Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The perils of an online presence

I write this partly as an apology to the kind souls who, from time to time, respond to my posts here. Up to now I have always been happy to allow "comments" without feeling the need to moderate them. Sadly, last night, this changed. I was on the receiving end of two particularly unpleasant comments here which, once I saw them, I immediately deleted. I am in absolutely no doubt as to who sent them and they were clearly a reaction to this recent post. If you have time, you may wish to read the numerous comments there. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

I have, therefore, reluctantly decided to moderate all comments from now on. As ever, I'm grateful for interaction and, given evidence of courtesy, am happy to post some which may include disagreement with my views. As you will see, you may still comment but it will take a little time for me to view them via email before I choose to allow them to appear. I remain optimistic and trust that disallowing will apply rarely.

In addition to this, and as a result of the above abuse, Chrissie has decided to lock her Twitter account this morning. I haven't yet taken this action. It's clear to us both that, despite being blocked, the individual concerned is taking a perverse pleasure in watching our Twitter accounts by covert means. So be it. It must be a forlorn way to lead one's life. It's particularly sad though that this all refers back to Chrissie's selfless response to a plea for help, online, some four years ago. We have both been named recently in one particular place online, as guilty parties in that individual's own version of the events all those years ago. This may be libelous and two thoughts have been on my mind recently. The first is to take legal advice around libel and the second is the exact and accurate recounting of those events in my own words on here. In fact, I would prefer to do neither, but I'm sure many of you will understand my feelings.

Thanks to all of you out there in the ether for bothering to read my bletherings. Your input is appreciated and, usually, enjoyed. Chrissie and I have both made many interesting and pleasant contacts online in recent years. Some of you out there we are pleased to count as good friends. We thank you. You know who you are. The fact remains that the positive experiences far outweigh the negative.

I wish you all well and look forward to more helpful, interesting and pleasant interactions both online and, indeed, out in the real world. Yes, it does still exist.

And Islay and Pebbles send you ALL big sloppy kisses.


Sunday, 2 April 2017

I'm an expert!

I'm an expert in...hillwalking, backpacking, mountain rescue, wilderness first aid, motorhomes, independent travel, motorcycle touring, teaching motorcycling, cycling and cycle touring, dogs and backpacking with dogs...and travelling with dogs and...

I could go on...and on...and on. But I won't cos actually I'm not really an expert in any of these fields. BUT, and it's a big but, I do have considerable experience of all of them. and so, to my point...my rant of the day if you will.

I dip into a good number of blogs. Some I read carefully, some I merely scan. I find many interesting, informative, amusing, A few have elements of all these traits. However, it's become apparent to me in recent times that there is a new type of blogger emerging. This new breed seeks to enter a new world of interesting pursuits. Being focused to a large extent on the world of hillwalking, trekking, backpacking and wild camping, my experiences are limited for the most part on these pursuits, so, here, I'm restricting my comments to this subject area. This new recruit, blogger - let's call him Bert, just for fun - will seek out information, often via social media, sample a few ideas and progress their skills. They will often search the internet for advice on gear, techniques and the like, the better to enjoy their new found activity. Much of this will sound familiar to many of you. I do all these things regularly, almost subconsciously, for I am always willing to learn. Many are the backpacking trips with a friend where I return with a new trick, a different idea, another way of solving a small problem. This is how we learn. How we improve. I see mention of a new bit of kit on social media; I look, consider, dismiss or look further.

So far, Bert and I are alike. We're interested. Keen. Bert carries on with his pursuit, bubbling with enthusiasm but then...something happens...something strange. A metamorphosis occurs. Bert disappears, quietly, into a virtual, internet telephone box and emerges...transformed...like a pupating chrysalis. For now, Bert has become...(drum roll)...an EXPERT!

Now...see their blog. It is filled with pages of...ADVICE. List upon list of what one should carry on a day hike, all you need to wild camp, rules for lightening your load. The opportunities for Bert are, it would seem, limitless. But wait...is this the same Bert who, just last week was asking for advice on wild camping...yet now is pontificating to one and all on the dos and don'ts of this most eccentric of activities? Yes, dear reader, it is he. The same. The very same.

Do you recognise Bert? You should, because he is everywhere. And he is driving me up the proverbial wall.

