Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Hadrian's Wall Path - A Brief History of Time

It was in mid-2007, during one of our sadly infrequent periods of working together that my, now, hillwalking chum observed me poring over a map of the Hadrian’s Wall Long Distance Path. It had been years, in fact decades, since he had last trodden boggy, rocky ground to a summit to gaze wistfully at the earth a thousand metres below and the sight of the map ignited in him a lost passion. Life conspired against us and it was not until early 2009 that we set aside the October of last year to spend 5 days hiking from Carlisle to Newcastle. We took that route in order to arrive in Newcastle at the end to see friends.

Over many evenings, and many bottles of wine and pints of ale, we discussed, plotted and enthused. We purchased, for him, new kit and it was enthralling to observe him become increasingly bemused by the technical advances in fabrics and materials since he last pitched a canvas tent in a Gore-Tex jacket that cost as much as a Ford Capri and some fluffy dice, and rucksacks were dressed in fabrics robust enough to stop anti-tank rounds. When October finally rolled around, we drove up to Newcastle to leave the car with our friends before taking the rattler from Newcastle to Carlisle. As we sat in the train, rucksacks on the seat next to us, the sun began to dip below the horizon spreading its dusky, rosy hue across the landscape we were soon to experience. Pulling into Carlisle station, we shrugged on our packs and made our way to our pleasantly charming B&B to drop off kit and find something to eat - the next day would be the start of something special and the anticipation pawed at us like a playful puppy. We located a small Italian eaterie, surmising that pasta would be a good start, and sat with some beers to consider what was to come.

We’d decided to camp wild throughout the trip with one Inn overnighter in the middle. A plan to complete the path in 5 days was hatched and kit packed accordingly. I have come a long way in a year so the disparity between the kit I took for Hadrian's Wall in 2009 and for the TMB in 2010 is fascinating to me now. 

We did not want to start in Bowness - the terrain not sit well with what we sought from the path, there being little in the way of Wall to actually observe and examine. Hence our decision to start in Carlisle, a short distance from the start of the ruins of the Wall. The OS map of the area marks the path of the Wall and the great scars in the landscape carved out by the Romans in order to defend that Wall are often visible even before the ruins of the Wall itself.

Hadrian's Wall (Latin:
Vallum Aelium) was begun in AD 122, during the rule of emperor Hadrian (AD117-138) after he visited Britain, and almost complete within 6 years. Keen to impose order across the Roman Empire, the Wall would be a symbol of Hadrian's, and Rome’s, power. It was in fact the first of two fortifications built across Great Britain, the second being the Antonine Wall in what is now Scotland. Opinions conflict, but the consensus is that the Wall was built to defend the northern frontier of the Roman Empire in Britain. It also sought to improve economic stability and provide peaceful conditions in the frontier zone and, on any view, was the most heavily fortified border in the Empire. In addition to its military role, it is thought that many of the gates through the wall would have served as customs posts to allow trade and levy taxes. The wall was constructed primarily to prevent ingress by small bands of cattle-raiders as well as controlling immigration from the north, not as a fighting line for a major invasion. 

The Romans, regimented and exacting, intended to build a ditch for the wall with 80 milecastle forts, every Roman mile, which would hold perhaps 20 or 30 troops each with evenly spaced turrets for observation and early-warning or signaling. The undulating landscape meant that they are not in fact exactly in accordance with Roman miles but sometimes several hundred yards off. Milecastles themselves measured something in the order of 46 square feet (just over 4 square metres). In this harsh terrain, winter conditions must've been savage and uncompromising, soldiers huddled around a fire, grateful for its warmth as the wind and snow raged outside. Resupply could have been perilous in bad weather, the forts sometimes miles away over gruelling terrain.

There are a number of full-sized forts, the ruins of which can be seen today - particularly at Chesters, Housesteads and Birdoswald. These would have stationed between 500 and 1000 troops. The Wall had auxiliary troops only - no legions were posted to the Wall. 

