Walking in a Winter Wonderland

DSCF8370It is true that it’s easy to overlook places that are on your doorstep for exotic and faraway lands. Whilst I haven’t necessarily overlooked them, some of the most stunning places in the UK for walking and climbing I am yet to visit. I hope this marks the beginning of changing that.

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending a weekend with four fellow outdoors enthusiasts in the Lake District. It was my first time in the area and while I had expectations of it being beautiful I was not prepared for what I saw.

Being blessed with crisp, cool air, bright sunshine and huge blue sky, our walk couldn’t have been better timed. With enormous moss-covered boulders clinging to the lush green hills to our right, an ancient wall separating us from the spindly winter-touched trees on our left and with dominating snow-capped hills in the distance I felt we could have been anywhere but England.

DSCF8388A moderate ascent to sent us high up into the hills revealing the vast and magnificent landscape of the Lakes below us. Breathtaking. The sun rays shone through the clouds like the spread wings of an eagle casting delicate shadows over the valley below.

As we continued we reached the snowline and the landscape was transformed into a winter wonderland, with frozen pools, dramatic icicles and windswept snow fields like a desert of icy dunes.

Reaching our summit, the Old Man of Coniston, we stopped to admire our surroundings before commencing our somewhat treacherous descent in which we all had our turn slipping elegantly (some more than others) onto our backsides.

DSCF8415To wind up the day, the evening was spent in good old fashioned post-hill-walking style, at the pub for a hearty meal with a few Bluebirds and gin and tonics. We stumbled back to our hostel dorm just after 11pm and slept solidly (apart from the intermittent nocturnal toilet trips) until 8:30 the next morning when we were awoken with the gentle tones of the Rocky soundtrack, to get us moving downstairs for our classic English breakfast.

What a weekend.

Catch up

So far this year I have taken three trips in three different continents (and it’s only August and only one of those was work related!) Quick summary of each to catch you all up.

1) China, 1st – 13th May 2012 (holiday)
Beijing (Mutiyanu Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tiannanmen Square)
Shanghai (The Bund, random Mexican restaurant night out, World Financial Centre)
Huangshan (Huangshan hike, getting ‘pickpocketed’ on a bus – urgh)
Hangzhuo (chill out – lake walks, Starbucks, lazing)
Beijing and home (via Amsterdam, overnight stay due to 8 hour delay from PEK making us miss our London connection).

2) Isle of Skye, Scotland 1st – 5th June 2012 (holiday)
A long coach journey (24 hours) from Southampton to Broadford via Inverness. Big delay caused by fatal accident on the motorway meant we had to divert via Loch Ness which was interesting. Then three incredible days hiking and scrambling in the Cuilin Ridge region of Skye. Perfect weather, perfect hiking group and my favourite trip this year so far.

3) Tanzania, 25th June – 12th July 2012 (work tour managing)
Moshi (community work at a local primary school)
Serengeti safari (awesome! Got my wish to see a leopard, and saw 4!)
Zanzibar (snorkelling, Stone Town, spice tour, beach)

So that’s pretty much where I’ve been so far this year! Plenty more to come!

PRODUCT REVIEW: Osprey Ariel 65

I was quite excited when it arrived in the post. The first thing I noticed upon removing it from the packaging was how many straps and clips there were on it, that I hadn’t noticed on the one I tried on. I was told in one of my many shopping visits that for a good mountaineering pack you needed something that was basically a bag with shoulder straps and a hip belt – this is significantly more fussy than that.

Nonetheless, I was quick to adjust the pack and get it packed with something to test it out. I was delighted. With this being a ‘Ladies’ fit pack, I had opted for the Medium in this style because the back size extended up to 47cm in Small and from 46-52cm in the Medium. My back size is around 47cm so I thought it best to go for the Medium and adjust it down rather than take the risk of the Small being too small.

The fabric seems strong and water resistant and the size seems to be a very generous 65l (in fact, I reckoned that I could actually fit myself inside the pack – althought I haven’t tried it…yet!). The hip belt is one of the most comfortable I have experienced and the shoulder straps sit nicely where they’re supposed to without any rubbing or soreness whatsoever.

The only possible gripe is with the hip belt size. At last measurement my hips are around 33 inches and the hip belt on the Medium pack has to be tightened to its fullest extent to fit snugly on my hips. 33 inches is not that small for a female so I was quite surprised by that. I believe you can buy custom hip belts but I will need to do more research into this and the associated costs (or I’ll just have to eat a few more pies!).

I won’t list off all the features of the pack because you can find this all on the Osprey website here: http://www.ospreypacks.com/en/product/womens/ariel_65_1

So far it has already travelled with me to China and back and it held up well. In 90% humidity and 30C temperatures it wasn’t cumbersome or frustrating to carry, although it was pretty sweaty on the hip belt and back (to be expected). Not being used to using a toploader for ‘normal’ holidays took a bit of getting used to and I have discovered that either I am terrible at packing efficiently or really forgetful about where I have put X, Y and Z in my pack, so I’ll have to work on that before any major expedition as disorganisation can be life or death on big mountains.

Overall, currently I am really pleased with it and feel that the £140 I paid for it (April 2012) represents good value for what it is. There may be additional reviews as I use it for different things so keep your eyes peeled.

Happy travelling!

Trying to find a suitable rucksack

When I started university I did what most people do; find a part time job to help pay for the ‘lavish’ student lifestyle. After a failed attempt at working for Woolworth’s (I suffered through 4 shifts before handing in my notice!) I discovered Nomad Travel & Outdoors, a small travel kit store in town where I became a supervisor. It was there that I worked for 3 years, and was trained to know everything there is to know about backpacking and hiking gear from technical fabrics, rucksack fittings, hiking boots and all manner of gadgets and accessories.

