Stick on Side Two

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The last gig of the year is done and the (concrete) dust has settled. Being in the band has been a total joy, there’s been moments, with five folk stuck together like that there’s bound to be, but the music makes me glad from my weather-beaten head to my merino comforted toes.
The gig kept me away from the snow, but it was no contest, hills are easier to get onto than a stage. I’m happy to prioritise this way round, you never know when it’ll all go tits-up so I’ll enjoy it while I can.
No more live shows for a while, we’re recording first and when that’s done we’ll see. I love recording, I love winging it while the tape’s rolling and I know that attitude will freak the rest of the band out.
I’m sure they’ll be fine once their nerves settle.

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There’s some great shot here from the gig. The snappers are eindp.co.uk and click and pray  and they both know their stuff, worth going to have a look.

Talking of photies, the new LX7 is taking a little bedding in, but we’ll get there. The rainbow frames the Lang Craigs sculpture and the retro pickup just nice.
Pity I was up to my waist in mud while I was taking those.

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Walkhighlands Winter Gear Review

My latest Walkhighlands review is up here.

Some really good kit in this one and it was a joy putting it together. There will be more seen of the kit in action over the next few months, as much as it pains me to scrape such a pretty selection of anodizing.
There’s a Petzl ice axe exclusive, plenty more cool hardware, a selection nice but sometime not obvious bits and pieces, a Ventile jacket and the first of a host of new test kit from Rab.

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TwoMetresDeep – More Gigs

The TwoMetresDeep gig last week at the Lucky Break was great, played a new song, jammed like bastards for way too long on Rainbow Drops, accidentally (really) played a Sabbath cover and generally had a fine time.
Another couple coming up. Next week we’re playing a short acoustic set at the Artisan Centre in Dumbarton on Friday 4th. The show’s free entry, bring-a-bottle, runs from 1900 til 2200 or later no doubt and there’s another diverse bunch of artists on too. It sounds a bit like a 60s “Gathering”, but it’ll be a joy I’m sure and our songs lend themselves to acoustic versions. Christ, am I getting old?
No.
Glasgow on the 13th at Shadow Central for a fiver I think and it’ll be a heavy set we play as it’s a rock crowd in there. Magic, I’ll be all fuzz and flying v’s.

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Primus Eta Express Review

This came in for review a long time ago. Initially I thought “Mmm, it’s a bit bulky, I’ll save it for winter”. Which is daft looking back, it’s probably the same volume as a Jetboil, it just looked more difficult to pack because of the shape. So it sat in its box for a while before finally going out to play last winter. Ach, if only I’d known sooner.

I like simple and I like quick when it comes to making cuppas, I’m always running late when I finally get my tent pitched and I don’t like fannying about, so a clip-together onesie stove system works for me.
What the Primus Eta Express has is a 98g canister top Express stove which has a nicely wide spread to its three pot supports and a piezo ignition, which is brilliant, as much as I love my ever more weathered firesteel, a single click to get a flame is a joy.
The pot is 226g, alloy, non stick (quite effectively too), has a one liter capacity at the brim and has a heat exchanger around the base to catch those extra BTU’s and transfer them into the pot rather than the air of your tent porch. The long plastic coated handles are sensible and welcome.

There’s a lid (64g) with a strainer/vent and a rubber gripper for lifting it which is very nice but it could do with a spout for pouring as well. I was going to cut one but never got around to it. So maybe it’s not as important as I’d like to think. Or maybe I’m just lazy.
There’s a 48g plastic bowl in there too and it’s one of the reasons I really took to the system. After years of boiling water and then eating out of a bag, I’ve started to want better food and the bowl is the key. Easy to clean, a good size and also a nice non-metallic surface for a gas canister and the stove to get packed into.
Last up is the 56g alloy windshield which clips onto the stove is a basic but secure fashion and covers about half of the flame allowing good air flow for combustion but deflecting the wind pretty well.

The flame might appear to be a little tight for the large pot, but Primus must have done their sums, it marries up very well and once I got used to it, simmering the pot contents was no problem. The pot base seems to have a good even heat and that heat exchanger seems to be doing its job as water boil times are always very good. No idea what gas usage is, it’s not greedy I know that, but I can’t compare it scientifically to other stoves. Weighing canisters and pressing a stopwatch aren’t on my agenda. Ever.

