Grab your coat, you’ve pulled

It’s not all about plastic. I find these ring pulls all the time by Loch Lomond, more than 30 years after they became obsolete.

It shows that the lochside has long been a magnet for stupidity, it’s not all about a sudden influx of car carried stupids the past few years.

Maybe you can’t educate some folk to see what they’re doing wrong or get them to care about it.
One of my worries was a mile away from this photie where the Park were charging folk to camp on a manky badly angled patch of scrub at Firkin Point. If they charged me for that I’d want to throw litter and burn my tent in the morning.

Maybe treat people better and they will care.

See, it really is that colour

I should do more video, but this is a good advert for why I don’t. Sitting watching this beautiful scene with birdsong as a companion then I bark in your ear.

Still, this might have been the best sunset of recent times and it’s right ootside my door.

Panic! At The Disco

It’s easy to lose track of popular culture. As I age it seems increasing like vapid white noise produced by shallow celebrity and I’m quite happy to tune it out.
However Holly is a music fan in the right way and exposed me to all sorts of real music, First Aid Kit and Billie Eilish were on in the truck long before wide appeal took them and P!ATD have been an enduring favourite whose songs I now know as well as any from my 70s metal icons after constant exposure.
So when the Glasgow show was announced I was sitting with the laptop with Tickemaster on wifi and my phone with Ticketmaster via data to make sure we got tickets one way or another. It took me fifteen minutes to finally get through by which time all that was left was the back row in the gods.
Not complaining, it was sold out by the time I got my confirmation email. Popular boy it appears.

Holly’s been to big shows, including Black Sabbath in the same hall, the Hydro. But this was her big night, her first show with her favourite band and she was stoked.
The seats were fine, great view and as it turned out, great sound and more importantly no loss of atmosphere. The whole place was in Brendan Urie’s hands, the entire show. It was quite remarkable.
The production was huge, pyro, lights, holes in the floor for pianos and drums to appear and disappear and another piano that flew through the air during Dying in L.A. A genuinely heart tugging moment in a night made from magic. Really. I couldn’t tell you how many shows I’ve been since that first night in 1981 in the Glasgow Apollo, hundreds of bands, and this is up there with the best.

I knew every song too. Ha. I liked the message, the sentiment in the banter and I liked that they young folks idolise a man with a positive persona and genuine talent, the only voice I have ever heard that matches Urie’s live performance is Glenn Hughes.
A fantastic show, emotional in it’s depth and hey, one of my favourite bands. Fight me.

Holly got her t shirt and was so proud of it. I just teared up as we walked back to the truck. I’ve been there too, it’s pure magic and tonight was perfect for everyone. Holly got a perfect memory and I got a perfect night with my every growing girl.

The definition of happy times.

Jealousy in Gentian Blue

Being 50 and a single parent with various other stuff going on to fill every waking minute would appear to remove many tasty options from the buffet table of possibility.
So it was with some surprise I found myself getting ready to go out on my first date in not a kick in the arse off of 20 years.

It’s lucky that my date knows me already, purple Converse and my old truck weren’t a deal breaker in any way when I picked her up. Even shouting over the vintage engine tones on the way into the city centre was expected and was just fine.
The truck was parked up where we eventually found space away from the action and off we went into bright lights and a brave new world. This was at a reasonable hour of course, I am well aware I’m not 19.

It went really well, with nice food and easy laughter which continued all the way back to the truck which I could now see was parked on a dark and deserted side street. It looked a little sad on its own.
The engine kicked into life easy enough if not enthusiastically but it seemed that the lights were dimmer somehow. Maybe just because I don’t drive at night very much I thought? My mind elsewhere, the truck set off onto the road home just like it always has.
I think though, it was listening.

Things were going well, the night was the youngest of any of us and we thought we’d nip into the M&S garage for some supplies. I parked up and in we went for snacks.
We sat back in the truck and I turned the key. Uch! Ahhhooooo… click. What the hell? I pulled the key out, looked to my left with a grin made more of optimism than amusement and tried the ignition again. Kchuk.
Ha,the truck’s dead.
Haha, good try, we’re not teenagers anymore.
No really, the truck’s dead.
The reaction was laughter, genuine, big laughter and I just had to join in. I think I had already been a sketchy choice as a date and I just got away with this as well. I think I used up the very last of my life’s supply of luck right here.

Laughter doesn’t keep you warm for too long though and although pretty close to home, we were very much stranded on garage forecourt late at night with a worry in my mind that the conversation would run out before hypothermia set in.
I phoned the RAC and a disinterested girl somewhere far away informed me that it might take three hours to send someone, although due to the truck being in a priority location (garage forecourt) they would try and get someone there in two hours.
What’s the point of paying this? is what I took away from this interaction.

We sat for a bit, thought of other options. Taxi, walking, praying, pushing etc None would work.
I’m going to phone home.
Oh my god, don’t you dare…
Jimmy will save us, it’ll be fine

Sure enough, a little later Jimmy pulled into the forecourt in pyjama bottoms and rigger boots with the jump leads that could save the day.
Say hi I said indicating the embarrassed face and waving hand behind the passenger window.
Oh, er, hello ventured Jimmy, not quite sure what to make of it as I just grinned at the ridiculousness of the situation.

I knew it was the alternator, the dim lights, the slightly sluggish start in town. I should have caught it, but my mind was elsewhere.
Right now though that elsewhere was maybe 33 years ago, a seventeen year old in his first car, broken down with a torn faced girl in the passenger seat wanting to get home home while they waited for his dad to rescue them.
2019 style it’s a fifty year old man waiting on his eighty old dad to rescue them. How the hell did this happen? How am I still the daft boy? I really just don’t believe it.
This is one big difference however. The girl this time laughed through the whole thing.
We’re still laughing in fact.

It’s all my fault though. I was thoughtless and insensitive, I should have known something like this would happen.
All the love and support, they were always there for me and threw this in their face with no warning or explanation when a word or two in advance would have meant no surprises and then no trouble at all.
So, my dear old truck, I’m sorry. But there was no need to be jealous and act up like that, we’re going to be great friends, all of us together.
I hope the new alternator and my burst knuckles from fitting it show you how much you mean to me.

