Friday, 17 June 2011

Time to go?

Every time I’ve been on the hill for more than 20 years the same Mountain Equipment fleece has been with me, I’ve either walked in it, climbed in it, or it’s been in my sack as a back up layer. It’s only thin but it’s warm and comfortable, unfortunately its not windproof, but purchase of a Montana Lite-Speed Windshirt, solved that problem some time ago.

You may ask, why do I want to replace it if it’s so good? Well I don’t really, but for some time now I’ve been looking at lightweight padded jackets, for use when wild camping, bothying and on hut to hut walks. I’m really looking for some extra insulation for those nights when the sleeping bag needs a bit of help, on cold mornings or that extra bit of comfort for after a hard day on the hills.

My first thought was a lightweight down jacket such as the Montbell UL Down Inner, very light, packs up small and good warmth to weight ratio. In fact, if they had been readily available in the UK, I would probably have bought one without a second thought, but they are not!

This made me ask myself the question, do you really need a new jacket or do you just fancy buying a new piece of kit? Well if I do need a new jacket, it must be lighter and more versatile than the old one.

So, the new jacket must weigh under 363g (the weight of my Mountain Equipment fleece), it must be warmer but still perform in the wet, and it must be windproof.

What jackets fall into this category? Well, although they are lighter and warmer, down jackets do not perform when they are wet, so would be of little use as an additional layer under a waterproof, because of the damp and condensation. The same problem would occur if I got my down sleeping bag damp or wet, a down jacket would soon soak up the moisture and become equally useless.

Initially I hadn’t considered synthetic materials, because of their weight penalty when compared with down, but if I could find a synthetic jacket that was lighter than my fleece, but was warmer, more comfortable to wear and windproof, maybe a bit of retail therapy could be justified.

The Montbell Thermawrap Jacket looked good but it’s not available in the UK, the RAB Generator Jacket gets rave reviews but at 430g it’s just too heavy, I haven’t sweated blood to reduce my rucksack base weight, in order to buy a replacement item that is heavier. Then I came across the Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket, it looks good, weighs in at 320g, so is lighter than my fleece, the pullover version received excellent reviews on the BackpackGearTest website, and I recall trying on a Nano Puff  Vest, in The Mountain Factor shop last winter, and being impressed how warm and comfortable it was.

So I gave them a quick call, and discovered, not only did they have my size and preferred colour in stock, but if I ordered before I’d get free next day delivery.

No prizes for guessing what the postman has just delivered then!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

NeoAir Short – First outing.

My Cairngorm trip also was also the first outing for my NeoAir, but whereas the Golite Jam will now be my rucksack of choice when wild camping, the jury is very much out on the NeoAir.

First of all the with the NeoAir short, or revert to my Prolite, it’s a difficult call, 194grams or 6.9ozs is a big weight saving, but can I adapt to the NeoAirs short comings I'm not sure?
thNeoAir, it’s comfortable, it has a really small pack size and its very light, my short version weighs 278g including the 12g stuff sack.

The things which I don’t like about the NeoAir fall into two categories, generic NeoAir dislikes and ones which are associated with me choosing the short version.

Some of the things I don’t like about the NeoAir, are obvious before you buy, but I found them more irritating than I expected, these are the loss of headroom and the need to blow it up.

The NeoAir is 6.3 cm thick compared with my Prolite’s 2.5 cm, causing my head to touch the roof of the tent when I was sitting up, this was particularly unpleasant when the inner was wet with condensation. I also found my face was very close to the inner when lying down, which was quite claustrophobic and would be very uncomfortable in windy weather. As far as inflating the NeoAir short was concerned, it took a lot more wind than I’d anticipated, and after years of using Thermarest self-inflating mats, I’d forgotten just what a fag blowing up an airbed is when you’re tired!

The other thing didn’t like, which was my own fault for choosing the short version, was having my legs hanging off the end. I just didn’t have enough spare gear to pad out the gap, so found it very uncomfortable.

Will I continue with the NeoAir short, or revert to my Prolite, it’s a difficult call, 194grams or 6.9ozs is a big weight saving, but can I adapt to the NeoAirs short comings I'm not sure?
Maybe I’ll give it another chance, but I can also hear my dear old Dad’s favourite quote ringing in my ears “any fool can be uncomfortable when camping”.

Golite Jam - First outing.

My trip to the Cairngorms gave me the opportunity to try out my Golite Jam, and I have to say I’m rather pleased with it. It was comfortable to wear although slightly long in the back for me. It’s very roomy for a 50 litre sack, (I seem to remember Chris Townsend commenting that Golite litres tend to be larger than most others) and easily swallowed up my camping gear and three days of food.

I found the front pocket very useful as were the two stretch side pockets, and the two hip belt zip pockets. The lack of a lid pocket will take some getting used to, as I normally keep my fragile things here, like compass, camera, GPS. Why not transfer them to the front pocket? Well it not that straight forward, because for years I’ve used my rucksack as a seat when I stop, I place it on the ground straps up to keep the back clean and dry. If I do the same with the Golite Jam, these items will soon get broken. I also use my rucksack as a pillow or footrest when camping, with a lid pocket I can just flip the lid and my fragile items are safe, with a front pocket the items have to be removed, so a bit of reorganisation will be required before I completely happy.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Wild camping in the Eastern Cairngorms Part 3.

There are two tracks that descend from Slugain Lodge, the Argo track which I’d used this morning, and what I assume is the original path which I followed this evening. This original track follows the Allt an t-Slugain through a narrow valley, where I found a well sheltered spot to camp.

