Using digital to practice old school navigation

I love navigation challenges and having done my first orienteering event in the cold damp months of February I was disappointed when Covid hit that there wouldn’t be more over the summer.

Back in February when being given a paper map at the start and food at the end was what events were about…

Then a friend introduced me to a series of virtual orienteering runs via the East Pennine Orienteering Club (EPOC) and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Virtual Orienteering

Virtual Orienteering has become a popular activity with both Orienteering clubs and event organisers using technology to provide ‘events’ for people to continue to participate in activities.

Whilst there’s a few different apps available, most are using MapRunF which is free to download and simple to use. The app allows the facility to ‘cheat’ (assuming its not been disabled by the event organiser!) by following the red line you create as you move.

Given clubs are using it to replace the punch and card of old orienteering events, most are disabling this function and ensuring participants use good old paper maps which can be downloaded from their own websites.

EPOC events have been great fun as they’ve kept them both short and urban to encourage participation. Theres a choice of length for the linear runs and sometimes there’s score events if you want to freestyle.

I quickly became addicted to racing round villages and parks trying to get my phone to ping at the checkpoints.

A lovely event around Scammonden Reservoir area…

…but with my head down looking for the right spot I forgot about considering route choice as I headed through brambles

Having the opportunity to do a weekly event has been great fun for encouraging me to be active when I’ve been feeling lazy and fed up. It has also given me something to be competitive about at a time when there’s been little happening – which has certainly brought the fun back into navigating.

My attempt at Holmfirth Long event and how it looks on the result page of MapRunF
how the paper map looks to get around the course

During this never-ending period of ‘not-lockdown-but-not-normal’ a number of race event organisers have also been using the MapRunF to organise free events, enabling people to get remain engaged with their events and encouraging new people out.

While I’ve been running races for a couple of years the race in the cold wet months of February was the first time I ever tried an orienteering event. So full of the excitement of EPOC events I had a go at the Explore Events Peak Raid events series.

Set in the White Peak, an area not that far from home but not one I’ve really explored much, this ticked all the boxes for me. A chance to try 2 hour events and get more mileage in my runs at the same time as explore new places. I wasn’t taking the races seriously enough to try to win, it was more about having a go and testing myself.

Via the end of the 4 events I had battled through head high bracken, been eaten alive by midges on sweaty hot evenings, slide down the steepest path into Castleton and been chased through a field by a herd of scary cows.

While I’d happily finished the first event half an hour early as I’d had a nice run, by the 4th event I was definitely zigzagging to get as many checkpoints as possible and actually being frantically competitive!

Geocaching – a geeks treasure hunt

During Lockdown my mountaineering club had virtual catchups with members. During one of these Laura presented on Geocaching. I’m not going to explain what geocaching is as its been around for decades now and if you haven’t heard of it you’ve clearly been hiding under a rock.

Having had a look at the map and discovered I seemed to be surrounded by geocaches around my village, and being trapped at home I took myself out for a spot of hunting.

Now I have to say, there is nothing about geocaching which translates to traditional navigation skills. You basically look at the app on your phone and follow it to find a cache, sometimes solving a puzzle along the way to find the right location.

That said, it is a fun way to get out and find yourself in very odd locations – rummaging down the side of a fence in the long grass for a box, or under a rock on the top of the moors. Its certainly made a few of my local runs a bit more interesting when I’ve been fed up of running the same routes.

If you find yourself a bit bored, geocaching can certainly give you the excuse you need to get out. Many of the caches give you interesting information about the local area, history and geology.

Going digital then?

In a word, no.

I do use digital mapping for planning routes, or quickly checking something when I’m out running. But I love a paper map a bit too much and don’t trust phones to not die when I’m out.

I’m a firm believer that being able to navigate is a life skill everyone should have – that there’s nothing more confidence building than being able to head out with a map and have a fantastic walk. Its also essential to avoid being the idiot who had to call out mountain rescue as all you had was a mobile phone which ran out of battery.

I do promote the OSLocate app to all who come on my courses as its a fantastic free tool to give you a grid reference when you need it. And unlike What3Words doesn’t require you to have mobile phone coverage so will work even when you don’t have data. Giving you a quick grid reference allows you to see where you are on a map and get yourself back to where you need to be. (I might rant about W3W another time)

OSLocate is free on Android and IOS so get it downloaded.

Thank to all the Orienteering clubs and event organisers who have embraced technology and despite the massive organising effort have provided free events for everyone to participate in. I’m hooked on randomly running around the countryside to get my phone to ping, so long may they continue!

