Sunday, August 23, 2015

The View from Scafell Pike Summit - Dissected

There is no doubt about it. The view from England's highest mountain is really quite something. Unfortunately the summit is more often under cloud than not and so if you are one of the thousands of folk every year who manage to climb Scafell Pike only to find yourself cruelly robbed of a summit view (been there and bought the T-Shirt ... many times!) then this is for you. It is a video I posted recently showing a slow 360 degree panorama of the view from Scafell Pike summit with all the main surrounding fells and other view points labelled. Of course nothing can replace the majesty of being up there on a clear day but I offer it to you in compensation for your loss, until such time when you muster the courage to try again and your efforts are surely rewarded (but don't count on it!). 

Best viewed on a big screen. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Upper Eskdale : In the Land of Giants

Date: 30th & 31st July 2015
Start/Finish: Jubilee Bridge, Eskdale
Wainwrights: Scafell Pike, Lingmell, Scafell, Slight Side
Height Gained: 4551 feet 
Distance: 13.8 Miles

The Route: anticlockwise form Jubilee Bridge (bottom right)

Wandering around upper Eskdale is a humbling experience. This area, more than any other in the Lake District has a feeling of true wilderness, making you feel small and insignificant amongst the giants of the Cumbrian fells. 

Adding to the sense of isolation is the fact that this is also one of the least visited areas of Lakeland. I only saw one small group of people from a distance in 4 hours of wandering around the Eskdale valley which was in stark contrast to when finally emerging from little narrowcove onto the main ridge to Scafell Pike summit. Talk about one extreme to the other!

The lower Eskdale valley

Bowfell standing guard at the head of the valley

The River Esk

Lingcove Bridge

From here the route crosses the old Lingcove packhorse bridge before climbing up beside the Esk waterfalls and emerging into upper Eskdale and the vast basin of Great Moss.

Nearing the top of the Esk waterfalls and Scafell Pike comes into view for the first time

Scafell Pike and Ill Crag

The upper section of the River Esk guarded by the crags of Scar Lathing

There are paths to the left and right of Scar Lathing into Great Moss but taking the left path brings you up close and personal to the huge crags of Scafell.

The crags of Scafell

Great Moss with Scafell Pike, Ill Crag and Esk Hause at the head of the valley

Great Moss is a hazardous place as your gaze is constantly drawn upwards to the majestic scenery rather than watching where you are treading! A twisted ankle awaits the unwary as the terrain is a large flat peaty area criss-crossed with many little streams. Getting through with dry feet is a challenge in itself.

Cam Spout Gully leading up to Scafell

Dow Crag

Looking back over Great Moss

There are route choices to get up onto Scafell PIke from Great Moss. 1) Camspout gully (but I have done that route before to get to Scafell) 2) Up to Esk Hause and then along the main ridge (done that route too but from Bowfell) or 3) via the steep gully of Little Narrowcove (which I haven't been up before). That settled, I headed up the gully which follows the course of a tumbling gill eventually emerging onto the main ridge leading to Scafell Pike summit. This is where I joined the hoards of other folk all wearily plodding the last few hundred feet up onto England's highest ground.

At the bottom of Little Narrowcove ...

... and the top

Looking back down the Little Narrowcove gully over Pen

First view of Lingmell & Great Gable from the main ridge

Broad Crag and Ill Crag

Scafell Pike summit

 A video of the summit view from Scafell Pike with all the main fells in view labelled

Scafell (where I camped later on) from Scafell Pike

Following the path down to Lingmell ...

... and then up to Lingmell

Lingmell summit with the Scafells behind

Broad Crag & Scafell Pike

Looking over Piers Gill towards Great End

Taking the path towards Mickledore

Scafell Pike from near Lords Rake

So what can I say about Lords Rake. It's steep. It's hard work. It's an exhilarating way up onto Scafell as it traverses its most impressive rock scenery. If you have a spare 5 minutes you can watch this abridged video of me struggling up it.

NB. The famous chockstone at the top of the rake finally collapsed on 31st July 2016. May it rest in 'pieces'.

Looking up Lords Rake

Looking back from the top of the 2nd Col on Lords Rake

Scafell summit views North ...

... and west over Wast Water

Looking back to Scafell Pike from Scafell

Tonight's luxurious accommodation

Drying socks out

It was a comfortable camp until the rain came in the early hours (which wasn't forecast!). While the tarp sheltered me from most of the wind driven stuff I had to seek refuge within the bivvy to keep dry. By morning there no sign of it letting up so I begrudgingly packed up in the rain and trudged back up to the summit before heading down the Slight Side ridge and back to Eskdale. It rained for most of the way. The visibility was about 100 yards. My trail shoes made a surprising variety of different squelching sounds to keep me entertained on the long descent.

Slight Side summit in the clag

Getting back below the cloud base

Nearly back to the road

Below is a 10 minute video highlighting the best bits of the walk, and the process of making camp on Scafell summit.

