Hazy Shade of Winter

No story here at all. I knew it was coming and I knew I wanted to catch it again.

I drove over the Erskine Bridge, whipped around the roundabouts on the south side and came straight back over to park at the top of Lusset Glen and hike up the walkway on the west side to catch the sun as it went down.

I forgot it’s still winter though, this bloody weather threw me. In summer the sun goes down over by the firth, right now, my lens is just wide enough to catch it and the scenery with my hands stretched through the big fence.

Still, it was gorgeous. Well, that’s not much of a story.

Next up something pale or light blue, this place is just a ticker tape of black and orange just now.


Power Hour

I knew the golden hour was from five til six and also that the likelyhood of the same display as Monday night was remote, but it was calm, clear and bright so we met up at Overtoun about quarter to five and made a run for the skyline anyway.

A bit hazy but the low light was warm although getting ever lower and cooler. We got some height at just the right time after breaking sweat on the climb to Black Wood and back into clear air. Perfect timing.

The sun hit a bank of cloud out to sea and the temperature dropped sharply. But the stove was on and hot cuppas were imminent as we sat in the long grass and listened to birdsong in the scots pines nearby.

One tight stand of pines kept on drawing my eye, I expected an elephant to come charging at me at any second, it looked like a little splat of Africa on the hillside in this warm sunlight.
This is why I don’t get bored, always something new to see. Or imagine.

Although evidence suggests otherwise, it’s still winter so it got dark quick. Dumbarton were playing at home and the stadium sitting under Dumbarton Castle looked just like the big ship from Close Encounters. Haven’t seen that in years, I wonder if it’s aged well. Netflix…

Home by headtorch. Living by the river is brilliant, especially when there’s hills right beside it.

Wee piece of peace

It had been a glorious day and I was determined to get up the crags for tea time, catch the breeze, point the camera westwards, sit on my arse for a bit and take it all in.
However as the afternoon wore on the haze thickened, it grew dull and my enthusiasm waned dramatically.

I sat at my folks house having picked up Holly from school and we thought about what to do that evening as we’d just finished the brilliant Umbrella Academy on Netflix and we were feeling bereft.

Ah it’ll be a long year til season 2.

I was antsy anyway, there had been an arsehole in a white SUV parked like a prick outside the school who also wanted to reverse over me, Holly and some other kids, stopped only by my fist on his window.

The pre-fatherhood me was dragging him out of his seat onto the road but the current me gritted his teeth, went home and failed to get through to the local police on the phone multiple times.

The school is brilliant, awesome, amazing and at their wits end with dumb bastards in vehicles at home time. So they tell us to phone the local polis in the hopes that they’ll sent officers around at home time. We shall see how this progresses.

Through my own internal fog I caught something out of the window, a gable end along the road bright with the rays of a sun near the horizon. I ran to the window and whooped out loud. I’m away I shouted, grabbed the camera, pulled on my boots and legged it for the truck.

I parked up at the harbour and it was just awseome. The sky was stirring itself up, the sun was burning through the murk, the water was calm and the air was cooling.

I spent exactly an hour running up and down the crumbling harbour walls grinning and taking photies, sitting and watching and always listening too, so much birdsong.

This all brought me back to where I needed to be, I knew it would from the moment I saw that patch of light. You can’t underestimate the power of nature, our environment, the world out there and just being in it for a wee while.

Bonny Banks

Spent the the weekend around Loch Lomond, somewhat by accident. Saturday was minging but when the rain stopped I took a quick run up to Luss then beyond with my pal Cat and got some rather nice looking skies just as it was getting dark. It looked particularly nice at the Esso garage at Dumbarton on the way home.
Timing is everything.

The camera was on my desk the whole time too and I have no idea what my phone was doing, I seem to have found some sort of film grain effect in my pocket which disappeared overnight.
Pity, it was nice, the colours were rich with fresh growth in the woodland. It really does feel like spring.

Holly slept late after a busy day on Saturday and it looked like we were going nowhere, but fueled by tattie scones she was suddenly in better form and we hit the road with granny in the back seat. Not in the truck obviously.
That’s going to be a proper thing for a couple of weeks very shortly. I need to do the fuel pump and while it’s in the shed I’ll tackle some other wee jobs on it. Missing it already, a Vauxhall estate just isn’t going to be the same.

We ended up in Balmaha which was mobbed, and Tom Weir has a new hat on. The sky was clearing, ribbons of cloud streaked across the hillsides and vanished into the ether. By the time we got to Rowardennan  it was glorious but still cool, what a perfect day to be on the hills.

It’s started though – the draw of the lochside on a sunny day. Usually we get to enjoy it until easter, but the masses have arrived early with their disposable barbecues, loud sweary voices, poor narrow road driving technique, litter, vape clouds and unnecessary sportswear.
Still, leaving late through these difficult months will give me the hills when I need them.

We ended up in Killearn for a late lunch, macaroni cheese in a bowl with a singed bacon topping. Be still my beating heart.
A really nice wee galvant with the girls. I love living here.