The Wall’s defensive properties were a
glacis (an artificial slope designed to impede the advance of invaders so they could be kept under fire), a deep ditch filled with entanglements, the Wall itself and the Vallum. The Vallum comprised a ditch, 6m wide and 3m deep, with a flat bottom, flanked by two mounds about 6m wide and 2m high, set back 9m from the ditch edges. It can still be seen today.

The path, in Carlisle, was an uninspiring and somewhat anticlimactic dawn, but there is little prospect of completing an LDP like this without passing through passionless urban sprawl and, perhaps, it is part of the necessary preamble. A journey is not much of a journey if every part is inspirational. Highs cannot be appreciated without the inevitable yin and yang juxtaposition of the lows. Yet, it is not long before the rolling Cumbrian countryside begins and urban misery drifts into obscurity. That first day was compelling for many reasons - it was the inception of our first walk together, and a long one at that, the first LDP I had ever done, the first time my hiking partner would be wild camping outside of official pursuits, and the start of what promised to be a thought-provoking 5 days. It rained, of course, that much was inevitable, and the fields we walked through were frequently muddied and boggy, but when we finally pitched, the inclement stop-start precipitation ceased long enough for us to crawl into our shelters and get warm and dry. In fact, within moments of pitching, the sun had peaked through the clouds and, while we brewed some tea, we considered the day. Our packs had felt heavy, especially my companion's whose UL tendencies had yet to progress beyond fetal, and our legs tired. Yet, we were thrilled to be in our tents, day one behind us, anticipating a cosy evening. We had camped within spitting distance of a pub, as if that were a surprise, and after an indulgent little snooze (largely because the pub didn’t open until 5pm) we strolled down to the Centurion Inn in Walton for a hearty meal and a beer or two. I can commend the practice, on a long-distance path, of locating a hostelry of some description on at least some of the nights - there is little better than soothing aching limbs next to a warm fire and friendly welcome within the walls of a small, country inn after a day in the hills.

Day two, we found The Wall. Whilst the route of the Wall, followed slavishly by the path itself, is clear, re-distribution over the centuries of the rocks from which the wall was constructed means some farming walls and fencelines may actually be made from the Wall so it's not until much later that the true ruins are to be found. Those ruins demonstrate the architectural and military marvel that marked the Northern reaches of the Roman Empire. Day two consequently felt more like a history lesson than a hike, discovering and following the Wall all the way to Birdoswald, the ruined remains of a fort near to our next stop, Gilsland. 

On an LDP, it seems to me, it is impossible not to stumble across places that would feature towards the bottom of any list of attractive destinations. Indeed, you may wander unwittingly into places that would never make any list of ports of call except in time of severe car trouble or sat-nav malfunction. Gilsland falls, indelibly, into that latter category. Local ale decorated with a floating chunks of mashed potato, boarded-up taverns, few places to eat anything other than re-heated pies and a hotel which we thought might be suitably named the Overlook and could well have a winter caretaker called Jack Torrance all combined to bestow a 'memorable' overnight stay.

