Thursday, 30 October 2008

bush buddy ultra - encore

A wooden box has just arrived on my desk from Canada - yep my Bush Buddy has arrived. And what timing, I know that you know that I'm going to have to take it with me on the Elan Valley trip tomorrow.

Now all I have to do is to check the map for likely fuel sources.

And get some tinder paper that Darren recommended to me on Monday.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

farnham to guildford via the north downs way

"Isn't it about time we walked a different bit of the NDW?" I said.

As much as I like the St Martha's circuit via the Silent Pool and Shere I thought another leg of the way needing walking. I dropped a line to Darren to see if he was up for a stroll, and he was.

The very photogenic llamas looked curiously at us as we passed. One with an eighties style fringe (Mick Hucknell, Simply Red?) struck a pose as both Darren and I snapped away. The only thing that was missing was the cloth cap.

Darren had walked this route a number of times before so I was happy to bimble along chatting as he pointed out which left or right we needed to take. Invariably the conversation gravitated towards gear, and I quizzed him on how to light a Bush Buddy in anticipation of receiving mine.

The pub in Puttenham is walker and dog friendly which was a refreshing change. I can never understand why owners of some pubs that I've been in on National Trails are anti walker. With the number of pubs closing month on month you'd think that they'd be breaking their legs for the custom.

The sunny start to the day petered out as wintry looking clouds headed our way. Luckily we only caught one shower that only lasted a few minutes.

At the Wey navigation we parted company. I was glad that I suggested that he join us on the walk, both Penny and I enjoyed the conversation and the company. He also managed unwittingly to solve my summer long quest for some kind of dehydrated drink flavouring in the form of a couple of Crystal Light sachets that he gave me to try. Top man!

Look out for episode two - to boldly go beyond Newland's Corner.

elan valley

Mindful of the weather we are experiencing at the moment I'm keeping a close eye on the forecast. This lunchtime I've revised the kit list to deal with the anticipated chill. When I'm planning trips I always keep a weather eye open and shuffle stuff around to suit. I like to make sure I'm going to be comfortable without suffering a huge weight increase. The word huge is highly subjective in this case; what I might consider huge others might not.

Psychometric testing shows that I'm risk adverse. Strange given that I climb and have solo-ed a number of, albeit easy, routes but that's for another time. So I'm always likely to put safely first but I'm not going to hide under the duvet and not go. Where's the fun in that?

I've done a fair bit of winter camping so I'm looking forward to breathing the clean, clear sharp air and views as far as my eyes can see. Unless, of course, the weather goes wildly awry and it suddenly turns damp and claggy. Eyes fixed firmly on the forecast then.

Monday, 27 October 2008

knee news

Very productive visit to the physio on Friday evening. After an extensive examination I found out that I have a tear in the meniscus in my right knee. I've got several things to do to help with the injury including rolling around on the floor on a piece of hard (and I mean hard) foam cylinder. The good news is that my old PCT injury is, well, non apparent. Only half lame then.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

damp in devon

Down in the south west and it's claggy as only this part of the country can get.

Clocks have gone back and that means digging those lights out of the cupboard for the bike.

And am thinking about those on the OMM and hoping that friends and others that I know that were on the event are safe and well.*

Must dig the artificial sun lamp out too - I've a feeling that I'm getting SAD.

*Back at home and up to speed on the weekend's news seems the dear old meedjar created a mountain out of a marathon mole hill! If I was a conspiracy theorist I'd believe that some one had told them to focus on events in the Lakes to direct attention away from other important issues...

Friday, 24 October 2008

farewell colorado

Hi everyone,

Just arrived in Chama, New Mexico.

Colorado has certainly been one big beautiful challenge. Many days over the past few weeks have been spent hiking in the snow and ice. Really beautiful, but very tiring. The temp was down to about 6 degrees other day. (That’s Fahrenheit!)

The first major challenge of the last few sections was a pass called San Luis Pass. This involved 3.5 miles of snow traverse before the pass, winding your way around the slopes of a chain of peaks. The path was virtually hidden by the snow. The alternative would have been a massive 50 mile backtrack detour. Not really on the cards. In the end for me this was great fun and gave some splendid views.

