Thursday, 23 December 2010

Have a Great Christmas

To all who visited, I hope you found something of interest, if not thanks for taking the time to have a look. To those who left comments, thanks for the support. To fellow bloggers who through their own blogs provided a wealth of information and inspiration, thanks for sharing and to those who started their own blogs in 2010 keep up the good work.

And to all, Have a Great Christmas, hope to see you in 2011 if not before.

Monday, 20 December 2010

A Winter Walk, Reflecting on the Past.

Although we've had plenty of snow since last Thursday I've been staying in as I'm not fully recovered from a chest infection I picked up a fortnight ago. In the end the temptation was too much so I decided to take my skis down to my mums house. As it turned out the snow was too dry so I decided to just take a walk instead. I'd packed my MSR Whisperlite and a few bits and pieces that I'd intended messing around with so set off along the river towards a small forest.

I used to spend a lot of time here as a child but back then the entire area was wetland, some would call it a 'moss' or 'bog', we called it a 'bog' and if there was heavy rain for a few days the entire are would flood. Since then the river has been deepened and straightened so the area is quite a bit drier than it was years ago, in fact the water level dropped by a few meters and the well at our house actually dried up with the result that we needed to have mains water. There are of course still wet areas, even in summer and it looks a bit like a jungle with tall grass and small wiry trees. I'm not sure what the proper name for the trees are but in my area they're known as 'Bog Sally', a small springy sapling was kept my most parents, mine included and the threat of the 'Sally Rod' was usually enough to rein in my headstrong ways :-)

As children we were always warned to stay away from 'moss holes' and 'Lint Dams', 'Lint' is the local name for 'Flax' which was used to make linen and you can see see where the 'dams' were as they're rectangular and lie lower than the surrounding ground. The Flax was cut and placed in the dams to rot and of course it created quite a stink, (for more information see the link Here and Here), note the different terms used depending on the area/county e.g. 'Flax Holes'/Lint Dams', where the process of 'Beetling' is referred to in the article linked to it implies a process done by hand although not too far from where I live there are the remains of 'Beetling Mills' or 'Scutching Mills', known locally as 'Beetling Engines', interestingly although I live in County Antrim there is a working Beetling/Scutching Mill in Co Tyrone, reading the information on the website they refer to 'Beetling Engines', Wellbrook Beetling Mill .

Of course we ignored the advice but soon learned to read the natural signs and were able to safely navigate around the danger areas, even though quite a few of the 'Lint Dams' has become overgrown with a carpet of moss/lichen/grass, it wasn't particularly reassuring when you started walking on a patch of grass that felt as if it was floating on water!!

The entire area is now covered in long grass and heather which makes walking tiresome at the best of times, under a blanket of snow it's worse as you can't actually see what you're walking on so most of the time is spent knee deep in snow and of course the remaining 'Lint Dams' are even more difficult to spot.

I was wearing my ski boots and Yeti gaiters which proved their worth in the deep snow and was wearing my Paramo Velez Adventure Light with a Montane Flux packed as extra insulation. By the time I reached the forest the moon had risen, the sun had slipped below the hills to the West and the air was cold and crisp. I pulled on the Flux before getting the stove set up but when pulled my waterbottle from the side pocket of my rucksack I discovered that it had frozen solid at the top and the cap wouldn't budge. There was plenty of snow anyway so I added a little to the pan and put the waterbottle in the chest pocket of the Velez to thaw it out a bit. In the end it didn't take long to thaw out sufficiently to get the cap off so I added a mixture of water and ice to the pan. I hadn't brought a tripod so the last few shots were taken braced against a tree while I waited for the stove to bring water to the boil for some soup.

By the time I was ready to leave the moon was bright and it was easy enough to make my way back across the bog towards the river where the ground is firmer and drier and the grass short thanks to sheep being grazed there in summer.

As the moon started to cast a weak shadow the words of the Supertramp song 'The Logical Song' came to mind,


It still is........

