20YOC Gear: Head, Hands & Feet. Lowe Alpine, Karrimor, Mountain Range, Terra Firma (I think…).

Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap

As unglamourous as it is practical as it is copied.
The Mountain Cap is warm, often too warm for me, waterproof, except that rain runs down the back of your neck and you have to take it off and pull your hood up.
Well, I suppose I’m being a bit harsh there. It was a great winter cap for cold and blowy days and it certainly cushioned my head from the weight of my Petzl Zoom on long night time descents and walks-out.

The designers spent some time thinking it out. There’s a rear cinch, a wired peak that clips up and attachment for a chin strap which you don’t need as I always found the shaping was so good it just stuck to my head in the wind anyway.

It’s light enough and stuffs away quite readily, it feels soft to wear too, despite the waterproof Triple Point taped-seam shell outer.

I’ve had a few copies from other manufacturers, none of them as well engineered as this, none quite as complete. Half arsed bootlegs from bigger brands. Shame on them.
It’s worn and a bit dogeared but it’ll do just fine. A warm napper at camp for sure.

Not sure of the age, mid 90’s again I think, the Lowe Alpine logo is purple and silver which makes it a bit older maybe. Pretty sure the orange version on the label below became standard at some point before 2000.

And also on that label? Made in Ireland.

Aye.

Karrimor Alpine Headband

I never did like wearing this. The ear warmer headband was a good idea before buffs were stuffed into every pocket and designs varied wildly from woolly skiers accessories to this Karrimor version which laid railway tracks into my forehead with that double lycra trim. The lycra bands would creep towards each other too , eventually making it look like I had a mini beginner swimmer’s flotation ring round my head. The wind also goes straight through that well-bobbled (hmm, I must have worn it then…) Polartec 200.
But, it’s the only one I can find, plus it’s got the awesome old Karrimor Elite logo. It’ll be fine.

Karrimor Powerstretch Balaclava

I went from a wool balaclava with peak and a pompom to this. It’s got a decent shape to it, I can have my chin out or have my nose covered and the top can sit at my eyebrows or be pulled pretty far back for a bit of cooling.

The fabric is an early Powerstretch variant, ‘Series 200’ is says on the label below. It also says 100% polyester but the old catalogue says there’s a nylon face on the fabric which sounds right, so I’m going with that. The label might just be randomly sewn on at the factory because it says Polartec on it.
Not the stretchiest maybe, but the fabric feels nice enough and the serged seams around the face aperture and neck don’t upset my skin or mood.

I think I reviewed a balaclava or two a few years ago and that would be the last time I wore one. Hooded midlayers and buffs kinda killed them for me.

Karrimor Windbloc Grip Gloves

I remember buying these. I had been watching them for ages as they sat shining brightly from the accessory dookits in Summits on Moss Street in Paisley.
£30 quid though, for fleece gloves. But they just fit so well, it was always going to happen.

It was a good call, they went on every trip for many years. I could get thin liners underneath or wear them on their own, the long cuffs tucked up shell jacket sleeves, the little velcro cinches kept them snug and the grip patches, although not very sensitive or dexterous feeling, gripped axes, poles and clothing adjusters just fine.

The Polartec Windbloc fabric worked better here than it did on any jackets I had where sweat overpowered it pretty quick. With a smooth outer and a slightly piled inner it was warm, windproof and pretty waterproof too. I’ve got photies of me wearing these crusted in ice while smiling, so they must have worked just fine.
I’m sure that will continue.

The tag was in the box with all my old catalogues and stuff. You used to get a plastic card with Karrimor Elite gear which you could fill in with your emergency details on the back.
£30 for fleece gloves though. That was about £7000 back then.

Mountain Range Murton Mitts

Gore Tex outer mitts with pile inners, these were the winter hand protectors of justice.

I wore these a lot, the palms gripped axes really well and they were nice and warm. The palm grip material is rubbery feeling with a bit of stretch to it, although it looks like the mitts are a sensory deprivation device, they really weren’t, buckles and zip pulls were no source of frustration. That’s old school zips by the way, something I will be returning to too soon.

Wrist cinches, long cuffs with adjusters and well shaped.

Mountain Range were never sexy, their gear was plain and practical. GoreTex Taslan everywhere.
Now that is a name that instantly takes me to a time and a place.
The pile inners seen below were great in the tent, nice and warm. I wonder why I gravitated to Buffalo Mitts from these, pack size probably? The Murtons are definitely better on the move.

Made in Cumbria it says on the label. Imagine that.

Terra Firma Explorer Socks (I think…)

It was once advised that walkers wear red socks for visibility, not to each other, but to search parties. There’s a thought.
“Okay, the casualty is lying in heather at the bottom of the crag, he is wearing a tweed jacket and deerstalker with moleskin plus-fours. The good news is that he was indeed wearing red socks as advised, if we’re lucky he’ll have them pulled up to the knee which will gives us a better chance of finding him before spring…”.

Anyway. I’m sure a mob called Terra Firma made these, the name is lodged at the back of my head. Tiso did them I think? Actually quite nice socks, the loops are still loopy, the construction is wool and something else. I’ve got another pair of similar vintage which are worn right down, the wool is gone at the heels but a suspected nylon web remains.

Really long. Cozy or sweaty, we shall see.

Meraklon Liner Gloves

I have been finding these polypropylene liners everywhere since I’ve been rummaging. Glad I kept them, they’ve doubled in price to around a fiver these days.
Still a handy* bit of kit, they keep the chill off more than the spit-through thin fabric suggests and they last as well.
These were balled up and stuffed into rucksack lid that hasn’t been opened in nearly 20 years. A wee wash and they’re as good as new.

Hmm. Might try that same trick on my truck.

*Ha.