Onwards and upwards.

With special thanks to the fine spring sunsets at Bowling harbour April ’19

…little April showers

The last week in March was all about panic (! at the disco, I’ll get to that next) and prepping for my first flight overseas in many years and the month since has been a total blur.
I never even logged in here in April at all.

However, note to self: get it down over the next week so some of it sticks.

Been all change. Spring started to burn into summer, I realised I was never going to be the old me, the new me is making sure of that, and then there’s Minnie.
That bloody mouse has changed everything.

And the crags? They have never loomed to large in my story. Good days right now.

Out of Range

Having just filled in an official survey about my (six years!) of volunteering for the Woodland Trust Scotland at the Lang Craigs the wording of the questions and my own answers had me thinking about what it has all meant to me and all about what me and my small band of fellow rangers do in the Lang Craigs.
Now I say ranger, but the Trust want to call us wardens and I take extreme exception to that for a number of reasons, but Wikipedia can go first:

Exhibit A:
Ranger most often refers to:
Park ranger or forest ranger, a person charged with protecting and preserving protected parklands.

Exhibit B:
A warden is a person who has been entrusted with the oversight of something important to the community, such as a college, church, prison, wild game or firefighting.

As a ranger the folks I meet and chat with (which is everyone, it’s me remember) see us as odd outdoor types who live in the hills somehow, foraging for food etc.
As a warden we’re apparently the folk telling you to get your dog on a lead and trying to knock mountain bikers off their saddles.
This is how people see us, I’ve asked.

So, here’s day in the life of a ranger or two.

The Lang Craigs is a big site, there’s much more to it than the area immediately above Overtoun that’s most frequented and there’s a lot to do. There’s also scope for using the tasks we have for other ends.
When I was grinding through equipment grouptests running the same long cross country deer fence route gave me benchmarks to judge like for like performance, something you just don’t get using different kit in different places.
Today was another example, two youngsters from a local Boy’s Brigade troop needed community volunteering experience and we love extra pairs of hands and eyes.

I’d helped build some bat roosting boxes and the first task of the day was checking some of them for occupancy, something that my buddy and fellow ranger Jo has the proper tickets for and I constantly rib her for, I don’t care, Bat Girl jokes just never get old okay. She even has the tattoos.

There’s no such thing as a single task though, I’d already spotted a path creeping sideways because a wooden post was missing and a gate padlock was sticking. I’d already replaced it a few weeks ago, welding a new one onto a chain and it’s away again. On the list.

The sun and fresh snow made the walking up to the very top of the site pleasant indeed. It was cool, but just right for moving and even having lunch by the gate were here to work with didn’t need an extra layer.
The sun was starting to win anyway, the snow was disappearing as we watched and it was raising water levels everywhere, quite impressively so in the burns and on the ground it made progress boggier.

Ben Lomond was looking grand, folks were having a fine time, I saw facebook that night.
The new metal signs fitted, the gate tested both ways to make sure if swung shut and locked itself we decided to follow the fence down towards Maryland.
I walk the deer fence to check for gaps, damage, animal tunnels but it is easy to tune out and miss stuff, there’s around six miles of it, so extra eyes do help at times.

The fence is vital, the deer that get in could undo our work quickly by killing off the young trees, so preventing that rather than having to get the stalker in is the best option.
The enemies of the fence are the weather, regular decay of the wooden posts and more annoyingly local ne’er-do-wells cutting the wire to let the deer in so they can chase them with lurchers in a contained space.
Nothing is ever simple or straightforward.

We did find some breakages, luckily not too bad so the fence tension and integrity wasn’t compromised and it was the boys that saw it first, those extra eyes.
I was too bust route finding, we were coming up to a water crossing.
I usually carry zip ties and wire for these occasions so I can do some sort of repair, most times you see me up here my rucksack has more tools and spares parts in it than snacks.

Repair and maintain all you want, nature will always win, the tree that has eaten the original fence below will testify to that.

Water is friend and enemy. Every water crossing the fence makes is a gap that deer can get in and the free swinging wooden water gates that fill the gap between fence and burn need watching.
Even small burns have very mobile beds and it’s surprising how big the boulders are that move down hill when the water rises and can jam in the gates holding them open for critters to get through.
I saw two gates today that need some attention but the water was too fast and deep to get in at it. I’m up here on my own most of the time and I know the score, safety first.

There’s a lot of standing water too, and most of it has frog spawn. A lot looks healthy which is good, the early temperature rise would have messd with the frogs heads and there was lot I saw that was too early.

Saw a newt too, a fast wee bugger, never even got the camera near it. Lot’s of life in the water, always worth sitting quite for a while, see what’s moving.
That goes for the trees as well now I think about it, the bird life we see around them is ever richer and varied. On the way up a kestrel settled close to the path, sitting on a young tree sunning itself seemingly oblivious to us and the red face grinning bloke with the huge telephoto lens pointed right at it from just 20 feet away. It only swooped away when its audience got bigger and boisterous.

It’s a lovey spot here, quiet and the views are magic, the Luss hills just a hop and a skip away. There’s a rough trail to here but no proper path, the gate here must be one of the least used on the site, but it’s still gets checked. Lots to find beyond here, ruins, ancient cairns and cistes, the Kilpatricks are so overlooked and yet you can explore or lose yourself up here as satisfyingly as anywhere further north.

The sun brought out some of the locals. A big meaty bugger was this, I’m sure he’ll turn into something graceful and pretty before he gets eaten.

I was just looking around me now as the team checked on the endless collection of bat boxes in the woodland. Standing around I became aware of the colours and patterns in the water and on the trees. It was all rather striking and I felt like I’d never noticed it before. maybe it was the perfect light to see it, maybe the furry trees brought it out, maybe I just had the time see it properly today.
It just shows you, there’s always something new. Big or small it doesn’t matter, the joy is the same.

I loved the sci-fi roots of the partly keeled over tree. They wondered what the hell I was doing lying on my belly with my head underground.

