The sole’s worn out, but the shoe’s still good? Which brands offer resoling services?

6. March 2019
Care tips

Even the highest-quality shoes have their limits, and those limits can be as low as a couple hundred miles. After a certain amount of wear, soles can show major signs of wear and tear, especially in the areas where they’re subjected to the most pressure. The material can even begin to crumble right before your very eyes, with scratches and holes developing on the rubber rand. All in all, things can start to look pretty grim down there after a while. Even with all that happening to the sole of the shoe, the nicely broken-in upper can escape virtually unscathed and have tons of life left in it.

As products of the throw-away society we live in, most of us would probably just toss the run-down shoes in the rubbish bin and go buy new ones. After all, there’s hardly anything quicker or easier than just getting rid of them.

How about you get the shoes repaired instead? After all, getting them repaired can be significantly cheaper than buying a brand-new pair, especially when it comes to expensive, high-quality mountaineering boots. This option not only saves resources and saves you money, but also allows you to get the most out of a good pair of boots. Of course, there’s always a third option. You could just keep on wearing them until they officially kick the bucket. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend that. You wouldn’t want your boots falling apart as you’re climbing steep, rocky terrain, nor would you be doing your feet and ankles any favours walking around in boots with worn-out and potentially deformed soles.

When is a repair worth it?

As you probably already know, shoe soles wear out much faster than the rest of the shoe. When the tread is worn down to the point that it is hardly visible anymore, then it’s definitely time for a new sole. At this point, you should also have a look at the lower portion of the shoe for any other signs of material ageing. Of course, this is easier said than done. Oftentimes, signs of ageing can’t be seen from the outside because they’re developing on the inside as well. This has less to do with physical strain and much more to do with moisture.

There’s even a technical term for the moisture-induced deterioration of the inside of the sole (more specifically: the midsole and heel wedge), namely hydrolysis. Hydrolysis is something you want to avoid at all costs. In fact, it’s the main reason why proper care, thoroughly drying your shoes (during and after your trips) as well as storing them in a dry place are all so important!

Whether and when it’s worth it to get your shoes repaired is, of course, a question of cost as well. The costs depend on what kind of shoes they are and how many parts of the sole need to be replaced. In other words, getting a pair of walking or trekking boots repaired will be cheaper than crampon-compatible mountaineering boots.

Climbing shoes are usually the cheapest to repair. Replacing the worn-out sole of a climbing shoe will usually run around €20-€60. It’d probably be cheaper if you just went to your local cobbler, but cobblers usually lack the expertise in climbing shoes and mountaineering boots. It’s really hit or miss. For quality brand-made mountaineering boots, sole repairs can cost around €40 to €80, depending on the repairer and the time needed to finish the job. Online, the prices can skyrocket up to €100. That may sound like a lot of money, but when you think about how much you’d have to spend for new boots, it’s still much cheaper.

If your shoe has a membrane (e.g. Gore-Tex), make sure the shoes are still waterproof before getting them repaired. If they’re not, it might be a good idea to buy new ones instead. Obviously, this is a non-issue with full leather boots or those without membranes.

How do repairs work? What are the possibilities?

In principle, replacing the sole of a shoe is very simple: The old, damaged sole is sanded down or removed, and the new one is glued on – that’s about it. However, in practice, it can be much more difficult than it sounds, even if nothing else has to be replaced. That being said, it’s best to leave the whole process to professionals who are not only familiar with the process and the sole unit but also capable of replacing the shoe rand.

To get the shoes into the hands of a professional, you can usually go through the retailer you bought them from. The dealer will then send the shoes to the manufacturer. Collection or shipment of the repaired shoes will also be handled by the dealer. Returning the shoes to the manufacturer directly is only possible in rare cases, which is why several shoe manufacturers list authorised dealers on their websites. We’ll have a look at the requirements of renowned mountaineering boot brands in the Alpinetrek shop in the final section of this article.

Alternatively, the following three options remain:

  • Send it in to an online repair service for climbing shoes and mountaineering boots: This is a relatively safe option, but not the fastest or the cheapest.
  • Contact a cobbler in your area and ask if they can repair climbing shoes/mountaineering boots: It’s kind of the luck of the draw, but you might just get lucky. Keep it mind that you probably won’t get the brand’s original sole when it’s replaced. That being said, this may not be the safest route, but could very well be the cheapest and the fastest.
  • Do it yourself: Not only does this option involve using adhesives, like Freesole, but there’s also really no guarantee of success, even if you’re only replacing the outsole. Just how difficult the process can be is clear by how many people have been unsuccessful. Just read some of the posts on this topic in outdoor forums and see for yourself! Another reason for not DIY-ing it is that you’ll probably have to get other parts of the shoe replaced as well, like the midsole and heel wedge, which is where things get extremely complicated. Not only do we lack the tools to do it properly, we also lack the knowledge. But, if it really is only the outsole that needs to be replaced, you could try replacing it using this guide (German link only).

Exceptional case: Warranty

If the sole of the shoe becomes unusable within the warranty period, despite normal and “proper” use, there may be a defect in the design, allowing you to file a warranty claim.

If you bought the defective shoe or boot from Alpinetrek, they will do everything in their power to help you with a warranty claim! If the warranty claim is justified, you are entitled to a replacement or a refund, if the former is not possible. If you can file a warranty claim, do not attempt to get the shoes repaired by anybody other than an authorised professional, as any improper repairs performed by unauthorised service partners will make the warranty void. Even if the shoes are returned to the retailer, it is more likely that they will be exchanged than repaired.

Further information on this procedure can be found on the Alpinetrek warranty claim page.

Information regarding different manufacturers’ warranty policies can be found in the last section of this article.

Can all shoes be repaired? What kind of construction does the shoe have to have?

Usually, it is only possible to resole shoes with a “cemented” or ““double-stitched” construction. These constructions connect the insole, outsole and other lower parts of the shoes in such a way that a clean separation and renewal of the sole is possible.

Another kind of construction is known as Strobel, which doesn’t allow for a shoe to be resoled. At most, you could have the outsole sanded or glued. The Strobel construction involves the outsole being applied without glue using injection moulding, which makes it difficult to remove. This construction is used for softer and more flexible footwear. You can easily recognise Strobel shoes by the seam that runs along the inside of the shoe between the upper and the insole. To see the Strobel seam, all you have to do is remove the footbed. With the cemented construction, you’ll see the insole, but you won’t see any stitching.

List of the manufacturers that replace soles

If you’re the proud owner of a high-quality pair of mountain or trekking boots, chances are you can get your shoe resoled by the manufacturer. However, this service is only offered by some of the high-end manufacturers. All the other brands will give you a replacement pair, provided your shoes are still under warranty. Once the warranty has expired, getting the shoe repaired will be difficult, to say the least.

In the following, you can find out how some of the best brands in our shop go about repairs:

Hanwag, Mammut and Lowa offer repair services outside the warranty period of two years, but it is not free. How much it costs depends on the individual case. Repairs can be arranged directly with the manufacturer, but it usually takes several weeks.

La Sportiva and Boreal do make repairs outside the warranty period upon request and only in rare cases. All other manufacturers only offer repairs within the warranty period and with restrictions. There include: Edelrid, Haglöfs, Salewa, Martini (very slow), Duckfeet (refers you to cobblers in Germany if you’re at fault or the product is no longer under warranty), Mavic, Montura (very slow).

That’s about it all the info I have on the world of shoe repairs. It may seem a bit complicated at first, but with the info from this article – and a couple of phone calls to the dealer or manufacturer – getting your shoes resoled should be a piece of cake.

Here are some of the things I found out whilst researching:

  • Lowa: can be contacted directly without having to contact the retailer first. If you would like to have your Lowa shoes resoled, you can contact the Lowa service department directly for an offer.
  • Hanwag: offers resoling for all models, but there is no way for you to arrange it with the manufacturer. The shoes must be sent in through a dealer, who also provides information as to the exact costs.
  • Mammut: has detailed information on the repair process listed on their website.
  • Meindl: also offers resoling services for all models, but the shoes have to be sent in through a dealer.
  • Garmont: doesn’t provide any repair information.
  • According to Salewa, they have “(…) established a local specialist with (their) own branch in each market since 2014 that trains partners and provides them with the necessary spare soles and parts. The fixing of new soles can therefore be carried out flexibly and quickly thanks to short transport routes.
  • Salomon: here you will only find general warranty and repair information.
  • Scarpa: does not provide repair information, but does have a dealer search function (German link only).
  • Aku: does not provide repair information, but does have a dealer search function.
  • Dachstein: does not provide repair information, but does have a dealer search function.
  • Keen: does not provide repair information, but does have a dealer search function.

Any questions? Feel free to comment below!

The proper boot for the via ferrata

27. February 2019
Buyer's guide

While there is special equipment you need for via ferratas, like an energy absorber, most of the stuff you need (like clothing, a backpack or a harness) you probably already have, provided you’re into climbing or mountaineering. The one thing you may not have is the proper footwear. Proper footwear? Can’t you just wear the approach shoes you’ve used for alpine climbing in the past? Or maybe even those crampon-compatible boots you wore on your last mountaineering trip? Do “via ferrata boots” even exist? And if so, how do they differ from mountaineering boots? And most important of all: Are they even necessary?

Well, keep on reading and you’ll find out!

What’s the difference? What makes a boot a via ferrata boot?

Most via ferrata boots differ only in part from ordinary mountaineering boots and can be positioned somewhere between soft, lightweight approach shoes (which are more comfortable in the heat) and your normal walking boots. The lighter models are usually also suitable for some (easy) climbing, while the heavier ones work for (high-altitude) mountaineering as well. True, you can climb a lot of via ferratas in regular mountaineering boots, but it’s not recommended. If you do, make sure they’re easy and you don’t make a habit of it!

Via ferrata boots usually have a stiffer sole and a narrower upper than ‘normal’ hiking and trekking boots. These features make them more appropriate for climbing for long periods as opposed to walking long distances.

In other words, a good via ferrata boot is more of a generalist than a specialist. When climbing a via ferrata, not only do you cross bridges and climb up rock steps and ladders, but you also use normal hiking paths. And there are plenty of via ferratas that force you off trail or even into ice and snow. To be prepared for this kind of terrain, you should either have an extremely versatile shoe or even combine a flexible, lightweight pair of approach shoes with a stiffer, crampon-compatible mountaineering boot.

In general, a stiff boot that has a more rigid sole and puts your feet higher up off the ground allows for less precise foot placements. However, it does have the advantage of taking the strain off your muscles when you’re standing on small holds and bits of metal work. This is especially important for heavy-set individuals, as a softer shoe would make them expend much more energy. Simply put, the more direct rock contact there is, the softer the shoe should be. The more alpine the terrain, the stiffer (and more crampon-compatible) the shoe should be.

That being said, it’s always a good idea to keep the difficulty level of the via ferratas in mind before buying a pair of shoes. And, while doing so, ask yourself the following three questions: How long will the ascents/descents be? How long and challenging will both the via ferrata and the climbing sections be? How high will the route take you?

By answering these questions, you’ll know exactly what your via ferrata boot should be capable of:

What should your shoe be able to do?

Well, it should allow you to stand stably on brand-new or rusty pins and other bits of metal work (i.e. ladders, stemples, wire bridges, etc.) and withstand heavier loads – not once, not twice but hundreds of times on each and every adventure you go on. In other words, the shoes need to be extremely durable, especially when it comes to the stitching and glued portions of the shoe.

It’s important to remember that there’s the approach to get to the via ferrata as well as the descent, so the boots should not only be stable and sensitive but also provide a good amount of cushioning and allow for a good heel-to-toe transition. These are the absolute musts:

  1. A high collar that goes over the ankles to prevent you twisting your ankle in more technical terrain.
  2. The boot should fit snugly but still be as comfortable as possible. You need enough room in the toe box so that your toes don’t slam into the front on the boot on downhills. An easily adjustable lacing system is paramount as well. Boots with laces that extend down into the toe box are perfect.

Depending on both the terrain and the difficulty level of the via ferrata, you may need to consider other features as well. The selection of via ferrata footwear is pretty massive, ranging from all-round alpine boots to lighter, more comfortable approach shoes (which are “actually” intended for approaches to climbing routes).

Regardless of the shoe you choose, the most important thing is that it fits securely and offers enough traction at the front of the sole for precision on small footholds, ledges, etc. For these reasons, slightly narrower models are often your best bet. In general, recommendations for via ferrata boots usually hover around category B or B/C boots with a climbing zone at the front of the sole.

Now, let’s go into a bit more detail on the individual parts of the shoes.

The sole

The sole not only has to be torsionally rigid but suitable for climbing as well. It shouldn’t be too high or too thick to ensure that you still have enough ground feel. That being said, your only option is a either B boots with semi-rigid and mid-high soles or, at the very most, B/C mountaineering boots.

The outsole should not only provide enough traction on rock but also be grippy enough for approaches and descents in snow, damp meadows or steep terrain that is ridden with rocks and rock outcrops. I admit, it kind of seems like we’re asking for the moon, but fortunately for us, the sole of shoe can be divided into different zones, much like the human foot.

