Bacon again?!


30th January 2016. I woke up in the night after a strange dream about being in Russia. I had just finished reading the excellent book Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eicher, which is a true story about a disaster which occurred in the Ural Mountains in 1959 (highly recommended, but perhaps not while you’re climbing a mountain!), so it wasn’t much of a stretch to understand why I was dreaming about that.

I took a visit to the bathroom and when I returned I was chilled to the core. I shivered for another two hours in my cold sleeping bag which was soaked by condensation on the outside, before finally warming up and falling back to sleep.

A few hours later we woke up to a still, bright and sunny day so the decision to carry to camp III was made.

This meant the plan was back on track and after the carry today, tomorrow we would move in to camp III , then attempt the summit early the following morning. We had our breakfast, packed up and set off.

The terrain was fairly gentle but the deep snow which fell yesterday meant some tough slopes, again around knee deep at times.

We made good progress and arrived at camp III, 5900m, in 3hrs 45 mins. This marked the highest altitude I’d ever been to (highest before being Kilimanjaro, 5895m). Despite only being 5m higher, I felt like I had left my comfort zone and was now heading into unfamiliar territory. We were still 1000m lower than we were aiming for so I found it interesting to assess how my body was adjusting.

I stood there in Camp III taking it all in as I remembered how exhausted I’d felt in the past reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro yet here I was at almost the same altitude but carrying an 18kg backpack and I still had gas left in the tank. It was very interesting making the comparison and I considered whether a contributing difference was my role on the expedition; here I was a client, but on Kilimanjaro I am always the trip leader where my focus is on the wellbeing of my clients.

That said, I was freezing and my calf had been cramping up for the last hour, so I actually felt a bit miserable. We stashed our gear before descending fast to camp II by 4:30pm to chill out. The sun had been warming our tents most of the day so Bruce and I took it in turns to have a good baby wipe wash (4 whole wipes!). I stayed in the warmth of the tent and relaxed while Bruce took in the sun.

A few hours later another spectacular dinner was served. On the menu today we had a bowl of rice topped with a mountain of bacon and parmesan, washed down with a mug of hot mint tea.

Fun fact: When you’re carrying all your gear on a mountain, even grams matter when you’re packing. As a direct result of this you start doing crazy weight-saving things cutting your closed-cell sleeping mat in half, removing garment labels, shortening your toothbrush handle or even re-using teabags.

Advice: If you’re planning on saving a few grams by re-using herbal tea bags, don’t! If you fail to heed my advice know that one herbal teabag has a maximum of two uses, the third is tasteless.

After dinner it was bed time, at 8pm. Good night!

From the IMG blog: “News continues to be favorable from Jonathan Schrock and his Aconcagua team.  Calm winds and sunny for their carry today to high camp.  Plan is to move to high camp tomorrow and take a summit shot on Monday morning.  Weather forecast currently is favorable, at least through then.  When the fish are running, it’s time to go fishing.” https://www.mountainguides.com/wordpress/2016/01/30/aconcagua/mexicos-a-wrap-aconcagua-looking-good/

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/

Striders Edge update


So not so long ago I wrote a bit of a review about some Striders Edge gear that I was given for Christmas. If you didn’t read it, check it out here. Sometime before receiving these wonderful items I had been searching the internet, sports apparel clothes shops and even keeping an eye out in charity shops for a long-sleeved, hooded base layer top that would be suitable for running in autumn/winter or cool spring days. Would you believe there was not a single one to be found that fitted the bill? I searched everywhere and eventually ended up finding a bright blue/high vis yellow loose polyester jacket from TK Maxx. The hood was enormous so fell down while I was running, it was so loosely cut that putting things in the pockets would make the bottom hem jump up and down with each stride. Long story short, it didn’t really fit the bill for running.

I was so desperate to find one that I even contacted Striders Edge via Twitter, knowing that they always replied and perhaps could consider making one for me. Of course I expected a reply (which I did get) but I had no idea that months later, this week in July 2013, they would Tweet me to let me know they had actually made one: “can you remember you once asked if we could add a hood onto our engineered climate map products? Well we did it x” And here it is…

From Striders Edge website: http://www.stridersedge.com/ec-map-hoody-crag-grey/

You can find this (crag grey) and a pink one (raspberry fuchsia) here: http://www.stridersedge.com/ec-map-hoody-crag-grey/

It’s not uncommon for companies to say “We listen to what the consumers want” but I am absolutely astounded and impressed that my humble request was listened to and acted upon. I will be placing my order soon and will be creating another blog about that once it arrives.

Striders Edge, you have a customer for life here.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Berghaus BIOFLEX Light 35


Last year I was fortunate  enough to get my hands on a pre-release Berghaus Bioflex Light 35 rucksack. It was an absolute delight tearing open the packaging to reveal the Atlantic Blue pack I was soon to fall in love with.

You can read the specifications and details here: http://store.berghaus.com/p/backpacks-rucksacks/mens-bioflex-light-35-rucksack/420812/

I should perhaps point out at this stage that yes, I am a female and have a ‘mens’ pack. At 5’6, I have a long torso and short legs meaning that for rucksacks I have to go for the ‘mens’ fit instead of the ‘ladies’ fit. This isn’t just specific to Berghaus but in my experience it applies to all brands of rucksack. ‘Mens’ and ‘ladies’ fit is just a label Berghaus have used instead of the gender neutral ‘medium’ or ‘small’  (but that’s a debate for another day!).

