Tuesday, 30 March 2010

I've got a head for heights!

Here is some quite staggering footage taken from a walk through a valley in Southern Spain. Seemingly the pathway was built back in 1901 but as you can see it hasn't seen a good refurb in quite some time - probably 109 years or so. There is a rather flimsy cable you are able to attach yourself to save you if you fall however I don't think I'd trust this with my life (for what that's worth). I think this footage is a few years old but it puts the fear in God in you nonetheless. Now I'm no sufferer of vertigo but I don't think this is a yomp I'll be hurrying to tick off and will leave this to the adventurous climbers amongst you. Enjoy and let me know how you get on!

P.S. Don't forget your bicycle clips.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Further Satmap Active 10 Problem - and Solutions

Following my previous Satmap Active 10 review I have been experiencing further problems with the unit following a recent walk in the Lake District. These have manifested themselves in the way of the unit getting stuck in the "North up" mode rather than being able to switch between "North up" and "Direction of movement up". The former is obviously where the map displayed is as you would find the OS map holding it upright the latter showing you the direction you are pointing the satmap in as up.

Despite previous frustrations attempting to contact satmap to no avail regarding battery issues and following Sophie Easterbrooks comment on my previous blog regarding Satmap's high levels of aftersales care I emailed them again regarding the "North up" issue along with the previous battery problems Id experienced with the satmap. In their defence they totally redeemed themselves and were back to me within the day with solutions for extending the battery life offering assistance regarding the current problem I'm experiencing. This is ongoing as I need to email certain details to them for them to consider. I'll post the outcome when it's sorted.

Regarding the battery life the optimum settings are to have the unit turn the backlight off after 15 sesonds, this can be changed in Settings>Power Control>Automatic Screen Turn Off>Off after 15 seconds. In order to extend the life further the unit should update every 4 seconds rather than every second too, to change this go to Settings>Advanced Power Control>Power Saving Mode>Advanced. I was always under the impression that Duracel were the best batteries on the market for your handheld gadgets. Turns out I was wrong on this one and you will get around 20% more out of the unit if you use energiser batteries - you learn something new every day!

When I hear back from them regarding the "North Up" issue I will post the suggestion/solution on here.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Gas gas gas

Further to a recent post by Alan Rayner regarding cooking equipment, relative weights of the equipment and reliability (please go here to view the post) I was led to question the reliability of gas either at altitude or low temperatures. This rang true from a previous trip into the Cairngorms when we stayed in Corrour Bothy and my gas stove was absolutely useless, I thought at the time that it was down to the altitude (we were around 550m which is hardly that high mind) however following Alan's post I now think that it is down to the ambient temperature (which was pretty freezing). My subsequent wracking of the grey matter regarding gas efficiency has led me to attempt to set my mind at ease by conducting an experiment to assesss out which is the most reliable gas both at altitude and at crazy low temperatures.

Thus I am going to take the gas I used that fateful weekend which is the "Gosystem" gas, ye olde faithful "CampingGaz" and "Colemans" (which I've heard to be pretty reliable and I now expect to be the front runner). I'm gonna fire (pardon the pun) at this by chucking all the gas in my freezer (measuring the temp insude the freezer) and when they are down to temp I am going to boil 300ml water in a whistling kettle. The clock starts when the kettle goes on the stove (to a pre-determined setting) and stops when the kettle starts to whistle - simples!

I'll then redo this test following the canisters being in the fridge. At some point I'll then take the gasses up the hill somewhere to see if in fact altitude makes any difference whatsoever.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The glory glory of the Highlands

Following my recent jaunt to the Scottish Highlands, no walking again - more driving but below are some more snaps I took whilst I was up in that neck of the woods.

