Sunday, 28 December 2008

Don't you love it when things just work?

What sort of things, how do they work, why is it lovable when they do? Bear with me here...
I went walking in the Black Mountains today (more specifics in a moment) and had a selection of kit that just worked really well in fairly demanding circumstances. And I elaborate:
1. Scarpa ZG10 GTX boots. I have a pair of Karrimor KSB 300 gtx boots which have served me well for quite a few years now. They've been up the highest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales. They have survived summer dust, autumn mud and winter snows. Unfortunately they couldn't survive Fairy Liquid (other washing-up liquids are available). Eh? I sprained my ankle in the summer so have worn my trusty KSBs at work where Fairy has seeped onto the right boot and shorted it's proofing. Anyway, after some toing and froing, I have purchased a set of Scarpa ZG10 GTX boots. I was looking at Meindls, which are a lovely boot but just couldn't get the fit right. I have been wearing them round the house to break them in a little, and then had a stroll round the Neuadd reservoirs on Friday with Bev. Then today did an 8 miler over Pen Carreg Calch with no blisters, hot spots or chafes. They gripped the frosty rock really well and felt very "precise" when crossing broken terrain. I'm very impressed. If they fit your foot shape, I recommend them.
2. Buffalo Systems Mountain Shirt. This flys in the face of conventional thought regarding mountain walking clothing. Traditionally we are told to wear several thin layers and regulate our temperature by adding or subtracting layers as necessary. Buffalo Systems say NO! One layer, fleecy on the inside, windproof on the outside. Again, an awesome product that doesn't feel bulky but keeps you toasty. Admittedly, when the wind chill got stupid I did put my Mountain Equipment Makalu over the top but still...
3. The hood design on Mountain Equipment jackets. When you turn your head, the hood turns. Sounds simple, but try it on your jacket. More often than not you will simply see the inside of your hood! Brilliant design, makes life much easier when conditions go squelch.
4. With the Buffalo top and ME Jacket I had about £300s worth of clothing on my top half (I didn't pay full price for either, so that's £300 list). On my legs I had Swedish Army cold weatther trousers which I bought from Surplus and Adventure for £15. In terms of value for money, these are nearly off the scale. My legs weren't restricted (as sometimes you can feel when wearing thermals, trousers and over-trousers) but they were totally snug. Get some! Here's the link, now go and get some!

The thing that worked the best today was the plan. Which plan exactly? The plan to walk where I walked. You see, normally every year over the holiday period I try and do a walk in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Very often that walk will be centred on Pen Y Fan, a great mountain, but stupidly popular. It doesn't matter which route you take, the Horseshoe, the North Ridges, the plod from the Storey Arms, there will be a multitude of people, the SAS, SAS wannabes in DPM t shirts (whatever the temperature), people in wellies and tracksuits freezing their wobbly bits off, red-socked ramblers, etc. So this year I went to Pen Carreg Calch and then on to Pen Allt Mawr. This is one of my favourite walks and here's why...
PCC was the very first hill that I ventured on to solo. I had done Cadair and one of the Arans with a group, and one day decided it was time to go it alone, so off I set. Parked above Crickhowell, at a small layby by the turning for Llanbedr. 100 yards along the road and then straight up the hill, between PCC and Table Mountain. As I turned right the weather went south and the cloud cover dropped. I tentatively pressed on, not confident in my navigational skills. Eventually I turned back but was hooked. I did return that winter and did the walk in perfect conditions, snow under foot and flawless blue sky overhead. That's why I like it. Anyway, today it was very cold (car thermometer said 1.5c in the valley) and really, really windy which made it colder. There was a lot of cloud over Waun Fach and it's ridge, and some of that blew across to where I was. Then, having crossed the broad saddle between PCC and PAM, the cloud blew apart and there were truly stunning views. On the return leg along the neighbouring ridge the view back to where I had been was amazing. The elegant swoop of the ridge between PCC and PAM against the blue silken sky (thanks Bono) looked like it had been sliced with a laser. And how many people did I see whilst out and about? 1 to talk to, 2 to nod at and 2 specks on a ridge.

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