Sunday 22 November 2009


So as part of my move over to Ubuntu, I've just taken a realy old slow laptop from the ice age and installed Ubuntu 9.04 on it.

I can tell you, it bloody works and its fast too. Charl has been hogging the netbook we didn't need and wouldn't use so now I can get on the net in the lounge whilst Charl updates her Facebook with gay abandon!

As always though, there's the blogging problem as I use Windows Live Writer. I just found a tool called Scribefire and is a plugin for Firefox so can be used on PC or Linux. Sweet.

Does it work? Can I format a picture?

Saturday 7 November 2009

Hip Belt Pockets

In anticipation of the impending review of the Ultra light Gossamer Gear Gorilla pack……

Last night as I pushed open the front door I could hear that familiar sound of a packet being brushed aside along the floor– I bloody love that.

Back in Sept when I ordered the Gossamer Gear Gorilla, like the blithering idiot I can be, I made the mistake of not ordering the hip belt pockets at the same time. Back then I was so excited to have received the pack in time for the Scotland trip (thanks to Grant) that I didn’t fret about the absence of waist level storage and saw it as an opportunity to try with some gusto the OMM Trio chest pouch.

In short, whilst the pouch worked fine I just didn’t get on with it. Besides making me look like an overzealous member of a SWAT team, over time it became tedious to have to arrange myself, the pack and the pouch each time I had to down tools. On a short trip it probably wouldn’t be quite so annoying but I just missed the convenience of the hip belt pockets in terms of position and comfort.

After a bit of research I decided on the pockets (size medium) supplied by Mountain Laurel Designs as user experience seemed to suggest these were more robust and kept their shape a little better than the competition. I ordered a pair and an internal mesh storage pouch at the same time. A few weeks ago, a packet was brushed aside by my front door but I opened it to find the mesh pouch and only one pocket. A quick email to Ron Bell and voila, the other one arrived last night.

Mountain Laurel Designs Hip Belt Pocket The pocket attached to the belt via the elasticated loops

I’ve fitted them to the pack via the elasticated straps, and secured both in position by way of the plastic clips that lock directly to the webbing of the belt. This isn’t ideal for the Gorilla as the straps are a little too wide for the clip but I’ve attached one at each end to stop the pocket from moving along the belt as tends to happen when operating the zips a few times.

Overall I’m really pleased with the quality of the pockets and by nature of the construction in Dyneema with water resistant zip, they should keep a bit of weather out at least - I always use ziplock bags for my phone and camera anyway but its good to know.

The elasticated loops at the rear The pockets can be made to fit almost any pack with either the elasticated loops or the webbing clips supplied.

The medium size will hold a fair few bits and bobs and I intend on using one to hold my camera and phone and the other for money, cards, and choccy bars. I can just about get four Mars Bars in one if that helps gauge the size for anyone who’s interested!

Bear in mind that these are made of quite thick Dyneema X with fairly substantial zip pulls so could always be lighter. So as you will have guessed I’ve weighed them (with Dyneema pull cords attached to the zip) and the all up weight is 28g each, which isn’t bad considering the OMM Trio pouch weighs in at 125g.

Each pocket weighs 28 grams Robust but light at 28g

Now to just get out and use them….

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Swedish Storage Is A Wonderful Thing


With winter well on its way and getting out invariably even more infrequent, I decided I’d use the time wisely to sort out my gear. Living in a 1901 Victorian terraced house means that space is a forgotten luxury and so I’ve been using the loft conversion to house my ever growing mounds of kit. The Scotland trip took its toll on the poor old loft with most of the free floor space covered in bits of gear - laid out in preparation. I’ve never had anywhere specific to store it all so it started getting difficult to find things like spare batteries for the head torch and so on, so I finally decided that enough was enough.

I spent Saturday morning at IKEA and managed to find a versatile yet cheap storage combo. As the system is modular I can add to it for next to nothing, thus making more room for more kit*.

This small development now means I have all my various bits of kit organised and easily accessible. I’m surprised how much easier it makes sorting things out. Just knowing how many soups I have left and where my toilet trowel's hiding is a revelation – better late than never I suppose.

*Charl, that was just a silly little joke for the readers and in no way implies that I’ll buy any more kit ever again.**

**Forgive me father for I have sinned…..!

Sunday 1 November 2009

Trip report: Day 4 – Evanton to Ullapool

The night was fairly uneventful, save for the brisk wind that thought nothing of just waltzing on through the tent for most of the night. I had to get up at around 3am for a toilet break and pondered the benefits of a shewee whilst donning my crocs and cursing all the way to the designated spot for the toilet.  Creag-an-Duine-Sunrise The sun creeps slowly along the valley

By morning the wind was still having a go but as I unzipped the door I was met with a glorious sunny morning. The gentle trickle of the stream to my right sounded particularly good as I made as much noise as possible to ‘accidently’ wake Paul in return for the previous days antics. Although not perfectly level we had found quite a good spot and the tent was pitched fit for a catalogue pose, and I was first to venture out take in the mornings offering. It was great.

pitch-at-sunrise A bright but cold start on day 4

The light slowly crept up Creag an Duine as the sun came up, the wash in the stream was freaking cold refreshing and it was a good place to be. I could have stayed there all day in that very spot. It was quite chilly so we boiled some water for breakie and a brew whilst prancing about in our down jackets like a pair of twerps. I merely confirmed this fact as I set the camera up to take some ‘Neanderthals in their natural habitat’ snaps, running in and out of shot before the timer went off.

