Friday, 19 December 2008

happy seasons greetings

Well the title says it all really. Last morning at work until the 5th January. A few plans to stretch my legs over the break; the delayed next leg of the North Downs Way being one, and a lope over Leith Hill with Andy 'Wild' West being another. I think he's going to find the Surrey Hills a bit tame, that said Winterfold and the surrounding area has it's charms.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

mark the mountain guide

Thanks must go to Darren for spotting this.

Mark the mountain guide is written by Mark Seaton a qualified mountain guide, and is an adventure story for kids. Beautifully illustrated throughout the story tells of how Mark and the gang are cut off by an avalanche and how they make their return home from the alpine hut they were staying in.

It's more than a story though. Told in a rather matter of fact way, the book describes the danger but also the precautions and procedures used to negotiate safely in this type of environment. Accompanying the book is a toy karabiner and piece of rope for your audience to practice tying clove hitches and figures of eights. There's an appendix on knot tying, and another on how avalanches are caused and happen.

With the subject matter and technical content in mind, I think that this book would appeal to children in the five to eight year old age range. That's not to state that younger one's won't find the story in itself entertaining.

The acid test of course comes when I read the book to my son once he's opened it for Xmas.

moveable feasts - a cicerone guide

What to eat and how to cook in the great outdoors is the sub title of this new book from the guide book and outdoor information publisher.

Some of you may be wondering why a diabetic who suffers from coeliac disease is reviewing a cook book but Moveable Feasts is much more than a collection of recipes. It is in fact a comprehensive guide to all aspects to outdoor cookery. It covers everything from nutrition and hydration, through equipment and storage, stock items, wild food foraging, suggested menus and, of course, a selection of recipes.

The bias of the book is very much towards static car based camp cookery with Trangias and gas cylinder cookers prevalent in the the photographs. That's not to state that there isn't anything in here for lightweight backpackers, there's a wealth of information held within the 297 pages. The alphabetic listing of food stuffs with storage, cooking tips and nutritional information is a very useful reference section for those wanting to add variety to their meals or get a new slant on what they currently carry and cook.

If you're new to the outdoors this is a handy reference for all things food. Indeed I would recommend this to any schools that run DoE courses, if only for the fact that I would hope the next party of teenagers that I see cooking on a campsite would be preparing food that I would want to eat, medical conditions allowing of course.

Friday, 12 December 2008

tom and dick

Been off with the dreaded lurgy. Still suffering so have had to postpone the next leg of the North Downs Way that I was planning to walk with Darren tomorrow :(

Andy 'Wild' West is back from the States and there's a well done/welcome home gathering in Ripley tomorrow evening that I'm hoping to be well enough to get to.

The double bag experiment worked last weekend and despite overnight temperatures of (reputedly) -6C I was plenty warm enough.

The Honey and Bush Buddy Ultra stoves were passed around and comments made. The consensus was that the Honey was heavy and the Bush Buddy expensive. No pleasing some backpacking folk.

Here are a few snaps taken at the weekend.

The lane to Hartington.

Hartington Church.

A very frosty Dove Dale.

Hopefully normal service will resume next week with two book reviews. Also on the horizon some feedback on how the Trail Blaze poles work with pitching the GoliteHex 3 and Hut2 tarp tents.

Friday, 5 December 2008

ready for the off

Kit bag packed, batteries charged, food/kitchen box loaded with goodies, all that is left is a visit to the wine shop to buy some liquid entertainment for the weekend.

Weather is still looking clear, bright and sharp. So no snow then which is a pity but when the weather is like this it will help clear the city fumes from my lungs.

I cant wait.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

backpackers club christmas gathering

I've mentioned in a post below that I'll be up in the peak district at the weekend for the above. I won't be on site until Saturday morning as there's diversion in the journey to collect Christine. I'll keep an eye open for those that I know, and feel free to introduce yourself if I don't.

At the moment the weather is looking clear, crisp and bright. Lovely!

Monday, 1 December 2008

the honey stove

I never win anything in raffles and prize draws. That's not strictly true, I did win a huge Easter egg once and at that time eating chocolate was a big no no for diabetics. Mum was happy though, as I gave it to her. And I won a bottle of whiskey in a spot waltz dance competition when I was fourteen. Dad was similarly pleased with his son's two stepping expertise, and the drink.

Fortune was again looking my way on Saturday, on the OBF Bloggers open meet I was lucky enough to win a Honey stove donated by Bob at BPL. And unlike the Easter egg and whiskey I get to keep and play with the stove.

I've not had the time other than put it together a couple of times so my first impressions are limited to just that. There are other blogs out there that cover the ways that the stove can be used, so I won't be replicating what's already been stated or filmed.

A big plus is that the stove packs flat and is, subject to intended usage, modular which means some parts can be left behind if not required. The stove comes with a pouch to keep it all together and, as it's made from fairly thick grade steel, it doesn't need protecting in a pot like the Bush Buddy or Caldera cone needs to be. This strength is one of it's weaknesses, it makes the stove heavy. It's stated weight is 351g or thereabouts which is over double the weight of a Bush Buddy Ultra. I found putting the stove together a bit awkward and wondered how I'd fair with putting it together at the end a long days walk or with cold hands. The edges of the stove components aren't sharp or unfinished in any way but if I had the tools I'd try and polish them a bit as they aren't entirely finger friendly.

I'm going to take the stove off to the Backpackers Club Christmas gathering this weekend for a field test. If the campsite allows I'll try it out as a wood burner and as I'm car camping my trusty Trangia is the stove of choice so I can rig the Honey with the burner and see how they compare.

doubling up

The Backpackers Club Christmas gathering is this coming weekend and due to a  re-scheduling of my diary I'm now going to be able to go.

