Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Enlightened Equipment link

The link to Tim's site is working now: It's here

Monday, 29 November 2010

New toys

I wanted to write this up a long time ago. It's been 90% finished in the edit tray for weeks now, but illness and family commitments have all conspired against me. Still, it's here now- enjoy!

There have been three recent arrivals here. The quilt, I've alreadt mentioned but I've also had packages from Goosefeet and Zpacks containing waterproof sock covers and a new zero pack with some assorted stuffsacks respectively.
I'll deal with the quilt first as it's the biggie. I've already mentioned the specs- it arrived in a little square box with a stuff sack and I eagerly spread it out. The overall quality is amazing- it's hard to imagine ever being able to make something this good, but I guess Tim gets a lot of practice! I compared it to my PHD minim ultra and it was definitely in the same league sewing wise. The attention to detail is nice.

All the fittings are as tiny as posible-super thin shock cord for the strapping combined with tiny cord locks and super thin static cord at the head and foot. The exceptions are the snaps at the neck and top of the footbox and the zip for the footbox. These are more substantial. The snaps are particularly secure.

The design of the footbox allows you to loosen the drawcord or unzip it totally so in hot weather you can vent as to your requirements. More likely in Britain it will be useful when wrapping it round me like a shawl or opening it up to dry. Because I'm so small, despite the original intention to make it a half taper, it's turned out pretty much a rectangle, this actually turned out well because it gives a lot more coverage when I'm on my side. The zip isn't a tiny insubstantial zip but it's still pretty small and light. The way the snaps are positioned, the metal doesn't come into contact with your skin if you're a nekkid sleeper.

Coverage in general is very good- I could have probably have gone smaller width wise, but this allows me to layer under it. There is a bit of a knack to turning so that the edge doesn't ride up-you pivot on the bit of the mat that isn't covered by the quilt- I find it easier than turning, getting and then trying to jump my body in the air while twisting the hood around on a normal mummy bag however... The side sleeping picture doesn't show it but the edge of the quilt is still tucked under me on my back side.

You should be able to see on the spread out picture that there is very little taper in it- it's almost a rectangle. This was unitntentional on my part, but does give me more coverage. It' a reflection on my skinny frame that my torso measurement is similar to most people's footbox!

I'm really pleased with this- it's a nice step up from the minim ultra. I'm hoping to take a trip out with it next week and see how low I can take it combined with additional clothing and a vapour barrier. Nice!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

I have achieved enlightenment..

Or some other corny gag. My eyes are still bleeding from the customs charge, but my quilt is here, it fits perfectly and it weighs 334 grams. Lovely.

Friday, 12 November 2010

New quilt

Just got an email from Tim Marshall to say my new quilt is finished! 332g, 1.5" of loft- should be good down to 4 degrees. I didn't go with cuben after thinking about the vapour barrier effect. Because cuben doesn't breathe, it's impossible to wear down clothing under the quilt to extend the range. A cuben bag will take you lower temperature wise and a cuben the same weight would probably take me to zero. I do like to take my down clothes for hanging out in camp and because I'd need to take a vapour barrier to wear under my down clothes I'd possibly end up carrying more weight. I've also expended a fair amount of cash on my down clothing and I want to use it! There is also the opportunity to layer it over my PHD minim ultra- something I couldn't do if it was cuben. It's 50g lighter than my minim ultra, should add 4 degrees, avoiding the cold spots that the sewn through nature of the minim results in. Anyhow, I'm very excited!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Montbell Tachyon Anorak

I like the fact that it's called an anorak. Cagoule is also a word that's fallen out of favour, and it's probably a better word than anorak, but anorak will do for now. I once managed to convey the TV programme Bergerac to my team in charades by using "sounds like" and my anorak. Happy days.

I love my Rab Quantum windshirt. The cuffs were a bit tight for pulling up my arms, but it kept me warm and reasonably dry in a lot of different situations. I do find that my ears get super cold, however. In fact hoods in general add loads of warmth to a clothing sytem by protecting the face. A hooded windshirt is the answer, but at a weight/cost that didn't seem worth it. The Tachyon compares reasonably well in terms of price, but knocks 20 grams off the weight of my Quantum.

It's incredibly thin. Pertex Quantum- a fabric I found incredibly lightweight when I first felt it- feels way more robust. Light passes through it easily and it compresses amazingly.
The zip isn't as long as the Rab, which was a half zip, but I generally didn't need that much venting.

The hood fits really well, although it does have a bit of an odd ball shape when cinched up. There is a velcro tab to reduce volume at the back.

There is a little peak formed by a cord in the front. It's too floppy to stand up to wind but it's a nice touch and avoids the train spotter cagoule look.

