Archive for August, 2009

August 11, 2009

Stone nudes

by backpackingbongos

“Stone Nudes: an extract of the art of climbing. Intended to inspire and celebrate the human form. Stone Nudes draws from the community it represents. Over the last ten years, a body of over one hundred photographs drawing from three generations of climbers has evolved.

Unlike current climbing media, these images do not seek to sell or promote anything beyond the experience. This approach has attracted climbers of all abilities to participate in a project designed to capture the essence of the climbing sprit.”

I am not sure how I managed to stumble across this website, but the landscape images are stunning.  No I am not sure how this fits in with backpacking either but this is a calendar that may be brightening up my kitchen wall next year (if my partner does not mind!).  So as not to offend anyone reading my blog I will not post any of the images, however tasteful they may be.  But you can check them out for yourself here.


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August 9, 2009

Out playing with new gear pt1 – ULA Catalyst

by backpackingbongos

My recent backpack in the North Pennines gave me the opportunity to play with some new gear I had purchased over the previous few weeks.  Obviously a 2 day backpack with a wild camp can only give an initial impression of how stuff will perform over time, but here is my two pennies worth anyway (I have ended up splitting this post in two as I got carried away writing about the Catalyst!)

ULA Equipment Catalyst

This was a dream to pack the night before going away, it simply swallowed my overnight summer gear.  It was probably overkill taking this pack out for one night as even with the Akto inside it was only about three quarters full, I had to make full use of the compression straps.  ULA’s website states that the main body of the pack is 2600 cu in which by my calculations is 42 litres.  I think that the packability comes down to it being slightly wider than many other rucksacks, of great benefit when using a tent such as the Akto or Laser Comp.  It was the perfect width to place the Akto inside the pack near the top.  No faffing about trying to pack the tent vertically inside like I have to with the Golite Pinnacle.

When putting on the rucksack for the first time there is a fair amount of adjusting to be done to get the perfect fit.  The wide waist belt is very comfortable and the buckle is linked to two pieces of webbing on each side which you pull inwards to tighten.  This means that you can increase or decrease the pressure of the belt at the top or bottom to get the most comfortable fit.  I found that a few times when walking along I would adjust the belt a little to suit the terrain that I was on.  One thing that I did find a bit odd and rather annoying is when I took the pack off and put it back on again after a break.  The previously perfectly adjusted waist belt would no longer fit around my hips, I would have to loosen it off, buckle up and re-tension the straps.  The instructions that came with the pack suggested that this would need to be done so I would imagine this is part of the design.  I am on the other hand just used to throwing my pack on my back and buckling up.  The pockets on each side of the waist belt are of a perfect size and don’t get in the way, I used them to store my camera, tissues, snacks etc.

The internal frame of this pack is very stiff and to be honest took me a while to get used to.  I have recently been using a frameless pack which with careful packing will mold to the shape of your back.  With the catalyst you definitely do get the feeling that you have a framed rucksack on your back.  When standing upright the sack fits the contours of my back perfectly, but I have to admit to quite often slouching.  When you do slouch you are made very aware of a solid object strapped to your back.  I think that this may be an incentive to improve my posture!

I have found that many packs in the past have felt a bit separate from my back and they can wobble around on rough ground.  This may sound a bit weird but the Catalyst felt like it was actually clamped onto me.  It appears to be designed to be a close fitting rucksack and feels at its most comfortable when tightened so it is close to your back.  This again leads to the same problem when taking it off and putting it back on again.  The shoulder straps will be adjusted perfectly when taking it off but for some reason seem too tight when putting it back on again.  A fair bit of adjustment of shoulder straps and waist belt is necessary to get it perfect again.

The mesh pockets on the sides are huge and can be closed off with an elasticated toggle.  A one litre platypus bottle fits in with loads of room to spare.  The large mesh pocket at the front of the pack is perfect for maps and items you need throughout the day such as waterproofs.  I personally would not use it for heavy items such as a tent as this could mean making the pack off balance.

Aside from the adjustment issues when putting the pack on (which in reality only take a few seconds) I am very pleased with the Catalyst.  It will get alot of use over the coming few months and I will get a better picture of how it performs, especially on longer trips when it will be carrying more weight.  It is very well made and the Dyneema fabric appears to be very tough, I hope it will last for many years to come.

Some more gear waffle to come…………..

