Monday 7 October 2013

Mardale Lives!

A grey and grizzly Haweswater
It was grey and grizzly in the Penrith area when I woke today.  The weather forecast, not good for the Lakes, was best for the east of the National Park.  So I packed my day sack and Hyperpup and I set off to drive down to Haweswater.  If the weather looked reasonable we would head up Kidsty Pike and High Street; if not we would pootle around low down.

The road from Penrith to Haweswater is a joy if you are not in a hurry.  I love the hamlets and villages along here – Askham, Helton,  Butterwick and Bampton.  Askham and Bampton still boast pubs, with the one at Bampton, the Mardale Inn proudly advertising “we never close”.  One day I may put that to the test.

It must be a year since I last drove along the valley.  The reservoir is quite low at the moment and the scarred, shingle banks seek, but fail, to detract from the hillsides above.  The golden fellsides at this time of year are just too overwhelmingly beautiful to be defeated by the insensitive work of those who planned the death of this valley.  The remains of the dry stone walls that enclosed the fields of Mardale, before the dam was built and the village drowned, were visible in places, a trigger for sadness and reflection of what this place must have been like 80 years ago.  If you want a flavour of the trauma and emotion that the coming of the dam caused you could do worse than read the lovely prizewinning novel ‘Haweswater’ by Sarah Hall.  It tells the story of a Mardale girl who fell in love with one of the engineers working on the dam.  That plot may sound a bit hackneyed but it really is a good read.

Looking back along the path by the western side of Haweswater

We arrived at the car park at the head of the lake.  Only the second car there today.  The wind had strengthened now and was very gusty; the rain, fortunately only drizzle, and not continuous, was near horizontal at times.  The cloud was very low and the base never rose above 400 or 500m.  This was a day for us to stay low.  I have had my share of clag and poor visibility on the hills, but I am now free from the pressures of peak bagging and my nearness to the fells mean that I can be more selective and less masochistic in my choice of routes.

Looking back to Rough Crag - a fine way up High Street. Note the old walls of Mardale disappearing into the reservoir

More drowned fields
So we took the path along the west side of the lake.  I have walked the first part of this shoreline many times on the way to High Street or Kidsty Pike.  Today was the first time I have gone further than Riggindale and the turn up to Kidsty.  It was wet.  It was muddy and stony.  It was boggy in places and Hyperpup learnt a messy lesson that bogs and small border collies don’t mix.  Mind you, he looked like a real rough, tough farm dog after that experience.  He also learnt that if you so much as look at a sheep you get nagged and bawled at but if you are quick you can still get a mouthful of sheep dung whilst the old git is taking a photograph.  We returned the way we came.  Not much more to say, other than here are some more photos taken with my very sophisticated Box Brownie.

A pristine Hyperpup before the incident with the bog

Muddied but undaunted

Haweswater with Harter Fell in the clag
Looking back to Mardale Waters

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Pimp My Rucksack

I am horribly jealous of bloggers who get free gear to review.  I have never been offered free gear.  Let’s be frank.  I would love to be offered free gear.  Why hide it?  Which of us wouldn’t?  This blog post is therefore a naked attempt to get sent free kit.  When the incisiveness of my views and writing is seen, when the extent of my discerning and trend setting, influential readership is understood, I will be flooded with lovely stoves, soft shell, hard shell, boots, tent pegs and other shiny items to try out.
So why haven't I been sent free stuff up until now?  Perhaps it’s because manufacturers think my blog is rubbish.  Perhaps it doesn’t get enough readership.  Perhaps I am not regarded as competent to pass a judgement on their kit.  Perhaps no-one out there has ever heard of me.  Probably all these things!
But let me tell you, I could put on a new jacket and walk down to town in it, even if it were raining, and then pass comments on its merits or otherwise. I could put up a new tent and examine it in my back garden.  Crikey, if I got a free tent I might even be prepared to lug it up Wansfell Pike to photograph it with my Kodak Instamatic.
So I have decided to show all the gear heads out there that I too have lots of stuff.  Some of it has been used more than once and I have an opinion on it.  As with all mere mortals ie those not called Chris Townsend or John Manning, my experience of other products for comparative purposes is relatively limited so all of what follows could be complete crap.  Could be?  You decide.
So here goes, Fellbound’s own light touch, in-depth, scientifically dead dodgy, self-opinionated views on some bits of kit that he owns.  These are based on 40 years of experience of bumbling about semi-competently on the hills.  Obviously, all the stuff reviewed below was bought with my own money because, as I implied, the bastards that make it will not send me any for free.

