Brian Wood 14 Apr 1929 to 22 May 2015


My dad, Brian passed away peacefully last Friday the 22nd of May 2015 at the age of 86.

He was quite disabled for some years with a lack of balance and towards the end he also started to lose dexterity in his hands and then arms.

But despite that, he always remained cheerful. I don’t know how he managed it with what he was going through but that’s the impression everyone had. Always ready with a wisecrack or pun and a cheeky look, recognising the silliness of his joke.

Doreen and Brian - Wedding - 14-03-1959-005

He was a great dad. He tried at first to instil some discipline into Steve and I but his heart really wasn’t in it. He didn’t want to be nasty to us, as he told me later. I told him many years later I was grateful for the freedom he and mum gave us to do almost whatever we wanted but I thought it was a bit of a gamble that we’d not ended up a pair of crooks!

When we were kids he used tell us stories of “Doodlebugs” (Nazi flying bombs, launched from France) passing over his house, and of the one which didn’t. He was out playing not far from his house when he heard the dreaded silence as the engine died and the bomb started to fall. He laid down on the ground as he’d been taught, and as the pavement bucked from the shockwave it bruised his face. He went running home to find the windows blown-in and really thought that his parents were dead. Luckily his mum and dad had been in the kitchen and were completely unhurt.

He told us stories from where he was evacuated and how stressful it was. It was also rather pointless since he was evacuated only seven miles south of where he lived at the edge of South London (into “Bomb Alley”). I am really not convinced it was the slightest bit safer but I suppose there were box-ticking exercises even then!

He told us these stories when we were young and at first they were just scary ghost stories to us. Little more. But as we grew up and began to understand the reality of what it must have been like, the stories became horrifying. It was a very tough time to live through.

Like many people as they get older, he had some set ideas which he’d never taken the time to examine. He often used to say “English food is just as good as French food! I don’t know why people talk about it so much!”. And one day, when I was about thirty (it took me a while), it finally dawned on me; he’d never set foot in France! So that had to change. We booked a trip on the Eurotunnel for the car and took him and mum over for a short visit to buy some nice French wine and try a restaurant or two. He loved it! “Best steak I can remember having!”.

Bruges With Pa 2012-012

After that he’d wait for a few months before pointing out the dwindling booze stocks and we’d gear up for another trip!

After mum died, we wanted to see if we could bring him further afield so he ended up getting pushed around the whole of Bruges for a weekend. With a repeat trip the following year!

With that under his belt, he was persuaded that a trip to Sweden was in order to see the in-laws. So we spent six days soaking up some incredibly warm weather and eating Ostkaka. Not bad for someone who had only been out of the country during National Service when he was 18!

After mum died he amazed us by learning how to cook and sorting out running the house – despite being quite badly disabled even then. He turned Primal and lost two stone (12.5 kilos) and came off almost all his medication.

But as he was increasingly cared for by carers he slowly slipped back in to old eating habits of course. Eating a bit differently is a very difficult thing to keep up when other people are helping you.

On the veranda at the summer cottage

Eventually it was clear that he simply couldn’t cope on his own any longer and he moved into a care home. But again he amazed me. He left the house where he’d lived for over sixty years, and the “village” (it was when he was a boy, now a London suburb) which he’d lived in for 85 years without fuss. He didn’t hang on to a load of sentimental things from his house. He had his huge TV to watch and his iPad to talk to us on; he settled in just fine. Such a massive change of scene at such a late stage in life and yet he coped without bother.

The care home was very good and the staff genuinely seemed to love him. He made a new friend; Dave the Marine, whom he’d sit outside with, just the two of them, under blankets in the cold. Not like the other “inmates” (as he called them!) who were too old for that!

But although his mind wanted to continue, his body wasn’t happy to go any further and eventually heart failure caught up with him. We’re very sorry indeed that he’s gone but at least we can say it was “his time”.

Goodbye Pa. We’ll miss you.

So, Aquamira Drops Don’t Kill Crypto For 4 hours. What??

