Gear Diary

What the kit’s doing, random stuff, thoughts on this , that and the next thing.

I kitted out four and a half folk with gear on the recent National Park trip, everyone brought their own kit as well, but it was interesting to see how the guys got on with the unfamiliar, as good a test as any.

My kit’s above, pretty much regular issue, Lasercomp, Neoair, Jetboil Flash, Montane Flux. The sleeping bag was a PHD Minum 300 with the short zip, making it’s first appearance of the year and was a comfy down filled delight. I’ve enjoyed the past couple of nights in a tent using a zipped bag, it’s nice to have a little freedom sometimes.
The pack (better view below) was the Macpac Amp Race 40 which I didn’t manage to fill, it’s definitely bigger than advertised. I carried a water bottle on the bungees on the left shoulder strap and the strap rubbed a bit, so I won’t do that next time to see if that was the cause. Otherwise, it’s a cracker. Good size, flexible but supportive of the load and great storage without cramming. The Montrail Streaks had their last hurrah, the Haglöfs Rugged Mountains Pants vented when required and carried the camera in thigh pocket with ease. Wigwam trail runner socks were good both wet and dry.
I had some new Chocolate Fish merino kit on the go, as did a few of the boys. I’ll do that in more detail soon.

Other tents I supplied were:
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1. Grant Moir used this, and he pitched it quick without help. It still looked good and tight next morning. He seemed pleased with the weight when carrying it and as a home for the night.
Force Ten Helium 200. Geoff Miles hads this, he pitched it pretty well and found the room in the 200 was fine for hiim, so I’m looking forward to using it now.
Terra Nova Laser Photon Elite. Bobinson had this, and he noticed the size difference right away. His comment that good pitching is vital is a lesson for anyone using one of the Laser family.
MSR Skinny One. Long enough for Craig McQueen, it’s a single-skin oddity but pitched tight it was fine. DSoaked with condensation in the morning though.
From elsewhere:
Big Agnes Copper Spur. Stuart MacInnes slept in this, it’s the same one I tested last year, great tent.
Argos ProAction. Chris Sleight’s tent, looked a bit wrinkly, but it’s orange so it’s a winner!

Sleepmats, I took an Exped Synmat 7 Basic for Geoff,an Exped Airmat for Grant and a Big Agnes AirCore for Craig. There were no complaints, and as it was a warm enough night there were no cold ground woes reported over breakfast.

Sleeping bags I supplied were:
Alpkit Pipedream 600. Geoff has this, I knew he’s be warm enough in whatever happened. No reports of cold and no complaints about the slim cut.
Alpkit Pipedream 400. Grant used this, he was fine, he’s camped in the hills plenty.
I wanted to use the Alpkit bags to contrast some of the top end stuff on show from Phil, Stuart and me (PHD and Big Agnes). Wild camping isn’t about logos, and light doesn’t have to be expensive either.
Marmot Sawtooth. Huge heavy down bag, way too warm, but the only one I had that would fit Craig. Even if he’d said he was cold I wouldn’t have believed him.

Miscellaneous Kit:
Optimus Terra Solo and Weekend pots, Snow Peak Twin Wall titanium mug, Lifesystems and Karrimor stainless steel mugs. Optimus folding spork, Light my Fire sporks and Firesteel, torches brought Petzl Tikka XP’s and an Alpkit Gamma.
Craig wore the Rab Super Dru at camp and Geoff was glad of the Haglöfs Oz he didn’t notice in his pack.
I took a bunch of food, Travelunch, Expedition Foods and Mountain House. Success was reasonable, but Stuart found that his needed frying, something to check in the shop folks, I know I didn’t.
I gave the boys a mix of Nalgene and Camelbak bottles. The wide mouth is easier for filling, much as I love my Siggs.
Poles were Mountain King Trail Blaze and Expedition Carbons, and Leki Makalu Carbons.
Stoves were an Optimus Crux Lite, Brunton Flex and Markill Peak Ignition. All impressed with their simplicity and weight.