A sole that is divided up into different zones is one of the main features of good via ferrata boots. The front of the sole should be stiff enough for you to stand on small holds on those easy to intermediate via ferratas without expending a lot of energy.

The higher the grade of difficulty, the more flexibility you need at the forefoot, as flexibility is necessary for friction climbing. To achieve this seemingly impossible balancing act, boots have a small friction zone with no tread and a slight upward curve at the front of the sole. It’s usually just under the big toe (and perhaps at the inner ball of the foot).

Under the midfoot and heel, the sole should have deep lugs for grip on both the ground and the climbing aids. There should also be a pronounced depression – the so-called bridge between the ball of the foot and the heel to prevent you slipping on wet iron bars and ladders.

The upper

The main difference between via ferrata boots and trekking or walking boots is a slightly narrower toe box. It should only give you enough room to prevent any nasty toe jarring when you’re descending.

Other than that, the kind of upper you need depends on not only the terrain and difficulty of the route but how high up the via ferrata is. A relatively “airy” upper that allows for plenty of freedom of movement is good enough for those easy and fun via ferratas you’d find near valley towns. For high alpine via ferratas where lower temperatures and loose rock are no rarity, it’s always a good idea to opt for more protective footwear. These kinds of boots come equipped with a rubber rand that runs along the lower edge of the boot, which not only protects your foot but also increases the durability of the boot.

Ideally, the upper should be more adaptive and flexible than that of regular walking boots in order to allow for more variable foot placements. As surprising as it may seem, there are well-known brands out there, like Lowa or La Sportiva, that actually manage to create via ferrata boots that meet these seemingly contradictory demands.

As with mountaineering boots, the upper on a good via ferrata boot should be breathable and at least water-repellent. Of course, these properties are more important when it comes to mountaineering boots, since people tend to steer clear of via ferrata routes in unpredictable weather conditions. Those of you who prefer via ferrata day trips at lower altitudes could consider getting a pair of breathable via ferrata boots with a membrane-free mesh lining. However, for multi-days or high-alpine routes with snow fields, you’d have to go with a waterproof boot.

Textile or leather? Both!

You have the choice between leather and synthetic textile materials. Textile elements are less expensive because they are easier to make and manipulate, among other things, while leather is breathable and water resistant, even without a membrane, resulting in a more comfortable interior.

Oftentimes, the two are combined to take advantage of the specific properties of each material. Leather is ideal for the toe, heel and sole edges, as it is more dimensionally stable and abrasion-resistant, while textile is great for the tongue because of its softness, low weight and flexibility. Most of the via ferrata and approach shoes sold in Germany have an upper with a textile/leather combo and a membrane to top things off (usually Gore-Tex).

Lacing

A precise and easily adjustable lacing system is a must in order to get the fit you need in each and every situation. For this reason, good via ferrata boots have laces that extend down to the toe box. Other than that, the lacing system on via ferrata footwear is basically identical to that you’d find on “regular” mountaineering boots.

The combination of eyelets at the bottom and lacing hooks at the top usually allow for plenty of variability. Plus, there are usually deeper hooks on the medial and lateral sides of the boot that ensure a locked-down fit. Laces that allow you to tighten the shoe from top to bottom in one go are nice but not necessary.

Just for the via ferrata?

If you’re planning on venturing into high alpine terrain beyond the via ferrata itself, then you will need different via ferrata boots. If the via ferrata takes you through ice and snow or even up to high peaks with a glacier on the descent, you definitely need a pair of crampon-compatible boots. For this, a strap-on crampon will usually do the trick. You can always refer back to the B and B/C categories mentioned above for more info.

Keep in mind that approach shoes, which can be great for those shorter via ferratas that involve more climbing, may be too soft for strap-on crampons, so you might want to ask before purchasing.

What do the experts say?

As you’ve probably already noticed, it’s hard to say what via ferrata boots you should go for without always qualifying it with a “it depends”.

To make the decision a little easier, here’s what some independent testers from the German Alpin Magazine have to say:

People always say there’s no do-everything shoe, but a lot of brands today are coming really close. We were really impressed with the Scarpa Marmolada. It’s a very comfortable shoe that has good walking abilities, but comes into its own on the via ferrata, providing plenty grip and traction. The Garmont Vetta is a great option for via ferratists; light and grippy, but better suited for narrow feet. An all-rounder that we highly recommend.

For those who need more flexibility, the magazine recommends the models Adidas TX Scope High and Five Ten Guide Teen Mid. According to the testers, they are “soft and flexible and require more strength to stand on small holds but is significantly less stable. The shoe is great for somebody looking for exactly that, but it’s nothing for newbies.

Bergsteiger Magazine divides via ferrata boots into two weight classes:

  • lightweight models for difficult (fun) via ferratas that weigh approx. 1050 grams or more in a size 45 (10.5 UK).
  • heavy alpine models that weigh at least 1700 grams in a similar size.

You can also find some more info on our via ferrata packing list (in German only). If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Aramid/Kevlar: A Super Material for the Outdoors?

13. February 2019
Equipment

A lightweight, cut and puncture-resistant fabric that is used for bulletproof vests, heat-resistant uniforms or even aircraft construction. Yeah, at first glance, aramid, otherwise known by the brand name Kevlar, seems much more suitable for superhero costumes than for outdoor sports. But the properties of this very special fabric come in extremely useful in a variety of outdoor products, including gloves, trousers, helmets, backpacks and cordage. In other words, it’s definitely worth taking a closer look at aramid and how it can benefit us mountain and outdoor athletes.

What is aramid?

In a nutshell, aramid is a kind of polyamide and thus another one of the numerous hydrocarbon or petroleum-based polymers. On Wikipedia, the definition is a bit more precise, but more complex:

Aramid fibers are a class of heat-resistant and strong synthetic fibers. […] The name is a portmanteau of ‘aromatic polyamide’. The chain molecules in the fibers are highly oriented along the fiber axis. As a result, a higher proportion of the chemical bond contributes more to fiber strength than in many other synthetic fibers. Aramides have a very high melting point (>500 °C).

Why is it called an “aromatic polyamide”? Good question! This group of substances (at least in parts) actually releases intense (scented) aromas, which are often perceived as pleasant. As interesting as this may be, we’re much less interested in the smell than we are in the material’s functional properties.

But before we get to the most interesting and relevant ones, here is some more information on the development of the material: In the mid sixties, the American DuPont Group conducted quite a bit of research on the practical use of aramids. In the process, they developed the best-known kind of aramid Kevlar and made it ready for commercial use. Kevlar is presumably the only trade name you as an outdoor enthusiast have ever heard, seeing as this aramid fibre is often used in outdoor and mountaineering products. Actually, Kevlar is the only aramid fibre found in this area, which is why we’ll focus primarily on it and leave aramid products, like Nomex, Teijinconex, Twaron or Technora to fire fighters, soldiers and astronauts…

Production

The production of aramids is diverse and complex, to say the least. They are produced more often as fibres than as films. In the complex world of fibre science, a distinction is made between low-modulus and high-modulus fibres, the functional properties of which differ somewhat from one another.

High modulus fibres are spun from a liquid crytalline solution of poly-paraphenylene terephtahalamide in concentrated sulphuric acid. After the surface treatment, high-modules fibres are mechanically stretched to yield a highly oriented polymer. The “high degree of orientation” makes for a clean-looking pattern. The exact geometry is just as characteristic of aramid as the golden yellow colour, which brings us to the properties of aramid.

Properties

In their own description of their Kevlar product, DuPont emphasises that these fibres are “better, stronger and safer” in the great outdoors: “DuPont™ Kevlar® aramid fiber allows people to Dare Bigger. It’s used to make a variety of clothing, accessories, and equipment safe and cut resistant. It’s lightweight, durable and extraordinarily strong. Yes, it’s best known for its use in ballistic and stab-resistant body armor, as Kevlar® brand aramid fiber continues to evolve and allow heroes to be heroes. But it’s also on the ski slopes, the switchback trails, in demanding desert terrain, even the outer limits of space.

The wide range of applications is due to the fibre’s high (tensile) strength, high impact resistance, medium to low elongation, the good vibration-dampening properties and heat resistance. Instead of melting, the fibres begin to carbonise at about 400°C. Neither solvents, fuels, lubricants, salt water, fungi or bacteria can do much harm to aramid fibres. They are only sensitive to some strong acids and alkalis. In other words, aramid is very tough.

When it comes to compressive strength, however, aramid fabrics are more middle of the pack and fairly poor in terms of UV resistance and water absorption (up to 7%). UV radiation leads to the fibre losing up to 75% of its strength. However, this can be counteracted relatively easily by means of UV-absorbing coatings or laminates. In general, aramid can be easily combined with other fabrics, which means that its functionality can be optimised and expanded in many different ways.

Applications

The unique properties of aramid make it ideal for a wide range of applications, including construction and industry applications. The sports and outdoor industry love the material for its toughness, tensile strength and low weight. Aramid fibres are used for cords, paragliding lines, sails, bicycle tyres and more.

The Kevlar elements in textiles serve primarily as reinforcements that protect the body and increase the lifespan of garments. The Kevlar reinforcements are particularly popular in cycling, motorcycle and motorsports apparel as well as in high-wear areas of outdoor trousers and backpacks. Kevlar stitching is used in ski and via ferrata gloves as well.

Because the material is so tough, there is a certain amount of stiffness to it. This can definitely be a plus, but there are some downsides to it as well, especially in the outdoors. This is illustrated by the example of the relatively new Kevlar cords, which are also available as sewn cord slings in various sizes. The core is made of aramid, while the sheath is made of polyamide, as is the case with “normal” cords and ropes. The aramid core is brownish in colour, so it’s easy to distinguish from the conventional, dazzling white polyethylene core of your usual cord, rope and webbing material.

The 5/2014 issue of the German-language DAV Panorama magazine highlighted the high strength and high cut resistance of the material as some of the main advantages. Plus, the material is not only very abrasion and heat resistant, but it also boasts a tensile strength far greater than that of polyamide cords. Kevlar cords also offer a much higher breaking strength than conventional accessory cords with the same diameter.

As a disadvantage, Panorama magazine points to the greater amount of sheath slip shown by Kevlar cords when compared to pure polyamide. They also point out that the quasi-static material is not to be used in dynamic belays for leaders.

Because of its lack of elasticity (more precisely: low elongation to break), Kevlar is not suitable for dynamic ropes. But, the material’s stiffness really comes in useful for rock tunnels or rappelling off an Abalakov set up.

Conclusion

When it comes to strength, durability, longevity and safety, there’s hardly a material better than Aramid/Kevlar. Its properties can be extremely useful in certain outdoor situations but less so in others. It doesn’t have as many applications in the outdoor industry as it has in cycling and motorsports, occupational health and safety and other areas, but it’s still quite useful!

What is skyrunning?

6. February 2019
Tips and Tricks

It’s six o’clock in the morning in Val Masino, the Italian bit of the Bernina Range, or more precisely, in the southern Bergell mountains. It’s freezing cold as a group of crazies eagerly await the start of “Trofeo Kima”. Among them is one of the absolute legends of the sport, the Spaniard Kilian Jornet. But today we’re not planning on climbing the Piz Badile or one of the valley’s many famous boulders, as you might expect.

Today, we have set out to tackle the “Sentiero Roma”, a high-alpine mountain path with seven spectacular passes as high as 3000 metres. And, this route hardly ever takes you onto a hiking trail. For the most part, the terrain consists of moraine, snowfields and exposed crests as well as challenging climbing sections with fixed ropes and chains for safety. But, you have to keep in mind that we only have a maximum of eleven hours for the 50 kilometres and 4200 metres of gain and loss – a distance a hiker would need five days for. Welcome to skyrunning!

Even though the name seems to suggest otherwise, skyrunning doesn’t refer to running on the clouds, but rather to a more technically challenging, alpine form of trail running. But what is the difference between skyrunning and running on hiking trails? When do you become a sky runner?

From the shepherd to the modern athlete: the history of skyrunning

Moving fast through the mountains is really nothing new. While the motives in the past had more to with the herding of animals on a mountain pasture, harvesting hay or smuggling goods, today it’s much more about enjoying recreational activities in the mountains.

It will come as no surprise that the concept of running up and down mountains for the fun of it was unimaginable for previous generations. After all, the conditions can be pretty harsh in the mountains, to say the least. But that doesn’t mean people didn’t traverse the treacherous terrain of the mountains. As one of the pioneers of sport, the Italian Bruno Brunod from the Aosta Valley, aptly put it: “My ancestors were skyrunners. My grandfather crossed the mountains to get to work. We may be doing it a little faster today, but it’s basically the same as it always has been. Skyrunners have always existed”.

Races in the mountains aren’t new, either. The famous Ben Nevis Race in Scotland has been going strong since 1895. And, as early as the 90s, “races” were being held on Mont Blanc and the Monte Rosa massif in the Alps.

The inventor of modern skyrunning, Italian mountaineer Marino Giacometti founded the International Skyrunning Federation in 1995. The federation is the governing authority of skyrunning and organises the official skyrunning events, all of which must meet course requirements.

