Well, the packing is nearly all complete now. Tomorrow I just have to post my parcels, have quick hair cut, finally pack and then set off for Glasgow. I shall be staying at the Rennie Macintosh Hotel at Glasgow Central if there are any Glasgow people around. On Thursday I shall take my place at Bonaparte’s bar to watch the TGO thong gather.
Due to overwhelming public demand, Bob and I will be podcasting again this year after a gap of five years or so. I have a new podcasting machine. If you see either of us coming, either come and say hello or run the other way! Just so it is difficult to avoid us Bob starts via the train line from Inverness and I start via the train to Mallaig. Our routes then don’t cross, cunningly designed to catch more of you unaware!
So, this will probably be the last post before I leave. There will be lots of photos, podcasts and — yes — another trail journal (again back by popular demand).
So, while I’m away — take care and happy hiking!
Routebuddy’s new Coast to Coast Challenge Map utilises the company’s unique screen ‘stitching’ technology to reduce a new map and add-ons that will be useful to anyone planning a coast-to-coast walk across the Scottish Highlands.
On this occasion I thought it would be more useful to you if I produced a video review, as you really have to see it in action to appreciate what this system can do. The review is in html format and should be viewable by all up-to-daye systems including tablets.
The 1:50K base map is available at a reasonable £19.99.
In addition, Routebuddy has created a number of specific 1:25 add-ons which stitch into the base map. These range in price depending on the ground covered. They start at £4.99 for part of the Torridon hills to £25 for the Cairngorms — good value for money.
Any other Routebuddy map can stitch into the base map and this review also displays a Harvey/BMC 1:40 working with the base map.
Not only can you view stitched maps on the same screen but you can print out the stitched maps on the same sheet of paper.
For a couple of years now I have been looking tropical my main waterproof. This has served me well but after almost a decade of use the fabric has got thinner and the jacket stopped being properly waterproof a few years ago!
Choosing a replacement has been difficult. I’ve tried on a couple of jackets in shops that seem to be sized weirdly, X Large jackets that seem not to the right size across the shoulders. The next problem has been price. The cost of the latest designs and fabrics has become quite ridiculous. I’m simply not going to pay silly money for something that might be a wee bit more breathable.
It was fellow Challenger that first recommended the Alpamayo to me two or three years ago. Gordon is a sensible chap. He likes his gear lightweight but not at the cost of comfort of effectiveness. Everything from PHD I hoverer bought has been top-notch and so in the end I finally got round to following Gordon’s advice!
The first thing you notice about the Alpamayo is its size. PHD size their jackets to allow for the wearing of their down jackets below which is helpful I think. The smock fits nice and loosely but is not flappy. There is no scope tail but the smock has a decent, protective, length to it which I like.
The main zip on the jacket is tough and solid and protected by a proper baffle and waterproof seams. A single chest pocket also uses a similar zip and waterproof protection. There is also an inside pocket with a key holder. The hood is properly adjusted and is probably the best hood I have used on a waterproof jacket. The wire frame is tough and the hood is easily adjusted by an adjuster at the read and my two adjustable toggles on the base. The smock cuffs feature very tough and solid Velcro adjusters. Everything about the construction is very solid and the smock oozes quality. The fabric is not thin but is smooth to the touch
In the use the smock is totally waterproof and windproof without being heavy. The walk on the Black Mountains was a real test of any waterproof garment; the smock design proved more comfortable and protective than I think a jacket would have been. The sealed zips and zip protection proved to be very effective.
While the weather in on the Black Mountain Trip was pretty foul it was mild. Fighting against the wind meant working hard and at no time did I feel the smock lacked for breathability.
The Alpamayo uses PHD’s own HS3 fabric. I’m not exactly sure what this is as many waterproof fabrics — including eVent — can be licensed to be used under individual brand names. What I do know is that this fabric is more than breathable enough for me.
My Alpamayo is X Large size and weighs 470 grams. It costs £259 and can only be obtained from PHD using website. Long experience of buying from PHD tells me that you cranky on their sizing guide — for example, you would have to pretty large to have to go up to the XX Large size (which can be ordered). I idk the over sizing as I thing the option of using a down jacket in cold weather — that is not compacted too much — can be a real bonus. There is a jacket version of the smock available which adds about another 100 grams.
You won’t see this garment reviewed that often as it doesn’t use one of the main name fabrics. However, this is a first rate piece of kit that simply won’t let you down.
Over the next few months I will continue testing and report back with a long term review.
f8, 1/400, ISO 50 at 38 mm
In this internet age it is tempting to think that we know all about the great trails of the world even if we have never ever hiked them ourselves. There are many tells journals to read. There are many hikers who now blog or micro blog as they walk. We know all about the trail infrastructure, we can download the maps and, of course, we all now know about the famous Trail Angels of the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT.