Vintage Gore-Tex versus McNett Seam Grip

Age does not come alone, I have been discovering this over the past few years, and the passage of time also weighs as heavy on your gear.
As much as I enjoy my vintage Gore-Tex most of it has required some maintenance to keep it reliably functional and the biggest issue is the seam tape.

Back in the day the tape was big and wide, it sealed the seams but it did reduce the area of breathability and modern micro tape functions better from that point of view as well as being more flexible, I’m not daft.
The old taping has a familiar wear pattern, around the body of the jacket the tape stays stuck but the edges get a little abraded, unless you have a waist drawcord along which which the tape can peel with the extra pressure and accentuated wear from the concertina effect of the fabric when worn or just left tightened.

The hood however takes a beating. The concentrated 3D shaping in a small area, the tension from multiple adjusters, the constant movement, the pull of a rucksack straps, it all conspires to loosen and peel the tape from the neckline and the rest of the hood.
Sweaty necks are another thing her as well, it attacks the fabric and you can get delamination. The three layers separate leaving the Gore-Tex membrane stuck to one of the other layers. It doesn’t necessarily leak I have discovered, but the membrane is going to be vulnerable to abrasion from movement and it apparently makes professional seam repair troublesome.

Given that I have a bunch of old jackets that I wear regularly I looked at getting some professional retaping done. It was outright too expensive, especially for fixing more than one jacket which I really had to do. The repairs would be more than picking up a replacement jacket on ebay – only old The North Face and occasional Berghaus (who ever dreamed that a Mera Peak would be collectible…) go for big money.

I looked around at the options. I’d done iron-on seam tape many years ago and it was rubbish, there’s a more modern version but I really wanted to patch what was there as the bits that were still stuck were secure.
McNett Seam Grip was the one that came up all the time, approved by Gore even. However after reading a great many reviews I wasn’t sure at all. Some folk said yes please, some folk were sitting crying in their kitchen with their hands covered in glue and ruined jackets.

I decided that the truth was probably in the middle somewhere and reading between the lines a little it seemed like the best results were done with preparation and patience. I have both of those available, so I decided to try to fix one hood, the one that needed it most, on a ’98 Karrimor Summit.

Preparation and patience are vital, it took me over two weeks to fix that hood, including redoing an early bit after I got better at it. But it worked really well and after months of regular wear I stopped checking the inside of the hood to see if it was coming apart again and I just wear it.
Maybe longer term it’ll need some further patching but that’s okay, I’ve gotten used to the smells of the chemicals now and have moved onto fixing other jackets.

I reckon seam sealing works if you do it right. It helps extend the life of old gear which has got to be a good thing financially and environmentally and also it’s er, fun.

Here’s what I do, demonstrated Haynes manual style on a mid 90s Karrimor Diamond Jacket, their top end mountaineering shell back in the day in what feels like Taslan Gore-Tex, a tough 3-layer fabric.

Wash the jacket, rinse it well and gather your tools.

Rags are best, not paper towels for the first cleaning part, they will come apart leaving little bobbles of paper all over the work area.
Rubbing alcohol for cleaning. I had industrial stuff I could use at first but when that was finished I thought I’d try stuff from the chemist and it’s fine, what ever additives are in the domestic version don’t affect the results.
A little tub for the sealer and a small paint brush because the one that comes with the tube is rubbish, throw it away.
Tape, properly sticky tape. The thin duct tape I use would pull your skin off if you put it the back of your hand.
McNett Seam Grip. Under a tenner from GoOutdoors in Clydebank.

Prepare, I can’t stress this enough. Clear the area, get your kit sorted, get strips of tape cut so you can grab them and remember this – the jacket has to go somewhere when you’re finished. That somewhere has to be where it will sit undisturbed and unstressed for at least 48 hours.

Once you’re sorted identify what you want to fix first. Don’t try and do it all, especially if there’s a lot of continuous tape failure, be patient.

Below is the neck seam, it’s pretty bad on the Diamond and I’m doing it in several pieces.

Wet your rag with the alcohol and get rubbing. Don’t be gentle either, lean on it and you’ll see old adhesive bobbling off as you cut through to the fabric below.

Above is after a few minutes of rubbing and it’s as good as I can get it. You can see a shadow of the old contact area but it’s clean. I also cleaned the tape above and all the other surfaces that are being bonded just as carefully. Not being half arsed here really helps.

Leave it be and let it dry, watch some telly, have a cuppa.

Put a little seam sealer in a cup or tub, even a bigger plastic bottle top would do. Squeeze a bit out from the tube and put the lid back on. The sealer now has a limited life, they’re not joking, the tube contents will now start to cure. They say it’ll last two months if you keep it in the freezer and I’ve got to three months on this tube although the contents are definitely thicker so this was it’s last outing. Use two months as a guide, it seems about right. Stick it in a zip lock bag, stick in the freezer after use.

Paint sealer on the surfaces to be mated. Don’t go crazy with it and don’t scrimp either, a light but even coating. You want to have a good adhesive surface but you don’t want to squeeze a lot out when you mate it all together. You could even try it on scrap fabric, bits of paper, anything at all to help you judge it.

