Sunday, February 27, 2011


I've been a bit remiss in my blogging recently - I keep promising myself to write more but the days just seem to slip past. But here are a few photos from out snowshoeing today - just because they are quite pretty really. Uusimaa, the region that surrounds Greater Helsinki, is the Finnish equivalent of the Home Counties I guess. Less BMWs and stockbrokers, more moose though. It's not really wilderness as such, although in mid-winter the farmers' fields turn into wide open snowscapes and quiet, overhung rivers become hard highways for snowmobiles, skiers and the occasional snowshoer. In some ways, rather bucolic, yet still when it is -20 or colder - rural idyll or not, your toes will still go black and fall off if you don't look after them.

The bridges of Uusimaa county; new...

...and old.

But the winds have changed and the temperatures soared to a giddy -4 degrees. Today I was sweating and was quite happy hiking in a merino t-shirt and R1 pullover - a microfleece, or glorified sweatshirt really. Rather than full on snow boots, it was nice to wear some light fabric hiking boots with just some shorty gaiters to keep the snow out the tops. After some really cold hand experiences over the last few weeks, I was actually happy walking for some time with out gloves on and was getting sweaty inside my Marmot XT gloves when I did put them on. What a difference a few days can make.

There are animal tracks every where, from tiny little marks that might be mice or shrews, hare tracks everywhere and interestingly what I think must be foxes that seemed to favour the river as a quick way to move about. Then there are the people tracks - lots of skiers have been out and about a few other snowshoers. Snowshoeing is definitely picking up in popularity in Finland. A few years back you basically never saw snowshoe tracks  at least in the parts of southern Finland that I tend to frequent, whilst this winter in particular I'm seeing more and more. It is in someways not as graceful as skiing, more plodding and pedestrian, but it also has its own advantages and rewards of being able to go anywhere - particularly through dense southern deciduous-mix woods - with minimal hassle.

More daylight - hurray! About 5 pm and the sun is still above the horizon
It's lucky I can never throw out odd straps, bits of velcro, elastic and the like as in my bits-and-pieces box I found the perfect ultra-light snowshoe holding system for my super light pack!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Deep winter

At my house we haven't quite hit -26 degrees but are getting pretty close to it. It is beautiful outside in the woods, but life can feel hard when the temperature is this low; things don't work so well and the cold seeks out gaps in your insulation armour. But then, when it gets back up to just -10, you appreciate the warm weather!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The pharoah has gone - optimistic reflections on a revolution.

When Anwar Sadat was killed in 1981, his assasin, after running out of bullets, is said to have shouted "I have killed the pharaoh, and I do not fear death!". The use of the word pharaoh was deliberate because Khalid Islambouli - the assasin - was a Jihadist (although I don't think that word was in use back then) and wished to connect Sadat to the pre-Islamic history of Egypt. That pre-Islamic era was consider to be Jahiliyyah, classically used to be mean 'before God's guidance', but adapted and perhaps corrupted by radical ideologue Said Qutb, the inspiration behind Islambouli's violence, to mean un-Islamic and therefore without worth or indeed worthy of destruction.

Until 30 minutes ago, that was the last time leadership was transferred in Egypt; bloodily, violently and as a result of a radical, exclusionary reading of a religion. Now once again the Pharaoh has gone, but he is not dead. Instead Mubarak appears to be retiring to the seaside. His non-assasins - the democracy protestor -; men and women, young and old, secular and religious, Muslim and Christian, rich and poor; have shown day after day in Tahrir Square that, like Islambouli, they were not afraid to die, but unlike him they would not resort to violence except in self defence (against hired thugs in uniform or not). And again, unlike Islambouli, their motivation has been democracy, self respect, and human rights. The army should respect their sacrifices and their liberal sentiments and quickly give the Egyptian people the democracy they so richly deserve.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Marmot Plasma 15: first look review

Yesterday morning the UPS guy arrived through the blizzard to deliver a big box of very little weight. Inside was a very lofty, but very light Marmot Plasma 15 sleeping bag, which I am now reviewing for UKClimbing. But I thought I'd do a very quick "first look" here, as these bags are very new and there is very little about them on the net as of this moment. Oddly, even though they are for sale in the US already, they don't appear to be on Marmot's own website yet - although if you can take very cheery and enthusiastic Americans-in-sleeping-bags, you can see Marmot's Curly here discussing the bag (I'm sure he's a lovely, normal guy when not hiding in sleeping bags for company videos).

The Plasma range is two new style bags, made of top of the range fabrics and filled with the best goose down. Unfortunately they also come with a top of the range price, RRP for the "15" (named for 15 degrees Fahrenheit - slightly confusingly for us Euros) appears to be 480 bucks in the US. So expect a price around 300 quid or 350 Euros. A lot of money to shell out, so I imagine the likely user is going to be someone who really does a lot of backpacking or camping in pretty cold conditions and wants a bag that is about as light as you can find for its temperature rating.

Anyway, taking my reviewing very seriously, I decided I better bite the bullet and give the bag a go. The heavy snow had stopped by evening but it was blustery and cold whilst I put the tent up in my back garden after packing the snow down by snow shoe. My little Hubba tent isn't really designed for camping on snow, the wind seems to get under the fly sheet quite easily and the all mesh inner means a bit more airflow through the tent than one might necessarily require in winter! Nevertheless this guarantees you are testing the insulation value of your sleeping bag, not of your tent.

The bag looks quite slim, but feels fine once inside. One immediate plus point is that the poppers and draw cords on the hood and draft collar are very easy to find and use in the dark. Really nice design. After doing them all up I immediately felt snug and warm, so couldn't be bothered undoing them again to read my book. So instead I just went to sleep (BTW, the book is "Wolf Hall" that won the Booker a couple of years ago and is well loved in literary circles - which makes me feel slightly embarrassed to ask, but has anyone else found reading it a bit of a trudge? Come on Henry VIII! Just shag her and behead her already!). I was still snug and warm at 6.45 when I had to get up. Getting out a nice warm sleeping bag into sub-zero temperatures is as nice as it always is - i.e. not nice at all.

The thermometer had said minus 4.5 when I had gone out, and it was minus 5.3 this morning when I came back into the house. The bags is rated to -9 but as anyone knows, sleeping bag ratings even with the best intentions of the manufacturers are a very inexact science. What I can say is that wearing my normal winter camping 'pyjamas' of a merino base layer, hat and down filled sleeping 'booties', I was very warm all night in the Plasma 15. I normally feel warm getting into sleeping bags but cool down a lot through the night, often feeling a bit chilly in the morning - but no such problem with the Plasma 15, at least at this temperature. So looking good so far. Much more on UKC at the end of March.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Magical Muurla

I've written about Muurla as a neglected summer crag in the past on this blog, but it's years since I've been there in winter and hadn't realised that it was such a neglected winter crag! Today it was simply fantastic - huge amounts of ice - lots of different lines, some hard some OK - and all in the sun and under a blue sky. What more could you ask for? Cheers to Dave and Jody for being great partners and hi to Juha and Erik (hope that's the right spelling), the only other folk out at this great crag on a perfect day.

Erik on the main pillar as the morning clouds clear

Jody making shapes up the groove

What goes up must come down

I do occasionally put the cameras down and do some climbing myself!

Juha puts in another great lead up steep thin ice. Juha is climbing basically the same line as this!

Happy belayer

Jody's big lead

Juha climbing another great looking line with some powerful moves to get onto the ice

Same route from below

The sun starts to get lower and the world goes magically pink

Just the tree tops in the sun now...

...and it's time to go home.