Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Trip Report – 24 Hours: Rydal Ridge & Stone Arthur

Friday 10th- Saturday 11th July 2011


Thursday had been one heck of a day in the office and so much so that I decided enough was enough. Only one thing could right this mess, redress the balance as it were and that was a night on a hill somewhere. I set the out of office auto-reply and headed home…

I had no particular venue for this night on the hill I’d suddenly decided upon, but I liked the idea that it was completely up to me when and where and I pondered as I packed my bag ready for the early start in the morning.

Unusually for me, there was a bit of a faff around how I was going to carry my new camera and lightweight tripod. How would I keep it dry and what lens should I bring? Owing to the fact that the weather didn’t look great anywhere, I chose to head to the Lakes with a view to making a bit of a video about getting out over 24 hours. Camera and tripod sorted, I fell asleep in bed visualising what scenes I would shoot whilst clutching a map!

I decided on a slightly later start to try and avoid the worst of the M6 traffic so didn’t rush about as I normally would. This was a wise move as by the time I hit the usual busy spots most of the chaff had cleared.

The weather wasn’t great but it wasn’t raining as I pulled up alongside the church close to Rydal Hall. There were a few cars around but it looked quiet in all other respects so I had little reservation about leaving the car overnight.

I shouldered my pack and set up the tripod for a scene of me, locking up and walking away up the road to meet the track. Instead as I mounted the camera on the tripod head the heavens opened and I chucked everything back in the car until it passed over. Not the greatest of starts! Undeterred, I realised that through the magic of video I could film the scene tomorrow before I headed home and so stowed the camera gear and headed off up the track to Nab Scar. As there was no one around I decided to do a shaky piece-to-camera to use as part of the film. I didn’t feel comfortable doing this and constantly checked around for other walkers who might listen in and wonder what the hell I was banging on about! If I’d have seen me panting and talking gibberish whilst holding an SLR at arms length I’d have wanted to get as far away as possible and reported it to the local asylum. It felt as though the sky was about to open up at any minute but instead I was treated to short bursts of large heavy droplets of water at irregular intervals, usually just as I was setting up a shot!

One thing is for sure the joys of walking don’t exactly tie-in nicely with amateur film-making (for me) and this I concluded after many failed attempts at setting up shot only to play it back to find the exposure was wrong or the composition distinctly ugly. I was quickly realising that more planning was required with more experience and definitely more patience.


I captured a few scenes as I slowly trundled along the track. The ridge between Heron Pike and Great Rigg is quite pleasant with decent views on both sides. It was easy work and before I knew it I’d reached Fairfield far sooner than planned. It was still raining on and off so I decided I’d stop and have a tea, see what the clouds fancied doing to me and make a decision on my route afterwards because no serious decisions should ever be made without tea – fact.

windermere_from_Heron Pike

Finally I was enjoying the relative calmness of the whole affair. I wasn’t racing against anything and I had nowhere I wanted or had to be. Cut back to 24 hours earlier and I was enduring a pretty stressful afternoon in the office with still a few more hours of it to come! Today however, I just had to contend with wet skin, milk in small pouches and getting to grips with my new programmable timer release!


As always, I’d taken it out of its packaging, discarded the instructions, with the rest of the card and plastic, and was now finding that I had no clue how to operate it - character building I say! Now, sat on Fairfield with a brooding sky and a gap in the weather, I was fumbling with buttons and settings like Ayumu the chimp genius on his touch screen. Only difference was I was getting it all wrong. Eventually I got the damn thing set as I’d like and went about my time-lapse business, recording of the clouds forming and rolling away below me in Deepdale. I hoped it would make a nice scene for use in the film but wasn’t expecting much when I had to cut it short as the wind kept upsetting the superlight (and supershizer) tripod.


I was now a little damp and having stopped for the 25 minutes or so for the time-lapse had made me cold. I pulled the map out to decide on my next move.

Grisdale Tarn was just below me and I wondered if there would be a decent pitch down there out of the wind. It didn’t seem overly flat or enticing in terms of views for the evening (or the morning) so with my videographer's head on I headed back south along the ridge to check out the shoulder of Stone Arthur. I’d passed by earlier and noticed it had a superb view of Grasmere and the surrounding hills and if I could find a pitch it would make a nice place to stay the night.


It rained a little as I bumbled along the track and passed by a couple who seemed intent on ignoring each other as they moved along at a pace. I was quite entertained by this and couldn’t help but wonder if they might be best off enjoying some time alone – like me.

Before too long I was turning off and heading down the arm of the ridge toward Stone Arthur. This was until I suddenly realised I was out of water and felt a bit of panic as I started to wonder where I’d last seen any streams or water sources - other than back up at Grisdale. The fact was that I hadn’t and so once again the map came out and I prayed. My luck was in and the Gods on my side (for once) as Greenhead Gill seemed to kick off somewhere on the steep hillside to my left. I dropped my bag, grabbed the empty platypus and headed down a steep and slippery gradient. It took me a few moments to find it but it was there bubbling away with fresh, cold and perfectly clear water. My filter wouldn’t be making an appearance tonight!

