Sunday, 14 August 2011

Cairgorm Day Walk, Northern Corries

I was over in Scotland in July for a week car camping with the family but did manage a couple of day walks. The 1st was a walk around the northern corries starting from the ski center at Glenmore in the Cairngorms. We were camped at the campsite in Glenmore so with I set off leaving wife, daughter and niece who were intending visiting the Reindeer center and so on.

It had been showery the previous day since leaving Braemar and although it was fine when I left the car park at the ski center it didn't look like it would be a rain free day. I simply followed the path that crosses below the northern corries and by the time I'd reached Coire nan Lochain I was down to a t-shirt. The cloud kept rolling in though and by the time I was heading up between Coire nan lochain and Lurchers Crag the wind picked up a little and the 1st drops of rain appeared. At this point there was no indication of how long the rain would last so I pulled on my waterproofs, Marmot Essence jacket and TNF Resolve over-trousers (recieved from Webtogs for review)

As I reached the plateau with Coire nan Lochain to my left visibility was poor although the cloud did tend to lighten/thicken continually. I hadn't gone far along the path when I saw in the distance what looked like a herd of reindeer. They were pretty far away and weren't in a direct line with where I was going so I continued on towards the point where I'd turn and head towards the high point on Coire nan Lochain.

The rain eventually stopped and the sun started to break through and as visibility improved I saw another herd of reindeer, I say another but it may well have been the same herd I'd seen earlier that had simply moved up the steeper western slopes of Coire nan Lochain whereas I'd taken the longer less steep approach.

Although they weren't directly between me and the cairn they started to walk in my direction. I was pretty sure that they weren't going to be a problem so I kept on going and they kept on coming until they were right beside me, within touching distance. I'm sure they're used to humans but even so it was a real buzz to be alone on the hill with a herd of reindeer. There were a few calves with them and although they were quite comfortable while I took some photographs something, perhaps I made a sudden movement, spooked them and they raced off although they didn't go far.

Once I'd reached the cairn on Coire nan Lochain I continued arourd the rim of the corrie towards Coire An'Sneachta. The weather was fine now although there was still a stiff breeze in places so i removed my fleece (Mountain Hardwear 100wt Full Zip) but wore the Marmot Essence as a wind shirt, I've found the Marmot Essence to be breathable enough that I don't carry an actual windshirt anymore. The views towards Ben MacDui and Loch Etchacan were fantastic especially as the cloud kept drifting around and as I reached the Fiacall a Coire Cas I stopped for lunch. Taking in the views it would have been nice to have stayed out overnight but it wasn't to be this time.

Having re-fuelled I continued on up to the top of Cairngorm before decending to the Ptarmigan resturant where I was able to go in for a mug of coffee. Although all the equipment that comes with Cairngorm being a ski center is a bit of an eyesore it doesn't bother me too much, the reality is that there's enough space for everyone, same for the mtb/downhill ski stuff at Aonach Mor. That said I'll be hypocritical and say I'm glad that they didn't manage to expand the ski center into the northern corries as was suggested a few years ago.

Having left the Ptarmigan I continued to the car park by way of the 'Windy Ridge' walk. Apart from the rain I'd had on the way up to the plateau at the start it'd been dry all day but as I was getting myself organised at the ski center the rain started and it was really heavy on the way back to the campsite. As it turned out the others had been stuck in the tent all day as it had started raining shortly after I'd left.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Home DIY, Computer Problems and Car Camping.

I havdn't had a chance to get out recently as I was busy renovating/re decorating my daughters room, one of those jobs I hate as it always turns out to be more involved than expected. Thankfully the worst is over but at the same time my computer started crashing and I didn't have time to work on it. In the end I reluctantly bought a new tower, reluctantly as I was quite happy running Windows XP and didn't want to change to Windows 7.

Although I use my computer quite a bit I'm not a computer junkie, I don't want to know how it works, why it works or need to have multimedia capability or a home network to keep in touch with the other 2 members of my family so I expected to be frustrated by the latest offering from Microsoft and it turns out I was right.

In addition to the above we'd planned to go to Scotland for a week car camping and I've only just got home. I didn't expect to get much walking done although I did manage a walk around the Northern Corries in the Cairngorms and started out to do the Ring of Steall but turned back due to feeling a bit off on the day.