If any reader wants to send this on to any contacts at Berghaus, Rab, Vango, Evernew, Tarp Tent, Rohan, PHD, MLD, Clam Cleats (I love tent pegs I do), Inov8, Brasher, Paramo,  North Face or the like, do not hesitate.  Send me some free stuff you swine.  And being well over 6 foot tall I will do something that the likes of Chris T. cannot do. I will specialise in reviews “for the taller man”.
Some of my kit reviewed
Optimus Primus Express Stove.  You light it, it heats up your water quickly, it weighs about 90 grams.  Nuff said.
Evernew 900ml titanium pot: Light, tough and used by Chris Townsend since he were a lad. Nuff said.
Light My Fire Steel:  It sparks almost every time and it lights your gas stove.  Nuff said.
Plastic spork: You can eat your food with it.  It melts if you get it too hot.  Nuff said.
Tent pegs:  I have some blue ones, some gold ones and some red ones.  The red ones bend.  The gold ones are not made of real gold unfortunately.  They all hold my tent up.   The blue ones set my steely blue-grey eyes off nicely.
ULA Catalyst Pack.  A pack must have two attributes. It must be a comfortable carry and it must have space for all your gear.  Everything else is belts and whistles.  In many cases literally.  I am very tall (6 foot 3 inches) and the Catalyst is the only pack I have owned this side of 1975 which has a hip belt that sits on my hips and so takes some of the weight.  So I love it.  It leaks like a sieve, mind, and it would be improved with a zip fastened outer pocket, and would also be better if there weren't large strap holes in the side water bottle pockets which thus allow small items to fall out.
Osprey Talon 33.  Holds all my day stuff and will take my winter gear too.  Can’t fault it except for the high hip belt (see above).  And not too heavy.  It's had a lot of wear and is getting past it now.  Please can Osprey send me a new one to test?
Hilleberg Akto:  Nuff already said about this tent by everyone else.
Tarp Tent Scarp 1.  I have only used this for one night so my opinion is utterly worthless.  But here it is.  Quite simply, anyone want to buy my Akto?  Roomy, decent headroom, the taller end struts mean that tall people aren’t sleeping with the inner on their face.  But why the guylines are so short is beyond me.  And I agree with Robin at about the zip.   Rather than being J shaped, an inverted T zip would be much better.  Also, the inside pockets are pathetically small.  And the ties that are supposed to hold the inner doors open don’t do this properly.
MLD Trailstar:  Yes it’s massive.  Yes it has won every award under the sun short of the George Cross.  But if you are over 6 foot tall it’s over hyped crap, absolute crap.  My feet are always sticking outside under the sides by the morning, and I either wake up wrapped around the centre trekking pole or my face is right in the dripping wet, low angled sides.  And usually both.  Further, is it possible to get in and out without getting a soaking back from the internal running condensation?  Yes it is, but only if you crawl out on your belly like a snake.  So I always have soggy back syndrome when using it.  I’d sell it, but it may be better than a tent when Hyperpup is a little older and comes out backpacking with me.
