Thursday, December 31, 2009

Another day, another Finnish mass killing

A guy walks in to a shopping centre with a hand gun and it seems that at least four people have been killed as a result. After the mass shooting last year in Finland where 10 were killed before the killer shot himself to death, the government considered a legislative change, but as far as I'm aware nothing substantive has happened yet.

At the time I wrote on this blog:
...either just ban the public ownership of handguns and be done with it (as many seem to want), or carry on as before and accept the chance that once every few years some nutter is going to butcher a handful of his or her fellow citizens. Those who want to keep their hand guns should just man-up and say that's a risk they're willing to take with theirs and others' lives.
It seems that the gun fans have got another four families to justify their position to now.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wild Wales - a winter ascent of the Cneifion Arete

Yesterday Matt and I staged a quick raid across the border into Wales. In some, frankly, pretty shitty weather we climbed the Cneifion Arete (III,3) in decent mixed conditions. I started up a crack system a little to the right of the normal start which was reasonably well protected but had some hardish moves. It's a long time since I've done British mixed, but I'd guess at tech 5 for that line and was a good fun in challenging conditions. The second pitch is mainly walking but the third pitch much better if you stay on the arete itself.

Matt in the Devil's Kitchen on the walk-in

Fellow travellers - another team heads off higher into the Nameless Cwm

Matt approaches the belay at the top of pitch one

Me at the belay

Matt on the fine arete near the end of pitch three

This is fun. Honest. Self portrait in the icy blizzard on the top - the Gribin Ridge

Below are a couple of film clips, the first is Matt battling to get the last runner of the route out, and the second - a panorama (although you can't see much!) from Y Gribin, looking first towards Tryfan and over a frozen Llyn Blochlwyd.

Cneifion Arete - Welsh winter climbing from Toby A. on Vimeo.

A 'view' from Y Gribin from Toby A. on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas running

To keep up my own blog's tradition:

Christmas Running from Toby A. on Vimeo.

This is third time I've remembered to do this! In internet years that must be like a century or something. See 2008, 2007, and 2006.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Marmot Ion Windshirt - a review

I wrote this review ages ago back in the summer, after Marmot had sent me a few test items to try including the Ion. For various reasons beyond my control, UKclimbing didn't put the review up. I was reminded of the piece now after seeing a post by Andy Kirkpatrick again talking about using windshirts as part of a wider clothing system (see the last paragraph of this review as well). I was wearing the Ion today whilst ice climbing (pic below) over a heavy merino base and under a Marmot Genesis softshell, and it works great. You don't really need the windproofing under a membraned softshell like the Genesis, but it is so slippy as an underlayer, the sleeves on the Genesis don't pull down as much when reach high with your tools when using the Ion.

Ice climbing at Kauhala today - the Ion shirt is under the Genesis softshell

So my review from back in the summer was as follows:

Lightweight, unlined windshirts are probably the best value items of outdoor clothing available if you balance their weight in your pack and their cost on your wallet – both minimal – against the protection and comfort they provide. They are great for mountain routes both in the UK or alpine areas; I use one for walk-ins and as an extra protection layer for grim winter climbing and also on sweaty ascents when ski mountaineering. Weighing so little it is easy to chuck one in your pack when summer cragging, just in case the wind gets up or for when the sun goes down. Additionally I use one for cycle commuting in cool and damp weather, when mountain biking, hill walking, for the rare occasions when I force myself to go running, and when cross country skiing. You probably get the point by now – there are really very few times doing an outdoor activity when a windshirt won’t come in handy. So if you are going to get one you might as well get a good one. So what make one good?

Firstly, a windshirt rather self evidently has to be windproof. Almost all are made of some sort of lightweight, close-weave nylon and there don’t really seem to be degrees of ‘windproofness’ – they all are; unlike some slightly thicker softshell materials that seem to be of a slightly looser weave and offer noticeably less wind protection. Therefore, leaving that fundamental to one side, the most important consideration becomes how breathable the material is. From rather bitter experience, I know it is very hard to tell in a shop just how breathable various lightweight nylons are and this is one of the reasons that I was so interested to try this year’s Marmot Ion windshirt. About three years ago I bought that seasons version of the Ion. It was an excellent fit, had all the features I wanted and none I didn’t, was super lightweight and being sold at a good discount at the time. It seemed the perfect replacement to my aging Pertex windproof; that was until I went running in it. This was running a muddy ten kilometers through the Worcestershire countryside on a driech Christmas morning. Whilst the drizzle beaded up nicely on the outside, through the very thin fabric I could actually see my sweat beading up on the inside of the jacket. About halfway through the run I stopped to take off the jacket that was wet to touch on the inside, and had wetted out my baselayer beneath – exactly what you don’t want. I asked on the UKC forums and a few others had found exactly the same issue, and also provided a link to one of the US-based backpacking forums where exactly the same problem was being discussed.

This year’s Ion is a different material, the same as Marmot use for the shells of their excellent Driclime range. Now the Ion breathes perfectly; just as well as Pertex, which is my benchmark for this kind of fabric. I sweat a lot when biking hard, but the Ion didn’t get any more than slightly clammy inside. Having got the fundamentals right, everything else on the Ion is just a bonus. As outdoor gear becomes progressively better designed, cut and manufactured, fit becomes more important to what works best for you. Marmot’s clothing tends to fit me well, I find some other firms cuts are for people who are both taller and skinnier than I am. Nevertheless, despite fitting my stout frame, the cut remains a trim, athletic shape. There is no flapping under the arms or around the midriff, even when cycling. Other multi-sports types will be glad to hear that the designers seem to have kept cyclists in mind. The sleeves are plenty long enough when holding onto handlebars and the back doesn’t ride up. So even though it isn’t a cycling specific jacket it does that job well. There is also no riding up when climbing in the jacket. The Ion has a hood; it is not big enough to go over a helmet but, being such light material, it could easily go under a helmet on a breezy belay. The hood can be rolled down although the securing strap isn’t very tight and it can slip a bit. I found that when cycling, the breeze would loosen the hood and make it flap around. There is one small chest pocket which the jacket packs into – this has a loop on it so, once packed up, the Ion can be clipped to a harness. The cuffs are elasticated but can be pushed up if you are hot. That is about it; for example, in the interests of being lightweight, there is not even a hem drawcord on the jacket.

