Petzl say Non! To using Lithium batteries

Isle of Mull - Easter 07  

I know this is old news but since I’d not known and I did mention using them I thought I’d post a link to a comprehensive list of head torches that Petzl don’t recommend for use with lithium batteries, as well as some that they do.

Apparently the lithium cells can overheat the torch and even burn out the LEDs.

However we’ve been using them for some time with two Tikka Plusses. The Tikkas aren’t this year’s model which has the 80% brighter LEDs but I’m not sure that would make any difference.

I’m a bit busy with many other things at the moment but still wondering what Sicily’s like


Walking the HR: Gear that failed

Walkers Haute Route-07-149  

As I mentioned before, using approach shoes worked very well in terms of comfort and grip. LB loves the Keen Targhee IIs and they’re almost unscathed. Of course she’s only 53kg (+3kg pack) to my 78kg (+14kg pack) so they took less of a bashing. Never the less, the Montrail HurricaneRidge XCR let me down pretty badly in some respects.

These were the third pair of Montrails I’ve used. The last two were great and took quite a pounding. With this pair, the waterproofing failed on the left one within very few days of wearing them (around four or five days from memory), then the right one started to leak on the third day of the walk. Oh well, I thought, Sealskinz are a better solution anyhow.

But midway though the walk, a total of about twenty days of walking for the shoes, the plastic eyelet at the top of the lace started to tear away. The picture shows me gently lifting it away. The slightly jagged edge you can see at the bottom of the bit of plastic is meant to be stitched into the dark grey band of material. But it’s now only attached at the top.

Haute Route - Montrail Hurricane Ridge XCR failed  

The emergency repair kit, consisting of a good strong polypropylene thread and a darning needle, was invaluable. I sewed the second eyelet back down to the shoe and it held fine. In fact I think it’s probably stronger than the original design. The “leather” needle I bought wasn’t up to the job and bent when I was using a 5 Swiss Franc coin as a thimble.

Also, I stumbled on a rock a couple of days later, and the rock went straight through the toe of the shoe. It tore a two and a half centimetre (one inch) hole through everything except the GoreTex XCR liner. Right through the tough-looking black rubber you can see in the picture above. It was a very slight stumble, hardly broke step. In fact since I was going steeply uphill I just stopped dead in my tracks with my toe in unexpectedly close contact with the rock and a shocked expression on my face as I immediately realised what had happened.

Overall I’m not impressed with the build quality of this model especially considering I took back the first pair I bought due to a nasty stitch fault I’d somehow missed.

This has convinced me that you need to carry more than the basic sewing kit that you happened to be given in a hotel once. I’m in the process of putting together an even better repair kit based on Kevlar thread at the moment. More on that later.

I’ve yet to send the shoes back. Oddly, it’s not just laziness. They are so comfortable and, apart from the obvious failures I’ve just mentioned, have been so good to wear I’m almost loathe to part with them!

But I must. I couldn’t trust them on another long walk. Which might happen quite soon since a contract of mine is ending. I’m at a third party supplier to Northern Rock at the moment! But the contract was ending anyhow, it’s just an amusing coincidence.

Rachel bought some brand new Smartwool liner socks before we left. They were great except that one of them got a big hole through the toe during the very first day it was used. She had cut her toenails properly before the trip and none of the other Smartwool liner socks failed her.

It just shows that no matter how good a manufacturer is you should always take new gear out for at least a couple of “shakedown” weekends first.


Walking the HR: A few pictures

Walker’s Haute Route-07-109  

I thought I’d put up a few pictures from the route on the excellent google Picasa web site. Considering I took 1300 and edited those down to 250 it was pretty hard to edit them down to a fairly representative 25!

2007 08 Walker’s Haute Route

Tip: When looking at the slideshow press the F11 key to change the web browser to full screen mode. Just press it again to swap back to normal viewing. It works in Firefox and IE – if you’re using another browser you’re probably savvy enough to work this out for yourself!

All taken with a Canon EOS 400D with either a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f3.5-4.4 USM Zoom Lens or a Canon Lens EF-S 17-85 f4-5.6 IS USM (both from Martin’s Camera Shop, excellent service and price). They were taken as RAW and then “developed” using by far the best RAW editor I’ve found (and I’ve tried all I can find): Capture One 4 (Beta).

