I'm determined to get out this half term. We're going to visit my parents who live close to the Black mountains and the velleys. It's where I walked as a child and it's nice and accessible. Preperations are slowly moving forward. I rigged the Hog and seam sealed it- poorly of course, but done. I did it in my parents garden which is about twenty times the size of our garden and the aesthetic appeal of the Hog was vastly improved-it needs a bit of space to spread out I think. I've started to pack the bags as well. It's a hard process- Both the packs are already 7kg- Steph's before all the baby gear, food and water, Mine before I put Solomon in. Bugger. There are weight savings to be made, but it's a matter of persuading Steph that possibilities even though they might be unconventional. Case in point is her 1.7kg -2 rated sleeping bag. I've floated the idea of using a 650g down bag combined with down jacket(which she's taking already), down trousers and socks. There is an issue of putting Steph off completely, either through carrying a cripplingly heavy pack or not enjoying the camping. There's the problem of Solomon. I've got him a sleeping bag, which is already 850g (it broke my heart to buy it!) and was planning to put him on a Gelert x lite 3/4 mat. He tends to flail around like a madman in the night however. So I've got him this- it looks like the lightest option but it's still 1.6 kg. So finally, I'm starting to think I need a cart or trailer of some sort. Something like a pulk but with wheels. Having had a quick look, nothing seems available at all.
I've never taken an mp3 with me on the hill. I've found friends who put music on in the tent to be annoying to say the least- it seems to grate against the natural sounds of the hill and most choices I've heard being played definitely suit an urban environment a lot better. I don't take books on overnight's because I don't tend to read them. On longer solo trips I've taken a book, but again, choice is important. My choice of JG Ballard's 'Crash' for the Rhinogs trip was definitely wrong- a fantastic book but it jarred with my surroundings. On top of that, after an afternoon stuck in the tent, I'd read it all, but a thicker book is a heavier book.
A couple of things have changed my mind a little, and made me think about giving an mp3 a shot. First, I never sleep very well when I'm camping- I tend to wake up a few times a night. It's a bit of a faff to read when I do wake up- find the book, find the torch etc. I haven't tried reading in the bivvy yet but I would gues that would be a pain. A bit of music might be just the ticket. Second, on my last trip, I wasted a fair bit of time not enjoying myself. Often, I do like walking in the mist and I do have a thing about experiencing the outdoors rather than shutting it out, but selective use of music may well have helped.
So when my sister asked what I wanted for my birthday I asked for an mp3. I am not a technologically minded person- I own virtually nothing in the way of gadgets and I still like to have a physical object in my hand when I buy music. I owned an mp3 when they first came out and managed to get about three songs on it before I abandoned it, so I wasn't bothered by complexity. But of course technology moves on and so what I got from a basic mp3 pretty much blew me away. It's the Archos 1 vision-and as far as mp3's go I gather it's for the 'casual' user, which I guess is me. It's advertised as 28g but the headphones put it up to 41g on my scales. I could use it without reading the instructions and it's got 4G of memory. Pretty much exactly what I needed. So what have I put on it? First thing on was a bunch of Bob Cartwright's excellent podcasts. I have listened to a few on the free cds he sends out with his products, but there's five years of podcasts for me to catch up on. Perfect tent listening I reckon, inspiring rather than jarring. My next target was some audio books. Librivox has hundreds for free- amazing! While the entire text of 'The decline and fall of the Roman empire' tempted me I decided that it was a bit like one of those ambitious peak bagging routes I plan and then fail to complete. So I now have H Rider Haggard's 'Alan Quartermain' downloaded. Easy listening for post hill exhaustion but exciting stuff nonetheless. And music? Pretty much the first album I got on there was U.F. Orb. A blatant sign of a misspent youth during the 90's, it's got to be my favourite album of all time. O.O.B.E still has the power to send a shiver down my spine and Blue room is just incredible.This will be the one for midnight dozing. In fact I'm getting all of my Orb back catalogue on it. Orbus Terarrum has a much more 'earthy' feel and tracks like 'Oxbow lakes' may well make for a decent black dog dispeller. I'll take it on the next trip and see how it goes.
