Monday, 6 December 2010

Walking with Skis

I was back out today with my skis, to be honest I couldn't wait to get out and had everything packed to go since Sunday. My mate Les who took some of the surfing shots phoned to see what I was doing today so when I told him we arranged to meet up near Trostan. He's a keen photographer but didn't intend to hang around too long so we agreed to take the same route as far as the open hill as I wanted to either find a nice slope to practice on or just go on to the summit of Trostan.

It was foggy on the way there but like Saturday it cleared as soon as I neared the entrance to the trails at the foot of Trostan. By the time Les arrived the sun was trying to break through although the fog was hanging around probably less than 100m below. As there hadn't been much fresh snow I used a soft wax (not that I actually know much about it but it looked as though I did) on the skis and we set off up the trail at an easy pace towards the waterfall.

I was glad of the company as I find if I'm on my own I tend to race along but the pace was pleasant as we both stopped to take some photographs. We stopped at the waterfall and I took the opportunity to grab a cool drink from the stream to save the water I was carrying for later. My water bottle was one of the few things that was different from the previous day, I taken a 750ml bike bottle, my polymug was a perfect fit and was simply pushed on over the top of the bottle.

We'd just reached the edge of the forest and were about to cross the fence to reach the open hill when it started to snow. I'd been wearing the Montane Dyno over the same baselayer that I used on Saturday, in fact I was using exactly the same gear as I used on Saturday but this time I packed the Dyno and pulled on the Bergahus Pro Trek. Les wanted to get some shots of the remains of the old car that I'd discovered back in August and had almost reached it by the time I'd got organised and caught up. The snow was soft. to soft to take my weight and the skis kept disappearing under the snow only to resurface with grass caught around the bindings. The snow started to get heavier and without the shelter of the forest it was blowing almost horizontally. I made a big deal about hoods when looking for a new shell jacket but this was the sort of conditions I wanted it for and thankfully the hood on the Pro Trek was perfect.

Les didn't have a shell jacket with him and was wearing an Alpkit Filo and decided to return to the forest so we parted company as I contimued onwards and upwards. I still hadn't decided whether to go on to the summit or look for a good slope to practice on but as the snow was soft and deep I decided to go for the summit. I traversed left and right for a bit as the gradient was getting too steep for my wax to grip and aimed for a rock outcrop that looked like it might provide some shelter while I fitted the skins to my skis. There wasn't much shelter to be honest but there was plenty of water running off of the rock, in fact it was like dozens of taps running and provided another opportunity to drink without using the contents of the waterbottle.

I spent a bit of time taking photographs and had a snack before attaching the skins to my skis and packing up to continue. The skins made it much easier but there was still some side stepping to do crossing snow covered streams and getting onto the top of peat banks. The snow had eased a bit and was now quite fine, the kind that sticks to everything and finds a way in through any gaps but it wasn't long before the trig point came in sight. There wasn't much snow on the summit which has had the peat washed away over time leaving just gravel and larger stones which stuck up through the snow and which would quickly trash the base of a pair of skis.

Berghaus Pro Trek, Great Jacket, Fantastic Hood.
This is a great jacket, it felt completely dry inside in spite of being worn by an unfit rubbish skier. The chest/map pockets are massive and the hood fantastic.

Mountain Equipment Liskamm Pant.
I've had these for over a year and they're really good, they're very water-resistant, I didn't feel any dampness at all, they're windproof, not restrictive and dry very quickly. As a bonus they've got 'Technical' knee patches which makes you look the part, ;-)

Karrimor Windgrip Gloves
These are pretty good to be honest, I wore them almost all day until I stopped in the forest at the end. My hands were cold when I started up after fitting the skins but soon warmed up. Eventually they ended up wet through but as I was on the move my hands were warm. In my opinion they're at least as water-resistant and as warm as my Mountain Equipment G2 lite gloves which cost me £30.

I didn't hang about on the summit for long, a few photographs, a drink from my waterbottle and it was time to leave as I wasn't sure whether the roads would still be clear. With the skins removed I started to cautiously make my way down but the fresh snow was sticking to the wax making it difficult to maintain momentum. The other problem I had was that with the snow being soft my skis would break through, catch on the grass and throw me off balance. Although I traversed a lot to navigate through the peat banks I inevetibly took a tumble. Right ski over left I twisted and fell to my right, exactly the same as earlier in the year on the same hill when I twisted my knee pretty badly. Thankfully this time with release bindings fitted I was fine as my left boot popped out of ski. The way the bindings work is that the binding base-plate stays attached to the ski but the part that actually hold the boot breaks free staying attached to the boot. Peter, the guy who gave me the bindings had suggested that it was easier to take the binding off the boot before clipping it back into the base-plate which is what I did before continuing.
I fell a few more times when my skis stalled either because one had broken through the snow and got caught up on tussocks of grass or stalled due to the fresh snow sticking to the base wax. In the end without too much drama I was back down at the forest where I'd intended to make something warm to eat or drink.

I didn't go too far into the forest before I stopped to make a soup drink. I hung my rucksack on a tree and got out the stove but when I went to the side pocket to get my waterbottle and mug they were missing. I'd been really careful all day checking before I moved on after a stop to see that I'd left nothing behind so I guess the bottle fell out when I'd fallen on the descent.

I was a bit annoyed with myself for letting it happen as although it didn't matter on this occasion as there was plenty of snow to melt and I'd taken a spare mug in case Les needed one, if I'd intended to stay out and only taken one mug the loss of mug and waterbottle would have been inconvienient at best.

Lesson #1 if I take a fall, double check that nothing has been displaced or misplaced.

I had plenty of gas anyway and soon had a hot drink ready. I'd considered having one of the Fuizion dehydrated meals I bought a while back but didn't bother as I wasn't far from the car anyway, I simply took a couple of Tunnocks Caramel wafers from my food stuff sack and put them in my pocket to eat on the way home.

I packed everything away for the final time and scraped most of the grip wax off my skis for the last stretch down the trail to the car. It was easier with the wax removed and I actually managed to kick & glide on the flatter part even though I ended up carrying a heap of snow on top of the skis on the downhill parts.

When I reached the car the snow had all but stopped, there was a little snow on the roof less than I'd expected to be honest although some had probably blown off. The track I'd cleared on arrival was covered again so the snow shovel was pressed into service clearing the snow from my wheel tracks and from the car.

The road wasn't too bad either so with everything packed I set off, surprisingly as the road wound it's way down the snow was deeper. Eventually I reached the junction where I had to decide whether to turn directly for home and face a few steep climbs or continue on a longer route on main roads. In the end I took the shorter option and avoiding any sudden application of throttle, brake or steering wheel safely made it home, in fact I had more difficulty getting the car into my own driveway.

It was another great day out, I much prefer being on the hill in winter, especially when there's snow but one thought kept occuring to me. I have some photos that I took on the same hills with the same ski set-up some 25 years ago, some of the other kit has changed but has it changed much? If you believe everything you read in outdoors publications or internet forums you'd believe that the latest gear is all vastly superior to kit available back then. I'm not sure but one thing I am sure of is that it's not about the gear in the end or at least it shouldn't be, I was enjoying myself back then and I'm enjoying myself now and in the end that's what it's really all about.


  1. Hi Richard,
    Sounds like a good day out. I have never skied so i am very envious of you.
    Good that the gear you have bought worked in those conditions and you got back safely.

  2. Richard, I agree with you on the gear. You need some, but it's not that important what it is. And when the sheep started to produce wool the most important raw material for winter clothing was born :)