Sunday, 20 December 2009

Almost Got The Snow

I finally managed to make it out on Friday for an overnighter having had to postpone it for the past 2 weeks. As it turned out it was a day to early to get the snow, leaving for work this morning at 5.30 there was a good 5 inches.

Marcus was up for another wildcamp so we planned to leave about 1.30 on Friday afternoon aiming to be at Glenariff Forest Park by 2.00 which gave us 2-3 hours to head up onto the plateau on Upper Glenariff mountain and reach our camp spot near one of the many small lochs.

I'd packed my kit a few days previously and had planned to use the Alpkit PD200 Pied d'Elephant and ME Xero duvet jacket but I bottled out given the temperature and possibility of snow and took an Alpkit Filo down jacket instead. The remainder of my sleeping kit was made up of a Trekmates bivvy bag and combination of 2/3 season CCF mat and a Karrimor 3/4 Self Inflate bought for £10 in Sports Direct last weekend. I packed the Phreeranger Flysheet and footprint to use as a single skin tent and for cooking took my meths burner/cone/500ml pot set-up.

As far as clothing went I wore a Chocolate Fish Merino L/S top, North Cape Zip Neck mid base topped with an Mountain Equipment Ultrafleece jacket, trousers were Mountain Equipment Ibex and I decided to wear my Karrimor Pro Run trail shoes with Trekmates Gore-Tex socks and Horizon 50% Merino mix knee length socks. I also took a Montane Jetstream windshirt and wet gear consisted of Trespass Pack-away overtrousers, Marmot Essence jacket and Marmot unlined shell gloves.

We arrived at the forest park in good time and a short walk and climb on trail soon had us out of the forest and onto the open hill. The ground was frozen hard and made the walking easier and drier than normal and visibility was good.

At first we had to detour round a fenced off area but soon were on the middle of the plateau and heading east to wards the coast. Looking at the map you'd imagine that from a high point you would see most of the small locks but they tend lie hidden, only appearing briefly until you're almost on top of them.

Quite a few of the smaller, more sheltered ones were frozen over and it was interesting to try to remember the correct names as we reached them in turn. We had intended to camp on the east side of one of the lochs with a low ridge behind us as I'd expected the wind to come in from the East but as it turned out the wind had swung round and our sheltered spot wasn't going to be sheltered at all, the idea of an icy wind coming straight off the loch didn't really appeal to me and with light fading we settled on a reasonably flat area which provided better shelter.

I set up the Phreeranger but was a bit to careless and ended up with a slight slope down and back toward the porch, I could have adjusted the tent then and there but was keen to get a meal on and decided to let things be. That turned out to be a major mistake and one which I'd have plenty of time during the night to regret. Marcus pitched his Hike Lite 1 just beyond and we both busied ourselves organizing our gear.

I hadn't really tried the trail shoes much prior to this trip but was really surprised by how warm they were, the Trekmates socks worked perfectly and my feet were cosy even though it was cold enough to freeze the laces solid, in fact the ankle zips on my trousers were frozen. It was about this point when I realised I was going to have problems due to my poor choice of pitch. My groundsheet/footprint is silnylon and when I placed my sleeping mats on it they kept sliding sideways and back toward the porch area, this meant I couldn't cook in the porch but had to cook on the opposite side. That in itself wasn't a problem, what was a problem though was that every time I lay down I ended up in the porch with only the door keeping me from ending up outside. No matter what I tried I couldn't stop it and finally resorted to placing my rucksack against the door to wedge the sleeping mats in place and organised my sleeping bag/bivvy/duvet jacket combo but even so my feet always ended up pressed against the flysheet.

Making the best of it I soon had a meal ready, I was trying one I'd dehydrated myself, I've been trying it off and on for a few months now with very little success but on this occasion the meal was fine (Homemade Swedish Meatballs, sauce, carrot, cabbage and tinned baby potatoes) although I may have let it stay in the cosy too long as it had cooled down quite a bit.

I had taken an mp3 player to help pass the time and lay down and dozed off and on but wasn't particularily comfortable as any movement set the sleeping mats off. In the end I managed to grab a few hours sleep but feet were pretty cold as they kept coming off the sleeping mat or ending up pressed against the flysheet. In desperation I used the stuff sack that the Self Inflate mat was in together with the one used to pack my food as emergency vapour barrier socks, this worked fine up to a point, my left foot was toasty but my right one stayed cold, strange.

I expected it to snow during the night but there was only a brief flurry, even though there was plenty of cloud cover the temperature was below freezing resulting in frozen condensation inside the fly (a good thing) and a pair of rock solid trail shoes (not a good thing) although I managed to keep my water bottle mainly ice free.

I eventually got a few hours fitful sleep interspersed with brew ups and at about 7.30-8.00am I decided to have breakfast and strike camp. My shoes were frozen solid and I had a bit of trouble getting the laces loosened off enough to get them on but with some effort I managed and the gear was packed away as quickly as possible as I wanted to get on the move to get my feet warm. I had a bit of a wander around while Marcus had breakfast and packed up and my feet were soon nice and warm.