Once the surfaces are coated, press the tape back down nice and gently. The tape will stretch and the fabric will not, it’s easy to make creases in the tape if you’re overzealous here.
Smooth it out, some sealer will squeeze out, hopefully not too much and wipe it clean along the direction of the tape with a bit of paper towel. It doesn’t have to be as out of focus as it is below.

Duct tape the repair, overlapping the fabric and original seam tape with your duct tape as evenly as you can to get the glue surface in the middle. This is partly for security and also for getting it right on longer runs, if you get into the habit of keeping it centered it’ll help here.

Rub the duct tape flat so it has good grip, if the tape is well stuck your repair is well stuck. You can see the edge of the Gore-Tex tape showing through my duct tape below, this is good.

Put the sealer in the freezer, wash the brush and tub out with the alcohol, stow everything safely. Go about your life.

48 hours, I’m not joking. Stick the jacket somewhere where the repair is sitting without pressure or unwanted flex and leave it for two days. Or more, just not less.

Above I’m peeling the duct tape back off and I’m doing it in a very specific fashion. I’m pulling it away from the repaired seam and keeping pressure on the repair with a finger while I’m doing it. It’s vital not to stress the repair while taking the tape off, especially when the duct tape as is sticky as this.

Even after two days you might find the edge of the repair hasn’t completely cured, it might be tacky. That’s fine, leave the jacket where it is for another day.

When the repair edge is dry, clean off any excess sealer with alcohol and a rag, rubbing along the line of the seam tape so you don’t stress the edge of the repair.

It took a me a few attempts to get this right and I’m used to making and fixing on a daily basis. Glad I stuck with it (ha), it’s brought some of my favourite kit back into a usable state.
It really is a very doable thing. Repairing your own gear is enjoyable and brings a wee bit of self satisfaction too.

Remember, preparation and patience.

That jacket below, the whole hood has been patched and so far, looking good.

70’s Karrimor Tote-Em Rucksack with K2 Frame – Part #1

There are a few random threads that knotted together to bring this post around.

One thread is vintage or just old gear, I’ve been using it and talking about it for ages and it’s something that seems to be seeping into the general consciousness which is a very good thing. Maybe folk will look back, see the good bits and then cast a more critical and skeptical eye over new kit, some of which is vintage reissues. Ha.
Another thread is my life as a heritage heating engineer where I crawl about old buildings making things works that have no right to still be functional or creating new things that look like old things. At my core I am part Victorian.
This engineering eye is what I see outdoor gear with, I see processes and construction, inspiration and ingenuity and I see skill and thought in even the most basic bit of kit. It stirs the geek in me.

So I’m in a church hall attic tracing out long forgotten braided electric cable expecting to see sparks in the dark and a large cracked Bakelite shell at the end of it. I shone a torch through piles of dusty gear and saw my goal, but I’d have to dig it out.
I was digging through time, sooty old aluminium pots, heavy canvas and rigid pole tents, a wooden and canvas stretcher, taped up boxes, disintegrating poly bags of miscellaneous crap and then at the bottom a flash of red.

I knew it was outdoor gear, most of the other stuff I was shifting was in that vein in a 60’s Outward Bound sort of way but this fabric was bright, it looked good, it looked better quality that everything else around it. I immediately had suspicions, I dragged it into the clear and shone my torch on the label, it read: A Karrimor Product, Avenue Parade, Accrington, Lancs, England.
I whooped out loud and sent the photie above straight from my phone to my facebook page where with some further shots, some discussion followed.
It’s a Tote-Em external frame pack, 70’s vintage.

I found my electrical fault/horror. No spare parts to be had, the manufacturer of the oddball item went out of business in ’75 and some things I just can’t make myself and stay legal. However, I have a good plan and I’m on it.

When reporting all this to the customer I mentioned the pack, is there any chance... ? I ventured. Inquiries would be made they said.
After the weekend we talked about the job and my plan for getting things running and the word came through just as we were finishing up “Oh, just take that old haversack”.
It was in the truck in less than an hour.

I was impressed by the lightness for the apparently large capacity, I was impressed by the condition for its age and the design intrigued me but it was manky.
The environment it was in was dry but dirty and dusty and there had been an element of asbestos in the storage area in the past and although everything is certified as clear, 35 years of dealing with the substance and the consequences of exposure to it to many folks around me has taught me caution.
I stripped the pack and cleaned it, not a gentle wipe down either, it’s head went right under the bath water with a nail brush in my hand. Hey, it’s UK made Karrimor gear with a lifetime guarantee isn’t it? I knew it would be fine.

I inspected it all closely and it had come up well. No major damage at all, just regular wear from long forgotten adventures. The fabric is fresh, a few small holes which I probably won’t touch unless they fray in use. The webbing and buckles all look good and now run a lot smoother.
And, the whole thing smells vaguely of NikWax Tech Wash.
I let it dry for a couple of days then got down to the task of reassembling and adjusting it to fit my back, because it’s not a museum piece or for home decor, it’s going out to play.
I did some research, there’s stuff out there but not too much and Mike Parsons, Karrimor legend and designer of the pack had some insights from it’s creation.

So with a single phillips screwdriver and a basic knowledge of knots, it’s time to bring this Tote-Em back to life.