On the next leg, I decided on a route called 'the Creede cutoff' which cuts off about 100 miles of the wild Western San Juan mountains. It was really too late in the year to be going through the main San Juan's, where 3 ft dumps of snow are likely. I would probably still be in there at Christmas. A few weeks ago a storm downed 1000s of trees so the cut-off path was covered in snow and fallen snapped and twisted trees. Kind of like the toughest assault course you can imagine. The path was difficult to follow or even find.

After a tough 18 mile day and 3 mile bushwhack, I camped a mile from the divide at 11000 ft+ and saw some whacking big bear prints right close to my camp. Probably a black but rumours of Grizzlies still are heard in the San Juan's.

The next day the big "up and over" gave me the choice of going through a large snow bank or scaling an icy 45 degree slope in my trainers and trekking poles! It was pretty dangerous without crampons, but I made it. Not an experience I care to repeat though. The views on the divide were awesome and I scaled a couple of 12000 ft peaks to stick the icing on the cake. After going through Wolf Creek pass (where they had 800 inches of snow last year!!), I then caught up with the American couple, Brian and Selena, again.

Once again, the weather quickly turned with snow and freezing 45 mile per hour gusts. We decided to drop off the trail and road walk the last Colorado section. (Still at about 10000 ft altitude) In the distance we could see the snow being blasted off the peaks, so it was a good call to hit the road, although a bit disappointing  to have to.

Roll on New Mexico, with about 700 miles left and hopefully some warmer temperatures!


Thursday, 23 October 2008

urban ramblings

Some times work and family commitments, usually the latter, take precedence over a weekend in the hills. So what does a Londoner do if he cant escape the Big Smoke? He makes the most of the green spaces that the City has to offer.

The Capital Ring is an easy route that circumnavigates London linking up some of the capital open spaces like Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common. It's not the sort of path that you'd want to backpack around - the opportunity to pitch a tent is limited. And let's face it would you really want to?

As the route is crisscrossed by roads and public transport it makes sense to cut the route into day sized chunks as suggested on the TFL web site.

Other urban rambles include the Thames Path and the Regents Canal Walk. Again both easily accessible by public transport.

Less formal rambling can be had by just following your nose around the some of the tiny streets of the City of London. One such free form wandering lead me down a cul de sac where a tiny cottage, dwarfed and swamped by huge glass sky scraper buildings, was the house where John Wesley's mother was born and lived.

It's not valleys, summits, moors and mountains but at least I'm not sitting indoors watching crap TV.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

like buses

Due to various commitments over the summer I haven't been able to get out much. But like buses several trips have come along in a short space of time. With another one due weekend after next.

I love this time of year for backpacking, so long as the weather behaves itself.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

bush buddy ultra

I've put my order in for one of the above. Now all I can do is wait. And wonder if it will turn up in time for my Elan Valley trip weekend after next...

Monday, 20 October 2008

along the ridgeway

"You'll get to see Waylands Smithy," I said, and she was sold. Gear chucked in car and off we set stopping to buy an OS map; the chance of finding Britchcombe Farm was slim without one.

Arriving after dark we pulled into the field that I'd camped in when on the Ridgeway a few years back with David Topley arriving just minutes after, followed by Graham. Introductions made and heads scratched as there weren't many Lasers and Atko's to be seen. A chat with the farmer a little later revealed that the bulk of the club were in another field including a Doppelganger David.

Graham, Penny and I headed off leaving David to sort out paying the farmer, who's wife was equally confused by the 'other' David... We met up with Martin at the start of the haul up hill to the Ridgeway path. Martin easily won the prize for having the biggest rucksack on the meet with a stonking 70litre plus Deuter bag.

By Uffington Castle we bumped into Ant who was deliberating whether it was worth taking a wander over the edge of the ridge to see the white horse. The views from this point are expansive, with the path clearly visible for miles as it wends it way east.

