Sky High Percentage

It all started with a delicate little pudding bowl in the sink. It was underneath everything else, under dishes, bubbles and when I found it it split like a childhood dream under peer pressure (no idea where that one just came from, was I remembering or worried about the girl…) and the thin finely edged shards took a slice out of my finger like a bite out of an apple. A small apple mind you, probably the one from Annoying Orange.
The basin went red like a cheap special effect and I just shook my head as it started to sting. Damn that cheap Aldi washing up liquid, I was right, it is battery acid in it.
I looked at the clock and I looked the other way at my packed rucksack by the door. Looks like I was going to Skye via Mother, retired nurses rock.
One stop at Fort William for cream cakes and I pulled over the hill above Torrin to see a dark and choppy Loch Slapin and Bla Bheinn beyond, a mass of dark crag ribboned in grey as the cloud streaked over it. My finger throbbed on the steering wheel, I was getting hungry, I had around four days of stuff to do on the island and I was throwing in the towel before I’d even parked over the loch courtesy of John Muir.

The finest mountain on Skye, it was the last time I was here anyway. As I climbed the track, hints of the buttresses flashed into view as the wind picked up. At the coire I looked for a B&B, but there was none, I was going to have to camp. By the lochan I struggled to stand, in the coire bowl I was blown around and staggered like 70’s drunk ( they staggered differently, maybe it was the bunnets and moleskin trousers, but they were better at it in those days), the calmest was a grassy shelf on the ridge of Bla Bheinn itself, so I pitched on the grassy last resort.

It wasn’t miserable, I was well equipped, fed, warm and dry, it was just, uninspiring. I don’t need character building shite like this anymore, I’ve done all that when I was young enough to revel in it and now while wind, rain, snow and a sideways tent doesn’t faze me at all, all things considered I’d rather be sitting on a rock at midnight looking up at a starry sky with a hot chocolate in my hand.
The tent was indeed sideways, and with some style too, but I was safe and warm all night and I didn’t go back outside until morning. I had peered out but the cloud was everything and everywhere, my tweet from camp summed it up “The Misty Isle” my arse, there’s nothing romantic about sitting in a cloud half way up Bla Bheinn. As the tent billows alarmingly. Sigh.

The morning was brighter, I could see detail, I could see the sea and my porridge and cuppa lightened the mood further.
The ascent was a joy. Steep, loose with sheerness appearing out of the mist to stop your feet and capture your eye.
Blue burst through above me a few times, black rock thrust into sharp relief and then it was gone again. It was like being adrift in a little jagged floating island, blown by the wind and tossed by a playful rather than cruel sea.
A heave up over a damp boulder and the wander to the summit revealed nothing. What a view there is from here. I closed my eyes and I looked at the Cuillin Ridge, a black crown of drama and seeming impenetrability, glorious. I opened my eyes and looked hard into the reality of the cloud that swirled around me. I turned towards the descent.

Cloud dragged over my feet as the wind tore it out of the gullies and compressed it into a slithering carpet on the ridge. You’d have to be a joyless bastard not to smile at that. What a place this is, as the sun burst through above me for a second at a time and shone a spotlight on a pinnacle, a crag or gap in front me with nothing but fresh air far below. Now I was having fun as I slid on the damp scree towards lunch.
I met three parties on their ascent and every person there was cheery and had time to chat. It saved my day, it really did, it was the final nudge my joy switch needed to stay in the on position.

But the cloud, the wind, my still bleeding finger, I was going home. The day was saved, but over a fine lunch under brightening skies and blackening crags I thought I take what luck I’d found and keep it for next time. Skye business remains unfinished.

Keen Footwear Review, Alamosa and Revel

Keen footwear has been a constant for me for many years once I discovered the light weight and wide toe box and I’ve also tested a bunch of models on here over the years. For last winter I was sent the new (for last winter) Revel boot and Holly finally grew into her test pair of Alamosa’s this spring which are now getting plenty outings.

