Archive for March, 2011

March 16, 2011

Adidas Men’s Terrex Seamless Trail Running Shoes

by backpackingbongos

For me there is something pleasantly old school about the name Adidas, bringing back images of the retro trainers of my youth.  They sometimes reissue their retro models, perfect for knocking around at work,  although perhaps not what you would choose for the hills.  I did not even realise that they did outdoor footwear until Robin mentioned on his blog that he had purchased a pair of Adidas Terrex Fast X FM Mid GTX boots.  Despite sounding like a dodgy radio station they looked to be pretty good.  Therefore I was pretty keen to test their running shoe counterpart, the Adidas Terrex seamless trail running shoe (another mouthful of a name) from Webtogs.

Now I have to admit that I have sat on the fence for a long time on the debate of whether running shoes are suitable for walking hills and mountains.  Some people swear by them whilst others are vehemently against them.  I have hill walked in Inov-8’s a couple of times and thought they were ok, but ended up wearing them out walking to and from work instead.  Time to give running shoes another go in the wet and boggy hills.

It is good to see that the Terrex has the usual Adidas three stripes down the sides, made of a rubbery plastic.  The blurb from the manufacturer says that they feature a seamless upper, this basically means that there is no stitching.  How this will affect their long-term durability I don’t know, lets just hope that the welding / gluing is up for the job.  The main thing I noticed was the speed lacing, something that I was not overly keen on when I first got them, preferring good old-fashioned laces.  However they work really well enabling me to get a good snug fit and the toggle has not slipped in use yet.  The toggle tucks away nicely under the lace bungee.  The sole is a sticky rubber, being much shallower than say an Inov-8 shoe, I initially thought that this would be an issue, more about their grip in a bit.

The Terrex are on the narrow side which suits my feet perfectly.  I struggle to find footwear that does not feel like I am wearing oversized wellies.  Although narrow they do give room for my toes to wiggle a bit.  The heel cup is pretty firm and although low grips my heel well.  The inner has a small amount of light padding throughout making them instantly comfortable, but would this make them like a sponge in the wet?

The Terrex have been on my feet for four-day walks over the last month, three on Dartmoor and one on the Dark Peak.  Being February / March this means only one thing, boggy!  The walks ranged from 8 to 11 miles.  Compared to say an Inov-8 they are fairly well cushioned under foot, although to start with they felt a little too firm under my heel.  You can still feel stones etc on tracks but with a nice spring to your step.  The padded upper with a tough outer means that you do not feel a breeze like you do with other running shoes.  This made them nice and warm for mild winter days.  They are definitely not waterproof, although they do shrug off water unless they are submerged for more than a couple of seconds.  I wear then with Smartwool socks and when they first let water in it is unpleasantly cold, however your feet soon warm up again (unless sloshing though bogs for a couple of hours!).

The photos below were taken whilst walking the Derwent moors in the Peak District.  The conditions under foot being tracks, muddy paths and open waterlogged moorland.  They were comfy and cushioned on the track and gave good grip on the wet clay like mud ascending Abney Clough.  My feet only got a little damp sloshing through the muddy puddles.  However once on the wet exposed moors my feet were wet in seconds and were cold until back on dry grass where they warmed up again.  Grip was good on the descent of a muddy bridleway.  I did feel that the grip was not particularly good when scrambling around on the wet rock of the Dartmoor Tors.  I would not feel confident wearing them on rocky mountains.

Whilst on Dartmoor I alternated them each day with my Salomon Fastpackers which were both filled with bog and water.  These would be almost completely dry two days later whilst the Salomons would be just as wet as when I had taken them off.  They are definitely going to be on my feet in the hills over the coming summer and I am going to have a go backpacking in them next month.  If they do well I may even consider them for the TGO challenge.

The weight for a pair of size 9’s is 730 grammes.

They can be purchased directly though Webtogs here, currently on sale for £56.25.

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March 13, 2011

Knees, sheep and stiles

by backpackingbongos

Over the past week or so my body has been letting me down, my knees deciding to age much quicker than the rest of me.  There have been a few twinges on my walks recently, especially going downhill, but I thought that it was nothing to worry about.  However this week walking down the stairs has been a painful affair, someone sneaking broken glass under my kneecap.  Now this is bloody typical, what with a week on Rum in a fortnights time and then the TGO challenge in May.  A book I saw mentioned on Terry’s blog and a knee support have been ordered off the internet and some strengthening exercises started.  Hopefully it is just a glitch, otherwise I will go and see a physio when I get back from Rum, doctors not being the best when it comes to this sort of thing.  Last time I went to a doc due to a failing body part she told me ‘what do you expect at your age, you should not be walking in the hills’.  In my mind I told her to go on a diet and get some exercise!

Anyway I blame my recent dodgy knees on the dog.  Long walks with him inevitably mean being dragged about more than I would like, and you can’t use a pair of trekking poles when holding a lead.  Probably too much yanking and jarring, especially going down hill.