Kit List

Shelter : Backpackinglight solo tarp (278g) & Integral Designs solo ground sheet (140g) 
Mat : Exped SynMat7 UL LW (595g) 
Sleeping Bag : Sleeping quilt actually, the As Tucas custom down quilt (519 grams)
Stove : High Gear Blaze titanium stove (48g)  + Primus 100g Gas Cart   
Pans : Evernew Solo-set (250g)

Rucksack : Osprey Talon 44 (1.18kg) 
Fluid : Deuter Streamer 2lt Bladder (185g) and 600ml Sigg bottle (100g empty) + Sawyer Squeeze filter (84g).
Food : Fuizion Beef Stew, Buttered Bread, Supernoodles,various sugary snacks.
Bits & Bobs : headtorch and spare batteries, Iphone + Anker 5800mHh battery,  victorinox knife, map & compass, basic first aid kit and Petzl e-lite, spork, various fold dry bags, flint & steel, plastic trowel.  

Camera : Panasonic DMC-LX7 & lowepro case. Go-Pro Hero 4 Silver and spare batteries.

Clothes : Ron Hill wicking T-Shirt, Rab 100 wt fleece (250g), True Mountain Ultralight windproof jacket (100g), TNF Meridian Cargo Shorts (190g), ME beany, TNF E-Tip gloves, sunglasses, Buff, Innov8 short socks. PHD wafer down jacket (about 200g).
Trail Shoes : Solomon Speedcross (310g)

Total weight excluding water = 8kg

Monday, August 3, 2015

First Night in the As Tucas Down Quilt

I wouldn't normally write any sort of gear review after just one nights use but as many people have been asking about the As Tucas quilt I thought I would write a brief 'early opinion' following the first look post a few weeks ago. I camped up on Scafell summit last Thursday night under a tarp and with the quilt in a very roomy MLD superlight bivvy. The temperature was about 6 degrees C and it rained. The trip is described here.

So was I warm enough?
Yes, absolutely. I wore some very thin base layer leggings, a 100 weight fleece top and a beanie hat. If anything I was a bit too warm and could have left the fleece off. I didn't need to wrap the quilt around me like a cocoon. My feet were toasty.

Was it draughty?
I was in a bivvy bag so I didn't feel any draughts. Without a bivvy may have been a different story. I would have tucked the edges under me in that case.

Was it roomy?
Yes indeed. This was the single biggest difference between the quilt and a mummy bag. I could stretch out a knee or an elbow and turn over with ease. I am a side sleeper and tend to turn over lots. This is not an easy manoeuvre in a mummy bag as the bag turns with me so the hood ends up on top and I end up lying on the zip. In the quilt though I was laid directly on the mat and so could turn over without taking the quilt with me. This made for a notably more comfortable night for me. I did experiment with the 2 press stud fasteners. With both fastened it felt just like a mummy bag but with a bit more room. With just the lower one fastened the quilt was snug around hips but allowed plenty of torso room. My preference was to have both unfastened though. The large MLD bivvy didn't impede movement at all.

Any other thoughts?
Well I can confirm that the Shoeller fabric is at least water resistant as rain splash crept in around the neck of the quilt. Also, at some point I fell asleep with my head under the bivvy which resulted in much condensation which also wet the outer quilt fabric. The down stayed dry though and continued to loft well. 

So far so good then. I want to use it under the trailstar or a tent next, without a bivvy. I can then see how it copes with draughts.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pimp my Tarp

I've really taken a liking to the tarp and bivvy set-up recently. The weight saving is obviously attractive but I'm finding I really like the exposure. The simplicity of just gazing up at a star studded night sky, watching passing satellites and occasional meteors until drifting off to sleep is a truly magical experience. Of course this is all well and good if the sky is clear and the weather is calm and dry. Any suggestion of a dodgy forecast and I will take the tent or the trailstar. Anyway, in anticipation of some nice balmy summer nights I have been trying a few different tarp configurations in the back garden. Here they are :-

I have used the 2 'lean-to' configurations a few times now and they work well but with both set-ups there is a large area of unsupported silnylon which has a tendency to sag as it collects condensation. Using the 2 lifter points solves this problem and so the last time I camped out I looked for suitable sticks along the walk, but as is perhaps typical when hiking in the high fells, I didn't come across anything suitable. A fellow 'twitterer' had previously suggested taking 2 bamboo canes as they are light & fairly strong. So I recently spent an hour in the garden fiddling with my 3 favourite tarp configurations but with the addition of two 3 foot bamboo canes as lifters. These 3 short videos are the result and although I've yet to test these 'pimped up' tarp set-ups in the fells I reckon they should do the job nicely.

