Review Of The Noughties – 10 years of highlights, Part 2 2005-2009

As we reach the end of the Noughties we thought it was time to take a look back over the last decade and reminisce. It’s been a strange ten years when not a lot seems to have happened at first glance, but take a closer look and it’s been eventful, innovative and a decade to remember.

2005:    The year continued 2004′s new emphasis on lightweight kit along with introducing some new classics like the Berghaus Bioflex back system, now in its second generation with the C7 Pro rucksack. Mountain Equipment entered the tent market with its Hielo 2, Torres and Helium tents whilst Brasher brought us pink boots with the Colima GTX. Helly Hanson celebrated 25 years of their Lifa technology for base layers as Merino Wool products started to make a noticeable appearance with companies like Smartwool and Icebreaker exporting to a wider world.

After over 50 years we got a new Countryside Code, complete with Wallace and Grommit style adverts, The YHA celebrated 75 years, whilst the New Forest became England’s latest National Park. The outdoor world lost legendary climber Anderl Heckmair at the age of 98. Over a 4 day period in the summer of 1938 Heckmair played a pivotal role in the first successful ascent of the Eiger’s North Face with Heinrich Harrer, Ludwig Vorg and Fritz Kasparek. Eric Langmuir, author of the definitive guide on mountain leadership also died at the age of 74.  Overseas the big news was a spectacular year in the Himalayas with records tumbling. Annabelle Bond set records in the 7 Summits callenge, Jake Meyer becoming the youngest Brit to ascend Everest and Alan Hinkes completing the 14 8000m summits with his ascent of Kanhchenjunka.

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Alan Hinkes became the first British mountaineer to complete the ascent of all 14 8000m peaks

2006:    The classic Scarpa Manta got an overhaul with a new ankle flex design, and Rab brought us the Phantom. Elsewhere the focus was still on reducing the grams as pack weights tumbled and ultra lightweight waterproofs were everywhere. Soft shell continued to build its popularity with Haglofs amongst those spearheading new designs.

Sheffield saw its first Adventure Film Festival, in a move that was to see Sheffield become a major outdoor centre over the next few years, with the Kendal Mountain Film Festival dropping the “Film” as it added a book and arts festival. Overseas the British Army made an impact despite ultimately failing in their attempt on the dangerous West Ridge of Everest. Their groundbreaking website, live transmissons and TV adverts cleaned up at the global Campaign Digital Awards as the new benchmark for expedition websites.

2007:   The year of Pro Shell. Gore-Tex’s new fabric took the outdoor world by storm as Gore revamped their range of breathable membrames. The Haglofs Spitz made its first appearance and soon gained an enviable reputation whilst Berghaus became the first British manufacturer to use recycled Polartec as the outdoor world started taking notice of environmental issues.

By 2007 GPS had become both big business and reliable and accurate enough to become mainstream outdoor kit. Digital mapping was starting to make the move from CD and DVD to online, paving the way for digital releases in the next decade. YHA closures over recent years were being replaced by independent hostels and bunkhouses, and abroad China declared it’s intention of building a highway to Everest base camp.

2008:   2008 started off with the tragic news of the death of Sir Edmund Hillary, legendary explorer, mountaineer, and first to climb Mount Everest with Tenzing Norgay. Sustrans won the People’s £50 Million Lottery Contest for an inspiring prgram of connected cycleways across the length and breadth of Britain and camping took on greater popularity with the growth of music festivals. Even 10 Downing Street saw the appeal of the outdoors with a reception in “Celebration of Britaish Mountaineering” for the BMC.

On the gear front Primaloft had a revamp boosting insulation by 15% and The North Face started making new fabric from bamboo. Patagonia launched the worlds first totally recycled and recyclable range of clothing, along with branching out into footwear and the world started to catch up with Jetboil in building super-efficient stoves for the 21st Century. Marmot introduced a new 4 way stretch fabric with a membrame laminate called Membrain along with the Troll Wall Pro Shell designed for use over a fleece or soft shell. To top off developments Keen, having made a name for themselves in spectacular fashion with their sandal range, diversified with the launch of their first True 3 Season Boot”

2009: Well it’s not over till the Fat Lady Sings…..presumably Auld Lang Syne…..so this will have to wait till womorrow.

Happy New Year, and may your path always be smooth and your weather fair for 2010. Have a great one, from all at Webtogs, and see you in a new decade :)

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Review Of The Noughties – 10 years of highlights, Part 1 2000-2004

As we reach the end of the Noughties we thought it was time to take a look back over the last decade and reminisce. It’s been a strange ten years when not a lot seems to have happened at first glance, but take a closer look and it’s been eventful, innovative and a decade to remember.