Nearby the Starfish Bunker made for a fun wee diversion, although the water went over the top of everyone’s boots. Deep in there today.
From front line WW2 defences to crumbling hillside curio, it’s worth a visit.
The flat top made a great snack stop spot as the cloud moved in a little. I could see some slightly tired faces and a long way to go if we stuck to the original plan.

Plan B would be much more fun. And quicker of course.

Never has a tree fallen so serendipitously. I tested it, I threw my pack over so I kinda had too and it was fine, well grounded and jammed in tight.
The spikes made the traverse a little tricky, by no cardigans were snagged and the primroses on the climb back out of the glen calmed everyone back down.

The burn as seen is why the water gate had to be left for another day. Standing in the middle of that pulling at boulders, aye, good luck with that.

A last rest stop by the Scots pines of Black Wood and views to the Arrochar Alps before getting back onto the well trodden tracks to our final tasks of the day, a couple more bat boxes and some dog poop warning signs on the gates.
We can’t catch the dicks that leave their poop bags at their arses or hanging from trees and hit them with a big stick so we’ll threaten them with a fine instead. It’s something I suppose, but you can’t fix stupid so I don’t know if it’ll have any effect.

We were on the hill for six and a half hours, not a bad day out especially for the youngsters and although were doing work and stopping here and there it shows you the scale of the place and the possibilities there are for getting out there and really exploring, even just within the Lang Craigs fence line.

I had a great day. I love this place dearly and I love what I do here, on my own or for the Trust.
I’m not an hardcore eco warrior or a tree hugger, I got into this because I wanted to make sure they weren’t going to ruin my hills but my motivations have definitely evolved over time.
The Woodland Trust seem to be doing the right thing most of the time and because of that the recent purchase of Ben Shieldaig brings me joy.

Volunteering is what you make it. Your motivations for doing it are important, if you get your reasons right it’s rewarding, fun and you get the occasion free lunch. If you’re looking for something more you’re in the wrong place.

Although these sites and their regeneration cost big money, there is no money in having them, no profit in preserving our landscape.  What we do is important, it keeps the Woodland Trust and many more bodies running but more importantly by extension it helps keep the bastards from building wind turbines and digging hydro schemes into our scenery.

So when you see someone threatening the hills and forests with development and think “Someone should do something…” we are doing sonething. Come and help.

Klaus

“Mum’s getting me a guinea pig!” That’s nice I thought to myself, Holly gets all the fun of a pet and as it’s at Joycee’s I won’t have to feed it, clean it or wheeze and itch as it sets off my allergies.

Now I’m not sure quite what happened next, I was busy doing other stuff and maybe not listening or whatever but the next thing I know I’m bringing a giant cage in the front door and trying to keep a shaky guinea pig in a cardboard box calm.

Holly is pleased obviously, and as much as I try to suppress it I was immediately melted by the cute hairy quirkiness of the little guy.
There was some quick research, some shopping and the only place we could put him right now was in the living room, so he’s immediately part of the family.

Aye, there’s inconvenience, but there is also joy. But the question still remains, how the hell did I come to have a guinea pig?
I really have no idea how this happened and I feel he needs a friend despite his two years (I believe) of solo living. Well, if he proves healthy and happy, we’ll sort that out.

But for now, welcome Klaus.

Frisky Wharf

If Bowling Harbour was in the USA there would be a kiosk selling guides and bumper stickers saying “I’ve been to Ghost Harbour”.

Originally the naturally formed shelter of Bowling Bay and visited by Glasgow’s tobacco lords and slave traders to get away from the city smoke it was built into an industrial hub which ran until the 60’s. Its in a unique position where the canal, two major railways, the main west coast roads and the River Clyde met on the north side of the river, close to the firth.

I saw a lot of the physical remains of this when I was young but the years have softened the edges from the abandoned to the archaeological and vandals have removed far more than the passage of time would have done alone.
Where I saw ships launched and heard sheds ringing with hammers there’s now expanses of flat concrete erupting with trees, smooth stone walls are split and tumbling into the river, metal shapes hacked away and stunted give few clues to what the once supported.

Yet I find it beautiful. The decay, the melancholy, the whole place bursts with memories and as quiet as it is when I sit out there with my camera waiting on the sun to set I can easily imagine the shouts, the idling engines of ships, the steam whistles, the laughter, the whole harbour full of life.

Frisky Wharf is the wooden pier now twisted and collapsing into the river. It used to have railway sidings carrying goods to the waterline and back and ships could dock there.
Now a single step onto it’s once mighty timbers would be a gamble with your life.

The swans don’t care. It did care when I was creeping up on it though, I found reverse quick enough. A swan can break your arm apparently. I think it would have to peck at it for long time. A very long time.

Listen to the money (Tales from the Toolbox #1)

With the approval of the Hydro schemes in Glen Etive this week there has much talk of backhanders, brown envelopes and bribes heading towards Highland Council members.

This is largely due to frustration and disbelief, folks just can’t believe that someone would approve these horrendous schemes so they look for the reasons why and self interest in the people responsible is usually top of the hit list.

The real answer is more complex. A lot of folk don’t care about the landscape in the way that we do as it’s a barrier to business and progress, so there is a financial element, but a more transparent one.

There’ll be an element of “don’t tell us what to do”, central belt internet warriors interfering in things they don’t understand being put in their place.

Lack of vision, lack of empathy, lack of care and disregard of the future all play a part, how many people have you met who care nothing for the world beyond the limits of their own bubble of personal interest.

It’s part of why we are where we are on a global scale. Stepping sideways and seeing things from someone else’s perspective is a rare and vital skill and brings with it an ability to see problems while they’re a possibility and before they become a reality.

People, you can’t live with them, and you can’t live… with them?

In saying all that, I’ve been asked for backhanders many times in my business life.

Some were casual inquiries, almost testing my commitment as a prospective contractor, some were exactly the seedy interactions that folks imagine.
I remember one in particular in a cafe with a local authority clerk of works who told me what the other contractor had offered him personally for the works under discussion and could I better it. I laughed in his face.
Had a similar proposal from another local authority figure, but probably most disappointingly was the “How much is it worth?” to get a contract from someone in a major learning institution in Glasgow.

