Sarek, August 2017 – The Video

I have tonight put together a shortish video of this year’s trip, set to some First Aid Kit music.

It’s just under 10 minutes long…..

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My Thoughts On The Southern Cross 1

I don’t normally do gear reviews – I might say whether I like something or not, but that’s about it – but there seems to be a fair amount of interest in this tent, so I’ll pen my thoughts after its first night out.

Why Did We Buy A SC1?

We’ve had a Hilleberg Enan for about 3 years, and it’s generally been great. We initially bought it for my 2015 trip to Sarek with James, and it performed brilliantly out there.

It is a ‘sheltered, three season’ tent though, and Geoff did have an unforgettable night in the Howgills with it one January, with high winds and rain.

It never totally flattened, ripped, blew away or got damaged in any way, but it did give him a rather disturbed night. So, we’ve been wondering about something similar but specced as ‘four season’.

A year back, we bought a Southern Cross 2. It would be fairly cozy as a 2 person tent, although it does have two porches which is very handy, but we bought it specifically as a 1 person + 1 big dog tent. In this respect it has been serving us very well, so this led us on to purchasing the SC1 for solo use.

First Night Out With The SC1 

I chose a pitch which would catch the weather a bit. Kinder has been pretty dry of late and water can be a problem up there, so I went over towards Brown Knoll instead. I knew that would be dry too, but I also knew I could filter some water on the way and not have to carry it too far.

Ok, so it wasn’t a particularly inspired pitch for the night, but it served a purpose and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get disturbed.

The tent goes up quickly and easily – outer first then add the inner, although you can keep it attached as one if you feel like it.

These tents have a couple of really nifty door features. One of them is the way you can clip the door open, by hooking it onto the ‘exoskeleton’. I can do this, and unclip it, from a kneeling position inside, so it’s very useful.

This next photo shows this on the SC2 aswell:

It also has a way of folding and fastening the bottom few inches of the outer door out of the way, and if you combine this with undoing the top of the zip a little, it creates a reasonable amount of ventilation. This makes it about as safe as it can possibly be, if you need to cook (very carefully of course) in the closed porch in really bad weather. I forgot to take a picture of this feature last night though, but here it is on the SC2:

Once inside, the SC1 feels a touch smaller than the Enan. I think this is partly due to the inner walls sloping inwards more. The headroom is also a bit lower. I still had no problem fitting all my gear in, however, in my usual organised manner…..

I pretty much empty my rucksack and place most of the contents alongside my Xtherm, and the empty-ish sack, boots, water, stove, etc. fit nicely in the porch. There is also a good 6 inches or so spare above the head end of my sleeping mat, where I tend to store my food bags.

I had dinner and settled down for the duration. Sitting on my mat I was comfy enough, and spent a couple of hours reading.

Well I can’t say that the weather overnight was Wilder Than A Wild Thing, but there were some heavy showers and a lively breeze from time to time. The tent was absolutely fine in this and I slept well.

All was still and claggy when I awoke.

I had a leisurely breakfast, then decided to put to the tent to the final test for this trip. Could I pack my rucksack inside?

So, I pretended it was still throwing it down, closed the outer door, left the inner door open to give me a bit more space and set to.

It was no problem whatsoever, and I was soon ready to take my pack outside and take the actual tent down.

I took the inner out first.

The inner and the outer were placed in separate bags, which both fit neatly together in the zipped pocket on the front of my pack.

The poles and pegs are in another bag, which I put in one of the side pockets of the rucksack.

And setting off home, the sun started to make an appearance.

A Few Further Thoughts

I like the tent. The slightly smaller feel compared to the Enan is of no consequence to me. Everything fitted in fine, I had no problems doing anything and it was warm and cozy.

Geoff is off to the Lakes next Tuesday for a week and taking it with him, so we’ll see how he gets on with it too. He’s not much taller than me anyway, so I imagine he’ll be ok with it. There won’t be space for him to use his Thermarest Chair Kit inside, mind…

If you were much taller than me however, but still liked the style etc of the tent, I suspect the SC2, with it’s greater headroom and oodles of space, may well suit better. There would, of course, then be the extra bit of weight there to take into consideration.

On the other hand, if you have been used to using a Laser Comp (which the SC tents are based on) or a Zephyros – which I think probably have a similar amount of space inside – you may well be perfectly happy with it.

The SC1 weighs 1.7kg and the SC2 weighs 2.3kg.

