Friday, 30 December 2011

Brits to attempt Snow Leopard...

In July 2012 British mountaineers Jon Gupta &; Nick Valentine will attempted to complete the world’s hardest high altitude mountaineering challenge: The Snow Leopard Award – 5 x 7000m peaks. Not only this but they are planning to climb the 5 peaks back to back in Alpine Style in just 40 days!!

This will be a British First completion of the award and should we climb them in 40 days...a world fastest - which currently belongs to legendary climber Denis Ububko

Their aim is to inspire and motivate people, young people in particular, to believe that anything is possible and that they too can achieve their wildest dreams.

My friend Nick and his friend Jon are both incredibly passionate about the outdoors and both live and breathe climbing and mountaineering for fun and for work. They are both working towards becoming IFMGA Guides. This expedition is so exciting and will give both Nick and Jon the chance to climb together to their full potential and hopefully achieve something great for British Mountaineering and inspire young mountaineers to get out there and keep climbing!

What is the Snow Leopard Award?

The Snow Leopard award was a Soviet mountaineering award, given to very experienced climbers, knower days It is still recognised in the Commonwealth of Independent States. To receive this award, a climber must summit all 5 peaks of 7000m and above located in the former Soviet Union.

In Tajikistan's Pamir Mountains there are 3 Snow Leopard peaks, Communism Peak 7,495 m (24,590 ft), Peak Korzhenevskaya 7,105 m (23,310 ft), and Lenin Peak 7,134 m (23,406 ft) on the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border. In the Tian Shan there are 2 Snow Leopard peaks, Peak Pobeda 7,439 metres (24,406 ft) in Kyrgyzstan (divided by the border with China), and Khan Tengri 7,010 m (22,998 ft) on the Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan border.

In order of difficulty, Peak Pobeda is by far the most difficult and dangerous, followed by Khan Tengri, Ismail Samani Peak, Peak Korzhenevskaya, and Lenin (Ibn Sina) Peak

So as you can see they have quite a task ahead of them, I look forward to seeing this trip progress!

To follow Nick and Jon's progress visit:

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Macpherson Mountaineering - brilliant customer service

Just a quick bit of praise for Macpherson Mountaineering for excellent customer service. My mum ordered a pair of Paramo salopettes for Simon for christmas in size XXL. The gentleman from Macpherson Mountaineering took the time to ring my mum to discuss the sizing of the salopettes, he measured the XL to give my mum an idea of the sizes available, and allowed my mum to make an informed decision about the size to get.

An example of an independent shop going the extra mile for customers, and definitely worth considering if you are looking at buying some kit for winter! Well done guys!

Macpherson Mountaineering can be found at

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Do the letters G, P, and S make you too confident? A simple how-to of GPS

These days the acronym GPS has become synonymous with the simplification of navigation, sadly it has also been the cause of a number of incidents where people have wrongly assumed that carrying a phone that has a GPS built in will miraculously come to their aid should problems arise. People start to believe that because they have a GPS they are suddenly immune to the problems associated with bad weather, poor conditions etc

For me this whole issue was illustrated on a recent trip to Snowdon. "On our approach to the summit the weather had taken a turn for the worse, cloud had come in, wind speed had increased dramatically, and on top of that it had started to rain. While descending the ranger path with the group I met a couple coming up towards us. This couple were both dressed in ¾ length jeans, t shirt and jumper, wearing trainers with trainer liners. Not knowing what else to say I asked one of them “you guys ok there?”. I was met with the following reply “yeah we’re find, do you know where the train station is? We were just going to take the train down”. When I explained they were nowhere near the train station and that the weather further up was worse than where we were, the guy I was talking to replied “it’s ok mate I got Google maps on my phone”. At this stage I said they should come with me back to the car park, a suggestion to which the freezing cold girl of the pair was most agreeable too. After giving both of them a spare jacket from my kit we descended to the car park.”

First of all let me assure you that the above story is completely 100% true, and no detail has been made up, it does however neatly illustrate my point; GPS has become a false safety net for many novices who want to get out. The purpose of this short article is to offer some simple advice to those people who are new to the GPS, and perhaps believe that their smartphone, iPhone etc will save them in an emergency. This is also the time of the year where novice walkers (or even more highly experienced) may have bought themselves a shiny new GPS unit, and, instead of learning to use it, stash it neatly on their belt for an emergency. I really do not mean this to be offensive to anyone, and by no means is the tone of this condescending, I really just want to offer simple advice to help keep people safe J

Part 1: Smartphones

The fact is that a smartphone could possibly help in an emergency on the hill, the GPS antennae’s on modern phones are often highly advanced and can offer detailed fixes. However in order to this you need to understand a few things about GPS on your phone.
Firstly the GPS is only any use to you if there is software (an app) on the phone that can use the GPS antennae to give you a fix on your position in a Latitude and Longitude format, this is the standard GPS output format and can be given over the phone to Mountain Rescue who will be able to quickly locate you based on this information. Some pieces of software will be able to use the GPS to find out where you are, and display this on a map. Whilst this may be useful in a town or city because you will be able to relate your position to other roads and buildings, in the mountains this is not the case, and programs like Google maps that do not have topographical maps will not show anything around your location.
On this basis the first thing you need to do is check that the software on your phone shows Lat/Long fixes. If it doesn’t then download an app that does, many of these are free for example; GPS essentials on Android. Once you have your app, practice using it, make sure it functions without a mobile internet connection, since many times in the mountains this type of signal will not be available. If you have software on your phone, that can display Lat/Long, without an internet connection, then you have a useful feature on your phone, provided it has battery enough to use it, and you are aware of how to do so. When you get the software on and working you are looking for a figure that looks like:53o34.544N 13o54.1346W this is the full Lat/long reference and you will need to provide the whole set of numbers in order for people to find you.

Part 2: GPS handsets

Many would be walkers buy a GPS handset but have no idea how to use it. It’s often one of those gadgets that people buy because it seems like a piece of gear they need. The fact is (cliché I know) GPS is not a substitute for good map skills. So do not go out into the mountains without a good knowledge of map and compass, and the appropriate equipment.
That said, if you do have a GPS it is a piece of gear that can really help in an emergency, and the good news is that regardless of the brand of GPS you have the approach to finding your location is very similar, and the below is a general overview of how to get that information.

