Monday 31 March 2014

The rest of the Challenge musing

There isn’t much more Challenge musing to relate to you, but I’ll jot a little something down just to keep records correct.
I’ve planned a route this year that, whilst there shouldn’t be an awful lot of road walking (or a lot of awful road walking, whichever) there shouldn’t be an awful lot for bog trotting either (or a lot of awful bog trotting, you get the picture). I decided I didn’t want to carry all 236g of my usual Rab gaiters as I would only wear them when doing a tiny amount (…ummm…) of bog trotting and carry them the rest of them time. So I searched out a lighter pair. Now, I do know that the ones I’ve plumped for are designed for use with trail shoes, but I have tried them with my boots and for the short periods of time I’ll be wearing them (…ummmm…) they’ll be just fine. Or if Laura wears her trail shoes for the Challenge, we could do a temporary swap. The ones I’ve plumped for are Trekmates Atlas gaiters, £15 and weighing in at a whole 68g.
For a treat the other weekend, TTS took me to Aviemore for the day to have my feet vacuum packed. Now, those of you in the know will know that this has nothing to do with extra freshness, this is for the purpose of having custom fit insoles made. What an utterly fascinating little trip that was to see Bob at Mountain Spirit, pad around his shop barefoot then sit on the Superfeet throne in the shop window. Joy. Bob reckoned that my life could be transformed by my new custim fit insoles, I think this may have been an exaggeration, however, I have worn them in all my footwear for the last week and my poorly foot is definitely showing signs (or feeling signs?) of improvement. I have high hopes of a not-excruciating Challenge…
And finally (I think, although I may muse some more with some chords playing in the background, musically…) my Paramo Velez Adventure Smock. TTS and I both have one of these, his is a slightly older version in bright orange with the detachable hood and mine is in grey, with a non-detachable hood. TTS had been complaining for a while that the velcro on the sleeves of his jacket no longer did so he wanted it sent back to Paramo for repair. I thought I’d send mine along at the same time as the elastic hood volume adjuster was wearing a little thin where it attaches to the jacket inside it’s little sleeve which is too hard for me to get at myself.
David’s is a registered jacket and I hoped they would recognise it as such and complete the repair foc, as per their lifetime guarantee. Mine came from Paramo 2nds however and I wasn’t sure I’d be extended the same courtesy, so I was absolutely delighted to receive a letter confirming that the repairs would indeed be carried out for free and I am expecting their return any day now, so that will be job done.
If I think of anything else, I’ll let you know..

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Musing about this year’s gear

I’m at the point of making decisions and have been having a little muse about things to take, things to replace last minute, parcels to pack and maybe one or two other things to consider. This is what has been going on in my head.

My wonderful Marmot Screepants have seen better days. The zip has a mind of its own and I’ve had to re-sew various bits of seams, so I needed to consider new trousers. I made a plump for a pair of Paramo Quito as I found them at an absolute bargain price at Whalley Warm and Dry and Laura had such success with her pair on last years Challenge. Of course, that does mean it’ll be hot and dry this year…

I also re-thought my wonderful Montane Antifreeze down jacket. I love this coat and I wear it constantly around and about, but when I take it on the Challenge I always worry about it getting damp (it has been quite wet on my Challenges so far) and because I also tend to wear my jacket in my sleeping bag as I really feel the cold when I’m tired (and I always seem to be cold and tired on the Challenge too!). It doesn’t have a hood and although I wear a hat in bed, there’s often a howling gale down the back of my neck, so I was vaguely looking at a Primaloft jacket with a hood. David found me a Montane Primus jacket at a bargain price, so that has been added to my collection and will be in my pack this year.

I also had a re-think about my water system. I’ve opted this year to use a Watertogo filter bottle to carry and drink from during the day, but I will still carry two 1ltr Platypus Soft Bottles and purification drops. I use my trusty and rather beautiful Jetboil Flash when Challenging, but this is designed to boil water for the length of time required to make it safe (just in case it’s not, I refuse to take the risk) so I use the Soft Bottles and drops to prepare water to use for my food and hot drinks.

I also have a new camera this year, an Olympus Tough. I’m getting along with this very well.