There’s been plenty of that in more minor ways over the years along with abuses of position, pushing of luck and taking of liberties. Business really does run like your worst fears suspect it does and if you step over the line into the cesspit you’ll never get back out.

Blah blah blah moral high ground? It’s all very well but it’s also probably why I’m skint.

This has got me thinking though. 35 years of tales from the tool box? Aye, time I got that stuff down on here.

Munro #256

Been a lot of talk online and in the regular media about this being the 100th anniversary of Hugh Munro’s death and I’d just like to say: Good lad, thanks for the list that got us all started.
If it would have been today he was doing his list he’d have been a YouTuber and I’d have thought he was a dick, so I’m glad it happened the way it did.

I’d also like to make it official on this auspicious day, Beinn Narnain is my favourite Munro.
It’s a wee rugged hill that in turns over the years has welcomed me and fought me, has brought me joy and tears and has more memories of good times and friends hidden in it’s rocky flanks than any other hill I’ll ever climb.
I love it dearly and I will always return there until I can’t.

It’s maybe an odd photie choice, it gives nothing away and that’s very fitting. You have to go there, get up close, get off the path and find it for yourself.
That’s what Munro did and that’s why his list shouldn’t be a means to an end, something to tick. It should be a catalyst, an inspiration to explore.

The week that wis

Funny sort of a week the last week, vague plans and missed chances and unexpected calls meant lots of little things but not a lot of big things.

Did fill my phone with photies though.

Me and the girl had a run up the crags when I picked her up from school. No gear, we just went.

I got asked if my Montane beanie was a Rangers beanie. As odd as it may seem for someone growing up in west central Scotland I have never been to or actually had any desire to go to a football match. I just don’t get that stuff.

I also think that being completely out of that world has helped Holly stay clear of the dark side of fitba that thrives where we live, where unbelievably in the 21st Century, sectarianism is still an undercurrent in daily life.
One of the things that makes me most proud as she grows up and looks out into the world is she takes everyone she meets on an individual basis, no preconceptions based on the factors that shape bias be it religion, colour, dress code, gender or anything else that trends/offends/delights on Twitter.
She’s had a life full of meeting every different kind of person you’re likely to find, so to Holly you’re either a good guy or a wank. Awesome.

It was cold and we ran back down, is that a ghost in the woods? It wasn’t there when we looked again.

I’ll need to keep going back to check. Every couple of days. Because I do that anyway.

At my folks my Maw said “Look what I got…” and placed down two biscuits (I know, two biscuits, the joys of being an only child, aged 50) beside my cuppa.
In those wrappers I think we might see the start of a life long obsession forming in the hands of a skinny child eating these behind a chair in the 70’s.

Wasn’t the rucksacks after all.

The harbour looked nice on a couple of nights, not glorious like we had a couple of weeks ago, but definitely nice enough to go down and soak it in.
The lack of wild skies had me looking down at the details, the lichen on the breakwater almost looked luminescent in the sunset and skipping over the broken rocks was breathy fun in the wrong shoes and tighter than practical jeans. That’s a diet thing, not a fashion thing.

The treeline by the old Esso depot lined up amusingly with the collapsing pier to give the trees a fat ankles look.
So many birds down here, singing as well as skipping around the mud pecking for snacks. Nature is just so bloody close if you look for it.

It’s a Buff rip off, but it’s got my name on it so I had to have it. It’s a little stiffer than a regular weight Buff so feels a little tighter and it’s definitely more wind resistant. Early days, maybe do a write up later on. Although it’ll likely just be that previous sentence reformatted.

Me and the Girl again. This time with hot cuppas in the truck waiting for a gap in the sleet to run about the banks of Loch Lomond.

The snow is back in force, the hills bared their ridges a few times and looked impressive and alluring. We had other stuff to worry about though, playing Umbrella Academy “Guess Who” for starters, we’ll say it ended in a draw.

My life is full of metal, above is the not so fun kind. Two 80s or older ring pulls from long forgotten cans being washed around the shore with the pebbles.
These kinds of cans completely went out of use in the UK in 1989 and these look new. It’s not just plastic we have to worry about, it’s everything, we’re making such a mess of this place.

More metal was this potential murder weapon we found badly hidden in the woodland. Given our latest obsession of Brooklyn 99 Holly wanted to call Jake Peralta but I wanted to explore the possibilities of the macabre because of where we found it and call Sapphire and Steel. We were still arguing over it when we were back in the truck where we sent Taggart a text as a compromise.

Glasgow School of Art have been back up the Lang Craigs and there is wackiness to discover. Before the wind removes it.

The bookends of this post are our toaster. We were having toast, I was making tea and tuning out a little bit waiting for the clunk – schiinnggg that would herald the arrival of the toast.
Instead of that the toaster went on fire. Not just a smoky thing, a big flames coming out of it fire. Hmm I said as Holly whooped in a mixture of panic and amusement. I reached over, switched it off and pulled the plug out. I then threw a damp dish towel over it, because I wanted to look authoritative and knowledgeable in front of Holly. It was only when the dish towel went of fire that I picked the toaster up and ran outside with it where it could burn quite happily.

At this point it all settled down and I peered inside. Big chunk in there, charcoaly something, croissant maybe? That with all the crumbs, it was long over due to ignite.
Next morning I had another look. I shook it out, brushed it gently, it soon looked nice and clean.

That night I pushed the lever down and we stood and watched it together, waiting for… something? No fire, no popping fuse, just toast.
Yay, but mildly disappointing as well.

Toast as a metaphor for life.

Haglöfs Proteus Jacket Review

Some months ago in the Ben Lawers car park as we were kitting up for a night on the hill Gus said to me “Here, try some of this”. I poked around the wee cardboard box and pulled out a shiny red jacket, “That’s what you’ve got on isn’t it? I’ll wear that.”
This was my first try at the Haglöfs Proteus Jacket. Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I’d seen one of these before, Gus had worn one on our trip a year or so ago and although it looked a little odd, in a 70’s see-through raincoat sort of way, he was very much singing its praises. But, you’ll never know unless you go.

