Monday, 9 April 2012

A Stranger Encounter

As I browsed through my twitter feed one evening I happened upon one of Petesy’s updates of a blog post and as usual I clicked through to his site to give it a read. “Come out and Play” it began. After a bit of reading it all looked very appealing; a weekend of gear testing with an option of a couple of locations in Scotland. Why wouldn’t it be appealing? As a member of WA, the mountains and kit are the main reason I have this addiction. Date looked okay; calendar was clear, no previous engagements booked. Next was to get the permission slipped signed by my sponsor, the wife. To expose myself to this amount of gear would require the weekend pass to be thoroughly reviewed. We don’t want a relapse, do we?

Signed, that went well. Phew!

It was pointed out to me that I was planning to go away with a bunch of strangers into the hills of Scotland, for an overnight stay, with probably no mobile signal to raise an alarm, with what could be a serial killer! And what? I was going to play with new kit!

The weekend arrived and I headed to Arrochar fully packed as if I was going on a solo wild camp. It was true I was going with people I didn’t know but with the King of Kit hosting, his highness Petesy, there wasn’t going to be an issue with people not having enough stuff to go on an overnighter. When I arrived there was a few people milling about. There was a boot of a Mondeo open and a couple of sets of bulging eyes peering into it. That’ll be the test kit then! Turns out it was only some of it. The boot in question was John from Ardblair Sports. I could already see there was some kit handed out by the rubbing of hands on shiny new apparel.

Before my arrival Haggis and Tookie were shoe-horning themselves into an X-Bionic onesie. The main question about this piece of clothing was the relieving of one’s-self. Apparently number 1’s no problem, a fly zip at the front. Number 2’s, bit of an issue. No cartoon-esque buttoned flap for ease of exit. Nothing to allow for the possibility of a smelly event. Michael and Sandy had been given a nice looking mid-layer each from Montura. So what was I getting a shot of as I hovered around in the car park. “Who wants a shell?” Sounds interesting. “What have you got?” I coolly respond.

A lime green jacket with black hood and panelling was produced from the back seat. It was like a black market trading session, except all I had to offer in return was the guarantee of returning it with a lovely layer of sweaty residue. It was Montura’s top of the range ProShell jacket, the Core. Green is not normally my colour, not from a Glasgow who do you support sense, but it clashes with my eyes!! ;-) It was quite loud in comparison to my normal wardrobe style; black. However, it seems to be Montura’s signature colour, as a lot of the other jackets, of various styles, were a similar shade. Either that or it was to prevent us running off with it and not being noticed! The range of Montura’s line included a lot of technical style function. After only a day of wearing it and playing about with it there is obviously a lot of thought and expertise put into its construction.

I was also passed a pair of blue and black trousers. “Here’s a pair of camp trousers” I was told. Camp! I’m a happily married man! It was then pointed out that they had full length zips on the outside of the legs, this would mean I could put them over my trousers without taking my boots off whilst in camp. So they got stuck in my rucksack.

Whilst all this was going on there were more cars pulling and staring over with an expression of realisation across their face. Some though didn’t really have a clue. On the flip side, as is the norm, we were staring back at some of the interesting clothing combinations heading up into the hills!

Next arrived a black VW Golf with its backside dragging due to its heavily laden boot. Ollie from 9point9 had brought some more kit. In the cavernous Golf held an array of Big Agnes tents, mats and sleeping bags. Also, Granite Gear packs, honey stinger snacks and Princeton Tec torches. I got a BA Copper Spur UL2 tent which I would bunk up with Tookie in, a BA GrouseMountain -15 sleeping bag and mat and a Granite Gear Nimbus Trace 62 litre pack.

So now my own pack was to be emptied and, as predicted, there was kit everywhere. As Tookie will tell you, Ultra light I am not! I have a bit of an issue with carrying water; I feel I must carry all the water required. That’s an issue for another day. So, now to repack in a new rucksack. The pack was a good size and shape and a good sized top flap pocket. The only thing that didn’t go in was a bottle of powerade I like to have tucked away when I need it, no great loss. I did have about 4 litres of water.

John then produced Hillsound micro spikes. I had already re packed my crampons but I took a look. I was handed a rubber, chain and spike concoction. I had seen micro spikes before obviously I just never really considered substituting them for crampons on full scale Scottish hills. Never the less the crampons came out of the pack and I used the crampon bag to store the mini versions.

Did I hear a fanfare? Yes! His Highness, King Petesy had arrived un-characteristically late.