Montane women’s Prismatic Jacket

Our expedition to the Western Zaalisky was supported in part by the Montane Alpine Club Climbing Fund and some of the team were also provided with jackets too.

I got the women’s Prismatic jacket. Available in four colours, Blue, Black, Berry and Red, I chose the blue colour in a size 10.

It’s always exciting to be given outdoor clothing to test, but in all honesty this jacket wasn’t about to fill a gap in my wardrobe as I already have something similar which performs well in a variety of situations. So how would this jacket compare to what I already have?

Montane bill this jacket as:

The women’s specific Prismatic Jacket is an essential item of mountain clothing. Warm yet lightweight and packable, it can be worn on the move in cool conditions for a variety of outdoor activities. Using 40g/m2 PrimaLoft® SILVER ECO insulation throughout ensures that the Prismatic is warm yet lightweight enough to be worn on the move in cool conditions.

Great Features

The Prismatic jacket did provide great insulation and I wore it for a lot of the expedition for both pottering around base camp in the evening and high alpine days when the wind was cold or it was early in the morning. It insulated me from the cold without me feeling like I would get too hot and sweaty in it.

I like that the jacket is made in part from recycled materials:

Approximately 28 recycled water bottles are used in the production of each kilogram of PrimaLoft Silver Insulation Eco, which averages 6 bottles per finished jacket.

The jacket size worked well as it was fitted around the waist, without being too snug that I couldn’t get another warm layer underneath.

The length and cut was also good, as it tucked into my harness and didn’t ride up as I climbed.

Just before the final rocky ascent to the summit of Pik-a Boo (5122m)

Things that I’d change

Pockets. This is always my first complaint with women’s outdoor clothing. There seems to be an assumption that women carry less stuff than men. Despite being billed as an Alpine Jacket it only has two pockets, neither of which would be possible to put a map into. There is no internal pocket or chest pocket, unlike on the men’s equivalent Prism jacket.

For some reason the women’s hood is designed to fit under a helmet and the men’s over a helmet. I’m not sure why there’d be a difference, and to be honest I’m not sure which is better. I personally prefer to be able to put my hood over the helmet so when I heat up towards mid day I have the option of taking it off.

Colour is usually my other major complaint with women’s outdoor clothing – as we only get offered dark colours, with a predominance of pinks and purples.

For me, when I’m out in Scottish winters or on Alpine routes I want bright colours that make me stand out from the environment. That way if something happens and I want rescuing I can be easily found. They also look much cooler in photos!

To be honest, the men’s version of this jacket isn’t much better in this regard as they have black, grey, dark blue, a two tone green and a red jacket to choose from.

L-R – Steve in the orange Fireball Jacket, Stuart above in the red Prism jacket, Andy in the two tone green Prism, me in the women’s blue Prismatic and Jared in a black Prism.

My overall opinion

The women’s Prismatic Jacket is a good jacket that provides medium weight insulation. It moved well with my body and was long enough to fit under a harness and not ride up.

It is priced at £125 which about comparable to competitor jackets of a similar type.

Would I buy it? It needs more pockets for me, and at least one big enough to fit a map in. I’d also want it in a bright colour, lime green or orange, something I can be very visible in.

Vegetarian Freeze dried foods – Expedition Foods v Summit to Eat

On our expedition to the Western Zaalisky we took a range of freeze dried foods to cook at our Advanced Base Camps. We opted for the 1000kcal options for all as it enabled us to ensure that we were sufficiently fuelled for our strenuous kit hauling days and summit days.

As vegetarians Jared and I are used to having a much reduced list to choose from whenever we eat, but we were pleasantly surprised by the choices available to us.

When it comes to vegetarian options both companies have a great selection with 4 main meals each.

I should add that Expedition Foods supported our trip with a great discount on their foods, but this hasn’t affected the honesty of our reviews of the meals.

All the instructions for the meals are easy to follow with clear guidance of quantity of water to add and time to allow to rehydrate. That said the Summit to Eat meals have a fill line on the inside of the bags which makes it easier to do when wild camping, rather than trying to measure hot water.

Cooking dinner for 3 in a tent requires a bit of organisation!

Expedition Foods – Vegetable tikka with rice

I had this vegetable tikka with rice meal on both our climb up Pik a Boo and the expedition into the Kok Kiki when Jared and Steve climbed Ak Kalpak. I expected this to be very spicy but it was actually quite sweet and pretty tasty. This meal is available in an 800 and 1000 extreme calorie option with the extreme option weighing 185g and costing £8.49.