This now presents a bit of a dilemma. This time of the year I'd pack my Rab Ladkh 800 for a guaranteed comfy nights sleep. However I'll be doing the gentlemanly thing and letting Penny use it. The Marmot Hydrogen is my bag of choice these days but if the temperature dips below one or two degrees I'll have a miserable night. So my fall back plan will be to take the Mountain Equipment Skyline and double up the bags. This should suffice and if not I can always layer up with a primaloft top if necessary. Now shall I add a bivi bag to the list just in case? Ah the luxury of car camping!

Friday, 28 November 2008


This time of year always has me thinking about soups. Warming comfort food when the cold weather begins to bite. Soups on winter day walks and backpacking trips are top of my menu.

This year I've been lucky as a couple of supermarkets are now stocking cup soups that are gluten free - and not just a choice of one! However I'm not a big fan of the after taste that they leave in the mouth, although they are a lightweight and easy to prepare first course.

In the past I've made a huge vat of lentil soup made with carrots and potato to bolster the calorie rating. This I dried and ground to a powder to create an instant soup. It's time consuming but tastier and additive free.

Recently on my web wanderings I come across a couple of ideas which I've yet to try. And one of these used bouillon cubes as a soup base, adding some dried vegetables and/or fish/meat as you please. There are a number of manufacturers that make natural additive free low sodium stock cubes so again I'm spoilt for choice. (This is a rare occurrence in the world of a coeliac.)

I've also found a gluten free miso soup mix. And this got me thinking beyond the first course. With a packet of rice noodles ramen, that old backpackers stalwart, is now within easy reach of my titanium chopsticks.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

kit bit 2

I missed this bit of gear in yesterdays round up.

It's a sleekslice AKA a mandolin; not a stringed instrument for strumming whilst humming madrigals but a vegetable slicer.

An essential piece of kitchen equipment for those wishing to make potato dauphinois. Or those with a dehydrator wishing to make dried fruit or veg slices.

Using one of these speeds preparation time and with even thickness slices the fruit dries more efficiently saving time and energy.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

kit bits

The Trail Blaze poles arrived yesterday. I'm up in London this week so I've yet to play with my own pair but having already given them a day's trial I'm in no hurry. Also in the parcel is another piece of kit that I won't be able to write a review on but will give some feedback on after the festive season.

I picked up a pair of Inov8 Terrocs on Friday to replace my worn out XA Comps. And I'm glad; I don't have to listen to the wheezing sound that emanated from the hole in the sole of the right heal with every footfall any more. I've not walked more than a few miles at a time in these but they are feeling comfy albeit a bit drafty with the weather the way it is.

I hope to get out on Sunday to give the Terrocs a try and have a crack at pitching a tarp with the poles whilst I'm about it. And it goes without saying that I'll have my Bush Buddy on the go whilst I tinker with the tarp.

Monday, 24 November 2008

border crossing

Good news. Andy 'Wild' West completed the CDT - his word for the experience - Awesome.

Hi everyone,

I finally got to the border on the 21st after a fairly straight forward 120 mile section. Well sort of, here are some keywords:
Road walking, rattlesnakes, private land-no trespass, thorny bushes, border patrol, helicopters, drug runners and illegals, no water, stealth camping (no cooking), painful blisters, F1-11's, friendly ranchers & border patrol, hot days, freezing nights, coyotes, eagles. The finish!

OK I said fairly straight forward. Needless to say I was glad to get picked up and whisked away from the border.

I will be writing a page or so of highlights, thoughts, etc and send that out. I could write a book, we shall see where it takes me.
For now I'm just going to relax for a while let my feet rest and probably start training again pretty soon. Looking forward to doing some weights and putting on some weight although I have only lost maybe 15 pounds.


Sunday, 23 November 2008

and then one day you find

ten years have got behind you.

No one told you when to run.

You missed the starting gun.

Enough of the lyrics. OK so I'm another year older (and as I said enough of the lyrics).

I've just had a conversation with a friend; we haven't spoken since '96 or thereabouts. She's still got her Brum accent despite spending most of those years in Korea, Cambodia and India. How did that happen?

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

backpackers club london pub meet

Plan is to meet at the Tabard, 2 Bath Road, London, W4 1LW on Tuesday 25th November from 8pm. And the last Tuesday of the month thereafter.

Subject to interest the location can be moved to a more central location if required.

If you're planning on attending then please contact me by email on

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

north downs way: guildford to dorking

Picked Darren up from the station on way around the usual Saturday morning taxi circuit of Guildford. With the car parked at Shalford Park we had a brief chat with a couple who were walking the way east to west and set off towards Dorking. The route slowly climbs past Chantry Wood and up to St Martha's church where, at a height of 525ft, the view opens out to reveal the line of the north downs to the east and views to the south and west.

From St Martha's the route wends it way through woods and across open down land to Newland's Corner, where Darren bravely tackled a bacon roll. He offered, and we accepted without hesitation, a wee dram of whisky - a potent mix of peat and smokey sweetness.

From the A25 the way follows a drove road through wooded down land. The gales of 1987 destroyed a number of trees along this section which created gaps allowing glimpses south. With all this wood around it was an easy matter to find some dry twigs to fuel the Bush Buddy and lunch was taken on a moss covered bank.