I printed out and laminated maps which were used, GPS’s were used to tell us what we already knew. Bless ’em.

Now, the biggest thing here was the complete lack of problems with the kit, the guys just got on and used it quite intuitively. I was super-pleased about this as I wanted the guys to have a good time, or at least have a trouble free time, and that’s what we got.
The kit was pretty basic, and fit for use anywhere I would normally go, more that capable for the time of year in fact. Oh, I feel like shouting at the outdoor establishment again. Damn their outdated dogma, go light people.

Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park Wild Camping Trip

prologue

A few months back, when the consultation on a proposed camping ban from Drymen to Rowardennan was launched I was asked along as a contributor to some media stuff, being both local, available and having seen the inside of a tent or two within the National Park in my time.
I answered the questions, but time didn’t allow the positives as clear voice as I’d hoped, and the worry was that a negative image of camping was what had been presented.
With this in mind, I suggested a wild camping project to the park folks, they liked the idea and we’ve stayed in comms over the past few months knocking about some ideas, and once the election hoohah had shoved us back a few weeks, we got out on the hill on Monday 17th May.
The consultation process had finished by the time we went, and the 300 filled-in forms leaned 60/40 in favour of a ban.
As it happens, the timing worked well I think. I wasn’t wanting to influence opinion on either side of the argument, I wanted to say “This is wild camping”. Not just to differentiate us from the stupids trashing the lochside with their festival camping rigs, but to try and show non-outdoorsy folk the possibilities out there that are well within their grasp. Wild camping is not a hardcore activity for mountain men, it’s sleeping in a tent somewhere you had to make some effort to get to. And, it’s for everybody.
Maybe most importantly of all, I wanted to show that wild camping in the National Park is Go!
We were team-handed, and it was a real mix of personnel. From the Park we had Geoff Miles (Head of Marketing and Relationships), who was keen to get out there and see what it was all about, Grant Moir (Head of Conservation and Visitor Experience), already a man of the mountains and interested in trying some lightweight gear, Chris Sleight from the BBC who who is an experienced climber, Craig McQueen from the Daily Record who turned up race-fit from running, Stuart McInnes from the Edinburgh TRI Center who was wearing his film-maker hat, the familiar face of Phil Robinson, and me.

Monday

We had our meet and greet in the Inversnaid Hotel car park, the first time we’d all been in the same pl;ace at the same time. Always nice to meet new folk, and with the sun beaming down, the Arrochar Alps winking from across the Loch, the mood was indeed light.
There was some kitting-out to be done (details later) and once we were all comfy, we hit the trail, the West Highland Way in fact.
It’s easy and familiar ground, and I love it. The leaves glowed bright green above us as they stretched out in the sunlight, the water sparkled and gurgled at our side, banter rippled up and down our procession as we snaked south. I was mic’ed up and gave a remarkably swearing-free commentary which I’m sure will come to haunt me in times to come.
We paused at a “traditional” fire-site, by that I mean it’s been there every time I’ve been there and folk just re-use it because it’s already there. Catch 22-ish? The pile of stones and half burnt logs with three “hidden” Pot Noodles and singed bottle of Lucozade were met with dismay, but little surprise. Phil jogged up to join us at this point too, having had to leave a bit later.
It was way too hot for that nonsense.


We passed a lot of Way walkers, some mountain bikers too. The WHW gets folk out there who might not tackle the countryside otherwise, and that’s a wonderful thing.
We stopped by a little pebbly beach for some interview stuff and some minor snacking. Food raised its nose into the air for the first, but not last, time.


The famous goats were spotted in a blur of shaggy black wool on the hillside just as we arrived at Cailness, which itself was a blaze of blossom. It was our left turn as well, through the gate, away from the Way and onto a remarkably steep landrover track which pulled us into unbroken sunshine, rising temperatures and more frequent pauses to look at the view.
The banter kept flowing, some serious and for use later, there were mic’s, still and video cameras on the go most of the time, but oddly it wasn’t intrusive, we just kind of bimbled along. As we gained the top of the zigzags there was both relief and our first view and Ben Lomond. It’s north side is just awesome. You should go.


