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A Touch of Toubkal Altitude Thickness

By Phil 2014.10.22 in Toubkal

I recently returned from the Toubkal Two Valley trek in Morocco with outdoor adventure company Exped Adventure. I managed to drag Ian, Joe, Jason, Alan and Andy G along for the ride also.

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Day 1: Into Africa [Right Back to Where We Started]

After a smooth trip to Marrakech airport, the taxi drive into Marrakech was as crazy as I expected, as we bustled our way through the chaotic traffic and crazy sights to a soundtrack of blasting horns. There also seems to be some kind of competition to see how many people or boxes one can fit on a motorbike while constantly cutting each other up on the road. Quite a bizarre sight. Welcome to Marrakech!

The taxi driver dropped us off on the outskirts of Marrakech where we were greeted by a tiny elderly man with a square wheelbarrow for our luggage. This was our porter who would guide us through the winding streets to our hostel accommodation, Equity Point. I have to say it was quite an experience as we followed our elderly porter through the streets, with him stopping every 5 minutes to hold his chest, while smiling, obviously trying to show us how hard his job was to get a bigger tip.

After wandering through the Souks of Marrakech, we finally arrived at our digs. Which I have to say is better than some B&B’s I have stayed in here in the UK. Our six bed dorm overlooked the swimming pool and just below the sun terraced roof with stunning views over Marrakech. We quickly checked in and headed out to the main square for some food.

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I had heard about how amazing the Moroccan street food was, so was looking forward to sampling it. As soon as you hit the main square it was just a sea of outdoor food stalls shouting “cheap price” to tempt you in. As we headed past the first food stall, we made the big mistake of looking at a menu, before being hassled to step in and eat there. We were just about to ignore the guy tempting us in and head further into the square, until he told us in excellent English: “It’s the same shit everywhere man, you might as well eat here.” After his very honest sales pitch, we decided to take his word for it and grab a table. I have to say, the display of fresh food on show, looked nothing like the cooked stuff we were served, which was quite disappointing. We quickly ate what little food we had been given and headed on through the rest of the main square, looking at all the options we had missed out on.

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After a long day travelling we were ready for some alcohol. Not easy to find in Morocco. Luckily we found a fancy rooftop restaurant which did serve beer and headed there for a few. We then wandered the streets looking for another bar before admitting defeat and heading back to our hostel only to find we had a great terrace bar selling beer right above our heads.

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Day 2: New Disciples [A spade's a spade unless it's a shovel]

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After breakfast we met our guides, Sam and Jamie from Exped Adventure as well as our fellow trekking mates Lydia, Sally, Rory, Alex, Andy and Tony for a briefing on our trek. As we had a few hours to kill before we headed to the mountains in Imil, we had time to have another wander around Marrakech and a spot of lunch. During lunch (where I managed to be the only person to order a chicken tagine which came with no chicken, only bones!) we discussed some of the things we might encounter during the trek. Ian started to tell Lydia that he had brought his bat repellent which sends out a high pitched sound to scare off bats during the night. Lydia was worried at this point as she hadn’t brought any bat repellent, until we all started laughing at Ian’s joke.

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We returned to our hostel to be picked up by our mini bus for the 1.5 hour drive to the mountain village of Imil where we would start our trek from the following day. Our accommodation for the night was the excellent Dar Ardar in the hills above Imil which stretched before us from the balcony view. After being served a great meal of soup, tagines (with chicken this time) and gallons of green tea a few of us had a game of cards to pass the time. This card game was more challenging than expected, as Lydia struggled with the card suits, getting her shovels and spades and clubs and clovers mixed up. To which Alan came out with the comment which was soon to be used a lot during the trek of: “Have you got altitude thickness Lydia!”

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Day 3: Two Tribes go to Walk [A Night Under the Stars]

After a great night sleep in a proper bed (unlike half the group who reported being awoken by the sound of some sort of Wickerman festival in the valley below during the dead of night), We woke to stunning views of the mountains above Imil as the clouds lifted while we got ready for our first day of trek.

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We split into our teams of 6, with Sam leading our team and Jamie leading the others and headed off. It was quite a steep ascent to start the day off as well as blistering heat as we headed to the Col Tizi Mzik pass at 2400m.

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Once at the Col we dumped out rucksacks and headed off to first summit of 2580m. Once at the summit were had our first experience of the truly stunning views we would encounter on this trip. We then headed back to catch up with the muleteers and mules who had gone ahead to setup out first lunch stop of the trek. We were treated to a great first meal and gallons of green tea by our personal chef before the steep decent to the Berber village of Tizi Oussem at 1900m and our gite for the night.