Capture One 3.7 was the best I had found previously, somehow I preferred it to the equally powerful Bibble.

3.7 had one feature missing that I loved when using the free Pixmantex Rawshooter; the ability to clone images to compare adjustments. I might still be using Rawshooter but for the fact it doesn’t support EOS 400D RAW files and it’s now been subsumed into the rather bloated, but never the less very powerful Adobe Lightroom. But Capture One 4 has introduced image cloning and other features that Rawshooter didn’t have like rotation correction and a basic High Dynamic Range tool that works pretty well.

The 4 Beta version seems stable and is free for the moment. Assuming it’s priced the same as 3.7 it isn’t too expensive to buy. In fact, a license for 3.7, that apparently is good for version 4, currently comes with many Sandisk Compact Flash cards.

Considering some of those cards can be had for around £12 ($25) and Capture One 3.7 costs $100 you can grab a real bargain. Especially if you actually need a CF card! It’s worth checking that the card you’re buying does come with the license of course, since some sellers hold stock that doesn’t. Also beware of the many, many fakes there are out there. I’d now always buy from a large, reputable online supplier like Amazon or Pixmania.

Walking the HR: Gear that wasn’t used

Walkers Haute Route - Trient Valley  

I used almost all the kit with the exception of the survival shelter and the windproof jacket (I should have gone with my original instinct on that one).

Even the first aid kit was broken out, not for cuts and bruises or even blisters, but for a temporary dental filling. Someone’s existing temporary filling popped on day three and the little Dentek Temporary Filling Kit I picked up in the local Boots replaced it (4gms for the bottle of filler, cotton bud and a 50% reduced photocopy of the instruction card). It held all the way through, and apparently is still holding now, though I hope it doesn’t need to hold much longer! It saved an expensive and very, very inconvenient dental trip.

I’m pleased that the excess gear was kept to a bare minimum and wouldn’t have forgone anything to save the weight. Even the PHD Minimus down jacket was great for sitting around huts in the evening in more comfort than fleece and Montbell Thermawrap jacket would have provided. I still consider the extra weight of the down jacket to be more for emergency backup than general comfort and therefore definitely worth having.

The only other things that weren’t used were two of the EOS 400D camera batteries. I came back having used five of the seven after having the camera on almost permanently for the whole sixteen days. I only started switching it off at all to get the ultrasonic clean function on the CCD to fire up. Otherwise its stand-by mode is so lean on the power consumption that it’s more convenient never to switch it off. The charger was also redundant of course though I did charge a couple to be on the safe side. Part of me is still loathe to do without it since I’ve known batteries to fail outright and have heard even original Canon batteries sometimes do as well.

The BMC Reciprocal Rights Card that I mentioned wasn’t needed very often since there aren’t that many actual Club Alpine huts on the route. A real mistake on my part and I hope no one bought the card on that basis (I’ve edited the original posting).


Walking the HR: New Gear – Source Widepac hydration system

Walkers Haute Route - Red leaves  

You know you’re a gear-head when you buy gear whilst on a trip. But in my defence, it wasn’t extra gear, it was replacement gear.

After a couple of days it became apparent that I just wasn’t hydrating properly. I ended the day more tired than I should have been, very thirsty, with sticky eyes and just generally feeling a bit pants. I wasn’t drinking from the water bottle often enough but would keep pushing up hill and be distracted from my thirst by the views from the top.

So just as I was talking about having to finally give in and put up with a nasty plastic taste from a hydration system I walked into a little gear shop in Champex and found Source Widepac hydration bladders.

They claim to have a “glass like” lining in both the bag and, importantly to me, the tube. After finding that the Sigg bottle tube tasted terribly of plastic I am convinced that’s where most of the taste comes from. Probably an inevitable consequence of the plastic being so soft – it’s full of volatile plasticisers that dissolve into the water.

The bite valve seems to work well in sealing off the water and comes with a cover that slips over the top to keep it from picking up dirt or getting squashed and spraying water around. It’s not cylindrical so if you don’t get the cover aligned with the shape of the valve it will force it open and make it drip. But I found that once I’d noticed it could happen I tended to line them up easily enough.