2000:    The new decade, and new millenium, kicked off in spectacular fashion with the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. Although not fully implemented until October 2005 after a long rollout process the “Right to Roam” has been possibly the biggest step forward in a century for walkers in England and Wales. The legislation may not be perfect, and offer less freedom than Scotland’s later Land Reform Act, but has succeeded in opening up over 6000 square miles of mountain, moor, heath, down and forest.

On the gear front the year 2000 brought us Gore-Tex XCR, a revolutionary new, more breathable, fabric from the membrane masters. Available in 2 and 3 layer versions XCR lasted the whole decade as the fabric of choice for high end mountain clothing and the leading waterproof liner for boots.

2001:    A bad year for outdoor enthusiasts as Britain was gripped in the Foot and Mouth outbreak. Cumbria and The Lake District got hit particularly hard and huge swathes of land were closed off for much of the year. Elsewhere the Mont Blanc Tunnel reopened following the fire of 1999 and an expedition found the camp of Mallory and Irvine’s 1924 Everest expedition.

The big news on the gear front was the introduction of eVent, an alternative membrane to Gore-Tex in what was a hard year for manufacturers and retailers.

2002:   The United Nations designated 2002 The International Year of Mountains in a campaign to preserve mountain ecosystems with special events worldwide. The Kendal Mountain Film Festival was joined by The Outdoors Show at Birmingham’s NEC on the annual calendar and the country began recovering from the previous year’s Foot and Mouth.

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2002 saw Loch Lomond opened as Scotland’s first National Park

Kinder Trespass leader benny Rothman died in the 70th anniversary year of the trespass, and Loch Lomond became Scotland’s first National Park. Further afield Alan Hinkes summited Annapurna making it 12 out of 14 in his 8000 metre quest.

Stretch XCR was the new fabric of the year along with the latest “in” word – Soft Shell. Paclite got a revamp, seeing the end of the characteristic dots, and Scarpa launched the legendary Cumbre boot. Haglof brought us their LIM range

2003:    Britain got a new National Trail in May with the opening of the Hadrian’s Wall Path, and the Ice factor artificial ice wall in Kinlochleven. Scotland got the Land Reform Act 2003 that enshrined the rights of access in law.  After being under threat Wainwright’s famous series of Lakeland Guides was saved with a new publisher, but no such luck for Aaron Ralston who cut off his own arm with a penknife after being trapped by a boulder. Competing for the headlines with Aaron Ralston we had the release of Touching The Void, Joe Simpson’s classic tale of survival. Sir Ranulph Fiennes also threw his hat into the ring with seven marathons in seven days on seven continents.

Rab brought us the classic Latok  jacket and trousers, whilst haglofs invented their Turtleshield pack technology. Overseas a sign of the times came with respected New Zealand manufacturer Macpac switching production to the Far East for the next season’s products.

2004:   The year the lightweight revolution really took hold. Cottage and small industries from the USA started to gain more widespread fame through the internet and specialist retailers started springing up around the country. Go-Lite brought us the world’s lightest rucksacks whilst long term favourites like Thermarest introduced new lightweight ranges. Terra Nova lightened the load with the introduction of the Laser tent, which went on to spawn a comlete range of ultra-lightweights.

Planning permission was given for a proposed new cafe on Snowdon, whilst over in the Himalayas Alan Hinkes was closing in on a record with his ascent of Dhaulagiri. In the Lake District Wasdale got it’s first live webcam in a trend that’s spread to wilderness areas around Britain, and the first 4X4 ban came into force on the Ridgeway.

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SAIS Avalanche Warning System Gets Update

The SportScotland Avalanche Information Service has restarted for the winter, and takes on a fresh new look for 2009/2010. Gone are the numerical gradings; replaced by an easy to follow grading from Low to Very High along with a new graphical layout.

In line with other international warning systems the new layout gives a visual “hazard rose” which gives advice dependent on height and direction – showing where southern slopes are more liable to avalanche than northern slopes and vice-versa. Using the new system you can check on the likelyhood of both natural and man-made avalanches in each of 8 compass directions with concentric rings showing different altitudes.

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As in previous years you can get the avalanche information updates daily in either pdf format or online, where relevant words are highlighted with rollovers for further descriptions. A mobile text service, and the choice to download reports to your mobile complete the picture for what must surely be the most user friendly version of SAIS to date.