The cuffs are elasticated. They feel a little rougher than the lycra binding of the Rab, especially at the seam. I can fix that with a little home mod though.The bottom hem has an elasticated drawcord.

It has the well designed and super lightweight feel of my Montbell down inner. It does look quite shiny and not a little crinkled. The words trash bag have been used, but I like that in a funny way. It weighs 61g in size small in it's stuff sack. The sack weighs 3g. Very nice indeed.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Tachyon arrives.

It's really, really nice! More on it when I get a spare 2 seconds....

Friday, 5 November 2010

Prolite Gear

Are a fantastic shop to deal with-my Tachyon is in the UK pretty much the day after I ordered. The tracking is brilliant, it should be with me on Monday- it was the same story for my Montbell down inner jacket. Instant gear gratification- I love it.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

New stuff

Ordered myself a couple of things- A quilt from Tim at Enlightened equipment, (Not a cuben though- more on that later) and a Montbell Tachyon jacket. I've been toying with the quilt idea for a while now- should save me weight and be warmer than the PHD minim ultra. Tim is another manufacturer who is fantastic to deal with. The Tachyon is a hooded windshirt so ideal for keeping ears warm and I love my windshirt. I've found that Montbell fits my body shape really nicely.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Lakes trip:gear review and brief trip report

Having only pitched it once in the garden, it was easy enough to pitch it in the dark after a few pints. Me and Martyn sat in it and had a beer, there was plenty of room, but there were a bunch of bugs battering around which were a little annoying. We could probably have both squeezed into the serenity net tent, but I had my bivvy. Once I was in the bivvy I had no problem as there’s a net on it. The real surprise was how tight I could get the Trailstar. Tapping the fly produced the sound that the phrase ‘as tight as a drum’ would suggest. I did find that the gaps at the bottom of the tarp allowed a fair bit of wind through- I need to experiment with getting it lower. I would also like to find a pitch which allows for more of a view out of the door when the wind drops. A real success though.

Caldera cone
Worked excellently, same as my old one but a lot more convenient to carry. It is a bit more of a pain to set up because of threading the pegs through. My beer can pot lid was a significant upgrade from a plain piece of foil.

New Balance shoes
I loved these. My only real concern with the actual shoe is that there isn’t a lot of toe bump protection, but that isn’t a problem as long as you don’t kick anything which I didn’t! Wet sock wise, I didn’t ever actually use my Gore-tex socks. If the weather had been worse, I probably would have, but the worst I got was a bit of dampness from boggy ground. They dried very quickly and I was able to wear my socks to bed. They’re fantastically light- I felt like running quite a bit of the time and did a bit of downhill running for kicks. I did need to look where I stepped more than a goretex boot would require of me but this didn’t bother me. They stuck wherever I needed them to- rocks, scree and grass. I didn’t have any problem with stones in my shoes and didn’t wear my Mountain Laurel gaiters. I may well still wear my Hedgehogs for Winter.

Zpacks zero pack
I spent quite a bit of time with the waist belt undone, my pack was really comfortable with the weight I was carrying. The back length is too short for me. I’ve been in discussion with Joe from Zpacks and apparently 18” is the longest you can get with the Zero, which is my actual back measurement- this pack is just the standard Zero length. If you want, Joe can add extra length to the top of the pack to allow a longer back length (At the expense of extra volume and weight). A lot of daysacks have very short backs, the assumption being that you don’t need the support aspect of the belt. I was stretching the capacity of the sack at first. After the first night I removed a bunch of stuff and took a summer kit list with me- no waterproofs or windproof trousers, no pack liner, no microfleece, no gloves, no down trousers. Even though the capacity was tight with the full load on the first day, I would still use this sack into the autumn- it’s a really nice carry. I was very careful how I set it down on rough rocks but otherwise treated it the same as any other pack. A Zero will be my standard weekender pack from now on.

How did my gear list work out?
For this weekend, it was perfect. I stretched the capacity of my gear to keep me warm ever so slightly on the second night- hanging around in the evening: I was cold and would have used my down trousers but instead got into my bivvy and sleeping bag and was toasty. In the night I got a little chilly and would have ideally had a little section of mat for my legs, but overall slept really well. On the Sunday morning my hands were cold and I would have liked some gloves, but it wasn’t desperate. I hiked in my baselayer and windshirt. I prefer to hike myself warm rather than have to remove clothes once I’ve got into the rhythm of walking. We ran into a few people who were camping out, typically carrying 70-80l packs and still strapping stuff to the outside. I’m not an ultralight evangelist but I was certainly glad I wasn’t carrying their packs. (Okay, so I felt a little smug)