Friday, 17 December 2010

Karrimor Alpiniste 45+10

Way back when I started buying backpacking gear there were 2 main players when it came to rucksacks, Karrimor and Berghaus. I bought my 1st, a 65l Karrimor Condor and pretty much stuck with Karrimor thereafter. I did briefly switch to Berghaus when I bought a Munro 35l but didn't get on with it so replaced it with a Karrimor Hot Earth.

I always liked the look of the Alpiniste 55l but hadn't actually bought one before drifting away from the outdoors scene. When I started to get back into it in 2008 I needed a rucksack smaller in capacity than my Condor 65l so picked up an Alpiniste 45+10, it was one of the late models and was a bit of a beast to be honest with unnecessarily over padded hipbelt and shoulder straps, in fact it weighed almost the same as the Condor 65l even though the Condor had an adjustable length back system.

About a year later I was browsing the Field & Trek site when I noticed a newer Alpiniste 45+10 in the sale, it looked well designed and was over 1kg lighter than my older model so I ordered it. At the time I'd been considering an OMM pack but went with the Karrimor as preferred the back system and hipbelt.

Comparing the construction with my older Karrimor packs going back to the late 80's the quality is still there, at least as good as the Haglofs LIM45 or Gregory z55 that I had at the time. The top line Karrimor packs shouldn't be confused with the Karrimor branded sports bags you find in places like Sports Direct. The Alpiniste 45+10 (also available in 35+10) is a seriously tough pack and not too heavy for what it is at 1388g, this is a rucksack that can be thrown around, dragged over rocks and so on without worrying about damaging it.

Side Compression Straps, both with Fastex Buckles and Elastic Strap Keepers.

The pack is quite narrow as you'd expect from a climbing sack, the hipbelt and shoulder straps are stiff enough, quite slim but comfortable. The pack is a basic 1 compartment type with the usual features you'd expect like a shockcord on the front, 2 x Ice axe loops, side compression straps all with Fastex buckles and wand pockets. The wand pockets are quite shallow and I managed to loose a waterbottle from one last time out so that's something to be aware of.

Reinforced Patch under Shockcord, Clip Off Shockcord Hooks
The shockcord on the front has hooks that allow you to open the shockcord out to stash gear before clipping it back, I found this good when carrying a snow shovel in addition the fabric has some type of reinforcement under the shockcord which makes it look smoother/shinier than the rest of the pack.

The shoulder straps have a sternum strap and top tension straps which allows you to pull the pack in nice and close, the hipbelt is removable if you need to wear a harness.

Slim but stiff Hipbelt, Hipbelt is Removable

Top Tension Straps and Haul Loop
The lid is semi floating, it's attached to the pack at the back but can be extended by loosening off 3 straps, I prefer this arrangement to fully floating lids. The lid has a large pocket with a waterproof type zip and inside there's a glove hook/key clip. The pack is hydration system compatible, there's a zipped pocket inside the pack and a single central port for a feed tube between the shoulder straps.

Floating Lid Adjustment Straps and Hydration Port

Lid Pocket with Water Resistant Zip and Key Clip

The back pad is reasonably stiff, the pack keeping it's shape when it isn't fully packed but the pad isn't removable as far as I can see although according to the Karrimor website it is, perhaps they've modified it on the latest version as the one shown on F&T does look slightly different to mine. There's a drawcord on the main body of the pack and also one on the extension in addition there's a rope strap under the lid.

Fformat Back System

Snowlock Extension and Rope Strap

There are a couple of things I could remove namely the integrated gear racks at the base of the pack close to where the hipbelt/shoulder straps attach, I don't use them but haven't removed them yet. Finally there's a haul loop at the top between the shoulder straps.

I use I find the Alpiniste very comfortable, it's bigger than I need for day outings but I've been using it when out on ski as it's stiff enough to carry the weight of the skis even when it isn't fully packed. All in all it's a good piece of kit, I know Karrimor aren't who/what they used to be (I've heard it often enough) but there's still some good kit out there if you use your head, they just need to stop branding every piece of generic crap they find with the Karrimor name.