August 8, 2009

Mountain Leader Training England (MLTE) registration

by backpackingbongos

I have finally done what I have been thinking about doing for a while now, that is to register for the Walking group leader award.  I was torn over whether to register for the Mountain Leader award or the Walking group leader award.  I thought that at this moment in time the walking group leader award would be more relevant for what I plan to do with it and the experience I already have.  I have the opportunity at work to take groups of homeless and vulnerable adults for day walks in the Peak District and was looking for a qualification that will allow me to do that.  There is even the possibility of my employer supporting me with funding or at the very least allowing me time off to do the training and assessment.  Prior to training you need to keep a log book with a minimum of 20 hill walks in uncultivated, non mountainous but remote country (ie moorland, hill and fell).  That is a requirement that I can easily fulfill with my own personal log book going back over 15 years.  So at the moment it is a case of waiting for my logbook and handbook to arrive, filling in the log book with appropriate experience and then applying for a training course.  Can’t wait!

August 7, 2009

Ireland part 4 – County Mayo (Achill Island and Nephin Beg)

by backpackingbongos

The drive from Connemara to Westport took us through the wild and rugged Doolough valley which is dominated by the mountain Mweelrea.  A great big beast of a peak and one which I had planned to climb whilst I was in the area.  However it has a reputation of being really tough and definitely not one to do it mist which there was always plenty of!  Whilst we were there a walker fell to her death down a gully and this sombre news put me off.  If there had been a forecast of settled weather I think this mountain would have been the highlight of my trip.  There is always next time!

We later drove past Croagh Patrick which we had plans to climb after Achill, it was clear and sunny today and we could just make out the white dot of the church on the summit.  After a short excursion to Westport, a town that even a town hater such as myself liked we headed onto Achill Island just as the weather made a turn for the worst.  We had plans to stop at the campsite on the beach in Keel the main village on the Island.  However our hearts sank when we arrived, the campsite was huge and heaving with a funfair next to it.  Not what we wanted!  We immediately turned around and headed for the campsite near Doogort but that looked even worse.  It was back to keel to stay the night and see if we wanted to stay in the morning.

It was actually not as bad as we initially though and we managed to get a quiet pitch near the beach with loads of space.  The actual location was stunning set on a large sandy beach with the Menawn cliffs as a backdrop.  If we looked in that direction we were happy.  If we turned around we could see a rabble of caravans and groups of bored looking youths in tracksuits attempting to look menacing.  Just like a bit of my hometown Nottingham transported to the wilds of Ireland!  We did get treated to this great rainbow over the Menawn cliffs though.

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Croaghaun 688 metres

The summit of Croaghaun has been on my list of must climb mountains for a while now.  It boasts the highest sea cliffs in Ireland which rise to right to its summit at 688 metres.  I set off from the campsite to start my walk at Keem beach situated almost at the furthest tip of the Island.  The coast road heading there is stunning, running unfenced along the top of cliffs.  I just had to get out and take this photo of Keem beach.

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I parked the polluter at the upper car park at Keem beach so as to cut out a small amount of ascent.  A track passes the public toilets leading to a strange looking building, a bit like a deserted hotel.  I left the track here and cut acoss the valley crossing the stream.  At this point I noticed that my lower trousers were covered in ticks, so after picking them off I put on my gaiters even though it was warm and dry.  A short sharp ascent over easy grass led to the col below Moyteoge head with its former coastguard watch house.  This gave views down to Keem beach and the access road leading down to it.

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The following mile or so was absolutely breathtaking with the sea to my left at one point being over 1000 feet below me.  Lines of cliffs led to Achill head in a wave of peaks, a superb mountain ridge falling directly into the sea.  A unique ridge walk with the sea on the left and the ground falling steeply to the right to the Keem valley.

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This section soon came to an end and I dropped a couple of hundred metres to a low grassy shelf just above the sea.  On the descent the cliffs of Croaghaun dominated the view ahead but unfortunately the tops were capped by cloud.  The slopes of the mountain from this angle looked impossibly steep and I was beginning to wonder if it was actually possible to climb from this side.

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Crossing the river it was a slow steady climb up short cropped grass to the point where the cliffs join the grassy flanks of the mountain.  It was then a real leg wobbling ascent up exceptionally steep slopes which provided no hazards except effort!  The photo below shows the view from just over half way up.

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The mist was now teasing me, coming and going giving a feint promise of a mist free summit.  I was relieved to reach a spot of level ground just below the western summit getting a glimpse of the beach far below.

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Mist began racing up from the seaward side of the mountain never crossing over the ridge, a great effect but disappointing that I could not get a view down the cliffs.

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A short climb and I was soon at the summit, where the mist had completely closed in.  A real shame as I had been looking forward to the views from the top.  I had to satisfy myself with a quick sit down on a damp rock before getting the compass out to head in a south esterly direction.  Once out of the mist is was simply a case of picking the easiest descent line through rough ground back to the van.  A simply stunning walk, just a shame that the mist spoilt it a little bit!