The tarp can be pitched in a whole variety of different ways to suit the conditions and using hiking poles, trees, sticks, boulders etc as anchor points for the guy lines. The 'A-Frame' set-up seems popular with many folk but that blocks my view of the sky and doesn't provide much wind protection from the side. As I do most of my camping in the high fells, it is wind resistance that is of most importance to me and the 3 configurations above provide adequate shelter, with the 'flying V' being the most sturdy.

The tarp is the 'solo tarp' from It is 9 foot x 5 foot silnylon, weighs 278 grams and has lots of attachment loops around the perimeter (16 in total) plus the 2 lifter points.  

Here are a few videos of the bivvy (and tarp in 2 of them) set up in the Lake District mountains.

Friday, June 26, 2015

As Tucas Custom Down Quilt - First Look

I have new Gear !! First look at the As Tucas Down Quilt

The inherent design flaw with down sleeping bags is that all the insulation underneath you is compressed by your body weight to a degree where it loses all thermal efficiency. This squashed down is essentially dead weight. The idea behind a quilt is to eliminate this dead weight and instead use the insulating properties of the mat to protect you from the cold ground.

As Tucas Down Quilt bottom ....

... and top

This idea was popularised by legendary America backpacker Ray Jardine and has since become become very popular, particularly within the lightweight backpacking community in the States.

This short video from 'standing bear' explains the concept a little better than I can.

 Personally I've never really got on with mummy sleeping bags. Not so much for the reasons above but more because I'm a fidgety sleeper.  I tend to roll over a lot, throw arms and legs out all over the place and generally not stay in one position for long. As such, I'm forever twisting and turning; trying to move the zip, that was in the perfect position 10 minutes ago, out from underneath me. Or I'm straining the fabric trying to stretch out a knee or an elbow. I'm very envious of those lucky folk who can sleep on their backs without moving from dusk til dawn.

 Quilts are therefore an attractive proposition to me, and after doing a bit a reading around the subject, I bit the bullet and ordered a custom down quilt from Marco at As Tucas. It arrived a few days ago and I thought it would be worth posting a few pics, a few stats and a few thoughts.

  As Tucas offer an increasing number of ultralight outdoor products but they also offer a custom made service. I therefore emailed Marco with my quilt requirements; namely that I like a bit of wriggle room, that I'm 5' 10" and I would like it keep me warm down to about freezing point. He suggested a custom made sestrels quilt with 350g down in size medium length and regular width. The sestrels quilt in its usual form is synthetic and the details can be found here. I understand that Marco will be selling the 'Foratata' down quilt from July 15th, which is almost identical to this one.

  On initial inspection the quality of workmanship is superb. There really isn't a stitch out of place. The quilt is simplicity itself with a roomy enclosed foot box and a open back which can be closed up by fastening 2 press studs.

 This particular quilt uses 350g of pure white 900 cuin down sourced from Poland. It has an estimated comfort rating of 0 degrees C. The fabric is Schoeller 12 denier which is 28g/m2. It is windproof and breathable. It has an 'ecorepel' coating which provides resistance against water and dirt. Full details can be found here.

  Marco tells me that the internal baffles are made from cuben fibre and their height is 25mm.They are sized so that the down is slightly compressed within the chambers. This allows for better control of down movement without a loss of thermal efficiency.

The down lofts really well

  On my scales the quilt weighs 519 grams. It packs down to 30cm x 15cm x 15cm .

This 10 litre dry bag weighs 43 grams.

  As Tucas design their quilts to be a bit wider and longer than the typical equivalent from American makers. This is so the quilt can be pulled up over your neck and head when the temperature drops without necessarily having to use a hat or balaclava. Also, it is not adorned with complex fastenings to secure it to a mat. You simply use it like you would a normal quilt at home and tuck it under your sides as needed in order to keep out the droughts. It certainly seems very comfy on my lounge floor with plenty of room to cover my head.

Plenty of room

 There is also the option of putting the mat inside the quilt. This is not something I can imagine doing but a few people have asked if it is possible and the answer is 'yes'. With the thermarest and me inside its a bit of squeeze with the poppers fastened and is essentially a wide mummy bag in this configuration. There is adequate room with the poppers unfastened though, and the quilt just tucked under mat. However, I don't like this idea and I will be using it on top of the mat and tucking the quilt underneath me as it is designed to do.

With full length Thermarest inside

Room for a thermarest prolite plus regular if you want to tuck the quilt in underneath the mat.

 The one thing I'm not sure of is what to wear whilst in it? In a sleeping bag I usually use a liner bag to protect the down from my general sweat and grime but of course that would kind of defeat the object of using a quilt. I think perhaps a very lightweight base layer top and bottoms will do the job. Perhaps something like these from Rohan. Any other suggestions welcome :-) 

  I intend to use the quilt for 3 season use in the Cumbrian mountains, the first trip being described here - 
'first night in the as tucas down quilt'. I will post an update as to its performance in the field later in the year.

I should also make it clear that I have no affiliation with As Tucas or Marco personally and I paid for this quilt with my own hard earned dosh.