Sunday, 27 December 2015

Finally Got A "Round Tuit"

So there was a thing called the Leibster award that went round the outdoor bloggers over a year ago, and it seems that I never posted a response to my nomination because I'm a grumpy git or something along those lines... Anyway, Louise has gone to bed and I'm still working my way through some Christmas ales, having some "Sandy time" and generally just enjoying the stillness of a quiet hoose and came across a half written Blog post response to it that I never ended up finishing.

I know it's late but I thought I should maybe post it anyway...

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1.What was it that first got you into outdoor activities?

I suppose I’ve always been an outdoorsy sort and consider myself lucky to be old enough to have grown up just before the facebook and touch screen revolution that see’s youngsters these days permanently glued to a device of some sort instead of interacting with the world around them.  I grew up in East Kilbride living on the edge of some of South Lanarkshire’s finest scenery. 
Weekends and after school was spent roaming the local woods, building treehouses, catching stickleback in the local pond and exploring for miles over the local hills and fields. Then when I was old enough I joined the scouts which allowed me to learn a lot of the more essential skills for hill walking and camping. I had a brief interlude where I discovered beer, pubs and girls etc before stumbling across outdoorsmagic where  I met a load of likeminded folk and got myself back out there. (I still like beer and pubs mind you, but I'm married so now there's only one girl for me)  I don’t really frequent or contribute much to OM anymore these days but still occasionally lurk. I find it hard enough to find time for writing on here sometimes so there’s no chance of contributing lots to a forum.

2.You’re on a multi-day backpacking trip. Which luxury item do you take?

Does it have to be only one? I find I have many items I’d consider a luxury when backpacking in the hills. My kindle is pretty much a must have luxury especially for those long nights in winter. I’ll often take a little booze of some sort, usually a beer (or 2) or some nice single malt. Something nice for pudding (whatever I fancy from the cake section in the shops before the trip). There’s plenty more but I’ve covered entertainment, food and drink.

3.What’s the most physically challenging trip you’ve ever undertaken?

Hmmm, I’m not sure how best to answer this one but here goes…
Regular readers and those who know me will probably have gathered that I was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis in my lungs a while back. Like typical Mr West of Scotland man I have to be practically on my death bed before I’d consider making a doctor's appointment so I ignored my symptoms and just kept putting my failing hill fitness down to a lack of getting up the hills often enough. The few times I did manage to get out, I found myself falling way short of even my own modest expectations but  I didn’t really start to realise that something wasn’t quite right until after a few trips out with others, where frankly I was embarrassed by my performance. Shortly after this I caught a chest infection from Louise and after failing to shift it for several weeks she then nagged me (like all good wives do) into going to see the doctor.
 I won’t go into detail about the Sarcoidosis in this post but to answer the question above, I’d have to say that my most physically challenging trip was my trip to Skye with Kendal mountaineering services. I was physically burst from the exertion and no matter how hard I tried I just could not keep pace with the other folks on the trip. It knocked my confidence somewhat and I found myself more than a little out of my comfort zone at times. To be physically sore is one thing but to be in a place mentally where you start to doubt yourself and your abilities is really not good.
 Hindsight’s wonderful though.  I've come to terms with my physical limitations and learnt to accept them and now that I know now what was causing me to struggle at the time I don't doubt myself anymore. At the time though, I found it really tough.

4.Lager or real ale?

Real ale without a doubt.  My favourites are brewed locally in Strathaven but part of it is tasting the different ales from around the country. I’m no real ale snob though and wouldn’t turn my nose up at a lager…especially if you’re buying ;-)

5.What’s the best thing about camping?

Far too many things to list or talk about here. For me it’s the whole experience and every trip brings something new…although just the act of getting away from it all and escaping whatever stresses you happen to have in life at the time must consistently rank pretty high.

6.What’s the worst thing about camping?

Lying awake being unable to catch some ZZZs for whatever reason (too cold, lumpy ground, noisy tent, etc) and knowing you’re going to suffer for it the next day.  There's not much worse than being tired and crabbit on the hills in adverse conditions. That’s what leads to bad decisions.

7.What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?

"Hike your own hike."