The frame is labelled a K2 and there were different configurations and lengths, clicking on the Tote-Em page on the excellent Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection site gives you a couple of catalogue pages where you can see the options. The one I have here seems to be a standard Tote-Em, I’ve got the same configuration as the one labeled 5301 on the old page.

The frame is made from 7/8″ aluminium tube. What’s interesting here is that metal wasn’t exactly Karrimor’s medium but it’s easy to see Mike Parsons getting some tools together, learning the methods and wrestling with tube in a workshop until he got what he wanted.
Once the design was finalised in-house tooling was commissioned for punching the holes and local engineering firms made the frames.

There’s no fat in the design, it’s all simple, practical and consequently light.
I make stuff like this now, and 45 years on if I was making one of these it wouldn’t look very different doing it from scratch.
The holes for the horizontal bars are stamped with the outer holes countersunk so that the screws sit flush. The attachments are done with pop rivets and shaped bar.

Aluminium can be horrible stuff to work with, it work hardens which can lead to tearing or crushing.
Bending it with either poor material or poor technique leads to a full scrap bin, you have to get your bend right first time and the shaping here is rather nicely done.
The shelf corners are the bottom end are lovely.

The centre bars are fixed with long steel screws which tighten into threaded plastic inserts. It’s a good design, secure with a bit of flex but it relies on the user not being handless. The pack is designed to be dismantled and adjusted by the user and the cynic in me can see chatrooms and forums in 2019 full of folk cross threading, over-tightening and sticking screwdrivers in their hands.

Ach, but maybe not, backpackers and outdoors folks tend to be more hands-on than most.
I just get that feeling of disconnection that modern life is bringing. I mean, modern big brand packs look they were hatched from an egg. The Tote-Em looks and feels like it was made by folk in Lancashire, it’s the organic tattie to a box of McDonalds fries.

The shoulder straps are basic and you’ll see the same design across many Karrimor packs of the same era. There’s thickish padding which hasn’t deformed or crushed in use with a light nylon shell.
The webbing is pretty stiff but is now running better through the buckles after the deep clean. The metal buckles are all perfectly functional and there’s a nice wee touch of an eyelet at the end of the adjuster so that it won’t slip through the buckle.

The back system is again simple and light but adjustable. There are three sections of 4″ wide webbing which can be placed anywhere on the back as they slide up and down the frame sides.
Moving the bottom one with the waist belt attached around really changes the back length, when I took it apart it was set for someone a lot shorter than me but the adjustment was all quite obvious. It might look like a bag of knitting below, but it’s all simple to do.

You can flip the waist belt left to right or upside down to fine tune, it makes little differences to the fit. The big metal buckle is fine, but there’s just enough webbing in that belt for my current waist line. Must have all been super skinny in the 70’s.

The webbing has drilled aluminium inserts at the ends, three holes drilled in each for manufacturing simplicity with cords for tightening the webbing onto the frame and adding tension to this simple back system.
The waist belt has double cords for extra security and stability, although it’s rudimentary, it seems to be intended that it will take some of the load.

The body of the pack is a little amorphous without the frame and it’s huge too, I think it’s 65 litres, but it’s nicely split into compartments.

The fabric is a bright red nylon and it must have been such a change from all the dull canvas around at the time when it hit the shops. The fabric is somewhere between stiff and supple and has aged very well.
There’s some small holes here and there but they never crept and no attempts were made at repair, so the owner must have been happy enough and who am I to disagree, there will be no modern repairs for now.

The lid is a simple flap and the elastic edging has a little bit of stretch left in it. The old logo makes me smile and in general the branding is very strong and subtle all over the pack. The buckles, even the cord lock all have KP or Karrimor on them. This is ahead of its time, it gives the pack a strong overall identity but I do wonder if it was partly to stop the factories making the parts selling the bespoke component designs to other pack manufacturers?

The tough webbing is in excellent condition. Good lengths on the flap webbing so you can open it fully without taking it right out through the buckles, we’re pre plastic clips here remember.
The side pockets open pretty fully too and all the webbing on the body is running smoother since its bath.

The body is split internally, the bottom 1/3-ish being a separate zipped compartment. The zip is good, runs smooth and has double zip pulls.

Although the internal divider is fixed there are corner holes for any water ingress to pass through from the top which was good thinking. Could probably get modern tent poles down there too, but I don’t think I’ll need to, there’s plenty space.

The side pockets are huge and high up on the sides. There’s a single ice axe loop and buckle, again in great nick and fully functional. I have a wooden axe if the snow comes back for me taking this out.

The closure is a simple cord through eyelets format with a big chunky cord lock. It work just fine and the big flap covers it all completely.

The back shows where the bars sit, the aluminium has left a particularly nice line where the harness bar sits. What trails were trodden when that mark was ground into the fabric? I bet they went by train or bus, I bet they had can openers and bottles of meths, tartan shirts and the widest grins.

The pocket seen above and below is where the load sits, the top bar locates here through the elastic loops (still stretchy, oof!) with the frame sides poking through little gaps in the corners.
All very snug, simple and effective.

The other pack to frame attachments are done with webbing and double rings, a brilliantly simple and effective system which you probably see most often these days on crampon bindings.