I spend a fair about of time fannying about with my gear. It's a replacement for time spent on the hill, in a way. It's also part of the reason for things like my obsession with not using stuff sacks. The main thing I've done is to pack and repack my pack, finding the optimum configuration for ease and comfort. I find it frustrating when people take ages to pack their bag the night before a trip but it's just because I know exactly what's going in and where. What I should have done more of is pitch and re-pitch my tarp, but, having a bit of spare time I spent a bit of time fannying around with that.
I wanted to see if short guys at the back of the tarp would help the space in the half pyramid- turns out it helps with tautness and protection as well. I've always tried to pitch things as close to the ground as possible, but the bivvy should help with wind proofing and I'll look for more sheltered spots anyway. The two sides seem to give more protection at the front and there's more depth for sitting.
The next thing I had a go with was a micro tarp I made a few years back. It was when I had strarted trying to reduce weight and had read Ron Turnbull's Book of the Bivvy. The trouble was, I was going from a full two person tent and it was a jump too far for me at the time. I had an army surplus bivvy that weighed over a kilogram and when I saw the Gelert solo tent in a sale, I swapped immediately- the weight was pretty similar. Steph's cousin is in the (un?) fortunate position of having to replace all his camping gear from scratch. Interestingly he's at about the same point as I was when I started to lighten up- all his old gear was a mixture of budget stuff and gear bought for other purposes (massive skiing down jacket etc). That equals serious weight. He's expressed an interest in a tarp and bivvy combo and I have an Alpkit Hunka I didn't really need any more. The tarp is PU coated nylon with paracord guy loops and line but it still only weighs 160g. Pitching with only four pegs, it gives an overall weight of about 600g which is pretty good. Ironically, now I've said he can have this stuff, I've set it up and it looks pretty inviting. I'm also passing on a Golite Dawn and he's thinking about getting a Rab Photon jacket. I've never preached to him about weight, but he's hefted my bag a few times on different trips. It'll be interesting to see the path he travels as he buys his stuff. I'll do an update on his gear on the next trip we go on.
After a reasonable rest we proceeded up towards Haystacks. As we went, we pondered the concept of being 'experienced', prompted in part by my thoughts from the night before, but also thanks to a comment made by a chap we met by Blacksail who had described us as 'experts', having talked to us for ten minutes! Although, clearly I'm not an experienced tarp user(!), and despite the fact that we feel like enthusiastic amateurs we decided that we could have grounds to consider ourselves reasonably experienced in the outdoors- we could be put down anywhere in Britain with a few pieces of kit and get ourselves to somewhere else in a good state. To the extent where maybe we're fooling ourselves. There are massive gaps in our knowledge-edible plants, avalanche awareness, contour reading. And to people who are more experienced we'd probably seem pretty naive. We have put in a good few years wild camping now, however, and we do have a few skills to rub together. It's a nice feeling to look back and see how far we've come. It's all been self taught as well. We haven't done guided walks and haven't sat in a classroom.Which also feels right. Of course the internet has been invaluable, but there does seem to be an ethic of getting out there and just experiencing it within the whole community. A nice change from the 'managed risk' which is so prevalent these days. It's a nice walk up to Haystacks from Blacksail. Steep, with some potential hands-on and worthwhile views all the way up. It's an atmospheric summit as well. On the way down to Blackbeck there were plenty of decent pitches although there was a lot of waterlogged ground. It would be well worth anther visit. We saw another set of campers on a precipitous pitch across the way but at Blackbeck Tarn we had the spot to ourselves. We pitched and had enough light for a wander round, a bit of scrambling practice and a relax. We went to bed fairly early as we were both a bit knackered.
This was the first time I'd had a proper chance to test out my theoretical sleep system, using insulated clothing to boost my sleeping bag. As the minim ultra can just about fit in a cargo pocket on a pair of army trousers, this was a bit of a gamble. The day had been fairly warm and sunny however so I didn't think it was too much of a test. I woke up a fair few times during the night. There was a big moon, and as I had only zipped the bug net on my bivvy I was able to look out at the moonlit landscape. This is what bivvying is supposed to be all about and I was very pleased with the Titanium Goat Bivvy. I've felt very claustrophobic and short of breath in other bivvies I've tried-I didn't feel this at all. In the morning I was a little disappointed with the sleep system. Although I had been really toasty for most of the night, I had felt a very slight chill at about six. Because it had been a warm night, I thought there was no way I could use the system at seriously cold temperatures. That disappointment lasted until I realised that there must have been a serious temperature drop during the night. There was a fair frost, Blackbeck tarn had begun to freeze over- the ice had proceeded about a foot from the shore all the way round. Smaller tarns had frozen completely. Of course I hadn't brought a thermometer with me, but various opinions put the temperature at between -5 and -10. Up until -5 will be good enough for me-that's around the temperature range I normally encounter.We packed up quickly and got going. Martyn wanted to catch the football and I anted to see my family. Of course, the weather was the best of the entire weekend. So it goes....
