Insulation in winter camping bivouacking?

There was a wee chat on my Mountaineering Club Facebook page about the best sleeping bags for winter. I have had years of suffering in many mountains in the UK and abroad. I learned lots on my early walks in the 70’s but choice was limited.

1976 North – South – Simple scrims cut short!

I have a great Rab bag that I used on Everest on despite being heavy was well worth the weight. I spent so many years snow holing I learned that it was so worth the extra weight to be warm and comfortable. I had done many bivouacs but in 1990 on Kusum Kangru we had to sleep out at about 18000 feet just in our bivy bags it was an awful night. We had no sherpas after Base Camp.

An awful night!

The name Kusum Kangru comes from Tibetan meaning “Three Snow-White Gods”. At 6,367 m, Kusum Kangru dominates the southern end of Charpati Himal and separates the valleys of the churning Dudh Koshi from the upper reaches of Hinku Drangka.
The mountain is complex having at least five major ridges and faces, the most spectacular of which is the North face of the main summit. It is one of the most difficult of the trekking peaks to climb.

Scrin on the North Col Everest.

The first successful ascent of the main summit was made by Bill Denz of New Zealand on 7th October 1981 via the South-West buttress. He also completed the first solo climb and traverse of the mountain, descending via the northwest flank. A Japanese team had previously reached a subsidiary northeast summit on 9th October 1979
A 1988 British Expedition led by Nick Mason conquered the previously unclimbed East Face. In subsequent years new routes have been opened but all of them are technically very challenging.

25 years later in Alaska I learnt so much. Yet the thing that made the – 25 temperatures bearable was carrying two scrims. I could sleep well despite the cold and good insulation is a great comfort. It’s not bad for a one night bivy in my opinion but for a 3- 4 week expedition I went for comfort despite the weight. Various other expeditions to Pakistan, India and the Himalayas all built up my thoughts on insulation.

1994 Pakistan Thermarest on bag sleeping mat.

Sleeping mats are so different from the early days I remember using cardboard on my Duke of Edinburgh Award in the late 60’s and even old papers. Things moved on a lot of simple kit designed by the military to foam scrims and later insulated mats. The world was a lot simpler then.

Simple bivy in summer !

Needle Sports info https://www.

Sleeping Mats

“Camping Mats come in all shapes and sizes. There are broadly speaking two types, Foam Mats and Inflatable Mats. Both sorts come in different thickness and made of different materials and as always the customer has to choose between mountaineering’s ever conflicting parameters of efficiency, weight, bulk and cost.

Typically used in the British textile industry, one Tog corresponds to the heat insulation capability of clothing etc which maintains a temperature difference of 0.1°Kelvin while passing a heat flux of 1 Watt/m2*. Some manufacturers (mainly US ones) give an R Value for the insulation properties of their mats. By this they mean an imperial equivalent (°F-ft2-h/Btu). To convert Imperial R values to Togs, multiply by 1.76228. To confuse matters there is also a metric R value, more properly called an RSI value (10 Togs = 1 RSI).

The higher the Tog or R (or RSI) value the better the insulation provided.

If you aren’t totally confused by the above you should add to the mix that testing for R/Tog/RSI ratings is not by any means an exact science and that it is also expensive so, it is alleged, some figures that are given may be acquired by doing little more than taking a competitor’s figure and adding a pinch for good measure. Of course, who is alleging what about whom is also not easy to ascertain!

*NB One Tog was originally a war time measurement of the amount of warmth retained by a typical male wearing a three piece suit – it originated from research done in the North of England – hence the term tog (though this in turn is thought to originate from the Roman word toga)!”

The Scrim on my bag is the one I used in Alaska a great bit of gear bulky but worth the effort.

Nalgene water bottle and insulated container makes a great hot water bottle and gives you water for a brew in the morning. Top Tip.

Posted in Alaska, Articles, Enviroment, Equipment, Expeditions - Alaska - Himalayas etc, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering, Well being | 6 Comments

Watching the weather a cautionary tale.

Stunning day in Fisherfeild in winter looking towards the wonderful Corbett Beinn Dearg Mor.