 

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Arctic Sweden – Sarek 2017 – Part Two

Day Five

Day 5

Last night’s pitch had been particularly mozzified. Luckily, it hadn’t been too warm to eat in the tent. Geoff is particularly skilled at cooking in the porch by sticking his hands through a mega small opening in the inner door zip. Having freeze dried food which only needs boiling water adding to it obviously helps!

We set off quite early today with the plan to get a few more miles under our belts, initially following the route back through the forest alongside Stuor and Unna Dahta.

Geoff did take a wrong turning at one point, but I managed to shout him back before he’d gone too far.

 

On reaching the junction with the Kungsleden again, we stopped for a long lunch break before turning north east, to explore in that direction for a couple of days.

The weather suddenly turned bitter while we were eating. I put my jacket on and my hands were so cold, that as they warmed up when we started moving again, my finger ends hurt like mad.

And then the rain started. And got heavier. And got heavier. We covered a couple more miles until we were alongside the eastern end of Stuor Dahta before deciding we’d had enough for the day. By this time, the area wasn’t conducive to flat, grassy camping spots, but we found somewhere that would do.

Thank goodness for outer-pitch-first tents! I dread to think how awful it would have been trying to pitch in those conditions in our old Voyager that we used to use in the States.

 

I went down to the lake for water.

It was only about 2pm and the rain wasn’t due to stop till after midnight. It never let up.

We played I Spy for a while, but Geoff is so awkward – constantly using abstract nouns – and even verbs. He won, 4 games to 3, but only by stretching the rules.

The next game – The Chain – was much better. Far less competitive. Anyone who listens to Radcliffe and Maconie will know this one. You say a song title and the artist, and the other person has to come up with another song plus artist that links to it in some way. (You can’t have the same artist twice on the run.)

…..’Boston Tea Party’ by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band >>> ‘Dellila’ by Tom Jones (do you know the link there?) >>> ‘I Won’t Back Down’ by Tom Petty >>> ‘Man In Black’ by Johnny Cash (do you know the link there, too?)……

This was much more fun and kept us occupied till tea time.

We couldn’t think of anything else to play after that.

 

Day Six

Day 6

Thankfully, the rain had stopped by the time we set off this morning. We contiued along the Kungsleden, aiming for the Parte Hut.

This was actually one of the roughest sections of the whole trip.

The wet rocks and tree roots made for unbelievably slow going.

We never intended to spend the night at the hut, but called in to drop some rubbish off.

The warden was very pleasant and chatty, gave us a drink of strawberry juice – it was rather delicious – and suggested we might be able to pitch our tent up a bit further round the lake. (Geoff was suitably shocked at how much it would cost us to pitch at the hut, around £20 per night, so that wasn’t going to happen.)

 

So we carried on just a tiny bit further and found the most sloping pitch of the trip.

For once, though, the mozzies didn’t stop us having a relaxing brew outside.

 

Day Seven

Day 7

I’d slept surprisingly well, considering I’d had to belay myself from a nearby tree to stop me sliding out of bed.

Today’s plan was to leave the tent where it was and walk with day stuff only, to a high point about 4 miles away.

We were aiming for a saddle in between two tops – Favnoajvve and Huomnasj.

It didn’t disappoint.

A group of reindeer made the moment complete.

Once again, walking back to the tent in the afternoon, we felt quite privileged.

 

 

Day Eight

Day 8

Another dry day, and we aimed to get back within two or three miles of Kvikkjokk.

When we reached the really-rough-underfoot section again, we continued on where we’d left off, with The Chain.

……’Blue Hawaii’ by Elvis Presley >>> ‘Wild Thing’ by The Trogs (get it?) >>> ‘Love Is All Around’ by Wet Wet Wet >>> ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ by Joe Cocker……..

And tonight’s spot won the prize for the most mozzified pitch of the trip, by far.

 

Day Nine

Day 9

And so, we walked the last couple of miles into Kvikkjokk, timing it just right for lunch in the STF Hostel.

I was so ready for that meal. Eight days of freeze dried food does take its toll and I’d been fantasizing about chips for days!

The night was spent pitched in the village and we were up the next morning in time to catch the 5:20am bus back to Lulea. Then it was back to the Arctic North Hotel once more, before flying home the next day.

A grand trip, with lots of great memories.

Geoff’s ramblings about part two of our trip, are here.

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Arctic Sweden – Sarek 2017 – Part One

Of course when you book a ‘cheaper’ flight to somewhere, you don’t always get to go the most direct route. Three flights it took us to get to Lulea – Manchester to Oslo, Oslo to Stockholm then Stockholm to Lulea. None of them were much more than an hour long though, so we still arrived early evening.