The trip:
We managed to arrive at the Wasdale Head Inn just in time for last orders. The staff seemed fairly keen for us to leave so we didn’t hang around. After a quick wander we pitched the tent in a field with a river running through it. We sat in the Trailstar and chatted and had another beer.
In the morning I felt a little hungover. It was a beautiful morning though and I hung around for a while making coffee and looking at the views. There was a fair bit of wind and I lost my meths measuring cup and my new Caldera cone to the river. We managed to set out at about 9am and wandered up to Piers Gill. It’s certainly a great route and not to difficult. After a short while, we reached the summit of Scafell Pike. It was at this point that it occurred to me that I had never been to the Lakes in decent weather. There were hordes of people and I realised when I thought the area had been busy before, it was nothing compared to actual numbers. There were fantastic views from the top and people doing all kinds of interesting things like throwing their walking poles to their friends 50m down the mountain in a high wind. We ate some lunch in a shelter (Homemade ‘sun’ dried tomatoes plus cheese and crackers, very nice) and vacated the area as soon as possible.

It was only 2.30 when we reached Sprinkling Tarn. Martyn mentioned he’s always wanted to camp on the promontory and we wandered over to have a look. It was an ideal camp spot so we pitched and spent the rest of the afternoon drinking, chatting and dozing in the sun.

It’s very rare that I get the weather to do this as all my trips seem to happen in the Winter. It was certainly a busy spot- there were at least 4 other tents dotted about but everyone kept themselves to themselves. We were settled down by 7.30 and were up and walking by 7am.
All in all, a pretty relaxing trip in what was essentially summer weather and a nice opportunity to test the gear that’s been lying idle in my cupboard. Next trip I do want to go somewhere a little wilder though.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Shorts, in the Lakes, in October....

What fantastic weather! All the gear worked a treat-fuller report and video to follow...

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Trailstar lands

And I only had to pay £18 in import costs (sigh). I whipped it up in the garden on Saturday during a lucky break in the rain and seam sealed it. No photos, but my Serenity net tent fits in very nicely- the side tie outs to improve head room clip to the bivvy hooks in the Trailstar and at least two of the groundsheet tie outs will attach to existing pegs. I'll probably use the bivvy for winter, but for a summer shelter in an environment such as Scotland, it should be ideal. Also in the package were some new gaiters and some Aqua Mira tablets. I liked using the Aqua Mira drops but the tablets will be much easier and lighter.
I also got the chance to road test the new goretex socks and my New balance shoes. On a 'Barefoot walk'. I'd been wearing them for comfort testing purposes on a day out when I spotted the walk. The course had been reduced to ankle deep water and thick clay and thankfully, both the shoes and socks performed impeccably. The shoes and the Trailstar will both be accompanying me on the weekend. Currently the forecast is for gale force winds. Nice.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

New balance 840 first look

Regular readers of this blog will know about my ongoing struggle with getting into non-waterproof shoes. When I found out that Gore Bike wear socks were back in the UK, It opened up the possibility again.

Innov8 seem to be the market leaders amongst UK hikers. Various bloggers seem to have created a cult following, but while I was getting into ultralight hiking, it was always New Balance shoes that were mentioned by US hikers. Phil Turner seems to like them (An even brighter pair!) and, more importantly, they have a wide forefoot which suits my foot rather than the narrow toe box which Innov8 have a reputation for. They also have a UK factory, although these are made in China. Add to that a nice cheap price at Wiggle and I decided to have a punt.

So why the 840s? Reviews suggested they were shock absorption was good, they drained and dried quickly and grip was excellent, however to say that the look of them didn't have anything to do with it would be a lie! They're supposedly blue, grey and yellow. It's more like purple, silver and yellow- they're bright! I always like the yellow of my Golite shoes, it's about as far away from the brown boot/red sock look as you can go.

There's not much to say about them apart from that. They weigh 331g each in a UK size 11. The New Balance sizing is odd though. The insole is almost exactly the same size and shape as my NF Hedgehogs in a size 10. A tiny bit longer. The New Balance size chart gives excellent guidance for selecting the correct size and it's worth using. The 'N' on the side of the shoe supports tapes that pull the shoe tight around the foot. The laces are bumpy and stay tied- I really like the laces. The yellow studs on the bottom of the shoe are soft and the purple ones are more firm. On the photo, they look a bit flat but they're chunkier than my Hedgehogs. That's it really. More detail when I manage to get them out- potentially in the next couple of weeks. Yup, my hill drought should end reet soon. Excited I am.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

The answer to the question posed below..

is no. Imagine my disappointment when I discover that the package posted to someone with the same first initial and surname as myself contains a stuffed gruffalo. I knew there was a reason why I shouldn't call my son a name that begins with the same letter as my own. Balls.