Day Three, conversely, will forever occupy a fond place in my memory. As we entered the Northumberland National Park, the landscape grew wilder and more undulating and the true extent of strength of the Roman psyche was exposed. To have built, been stationed in and fought in this environment, in all seasons, is staggering. As I’ve said, the Wall is punctuated periodically by turrets the ruins of which enable an understanding of the way the Wall marked the Limes of the Empire. Along great crags, deep scars in the Earth, we hiked, climbing once up to the summit of Windshields Crag and sitting, with our lunch, enjoying the respite from the howling, boisterous wind which at times threatened to lift us from the ground and send us hurtling over the edge. Whilst the ascent may ostensibly seem modest, this is a demanding walk as the path ascends and descends with merciless regularity. It was towards the end if the day that the rain came - not a shower this, but great drenching torrents of precipitation that made us grateful of our Montane Venture pants and respective waterproof shells. Grateful too, that we were on the final push towards our chosen spot to pitch which would allow us a short jaunt off the hill and the path, down to another Inn, the Twice Brewed on the Military Road. It was warm inside and pleasantly busy with locals and hikers alike. We ate and drank heartily that night, drying our kit on a radiator next to our table whilst listening to the inane rantings of one hiker who waxed lyrical on the relative merits of pasta from Pizza Hut, perhaps in the vain hope that the barmaids would find his musings attractive. Salvadore Dali would perhaps have found him a suitable subject for artwork. The rain had abated by the time we left and we slept well, despite our surreal companion sleeping only metres away, failing as he did to win the affections of the comely bar wenches. We awoke to more of his ramblings as he strolled over to offer us peanuts which, he assured us, would be good for cramp. We politely declined his very gracious offer and he disappeared into the ether of obscurity forever.

Day Four began with the sun high in the sky and a pleasing chill in the air. I far prefer walking in cool weather, even in a bit of wind, than warm weather and as we continued along the path the true majesty of the Wall opened up again before us. From the highest point on the path, it was possible to see the wall ahead of us for miles. It was an awesome spectacle to be able to pick out the line of the wall arcing round to the north atop the billowing rise and fall of the hills ahead of us. Each time we passed a turret, we would stop and peruse, poring over whatever display had been placed there to explain what we were seeing. Before long, we came to Housesteads and climbed the hill above it to try and get a look at the way the fort was laid out. We weren't going to pay to go in, but for a moment, we were able to appreciate the scale of the fort. The wind had abated and we simply stood and gazed, allowing our imaginations to wander as serfs scurried around with chickens under their arms for the evening's meals and bales of hay for the horses, centurions demanded taxes from farmers heading south into the Empire and merchants plied their wares to weary soldiers seeking the solace of the fort's barracks.

It was with tired feet and aching limbs that we reveled in our arrival at the Crown Inn in Humshaugh some 25km later. After depositing our kit in our rooms, and luxuriating in a scalding hot bath, we headed downstairs to the unfussy yet gratifyingly bustling bar and ate our fill whilst watching some football on the widescreen TV and chatting to the landlord. After a good night's sleep in a large bed each, we started off again, this time to Corbridge and our final stopover. It was, by now, a far more sedate walk - more a stroll in the countryside than a trek through Northumbrian wilderness and our legs had fast become used to the terrain and our backs used to the packs on them. It seems odd to me now, how much more difficult the first day had been in comparison to the last day walking to Corbridge - it was clear that my body would adapt to whatever terrain I was in, it was simply a matter of time. We passed yet more examples of Roman endeavour - this time a religious ruin of a temple at which we stopped for a few moments.

The sun was high in the sky again but from time to time the wind would pick up and ferociously struggle with us, but from a far different enemy to that which it was intended to protect from, the Vallum granted us solace and we stopped to brew and eat lunch within its protective confines. It was not long before we could see Corbridge as we crested yet another diminutive hill - a rather beautiful town astride the Tyne, blessed with yet more fine ruins. 

I can imagine we looked a little scruffy but the patrons of the Angel Inn, a rather fine looking establishment with spicy Fentiman's Ginger Beer aplenty, seemed not to mind as they brought us lashings of fine dining. Even the locals, dressed smartly in loafers and polo shirts, did not eye the two wild men of Borneo who sat, perhaps a little raucously, in the corner. They must be used to crazy hikers there. And so it was, our final night ended as it had begun, with a fine meal in a wonderful place before we made our way to Newcastle and our friends. It had been a great experience - perhaps not the most breathtaking walk, but certainly the nature of the 5 days and their historical attractions, as well as that unquantifiable wonder of the journey itself to be found in any long distance trek, made it rather special.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

