Wednesday, 31 January 2007

TGO Marches On

Well, as January comes to an end, the March edition of TGO arrives on the mat. Makes sense. Gone are the snow-capped peaks, now replaced by desert-hiking in Jordan.

Editorial: Cameron's organising an ultralight mini-expo at the Backpackers' Club AGM in Northumberland in April.

Main features: National Trails. Excellent. I think I'll be coming back to that one time and again.


  • Women's 50 litre packs (so why are many 60 litres plus?). Anyway, always good to read on the trends and advice on what to look for.
  • Knives/pocket tools. I don't know why, but I've never been a fan of the Swiss army knife. I find multitools big and clunky. There is a wee SAK in my emergency kit, but I just have a 'Oddities' pocket-knife in by pocket-kit. The Gerber Revolt has been assigned to KP duty, or opening the mail.
  • Judith Armstrong (the other one) talks about gear for her Alpine challenge. Bob's interview.
  • Chris Townsend reviews lightweight cooksets - he didn't review the Snow*Peak that I use, so I'm in the huff ;-)
    In truth it's more a comparison piece between materials.

Colin Prior actually mentions his hikes out, rather than the thoughts and technicalities of his stunning photos.

Others: great photo of the ruins at Petra; some pages on Snowdonia; Jim Perrin's recollections always need a proper read; Mike Harding continues to drop French into his musings (is he secretly educating the readership?).


I dropped into Nevisport this afternoon and ordered up a proper USB cable for my Geko unit. Thirty notes on a cable! It's only a cable! It's not even shiny :(

Being my usual cunning self, I took the opportunity to suggest to the boss that a course on cable-making might be interesting to the general public. Something the students could make money at on eBay.

Sadly it meant turning down Big Kev's soon to be eBay'd mapping gps unit. Even at a tempting price, I just couldn't justify it to myself (or the bank manager). I too must get round to eBaying my unused gear.


Summary of March...err, January. Got out once, but at least it was an overnighter and tabbed 15 miles down a glen I'd passed but never been down before. Also, the overnighter was in my first shared bothy - having had Rowchoish to myself on the WHW. New boots worked well, nice and comfy, and I've been wearing them around town (and even in to work on one snowy day). A lot of spare time taken up with technical problems with PC. Hey ho.


And finally: was the closing sequence in "Open all hours" an example of video-blogging?

Monday, 29 January 2007

201 USB woes

Ach well. Why is life never simple? Hardware won't talk to software, or the cable isn't the correct cable, or the drivers weren't correct. It's just a sodding GPS system, why is this a problem for the computer tech people?

Just imagine if batteries for cameras and torches were as bad as mobile phone batteries? "I'm sorry, but we don't stock the battery for the Canon X2 camera. We can order them in for you?" End result, unhappy customer.

No-one in tech-land seems to be bothered with long-term customer satisfaction as battles for non-standards seem to be just another way to rip money from the cold dead hands of the investor in technology.

Quite frankly, I'd have had a more productive evening digging the Silva compass out and spending the time on improving my compass skills. Say "goodbye" to the diktats of sloppy technology. Run free from the Heath Robinson-dom of modern computer systems. If cars were still run the way that computer systems operate, we'd have steering systems from the 1920's controlling rocket-engines, with 20 miles of fuel in the tank, but the next compatible filling station is 30 miles away. Information may set us free, but incompatibilities in technology steels too much free time.

Saturday, 27 January 2007

Firefly Day

Being a sad git, me and a mate, Mike, had a "Firefly" day. We got through 10 hours of the series, finishing at "Ariel". That leaves 6 more episodes and the "Serenity" movie. At one point the dvd player had to be switched off to let it cool down. Honest.

Then we caught the end of "Star Trek: First Contact" on tv - no contest.

If you've ever played "Traveller", you'll love "Firefly". ST had "Row, row, row your boat", "Firefly" has this!


Started the day trying to getting the USB-to-Serial connector working, but Memory Maps does not pick up the Geko gps unit and times out. I've asked on OM if anyone's able to help.


Letter came today from Cancer Research UK.

West Highland Way 06

Thank you very much for raising donations ... giving us a total of £203.08 raised through your event...

The money will go a long way towards helping us cure cancer faster through world-class research. Our doctors and scientists are working to find new and effective treatments for cancer and to prevent more people from developing the disease.

To everyone who made donations, Cancer Research UK says "Thank you once again for your wonderful support".

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Burns' Night

Happy birthday to the National Bard, Mr R. Burns. We humans don't change in emotions, and his work, like so many of the previous generations speaks across the ages. Here's a few that people may be less familiar with.


---My Heart's In The Highlands [1]---

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birthplace of valour, the country of worth!
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer,
A-chasing the wild deer and following the roe -
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go!

Farewell to the mountains high cover'd with snow,
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below,
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods,
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods!


