Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Salewa Miage II Pack Review - A 'Slim Silhouette'

Really, reviews are all about comparisons. Back in February, I reviewed my Arc'teryx Axios 35 with a view to it being one of the best packs for carrying camera gear up a mountain. On my recent trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on a couple of wild camps in Sussex recently, I took a pack Salewa sent me - the Miage II. In Bosnia, I also used the Axios and, over four days of hiking, I compared the two. Directly and without favour.

For years now, I've loved my Gossamer Gear Gorilla pack. Not the new version, the old one. At just short of 700g, it's about the lightest pack I've ever used and, up to around 7kg, carries extremely well. The problem with it has always been durability. 210 denier fabric is great but the webbing is not sufficient to carry technical equipment and it doesn't carry well enough at the 8-10kg mark which is roughly what you need during winter and or for alpinism when you take into account tools, crampons and rope.

Salewa have an alpine heritage and have been making some phenomenal climbing kit for years. Started in 1935 in Munich, Germany, they supported an Andes expedition in the Cordillera Blanca in 1955 and established themselves in mountain sport as a result. Ice equipment, ice picks and crampons were added to the product line of the SALEWA mountain sports division and in 1962 they developed a fully-adjustable lightweight crampon. And from then on, the Germans staked a claim to excellence in mountain kit. They have a wonderful store in Zermatt and it was there I first became acquainted with the Miage II back in 2011 after the Haute Route when my OMM Villain MSC had been uncomfortable at the 9-10kg mark. I liked the look of the Miage II then but did nothing about it. When I became involved with Salewa and they asked me to test a pack, I chose the Miage II. And right out of the box, I was stunned.

The reason I love Arc'teryx is their intuition and attention to detail. I also love simple packs which do exactly what I need them to do. The Gorilla doesn't need much because walking and trekking doesn't require a complex pack. So GG have kept it simple and that's why it's so light and why it is so good. A world-beater in its class. But alpinism and climbing requires a different type of pack entirely. It needs to hug the figure and stay tight because the last thing you need on a climb or scramble is a pack which shifts and pitches on your back. Not only are you carrying tools but you need ready access to them, often without taking your pack off or, certainly, without unpacking anything else. You need places to clips things; places to access small items quickly and so on. Salewa stand aside Arc'teryx when it comes to making kit which thinks of everything. Take a look at my Alp Train.Mid GTX-Pell review if you don't believe me.

Let's take a look at the pack. At 1.2kg, it sits with the Axios as a lightweight, but not ultralight, alpine pack. The fabric is very durable ripstop designed to withstand fights with violent rock. Volume is 35 litres which is perfect - although it feels like slightly more to me. Salewa describe it as an alpine and ski mountaineering pack which is also good for via ferrata. There is, therefore, a diagonal ski attachment as well as a compartment for a shovel and avalanche probe (both marked as such). There is a space to sling rope across the top, under the lid and a fastening loop. There is a bespoke Ice-axe or walking pole fastening pouch and loop and a loop on the hipbelt for tools, crabs, cams etc and an SOS Label. 

What about storage? There is an inner pocket for valuables as well as a very clever webbed pocket inside the top lid pocked which closes via velcro so you can leave wet stuff in there but leave the lip pocket open to vent without losing your stuff. Think hat and gloves or even base layer. It's clever. The side pockets are durable webbing with an elasticated rim and durable base so something sharp won't rip the base of the pocket. There are load control, or compression, straps which are well placed. There is space for a hydration system which works very well. On one side is a clipped strap, which operates like a hook, for tools which doubles, for me, as an extra clip to secure my tripod.

The shoulder straps and hipbelt and straps are extremely comfortable and very light. But they also have another neat trick. Roll the excess up and there is a velcro tie at the end which secures them effectively, easily and with no slippage. Again, nice. Adjustment of each is made for a hand wearing gloves. Same thing with the lid pulls. And thank you, we do actually LIKE hipbelt pockets! They ARE useful. Long ties on the zips, again for gloved hands.