Friday, 24 September 2010

A package too big for my letterbox..

has arrived. Is it the Trailstar? I certainly hope so. It's awaiting collection at the post office which suggests I've escaped customs unscathed.......

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Katabatic Windom down hood

Down filled trousers seem to be getting pretty popular and rightly so. Responses to a first wear on a cold wild camp are often couched in phrases akin to Paul chatting to his mates after his stroll along the road to Damascus. While I like my down trousers, the real eye opener for me was my down hood. The warmth compared to any hat I had worn previously was startling. I pinched that hood from a chav’s jacket, took off the poppers, sealed up the holes with seam sealer and Robert was my sister’s brother. Ultimately, however, that hood was a little bit uncomfortable- the Velcro at the front was a bit scratchy and the volume was to big for my head, even with the front cord tightened. I began to look for another.
A few companies make them- Jack’s R better and Feathered friends for example but Katabatic made the lightest. It also appealed because it was a true balaclava with a whole face sized opening. The hood itself weighs 41grams. That includes shock-cord arm loops to stop it twisting around when you’re in your sleeping bag. Construction is top notch and loft is a more puffy than I was expecting. Photos can only ever give you a vague idea- this is the chin area. The hood actually fits my head (which might make it a little small for some people) but it is loose enough to feel comfortable. The opening isn’t tight to my face. It uses a lycra binding rather than a cord, and I was thinking I might need to tighten it a little to stop draughts, but the hood lofts up enough to fill the gap. It’s probably more comfortable loose. The lycra does catch my stubble a little and I may stitch a little pertex over the chin area. The bottom opening is easily wide enough to fit over the collar of a down jacket without compressing it. The shock cords pull it down onto your shoulders to seal out draughts. I was going to take the cords off (they’re removable) as it works well without them and I didn’t like the idea of them cutting up into my armpits but they definitely stop the hood twisting in a sleeping bag. I have taken the cordlocks off as I don’t need to tighten them any more than the maximum length.When I combine it with my down vest, trousers, jacket and socks, plus my minim ultra sleeping bag I’ve got a system that weighs somewhere in the region of 1kg, comparable to many winter sleeping bags. Of course this system gives me a lot more flexibility- most people would take a warm jacket as well as a winter bag anyway. I used a similar system in temperatures down to around -5 and I have a few tricks to help me if the temperature goes lower. Taking these photos, I became unbearably hot- it was about 18 degrees- there’s not much of me that is exposed and able to get rid of the excess heat.

So why are people not singing the praises of down hoods? Look at the photos-it’s impossible to wear one without looking like a complete idiot. Still, when you’re sat on the top of a mountain next to someone freezing in their warmest hat, you understand the difference between looking like an idiot and actually being one…..

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

MYOG pot lid

I had a spare five minutes the other day. I've been using a piece of foil for a lid for my Snowpeak mini solo ever since I discovered that the original lid weighed as much as my cuben fibre rain chaps during my weight purges of a year or so ago. If I'm really honest with myself, the foil is a bit of a pain. It was useful when I had to fold it all up to fit in my original caldera, but now that my cone fits inside my pot, I felt like i wanted a bit more functionality. The rain chaps were still in the back of my mind, however. Enter the beer can pot lid.

It's another super easy job- cut apart a beer can, lay it flat, trace round the pot but leave a margin and then fold the edges over. I found it needed a fair bit of re-folding and checking with the pot to get the right shape and roundness and there are still a number of corners on it, but it is a fair fit. Whe I was happy, I placed it on a flat surface and pressed it all down with the base of a pint glass to make it smooth. To create a handle I folded over another piece of can, cut a slit in the lid and made a washer to stop it ripping through. Total weight 4g. To transport it, I simply flip it over so the handle doesn't get damaged.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Trekmates bamboo baselayer

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the sour vinegar smell that rises up from inside my waterproofs after a couple of hours in a synthetic baselayer. It’s more rancid than good honest sweat which I can put up with and it was always a pointless exercise to even try to combat it with deodorant. Add to that, the fact that I’m not a fan of chemical scents in the wild and the slightly dubious notion of trying to block up your pores for three days without washing and merino starts to look like a good option. I managed to pick up a smartwool ultralight shirt in TK Maxx for 25 nicker but after only a couple of trips it looked like it had gone a few rounds with a moth heavyweight. Enter bamboo fabric. It claims to limit smell in the same way as merino but be harder wearing. I was definitely interested.

