A New, Easier To Use, Petrol Stove – The Muka OD-1NP

I’d been wondering all winter about getting a new gas stove for cold conditions and before I knew it, it was April and my excuse evaporated along with everything else in the stunningly good weather (the above picture was taken in the Lake District during five days of amazing weather at Easter – trust me – that never happens).

But a comment on an Iceland posting got me thinking, and I remembered a BPL article from the Winter ISPO show (sorry members only link) mentioning a very impressive sounding petrol stove: The Muka OD-1NP.

What’s so great about it?

Well there’s no need for “priming”, with all the fun of occasional, spectacular fireballs that we know and love or the worry about liquid fuel sloshing about the place.

You can simmer, rather than boil things down to a crisp (I know, you can simmer an MSR Whisperlite if you try very hard. I’ve done it, but it really does take some patience!)

It burns really cleanly even running standard unleaded petrol (gasoline), as seen in this video.

It’s not quite arrived in the UK as of the time of writing but apparently Ultralight Outdoor Gear will be stocking it. Sadly the importers price means that the UKP price is about the same as the USD price. Meaning, with the current exchange rate at least, that since REI stock it and ship internationally (for a not too unreasonable price) that might be a cheaper option, even with the import duty. I’ll be thinking about that some more…

Edit 31st July 2011: I managed to get a look at one of these in the excellent Get Out a couple of weeks ago; Great little stove. Very well made by the feel of it. I am very seriously considering buying one now. I resisted at the time since the cost in Krona was far worse than the cost in UKP (something to do with there being quite a few more UKPs available now, and yet the same amount of stuff… I’m sure that’ll work out just fine though).

As I partly said in reply to the comment above; fuel and stove choice is hard.

The easiest thing to cook with, and generally the lightest for the power overall, is gas. However gas can be the hardest to find on long trips (depending where you are – some places it’s easy! The International Fuel FAQ can help with a decision there).

Meths looks light because of the stove weight (the Whitebox is an excellent example) but it gets heavy for anything more than a couple of days of hiking because of the low calorific density of alcohol compared with other fuels. And again it can be tricky to find in some places.

Petrol (or ideally, white gas) is very efficient weight-wise if doing a multi day trip, even with the weight of the stove, and has the distinct advantage that it’s pretty widely available. It also runs fine in the cold, meaning it could take the place of the gas stove I was considering getting for winter trips.

A final point for me, is that for trips involving a flight, I’ve always found the MSR to be the most practical stove since I can fill up from any garage. And if I’m not driving I just offer a random motorist a quid or two for a quarter litre of fuel and everyone’s happy! No hunting around for kit shops when you want to be making the most of your short time away somewhere. It’s something that’s been on my mind recently.

As a caveat; it’s fine on flights assuming that you thoroughly wash, with detergent, and then dry your stove and bottle! So it’s worth taking into consideration what access you will have to washing facilities as you return from a trip. I washed and dried one without using detergent once – and it was sniffed out and confiscated despite presenting no actual danger to anything. I’d also try using a Loksak OP Sack on the off-chance that would help keep it out of sniff detection range…

Using AutoPano Tour – Basic Instructions

GR5 Honeymoon - French Alps - 2009-55

At some point, I will be writing a couple more postings on the GR20 (and maybe even finishing off the GR5… sigh…) but, as I’ve mentioned before , my time is rather pressed by a couple of other things – things that aren’t as much fun as writing this unfortunately!

Although I’ve already posted a set of instructions for this, tacked on to the GR5 Pictures posting, here’s a clearer and easier to follow set.

AutoPano Tour allows you to create Flash based “interactive” versions of your panoramas.

I used it to create the GR5 Panoramas that I’ve mentioned before and I’ll slowly add more to my public gallery.

The instructions for using it are rather… well, pants.