Alpiniste 45+10 in Use. Photo by Les

I've added the pic's below to try to illustrate the dimensions of the Alpiniste.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Black Diamond Midweight Fleece Gloves

Black Diamond Midweight Fleece Gloves

I've been trying to come up with a perfect glove set-up for a while now so when I found out that Webtogs were sending me a pair of Black Diamond Midweight fleece glove for review I checked them out on their Website to find out a bit more. The thing that appealed to me was the mention of a kevlar stitched goat leather palm, I find my biggest dislike when it comes to fleece gloves is the lack of grip followed by bulk. I'd tried a pair of ME G2 Lite soft shell gloves earlier in the year but found that while they had a silicone print on the palms/fingers which provided plenty of grip they weren't much more water resistant than fleece gloves but when wet felt colder and took longer to dry.

When the Black Diamond gloves arrived I was surprised at how thin they were, I expected a 'Midweight' glove to be thicker but as Black Diamond also make a lightweight and heavyweight fleece glove (with silicone grips on thumb/forefinger/Index Finger and a goat leather palm) I guess it's relative. The other thing that I noticed was that the leather palm was exactly that, apart from extending very slightly up the thumb and forefinger.

The gloves are made from Polartec Powerstretch which provides a nice close fit and being 'midweight' don't feel bulky. What I particularly like is the long cuff, some fleece gloves have quite a short cuff but these extend well beyond my wrist. As they're close fitting they work well under my Marmot unlined shell gloves, better in fact than the liners that came supplied with the Marmot gloves.

So far I've only managed to try them when skiing last Tuesday, the temperature was quite low so the snow was dry but the gloves didn't wet out even though my ski poles have suede grips, clipping in and out of the bindings and so on wasn't a problem nor was operating a DSLR. I suspect that with the leather palm they'll provide plenty of grip on a canoe paddle but apart from twirling a paddle in the garage I've yet to try them.

Good as they are they aren't perfect though, I can't quite see the point in not having the leather extend the full length of the thumb and forefinger at least, as it is the leather palm improves the grip over a plain fleece glove if you're holding a mug or flask but for more delicate tasks where you're using forefinger and thumb they aren't really any better than plain fleece gloves, the other advantage of full leather finger and thumb is durability, as it is the gloves are starting to feel a little worn where the thumb leather ends probably due to the suede grip on my ski poles. That said it's perhaps a bit unfair to criticize them for that as they aren't marketed as ski gloves.

All in all I'm pleased enough with the performance that if I lost/damaged them I'd replace them with another pair. I may get a pair of ME Windchill Grip gloves which as far as I know have the Silicone print all over the palms including fingers and thumb or alternatively the Black Diamond Heavyweight fleece glove to see if they offer any advantage otherwise I'll be using the Black Diamond Midweight's as the foundation on which to build my 'Glove System'

My gloves are size Large and weigh 48g pair, they cost £17.99 from Webtogs

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Vango Halo 200 Update

Well the snow has mostly gone after a rise in temperature Thursday and Friday and to cap it all I've been struck down with the lurgy, woe is me :-(

I'm just posting a quick update about the Halo 200, when I got it the weather was mild and wet but I kept it pitched up for over a week just to check for leaks etc. Although it wasn't really windy everything was fine. I had to pitch it again just prior to the snow arriving and again it stayed pitched as it was frozen solid and plastered with snow and ice and I didn't want it melting all over the garage floor.

Although it hasn't been any further than my garden and hasn't been subjected to high winds it's passed every other test so far. It held up just fine in the snow and in use when I was trying out the X-Lite sleeping mats there was no problem with condensation, the inner was completely dry. Obviously one person sleeping in a 2 person tent in temperatures well below freezing wasn't going to test ventilation to the limits.