Loch Tummel from Queens ViewThe well known view of Loch Tummel from The Queen's View

Fleetwood Mac - The Best Rock in the World

View up the River Feshie from Feshie Bridge

Not very photogenic and looking a bit wooden - a loving mother and her child

Loch Morlich and CairngormCairngorm Ski Area and Loch Morlich

Monday, 22 March 2010

Skiddaw - I think

Date: Saturday March 20th 2010
Those there: Me, Dave, The Dark One
Mountains Climbed: Carl Side, Skiddaw
Map: OS Landranger 90 / OS Explorer OL4

After the previous escapade with crappy weather we had another shot at Skiddaw. Myself and brother Dave left home at around 6ish so we could get a flyer and be on out on the Fells by 9ish with full stomachs courtesy of a local cafe to be decided upon likely by their opening times. We did manage some breakfast (less the Dark One as he only had a couple of hours kip due to pub commitments the previous night so he had to stop en route for further recharging - he looked real primo when he arrived and he put his freshness down to the new alarm app he'd invested in on his iPhone, we weren't in total agreement that he looked that fresh). It was at this point tucking into my panini that I realised I also needed to stock up on some packed lunch as mine was currently in the fridge - 2 hours away at home! Not the first time and certainly not the last.

Palaver over we finally got started at about 10:30. We parked between Milbeck and Applethwaite and started off up Carl Side in the lashing rain. The cloud cover up high was thick but we went for it on the basis that we may well be turning back. It's a fairly long slog up some pretty steep terrain to Carl Side but this does give you some pretty impressive views out across Keswick and Derwent Water. We did then descend to Long Side to get the best view of Ullock Pike and up Skiddaw which is an incredible looking Goliath of a beast from that perspective and on this occasion draped in a rather soft and fluffy luxury blanket which in fact to be quite the contrary. The rain did start to ease at this point, praise the lord as I was feeling mildly moist and a touch nippy - time to re-proof the jacket me thinks.

Skiddaw under cloud
From Long Side we contoured around Carl Side on the path to the base of Skiddaw for the final push to the summit. We immediately started to notice the difference of the lower cloud which was noticeable but not at thick as we'd anticipated. What was deeper than anticipated was the snow (in places) which is always a bit slowing on the pace. With that and Dave's double squash session and Si's 2 hours sleep (2 1/2 if you consider the drivers seat slumber en route) progress became a bit steady. A couple of friendly hikers passed us in the snow heading for the top, pleasantries were exchanged. Not long later they passed by us on their way down saying that they'd hit the top and that is was biting so they were on their way back to the bottom. Strange I though as the Trig point is a way up the plateau - I think they probably thought the cairn was the top. On the back of that nugget of info we decided we'd employ the summit and plummet method. So in the clouds (visibility of about 20m) we got to the windy plateau and headed the few metres to the trig point, where we tapped it and headed to somewhere where we could get out of the wind for a bite to eat and a drink - there was absolutely no point in being up there longer than we needed to be, the view was non existent.
Keswick and Derwent Water

We headed off the top and towards Little Man which at the outset we had intended to do (we were initially hoping to do 8 Wainwrights) but due to the conditions we knocked it on the head (as we did with 6 of the others), navigating off the path in these conditions is never a great plan (always play safe and use zi common sense).

We sidled from the top down the main path. It was still some time before we got out of the fog however the rain had stopped and although the wind was ripping through it did go some way to drying my outer layers. At one of the gates on the way down we came across a group of gents who sensibly sacked off the top due to the nastiness setting in. Not much further on we came across a few guys in jeans and trainers tooled with cameras, asking how far it was to the top and for an idea of what the conditions were? We duly filled them in at which point they sensibly turned back, not quite the day to be out in your Sunday best.

Lunch in the way of an oversize pasty was thrown down (into my mouth, not discarded on the floor - that would have been sacrilege) for the knee jerking yomp back to the car park and along the road back to the cars. On the way eagle-eyed Dave spotted a couple of deer on the road which we had to get some snaps of! Not often you see deer as close as this in the wild (mind there are a few places north of the border where they are in herds)

Following that it was time for a pint or two in the Peacock and then the drive home. We set out to do 8 Wainwrights and 10 1/2 miles, we actually did 2 Wainwrights and 8 miles. Nice walk, would be mad keen to see the view from the top at some point so will hopefully come back and have another go shortly in advance of the challenge (Lakeland 3000's that is not the TGO that is currently on a lot of folks minds).