Where the heck have I been? Well, no Big Walk for 2012 sadly, but the project that I’ve been on about for years is under-way, though still in the early stages and still off topic for this blog! Though I’ll certainly do a post or two mentioning it at some point (there may even be a clue on Twitter eventually @RedYetiDave ) since it’s obliquely related to the outdoors…

I’ve been reading, with great interest, the excellent series of articles on on water treatment options (sorry, subscription only). There was a heck of a lot of info, as you’d expect from a series whose main author is Roger Caffin and which included Will Rietveld in the contributor list.

One really important point which made me pretty angry: Aquamira drops only kill cryptosporidium after 4hrs exposure.

What? So the main thing that I’m trying to avoid in the UK hills is actually not cleared by the drops in 30 minutes as they appear to say?

It comes down to the fact that Aquamira originally sourced the liquids from another company who’d only got EPA approval for bacteria clearance. So although it does kill protozoa (crypto etc) it takes longer than they mention in the instructions since the instructions are technically only cleared for describing killing bacteria (and viruses luckily). Grrr…

So after much thought, and reading reviews and blog posts, I’ve decided that the best option is a Sawyer filter. Why? Because they filter all bacteria and protozoa, which are the two main threats where I draw water in the UK hills and even the Alps. They filter water incredibly fast, you can drink straight from them, and are expected to last for four and a half million litres (a million gallons). Meaning it’ should be a once-ever purchase.

I never expected to even consider using a filter again, all that pumping and then cleaning and then pumping etc. etc… But the Sawyer filters use a completely new method: Hollow Fibre; which make all that pumping and cleaning unnecessary. They are essentially a set of straws which you push water through. Meaning their surface area is gigantic, so they don’t block for a long time. Also, when they do block, they can simply be back-flushed with an included syringe, or just from a tap (faucet). Which apparently makes them like-new immediately. The back-pressure very slightly enlarges the fibres, meaning the crud which is stuck in the pores is simply released.

They’re reputed to be very durable indeed though you mustn’t let them freeze, like any other filter. So keeping it in a sealed plastic bag in the sleeping bag for winter camping is necessary.

There are other companies which make filters using hollow fibre but they appear not to be anything like as good or durable as the original Sawyers.

I did also consider the Travel Tap but try as I might, I could not get the company, Drinksafe Systems, to divulge anything on the efficacy of the virus filtering, despite many emails and even phone calls with the owner of Drinksafe Systems himself. I got a couple of pages of reports which certainly looked good on clearing most things, but the line which I was told was relating to virus clearance was only mentioned as “F+ RNA” which from Googling appears to be a broad term which may be applied to virus reduction testing but may equally be applied to bacteria reduction testing.

I would love to think that the Travel Tap does what it says, I really, really want to use it, but without some more solid documentation from them, I’m going with the Sawyer since that’s something well investigated by Roger Caffin et al. (Sadly the Travel Tap isn’t mentioned as part of the series and when I asked Roger about it directly he’d not heard of it, and was scathing about any company who would not provide test results).

Perhaps I’ll eventually be able to get access to something solid on the Travel Tap’s virus filtering but until then, I’ll stick with the Sawyer.

If I feel the need to also be sure that I’m killing viruses after using the Sawyer I’ll use either a Steripen Adventurer, or of course the Aquamira drops!


Exped UL Dry Bags – A Bit Too Light For Camera Kit?

For the TJR I switched from using the extremely reliable Ortlieb Aqua Zoom (that I mentioned before) to trialling a simple Exped Fold Dry Bag UL, Small (24g) for the camera and another identical bag for the two lenses that weren’t on the camera. It was no big risk, the bags then live inside the pack liner – they’re just a second layer of waterproofing.

I carried a Canon EOS 550D attached by a little Nitize S-Biner to a length of 10mm webbing fixed to a shoulder strap on the GoLite Pinnacle pack. It very handily fits snugly into one of the side pockets of the pack. I used that technique along the GR20 and the camera survived just fine.