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Beneath your feet

The reasons we love the great outdoors are as numerous and varied as the mountains and hills we climb, but whether it’s the nature of wilderness, the scenery, the challenge or even the solitude most reasons come back to a single factor; what’s under our feet.

From the limestone of the Peak District to the slates of the Lake District the geology beneath our feet shapes everything from the use we put our lands to through to the existance of the mountains themselves. The position of streams and bogs, cliffs and plateaux are all determined by the geology that underlies our island, and even the prevailing weather relies to an extent on the rocks beneath us. This is why the decision to make maps from the British Geological Survey available online is good news for the outdoor community.

In the same way that an Ordnance Survey map can tell us a thousand stories of what we see around us a geological map can tell us why a river sinks, or why our compasses go loopy on Skye. The British Geological Survey’s (BGS) new OpenGeoscience portal allows the public to study all the UK’s rocks on a simple Google map, down to a “scale” of 1:50,000 with overlays to show towns and streets. A range of educational and professional tools are also brought together on the website, including the huge national geological archive of tens of thousands of images have been amassed into the BGS library over the decades, showing different rock forms around Britain. The site is divided into six sections covering Data, Education, Maps, Pictures, reports and Software with maps and pictures of particular interest to hillwalkers.

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Geological map of Wasdale area

The beauty of a geological map is the information it gives on both what what the eye can’t see and an explanation of why surface features are what they are. Knowing of the existance of magnetic rocks, for example, can help us understand why a compass can give false readings, or knowing where two different strata meet can help us predict flood routes following heavy rainfall – and so improve our choices and chances of escape when bad weather strikes.

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Wastwater from Yewbarrow

The opening up of these geological maps is part of an overall plan to open up our digital mapping data across the board, with OS mapping due to follow suit early next year. There’s never been a better time to find out exactly what it is that makes our landscape so special – or why our wilderness is so valuable.

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Western Mountaineering Meltdown Jacket – first impressions

When you’ve been doing it for a few years hill walking and mountaineering have a degree of “second nature” you become familiar with and many of the brain numbing decisions become semi automatic. Nowhere is this more apparent than kit selection, and the chances are that if you know someone who’s been getting out on the hills for a while they’ll be wearing the same brands as they were 5 years earlier. When it comes to kit people build up loyalty based on their own personal experiences, and tend to stick with what they know works well – it’s not that familiarity breeds contempt, but familiarity building confidence.

Once that brand loyalty has taken root it’s hard to change the momentum that drives decision making, after all why should anyone deviate from what they know is reliable and does the job? This was the dilemna I faced last week when my trust Rab Neutrino Endurance suffered from the chaos of trying to decorate a new house, and got a little paint splattered. The automatic reaction was to simply replace it like for like. I know the Neutrino well, and it’s been a number one choice for years, but by pure coincidence I’d been hearing glowing references to a brand from across the pond that promised something special.

Taking the plunge, I decided to give the Western Mountaineering Meltdown Jacket a chance – and I’ve certainly not been disappointed! Yes it’s a down jacket that at first glance looks like a neutrino, but the moment you pick it up the difference smacks you straight in the face and questions start flooding your mind. First inclinations were to add a mid layer beneath the Meltdown to bulk it up a bit closer to how the Neutrino feels as it just doesn’t “feel” substantial and reassuring in the way my old familiar Rab did.  While the technical specs shout out that this is a quality product it’s hard to get your head around how something that feels so lightweight can give the same level of protection as you’re accustomed to. Pull the jacket on and you still feel almost half prepared, but once you step outside the misgivings soon start to fade. Despite its miserly weight this jacket is up there with the big boys when it comes to keeping you warm.

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The Meltdown uses 850+ fill power down inside an ultra lightweight shell, giving the kind of performance you’d expect from a more substantial feeling product but at a fraction of the weight. Yes there are compromises, but in reality the compromises take nothing away from the overall performance. The Meltdown has a classic short cut, with hem adjusters to pull the jacket in tight to the waist and neat velcro straps at the cuffs. The hood appears to be missing at first glance, being rolled away into the collar and hidden behind a zip so narrow it appears to be just a fabric join. There’s no inside pocket, but the hard warmer external pockets are insulated inside and out and have the same soft-to-touch lining as the main inner fabric.

It’s early days for the Western Mountaineering Meltdown, but it’s already taught me a valuable lesson; It’s all very well to stick with something you know does the job, and it won’t let you down, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something that does the job equally well or better!

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