Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas

I thought I'd just post a message wishing you all a Merry Christmas whatever you are doing.

Me, I'm stuck in front of the TV watching High School Musical whilst travelling slowly along the path to recovery since catching the flu - This is not the destiny I had planned for myself! In my ideal Christmas holiday I'd be in the pub for a bit and then rushing home to wrap the last of the presents. Instead, I've spent the last few days in bed and wrapping the odd gift when bored of being bed ridden.

Its been a good first year backpacking - or at least I think it has. I've learnt so much from fellow bloggers.....and from making loads of my own mistakes or course!

So, thanks for all your advice, guidance and humour this past year and I hope Santa brings whatever geeky fantasies you desire! I'm off to watch Santa Clause the Movie - Now its Christmas!

Joyeux Noel

Monday, 22 December 2008

UK Everest Challenge 2009

Just spotted this over at Grough and was impressed by the idea.

I like the fact that buzzilions of other people charity fundraising armies can't easily adopt the challenge and completely suck the life out of it. Also, because it's not a real Everest attemp it also means that more money goes directly to the chosen charites. I don't know, maybe its Christmas and I've been visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past or something but it just made me want to support it.

Go straight to their blog for updates on their preparations and to donate if you're feeling like the charitable type. If not then feel free to go back to your turkey for one and last years mince pies!

.....Note to Santa: Please see my post above, I've tried my best to be a good boy and I don't really think leaving it this late is a problem. See you in a few days...

Karma restored.

Friday, 12 December 2008

New Digital Compact for Landscapes

I might have mentioned a few times my desire to bring my DSLR out with me in the mountains to get some better photos. Well, I may have also mentioned that I’ve never got over my hang-ups about the weight to bring it! My Nokia N82 is great but the quality just isn’t up to the standard I’m used to. So I’m met with the dilemma of the lightweight photographer: Weight VS picture quality.

I’ve been on the hunt for a while but nothing was meeting the strict criteria for my budget until I told Santa how good I’d been and he (she) agreed to chip in. So, without further a do…..and in the style Gordon Ramsey:

  • 28mm wide angle lens
  • 3.8x zoom
  • 8.1MP sensor
  • RAW capability (with firmware hack)
  • Image Stabilisation
  • 155g

The Canon IXUS 860IS – DONE.

Review to follow after Santa delivers and I’ve had chance to use it in Paris in early January.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Trip Report: Lingmel & Scafell Pike – Day Two

By 5am I was wide awake and itching to get up like a child on Christmas Day. It wasn’t just excitement, I needed the loo.

There was ice on the inside of tent fly which wasn’t filling me with much motivation to leave my cosy sleeping bag. The alarm finally went off at 6.30 and we gingerly got out of the bags for an 800m toilet break. My shoes had completely frozen and putting my warm feet inside wasn’t a feeling I relished!

big_agnes_frostA cold early start

The plan was to leave the tent pitched and take just what we needed to the summit of Scafell Pike. I think Paul and I were attached to our Cumulus sleeping bags because despite the fact we agreed that the tent (and the gear in it) would be safe, these were the only items we refused to leave behind!

We could tell we would be cutting it fine for sunrise if we didn’t get a move on so we set off at around 7am. The snow made the track a little difficult to see, especially in the low light. We picked our way to the top and it became obvious we were just on time for sunrise as we approached the summit shelter.

dawn_walking The summit approach

I’d not seen anything like it before. I’ve seen sunrise and sunsets in some beautiful places but from the mountains it has its own character. Our timing was jammy and the sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon. We just stood there and watched and for a change it was a while before one us said something ridiculous.

sunrise_silhouette Paul’s spooky silhouette

It was simply stunning and the light just kept getting better and better. I wished I’d brought my SLR but in hindsight it wouldn’t have liked the temperatures we were experiencing and I just made do with the N82. Paul and I were firing off pictures and recording video like it was our last night on earth!

Scafell_pike_sunrise My ugly mug ruining a perfectly good shot

The view from the top was endless. We had unrestricted views in all directions and I can’t imagine how many times we’d have to go back to get anything like it again.

Sunlight_on-ScafellsSunrise on the Scafells

We took shelter from the wind and made the highest cup of tea in England! It was so cold the sweat in my gloves had frozen having only removed them minutes before. We spent about an hour enjoying the views and watching the light change before we headed back down to see if our tent had been ransacked by Lakeland bears!

Everything had gone perfectly and every view we saw was of pure wintry goodness. As we looked down onto Lingmel the size of our neighbours became more apparent than it had seemed from down there the day before.

winter_wonderland Descending the winter landscape

I treasured the whole descent and wished I didn’t have to leave. We could see the fog coming in from the west as the forecast had predicted. I think this was the point when I became a bit feral and the thought of the office gave me a feeling of dread. I began to understand that none of that stuff is real, its just the lives we make for ourselves and as easily as it is created it can be undone. Looking out to the west I just stood and pondered, taking in every last detail of just being there. This is a beautiful country.

absorb_landscape The life we make for ourselves

Friday, 5 December 2008

Trip Report: Lingmel & Scafell Pike – Day One

It was my turn to drive so I headed over to get Paul at around 6.30am. We’d both managed to catch the terrible cold doing the rounds at work but we’d decided to brave it with plenty of cold and flu pills. We stopped off for a full English breakfast to clog the arteries at a service station and finally arrived at Wasdale Head at just before 11. The drive deeper into the valley had revealed that the Gods had answered our prayers for snow on the tops and at this point I’d forgotten about my hideous cold!

north_wast_water_fells Yewbarrow, Great Gable & Lingmel from shore of Wast Water

We drove down to the Barn Door gear shop next to the Wasdale Head Inn as neither of us could resist the lure of a gear shop! We bought some spare batteries for the head torches and Paul finally gave in to the merits of Exped dry bags! We made our way back to the parking bay opposite the entrance to the Wasdale Head NT campsite for the starting point of the trip. As we made our final preparations at the car we were treated to some sleet but this was short lived and the sun made an appearance through the frequent openings in the cloud cover. It was looking good weather-wise and I was like a small boy itching to get into the snow.

