Archive for August, 2009

August 25, 2009

Ireland part 5 – Back to Connemara

by backpackingbongos

I have just realised that I never finished writing up the last bit of my Ireland trip, so here it is!

After a few days on busy Achill we craved a return to the Renvyle campsite in Connemara.  The weather had suddenly turned glorious so instead of heading for a hostel as originally planned, we found ourselves on the beach for another couple of days.  The clear sunny weather made this beach of white sand look like it was dropped straight from the Caribbean.  The only give away was that the few swimmers were dressed in wetsuits!  My sights were firmly set on the mountains that dominated the view from the campsite, so the next morning my partner was left happily on the beach whilst I went off exploring.

Garraun 598m and Benchoona 582m

These two mountains really changed my perception of what makes a mountain.  I still have in my head the magic height of 2000ft as the required height for a hill to become a mountain.  These two fine peaks fall a fair bit short of that height but are much more ‘mountain’ than many much bigger peaks that I have climbed in the Scottish Highlands.  Starting a climb from near sea level helps with the impression that they are much bigger, but it was their sheer rocky attitude that firmly elevated them to mountains in my mind.

I found a small spot to squeeze the van into between Lough Muck and Lough Fee and crossed the bridge over the river between them.  I then immediately tackled the very steep cropped grass slopes ahead of me.  Luckily the ground was dry as this gave a bit of grass scrambling, steep slopes but with nothing to hold on to!  After ascending 100 metres or so I came to a small plateau which gave big views down the length of Lough Fee towards the Maumturk mountains.


Above me towered the bulk of Garraun, even though there was only 450 metres left to climb it looked much higher.


The steep but easy grassy ridge soon gave way to outcroppings of rock which had to be either scrambled up or navigated around, making sure that I did not stray onto more difficult ground.  The views to the north were opening up showing large sandy beaches on the other side of Killary harbour.


Also on the other side of Killary harbour was the bulk of Mweelrea, the highest mountain in these parts and one of the toughest to climb.  Long boggy walk ins and some serious ascents and descents make this a mountain to climb when the weather is guaranteed to be clear.  That is something that does not happen on the west coast of Ireland very often.  Today would have been the perfect day for it but I also wanted to spend the afternoon on the beach!


The final steep slopes of the ridge gave birds eye views down to Loch Fee before I gained the complex mountain plateau.


Navigation was easy today but in misty conditions careful map and compass work would be needed for navigation.  The summit cairn led the eye to the peaks of the Twelve Bens, some of which I had climbed a few days earlier.


The walk between Garraun and Benchoona was across a complex rocky landscape with many small cairned peaks and a few lochans.  For me this would be perfect wild camping territory with loads of nooks and crannies to find shelter for a tent and big views in every direction.


I quickly gained the summit cairn of Benchoona which gave some of the best coastal views I have ever seen.  The clear air meant that I could see all the way to Achill Island in the far distance and the cliffs I had previously walked there.


It was on the descent that brought home the fact that this hill was in fact a big brute of a mountain.  I decided to follow the advice of a local guidebook and tackled the steep northern slopes rather than descend the north west ridge.  The very steep slope was lined with long terraces of cliff faces and I was aware that I often could not see the slope below me.  From above all I could see was the valley floor!  I would pick my way around one cliff face to a ledge below only to find the way down was too dangerous and would have to climb back up and try another route.  This went on for a good hour and I was relieved to reach gentle slopes at the 300 metre contour.  Looking back up I could see that I had judged my route well, a little to my right when descending and I could have got into a bit of trouble!

A short boggy walk then more steep craggy slopes brought me in sight of Lough Muck.  Once along the shore line it was an easy walk back to the van.


In all I probably only walked about 4 miles but they were definitely hard rugged mountain miles!

On the drive back I picked up my first ever hitch hikers, a young french couple who were very relieved not to have to walk miles along the road with their massive packs.  When I dropped them off they decided not to stay at the campsite but to go and try and find somewhere to wild camp so they could save a few euros.

After the exertions of the day it was great to get back to the Bongo and Tentipi for a beer and food.  In all my travels around the beauty spots of Asia including loads of tropical Islands, Renvyle beach is probably the best I have ever seen (when the sun is shining anyway!).

The campsite has a website, I can highly recommend a stay there!



August 19, 2009


by backpackingbongos

……to the Green Man Festival.  Four days of camping below Table mountain just outside Crickhowell in the Brecon Beacons national park.  Fingers crossed the sun will be out and I will be able to lay out in the grounds of Glanusk park soaking up some alternative folk and psychedelia with a warm ale.  Bliss and for once I will just look at the hills and not even think about climbing them (well I am popping back the following weekend to climb them!).

August 17, 2009

Some good customer service

by backpackingbongos

I have just received my Laser comp inner back from Terra Nova, repaired and as good as new.  I sent it off three weeks ago after the cord that holds the carbon fibre pole tore through the groundsheet and became detached.  I have always been a bit dubious about the meaning of ‘life time guarantee’ as this leaves things to the discretion of the manufacturer.  My tent was exactly three years old and I was expecting Terra Nova to charge for the repair.  You have to send the faulty item back to them with the receipt and a form detailing the fault / damage.  Shortly after posting I got a prompt email from them saying that it would be repaired under guarantee.  I asked them if they could re-enforce the cord on the other side whilst doing the repair, which they have done.  I suppose that we so often put up with poor customer service that we end up surprised when things go in our favour!

