Saturday, 16 August 2014

A tawny owl or two

There has been a pair of resident owls nearby for as long as I can remember, but this year, for whatever reason, I have seen them far more frequently and closer than ever before.
I had also presumed they were barn owls - but after a particularly close encounter and a few lucky photos, I'm inclined to think this one at least is a tawny owl. It seemed wrong somehow to return indoors while he sat so close, but the rain was falling, so I stepped back inside and watched from the living room window for another few minutes before he left as silently as he'd arrived.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Winters past and Summers to come

Researching an idea for a trip to its northern coastline, I couldn't help looking back over some photos taken in Norway, during a bitterly cold week in February that provided my first real experience of pure ice climbing. Before then, my winter climbing had involved the mix of névé and frozen turf so typical of routes in the Lakes and Cairngorms - my usual destinations. This however, was something entirely different. In many ways, it was more akin to cragging, single pitch routes dominating the agenda. 
Entirely unlike the winter mountaineering days at home, borne out of a necessity for height to find suitable conditions, here we stepped from the door into temperatures that averaged -15C. Which was cold even for Norway in February, the norm in this area at that time of year being -8C. After the UK winter of 2009/10 (when temperatures in the Dales fell to -17C) and to a lesser degree the two that followed, it seems less remarkable, but we had yet to experience such prolonged cold at home at the time of this trip.
And of course it was the reason we were there - except that such severe temperatures (as low as -25C on some days) simply make the ice brittle - disconcerting when another 'dinner plate' shatters beneath the pick and calves tire, crampon clad boots feeling cumbersome, clumsy tools when more used to the delicate precision of rock shoes. But that delicate finesse is essential on pure ice - more so the colder it becomes. 
I found the climbing hard. And at times disconcertingly insecure - the delicate tap of the pick so unlike a bomber axe placement in good névé or turf. An accident or two didn't help, one of our group breaking an ankle on the descent following an impromptu solo. Another unfortunate breaking a leg in a nasty ground fall, landing as he did on the remnants of a collapsed icicle, some two feet in diameter. Arriving at the scene immediately after the fall, we helped as best we could, trying to keep the casualty warm - that afternoon was -18C if I recall correctly - until he was airlifted from the bed of the gorge, the frozen waterfalls adorning either side forming the routes that minutes earlier had seemed so tempting. In fact, having walked in, we decided to climb anyway, though enthusiasm was somewhat diminished that afternoon in particular.
It was an eye opening trip and looking back over the guide books, there seem to be so many routes that look so good...perhaps I will go back but first I hope, in Summer, to the coast.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Hilleberg Nammatj 2 GT

Following a period of extensive testing, checking on all the important details, the Hilleberg Nammatj 2 GT has proved it justifies the eye-wateringly-expensive* price tag.

Pitching is child's play...

Walk-in** single doorway...

All mod-cons provided...

Giant vestibule to accommodate even the largest of lunch boxes...

And room to stretch - whichever end your head is.

But of course your tent is only really as good as the places it takes you. 
And for those who have endured rather than enjoyed their nights in the wild, you will already know what doesn't work. Put simply - this is a tent that does.

*Purchased second-hand, this tent had already been over Mt McKinley and has put up with more abuse than most since then without a hitch
**Height of reviewer: approx 34 inches

Monday, 4 August 2014

Bongos and braces at Bamburgh

The forecast was for surf - around 1m or 3ft of it coupled with some strongish offshore winds that I hoped would hold up the waves - which is basically what happened. With a fairly constant wind hovering at F5/6 and some stronger gusts, it was often difficult to accelerate quickly enough to catch the waves forming from a gentle swell further out - the result being caught in a veil of spray with rainbows forming to either side...
The images here were taken in the first few minutes before paddling south beneath the castle in search of better, and what turned out to be some significantly bigger waves.
Having paddled less this year, it was an interesting exercise in technique revealing more than a few flaws, but great fun nonetheless.
Above, Chris catches a face full...
...and then a lovely wave close in.
Running across another wave typical of the day.
A short afternoon then, but filled with the intensity that even smaller surf provides along with more than its share of bongos and braces beyond the beautiful sands of Bamburgh.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

The route ahead is steep and cold...

In the last decade and a bit, the outdoor sector has changed almost beyond recognition. Once iconic brands have fallen by the wayside - along with so many of the independent retailers - while others remain, a poor imitation of past form. Adventure has become so misused a term as to be rendered meaningless and others, like 'wellness' have become the buzz words of marketeers selling a lifestyle in the form of another poorly constructed pack, shoddy boots or flimsy tent. It is an industry moving ever further from its roots, in danger of losing sight of the qualities that underpinned its success, qualities that remain essential to its survival. Perhaps it is already too late. Even Disney sells adventure these days. Wilderness trips, packaged just how you want them - to suit your family's preferences, size and budget they say. And this is the competition that today's outdoor industry faces, the realisation causing consternation for more than a few. And so it should - for their customer is one and the same: no longer the adventurer, but the mainstream consumer.
And yet beyond such change, this blurring of boundaries, the spirit remains. Independent souls quietly getting on with what they have always done. Unconcerned by the masses, challenging themselves as did those who inspired them. It is not 'wellness' they are seeking nor is it escapism. It is simply a way of life; the only way for them that is worth living. They are crossing oceans, running giant rapids and exploring the greater ranges, climbing new routes of difficulties unfathomable to most. More still, find challenges closer to home: a new descent on the bike, an old test piece at the crag or headland to pass...adventure remains, great and small, at home and abroad, for those that choose it. It is there in industry too. Among the old and the new, are brands that remain true to its spirit. One such is Jottnar.
Its founders - whom I am genuinely delighted to be working with - active mountaineers, their product conceived in, tested among and refined for use amid the harsh reality of high mountains, virgin snow, steep ice and frozen turf. Clean lines, disciplined design and attention to detail - these are the hallmarks of Jottnar. Enduring quality, functionality and technical performance the qualities its founders have committed to. In the face of change - unwilling to become the wagging tail now the larger part of the outdoor animal brought to heel by corporate giants - it is not a route without risk. But then there is no adventure without risk.
And for those privileged few that accept it, there are some things that will never change: "the route ahead is steep and cold; exactly how we like it."

The video below was made by friend of Jottnar, Keiron Ross, during the endless Scottish winter of 2012/13. Filmed on Ben Nevis and in Glen Coe, it includes occasional glimpses of the jacket and salopette - early prototypes of the Bergelmir and Vanir, both of which owe their development to that particularly long and cold winter which provided such an outstanding testing environment.


Read the full story here:

Conquering giants - the story of Jottnar