Score : 4.5 out of 5
(I hesitate to score higher as a range of weather and time away conditions would need to be seen).
I was looking for a solar charger to take to Rum as I wanted to take lots of photos (the camera on my HTC HD desire is pretty good) and also to have the ViewRanger app available if I needed it. The latter reason was less ‘pressing’ as there were enough experienced navigators in the group but I do like an App and Viewranger has been great even for walks round the moors where I live.
So, I did a few scouts of eBay, Amazon and some other sites and settled on the ‘PowerBee Executive Solar Phone Charger’. That’s me, an executive.
There’s no disclaimer needed for this post e.g I wasn’t provided the charger to test, I bought it, just wanting to share a review of a great gadget.
I charged it (wall charger supplied) before I left and that charge gave me enough juice to charge the phone fully back to 100% twice (from about 30% each time). And because we had bright (albeit a bit cold) skies over the weekend on Rum, I could leave it out on a couple of longer rest stops.. and it looked like it was powering back up. No doubt it would work even better in a sunnier country. I can’t say how it would have done after the 4 days if we had had cloudy skies – but for a long weekend up in the Cuillins it worked really well.
Very compact (about the size of my phone, just a bit thicker and it stowed in a little case it came with in the top pocket of my rucksack). A choice of charge jacks for all types of phones.. recommended.
I’ll be using it at the forthcoming Latitude festival I’m off to with Mrs K in July.
Finally, the second instalment of my recent (ish) trip to Rum.
Actually, firstly – a quick ad :
before this trip I was chatting to a blogger and a man with real knowledge of the Scottish Islands, Pete writes over at http://writesofway.com/ and was really helpful and mentioned he was bringing a book out in June. This book looks really good, if I head up to the Small Isles of Scotland again, I’ll get it. In fact, I think I’ll get it anyway. Here’s a link to it : go buy it yourself if you’re interested in this part of the world
Back to the trip:
I’ve been delayed in writing up the actual Rum trip (see earlier post on the detour we took on the way to Rum) mostly because of time as I’ve been setting up a new consultancy/freelance business (another Quick Ad : I’m over here at markkellynet.com). Which has meant quite a few evenings of work and less head space of late. But also, for the first few days after my return, I found it hard to type for any length of time. I must have wrenched a muscle in my arm at some point along the Cuillin ridges. Really wrenched it, as it ached for a couple of weeks, enough to wake me up at night (and nothing but nothing makes me lose sleep normally).
Anyway a few weeks later – here I am and here’s my take on the trip up and around the Rum Cuillins. There’s definitely something new to see on Rum at every turn.. paraphrased nicely as ”tha rudeigin ùr daonnan ri fhaicinn” in Gaelic. Okay, I know no Gaelic, that came from a from a quote on the Rum Community website : http://www.isleofrum.com/
Some facts about the Cuillins and what we planned to achieve:
The idea was to head off from Kinloch (where the ferry comes in) and walk across the mountains of Barkeval, Hallival, Askival, Trollaval, Ainshval and Sgurr nan Gillean, We would then come down into Dibidil to the bothy and either stay the night in there or camp / bivvy close to it. And that was pretty much what happened. The weather was fantastic, we couldn’t have wished for better – blue skies and some occasional breeze. Just the thing to traverse around a gigantic volcanic caldera (the remains of an enormous volcano whose dome collapsed to leave pretty dramatic sides, with some of the rock being 3 billion years old – although more latterly shaped by glaciers). To save my geologist son embarrassment with my non technical / flawed descriptions, have a look at some rock facts and figures here :
Anyway, back to the hike itself. We set off in warm sun and high spirits. The climb out of Kinloch quickly gives you some great views of both Rum and over to Skye. Further into the hike / climb we could see other islands and lots of sea. The weather over towards Skye was more dramatic and we could see we were missing some fairly hefty showers. Phew.
