Archive for July, 2009

July 31, 2009

Bothy hunting and new gear in the North Pennines

by backpackingbongos

I am just waiting for the Friday rush hour madness to finish so I can hit the the A1 to the North Pennines.  Hopefully at about 11.00pm I will be curled up in the van on some remote moor listening to the rain.  Have planned a two day backpack with a wildcamp on Saturday night through some very wild and bleak hills.  Being a bit of a bothy fan there are a couple of dots on the map that I want to check out, will probably come to nothing but can never resist checking these things out.  So far I have found 3 really good bothies in the North Pennines tucked away deep in the hills.  Its good to know bothy locations as a backup in the winter months when the weather can turn for the worse.  You can’t beat being in the hills in front of a roaring fire while the weather rages outside.

I also have a few pieces of kit that will be used for the first time.  My catalyst pack is ready and waiting by the front door (a little big for a 1 night lightweight summer backpack but want to use it anyway).  I am going to wear some Flyroc 310’s, never backpacked in them before.  It is going to be pretty wet on the hills and I know my goretex boots will be soaked in a couple of hours.  The Flyrocks should be ideal for splashing through bogs and streams.  The Akto I brought off Geoff will get its first outing, will the mod make a difference?  Finally I have a Whitebox stove which has never been backpacking, hope its good as it is so light!

The weather looks so bad I have even dug my Paramo out!

July 27, 2009

Laser Comp sent for repair

by backpackingbongos

I finally got my act together today and sent my damaged Laser Comp to Terra Nova to see if it can be repaired under guarantee.  Glad that I brought it on the internet as a quick search of my emails turned up an e receipt.  Hard to believe that I have owned it for 3 years already.  Anyway this should be a good test of their customer service and what is covered under a ‘lifetime guarantee’.  It should just involve some simple stitching and seam taping, so fingers crossed it will soon be back with me good as new.

July 26, 2009

ULA Catalyst – first impressions

by backpackingbongos

I have obsessively spent a couple of hours playing with the Catalyst pack that I got on Friday.  My first impressions are very favourable, hopefully this is the perfect pack I have been looking for.  The main body of the pack is made from dyneema fabric, which if the Golite Pinnacle is anything to go by is very tough.  There are thick tough feeling mesh pockets on either side of the pack that can be closed by an elasticated toggle.  There is another larger mesh pocket on the front of the pack that can be compressed.  This pocket will easily hold maps and waterproofs.  There is no lid to the pack just a drybag style opening that attaches to the top and the two side compression straps.  There are also two pockets on the hipbelt that are big enough for a camera and small items that you need during the day.  I paid extra to have a removable mesh pocket inside the main body of the pack for keys / wallet etc.

The main compartment of the pack is 43 litres with the roll top opening providing an extra 10 litres if needed.  One thing that struck me when first getting it out of the box is how wide it is, much wider than say the Pinnacle which is tall and narrow.  This makes packing very easy with the top being wide enough to accommodate a horizontal Hilleberg Akto or Laser Competition.  This is one of the things that made this pack attractive to me as I find both of these tents a pain to pack due to the attached carbon fibre poles.  With the Pinnacle I usually packed these tents vertically down one side of the rucksack before adding other bits and bobs, a nuisance in the rain.  With the Catalyst I should be able to get everything packed before taking down the tent and then simply put it inside the pack at the top.

I filled the pack with various bits and bobs until it weighed 13kg which for me would be the approx weight for a 3 day winter trip with food and fuel.  With this weight the back system feels very comfortable with a large proportion of the weight being taken up by the supportive waist band.  The back system fits me very well (you are given 4 different back lengths to choose from) and the waist belt is superb (again you have 4 sizes to choose from).  The only problem with the waist belt is that if I lost a couple of inches round my waist I may not be able to do it up tight enough (a good excuse to eat pies?) – but at the moment it is perfect.  The rigid back has a distinct curve to it which feels a bit strange after using a frame less pack.  The aluminium stays are removable and can be bent as required but I think that I will take it backpacking and see how it feels before making adjustments.

The only criticism at the moment is that the front of the pack under the mesh pocket and the front of the roll top is not dyneema.  It appears to be ripstop nylon.  I will have to be careful when packing to ensure that nothing sharp or pointy goes at the front.  I would have preferred the entire pack to have been made of dyneema.

No review until it has a few miles under its belt, but in the meantime some photos (sorry about the flash!)

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July 25, 2009

Ireland part 3 – Connemara (Killary Harbour and the Twelve Bens)

by backpackingbongos

The previous days thunderstorms cleaned the air and we awoke to sunshine for the first time since reaching the west coast.  After a lazy morning we set off to Leenaun the setting for the film ‘The field‘ for lunch and to do a bit of tourist stuff.  The village lies at the head of Killary Harbour which is Irelands only fjord at 16km long.  Just outside of the village the Erriff river enters the fjord at a really scenic spot and just upstream is the low but powerful Aasleagh waterfall.

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Killary harbour and the famine relief road

A minor road leaves the main N59 and passes the dramatic Lough Fee and Lough Muck, it then branches off and twists and turns before reaching Killary bay little.  We squeezed the van into a small spot and set off to climb Salrock pass which gave stunning views back down to the bay.  Movement to our left turned out to be a herd of wild goats on the crags, amongst them a huge billy complete with beard and horns.

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Behind us was the small peak of Benchoona which later in the week would prove difficult getting down from, more about that in another post!

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The top of the pass was soon reached with views that extended right down to Leenaun at the head of the fjord.  The route was now simple, just follow the well constructed famine road to Killary harbour.

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Once at the harbour it was a short walk back to the car.  It was great to get out in the sunshine which has been lacking up to this point, but I did find myself staring longingly at the mountains.  Today would have been the perfect day to have climbed up high.  Tomorrow I would set off solo to attempt to climb some of the Twelve bens from the national park centre.  I kept my fingers crossed that the weather would hold!

