Instructing: A Stumbling Block on the Road

Allow me, if you will, to set the scene: Upon returning to the UK from a full, draining ski season in Vaujany over in the French Alps nestled next to Alpe d’Huez I proceed to spend the following 6 weeks sleeping on a sofa at my parent’s house. All of my belongings stuffed into the loft and whatever nook and cranny was available in between the usual hodgepodge of family stuff, and also my sister’s, her partner’s and their bouncing baby daughter’s worldly possessions. In a word – cramped.

These six long weeks saw me job hunting to within an inch of my sanity: Instructing, Outdoor Retail, Travel Agent, hell – even a school cleaning job. I applied to them all, country wide too, being based in what feels like the retirement capital of Europe – Worthing, W. Sussex – made those rare interviews all the more difficult to get to. That hardest bit of that phase was just the sheer lack of responses I received from just about everyone whom I pelted with a CV; barely a we have received your application, let alone a sorry you have not been successful. That sort of silence is crippling for a job hunter!

But anyway. An olive branch was extended to me in the form of the Pinnacle Climbing Centre in the heartland of Northamptonshire and in June I became a full time climbing instructor! I’d relocated in record time to Northampton, a cushy 15 minute cycle commute making everything sweeter, and started settling in. The management even gave me the added responsibility of being an unofficial social media co-ordinator of sorts, keeping the Facebook and Twitter pages up to date and filled with content.

Now we bring ourselves to the first week of September: I’m called in for a meeting with the Centre and Duty Managers to iron out a few niggles such as being more of a team player (I wasn’t making enough cups of tea for my colleagues) and discuss the social media performance which wasn’t going as well as the Managing Director wanted. In short my probation period was extended a month and was given 2 weeks to buck up my ideas and see a marked improvement. A bit of a short time frame but alright, this is new territory for me.

I have a good fortnight full of good instructing sessions, plenty of social media stuff and I even offered several cuppas around. I took some pre-planned holiday for an adventure up to Scotland to bag our first Munros which was for the most part very successful – don’t think I’ve eaten that well in a long time! So arrives the Monday, six days into the trip, we’ve just driven from Glen Brittle campsite up on the Isle of Skye back to our adopted base of the Glen Nevis campsite in Fort William. As we got booked in for the night I checked my emails – 1 unread message from my HR Manager simply titled Letter Attached – I read the letter and lo and behold I’ve been dismissed from the company and given a week’s notice in accordance with my contract.

The reason: “…the main priority of social media postings has not improved, and the necessary reporting has not taken place, amongst other things”.
I’d been dismissed for an extra responsibility given to me by management, not for the actual duty for which I was employed. Surely just taking the responsibility away from me would have done the trick instead of cutting me loose entirely?

Just imagine that for a moment. Being sacked by email whilst on holiday. It’s like being dumped by a partner by text, a bit mean and not really the done thing.

I followed up the email when signal allowed and asked about my final weekend of work when I returned from Scotland, surely I’d have work to do being on a 40hr/week contract? Alas, no. I’d already been worked out of the rota and not given any hours to see me to the end of the notice period. The only reason to actually go into the centre was to collect my belongings and return my uniform. A sour experience let me assure you, even with the Duty Manager keeping it friendly and supportive when I dropped by.

So here I am, job hunting countrywide again with the timer ticking on my accommodation. I refuse to go back to that sofa! One benefit of being that little bit further up the country is that I can literally roll onto the M1 and be just about anywhere in England/Wales within 5 hours, especially missing out that god forsaken M25!
Plenty of CVs have been fired off near and far lately with some already promising leads, ideally something comes up that pays me more than minimum wage and considers the qualifications I’ve toiled long and hard to achieve.

Feel free to share your thoughts and advice on this little stumble of mine. If there are any suitable vacancies out there let me know!

At least Scotland was good!

At least Scotland was good!

