My Climbing 2016 in Pictures

 

Helmets for Big Heads 2

Whether it’s due to excess brains or empty space, I have a larger than average head. This makes it hard to find headwear that fits. Anything marked “one size fits all” does not include me in the definition of “all”. This might be only an annoyance if I were not a rock climber. I need a helmet to protect my head from falling rocks, dropped bits of gear, smacking my head into a cliff when falling off and banging my head against overhangs (which is a habit of mine). If a helmet is to protect my head properly, then it has to fit properly. Unfortunately, there is only a small selection of helmets that will fit my big head.

Me climbing at Stanage in the Salewa Vega helmet.
Me climbing at Stanage in the Salewa Vega helmet.

My head is a bit over 62cm in circumference but most climbing helmets on the market only go up to a circumference of 61cm. I don’t think I’m the only climber whose head is bigger than 61cm in circumference and so I have written the following helmet guide for climbers with generous heads. Read more

The Winter Mountaineer

In 2007 I went on a course that gave me the confidence and knowledge I needed to start exploring mountains in winter conditions. Years later, I decided I wanted to advance my skills and learn how to move over more difficult winter terrain. That’s why, last week, I went back to Glenmore Lodge, the Scottish National Outdoor Training Centre, to do a winter mountaineering course.

This course gave me an improved understanding of how to read the mountain environment and so make better judgments on the safest route. I’ve looked at avalanche and weather forecasts in the past before going out in winter, but the instructors gave these more depth and meaning by teaching how they related to the landscape I was going through. They emphasised being attentive and pointed out how to spot clues in the snow conditions under foot and in how the snow changed with the terrain. Read more

’tis the season of competitions

A page from the January 2015 edition of Trail magazine and some tinsel.
A page from the January 2015 edition of Trail magazine and some tinsel.

Christmas is the season for giving. It is also the season for lots of really good competitions for outdoor clothing and equipment. Just as the shops put out their Christmas wears come December, so a range of shops, magazines and forums put on generous competitions for the sorts of goodies that outdoor enthusiasts would love to have in their Christmas stockings. It’s a fairly blatant attempt to boast sales during a peak buying period, but I don’t care, as I like entering competitions so much. Here is my run-down of the competitions I will be entering religiously over the next couple of weeks. Read more

The Quintessential Climber

Climbers at Froggatt Edge
Climbers at Froggatt Edge

People who like rock climbing are apparently more likely to enjoy eating gruel and poppy seed rolls, live in Wales, be middle class and describe themselves as analytical and practical, but occasionally neurotic. This is according to YouGov Profiler, a new, free app that allows you to look at survey data from polling company YouGov. It’s designed as a taster for the much more in-depth, paid-for YouGov Profiles that is YouGov’s segmentation and media-planning tool for PR agencies and brands.  It’s quite fun to input random things into YouGov Profiler to see what it can tell you about people and their interests. However, looking through the occasionally quirky results from this app made me wonder if some people are admitting things in surveys that they aren’t sharing with their friends at the crag or if YouGov might need to talk to a few more climbers. Read more

Getting Out in Rab’s MeCo 120 Boxer Shorts

Boxer shorts from Rab made out of 120 weight MeCo fabric.
Boxer shorts from Rab made out of 120 weight MeCo fabric.

There are some items of outdoor gear that you don’t often see reviewed in the outdoor magazines and websites. Jackets, tents, rucksacks, baselayers, softshells, fleeces and boots all get regularly tested and reviewed in detail, but outdoor underwear doesn’t get reviewed much and, if it does, the reviews tend to be a bit cursory. Maybe it’s because it’s a little hard to review briefs, boxer shorts and so on without descriptions getting too graphic or crude and using photos that give the review an adult rating. That’s a bit of a shame because good underwear can make days in the mountains more comfortable. So, to redress the balance and point out the virtues of good mountain undies, this is my review of the Rab’s MeCo 120 Boxer. Just to be clear before we start, there are no photos of me testing this underwear (there’s no telling where they may end up if I post them online), but there might be some graphic details. Read more

Woolly Hats for Big Heads

Me on a windy day in the Brecon Beacons wearing the Mammut Eisberg Beanie.
Me on a windy day in the Brecon Beacons wearing the Mammut Eisberg Beanie.

One size does not always fit all.  My larger than average head means that I have quite a bit of trouble finding any hats that fit.  This can be a problem as a woolly hat is essential for keeping my head warm on cold, windy mountains (particularly as I increasingly have less hair to do this job).  I don’t think that I’m the only person in this situation as people keep coming to an earlier post of mine via Google searches for climbing helmets for people with bigger or extra large heads.  So, for those of us blessed with a generous cranium and a love of the mountains, here are my reviews of some of the woolly hats for hiking and climbing that I’ve found fit my head. Read more

Ropes into Rugs and Other Ways to Recycle and Reuse Outdoor Gear

Old gear pile_1Lurking under my bed, buried in a drawer, shut in a box or in the dark in my wardrobe.  These are the places where my unused outdoor gear lives.   These are the bits of hiking and climbing gear, clothing and equipment that have been superseded when I upgraded to new, better kit, no longer work as well as they should, never really fitted me that well or were retired because they too old to be safe any more.  Now they take up space in my small London flat and provide a home for dust bunnies.  I’ve decided that they need to go.  I’ve also decided when they do go I want them to be put to good use rather than rotting or rusting away in a landfill.

