Grivel Spiders – a review

This is a review* of the Grivel Spider, a flexible, lightweight set of microspikes whose aim is to act rather like ‘junior’ crampons and can fit to almost any shoe or boot.

DSC_1786

If you are winter climbing in Scotland, sometimes you can have the good fortune to be climbing up the frozen crust of a 50 cm depth of snow which is not quite steep enough to require you to cut steps. This is where a pair of crampons is a great aid. However is is far more normal in a British winter that you’ll find yourself alternately walking on 1-2 cm of frozen compacted snow, soft powder then frozen turf. Under these more common conditions, what can you use to prevent you from over use of that noted climbing manoeuvre, the flying buttocks arrest?

IMG_0364

As I get older I find myself becoming increasingly cautious on slippery descents. I guess I now have the wisdom to know that I am not indestructible! I love walking in the snow, but this winter I have often found myself on sections of path which have been well walked, and thus compacted, by others. This can make descents frustratingly slow as I found on my ‘pre-tier-three’ trip to Buttermere a few weeks ago.

DSC_1793Enter the Grivel Spider. I bought a pair of these over a year ago to aid me on the most treacherous terrain I have ever tackled in UK, the pavement between home and work! These simple light weight spikes fit the instep of anything from trainers to full blown winter boots. On a more recent walk I remembered I had the ‘Spiders’ and took them with me just in case. Advantage One : They allow for this as they are small and light. As I got higher on my climb I found myself on a path covered with the aforementioned thin layer of compacted snow so I stopped and pulled on the Spiders. Now I found I could walk onwards with complete confidence. It was indeed just like having a set of junior crampons.

A big plus for me was being able to walk at my normal pace without fear of slipping or falling over. Advantage 2 : They stopped me falling on my arse.  Once I was up on the ridge I found no hindrance in continuing to wear them as I walked through the powder, nothing clumped on them. Then they really came into their own as I descended – again I could walk at a good pace a free of fear of slipping. Now to look at a downside: The flexible plastic plate becomes a lot more rigid in the cold and I found it hard to get the fit truly tight when fitting them in the field. Twice in six miles one of the spiders fell off – so I found I did need to do a visual check every few minutes to prevent a long walk back to find the errant item. What I did find is that they got easier to tighten with time, not because the plastic became permanently more flexible, I think it just warmed up through flexing. Thus the next day I chose to stop and re-tighten the straps after 15 then 30 min of use, after which they were then secure enough not to need checking for the rest of the day.

How do they compare to the competition? In comparison with a range of shoe grips on the market they are more robust that many.  Advantage 3 : You can keep them on ‘til you are fully clear of the ice and snow, knowing that walking over (snow free) rocky ground will not harm them. This sets them apart from those based on elastomer skeletons like those from Petzl or Yaktrax. I cannot give you a side by side comparison to alternative options but I’d love to try either a pair of Grivel Ran’s or Hillsound’s Trail Crampon, should either company like to lend me a pair to review 😉

DSC_1790Finally, Advantage 4 : One size can fit to any shoe or boot, so I can swap the same pair of grips between my boots and my run-commute trainers, so that’s less clobber in my cupboard and more cash left in my wallet. I’d hesitate to make a full blown recommendation of the Spiders until I could compare them against some Grivel Ran’s but I do know they make the tricky, trivial and have facilitated a few really great walks on my my local fells without once needing to employ a flying buttocks arrest.

*This review is not sponsored, I bought the kit and now I’ve shared my views. All I hope to gain from this exercise is to help other hillwalkers.

Bella 0 Soulo 1 (a tent review)

Storm Testing my Hilleberg Soulo

When I snapped-up a pre-loved Hilleberg Soulo my goal was to have a wild-camping tent that would stand up to almost anything. I took it out for it’s maiden voyage earlier this month but whilst I had a great weekend, the tent was far from tested by prevailing weather. When I saw that Storm Bella was due to hit the UK this gave me an inspired / propitious / crazy idea (delete as you deem appropriate). Projected gusts of up to 47 mph had been forecast with an underlying speed of around 25-30 mph. Unfortunately, but I guess typically, this was to be paired with heavy rain. The idea was to head up a hill that could be easily reached / bailed out from to make the best of the testing conditions. Rough Hill, the Western Satellite of Pendle seemed an ideal choice, the same place I chose to try out my three season tent in the Spring.

After dinner with the family I drove up to the Nick of Pendle and set out for the 20 min tramp to the trig point on the top of Rough Hill. This is what it looks like in Spring / daylight >>

As the wind gusted on my walk-in it did ‘impede progress’ a sign of the wind being at force 8 and thus on par with the forecast. I found a good level spot and started to pitch the Soulo. This actually proved to be the most challenging part of the exercise. The use of two single pegs at the windward end was not enough to hold the tent down and the pegs simple ripped out of the sodden, yet stony ground (next time I’ll initially double peg these germinal points (see below). A brief lull in the wind allowed me to put both pegs and a guy in place which then gave me the time to get all the ground pegs placed and start putting in the poles. As you get more pegs in the load is shared and things quickly become easier.