I'm having an internal "which camera is best" battle at the moment as I'm thinking there is just no point in taking an SLR up on the hillside when the weather is as it was. Thinking I'm now on the lookout for a decent compact for these darker days that I can keep more accesible whilst it's wetting it down.

View Skiddaw 20/03/10 in a larger map

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Satmap Active 10 Review

As I've now had this piece of kit a while I thought it might be useful for some of you looking at possibly getting your palms on one of these to read what I (or in fact anyone) objectively feel about it by scribing some words for a kind of review. I've also included a couple of tips that I've come across to get the best out of the Satmap.

When I attempted to walk up A' Chailleach and Carn Sgulain in thick snow we found it pretty heavy going both from a perspective of being overly soft and from a navigational point of view as reference points such as streams and the like are all draped in white. In thick snow it's hard to gauge distances. As I wrote in my post on that walk, the day was getting on and stood on the plateau on the approach to the first summit I had little clue how far it was to the top so called in a day and headed for home.

Once home I thought how having a handheld device could have pinpointed where we were at that time and how far from the top we'd been! With this revelation in mind I started the research trail. There are so many different devices to choose from but with a bit of help of one of the boys at trailblazer in Pickering my attention turned to the Satmap active 10.

At around £270 it is by no means the cheapest piece of kit even less so when you consider the costs of the maps that you have to buy in addition to the unit itself (but are comparable to the Garmin equivalents). But, that said the mapping is incredible and it's clear on a large screen that doesn't leave you squinting like you've just emerged from a very deep cave after a winters worth of hibernation in order for you to get all the info you need. The maps are Ordnance Survey in either 1:25k or 1:50k (although there is a vast difference in price) so are easy to peruse for anyone literate within the mapping world. The buttons and joystick are easy to use with or without gloves on and it seems pretty waterproof (it's fine in heavy rain although I've not taken the liberty of taking it for a dip as yet.

Planning walking routes is as easy as 1,2,3 as well. Simply a case if scroll with the joystick and enter. No need of planning the waypoints on the pc and uploading them as you must with some devices.

There are a couple of drawbacks with the Satmap however. There have reportedly been a number of problems with the software in this unit which has caused it to crash and it can't be restarted until the batteries are disconnected. On a walk this would be virtually impossible due to how fiddly this task would be. This naturally means you have to take a map as well but that said I would never consider heading out tooled up with a map of the area and compass to go with. I will add though at this point that I never suffered this software shortcoming and no doubt it has now been rectified with the software updates which you download from their site and upload straight onto the Satmap.

Problem number two is the battery life when used with AA batteries. It is pretty rubbish and if you're actively using the unit for navigation (which is what you buy it for of course) then the batteries die quicker than a fleeting grouse amidst a Sunday shoot. I did contact Satmap directly regarding this issue requesting advice at the time on more than one occasion, no response whatsoever which is exceptionally annoying. There are settings that you can tweak to reduce the drain on the batteries. By updating you position every 3 seconds rather than every second the batteries are a lot more resilient with regards to the power drain so too are they if you set the screen to turn off after 15 seconds say (although be careful not to set the Satmap to turn itself off). This does make things better although I still feel it leaves you with a disappointing battery life. You can buy a separate rechargeable battery pack (for around £50) that you fit permanently in place of the AA battery housing which probably adds around an extra 50% to the battery life. This does have the obvious bonus of getting rid of the necessary expense of buying batteries too. There can be charged by USB, conventional plug or cigarette lighter which is a good touch and does give you versatility if you're camping allowing you to charge in your car.

Sadly I haven't got anything to compare this against otherwise I could make justified comparisons lacking that I've just got to make a judgment on my experience and the experience of waiting for it to find a signal which, at the outset, was quite tedious. There is a knack to this though and you need to have the Satmap Active showing the satellite screen and hold it vertical so that the top is pointing to the sky. This works a treat and you can see the Satmap registering satellites in no time.

Despite the above annoyances this is a versatile handheld OS map which incredibly easy to use with regard to route planning, locating your position and monitoring and saving your walk details.

