Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Wild Camps of 2018

Below the Col de la Vallee Etroite, GR5. September

This year I've had many splendid camps in the Scottish Highlands and on the GR5 Trail Through The Alps. Here's a selection of my favourites (you can see more of the GR5 ones here). As last year my first night out was in an igloo not a tent or tarp.

Atop an igloo on the slopes of Toll Creagach, Glen Affric. February

In Glen Feshie. June


By the Caochan Dubh, Moine Mhor, Cairngorms. April

On Beinn a'Chlachair, Central Highlands. June

On the Cairngorm Plateau. June

On the Moine Mhor, Cairngorms. August

By the Ruiseau d'Antern, GR5. September
Opposite the Pointe de la Selle, GR5. September

In Glen Feshie. October

Cairngorms camp. November
In Glen Feshie. December

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Restoring Spirits in Glen Feshie


Some places are special, guaranteed to raise my spirits and remind me that there are good things in this world. Glen Feshie in the Cairngorms is one of those places and a visit always raises my spirits. With a seeming torrent of bad news recently, both local, national and international, - the slaughter of raptors and mountain hares, the increase in bulldozed roads in the hills, the debacle of Brexit, onrushing climate change – I felt a need to seek solace in the forest and spend a night listening to the sounds of the wind in the trees and the river hurrying over its stony bed. 


The weather was not conducive to venturing high in the hills. Thick clouds covering the tops and a roaring wind made staying in the glen seem both attractive and wise. Brief glimpses of the hills were all I had as I walked through the woods and beside the silvery river. The water was low. It’s been a dry year. The side streams pouring into the Feshie could all be crossed with no danger of my feet getting wet. They were more stones than water.


I camped amongst ancient pines and junipers below ragged craggy hillsides that vanished into the clouds. A splendid spot. The wind in the trees surged and boomed. The night was black. No stars, no moon, just dense nothingness, impenetrable and empty. The wind woke me a couple of times, then rain just before dawn. I was warm, comfortable and relaxed though. The hours of darkness passed surprisingly quickly – preparing food, writing my journal, reading, staring at the wind-shaken silhouettes of the trees, sleeping. 


Soon after dawn the rain ceased. I wandered down to look at the river and admire the many young trees appearing everywhere. Glen Feshie is beautiful but this returning forest makes it especially magical. This is what wild Scotland should be like.



The wind was increasing in strength and the clouds dropping down the mountainsides so after making a couple of very short videos, which you can see in my last two posts, I walked back down the glen, refreshed and content. A short trip, but very worthwhile. Yet again the natural world had restored my equilibrium.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

In Glen Feshie, second little video



Here's my second attempt at making a video. The wind had increased again by this time - I really must get a separate mic if I'm to make any more of these. Maybe I should have waited for better weather for my first try!

A video clip from my camp this week in Glen Feshie





I've been meaning to start making video clips for a while now and in Glen Feshie a few days ago I finally got round to it. I hope to make many more - and to work out how to improve the sound quality, which was affected by the wind.

The clip was  made with my Sony a6000 camera with Samyang 12mm f2 lens and edited in Lightroom. The slow speed of my PC and Broadband means it's taken a while!

Comments welcome.



Monday, 10 December 2018

Classic Gear: The MSR XGK Stove

The original MSR Stove as pictured in the 1973 MSR catalogue
Next in the Classic Gear series that first appeared in The Great Outdoors last year: a revolutionary stove design.

The remote burner stove with a fuel tank at the end of a long hose is now a standard design. Every stove company makes at least one and there are models that run on butane/propane canisters as well as liquid fuels like petrol and paraffin. These stoves are efficient and reliable, especially in cold weather.  However back in the 1970s they didn’t exist and burners sat on top of fuel tanks. Such stoves were okay for summer use and with small pots but weren’t that good in sub-zero temperatures or with big pots. 

This was all to change when a new company in Seattle called Mountain Safety Research (MSR) set out to design a more practical and efficient stove, in particular one that could easily melt snow when winter mountaineering. After much testing MSR worked out that a remote, pump pressurised fuel tank was the answer and in 1973 the original remote burner stove was launched, using a fuel bottle as the tank. Originally just called the MSR Stove, soon changed to the MSR Model 9, this stove revolutionised stove design, though it took a while for the idea to spread. The Model 9 ran on white gas such as Coleman Fuel plus unleaded and leaded petrol. Apparently meths could be used too ‘if the air inlets of the burner are mostly closed with foil’. It weighed 340 grams, which was very light for a liquid fuel stove.

