Saturday, 2 May 2015

Simply Hike blogger awards 2015 finalist

Some good news, me and my amazing girlfriend Emma both made it to the finals of the Simply Hike blogger awards 2015! Having spoke to Shaun at Simply Hike he confirmed that there were 1000's of entries for the various categories, so for both of us to get this far is a proud moment!

Having been doing my blog for a number of years I have never enter or been nominated for, a blog competition, so this is exciting for me! If you enjoy this blog please take 30 seconds to vote for me and Emma, Electronicmountainleader can be found in the camping section, and Emma's blog Mountaingirl can be found in the climbing section! Any votes are greatly appreciated! We are also featured on the Staffordshire University website (Em being a current student and me a former student!) -

You can vote for us here

Many thanks in advance!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Equipment for Single Pitch Award – Making the right choices

This is the second in my series of “Making the right choices” articles on what equipment you should take for your assessment in a range of qualifications. This segment is for the Mountain Training Single Pitch Award (SPA).

After I completed my Mountain Leader, my SPA was the next qualification I wanted to work towards. I love climbing, I love the thrill of it, but what I love more is getting young people out on the crag. In my work with the Air Cadets I have been privileged to work with some truly talented young climbers, taking them out and getting them interested in climbing was only possible through doing my SPA. Whilst (in my opinion) easier than Mountain Leader, SPA still demands a huge amount of work and effort to prepare for your assessment, and in no other area is that more crucial than getting the right equipment. This article focuses on the equipment required for your SPA assessment:

For your SPA assessment you will to take a full climbing rack including everything you will need to lead and set up climbs (with the exception of ropes). Below is a summary of what I would recommend for your SPA assessment, and what got me comfortably through my assessment.
Nuts – 2 sets 1-11, also consider taking a set of DMM offset nuts too.
Hexes – 1 set, hexcentrics or similar depending on personal preference.
Cams – optional, range of sizes.
120cm sling – 3, each with a screwgate karabiner
240cm sling – 2, each with a screwgate karabiner

Quickdraws – around 8
Slingdraws (quickdraws with a 60cm sling instead of a standard quickdraw sling) - 3
Small screwgate karabiners – at least 3 for building belays.
Large HMS screwgate karabiners – 3, use for building belays, releasable abseils, and setting bottom ropes.
Prussik loops – 2, 1.5m of 5-6mm cord tied with a double fisherman’s  knot, with a screwgate.
Belay plate – 2, each with a screwgate.
Nut key – You will get stuff stuck.
Harness/Helmet/Rock boots – obviously

Whilst the above may seem straight forward, it represents a substantial investment of money, so getting it right is crucial. As with any equipment lists, this is my recommendation, that isn’t to say I am the foremost authority on this matter and you shouldn’t diverge from what I list, quite the opposite, I would encourage you to build you rack the way you want! I will now discuss a few of the items above….

DMM Alloy Offsets

Wallnuts vs Rocks vs Stoppers vs Curve nuts vs Spectrum Wires vs ProNuts….this debate is not new in the climbing community. But which ones are best? Simply? They are all good, and you need to decide which are best for you, based on cost, range of sizes, weight etc. However some facts for you:

Biggest range of sizes: Wild Country rocks are available in sizes 1-14 making them the biggest range available on the market, however you will need to buy these in 2 sets (1-8 and 9-14) costing you at least £60 a set (if you find an offer!). Black Diamond’s Stopper pro set is 1-13 and costs less at around £100.

Cheapest Nuts: The cheapest set of wires on the market are Zero G’s Spectrum Wires at £49. I have a set of this and really like them, the shapes are nice, and for the price you really can’t argue!
Lightest nuts: The lightest nuts on the market are Metolius’s Ultralight Curve nuts which come out at 360g for a set of 10. However there is not a massive saving on weight when compared to DMM Wallnuts for example, which come out at 429g for a set of 11, so whilst being 69g heavier, you do get an extra nut for that weight.

Strongest nuts: All similar really….most honest opinion I could give! There isn’t much point me discussing minor differences in operational limits.

Best nuts: Each to their own, I love DMM wallnuts and have 2 sets of them. I also have a set of Zero G spectrum wires which have never let me down!

DMM alloy offset in action
Anything else worth knowing: Yes, buy a set of DMM alloy offsets! They are the most incredible set of nuts you will ever buy. Buy them as a supplement to your full sets of nuts not instead of. They are a set of 5 wires that fit in places where other nuts simply can’t. The unique shape (based on the original HB design) fits into offset and odd sizes cracks, and are simply fantastic. I used these more on my SPA than ever before, and was so glad for having them with me! I actually own 2 sets now, which I have combined into 1 set, simply because I place them so much!