The logistics of having to buy gas before the next leg of our journey meant that we had to spend two nights here, so the following day we explored the town, trying on loads of Fjallraven trousers in the two big outdoor shops. I also had a good look at every different model of Osprey rucksack I could find – after all I might be thinking of purchasing another….

We still only ended up buying gas though!

 

Day One

Days 1 and 2

Having set the alarm for 6am, we caught the 8am train for a two hour journey to Murjek.

From Murjek, we had another four hours on a bus to finally get us to Kvikkjokk, our jumping off point for Sarek, and being mid afternoon by then, we didn’t plan on walking very far to our first camp.

Just over two miles got us to a nice enough spot. Some mosquitoes about, but nowhere near as bad as last time I was here in 2015, with James.

Day Two

We had a variety of possible routes planned, all around a particular circuit. Plenty of slack in the plans meant that in theory, anything could easily be altered, depending on how fast/slow we were moving or how hard/easy the terrain was.

 

Since being rather poorly a few weeks back however, with suspected Lyme Disease, I was still having the occasional Difficult Day, so principally to cater for me we turned the trip into more of a Slackpack than a Mega Challenge, ending up doing essentially two ‘out and back’ trips rather than the original circuit taking in the bush whacking jungle of either the Rapa Valley or the Gallakjahka Valley.

We’d started our route out of Kvikkjokk on the Kungsleden, but hadn’t gone far today before we turned off and left it for a few days, seeking out the wilder terrain of Sarek itself.

It was warm and the mosquitoes were out in force. Paramo jackets were very useful as a bit of armour, but our Mosiguard repellent (all natural, not Deet) is surprisingly good. We’ve used it successfully for many years.

The trail took us through a forest, past the two lakes of Unna Dahta and Stuor Dahta, but the water was hardly ever visible, due to the denseness of the vegetation.

You certainly don’t rush anywhere around here, constantly having to be aware of where you’re placing your feet. Tree roots and boulders abound.

Eventually reaching the Boarek bogland by mid-afternoon, we started to look for a decent pitch for the night.

 

Amazing views and a fresh breeze – the mosquitoes were in abeyance.

 

Day Three

Day 3

A lively wind overnight heralded a bit of a change to the weather. Cooler and more comfortable. Fresh snow on the distant high tops.

It’s a good three miles across the bog, before arriving at the first big river crossing.

The crossing is actually where two lakes join and, although wide, thankfully doesn’t have too much of a current.

Once on the other side, we were back in trees again. Slowly climbing through them, we by-passed the Sami village of Boarek. Once again, the vegetation is so dense that you can hardly see any of the settlement, or even any paths through to it. We did, however, suddenly come across a sign fastened to a pole.

Not knowing anything about Alex Hamberg, we read it then walked on by, musing at how few people would be likely to be passing here over the next few days anyway. Probably only two or three each day I suspect!

We continued on our way, slowly climbing, now over completely trackless terrain above the Sami settlement.

We were initially aiming for the river of Gasskagarsajagasj, hoping to find an easy way across.

Wandering up and down, an easy crossing was not immediately obvious, so we decided to follow it up higher where we could see snow. Maybe there would be a snowbridge. Sure enough there was and, crossing it, we noticed plenty of reindeer poo. Obviously it was their way over the river as well!

The weather was getting wilder and wetter by now, so we decided to stop for the day. Our normal pitching routine is to do the tent outer together, then Geoff does the inner and starts to sort stuff inside while I go and filter all the water we need for the night and the next morning.

I couldn’t see any easy way down to the river for water, but found a tiny pool in the rocks at the side. That would have to do.

 

Day Four

Day 4

Well, it wasn’t the best night’s sleep – the weather had been wilder than a wild thing! The tent had taken a battering, but had stood up well to it all – as it should have done of course. Morning brought another grey day with more fresh snow dusted on the tops, but at least the wind had dropped a lot.

A group of reindeer appeared. Maybe they wanted to cross the river and we were in the way! Geoff crept outside to try and capture some photos.

The light wasn’t so good.

 

We breakfasted, then re-crossed the river and went back in search of the sun.

This time when passing the sign about visiting the research cabin of Axel Hamberg, we decided to go and see what it was all about.

Apparently, this man had been a professor at Uppsala University, studying glaciology, geology and all sorts of other related things, including meteorology. In 1895 he had built a cabin in Boarek and spent 36 years there, scientifically exploring the high alpine area of Sarek. Since then, the Sami people – along with other scientists connected with Laponia Heritage – have looked after his research cabin, keeping it in pristine condition. This was the first time it had ever been open to the public.