How is the carry? The backsystem is a simple one but effective. It's padded and shaped and the pack carries well. It dries quickly too. It's a comfortable pack - I would say I preferred the Axios 35 to carry but it doesn't have the functionality as a ski-touring and mountaineering pack the Miage II does - the ability to carry tools durably and have access to them, for example. My trekking partner carried the Axios for two days and the Miage II for two days. He doesn't want to give the Miage II back and preferred it to the Axios. Both of us agreed, over a beer in the lovely city of Sarajevo, that in fact there was very little choose between the two. In conclusion, for alpinism and ski mountaineering and touring, there is little which beats the Miage II all round. It's clever, well-thought out and comfortable. It's durable and functional. And it has that rather lovely 'slim silhouette' - a jaunty turn of phrase that proves alpinism can be poetry too.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Guest Post: In the Hebrides with Wolfgang, by Nick Cooper

When a friend of mine realised I did a spot of outdoor writing and photography he happened upon this little journal of mine and enjoyed reading it. When he told me he was heading to the Hebrides for a bit of walking and photography, I offered him my Canon 17-40 f/4L for his 60D. He responded by asking if he could show some of his photos on the Journeyman Traveller. I suggested he go one better and here is his story.

Thanks, Nick.

A quick dash to the Hebrides for four days walking with Wolfgang who had flown in from Bavaria. From London to Oban took 11 hours. In fact, just in time to watch the 14.00hrs boat sail. Chip shop and provisions, into the reserve queue for the 16.00 and on Mull in our cottage by 17.40.

The plan had been for climbing a couple of the highest points and some gentler walking, maybe camping on Ulva and an extended walk there. On Mull Beinn Fhada (707 m) there is a wondrous ridge walk into the heart of the hills of the Southern shore of Loch na Keal. Not as high as Ben More (966 m), the only Munro on the island and the only other Munro on any of the Western Isles saving Skye, but Beinn Fhada has more variety. Ben More has the triumph though.

In the event, the rainbow we spotted our first day was not the sign of a respite from the rain we had hoped for. A low pressure system off the North East of Scotland brought in an occluded front that drew rain across the West Coast and into every gap between layers of clothes, eyelets of boots, down the back of our necks until it mattered no longer. The cloud was low too. Too low to reasonably enjoy the prospect of either those peaks as there were no views to be had.
We kept it simple. 

To Ulva, for some peace and quiet. As we were set down the boat man pointed out the Golden Eagles soaring on what light thermals they had discovered and we turned towards the path for the South side. I always visit. It used to be populated with several settlements, the home of the “Father” of Australia, Lachlan Macquarie and a destination for Boswell and Johnson. Its tranquillity is startling. Beach and Pine woods full of light and drawing us over the moss and up towards the peak.

The wind blew from our minds all thoughts of working life, almost all thoughts at all and I found myself clinging to the trig point on Bein Chreagach, only 313 m. On other days I have stood rooted, looking at the panorama of the hills, Treshnish Islands, Ulva ferry and back towards Mull. Wolfgang leaned into the wind and stayed floating in its force at an abrupt and jaunty angle.

Then heading back down towards Ulva ferry once more. The boat house sells excellent beer, which is where I found my Bavarian friend before I got there, naturally. The next day we walked Treshnish point. Once famous for the rocks and arches being used as counterpoint to the action for the film Eye of the Needle, starring Donald Sutherland (1981). 8 miles, so really just a gentle look around as the rain stayed off for an afternoon.

From the carefully ordered and well kempt buildings at Treshnish, that has every appearance of self sustaining bliss we followed the path to the headland. In the sun a school of Dolphins plunged into the waves, feeding. We followed this sight along the coast as our path took us along the raised beach and back into Loch Tuath. The Treshnish basked in gun metal and silver light. Over time the Treshnish Isles have served many purposes, no doubt. One we enjoyed was spotting where the top of Dutchman’s Cap is in line with the cliffs of the Southern most tip of Lunga, for it marks the site of the hidden cave that housed the illicit Whiskey still, in the cliffs below our path. Then, the next small bay is where the path turns up the cliffs to deserted villages of Crackhaig and Glac Gugairidh. If you know where to look and have let the Islands perform this other rite. That left three more days.

We filled them with reading and talking. Wandering the cliffs and shore. We gathered fine golden Chantrelle. In Bavaria they grow in May. Pfifferling or Eierschwammerl to Wolfgang. He telephoned his mother who lives near Pegnitz in Bayern that evening for her recipe; with boiled potatoes, scrambled eggs and caraway.

Thank you Frau Höcht, thank you, again, Mull.