Morning_at_camp_day4 Two twerps in down jackets.

This morning it was porridge with golden syrup and it really was no chore to stand and wait for it to cook. At home I’m peering impatiently into the microwave and zapping my retinas in the hope that might speed things up. We ate and pulled out the map to go over the plan. Today was an easy one and last nights little jaunt made it even easier as we were now closer to Loch Damph – our target for the day. We were going to take a look around the Loch and see if we could find a pitch somewhere overlooking it on the north east side and /or try the bothy. We were both quite pleased to be having a short day and I for one was looking forward to a swim in the loch if the weather stayed good.


We packed up set off at around 9.00am and everything just felt good. My sore feet were now rested and ready for another day and I could almost forget I was wearing the pack. We picked up the track and as we looked back to the pitch spot we caught sight of a man clad in tweed with red gaiters who was fishing as he walked downstream. He eventually caught us up and we chatted briefly and he offered to take a photo of us both. We knew there and then that he was one of the guests at the bothy further up the glen and were glad we’d not pursued a night there after all. He looked at our packs with slight confusion but wasn’t brave enough to ask and we didn’t offer. We forded the river a few times before branching off east on the landrover track. I’d wanted to chat gear and record a podcast but as we chatted it became apparent that the wind was all that could be heard so we just talked gear. Shame really as it would have made for a good podcast. It felt as though we’d only just started walking when the track branched off north towards the loch and turned into a faint trail.


The weather was stunning and we were in our element just wondering about the highlands with not a care in world. It was breezy but the sun just got warmer making a base layer too hot at times.

The loch came into view and we dropped down to the shore to take lunch.By now our feet were getting sore once again so the shoes came off and the dreaded crocs went on just to get some air on the skin.


The Sitlight pad that cushions the back of the Gorilla Pack had developed this awful stench and it wasn’t until I put the bag down that I found it wasn’t me. The smell was neither sweat or chemical and seemed to go as the pad cooled off so was puzzled to say the least.





lunch_at_loch_daimhWe skimmed some stones until our arms ached and then ate a leisurely lunch on the stony shore at the south end of the Loch. The sun was beginning to burn but it felt so amazing as we just lazed about. Now, in hindsight, lazing is quite dangerous for me and Paul. All sorts of ideas are allowed to fester as we do nothing and soak up the atmosphere and it was here that a little change of plan occurred. We decided that as it was so early and such a great day we’d not settle at the bothy at the northern end of the loch, but continue on and find a pitch somewhere in Glen Achall. We’d seen the amazing cliff face of the glen from Seana Braigh the day before and it looked stunning and so we re-hung the bags and set off with a new purpose. It was around 2 by now and we talked beer and fantasised about what we’d eat on Sunday in Ullapool. For the first time we began to walk separately as we dropped down into the Glen.

East_ridorrach_lodge Our first sight of the lodge as we approach Glen Achall

We could see the river and began to hatch our plan. The idea was to pitch by the river between the trees East Ridorrach Lodge, pitch the tent and then lay back on the Neoair as the evening drew in. We’d wash some clothes and rig a line so we’d be fresher for the pub in Ullapool. The weather began to cloud and the sunshine became more intermittent but it made for some dramatic landscapes. As we got to the Lodge we realised that we had misread the map and the wooded area by the river was more open than we had imagined. My water drinking was rife again and I stopped at the next stream to fill my platy. Here, there was a shift in the force and something changed….

We were suddenly taking a hidden vote as to whether we should continue on in to Ullapool or head back into the glen to find a pitch. We tried to guess what the weather would do and after much deliberation we decided we’d head on into Ullapool and enjoy two evenings enjoying the local hospitality instead of just one. This was by no means the easier option but for some reason it just felt like the thing to do. We knew it would be a tough walk in as our feet were already hurting after days spent on them pounding over rough terrain. The glen opened out and we saw our first civilians of the 4 days approaching the footbridge from the lodge.

glen_achall_2 Creag Ruadh from Glen Achall

The map suggested it was track/road pretty much the way on into Ullapool and the prospect wasn’t sitting well with my feet. I started to feel a bit sad that it was about to be all over but this quickly subsided when I realised we had a fair bit of walking to do before that! Knowing that we would be eating real food we no longer had to ration our treats and snacks and ate them like Charley with his Wonka bar on his birthday! Our pace was good again, especially on the level terrain and it wasn’t long before Loch Achall came into view. The sky was looking a bit aggravated and photo stops became a must.

moody_glen_achall Back to Creag Ghrianach from the glen

We were soon at the eastern end of the loch and we couldn’t believe our progress. The idea was to get to Ullapool whenever we happened to rock up but suddenly it looked as though we would make it by around 6pm and could relax with a beer and food for a little longer!

