Monday, 19 December 2011

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Living in a Power Station.

If you’re enjoying the peace and quiet of Sunday morning, take a look at this YouTube clip and sympathise.

The link was included in Andy’s comment on the “one turbine down” post, on James’s Backpackingbongos  blog.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Suggestions for a wild camping pitch in Wales or the Peak District please.

I've just had a rather windy but damp week end in the Lake District, excellent company and a couple of good pub meals, but not much fun on the hill.

Having recently updated my summer wild camping list for winter, it seemed like a good idea (excuse) for an overnight camp to make up for a disappointing weekend, whilst checking out my revised list before venturing north of the border.

I fancy somewhere not too far away, possibly mid Wales or the Peak District. Does anyone have any a favourite pitch they’d be prepared share with me.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Winterproofing my wildcamping gear part 2

My sleeping bag is a Mountain Equipment Xero 550 which I bought in February 2008; it’s quite light for a three season bag and very comfortable. I'd like to add a 4 season bag to my winter shopping list, but I really can’t justify the cost of owning more than one sleeping bag.

Using the same bag for all seasons does have its downsides, in the summer you’re carrying unnecessary weight, and it can become too hot, although the temperature is easily controlled with the two way zip. In the winter it can be quite cold, so I make up for the lack of down by wearing my trousers and either a fleece or my Patagonia Nano Puff jacket.

The mattress I've been using this summer is a NeoAir short, at 278g its very light, but for the winter I prefer a full length mat, so I’ll be reverting to my Prolite (472g). If it looks like being really cold, then I’ll use my old green Trecklite, which I’ve had for many years. It may be quite heavy at 823g, but even on snow is toasty warm.


I don’t cook in the hills; I only boil water, either for brews, dehydrated meals or the occasional cuppa soup. This means my summer cooking gear should be perfectly adequate for the colder weather, the Optimus Crux Light stove (74g) works well with a Tibetan 550ml Titanium mug (87g), and boils quite quickly. This set up used to wobble alarmingly, before I solved the problem buy fitting a Primus gas canister feet (28g), which is quite stable on most ground. The one item missing from my camp kitchen is a windshield, so I intend to custom build one, from a disposable foil tray before my next trip.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Lovely Wind farms

If you think wind farms are a good thing and are environmentally friendly, then this post is for you!
If you think wind farms a blight on our wild places look at this post and weep!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Winter proofing my wild camping gear part 1

This winter I’m hoping to spend a few nights wild camping weather permitting. I’m now reasonably happy with my summer wild camping gear, but probably need to upgrade a few items for winter.

My Shelter
Staring with my tent, I still don’t feel 100% confident in the Laser Comp’s bad weather performance, but perhaps I’m expecting too much from a 3 season tent.
Having beefed up the guys and pegs it certainly performs better in the wind, but I’m not sure the Terra Nova pegs I’m using at the moment will hold in soft ground if a when the wind picks up. So the first item on my shopping list is some lightweight vee pegs. I’ve not seen any good lightweight vee pegs foe ages, so any recommendations would be welcome.  
The last few times I’ve used the Laser Comp I’ve had difficulty getting the inner tent taut. Separate pegs would do the trick but I’m not prepared to carry the extra weight so I think I’ll try shortening the inner tent elastics.
I also need to make a repair to the strap which takes the pressure of the flysheet zip, one of the prongs has broken off the plastic connecting clip making it even more difficult to use than normal.
Finally, I must make a new tent footprint before my next trip,  my home made experimental green bin liner footprint (weight 66g) needs replacing, its lasted 20 nights not bad for a free bin liner and 5 feet of parcel tape., defiantly my best buy so far.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Wild entertainment.

With the nights drawing in and the clocks due to go back, a winter wild camp means many hours of darkness to be occupied. Once gear has been sorted, brews made, and the evening meal cooked, what is there to do?
If it’s clear you can gaze at the stars, or maybe read, although I often find the book I’m reading is far too heavy to be lugged into the hills, and it’s also sometimes quite difficult to get comfortable when reading particularly if the ground is lumpy. My preference is listening to the radio, but my current pocket radio at 250g is far too heavy. Time to spring into action, and also a good excuse to buy more gear.
My start point in the search for a suitable radio was to post the question “Which radio should I buy?”
Unfortunately this didn’t generate many comments, however, I was delighted when Tracksterman posted a few days later, about his search for a replacement hill radio, which was full of useful information.