Trekmates is an odd company. They seem to be struggling to decide whether to be a cheap as chips budget company or one of the companies more willing to experiment and they walk a fine line between the two. I’ve always been happy with my gear based on how much I’ve paid for it. I had a windshirt off them- did the job but the finish was a little slapdash, and some gloves which I’ve been very happy with. A lot of people have raved about the stretch Goretex socks they did but which seem to have been discontinued. But they also do a bunch of stuff which seems to be aimed at people who do most of their walking in the park with the dog but fancy themselves as hardened explorers. Odd.

I actually had two of these shirts. The first was from Ultralight Outdoor Gear. The label says to wash them to shrink the shirt by 6%. But the shirt drowned me. I am at the lower limit of the size guide, and really I’m an XS ratger than a S, but this was ridiculous. I rang back UOG where the guy was reasonable but (understandably) didn’t want to take back a shirt that had been washed. I rang Trekmates and they said to try to wash it again. In the meantime, I had seen another of the same shirt in TKMaxx, tried it on and found that it fitted better than the washed UOG shirt. Comparing the two, the new shirt was definitely slimmer in the torso. I’m guessing that a small label had been in a medium shirt. Although the bloke from UOG had said I could send it back, I couldn’t really be arsed. I washed the new shirt and sent the other one to charity.

The feel of the material is nice and soft. It’s stretchy, but not as stretchy as merino. On the Trekmates shirt, it’s pretty thin, but feels quite tough. The colours are a nice muted grey and black. I wore it on the trip with Solomon and the smell resistance was definitely as good as merino. The cut is relaxed. More relaxed than I would like in a baselayer and seemingly aimed at a T-shirt look. Like I said, I’m on the small side of the sizing. I would say that it would be worth getting the next size down if you want it a bit more skin tight- but certainly, I would recommend trying it on before buying. The arms especially were loose and long- good for rolling up, not so good for falling down and protruding under a coat in the rain.

I had two big gripes with this. The first was the neck. I’d got a round neck, so can’t comment on the zipped variety, but the opening was way too big. The edging on the opening was in the same bamboo material so not very stretchy. It gave it a kind of ‘indie’ 80’s retro look. Not so good on the hill, especially as it was so big that the neckflap on my OR sunrunner didn’t cover it.

The second problem was the fact that the shirt as a whole was pretty shapeless. Not only was the neck baggy, it became a strange shape after the washing. One of the arms was noticeably longer than the other. It’s all a bit...wonky.

So, another case of a nice idea, poorly executed. I swapped my Trekmates windshirt for the Rab version. And I’ve swapped my bamboo baselayer for an Icebreaker. Bamboo is certainly worth keeping an eye on, but I’ll wait until someone else does it a bit better.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

In transit

My Katabatic Windom hood is apparently on it's way...

Monday, 23 August 2010

Just another 5 weeks to go...

Put my order in for the trailstar, and a few other bits and bobs besides. Due to family and work commitments it doesn't look like I'll get out before then by which time it will be gale season I bet....

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Heel lock,wet feet and the other 63 grams

I've been wavering on non-waterproof shoes for ages. My mind loves the idea of just wandering fancy free without worrying about river crossings or wet feet. The simple fact is I don't like wet feet. That doesn't stop me thinking: A) I'll get used to it or B) When I tried it and didn't like it it was October and it wasn't a fair test. As a result, I've recently bought two pairs of trainers recently and returned them both. There was nothing wrong with either of them. The first was a pair of New Balance runnig shoes. Americans thinks a a lot of NB shes, and they were very nice. They weighed 250g a shoe compared to the 383 for my hedgehogs, the lacing really reduced heel lift and they were very meshy. Except they were a very snug fit on the toes. Next I bought some NF momentum shoes. Also vey nice. You can feel the airflow through them, which is what you want as opposed to WPB shoes. I took them home, walked around a while, admired my feet in the mirror. I decided to do a bit more research and having read a few other people's experiences, mainly this post on Blogpacking light I do have a strong feeling that I would end up going back to the hedgehogs. And I rarely cross rivers, to be honest. The shoes went back. Goretex gives you damp feet, but my experience is that having no lining gives you soaking feet. I think my main problem is that I haven't bought any new camping gear for a while.....I have got my eye on a Trailstar....In the absence of any retail relief I had a look at some new techniques to try.
Heel lock lacing really works. My hogs feel a lot less like they'll get lost in a bog now.
I have spent some money albeit a modest £3.95. This ricco battery charger weighs 63g with a battery. That brings the weight of my MP3 up to the 100g mark, nearly as much as my shelter and rain gear combined!!!(Using my cuben poncho with no guys or pegs- I know ultralight weight cheating!) Theres an alternative choice over at blogpacking light.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Coffee taste test