Bush Buddy burning bright

Earlier in the day I had snaffled the Trail Blaze poles off Darren that Bob had sent him. Given the on going knee problem this was a good opportunity to give a potential life saver a thorough try out. At the halfway point or thereabouts I was in no discomfort and had adapted to walking with poles. There is little ascent and descent on this stretch of the way so I had no way of testing whether they'd help in this situation but for now I was happy with the result. One minor quibble with the poles though the pull string seemed to work it's way loose and cause the pole joints to click. A half hitch around the shaft helped but that also worked loose eventually. As these were second hand poles they came with no instructions so perhaps we were missing something. That said I think a couple of mini line loks might do the trick. Despite this I was very impressed with the lightness of the poles, and will be buying a pair later this week. (Bob has since posted on Darren's write up of the day and apparently there is a locking knot that needs using.)

Emerging on to White Down, Dorking and the Denbies Vineyard hove into view. Scattered across this stretch of the hill side were a number of brick built pill boxes, some more crumbling than others. I stopped to point out the wild clematis seed heads, otherwise know as old man's beard, which makes great tinder (I've become something of an avid tinder spotter since got the BB).

The route crosses Ranmore Common and passes St Barnabas Church, entering the Denbies Estate we took a detour through the vineyard to shorten the walk along the busy A24 to the station.

Box Hill and Denbies vineyard

Another good day out with Darren and I'm wondering when we'll get a chance to complete more of the way with him. The next leg between West Humble and Merstham is only 9 miles long and lies on the same rail service but beyond Merstham however the public transport situation becomes more problematic.

Monday, 17 November 2008

oh happy days

Stepped out with Darren on Saturday to walk another section of the north downs way, more of which later.

The good news is that I covered the thirteen or so miles without any knee pain. It could be that the cod liver oil I've been taking is helping. Or it could be the new knee support I had to buy on Friday because I had forgotten to pack the other one. Maybe it was the Trail Blaze poles that Darren had brought along that I hijacked from him first thing and used all day. It could be the combination of all three.

Whatever, I'm going to continue taking the pills, using the more comfortable and lighter knee support and buy a pair of the poles from Bob and Rose.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

trail magic - update

Andy now has the end of the trail within his sights and appears determined to get this finished at all cost...


I should have written that in the 27 hours/48miles I was not just walking all that time. That would be crazy. I visited the cliff dwellings and even had 5 hours sleep during that time. Just thought I would say in case you think I have completely lost the plot.

However, I might go for the record in the last 125 miles. Although the blisters will probably stop me.

Must get back to stuffing my face.


Saturday, 15 November 2008

trail magic

Hi everyone its me!

Just landed in Silver City after a big hiking night. Decided to road walk the last section and go for 50 miles in 24 hours. Well it turned out 48miles in 27 hours so nearly there. There was a fair amount of up and down which slowed me considerably.

I think I had done about 250 miles since Grants the last town stop with a stopover in Pie Town also. Where the only thing you could buy was - yes Pie. Seriously. Needless to say I was starting to smell and feeling a bit withered around the edges. I 've been surviving on dried food and trail rubbish.

The Gila Forest wilderness section was a big challenge with 75 river crossings in 2 days. A river that had ice around the edges in places. I had to build 2 fires as I progressed down the river I was in such pain with cold feet. If only I had my fishing waders or snorkel boots. One day I saw some hunters with a black bear on the back of the truck (it was dead). They showed me a picture of a mountain lion they had shot the week before. Man, these are big animals as big as the hunter. Apparently there's a pack of wolves that move up and down the canyon I went through, I saw footprints too but didn't hear them.

Have I mentioned trail magic? Well coming out the canyon, I found a wallet with $500 cash credit cards etc in the dirt. Naturally I was going to hand it in as soon as got out. I had nearly run out of food and was feeling jaded. 'What I really need is some food' I said to myself. A few yards further on, there it was. A carrier bag with someones lunch in it. Needless to state I ate it. Rather me than the Coyotes. That's trail magic for you. When I got out I gave the wallet to the rangers who were impressed with my honesty especially as I looked like a vagrant. As they say looks are deceiving and don't judge a book by its cover. After visiting the cave dwellings I came out to find that the American tourists and rangers had made a food collection for me they were so impressed. That was cool.

Anyhow, I am really looking forward to the finish; lets face it there's only so many things you can discuss with yourself in a freezing tent for 12 hours a day!! Starting to miss people big time.


Thursday, 13 November 2008

mechanical failure

This was the phrase that ptc* used when referring to my knee problem. The good news is that my employer has BUPA cover, so I've an appointment booked with Doctor and an a cheque waiting for £100 to cover the excess required for the claim.

I've been taking cod liver oil for a couple of weeks but as I've not done any walking of any significance since the Elan Valley trip I cant tell if it's helping.

I've decided for now to move my attempt on the Pennine Way back to September to give me enough time to heal, recover and get fit for it.

I'm meeting up with Darren on Saturday morning to walk another bit of the North Downs Way, he promises to be bringing a stove or two along for testing. I'm wondering whether I'm going to get press ganged into holding a camera for one of his videos! Or if I'm really lucky he'll be backing one of the prizes from his blog's birthday draw (hopefully the Snow Peak pot).

I'm packing my favourite bit of kit - the Bush Buddy Ultra - for brewing up along the way. And I have been kicking around using it on the PW with a meths stove as a back up. I've done a quick weight comparison between the two and the BB/pepsi can stove combo works out lighter than the F1 stove and medium sized cartridge. Finding fuel for the BB on route may be an issue though, so more thought needs to be put into that.