I did find on cooking that some of the vegetables, however remained crunchy, even after the recommended 8 minutes. I also found the 600ml recommendation for hot water was too much and made the meal a bit sloppy, so the second time around I only added 500ml which seemed about right. Nevertheless it was a good meal and very tasty and certainly one I’d buy again.

I’d scored this 4/5.

Summit to Eat – Spicy Pasta Arrabiata

Pasta is always a good option for camping meals as it guaranteed to fill you up. This is available in a 600kcal and a 1000kcal option. The big pack option seemed like a very large portion of pasta, but being hungry from long ascents it turned out to be just the right amount.

The big pack weighs 260g and costs £7.75.

I expected the pasta to end up crunchy as with cheaper supermarket pasta meals but it cooked well in the 8 minutes. It was certainly a tasty meal and packed a punch with spices. I’d definitely get this again.

I’d score it 5/5.

Summit to Eat – 5 Bean Cassoulet

One of the new vegan meals the 5 Bean Cassoulet was a very tasty meal although it was another which was a bit sloppy. It was nice that it didn’t rely on lots of spices for flavour, and it was certainly tasty – a potato based bean stew. Being packed full of beans it did provide hours of flatulence afterwards though!

Available in 600kcal and 1000kcal option, the big pack version weighs 170g and costs £7.75. I enjoyed this, but it wasn’t the most tasty of the meals we tried.

I’d score it 3/5.

Summit to Eat and Expedition Foods Macaroni and cheese

Both companies provide a Macaroni and cheese meal. Cheese is always a welcome edition to the vegetarian diet while out on expedition, providing essential protein. However I’m not convinced Macaroni and cheese is the answer. Both of these meals were too watery, even when the water amount added was reduced. They were also quite tasteless compared to all the other meals.

Summit to Eat provide a 600 or 1000Kcal option with the big pack costing £7.75 and weighing 197g.

Expedition Foods provide a 800 and 1000kcal options with their big pack costing costing £8.49 and weighing 225g.

I’d score both of these meals 1/5.

Expedition Foods Mediterranean Vegetable Pasta

I expected this meal to be tomato based as most pasta meals are, this was however cream based and this made it a bit different to others available.

There are 800 and 1000kcal options with the big pack costing £8.49 and weighs 172g.

Lentil based with olives it was a tasty meal, albeit one which wasn’t spicy. It made a nice alternative to the spicier meals we had in our food stash.

I’d score this 4/5.

Expedition Foods – Vegan Couscous with Cajun spices and Vegetables

Couscous is so cheap to buy and make your own tasty meals I’m not sure I’d usually buy these as food packs, since not much in the pack was really freeze dried.

Available in 800 and 1000Kcal meals the big pack version weighs 245g and costs £8.49.

The meal cooked well and was actually really tasty and packed full of flavour with added beans and lentils for variety. The big pack however was far too much couscous to be able to finish the meal; I’m guessing the only way to get the calorie value was the quantity of couscous added. For me the extreme pack size was too much.

I’d score this 3/5.

Expedition Foods – Chocolate Chip Biscuit Pudding

Everyone loves chocolate after a day on the hill and a hot chocolate pudding was definitely on the list. This pudding requires hot water to make and was essentially like a chocolate custard with biscuit bits in it.

Weighing only 100g, providing 416kcals and costing £6.49, I was really happy to have gooey chocolate at the end of the day.

I’d score this 4/5.

Summit to Eat – Chocolate Mousse with Cherries and Granola

I’d had this dessert before and was extremely happy to buy more for this expedition. It only requires cold water, making the preparation easier. It definitely better with slightly less water than recommended so it is truly a mousse rather than just chocolate goo.

This seemed to be darker chocolate than the Expedition Foods dessert, and the cherries make a nice contrast to the chocolate.

Providing 416kcals and weighing 97g, this dessert is £4.50.

I’d score this 5/5.

Overall

Both companies have fantastic options and really tasty meals in their extreme freeze dried meals, and I’d recommend either for long trips.

Gear Review // Dannah women’s alpine jacket

I’m currently gear testing for Holme Valley Mountain Rescue, who are currently fundraising for waterproof jackets for team members.

This is a significant cost to the team, in the region of £10000, so we need to know what we’re buying is built to last and able to withstand the worst of the British weather.

I’m reviewing the jackets we get to test, raising the profile of Mountain Rescue teams and the need for practical kit built to really withstand the weather.

Third for the test is an alpine jacket from new brand Dannah, made in the UK it is said to be able to withstand heavy wet weather.