I’d managed to resist bringing cider and had chosen my Marmot Precip over my Patagonia water-proof so my pack was a gem to put on. I set up my walking poles and we set off past the campsite and up Lingmel Gill.

Wastwater_from_Lingmel_gill

Middle Fell & Wast Water from Lingmel Gill

The temperature was fairly cool and the slight breeze coming off the mountain made it chilly when not moving. The anticipation of the snow above was almost too much to bear but hunger took over and we stopped just off the track to take on fuel. Paul mustn’t have been as hungry as me because he decided to burn half of his noodles to the bottom of his one-trick Jetboil. Utter glee is all I feel when I hear that familiar sound of Spork on carbonised food! I presented him with a small cut-off from a scouring pad I’d brought as a gift and as we cleaned up it began to snow.

snow_for_lunch Snow for Lunch

The Montane Featherlite Smock was a new item in my pack and it was worth every penny. Normally I would have worn my Marmot Precip over my base and/or midlayer to stop the wind or rain but the Featherlite was perfect and the Precip didn’t make it out of the bag, even in the snow. A highly recommended piece of kit. The walking poles took a bit of getting used to but I quickly found my flow and I could feel them taking some of the pressure of my pathetic knees. I think I was a convert by the time we had reached the snowline!

The cloud cleared as the afternoon went on and we couldn’t help but stop (at what felt like every 100m) to take a photo as the clouds did a runner and the blue sky was left to pick up the pieces.

me_at_hollow_stones

Me at Hollow Stones

Our progress wasn’t particularly slow but starting late meant there was some dynamic, real-time, micro route management to be done! We consulted the map and decided that we’d pitch on Lingmel, take advantage of the good forecast and make for Scafell Pike for sunrise. This meant we could explore Lingmel Crag and Col and enjoy the snow after we’d pitched.

I’d left the winter boots at home and was a little concerned my feet would get wet in the snow. I’d decided not buy to the Integral Designs Shortie gaiters as I wasn’t convinced I’d need them – fortunately my trial shoes performed perfectly and my trousers kept the snow out in the deeper sections.

We cleared the snow from a relatively flat spot and pitched at around 3.30pm. As we pitched we heard voices and a family of walkers made a bee line for us from the lower western slope of Scafell Pike. They were lost and wanted to make their way back to Wasdale Head. Two of the lads were German and they were excited to practice their English. They all expressed the fact that Paul and I were mad for camping this high and left us with a Christian magazine! They’ll recruit anywhere those guys – you’re not even safe at 800m! I suppose it was better then them rocking up at the tent with brief cases on Sunday morning though!

 sunset_from_lingmel

Sunset from the pitch

It was now getting cold and we had to cook. It was time for the Montane Anti-Freeze to make an appearance and it stole the show. It was perfect for milling about around the camp, cooking and just taking in the views. Another great piece of kit and the pack size and weight is fantastic. The wind picked up as the sun was setting and I had a chance to use my new windscreen in anger. Quite simply it worked a treat and made a huge difference to boil times. Paul’s Jetboil struggled a bit despite his heat exchanger and I think he realised he could do with a screen. I settled down to my beef bourguignon with rice as the sun went down behind the tent.

It’s true, winter nights are long when wild camping and Paul are had exhausted all conversation, reviewed all pictures and were in our sleeping bags for bed at about 7.30! Life inside the sleeping bag was good but outside it was freezing! We had some snow at about 12.30am which woke me and I just had to have a look. Luckily it was only a short shower and the wind had dropped, because the fly sheet wasn’t set up for any drifting snow storms! All in this was a great first day and Scafell was the target next morning……

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Early birds on Scafell

Winter nights are long - fact, Marcus wins! We were in bed for 7.30 so what did we expect? It was cold out and i was glad to have the Cumulus bag. We got up at 6 and got ourselves ready for to walk up Scafell for sunrise. It was cold but we vowed to make a brew on the summit. We found our way off track to the summit as the snow made it difficult to pick a path. We reached the summit shelter at bang on sunrise for a spectacular view as the pics show. More detailed report when i return.

All gone a wry on the Wrynose Pass

We're stranded! Things have certainly been better. Having had lunch at the Wasdale Inn we took one last look at the snow capped mountains and made for home. There is nothing quite like coming home after a night on the hill, but tonight it wasn't to be. We foolisly listened to the satnav's suggested route and the short of it is we're in the Newfield Inn with the car six miles away precariously balanced 10 metres from the top of Wrynose Pass on black ice! Not sure how we're going to escape this but we have a bed for the night and more on our predicament tomorrow.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Snowing Me, Snowing You

What a day. Started off at the wasdale head camp site with sleet and a cold wind. We're now pitched on a snow capped lingmel. Its 5pm and we've eaten and retired to the tent to thaw out! Its bloody freezing out but in our sleeping bags we're cosy. Its going to be an early night just after we've had one last brew. We changed our plan for the route after starting too late and the plan now is to try Scafell for sunrise. Its stunning up here.