My main requirement is that the radio should be as light as possible, battery life is not too important as I'll only be away for one or two nights. I'd like a reasonable signal and sound quality, but as long as I can receive some sort of programme, for a few hours each evening, I'll be happy. If by any chance I’m out of signal range, then I can always take Alan’s advice and listen to the wind and streams. Although I'm very aware that the sound of gushing streams is likely to increase unwanted trips outside, for those of us over a certain age!

After much deliberation I’ve ordered a Roberts R986. Its very light, weighing in at 59g, including the headphones (14g) and battery (10g), and it’s astonishingly small, measuring only 80mm x 40mm x 15mm.

It has mono MW / mono FM and FM stereo wave bands, rotary volume and tuning controls and a deep base boost, and I’m hoping that the reliability will be good, as the R986 has been in production for quite a few years, so any teething problems should have been sorted long ago.

I bought the R986 from Bridport Music via Amazon. At £25 plus £1.22 shipping, it wasn’t the cheapest price I could find, but delivery was only two days, and I can’t bare waiting ages for something once I've placed my order, just to save the odd few coppers.

On taking delivery, initial reaction are favourable, it feels astonishingly light, the controls may be a tad fiddly but they're quite stiff, so the rotary volume and tuning controls stay put once adjusted. The reception and sound quality are pretty good, but it remains to be seen how well it performs in the hills. I will post again when I’ve given it a couple field tests.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Vanishing Glaciers and EO Wheeler

Major Wheeler

Tracksterman posted this link on his blog. The photography is superb, so imagine my surprise and delight when I realised that some of the images were taken by  E.O. Wheeler, who was a distant relative of my Mother.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Monadhliath Mountains Petition

The Save the Monadhliath Mountains Petition has yet to reach a thousand signatures, if you haven’t yet signed and care about our wild places you can still sign here.

You can find more information, through the links on my previous posts here and here.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Which Radio should I buy?

I’m looking for a lightweight radio to help pass those long winter evenings whilst wild camping, does anyone have any suggestions?

Should I choose analogue or digital?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Cairngorm Konkordiaplatz

I took a trip to the Cairngorms last week, it was probably the most driving I've ever done for short stay in the hills, but it turned out to be memorable, in more ways than one!

I was rather late starting off, as I decided to visit Mum who is not too well, before heading northwards. Even after a reasonable drive up, it was still mid evening when I pulled on to the vast car park at the Glenshee Ski Station (the last place I can get a mobile signal).
I rang home and the news wasn’t particularly good, so instead of my planned camp by White Bridge, I decided to stealth camp near the entrance to Baddenock, enabling me to call home again the following morning before setting off into the hills.

It was quite a cloudy and overcast evening, and in my in my rush to set up I managed to put the Laser Comp bang on top of a rock, which didn’t bode well for a good nights rest. I was particularly grumpy, as I’d done my usual lie on the tent footptint to check the ground, but obviously not thoroughly enough.

I actually slept better than expected, having found a way of levelling out the rock with my Paramo top and two pairs of socks. It was quite cool as I packed up before driving to the Ski Centre to phone home. Things were looking slightly better on the parental front, so I carried on to the Linn of Dee where I parked in the National Trust Car Park.

As I set off, I met a couple with a dog who were going to climb Ben Macdui. Intrigued by their large rucksacks which must have been at least 70 and 120 litres respectively, I asked where they were intending to camp. They replied “oh were not camping, were just out for a day walk, but like to be equipped for any situation”. The mind boggles as what situation they could meet, which would necessitate such large rucksacks.

Unusually I had no fixed plan of what I might do, in truth, I was still trying to convince myself I should be here at all rather than back at home. Anyway I digress, my first objective today was the White Bridge, and then I would either continue along the west bank of the river Dee towards the Lairig Ghru, or take the track towards Glen Tilt and maybe visit the Tarf Hotel.