Continue reading “Gear Review // Dannah women’s alpine jacket”

Book Review // The Girl Outdoors by Sian Anna Lewis

Its always exciting to receive books to review but this is the first one I’ve had which is written specifically to inspire women to get outside and take up their own adventures.

“There’s still a perception of adventure as an extreme pursuit, a living-off-urine, round-the-world-on-a-unicycle tough club only open to the hardiest grizzled explorer. That’s not what this book, or the outdoors, is about.”

Continue reading “Book Review // The Girl Outdoors by Sian Anna Lewis”

Gear Review // Paramo Aspira Pro smock

I’m currently gear testing for Holme Valley Mountain Rescue, who are currently fundraising for waterproof jackets for team members.

This is a significant cost to the team, in the region of £5-6000, so we need to know what we’re buying is built to last and able to withstand the worst of the British weather.

I’m reviewing the jackets we get to test, raising the profile of Mountain Rescue teams and the need for practical kit built to really withstand the weather.

Second for the test is Paramo’s Aspira Pro Smock, a heavy weight Pro version of the popular smock.

Continue reading “Gear Review // Paramo Aspira Pro smock”

Gear Review // ME Kongur MRT jacket

Holme Valley Mountain Rescue, like other teams across the country, have to fundraise for their own kit and this includes team members clothing. HVMRT are currently testing out jackets with a view to kitting out team members, as we don’t currently have branded waterproof jackets.

This is a significant cost to the team, in the region of £5-6000, so we need to know what we’re buying is built to last and able to withstand the worst of the British weather.

I’ll be reviewing the jackets we get to test, raising the profile of Mountain Rescue teams and the need for kit built to withstand the weather.

First up is the Mountain Equipment Kongur MRT jacket – their highest specification Gore-Tex jacket.

Continue reading “Gear Review // ME Kongur MRT jacket”

Trying to stay motivated at the end of winter

I’ve just walked off the hill from another disappointing weekend of 70mph winds and a lack of activity it’s made me think – I’ve had difficult winter. I started with the intent to bag lots of winter days towards my winter ML log book and it started well, with a trip with to Glencoe with a friend also working towards her winter ML. (She passed this week). Almost right away it went downhill.

I felt demoralised as I wasn’t as confident as her and lacked belief in myself. I compared myself to her, seeing that I couldn’t keep up with her and she was much quicker at making navigational decisions.

Since then I’ve had 4 other trips to Scotland which have only established this feeling of not being good enough.

I’ve been left to do my own thing by my climbing friends in the Cairngorms and not having the opportunity and confidence to join them, and then two big days in Braemar which I was definitely on it with the navigation but lacked confidence in leading.

And then I went to the Ben, and didn’t manage to finish the CMD Arête circular, only making it to Carn Mor Dearg summit due to really strong winds.

I feel like I’ve had lots of failures and not just that one. There was failing to try Dorsal Arête out of fear and failing to try the Devil’s Ridge on a windy day.

So at the end of winter with one trip north left I’m thinking of not bothering and giving up and letting the spring seep in.

I can navigate really well. I know this. But I worry about being in whiteouts. I have all the skills but on steep terrain I still freak out, especially climbing rocky ridges in the ice.

I’ve suffered from spending the winter with climbers who are technically more skilled than me and have generally left me behind for doing their own adventures. You think this would work in my favour as I’d get to solo some peaks, but I’ve always had someone in tow who either wasn’t as skilled and lacked enthusiasm for effort or occasionally a climber who wished they were climbing and were demoralised they were walking instead.

In honesty, I’ve had some good days too. Snowshoeing in Glen Feshie was the highlight of the winter, gorgeous weather and conditions and I felt success being on my own in the clag in the summit.

I did enjoy the navigational challenges around Braemar too, gaining confidence in my abilities to navigate in poor visibility.

But on the whole winter doesn’t feel like a success to me. There’s been more disappointment.

How do you learn to winter climb?

I joined a mountaineering club to get out more in winter and while that’s happened, after three winters with them I’ve not yet climbed any winter routes.

Winter is so short and the conditions in Scotland so unreliable that climbers in winter lack the patient to teach others in the same way that you find at the summer crag.

How do you learnt to climb in winter without paying for an instructor?

I had a great club trip to Rjukan in 2017 which was aimed at giving people the chance to learn as well as progress. That’s the only time I’ve ever had that opportunity to try and learn.

I’m not against paying for instruction but with winter climbing how does that really build skills to get outside again without a support system?

Or is it my learning style?

Maybe I struggle to learn from the people around me because I lack the confidence to just have a go.

