Saturday 21 March 2009

Along With The Ticket Came The Wind

So last weekend I headed out as planned. The last minute change of plan was in my favour as it saw me on the hill a week earlier. The Gods must have laughed as I foolishly joked about them asking for their gift of the early outing back. Gutted is all I can say right now.

I headed up to Grasmere with a laid back attitude…..the work was short and I had time to play with for a change. I parked the car and wondered out of the village with a look of glee on my face….that was a mistake!


The path running along Sour Milk Gill

I walked up to Easedale Tarn via the path running by Sour Milk Gill, which was thundering down the hillside with some gusto. I decided to stop for lunch by the tarn and it was here where the cracks in the trip began to appear! Once at the tarn I felt the wind, which was really whipping across the water at this point. It wasn’t in any one direction so trying to keep the mini atomic going proved a little difficult to say the least. I used half a blue meths bottle just boiling 350ml of water! I tried sheltering behind a considerable rock but the wind won out – as it usually does!

grasmere_from_Sourmilk Back to Grasmere from Sour Milk Gill

eagle_crag_from_easedale_ta Eagle Crag and Belles Knott from the path alongside Easedale Tarn

Despite the stove problems it was nice to sit back and take in the view. Lots of people passed by in both directions and besides the wind the weather was nice. Good rolling clouds surrounded by blue sky made for some nice photos. I packed away and headed up the pack via Belles Knot and and Eagle Crag.

slapstone_edge_from_easedal The view to Slapstone Edge at Lunch

The route is full of interest with the tarns, the stepping stones across the boggy sections and various streams. I passed a fairly big group of woman descending the path who stopped and chatted. The warning signs were there now that I look back and remember them all grimacing when I mentioned camping at Harrison Stickle – their faces still mostly covered by hoods despite being well of the summits! It became apparent that it might be more lively up there than the forecast had suggested! I continued on with a view to weighing up the options for shelter etc once I’d got nearer to Harrison Stickle.

back_to_easedale_tarn Easedale Tarn and Grasmere from Blea Rigg

As I came over the top of the path to the rough plateau above Blea Rigg I was blown over and caught completely off guard. I righted myself and checked nobody else had seen me make an arse of myself. I took a few photos whilst leaning into the regular gusts and I deciding that the Pavey Ark ascent to Harrison Stickle might not be as enjoyable in these conditions and instead headed north west to High Raise

stickle_tarn_pavey_ark Pavey Ark and Stickle Tarn from Blea Rigg

I could barely walk the wind was so strong, which was quite exhilarating and a bit knackering at the same time! I knew before I even got to Harrison Stickle that I wouldn’t be pitching my tent but I just couldn’t let it go until I got there! There was no shelter from that wind and I had concerns about the tent for obvious reasons. 

easedale_tarn_flareSetting sun over a blowy Easedale Tarn

I eventually took the decision that the wild camp was off and made a sulky descent back into Grasmere. This is the first time I’ve had to abandon a planned wild camp , which at the time I found very disappointing. However, looking back it was absolutely the right decision and at very least I’ve found a rewarding and dramatic route to return and try again.

Saturday 14 March 2009

Lunch at Easedale Tarn.

Well i'm here and i've just stopped for some grub. It's windy and the stove doesn't like it much. Nice day for a walk though. On to stickle tarn next and then onto harrison stickle. Hope wind dies down for the camp tonight but hey can't have it all!

Friday 13 March 2009

I’ve got my ticket and I’d like to see em come try and take it back!

I did something good at some point, I must have. I don’t know what or when, but whatever or whenever it seems the Gods like it and in return they have granted me early leave for the hills. What a result! I just hope they haven't got their records wrong and claw it back later!

The original plan was to head out next weekend but something came up and so that plan was scratched. Instead though I've managed to squeeze some time out of this weekend and I'll be heading to Grasmere on Saturday morning. I’m pretty flexible on the exact route as I’ve never been around the Langdale Pikes but I’ll be heading out from Grasmere with a view to a short circular of around 11-12 miles with a wild camp.

So the bag is packed and all that remains is to decide on food. I've got a dehydrator now but with the antics in the kitchen etc I've not really had time to experiment so I think it will be the usual stuff. I'll definitely be making up a sweet Bannock Bread mix for afters though as its worth its weight as treat.

This is another solo trip so I'm trying to keep the weight down. Normally Paul and I would take half of the tent each so with the whole tent this time I've decided to save 115g by leaving the tent footprint out. In addition I'm swapping my F1 lite stove and titanium pot setup for the MiniBullDesign mini atomic, small 16oz pot and the larger Ziploc container from the Gramweenies Kitchen (24oz??). This lot saves me somewhere around 150-200g and my small sleeping mat saves another 140g. I'll never get it down to the low 8kg mark I usually take but its looking like it will end up somewhere around the 9.4kg mark including food and water.

Unfortunately I've added a little more weight to the pack by bringing the new Canon Ixus which weights in at 180g or so, where normally I would use the camera on my N82. I can live with the 180g but then I've got a small Lowepro weatherproof bag for it that adds another 120g. I think I'm going to have to study Colin Ibbotson's pages on making a sub 20g DIY lightweight camera bag for the next trip!

As usual I'll try and post my final kit list (time permitting) tonight and I'll be posting from the hills if I can get a signal.