Its hard to believe when this photo was taken the weather changed a few hours later. I was meeting a pal Pete at Shenaval bothy who was coming over the Four Munro’s of the then Fisherfield 6. He had walked in from the Fannichs Loch A’ Bhroain where I dropped him off. I was not well at the time and said I would meet him next day at Shenaval. The forecast was good but these are serious hills in winter. I walked in the next day to Shenaval and met Pete later that night. He had a hard day in heavy snow. He was pretty tired it was a long two days. We decided to do the remaining Two Munro’s next day. A Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor.

It was a stunning day when we set out. The river crossing went well as we passed the wonderful Corbetts Beinn Dearg Mor and Beag.

On the first summit Ruadh Stac Mor I could see the weather change and it was not forecast. I was not happy and had “a feeling”and said I would go down pack up and get back to the car. Pete could get his other Munro done and catch me up. I think Pete thought it was a strange decision?

At the bothy it started to snow and by the time I was on the high path leaving Shenaval it was a blizzard. I got to the car a bit wary for Pete. He arrived a few hours later tired . By now the road was blocking with snow it was dark as hell. Pete fell asleep as I tried to follow the road and miss the stags that were low down sheltering. There was no one else out that night.

It was an epic drive back home after 3 hours of hard work and next day we woke to snow everywhere. There would be no hills for a few days.

Next day this was the news:

2013 – Feb Three people have died following an avalanche involving two separate groups in the Chalamain Gap area of the Cairngorms: two off-duty RAF personnel and a student on a Glenmore Lodge winter skills training course. … The avalanchewas approximately 400m wide with a 1-2m deep crown wall, and debris 3-5m deep.

It could easily have been us if we had been a day later. I visited the Avalanche site next day. The sun was out it was very early and was amazed at the amount of snow in the Chalmain Gap in the Cairngorms. I had been there on so many occasions in the past yet hardly noticing how dangerous it could be in heavy snow.

The winter is coming so please read the weather forecasts and the Avalanche forecasts that start in December. Always think safety.

In the mountains you sometimes think you get a feeling all is not right that day I am sure I had it?

Forecasts can change so be aware of that and they can change very quickly !

Posted in Avalanche info, Bothies, Corbetts and other hills, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being | Leave a comment

A Tribute to Guy Lacelle.

From UKC – “This week’s Friday Night Video takes a look at the life of Guy Lacelle, a renowned ice climber who tragically died in an avalanche just over ten years ago. He had made groundbreaking ascents from the Rockies to the Alps and was also a talented competition climber.

This film is told from the perspective of some of the best ice climbers in the world and archive footage to show the influence that Guy had on the sport.”

On our first trip to Canada in winter if 1984 we met Guy Lacelle on of the most incredible ice climbers I have ever met. We met in the Alpine Club in Canmore where we were staying on our week winter trip.

He was even in 1984 a pretty famous ice climber. On that trip we met many but Guy took to us I doubt he had met anyone like us before and gave us lots of advice on routes to climb. In these days there were not so many climbing in winter on Canada. The guidebook was pretty sparse and vague unlike today. Yet it was the trip of a lifetime.

We climbed hard and socialised even harder climbing 5 days a week and partying at the weekends. Guy was amazed by our small group and even climbed a new route “Sacre Blue” with Malcolm

at the end of our trip.

These were incredible days of simple ice climbing gear. We had Zero axes and Tom had a pair of Chacals and new foot-fangs. We had and Canada was so quiet you rarely met another climber on the routes.

Guy gave us so much local knowledge advised us on routes and took us to places that were unknown then. In these early days he soloed everything we could climb. He was so natural on ice yet laughed especially at my attempts on routes. Climbing then was fun, it was only part of the game. It was those who you met along the way.

We met so many of the names on that trip but Guy was some man. He became to many one of the worlds finest ice climbers yet as a man he was a lovely human being.

I laugh when I think back to his words “I thought all Scottish climbers could climb till I met you! “

His words never taken to hurt just to laugh at and with.


