Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Hello, Remember Me...

Wow, it's April and I have been as illusive as the Malaysian airplane!!
Well it hasn't taken an international search mission to bring me out of hiding. As with everyone else, life has just prevented me from being around. I admit I have been skulking about in the background but not really keeping up with what's been going on.
I have managed to get out a couple of times to my local hills and also when the time allowed managed to get some indoor climbing done at my local indoor wall, the Glasgow Climbing Centre, and I recently joined the indoor ice climbing wall at Snow Factor

I'll admit it's a much more pleasant walk in than I'm used to and with the bar so close who could resist?!? It does kind of keep your hand in, as it were, but certainly no substitute for a real rock and ice concoction. Although, it's not trying to be. I have my daughter booked in for some ski lessons on the attached slopes to start her on her outdoor journey.
I also managed to the UK & Ireland Banff Mountain Film Festival in the bright lights of London. I was working down there and the Glasgow showing was on Valentines day, it wouldn't of gone down well if I had proposed we share a freeze dried meal whilst watching outdoor films!! I saw Film Programme B which on the whole was good. The stand out films for me were Spice Girl and a very short film called The Questions We Ask (link is the actual film). My own personal opinion is the film that the let the night down was Heaven's Gate with wingsuit man Jeb Corliss, I like a good wingsuit youtube clip as much as the next guy but I don't think it needed to be 48 minutes long. That was my fourth time at the festival and I will definitely keep going back.
I have a lot I want to do and not enough days in the week to do it. The big balancing act of life will remain a challenge but I need to start getting more of the outdoors on the scales.
For those who are interested I will have a quick succession of gear to get on here. Love it or hate it, it is part of certainly my passion and as long as I can I'd like to keep sharing my own thoughts on what is out there.
So, how have you all been? What have I missed?

Monday, 13 January 2014

Mammut Rime Pro Jacket

I have had this jacket for some time now, so I thought it was about time I got it out there. For all intents and purposes this is a belay jacket. It has however proved to be very versatile and a popular choice.
First thing that stands out on mine is that it stands out. On Mammut's website there are an array of colours but this yellow one is pretty special. Not everyone likes the colour but I do.
That sunshine fabric is Pertex Endurance on the shoulders, arms and hood which has a higher water repellency to the Pertex Quantum on the main body. As you would expect the outer material is hard wearing, although there is a little bobbling around the hem at a gathered up area at the pull cord stopper. This is nothing though, this jacket has had a lot of use under packs and harnesses so I can live with a little scuff.

The cut is designed to be worn under or over a shell, handy on food stops whilst wandering in the cold. When on a belay stance waiting for my lead to get their ass to the top its normally under my hardshell. This though presents a problem, I then start to get sweaty from hauling my own ass up an icy climb. Actually though it's not really a problem. The Ajungilak insulation has apparently been designed for this very purpose and I'd say they got it pretty spot on. There hasn't been one time I've felt the cold when the Rime Pro has been used in anger.

There are a lot of really nice features on this jacket. There is fleece lining on the inside of the 2 side pockets, it's like a bit of heaven when you stick cold hands in there.
Something I see more and more is the reinforced fabric on the zip baffle, preventing the zip snagging on the finer material. Stopping frustration and cursing when trying to keep the heat in.
The 2 inner mesh pockets, which are massive, are excellent to stow bulky gloves when not required for short periods. I read somewhere they can be used for holding large water bottles, they definitely could but its not something I have needed them for. It would probably be uncomfortable I'd imagine.
The hood is a work of art. The face drawcords and the cinch cord to the rear pulls it right in to the head allowing a full range of movement. Even when wearing a helmut it comfortably covers the head and allows the same freedom of movement. My Petzl Elios isn't the most head hugging helmut and the hood has no issues providing shelter.
The only thing I would change about this jacket is the cuff. I would opt for an elastic cuff instead of the velcro adjustment. It can cause a bit of messing around when its cold. I try to set the adjustment at a happy medium so I don't need to keep ripping and sticking it. This is purely a personal preference though.
It packs down pretty well into a small dry bag and will normally be found at the bottom of my pack on most days out. I am definitely in the "you never know when you might need it" style of packing.
I suppose the biggest recommendation I can make for this jacket is I lent it to one of my mates. He ended up "borrowing" it for a while. He used it on the mountain, in fact he walked into Corrie an t'Sneachda wearing it and had no problems staying warm after he stopped to prep for climbing. When I went to pick it up his 3 year old daughter nearly didn't let me leave the house with it.