Yesterday was a chance for another hilly dog walk, a test to see if my knees where truly buggered.  After dropping Corrina off at the airport for her week in Spain we found ourselves in the Peaks.  Thankfully I managed 11 miles with some discomfort at the start but things got better as I warmed up.  Half way round I decided to trust Reuben off the lead and got my Pacerpoles out, they really did the trick, especially on the downhills.  Reuben was a very good boy, coming back when called (most of the time) and resisting the temptation of sheep.  However I was a bit hoarse at the end with a constant, ‘Rueben, stay, here, Reuben, this way etc etc etc’.  His style is leg it for 100 metres, come back when called, then repeat.  I can’t get him to actually walk with me, something to work on.  He even managed his first style without being lifted over.

Room for improvement, but he is getting there!

A write-up when I have finally finished the Dartmoor posts.

March 11, 2011

Wistman’s wood via Longaford Tor

by backpackingbongos

Watching the weather forecast the previous evening made me feel a little bit depressed.  The whole of the south-west was covered by a sheet of blue and there was talk of mist and wind alongside the heavy persistent rain.  There was only one thing for it, have a good lie-in and see what I could be bothered to do after a good fry up!

5.4 miles with 210 metres ascent

Indeed I was greeted in the morning by dark grey clouds sitting on the hill tops and the patter of rain on the windows.  I decided that a quick amble up to Wistman’s wood would keep the dog happy.  I would then return to the bog of doom and see if I could retrieve the Pacerpole that had escaped from my rucksack the day before.

Parking at the old quarry at Two Bridges (it has two bridges) the weather had a change of heart.  It was still grey and cloudy with a spit of drizzle but the hills began to show themselves once more.  I decided that I would follow the ridge above the woods visiting the Tors, seeing how far I could get before the mists returned.

A good track north from the car park leads past the building at Crockern and I left it to climb easy grassy slopes, giving good views up the valley towards Wistmans wood.  I was going to test Rueben off the lead again but his interest in a distant flock of sheep meant I erred on the side of caution.

The easy going terrain meant that we were soon at Littaford Tors, low and flat but with increasing bleak views of the surrounding moors.  I could just make out Princetown on the horizon, clouds scudding only a few metres above the village.  I had passed the prison a couple of days earlier, a bleak and foreboding place if there ever was one.

Just round the corner a herd of rather forlorn ponies were huddled behind an outcrop, it must be a tough life living out on the moors all year round.  I tried to tell Reuben that if he did not stop pulling on the lead that he would soon be sleeping outside as well.  He failed to understand what I was saying!

When I was driving to Two Bridges I had spotted a group of teenagers with large backpacks crossing a stile close to Parsons cottage.  They were now approaching the conical top of Longaford Tor on the horizon, their bright orange rucksack covers highly visible.  I would imagine that it was too early in the year for DofE, so perhaps they were training for the Ten Tors?  I had passed another similar group on my first day in Dartmoor.  I think that it is great to see young people enjoying wild places.

Longaford Tor is like a miniature mountain compared to the surrounding moors, the views were pretty good even in the murky weather.

Although not marked on the map a broad path leads up to Higher White Tor and this is where my luck with the weather broke.  Without warning we were engulfed with mist and rain, our surroundings reduced to a few metres.  I had thought about continuing on to Browns house and then Rough Tor, but enthusiasm is easily eaten away when you can’t see your surroundings.  Anyway I had a 20kg dog and a ladder stile to contend with.  Thankfully Reuben was wearing his Ruffwear harness so I lifted him to the top, climbed up myself and lowered him down the other side.  Following the wall down into the valley I realised that this was a mistake as we would have to cross over again.  He looked just as confused the second time around!

Descending to the river to access Wistman’s wood was also a mistake as the ground was a big bad looking bog, it would be virtually impossible to follow the river on this side.  I therefore re-traced my steps a bit and started to contour though the tussocky grass.  I would imagine that the areas of tussocks would be hard going in summer when the vegetation is high.

Wistman’s wood is a little gem, an area of stunted oak trees growing from moss-covered boulders.  I would imagine that there are many myths and legends connected to this magical place.  I would have liked to explore a bit more fully but by now it was tipping it down, the wet mossy boulders being really slippery.  Instead I poked my nose into the periphery half expecting to see elves and pixies dancing about, it is that sort of place!

A good path leads back to the car park above the woods, contouring the hillside.  It would be an easy there and back journey for anyone wishing to see just the wood.  I got back to the car park just as another group of young backpackers came off the hillside, looking a bit wet and bedraggled.  The school holidays had coincided with a week of rubbish weather.

I did not bother to change out of my wet clothes or shoes when I got into the Bongo as I was off Pacerpole hunting!  Dripping wet and with a soggy dog in the back soon made for a humid environment, within minutes I had to stop to de-fog the windows.  Pulling into the large car park just outside Bellever I had a private debate over whether or not to pay.  Mid week, tipping with rain meant that it was virtually empty, surely no one would come and check for a ticket?  However coming from a city where even thinking about parking results in a fine, I paid my dues.  What I could not get my head around is there was no way to pay for more than two hours, if you want to walk for a day don’t park in the forestry commission car park at Bellever!