So after all that waffle I think it's awesome for day walks but is really only half the piece of kit without the extra battery pack. It would therefore not be much use for an extended trip unless you were only planning to use it occasionally to pinpoint your position in this case though it seems a bit pointless burdening yourself with the extra weight. I would only ever consider the Satmap to work in conjunction with our old fashioned map and compass and never to replace them.

+ easy to use without need for computer
+ good battery life (when used with separate battery pack)
+ OS map format
+ screen size

- really poor battery life (when used without extra battery pack)
- expensive extra maps
- aftercare from Satmap themselves is totally non existent

All told I think this is a great piece of kit although the lack of after sales care is a bit frustrating. It is fairly easy to operate on the whole however so there will for sure be someone out there that could throw you a lifeline I'm sure if you really needed one.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Skiddaw Saturday

Following the last failure of Skiddaw (well it wasn't so much a failure as in order to fail you must attempt which we never actually did with the snow being reported to be up to our earlobes - mind that's not really saying much in my case but anyway), we are going to give it another shot on Saturday. Fingers crossed the weather will be kind to us and at worst we won't be snowed off the hill (like last time) with best case scenario being wall to wall blue skies like those seen up t' north in th' Highlands last week. As this is gonna be a training yomp for the Lakeland 3000's walk in June we're going to try clock some miles - probably around 12 would be good so will finalise a route in the week to do so.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Spring has surely sprung

I failed to get out for a meander last weekend as I'd hoped for one reason or another - namely a birthday bash on Friday night which rolled on a bit late reducing me to a bit of lazy oaf for the weekend (I suppose the required DIY didn't help either). I was up in the Highlands however for what was a spectacular couple of days this week. Although I was working I did manage to slide out for a while to get some snaps of that neck of the woods in it's full blue sky glory - the weather was absolutely phenominal. Here's a photo of the Cairngorm Mountain Ski Area over Loch Morlich (the snow up there was ridiculous - I had a chat with one of the attendants up there and they reckon they will still be skiing in May!).

Cairngorm Mountain Ski across Loch Morlich

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Walkmeter IPhone App

This is an awesome app from someone (not really bothered who), who has engineered this beauty. When you start the walk turn the app on and it tracks your route for you with miles and ascent etc. along with speed etc. Then at the end of the yomp you simply import it into you Google Maps. In fairness it was brother Drew who has mastered this so no doubt it will be a touch more difficile for the like of me, still how hard can it be. An example of the map can be found on my previous post. Fair play the capability of this has already been discovered with the likes of Satmap and other handheld devices but none of those make it so easy to actually publish your map as this nifty gadget. It is worth noting before you ask, there are no mile markers on the second half of the walk here - this is because he lost the signal when he went into the bothy for lunch and didn't get it back until we'd pretty much finished the walk. Pretty annoying but some of these things do take a bit of trial and error to get to grips with. I reckon this is quality though and saves those hours plotting your souvenir routes once you've done them!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Embsay Moor

Date: 28th February 2010
Those there: Me, Druid, Dave, Si, Kenny, Scott
Map: OS Explorer OL2
Distance: About 12 miles (600m ascent)

We were meant to head up the Skiddaw hiking trail in the Lake District on Sunday as part of the training for our Lakeland 3000’s walk but due to the adverse weather we decided that the risk was too great.

I doubt there were many out on the fells actually over the weekend and those that did would have been the braver and more resilient of us. When I read the following on the Lake District Weatherwatch site we were a touch put off;

Full winter clothing, footwear and equipment including an ice axe and crampons are essential for anyone venturing out onto the fells. The deep snow covering all paths, combined with low cloud make navigation at altitude challenging, so good navigation skills are essential, as is the ability to assess your route carefully and be prepared to turn back when necessary.

Definitely the right move I feel. So instead we opted to head out to the Yorkshire Dales to stretch our legs. We gor on t’internet and scoured and looked long and hard for a good hiking trail that would take in some serious ascent, sadly there aren’t many of those outside of Scotland, the Lake District and Snowdonia so we went with one of the biggest in the Yorkshire Dales. It kicked off from Embsay and walked around Thorpe Fell.