The going was good under foot and we soon found ourselves at Waylands Smithy where we took a break and where the rest of the group caught us up. The meet had attracted a sizeable crowd and a little way along the Ridgeway the group fragmented with Ant carrying on to Fox Hill and David, his two lads and Steph, taking a detour to Bishopstone to find out if the PH was still there. The rest of us headed south towards Lambourn along various byways next to gallops and fields of poppies and wild flowers. A leisurely break was taken at a pub in Upper Lambourn before the the last few kilometres were walked to Farncombe Farm.

A word of warning about Farncombe Farm, well several actually. It's one of the most sloping campsites I've ever had the misfortune to pitch a tent on. And it only has two toilets... and it's a favourite of schools with pupils doing their DOE. That said once food was cooked and eaten and the bottle of wine grabbed on the way through Lambourn was drunk, I was soon asleep. Somehow I managed to stay on my mat where all else migrated to the bottom end of the tent, Penny included.

The day dawned gray and most were up and away before we had time to take the tent down. We faffed around the campsite and were the last to leave. Once under way, despite my knee still twinging, we made good time and caught up with the group at the Seven Barrows.

From there we headed up a couple of tracks that skirted gallops and fields heading north to Uffington Castle. From the castle we agreed to drop down so that we could see the white horse however a good view isn't really that easy to have from this close, even from the road. On the way we passed Dragon Hill which looks a bit like a mini Silbury Hill.

A short walk from here took us back to our starting point a day earlier where we said our good byes.

Sometimes doing something on the spur of the moment can be very rewarding and this weekend was no exception. Despite the fact that there wasn't a pub to gather in on the Saturday evening the weekend was a very social one with lots of good conversations, and not all of them about gear I hasten to add.

it's a numbers game - again

I sifted through the documents that I downloaded from various web sites that I mentioned in an earlier blog, and have adopted an approach to manage my diabetes at work, rest and play.

I carried out a week's worth of blood tests comprising of six tests a day; fasting, before meals and two hours after. As result I've increased the Lantus dosage to 38 units to give me a fasting blood sugar (BS) level between 5 & 7mmol, on a normal days activity. The pre/post meal BS levels indicated that I need 2 units of soluble insulin per 15g of carbohydrate (CHO). So all well and good thus far but what happens when I go backpacking?

The only way to find out is get out and test, which I was lucky enough to do at the weekend.

First I cut the Lantus by one third down to 25 units. And the bolus dosage by 50%, on the basis that whilst active I'd only need 1 unit of insulin per every 15g of CHO. And this seemed to work as the BS reading stayed in range and I had fewer hypo's (hypoglycaemic attacks). Having fewer crashes meant that I didn't require the extra CHO that I usually carry to stave them off. The hypo's would have been better managed if I'd eaten small amounts of CHO on a regular basis between meals. The trip being a spontaneous one meant I didn't pack a trail mix that I would usually carry.

Encouraging results initially and I'll continue to test this approach on future trips.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

kit niggles

Various bits of kit that I've gathered have now been tested; some tweaks are required and some issues need to be resolved.

The Helion2 is a comfortable shelter for two but for one the bulk of the tent compared with the Hut2 is causing me to have doubts about whether I want to use it on solo ventures, specifically on the Pennine Way.

The most irritating issue is that of my boots. Back in April I bought a pair of Meindl Softline Lites to replace the pair I had that I'd worn out. I'd not worn them as I'd been trying out non boot options throughout the Spring and Summer. The forecast for the Buxton trip was wet so these were the footwear of choice knowing what the some of the terrain was going to be like especially on the second day. Day one they were fine but about an hour into the second day I started feeling a dampness around the heels. I was wearing gaiters with over trousers over the top so I am sure that this wasn't due to seepage down my legs. Neither did I step in anything that was deep and wet enough to get a bootful. The feeling of which is more pronounced than the slow rising damp that I was experiencing.

The upshot of this is that I have return them to the shop and they'll go off to Germany for tests, and I'll be bootless for who knows how long. If they are defective there's a chance that they wont get replaced as they aren't making these any more. Having tried pretty much every boot available these are the only ones that fit my feet. 

