Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Pacerpoles ordered & Fuizion food ordered

Ordered my Pacerpoles yesterday - can't wait to get them and try them out. The trails are all very icy round about but a couple more days of thaw should make them a bit more manageable.

I've ordered some freeze dried food from Fuizion just to see what it's like. My fellow blogger and tweeter @terrybnd recommends it so I'll have a try. The best freeze dried food I've ever had so far comes from Enertia Trail Foods in the good old US of A but it's impossible to get here. They have kindly said that they will send me some for the walk but I'm intrigued to see if the Fuizion stuff is as good. From what they say on their website they certainly have the right approach. I know from experience that there is nothing like the prospect of a half decent meal at the end of the day to keep you going on the trail. If they taste half as good as they look I'll be impressed

Fuizion Kung Po Chicken with Noodles
I'm so looking forward to starting all of the actual planning and itinerary....roll on New Year

Monday, 27 December 2010

Gear for my walk

Now that 2011 is just around the corner and I have some money to spend, I've started to think a bit more about what I'll take with me on my walk. I've already got a lot of stuff but I want to refine my kit a bit to improve comfort and effectiveness and reduce weight where possible.

There are lots of hikers out there who go to the extremes to reduce weight and do things like cutting the handle off their toothbrushes. Sounds daft but if it reduces the weight by half that's not bad. If you could do that with everything it would make a heck of a difference. I'm not that desperate although I do want to reduce weight where I can. Here is a basic list of what I'll be taking with me:
  • Rucksack - Golite Jam2. I wore out my last Golite pack and loved it to bits. They are very light and very strong and if I'm honest I probably loaded far more than was recommended into my last one which was why it started to fall apart. I know that not everyone gets on with Golite because of the lack of frame and padding on the hipbelt but I've always found them very comfy. Let's face it though - I've got a fair bit of padding of my own so maybe by the time July comes and I've lost some weight I may change my mind.

    • Tent - Vango Apex200 as detailed in previous blog
    • Sleeping bag - Mountain Equipment Dewline - this is the sleeping bag that I bought for walking the John Muir trail several years ago. It is a down bag and only weighs 650 grams. They save weight by not having a zip and not having any down filling on the underside. After all, if you are lying on down you are compressing it and so it's useless for insulation. The bag is slightly elasticated on the top to keep it close to your body and avoid cold spots. It is rated to minus 5 degrees and so should see me comfortably through my walk. I always tend to sleep cold and I generally use a silk liner with it but probably won't bother with that this time. I am trying to get out of the habit of taking stuff 'just in case'!
    • Mattress - thermarest self inflating. I am never comfortable sleeping in a tent but the thermarest makes it at least bearable. I have two - a full length one and a three quarter length one which is thicker and so probably weighs about the same as the full length one (around 950grams) I also use it for padding my backpack - of which more later!
    • Stove - Jetboil. Again, over the years we have acquired and tried out several different kinds from gas canisters to white gas to fuel tablets. I like the jetboil because it's easy to light, reliable, compact and relatively lightweight.

      • Food - Whenever we are in the states, we try to stock up of food from a company called Trailfoods. They make the best and most easily prepared backpacking food that we have ever tried. They don't export to the UK yet but when I contacted them they kindly said that they would send me some over for the walk. Now that's what I call service!
      • GPS unit - we have between us (I bought it for Roy but I use it more than him) a Satmap Active 10 GPS. It is the rolls royce of GPS units with a price tag to match but the beauty is that it uses ordnance survey mapping so the maps are very familiar. I can't say that I've mastered it but every time I go out I practice and learn a little more. It is a bit like the controls of the starship enterprise but I will get there. After all it's no use taking it if I don't know how to use it properly. I have bought the mapcard that has the entire Pennine Way on it at 1:25000 so am going to have to think hard about what actual paper maps to take with me. I can't imagine setting off without an OS map in my pocket so we'll see.
      Satmap Active 10 GPS
      The fabulous thing about Satmap is that they are a very customer oriented company and are extremely helpful with any queries. I had a problem downloading and installing an upgrade to the Satmap software and they worked with me step by step to help me fix the problem. the problem wasn't even theirs, it was with the Windows setup on my laptop. They would have been quite within their rights to say 'get microsoft to sort it out' but no - Ben Randall from their IT department corresponded with me over several weeks to help me sort it out. Now that's what I call above an beyond the call of duty. I can't praise Satmap highly enough.
      • Pillow - I am on a continual quest for the perfect camping pillow. I absolutely have to have a pillow if I want to get any sleep at all but have never found anything that really works. I've tried stuffing clothes in a stuff sack but that only works if you aren't wearing all of them cos you're cold. I've tried inflatable ones but they are often quite heavy, quite rigid and prone to leaks. I've tried so called packable pillows but they aren't packable enough and are quite big.Today I was perusing the REI website as I always find that the Americans are way ahead of us when it comes to backpacking and I found a pillow that everyone raves about. It's called the Exped air pillow and it's inflatable but it looks as if it might do the job. Well designed and sturdy but only weighs 85 grams. It's on my shopping list.
      Exped Air Pillow
      •  Hiking poles - I've always used walking poles because of the extra stability they give - I find it a bit like the difference between having an ordinary car and a 4 wheel drive. I can't imagine not having poles with me but mine were quite cheap when I bought them 10 years ago and so I thought that I would get some new ones. I read a review that Chris Townsend had written about a new design called PacerPoles and took a look. They have shaped handles and you use them in a slightly different action to ordinary poles. 
      PacerPoles unique handgrip design
      Frankly - if they're good enough for Chris Townsend and Cameron McNeish, then they're good enough for me. They're on my shopping list.
      • Clothes - I tend to prefer natural fabrics like merino wool and so Icebreaker garments are top of my list. I'll be acquiring some more of these. They have the added advantage of not smelling after several days on the trail
      • Headtorch - petzl. Indispensable. How did I ever manage without one???
      • First aid kit - just the basics really as I'll never be that far from civilisation
      • Emergency kit - I always carry a space blanket, a whistle, spare headtorch battery and some other bits and pieces that I don't like to be without like thermarest repair patches.
      • Compass
      • Platypus water bladder - just love these and the way that the drinking tube is always there just ready to be slurped on. If I had a water bottle I know I wouldn't stop often enough and so I'd dehydrate really quickly.
      • Water filter - we have a filter that we bought in the states that works perfectly well but it is reasonably bulky so I've looked for something else (I wouldn't contemplate purification tablets - yuck) I follow Terrybnd on twitter and he found an inline filter that fits into your platypus hose and you suck water through it. Great idea. Light, small, effective and not ridiculously expensive. It's called the Drinksafe Aquagard Inline Hydration Filter 