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Each team of 6 were given our own dorms for the night. Ours was a long brick annex from the main building with cushioned bench around the wall for us to sleep on with our sleeping bags. While most of us were unpacking, Andy came into the room with a huge grin on his face, happy that he managed to survive his first attempt at using the hole in the ground toilet without incident. He was so pleased he hit the target that he felt like celebrating and throwing his hands in the air but he was too busy using his hands to keep the door shut and balancing.

After dinner Joe decided to get his phone out and play a game he has on it called, “Guess The Animal”, where you hold the phone on your forehead facing the rest of the group and you have to guess the animal based on the clues given by the others looking at the phone on your forehead. During Ian’s turn the animal on display was Walrus, to which Joe gave the perfect clue. “A Beatles song, I am the….?” To which Ian replied. “Yellow Submarine.” It seemed like Ian was next to succumb to altitude thickness.

A few of the group decided to sleep on the balcony under the stars rather than in our team rooms. Me and Ian managed to last an hour or so, before returning to our room where Joe and Andy G appeared to be having a snore-off. With hindsight I think we would have been better off staying on the balcony and putting up with the sound of morning prayers, music procession, singing and many other bizarre noises during the night rather than listen to Joe and Andy G snoring.

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Day 4: Diker Grove [Meat is Murder]

The next day was a long trek up the Azzadene valley to Lepiney refuge at 3000m and the famous outside toilet with amazing valley views (even if the toilet itself was anything but amazing), I had heard so much about from my friend Rhiannon (her blog post An Atlas Mountain Adventure & an Extreme Shewee can be found at her blog site here: Away to the Hills).

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On the way we stopped off at a new posh refuge for some green tea and snacks. Posh means it had normal flushable toilets, which the group made sure to make the most of before hitting the unique Lepiney refuge.

Before lunch we passed a stunning waterfall where Alan and Ian decided to strip off and take the opportunity to have a dip to cool down.

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Although our meals cooked by the muleteers were great considering what equipment they had to cook them with during the trek, we were starting to miss some real meat. So Jamie asked the chef if there was any way we could have some meat for our evening meal at the refuge. We were told we could pay a little extra and sacrifice a goat, which for 40 Dirham a person was bargain.

As we headed up the mountain to the refuge we started to see and hear a little black goat following us all the way to the refuge on its own accord. Little did we know at the time that this was soon to be our dinner, before finally arriving at the Lepiney refuge and the famous toilet with a view!

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While some went out to watch the sacrificing of our goat (which is done as humanely as possible and instant), the rest of us settled into our accommodation for the night which was the attic of this very small refuge. We basically had to climb a vertical ladder from the kitchen through a hole in the attic and sleep on cushioned mats along with a group of Dutch people who had somehow picked up on some of our teams accents and kept saying “Byker Grove” to us. I’m amazed how such a kids TV show had made it on to Dutch TV, but obviously had.

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Day 5: Ziga Zig Za [Up to the Bottom]

The Dutch had obviously planned on leaving the refuge a lot earlier than us, as they woke some of us up with their singing during breakfast while we were still trying to sleep. No doubt singing the Ant and Dec classic hit song “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble”.

Despite the singing Dutch, it was actually my best night’s sleep of the trek and felt great as we headed up the never ending zig zag path up the valley to the Col on the shoulder of Aguelzim at 3550m. The hard slog up the valley was the first time I noticed people splitting from our usual walking groups and often walking on their own, this was due to people wanting to set their own pace.

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This was the highest I had hiked and was starting to feel the first effects of hiking at higher altitude which wasn’t helped by the blistering heat and steep scree terrain.

Our muleteers had found us a perfect lunch stop as we looked down towards the Toubkal refuge as well as seeing our first glimpse of the Toubkal summit we would be ascending the following day.

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It was a fairly rocky descent to the Toubkal refuge at 3200m, which was very busy with well over 100 trekkers staying the night. We were placed in a dorm with 4 strangers which included an American couple who were getting up at around 4am to summit Toubkal before long walk back to Imil. Luckily we weren’t leaving till after 8am and returning back to Toubkal refuge for another night.

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Day 6: Through the Bleak Mid Winter [There and Back Again]

After a bad night’s sleep due to increase in snorers in our room, I still felt quite fresh and ready for our 8am ascent of Jebel Toubkal. Unlike our previous Dutch companions the Americans must have had ninja training as they quietly left our dorm for their early morning ascent without disturbing us.

We set off in our teams of 6 with the plan of meeting at the col prior to the final ascent of Toubkal. It was quite a cold morning due to us being in the shade for most of the way up to Toubkal, so it was the first time we all had to wrap up with extra layers, hats and gloves during the day.