Looks like I'm going back to using trainers and carrying a tarp. At least I know that the former are meant to leak and the later won't eat up all my pack space.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

it's a numbers game

I've been wading through a number of documents downloaded from several web sites that specialise in diabetes management for active people. a UK based site has some information but nothing specific to backpacking. I joined a yahoo group that I found via the MAD web site and am waiting to see what comes back from the postings I've made. The focus of this site is predominantly alpine or high altitude climbing, so I'm not expecting much.

The information I have gathered has made me focus on the daily control of my diabetes which is useful in it own right for a number of obvious reasons. And should be the starting point of how I manage the condition out on the hills.

Monday, 13 October 2008

winkworth arboretum

One of the best bits of autumn is the change in colour of leaves as the season moves toward winter. It's said that mid October is the best time to visit Winkworth to catch the splendid variety of that colour change and my visit at the weekend did exactly that.

A long time favourite of mine, Acers, give a stunning show of colour this time of year from deep burgundy reds to flame yellow and orange, like those of the Acer macrophyllum (Oregon Maple) whose dark shining green leaves turn bright orange.

Apart from this visual feast of colour there is one that surprises the sense of smell; Cercidiphyllum japonicum or Katsura tree. It is easily identified by the whiff of burnt sugar. There are several planted near the steps down to the boathouse and this is the best place to experience this. I picked up a dropped leaf that had what looked like dew on it. The colour of the liquid was faintly yellow and smelt very strongly of sweet syrup.

On Sorbus Hill I was expecting to see a number of Sorbus varieties, Sorbus aucuparia or wild Rowan being one, heavy with berries but they seemed a bit thin on the ground with some looking distinctly dead looking. It looks like some replanting needs to be done. The view across the valley made up for the disappointment.

Pictures captured on a Fuji Finepix by my son Ben, aged 4 3/4yrs old.

Friday, 10 October 2008

why I don't like trail magazine

It's Friday, the end of the week, and I'm feeling in a critical mood.

I was flicking through the current issue of trail on the train this morning wading through the adverts looking for something to pique (should that be peak?) my flagging interest when I spotted a review of kids waterproofs. Handy I've been thinking about getting Ben a 'proper' waterproof for when we step out onto the hills.

Six jackets tested; each review read.

The Berghaus jacket pros and cons was most revealing: "... not as waterproof as other jackets." Strange, I thought, did I miss something? Five of the six jackets were given the same rating* which included the Berghaus jacket.

Then the second half the paragraph stated: "...not as light as other jackets." Another second take revealed that three of the jackets were heavier, one was virtually the same weight, and the Marmot was lightest by far.

Journalistic licence or just laziness.

At least they've cut down on the number pictures of people mugging at the camera.

*They rate jackets using three levels of waterproofness; waterproof, very waterproof and extremely waterproof.

new mexico looms

Once again I am back into town after a particularly tough section. Two days with 16000 feet of up and down, then a 20 mile plus day that nearly killed me. I'm now having a rest day before setting off for the New Mexico border, although its still over 150 miles to go.

Those of you who are fans of David Lynch will remember 'Twin Peaks' and possibly other weird and wonderful films responsible for giving me many strange dreams and sleepless nights. incidentally the film 'Inland Empire' was possibly the oddest film I have ever seen, featuring a rabbit soap opera.

We were walking towards a town or village called Twin Lakes, where the local towering mountains are called 'Twin Peaks'! It would seem appropriate if something weird and wonderful happened.

Brian had emailed the 'CDT post forum' to announce we had made it to Colorado, and did any hikers want to meet up. It's lonely out here. He had a brief email from a guy in Twin Lakes saying he could put us up. But then Brian replied and the guy never got back to us, so we thought ok no problems. On the way in we kind of lost the trail and 'just headed' towards the big lake to pick up our resupply boxes from the shop. We ended up walking in a circle and going down a dead end. When we turned back a guy was walking towards us. Thinking we were going to get told 'get off my land!' The guy said: 'Hello Brian, Andy and Selena!' I looked at Brian and didn't know what to say. It turned out to be the guy that Brian had received the email from, and it turned out we had walked right to his house. Bearing in mind we had just walked through a massive forest... how strange is that?

He cooked up some food for us and offered us room in his Teepee for the night. This was a really kind offer. I asked the guy what he did but he was pretty vague 'art, music and business interests.' He just seemed interested in what we were doing.

