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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Munro #256

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

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

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

The week that wis

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

Did fill my phone with photies though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wasn’t the rucksacks after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toast as a metaphor for life.

Haglöfs Proteus Jacket Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Assurance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published January 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s more classic Karrimor kit for reference here.

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

Originally published January 2009.

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

Villain MSC 45+10 2009

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

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

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

Mike Parsons Q & A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karrimor Whillans Alpiniste Redux

Originally published February 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hazy Shade of Winter

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

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

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

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

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


Power Hour

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wee piece of peace

It had been a glorious day and I was determined to get up the crags for tea time, catch the breeze, point the camera westwards, sit on my arse for a bit and take it all in.
However as the afternoon wore on the haze thickened, it grew dull and my enthusiasm waned dramatically.

I sat at my folks house having picked up Holly from school and we thought about what to do that evening as we’d just finished the brilliant Umbrella Academy on Netflix and we were feeling bereft.

Ah it’ll be a long year til season 2.

I was antsy anyway, there had been an arsehole in a white SUV parked like a prick outside the school who also wanted to reverse over me, Holly and some other kids, stopped only by my fist on his window.

The pre-fatherhood me was dragging him out of his seat onto the road but the current me gritted his teeth, went home and failed to get through to the local police on the phone multiple times.

The school is brilliant, awesome, amazing and at their wits end with dumb bastards in vehicles at home time. So they tell us to phone the local polis in the hopes that they’ll sent officers around at home time. We shall see how this progresses.

Through my own internal fog I caught something out of the window, a gable end along the road bright with the rays of a sun near the horizon. I ran to the window and whooped out loud. I’m away I shouted, grabbed the camera, pulled on my boots and legged it for the truck.

I parked up at the harbour and it was just awseome. The sky was stirring itself up, the sun was burning through the murk, the water was calm and the air was cooling.

I spent exactly an hour running up and down the crumbling harbour walls grinning and taking photies, sitting and watching and always listening too, so much birdsong.

This all brought me back to where I needed to be, I knew it would from the moment I saw that patch of light. You can’t underestimate the power of nature, our environment, the world out there and just being in it for a wee while.

Bonny Banks

Spent the the weekend around Loch Lomond, somewhat by accident. Saturday was minging but when the rain stopped I took a quick run up to Luss then beyond with my pal Cat and got some rather nice looking skies just as it was getting dark. It looked particularly nice at the Esso garage at Dumbarton on the way home.
Timing is everything.

The camera was on my desk the whole time too and I have no idea what my phone was doing, I seem to have found some sort of film grain effect in my pocket which disappeared overnight.
Pity, it was nice, the colours were rich with fresh growth in the woodland. It really does feel like spring.

Holly slept late after a busy day on Saturday and it looked like we were going nowhere, but fueled by tattie scones she was suddenly in better form and we hit the road with granny in the back seat. Not in the truck obviously.
That’s going to be a proper thing for a couple of weeks very shortly. I need to do the fuel pump and while it’s in the shed I’ll tackle some other wee jobs on it. Missing it already, a Vauxhall estate just isn’t going to be the same.

We ended up in Balmaha which was mobbed, and Tom Weir has a new hat on. The sky was clearing, ribbons of cloud streaked across the hillsides and vanished into the ether. By the time we got to Rowardennan  it was glorious but still cool, what a perfect day to be on the hills.

It’s started though – the draw of the lochside on a sunny day. Usually we get to enjoy it until easter, but the masses have arrived early with their disposable barbecues, loud sweary voices, poor narrow road driving technique, litter, vape clouds and unnecessary sportswear.
Still, leaving late through these difficult months will give me the hills when I need them.

We ended up in Killearn for a late lunch, macaroni cheese in a bowl with a singed bacon topping. Be still my beating heart.
A really nice wee galvant with the girls. I love living here.

Vintage Gore-Tex versus McNett Seam Grip

Age does not come alone, I have been discovering this over the past few years, and the passage of time also weighs as heavy on your gear.
As much as I enjoy my vintage Gore-Tex most of it has required some maintenance to keep it reliably functional and the biggest issue is the seam tape.

