Friday, 14 November 2014

Mountains of Technology

Today I had a think, dangerous but it happened. Technology is what instigated it, am I a robot? Obviously I’m not, as my 128k Spectrum was smarter than me never mind the quad processor phone that fits in the watch pocket of my jeans.

My daily reliance on tech however is what made me ask the question. The day starts with my phone as my alarm clock, quickly leading to the checking of messages, email, social media; a laptop is my connection with work, the news and on the go TV; a tablet is my book and magazine. At work I try not to print off anything and use purely electronic documents (or soft copy, which is a really uncomfortable term for me). My little bit to saving the world. (I do try other ways of environmental conservation.) If it wasn't for spell check I would be compared to preschool age spelling level, including grammer (spell check highlighted my poor spelling of grammar, I have left if for poetic symbolism).
So what distinguishes me from a machine now, when my day no longer operates without a thingamajig running my life? So, I switched my thoughts to my outdoor life. “I go to the mountains”, I tell myself “I don’t need technology when I’m in the fresh air, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature!
I have an OS map and a Silva compass and I’m free from the ties of technology”
Then I think “Apart from my phone, in case there’s an emergency and I need to contact the emergency services, but that’s okay that’s to keep me safe.”

This then led to the bubble bursting like the Hindenburg! 

I use a website to plan my routes. I have an etrex GPS in my pack for the (un)likely event of being geographically misplaced. Sometimes I have my tablet tucked in my pack tracking my walk off-line on Viewranger, to later upload to Social Hiking. Introducing further electronic dependence when I return home. My camera, can that be included? Yes, as when I’m sat on the couch with the laptop saving my pictures on the hard drive, with the TV on in the background, then uploading those images on to Twitter orFlickr the electrical enslavement continues.

So I control my breath a little better and calm down. I am a gadget geek, I don’t know how the magic works but I try and learn the basics. I have just looked at upgrading my tablet recently. I’d love one of the new GoPro’s, what I do with it I’d need to try and figure out but I still want one. I have no real need for these extras and I am the first to admit it.

Am I going to change my life because of my minor panic attack this morning? In a word, No. What I will (try to) do is minimise my exposure time to the cyber world. I have just bought this stunning book The Great Mountain Crags of Scotland by Guy Robertson and Adrian Crofton, published by Vertebrate Publishing. It’s a beautiful book and I need to have a technology time out to take it in.
I totally understand the way everyday life is heading. I know my daughter whilst going through school will likely gradually have less and less involvement with books and writing. Which is a shame but her nursery were using the fruit based tablets so where does it go from there?

What else can I do? What do you do to minimise it? Do you minimise it or do you just accept it and embrace the change?
I will have to think more on this whilst in a calm environment. Probably during some outdoors time…

Monday, 3 November 2014

Roll Up, Roll Up...

I've not taken part in much charity stuff recently, I put money in the the little boxes I pass but nothing on a bigger scale. So I have come up with an idea and have been formulating it behind the scenes, you may have seen hints of it on Twitter or you may have received an email from me as part of the planning process.

So here's the plan - 

A Prize Draw in aid of Scottish Mountain Rescue and Mountain Rescue England and Wales, two worthy charities which support all of us outdoor goers when we need them. They are on call 24/7 on a voluntarily and they help hundreds of people on a yearly basis. They recently assisted a friend of mine that is a very experienced mountaineer, so it's not just the jeans and t-shirt brigade that benefit from their skills.
This image was kindly donated by @csbradders
For the measly sum of £10 you will be entered into a Prize Draw that could give you the chance to receive a load of outdoor gear and paraphernalia, think Gadget Show just less techy. In fact there will be two separate draws. One male and one female, this is because I have a couple of things that are gender specific. How the non specific stuff will be split up will develop over the course of the month. 

I have a small pot of things at the moment but there are companies and individuals that have expressed an interest in donating. As these are confirmed I will post them.

Nordiclife has donated a male and female mesh base layer. With winter on it's way these will be invaluable.

Vertebrate Publishing has donated two books: Echoes by Nick Bullock and Hanging On by Martin Boysen. Two award nominated books well worth a read.

























