere between 14 and 16 hours.”

Following a quick tour of Bøur, we’re then back in the vans for a 10 minute journey to Gásadalur; a mythical sounding place that feels like it should be the name of a character in The Lord of the Rings. The small and isolated village of Gásadalur, which sits on the edge of a waterfall and is surrounded by mountains, is accessed via a long and narrow road tunnel that seemingly stretches on forever.

“I’m confronted by quite possibly the most stunning view I’ve ever set eyes upon”

Before the tunnel opened in 2004, the village was completely cut off by the landscape. The postman, we’re informed, used to hike over the mountains once a week to deliver the residents here their mail; something, I imagine, that must have been a particularly frustrating process if the only thing they were delivering was updates on whatever the Faroese equivalent of Tesco Clubcard points is.

One brief little stroll after getting out the van and I’m confronted by quite possibly the most stunning view I’ve ever set eyes upon. Mulafossur Waterfall is the kind of beautiful natural landmark that even an elderly relative, with failing eyesight and zero camera training, couldn’t fail to take a decent picture of. If it wasn’t for the fact I’d left my jumper in the car and was starting to feel the chill, I might have watched its water cascading down into the North Atlantic for days, weeks, months, maybe even years. It really is spectacular.

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Walking the epic ridge between Krosstindur and Húsafell. Photo: Jack Clayton.

The next morning, it’s time to experience a full day in the Faroese outdoors. Somehow, today’s wind is making yesterday’s notably strong breeze seem like a gerbil’s gentle fart by comparison. We’ve been out of the vans for less than a minute, and already it feels like this wind is in danger of picking people up and chucking them into the sea as if they weighed the same as an empty crisp packet. It’s brutal stuff; the type of weather that can make you involuntarily swear out loud whenever it hits. It hits often.

Rather than ushering us back into the vans and waiting for all of this to blow over though, our keen guide Johannus Hansen from Reika Adventures is soon rounding us up and getting ready to lead us on our big day out. Despite the near constant threat of being blown away never to be seen again, we all end up being very grateful for his proactive approach. The route he takes us includes a stunning view of Trøllkonufingur (aka “Witch’s Finger”) and a breathtaking ridgewalk from Krosstindur (574m) to Húsafelli (591m).

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Pictured: The inside of Ravnagjógv (Raven’s Gorge). Photo: Jack Clayton.

In the afternoon, after I’ve been treated to the Faroe Islands’ veggie option of a cheese sandwich and a peeled carrot, and a few of our group’s bravest members have sampled some very pungent whale meat (“extremely fishy” – the general verdict), things escalate a notch when we’re given the chance to do a 31m rappel into Ravnagjógv (aka “Raven’s Gorge”). The rain is absolutely chucking it down and while I’m tempted to stay in the tent getting drunk on lung-warming aquavit, it’s an opportunity I’m not going to pass up on.

“Don’t let me fall and die,” I say to Caro, half-serious, half-joking, while she double checks my harness.

“It’s easily the best impression of Indiana Jones/Lara Croft that I’ve ever done”

Before I have time to change my mind, I’m stepping off the edge and working my way down to the bottom of the gorge. It’s easily the best impression of Indiana Jones/Lara Croft that I’ve ever done.

“You looked like a pro,” says a grinning Johannes, as he helps me take the harness off, “I thought it was James Pearson coming down.”

He’s joking. He’s definitely joking, but I’ll take it.

That night, we’re introduced to “heimablídni” – a Faroese way of doing things that literally translates as “home hospitality.” Put simply, it involves being given the full-on, five-course, restaurant style dining experience in someone else’s house. The house, in our case, being one on the Faroe Islands’ largest island of Streymoy; a house that belongs to Anna and Óli.

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Pictured: (Left) The writer, up top, begins his rappel down into Ravnagjógv//(Right) The writer celebrates his descent.

The food, 100% organic and sourced from Anna and Óli’s farm is mouth-wateringly good. Throw in one picturesque panoramic window view, and a supply of local beers that seemingly never run outs, and it all adds up to make one great, uniquely Faroe, night of culinary delight.