It's a super busy time of year for me. So while I've been drinking coffee by the gallon, I haven't had much time for blogging. I managed to do the taste test last Saturday but no photos- what a bloser.
Up for the test was my usual , a premium instant I guess you'd call it, Carte Noir. I generally think this is one of the better instants so I was interested in how it stood up to the others. There's been a fair bit of interest in Nescafe instant espresso so I had some of that, a cafetiere of Douwe Egberts Italian blend and of course the Via. I made all the coffees up according to their instructions, stuck a label on the bottom of the cup and got my mother in law to mix them up for me so I didn't know which was which. Then I tasted them all a few times, cleansing my mouth with water in between. Not the most scientific test ever but it gave me the results I needed.
What was interesting was how well the instants did compared to the ground. None of them was horrific when compared to the cafetiere cup. The significant difference was in the amount of flavour and aroma. Whether this would have become more obvious with the addition of milk I don't know. I didn't do it so I'll never know.
I did pair together the Via and the ground coffee. The two traditional instants had similar characteristics. The worst was the instant espresso. A nasty bitter aftertaste was the main problem. When you add the water, it fizzes slightly to create a crema-I don't know what they've added to make that happen but I don't trust it! The Carte Noir was suprisingly good. A definite coffee flavour but very little aroma. In my notes, I wrote 'a very light flavour when compared to the others'. Perfectly drinkable though. Next in the order was the Via. It had a taste which bore the greatest similarity to the ground. Again, however, it had a nasty aftertaste. In the end, I preferred the Carte Noir, despite the fact that it had less of a punch. Good news for my wallet! The ground coffee was identifiable and best, but not by as great a margin as I thought it would be. Don't take my word for it though, i'm not a massive coffee buff! In future, I'll continue to take the Carte Noir.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Starbucks Via

There's been a fair bit of noise about Starbucks Via over on Backpacking Light. People who take their coffee seriously have been very excited by it. I don't take my coffee particularly seriously and generally go camping with instant and powdered coffee whitener, but when I saw that you could get a tester pack for about a quid, I splurged. It is pretty good- it tastes a lot like Starbucks regular coffee. Internet reviews have generally not been super good- Blind taste test to follow...

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Lakes video

I had a bit of spare time and knocked this together. It makes it look warmer than it actually was as evidenced by the big snotter I've got going on in the first section.....