We’ve all heard the saying but it’s taken me many years to properly understand it. Hike your own hike, choose your own route and don’t be afraid to stray from what’s considered to be the correct way.  It applies in so many ways and to so many things. In fact it’s something I’ve been thinking about recently and may expand upon soon in another post.

8.What’s the oldest piece of gear you have? Do you still use it?

An old Vango Tempest 2 tunnel tent. It’s too heavy to carry solo and I’ve got other 2/3 man alternatives that are both bigger and lighter.  I still use it occasionally, though it’s pretty much been relegated to festival camping.

9.Headphones on the hill, yes or no? If yes, what’s playing?

No. I’ve tried but it feels weird and somehow wrong to be out in amongst nature and then drown it out. I like hearing the wind, the rain, the birdsong, the gurgle of a stream or burn, the sound of my own breathing, the crunch and squeak of snow underfoot, etc. It’s all part of the experience for me.

10.If you could only climb one mountain, which one would it be?

That’s a tough question and one I suspect I’d answer differently every time you asked me. The most recent one to shoot to the top of my favourite list is Ben Donich. Can’t I just have the whole Arrochar Alps area?

11.When will be your next big outing?

Hopefully in the next week or two. I’ve been stuck working a lot of overtime recently and I’m starting to get a little stir crazy now. Unfortunately I think my next weekend off might be spent lying underneath the Landy though as it’s overdue a service and needs a few jobs doing.

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Actually the answer to number 11 up there is a lie, or at least things have changed since I wrote it. I've since been back and forth to Malaysia for work for a fair chunk of this year (despite still facing redundancy) which seems to have stolen most of my time available to get outdoors.

My redundancy situation now appears to have an end in sight so I can start making plans (and act upon them) for the future. I don't normally go in for the whole New Years Resolutions thing but having seen the subtle difference in photies on here of my ugly mug on trips a mere 7 months apart (and also seeing my current reflection in the mirror) I'm going back to the running. It hurts and I hate it but as I get older, I've come to realise that sometimes doing the stuff you dislike can be worth the effort. I'm going to try get out on the hills a bit more regularly this year (although January is a non starter as I'll be overseas again for my last trip to Malaysia) and I'm also going to try keep posting in this place a little more regularly too as I like looking back on it. It serves as a place to inspire me (and hopefully others), jot down thoughts and let off a little steam when I rant on about something that's often trivial or simply to just share the joy of being outside. Either way it's a little cathartic and I think it helps me in some way.

If I don't post again this side of Hogmanay then I wish all the best to you and yours.

BTW if anyone wants to continue or start up the Leibster thing again please reply in the comments and I'll think up some suitable questions for you.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A watched pot...

Made the most of last weeks "Indian Summer" and managed to sneak off out for a late afternoon/evening wander (complete with dinner) with Nelliedug last week.  Sometimes wee unplanned jaunts are the best!

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Thursday, 1 October 2015

High UV Buff with Insect Shield

For the past few months I've been using the High UV Buff with Insect Shield kindly sent to me by Anth from Kitshack.

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It's the usual continuous tube constructed from the Coolmax fabric that so many of us are familiar with but this one is slightly special as it has a few extra useful features. It's been tested to be effective at an average of 95% ultra violet protection which equals an average UPF of 20. The fabric has been treated with the always useful Polygiene Odor Control to keep you fresh on multi day trips and it has been treated with Insect Shield Technology which is claimed to remain effective in the garment for 70 washes.

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Buff's are not a new thing. In fact I'm pretty sure most outdoorsy folks own at least one and if you don't, then trust me you should! I know there are some of the opinion that it's just a silly over priced piece of fabric and we've all heard the moans on the forums et all but to all the naysayers I hereby challenge you to take a pair of your lightweight tent pegs and go and knit me something that's as useful and lightweight as this innocuous piece of fabric...and if you manage it, I'll eat my hat buff.

Why are they so good I hear some of you cry? Well first the size and weight is negligible and if you're worried about how heavy it is then frankly you're beyond help. As an item of clothing they simply fill in so many roles that it's ridiculous. Everything from a simple scarf to a face shield. From a warmish beanie (ideal weight for those on the move in winter) to a bandanna. From a balaclava to a sweat band. From a hairband to a sahariane. From a...well you get the idea. What else does it do you may ask? Well I've used them to mop up condensation in a small tent. I've used them to hold a particularly hot cooking pot that I'm eating from. I've used them to dry said pot after I've rinsed it out. I keep one wrapped round my delicate meths stove to prevent it rattling and getting damaged when stored in my cook kit. I've cleaned my sunglasses with it. I've even been known to blow my nose on it.