Posted in Expeditions - Alaska - Himalayas etc, Films, Mountaineering, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Well being | 2 Comments

One of the cheapest and best bits of gear – The simple whistle. Do you have one?

So cheap yet maybe a forgotten simple piece of kit?

There was an ongoing piece on Facebook about the use of the simple whistle in an emergency. I have always been a great exponent of the whistle. I was shocked how few carry them or new about the Alpine Distress signal. Many had more information on Personal Locater Beacons and other emergency locators . Yet in my mind the simple whistle is still great simple and cheap kit.

I can state on several occasions in my 40 years in Mountain Rescue we have located a casualty due to a whistle. Please carry one there cheap and effective and my tip is keep blowing! We had a few occasions where we heard whistle answered them then they stopped . It then took a few hours to locate the casualty! Not easy in Skye in mist and poor weather. When we heard the whistle again it was an incredible relief to us all . Skye can be a terrifying place in poor weather on steep lose ground. When looking for someone you need every piece of help. That whistle sound will forever be with me.

The Alpine distress signal was introduced in 1894 on the suggestion of Clinton Thomas Dent and was soon adopted internationally. 

The Alpine distress signal traditionally consists of a signal by blasts from a whistle (may also be an air horn), which is repeated six times in the minute (every ten seconds). It is to be repeated after one minute of break in same manner.

The reply to such a signal is given with three successive indications per minute and likewise repeated after one minute of break. Thus it can be confirmed to the person/party in trouble that its distress signal was received.

Whoever receives distress signals, should confirm and alert the emergency services.

I carry two especially when I used to climb and leave my bag below a route. One was always on my harness and again used in several occasions during accidents on the cliff.

Comments welcome .

Posted in Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, People, Rock Climbing, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Well being | 4 Comments

Is your Mobile phone registered for the 999 text service ?

My friend Anne Butler reminded me of this. It could save your life!

Is your mobile phone registered for the 999 text service?

If you have an emergency in the hills and do not have enough signal to make a voice call there may be sufficient signal to send an emergency text to 999.
I have used it and it works!
To do this your phone MUST be registered for the 999 text service.

Text the word ‘register’ to 999. You will get a reply, and should then follow the instructions you are sent. This will take about two minutes of your time and could save your life. Details in the link below.

Emergency SMS

Since 2009 it has been possible to send a text to the emergency services on 999 – referred to as EmergencySMS.  The service is primarily aimed at deaf and speech impaired people, but it is not restricted to that subset of the population.  


A voice call to 999 must always be used in preference to a text.  (This advice is from BT, who run the 999 and Emergency SMS functions.) 

Before you can use EmergencySMS

To use the service you must first register, which is a simple process – see below.  

To register

1. Send the word “register” to 999
2. You will receive a message about the service
3. When you have read the message, reply with ‘yes’ (in a text message to 999)
4. You will receive a further message confirming registration, or that there has been a problem with registering your phone

To check registration

At any time you can check whether your phone is registered by sending the word ‘register’ to 999.

Using the Service

To use the service, you just send a descriptive text – see example – to 999 and await a reply. Do not assume that your message has been received until you receive a reply, which should be in 2 to 3 minutes.

If you do not have a signal on your home network, you will not be able to send a text to 999. 

Further info

For full details see with further information from Ofcom at

Please remember a phone needs to be fully charged if your on the hill and protected from the weather. I always carry a battery charger on the hill and protect my phone in a case.

Posted in Articles, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering | 2 Comments

The Maiden Whiten Head – Bronze Cross on summit?

The Maiden Whiten head

Whiten Head – The Maiden Original Route, 55 m HVS. This is where sadly Tom Patey lost his life in 1970 in an accident abseiling. My friends The late Ted Atkins and Smudge Smith climbed the Stack and left a bronze cross on the summit.

I wonder does anyone have a photo of it? Is it still there?

Abseil off Photo Smudge Smith.

One of the great mountaineering books I have ever read is” One Man’s Mountains” is about the life of the famous Scottish Climbing Doctor Tom Patey. Sadly I never met Tom but he was well known by many of my friends in the RAF Mountain Rescue and helped them on many call outs especially in the far North West where he was a Doctor in Ullapool.