A skyrunning course must be in alpine terrain above 2000 metres, with climbing difficulty not exceeding II° grade (according to the UIAA scale), and must include steep sections of at least 30%. There might be glaciers and snow fields to contend with as well. In other words, skyrunning has distinctive features that clearly distinguish it from both mountain running and modern ultra running. In fact, many of the sport’s most successful athletes have a background in mountain sports rather than classic road running.

Skyrunning disciplines: steep, fast and long

There are now more than two hundred official Skyraces worldwide, all of which can be divided into three very different disciplines:

“Vertical”

As you’ve probably already gathered from the name, “VERTICAL” races take you up. This variant is the most similar to traditional mountain running with key differences being that Vertical races must have a maximum length of five kilometres and vertical climb of 1000 metres (hence the name “Vertical Kilometer”).

The steepest is the “km vertical de Fully” in France, which is only 2 kilometres long and has 1000m of vertical for you to climb. The fastest athletes can master this ultra-steep route in just over 30 minutes.

“Sky”

The most variable of the skyrunning disciplines is known as “SKY”. Skyraces range from 20 to 49 kilometres in length and must include a minimum gain of 1300 metres. Of course, the skyrunners don’t just run up, they’ve got to run back down as well, so you can imagine their quads are really beat up by the time they reach the finish.

Courses like the “Limone Extreme Skyrace” at Lake Garda boast several metres of gain and impressive views. The great thing about this race is that it’s not just geared toward professional skyrunners, it’s a great option for skyrunning newbies as well, thanks to the generous cut-off times.

“Ultra”

The longest Skyraces are known as “ULTRA”. These races can be anywhere from 50 to 99 kilometres and have a lot in common with ultra trail races, which are very popular among trail runners. However, like the other races, ULTRA races have to meet certain requirements too: Not only do they have to have a minimum of 3200 metres of gain, but the allotted time must not exceed 16 hours.

Some of these races, such as the Tromso Skyrace in Norway, the Glen Coe Skyline in Scotland and the Trofeo Kima in Italy, also feature challenging stretches of via ferrata, exposed ridges and moderate rock climbing terrain. For these and similar races, you not only have to be an endurance runner, but also have to have the ability to master stretches of terrain with II° grade of difficulty and A/B via ferrata in trail running shoes.

Training for your first Skyrace

What do you think? Wanna give skyrunning a go? You should!

But, before you sign up for a race, you’ve got to make sure you have enough experience in trail running and more specifically in running on single track alpine terrain. There is nothing better than regularly going up to the mountains and running and conquering those technical routes. It doesn’t have to be the north face of the Eiger, but it’s absolutely imperative for you to get used to moving through technical mountain terrain, since Skyraces usually take place on rocky and often treacherous terrain.

To train for the long ascents and descents, you could do a fast hike in the mountains, combining speed hiking on the uphills with trail running on the downhills. Even the pros “hike” at a fast pace with their hands on their thighs when things get really steep.

You don’t live in the mountains? When you’re not on holiday in the mountains, you can also run up and down the hill behind your house. Or, if all else fails, you can always run the stairs in a multi-storey car park.

In terms of kit, some races allow you to use running or walking poles, which can help you conserve energy and strength, whilst simultaneously providing some extra stability in steep terrain. When it comes to shoes, you should definitely choose a trail running shoe with a grippy outsole that won’t let you down when things get wet. Remember: Your first race doesn’t have to be the most technical route with crazy, exposed ridges and difficult climbs, but after that the sky is the limit!

Or so it seemed…

30. January 2019
Alpinetrek-Experts

“Hey, there’s a film competition about adventurous women. That sounds like it’d be right up your street.”

This or something to this effect was a message I got from a friend on Facebook. I just shook my head. What does this have to do with me? At the time, not only had I only been climbing for a short time, but I had absolutely no idea how to go about making movies. What a crazy idea, I thought, and completely forgot about it.

A year later, the same competition, a similar message. This time, though, things were different. Not only had I become much more familiar with the climbing community and come up with a good idea for a film, but I had even formed a friendship with the brilliant filmmaker Leon Buchholz.

The film competition I’m referring to is called “Women in Adventure”. It has been hosted every year for the last five years by the BMC, and the reasons for participating are manifold:

  • The winning film will be shown at several outdoor film festivals.
  • The number of women in outdoor films (whether in front of or behind the camera) should be promoted.
  • Motivate other women to go outside.
  • And there’s even some prize money.

What more could you want? Pursuing a hobby, filming something and maybe even inspiring a few other people with your passion… Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Or so it seemed.

After deciding to give it a go, I started to make some plans. If you haven’t climbed a 6000+ metre mountain or climbed at advanced grades, what are you supposed to talk about in a film about climbing? After some brainstorming, it dawned on me that I could talk about something that I had been dealing with at the time: the fear of falling.

Could I use that for the film? I mean, it’s something every climber deals with. Some may never admit it or overcome it quickly, true, but there are still plenty of us who haven’t beat it – yet. It’s often women who raise the issue, and it’s not at all uncommon for those women to feel ashamed as a result. I’ve seen it myself. With all that in mind, it’s the perfect subject for a film. Or so it seemed.

A film is made…

As is often the case when you do something you’ve never done before, we put the cart before the horse and got started.

With a rough idea in mind and not much else, off we went to the crag to film. After a lot of falls (and almost just as many near-heart attacks), we managed to put together quite a few good takes. Then, I took off to start writing the voice over script.

Because of scheduling problems, everything was put on ice for a while. In the meantime, I just kept on climbing, thinking about what to write and worrying that the whole thing would just end up being way too depressing. I mean, who likes watching someone be scared for ten minutes, anyway?

But it all turned out differently, as you can see for yourself in the final film:

15 minutes of fame

Everything was an absolute success: Leon’s magic transformed the beautiful days outdoors into an even more beautiful film. My employer, Alpinetrek, was thrilled as well and even promised to give us some monetary support.

Three days after the release of the film, I had already had 11,000 viewers. We received positive feedback everywhere we shared it. It seemed like nobody could stop us. Of all the films that were submitted, ours was by far the one with the most views.

As you can imagine, we didn’t want to miss the screening and award ceremony in Sheffield. So, we booked our flight, headed to Sheffield and even ended up winning the prize for the most watched film – and getting a barrage of compliments in the process. Everything was so perfect. Or so it seemed.

Reality sets in

When I was writing the script for the film, I was extremely motivated. My goal was not only to inspire as much as possible, but also to show women in particular that it is completely normal to be afraid and nothing to be ashamed of. And, I was really looking forward to seeing inspirational films with large audiences and sharing outdoor experiences with other women and even interested men. You know, breaking down barriers, at least a little. Unfortunately, though, those dreams never became a reality. In fact, most of my hopes were completely shattered.

Where to begin. Well, for a start, you would think that the screening would take place in a cinema, especially since there was an address for a cinema on the tickets for the film festival. But no, that’s not where the screening was. Nope, the screening took place in a foyer upstairs.

You could even hear the bass from the music playing in the showroom below. Another oddity: In front of an audience of about forty people (most of them female), there were five women who, instead of commenting on the films shown at the festival, chose to talk about all sorts of other outdoor films and topics. To top things off, the microphones didn’t work, so, as you can imagine, the moderator’s attempts to guide the discussion were doomed to failure from the very beginning.

The “screen” turned out to be a television screen – connected to a laptop. Because of the background noise and the terrible sound, it was very hard to pay attention.

Three films ended up winning, all of which had one thing in common: They were very artistic and used the “outdoor” theme more as a canvas than as motivation to go outside (obviously, this is my subjective opinion).

Other films were submitted to the competition as well (you could watch them all online) and praised several times, but they were not shown at the festival itself.

On the bright side, there was one really nice bit: Afterwards, we all stood together in groups and discussed everything I had hoped for… the only downside was that there was a man behind us stacking the chairs and asking us to get our things out of the way. Not really my idea of comfort.

I know, all this makes me sound like a bad loser. I admit, I was a bit disappointed that our film failed to get the attention we had expected, especially considering how well it was received by the internet viewers. The greater disappointment, though, was something different entirely.

A bad aftertaste

I must admit, I was quite confused and stunned when I left. I really began to wonder what the point of the film festival was.

Events like this are everywhere: They’re supposed to promote women in some area or another or give them a “safe place” where they can develop independently, free from (supposed) male dominance.

This is no different when it comes to the outdoors. There are climbing groups, courses and competitions – all organised for women only.

I have never really known exactly where I stand on this issue and had great hopes for the festival. I had assumed that the festival would have a different message, something along the lines of: “Look, we don’t have to hide. We’re just as crazy about the outdoors as any man is and just as good.”

But why did it feel like a half-hearted event, struggling to justify its existence? What good is it to make a big ado about something when hardly anyone sees it?

Instead of bringing itself to the fore, the film festival has literally pushed itself into a corner. I mean, it took place in a foyer for Pete’s sake. My male friends couldn’t help but shake their heads over the topics and the atmosphere at the festival, and quite frankly, I don’t blame them.

Instead of bringing the genders closer together, it felt like they put up one barrier after the other: Men were excluded instead of invited, not physically, but in the selection of topics.

Sadly, one of the participants demonstrated this point perfectly: Whilst chatting with me afterwards, she handed me a flyer for her podcast about outdoor women. When my friend looked at her in the hopes of receiving a flyer as well, she said simply “for women only”. What does she think would happen if he listened to it? Would the podcast crash all of the sudden?

What’s left…

In my opinion, this event demonstrated once again just where communication between the sexes in climbing, outdoors and in many other areas of life is lacking: Instead of building bridges and celebrating the community, women seclude themselves in an attempt to feel “more understood”.

In the short term, this could help to motivate and get “us” out of the corner some feel we’re in (I don’t feel that way). But, in the long run, I think this plan is doomed to fail. What’s the point of talking to people who already have the same opinion as you, anyway? Why don’t we have a conversation instead?

At a competition I recently took part in for the fun of it, the organiser – a well-known sports brand – told me that they were planning the same competition later in the year for women only. They did it last year and it seemed to be very well received – they even had hair and nail stylists there.

On the one hand, I think: “Wow cool, a girl’s day.” On the other hand, I wonder: Why don’t they just do it all at once? They don’t do it for men, so why do it for us?

Maybe I have a distorted view on this issue. Most of my climbing partners are men, and I’ve never found that strange. If someone comes on to me or says something I don’t like, I give them a verbal slap in the face and cross them off my list of partners. When I literally have to trust someone with my life, it’s imperative that I like them, but gender has no place in the matter.

So I’m pleading here: Ladies, go outside and tell the men how you feel when you’re climbing. If somebody rubs you the wrong way, write them off and stand your ground. Change can only be achieved through perseverance and we have to show it here. Climbing is one of those wonderful sports where it doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman. Everyone struggles with their own problems and has to overcome them on their own. Anyone can support you in the process.

Only together can we truly show what a wonderful sport this is and tackle the adventures that await us. It’s not that hard.

Or so it seems.

What to do about ticks?

12. December 2018
Tips and Tricks

In the words of Sun Tzu, it’s always wise to “know thy enemy”. And these little blood-sucking, bacteria and disease-carrying monsters we call ticks are public enemy number one in the eyes of many outdoor enthusiasts.

Since we can neither ignore them nor get rid of them, we should instead put ourselves in their disgusting little shoes and view the world from their point of view. A heart for ticks, huh? Well, we wouldn’t want to go that far. We just want to know more about who the beasts are so that we can better understand why they like to pester us as much as they do. In a perfect world, maybe, just maybe, we could even distract them in some way, shape or form so that we’re not as interesting to them.

What are ticks?

What the tiny, eight-legged arachnids look like is no mystery. Neither is the fact that they are extremely tough and resilient. Ticks can easily reach an age of 9 years, some even 20! They seem virtually indestructible, just like their similarly disgusting and despised colleagues, the cockroaches.

With approximately 900 different species, the tick is an arachnid and constitutes the subclass Acari, along with mites. The blood of animals and humans is their favourite food… Fortunately, the little droplet of blood we lose isn’t really a big deal in the grand scheme of things and the bite itself is hardly noticeable. But, we still fear ticks about as much as we fear scorpions and snakes. We will go into detail on this a little later, but first let’s have a look at their behaviour, range and habitat.

Behaviour

It is often said that ticks drop from trees and land on their victims. But that’s not true. Fortunately for us, such purposeful tick base jumps are very rare, if they happen at all. Ticks actually prefer to wait on blades of grass, in plants and hedges at a height of up to 1.5 metres. Then, when we brush past, the tick clings to us.

Most tick species, like the widespread castor bean tick, are passive watchers and hardly ever move of their own volition. Only certain types, like the brown dog tick, actively search for a host, moving approximately 5-8m per hour.

Ticks are aided in their search for food by their ability to detect vibrations, changes in light and substances that a potential victim emits, breathes and sweats out. They often crawl around on the skin of humans or animals for up to several hours at a time until they have found a warm, moist feeding spot with a good supply of blood. In humans, ticks seem to prefer the back of the knee, armpits, neckline, groin area, navel or the thin skin behind the ears.