Advice: Caring for Your Kit

This page is a guide on how to look after your kit. If, like me, you have redonkulously expensive taste in kit and will bravely dish out £150 on any ‘gucci’ piece of gear then you will want to look after and maintain it in order to get your money’s worth.

*Disclaimer 1: The methods or products I suggest are purely based on my experience through doing, or learning from my customers/colleagues/friends that have done it wrong.*
*Disclaimer 2: When machine washing any piece of gear with a specialist product please clean out the detergent tray and run a rinse cycle with a towel just to flush out any excess detergent residue. This way the products will treat your gear exactly how they’re meant to.*

Waterproofs:
Your first line of defence against the epic fury of mother nature. Any WP jacket or trousers worth more than 80 quid will require a level of care over its lifetime. The majority of items are pre-treated with a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating and this, along with the fabric, is what causes the water to ‘bead’ and run off the garment. Over time this beading will soon be replaced by ‘wetting out’, this is where water doesn’t bead but seeps into the face fabric causing the dark, wet patches.
To care for your WPs you will need to wash them in a ‘pure soap’ such as Nikwax Tech Wash. Do not use any form of detergent wash on your WPs, detergents work by drawing water into and through clothing in order to wash them, this is very bad for a WP! Once washed, leave to drip dry, or tumble dry on a low heat if the care label allows.
If, after washing, wetting out still happens then you’ll want to re-proof the jacket using something like Nikwax TX Direct. Once washed, drip dry. A general rule is that for every 3 washes, do a re-proof.

Boots:
Your boots keep your feet in good working order. If your boot fails you then, ultimately, you fail.
Boot care is simple, but very often overlooked. If you don’t look after them then they will crack and/or fall apart. After a good muddy romp then be sure to take out the laces and scrub them in lukewarm water to get all the debris and muck off.
Once dried then it’s best to apply either a wax or cream for leather boots. If a wax then it’s best to rub in with fingers as the warmth speeds up the process of the oils seeping into the leather. Once applied then either give a quick buff to work it in or leave until they’re needed again. Should you go for an extended period in between using your boots then it is worth applying a good coating of wax/cream before storing the boots as this gives plenty of nourishment and hydration to the materials and keeps them from drying out, degrading or rotting whilst out of action.
A well kept pair of boots will give you many years of faithful and comfortable service regardless of what torture you may put them through.

If a synthetic boot with a waterproof membrane then after they’ve been washed leave to dry and they’ll be good to go again. There are gel products such as Nikwax footwear cleaning gel that help keep everything in good shape.

Rope:
REI has a great page on rope advice. In my experience it is best not to bung a rope in the washing machine as it can twist the sheath from the core and leave you with a knotted, lumpy mess

Sleeping Bags:
The easiest way to care for your sleeping bag is to use a sleeping bag liner inside it. This way you only have to chuck the liner in the wash instead of the whole bag.
For a synthetic fill bag then it is easy to put in the washing machine and put on a cool synthetic wash using Tech Wash or similar.
If it’s a Down filled bag however life gets a lot harder as once down feathers get wet, they lose their loft abilities (ability to capture air within them) and are difficult to dry them out properly. Down bags can last for atleast a decade if looked after properly, but washing them is a bugger. It is best to find a specialised Down Washing company.
Storage of your sleeping bag is equally important for keeping it warm and effective. Instead of having it tightly packed away in its stuff sack, it is best to have it in a storage sack of some sort, or even hung up in a wardrobe without compressing it at all. Most higher priced bags will have one with it, but something like a large pillowcase with work equally well. The reason for this is that when a sleeping bag is compressed for a long period, the loft qualities of the fill begin to degrade and you begin losing out on that all important warmth.