We followed the arrow into the trees, found a group of people sat around a campfire, and were given a lovely, warm welcome. One of the guys was actually living in the cabin for the few days they were all there, the others were camping. We were shown around.

It was absolutely wonderful inside.

We were then invited by the Sami couple from Boarek who were there, to join them all for coffee and cinnamon buns. What a privilege. A space was created around the fire and a reindeer skin was placed on the ground for us to sit on. Coffee and buns were served, and we stayed there for about an hour discussing all sorts – from Sarek, to weather, to families, to Brexit and everything in between. Amazing. It was definitely a highlight of the trip.

All too soon, it was time to move on.

Back over the first river crossing again before finding a very mosquito-ey pitch for the night, a couple of miles further on.

 

Geoff’s ramblings about the first part of our trip, are here.

 

 

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Sleepover On Kinder

We’re extremely lucky to live where we do. In as little as 3.4 miles from our front door, we can reach an idyllic little spot on the slopes of Kinder, for an easy night out. Of course if you wish, you can make the journey there and back as circuitous and as long as you want, turning it into a much bigger venture, but Pebbles and I just fancied a quick sleepover.

It was pretty hot, so it was a good chance for Pebbles to try out her Swamp Cooler Vest underneath her panniers. It worked well.

Last time I camped by this ruin I was completely on my own and I have to say that despite being a lovely spot, once it had gone dark it seemed to take on quite a spooky atmosphere. I was sure it’d be fine this time though, with Pebbles to scare off anything lurking in the shadows.

But at around midnight, when Pebbles suddenly woke me up with a menacing growl routine, aimed at something outside the tent, she put me right on edge. Clearly unable to settle again, she needed to go out and check what was going on. I finally gave in and went out with her for a bit of a prowl around. The sky was dark and star filled, and I could clearly count 4 planes lining up for landing at Manchester Airport.

Pebbles, however,  wasn’t interested in the beauty of the night. She just wanted to stand – rigidly staring at something in the vicinity of the big tree near us.

So, still feeling less than totally relaxed, we returned to the tent. Thankfully, after a few minutes on Twitter – complete with both ghost and crazed maniac jokes from friends who were still up and awake back in normal reality land – I found myself chilled, laughing and ready to sleep again.

The rest of the night passed peacefully and we awoke to a scorcher of a morning.

 

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TGOC 2017 Video

I’ve made a short video from some of my TGOC photos. If you fancy watching it, it’s thirteen minutes long and the music is by King Creosote.

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TGOC2017 – Shiel Bridge To Aberdeen, Part Five

Day Thirteen – 21.1 miles

Mark and I both have the same plan for the finish, to take the Deeside Way from Ballater to Aberdeen. He plans to do it over three days though, and I want to take two days.

Looking at my map the route is all marked, apart from the section between Aboyne and Kincardine O’Neil. Unless there’s some waymarking on this stretch, I’m assuming that you have to go down the road here.

I’m ready quite early and end up setting off before Mark.

It’s very quiet.

It’s very pleasant. The occasional commuter cycles by.

For most of this morning, I’m walking through a distinctly rural area.

Sadly, I see some remnants still not sorted, from the floods a couple of years ago.

 

I’m starting to understand why I’ve heard that the Deeside Way makes a very pleasant ending to the Challenge.

It runs parallel to the A93 for a while, but I don’t really notice it, there’s too much greenery around. I come off the track briefly for a mid morning break at Dinnet. I notice our van parked up – Geoff’s obviously gone for a walk from here with the dogs!

I don’t go in, but buy an ice cream from a nearby cafe.

Continuing on my way, I have Second Lunch next to a gliding club, then eventually reach Aboyne.

 

As I suspected, when I pop out onto the road in the town, all waymarking for the route just stops. I’ve nothing marked here on my map either, so I try and find what looks like a bit of a route through on the south side of the A93. This doesn’t work – a housing estate has been built there now. So, in the absence of anything more obvious, I assume you’re expected to go down the road.

This doesn’t work either. It’s far too busy and after being nearly squished several times, I retrace my steps and plan a route along some minor roads and tracks to the north of the A93 – a bit of a long way round, but hopefully safer.

I can hardly believe it then, when almost as soon as I’ve turned off onto one of the ‘yellow’ roads, I suddenly pick up waymarks again, on what looks like a brand new section of trail! Back onto a pleasant track, through some woods and I’m soon safely on the outskirts of Kincardine O’Neil.