Two things are immediate and clashing when you pick up a Proteus. It’s very light at 270g (the Haglöfs website weight is accurate to the gram) for a large but it also feels beefy because it has a lining and a shell.
This probably makes it a softshell, or perhaps windproof insulation? I don’t know, it’s maybe a bit like a Polaterc Alpha shirt, a bit Driclime, a bit Vapour Rise but most of all it’s like what I used to wear years back, a light grid backed fleece pull on and a windshirt. Except half the weight.

The layout is simple with a full zip, single chest pocket, lycra cuffs and hem and a non-adjustable hood.

Haglöfs have made some of the best hoods I’ve used, but only on shells, their hoods on midlayers and fleeces are very inconsistent. Here they’ve gambled a bit on pre-shaping with no adjustment, but on my head at least it’s hit the mark.
The shaping is subtle but definite and the hood shadows my head rather than hugs it which means I can wear a powerstretch beanie or a Buff under it and even a low profile peaked cap isn’t too bad.
It means that the hood moves well with my head, even when not zipped up fully. The lycra around the face gives form but doesn’t over tighten, it’s right in the middle.
The main zip has a chinguard/zipper garage so I haven’t snagged my beard yet, the zip has a decent sized zip pull too for grabbing with gloved hands.

Features are few to discuss. The single pocket is a decent size, it’ll take gloves and a beanie no problem and has a reversed zip and good zip pull.

The form of the jacket is nicely done. The arms have subtle but effective curving and good gusseting at the pit, the Proteus doesn’t pull up, even when swinging an ice axe overhead. The articulation is good.

You can see above the back has a stitched vertical line which pulls the body in a little, suit jacket style. A closer fit is always a good thing for fabric performance and I wonder if it helps with keeping the hem put as well. Sometimes little things add up, sometime it’s cosmetic, hey what do I know.

Haglöfs have put a lot of little details in here that I like. The cuffs and hem have lycra binding which is largely internal so the stretch surface grips the layer below, something I’m sure helps the hem stay down, like I say, the little things add up.

The cuffs are well finished but they also have the biggest “but” on the Proteus for me. The fit and articulation are excellent, neat but not tight. This means that the jacket layers incredibly well. It slips under other insulation and shells and the hood is so low profile it feels no different from wearing a beanie under a shell hood.
With this in mind the forearms and cuffs are pretty slim. Not a problem most of the time, but the fit and forget nature of the Proteus means that I put it on at home and don’t take it off until I get back. On ascents or out of the wind and in the sun (it happens, really) I like to cool off a little, hood down, zip undone and collar wide, cuffs rolled up… about three inches from my wrist.

I really want to roll the sleeves up to my elbow, the rest of the jacket copes with a very wide range of temperatures but this aggravates me that I can’t cool my arms and it’s it’s going to have me retire it earlier in the year than I want to as it gets consistently warmer.
I wouldn’t want adjustable cuffs or anything daft like that, just a tiny bit more volume on the forearms.

The inside is well finished, the seams are capped which will slow wear and also help cap wicking in moisture from the outside. Ever wondered why rucksack internal seams are capped like this? Same thing, keeps the rain out a wee bit better.

The fabrics are what makes the Proteus. Haglöfs use their own outer shell, nylon for strength but very light at 15D 31gsm. It’s also see-through and the liner colour blends with the shell to make the red into a deeper crimson. There’s a bunch of colour combinations across the range and although it’s a little thing, it’s kinda fun and outdoor stuff should be fun.

The shell fabric is excellent in use, as windproof as I’ll need before it’s so cold I need another later anyway and the water resistance is very good too. It keeps out snow and light rain while I’m on the move and it’s rare I’ll put a shell over it in mixed conditions, the rain would have to be persistent.

It has a slight rustle and swish to it’s movement in a Pertex 4 (folk thinking back to their Buffalo windshirts…) sort of a way, but I can live with that for the performance.

Inside is Haglöfs’ own Quadfusion polyester er, I want to say fleece, but is it? It’s a fine weave with a gridded inner face like you see on lots of microfleece, but this doesn’t feel like it would be used on its own, it’s too fine. It feels like it was designed to be a liner, like the examples I mentioned above, Alpha being the closest in my mind just because of the pattern of material and air gaps rather than anything actually scientific.

The Quadfusion is light and soft, very pleasant to wear against the skin. The performance is also exceptional.

I’ve never used anything that wicks as well and dries as fast as this. The first time I used it, I was thinking it was because of the very cold and dry conditions but having used it on almost every hill day big or small since I have found consistency.
Wearing merino baselayers is always a trade off, slower drying for comfort and sweat smelling nights in a tent. Quadfusion seems to suck the sweat out of the merino faster and I’ve been out of polyprop and back in merino pretty much all the time the past few months.

The nylon shell plays it’s part obviously as it’s carrying the moisture to the outside, and I hate to use a buzzword but it’s proper synergy at work here.
It’s just so incredibly comfortable to wear across a wide range of conditions, I have never known a jacket to be so consistent and reliable at both keeping me dry from the inside and outside at the same time regardless of what the weather is doing.
I’ve been wearing it under vintage Gore-Tex and brand new Gore-Tex, I’m as dry in both, the GTX inner scrim itself shows the difference in their performance, but my midlayer doesn’t care.

I’ve been matching the Proteus to a couple of Haglöfs pieces a lot which has been a good combo and I’ll be talking about them soon, but the Proteus has been on it’s own most of the time.
It’s constant trips around the Lang Craigs has seen a lot of wash and wear cycles and I tend to notice some smells after 3 to 5 trips after which some 30degC techwash bubbles have it coming up as new.
I haven’t noticed any real signs of wear, I had expected the inner to flatten at the pack compression points but it’s looking okay, the inner has just fuzzed up a little as a whole.

Being objective the Proteus won’t suit everyone, it is what it is and if you don’t like the features and if that hood doesn’t fit you it’s not going to work for you.
There’s the matter of hand warmer pockets too. I initially thought it needed them, now I don’t care the idea. If there were a couple of simple lycra bound pouches it might be okay, but then there’s another layer of fabric and I really don’t want that.
Then there’s the cuffs. The Proteus is a cool weather jacket, but it’s also an all-day jacket that operates across a very wide range of conditions and the lack of cooling on the arms annoys me because it’ll get to the point I just have to take it off.