One piece of advice, if you take them, know how to place them, and certainly don’t use them for rigging. One lad on my assessment got a slating for placing them incorrectly, and was fighting against that negative comment in his head the whole assessment. Cams are useful we all know that, I am not going to go into detail on cams since I believe they are something people should make their own mind up on. Your options are wide in terms of brands and types. Personally I use DMM 4CU’s, they are cheap, and work well.


Hexes are very useful, and should always be carried. The larger range of sizes fit in bigger cracks and gaps, and learning how to place them to take full advantage of the camming action they provide is a crucial tool to the aspirant SPA holder. In terms of advice, again there isn’t much to offer here. You have 2 choices; Black Diamond Hexcentrics, and Wild Country Rockcentrics. The Hexcentrics are on wire, whilst the Rockcentrics are on sling. Decide whether you would rather have hexes on wire or sling, and buy accordingly. I own Hexcentrics since I have always felt the durability of wire outweighs the benefits of the flexibility of sling.

A word on slingdraws

Carry a few slingdraws. For those of you who have a blank expression on your face when reading this term; a slingdraw is a quickdraw made up of a 60cm sling and 2 snapgate karabiners. The sling is attached to each karabiner and doubled up,  which leaves the slingdraws at 15cm, they can be used in this format as normal. However they provide a 60cm extension where you need to extend a gear placement out to counter rope drag (for example when moving up an overhang). Slingdraws are very versatile and many climbers exclusively use slingdraws for the flexibility they offer.

A final word on kit

By the time you attend your SPA assessment you should have done at least 40 leads, therefore you will already have a good idea of what kit you need. Make sure that you can justify every choice of kit, your assessor will scrutinise anything out of the norm. This may include GriGri’s, quicklock karabiners (particularly Magnetrons), safety lanyards etc. In addition to all this kit, it is definately worth getting a couple of books on the subject, I would recommend "Rock Climbing" by MLTE. I did a post on my SPA assessment back when I did it if you are interested in reading what SPA assessment is like click here

SPOT GPS: Big brother for DofE leaders

"helped initiate more than 550 rescues in 51 countries on land and at sea"

Whilst GPS messengers have been around for a while now, they have only recently (in the last couple of years) become commercially viable for the masses. In line with this new found availability, many Duke of Edinburgh’s Award groups have purchased these systems to allow them to keep track of groups on the hill. But how effective are they? Are they worth the large price tag and annual subscriptions?

My Air Cadet Wing recently purchased 8 SPOT trackers and the associated licences. I was therefore given the chance to test these extensively over the expedition season. This is a short review of the functionality of these devices for use on expeditions with young people.

'Remote supervision'

The way the units work is simple; they broadcast the position of the unit to a piece of mapping software such as Mapyx, allowing the instructors to track the group’s location. The unit also allows the group to send simple pre-programmed messages via the buttons on the front, request emergency help from the instructor, and request external search and rescue directly. The unit uses GPS satellites to send messages and therefore don’t rely on mobile signal. The SPOT units are small and easy to explain to groups. The units themselves have 4 front buttons, plus 2 buttons that have ‘safety catches’ to prevent accidental triggering. The 4 front buttons (clockwise from the top):

1. The Power Button; turns the unit on

2. The track button; broadcasts the unit’s position

3. Message button; sends a pre-programmed message, such as “we are at our checkpoint”

4. OK button; broadcasts a check in.
The software that comes with the units can be used to program what the message button sends. The unit interfaces with the Mapyx software, which has a web based interfaced, allowing instructors to log in to the website and view (on a 1:25,000 OS Map) where the group are.


The SPOT GPS unit itself will cost you £160 (RRP although they can be found for cheaper)
On top of the cost of the unit you need to pay an annual subscription. Subscriptions vary depending on how often you want the unit to broadcast the position of the unit, the more frequent the location updates, the higher the cost. You must pay £99 per year for the basic service and tracking, this can then be upgraded by paying the appropriate upgrade fee. Prices can be found below:

1. Basic Service and Tracking (Required)

Costing £99 Per Year - Required for all Spot devices. Package include unlimited predefined Custom, Check In, Tracking, Help and SOS messages. Basic tracking automatically transmits your GPS location every 10 minutes for 24 hours so you can share your adventures in near real time via SPOT Adventures or a SPOT shared page. You can track as long as you like, but after 24 hours, you will need to re-set your tracking.

2. Unlimited Tracking (Optional)

Costing £28 Per Year on top of the Basic cost- SPOT Gen3's enhanced tracking features allow you to choose your rate of tracking. Pre-set your SPOT Gen3 to send your GPS coordinates every 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes to suit the speed of your adventures. In addition, Unlimited Tracking will continue to track your progress beyond 24 hours, allowing you to set it and forget it (no need to re-set after 24 hours).

3. Extreme Tracking (Optional)

Costing £72 Per Year on top of the basic cost- Get all of the great features of Basic and Unlimited Tracking but with the added ability to vary your track rate down to every 2.5 minutes. Perfect for pilots and the ultra outdoor enthusiast.