Neo Air Xlite sleeping mat.  When did Lilos become so expensive? My first Neo Air Xlite, a regular size, failed after 3 nights.  Blessing in disguise,   Cotswold Outdoors agreed I could have an exchange and pay the extra for the large size rather than the regular.  Much better if you are tall and I would highly recommend this.  Worth the small weight penalty.  Now waiting for this one to fail on me. 
PHD Down Minimus Jacket with Dri Shell and Hood.  My birthday present the year before last.  It’s very snuggly and let's face it we all secretly like snuggly stuff.  I love it, except it’s too short in the body and sleeves despite being XL size.  Do PHD base their sizing on Japanese men?  Just after it arrived PHD started offering a more customised measure yourself version, but I can’t justify the cost of changing it.  Bugger.
Rab Sleeping Bags:  I own more than I should ie 3 of them.  The Neutrino 400 Endurance (semi-waterproof shell) is possibly the most versatile, as with extra layers it can do for most of the UK winter but is not too hot in summer.  So if you can only get one decent bag this is for you.  The blue colour sets off my eyes nicely too.
Footwear:  Why do reviewers bother to refer to boots and shoes as being a “good fit”?  Useless information.  We all have different shaped feet.  I own some Scarpa Gore-tex lined leather boots and had similar from a different maker before these.  Never, ever, again.  The liners fail and then they are awful.  If buying boots I would get traditional leather like I always used to use.  With regular proofing such boots usually kept my feet dry in my first 35 years of hill walking trips.  Now, La Sportiva Raptor trail shoes do me very nicely on many walks.  These grip like a limpet (I think somebody else used the expression "stick like dog shit on your shoe" but that is so vulgar).  However, with trail shoes you have to get used to the looks of disapproval from people in big boots when out on the hill.  The black and yellow Raptors also attract love sick bumble bees.
Hard Shell:  I have a range (ie 2) of Berghaus Gore-tex Jackets, and have owned others previously. I think all the debate and hype about the different types of Gore-tex over eggs the differences.  I have kept reasonably dry in all that I have owned.  I currently tend to wear a Berghaus Paclite jacket which is just fine in the conditions I experience. The Paclite trousers are the dog's dangly bits.  Light, pack small, keep your legs dry.  What more can be asked?
I also own two Paramo waterproofs.  I do not dare express an opinion on these otherwise a lynch mob may turn up, whether I comment favourably or not.
Rohan Merino 200 Long Sleeved Zip Base Layer.  I love it.  And it was perfect until Martin Rye wrote in a tweet (@Rye1966) that he hates merino as it gets soggy.  I hadn’t noticed until I read that, but now I do.  Every trip it is soaking. Still love it. I have a blue one and a red one.  The blue one sets my eyes off nicely. 
Smart Wool Socks:  People swear by them.  I chucked mine out yesterday after only 3 wears. They had stretched horribly, the heel bit was half way up my ankle and I had my first blister in over 20 years wearing them.  The pair I had were clearly the work of the devil. And that devil is one nasty creature, I can tell you.