This posting has re-ignited my interest in the Mariposa Plus. I've been having doubts as to whether I'd have enough pack space in the Villain for a weeks food, along with all my kit. And the only way of finding out is by bagging up a weeks worth and seeing if I can squeeze it all in. Might be worth the effort rather than shelling out another 100 quid for yet another rucksack.

Monday, 10 November 2008

kit bits

Took my Bush Buddy out for a field (should that be forest?) test.

The weather had been blustery and wet so the hope of finding any dry wood seemed slim but after 10 minutes along the trail I'd gathered enough wood to have an attempt at lighting the stove. The wood was dead branches that were still attached to the trunk., well they were until I pulled them free.

A sheltered spot found and the BB was soon burning away happily. All attempts at lighting the stove thus far have been by using a teased out tampon as tinder. The next step is to light the stove with naturally occurring tinder.

It was timely that I washed and proofed my two soft shell tops on Saturday morning. This time of the year I generally wear my Marmot ATV jacket as it's (just) warm enough on it's own whereas the TNF Apex top would need a microfleece under it. I wore the jacket on the aborted Elan Valley trip putting on my Marmot Precip waterproof when the wind picked up and rain got more persistent and the combo worked well.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

podcast pleasure

Since my W810i packed up a while ago I've resorted to using an old 5140 as my phone. I have been missing listening to podcasts so when the nalgene flask from Bob turned up I received the outdoors station pick of the month CD that included the OMM podcasts. Essential listening then, so as I mentioned that I was heading off to town to buy a cheap MP3 player one of my staff said you can have my iPod nano (4Gb) for ten quid.


iTunes downloaded, outdoors station subscription set up and podcasts loaded for this evening's journey home.

Joy and happiness restored.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

On the home straight

Hi all,

Just arrived in Grants New Mexico. I think I have done about 250 miles in the past 9 days, so I'm really flying now!

It really surprised me the change in 40 hiking miles. From the frozen soil of Colorado, to the sand and rock of the desert mesas.
Thankfully its been warmer too, although hunters I have chatted to say I am well lucky as this time last year it was 2-6 degrees F up high and that's cold by my books. Had some lovely sights, incredible rock colours, sunrises and sunsets. Seen a tarantula, wild turkeys, elk and lots of cool looking cacti and pinon pines. Even found an arrowhead one day. Met many friendly people and turned down many lifts and free food, although water was welcome.

Had a run in with some young bulls & cows in the dark and escaped without stepping on a cactus or rattler - they can be 6 foot tall; the cacti and the cows!

I have been getting up at 5.30 to start hiking in the dark and normally hiking on into dark. Not many people get to see the sunrise and sunset every day. Trying hard to finish before the cold really hits home. Its going to be interesting near the border too.


Monday, 3 November 2008

nalgene hip flask

Now in stock on Podcast Bob's site. Timely given my usual 'flask' leaked again this weekend. Hurry he has limited stock of these.

elan valley

To cut a long blog short the above trip was abandoned due to on going knee issue.



The Golite Reed Pants bought from Mark at got about ten minutes of testing, so I'm not going to write a review just yet.

My Meindl boots behaved themselves and didn't let in any water so I'm going to test them in a bowl of water with a rolled up newspaper before I decide whether or not to send them back.

I'm not doing any more weekend trips until I get my knee sorted.

bush buddy update

The good news is that I don't have to buy a new pot to keep the Bush Buddy in, it happily fits in the Primus Litetech kettle I own.

Bush Buddy Ultra in Primus Kettle

I didn't take it on the Elan Valley trip as I wanted to have a couple of goes at lighting and using it in controlled conditions in the back garden.

Feeding the fire

And a very successful first attempt it was. The most problematic issue was finding dry wood. I've already been told about soot blackening the pots but there is also the wood smoke that will make all what you're wearing smell of it in no time. But that's no bad thing.

I'll be packing the stove on my next day trip for a field test.

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.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

cookware; where next?

The Bush Buddy Ultra is where. I've been promised one for my birthday and that's two months away.

One thing though the New Stove; New Pan statement staggers on stage again. Elsewhere in the Blogger sphere I've found out that the BBU is best carried and stored in a pot, specifically a Snow Peak 900 pot. Having checked the dimensions of the BBU against all my other pots and pans I own it won't fit in any of them. The Primus pot comes closest but dare I risk the BBU getting bashed out of shape? I doubt it.

So there goes another thirty quid and another stride down the long distance footpath path that is camp cookware evolution.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Peak bagging and creature comforts

Hi all
Just arrived in Silverthorne and enjoying the luxury of 'a chair' (what a novelty.) Just had a shower, my first in about 150 miles (excluding a quick jump in a cold lake.) Needless to say it was really good; the shower not the lake! Think I will have another shower later and maybe again in the morning.

My last brief reports were of exciting and sketchy moments. The sort of things that make your hair stand on end. This one is what the CDT is all about!

The last few days have been very tough and highly rewarding. Two days ago I prayed for good weather and god smiled down at me from above! The reason was the highest peaks on the trail were coming up and I did not want to miss them. Pretty much since the start of September the weather has sucked. I awoke on Thursday with a clear blue sky, well actually it was dark because it was before dawn but know what I mean. I then proceeded up to the ridge line and up James Peak, a 13 thousand footer. The day continued with a scrambly dip into a pass, then up the frozen snow scattered face of Parry peak the highest on the CDT. As I viewed a likely path up I wondered if sending my crampons home was such a good idea. As it turned out it was fine, with a fairly easy route no problem in my running shoes. That day I summited four 13000 ft mountains and I was totally elated!