There is no doubt this jacket will be used frequently, all year round it will be on hand. There is a hood-less version, the Rime, which could add another aspect to my insulation choices but that's probably pure gear greed.
I have no problem highly recommending this jacket to anyone. As synthetic insulation jackets go this is first class.


Friday, 6 December 2013

Search And No Need For Rescue

Today I went to stretch my legs up in Arrochar. I went up to Beinn Narnain, more on that in a later post. The twist to what would have been a fairly normal hike to a regular haunt came on the route down. 

The path which leads off both the Cobbler and Narnain has some great views and as I walked down it today a search and rescue helicopter came in to view. I started to take the obligatory photos.

 It hovered over the Cobbler then moved over to Narnain. It hovered on the opposite side of the feature then I noticed on the near side I noticed orange smoke starting to to plume. As the smoke dispersed the helicopter moved on to the near side of where I watched and hovered again. I expected to to see a winch drop but nothing, it then follow off in to the distance in the direction of Beinn Ime and vanished. The picture below is a poor one taken from a zoomed in phone but it shows the helicopter moving towards the smoke.
 At this point I was convinced they had missed a distress signal, I know this would be difficult but I wasn't happy with leaving without confirming no one was left on the mountain. I called the emergency services with a very minimal signal, I explained what I had seen and my concerns. I asked if there was a call out or if they were training but the lady couldn't confirm either. She said she would call me if they needed more information. I waited for 10 minutes for a call, with no call I tried calling back but no signal I couldn't even get a 999 call out. I decided to head off piste direct to the location of the smoke. I had to be sure no one was injured on the hill. 

It took me over an hour to get in to the crag where I headed, the ground on route wasn't perfect. As I got closer I called out to see if there was anyone injured but there was no response. I got to a stage where I couldn't get gain any more height on the route I had taken. There was no sign of anyone and I hadn't found any trace of the orange smoke. I have had experience with it in the past and it leaves a fairly significant scar on the ground when it plumes. I made the decision to go back down to try and get a signal, as I couldn't ascend safely due to terrain and failing light. Frustrated, I made my way back down to intersect with the main path as far down as I could. 

All the way down I questioned whether I had made the right decision to go down: was I leaving someone on the hill in the cold injured and unconscious? Eventually, further down the footpath I got a signal 2 hours after my first call to the emergency services. After giving my details and explaining the situation, again, once I had been put on hold for a few minutes the female operator was able to tell me it was a training exercise and the smoke was used for wind direction. She said "I don't know if that will make you feel better or worse?" I explained that it made me feel better as now I know there is no one left hurt on the hill. 

You might read this and think "what an idiot!" "they would have seen an injured person, and they wouldn't have flown off!" Normally I'd agree but I had doubt, the switchboard weren't able to confirm that it was training or if it was a live call. I hadn't had a message from them to confirm either way since, I know they didn't know I would head up there but I couldn't just leave without knowing. Maybe I did go a bit far with it but without being told otherwise I'd do the same again. My main issue is, why weren't the switchboard aware of the status of the SAR helicopter? Who should we contact if we do need to know what is happening? I don't want to waste any of the emergency services time but what if I look the other way and it has grave repercussions? 

Thankfully it didn't and, as far as I'm aware, everyone's home safe and sound. It made an interesting end to a nice day out.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Now In The Mountains With M

I spend most of my time in the mountains, not literally but in my head. Recently the work:life balance hasn't allowed for a lot of physical outdoor time. I accept this, after all it is a hobby/interest and at present it doesn't pay the bills and it takes me away from home stuff. The required "reset" button has been given a partial push recently but thats another story for another day.

In recent years whilst in the outdoors I have wanted to make the mountains look less like molehills when capturing the views. When I look back at my photos I've always felt they haven't encompassed the scene I remembered. I have been quite happy, maybe even proud, with a lot of the images but mostly it isn't how I wanted to remember them. A tradesman should never blame his tools, however, most of my images have been caught on a mobile phone. Whilst in Chamonix everything I took was on a HTC Desire HD, some I posted on that trip were from other cameras my friends took. 
I've seen some amazing photo's on blogs and on twitter/facebook, there are too many individuals to even start mentioning and leaving people out but I'd like my photo's to even be a quarter as good as some of them. I have now invested in a "box brownie" that will hopefully give me that chance. I got the Canon Powershot S110. I have been looking at getting the S100 for a while now and then they snuck out this newer model. 
I thought of a DSLR or bridge camera but I want to learn the basics before leaping up to the heavy kit. Weight was the other reason I didn't go for the big lenses, I'm no ULer at the best of times so right now the camera weighing 198g is a good start. From my perspective it is highly specced and should give me enough adjustments to get the hang of this photography thing.