A sudden heavy downpour has me reaching for my waterproofs and as I pass the local church, I spy Mark sitting in the porch, having a break. I go in and join him. We inevitably have a bit of a discussion about the difficulty of finding the route out of Aboyne. He also had a bit of difficulty, but looking at his map, he obviously has a newer version than me, as part of this section is marked on his.

I’m aware that Rich Flint is also on the trail, a few miles behind us – Geoff having already sent me a text earlier to say that Rich was drinking tea and eating cake with him in the van. I send Rich a message then, to warn him about the route problems here, just in case he has an older edition of the map like me.

And it transpires that John Boy is around, too! I get a message from him saying he’s currently having scones and tea a few miles in front of us, at Potarch. It’s almost busy!

Mark and I carry on together now. We discover that we’re both aiming for the same camping spot tonight, so with the wonders of modern technology I screen grab our intended camping spot from Viewranger and message it to Rich, in case he wants to join us there later.

The last few miles pass quickly with Mark to chat to. Geoff is in the car park when we get there. Mark pitches his tent outside and joins us for a meal. An hour or so later, Rich turns up. He pitches too, then Geoff cooks him some dinner. We have a Challenge Party.

 

Day Fourteen – 20 miles

Rich is planning on taking the Deeside Way all the way to Aberdeen today, Mark is going as far as Peterculter and I want to get all the way to the coast as well. To make it easier for Geoff – who’s meeting me at the beach – I decide to leave the Way at Crathes and pick some quiet roads up across to Newtonhill, instead.

I’ve got about 20 miles to do again, so I set off early-ish. It’s obviously going to be a hot one, but the first few miles are in shade.

 

I leave the Way behind properly at Crathes and start walking down the B9077, and the heat is becoming quite intense. The road is also unbelievably busy, both cars and wagons skimming past me. I’m not happy. In fact, I’m pretty scared.

A couple more miles and I turn off onto the smaller roads. These are much quieter and I breathe a sigh of relief.

I’ve not gone too far when to my amazement, Geoff appears, driving towards me. He stops. He’s been driving on my route down to the coast to wait for me, and has been totally thwarted by a new road/motorway that is being built. The roads I’m planning on walking down are closed.

Suddenly, I feel totally weary. Suddenly, I don’t care if I junk the whole thing. I ring control and speak to Judith. She chivies me on, she won’t let me junk it. I can get taken back to where I left the Deeside Way at Crathes, and start again for the afternoon.

So, that’s what I do. And as I start again where I left off on the Way a few hours back, and see Mark coming towards me, I begin to think this is meant to be. And as we round a corner a couple of minutes later and come across Rich again, I’m sure it’s meant to be.

But I’ve lost miles and I’ve lost time, so there’s no way I’ll make the coast now today. I decide to stop at Peterculter for the night, like Mark is doing.

The three of us carry on together, enjoying each other’s company. It’s early evening by the time we reach Peterculter and I’m not feeling brilliant. It’s been hot, I’m not sure I’ve eaten enough and I’m tired.

Day Fifteen – 8.7 miles

A good night’s sleep and I feel determined again. I set off about 8:30 – I’ve not many miles to go, but Geoff has to then drive me to Montrose to make sure I sign out before 5pm.

Shortly after setting off, the Deeside Way has to cross this new bypass. A Pelican Crossing is in operation here…

An hour or so down the way, I sit down for a break and can hardly believe my eyes when I once more see Mark coming down the trail towards me. We team up again.

We’re into the centre of Aberdeen, in Duthie Park, before we know it. The trail is surrounded by greenery all the way in, so we hardly notice being in the city.

A cafe stop is had and then we set off for the headland. Mark is aiming for Girdle Ness Lighthouse, I’m aiming for a different car park, further round.

It’s another hot day. Crossing the River Dee, I get a phone call from Geoff.

‘You won’t believe this, but the car park where we’ve arranged to meet is a construction site and the beach is all fenced off.’

You couldn’t make it up.

We arrange to meet at another car park on the other side of the headland…

And finally, I’m there. I quite like the bustling port backdrop to the photos. My dad was in the Merchant Navy, my Grandad ran away to sea when he was young and I’m related to Grace Darling. I’ve always felt a kind of affinity to ships and the sea.

Euphoria hasn’t quite set in yet, but I do feel a bit pleased with myself.

We can’t waste time though. A quick lunch, Geoff drives me to Montrose and I end up having the infamous pleasure of being the very last person to sign out.

 

 

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