Friday, 20 March 2015

A fleeting glimpse

I sat in the window sill like some crazed curtain twitcher holding a makeshift monacle (comprised of 4 separate lenses from my sunglasses) and between the breaks in the cloud, I watched the moon slowly eat the sun. At first I think the neighbours all thought I was mad. I heard the folks from the solicitors across the road exclaiming how sh*t it was that they couldn't see anything...but then every now and then, the clouds would be just the right density/opacity to see the spectacle in the sky with the naked eye, and slowly it became ooh's and aah's that were drifting across the road. The delivery man dropping off a parcel for next door was also pretty chuffed when I gave him a shot of my bodge-it lens.

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Definitely worth staying up after my last nightshift for.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

No sunset I'm afaid...

Easing myself back in was the plan and it was a good one. It's been a while since I was regularly out and up anything pointy in winter conditions and even longer since I did it while carrying an overnight pack (My muscles are still protesting as I write this 2 days later!). It's not just my fitness where this apparent as deciding what to take and packing it took me around 2 days. Long gone are the days where I could rush home after work and sling some kit into the boot and pack when I got there. One tool I did find useful here was my patent pending "Bigbananamountains Kit Weight Calculator". It's not a new idea or anything groundbreaking but it has been a labour of love (I wish I was better at driving excel) creating it and I'm finding it quite useful in driving my pack weight down and making sure I don't forget anything in a slightly geeky way. If anybody wants a copy, leave me a comment and I'll happily share it.

Anyway...I was easing myself back into this, so when I spotted the weather window I decided it would have to be somewhere familiar and that I'd go sans dug. (I'm sure she's still annoyed after seeing the photies!) I rose to an early(ish) alarm and stuffed myself with a decent breakfast before stuffing my rucksack with the pile of kit lying on the floor, and set off. The drive to Arrochar was fairly uneventful and I was slightly smug as I stole the one remaining space in the car park by driving the Landy directly over the top of the massive pile of debris blown up from Loch Long by the recent stormy weather. Enormous ground clearance has its advantages at times. I changed my shoes and had an unhurried cuppa as I watched score of folks setting off and noted that not one of them had an ice axe strapped to the outside of their pack. I swithered with the idea of ditching almost a kilo of hardware from my back but in the end decided against it. I've been caught out before doing this and if nothing else the extra weight would be good practise.

I crossed the road, set off up the path and ignored the long switchbacks instead opting to take the steeper, more direct route towards Beinn Narnain. Aware I didn't want to burn myself out too quickly I kept my pace steady, and it wasn't long before my legs were eating up the metres of ascent and my eyes were drinking in the ever expanding views. It's just a pity that it was somewhat more overcast than I was expecting.

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I eventually reached the snow line and skirted around the patches before reaching the more rocky and craggy terrain where the trekking poles were stowed and hands were employed for some simple but thoroughly enjoyable scrambling. Before long though the patches grew too large to avoid and became a continuous feature. It was well consolidated and it's crust like iron. Out came the axe and shortly after, on went the crampons as my bendy boots just weren't up to the job of sawing their own steps. Although it had been a while, I found the axe moving fluidly from hand to hand to remain on my uphill side with out any mental intervention whatsoever. Like riding a bike as they say. I met a chap (He's somewhere in the second photo after this paragraph) coming down who warned me of the icy terrain above. He'd wisely given up on the summit as he'd left his hardware in the car park below. I thought how close I'd came to it and was glad I didn't.

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As I made my way up and over Cruach nam Miseag I was presented with a very alpine looking Cobbler to my left and an imposing summit looming above me with its misty cap only adding to the atmosphere. As I approached I could see the cornice overhanging the connecting ridge to A Chrois and I spotted that someone with a bigger pair of balls than me had front pointed their way directly up the snow beneath the Spearhead Buttress. It looked like a much faster way to gain the height but if you took a tumble there was no run out except onto a mass of jaggy looking boulders below. I cringed at the thought of it as I carefully picked my way up the craggy left hand side. The scramble was fun and was exhilaration enough for me.

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The summit wasn't quite so breathtaking. The view was obliterated into a grey/white nothingness all around. I took a photo, made a quick call to my pal to let him know I wasn't available for the Steak and Beer proposition he'd text me earlier and then left. I'd proven to myself that I could still manage in the winter mountains but I was beginning to flag a bit. The last hundred or so metres had been fought hard for. I was needing to stop and refuel. Thoughts turned to potential campsites of which there were plenty I had taken note of, but all were being slowly enveloped by the mist. I didn't want the dampness adding to what was always going to be a cold wild camp so I descended back down to Cruach nam Miseag.

