Nice on Narnain

Somebody’s already been here, good for them.
This… Has turned out nice.
Beinn Narnain, one of my most favourite places in the world.
It’s got big gaps in it, so you have to be careful.
Oof.
Now this is the definition of happy times…

Tomorrow Belongs to Me

 

(Helps to know the tune)

The sun on the coire is wintry and low.
The stag in the forest makes a nice photie.
But gather together to read MWIS.
Tomorrow belongs to me.

The branch of the Scot’s Pine is spiky and green,
The loch rushes cold to the sea.
But somewhere a trig point awaits unseen.
Tomorrow belongs to me.

Now Forecast, Forecast, show us the sign
Your subscribers have waited to see
The morning will come
When the mountains are mine
Tomorrow belongs to me

Barn find

I’ve just been in a church attic digging through piles of fusty shite to get to old electrics that I suspected were at the root of the purpose of my visit.

I found manky pots and pans, an ancient wood and canvas stretcher, boxes of misc. shite, assorted cuttings of wood and right at the bottom a vintage Karrimor Totem Senior.

Negotiations have opened with the customer.

 

The Pacifier

Petesy heard a creak, a splash and what could have been a muffled cry somewhere behind him.

“Holly, did you hear that?” he called as he blinked into the low winter sun.

There was no reply, but he got on with lining up that important selfie anyway.

Seasonal Ranges are the Pits

Being back in the world of gear after a fashion one of my long term bugbears has returned to catch on my socks like the toenail that grew back in an odd shape after I tore it off one winter in Kintail many years ago.

Seasons.
A seemingly innocuous term for the flow of newness and imposition of order in the outdoor gear world. I believe however that it’s bullshit and causes more problems than it solves.

Also in the mix of this train of thought is a notion I had last year of revisiting and using just old gear. The scary hot summer tripped up that plan a wee bit but it did have me digging out, cleaning up and using old gear. That hasn’t stopped, I mix and match vintage and current kit all the time.
One of the thoughts was that I could happily trash my old kit around the Lang Craigs but what’s subtly happened is that I started to choose old gear first by preference and it doesn’t get trashed, that wee bit of extra weight seems to offer a disproportionate amount of durability. Interesting.

Nikwax sent me their whole range of kit which I’ve been applying and testing for many months and I’ve also been seam sealing, sewing and duct taping all over the place.
It’s adjusted my mind set a little. For ten years or more I’ve always been in the newest and the best, now I’m swapping that around with the older and, in some cases anyway, better.

There’s a lot of chat on Facebucket and Twatter about stuff like this just now and it’s probably fueled by a mix of things from nostalgia, to curiosity to environmental concerns. Whatever, folks are talking and thinking, so it’s a good thing.

I’m going to try and pull all this and more into a series of posts from my own experience and perspective. It’ll help me make some conclusions and might actually be useful or interesting to someone. Once I’m gone…

Spoiler Alert for the last page…
99% of old footwear is shite, modern is better here.

Anyway, seasons

Seasonal ranges artificially influence they way we perceive of the evolution and development of our gear. Tiny changes and tweaks every year, new colours, bolder claims, bigger plans that have to be funded by selling even more bland gear that’ll never see a mountain. I was in Tizo* last week and it’s just racks of uninspiring black and dark blue interchangeable dullness. Swap the logos around the jackets and no one would notice, characterless, generic alpine nonsense.

It’s so far removed from the user driven trade it once was, but that’s what expansion brings, it’s the nature of business. I’m not judging on that, just voicing my frustration as an enthusiast because of the effect it has on our choices.

Seasons are convenient, planned-out selling to shops and fixed dates to design and manufacture for. But materials and construction advances don’t run to a timetable and neither does inspiration and discovery.
Real advances come through accident, through feedback, through mistakes and through time.
While I was away from regular gear stuff very little has actually changed, I think LED tech is the only thing that’s really taken a big step, some fabric evolutions and everything else is styling. Which is not necessarily bad, retro is in after all. Reissue Rab Kinder smock anyone?

When I was with OMM’s Lead User Group, we worked on advances from testing samples, making adjustments and then testing those, when it was ready it was ready. That’s what you get when it’s a small independent, it was mobile and proactive. No giant factory ship to crew and feed while they wait for the next actually new thing to appear.

So is the new season bringing you something new?  Maybe, maybe not. You can’t properly measure progress in seasons, it takes years, in some places maybe decades. Seasons are good for business but bad for us, we come to expect new, assume it to be better, then we expect the same again in six months and I know all the gear isn’t that much better, I’ve spend a year proving it to myself.
In saying that, my current favourite combo is a current rather quirky current midlayer and 90s Gore Tex, more of which later.

