Lochaber June 2010 - kit list and logistics

So, firstly, the getting there.  From nearly the bottom to nearly the top.  After two horrendous flights back on Ryanair (coming from a German music festival and the Picos mountains) we had already vowed not to fly shorthaul in the forseeable, even before the volcanic ash debacle, so alternate means were required.  My family and I took a road trip to the Highlands from inglorious Croydon when I was a teenager (my mum is from Inverness originally) - it took 14 long hours to get there.  I knew that with T's 16 year old Corsa and our slow 'n steady driving that wasn't an option.  Then, someone mentioned the sleeper train.  Do they still have those in the UK?
 
Yes, they most certainly do.  And it's a hefty little dreamer called 'the deerstalker'.

 

If you are careful about when you get the tickets, you can pick them up for £60-88 per person, per journey.  If you're not so careful they cost alot more.  We were careful.  The berths are tiny but perfectly formed.  The matronly stewards bring you teas, coffees and a shortbread in the morning, and when you get up, you are motoring gently through the wilds of Corrour!

Frankly, this is a no-brainer.  I know a few people who fly within the UK and you, my dear friends, are fools.  Yes, it looks cheaper, but even if you don't buy the brand of over-easy 'green makeover' politics Westminster peddles, there is NO reason to fly within our green and pleasant land....because you'll have to hire a car or catch a train or bus AFTER you leave the plane, to get you to the actual destination.  So if you factor in the total costs of getting to and from the air-conditioned-nightmare-on-wings, there's little difference.  Ah yes, and theres those 'other' costs: us catching a plane means someone on a coastline will die of drowning, starvation or waterborne disease within the next 40 years...or maybe sooner.  Not so convenient for them, or for us as island dwellers, where more and more land is at risk from flooding every year.  Just ask the people of Cockermouth.

Oh, but the time, I hear you cry.  It takes sooo long by public transport, and my life is just too busy and important.  Well no, actually, it doesn't, and NO, it most definitely isn't!  The sleeper was door to door within 12hrs, about 8 of which we were, um, sleeping.  Had we had flown we'd have set off early or mid morning, and arrived very late on the same evening, thereby wasting a day of our break, each way, whilst being fully awake and quite bored, possibly even booking a B&B for the night to recover.  Think of the money you could be earning, and not spending on the hotel, if that helps.

Then again, who gives a monkeys about your life? - unless you're a neurosurgeon accompanying a giant purple alien brain on a mission essential to the survival of this little rock we're adrift on, get out of the skies!  I'm guessing most of us aren't that neurosurgeon.


Besides, how can we countenance walking in the mountains, with all that entails, and go by plane?  Did we learn nothing from being out there?!  Respect is due, and we can start with ourselves and the places we love to visit.

But even if you disagree with me completely on a moral or ecological basis, and the scientific evidences and the way they are used and abused by all of us to justify our positions one way or another, you might have to agree that financially and practically it makes good sense not to fly.  And so, our holiday starts with the journey there,  with a cup of something and a good read in the lounge car before bed, a journey which still burns fossil fuel but considerably less than via other means.  The train was bloomin' ace, give it a go if you haven't already.


The Inevitable Kit List -

Yes indeed, people (including me I'm afraid) love to read this stuff so here it is - I have grave concerns about the attempted monetisation of every single aspect of our lives (including the act of putting one foot in front of the other) but that said, such lists are extremely useful to novices like myself.  I'm keeping tabs on my own preparation now, just a means of tracking weight and need on different trips.

I'm not including linkage because it'll take me ages, you're intelligent people who can cut n paste with the best of 'em, and too often blog links are obsolete within a few months anyhow.  I'll include approximate weights where I know them, we don't own digital scales yet.


Our Total Weight - His: about 9kg
                                 Hers: about 7kg 

excluding clothes we stand in, and water, but including food.  Both still too heavy, though much much better than 11-12kg (without cooking kit or food) on the Picos last year. 
 
Firstly, Grub, which probably should come last (or at least sit between the shoulder blades):


Here's what we took between 2, for a week.  It weighed in at about 4Kg of dry food, which we split at 2.5kg for me, and 1.5kg for T (which worked out according to our relative BMI's etc).  We also packed pitta, cheese, brocoli, sweets and whatever else we could find on the way, so the weight creeps up more on the trail.  Food is easily the heaviest thing in your pack.

It included about 100gms of porridge a day each (on the left), some homemade GORP, various assorted dehydrated meals (rice tasty, pasta not so), two lots of homemade cous cous with herbs, spices and dried mushrooms/tomatoes, assorted vitamin pills, a dram of olive oil, teas, coffees and hot chocs (heavy but good for rehydro'd moccas on those sluggish mornings), a tin of fish, and some soups and noodles.