I also took the excellent value Canon EF-S 55-250mm f4-5.6 IS (dubbed “Ibex lens”), the Canon EF 35mm f2.0 (“People lens” – wouldn’t be without this, it’s 56mm equivalent on the 1.6 crop body of the EOS 550D) and the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f3.5-4.5 USM (“Landscape lens” of course!) which as usual was on the 550D most of the time.

The bags were tested when new and were completely waterproof.

I was fully expecting to trash the bag I used on the camera; perhaps not during the trip but a trip soon after. These bags aren’t meant to be very strong – I accept that. This was an experiment to see how long it would last.

Trash it I did – there must have been upwards of thirty holes in it, one or two you could see daylight through and several others that wept water so fast I decided it wasn’t worth attempting to repair. I honestly didn’t expect it to fail that badly, that fast.

The bag that I kept the lenses in only got tested a few days later, just to be sure, since I fully expected it to be fine. It had only held the lenses and had mainly lived wrapped up in a fleece or waterproof in the pack. To my astonishment I found it had six weeping leaks. I really am not sure that the amount of use it has seen should result in leaks like that. It’s disappointing since I have a great deal of respect for Exped. I’ve always found their products to be very well made and more than up to the job at hand.

I know others have had bad experiences with Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sacks but I’ve had several and each has taken a reasonable thrashing for a couple of years before giving up. In fact the 35Ls we use for compressing and waterproofing down (sleeping bag and/or duvet jacket) at the bottom of the packs are still fine. They have seen a great deal of bashing around in the packs for many weeks since before the Iceland trip, including seven weeks on the GR5. Meaning they’ve seen three years of service for every big trip and many day walks (for down jackets).

So I’ve just taken delivery of a 4L Ultra-Sil (26g) that’s the same size as the Small Exped UL.

It will be getting a fair kicking, wrapped around the nasty pointy bits on the 550 and being shoved into the pocket around behind my back. I’ll take a while to put the two weeks of use on it that the Exped dry bags saw in Switzerland but I have an inkling it will survive better.

I’ll leave an update here when I know more!


Updated Alpine Kit List

I’ve not posted my Alpine walking kit list since we did the Haute Route in August 2007 and it’s changed a little of course. A recent comment has prompted me to run through it and note what’s changed.

But most of what we carry in the Alps in summer can be seen in the videos I posted both on hut-to-hut kit and the extra camping and photographic kit.

But for the written record, here are the changes I’ve made since the Haute Route kit posting:

Spare torch -> Photon Freedom Microlight. Sooo small and light it’s madness not to take one.

Granite Gear Vapor Trail rucksack -> GoLite Pinnacle pack. More comfortable, sheds rain better, side pocket takes a Canon EOS 550D (on a leash – in fact, see the next post!).

Silnylon rucksack rain cover -> Nothing – don’t use it anymore.

Montane Lite Speed wind proof -> Nothing – don’t use it in the Alps (more useful for more changeable weather in the UK).

Silk gloves -> Extremities Power Dry Gloves (not to be confused with the thicker, warmer Power Stretch). They stay warmer when wet and are harder wearing. One of my all time favourite bits of kit.

Emergency shelter -> A Superlite Bothy 2 rather than the standard 4 person version (half the weight).

Silk boxer shorts X3 -> Icebreaker X2. I like the fit better, and two pairs worked very well for the whole of the GR5 (washing one pair almost every night).

Integral Designs Shortie eVENT gaiters -> Only waterproof socks inside the inov8 Flyrocs in the Alps.

Sealskinz socks -> Rocky GoreTex Socks – far superior in both comfort and particularly durability (as long as you read the instructions and pull them off by pinching under the heel – else they can get torn).

Montrail Hurricane Ridge approach shoes -> Too heavy – inov8 Terrocs or Flyrocs but most of the time; Vibram Five Fingers!

Swiss Army knife -> Opinel Number 7 – very light, very sharp. Perfect for cheese and saucisson, and carving rough bark of a branch if you need a stick in a hurry… I sadly lost mine on the TJR that I’d had since I was twelve (so that’s twenty nine years, if you’re wondering).

