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.


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!


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!


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

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!


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.