Route Plan Rondane National Park

I've discussed the route plan for Rondane briefly in previous posts but never presented it in detail. For the curious, the detail can be found here: Route Plan Rondane National Park, Norway, July 2009.

Told you so!

Yep. I knew it. It's always the same. Checked out the long range forecast for Rondane again. They've blown the dust of the grey cloud and raindrop pictograms and are using them wit abandon in the first days of July. Guess I'll be packing the rain pants after all. On the up side, it'll feel like I'm going home!


Weather, or not.....

What's it going to be? The back end of the Norwegian Meteorological Service long term forecast now overlaps our date of departure for Rondane. I suppose this thing is about as reliable as network rail but I can't help but take a peek every day. It's been looking fine of late. Highs of eighteen degrees in the day and frost free nights around the 1000m contour. Little by way of wind and rain. The kind of weather most UK born hillwalkers only experience in their dreams. It seems the faerie folk know I'm coming though. Not the cutsie fairies of J.M. Barrie's invention but the original, mean fairies of Scottish folklore (the ones that really do exist and wash their clothes in Loch-an-Uaine). I think they skyped with their Norwegian cousins who've been dancing naked and beating the weather drums ever since. Whatever they did it might well have worked. It looks like the temperature is describing a downward trend in the run up towards July. Still looks like the rain will stay away but, the line being busy, perhaps the Borrowdale Boggarts haven't got through to Norway yet?


Self Build Camera Bag: Part 3

Now we're getting somewhere. I've added webbing and a shoulder strap. First I created a cradle of webbing to contain the dry bag. Tacking a length of webbing along the length of the grab-strap at the base of the dry bag . Then running a second length of webbing horizontally around the bag and tacking this to the first length of webbing such that the ends of the first length run vertically up each side. The bag sits loose in the cradle only being attached by the stitches through the grab strap. I sped things up by raiding and old camera bag for the removable shoulder strap. This strap was attached to the bag using side release webbing buckles. I stitched female halves of two buckles to the ends of the webbing running up the bag sides. The male halves attached to the borrowed strap clip in neatly converting the whole to a shoulder bag. Hopefully, if the text doesn't make sense, the two photos will help.

It's not finished. Not at all. I've used bit's and pieces of webbing and clips I had to hand together with the shoulder strap from another camera bag. All of the strap components are heavier than required and in time will almost certainly be replaced. The shoulder strap in particular is over engineered. The webbing is wider than needed and it is adjustable in the length. Straps on commercial products, sold to customers of many sizes and with different tastes, need to be adjustable. My strap does not. At least it won't be when I know how long the strap needs to be. Side realease buckles are also probably overkill. Certainly so if, in practice, it turns out that the strap stays permanantly on the bag.

Still, the bag's now finished enough to put into service. Using it will provide ammunition for improvements in the future. Only by living with it can I get a real feeling for what should stay and what must go. I've been confident in the construction from the off but was never sure about how it would work in practice. Ease of access to the camera through the roll top being the biggest concern. It had a first run out today, on a walk with the kids in the dunes. Hardly a multi-day backpacking trip, but enough to give me a good first impression. It's fine. I carried it strung diagonally over my shoulder with the bag against my left side and a 25l day pack on my back. It carries well and I can access the camera without a problem. In that respect its not as convenient as the Lowepro toploader on which the lid can be thrown open and left open. The roll top won't stay open of it's own accord. However, unlike the Lowepro, it provides waterproof protection for my camera. Furthermore, even with the heavy strap, it's just 160g compared to the 330g of my old Lowepro, topload zoom. The trade off in accessibility is worthwhile on both counts. This will be my camera bag for the upcoming trip to Rondane.


Gear List Rondane: Part 2

Okay, so putting the hiccup to one side, here's some more of the logic behind the list:

Shelter Continued: So I've packed tarps and a down bag. At the very least you'd expect some sort of sleeping bag cover to protect the down right? Well, you'd be right indeed. I wouldn't leave home without one. In this case it will be a full-blown bivvy bag. The eVent alpine bivvy from MLD. The nature of the area and trip demand, I think, such security and backup. Besides, windblown rain would be a problem even under the MLD Grace Duo if used by three. The MLD Alpine bivvy is super-light for what it is at 360g. I've used it in anger, in extreme wet weather, in combination with a micro tarp and it worked well. Like all bivvys things get a bit clammy when it's fully sealed but in that respect it's better than my other two Goretex bags. Some don't like bivvies for this reason but the truth is, in my experience, you very rarely zip them up fully in use. Certainly not when used in combination with a torso tarp. It has its problems. I'm not a big fan of crocodile opening bags (I now realise) and it's heavily tapered so won't accommodate a full length, wide, thick mat. It does however just work with my neoAir short.