Time to put it back together. The back length is adjustable, the shoulder strap bar has two sets of holes to fix onto.
I used the lower one, with the waist belt set further down it feels like a regular back length, keeps the shelf away from my hips and as daft as this might sound, it sits on my back just like I see it on old photies I’ve found. Now there’s the gold standard source to make adjustments by.

The bare frame as above is 670g. Now that might not look light but it feels light, maybe because I’m looking at metal and expecting more, but maybe because the weight is spread out?
Hey, perception is a hard thing to quantify.

I repositioned the webbing a few times, flipped the waist belt over and tried it both ways round and I’ll probably make more changes as I go.
My fears are that the shelf digs into my hips on the trail or that the shoulder straps or the harness bar can be felt in ways I don’t want and I can’t adjust it away once I’m out there. I’ve played as much as I can but until it all settles in after a few miles with a proper load I won’t know, but I’ll be ready to adjust where I can.

Weight with webbing and harness attached 1050g.

Clean, fresh, as well fitting as I can get it and ready to go.
Complete and trail ready it’s at 1685g.

To the modern outdoor eye the Tote-Em might seem alien, but this is a product of innovation, discovery, ingenuity, trial and error, testing and all done here in the UK.
Everything has a first time and then we learn from that for the second time.
My interest in old gear is an appreciation of that as someone who makes things himself, some joyful nostalgia for the days when I moved from army surplus into real gear and a fear that too many good ideas are being left behind for the wrong reasons.

So, a bit iconic and a bit melancholy is that flap below.

When the weather says yes, the Tote-Em will be in the hills. More to come.

The Machinist

“You know, I don’t think any of my friends dads sit and sew”.
We’re sitting on the sofa watching IT Crowd on Netflix and Holly’s contemplating me hand sewing the webbing back onto the back of an old battered pouch that I wanted to use for my camera the next day.
I thought this over. I could mention gender stereotyping, older men’s difficulty in accessing skills such as sewing when they were younger for fear of peer persecution, the struggle of men to break free of the bonds of generations of strict adherence to the unspoken code of how to be a man. But then I realised that most of the men I know sew by hand or machine, many of them professionally and creatively.
“The other dads are rubbish then”.
“Yea” said the girl.

The pouch was good to go, I slipped it onto the hipbelt and secured it with a carabiner to a side compression strap. It was just like the old days.
Everything else was laid out and ready to go. Dear god, is this what it is to be organised? Oh, to see how the other people live.

It was late morning and really rather nice when I hit the road. The sky was blue, a pale icy blue and cloudless because the gauze between me and the sun was a high, thin veil, it was never a cloud in its life
As I left the Arrochar roadside winter felt awfy far away. It was bright and it was warm on the move although the air was cool, especially when I got up into the trees. I kept my gloves on though, bare arms and gloves is just fine, I was being careful this time.

The zigzags mask the height gain and the occasional window view through the green onto an increasingly visible Ben Lomond is the only clue that progress is being made.

But then you’re suddenly there. There is good, there is familiar, there is my happy place, there is snow on it, right up there.
I pretend that I might climb the Cobbler, just to see if I can fool myself, but I’m not that good a liar.
I love the Cobbler, but Beinn Narnain has a pull on me, it always has had. Every visit strengthens that and while I can’t explain it, I can feel it.
The broken, shapeless tumble of crags pull my eyes as well as my feet. The Cobbler is flashy, but it’s kinda solid, what you see is what you get, Narnain has secrets, it has dark corners, it repays time spent and there’s a wee bonus too, you get to look at the flashy neighbour from an excellent angle.

There was a smear of spring in the air, deer in the coire, birds in the air, a caterpillar on a rock and three walkers from China wondering why the hell I was lying on the ground.
They weren’t the first victims of banter this day, I’d accosted several parties already. It being the school holidays and decent weather had brought out several dad and lad parties which was nice to see.
One of these parties also had a dug, a pannier dug at that. It had a jacket with webbing and velcro like a military molle vest, it also had two grab handles for launching the dug over burns and gates. Great bit of kit.

I never got to the Narnain Boulders, I cut right a bit early to gain a little easy height and stop for a drink.
My 25+ years old pack was supremely comfy and stable, but it doesn’t have a bottle pocket. I’d attached my little pouch but not a bottle pocket, partly to see what effect it had on my drinking habits. Sure enough, once I got onto steeper and frozen ground I didn’t drink, too faffy and higher up it was just too cold and windy.
Point proved, although I knew it would go this way. Next day, I went hunting for an old Lowe Alpine insulated bottle holder. 

It was only mid afternoon but the sky thought it was later. The predicted coastal clouds were bubbling onto the high ground here and there, some tops were shrouded while the light was diffused into a warm glow. It was evening a little too early.

Two ravens chased each other around the crags, their croaking the only sound in the lower coire. As I climbed higher rushing water below the rocks and snow went from a whisper to an occasional roar, a thaw was on.
I sat on a rock for a bit to cool down. Not a whisper of wind here.