Yesterday three passes and another couple of 12000 ft peaks meant the last section was a great success.

Today was an easily near 12000 ft pass (this nearly killed me) and a 10 mile down hill jog to get to the post office to get my bounce box and new tent and warmer sleeping bag. No more cold nights for me now... hopefully!

Off to the supermarket now for supplies. May be I'll have shower before I go...


Sunday, 28 September 2008

cookware evolution V

New Year, new move; new pastures, new partner.

The Primus pot is ideal for two -- the dead air space vanishes with double the quantity of food in it. And the cosy does it's thermally efficient best.

The AGG pan and spirit stove happy together boiling water for tea, mash, soup, noodles or custard. The recycled can of Mountain Dew is not always needed nor carried. The Primus pot, the AGG three cup pan and the F1 Lite stove is all that is used on most occasions.

A sporke a piece; the lexan mug is back in the others rucksack, and the titanium bowl is doing what it was meant to. As a treat it occasionally gets to boil a little water.

Friday, 26 September 2008

cookware evolution IV

The F1 system had done me well for five years. But the cupboard under the stairs was beginning to complain under the weigh of part used gas cartridges so a simpler more environmentally friendly system where I can manage the fuel and waste better was called for. Being in a green frame of mind my only choice was to buy a recycled Pepsi can stove and, with a nod in the right direction, the one I received was made from a can of Mountain Dew.

It then dawned on me with the new stove I needed a new pan. The Primus was too narrow for the flame spread on the AGG stove, but more importantly, I had discovered that as I wasn't using the full capacity of the Primus pot the dead air space above the food meant that the cosy couldn't be as efficient as it should have been. The three cup AGG pan was the solution. Cosy made; problem solved. And the AGG pan works on the F1 stove. Result? Not quite, the 600 mug doesn't nest but the titanium bowl does.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

the outdoor shop

I found The Outdoor Shop whilst surfing the net trying to find a UK supplier who had the Helion2 in stock. Having found their website I was pleased to find that they had a few Helion2's in stock, and best of all at a heavily discounted price. I had a special requirement for the order that they met, and on processing I received the tent two days later. Thanks goes to Sarah for responding to emails swiftly, modifying their order processing to meet my needs, and for seeing the order through.

They have some cracking deals on their site so go check them out.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

helion2 tweaks

As mentioned an easy weight saving tweak was swapping the original pegs for titanium ones. The 12 pegs supplied are intended for the full deployment of the optional guys on the sides and at the rear. I've settled on packing 10, that's 8 to peg the tent down and two for optional guys. The set of pegs packed will consist of 6 V pegs and 4 wire ones for 84g; half the weight of the ones supplied. The guys will also be left behind as I always carry a few lengths of static cord that could be used if necessary. (Tip:- if you have to use guys ditch any line loks or similar for tautline hitches.)

The peg bag, which seems overly large for the purpose, has been jettisoned for a modified Golite one, and the pole bag has also gone being replaced with a short piece of black bungee to hold them in a bundle. It's worth noting that the poles collapse down into a fairly fat bundle but if you don't break them down too far you end up with a slimmer one that tucks nicely away upright in a corner of a rucksack. Or which can be strapped to the side.

I don't tend to use tent stuff sacks unless they are needed to compress the tent down in order for it to fit in my bag, again a few more grams saved.

There are six guying loops on the inner made from some very stout static that could be replaced with 1.5mm dyneema but that's a tweak too far at the moment. (Makes mental note to put some on shopping list to do this and replace the static mentioned above.)

I have yet to trim the labels out but I think that I've got the weight down to 1600g or thereabouts. A very good weight for a tent that sleeps two.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

mountain hardwear helion2

The tent arrived this afternoon but too late for me to pitch it on some available office floor space at lunchtime. I did have enough time, however, to whip out my postal scales and weigh the individual parts. Very sad I know but it does confirm that the actual weight was 1750g all in with the inner, poles and fly adding up to 1500g. The tent was supplied with 12 Y pegs that made up two thirds of the 250g over the weight of the inner, fly and poles. Having owned a MHW tent before I knew that they are supplied with optional guylines and guying points for which they supply pegs, so swapping these for titanium ones and working out the optimum number of pegs needed is an easy weight saving.

Time to get it home and have a play.

Monday, 22 September 2008

cookware evolution III

With the death of a close friend whilst climbing and the imminent birth of my son, I decided to hang up my climbing boots and pursue a less life threatening outdoor pursuit. Back to backpacking then.

The cookware I'd gathered was great for two, now three hungry mouths but was way too bulky and heavy for the solo ventures I was planning on. A new job put me in a dangerously close proximity to a well know high street outdoor retailer. And with my climbing club having a contract deal with the chain I left the store pounds poorer but grams lighter with my cookware solution -- the Coleman F1 Light Stove. My original idea was to use either my old two pint pan or one of the Trangia 27 pans but neither were the slim line solution that would fit in the pocket of my new 45l rucksack. I bought a Primus Litech Kettle which a small gas cartridge and stove would nestle in happily along with a lighter and some tea bags. A lexan mug and spoon completed the set.

The Primus pot has had a number of modifications; the bail handles were removed, as was the plate that held the handle in place, the lid gets left behind and has been replaced with a square of foil. The lexan mug has gone, replaced by a Snow Peak 600 mug which fits in the Primus Kettle and doubles as an additional pot. An Orikaso folding bowl appeared and left in disgrace after spilling custard all over Rydal Fell. A MSR potlifter Lite lifts the Primus or the mug, and a Snow Peak titanium bowl that was bought with the idea that I could fry eggs and bacon in it (you cant.)

