What’s in your bag?

After,  “are we there yet?”, the things we get asked about most concern what we carry and what we wear on our feet. So I thought I’d give you an idea of what we bring along on a Summer day hike and our preferred footwear. We don’t get any free kit, so any that I talk about has made it here on merit.

In the Bag

 

 

1 – Firstly, the bag itself. I carry a 30ltr rucksack, which gives plenty of room for all my gear. This one’s a Montane Medusa, (which is actually 32ltr). There’s side stash pockets for walking poles or water bottles. A good size zipped lid pocket and an internal zipped lid pocket for valuables. On the outside it also has a neat ice tool carry system. Obviously not an essential for everybody. The hip belt is easily adjusted and has a zipped pocket. Good for snacks and things like hankies.

2– Shell jacket. This one is a Rab Neo Guide hard shell. Excellent if there’s any precipitation in the forecast and packs down well. In the summer I carry a soft shell instead, which is much lighter and gives good protection from the wind. There’s also a pair of waterproof pants here. In the winter I’d be wearing some hard shell ones, but in the summer these ultra light weight ones from Alpkit have proved great.

3 – Sunglasses and cap. Always have these, summer and winter.

4 – Water bottle. I use a 1tr Sigg bottle. It’s metal, refillable and resists pressure change as you get higher and takes a lot of knocks. This one is about 15yrs old, so much better than plastic bottles. You can also put hot water in it, wrap it in a sock and it’s a great hot water bottle. I also carry a water filter in case I’m not happy with a water source.

5 – A warm hat and gloves. Don’t get caught out when you reach a peak or pass. If the wind starts blowing you will be glad of these. Even in the Pirin during August.

6 –  Compass, whistle, pace counters and GPS. Not much to say about these. Hopefully the weather will be kind and I won’t need them.

7 – Headtorch. Even if I’m not planning on being out late or starting very early. I always have one in the bag, just in case.

8 – Spares and repairs. Batteries, gaffer tape, zip ties and a spare pair of laces.

9 –  First Aid kit. This is the one I use with groups, so it has lots of stuff,  from sticking plasters to wound dressings. I could devote a whole post to the contents, but for personal use, think, looking after No 1. So take plasters, painkillers, a small wound dressing, some antiseptic cream, and any meds you’ll need on the day or the next as a, just in case.

10 – Group shelter. Great for getting out of the wind or rain when you have something to eat. Not a great view though…  and of course to keep warm if someone’s injured.

11 – A paper map. Don’t rely on smart phones and or GPS. They’re good but not the best. Maps don’t need power and if you drop them, don’t ususlly break.

On our feet

 

On the Djamdjiev Ridge en route to Vihren peak

 

Of course, what you wear on your feet is down to a lot of things, boots or shoes? , do you want a waterproof membrane? How much suppport? You could go on. So what I’m going to do is tell you what we wear, why and how they perform. Most brands have their own versions.

I like to wear shoes when hiking with a day sack or even something slightly bigger for an overnighter. I like ankle flexibility. The pair I’ve just retired are, Scarpa Zodiacs  (the ones on the left in the pic above).

They are a leather upper and stiff soled. They have good toe box protection and plenty of midsole shock absorption. This is particularly good in the Pirin when you’re in the boulder fields. The outsole is heavily lugged, good grip, but is prone to being cut when your in the quartz, so prevelant in the Pirin (see below).

 

 

The Zodiacs have been a very comfortable, hard wearing pair of shoes. Worn trekking in Bulgaria and Nepal. They are probably best described  as the closest thing to a boot you’ll get from a shoe.

Jacqui likes her boots, her La Sportiva Trango’s to be more precise, (on the right in the first pic).  These are the second pair she’s owned. The first gasped their last in Nepal having been thoroughly used in the U.K. Alaska and Bulgaria as well.

The boots are a fabric upper and give great support to the ankle, give good grip in anything from mud to sandy conditions. The midsole provides great support and hock absorption. They have a good rockered walking action in the sole and from the rubber rand around them there’s good protection to the fabric.

All in all these are a light, robust boot. Which come in small, female specific sizing.

I hope this post has given you some ideas of what to pack on a day hike and what works well for us. Remember, this is in the summer. Winter is a whole post on its own…

Thanks for reading – Peter

Change of Season

This winter has been great. The snow conditions in Bulgaria allowed us to get out every week. The interest in snowshoeing was high and we want to say a big thanks to everyone who joined us!

But now, the shoes have been put away until next winter and we’re in the UK until July.

The spring and early summer sees us working with schools and youth groups on their Duke of Edinburgh Award Expeditions.

Having been involved with this for around 10 years now, every year brings different challenges, but to us the rewards are high. Seeing young people develop and  enjoying the challenge a ‘D of E’ expedition brings is fantastic. Of course not everyone enjoys themselves on expedition, but without fail, those who haven’t, tell me they’ve learned something about themselves.

If anyone reading this is thinking about doing their ‘D of E’ or knows someone who is, please encourage them to do so. The Award delivers on a lot of levels, something for a Job CV or University application, a sense of self achievement or a springboard to the outdoors.