Despite that wee personal niggle, the Proteus is an outstanding jacket. The fit is excellent and the fabric performance has been exceptional, I have never been so consistently comfortable across so many different scenarios in the same bit of kit.

As a cool or cold weather midlayer it’s a no brainer for me, I just put it on when I go out now. And look, the snow’s back.

Thanks to Gus for some of the action shots of me in the Proteus. Good lad.

Medical Assurance

I had a lot to do but at the back of my mind the whole week was that I couldn’t find my wee medical kit.
I have had it on every single trip I’ve done in maybe 15 years and I actually felt a wee undercurrent of panic in case I’d left it on Beinn Narnain when I stuck a bit of Spenco Adhesive Knit on my heel when it felt like I was getting a hotspot because I was in stiffer boots that normal.

I found it today, it was in my food bag where I keep my drinks sachets and snack bars etc. It was a proper sit down, breathe out slowly moment. A genuine relief.

Of course, the only thing that’s original is the little yellow bag it came in, it is/was an Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight .3.
But, until I thought I’d lost it I didn’t realise that the little yellow bag wasn’t just a quiet, constant rucksack lid passenger, it’s a full part of the team, it’s bore witness and it’s often been the star.

I took out tape and painkillers in Glen Falloch after midnight when I burst my feet walking the West Highland Way over a weekend, I’ve taped up friends feet many times too.
I’ve had indigestion tablets when camp food was fighting my stomach, a signal mirror when a sprig of heather got in my eye in the tent, I had Sudocrem in a tiny tub when a hot summer trek had me chaffed in the sunshine outside the tent at 1000m.
I’ve had scissors and dental floss when having neither would have made my life a little less fun until I got home.

Its a bag refilled by experience looking at its mostly in-date contents, but it’s a bag of memories looking at the outside.

Ha, I wonder how many miles it’s got on it.

The Karrimor Whillans Alpiniste and OMM Villain 45+10 with Mike Parsons

I’d been searching online for some information on old Karrimor packs to help with the recent Tote-Em clean up and rather annoyingly it’s my own pages that kept coming up. While it’s nice to see some of these old pages, it’s not that helpful.
However, the Karrimor Whillans story that kept coming up is actually quite interesting not least for Mike Parson’s input to the text back in the day. There was also the redux version made recently that was based on my original which I though was a great story.
I’ve edited it all together into a mini anthology of sorts. Mike Parsons was still the prime mover in OMM’s develoment at the time and the words reflect this, so that’s another added element – a what if? What would we have seen at OMM with Mike still at the helm?

The Real Villain, Part One. The Karrimor Whillans Alpiniste with Mike Parsons

Originally published January 2009.

I recently got a hold of that original Karrimor Whillans Alpiniste above. The three words that make up the title are iconic and legendary for different reasons, but if we look at the pack from the point of view of it being a piece of classic innovative design, there’s a name missing. Mike Parsons.
As Karrimor owner until ’96 Mike designed and manufactured kit the names of which are as famous as the names who used it: Whillans and Haston Alpiniste packs, Karrimat, KSB’s, Jaguar SA, Hot Ice, Hot Earth, Alpiniste fleece and more. Karrimor gear often seemed set apart from other companies, looking back that’s because they were ahead of their time. Design cues from Karrimor’s heyday can be seen in packs and clothing from most other brands to this day as many of the innovations became the standard.
It’s not all about nostalgia though. Mike is as active and enthusistic as ever with OMM, having created and evolved a vital range of equipment in only a few years, and is set to expand the pack and clothing range with some fresh thinking over the next few seasons.
Mike co-wrote a book with Mary B Rose called “Invisible on Everest“, a history of gear with detail to spin the head. There’s still an awful lot of stories and information unpublished, both on the gear side and from the names involved, including Don Whillans. It’s going to be interesting to see them so we can fill in the blanks and get the real picture.

As regular listeners will know I test OMM kit, and when I got the Whillans Alpiniste a couple of weeks back there was as much excitement from the folk there as there was from me (see, it’s not all bean counting and aiming for mass market appeal, some companies still love their gear).
Mike Parsons supplies some inside info on the pack below, and also how relevant the principles are to what he’s doing today.

A wee look over the pack.
I’ve used the pack a couple of times, and although I miss features like bottle pockets it was a revelation how comfortable it was. The leather and felt shoulder straps are low profile and supple, the metal rings that attach them to the pack give great freedom of movement. I didn’t miss a chest strap which surprised me, it’s stable and secure. The thick canvas appears to be pretty much waterproof, it wets out and water doesn’t penetrate, even if its windblown rain. There’s no snowlock extension, you just pull the lace tight at the top of the pack and the wide lid keeps the weather out, and very effectively too. The lid has a huge zipped pocket underneath as well.
It’s a great piece of kit.

The lid is removable, with three press studs mounted through leather reinforced patches. Mike remembers the five pronged punch that he used to make the holes for the stud assembly, and also that they used to have to make extra flaps because folk would lose them. Not an easy task, the studs are maybe a little worn now but the lid is still secure on there.

The buckles are all prong type, very secure but faffy with gloves. Metal buckles of different types stayed on the packs for some years as Mike recalls insisting on keeping certain metal buckles because of need for absolute security, crampon straps were metal prong/woven slotted web = zero chance of losing crampons through a buckle opening.
It’s interesting to note a Karrimor tradition with the Whillans, two spare straps were included. They could be used to extend the lid opening to secure gear under it or legthen the shoulder straps to accomodate cold weather layers or Brian Blessed. Every Elite series Karrimor pack I ever owned came with two spare straps.