There’s one wee thing that niggles me about the general operation. It’s actually very stable despite the top-heavy looks, especially on a 250g gas canister, I’m never worried using it in the tent porch.
But the gas control lines up with the locating notch on the windshield, meaning that facing the windshield towards the wind puts the control facing into the wind. Not a problem sitting outside where you’re more likely to be sheltering the stove with your body. but cooking in the tent porch where the wind is coming from the outside it can be a pain in the arse as I’m having to swivel the whole thing around to adjust the gas or accidentally leaning the whole thing at an angle as I stretch my hand round to adjust the gas.
I’ve never spilled the pot or knocked it over yet but the gas control should be at 9 or 3 o’clock instead of 12, it’s would just make it that bit better and maybe safer for tent folk.
And yes, yes, I know we’re not supposed to cook in the tent according to every book supplied with every stove and Safety Man, but this is the real world where the weather dictates that we all do it.

Even with that niggle, the Eta Express has seen action, and lots of it. Truth is, it’s a cracking bit of kit. That big pot to cook in, the bowl, that it’s all so easy to keep clean, it’s just so user friendly.
It has seen a lot of use, from hill trips to coming to work to keeping me happy on treks around the deer fence on the Kilpatricks and it’s never missed a beat. That was until a couple of weeks ago during the Camban Bothy trip where after outgunning all the other stoves in boil time the piezo ignition chucked it.

I looked at it, the shielded wire was tight, there was nothing I could do, no slack to pull through and reset a spark gap. That was it done.
I left it in the gear pile at home for a few days then decided to take it apart and have a look. Easy enough, I’ve done the exact same operation on gas burners the size of a cement mixer and it was an quick fix if I could get the parts.
Found the ignition for £16 online, it was here in 48hrs, fitted in a minute and worked perfectly. Also, the replacement has nearly 10mm slack on it so it’ll be adjustable in the future as the tip wears down in use.

I know the most recent designs have further refined the all-in-one system, I have a couple on test just now, but the Eta Express still holds up very well. It’s been a joy to use and I didn’t think twice about buying a part to put test kit back into action. Stuff breaking isn’t an issue, it happens, what’s important is that there’s parts available and it’s cost effectively fixable.

So we’re good as new again, it’s got some fun times ahead of it yet.

War of the Worlds. Again.

Holly has a problem. Every time she discovers a new “thing”, like fossils, pirates, Victorian dresses, Alice Cooper or whatever, we like miracle workers say “Oh, hand on a minute…” and after some rummaging appear with a selection of items relevant to her new and sometimes fleeting interest.
And there’s Holly’s problem, she’s just like us. Doomed to life of finding interest in almost everything and the inescapable urge to know more about whatever it is.
Awesome.

So we’re driving in the £100 Ka and fishing out a tape to play I found sides 3 and 4 of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds on an old TDK C90. Some guitar, some synth, some disco, some rock, flood of melody and then Richard Burton. Holly was captured. We listened through the tape twice.
What about the Martians? What happened to Carrie? What’s wrong with the man’s digging? Did this happen a long time ago? When I told her she still had the first half to listen to I thought she was going to explode.

So, rummaging back at base I found the DVD of the 2006 live show we saw in Glasgow which was fantastic, Chris Spedding, Herbie Flowers and a Martian fighting machine on stage? Yes please. She sat transfixed by the DVD before examining in great detail the ’78 album and it’s wonderful book with all the iconic paintings. Then there were drawings and more questions.
At the back of my mind an email was ringing bells, so a wee search found the head’s-up for the latest and apparently final live tour. Next week in the Glasgow Hydro.

The question was popped “What do you want for this year’s pantomime? You can have Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, that ballet thing your mum mentioned or War of the Worlds…”
Granny, grandpa, mummy, the girl and me will be in the nosebleed seats at the Hydro next week. Merry Christmas and Ulla!

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7 and 7 Is

Perfect day for the hills. Unfortunately the scratchy throat of Friday turned into lethargic snuffles on Saturday which needed fed by a large curry and a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and a bottle of red wine. What can I say, the girls are away visiting this weekend and I turn into a lone male cliche when they do that.

So while Sunday felt better it started awfy late and I enjoyed the peaks I could see from the window just fine as I worked my way through a backlog of stuff recorded on the V+ box.
Ah well.

However, the end of the day was worth all the potential I wasted. Since I started this bog, which was just over seven years ago and I totally missed marking the anniversary, I’ve always posted the view out the living room windae and it’s something I’ve missed out for too long. I think this makes up for it.

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Monday Morning Meeting

I’ve got Lennart Eckberg, Haglöfs Director of Sustainability coming over to do some talks and I thought it might be good to get some folks together for a camp or a bothy night and talk about that sustainability stuff. Maybe a couple of hours trekking from somewhere on our road south from Lochinver, dinner, banter, maybe some hills next day and time enough to get to Fort William for the next lecture on Monday night?
Gus had a good plan and I thought Camban bothy would be perfect. It was big enough to get us all in and had several access routes as well as being right in the middle of mountain heaven between Kintail and Glen Affric.
Easy? Don’t be daft.