New Stove System

Currently, I have an Evernew DX System. That is to say, I have the Evernew Ultralight Titanium DX Stand and the Evernew Ultralight Titanium Alcohol Stove. My pot is an MSR Titan Kettle. This allows me to boil 500ml of water which is all we need when hillwalking and I can drink from it comfortably too. 500ml is two cups of hot chocolate, and its one re-hydrated meal. Therefore, whilst camping, we heat up 500ml, three times in the evening and once in the morning before getting some porridge on as well. Hitherto, I had been using a Coleman F1 Power PZ stove which always worked well, but was a reasonably heavy set-up to carry compared to the DX system. I was also seduced by the bewitching prospect of wood-burning - it appealed to my sense of wilderness and to my desire for versatility. It still does.

Several people who follow this journal of mine, and thank you all for that, have indicated to me that the information content is one of the reasons they follow it. I hope that this does not do them a disservice - I am not going to review the DX System in detail as various people have already done so and the whole thing does not get any better with repetition. Thus, have a look at the links below. There are probably others, but these are some of the most detailed and they are blogs that I like - Babelfish5's video is excellent:

Joe Newton

So, to some basics: the DX System and Alcohol Stove is 85g. Full stop. Done. That's damned light. The MSR Titan Kettle is 121g with lid. 200ml of meths in a 250ml Evian bottle is 195g.

However, it has begun to appear to me that the DX system is not, without some real effort, that well suited to hillwalking. Some may disagree, but one of its key attributes is the versatility of a wood-burning stove. This it does quite well, but there are others that do this better - the Bushbuddy Ultra is a prime example (thanks Andy Howell) as is the Four Dog Stoves Lt1 (Joe Newton again). Neither are alcohol stoves as well, so they are less versatile as wood-burning options in the UK hills and mountains are limited so, I would venture to suggest, they are not ideally suited to that theatre. Lower level walking, certainly. This issue also reduces the value of the DX System but, were it a good alcohol stove, that might not matter. The DX stand itself serves as a potstand and partial windshield. I say partial as it really does not shield the alcohol stove from the wind very much so another windshield is necessary. That I normally make out of kitchen foil and a paper clip. It lasts two or three outings before being retired but it's light and easy to use. I punch holes in the bottom to permit airflow.

However, I have noticed that, even with a windshield, it can take some time for 500ml to heat up and, in really windy conditions, rolling boils are very difficult indeed. The reason for this is that the wind may be prevented from hitting the DX by a further windshield, but the pot cools down quickly as a result of the convective effect of the wind. Titanium, in my experience, cools down damned fast so this is an issue. The Trail Designs Caldera Cone does not suffer from this effect as the pot is completely encased in the shield. However, this is not a wood-burner, unless you get the Trail Designs Ti-Tri instead, which Chris Townsend loves. If you're going to do that, you might as well get the Inferno addition too. Thus, with the DX System, you have to find a sheltered place to cook in order to get the full benefit. We don't always have that many options in inclement weather so a 'temperamental' stove like that is not necessarily the most convenient choice. With the Trail Designs systems, you really don't need to find such a sheltered place. Also, query whether those systems are usable in the porch of a tent like the Fly Creek where, let's be honest, the door is so sharply sloping you would not want to cook there with the DX System nor, probably, a top-mounted canister stove.

That said, the problem with the Ti-Tri is that it is not  particularly lightweight - with the caddy, it's 292g (albeit, that is ULOG's assessment including instructions and esbit tablets - let's say c.270g instead). That does include a fuel bottle too, however. Add 200ml of meths and your total cooking set-up is c.450g. Add the MSR Titan Kettle into this (you'll see why later when I get to the MSR Reactor) and it's c.560g. We're starting to get a touch on the heavy side now. The Caldera Cone setup, for the MSR Titan Kettle, is c.160g including bottle and caddy. You could, I assume, ditch the top of the caddy and stick it in your food stuffsack like that and shave c.35-40g. That, again, includes a fuel bottle. In fact a 35g bottle is rather heavy and 250ml water bottle (Evian etc) is only 15g - but there you go. We're in semantics perhaps. Further, from what I can see, the Ti-Tri need not be taken completely and you could just take the alcohol part of it if you wanted to. When hill and mountain walking, that might make some sense.