The Bangor Trail – Letterkeen loop and Western Way

After Achill we decided to head back to Connemara to stay at the same campsite as it was simply stunning.  That would give the opportunity for a good walk to break up the journey a bit.  We had a choice of Croagh Patrick or to explore a bit of the Nephin Beg range.  My partner was not too keen on a mountain climb and I fancied a bit of wild country so we headed to a minor road and car park that skirts the edge of Nephin Beg.  This mountain range although not particularly high is the largest expanse of wild country in Ireland.  A huge wilderness of bog and mountain without any roads crossing it, unique for Ireland where it can be difficult to get a long way from a public road (ok roads are often very minor and remote in themselves!).  My map showed that a section of the Bangor trail and Western way were linked, surely this would provide a nice easy day out?

We parked the van north of Lough Feeagh, a mile or so after the public road ends and turns into a forest drive.  This area has a real wild feeling to it with very few houses and almost no traffic on the roads.  A short distance down a track we came to the Brogan Carroll bothy, I really did not expect to find any bothies in Ireland.  A bit bare and spartan but Im sure it would be more than welcome after backpacking across the Bangor trail.

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An informative information board warned us of the dangers of entering remote boggy country as we set off over the footbridge.  We had only gone a few hundred metres when we realised that our trousers were covered in ticks from the bracken we had walked through.  So after brushing down it was on with the gaiters, to try and get some protection from them.  The first mile or so was along the river bank with more deep bracken and we had to constantly brush ticks off.  The narrow but well defined trail then soon gains a little height and provides a couple of miles of easy walking with great views of the surrounding hills.

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A high shoulder of land is crossed before descending to the Bawnduff river.  There was a feeling of entering wild remote country now and I would loved to have continued deep into the range.  Maybe one day I will return and backpack these hills.  Instead we took a right and contoured above a forestry plantation climbing through increasingly difficult terrain.  The vegetation got more and more tussocky and the path disappeared, but there were regular waymarkers to keep us on track.  The views opened out even further as height was gained.

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There was then real confusion as the waymarkers stopped corresponding with the route marked on my map.  Conditions under foot were now pretty rough and we thought that maybe it would be best to see where the new trail would take us.  Instead of dropping down to the valley floor as indicated by the map they continued to climb to a small unnamed rocky summit which just topped out at 311 metres.  Its small size however gave panoramic views, with the eye being led across the vast flat Mayo bogs.  You could see how in the distance fields suddenly gave way to a flat brown carpet as far as the eye could see, with just the add plantation or building adding a bit of scale.

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Happy that I had spent a bit of time in ‘wild country’ we followed the markers down to the track along the western way.  It was now a simple easy stroll back to the van.  On the map the route we did almost looks a bit dull and I initial thought that we would be walking through forestry plantations on easy tracks.  In reality it was a cracking walk, a bit rough but with great views and no people for miles.  Even with its access problems Ireland is great.

August 4, 2009

North Pennines backpack – Croglin to Gilderdale

by backpackingbongos

The mass of moorland to the north of the Alston to Penrith road (A686) has drawn my eye for a few years now but is somewhere I have just never got round to visiting.  Being August and not liking to share hills with other beings I thought it would be the perfect time to visit, I could even tick off three of the four Nuttalls located there.  Nuttall bagging has been a long time sport of mine, but something I will go into another time.  Another reason for the visit to the area was to check out a few building symbols marked on the map, a possibility of bothies that I have not yet found?  I have been a member of the MBA for a few years now (all bothy users should join) and have the full list of the bothies under their care.  However there are many more out there just waiting to be discovered, in fact they are often so good they are kept very very quiet.  For example there is one in mid Wales with gas lights, gas cooker, hot water and a flushing loo – not many people including myself would want give that location away!  By complete accident I have found two stunning places in the North Pennines that do not belong to the MBA, as well as Gregs hut – are there any others?

This trip would also be the perfect opportunity to try out a few new pieces of gear that I have recently brought, I will write about that in another post.

I got home on Friday after work and was in two minds about whether to go or not.  The weather was not looking great and I really could not face a long drive on my own.  I faffed about for a while and discussed options with my partner.  She reasoned that I would only kick myself later in the weekend if I stayed at home.  Finally at 7.30pm I got myself out of the door and started the drive north.  A big problem half way up the A1 when a section of the motorway was closed, meaning a long tailback followed by a long slow moving detour to rejoin the motorway.  I finally reached Cow Green reservoir in upper Teesdale at 12.30am, a great spot to park up the van for the night.

Situated at nearly 500m the wind and rain was lashing the van when I woke in the morning.  I did my usual bad weather procrastination but this looked like it was here to stay.  Not wanting to waste a day I thought that I really should get up and drive to the start of my backpack at Croglin village just over the Pennines.  Thankfully in that short time the weather changed dramatically and it was summer again.