GEOS Search and Rescue Benefit (Optional)

Costing £8 Per Year - The GEOS Search and Rescue member benefit covers up to £50k in search and rescue expenses, even coordinating a private rescue contractor, if needed.

The software

The software

The units use Mapyx mapping software (although they can be programmed to use others). The software is web based allowing instructors to log in from any web based device; tablets, phones, laptops etc. Any alerts sent from the unit i.e. Distress calls will also be sent to a pre-configured mobile number.

The drawbacks

There are some quite big drawbacks to this system:

1. Unless you have access to the internet where you are (which will usually be remote areas), then the system is generally useless from a tracking point of view. Whilst the alerts will come through to a mobile, the tracking relies on the web based internet.

2. The web based net system on 3G internet requires a good connection, quite often you won’t have this in the outdoors. As a result trying to view locations on the internet system is difficult (ties into the point above).

3. Cost - £160 + £99 per year is expensive, simple! Is it worth it for peace of mind?

If multiple instructors are trying to access the web system to view the groups locations, it will log out the person who is logged into the web system when the next instructor tries to log in. The instructor who got kicked off will invariably try and log back in thus logging out the person who just logged in. This happened to me during an expedition, and was honestly one of the most frustrating experiences of my life.

The positives

There also some quite big positives to this system:

1. If you are in an area with good internet it’s an excellent way of keeping tabs on a group without smothering them with attention.

2. The group will ALWAYS have a means of contacting help in an emergency, which can provide peace of mind, although my worst nightmare is seeing Mountain Rescue storming past a checkpoint where I’m waiting for a group, and not realise they are running to the aid of one of my groups!

3. If you have someone at a “base” location, with steady WiFi, they can act as a point of contact and relay grid references and other information to the team in the field. 

The verdict

Expensive, but potentially worth it. They provide a means of contacting emergency services regardless of mobile signal, for leaders in the field the tracking can be quite ineffective due to poor internet signal, however if using a base location can provide an excellent means of keeping track of groups. 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Easter climbing at Windgather

At the top of the first lead of the day
My beautiful girlfriend Emma is currently making her final preparations to attend her Single Pitch Award training. So to get some leading in we headed out for a spot of camping and climbing. We decided to head to Windgather near Buxton, a nice, small, group friendly crag. After giving Emma her Easter present of a set of Mammut crag indicator quickdraws, we headed out. Despite being infested with children (Emma had some thoughts on that here), we had an excellent day of climbing. I am so proud of how well Emma is climbing, considering how quickly she has learn to lead, place gear, build belays, she is an excellent climber. I watched Emma lead several routes, and was impressed with how smoothly she lead and
Em on High Buttress Arete (D**)
placed gear. Her gear placements were excellent (as you will see from the difficulty I had in removing some of them on the video!). Highlight of the day was seeing Emma on High Buttress Arete (D**), she confidently and professionally lead the route, having watched someone floundering around on one move for over 10 minutes. Considering the difficulty of building belays at the top of some of the climbs on Windgather, Em did incredibly well to build efficient belays after only been shown once, and I was so confident in her abilities that I didn't even feel the need to run around to the top and see what she had done. Overall an excellent day climbing, we got plenty done then headed over to the Cat and Fiddle for a well earned toasty and a brew.


Equipment for Basic Expedition Leader and Lowland Valley Leader – Making the right choices

This is the first in a series of articles on what equipment you should take for your assessment in a range of qualifications. This week is Basic Expedition Leader (BEL) and Lowland Valley Leader (LVL), and over the next week I will also be posted on both Mountain Leader and Single Pitch Award. I have also previously done articles on expedition kit, mountain leader kit, and winter kit for feel free to have a look at them too! Enjoy!

I am a qualified Mountain Leader currently working towards both my Winter ML and Mountaineering Instructor Award. I am also a course director for the Basic Expedition Leader Award and soon to be a Director for the Lowland Valley Leader too. I have a wealth of experience working with groups for over 10 years, and the recommendations made in this article are based on that experience. Choosing the right kit for taking groups out can be tricky. This is complicated by the fact that during assessment your choice of equipment will be scrutinised for suitability by your assessors. This article is meant as a ‘foundation’ on which you can develop your personal equipment choices, this list is not exhaustive and there may well be other items you wish to add to your kit. This article also focuses on the equipment required for a day walk as opposed to a multi-day expedition.


Choosing the correct rucksack is essential as it allows you to not only fit the required amount of equipment in, but also remain comfortable throughout the day. An ideal rucksack for your leader kit on BEL or LVL would be around the 40 Litre mark. In my personal opinion Osprey packs are worth considering, whilst at the top end in terms of price, they are also at the top end in terms of performance, providing excellent comfort and well-designed packs. 40 Litres is only a guide size, and you may wish to carry a pack that is either bigger or 
smaller than this.