I made a cosy for the Primus and discovered that this is the most efficient way, both in terms of weight and cost, of saving fuel.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

homeward bound

It had turned into balmy evening by the time I left the office, so I was tempted into taking a stroll home via Richmond Park. Entering the park at the Kingston gate I decide to take the footpath as this follows the contour gently up and I wanted to bask in the early evening sun and enjoy the view west as I gained height. Green parakeets and jackdaws competed in their cacophony as they perched in the trees as I passed along the path. I picked up the Capital Ring just south of Pembroke Lodge and as I followed this the stunning view west down the Thames valley appeared from behind the screening horse chestnut trees. Late in the day the long sun painted an autumnal picture across the valley. The Capital Ring path drops steeply down to Petersham gate from Pembroke Lodge, and at the gate I gave some directions to a pork pie hat wearing Japanese guy who's evening walk in the park was to be fortified by a coffee and a pastie carry out from that Cornish pie shop chain.

I'm glad that the local council has put a pelican crossing here because it's always been a difficult place to cross especially as at the lights 50m to the right aren't set to allow pedestrians an easy crossing. Zig zagging around the Dysart and the church where George Vancouver lies buried (the mariner who the island and city are named after) the path crosses Petersham meadow where cattle graze in an echo of more bucolic times before.

Entering Buccleuch Gardens where the Capital Ring joins the Thames Path and I hold open a gate for a cyclist. We swap smiles and pleasantries as she passes through. I realise that I've been lucky with the tide, I can see that the grass area close to the river has had sights of recent flooding and as I pass the rowing club the tarmac'd towpath it is wet and greasy. The Thames flows with a sense of urgency down stream but being aware that the tide has been and gone I can relax knowing the route home is without detour.

The riverside pubs and bars of Richmond have a returning collection of punters mopping up drink, and the dregs of the evening sun as the river retreats.

The sun finally disappears as I pass the Asgill Beech and without a cloud in the sky I know that the temperature will start to drop. And as I walk along the towpath that edges Old Deer Park before crossing Richmond Lock, a short distance from home, I can smell the inevitable change in the season.

steamboat springs, colorado

Hi all,

Just made it into Steamboat Springs, Colorado. That's about 160 miles from the last town, Rawlins, which was the first US town where I didn't feel at home. Brian went into the Police station to use the toilet and an old lady inquired what he was doing in town. She then replied, 'Well I suggest you just get out of town as soon as possible!' That's nice we thought.

I have heard a saying that all thunderstorms are made in the Rocky Mountains. We now have some concrete evidence to back it up! Whilst trying to put some miles in between Rawlins and ourselves we experienced some big storms. The decision to take a low route (off the CDT) was a good one. The CDT or high divide is the first place to get battered by the storms.

We dropped into a cow-dung infested gully and set up our tents during the middle of the day. Something was on its way across the barren sage brush plains. I was pretty scared at the size of the storm. The whole sky was dark gray or black with weird swirling white clouds flying in all directions on the outside of it. Lightening and massive thunder booms adding to the effect. An awesome experience, and pretty frightening too.

Had a great time this week going over two 11,000+ ft mountains in a day.

Onwards through Colorado we go! As I look out the window I see storm clouds a brewing!


Wednesday, 17 September 2008

the great gig in the sky

Played Dark Side of the Moon last night in remembrance of Rick Wright who recently passed away after a short struggle with cancer.

As a teenager DSOTM was the album to make out to. Thank you Rick for creating the sound track to my inexperienced fumblings. 

Saturday, 13 September 2008

cookware evolution II

Scroll forward a decade and my stove of choice was a Trangia 27. I liked this cook set because it was a complete solution and simple to use. It packed nicely in the bottom of my rucksack with all the camping kit and, on top of that, all the climbing tat that I needed to carry as well. I reduced the weight of the stove by leaving out one pan, and replaced the fry pan lid with a non stick one.

It's worth pointing out that at the time I didn't have a car so had to rely on lifts from other club members. To save myself from carrying crippling loads and to ensure that me and my bag would fit in my lift's car, any kit I bought was low bulk and low weight. Before coming back to backpacking I was already pursuing a light is right philosophy to kit.

With maturity comes relationships, and with it the need to get a slightly larger pan set for cooking for two. And in the intervening decade, where before soup and a roll where sufficient, I'd become a damn fine cook and was keen to use my culinary skills in The Great Outdoors. I bought the larger Trangia 25, with a kettle and a non stick finish.

duvet day

Took Friday off with the idea of having a rest and a potter. It didn't start well with the neighbours drilling holes at half seven in the morning... then I received a text that wasn't for me. Clearly a conspiracy to get me up.

Potter I did. Took some photo's for a series of posts about pots and pans. Reviewed kit for a Backpackers Club meet in October and reorganised first aid kit and wash bag. I was surprised how much these two items had crept up in weight, and with some pruning I managed to reduce it by 50%. To be fair that small tube of sun cream hasn't seen the light of day all summer. And certainly won't be of use in the Peaks in October! It's always best to review contents after each trip by doing so you won't find that when you need that compeed that they all been used up. And should stall the inevitable weight creep that happens.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

cookware evolution I

My first cook set was a simple affair; an ex-army hexamine stove, a one pint plastic mug, a two pint pan with lid from a Hiker canteen set and a dessert spoon borrowed from the kitchen drawer. I could boil enough water to make a soup and brew with one to two tablets, depending on the wind. The stove held eight tablets and fitted nicely in the pan. Even by today's standards this was a pretty lightweight solution. In those days soup, cheese rolls and Garibaldi biscuits was the evening meal of choice. With crumbled Weetabix for breakfast.