We're here

Just arrived at wasdale in time for the sleet. Snow capped mountains await. Paul and i are suffering from bad colds but that hasn't stopped us coming! More when we finally get going up via lingmel.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Scafells Kit List

Kit-listAs always, here is the kit list for the trip this Friday. I spent today packing and organising my things as Charl and I have a very busy week ahead – both at work and home.

All that remains for me to do is to pack some chocolate, stuff my sleeping bag and down jacket and make a decision on footwear. 

8.8 KG all in isn’t all bad considering I’ve added walking poles and a windproof smock at 105g.

On the issue of walking poles, I have a confession I know I shall regret. I was considering the Trail Blaze poles from Bob and Rose but having never used poles before I thought they’d be a blind investment. Instead I took myself along to ‘The Maxx’ and got myself…….wait for it: a pair of children’s walking poles! I measured what length pole I’d need when I first had signs of my knee problems and 112cm is the magic number. When I found a pair of 110cm 6000 series aluminium poles at 190g each for £10, I recognised a sign from the gods when I saw one! Being small has its advantages sometimes.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Bargain clothing

Just a quick post as I am itching to tell anyone who dares stand near me for long enough.

On the last trip Paul and I were both really pleased with all of recent purchases and it was really starting to feel as though we’d found our flow with kit for the hills. However, during the changeable weather throughout our last trip, I’d noted that my layering system was a bit amateurish. The first area for improvement was a wind shirt. When the wind picked up on the move, the wind-stopper fleece was too hot to use (besides the fact its not that wind proof) and so I was adding my Marmot Precip. This was OK but still got quite warm on the move whilst a bit cold when standing. I looked at the Montane website and eventually spent some birthday money on the 2007 Featherlite Smock from Bob and Rose - on offer at £22.99. What a revelation! At 100g this thing works amazingly well for what is essentially a very thin pertex top. I’m hoping that this will work really well over my base-layer or mid-layer depending on the type of activity.

The next hole in my armour became apparent though on that night spent on Yewbarrow. The strong winds that evening really chilled the core and despite wearing all my clothes (save for gloves and the base layer for my legs) I found that standing about waiting for food was a chilly business. The tent was an option but the sunset was nice and it wasn’t raining for a change that day, so seemed a waste not to be outside.

A down or synthetic insulating layer was needed so I started looking around. There were a few options but all a bit pricey at this time of year. I’d wanted light, warm and extremely packable so looked primarily at the down jackets. I had considered the Montane Anti-Freeze, the PHD Minimus Down Jacket, the Mountain Equipment Xero and the wild card the Alpkit Fillet Vest.

Long story cut short, I decided that Christmas needed to be dealt with first and forgot about it (for about a day) and then noticed that Paul from Hike-Lite had a demo Montane Anti-Freeze on offer. At less than half price I couldn’t hesitate, I emailed a few queries and I couldn’t resist for £65.99 inc delivery – result. Review to follow on both of these items after the next trip on the 28/29th November. 8 days and counting…..

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Blue Peter Windscreen

As a spin off from my last post I was having to bring my brain out of hibernation to work out a better windscreen option for the gas stove. I’d seen some home-made options at various places on the net and decided it was time to have a go at making my own (more robust) windscreen.

My current solution consists of some spare pot cosy material from Bob and Rose which I just hinged with some aluminium tape and propped up around the stove. The strong winds at the pitch on Yewbarrow on the last trip blew the wind shield on to the stove and melted it and so here I am!

There are any number of ways to set up a suitable windscreen but I fancied the sort of task you’d get on a Blue Peter audition so set about drawing out some ideas. I then came across a site (I forget where) that seemed like a great idea. The screen had two key parts: A horizontal base which was supported by a flange on the stove body and some foil to sit on this base to act as the wind screen. I liked that it was an integrated unit and strong winds couldn’t blow the material into the burning stove as easily.

My interpretation of this design is shown below.

Windscreen

This is of course a prototype (in all honesty it probably isn't and I’ll just use this forever and never ever make another one – but it sounds good if you say the word prototype) and since this photo was taken last night (camera phone – sorry guys) I’ve drilled out around 20 13ml holes to lighten up the base.

Its made from 0.8mm thick aluminium sheet which slots in any of the two slots on the F1 light stove just above the canister connection. The two ends are curved up to create a lip for two sliding plates to secure the foil screen to the platform. Because the F1 light stove has this 1mm thick lip the screen can be swivelled around 300 degrees on the centre axis to allow for changes in the wind direction. If the wind is really bad the whole of the foil screen can be unrolled to encase the flame and protect from the wind. Because the canister is not protected on any side  and is raised off the floor by the Primus stove feet, overheating should never be a problem. In addition because the horizontal platform connects so well with the stove body it acts as a heat sink - moving heat away from the canister.

The downside is that even after weight shaving through drilling, it still weighs 48g with the foil. Bummer! I’m going to try it on the next trip on the 28th/29th of this month though to see if its worth it on those shorter, colder trips. Solo trips will always summon the God of meths and I’ll be bringing the trusty Blackfly 3.