 

20YOC gear: Baselayers. North Cape (RIP) & Lowe Alpine (partial RIP)

Underwear…

The Science of moisture management.

Finding decent vintage underwear was a mix of triumph and despair. My main goal was finding both intact and in an unlikely size large, some Jack Wolkskin Polartec pants variants. No joy.

Back in the day the Green Welly at Tyndrum had a wee outdoor shop stuck behind the garage where the basic cafe is now. In here was a rack of Jack Wolfskin baselayers of all designs, mostly in grey marl but also some wacky striped stuff. I got a few things from there over the years but it was my lower half I was looking to get covered right now.
I was hoping to find either the long legged boxers or the wind briefs or whatever they were called, basically Polartec 100 (as it was then) with a bit of Pertex sewn over the crotch. Hideous yes, but also practical. And potentially amusing.
Nowhere to be seen though, probably worn to death, shredded and binned many years ago. Ah well.

I was happier once again when I found my tops, which I knew I still had lurking somewhere, my North Cape Coolmax Long Sleeve Henleys.

Not sure how old these are. The blue one is the end of the 90’s I think, the orange one is older. I absolutely love these, if I hadn’t been lured away by the first wave of modern merino I would probably have worn these until they fell apart.
The fit is excellent, slim overall, a long body, long sleeves and excellent articulation from the simple construction and decent stretch in the fabric. The cuffs are nice, low bulk and long so they slip under gloves and jacket cuffs and reach right down to base of my thumbs.

The collar is excellent, I like crew necks. I rarely wear zip necks now, in winter I don’t need to vent, in summer I wear a trekking shirt or a polo, which has buttons like this Henley and a sun deflecting collar. The three buttons aren’t a hassle, they’re grippable with light gloves and don’t catch chest hair like zips can.

The construction (done in Springkerse Industrial Estate, Stirling) is neat with a mix of flat locked and serged seams, no stitching has ever popped and no seam has ever rubbed.
I’ve been wearing these the past couple of weeks and while the fabric does manage moisture a tiny bit slower than current fabrics and a couple of days wear might bring some odours tiny bit quicker than you might expect these days, I’m not seeing any disadvantage to wearing these given that they are supremely comfortable.

It’s a shame that North Cape are defunct, the only stuff I can can compare it to in recent times is maybe Chocolate Fish (also defunct) and Wild Stripes. Like North Cape their gear is functional and to the point with great fabrics and welcome, basic construction.

I’m getting pissed off with every layer having to be sexy and trying to make me look like an athlete in a pose from a brand catalogue (virtual obviously, we don’t do paper any more).
I look at a current base layer and there’s seams all over the bloody thing and the arm lift is still inferior to the plain stuff above. What the hell is that all about? “Put seams on it, make body mapping zones, it’ll look technical”. No, it looks like you’re trying too hard to impress me, stop it, it’s a lot of pish.

The shops I bought the North Cape’s in are dead and gone too, the wee independents of Challenge Sports in Falkirk and Dry Walker in Edinburgh.

The oldest pants I can find are these Lowe Alpine boxers. I’ve used plenty Dryflo over the years, in fact a bright red three button Dryflo henley long sleeve top from the mid 90’s was a contender for the shirt but it was just too damned tight on me now.
Y-fronts though. Hmm.

Fabric’s okay, not the best stretch, the crotch shaping is pretty good though, nicely 3D. I suppose they’re just the purchasing choice of a 34″ waisted bloke in his late 20’s or early 30’s, I’m not that guy, but I made a deal with myself about going all vintage. Just breathe in I suppose. Clench too maybe.

Lowe Alpine made some excellent clothing, Triple Point shells were all over the hills at one point and they championed eVent early on too. Just branded packs from the Equip group now. Bummer.

20YOC Gear: Karrimor K-SB 3 Original

I found these the other day and took them into the Kilpatricks the other night (blog post below this one I think?) to see how I got on with them again. It went well enough, the overall fit is still good although the heel cup is a little roomier than I like these days, but I can dial that down a bit with socks and insoles.
The sole isn’t the grippiest on the muddly conditions around the Lang Craigs just now but I’m used to slidey trail shoes so I quickly forgot I was wearing them and spent a fine few hours wandering, trouble free.

So, the KSB’s are in my kitlist. I even found 3 of the original 4 insoles – two thin versions and one of the double thickness volume reducers, a nice touch from the original Karrimor. They’ve taken a kicking back in the day, but I’ll try them out before I likely go for some current Sole insoles to help with the heelcup thing, I don’t want a single blister thanks very much. There are some retro items I don’t want to revisit.

I think these are from ’96 or ’97. In ’95 the logo on the tongue was different and by ’97 only the Gore Tex lined version was available.
Branded by and manufactured by Garmont who over the years had some nice collaborations with Karrimor. Asymmetric ‘ADD’ lacing ? Yes please.

So, the exact words from Karrimor in their ’97 workbook…
K-SB 3 Original
The boot that changed our thinking about lightweight boots has become the classic 3-season suede/Cordura boot.
The KSB-3 has been used and abused on some of the toughest trails worldwide and keeps getting better.
Recommended use: Back packing, fell walking, scrambling, even mountain biking.
Features: >’Original’ frameflex insole >Skywalk dual density sole >Antibacterial footbed
Weight: 630g
Sizes: (UK, whole and half sizes): Men’s 6.5-12
Colour: Sage (51-236/37)
Price: £90

I haven’t weighed them, so can’t confirm or refute the original figure. After the trip I’ll do that and do some sort of comparison to current kit. Or something.
They feel okay though and they are light enough on my feet. The ankle cuff is really high, winter boot high and it’s pretty stiff laterally although forward flex is good. It almost feels like they’ve got some breaking in still to do, so I’ll wear them a wee bit before I carry overnight kit in them.
The cuff and tongue are gusetted right to the top, excellent for keeping crap out and would have been great in the GTX version if the liner went right up to the top.