From somewhere up behind me came the unmistakable chuckle of a ptarmigan with a shuffle of feathers right after. I turned and quickly scanned for it, no sign dammit.
I did start picking out howffs though. So many mini caves or sheltered ledges in this coire for a fine night out. There’s a big one on the right under Cruach nam Miseag with a short scramble to get into it. Hmm I thought to myself, I’d be safe from wolves in that one. Too much Netflix will do that to your mind.

At the coll I stopped and got my crampons on. The snow was consolidated and I was shinning up the regular route which has a few wee steep bits.
I used my axe, I used the spikes on my feet and I was happy, secure and safe.

I was also amazed to see the signs of previous passage, especially in the steep gully by the spearhead crag. Many boot prints but also many long troughs made by fingers scrabbling for purchase. Not so many signs of axes or crampons.

I’m not judging, I have done stuff that makes me wince thinking about it, but it would not have been me today. There have been deaths on this part of the hill.

The little splash of colour on a rock felt like stepping on a twig in the forest when the monster is right there and looking for you, all sudden and startling.
The sky started to join in too. The Cobbler was catching some cloud and the sun was sinking into it. This, this is why I don’t get up early.

I hadn’t seen a soul since I left the path, I was alone up here. Dammit people, you should have waited.

Lui and friends had proper snow cover and the finger of cloud that crept in from the sea gave a splash of drama to the view north.

The snow was crisp and I’d found some proper wind, and it was cold. The temperature dropped so fast, it was drop which had to be expressed by a Whoooaaaaa as I paced the summit quickly.
Onto the spearhead, across to look at Ime, back to the best trig point in the land and a quick decision on descent. There’s maybe five different descent routes I take from here, but only one dropped me out of the wind for a chance at a warm dinner.

North to the ridge then a hard right into the coire down hard frozen, steep virgin snow. My grin was so wide I didn’t need my headtorch yet.

I found a corner under a crag, a grassy ledge with a view into the quickly thickening darkness. Coffee, rolls and a donut. I was warm, hell even my hands were warm after wearing insulated gloves almost all day.

The sliver of moon shone weakly, the jagged edge of Narnain softened and disappeared into the sky above and I sat in a torchlit circle of snow, scared to take my down jacket back off.
I packed everything, put my bottle in the camera pouch and reluctantly took off my duvet and stuffed it into the top of my pack. It wasn’t too bad, the wind was masked by the crag and I was still warm when I set off into the dark.

The topography is a little haphazard in here in the dark, I had several oops, not that way moments. But it was awesome, pole swinging, song singing fun as I tripped over grassy mounds on my zigzagging way to the big track that cuts across the hill horizontally.

Arrochar looked rather sweet from here and if my phone hadn’t been in my pocket I’d never have the evidence of such a thing as I just couldn’t be arsed finding the camera again.

I took to the old concrete block path which has deteriorated further since I was last on it. Many of the blocks have broken up, some are sinking and following their line in the dark wasn’t as easy as it used to be. I think if you want to see these relics, do it soon. In the 30 years I’ve been climbing this route it’s changed dramatically.
Still though, some tree pruning is keeping the route viable so you can do a loop without retracing a single step and it’s a fast, fun descent. I didn’t get lost either, last time I did this in the dark I was all tears and snotters in the trees behind someone’s house in Succoth. Local expert?

There was a real joy to this wee trip. I spent a lot of my time on the ascent looking at the textures of the rock, the sky and the snow. It all felt so fresh and new, like a new coat of paint in your favourite room, fresh socks on tired feet, fresh baked apple pie and coffee? That’s not an analogy, that’s for real, the home made apple pie is just cool enough to eat. Back in a minute.

Tomorrow Belongs to Me


(Helps to know the tune)

The sun on the coire is wintry and low.
The stag in the forest makes a nice photie.
But gather together to read MWIS.
Tomorrow belongs to me.

The branch of the Scot’s Pine is spiky and green,
The loch rushes cold to the sea.
But somewhere a trig point awaits unseen.
Tomorrow belongs to me.

Now Forecast, Forecast, show us the sign
Your subscribers have waited to see
The morning will come
When the mountains are mine
Tomorrow belongs to me

Barn find

I’ve just been in a church attic digging through piles of fusty shite to get to old electrics that I suspected were at the root of the purpose of my visit.

I found manky pots and pans, an ancient wood and canvas stretcher, boxes of misc. shite, assorted cuttings of wood and right at the bottom a vintage Karrimor Totem Senior.

Negotiations have opened with the customer.


The Pacifier

Petesy heard a creak, a splash and what could have been a muffled cry somewhere behind him.

“Holly, did you hear that?” he called as he blinked into the low winter sun.

There was no reply, but he got on with lining up that important selfie anyway.

Seasonal Ranges are the Pits

Being back in the world of gear after a fashion one of my long term bugbears has returned to catch on my socks like the toenail that grew back in an odd shape after I tore it off one winter in Kintail many years ago.

A seemingly innocuous term for the flow of newness and imposition of order in the outdoor gear world. I believe however that it’s bullshit and causes more problems than it solves.