When the tick bites, it releases saliva into the wound to inhibit blood clotting and the pain felt by the animal or human being. Thus, the victim often notices nothing at all. As silent as the dead, the tick then lingers there until it has basically gorged itself with the host’s blood and grown multiple times its normal size. Then, it lets itself just fall off the body of the host. The whole thing seems pretty grotesque and excessive by human standards, doesn’t it? Well, the tick is more of an occasional drinker and not a full-on drunk. Only three times in its life does the tick need to refill: in its developmental stages as larva (here the tick is most dangerous because it is very small and extremely hard to see), as a nymph and as a full-grown tick. Some tick species can even survive up to 5 years without a “meal”!

Range and habitat

Ticks are – unfortunately – distributed all over the world. In Germany (especially in southern Germany’s damp forests and meadows) there are very favourable conditions.

Tick season in Germany is from March to October, but if the winter is mild it can go even longer. And, in extreme cases, tick season may last all year. Many tick species can also survive frost for several days without being harmed.

Why are ticks dangerous?

It’s no big secret: The danger of the tick lies in the diseases it transmits. Among all parasitic animal groups, ticks are among the most important vectors of pathogens. Relatively large numbers of people are regularly infected with various diseases as a result of tick bites.

The tick’s saliva can transmit bacteria, viruses and other pathogens into the human blood and, in rare cases, even trigger allergic reactions. If you squeeze the tick when trying to pull it out, the even less appetizing vomit from the digestive tract of the tick can get into your blood as well. Yuck.

On that note, let’s move on to some information about possible diseases and preventive measures. Because medical topics are complex, tricky and sometimes contain far less reliable knowledge than it appears at first glance, we’d just like to start by saying that we cannot guarantee the accuracy of all information provided here.

What diseases can be transmitted by ticks?

The diseases most commonly transmitted to humans are tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) and Lyme disease. There are also a number of other possible diseases. You can find out more by clicking on this link (in German only).

TBE

The dreaded viral disease initially causes flu-like symptoms before triggering swelling of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms are headaches, dizziness and later paralysis, which can become life-threatening. There is no conventional medical intervention to treat TBE, but there is a vaccine. Fortunately, the probability of infection is relatively low:

Even in TBE-prone areas, according to the Robert Koch Institute, only up to an average of 3.4 percent of all ticks carry the virus.

But, that doesn’t mean that three out of every hundred tick bites will lead to infection, because not every infected tick transmits the disease to humans.

Lyme disease

This similarly feared “multi-systemic infectious disease” is caused by the bacterial species borrelia. Because several of the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease are often found in other conditions, diagnosis can be difficult, to say the least.

Apparently, the disease hasn’t been around for that long and there’s even a conspiracy theory surrounding its mysterious origins. The first cases were observed in 1975 near the town of Lyme, Connecticut, USA, so that’s why the disease is also known as Lyme borreliosis or Lyme disease.

In contrast to TBE, there are neither typical high-risk areas nor vaccinations for Lyme disease, but there are better treatment options. Lyme disease pathogens are more widespread: in tick strongholds such as the German states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, more than 50% of ticks are said to be infected. Fortunately, this doesn’t mean that every infected tick transmits the disease. According to studies, “only” 5% of people bitten by ticks actually have a Lyme disease infection. But, this still amounts to a lot of cases in Germany (depending on the source, about 60,000 to 160,000 people). When reading numbers like this, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a high number of unreported cases as well because, as already mentioned, many symptoms are not classified as infections from ticks.

Symptoms, severity and course of the disease do not follow a particular pattern, but are different in each person. Frequently, people have flu-like symptoms in the beginning, such as dizziness, joint and muscle pain and/or gastrointestinal problems. As the infection progresses, almost anything can happen, including everything from heart problems to changes in personality.

In the acute stage, similar to TBE, paralysis might even occur, among other things. These symptoms can sometimes lead to physicians misdiagnosing the disease as polio, which is considered incurable, thus rendering the case hopeless.

Migrating redness: The red ring

The following statement is something we hear and read quite often: A red ring or circle around a tick bite is an early symptom of Lyme disease. So, does that mean that if you don’t see a ring, you’re in the clear? That’d be nice, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, there are also cases where no such redness is observed in the early stages of the disease. In other words, no redness is definitely a good sign, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in the clear.

Countermeasures: Prevention

Here’s some good news: You can do something against the disease-causing arachnids, and if scaring them off doesn’t work, you can defend yourself. Even though there are some tips for pets too, we’re going to focus on our fellow human outdoor enthusiasts.

Our motto for prevention is “become unattractive“. We don’t want those bloodsuckers even thinking about coming after us.

Behaviour

When reading about how to avoid ticks, experts often recommend avoiding high grass and bushes. While this is indeed good advice, you may as well say all outdoor enthusiasts should just stay home. It is much more realistic to recommend we remain vigilant in potentially tick-ridden areas and regularly check ourselves for ticks. And, it is best to do so during your trip, not afterwards, because the sooner these nasty bloodsuckers are found, the better.

Clothing

The simplest thing you can do to reduce the risk of ticks clinging to your skin is to wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers and seal yourself up from head to toe. Light-coloured clothing is great as well because it makes ticks easier to find.

This sounds much easier in theory than it is in practice, because to keep ticks out, you basically have to seal yourself up like an astronaut . Why? Well, when they’re looking for a meal, ticks manage to find even the smallest cracks and the tiniest holes. But, in all honesty, who in their right might would want to wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers with socks pulled over the trouser legs in the middle of summer? Not I! Be that as it may, if the weather is right, it’s definitely a good idea to keep your skin covered up as much as possible. On his website trekkingguide.de, the professional outdoorsmen Andreas Happpe recommends some clothes that protect against ticks (German only).

Always good: be as healthy as possible

A generally good state of health may also be an effective form of tick prevention. A nurse once told me that healthy people are supposedly less attractive to ticks. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s consistent with my own experience. Granted, this little piece of advice is purely speculative, but you can never go wrong with trying to stay healthy, right?

Chemicals

There is a large selection of repellents and sprays designed to provide protection from ticks. However, only a small handful of them appear to be truly reliable. Plus, you have to reapply the products every 1-3 hours. When you think about how much you’d end up applying over the course of a day, it’s probably best not to picture all the stuff that gets into the blood through the skin… It’s no wonder they recommend washing the stuff off as soon as you get home. But, as long as you don’t use the stuff too often and only on smaller, exposed areas of the skin, it’s not a big deal. After all, having some chemicals in your blood is probably better than TBE or Lyme disease, wouldn’t you think?

Vaccination: only for TBE

Should you get vaccinated to eliminate the potential horrors of being infected with an untreatable disease called TBE? Personally, I think that this is only worth considering if you’re a real tick magnet and frequently travel through woods and meadows.

Natural remedies: black cumin oil and coconut oil

A Bavarian high school student called Alexander Betz recently discovered that black cumin oil could be used as a tick repellent. He had mixed the oil into his dog’s food to improve his allergies, but soon noticed the dog no longer had any ticks. Betz then looked into it and found that it was indeed the oil that had repelled the ticks. In 2014, he even received a prize for the experiment from “Jugend forscht” (Youth research).

Another quite effective anti-tick home remedy is natural coconut oil. One of the fatty acids it contains, lauric acid, has a strong repellent effect against ticks. This effect was also only recently “discovered”:

Employees at the FU Berlin (Hilker, Kahl and Dautel) recently discovered the repellent effect of lauric acid on ticks. In laboratory tests, they proved that between 81 and 100% of the ticks in the experiment basically ran for the hills due to a solution containing 10% lauric acid. When the solution was applied to the skin of the subjects, as much as 88% of the ticks were repelled. (…)This remained effective for six hours. Lauric acid is thus effective for a significantly longer time than other substances.

The effect of the oils are supposed to be better, the more natural, i.e. the more “organic” they are. Of course, you can never expect to be 100% protected from using gentle home remedies. On the plus side, though, they do have positive, nourishing “side effects” in addition to their tick repellence. The biggest “disadvantage” to these remedies, though, is that they are not exactly cheap, especially if you use them religiously. Of course, you could say the same about chemical repellents, which don’t work perfectly either.

There are many other alternative methods, but their effectiveness is debatable.

Got bitten anyway: Defensive countermeasures

If you’ve got one or more ticks, despite all your precautions, you have to get them out as soon as possible. You can do this with your fingers or fingernails only at the very beginning when the tick has just scratched the surface. Otherwise, you will usually find that it is difficult or impossible to get them all them all the way out. But, even in the early stages of the bite, it is better to use the appropriate tools. Otherwise, you might accidentally squeeze the tick with your fingers, and this could lead to it emptying its stomach contents and pathogens into the wound. And, we don’t want that. For the same reason, neither burning nor drizzling oil on it is recommended, either.

Instead, you should carefully pull the tick out with tweezers or even better using a special tick remover until it lets go. The fine-tipped tool grabs hold of the tick as close as possible to the skin of the victim. There are various tick removers, including tick hooks, tick tweezers, tick loops, whole tick multisets and even electric tongs with lethal electric shocks for the ticks.

If you want to be absolutely certain that the tick is not infected, keep the tick you removed and have it tested for pathogens in a lab. Note down the time and place and, if possible, disinfect the feeding spot. Bagging and taking the corpus delicti with you is also recommended for insurance purposes.

Infected or not?

Using simple test sets, which you can buy for as little as 10€, you can also test ticks for Lyme diesease from your home. As a layperson. This may sound convenient, but it’s not very reliable. If you want to be on the safe side, you better fork out the extra money and pay approximately 30€ for a laboratory test. There is no do-it-yourself quick test for TBE, but there are laboratory tests, which are not much more expensive than those for Lyme disease.

If you notice early signs of the disease or are experiencing constant discomfort, you should not play around with tests – seek medical attention immediately. As general rule, if you have unusual symptoms, it’s always a good idea to remain open to the possibility that you were bitten by a tick, even if didn’t notice or can’t remember.

As with so many conditions, the more you look into tick-caused diseases, the more complex and “blurred” the situation becomes. A little reading is not enough to really judge the (in)effectiveness of prevention and treatment methods.

Antibiotics

The best way to illustrate the problem is antibiotics: Many media reports continue to present antibiotics as a safe and fast cure for Lyme disease. However, more and more physicians are beginning to point out that there is often a rather unfavourable ratio of desired effects to side effects. In fact, when it comes to Lyme disease, especially in advanced stages, antibiotics tend to weaken the immune system instead of the disease. Thus, it’s better not to rely on antibiotics doing the trick if you haven’t taken prevention and defence seriously. The best of tick repellent of all is and remains your own vigilance!

 

First-aid kit essentials for your backpack

28. November 2018
Tips and Tricks

Do we really need to do a deep dive into this topic? I mean, all you really need is one of the many ready-made, nicely packed first-aid kits and you’re good to go, right? Well, what if there’s a real emergency? Hmm… good question. Well, the kits come with instructions, so I can just skim over those! Besides, emergencies are more hypothetical… something bad will never happen to me. Sounds familiar?

“I’ve got this all under control. Besides, I’m careful.”

As a very young outdoor enthusiast, these were my thoughts exactly (if I thought about it at all). In my opinion, first-aid kits were always optional. But my tune definitely changed when I experienced four emergency situations within just a few years where a first-aid kit was used – once even on myself. After that, I was pretty much convinced of the importance of having a first-aid kit.

I also learned that it’s always better to have too much rather than too little with you. It was my own experience that had taught me this very important lesson. When I got hurt, a paramedic, who just happened to be nearby, stuffed several rolls of bandages in a wound in my shin to stop the bleeding before wrapping the whole thing up in another bandage and (unfortunately for me) pressing on it. If it wasn’t for the paramedic and his creative use of the extra wound dressings, the wound surely would’ve become infected within an hour and a half, if untreated. I’ll tell you one thing: the few grams of additional weight for extra dressings are definitely worth it!

I also learned another lesson: you should NEVER rely on your mobile phone to get fast or even immediate assistance – not even in the German Alps. Even today, in the world of smartphones, there are plenty of places in the mountains and elsewhere in the great outdoors where there is no reception.

If someone is injured where there is no service and that individual is alone and unable to move, the only option is to send an Alpine distress signal. This consists of six acoustic and/or optical distress signals per minute. The six signals are generated for one minute, followed by a one-minute pause, which is then followed by another six signals for a duration of one minute. The reply is given with three successive signals per minute.

Flares could be useful in such a situation as well, even in alpine areas that are not remote or lonely. Why? Because even the more frequented massifs have routes that are tough to find and have areas that are well hidden and out of sight. In the event of an accident, the loud flare can be the decisive factor in rescuers finding you.

When is a first-aid kit mandatory?

Now, I even have a first-aid kit in my pack on easy hikes and for trips to the climbing garden – it’s basically a permanent fixture in the lid pocket of my pack.

Speaking of climbing: Surprisingly, not having a first-aid kit when sport climbing seems to be the norm, even though the risk of injury is by no means less than it is while hill walking or during alpine adventures. This may be due to the fact that a lot of people rely on others having a kit with them in case of an emergency.

But, if we’re being honest here and you really wanted to be on the safe side, you’d also carry one with you when cycling through the city. True, that may be a bit over the top, but it’s really up to you. If you want to have a first-aid kit on you at all times, even for your “smaller” adventures, more power to you!