We got back late Thursday night and yesterday was spent sorting out kit and trying to get the new computer sorted. In the end I pulled the hard drive from the old computer and installed it in the new one as it was easier to transfer my files that way. Of course some documents won't display properly and I still have all my programs to re-install.

I'll get there in the end.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Mountain Hardwear Micro Chill Fleece Jacket

I had the opportunity to try a Mountain Hardwear Micro Chill 1/2 zip fleece top a while back thanks to Webtogs. Although it was a nice enough top I felt that it was a bit expensive given that it was a fairly basic design. I also mentioned the full zip version which had a few other features that I felt made it worth the small increase in price.

The features missing on the 1/2 zip version that I'd have liked were a waist draw cord and some kind of cuff on the sleeves. The Micro Chill Full Zip fleece has both and in addition has a small zipped chest pocket and 2 zipped hand warmer pockets. I mentioned at the time that I didn't own a 100 wt fleece but I found that the more I wore the 1/2 zip version the more often I found myself looking at the jacket, in the end I decided to purchase one.

I choose size medium the same as the 1/2 zip as although it's a little looser than perhaps a 100 wt fleece should be I wanted the extra arm length, I also choose the same colour. Delivery was quick as usual, I ordered on Friday afternoon and the jacket arrived on Monday. The fit is pretty much the same as the 1/2 zip as you'd expect and I'm very pleased with it. I much prefer to have a waist draw cord generally but as I up sized slightly in this case it's almost a necessity. The shock cord is slightly stiff and I may replace it with a softer cord in time.

The shock cord adjusts at both side by way of a captive cord lock although it's slightly over engineered. Rather than attach the cord lock directly by way of a webbing loop the webbing loop has a plastic ring which in turn prevents the cord lock from moving.

The main zip is quite chunky and allows the jacket to be zipped into a compatible shell while the pocket zip are less chunky. The cuffs appear to be loose like the ones on the 1/2 zip version but actually have inner cuffs which seem to be made from a lycra type fabric. This works quite well, the cuffs aren't bulky yet the fleece protects the lycra and as the inner cuffs are wide they aren't uncomfortable or restrictive.

One thing that did strike me as a bit strange though is the shoulder/sleeve design. I mentioned when I reviewed the 1/2 zip version that the sleeves were raglan style rather than regular set in style and that the seams were flat stitched to reduce bulk or rubbing from rucksac shoulder straps, the full zip version in spite of sharing the same name (Micro Chill) has set in regular seam shoulders. This isn't something that concerns me personally but it's worth noting if you suffer from sensitive shoulders.

Although the full zip version is more expensive at £49.50, the 1/2 zip version being £40.49 I personally feel that if you're spending £40 or so it's worth spending the extra £10 for the increased versatility.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

TNF Resolve Over Trousers, Review

I've just received a pair of TNF Resolve over trousers from Webtogs for review. Given the weather conditions recently over trousers could well be a summer essential so it shouldn't take long to find out just how waterproof they are.

The TNF Resolve are made from TNF's own waterproof breathable fabric, HyVent. TNF refer to it as a 3 layer fabric, (the very similar TNF Venture over trousers are referred to as 2.5 layer but are heavier or perhaps lighter* at 220g) the Ripstop outer shell, the mid layer being a PU coating and micro pores and an unspecified inner layer, unspecified unless the mesh lining is classed as an inner layer. I'm fairly certain that waterproof clothing that uses a mesh drop liner is generally considered as being 2 layer, that of course may only be the case when a breathable membrane is used rather than a breathable PU coating.

The over trousers are a fairly slim fit, the waist is elasticated and also has a drawcord, there are 2 zipped mesh pockets but the zips are standard non waterproof type and although they have storm flaps they look quite small. The legs have zipped openings which open to just below knee level, again zips are regular type and like the pockets have quite narrow storm flaps. The ankles can be tightened by way of velcro which is useful. Finally the trousers are fully lined with a fairly open mesh fabric. The advertised weight is 200g.

Design aside it's how well they perform that will be the real issue, I haven't had the opportunity to try them yet so the best I can do is give an initial opinion based on the design.

Firstly and perhaps of most concern is the weight, the suggested weight is 200g, mine in 'Small' weigh 296g. I expect most kit to weigh a little more than advertised but in this case the difference is too much especially as with this kind of lighter weight kit the weight is probably second only to actual performance in importance and it may be the deciding factor when choosing between 2 similar products.