The rather insubstantial clip to hold the tube to the pack strap was lost very quickly but by tucking it in between the strap and the shoulder padding it would sit nicely without it.

The seal is a fold over top, with a separate orange clip that slides along it to keep the bag folded tightly. I’ve given it a good squeeze and it seems bomb-proof. They come in several sizes; 1, 1.5, 2 and 3L sizes so there’s a size for every pack.

There are no weights on the site but I make it: 2 Litre; bladder 108gms and 1 Litre; bladder 92gms. Plus a hose and bite valve+cover 66gms.

The one really odd thing is that there’s an extra layer of plastic on the side of the bottle that has the tube, forming a sort of pocket. I can see no use for this whatsoever. It’s even got a hole through it that the tube joint pokes through so it’s not as if it’s intended to protect that.

So, I simply cut it off.

Source Widepac bladder being trimmed  

And they now weigh 88gms and 76gms respectively. Meaning that, plus the hose, the 2L weighs in at a total of 142gms. Not all that light when you consider a Platypus and hose is apparently 100gms but as I say, if it doesn’t taste of plastic I’ll carry it.

But unfortunately, they’re not completely without plastic taste. Although they are better than others I’ve tried (although it’s been some years…). After a night soaking in a sink of hot water they were even less flavoursome and with cold spring water it’s almost undetectable even by me.

As an experiment – I took off the soft plastic and from the bite valve and chewed on it for half a minute or so (nothing is too much trouble when researching a Blog entry). To my surprise I couldn’t detect any plastic taste. Next I filled the bladder with warm water, left it to soak for overnight and sipped from the top; very, very slight plastic taste. Almost undetectable.

So, I stuck the end of the tube in a cup of warm water and sucked some up – yep – slight plastic flavour. The tube would seem to be the culprit once again.

Overall I like the strength of the materials, the wide neck for easy filling from streams and the very solid seal mechanism. I don’t like the weight, the odd bit of extra plastic that doesn’t help with the weight or the fact that I can still detect a plastic taste, albeit not too much.

The taste is still less than the last Platypus I tried and far less than the last CamelBak I tried. But, it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to bring myself to try either of those. But I’ve just heard that Platypus have inserted a “taste free liner” into their tubes so even though both Platypus and Source use a PE liner to achieve this “taste freeing” I’ll have to give Platypus another try. Since having a hydration tube to sip from has definitely sorted out my hydration problem.


Walking the HR: Gear that still needs improving

Walker’s Haute Route 07 - A break in the mist near Champex  

There’s always room for improving gear! But apart from a couple of things which I’ll post next, all the walking related gear worked really well. And so it should considering the effort that went into choosing it.

One bit of kit that worked well but in some cases needs improvement (not by me!) are the Aloksaks. Rather like Lighthiker, I’ve had mixed success with them. Mostly they’re great but just occasionally one will tear apart just below the seal after very little use. I’ll be mentioning this to the European importer, Dampire at some point to see what they say.

The main area that I need to re-think is the way I carry my camera gear. Although the Aquazoom camera bag is excellent and I can’t see anything replacing it for carrying the camera and keeping it dry, having it attached to the waist belt of the rucksack does stop my arm swinging naturally as I walk. Which is not doing my gait pattern any good and therefore possibly leading to injuries.

I don’t like using a neck strap with a camera and so use a Canon E1 Hand Strap. But the E1 strap usually needs to have a battery adapter fitted before it can be connected. So I got hold of a Camdapter that solves the problem.

But, although I still prefer the hand strap, the weight of the larger lens meant that after a few days I had a sore patch across the back of my right hand where all the weight was taken. Plus, falling over with a camera strapped firmly to your hand is not healthy for the camera or your bones. Though I have got away with on a couple of occasions, avoiding even scratches to the camera or myself, I’d rather not take the risk any more.

I think I will have to come up with some kind of rig attaching the camera to my rucksack straps for sunny days but reverting to stowing it in the very waterproof and quick to access Aquazoom bag on wet days. Another posting on that once I’ve worked it out!


Walking the HR: Gear that worked

Walker’s Haute Route 07 - Trient Glacier  

Almost all the gear generally performed very, very well indeed but there are a few things that deserve special mention.