On Friday, when I got back from a somewhat stressfull day at work there was a very light box with a customs label on it sitting in my hall. My new Caldera cone had finally arrived. Here's what had happened. When I finally made the switch from a gas cannister stove, the caldera was the obvious choice. I only wanted to boil water and popular opinion was that there wasn't a better meths stove available in terms of quick boil time, stability and efficiency. I got the stove and cone and was instanly convinced. I enjoyed the fact that I could light up, walk away and know I'd come back to a pot that was still upright and not boiled dry. The only drawback was not really a problem for me-that of the size of the cone. I just inserted it into my pot, put a disposable pint glass on the top and filled it with my hot drinks kit. After a time, however, I got a new smaller (lighter) food bag, and I began to find it hard to get all my food in it. This was a stupid reason to get a new stove and so I had to think a bit harder. Despite the fact that I had marked up the pint glass with measurements, I still never used it for anything. I don't like things in my bag I don't use. Plus my old cone was getting bit bashed up. What's more, I had seen a new compact cone that fitted inside the mug. I had a good reason to at least consider a new piece of gear. So I made the fatal mistake of emailing Trail Designs about the Caldera ULC for my Snowpeak mini solo. Rand wrote back saying that they were currently playing around with ideas for a two part Caldera, they were about to make one for the mini solo and might as well make two if I was interested. I was interested. So what did I get in my box? This: Clockwise from top left-The two halves of the cone, stand and grate for a wood fire, a gram cracker esbit stove, a pepsi can stmeths stove, two titanium tent pegs and a titanium floor to protect the ground. I also got a new fuel bottle, a measuring cup and three esbit tabs. First up, I don't think I'll ever use the gram cracker. I love the simplicity of the idea, but the esbit stinks and it messes up pots really badly. The wood stove I am interested in. Here's the grate on the stand inside the lower half of the cone and the picture at the top of the post is the grate on the stand by itself. Build your fire on the grate, fire it up and drop on the top half of the cone. There's a titanium floor to use so that you don't scorch the grass. I'll not use it regularly, but occasionally I fancy the idea. I assume the chimney effect will draw air up through the base of the fire and make it burn faster- The Grate sits above the lower vents. It's a nice simple solution to the woodfire concept. The main reason I wanted this is so that it fits inside my pot but there are a few other advantages. First, although it only weighs a tiny bit less than my old cone, I don't have to use that pint pot. That saves me a whole ten grams(!) which is 25% of my rain chaps or almost 10% of my Z-pack (hey every little helps!). I can use my smaller food bag which also saves me (another tiny bit of!) weight. I used to have to fold up my foil lid for my pot, but I can keep it whole. Whats more, Titanium is a much nicer metal that aluminium. It looks nicer and it springs open rather than having to be moved into shape. It's got a real quality feel and the set up works perfectly. The cone is slightly shorter than my old cone (on the left), but the pot sits on two tent pegs so that there is the same distance between the stove and the pot- I assume it will work in exactly the same way. You can put the pegs into holes at the very top of the cone when you're burning wood or you can just use the top half of the cone by itself as a windshield and potstand combined. There are a few important things to point out. Firstly, this cone is not generally available.More importantly it's only suitable for a limited amount of pots at the moment. This is what Rand says: "It is a system thats only for a limited amount of pots. The SPMSolo, the MLDesign 850 and the Evernew stacking set are the only ones we've figured out a basic system for" I'm figuring that they're getting the height/diameter/position of the split ratios sorted out. This is certainly a work in progress. In the last email i got from them, they mentioned lower vents in the upper pot, which mine doesn't have. They did say as well that it was the best thing they've come up with. Based on my first impressions, I'd put a reasonable amount of money on them being right.