Glen Achall is a beautiful glen and I would love to visit it again some day. It was windy on the shore of the loch and we caught sight of some very large fish leaping out of the water – I just wish I knew about fish and could tell what it was! As we reached the boathouse we looked back the way we had came and for me it was almost like saying goodbye.

loch_achall Back to Glen Achall from the boathouse

The presence of civilisation was now apparent as 2 4x4s fully loaded with gear and people thundered down the track. They hardly spared us a glance but already I was trying to remember how to communicate with other people having been out for so long! Whilst we continued on into Ullapool, in the moments of silence I thought about the previous 3 days and everything that we’d experienced. Today had been amazing weather wise and we were hopeful about fair weather in Ullapool. The forecast I’d been given at Craigdon’s on Wednesday had suggested Sunday might be wet but for now we were still dry!

The Sitlight pad on the pack was starting to hum again and when the wind got behind me I could smell the horrid hum. I was really worried about taking this stench into Ullapool and hoped the facilities at the hostel would mean I could clean it.

Before long, we’d reached the western end of the loch and way ahead of time. The adventure was far from over though as we found the bridge over the river had been washed away and it looked as though we’d have to embark upon some ridiculously big leaps of faith! Having followed the river along it became apparent that the crocs would have to go on unless we continued further up to the road bridge and this is what we did. It was map time again as the track would split further up and we wanted to come into Ullapool from the woods above for a good view. The track was easy but the incline made my feet hurt and I was convinced I’d worked up a nice blister on the ball of my right foot. It wasn’t a problem though as it would be my first and my knees had held out for the whole trip. I was happy to have a blister at this stage ion the game – something to show for miles of wandering across Scotland.

As the path climbed we caught our first sight of Loch Broom as the elation set in. Coming in a day early hadn’t detracted from our achievement and we both let rip with cheers and clapping.

ferry_loch_broom Loch Broom and the ferry approaching Ullapool

There was a ferry entering the loch and for some reason we set a challenge to beat the ferry to port! This was going to be difficult especially as I was set on taking some photos and recording some video of the final steps of the walk. The very sight of the ferry filled me with dread at the number of people we’d be thrust into contact with in the next hour or so. Paul joked that they were all heading the youth hostel in an attempt to hurry me along I’m sure.

We headed for the view point to take in Ullapool from the elevated position and couldn’t believe how small it really was from up here.

Ullapool_monument Loch Broom from the viewpoint

ullapool_pointUllapool Point from the woods above. 

We crossed a small wooden bridge and the trail began to drop sharply via some steps into the town. The Ferry had beaten us and had already docked by the time we hopped over the stile and onto an entry by some houses on the south east side. The sound of cars and people was alien to me and I felt quite anxious at the thought of conversing with folk for the first time. The evening sun was breaking through the cloud and the golden hues spread across the surrounding landscape. The fishing boats on the bay made for a picture postcard and it wasn’t such a bad place to be. The sound of the gulls was deafening and we took some photos and tracked down the hostel on the seafront.

ullapool_beach The evening sun blasts across the loch as the trip draws to an idyllic end.

The trip was not quite over and we both knew what we had to do but decided to prolong it as though we were holding on to the crossing as long as possible. We booked into the hostel getting odd looks from the smell of my bloody Sitlight pad! Luckily I’d rediscovered my personality and was able to make a joke of it but secretly dreaded the thought of locking it into the confined space of the dorm! The plan had been to shower and change before heading on down to the beach to officially finish this thing, however that didn’t happen and we ended up straight in the pub with the promise we’d head down the following morning. Despite being thoroughly in need of a good nights kip we ended up doing a bit of a pub crawl where I sampled some the highland’s best single malts. I’d love to recall them all but after hours of drinking whilst helping Paul lose money on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, that information is lost forever!

We were up fairly early the next day as we had to be out of the hostel from 12-5pm for cleaning. It was raining heavily and the hangover’s from the night before urged us back to the pub for some social relief.  It was a bit early for a drink so we looked round the shops on the seafront and popped into Tesco for some odour eaters. Annoyingly  the people of Ullapool clearly don’t suffer from smelly feet and they didn’t have any, but in hindsight I think nothing short of a nuclear blast would have dealt with the smell from my inov-8s anyway – and Tesco’s didn’t have any of those either.

It had been a great trip and despite the rain we headed on down to the beach to tip our toes in the water to mark the end of the crossing.


 Officially finishing the crossing and cleaning our shoes on day 5

We skimmed stones with one our dorm party for 20 minutes or so to kill time - then alcoholic liquid was offered for sale and we retreated to the nearest pub for lunch. We sampled some more local ales and whiskies whilst enjoying the delights of the local catch for tea later that evening. Ullapool is a very welcoming place and made a great end to an incredible trip.

Whisky_shelf The impressive whisky shelf at The Seaforth in Ullapool