This photie below says a few things about Keen, Holly wears her Alamosa’s without complaint, Joycee wears her (TK Maxx sourced) big boots because she likes the look and the sole unit is an outdoor one and I’ve got on test shoes I’ve had for years. Not everything new is better. In saying that though, the Revels weren’t just making up the numbers on the shoe shelf last winter.

I’ve tested new model Keen winter boots for the past few years and they’ve always been in the right performance area for me, light, flexible, waterproof with an ankle cuff that flexes. The outsoles have always been just grippy enough, but grip is probably Keen’s greatest weakness and it’s something that user’s in the UK’s wet hills are happy enough to compromise on for the benefits elsewhere.
But the Revel’s seem to bite harder into the snow and the mud, don’t know why, the design seems to be little different to the worn soles units of recentt winter models. Whatever, I found a little extra confidence on these soles, maybe the upper is playing a part there? The sole is supposed to firm up in low temperatures, the rubber reacts, maybe it’s working better here. All good news whatever.

The upper is lightly insulated and waterproof. The synthetic insulation must work to some extent as I tend to wear lighter socks in Keen winter boots and the waterproof membrane also lasts well, the Revel’s were still keeping me dry until a couple of weeks ago. I’ve seen other membrane’s let go after half a dozen wears.
The upper is a mostly nubuck leather with a lot of paneling and stitching which always worries me as it’s potentially vulnerable to abrasion, but the stitching is tight and despite cutting through neve and heather for months, there’ no fraying and the uppers look solid.
The paneling probably aids the flexibility which is always a revelation in a winter boot, warmer and comfier feet at the cost of a little extra thought in route choice on snow by the wearer to compensate for the lack of a rigid sole. I’ve used these with steel and aluminium Kahtoola crampons and with Hillsound spikes and they’ve been fine with all three, flexy boots do not limit your winter horizons.

The ankle cuff is high enough to mate with softshell trouser inner gaiters and regular gaiters to keep the crap out and there’s a metal D-ring at the bottom of the laces to attach a gaiter. The insoles are those mental woolly things Keen use which are comfy and warm, carpet in your boots. Genius.
1200g for a pair and absolutely fit for purpose. Nice bit of kit, just needs some brighter colours to make my winter day complete.

You can’t fool kids, if they don’t like it they won’t do it, eat it or wear it. Holly loves outdoor kit, she know her stuff and the Alamosa’s were go-to shoes as soon as she knew they fitted.
The design is pure Keen, big toe bumper with room for toes to spread inside and an upper spliced together in the familar way from suede and synthetic.
There’s a waterproof lining which is great as Holly’s always testing puddles for depth and the sole is cleated enough for a mix of grip on the dirt and not so much resistance on tarmac.
The Alamosa’s don’t hinder the tester, she went straight up to full speed and never looked back, as unnerving as it was for me to watch. She’s been in the park on the grass and the equipment, up the Kilpatricks, on the trails in the Trossachs, round and round the garden and more and she’s been sure footed at every turn.
She mentioned the heel at her achilles area at first, “Eh, dad…” as she pulled at it, but there was no rubbing and any initial stiffness in the heel area must have worn away pretty quickly which is good news.
The velcro fastening is good for little hands and parents alike, quick and easy with no trailing lace hazards as you child fires around like a rocket with a broken guidance system.
Great kit, kids don’t know how good they’ve got it these days.

New Alpkit Glowe and Manta Lighting Review

Got some new lighting in from Alpkit to test recently, here’s a wee look at it.

LED lights have made nights in the hills much better, especially with brightness and battery power seemingly rising together every new new batch of lights. But, there’s an awful lot of mock-earnest po-facedness about it as well, something that afflicts the whole outdoor trade to varying degrees. So here’s Alpkit to lighten the mood. And your way. And camp.

