Monday, 28 February 2011

Scarpa Terra GTX Update

I thought it was about time that I updated on the new walking boots I got at Christmas, my Scarpa Terra GTX. So, where did we leave it? I'd gotten them out of the box and briefly reviewed their features. And I'd taken them for their first walk. They'd seemed comfortable enough though I wasn't sure about the high ankle cuff but I needed to wear them on a few more hiking trips before making a judgement.

Now we are two months on and I've been away for a few camping weekends with my new boots. They've been up hill and down dale on a trip to Lord's Seat, Edale. They've helped me navigate the rocky ascent up Kinder Scout via Crowden Clough and test out the frozen moorland on top. They've been covered right to the top of the ankle cuff in mud. And they've been through the overflowing River Dove at Biggin Dale.

I can honestly say I love my boots. The first time I took them away, in my hurry, I'd left the plastic tag on, just ripping off the card around it. And to this day, I haven't taken it off. It's now almost like the plastic tag makes my boots mine! I look out for puddles that I can step in, knowing that my feet will now stay dry. I've never had a blister off them and now I don't even realise that I'm wearing them, they fit my feet so well, and whatever terrain I'm walking they seem comfortable and confident.

Each time I get them home, I make sure they get cleaned up before the next trip. They looked at bit more worn after my last adventure messing around on a scree slope but get them home, wash them off and dubbin them and they look almost like they've just come out of the box.

Long may it continue. And I've just read on the LiveForTheOutdoors forum about an example of fantastic customer service from Scarpa so I'm really feeling very pleased with my choice of walking boot. And I can't wait to put them on again and head out for a weekend hiking.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

BackCountry Navigator Android App

Whilst some walkers live for the latest hiking gear and gadgets, for us our trips are more about the feeling of freedom and being reliant on ourselves to survive. Any kit we take with us is secondary and so we wouldn't normally be found checking out technology. However when we made a rookie mistake and took the wrong map with us to Biggin Dale, we tested out the BackCountry Navigator Android app on the Samsung Galaxy S.

What is BackCountry Navigator?
BackCountry Navigator is an mapping software app for your mobile phone that allows you to navigate outdoors using your gps signal. It gives you access to UK Ordnance Survey (O.S) maps allowing you to zoom in and out depending on the level of detail you need to see. For non-UK users or for hiking trips abroad, it also gives you access to topo maps in the US, Canada and parts of Europe.

Is it free?
BackCountry Navigator is available as a free trial version and also as a pro edition for unlimited use for just £6.20. Unlike other mapping software such as Mapyx, you don't need to buy the maps, once you've downloaded the app all maps are free to use.

What did we like about it?
When you first open it up, you get some quick tips to help you get started. There is also an online help button where you can go to learn more. Even though I work in the mobile phone industry I'm not very tech savvy so it was great having some step by step instructions!

Once you've chosen the type of map you want, you then search for a place to get you started. You can opt to download a number of squares from the map for use later so that you don't need to have cell phone signal to use the map. If you have wi-fi at home, you can download your map for free before you leave so you don't need to use your mobile phone data allowance.

BackCountry Navigator lets you mark waypoints along your route which you can then navigate to. The trip computer view will show you the distance to the waypoint from your location and the bearing you need to walk. You can use the GPS and watch the arrow move along your route as you walk. There is also a compass view.

But as any Smartphone users will know, strain on the battery means that you are constantly needing to charge them. The developers of BackCountry Navigator have thought of this so rather than having the GPS on permanently, you get the option to switch it on and off as you need to conserve battery power. We've not tested it out on an extended hike yet but a blog on their site gives you some further tips on how to prevent battery drain and makes some impressive claims.

What would we improve?
As yet I've not found a way to view the length of your planned walk or ascent over the course of the walk. This would allow us to use it to plan a walk in the same way we would with Mapyx or Memory Map. That said, it pitches itself as a navigational tool rather than a route planning tool and is cheaper than the other software.

I did manage to crash it but I think that was more of a problem with the user than the software – when will I learn that pushing too many buttons all at once doesn't help?!

Overall, we thought it was a great app and recommend you check out the trial version for yourselves. Next time we'll be trying to remember the correct map but will certainly be checking in with BackCountry Navigator if ever we're not sure of the route. It will also be useful for exploring new areas before we decide whether to buy the O.S. Map.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Biggin Dale

Occasionally, though you're glad to be free of the working week, you find that you're not quite ready for the weekend. And that was the case last weekend. We'd only decided where to go on Wednesday evening, and not packed with any kind of thought and attention hurriedly stuffing the items we could think of into our packs. Never a good idea.

We found ourselves at the Waterloo Inn camp site trying to find all the bits of the tent and put it up in the dark and the rain in a field where the pegs didn't seem too keen on going into the ground. So despite the tastiest fish in the crispiest batter with the most perfect salty chips that we'd eaten in the car on the way up, frustrations were high and we were thinking maybe we should have waited til Saturday to start the weekend.

We slept well though and were happy to be woken in the morning by the cockerel who sounded like he was being strangled. Saturday was a beautiful day with the sun shining and by 9.30 we'd eaten some porridge and were headed off for our day's walk. Dovedale was our very first trip, and we were back in the area to see how it compared now that we had been further afield.

We set off across the field opposite the pub, then walked along Liff's Road past fields of sheep with newborn lambs. We were using the Back Country Navigator Android app rather than a map testing it out if you like to see how good it was (what I mean to say, dare I admit it on the blog, was we accidentally brought the Dark Peak map with us and left the map we needed at home!).