So I wrote out my own set and thought they might be handy for someone else:

First of all, make sure it’s still Registered (you might need to do this every time, seems to be a bug in the current version). A “Register” menu, top-right is visible if not: Browse to the license file and simply open it.

Drag each panorama into the main window area and optionally arrange in whatever pattern is going to be useful if you want to hotspot links directly between them (I don’t generally, since I find the hotspots too visually distracting).

For each panorama:

On the Panorama tab:

  • Set the JPEG quality to 9
  • If you want better quality output, up the Partial Panorama Width – 5000 seems good
  • Pressing the “Calculate Optimal Size” button makes it the best resolution possible (at the expense of size of course)

Adjust the initial Field Of View for each panorama with the 3D Editor (bottom right):

  • Get the FOV how you want it by dragging it around with the mouse
  • Right-click -> set as start position

Optionally, create hotspots in each panorama:

In the Hotspot Editor:

  • Select the image
  • Full screen
  • Use the right and left arrow icon (far left) to move the editable area
  • Drag each hotspot to the image to link to
  • Ctrl+A to select all to see the links at once

Finally, Export to create the Flash panorama(s):

In the Project Properties tab:

  • Don’t embed all files (makes a single, monolithic file to download)
  • Select Embed XML
  • Select simpleWithFullScreen.html
  • Select the starting panorama
  • Set the rest of the settings as you like
  • Export (the Blue “cog” icon at the top)

But for the snazzy dialog box that appears when you follow my link to the GR5 Panoramas, you’ll need a reasonable knowledge of JavaScript and specifically the jQuery library. Feel free to take my code directly from the site. I’ve no time to support it or answer questions on the implementation I’m afraid – but the code is commented so you shouldn’t have too much bother.

Excellent Phone Protection – A6 Ortlieb Document Cases

Although I’ve mentioned these before, I think they’re so good they’re worth their own posting. I always carry my phones in an A6 Ortlieb Document Case. On longer trips I also carry a second one for the iPhone Nano, cash and passport.

As Needle Sports say, they’re so waterproof they’re almost air-tight.

The really big advantage with them is that you can use the phone whilst it’s inside (even iPhones) and it remains dry. So you can use it in an emergency in the pouring rain.

As an even bigger bonus, the wind noise that can utterly obliterate your voice is all-but removed by keeping it in the bag. Meaning that if you record audio notes or an audio diary,  you can do so wherever you like. But more importantly, if you need to make an emergency call, they’ll actually be able to hear you at the other end!

Phones are rather water sensitive. Over the years I’ve seen many die on the hill (more than ten I’d guess) where people had them in the pocket of a waterproof coat. Pockets simply aren’t reliable for keeping things dry if you’re out in really heavy rain for an extended period.

The cases also last a long time. I think the one I’ve just retired is over ten years old and has been out with me for every single trip during that time, including the seven weeks of the GR5 and three weeks of the GR20.

It’s so old that it has a different “Ortlieb” logo, and I’ve had to use a little McNett Seam Grip to stick down the Velcro that had just started to lift after about eight years. But it really is one of the most reliable and essential bits of kit I carry.

Big Walk 2011: The Tour Of The Jungfrau Region

This year’s Big Walk is the Tour of the Jungfrau Region (TJR) in Switzerland. As worked out by the excellent Kev Reynolds and published by Cicerone.

At 10 days of actual walking, it’s a smaller walk than we’ve done for a while (other commitments this year) but the scenery should make up for that somewhat.

This year we plan to actually leave with everyone else who might want to come with us… unexpected parental poppings-off notwithstanding.

Edit 31 May 2011: The “Kümmerly and Frey Jungfrau Region number 18” is printed on plastic (so no need for Aqua3) and is far more readable than the Swiss Topo – will certainly be taking that in preference!