---I'll Go And Be A Sodger [2]---

O, why the deuce should I repine,
And be an ill foreboder?
I'm twenty-three and five feet nine,
I'll go and be a sodger.
I gat some gear wi' meikle care,
I held it weel thegither;
But now it's gane - and something mair:
I'll go and be a sodger.


---Epigram On Parting With A Kind Host In The Highlands [3]---

When Death's dark stream I ferry o'er,
(A time that surely shall come,)
In Heav'n itself I'll ask no more,
Than just a Highland welcome.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Is this an "Oh dear" too?

Am I sad in the fact that it is snowing outside, which gives me an excuse to wear my Scarpa ZG65's to work. As they're the dark coloured ones, they go quite well with my dark "George at Asda" suit. Bounding up the stairs from the 1st floor to the class on the 6th (honest).

Got some photos of from the 6th floor window of a snow-covered Aberdeen. Only the phone-camera, so probably won't turn out well, but I'll add them below when I get home.

Oh dear: Valves!

Just caught myself looking at this site that came in via a OutdoorsMagic forum, and finding it interesting. Yup, sat at work between classes and looking at various gas fittings and canisters/cannisters. Then the realisation catches up with me. Do I care? Nope. Some people find football scores interesting. Yawn. Maybe they have a vested interest in it. So, I suppose that I now have a vested interest in things like the disposal of gas cans - in a safe and environmentally friendly manner too.

Monday, 22 January 2007

YouTube Trail

Trail Magazine has a number of short videos on YouTube. They can be found here. It's like the magazine, but the pictures are moving, and speaking at me!!! The wonders of modern technology.

Watching a cute wee film starring Ian Holm on TV: "The Emperor's New Clothes".  Napoleon escapes from St Helena and ends up selling melons on the streets of Paris.

Speaking of Youtube, it's amazing what's on it. I found this, and it was taken in the early 90's when a mate of mine was working with the range team there. I'll need to go through looking for a hobbit-sized civvie.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

The Thief of Time

Well, found some great photos from The Boy Hope's online gallery. These ones are from his 2005 expedition to the Lairig Ghru and surrounding peaks. The view from the top of the Bod is stunning - sounds like a bad chat-up line!

Back to get the marking done for tomorrow's class. Yes, I know what the time is, but I haven't had the chance so far today. Getting new system unit working, retrieving files from backup (then moaning to myself that I may have lost the originals of the WHW photos). Hey ho, c'est la vie.

One advantage is that I can now watch Totoro on my iPod. And the live version of the closing theme. I still think it's the cheeriest d@rned song I've ever heard! Well done Miyazaki-san.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

I'd rather be hiking

What a waste of a week. My home PC's been playing up. A conflict between my iPod and reality. 3 evenings later and the majority of Saturday (except for a fun visit to the local PO sorting office), and I have a system that runs well enough for day-to-day tasks that don't involve iPod or external devices using USB2. By 6pm last Saturday I'd hiked 15 miles and was back at the car. By 6pm this Saturday, I'd rebooted the PC at least 15 times and scowered the Web for solutions and installing fixes; and finally admitted that my system worked, but it was a good time to get a new system box. Subtly different from being defeated and having to buy a new PC.

As to the P.O., well, the lass at the sorting office refused to go and looksee if there was any parcels waiting for me from before Christmas, as they would have been returned to the sender by now. I had no outstanding delivery cards, so had collected all I was due from the sorting office. She refused to give me a "lost parcel" form, as the parcel I was waiting for (and confirmed that had been sent to me before Christmas) wasn't lost, as it would have been returned to the sender if I hadn't collected it; so it was now the sender's problem and not mine. I've notified Dave, at Caliver Books to see if he has received the parcel back (which he won't have, as he would have said).

Last Saturday - cold, wet, low cloud cutting off dramatic scenery, some hooky river crossings, muddy tracks.

This Saturday - centrally-heated flat, modern digital radio/TV channels, snacks and tea/coffee on the go, trying to fix software problem and ignoring the pile of marking and prep I have to do for work.

I'd rather be hiking.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

BackpackingLight.COM Podcasts

Weird Darren's just mentioned that have now got two podcasts on their site [link]. I'll add them to my iPod when I get the system up and working again. Got a nasty error 1418 message in iTunes. Fixed it, but lost access to my USB2 card - with access to various external devices. More time lost fixing PC problems. Hey ho.

Centenary of AW

It would have been nice if the powers that be designated the Coast-to-Coast a National Trail on the centenary of AW's birth, but I don't suppose politicians have that much foresight these days.

Anyway - good excuse to sit down with the AW-featured C2C DVD and some maps and go "oooh".

I wonder if there'll be a mention of him in Coronation Street? Not that I watch it.