Given we were heading into civilisation every 2-3 days it was WAY too much to carry, and we could have restocked on the way.  That said, this was a road test of carrying a weeks worth of food for the Pyrenees...and I think we'll carry less in the future, all round, wherever we go.  It was simply too much.


The rest -


Tent 
(and repair kit) - Storm Ultralite - 2kg with modification - this was about £60 from field and trek and basically its pretty similar to that Argos tent that everyone was on about a while ago.  It ain't perfect but with some additional guys at the front its now pretty rock solid and seems to be holding up - we plan to wear it out and then get something proper from MLD, Hilleberg or TN.  I was nervous about modding but then I realised that a tent is just a sheet with ropes attached, stretched over a pole or two.  Its design and materials that count, not concept.  I've shaved about 300gms off the original weight by using a combination of Titanium tent pegs (6gm each) and some aluminum Y pegs (9gm, a PTC tip) for the guys, which make the pitch really solid.  The extras guys are just paracord and mini line locks - most of this stuff I got from Backpacking Light UK, and its turned a rubbish tent into a fair one.

Rucksack
Go lite Pinnacle, 70ltr - 900gms  -  good bags, light, tough (though mine sprung a seam on the second day, not serious).

Sleeping bag
Go lite 3 season Adrenaline - a little on the heavy side at about 900gms, but its 900% downy goodness, and who am I kidding, our previous ones were twice that weight.  It probably is a bit too warm for summer in the valleys, but they'll cover us for colder months or above 2000m.  We slept like the dead, very very comfy indeed.

Silk liner
for the sleeping bags, about 40gms or so, good for keeping yr bag clean and using as a sheet when the bag is too hot to zip up.  Also adds warmth.

Sleeping mat
slightly trimmed multimat, very comfy and much lighter than an airbed.  Used as internal pack stiffener. About 190gms.

Kitchen
2 red cups/2 plastic bowls/2 sporks - old cheapie stuff from Woolies picnic hamper, but light!
1 plastic plate - same, didnt use.
(not so) sharp kitchen knife
- about 130gms altogether.

Pot, pot cosy & pot grab.
AGG 2 ltr, about 210gms all told - a fraction big for 2 but not by much, well crafted, survived open fire cooking.

Stove
Whitebox duo meths stove and windshield, 60gms of pure recycled aluminum genius, burns like a bastard but efficiency falls inevitably in stronger winds.  Fuel is a major weight contributor, watch out!  I'd like a wood burning option in the future, as we had fires nearly every night of wild camping, where there were old hearths available, and meths is heavy to carry, and polluting stuff (although not as evil as canister fuel, which just becomes landfill at the end of its life).

Lighter
x2, 1 each, worth getting something better than disposables, I need to practice my firesteel technique!

Nappy pins
x4 - super useful for all sorts of things including repairs and drying clothes.

2m Gaffer tape roll
approx 80gms, didn't use and its weighty but piece of mind for longer trips.

First aid kit
about 300gms, basic ebay one (added neurofen, compeed/blister repair - needle and thread) - only used the nurofen, and I have since stripped this out some more for our next trip.

Water purification tablets
life venture ones, tasted fine, we didn't die of the dead-sheep-lurgy.

Torches
x 2 - eco windable head torch, 130gms, and solar LED torch.  Former was great in wales in darker months but useless in Scotland where it stayed light until 11pm.  Latter was another object of wonder from Bob and Rose for about a fiver, and weighs next to nothing.  I love that I don't have to carry batteries any more.

Cameras
(and spare batteries!) - Panasonic LX3 in my case, ooh, about 700gms ish at a guess.  A good camera in the wrong hands, a great camera in the right hands.  About the best of the compacts out there, I wish it had a viewfinder tho.  I bought a polarizer this time, and don't rate the results so far.  Eventually I'll get a grown up camera.

Phones
x2 - new iphoney in my case - genius for checking MWIS.  Not so genius for getting updates on your disintegrating freelance life from afar.

Suncream
essential, even for Scotland.  T has this creamy hardcore stuff from Spain that goes on like foundation and stops us palefaces frying.  Make the Zoolander face and pucker up, buttercup.

Bug spray and midge coils
we went eco but the zesty smelling 'bug off' stuff only worked for about 5 minutes at a time against the wee buggers.  Midge coils were good.  Gonna try 'Smidge' next time, trying to avoid the DEET....altho the blood sucking critters are tenacious indeed - its my own fault for expelling too much hot air no doubt.

Midge head nets
homemade by in-house tailor T, effective but need smaller mesh - will buy 'real' ones next time when we find ones that aren't funereally black.