Now send me some nice gear please.

(“That’s enough about gear, you could bore for England you could.”  Ed.)

Sunday 15 September 2013

Day 2 Trip Report of a walk in the North Western Fells: Banana skins and wise words

Early morning brew near Launchy Tarn

Trip stats

Distance: 14km
Height: 971m climbed; 1394 descended
Duration: 7 hours 20 minutes
Wainwright Count: 4 
Second brew of the day

I awoke just before 6.00am and indulged myself by brewing tea whilst lying in my sleeping bag, at the same time watching the sombre grey sky and damp moorland through the open door of the Scarp 1.  Drinking tea like this is one of the great pleasures of spending a night out in the hills.  Breakfast was instant porridge, a cereal bar and more tea.  After this leisurely start I was walking by 8.30am.
My initial destination was to be the top of Dale Head.  I debated with myself whether to contour round through heather and bog to meet the path up the hill from Honister, or to drop down, losing quite a bit of height, to the decent path up from Dale Head Tarn.  I chose the latter, and thus within 15 minutes or so of downhill heathery tussocks I was on the steep grind of an uphill slope.  Hillsides always seem steeper to me first thing in the morning when there has been no gentle lead in.  On the way up I stopped to play with my recently acquired birthday present, a Suunto Core watch, and switched it to altitude mode.  I hadn’t calibrated it, so was really pleased to arrive at the summit much earlier than I had expected as its readings were out by almost 100 metres.  At the top I could set it correctly from the map and it proved of great amusement value for the rest of the day.
Summit cairn on Dale Head
Dale Head has a magnificent cairn on the top but the potentially superb views from here were limited today because of the clag.  Dale Head is much understated and underrated as a mountain but the walk along the edge to Hindscarth and Robinson is splendid.  That was part of my very first proper walk in the Lakes, which I did with a group of friends from the school Combined Cadet Force in a very hot Easter week in 1973 or 1974.  This ridge wasn’t my objective today, and instead I dropped down the easy path to Honister as the sun started to break through.  I headed to the café at the slate mines.  What on earth are the owners thinking of putting up their terrible bright orange garish sign?  The slate mine is an eyesore, but an understandable one that has provided employment to local people for very many years.  The sign, though, is inexcusable.  And whilst I have previously enjoyed the mine tour a couple of times I do wish they would make more of the rather dismal café.  How about some decent cakes for a kick off?  And does the mug of tea have to come with a tea bag floating in it?  Personally, I prefer a tea pot and extra hot water.  Much better for rehydration!
Yes, they make signs too, but how about using a tasteful green colour?

Honister Hause is often regarded as a cheat’s start to a day on the hills as it knocks about 300m off the climb.  I have no problem with that, but anyway today I had already done one fell. The direct route up to Grey Knotts is still a tough slog from here with a backpacking load, and I definitely felt this in both lungs and legs.  It starts steep but gradually the gradients ease.  The top is a pleasing jumble of rocky outcrops. I am never certain which is the highest point, but today I went to that furthest west and had glorious views down to Buttermere as the sun was now winning its battle with the clouds.

Retrospective to Dale Head from the climb up Grey Knotts

Buttermere from Grey Knotts (Ennerdale and Crummock Water also in view)
A quick drop down and a short pull up took me on to the rocky top of Brandreth, followed by a rather longer descent and ascent up the slopes of Green Gable.  The cloud was, by now, well and truly back, and its menacing big brother, Great Gable, had become well enveloped and hidden from view.
I chatted to a couple on the summit of Green Gable.  The lady was gingerly holding a fresh banana skin between thumb and first finger like it was something covered in poison.  At this point I may have made a very unfair assumption as I surmised that this was about to be discarded.  I watched them head off from the summit and she bent over and seemed to push it between some rocks in a cairn. As she and her partner weren’t covered in tattoos and muscles I called after them “excuse me, but please do not leave that banana skin, they take years to degrade”.  With that she picked it up and pulled another old banana skin from out of the cairn, and told me she wasn’t dropping hers but picking up another one.  I hope what she said was true and I was in the wrong, but my eyes told me something different was happening.  If she was clearing litter then good on her. I make no apologies, though, for my challenge.  When we can we should make litter louts feel like the scum that they are.  And with that temperate aside I should move on.
Green Gable from Brandreth with her menacing big brother behind
Many British mountaineers worship at what sometimes seems to be regarded as the shrine of Great Gable but I always find it an unfriendly hill, if hills can have human characteristics. Perhaps it just scares me for reasons unknown.  It is not that hard to climb, although the path from Beck Head which I normally use for ascent is now not just steep but is also horribly loose. But it certainly would have been a hill too far for me today. 

So I dropped to Windy Gap and then down Aaron Slack towards Sty Head Tarn.  I have only been down Aaron Slack once before, again with school friends, this time at the Easter a year after my introduction to the fells, but still 40 years ago.  I remembered it as being a long, scree covered, unpleasant descent, even with the flexible bendy knees of a teenager.  My memory was spot on, although Fix the Fells have since tried to urbanise one section of it, as is their want.  I despair of that unaccountable organisation, but cannot summon up the energy to write a post about them.  I just find so much of their footpath work profoundly insensitive and depressing and in some places completely unnecessary.
Windy Gap between Green and Great Gable. Quite a sinister place in the mist.