I’ve picked up a copy of the Swiss Topo 5004 from The Map Shop (1:50,000 “Larger sheets available for certain areas”) but Kev recommends the “Kümmerly and Frey Jungfrau Region number 18” (which although Stanfords do it, Amazon have it for considerably cheaper). I have a feeling that although the Swiss Topo maps are very good, the Kümmerly and Frey may be easier to read. Once I decide I’ll be sending it off to Aqua3 to have it laminated, making it very resilient and waterproof.

We’re going hut-to-hut all the way so although I may well do an update on the kit, I’ve either covered it already or I have a mostly-written entry for the GR5 or GR20 that does! (There’s also my Alpine Summer Walking FAQ).


Easy Dried Eggs

We’ve been doing some experiments with drying scrambled eggs and we have a nice solution… but it’s really not what we were expecting.

Each batch was cooked up in a frying pan until firm but still fluffy. They were scrambled with not too much fat (we’re not scared of the fat, but drying fat isn’t so nice) but plenty of herbs, about a tablespoon for six eggs. The herbs are mainly for flavour but as a bonus, there seems to be a good chance that the herbs will reduce the oxidative damage that drying will inevitably do to the egg.

Then we laid them out on a baking tray on some baking paper and left that in the oven at 70C (160F) with the door held ajar with a wedge (be careful, some ovens turn off if the door is opened more than a fraction). We’ve started drying a lot of hill food like this and it works a treat. No faffing around getting the dehydrator out and putting it away again.

Once dried, we’d bag them and freeze them overnight to get as close as possible to how they’d be treated when we wanted to eat them on the hill.

First try:

Dried them for about nine hours. They were hard as nails. We decided on that length of time as we went, since they were getting progressively dryer with each hour. And paranoia said that eggs are potentially dangerous and so should be as dry as possible (in retrospect a lot of that perceived danger comes from the potential for raw eggs, even organic ones, to carry salmonella).

We then poured about 200ml of water into the bag (which was a bag meant for baking chicken, to attempt to avoid too much plasticiser leaching into the egg), and placed that in a saucepan of cold water. The water in the pan was brought to the boil and allowed to sit for about half an hour, as it would be on the hill.

Result: Awful! It was edible by virtue of the herby flavour but was like eating hard pencil erasers. We kept them in the water in the fridge and even a day later they were unchanged.

Second try:

Dried them for six hours (The Backpack Gourmet suggests five and a half for a recipe involving scrambled eggs).

We then repeated the water in the bag, in the pan, soaking trick.

Result: Still awful! Perhaps a little softer but not enough to make them good to eat.

Third try:

Started by drying them for six hours as before.

Our cunning plan was to try rehydrating them overnight in the bag in cold water and then reheating the next morning. In the UK the overnight temperature at altitude is generally pretty low in my experience even during the summer so I wasn’t too concerned about them going off.

Result: We shall probably never know! Because, as each time before, we tried some whilst they were dry. Then we tried some more. Then we realised we’d already cracked it! They were delicious little crunchy snacks. And you can wolf-down three eggs in a couple of minutes. It seems reasonable to assume that your stomach acid would cope with them, and it certainly had no discernible ill effects.

We’ll probably be using four eggs each. It will be interesting to see how full they keep us.

As a bonus, the faff-factor of breakfast is much reduced. And if you want to strike-camp and get moving as fast as you can, they can be eaten on the go.

GR20: The Pictures

So we’ve finally managed to find time to sort through all the pictures from the amazing GR20 trip last September.

They’re a mixture of images from LB’s Canon IXUS 980 IS and my Canon EOS 550D (RAW – developed in Lightroom).

The first set is the most cut-down, for those in a hurry, and the second set contains all the first and more besides to give a much richer picture of the journey.


GR20 Corsica Super Fast Forward
GR20 Corsica Faster Forward

Super-glue and Dental Repair

So there you are, in a remote mountain hut, and you’re dutifully flossing… when your crown pops off. Assuming you manage to avoid it disappearing down a soak-away, what do you do next?

