Webtogs Road-Trip to the Brit-Brand Trio & Marmot!

Aptly-named snack of the week. Great value too.
Aptly-named snack of the week

I should probably start out by explaining that when I say ‘Brit brand trio’, I’m referring to Rab, Mountain Equipment and Montane. These three brands are the standard-bearers for the UK outdoor industry, and between them they account for over half of the products ranged on Webtogs.co.uk at any given time. It was these brands, along with another of our suppliers; US brand Marmot, that Webtogs MD Keith and I set out to visit last Sunday on a 5-day buying road-trip. I can report that it was epic thanks to the exciting new products on show… and the added bonus of getting to take the bike out on some awesome trails in the Lakes (Altura Trail, Whinlatter & The North Face Trail, Grizedale) and Peak District!

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Festive Montane Test! Further Faster Neo and Alpha Guide Jackets

As I posted before Christmas, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pair of Montane test garments to try out over the festive break – the Montane Further Faster Neo Jacket (shell) and Alpha Gide Jacket (insulator). Sadly they have now been dispatched back to Montane HQ (wish I could have kept them), and I am left to report my thoughts and findings.

Dartmoor - the perfect place for a Montane test!
Dartmoor – the perfect place for a Montane test!

As always seems to be the case over Christmas, I was not able to be quite as active as I’d have liked… multiple food-based family gatherings and grandmother-courier duties getting in the way of my plans to test out the Montane pieces through the trinity of walking, cycling and climbing. I was, able to wear them day-to-dayday-to-day though, on a couple of short walks, and on one longer one on Dartmoor last Friday. I plumped for one of my old favorites, the ‘Widecombe Round’. It’s a varied, scenic route around the village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor, and even more so in the right conditions. Luckily conditions were just perfect for beautiful pictures on this occasion, so I’ve interspersed my Montane review with them to liven up any dry technical details!

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Take Note World: Rab is Awesome

Last weekend whilst discussing work with my friend Alex, I was surprised to hear that he had never heard of the brand Rab. This was very surprising to me, because of the 50+ brands we sell at Webtogs, Rab ranks second only to The North Face in terms of sales – and even then it’s a close-run thing. It’s also very much the ‘it’ brand in the market at the moment, with a rapidly expanding fan-base and amazing sell-through, not to mention the fact that it’s been around as a flag bearer of the British outdoor kit industry since the 1980s. (more…)

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Scarp Charmoz GTX Review

Charmoz GTX – Scarpa
I was fortunate enough to spend my alpine summer with a pair of Scarpa Charmoz GTX Mountaineering Boots to try out and pass my humble opinion on, and I have to say it was an experience I’d be only too happy to repeat. Aimed squarely at the mixed ground climber the boots take a B2 rated crampon, working particularly well with the Grivel Air Tech for mixed routes up to Grade 5. The midsole provides good support whilst the ¾ shank gives just enough flex to keep the approach comfortable. The Charmoz uses the recently introduced FT last, giving a good, precise, feel both when scrambling and climbing and the Vibram Mulaz sole with its plastic inserts for better traction on snow.

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Where the Charmoz really excels is on true mixed ground, with constant switches between snow, rock and ice proving no problem. When you’ve got a snow slope followed by a rocky scramble then an ice pitch or two you need something that gives support, grip and traction reliably throughout, and inspires confidence. The waterproof breathable Gore-Tex membrane somehow managed to keep my feet dry even when post holing to knee deep on the ascent of Mont Blanc. Long hard walking on rocky paths felt comfortable which I attributed to the ¾-length shanks, and when it came to steeper icy routes it was simple to fit a pair of Newmatic crampons. The rigid soles and flexible uppers gave excellent support and the shape and fit gave all the precision needed for grade 5 ice and hard mixed climbing. I believe if you want one boot that does it all – or at least Alpine summer or Scottish winter, then look no further. When the mountain terrain changes every few hundred feet, take it all on with the versatile Charmoz GTX Mountaineering Boots.

Nick Parks – Mountain Guide

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Science, Religion and the Outdoors

It’s long been recognised that the wilderness, especially mountain wilderness, has a spiritual quality that humans need. John Muir expressed it perfectly when he said “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.” and it’s interesting to see the use of the term “pray” in this famous quote.

