Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Book Review: Lakeland Fellranger - The Far Eastern Fells

When I was asked by Cicerone to review the eighth and final Lakeland Fellranger guide by Mark Richards, I jumped at the chance. Over the last four years, since I first discovered this series, I have devoured each one with delight and had high hopes (and therefore expectations) of this one.
“Lakeland Fellranger - The Far Eastern Fells” is described as “The complete guide for walkers and explorers of the Lakeland fells”. A bold statement, but is it true?

The Far Eastern Fells
In short, yes. The author seems to have thought of everything anyone could possibly need. This volume covers the area to the east of Ullswater and each fell has a separate chapter (there are 33 fells covered from Angletarn Pikes to Yoke) with a colour Harvey map highlighting a selection of starting points and routes. The routes are depicted in red so are easy to follow on the map. Each starting point and route is then covered in detail in the text. There are line-drawn maps in 3D to give a sense of the elevation, descriptions of the summits, recommended ridge routes and advice on the safest descents.

The author’s energy and passion come through in the text along with his knowledge of the fells and their history, with interesting insights. Perhaps most strikingly however, there are a series of four hand drawn panoramas of the views from the summit of each fell covered in the book, showing the shape and names of all the surrounding fells. This must have been a painstaking task but it adds real value, especially for those less familiar with the fells.

There are colour photos throughout that really capture the beauty of the Lakeland fells in every season (although the author seems to have been fortunate to avoid too much grey cloud!) and at the beginning, a useful list of grid references for each starting point and information on safety on the fells. 

So with all that in mind, I would say that “The Far Eastern Fells” can lay claim to being a “complete guide”. This does of course mean that at over 330 pages, it is quite a weighty volume so is more for planning and reference than adding to your rucksack (although I have also done that with previous volumes). 

With the completion of volume eight of Lakeland Fellranger, Mark Richards has, in my view, provided a comprehensive series of guides to the Lakeland fells not seen since Wainwright. The whole series covers 227 fells (Wainwright covered 214). Mark Richards demotes five Wainwright fells (I will not spoil the books by saying which ones, but for those who feel the same way about Mungrisdale Common as I do, you will enjoy reading them all the more) and added new ones that Wainwright did not cover. 

I am a fan of the Wainwright guides and probably always will be but the time was and is right for another set of guides that are fresher and can appeal to a whole new audience. This Fellranger set, culminating with the Far Eastern Fells, in my view is just that and could easily last us the next fifty years. Will 227 become the new 214? Will we talk in future about climbing the “Richard’s” rather than the “Wainwright’s”? I think the answer to that rests with Cicerone and how they manage to keep them relevant and fresh over the coming years....

“Lakeland Fellranger – The Far Eastern Fells” is published by Cicerone. There is more information on www.markrichards.info including additional photos and the summit panoramas
RRP £14.95

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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

High Style: Peter Storm Trousers

High Style is my outdoor clothing and accessories review section. Testing out the serious and practical side of outdoor clothing, in High Style I also consider what sometimes is overlooked - how stylish the items of clothing are.
I am working with a range of retailers and manufacturers to bring these reviews to you from well-known brands to less well-known ones and everything from trousers and t-shirts to rucksacks and flasks.
I hope you enjoy the reviews and find them useful. 

Peter Storm Tri-Stretch Trousers  
(Reviewed for Keswick Blacks)

I have to say I really put these trousers through their paces in a way that surprised even me - I went rock-climbing and abseiling for the first time in my life and the tri-stretch trousers shared the experience with me.

Peter Storm Trousers
These trousers are water-repellant (shower-proof) and tri-stretch. They have a pocket each side at around hip level, two at the back and can be rolled up into a capri length.

First of all the stretch was certainly put to the test as I was stretching and climbing up Scout Crag in Langdale. There was no resistance at all however far I stretched in my attempts to find footholds and I was confident in them (and relieved they stood up so well!)

It was raining lightly on and off all day and whilst they are not designed to be waterproof, the water-repellant material meant that with only light rain I did not need waterproof trousers - my legs did not get wet and the material dried very quickly in the dry times. In heavy rain over-trousers would be necessary.

Rolling to capri-length
An unexpected test (and not one that any claims are made about by Peter Storm or one that I had intended to try) was how well they stood up to being grazed on rocks as I kneeled on various outcrops and ledges and as I skirted around the crag having lost my footing on the way down. There was no damage to the fabric. I was very impressed at that.

I have tried the trousers on hiking days since then and remain impressed.

So did I like the style? Yes I did. These are the first trousers I have tried for outdoor activities that are stretch ones and I loved the shape of them. To celebrate my rock-climbing and abseiling success I went to one of my favourite hotels for a glass of prosecco in the bar and with just a change of footwear, felt like I could have stepped off the high street into the bar rather than from a rock-climb. They are something that with a pair of heels I would wear to the office during the day and then swap heels for hiking boots and head up a fell after work.

I generally like colourful clothes but love these in black and you can add colour with the other parts of the outfit.
Extreme testing on a rock-climb
Any room for improvement? Only a minor one. Personally I could do with the "long" size being half an inch longer. 

Overall Verdict
Very versatile and already one of my favourite outdoor clothing items and something I do not think I could live without in my hiking wardrobe (and my rock-climbing one as it turns out!)

