Sunday, 10 January 2010
I can hardly believe that we still have plenty of snow after 3 weeks, it's not unusual to have no snow whatsoever some years. I started my shift on Wednesday but couldn't resist taking Friday off just to get out again. I wanted to get my skis out while there was plenty of cover and planned to return to Glenariff/Trostan as I knew what kind of cover I could expect.
I made sure everything was packed and ready on Thursday night so that I could make a early(ish) start. I bought my skis about 20 years ago and apart from the first few years have hardly been used due mainly to a combination of mild winters and other commitments. I haven't used a gas stove since around February 09 preferring to used a meths stove but I decided to take a cartridge mounted burner this time as I only wanted to carry water for drinking and planned to melt snow for cooking. I used the C-3 mini stove that I bought on ebay for about £12, like the Gelert Blaze it's a copy of the Markill Peak Ignition but I lightened it by removing the flip out part of the pan supports and the Piezo igniter. An Alpkit Mitymug, pot cozy, foil windshield and Primus canister support completed the cooking gear. I took a Karrimor Hot Rock 30L rucksack as it has side compression straps capable of carrying skis, to stiffen the rucksack I placed a loosely rolled CCF sleeping mat inside.
I was wearing a mixed baselayer, North Cape Rhovyl long johns, bought from Daleswear for £5, a Trekmates bamboo long sleeved top over which I wore a North Cape Rhovyl zip neck, again £5 form Daleswear. The rest of my clothing consisted of ME Liskamm trousers and ME Ultrafleece jacket, Montane Jetstream windshirt, Montane Venture eVent jacket and for extra insulation an Alpkit Filo down jacket. A polarfleece balaclava rolled to make a hat and Mountain Warehouse windproof fleece gloves dealt with head and hands and Horizon Merino mix socks, Berghaus Yeti gaiters and Gronell ski boots finished it off. I was amused when looking at some of the photographs later that I didn't appear to be dressed much differently than I would have 20 years ago.
I arrived at the lay-by beside Glenariff forest park at about 9.45 and quickly set off along the forest tracks, my waxing skills are non-existent but as it was just a gradual incline to begin with I managed, though probably not much faster than normal walking speed.
The sun was shining by the time I reached Essathohan waterfall but unlike the previous week it was frozen top to bottom. I ditched my skis and rucksack and climbed down to the stream to take some shots and the snow was more than knee deep. Once back up on the trail I prepared to continue along a firebreak between the trees to reach the open hill when I heard voices from back down the trail. As I prepared to set off a group of walkers appeared about 40 metres back. I wanted to set my own pace so didn't wait and found the skis a real benefit on the soft snow.
Once over the fence there was a very slight incline before it steepened for the climb up to the summit but having taken the skis off to cross the fence I decided to fit the skins then and there. Progress was rapid with the skis supporting my weight and preventing me breaking through and the group of 4 who were now following my tracks were soon left behind. I pretty much went straight up towards a small cairn and once there decided to stop for a rest. The view was fantastic and the snow bristled with frosted crystals due to the relatively few snow showers over the past few days, the light winds and low temperatures.
There were quite a few tracks left by foxes winding in and out through the peat hags and I wondered what on earth they found to eat, I guess that maybe grouse were on the menu as the only other animals I saw were sheep.
With clear skies the views across to Scotland were much the same as on New years day and the peaks that I wasn't sure about last time were positively identified as Goat Fell on Arran.
Progress was good now that the incline had decreased but I did make note of a few icy patches that looked like they might catch me out on the way back. It wasn't long before the triangulation pillar came into view and I made my way up to it, took a few photographs and then moved off to find a suitable peat hag to have lunch as I wanted to leave the summit clear for the group making their way up behind.
After tramping a firm base for the stove I set about melting snow to re-hydrate my pasta and make a hot drink, adding a little at first and then increasing the amount of snow as the amount of water increased I soon had about 500ml to a rolling boil.