Tom Patey (Doctor Stack) was a Scottish climber mountaineer, doctor and writer. He was a leading Scottish climber of his day, particularly excelling on new winter routes. He died in a climbing accident on a sea stack at Whiten Head – The Maiden at the age of 38 in 1970.Tom Patey worked for ten years as a General Practitioner (GP) in Ullapool, in the far north-west of Scotland. He served for four years as Surgeon Lieutenant in the Royal Marines at the 42 Commando School at Bickleigh.

I have climbed many of his routes and really enjoyed them.

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Various types of travelling to Rescues !

1979 – Search Dog Dreish on the way home to Wales RAF VAlley after a Call out in Scotland. By Hercules.

Over the years I travelled to rescues by the usual methods land rovers and in the back of a 4 tonner. Later it became helicopters.

In the Desert Rescue it was by Andover aircraft with drops into the desert.

1973 – Masirah Desert Rescue Transport.

Later on we went on a big search from Wales via Hercules for a Jaguar aircraft.

In the past I also travelled with keepers across lochs in various boats for remote searches.

The Lifeboat helped on several rescues in Skye and we had a rib for years that was invaluable.

The Rib Daz Boat.

Looking back what a crazy times. But what memories.

Comments welcome.

From Al Haveron – Dreish was more than happy to lie on a seat travelling up to Prestwick in the Herc. Job done, rules are rules she had to be in cage to travel back. Heavy had to go to the butcher at RAF Kinloss to get a bone to tempt her into the cage.

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A short wander the Beinn Eighe Mountain Trail. A few thoughts.

I had a short day on the Beinn Eighe Mountain trail that starts from the car park at Loch Maree. The weather had been poor with torrential rain but we had a short 3 – 4 hour weather window so my friend Kalie had chosen this walk as it may be sheltered from the weather.

On route we passed Torridon Mountain Rescue Team arriving at a local crag for team training. They were all Covid aware as we were but we had a chat then headed on to Kinlochewe.

A great insight into our walk.

It’s a great wee wander about 3- 4 hours ideal for the weather. The parking is easy and the car park busy with camper vans on the NW 500. You park and the trail starts by going under the road and into it seems another another world.

The route

It is a well marked path and so much to see on route. As you start from sea – level it takes you up to nearly 600 metres. The terrain is ever changing and we had great views of Slioch , Loch Maree and other hills. The mist was down on the higher hills but I had forgotten what a classic walk this is.

In the trees.

Many of the trees are incredible big old Scottish pines and at times you could think you were in a rain forest. The bracken is high and now browning in the late autumn and the Heather still has a few flowers. It’s the mosses that look so good thriving here the colours wild and vivid brighten this area.

Stunning mosses so rich in colour.

The path is steep in places and well marked with plenty of stops it follows a great line up the hill. The Quartzite made of the rock made the dull day a bit brighter. We Islay Kalie’s dog up front path finding the wee Collie was born for this we enjoyed the effort and the views.

Islay cracking company on the hill

The path becomes a geologists dream further up as you pass so many small crags. The colours on the rock and the lichen really brighten the day.

Kalie always smiling !

The path has groves cut in the quartzite and is well maintained with lots of cairns. The views were coming and going we could see Beinn Lair in the distance mist covered. I have just written about these wonderful hills.

We saw the rain coming it was a bit early than forecast as we stopped and put on the wet weather gear. It rained pretty heavy but it was still a great walk. We had only met two other couples on the way up. We hardly stopped at the top of the path and found ourselves in wild country.

A wee break before the rain.

It was then get to the top sadly no views today. It is a fantastic viewpoint of Beinn Eighe and the nearby Corbett but not today. We then headed down to the Lunar Loch so aptly namned . This is wild country of the path and after a big day on the hills you have to take care.

Just off the path we saw a wee shelter were some folk were getting out of the wind. A Bothy bag being well used. It was pretty wet by now but we had a break by the loch and the honey tea was just what we needed. As were the smoked salmon sandwiches with cheese. Living the culinary dream.

A bothy bag in action great kit.