Kitchen: This is a sort of Frankensteins monster. It's a collection of bits and pieces I'd much sooner leave at home but that preparing meals for a large group requires. Willem-Maarten will bring a 2.5l pan. I'll pack a 1l Trangia pan because a second pan is useful when making large volume meals and because a smaller pan is better for brews. With the Trangia pan comes the evil Trangia pan grip which, although it works great, at 50g it's not far short of half the weight of the pan. In previous years I've taken a Trangia lid/frying pan along too. This year that's been ditched for a heavy gauge foil lid. Along with the pan comes a fitted cosy, homemade from floor underlay.
The burner will be the Optimus Stella +. A massive 260g but stable and capable of supporting 4kg. I've not used anything but meths burners since I've been doing this kind of thing so this is unknown territory for me. So far, dry runs have shown me that it's extremely convenient. I have my reservations about it's efficiency in cold weather. Here comes another admission: I thought, being a remote canister stove, that I would be able to invert the canister and use it as a liquid feed stove when temperatures drop. I missed the bit about the Stella + not having a pre-heat tube. We may have a problem if temperatures really drop and will have to keep juggling switching between canisters warmed up in pockets. If we don't get it right we'll be packing canisters devoid of propane and may end up taking meals in the huts.

If all goes well however the fuel efficiency of this thing is unreal. I'm using, under ideal conditions, an average of 16g of gas to boil a litre of water. At that rate a single 220g cartridge (355g gross weight) will boil over 13l of water. At 5l a day for the group one cartridge will therefore last more than 2.5 days. That's impressive. My white box stove is just 63g including wind shield and heat shield. That's 200g lighter than the Stella plus, but, if I where to pack enough fuel with the white box such that the starting weight was the same as that of the Stella + and gas I'd only get 2 days out of the White box. I knew that for longer trips the weight of meths eats up the weight advantage but doing the calculations shows that for groups the tipping point lies at just a couple of nights. Gas is the way to go for groups. I wonder even, if with a micro burner, its not the way to go for longer solo trips?

Together with a few other bits and pieces my whole kitchen set-up comes to a whopping 600g. I could get away with less than half of that and still have a fully functional solo set-up.

Footwear: I'll be wearing Hanwag Banks, full-height boots with Goretex lining. These are fairly ligh boots at 1400g the pair. To use the ridiculous British classification these are three season boots (does that make full-on, stiff-soled, climbing crampon compatible, mountaineering boots one season boots or are they really trying to suggest these things can be used all year round in the British hills?). Now I know footwear is one of the most emotive subjects surrounding lightweight backpacking so here's a few words explaining my position: I'm not anti trail shoes. Trail shoes make a lot of sense. For most people, most of the time, under most of the conditions they encounter, trail shoes should be the footwear of choice. Boots should be in the minority in the British Hills. Why then do I wear boots? Well that's partly habit. I'm from a generation that wore boots in the hills without question. Funny, I wore boots to walk but ran and orienteerd on the same terrain in fell shoes. Thinking back it doesn't seem to bare logic. However, I do think that to use trail shoes on technical terrain requires conditioning. Conditioning is something that I no longer have enough of and that I can't realistically expect to achieve living in Holland. I find myself in the mountains just once or twice a year and when I do end up on rough ground I'm glad of the protection I get from my boots. Now I know I could get into all colours of discussion on this last point. However, for the moment, boots work for me and I don't want to experiment and ruin one of my all too few trips. I may start playing with trail shoes at some point down the line but it will be some time, at best, before I'm confident enough to use them on high level routes.

Camera: Well this time it's got to be the DSLR. I had three main choices here: The Olympus E400 plus a choice of lenses, a Pentax Optio-S super small but limited micro compact or no Camera at all. Since retiring my OM10 I've only ever backpacked with the Optio. Last year I went without in the knowldege that others would take plenty of photos. I won't be travelling without a camera again. Not that the photos the others took in Switzerland are not to my liking (far from it) it's just that I like taking photos. This year we are heading for Norway and a spectacular part of Norway at that. I want my DSLR in my hand. Pure and simple. The compromise I'm making is to limit myself to a single lens. Only the 14-42mm zoom will stay in the bag. In old money that's 28-84mm which gives me a reasonable wide angle at one end and a reasonable zoom at the other. Even with one lens, and even though the E400 is a light and compact as √° DSLR gets, it still adss a kilo to my base weight. I'll be sweating and no doubt swearing lugging it up 2000m peaks but I still want it with me. Maybe next year it'll be an Olympus EP-1 micro four thirds?

There's a little more left to explain. But that's all for now.


Gear List Rondane: Part 1.5 Balls Up!