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Old Lakes trip

This report has been hanging around in my documents for ages, half finished. Ironically, it was this trip that prompted me to start my blog but I hadn't got around to getting the writing sorted. The photo at the bottom of the booze article is from this trip and it helped me to get my act together. There's some video which I'll edit and probably post in about 6 months. Here's a reminder of why it's good to make the most of summer...
It’s a fair old slog up to the lakes when you live in the Midlands. It’s worse when you get there to realise that you have to drive another hour round the lakes to get to where you want to get to. Most of my recent trips to this area had focused on the Ennerdale area which does involve that extra hour, so it was that, combined with the fact that we had a total novice with us which led us to look at the High Street area.
Rafa had climbed Ben Nevis once and had done some deer stalking as research for a game he was designing but other than that he had very little to do with the great outdoors. He’s from Brazil and Martyn had suggested he come with us as part of his cultural enrichment. I’m not sure Rafa would describe it as enrichment, but British weather (and we got the full force of it that weekend) certainly is worth experiencing in it’s raw state at least once.
On the journey up we checked through Rafa’s pack. He’d done a pretty good job of not bringing the kitchen sink. I’d supplied a tent (My old Gelert solo), a torch, a spoon and Martyn brought a stove and the waterproofs (vital!). He was a bit embarrassed about his choice of food-Pot Noodles, but bulk aside, the good old Pot Noodle is prime hiking food.
After a stop in Bampton for a pint or two we pulled up at Haweswater. The weather report for the weekend was fairly dire and it was already beginning to spot with rain when we arrived. I’d taken the opportunity presented by Martyn driving the last section of the journey to top up with Guinness and was raring to go by the time we had sorted out the bags. I clipped my photon onto my hat brim and set off at a fair old lick, trying to get to The Rigg before the weather really closed in. I was trying a new pair of shoes- Golite Trail Flys that I’d picked up at TK Maxx pretty cheaply. It was my second try in three years at non waterproof low tops and they were really comfortable. The last time, my ankles had felt really vulnerable, but this time I relished the lack of restriction. Rafa, however was feeling the pressure. By the time we got to The Rigg, he had cramp and was glad of the rest. The weather, had, by now, broken in spectacular fashion and the rain was pouring down. I left Martyn to sort out Rafa’s tent and got on with trying to pitch the Gatewood. The time spent in the pub added to the extra top-up in the car revealed itself to be a pretty poor spot of decision making. What followed had all the elements of a classic comedy sketch with me chasing from one side of the tent to the other as my hiking pole fell down each time I stuck in a peg. When I finally got the inner tent installed I discovered that I had pitched the opening towards the back of the tent. I clambered between the two, into the space at the back of the tent and slipped inside. I had received a fairly lengthy wetting during the process, but again I wasn’t as wet as I had expected.
I slept well, one of the best sleeps I have ever had in a tent and woke fairly early. The rain had pretty much stopped but it was still very windy. I am becoming more confident of the G.C’s ability to shed wind- a lot of the fears I had on my Rhinogs trip were, I think, unfounded. Looking at the three tents, the G.C was flapping around a fair bit less than the other two- it seemed to billow, if that makes sense.
I had a wander round the Rigg, looking at the carnage left by other campers. It’s small wonder that there are prominent signs prohibiting camping- there was everything from cider bottles to used tampons and plenty of fire evidence. I wouldn’t want to camp there in the Summer.
I went back to the tents and roused Martyn and Rafa. Rafa stared incredulous at the floppy mess that had been his shelter for the night. Despite wearing a Sprayway pacamac circa 1992 in the turquoise and purple that characterised that period, he still managed to look stylish in a felt flat cap. It’s funny how people who are not hikers (in fact many hikers too!) still feel the need to look good on a hill- I just stood there in the Gatewood and my cuben fibre rain chaps with a big streamer of snot running down my face…..
It was the first time Martyn had got a good look at the Gatewood in poncho mode. The wind was really kicking up now and there were predictions of 70mph gusts on the tops “Are you sure that’s wind-safe?” he wanted to know. I wasn’t aware that clothing could be judged on whether it was wind-safe! I told him that I was confident it passed EU guidelines and we set off.
The Trail flys were starting to let in a fair bit of water now. Although I was okay with having wet feet and wasn’t bothered about bog hopping to avoid the worst sections, I knew that my feet would be warmer and drier in a pair of lined shoes. Each time there was a new flood of water into the shoe, my feet would feel cold again and the idea that the shoes would dry out quickly because of the breathable nature of the shoe was just not working. October probably wasn’t the best time to try this admittedly but I had decided that unlined trail shoes weren’t for me. Luckily, one of the lace loops had started to pull free (I’d read some dodgy reports on the shoddy construction of Golite shoes previously and they seemed to be true). A trip to TKMaxx customer services was mentally booked, which meant that I had been able to do my trail shoe experiment for free.
It’s a reasonable walk up to Kidsty Howes- steeper than you’d find in the average city and just the thing to warm you up in the morning. Unfortunately we’d got going with no breakfast due to the rain and Rafa was finding it heavy going. We stopped five or six times on the initial slopes where usually me and Martyn may well have got it done in one quick pull. It seemed that the walk we’d planned was going to take a while at this rate. This was no bad thing because it gave us plenty of opportunity to look at the spectacular views up to High street and down to Haweswater. In the end, however, I set off at a quick pace to find water and then stopped to cook up breakfast and wait for the other two. We found a sheltered spot, out of the wind and took advantage of a brief spell of sun to relax.
The final section got even steeper. I prefer to ascend this way, rather than a slow plod. The wind kept getting stronger and stronger. I love this weather-it’s so exhilarating and you can see the showers sweeping down the valley before they hit you. There was a daft grin on my face the whole time despite the fact that the Gatewood cape was, while not ‘wind unsafe’,quite ‘wind annoying’.
There was a conversation at the next rest spot. Martyn was concerned about Rafa and proposed that they returned to the campsite while I continued and met them there. Rafa despite feeling ‘as though he was dying’ decided to stick it out. The gradient eased after that and once he was on a relatively level surface, Rafa felt better.
The Wall across high street was a welcome respite from the wind. I removed the Gatewood and just kept my windshirt on. The showers weren’t bad enough to wet me but it was very cold in the wind. Part of my warmth plan was just to keep moving, but that was hard with all the rests we kept having. If I had been by myself, I would probably have run it, but the camaraderie was good and we were all having a great time.
The rest of the walk went quickly and before we knew it we were at the shelter at Ill Bell. There were still showers on and off and the Gatewood made a good bothy bag. Suddenly the penny dropped for Rafa- ‘hey! You are wearing your tent!’. Seems my big shapeless silnylon bag had just looked like a big shapeless nylon bag after all, when I had been worried it looked like I was wearing a tent!;) We dropped down to Smallwater and as I had got a lead on the others I spent some time sat in the shelters drinking whisky. It was one of those perfect mountain moments, where the level of exertion has been just enough to relax you, the atmosphere is amazing, the taste of the whisky chimes exactly with the smell of the air. Lovely stuff. The last time I had been here, I’d slept in one of the shelters after it had been too windy to pitch the competition. We returned to The Rigg and pitched close to the lake after a quick stop at the car for me to change my shoes. It was so nice to get the Hedgehogs on with some dry socks, but they did feel pretty confining on the ankles after wearing lowtops. A purchase of some lowtop Hedgehogs was decided on.
As night fell, we sat on the beach chatting about gear and trips we planned to one day make. It was a cold but still night- a perfect end to the trip. We all slept a lot better and made it back to the car after following an obviously little used footpath that followed the line of the shore a lot more closely than the main path.
The next day in the shower I was scratching my leg. There was an annoying little scab on my shin. A scab with legs. My first tick. I’d seem one in Sweden crawling up my sock, but that was huge. This one was pretty small and I was not as repulsed as I thought I would be. I was really glad I had a tick-hook though- I’m not sure that it would have been so easy to remove with tweezers. It came out easy enough. I wish I’d taken a picture!