Back to the beginning. I am NOT an expert. I am a blogger. I write for my own personal amusement and, sometimes it seems, the amusement of a few others. I tell tales of my experiences, successes, failures. I tell of stuff I use, skills I employ. But, I try NOT to pontificate about MY gear being the best, MY technique being the right one. That's for you to decide. Try it, dismiss it, like it. I don't mind. But...Bert...please don't give me a list of techniques for sucking eggs which you yourself, discovered only the day before via Google. Please!

Bert. This is addressed mostly to you. Grow up! Be respectful. Admit your own shortcomings and we, the great unwashed, will likely respond with kindness and help. Tell us what stuff you've tried and how you found it. But don't tell me (the old one, with the grey beard and more nights and days in the wilds, the wind, the rain, the snow than I care to remember) what I must use, how I must do this or that. Behave like the smartarse you clearly are not, and we will ignore, close the page, hit the "unfollow" button and leave you to drown in your pit of undeserved self-congratulation.

You have been warned.

BTW no actual Berts were harmed during the writing of this post. Nor, indeed any Bertinas. But, after it's written...well, who knows?

Oh, and by the way Bert. If you place a request on social media asking for specific advice, please don't go to sleep for a hundred years without checking to see if anyone responded. It is staggeringly rude not to acknowledge the response someone gave just minutes after your request appeared. Don't ask me how I know.

And breathe...

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Kinder Kapers

David and I had been planning to backpack together for a while. Never quite got aroundtuit. Finally, on a dismal Tuesday morning in February, he arrives at Crowther Towers. It's been snowing heavily but now it's turned to rain. Yeuk!

We lunch and natter, noisily, then, unable to put it off much longer, we shoulder heavy rucsacs (well, I do anyway. David's rucsac being made of gossamer and filled with, seemingly, negative gravity lightweight fripperies) and plod (me, David's skipping - like a gazelle) up t'road. The rain has stopped. The Gods must like at least one of us.

Islay's here too, proudly bearing her Ruffwear Palisade panniers, tail wagging furiously, filled with excitement, rather than breakfast, which she earlier regurgitated all over the lounge carpet in her excited silliness. David's left Moss, his handsome collie, at home. David doesn't like getting Moss dirty...or his tent dirty...or himself dirty...or maybe I got that wrong. Anyway, Moss ain't here. Islay is disappointed, but not enough to stop her excitement.

We're not going far, so choose a winding, scenic route up over Middle Moor, via White Brow, into the bottom of William Clough.

David looks slightly bemused there. I think he is worried his lighter-than-air-sac might be wafted away by a passing whisper of wind.

Anyroadup. We follow the path uphill from here, stopping along the way to gaze in awe at the snowy landscape then head up...again...to find a suitable place to camp.

Up goes our new Terra Nova Southern Cross 2...in seconds...well, minutes anyway. Then me and choccy paws wander back to a pool to filter some of its watery depths...only a couple of litres...barely an armful. My phone plays a merry tune. It's David. He's had a mishap with his specs. I soothe his fraying nerves and offer the facilities of Crowther's Travelling Optical Repairs in the fullness of time. And me an' choccy paws slip and slide back to our abode and settle. She in the cosy confines of her Noble Camper. Me in the downy loveliness of my Rab Expedition ('sounds good dunnit?) 800. 

Islay's crunching Bonios and I'm sat, using my Thermarest Compack Chair Kit, sipping coffee, feeling smug, when David arrives with busted eyewear. In seconds...well, minutes...they're fixed, using copious quantities of yellow insulating tape. He'll be warmer now too.

David erects his super, duper Z Packs Duplex, tenty thing. It's made from cuben fibre J cloths. Very swish and SOOOOO light. I hear the wind whispering in my ear.

Cool nights like this do not make for sociability. I'm far too warm to want to share amusing banter with David and I suspect he feels the same.

I cook up a Norwegian, Real Turmat beef stew which the kind people at Base Camp Food donated for me to try. It is truly delicious, with large meaty chunks of beef accompanied by rice and other yummy ingredients. The stuff's a little pricey but worth considering for the odd taste of luxury.

I pass the rest of the evening listening to Radio 4 and browsing Twitter and Facebook. When Chrissie and I were last up here there was no phone signal. Now there's 4G. Amazering!

Islay dines, in her bed.

I try looking moody, for a photo. It doesn't work.

And then...sleep.

In t'morning some of the snow's gone. Me and the pup guzzle brekky.