Oops. Running over my pack list yesterday I discovered my calcs were out by 800g. What's worse, the error was not in my favour! It was a dumb mistake and one that could have been avoided by doing some mental arithmetic to double check the numbers the spread sheet spat out. In my professional life a lot of data processing is called for. I design steel for cars. Worried? You should be!

Whilst there may well be a psychological advantage to thinking your pack is lighter than it actualy is I'm pretty certain that reducing the load on your back is a better strategy. After stumbling across the mistake I layed out the contents of my pack and ruthlessly stripped out any redundant items (stuffsacks in stuffsacks that sort of thing) and systematically replaced anything for which I had a lighter alternative (out with the snapwire spoon in with the light my fire spork etc). At the end of the process I'd stripped out 300g and so made a sizable dent in the unwelcome extra. A corrected gear list can be found here.

Comparing the new gear list with last years shows that I'll be starting with a kilo and a half more on my back than I did in Switzerland last summer (12 rather than 10.5kg). At first glance that seams disppointing given the effort I've made to reduce weight in the intervening period. However, when you take into account the fact that I'm going to pack in a kilo of camera gear that I didn't previously carry (yes the DSLR is going to Norway), that I need to pack in an extra days food and that I'm packing more clothes to deal with sub-zero nights it looks much better. The load was just right in Switzerland. Given the choice I'd sooner be back down at 10.5kg but that's not going to happen. Still, the weight will be down where I want it at the back end of the trip when we're hopefuly traversing some of those ridges we've got lined up.


Gear List Rondane: Part 1

Not another gear list I hear you say. Well if you think you've seen enough gear lists you should come round here. I've got gear lists coming out of my ears right now. I've spreadsheeted all my gear and gear weights for a long time. Everything neat and tidy, accurately recorded and ready to hand. The idea is to just spend an evening running over it, putting ticks in the boxes and, hey presto, a gear list tailored for my next trip. In reality its never that simple though. Firstly there's the weather. As the forecast slips and slides in the run up to a trip the gear list changes in response. A bit more down to deal with the frost, a fleece more or less, a short sleeved baselayer perhaps? The weather alone is enough to instill a dynamic in any kit list, however, add to that uncertainties as to the plan, the terrain and a real desire to get it just right whilst minimising weight carried and changes occur on a daily basis. In my case, even worse, my insatiable appetite for new gear leads to a growing arsenal of kit that's just begging to be given a run out. Whats the worst that can happen if you get it wrong? A cold wet night and an early bail out? At least I tell myself that's the worst that can happen.

I've been wrestling with Rondane for some time now. At some stage you've just got to bite down, make a choice and run with it. My definitive kit list (well most probably definitive for Rondane can be found here: Gear List Rondane. The list includes everything thats in, or sometimes in, the 'sack. In addition I'll be wearing Merino baselayer (Icebreaker 200 long sleeve top and underpants), Falke trekking socks under Goretex lined Hanwag Banks lightweight (but full height) boots and Haglofs Ray trousers.
So what's are the main results of all the deliberation? The following paragraphs describe the reasoning behind the list:
Insulation: The main choice here was between the super-light Mont-Bell down inner and the PHD ultra. The weather reports are showing temperatures in Rondane swinging anywhere between 25 and -3 degrees. That's a hard situation to deal with adequately. I got it wrong once in Colorado and was punished with a cold night. Add to the swings in temperature the likelihood that we'll Bivvy high (without a tent) and the need for some extra insulation around camp is clear. I used the Mont-Bell inner in Switzerland last year. We bivvied high there too and temperatures sank to just a couple of degrees above freezing. The down inner was just right, and I mean JUST right, any lower and I would have been uncomfortable. I'll give the Ultra a run out this time to be certain I can deal with the wintry end of the scale. It has twice the loft of the down inner and should get me down to about -5 degrees but brings an extra 80g to the party. What about the summery end? Well, unless something very strange is going on that's when I'll be on the move. For that I'll be using a microfleece pullover, a microfleece gilet and a pertex windshirt giving me plenty of layering options over the baselayer.