As soon as I stowed the heavy pouch of water and re-shouldered the pack it started to rain again. My dreams of a beautiful short film were fading fast and I started to accept that I would have to put this down to experience. It was a little miserable wondering down the increasingly muddy slope but it wasn’t an issue for long as I had ‘pitch finding mode’ fully engaged. I was on the hunt for a spot with a view east over Grasmere. Shelter wasn’t really an issue but if I could get it I’d take it. I went down as far as Stone Arthur and the rocky outcrops. This would undoubtedly make a nice place to stop and watch the sunset with a beer or whisky but it wasn’t really up to pitching a tent. For one, like me, it was a little short on height so I retraced my steps back up a little and then off the the northern side of the shoulder. Here I found a little spot that I liked and looked as though it would take Big Agi so I mentally marked it and carried on looking.

20 minutes later I returned to the spot, damp but keen to get on with a potential time-lapse - if the sun made an appearance. It was still early but I was off the track and I doubted this would be a busy route up onto the ridge. I was wrong about this as two lads made their ascent to my left as I pitched the tent in silence. It was a good spot as even though they came within 15 metres of my position they didn’t spot me.

It was spitting as I tightened the guy lines but I wasn’t happy with the tautness of the fly and the uneven pitch was making this even more difficult. Big Agi looks great when she’s pitched correctly but tonight she would just have to look a bit……..rough!

I climbed into the tent and set about inflating the Neoair and lofting the sleeping bag. Big Agi is massive for one and if she was a bit lighter I’d happily take her out more often. She’s a heavy girl although perfectly proportioned! I sat on my mat, feet sticking out into the porch as the rain rolled in heavier than before. I decided that tea would probably help the situation enormously and so I fired up the Caldera cone for another brew. Dinner tonight was Kung Po Chicken by Fuizion and although I was hungry I wanted to wait and eat outside and enjoy the view, which, at this point was me being rather optimistic.


I shot some more footage of the stove in action and drank my tea listening to rain. It’s never a chore sitting in a tent when its raining – the sound is calming and hypnotic – sometimes even sleep inducing for me. I organised my gear and got things ready for dinner whilst confined to the inner. In the distance it was brighter than before and I hoped it was coming my way. 20 mins later and it was almost like magic. The last of the grey, wispy clouds dispersed above and the sun came through like someone had flipped a switch. It was frickin brill!



I jumped out with my pouch of food in one hand and the platy in the other and got a boil going for dinner. I sheepishly set up the camera on the tripod and filmed myself carrying on about camp - feeling like a prize twerp! I knew that some scenes were quite frankly poo but I was, by now, resigned to this just being a play around with the camera – a learning curve if you will.

I filmed some scenes as I ate and it was amazing to be sat in the evening sun, despite the stiff breeze and the dropping temperature. I was finally settling down into my surroundings and soaking it all up. I ventured over to the east of the ridge to find the low sun casting a beautiful glow with ever increasing shadows. Time-lapse time!


I sat for an age just drinking whisky from my flask and listening to the rhythmic click of the shutter firing every few seconds. I started to think “I could get used to this”.


I was soon starting to get cold again and I’d only brought along my PHD Minim Vest for insulation – seeing as it was supposed to be July after all. There wasn’t a part of me that wasn’t enjoying just being sat out with my camera and a whisky in the setting sun. Being able to sit above Grasmere and look out across the other small villages and adjacent hills was nothing short of a privilege.


I was soon sitting with my calculator working out how many shutter actuations I needed for a few seconds of footage and worked out that I had enough for around 6 seconds! I made a mental note to look up the magic calculation of how many shots are required for a desired length at a particular frame-rate over any given duration. Magic.



The evening was shaping up to be a pleasant one and the memories of rain and wind of a few hours earlier were already beginning to fade. I decided I’d make the most of it and spend a bit more time out of the tent and capturing another time-lapse – the moon was out and begging to be photographed so it was just a shame I got cold before any decent amount of time had passed!


I retired to the tent to settle down with the rest of my flask and the warm incredibleness of my sleeping bag. I left the door open a while to watch the hills across the valley lit by the bright moon. It had been a good day, stress-free and completely unplanned. A day ‘stolen’ from the machine of working life and I was all the better for it. Despite the fact that its easy to feel so tied down in the working week, this one day had been just the trip I needed to wind down and simplify things a little. Better still, tomorrow it would start again, to an extent, since I had no need to rush back and could choose my route and timing depending on the weather or frame of mind. It really did feel liberating and worth the effort. I popped my earphones in and drifted off to thoughts of other ‘24 hour’ jaunts I could just pack and set off on…..


For those that are interested or missed it the first time I inflicted it on the world, here is the video I stuck together from the footage on this trip. Sorry in advance!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Sleeping Bag Ponderings: Tundra Pure Sleeping Bag


Whilst seemingly on another attempt to consume the internet in just one short evening, I came across the Tundra Pure range of bags from Warmth Unlimited on the OutdoorGB site. These bags caught my eye immediately as I’d never heard of the brand before and on paper they stood out in terms of the claims about quality, performance and ethical credentials. I’m seriously interested in these and wonder if anyone knows of them or has experience with one of the bags? They also seem to do a Pure and Dry range but there is very little around about these too.