The path goes back a different way a bit it avoids the steeper ground and easier but care needs to be taken on the Quartz in the wet.

You follow a fault further down where there is a stunning gorge. It is full of plants and trees surreal looking in places. There are many waterfalls to look at and the views coming down of Loch Maree are stunning .

The fault !

It did brighten up as we descended I grabbed the odd photos as Islay headed ahead. Slioch was still in the mist but it was a lovely walk down. Hard going on the knees and hips but well worth it. I could make out I think Spearhead ridge on Slioch another wonderful climb done many years ago.

On the way homev

It was then back down to the car park. It was busy and a lot of the time we could sadly hear the roar of the fast cars as they raced around the NC 500. I wonder what they see at times. How much they miss. Sadly the roads and the infrastructure are not doing well with all the additional traffic and you have to be aware of potholes especially in the rain. What is the solution?

We stopped at the garage at Kinlochewe and had a well earned hot chocolate and cake on the way back.

It was cold at times on the hill and though we were not that high just about 2000 feet. I think from now I will pack my winter sack with extra gloves and heavier jacket. What great day though thanks Kalie and Islay for the idea.

Kalie enjoying the hill !

This was the photo this morning a stunning sunrise. I love Scotland. Sadly though it’s the rutting season we never heard the stags.

Posted in Articles, Corbetts, Corbetts and other hills, Enviroment, Flora, Health, Local area and events to see, Mountaineering, People, Recomended books and Guides, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being, Wildlife | Leave a comment

A wander in my local area – Surfers, Wave Boarders diving birds Gannets and a Basking sharks as the sun goes down.

I was planning a hill day as the weather forecast was superb but I had a problem with my chimney and had to get it fixed. It was picked up by my Chimney Sweep and could have caused a fire. Once the contractors were sorted I headed out to Hopeman along the Moray trail. There was great surf up due to the Easterly wind and I saw 4 surfers just after the Maltings at Burghead. The coast was looking great with the spray and the big waves. It was a beautiful wander and I went down to the beach to watch them. You do not see the Surfers there often but the waves and the surf were stunning.

Hopeman Beach surfs up.

It was great to see folk out on the water and I headed to Hopeman for breakfast at the West Beach caravan site . Here there were groups in the water on Wave boards and lots of Surfers it was such a great day.

West Beach Hopeman

The sea was busy as the Surfers arrived word spread fast and I sat and watched them a great sight. The sun was up it was warm and everyone was having fun. Kids on the beach were in wet suits enjoying the water and it was the place to be. On my walk back Gannets were dive bombing in the sea always superb to watch.

Sunset in Burghead.

I was soon home after a brisk walk back and the contractors were finishing my chimney and putting in a new liner. It was still a lovely afternoon and I knew the sunset would be special. I put my wee house back to normal and sat outside in the sun.

In this photo was a Basking Shark

After dinner I headed up to the old Coastguard station in Burghead there was a big crowd. A basking shark was close by and we all watched and were amazed by it. The light was failing but I saw it what a sight. The Moray Firth was looking great under a yellow then pink Sky. Folk were about young kids being introduced to nature they are so lucky to live here. It was then home to await a big change in weather forecast today.

Last of the light.

I live in a lovely place we are so lucky.

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Mountain Memories A remote route Beinn Lair Wisdom Buttress. The Classic Corbett’s of Beinn Lair and Beinn a’ Chaisgein Mor and Meeting Andy Nisbet.

I was lucky to climb on Beinn Lair for my only time many years ago (it was 36 years in 1984) when we went into Beinn Lair one of Scotland’s remotest hills. It is a classic day and these two Corbett’s of Beinn Lair and Beinn a’ Chaisgein Mor on the North side of the Fionn Loch are two fine Corbett’s.

Nowadays a few get the boat across from Loch Maree when it runs, my pals were over last week and had a wonderful day out. The area has also many remote Munros the classic Fisherfield 5/6 and so many great cliffs.