More kit to be issued. I’m sure there are distributers that have less kit than we did that morning in a car park in Arrochar.

I had previously spoken to Petesy about the chest packs that OMM have. He had brought one for me to try. So I connected that to the GG pack. I think that’s me, good to go. A box is then thrown on the ground of the car park it had dehydrated meals from Mountain House and protein bars and waffles form Honey Stinger. I can’t do it, my foods in the centre of my pack, I’m not unpacking again! I left everyone else to dig in. There was a few little fork/spoon things from Edelrid up for grabs, so I took one of them. I needed something to put in the chest pocket after all.

Last but not least, Leki poles. The poles I was given were the Leki  Civetta Speedlock. A ski mountaineering pole with a click lock system, as per my previous post, I have been moving towards poles and was looking forward to trying the Leki’s, and poles in general, out.

Packs on, poles in hand, everybody in a line for the obligatory photie then we’re off... no! John wanted to give us a teach on how to use walking poles properly. Something he seems to be quite passionate about, either that or he used to be an evil headmaster in his former life. “I don’t want to see the poles placed in front of you when you’re walking!” he exclaimed. Push through the pole as you walk, fair enough, makes sense. Can we go now I thought? J

So we were finally away, the chain gang wearing crazy colours tapped their poles across the road and on to the winding path into the Arrochar Alps. Conversations flowed naturally, for a bunch of strangers there was no awkwardness. We talked about gear, what we had done, what he had planned in the outdoors in the coming year and everyone got along swimmingly or walkingly(?). We caterpillared up the path, passing some folks coming back down and getting some strange looks for our vibrant outfits. I didn’t think we looked bad done up in Montura’s top of the line kit. It certainly makes a change to my all in black outfits.

The weather had been changeable in the car park and the wind was still picking up as we ascended but the passing clouds over Ben Arthur made the surroundings look outstanding! You don’t need the sun and blue skies to make the Scottish landscape look stunning, it helps, but that day was a mixture and the Cobbler didn’t let us down. Kelvin’s comment on the Cobbler “That’s an amazing piece of rock!” summed it up. This was the first time that Kelvin, Richard and Arthur had been here and what a day to see it. We could have been the actual Alps.

It was decided that because of the high winds at the time and more forecasted for the evening that we would camp down in the valley between the Cobbler and Beinn Narnain for a bit of shelter. We passed the boulders and headed off the path into, what turned out to be a bog. There turned out to be isolated areas where each tent could get descent ground and be sheltered from as much of the gusting winds as possible. Although, Del and Sandy did opt to move their tents into better locations. Within no time sprung up our little gear village. New tents just out there wrappers, sleeping mats inflated (which did make me nearly pass out) and sleeping bags unrolled.

Once this was all done everybody started to mill about, chatting about the new kit, comparing it to other kit already owned or wanted to own. So far the Montura kit was receiving very positive reports, there was not a bad word said about any of it. John was firing away with his camera trying to get all the branding together, true professional!

Next it was time for dinner. At this point my feet were freezing. The weather wasn’t great but it didn’t detract from the event itself. My feet however were spoiling my happiness; they had turned into ice-blocks. Tookie decided that he wasn’t going to risk burning the tent down and headed down to the shelter of the boulders. I figured that that’s what the tent was designed for, not to be burnt down, but with its two porches it was designed to be cooked in so preceded to get the cooking stuff out here, along with a new pair of socks to remedy the lack of feeling in my toes. I hadn’t brought one of the dehydrated Mountain House meals, so was going for the boil-in-the-bag pasta and meatballs and a coffee to warm the insides. Fortunately, there was no issue of burning the tent down. I changed my socks and got a bit of life in my feet and decided it was time for the camp trousers, I’m sure they would add a bit of insulation to my legs but I wasn’t going to win any fashion contests. Then it was time for afters, the wife had picked me up a wee dessert as a bit of a treat and it went down very well on this blustery night. (thanks ;-))

The wind was still pressing on the tent pretty hard but for a lightweight 3 season tent it put a good fight and all in all it came out on top. The ground was soft and the pegs that came with the tent were just biting and no more. However, the peg holding out the porch on Tookies side, the side the wind was coming from, was being pulled off. With no longer pegs the only option was to use my ice-axe. To our amazement the 550mm of axe disappeared into the ground just about up to the pick. We were confident that the tent wasn’t going to blow away tonight!