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CREDIT: “John Muir, full-length portrait, facing right, seated on rock with lake and trees in background.” c1902. The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920, Library of Congress.

When I first heard the line I just dismissed the term “pray” as coming from the steotypical religious mix of Scottish heritage and American tradition and substituted it with “think” in my mind, but experience slowly changed this view. It’s no coincidence that we bestow religious terminology to the finest mountain wilderness, and how early descriptions were full of the sense of awe and wonder usually reserved for religious sights. For millenia people have held nature in awe, from early beginings when deity was bestowed on nature itself to the use of natural amphitheatres in the Peak District used for banned religious meetings.

There is something spiritual in nature, and like religion an introduction to wilderness can change lives in the same way as a religious epiphany – read Andy Cave’s book Learning to Breathe to see just what a difference it can make. Like a religion experiencing the outdoors is a personal experience, but one that can benefit at times from being shared with others, and there’s no-one more enthusiastic than a new convert. The great outdoors draws us at weekends, replacing for many the traditional Sunday church attendance as our feel good factor and inspiration, and when we find the perfect mountain view we even refer to it as a cathedral.

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Almost un-noticed, science has entered the spiritual world of the outdoors, but rather than destroying the religious analogies it merely reinforced them. The key to religion, no matter which religion, is surely faith – and that’s precisely what science tries to grow in us. Take a look in at any piece of outdoor kit nowadays and examine the label – you’ll be confronted with more science and technical terminology than the average A level student, but what does it really mean? Take some of the most popular fabrics used for outdoor clothing: There’s Pertex Endurance, Pertex Quantum, Pertex Shield, Pertex MicroLight and Pertex Classic for a start………..now Classic is obviously an original form but how much should you read into the others? Pertex Shield you’d expect to be some sort of shield so probably good for abrasion resistance, and Pertex MicroLight seems pretty self explanatory. Pertex Endurance doesn’t seem too difficult to work out where its strength lies but Pertex Quantum??? Is it some weird option based on advanced physics? The only way, of course, of finding out is to check out the labels and tags that adorn every product, and that’s where faith comes in.

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Read a garment tag, skipping the washing instructions, and you’ll find wonderful descriptions of how oilophobic membranes with XYZ ions and silicone dioxide beads combine with silver fabrics and microfilament yarns to produce ……what, really? something you can wear and not something you expect to find in a government laboratory? Seriously now, how many peopple really follow all the scientific or pseudo-scientific geekspeak? You’re expected to put your faith in it just because it’s got a paragraph or three of jargon behind it that makes it look like it’s come straight from NASA. Personally I’m not bothered if it says it an intelligent, semi-permeable micropore membrane with hydrophyllic and hydrophobic lares laminated together – I want to know if it’s going to keep me dry when it rains, and shift perspiration when I get warm…end of! Faith may be defined by a belief in something you can’t see, but surely that doesn’t mean in something you can’t understand either? That’s why I’ve been happy this week to go through all the outdoor clothing on the site, noting their core technology and coming up with a real world description of what they are and what they do. Don’t let the science baffle you or demand a faith it may or may not deserve, save that for the wilderness itself and the faith that it will always be there when we need its spiritual qualities.

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First steps in the Alps – An introduction by Mountain Guide Nick Parks. Part 2

Glacier Travel
Glacier travel is not something that is possible to replicate easily in the UK and as many alpine excursions involve tackling glaciers, understanding the dangers of crevasses and falling ice cliffs and how to minimize the risk is essential. Crevasse rescue skills and prussiking can be simulated to a degree on rocky crags but there is no substitute for practicing on a glacier itself and this is highly recommended at the beginning of your first alpine visit.
Top tip: Understand the hazards and get to grips with all these new skills by undertaking an alpine course with a qualified mountain guide http://www.mountaintracks.co.uk/summer/introduction/alpine_101

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Weather and clothing

Alpine weather is often extreme and can change very rapidly; in summer you can have snowfalls, dramatic thunderstorms and sweltering temperatures all in the same day even at moderate heights. This means you have to be well equipped to cope with all eventualities not only with the skills but also with the right kit. In recent years there have been significant advances in outdoor clothing technology and my recommended solution to coping with Alpine weather is to use a layering system.