Step 1: Turn the GPS on and wait for it to get a fix. This will be quicker if the GPS has already had a fix during the day, you can find your progress towards a fix on a screen that will be called “satellites” (or something similar). This will display a bar graph of signal strengths, and will usually indicate if you have a fix by saying “4 metre fix” or something similar.

Step 2: Once you have a fix, you need to find the location data. On some GPS sets for example the newest Garmin eTrex 10, this information is found on the satellites page so there is no need to scroll around trying to find it. On other models this may be found on a dashboard screen or home screen. You are looking for a figure that looks like: 53o34.544N 13o54.1346W this is the full Lat/long reference and you will need to provide the whole set of numbers in order for people to find you. You may also find the data is provided as a grid reference and will look like this: SJ 04566 78534 and you will need to provide the whole number including the letters at the start.

Above: Examples of GPS position screens, the red arrow marks the where you can find location. In the first screen it is shown as a grid reference, whilst in the other 2 it is shown as Lat/Long.

I close with a quote from Brecon Mountain Rescue team's Mark Jones, regarding a couple who were rescued by a smartphone when they were directed to download an app to the phone in order to be able to provide the team with an accurate location:

“Technology saved us all a night on the mountain, but it can never take the place of a traditional map and compass and being properly prepared.”

So there are the basics; if you want to know anything about your GPS, feel free to email me directly, I’m always happy to help.

Christmas Crackers!!!!

So, this year for christmas I only asked for two things; a Podsac Alpine 50 and a pair of Paramo Aspira Salopettes. I had been worrying about the Salopettes sizing as I have rather long legs; I had heard the salopettes are rather short, but the XXL has a slightly longer leg by an Inch or so. A few weeks of wondering went by and then that lovely crisp white winters day came around - oh wait, the weather was warm and wet.....awkward.

But under the tree were two large parcels mith my name on.....a Podsac Alpine 50 in Blue (the colour i wanted) and a pair of Paramo Aspira Salopettes. Happy days!!! I havent had chance to use either in action but I have packed the rucksack with everything for a Winter day and it looks superb. First impressions are everything and this really does look and feel amazing. It is very comfy and I can actually look up whilst wearing it, a big plus for climbing. I have paraded around the house sporting my salopettes somewhat like "a fisherman" as my sister put it. But first impressions again show these to have superb build quality and they are fantastically comfortable.

I will endeavour to use both items as quick as I can, but that may not be till the end of January, so keep your eyes peeled. I will however put up some product information on here and on my favourite gear review site Tribevine. See earlier posts for info on it, but it is the one place you can go to find info on nearly every bit of outdoor gear before you go "splashing the cash".

Podsac Alpine 50

Its a lightweight pack that has been specifically designed to be at home in the alpine environment. Its functional, fairly water resistant and it can be stripped down to suit your needs i.e. take off the lid, straps, frame etc...
    Fabric: 210D Cordura Ripstop, 420D Ballistic Cordura. Roll top closure provides weather resistance and gives secure closure when the lid is stripped. Tapered profile allows good freedom of movement and easy packing. Extendable/quick release lid with internal and external pockets. Thermoformed back panel with closed cell foam shed snow and does not absorb water. Removable internal framesheet and alloy stave for support. Removable load bearing hip belt with gear loops for racking. Internal light grey PU coating increases weather resistance and aids viewing of contents. Ice axe/walking pole/ski pole carrying system. External wand pockets constructed from ultra-tough leno mesh. Rope carrying loop. Front and rear haul loops. Internal pocket and hose outlet for hydration system. Seams triple stitched and bound. Internally bar tracked stress points. Size A - Designed to fit females and small males. Size B - Designed to fit medium/large male

    Paramo Aspira Salopettes

    Designed to fulfil the needs of the mountaineer and outdoor professional, the Men's Aspira Salopettes can be worn continually throughout the day and night! With unbeatable temperature control, you can comfortably walk, climb and even bivi in them without taking them off!
    Storage from two increased volume chest pockets. Increased abrasion resistance and security through new stronger reversed zips. Easy to operate venting and access via zip on bib. Temperature control and improved fit from integral belt. ‘Access all areas’, even during harness use, via drop seat and zip fly. Unrestricted leg movement due to increased knee articulation and diamond gusset. Added protection and insulation via our unique slimline removable knee foam inserts. Increased abrasion resistance to the seat, knee and ankle area through re-inforced fabric. Rapid temperature adjustment via full length reversed side zips with new internal single storm flaps. Maximum articulation and minimal risk of ‘crampon tripping’ through calf adjust cords. Easily zipped on or off without removing boots, poppered ankle adjustment secures hem. Secure but unobtrusive tape loops for optional underboot elastication. In extreme low temperatures, Stretch Pants can be worn underneath for extra comfort. Now made without snow gaiters for use with modern leather boot/gaiter combinations.

      Monday, 26 December 2011

      Soto Micro Regulator Stove - UKClimbing freebie

      Luck shined on me in the recent round of competitions and I won a £75 Soto stove - a good early Christmas present! The stove was couriered over to me and arrived on the 22nd December.

      The Soto Micro Regulator stove comes highly recommended from a number of companies, websites and bloggers, so I was happy to get my hands on one for free!

      So what is so special about it? Well the Micro Regulator Stove (here on MRS) is designed to provide a constant output regardless of the internal pressure of the fuel. What this means is that the stove will provide a constant output in the cold (or hot), making it ideal for alpine climbing or expeditions. Sounding good so far huh? At 73g the stove is very light indeed, and comes with a small duffle bag to carry it in. The stove uses
      standard screw fix gas canisters, which come in various sizes allowing you to carry as little as you need. On to the stove itself; the arms of the stove fold away to make it slim for storage, I found these a little fiddly initially and they could come undone, however I would put this more down me not being used to it as I don't have these problems any more. The MRS has a stealth igniter making it easy to light. The output is controlled by the small adjuster (also folds away) on the side. It is a very powerful little stove, quickly and efficiently boiling water, ensuring that making brews and boil in the bag meals is a simple and quick affair. At £75 the MRS is not cheap, but so far I have been very impressed with, and the ability of the stove to perform at a consistent level regardless of temperature is something that interests me a great deal.

      ...but overall, great stove, little on the expensive side, but worth it if you want an uber lightweight, consistent and powerful stove that won't let you down!