The Polladirk river horseshoe – Benbrack 582m – Muckanaght 654m – Bencullagh 632m – Maumonght 602m

I should have crossed my fingers harder because when I woke up the following morning the mountains were once again hidden behind veils of mist.  I was comfy in the van so I went back to sleep again with the hope that the rain might go away!  A couple of hours later and I could see the cloud base lifting off the mountains from the campsite, so I packed my rucksack and went for it.

The rain had stopped by the time I reached the national park entrance and took the track signed ‘bog road’.  This gave good easy walking for the first kilometre or so before it veered to the left to climb Diamond hill.  My route was to continue in a straight line following the Owengarve river to its watershed and then join the Polladirk river.  A distance of only a couple of miles but across the toughest terrain I have ever encountered.  Thigh high purple moor grass hiding monster tussocks and deep puddles, deep heather and blanket bog that gave the impression of walking over a giant wobbly jelly.  It was hell.  Stupidly I did not put on my gaiters and within minutes my legs were soaked and my boots filled with water from the saturated deep vegetation.  I ploughed on for a good half hour and then it started to rain.  I then made another mistake by not putting on my waterproofs as it was so warm and humid.  I thought that my paramo windproof would suffice but I soon had water trickling down my back.  My world turned into an internal misery of bog and a monochrome landscape filled with mist and curtains of rain.  I very nearly turned back at that point but decided to a least trudge on to the source of the Owengarve river to see if the terrain got any better from that point.

Well it did not!  But at least the rain stopped and the warmth meant that I dried out pretty quickly.  My map showed a large area of bog between me and the bridge marked on the map and it didn’t disappoint.  A bit alarming when the ground wobbles around you but at least less vegetation made the going a bit easier.  I reached the bridge and found a bit of a problem, a high deer fence had been built across it on my side of the river.  I tried to cross but would have fell in.  So I gingerly climbed up and over the fence, crossed the bridge then climbed back over the fence on the other side.  I reached the Polladirk river which was larger than expected, seeing as my feet were already wet I just ploughed straight across with water to my knees.  There was a large boulder a couple of hundred metres away where I stripped off to dry out and get some food in me and take in the wild surroundings.  The photos really don’t do justice to how high and tough that grass is!

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I could have procrastinated for ever on that rock but a decision had to be made about my onward route.  I had thought about following the river to the head of the valley but I would have rather gnawed off my own arm than walk across more bogs.  I decided to climb Benbrack, which would still include a bit of a slog to get there.

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I eventually got to the col between it and Knockbrack and I have to admit that I was totally knackered, maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew?  I still had 4 mountains to climb and then return by the hell bog tussock route I had come in on.  I sat down and pondered again!  I soon snapped out of it and continued climbing what was now an easy rocky ridge to get to the summit plateau.  It was much more complex that it looks on the map and I was pleased to be standing at the summit cairn with great views over the rest of the range.

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The descent to the next col was through easy broken rocky terrain.  As usual the descent was fairly complex and I could imagine that in mist you would have to be careful not to descend into Glencorbet.  Even with clear visibility I kept finding myself going too far to the left.

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The col gave a view down the whole length of the Polladirk river with Diamond hill in the distance.

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My next objective was Muckanaght the highest point of the walk, towering above the col.

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The short cropped grass was greasy so I decided to contour to a higher col and climb it by its easier east ridge where I got views into Glenowengin.

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A final steep pull to the summit with a view across the vast bogs of Connemara towards the coast.  A few more of the Twelve bens also put in an appearance.

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There was one more large drop to a col to go before climbing Bencullagh, again there is a change with the terrain becoming rockier.

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Thankfully the drop and climb to the last peak of the day Maumonght was fairly small and I had a long rest at the summit.  A quick call to my partner to let her know that I would be much longer than planned, I may not be back for dinner was the message.  It was then a long steady descent down the north ridge with the boggy grassy valley looking like velvet from a distance.

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The lower down I got the tougher the vegetation got, but I was soon back at the bridge and climbing over the watershed where I gave a final look over my shoulder to the peaks I had climbed.

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I had a fair bit of slogging to get back to the van so I plugged myself into my ipod and sang my way across the bogs taking it much slower this time.  In the early evening sunshine I enjoyed it and experience of the route meant that I could pick out an easier line.  Within an hour I was close to the track and a slightly different route led me to this picturesque spot.

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Almost exactly ten hours after leaving it I arrived back at the van absolutely shattered.  I had just done one of the hardest walks of my life over some of the most demanding terrain.  The mountains had just topped 2000ft but they could give any Scottish Munro a run for their money.  The amount of ticks I had brushed off during the day was as bad as you get in the highlands and the horseflies were evil enough to get in a flap over.  But boy was I pleased with myself!

Cregg hill – 297m

Maybe it is cheating to drive to the top of a hill?  Clegg hill has a very rough minor road leading to its summit for access to the TV mast.  A worthwhile excursion for when you are feeling lazy and fancy a view without any physical effort.  It looks like a good access point to the Twelve bens across Lough Nahillion if you don’t mind a bit of bog walking!

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July 24, 2009

ULA Catalyst received

by backpackingbongos

Rather excited when I got back from work today.  There was a letter from Parcel force saying that I had a delivery from the States and there is a customs charge to pay.  So it was straight down to the depot to pick it up.  The downside is that I had to pay a £41 VAT and handling fee which I feel is a bit steep!  Its out of the box now and I have done a bit of modeling around the house, have to say that it looks great at first glance.  The weekend will no doubt be spent loading it with gear and running up and down the stairs!  Will probably post some photos of it in the next couple of days.

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