Summit push: Your turnaround time is 3pm.


1st February 2016. (Grab a cuppa, this is a long post!)
I fell asleep quickly only waking up at 2am to use the wagbag. It was a very mild night with absolutely no wind. I felt a flutter of excitement that I was ‘just’ 1000m shy of the summit and here I was outside at 2am with just a light jacket on. Needless to say I was optimistic about getting up two hours later at 4am ready to start walking at 5am. I couldn’t get back to sleep so cosily dozed. Bruce and I had been organised the night before so when we woke up all we had to do was eat and avoid knocking ice crystals from the tent walls onto our sleeping bags.

Johnny came by with hot drinking water,  porridge oats and a snack bar around 4:45am. There had been a problem with the stove so the start was delayed. No matter, we both felt good. We felt ready. We started hiking at 5:30am and the temperature was amazingly warm and calm. It was -16C (3.2f) and the wind was around 10-15kph. We couldn’t have asked for better conditions. Tincho commented that he’d never seen such a warm and calm summit night in all his experience.

After 5 minutes walking I had to take off my down jacket to avoid overheating. It quickly became clear that I don’t do well eating then immediately exerting myself. The nausea I’d had the past few mornings was back but I didn’t want to let it ruin my day so spoke to Johnny who gave some sound advice and within an hour I was feeling better. Over the past few days I realised I wasn’t able to keep the same pace as the boys. It really bothered me that I kept falling behind, although I was comfortable with my non-stop pace. I guess I just wanted to make sure we completed the climb as a team. I had a word with myself and said ‘you might be a few steps behind but it doesn’t make you weak, or have less of a right to be here.’

Click to enlarge

It wasn’t long after we set off that the sun started to rise and the majestic views started to unfold all around us. I’ll try to avoid a superlative overdose but suffice it to say that I’d never seen views like it. The inky star-studded sky took on a new hue as the fiery sun crept up over the horizon, gilding the distant mountains. As we approached Piedras Blancas, our first rest stop, I turned around to see how far we’d come. The sun was casting a shadow of Aconcagua right in front of me. I had never been so excited. Seeing the shadow of this peak was almost as much a goal for the expedition as reaching the top for me. Tincho took a photo of me and although my mouth and nose was covered you can see the smile in my eyes.

After the break at Piedras Blancas it was apparent I would not be able to maintain Johnny, Bruce and Rick’s pace. It’s hard to put it in words how it feels hiking at high altitudes. My body felt strong, and apart from a little intermittent calf discomfort, I felt very fit. Despite this your body just doesn’t let you function how you think it should. Each step lifting my plastic-clad foot felt like someone had ripped out my lungs and was using them as punch bags. I found myself breathing heavily, with reprieves only coming when we were faced with steep snow slopes I could get into a rhythm with. The slow pace meant my hands and feet had started to go numb but Tincho saved the day with the ‘hands under the armpits’ trick and I was good to go again.

As  each step became increasingly challenging I slipped further behind the boys. It was only a gap of around maybe 10 minutes so I didn’t let it get to me. As we reached crampon point at the old refuge, Independencia, I was pretty exhausted. Johnny helped me tie my crampon, which I was having trouble knotting. The next section was the beautiful traverse along Portezuelo del Viento. After constantly looking at a steep hill it was nice to see the landscape unfold ahead again. As we approached La Cueva (6650m), a rocky outcrop at the base of the Canaleta, I could see the boys ahead getting ready to leave. I gave them a wave and they set off up the Canaleta.

Altitude swollen face selfie at La Cueva (6650m)

As we turned the corner a little snow started falling. Knowing a storm was forecast I suddenly became particularly conscious of the time; we had to make the summit by 3pm else we’d have to turn back empty-handed. Johnny and Tincho were communicating regularly on the radio and as we started tackling the Canaleta, we heard that the boys were taking a rest stop at the top. A quick note on the Canaleta. Everyone says this is the hardest part of the climb due to the steepness and the scree. We were fortunate to have had tons of snow underfoot and the Canaleta was actually one of my favourite parts of the summit push. A good steep snow slope means you can just plod up, one step at a time. We nestled closely into the rocks on the right, and Tincho let me lead the way up at my own pace. I had a burst of energy and felt strong.