3 packs travel tissues (in 6″X9″ Aloksak) -> Toilet roll, two sheets at a time, stacked in the Aloksak. A vital bit of kit for us westerners in remote huts where they can run out. Replenished, literally only a couple of sheets here and there only from hotels or other non-remote places that we stayed (so few that I’m quite sure they wouldn’t have minded). You can be remarkably economical with it if you try. This saw us through the whole of the GR20 (where there rarely is any in the huts!).

Re-used Indian Tonic Water bottles -> Platypus Hoser 2L. I don’t like the level of plasticisers that I’m probably ingesting, but the dehydration wasn’t good at all, as I discovered on the Haute Route.

Ortlieb Aquazoom waterproof camera case -> Sea To Summit Ultrasil 4L waterproof stuffsack… I think… that’s the next post in fact!

So What Causes A Sniffly Nose In The Cold?

Here’s a little snippet of information that I’ve imparted to many a person on the hill, who have all said “Oh – I’ve always wondered about that…” – which made me decide to share it with the Internet at large.

I wondered for years why going out in the cold gives people the sniffles and then one day I met an Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon and somehow remembered to ask him. This is what I understood of what he told me:

Taking freezing cold air into the delicate tissues of the lungs isn’t a great idea so there are structures in your sinuses which swell with nice warm blood to pre-warm it. They swell to create more surface area to get as much contact with the air as possible.

Which is great for the lungs but not so much fun for the swollen tissues doing the warming. So to protect themselves they exude more mucus. That extra mucus is what gives you the sniffles.

When you finally go in to a warm room and your nose starts to run like mad, that is because those tissues are sensing that their duty is done and they contract, suddenly leaving far less surface area for all the mucus. Imagine blowing up a balloon and painting a thin layer of honey onto it. Then let the balloon deflate; most of the honey would run off as the balloon contracted.

So, more than you ever wanted to know about sniffly noses!

TJR Route Notes

The Tour of the Jungfrau Region is simply stunning. The pair of us have bimbled about in the Alps a reasonable amount (considering we live in Brighton) and we consider this to be equal to the finest routes we’ve done. Not just in terms of the “configurability” of the route but also in terms of the breath-taking scenery. Kev Reynolds has our sincere thanks for putting together not just (another!) first rate guide but the whole concept of the TJR itself. We met several others with a copy of the guide book along the way.

The route is circular, (though oddly ours looks like a fat Ibex – see the link to the Spot tracks below) but since it occasionally goes up and down valleys there are often places that can be short-cut should the weather close in or if you decide that you want a shorter day. I could go on and on about how good we thought it was but if you’re someone that likes to walk in the Alps you already have an idea of what it can be like. And if you’re not, then, as I tweeted in reply to Alan Sloman, you should probably consider finding out before: A) the glaciers melt again (as the guide book says, there was far less glaciation there in Roman times), B) absolutely everyone comes, C) world economic melt down (oh – maybe too late by summer 2012 then? ;) ).

Although we broadly followed the guidebook,  the below paragraphs on our itinerary should give anyone that’s considering the route a flavour of what to expect. I’d point out that the days may look small but are more strenuous than you might imagine if you’ve not done any Alpine walking. As I’ve said before, we’ve come across more than one walker who was trying to double-up guidebook stages because they looked too easy – but who were regretting it. Mainly because it was harder than they expected but also partly because it’s such a shame to rush this kind of journey. The main purpose is not reaching the end (more than once on the GR5 helpful souls pointed out buses that could take us to Nice – seriously).

We built-in easy days and one full rest day (two nights at Berghaus Bäregg). Which was perfect as some of the crew took those opportunities to rest and write journals whilst those of us made of duller material could blunder onwards on day walks (day walks; just out-and-back. Really, what was the point of them? Maybe there were buses that we could have caught).

I’ve put up a Google Map using the way-points created by the Spot tracker. You’ll need to scroll down on the left hand side to see the next page containing the remainder of the way-points since Google Maps only show 200 points at a time.  Or else download them as “KML”, from the link under the description, and view them all at once in Google Earth. (Note this is just the main route – the extra day we did out of Interlaken after we’d finished the TJR isn’t shown).