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Quito, Primus, Watertogo and Olympus Tough

I’ve also been looking for a new tent bag as I want to pack my Laser in my pack flat against my back and none of my current tent bags are good for this. I purchased a little waterproof fabric and some cord (not chord, that makes music…) and after a bit of a poke around my gear stash, found a few useful bits to help me make my own. Out came the sewing machine and this is what I made. (In fact, I made three and I still have a little fabric left…)


With ruler for scale


And again…


The flat bottom I wanted


And the construction inside


A little closer


The opening and fastening

Now, obviously, the top is not rollover and will not be watertight. If I’m not careful, my damp tent could conceivably poke out of the top! But, it won’t. Because I am careful when packing.

I have my dried food, coffee bags and Dairystix and this year, these are the only items I am sending on to myself. The packages are all ready to go in a couple of weeks time. After the first three days, I will be resupplying the fresh food I want from little local shops like a good girl and obviously indulging in good old pub grub and tea and cakes when they are available.

Back to the list and spreadsheet….

Saturday 22 March 2014

That went well!

Last year, we did a Navigation Training Day at the local forest and I did not enjoy it. I think I felt a little unprepared and out of my depth.

So this year, I planned ahead.

Yesterday I prepared a route sheet, like the participants have to for their expeditions. I thought it would be good practice as, although I have checked through their work, I’ve never made one up myself and they have never had to check through someone else’s work. This way, we could all learn.

It worked really well, my route sheet was (surprisingly) accurate and the group were able to follow it easily and we didn’t get lost. Apart from the path they took that wasn’t marked, but they very quickly realised and returned to their last known position (spot on) and found the path they wanted. And the path that was marked and there but they couldn’t see it because of the structure erected since the maps were made. They took a path going vaguely the right way, then when they met a path they judged would meet the track they wanted, they took it.

Everything was done with discussion and team work, decisions well made and executed. I was well pleased.


If you go down to the woods today…


Lunchtime bothy bag


Sharing the cookies…

And I’m going to count this as TGO training ‘cos it’s my blog and I can!

Roughly 6.84 miles and 348 ft of ascent.

Actually, brilliant fun, what an ace group I have! (The other one is a bit, iffy.)

Monday 10 March 2014

Lovely day for a stroll

Having had a quiet end to the week last week and enforced sports shoe shopping on Sunday, I didn’t have to spend anytime this morning persuading myself out for a longer stroll under never-ending clear blue skies. I didn’t want to travel too far out of town as I wasn’t prepared for a long day, so I parked at Dallas Dhu Distillery and set off onto the Altyre Estate.

It was a lovely warm day and even though I was actively trying to slow my pace (I failed as I got further into my walk) I hadn’t got very far before I needed to stop and remove a layer. I set off again wearing just my t-shirt under my windshirt, just to keep the breeze off my arms.


Pleasant woodland

It’s quite pleasant woodland walking through this local estate, with quite a lot of history and interesting wildlife. They also don’t seem to mind walkers and anyone I’ve ever met there has always been friendly.


Pretty crocus




Tree blossom


The estate is littered with little bits of history


The pond, with resident swans

I wandered on passed the house and took the path round the side. It gets much quieter on these paths, the dog walkers don’t tend to make the effort to go this far and I don’t usually meet so many people. It was along this little stretch I inadvertently tried out the claims of my new Olympus Tough to be shockproof. After a quick check, the camera appeared to have only suffered a few minor scuffs and turned on and off normally. Phew. I soon found myself at the little ford that I crossed most recently with Mick and Gayle last summer, only this time the trees and undergrowth have been removed to clear the little footbridge, so that was the route I took this time.


The bridge and the ford


Not a difficult paddle

Shortly after the ford, the path turns sharply uphill and bends round to meet High Drive Wood. A couple of years ago when I first walked this track, there were magnificent clear views over the estate to the Moray Firth and to the hills beyond. Now the beautiful views have to be carefully snatched by finding a handy tree stump to stand on. I’m such a dare devil! The track is also usually a major mudfest, as is quite a lot of the estate to be fair, but currently the track is incredibly dry, a sign of our dry, mild winter this year.


Shiny silver birch




Large blue skies

It was as I was taking photographs along this track that I noticed a problem with my camera. It would turn on and take photographs which I could review, but if I turned the camera from landscape to portrait to take a photograph, the screen would fade to black. It would however still take a photograph. I was cross and upset and this is probably what led to my gaining pace at this point in my walk.