The inner is lined with some fuzzy stuff with a honeycomb matrix in it, kinda looks like Cambrelle but it’s not named in the spec so maybe aye, maybe naw? Whatever, it does seem to wick sweat away but might there might be some insulative qualities there too, either from the lining, the upper construction or both as these are quite a warm pair of boots.

Neat stitching, tidy construction with clean lines and classic good looks. These KSB’s are approachable and utilitarian, a boot for a purpose that isn’t trying to make you look sexy or sell itself on a busy web page.
Look at a typical modern boot aimed at a similar market to this old timer and you see lots of different fabrics, lots of stitching, lots of glue, lots of plastic, a formula one car for your feet that will fray and unravel long before you have a chance to pack it away for a rainy day like these KSB’s.

What the hell happened? 20 odd years later, how much weight saving in our gear have we traded for a shorter life and making more waste. I’ve trashed maybe twenty or thirty of pairs of Montrail’s, Salomon’s and Inov8’s over the last ten year or so. Is there an equation or an equivalence over time here that will shame us and the manufacturers or are we actually doing better now and I’m an idiot?
I said years back that we need a simple lightweight trail mids in natural materials and I think that more than ever right now.
This 20 year thing started as a bit of fun, nostalgia, but now it’s really making me think too.

I will learn more as I go. I will grin a lot, but I think I might occasionally rage too. Just wait until I get to waterproof jackets.

Inscribe 50 Colouring Pencils Made in Holland

It was an interesting week, work was convoluted and happily constant. I do enjoy the ultimate contrasting experience of being busy and skint.
I’d also been to the hills, had an unexpected breakfast with a pal, ran around, rummaged and pretty much used up all my waking hours doing something or other.
I got home at tea time on Friday and sat in my chair. Nice.

However my chair looks across the Clyde to a row of wee tops and those remaining white streaks were catching a little evening sun. I stood back up,went to the window and looked right to the tail of the bank. It was hazy, was that rain? It was a golden fuzz of some sort anyway. It was mostly clear above though and the sun would be down in about half an hour. That’ll be nice I thought to myself.

Aye. Telly back off, gear packed and out. The best thing about being “back” is that my gear is sitting there ready to go, no hassle, no hunting for stuff, just grab and go. Funny how that arrangement only seems obvious now, note to self etc…

I marched up the track, figuring it might be marginally faster than unlocking the gates and driving up. I was racing the sun the whole time, as I gained height, it slipped a little further into the bands of cloud on the horizon.
On the steep track to the bench on the ridge I slipped into the lead while the sun fumbled a gear change and lost momentum. Yes please.

The place was all mine, mine and the sky’s, time and space to just stop and wait for nothing to happen.
I bimbled the grassy ridge to Round Wood Hill as the colours bled through every hue of orange, red, gold and purple that you could find in the bumper coloured pencil box you got from santa in 1973.
The cool blues and browns eventually took it all away as I reached the top of the track and I headed down with thoughts of dinner while pulling on a beanie and zipping my top up to my chin. The sun is actually warm when you can see it, science is a wonderful thing.

 

The Man In Black

Gateway to adventure? Ha.

The blue sky was no less alluring when viewed through my dirty windscreen as I spun around the bustling metropolis of Dumbarton.
Mother’s car wouldn’t start, Holly was having a home lunch, there was a control engineer on his way to meet me on the other side of Glasgow. It was a nice day for everything to go wrong.
An hour later, it was all fine. Jump leads, truck redirection, phone calls and lunch. It was all resolved too quickly, I now had an afternoon where what I was supposed to have been doing I was now doing the day after.

That blue sky though.

I got the last space at the side of the road, even this late in the afternoon folk were still up there. On a Monday too. Good effort people.
I got ready nice and fast, more familiar kit, no chances were to be taken. My pack was light, it was comfy, every drawcord was where I’d left it, my bottle was just where my hand went to find it. Oh yes, this is the way to do it.
I stuck my camera and tripod on my front pouch, in recent times this had felt like an inconvenience, not anymore, it was time to play.

The sun was a little lower than I expected, the softer light was draining a little of the blue from above and it felt warm, in tone and in temperature. I sweated up the track on a wide, windless ridge.
I paced myself, I rested and sipped from my old oval Sigg, I examined every footstep for a twinge from a knee which never came. I just took it easy, I stopped worrying, I stopped overthinking and I just looked around me as I climbed, step after step, breath after breath.
Walking is just a simple mechanical motion, so why was I feeling brighter with every step? I could feel my lack of hill fitness with every vertical metre claimed but it didn’t hurt at all.

A paraglider arced above the loch to land in a field at Luss. Silent and slow, over too quick, it must have been beautiful enough to not feel the long climb to the launch.

It got a little colder, a little darker and the air was now moving past me fast enough to be noticed and it was going through my top as well, so I pulled on a windshirt and beanie.
The snow was creeping slowly from white to something else, a wash of pink and gold, a hint of sunset. The frozen grass sparkled in jagged shapes all around me, I think if I’d kicked through it as I walked the air would have been full of chimes as the long iced blades swung against each other.

The summit was cold. The sun was nearly down and the eastern horizon was a strip of pink fading into indigo. Ben Lomond was showing me it’s widest aspect, a block of shining pink reflecting the last of the day back across the loch. A scattering of lenticular clouds formed and hovered, sucking up the last of the light and sending the sun over the ridge to the west.
I was late when I left, but I’d still caught it. The grin was wide, the little voice inside was shouting at me. Yes, yes, I hear you, I know, I know.