After all, I couldn’t think of a valid argument against taking one along, not even an argument that pertains to weight. Most items in a first-aid kit weigh so little that most people would hardly notice the difference anyway.

If you’re embarking on “proper” mountaineering and climbing adventures that span one or multiple days, taking a first-aid kit is essential. No first-aid kit = negligent and stupid. Now, let’s have a closer look at the contents of first-aid kits.

The contents of your first-aid kit

Most of the things listed below are already included in the smaller basic sets. The somewhat larger sets, on the other hand, often contain a lot of additional material for treating wounds that you may not need for less ambitious adventures. Still, other things (especially medication) will have to be increased.

That being said, it is usually advisable to customise the set according to your personal needs and add the finishing touches with some purchases from the chemist’s or drugstore. Some items are also available in the Alpinetrek shop – in addition to several first-aid kits for different needs and travel types.

There is a simple rule for determining the scope of your kit: The longer, more remote and risky/dangerous the journey is, the more extensive your first-aid kit should be. The exact contents depend heavily on your destination. In the following list, we’re referring to equipment needed for hill walking, hiking and alpine walking. If you’re planning adventures in far-away jungles, deserts and other exotic destinations, you’ll require a different set of items. The same applies to family outings where you probably wouldn’t expect large wounds, but things more along the lines of allergic reactions or minor burns.

The following is a list of our must-haves for your first-aid kit:

  • Scissors: It should be sharp but not pointy, because you may have to act fast. If you wish, you can use the scissors on a pocket knife or nail scissors as well. But, keep in mind that they are not sterile.
  • Tweezers: Tweezers are great for removing splinters, among other things. When walking through forest, bushes and undergrowth, you should also take a tick removal tool with you.
  • Emergency blanket: To shield yourself from the cold or UV radiation while waiting for rescue.
  • Emergency whistle: For the alpine distress signal.
  • Assortment of plasters (quick wound dressing): These should be sorted and packed in at least two different sizes.
  • Moleskins for blister treatment and prevention: For shorter trips, 2-3 should be plenty. For longer trips, add 2-3 more.
  • Sterile wound dressings/compresses: For shorter trips, 2-3 wound dressings should be sufficient to take care of larger wounds/injuries. For more ambitious adventures, you should pack 2-3 more.
  • Tape: 1 roll of tape is perfect! Tape is indispensable! Why? Well, you can even use it to make emergency repairs to outdoor equipment.

  • Field dressings: For less ambitious trips, you should have 1 large and 1 small field dressing (consisting of a pad of dressing with a bandage attached to the dressing pad). For longer trips, 2 additional elastic bandage rolls (self-adhesive, if possible, for easy application and to provide better support for sprained ankles, for example) should be placed in the first-aid kit as well.
  • Triangular bandage: For your easy outings, 1 triangular bandage will be sufficient to stabilise joints and bones in the event of a fracture. For longer trips, you’ll want to include an additional dressing measuring 40 x 60 cm for injuries covering a larger area.
  • Disposable gloves: And/or 2-3 wipes.
  • Wound disinfectant: (For example: hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol or iodine)
  • Coolant: (Voltaren, Biofreeze, and similar products)
  • Painkillers: (paracetamol, ibuprofen (also works for high-altitude headaches))

Extras for big adventures in remote areas:

  • Skin closure/Wound closure strips: For closing small wounds that must be treated without a needle and thread. If the wound is larger, the tissue will roll upwards at the edges of the wound to prevent blood loss, so the strips can only hold the skin together, if at all, immediately following an injury.
  • SAM splint: For immobilising bone injuries. We recommend a soft aluminium splint because it can be bent in almost every direction.
  • Thermometer: This should be very durable so that it doesn’t break along the way.
  • Charcoal tablets: Will come in useful when… you know… Montezuma’s revenge. And that can happen faster than you think when you’re eating foreign foods.
  • Water purifier: Helps you avoid the previous problem. The tablets or drops also fit nicely into a first-aid kit.

For week-long treks or expeditions, Bergsteiger-Magazin (a German magazin) recommends using additional pockets as a variable storage option. There you can store “various medications, hydration powders, wound cleansers (Care Plus), etc...”

Optional/special requirements:

  • Burn and wound ointment
  • Medication to combat altitude sickness
  • Your personal medication, such as antihistamines for allergies

At first glance, the list may seem like too much to handle, but I assure you, once you get it all packed up, it shouldn’t weigh any more than 500 grams. And for comparison: the largest sets designed for several injured people, which include things such as a respiratory mask, lip balm and blood lancets, weigh around 850 grams.

First-aid kits for larger groups

The essentials just described are generally sufficient for smaller groups of up to 4 people. Even though an accident often “only” happens to one member of a group, you never know. Several members could get hit by rock fall or the entire rope team could fall, injuring multiple people at once.

In most cases, the first-aid kit will still be in reach, even if the person carrying it is a victim as well. Of course, it’d be too risky to depend on it being reachable, though. That’s why we recommend the following for groups: the more first-aid kits, the better. And don’t just have one person carry one massive kit. Have several people carrying smaller sets.

Last but not least: The first-aid bag

In addition to the contents, you should also think about the bag your first-aid essentials are in. The downside to small sets is that the contents are often “stuffed” into a bag that you’re forced to rummage through in the event of an emergency. Fortunately, most outdoor first-aid bags have been designed very carefully with the outdoors in mind. They are made of robust nylon and open like a mini suitcase thanks to the circumferential zip. The best bags can be opened several times, have transparent inner pockets and compartments and are well organised. Many sets can also be attached to the outside of your backpack or harness, making them easy to see and access.

Conclusion

We hope this little overview has demonstrated just how essential a first-aid kit is for outdoor adventures. Before you head out without it because of weight or whatever, consider ditching some other outdoor gadget instead. You may have the “burden” of a few extra grams on your back, but you can venture the outdoors with confidence, knowing that you have the wherewithal to act in the event of an emergency. Still, we hope that you’ll never need the first-aid kit for any serious injuries!

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Tips for Great Outdoor Photos

14. November 2018
Tips and Tricks

You have spent several days flying, driving, travelling by train or perhaps even using a combination of all of the above to reach your desired destination. Then, the approach turned out to be more of a challenge than you had expected, so you’re exhausted but so mesmerised by the landscape that you absolutely have to take a picture. After all, this is what you’ve always dreamed of, and there it is, right before your very eyes: the mountain, the one your climbing mates have told you about a hundred times and the one you were boasting about at the climbing wall not too long ago.

It goes without saying that you’d like to capture this moment in all its glory with your smartphone or fancy digital camera. So you do. But, once you get home and look at the pictures on your computer, you realise that not only does the magic of the place not come across in the photos, but you have absolutely nothing to show for your efforts and your unforgettable trip! A tragedy for anybody who is remotely interested in photography! Fortunately, we’ve got a solution. If you’d like to prevent this happening the next time you head to the mountains, do read on. We’ve got some tips for you…

1. Wait for the golden hour

The best time of day to take spectacular pictures is in the hours shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset. When the sun goes down, light becomes much softer, the shadows longer and the colours much more intense. Overall, there is significantly more contrast compared to daylight. The light during these precious hours make for a much more dramatic atmosphere, and it’s precisely this mood and emotion that we want to inject into our photos. The golden hour allows a photographer to experiment and play with shadows and silhouettes in creative ways.

You can find out what time the sun rises and sets in your region online. Plus, there are several outdoor watches, such as the Suunto Ambit/Spartan or the Garmin Fenix that can display this information as well. But, no dawdling! The sun sets faster than you think.

2. Lines guide the eye through the photograph

Certain elements in an image can help guide the eye through a photo. These elements can be roads, trails, waterways, fences or the like. But, natural things like sand dunes, waves, trees or mountains are ideal as well, especially when the lines connect the foreground with the background. Why? Because they help to create a sense of depth.

If your photograph still doesn’t look that dynamic, oftentimes a change in your position or the point of view can help create the desired effect of depth. Take a few steps forwards or backwards and try to retake the picture.

3. Change your position often

We are used to perceiving the world from the level of our eyes. That’s why, you’ll always find adverts at eye level. That way, we’ll definitely see them! By changing the perspective when taking your next outdoor photo, your image on Instagram will stand out from the rest. For example, you can climb up a cliff and take a picture from above, revealing the entire area from a bird’s eye view, or kneel or lie down on the ground to get a low perspective.

Even one of the most frequently photographed places can look totally different when shot from a “new” perspective. There is simply so much to discover above and below eye level.

4. Having people in the photograph reinforces the perspective

By taking a picture of a person in a landscape, the human eye can better understand where the image was taken from. This trick also has the added bonus that it can even make the person looking at the photo feel as if he or she were the one being photographed. Having a person in the photograph also increases the dynamics of a landscape and gives an impression of how far away the mountains in the background really are.

If the weather is bad or the light less than optimal, a person wearing bright and vibrant outdoor clothing can give your photo a boost. If there’s nobody there but you, a tent or animals in the foreground can also help to achieve the desired effect.

5. Wide-angle lenses enhance perspective

When you finally reach the summit of the mountain, you can often see for miles and miles into the distance. But, how can you capture this feeling of standing above everything and looking into the distance in a photo? Well, the answer is wide-angle lenses, which can help capture as much of the landscape as possible in a single photo.

The panorama function of digital cameras also allows you to get a large scene in one photo. And, if you’ve only got your smartphone on you because you’re trying to save space, there are special wide-angle lenses you can use for this purpose. All you need to do is clamp it to the front of the phone’s lens and you’re ready to go!

6. You can take fantastic pictures in the dark

After you’ve got your tent all set up after a long day of walking and night begins to fall, there are still plenty of opportunities to take some impressive pictures. You can have a friend stand completely still while wearing a head torch pointed at a certain spot. This will prevent the light from the lamp coming across as a kind of “veil” in the picture. You can also illuminate your tent from the inside using some kind of light source. Use a tripod to get a sharp image and avoid shaky pictures.

Even stars in the sky above those stunning mountain peaks can be photographed relatively easily. However, in order to ensure that you get the best results, you need to make sure the settings on the camera are correct. The camera should be firmly mounted to a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, you can use a sturdy rock or a hut’s windowsill as well. The aperture should be opened as wide as possible to let as much light in as possible. Then you can experiment with different exposure times. If the exposure time is too long, the stars in the sky will move as a result of the rotation of the earth and appear blurred. The ISO value should be between 1600-5400 depending on the camera model.

You’ll get the best results when the moon is really bright. And, the further away you are from civilization, the better, because “light pollution” – the artificial light from cities -, makes the stars in the sky less visible than they are out in the wilderness.

7. Longer exposure times open up new possibilities

Long exposure photography is an exciting tool that can be used to create creative images. When there are moving elements, such as water – be it in the form of a stream, waterfall or the sea – long exposure photography can be used to make the water’s movements appear softer. You can experiment with exposure times between 1-30 seconds. The longer the exposure time, the greater the effect.

You don’t have a tripod? As with night shots, you can let your creativity run wild and use natural elements, such as a tree stump or a rock to stabilise your camera. You should also use the camera’s self-timer function or an external one (there are wired, wireless or app options provided by camera manufacturers). Otherwise, the camera may shake slightly when you press the button, resulting in your image becoming blurred.

8. Obstructions in pictures can be interesting

If you want to take a picture of something in the background, obstructions in the foreground can enhance the composition of the photograph. Branches, plants, walls or flowers all work well as intentional obstructions. It’s even okay for it to be a bit chaotic at times. It is the wild after all!

Tip: Are you already packed up and ready for your next big outdoor adventure? Then don’t forget to charge your camera batteries and insert a memory card before you leave. A lot of modern cameras (and obviously smartphones) can be charged with a USB cable and a power bank when you’re on the move, so it doesn’t matter if you’re gone for 3 days or 3 weeks. That way, you’ll always be ready to capture the beautiful landscapes and exciting moments.

9. Incorporate reflections into the image

You can use water for your own composition. Reflections on lakes, seas or even in puddles after it rains can make a picture appear very dynamic and there’s a nice symmetry to it as well. But for this to work, the weather needs to be calm. If the water is moving too much, the reflection won’t come across as well in a photograph. Try to find a spot where several or one interesting element of the landscape is reflected in the water.

You don’t even need a proper camera – a smartphone will do just fine.

A brief explanation of technical terms in photography

Shutter speed (exposure time): indicates the length of time when the camera shutter is open. During this time, the sensor inside the camera is exposed to light. Shutter speed is usually measured in seconds. Short exposure times (1/500) make it possible to virtually freeze the movements of fast-moving objects (birds in the sky, sports photography). Long shutter speeds (1-30 seconds) allow you to smooth out moving water, capture the starry sky, and make something visible in the image even when there is little light.

Aperture (F-stop): changes how wide the lens’ opening is. The more the lens is opened, the more light falls on the camera’s sensor. Lower f-stop numbers (f/1.4 – 3.5) give you a very small depth of field and a blurred background. Therefore, the lower f-stop numbers are ideal for “isolating” an object from the background (portrait, macro shot of animals or plants). Higher f-stop numbers (f/5.6 – 22) are perfect for landscape shots. The shot has more depth of field, while the background is still in focus.