Rainshell: On the top, I'm sticking my neck out and going with the Haglofs Oz Pullover. I've got my reservations about this but hey, going light is about pushing our boundaries rght? At least that's what Eddy Meechan says. I guess there's only one way to really get to know this piece of clothing and that's to use it in anger. Rondane is I believe the driest mountain region in Norway? The Oz may even get to spend a lot of time in my pack and that's where I expect it will perform best. On the bottom I'll be using a very cheap and very scuzzy pair of waterproof overtrousers from Regatta. There's a story behind these (I'll try and keep it short). I bought them in a mad rush on the day of departure for Switzerland last year. I decided at the last minute that the 500g of my old Berghaus Gore-tex trousers was excessive. I never liked them anyway. I ran out to the local camping store (more caravans than tarps) and bought these for 6€ (yes I said SIX). They're just 200g and I figured they where fine for emergencies and round camp. Besides, it hardly rains in the alps in Summer right? Wrong! We got Borrowdale weather on the first day (its been following me around all my life!). To my surprise the overtrousers, cheap and nasty as they are, performed great. We walked a long way in heavy rain that day and I didn't get wet. Neither from falling rain nor from rising crotch vapours. It should be stressed that we didn't gain a lot of height that day so I wasn't working too hard which might have helped in the sweat department. They're not ideal. They have no leg zips so are hard to get on over boots. However, at 6€ a shot you can just resort to violence and risk a blown seam. I almost replaced them this year with a hundred Euros worth of e-Vent but decided against it. I'm going to continue my mad cheap gear experiment in Norway.

Sleeping: There was no choice to be made here. I only have one down bag which I now consider light enough for Summer backpacking, the Cumulus Quantum 200. It's rated to zero degrees (according to the Leeds rating). For me I guess it's more like 5 degrees but that's still pretty amazing at 568g. I get away with such a light bag by considering my down jacket as part of my sleeping system. I'm also forced to carry long-johns to boost the insulation on my legs. This is part of my kit that I may revisit. My guess is that the 166g of my long-johns, which I only use while sleeping and are otherwise redundant) could be better converted into extra down. However, the price of down bags puts me off buying another. At least for the moment ;-). This year I will of course stretching out on a NeoAir Short in a fetching shade of budgie green (as will all discerning backpackers in the 2009 Summer season). I hope it stays inflated. A tiny length of foam may sneak into the pack for under the legs and for just in case.

Shelter: Twin tarps are the order of the day. A Grace Duo and a Monk Microtarp. Both from MLD. Both are tried and tested and favourite bits of kit. Why two? Well, its extra weight for me but it's the best solution for the group. With the combination (either pitched separately or with the Monk used as a dodger to close one end of the Grace) they can accommodate three. Considering the gear available to the group as a whole its the best choice. I will still be under 12kg on the walk in and my tarp mates will have a fighting chance of staying under 13kg.
That's all we've got time for folks. You'll have to wait for another instalment if you want to see the outcome of the great Gas/Meths debate, outdoor kitchen utensils for the fashionable, painful deliberations over camera gear, my take on footwear and some other bits and pieces!



Another box hit the doormat. This time courtesy of Ultralight Outdoor gear. Amazing! Ordered Sunday from the comfort of my Armchair and opened with a childish grin Wednesday Evening! They got the stuff to me quicker that I could have picked it up from my nearest high street shop (not that I could get this stuff from my high street shop).

What was in the box? Well, lots of goodies. Unfortunately not all where mine since I split the shipping costs with Willem-Maarten. I did get to have the fun of opening the box though! Before you shoot me down for cruelty, I did, after removing my own gear, tape up the box again so Willem-Maarten could have his fun! Besides there's a down side. I'm jelous of Willem-Maartens Rab Drillium overtrousers! Here's a run down of what I bought:

Three Pod Airstream light dry bags: I needed one for the camera bag and it seemed cruel to let it make the journey alone. In addition to the small for the camera bag I also purchased a medium and a large. These are heavier than the silny stuffsacks I've been using of late but, unlike those, they are fully waterproof. The e-vent base also allows air to escape making it easy to stuff large items in and then compress them on closing the roll-top. I'll be using one for my sleeping bag and spare clothes in the bottom of my pack and the other for my down jacket in the top of my pack. I figure I can dispense with pack liners and compensate for the weight gained without giving cause to worry about my down gear. Previously I've kept my sleeping bag in my bivvy bag and stuffed it loosely into the bottom of my pack. However, I now need to compress my sleeping bag to a smaller size so I can fit it in my new rucksack :-)