The drive to Inversnaid from Aberfoyle is glorious, it’s dead-end nature saving it from an A82-esque fate, and the views of the Ben from here are just amazing. Lomond means “beacon” and that’s just perfect. It stands proud and alone, looking over a little of everything that makes the Highlands , rock and water, tree and heather, summit and sky, village and road, past and future.
“This way” I pulled back the front of the train from it’s onward course on the landrover track with an outstretched arm pointed on the the rough and trackless terrain to the north. I could see big crags looming in a broken landscape softened just a little by a carpet of heather. Hidden somewhere in there was a lochan,  and hopefully somewhere for the tents. You know, it did look just a little wild.


There were a few feet needing some attention and some joints needing a break, so we stopped for a packs-off rest stop. There were snacks and banter, and even some warm layers thrown on as there was a little wind cooling us now as we sat above 400m. There is not a single path through here, we’re surrounded by familiar peaks, we’re not that far away from the car park, but there was a real feeling of being out there. This wasn’t lost on us, in many ways it’s the perfect place to demonstrate wild camping. In fact it’s a perfect place just to go and wild camp, I didn’t pick a soft-option destination for this, I just liked the look of it, it ticked all the boxes from accessibility, distance, likelihood of getting a few tents pitched, great views and just damned good fun.


There was a little more cloud forming , and the light shot through the gaps in luminous shafts, the hills to the west grew dark as the sun passed further towards the horizon. We’d set off late (well, some things never change) and even summer has its limits. Scuffs and dents now attended-to, we regrouped and found our way through, round and over the heathery lumps to the lochan. A more lovely spot I couldn’t have hoped for, and right above it, the little summit and ridge I had in mind for our camp site.
We ringed the lochan, filled water bottles and all took different routes up the far side to meet again at a wrecked deer fence and a little cairn. It was perfect, plenty space, views all around water not too far away.
Pitches were claimed, rucksacks dropped into the heather and unpacked, and a silence descended as most of the group concentrated on how to assemble the unfamiliar bag of metal pieces and fabric that was to be their home for the night.
But didn’t they do well!


The tents went up, no one lost an eye, or a finger, or their temper. After that, we sat in a hollow and broke out the cooking kit. The food that followed varied in quality and success, Grant liked his chicken and noodles, Stuart had a nightmare with his as he was apparently supposed to fry some of it. Chris found his olive oil just too late. Bags of donuts, cookies and sweeties appeared and went down well. More  sound recording, pieces to camera and many photies came and went, just part of the evening. Somehow in the golden light and at the late hour, however unusual, it all seemed so easy.


After a trip down and back up for more water, there was a second round of stove lighting. The cuppas were accompanied by the most inappropriate collection of stories, and rather than the night hike we just sat and blethered until bed time. The simplicity of it all was a topic, the mini stoves, the single pot and spork, the food-in-a-bag. It makes it all very easy, new skills to learn are few, waste is minimal, joy is maximal.
I tightened a few tents, just a wee bit, and one by one the guys drifted off to bed, leaving me wandering around with a tripod and camera, thoughts of how the guys would fare in the borrowed gear were very much to the fore. Would it be windy, would it be cold, would we have tears and snotters in the middle of the night?

Tuesday

I could hear Phil breaking camp sometime around dawn (he had to be back in Glasgow early), it was bright, but I was too cozy and I drifted away again. A couple of hours later, coughs and zips of varying types stirred me again and I stuck my head out of the tent this time. Stuart was up and dressed, so with a hot breakfast in mind, I did likewise.