However, when one continues that analysis, high-level walking might be enabled by taking a 100g gas canister and a Gosystem Fly(Ti) or whatever the derivatives are given this is made by the same Chinese company with different names stamped on them.  An absolutely superb and comprehensive review can be found on Mac E's blog, Stayin' Alive as well some initial analysis and great images. The major complication is that this suffers from the usual drop in performance towards the end of a canister and you'll be at the end of a canister more often with a 100g canister. So is that perfect either? No. Will it suffer in the wind - yes. Is it the answer? Who knows? It's bloody light though - 250g total for a 100g canister and the Fly(Ti).

So Mac E moves on to look at the MSR Reactor. Possibly the most efficient and effective canister stove on the planet at the moment, the Reactor has only one failing - weight. Bear in mind that it comes with a 1.0l pot (it's actually 1.5l, but you shouldn't fill it higher than 1.0l, even though you could if you wanted) so, to analyse it properly, you need to add in the weight of your pot to the equation. The Reactor, and a 100g canister, would be 480+200 = 680g. The Ti-Tri system, with it's complete versatility and effective windshield, would be 560g when compared favourably. The MSR Reactor is much, much quicker to boil 500ml of water however. The Fly(Ti), as I have said, would be 250+114 (for the pot) = 364g.

Other factors
Another, often overlooked factor, is the effect on the environment. I'd love to be corrected, I really would, but I can find no reference to canisters being re-fuelled. They are simply landfill or, if you have an understanding council, metal recycling. This is pretty poor from the likes of Primus, MSR and Coleman, it seems to me, that they don't offer some sort of recycling service or disposal service - I don't accept "business reasons" as an excuse - we all have to protect the world we live in for future generations. If they all got together and jointly funded it, it could easily work (deposit points as certain shops etc). Metal recycling is not the best option as the energy/carbon footprint in manufacturing canisters must be significant - if they could be re-fuelled, that must be a better option. I did contact my local council this morning and they told me that all gas canisters are refused for obvious reasons. I know in the US they will be accepted if the pressure is completely removed from them but clearly we don't have that in London yet.

Finally, Andy Howell makes a point I have often made in relation to bivys - woodburners will always enhance the experience in a way that canister stoves (and perhaps even alcohol stoves) simply cannot do. There's a solace and romanticism - a kind of connection with the wilderness - that having a woodburner enhances. Disagree? So be it, but have you used one?

Conclusions? Not really...
So, in the light of that, the Ti-Tri and Caldera Cone take a giant leap or two forward. What will I get? I don't know but I certainly don't need it in the Alps so it's a decision I can take some weeks hence. I have to admit, I am rather swayed by the environmental argument as the birth of my first child approaches. What sort of father am I if I cannot teach him that the world around him is precious? This is not meant to be a comprehensive analysis of all the cooking methods available - it is my own analysis, for my own purposes, of what considerations will apply to the replacement of the Evernew DX System. My thought processes might be of interest, however.

New Camera Setup - Initial Gear Analysis

Full marks to both Amazon and Royal Mail. On Sunday, I ordered from Amazon, after some research and advice from various camera and photography forums, a new camera setup. Delivery estimate - Monday 23rd August. Departure date for the TMB - Saturday 21st August. 


It arrived today - I went down to the Sorting Office to pick up some other stuff and they very kindly went and searched the whole office for today's delivery. Very nice of them as I could not have picked it up tomorrow without real hassle. Good stuff for free delivery.