*Made up name to protect the real retailer who I’m sure is very nice and totally didn’t make my daughter cry when she walked on their pretend stony path. Bastards.

It’s a thread I’ll continue, but it’s important to say that I’m not criticizing the designers or anyone else behind the scenes at the outdoor brands, I know enough of them now to know that there is passion and knowledge as well as huge capacity for practical application of their products. It’s just that most of them are welded to the rigid structure of big business now. It must be so frustrating at times. Imaging what these folks could do if set free from crosses on a calendar, we’d have the lightest, most durable, most ergonomic, most breathable… The brands would all go bankrupt too. See, I understand you have to have turnover in a big company, I just get twitchy thinking about this stuff.

So, pit zips.
The top one is from 1997. Multiple storm flaps with hard to manage velcro and a regular zip. Hard to operate, complex to manufacture and best left alone when wearing the jacket unless you’re really, really hot.
Next one down is a couple of years later, slightly simpler but still faffy, still bulky and complex, still a pain in the arse to use.

Then we have the early 2000s, water resistant zip with stitched and taped seams but with a storm flap (including a really clever wee bead in it that keeps it in place) because, you know, will this zip leak when in wears in? Usable and practical.
Below is current, a lightweight water resistant zip welded in. Easily used and you can’t even feel it on the jacket.

Fifteen years from first to last, that’s an example of evolution from available technology and probably also nudged along from Gore’s influence with the “Guaranteed to Keep You Dry” swing tags. As the zips got better, the external protection slipped away and disappeared.

More to come and the next one is called “Lightweight gear is rubbish, it wears out too fast”. I have evidence.

For the defence.

ISBJÖRN MONSUNE Hardshell Jacket Review

We’ve had the Monsune from Isbjörn on test since the tail end of last winter, so time for some words I think.

It’s in a two later fabric with a nylon outer which I like from a durability angle bonded to an own-brand waterproof and breathable membrane. The loose liner has mesh around the body and hood with microfibre in the arms, this is the best option for breathability and comfort, easier to get the arms down the sleeves whatever you’re wearing.
The fabric has a soft feel, it’s a supple jacket and doesn’t rustle or crinkle particularly under movement. Waterproofness is as described, breathability is hard to judge. While often out of breath and hot, the test subject would not sweat enough on a regular basis and so was always dry. Maybe that’s a sign though?
DWR is good, rain is still bobbling quite happily in most areas.

The cut is excellent, trim but not tight with excellent articulation, be as active as you want and the hem stays put. The body is pretty long, although the Monsune is a bit alpine looking, it’s definitely outdoor as your backside is covered. The arms are long too, high reaching or snowball throwing is fine, no bare wrists or waist.

The hood is a good shape and fits well on a bare or be-hatted head. The peak is stiffened, holds its shape in use and pulls back into shape just fine when balled up inside a pack in the walk in.
The adjustment is effective and the front cords are accessible and usable with gloves on. The rear volume adjuster is accessibly placed and the cord cinches in the right place but the cord lock isn’t tethered so it need two hands to operate it, this means it gets left alone. It’s a minor fix but it’s something they should look at.
There’s a soft chin guard/zipper garage for the chunky front zip.

The cuffs are velcro tabbed and half elasticated. It works fine and I had no complaints, tucking gloves in takes a few extra seconds which is why I prefer non elasticated cuffs, as well as the venting options, but it’s probably a personal preference thing.

The inside of the cuffs have a little clever addition. There are inner cuffs in a soft stretch fabric and there’s a hem in the lining with orange thread that you can let out to lengthen the inner arms. It tunes comfort as your arms grow and extents the life of the jacket a wee bit.

The napoleon chest pockets are huge and like the main zip have chunky YYK waterproof zippers. These zips have been okay, hard to tell for sure on the pockets as they don’t always get zipped back up all the way, even in the rain… The main zip has an inner storm flap in case anything gets through, but I’ve had no complaints.
The chest pockets have nice zipper garages and all the zips have grippable zip pulls.

Isbjörn have put together an excellent all round mountain or outdoor shell which I would happily wear, but as I’ve hinted at, this was Holly’s test jacket.
The spec is excellent, the hood and cut are spot on, Isbjörn haven’t made any compromises because the jacket is made for youngsters.