I've seen guys in action, chatted to actual photographers who produce some of the images I covet and read blogs giving hints and tips. I'm still a bit f-stumped! Though a bit of practical application (known as messing about) and a little reading hopefully will give me the results I want.
So the M setting is selected. And now I have to turn dials to adjust for light settings before every click. Hopefully I will become a bit slicker at this so not to miss any opportunities in front of me. I've been having a go since I got it, off the hill too.
I haven't set to RAW as yet but thats next, once I sort out some processing software. After a discussion with some twitterers Adobe Lightroom has been decided on. 

I don't want to become a photographer or anything, I'm just looking to improve what I transfer on to the hard drive, and this blog!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Mammut Jura Sleeping Bag

What I want from a sleeping bag is to be warm when I'm asleep and pack away compactly when I'm on the move. I am always concerned that regular down, in my usual soggy climate will suffer whilst out on the hills. So I have always opted for a synthetic fill bag. With the advancements in waterproofing down and the use of higher end fabrics for the outers this may change in the future.
The downside to synthetic has always been weight and compression to comparable rated down bags but resilience to the extremes has always been my priority. This Mammut Jura's spec boasts an improvement to the factors I hold dear. It still may be a tad larger when packed than similarly rated down bags but as I stuffed it into my pack it felt as if it was taking up less room, really for me it doesn't matter what the spec is its what it feels like when used and I was happy with the way it packed. 
Once out on the hill and I made my cozy nest for the evening, the red and ginger outer with canary yellow inner stand out like a sore thumb. Was I not in a tent I think I may have attracted a lot of small winged creatures maybe even some aviation! With the comfort temperature set at -5°C I haven't really challenged the rating of this bag but what I will say is from the perspective of a cold sleeper I was more than warm enough in shorts and t-shirt at the lowest temperature of 1°C. The bag is roomy inside and if the temperature drops dramatically this may affect holding onto the internal heat. There is a drawcord that will bring the bag in around the neck and another which, as expected, draws the bag around the face. This will obviously help contain a lot of the heat generated inside. 
The toe box is well shaped and will easily accommodate the biggest of hind paws comfortably. With respect to comfort the "SilkyTX" inner has a really nice feeling to the touch making it very pleasant to sleep in. 

The official spec, below, is impressive and with the pedigree of Ajungilak the quality of this bag is pretty much guaranteed. I will have no problem taking this out again when the temperature dictates.
  • Box construction for more loft, better fit and increased insulation 
  • MTI™ 13 two layer filling combines low weight, compressibility and maximum insulation
  • Performance TX™ outer fabric 
  • SilkyTX™ inner fabric 
  • Seamless construction avoids cold spots and improves insulation 
  • Ergonomic foot for added comfort 
  • Machine washable at 60° 
  • Jura: comfort -5°C, extreme -22°C; weight 1600g, length 195cm; volume 8 litres
When I got the Jura it came along with this little fellow known simply as the Mammut Inflatable Air Pillow. It's a neat little design. When its deflated Mammut compare it to the size of a large matchbox, which is about right.
It's a good size to stuff inside the sleeping bag hood when it's inflated so is ideal. Once you get the desired pressure right it is comfortable to sleep on. The "flutter" valve in the inflating hole makes it easy to keep the right pressure before making it more permanent with the plug. 

These two items are also the most polite pieces of gear I've seen with their little sleep well messages emblazoned onto the tabs. 
My bag weighs a little over the specified weight at 1750g including the stuff sack, which weighs 96g on its own. 

The Mammut Jura is only available at Go Outdoors, as is the rest of the new range of Montana bags and the Air Pillow.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The 2 V's - Ben Vane & Ben Vorlich, Loch Lomond

Looking back through my most recent posts there hasn't been enough trip reports. I have been out, just not as frequently recently due to life really. I'm hoping to engineer more trips out with my new working pattern but as always the balance needs to be kept right. 