We take a post breakfast toilety-type wander before packing up.

Then, with loins girded with gossamer (David) and "oof that's heavy" (me) we do the unthinkable and strike straight up the steep, pathless hillside to meet Kinder's edge path.

There's more snow up at these dizzy heights, but the visibility is almost invisible. There's no view of the Downfall so we trudge on towards Red Brook and Kinder Low.

Leaving the trig (neither of us wanted to carry it) we pootle on down past Swine's Back to Edale Cross (it wasn't) to stop for a short break.

Then, following in the footsteps of those, in times of old, plying their trades twixt Edale and Hayfield we return to Crowther Towers, bacon butties, coffee...an' cake with carrots in it.

So, after a second night in the Southern Cross 2, I'm warming to it. There's plenty of room for one plus a pooch to spread out, with my rucsac inside the inner. The double doors and porches are just great. The porch not being used as an entrance makes a great mucky-gear store. The ample headroom allows use of the chair kit... so comfy. It's very quick and easy to erect. The clip holding the open door back onto the exoskeleton means no drippy, flappy fabric showering you with condensation. And on this cool, almost windless night, with the vents at each end of the inner open, I had no condensation whatsoever in the inner. I may come to like this tent. Still not used in any proper wind though. It'll definitely go with me an' Islay on the Sutherland Trail in April/May. Watch this space.

What fun...and I'm indebted to David for being such good company (honest) and being the butt of my acerbic wit.


Sunday, 12 February 2017

Cold Carneddau

It's February. My friend Chris comes up with the route, through Snowdonia.

As I pack, a couple of days ahead, Chrissie offers to take our Terra Nova Polar Lite 2 Micro outside to refit the inner. She finds two of the tapes, holding the eyelets in which pole ends sit, fraying. The tent is only a little over a year old. Our supplier, Cotswold Outdoor, give a two year guarantee to registered customers. We pack up the tent and drive to nearby Bakewell. There's a Cotswold store there. It's our local one. The staff are great.

They're happy to deal with the problem. Offered a replacement tent, we agree. But there are none in their entire network and a quick call to Terra Nova reveals they have none and can't say when they'll be back in stock. Along with the helpful manager we examine options. Eventually, we part with some extra cash (we're given a full refund for the Micro 2) and leave the store with a brand new Terra Nova Southern Cross 2.

At home we erect the tent in the lounge. Next morning we pitch it in the garden. This model has received good reviews since it's launch around a year back. It's a self supporting tent but light enough for backpacking. With our favourite MSR Groundhog pegs it weighs around 2.3kg. It's two person and fits our requirement for a four season shelter big enough for one person and a largish dog. With doors on either side of both inner and fly, and two porches it certainly looks versatile...and roomy.

Into my rucsac it goes, late on Thursday afternoon.

It's VERY early Friday morning and we're on the M56 aiming for Llandudno Junction. Once there, we leave Chris's motor on a quiet, residential street, shoulder our rucsacs and head for the bus to Llanfairfechan, a name I'm sure must once have been uttered by Father Jack.

We plod up through the little town to eventually, as 9am arrives, find a footpath sign where we leave the tarmac. It's cold. The ground is hard and frosty. We trudge upwards, pausing to gaze out over the sea to Anglesey. Having checked the forecast we agreed to leave axes in the car. There's a chance of some snow late on Saturday but nothing is visible from the coast.

Our plan is to climb, slowly (is there any other way?) to the summit of Carnedd Llewelyn, descend via Penywaun Wen, dropping of the bwlch to the reservoir for a camp. From here we'll head across lower country to Betws-y-Coed with another camp along the way. From Betws we'll catch a train back to the coast.

We gain a broad track on our ascent. There are scant views of the tops ahead. The cold has turned once-running water into miniature glaciers coursing down the track.

It's a very long slog up past the small top of Drum. Eventually we find snow and ice and stop to don microspikes. 

Chris is ahead. I hear a faint voice behind. As I turn, I catch sight of a figure...mist-hidden and weird. I look back at Chris again, puzzled. When I turn again, there's nothing.

I'm unsettled.

By around 1:30 we arrive at the refuge beneath Foel Grach. It's clad in ice. Other worldly.