Then I found the Camping Gaz Globetrotter, this was a mini version of the Bluelet that came with two pots. Despite the stove's ability to simmer my camp cooking prowess still didn't extend beyond making soup, although I did make a concession to buy packets that required more than a 5 minute simmer. The stove when packed in it's pots fitted nicely in an outside pocket of my Karrimor rucksack unlike the solid fuel solution which being much wider and flatter and had to go inside the main compartment. Stability was an issue with this stove so those wide blue folding feet that Camping Gaz made needed to be carried.


Yesterday the large hadron collider went "online" if you will. Yesterday England won 4-1 away from home. Putting 2 & 2 together, and coming out with number 4 (as you will remember, the same number of goals we scored - coincidence?) We have clearly slipped into a parrallel universe.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Monday, 8 September 2008

tent shopping

Some may know that I've been shopping around for (yet another) tent. The criteria for this tent is very specific. It needs enough head room for me to sit up in at the front, so that I can cook in the porch and under cover if the weather is bad. It also needs to have an inner and outer. And here's the killer criteria - weigh on or under 1500g.

Here's how the candidates measured up.

First up was the Big Agnes Seedhouse. I had big hopes for this tent as I'd heard good reviews from various sources. Off plan it had the headroom. However once set up it was clear that the maximum headroom was in the wrong place, to sit up and cook in the porch would require arm extensions.

Next up was the Laser Comp. Having measured my sitting back length I was sure that the internal height would do. I got something of a shock when I tried to sit inside and my head bumped against the hoop. Now it may be that the tent was not set up properly in the shop but I wouldn't have thought that would make much difference to the headroom.

After much trawling of the Internet I found the Mountain Hardware Helion 2. One of the outdoor retailers on Kensington High Street had one in stock, so I popped up on the tube over the weekend. One of the handy things about free standing geodesics is that they don't require pegs (or peg replacements) to hold them up. Well this tent ticked all the boxes and, as an added bonus, will sleep two (it's cosier than some two person tents I've owned however.)

I left the shop thinking job done... Until I walked into the next shop. In the middle of the floor in the area where they stock the tents was an Atko. Out of curiosity (a dangerous thing for cats, and me it seems) I asked a shop assistant to pitch it. Luckily they had those Velcro pegs that some shops use. With the tent pitched, I sat inside. I had room to sit up, there was space to store boots and rucksack, and space to cook. I now know why the Atko is such a well regarded tent. Off plan the headroom of this tent is 90cm, 5cm less than the Laser Comp, so given my earlier experience with the Laser I shouldn't have been been able to sit up in it. Then again I'm still wondering why this should be.

This left me with a bit of a dilemma. The Atko and the Helion weigh and cost the same. The Atko is a big amount of space for one. Oh dear! I kicked around the pro's and cons, and a decision was made.

I'm buying the Helion. Why? Well it sleeps two and the other person who'll be sharing it with me offered to pay half.

Look out for the obligatory gear review.

High street retailers please note; Velcro carpet pegs help pitch tents so that people can try them out. This is extremely useful especially when the stock advice to people buying tents is to try them out for size.

great divide basin

My latest straight from the wild Great Divide Basin, where we covered 120 miles the we being Brian and Selena a USA couple, that joined me on this section.

Some things we take for granted. Some things are a luxury. Others a necessity. The desert removes most of these things. I now know how fortunate I am to live in a Western country. Just simple things like being able to wash your hands, and turn on a tap are gone. Remove these things and you are out of your comfort zone for sure.

We met a guy where we got dropped off. The first thing I noticed was the bullets up his arm! He quickly showed us his gun. ' That's a nice one', I said. Probably the biggest handgun you could legally own, complete with telescopic sight and tripod. He was out hunting or scouting for elk he said. He gave us five beers and a big knife, that he said we could use! 'You guys carrying guns?' he asked.

One of my first thoughts as I scuttled along the sandy road with a rocky horizon in front of me was you could really die out here and no-one would know. Maybe not a pleasant thought; certainly a sobering one. However we were lucky, the temperature was low due to a cold front, meaning we would not have to carry so much water. The weight of the food in my pack hurt my shoulders, and the 10lb of water didn't help either.

On the second day, as I tried to hurry along a sandy road, I laughed at myself. I felt like a inefficient pathetic beetle scurrying along with my 'shell home' on my back. The wind was the only noise in this desolate landscape. This sand day gave only 22 miles, and we moaned about the pain in our feet that night. Having to carry water between sources was a requirement for this section. I guess we were lucky too that the sources were reliable and mostly free from cow pollution. YUK! Those damned smelly creatures. The section was completed successfully doing 28 and 33 mile days. Awesome, but quite painful by the night time, these amounted to 14 hour days excluding breaks. I was really glad to have some company on this section, and the last. I think that desolate place would have driven me nuts if I had been on my own.

So onwards we go, wondering if the snow will hold off in September. Some of the North CDT route has already had 8'' of snow.


Friday, 5 September 2008

marching on your stomach

Various work commitments this week meant that I've spent most days travelling on trains so what better use of time than to read a book. I plucked Derrick Booth's The Backpackers Handbook off the shelf for a delve through. The chapter that caught my eye was one about food and nutrition.