Ian Macloed Distillers have donated a bottle of Isle of Skye 8yo Blended Scotch Whiskey. Isle of Skye Whiskey sponsors the Scottish Mountain Rescue, a wee dram to keep them warm when they are out on on a cold Scottish  night. (Disclaimer: they probably aren't as they are professionals)

The amazing photographer that is Stewart Smith has promised one of his beautiful prints of your choosing in A3, framed and signed. The print will be one of only fifty that will be put to high quality photo paper. Below is an example of the ability of Mr Smith and an image of this caliber could be hung pride of place on your wall.
The man that is Chris Townsend has been in touch and has donated four of his very own, both written and owned, books. I may also chance my arm and ask him to sign them. The books are:
  • The Great Backpacking Adventure
  • High Summer: Backpacking the Canadian Rockies
  • Crossing Arizona: A Solo Hike Through The Sky Islands and Deserts of the Arizona Trail
  • Grizzly Bears and Razor Clams: Walking America's Pacific Northwest Trail
As a look forward Mr Townsend is putting together a list of gear he has tested personally, surely it is worth more tested by him than it is off the shelf?

The truly British outdoor company True Mountain have included two water bottles and from their sister company two Suprabeam V5 head torches.


From my own gear cupboard I have put in an LED Lenser head torch. The H7.2. From the site it has "a new upgraded CREE LED light chip, new multi-function Dynamic ‘wheel’ Switch and the addition of Smart Light Technology to work alongside the world renowned patented Advanced Focus System optics are just a few highlights of the many innovations integrated into this stunning Head Lamp."

Additional items that have been contributed to the cause(05/11/14) -

The Munro Moonwalker, Alan Rowan, has donated his 5 star rated book Moonwalker: Adventures of a Midnight Mountaineer, tackling Munro's in the middle of the night.
The great guys at Scottish Mountain Rescue had a couple of LEDLenser torches ready to contribute for the winter nights coming. The H14.2 headtorch and the P14.2 torch. (You can never have enough torches:D)
Outdoor Pursuits Scotland have put up this fantastic opportunity for a 1 hour white water rafting experience for four people at Pinkston Watersports Centre in Glasgow. I know it might be a bit far for some but you can come stay at my house, no problem!
One more for the pot (11/11/14)...

The passionate outdoor sports company Vaude (www.vaude.com) has contributed this fantastic Cheyenne 500 down sleeping bag. The mummy cut has an 80/20 quality down fill and is ecologically manufactured in line with the bluesign standard.
Image taken from Vaude website
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As I said there has been other people expressing interest in the prize draw so I hope this bounty will grow through the month. It will be divided closer to the time of the draw into two bundles. And if there is enough stuff that comes in I can try and split it again giving more chances to win.

You can enter as many times as you like increasing your chances of winning but more importantly donating more money to the Mountain Rescue teams.(eg £30 = 3 entries in the draw)

So how we going to do the donating. This has probably been the most annoying. It was my hope to have one online charity donation site that would split it between the charities, however, it hasn't worked out like that. The way I have sorted it is to have a separate page for the Scottish and English & Welsh teams. So it might instill a bit of competition and raise more money, d'ya think? 

Click on the appropriate link below the logo and lets raise some money for these committed teams - 
Donate to Scottish Mountain Rescue
Donate to Mountain Rescue England & Wales















I've set the targets quite high and I hope they are manageable. 

The draw will take place on the 7th December 2014. This is to let the people who have kindly donated and myself get the winners stuff to them before Christmas (yes I am thinking that far ahead). It will be done on a proper "name out the hat" basis and will be completely transparent. Please put enough details in your donation so I can get back in touch with you if you are lucky enough to win.

If anyone knows someone who can help or you can help yourself to expand the haul then please get in touch with me. Leave a comment or through social media.

I hope everyone can get involved and good luck!

Disclaimer: There will be people I know personally that will enter this draw and they will be treated equally to everyone else that donates.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Berghaus Freeflow 25 + 5 Pack

I've had a freeflow pack for a long time. In fact it was one of the first generation versions and I used it for a long time. It's still in the gear cupboard it's just been superseded by my gear obsession.