Wash kit
Dr. Bronners stuff was ace, washes you, your clothes and your dishes.  Razor fairly pointless, shaved once.  Antihistamine, Arnica and Deep Heat lotions and potions a necessary luxury.

Pack Towel
MSR rules the world of shammy cloths for the human body, these things are amazing, though I've yet to convince T her 350gms full size thing is in need of replacement.  Something to do with comfort, or modesty, or something.  She did use mine every day of wild camping though!

Shizzle kit
loo roll, homemade 'Colin Ibbotson' trowel (from tent peg), hand san.

Water bottle
x 2, Lifesource, 2ltrs each in handy foldaway.  Not sure if these leach plastics!?

Document case
Ortleib, for maps, tickets etc.  A4 was too big, I should have got the smaller one....but it'll double as a map case for France.

Whistles
6gms each, I got em cos I liked the colour and its a concession to safety.  (Actually we did use them once to find each other!)

Packliner
rubble sack from B&Q, probably unnecessary but ye never know.

Drybags and stuffsacks
a combination of Pod Ultralights and Sea to Summit bags, well handy.

Maps
I took 5 x A5 laminated copies of 2 OS maps, which worked out very well, if very expensive!  The OS wasn't all that accurate in places, will be buying Harveys maps for next time.

Sit mats
2 squares of old foam sleeping mat cut down, invaluable.

A lock bags
Sainsburys.  These are your plastiky friends for food, rubbish and electronics.

Poles
Mountain king carbon fibre x 2 for him, unbranded but bright orange (!!) shorter kids pole x 1 for her.
  


Clothes -

Underwear 
x2  - Icebreaker merino wool, about as brilliant as personal hygiene gets, washes and dries very fast.

Socks
x4, 2 too many.  Again, Smartwool merino are shaping up to be the best and least offensive after 2 days on your feet.  I use the light crews because I get hot feet.

Trousers
x1 - Montane terra converts - faultless for 2 season walking, except I bought the wrong size for a shortarse.  They got pretty mucky after a week so I've since bought some cheap walking shorts I can use on wash day for the Pyrenees.

Tights
TNF for evening/sleeping - useful, tho' will use aforementioned shorts for the hi summer.

Baselayer
x3 Icebreaker merino wool, 1 too many. Long sleeve 200gms was hot on 1 day, 150gm was better.  Believe what the experts (not me!) tell you and stick to 'wear one, wash one' rule.

Mid layer
Montane horizon jacket - a heavy mid at 370gms approx, but its warm, it vents, it dries quickly, its electric blue with chocolate flashes, I'm in love.

Down jacket
Montane anti freeze - 580gm approx, possibly could have done without these in the warmer weather, but a good investment for cooler climes and climbs.  T was very sceptical but feels the cold and ended up using hers more and more as the week progressed.  Its possible primaloft would be more suitable for UK stuff, we'll see.

Waterproofs
Sprayway, 750gms, and Peter Storm trews, both very bulky, extremely heavy and bloody annoying to carry, since it only rained twice (and not really very much). Would love to replace both but feels extravagant if they have some wear still in them, but really need to look into lighter and more packable alternatives. Rab stuff looks good, might even get a windshirt only for Pyrenees and risk the odd storm.  
 

Gloves
Sealskin waterproofs, completely useless this time, though great in wales.  Won't pack for France.

Hats
x 2, Boonie and Beanie for hot and cold.  The boonie alone would have been sufficient this time.

Scarf
Afghan - light, warm, and for sun protection, these are great.  We ended up cutting my one into 2 so as both of us could cover our necks on sunnier days.  About 3 quid from ebay, as worn by skinny jean tribe in Hoxton - cool, daddio.

Footwear
Meindl full on leather boots for him, lighter weight Brasher for her.  I haven't quite got into the swing of this 'approach shoe' thang for the trail as yet...I'm open to persuasion and I wear them the rest of the time, but after spraining my ankle badly a month before the off, and walking through a fair few boggy bits, I was glad of some olde school protection for the Highlands.  Damn stick in the mud.


.............................
 
So, all in all, the experts among you will see that we made quite a few mistakes and still took way too much stuff, partly in anticipation of colder weather and partly just because we're still green at thru-hiking - I reckon we can shave a good kilo off this almost straight away.  Those less expert than even I, could learn from our naivety and refrain from anything but the essentials - of course, experience is the great teacher here: this was our first time walking in the Highlands.  My pack got really comfy as the food ran out, down to about 7kgs, and it makes a real difference to the experience when you're out there, so I guess that's something to aim for - it may take some time!


The actual trip report and photees will be along in due course.