Chris Townsend walked the PCT over 30 years ago. Back then the trail was a reality but it was nowhere near as popular as it is today. I think the year Chris hiked it only 11 people completed it. It has taken 30 years for Chris to produce this book and it seems he only embarked on the task after encouragement from his new publishers, Sandstone Press. Sandstone should take a bow as this is a very fine book indeed. When reviewing Chris’ recent Grizzly Bears and Razor clams (I think it was) put forward the view that Chris’ writing is just getting better and better. Rattlesnakes confirms this.
The PCT is an epic trail and 30 odd years ago walking it was even more epic as the trail infrastructure that we have today simply wasn’t there. To make things even more dramatic Chris walked the PCT after one of the heaviest snow falls recorded making much of the first section of the walk quite a challenge.
The PCT runs for 2,650 miles, starting at the Mexican borders and running North (at least that’s how most people tackle it) through California, Oregon and Washington States. The trail takes in the Mojave desert, the High Sierra Mountains, The Cascade Mountains and many of the great US forests along the way.
This PCT walk was Chris’ first mammoth hike and this book combines both the excitement of that youthful walk with a maturity of reflection that is simply beguiling. Above all else it is the natural drama of the trail environment that is the star of this book but the way Chris details the development of the PCT (both before and since his walk) is fascinating.
A modern journal on the PCT would inevitably feature a lot of words about gear and while this is a book about moving through landscape there’s enough to keen gear junkies happy. For this trip Chris was provided with some of the first Gore Tex waterproofs that landed in the UK. It was also on this trip that Chris saw the light and turned (mid trip) to lightweight trail shoes from heavy boots. There is the drama of a broken pack and the search for a replacement. But mostly this is about the walk.
The heavy snowfall results in a trip that seems a very different one to many accounts that I have read. Chris is famous for walking alone but the snow heavy sections dictated walking in small groups for safety. Not only was there a lot of snow to cross but tiny and often dry creeks had turned into raging torrents. What comes over nicely is the relationship that is built up amongst these trail companions. Chris remarks towards the end of the book tat he had walked much of a thousand miles with some of them and yet they ended up knowing little about each other’s lives back in the ‘real world’. However, you do get a great sense of the trail intensity of these friendships. While not having undertake a venture like this myself this — levelling of human experience — is a feature of any long trail walk and, I think, is one of the reasons for the longevity of the TGO Challenge where you often have little idea about the people you are walking with save for their own views of the immediate experience
A lot of the other usual ingredients are on show here, stories of serial breakfast eating in tiny, backwater, trail towns, the joys of a shower after weeks of walking and so on.
But what makes this a joy to read is the sharing of Chris’ discovery of life on a trail like this, the beauty of the desert, the joys of the high mountains, the fascinating variety of the forests and the glorious wildcamps along the way. I wish I could describe this all a bit more eloquently but you’ll just have to go and read the book!
This was the trip that I guess formed the Chris Townsend that most of us know today. I’m glad that he took a long time to write this as I think we’ve ended up with a fascinating and probably more enduring book.
When I finished reading the book I rang up Colin Ibbotson who told me that the book had made him want to go out and hit the trail again. I know when he means. Putting the book down I had to go out for a walk and spend a night camping on the side of the hill, a far more modest experience without doubt but this is what Chris’ books do. They shake you out of lethargy and install in you that love of the natural world that keeps us all going.
This is very firmly recommended.
Those of who who have followed this blog for a while will know that I am just as keen on my photography as I am on my walking; luckily the two work rather well together.
For me the digital revolution came of age when I was able to move up to a full frame (35 mil equivalent) camera with traditional focal lengths and a big and bright viewfinder. I’ve lugged my Canon 5Dii across all kinds of mountains and open land. It weighs a ton but I’ve managed using a single 17-40 zoom which is pretty light. But the weight has drained even me. Over the last year I’ve found myself walking more and more without a camera but this does present me with a problem in terms of creating trail reports and posts that are illustrated for extra interest. So, this year it was time for a change and I’ve taken the plunge and bought a Fuji X-Pro 1.
I looked at a number of systems, including the Sony system that Chris Townsend uses to such effect. But I was driven to use the Fuji system. A number of walkers and talented photographer who I really respect — including Ian Cotterill and Steve Walton — now use the system and speak very highly of it. The Fuji system has a reputation as being aimed at keen photographers, the kind of people who like using manual modes rather than programmed modes; it also is said to have a range of lenses who’s quality is second to none.