The current version has changed slightly but the concept hasn't changed. The mesh grid along with the curved panel allows the ''free flow" of air to the back meaning less material pressing on the back whilst you get hot during activity. 
 

The 25 + 5 version you see here has a lot of nice additions - netted pockets, vented "EVABREATHE" shoulder straps and a hydration pocket to name a few. 

The pocket on the flap has a bigger opening with a curved zip opening.
The biggest addition I can see is the BIOFIT system which is an adjustable back height. It has 5 settings from XS to XL allowing it to sit correctly around the waist which it does. It sits comfortably over the shoulders and around the waist. I did find the waist belt loosened off a bit but nothing too serious.
I find that between the mesh and the curved panel is good for stashing my map whilst walking.
The additional features do add to the weight of what is an already weighty system. Granted its not the lightest but it carries well, so a balance is struck.

There are walking pole attachments which can be bastardised to accommodate an ice axe.
I was a bit concerned about the white straps getting filthy but after several lanes on the hill it has returned still white. Obviously just aesthetics.

There's also a rain cover, which I always completely forget about.
I do have difficulty with the volume of the pack. the knock on effect of the curved panel is the main area has to curve too. lt doesn't however have an adverse effect on the packs centre of gravity. What it does affect though is how the pack holds its contents. To me it feels restrictive, the curve seems to impair access to the depths of the sack. Not majorly but enough. And it doesn't feel like it's the full 25 litres.

It doesn't make it a bad pack. Actually its very comfortable which is the main thing. It makes a good summer and pre-winter pack.The side pockets, which I assume are the + 5, are really handy. Normally I keep a water bottle in one and water proof trousers in the other so they're handy.

This model isn't in production anymore it seems. There is a 25 litre and a 30 litre version on Berghaus's site along with all their other products here www.berghaus.com

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Osprey Everyday Use Packs

This is not something I am known for but the commuter/biking series from Osprey has been very useful to me over the last couple of years. I have had to do a bit of travelling in the UK and internationally for work. Living out of a bag and keeping things constantly packed, it's like camping, everything needs to have its place so you know where it is when you need it and you can make sure you haven't left anything behind.
For me Osprey are known for their functionality and these packs are no different. The Momentum has features to the extent of Alpine climbing packs! The Flapjack is simple and functional. That’s not a criticism, it's what makes it brilliant.

Osprey says this pack is "born to commute". I tend to agree. lt has 30 litres of volume, it feels like it swallows double that! It has enough space for a long weekend in Holland or filing cabinet for a travelling consultant. It comes under the biking series on Ospreys site, truth be known I've never had it on whilst cycling. However I have used it in several guises. It has never let we down.

I’m not going to list its features, it has already been listed here ..... It has enough nooks and cranny's to tuck away all sorts of bits and bobs.
The laptop sleeve has a top opening has a water resistant zip. I wouldn't necessarily trust it to keep persistent rain out but it’ll defend the enclosed tech well enough in the short term. When there is a laptop in the sleeve, the back panel is obviously very flat and rigid. The Airscape system is not very thick so the comfort factor drops. Accepting this the shoulder straps, sternum strap and the minimal waist belt, which is removable, allows the pack to sit comfortably whilst carried. In with the sleeve there is a secondary pouch that will hold a 10 inch tablet.
The main compartment is cavernous and neat at the same time. There is a document sleeve, individual netted pocket along with the main void. On the outside near the bottom there are two pockets for small items, they have net barriers to catch/hold the items in. The issue I have with these pockets is when the main compartment is jammed full (which has happened) these pockets become redundant as they are squeezed shut.
 
There is a small organiser pocket on the front which is good for storing keys and other handy bits. Just above the zip of the pocket is Ospreys Lidlock bike helmet attachment, as I said this hasn't been involved in any 2 wheeled activity but with its elastic pull cord I'm sure it works just fine.
Stitched to the front is an elastic stretch panel, it’s good for stuffing a jumper or lightweight jacket in when it’s not needed.
Last but not least there is a highly visible rain cover tucked in the bottom of the pack - glowing! 

Does yellow and orange not clash?