One hangover later, a hangover that’s cleared up efficiently by exposure to the clean Faroese air, and I’m at the end of my short but sweet stay. With an annual weather pattern that includes roughly 300 rainy days a year, it seems rather fitting that my scenic van journey back to the airport comes with a downpour so torrential that water starts leaking in through the closed windows and forming tiny puddles on the floor.  

Wet, windy, and wild; the Faroes certainly isn’t your average holiday destination but then isn’t that the whole point of adventure? To go outside the comfort zone, to go and lose yourself somewhere far away from your own normality, to wind up in a place where you’ve got all the questions and hardly any answers.

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Pictured: Trøllkonufingur (Witch’s Finger). Photo: Jack Clayton.

Leaving the Faroe Islands is like waking from a dreamscape, a faded transition back to reality where you end up unsure of whether what you saw was real and whether you were even there at all.

“Been anywhere nice?” says my taxi driver, back in London.

“The Faroe Islands,” I reply.

“Where’s that then?”

“It’s… er… sort of between Scotland, Norway, and Iceland.”

Do It Yourself:

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We flew to the Faroe Islands from London Heathrow, via Copenhagen, with SAS. On our first night, we stayed at the Magenta Guest House in Sandavágur. On our second night here, we stayed at the Gjogv Guesthouse. Food on the second evening was provided at the home of Anna and Óli. The hiking and rappelling was organised by Reika Adventures.

For more information the Faroe Islands, visit the official tourism website.

Big thanks to The North Face for kitting us out with a Summit Series range.

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Highest Mountain In England | Top 10

From the Lake District’s Scafell Pike to Cross Fell in the Pennines, these are England’s highest points

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If we were betting people, which generally speaking we’re not, we’d wager good money that you’d be more likely to know the name of the highest mountain in the world than the name of the highest mountain in England – Scafell Pike. This is probably partly because Everest, with its summit 8,848 metres above sea level, has in recent years had a movie made about it starring Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s also, we’d imagine, got something to do with the fact that Everest has claimed the lives of hundreds of climbers over the years and is generally synonymous with legendary mountaineering feats. Scafell Pike (978m), on the other hand, is a challenging hike in the Lake District that’s never once featured in a Gyllenhaal film.

1) Scafell Pike

Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. Photo via Getty Images.

Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. Photo via Getty Images.

As we’ve already mentioned, Scafell Pike is England’s highest mountain. Located in Cumbria, in the Lake District National Park, its summit is 978 metres above sea level. For comparison purposes, the highest peak in Wales is Snowdon at 1,085 metres while the highest one in Scotland, and the entire UK for that matter, is Ben Nevis at 1,345 metres.

2) Sca Fell

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Scafell Pike and Sca Fell, the highest and second highest mountain in England. Photo via Getty Images.

Sca Fell, also known as Scafell and Scawfell, has a summit 964 metres above sea level. It is separated from its neighbour Scafell Pike by Mickledore col. Mickledore, which means “great door”, is a mountain saddle 840 metres high. Not only does the col join Scafell Pike to Sca Fell, it is also gateway between the valleys of Wasdale and Eskdale.

3) Helvellyn

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View from the summit of Helvellyn, the third highest mountain in England. Photo via Getty Images.

Helvellyn is the third highest mountain in England, and the Lake District. Situated right between the lakes of Thirlmere and Ullswater, it has an elevation of 950 metres. In January of 2018, none other than Julia Bradbury presented an ITV show in which Helvellyn was named ‘Britain’s Best Walk’.

4) Ill Crag

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Route to Broad Crag from Ill Crag. Photo via Getty Images.

Ill Crag is often trekked across by those attempting to reach the summit of Scafell Pike. Due to the rocky nature of its upper echelons, however, its summit is often bypassed in favour of an easier and more direct approach to England’s highest mountain. It forms part of the Scafell chain and has an elevation of 935 metres. Those who climb it are treated to stunning views of Eskdale, Bowfell, and Crinkle Crags.

5) Broad Crag

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Route from Broad Crag to Scafell Pike. Photo via Getty Images.