The Manta above is a 100 lumen headtorch powered by 3 AAA batteries which are housed at the front in a pivoting case which looks a little bulky in your hand, but is fine when you’re wearing it.. There’s a comfy 30mm adjustable band and a variety of lighting options.
The single big LED can be switched on and off, be dimmed or made to flash using one button and the other button is just for giggles. Sort of.
Red LED’s are great for camp, you can see perfectly well and you maintain your night vision, I’ve walked many times using a red setting and it’s something that’s a really useful addition to an outdoor torch, so I’m glad there’s one on the Manta.
Then there’s the blue and green LED’s. Useful? The blue one is great for playing daleks, the green one makes any tent spookier than it was just a minute ago, I know it’s supposed to be for map reading, but what the hell, it’s fun. Colour samples below.
The main beam has a lens which operates via the little lever you can see sticking up, it goives you a beam or a pool and is delightfully simple, in fact just like my old Petzl Zoom from 20 years ago.
Beam length is good, certainly enough to confidently navigate by and burn time is said to be 7hrs at max and 150hrs on dim which I can neither confirm nor deny as I’m not sitting watching it with a stopwatch and a calendar.
It’s IPX4 so water resistant rather than waterproof, weight is 116g with batteries and money is £15.


Carrying on the theme of practical wackiness is the Glowe camping lantern. While maybe not a backcountry backpacking essential, the Glowe is a very useful bit of kit for camp living. If I’m base-camping or having a rare trip to a campsite I’ll often take a lamp like this for convenience and to save the batteries in my headtorch. The Glowe does all you need as a tent light, it’s bright, or dim if you require and has a flashing mode. It’s got a hanging loop and wee retractable feet so it can stand alone. All good stuff, but it’s also a torch with a decent beam as seen below. Adjustment between the two settings is easy, with the body retracted you’ve got a torch, extended you’ve got a tent lamp. Perfect for trips to the toilet block at campsites or for dazzling nosy wildlife outside the tent. Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t put that in print?
The button is a big easy to find rubbery thing on the base and the three AAA batteries go into an escape pod thing inside, it’s a wee housing that comes out to access the batteries, I probably should have taken a photie of that. Ah well.
The Glowe is IPX5 water resistant, which is better than the Manta. Burn time is listed as 2hrs at max, 65hrs at min, weight with the batteries is 122g and money is £12.50.

Both nice wee bits of kit that have been working well on the hill and at camp, and although I tend never to mention prices, here you can’t ignore the cheapness to fun ratio.

Manta colours below.

PTC signs for Rangers (Lang Craigs Division) – Update

I’m rather pleased to have been asked to be a ranger for the Woodland Trust at their Lang Craigs site in the Kilpatrick Hills.
It’s a volunteer post (so you can sit back down taxman) and one that I’m more than happy to dedicate time and effort to. The Kilpatricks look safer right now than they have done, the Woodland Trust might be making a mess, but they’re thinking of the future and I want to do something to help along the way. These hills have given me a lot and it’s time I gave something back.
I might know the place like the back of my hand, but I’ve still got stuff to learn about what grows and lives there, whether it’s got legs, roots or wings. So this will be good for me, but what else will I be doing? We’ll see about that soon.

Update

I’ve done my first day on the site which was a community tree planting day. The weather was awful, wet and windy, which for me just meant what colour of shell to chose, but for the public that came along, to me it just showed how engaging the Lang Craigs is becoming to people that they still came out to plant trees.
700 trees went in, quite high up too, so we were quite exposed and still folks in their casual gear, kids with runny noses, pensioners and the rest all got knee deep in mud and got the job done. I was impressed and heartened.
I did my best to be helpful to the visitors in my hi-viz vest and had to learn quick which I think I did, got a lot of new information of which I have retained a good bit. Got a lot of exercise too, up and down the hill all day with spades, trees, bags of this, that and a big bloody flag which was like a parachute in the wind.
When I got home I was covered in mud to my waist, I was tired and I was grinning from ear to ear. This was one of my best hill days for ages, I think I’m going to enjoy this.

Rocking on its sump with one wheel idly spinning over the water below, the willow man’s Landy was an early casualty of the conditions.