Key things to look for:

When you buy your rucksack test it! Most reputable shops will have weight bags you can place into the bag to test it. Do not blindly buy off the internet!  Also bear in mind that many brands of rucksack now produce packs in different (fixed) back sizes, so do your research and make sure you get the right size for you!

First Aid Kit:

As a group leader you are responsible for ensuring you have the correct equipment to deal with a range of emergencies on the hill. One of the key items in your emergency kit is your first aid kit. Your kit must be big enough to deal with multiple injuries to multiple casualties, but also take into account the fact that you need to be carrying it around with you all day. The result needs to be a balanced kit comprehensive enough to cover all scenarios, and light enough not to be a burden on the hill. My kit began life as a Lifesystems Mountain Leader first aid kit. I added several items to the kit and removed items such as painkillers (as leaders we cannot administer these to young people). I added; foil blankets x 2, small GPS, incident card, blister plaster pack, tick tweezers, and extra gloves. Adding these items is not required to make the kit usable, but I have found these are the items I use most frequently and aren’t included in the kit, and therefore top up the kit to provide everything I need. You may wish to add extra items not mentioned above, or add nothing. I also like the Lifesystems First Aid Kit layout because it splits the sections of the kit down into usable areas like “breaks and fractures” and “Bleeding” which means anyone can know where the items in your kit are stored in the event you are incapacitated, or need someone else to use it.

Key things to look for:

When buying a first aid kit make sure it is big enough to cover everything you need. Some people prefer to buy an empty first aid kit bag and add their own equipment. Don’t overload yourself with kit, you have to carry it all day remember!

Group Shelter:

A group shelter is an essential and sometimes overlooked item of emergency kit. It provides a temporary emergency shelter for injured parties, provides a temporary respite from poor conditions, or even a convenient place to hide during a lunch a stop. There are various sizes and brands of group shelter available. When choosing a group shelter bear in mind the potential size of your group; a 2 person shelter is no good if you plan to be working with groups of 8-10. Group shelters can be found in sizes up to 20 person. Personally I carry an 8 person shelter (Terra Nova Bothy  8), which will work for around 10 young people. All the brands of shelter are broadly equivalent and will generally work for 2 or more people than the size stated (i.e. a 10 person both could fit 12 at a push). Group shelters are a balance  between size and weight, the bigger they are the more they weigh, so consider what size you want to carry to provide shelter in an emergency without burdening you with extra weight.

Key things to look for:

There are 3 main brands of group shelter; Outdoor Designs, Vango, and Terra Nova, all produce shelters of varying sizes. Terra Nova sell a “Superlite” version which costs a lot more but weighs less (the 4 person standard shelter weighs 600g and costs £45, the superlite weighs 400g and costs £120). In my opinion such a huge difference in cost does not represent value for money where the saving in weight is only 33%.


In the modern world it makes sense to take advantage of current technology. I believe all leaders working with young people in the hills/mountains should carry, and know how to use, a GPS handset. In a pinch these provide simple, one touch access to a pinpoint location which can be provided to emergency services. This also takes the pressure off you in an emergency, allowing you to focus on treating the casualty, rather than needing to work out an accurate location. There are several dedicated GPS handsets below £100 on the market, with the Magellan eXplorist110 and Etrex 10 being 2 of the most popular – both reviewed on this blog if you search back. On a budget? There are a wide variety of apps available for android and iOS that use the GPS functionality of your phone to provide accurate fixes. Before using one of these make sure you check whether your phone has a GPS antenna or just uses an internet fix to provide location. Failure to check this could mean you think you have access to GPS in an emergency, when in actual fact it relies on a solid 3G or H+ signal to work.

Key things to look for:

Keep it simple, there a wide range of GPS sets that have OS map functionality etc. Do you really need access to these features? Or do you need a simple set that provides a quick and accurate read out in an emergency? Consider this when buying a GPS. Also check that the handset is fully waterproof, this may come in handy for UK weather!

Spare kit:

When operating with groups it is often prudent to carry spare equipment in case of drama on the hill! This can vary depending on the leader. Most leaders carry spare hats and gloves. Personally I carry spare hats and gloves x 2-3 pairs, in addition I carry spare socks, and spare laces, along with a spare warm layer such as a down jacket or belay jacket. The equipment you choose to carry is completely down to you, but also consider the time of year, the location you are operating in, and the weather.

Key things to look for:

Your spare kit doesn’t need to be expensive!