I’m not going to give a peak by peak account of the first day, I’ll let some photos give you a sense of the place. But overall I would say (for me) that it was challenging. And beautiful. And remote. And quiet. And soul-stirring. And fun. And challenging. You get the picture. That was a word that was going around my head on the top of most of the peaks. In some places and at certain moments it was really tough for me. I don’t mind tough, we all build personal stories and myths about ourselves, internal narratives – and one of mine is that I’m tenacious and also probably too dim to know when to stop slogging forward. Which is why I loved schoolboy rugby in the cold and rain, I really enjoyed the ‘battle’. And I really engaged with Frodo’s travails when I read Lord of the Rings as a youth. But parts of the Cuillins were definitely ‘tricksy’ for me. Even under warm blue skies.
I’m not going to dwell on that too much but that old monkey on my back of vertigo did affect me a few times. My over-riding memory though is of wide open views, sweeping vistas and brilliant views across to the other islands. And once we were down at lower levels and I could stop-with-the-fear-already, the sense of remoteness, beauty and tranquillity won through. I would happily hermitage at either of the Bothies (is that the right use of the word?) for a few weeks. Actually, mainly at Guirdil (more of that in the next post).
Here’s a map to give you a sense of the island :
The link above is from a site I stumbled across when I searched for ‘maps of rum’. And it turns out to be a really interesting find. The site is (I think I’ve summarised this correctly) is a resource related to Celtic ecclesiastical culture and geography. And it contains a lot of information on the early history of the islands, well worth a read and I wish I’d read it before we got there – always good to have some context for a place you are ‘exploring’.
As mentioned, the plan was to cross all of the Cuillins, reaching the highest point at 812m (I believe) on top of Askival. As it happened we ‘skipped’ Barkeval so we could get to the bigger peaks sooner. As we stood below some peaks, I wasn’t sure how we were going to traverse some of the ridges, paths are not so clear on Rum, there’s no ‘tourist route’ as such although there are set routes detailed (see link to the book above) and it meant some scrambling in places. Nothing that needed ropes but still a bit tricky for me. These are obviously non mountaineering grade descriptions I’m using. If you read this blog you’ll know I’m not a seasoned / technical mountaineer. I’m a hiker. So ‘tricky’ and ‘scramble’ will have to suffice for my descriptions of types of climb we encountered.
Some photos (using my camera phone to save pack weight so quality is a bit ropey):
So now there is a gap here in the photo diary.. no photos from on top of Askival.
I kept my phone stowed away as I climbed / scrambled my way up the ridge of Askival. There were two routes up.. the rocky actual ridge route with a lot of exposure or the the path to the left (as we looked at it) that was a few feet lower, off the actual ridge but still with some exposure / vertiginous views in places. I, with a couple of the other guys took that route. But it still required a steady foot and a good grip in some places, so getting my phone out a la tourist just didn’t happen
Sitting up by the trig point at Askival felt great though and (again) we were grateful for the clear skies and the views we had. We gthen picked our way downhill before starting the route up to Trollaval. I was (technically speaking) knackered after the previous two peaks but team leader Ali whispered ‘walk fat boy, walk’ into my ear and I did just that. Actually that’s not true, he rightly made the point that this was no race and the views from the top of Trollaval woud also be excellent. So I got up there in a great frame of mind.. fuelled by another pork pie and some Jelly Babies (yes that does make me sound like a fat boy but we were all eating a lot to keep energy up of course). Quick Ad no. 3 : I’ve found (after a tip off from a seasoned walker) that jelly babies are great for tactical sugar / energy boosts. Probably as much psychological as physiological, I’ve had a bag with me (as well as dried fruit and nuts) on ascents of Snowdon, Scarfell Pike and the Yorkshire 3 Peaks. (end of Ad).
But after Trollaval I had basically lost my nerve with some of the exposed parts particularly on Askival and my legs were wiped… there’s only so much adrenalin they could take. Doh.