After a damp night in the Teepee we headed on our way. Or rather I headed off, wanting to make some progress, while B&S stayed for cooked breakfast.


Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Buxton to Roaches Oct 08

Printed off the MWIS forecast and headed out the office door, A quick detour home to collect bags and off we went to Buxton.

Setting off at lunchtime was meant to avoid the traffic however careless car drivers crash at any time of the day. I some times wonder whether they save up their crash quota for the strip of road between me and my destination. Friday afternoon Baz's is on his way to the hills so let's head to junction two of the M4 and have a pile up!

We arrived at Cold Springs Farm at seven in the evening the sun gone and the air temperature dropping. A line of small tents along the bank indicated that there were other club members about.

We wasted no time pitching tent and getting the food on, settling in to watch the stars and moon until drifting off to sleep.

The clear sky had grown cloudy overnight and some rain had fallen before we got up. Luckily it was dry as we broke camp and set off, a later start and a bogged down car meant we ended up walking with last group to leave the campsite. It didn't stay dry for long, drizzle was being pushed along by a constantly buffeting wind. The route heads out from Long Hill around the Beet and heads south to pick up the Dane Valley Way the other side of the Terret and A54. We followed the DVW south lunching at Three Shire Heads a delightful little spot where we caught up with the party of early risers, who were just packing up. Lunch over we continued on the DVW stopping for tea, coffee, scones and pork pie at Gradbach YHA. On previous B2R outings we'd not ventured this far south along the way opting for a steep climb up cardiac hill (as one of our party called it) so I was glad of the minor detour and tea break.

From the foot bridge Penny and I took the path up to Ludd's Church because she'd not seen this unique feature, whilst the rest of the group headed straight for the ridge. Wind and rain lashed the ridge as we headed along to Roach End. No sign of the ice cream van nor any one else for that matter. Last year we stopped for ice cream and flopped on the grass in the sun, no such luxury this time. The wind and rain continued to pummel as we continued along the ridge, the high point and trig pillar went past without mention. And when the little lake hove into view I was reminded that this would be a idea place for a wild camp, in better weather. Towards the end of the end of the ridge there's a scrambly decent where we caught up with the rest of our group. On the way down I managed to slip - twice - tapping my knee lightly on a rock the first time and landing heavily on my left hand the second. I was glad that the Roaches Tea Room and campsite were not far along the road. On leaving the tea shop (two tea breaks in one afternoon, Christine would be proud!) the rain stepped up a gear - great timing! We pitched the tent, got ourselves inside, stove on and we feasted on soup, curry, chocolate and whiskey as the rain hammered relentlessly on the fly.

Breaks in the rain enticed people out for the walk down to the pub, and dodging showers we joined them for a few drinks.

It rained constantly all night just easing off enough in the morning to allow a swift break of camp. The homeward route picks it way northward to Flash past Gib Tor and Flash Bottom.

Due to the early start we managed to get to Flash just after 11.00 despite the number of detours we took (read as getting a bit lost.) The rain had eased and the sun had started to shine although the sun was now out no one was keen to sit around and wait for the pub to open. By this time my knee was calling time, we still had five miles to go and if ever there was time to duck out it was now. The A6 is a short hobble from the village where allegedly a bus service ran. On the main road there was a bus stop but no time table, the pub appeared to be permanently closed but the general store was open. The shop’s new owner didn’t have a bus time table but did have a yellow pages so we dialled a cab and headed back to Cold Springs Farm to collect the car.

Multimat SC25 update

Used on a couple of occasions now and I can confirm that this is more comfortable to sleep on than a Thermarest. It's warmer too. And cheaper if bought from the guys at ultralightoutdoorgear.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Mountain Hardwear Helion2 - review

I practiced pitching this a few times before venturing out - something that I do with all tents no matter how easy manufacturers might claim that they are to put up.

With all geodesics there's amount of time spent threading long poles through sleeves, loops or rings and if the weather is bad you're going to get wetter whilst you do this. And as this tent pitches inner first that's going to get wet too. With the practice and a second pair of hands I had the tent up in no time and although the rain was falling none of it got through the mesh to the tent floor. The three pole configuration makes this a very stable tent, handy because the forecast was for strong winds which failed to materialise. Or if they did I didn't notice.