The space for 2 is very good and the porches are quite spacious, for 1 person it's luxury. I'm toying with the idea of going over to Scotland early next year if we don't get snow here as I want to get the skis out again. I'll be car camping I expect and obviously I'll use the Halo 200, the only thing left to test is it's ability to withstand high winds but so far it's handled whatever conditions came along and at the price I'm delighted.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Karrimor X-Lite Self Inflate Sleeping Mats

Mention Karrimor on an outdoors forum these days and you can expect to hear how the Karrimor name is only applied to rubbish. Well in my experience some current Karrimor branded kit is as good as anything else out there and the top end rucksacks as well put together as any of my 80's/90's Karrimor sacks. To get to the point I was browsing the Field & Trek website recently when I came across tapered/mummy shaped self inflate sleeping mats branded as Karrimor X-Lite. I looked at the suggested weight of both the 3/4 mat and the full mat and they seemed surprisingly light compared to my Multimat Adventure Superlite 25. The mats were priced at £29.99 and £34.99 for the 3/4 and full mat respectively and the weights were given as 325g for the 3/4 and 475g for the full length. For comparison a Thermarest Pro Lite 3/4 is 310g/£61.99 while the regular is 460g/£71.49.

Karrimor X-Lite Sleeping Mats

I posted about the X-Lite mats on OM but most people who replied seemed to be concerned that they'd weigh more than suggested or would be of poor quality. In the end I decided to give them a try myself as if they were significantly heavier than suggested I could return them. If however they were as advertised they'd offer a significant weight saving over my Multimat and rectangular 3/4 Karrimor mat bought from Sports Direct for around £10 and weighing less than my Alpkit Wee Airic.

The mats arrived a few days later and the 1st thing I did was weigh them.

Full Length - Suggested Weight 475g, Actual with/without Stuff Sack - 485g/473g

3/4 length - Suggested weight 325g, Actual with/without Stuff Sack - 346g/334g

Although both were heavier than suggested when the stuff sack was included they weren't outrageously overweight so I decided to keep both. The stuffsacks are quite a bit bigger than needed as the mats both roll up very small, I suspect I could get both mats in one stuffsack.

Full Length Mat, 473g (100g Gas Cartridge for scale)

3/4 Length Mat, 334g (100g Gas Cartridge for Scale)

What caught my attention was the fabric used and also the type of valve (my basic karrimor mat uses the same valve type), both look identical to my Multimat. As far as I know Multimat don't make a tapered mat in the Adventure Superlite range but I'd be very surprised if the Karrimor mats aren't made in the same factory from the same materials which makes them good value for money.

Karrimor X-Lite, Multimat Adventure Superlite 25

Karrimor and Multimat, Fabric Looks Identical

As I had the Vango Halo 200 pitched for the past week and a half I decided to try the full length X-Lite mat. I used a PHD Minim 500 rather than my Golite Adrenaline 0°f as I wanted to push the mat to see how it performed (I don't find the Minim 500 warm enough as I was cold using it in Scotland in May, I think it's too roomy for me) I wore a baselayer consisting of heattech L/S top and serious longjohns together with my Goosefeet down socks. I did start to feel cold in the early hours so pulled on the Uniqlo down jacket and was comfortably warm and I didn't feel any cold coming from the ground. When I checked the thermometer in the morning the minimum temperature had been -9°c outside/-4°c inside.

If you prefer self inflate mats I'd certainly recommend them although while the Thermarest Prolite mats are much more expensive and not much lighter you do get a better guarantee.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Winter Wonderland

Tuesday was my last day off before starting my shift again but unfortunately I couldn't make it to the hills as I had some Christmas shopping to do. I made the best of it by testing out a new sleeping mat I'd bought. I'd pitched the Vango Halo 200 in the garden a week ago just before the snow to let a workmate see it and had left it pitched so took the opportunity to sleep in it on Monday night. As it turned out the temperature dropped to -9°c but the sleeping mat was fine.

As I was free until 1.00pm I took my skis down to the field in front of my Mum's house for a bit of practice and after returning from town I went back for another go. It was almost 4.00pm by the time I arrived, the sun was setting and a fog was lying in the hollows which made it look really nice. I managed to get some more practice in but spent some time simply standing around watching the colours change and managed to take a few photos before the light went completely.

As for the practice, well I was trying to execute a Telemark turn but you know how it is when you're attempting something but you can't actually see what you're doing? Well perception and reality can be quite a bit different but I roped Alison in to taking some shots and discovered to my dismay that whatever the turn was that I'd executed it wasn't a Telemark!!

Oh well, at least it wasn't a snowplough turn for a change, if we still have snow I'll try again on Saturday :-)

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.