Golite Jam 2: I've been hovering over this pack for a year or so now. I'm really happy with my Granite Gear Vapour Trail which is the most comfortable pack I've ever used and weighs only 1kg. However, I miss pockets and the roll-closure on the vapour trail is annoying (there's masses of excess material and the over-long closure makes for difficult access and difficult packing from empty). I got around the pocket thing by hanging small dry bags from hooks inside the top of the main sack in order to create a location for all those things you need to hand, but nevertheless getting at the stuff you need to grab in a hurry was a bind. It always looked like the Jam 2 was better thought out in that respect. With pockets on the hip belt there's loads of space for all those bits and pieces and the large external pocket looks ideal for wet gear, tarps, coats, over-trousers and the like. So why did I wait? Well I wasn't sure about ditching the frame and I'd never seen one in the flesh. I was also waiting for PTC to get of his backside and review his before I took the plunge.
What made me jump? Well, since buying the Vapour Trail my kit has changed out of all recognition. My base weight is now light enough, I think, to dispense with the frame (the saving of 250g on the sack alone compounds the advantage). Furthermore, with a few recent purchase such as the NeoAir, my gear has become far less bulky and I think a slightly smaller pack is sufficient. The Vapour Trail is officially 55l but I think its nearer 60l. The Jam 2 is a slinky 51l but compromises better and has a nice split between the main sack and the front pocket which should make for neater packing when the packs getting empty towards the back end of the trip. First impressions are good. I always had an idea that the Jam 2 would feel flimsy but its actually of a pretty rugged construction. I've packed it up already and I like how my gear sits in the space. I need to practice at getting the back shape right though (the downside of frameless packs!) I'll be sticking my neck right out and using a lot of new gear in Rondane. The Jam 2 will be one of the newbies coming along for the ride. I might even get a review out before PTC for once?

Optimus Stella +: This is a more than strange purchase for me. It sticks out like a sore thumb on my gear list. Firstly, I've been using meths stoves, and only meths stoves, since I was 15 years old. Secondly it weighs a whopping 260g excluding the wind shield. Why buy a heavy gas burner then? Well, it seems to be the best option for the group trip to Norway. We'll be flying so won't be allowed to pack fuel in. Normally we'd use Willem-Maartens MSR Whisper light multi-fuel stove but we can't get the right fuel at the stepping off point. Gas canisters are available though. As is meths. We need a stove stable enough to accommodate a big pan (2.5l) in order to prepare group meals. Meths is out, my Trangias are too heavy and fuel weights would be prohibitive for the duration and meal volumes concerned. Smaller meths burners are strictly small pan affairs (although I wonder how big a pan the White Box Duo can handle?). Gas is in and there are only two suitable remote canister stoves in my opinion: the MSR windpro and the Optimus Stella +. The former is lighter but the latter looks like a better design to me. Besides, the latter was available from Ultralight Outdoor Gear and could be shipped in the same box (one lot of shipping fees!).
Now having spun the thing in my hand I have to confess I really like it. It's a genius design. A massive burner that folds down very small. The added bonus is that it'll be perfect for car camping with the family and, being a remote canister stove, it'll make a good cold weather option. It might be heavy but the maths is different for large groups. 260g split across a group of five is very light. At least, it will be if I can make a decent deal with the other four :-)

Self Build Camera Bag: Part 2

I've taken my own Sweet time over it but I've now completed the second step in the construction of a lightweight camera bag. At least it shouldn't be too difficult to explain. I've basically put the foam insert into a roll-top waterproof bag. The hardest bit was choosing the bag. After some deliberation I chose to run with a Pod Airstream Lite Dray bag. Why? Well because the small is the right size, they look funky (which might take the edge of the home-build look) and, most importantly, they have a grab strap across the base. The latter is essential since it provides something to anchor webbing to without having to glue or stitch to the bag itself with all the risk that entails: the idea is that this thing should be waterproof so I don't want to compromise the function of the bag as shipped from the factory.

So what have I done? Well, as I said , I've put the foam insert (described in the previous post) into the bag. It didn't stop there though. I also stitched two short lengths of elastic to the grab strap and attached the female side of a webbing buckle to the end of one and the male side to the end of the other.

When the buckles on the roll-top are mated with these buckles it makes for a neater closure. In addition, I modified the lid on the foam insert, replacing the hinged lid with a barn door opening (thanks to Mac E for the idea). I think this gives better access to the camera.

First impressions? It'll do the job, and at a weight of 72g it's shaping up to be a big weight saver. I need to think about the insert some more since it looses shape a little when the closure is made and the elastic is under tension. Not a big problem but there's room for improvement. Whats next? Well I have to put together a carrying strap so I'll be fooling around with some webbing, D-rings and snap toggles. Also, since I'll probably only be taking one lens to Rondane and won't need space for my tele lens, I'll shorten the insert and padd it out with some extra foam to see what that brings in terms of stability. Better get a move on though. Rondane is coming up fast!


Route Plan Rondane

The Rondane preunion was held on Sunday. The group has grown by one to five. Jeffrey broke radio silence to announce he would join us. We are thus the same group as last year in Switzerland. Plans and kit lists were dicussed. First the route sketched by Willem-Maarten and myself, then the gear. The idea is to arive at a route that matches the asperations and the ability of the group and to run through the gear lists so as to weed out as much redundant weight as possible (5 bottles of deet, 5 tick tweezers, 5 stoves, 5 pans all of which are too small, that sort of thing). We've now agreed who will pack what. It's now every man for himself in the run up to departure on July the 3rd. Fingers crossed we'll all bring what we said we would.