The Bioflex technology is an innovate idea focused on a free-moving hipbelt for optimum comfort and fit and I am very, very impressed. To date I have used this rucksack for three different types of activity.

1) Trek to Everest Base Camp
12 days of hiking in the stunning Everest region of Nepal was probably one of the best test runs I could do for this rucksack. I have always used Berghaus rucksacks for hiking trips and the difference between the Bioflex Light and the previous ones I have used is black and white.

– The hip belt is wide and soft and the padding feels like it moulds to your hips (almost like memory foam), which makes the free moving part of the belt incredibly comfortable even when carrying a fairly heavy load.
The Berghaus website says “The waist belt is attached to a BIOFLEX® Light pivot; this allows the pack to move with you as you walk providing a higher level of carry comfort and weight transfer.” This is no exaggeration; it is exactly what the Bioflex system does and my opinion is that this system made each step easier, particularly when hiking at altitude where carrying even a small load can feel arduous.

With this being my first major use of the rucksack I did come across some teething problems. Adjusting the shoulder straps and back system for comfort took some playing around with and at times people pointed out that the rucksack was leaning left or right where I had over tightened one or the other shoulder strap (although despite this, at no point did I feel unbalanced- possibly due to the Bioflex system).

2) A walk in the hills, Lake District

14361_10151110864281467_1342138151_nA month after returning from EBC I was out in the Lakes with some friends for a crisp winter walk (read here for the story). The Bioflex Light came with me again, this time loaded with gingerbread, hot chocolate and other essentials for the hills. By this point 12 days of hiking in Nepal had got me totally used to the feel of the rucksack and I had adjusted the system to fit me like a glove. It was like I was hiking without any kind of pack. Weightless, comfortable, cosy.

– The Bioflex Light is a 35 litre capacity and is perfect for me – I like to have plenty of room in my rucksack so it’s easy to dig around in, and to have the option to help lighten other people’s loads if required. It looks larger than 35 litres on the inside, yet smaller from the outside (I’ve managed to use it as hand baggage on multiple occasions with no problems).
One of the things I adore about the Bioxflex light are the mesh zip pockets on the hip belt. As soon as I start walking I get a runny nose so one pocket fits a pack of Kleenex and the other is the perfect size for sweets! The side pockets are roomy too, easily fitting a 1-litre bottle into each.

3) Introduction to Scottish Winter Mountaineering

Scottish WinterI love trekking and have been doing it for almost 6 years but this year it was time to take things up a notch and try my hand at mountaineering. The Bioflex Light travelled up to Scotland with me (Easyjet didn’t even question the size of it for hand baggage) and new skills were learnt in Glencoe with JCG Expeditions.
Being nimble but sure-footed in the Scottish hills in winter is essential and carrying a cumbersome rucksack would be a sure-fire way to losing balance and possibly sustaining a serious or life threatening injury. The Bioflex Light reigned supreme again, hugging my body and to a degree, keeping me warm on the chilly winter days.
-The only possible drawback I can seee to this rucksack are the two small buckle clips that close the main hood are quite fiddly to undo and clip up again. I found I had to take my gloves off to do it, which in a winter scenario is a time waster and depending on the conditions, possibly risky to your fingers (particularly if you dropped a glove in the meantime). I also wonder how robust they are, given their size. Only time will tell.

 

Final comments
There is a large front pocket under the bungee cord which is made of the same soft, stretchy fabric for the side pockets. There is a small hole at the seam of the side pocket where I suppose I caught it on something. This gives me some cause for concern about whether the other areas might end up with a hole and I’ll lose something from them.

Apart from the questionable fabric mentioned above, it’s great to see Berghaus returning to using good quality, water resistant (rip stop?) fabric for this rucksack. The Bioflex Light has renewed my faith in the brand, after it had previously been shaken by the quality in the Freeflow packs dropping below that which I would consider acceptable (to the point where I wrote an email of complaint to the company). I’m pleased that things are on the up and I will now consider Berghaus for gear going forwards.

As with most hydration systems, the inner pouch isn’t long enough to fit the older version of the CamelBak (Omega) without it poking out from the elasticated top. It really makes no difference to the function, weight bearing or appearance but it’s just something that bugs me. I am yet to test it with the newer version of the CamelBak (Antidote), which is shorter and fatter, but I suspect this will fit much nicer.

It’s a real pleasure to find a rucksack in my favourite colour!

The real test for this rucksack will be on Mount Kilimanjaro this May. It will be my third ascent of Kili. I used a Karrimor pack on my first trip, Berghaus Freeflow on my second and the Bioflex Light will join me on my third ascent. Being able to compare the load bearing at altitude on a trek I’ve done twice before will be when I can say for sure what I think of it.

Big thanks to Berghaus for creating, to date, the best rucksack I have ever used.

Happy travelling!

PRODUCT REVIEW: ProBalm


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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