I'm undecided about the pockets, on the one hand I do tend to carry stuff in my pockets but they do have the potential to leak given that the storm flaps are minimal.

The zips on the lower leg do make it easier to pull them on over a pair of trainers but unfortnately the mesh lining tends to get caught up which makes them more difficult to pull on than they could/should be, addditionaly the mesh lining also tends to bunch up and get caught when removing them. I guess the mesh is to make them feel more comfortable when wearing shorts but as I don't wear shorts I find the mesh pointless, serving only to add weight and making them more troublesome to put on/take off.

On initial inspection it looks like the knees are articulated to ease movement, on closer inspection this isn't the case. There are seams running just below the knee but that's simply as the legs are made from 4 pieces of fabric rather than a 2 full length pieces (front/back). This results in having a seam running around the leg but I suspect that's simply to make better use of the fabric at the cutting stage during manufacture. The seams are taped but less seams is usually better unless they're required to create a particular shape.

As I mentioned previously the actual performance will be the critical issue, in the meantime the Pro's and Con's are as follows.

Reasonably Inexpensive
Appear well made

Weigh Significantly More than Advertised (296g Actual/200g Advertised)
Poorly Protected (Pocket) Zips
Mesh Lining (Adds Weight, Catches on Shoes when Putting on/removing)

Clearly the weight is an issue, at nearly 300g it's possible to get something like the RAB Drillium eVent over trousers although it should be pointed out that the RAB's are 2 x times the price.

Interestingly I had a quick look on the website, the Resolve 'Pant' is listed as having an average weight of 360g it does however also mention a "comfortable brushed collar lining" and mentions that, "The adjustable hood stows in the collar"

That's certainly a 1st in my experience.

I also looked at the TNF Strider pant, the Strider appears to be a full zip version of the Resolve but the suggested weight is 270g

Friday, 10 June 2011

MYOG, Hammock Under Quilt, #2

I mentioned recently about trying to make an Under Quilt for my hammock, my 1st attempt was simply converting a small regular shaped sleeping bag which worked ok. The 2nd attempt was making one from scratch using the Kick Ass Quilts Potomac plans but that was designed for a Hennessey hammock which is assymetric while my hammock is a regular gathered end type. The Quilt wasn't too difficult to make although I made a few mistakes, the main one being that I managed to mirror the layout so what was intended as the inside (next to the hammock) became the outside. I didn't realise that until I'd given it to Ralph who'd tried it on his Hennessey hammock.

I still had sufficient fabric left for another try as the intention was always to make 2 quilts. I couldn't find plans for a synthetic quilt for a gathered end hammock so had to come up with a design myself.

Pattern Pinned to Shell Fabric

My hammock when opened out is basically rectangular so the easiest option would have been to make the quilt rectangular, in fact that's how the sleeping bag conversion worked out but I wanted to keep the weight as low as possible so figured there was no point in having a load of quilt gathered up at each end. In the end what I came up with was a tapered shape. As quilt tapered towards the ends I needed to place a dart along each long side so that when attached to the hammock the edge would be horizontal.

The Darts when Sewn Up Create a 'Bucket' Shape and Make the Top Edge Horizontal

Another weight saver was to make it shorter, the KAQ Potomac was about 2.4m while the sleeping bag quilt ended up about 1.8m so I settled on 2m. Another weight saver was more by accident than design, I didn't have enough 4oz insulation so had to use 2oz instead.

Patterns for Reinforing Patches and Draw Cord Tunnels

With the design sorted I made a pattern and cut the 2 pieces of fabric that made the shell together with 4 reinforcment patches for the corners and 4 drawcord tunnels. With all the pieces cut I weighed them and as it looked a bit close to my target weight of 500g I decided to have drawcords only at each and forget about the ones down the side as I found that the KAQ Potomac even though it has shockcords along each side tended to curl over the hammock anyway.

With the pieces cut I started to sew it together, again most of the work is done on the inner shell to which I added the corner reinforcements, draw cord tunnels, cord locks on webbing and webbing loops to suspend the quilt. With that done I sewed up the darts but decided to add 2 webbing loops along each side. The reason for the loops was that in the event that there's insufficient insulation I can make a 3/4 length quilt to attach underneath the main quilt.

