Boots

I’ve been looking for new walking boots. The problem with being a walker is that boots wear out. Whether it’s through normal, but constant, use or whether it’s because of damage they will one day give up. And it’s always just as they become as comfy as they will ever be.

My first pair of boots that I went walking in weren’t intended to be full on, hill-bashers. They were thin, canvass trainers with a higher ankle for more support. They were great for general walking but as soon as I discovered more challenging terrain, they showed themselves to be sadly lacking in most of the key areas – grip, waterproofness, comfort and ability to survive. So I went and bought a pair of what I thought were ‘proper’ mountain boots. They weren’t, although to be fair they looked the part to my inexperienced eye. They were big, heavy and clumsy and more like work boots for navvys. They were only comfortable if I cushioned my feet in two pairs of thick socks. I hardly wore them, apart from a couple of times on the Isle of Skye in the snow and once near Glen Coe.

The last I saw of them was after a marathon walking day along the relatively easy Bridge of Orchy section of the West Highland Way. I’d been taking photos and wandering along the rough track near the railway station for most of the day and my feet were aching and hot. So off came the boots to dry in the sun, on went some old trainers and I sat in the car, drinking from a flask of coffee and feeling smug.

Later, in the B&B, I realised I’d left my boots behind in the car park. It was raining and cold, so I didn’t go back to get them that evening. I thought back to what had happened. I’d forgotten to put them in the boot and, given where I’d put them, I must have reversed over them when leaving. I decided that I would abandon them as lost, and invest in a decent, purpose made pair of hill walking boots. I was staying in Fort William and the local outdoor clothing shop was nearby. So in I went, and out I came with a pair of Brasher Hillmasters, recommended by one of the staff.

What a revelation! They were comfy like warm slippers are comfy, straight from the box. I didn’t have to walk them in. I didn’t have to layer sock upon sock to cushion my feet. Walking in them felt like rolling along with little effort. I felt I could take on Ben Nevis. Over the next couple of years, I wore these boots every time I went on the hills. They got a proper bashing when I trained for my first Everest Base Camp trek in 2007, including Ben Nevis, and they got me to the top of Kala Patthar and to Base Camp itself in supreme comfort and warmth. In the end, the soles wore smooth and they became my gardening boots. I only got rid of them last year.

I replaced them with a second pair of the same make, which were just as comfortable. These took more of a hammering as by now I had the mountain bug. I managed to do all of the Brecon Beacons in them, and plenty of other hills and mountains, including Crib Goch and Snowdon, several times. These boots got me back to Everest Base Camp in 2011 before finally giving up the ghost the following year when something snapped inside and they began to click loudly!

I bought a third pair of Brashers straight away. But I also invested in a cheaper pair of boots for training, to give the Brashers a chance to rest now and again as a lot of my preparation was on the streets, which tended to wear out the tread more quickly than mountain paths. These boots got me to the top of Kilimanjaro in 2014 and are still my main walking boots today. They have the scars of walking on sharp, volcanic rock. The leather uppers are scuffed and scratched but they remain great boots.

But this weekend, I decided that I would buy another pair of boots. Not to replace my Brashers, but to add the ability to use crampons. The Brashers are designed for all conditions bar deep, slippery snow and ice in winter. As my long term plans include the possibility of walking in deep, slippery snow and ice in winter, I needed different boots.

The website of the specialist outdoor clothing shop I went to said they had the boots in stock, in my size. The sales assistant didn’t seem to grasp what I was saying and told me they hadn’t had any crampon compatible boots in for more than a year. So in the end I went to my local discount outlet, ‘Go Outdoors’, where I bought most of my trekking kit over the years. I hadn’t tried it first simply because they usually cater for the more popular end of outdoor activity. Careful to get the right size (as they will be used in colder conditions, I need to have a boot that fits when I’m wearing two pairs of socks). Not only did they have the exact boot I was looking for but it was nearly £50 cheaper.

As I type, they are sat in the front room. They are comfy but in a different way. They are stiffer and heavier than normal walking boots, as they are designed to cope with harsher conditions and to hold crampons stable and securely. Now all I have to do is find some deep slippery snow and ice in winter.

 

Little things

This is one of those blog entries made up of several observations, none of which deserve an entry to themselves.

I’m sat in my new kitchen waiting for my new cooker to warm up before cooking a pie, which I will have with mash. The oven is electric; the first time I’ve used electric at home although when I stay in holiday cottages the ovens are always powered by the spark. This oven came with an instruction book. Now I’m old fashioned, and content with that. To me an oven is an oven. Video recorders came with instruction books. Cameras come with instruction books. An oven should be intuitive.

This oven has a clock and timer on board. I can use the timer, says the book, to start cooking at a pre-determined time and for a pre-determined period. But for some reason it won’t switch the oven off. IN order to do this, I need to press buttons 2 & 3 simultaneously and then press button 4 or 5 (but not both) to set the time. Or maybe that’s to set the clock? One of the buttons sets the timer in hours and minutes but another function sets it in minutes and seconds. I’ve just spent ages trying to set 25 minutes only for it to stop at 24.59 because it was in hours and minutes.! Read the manual! But at least it has a light to enable me to see my pie as it cooks.

After they’d finished the kitchen (apart from the under cabinet lighting – one can’t operate properly without the under cabinet lighting but I am trying my best), I went shopping for stuff. Many would call this stage of the new kitchen process accessorising. I prefer ‘buying stuff’. In the kitchenware shop, I was looking to see what was available – I have no idea of what accesso… er… stuff I need for a kitchen so I wanted ideas. I came across a kettle. It cost £99! I don’t understand how a kettle can cost £99. In preparation for the disruption of replacing the kitchen, I bought an emergency kettle for £5.99. It boils water, which is all I ask from a kettle. In the shop, I celebrated saving £93.01 by buying a mop. (It cost £6.99).

I gave blood today – my 29th time. If you’ve never done it, do it tomorrow and help save a life. It’s quick and painless and you get a chocolate biscuit at the end. Part of the process includes making sure you don’t dehydrate and that you maintain your fluid level. In the past, this was in the form of advice to drink before and after donating, along with a hot or cold drink immediately after the session. Recently, they have started giving us a pint of water before we donate. Inevitably there is a wait between drink and donation. With my walnut sized bladder, this rapidly creates an overwhelming urge to visit the toilet as rather than replacing lost fluid, the water somehow senses I still have my full volume of blood and makes its way to the nearest exit.

Negotiating the table on which I lie while my lifeblood pumps out of me, the 20 minutes or so of actual donation and the walk to the drink and biscuit table can be awkward when the bladder is protesting. After the sweet relief of a visit to the toilet, it only takes a few minutes for the body to sense it’s a pint of blood down and start complaining but it’s too late as the water is gone. The secret, then, is to drink in moderation over a longer time.

I chuckled at the warning card they gave me to read which stated that I shouldn’t donate if I was planning on working underground or going mountain climbing afterwards. Needless to say, my summit bid for Pen y Fan via the caves of Dan yr Ogof have been postponed.

The nurse that supervised my bloodletting talked about what to have for tea and we agreed that pie and mash would be ideal. Hence I’m sitting waiting for my pie to cook in an oven that requires a degree in food science to operate.