Although the sun was shining and I could at times almost feel some heat the slight breeze encouraged me to put on my windshirt quickly followed by my down jacket. I had almost finished my lunch when the following group appeared on the summit, we exchanged waves and I was in the process of cleaning out the Mitymug when one of the group came over to say hello.
He confirmed that they'd had a tough walk as they'd been breaking through the surface and the snow was knee deep on the steeper sections and between the peat hags. He went back to his group while I got myself sorted for the decent. I stopped with them on my way back and they suggested that I'd have some fun on the way down, I suggested that I'd probably spend most of the decent on my back!!
The first part was fine as it wasn't too steep although there were quite a few icy ridges formed by the wind. I made reasonably rapid progress down the the level area just above the worst of the peat hags but did managed to fall over a few times in doing so.
Getting through the peat hags was the worst bit, my turning skills are pretty much non-existent due to a lack of practice and although I was being careful the inevitable happened, traversing left I let the tail of my downhill ski slide out going over an insignificant ridge, the right ski shot across the left trapping it and causing me to fall. I ended up twisted to the left on my back with my left foot still pointing in the direction of travel attached to the ski which in turn was held firm by the right ski. The familiar snap and burning sensation in my left knee needed no explanation, Anterior Cruciate Ligament, again!!
It took a bit of struggling to release my boot from the binding but with enough groaning I managed to un-clip and get back on my feet. I knew from past experience that I'd be fine if I didn't twist so decided to walk down for a bit. It was pretty difficult to walk as I kept breaking through and found it difficult to get enough movement in my left leg to step out of the holes but as soon as the incline decreased I put the skis back on and made a series of slow traverses and then a final straight run back to the fence and from there back onto the forest trail.
The easy run back down the trail to the car was welcome and after some effort I was able to get the car doors open, the car had been sitting in the shade all day and doors and locks were frozen. Having gained entry via the passenger door I couldn't get it to stay shut and ended up passing the seatbelt through the door handle and clipping it in, this worked just fine.
I was home again within 45 mins by which time my knee had stiffened up quite a bit but it doesn't seem as bad as when I hurt it last July. I even managed to get some practice, skiing in the field beside my mums on Saturday. I didn't have any problems with the gear, my baselayer worked just fine and was comfortable enough to not need changed immediately on my return. I tend to run hot when active but cool down quickly so although Ultrafleece isn't as warm as some other fleeces it's slightly more windproof, I've read that Karisma fleece is virtually identical to Ultrafleece and I've seen a jacket I like the look of. The ME Liskamm trousers are excellent (I'm in the habit of referring to them as Combin!!) and I find softshell works well for me as legwear. The Alpkit Filo is a really good jacket, it's lighter than my ME Lightline, packs smaller but I suspect that the Lightline is more water-resistant although I haven't compared them directly, the down in the Lightline feels a little softer but at £75 the Filo is half the price of the Lightline which makes it a real steal, no wonder they sell out so quickly.
Although I haven't been out on the hill much over the past few weeks I've been messing around trying stuff out at home. I had wanted to get an overnight camp on the hill but didn't manage although I did try the Hike-Lite down at my Mums house. I've also been looking at the gear I used in Winter years ago when I started and comparing it to the gear I've been using recently, I even found a few new brands that look interesting. I don't expect the snow to stay around much longer so I'll try to make the best of it before my shift starts again on Wednesday.
Having posted a question on Outdoors Magic regarding binding release mechanisms for 75mm NN bindings another member kindly offered to let me have a set that he no longer used, a gesture that's very much appreciated. It's unlikely that I'll get them fitted before the snow disappears but maybe it'll hold out. The North Cape baselayer that I bought has been worn almost continually so I think I'll get another set while they're still available.
My attempts to lower my base weight have taken a back seat due to the snow being here but I'll be back on track in due course, I want a lightweight waterproof sleeping bag cover to use with a single skin tent but rather than purchase one I think I can make one that suits my requirements but is lighter and hopefully cheaper. So plenty to keep me occupied and the gear list that was pretty small is growing at an alarming rate. I think it's time to try and sell some of the stuff I don't use but given that I'm still using gear I bought 20 years ago maybe selling isn't quite my thing.