So after some soul searching and rather than joining the the ascent of Ainshval from Bealach an Fhuarain with the rest of the guys, I decided to head down the wide , glacier-scraped valley below us and aim for Dibidil Bothy. They continued up the steep / rocky ridge of Ainshval and onwards to Sgurr nan Gillean. I gathered later on when they met me down near the bothy that the descent from Sgurr nan Gillean was pretty difficult after a long days’ peak traversing and I was glad I’d stopped when I did. I wanted some energy for the next day (the less elevated by quite long hike to Guirdil Bothy).
More of that in the next post.
That hike down to Dibidil was fantastic, blue skies above me, a horseshoe of peaks around me and the sea (and nearby isle of Eigg) in front. There was a river with occasional waterfalls which I followed and over to my right, keeping their wary distance, a herd of about 20 Red Deer. We never actually saw a group larger than this – to say there are about 1500 Red Deer on Rum I had expected to see more but I think they congregate around the other side of the island.
I even made a couple of rock balances as I had plenty of time on my hands and messing about with absolutely no time pressures is a rare thing and should be celebrated.
Once the rest of the group (you know, the fit, fearless section) met me at Dibidil we pitched the fly sheets and sorted out a bivvy spot for the night. Then found a small rocky cove to cook up our food in. And with some dry seaweed we got a pretty decent beach fire going to watch the moon rise above Eigg. Awesome and a really enjoyable evening.
next day : across the island to Guirdil Bothy..
Part #1 isn’t actually about Rum at all. More of that in the 2nd part of this extended post. This is the ‘Let’s climb a Mountain on the way up to climbing some Mountains’ post.
The plan was to get our walking legs in after a few hours of driving from Marsden en route to Mallaig (to get the ferry to Rum the next morning). So we stopped near Glencoe and hit the hills (well, a Mountain).
This post is more photos than words as, one week on, I still have a really (really) aching shoulder and arm from traversing the Rum Cuillins Legs are fine. Arm .. strangely not so. Holding on too tight to some rocks higher than my vertigo-challenged head wanted to be perhaps. Anyway, more of that next time .. in the meantime, I give you: Buachaille Etive Mòr
I had to ask Team Leader / Organiser / Motivator (more in post #2) Ali a couple of times what this mountain, that we were looking up at after 6 hours of driving, was called. I’m so not a peak bagger by trade, I don’t really know my Munroes from my Corbetts. I think I’m made for long trails with, okay, some elevation, but not too much exposure to really quite enormous drops. In fact (on the way back down) I remarked “I’m more of a moors troll than a mountain troll – but that was good”. And so I am. Swift, pretty steep ascents are not my natural thing. And exposed high places entice out a monkey from my rucksack, who then sits there pointing out all the dangers to me whilst holding my head between its paws and rotating it swiftly around, so I start to feel a dizzy (and more of that in part 2 also).
BUT – monkey (and relative fitness) aside, it was worth the hike up; as the view at the top across to Ben Nevis and lots of other peaks was fantastic. And it even snowed a little for us on the top to add to the moment.
So that was Buachaille Etive Mor, If I was a fitter man I would have relaxed more into it but my preoccupation was one of “and we four more of these to do tomorrow?!” It was about a four hour round trip but the slog up was worth the views at the top for sure. And coming down we saw a herd of red deer gallop across the bog below us, a great sight to end the first excursion.
Next stop, Mallaig, an overnight hostel stop then the ferry to Rum!
I’ve got two big walking dates in my diary for this year (so far) and I’m just beginning to fact-find about the first of them – a trip to Rum (Rùm) and a traverse of the Rum Cuillin. This will be in early May and I can’t wait. I’m excited for a few reasons, one is the obvious thing of getting out in to the wilds (including some camping and staying in a bothy) and of walking somewhere new - but I’m also intrigued by this part of the world. Despite being conceived (as a person, not as an abstract construct) on nearby Lewis and despite having a Scottish mother, I haven’t ever been to the Scottish islands. Shame on me. Hopefully this will be the first of a few excursions.