The Land Rover track to White Bridge passes through some lovely countryside with views of the river and hints of the mountains to come.

When I arrived at the White Bridge I found it occupied by three Scots mountain bikers who were doing a circular trip, starting at Blair Athol, with overnights at Tomintoul and Braemar SYHA’s. They were in excellent spirits and after a few minutes friendly banter, they set of towards their car at Blair Athol, and I took the Glen Dee track. The landscape was now changing quite quickly, the river which had been wide and shallow was becoming narrower and deeper, and the hills were closing in.

Beinn Bhrotain had been in view for sometime, but as the path followed the river round to the right, Devils Point, Cairn Toul and the peaks beyond started to show themselves.

By now the sky was becoming increasingly cloudy, giving the hills an austere look in the flat light. What a wonderful place this is!

Today I was making hard work of the walk, my thoughts kept drifting home, and my rucksack, at 9.8 Kg including 2 days food and 1 litre of water, was heavier than normal. If I’d been more careful packing, I’m sure I could have reduced the weight by a couple of kilo’s, but hadn’t and now I was suffering for it!

Plan A, was to climb Beinn Bhrotain and Monadh Mor then descend to Loch nan Stuirteag to camp for the night, but as I reached the cairn which marks start of the ascent path, my heart wasn’t in it and I’m not sure my legs were up to it either.
So I ambled onwards up Glen Dee, whilst thinking about Plan B, which was to follow the Geusachan Burn to Loc nan Stuiteag, wild camp tonight, and worry about what to do tomorrow, tomorrow.

I wondered on lost in private thought, drinking in the wild grandeur of the place, if ever I needed proof that the long drive north was worth the effort, this was it!

At the confluence of the Geusachan Burn and the River Dee I stopped for a break. The views here are superb, and as I sat alone, there was an atmosphere that reminded me of the Konkordiaplatz in the Swiss Alps. It must be magical here on a starry winter’s night when the snow is deep on the ground.

Whilst eating lunch I began to review Plan B, did I really feel able to go for two days without checking things back home or should I do something else? Well I know from recent visits to Ben Macdui phone signals are hard to come by around here, so I decided on Plan C. Which was to camp on the east side of the River Dee hopefully with similar views to what I had now, and experience a night in this wonderful location, then make for Glenshee and a good phone signal tomorrow.

As it was only mid afternoon I thought it would be nice to a look at the refurbishments carried out to Corrour Bothy, before looking for a camping spot.

Unfortunately the Geusachan Burn barred my route. After sometime spent prowling along the river bank looking for a suitable crossing place, I came to the conclusion it was going to be a boots off job. Now endless hours of enjoyment can be gained from boulder hopping across a river, but wading, through cold water is not my idea of fun. So chin up, boots and socks off, boots back on again, undo rucksack straps, take a deep breath and off we go. Yippee! What seemed like seconds later, I’m sat on the far bank thinking, that wasn’t too bad, water quite warm, current steady and not too deep, what was the fuss all about.

There is an absence of footpaths on this side of the river so I worked my way around the base of Devils Point, before dropping down to the bridge over River Dee to pick up the track across the peat bog to Corrour Bothy. The Bothy refurbishments have really made a difference, when I was last here fifteen years ago the place was very uninviting. It now seems much larger, there is a sleeping platform, internal timber cladding, and even an environmentally friendly loo. The MBA have done a great job.

After a poke around the bothy I walked back to the bridge across River Dee, then began to make my way along the track towards Derry Lodge, whilst keeping an eye open for somewhere to pitch the tent. The ground is not camper friendly here; it’s either, too boggy, too steep, too tussocky or covered in heather. I did find one reasonable pitch on top of an exposed on hummock, but I wasn’t sure the Laser Comp would cope if the wind picked up during the night.  