Amen.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Stove Decisions

Since I melted my home-made windscreen on the last trip, I’ve coerced myself into thinking about what stove to take on the next trip. That being a return to Wasdale Head in the Lakes to finish what Paul and I started last time, but couldn’t finish.

It was particularly cold and windy on Yewbarrow that night and my windscreen blew in on the stove and melted whilst I was admiring the sunset. This gave way to the negative vibes about taking a canister stove over my trusty (and much loved) alcohol stoves and I vowed to have a think about what to do for next time.

When I do these trips with Paul, I don’t feel taking the alcohol stoves is appropriate most of the time as Paul takes nothing other than his one trick Jetboil which means he’s packing up and ready to rejoin the trail just as my water is starting to boil. However, I’m going to be doing a few more solo trips over the winter and I’ve decided that nothing other than an alcohol stove such as the Isofly or Blackfly 3 will make it into my pack.

This aside I have an outstanding issue then with the windscreen so I need to work out a more durable, lightweight and packable windscreen for my F1 Lite gas stove. Research required me thinks.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Wast Water Fells Kit List

I know this is a little late in the game for this, however I tried to post this on the night before the last trip – albeit unsuccessfully! Tables have a habit of upsetting Blogger or vice versa.

Here is the list of kit I took on the Wast Water Fells Trip showing everything packed, inc of food and water. Its changed significantly since previous trips and this should be more like the norm for future multi-day adventures too. The only additional item to add to this list for the next trip is a Montane Featherlite Smock – which I’m well happy with so far.

For all you gear and weight freaks – Enjoy!

Wast-Water-Weight

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Cumulus Quantum 350: An Initial Review

As promised in this post before my trip, I'm going to give an 'initial findings' review on the Cumulus Quantum 350.
My experience of down sleeping bags prior to this is non-existent so please bear this in mind whilst reading.

This was the first time I'd used it on a trip and just bringing it was proving useful - without even getting it out of its stuff sack! It packed so much easier than my last bag and my 49L Golite pack had so much more space as a result. The biggest benefit for me was the weight at 680g inclusive of the stuff sack.

Performance

The conditions/temperatures on the two nights spent using this bag were quite different, so was a good initial test.

The bag lofts really easily and a few shakes is all it needs to set it off. On the first trial on Yewbarrow (627m) it performed as I expected. The night was damp, very windy and temperature hovering around 3°C. I (as always) went to bed in my base layer and found it perfect. At around 6am I woke up feeling a cold draft on my upper body and realised I must have opened the cord around the neck baffle during the night. I closed this up and was immediately warm again.

The second night was spent at the Wasdale Head campsite in the valley where the temperatures were noticeably warmer than the previous night. Here I slept with the same base layer on and at one point in the night had to undo the draw cord to let some air in. I slept the remainder of the night like this and woke to be toasty once again!

We had very wet conditions throughout the weekend and inevitably there was an occasion when water fell in onto the bag from the baffle on the tent door. The Pertex Quantum fabric is featured throughout and as advertised beads water very well. Its also ludicrously soft against the skin which just adds to its appeal and makes you want to climb inside straight away!

FIT

I'm 5' 7" and found the bag is the perfect length for me. I'm not sure that anyone approaching 6' would fit inside quite as easily. The width of the bag is good too and I never felt it was too narrow or restrictive and it was just right to keep out any unwanted dead space inside the bag.

If I had to criticise the bag in any way based on this limited use I would pick on the hood, which I think could be just a little deeper. When you pull in the hood using the draw cord it tends to sit on the top of my head whereas I prefer my hoods to come forward over the face slightly. I suspect this is a very personal gripe and the majority of people will probably (and correctly) just think I'm an idiot!

INITIAL SUMMARY

I have to bear in mind this is my first down bag so I don't have any other experience to draw any real comparisons at this stage, but as an initial test I was suitably impressed with it. Paul, who has bought the same bag, was just as impressed as I was. He did notice that my bag seemed slightly more difficult to stuff into its sack than his and also didn't go down as small. We both found this really hard to work out but we'll weigh them both at a later date to determine if there is any measurable differences and report back.

I'll post another review once I've used the bag some more throughout the winter months

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Trip Report - Wast Water Fells Part Deux

DAY 2
Start: Yewbarrow

Finish: Wasdale Head Inn

At the time that pitch looked flat and inviting but upon reflection is was neither of those things! We both slept pretty badly and the blustery wind didn't help much. The Seedhouse SL2 stood up to it perfectly though and I was satisfied how robust it's turning out to be. The home-made footprint does exactly what I'd hoped and was hassle free to fit since I'd rigged it to connect to the tent poles in the same way the inner tent is designed to.

We woke around 7.30 and we realised we ought to get moving. The weather was closing in again and we decided to grab breakfast on the move and pack away before the rain kicked in. This had the additional benefit that Paul wouldn't have time to stick anything to his Jetboil, for now at least!

My moody 'sore-knee' face on Yewbarrow

As we moved along the backbone of Yewbarrow heading southwest to the summit cairn, I noticed my right knee was delivering the first twinges of impact damage to the cartilage. I often get this after sustained rocky descents and I was surprised it had come on so soon. We continued on to a ledge on south-west before the track just seems to fall away into slippery rock and scree. By this time I could barely bend my knee and it was becoming clear this wasn't just a passing episode. We stopped for a brew and a chocolate bar as a late breakfast whilst I let the pain killers kick in.