The Soulo is not symmetrical and has a narrow end designed to be pitched into the wind. In this position the porch is sheltered. It proved harder than I hoped to work out which was the narrow end in the dark, despite me having rigged four guys on this end and just two on the other. Ahead of my next outing I will tie some bright coloured climbing cord to the narrow / windward end pegging points to make them easier to identify. I was at serious risk of loosing the tent into Yorkshire as I rotated it. Cutting to the punchline, it took me 40 min to get the tent pitched.

I was really grateful for the advice I gained from Shamus McCaffery, a former member of the British Antarctic Survey Team, on his ‘Outdoors Inspiration’ channel on the use of double pegging of guys. This looks something like this:

Double pegging; pegs left extended to help illustrate the point.

…and is extremely effective. After watching his video I recalled that I’d used this method on a marquee many years ago, but had long since forgotten. So thanks to Shamus for resurrecting a very effective and cost effective solution.

So how did the Soulo (and its standard issue V pegs) cope with the wind? Very well indeed. The tent was royally buffeted but shimmied only modestly.

The morning after…

I did have to fully close the (covered) roof vent because some of the horizontal rain was sneaking through (this is not an issue under more normal conditions) but I remained completely dry and out of the effects of the wind. The temperature dropped to 1 Celsius overnight.  I was snug and slept very well despite the noise of the wind, in part (I’d imagine) because I felt secure. In the morning I woke to much calmer conditions and blue skies between light snow showers. The tent was nearly free from condensation despite the low temperature. It seems that if the wind is strong enough to need to close the roof vent that the ventilation just under the low sidewalls of the fly is good enough on it’s own!

When I got out in the morning none of the pegs had shifted significantly and all the guys were tight. The ‘double pegged’ pegs had not moved even a millimetre. I would say that the Soulo acquitted itself very well and lived up to it’s reputation as a true five-season tent. As I covered in my earlier post it is ideally proportioned wrt space and headroom. Now I have first hand experience that makes me very happy that this shelter will extend my wild camping into the winter and will handle almost any weather that the UK can throw at me.

Life behind a Metabike

Yesterdays picture showed the trailer hitch fitted to the back of the Metabike.  After a quick test ride in the dark and rain last night (true commitment) this afternoon Junior went out for his second bike ride.  Last Sunday behind the trike & today behind the more efficient Metabike.  It was cold and crisp, with the sun shining down on Lancashire as we headed out on our ride.  Stopping for tea after 9 miles I was delighted to be offered a whole menu of teas – what a refreshing change.  Warmed and re-hydrated we headed back into the countryside for another loop and then headed back home.  Am thinking about keeping a list for Junior entitled ‘great places I have slept through’  today’s ride around Whalley would be one of them.

Junior was happy enough to not notice he was 45 min late for his feed – praise indeed for the quality of the ride in his trailer.  And as for the Metabike – well I knew I was towing 17 kg, but it was way easier that using the trike.  The route was not so different, so I put the increase of 2.4 mph in average speed, over twice the distance down to the greater mechanical efficiency.  We were so lucky to get such a great day, free of rain, free of ice, in early January.  Good news as whilst 19 miles went fairly quickly, if we are to tackle the hills of the Yorkshire Dales in May my training will need to be effective over the coming months.

Sadly I was not able to take any pictures at the time, as it was past his nibs dinner time when we got home, & milk took precedence over photographs.

Addendum : Photo now available here.

Finally, some snow…

Image

And finally the snow arrived here in Lancashire.  Only about 30 mm, but enough to pack down to something slippery on the residential streets around us.  Finally a chance to test out the performance of my Schwalbe Winter Tyres.  The journey to and from work was uneventful as the treated road surfaces had turned to slush – but when work was over, it was time to have some fun.  On the untreated roads near us the traffic of the day had produced good sections of compacted snow.  What everyone else was no doubt cursing was a playground for me.  Forget plastic surgery and anti-aging cream – try a recumbent trike, spiked tyres and some snow and that knocks 30 years off your attitude in a moment!

I can report the tyres to be a great success.  If you ride sensibly they give excellent traction and good control of steering and braking.  Never mind that though…  …pedal really hard and throw it into a corner and it’s like being a skilled driver behind the wheels of a rally car.  Drifting out on the bends and biting in the snow at the last minutes to get you around.  Wheel-spinning up hills only to pick up speed again on the flat.  Pure unadulterated fun, and tomorrow morning I’ll be sporting a recumbent grin again as I take my practical and environmentally benign mode of transport to get me into work.  Why be a frustrated commuter, when you can smile all the way on a recumbent fitted with winter tyres.

Frozen gear cables

It seems that I’ve got water into my gear cables – and when the temperature dropped to -5C then froze solid, leaving me stuck in one gear.  There seemed little point in having snow & ice tyres but then only having one gear when it became cold enough to take advantage of them.  So, a trip to my excellent local bike mechanic  – ATR Cycles – led to us working together to replace cables and housing.  Indeed they were full of water.  So now I have a new set, and the old housings in the airing-cupboard to dry out for next time.  I’ve seen some rather neat oil nipple accessories you can fit – but that would mean removing the cable and then re-fitting again – so this seems a job to leave until they freeze again, or at least until the summer when my workshop is well above zero celcius!