Mike Parsons Q&A
The pack is surprisingly lightweight. Was this an important factor at the time, to make it as lightweight as possible?
“We didnt even talk about weight, but such a small pack (27L) indicates how light the alpinistes of the day we going. Don Whillans was the leading Brit alpiniste through until late 60’s, and as Dennis Grey has quoted this is completely under rated in the ‘Villain’ book.
The pack was upsized when Dougal Haston came on the scene – he had just done the Eiger in winter ( 3 yrs previously) and bigger packs were needed, and that also coincidentally fitted the needs of the Brit- Scots (camping) weekend climber.
So HOW MUCH does it weigh? ”
On my kitchen scales, 1300g with the two spare straps included.

Natural materials are used throughout. The pack is in fine usable condition after 40+ years, what’s your feeling on the fabric choice versus what’s being used today?
“I can feel the incredible amount of work in it from 2 perspectives; we were very small at the time so I physically did myself some of the operations on your pack, its part of me. But each part had to be individually cut using several different processes, selecting the leather carefully and using the correct part of it (yes all parts of the beast’s leather are not equal!) and all the products that followed at Karrimor over many years were the subject of process innovation which is what the user does not see or think about, but its what contributed to Karrimor’s great success as much as the product design.”

How much did Don Whillans influence the design?
“In 1963 a guy arrived in our retail store ( Karrimor was a small upstairs workshop with 7 people including me!) and said; “I see you are making a pack for a mate of mine, Joe Brown, could you make one for me?” Yes what do you want? He gave me one example pack for size and asked for 3 or 4 key features, the rest was all mine. I made all patterns, sewed first samples complete etc.”

All the regular recognisable features (tall, narrow shape/lid crampon attachment/aice xe loop/ zipped lid pocket etc) are there for an alpine pack. Did you have a sense at the time that you’d got it just right and were setting a benchmark, or did you just design what was needed?
“No in short, but that came later, ie the need to set the standard again for the next generation; was the first time around luck or…could I do it again?”

The design was refined throughout your years as owner of Karrimor, through the Haston and other Alpiniste models, and you continue that same evolutionary line at OMM with the Villain. Are you still pushing for that perfect pack, reacting to what users need?
“Every generation of pack reflects the needs of the sport in that period and the sport always moves on. Thats why I wanted to call my latest pack the Villain because it represented not simply the start point but a journey.  Yes the quest for the definitive pack for today’s alpiniste continues, but it is no longer the focus of the market place; but that gives me more space to innovate!”

The Karrimor logo is sewn on where you can’t see it, unthinkable in today’s brand obsessed culture. When did highly visible branding become important?
“Well, what everyone did was put labels on the back.
One day we asked ourselves; would it be acceptable to put it on the front? A bold move then, which seems amusingly simple now.”

There’s more classic Karrimor kit for reference here.

The Real Villain, Part Two. OMM Villain MSC 45+10 2009 with Mike Parsons

Originally published January 2009.

I reviewed the OMM Villain MSC 45+10 way back when, and it’s been a constant companion since, only being put into the #2 position when I got the updated version to test a few months back.
It’s a time of change at OMM, with new investment in resources from ARK Consultants and an expanding range of gear for racers and mountain activists alike. Mike Parsons tells us a little about what’s happening.

Villain MSC 45+10 2009

There’s no sweeping changes here, just some tweaks which address some little issues I found as the miles racked up (the same updates have been applied to the Jirishanca).

The lid pocket is different. Its opening isn’t as wide so it’s much more secure, and it now has a water resistant zip. Inside the lid pocket there’s now an extra wee mesh pocket with a velcro closure. This has been worth it’s weight in gold, which unfortunately is only a few grams of course, but still…
The side entry now has a water resistant zip as well, and both of the new zips have garages for the pullers to make as good a seal as possible.
The ice axe attachment points have been rejigged and there’s no exposed stitching now for better durability.
A big change is the chest strap, the whistle-buckle is still present, as is the elastic section that lets you breathe, but the rest is new.  The two piece sliding attachment is gone and a more reliable and traditional webbing and slider buckle arrangement had been fitted. I never had an issue with the original, but this update will be easier to repair in the field.

Performance and comfort are still the same I’m glad to say, it came out of the wrapper, got packed and was out overnight the day after it arrived. I was walking uphill still adjusting the straps to the rigt length. No issues though, and it’s still my go-to pack for short backpacking trips in the mountains, even in winter.
This winter the camping gear I’m using is smaller packing so I’m getting my full winter kit inside no problem. Indeed, the MSC lets you strap pretty much anything you want onto the outside as well.

Mike Parsons Q & A

The Villain is the obvious successor to the Alpiniste 45+10, but also an improvement in materials and functionality. Did you feel that there was unfinished business?
“Yes, definitely unfinished business, and I’m thrilled to get the opportunity to do this. This is because of the ARK team not only undertaking sales and distribution, but now committing to share ownership. In practical terms this means I can focus on new product development and hand over the myriad of small jobs that need doing in a small business like this.”

The evolution from the original orange dyneema RL model to the current updated black dyneema MSC version has been very fast. How much does user feedback influence development, and what gives OMM the ability to react so quickly?
“Working online with such an enthusiastic and really committed Lead User Group (of which you are a member of course) definitely has an amazing and exciting influence when linked with my mentality of driving continuous improvement. When I was leading Karrimor I had a ‘think tank’ which was similar and ensured that our products were always well ‘grounded’ or well thought out as a result of long debate, which first highlights problems, which I love the challenge of, and then creates a well balanced consensus.”

The Villain’s appeal has been wider than it’s alpine roots would suggest. Backpackers have taken to it as it’s light, carries well and has the OnTheMoveAccessible features. Was that part of the plan, or do you think the pure functionality of the pack just struck a chord with users of different needs?
“That was all part of the plan, partly because I do a wide range of activities myself, but also because I think equipment is expensive and should do more than one thing. However there must be no compromise on any function and that poses really exciting design challenges.”

The MSC is a great concept, and the Trio chest pouch adds to the Villains versatility and capacity. How important is this adjustability and modular approach to OMM’s philosophy?
“The MSC ( multi-sport compressor) is actually at the the core of the leanweight philosophy. Parts can be added or taken away to either lose weight or increase capability. Leanweight design isn’t just about making the packs lighter, its about making packs more versatile.”