It was beginning to look as if I would have to abandon my plans to camp in my Cairngorm Konkordiaplate and either return along Glen Dee albeit on the other river bank or make for Derry Lodge. In the end I foolishly decided on Derry Lodge.
When the path reaches the Luibeg Burn you have a choice, either straight ahead and cross via the stepping stones or cross the Luibeg Bridge about three hundred metres upstream. I chose the latter because I’d crossed via the stepping stones last year after descending from Cairn a’ Mhaim, and fancied a change this time. The bridge is ok, but I found the track very boggy, so I would only chose the bridge in future if the river was in spate.
It was about now the day started to go downhill, having escaped the bog fest which is the path to Luibeg Bridge, I noticed that the breeze had disappeared completely and there seemed to be the odd midge about. Paying the little blighters no attention I wondered on through the trees enjoying the early evening until I arrived at Derry Lodge.

I was just congratulating myself that I had the place to myself, when the little biters struck, there were millions of them before I could put my rucksack down my hands and shirt were black with the raging hoards. Fortunately (or so I thought) I’d put my head net in my pocket. So it was head net on, tent up, water bottles filled boots off, and inside the tent for the night.
The tent was infested with the midges that had followed me in before I could zip up the door, so I spent the next ten minutes squashing the little blighters, before putting on a brew.
Normally I wouldn’t dream of having the gas stove inside the tent, but tonight the porch was swarming with midges so I wasn’t opening the inner tent door for anything, or any body.

By the time I got the tent organised and had my tea it was getting dark so with nothing to read and no possibility of looking at the view I decided on an early night.

I had an excellent nights sleep, but when I woke there was not a breath of wind and the hoards were still occupying the porch. As I was eating breakfast I realised just how much I missed the not being able to use the porch. Normally in addition to my boots and walking poles, I cook in the porch and store rubbish bag, water bottles, stove and billie, but with the raging hoards of midges this was not possible, so today the tent felt cramped.
The lack of space however was not excuse for the extra clutter, I’m usually very tidy when camping, but this morning I was in a real mess!

I was packed and ready to go by , the only thing left to do was put on my boots, empty my water bottles and take down the tent. Smothered in Avon Skin So Soft and head net on, I was ready to do battle.!

I exited the tent at speed, the midges where everywhere, they covered my hands and windshirt they covered my socks and they even covered the inside of my boots before I could put them on. I empted and packed my water bottles dropped the tent and put it in my rucksack then ran for my life. What made it worse was my Sea to Summit head net, was no use at all. The mesh was too large and even with the net tucked in side my windshirt and the hood up, they were still getting in.
I must have made an very amusing site charging around in circles, trying to avoid the little blighters whilst stuffing the tent in its bag.

I always enjoy the walk back to the car  after a night spent at Derry Lodge, it gives me chance to review my trip, and start to think about the journey home.

There was smoke rising from the chimney of Bob Scots Bothy, so I called in and had a very interesting chat with a group from the Czech Republic, a couple of them had lived and worked in Edinburgh for three years, the rest were on holiday.

By now the fine rain had stopped and as I emerged from the trees the steady breeze was blowing banishing the midges from the walk back to the car.

I arrived back at the car just after , had I really only left the car park 26 hours ago?
It seemed a far longer ago than that, time to find a phone signal then make my way home.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

What's your most useless item of gear?

My most useless item of gear is my Sea to Summit Head Net.
I bought it from a shooting and fishing shop, I think it was in Blairgowrie; it cost less than a fiver, weighed 28g and seemed just the job for wild camping.
The guy said he’d sold loads of them to his regular customers who swore by them.
Well I’ve been swearing at it!

The first time I used it, I was suspicious that the odd midge was getting through the mesh, but I wasn’t really quite sure. Recently I camped at Derry Lodge where the midges were probably the worst I’ve ever experienced them, so on when the Sea to Summit Head Net. Now I’m really sure, it was useless; dozens of midges flew straight through it!!!!!

At first I thought they were getting in via the neck opening, but even after re-tightening the draw cord, tucking the net inside my windproof and putting the hood up, they still kept getting through the mesh in front of my face.

They drove me to distraction, and by the time I’d packed up the tent and started walking I was bitten dozens of times. Despite the fact I’d taken the precaution of packing everything except my tent, before I emerged into the mayhem outside.