I set up the tent along with my shiny new Ookwork's big nest which took a while due to my fumbling fingers, and ever encroaching fatigue. I was burst and worn out. It had been a big day and all I wanted now was to watch the sun go down and get some hot food in me before crawling into a cocoon of downy softness. The food was hot, the sleeping bag was soft and I suppose the sun went down in a blaze of glory somewhere else. All I got was a brief band of colour where the cloud base didn't quite meet the horizon. I suppose 2 out of 3 isn't bad.

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I checked in with Louise, facebooked for about ten minutes then crashed out. I woke a few times to put earplugs in and wrestle with my Exped pillow which eventually got launched to other side of the tent after it refused to stay put before drifting off again. A few hours later my bladder woke me again and forced me to make a trip outside. I couldn't resist taking the camera with me...

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I woke around ten minutes before my alarm (Set for the sunrise) just like at home and groggily dragged myself out of the sleeping bag. I'd slept fairly well compared to previous winter camps so was pleased. Outside it was cold, bitterly cold and I was glad I had my heaviest down jacket with me. The sky was misty but I could see the subtlest hints of colour creeping above the horizon and it looked like the air was clearing too. I had an excited child like anticipation of watching the sun slowly rise above the distant tops. A simple but magical pleasure and one we should all indulge in a little more often.

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I wandered around my camp site whilst I waited and climbed the little rise behind to get a better view of Ben Lomond. I found some Mountain Hare tracks that weren't there the previous evening. The thought of an unnoticed furry visitor amused me as I wondered how long he was out there for. Quite a while judging by the amount of tracks. Then slowly the show began. The colours deepened and then there was a slight flash as the sun just poked its head above the parapet. I was mesmerised and enthralled as I watched the sky and then the landscape around me change. It went from a blue frozen slumber to vibrant colourful mountain scape.

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It was a while before the desire for caffeine and food had me return to the tent below, where I had the pleasure of another sunrise over the rocks just above my camp site. This time it was a personal and exclusive event as I felt the sun slowly warm my shelter as it crept ever higher.

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I lingered in camp for a while, savouring the peace it afforded me and just simply enjoying the experience of being out again. Eventually though I ran out of cofee bags and it was time to get moving again so I packed up and slowly made my way back down the mountain.

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I'm still a little sore and achy today, but that's just a reminder to not leave it so long between trips.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

A long walk in the snow

I know I've not been posting on here much of late and I'm aware that my outdoor activity level has dropped off the radar also. I have my excuses for that. Some are valid like being hospitalised with pneumonia last year and some not so much, like "I just don't have the time". Most of us are guilty of it every now and then I find, and that's OK.

Over the last 6 or 7 months I haven't just become a hermit though. I have been out doing stuff. It's just that the majority of it isn't really worthy of this page due to its repetitive nature (IMO). I've been walking and running with Nellie to try and get some semblance of fitness back. I was pretty surprised at just how far back it feels like the bout of pneumonia  has set me and combined with the usual issues with my Sarcoidosis I think it's understandable that I've not been bashing up the mountains much recently.

Anyway, enough of me whining. I'm feeling a good bit fitter again and back to my old self. Trust me, the mountains will be on the menu again soon enough. I was out playing in the snow the weekend before last with Nellie dug and trying to get to grips with my Christmas present to myself. A Veho Muvi action cam. You can see the results below. It is quite long mind, so watching with a cuppa might be a good idea...hope you enjoy.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Hold the mustard

27 degrees! You'd think that would be far too hot to be running about daft and chasing thrown sticks. Trouble is, with a Colllie you just cant say no. It's just not fair to leave them cooped up all day then not give them a chance to stretch their legs later on.

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We ventured out to the park late in the afternoon. I couldn't be bothered to be honest. I was hot and tired with sore feet after a particularly difficult day at work.

The morning was spent trying to make sense out of a complex wiring diagram and trying to work out why this particular PLC output card had decided to self destruct. After eventually tracking it down, the afternoon was spent wishing I had three hands whilst being wedged in an impossibly small space underneath the machinery and wielding a soldering iron to repair the damaged cable that had ruined my day...and this was all completed while wearing a cleanroom suit (think tellytubby outfit!) and safety glasses that wouldn't stop steaming up.

As I said, I was hot and tired with sore feet but we went anyway. I thought the place would be heaving with folk out enjoying the fine weather but was surprised to find the car park empty and we never met a soul as we wandered along the trail with the sunlight filtering through the trees.