Within the Fuji system there are a number of options. I went for the Fuji X-Pro 1 for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is an X-Pro 2 coming sometime soon and the Pro 1 is available for a great price in a nice package with two useful prime lenses — 28 and 40 equivalents of full frame lenses. Secondly, it is a bit bigger than say the XE2 but the size means that the cameras dials and functions are well spaced and quite chunky. The camera is still pretty light though.
I’ve only been able to play around with it a little so far. You will have to wait for the TGO Challenge photos before you can see a decent number of images from it but early impressions confirm what a lot of people say about this system.
These lenses are stunning. The 18 mm (28 equivalent) is not supposed to be the best in the line but used at or around f8 (which is where landscape photographers usually are) it is very, very sharp and at f2 is pretty fast. The 27 mm lens — a 40 equivalent — is a pancake lens, very light and its f2.8 max aperture is pretty useable (a stop faster than most zooms). The quality of this lens seems to be extraordinary for such a small package.
The Fuji zooms have a pretty good reputation as well. But there is something nice about going back to the world of prime lenses and the quality is excellent. I can see my budget is going to have to be adjusted to add to this range. That being said, these two ranges will give a lot of shooting variety. The 27 is so light that I don’t even notice it in the camera bag. I will take both lenses on the Challenge.
The Fuji viewfinder has received a lot of attention and it seems to be every bit as good as people say. Rangefinder type cameras always suffered by not giving you a view of the actual image coming through the lens — which is what heavy mirror systems were for.
This system gives you three options for composing images. You can use this with the read LCD screen alone or you can use the ‘hybrid viewfinder’.
This hybrid system is a classic eye level viewfinder. There is a conventional optical mode but even this overlays the image with a lot of useful digital information about exposure and other settings. You can switch from this to a total electronic viewfinder. This electronic viewfinder is simply superb and there is not doubt these systems have now come of age. To preserve battery life while walking I shall probably use the optical viewfinder a bit but for normal use I simply go straight to the EVF now.
Handling is superb. I love the old style dials for shutter speed and the aperture rings on the 18 mm lens. The 27 uses a dial on the camera to set aperture but this is pretty easy to use. The speed dial has an A setting to use with Aperture Priority. The aperture ring has an A on it to use with Shutter Speed Priority. Harking back to the early days of programme modes turn both of these to A and you have a programme mode. A simple and easy to use system.
Unlike many modern DSLRs this is a very easy and intuitive camera to use in manual mode, which is where I really like to be.
There are a small number of additional buttons that use different menus, custom menus as well as being able to lock Auto Exposure and Auto Focus techniques.
It’s early days but I love shooting with this system. Trying alternative systems made me think this was probably the best system for handling and it certainly impresses in use.
Finally, the Fuji cameras tend to use APC sensors with 16 million pixels. The quality of lenses and quality of the electronic viewfinder mean I don’t notice the smaller sensor. While this camera has less pixels in it than my Canon (24) it is still pretty high definition. Fuji doesn’t use a conventional anti aliasing system and this is said to give a greater resolution than other comparable systems. All I can say so far is the RAW file quality is very good and will give me pretty decent blow ups.
Cropping isn’t quite so good as with a 24m sensor but one of the nice things about going back to primes is to encourage myself to go back to proper image composition.
You can tell that I already like the system. I shall expect I will be in love with it by the time I return to Scotland.
So, I’ve added a few spare batteries, got hold of a lot of memory space and bought some new protective filters. I’m excited. This Challenge should be more of a photo featured Challenge than in recent years.
Here is the rest of the big stuff!
Tramplite Shelter from Colin Ibbotson — 670 grams including inner. Possible I might leave the inner at home and rely on an MLD bivy — 200 grams
Mountain Laurel Exodus —5 10 grams. Reenforced with a Gossamer Gear Night Lite pad — 100 gams. The pad gives stiffness to the pack and also provides backup in case of a Neoair failure.
Pacer Poles — 510 grams. Aluminium and not carbon. Still the best as far as I ma concerned!
There’s a lot of little stuff, fist aid kit, wash kit and so on that I won’t go into.
I will weight the full pack this weekend though.
The current cold spell — and it is cold in m little office a the moment — reminds me that you have to be able to be prepared for all kinds of stuff in Scotland!
Long time readers will know that I used to use Paramo a lot but in recent yeas have moved away from it. So, this is going to be the list I think.
Two merino tops, one short sleeved from Chocolate Fish and the a full sleeved layer from Bergans of Norway.
Two pairs of merino boxers, one from Icebreaker and one from Bergans.