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When I got my hands on the one that Kitshack sent me I immediately noticed how worn and threadbare my old ones have gotten which is hardly surprising given how long they've been in active service. It's quite nice to be using a new one again. Pleasant in a way that's hard to quantify but similar in fashion to that of new socks for example.

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The Buff has been doing double duty in our household for the last couple of months as Louise and I have both been wearing it a lot. Louise reports using it most mornings during her cycle to work as a liner under helmet to keep her ears warm and her hair out of the way. I've been wearing it during Nelliedug's evening walk as either a beanie on the cooler evenings and as a make shift sun hat or sweat band on the warmer evenings if the pace is faster. I can also report that on those warmer evenings I've never been bothered by the clouds of midges that gather in our local woods. I foresee it being used more and more as a face shield or balaclava as winter properly sets in over the coming months and that's the point about these things. They're just so versatile.

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I'm not sure there's much more I can say about how great these simple wee items are. I'll say this though. I've always had one on my person or in my pack when I'm out and about and I'm glad it's now one that protects me from the UV rays and appears to keep the midges away.

Friday, 20 March 2015

A fleeting glimpse

I sat in the window sill like some crazed curtain twitcher holding a makeshift monacle (comprised of 4 separate lenses from my sunglasses) and between the breaks in the cloud, I watched the moon slowly eat the sun. At first I think the neighbours all thought I was mad. I heard the folks from the solicitors across the road exclaiming how sh*t it was that they couldn't see anything...but then every now and then, the clouds would be just the right density/opacity to see the spectacle in the sky with the naked eye, and slowly it became ooh's and aah's that were drifting across the road. The delivery man dropping off a parcel for next door was also pretty chuffed when I gave him a shot of my bodge-it lens.

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Definitely worth staying up after my last nightshift for.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

No sunset I'm afaid...

Easing myself back in was the plan and it was a good one. It's been a while since I was regularly out and up anything pointy in winter conditions and even longer since I did it while carrying an overnight pack (My muscles are still protesting as I write this 2 days later!). It's not just my fitness where this apparent as deciding what to take and packing it took me around 2 days. Long gone are the days where I could rush home after work and sling some kit into the boot and pack when I got there. One tool I did find useful here was my patent pending "Bigbananamountains Kit Weight Calculator". It's not a new idea or anything groundbreaking but it has been a labour of love (I wish I was better at driving excel) creating it and I'm finding it quite useful in driving my pack weight down and making sure I don't forget anything in a slightly geeky way. If anybody wants a copy, leave me a comment and I'll happily share it.

Anyway...I was easing myself back into this, so when I spotted the weather window I decided it would have to be somewhere familiar and that I'd go sans dug. (I'm sure she's still annoyed after seeing the photies!) I rose to an early(ish) alarm and stuffed myself with a decent breakfast before stuffing my rucksack with the pile of kit lying on the floor, and set off. The drive to Arrochar was fairly uneventful and I was slightly smug as I stole the one remaining space in the car park by driving the Landy directly over the top of the massive pile of debris blown up from Loch Long by the recent stormy weather. Enormous ground clearance has its advantages at times. I changed my shoes and had an unhurried cuppa as I watched score of folks setting off and noted that not one of them had an ice axe strapped to the outside of their pack. I swithered with the idea of ditching almost a kilo of hardware from my back but in the end decided against it. I've been caught out before doing this and if nothing else the extra weight would be good practise.

I crossed the road, set off up the path and ignored the long switchbacks instead opting to take the steeper, more direct route towards Beinn Narnain. Aware I didn't want to burn myself out too quickly I kept my pace steady, and it wasn't long before my legs were eating up the metres of ascent and my eyes were drinking in the ever expanding views. It's just a pity that it was somewhat more overcast than I was expecting.