I wanted to have a compact, lightweight, digital camera that would allow me to progress and continue my understanding of exposure, ISO, aperture, shutter speed, light and the technical paraphernalia of photography but which was light enough, over the next few years, for me to take backpacking (either in the hills and mountains, or independent travel) before maybe moving onto a DLSR once my skills had improved. The resounding advice was to get the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10. Amazon sold it to me for a shade under £245. As the battery life is not wonderful - not an issue for a weekend trip, but certainly an issue on the TMB - I purchased an extra battery rather than taking a charger. The spare battery weighs a measly 19g. Clearly a good decision. I have a 4GB Extreme III SD card already which is by far the best I have used. It will keep photos safe under the most extreme conditions.

The Lumix TZ10, reviewed here,has a 14.5-megapixel multi-aspect CCD sensor with a maximum image size of 12 megapixels, a high quality 12x optical zoom f/3.3-f/4.9 Leica lens equivalent to 25-300mm, an extra-sharp 3in 460k monitor with a wide angle of view, 720p HD video recording with stereo audio, optional manual exposure and a built-in GPS receiver for automatic location recording (which drains the battery to an extent that I will never use it, I suspect), with a database of over half a million named locations and landmarks worldwide. If you enjoy cameras, read the review - I will post on the camera, from a layman's perspective, after the TMB.

This is a very nice piece of kit, so I wanted a pouch that offered my protection than my current Crumpler pouch, which is not waterproof or that robust. I felt that if I got a pouch that I could attach to the hip belt straps of the Gorilla, that would be a Good Thing. So it was that I happened upon the Lowe Pro Apex 20 AW ("All Weather" - like the sound of that). It has a pouch, which is specially padded and lined, to protect the camera and LCD screen, as well as somewhere to store extra cards and batteries. It also has a rubber base to cushion falls and its own nylon waterproof shell that whips out from its cubby-hole in the back. It will also attach comfortably to the Gorilla's hipbelt giving me easier access to the camera than before and freeing up one of the Gorilla's mesh pockets for something else. 

Finally, for low-light photography, I like to have a tripod. The Joby Gorillapod is something I have admired for a while - versatility being the key - and its ultralightweight at 46g - easily the lightest tripod I could find, even accounting for all the carbon-fibre offerings out there.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10 - 210g with battery

Joby Gorillapod - 46g
Spare Battery - 19g
Lowe Pro Apex 20 AW - 68g

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Tour du Mont Blanc - Pre-Departure Final Gear Analysis

Firstly, we'll be staying largely in Mountain refuges, in dortoirs, so I have obtained the 2010 list of refuges and other accommodation from the Tourist Office at Les Contamines. It can be found here

It's a very different prospect, packing for a two or three day hillwalk, camping high in the hills, than it is packing for a mountain walk in the Alps which will take 11 days but where the shelter overnight will be in form of mountain refuges. It requires a different type of analysis of kit priorities. A truism it is, of course, that no shelter or sleeping equipment is required. Conversely, more clothing is needed. Or, at least, those are the basic principles. Clearly, given the distances between refuges are measured in 10's of kilometres, injury might still mean an overnight wait for rescue. It is on that basis that we decided that we would accept the hopefully dead weight of an emergency shelter - the Power Lizard would hold us both and be robust enough to withstand most weather conditions. At 1050g between us, we could live with it. It is reviewed here and here. I'll be taking a silk sleeping bag liner for the dortoirs - an import from NZ. The Tilley and Power Lizard are missing from the photo below as they are being brought on Friday by my TMB partner. Didn't think I'd add in passport etc to the photo - you know what they look like!

To start with, then: the pack. The Gorilla and I have formed a bond, an emotional attachment that neither of us can deny. A lean, startled monkey, clinging recalcitrantly to my lumbar region, at 40 litres, it has space enough for everything I need. It was never going to be a contest. It has been reviewed here.