      Of course there'll be other stuff to take as well and I'll have to try really hard to avoid taking the kitchen sink with me too but as I complete my training walks I'll refine my kit and decide what I can do without. Can't wait to get going - wish the weather was on the John Muir Trail

      Me on the descent from Donoghue pass from Yosemite into the Ansel Adams Wildernes

        A snowy Christmas day

        Yesterday - christmas day we went for a lovely walk to a nearby loch called Fairy Glen. There was a lot of snow of course but we wanted to see how many trees had been cleared from around the loch. It was a glorious day and the sky was that deep deep cerulean blue that you only get on a very cold day at this time of year. We took some coffee with us and stopped at the cabin on the loch that belongs to a friend. It was all locked up of course but what a great place to have. The loch was formed to provide water for Coleburn distillery many moons ago. Nowadays Coleburn is closed and the loch is a peaceful haven.

        Of course the loch was frozen over and there were lots of animal tracks about in the snow. We have been up there lots of times and seen deer and rabbits and red squirrels so there is a lot of wildlife about. People often walk their dogs up there too so doggy footprints are everywhere. When we got near the loch, we found a bit that wasn't frozen over near the edge and there were a lot of tracks on the shoreline along with a pile of gunge that looked like slimy vomit. On closer inspection it had fishy scales and body parts in it so it was the remains of somethings lunch!

        Five toes - our guess is an otter

        We know that there are otters near us because we sadly found one on the verge at the bottom of our driveway last year. It had been hit by a car. It had never occurred to us that Fairy Glen would be a great place for them to live but it's obvious when you think about it. There is a burn running in at one end and out at the other. There are plenty of fish about and it is extremely quiet (except when they are cutting trees down). I took some pictures of the tracks and at first I thought that they were doggy footprints but when I enhanced the contrast I saw that they had five toes and dogs have only four. They could possibly be badger tracks but given the location and the fishy remains I am inclined to believe that they are otter tracks. If the weather holds out I may take another trip up there and go well equipped for an otter spotting expedition.

        We spotted some more weird things on the way back. The snow was falling off the tree branches and rolling down the steep bank towards the track. As it rolled, it gathered more snow in a beautiful natural spiral snowball. The weather conditions must have been just right and these little snow spirals were everywhere. Some were four or five inches across but most were much smaller. They left delicate tracks on the slope where they had rolled - extraordinary!

        A beautiful natural snowy spiral
        Nature can create much more beautiful structures than man can't it?

        Sunday, 19 December 2010

        And still it snows.....

        When I said in my last post that I hoped the snow bypasses us this time I was of course totally wrong. we've had another six inches so far and now it is absolutely dinging it down outside. It was forecast of course and it is winter so I don't know why we're all surprised!

        Hopefully the roads will be OK tomorrow as I have to go to Inverness to do a funeral. I only have to drive as far as Forres and then I'll get a lift with the funeral director in the hearse but hearses are not reknowned for their handling in the snow so we'll see how it goes.

        One of my colleagues who lives in Thurso had to come down to Inverness last week for a funeral. She left Thurso at 8am and didn't get home until 7pm and that was with an ex police driver at the wheel driving in near white out conditions. Now that's what I call dedication!

        Thursday, 16 December 2010

        The snow is back.....

        Not done a lot of blogging about walking I know but after a big thaw in which most of the 2-3 feet of snow that we had had melted, the snow is back but thankfully not with quite such a vengeance. So far it's just a sprinkle so let's hope it bypasses us this time.

        I feel guilty that I haven't managed to get out and keep up the fitness that I was beginning to build, but in my defence, just getting out of the driveway has been a challenge so the thought of getting out into the hills was a bit of a non starter! Yes I know I'm a fair weather walker....

        I've also been feeling a bit crap with a nasty cough and a croaky voice. Given that I've got a funeral to do next Monday, I'm trying to rest my voice and take care of myself.

        I've used the time to get on with the myriad cakes that I've got on order for Christmas so am on schedule for delivering them all next week. I particularly like my wee snowmen!

        Just the finishing touches to do on these cakes but another one to marzipan and ice, one to bake and ice, mince pies and Christmas cupcakes to make as well as several gingerbread cookie christmas trees....not bad for somebody who doesn't celebrate Christmas!