Saturday, 12 June 2010


Back to more adult matters. You may have picked up on the fact that I like the odd drink. Ideally on the hill I would always have a beer. It's a more relaxing drink and you can sip it and look at the view. The cans bust down to nothing and weigh less, so I'll often take a couple for the first night of a camp. They do weigh a lot when they're full though. I remember taking a trip early in my hiking career where I took 12 cans of beer plus all my water for an overnight. I quickly realised that I needed to reduce weight quickly and by the time I came to camp I was in a bit of a state. The clear winner on the weight front is spirits. Whisky is my drink of choice- the taste chimes nicely with the scents and atmosphere of the hills. I've been through a few methods for carrying. Weight wise, a 250ml coke bottle in plastic would win, but it seems like a bit of an insult to carry something so old in something so trashy-it's the same with wine, you don't want to drink a nice wine out of a disposable plastic cup.

I started off with the usual hip flask. This was given to me for my 21st. It's pretty much useless for camping trips. It only carries 75ml and weighs a backbreaking 144 grams. The opening is really small, you have to wait an aeon to get a decent mouthful. I keep it for weddings where carrying any more volume would be lethal.
The Sigg is my emotional favourite. It holds 300ml and only weighs 77 grams. When I bought it and Steph found out I'd spent ten pounds on something 'only to carry whisky!' she was a bit shocked. In actual fact, the quality of the Sigg means I would pay more. The finish is really nice, the mouth feel is good. I like staring into the redness after a few swigs...When I dug it out to weigh it for this post I felt a real nostalgia for it. I stopped carrying it for a few reasons. First off, there is a tendency for the whisky to gather in the grooves in the stopper. As well as the thread, there are a couple of side grooves. As the whisky dried, it left brown gunk that was hard to clean off. Secondly, I began to get concerned about whisky damaging the lining. No reason for this, just me being paranoid but I don't want bits of Sigg lining floating about in my whisky. Thirdly, I got the nalgene.

The Nalgene weighs 55 grams. 20 grams less than the Sigg. Although it is advertised as carrying 300ml, you can squeeze a fair bit more in if you fill it up right to the rim. The shape of it fits into a pack or a pocket better than the Sigg and while it is not as beautiful as the Sigg, it has a nice taper that makes it aesthetically pleasing-you don't feel like you're drinking out of 'just a plastic bottle'. The opening is just right for a good swig and because it's a clear plastic, you can see how much you have left. There are measurements up the sides so you can regulate your intake.

With the flask you also get a protector and a shot glass. I've never used these- The bottle itself seems plenty tough enough for what I put it through and each of my swigs seems to hold about an ounce, so why bother to measure it? More importantly, these additions take the weight up to 123 grams, the same weight as the next flask I got.
The final booze carrier I got was the GSI lexan flask. I think this is the old version, because the images I see on the internet now have a black outer, so they may have changed it now. I got this because I saw it reduced to £4 in a corner of a caravan shop rather than because I needed a new booze container. I did think that on longer trips I may need to carry more whisky, but having said that, I'd probably just buy another nalgene: two combined should carry an entire bottle. It holds 450ml. Overall, it has a feeling of cheapness about it. Edges are unfinished on the cap and the opening, so it's not particularly nice to drink from. The opening is just a little too wide so that you have to sip from it rather than swig. The cap holds an ounce measure, but as I've said, I'm not bothered about that. The actual lexan material is okay visually, but the label states that they can't guarantee to keep the material from tainting the flavour of your drink-the Nalgene claims to be taint free. Finally, because it's the old lexan, I guess it would be packed to the gills with BPA, probably not a good mix with whisky.