Paul's moody 'Marcus has a sore knee' face

As far as hills go Yewbarrow has something for everyone. The ascents from south west and north east have something for everyone, and the views from anywhere along the summit plateau give some of the best paparazzi shots of the Lake District's more famous celebs: Scafell Pike, Great Gable, Kirk Fell, Seatallan, Red Pike, and on good day even Fleetwith Pike.

View over Wast Water with Great How in the distance

The painkillers made a world of difference but I felt every step down and scree slide as we came down from Yewbarrow. Needless to say my knee wasn't happy by the time we rejoined the lower tracks and as I looked back up to YewBarrow I could see why!

Looking up to Yewbarrow from Dropping Crag

We followed the path which leads to the road alongside Wast Water and at Wasdale Head's National Trust Campsite it was decision time. The plan for today had been to get into Wasdale Head and then spend a few hours at the Inn for lunch and a few pints, before making our way up Lingmell via Brackenclose for the pitch around Lingmell Crags ready for the early Scafell Pike assault the following morning. With all this in mind I didn't feel it wise to attempt this with my dodgy knee and my injured hand. We undertook what we now refer to as realtime, dynamic route-management (also known as a change of plan) and opted for the: "camp at NT campsite and spend day in pub" option!

It was a touch annoying for me as I'd really wanted this to be a true 3 day backpack and everything bar my injured body was going extraordinarily well. The pack was comfy, my new trail shoes had kep my feet blister-free and dry, all the new gear had performed flawlessly and we were on track for a great finish. In hindsight I know I did the right thing and the way I see it its an incentive to go back and finish the remainder of the route soon. As it turned out we still had a great time but beware the power of a few too many pints of Wasd'ale
!

Paul after a few too many Wasd'Ales

I'll post detailed reviews of the new gear in due course but for now I hope you enjoy the report.

Trip Report - The Wast Water Fells

I thought I'd better be prompt with this report since I had to let you all down on the mobile blogging front during my trip. This was for number of reasons, the main being mobile signal and the other being the weather. I didn't get chance to sort out a case for my N82 and it gradually got wet/damp and decided to fail on me, losing all of my pooled postings for the blog on day one! I got it working again but mobile blogging was off my agenda by then!

DAY 1

Start: Nether Wasdale

Finish: Yewbarrow

We set off at bang on 6AM and hit the M6 - via Maccy D's of course! The weather up to Manchester was looking great but soon turned a bit moody and overcast by the time we arrived in Nether Wasdale. We parked at the Church and set off to get some miles under our belts as it was already 10.30 by the time we arrived. My pack felt like the perfect weight and I'd packed carefully this time, using the exped drybags to organise my kit. I'd foolishly packed my waterproof trousers in my clothes sack and so when the first shower of the day arrived just before we hit Greendale, I got a soaking on the legs! Luckily this cleared at the base of Middle Fell and the patches of sunshine and wind soon dried the tweeds out.

Nether Wasdale from Middle Fell

The weather, as forecast, was very unstable but it made for some dramatic landscapes. My SLR didn't make it into my pack as I was expecting bad weather and therefore limited opportunity to make use of it. Instead all of these images are taken with the N82 so apologies for that.

We stopped just short of Middle Fell's true summit at a sheltered spot for some lunch and a brew. The ocean view from here was stunning but we had to move on as we wanted to have the tent up on Yewbarrow before the sun set.

Yewbarrow from Middle Fell

It wasn't as speedy a getaway as I would have liked because Paul's 1-trick Jetboil has a penchant for burning everything he dares drop in it. This time it was noodles and an arduous scraping process ensued whilst I helped out by laughing as much as I could.

Concealed Scafell Pike from Middle Fell

For reasons I'm no longer sure of, we took the decision not to summit Seatallan and we headed directly off track to Haycock via a very boggy Pots of Ashness. The Merrell Chameleons performed brilliantly and despite the lower height of the ankle it was only a leap of misdirected faith that caused water to breach the top slightly.

Seatallan from Haycock
After a tough ascent we were greeted at Haycock with lashings of rock hard, wind-driven hail - which was nice! On a good day the view from Haycock would be impressive - today it was in the clouds so we noted how windy it was and moved on!

We followed the stone wall from the summit of Haycock to Steeple, the whole time being blasted by the side winds ripping across the ridge from the Ennerdale Valley. The visibility was was very poor at this point and missed our track to the left as we hit the top. Steeple has a summit strewn with large slippy rocks and Paul and I had to tread carefully to avoid a fall, especially considering both of our injuries. This was the first time I began to feel the effects of not being able to use my left hand, where I was conscious that extra caution and tentative steps were necessary. We fired up the GPS to locate our path just as the cloud began to clear and our mistake was obvious. Rejoining the path and heading to Red Pike the sun returned and we packed away our waterproofs for the rest of the day.
Mosedale Beck from Steeple

At this stage timing was looking a bit tight as we wanted some time to put the tent up, cook and chill out to a sunset. We pressed on down to Dore Head where we filled our Platy's for the night and prepared ourselves for the climb up Stirrup Crag onto Yewbarrow.

Wast Water from Red Pike

From Dore Head this looks every bit as exciting as it actually is and was a thrilling end to our days walking - especially with my injury! Looking back down I found it hard to believe I'd done it with one hand but don't tell Charl because I'll be in trouble!