Aaron Slack
By the time I had completed the long descent to Sty Head the wind was really starting to get up and the clag was getting wetter.  I headed up to Sprinkling Tarn, largely hidden in the mist, and then along the ‘highway’ that is the path to Esk Hause.  I planned to go over Allen Crags and camp but even though I was carrying a water filter decided to be on the safe side, and fill my water bottles from the crystal clear stream at the fords near the top of Ruddy Gill.
As I did so I got chatting to a couple of guys, one of whom was from the Duddon Mountain Rescue Team.  They asked my plans, and then whether I had seen the forecast.  I hadn’t.  It was for very strong winds and none stop rain over night.  Their advice was to head down to the valley and not camp high.  I hesitated briefly then took it.  My car was in Keswick, and my bed only 20 minutes from there.  I headed down to Seathwaite via Ruddy Gill and Grains Gill.  This extended my planned walk by well over an hour.  I arrived at Seatoller 15 minutes after the bus had left.  But hey, I still had the use of my thumbs, and within 5 minutes of road walking along Borrowdale I was picked up by a friendly outdoor pursuits instructor and so had the pleasure of a fish and chips supper in Keswick rather than a last freeze dried meal in my tent.
Grains Gill

Trip Stats from my Active 10 Satnav:
Distance walked:  0 km
Height:  0 metres climbed, 0 metres descended
Time taken: 0 minutes
Maximum travelling speed: 0 kmph

Note to self: Remember to turn on route tracker when using Active 10.

Saturday 14 September 2013

Day 1 of a walk and a wild camp in the North Western Fells…with a bit of a rant about some mountain bikers with large tattoos and even larger biceps and a dog walker with neither

A life on the ocean wave: Derwent Water

Distance: A very modest 8km
Height: 761m climbed, 287m descended
Wainwright Count: 3
A fun and relaxing way to begin a walk in the Lakes is to take a ferry to your start point.  And this is what I did last Wednesday, catching the 10.30am anti-clockwise boat on Derwent Water from Keswick to Hawse End.  Excellent value for £3.85.
The weather was still, mild and claggy, and the outside seats on the ferry were damp from the last shower but I was happy to put up with wet backside syndrome to benefit from the lovely views to Derwent Isle and the hills all around.  After a quick 15 minutes of nautical life, the captain dropped anchor off the Hawse End Pier and I disembarked and headed off up Cat Bells.
Cat Bells from the launch - the top is just in the cloud
Cat Bells is one of the most photographed hills in the Lakes, and it often features in books of walking routes as an ideal and easy mountain for children.  “Anyone can climb it”, I read the other day.  I actually think that the image given by its picturesque name is misleading, certainly when approached from Hawse End.  No, of course it’s not hard, but it isn’t a walk in the park and there are a couple of steep scrambly sections so it’s not as gentle as often implied.  It does boast the most glorious views back over Derwent Water, the view being one of the Lakes at their charming and beguiling best.
Derwent Water from Cat Bells

With my pack and my lack of hill fitness it was 70 minutes to the top.  And here I met the three mountain bikers who had been carrying their bikes up the hill in front of me, cycling on the easier stretches. Now, mountain bikes are great.  I have dabbled in the past, in a very minor way.  But they are only great in the right place.  At the risk of winding up any mountain bikers reading this, my view is that in the hills a single mountain bike trip will cause far more erosion than a walker covering the same route, unless the route is all on bed rock.  The surface area of the bike wheels touching the ground is less than a hiker’s boot and the wheel is constantly in touch with the ground, combining weight of bike and rider. So that means more erosion.  No doubt many will disagree, but that’s free speech for you!  So to me the ideal place for mountain bikes is forest trails and the like, of which there are plenty in the Lakes.
One thing is certain. Bikes can only legally use public bridleways, not public footpaths.  And this trio were not on a bridleway so they shouldn’t have been there anyway.  Now as I am a grumpy and pompous old git I decided to say something to them about this, that was until I caught up with them at the top.  This is where cowardice got the better of me.  Let me describe their arms.  They had biceps.  Not your ordinary office worker biceps, I mean the sorts you see if you are foolish enough ever to visit a back street gym.  And on top of their biceps they had another layer of biceps.  And on top of their second layer of biceps they had tattoos.  Not tattoos of the names of their wives and children.  Skulls and the like.  And names that may well have been those of pit bull dogs.  Furthermore, they all had stubble on their faces.  Not a clean shave amongst them.  So I meekly said “hello, lovely day so far, hope it keeps dry” and they grunted at me, which I took for agreement, then they did some showing off type stunts on their bikes and took photos and then they headed on down the public footpath at high speed, no doubt scaring the life out of poor Mrs Tiggy Winkle, who, as you know, lives just below Cat Bells.
I am sure they were very nice gentlemen really

