Thursday, 29 October 2009

Mountain Laurel cuben tarp-first impressions

I was packing the car to go to my parents in Wales and was slightly stressed when the postie walked up to me and placed an extraordinarily light packge in my hand. It's always a bit of a suprise when you get something from mountain laurel. They have a waiting list of 4-7 weeks and although they have a customer area where you can check your status it only ever says 'pending' until you actually get it.As a bonus, this one had managed to miss customs- it may be something to do with the battered old envelopes Ron sends his stuff in- I'm not complaining anyhow!
A bit of information on tarps and me. I've had a go with a basha and army bivvy bag in grim January weather before I got a lightweight tent and then it seemed a bit pointless- the bivvy weighed as much as my laser comp. I wasn't entirely struck on the open air aspect of it either. Fast forward a couple of years and I have the Gatewood cape. This was about as lightweight as I thought I could get. The lack of a need for a rain jacket meant that total weight was ighter than any bivvy and tarp combo with rain jacket. That is until I spotted the ML cuben poncho tarp. Combining it with the Ptarmigan bivvy I could save a sizeable 200g off my baseweight and since I was already up to speed with the poncho aspect it looked like a good option. The only problem was that I'm no sure I actually like tarps! Any hiker aiming for low weights needs to push themselves a little. On my last trip I had tried low top shoes for the second time. The first time, I had felt extremely vulnerable, not only to twists but to bashing my ankle on rocks. This time, I was totally converted. It's been a few years since I last tried a tarp- my knowledge base has developed considerably, and the total weight- around 350g for the whole set-up including rain protection will certainly ease the transition!
So- first impressions. The main thing is it's tiny! The width of it scared me at first, something I brooded on throughout the journey to Wales. When I actually set it up though, it's perfectly adequate for my needs. I'm planning to trial it in settled weather at first, only taking it on more dubious trips when I feel confident about it's use. I set it up with Team IO zero-G guys and mini lineloks. It's definitely well made with reinforcement at all the important points. No photos of me wearing it yet- the hood is too big for my head, but I expected that and it's easily sorted. Down the sides there are four lightweight snaps and at the hood there is a small diameter bungee with a tiny cordlock. That's about it for features apart from the neck tensioner when the poncho is in tarp form. Its a loop of bungee that attaches at the neck with four mitten hooks at tightens everything up. Have a look at mountain laurel for more photos.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

MYOG: windscreen

I'm really not a fan of MYOG (make your own gear). Not because I don't think it has it's merits but because my attempts always turn out amateurish. I made a tiny tarp for the head end of a bivvy- it was floppy, saggy and badly sewn. I've made stuff sacks and they look poor. I've recently given my brother in law a pop can stove as part of my ongoing mission to lighten his pack. He doesn't get much time to fanny about with gear so when I had a spare moment I decided to make him a windscreen. Of course, I didn't actually photograph the process, I am so lame.... Any how: I got 2 baking trays for a pound from pounland, cut off the edges and rolled it all flat with a sigg. Next I cut it in half lengthways, got 2 of the short edges and folded them together to make one long strip. That got rolled as well. Then I made a thin strip, folded it a few time to give it strength and added it to one end, kind of like a belt loop so the diameter of the pot could be reduced. The other end of the windscreen was fed through the' belt strap' to make a circle and air holes were punched in it. Easier to do than describe and it actually looked pretty good!
Inside showing 'belt strap'

Set up around the pot

Everything inside the pot, inside the pot cosy I made too!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Ryan Jordan shoots all kinds of things

Look here for a good example of how to shoot a camping trip video rather than my mediocre efforts. His 24 video really captured the feeling of being out there. It's a lot easier when you live in Bozeman I suppose. Scroll down for his story about trail running and hunting with an ultralight rifle. I feel deeply uncomfortable when I know people enjoy killing things. As I get older I feel this more and more strongly, which I suppose makes me a hypocrite as I am a meat eater and shooting is generally understood to be a more humane way of killing animals. I guess it's the enjoyment factor: 'I enjoy running and icecream and killing things'. I killed a rat the other day, hit it with a spade, twice. Once which just maimed it and once to finish it off. The fact that it was running at my baby son didn't make it any easier for me. It was the first furry animal I've killed (I've been fishing) and it affected me quite strongly. Things just aren't black and white though, I'm still figuring this one out.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Rhinogs part 2