Back in the day the tape was big and wide, it sealed the seams but it did reduce the area of breathability and modern micro tape functions better from that point of view as well as being more flexible, I’m not daft.
The old taping has a familiar wear pattern, around the body of the jacket the tape stays stuck but the edges get a little abraded, unless you have a waist drawcord along which which the tape can peel with the extra pressure and accentuated wear from the concertina effect of the fabric when worn or just left tightened.

The hood however takes a beating. The concentrated 3D shaping in a small area, the tension from multiple adjusters, the constant movement, the pull of a rucksack straps, it all conspires to loosen and peel the tape from the neckline and the rest of the hood.
Sweaty necks are another thing her as well, it attacks the fabric and you can get delamination. The three layers separate leaving the Gore-Tex membrane stuck to one of the other layers. It doesn’t necessarily leak I have discovered, but the membrane is going to be vulnerable to abrasion from movement and it apparently makes professional seam repair troublesome.

Given that I have a bunch of old jackets that I wear regularly I looked at getting some professional retaping done. It was outright too expensive, especially for fixing more than one jacket which I really had to do. The repairs would be more than picking up a replacement jacket on ebay – only old The North Face and occasional Berghaus (who ever dreamed that a Mera Peak would be collectible…) go for big money.

I looked around at the options. I’d done iron-on seam tape many years ago and it was rubbish, there’s a more modern version but I really wanted to patch what was there as the bits that were still stuck were secure.
McNett Seam Grip was the one that came up all the time, approved by Gore even. However after reading a great many reviews I wasn’t sure at all. Some folk said yes please, some folk were sitting crying in their kitchen with their hands covered in glue and ruined jackets.

I decided that the truth was probably in the middle somewhere and reading between the lines a little it seemed like the best results were done with preparation and patience. I have both of those available, so I decided to try to fix one hood, the one that needed it most, on a ’98 Karrimor Summit.

Preparation and patience are vital, it took me over two weeks to fix that hood, including redoing an early bit after I got better at it. But it worked really well and after months of regular wear I stopped checking the inside of the hood to see if it was coming apart again and I just wear it.
Maybe longer term it’ll need some further patching but that’s okay, I’ve gotten used to the smells of the chemicals now and have moved onto fixing other jackets.

I reckon seam sealing works if you do it right. It helps extend the life of old gear which has got to be a good thing financially and environmentally and also it’s er, fun.

Here’s what I do, demonstrated Haynes manual style on a mid 90s Karrimor Diamond Jacket, their top end mountaineering shell back in the day in what feels like Taslan Gore-Tex, a tough 3-layer fabric.

Wash the jacket, rinse it well and gather your tools.

Rags are best, not paper towels for the first cleaning part, they will come apart leaving little bobbles of paper all over the work area.
Rubbing alcohol for cleaning. I had industrial stuff I could use at first but when that was finished I thought I’d try stuff from the chemist and it’s fine, what ever additives are in the domestic version don’t affect the results.
A little tub for the sealer and a small paint brush because the one that comes with the tube is rubbish, throw it away.
Tape, properly sticky tape. The thin duct tape I use would pull your skin off if you put it the back of your hand.
McNett Seam Grip. Under a tenner from GoOutdoors in Clydebank.

Prepare, I can’t stress this enough. Clear the area, get your kit sorted, get strips of tape cut so you can grab them and remember this – the jacket has to go somewhere when you’re finished. That somewhere has to be where it will sit undisturbed and unstressed for at least 48 hours.

Once you’re sorted identify what you want to fix first. Don’t try and do it all, especially if there’s a lot of continuous tape failure, be patient.

Below is the neck seam, it’s pretty bad on the Diamond and I’m doing it in several pieces.

Wet your rag with the alcohol and get rubbing. Don’t be gentle either, lean on it and you’ll see old adhesive bobbling off as you cut through to the fabric below.

Above is after a few minutes of rubbing and it’s as good as I can get it. You can see a shadow of the old contact area but it’s clean. I also cleaned the tape above and all the other surfaces that are being bonded just as carefully. Not being half arsed here really helps.