August 16, 2009

Danebower, Shuttingsloe and the Goyt Valley

by backpackingbongos

As I write this I realise that I picked the wrong day weather wise to go out for a hike this weekend.  Today it is warm and sunny whilst yesterday brought some heavy rain and a rather testing strong wind.  However Saturday is the day to visit the Peaks, for some reason much quieter than on a Sunday.  These days I struggle to find new ground to explore so often end up visiting the same favourite places.  Fancying something a bit different we decided to head for the ‘other side’ of the Peaks to the moors near Buxton.  A slightly longer journey to get there so the hills are not quite as familiar.  We plotted a long varied walk taking in wild moorland, deep cloughs, scenic dales, forest and a rocky peak – a perfect day in the hills.

13.4 miles with 860 metres ascent

We left the van on a minor road at Dane head and took a boggy track passing cheeks hill.  I forgot to check the map and ended up descending too far meaning we had to climb back up to Orchard farm.  From the farm a high level path contours round the hillside toward the Danebower quarries, giving views of the isolated houses squeezed into the fold of hills.  The rain soon swept in, but being optomistic that it was just a brief shower I did not put on my waterproofs hoping a windproof jacket would keep me dry.  Within minutes it was too late and I was soaked to the skin as near gale force winds blew the rain up the valley obliterating the views.  Optimism turned to pessimism and it was head down in a wet windy grey world, at least it was warm so there was no risk of freezing.  I just hate walking in wet underpants!

Danebower quarries are a great spot with lots of nooks and crannies to explore, the rain quickly passed and I managed to get the camera out to snap the old chimney up on the hillside.


A dash across the busy A54 and we took the bridleway up Danebower Hollow and into the mist.  The wind soon wipped this away and we were back in a world of colour with some of the most extensive views I have seen on a summers day.  The air was exceptionally clear and we debated if the hills to the south west were Shropshire or Wales.  We could see squalls of rain tracking across the wide plains.

A signed path descends into Cumberland Brook where we met a couple pondering their guidebook.  The directions they were following really did not make any sense and there was not even a sketch map.  I could not work out where they were meant to be heading so pointed them in the direction of Wildboarclough and the nearest road.  Cumberland Brook is a scenic valley especially lower down where it becomes wooded, with a nice little isolated cottage in an eviable location.



The wind and rain started again so we descended into the woodland and sat next to the river for lunch.  The midges were really out in force in this sheltered spot so we ate till we could bear it no more and headed up into the wind.  The path brought us out to the road at Wildboarclough where we crossed the river and took a tree lined path that contoured the hillside.  The views down Wildboarclough were idyllic with a perfect blend of pasture, woodland and a topping of moorland.  Its a shame that the valley is not that well served by public footpaths.


It was heads down for the climb to the rocky top of Shuttingsloe where we met the only significant groups of walkers of the day.  The sun was now out and the views extensive in all directions.  Manchester looked vast to the north west with Winter hill behind it in the clear air.


The flagstoned path across the moor leading to Macclesfield forest had blended in really well and was almost invisible from above.  This gave quick easy progress into the shade of the trees.



We were soon heading back down to the head of Wildboarclough and into Clough Brook, another scenic little valley which in its upper reaches leads the eye back to Shuttingsloe.  I was not looking forward to the short section of road walking after Torgate farm and was pleasantly suprised to find a concessionary path that led into Chest hollow and up to the road at the Peak View cafe.  Bonus number one was no road walking and bonus number two was finding a great cafe we did not know existed!


Filled with cake we took the path to Stake farm then over the moors to descend into the Goyt valley, another scenic Peak district gem.  A path descended to near Goytsclough quarry before our last big ascent of the day up Berry clough.  It was here whilst climbing through deep bracken that we could tell that Autumn was not far around the corner, there was a hint of brown to the ends of the leaves.  This however was in stark contrast to the hot wind that was blowing up the valley.


We arrived back at the van tired as we had been up hill and down dale all day.  I will have to make sure that I visit this part of the Peak District more often as the variety of the scenery gives a day of welcome contrasts.

August 12, 2009

Out playing with new gear pt2 – 310’s, modified Akto, whitebox etc

by backpackingbongos

A bit more new gear waffle from my North Pennines backpack…………

Sorry no photos but I did not take any of kit whilst on the backpack (the hills are far nicer!)

Inov-8 Flyroc 310’s

Now these were a backpacking revelation.  I usually wear mid boots (Salomon Elios) when backpacking, but have found that after a couple of days trudging across wet ground I end up with hot wet feet.  This is probably due to the Gore-tex lining degrading which always seems to happen to me within 6 months of buying boots.  As my pack has gradually got lighter I thought that I would try backpacking in a pair of Inov8’s.  Over the years I have had a couple of pairs of Terrocs which although really comfy for work don’t seem to suit my feet for hiking.  On the off chance I decided to try on a pair of the Flyroc 310’s and they fitted like a glove.  I thought that the best test for them would be on rough soaking wet moorland whilst carrying a pack.