Practicality: 10/10
Style: 8/10

Peter Storm Tri-Stretch Trousers
RRP: £40

(Available exclusively at Blacks & Millets)
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Friday, 14 June 2013

Rocks, ropes & conquering fear with Lakeland Ascents

To say I was out of my comfort zone is putting it mildly. Rock-climbing and abseiling are things that in my mind other people do. However, when the opportunity came to spend the day with Lakeland Ascents I decided to give it a go. They do everything from rock-climbing and abseiling to gorge scrambling and winter and ice climbing. My friend Peter was in the Lakes on holiday and I persuaded him to keep me company on this adventure.

Ready to climb
We met Si from Lakeland Ascents in the Stickle Ghyll car-park in Langdale and headed to Scout Crag a short walk away. Scout Crag is for beginners. It still looked pretty high to me though and impossible to climb! As Si got the ropes ready, I stepped into my harness (really not the most flattering thing I have ever worn but for this occasion I did not care – it felt robust and secure and that was all I was after!) Equipped with hard hats we headed over to the crag to begin rock-climbing.
Scout Crag - my first rock climbing challenge!

The first lesson was in knots (which were all checked by Si) and then we were off. Peter went first and pretty much sprinted up the side of the crag then scaled elegantly down. Well that didn’t look too hard. I took my first tentative step on the crag and then another. I was probably all of six feet off the ground at this point but was starting to feel a real sense of achievement. It is all about keeping the weight on leg muscles rather than on your hands and arms. When I was half way up, I found it much trickier as obvious foot holds were not apparent and I began to put trust in some of the tiniest pieces of rock. But it worked. My adrenaline was pumping and my legs were shaking live Elvis at one point but I made it to the top. Yay!

Me on a rock
Then I had to descend. Technically this is the easy part. I somehow managed to get it wrong though and found myself spinning around and dangling on the rope in mid air! I recovered a little bit of elegance but only a little as I got back down to terra firma. However, I was surprised that at no point as I was hanging in mid air was I afraid. I had complete confidence in the ropes and Si and it was well placed. I was never at risk.

I tried the ascent again and this time I was faster as I had a better technique and more confidence. I also managed to get back down more elegantly. Buoyed up with this success, we tried a higher and more difficult part of the crag. Peter went first again and I was in charge of belaying for him, which is where I was holding the rope and controlling the slack etc. Si had another part of the rope as back-up in case I did something wrong. This was demonstrably a more difficult proposition.

Cathedral Quarry
Peter took two attempts but did get to the top whereas I took about ten minutes to get onto the first grassy ledge about a foot off the ground (much to the amusement of Peter and Si) and it didn’t bode well for the rest of the crag but I started making progress with even fewer footholds than before. I only got two-thirds of the way up as my muscles were starting to feel really tired but I was really pleased with what I achieved. I started my descent and once again got my technique wrong. This time I span about six feet around the crag and dangled again. I was unscathed but I did demonstrate the importance of hard hats!

Next we headed off to Cathedral Quarry near Little Langdale. This is an amazing place that I did not know existed. It is a large cave with extensive mining tunnels around it. It is a real attraction for people abseiling and as we arrived it was already busy. The lower crag was full so we decided to head straight for the high crag that meant an abseil of 160 feet. 

The high abseil descent
Again, Si set up the ropes and I watched person after person descend just further along the crag. No-one seemed to struggle. I was feeling very nervous though.

Peter went first again and hopped over the crag and made his way down. No problems at all. I was clipped on and took my first tentative steps towards the edge. My heart was racing. Si gave me the instructions and I stood with my back to the wide expanse below me. I was standing on the tiniest of ledges with the calming words of Si encouraging me to lean back and take the first steps down. I really wanted to but I was shaking and quite literally terrified. Si was very patient and deserves a medal. 

I tried about four times to descend. Peter came back up to give me encouragement. I had full confidence in the ropes (after all, I had spent a good amount of time dangling from them that morning) and confidence in Si but I just couldn’t do it. Peter even went down the crag again to show me the technique. In the end I admitted defeat. I was so frustrated I could have cried.
Me finally braving abseiling

Si had a solution though. We headed off to the lower crag that was now empty. He set the ropes up again and I was absolutely determined. I got into position, leant back straight away and off I went! Hurrah! I had quite a good technique for much of the descent (unlike this morning) and so was very happy. As I got to the bottom my smile could have rivalled the Cheshire Cat. At last!

To finish the day we headed along the caves and tunnels right through the crag to get back out to the car. The tunnels are pitch black so you need a torch and are low so you need a hard hat ideally. I cannot believe I have never been there before.

So having been out of my comfort zone all day, would I do it again? Actually yes I would. I really enjoyed the rock-climbing and would like to get better at that. Abseiling still holds a lot of fear for me but I think if I did the low crag a few times to get confidence in my technique I would be brave enough to do the large crag. I am certainly going to try it again one day.

Si and Lakeland Ascents were fabulous. I put my confidence and faith in his skills, experience and knowledge and it was well placed. Si was calm and encouraging and I achieved things I never thought I could. 

Now, when I see other people rock-climbing I can look and say “I did that”. Maybe ice climbing next?

With Si before the abseil attempt

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