An opportunity came up mid week and I took it with both feet in walking boots. I had a window between dropping and picking up my daughter from nursery. I'm lucky enough to be in a stones throw from Loch Lomond so I had a think and settled on a Munro I hadn't been up in a while, Ben Vane. It's neighbour, Ben Vorlich, was an option too but I would need to see how progress up Vane went before deciding.

The drop off in Glasgow was made and I made good time up to Inveruglas to make the start on todays leg stretch. Leaving the car park at Inveruglas view point on Lock Lomond I took the short walk along the A82 before turning on to the tarmac track towards Loch Sloy dam.
Walking up a tarmac track seems like cheating when heading for a hill but it's there and it makes for a good start time wise. The weather couldn't have been better. The morning sky was saltire blue with only a couple of wisps of cloud.

There were some other mid week walkers on the track enjoying the good weather. The thought of getting Vorlich under my belt in my time window was positive. So I charged up the track making dood time.

As I made my way up the track I turned the winding route and found what looked to be construction work on a Bond baddies lair. In fact it is an electrical sub station from the dam to the power station on the main road.
Continuing through Dr No's lair I kept going until the turning on the tarmac to the bridge then on to a some more agreeable gravel. 

The next stage was to get off the hard stuff and on to something a little more soft. The foot of Ben Vane is a little boggy due to the run off and now with the lack of snow seen from where I stood there must have been a lot of water absorbed in to the ground in front of me.

Now I was making my way across the sloppy green mess that had been left by the water run off. All of us have spent years figuring out what can be walked on and what will swallow a boot on this type of terrain. With a couple of games of hop scotch and some leaps of faith I made it to dryer routes with my footwear on.

With Vorlich to my right, it was still an option at this stage and I was making good time. What I forgot about this mountain was its false summits. So there was a couple of dissapointments and as I got higher and the summit wasn't cracked my optimism for a second peak was dwindling.

The sky was still bluer than a blue thing and I was really enjoying being on the hill regardless of repeated false summits. I could see for miles the visibility was so good. Ben Lomond was at my back as I gained elevation.

As I approaced summit height I passed a gentleman in his senior years just plodding on. When I get to that stage I hope to be still out there on the trail, hopefully my body holds up. The last part turns into a bit of a scramble and with some nooks filled with snow still I did question the senior munroists likelyhood of getting up to the summit, basically because I struggled a bit.

Vane in the bag I sat on the plateau and had some lunch. Then not far behind me my veteran friend appeared. We had a quick chat, his intentions were to head back of into the glen and back home. I eyed Vorlich again after a time check and decided I would head down to the dam and make a decision there. The route off the back of Ben Vane was not well trodden ans a path had to be decided on not followed. 

At the start of the way down there was a lot of snow to be navigated. The first part that was a bit of a challenge had to be down climbed with the aid of an ice axe.

The next snow field had bum slide written all over it. I left a channel in the snow and was making good time. I felt I was dripping like a stone as I descended towards the dam.

As I looked across to the still potential ascent of Ben Vorlich I remind myself of the pitch of the route up. I plot my route mentally on the scene on the opposite side of the valley as drop down to the entrance to the walkway over the dam. 

Walking across the top of the dam past the structures built into it I couldn't help but feel I was stepping back in time. Whenever this was built it still held on to that time.

When I reached the other side the gate was locked with a rusty old padlock securing the next hurdle. An easy hop over the gate left me wit the next much bigger hurdle. A final time check because once I started up I wouldn't turn back until I reached the summit. It would be tight but I set off, straight up.

I pushed on up the vertical wall, the stone that was dropping on the opposite slope I felt now I was dragging it up. With the first destination along way behind me I was pushing hard to keep within my time window. I then came across the the regular path. This took me comfortably to the summit. 

Following a second lunch and a substantial intake of water after shedding some sweat coming up, I set off down the track. The weather changed a bit on the way down, the sky filled with more cloud and with a sprinkle of rain included. The path winds down the face of Vorlich, again through marshy patches down to the tarmac vein which runs up to the previously crossed dam. 

Now time was tight, I had week day traffic to contend with once I was back to the car. I pushed quickly down the tarmac, back to the car and made it with time to spare.

The change in weather towards the end of the day didn't cast a shadow on my day. I don't often go out on my own but conditions needed to be taken advantage of. I would like to have had a bit more time to enjoy my surrounding but this didn't take away from the day. Getting into the outdoors is like a therapy. As I said at the start sometimes life doesn't allow the amount of outdoor exposure we might like but it's always there waiting for us when we get the chance.