The Icebreaker merino wool t-shirts really did resist the smell well. I essentially only wore one and rinsed it out every couple of days or three. Also, despite being worn every one of the sixteen days we were away and for around ten days of wild camping before that, it shows no sign of “pilling” or wear of any kind. The second one I reserved for evenings, whilst the first was drying, and for the flight home. Meaning that for the first time ever I wasn’t unpleasant to sit next to on a return journey.

The approach shoes were very comfy and with the Smartwool socks meant no blisters and a surprising lack of tired feet. However my Montrails let me down in other ways. More on that later.

The Sealskins worked very well to keep my feet dry and were even comfy enough to justify wearing the morning following a wet day when the shoes were still wet.

The hair-bands around the Superfeet as Hut Sandals trick worked well. Just had to beware of tripping over the toe of the insoles if you dragged your feet. Something I’ll be using again.

The Vapor Trail pack was extremely comfy. Even with 14 kilos (my kit, LB’s kit, camera kit, several lunches + our water). The pocket formed between the pack and the foam back stiffener is useful for jamming a map into but the guidebook was too heavy to remain at the top and slid down inside each time meaning a sort of All Creatures Great And Small moment as someone reached inside it up to their elbow (“I can feel the head Mr Herriot!”).

Chris turned up with a 20 litre, 5 kilo base weight pack that worked out well with careful packing. And a waist-bag for some food-related over-spill. It was comfier than I expected when I tried it on but I’d still rather have more weight off my shoulders and onto my hips.

The second phone battery was required and only just got us through. I’d be inclined to take a third next time. Sharing the headphones with an ear plug in our “spare” ears was a little fiddly but worked out fine. Overall the weight saving on books for LB and I was quite large when compared to the extra battery and headphones and was well worth the effort of recording the CDs to the phone as MP3s.

We used up 1.75 tubes of Care Plus alcohol based sunblock between the two of us (head, neck and arms + my lower legs). I reckon we needed it on about ten days, with double applications on three of those days. But note that I’m careful with it, preferring to get an even covering by putting on lots of small dots and spreading. Rather than squirting out one huge handful and trying to bulldoze that around, which I find means too much in one place and too little in others.

LB’s jumbo SealSkinz sock worked perfectly to protect the cast from getting wet but now we have a pair of size 12-14UK (~46-49 EU) socks that we’re not sure what to do with!

The SportEyz sunglasses that Lighthiker found were great and took being bashed about inside a mini Integral designs stuffsac clipped to the side of the pack without any damage or scratches (even when the pack was put down on top of them!). LB and Rachel both now plan to get some.

The silk boxer shorts worked fine in the end. No problems from the seams that had concerned me.

If I had to pick one bit of gear that really stood out, it would be the Tilley Hat. It kept me cool in the baking sun and kept the rain off my head when it rained (with some trickles from the mesh in the top!). Allowing me to see the mountains without squinting at sun or rain drops. It also kept me warm enough that I could avoid putting on the Gecko microfleece (which was also excellent) as we set off in the shadow of the mountain on several mornings. Meaning less faffing. On a really hot day it was a fantastic feeling to dip the hat in a glacial river and feel the drips running down all over your head.

Overall it provided a huge degree of temperature range comfort that I’d not really expected. LB found just the same. In fact a couple of the others with cheaper wide brimmed hats are now thinking of getting a Tilley. One niggly thing was that the size I’ve gone for is very slightly too small. I’ve written my name in it now so I’m stuck with it unless I fork out for another…

And Rob kindly carried the binoculars (since I was carrying some of LB’s kit) and they were very handy for marmot watching!

Walking the HR: Some Route Notes

Walker’s HauteRoute 07 - Aguile du Midi from Chamonix  

Apart from what’s in the guide there are a couple of things that might be of use to anyone doing the same walk.

There’s very often water available as you walk. We generally trusted high level streams and drinking fountains splashing into troughs. But lower down, below Alpine meadows with sheep and cows, we avoided the streams but trusted the fountains.