Edit Sep 2012: Note from the guidebook p. 26: “Try to avoid walking Stage 5 on the first Sunday in September when this section of the tour as far as Trummelbach becomes part of the Jungfrau Marathon course.”

So, the TJR itinerary:

Day 1
Berghotel Schynige Platte
Arrived at Geneva airport and changed trains in Bern. There’s a large Migros supermarket nearby Bern station for stocking up on dried sausage, cheese, nuts and excellent Swiss chocolate. (Out of the station, turn right down the hill to the junction at the bottom, turn left. There’s a deceptively small door with an escalator down to the supermarket in the basement). There’s almost no chance on the route itself to stock-up until Mürren – which is off-route. We arrived in Interlaken and grabbed a bus (far end of the platform) for the two or so kilometres to Wilderswil (We could have walked but needed to ensure we caught the last train. Note there’s another little Migros opposite the train station). Then the cog railway up to the Berghotel Schynige Platte and the start of the TJR. You could do it on foot but you’d need to allow a day. It would also be heck of a tough start to the holiday.

Day 2
Berghaus First
Eye-popping views and a long but relatively easy day passing a lake towards the end (where we had a welcome and very refreshing skinny-dip). First is a large, very plush ski station but friendly and with good food, rather like all the places we stayed!

Day 3
Gleckstein hut
Utterly astonishing views with a very easy (not technical but steep) and quite exposed approach which is effectively up a lower face of the Wetterhorn. We were lucky enough to see Ibex right outside the hut where they were attracted by the guardian placing salt on the wall (they don’t come very often apparently). Also had a hot shower to our astonishment (it was 5CHF each but heck – they have to helicopter the gas in and it had been a broiling hot day).

Day 4
Downtown Hostel
Planned to finish the day at the Berghaus Bäregg but were diverted by a bridge being out (damaged when melt water within the glacier released as a huge torrent) and some poor local advice (there actually is another bridge slightly further down stream) to the comfortable Downtown Hostel in Grindelwald. Supermarket nearby and good catering standard kitchen!

Day 5
Berghaus Bäregg
Another fairly high hut with astonishing views of the glaciers but this time without such an exposed approach. We got to the hut by lunch time and then walked about two thirds of the way to the Schreckhorn hut. We pushed past the end of the easy path some little way but it is exposed (we were all climbers but it was just beginning to push our comfort zones) and requires help from the chains and fixed cables. It really requires a full day for a round-trip to the Schreckhorn hut and back to Berghaus Bäregg.

Day 6
The Eigergletscher is closed permanently (see the Updates tab). The Alpiglen was closed for the last part of the 2011 season for refurbishment so we pressed on, along the North Face of the Eiger (yes, really, it’s very easy up to the bottom of the climbs) all the way to Kleine Scheidegg and the Grindelwaldblick Hotel. A couple of the party went down to Alpiglen and took the cog railway up to Kleine Scheidegg for a shorter day.

Day 7
Hotel Stechelberg
A big descent day (lightweight footwear helping everyone there) that turned out much longer than expected since the path to the valley had been closed (it was damaged and unsafe). So we traversed further along and descended into Wengen, then down to Lauterbrunnen and then back up the valley into Stechelberg. The hotel is small and very friendly with excellent food (especially the breakfast – boiled eggs from hens in the garden).

Day 8
Berghotel Obersteinberg
As we left Stechelberg we passed cows with decorated with fir tree branches in celebration of the end of the summer grazing in the alpine pasture above. Rain set in late in the day. We did the full route around the back of the valley to the hotel which is spectacular. Again a couple of the party made an easier day of it by going straight to the hotel. Wonderful old hotel without electricity but with its own dairy! Far more like a high level mountain hut than a hotel in many ways. Food was served by candlelight making for a very restful stay.

Day 9
Rotstock hut
It rained for much of our approach to the Rotstock hut but then it turned to snow which was far more pleasant. We had a very warm welcome and ate excellent hot lunches. I spent the afternoon snoozing as the snow built up outside.