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It was another steep scree ascent before hitting a large patch of snow which we had to carefully navigate across. It wasn’t deep or hard enough where crampons or ice axes were essential, but was still very tricky to navigate through and had to be done with caution.

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We all arrived safely at the Col to perfect conditions of clear blue skies, sun shining and stunning views for miles around. We then made our final ascent to the summit of Toubkal, the highest point in North Africa at 4167 metres high.

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As there had been so many people staying in the refuge the night before, I was expecting a lot more people on the summit when we arrived, but I was so pleased there weren’t hordes of people like you see on top of Ben Nevis or Scafell Pike at weekends back in the UK. After a while we pretty much had the summit of Toubkal to ourselves. It was perfect!

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Sam and Jamie had planned this route with this in mind and this allowed us to spend over an hour on the summit chilling and taking many summit photos while admiring the amazing views all around us.

After enjoying the summit of Toubkal, it was time to head back to our refuge, which also meant passing over the snow we crossed on the way up. It was a lot harder going down over the snow as it was going up it, as Alan soon discovered as he slipped and slid down the snow only to be stopped by Sam.

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We arrived back at the refuge just before 4pm where our chef had our first of two large meals ready waiting for us.

The evening ended with some muleteers partying, playing music and singing outside their tents in front of the refuge and joined by many hikers staying at the refuge.

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Day 7: Breaking up the Band [Beer, Belly Dancers]

After another loud snore fest in our room, it was another early start for our descent back to Imil through the Mizane valley.

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It was quite a busy descent back down to Imil, as we passed many hikers on their way up to ascend Toubkal direct from Imil. This would easily add 4 hours to an already hard hike up Toubkal and so glad we did the route designed by Sam and Jamie.

We finally arrived back at Dar Ardar in Imil where we had started this amazing trek from and were provided with another slap up meal on the terrace before being joined by our muleteers and chefs to thank them for all their hard work and give them gifts such as shirts, head torches, hats and sunglasses as a thank you.

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After a few hours chilling at Dar Ardar we were picked up by our mini bus to take us back to the craziness of Marrakech. After a quick shower and change it was time to head to the only restaurant we knew which served great food and more importantly, alcohol!!

Needless to say the drink went down like it was going out of fashion, as we kept doubling up on our beer orders throughout the night. We were even treated to some belly dancers at our table, who had appeared from nowhere but for some reason had dumped their clothes in the men’s toilets.

Day 8: Time to Go Morocco [Yallah Yallah]

Following the heavy night of drinking, there were quite a few sore heads amongst the group, some more sore than others and nobody was in much of a hurry to get up for breakfast.

Our flight home wasn’t until 7pm, so after saying our farewells to some of the team, we headed off to the Souks of Marrakech for some last minute shopping and so Andy G could continue his Moroccan slipper fetish which he seemed to have acquired during our trek.

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Summary:

The whole Toubkal Two Valley trek was an amazing experience and one I would thoroughly recommend to anyone wanting to do such a multi-day trek. It had everything from stunning scenery, mixed terrain of dusty tracks and snow as well as a great group of people.

It was also my first experience of doing an organised trek and so glad we chose Exped Adventure over the other companies offering the same trek. Sam and Jamie have a lot of experience of trekking in Morocco and this has helped them establish a great relationship with the locals and design a unique route which helps with acclimatisation. It also avoided having to start the Toubkal ascent at the very early hours of the morning like many of our fellow trekkers and allowed us to spend more time and mostly private time at the summit of Toubkal. Their route and timings is spot on as was their choice of muleteers and chefs who were with us all the way.

Although I’m glad to have experienced the craziness of Marrakech, it’s not somewhere I’m in a hurry to return to. It certainly is an experience you won’t forget, but I was ready to leave it behind and would much rather have stayed the extra days/nights in the mountains.

As a lover of winter adventures over summer ones, I’m very tempted to do Toubkal in the winter, though I think I need to recover from my first Marrakech experience and flush out all the green tea and cumin from my body before revisiting for a winter encounter.

You can view the profile and full trek details here

Fjallraven Keb Loft Jacket Review

By Phil 2014.10.22 in Product Review

I recently returned from the Toubkal Two Valley trek in Morocco, where the provided kit list specified a down jacket for cold nights while up in the Toubkal Mountains. As I didn’t own a down jacket I decided to purchase the Fjällräven Keb Loft jacket and this is my review.

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The Fjällräven Keb Loft is made with Fjällräven’s new G-Loft Supreme synthetic padding with exceptionally high insulating properties.