The route is still a work in progress. I would describe the first version as ambitious. Theo leans more towards describing it as impossible. Theo has less hours under his rucksack than some group members. He is therefore less inclined to delude himslef that he can do stuff that he blatently can't. He might well therefore be the best judge of things.

Whichever angle you come at it from though, day two, 17km with 1800m of climb and descent is a big hill day. Too big I think for the group in question. Too big, if I'm honest, for me. We normaly plan much shorter days. The camp and the banter in the evenings being as important as the ground covered and the summits bagged. Part of me says that in Norway, given the long days (Sun rise is 3:30Am, sundown11:30), and as long as we pace ourselves, perhaps even preparing a meal and moving on to cover more ground before bedtime, that we could surprise ourselves. Another part of me says, however, that legs that spend their days under desks are unlikely to find the strength for such an onslaught. Besides that, we're all pushing 40.
Still, you can overplan for these things. Nature and mood, the latter especialy so when a group dynamic is involved, always contrive to change things. Rondane seems especially forgiving in this respect because for each day there are numerous options, low and high level and for some of the ridges there are obvious bail outs. Whats more there are huts. Rather than rehashing the plan now we'll memorise the options and re-plan on the fly.
One decision worth noting: we'll be travelling without tents again. We aim to bivvy and will use a tarp/bivvybag combination. Folly? I don't think so. I think its doable a long as we pay heed to the conditions and make the right calls with respect to where we bivvy. Again the huts provide a safety net.
In the next few days I'll try to make time to post more detail on the route. I'm also busy in the bat cave, choosing gear and trial packing so I'll post more on my gear selection and kit list in due course. Oh, and I've had a delivery from Ultralight Outdoor Gear that might interest you. More on that later though.....

Light is right! Light is right, right?

I’m a fairly recent convert to lightweight backpacking. In the late 90’s I watched from a safe distance as companies like Golite first crossed the pond. I read all about the lightweight movement and then read some more. The Ray-Way. Lightweight. Ultralight. Super-ultralight. They all caught my eye but, and this is the thing, it all sounded so different from what I’d been taught or had learned along the way, that I couldn’t switch off the sceptic voices in my head. Single skin tents and tarps where Atlantic depressions rule and Westerlies blow? Rucksacks without frames? Jeepers. That’s all just a variation on cutting the handle off a toothbrush right? Yes it saves weight but isn’t it just getting fixated on weight and forgetting function? Weren’t inner tents and rucksack frames developed with a purpose in mind?

I can remember almost to the minute when I first decided to make a concerted effort to lighten the load. It was June 2004. I was stood, posing for a photo, on a high vantage point on the East Inlet Trail in the Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, with the deep, pine filled east inlet valley as a backdrop. Breathtaking (I got there before the pine beetle). The sun was shining and I was stripped down to my baselayer. My best boots were on my feet and my beloved, bomb-proof, Macpac was on my back. I’d just spent two nights at a lovely “backcountry campsite” (the evocatively named “cats lair”) with my wife (then girlfriend) for company. We’d eaten well for those two nights. Fresh food, lovingly prepared, on my all-time favourite piece of kit, my Trangia 25 (bought in 1985 and still going strong). My favourite two man tent (Exped Orion) was packed. It had been used in anger as well! Yes it was 25°C in the afternoon sun but the nights had been cold. We’d even woken up one morning to find the tent decorated with a blanket of snow. In short, I was doing what I liked to do best and the trip had all the right ingredients. Look at the resulting photo and you could be forgiven for thinking I was having fun. However all is not as it seems.

The events of the proceeding three days were running through my head and I caught myself in a strange chain of though. The thought that, although things hadn’t gone quite to plan, although we’d stopped short of the tree line and hadn’t made the continental divide, that it wasn’t down to a lack of will but rather all down to my gear. The thought that, yes we’d turned back some way short of where we’d intended to but we had covered quite a bit of the trail and had done so in spite of all the gear I’d carried. It was the words “in spite of” that got under my skin. Surely, my gear, my wonderful gear, each purchase so carefully researched, was on my back to enable me to get to these places? Apparently now it was getting in the way.