I’d descended north to find shelter, hunger had suddenly moved past the view in order or priorities, I need a hot drink. A hot drink, insulation and bigger gloves. The temperature dropped sharply.
My dear old mother had thrown me together some pieces (sammidges, for google translate) as I’d passed through and as the stove came to the boil I tore into my cheese, ham, apple and stawberry jam on bread. The utter joy of it.

My little corner was good, out of the wind with a view north to the Arrochar Alps. There were some northern lights a bit further north the night before and I know there’s a chance this far south but the sky went to black and stayed that way. All this was enough anyway.
I could feel the gap between my 3/4 longjons and my rolled down socks, it was getting really cold. I pulled up my socks. So that’s what lower leg zips are for.
I pulled down my hood to have a proper look around and instantly regretted it, the cold felt like a solid, physical object as it hit my head. I put my hood back up and it stayed there until I took my down jacket off when I was nearly back at the truck.

Another cuppa was made and the ridge was paced in circles to keep the heat in my toes. The wind was strong but not strong enough to push me, it felt calm and quiet, it was peaceful here in the dark.
I packed up and I still lingered. I looked at the dim horizon, a jagged line from west to east, a line I have walked every uneven angle of, every top I could just make out has personal bookmark, a memory, a face or a moment in time long past and it drifted back on faded waves of joy and melancholy as I stood there in the dark.
As my crampons crunched me homewards over the last rounded top before the long descent I found my head fuller than it was when I started.
They say you can go to the mountains to lose yourself, but then they also say you can go to the mountains to find yourself. It’s also been said that “The soul of the gael is on the summit of the mountain“. Maybe it’s a little of each.

My headtorch cut out, the little flash had warned me and I was ready for it but I wasn’t ready for the way the sky picked up the slack. The crescent moon and riot of stars in crystal clear air was stunning. I looked up and spun slowly around until I was dizzy.
So close to home but so far from worry and oh, look at the time, Holly would be coming home from guides. I smiled at that as I picked up the downhill pace. I’d showed her my base layer before I left, she looked at the orange and purple stripes for a while and issued her statement “Hmm. Dad, never wear that in front of me again”.
The ultimate parental superpower, the power of embarrassment. Awesome.

 

20YOC Gear, Coleman, Ajungilak and Rab.

I’m enjoying this. I was looking for an old Camping Gaz (as it was, now it’s Campingaz and much harder to say, and indeed look at) canister top stove and found this Coleman Alpine instead.
This was a great stove in its day, low and stable so excellent for use in a tent porch. The remote canister adds to the stability and means you can keep the gas can warm or run it upside down (very carefully so it doesn’t flare) as the burner has a preheat tube to evaporate the the liquid fuel into gas before it gets to the burner.
The pot stand is wide and grippy, just not as good for the smaller pots I use these days. The burner is well shaped, great on the smaller pots I use these days. Hmm.
It’s chunky with a large pack size and getting a little heavy, don’t know the grammes, I can just feel it, but it doesn’t look too far away from what would catch my eye today.
No idea about fuel useage, I’ll see what happens. In general though, I think this will work just fine.

Age is mid 90’s, this went to Morvich camp site on my first ever Five Sisters trip around ’97. Some trips stay with you. I do think the hose is newer though, the original might have been the orange rubber that always cracked and the hose clips look like I did them: rough.

Pots are going to be a problem. I had a kettle thing I used with this. It died tragically years back when on an engineering contract with no power and no water.
I was heating the kettle for our tea with an oxygen/acetylene torch because we didn’t have anything else on the first day. It went well at first, then it went all wrong.

Sleepy times will be familiar indeed, from the mid 90’s is this Ajungilak Kompakt 3. From Ajungilak of Norway made in England by Snuggledown of Norway UK, now of course made in China by Mammut of Switzerland. It’s a small world.

I loved this bag when it was new, silky smooth inside and cut a little wider than I’m used to now which will be nice and comfy but it’ll probably make it a little cooler than I’d like.
Smooth running zip, terrible old school shoelace style adjusters, a well shaped hood and a huge pack size due to the beefy synthetic fill. It’s still pretty fat feeling so I think it’ll insulate well enough.

It’s a wee bit fusty, so I did think about getting it washed in giant washing machine somewhere. Might just air it outside for a few days, see if that freshens it up.

Just in case it is a bit cooler, I have this rather old Rab fleece sleeping bag liner. I think it’s karisma fleece, the wind resistant stuff used in among other places, the front of old Karrimor Alpiniste fleece’s, old Mountain Equipment Ultrafleece jackets and currently by Hilltrek on a rather nice looking smock and some er, joggers too.
The shape fits the Kompakt (maybe I bought it for it?) and the drawcorded opening is wide enough to wriggle out of quick enough for a pee at 1am.
Simple, even dull bit of kit which I’ll use if I need to. The weather will decide.

The stuff sack is teal. Where did teal go to?

Straight Outta Trostland

It looked cold. Cold or raining in the truck is fine when I’m solo, with the two of us and our gear in there and it’s standing room only. Except there’s no room to stand.
We drove into the sun, looking for the snow. We found both, sometimes one at a time, sometimes at the same time. I came late to this winter but it’s lingering just enough for me to feel that I haven’t missed it altogether.

The tops came and went, the glens swirled, the blue patches tore past as the sun picked out patches on the slopes like it was a searchlight chasing an escapee who’d made over the wall. The Southern Highlands were showing themselves at their best.

Some red cheeks and muddy gaiters along the way were evidence that the ridges and tops had been attempted, I wonder how many times the winds and spindrift won today.

This man was a winner, with a grin forged from the trail and an accent from far away, he left us with some photies on his phone and words fished up from experience (whether he wanted them or not) on his way north on the West Highland Way. What a perfect time to be doing it, his next two days will be spectacular in these conditions. Bridge or Orchy to Ft Bill. Oh, that sounds nice.