A few of my unused bits of gear are still perfectly functional and someone could use them if I can get them to a new owner by selling or donating them.  However, there are some things that couldn’t have this second life with someone else.   For example, climbing ropes, slings and harnesses all degrade over time and past a certain age they have to be permanently retired because there is a risk that they will break in a fall.  However, this doesn’t mean I couldn’t reuse my old climbing rope by turning it into a rug (see SummitPost for some instructions on how to do this yourself).   The plastics and metal in my old gear could also be recycled and made into something else. Read more

Review of Rab’s Neostretch Gaiters

Rab’s new and award-winning NeoStretch Gaiters have great breathability and lots of clever touches, but a few simple design issues stop them from being perfect.

In the mudI’ve got mixed feelings about gaiters.  They’re brilliant for keeping snow and water out of your boots, but they can make for lower legs that are hot and damp with the sweat the gaiters haven’t allowed to escape.  This is a particular problem on those days in the mountains when it’s warm, but gaiters are still needed.  Even if rain isn’t forecast and the sun shines warmly, gaiters can be essential because of the risk of putting your foot into a bog or slipping when crossing a stream.  In Alpine conditions you can be toasted while on a sun-baked glacier and have to wear gaiters to cope with the snow on the peaks you’re going to climb.  Rab hold out the promise that their NeoStretch Gaiters will make life more comfortable in such situations by combining one of the new breed of highly breathable fabrics and Rab’s usual, excellent design work.  To see if this was true, I tried these gaiters out on walks in a snowy Lake District as well as warm weather and continuous, sometimes torrential, rain in Snowdonia. Read more

Outdoor Gear Competition Nut

I love entering competitions for rock climbing and hiking gear.  I like the possibility, no matter how small, that I might be lucky enough to win shiny new stuff.  It allows me to daydream that the latest, most technologically advanced piece of kit that I can’t really justify buying or else couldn’t afford might be mine.  Wanting new outdoor gear is like lusting after the latest smart phone or must have gadget.  Competitions provide me with a chance to have this gear and I enter as many competitions as I can.

Some of the magazines I look for competitions in.
Some of the magazines I look for competitions in.

Its not just competitions to win gear that you can enter – there are also competitions to win opportunities to put such gear to use.  There are often competitions with the prize of taking you and a friend away to mountains around the world or of being coached by a top climber.  Money and time stop me having these experiences the vast majority of the time, but a few clicks on an online competition and I can daydream about being the lucky winner of a trip to the Rockies or to ski in the Alps.

The odds of me winning any of these competitions are small, but the odds are much worse if you don’t enter and the possibility of winning is fun. Read more

The Beauty of Rime

Rime on a boulder on the summit of Glyder Fawr in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales.
Rime on a boulder on the summit of Glyder Fawr in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales.

I love rime.  I love how these tails of ice seem to form on rocks, fences, walls, posts and anything bold enough to stand upright on a frozen, windy mountain.  I love how rime’s strange, white crystalline structures seem to sprout from the dark surfaces of rocks to either bring them into relief or bury them in ice.  It amazes me that rime can form as a razor of ice down one side of a single blade of grass and as an icy lattice inches deep on a wire fence.  What I especially love about rime is how it adds a new beauty and character to these small things as well as to a whole mountain landscape.  Rime is also wonderful for being something that is superficially simple – frozen water – that forms from an interesting process into something varied and complex. Read more

Be Seen on the Mountain

I couldn’t see where the cries for help were coming from.  The rocky hulk of Tryfan was almost black in the twilight and was shrouded in cloud.  I could tell the shouts of help were definitely coming from high on Tryfan’s west face, but they were just disembodied voices in the growing dark.

The Moon over the west face of Tryfan in Snowdonia National Park, Wales.
The Moon over the west face of Tryfan in Snowdonia National Park, Wales.

I was in a group that had climb Tryfan earlier in the day before moving on to climb Glyder Fach next door.  It was November and we had decided to head down by the Y Gribin ridge as the light dimmed.  Cutting cross-country to get back to the cars, we heard cries of “help!” and headed in their direction to see what we could do. Read more

UPDATE – Totally Recalled

It’s been reported that an emergency meeting of the Safety Commission of the UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme – International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation) will be held this week because of concerns over the safety of via ferrata lanyards from several manufacturers.

My Edelrid via ferrata lanyards in use

A couple of weeks ago Edelrid recalled some of its via ferrata lanyards after a fatal accident on a via ferrata in Austria.  Since then, manufacturers Wild Country, AustriAlpin, Singing Rock, Climbing Technology and Edelweiss have all issued their own recalls on their via ferrata lanyards.  Apparently, initial research is suggesting that grit in intensively used, elasticated lanyards abrades the nylon and causes the lanyards to fail to hold a falling climber.

I did a post on the original Edelrid recall as I think it is intriguing how much trust climbers and mountaineers put in the equipment they use and the people who make it.  My feeling is that we can probably trust manufacturers to warn us if our gear is potentially unsafe because of the premium their customers put on safety.

This wave of recalls shows there is a widespread problem with a particular type of product, but it’s not a universal recall of all via ferrata lanyards.  Read more

In praise of Builders Bars

It’s hard to write about Builders Bars without sounding like an advert.  They may only be protein bars, but they are great protein bars.  They are also brilliantly convenient if you want to recover after rock climbing and don’t want the hassle of protein powder drinks.

A Builders Bar

Clif, the company that makes the eponymous power bar, makes Builders Bars.  They are basically chocolate-coated biscuit bars that contain 20g of protein for building muscle and aiding recovery after exercise.  There is even a picture of a ripped climber on the packaging to give you an idea of what to aim for (I’m still trying). Read more