Now I should stress that there were mitigating circumstances. Part of the reason why I’d carried too much was down to sloppy preparation. The decision to make the trip was last minute. I had to attended a conference in Winter Park and the Rocky mountain National Park being just around the corner presented an opportunity too good to miss. Preparations for the conference, together with preparations for an extra week and a half of car touring in Colorado, got in the way of thorough preparation for the hike. I hadn’t researched the route I hadn’t checked the weather patterns and, at that time, I wasn’t certain about etiquette in bear country. As a result, before leaving home, I’d packed a bunch of stuff “just in case”, bought a bunch of stuff in haste and omitted to pack other stuff I needed. The just in case stuff stayed in the pack adding to the load, much of the stuff I’d bought in haste I didn’t use, and, perversely, the stuff I’d not got to hand also contributed to my pack weight: I had no water filter and on reading all the hype about Giardia at the park offices decided to pack in litres of water rather than go back to town an buy a filter. Add to that kit bought over many years for many purposes fro canoe camping to cycle touring and the result is too many kilograms by far.

Whatever the reason, the outcome was a severe case of knee trouble. This wasn’t the first time. It had happed before. But now it was bad. Already, in the first few kilometres of up, climbing out of the valley en route to the cats lair I was in difficulty. My right knee was locking up and stepping up anything more than a few centimetres was painful. Still I’m from the north of England where we know how maintain a positive mental attitude in the face of things grim. I just kept on going. We made the intended pitch but it was clear that the second day would have to be a light one. It was. We walked without packs to the end of the prepared trail and turned back. The walk out on day three was excruciating. Stepping down was twice as bad as stepping up and consequently I made every step down on my left leg. It wasn’t long before my left knee joined the sick list.

So back to the photo moment. Just seconds before I’d been swearing under my breath. Just seconds after I would start doing so again, only this time I wasn’t complaining about my misfortune but about my stupidity. From now on I would do things differently!

I started by reading all that weird stuff I’d read again but, although this time I found it rang truer, I still wasn’t fully onboard. There remained too many what ifs and buts. I still couldn’t quite develop the right mind set. It was a TGO article by Andrew Terril that finally pushed the penny into freefall. Andrew described a minimalist Bivvy trip, also in the Rockies, and there was something about his description and underlying attitude that clicked with me. He brought to my attention the beauty of travelling light, fast and unencumbered, and of going against convention. Climb in the evening and walk out in the morning for a change. Why not? He also helped me see past the numbers. It’s how you function under the load rather than its absolute magnitude that counts. If your load is light enough that it doesn’t get in the way then the number is irrelevant.

Andrews words made it all make sense for me. Even so, the change was much more gradual than I’d imagined. Another trip (see the write up for Cairngorms 2005) came and went and although that went much better I still felt my load was getting in the way. My knees worked just fine but I was having difficulty moving over technical ground and it was spoiling the fun. Holding me in check. Over the last three summers my kit list has changed radically as I try to find a set up that enables me to do what I want. I now know where I need to be. The mountains look very different when your standing under a load of ten kilograms or less. Last year, in Switzerland, I’d got it just right! Each trip is different however and I’m now wrestling with my kit list for Rondane. I wonder If I can get it right this time?


Hood Modification Haglofs Oz

I'm growing fonder of my Haglofs Oz pullover. It's required a change of mindset, but as I get my head around its function I become more confident in it. It's amazingly light but has several drawbacks; it's a snug fit, doesn't seem as warm as a conventional jacket, it doesn't seem to cut the wind as well as a traditional hard shell, I'm sure Paclite isn't as breathable as other top-end fabrics and the Oz doesn't have the venting options to make up for it and last, but certainly not least, the hood peak is too sloppy. Some of these things may be perception rather than hard fact: do I really feel colder in the Oz than in a full-on hardshell or is that just my head playing tricks on me? Does the wind squeeze through the Oz to a greater degree than through heavier garments? Nevertheless, whether real or fantasy, most of these things can be dealt with by looking at the Oz from the right angle. Accept that the Oz has one function and one function only and the problems start to melt away. My Oz is pure and simply for keeping me dry when it rains. Nothing else. I have a wind shirt to cut the wind, I have fleece midlayers to keep me warm, I have merino baselayers which in combination with the aforementioned transport sweat away from my skin and send it on its way through breathable fleece and pertex. I have down held captive in dryshell to keep me warm when at rest. The wind shirt can deal adequately well with light rain and showers. Under most conditions therefore the Oz will be in my pack. And as weight is a primary concern for pack-dwellers the Oz is ideally suited for lounging around in my pack. The breathability issue is unfortunate, on those occasions when I have to don the Oz AND work hard things are probably going to get clammy but I think that's a fair price to pay. Time will tell.

The one bug on the list that I can't live with however is the peak. Haglofs make great hoods. The hood on the Oz is one of them. It fits snugly, is easily adjusted (albeit needing two hands) and it turns with the head. That's, in my experience, just about everything a hood can be expected to do. I say, "just about" because the peak on the hood of the Oz falls well short of ideal. It's not stiffened and so collapses even in relatively light wind. As a result it doesn't protect the face from wind blown rain as it should. I expect that would be annoying for anybody but for wearers of glasses such as myself it's a real negative. I knew about this before I bought the Oz. PTC had made the point very clear and, furthermore, he'd done something about it. I've now followed suit with one of the easiest, and I think most worthwhile, gear mods I've ever carried out.