ISO (sensitivity to light): The ISO value controls how sensitively the camera’s sensor reacts to light. As a rule of thumb, an ISO value between 100 and 250 is recommended for bright light conditions (day, sun). Because there’s hardly any light at dusk, in the evening and especially at night, you need an ISO value between 1600-3200 to get good pictures.

Wide-angle lens: A wide-angle lens has a short focal length (10-24 mm) and a wider field of view than normal. This means that objects that are far away appear even smaller. This results in a smaller image scale and allows you to fit more into the frame compared to a longer focal length (50-100 mm).

Buyer’s Guide to Avalanche Gear

7. November 2018
Buyer's guide

During search-and-rescue operations, teamwork is absolutely crucial. It may come as a surprise, but if your companion is buried under merely 30 centimetres of packed snow, their chances of getting out without your help are slim to none. For this reason, the majority of the mandatory avalanche safety gear for today’s mountain sports are designed specifically for search and rescue. Avalanche transceivers, probes and shovels, for example, have all been constructed for this purpose. These are so important. Both you and your companion have to be able to trust them with your life. The only piece of equipment designed for self-rescue is the avalanche backpack.

This contains loads of technology and costs as much as all the other tools altogether. Despite how expensive these packs can be, you shouldn’t hesitate to invest in one if you frequent the backcountry. After all, as the frequency and length of your adventures increase, so too will the probability of you running into an avalanche. An avalanche airbag that is deployed in time can significantly increase your chances of survival.

In addition to these four standard pieces of equipment, there are two rarer devices called an Avalung and an avalanche ball. These don’t have anything to do with rescue per se, but they can increase a buried individual’s chances of survival by either increasing the length of time he or she can breathe or reducing the search time. We will provide more detailed information on these items at the end of the post.

Avalanche transceiver – Searching for avalanche victims

The basic principle of avalanche beacons is quite simple: they transmit radio frequencies to determine the devices’ location. If each member of a group has a device, the rescuers will be able to locate the victim using their receiver. The great thing about these devices is that the victim’s device is automatically switched to send mode.

The newest devices are almost as easy to use in practice as they make it out to be in theory. Most of the technical problems and operating difficulties of the past have been completely eliminated with the new generation. The new devices now have a digital display that not only shows the distance but also the direction by using arrows pointing to where the victim is buried. Plus, thanks to multiple antennas (usually three), multiple victims can be displayed at the same time. A marking function for multiple burials is now a standard feature as well. If you find yourself in the vicinity of a victim, the acoustic search guidance will help with the fine search.

Even with all these innovations, it is absolutely essential that you take an avalanche rescue course and practise using the equipment on a regular basis.

Avalanche probe – Probing for the victim

The newest generation of avalanche transceivers are by no means perfect (yet). They do not show the precise location of the avalanche victim, nor do they show the burial depth. This is where the avalanche probe comes in, which is a thin, collapsible aluminium pole. Since these avalanche rescue situations force you to act as quickly as possible, whilst often dealing with quite a bit of resistance from hard clumps of snow, probing is not as easy as you might think.

In terms of material and functionality, the different models are more or less the same. It’s when it comes to length that you need to have a quick think: You should always consider the fact that the probe should fit in your backpack when collapsed.

Avalanche shovel – Rescuing the avalanche victim

Once you’ve located the victim, you need to dig them out as fast as possible. And, this is something you won’t be able to achieve with your skis or snowboard, especially in hard avalanche snow. Instead, you need a relatively small carbon or aluminium shovel that collapses and can be carried in your backpack.

Depending on how steep the slope is, you should not dig from above but rather from the side toward the victim. This will not only help to prevent you standing on top of the victim but also reduce the risk of injurying them with the shovel. Plus, it is easier to dig this way.

As with shovelling, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind when choosing the avalanche shovel itself, because the minor differences in the size and shape of the parts can have such a major impact on a shovel’s performance.

Avalanche ball – Get found faster

The avalanche ball was invented in Austria. The compressed ball is meant to be carried in a backpack. If a skier gets caught in an avalanche, the ball is released and rapidly expands by way of a spring. Because the ball is connected to the avalanche victim by a six-metre-long safety cord, it remains on the surface of the avalanche like a red buoy. Once the avalanche has stopped, this device allows rescue teams to immediately locate the burial victim. Then all they need to do is pull the cord to determine the precise location.

The cool thing about this device is that the release mechanism does not require gas cartridges or any other kind of propellant and can thus be used repeatedly – even multiple times on a single tour. Weighing only a single kilogram, the ball will hardly add any weight to your pack and can be attached to any standard backpack. This along with a standard avalanche set is quite the powerful combo, even without an avalanche backpack.

Avalanche backpack – Floating on the surface of the avalanche

The avalanche backpack is quite light as well, with the airbag system adding only about two kilos to the pack’s total weight. That may sound like a lot to some, but considering the fact that those two kilos could potentially save your life, it’s actually not that much at all. Of course, it doesn’t guarantee your survival – the airbags “only” give your chances of survival a significant boost – quite literally in fact!

They use the physical features of a flowing avalanche in which the chunks of snow are sorted: the smaller ones rise, whilst the larger ones sink. If you activate your airbag pack in time, the airbags will inflate, giving you an additional volume of up to 170 litres within mere seconds. The added volume gives you a major lift in an avalanche, significantly increasing your chance of landing of the surface of the avalanche once it has come to a halt.

Today, there are four different systems, each of which have certain advantages and disadvantages. There are models with additional protection for your head and spine, detachable systems and models that allow for multiple releases in the event of additional avalanches.

Avalung – A possible addition

The Avalung can be added to your avalanche safety gear but is not intended to replace an avalanche airbag. It is worn around your upper body like a sternum strap and is designed to help you to continue to breathe with snow packed around your body.

However, to be able to do so, you’ll need to have the mouthpiece between your teeth at the very moment you’re submerged. Somehow you have to manage to get the tube to your mouth during an avalanche and keep the mouth piece there, even when subjected to the brutal force of the avalanche. Even though there have been people who have actually managed to do this and it has indeed saved lives, it can also go horribly wrong. For this reason, never let the Avalung lull you into a false sense of security.

Conclusion

If you’re planning a trip in avalanche-prone areas, it is incredibly important to go about it in a responsible manner, meaning all participants must be capable of planning and executing avalanche rescue missions as quickly and responsibly as possible.

To do this, it is absolutely essential that everybody in your party know how to use the safety equipment mentioned above – preferably in their sleep. You shouldn’t rely on mountain rescue teams. Even though the rescue teams in the Alps may be the quickest and most efficient in the world, it’s difficult for even them to rescue an avalanche victim in time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising professional mountain rescue teams by any means – we’re merely trying to emphasise how important it is to plan your trip accordingly, taking the risks of avalanches into consideration.

If you still get caught in an avalanche, only then is it time for your safety equipment and mountain rescue to act.

Alpine Trekkers visit DMM in Wales

31. October 2018
Alpinetrek-Experts

Well, here we are, on the banks of Llyn Padarn in the small village of Llanberis, which is located in the land of unpronounceable words and place names. A few minutes later, we’re at a local climbing shop where we’re greeted with a grin. “Hey team ‘no shoes’. How are you doin’?” Good thing we can laugh again. Shortly thereafter, we’re sat at the front door with our buddy Ben from DMM with three pairs of new climbing shoes, eating fish & chips, as Hazel Findlay walks by. A few chips go around before we pack our backpacks and head off into the evening for some climbing.

Why no shoes, you ask? Well, it all started a few hours ago: We arrive at the airport in Stuttgart, where we are forced to explain the unexplainable to airport security. Yes, the lump of metal in our duffle bags is for climbing. All we get is a look of disbelief. And yes, all the white powder in the little bags is for climbing, too! No, it’s not coke and it’s definitely not explosives! After making it through security, we board our plane to Manchester where we leaf through our Selective Guide for North Wales. Slate quarries, trad climbing, paying a visit to DMM and great weather – the next 4 days are looking good!

Upon arrival, though, reality sets in. None of our three checked bags even boarded the aeroplane. So, we go to the counter to express our dismay, only to find a bunch of other distraught passengers looking for their forgotten luggage as well.

After informing the airline that the lost luggage contains climbing equipment worth several thousand euros, we are assured that not only can we buy the essentials (all at the expense of an Irish budget airline that shall remain nameless) but our belongings will be forwarded to us as quickly as possible. So far, so good. So, we grab our hired car, whiz over to Wales and buy the essentials: climbing shoes and sleeping bags.

The first climb on Welsh rock

Fortunately, because this is an official visit to DMM with a small group of Alpinetrek employees, we don’t have to worry about there being a lack of quickdraws, cams and nuts.

They also let us rent some climbing harnesses, half ropes, helmets and the like thanks to Ben. He had already got us a discount and told the local climbing shop about our arrival. Pretty sweet. Kitted out and ready to go, we set off to finally lay our hands on these wonderful Welsh rocks ourselves!

For me personally, the first four pitches were my first in trad climbing, a great feeling – no bolts, no rules. Only one line among hundreds, as far as the natural structure goes. The only problem I have is that I don’t really trust my brand-spanking-new shoes from Scarpa yet, but that will come. So, there we stand, admiring the stunning view with a beautiful sunset at the edge of the valley.

One moment of happiness follows another

The next day, a glorious Sunday. Early in the morning the temperature climbs above 20°C, forcing us to seek out some of the few shady places there are to climb. My first trad lead climb – Whoop whoop! And that before breakfast!

As a reward, we get an English Breakfast with bacon, beans, eggs and sausages in the open air. Not everyone’s thing, but I love it! The wonderful scenery with Snowdon (1,085 m) in the immediate background is the icing on the cake. In general, you could say that North Wales is a true El Dorado for outdoor enthusiasts… We see mountain bikers, road cyclists, backpackers and above us there’s a single paraglider flying over the quarries. Oh, and the Atlantic is not far away either. There’s even supposed to be an artificial wave pool as well.

You’d think it’d be easy to find a good spot to climb, considering how nice the weather is, but’s just so hot. Beneath the clear sky in the famous dark grey slate quarries, you feel like you’re melting. But here, in the quarries, time seems to have stood. The area is riddled with abandoned mining structures, rusty rail and cable systems…did I mention the scorching heat? Being here is like travelling back in time, especially when you consider the fact that the Dinorwic quarry (formerly the second largest slate quarry in the world) has been abandoned since 1969.

Luckily, however, we have people with us who not only really know the area and its historical significance in climbing but also manage to find one of the few shady places to climb: the Serengeti. Here we spend the rest of the day with some of the rare bolted sport climbing routes and beautiful crack lines where we put almost the entire DMM line up of Dragon Cams, Wallnuts, Offset Nuts, Brass Offsets, Peenuts as well as I.M.P.’s to the test. An intro to climbing hardware at its finest!

Factory tour in Llanberis

At the start of the new week, we find ourselves in the DMM offices in Llanberis. We have the pleasure of chatting with various employees and product developers before taking a closer look at the heart of Welsh craftsmanship: the factory complete with their own CNC machine facility. Here is where DMM bends, presses and forges their carabiners, belay devices and pulleys and performs their quality controls.

The entire production cycle of DMM’s products takes place here. Due to environmental reasons, anodising is the only step in the production process that is carried out elsewhere. It is a really fascinating to see, especially considering the fact that all this hardware is stuff we trust with our lives!

Our long-lost luggage

Meanwhile at Manchester Airport: Our luggage is supposedly finally on its way here. How it’s going to get here and when it’s going to arrive remains a mystery. Anyway, since I only have one pair of underwear, I decide to go wash them in the lake. Probably not so good for the indigenous fauna, eh? Meh, I’m sure they’ll survive ;-) I guess I won’t worry about my t-shirt. We’re going to be on the move all day anyway – a fresh tee won’t make much of a difference.

What I do miss, though, is a decent pair of approach shoes. My sneakers are comfortable, but less suitable for hiking. In the afternoon, we’re going to the Idwall slabs which has quite a few really nice, moderately difficult pitches (VD – HVS). Perfect for experimenting with mobile belay techniques. And so, the hours pass, and before we know it, it’s early in the evening.

Only after hearing the thundering roar of a twin-prop aircraft from the Royal Air Force do we look at the fire-red horizon and realise it’s time for us to pack up and go home.

Off to the Rainbow Slab Area with self-made carabiners

It’s our last day before we head back to Germany, and still there’s no trace of our luggage, but we don’t really care at this point. In the morning, we head to DMM again. One of the many highlights of our trip was the opportunity to assemble half a dozen carabiners each under the watchful eye of our friends at DMM, complete with official approval, laser engraving and random tests of their breaking strength. It’s quite impressive how much the carabiners and slings can take before they break and what a negative impact external factors, such as ageing, UV rays and corrosion have on their ratings.

Bursting with confidence in our new hardware, we do the first thing that comes to mind – we go climbing! Our goal today: the Rainbow Slab Area. When we arrive, we lay eyes on the prominent crack line running up the centre of the rainbow slab. We climb “Bela Lugosi is Dead” (E1 5b), a stunning route, using basically all the gear our harnesses can hold, including everything from cams and medium-sized nuts to really small brass offsets.