Leave it be and let it dry, watch some telly, have a cuppa.

Put a little seam sealer in a cup or tub, even a bigger plastic bottle top would do. Squeeze a bit out from the tube and put the lid back on. The sealer now has a limited life, they’re not joking, the tube contents will now start to cure. They say it’ll last two months if you keep it in the freezer and I’ve got to three months on this tube although the contents are definitely thicker so this was it’s last outing. Use two months as a guide, it seems about right. Stick it in a zip lock bag, stick in the freezer after use.

Paint sealer on the surfaces to be mated. Don’t go crazy with it and don’t scrimp either, a light but even coating. You want to have a good adhesive surface but you don’t want to squeeze a lot out when you mate it all together. You could even try it on scrap fabric, bits of paper, anything at all to help you judge it.

Once the surfaces are coated, press the tape back down nice and gently. The tape will stretch and the fabric will not, it’s easy to make creases in the tape if you’re overzealous here.
Smooth it out, some sealer will squeeze out, hopefully not too much and wipe it clean along the direction of the tape with a bit of paper towel. It doesn’t have to be as out of focus as it is below.

Duct tape the repair, overlapping the fabric and original seam tape with your duct tape as evenly as you can to get the glue surface in the middle. This is partly for security and also for getting it right on longer runs, if you get into the habit of keeping it centered it’ll help here.

Rub the duct tape flat so it has good grip, if the tape is well stuck your repair is well stuck. You can see the edge of the Gore-Tex tape showing through my duct tape below, this is good.

Put the sealer in the freezer, wash the brush and tub out with the alcohol, stow everything safely. Go about your life.

48 hours, I’m not joking. Stick the jacket somewhere where the repair is sitting without pressure or unwanted flex and leave it for two days. Or more, just not less.

Above I’m peeling the duct tape back off and I’m doing it in a very specific fashion. I’m pulling it away from the repaired seam and keeping pressure on the repair with a finger while I’m doing it. It’s vital not to stress the repair while taking the tape off, especially when the duct tape as is sticky as this.

Even after two days you might find the edge of the repair hasn’t completely cured, it might be tacky. That’s fine, leave the jacket where it is for another day.

When the repair edge is dry, clean off any excess sealer with alcohol and a rag, rubbing along the line of the seam tape so you don’t stress the edge of the repair.

It took a me a few attempts to get this right and I’m used to making and fixing on a daily basis. Glad I stuck with it (ha), it’s brought some of my favourite kit back into a usable state.
It really is a very doable thing. Repairing your own gear is enjoyable and brings a wee bit of self satisfaction too.

Remember, preparation and patience.

That jacket below, the whole hood has been patched and so far, looking good.

70’s Karrimor Tote-Em Rucksack with K2 Frame – Part #1

There are a few random threads that knotted together to bring this post around.

One thread is vintage or just old gear, I’ve been using it and talking about it for ages and it’s something that seems to be seeping into the general consciousness which is a very good thing. Maybe folk will look back, see the good bits and then cast a more critical and skeptical eye over new kit, some of which is vintage reissues. Ha.
Another thread is my life as a heritage heating engineer where I crawl about old buildings making things works that have no right to still be functional or creating new things that look like old things. At my core I am part Victorian.
This engineering eye is what I see outdoor gear with, I see processes and construction, inspiration and ingenuity and I see skill and thought in even the most basic bit of kit. It stirs the geek in me.

So I’m in a church hall attic tracing out long forgotten braided electric cable expecting to see sparks in the dark and a large cracked Bakelite shell at the end of it. I shone a torch through piles of dusty gear and saw my goal, but I’d have to dig it out.
I was digging through time, sooty old aluminium pots, heavy canvas and rigid pole tents, a wooden and canvas stretcher, taped up boxes, disintegrating poly bags of miscellaneous crap and then at the bottom a flash of red.