We reached the top of the Canaleta at 12:45pm and I had at least two hours to go, based on my current pace. Tincho kept positive, saying I would definitely summit but deep down I was very worried. We got the awesome news over the radio that the boys had summited and were heading back our way. We crossed paths on the trail at 2:30pm and I congratulated them. Johnny and Tincho had a discussion, which I assume included whether I could continue or not. I told Bruce I didn’t think they would let me continue and asked him how long it was from there to the top. He estimated 45 mins and my heart sank. Johnny turned to me and said, “Lexi, you have 30 minutes… go get that summit”. I was elated.

I downed some energy gel Clif Bar Shot Bloks and we set off again. It felt like we had zoomed off but it was painfully slow. I remember Tincho stopping and making me rest and thinking to myself, ‘why are we stopping, we’re so close’. I said to him “I’m going to make it, I’m going to make it“. He gently reminded me, “WE’RE going to make it“. We set off once again and I just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. It felt like seconds later that Tincho pointed to a big lump of rock ahead and said “that’s it!“. Those last 20 meters felt like one of those dreams where you’re running but you can’t make progress. It was 2:59pm and I had to clamber up a few boulders to reach the very top. At exactly 3pm Argentina time, 1st February 2016, I stood on the summit of Aconcagua; a dream that I had trained, saved and planned for over the past 5 years.

The snow which had been falling eased and the sun illuminated the summit through the clouds. Although there were no views from the top, the light was ethereal and it was incredibly still, quiet and warm. A wind-free summit was another first for Tincho. It was just the two of us standing there on the highest peak outside of the Himalaya at that moment. Tincho took some photos for me as my camera was frozen and we briefly celebrated. It was soon time to descend.

The snow suddenly started falling fast and heavily. It was soon a total white out. Tincho asked if I wanted to get roped up and given the conditions I agreed this was the best course. I led us down the Canaleta and back to La Cueva without a single slip or fall. Upon arrival I was startled by a guy sat on the ground looking a bit helpless. I initially didn’t understand what was going on but you could tell by the sombre mood it seemed serious. He was with two guides and they all seemed to be debating something. Tincho and I had a break, removed the rope and continued down. It transpired that the guy in the cave had a knee injury and they were trying to figure out how to get him down. Apparently he was kicking up a fuss about not needing rescue. Although it was a pretty minor situation it really brought home the reality of this peak. People die here.

Tincho and I carried on down through the white out conditions and all I could think was that if Tincho wasn’t there I’d be a dead woman. From departing La Cueva I had literally no concept of where we were and put my complete trust in him to find the way. The snow was 12” or deeper in places and we both kept stumbling. At one point we gave up walking and glissaded down which was a lot of fun. I stopped for a pee break at Independencia and looking at the snow beneath me I was glad for all the pre-hydration the previous days. My urine was so dark; I was very dehydrated. I wondered how bad it would have been had I not started well hydrated. I chugged half a litre and we sped downhill once again.

As we reached Piedras Blancas, we took our final rest before the push into camp. A tiny gap emerged in the thick clouds above and a patch of pure blue peeked through, with the surrounding cloud lined with silver. In my exhausted and elated state it felt magical and was just the pick me up we needed. The last 30 minutes or so into camp felt long but we finally made it. The boys had only arrived about an hour ahead of us and it was amazing to reach camp and celebrate our success together. What a day! We relaxed for the rest of the evening and Bruce and I exchanged stories. Johnny came by with some ramen noodles covered with cheese which I couldn’t really stomach, but I forced myself to eat as much as I could. We fell asleep quickly after dinner. It had been exactly a 13 hour round-trip for Tincho and I. Not a bad day walking!

Knackered after a successful summit of Aconcagua!

From the IMG blog: “Just off the sat phone with Jonathan Schrock and team.  100% on the top.  Great conditions this morning but snowing with minimal visibility for the descent.  No matter, the entire team reached the summit and all are back safely now at high camp.  A big congratulations to Jonathan, Martin, Lexi, Bruce and Rick.  Nice job. https://www.mountainguides.com/wordpress/2016/02/01/aconcagua/summit-of-aconcagua

 

This post is dedicated to Bruce who, at the time of writing, is one day away from flying to Alaska to attempt Denali. Good luck Bruce!

The big night arrives; countdown to the top.