Now, we’ve all got trad fever. Or to put it in the words of our climbing guide: “The Rainbow Slab itself is mostly old-school trad classics with minimal or no bolting giving run-out and technical routes requiring deft footwork, strong fingers and a very steady head”. There is no better way to describe the huge differences there are between trad climbing and the traditional sport climbing we know here in Germany. At nightfall, we leave the area and treat ourselves to plenty of celebratory Guinness, cider and fish & chips!

Wales, we’ll be back

Before we head back to Germany, we quickly test one or two boulders and then say goodbye to Ben and DMM with a huge thank you (not least for all the gear we borrowed). In the car, we find out that our luggage is on its way to Wales. Yeah, thanks for nothing, cheap airline from Ireland, whose name shall, once again, remain nameless. An entire week goes by before we get our beloved half ropes, climbing shoes and racks of trad gear back.

Despite the less than optimal experience with the airline, we only have positive memories of our trip to Wales. I think I can speak for all my fellow travellers when I say that the trip was an absolute success and extremely informative. Wales, we’ll be back!

Camping in winter: Getting used to the cold

26. October 2018
Tips and Tricks

When you’re in snow and ice, your skin and muscles are basically the last line of defence against the cold – and quite frankly, the most important. Why? Well, if you’re completely frozen to the marrow, even the cleverest techniques and coolest hacks can do little to remedy the situation. This is why it is particularly important to plan your winter adventure according to both your individual abilities and fitness level. Careful planning is even more important in winter than it is in summer.

Because your body and mind are just as important for camping in winter as your clothing and gear, we’re going to go about this from the inside out. First, we’ll discuss how to get your body and mind adapted to the cold and how important it is to familiarise yourself with the cold itself. This knowledge will give you the resources you need to come up with your own techniques and strategies as opposed to learning a thousand tricks by heart. Then, we’ll provide you with some valuable tips on sleeping and cooking before moving onto the gear you use to shield yourself from the cold, i.e., your clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and tent.

Cold-exposure training: Body and mind

Let’s start off with something you probably didn’t know: How you perceive cold and your sensitivity to it are not predetermined by genes, but can actually be influenced and trained, much like your muscles. This is far from being a new discovery, but it is surprising how many outdoor enthusiasts are unaware of this fact. Interestingly enough, most of the articles I have found on this subject hardly addressed this at all, treating it only as a side note or ignoring it altogether.

Training your body

Controlled encounters with the cold are pretty hip at the minute because they are considered to be good for your health and even give your immune system a boost. But, how, you ask? Well, you can train yourself to be less affected by the cold by regularly going outside in winter, taking progressively colder showers more often, taking contrast baths and not wearing thick scarves and polar jackets all winter long.

One of the most influential individuals in the whole cold-exposure training scene was a slightly eccentric Dutchman named Wim Hof. More akin to a walking thermostat than a man, Hof feels just as comfortable diving in the Arctic Ocean as he does running a marathon in the desert. Because he supposedly controls his vegetative nervous system and does other things that are medically impossible, he has long been considered to be a unique genetic case or simply dismissed as charlatan. But, after being scientifically examined, he began giving workshops on his method now known as the “Wim Hof Method”. These workshops have proven so effective that after about a week of one, the participants end up going hiking to the summit of a mountain on the Polish-Czech border in t-shirts and shorts.

As amazing as that is, we’re not trying to promote any gurus or seminars. After all, there is quite a bit of free information out there you can use to train your body. This is simply the first generally accessible method that I know of that ordinary people can use to train themselves to become significantly less sensitive to cold.

Training your mind: Acceptance and acclimatization

Another important part of cold-exposure training is changing your attitude to the cold: Because most of us only see its hostile aspects, we usually forget the intensively invigorating element (which you can experience after a cold shower, for example). Think about how tiring the air in an overheated office is… exhausting!

It may come as a surprise, but thinking “warm thoughts” can be more effective than you think. In fact, the Tibetan Tummo meditation technique (which the Wim Hof method is based on) works with the visualisations of flames to contribute to the generation of actual body heat, and experienced practitioners of this technique can generate so much heat that they melt through the ice floes they sit on. Now that’s amazing! Even though this is something we probably won’t be able achieve by the time we head out on our next winter camping trip, it does show what a dramatic effect our minds can have on our physical sensations and the world around us!

Damn, it’s still so cold!

If a positive attitude and good cold-exposure training fail to keep you warm, it’s important to get on your feet and get your blood pumping: You can do this by running around with heavy rocks, doing squats, jumping jacks or whatever else comes to mind. And do it for as long as it takes to warm you up without working up a sweat. After that, you will have really earned your warm sleeping bag!

Of course, this will only work if your body still has some energy left. If you’re so exhausted that you can hardly get up, it’s high time you started questioning your planning and thinking about throwing in the towel (which is hopefully still possible)…

Mini digression: What is cold?

A better understanding of cold is not only helpful in developing remedies, but may even help to overcome unnecessary fears. Heat and cold can be regarded as states of motion: molecules are in rapid motion when it’s hot, and they are slower or don’t move at all when it’s cold. The colder it gets, the less moves until at some point everything becomes stiff. Since movement takes up space, a cubic metre of warm air contains fewer air molecules than a cubic metre of cold air. In cold air, the molecules are closer together, which is why cold air is “heavier” and sinks to the ground. The warm air rises and cools down.

However, if you manage to “envelop” a layer of warm air and cover up the object you’d like to keep warm (e.g. your own body) as much as possible, the cold air will no longer be able to displace the warm air. This is basically how all thermal insulation works: Winter clothing, sleeping bags, sleeping mats and shelters are all designed to trap warm air in some sort of shell. Down jackets, synthetic sleeping bags or double-glazed windows all trap a relatively warm layer of air that repels the cold air from the outside.

Combatting the cold: Cook, eat, drink, digest and let it out!

Our bladders get full, our stomachs rumble and we have to listen – that’s just the way it is. Yep, the rhythms and limitations of the body also play a major role in winter adventures. If you don’t want your bowel movements to control you and would rather retain that sense of freedom and adventure you were out for in the first place, we recommend following these tips and rules about your food and drink intake. Actually, it’s just one rule, which is unfortunately not the easiest to follow: Try to schedule your intake of food and fluids in such a way that you don’t have to get out of your sleeping bag in the middle of the night.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t eat or drink anything for as long as possible before going to sleep? No, not at all! A lack of fluids and food at night is bad for sleep and recovery. You need the energy in your stomach to keep warm while you sleep. The body demonstrates this quite clearly by making it very difficult for us to sleep when we’re hungry or thirsty. You can eat one to two hours before going to sleeping, but try not to drink too much during this time. I don’t know if this is worth mentioning, but yes, it’s true: the hotter and higher-energy the drinks and soups are, the better. It’s even better to have an insulated bottle to keep your drink warm for the next day.

Ginger, chilli and other hot spices are a good way to keep warm as well, but you shouldn’t overdo it before going to bed because the stimulating effect they have on blood flow can end up making it difficult to fall asleep.

Drinking/melting snow

In cold weather, you may feel less thirsty, but you still need a lot of fluids. The air is often very dry, and your extremities can only be supplied with blood if you have enough liquids. If there’s snow, there is no need to worry about staying hydrated, as long as you have enough fuel for your stove.

Depending on how dry the snow is, it can take a little longer to melt. If you use ice, you should chop it up into the smallest possible bits. When you do this for the first time, it can be hard to figure out the amount you need for hydration and cooking, which is why you’ll often have warm water left over. But don’t waste it! Pour it in your insulated bottle for later use.

Cooking

If there is no shelter from the wind outside, you’ll have to cook in your vestibule. Ideally, you will have already dug a hole in the snow beforehand, which creates a place to sit and serves as a trench for cold air to sink into. To prevent it snowing into the trench, make sure that it doesn’t jut out past the end of the tent.

When cooking in your vestibule, attention is paramount. A lapse in concentration for a single second could be disastrous. The stove must be as stable as possible and as far away as possible from anything flammable. It is also incredibly important to have enough ventilation – otherwise, you could get carbon monoxide poisoning.

Thefirst sign of a lack of oxygen is a flickering and “puffing” flame. As the amount of oxygen decreases, you start to feel drowsy and can even die! This is especially risky when you are travelling alone, so be careful!

Fuel

In very low temperatures, gas and alcohol stoves have clear advantages over the otherwise favourable gas cartridges. Their compressed propane/butane mixtures do not evaporate properly in extremely cold conditions. Of course, you can try to keep the cartridges warm in your clothes or sleeping bag, but since this is kind of pain, it’s better to use gasoline or multi-fuel stoves in winter.

Cold exposure training: Clothing

Don’t bundle up too heavily out there. It may sound counterintuitive at first, but when you consider how physically demanding a winter adventure can be, you will work up a sweat pretty quickly, even when it’s freezing cold. And this results in moisture getting into your clothing and onto your skin, which will not only make you feel clammy the second you take your first break, but can also make your body cool down faster for the rest of the trip. Thus, a thickly insulated jacket is usually only used during breaks and at camp.

In general, it is best to stick to layering. Put on and take off your clothes in layers, preferably before you start to freeze or sweat. The great thing about layering is the fact that a small layer of air forms between each layer of clothing, which provides insulation. More layers will only bring more heat if they’re not pressing up against each other. Layering systems don’t just work for your body but for your head, hands and feet as well. When it’s extremely cold, you can keep your tootsies warm with down booties. For your head, you can combine a knit cap with a Buff underneath or – if you’d rather go for a more intimidating look – a balaclava.

Important: Even the best protection from the cold is useless without the proper protection from water. Hopefully, our brief description of the impact of sweat in a layering system has made it clear just how quickly the protection against the cold can be undermined by water. That said, when you’re out in the snow, you should always have enough protective layers at hand – be it your rucksack, sleeping mat, bivvy bag or space blanket. The latter is a lightweight, stable and inexpensive helper in many situations (as an underlay, extra blanket, for bundling up, etc.).

Adapting to the cold – Your sleeping bag

A winter sleeping bag should have a snug-fitting contour hood as well as a draught collar that can be tightened. Only this can really prevent cold air getting in through the neck and chest area.

Not only should your sleeping bag be thick, but it should also fit the shape of your body and hug it relatively tightly, but not too tightly. You should still have some wiggle room so that you can roll over and don’t negatively impact the insulation. If there’s any pressure applied to a sleeping bag that is already too tight, you’ll end up crushing the fill, which will result in cold being able to penetrate and cold spots forming. Too much empty space in your sleeping bag will rob your body of precious warmth.

Ideally, the sleeping bag should have just enough space for you to wear a few more layers of clothing. However, keep in mind that these only provide additional warmth if they don’t press against the fill or your own skin, because as I said before, heat is mainly retained by trapping air. The big advantage of sleeping with several layers of clothing: you won’t be half-naked and shivering when you get up in the morning.

Liners and VBLs

Instead of wearing additional clothing, a liner is often recommended as a way to add warmth and simultaneously protect the sleeping bag from moisture and dirt. Unfortunately, it’s not the most comfortable thing in the world to lie in a sack inside another sack, which can bunch up and shift whilst you sleep.

A special kind of liner is the vapour barrier liner (VBL). A VBL is made of a non-breathable fabric and is recommended for use with down sleeping bags in very cold regions. Because the body produces a salty discharge, even when it’s really cold out, which can permanently damage sensitive down fibres, the VBL is designed to absorb water vapour and sweat to protect the bag, keeping it fully functional. But, as a result, you will literally be stewing in your own juices. Your sweat will not be wicked away to the outside.

Hot water bottlesor heated rocks

A mobile mini-heater in your sleeping bag can be a blessing. You can use either a bottle filled with hot water or a rock placed somewhere near the camp fire. Of course, you should make sure that the bottles or rocks are cool enough to touch and nowhere near hot enough to damage the fabric of your sleeping bag.

Sleeping mats

If you’ve understood how a sleeping bag works, you’ll know why a thick sleeping mat is indispensable in winter. Without one, the heat trapped in your clothing and sleeping bag would immediately escape through direct contact with the ground. However, a mat’s insulation performance not only depends on how thick it is but also has a lot to do with its construction. The latter determines how much air can be trapped in the mat.

In the past, this required thick foam, but now even wafer-thin chamber walls can achieve an astonishing insulating effect. This is where the R-value comes in, which is a measure of resistance to heat flow through material. The R-value is a whole number between 1 and 6. The larger the number, the better the mat insulates you from the cold ground. A mat with an R-value of 4 or above insulates against ground temperatures of about -10°C and is generally considered suitable for winter use.

However, these can be extremely pricy. A less expensive alternative is to combine two inexpensive sleeping mats or add extra layers to a mat by using stuff sacks, clothing or rescue blankets. However, these solutions are only temporary and neither comfortable nor particularly effective. And, you’ll usually need the stuff again at some point, anyway.

Adapting to the cold – Your tent

A winter tent must be sturdier and thicker than a light summer tent. The poles must be able to withstand the load of wet snow. We recommend using a double set of poles or a replacement pole set plus a few matching tube sections in case a pole snaps.

Your tent should have a lot of space in both the vestibule and inner tent to accommodate all the clothing and gear you’ll have with you. Another important thing to consider is airflow. It is just as important as it is in summer. After all, you don’t want a build up of moisture in the tent, do you?