There's not a lot of photos for the second day due to the rain! As usual, once I was moving I felt a lot better. It seems like while I don’t have a definite plan, things get on top of me a little. It wasn’t so much the rain because I don’t mind rain and it wasn’t a lack of views because the visibility was such that I could still get a fair impression of the hills. Maybe it was a feeling of being trapped by circumstance. Anyhow, I decided to take my foul weather option. The cloud base was at about 650m so there was going to be no point in hitting any summits and the Rhinogs rock seemed to be absolutely lethal in the wet. I hoped it would clear later and set off down past Lyn Cwmhosen. This actually seemed like it would have been a much better spot to camp. The ground was drier and the area was more sheltered. There was no point worrying about it, however. I ambled on, down into Bwlch Drws and had some breakfast. The Rhinogs are much more overgrown than other mountain areas I’ve been to. The valley was covered in lush grass and there was a thick growth of heather up the valley walls. It felt isolated in the mist. I could hear the sound of ravens calling and the drip of the rain. I was beginning to really enjoy myself though. The rain had abated slightly and I ate and drank well. I had planned to ascend Rhinog Fawr via a scramble but instead I headed north out of the valley and into a wooded area. It was nice to walk on the smooth paths and I made good time. I walked right around the base of Rhinog Fawr aiming to use the path to its summit if the weather cleared. I stopped again for lunch and tried to dry out some of my gear. I wasn’t trying to make big miles, the experience of being out in a wild place was enough and I took my time eating and resting.
As I headed towards the Roman steps, the weather closed in again. There was no point in trying for the summit, the wind was gusting quite strongly and the cloud base was low. I struck out west, aiming for Lyn Du. At this point, I began to encounter the legendary Rhinogs path network made up of a series of well trodden paths that vanish into nowhere. I could see Lyn Du below me, but despite the path markings on the map, I was wading through thigh deep heather and sliding down if not life threateningly, certainly limb threateningly steep slopes. The ground was full of holes and then just as I thought I was totally lost, I noticed that the heather had been stripped away and pushed all in one direction as if someone else had semi fallen down the slope many times before. Sure enough, a few minutes later, the path reappeared, marked with a distinctive footprint. I followed this path for a short distance, then became totally lost again. The map and the GPS disagreed violently with each other, there were no paths and I had to resort to wandering in vaguely the right direction until I discovered that what was vaguely the right direction suddenly became exactly the right direction and I was following a well trodden path marked by the man with the distinctive print. This pattern repeated itself the entire afternoon through thick bogs, lethal overgrown boulder fields, down semi cliffs and over ancient barbed wire fences. The membrane in my boots had given up hours ago and I could see the man with the distinctive print going through everything hours (days?) before me. I knew I wanted to camp up by Llyn Twr-glas but the lakes were stubbornly refusing to appear. I checked my position against the farm over the valley and had no idea why I couldn’t see them. Finally, checking my GPS, I realised that I was a good 100m below where I wanted to be. With the tops concealed in the mist, I had little idea of where I needed to be- my map reading skills obviously need a little more polishing!
Up I went. It was hard work and I had no visual idea of where I was aiming for- I just watched the little numbers climb steadily upwards. In the back of my mind I had a feeling that this wasn’t the best idea I had ever had but stuck to my plan. I had been expecting to see the lakes all afternoon and wanted to satisfy myself that they really existed! I reached the top just as the worst rain of the entire trip blew in. The storm battered away at me- I could barely see two feet in front of me and the lakes were reduced to a narrow band of water at my feet. I had a notion that there was a slightly more sheltered area at one end of Llyn Twr-glas but at that moment I realised I had lost my map. I hadn’t checked it since I had started climbing and began to get the distinct feeling that the Gods were laughing at me. Luckily I was able to retrace my steps and found it fairly close by. The storm was in no way abating and I was beginning to feel pretty sorry for myself. I didn’t want a repeat of the other night, didn’t fancy erecting the tent in the rain and was fairly exhausted. I made my way towards Llyn Pryfed hoping to find some shelter where the rocks pinched in towards each other but it just wasn’t happening. I gave up and began to use a wall as a handrail back down towards the valley. Even this became another dance with lady fracture as the wall led me over a huge boulder field with steep drops and concealed thigh deep holes. Again, I obviously wasn’t the only idiot to have chosen this route as there were definite signs of previous idiots.
Typically, the valley was bathed in sunshine. I was encountering another problem now- I was getting ever closer to civilisation and there weren’t many obvious camping spots. The valley was also pretty exposed if the wind kicked up again and I wasn’t keen on holding the tent down all night. I found a clump of trees on one side of a field but there really wasn’t enough room between the braches to pitch the tent. On top of that, it was too sheltered and quickly became a bit midgy. I wandered further, slightly worried and feeling a bit beaten up after the hard work of the day’s walking. Finally after a lot of backwards and forwards along the route of a river I found a fairly lump free spot. Here the ability of the Gatewood cape to be fairly easy about misshapen pitches came into it’s own. I used a section of my compass lanyard and a mitten hook to repair the broken hook on the cape and settled down to empty the water from my boots and the whisky from my hip flask.
It was actually a very good pitch. The weather held and in fact, the next day was glorious sun. I wandered down into Trawsfynyedd enjoying the easy walking and feeling a bit disoriented by having to actually talk to people. It was only on the bus back to Barmouth that I realised how bad I smelt. It was my boots- they had a distinct aroma of tramp to them. I bought some flip flops in a tacky seaside shop, paddled in the sea and scrubbed my feet with sand. There’s not that much to do in Barmouth so I decided to catch an earlier train back. I picked up a couple of bottles of beer (Including a welsh lager?) bought myself a new book from a charity shop and settled down for the long journey back. The Rhinogs certainly lived up to their reputation for being hard work but it had been a good trip. The ability of my gear to work in British conditions had been proved to my satisfaction- the failure of the hook on the cape was easily repaired and all my down gear had remained effective despite the wet weather. The use of quick drying clothes meant that I was comfortable and warm and I certainly felt the benefit of carrying such a light load.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Ti goat ptarmigan first impressions