Consider conditions when packing your leader kit
Personal Kit:

  • Waterproofs
  • Warm layer (down jacket etc)
  • Map and compass
  • Water + Spare water (consider a hydration system of some description)
  • Walking poles (can also be given to a group member in event of injury)
  • Penknife or similar

This article contains recommendations for equipment to be carried, however I stress that choosing YOUR leader kit should be based on personal preference. Your equipment will constantly evolve, as you gain more experience what you carry will change. Consideration also needs to be given to your group size, conditions, time of year, which may mean you carry more or less of certain items.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Mountain Rescue vs Muppets

…of course I don’t mean the loveable Jim Henson puppets, no I am of course referring to the oxygen bandits that frequently make Mountain Rescue’s job much harder than it already is. Let’s face it, Mountain Rescue do an amazing job, despite the lack of funding provided by the government. It therefore makes my blood boil, when every year I see article after article about moronic behaviour by ill equipped novice walkers and climbers doing irresponsible and reckless things,  that then require Mountain Rescue volunteers to put their lives on the line to rescue them. Let’s look at some case studies over the last 3 months, starting with this chopper who thought tackling Crib Y Ddysgyl  in a leather jacket, jeans and plimsolls, in winter, in 90mph gusts, was a good idea….

It defies belief that someone can lack common sense to such a degree that they believe climbing a tough Snowdonia ridge in Winter and high winds in jeans and plimsolls is a good idea. The quote that really stuck with me reading this article was:
“On the one hand we had a young walker in jeans, plimsolls and a leather jacket rapidly succumbing to hypothermia; on the other a responsibility not to put team members’ lives in such serious danger. There was a real possibility that we might have been forced to leave him there on the mountain.”

More examples of idiots from this weekend:

And… more:

But what really got me into this subject on this occasion, was the rant from Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team about a recent incident which involved experienced climbers. Mountain Rescue Teams often make a point of not slagging off people they rescue, regardless of the frankly idiotic circumstances that often lead to the requirement for rescue. However in this case this was an experienced group, who got into trouble in tough conditions, one of the group fell and MRT were called. What lead to rant was not the fact that they got into trouble, but the fact that when Mountain Rescue told the 2 uninjured climbers to stay put, they ignored the advice, moved, and fell down a cliff, making Mountain Rescues job 200% harder, putting more volunteers at risk for longer, and requiring more kit to be sacrificed. To me this is just sheer idiocy, if you’ve had to call the teams out, you do what they say, simple. You don’t know better, if you knew better you wouldn’t be calling them out. In my opinion Lochaber Mountain Rescue team were completely justified in airing their feelings on this matter. People need to know the crass stupidity that goes on behind closed doors. I am glad to see there was a huge outpouring of support for Lochaber after the comments were posted on Facebook. See the original post on this site:

But where do they draw the line? At what point does it become “they made their bed, now they need to lie in it”, or in this case, lie down and die in it. Now in my heart I know I wouldn’t be able to just leave that kid up there to die, and I know for a fact that that the mountain rescue teams share that sentiment, why else would they “put down their daily lives and head up a mountain in weather that no-one else would be out in, prepared to risk their own lives to save another, without pay, without expenses and many, many times a year.” But where do they draw the line? Is there a line? Or do Mountain Rescue just continue to stretch their limited resources to protect the freedom of novice walkers and climbers to be idiots? The answer I imagine is yes, because despite the obvious frustration they must feel, they are all part of the teams because they want to save lives, and given that there will never be laws preventing wally’s doing idiotic stuff, the outcome seems inevitable…

A roller coaster relationship with climbing.

Emma on Trident Arete (VD)
Over the last few years I’ve really struggled with motivation to enjoy myself in the outdoors, particularly with climbing. During my teacher training (and even the year preceding) I had very little time to do anything except work, plan, mark, and try and grab some sleep. (Incidently, anyone who says teachers have it easy, doesn’t have a clue)… I suppose I got it into my head that I couldn’t enjoy climbing anymore. I mentioned to Emma a few nights ago that ‘I didn’t enjoy climbing anymore’, this was after a particularly enlightening indoor climbing session where I realised I had lost much of previous strength and stamina, and I felt pretty useless I must admit. I suppose at the time, I meant it, but looking back I was probably still a bit miffed at my poor performance at the wall.

After I finished work early on Friday, Emma suggested we go climbing, and to be honest, at that moment, that was the thing I wanted to do most! So we literally grabbed the kit and headed over to Harborough Rocks, with the aim of getting Emma a couple of leads towards her SPA. As I watched Emma leading, it was the first time (in a very long time), where I actually felt like I wanted to climb; it was a feeling I hadn’t had for a long time. Previously when I’d gone climbing, I just sat there wishing I was home on the Xbox , or chilling, or doing anything else that wasn’t climbing. I was really happy to feel a genuine spark of passion, to get climbing again. With Emma doing her SPA training soon, and summer fast approaching, I find myself looking forward to getting out and getting some climbing done! It’s amazing what being with someone you really care about and you share so much with can rekindle in you; I really, genuinely thought I had fallen out of love with climbing, but as I sit here writing this article, all I can think is that I want to plan what leads I want to do when me and Emma head to Wales in a couple of weeks. #LetsDoThis