I have used this bag for nearly 2 years, it is with me every day with varying uses. Each time it's done what I have required of it. On a daily basis it carries useful stuff: chargers, note pad, tablet, water, a magazine, head torch, earphones.... The list could go on for the full blog. This should also give an indication of its carrying capabilities, Ospreys site doesn't give a volume but I'd estimate 18/20 litres with the usual Osprey doocots to keep everything separate but still together.

It could have many descriptors too: courier, messenger, laptop, go or man bag. Me, I just call it my bag. The colour of this pack is specced as black, well it’s not is it? Its graphite or grey. It was a bit of a sticking point when I was buying it but I'm not fussed now, well, I say that I would prefer it to be black!

Anyway, the shoulder strap has a padded slider on it which is obviously essential when the weight of the bag mounts up, the downside of it is there is a grippy rubber section that spells ‘Osprey’ on the underside. It's designed to help keep the slider in place whilst walking. It does this, what it also did was pull at the nylon shell of a down jacket completely ruining the shoulder. Fortunately now the rubber has pulled off with use, so no more destruction. My advice pick it off when you buy it.
The waist strap is useful for keeping the bag behind you. I've used it a couple of times when I've had to move hastily somewhere. Late for a train! It's removable but I've never felt the need as it doesn't cause any discomfort.
The flap has a little pocket which is useful for stashing small items quickly. The flap is mainly held down with the velcro panel and its strong! It hasn't failed to hold even at its heaviest when lifted by the carry handle. The clips, which are interchangeable with different colours provided, I only use when I've stuffed so much in that it's the only way to keep the lid down.
Once the lid is open the first thing that stands out is the green interior. At first it seems a bit garish, eventually it dies down, probably due to dirt but alongside this the light colour becomes a benefit. The depths of the bag don't seem so dark and it makes stuff easier to find. I don't think the underside of the flap needs to be green but it’s nothing major.

The main compartment is split into three. The rear slot will take a smaller lap top, mine has a travel wallet and a notepad with Sidetrack magazine for inspiration. The centre divider is a padded pocket which is padded with a zip closure. My 7in tablet lives in here on its end with room to spare. It's designed for 10in versions. The front part is the largest portion and holds all the bigger items.
The larger zip pocket has individual slots. I use these for earphones, usb sticks, a torch and a multi tool. There is plenty of room at the bottom of the pocket for dropping other nick nacks in to.

The front pocket is quite thin so it’s quite limiting to what you can put in here. It has the key clip which I use regularly. The pocket is however useful.
On the side there is a dedicated water bottle pocket, it fits my Camelbak Eddy bottle perfectly. Another casualty of time has been the zip pull loop snapping, I've replaced it with a bit of string which gets me by.
So, a different element to my gear closet. Both very useful bags, as a duo and individually. The Flap Jack is a great carry-on luggage bag but it just works for me every day. The Momentum could do a day hike and be very comfortable, without a laptop being pressed up against your back. For a daily cycle commute, even with a laptop, it would carry everything you need comfortably with the usual robust quality of Osprey.
Unfortunately I don’t spend the majority of my time in the outdoors, so this kind of kit is something I use regularly. I will continue to use the Flap Jack daily and the Momentum will be in support of it when required. So let’s go to work…

The full range of all Osprey's packs can be found at www.ospreyeurope.com There are a lot of new packs and updates to the existing range.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Ben More and Stob Binnein

The five o'clock Sunday alarm has been absent in my routine for too long. It's the only alarm that I don't snooze, weekday buzzing's are normally prolonged. This morning however I am removing the absence and I have my plan in place.

Back in April I blogged that I would be getting into the hills more. Basically that got stone-walled! Again life got in the way, I have a new job which means I work away during the week and home for weekends, The weekends then become quite valuable for family.

The day where I could be back amongst the mountains had finally come again. That to some may sound a bit dramatic, I can't deny that but the fact remains.

I had decided to head up somewhere I hadn't been. On the outskirts of Crainlarich there a a number of Munros I've not got to yet. Normally I turn left at the junction and push on to Glencoe. Walk Highlands gave me my options and to get back into it I chose a doubler: Ben More and Stob Binnein. As quoted from WH there is "no higher mountains in Britain anywhere further south." That's a good enough criteria to finalise the choice.