Day one – 9.5 miles, 660 metres ascent

It was 1.00pm by the time I left the van outside the church and set off through the village.  There were still plenty of hours left in the day and I thought that I would just walk until I got tired or it got dark.  The lane soon turns to a track as it climbs above Town Head farm before heading high above Croglin Water.  The weather had cleared enough to give extensive views across the Vale of Eden to the Lake District fells.

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I soon met a ‘This track is not a public right of way’ sign which was a bit misleading as I was now on access land.  They clearly showed a list of dates when you could not exercise your right to roam.  I got the feeling that walkers were not really that welcome!  I branched off to the right to pick up a grassy bridleway that descended to follow the valley at a lower level.  Ahead lay the long wild and remote valley of Croglin Water.  I love the feeling you get when you are just about to enter wild country.

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The grassy track continued for a couple of miles becoming less defined and boggier until it reached the valley bottom where Stockdale beck joins it with its small but nice waterfall.

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The buildings marked on the map soon came into view but alas on closer inspection they were dilapidated and boarded up.  At least my search had brought me into this beautiful secluded valley.  Just behind the huts the ground had been desecrated by two parked up JCB diggers that had started a new track leading to nowhere in particular.  Sacrilege in such a lovely spot and I had to trudge through the wet muddy track they had created.

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A bit further on a small limestone crag gave a perfect place for lunch and I sat there content with the world as I felt the warmth of the sun on my face whilst listening to a buzzard calling.  The ground became rougher and much wetter as I climbed onto the ridge to the north of the valley.  Just before reaching Tom Smith’s Stone I was greeted by a mass of water filled peat haggs that were intent on trying to take me down into their sodden depths.  If I got stuck here help would be a long time coming!

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The summit of Tom Smith’s Stone top really outlined the futility of summit bagging and must be one of the least inspiring ‘mountain’ tops I have ever climbed.  Dull, brown and rather wet!  The ground soon rose to the much more satisfying summit of Grey Nag which boasts a huge summit cairn and trig point and extensive views down into Alston.

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Rough ground down into Woldgill burn led to even rougher ground as I traversed to the ruins on Watchers hill in Gilderdale.  A superbly wild and remote spot with a real feeling of isolation.  I had not seen a single person all day.

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A short walk to the head of the valley brought sight of the building I had been searching for.  A substantial stone Miners shop in a really superb position.  It was unlocked but to be honest was not a place I would choose to stay in unless I was really desperate.  There was evidence that at one time it had been used as a bothy but the graffiti on the door did not date past about 1960.  These days it looks like it is used by shepherds / farmers for storage.  Disappointed I walked a bit further up the valley and found a grassy patch to pitch the tent.  As I sat outside to cook the sky grew darker and mist started to cover the highest top.  By the time I was in the tent a steady rain began to fall and lasted the entire night.  For some reason that night I dreamt of zombies!

Day 2 – 7.5 miles, 370 metres ascent

I managed to sleep until 9.00am, only disturbed by the occasional zombie.  I spent a lazy couple of hours cooking and looking at the scenery whilst waiting for the promised sunshine.  You can’t beat laying in a tent watching the world go by (actually nothing went by except a couple of sheep but it is nice to sit with an empty head!).

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I even managed to get off my backside for a few minutes to take a couple of photos of my pitch.

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All through the night the old mine building was a bit of an unnerving presence.

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By about 11.00am the sun had finally done its duty of drying out the tent so I was packed and off on the ascent of Black Fell, which at 664 metres was the highest point of the weekend.

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It was now an easy walk over grassy terrain to the currick on Watch Hill where I stopped for lunch.  I could not relax as I was constantly bothered by a succession of wasps and bees all for some reason showing great interest in the Tesco’s carrier bag that held my food.  Moorland bumble bees are usually fairly inquisitive and often buzz around for a bit before flying off.  These ones kept on landing on me, getting flicked off and then coming back again.  I gave up and walked on to the trig point on Thack Moor.

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It was here that I passed two guys out for a day walk, the only people I had seen since leaving Croglin.  Not bad for a August weekend, these hills are definitely the place to get away from it all.  A rough boggy descent and the landscape suddenly turns to welcoming limestone, with green cropped grass and small crags and boulders.  The walk down Holl Gill would have been a delight but I failed to look at my map and spent a fair while hacking through bracken.  It was now hot and I had run out of water.

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I finally got to the floor of Croglin water on the south side and took the track to the strangely named hamlet of Scarrowmanwick.  As I closed the gate behind me and stepped onto the road I noticed a sign saying ‘Private track no right of way’.  They obviously want to keep these hills to themselves!

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