Taking some polymer coated steel wire (of the wires available at my local D.I.Y. store the 1.4mm diameter seems to have about the right resistance for the job) I offered it up to the peak and cut it to length. A surprisingly long length of 60cm was required to follow the contour of the peak and fit snugly into the corners of the chin-guard where the left and right hand zippers terminate. I then doubled over the both ends of the wire to make a nice blunt radius and threaded it through the peak. Haglofs has been realy kind to gear tinkerers since the exit hole for the hood elastic is on the underside of the peak, is big enough to accommodate the wire and is perfectly positioned for the job in hand. I fed the wire into the peak, encouraging it to sit as far forward as possible and kept going until the end was hard up against the zipper in the extreme corner of the chin-guard.

I then repeated the task with the other end of the wire working in the opposite direction from the same hole. Sounds complicated? It's not! It's easier to do than to write down.

I'm more than convinced by the finished job. The hood is now a fully-functional hood and appears to be the best hood on any of the jackets I own. Time will tell if I'm right about that. In any case I think it's a big improvement for almost zero effort and cost and the ddition of just 7g (my Oz now weighs 189g according to my kitchen scales). It was literally a five minute job and 10m of wire is yours for less than €4 (I now have plenty to spare!). I still have to decide if this is the right Shell for Norway in three weeks time but this mod brings me a step closer to making the call.


Back in the world

My feet are under the table for the first time in a week and a half. I see that things have moved on quite a way in Blogland. I've got a whole bunch of reading to catch up on! For my part, a weeks holiday on Texel followed back-to-back by two days in London for business are now behind me. Both trips delivered almost everything I could have hoped for. A welcome break and a fruitful meeting.
The period wasn't devoid of outdoors stuff either. Whilst on Texel I managed to pick up a pair of Haglofs Ray Trousers and got to spend some time in my Haglofs Oz. Okay so the environment and temperatures on the north sea coast of Holland in May aren't the most representative you could find but we got some stormy, wet weather at the front end of the week which gave me an excuse to pull on the Oz a couple of times. I've at least acquired a better feeling for the fit. I was a bit concerned about the freedom of movement. It's a snug fitting garment for me in a large and as such doesn't give much scope for donning insulation underneath. I've now worked out that a micro fleece in combination with a micro fleece Gilet works quite well. The combination puts less insulation on the arms and keeps the Oz reasonably loose around the arms and shoulders whilst giving me enough on-the-go insulation for the full range of temperatures I need to be prepared for in Norway. I also like the idea of having two light fleece tops rather than a single heavy one. I'm now a little more confident about taking the Oz instead of a full jacket to Norway but I need to dwell on that one a bit longer. The strong westerlies definitely taught me that I need to follow PTC's advice and stiffen the peak of the Oz with some wire though (more on that later). The Ray pants are great: fit well, cut the wind, are comfortable, stretchy and, whilst the DWR is new at least, repel water like a dream! They've already made the kit list for Norway.

The holiday also provided me with a week of afternoons were I could pour over the map of Rondane while the kids slept. A few exchanges with Willem-Maarten have provided a first sketch of the route. The group are due to get together on Sunday to bang heads over the finer points of the route and kit lists. We need to get a move on because the date for the trip is now fixed. We'll be in Rondane from the 3rd to the 7th of July. Two short days and three full days of backpacking!! So far, weather permitting, it's looking like we'll touch all three of the main 2000m massiefs in the heart of Rondane on three big days. A traverse of the full ridge from Hogronden to Digerronden, a crossing of the the DNT route over Vinjeronden and Rondslottet and a traverse of the ridge from Veslesmeden to Storsmeden together with an outing to Sagtind are all on the cards. The more I trawl the web and soak up the cartography the more aware I become that this is fine wild country. The info given on the Scandinavian Mountains site has proven most useful.
Finally, why did the holiday and London trip only deliver almost everything I'd hoped for? Well, I thought I was being clever when I booked a midday flight back home since I reckoned I could nip across to Covent Garden and pick up some bits and pieces from Ellis Brighams (the weak pound is still a big pull). However, after beating my way through the streets and tube for half an hour during rush hour I arrived at the shop only to realise it opened on the strike of ten. Lesson learned: time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. I was tempted to hang around for an hour but the risk of missing my flight was just too great. The bits and pieces will have to be ordered on the web and shipped. On the up side though, at least I'll be getting another box in the post!!


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