The other reason I’m excited is that one of my sons has been to Rum and his description of the island (despite the ticks) was captivating.. names like Trollaval are fantastic : Mountain Of The Trolls. In my head that’s a mashing together of the spirit of some of the isolated parts of Iceland we both saw and my childhood (and recent film-based) Tolkien recollections. And I saw Troll Hunter recently too, to add to my (probably inaccurate) imaginings of the strangeness of the place. Not sure if one will visit the bothy that I think we’re staying in .. but I’ll have my camera with me just in case. And not just Trolls but ghosts frequent the bothy too apparently .. even better
And judging by the photos I’ve seen from son Joe, on Flickr and on the blogs below, it looks to be a dramatic and beautiful place.
The second trip I’m planning and need to definitely, definitely get in shape for is the National 3 Peaks challenge which I’m sure everyone knows is 3 mountains in 24 hours. I’ll be doing that with and for a rough sleepers charity that I support called Simon on The Streets. More of that another time. I checked with my GP and I got the all-clear on the 3 peaks. I’ve climbed some big hills (that’s not a metaphor, well, it is a bit) in the last 18 months so I should be okay but it’s always good to check in with the doc. My blood pressure has regulated to a good level in the last few months – thanks to the medication no doubt but also by really cutting out salt, reducing the ridiculous amounts of coffee I used to drink and watching the processed food intake. Salt – don’t do it kids, it’s a killer.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to both trips!
More on Rum from a couple of great blogs I follow:
5 out of 5 on features and comfort.
5 out of 5 on weight.
** [review update (May 2012) - I took the Freeflow on a 4 day trip to Rum and it carried all the stuff I needed it to. The stow / expansion side pockets were really handy and I got lots in there. Great balance with sack crossing the Cuillins.]**
I already have a pretty good day / rucksack and it has some nice features like the hydration pouch pocket but it is on the small size, so gets a bit tight in there when I add in stuff I want to take on longer hikes, like my DSLR camera and waterproofs etc. I was contacted recently by simplyhike.co.uk as they’d seen my blog and liked it (cheers guys). And on the back of that they sent me the Berghaus Freeflow 25+5 rucksack to test out.
I spent some of today trying it out up on the moors. Okay, whilst you don’t really get a full ‘road test’ of any equipment in one day and / or one set of conditions, I’m really pleased with it. I’m off to Rum with some (much more hikier/ fitter) mates in May and it will be spot-on for that, as I’ll have more gear with me I think. Definitely my ‘big’ camera and maybe even poles (which the Freeflow has straps for, unlike my existing rucksack).
One really nice feature of the Freeflow 25+5 is that it has an adjustable back length system. I’ve had back issues for years on and off (schooldays rugby, mountain fall, bad posture and too many pies : in that order) so this caught my eye. Again, too early to say if this ergonomic feature will really help my intermittent back issues but it did feel really comfortable once I had it set up how I wanted it. It also has padded shoulder straps with something called EVABreathe foam – which should mean less overheating / perspiration in warmer weather. And it feels really light – 1.4 kg according to the labeling.
Finally a quick word on simplyhike.co.uk : The rucksack itself could have come from a range of online retailers of course but what was genuinely nice about getting it from them was the delivery service. Because we’re out during the day the courier (DPD) couldn’t leave the parcel, so one of the customer service people at simplyhike (Becky) asked me what redelivery options I wanted. And liaised with the couriers to leave the parcel the next day in a safe place. Better than some delivery services I’ve used where you have to drive to another town and depot to pick up a missed item. So top marks on that one. Finally – and again not related to the product as such but I like the simplyhike website having product videos on there (e.g for the Freeflow rucksack : http://www.simplyhike.co.uk/products/Berghaus/Freeflow25Plus5Rucksack-JetBlackCoal.aspx#Videos). No, they haven’t asked me to say that, I just liked that feature!
The walk itself was really nice today – crisp clear air and blue skies – roll on spring!
I had a quick break before heading on, at a viewing point known locally as The Three Trees. Because there are three trees overlooking the valley here. Only one in evidence with this photo of Brodie though. And this isn’t a great ‘testing out some kit’ type photo and definitely not an action shot but the Freeflow rucksack is in shot also