So, my most is my most useless item of gear is my Sea to Summit Head Net, what’s yours?

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Save Monadhliath Mountains update.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post to help publicise the Save the Monadhliath Mountains Petition. The Save the Monadhliath Mountains campaign, now has its own website, which has recently gone live.
I wish them well, and hope that they can build on, and complement the outstanding contribution already made by Alan Sloman, through his superb blog and his Wake for the Wild Walk.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Decisions, decisions!

I’d like to grab a quick trip to Scotland, but question is what should I do? Do I just bag a few more Munro’s, or do I go somewhere new and remote, wild camping?

If take the Munro’s option then the itinerary is easy, because I’ll take the opportunity to climb some of the peaks that my brother has already done.

If I go for the wild camping option, then I’m really am spoilt for choice.

My first thought is always the Cairngorms, because their wild beauty keeps calling me back.
Time may be running out for the Monadhlaith, so should I revisit this wonderful place, before those money grubbing b******s and politicians ruin it forever.
Then there is Skye. Loch Coruisk has been on my wild camp wish list ever since I read a Chris Townsend article in TGO magazine a few years back. But would I survive the Skye midges in August?
Last but not least, there’s Torridon or somewhere in the far North West, I haven’t been there for 30years, but can I really justify the fuel costs for such a long solo trip?

Hmmm, decisions, decisions!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Loch Quoich Part 2.

The evening was spent cooking supper, dodging midges, and searching for a decent pitch for the Voyager. We eventually settled for a spot on a small humpy piece of ground close to the bridge, not ideal but attracting a gentle breeze which kept the midges at bay whilst we set up camp. 
The next morning was warm and sunny, but unfortunately windless so the tent porch was filled with midges, as it was quite early we decided to give it an hour to see if an early morning breeze would drive the little blighters away. No such luck! An hour later there were clouds of midges everywhere so we dashed to the car and drove along the loch side searching for a windy spot that would enable us to breakfast in peace.

Today we had decided to climb Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach, another good stalkers path was promised by the guide book and we weren’t disappointed. It starts opposite the car park by a large estate sign, and is easily followed up the southwest ridge until it terminates at a very elaborate shooting butt. A less distinct path climbs the last few hundred metres to the top. The day was hot with very little wind and our legs were still carrying the fatigue from yesterdays outing, never the less we arrived at the summit in just few minutes over book time, which was very good considering the amount of time we’d spend looking at the view.

The walk along the ridge to our second Munro of the day Spidean Mialach was super with great views in all directions. The path is easy most of the way, although the drop down to the Fiar Bhealaich is steep enough to require all of your concentration.  

By this time our out of condition legs were feeling pretty tired and the last slopes up to Spidean Mialach proved a bit of a trial.

We spent almost an hour on the top, resting our tired legs and drinking in the views, before picking up the faint descent path which starts just a couple of metres to the east  of the summit. Although its hard to follow at times, the path continues all the way back to the road, which it joins just a short distance from the car park. Another spectacular day in the hills, this really is Scotland at its very best!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Save Monadhliath Mountains

The Monadhliath Mountains are a wild and wonderful place, not protected by national park status, they are currently being desecrated by the construction of dozens of wind turbines. You can help save what’s left of this once road free wilderness by signing the Save the Monadliath Mountains petition here. Chris Townsend’s blog has more information about the Monadlaith Mountains and the Cairngorms wild places here, and Allan Sloman continues to keep a watchful eye on the wind generation industry here.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Loch Quoich Part 1.

My visit to Scotland last week turned out to be as good as it gets! A traffic free trip saw us arriving at Crainlarich SYHA in the early evening, the weather was excellent and looked settled for the next few days.

The following morning we drove to Loch Quoich pausing at Morrisons in Fort William for fuel and an all day breakfast.

We arrived at Loch Quoich to a wonderful sight, the loch was shining brilliant blue under the cloud free skies, and the surrounding peaks were bathed hazy sunshine. Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich would be our target for the afternoon. The little green book says  830m of up and 10km distance in 3 hours 45 minutes, this, plus the promise of a good stalkers path for most of the up, made it a perfect choice for our first peak of the week.

