Thursday, 15 September 2022

A Walk On Beinn Lair & A'Mhaighdean: A Trip Report With Gear Reviews

View from Beinn Lair

Last year I began an occasional series of trip reports with the emphasis on the key gear used for The Great Outdoors. I posted the first one on this blog in January. This is the second one, an early summer three-night trip in the Fisherfield area.  I've edited it slightly and updated prices.

My walk started on the path from Kinlochewe to Loch Maree. This is a well-used path as it leads to the main ascent route up Slioch. After the turn-off for the mountain the path continues above the loch, rougher now as it’s less walked.. There are magnificent old oak woods here and I was pleased to see many young trees inside fenced regeneration areas established by the Letterewe estate. My first camp was above one of these, looking over Loch Maree to the Torridon hills. A breeze kept away the midges and I was able to sit outside, as was the case at every camp on the trip.

The next day I followed a good path up to Loch Garbhaig and then struck off uphill to Beinn Lair. This is a fine big hill but pathless as it only reaches 859 metres, well below Munro height. On the climb, going up the boggy tussocky slopes was quite arduous but once on the wide ridge short grass and stony ground made for easy walking and I strode along admiring the splendid views. I had thought of a high camp but thickening dark clouds, a strengthening wind, and some big spots of rain kept me moving all the way down to the Fionn Loch, where I made my second camp. The incipient storm came to nothing though, the wind dwindling to a light breeze.

So far I’d seen no-one. The next day there were others on the excellent twisting path leading up from the Fionn Loch and the Dubh-Loch to the col between Ruadh Stac Mor and A’Mhaighdean, both Munros, the latter said to be the most remote of all. For much of the ascent I was able to admire the huge, long cliff that makes up the north face of Beinn Lair, something unsuspected from its summit. 

View from A'Mhaighdean

From the col I went up A’Mhaighdean, to be rewarded by clearing skies and superb views and the summit to myself. After sitting a while gazing at the mountains and the sea and the lochs and the sky, I set off down the mountain’s south-west slopes. These are wide and gentle, a total contrast to the steep rock faces to the west and north, and I was soon down by Lochan Fada and pitching my tent for a third night. The mostly cloudy weather cleared here, and I had lovely evening and morning light. Then there was just the long walk-out beside the lochan and down Glean Bianasdail to the outward path and Kinlochewe.

Camp beside Lochan Fada

Planning and preparation

The forecast was for warm weather, mostly cloudy with the chance of showers and a strong breeze. I hope the last would keep away the midges (it did) but I still wanted a tent that would keep them out if it didn’t (and I packed head net, mosquito coils, and repellent). However, tents can get stuffy on warm nights, so I also wanted one with good ventilation. For sleeping a light mat and a bag that could also be easily vented seemed sensible.

Light clothing seemed best to prevent getting too sweaty but as always I wasn’t going without waterproofs and a warm top, though I reckoned light ones would do. The wind meant a windshirt might be needed - I usually carry one in summer anyway.

Recent hot weather had stripped away most of the snow. The ice axe and crampons were packed away until the first snows next autumn. It was time for trail shoes rather than boots too. In summer I prefer getting my feet wet from the outside rather than from sweat inside hot boots. As it was my feet stayed dry until the rain that feel for the last twenty minutes of the walk.

My gear was the usual mix of well-proven favourites, new test gear, and gear on long term test. At 16kg the pack was quite heavy for a four-day summer trip but not so much that it was a real burden. If I hadn’t been testing it I’d have taken a lighter weight pack with a simpler design. I could have taken a lighter sleeping bag too, but I don’t have one that’s as versatile as the one I took. I think I should have left the foam pad behind and saved 200 grams and I could have taken ultralight waterproofs. Overall though my selection worked fine for this trip.

EQUIPMENT

PACK

The pack beside Lochan Fada, Slioch in the background
 

Montane Yupik 65         £160    1.76kg  ****1/2   Recommended   

Likes:                       pockets, comfort
Dislikes:                   only one size, straps slip occasionally
 
Capacity:                  65 litres
Materials                  100D triple ripstop nylon, 420D base
Closure                     lid with twin buckles, 2 drawcord closures
Back system             adjustable, pre-curved aluminium frame, moulded back panel
Back length:             59cms
Compartments:         2
Pockets:                   2 outer lid, 1 inner lid, 2 zipped stretch mesh front, 2 stretch mesh side, 2
                                hipbelt
Sizes:                      one

Having had this pack on test for a while now I thought it time to take it on more than an overnight trip. With camera gear including a tripod as well as four days food along with my camping gear it weighed 16kg when I set off. The pack is capacious and easily swallowed all this stuff. I reckon 65 litres is conservative, especially given the excellent large very stretchy front pockets. I liked having nine pockets and two compartments as they made it easy to organise gear. The back system and well-padded hipbelt made the pack comfortable to carry, though on the roughest terrain I noticed it wasn’t quite as stable as more body-hugging packs. I also found the harness straps slipped a little more often than on other packs (they always seem to slip a little at times), though not enough to be very annoying. Overall, the Yupik 65 was fine for this trip. It’s quite light for a pack with so many features.