I knew it was outdoor gear, most of the other stuff I was shifting was in that vein in a 60’s Outward Bound sort of way but this fabric was bright, it looked good, it looked better quality that everything else around it. I immediately had suspicions, I dragged it into the clear and shone my torch on the label, it read: A Karrimor Product, Avenue Parade, Accrington, Lancs, England.
I whooped out loud and sent the photie above straight from my phone to my facebook page where with some further shots, some discussion followed.
It’s a Tote-Em external frame pack, 70’s vintage.

I found my electrical fault/horror. No spare parts to be had, the manufacturer of the oddball item went out of business in ’75 and some things I just can’t make myself and stay legal. However, I have a good plan and I’m on it.

When reporting all this to the customer I mentioned the pack, is there any chance... ? I ventured. Inquiries would be made they said.
After the weekend we talked about the job and my plan for getting things running and the word came through just as we were finishing up “Oh, just take that old haversack”.
It was in the truck in less than an hour.

I was impressed by the lightness for the apparently large capacity, I was impressed by the condition for its age and the design intrigued me but it was manky.
The environment it was in was dry but dirty and dusty and there had been an element of asbestos in the storage area in the past and although everything is certified as clear, 35 years of dealing with the substance and the consequences of exposure to it to many folks around me has taught me caution.
I stripped the pack and cleaned it, not a gentle wipe down either, it’s head went right under the bath water with a nail brush in my hand. Hey, it’s UK made Karrimor gear with a lifetime guarantee isn’t it? I knew it would be fine.

I inspected it all closely and it had come up well. No major damage at all, just regular wear from long forgotten adventures. The fabric is fresh, a few small holes which I probably won’t touch unless they fray in use. The webbing and buckles all look good and now run a lot smoother.
And, the whole thing smells vaguely of NikWax Tech Wash.
I let it dry for a couple of days then got down to the task of reassembling and adjusting it to fit my back, because it’s not a museum piece or for home decor, it’s going out to play.
I did some research, there’s stuff out there but not too much and Mike Parsons, Karrimor legend and designer of the pack had some insights from it’s creation.

So with a single phillips screwdriver and a basic knowledge of knots, it’s time to bring this Tote-Em back to life.

The frame is labelled a K2 and there were different configurations and lengths, clicking on the Tote-Em page on the excellent Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection site gives you a couple of catalogue pages where you can see the options. The one I have here seems to be a standard Tote-Em, I’ve got the same configuration as the one labeled 5301 on the old page.

The frame is made from 7/8″ aluminium tube. What’s interesting here is that metal wasn’t exactly Karrimor’s medium but it’s easy to see Mike Parsons getting some tools together, learning the methods and wrestling with tube in a workshop until he got what he wanted.
Once the design was finalised in-house tooling was commissioned for punching the holes and local engineering firms made the frames.

There’s no fat in the design, it’s all simple, practical and consequently light.
I make stuff like this now, and 45 years on if I was making one of these it wouldn’t look very different doing it from scratch.
The holes for the horizontal bars are stamped with the outer holes countersunk so that the screws sit flush. The attachments are done with pop rivets and shaped bar.

Aluminium can be horrible stuff to work with, it work hardens which can lead to tearing or crushing.
Bending it with either poor material or poor technique leads to a full scrap bin, you have to get your bend right first time and the shaping here is rather nicely done.
The shelf corners are the bottom end are lovely.

The centre bars are fixed with long steel screws which tighten into threaded plastic inserts. It’s a good design, secure with a bit of flex but it relies on the user not being handless. The pack is designed to be dismantled and adjusted by the user and the cynic in me can see chatrooms and forums in 2019 full of folk cross threading, over-tightening and sticking screwdrivers in their hands.

Ach, but maybe not, backpackers and outdoors folks tend to be more hands-on than most.
I just get that feeling of disconnection that modern life is bringing. I mean, modern big brand packs look they were hatched from an egg. The Tote-Em looks and feels like it was made by folk in Lancashire, it’s the organic tattie to a box of McDonalds fries.