To be honest for the first couple of hours I completely forgot that I was wearing brand new footwear, that must be a good sign (although at the time I was fiddling with a brand new rucksack!).  They grip my feet perfectly with almost no movement even without the laces done up tightly.  It was only when I put my foot in the first bog that I realised I was not wearing waterproof shoes, the cold water was felt instantly!  I then spent two days sloshing through standing water and soggy bogs.  My feet were constantly wet but that is something that I sort of got used to.  There would be that sudden cold feeling as the water flooded in but my feet soon warmed up.  On the negative side, I don’t think that these are shoes I would choose to wear in cold weather if there is a risk of my feet getting wet.  That would be just a little painful.

Due to the close comfy fit I had no problem backpacking over rough ground, at no point did I feel my ankle turn.  I did notice that I was using muscles that maybe do not normally get used in boots and I had a few aches that I would not normally have.  This is probably down to using a different walking style.  Overall I felt just as confident and supported as if I was wearing boots, but much much lighter.  They were soaked when I got home but 24 hours later were completely dry.  My boots would have taken several days to dry and would have developed a pong.  I look forward to getting the Inov-8’s out again for a backpack.

Whitebox stove

I have been using meths exclusively for backpacking for a few years now as I hate the wastage of gas canisters (i.e non refillable and non recyclable).  My Clikstand stove has served me superbly for years and I have confidence in it in all weathers, it is also safe enough to use in the porch of my tent.  However it is not featherlight, so wanting to lighten my pack a bit more I purchased the Whitebox stove.  On test at home this worked very well, but the real test for stoves is on the hill with a bit of wind.

Knowing that they have a reputation for being a bit fierce I decided not to use this stove in my tent until I was sure how it performed.  I therefore set it up outside my tent in a fairly strong breeze to make a cup of coffee.  The stove comes with a piece of reflective foil to stand it on but I used an anti gravity gear primer pan underneath it instead.  This meant that I got the stove to bloom much quicker, hopefully wasting less fuel.  Even with a breeze the stove brought a cup of water to the boil pretty quickly.  Afterwards I noticed that I had scorched the ground under the stove, something the Clikstand never does.  I searched in the river and found a flat stone to rest the stove on, this also made it much more stable.

For dinner I rehydrated a homemade spag bol which filled my 1.1ltr pan (yes I am a greedy bugger).  With the breeze the stove struggled to bring this to the boil.  This was probably due to me being conservative with the amount of fuel I put in, never quite enough.  Therefore the stove kept running out before reaching boiling point and I would have to go through the priming process all over again.  It will take a while for me to work out how much fuel to use for different amounts of liquid.

For breakfast I was a bit more daring and used the stove just outside my porch on the stone.  No problems with flaring and I judged the amount of meths needed perfectly.  I need to use it a bit more but am confident that it should be usable in the porch with the door open, an upturned mug or pan extinguishes it immediately if needs be.

Finally for such a small stove, a large pan is fairly stable on top of it.  The only problem comes if you can’t find a flat bit of ground to put it on, unless you can find a flat stone it may be a bit wobbly (I suppose if you had to you could use a pan lid?).  So unless I expect weather where I would want to cook inside the tent, I think the Whitebox will join me on many more backpacks.

A modified Akto

Plenty has already been written about the Hilleberg Akto and comparisons with the Laser Competition, So I am not going to go there.  What I was interested in was how different it was in comparison to my 10 year old model, and if the end mesh modification Geoff at v-g Backpacking had done made much of a difference.

The first thing that I noticed in comparison to my old model is the weight, it is nearly 300g lighter. The flysheet has a completely different feel to it and is much thinner.  The main difference however is in the addition of a vent above the door, which should in theory provide a chimney effect and let humid air out.  The rectangular ends of the inner tent had been professionally removed and replaced by midgie netting ,which would hopefully reduce the possibility of condensation forming on the inner tent.  So how did this perform?  There was a steady rain falling all night with a gusty breeze.  I slept with the flysheet zipped up but with the upper vent fully open, I also left the end vent which was facing away from the breeze fully open.  It was great to spend the night in a tent that does not flap around and I got a great nights sleep (one of the Laser comps major failings – sorry forgot I was not going to do a comparison!).  I woke up to a bone dry inner and even the flysheet was only slightly damp.  So did the vents help?  I really am not sure as the wind would have gone some way towards preventing condensation, but at the same time it was a wet night.  The real test will be on a still frosty night when Autumn kicks in, I will provide some feedback after camping in those conditions.

Trangia 500ml fuel bottle

Ok this is probably not the most exciting piece of kit in the world, but it does provide me with piece of mind.  I have always just left my meths in the bottle it comes in, but have always been a bit paranoid about it splitting and ruining my gear.  The Trangia bottle is not particularly light at 118g but is meant to be leak proof and will not spill when it is knocked over.  There, the shortest most rubbish review ever!