So after the morning routine of getting the sandwiches out the fridge, filling up a water bottle and getting a caffeine filled travel mug ready, I was ready to leave. Traffic was quiet and I made good time to the lay by where I'd start. There was an option to push the car up against the roadside at the entry point to the route but the lay by was only half a mile down the road. There was also a bit of a bonus which I found on my return.
As I come off the road directed by the sign, ducked under the trees and came out the other end to the first goal directly in front of me. It's good to be back!
The beginning of the walk in is a winding track up to the point where you leave that track and climb. I had some onlookers as I wound up through the track, a herd of cows watched me make my first ascent in months.
Two of them were on the path, scrutinising my movement towards them. I know they are more scared of me than I am of them, but still I know if they decided to have a go I'd be mincemeat. So I wind up the path, weaving in between the toffee cows and the waste they've left on the path. I reach the fence line which triggers the move off the path on to the incline to the summit. It's quite a formidable site, especially for my legs with lack of mountain exposure recently.
There are some, what look like, tracks. I thought I was onto a winner but it soon became obvious it was actually a dried out stream bed. It was good enough to walk on so I cracked on. It chopped between marsh, squelchy tracks and then over a little crag. As I approached the rock out crop I hoped it was the last stretch to the summit. I hoped and my legs screamed but it wasn't to be, Ben More wanted more!
 It was mainly due to my poor hill fitness but once I got to the top, looking back on it, it wasn't that bad.
The summit was clagged in with low level cloud. A vapour layer covered evertyhing exposed. No views to take pictures of, so I touched the trig point and set off following the track. 
Not far from the summit the path leads to quite a big drop, I reckon about 1.5m. A quick scan didn't show another obvious path and I didn't want chance wandering off in low visibility. It required a sort of mini down climb. I should of taken a picture of it. Some might struggle with it but there's plenty to hold on to.
The path breaks again and in the fluffy stuff I managed to become slightly geographically misplaced, so a quick nav check (map & compass, not my phone) got me back in the direction of the bealach. As I dropped in to the dip between the pair of Munros the cloud started to thin, there was a hazy light as the sun rays cut through it and the boulder that sits in the Bealach-eader-dha Bheinn cast it's huge shadow.
The massive stone was to be my brunch stop. The problem with early starts and walking up big mountains is early hunger. I had brought enough to keep me going and with the cloud lifted I tinkered with the camera. 
As I messed around and refattened myself the cloud lifted high enough that both summits were clear. This soon changed as I packed up and set off up the second incline of the day. The views were stunning on the way up and the light made the colours of the landscape stand out. 
Still I can't get my photography to show what I saw when I clicked the shutter but believe me views like that make the sore legs worth while.

As anticipated the summit was limited to a couple of breaks in the cloud giving a glimpse of what was below.
I got a couple of photos here then doubled back down the stoney path back into the bealach. The return leg gave similar views as they did on the way up when I broke through the cloud base.
From the bealach it was west, heading down to a hard track running out to where I'd started. Between here and the start of that track was an eroded path or marshy scrub on the decline, It's a choice between to evils, potentially loosing a foot into a deeper than expected bog or the path giving way under foot. I think this may be just how I was thinking at the time with tender legs, although the channel cut by water run off does make each foot fall a bit tentative.
 
Once back onto ground that was more level a well trodden cut through another boggy area, handrailing the Benmore Burn led to the track which will guide me back to the place I left it earlier to head to Ben More.
As I glance up to where today's conquests stood the summits were completely clear. I continued down the windy path to the road. The cows had since left the path and congregated near some farm outbuildings, so it was only their pats that I had to pay attention to before emerging back on to the roadside for the last stretch back to the car.

And the aforementioned bonus, a sandwich van had appeared in the lay-by. So I treated myself to a roll with square sausage and potato scone. What a way to finish a great day.
There wasn't to be views from the summits for me today and that's fine. When I come back in the future the walk, the scenery, the views and the company may be different. That's the beauty of "rambling" (as my knew colleagues like to call it) in these hills. It will never be the same twice over and I vow to keep coming back to check that's true.

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