Fast forward 6 years and here I am about to embark on the beginning of a journey into the unknown (to me) world of mountaineering and I have to say that I am grateful I have the kit knowledge I do, as this has been one of the most challenging purchases to date.

All I wanted was a rucksack (aka backpack, pack etc). It had to be at least 70 litres (so one I could use for load carries on Aconcagua, my next big target), it had to be sturdy and above all, it had to fit like a glove. In the outdoors world thing change quickly, technologies adapt and I was under no illusions that my previous training would have much of a bearing on what I was to experience.

First problem. I get the impression that not many women are interested in hauling themselves up mountains and as such outdoors stores stock their kit accordingly i.e. they don’t have anything to fit a small framed woman. I travelled almost an hour each way to visit a store in Hampshire, to find that despite a huge range of packs they didn’t have anything in stock that would fit me; all the packs large enough were only stocked in ‘Medium’ or ‘Large’ (my misguided fault for not calling ahead). After speaking with a staff member there and him providing me with some so-so advice that I don’t really trust I left disappointed having wasted an afternoon.

Next I took a visit to my old store, Nomad, knowing that they aren’t mountaineering specialists but at least I could try a few different brands on. It was there I fell in love with Osprey, but again, the sizes started at Medium and when fully tightened the hip belt was loose around my hips – certainly no good for 20kg load bearing. But I had a place to start.

After travelling for 5 hours to my home town of Norwich I took a visit to Cotswolds and was delighted to find that the member of staff was helpful, informative and polite (albeit it in a rough Scottish sense of humour way). They had a good selection of rucksacks in a wide variety of sizes. He actually measured my torso (apparently I am around 18.5 inches – curse my teeny tiny legs) and spent a good amount of time helping me try on the Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 65:85 (even when adjusted perfectly it didn’t feel right) and the smaller Osprey Ariel 65 (which after a LOT of fiddling around seemed very comfortable). I explained my concerns about it being only 65l and he showed me the floating lid which probably added an extra 5-7l of space.

I left the shop with a clearer idea of what to go for but still debating whether I should continue my search. The problem was the only other place I could go to find alternatives was London and being an 80 min train journey away during the week, or 120 mins at the weekend (thanks National Rail) I felt demotivated, given my previous experiences. After a few days of thinking, and then one evening of Googling for reviews I took the plunge and ordered the Osprey Ariel 65. It will get its first road test on a two-week backpacking trip to China next week (assuming it arrives on time).

Let’s see…


I recently became aware of ProBalm. Described on their website as “a new 100% natural product, made in the UK, designed for active people who are hard on their skin and so need rapid and effective skin repair“, I was intrigued. I asked the team some questions on Twitter (friendly bunch – always replying to my tweets) and took the plunge.

You can buy the product on their website using PayPal (effortless shopping) and £5 and free P&P for 3 mini versions of the main product I thought it was worth a try. It arrived 48 hours after I ordered it and the first thing I noticed was the fragrance. It was somewhere between church incense and spice markets in India. It’s one of those smells you’re not really sure if you like but can’t stop smelling! You can detect the faint smell of beeswax so you really feel as if you are using a totally natural product.

My instant thought when looking at the packaging was that it was a shame it didn’t come in a little container for easier storage as the full-size ‘puck’ does, however as I would consider these 11g minis to be testers the little plastic zip-lock bags they come in are just fine.

After a long weight lifting session at the gym yesterday my hands were sore and red in the area I tend to get callouses (at the base of my fingers). I applied ProBalm to these problem areas on each hand and noticed that it soaked into my skin quite quickly and instantly felt quite moisturising. I reapplied before going to bed.
The texture of ProBalm is quite oily when you rub it into your skin, but once application is complete I found that rubbing and residue onto my hands or wrists takes away any oiliness from my fingers and you are just left with the subtle fragrance of the oils (a list of which is below).

When I woke up this morning I was genuinely surprised to find such a remarkable result. My hands felt and looked normal – certainly not what I’m used to after such a heavy workout (which would usually include flaking skin and minor blistering). But the thing that really convinced me that ProBalm worked was that where I hadn’t applied it I have a sore, hard callous whereas my usual problem areas (middle and ring fingers) where I used the balm feel 90% normal, with just minor hardening.

After just the first trial, I am very impressed and will continue to use it and update on the progress. I am curious to find out how it copes in hot weather (it will be coming with my to China in May, and Tanzania in June) and whether the oils will leave any staining on my skin. The next test will be my much-neglected feet… watch this space!

ProBalm contains:
Bees Wax {Cera alba}
Jojoba Oil {Simmondsia chinensis seed oil}
Grapeseed Oil {Vitis vinifera seed oil}
Comfrey Infused Almond Oil {Prunus amygdalus oil, Symphytum officinale leaf extract}
Petitgrain EO {Citrus aurantium amara leaf/twig oil}
Patchouli EO {Pogostemon cablin leaf/stem oil}
Tangerine EO {Citrus reticulata peel oil}
Black Pepper EO {Piper nigrum fruit oil}
Cypress EO {Cupressus sempervirens leaf oil}
Vitamin E {Mixed Tocopherols}
Benzoin EO {Piper nigrum fruit oil}

If you suffer from any dermatological problems, consult your GP or specialist to ensure this is okay for you to use.

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