      Mountain Equipment Titan 850 - don't let it be said I don't take my own advice!

      A little while back I reviewed Mountain Equipment winter sleeping bags (here). Recently decided that my life was lacking a warm sleeping bag, especially when I lay frozen in a tent in the backside of beyond assessing a DofE group. So I took my own advice and opted for the ME Titan 850. I will only be providing a short first impressions review today, but will give a more in depth analysis when I have used it for a bit longer!

      First impression; wow. The feel of the bag is great, the lining is soft, making it comfortable to lay in, the outside feels tough, and it is light for a -12 comfort sleeping bag. The sleeping bag comes in a standard and long length which is ideal for me since I often find that at 6ft2 I'm slightly too tall for some bags, so nice to see that there is a longer bag out there! The sleeping bag includes both a stuff sack and a mesh storage bag so you can keep it uncompressed when it's not in use.

      The Titan 850 was featured at the OutDoor show, as it is the first sleeping bag to adopt the "down codex" a system of ensuring that down used in equipment was sourced ethically, ensuring high standards of animal welfare, and environmental friendly production.

      The titan is a 4 season sleeping bag, rated down to a comfort temperature of -12, with an extreme temperature of -31. Coupled with the water repellant finish to the sleeping bag , this makes the bag ideal for winter camping, mountaineering and bivying. It comes in at a reasonable 1.5kg, giving it a good warmth to weight ratio.

      I will post a more in depth review when I have had this bag out in the field for a bit longer!

      Overall nothing more to say about this bag other than it is an excellent bag, at a great price, and definitely worth considering if you are looking for a 4 season bag!

      Garmin eTrex 10 - old yella'

      "Out with the old in with the new". When I saw Garmin's new range of GPS sets at the OutDoor show, I was in 2 minds; happy that Garmin were looking to improve on the already excellent eTrex systems, but worried that nothing could measure up in terms of simplicity, value and function. However from what I saw at the show I was impressed enough to get one.

      At around £100 the etrex is cheaper than it's Magellan equivalent, and with a similar level of functionality. The box comes with a USB cable, and manual in the box, along with the unit. First things first, the unit is light, and comfortable to hold, the buttons on the sides are simple and labelled, the small joystick on the front is a new addition from the old etrex. The unit feels rugged, solid feel, rubberised sides, just the kind of feel you want in an outdoor unit. The batteries are easily inserted by means of a small D ring on the rear of the unit, rotating it pops the battery compartment open. 2 AA batteries later the unit was on, and acquiring satellites.

      The unit acquired a 4m fix very quickly, and after a couple of minutes updated this to a 2m fix. On the previous etrex I always found it seemed to take an eternity to get a fix from cold, but with this unit it was quick and efficient. The menu system is simple and easy to navigate, the buttons on the side can be used to scroll up and down if needed, however the joystick on the front can be used to scroll through the menu, and by pressing it you can select the highlighted option. There are a number of options that I personally won't use, fishing, moon and sun etc. However after 5minutes I had the unit configured to British National Grid, the datum's are selected automatically which is useful if you are new to GPS sets. The Map screen is initially blank and only begins to be useful when you are moving, as you move your track is recorded, you can then add waypoints along the route, zoom in or out with the side keys, or move around with the joystick.

      In addition the unit has a backlight, which is activated by holding the power button, a pack including a case and belt clip can also be purchased for those who are looking for a more stylish way to carry the unit. The etrex 10 is completely waterproof and dustproof to IPX7 standards.

      One new feature of the etrex 10,20 and 30, is that it boasts the fact that it is the only GPS set on the market that can connect to GLONASS and GPS at the same time, decreasing the time it takes to get a fix. For those who don't know, GLONASS is the Russian Federations answer to GPS, which will provide a collection of satellites that can be used by the Russians in a time of war (when GPS is restricted to US use only). Garmin states that by using both systems simultaneously the speed of a fix is increased by 20%.

      The only down side about this unit is that it is not capable of accepting expansion maps, however this is not something I care about - if I did I would have bought the etrex 20 or 30...The Garmin 10 can however have waypoints from Memory map or other mapping software uploaded to it, as well as GPX files for Geocaching.

      Great unit, great price, great addition to Garmin's range of GPS, and an ideal unit for anyone wanting a cheap, functional, and up to date GPS unit, at a cheap price.

      Saturday, 17 December 2011

      The shivering mountain - 1st route of the season

      So I arrived back at home for Christmas break festooned with kit for rock and winter climbing with the hope of getting out. Having eagerly been watching Baggy's blog and other similar, I was disappointed with conditions; I had hoped they would be like last years. None the less, there is no use crying about it, you have to make the most of a bad situation....

      So when I received a text from Matt on Friday, my spirits picked up - "there's snow in the peak district, let's do something". Having confirmed there was indeed snow, I excitedly gathered my kit and packed...We decided on Mam Tor Gully (below), much revered for its poor climbing, but as it was the only decent route in.....we gave it a bash.

      The first thing I grabbed being my Crux AK47 rucksack; a fantastic pack, a little over priced for me, but having only paid a small amount 2nd hand, I'm chuffed about its performance. It's a Kevlar reinforced bag that is supremely waterproof in driving rain or snow and is spacious enough to hold a full winter pack including rope. However, when climbing with it, it is hard to look up! Not exactly a selling point. But, you can change this by removing the titanium frame from inside. Yes, this doesn't give you as much support, but I find it slightly more comfy and much easier to climb with.

      Into the crux went my first aid kit, harness, slings, nuts, hexes, nalgene and all the other assorted items needed. But clothing wise, I had a decision; hardshell, softshell or paramo. Each has its own advantages. Hardshell is more waterproof than the others, but I overheat in it too quickly especially if the weather is wet but not too cold and the Gore-Tex reaches saturation point mighty quickly. So then you could choose softshell, not as waterproof, but if it's not going to rain and is just snow then it would be great, but we all know that the weather craps out on us when we don't want it to. So I opted for my new favourite - the paramo. It's warm, breathable, light, quick drying and fairly waterproof. I get a lot of stick from my mates about this, but if they could afford it, I'm sure they'd buy it...because it aint cheap. I've got the Velez Adventure Light Smock, and at around 180, it's the cheapest smock they do! Worth every penny. More on paramo to come.