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I eventually reached the snow line and skirted around the patches before reaching the more rocky and craggy terrain where the trekking poles were stowed and hands were employed for some simple but thoroughly enjoyable scrambling. Before long though the patches grew too large to avoid and became a continuous feature. It was well consolidated and it's crust like iron. Out came the axe and shortly after, on went the crampons as my bendy boots just weren't up to the job of sawing their own steps. Although it had been a while, I found the axe moving fluidly from hand to hand to remain on my uphill side with out any mental intervention whatsoever. Like riding a bike as they say. I met a chap (He's somewhere in the second photo after this paragraph) coming down who warned me of the icy terrain above. He'd wisely given up on the summit as he'd left his hardware in the car park below. I thought how close I'd came to it and was glad I didn't.

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As I made my way up and over Cruach nam Miseag I was presented with a very alpine looking Cobbler to my left and an imposing summit looming above me with its misty cap only adding to the atmosphere. As I approached I could see the cornice overhanging the connecting ridge to A Chrois and I spotted that someone with a bigger pair of balls than me had front pointed their way directly up the snow beneath the Spearhead Buttress. It looked like a much faster way to gain the height but if you took a tumble there was no run out except onto a mass of jaggy looking boulders below. I cringed at the thought of it as I carefully picked my way up the craggy left hand side. The scramble was fun and was exhilaration enough for me.

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The summit wasn't quite so breathtaking. The view was obliterated into a grey/white nothingness all around. I took a photo, made a quick call to my pal to let him know I wasn't available for the Steak and Beer proposition he'd text me earlier and then left. I'd proven to myself that I could still manage in the winter mountains but I was beginning to flag a bit. The last hundred or so metres had been fought hard for. I was needing to stop and refuel. Thoughts turned to potential campsites of which there were plenty I had taken note of, but all were being slowly enveloped by the mist. I didn't want the dampness adding to what was always going to be a cold wild camp so I descended back down to Cruach nam Miseag.

I set up the tent along with my shiny new Ookwork's big nest which took a while due to my fumbling fingers, and ever encroaching fatigue. I was burst and worn out. It had been a big day and all I wanted now was to watch the sun go down and get some hot food in me before crawling into a cocoon of downy softness. The food was hot, the sleeping bag was soft and I suppose the sun went down in a blaze of glory somewhere else. All I got was a brief band of colour where the cloud base didn't quite meet the horizon. I suppose 2 out of 3 isn't bad.

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I checked in with Louise, facebooked for about ten minutes then crashed out. I woke a few times to put earplugs in and wrestle with my Exped pillow which eventually got launched to other side of the tent after it refused to stay put before drifting off again. A few hours later my bladder woke me again and forced me to make a trip outside. I couldn't resist taking the camera with me...

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I woke around ten minutes before my alarm (Set for the sunrise) just like at home and groggily dragged myself out of the sleeping bag. I'd slept fairly well compared to previous winter camps so was pleased. Outside it was cold, bitterly cold and I was glad I had my heaviest down jacket with me. The sky was misty but I could see the subtlest hints of colour creeping above the horizon and it looked like the air was clearing too. I had an excited child like anticipation of watching the sun slowly rise above the distant tops. A simple but magical pleasure and one we should all indulge in a little more often.

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I wandered around my camp site whilst I waited and climbed the little rise behind to get a better view of Ben Lomond. I found some Mountain Hare tracks that weren't there the previous evening. The thought of an unnoticed furry visitor amused me as I wondered how long he was out there for. Quite a while judging by the amount of tracks. Then slowly the show began. The colours deepened and then there was a slight flash as the sun just poked its head above the parapet. I was mesmerised and enthralled as I watched the sky and then the landscape around me change. It went from a blue frozen slumber to vibrant colourful mountain scape.

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It was a while before the desire for caffeine and food had me return to the tent below, where I had the pleasure of another sunrise over the rocks just above my camp site. This time it was a personal and exclusive event as I felt the sun slowly warm my shelter as it crept ever higher.

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I lingered in camp for a while, savouring the peace it afforded me and just simply enjoying the experience of being out again. Eventually though I ran out of cofee bags and it was time to get moving again so I packed up and slowly made my way back down the mountain.

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I'm still a little sore and achy today, but that's just a reminder to not leave it so long between trips.

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