 

Gearing up for a 20 year old challenge

This is going to be a landslide of contradictions. But so am I, so what the hell.

After a year out I’ve been updating myself, seeing what’s new, confirming to folk I’m not dead yet, seeking out any exciting or revolutionary ideas. Even evolutionary ideas would do.
There’s tinkering, there’s cosmetic changes under the guise of performance updates, there’s recycling (of ideas, not fabrics), dull colours in the shops and still there’s an inability of the outdoor world to admit defeat and just put Dr. Martens Air Cushion Soles on all outdoor footwear. Really.
I’ve got some new kit in already, stuff that I do like the look of, but in general I’m not that inspired yet.

The season by season rush has continued, product produced to price points and deadlines instead of innovation and ideas being honed and released when they’re ready.
My first thought when looking at this aspect again was watching David Attenborough talking about the plastic in the oceans while patting a sad looking Polar Bear. It then cuts to him squaring up to Donald Trump and punching him right in the face. Every night this programme is on. Just after I fall asleep.

The plastic worry is real though. I don’t care how many swing tags outdoor kit has on it saying recyclable, ethical, or green, it’s still part of the problem and we all know it. A swing tag should never dull our conscience.
So what do we get in return for killing the planet just a little bit more? With this season’s latest developments are we really more comfortable in the rain at 900m? Is that tent that fits in your pocket giving you the best sleep of your life? Are the adverts talking a lot of shite and we just give away our money too easily?

I’ve used a lot of gear. In the past 11 years pretty much every trip I’ve been on has been with review kit of some kind and I’ve gotten used to that, the unfamiliar is now familiar. The truth is that most current kit is okay, I’ve never had anything genuinely bad. The biggest difference is in how it works for you, your body shape, how hot you get, do your ears stick out, do you need lots of pockets because you’re a faffy bastard.

But I love it. Seeing a sharp mind somewhere has tweaked something in a way I didn’t expect making something better, smoother operating or lighter. There’s a real joy in that. It’s not about the gear, it’s about the person behind it.
The best time I had with this was when I was on the OMM Lead User Group, working on new designs and evolving the existing. Seeing the ideas forming, the little lights going on above folks heads and being put on paper then appearing as samples taught me that gear isn’t just product to sell, good gear is someone making something because they think it’ll work and they want to use it too.
I’ve still got sample stuff that never saw the light of day, good ideas that were never quite finished. How many times does that happen across the many design teams? Newer ideas always come along though. People are good at that.

So, all these contradictions have been swirling about in my head the past couple of weeks, and it got me to thinking. How much have things really changed since I got sucked into the outdoor gear arms race in the 90’s. I was in army surplus before that, maybe a Javlin jacket (see, there was purpose to that old advert) along the way?
I noticed right away what I’d been missing when I wore Gore-Tex for the first time, when I wore Polartec 100 over a Smelly Helly. What I haven’t noticed is the difference from then to now.
How far have we really come? Are current fabrics really that much better than they were? Are we really just a wee bit better and just styled differently?

I want to know.

In recent times I’ve been clearing cupboards and attic boxes and finding all sorts of stuff. It’s partly this that got me thinking about old versus new in amongst so many memories, so much stoor, so much purple lycra.
With this in mind I have set myself a task of sorts, a 20 year old challenge.

One bit at a time I’m going to see if I can put together an entire kit list for an overnighter with gear that’s at least 20 years old, then head out with it.
It’s entirely pointless, but I think it’ll amuse me putting it all together.

I do mean entire kit list, socks and boxers as well as shell jacket and compass. I’ve been mentally ticking stuff off that I know is stored away somewhere and some things I’m not sure about. A tent might be iffy, I sold my Rab Glacier down jacket years ago so I’m hunting for something that I only have a vague memory of. I think it was blue though.
It’s surprising what I still have around, there will be some cleaning and maintenance I dare say, but it’ll put it together. I’ll let it slip a little if I have to though, maybe make the space year 2000 a cut off. We’ll see.

However, first up and the spark for it all. the Petzl Zoom.

I’ve had this for more than 25 years. It’s been so many places, shone a light on so many things and I found it caked in crap on the top shelf in the workshop where it’s been for maybe 15 years.
This was the torch to have back in the day. The bezel rotates to change from a wide to a focus beam and the yellow light would dim slowly as the huge and heavy 4.5V battery drained ever faster as you got closer to the car park.
It should still work, I’ll strip it and clean it, get it powered up. The straps are replacements, it was a bright green and sky blue pattern originally but they stretched out and had to go. Maybe these ones which still have a bit of elasticity in them are where the colour obsession started?

I can still get the big batteries or convert it to AA’s, even put an LED in it, but I’ll keep it as original as possible I think. Damn though, it’s just so big.
Anyway, that’s the first thing sorted. I’m sure there’s an old stove in the garage…

Crossing the road

We looked in the fridge and weren’t inspired. “Out for breakfast then?” The A82 was under the loose grip of a grey and shifting sky, thoughts of food and a galavant were more inspiring than the weather.
Luss was pretty quiet, it’s the calm time before easter brings with it the first of the summer-long waves of neds that make the place a no-go area at the weekends.
Breakfast was shared with the ducks, who were very insistent today. What’s on their minds, what are their plans? I’ve been watching them a long time, there’s been an ongoing power struggle between the old drake with the faded beak and scar (really, he looks awesome) and the skinny youngster with the bright feathers. The old timer is holding on but the massed feathered minions seem to be hanging back, watching and waiting before they pick a side.
I think if junior stages a successful coup, the Luss car park will be a very different place indeed.