Jack Wolfskin El Dorado Shirt — 300 grams
Rab Vapor Rise Jacket — 345 grams
PHD Ultra Vest — 300 grams
Jack Wolfskin Activate Pants — 500 grams
Paramo Merapai trousers — 318 grams
Montane Featherlike smock — 100 grams
Tilly Hat — 188 grams
Paramo Mountain Hat — 66 grams
Chocolate Fish Possum/merino woolly hat
Rab Equilibrium gloves — 100 grams
PHD Alpamayo Smock waterproof — 470 grams
Berghaus Paclite over trousers — 250 grams
X socks Lite Trekking — 53 grams
2 pairs Teko Light Hiker — 71 grams
Brooks Cascardia 10 (not weighed yet)
I think that is it, though I’m sure to have forgotten everything. I also have the down jacket listed under the sleep/camp section.
New this year is the Ultra Vest which should me an extra hit of warmth that I could have done with on last year’s event. I tend to keep one pair of socks for civilisation. The Paramo Merapai trousers are used in the same vain. In very hot weather I walk with them but mostly I use them in civilisation. I could get rid of 300 grams by ditching them but what I really like about them is their feel — they are incredibly soft and nice which is appreciated on rest days and at the end of the challenge.
As ever I have three hats. The Tilly hat is used for bad weather and to cope with hot sun. The paramo hat gives me extra protection in really driving wind and rain. And a warm hat is a necessity for camps and cold morning starts.
The windshirt is not really necessary I guess but at 100 grams it is a useful addition and will be used a lot.
For walking I will either use the Vapour Rise of the El Dorado shirt over a merino base layer; it all depends on the weather. The Ultra vest can be worn over either in the dry or under the waterproof smock in the event of rain and cold.
After experimenting with shoes a little I am sticking with the Cascardias — now on version 10. The are light, have quite effective bounce and cushioning and — critically – shed water very effectively. They are more breathable than the old Inov-8s so much so that in cold wind I now find I have to wear wool socks rather than the X Socks.
Finally, a special word for the Equilibrium gloves. Gloves on treks and hikes need thinking about. Once water gets in them they not only get uncomfortable but they are really difficult putting on again. These gloves breath very well and dry out quickly. They may not be quite as windproof as some but then once you have started walking hard you soon warm up!
For my second in the series I shall take a look at my sleep gear which is pretty much standard these days.
I base the system around a series of down products from PHD, one pf our best and most innovative lightweight companies here in the UK.
The sleeping bag is the Minimus down bag, rated down to 5 degrees but in reality comfortable at zero and just below. 470 grams.
I supplement this with my PHD down jacket mainly used for camps but can be walked in). 500 grams.
Over the last few years I have also carried PHD down trousers and socks for camp and for sleeping if it gets really cold. The are wonderful products and allow you to keep warm while providing your body with about as much breathability as available in clothing. My trousers weigh 340 grams and the pair of socks 100 grams.
My sleeping mat is the Neo Air (small size) I rest my feet on my pack or spare clothes. This model has now been superseded but this one os still going strong (at least for now). The secret of the Neoair is its thickness. This is one mat that really copes well with undulating ground. Weighs 280 grams.
Finally, I no longer bother with a spare pair of shoes. I carry a pair of Sealskinz socks. I can wear these over my down socks and happily stroll around in the wet, or I can wear them inside my wet trail shoes. I rarely use these for walking though. Once water gets inside they are a nightmare to get dry again and — unlike merino wool — don’t give you much warmth. But as impromptu waterproof camp wear they are very effective.
This weekend we were at Malvern for Bob and Rose’s second backpacking light.co.uk show. Despite the bad weather forecast the worst fate weather held off and for the most part malvern was blessed with pretty good spring weather.
It wad good to meet old friends including Chris Yapp, Lee Wells and master photographer Steve Walton. And, of course, there were new friends to meet as well.
There is a real need for shows such as these as for many people the only way they are going to see and handle such gear in the company of those who have used it in the wild. I do get a kick out of pointing out to someone that the piece of gear they are about to purchase as truly wonderful!
The most significant thing about this show is how fast the new, budget, manufacturers are improving their lines. In amongst products from the like of MSR and Vaude are the lesser known brands of Nigor and Luxe. These brands _ Particularly Luxe offer great value for money. The quality of manufacture of these shelters is excellent. I bought a large teepee tent last year for festivals and camp site trips and was very impressed with the durability and solidity of construction. You will see some familiar design types in these ranges with some thoughtful design. There are some very good two person tents at around 2 kilograms, a top person trekking pole shelter at 1.5kg and a whole series of hex tents for backpacking.
This was the tent that particularly caught my eye from Nigor. It is a solo tent weighing around 700 grams. It is similar to the Akto designs but taller, with better ventilation and the vestibules are roomier.
While may of us may still crave of the lightest and best designed of the cottage industry products these ranges just show how accessible simple and lightweight gear is becoming, indeed, you may argue that here you have the ‘people’s lightweight gear’. Give Bob a ring if you wan to know more.
A great second show and most people left looking forward the the show next year.