Day 10
Pension Suppenalp
We had hoped to go over the Schilthorn (the highest point on the route, and visible above you from the hut) but there was ankle deep snow at our level and we knew it was far deeper, icy and also very exposed, with fixed cables, on approach to the summit (two walker with axes and crampons had made the descent the day before and said it was getting a little technical). So we chose the bad-weather variant and descended into Mürren where we grabbed a coffee, missed the Coop supermarket (closed for lunch!) and headed up to the excellent Pension Suppenalp for a hot lunch and drinks.

Day 11
Suls-Lobhorn Hut
The sun returned for an easy day through yet another new and gorgeous valley into the Suls-Lobhorn hut. In among a set of welcoming, stunningly located accommodation serving delicious food this place managed to become our favourite. Mainly because of the lovely Lisa the guardian who couldn’t do enough for everyone. Some of us then headed up to the Lobhorn itself for a good afternoon walk in fairly deep snow at the top.

Day 12
Hotel Rugenpark B&B, Interlaken
Sadly the end of the TJR. But still another new valley to ogle at. We descended to Saxeten, had a tasty lunch at the Hotel Alpenrose and bid a sad goodbye to a couple of the party (the same ones!) who caught the post bus to Wilderswil, and on to Interlaken and the train home (arriving home later that night). The three of us that were still standing headed for Wilderswil; the official finish, but veered-off north shortly after leaving the hotel to climb again before descending towards Interlaken West station. The hotel is on the road leading to the station (as we discovered from the excellent Google Map app on the iPhone). Tasty and reasonably priced dinner at the Restaurant Bären where we looked back on a simply excellent route.

Day 13
Hotel Rugenpark B&B, Interlaken (again)
We had originally considered taking the train up to the Jungfraujoch but without any discount card it was around 180CHF. Besides, we wanted to keep walking! Both Lisa at the Lobhorn hut and Ursula, the owner of the Rugenpark (both of whom were incredibly kind and helpful), advised taking the bus from the station to the cable car up to the Niederhorn and walking back around to Habkern. It was a great route and we didn’t much fancy the bus so we walked the extra seven or so kilometres to the hotel. Another tasty, reasonably priced dinner, this time in the Des Alpes where the staff were friendly and funny.

Day 14
Home via trains, planes and an automobile. Next time we’d very much like to visit the old town in Bern on the way back.

More pictures are coming…

Off Along The TJR – And I Think I Get Twitter At Last

Okay so this is many years behind several million other people, and speaking as an IT consultant I hang my head in shame, but; I think I finally ‘get’ Twitter.

Before I explain it I need to take a moment to explain what a blog is. “Hang on!”, you’re probably thinking. “He was talking Twitter and now he’s off onto blogs. What is this? Where’s all the hiking and kit and techniques?” – Bear with me – I’ll come back around to that.

I need to explain blogging since I’ve met more than one otherwise web-savvy person who didn’t know: blog is a contraction of “web log” which is a rather fancy name for a diary that you keep on the Internet. To write a blog, you use “blogging software” which is just a program that runs on a computer on the Internet that makes it easy to create a new web page, known as a “post”, with a title and a date, to which you can then add your ramblings about whatever you have been doing or are thinking of doing. That’s all there is to it.

But like many inventions, the use it’s generally put to isn’t really the original use that was intended. What I mean is; you are reading this posting that I wrote on some blogging software right now. Notice that it has a date at the top. But this site isn’t really much of an online diary. Like many other people I’ve been using blogging software to publish a series of articles on a particular subject (and this post will get back there, however tenuously).

So that’s what a blog is, but Twitter is what is termed a “micro blog”: some blogging software that only lets you “post” very short entries. Forcing you to boil down those little moments in your life to pithy evocative phrases (hence haiku is quite a popular form on Twitter). The little posts are known as “Tweets”.

So I can now read back over my postings from Corsica as we walked the GR20 (bet you can see the link to the main topic of the blog coming…). I love it, a little diary of moments in my life.