When I first received the jacket I was very impressed with how light it was. The jacket has two large inside mesh pockets which I found useful for storing hat and gloves if required. There are also two outside hip zipped pockets with a reinforced hem. The front opening has both zip and button fastenings for extra protection along with reinforced hem.

The jacket compresses down to a very small size and I was able to store it in a small drag bag while carrying in my rucksack. I was also pleased with how the jacket kept its shape despite being stored in a small dry bag for some time. The adjustable drawcord at the hem of the jacket was useful when tightened to keep out any draft caused by the wind as well as the elasticated cuffs.

I used my Keb Loft on most nights while in the Toubkal Mountains and wore it over the top of my Keb Fleece jacket at all times and was amazed with how quickly my body warmed up with this jacket on. I bought the jacket in the same size I do for all my Fjällräven upper body products and was the perfect size to fit over my Keb Fleece jacket and other layers I was wearing on the evening.

Luckily it never rained during my recent trek, so never got test the quick drying properties of the jacket, though I’m sure that will come in time due to the unpredictable weather here in the UK.

I would thoroughly recommend the Fjällräven Keb Loft jacket and look forward to using it a lot more on the hills in the coming winter months.

Technical specification:

  • SKU: F81386
  • Concept: Trekking
  • Weight (FJR): 350 g in size M
  • Consumer Material: G-Loft Supreme
  • Outer material: G-1000® Lite: 65% polyester, 35% cotton
  • Lining: 100% polyester
  • Filling: 100% polyester
  • I wonder if my use of the jacket is the highest altitude a Fjällräven Keb Loft has been used, as Toubkal stands at 4167 metres high. Anyone used one any higher? :)

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    You can read my blog post on Toubkal Two Valley trek here

    Sharp Edge – (Slippery As A Snake)

    By Phil 2014.10.06 in Lake District

    Last weekend I headed over to the Lake District for an impromptu hike with my mate Julian who is manager of Nordic Outdoor in Keswick.

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    The weather wasn’t great first thing Saturday morning as I drove over to the North West following heavy rainfall during the night, though it was forecast to clear around lunchtime.

    I had left the choice of hike up to Julian, but was hoping he would choose Blencathra, as I had yet to ascend Blencathra despite it being one the first great summits I see every time I drive there. I always see Blencathra as the first sign of arriving in the Lake District.

    Julian said I could stay at his on sofa bed in spare room rather than book a B&B. After arriving at his house, which he shares with his friend Zoe, he showed me to my room with a massive sofa bed. Great. Or so I thought! Until I turned around a saw a large glass tank, like a fish tank but with patio doors, with its doors wide open and a branch leading out of it to the floor.

    “What’s that Julian?” As I pointed at glass tank, half guessing what it was. “That’s Alex’s glass house. Alex is Zoe’s pet snake.” He replied. Well you might be able to guess my response. I’m not the best of sleepers to start with, and with the thought of sharing a room with a snake roaming around was certainly not going to help. Despite Julian reassuring me that Alex the snake would be far more scared of me than what I should be of him or her (they haven’t been able to determine the sex of Alex yet), I told him I have seen YouTube videos of snakes eating a crocodile and a human being whole, so I was pretty sure I knew who would be more scared.

    Julian reassured me that we would find him when we got back from hike and he would put him away in his box for the night.

    After the shock of spending the night with Alex the snake, we discussed our possible hike for the day. We were also being joined by Nigel who used to be the manager at Nordic Outdoor before leaving to setup his own adventure company Trek Tipi.

    I was very happy that they both suggested doing Blencathra via Sharp Edge. Not only would I finally get to do Blencathra but we would be doing it via the classic Sharp Edge scramble route I had heard so much about.

    We arrived at our starting point, which was a secret little parking spot which Nigel knew about. As we started out ascent from the car park the skies started to clear as the rain clouds headed east. Perfect weather conditions for tackling the stunning Blencathra.

    Nigel was a trained mountain leader and after reading some of my past blog posts, he noticed a common theme of often getting lost on many of my hikes and offered to give me some additional map reading and navigation lessons throughout the day. Although my navigational skills have improved slightly over recent months, mainly thanks to my GPS, its great getting advice from someone who knows how to use a map and compass. I was quite pleased with myself that I managed to pass all of Nigel’s tests of getting bearings and setting compass to follow route he ask for. All without my GPS. Does this mean I can sell my GPS on eBay now! Probably best not. Small steps Phil, small steps…

    The ascent up Blencathra is a steep one. No gradual walk in, its steep ascent from the start. As we headed towards Scales Tarn we had to cross a very heavy flowing stream, this was due to the heavy rainfall the day before. Nigel and Julian had never seen it this fast and flowing in all their previous trips up Blencathra.