Well you could put up with it and simply get it fixed when you get home. However in my case, it was a temporary front crown and although there was no pressing medical reason to glue it back in place, it left me with a truly scary-looking, brilliant-white post where one of my front teeth should have been. It was quite eye-catching.

I have enough difficulty making myself understood in tourist French without them staring in horror at some kind of cyborg-vampire-tooth.

So, I simply dried the crown and post. Then I dried them some more (super-glue only cures in the presence of water). Then I applied a tiny, tiny drop of super-glue to the bottom of the hole in the crown, slid the crown slowly back… most of the way into place… but not enough to reach the drop of glue… and then bit on it hard to seat it properly.

The glue was forced up around the post and set hard whilst I kept pressure on it for thirty seconds. It held it in place for the rest of the trip and well beyond. In fact my dentist hasn’t bothered to attempt to repair it since he says it’s perfectly fine where it is and he was already scheduled to create the final crown anyway (it goes in this Friday in fact…)

Note that I was fixing a crown onto a post and not a living tooth. I am unsure as to whether it’s true but according to a thread on backpackinglight.com, doing so can kill the tooth. I must admit to being very sceptical of that claim though, since my dentist informed me that super-glue was tried as a crown fixative and he didn’t mention it was only to be used on posts. However, I do carry a tiny dental repair kit that has proved very useful for another member of the party whose tooth partly broke in a remote location!

As it happens I carry super-glue for possible blister repair as Ryan Jordan mentions on that same thread.

I’ve always used the “UHU Super Glue Minis” (just search ebay for them) since they are very, very small and only weigh 4 grams each. They are sold in packs of three, with the theory being that instead of opening one large tube and then finding it has all gone-off 18 months later, you can open three separate tubes and ensure you have a fresh tube each time.

The one in my lightweight repair kit came in very handy indeed.

FiveFingers Are Good For Your Feet!

Hendrik Morkel has posted a great review of the FiveFingers. Within the comments, there was a link posted by harttj to the posting in which I mentioned that I’d injured myself as a result of wearing them on very stony ground, with a pack, when my feet were still quite weak.

I just want to be clear about my thinking about this: FiveFingers are very, very good for your feet. Apart from being the most comfortable footwear ever invented, they strengthen your feet and allow them to attain the power and flexibility that they have evolved to have. That power and flexibility is almost certainly not present if you have been wearing “normal” footwear for most of your life.

I really do find that I have far more “muscular” and flexible feet. It’s not over-stating this to say that my feet now feel like extra limbs that I’ve never previously had. I now have something that’s slightly more akin to hands on the end of my legs as opposed to things more akin to hooves which I used to clomp about on. I’m quite serious about this.

Okay, so are FiveFingers “dangerous”? Of course not! But using them for a hard walk across stony ground whilst carrying a quite heavy pack (including food, water and way too much photographic kit!) is dangerous if you do it before you are strong enough to do so.

I’d note again that my right foot was just fine and it had gone through the same conditions (of course!). And that the injury healed as I walked the 550kms+ onwards to Nice. So it wasn’t very damaged, just sore.

I had no arches before all this. I wore custom insoles and had sore arches and knee pain. I have neither now. It was visible in wet footprints on dry boards – my arches used to be in contact with the floor on both sides!

But this summer LB noticed I formed a normal footprint on both sides. And walking through soft peat in the FiveFingers clearly showed a full arch on my right and a more shallow but definitely present arch on my left.

My feet are becoming the biomechanically impressive limbs they always had the potential to be, had I not worn “good, solid, supportive” footwear all my life.

But how do you make your feet strong enough to take such a pounding?

Once we swapped to inov8 Terrocs not only I, but LB and also our regular walking and Big Walk buddy Kev found that our feet were tired in a way that indicated they were working in ways they’d just not been used to. The more “muscular” nature of my feet, I’m sure, started with the Terrocs but was mainly achieved by wearing the FiveFingers.