January 31st 2016. I didn’t manage to sleep until around 1:30/2am. I was wide awake and just couldn’t drift off. I woke up grumpy, not helped by the condensation in the tent making the outer fabric of my sleeping bag damp for the second night running.

One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that however you’re feeling, it never hurts to behave in a positive manner; you never know, you might fool yourself into thinking you’re more cheerful than you are. If all else fails, bacon is a good way to start the day. Imagine my delight when we were served bagels with bacon and cheese again for breakfast. Delicious as usual. I had one and a half which was probably half too much but you can’t really say no to extra food on the hill. One thing is for sure, I have not gone hungry on this trip.

Today we moved up to high camp at 5900m to be reunited with the kit we’d stashed the previous day. My pack felt heavier today than any other so far. Tincho estimated it was only around 15kg so I suspect my lack of sleep and overeating at breakfast contributed to feeling less energetic. It was another hard slog but, as always, getting into a steady non-stop rhythm is the best way to approach a challenging day. Despite slightly heavier packs than yesterday it only took us 15 minutes longer to get to camp. It certainly helped that the snow was more compact having melted and frozen last night.

We pitched the tents and tried to get settled. The game was on. We started to get our backpacks sorted ready for summit push first thing tomorrow morning. There was a climber camping near us who made conversation as we were arriving. He was very odd. He made a strange attempt at humour which came across offensive; disparaging his guide and making some reference to Johnny ‘getting it from behind’ because he was sharing a tent with Tincho.  I thought it could have been American humour I didn’t understand, but upon querying it, Bruce and Johnny assured me he was just a dick. First uncomfortable experience with another climber on the mountain.

Camp was a bleak place situated on a large plateau with rocky stacks tinged with yellow from what appeared to be sulphur. It was very busy with climbers on the way up to the top, and on the way down. There was a mixture of sick, injured, exhausted, excited, elated and weird people. The whole place smelled a little like stale urine. The toilet area was very well protected from the driving wind which battered the rest of the campsite therefore there was a mountain of human waste everywhere you looked. So much for the strict ‘Leave No Trace’ rules on the mountain. I duly used my wagbag.

It’s challenging to do anything quickly at high altitudes and even walking up the hill to get down to the toilet area was a lung buster. I had the pleasure of visiting the shit pit around 3 times that afternoon, thanks to my conscious efforts to stay hydrated. I was determined not to let a failure to self-manage fluids (or food) be my downfall on this trip. Having got our packs sorted it was just a case of eating dinner and continuing to drink.

You know, I once spent the best part of a year travelling around the world. Around 4 months into the trip I stopped in Toronto, Canada to stay with friends. The first question asked was “what would you like to eat?“. I answered, “anything as long as it comes with mashed potatoes“. After travelling through Asia for months all I craved was a bowl of mashed potato. My delightful hosts obliged with the biggest bowl of mash I’d ever seen. It’s my ultimate comfort food.

Back to Argentina. When Johnny arrived at the tent with a bowl of mashed potato, topped with bacon and mushroom gravy, I could barely believe my luck. It was another delicious meal and perhaps the perfect pre-summit treat. I was absolutely made up. After a nice mug of Sweet Dreams tea (not taking any chances getting kip tonight) it was 7:30pm and we were in bed ready to rest. The summit push started soon.

From the IMG blog: “Jonathan checked in today, reporting that the team and he had made their move to high camp.  Weather is good and winds were light.  All members made the move without issue.  That was all great news.  Plan is to prep summit gear, eat and drink, rest (as much is possible at that altitude) and get ready for a summit bid in the morning.  Forecast is favorable.  Now’s the time to see if all their patience and hard work will pay off.  They’ve done all they could to put themselves in a good position.  We wish them the best for tomorrow.https://www.mountainguides.com/wordpress/2016/01/31/aconcagua/aconcagua-team-in-position/

Sun is shining, weather is sweet but the wind is brutal


29th January 2016. What a great start to the morning with delicious bacon and cheese bagels. As forecast the sun was shining and the sky was blue, so we packed our gear and broke camp. My first mistake of the day was overdoing it at breakfast with 1.5 bagels as I got really nauseous breaking camp. There was no time to feel sorry for myself and off we went up the hill to camp II.