Like the Ant and Dec of the Lake District, Broad Crag and Ill Crag come as a pair and have a height difference of one metre. Its summit is 934 metres above sea level. Ill Crag’s one is 935 metres, and situated to the south east of Broad. The fell forms part of the Scafell chain.

6) Skiddaw

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The sixth highest mountain in England, Skiddaw. Photo via Getty Images.

Situated just north of lovely Lake District town of Keswick, Skiddaw is the sixth highest mountain in England. It’s probably the easiest of the high English summits to ascend as there’s a very convenient tourist track up it, one that starts in a car park north-east of Keswick. For casual walkers looking to climb a mountain for the very first time, we reckon Skiddaw’s well worth a look.

7) Great End

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Rain clouds over Great End and Styhead Tarn. Photo via Getty Images.

Great End has an elevation of 910 metres. As its name suggests, it is the last mountain in a chain (the Scafell chain, if you must know). From the south, it appears as just another big hill in a long collection of big hills. From the north though, its face rises up dramatically like something from Lord of the Rings. This area is popular with wild campers and rock climbers.

8) Bowfell

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View from the summit of Bowfell, the eighth highest mountain in England. Photo via Getty Images.

Shaped sort of like a pyramid, with an elevation of 902 metres, Bowfell has the eighth highest summit in England. It is located in the heart of the Lake District, and sees a large numbers of walkers hit its slopes every years.

9) Great Gable

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View looking out to Great Gable, the ninth highest mountain in England. Photo via Getty Images.

Its name might remind you of a second-rate magician you once saw at a children’s birthday party, but Great Gable is actually an 899 metre high mountain in the centre of the Lake District. The high pass of Windy Gap (no prizes for guessing why it’s called that) connects it to Green Gable, while the lower pass of Beck Head joins it to nearby Kirk Fell. Because of its location, and all-round prominence, the panoramic view from the top of Great Gable is one of the finest in the region.

10) Cross Fell

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Cross Fell, tenth highest peak in England. Screenshot via Google Maps.

The only peak on this list not to be found in the Lake District, Cross Fell is an 893m high peak situated in the North Pennines. The summit is a stony plateau which forms part of an almost eight mile long ridge that runs diagonally from north-west to south-east. This ridge also consists of Great Dun Fell, with an elevation of 849m, and Little Dun Fell, with an elevation of 842m. The three fells rise steeply above the Eden Valley on its south-western side, and drop off more gently on its South Tyne and Tees Valleys side. If you’re bored of the Lake District and looking to climb one of England’s highest, look no further.

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Camping with Kids in Winter | A South Downs Bothy Adventure

Two mothers, five kids, and a lot of mist. What could possibly go wrong?

Words by Sam Haddad | Photos by Sam Haddad & Jonquil Pinto 

We’re walking through a world that is almost entirely white, save the bark-brown skeleton of an oak tree looming large to our right. At this point I’m not sure the pack of kids I’m with, which includes two of my own, have even noticed. They’re too busy telling ghost tales that are “definitely true, 100 per cent, for real, this actually happened…” Though maybe the fact we’re marching through the thickest, most soupy of fogs is precisely why they’re telling such spooky stories in the first place.

We drop into a patch of trees where the mist clears but the shadows darken. The path narrows to single-file and the story pace quickens. Before long the group is borderline hysterical, in a kind of kids from Stranger Things way, albeit without the BMXs or ever-present Demagorgan threat.

“It’s easy to take your children camping in summer and emerge all-smiles. But this winter, we wanted to experience the outdoors in an opposite season. To dive into the weather headlong…”

Still, I’m not complaining, and nor is the other mother I’m with. Eerie stories are a rite of passage and we’re just happy with how far they’ve walked in the dank without fussing. Especially as the five of them have ages ranging from four to eight and no one slept excellently in our stone manger-style bothy last night.

It’s easy to take your children camping in summer and emerge all-smiles. But this winter, we wanted to experience the outdoors in an opposite season. To dive into the weather headlong, and notice it in a way you rarely do when you spend the darkest months hiding indoors or bolting from one building to the next.