The all mesh inner might not be to everyone's liking but it didn't seem draughty to me.

I was concerned that space would be tight for two but in use this wasn't an issue. Rucksacks can be stored down the end of the tent and as the end of the tent doesn't taper off sharply I can easily reach into that space. Depending on the size/type of rucksack used there is space under the fly on the side to park one either side, put them in a rucksack cover to keep them from getting damp. There are two mesh pockets either side for all those bits and bobs, and one hanging tab in the middle of the tent. Two or more would have been more useful for hanging a line up should you need to dry/air gloves, socks, etc.

The porch space is good too. There's enough room for two pair of boots and rucksacks but I'd keep the area clear of the bags to make sure there's plenty of space to cook. A two way zip allows top venting if you need to cook under cover. One thing I would change is the door arrangement, I'd like to see one like those used on Quasars or my TNF Nebula. That way you can open either side, depending on the wind, and cook under cover but have maximum ventilation and weather protection.

Likes: weight, stability, headroom.

Dislikes: pitching inner first can be a problem in wet weather.

OMM Villain

Having purchased this bag a few months back I've only used the bag for day walks thus far, so a trip to the Peaks this weekend was an ideal opportunity to try it with a backpacking load. I used the Multimat instead of the platformat that the bag was supplied with as the back support and loaded with about seven kilos of kit, food and water it was a comfortable carry. A longer trip with a heavier load will see whether this type of back system will work but so far so good. The downside is that it's a bit of a faff to fold and fit the mat in place, there may be a technique to it but as yet I haven't found it. With the mat removed the pack is very floppy making it easy to stow in a small tent. I use a 3/4 length mat so it goes under my feet to keep them off the ground.

Likes: Scalability, hip belt and mesh side pockets.

Dislikes: Faff to fold and fit sleeping mat as back support.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Peaks Oct 08

Bags packed for the weekend with several pieces of newish kit to test. Looks like the weather will provide the necessary testing environment for some of it. Reviews to follow, along with a trip report both here and in the Backpackers Club magazine.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Weird how things turn out...

Popped into the town centre today to pick up a few things for the weekend. First stop was the gear shop where I needed an OS map, the guy who served me said that it was the second white peaks area map he'd sold that day.

On to Argos to grab a bundle of Sea to Summit sil nylon dry bags as it looks like I'll be needing them for the weekend. First catalogue I walked up to was open on the page that I needed.

Kit list

I have two master workbooks one for solo trips and one for when I go out with my partner, Penny. The sheet showing is the kit list page for solo trips. As previously mentioned I try and detail everything I take but I'm sure some beady eyed blogger will find something that I've missed...

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

kit lists and weight calculations

Following on from Martin's blog about his use of spreadsheets I thought I'd post some thing about my use of the same.

I keep a master kit list that I save as... for each trip and use the saved spreadsheet to build the kit I'll need to take. The master workbook has a kit list sheet, a menu sheet, an action sheet and a master item sheet. The master item sheet lists all the kit I own including items that I wouldn't dream of taking on a backpacking trip these days. The action sheet is just that, a list of bits and bobs that need doing for the trip. Again the menu sheet title says it all really. The kit list is preloaded with default items that I'm likely to be using, along with some occasionally carried optional ones. So depending on the time of year, terrain, weather, etc I'll move stuff around to suit. Along with the very detailed master item list* this helps keep the weight in check. And you can test options and the impact they have on the pack weight.

After the trip I use the spreadsheet as a debriefing document. Each piece of kit gets the three pile treatment on the page. I'll assume you know what I mean by this, so any items that aren't used or only used once go under review or get struck off. Unsurprisingly after only a few trips the amount of stuff that I carried but I didn't need disappeared out of my pack. I make notes on how the kit performed, any lessons learnt, and things to do differently next time.

*The master list detail is very thorough with a view to give maximum accountability of carried weight, this is reflected in the seemingly long list of items on my kit list.