For a while I’ve promised bring my Nephew out for a night in the hills and for even longer I’ve been trying to get Charl out sleep out high above the city lights too. The one thing that has ultimately put pay to my attempts so far (over and above Charl’s avoidance tactics and my own time constraints) has been the absence of a serious sleeping bag for my would-be guests.

I’ve kept my eye out for the odd used bargain on eBay but I’m not really sure I’m comfortable spending a decent chunk of my cashola on down that I have no idea about how it may have been used and abused. I”m a bit picky about this and not sure its worth the risk.

The company appear to be Polish and are completely new to me. The English website is far from finished and so the information I can go on is the product info from OutdoorGB and the odd mention on Outdoors Magic and LFTO forums. Tiso are listed as a distributor on the manufacturer’s site but they list the bags as discontinued.

The prices seem reasonable for the spec with the Pure –5 coming in at 214 earth pounds:

  • Temperature rating –5
  • Waterproofed foot box and hood
  • Differential fill for foot and chest area
  • Full length zip and baffle
  • Fill power 860+
  • Fill weight: 400g
  • Weight: 850g

There is little on the net about the fabric (aside from a claimed weight of 30g sq meter) but it certainly looks to have some potential.

The Alpkit Pipedream 400 that is currently top of my list of options and is both cheaper and lighter. It does however use a lower fill power and is only rated to –3 but, as we all know, this is the stuff of great debate!

The question is whether the Tundra bag is worth the additional cost for the higher fill power, waterproofing and ethical production. I do wonder how it would compare to my Cumulus Quantum 350, rated to -6, given that it has a higher fill power and fill weight and yet the rating seems more conservative for the Tundra bag.

Actually, whilst sat here typing this post I’ve just had a eureka moment: There is always the option to upgrade my own bag (I’m tempted by the Western Mountaineering Ultralight) and let my guests hang out in the Cumulus – now there’s an idea….

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Borah Gear – Side Zip Bivy – First Use


Following on from this post I’ve received a number of emails requesting additional information about the Borah Gear bivy and the answers to which may be useful to others so this is an update to that original post.

I managed to get out and give the bivy a trial last weekend on a trip to Wales. The weekend was forecast to be wet, windy and fairly cool to boot and this prophesy turned out to be all too accurate on the day! A trip report will follow but in the meantime here are my experiences and a couple of answers to those questions.

We arrived fairly late and as a consequence we ended up pitching quite low down off the main ridge. This was wise as the wind up there was fairly strong and the rain with it would have made for a miserable pitch considering our short time out there.


I set up the Neoair and my sleeping bag in the bivy and with the side zip this was real simple to do. No faffing, just open up and slide it all in. I hooked the tie out on the mesh panel to one of the hooks on the Trailstar and this worked well, except for the fact that it highlighted just how much material there is!

Unsurprisingly then there is ample room inside this version (size is Regular length, wide girth for the Neoair) and once inside I found that there was plenty of space for me to sleep on my side, store things inside with me and comfortably move about – as I do! On reflection I wouldn’t remove any fabric from this version as I think this affords more options in use and the weight is low enough for this to make an insignificant difference.

I zipped myself in to the bivy on this first night as there were quite few bugs about and I also wanted to experience what it would be like to be within its confines! In use it was fine and I drifted off without issue. What I did notice after a time was that I was slipping down inside the bag whilst the bag inselft was also slipping! The solution would be simple: to add tie outs to the top corners of the bivy and some silicone spots on the base of the sil-nylon or my Neoair. My advice then is to opt for John to sew in some tie outs for you when ordering –this is an option and you just need to ask for it.

By morning I woke with my body lower down inside the bivy than expected and on opening the zip to sit up and take in the view I found that there was a dampness between the momentum fabric and my sleeping bag. It soon dried once I’d opened the bivy but I can’t help but think that the damp, warm conditions, along with our sheltered pitch and water vapour in my breath had created ideal conditions for condensation. I’m not worried about this at all and in fact I think that with my modifications above I’ll not introduce so much warm moist air in the future and any ‘natural’ condensation is acceptable. Som have seam sealed their bivy’s and for a fully waterproof bag this would be advisable. However with this type of lightweight bivy seam sealing would simply further reduce breathability and isn’t required.

Overall I really enjoyed using it and the weight is seriously impressive for the price. The service and ability to modify to your own design is another endorsement in favour of low volume, cottage manufacturers. This brings me nicely on to the last query I received regarding my modifications, which were quite simple. I asked John to replace the full net hood with a rectangular strip running horizontally across the hood at about face height and add a pull-out to the mesh. Picture below to illustrate (apologies for the thoughtless framing – I was in a rush!)


So then, after first use I’m still happy and very confident this will suit my needs perfectly. My advice, in summary, is to opt for the tie outs in the corners and drop a few spots of silicone onto the inside of the sil-nylon base to reduce slippage. Amen and happy bivvying!*