The valley that the Prafleuri Hut stands in is something of a post industrial wasteland. When work was completed on the dam in the next valley some of the heavy machinery that was used in this one was simply buried in the rubble. Although the company responsible undertook a large clean up operation that completed in 2005 I came across several pools of rusty, oily and unpleasant water. I would not be drinking from anything in the Prafleuri area because of that. The price of the bottles sold in the hut (and the accommodation) is cheap considering the effort needed to get them up there.

Gruben to Gasenried (two stages in the guide) can be done in a day without too much pain but it does make it the largest day on the route of course. Coming from Chamonix we were well into our stride and found that with an early start (7:20 leaving the Hotel Schwarzhorn) saw us in St Niklaus at three for a beer. Leaving at four got us in to Gasenried for around six with enough time for a shower before dinner at the Hotel Alpenrösli.

However, I would agree with Kev when he says it’s not practical to add the St Niklaus to Gasenried section onto the start of the Europaweg. The slog up to Gasenried from St Niklaus is followed by an even bigger and equally steep slog up to the Europaweg. And the section from there to the Europa Hut is quite exposed and often rocky with some precipitous drops next to the path. Not something to be attempting when tired, or even perhaps in bad weather.

The Europa Hut does get very full so it’s worth booking. In fact we’d had dorms to ourselves for almost the entire trip until there. However there were people turning up without a booking who were given a mattress in the eating area to sleep on. Failing that, there are a couple of huts further towards Zermatt now (I imagine the new Cicerone guide that Kev was researching last year covers them). Also, there were so many people that it wasn’t possible to get a token for a shower since it would have taken all night to get everyone through. So if you want a shower, get in quick! But with an Icebreaker merino wool t-shirt keeping the pong at bay, why not just sit on the terrace with a local beer?

Everywhere we stayed was very accommodating when told that one member of the party was allergic to wheat, dairy and eggs and another allergic to potatoes. They often asked, in a rather hopeful manner, if someone was simply vegetarian but no one was. All the food was excellent and almost always in large quantities.


The Walker’s Haute Route – Completed

Matterhorn above Zermatt - HR 2007  

What a truly gorgeous route!

Taking our usual leisurely, photograph taking and multiple lunch break approach we meandered through almost every bit of Kev Reynolds’ route.

Each valley seemed to have a quite different character. Glacial or rocky, full of trees or of alpine flowers. Somehow all quite distinct. The few people we met on the route were friendly and the Hut Guardians and Hoteliers all happy to see us.

We were very lucky with the weather which can obviously make a lot of difference to how enjoyable a route is.

On the third day we were forced down the Alp Bovine route instead of the Fenêtre d’Arpette by rain but since three of the five of us had done it from the other direction and it was so early in the trip we weren’t too disappointed at missing the slog.

We also had one afternoon and the following day full of huge thunder storms but were lucky with our route choice and avoided most of it. We knew the weather was about to change and so made a brisk morning of getting to the Hotel Weisshorn to watch a procession of storms moving up the Rhone Valley. With the occasional storm cell hopping over the mountains across the valley from us to batter the hotel and crackle off the peaks less than a kilometre behind us (we counted the “flash-bang gap”, 3 seconds per kilometre). The next morning we watched and waited for a gap which allowed us to get over the Meidpass and into the next valley. The lightning was hitting the peaks behind us ten minutes after we got off the col.

So overall, lots of sun and truly stunning views.

LB’s arm worked out fine with her perfecting her cat-like walking style to pick her way over even the slipperiest rock slide on the Europaweg. Our regular walking buddy Rachel was with us and since she’s a physiotherapist we decided to go with the Swedish doctor’s advice and take the cast off after four weeks, halfway through the walk. The wrist is now mobilising nicely with the exercises that Rachel gave her.

The gear almost all worked out really, really well with only one thing letting me down and needing repair. A couple of postings on gear to come.

The Kev Reynolds guide book was very helpful in taking us through the nicest parts of the route and avoiding dull spots like roads and ski pistes. Letting us make the whole trip without resorting to cable cars, buses or any form of transport other than our own two feet for the entire journey of fourteen and a half days.

It was one long, glorious walk. 180 kilometres from Chamonix to Zermatt with about an Everest and a half of height gain (12,000 metres).

If LB hadn’t got a final Master’s exam and dissertation to get back for, we really would have turned around and done it in reverse!