Tents:
Your primary shelter, look after these things and they will serve you for years to come. There are countless shapes, sizes, material types, pole materials, and uses.
I won’t cover the fabric army 9×9 style tents as nobody is stupid enough to go hiking with one of those bad boys strapped to your back.
UV is a particular killer of tents, leave it exposed to the sun for too long and the materials will start to degrade and their waterproofing and strength will be compromised, as with any pitching site be sure that its sheltered from the elements as well as offering some shade. Tent materials can be washed according to care labels, Nikwax Tent and Gear Solarproof should be used in the same fashion as TX Direct (see Waterproofs) it keeps tents and gear well maintained for the environments that we will exposed gear to. For standard washing then Tech Wash is perfect.
If you have forked out for a fairly basic tent that uses fibreglass poles then take care with them as they are by no means as strong, lightweight or durable as the anodised alu poles that are commonplace with many higher-end tents. Should they snap they can be replaced but not repaired. A temporary fix can be fashioned using the repair kit usually provided but will not provide a long term solution. Fibreglass pole replacements are becoming harder to find and so in the long run it is better to for out a little extra for a better quality tent.
A key maintenance tip for any and all tents is DO NOT STORE IT WET. A wet tent stored will just rot and become a useless waste of money. Once you have finished your trip, stand up the tent in your bedroom/living room/wherever and leave it over night to dry out, then pack it away when dry.

Feel free to contribute methods and tips that you have found particularly useful throughout your adventures. Everyone has a little gem for dealing with their beloved equipment!

Review: Osprey Mutant 38

As a fan of the Osprey range and in need of a comprehensive, yet relatively simple, mountaineering pack I opted for the Mutant 38 2nd edition. The main change for the 2nd edition was the gear loop change on the hip belt – instead of a karabiner loop for every letter of the word OSPREY on each side it was reduced to 3 karabiner loops and a general gear loop each side. This is presumably because if a climber/mountaineer has that much excess gear on the outside of their pack then they’re doing something wrong!

This pack has seen me through the last 2 years involving numerous climbing trips up and down the country, hiking in the highlands and Snowdonia, general kit haulage and my first ever ice climb – practically everything that the pack was designed for!

As with shoes and boots it is crucial to get a well fitted pack. It needs to keep you comfortable when carrying load by effectively distributing load between your shoulders and hips in an approximately 30/70 split respectively. Your pelvis is the key load bearing part of the body that distributes all the weight of the upper body down to the legs so getting as much of the pack weight on your hips is vital. The great thing about Osprey packs is that most of them come in small, medium and long back lengths, any pack will fit any body! Unfortunately I did the rookie error of selecting the medium back length which gives the full 38L, whereas I should have selected the small back length and sacrificed a couple of litres. The result is that the shoulder straps hover ever so slightly above my shoulders and creates extra movement in the pack when loaded up and moving over uneven terrain. This problem can be rectified using the adjustment straps but I’ll come to that in a bit. It is also strongly recommended to be skilled in the art of packing a rucksack and knowing where the heaviest items go. For example if a climbing rope is bunged on the top between the pack and lid then it creates an uncomfortable bow in the backpiece as the top section juts away from the back, whereas when stowed in the bottom of the pack then there’s no problem and it’s nice and comfy.

The Mutant is a very capable rucksack with plenty of useful features  to keep even the most accomplished mountain guide happy. Please bear in mind that my pack is the 2012 variation, the 2014 pack has some slight feature and material changes:

  • Chest strap with integrated whistle (whistle is upside down – annoying)
  • Ice axe retainer each side with scratch resistant pad on front
  • Floating and removable lid for expansion
  • Security pocket
  • Bladder pouch
  • Trekking/Ski pole attachments
  • Compression straps
  • Hip Belt stowable by wrapping it around pack
  • 4 Haul loops – 2 main front and back, 2 small on either side
  • Removable back ‘bivi pad’