      Setting off from home at around 6am we were climbing by 7.30. The conditions were good, plenty of snow and just cold enough while we were climbing to keep everything together. The climbing was tricky...not technically but mentally. It's like something out of a nightmare, the whole mountain peeling off as you climb, each footstep sliding down a bit more. But with perseverance and brute strength we made it to the top at around 11am.

      Major bonus points to my Rab Powerstretch balaclava, which kept my head and face warm all morning. My DMM Xeno axes which played their part well. But most of all, my Mountain Equipment DJ. My Lightline jacket is amazing, so comfy, cozy, cuddly, warm.....comfy (oh wait i said that). I use it just about every day now and it's awesome on the hill and off the hill. I stuck it on for the walk in then took it off to climb and put it on again at the summit and even the driving snow didnt wet this baby out. The Dri-Lite outer shunning of all the weather could throw, whilst keeping me toasty warm. Another fantastic day out on the hill with Matt, and I enjoyed 
      wearing the amazing hat his girlfriend knitted for me (right).

      QR code orienteering - a change from the norm?

      Recently I have spent time at school trying to develop new ways for staff to build small amounts of outdoor education into their lessons. After drawing up an orienteering map for geography department, I started trying to come up with a way that I could update the concept of orienteering for the modern generation of tech savvy young people. The answer came to me when I was messing around with the bar code reader on my phone while waiting a criminally long amount of time for a shop assistant to perform a return on a christmas present Claire I had bought, but changed my mind on. You see some products have both a bar code (in the traditional sense), and a "QR code" For those of you that don't know, a QR code are those funny looking squares of dots (see left) that you may often see on products, business cards. Anyway a QR code can store a lot of data, from contact cards, lines of text, phone numbers, emails and more. There are a number of websites out there that can generate QR codes for you, the one I used was So how does this relate to orienteering? Simple;  the QR codes are laid out on the course according to the map. Each card is laminated and hung at each of the control points. The group then go out, scan the code at each point to receive the location of (or directions too) the next point. I should say that this system requires the group all having a bar code reader on their phone. The data enclosed with the QR code can be suited to the type of course, in the example below the
      code includes a collection of text specifying a unique code to denote the group arriving at the point, directions to the next point (these can be as complicated as you want), and a clue to help. The good thing about these codes are you can easily build your own to various difficulty levels. Starting the group off could consist of a "start sheet" with a collection of QR codes leading to each point. Each group would scan a different code, meaning that they would start by going to a different point and would therefore not spend all the time following each other around!

      QR codes can also be programmed to direct users to a map location based on a lat and long. As a more complicated exercise,the QR code could provide the group a location or grid reference that they then need to look up on a map (or GPS), to continue. The last thing a QR code can do, is (when scanned) create a text message that will be sent to a specific number. For example I could have a message saying "We are currently at XXX,XXX, please provide the location of the next point". This provides me with a groups location (as I would know who's number was who's), allowing me to track their progress.

      This idea could be expanded to include things like treasure hunts, each QR code would reveal part of a puzzle, all the codes would then have to be collected to be able to solve the puzzle. This would be a fun activity for an outdoor centre group looking for a simple evening activity. The issue here would be the lack of smartphones for the group to use, easily solved by using a laptop or computer with a free downloadable barcode scanner for the web cam, the computer or laptop would then be left at a "base" where the group would come to, in order to decode their piece of the puzzle. Geocaching may also be an example activity to make use of QR codes.

      The simplicity of these codes make them ideal for a multitude of applications in the off to bar code my gear :)

      Sunday, 4 December 2011

      Wet, Windy and Cold weekends....

      Following on from my last post: I've just got back from North Wales a little down about the weather. I knew it was going to rain, but didnt realise how hard. Yesterday was quality, although it started off wet, so me and matt spent some time in Eric's cafe at Tremadog, we were able to get up and do some routes. We started off on 'one step in the clouds' (VS 4c) and then ended on 'christmas curry' (S 4a). At that point (16:20) it had got dark and we abseiled in the dark (thankfull for putting head torches in our pockets'). We cooked up in Eric's car park and headed to the Brenin for a pint, we had planned on going to the evening lecture, but it was on Kayaking, so didnt fancy it. After getting comfy and warm in the bar, we headed out into the rain and wind once more to seek a place to kip for the night. After some deliberation, we decided the Llanberis Pass would be good, so we went and made ourselves at home in a secret spot.

      Waking up this morning to pouring rain and hail was depressing and neither of us wanted to get up. But after 2 cups of tea (with a little baileys, to warm us up), we decided that a trip to Pete's is only natural. With it still pouring down after having a fry up each and visiting Joe Brown's and V12, this showed us that the weather was not going to change. So we headed home via the shops at Betws-y-Coed.

      A miserable end to a good trip. However, this will not discourage me as i'll probably be there again next weekend.

      Friday, 2 December 2011

      Weekends away...

      Students everywhere will agree with me when i say "university is depressing". All that spare time when you dont have to be in lectures and it's not the night to go out - you're generally faced with two options; do some work or play Xbox. However, with a bit a intrepidness, you can add a third option - tie in and get climbing

      No matter where you are in the UK, you are always within 3 hours of a climbing/mountaineering venue, why not put that student loan to good use and get out there. For all you outdoor students and aspiring outdoor instructors out there, use this time (and money) to you're advantage and work on your NGB pre-requisites!

      I've just come back from a cold, wet and windy weekend of climbing in the Peak District, it was awesome. We had two full days of gritstone climbing at Stanage and Castle Naze, both unusually empty. The weekend was spent in Belay jackets (Arran & Tom on the left), but everyone had a great time and it only cost £10 per person for fuel contribution and campsite.

      If you've got the right kit and the knowhow, why sit around when there is a whole other world out there waiting for you. It's fun and great training.

      I am as i type this, packing my kit for a third weekend of climbing in a row, this time in North Wales with my friend Matt. I've tidied out my car and shoved a heap of stuff in the boot, not to mention, charged my camera. The weekend looks to be ok weather wise, but it is N.Wales after all so it'll probs be quite nasty. I should say that typing this was a good thing as it's made me remember that i do actually need to take a sleeping bag! (oops). So stay tuned for an after trip report in a couple of days.