After dinner night had set in and we were all back out for a mingle. The sky was relatively clear and the stars littered the black canvas above us. There was still a bit of snow and wind but it was reasonably nice night weather wise, however the cold still gripped all of us. Gear chat resumed and cameras were being set up using ISO’s, timed aperture openings, different  lens types and other camera jargon my ‘point and hope’ camera couldn’t do. Across the other attendee’s blogs are beautiful pictures of black starlit skies and tents glowing from the inside. Unfortunately the limitations of my camera left me very pish pictures which I’m not prepared to embarrass myself by posting.

I had been looking into a new camera before this but after this weekend it had stepped up the search, I may have one earmarked but not confirmed yet.

At one point we looked across the basin and there were two lights floating about the hillside below us, obviously head torches but they weren’t on the path and they were wandering about in an unusual manor. They seemed to circle around something then disappeared back down the hillside. Weird!! General consensus was lost car keys, good effort if they found them.

It did get to the stage, only around 8pm, that my feet just couldn’t take it anymore. The cold transfer from the ground was too much and I bid my goodnights and headed to the tent. I let Tookie know that I was turning in and it seems others had decided the same thing. An early night for us all.

The Big Agnes was our home for the night and following the wind dying down it did well in the frost of the night. I will post a review of the tent and the sleeping bag a later date (soon).

I had an alright sleep, but I stayed in my bag until about 8am. I could see the orange border along the mountains in front of us. A necessary visit to an isolated rock, then a wander through the camp. Already there was folk milling about.

Sandy had set up the tripod for a sunrise shot.
And Kelvin was up and about too.

Michael as always behind the camera and slowly the whole camp was stirring. Phil was away up on a ledge playing with his action shots.

Next it was time for breakfast and you couldn’t ask for a better view whilst waiting for the water to boil and the porridge oats to soak up their fill. Breakfast is the best meal of the day and with these surroundings it makes it even better.

The next decision that was made was which one of the mountains around us was to be summited and with a 14 – 1 decision Ben Arthur, or the Cobbler as it’s commonly known, was the decided peak. I’ll not say who the one was but…

We got our big packs stripped down for the morning’s trip, the compression cords on the Nimbus pulled it all in to take up the extra space left over. As we made our way up the path the path on the front of the Cobbler the path very quickly got icy and too difficult to walk on, the unanimous decision was to fix more grip to the soles, this is where the Hillsounds were going to make an appearance. The little spikes held on pretty well as we climbed. It was a beautiful morning and again the pack caterpillered up the path. There was snow and ice underfoot and the sun was blazing from the blue sky above, it was a beautiful morning. 

As you would expect there was still outdoor chat going on. Once we reached the col we exposed ourselves to the cold wind and warm kit was required, then a another decision- what peak to go up. The north was decided on and we set of for the final increase in altitude before returning back to the campsite. There was a couple of climbing teams summiting around us as we stood admiring our surroundings and as expected more photos.

We descended down the slippery path passing a very disgruntled father and son. One wanted to go up and the other dragged his heels cursing under his breath. I love it when parents take their kids to see what Scotland has to offer and I will take my little one when she gets bigger. But there’s a difference between ramming it down their throats and showing off the surroundings. The former was definitely happening here and I hope it doesn’t discourage him in the future from venturing out again.

Back in the tent to have a spot of lunch. As I peer out of the porch door I see tents collapsing and following lunch our little abode had to come down too. I have to admit I was a bit sad to see it happening, our little community had hardly started it felt.

The group congregated back at HQ, Petsey’s tent location and we set off back down the path. We got back to the car park pretty quickly, unfortunately. I opened my boot and emptied the contents of the pack into it a separated what was mine and what I had to give back. No sort of convincing allowed me to keep any of it. Even when I showed John how dirty the poles were and how it would be easier for me to keep them instead of him cleaning them. No luck, never mind, worth a try.

Petesy’s good lady Joycee and the wee yin Holly were there to meet him in the car park. More importantly she had brought home-made muffins, mmmm! Thanks, Joycee.

Farewells then we all made our way in our required direction some straight home, of varying distances. Others, Kelvin and Richard, were planning a detour in the Lakes.

Big thanks to Petesy for setting the weekend up. Secondly, to John and Ollie for bringing the gear along for us all to test. Next to Michael who gave me some of his superior photos as, one, my pictures were really poor and, two, I didn’t take nearly enough, thanks mate. Finally to everyone who was there, it made it a brilliant weekend, it went too quick but I think there may be another one in the making?? I have met up with a couple of the local guys since and twitter has kept me in touch with others.

There was some new outdoor bonds made that weekend and they are definitely not strangers any more.