The fabric breathability performance is an unknown, kids just don’t sweat the same way as bigger folk, but that probably works out as money can be spent on design complexity instead of paying for a big name membrane, especially since the jacket has limited lifespan for the original wearer. Still, it’s well made and durable, the Monsune will go to someone else, it’s life isn’t over by a long way.
The fabric is Bluesigned and the DWR is fluorocarbon free, there’s a lot to commend the choices made in the design and construction.

Youngsters won’t wear stuff they don’t like, increasingly fashion conscious youngsters won’t even try stuff on they don’t like the look of. I’ve had no trouble getting Holly into the Monsune and she’s enjoyed it, pulling the hood up and grinning happily at even a hint or rain or snow.

Brilliant jacket. Hmm, I’m jealous.

556g for a size 146/152, current UK price £150

Trouser and base layer reviews on the way.

Ken III, King of Rannoch

We got up earlyish, well, I did anyway. I put music on loud and threw the bottom half of Holly’s duvet over the top half so she would cook/suffocate while also getting cold feet. I felt certain this would get her on the move. It did eventually.
Send me a message on the contact form (I think there still is one?) if you want parenting advice.

A fine breakfast at granny’s and we were on the road despite the rain. After missing out on anything interesting never mind exciting on Saturday, we were going north anyway.
It was atmospheric, lots of greys, but still magic. Lots of fresh snow on the roads as well as the hills and the two upside down motors confirmed the iffy conditions there had been a few hours earlier.

Cuppas in Tyndrum were a must and the rain smacked off the truck windscreen as we debated what to do next.
Phil texted me, we’d passed on the road as he retreated from the rain, dammit. However, this somehow brought us a wee bit of misplaced or maybe misdirected or misappropriated luck, the snow shone as the sun found it, the clouds parted and blue unfurled above us. What the hell, keep going.

We followed the blue and stopped right under it, in a very familiar spot.

We chased the sun north but the grey crept back under the blue. It was fine though, we parked up to make a snowman, it was perfect snow for it, soft and sticky which was perfect for a snowball fight too. Who won will remain a family secret. Until it can be used as leverage.

It was cold but we were warm from playing and back in the truck we had snacks and juice as the heater worked to dry my jeans out again.
Grins were wide and cheeks were red and the ghost story on the way home was of the Dougal and, well, that’s for another day.
This day though, this was a good one.

Beach bum

I have got into the habit of sticking a camera in the truck most days and it’s good in that I can take photies, but bad in that I take photies when I should be doing something else.
I’ll live with it for the time being, the sun comes up at the perfect time around the school run which won’t last, so what the hell.

I love this spot by the river, the light, the birds, the water and currently the fact that everything is frozen solid, from the sand to the seaweed.
What a place to watch the sun rise.

The tide was coming in, the river every so gently flowing into the frozen depressions in the sand, circling the rocks and creeping up the blades of the seaweed melting the frost and turning them from sparkling white to glossy green. It was like watching a timelapse film, silent and hypnotic.

Retreating from the water towards breakfast there’s still things to see and I wander through the frozen trees like a schoolkid on a daytrip to the museum, swinging arms and head to the sky.

After all the stress and turmoil of the past few years I’m increasingly finding more of the me that I remember.
And, holding onto it.

Harbouring a secret

As much as I like running up the hills when I run out of things to do/abandon my responsibilities I couldn’t be arsed going home and getting changed this afternoon, so it was either cotton polo shirt versus the snowy crags or a wander down the harbour.

I made the right choice, bloody hell it was cold.

Maybe not the grandest of skies, but worth viewing and soaking in. The wrecks looked lovely in the fading light too, one side dark and frosty, the sunny side warm and orange until the sun hit the wrong side of the horizon.

A few other folk were out taking it in too. I love that, it gives me hope when folk just enjoy the world for no reason other that it’s awesome.

I went back to my folks for home made steak pie. This ended up being a good day.

Target Acquired

I got there a wee bit later than planned, the sun was already slipping and the road was too icy for the truck so I had to leg it up the hill.
That was a shock to the system.

The light was just gorgeous, the snow was orange and pink and the low sun brought out lines of dark shadow on every surface that had a ripple or a pattern.

There were thick clouds to the west blocking some of the rays which cast a camouflage across the site, patches of bright and dark but all with a little glow as the sun burned into the horizon.

The three lassies on bench were full of laughs and as a dad of one of my own I was pleased to see they were properly wrapped up for the conditions. Hopefully they’ll remember the directions and they’ll find me on here so I can send them the photies.