      Sunday, 20 November 2011

      Getting ready for Winter pt.2: Fitness

      So, those that have done some climbing will know you dont have to be mega fit; you can do no activity, park at the base of the crag and still haul yourself up the rock. Although, being fit is a major advantage for trickier and longer routes. For Winter it is completely different; this is due to the fact that you have the added faff of the walk in. If you're planning on heading to the Ben, you're looking at a 3 hour walk in.

      So when it comes down to training, you've got to think - theres no use being able to do one-armers if you cant do the walk in! Yes, work on upper and lower body muscle training, but put plenty of time into cardio for those long days and walk ins. For me, i have put a decent amount of time into getting fitter for this winter; i was alright last year, but i  felt absolutely chin strapped on the descents and on the walk ins we were trying to do quickly (sneachda). But its not all fitness, its what you eat. In my house, we all try to eat plenty of fruit and veg, take vitamins and dont drink too much beer. If you do want to drink alcohol, try spirits like vodka as they dont contain many calorie (unlike beer).

      Runs: Every couple of days i will try to go for a short run, this is usually round the racecourse, which is about 2 miles. I dont do these at a particularly fast pace compared to the people who usually blast past me. But it is right for me, which is what counts.

      Circuits: These are great for climbing training as you can work on various muscle groups as well as your cardio. For winter this is great as ice and mixed climbing is renown for giving full body pumps. I do the circuits once a week with a bunch of other people from the University of Worcester Climbing and Mountaineering Club (UWCMC). We start at the uni, run to the racecourse (1/2 mile), run to the end gates (1 Mile) and into the park. The lovely council have put a load of exercise machines around the park which have been ruggedised to prevent chavs from trashing them. There is around 7 'stations' but we add things too like, burpees, press ups, sit ups etc.... We try to sprint to each station which are around 50m apart. Then we do bear crawls up and down small slopes, planks and then run back to uni via the racecourse (1.5miles). So along side the circuits, we have also done a 3 mile run!

      Stair runs: Once a week i pack a rucksack with a few bits and bobs to add some weight and get down to the racecourse stands and go running up and down them. This is great for developing leg muscles and general cardio fitness for getting up and down those hills. It's pretty hard, and if i dont feel tired at the end i go for a bit longer, i try to build up the weight and pace each time i go.

      Indoor Climbing: Every tuesday the UWCMC try to run a climbing wall session for members where we instruct on belaying, tying in, harnessing up and general climbing stuff for new members. These little sessions are run by SPA qualified and trained people from the club. When i'm there i try to use a pair of fig fours on the hardest route i can get away with. This is great for muscle training. If no fig fours, then i climb with ankle weights, this is something i think will be good to get used to having heavy boots on...not to mention how knackering it is! We have now been given permission to use the wall's indoor dry tooling wall, so watch this space an update on that.

      Hill walking and climbing: As much as i can i try to get out into North Wales for some hill walking, scrambling or climbing to see if my training is paying off, but i havent been for a while , so watch this space.

      I've tried to talk about the stuff i do each week, but you should try and come up with your own training programme that works for YOU.

      Saturday, 19 November 2011

      Getting ready for Winter pt 1: Kit

      Hi there,

      Havent posted in a while, have had a lot on at work and now back at university. Just thought i'd do a post on how im getting kitted up and preparing for winter.

      Firstly, i've got a wonderful beard 'on the grow'. For no other reason than to have some fantastic pictures of a frozen face!

      Kit wise, ive replaced my DMM flys with a pair of old school DMM Xenos (left), replaced the picks and bolts on them so theyre in full working order now. They also came with triggers pre-attached which i was pretty chuffed about. I was going to buy some of those Cassin X-Grips for the shafts, but i didnt fancy paying £20 a piece for them, so i just bought some skateboard decking tape which is basically glorified sandpaper which should give a bit better traction when going for a high grip. I also bought a Grivel Springer Leash for when im leashless.

       Last winter i used my Mountain Equipment Kaniq as a belay jacket, however, although it was warm, it was HUGE! Because its a Gore-Tex insulated jacket, it doesnt pack down especially small and therefore takes up half a pack! I was looking at an ME Fitzroy as a replacement, but i opted for a down jacket over another synthetic purely for warmth. I went for the Mountain Equipment Lightline, but the newest blue version with orange zips - which worked out cheaper than a fitzroy anyway. This packs down redonkulously small for such a chunky jacket. But it also retains a somewhat fashionable appeal, so just as suitable for the apres-ski as in the mountains. It is supremely warm too, these cold, hungover mornings walking to lectures are so much easier in it. Cannot wait to try it out properly.

      I replaced my aged Scarpa Mantas back in May with a pair of La Sportive Trango S Evos, which are superb. The comfort of these boots is beyond words. They are just as at home on grade III scrambles as on gentle walks in the Peak District. However, as these are a B1 boot, they are not suitable for winter mountaineering; so i had a problem. I have massive feet. So finding a pair of winter boots that fitted me properly was a challenge. However, after a bit of internet research, i found Outside in Hathersage stocked my size in all the boots i was looking at. I dropped in on a day off from work and got sized. I tried Asolo AFS8000, Scarpa Vegas, La Sportive Nepal Extremes, Scarpa Phantom Guides, Scarpa Mont Blancs and the brand new Mammut Nordwand TL.

      The AFS8000s were too small and i couldnt get my foot in the shell with the inner boot on, so they were crossed off. The Vegas were stupidly cumbersome and heavy, so they were crossed off. The Nepals didnt fit my foot shape due to them being very narrow at the back. The Guides werent as confortable as i'd hoped and for the price i wanted a pair i immediately liked. The Nordwands were amazing; comfy, supportive and good looking. But due to the price, the were crossed off the list. Which left me with one of my favourites from the off, the Mont Blanc (left). They were supportive, comfy, very agile and not at all cumbersome, plus; i love the orange. They are a brilliant boot and at £360 RRP, rather pricey. So having found them cheaper elsewhere after buying them, Outside refunded me the difference. The experience of boot shopping there was very good, the staff were so professional and had great knowledge.

      I have more articles watch this space

      Sunday, 2 October 2011

      "Outdoorising" your Android smartphone

      2 years ago I reviewed the Airo A25 at the time the idea of a unit that could view ordnance survey maps, send and receive emails, view word documents, and make calls seemed like a dream come true for any outdoor instructor. Technology has come a long way in 2 years, and the technology that was once available in a few elite pieces of hardware like the Airo, has now spread to smart  phones owned by many people world wide. Thing is, many outdoor enthusiasts are simply not aware of the potential the smart phone has to assist with their activities.