Starry skies as you leave the hut often belie the afternoon realities of alpine climbing, take climbing Mont Blanc du Tacul for instance. Absorbed in the colossal North facing glacial approach you don’t see the thunderheads rolling in from Italy until it’s too late. The early start means you may have to cope with a bone chilling wind, your efforts in the mid-morning sun have you sweating and then bang you have to try to out-race the showers. So lightweight layering is the only way to cope with the absurdity of it all.

It’s a three-hour uphill grind to the summit so you need effective base layers to evaporate your sweat the whole way. When the wind kicks up your Wind Jacket’s hanging mesh liner adds warmth and facilitates wicking, while its shell blocks wind and sheds moisture. The entire time, light, hard-working Simple Guide Pants breathe, protect, and dry in a snap. When the afternoon storm hits you find shelter, that’s when the down jacket becomes a reassuring heater. If afternoon showers catch you a back-up hard shell stashed in your rucksack keeps you dry.

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Summary

Certainly for climbers it is a jump up in lots of ways and there’s a learning curve everyone must follow. A sense of urgency is vital and at all times you must remain alert and aware of the potential pitfalls. For most of us alpine trips have a tendency to throw up the odd hiccup, mercifully not too serious, and dealing with hardships; caught out in a storm; benighted high up; sun burn; dehydration and exhaustion are weirdly in retrospect all part of why we do it. Remember the Alps are daunting and rightly so but they are awesome too and worth taking those steps for.

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Nick Parks is a leading British Ski and Mountain Guide who has been guiding parties for 25 years in mountain ranges across the globe. Particularly well known in the ski industry Nick is also a highly regarded safety expert to the adventure film industry. A keen photographer he contributes regularly to outdoor magazines and professional publications.

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First steps in the Alps – An introduction by Mountain Guide Nick Parks.

For most hillwalkers and climbers from the British Isles leaving our shores and tackling the mountains of our nearest neighbours for the first time, the barriers to success and enjoyment often seem overwhelming and a bigger challenge than they are wishing to tackle.

In this short series of articles we explore the differences between the UK mountain experience and the Alpine one and show you how these barriers can be surmounted safely to allow you to enjoy even more rewarding mountain adventures.

Its never been easier to access the Alps, with low cost flights and fast trains its as quick to get from London to Chamonix as it is to Capel Curig. They have beauty and wilderness in common but that’s where the differences between Tryfan and the Triolet end. First off is quite simply the huge difference in scale. Add altitude acclimatization difficulties to overcome and the glacial environment to safely negotiate and it’s easy to appreciate why tackling the Alps can be so daunting.

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Tryfan….impressive but not Triolet

Scale What are we talking about and how to adapt?

In the UK 300-400 metre long routes are rare, in contrast many Alpine routes can be 1500 or even 2000 metres long. Four times the size means that successful climbing in the Alps requires you to plan thoroughly, work to a timetable and use every part of your day productively, thereby avoiding epics like night-time descents. Gaining information, be it online, or from guidebooks is essential in helping you make correct route choices so that you don’t take on more than you can tackle. Seeking up to date information is critical too as the Alps are constantly changing, especially in these times of accelerating climate change. Glacial recession and rockfall can create drastic change even over the course of one season.

Top tip: Start off on alpine routes that are similar in length to those you are used to in Britain.

Preparation

Many of the skills necessary for safe success in the Alps are the same as those needed in the British hills; sound navigation; rock climbing; scrambling and in winter snow and ice techniques. All of these are directly transferable from our crags and mountains. Learning to move safely together on alpine ground is a key skill. Many alpine routes, like the Hornli ridge on the Matterhorn, although exposed are technically straightforward. However their length is such that climbing it in pitches aka British rock climbing style you would need a week to climb the route. Moving together using running belay techniques, gives a sufficient measure of protection whilst allowing you to get down in time to celebrate.

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The Matterhorn – an Alpine icon

Top tip: Practice moving together techniques like short ropeing, on long scrambling routes in the British hills e.g North ridge of Tryfan

Nick Parks is a leading British Ski and Mountain Guide who has been guiding parties for 25 years in mountain ranges across the globe. Particularly well known in the ski industry Nick is also a highly regarded safety expert to the adventure film industry. A keen photographer he contributes regularly to outdoor magazines and professional publications.

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Nick Parks – Ski and Mountain Guide

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