Also in the mix of this train of thought is a notion I had last year of revisiting and using just old gear. The scary hot summer tripped up that plan a wee bit but it did have me digging out, cleaning up and using old gear. That hasn’t stopped, I mix and match vintage and current kit all the time.
One of the thoughts was that I could happily trash my old kit around the Lang Craigs but what’s subtly happened is that I started to choose old gear first by preference and it doesn’t get trashed, that wee bit of extra weight seems to offer a disproportionate amount of durability. Interesting.

Nikwax sent me their whole range of kit which I’ve been applying and testing for many months and I’ve also been seam sealing, sewing and duct taping all over the place.
It’s adjusted my mind set a little. For ten years or more I’ve always been in the newest and the best, now I’m swapping that around with the older and, in some cases anyway, better.

There’s a lot of chat on Facebucket and Twatter about stuff like this just now and it’s probably fueled by a mix of things from nostalgia, to curiosity to environmental concerns. Whatever, folks are talking and thinking, so it’s a good thing.

I’m going to try and pull all this and more into a series of posts from my own experience and perspective. It’ll help me make some conclusions and might actually be useful or interesting to someone. Once I’m gone…

Spoiler Alert for the last page…
99% of old footwear is shite, modern is better here.

Anyway, seasons

Seasonal ranges artificially influence they way we perceive of the evolution and development of our gear. Tiny changes and tweaks every year, new colours, bolder claims, bigger plans that have to be funded by selling even more bland gear that’ll never see a mountain. I was in Tizo* last week and it’s just racks of uninspiring black and dark blue interchangeable dullness. Swap the logos around the jackets and no one would notice, characterless, generic alpine nonsense.

It’s so far removed from the user driven trade it once was, but that’s what expansion brings, it’s the nature of business. I’m not judging on that, just voicing my frustration as an enthusiast because of the effect it has on our choices.

Seasons are convenient, planned-out selling to shops and fixed dates to design and manufacture for. But materials and construction advances don’t run to a timetable and neither does inspiration and discovery.
Real advances come through accident, through feedback, through mistakes and through time.
While I was away from regular gear stuff very little has actually changed, I think LED tech is the only thing that’s really taken a big step, some fabric evolutions and everything else is styling. Which is not necessarily bad, retro is in after all. Reissue Rab Kinder smock anyone?

When I was with OMM’s Lead User Group, we worked on advances from testing samples, making adjustments and then testing those, when it was ready it was ready. That’s what you get when it’s a small independent, it was mobile and proactive. No giant factory ship to crew and feed while they wait for the next actually new thing to appear.

So is the new season bringing you something new?  Maybe, maybe not. You can’t properly measure progress in seasons, it takes years, in some places maybe decades. Seasons are good for business but bad for us, we come to expect new, assume it to be better, then we expect the same again in six months and I know all the gear isn’t that much better, I’ve spend a year proving it to myself.
In saying that, my current favourite combo is a current rather quirky current midlayer and 90s Gore Tex, more of which later.

*Made up name to protect the real retailer who I’m sure is very nice and totally didn’t make my daughter cry when she walked on their pretend stony path. Bastards.

It’s a thread I’ll continue, but it’s important to say that I’m not criticizing the designers or anyone else behind the scenes at the outdoor brands, I know enough of them now to know that there is passion and knowledge as well as huge capacity for practical application of their products. It’s just that most of them are welded to the rigid structure of big business now. It must be so frustrating at times. Imaging what these folks could do if set free from crosses on a calendar, we’d have the lightest, most durable, most ergonomic, most breathable… The brands would all go bankrupt too. See, I understand you have to have turnover in a big company, I just get twitchy thinking about this stuff.

So, pit zips.
The top one is from 1997. Multiple storm flaps with hard to manage velcro and a regular zip. Hard to operate, complex to manufacture and best left alone when wearing the jacket unless you’re really, really hot.
Next one down is a couple of years later, slightly simpler but still faffy, still bulky and complex, still a pain in the arse to use.

Then we have the early 2000s, water resistant zip with stitched and taped seams but with a storm flap (including a really clever wee bead in it that keeps it in place) because, you know, will this zip leak when in wears in? Usable and practical.
Below is current, a lightweight water resistant zip welded in. Easily used and you can’t even feel it on the jacket.

Fifteen years from first to last, that’s an example of evolution from available technology and probably also nudged along from Gore’s influence with the “Guaranteed to Keep You Dry” swing tags. As the zips got better, the external protection slipped away and disappeared.

More to come and the next one is called “Lightweight gear is rubbish, it wears out too fast”. I have evidence.

For the defence.

ISBJÖRN MONSUNE Hardshell Jacket Review

We’ve had the Monsune from Isbjörn on test since the tail end of last winter, so time for some words I think.

It’s in a two later fabric with a nylon outer which I like from a durability angle bonded to an own-brand waterproof and breathable membrane. The loose liner has mesh around the body and hood with microfibre in the arms, this is the best option for breathability and comfort, easier to get the arms down the sleeves whatever you’re wearing.
The fabric has a soft feel, it’s a supple jacket and doesn’t rustle or crinkle particularly under movement. Waterproofness is as described, breathability is hard to judge. While often out of breath and hot, the test subject would not sweat enough on a regular basis and so was always dry. Maybe that’s a sign though?
DWR is good, rain is still bobbling quite happily in most areas.