      I recently upgraded my phone, loving technology as I do I was desperate to escape the Landrover S1 and its complete lack of features. When it came time to upgrade I chose the most up to date, feature packed, gadget full phone I could find; The HTC sensation. The sensation appealed to me for a number of reasons; 1080p video camera, high speed internet, solid aluminium construction, to name but a few. Having had the phone for a week I have been slowly getting to grips with how it works and what it can do. Through downloading a few apps, transferring data, and buying a few accessories I have turned the humble smart phone into a toughened outdoor unit, and this is how...

      Toughening up the phone

      One problem with Smart phones is that they are so expensive you just don't want to break them. The smooth glass screens, and delicate feeling body means you worry even putting the thing in your pocket, never mind jamming it in a rucksack for a day on the hill. After a bit of research online I settled for a "CaseMate Tough" case. This case was the most reasonably priced, and most easily available on the market, and comes with specialist versions for most phones. What I would say is that you should do some shopping round for a case that suits you. Most tough cases (Trident, Otterbox, CaseMate etc), come with 3 layers of protection. The first layer is a silicone skin that fits close to the phone, this takes the shock out of an impact should you drop it, the second layer is an ABS plastic layer that protects against damage from the impact. The 3rd layer is a screen protector that goes over the screen to prevent scratches and damage to the phones screen. Buying one of these cases will provide damage resistance to the phone from drops and impacts. It does not provide any waterproofing however. There are a number of companies that make waterproof phone cases for some models, Krussel being a key example, albeit providing expensive options. For me; I just about a small dry bag. So after a new case, and a dry bag, but phone is armoured up and waterproof, great!

      "Outdoorising" the software

      Getting software for your Android phone can be a potential minefield, with every Tom, Dick, and Harry trying to get a piece of an ever expanding marketplace by designing (and charging for) apps that they feel fill a gap in the market.

      Fortunately I have navigated this minefield for you! Below are a few apps that will turn your phone into a lean, mean, outdoor machine!

      1. OS Atlas for Android

      OS Atlas for Android comes in 2 versions; a free one, and a premium one, the latter costing £1.99. From the outset I will say this app requires a data connection so is not ideal for anywhere not in range of a 3G data connection, however what I would say is that you will struggle to find any application that will provide offline OS maps (Believe me I tried!). This app provides OS mapping at 1:10000 (streetmap), 1:25000 (explorer), and 1:50000 (pathfinder) scales. It also uses the phones GPS to locate you accurately on the map. If your phone doesn't have GPS then don't waste your time and money downloading this as the accuracy can be anywhere from 10m to 40m. With this app you can zoom and pan easily with the phones touch screen, changing the scales as and when you want. There is a daily data limit on the free version, meaning you can't download infinite amounts of maps, if you pay £1.99 for the premium version however this is not present, and neither are the annoying adverts at the bottom of the page. I have downloaded various apps that do the same thing and this is my favourite and most accurate one, it also caches the maps you use making it much faster, others I have downloaded don't seem to do this. £2 well spent!

      2. MM Tracker

      For anyone who already has Memory Map, this is a god send. This app allows you to install your Memory Map maps onto the SD card of your phone, meaning you can navigate, track routes, download tracks, and view saved files from your PC, and the best part? It can all be done offline, meaning no data connection is required. Naturally this has the huge drawback of having to own Memory Map map files to begin with, however if you already have them (like I do) this app means you can have all the features that Memory Map pocket edition does, but on your Android phone. At present Memory Map are creating an Android version of the pocket edition (see this)however so potentially it might be worth saving the £6.99 this app will set you back, and just get the free version for the time being....Still at the moment this is the best navigation app out there, provided you already have maps!

      3. iGeology

      For any outdoorsy types out there that have an interest in geology, whether you are a student, mountain leader, or just have a passing interest, this is the app for you. First of all it is provided by the BGS (British Geological Survey) free of charge, and provides full UK geology coverage, at a variety of scales down to 1:50,000. Tapping an area on the map will bring up a small box detailing the type of geology shown, as well as linking to any geology reports online. The geology mapping is overlayed on OS 1:50,000 mapping, making it an amazing tool for outdoor instructors wanting an "in the field" guide to geology. You can search for places by postcode or grid reference, and using the phones GPS the app can track your current position, allowing you to check the geology as you go. The main problem (as with many mapping apps) is that it requires a data connection to download the maps you need. Outside of that this is a truly brilliant app, which provides a wealth of information on UK geology, and all for FREE! Brilliant!

      4. GPS essentials
      Another nice little free app, albeit with annoying adverts at the bottom. This one does what it says on the tin. It provides a number of screens which provide useful GPS tools. On the left is the most useful screen, providing data on a number of things. There are other screens the coolest of which is one that uses an augmented reality view from your camera to display you current waypoints ( It can also provide charts of speed, elevation and other data, which can be useful for analysing your route on the go. Using waypoints you can easily track a route, and get back to a location in the event of an emergency!

      This really is a useful little app, and as a bonus it works offline and doesn't require a data connection. Overall it's a great app to have, it's free, and doesn't need internet! Go for it!

      5. Mountaineering by SusaSoftX

      This last app is pretty much just an eBook. But it's a useful one, some of the information in it isn't necessarily the most up to date or modern, but for information such as weather, avalanche testing etc, it's a useful free reference tool, and well worth a free download!

      Well that is it for now, hope this has been useful! Any feedback on this would be much appreciated, Android is new to me as well, so if anyone has any hidden gems out there then please drop me a line!

      Long time no post!

      So I haven't posted anything for a couple of months. For me it's been a busy period, and a lot has gone on. Firstly and most significant is a change of job. I did my last day at Stanley Head on Friday, and will be starting a new teaching role on monday. I will still be doing the odd evening, weekend, and holiday work at Stanley, but for the most part I won't be around there much. I will be keeping my  DofE award officer job alongside the new one, so I won't be completely apart from the Outdoor Education scene. Being in teaching will give me a) more money and b) more holiday to work towards my MIA and winter ML. I will miss Stanley, in particular the awesome kids who come through each week, but it was time for me to move on with my career.