The usually muddy track


The muddiest it got

The track eventually crosses one of the remaining bridges over the dismantled railway now maintained as a long distance path, the Dava Way. I have walked the entire route of the Way from Grantown on Spey several times and although I love the route that it takes, the change in landscape and environment, I hate the first part of the Way underfoot, as far as about Dunphail. It is the remains of a rail bed, quite literally, and as such is quite unpleasant to walk on I find.


Bridge over the Dava Way


I’m usually on the Way going under the bridge

I crossed this bridge and then followed the track as it turns and leads down onto the Way. I then continued on the Way passed Gallows Hill Wood and Woodside back to the distillery.


Another sign of how dry things are, this pit is two feet deep and usually full of dark, stinky water


In the distance, left of centre, Rafford church. On the horizon, the ruins of Blervie Castle


New barriers…


…spoils the beautiful, but low, bridge wall

The woods were, as usual, alive with wildlife. There was a Greater Spotted Woodpecker drilling  on a tall tree, just feet from the track I was on. A dear little Wren, scolding me from a nearby tree, a charm of chattering Goldfinches and countless other birds, singing their spring song. It was a lovely day for a stroll.

Approximately 6.7 miles and 817 ft ascent.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Nine weeks and two days..

That’s not long really, is it? I have more or less completed all my planning since our route was positively vetted by 12th November. Our travel to the start is booked, as is all our accommodation as we cross Scotland and for when we arrive in Montrose. I have printed off all my maps and they are tucked away in my Challenge box along with our route sheet and the real maps I’ll be carrying. I think I now have all the kit I wanted for my next Challenge (I have a list somewhere that I really should find and indulge in a bit of ticking…just to make sure) and since yesterday, I also have the main meals and puddings I’ll be taking.

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2014-03-05 11.19.05


This year, I have done a bit of searching and looking around. I have previously used Real Turmat, which was nice but expensive (even with a discount applied) and then of course there’s p&p. I don’t think I’ve taken Real Turmat on the Challenge, but I have used Fuizion on the Challenge before, which was nice, a better price and at the time I ordered, p&p was free. They then had problems, hence I looked around for alternatives and although they are now up and running again, I’ve decided to try elsewhere regardless. Reason being? Well, although they’re meals were okay, I found some things didn’t rehydrate well (mushrooms spring immediately to mind…) and I found the choice although large, strangely limiting. Even the simple options were too spicy, which I find tricky when I tend to eat my meal then cuddle up straight up in my sleeping bag. It just doesn’t quite suit me.

So, thanks to a timely reminder from Mr Pieman, (I’d forgotten where I’d been and couldn’t find it again!) this year, I’ve tried Mountain Trails. I haven’t eaten a meal yet, but so far the service has been outstanding. I ordered my meals on Friday 28th February, just before 4pm. By 7pm on the same day, my order had been despatched. It was delivered yesterday at lunchtime, how good is that? In the box was not only my order, all present and correct, but two free gifts! What can I say?

The food packs themselves are looking good. They are small and neat by comparison to some others and will fit easily in my pack. They should also be more robust and having had one or two minor puncture issues in the past, I’m hoping it won’t be a problem this year. There is also a choice of portion size. I have plumped for the smaller portions as I tend to have an issue forcing food down when I’m Challenging and hate being over-faced. For the greedy/hungry hiker, there are bigger portions. A brilliant idea, I thought. Another stroke of genius is packaging the rice or mashed potato portion in a separate pouch. I much prefer the idea of being able to distinguish the accompaniments in my meal, especially the mashed potato with the Minced Beef Dinner. Great.

Cost wise, they were very reasonably priced and as I ordered ten main meals and four desserts (light to carry and sometimes I can force down a pud more easily…) I was over the £50 minimum for free postage as well. Bonus!

I won’t be carrying all my meals from the start. I have no qualms about sending my freeze dried main meals to three convenient collection points. As we cross Scotland, we will be stopping at various points of civilisation to buy breakfast/lunch items and to enjoy the odd cup of tea and slice of cake, as is our wont. This way, I get the meals I want but we also give a little support to the local economy, a pleasing compromise.

All I need to do now is pack…