I was running a wee bit late, but I had plenty of time to catch Morrisons in Ft Bill before it shut at 6 to pick up some supplies and it’s less than an hour to Morvich to meet Gus, Lennart and MT. I’d be there by half six at the latest.
The sideways bent car by the loch was a message from the oracle, “Ha” she said “It’s all about to go on its tits…”. I was a little delayed, the traffic was heavier in front because of the delay and my retro pickup doesn’t do fast overtaking.
I counted down the minutes as I ticked off the miles. Morrisons was still far way, I’d get there after five, then it looked like half five, then it was looking like I’d be pounding on locked doors demanding red wine and pastries.

It was dark, cold and foggy. Perfect for the moonlit tops, not so great for progress. I texted Gus – Leave without me, I’ll catch you at the bothy.
They were in Ullapool, running just as late and the Co-op at Ballachulish was open. Things were looking up, we’d still meet at Morvich.

That co-op is open til 10 every night by the way, everything just got easier for west coast trips.

I still pulled in at Ft Bill for diesel and a coffee at the BP garage on the way out of town, and a £2.99 pair of gloves with the electric finger tips. I had thin liners and big mitts, these woolly cheapos seemed to fill a gap of my own making. Ooh look, I can work my phone too…

The phone rang as I plunged through the fog on my way to Glen Garry. I pulled over and phoned Gus back. The Stromeferry bypass was closed and they’d just missed it, the railways guys were polite but firm in their refusal to let them through.
MT had also reported in, he’d arrived at Morvich and while dressed and ready to rock was now sitting in a powerless car, the battery having died and he was getting ever chillier as the frost spread across the windscreen.
Even if I had jumpleads, the bunnet catch on the truck had seized as I’d discovered at the BP garage when I went to top up the washer bottle.

So we had four folk already safely at Camban we hoped, one getting hypothermic at Morvich, two in car not so far away but with no hope of getting there and me laughing helplessly in my truck in a foggy layby as we tried to pull something out of the whirlpool of despair over the phone.

Whatever happened, I had to get to the bothy and tell the folks there what the score was so  I was set. MT would be fine for that too I rightly assumed but what of Gus and Lennart?
I’d trekked the south side of Loch Affric a few months back, it’s a straightforward way into the bothy, a lot of miles late at night, but… ?
It was between that and a night in the hotel at Loch Carron where there was a visible “Seafood” sign apparently. They chose the pain, a fast drive east, cut as much corner as the roads allow to get to Cannich and onto the road end at Glen Affric.

Someone from our side would meet them at the youth hostel, where Gus’s map stopped and the trail splits in a misleading way if you don’t know it.
It’ll be fine. Aye.

MT was cold but cheery and the banter flowed as I packed and the frost crept up on us.

So many memories of this place, youthful nights at the campsite ticking off Munros, bringing Joycee here on out first trip north 14 years ago and so many visits in recent years. I just love it here and as long as I can walk I’ll come back.

We headed down Gleann Lichd. Tall dark and handsome shapes bordered a clear star spattered sky as the moon circled on the fringed of our high horizon. It was a fine trek on the farm road, easy going so plenty of time to banter as the kliks were racked up.
There was enough light to cast a pale glow on the hills ahead and the whole time you feel drawn into the sharp V at the end of the glen. The cottages are passed, we skated over the icy bridges and were on the path upwards to the bealach where waterfalls rumbled worryingly in the darkness.

The trail is a joy, but bloody hell the night stretches it out. There was a bunch of ice as well and progress was haphazard and tiring.
It was late, coming up for midnight, the last couple of k’s took forever. How were the other two? I wasn’t hungry anymore, I was just tired, tired and thirsty.

The gable end of Camban was as sudden as it was welcome and the glow from inside was the warm orange colour of relief.

They were all there, Angus and Ian from Gear Pest and Bobinson and Viks were already in their sleeping bags. It was after all past midnight.
Cheery hello’s were said and a mug of single malt was thrust into my hand. There was much joy in being here but we still two men down and I needed a wee rest, as did MT’s still recovering knee.
Angus and Ian stepped up and headed off to the youth hostel while stoves were lit and down jackets were pulled on. The fire crackled, the tiredness softened and everything felt a little bit better.

Two bikes outside meant something else had gone amiss. Bobinson sleepily recounted the tale of the bog on the way over from Cluanie, it is indeed mighty, the track just stops at it and you’re all on your own. Their bikes were still there.