Looking at the sample menu I was shocked by how little food there seemed to be... Or should I be more shocked by how much I pack? This has started me thinking about optimising the food stuff I carry perhaps shedding some grams in the process. His focus was based on the delivery of a required number of calories with a classic ratio of carbohydrates (CHO), fat and protein to do so. My primary focus is on CHO and it's delivery balanced against the insulin dosages I take.

My current diet was put together out of experience and limited testing. In ideal conditions blood tests are easy to do; in the cold or wet they are easy to forego. When the weather has been particularly bad I've plodded on, skipped lunch and the midday injection and kept myself going on trail mix. The long acting insulin I take keeps the blood sugar on a even keel so the little and often approach does seem work in these circumstances. However I'm inclined to think that the good Doctor Anderson (my consultant) would say don't make a habit of it!

Looking at this I realise that it would make a juicy dissertation for someone looking to do a masters in sports nutrition, so perhaps I should head off to UCL with a sandwich board offering up my lunchbox to medical science.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

ridgeway recollections

Prompted by Alan and Darren's trip at the weekend and my visit to Avebury the previous one, I thought that I'd post a few lines about the Ridgeway.

The Ridgeway was the first National Trail that I walked. I didn't walk it from end to end in one go like I have other routes, I section hiked it over a number of long weekends. This was good practice for me at the time as I'd not done any backpacking since my early twenties. I had been gathering bits of backpacking kit that I wanted to try out and get used to using on the trail. And doing it in bite sized pieces gave me a gentle re-introduction to the pleasures of self sufficient travel.

One of the first things that I realised when I walked the route was that water was hard to come by. The Harvey's map shows the location of standpipes but that's not a guarantee that they will be working when you find them. Water can be taken from cattle troughs but again use of these depended on whether you could get a feed from the valve on the trough. The other option is to sift, filter and boil the green water that you usually find in them. The route passes through a number of villages, and as Darren and Alan found out refreshment can be found at these. I find the 'I'll have a pot of tea and can you fill my water bag' approach usually works. On one weekend I asked someone in their front garden whether they could fill my platy up. Needless to state that my usual water carrier, a 1.8l platy hoser, would be woefully inadequate if I needed to carry water for a camp as well as for the next day. Additional water carriers are a must if you're planning to wild camp.

On the subject of camping there are not many official campsites along the route, and as you journey north they become fewer and further apart. In fact there isn't one between the one at Chinnor and the one at Ivinghoe at the end of the route. Opportunities for wild camping on this section are scarce too. The backpackers Club directories are a good source of possible wild camps and water locations.

I'll pick out some highlights for other posts.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

escape from bear valley

Snow storms and bear scat. 'Wild' West finds bushwhacking is a little more hair raising that just tramping down nettles on the North Downs Way.

Hi All,

Another quickie from the library. Sorry don't have time to send individual emails, you know the score 1/2 hr time limit.

Just escaped the 'Wind river range' via a 40 mile rd walk, due to a cold front. It was a good call as they had snow of 4'' and a lot of rain. Autumn is here I think. Just moving on today trying to get to Colorado ASAP due to snow in the high mountains being a threat as September goes on.

'Escape from bear valley' - quick!
Got a lift from West Yellowstone town, via a friend of the librarian! Cool, as it was about 25 miles He even bought me a drink and cake. The parting words that didn't really inspire me with confidence were,
'your entering some mighty dangerous country boy!!'
Oh my God. First night in I slept within a fortress of young pine, and hung my food a good distance away, I needed my GPS to find it!!
20 miles in, I was in the park and came across two rangers on horses, 'Just picked up a radio collar from a 500 pound male (a grizzly)... he's around here somewhere.'
Ok so I was glad to share camp with a northbound CDT hiker that night.
Through Old Faithful I hadn't seen any scat nor any prints so I started to wonder where all the 'grizzlies' were, Strange. Then 35-45 miles in I got to 'Snake river.' I started to find scat pretty regular, then prints, then scat then - shit! - bear scat every 10 feet - NO LIE! Came to a junction and lost the trail. Guide book said 'bushwhack down the river.' I started and just found masses of bear 'signs', in the first 10 feet. 'If you offered me a thousand pounds I wouldn't walk through those bushes!!'
I was certain there were a shit-load of shitting bears, sleeping off their midnight snacks in the 90 degree heat of the day. I started to get scared; real scared!
I thought ok, one bear yes, I can handle that but it seems as if there were whole teams of the critters somewhere in the bush!
I continued and made it down the Snake river without seeing any, just shit loads of shit!
That night I found grizzly prints close to the camp on the path. Just sniffing about I guess. For sure, I was lucky for sure to escape bear valley!
(there was an attack recently where a grizzly went through this guys tent and gave him 'a chew.' They tried to trap the critter but still 'at large' in Yellowstone. He had a clean tent - no food or smelly's.)


Monday, 1 September 2008

golite hut2

Not so much a tarp more a tent without an inner.

It pays dividends to spend time practicing pitching tarps and the Hut2 is no exception. I experimented with different pole configurations finally settling on using a 120cm Hampton pole at the front internally, and a trekking pole at the rear externally.

Pitched this way the tarp was quite taunt and gave better use of the narrower, lower tail end. The internal space is roomy and more than enough for two and their kit, with space to cook under shelter if needs be. Tall backpackers can sit up in ease within the tarp as the internal height at the apex is circa 120cm.

The perimeter pitches low to the ground so it's very weathertight and not as drafty as you might think. Using the stuff sack supplied you end up with a pack size roughly the same as a can of beans. On my scales the tarp including stuff sack weighed in at 640g.

One minor quibble with the Hut2 -- it doesn't have a two way zip which would help with ventilation.