The weather was still pretty bloody freezing and thus the reason why I took no photos, it’s days like these that you would be pleased to sacrifice the quality of snaps you take with an SLR for the convenience of being able to whip it out of your pocket and wave it around at will (your camera that is, anyway I don’t know anyone called Will). Thus I sadly and regrettably didn’t take any snaps – fair play though I think the quality would have been weak at best even if I had (it would have been good though to capture some of the many moments when people were falling through the crustiest of snow).

Anyway the hiking trail was about 12 miles and had an ascent of around 600 metres which wasn’t bad. You start off by parking in Embsay itself in the car park on the north side of the town and you can either walk across the fields or through the town and up to Embsay Reservoir.

Passing by the right hand side of Embsay Reservoir the road takes a 90 degree turn to the left. At this point you go through the gate to your right and head for the dry stone wall on your left hand side although with the prospect of the hill in front we decided to acquaint ourselves with the wall further up. You hug this wall (although watch out for the barbed wire) until you drop down on the waterfall. This was marked on the map but was a lot more impressive then I was expecting. That said and ogled at we crossed the stream above the waterfall and scrambled up the far side and headed back towards the wall. You pass a number of cairns and memorials en route. This is probably the most spectacular part of the hiking trail with views to the North West and the mass of the Dales. At about the half way mark (just past the 6 mile marker) and close to the summit of Thorpe Fell there is a bothy which is exceptionally welcome, especially considering the icy wind had gathered the troops and added snow to its armoury. The building that appears on the horizon isn’t actually the bothy, which is just to the left kind of built into the hillside.

A quick brew and snack was shovelled down to stoke the furnace for the 2nd half of the walk.

From here you head down the hill to the crescent shaped reservoir. The path is very well marked from here and it takes you round the hillside overlooking Lower Barden Reservoir, from the map you can see that it isn’t much further until you arrive at Upper Barden Reservoir. The weird thing here was that when we reached Upper Barden Reservoir, the whole surface (except the metre or so on the edge) was frozen solid yet the other reservoir just 150m lower wasn’t, whether that extra few metres gave a sufficient reduction in temperature or the wind was more severe at that height/angle not I’m not sure, whichever way though it left some puzzled heads.

The path on the map heads straight up the hill via the grouse butts but this isn’t quite how it works in reality, it kicks out to the left but I suppose it lessens the incline. From here the path wends its way all the way down the boggy hill for the walk back into Eastby and ultimately back into Embsay. A gem of a hiking trail that takes you over Embsay Moor which kind of emerges out of the plains above Skipton, sort of. Some great views towards the Dales too well worth doing.

We were devastated when we found that the pub next to the car park was closed from 3pm until 7pm. We managed to secure ourselves a pint of landlord by the fire in a boozer in Ilkley instead, more than welcome! Lucky I was driving otherwise I’d have been on my seventh before I knew it.

Below is a map that my brother measured on his phone using walkmeter. I was having real problems with the best form of maps to use on here. I was trying to master the Ordnance Survey mapping system but I failed with that after some time. There are still some methods I was going to pursue but seemingly this one does it all for you, albeit onto google maps. I wasn’t too keen on the terrain view on here as it doesn’t show paths or contours as well as the other maps but will stick with this until I have mastered a better way forward.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Record Snow

We were due to walk Skiddaw yesterday but due to the excessive snow and the necessity of winter equipment (ice axes and crampons) we decided to give it a wide berth and headed for the less snowy (but still very white) Dales instead which I will go into later.

It was interesting to note however that on Thursday (the day when the Highlands ground to a halt), Glencoe received a staggering 31 inches of snow throughout the day which turned out to be the most snowfall that day for any ski resort in the world. Bearing in mind that America, Canada, Europe are all in the midst of their ski season this is pretty impressive. The rest of the Scottish resorts followed closely behind all with a crazy amount of snow. As a result skiing across all the Scottish resorts as a result is due to be awesome!

Great if you can get up there to carve it up!
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