MT and I stepped outside, gloves, hats, cameras and tripods. MT took some proper photies while I plodded around not noticing the big smudge on my lens (it was there until the next day, sigh…).
Feeling much better we set off to see if there was any sign of the rest of the team. A beautiful night, clear, cold with a big moon lighting it as much as it could. Brighter though were the four headtorches that bobbed towards us.

It was all okay, Gus and Lennart were tired but they’d made it and at quarter past two we all walked into the bothy together for banter, laughter, food and drink.

We filled one half of the bothy, there was a fella in the other half who didn’t seem keen on being engaged so we left him in peace. I do hope he got some, but we did wind down quite quickly and by four it was just me, MT and Gus sitting by the dying fire drinking a chilled bottle of red from our mugs as we stifled the constant laughter trying not to wake the others.

It was a fine end to the day and my sleeping bag was welcome and warm.

Lennart was in good form in the morning and even a hard frost couldn’t dampen his need for throwing disco poses to loosen off. Phil and Viks had sneaked out ninja style to get back to Glasgow and the rest had slept on while MT and I enjoyed porridge in the early light.

Hut boots were a perfect choice for this trip, warm and comfy, all in all it’s a very different world from life in a tent.

MT, Angus, Ian, me, Lennart, Gus. Finally over a cuppa outside we got to the whole reason this trip came about – Haglöfs continuing movement into sustainability.

In a relaxed situation like this it’s easy to talk over something as big as this. Resources, costs and ethics are things that involve everything we do and everything we purchase and some folk just don’t get it.
“Oh, it’s too expensive”
I’ve never heard anyone complain “Oh, there’s too much money in my wages” but it’s something they’re happy to apply to someone else if it means cheaper prices for them. Everyone deserves a good standard of living, a clean and safe workplace and a future. Why should we deny people across the other side of the world that which we see as a right for ourselves?
Folk piss and moan about a £400 jacket but fawn over a £150,000 Aston Martin, I just don’t get that, it’s like they see the jacket as mocking their income and the car isn’t.

Anyway, the bottom line for me is that cheap kit should not come by exploiting people or the planet and that goes from confectionery to air craft carriers.

I’ve covered a lot of this stuff over the years, especially with my trips to the innov_ex conferences and the Bluesign branding that is applied to any product that meats the criteria for sustainability is now more familiar on the hangtags of outdoor kit.
Haglöfs are still using this and 80% of their clothing in 2015 will be Bluesigned, 50% will be made from recycled material, 50% of hardware will be Bluesigned and 40% of footwear will be made from recycled materials. Good figures I think.
They’re labeling all the applicable products with a green coloured Take Care hangtag with isn’t shouting, just informing which is the way to go. As much as every product made by everyone needs to be more ethically sourced and produced, folk are tired of the message, especially when money is tight.

Down production was another big topic, but one which I don’t think has grabbed the public as much as the misinformed hysteria bout the muelsing of sheep did a few years ago. Maybe folk think pixies are gathering feathers from the nests of geese while they have a little paddle on the river? Well no, the down is either plucked by force from a live, thrashing animal or removed from a bird slaughtered for the food chain. Do you know where your down fill came from?

The chat wasn’t doom and gloom though, there was a lot of realism and a lot of good points from what was a bunch of knowledgeable folks. I’d say there was optimism too and when you have a meeting in a place like this you can’t help but feel the truth of it: are we contributing to the destruction of the environment we struggled happily to get to last night with our lifestyle and purchasing choices?

Time to go our separate ways. Me and MT west, the rest east. I think we had it better, we#d missed the views in the dark so we retraced our steps through one of the finest stretches of trail I have known.

It took a long time to get there, it’s only around 12km, but it feels so much more. It’s no hardship, the Five Sisters grow taller ahead with every step and the secret back end of the other hills above Glen Shiel pulled at us with every sun dazzled view into a coire where there might be a perfect camp site.
I wanted to come back already and I wasn’t back at the truck.

MT phoned the AA who would be an hour and a half. We unpacked the cooking kit onto the tailgate of the truck and there was soon clouds of spicy steam and bubbling sounds as a soundtrack to the debrief of the trip over as we waited.
There was no hurry and that was why the tow truck was an hour early. Karma at its best.

MT’s motor started easy and we were on the road in the dark once again. I stopped at the BP garage in Ft Bill again, they do the best coffee and to my disappointment there were no £2.99 gloves left, Damn, I should have stocked up, they wicked and breathed better than my techy liners.

Gus and Lennart had battled fatigue all the way out and had just made their five o’clock lecture. Another win.