Yewbarrow (foreground) & Scafell Pike (background) from Red Pike

We easily found a pitch on Yewbarrow with an unhindered view of Scafell Pike and set about making camp. We just caught the orange and pinks of the setting sun and at the time were happy with our choice of pitch. Burnmoor tarn was visible to the south as was the Wasdale Inn down in the valley. The wind picked up again and was bitingly cold for October.

View of Scafells from pitch on Yewbarrow

MWIS had quoted -5 in the wind which prob wasn't too much of an exaggeration at that point. Paul and I had arranged to share the cooking of a curry and rice for tea so we both got layered up on the clothing and set about cooking. My F1 lite stove struggled with the strong wind until I managed to find a spot behind a rock. My homemade windbreak just kept flapping around and once the water was boiled it was into the pot cosy to finish cooking the rice. Once again, I thoroughly endorse cookiing i this way as it just so much more efficient and convenient. The MytiMug worked fine and the handles never did get as hot as I had predicted. We cracked open the ciders and sat with head torches enjoying the curry which I wolfed down as fast as I could just to get out of the wind. It was an amazing night with a full moon and partially clear sky. We just sat talking and watching the stars with the tent door open until I got tired and moody and went to bed at about 11pm.

Sunset from the pitch


Wednesday, 15 October 2008

15 hours til Nether Wasdale

I don't mind admitting it, I'm bloody excited about going away. I was on the edge before I went and injured my hand 3 weeks ago and had to postpone - so you can imagine what I'm like now!

The hand isn't great but enough that I will get by on the hill with some sensible planning no tomfoolery!

I've got my bag packed and ready and in a few hours I'll be in Nether Wasdale for the start of a 3 day adventure.

I've got loads of kit to try and report back on:
Cumulus Quantum 350
Aquagear Survivor
Alpkit MytiMug
Nokia N82
Powerchimp (V2) Emergency Charger
Marmot Precip Waterproof
Merrell Chameleon Wrap Slam Trail Shoes

I've yet to sort out my final food choices so once I've done this and weighed it I'll post my weight list for this trip. At the moment it's looking good even with 3 days of food and other 'essential' items included - good times.

As before, I'll be posting on the move via mobile blogging so pop back over the weekend for updates.

Roll on 6AM!




Thursday, 9 October 2008

Just Can't Leave It Alone

I have exactly a week to go before the next trip in the Lakes and I just cannot wait. My last outing was the end of July on the Coniston circuit and I've racked up some new kit that is crying out to be tested.

Having sorted the 'expensive' items on my kit wish list I thought I'd have a break and just enjoy my new found lightness and forget about gear - at least for a while. Well, that didn't happen and I've been looking at my cookware. Baz Carter (off of Baz'z Backpacking Blog) recently documented his 'Cookware Evolution' and I think this has started a kind of mid-life crisis in my own cookware.

I have always been stupidly excited about making and using alcohol stoves, and in fact this is the area where I bought my first piece of lightweight kit. I now own various alcohol stoves from minibulldesign and my cooking pot has always been the Heineken mini-keg that works so well with most of Tinny's stoves. Its light at 60g (including a heat-proof binding of fibreglass wick) and with a pot cosy is a proven, efficient pot. Why then have I just aksed for a titanium pot weighing 110g for my Birthday?!!

My excuse that follows is somewhat indicative of my own evolution in backpacking philosphy, looking outside of the lightweight box if you will....

Whilst my Heineken pot is clearly lightweight, efficient and great value for money it poses a few niggly issues which can combine to become a little annoying. The first problem is when using a conventional gas canister stove where you can't store the gas canister inside the pot. No big deal but when everything else but the canister does fit inside its harder to store all the cookware in one dinky package. The other issue is cleaning where the concave base forms a hard to reach ring where food loves to get stuck!

I had a dilemma when choosing an alternative pot because I wanted lightweight and efficient but became seriously tempted by the Primus EtaPower pot with heat exchanger. At 295g including lid its not that light for a pot but would be efficient on gas and everything would stow inside it nicely. After days of pondering I have finally decided on the MytiMug from Alpkit as its the lightest/cheapest 750ml titanium pot I could find at 110g and £25. It's by no means perfect but it will now mean all my cookware fits in one compact place and will be easy to clean. Cookware karma restored.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Losing Weight Whilst Getting Fat

Whilst laid up for the past few days now I had to make the most of the time devoid of human contact - the time when normal people go to work! I haven't been particularly dexterous due to the injury so I've had to find other ways of keeping myself away from Jeremy Kyle and that jumped-up pensioner claiming to be Judge Judy.

Losing weight
It is highly likely that I will pile on the weight now I'm inherently less active and to compensate my sub-conscious mind got me thinking about the pack weight!
I decided I'd have a look at my gear list on the spreadsheet again to work out the expected weight of the pack now that I've upgraded some gear and lost a few unnecessary items since Coniston.

The Cumulus sleeping bag has made a huge difference as expected but its the other 'ancillary' items that have began to knock off the weight too. I've changed my fleece layer which shaved off nearly 100g. On top of this I'm being treated to an Aquagear Survivor water filter for my birthday which saves 275g on my MSR Miniworks.

My Nokia N82 is performing the duties of a camara/GPS as well as a phone so saves around 100g if I factor in the Icon-X emergency charger to keep it juiced.