Note: in September 2022 this pack no longer appears in the Montane website so it may be discontinued.

 

TENT

Camp above Loch Maree
 

MSR Hubba NX 1            1.26kg                       £455  ****1/2   Recommended

Likes                              lightweight, roomy
Dislikes                          flysheet doesn’t come right down to the ground
 
Flysheet                         silicone/PU 20D ripstop nylon, 1200mm hydrostatic head
Inner                               ripstop nylon/nylon micromesh
Groundsheet                   30D PU ripstop nylon, 3000mm hydrostatic head
Poles                              DAC Featherlite NFL
Pegs                               9 MSR Needle
Porches                          1
Inner Dimensions             216 x 76cms, 91cm high point

With the likelihood of warm nights and also midges if the wind died down I wanted an airy tent that provided good protection. The Hubba NX 1 fitted the bill. It’s large mesh panels on the inner and flysheet that doesn’t come right down to the ground makes for good airflow whilst the porch is big enough for cooking with the doors closed if the midges are bad or it starts raining. For a two-skin tent that’s roomy for one the weight is quite low. It packs up small too. It does pitch inner first, but I wasn’t expecting much rain and I knew I could pitch it very quickly if necessary. As it was there was no rain while I was camping nor any midges, so I never fully closed the flysheet door. The breeze that blew every night was enough to prevent any condensation from forming while the tent kept enough of the wind out to stop it disturbing my sleep. Overall, it was an ideal tent for the trip.

SLEEPING BAG


Sierra Designs Cloud 800                875g       £300    *****    Best Buy

Likes                          lightweight, comforter design, foot vent
Dislikes                      expensive
Fill                             800fp DriDown
Shell                          15D nylon ripstop
Construction               box wall
Zip                              no
Length                        regular 198cm, long 213cm
Rating                        comfort -3C, comfort limit -10C
 
When I reviewed this bag in a three-season sleeping bag feature last year I recommended it. I’ve used it a fair bit since and grown to like it more and more. Now I’d give it Best Buy. I chose it for this trip because of the comfort and versatility. In early June I didn’t think night temperatures would be too warm for a bag with this rating due to its unique design. There’s no zip but the bag still opens wide at the top as there’s a wrap-around comforter than runs over the top half of your body. You can easily wrap this round you for warmth or open it up to cool down. It gives a feeling of freedom you just don’t get with a zipped bag. There’s a vent for your feet in the lower part of the bag too so if they get hot you can just stick them out. On the bottom there’s a large uninsulated sleeve designed for a sleeping mat. I don’t use this as it restricts movement. I find the bag roomy enough that I can move inside, and it stays under me. This is one of the most comfortable bags I’ve ever used.

SLEEPING MAT

 

Klymit V Ultralite SL        293 grams (420 grams insulated)                    £100      **** Recommended

 
Likes                       ultralight, comfort, cost
Dislikes                   nothing
Type                        airbed
Materials                 20D polyester
Dimensions             183 x 51cm
Thickness                6.4cm
Rating                     R-value 1.3
 
This unusual mat has V-shaped air tubes with side rails to keep you centred whatever position you sleep in. Sleeping mostly on my front I find this design more comfortable than ones with simple straight tubes. For summer the V Ultralite SL is ideal. It packs really small, it’s exceptionally light, and it’s thick when inflated. However, at present it’s not available – I hope Klymit bring it back. There is a warmer version with exactly the same design and synthetic insulation inside. This has an R-value of 4.4 and should be warm enough for frosty nights. However, it weighs 454 grams, still light but a fair bit more than the uninsulated version.

I also took an OMM DuoMat (200 grams, £22), which I intended to use under the Klymit mat if the latter felt chilly and which would do as an alternative if the Klymit sprang a leak. Neither of those happened and I just used it as a sit mat on wet ground.