These Titanium Goat bivvies seem to be very popular- they're cheap (compared to similar bivvies from other manufacturers) light and well featured. I ordered mine with the bug window despite the extra weight as I don't fancy Ron Turnbull's method of only leaving a tiny hole to breath through and blow the midges away! It was sent promptly and then I had a wait of about three weeks for it to clear customs. All the time, the USPS tracker was telling me that they had been 'notified to expect my parcel' and I could get no further information on it. Now, while I have no real issues with paying VAT on my parcel, I do get a bit fed up with the post office charging me an equal amount so I can get my parcel from their office. Both the charges added another 20 quid to my costs-bah!

Firts impressions were of something very well made, simple and with that almost flimsy feel of very lightweight equipment. The bivvy itself is black, possibly the blackest thing I have ever seen in my life and it's big too.

I checked I could get my neo-air short into it by email to Ti Goat (very prompt reply) but I can also side sleep and even curl up in it. As you can see from this comparison with the Alpkit Hunka, it's a good 6 inches larger in diameter. It packs up to pretty much the same size too. Of course it's not waterproof, but I've had it with using only a bivvy bag and no tarp. The hood can be raised from the face and attached to a tarp, which I'm pleased about, because I tent to get quite claustrophobic in a traditional bivvy. When you zip the bug window closed, there is a substantial amount of space there. My only niggle is with the tab used to pull the hood off the face- it's sewn directly to the hood with no reinforcing material behind it. With material this thin, I get the feeling it's going to pull free fairly quickly. Bonus news is that the weight comes up at around 160g on my (admittedly poor quality) scales rather than the advertised 198g.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Rhinogs trip part one

The summer holiday means a hiking trip. This one had been in the planning stages for a while-My last trip had been in February and I'd been fiddling with kitlists since then. There was a fair bit of untested kit in there, but by the end it had all been comprehensively tested! Part way through the trip I started videoing stuff. The camera work is a bit ropey becuse I could only use it on the end of my arm!
pack-murmur 220
Shoulder pouch-lowe alpine camera 50
tent-Gatewood cape 311
inner-6 Moons serenity 198
stakes and pouch-TN carbon 30
sleeping bag-PHD minim ultra 350
Sit mat/ food cosy-section of CCF 20
sleeping pad-Neo air 270
food bag-Team IO cuben (med) 6
cooking pot-Snowpeak solo 105
cup-disposable 500ml 5
stove-Caldera cone 60
Firelighter-disposable lighter x2 40
utensils-Tibetan long handle spoon 17
Cloth-1/4 bandanna 7
medical kit-Homemade 20
head torch-Photon 10
knife-SAK 22
Stuff sack-trekmates 4
hat fleece-25
insulation-phd ultra vest 150
windshirt-Rab neutrino 70
over-trousers-Mountain laurel cuben chaps 39
campshoes-plastic bags 25
water bottle-mineral water 25
bladder platy-1l 25
hip flask-nalgene 53
water treatment-aqua mira 30
poo- trowel-MSR blizzard stake 22
gps-Geko 80
Compass-Silva mini 8
safety-whistle 5
Total 2301
With camera 2476
add paperback 2676