My second mistake of the day was starting the day wearing too many layers (duh, idiot; ‘Be bold, start cold’). I spent what felt like ages faffing around taking off my jacket but I was soon back on track. Despite the clear sky and sunshine the wind was consistently high with 30-something mph gusts at times. The previous day’s snow storm meant we were left breaking trail through the snow on the never-ending scree slopes. For each step in the snow it was a gamble as to whether you’d sink, slide back or power across it. The energy sapping wind, deep snow and with me still getting over the nausea from the morning, it was a mental battle. At one point a gust of wind knocked me to my knees. We stopped for a break and I realised I was exhausted. We still had a few hours to go so I downed as much water as I could and we kept on moving.

Suddenly I found my rhythm, or maybe the terrain got easier, and I felt stronger. Stopping for another short break we rehydrated and continued up towards the col. The wind by this point was like walking up a downward escalator; you’re definitely moving but you’re not making any progress. It was a constant battle for us all to be stronger than the wind with our heavy packs.

As we reached the saddle we were briefly protected from the wind but our new challenge was thigh-deep snow. We plodded on, one slow step at a time, and arrived at camp. Tincho ‘the Invincible’ had gone ahead to pitch two of the tents which was a major help. We arrived into camp, all helped to pitch the final tent and moved in a few minutes later.

I was very dehydrated so made a concerted effort to drink 2 litres over the next couple of hours. This was all well and good except the ‘bathroom’ was behind a boulder located down the hill, across the frozen stream and up the other hill covered with 8” deep snow. After my second visit I realised I had a problem to solve.
The problem: long, arduous, cold walk to bathroom and no pee bottle (seriously, without a funnel – and who wants to carry that – do women really use pee bottles?).
Inspired solution: A 1-litre ziplok bag in tent vestibule. Win. It is moments like this for the female mountaineer that you really are grateful for an understanding and trusted climbing partner. Thank you Bruce!

We literally chilled in our freezing cold tent until dinner time, which was another treat of more awesome burritos. With our water bottles refilled and bladders emptied again, it was time for tomorrow’s briefing. The weather forecast looked bad again with heavy snow and strong winds expected. The suggestion Tincho and Johnny made was that they would do a load carry to camp III without the three of us (clients), so we could save our strength for summit. If weather was too bad for the guys to carry, we would all rest and either do a heavy full load move up to camp III the following day when the wind was expected to die down, or possibly hire a porter to help with this. We’d then aim to summit the following morning. (OMG! This is getting REAL!)

As always on Aconcagua, it all depended on the weather. According to Tincho, this was the worst season he’d seen on Aconcagua for at least 10 years. Certainly at that point no other IMG Aconcagua teams that season had successfully summited, and very few other teams had made it since the season started in late November. It felt quite hopeless.

We said goodnight and agreed to see what would happen in the morning.

From the IMG blog: “On Aconcagua, Jonathan and team pushed hard in spite of wind and new snow and got into C2.  What a weather year on Aconcagua!  This was a big move for the team as there’s a lull in the winds forecasted for early next week and the team’s trying to get into position to take advantage, if it occurs.  Everyone’s doing well and the chess game continues.http://www.mountainguides.com/wordpress/2016/01/29/aconcagua/orizaba-attempt-and-big-move-in-aconcagua/

“This morning I had to wear goggles to take a shit”


28th January 2016. I had a very disturbed sleep, topped off by a horrendous snow storm this morning. Bruce and I knew it wasn’t looking good for the move up to Camp II which was the plan. We’d been up around an hour when Johnny came by to let us know the forecast and plan for the day. In his words “I always have to step outside the tent to make a decision for the day, and this morning I had to wear goggles to take a shit so my expectations were confirmed. Rest day”.

This came as disappointing news to us both as moving up to Camp II was a big step closer to the summit push and with the delays at Plaza Argentina our summit window was shrinking. That said, with a pounding headache developing, a chance to rest and rehydrate was a silver lining. Johnny came back a while later with breakfast. What a champ. Pancakes with bacon and loads of hot water for morning tea. I had taken a supply of dulce de leche from Plaza Argentina so that was added to the pancakes. It was absolutely delicious. After breakfast a visit to the ‘bathroom’ behind a rock in the snow storm was made interesting; trying to hold open a plastic bag to take a dump into, in gusting winds, is a challenge. (Overshare? Reality).