We’ve also got an eye on the summer back in Bansko. The plan is to do more of our popular Peaks and Ridges walks through July and August and this time to add in an overnight hut trip. I’m finalising the routes, so keep an eye on our website and social media for more details in late May.

thanks for reading,

Peter

 

Recalibrating the compass

It’s been a very busy Summer and Autumn for us. We had a great time in Bulgaria taking folk out in the mountains who both challenged and enjoyed themselves.

They were from across the age spectrum and ranged from complete novices to seasoned mountaineers. What they all shared was the common goal of exploring the Pirin with us.

A highlight was putting together a multi activity trip for Hexham Youth Initiative. A group of 12 young people and 2 Youth workers came to Bansko. Some of the young people had never travelled out of the UK before. They embraced Bulgaria, rose to the challenges of hiking, rock climbing and Mountain biking. All off set with a trip to the Bear Park, a BBQ in the forest and a trip to the hot mineral pools in Banya.

It was a great opportunity for us to work with others on the trip. The group were well looked after by Stephen Dainty at the now named, Le Retro Hostel and cafe and Niki Shatrov at Le Petit Nicolas in town. Trailsystem helped with the mountain bikes and the Bulgarian Mountain Rescue Service with the climbing.

After the Pirin, we went to Greece and spent 3 weeks fullfilling  a long time goal of ours. Both Jacqui and I qualified as yacht day skippers.

It was then time to get our heads back into the mountains and not just any mountains, but the Himalayas of Nepal.

…the chaos of Kathmandu

We joined a group in Kathmandu, made up of people with mixed trekking experience and all brought together by James Hughes, a well known Bansko hotelier at the Avalon and all round mountain man, who had visited Nepal many times, before heading off to the Annapurna Himal, with the intention of reaching both Machapuchare and Annapurna base camps.

This time, we were handing over the guiding to Bire Tamang and his very professional Nepalese team.

…Machapuchare base camp

The route wound its way up the valley and through numerous remote mountain villages. Predictably, as we climbed higher the weather became both colder and wetter. Early afternoon brought heavy rain, luckily on all but one occassion we’d completed the days walk and were ensconced for the remainder of the day under cover. We stayed on the way in Tea Houses. The food was great, plenty of choice, very tasty and plentiful. I recommend the Mo Mo’s, a boiled or sometimes deep fried dumpling, filled with vegetables or meat and Dhal Bhat, a traditional Nepalese Thali. The

…our guides Bire and Sonan

Accomodation was, on the whole, simple but fit for purpose. Don’t expect a room to yourself and definitely not a turn down service. I feel I should make a short reference to the loos – if you can’t squat, then don’t go…

Our evenings were spent reading and playing games. UNO was a particular favourite which even brought strangers to our card school.

The group coped well with the altitude and we all made it to Annapurna Base Camp.

Nepal was a fantastic country to visit. It had two separate identities. Still in a period of rebuilding following the devesating earthquake of 2015, Kathmandu  was manic. Roads had mainly no tarmac on them. They were heavily congested with traffic, from horse drawn carts, to lorries and buses rammed full of people. Progress was desperately slow.

Contrast this with the remote mountain regions, beautiful, well cared for towns and villages. Populated with people who always seemed to be smiling and happy to see you.

… sunrise over Machapuchare

This is a country desperate to rebuild. The numbers of  trekkers and travellers is on the rise following the earthquake. I for one have no hesitation in telling people to visit. The Nepalese people we met were eager to work on our behalf, which only served to make the trip even more memorable.

Definitely a trip which caused us to re evaluate our lives and recalibrate some of it… Namaste

In The Summertime

It’s been a busy summer for us in Bulgaria. The stats are in; we’ve hiked 637kms and  climbed    21 677 metres. Which is about the distance from Newcastle to Lands End and 2.5 times the height of Everest. We’ve had a wide range of clients, ranging in age from 10 to 68 yrs old. They’ve come from the UK, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Canada. We’ve worked with individuals, groups of friends, families, a student writing a dissertation on glaciation in the Pirin, a Youth Group and even a Mermaid!

 

 

“…Thank you to everyone who came with us!” 

We hosted 12 young people from the UK and organised and delivered a week of mountain activities for them, which included, hiking, biking and climbing, combined with a train ride, a visit to the Bear park and of course a mineral bath to relax those aching muscles.

It’s been great to share the mountains with all these folk, which for some of whom it was their first real mountain.

Thank you to everyone who came with us!

A proud moment for us was being able to donate 250BGN, our proceeds from two nominated hikes, to Trailsystem who are an NGO here in Bulgaria and do some great work to promote mountain hiking,  biking and running in the Pirin. They are involved in the organisation of mountain bike events, providing mountain bike training and working with partners to support ultra mountain running events. I think it’s safe to say that the Pirin National Park is both under resourced and under funded. The work of Trailsystem is in my opinion vital to promote the area so that it can move forward in a considered way, that both furthers its best interests and protects them. The place isn’t a UNESCO world heritage site for nothing after all!