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    We arrived at Scales Tarn just in time for a spot of lunch before tackling Sharp Edge. It was a great spot to stop and admire Sharp Edge and Blencathra. It was stunning.

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    As we started to tackle Sharp Edge, you could soon see how easy it would be to slip and fall in the wrong conditions. Despite the now clear blue skies and very little wind, it was still very wet underfoot due the previous night’s heavy rainfall and we had to watch carefully as we made our ascent. After about 10 minutes a lady headed towards us who had turned back due to how slippy the rocks were. After a brief chat with her we carried on. Then 5 minutes later we met a couple who had also decided to turn back due to wet rocks. Again we decided to carry on. As we got about 3/4′s of the way up, about 70 metres from the summit, the weather changed. From clear blue skies to dark skies and hailstone for 10 minutes. That’s the Lake District weather for you. The hailstone on top of already wet slippy rocks made if even more difficult than it already was. At this point I was stuck on one side of Sharp Edge. I was really struggling to get any higher up to where Nigel was and I couldn’t see behind me or where I had come from.

    At this point Nigel made the wise decision for us to abort the ascent up Sharp Edge and return to Scales Tarn and head up Blencathra via alternative route. However there was still the issue of getting me away from my current position of clinging on to the side of Sharp Edge. Eventually Nigel managed to get hold of the top of my rucksack and guide me up. I must admit it was probably one of the scariest moment I have had while been out on the hills. After getting me to a safe position, Nigel had to go and help Julian return from his position a little further on from us. Once all three of us were back to a safe position we slowly made our way back down Sharp Edge, mostly on our backsides to avoid slipping as we headed to the path.

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    We finally returned to Scales Tarn for a short rest before heading up the alternative path to the summit of Blencathra where we were greeted with stunning views and clear blue skies. It was hard to imagine that it had been hailstoning not so long ago.

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    As we headed back down to the car park, Julian and Nigel mention about a guy being rescued from Sharp Edge the previous week. I then realise I knew who they were talking about. It was fellow Outdrr blogger Jethro Withers who recently joined Outdrr and his first blog post which was about his fall from Sharp Edge, which you can read all about here, where he had to be airlifted from Sharp Edge following his fall and is now hopefully recovering well.

    After our eventful trip up Sharp Edge and Blencathra it was back to Keswick for some well-deserved beers. Just as I was starting to relax after what had happened during the day, my mind then turned to Alex the snake. I had forgot all about the fact I could be sharing a room with a free roaming snake back at Julian’s house. We headed back to Julian’s house to try and find Alex and put him in his box for the night, but it seemed he didn’t want to move from his comfy position behind the TV. Thankfully Julian said I could stay in other room while he spent the night with Alex. Panic over.

    It was a cracking day and so glad I finally got to summit Blencathra. Although we never managed it via Sharp Edge due to weather conditions, it was still a great experience and now know what to expect next time I attempt the same route. I’m not sure which was the scarier of the two. Attempting Sharp Edge in wet conditions or nearly having to spend the night with a snake. The fact I can’t wait to do Blencathra again should give you the answer on that one.

    Before heading home on Sunday I had arranged to go and visit my friend Lindsay who is the owner of The Sporting Lodge, and who had kindly offered to open their stunning showroom for me so I could view the new Fjällräven winter collection and have a coffee and chat. And what a showroom it is. Stunning views overlooking a sandy bay with the hills of the Lakes District in the distance. We had a great chat as Lindsay showed me their latest additions to the collection, before giving me a Fjällräven mini Kanken as a present for my nephew Evan. Just the right size for his packed lunch and other stuff he needs for first year of school. Thank you so much Lindsay.

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    Well this weekend I’m off to Morocco to do the Toubkal Two Valley trek in the Atlas Mountains, which I will be posting about here when I return.

    Fjällräven Sarek Three Seasons Review

    By Phil 2014.10.03 in Product Review

    Now I have had some real use out of my Fjällräven Sarek Three Season sleeping bag, I have finally got around to doing my review.

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    After being very impressed with the Fjällräven Polar -30 sleeping bag during the Fjällräven Polar in April, I decided to stick with the “go with what you know” approach and purchase the Sarek Three Season version. I did consider the Two Season versions, but I decided on the Three Season version with the thought of I would rather be too warm than too cold while out camping.

    My first use of my sleeping bag was in the Lake District in May. It had been many years since I had camped here in the UK and couldn’t remember how cold it gets on the night. As I had only been back from the Polar a month, I went prepared with my Aclima Warmwool overall which I had been given on the Polar. So the first night I went to sleep in my Warmwool overall and the Sarek Three Season sleeping bag. Within minutes I was sweating. The combination of the two was way too much for our climate here in the UK, so I quickly changed back to just boxer shorts and t-shirt, which made it much more comfortable.