Saturday, 13 January 2007

24 hour flew

Breakfast of coffee and porridge the left bothy at 9am. I was outside all packed when I remembered that I hadn't signed the bothy book. I made the terrible decision to just crack on rather than step over and disturb the bodies in the bothy. Walking towards Derry Lodge, I pass an Akto pitched in the trees. I feel slightly guilty for choosing a warm bothy instead of a spacious tent.


Luibeg Bridge.
Been walking for an hour and a half. Spotted another tent, some big orange TNF affair above the Derry Fords. Saw 2 deer, young ones, about 10m away - I wouldn't have seen them but they started moving. Only saw one small unspecified black bird. Heavy shower, light rain continuous. Nothing to see above low cloud. Speckled snow on the hills. River is in spate, which may cause me a problem in Glen Dee, as the map shows the path intersecting a number of streams.


Got to the start of the Lairig Ghru. Was passed by 2 climbers who'd camped out last night and were heading up one of the ridges (if the weather was okay). Saw a few deer grazing on Creagan nan Gabhar, but nothing else. Had a fine view of the hills below the low cloud, highlighted by the snow. Like a living Wainwright sketch. Bod an Deamhain pictured above. Before I turned south down Glen Dee, one of the guys from last night (and his dog) came bounding up from Corrour Bothy. So, I wasn't the first out, and I hadn't even noticed that there was only one dog in the bothy that morning.

Headed down to Glen Dee, and, apart from crossing some streams that were in spate, and the driving rain, there wasn't much else. Some good work has been done on the path (photo taken looking north):

Elsewhere, the work had been submerged by water, or hadn't started. It must take the teams years to do a stretch like this, and their efforts are much appreciated. Got to White Bridge just after 3pm.
10 to 5 on Saturday, and the GPS says 24.5km (15 miles) tabbed since yesterday, and it's not even 5 o'clock. Hence the title. Heavens still falling. Getting changed out of wet gear in car park toilets. I'll need to apply Nikwax to the Salomon gloves, as they started frothing. I'll also need to organise the names of waypoints - I've too many in the Cairngorms and they are starting to cause me problems when I come to pick them out of the list.

Boots did well, but I can feel some dampness in the socks - checked later and no blisters. I don't know what the expectation is for Gore-Tex XCR, but the boots were getting rained on from above, and having to cope with ankle-deep puddles and streams.

Found it difficult to get the e+Lite comfortable on my forehead, but it was handy to have. I didn't get the feeling of losing my peripheral vision like I did with the Tikka. But I found that to get the torch low enough to see what was in front of me, it started to shine off my nose.

New leggings were warm, without feeling over-warm in the bothy. Car thermometer read 3'c, but I didn't feel it on my legs - though I was wearing overtrousers as well as Montane Terras.

High wind, bothy night

By 9.30 i'd crossed the Lui water and was tabbing it to Bob Scott's bothy. I'd planned to pitch the tent, but the rising wind was putting paid to that idea. A chap i'd met in the car park was heading there too, so the race was on. Past eyes reflecting torchlight back, switching torch to the red lens for that demon effect. With a clear sky but high gusts, i had a fine walk in. Turning off the track to follow the bothy path, i could smell woodsmoke before i saw the light from the bothy. Circling the bothy in case pitching was still an option, went into an 8+2dog bothy with roasting fire and chatty company. About 3 extra came in during night and stayed. I think 2 more popped in and left. (Written from my bit of floor below kitchen platform, friday night)

Friday, 12 January 2007

Clearing the Cobwebs

Bag packed last night - almost as much as for the WHW. Extra clothes just in case. MWIS says that the wind will die down to 20/25mph for trekking on Saturday. Staying low, not going out of the glens, just up Glen Lui and back down Glen Dee in the Cairngorm National Park. Test out the new Scarpa ZG65s.

I seem to be the only one happy about the gusting winds just now - I want to see how the Akto copes. I'll find some shelter in Glen Lui and stop out overnight. If too bad, I'll see what's going on in Bob Scott's Bothy instead.

Fought off the urge to go out to the nearby gear shops in my lunchbreak. I must be coming down with something! Got some marking to do, then one more class, some paperwork and offski for an all-too infrequent trek in the wilds. Woo hoo.

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

BG BloGs

New Year's resolution? Don't know, but OMer, Bearded Git, has started his blog up on Live Spaces. Some stunning lake photos and photos from ridges that just scare me to look at them.

Escape to, or, Escape from?

To sacred hills, woods and groves, 
To sacred trees and shrines 
Do people go, gripped by fear.
But they are not safe refuges, 
Not the best refuge. 
Not by going there 
Is one freed from all suffering.

Part of yesterday's vacana that I pondered about last night after a couple of days back in the granite.