Boots or shoes? Agony, this. Serious mileage each day, with serious ascent, but on largely well-trodden trails. It seems tailor-made for Innov-8 Terroc 330's. Yet, I remain low on flying hours with trail-running shoes in the hills of the UK, let alone the Alps, an unknown and potentially treacherous terrain. Prudence dictates more time with the Terrocs on my feet and those feet on rocky, menacing ground - this is not the trek for them. Instead, my old Scarpa ZG-40 GTX boots will fit the bill. I am used to them, they are proven performers on longer trips, even sodden wet ones like Glaskogen in Sweden, and so I think they will suit me the best for now. They'll need cleaning and re-proofing before I go which I did last night with Nikwax cleaner and a Nikwax re-proofer. Three pairs of Smartwool Hiking Medium Crew socks will come with me - even the two pairs that still have a pleasingly barbecued odour from when I dried them next to a fire in Glaskogen. They do not dry particularly quickly, but they are by far the most comfortable sock I have ever worn and, with the Gore-Tex lining of my boot, they breathe very well indeed. 

An addition, unlikely to be repeated except in very cold weather, are Integral Designs Hot Socks - these are more about a lightweight option (140g for my size 12 feet) to be worn in the refuges themselves which would also have some use in later life - I can see them keeping my feet warm on cold, winter treks so they are not a one-off purchase. They are a Pertex microfibre shell outer, with 4oz Primaloft insulation. The heel panel is powerstretch, which is a good idea as they slide on and off easily, but remain a snug fit. The footpad is 500 denier, abrasion-resistant cordura which makes them ideal for huts, but a touch on the slippy side.

Also from Integral designs, for use when wearing shorts, are the Shortie eVent gaiters. I am not a wearer of gaiters usually - I have never found the need for them - but when wearing shorts, they may come in handy. They are short, lightweight (70g for the pair) and breathable so worth taking. Insteps are re-inforced, which is good for me, and the secure via a clip at the front, which attaches to the laces, and a shock cord to go underneath.

Clothing choices were not as tricky as I had surmised them to be. My agreement to test the Montane Prism 2.0 (reviewed here) meant the Patagonia Nano Puff (reviewed here) would go in my companion's pack as his insulating layer, as it did in the Carneddau recently. Three merino base layers, the snug and athletic Montane Bionic T-shirt, as well as two thin Lightweight Smartwool Tops - a crew neck long-sleeved T and a short-zip, high-necked long sleeved T could all be worn together, separately or in any combination to cater for a variety of conditions. These three, all lightweight, allow me excellent versatility. They form the fulcrum of my clothing selection as the Prism and the Montane Lite Speed combine with any one, or combination, of them to suit every condition feasible. So, with the Lite Speed and the Prism providing varying degrees of outer shell protection, these five items alone would be all I needed for mountain walking during the day and in the refuges at night. Clearly, the fact merino wool will not reek of old shoes after a few days is also a Good Thing. I have always found merino breathes well enough for me and dries quickly against my body. Even more so in the Bionic. I have been observing the weather for some months and proper rain protection is pivotal so the Haglöfs LIM Ozone jacket makes the cut. 

The LIM Ozone is a Gore-Tex Pro Shell jacket and weighs a reasonable 345g. I've been in terrible weather with it, both on Hadrian's Wall and in the Carneddau, and it has kept everything away from me and I could not fault it. It breathes well, even with the Prism under it, and it's a great shell jacket. It has few features - two pockets sufficient for the Ortlieb map case I normally take, as well as a hat/gloves or some food. I don't need more than that. The hood is supremely adjustable and the peak/visor works well. It's an slim fit, perfect for me, and as I said, has a number of adjustable features, the hem, the cuffs and the hood, but errs on the side of minimalism. I rather like the charcoal grey/luminous-yellow melange and it will perform admirably, I have no doubt. It also declares my love for Scandinavia... The Mountain Equipment Firefox is lighter (my chum will be taking his) but I not by much. 