I met a guy this winter at the CIC hut who was in his first winter season climbing and had already lead a IV pitch. His attitude was to just get on something and try, to learn quick and have a go.

Maybe my cautious attitude is what holds me back. Maybe my fears and my reluctance to push myself and find myself scared somewhere exposed, is what stops me just getting on and seconding behind an experience leader.

I had hoped to climb a few routes this winter with friends and the only opportunity I had on Dorsal Arête I bottled it. Since then there’s not been any opportunities, so I’ve failed in that objective for the season.

I’d also hoped to have more log book days completed, but I’ve done 12 this winter.

It feels like poor progress.

What now?

I’m heading into spring being grateful for the chance to whinge on the rocks with the more friendly and helpful trad climbing community.

I’m trying to be less critically reflective of myself and be more open to opportunities.

I’ll try this summer to not let fear prevent me getting on routes so that perhaps next winter I’ll get to try something.

I might still squeeze in one last trip this winter to Scotland but as for the future of my winter ML?

I think I need to be honest that I don’t know if it’s really for me. I don’t know if I’m really a leader in the winter environment, maybe I bit off more than I can chew with that particular challenge.

The trouble with New Year goals

I’m going to start by saying that I’m not rubbishing those of you who have set New Year goals. I’ve got some for 2018 too. But the trouble with goals is the pressure you put on yourself to achieve them.

Take my 2017 goals.

• Do winter ML training and also do 15 winter days for log book – ✔️

• Lead climb VD outdoors

• Try ice climbing ✔️

• Half marathon ✔️

• Climb 6b indoors by the end of the year and be able to lead 5s.

• Reach 60 parkruns

• Lead an Alpine route

• Try skiing ✔️

• Learn to ride a motorbike

Now the ticks hide the real story behind last year. I’d already committed to doing the winter ML training and where’s the stress in going on a training course? Getting 15 days for my log book became quite stressful as this winter started though. I found myself putting unnecessary pressure in myself to do routes and weirdly became quite nervous about navigating in white outs. No logical reason why, I love navigation challenges, and I had a blast in Storm Eleanor on a rescue team night nav training this week. The pressure to be out in Scottish winter became less fun though.

Lead climb VD and reach 6b and lead 5 sport climbs. Where do I start with that one? Climbing terrifies me. It’s the one thing I do that I really have to be in the right frame of mind for and I’ve learnt I have to be with the right type of people too. So last year wasn’t that successful for climbing. I had lots of incidents of crying seconding routes and only managed to lead 3 diffs. I did get up to leading 5s indoors but again it matters a lot who I’m with and I found myself having wobbles on 4s sometimes.

Ice climbing seemed an easy one to tick off, weird since rock climbing scares me. But it was a holiday with friends who knew it was my first time out so there was no pressure to perform at any level. As it was, I loved it.

I managed 2 half marathons and a 25km race, with mixed success. The trail races nearly killed me but the Great North Run felt like a blast. I’ve failed to get a proper training pattern though so I never reached 60 parkruns, although I did get to 50.

While I did have a fantastic Alpine trip and did some great AD routes I did not lead anything, again down to confidence and being with people more experienced than me.

Skiing was an easy tick at the end of the year and I lost interest in riding a motorbike.

So you see my dilemma?

The things I really care about succeeding at are the ones I fail to achieve. The goals I set to achieve them become my barriers, no matter how small they are.

So here’s the plan for 2018.

To be kind to myself.

• I want to lead 3 severe routes and 7 VDs.

But it’s ok if I cry. It’s ok to say no to a route. It’s ok to pick easy stuff too. It’s ok if I get to the end of the year and have only got part way to this too. I’m going to try to second more harder stuff too though.  I have a friend who would thing that’s a poor attitude to learning climbing and I should be sucking it up and getting stuck in. That approach didn’t make for happy climbing last year so I’m not doing that again.

• I want to run a marathon.

I might find this easier to do if I can find the time to train as I’m not the competitive person who needs to beat a certain time. Finishing is always my goal.

• I wanted to do my winter ML assessment in early 2019, but my recent winter experience had made me rethink this goal. I’m putting too much pressure on myself to perform, so instead I want to just get 20 winter days in and have fun. Then I’ll see what happens.

And that’s where I’m leaving it this year. I want to be kind to myself. Life isn’t about smashing out goals and punishing yourself for failures. I want to have fun in my adventures.

So if you have set goals for 2018, make sure you enjoy them. Don’t punish yourself for any set backs, just get outside and have fun.