    Strap Overlap

    Strap Overlap

Time to discuss a sticking point I have with Osprey packs – adjustment straps. Osprey love them, all over their packs! They’re just too long, and in the case of the floating lid of the mutant just plain badly thought through. The lid is set up a bit like a simple pulley system with the strap starting on the lid, through a loop on the main pack and then back up to the buckle on the lid – a great system that really lets you tighten the lid down to compress excess space. The main downside is that it directly overlaps the shoulder adjustment straps and constantly traps the buckle loosening off the shoulders. As it’s all stitched in place there is nothing that can be done about it except fish out the buckle from the tangle and yank the straps tight again after opening up the lid during a snack break or whipping out the waterproofs. With the strap length I’m still considering chopping a good amount of excess off; too many times I’ve picked up the bag whilst stood on a loose strap and tightened it right up as I chuck the bag over my shoulders

With the comfort and practicality of the pack it holds up very well. It does a good job of not trying to bunch up whatever jacket/top you’re wearing and although it doesn’t provide much airflow for a sweaty-backed person such as myself, when paired with a suitable wicking layer or good jacket such as the Paramo Velez Adventure Smock the experience becomes quite comfortable. It holds load very well and the hip belt does an excellent job of keep weight exactly where it needs to be without sliding all over the place or buckles slipping open as can happen on some brands. Bear in mind the pack offers no form of waterproof protection and so drybags are key not only keeping essentials like your sleeping bag dry but also for organising the contents of your pack.

Overall the Osprey Mutant is a great all round mountain pack that will see you through just about any adventure you can throw at it. The new model Mutant appears to have trimmed the excess and added a few extra features like a helmet retainer, ski straps and reduced weight. Well worth trying one on and be sure to ask staff about putting weight in the pack to really get a feel for it and get the sizing right.

RRP: £100
Weight: 1.6kg (Medium)

Mutant 38 on Sgurr Dearg

Mutant 38 on Sgurr Dearg

Review: Five Ten Guide Tennie

The 5.10 Guide Tennie can most commonly be found adorning the feet of outdoor based instructors all over the UK (and probably the USA too). The combination of sturdy fabrics, grippy sole unit and comfort make it a popular choice. I bought my Tennies back at the start of summer and have given them a solid working over in environments ranging from the Peaks, to Snowdonia, to the pub.

First and foremost, the important thing with all footwear is the fit: If it doesn’t fit properly then a shoe or boot will give you all sorts of problems. The Tennies fit slightly wider tapering down to an average width heel, fairly similar to Zamberlan footwear. The lacing runs all the way to the toes and so offers climbing shoe style adjustment allowing the wearer to have a uniform close fit all over. An annoyance for me is that the laces are stupidly long and when laced up still touch the ground giving the potential to step on them and send the wearer stumbling.
The Tennie offers no inbuilt arch support and has the most basic insoles, I strongly recommend sticking either your own custom insoles or something like Superfeet. I found recently that after a few long hours of pavement walking my knees and hips started suffering from the lack of arch support which resulted in my feet pronating too far and affecting correct body alignment. I went out and did a similar walk the next day with my pair of green Superfeet insoles in and the difference was immediate, no leg or knee problems at all.

The reason these shoes are so popular with instructors is that the sole unit is made of Five Ten’s grippy and hardwearing Stealth C4 rubber which is used on plenty of their climbing and approach shoe styles. It’s not much of a testament to the climbing properties of the Tennie, but I have managed VDiff grade climbs wearing them – I would have continued up the grades but the shoes are just a bit too flexible to get a solid edge or toe placement on the rock. Although that could just be me being a wuss and there are probably climbers out there who have scaled E-graded climbs wearing Guide Tennies!

Other observations I have made with the Tennie is that they did feel a bit hot during the summer months, making me wish I’d been patient and bought a pair of the canvas variations. Even when wearing light merino sport socks my feet were quite warm and sweaty during casual wear. Another is that, although the shoes fit me very well, the fabric around the heel has worn and broken through to the padding underneath. It does make me question whether or not my Tennies will endure through to next summer and beyond before they need replacing – they’re coming with me to the French Alps for this winter season and will be my everyday shoes. Finally, although they aren’t waterproof they do hold up well against wet grass and passing light showers, the high rubber last helps ensure toes are kept dry.