Monday, 2 February 2015

Gucci Karabiners: Black Diamond Magnetron vs Grivel TwinGate

Black Diamond Rocklock (top)
Grivel TwinGate (bottom)
Back in 2011 I posted about the  up and coming releases shown at OutDoor 2011. Amongst these was the Black Diamond Magentron karabiner; a locking karabiner with a magnet to keep the gate closed. Emma got me one for Christmas and I have to say it's pretty cool. At the same time I noticed the Grivel TwinGate karabiners on the market at a decent price, and so I decided it was time to revive my gear reviewing with a head to head karabiner competition between these 2 bad boys!

First up then, the Black Diamond Magnetron.The Magnetron karabiners come in 3 different versions; the Gridlock from (£27), the Vaporlock (From £24) and the Rocklock (From £21). The gridlock is a magnetron version of Black Diamonds Gridlock karabiner, the Vaporlock is a small pear shaped karabiner, and the Rocklock is a larger HMS karabiner, all are available with different colour gates and all 3 feature the Magnetron locking system; meaning all you have to do is to gently apply pressure on either side of the karabiner gate to unclip the magnet system allowing the gate to open. On releasing the gate the magnet re- engages and the karabiner locks closed automatically. This is incredibly easy to do, and allows for
Bent spine shape allows for maximum gate opening
easy one handed operation. Applying pressure only one side will not open the lock, meaning the chance of accidental opening is limited. For the purpose of this review my comments will be based on the Rocklock version only. At 87g the karabiner feels light in the hand, with the usual high build quality you would expect from Black Diamond. The shape of the karabiner maximises the gate opening meaning you could easily sneak 2 clove hitches on (I tried this with 10mm rope!). I used a Rocklock on my belay device on a recent climbing trip, and I can honestly say they feel very secure, coupled with an ease of use I haven't experienced with a quicklock karabiner before. I would definitely recommend these karabiners to anyone who wants to use a quicklock karabiner but has never got along with other models.

Now onto the Grivel TwinGate series. There are 2 versions of the TwinGate karabiner; the Sigma and the Mega. The Sigma is a smaller snap gate style karabiner, whilst the Mega is a slightly larger HMS karabiner. To save me having to explain the TwinGate system, please see this video: which explains the various ways you can use the karabiner. Personally I have found the TwinGate system a little fiddly compared to other karabiners, the idea of having to fiddle one gate up, whilst holding the other open also, is exactly as annoying as it sounds! At 79g it is lighter that the Magnetron, however it is worth bearing in mind that the TwinGate is is smaller than the Magnetron, which would account for the extra weight. I would also add at this point that the TwinGate has a much smaller gate opening, owing to its double gate system, so don't rely on being able to easily clip multiple clove hitches, large knots etc onto the TwinGates. One massive plus for the TwinGate however is the cost, at £11 each for the Mega or Sigma, you can buy 2 TwinGates for each Magnetron. The question is, would you want to? For me, no, no I wouldn't. I just don't like the TwinGate system, it's fiddly, and goes against the reflexes I have built  up over 10 years of climbing, my reflex isn't to open 2 gates at once, my reflex is to do **something** which opens the gate, however that **something** is a single action, and doesn't involve doing 2 seperate things! Perhaps it is just me, at £11 it's worth you trying it for yourself and not taking my word for it. I will persist with the TwinGate system, perhaps in time it will grow on me.....

Return to duty! Birchen Edge trip Jan 2015

Emma gearing up!
Well it's been a long time since I wrote anything on here, in fact May 2012 was the last time I took the time to write anything on my blog. Why the long absence? I suppose in part it was due to going into teaching, the long 60 hour weeks, endless marking, and copious amounts of planning left little time for a social life, or even anything resembling fun, I lost interest in climbing, mountains, gear and many other things I had previously loved. Recently however I have rekindled my love of the outdoors, due in no small part to meeting Emma, who is not only the most incredible person I have ever met, but also the source of my current outdoors revival. Me and Emma made an agreement; I would learn to ski, and she would learn to lead climb. So to that end we set out to Birchen Edge in the Peak District, in search of Emma's first lead climb. Despite the snow in the Peak District the conditions weren't too bad, if a little cold! After arriving, me and Emma did some last minute gear placement practice, before Emma decided on climbing "Stokers Wall" a VD located on Stokers Wall. Em geared up and
Concentrating face!
zipped up the initial part of the climb, placing a couple of pieces of gear as she did. Towards the top it appeared there were a couple of tricky moves, but despite this Emma climbed up the final part of the climb and finished. It was only later that we discovered the reason for the tricky crux moves towards the top was that she had in fact climbed onto "Stoked" an S 4a climb, oops! But I was incredibly proud to see Em almost effortlessly climb a Severe for her first ever lead, Emma was naturally very happy to have her first lead out of the way, and we can now work towards getting all the leads she requires for her SPA training in April, something which we will both look forward to. For those of you who are interested in reading more about Emma's adventures, she now has a website/blog which can be found at . We are heading out with a group of cadets on Sunday 8th Feb, so
Stoked S 4a
hopefully we will be able to squeeze a few leads in during that trip too! So Emma has been working hard on her leading what have I been doing on my side of the deal? Well I've had a few ski lessons, and aside from the fact I'm terrible I'm doing ok! I managed to zip across the entire slope, and the ski lift and wind up crashing on the tubing range however, but I will keep trying and we shall see how I go. Me and Emma have a number of trips this year, through the cadets and on our own, including both America and Morocco (Toubkal), so expect to see a fair bit more action on here than you have for the last 2 years. For those of you who have continued to visit, thank you very much. I haven't forgotten about the gear believe me! I will be reviewing the Black Diamond Magnetron, Grivel TwinGate karabiners, and SPOT GPS tracker system over the course of February so stay tuned!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Ethics on Everest (2012 edition)