But just like ordinary blogging, Twitter has grown way beyond that. People use it to see what their friends are doing since you can see their Twitter pages (their “micro blogs”). But to make things easier, and stop you having to hop about to read all your friends’ pages, you can have their Tweets appear directly on your page. That’s called “following” someone. So you see your own diary mixed in with the diaries of your friends.

There are other aspects that have grown such as using the @ symbol to direct your Tweets at other specific Twitter users (read it as “at” as in “I’m directing this tweet ‘at’ RedYeti”) but such things are way beyond the scope of this posting!

What is also very handy is that you can post your tweets by text message from your phone, instead of logging in to Twitter in a web browser on your computer. Which is almost certainly cheaper than using the data connection when abroad. (Side note; all UK providers have some cheap option for data roaming if you just ask them! Edit Feb 2013: Except for “3” at the time of writing).

Which means that if you have close friends and relatives that want to hear what you are doing on a trip, you can simply send them all a link to your Twitter page and tell them all with one text. Better still, if they sign up for a Twitter account (they don’t have to post any Tweets!) they can “follow” you, and then they can tell Twitter to send your tweets directly to their own phone. So you can effectively use Twitter as a way to send one text message to many people (and get a mini diary into the bargain).

So, to finally blunder back on topic; I’ll be tweeting my way around the Tour of the Jungfrau Region if you fancy seeing what we’re up to!!/RedYetiDave

We’ll also be using the (new, lighter) Spot tracker so you can see where we are, pretty much real time:

Red Yeti’s Spot Tracker

Are You Protecting Your Expensive Merino Wool Kit From Moths?

What? Moths? Isn’t that something out of comic books?

Not at all. “Clothes Moths” are a real hazard for woollen fabrics – merino is no exception.

A good friend of mine showed me a 200 weight Icebreaker top that had some nasty holes in it. I wouldn’t expect a thick top like that to show such holes after only a year or so.

So I wondered if it might be moths, and sure enough, there are people who have had kit destroyed by the daft, candle-suiciding critters. And there are methods of preventing it.

By far the most simple, cheapest and probably most effective method is to put the garments into a breathable clothing cover (like a suit cover). Edit 10 August 2011: Maybe not, see Bill’s post on dry bags below!

I nosed about online and found that an eBay shop had cheap and effective ones when I searched for “clothes cover”.

I just bought one and have hung all my t-shirts inside it, and stuffed a couple of tissues around the top to attempt to seal it and prevent the moths crawling down inside.

Well worth doing considering how expensive all that merino kit is.

A Simple Pack Wash

Bilberry picked out by the setting sun

This is probably the simplest blog posting, about the simplest bit of maintenance I’ll ever do…

But first a bit of explanation regarding why washing your pack might be something you want to do, and also how not to do it.

A few years ago, I was wandering around somewhere in the mountains near Chamonix when I noticed an odd whiff. It wasn’t the goats, it wasn’t my feet and it wasn’t a piece of cheese I’d snaffled into my pocket from a breakfast buffet and then forgotten all about (the very idea…). But it took me a while to track it down; it was the shoulder straps on my pack. They smelled kinda stale and like they’d been a bit too close to a sweating hiker for a few years too many.

I don’t sweat as much as some and I don’t wear a pack without a shirt of some kind, but the dirt and sweat had built up regardless. And since I was out there on the trail, it was rather inconvenient having to wash the pack.

So when I got home, I fed the pack into the washing machine (yes, I’m that lazy) and added some delicate detergent that I use on merino wool. Big mistake.

Why? Well the pack was essentially fine, but the buckle on the hip belt would no longer stay where I adjusted it. For the next several trips I ended up with sore shoulders since the belt had loosened repeatedly. I finally remembered to simply take some sandpaper to the bars that the belts ran through to roughen them up again and all was well.

So, now I have an even more lazy way of cleaning packs: Fill a bath with water. Add a little (just a little) soap. Soak the pack all day. Use some soap to scrub the inside of the shoulder straps with a small scrubbing brush. Finally just hang to dry.

Nice, non-pongy shoulder straps. Easy.