Fitting Suspension Loops and Captive Cord Locks

Shell and Insulation Laid up Prior to Being Pinned for Sewing

The last big job was to pin insulation and shell together and sew them up, the head end is left open so that the quilt can be turned right side out and then the seam can be sewn up. To finish it off I simply added shock cord to the ends to gather the quilt in a little at the ends, added suspension shock cords and made up a stuff sack.

End Draw Cords and Suspension Shock Cord

Packed, 508g

Trying the quilt on the hammock the fit is thankfully fine and although I didn't quite manage to meet the 500g target it's very close at 508g in the stuff sack.

Of course there are a few things that could be improved, mainly weight/insulation. The quilt is extends up the sides of the hammock quite a bit and I could easily make it a bit narrower and the draw cord tunnels are too wide so I'd cut them narrower too. Finally the fabric and insulation, I could make the biggest performance difference here, I used shop bought polyester lining for the shell and cheap off the roll insulation. Obviously as it was all a bit experimental I didn't want to spend too much but I'm getting close to a design that I would be 90% satisfied with and that being the case I wouldn't mind spending more. That said the hammock is a bit of a fun thing for fine weather only so the cheap option is more than likely good enough. I probably will get some more of the same fabric/insulation just to make up the 3/4 length add on quilt that I'd though about just to see how it would work out.

I still need to try the hammock though, it will happen but not until the weather improves.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Slieveanorra Forest and Altnahinch Reservoir

I was out for another short walk with Les on Tuesday, this time we decided on a walk in Slieveanorra forest starting near Altnahinch reservoir. The River Bush has its source just above the reservoir and flows into and out of the dam on its way to the sea at Port Ballintrae. The Bush is famous as a Salmon River and also as the water source for the world famous Bushmills Whiskey distillery which is situated in the North Antrim village of Bushmills.

The weather wasn’t promising with rain forecast for most of the day and when we started off on the forest track it was raining heavily although there was no wind. We both had some new gear which was getting a 1st outing, in my case a pair of Keen Gorge neoprene canoeing/water sports boots while Les had picked up a Berghaus waterproof jacket and a Lowe Alpine day sack.

The rain was relentless and visibility poor as we made our way through the forest so when we reached the point where we had to decide on going to the summit of Slieveanorra or doubling back towards the reservoir we decided on the reservoir. All the small streams running through the forest were in full flow and in a few other places where they’d exceeded the capacity of their normal route they’d taken the path of least resistance on their way down towards the reservoir.

Not having taken a map I discovered one of the limitations of relying on a hand held GPS even though it has maps installed. Although the Lowrance Safari is waterproof the screen is barely readable when wet so when we reached a junction that led off in the direction we wanted to go we took it. Unfortunately it led to a dead end and while we may have been able to bushwhack our way through, the trees were quite young and consequently close and we couldn’t discern sufficient detail on the GPS to be sure exactly what direction to take or how far we’d have to go to break out of the densely wooded area, as it was still raining heavily the prospect of forcing a way through thick wet undergrowth wasn’t particularly appealing. The correct choice was obviously to back track and take the other path which we did.

We continued along the track before taking to the forest for a bit and when we emerged the cloud had lifted sufficiently to be able to see the Wind Turbines on Slievenahanagan on the other side of the glen. As the cloud lifted the rain eased off and by the time we’d left the forest and reached the road it had stopped completely.

We only has to walk the road for about 1.5km to reach the entrance to the reservoir but there was enough to see in the way of wild flowers, another unexpected find was an old railway carriage. I’ve seen old railway carriages before in places were there aren’t any railways, disused or otherwise so I assume that they were sold off and bought for use as sheds, this one looked like it might have been used as a potting shed but who knows.

As soon as we reached the reservoir, one of the last to be built in Northern Ireland and completed sometime in the late 1960’s we took to the path and walked down to the foot of the headwall, it’s a small reservoir but interesting nonetheless. In spite of living close to the reservoir I can’t remember being down at the outflow before so it was an unexpected bonus and one that I wouldn’t have had if the weather had been better. From the foot of the headwall there’s a steep grassy slope up to the reservoir itself, about halfway up a wall runs to the top, on one side the wall is only about a metre high but on the other side there’s an ever increasing drop, it was along the top of the wall that I decided to test the grip of the Keen Gorge boots but as the drop to my left increased I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and jumped off (to my right), in any case they felt secure enough.