Now well fed and with pockets full of soor plooms and fudge for ongoing refueling we headed a little further north to Firkin Point. To most this is a bog standard car park and toilet facility, somewhere to use and discard a disposable barbecue, somewhere to walk your dog and leave the bags of shite in the undergrowth for someone else to deal with.
But a few feet away on either side is a walk into the past, my own past as well as the lochside’s. Here runs the old road, the original A82 which clung to the water’s edge like the silver trim on the hem of a deep blue ballgown.
There’s 4km of the road left, and it’s just as I remember it when I used to drive it 30 years ago. I suppose it’s not unlike to the road north of Tarbet, but closer to the water here, you really feel you’re by the loch. I loved it then as spun along in my Escort van, I love it now too, especially on a day like this.

The previous grey of Luss was now finding some energy. The wind was getting up and the loch was getting choppy. The colours were drained from the slopes above us and across the loch, the snow line faded up into the lowering cloud as a cold rain pattered down as we walked.
We reached the north end of the road and turned back, the pattering on our hoods was now heavy rain in our faces. It was funny at first then our cheeks were stinging and our glasses were wet, looking up meant we couldn’t see a thing. We marched past the little beaches we had played on on the way there, looking down so we could keep our glasses clear, by the time we got to Firkin Point we were almost running.
I got the truck heating up as quick as I could and my soaking wet jeans pulled every hair out of my legs as I squirmed around trying to find my bag of industrial wipes somewhere behind the drivers’ seat to help dry us a off a bit.
We were soon sitting quite happily though, warming up, snacking once again and waiting for the windscreen to clear so we could hit the road home. Aye, not a bad wee excursion.

Animal House

I gave a talk at Holly’s school last year, the different classes were exploring different subjects of Scottish life, history and environment and when Ben Nevis was mentioned I knew I take them out of classroom theory a wee bit and give them some first hand stuff.

We soon expanded on the plan and we had a crammed classroom full of kids dressed in down gear and ripping the floor up in crampons as well as a virtual walk over Carn Mor Dearg and Nevis I put together from a trip a while back.

I also put a wee photie competition together: spot the wildlife.

At the time and again last night when I was putting the folder for the talk into an external drive I was surprised by just how few shots of wildlife I have.
Every trip I’ve had has in it somewhere a memory of some creature doing something or other that made me laugh or wince or stop and watch. But when it came to finding something to show the youngsters, I ended up having to scan some stuff from old prints.

The eagle and the crow dogfight above Glen Affric? Memories only. Dammit man. I did however snap the line of deer on the corniced ridgeline above a couple of hours later.

The mountain hare on Beinn a Chaorainn was a solo performer, the mass band on Ben Chonzie that skipped around us as we tramped the slopes? In my mind files only.
I actually think I was taking a photie of that stove in the observatory ruins on Nevis below and that wee snow bunting got in the way.

Caught on film on the summit of Ben Hope, a ptarmigan clearly not shocked and stunned by visitiors to its lonely perch.
I love ptarmigans, they should be our national bird, they represent the national psyche more than a golden eagle. But that complex explanation is for another day.
I do actually have a lot of ptarmigan photies, but this old one is my favourite. A happy day that was.

It wasn’t so long back that the bird below was soaring above my camp on Sgurr an lubhair. Is it as buzzard, a raven, a golden eagle? The silhouette can be read as any of those on the full size shot.
I don’t even know if I was snapping the view or the passerby.

No conclusions being made here, no planned changes to the approach, just mermorical (did I just make up a word? awesome) musings.
Anyway, sometimes I do zoom right into the wildlife. Maybe I should do it more often.

There was snow this week.

The truck was going nowhere from Wednesday onwards, school was shut etc, so this week was all about cuppas and walking to Granny’s to have cuppas there as well. There was frequent playing in the snow too, followed by lots of wet clothes and more cuppas.

Walking home was fun. Holly entered into the spirit of the daily trek in a doomed polar expedition fashion which I think she carried off very well.
Hold on, someone’s at the door, I think it’s the council’s child services…

This week will pass into legend, this’ll be the one the kids will quote in years to come as “You think this is bad? You should have seen in back in ’18, I was just ten then…”.
It’s been a nice respite from reality for us, we were prepared and safe at home when it all happened. I know others will have different stories to tell.

The ever muddier looking snow banks will linger for a while, but life will return to normal and now running a week behind on Monday.

I’ll catch up then. Maybe.

 

Blå Band

I had some Blå Band sample dried meals in the cupboard for review and this week’s trip came along at the right time, the expiry date wasn’t too far away.
Lots of leftover gear from my days at Walkhighlands, I’ll be doing some of it on here when I can be arsed.

The bags I like, a shallow shape that’s easy to fill as you can see the markings inside easy enough, they sit nice and stable with a wide-ish base and you don’t get your gloves covered in dinner as even the shortest of sporks can reach in without receiving a saucy finger. They say the packaging insulates as well, I dunno though, it’s thick with a reflective inner but nothing too fancy in the material or construction that I can see.
Instructions for rehydrating the contents are easy enough, the decilitres water measurement was amusing, don’t think I’ve seen that on anything since I was at school. I stuck to the stated prep times on both meals with the bags wrapped up in my sleeping bag hood and they were indeed fully softened, hydrated and still warm enough to be enjoyed rather than tolerated.

Dinner was Wilderness Stew which is mainly reindeer chunks in rice. This was genuinely tasty, the chunks were big enough to have a wee bit of chewing and small enough to fully hydrate. There was texture all the way through and recognisable bits of veg were evident on my spoon. With McK’s triangle oatcakes, I was rather happy with dinner.
Breakfast was Apple Cinnamon Porridge, soft, warm and tasteless. It had a decent texture, no dry flakes were found after the correct prep time, but despite having all the things I like advertised as being in it, all I could taste were oats. Fine if that’s what you’re after, but on a camp morning I need a little sparkle to get my feet into cold socks.