The sky looked leaden initially but soon the cloud dropped to cover the higher tops and at around 9.30 we started to make our way back, pretty much retracing our route from the previous day. I'd put on my waterproofs at the start and we hadn't gone far before we were hit with a snow/hail/sleet shower but the Marmot Essence was fine with no condensation.

As with the previous day the ground was pretty well frozen and with a bit of care we managed to avoid breaking through. The area marked on the map as dangerous for walking was fine but you could easily see how nasty it would be if the ground was wet as it would be in summer, the holes would be barely visible if the grass was higher and trying to find a route would be like trying to avoid crevasses on a glacier. As we neared the forest park the cloud began to lift and the sun tried to break through but he were hit with another short sleet shower as we made our way down the path to the foot of the Glen. A brief stop in a log shelter to remove overtrousers and have a snack/drink and we made our way out to the roadside where I'd arranged a pick up.

It wasn't a complete success but any failings were entirely my own fault. The gear I used was something I'd never have considered using in winter a year ago but worked perfectly well apart from a few monor inconvieniences. Firstly the groundsheet, I hadn't used it on it's own apart from in the garden at home which is flat therefore I hadn't considered the possibility of sliding out of the tent on my sleeping mat like some kind of eccentric bobsleigh rider (should it be driver?) I could have picked my pitch more carefully but what I need to do is paint some thinned down silicone sealer on one side to provide something for the sleeping mat to grip on. One other thing that could be improved on is my 'cozy' for rehydrating my meals, I used a single layer of Alu bubblewrap but I think I'll make one from closed cell foam or add a 2nd layer of bubblewrap to my existing one. Finally, although I'm not entirely convinced that the cold feet problem was caused by anything other than ending up against the flysheet I quite like the idea of a pair of down bivvy boots from PHD.

I didn't find the single skin tent to be a problem and the PD200/Duvet Jacket/Bivvy combo is something that I'm really pleased with, I mentioned previously that I'd ideally like a bivvy bag with sleeves and last night I discovered that Hilleberg make one, of course it's far too heavy at around 700g but as I don't really need a totally waterproof one I think I may be able to make something, after all it doesn't need to be Saville Row standard. The biggest surprise was the trail shoes, I only bought a cheap pair to try in summer and fully expected to regret using them at this time of year but they were absolutely fine, sure it would have been nice to pull on a pair of nicely padded boots 1st thing in the morning rather than freezing cold shoes but once on the move the shoes were the best option. That said I won't be abandoning boots, double skin tents or full Winter sleeping bags just yet, I'm quite happy to push things a little on a one nighter but for a longer duration trip I'd err on the side of comfort/caution.

I still need to work on my baseweight as it was 7kg and I'd like it closer to 5kg given that I was using a fairly stripped down gear set for a conventional camper, looks like a lighter shelter is needed but what? I'm pretty sure about a new pack though, I need to do a bit more research but the ULA Ohm is top of the list so far.

To quote Steve Earl, "We ain't Never Satisfied" ;-)


  1. Great Post Richard, awesome photos, my favourite being the one with the stairs going up into the forest.

    Sliding down the mattress can be a real pain, and I always try to find the perfect flat spot to avoid sliding around - better five minutes more for looking for a spot as a crappy sleep.

    I also find that at the moment I'm still fine with my Golite Ultra quilt and some baselayer + insulation on top. Down booties would be awesome, but I think I go for the Integral Designs synthetic ones, as I can wear them in my trail runners if it really gets cold.

    The Ohm is a great pack, really enjoy walking with it. That said, I'll get a Laufbursche Pack next January/ February, here are some photos if you're curious =)

    Enjoy the holidays & a good start into the new year!

  2. Trips like that build knowledge and test kit combinations. Then the big week walks tend to be better enjoyed as the kit you know works and the lessons learnt pay off with success. "Comfort/caution" is good. I read recently on another blog were the person did not use stuff sacks to keep their kit dry in the rucksack. Claimed it worked fine. I would not risk my down bag that way. I like comfort on multi day walks as you need to sleep well to recover for the days ahead. There is a balance that suits each. Keep at it and I will keep reading how its going.

  3. Hendrik, thanks for the comments.

    I agree I should have looked for a better pitch but you could say I've learned a lesson the hard way ;-)

    I like the look of the ULA Ohm from what I've seen on your blog, perhaps you could do an in depth review if you have time, I'm interested primarily in the dimensions of the main pack and how you carry your sleeping mat to help create support. The Laufbursche pack is interesting and good to see some more 'Cottage Industry' gear from Germany.

    I hope you also have a good holiday and look forward to reading your blog in the new year.


    you're right about trips like last weekend, they serve a variety of purposes, of course getting out is reason enough but the knowledge gained is valuable.


  4. Richard, an in-depth Ohm review is a good idea. Lets see if I can make it happen still this year =)

  5. That would be great Hendrik, I'm sure it would be useful.

    I also looked at the ULA Conduit, similar to the Ohm but without the support rod so lighter (and cheaper). Did you consider the Conduit yourself?