The shoulder straps are basic and you’ll see the same design across many Karrimor packs of the same era. There’s thickish padding which hasn’t deformed or crushed in use with a light nylon shell.
The webbing is pretty stiff but is now running better through the buckles after the deep clean. The metal buckles are all perfectly functional and there’s a nice wee touch of an eyelet at the end of the adjuster so that it won’t slip through the buckle.

The back system is again simple and light but adjustable. There are three sections of 4″ wide webbing which can be placed anywhere on the back as they slide up and down the frame sides.
Moving the bottom one with the waist belt attached around really changes the back length, when I took it apart it was set for someone a lot shorter than me but the adjustment was all quite obvious. It might look like a bag of knitting below, but it’s all simple to do.

You can flip the waist belt left to right or upside down to fine tune, it makes little differences to the fit. The big metal buckle is fine, but there’s just enough webbing in that belt for my current waist line. Must have all been super skinny in the 70’s.

The webbing has drilled aluminium inserts at the ends, three holes drilled in each for manufacturing simplicity with cords for tightening the webbing onto the frame and adding tension to this simple back system.
The waist belt has double cords for extra security and stability, although it’s rudimentary, it seems to be intended that it will take some of the load.

The body of the pack is a little amorphous without the frame and it’s huge too, I think it’s 65 litres, but it’s nicely split into compartments.

The fabric is a bright red nylon and it must have been such a change from all the dull canvas around at the time when it hit the shops. The fabric is somewhere between stiff and supple and has aged very well.
There’s some small holes here and there but they never crept and no attempts were made at repair, so the owner must have been happy enough and who am I to disagree, there will be no modern repairs for now.

The lid is a simple flap and the elastic edging has a little bit of stretch left in it. The old logo makes me smile and in general the branding is very strong and subtle all over the pack. The buckles, even the cord lock all have KP or Karrimor on them. This is ahead of its time, it gives the pack a strong overall identity but I do wonder if it was partly to stop the factories making the parts selling the bespoke component designs to other pack manufacturers?

The tough webbing is in excellent condition. Good lengths on the flap webbing so you can open it fully without taking it right out through the buckles, we’re pre plastic clips here remember.
The side pockets open pretty fully too and all the webbing on the body is running smoother since its bath.

The body is split internally, the bottom 1/3-ish being a separate zipped compartment. The zip is good, runs smooth and has double zip pulls.

Although the internal divider is fixed there are corner holes for any water ingress to pass through from the top which was good thinking. Could probably get modern tent poles down there too, but I don’t think I’ll need to, there’s plenty space.

The side pockets are huge and high up on the sides. There’s a single ice axe loop and buckle, again in great nick and fully functional. I have a wooden axe if the snow comes back for me taking this out.

The closure is a simple cord through eyelets format with a big chunky cord lock. It work just fine and the big flap covers it all completely.

The back shows where the bars sit, the aluminium has left a particularly nice line where the harness bar sits. What trails were trodden when that mark was ground into the fabric? I bet they went by train or bus, I bet they had can openers and bottles of meths, tartan shirts and the widest grins.

The pocket seen above and below is where the load sits, the top bar locates here through the elastic loops (still stretchy, oof!) with the frame sides poking through little gaps in the corners.
All very snug, simple and effective.

The other pack to frame attachments are done with webbing and double rings, a brilliantly simple and effective system which you probably see most often these days on crampon bindings.

Time to put it back together. The back length is adjustable, the shoulder strap bar has two sets of holes to fix onto.
I used the lower one, with the waist belt set further down it feels like a regular back length, keeps the shelf away from my hips and as daft as this might sound, it sits on my back just like I see it on old photies I’ve found. Now there’s the gold standard source to make adjustments by.

The bare frame as above is 670g. Now that might not look light but it feels light, maybe because I’m looking at metal and expecting more, but maybe because the weight is spread out?
Hey, perception is a hard thing to quantify.

I repositioned the webbing a few times, flipped the waist belt over and tried it both ways round and I’ll probably make more changes as I go.
My fears are that the shelf digs into my hips on the trail or that the shoulder straps or the harness bar can be felt in ways I don’t want and I can’t adjust it away once I’m out there. I’ve played as much as I can but until it all settles in after a few miles with a proper load I won’t know, but I’ll be ready to adjust where I can.