Will wearing inov8s/FiveFingers sort out your knee/foot problems and give you muscly feet in a couple of weeks? Of course not! That’s exactly like expecting that a couple of sessions at the gym will give you a six pack (many magazines and web sites are sold on such rubbish of course). But the advantage of wearing inov8s/FiveFingers is that it’s something that you don’t take time out to do, doesn’t take extra will-power and is actually fun (sorry, but gyms just aren’t fun to me).

So, if you don’t get along with inov8s for some reason, at least try something very, very flexible indeed to allow the feet to work harder whilst cushioning the poor, slightly atrophied things and preventing injuring them.

Several of the well known walking shoe manufacturers are bringing out “barefoot” models next season (according to Outdoor Retailer 2010 coverage by backpackinglight.com – sorry members only link). I am very, very happy that it’s catching on but I must admit to being rather concerned that many people may put on a pair and expect miraculous transformations in existing injuries and lower limb health. Whereas if they just start walking long distances with large packs, they may acquire more injuries and worse lower limb health. Which may consign the idea of “barefooting” to the list of fads that come and go. It’s all about expectations and whether people will generally understand that they need to rebuild strength in their feet slowly.

On a related note; not only does wearing the FiveFingers strengthen your feet, it changes your gait. I had no pain at all from my knees on the Corsica trip until I started to descend on an easy track (as we joined the Mare-Mare Sud for a diversion in fact). I realised I was was heal striking in descent because the inov8s have a soft heal. But I know for sure that in the FiveFingers I would have switched to toe-striking with smaller steps. So I consciously switched gaits (surprisingly hard to do after years of shoe wearing I can tell you!) and the pain stopped in a couple of steps. Back to heal striking and the pain returned, back to toe striking and it went. Very interesting.

We didn’t wear the FiveFingers on the GR 20 for the simple reason that we assumed the route would be very, very rocky and we weren’t sure our feet were strong enough to cope yet. We also wanted light packs so they were literally tossed out of the bag as the cab arrived to start the journey. It was a knife-edge decision.

But Russ from this year’s Big Walk crew met someone who had walked GR 20 in them. He said he had hiked in them for two years before he was strong enough to wear them for a route like the GR 20.

Bottom line: We both wear FiveFingers almost constantly when it’s not snowing. For everything. Home and hiking. They are not just comfortable, they make walking even more fun. They and the inov8s have allowed me to correct knee and foot problems. Lets face it – 3.5 million years of bipedalism can’t be wrong!

Back From GR20 – Just How Hard Was It?

The GR 20 is a truly fantastic route. Gorgeous views and lots of challenging walking and scrambling. I’d highly, highly recommend it.

We often meet some great people on the Big Walks but this year seemed particularly rich in that respect. Which was great since we ended up walking it two weeks later than this year’s Big Walk crew! Though as a bonus Russ, who was part of that trip, managed to meet us to ascend Monte Cinto, the highest peak on the island, just before he flew back.

There were people on the route who had done some of the more interesting routes around the world too. Some we’d done, some we’d heard of and some we noted for future reference…

We actually doubled back to miss the last stage (taking the standard GR20 instead of the Alpine Variant we’d used the day before)  to allow us to turn south for a day’s walk to connect to the Mare-Mare Sud. We joined at the half-way point and walked into Porto-Vecchio, thereby saving a day of bus rides out of Conca (the actual end point of the GR 20) and giving us another extra couple of days of walking.

The Mare-Mare Sud is nice enough but suffered somewhat from the “Green Tunnel” effect that is apparently prevalent on the Appalachian Trail.  There were very occasional views as we popped out of the forest but for long stretches it was just trees. Regardless, it still beat the heck out of spending the day on two different buses!

The GR 20 has a reasonably scary reputation and is often referred to as “The hardest way-marked route in the world” (note – that’s “way-marked” route – you can make up your own routes that are harder than this of course). But it’s all very subjective, so all I can do is relay our own experience and perhaps a little of the feelings of others we met along the way.