Prices vary, in the Green Welly we spotted that these could be had for nearly £9, on the distributors site they sell direct for £6.75 for the reindeer and £5.75 for the oats.
It’s a lot of money for convenience, but the weight is good as is the prep results. I would be tempted by the stew again, I really liked that. But Quakers Oats So Simple are a fiver for four pots and they’re awesome, plus the little pot is actually a great rubbish bin at camp in in my pack – something I’ll get back to, meant to talk about this years ago.

Otter 2: Whiskers of Ice

“Meet somewhere in the middle for a camp”. It was that message that made the difference. So long out, so many other things on my mind, a winter peak in a tent looked a little out of my grasp. Not for lack of knowledge or experience, certainly not desire or equipment, but confidence and fitness were like warning signs bolted to the closed gates that led back to my mild adventuring.

“Meet somewhere in the middle for a camp”. The only possible reply to that was “When?”.

Oh, as soon as that? Better get my shit together then.

Getting my gear sorted was pretty straight forward. I just pulled together old favourites, well worn and years old, there was to be no surprises.
I walked the Lang Craigs with a renewed purpose, pushing the footsteps a little harder, seeing what the knee would say, watching what the lungs would answer back. The minor grumblings could be easily drowned out with some whistling or singing. Both a little breathless.

It wasn’t a big route, but it was the best looking of the half dozen possibles we’d thought of, somewhere I hadn’t been near in maybe 20 years and somewhere Gus hadn’t seen. A secluded loch, a ring of mountains and a track all the way there and beyond. And back again we assumed.

The A82 was an obstacle course of potholes and emergency roadworks. I should probably say that if felt homely and familiar like that, but no. Fix it you bastards.

Hadn’t seen Gus in a long time. In fact, I haven’t seen a lot of people in along time, the faces scattered through these pages are very dear to me and I look forward to squinting into sunlight or spindrift with them once again.
Lunch in Tyndrum, banter, catching up on life and bitching about the state of the the outdoor trade. We might have sat there all afternoon, but the sun was getting lower already.

It really was, without even trying, late when we left.

Getting ready in the carpark was funny, we’d both brought the exact same packs and shell jackets, same colours and everything. It’s a Haglöfs thing I suppose, no avoiding it for either of us.
A mum and daughter team appeared from over the little hill that leads to the trail. Junior was on a little bike, suited up and bright red cheeked from the biting cold, mum walking and carrying the kit. The smiling faces were a joy to see.
Banter ensued as they packed their car for a sprint to the chippy, there was even a discussion on the merits of purple outdoor gear as we all had it on. See, it’s not just me.
More returnees with tales of the tops were greeted before we finally hit the trail. Busy for a Monday.

My big-print map I’d printed off made the route look short and sweet, but the same starting feelings were there that I have on any walk. The wee adjustments to my pack as the straps and waist belt settle into me and my clothing over the first few minutes. Starting cold and warming up, pulling down the chest zip to find that happy medium. My heart and breathing settling back down to tickover after the initial high revs from setting off.
By the time we’d cleared the buildings, the signs and the fences, we were both running smoothly into the dusk. A pale moon sneaked out from behind the cloud and the white skyline glowed faintly ahead, now seeming further away.

The trail weaved forward as the light retreated. The river had taken a fresh swing at the bank and the deer fence now hung over a deep pool, capped with ice, the land with the path on it now deep below it somewhere. We retreated and crossed the fence into the boggy forest plantation and kinda lost the thread a bit. Back over the fence further on in the dark Gus fancied some stepping stones, he would in his nice new and still waterproof boots. My idea of tripping over hummocky grass in the dark was much better. There was a bridge a bit further on anyway. It creaked and swayed above the icy river. Very atmospheric I’m sure.

On the south side of the river was easy going, the ruts of the landrover track were dry or iced hard. We climbed a little and the sound of water rushing over rock had us stopping and peering towards it through the dark. Big rocks and trees in there, that would be a fine camp, but the noise?
The moon was casting our shadows in front of us now, it wasn’t quite full, but plenty bright enough to walk without torches. It was cold, it was clearing above us and the peaked skyline ahead was a ribbon of silver as the loch came into view over the last rise on the track.
It wasn’t too much further before we saw what looked like a good spot, if we could get to it. It wasn’t an island, it might be at times by the look of it, but not right now. It’s been lashed by westerlies all it’s life, but the big boulder at it’s middle has held onto some land and kept this rocky spit from being washed away making for an almost perfect camp spot.
The views, excellent water supply, an easily defensible approach from the land side? Honey, we’re home.

I was fighting with the camera. Gone was the second nature adjustment then a point and click, I was peering at the dial and the screen trying to make sense of it and remember what I wanted. Some of it came back, some of it stayed fuzzy, in my mind and on the virtual film. I didn’t get frustrated at the time and I wasn’t annoyed looking through the shots back at home. It’s just images of us having fun, I didn’t need anything else, maybe that’s balance, freedom? Time will tell, it’s not like this is a once off event.

The headtorches came out for the detail of tent pitching. It wasn’t long before the familiar shapes were up and the sound of silence was roughened at the edges by gas stoves jetting our eagerly awaited dinner ever closer.
It was now completely clear above. The brightest stars twinkled through the moon’s silver wash over the indigo sky and the first of the night’s sprinkle of shooting stars scored a pure white vertical line into the mountains to the north.
It was cold, but I couldn’t feel it. A warm dinner, reindeer chunks in rice, and SuperFreak Californian red. Running around with the camera, breaking the ice to pick up water, filling the pot, running back to refill and having to rebreak the ice, it was all go.

It was also perfect. If I had been apprehensive about whether I’d lost my ability to do this stuff, is wasn’t even a whisper of a memory now.
All I felt was joy and contentment. Actually that swapped over with giddy childlike excitement at times, I think I barely stopped to breathe between sentences at some points. I’m both surprised and grateful Gus didn’t knock me unconscious.