Credit: Sam Haddad

This is what an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty looks like in fog. Credit: Sam Haddad

I say we meaning my friend and I, I’m sure our kids would have rather gone to Legoland or Eurodisney given the choice, like many of their school friends were doing this holiday. If you can handle the crowds and the costs that kind of fun of course has its place but there’s something about being in nature and taking on a bit of a challenge that I hope might leave a more lasting impression on them, even if they’re too busy having fun with their friends to realise it.

Gumber Bothy is a National Trust Bunkhouse just off the South Downs way in West Sussex. It’s in the shadow of a hill sheep farm but you can’t drive there directly, you can only reach it via a two-mile hike through a deep forest. When we’d arrived the day before, in spite of the drizzle, the children had found the idea of needing to walk through the woods to reach their bed for the night a surprisingly enticing prospect.

“In spite of the drizzle, the children had found the idea of needing to walk through the woods to reach their bed for the night a surprisingly enticing prospect.”

And there was something quite sweet about watching them head off ahead waterproofed-up to the max, with their backpacks stuffed with soft toys and sleeping bags for the night. It was the tail end of autumn so some of the trees were still aflame with brightly-coloured leaves and we even found the odd super-sweet blackberry to power on the smallest ones.

Carrying their little lives in backpacks. Credit: Sam Haddad

Backpacks stuffed with sleeping bags and soft toys. Credit: Sam Haddad

Fortunately, we reached Gumber Bothy before morale and energy levels dipped too low. You can camp in the grounds but we’re not hardcore enough for that at this time of year so we opted for the hostel and were pleased to find we had one of the 12-bunk rooms to ourselves. It wasn’t heated though and with temperatures set to hover around four degrees the night ahead looked potentially interesting.

“We didn’t end up lost, lost, as such but…”

We’d also promised them a campfire but it had been damp and rainy for days so the prospect of finding dry wood was slim. But it felt good to let them roam free in the woods below the bothy, with the older ones in charge, in a way you could never do in the built environment back home. When they eventually returned arms full of soaking-wet sticks we persuaded them to wait until the next morning for a fire in the hope the wood might have dried out by then.

The bothy had a good basic kitchen so we loaded up on pasta for dinner. By now it was dark but too cloudy for stargazing, which was a shame as the South Downs is now an International Dark Sky Reserve, thanks its great night-time viewing opportunities. My friend then pulled out some sparklers which more than made up for it as far as the kids were concerned.

Forestxxx. Credit: Sam Haddad

It felt good to let them roam in the forest unsupervised in a way you could never do back home. Credit: Sam Haddad

To get ready for bed we put on all of our clothes like a comedy character from a storybook. We then played a few rounds of Uno and listened to some folk story podcasts I’d forgotten I had on my phone, while trying to stop the now-hyper youngest two from jumping from bed to bed. Eventually they calmed down and went to sleep, and a good few hours later my eldest son and I fell asleep too. Though both my kids woke up me a few hours later and to be taken to the toilet, which was outside and in the rain. Leaving my warm sleeping bag for that was a trip low-point for sure.

Diving headlong into winter weather. Credit: Sam Haddad

Diving headlong into winter weather. Credit: Sam Haddad

In spite of the fitful night and mist that was now enveloping this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with an even greater vigour than the day before, everyone woke up with high spirits and after a hot cocoa porridge breakfast and aborted fire-starting attempt, we headed directly into the void for a walk.

We didn’t end up “lost, lost” as such but it’s also fair to say we had no phone reception or exact idea of where we were for most of the hike, though we were also quite confident of the vague parallelogram shape we were tracing out, based on a laminated map we’d found in the bothy. There were no sights to speak of only fog, sheep and the bare bones of trees, but that didn’t matter, as there was something pure about experiencing the South Downs way and winter weather in whatever form it took.

Gumber Bothy and the author's two sons. Credit: Sam Haddad

Gumber Bothy in all its flint-stone glory and the author’s two sons. Credit: Sam Haddad

After a couple of hours of gentle walking, and many snacks, the ghost stories switched to silly songs mostly involving the kind of bum/wee-type humour kids of this age can’t get enough of. We swung past the bothy to pick up our backpacks just as the day’s next hardy guests were arriving, and hiked the final stretch out, wet, muddy and the kind of tired with rosy-cheeks that you only get from time spent in the cold outdoors.