We unbolt the door and enter. Stoves are lit and we feast greedily. I'm wearing thick, winter gloves but the inactivity quickly cools my finger ends. It's a problem I have to face whenever I'm out in the cold. A minor circulation issue which only surfaces in conditions like these. When we leave the hut for the final push to the summit of Carnedd Llewelyn I have fingers pulled out of the glove's digits and scrunched into my palms to gain heat. In this mode I can't use my poles. They hang by the straps from my wrists, clanking on the rocks. But the climb warms and life returns to my hands.

We gain the summit in gloom.

Checking the map and compass bearing we set off into the mist to find our descent route. We fail once and retrace steps. Our second attempt finds us still wrong and on steeper ground than either of us is happy with without an axe. A quick discussion and we return to the summit, deciding conditions are not safe for our planned route from here. 

Returning on our outward route we drop to the saddle between Foel Grach and Garnedd Uchaf. Finding level ground we decide to camp here for the night. We're at 3040ft but, despite the cold, it's a calm evening. Around 4:30pm, it's still light. I successfully erect the new tent for the first time, without removing my winter gloves. The six legs give stability and the pegs feel secure in the snow. My fingers are still warm.

There's no water around so it's time to melt some snow...

...and I'm soon supping coffee and snacking in the warmth of my Rab Expedition 800. Cosy.

There's room in the tent for my rucsac and all its contents spread about in one half of the tent. My boots are inside too and the copious headroom allows use of my Thermarest Compack chair kit.

Snow falls through the night. We reckon it's been around -4 or -5C. A couple of inches of extra snow lies on the ground and it's snowing and blowing. 

The door of the Southern Cross has small Fastex buckles near the bottom of the zip, allowing you to hook up the bottom to give increased ventilation near the ground. Combine this with the door zip opened from the top and you have a through vent, bottom to top. The worst of the weather is kept out as you use your stove in relative safety. Clever.

After breakfast we pack. The visibility is poor. I attach my compass to a clip on my Paramo Aspira smock and pull on my overtrousers.

As we leave our pitch the weather deteriorates to a whiteout, with no definition between ground and sky. Chris checks Viewranger on his phone. I set my compass. It's extreme, challenging but exhilarating as we head into the whiteness. 

The wind changes, driving snow into our eyes. Goggles are out.

With regular checks of map and compass we plough onward. The ridge we came up yesterday rises and falls as we crest each smaller top along the way. 

As we reach the track lower down snow covers the ice we saw yesterday. Lower, wetter snow balls up on our microspikes so we take them off. I carefully avoid the track as much as possible but, almost inevitably, I step on hidden ice and fall heavily on my hip. Thankfully uninjured, Chris helps me up. A few more paces and I slip again. Back on with the spikes which we scuff and and bang with poles in an effort to dislodge accumulating balls of hardened snow. 

By 2pm, we're back in Llanfairfechan. The bus drops us near Chris's car and in no time we're laughing, tucking into an all-day breakfast in a Tesco cafe. That strange feeling of the all-too-quick transfer from winter hills to "normality".

A mad, overnight adventure.

With hindsight yes, of course we should've taken axes. Probably would've been better with crampons 
too. But that, for me, would've meant my winter mountaineering boots as well. Can't remember the last time I used those.

Again, with hindsight, the proposed descent from the summit might not have been the best with a heavy backpacking sac, even with axe and crampons. My pal Chris would perhaps disagree, but we never got that far, so we'll never know. I've ascended via Penywaun Wen at least three times and it makes for an interesting scramble...in fine weather. Descending it, heavily laden, in winter conditions, would be an altogether different proposition. But I knew the route before we set off and never questioned it. What matters is, we ascended safely and, once the situation changed, we reassessed and stayed safe. Carrying on could easily have seen one or both of us appearing in the statistics of the local mountain rescue team. Always best to err on the side of caution, especially in conditions like these. AND, we still had a good time.

The new tent? Well the jury's still out for me. I'm slightly unsure about the large doors, one on each side, which leaves a big area of fabric unsupported. The other two parts on each side have a pegging point in the middle, at the bottom. But it's the same with our Hilleberg Enan (and the Akto too; a highly regarded tent) so I'm probably worrying unnecessarily. Other than that, it's easy to pitch, light for its size and very roomy. And I like the double doors which mean you can shift use if the wind changes. One things for sure, it'll see plenty of use with Chrissie and me. She's already planning on taking it on this year's TGO Challenge.

May the fun continue.