Similarly, versatility is the watchword for trousers. Montane Terra shorts and Terra pants will meet the dry weather and Montane Venture pants will resolve the wet. The Venture pants are incredible - eVent breathability, legendary now, means I have yet to sweat wearing them, even in sunny, windy conditions. They are articulated at the knee to engender ease of movement and have high-tenacity nylon reinforcement on the backside and the knees. Even the eVent is bulletproof. This makes them far more than bottom of the pack, wet-weather gear. For that, they are worth their weight, literally. In the Carneddau, knowing there would be rain, I took them safe in the knowledge that in the muggy, misty conditions my legs would still breathe well enough on the steep, technical ascent to Pen yr Ole Wen as well as the long, sweeping paths up to Llewelyn, Foel Grach and Gwenllian. The Terra pants, unlikely to be worn very often during the day, will also fit the bill as refuge wear and back-up walking trousers combined. I've take one webbing belt to be alternated between the Terra pants and Terra shorts. I've added some Campwash from Nomad Adventures Stores which will wash me, my clothes and anything else I care to wash but is eco-friendly too. I plan to wash my kit halfway through.

Helly Hansen Lifa boxers (2 or 3 pairs) will complete my base layer collection apart from the Divide and Conker merino leggings I've been wearing for years. They're comfortable to sleep in, as a base layer and as camp-wear (the latter not being the sort of thing Mrs. M needs to know as they are not sexy). No cooking required so no Evernew DX system or MSR Titan Kettle on this trip. For washing, I'll be taking a basic washkit - toothbrush and toothpowder (secured from my dentist), campwash which will also wash clothes as well as me, and a S2S microfibre towel (40cm x 80cm), all of which will be in a small S2S drybag.

As usual, my miscellaneous items will include my Suunto Vector, a Swiss Army knife (the Ranger), a compass (despite there being compasses on the iPhone and the Vector, I like a proper compass as well - navigation cannot take a back seat, anywhere or anyhow which was proved to me in the Carneddau recently) and the item always first on my kit list - spare loo roll!

A word on the Suunto Vector - I have always liked this watch and found it to be rugged, robust and useful. It is completely waterproof yet the battery can be changed using a 10p piece. I've changed it once already, in 2 years of regular use, and it cost me something like £5. Apart from the usual digital watch functions, it is an extremely accurate compass that is re-calibrated periodically and very easily; an altimeter that is pretty accurate but not to be relied on to the metre, rather I have found it to be accurate to 15m; various trip log-books for altitude and so on; and a reasonably accurate barometer and temperature gauge. Note, however, that the temperature can only be accurately recorded when the watch is off your wrist as, otherwise, bodyheat is recorded rather than the ambient temperature. The face scratches easily when brand new, but that bothers me not one jot.

The sunlight could be fairly harsh reflected off the snow, so I'll also be taking Oakley Flak Jackets and contact lenses. I've already posted on my new best mate - the Tilley TH5 which was really good in the Carneddau keeping the rain off me well as the wetness beaded and rolled off. 

Clearly, passports, travel documents and the like will be required but much of the travel stuff will be on the iPhone  (and charger) which I'll be taking along with some black Sennheiser CX-300 earphones - the best noise-reducing/cancelling earphones I have ever used. Everyone knows how versatile the iPhone is, so I'll not waste your time with analysis of it - suffice to say it is with me all the time, every day, and I find it hugely useful. I will also have the Cicerone TMB Guide by Kev Reynolds which is small but weighty. It has all the details of the trek as well as the contact details for the various refuges so we can call ahead whilst on the trail.

My newest purchase, which I'll have to learn how to use whilst en route, will be the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10 camera and a Lowepro case to protect it (218g and 87g respectively). I want to take the next step in my photography by learning, as I started to some years ago, about light, exposure, shutter speed, ISO, aperture and all those other cool things in order to improve my photography. I can think of no better testing ground than the Alps.

Most of this kit I've been using for a while now, but some is really on test on this, my longest trek. I'm very, very excited.