The cut is excellent, trim but not tight with excellent articulation, be as active as you want and the hem stays put. The body is pretty long, although the Monsune is a bit alpine looking, it’s definitely outdoor as your backside is covered. The arms are long too, high reaching or snowball throwing is fine, no bare wrists or waist.

The hood is a good shape and fits well on a bare or be-hatted head. The peak is stiffened, holds its shape in use and pulls back into shape just fine when balled up inside a pack in the walk in.
The adjustment is effective and the front cords are accessible and usable with gloves on. The rear volume adjuster is accessibly placed and the cord cinches in the right place but the cord lock isn’t tethered so it need two hands to operate it, this means it gets left alone. It’s a minor fix but it’s something they should look at.
There’s a soft chin guard/zipper garage for the chunky front zip.

The cuffs are velcro tabbed and half elasticated. It works fine and I had no complaints, tucking gloves in takes a few extra seconds which is why I prefer non elasticated cuffs, as well as the venting options, but it’s probably a personal preference thing.

The inside of the cuffs have a little clever addition. There are inner cuffs in a soft stretch fabric and there’s a hem in the lining with orange thread that you can let out to lengthen the inner arms. It tunes comfort as your arms grow and extents the life of the jacket a wee bit.

The napoleon chest pockets are huge and like the main zip have chunky YYK waterproof zippers. These zips have been okay, hard to tell for sure on the pockets as they don’t always get zipped back up all the way, even in the rain… The main zip has an inner storm flap in case anything gets through, but I’ve had no complaints.
The chest pockets have nice zipper garages and all the zips have grippable zip pulls.

Isbjörn have put together an excellent all round mountain or outdoor shell which I would happily wear, but as I’ve hinted at, this was Holly’s test jacket.
The spec is excellent, the hood and cut are spot on, Isbjörn haven’t made any compromises because the jacket is made for youngsters.

The fabric breathability performance is an unknown, kids just don’t sweat the same way as bigger folk, but that probably works out as money can be spent on design complexity instead of paying for a big name membrane, especially since the jacket has limited lifespan for the original wearer. Still, it’s well made and durable, the Monsune will go to someone else, it’s life isn’t over by a long way.
The fabric is Bluesigned and the DWR is fluorocarbon free, there’s a lot to commend the choices made in the design and construction.

Youngsters won’t wear stuff they don’t like, increasingly fashion conscious youngsters won’t even try stuff on they don’t like the look of. I’ve had no trouble getting Holly into the Monsune and she’s enjoyed it, pulling the hood up and grinning happily at even a hint or rain or snow.

Brilliant jacket. Hmm, I’m jealous.

556g for a size 146/152, current UK price £150

Trouser and base layer reviews on the way.

Ken III, King of Rannoch

We got up earlyish, well, I did anyway. I put music on loud and threw the bottom half of Holly’s duvet over the top half so she would cook/suffocate while also getting cold feet. I felt certain this would get her on the move. It did eventually.
Send me a message on the contact form (I think there still is one?) if you want parenting advice.

A fine breakfast at granny’s and we were on the road despite the rain. After missing out on anything interesting never mind exciting on Saturday, we were going north anyway.
It was atmospheric, lots of greys, but still magic. Lots of fresh snow on the roads as well as the hills and the two upside down motors confirmed the iffy conditions there had been a few hours earlier.

Cuppas in Tyndrum were a must and the rain smacked off the truck windscreen as we debated what to do next.
Phil texted me, we’d passed on the road as he retreated from the rain, dammit. However, this somehow brought us a wee bit of misplaced or maybe misdirected or misappropriated luck, the snow shone as the sun found it, the clouds parted and blue unfurled above us. What the hell, keep going.

We followed the blue and stopped right under it, in a very familiar spot.

We chased the sun north but the grey crept back under the blue. It was fine though, we parked up to make a snowman, it was perfect snow for it, soft and sticky which was perfect for a snowball fight too. Who won will remain a family secret. Until it can be used as leverage.

It was cold but we were warm from playing and back in the truck we had snacks and juice as the heater worked to dry my jeans out again.
Grins were wide and cheeks were red and the ghost story on the way home was of the Dougal and, well, that’s for another day.
This day though, this was a good one.

Beach bum

I have got into the habit of sticking a camera in the truck most days and it’s good in that I can take photies, but bad in that I take photies when I should be doing something else.
I’ll live with it for the time being, the sun comes up at the perfect time around the school run which won’t last, so what the hell.

I love this spot by the river, the light, the birds, the water and currently the fact that everything is frozen solid, from the sand to the seaweed.
What a place to watch the sun rise.

The tide was coming in, the river every so gently flowing into the frozen depressions in the sand, circling the rocks and creeping up the blades of the seaweed melting the frost and turning them from sparkling white to glossy green. It was like watching a timelapse film, silent and hypnotic.

Retreating from the water towards breakfast there’s still things to see and I wander through the frozen trees like a schoolkid on a daytrip to the museum, swinging arms and head to the sky.

After all the stress and turmoil of the past few years I’m increasingly finding more of the me that I remember.
And, holding onto it.