I have to say that heading towards the bog of doom for the second time was a chore, even Reuben had lost his enthusiasm for the outdoors.  I had my fingers crossed as I approached the first set of gorse bushes.  There it was sitting like the holy grail, it had fallen from my rucksack at the first obstacle.  Chuffed I started the slosh back to the van, it even stopped raining and the sun made a half arsed attempt at shining.  All was good again so I celebrated by driving the Bongo a bit up the road to a viewpoint.  I sat there for a while watching the mist come back in with PJ Harvey singing in the background.

March 10, 2011

Base jumping Sron Ulladale

by backpackingbongos

I found this video through the Grough website.  It brought a big smile to my face and made my stomach do funny things when he jumped off.  Even better is the Pixies soundtrack.  I’m off now to re-live my late teens and dig out my old Pixies albums.


March 9, 2011

Hyddgen – desecrating the sacred?

by backpackingbongos

Leaving the lovely hippy town of Machynelleth on foot you cross low rolling hills before being confronted by a wonderful natural spectacle.  The cliffs of Creigiau Bwlch Hyddgen sweep down to a great scoop out of the hillside, a waterfall cascading from its head.  Unfortunately the hand of man has already ruined this landscape with a broad swathe of regimented conifers.  However continue south for a couple of miles and the landscape become wilder, a scene to lift the spirits and calm the soul.  Just below the northern slopes of Plynlimon / Pumlumon Fawr the Hyddgen meets the Hengwm.  This is one of the wildest and loneliest corners of Wales.  A land of mountain rivers tumbling down craggy slopes, roadless and barely touched by the hand of man.  A bridleway runs the length of the Hengwm valley but it barely exists on the ground.  Wildness of this quality is hard to come by outside of the Scottish highlands.  This special quality can only be hinted at by this map and some old digital photographs I have taken.

I was therefore dismayed to read that this area may very well be the site of 64 wind turbines up to 146 metres high.  I have lifted the following directly from the Cambrian Mountains society website.

Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) is proposing to build a wind power station of 64 turbines up to 481ft high – much larger than any yet built in the UK – on the foothills of Pumlumon overlooking the Nant y Moch reservoir. The turbine tower sections, blades and generators would be imported via Swansea and brought in ‘abnormal load’ convoys via Cardigan and Penparcau using a new entrance at the Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest Visitor Centre.

The huge site, in both Ceredigion and Powys, extends to 9 x 5 miles, straddling the Scenic Route from Ponterwyd to Tal y Bont and overlooking Hyddgen, the site of Owain Glyndŵr’s famous victory over English soldiers and Flemish mercenaries in 1401. The area is in the heart of the Cambrian Mountains, once nominated as a National Park, and is rated as ‘Outstanding’ in the Countryside Council for Wales’ LANDMAP system. The beauty of the hills, lakes and forests in this area steeped in Welsh history is undisputed. Despite its inclusion by the Assembly Government as within a ‘Strategic Search Area’ (SSA) for windfarms, there cannot be a site that deserves more protection and a proposal that requires more opposition.

I find this news incomprehensible.  The recent go ahead for the wind farm at Drumglass in the Monadhliath made me angry, however for this my feelings go much deeper.  It is a feeling that is hard to articulate in words but is definitely a feeling of loss and sadness, a knot in my stomach making me feel sick.

I first came this way over a decade ago on a long backpack between the North coast of Snowdonia and the Gower.  It was early April and Rae and I pitched our very cheap tents next to Llynn Llygad Rheiddol.  During the evening we watched a solid wall of white progress towards us along the Hyddgen, finally engulfing us in a blizzard.  Having cheap ridge tents without porches meant we could not cook that night and we lay awake pushing the snow of fly sheets.  Morning brought an alpine scene of deep snow and blue skies.  We crossed Pumlumon and the busy A44 and climbed towards the bothy at Cefn Croes.  Sadly Cefn Croes has now fell to the turbine god, white whirring beasts stealing the views, monstrous tracks scarring the hillsides.  I backpacked there a couple of years ago walking to the bothy under the cover of darkness.  I can remember standing outside with a mug of coffee in my hand, no moon or stars, the dark absolute.  There was a strange whirring noise close by, whoosh whoosh whoosh.  Morning light against a backdrop of cloud and rain revealed the giant whirring blades.  Is this what lays in store for what I consider the best wild land south of the border?  A short video I shot of a rather bleak industrial scene.

Last weekend Jim Perrin led a protest of more than 250 people to the proposed site, I wish that I had know about it as I would have gone.  There is an article in Grough here and an article from the Guardian here.

Soon will it only be our crowded National Parks that are left free from development on an industrial scale?