STOVE SYSTEM

View from the camp beside the Fionn Loch

 Trail Designs Classic Ti-Tri with Kojin burner   156 grams       $80        *****    Best Buy

 

Likes:                   ultralight, windproof, simple         
Dislikes:               minimal flame control
Cone material:      titanium   
Burner                  aluminium with inner batting and screw-top lids  
Fuels                    meths

I’ve used the Ti-Tri system on long walks for over a decade now. Consisting of a titanium cone that forms both windscreen and pot support with a meths or solid fuel burner inside it’s simple to operate. For many years I used the little aluminium 12-10 meths burner, taking great care not to crush it as it is somewhat fragile. Recently though I’ve replaced this with the even smaller Kojin burner, which weighs 19 grams, and is much tougher as it’s just a screw-top tin full of batting that absorbs the fuel. This design also means that any unused fuel can just be left in the closed burner, which doesn’t leak. I find it more efficient than the 12-10 too, boiling water faster and using less fuel to do so. Simmering isn’t easy – I use tent pegs through holes in the top of the cone to hold the pan higher above the flame – but I didn’t have any long simmer meals on this trip. The cone does have to be the right size for your pot. This one fits my Evernew 0.9 litre titanium pot, which I’ve had well over twenty years.

 

FOOTWEAR & CLOTHING

TRAIL SHOES


Merrell Moab Speed     624 grams (size 9)    £110    *****   Best Buy

Likes               lightweight, good grip
Dislikes           nothing
 
Uppers            mesh & TPU
Sole                Vibram Ecostep
Sizes              men 6.5-14, women 3.5-8.5

This was my second trip of several days with these shoes and again I was impressed. This was a tougher test than previously as I was carrying my full pack the whole time and there was plenty of rough, steep terrain to ascend and descend. The shoes felt secure and comfortable throughout and my feet never got hot and sweaty in the heat and I had no blisters. I wore the shoes with light merino/synthetic mix ankle socks and the combination was excellent. The uppers are mesh for breathability with a wide rand to protect against abrasion. So far, the shoes show little sign of wear despite much scraping on rocks and tough vegetation. The Vibram sole hasn’t started to wear either and provides good grip on every type of terrain. For me these are great trail shoes for warm weather, especially as they fit me perfectly, being quite wide at the forefoot whilst narrow at the heel so my feet don’t slip in them. They’re lightweight too.

T-SHIRT

Columbia Zero Ice Cirro-Cool T-shirt    145 grams (L)   £45   *****     Best buy

Fabric:        57% recycled polyester/43% polyester, side panels 94% polyester/6% elastane
Sizes:         men S-XXL, women XS-XL 

Four days backpacking in mostly hot weather is a tough test for a base layer claimed to keep you cool and dry fast. I’m pleased to say this Columbia t-shirt came through with flying colours. I may have been sweat-soaked at times, but the t-shirt wasn’t. Sweat just passed through it and evaporated and the fabric always felt cool. Where it did get damp, under pack straps and hipbelt, it dried amazingly fast as soon as it was exposed to the air. It was still working fine on day four too. Many synthetic base layers I’ve tried start to go stiff and feel sticky after a couple of days use. On the third day a cool breeze meant I wore a windshirt over it. The t-shirt was just as comfortable. The fabric is soft and comfortable and feels great against the skin. It’s one of the best synthetic base layers I’ve worn in hot weather. It’ll be coming on more trips.

WINDSHIRT

Paramo Fuera Smock     £80     300 grams (M)     £80   *****   Best Buy

Materials           polyester microfibre
Hood:                adjustable, wired peak 
Pockets:           dual access chest 
Cuffs:                Velcro 
Hem:                drawcord
Sizes:                XS-XXL

Good designs last. I’ve had this old favourite windshirt for over fifteen years now and I still find it as good as ever. Paramo has brought out several windproof tops since the Fuera but happily has kept it in the range. With a forecast for windy but mostly dry weather it seemed ideal for this trip. In fact, I only wore it on one day but then it was just the right garment to keep off the cold wind. I also wore it in camp when the breeze was chilly. The design is functional. The hood has a wired peak and drawcords and doesn’t blow off your head in strong gusts, as too many more basic hoods do. The big chest pocket is excellent for map, phone, and other items. The neck zip is long enough for reasonable ventilation. I love the wide cuffs which are great for airflow and allow the sleeves to be easily rolled up if your arms do get hot. The fit is roomy – the Medium is bigger than some current Paramo Large sizes – and getting the Fuera on over the head is no problem. The fabric is soft and comfortable against the skin. It’s tough too, the garment showing little sign of wear after all these years.

Other clothing

Camp beside Lochan Fada

I wore Mammut Runbold trousers throughout. These stretchy nylon trousers are cool in the heat and proved just wind resistant enough. For warmth I had the Patagonia Micro Puff insulated jacket. I only wore this in camp when it was a little chilly. My waterproofs – the 66 North Snaefell jacket and Berghaus Paclite trousers – were never worn, though they could have been if the rain that fell during the last twenty minutes of the walk had started earlier. As it was, I just got damp. I also had a Smartwool Beanie for warmth in camp and an old baseball cap with a neck cord for the sun (it stays on in the wind). Neither saw much use.

 

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