Friday 6 March 2009

Rab Vapour Rise Trail Smock and Montane Scarab

As part of my search for a replacement midlayer, I came across this curious notion of the "soft shell". I finally got my head around that idea but then had the even harder task of working out which one.

I realised I was better off not looking for a soft shell as such but for something that might match my needs as closely as possible.

I wanted a top to act as a replacement mid-layer to my Berghaus micro fleece with the added benefit of a little more wind and water resistance, preferably a bit more insulation and a hood.
I found a number of items that met this criteria and decided I'd start with the cheapest - I can't help myself!

I went for a Rab Vapour Rise Smock and a Montane Scarab. I wanted to compare these two simply as they are both made from Pertex Equilibrium and both (unsurprisingly) offer a similar spec. The Rab VR (in size small) weighs in at 515g and the Scarab (in size medium) is 475g. I couldn't get a Scarab in small at the time and hence the medium size for this review (and the medium was on offer and I thought I'd risk it!).

Rab Vapour Rise:

The Pertex outer is soft and a little stretchy which is great for freedom of movement. I wanted a fairly snug fit so went with a small and I'd say this is perfect for me. There is a technique to getting in it but once its on it feels like its tailored. The shell is very windproof but not sacrificing of breathability and venting is helped by the long two-way zipper at the front and the chest pocket. The inner fabric is a fluffy micro wicking liner throughout the garment which adds a little warmth and aids moisture transport. The liner is nice against the skin and works with or without a base layer. I think the liner adds little insulation but with the wind resistant outer the benefit is slightly more than you might expect. The build quality seems good (despite quite a few disgruntled owner reviews) but I think only time will tell just how tough the fabric is and if the sewing really is as sound as it first appears. The hood is a fixed one with volume adjustment at the back, a wired peak and cord adjustment at the front. I got this fitting perfectly within seconds of first putting it on and have done every time I've used it. I like that the fact that it just works exactly as it should. I will add that the hood contains this fluffly micro liner too if that's of interest to anyone?

In short I like it. Its got a nice cut, good adjustments, is definitely very water resistant and the hood is great. It certainly replaces a micro-fleece and wind shirt and adds value by being a mid and outer layer for all but the worst of weather. I've worn it a few times now but the best test so far was a quick circular walk up to Glen Stank in Strathyre this weekend. It was a mixed bag of weather with wind and rain being quite prolific. It beads the water very well and I remained at a comfortable temperature throughout the day. My only criticism at this stage is that 515g is positively heavy in my book! I've no experience with Pertex Equilibrium but will be watching the durability closely.

Montane Scarab
This is a jacket as opposed to a smock but is lighter than the Rab VR at 475g in a medium. The Scarab differs in others ways too with Montane using varying thicknesses of Pertex in appropriate places to increase breathability and save weight. The inner is made of DryActiv zones (mesh bits to you and I) which means it doesn't offer as much insulation as the VR but is more breathable as result. Like the Rab, its well made but I have noticed that there are some loose threads around the collar and the top panel of the shoulder. Probably not anything to worry about but it does niggle once you know its there!

The fit (which I can't compare directly with the Rab VR as its a different size) is good but slightly more square cut and a little shorter. The first thing I noticed was the size of the gap around the neck when the jacket is fully zipped up. Its a little large to say the least and to the point where it looks a bit ridiculous! I've not worn it out in a gale but I think this would be a problem on a cold wet day, probably only solved by wearing a Buff or other form of neckwear to plug the gap. The hood is a roll-away type and fits well too - but I would never bother to roll it back into the collar as, like most, its a bit of a ball ache.

The fabric beads water as it should and like the Rab I guess time would tell as to the longevity of the DWR and the toughness of the fabric. The thing I like most is the different thickness of Pertex dotted about the jacket


In honesty I wasn’t expecting to like the Rab as I seem almost predisposed to Montane these days, but it turned out the opposite. The Scarab isn’t bad at what it does – it’s lighter and more technical but that neck would be a problem for me. Its ‘horses for courses’ though and I think the Rab offers more warmth with the micro wicking liner and so suits the majority of my walking. The Scarab would almost certainly be better as a mid-layer in warmer months with its underarm breathable panels and DryActiv inner.

I need to experiment with some different materials from the various offerings but for now I’m sticking with the VR Trail Smock.

Rab VR Trail SmockMe, making perfectly good looking outdoor clothing look terrible.

Thursday 5 March 2009

15 days and Counting

Praise to the Gods - I’m going out! Its ridiculous that its going to be nearly 3 months since the last wild camp on the Scafell trip!

We went for a walk out in Strathyre forest last weekend and to get my gear on and don a pack increased my itch, my 3 month itch to get out to the hills!

I think I’m going to try the Langdales for size this time. Been looking at the map and reading others’ routes and I think I’ll start from Grasmere. This is going to be a quick one nighter so was looking for an easy ingress and extraction point (they say things like that in the army sometimes – well they do in the movies anyway) so I was going to aim for a little place above Thirlmere (a place I spotted on a map a while ago) but I think Grasmere is just as easy.

I’m hoping this time of year it will a little less crowded but I’m planning on keeping away from the troublesome areas in any case. Needless to say I’m all over it and cant wait…