Weight with webbing and harness attached 1050g.

Clean, fresh, as well fitting as I can get it and ready to go.
Complete and trail ready it’s at 1685g.

To the modern outdoor eye the Tote-Em might seem alien, but this is a product of innovation, discovery, ingenuity, trial and error, testing and all done here in the UK.
Everything has a first time and then we learn from that for the second time.
My interest in old gear is an appreciation of that as someone who makes things himself, some joyful nostalgia for the days when I moved from army surplus into real gear and a fear that too many good ideas are being left behind for the wrong reasons.

So, a bit iconic and a bit melancholy is that flap below.

When the weather says yes, the Tote-Em will be in the hills. More to come.

Ships that pass

Oh for crying out loud.

I saw it too late, I fumbled with the settings, I leaned out of the windae, and that’s what I got.

A huge lightless freighter steaming under cover of darkness, guided by two tugs, slithering up the river like a silent dinosaur.



The Machinist

“You know, I don’t think any of my friends dads sit and sew”.
We’re sitting on the sofa watching IT Crowd on Netflix and Holly’s contemplating me hand sewing the webbing back onto the back of an old battered pouch that I wanted to use for my camera the next day.
I thought this over. I could mention gender stereotyping, older men’s difficulty in accessing skills such as sewing when they were younger for fear of peer persecution, the struggle of men to break free of the bonds of generations of strict adherence to the unspoken code of how to be a man. But then I realised that most of the men I know sew by hand or machine, many of them professionally and creatively.
“The other dads are rubbish then”.
“Yea” said the girl.

The pouch was good to go, I slipped it onto the hipbelt and secured it with a carabiner to a side compression strap. It was just like the old days.
Everything else was laid out and ready to go. Dear god, is this what it is to be organised? Oh, to see how the other people live.

It was late morning and really rather nice when I hit the road. The sky was blue, a pale icy blue and cloudless because the gauze between me and the sun was a high, thin veil, it was never a cloud in its life
As I left the Arrochar roadside winter felt awfy far away. It was bright and it was warm on the move although the air was cool, especially when I got up into the trees. I kept my gloves on though, bare arms and gloves is just fine, I was being careful this time.

The zigzags mask the height gain and the occasional window view through the green onto an increasingly visible Ben Lomond is the only clue that progress is being made.

But then you’re suddenly there. There is good, there is familiar, there is my happy place, there is snow on it, right up there.
I pretend that I might climb the Cobbler, just to see if I can fool myself, but I’m not that good a liar.
I love the Cobbler, but Beinn Narnain has a pull on me, it always has had. Every visit strengthens that and while I can’t explain it, I can feel it.
The broken, shapeless tumble of crags pull my eyes as well as my feet. The Cobbler is flashy, but it’s kinda solid, what you see is what you get, Narnain has secrets, it has dark corners, it repays time spent and there’s a wee bonus too, you get to look at the flashy neighbour from an excellent angle.

There was a smear of spring in the air, deer in the coire, birds in the air, a caterpillar on a rock and three walkers from China wondering why the hell I was lying on the ground.
They weren’t the first victims of banter this day, I’d accosted several parties already. It being the school holidays and decent weather had brought out several dad and lad parties which was nice to see.
One of these parties also had a dug, a pannier dug at that. It had a jacket with webbing and velcro like a military molle vest, it also had two grab handles for launching the dug over burns and gates. Great bit of kit.

I never got to the Narnain Boulders, I cut right a bit early to gain a little easy height and stop for a drink.
My 25+ years old pack was supremely comfy and stable, but it doesn’t have a bottle pocket. I’d attached my little pouch but not a bottle pocket, partly to see what effect it had on my drinking habits. Sure enough, once I got onto steeper and frozen ground I didn’t drink, too faffy and higher up it was just too cold and windy.
Point proved, although I knew it would go this way. Next day, I went hunting for an old Lowe Alpine insulated bottle holder. 