    The biggest test of the sleeping bag came during my recent multi-day hike while doing the Fjällräven Classic in Sweden last August. This was a much better test due to the variations in weather each night during the trek, where I was exposed to warm night, windy and very wet. On each occasion the sleeping bag kept me warm and comfortable. The night I appreciated it the most, was the last night of the trek when we camped at Kieron. That was the day it had rained non-stop and everyone was soaked to the skin. After putting a tent in the pouring rain, all you want to do as get out of your wet clothes and some warmth. Once out of my clothes and into my sleeping bag I was set for the night. Nobody was getting me out of it. It was then I really appreciated getting the Three Season version, as I was warm and dry within minutes. A great feeling.

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    The sleeping bag is very lightweight which made it great for trekking. It has a two way full length zipper which is useful if you want to use for ventilation. It has a comfort temperature of -8, though I’m confident this could be beyond that due to experience. I found the head section and it’s draw string very useful, as you can pack some clothing inside to use as a pillow and the use the draw string to tighten to help keep it in place. Useful if travelling light. There is a small zipped pocket on the outside which is useful for storing things like head torch or other things you might want easy access to during the night or first thing in the morning. The two eyelets at the bottom are really useful should you want to hang it to dry or air. The sleeping bag comes in a pack bag with compression straps as well as a large cotton bag for placing sleeping bag inside when storing for long periods of time.

    Technical specification:

    • Weight (FJR): 1200 g
    • Consumer Material: Padded (Down)
    • Outer material: 90% Goose Down 10% Feather
    • Fill power: 600 CUIN
    • Filling: 90% goose down, 10% feather
    • Filling weight: 650 g
    • Contains non textile parts of animal origin: Yes
    • Activity: Trekking
    • Max user length: 180 cm
    • Stuffed size: 20 x 34 cm
    • Shoulder width: 80 cm

    This was the first sleeping bag I have bought for many years and I’m well impressed with its performance. I would certainly recommend the Fjällräven Three Season sleeping bag and look forward to using it during many future adventures.

    Fjällräven Polar 2015! It’s Nearly Time!!!

    By Phil 2014.09.16 in Fjällräven Polar

    Soon it will be time for people to apply for Fjällräven Polar 2015!

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    I can’t believe it is nearly a year ago since I saw the advert in an outdoor magazine advertising this unique once in a lifetime Polar adventure. I remember thinking at the time, “This is for me, I’m going to do this!”. I then started to plan my application, ready to be submitted once the competition opened in November.

    Luckily for me, after months of hard work campaigning and hassling friends, family, work colleagues, local newspapers, radio stations, outdoor groups and many more, I managed to finish in 1st place for the UK and gain an automatic place on Fjällräven Polar 2014

    For those who don’t know about Fjällräven Polar. It is an approximately 300km long winter adventure across the arctic tundra. The participants will steer a dog sled all the way from Signaldalen, Norway, to the forests around Jukkasjärvi, Swedish Lappland. Conditions can be grim at times, even if the weather is usually relatively stable in April north of the Arctic circle. Where participants have faced everything from exhausting stages,blizzards and minus 30°C.

    Fjällräven Polar gives “ordinary” people, with ordinary jobs, the chance to discover how amazing outdoor life is in the winter, and demonstrates that anyone can experience the adventure of a lifetime – as long as they have the right knowledge and equipment..

    The selection process is based on a competition where applicants uploaded a photograph or video and a text explaining why you should be chosen for the trip. The competition takes place on a country-by-country basis and two people from each country/group are selected and only 20 people in total:

    • The first person from each country is selected by visitors to the website voting for their favourite application – the submission with the most votes is guaranteed a spot.
    • The second person from each country will be chosen by Fjällräven.

    The participants chosen to join Fjällräven Polar are from each of the following countries/groups: Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), Germany, UK, USA, Czech Republic and “other countries”.

    You can watch the 2015 promotional video here:

    You can watch the full video of Fjällräven Polar 2014 here:

    I can honestly say that Fjällräven Polar changed my life. Being part of such an amazing adventure and sharing it with my fellow 19 Polarists from around the world, who I now class as very close friends, was without doubt the best experience of my life. Many of us keep in regular contact and already I have met up with 8 of my fellow participants as well as people from previous years’ Polar, when we entered a Polar team in this years Fjällräven Classic, visits from Manon and Melanie to see me here in the UK and when I visited Jostein in Norway to do Trolltunga. With many more future meetings planned. Thanks to all our friends at Fjällräven for allowing us to take part in such a once in a lifetime amazing adventure.