The breakfast table was a big patch of bare rock, the wind of the previous night had gone completely so stoves would have no trouble here. One by one the guys drifted over, except Chris who was last up after some extra Z’s. Stoves roared, spoons rattled in cups, muesli was shaken while eyed suspiciously. The cloud cover started to break as we sat and watched. I don’t know what was sweeter, my oats and raspberries, or the sight of Ben Vane dappled with patches light right across the loch from us.
This is wild camping. The walk-in, the pitching, dinner, it’s all part of the same days doings, but waking up to a new day. already in the mountains, that might be the real prize for the extra effort, and the time that you give to it. It’s an exchange which is weighted well in our favour. We can do how we please, the mountains will just sit there and take it quietly. Surely then, how we conduct ourselves in the company of such a vulnerable host must speak intimately of what we really are as people?
There were more recordings followed by packing. As we stood with our packs back on, and looked at where we had pitched last night, there was no sign of us. Not one scrap of litter, not even a tent shaped patch on the ground, the thick heathery grass had bounced back and there was no sign that we’d ever been there. Seven tents and their occupants stretched along a ridge, and with just a little thought and care, one night was made invisible. It’s not even that it was a constant how-to session, common sense quietly prevailed and everyone kept their gear admined, even the first-time wild campers. That speaks volumes, folk either intrinsically know the right thing to do, they need a little help to see the right thing to do, or they just don’t give a shit.


It was now clear blue above us as we descended steeply north to complete our little circular route. The mood was still light, no one had been cold in the sleeping bags which I was relieved about, there had just been a little flysheet rattling when the wind got up that had opened a few sleepy eyes now and again.
We dropped into the forest above Inversnaid, the sound of water tumbling over rocks, sunlight dripping through the canopy of leaves and it was approaching 10am.
It was a glorious little walk, the return to the motor is often a little melancholy, but today I really felt quite pleased with everything.
A group shot in the car park, gear sorted and it was all over. Another magic mini adventure.

Left to right, Chris, Stuart, Grant, Craig, Geoff, Me.

epilogue

After the lovely drive back out to Aberfoyle, I sat in Liz MacGregor’s tearoom with Craig and Stuart with a my second breakfast. I had a wee reflection on the events, it was just a little thing really, but as I said “Iwanted to do something“.
My part is over, the coverage will be whatever it is, we’ll just wait and see.
But, we did see what wild camping is, we saw how accessible it is, and we showed that the National Park is the place to go to do it.
The Park is changing. In the ban area there’ll be camping grounds, in the right spots for Way walkers too, Sallochy is getting some minimal facilities, environmentally sound ones too. The plantations are being felled and replaced by native woodland, and then there’s the future of the A82.
I have hope for the Park, I have to. I’ve seen what happens when both planners and people do the wrong thing. I watched them tear up and disfigure the lochside 20-odd years ago when they put the road in from Balloch to Tarbet. And now I’ve seen neds saw up ancient woodland so they can fall unconscious on a beach to the crackle of burning branches.
We can’t undo any that, but we can learn I’d hope.

PS
No, I’m not saying where we camped, but all the info is there for you to find it. Brilliant wee hills, somewhere I’ll go back to.

The Band

Never have I talked so much shite and have it recorded to be used in evidence against me.
But, we never lost anyone, mechanicals were very few and the weather was as fine as we could have wished for.
I’ve brought back as many new thoughts as I took out old ones to air when I set off yesterday.
Always a good thing.

An informal occasion

I’m wild camping in the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park in that photie above.
That’s something that is very dear to me indeed, the freedom of the hills. But although access legislation gives us a legal right to be there, how we conduct ourselves and how we treat the ground on which we walk and camp is what gives us the moral right to return.
We all know the score, leave nothing but footprints and a slightly faded patch of grass, send nothing but tweets or pings and take nothing but photies and stories to last a lifetime. And nice wee stone for the fireplace.

The Loch Lomond camping ban is now in the machinery, what the label reads when the can drops onto the conveyor belt, we’ll see in due course.
In the mean time, the wild camping project with the Park folk is happening next week. The BBC and the Daily Record are spending the night (somewhere in that shot below…) with Geoff and Grant from Park HQ, Stu who’ll be filming it, and myself. We’ll be looking at everything from where to pitch, cooking, safety and why everyone should be wearing trail shoes…
I’ve been kitting out the team with packs, tents and more, so there’ll be no overladen DofE lookielikies, and I’m hopeful that we’ll have a good time out/up there.
The message? It’ll be something different for all the participants, and I’ll cover that later next week.
But, I know already what I’ll be saying.