A text said Phil and Viks were good too. I got home through the dark and fog without issue or a cross word said.

It was fantastic. Thank you all.

Remembering

None of us can really remember where this day of remembrance started, they’re all gone now. But I wish we would learn from their experiences, their stories and their losses.

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Walkhighlands Winter Waterproof Review

My latest Walkhighlands review is live here. I had fun with this one, torturing these jackets on rangering duties on the Kilpatrick Hills. I was pleasantly surprised by most of them, the big names didn’t drop the ball, Sprayway have made a strong comeback and the budget names did the job just fine.
There’s a couple of stragglers which were too late to test which might crop up in next months winter monster gear special. That’s something I’m really excited about, oh the kit that’s going in there…

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A year and a day.

It’s been a year and a day since I last climbed Ben Lomond. Bloody hell, a year and a day. I see it every day, it’s near enough just around the corner from me, it’s not a good record to be creating.
It was flashing its white dusted summit ridge at me yesterday and nothing was stopping getting there today.

Of course the snow had gone, but it was still glorious. I love this hill and when I got onto Sron Aonach and saw the tower rising ahead of me I got a little flutter inside. A flutter of excitement, maybe the break had done us good. It look dramatic, it looked different, had it aged so much in a year, have I?

There were a lot of smiling faces coming down and two mountain bikers with plans for a quick descent. I saw one go but he had to keep stopping to let his dog catch up, that’s what I call planning “Yeah, couldn’t do justice to the descent with the dog in tow you know. Next time though…” Aye, right.

The cloud came in quick and the life got sucked out of the scenery, a grey ooze flowed through everything as I sat on my favourite perch and lit the stove.
50 feet from the runway cutting its way below me to the trig point and no one comes up here. 50 feet for the single best viewpoint on the summit ridge and not even the echo of a path to it.
Magic.

The moon rose and the temperature dropped. I didn’t feel like hanging around for once, I’d said hello and that seemed enough. Besides I’d been far too slow putting my mitts on and my hands were burning. Time to get the heart pumping hotter sauce back round the system.

I walked as far as I could without a torch, the nearly-full moon was a fine if slightly diffused searchlight. The hills of home need visited more often.

 

Woo Who!

I’ve really enjoyed watching Peter Capaldi making the role of the doctor his own. He’s more like the Doctors of my childhood, unpredicable, odd, alien.
I thought Matt Smith was going the same way but they pushed him into a much softer portrayal, all zany waving arms instead of using the mad steely eyes he started out with.

The Master is now a burd which is brilliant, she knew that painful to watch kiss she gave the Doctor would mess with his head even more when he realised who she really was, and that is just what kind of mind games the Master of the old days would have played.
Doctor Who feels like it’s gone full circle, darker and stranger and as much as I’ve enjoyed it since it came back, this current series (even with its faults) has made me realise what I’d been missing.
Magic.

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A Familiar Face

Optimus are being distributed by Lyon here in the UK new and when I met Si recently I got an up to date version of an old favourite to try out.
There’s a joy in the familiar, especially when it does what it’s supposed to. There’s a lot of kit rumbled under my bridge since the the original Crux Lite was one of the first things I ever reviewed on here and the news is that there’s no news – the Crux Lite is the same as it ever was. Awesome big wide and fast burner, grippy pot supports with a good reach for bigger pots and a nice long handle on the valve.
This is a bit of kit that gets it right, it could be lighter and smaller, but it won’t be as stable or it would be fiddly. Good on them for not doing updates for the sake of it.

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Ooh, the rain’s off.

I made a quick mid-afternoon dash. I had enough kit for a bigger hill but maybe not enough time or energy to really enjoy it, a tramp around the lovely Luss horseshoe was a thought, Ben Lomond was the perfect but the cloud clung to the tops of every one of them. It might clear, there was blue above, but a descent in darkness and cloud while good for the concentration isn’t worth busting my arse on an ascent for.
What the hell, Conic Hill.

It was busy, busy with folk coming down anyway, not so many heading up as the sun raced them laconically towards dusk. There were hellos in several exotic accents, including my own, and some grunts from the locals. Welcome to Scotland.
The tops had folk sitting and looking, who could blame them, and the pathless top at the back had me.

There was the sound of a stove and not much else. The weather was sitting silently, and I was now alone as the golden light sucked the last of the warmth over the horizon with it as it burned out and left just a pale glow to light my way down.
The Heilan Coos I passed earlier were waiting for me, tearing surprisingly loudly at the scrubby grass. Our national  symbols make me smile. As does doing this stuff, it was just enough to keep me going.