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.