The Everest Conga Line

The issue of ethics on Everest is raised every year, usually round about the time the annual deaths occur in the Everest climbing season (blunt way of putting it, but true none the less). For me my interest in the subject came a number of years ago while watching “Everest Beyond the Limit”; a series on the Discovery channel following a number of climbers attempting to summit Everest in 2006. The series became famous for the footage of climbers on the expedition finding a dying climber (who would later be named as David Sharp). David Sharp had attempted to climb Everest unsupported and unguided using a minimalist package from Asian Trekking. He was discovered barely conscious at Green Boots cave; a small shelter containing the body of Tsewang Paljor; an Indian Climber who died on Everest in 1996. It is estimated that before David died he was passed by more than 40 climbers who did not render any assistance to the dying man. The first man to encounter David was Mark Inglis - a double amputee from New Zealand. Inglis stated in an interview when he found David on his ascent, he thought he was already dead, and had continued on. Another climber from the same group (Max Chaya) encountered David on his descent from the summit and attempted to give assistance, along with a Sherpa from the group, but to no avail – David was unable to walk even with assistance and an hour of trying. David died on 15th May 2006. Much of the criticism was (unfairly in my opinion) levelled at Russel Bryce – the expedition leader of the Chaya and Inglis expedition group, because it was felt he did not offer enough assistance to David.
1 week later an Austrailia climber; Lincoln Hall was left for dead on Everest after he fell ill with altitude sickness. His sherpa’s had attempted for hours to get him moving but eventually he was left for dead. It was widely reported in the media that he had died. The next day a team lead by US climber Dan Mazur
encountered Lincoln:
Lincoln Hall 

“Sitting to our left, about two feet from a 10,000 foot drop, was a man. Not dead, not sleeping, but sitting cross legged, in the process of changing his shirt. He had his down suit unzipped to the waist, his arms out of the sleeves, was wearing no hat, no gloves, no sunglasses, had no oxygen mask, regulator, ice axe, oxygen, no sleeping bag, no mattress, no food nor water bottle. 'I imagine you're surprised to see me here', he said. Now, this was a moment of total disbelief to us all. Here was a gentleman, apparently lucid, who had spent the night without oxygen at 8600m, without proper equipment and barely clothed. And ALIVE”

A rescue on a massive scale swung into action with a team of 12 Sherpa’s plus Dan Mazur and his team (who had abandoned their summit bid) worked to get Lincoln down from Everest. He survived.
After seeing Everest Beyond the Limits and seeing the genuine emotion from expedition members who encountered David Sharp, there was no lack of desire to help him, but 2 people can’t drag a dying man down a mountain in the death zone, but 40 people might have been able to. Anyone wanting to read more about the controversy regarding the 2006 Everest deaths, should consider reading “Dark Summit” by Nick Heil, it gives a balanced and detailed account of what happened and why.

Ms Shuttleworth 
I didn’t write this article because of David Sharp, I wrote it to illustrate the parallels between the 2006 season in which David Sharp died (amongst others), and this years deaths. This was sparked after reading about Leanna Shutterworth, a 19 year old girl who has just completed a climb of Everest. What made me angry is not the current culture of people being desperate for daddy to pay for them to become the “Worlds youngest ”, I couldn’t care about that, if it makes you happy then do it. No, what made me angry was on reading the news articles and blog posts from Ms Shutterworth she makes reference to the bodies of dying climbers they stepped over on their way to the summit. 

 "There were casualties from the day before, which was tragic and horrendous.
“There were quite a few bodies attached to the fixed lines and we had to walk round them.
"There were a couple who were still alive.”