      Anyway I'm back, so time to get some more articles this space.

      Wednesday, 27 July 2011

      Polartec NeoShell vs Gortex Active Shell

      At the OutDoor show 2 new fabrics were being shown. Polartec was demonstrating their new waterproof and breathable fabric, whilst Gore-tex was showing their latest addition; Active Shell. Naturally it is difficult to give a detailed review of a fabric I haven't worn or used on the hill, however this review contains my personal first impressions of both fabrics.

      Polartec® NeoShell

      As I mentioned in the Mammut Eiger Extreme review below, I was very impressed with NeoShell for a number of reasons. NeoShell represents a very odd combination of feeling and performing like a soft shell, but bringing with it the waterproof qualities of a hard shell. In particular my favourite jacket with this fabric was the Mammut Gipfelgrat jacket (see review further down). I can already see the benefits of this fabric for winter climbing, the fabric has stretch in it to give great comfort and freedom of movement, it's warm like a soft shell, but gives protection from the weather like a hard shell. On the Polartec® stand was a short demonstration of how the fabric works:

      As you can see the fabric is fully breathable; allowing oxygen to pass through it into the liquid, however non of the water above gets through the fabric into the container below. The fabric in the right hand container was not named, so could be anything. NeoShell also claims to be machine washable without any loss of waterproofing on the jacket - another big claim that can't be substantiated at this stage. The other thing about NeoShell is that it seems like more of a 'beefy' fabric, it's not designed to be super light weight, so from an adventure racers point of view this fabric could be less that ideal. Full details of NeoShell can be found on the website:
      Overall I was very impressed with NeoShell, the neat little demo on the stand, the substantial feeling fabric, the proof will be in the pudding, but if NeoShell delivers what it promises then this could represent a real step forward in terms of performance fabrics.

      Gore-tex® Active Shell

      Active Shell is the latest fabric from Gore-tex designed to provide a high degree of waterproofing and breathability. From Gore-tex;

      "Ideal for all weather fast forward athletes seeking durable protection and comfort during highly aerobic, done in a day activities such as trail running, mountain biking, and fast alpine ascent."

      (Left) Mountain Equipments new Firefox jacket uses Active Shell

      My first impression of Active Shell? It felt like Paclite crossed with ProShell. It felt very thin, and light. I found it hard to get very animated about Active Shell, because from my point of view it is just another Gore-tex fabric that is waterproof and breathable. I also had to sit through a lecture one morning that was supposed to be about outdoor gear targeting the ageing market, however when the Gore-tex woman appeared to do her section, she just talked about the various fabrics available instead of staying on topic, however listening to her all the fabrics made the same claim: waterproof and what exactly is new about Active Shell? From Gore-tex website:

      "combines extreme breathability and durable wind- and waterproofness with minimum weight and pack volume."

      Sound familiar? Thats because the above was taken from the description of Gore-tex Paclite. My point is that Gore-tex new fabric just seems to me to be "just another waterproof fabric".  4 of the 5 fabrics on the Gore-tex site claim to be waterproof and breathable, and on feeling and trying on Active Shell jackets, it feels like another one for the collection; an updated version of Paclite, that perhaps provides slightly more breathability and waterproofing, however once again the proof will be in the pudding. Website:

      In summary; I am finding it very hard to get psyched for Active Shell, I'm sure it will be a step forward in terms of producing a shell that is; lightweight, breathable and waterproof. But to me it just seems like it's nothing new. NeoShell on the other hand seems to be exactly what I have been looking for in a soft shell, but with the added bonus of being as waterproof as a hard shell. I was impressed with NeoShell to the point that I gave V12outdoor an email this morning to see about pre-ordering a Mammut Gipfelgrat in September.

      Thursday, 21 July 2011

      OutDoor show Friedrichshafen 2011 - New electronics

      Naturally I was keen to get some info on the latest GPS sets out there. I focussed on getting info on the main 3 GPS brands available in the UK; Magellan, Garmin and Satmap....

      Magellan eXplorist series

      The eXplorist series are Magellan's latest GPS handsets, as well as being available to view and trial at the Magellan stand it was possible to borrow one and test it out. The eXplorist series comes in several models; GC, 310, 510, 610, and 710. All the models

      have a loop at the bottom to attach a lanyard (useful feature), waterproof to IPX standards, and include some maps (varies depending on model.

      The GC version is designed for Geocaching, and comes with a preloaded database of 1000's of Geocaches. It also comes with a 30 day premium trial on It can hold around 10,000 Geocaches. However it does not come with any maps included. The 310 and 510 include world mapping (roads, river, some relief shading, land use worldwide), however the 510 has a larger 3 inch touch screen, and a 3.2 mp camera built in. The 610 and 710 are the 'big daddy's' of the series and both include topographic "summit series" mapping. The summit series mapping is 1:50,000 and includes all the detail you would expect from a map of that scale. The 710 includes turn by turn navigation (US only at moment).

      So all in all I liked the eXplorist series, the signal was very constant (even inside the centre), navigation was simple enough using the buttons, I would imagine the touchscreen versions with larger screens would have been even easier to use! Overall, good range of GPS sets, some good features, and the price point is also pretty good.

      Garmin eTrex 10,20 and 30

      So having visited Magellan the next stop was Garmin and their new eTrex revamp. The eTrex has been a stable GPS in terms of sales and popularity for some time, most likely due to it's ease of use and cost (the eTrex basic model can be picked up for around £50). However Garmin obviously decided it was time for a change around, so their new eTrex series was created. There are 3 models; 10 (£100) ,20 (£130) and 30 (£150). All models have the same interface which consists of a small scroll stick in the top right, and a number of buttons on the sides which control various functions. They all also feature waterproofing up to IPX7 and have a 2.2 inch screen. The pricing is very good, and with only a 33% difference between the top and bottom model's it would definitely be worth considering getting the eTrex 30 for the additional features. The eTrex 10 is a basic model featuring no maps, the 20 comes with a colour screen and expandable memory to allow new maps to be added. The 30 comes with a barometric altimeter for more accurate height readings, a worldwide basemap and a 3 axis compass, as well as wireless sharing for sharing routes between other compatible units. Overall I really liked these units, they were a good size, had good features, good ease of use, and most importantly the price point was excellent (much cheaper than the Magellan units). It should be pointed out however that the Magellan sets include maps where the Garmin sets do not, so factoring in the cost of expanding the maps brings the costs up to around equal. The new eTrex series will be appearing in the UK soon!
      The other unit that caught my eye on the Garmin stand (and OutDoor industry award stand) was the Garmin Montana. The Montana is another big daddy unit and comes in 3 versions (600, 650 and 650T) each with slightly different features. The Montana has a massive 4 inch colour touchscreen. The top version is the 650T, which includes a 5meg camera and 100k topographic mapping. It can be expanded to include 1:25k mapping, and is waterproof to IPX7. However at £500+ this is not a cheap option! And when you consider that £500 does not include any 1:25k mapping it starts to look like a very pricey option, especially when units like the Airo A25 are now dropping in price. Despite the price I did like this unit, it felt incredibly solid, the touchscreen was easy to use, and despite the glare from the sun outside, the screen was very clear thanks to the sunlight readable screen. Overall, if you have he money then this unit is great, however not many people would spent £500 on a GPS set!