I’ll always be wild camping in the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, just like in that photie above.

Time is running out…

Press-release below.

Final Say on Loch Lomond Camping Byelaws

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority has received over 250 responses to the proposed camping byelaws that will see restrictions along the east side of Loch Lomond between Drymen and Rowardennan. The consultation closes on 3 May and anyone with an interest in the proposals is being encouraged to get in touch and have their say.

The National Park is looking at a number of measures aimed at improving the visitor experience in the area, one of Scotland’s most popular beauty spots. Over £400K will be invested in east Loch Lomond by the National Park Authority, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage. Plans include improving the car parking at Rowardennan and building a semi-formal camping area at Sallochy along with toilet provision and improvements to the car park. By introducing new byelaws, the National Park Authority hope to reduce anti-social behaviour including vandalism, damage to trees, littering, lighting fires and irresponsible camping.

The measures hope to safeguard the area for visitors, communities and future generations to enjoy.

The proposed byelaw and response forms can be found on the National Park website www.lochlomond-trossachs.org

Loch Lomond Camping Byelaws Update

The radio piece went well, I got to say what I though was most important: ban the neds, watch out for folk on the WHW; folk like us will carry on as normal. The TV bit was all murder and mayhem, and after the live bit was cut where we were all geared up for giving a positive spin, we feared that the edited piece might be too negative, but it was better than I’d feared.
I spent the day with the Park folk, and went back to HQ to meet some of the other parties that are directly interested in the byelaws. It turns out there are as many reservations and concerns in there as there are out here.
The Park is full of outdoor folk who’ve sought the job out, looking for a change of life, so I don’t think we should regard this situation as “them & us”, it’s a necessary process that we should be involved in, so that we do keep them honest. For example, the WHW officer has exactly the same worries as me, that hikers will get caught out. The WHW isn’t affected until it reaches Balmaha, and after that it does cross Salochy, the worst affected area I think next to Rowardennan. But, they’re setting up an informal campsite in there with some facilities, so they’re not all problems without solutions.
If you know the area in question, you know its beautiful, and you know it’s almost an urban area too. From Drymen to Rowardennan is populated along its length, sometimes sparsely, but there are communties there, farms, houses. In Tom Weir’s day, maybe we could have camped at Salochy and been welcomed in for scones and tea at one of the houses, but we’ve changed all that, it hasn’t beed inflicted upon us. The world is what we’ve made it, we can either say stop or we can let the bastards grind us down.

I’ll be staying in comms with the Park, I’ll be watching this closely. If I’m worried by the way it’s going, I’ll stand up and shout.
But, we’ve got plans under discussion for a project to promote and explain low-impact wild camping to both Park users and the general public. Education by positive example is the way forward.

Loch Lomond Camping Byelaws

This came up this morning and got itself around fairly quickly. The idea being to make it an offence to “informally camp” on a strip a few hundred meters wide on average along the east shore of Loch Lomond from Drymen to a kilometre or so beyond Rowardennan.
We all knew that the neds on their carry-out consuming, log-burning and shite-dropping expeditions were going to spoil it for everyone, and they really do have to make these dicks arrestable I think.
It’s how they approach it is the thing, what worries me is (for example) the conscientious backpackers from Eastern Europe who get caught out between regular campsites on the West Highland Way and pitch in the dark where they can. They’ll leave a clean site early next day, and I wouldn’t like these folks to get the polis pulling them out of their sleeping bags at 2am.

Anyway, I’m meeting the BBC and a rep from the National Park Authority tomorrow to do a piece for Good Morning Scotland. I’ll get to speak for us folks and also get the inside line hopefully. Unless there’s a big story before breakfast, then we’ll get bumped.

Of course it’s entirely possible to camp by Loch Lomond and make no impact at all other than a positive on on your mood. As seen below.