Are current fabrics and technology allowing you to realise previously impossible ideas, or do they inspire new ones?
“Frankly we havent really scratched the surface of new technologies yet, but the extra resources I talked about is opening doors for sure. I spent 3 days in Munich last week looking only at new fabrics, components and processes.”

The name, The Villain. A wee stroke of genius.
“Perrins book on Don Whillans use his nick name, THE VILLAIN for the title. But there wasn’t more than 2 sentences about the gear which Don was involved with and I thought this was a huge omission. I am writing up the Whillans product stories together with my book co-author Mary Rose at Lancaster University, and its not only filling a very important historical omission it’t also really funny. Unlike the image the book portrayed, Don was not an unpleasant person at all, and these stories are certainly amusing.”

What are the future plans for the evolving Villain?
“We have a new product coming up, which if all goes well might be available before this year is out. The inspiration for the product comes from the exploits of Alex McIntyre, who was leading the world in lightweight Hymalaya alpine style mountaineering until his untimely death in 1984. However I thought that a better name was THE REAL VILLAIN.”

What else does the future hold for OMM?
“I have been an innovator in 4 different eras of technology – leather and canvas, alumnium , and polymers and was market leader in all of those periods which is unusual because when technology changes so did the leadership, but I always held it. With OMM we are a very small player in the market place but there is a wonderful opportunity to link my innovation experience with a new but very experienced sales team at ARK. It’s an open road and very exciting not withstanding the horrors of the recession.”

Last time I asked you about the micro detail of the label; but what about colour, were bright colours normal at the time of the first orange and black Whillans alpiniste. The orange Villain and Jirishanca look bold even today.
“You could get any colour you liked at the time as long as it was grey or military green, so this was like super bold. In the first year I hedged my bets and made some grey ones but no-one wanted them!”

Karrimor Whillans Alpiniste Redux

Originally published February 2018.

A while back Karrimor started making some heritage themed gear, some vintage looking clothing and gear that probably fits the legacy of the name better than the generic tat filling a Sports Direct near you at low, low prices.
The heritage gear is still aimed at the high street though, it looks every inch like the wardrobe of a mountaineer or adventurer from back in the day*, but it’s fine fabrics will be rubbing against the seats of a Range Rover Evoque, not the wooden bench of a bothy.

There’s disdain in my tone of course but also a grudging respect. As much as you might expect the designers to just look at a few old photies and fudge together some gear that looks the part, they didn’t, they went to the source material for some of there new gear.
The “Karrimor K100 Whillan’s Alpiniste by Nigel Cabourn” pack turned up in stores I’d never been through the door of such as Van Mildert with a RRP of around £700 (good grief) and it was done right, exactly right. I know this because they used my original 60’s Whillan’s pack as the pattern for it.

I trusted the man I sent it to, he had made it himself back in the 60’s after all so I wasn’t worried when my Whillans was gone for a good wee while to be poked, prodded and mostly likely stretched a wee bit.
Thread counts, exact dimensions, textures, materials, construction detailing, everything was inspected and modern equivalents were sourced, sampled and tested to make the reissue as close to the original as possible. In same cases they found the obscure original manufacturers, look at the studs that attach the lid.

They did all this in the Glasgow workshop of Trakke too, itself as historic as the goods being recreated inside.

Metal, leather and cotton. It speaks to me more than any synthetic.

The geekiness that comes off the depth of rightness that the redux exudes is totally joyful. It’s the joy of me getting to play a song on stage with Black Sabbath, the joy of Brunel coming back to life and seeing the Millau Viaduct, the joy of Holly already knowing all the facts in their new Victorian class topic because she’s got a head full of Horrible Histories.

The Whillans redux will wear in like the original, the construction and fabrics are right. You’d need to work on those leather straps to get them form-fitting like mine, but they’ll do it eventually. You’d have to use it though, it needs dirt, sweat and spilled flasks to season it. Leaving it on the back seat of your Range Rover would be a travesty.

This post is part full circle story and given the years since part one was first published part historical document.
Folk often wonder why gear fascinates some of us, “it’s just product” or “you don’t need it to enjoy the hills”. Well, yes and no.
When I look at gear I see sharp minds at work, skilled hands at a bench, inspiration and innovation, a desire to make something better so that you and I have more fun in the hills.

The best ideas don’t have to spring from a desire to sell you something, they can come from the simple desire to create, product can have passion sewn into it.
I think that’s why some gear resonates with us, because we can feel it.

Hazy Shade of Winter

No story here at all. I knew it was coming and I knew I wanted to catch it again.

I drove over the Erskine Bridge, whipped around the roundabouts on the south side and came straight back over to park at the top of Lusset Glen and hike up the walkway on the west side to catch the sun as it went down.

I forgot it’s still winter though, this bloody weather threw me. In summer the sun goes down over by the firth, right now, my lens is just wide enough to catch it and the scenery with my hands stretched through the big fence.

Still, it was gorgeous. Well, that’s not much of a story.

Next up something pale or light blue, this place is just a ticker tape of black and orange just now.

 

Power Hour

I knew the golden hour was from five til six and also that the likelyhood of the same display as Monday night was remote, but it was calm, clear and bright so we met up at Overtoun about quarter to five and made a run for the skyline anyway.

A bit hazy but the low light was warm although getting ever lower and cooler. We got some height at just the right time after breaking sweat on the climb to Black Wood and back into clear air. Perfect timing.

The sun hit a bank of cloud out to sea and the temperature dropped sharply. But the stove was on and hot cuppas were imminent as we sat in the long grass and listened to birdsong in the scots pines nearby.

One tight stand of pines kept on drawing my eye, I expected an elephant to come charging at me at any second, it looked like a little splat of Africa on the hillside in this warm sunlight.
This is why I don’t get bored, always something new to see. Or imagine.

Although evidence suggests otherwise, it’s still winter so it got dark quick. Dumbarton were playing at home and the stadium sitting under Dumbarton Castle looked just like the big ship from Close Encounters. Haven’t seen that in years, I wonder if it’s aged well. Netflix…

Home by headtorch. Living by the river is brilliant, especially when there’s hills right beside it.