The site was busy, lots of folk heading down as it got darker. Good to see, I was always a solo twilight wanderer up here, the Lang Craigs really have become a proper local hang out.

The ground was frozen, as I went higher and the temperature went lower I pulled on some spikes and took to the top trail for the best views.
Oh those views, so much winter up that loch, got to get up there.

Stay on target

I am sitting in front of the laptop looking at numbers that make no sense, shuffling through paperwork with my name on it that doesn’t look familiar.

The good part of that is that I have a desk of sorts again and the laptop is on it rather than in a bag all the time or on my er, lap.

However, I have a friend right now constantly sending me photies from the Lang Craigs and it looks exactly like it does above and below.
The top one is the first photie I ever posted on the blog. Aw.

Typing and counting like a bastard now, I will get there today.

My hands are cold

It’s a day that sticks in the mind, it was 2001 and we had a perfect day on Ben Cruachan. The snow was deep but consolidated, every bare rock was armoured with ice and the cloud tore around the summit in strips all day but retreated while we stood there and took in a landscape that still lingers in my mind despite so many visits and lost years since.
We came home to the news that the hills were now closed, Foot and Mouth hysteria had descended and we were soon driving through disinfectant tyre baths wherever we went.

The other thing that happened was my hands. I was on the top in my liners and windstopper gloves as usual, and while it was cold it was something I was well used to and didn’t bother putting on other gloves.
My fingers got cold though, very fast, uncomfortably fast and it was sore, something I’d never had before. I pulled out my big insulated gloves and needed help to pull them on, I was fumbling like a wino with a screw top bottle.

The heat returned and there was another new sensation, a burning that would not stop, that escalated until I thought my teeth would break against each other and tears filled my eyes.

The sunrise was just out of sight, but the cloud caught it’s colours and I managed a snap through the window before the school run.
I had a couple of calls to make and they revealed nothing urgent and everything avoidable. Daytime telly was the soundtrack to some packing and there was never any doubt as to where I was going.

It was a fairy tale scene, no, an advent calendar on the way to Drymen. Hard frozen landscape, wisps of mist and blue skies. Stunning, a perfect winter’s day.
I’d used up a lot of daylight so I didn’t stop. I think I might regret that, it was so perfect.
Ach, but then again maybe some things are better as an engram to mull over and decrypt later.

I thought it might be a one off, I was tired or run down, I’d had the wrong breakfast, I’d stood around the summit for too long, I was just getting old?
But no, I noticed a change from then on. Ice axes and meraklon liners was a combo gone forever, poles and powerstretch gloves would only last me so far into the snowline before I’d have to put something warmer on.
Camp was easier to manage, I’d have gloves and mitts everywhere and if I slipped up, I was never far away from layers of down.
And of course, the wait for the burn.

I could see Ptarmigan Ridge but the summit was in a ball of cloud with more cloud loitering to the west. I wasn’t fussed, there was snow all over one of my most favourite places.
The road was just as exciting because it was untreated after Balmaha, I’m getting more used to the truck on this kind of surface this winter and I had a wee bit of fun with it.
Wheeeeeee went the wheels, Aaaaaghhhhh went the music.

Rowardennan was surprisingly busy and there was still blue sky above as I walked past the youth hostel. On the climb up, the bloke doing some path repairs was lying snoozing in the sun and it really was warm enough for that.
It felt like spring, one of those rare days where the sun shines down on you while your crampon spikes dig in as you ascend in shades and a base layer with the sleeves rolled up.

I pushed on, eager to be a part of that mental picture, but somehow I flicked past that page and found myself in cloud. It washed in from over the loch, a bank of blandness to smother my hope and dreams and… Oh wait, I’m through the top of it. Aw, that’s nice.

I had to watch all the time, not just in the hills. At work, or even just heading into town I’d carry gloves on cool days never mind cold days and I’d find myself making excuses for fumbling or asking a colleague to “wait a minute” while my hands heated up while they looked at me like I was an idiot.

It’s really only when you show someone the effects they realise you’re not full of shit. Showing them a white thumb and forefinger on a cherry red hand, and saying “Feel it…”.
“Oh…” They say.
“Aye, I’m going to sit in the truck and have an episode while they heat up, back in 5…”.

The cloud came and went and the sun struggled to maintain a presence. But I was happy enough.
The snow showers were pleasant, heavy but with small flakes and very little wind. It was a silent, almost dreamy ascent.

I stopped at the top of Ptamigan where the sun made it’s last attempt at glamour before giving it up for the day. Pink oozed through the mist and I stood with a hot cuppa and smiled at it all.