    To find out more about my own personal Fjällräven Polar 2014 experience, check my daily Polar Daily Diary here

    So if you are interested in taking part in such an amazing experience, GO FOR IT!!!

    More Action, Less Slacking

    By Phil 2014.09.09 in Lake District

    With just over a month to go before we head off to Morocco for the Toubkal Two Valley trek, we thought we’d beter get some practice in by heading over to the Lake District for the weekend.

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    Although there are 6 of us going to Morocco, only my regular hiking mates Joe and Jason could make this weekend, so it was the reunion of the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) 3 as we are famously known following last year’s adventure.

    Joe now works over in the North West, so he drove there straight from work, while Jason picked up Terri, who had packed Joe’s hiking gear for him, before heading to mine so we could travel over together to meet Joe.

    We had booked our B&B at one of our favourite places in the Lake District, Ambleside. We like Ambleside due to it’s great choice of good restaurants and bars such as The Lilly Bar, which often has great live music. We arrived around 7pm, as we’d already missed a few hours drinking, we headed straight to The Lilly bar and settled in for the nights entertainment while discussing our chosen hike for Saturday.

    Jason and myself were first ones down for breakfast at 8am, before Joe and Teri joined us 15 minutes later. As we all sat having breakfast Joe told us that Terri had packed the wrong trousers and in fact packed his “Action Slacks”. Yes you read correctly. “Action Slacks”.

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    Slacks is a common term used to reference pants or trousers. This term is generally restricted to dress pants, usually of the pleated variety. “Slacks” in reference to loose-fitting trousers is a term that has been used at least as long as its first recorded use in 1824.

    But Joe’s were different. These were Action Slacks! Action Slacks are worn by gentlemen of a certain age who still have a bit of life left in them and like the outdoors. They have an elasticated expanding waistband, a leg pocket for a glasses case, hand pockets are located high so you don’t have to stretch far and come in raw leg length so can be easily adjusted to fit for those who may have shrank over the years.

    After the laughing at Joe’s new pants had calmed down, we packed the car and headed off to do the Kentmere 7 hike, while Terri went shopping for the day, we were hoping her shopping trip included buying Joe some new outdoor pants.

    The Kentmere 7 is a horseshoe walk taking in 7 of the Wainwright fells in York (706m), Ill Bell (757m), Froswick (720m), Thornthwaite Crag (784m), Mardale Ill Bell (780m), Harter Fell (788m) and Kentmere Pike (733m). It was the TMB 3 vs The Kentmere 7. Bring it on!

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    We arrived at our starting destination of Kentmere Church, where Jason’s instructions had told us to start from. We looked around for sign’s to help us on our way, but none were to be seen. So instead of our usual practice of heading off on a path we think we should take, we decided to get the map out from the start and make sure we didn’t start off in the wrong direction. We didn’t want a repeat of the Courmayeur stage on the TMB last year, where we wandered around for 2 hours in the 30 degree heat with large rucksacks, before finally finding our starting point which was only 5 minutes from where we had initially started from. It seems we are learning from our past mistakes.

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    It had been a while since I had seen Joe and Jason, so I told them about what I had been up to recently, like last weekend when Melanie came to visit from Germany and how I managed to guide Melanie, Ian, two lost strangers in Leanne and Kirsty and another group of 3 people who were also lost, to the top of Scafell Pike. I also told them about my recent hike on the Fjallraven Classic in Sweden last month. Joe was particularly interested in the stage where we had a Swedish sauna. I think this has made him consider doing the Classic with me next year.

    It was a beautiful sunny day as we tackled the Kentmere 7 and it wasn’t long before I was unzipping the bottom and opening up the side vents of my Fjällräven Keb Gaiter trousers, while Jason also unzipped the vents on his trousers. Unfortunately for Joe, his Action Slacks didn’t have such luxuries as zipped vents and certainly didn’t have zip-off legs. Apparently they stopped making the zip-off leg versions of the Action Slacks a long time ago, due to the number of calls they recieved from customers asking for spare zip-off legs, having forgotten where they had left the leg part of the slacks after zipping them off. They probably would have more calls, if some of the customers could remember where they had actually bought their slacks from in the first place. So Joe had to put up with the very warm conditions in his Action Slacks.

    Jason suggested that I ask my friends at Fjällräven if they would consider making a pair of beige coloured Action Slacks in their trademark G-1000 material aimed at the more adventurous folk of the Saga community (pre-waxed inside and out). Though I doubt Fjallraven need to bother with a UN Blue colour option, as this would confuse the Saga community who are still old enough to remember The League of Nations.