My rhinogs trip started out with glorious sun. It was a long trip to Barmouth and it was very difficult not to drink all the guinness I had brought with me- in fact it was impossible and so I started my walk with somewhat of a fuzzy head. I bought a packet of chips to soak up the booze and donated the last of my change to the lifeboats so that I wouldn’t have to carry it. I do enjoy drinking and walking, although the somewhat steep pull up out of Barmouth did dent my enthusiasm slightly. Luckily I only had to walk for about ten minutes before I found a flat shelf overlooking the sea. I brushed aside the sheep turds and threw up the tent. I was carrying a gatewood cape which allows fly only pitching and so I inflated the neoair and put it straight on the ground. While my tea rehydrated, I sat on a rock and read my book- JG Ballard’s Crash. The opening is incredibly intense and it’s a great book but it jarred really badly with my surroundings, obsessed as it is with urban decay and mechanised transport. In the end I sat back and looked at the view, breaking my promise to leave the Tobermoray I had brought for the rest of the trip unopened.
Unsurprisingly, I slept well. I was walking by 7 o’clock. The day’s walk was something I had looked forward to for a long time- a long ridgewalk into the heart of the Rhinogs. I had planned a short day with an early camp so that I could have a wander about and maybe a swim in one of the lakes. The weather was overcast, however, and as I approached Yr Lethr, a large bank of mist and rain rolled in. At first it was only spitting, but I put on my waterproofs anyway as I wanted to test them. I was using a tent/poncho combination and had teamed it up with some cuben fibre rain chaps from mountain laurel. I had actually hoped for a bit of rain, but I wasn’t expecting the blasting I got a few minutes later. In the mist, I missed the path and ended up stood on the edge of a cliff, trying to hang onto the wildly flapping map. After retracing my steps I picked my way down a rocky and steep path. I met the only people I was to see the entire trip, who gave me an odd look, as I greeted them dressed in two white bin bags and a big silnylon sack! As I descended to Lyn Hywel, I lost the path again and ended up clambering over scree slopes and through thick heather. I supplemented my diet with the bilberries that grew in great numbers as I went. I had planned to camp next to the lake, but the ground was absolutely saturated with standing water in places. I wandered around for a bit but nothing sprung out at me as a better site and so I tried to pitch. Here there was an issue- pitching a tent I was wearing. It is possible to do it from the inside, but that did necessitate crawling around in puddles. Eventually I gave up and got out. I can pitch the cape pretty quick and the rain had dropped so I received only a minimal wetting before I nipped back inside. It was only 3.30, and I was hoping that the rain would stop so I put on a brew and got into my sleeping bag. My top dried very quickly, as the arms were only a bit wet and I dozed for a while. The rain didn’t let up. In fact, it got worse. By 7.00 I had finished my book and eaten my tea. I tried to go to sleep and managed for a while until at about 10, I was woken by the tent fly pressing into my face. One of the pegs, a TN carbon had lost it’s top and the hook that attaches the beak of the cape to the guy had come free. I rummaged around, using my sit mat to

keep my arm out of the puddles in the porch and put the peg in at a steeper angle. All was well until an hour later when I was woken by the tent fly pressing on my face again! The weather was even worse, and the wind had changed direction so it was blowing directly onto the porch of the tent. There is a greater area of material here, and the force of the wind had caused the hook on the beak to fail. It had flown off, I knew not where, plus the topless peg had allowed the fly to come free again. I crawled around, with my torch between my teeth, praying that the entire tent wouldn’t launch into the night. Eventually I pegged the beak directly to the floor. The fly came free a third time an hour later at which point I got up, moved the topless peg to a different spot and spent the rest of the night worrying about it needlessly. In the morning I assessed the situation. In fact the tent had stood up the battering well. One component had failed, (six moons have replaced it without question) but it was an exposed spot- the actual tent was fine, and moved about a lot less than my Laser comp. All this in a shelter which weighs less than 550 grams. The weather was still poor but I pulled my motivation together and moved off.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Starting out

I've accumulated a fair bit of gear over the years, I've not walked as far as I would have like, but I've got a fair bit under my belt. From the beginning I've been a walker and a wild camper and my gear reflects this. More recently I've been slightly obsessed with reducing the weight of my gear. I'm not big, I'm not strong and I've had way too much time sat at a computer. Clearly the British weather has influenced my choices, but I've picked up a reasonable amount of American gear, that doesn't really seem to get talked about in Britain much. I've also been heavily influenced by other blogs and websites and maybe now it's time to 'give a little bit back'. I'll concentrate on reviewing the kit I've got, my own path towards the light and trips I've taken.