From Cat Bells to Maiden Moor

I dropped down to the col known as Hause Gate where the first few drops of rain hit me.  Soon after that the old Berghaus Paclite rain gear was on, jacket and trousers.  I don’t often bang on about gear in this blog but I may do a post about various kit related items soon, and will mention Paclite, mainly because it gets a bad press by those ‘in the know’, whereas I am perfectly happy with it.
A short detour from the main path took me up to Bull Crag and then to the top of Maiden Moor.  From here it was on through the clag and heavy rain to the summit of High Spy, my third ‘Wainwright’ of the day.  It wasn’t driving rain as there was no wind, but it was pretty torrential for all that.
Top of High Spy: A fine cairn

As I descended from High Spy I came across a Berghaus pack raincover on the ground.  I wondered whether to pick it up and keep it (ie steal it), salving my conscience with the excuse that it was now just litter, or whether I should leave it in case anyone came back for it.  Conscience was getting the better of me, not least because I didn’t need another pack cover.  As I debated this serious moral dilemma, poking at it with one of my poles, I saw a chap about 50 metres below me picking up another pack cover.  I shouted down that I, too, had found one.  He replied that they were both his, that he and his wife had lost them, and he was walking back to find them.  Now to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “to lose one packcover may be regarded as misfortune; but to lose two starts to look like carelessness”, but I kept this thought to myself, and instead talked to him, as he arrived, about his dog, a two year old border collie which was racing up and down the hill.  Having just acquired hyperpup I am interested in collies.
“How long have you been letting her off the lead in the hills”, I asked.
“Only since yesterday”, he replied, “she chased sheep until then”.  So she stopped chasing sheep all of a sudden like, I wondered.
“Now she just chases after people and bites at their boots”, he added.  That’s ok then.  Off you go girl. Get off my boots.
It is a sharpish drop down to Dale Head Tarn, not one of the finest tarns in the Lakes.  I had planned to wild camp here, but it was pretty marshy and I didn’t fancy the drier small walled enclosure which was right next to the path. So I headed up over rough moorland to Launchy Tarn.  The rain was stopping now, and not far from this small, peaty pool I found a dry island with a lovely level pitch, no hummocks or heather, and with a good stream just 10 minutes away.  It could have been very exposed in wind but it was still calm, so it was up with the Tarp Tent Scarp 1 for the first time for real.  And it seems to be a cracker of a shelter, so more about that at another time.  Then it was a lazy remainder of the afternoon, brewing up, sorting stuff, sitting on a rock contemplating the peace and reading until meal time.  If you ever wild camp you will know the sort of thing.
Tarp Tent Scarp 1 near Launchy Tarn
The view downwards from my tent - Dale Head Tarn just visible left centre
Dinner was a ‘Cup a Soup’ followed by a Mountain House Chicken Korma, or so the packet claimed.  It actually wasn’t too bad, but why do the instructions always tell you to add more water than needed so you end up with more soup?  Bird’s instant semolina for pudding, followed by hot chocolate and a Milky Way and bed and the Kindle and the Famous Grouse and a really good night’s sleep.
Stats of the walk from my Active 10 Sat Nav:
Time taken: 294 days 7 hours
Distance covered: 148km
Average speed whilst moving: 48 km per hour.
Note to myself: Reset trip log before using Active 10 in future.