    I informed Joe and Jason that Fjällräven make clothing for people of all ages and ability and that he should have invested in a pair of timeless classic Fjällräven Greenland Jeans as seen below here:

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    The Kentmere 7 was a stunning walk. Despite the height you get to during the hike, the ascent is not a severe one, which makes the hike more enjoyable. The views from each of the 7 Wainwright summits we visited were spectacular. Having such great weather for the hike also helped. Looking back on the first half of the horeseshoe we could really appreciate the beautiful shadwoed hills we had already passed over. We all agreed this was by far the best hike we have ever done in the Lakes. We have done quite a few together over the last 3 years, but none as stunning as this one.

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    Apart from using the map at the very start of the walk, we had done quite well in sticking to the planned route which Jason had planned. I had also uploaded the route to my iPhone as well as tracking the route with my Suunto Ambit2 GPS watch. All was going well. However, with only 3km to go until the finish, I had noticed we had gone off the route I had on my iPhone. We hadn’t strayed too far away and we certainly weren’t lost, but we wanted to try and stick to the route.

    So we decided to try and get back on the route we should have been on. In doing so, we decided to go off-piste and headed through the woods in the direction of the stream. It wasn’t long before we hit our first obstacle. A barbed wire fence, just in front of the stream we needed to cross. It looked like that wasn’t a viable option and maybe we should just head back to the main road and continue back to car that way. But oh no, that would be too easy. As Joe, feeling adventurous in his Action Slacks, forced his way past me and Jason and climbed over the barbed wire fence to investigate our options. Me and Jason were stunned with Joe’s sudden Action Man prowess, but we weren’t wearing Action Slacks. However, once Joe had hurdled the barbed wired fence, he knew he’d come into the field for something but could not remember why. He looked round for a bit then decided to climb back over.

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    We headed back to the main road making our way back the car. We wound through the country roads back to Ambleside to meet Terri who had bagged us a great table in the sun looking out over the shores of Lake Windermere. Time for a well-deserved beer, before heading back to B&B for a quick shower and change before hitting Ambleside for more drink and food.

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    In the past we have been known to sometimes “slack-off” from doing a hike on a Sunday (usually caused by the amount of alcohol consumed the previous night following an epic hike on the Saturday) and spend the day trawling outdoor shops before heading home. However this weekend Jason and myself decided to not slack-off the hike and instead make the most of the glorious sunshine and combine both outdoor gear shopping and a hike by taking in Wansfell Pike from Ambleside, while Joe and Terri headed off on a boat somewhere. I think it was too hot for Joe to do another hike in his Action Slacks.

    Jason and myself had both done this hike a few times now, and feeling fairly confident in our ever improving navigation skills, we decided to the reverse route from our previous times. This of course meant the steep ascent came at the start within the first 2km. I’m not sure if it was the heat or the alcohol from the night before, but it felt a lot harder than it should have done, considering what we had done the day before. There were also plenty of elderly gentlemen doing the hike (wearing their Action Slacks), as we slowly strolled up to Wansfell Pike. Once at the top, the views across Lake Windermere were stunning and made the struggle up to Wansfell worthwhile.

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    It was another cracking weekend in the Lake District and pleased with our performance doing the Kentmere 7 on Saturday, though think we need to improve a little on Sunday’s performance in the coming weeks, as Morocco is going to be a hell of a lot hotter, steeper and well over 3600m higher than Wansfell Pike, that’s for sure!

    Routes recorded by Suunto Ambit2 GPS watch:
    You can view the Kentmere 7 hike here

    You can view the Wansfell Pike hike here

Welcome

Welcome to my blog about hiking, trekking, Fjällräven Polar 2014, in fact anything where you require boots and the outdoors.

My name is Phil, and following my outdoor epiphany which started in the summer of 2012 I’m now hooked on everything outdoors. So far my biggest treks have included the 250km Cathar Way, the 170km Tour du Mont Blanc and best of all, winning 1st place to take part in the Fjällräven Polar in April 2014.

I plan to use this blog to write about all my adventures, which will include my personal goal of becoming a Munroist (completing all 282 Scottish Munro mountains), summer treks, weekends in the Lakes and many more.

I like to try and make my blog posts humorous so I hope you enjoy reading and that I can put a smile on people’s faces while showing you some amazing places.

If you have any questions about the blog or the places I'm writing about, don't hesitate to contact me on: phil@philyourboots.com

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Please checkout my fellow Polar bloggers and read about their experience in their words:

Alex Kalita (USA)

Madeleine Hanssen (Norway)

Manon Kloosterman (Netherlands)

Peter Blom Jensen (Denmark)

Tuija Pellikka (Finland)

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