If you are looking for a comfortable pair of approach shoes that are just as at home on the casual walk around the town as they are doing scrambles in the mountains then it’s definitely worth tracking down a pair to try on and play with. If you’re hot-footed then I might suggest the canvas variant to save discomfort during the warmer months, but otherwise it’s a popular shoe and justifiably so. Available in a  range of colours too.

Guide Tennie Khaki

Guide Tennie Khaki

RRP: £85
Weight: 410g (Size 8)

Review: Paramo Velez Adventure Light Waterproof Smock

The Velez Adventure Light Smock (Velez) has been a core part of my inventory for coming on 18 months now. If it’s too rainy for my beloved ME Astron Hooded Jacket then the Velez is my go-to piece. Paramo has a business ethic of quality over quantity and so you probably won’t find any of their kit in chains such as Snow and Rock or Cotswolds; this also prevents price battles between competitors, good job too as the profit margins on Paramo gear are relatively low already.

When it comes to the fit of the Velez it is slightly on the looser side and will comfortably accommodate a few layers underneath. Length comes to the hips which is ideal for most body sizes and the articulated arms are well planned to allow for and uninhibited range of movement regardless of activity. The feel of the jacket is unlike anything you may have experienced with conventional plastic-based membrane jackets; as I explained in the review of the Paramo Aspira Trousers, the jacket uses fabrics instead of plastic membranes which result in waterproofing that mimics an Otter’s fur which actively wicks moisture away from the skin, pumps it through to the outer layer to be evaporated. There is no limit to the breathability as it works as hard as the wearer. A noteworthy point is that these fabrics cannot be tested for a hydro static head as with membranes due to the materials being so different. An example of this difference is that an Arc’teryx Pro Shell jacket will stop the rain on contact from entering the jacket, the Velez and other Paramo items may have a sopping wet outer material (primarily a DWR treated windstopper layer) but the active ‘pumping’ layer underneath will prevent any moisture reaching the wearer.
To round off the feel of the jacket; due to the fabrics in use the piece will feel slightly heavier and warmer to what you may expect – equivalent to wearing a thin midlayer under a hardshell – the breathability of the piece, however, will keep you comfortable whatever you may be doing.

The features for the Velez are simple yet well thought out: everything can be adjusted single handed, the zippers all move smoothly too. Double-layer lining on shoulders and either side of the spine allows for comfortable wearing of technical rucksacks. Fully adjustable, wired hood with a high collar keeps out almost everything Mother Nature can hurl at you, you can partly roll it up. Decent sized, waterproof kangaroo-style zippered pouch suitable for maps, snacks and other essentials. Being a smock, all zippers are baffled and poppered which allow for a full range of ventilation options depending on conditions. There is also a zippered hoodie-style pocket which can be access through opening up the bottom zips and is surprisingly comfortable when walking casually without a rucksack hip belt. Although nowhere states that it has a high capacity-style hood, I found that with all the toggles loosened off I could just about wear a helmet (Petzl Elios) with the hood up, which anyone climbing in the UK would appreciate.

Velez in use in Snowdonia

Velez in use in Snowdonia

I’m slightly disappoined by the muted colour choices for the current range of the Velez, I bought mine in the Butternut option which is effectively bright orange – perfect for being spotted damn near anywhere!

Having used the Velez extensively throughout England and Wales all year round it has proven itself a valuable part of my inventory. I have been drenched by rain in Snowdonia without any problems or water seepage and plenty of cold walks out and about with no hint of being cold myself.

With the Velez, and Paramo products in general, being fabric based this means that they are infinitely wash and re-proofable using appropriate products such as Nikwax Tech Wash & TX Direct. They can and do last for years on end, when they eventually reach the end of their useful life you can even send them back to Paramo for recycling.

Overall a great lighter weight bit of kit that provides peace of mind for those going at it hard outdoors wanting comfort, superior breathability, longevity and real value for money.

RRP: £210
Weight: 580g (Size M)