Although last time I planned to bring an empty pillow case (and fill it with spare clothes) I lost my way with this idea before I packed and ended up using my 180g 'pointless pillow'. Now I've got a better, proven solution. That is I will use the terracotta Exped dry bag from the Cumulus sleeping bag and fill that with clothes. Because you can trap air inside the bag as well as the clothes for filling, you can really get a plump, usable pillow. This solution also saves me 125g despite accounting for the 55g dry bag.

Retail therapy is always easier than physio therapy so I popped over to TK MAX today having been given the nod about some cheap Marmot gear. I picked up a Marmot Precip water-proof for £30 and this has inadvertently saved me 98g on my TNF water-proof.

These little things and the sleeping bag have saved me over 1900g and I'm adopting the trail shoes approach with the Merrells so I am once again lightening the load there too. I'm pretty excited about getting out to enjoy the hills again and even more so knowing I'll be able to forget about the weight even more than last time.

Pack weight to date excluding food/water: a shade under 6kgs!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Little Accident, Lot of Trouble

It has all gone a bit wrong for me over the past 23 hours or so. Last night when riding home from work I lost control and managed to clip my handle bars on a metal railing at speed. I don't remember much of what happened next because I was knocked unconscious, but I clearly landed on my head and face and managed to break my 4th and 5th Metacarpals on my left hand.

My sincere thanks to my good friend Jim who brought me round, called the ambulance and carried two mountain bikes home on his own!

Today I had to attend the Fracture Clinic and my 3 day trip in the lakes next week is looking like a tall order. Doctor says three weeks until movement is recommended and 6 weeks for full recovery. Needless to say I'm not the happiest individual around (especially since typing is a huge part of my job and its a one-hand chore right now) and I'm just concentrating on being well enough to do the Wast Water trip next weekend. Fingers crossed - OUCH!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Stuff it

This is mainly for Shuttleworth but I guess this might be of interest to others too. When taking the photos yesterday I didn't want to come across like a real amateur who just got his first down bag, so didn't take a picture of it in the stuff sack!

Well, here it is for your viewing pleasure. Its stood next to a 1 litre wide-neck Nalgene bottle for scale.

Surprisingly you can compress the bag more but I'm a little nervous about.....man handling it since its so new! I don't think you would need it much smaller but I have tried it in a 5L Exped drybag (the yellow one) and because you can expel all of the air from the bag and close it off to prevent the bag lofting, it stays a lot smaller. I'm not sure if keeping it like this for any extended period would affect its performance but I won't personally be using this method for space saving purposes.

Anyway, hope this helps.

Saucy Pics of My New Sleeping Partner

Well not quite but I thought it might stimulate interest. I bet my Google stats have gone through the roof!

Anyway, hi folks. Some pictures of the new bag to wet the appetite. From feedback it seems I'm not alone in the lunacy stakes and my behaviour since receiving my first down sleeping bag is strangely normal!

Apologies for the pictures my DIY studio in the loft has had to be set aside for helicopter tuning hence the bad lighting and angles. Sleeping bags aren't particularly photogenic though either!

Here it is in the supplied storage sack. I think I'm going to hang it in the loft when not in use - just for peace of mind.


This shows the foot box construction which feels particularly plump for extra toastie feets.

Cumulus' Quantum range don't feature a full neck baffle. Instead to save weight they feature a 'Neck Warmer'! I was sceptical of this until it arrived but as you can see the it pretty much resembles a top loaded baffle - scepticism subdued!

Guess What I Got Last Night?

Walked in after work and there it was, a large brown paper parcel with my name on it - a new Cumulus Quantum 350.

Not being that bothered about its arrival I just let it sit there unopened for several hours before I fought back the boredom and opened it. That didn't happen - I bloody legged it upstairs before tearing it out its packaging and jumping inside the thing like a real twerp!

The first thing I noticed was how soft and surprisingly nice the Pertex Quantum material is. It feels luxurious compared to my old Vango bag. It came in its mesh storage bag and once out it lofted so much that at first I couldn't envisage it ever going inside its tiny stuff sack! Its quite amazing how small this thing packs and you will be pleased to know that it does indeed fit.

Initial impressions are that it seems very well made, with a slim yet comfortable fit. The foot area has been constructed with extra fill for warmth (this is immediately obvious) and the one-handed draw-string for the hood/neck does what it says on the tin. I gingerly tested the DWR treatment on the outer of the bag to find that also performs as promised in the marketing blurb, the water beading nicely on top.

Clearly I'm yet to test it on the hill but so far I'm very impressed, especially with the weight. As I've hinted at before, the bag marks a bit of a milestone for me as my coming of age in lightweight wild camping.

A full review with follow once I've used it (Wast Water fells circuit in October) and I'll post some detailed pictures tonight when I get a spare moment for those who haven't seen one up close and personal yet.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Trip Preparations - Wast Water Fells

Since the next trip location and route have been decided I thought I'd make a start on the necessary arsing about, getting a few things ready.

The Big Agnes gets her second outing but this time she will house both Paul and I and so I had to make an important addition to the tent bag – a footprint. I knew when I bought the Seedhouse SL2 I would eventually need a footprint as the groundsheet isn't thin its almost molecular! On the Coniston trip I found a great pitch and since it was being used solo I wasn't so worried. This time however, with two of us in it, I don't want to risk a hole or a tear so yesterday after painting the hall (oh the glamour) I set about making my own lightweight footprint.