Overall, the Ion is a great windproof layer. It is both very light and breathable, packs down to nothing but still gives huge amounts of protection against the wind and some limited protection against drizzle. It has virtually no features, but then it also weighs under 150 grams, which to most is far more important. In this case, less really is more.

A top-tip: For those who warm-up easily, a windproof over a baselayer is often all you need for walk-ins to winter climbs. But once you get to the climb don’t take it off and stuff it in your pack. Keep it on over the baselayer and then stick your softshell over the top. The smooth nylon means there is no binding between the layers, and in my experience, non-membrane softshells at least, don’t tend to be completely windproof, so the keeping the windproof jacket on under the softshell creates a cosy micro-climate further in whilst not compromising the breathability of your system. This idea is based on what Andy Kirkpatrick call the “comfort layer” of his super alpine system but being two pieces instead of one, it’s slightly more flexible for less gnarly conditions.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Last weekend climbing

I'm annoyed I don't understand iMovie and video compression more, but until I work it out, this is the best version of my first attempt at helmet cam footage whilst ice climbing:

Helmet cam ice climbing from Toby A. on Vimeo.

Sunday around Vakeala wasn't as good as I had hoped. Lots of ice forming, but the only thing I led was a semi icy groove where I got some uninspiring tricams and nuts in for pro (below is Tony seconding it). From there we could set up a top rope for the ice line you can see in the clip above.

Monday, December 14, 2009

1977 by David Peace

I've just finished reading 1977, the second book of David Peace's Red Riding Quartet. I've always had my suspicions about Yorkshire, but this is just ridiculous. Who ever knew - the inner circle of Hell appears to be the Leeds inner ring road. Here's my review, written in style as an homage to Peace, (who is in his own way writing an homage to Ellroy).

Whores and hopelessness, moor and murderers. Cups of tea and kicks to the head, chip supper and backhanders, racist plod prowl in their pandas. Rain washed streets that flow with blood, pints and fags in place of love. Forgiveness sought and never found, floral carpets blood stained brown, pain for no gain, corruption without interruption. A city drowning, it people fucked up, bodies dumped on wasteland abused and cut up. There is no salvation there is no heaven. This is Yorkshire, 1977.
I put it down in disgust.
I pick it up again.
I put it down in disgust.
I pick it up again.
I put it down in disgust.
I pick it up again.
I put it down in disgust.
I pick it up again.

So it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, and there definitely aren't any sugars added, but if that's your bag, it's a hell of a book. In both ways.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Now that's what I call a real weather forecast.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Little victories and righteous anger

These are the dark times in North. It doesn't last forever but whilst it does it can beat you down. It messes with your sleeping patterns and with other parts of your mind. Humans only came to these latitudes recently in evolutionary terms, we evolved under African suns. Today, in the north, the sun rose at 9.15 and it will set at 15.11 but you don't see it anyway as it's so low and hidden behind a thick smog of grey clouds. It snowed a little through the night and it is brighter now for that, but yesterday the dusting of snow didn't even settle everywhere, and was dripping and melting where it had, only adding to the damp, cold, claustrophobic dampness of it all.

I rode my bike because I hadn't for over a week and felt bad about it, not because there was much pleasure to be had from it. A certain grumpy, bloody-mindedness is probably the right the attitude to get you through these weeks, and for that you need little victories and a pinch of righteous anger. Fortunately biking can provide both. First the victories - I went past 3000 kms ridden this year on my commuting bike yesterday. I was just coming out the forest and into Pasila when my bike computer clocked the big 3. I must have actually done 3000 kms ridden this year a couple of weeks ago as there a few hundred more kms logged on my other bikes' computers, but somehow seeing it on that display felt good.

The next thing was the righteous anger: I climbed up over the bridge that crosses the railway at Ilmala station, turned south again next to YLE and started the swoop down the hill that takes the cycle path down over the level crossing and up into Pasila station. Going downhill, picking up speed, round the corner and there in the middle of the cycle path blocking basically the entire track -crash-barrier to bank- is a cherry picker. Somewhere high above some blokes were working from the basket on the side of the Fennia building. Fortunately between disc brakes and studded tyres and I managed to stop and had to duck to get under and around the bloody thing. Yet again, cyclists get treated as if they don't matter. If some other vehicle needs somewhere to park, you just block a cycle path because, who gives a fuck? They're only cyclists aren't they... So if you're the people working on the Fennia building with a hired cherry picker from Leino Lift, you are antisocial idiots of the highest order and you could try having a bit of common respect for other people.

Now I'm glad that I got that off my chest.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Is cyclocross the next big thing?

I've seen more cyclocross bikes whilst riding in to work this autumn than ever before. If summer 2009 was the time that fixed gear mainstreamed in Helsinki, is 2010 going to be the year of the "CX"? At least they are a lot more sensible than fixed gear bikes. This may account for their riders being disproportionately men in their 40s or even 50s around here. In which case, CX can't be that cool can it.

I'm undecided as to whether I'm hip or not thinking this is funny.