After a restless night, I rose to another beautiful sunny morning. Whilst eating a leisurely breakfast I began hatching a plan for the day. There was blue sky above, but over the higher ground the cloud was building, and moving quite quickly in the wind. Yesterday had been a long day and I had a couple of hot spots on my feet, so I decided return to Keiloc and the car. If the weather looked ok and the hot spots didn’t deteriorate I would do another two night trip from Linn of Dee. Otherwise I 'd drive around to the fleshpots of Avemore, buy a meal and check out the gear shops before deciding what to do next.

The walk back to Keiloc was very enjoyable. I had the track to myself for the first hour or so, then I began meeting a steady stream of people, most were making for Ben Avon, although there were some groups of cheerful teenagers doing their DOE Gold award. They were on a four day camping expedition, with rucksacks the size of small buildings. If they ever become mountaineers after this experience, it will show great strength of character.

When I arrived back at the car my feet were pretty sore, so made a brew, then put Plan B in to operation, and drove to Avemore via Tomintoul.

By the time I reached Avemore the weather had really deteriorated, with cloud covering the hills. I stayed just long enough for a quick look around the gear shops, followed by a rather greasy portion of fish and chips, then headed for home. It had been rather a shorter trip than I had hoped for, but I had to be pleased that I'd managed to grab a couple of sunny days in the hills, given the poor weather of late.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Wild Camping in the Eastern Cairngorms Part 2.

It was quite early when the sun woke me, as its rays warmed the tent. I wasn't in a hurry today so I fired up the stove for a brew, before settling back down for another hours snooze.
My rough plan for Friday, was to climb the Munro of Leabaidh an Daimh, and then find a high camp on the Ben Avon plateau or at the Sneck. I was packed and on my way by , the day was perfect, with blue skies and bright sunshine, as I wondered up the track listening to the birds and enjoying the solitude. At Slugain Lodge I stopped for a snack, before continuing up the path which soon leaves the confines of Gleann an t-Sluggan for open moor land with a superb view of Beinn a’ Bhuird

The path from here is excellent, it follows the sometimes distant Glas Allt Mor, before crossing the river, and climbing through a steep sided valley were it breaks out onto the open hillside, some distance below the rocky boulders of the Sneck.

I had considered leaving my rucksack at the Sneck, and returning for an overnight camp after visiting  the main summit of Ben Avon and some of its subsidiary tops, but there was a very strong wind blowing which put paid to that idea. Maybe if the wind was confined to the col, I'd be able to find a sheltered spot by one of the summit tors where I could spend the night.

When I reached the Leabaidh an Daimh, I dumped my rucksack and scrambled to what I hope was its highest point. The wind was still blowing fairly briskly so a wild camp on the Ben Avon Plateau would have to wait for another time, I took one last look at the summit and returned to the Sneck, to fill my water bottle at the infant Glass Alt Mor and have lunch.

The climb from the Sneck to Beinn a’ Bhuird starts off up steep stony path which played havoc with my tired legs, but once the initial climb is over it’s a straight forward if lengthy walk over a subsidiary rocky top to the North Top, which at 1197m is the highest point of Beinn a’ Bhuird. The summit itself is a disappointment just a pile of stones set on a rolling grassy expanse, but the fabulous view made up for this. Ben Avon looked miles away and I could hardly believe that less than three hours ago I’d stood on its granite tors. To the west Ben Macdui and the Central Cairngorms looked close enough to touch, it was just magic!

However, closer to home, finding a place to camp was uppermost in my mind, the wind was still strong and I had the feeling that weather might change fairly quickly, and frankly I felt pretty tired, certainly too tired to contemplate a stormy night in such a bleak location. So I laboured over the A’Chioch and descended the grassy slops between a late snowfield that stretched down from the South Top and the boulder strewn edge of Coire na Cliché. When I reached the col before Care Fiaclach, I could clearly see the path that descends its western slopes, before turning east, crossing the Glass Allt Mor and rejoining the path to Slugain Lodge.

I followed the path down, then as I crossed the heather slopes to the river crossing  looked in vain for a decent pitch for the night but nothing appeared, eventually I resolved to camp in the grassy banks in the beautiful little gorge below the ruin of Slugain Lodge.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Wild Camping in the Eastern Cairngorms Part 1.

My plan was to arrive at the Keiloc off road car park just outside Braemar at around , and head off into the Eastern Cairngorms for a few days wild camping, taking in the summits of  Ben Avon and Beinn a' Bhuird on the way. I'd packed sufficient food for three days, so there was no need to rush, just enjoy the hills and take in the views. Unfortunately I was delayed for over an hour by a vehicle fire on the M6, so it was nearly when I shouldered my rucksack and set off up the track past Invercaud House, and its ancient woodlands, towards Gleann Slugain.

I'd covered about 4.5 km when I emerged from the trees into Gleann an t Slugain. The sun was beginning to drop below the skyline, as I continued along the track looking for somewhere to camp. A few minutes later I spotted a flattish area of grass alongside the river at NO14794. On closer inspection it proved to be reasonably level and dry, so I gratefully pitched the Laser Comp and began to settled in for the night.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Off to the hills at last!

With a few days of good weather forecast for the Caingorms, on Thursday I headed north towards Braemar. I was hoping to spend a few nights in the hills,which would give me the oppertunity to try out my recently purchased Golite Jam and Thermarest NeoAir. I’ll post an account of my trip in the next couple of days, but meanwhile here’s a photograph of my first nights camp.