I ordered some 70gsm waterproof rip-stop nylon from Penine Outdoors and aside from it being a gopping green is perfect the job. I set about marking the outline of the tent by simply drawing around it and then cut inside the line by around an inch. I then just measured 4 lengths of webbing strap and set about attaching eyelets to insert the tent poles into.



Now I have a fully secured footprint which packs down really small and the whole thing only adds 145g to the weight. I doubt I'd need this so much when going solo but, given that Paul and I are sharing the load of the tent, this is a small price to pay for the extra protection.

Those who read the post below might be interested to know that I am now the owner (although it is yet to arrive) of a 665g Cumulus Quantum sleeping bag. This is going to make such a huge difference to my pack in terms of weight and bulk. This purchase alone has saved me 1185g and enough space in the pack for a few extra layers, more food, or just a less bulky pack.

One other trial I had to perform was in relation to the Icon-X emergency charger. I have been using the Nokia N82 for a month or so now but I have never tried to charge it from flat using this new technique. I'm glad I did try this before using in the field because I have found that a standard 1.5v AA battery does not have enough grunt to instigate a charge cycle. It must just be that the charging circuit in the phone needs more voltage input to get the thing going because if the phone has any charge in it when I plug it in to the emergency charger, it will happily charge away. I can get over this by making sure I don't let it run flat and charge it before the phone turns off. Moreover, I have also found that rechargeable Ni-MH do actually work and seem to deposit more charge than a standard alkaline battery. I think the perfect combo is going to be a standard Alkaline to kick off a charge and the rechargeable to give it a boost. Glad I have the sad side that made me check this now. “There's a good geek”!

I have a few more things to do before I think about my final kit list and that is to proof my LiteSpeed backpack – an arduous but worthwhile chore me thinks...

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Sleeping Bag Encounters of the Out of Stock Kind

The ongoing upgrades to my kit list took a drastic hit yesterday when Alpkit confirmed that they wouldn't be getting any more Pipedream 400 sleeping bags in until November. Normally this wouldn't have been a problem but with my Birthday fast approaching and the October trip planned for the weekend before, I'd taken the executive decision that I'd treat myself to a new warmer, lighter sleeping bag. I have spent a small portion of my life deciding on what I needed and how much I'd need to spend to get it. The Alpkit bag was an attractive and very viable option for obvious reasons so I was sold on the dream that this little problem was sorted. Not so.

Now I've had to have a re-think and its a serious one because nothing touches this bag on spec for the same money. Increasing the budget now I know the Pipedream is out there means I'm looking for something that is either lighter/smaller/warmer - or all three. Enter the Cumulus Quantum 350. Its slightly more expensive but on paper weighs in at 665g, has Pertex Quantum fabric and packs down really small. Why did they have to go and do that!

Now I have a dilemma because my current bag weighs nearly two kilos and is now the weakest element of my kit and in fact the only item letting me down on weight and, more importantly, a warm nights sleep. I've read a few reviews on the Cumulus bag and from the limited number I've found they are well made and perform well.

Its on offer at the moment with £30 off, surely this is a sign from the God's that we're meant to be together.....and by the 2nd October....clearly

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

I'm alive, I'm just waiting!

I just wanted to make this clear as I haven't posted for a while and I now seem to hate losing touch with...well no one in particular, but if you're a blogger - you know what I mean.

I've not been doing much in terms of getting outdoors lately, not least because I picked up a bit of a cold and then a chest infection which left me feeling a bit deflated.

I'm not sure if I mentioned it on the blog but some work colleagues and I had planned to complete the Yorkshire Three Peak Challenge on Saturday 30th, but since I hadn't fully recovered I had to do the sensible thing and drop out. In a suspicious show of solidarity (more likely a lack of interest) the guys were happy to postpone the trip until another time - Funny that!

Given that I had expected to be doing the challenge and I knew I was gearing up for a two day backpacking trip in October, I decided I would see if this trail shoe phenomenon is a stroke of genius or another lesson for the novice! I had read an article in Trail from PTC I found the whole idea intriguing. Not because I was surprised by the claim that trail shoes could change your experience on the hill but because I'd always found I move with more confidence in shoes rather than boots and this was getting me thinking.

I looked at the key brands and models and decided to get out and try a few on. I'd read a lot about The North Face Hedgehogs but they are in limited stocks everywhere at the minute so couldn't try on my size. I tried on a pair of Vindicators but I'd decided on a waterproof shoe if I was going to risk these for anything but winter use.
I tried on a pair of Merrell Chameleon Wrap Slam XCR's and they felt really good in all the right places. I tried on a pair of Scarpa Enigmas but I didn't feel that the heel was deep enough for my profile and to be quite honest wasn't excited by the style. I tried on the Merrell's again, went away and thought about it, tried them on again and bought a pair! Oh how I come on since the Brasher disaster!

The Three Peaks trip would have been a good introduction for them but now it looks as though I'll be trying for the first time in October. I have one concern so far and that is their ability to grip on slippery surfaces like wet brick, and I'm hoping this isn't the case on wet rock - like everything though I guess time will tell.

Having worn them for a few hours walking to work recently, I am seriously excited about the positive effects the reduction in weight and increased fluidity of movement will bring to my time on the hill. I'm not sure if this is true but I read somewhere in this crazy world that weight savings at your feet count for a larger proportion than in your pack. I think this might have been you PTC in Trail but I've been to sleep since then so correct me I'm wrong here! I'll let you know how I get on with this after the October trip.

All the best folks.