But do make sure that the vents are relatively high up and can be closed in the event of prolonged snowfall. Lastly, saving money in the wrong places can end up being disastrous on winter trips in the mountains. Reliable and high-quality tents are the only way to go.

Location

When it comes to camping in winter, it is particularly important not to go for beauty alone – make sure you’re safe. That said, be sure that no snow masses or branches can fall on your tent. You should also avoid avalanche-prone areas, such as snow-covered slopes or snowdrifts. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should be out in the open. Setting up camp in a wind-protected area is always a good idea, which is why you should choose a spot behind a rock or a fallen tree over one on an open field. If possible, the entrance should be facing away from the wind.

Tent setup

Before heading out, be sure to practise pitching your tent so that you can get it done safely, even in harsh conditions. If the snow is not deep, it is best to dig a shallow platform with your avalanche shovel so that you can pitch the tent as you would in other seasons as well. Plus, bare ground is better than snow or ice-covered ground in terms of temperature. If you don’t want to dig, you can also create a level platform by stomping the snow (with skis, snowshoes or boots) and letting it sit for about an hour. Then, you can pitch your tent using pegs for snow or sand. You may have to compact the snow around the pegs again before securing the tent with your guy lines. Alternatively or additionally, you can also use skis, poles, rocks, or any object that can be buried in the snow.

Now that your tent is at least somewhat protected by the snow, it already has some wind protection. But, make sure it’s not in there too deep, especially in powder snow, because otherwise the entrances and vestibules could be blocked by snow. For situations like this, it’s always good to have an avalanche shovel at the ready.

If you’re expecting a storm and there’s a lot of snow, you could think about building a snow wall as a wind break using your avalanche shovel. This wall, which should be about 1 metre away from the tent, also prevents snow entering the space between the fly and inner tent. If you’re worried about wind blowing in from the bottom of the tent, you can reinforce the lower edge of the tent with a small wall as well.

After that, dig the cooking trench at the entrance mentioned in the section on cooking. It serves as a cold hole that keeps the sleeping area warmer, prevents snow penetrating into the tent and offers comfortable seating.

Clear instructions on how to set up Hilleberg tents in deep snow is available here.

Heating your tent

There are several heaters out there that can be used in your tent, provided you do so with caution. Some stoves even have special add-ons that also function as heaters. This is more suitable for campers staying in one spot or on longer expeditions with a base camp.

For everyone else, portable heaters are probably too heavy and difficult to use. Besides, hardly any standard tent meets the requirements for these heaters, and the list of risks associated with their use isn’t the shortest either (burns, falling gas containers, defective burners or hoses). All in all, it is better to opt for the more “traditional” methods mentioned here.

Summary

If you slowly train your body to get accustomed to the cold, you will have more fun and freeze less on your next winter trip! So what are you waiting for? Let’s start mastering the cold!

Fellow Alpine Trekker Jan on the Beacons Way

24. October 2018
Alpinetrek-Experts

“It is a strenuous walk with plenty of ascents and descents. Parts of the route across open moorland can be difficult to navigate in poor weather – this and the isolation of these sections can make following parts of the route hazardous. The Beacons Way can be walked in its entirety in about 8 days but could easily take twice as long as there is so much to explore and enjoy en route” (en.wikipedia.org).

You’re probably wondering why I’ve chosen to begin this post with a quote from Wikipedia. Well, these few lines couldn’t describe more accurately just what our fellow Alpine Trekker Jan had the pleasure of experiencing first hand in August of 2012.

Anything is possible

How does one get the idea to choose Wales of all places as a destination for a a multi-day walk? True, the West Highland Way in Scotland is probably the best known option amongst the long-distance footpaths on the island, but I have to admit I’m more drawn to the unknown. I have this unrelenting urge to discover, you know, that urge to take the road less travelled. And, the few hundred people per year who dare to tackle the Beacons Way (according to various forums) can’t be wrong about it, can they? The ability to read a map and compass is generally regarded as essential for this route. And, because of the extremely variable weather conditions, thick mist and sink holes off the official route, the walk promises to be quite the adventure. And finally, the national park itself is supposed to be stunningly beautiful, provided the sun is shining.

Maybe I’ve just watched too many shows with the famous adventurer Bear Grylls, you never know. But, when I read that British special forces regularly train in the Brecon Beacons National Park, where the long-distance footpath is located, I was hooked. The terrain apparently takes such a physical and mental toll on you that the place is absolutely perfect for such military training.

Preparation is good, improvisation is better

From London, I travel by train to Cardiff, stay there for a night in a hostel and continue on to the small town of Abergavenny, the official starting point of the trip. Wait, what am I even carrying on my back? Well, I’ve got my 65L rucksack, which contains my tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, warm fleece clothing, waterproofs and provisions for 7 days. You can also find a packing list for trekking here. I’ll be cooking my grub with alcohol, which I have to buy there. My plan is to be self-sufficient, at least for most of the way. Also very important: I’ve got the maps for the region: the Ordnance Survey Maps OL12 & OL13 on a 1:25,000 scale as well as a compass and a GPS device for tracking. As it turns out, it was a good idea to take a few survival essentials as well, such as a flint, parachute cord, a pocket knife and a small roll of duct tape, all of which was protected by a large rain cape – but more on that later.

The route

On the first day after walking up under a snuggly blanket, I head out on the route, which takes me over the ‘Holy Mountain’ (486m above sea level) up to a small place called Llanthony, which amounted to about 20 kilometres in total. It’s here that I choose to spend the night, alone at a campsite. Up to this point, the weather has been so-so. I haven’t been able to enjoy any real views so far, but I have got a taste for the very wet moorland and am now trying to arrange myself with the pathfinding. After a wrong turn and a long detour, I decide to look at my map more often! The official markings along the route seem rather scarce, but every couple of hours, I see one out of the corner of my eye, hidden away by some overgrowth, which makes me want to jump for joy every single time.

Fellow alpine trekker Jan on the Beacons Way.After an average night’s sleep, I make myself some warm milk and oat flakes. My little alcohol stove needs a relatively long time to make this happen, especially in comparison to modern gas stoves, but the system weighs next to nothing and has been serving me well since my time in the service. With the sun shining down upon me, I continue my journey past small, medieval villages, ruins from the 11th century, through lush green undergrowth to Crickhowell. After pitching my tent, I sit down in front of my stove, make myself a bag of noodles and study the map. Although there is a relatively large campsite in the village and a few tiny bed & breakfasts along the way, I hardly meet a soul. On the plus side, I was able to enjoy the weather without a worry in the world as well as some fantastic views over the Brecon Beacons. I hope this continues!

British weather ‘at its best’

Nothing against the British, but the rumours are true: when it rains here, it pours. Even trying to get up when it’s bucketing down like this in temperatures around 13°C is a tall task. Soon, I meet a Welsh man on the street and timidly ask what the weather is going to be like, but all he can give me is a grin full of pity and only an inkling of hope for sunshine come afternoon. So, I decide to spend the morning off the beaten track and follow the less exposed ‘Brecon Canal’ to the village of Llangyndir (yes, some of these place names are real tongue twisters. Of course, no one understands me when I say where I want to go…).

Convinced that I have discovered one of the more beautiful spots on the map, I continue for a few more kilometres to find the sun beaming its rays on me on the last climb of the day! Reinvigorated, I pay a visit to the ‘Talybont Reservoir’, on the northern shore of which there is a youth hostel of sorts with campgrounds and an outdoor education centre. At least, that’s what it appeared to be. And although I find a warm kitchen there, I decide to eat my own food first. After all, I’d rather not find out later that I’ve been lugging all this stuff around for nothing.

Day 4 – the highest peak

This section of the Beacons Way is officially described as ‘strenuous’. The weather is dry, albeit cloudy, and offers the best conditions for the 27km-long stretch. But, it’s not the distance that is the problem, but it’s the elevation gain. The route takes me through forested areas with moderate ascents at first, but very soon the path becomes extremely steep. After about 1 1/2 hours, I reach the central mountain range in the Brecon Beacons National Park and arrive on the first plateau, at which point I see some soldiers marching toward me at a pretty good clip. Visibly exhausted and carrying an incredible amount of kit, they torture themselves up and down the mountain. Amazing.

Even though I’m now standing beside a large number of day walkers on the Fan y Big (719m above sea level), there’s a short moment of silence, allowing me to take it all in. My gaze wanders over the expansive, green, hilly landscape and I estimate that I can see about 20-25km in the distance. This is exactly what I came here for! Before I continue, I grab another slice of pumpernickel as a pick-me-up. The path takes me down a steep descent, then straight up Pen y Fan, which is 886m above sea level and thus the highest peak in southern Wales. I take a quick glance behind me, only to see dark and ominous clouds on the distant horizon. I pick up the speed to reach the summit at least somewhat dry, but alas, this hope of mine quickly dissolves. Fellow alpine trekker Jan on the Beacons Way.Suddenly, I can see less than 10 metres in front of me, and after reaching the summit obelisk, I have serious trouble finding the way back down. Finally, by the skin of my teeth, I manage to find my way down despite the torrential rains. Heavily eroded paths lead the way into the valley where I reach a place called ‘Storey Arms’. After half an hour of waiting, nobody shows up, so I decide to go to a catered hut about 2km off the path, which not only gives me the opportunity to dry all my gear but also has something warm to eat! Plus, I get to enjoy a bottle of wine or two with a German family and two Scottish hikers. I couldn’t dream of a more beautiful end to such a long, difficult day.

Life is full of surprises

Yeah, so not only am I’m really lost, rain and dense fog are expected to last the entire day. Great…and just this morning, I was told I shouldn’t go hiking today. Did I listen? Of course not. With a slight hangover from the night before, I thought it would be best to keep moving…

So, now I’m standing in the middle of this boggy, heather-clad plateau like a fool, cursing Mother Nature for this awful weather. My compass is showing me the general direction, but I am more than an hour away from anything that remotely resembles a trail. The last sign, if I’m not mistaken, was a cairn about one kilometre back. So, I follow my instincts and slide about 50 metres down a steep, muddy slope full of sheep dung. Great… Not only am I soaking wet, I’m covered with…ugh, you know what… Today is really not my day…

After a brief moment of reflection, I hear the sound of a small waterfall, allowing me to determine my location on the map. I conquer one kilometre after another on the ‘Old Roman Road’, which is recommended as an alternative route for walkers in extremely poor visibility, interrupted only by several fast-moving, one-to-two-metre wide streams I have to jump over with all my kit. Great… The current is so strong that it would pull my legs out from under me and throw me down the slope with ease. So, first I toss my pack over to the other side, then I follow, hoping that the ground on the other side will hold my weight. I do this over and over again before finally reaching the ‘Ogof Ffynnon-ddu National Nature Reserve’. Bless you. ;)

This area is known for its extensive cave system and karst areas with scars and sinkholes that line the path. In other words, it’s extremely important not to stray from the path, which, unfortunately proves rather difficult in dense fog. Fortunately, the larger holes are clearly marked on the map. Trickier still is the so-called ‘Area of Shake Holes’, consisting of barely recognisable cracks and holes in the ground, often overgrown and thus very difficult to see. But, in the end, I make it to ‘Tawe Cwm’ after 30 kilometres of walking, completely soaked, but thankful for my most faithful companion – my map.

Hating life (because even my last dry sock in my supposedly rain-protected pack now has enough water in to fill half a glass), I set up my camp and reflect… underwear wet, sleeping bag wet, and it looks like stalactites are forming in my tent. So, I spend the night shivering than sleeping, asking myself why I didn’t stay in that damn hut ..

A conciliatory farewell

The following morning begins with me making some minor repairs to my equipment. While hanging my still-wet socks over the stove to dry, I notice that several seams on my walking boots have come apart. Before tending to my shoes, I patch up some smaller holes in my rain cape, which were probably caused by some brambles along the way, with some duct tape. As for the shoes, they need a bit more than that. To keep the bits of material that overlap on the uppers from tearing even more, I slip two zip ties around each shoe. It doesn’t look pretty, but it’s definitely one of a kind. And, most importantly, it works – much to my amazement.

After a morning drizzle, the day promises to be much better than the previous one – I’m already looking forward to the warm sun beaming down upon me. I hang half of my kit on the outside of my rucksack to dry, at which point I am completely fascinated by the landscape again. Along the ‘Lyn y Fan Fawr’, the highest lake in South Wales, I follow the mountain range around ‘Fan Brycheiniog’ and reach my destination in the afternoon with a wonderful sunset over the gently rolling landscape of the Brecon Beacons, which had quite honestly put me through an emotional roller coaster up to that point.

The seventh and final day of my adventure had little to offer in the way of highlights. The route seems to have changed slightly before I had a chance to write this. In any case, I choose to do the “official” stages 7 and 8 together, treating myself to a wonderful 42km trek to the finish in the village of Bethlehem. With only a few metres of gain, ancient ruins and remnants of days gone by, the route allows for plenty of time to reflect. Exhausted but happy, I finally reach the wooden bench, which officially marks the finish of the Beacons Way. What now? It’s odd. I don’t know what I thought would happen when I arrived, so I sit down, eat my last chocolate bar, and eventually, I go on…

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