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.