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The quiet was only broken by birdsong and the rustle of the branches as a squirrel darted along in front of us. The mutt must have been roasting too as she made a beeline for the water when we got down the river. She flopped herself down and refused to come back (which isn't like her) so eventually I went down through the trees to get her.

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It looked so cool and inviting that it wasn't long before we were both in having a paddle. My work frustrations were leaving me as I waded deeper and deeper. With the water level being so low, it only came half way up my thighs at the deepest point and what can occasionally be a torrent was now just lazily meandering alongside the path.

I don't think either of us wanted to leave our slow moving oasis of calm so we followed it for as long as we could before the path we needed and the river went their separate ways.

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I'm glad we went for the wander now. A wee hour or so escaping the heat and pressure of the day. There's a lesson to be learned here I'm sure.

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Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Salomon Fellraiser Review

The sharp, pungent aroma of wild garlic invades my nostrils as I inhale in deeply. My fast, rhythmic breathing and the occasional swish as my fingertips brush the fern fronds aside are the only sounds to disturb the gentle birdsong in the air. I'm gliding noiselessly through the forest. Fleet footed, swift and agile like a mountain hare. This is what's happening in my mind...although in reality I suspect what's really happening is that all the forest creatures are scrambling over each other in a blind panic, as they scatter and try to get out the road of my lumbering frame as it comes crashing and thundering through the undergrowth. Any dog walkers that I happen to pass are also probably wondering whether or not they should phone an ambulance for the man with the bright red, sweaty, baw-face that's making strange wheezing/whistling noises on every out breath as he hurtles past!

Yes, I've taken up running. Again. I've been here before, a few times in fact, and it always ends in misery with me giving up due to the pain in my calves/shins. Having reached a plateau with my cycling related weight loss coupled with the fact that cycle commuting may not be on the cards for much longer anyway, I was determined to have another bash at running. With the steroids I take to keep the Sarcoidosis at bay it seems I need regular cardio activity to prevent me ballooning up.

Having done a little research it appears my previous running injuries were all "over use" related and possibly, I thought, related to the fit of my footwear. With this in mind I decided to visit the nice people at Run4it and ask the advice of someone in the know. Turns out that because you place your foot more carefully when trail running that they don't make shoes for over-pronaters/supinators. They had me on the treadmill regardless, and after patiently answering all my stupid questions I tried on various pairs and eventually left clutching a pair of Salomon Fellraisers.

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Looking at the construction of the shoes they certainly live up to their inspiring name and I must say my first impressions are very good indeed. It's like they've stolen the best bits from both the XA pro 3d and the Speedcross and come up with these. I love both those shoes so I had high hopes for these.

As you would expect they are nice and lightweight yet tough feeling. The sole unit is similar to the Speedcross with its super aggressive multi directional lugs that are impressively deep. The upper has a wider toe box reminiscent of the XA pro 3d fit and a tough, stiff protective material around your toes that extends the full length of the shoe and around the heel making it very supportive and shrugging of scrapes and bumps. The mesh on the uppers is quite open and very breathable, we'll need to see how this lasts over time but it doesn't feel fragile. They come with the standard Salomon speed laces which I think are pure genius and should be fitted all footwear everywhere. There's a mesh cover over the tongue to stop debris getting in which so far has been very effective and speaking of that tongue, it's huge. It looks like it should get in the way but it doesn't. If anything, it helps you tuck the laces inside the wee pouch on it after tightening a little bit more easily.

Compared below with one of my old Speedcrosses in yellow....

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I've been using them pretty hard over the last month and so far I'm pretty damn impressed. We've become best pals and if they wear well over time, we'll stay that way I think. The wider toe box allows for my feet to spread when running which relegates my Speedcrosses to walking duties only. I've found the forefoot to be very stable when running and those lugs bite deeply into the soft mud and leaf litter in my local park allowing for some pretty fast but confident descents. The heel cup is supportive and the close fit of the sock like upper holds my foot snugly. The sole unit is nicely cushioned too but not overly so, you can still feel the trail underneath you. I'll admit, I was expecting those deep lugs to feel a little squirmy on harder ground but so far I can't say I've noticed it. Maybe they're a harder compound than the Speedcrosses or just slightly smaller?

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As for the running itself? well so far it's been enjoyable. Mostly. I'm taking it easy, building up my distance slowly and listening to my body. Injuries have been avoided so far and I feel a good bit fitter already...although I'm not sure whether that's just a perception or actual reality. It's also just nice to escape to the outdoors every other day and spend an hour or so in the peace and quiet. Anyway, here's some proof I've actually been out running in these shoes...just try to ignore the wibbly wobbly bits though, they're the reason I'm running again!

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