      Last on my tour of electronics was SatMap. Whilst there were no new products from Satmap this year in terms of GPS units, there were a few extra bits that may be of interest to anyone who has, or is thinking of getting a Satmap set.

      First up is the ProShield. The proshield is a rugged case with a belt clip. This is designed to bring the Satmap up to IPX7 standard for waterproofing. It protects the unit from drops onto concrete, water and dust, as well as protecting the screen from scratches and damage. It comes in 3 colours (left) and is very easy to fit. The belt clip is also large enough to fit onto a rucksack loop or strap for ease of access. The second thing is that all 1:25k maps from SatMapSatMaps now have new software which increases their efficiency and reduces the chances of the unit freezing. I guess from Satmaps point of view they have decided "if it ain't broke don't fix it!".

      So there you are, new releases and updates on the top brands of GPS available in the UK, some good stuff on the way!

      OutDoor show Friedrichshafen 2011 - Crazy lightweight gear

      Personally I have never been huge on "Super Doopa ultra lightweight" gear, of course I am not adverse to having gear that is lightweight, however I feel the next 3 products will be most suitable for those crazy trail runners who want to carry as little as possible while retaining functionality. The first product is the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer. This one really does have to be seen to be believed. At 48g this wind shirt is made from 7D nylon fabric which provides a good degree of water resistance. The jacket is incredibly minimalist and has a simple zip at the front. The jacket does come in green which makes it look a little less like a sandwich bag! Very cool product, not for me, however ultralight hikers, back packers and trail runners will love this product.

      Speaking of Ultralight; Terra Nova recently announced their new Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 tent. A 1 man tent that weighed only 495g. The interesting thing about the Laser Ultra was that despite it's lightweight, the fabric used in the tent boasted a high level of water resistance that most other tents. The ghostly clear fabric is so opaque because the fabric is too thin to be dyed. I was impressed with the Laser Ultra, firstly because I like Terra Nova, but secondly because it represents a leap forward in the design and build of tents. When I got to the show I was keen to get my hands on the Laser Ultra, however when I reached the Terra Nova section I was greeted with something even newer....The Voyager Ultra. The Voyager has long been a cracking 3 season tent in Terra Nova's collection, but they have taken it a step further by following in the steps of the laser and creating an ultra light version. The voyager Ultra is much lighter that the Voyager superlite, but just as strong, which is amazing when you think about it. The Voyager Ultra weighs in at 880g (120g lighter than the superlite and 1.1kg lighter than the original Voyager), and is built of the same highly waterproof fabric as the Laser Ultra. Considering the Voyager Ultra is a 2 person tent, the weight of it is just incredible! 

      As well as their range of ultra lightweight tents, Terra Nova have produced a range of lightweight
      packs. The Ultra 20 (left) is a 20L lightweight pack that weighs a mere 136g (111g without waist belt). Despite it's light weight it still has generously padded shoulders and drawcord closures. This pack is very cool indeed, the fabric feels tough considering how light it is, but at £120 you are paying a lot for the luxury of less weight!

      Wednesday, 20 July 2011

      OutDoor show Friedrichshafen 2011 - New climbing hardware

      So one of the things I was looking forward to most about the OutDoor was the new climbing hardware, and I wasn't disappointed! Walking into the show on the first day a giant poster informed me that Black Diamond were showing their new Magnetron karabiners; definitely worth a look! The Magnetron system is currently in 2 different karabiners; the grid lock and the rock lock. The concept is simple; 2 small magnets hold the gate closes in the same was the screw does on a screw gate. When the user squeezes the green pressure points on the gate the karabiner can then be opened. Simple concept, very easy to use, and very innovative. Really liked the karabiners, they felt very solid and the Magnetron system was very easy to use! 10/10 for something new!

      Next up is Mammut's new via ferrata set; the Tec Step Bionic. The system builds on Mammut's previous climbing hardware "Bionic" products. The karabiners look great as with other products from Mammut, titanium grey and electric blue karabiners, and black lanyards. The karabiners use a new locking system where the back bar of the karabiner needs to be depressed before the gate will open. This is not a unique system, and similar products where shown from a number of other companies. But out of all the similar sets shown, I liked this one the best! See short video below on how this product works.

      Petzl demo'd the new Reverso4 also. The Reverso4 is not very different to the Reverso3, it has the same function and design at the 3, the braking grooves etc are all the same. However the 4 is an ultra lightweight version, 25% lighter than the previous version. However all in all there isn't anything different! One product I was impressed with was Climbing Technologies Alpine Up. This is a new version of CT's Click Up assisted braking device. The new version is capable of providing the same function as the Click Up, but with double or half ropes. The device is multi purpose and can be used for belaying on a single rope, belaying on double or half ropes, and abseiling. While not a huge brand in the UK climbing technology continue to produce innovative new gear, and the Alpine Up is no exception.

      The last product that caught my eye  was Beal's Diabolo rope. Chatting to one of the sales rep's on the Beal stand, he explained that the rope used a unicore system. What this does instead of being a traditional rope with a core and a sheath, the 2 parts are bound together. The idea of this being to illeviate rope slippage and increase the rope lift. Another example of a great new product!

      There were a number of other climbing related gear releases including new DMM rebels (they have different handles in the 2011 version), a new climbing helmet from Edelrid, and many many more.