I had to read this several times for it to sink in; “We had to walk round them”, “Couple who were still alive”. She makes reference that one Sherpa helped one of them but they were “to far gone”. To reference back to the Lincoln Hall incident, is it the case that “too far gone” has become something which people judge differently on Everest, do they want to believe they are “too far gone” to alleviate their own guilt at walking past/around/over them, or are they genuinely too far gone. Lincoln hall was placed in this bracket yet he lived, how many others are judged to be "too far gone" where they could in fact be saved. Easy for me to judge sat in my living room on a warm summers day, but I know myself, I know that were I ever in that situation I would never allow myself to carry on to the summit while there were living people dying behind me. Perhaps there is often nothing that can be done for these people, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try, and I find it worrying how many Everest tourists these days (people with no mountaineering background or skills) devalue human life in exchange for the bragging rights of climbing Everest. 40 people passed David Sharp, if 20 people had stopped, maybe he would have been saved, maybe he wouldn’t. These people Leanna talks about walking around, maybe they were dead already, or maybe if she (and others) had helped then they wouldn’t be. Leanna will get a hard time from the climbing community unless she comes forward to justify herself (difficult to try and do I suppose), (lead by Simon….) have already started a frank discussion on the matter:, she perhaps doesn’t deserve the stick she is going to get, she is just another ambitious teenager who didn't realise what she was putting her foot in, but should maybe have considered the implications of bringing up such a sensitive issue in this manner whilst in the public eye, many would consider her use of "people dying on the ropes" just a way to emphasise her achievement; I'm not one of them. It should also be stressed at this point that my anger is not directed solely at Leanna, she is simply a public face of the otherwise faceless horde of walkers who seem to disregard human life in favor of achieving their own goals.

Nadav Ben-Yehuda (left) and Aydin Irmak
To offer some contrast to this story, a rescue took place on Everest in the last week by an Israeli climber Nadav Ben-Yehuda. With only 300m to go until the summit, he found a stricken climber (Aydin Irmak) who he had befriended at base camp. Again (as in all cases it seems), a number of climbers had passed Aydin Irmak, and left him to die. Nadav Ben-Yehuda abandoned his climb, hoisted Aydin onto his shoulder and carried him down the 9 hours to Camp 4 where they were both evacuated.

I want to leave on one short phrase which for me summed up the difference between people who walk past dying humans on Everest, and those who stop to help;

Nadav Ben-Yehuda described his decision to stop and help Aydin Irmak as “Automatic”, how many less people would die on Everest if more people described their decisions as such.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Angexis Outdoor - some clarification

Got a quick email and comment that from Jan Vorwerk at Angexis Outdoor which I thought I would share with everyone:

"Hi Chris,

I found your e-mail address on the screenshots of Angexis Outdoor on your blog ;-)

First off, let me tell you that I am very pleased that you like this app and very honored that it appears on day #1 on the 7 days of Android!

This afternoon, I have added a comment, and either I did a mistake (and never posted the comment), or you decided to hide it (which is your right!). I just wanted to double-check that you understood my comment and understand why the the app needs the mobile data network... so that your readers are not mislead.

Also, since you compared it with SPOT: the main difference (beside the price) is that SPOT will likely never send a false alert, since it is manual, but on the down side, it will never send an alert if you are unconscious. Also, SPOT will continue working if you are in mobile-deserts with no coverage at all.
Angexis Outdoor will work in most cases (except in such "deserts" since it needs to "check-in" on a regular basis with the web site)... the downside is that it might send false alerts in some cases (e.g. you lose your phone, it gets broken, you run out of battery, you reboot your phone and forget to stop the app first...).

Hope this clarifies. If you have any additional question, please let me know!

Best regards"

And the comment:

"Hi Chris,

Glad you liked that app... and hope you'll like it even more now that alerts can be sent by SMS.

Just one comment though : even with the SMS feature now, the app still needs (and will need) the mobile network.

The reason is that it is necessary for the app to regularly tell the web site the user's position. If it did not work this way, it would not be very reliable because if an accident occurred out of mobile coverage, it would not be able to send any alert any longer, and the web site would have no clue where the user could well be...

The drawback is the impact on the battery of course...

Hope this clarifies !"

So a nice bit of clarification on why Angexis Outdoor uses the Mobile network, great of Jan to take the time to comment on the software, great App guys, really like it!

Angexis Outdoor is available on the Play Store

Sunday, 20 May 2012

New website on the way

I am currently in the process of creating a new website using HTML5. Having used a few HTML5 websites I really like the way it works, Flash can be a bit fiddly at times and even more so on older computers, so much easier to look to build the site in HTML5.

The new site will be going live in the next few weeks, depends how quickly I can get to grips with HTML5, hoping it won't be too difficult!

In the meantime the old site will be live until the new one is ready, below is a little sneak peak of the initial layout of the new site and how things will look, any feedback welcomed as always!