After parking the car alongside a small wood we walked back to the start of the path which is marked by a small roadside cairn. The stalkers path takes the long south ridge to Sgurr Coire nan Eiricheallach, it then turns westwards and after several ups and downs climbs the final rocky ridge  to the summit of Sgurr a; Mhaoraich.

From the top we descended the south ridge which is quite knobbly at first before opening out onto steep grassy slopes.
This really is a super peak, the path up excellent, it’s beautifully graded, and is very reminiscent of the Alps, particularly the in the way it zig zags past the steeper sections.

So an excellent first day, a brilliant peak, brilliant weather, and brilliant views who could ask for more!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Scotland here we come!

Tomorrow I’m hoping to travel to Scotland for a few days with my brother. We'll be heading to the West Coast via Crainlarich SYHA, for some mountain biking, a few peaks and maybe a wild camp, midges and weather permitting.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

A year in the life of the Cairngorms

Chris Townsend has just published his latest book, A year in the Life of the Cairngorms; it’s a collection of photographs depicting the Cairngorms throughout the year. I’ve ordered a copy, because I couldn’t resist a book containing 120 pictures of my favourite area, and I’m sure it will give me some great ideas for future backpacking trips and wild camping locations.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Cold Turkey and the Cornish Coastal Path.

I’ve just returned from three weeks holiday in Cornwall without access to the internet. No blogging, no webcams and no email, I hadn’t realised just how much I’d miss my daily fix of the hills, it's great to be back online again!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Time to go?

Every time I’ve been on the hill for more than 20 years the same Mountain Equipment fleece has been with me, I’ve either walked in it, climbed in it, or it’s been in my sack as a back up layer. It’s only thin but it’s warm and comfortable, unfortunately its not windproof, but purchase of a Montana Lite-Speed Windshirt, solved that problem some time ago.

You may ask, why do I want to replace it if it’s so good? Well I don’t really, but for some time now I’ve been looking at lightweight padded jackets, for use when wild camping, bothying and on hut to hut walks. I’m really looking for some extra insulation for those nights when the sleeping bag needs a bit of help, on cold mornings or that extra bit of comfort for after a hard day on the hills.

My first thought was a lightweight down jacket such as the Montbell UL Down Inner, very light, packs up small and good warmth to weight ratio. In fact, if they had been readily available in the UK, I would probably have bought one without a second thought, but they are not!

This made me ask myself the question, do you really need a new jacket or do you just fancy buying a new piece of kit? Well if I do need a new jacket, it must be lighter and more versatile than the old one.

So, the new jacket must weigh under 363g (the weight of my Mountain Equipment fleece), it must be warmer but still perform in the wet, and it must be windproof.

What jackets fall into this category? Well, although they are lighter and warmer, down jackets do not perform when they are wet, so would be of little use as an additional layer under a waterproof, because of the damp and condensation. The same problem would occur if I got my down sleeping bag damp or wet, a down jacket would soon soak up the moisture and become equally useless.

Initially I hadn’t considered synthetic materials, because of their weight penalty when compared with down, but if I could find a synthetic jacket that was lighter than my fleece, but was warmer, more comfortable to wear and windproof, maybe a bit of retail therapy could be justified.

The Montbell Thermawrap Jacket looked good but it’s not available in the UK, the RAB Generator Jacket gets rave reviews but at 430g it’s just too heavy, I haven’t sweated blood to reduce my rucksack base weight, in order to buy a replacement item that is heavier. Then I came across the Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket, it looks good, weighs in at 320g, so is lighter than my fleece, the pullover version received excellent reviews on the BackpackGearTest website, and I recall trying on a Nano Puff  Vest, in The Mountain Factor shop last winter, and being impressed how warm and comfortable it was.

So I gave them a quick call, and discovered, not only did they have my size and preferred colour in stock, but if I ordered before I’d get free next day delivery.

No prizes for guessing what the postman has just delivered then!