Earlier I'd seen a teenage girl, not even breaking her stride, kick out at a telephone box. "Two days back in the city, and I'm already annoyed by the way people behave". The 20mph speed limits in the city centre haven't made any difference, don't seem to be enforced, and just seem to be money wasted on signage. Do I want to escape from this, or escape to somewhere where people have more respect for their surrounds and society?

People have talked about the spiritual nature of the wild places, and tying it in with beliefs of old (actual or re-invented). I usually just have more time to think about things when I'm out walking - it's not the places, it's the lack of distractions. Then I often find that the big hills, river crossings, or walking carefully over scree, helps me get things into perspective, and the worries shrink away.

"No-one took the minutes of the team meeting before what, there's a golden eagle hovering. Oooh."

In the same way that the chav kicking a telephone kiosk doesn't care about me, neither does the landscape. It doesn't provide a stunning valley for me to appreciate because it gets some sense of pride in return, it is just nature, geology, erosion, weather, wildlife - in the raw. Uncaring in the main, or in the case of wildlife, just trying to get on with life (which it'll do once the sodding humans have gone past).

So, in the words of the adage "wherever I go, there I am". There is no escape from feelings, but the wild places allow me to get some 'head space' to put them in to perspective, show how unimportant some things are, and how important other things are to me. The estimated times in trekking books are never enough for me when I'm solo, as I can stand for 10 minutes just watching a herd of red deer retiring into a forest, noting the way that the stags watch the threat (me on the other side of the glen). I'll watch a bird flap from one rock to another and wonder what it's going after as there are no insects around. I used to be able to 'people watch' in the urban environment: now I just get annoyed by the attitude of most people, so I can't do that any more.

I mainly get annoyed by my own attitude.

To me, the urban environment is uncivilised and wild; many of the inhabitants are soulless beasts, hunting goods in the shops that never make them happy.

Humans are spiritual people. We can't help but take our beliefs out into the world. That doesn't make the wild places spiritual places, just places that people go to get in touch with their problems or memories.

I caught a petal fallen from cherry tree in my hand.
Opening the fist
I find nothing there. *

Sunday, 7 January 2007

C2C recon 1

One podcast I listened to on Saturday was the TGO Show nr 7. All about Alfred Wainwright, and included a piece about the Coast to Coast. There's a campaign underway to have it designated as a National Trail [link]. 2007 is the centenary of AW's birth, so it would be nice if the powers that push pens got it together for that.

Also from TGO, in the magazine this time, a mention of "The Original Coast to Coast B&B Accommodation Guide". Some information from the 2007 edition is reprinted on the web with permission of the author, Doreen Whitehead.

I'll need to get a planning weekend set aside and start planning it. Only 2 things concern me. One is the transport to and from the trail head/foot, and the second issue is the access laws in England relating to wildcamping. I simply can't afford to pay for accommodation unless there is really no alternative. A fall-back position would be to tackle the Southern Upland Way, or maybe Offa's Dyke. But I don't know about either of these trails at the moment.

Gear 9: Scarpa ZG65 XCR

Well, no surprise when the reconnaissance visit turned into a purchase. By my inaccurate bathroom scales, the pair of size 45's weighs in at 1.6kg. Coy Starnes at BackpackGearTest weighed a size 45.5 pair at 1.45kg in 2005.

The US site has better pictures of the boot. The colour is the dark version, "Anthracite", they call it. Gore-tex XCR lined, with vibram soles.

The gent in the shop measured and checked my feet, listened to what I was going to trek with them, and came up with recommendations. By this stage, I'd been round 3 other shops in Aberdeen, and looked at what was on offer. The only other one that tempted me was the Brasher Supalite.

At home, I finally managed to fish out the superfeet from the old Scarpa SL's and install them in the ZG65's. A couple of podcasts later, I had finished an extended walk around the block in them. Nice and comfortable. I'll wear them on urban treks to get them worn in.

Saturday, 6 January 2007

January Sales

Ah well, how quickly the break flew by. Didn't get a chance for walking on the island (weather, family duties, sleeping). Swinging by work today (email account locked out, so hope I still have a job to go back to).

Decided to get a pair of Munro-bagging boots for 07, a good excuse to trail around the gear shops in Aberdeen. See if any of the local OMers have left me anything. With my usual timing, TGO will probably have a review of lightweight boots in next month's issue ;-)

No boot preferences, just something as comfy as my Terrocs and lighter than my Akto. I'll keep saying to myself that today is a recon visit. Honest.

Ploughed through my 18 months of TGO and Trail, "Backpacker's Handbook" and OutdoorsMagic. Nothing definitive. Not keen on buying footwear over the Net as I can't try them on first. Also not happy about trying out things in shop and then going online to get a cheaper deal. If online shops want to set up a fitting service, no problem, but I don't like using 'real world' shops for that purpose. Yup, I'm a mug, but an honest one (blame my Teuchter upbringing for that).