We turned onto the footpath down towards Coldeaton. We then turned down across a field, just before Dove Top Farm and began dropping downwards to the valley floor. We were all alone, the sun was streaming through the trees and the landscape was glorious, luscious White Peak. As we headed down to the River Dove, it was just as perfect as that first walk, providing a wonderful feeling of happy contentment.

Of course, walking along the Dove we were no longer alone but we were enjoying it so much that we ignored the turning for Biggin Dale and continued on up Wolfscote Dale. I felt like I could have walked for ever, so a scramble up the scree was just what I needed to waste some energy. After lunch we retraced our steps, the view looking satisfyingly different from the opposite direction and turned up Biggin Dale.

Biggin Dale wasn't quite as I expected. It was muddy and rocky underfoot and as we walked the landscape quickly changed from the limestone outcrops behind us to more rolling tree covered hillsides. We headed back to Biggin, checking out the village for some fresh eggs. Our curiosity was peaked by a sign for turkey eggs but sadly no-one was home so I can't tell you how they tasted.

After a very enjoyable day's walk our love for the area surrounding the Dove was definitely rekindled.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Coast to Coast Charity Walk - tips needed!

Some friends of hikingblog are about to undertake the Coast to Coast walk for the Save the Children charity. Nathan and Gavin will be setting out from St Bees on the west coast of England on 16th April. They plan to be dipping their tired feet into the North Sea at Robin Hoods Bay on the east coast by May 1st.

Nathan says they were keen to do something for children so choosing Save the Children was an easy decision. The charity works in over 40 countries including Afghanistan, India, Ethiopia and Kenya as well as the UK to prevent famine and child poverty and to fight for childrens' rights.

This will be Nathan's first long distance walk so he would welcome tips from any of you who have done the Coast to Coast or similar walks. Just post a comment on the blog.

Also if anyone would like to donate you can visit their Just Giving page here -

I think it was worth clicking through just to see Nathan modelling with his breakfast of choice in the photos section!

Nathan & Gavin - Good luck! We'll be expecting some updates on how you get on.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Kinder Scout - up Crowden Clough

Kinder Scout...everyone knows it, everyone has a favourite route or experience. After much deliberating, looking at the map, calling camp sites and planning for a wild camp we headed up to the Edale Valley on the Friday morning. Our first view of Kinder Scout had been of a dark foreboding stretch of hill, shrouded in mist so it was unexpected to arrive into the valley on a crisp, sunny morning able to see all its detail, from the deep cloughs that scar its sides to the edge against the pale blue winter sky.

After turning up at the wrong camp site which was closed due to the cold weather, we found the National Trust camp site at Upper Booth Farm (which as it happens was also closed until mid Feb!). However, they'd mistakenly allowed us to book so we pitched our tents among the chickens and got round to a brew and breakfast (or rather 2nd breakfast!) and inspecting each other's gear.

In the afternoon (to keep warm...) we went for a stroll along the Pennine Way footpath over to Edale and visited the Nag's Head. A couple of pints later we were much warmer and merrier. And I'd definitely recommend the Nag's Special; the biggest yorkshire pudding you've ever seen filled with slow cooked lamb, chips, veg and gravy.

Walking back to camp, the sky was clear and I've never seen so many stars in my life. Of course, that meant it was truly freezing cold. Loz resorted (quite happily I'm sure) to his bottle of whisky to keep him warm. I had high hopes from my new 4 season inflatable sleeping mat, and to be fair to it, it didn't let me down. I was très comfortable and couldn't feel the cold seeping up from underneath like before. But I did still need to keep all my clothes on and resort to wearing my gloves on my feet to defrost them and get to sleep.

Waking up, we all felt it had seemed a long night and we were concerned that up on the plateau it would have been at least a few degrees colder. So we agreed it made sense to change our plans and return to camp that night rather than wild camping. The bad news was that meant less time to explore but we did get to leave our tents and sleeping bags behind.

The footpath following Crowden Brook up Kinder Scout begins in a dingly dell setting next to Upper Booth Farm. A nice gentle walk crossing over the brook and entering into moorland ensues before the going gets rougher and you begin to ascend the Crowden Clough. The path became much less well defined and we had a few crossings of the brook balancing on the wet, icy stones and hoping not to slip into the arctic water. In places the water had frozen mid flow creating icicles hanging from the bank.

The top of the clough was a sheet of ice, so instead of following the brook to the top we scrambled up the steep grassy slope toward Crowden Tower. Pausing for a rest part way up is my memory for the day; looking back down the clough, capturing the wilderness and a feeling of being much higher up than we actually were.

The peaty bog on the plateau had frozen solid as we made our way through the Woolpacks and Pym Chair towards Kinder Low. Not knowing how steep and difficult the descent of Jacob's Ladder might be we didn't want to be attempting it in the dark. So with heavy heart we changed our plans again, a visit to the Kinder Downfall pushed back to another trip. Of course, we found that Jacob's Ladder is a really easy way up and down Kinder, and I can't help but sit here wondering if we could have pushed on round the edge. But always a good excuse to return for another trip.

Crowden Clough was a good choice of route up, providing that extra interest and challenge that would have been disappointingly lacking taking the easier path up the ladder. Overall though, I've got to admit, I'm not quite sure I've understood Kinder Scout yet. Perhaps I just need to get to know it better?

Find out more about the Kinder Scout restoration project