Once up at the reservoir we discovered a few guys fishing, the reservoir holds native Brown Trout but is also stocked with Rainbow Trout from the Movanagher Fish farm situated on the River Bann, in fact we passed the fish farm while at the lock gates at Movanagher on our Easter canoe trip. From there it was only a short walk along the road again to the car.

Again another interesting walk, something different and as I’d just picked up a copy of Irelands Wild Flowers I was happy to get some photographs for identification later.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Keen Gorge Boots, Review

Webtogs contacted me recently to see if I'd be interested in a pair of Keen Gorge boots for review. The Keen Gorge are a neoprene boot not unlike the type I would wear surfing but with a much stiffer sole. They're aimed mainly at watersport activities such as canoeing but the sole design suggested that they were intended for use where a bit of portaging or river walking would be required. Looking at the description on the Webtogs site they mention the high traction sole. The sole has a fairly low profile tread pattern and doesn't have a heel step but the wedge shaped 'fishscales' on the sole are opposing so I felt they'd be grippier than they looked.

I'd intended to wear them without socks which is how I wear my wetsuit boots but in the case of the wetsuit boots it's nescessity as they're a split toe design. With that in mind I requested size 9 in the Keen Gorge but when they arrived they were too small so had to be exchanged for size 10. As it turned out size 10 can stretch enough to allow me to wear socks if I wish.

The boots are promarily neoprene which obviously isn't waterproof, the idea is that they retain water which eventually heats up. My wetsuit boots, Alder Plasma 7mm are winter boots and as such are blindstitched, glued and liquid sealed to reduce flushing (cold water flushing through and displacing the water already warmed) and have kept my feet toasty winter/spring on the North Antrim coast which is essentially the Atlantic. The Keen Gorge however are 3mm and appear to have a basic stitch patter however given that I wouldn't expect my feet to be submerged for anything like the time they would surfing I'd no reservations about warmth.

The sole unit is quite substantial with the trademark Keen toecap which extends up over the toe, there's a decent heel cup and the outside of the toe area is heavily reinforced to prevent wear against the sides of a kayak. Fastening is by a wide velcro strap across the forefoot, in addition the cuff is secured by a velcro patch and for additional security there's a 2nd thinner strap that passes around the back of the ankle above the heel cup and secures at the front which holds your heel in place.

One other thing worth mentioning is the packaging, using recycled materials is a step in the right direction, more information on Keen's 'Corporate Responsibility can be found Here

Having worn basic trainers in my canoe and having had to wade through shallow parts of the river in them and having had experience of neoprene boots I didn't have any reservations about how they'd fare when used as intended. What I wanted to try though was wearing them as walking footwear. I don't like cold wet feet which is why I tend to use wool/wool mix socks or if I expect the going to be really wet I'll use gore tex socks however I had a short walk planned for today which I knew would primarily be on forest tracks or through the forest off trail so decided to try the Keens.

As it turned out I could hardly have picked a worse (or better?) day to try them out. It was raining when Les arrived and continued for most of the time we were out with only a brief dry spell towards the end.

Although we were mostly on a track at the beginning and I could feel my feet getting wet they never felt as cold as they would have just wearing trainers, I put this down to the slow rate at which the water penetrates the neoprene. With water running off my over trousers my feet were soon saturated but at no time did they feel cold.

The boots were comfortable while on the move although the toe bumper is quite noticable when stopped as it seems to down on my big toe. I found it slightly annoying but as I say I didn't notice it on the move, it may well be that it's something that is more/less noticable depending on foot shape.

The sole unit provided plenty of grip on the tracks and off trail through the forest although I suspect that steep slopes with short wet grass may prove to be a problem. As I hadn't had the opportunity to test that I tried walking up a steeply angled wall which was covered in moss and again I didn't have a problem with lack of grip.

I wouldn't expect them to dry quickly so once they're wet you can expect them to stay wet for the duration unless the weather is really warm/sunny. That's just a charcteristic of neoprene, my wetsuit/boots/gloves are just the same so if surfing on consecutive days you just have to put on wet kit but it does warm up quickly. The Keen boots being 3mm should of course dry quicker than my other kit which is 7mm.

Used as intended they look like a good product, for canoeing or packrafting which requires a bit of walking they should be a good option as walking in them is no problem at all. Used as I did as a walking shoe/boot if you're aware of the way neoprene works they work just fine although in warmer weather they're likely to feel a bit hot/sweaty, the solution to that is to step into the 1st stream you find.