Golden November

I know it’s not quite in season, but these are some of my favourite photos. I took them in November in 2004 on a rare sunny day late in the afternoon, when the low sun angle produced a beautiful golden red glow on the leaves and interesting shadows from the trees.



Blogpacking to blogcasting?

Listening to Bob’s excellent interview with Judy Armstrong, I was intrigued to hear she used a digital Dictaphone to record notes while she was on her epic trek. I had been thinking about whether to try my hand at podcasting, but chickened out when I went to Scotland this year.

I have an old I-River HP-140 MP3 player which has an external mic socket. I bought a simple lapel mic, but got a bit self conscious. The HP 140 weighs 183g, so it’s not exactly lightweight, although it does have 40GB capacity, enough to record the rest of my life! Obviously it is primarily an MP3 player, and very good too, but it is rechargeable and therefore not entirely practical for the outdoors.

I’ve been looking around for a lighter MP3 player with an external mic socket that uses ordinary batteries, but to no avail. When I heard Judy’s interview I made a quick internet search for Dictaphones and after a bit of digging came up with the Olympus WS-331M . This little beauty has 2GB of memory, runs off 1 AAA battery and weighs only 47g! For comparison, I have a little card reader MP3 player that I bought from Bob, which weighs 40g.

At £110, it’s not exactly cheap, but you can buy a noise cancelling microphone as well . Being a sucker for this sort of thing, I’m getting one. At the very least I get a very lightweight MP3 player with the ability to keep some voice notes. Who knows, I might even pluck up the courage to make a few blogcasts. I’ll post a review when I’ve got it, in the meantime, here’s a review from Laptop.



Nalgene health scare

I pass this on in those immortal words: “for what it’s worth” 

“One of the most respected outdoor retailers in Canada has withdrawn from sale drinks bottles, widely available in Britain, containing a controversial chemical.

Mountain Equipment Co-op, which has no connection with the British Mountain Equipment clothing company, has taken off its shelves all containers made from polycarbonate. One of the best known brands is Nalgene, whose brightly coloured drinks bottles grace many outdoors stores in the Britain’s High Streets.

Some research has linked a chemical added to the polycarbonate in the containers, bishphenol A (BPA), with increased cancer risk, lower sperm count and the early onset of puberty.”

Source: grough

Where there’s hope

Every so often I have a look at Phil Lambert’s excellent Doodlecat site, which provides a sort of Grand Central for TGOC related stuff. A recent blog contribution is from Roger Boston (or at least I assume it’s Roger Boston), who has been suffering from knee problems and has had an operation recently. Rather discouragingly his doctor has advised to “avoid walking on rough ground, going up and down hills”. If you’ve looked at Roger’s excellent accounts of his last three Challenges, you’ll recognise that he’s rather unlikely to take this advice!

While I can’t give Roger direct encouragement about his cartilage problem (I know how bad this can be as my sister has had several operations), I can give some encouragement to others who may have suffered ligament problems. A long time ago, I twisted my knee descending Great Whernside and tweaked a ligament on the outside of my right knee. Fortunately it was at the end of a week’s trek around the Dales and I only had to walk to a road and my friend got his car.

From that day on I suffered from painful knees, especially when carrying a heavy pack and on descents. In the end I gave up backpacking and only did day walks, carrying a light pack. Even so, descent was very painful, although ascent and walking on the level was fine. Then I discovered walking poles. This helped dramatically in descent, although I could still feel some pain. Over the years my knees have gradually improved, to the extent that I now feel no discomfort going downhill, even with a full pack.

So it seems I’ve come full circle, hence over the past few years, I’ve been able to start backpacking again, although I’ve taken it carefully to begin with. I can’t really explain why this has happened. I’ve not followed any specific exercise regime. The only things I can put it down to is time healing and using trekking poles. Even though I don’t need to use them, I still carry poles and use them if descent looks tricky. Hopefully, this will encourage others who suffer from knee problems. It’s not always the end!

Thank you Judy for my boots

If you’ve not already listened to it, can I recommend that you listen to Bob’s interview with Judy Armstrong and her epic walk around the Alps. If you want some details of Judy’s trek you can get them from her web site.

I have to take my hat off to her, she’s a tough cookie. To walk on after some of the injuries she suffered takes a lot of guts, as does getting through some life or death situations like having to spend a night out after finding the door of a refuge frozen shut. I wonder how I would have reacted in those circumstances.

I also have to thank Judy for pointing me in the direction of the best pair of boots that I’ve ever worn: the Aku Icaros. She mentioned these before she started out. At the time I had been road testing a pair of Montrail Stratos XCR boots. They were fabulously comfortable and very breathable, with the Gore-Tex membrane on the outer material of the boot. These were the first pair of membrane boots that I’ve ever felt comfortable in. They were no more sweaty than a pair of light leather boots.

Unfortunately the plastic sole chassis of the boot cracked, making an irritating squeaking sound. While not fatal, I returned the boots to Rock + Run, who very kindly refunded my money (bearing in mind this was three months after I bought them). Apparently this was a well recognised design fault and I wasn’t the first to suffer this fate. I see that Montrail have introduced an updated version called the Cirrus and it looks as though they have addressed the issue.

I bought the Icaros mail order (naughty boy!), although I did check that the sole shape fitted my foot, by printing a life size version of the sole and checking my foot against it. Anyway, it was a bit of a punt, but I needed a pair of lightweight boots for Scotland in May. When they arrived, the fit was almost perfect (phew!). For reference, if you can wear Zamberlan or Montrail shoes/boots, the odds are that Aku will fit you (assuming they use consistent lasts).

In terms of breathability, these boots are a revelation. It’s all down to their Air 8000 technology. The membrane is attached only at a limited number of points rather than glued. Unfortunately their web site doesn’t explain it very well but the breathability is definitely better than I’ve experienced in other boots, even the Montrails. Judy mentions that her feet and socks suffered minimal dampness even in summer temperatures and I can believe her.

I can’t say it was particularly hot in Scotland, but it was wet. The boots kept me dry even though the outers were soaked. I even use them for dog walking now as they are so comfortable. I have suffered minimal sweating in them. My only two criticisms are that the insoles are useless; I replaced them with Superfeet. Also the top three sets of cleats for the laces are a bit sharp. Akus are difficult to get hold of, but they are really worth it.



In praise of buffs

I know this will get me into trouble with you know who, but so what! I like buffs, or neck gaiters as they used to be called, somewhat inelegantly. I hate getting my neck cold. I was reminded of this yesterday when I took the dog out early in the morning when it was still frosty and foggy. I could have taken a scarf, but a buff does it much better.

A (very) long time ago you couldn’t get buffs and I used to use a short woolen scarf. Then Rohan came up with a variation on the scarf theme: a scarf with windproof poly-cotton on one side and a kind of fleece on the other side. It was a bit of a faff to keep in the right place but it was good for keeping the wind and chill away.

Later I spotted a Meraklon neck gaiter from Field & Trek (back in the days when they were a proper outdoors retailer). This was an improvement on a scarf, but could get quite warm. Fast forward to about five years ago when I discovered the micro-fibre buff. This is just right for keeping your neck warm most of the time, with enough wind resistance to take off the chill. The only downside is that they can get a little smelly after a while (why don’t they do an antibacterial one?).

I also have a fleece one, which is great for when it’s cold and excellent for skiing. The windproof one is too warm most of the time, so I’ve hardly used it. I’ve never really worked out how to use them as a hat, though.

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