Overall, we certainly thought it was very hard work, but never more technically challenging than an easy British Grade I scramble. What’s that? A scramble is “A walk where you need to use your hands” and on a grade one you’d not expect to need a rope (it’s rather ill defined, but from what I’ve been taught; there are three grades, grade three is essentially very easy climbing, with a rope and a very occasional bit of leader-placed protection – attachment to the rock).

If you’re used to scrambling, nothing on the route poses a problem. There are a few sections that feel exposed, but there isn’t much that has the potential to really mess you up badly. And any parts that do have that potential are protected with chains and cables to hold on to.

But the point is, the GR 20 is damned hard work!

To give you some idea, we walked most of the route with a great couple of Scottish lasses, one of which has been a full time walking and skiing guide for around twenty-five years and she found the route hard work (she’d done it before so she knew what was coming). But note, that’s hard work, not hard technically. As we agreed one evening over some local Corsican red wine, it’s the sustained nature of the broken terrain. On some days you rarely get into a regular stride. It’s small step, large step, larger step, small step etc. For sections, it doesn’t let up for hours.

That being said, we met people carrying fairly “impressive” (large!) pack weights who’d never, ever done any walking with a pack before and they were coping. More of an endurance exercise in their case perhaps and personally I’d have chosen something that wasn’t so punishing for my first GR, like a section of the GR5. Of course there were more experienced walkers with lighter packs that were doubling stages. They said it wasn’t at all easy, but it was clearly doable.

We also met people that were accomplished long distance walkers who were finding it very tough because they’d not scrambled before and they had thought the days mentioned in the guide book looked too short: they are not! One guy had walked the Appalachian Trail, among other long distance paths, and had decided to double-up sections of the GR 20 – and said he was regretting it! The sections are short in distance because they’re simply very tough walking.

It’s probably worth saying that many people had the impression that the second section is easier than the first. Well, to us it wasn’t very much easier at all. There are still sustained sections of broken terrain. And there are also very many beautiful sections in the south. As Russ put it “There wasn’t a day I thought I could have happily missed out”. For instance, the Alpine Variant on the penultimate day, ending at Bavella (the picture above), was one of the absolute highlights.

There are several accessible peaks just off route that are well worth doing as part of the days (though Monte Cinto really requires a clear extra day). We did Monte Cinto, Monte Ritondu, Monte d’Oro and Tower III (which is tiny, but a great scramble). But we missed Paglia Orba and Monte Renosu due to the fact the routes have a reputation for being tricky to find and the weather wasn’t good on those days. The scrambling on the side peaks is often a little harder than the main route (with Paglia Orba being particularly tricky apparently). The route marking for the peaks (usually yellow blazes) is rather sketchy at times to say the least but the red/white blazes of the GR were excellent throughout.

One mistake, that’s hard not to make, is to leave too little time. There really are 15 stages and travelling on Corsica can take a long, long time. Check online and be aware that timetables become even more sparse on Sundays and after the end of September, and that strikes are not unknown!

If possible you’d ideally have 15 days’ walking, plus 1 day for Monte Cinto and 1 day’s rest somewhere. Then at least one day each side for travelling between home and each end of the route (probably more). It can be done in less time of course but it’s a harder proposition and can make the final stages far less relaxing than they could be. If you have to double up, I’d avoid doing so for the first few stages to allow your stamina to build.

Also, the inov8 Roclites coped absolutely fine, including the extra peaks, and have plenty of mileage left in them. I would hate to try this route in restrictive, heavy “clod-hopping” traditional boots. They’d make it way harder and increase the injury risk. But that’s really another posting…

Overall, if you can cope with having to put your hands down on the rock to negotiate some of the trickier lumps, you can cope with this walk. Just don’t underestimate the stamina needed to walk it. But above all, don’t miss it!