 

 

    “…Peaks and Ridges”

Our summer programme of ‘Peaks and Ridges’ hikes was popular. Picking out some of our favourite places, people were able to choose a hike that suited their ability and goals. We took people who either wanted to bag their first summit or explore the Pirin more and others who tapped into our experience prior to tackling Mt Kilimanjaro. We intend to run the programme again next year, with some tweaks and new places to go. We’ve also been asked about multi day hikes, so stay tuned for next summer.

 

 

“…we’re thinking about the winter”

So now the weather is going all Autumnal on us we’re thinking about the winter.  If you’re out in Bansko between January and April next year, we’re planning on running snowshoeing days. If you haven’t tried it, snowshoeing is a great way to explore the back country. It’s good exercise and makes a  great alternative to skiing if you fancy trying something different. The days  will range across both ability and grade.  As it’s the winter, we rely on the weather playing ball, so will have to be more flexible about where we go and on what dates. Keep an eye on our web and social media pages for more details about where, when and cost.

 

 

But before all that, we’re off to Nepal…

 

A Walk in the Park

We’ve been coming to “the Park”, the Pirin National Park that is, for over 10 years now. We’ve explored the Alpine meadows and Mountain peaks that make up this beautiful environment.

Donchovi karauli (2633m)

The Pirin was given National Park status in 1962, when Bulgaria was still under communist rule. The government developed a network of trails, criss crossing the country and a series of huts and shelters along their length.

Today, mountain walking and visitor numbers are buoyant. Although it could be considered as the gateway to the Pirin, with regard to the outdoor enthusiast, Bansko is in no way developed in the same way as say, Keswick in England or Chamonix in France. There is no glut of retailers selling the latest brands, nor the associated clad hoardes.

The Pirin is a place of exploration. The mapping is not as prescribed as the Ordnance survey, so beloved by us Brits. The guide books are limited and there are certainly no lists of peaks to be ticked off.

 

Summer storms at Bezbog

Going into the mountains is an exillerating experience. Even in summer there can be violent electrical storms. It is no coincidence that the area is named after Perun, the Slav god of thunder.

The trails can require a significant amount of Boulder hopping and some of the summits are only achieveable via a narrow ridge.

In return for your efforts, the views and relative solitude of the area are just reward.  Not to mention the flora, fauna and topography. But that’s a whole other story…

 

Summer Walks

We’ve had a busy spring in the UK. Once again working with Hexham Youth Initiative and providing their Duke of Edinburgh Award Bronze and Silver expeditions.

It’s now time to think about the summer. From early July until mid September we’ll be in Bansko, Bulgaria.

This year, we’ll once again be leading walks to support Trailsystem, a not for profit organisation in Bulgaria, who work with the Pirin National Park to promote mountain biking, running and hiking.

We’re also going to run a number of pre planned walks throughout July and August. This is a great opportunity to join like minded people, in a small friendly atmosphere. There’ll be a max of 8 people on each walk.

We’ve put together a programme of walks of varying levels, in different parts of the Pirin. Take a look at them, using this link  for the where, when, how difficult, how much etc.

Hope to see you on one of the walks.

Peter

Balkan News

Sitting on a flight to the UK from Bulgaria seems a good time to write this update on what we’ve been up to in the last 5 weeks or so…

A focus was to do some snowshoeing, to get out and to put together some routes for next winter. We donned the shoes and heade for the mountains, dug some snow pits to have a look at the conditions, talked to other folk in the mountains, including split boarders and discussed where they’d been, what they liked and where to avoid.

We took note of the plants as they came into flower during the spring, observed the animal tracks and hopefully built up more knowledge of the Pirin to share.

Of course it wasn’t all work, we did plenty of personal backcountry skiing and toured to some beautiful places.

Over the 11 years we’ve been coming to the Pirin, the range has continued to reveal itself to us as a beautiful, full of life and history. Coming in the winter adds to that feeling. It’s not all about the resort skiing.

The upcoming weeks see us busy with Duke of Edinburgh’s Award groups. Both delivering and assessing expeditions in Northumberland.

So, here’s to some settled, dry weather; or is that just asking a bit too much?

Peter

Uhuru – A Brand New Start

Two years ago Jacqui and I had the opportunity to change direction in our careers. We both had a long standing love of the outdoors and were avid, walkers, climbers, MTB’ers and backcountry skiers. We’d both long harboured a wish to share these loves with others and so it was obvious that we should start a business.

We’ve spent the last 2 years, getting ready to go, leading groups in the U.K. and Bulgaria on a voluntary basis either for groups or in the case of Bulgaria on behalf of Trailsystem, an organisation set up to promote mountain activities in the Pirin National Park.

The business name, Uhuru was an obvious choice for us, not only is it the summit name of Kilimanjaro, which we climbed in celebration of our 40th birthdays, but it also means freedom in Swahili. Something synonymous to us with the outdoors.

We want to provide a quality experience to anybody who comes out with us. We won’t  route march anybody, unless it’s a safety issue of course and only work with small group sizes.

Peter