We sat in the dark, both chatty and silent, warm as the ice crept across our gear and the scenery. The moon swung slowly across the sky, throwing different shapes across the scenery. Beinn Suidhe beside us rose impressively and far beyond the mere numbers assigned to it on the map, at various times imaginary ski or ice routes passed through our midnight assessment while the mysterious Coire nam Ban was too white to be natural, was it the start of an inversion, was it a trick of the light?
Neither of us wanted to give this up, going to bed would be an end to it. A few ribbons of cloud scudded across the tops, catching on the moon before dispersing after the effort. I could have drank it all in forever.

But tiredness would not be denied. It had been a stiffer walk than expected, we had marched a little to make up for the late start. Hot chocolate was made, eyes were filled to the brim before the flysheets were zipped for the night.

A buffeting woke me, the tent moved and so did I. It was light, a grey light. I unzipped and looked, swirling cloud, a cold wind made my eyes water. I abandoned the attempt and buried my face back into my layer of down.
The second attempt went better as far as I unzipped the whole door and sat up. I looked out and grinned, I could live with this.

It didn’t look like it, but it was still frozen. The ice on the loch had broken up out from the shore in the night as the wind whipped up some waves, but the ice was thicker where we could get to it. “Doiiinnnnggg” was my first attempt to get water for breakfast.

The dull porridge was abandoned in favour of oatcakes and cheese with some running around our little peninsula on the side. Trying to set up a pose for a team photies was a giggle laced farce.

There was no escaping the beauty of the place. The dark had given it a mystery, a softeness and distance, but the early morning light brought life and drama in splashes of glorious colour.

I was cold when I got up at first, but was quickly warmed up despite the occasion light flurries of snow. We were either going that night or Thursday, which is tonight as I write this. The night where I walked to my folks house in snow shoes. I think we chose the right day.

Camp was as magnetic as it had been the night before. Excuses were made for more cuppas, wandering around, exploring, just staring at the view. It was just outstanding.

Looking east made us move. The snow was passing left and right, but looking back at Bridge of Orchy it seemed likely it was coming straight for us now.
Packing was easy, the packs a little smaller and lighter and it was a little easier to get moving. I fact, I felt great. I was fresh, I had energy, I was feeling that feeling, the one you get when you do this stuff and it goes just right.

A nearby hut was full DofE graffiti, or should I say more accurately cries for help and vows to never again venture into the outdoors. Poor wee buggers with their 75L packs and joyless tramping.

Different for us, bright skies and easy walking. The shapes of the night made sense now, the waterfall was much smaller than it sounded and although the creaky bridge looked like it’s been chewed lightly by Godzilla before he realised he wasn’t in Tokyo, it’s probably sturdy enough.

The stepping stones were stepped on, Gus followed my every step on them with his phone just in case I made an arse of it and ended up in the river. But no, not this time.
The sky greyed as we closed in on the car park, light flurries swirled around us and even the deer felt something was in the air as they didn’t flinch as we passed them by.
Back in the motors we were soon Tyndrum bound for hot food and warm cheeks in clean t-shirts and dry socks.

Every trip is the sum of it’s parts and this trip has left more parts in my head than I know what to do with. Everything was right, the time, the place and the company I kept.
Thank you Gus, thank you Loch Dochard, thank you me for not finding a lame excuse to duck out of doing it.

Standing at that lochside in the dark looking up, I felt that flutter inside. Days later I still feel it.

I think it might be addictive.

j

Oops.

In a previous life I tested outdoor gear, a subject which I will come back to at some point, an activity which kinda stopped me using my favourite stuff as much as I might have done. So when it came to digging deep in the vault and looking for my comfort blankets, my old red Laser Comp was the thing I wanted most.
My favourite tent of all time, not the model, just that particular tent. A beacon of joy in the dark, a frequent summit home, a reliable companion on many solo wanders, I needed it right now and for some reason when I found it, it was tied in a knot.


Why did I tie it in a knot. I’d obviously dried it after the last trip, it was clean and odour free, so what the hell was I up to. I turned over in my hands, the DIY dyneema guys hanging like tentacles on a skinny unconscious octopus. Perhaps the octopus was drugged. Who know what unsavory characters octopuses attract with their funny eyes and slinky movements.

Anyway.

I held the fly up to the light then tugged at ever cord and every stub of webbing one at a time until the obvious was in my hand. Dammit. An easy repair in my sewing machine, but not tonight. I should have done it at the time. Idiot.
Still, another old favourite was pulled out, the hole in that hadn’t gotten any bigger while it sat there doing nothing, so it’ll be fine. Probably.
Now onto stoves, let’s see… Oh, crap.

Yes, I made it. Holly had awesome stuff in her toybox when she was little.
Ah, if only maintenance was as fun and fannying about with Plasticine.

 

Looking That Way

It’s like riding a bike, as easy as falling off a log and an elephant never forgets.

None of that’s very helpful right now.

Rummaging through my backpacking kit is an odd experience. Comfortable and familiar but with a little distance to it, like being in the boxes in my folks attic. I keep finding things and going “Ah…” and “Ooh…” so many memories attached to inanimate objects. That old purple Jetboil just made me smile so damn wide.

I’m not in there to reminisce though, this is practice not theory. I know what to take, I know what to take it in, I’m nearly there with what to wear when I’m taking it, but I’m still a little adrift.

The legs and lungs, what are they going to say about it. Is Holly’s latest school plague virus going to take me down before I get to see if next weeks predicted polar vortex (that does sound like a SyFy or Horror Channel B-movie starring Michael Shanks) stops me before I start?

Questions and unknowns, it’s kind of exciting. Even if this ends on the couch, the desire is there and it’s too strong to ignore anymore.