It was only mid afternoon but the sky thought it was later. The predicted coastal clouds were bubbling onto the high ground here and there, some tops were shrouded while the light was diffused into a warm glow. It was evening a little too early.

Two ravens chased each other around the crags, their croaking the only sound in the lower coire. As I climbed higher rushing water below the rocks and snow went from a whisper to an occasional roar, a thaw was on.
I sat on a rock for a bit to cool down. Not a whisper of wind here.

From somewhere up behind me came the unmistakable chuckle of a ptarmigan with a shuffle of feathers right after. I turned and quickly scanned for it, no sign dammit.
I did start picking out howffs though. So many mini caves or sheltered ledges in this coire for a fine night out. There’s a big one on the right under Cruach nam Miseag with a short scramble to get into it. Hmm I thought to myself, I’d be safe from wolves in that one. Too much Netflix will do that to your mind.

At the coll I stopped and got my crampons on. The snow was consolidated and I was shinning up the regular route which has a few wee steep bits.
I used my axe, I used the spikes on my feet and I was happy, secure and safe.

I was also amazed to see the signs of previous passage, especially in the steep gully by the spearhead crag. Many boot prints but also many long troughs made by fingers scrabbling for purchase. Not so many signs of axes or crampons.

I’m not judging, I have done stuff that makes me wince thinking about it, but it would not have been me today. There have been deaths on this part of the hill.

The little splash of colour on a rock felt like stepping on a twig in the forest when the monster is right there and looking for you, all sudden and startling.
The sky started to join in too. The Cobbler was catching some cloud and the sun was sinking into it. This, this is why I don’t get up early.

I hadn’t seen a soul since I left the path, I was alone up here. Dammit people, you should have waited.

Lui and friends had proper snow cover and the finger of cloud that crept in from the sea gave a splash of drama to the view north.

The snow was crisp and I’d found some proper wind, and it was cold. The temperature dropped so fast, it was drop which had to be expressed by a Whoooaaaaa as I paced the summit quickly.
Onto the spearhead, across to look at Ime, back to the best trig point in the land and a quick decision on descent. There’s maybe five different descent routes I take from here, but only one dropped me out of the wind for a chance at a warm dinner.

North to the ridge then a hard right into the coire down hard frozen, steep virgin snow. My grin was so wide I didn’t need my headtorch yet.

I found a corner under a crag, a grassy ledge with a view into the quickly thickening darkness. Coffee, rolls and a donut. I was warm, hell even my hands were warm after wearing insulated gloves almost all day.

The sliver of moon shone weakly, the jagged edge of Narnain softened and disappeared into the sky above and I sat in a torchlit circle of snow, scared to take my down jacket back off.
I packed everything, put my bottle in the camera pouch and reluctantly took off my duvet and stuffed it into the top of my pack. It wasn’t too bad, the wind was masked by the crag and I was still warm when I set off into the dark.

The topography is a little haphazard in here in the dark, I had several oops, not that way moments. But it was awesome, pole swinging, song singing fun as I tripped over grassy mounds on my zigzagging way to the big track that cuts across the hill horizontally.

Arrochar looked rather sweet from here and if my phone hadn’t been in my pocket I’d never have the evidence of such a thing as I just couldn’t be arsed finding the camera again.

I took to the old concrete block path which has deteriorated further since I was last on it. Many of the blocks have broken up, some are sinking and following their line in the dark wasn’t as easy as it used to be. I think if you want to see these relics, do it soon. In the 30 years I’ve been climbing this route it’s changed dramatically.
Still though, some tree pruning is keeping the route viable so you can do a loop without retracing a single step and it’s a fast, fun descent. I didn’t get lost either, last time I did this in the dark I was all tears and snotters in the trees behind someone’s house in Succoth. Local expert?

There was a real joy to this wee trip. I spent a lot of my time on the ascent looking at the textures of the rock, the sky and the snow. It all felt so fresh and new, like a new coat of paint in your favourite room, fresh socks on tired feet, fresh baked apple pie and coffee? That’s not an analogy, that’s for real, the home made apple pie is just cool enough to eat. Back in a minute.

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.
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