We had seen many the cliffs on our Munro bagging adventures and from the Wessex helicopter as we flew with new crews on familiarisation sorties. At times dropping of hidden food caches at remote Bothies a perk we had worked on and benefited for years. I had managed occasionally to get a trip in the new Sea King and show them some of the out of the way crags that they may get a call out on. These were great trips and also gave me an opportunity to hide more food, coal and the odd bottle at bothies. The walk in to Beinn Lair from Poolewe even today with a mountain bike it’s still a long cycle/ walk in. I did it with the late Al McLeod in 1984 after an abortive trip on the nearby Canmore where we climbed Fionn Buttress a great Scottish VS.

I found it hard in a big wind and the odd shower that day we saw eagles. The next day was still damp and I managed to get Al to climb on the opposite side of the Glen on the remote Corbett of Beinn Lair. The area is dominated by the Fionn Loch a wonderful remote place and in these days access was never easy.”In days of yore” the climbing guide was very vague the area has so many incredible routes that little was written about Beinn Lair nowadays in the superlative SMC Guide to the Northern Central Highlands and others there is a lot more detail. Wisdom Buttress is now graded Severe is a 220 metre ( 700) feet three star route, with 7 pitches and was first climbed in June 1951 by by J. Smith, Miss A Hood. J.S. Orr. One can only imagine the limited gear of that era?

View from ridge to Canmore

Little was little known about this climb to us and we had an hard day especially route finding. It’s a long route and then as now not great in protection. I carried the rope Big Al took minimum gear (as always I carried some extras) it was graded Very Diff but seemed a lot harder it was pretty wet near the top and here the route finding was serious. My extra gear as always came in handy at times. Al managed as always to get up the route, he was a big strong man and I kept him on the rough line. He was dressed in his very light red wind-suit he never felt the cold and we ticked the Corbett and ran of the hill to get warm. My wee Olympus camera got wet and I lost all the photos. Yet I have great memories of that classic route but sadly no photos. Al was training for the big routes went on to climb high on the West Ridge of Everest, summit on Shivling and climb the North Face of the Eiger. Sadly he fell whilst soling the North Face of the Matterhorn a few years later in July 1989. I still miss him and this was one of my best days with Al.

The last time I was on Beinn Lair was with Gail and Stephen on Beinn Lair after my trip to Everest in 2001. It was a long day we walked in from Poolewe with huge bags and camped on the beleach . The last thing I needed was after spending 3 months in a tent was 2 days camping in Fisherfield. Yet it was as always magic and I was fit after being away so long. Seeing the great hills, lochs and cliffs again was just what I needed even after the wildness of Tibet and Everest to me this is special country. On the way in we had met only one person it was Andy Nisbet who had been soloing on Carnmore Crag Fionn Buttress for a new guide book he was working on . He had been his own for several days and we had a great chat.

Todays guide books are excellent.

We saw this figure in the distance moving fast with a huge ginger beard and big bag as he got closer it could only be the one and only Andy Nisbet. He stopped for a while asked how my trip was then we had a bleather in the middle of no where. He spoke of climbing with an Eagle for company and some of the routes he climbed. I mentioned my epic years before and Andy laughed, then off he limped back to civilisation his old climbing injuries playing up after his prolonged stop. Though Scotland’s most famous new router he always had time to chat with us mere mortals and we had met in many out of the way places in the past. Sadly Andy was killed with his pal Steve on Ben Hope in the Feb of 2019. this was a huge loss to all.

I hope to go back and get these hills done again see the great cliffs like I did in the mist as I walked up Beinn Lair following the ridge line and looking into these huge cliffs. It is a place surrounded by superb hills, lochs, goat’s eagles and lots of winter potential for new routers and for many chasing some of Scotland’s classic routes.

Gail on Beinn Lair

Even today this is a remote area and an accident here in bad weather could be difficult be careful but if you want adventure this is the place. As for the harder climbs on Canmore “Hard Rock routes” that’s another story.

Comments as always welcome.  

New route on Beinn Lair 1971 photo Graham Hunter – thank you Sir.

Posted in Corbetts, Corbetts and other hills, Friends, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Munros, Recomended books and Guides, Rock Climbing, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being, Wildlife | Leave a comment