At this time of year all instinct tells us to hole up inside and hunker down for winter. Netflix and screens, cocoons and hygge vibes, but if you do get out into the wilderness for a while you’ll always feel better for it. I know I did, as did my friend, and I’m pretty sure all our kids did too. They certainly talked about the bothy adventure for a long time afterwards, which means they probably didn’t hate it, so that’s a win in my books.

To read the rest of December’s ‘Family’ Issue head here

To read more Great British Adventures head here

Sparklers in lieu of a campfire. Credit: Sam Haddad

Sparklers in lieu of a campfire. Credit: Sam Haddad

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Introducing | Why The New North Face Ventrix Jacket Is Great for Hiking

We took The North Face’s new Ventrix jacket hiking in Chamonix and filmed it with a thermal camera

Staying warm when you’re hiking can be a tricky business, especially if you’re doing anything high energy that involves scrambling or steep climbs. More often than not it’s cold when you get out in the morning, but walk ten minutes from your tent, bothy or refuge and you’ll quickly start to heat up. By the time you’ve been going half an hour you’re usually sweating like a champion at a chilli-eating contest.

Of course as soon as you stop to have a snack, take a drink or admire the view, you cool down again. Which means that if you’re anything like Mpora, you spend a large proportion of your time on any hike taking layers off and stashing them in your backpack, only to put them back on again a few minutes later.

“In any normal jacket by the time you’ve been hiking half an hour you’re usually sweating like a champion at a chilli-eating contest.”

Thankfully, this seriously clever bit of kit, a brand new jacket from The North Face called the Ventrix, has been made to solve this precise problem.

What It Does

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The more you exert yourself, the more the Ventrix dumps heat.

The North Face Ventrix Jacket is designed to regulate your body temperature. It keeps you cool when you’re working hard and would otherwise be sweating, and warm when you’re standing still, as the video above shows. We took it out on a hike around the Chamonix valley in France earlier this month and used a thermal imaging camera to compare it to a standard jacket from another brand.

We had the same athlete dressed in both, climbing the same sections of trail and working equally hard (we made sure we allowed cooling down time between each shot). Of course it’s near-impossible to create completely controlled conditions in the mountains, so we’re not claiming that the it’s a 100% scientifically rigorous test, but it gives you a good idea of the way the Ventrix works.

How It Works

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The Ventrix can be worn as an outer layer, as here, or underneath a waterproof shell.

The principal feature of the Ventrix Jacket (and the thing that won it the Gold Award at ISPO, the massive outdoor industry tradeshow, earlier this year) is its dynamic insulation – insulation that responds to movement. The North Face’s designers have taken 80 gram synthetic stretch insulation and made perforations – or micro-vents – in it.

When you’re standing still the micro-vents are closed, trapping heat and warmth in. As you start to move the vents open, allowing heat out. The more pronounced and rapid your movements, the wider and more frequently the vents open. Essentially what this means is that the more you exert yourself, the more heat escapes. The micro-vents on the Ventrix are clustered in key areas like the underarms where you’re most likely to sweat.

Why It Works

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The micro vents are body mapped to key areas on the jacket where you’re most likely to sweat, like under the arms.

So why is this great for hiking? Well, by keeping your armpits, back and torso as a whole cool, you can minimise the amount you sweat and prevent the buildup of moisture that will become clammy and cool when you stop.

The rest of the jacket is well thought out too. There’s a pocket on the chest and two on the left and right that are mounted higher than normal, so they’ll sit above your backpack’s waist strap. The exterior fabric is reinforced with higher denier material around the forearms so if it snags on a rock while you’re scrambling it won’t rip. The whole outer layer is coated with a DWR water-resistant finish too so you can wear it as an outer-layer (like the athlete in our video) or a mid-layer underneath a breathable shell.

All in all, this is a great product. It’s particularly useful when you’re walking in winter and your core temperature is most variable, but it’s versatile enough to be used all year round. And let’s be honest, anything that minimises the number of times you have to un-shoulder your pack to take layers on or off is basically a godsend.

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