Rest days are pretty dull. Sit, wait, drink, play cards, drink, eat, drink, pee, read, pee, eat.
Add white-out snow storms and insane winds and it’s an awful way to spend the day. Perched up at 4900m in a valley we were camping in something resembling a funnel. In fact Tincho told us the next day that tents are regularly destroyed at this particular campsite due to the wind.

Being inside your tent in an environment like this is unearthly. If you listen carefully you can hear the wind gently whistling at the top of the valley like the breath of a faun on a spring day. Moments later a growling bear version of the wind creeps towards you before your ears start to deceive you and you think you’re actually listening to the sound of a jet plane going overhead. Then it hits you like going five rounds with Mike Tyson. The force of the wind distorts the tent, the poles warp, guylines become as taught as violin strings and it feels like the ground is shaking beneath you. Then silence. The mountain breathes. As Tyson himself once said “It’s ludicrous these mortals even attempt to enter my realm.

Sit, wait, drink, play cards, drink, eat, drink, pee, read, pee, eat.

Dinner time finally came around and we were treated to a yummy pasta dish with more bacon. Let’s just pause here. They say an army marches on its stomach and International Mountain Guides (IMG) who were overseeing the running of the trip (with the support of Grajales Expeditions on the ground in Argentina) know this. I think it would take a lot of persuasion for me to work with another company for big mountain objectives because of the unparalleled emphasis on bacon consumption by IMG.

I tucked into another one of my cinnamon oat bars for dessert and finished my mug of camomile tea. Another great part of expeditions, apart from the bacon consumption, is the simplicity of it. Things like doing the dishes – simple. Take one square of precious toilet paper and wipe down the inside of your Fozzils bowl (the only bowl for the mountains in my opinion – review coming later). For stubborn food residue you can add a drop of hot tea to another piece of toilet paper and it works like a charm. Dishes done, and so to bed! Tincho said that the weather was forecast to be calmer in the morning but the wind seemed to be getting worse all day.

Here’s a quote from my journal that day: “As I write, double the amount of ice has built up on the tent in the last hour. It’s freezing. I hadn’t quite appreciated how extreme the conditions could be. As I lie here, 21:26, the tent is shaking and it feels as if the ground is moving. I don’t know the wind speed but while the tent shakes, pieces of ice are falling onto my face which is only uncovered enough to breathe at 4900m. My foot keeps going dead from the cold inner boots I am wearing in an attempt to dry them out. THIS is mountaineering.

Load carrying from Camp I to Camp II


27th January 2016. I’d fallen asleep around 8pm the night before and although it was a disturbed night I got plenty of hours in. Breakfast was delivered to our tent and it was an amazing way to start the day; shredded potato with bacon and scrambled eggs!

After breakfast we got ready and we departed at 10am for our load carry up to Camp II. It was very windy and cold and we started at a slow pace on a gentle incline. The first part of the day was pretty boring actually, and the cold weather combined with numb toes and intermittent cold hands made it an unenjoyable experience. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows on the hill you know. As we continued things started to irritate me. I struggled with my sunglasses fogging up, I had a hair in my mouth and was generally irked. I then got a headache.

After reaching the top of the boring uphill slog you arrive on a stunning plateau with views across the Andes as far as the eye can see. It made the hike worthwhile and was definitely rejuvenating. It was there we had our long rest break for the day and had a chance to soak it all in. The next section took us on a flat traverse around the slope of the hill until the last little uphill section into camp. There were knee-deep patches of snow which slowed me up further and added fatigue to my aching legs. It was a really tough day.


From there on I found myself slightly on the higher end of 2 on Johnny’s 4-point scale (1 being top of the world, 4 being done in) and for the final push up and around the corner towards the camp and I was firmly at a 3, with trouble getting my breathing rhythm right and falling behind the rest of the team.  I arrived into camp just a few minutes after everyone else where we claimed the pitches and stashed our gear.

The way back down took around 45 minutes and was far easier. Offloading the extra gear and having flat and then gentle downhill terrain was just the rest I needed. We went back to our tents and Tincho delivered us some hot water. Drinking our herbal tea we tried to keep warm and Bruce and I chatted about the day. A few moments later there was a knock on the tent and food was served. This evening we were treated to two enormous burritos filled with rice, chicken, cheese and red peppers. Absolutely delicious. With full bellies and well hydrated we got into our sleeping bags and tried to drift off amidst the snow storm outside that was really picking up.

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…

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