I could see familiar crags and a hint of the ridge swinging around the last pull up to the summit. It would dark before I got to the top and that along with the long descent on Sron Aonach just didn’t fit tonight, had to get back for the girl.
This was enough, inside and outside I was happy.

Except I’d got too excited, on the phone, taking photies, pouring cuppas, fannying about, all with one glove on. My right hand went and it went big.
My own stupid fault.

I packed up and started down, hands balled into fists inside my mitts, idiot, idiot, idiot was the mantra.

I had a loose crampon strap, of course it couldn’t have happened on the way up, it had to be now when my mitts were full of pork link sausages instead of fingers.
I fudged it enough to go on but the bending and swearing had upped the blood flow enough that I could feel the circulation coming back. I braced for impact.

I stood in the dark, bent over with my mitted hands crushed between my thighs and calling Ffffuuuuuuuucccccckkkkkkkkkkk into the night as the tears blinded me.
I carried on once the red lights went out and it really was a pleasant descent. My hands nipped and throbbed, but I can tune that part out now. The ache lasts of course, well into the next day this time and my fingers were dark purpley red well into the early hours.

I remember a while back the nurse stretching out my hands and hmm-ing sympathetically “I get this too, it’s terrible isn’t it? It’s called Reynaud’s”.

I suppose in the grand scale of life it’s a minor ailment, but it causes me grief on an almost daily basis at the moment, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually said the words on here which is a bit strange.

I suffer from Reynaud’s syndrome, unusual in men but likely passed down on my mothers side of the family and it’s total pain in the arse.

Komperdell Hikemaster Compact Review

Poles are not exactly sexy. They are often useful, occasionally vital, but never something particularly exciting to look at.
So it’s quite heartening to see the manufactures always making new models and trying something a little different, especially given the scope of what you can actually do with the format. Add wheels or a bottle holder maybe?

Weight is the obvious target and packed length is important for me as poles spend a lot of time as ballast.
Adjustability is something I don’t actually think about after years of usually using fixed length poles, but that’s because that fixed length works for me. Even using tarps I’ve worked around fixed length poles.
I was a reminded of the wider real world on a run round the Lang Craigs where a pal had her poles set at an inbetween size, what’s this subversive behaviour I said. 103cm? Madness, madness.

So, adjustability is important, as is flexibility of length. The Hikemaster Compacts have that stuff.

The Compact collapse down to 59cm which works fine for stowing on my smaller packs and extends to a max of 121cm which is where I use them.
Others will need more length so if you like the format there’s a regular Hikemaster which extends to 140cm but packs to 65cm.

Weight is 502g for the pair which is okay for the aluminium construction. They certainly don’t feel weighty in the hand, they have a nice swing to them and a robust feel.

The handles are quite slim feeling with only light shaping for finger placement which I’m happy with. The handle feels like its bi-component, a lighter rubber coating over a harder shaped inner. The outer looks stitched so, it’s likely a sock pulled over the inner.
This is great with any gloves but slidey with bare sweaty hands, I’m just so used to mesh.

The wrist loop is great, nice and wide and east to adjust. It says “padded” on the official speil but it’s just lightly reinforced on the inner non-logo-ed face with a smooth stitching effect which is probably better than padding would be.

I really like the Powerlock 3.0 mechanism for the length adjustment. It has a low bulk, the levers are east to catch with a bare of gloved thumb to operate but don’t stick out too far so that they catch on the undergrowth. There’s a nice smooth action to them as well, the cam action is just right.

The pointy end is pretty standard, tungsten tips and mini baskets pre-fitted.

The finishing is excellent, smooth and flawless and the overall construction is the same.
The poles break down for drying and cleaning very easily and as the locking mechanism is all external the chances of handless people breaking them when putting them back together is much diminished.

I like the Compacts, the locking mechanisms are excellent and the quality overall finish surprised me as the prices I see online are right in the mix.
Easy to pack, use, adjust and clean. No pointless antishock to go wrong and add weight and there’s a 3 Year no argument guarantee according to the official page.

Road and be Truncated

There was confusion, not our fault, but it did delay our departure.

Our trip to the snow was meant to be a hop, skip and jump.

It was freezing, the layers were many and the gloves were the wrong ones. Not the girls’, she was sorted, I got it wrong, I had raspberry ripple push-ups sticking out of my sleeves within 30 seconds of leaving the truck.

Red cheeks and pink skies.

It was good to just breathe that air.

And the snacks, once my fingers were mobile again, there was snacks.