The MSR Model G, introduced in 1978
 
Since 1973 MSR has continued to improve the stove. The Model G and Model GK stoves replaced the Model 9 in 1978 and had field-maintainable fuel-lines, a big breakthrough. The GK version could also burn paraffin, diesel and some aviation fuels as well as petrol. These two models were merged in 1982 as the X-GK.

The MSR XGK II Shaker Jet
 
The next major improvement was in 1994 when the Shaker Jet was introduced in the X-GK II. This involved putting a weighted needle in the jet that pushed any dirt out of the jet when the stove was shaken or moved but which didn’t interfere with fuel flow when the stove was in use. Before the Shaker Jet a jet pricker had to be used. This was a very fine wire needle on a piece of aluminium that had to be prodded into the jet to dislodge dirt if it became blocked. Jet prickers were awkward to use, especially with cold fingers and by torchlight, and easy to break or lose – I used to carry two or more and once had to resort to using a toothbrush bristle when I mislaid both. Jet prickers also pushed the dirt back into the fuel line from which it could rise up and again block the jet.

Today's MSR XGK EX
 
From the Model 9 to the X-GKII all the stoves had rigid metal fuel lines. These were tough and easy to clean but rather awkward to pack. In 2005 MSR changed this to a flexible line in a braided metal sheath. This makes packing the stove much easier and is still stiff enough for easy cleaning.
A significant extra advantage of MSR’s design was that because the burner was separate from the fuel tank it could be fully surrounded by a windshield. To this end MSR introduced the now ubiquitous lightweight and compact folding foil windscreen.

The XGK continues as a workhorse stove, ideal for melting masses of snow and boiling big pots of water. I used one regularly when I led ski backpacking trips and cooked for ten or more people at a time. I took one on my length of Scandinavia walk back in 1992 too as I didn’t know what fuel would be available along the way and I wanted a multi-fuel stove that would work with dirty fuels and was easy to clean. I ended up mostly using paraffin and needed to clean the fuel line every so often. The XCK never let me down on any of these trips. 

Whenever you use a remote burner stove remember MSR and the Model 9 and XGK. That’s where it began.

Friday, 7 December 2018

The Great Outdoors January issue


The results of the 2018 Great Outdoors Awards feature in the latest issue. They are split into the Readers' Awards (Campaigner of the Year and much more) and the Gear Awards, which were judged by a panel of five, of which I was one. We had long discussions over this and all the gear was tried out, making for a rigorous process.

To mark 40 years of The Great Outdoors we also selected 40 items for Special Awards to celebrate forty years of innovation. Choosing these made for an interesting and intense discussion.

In the gear pages I review eleven down jackets, the interesting Andrew Skurka designed Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor pack, and two smart watches. The last are part of a joint review with Alex Roddie and Daniel Neilson who also review two watches each.

The issue opens with a splendid Snowdonia sunset by Alex Nail, a picture that combines the warmth of the sun with the chill of a landscape covered in rime ice. There's also a review of Nail's splendid photographic book, Northwest, by David Lintern (you can read my thoughts here).

Away from books to films Alex Roddie reviews Final Ascent, a fascinating-sounding tribute to the great mountaineer, gear innovator, mountain rescue pioneer and author Hamish MacInnes.

On conservation matters Roger Smith looks at six current threats to the outdoors. The final one is about Cairn Gorm and this is covered in depth in an excellent article by Richard Baynes.

Up in the hills Jim Perrin praises Cader Idris, David Lintern celebrates the first snows on an overnight trip to the Beinn Dearg hills in the NW Highlands, Ronald Turnbull has an early start for a round of eight of the smaller hills around Borrowdale, and Roger Butler visits frozen Tryfan and the Glyderau.

There's also a fascinating interview with Hazel Strachan by Alan Rowan who accompanied her on the last summit of her tenth round of the Munros.

Finally, far to the north Phoebe Smith walks the Arctic Trail in Greenland, a route that sounds wonderful.


Wednesday, 5 December 2018

If you're looking for an outdoor Christmas present....


My latest book or maybe one of my other books or a DVD.