Buller’s Kop (two people’s thoughts)

Last weekend I wanted to explore an area I did not know well. I wanted to check out Duiwel’s Kloof in the Banhoek Valley and also there was the East Face on Buller’s Kop. Why it is called the ‘East Face’ I can not tell you. We were in the shade all day and according to my orientation the slope faced WEST. I digress. Here is the GPS track, judge for yourself:

I was keen to do some longer sessions in the mountains so this was a good opportunity to think about gear. I asked Alan to give me his thoughts too and what he carried. Here is the background: Temperatures were expected to top 19*C, we would be in the shade for the ascent, I expected to find water at the top of Duiwel’s Kloof at the latest. I thought the ascent would take us 2-3h.

Hydration/Nutrition during:

My thinking was the pack 1,5l water. I expected to use max 1l before I could refil. I ended up using 500ml in the first 4h. In future I would carry the same unless I was more familiar with the routes/weather. It is getting hotter so this dynamic will change in the next weeks. What was a massive advantage is making sure that I was well hydrated the 2 days prior. I also tried to drink as much as 500ml before starting that morning. I ended up drinking a total of 1,5L the whole day and feeling good the whole time.

Nutrition is so much linked to effort. I had my normal breakfast of double cream yoghurt, 20g of protein, chia seeds, low carb granola, 2 cups of coffee with coconut cream. Normally I don’t feel hungry until after mid afternoon. I did not eat anything until 5h in when we hit the top of Duiwel’s Kloof. I had a Maurten 160 Hydrogel sachet. I sipped that and only ate Nuggat and biltong at 7h. I felt good all the time. If my effort had been harder then I would expect to require more fuel and hydration. ……

Basic Gear: (Mainly the stuff you hope you won’t need)

This being an off trail outing I am more self sufficient. the fact that we could see home for most of the day can be deceiving and should not lull us into a false sense of safety. Besides the t-shirt and shorts I was wearing I had a polly pro base layer, Polartec Alpha Synthetic Puffy Jacket, waterproof Jacket, Windpro Buff (this is warmer and more wind resistant than a regular Buff, First Aid Kit, SOL two person bivy (really good to generate some heat and is only marginally heavier and bulkier than a single person version)

All packed into a UltrAspire Zygos. I use the bottles and not reservoir as in my mind they are more versatile and similar weight.

Other stuff I wear:

Full brim hat (I believe this keeps you cooler than a running cap), HR belt (don’t even get me started – wrist based HR measurement is just crap when you are doing anything other than sitting at your desk), PocPac phone pouch is also my wallet with credit card and drivers license, Ziplock bag waterproofs keys and as a double layer for PocPac.

Finally recovery starts when I get back to the car. this is what I had waiting and was enough to get me home. Protein Shake, Water, Fruit, Mini cheddars and rehydrate.

Now here are Alan’s picks and why:

So a short list of what I took and why

1. Wind and rain proof jacket with a hood. Always take this as the weather has a nasty habit of turning.

2. Light weight fleece, took this having considered the weather and checking what the forecast temperatures would be for the day and the evening following our outing, if colder temps anticipated would pack a heavier fleece in.

3. Long sleeve technical top, helps with layering.

4. Water proof stuff sack to keep above dry.

5. Space blanket

6. Small medical aid kit

7. Leather man

8. Head lamp with fully charged battery. 

9. Fully charged cell phone.

10. Running pack 12l, I found this a convenient size for a day out for the type of adventure we planned.

11. 2l bladder, good to keep hydrated

12. 500ml soft flask, only took one as it was a short day out.

13. Carbon running poles, I usually carry these in case of an injury or tough downhill that I feel I’m lacking confidence for.

14. Sun hat

15. Fleece beanie and buff.

I would normally include sunscreen but fell fly here.

Nutrition I took 

1. Keto Enduro Plus, I had one serving of this sipped over the first 4 hours of the outing.

2. Keto Exo, I took one of these with, didn’t feel I needed it so didn’t use it.

3. Keto protein bar, had this at our first snack break I think that was two hours in.

4. Keto nut butter, had this at our snack break in the kloof, just to top energy up.

Reason I’ve been using Keto has been to try and stabilize sugar levels due to diabetes, has worked well for the 5 months.

Wetting Out / Drying Out

I got caught in a downpour this week. I was prepared and wearing my Rab Polartec Alpha synthetic fill puffy jacket.

Less than 3 min in a downpour.

I was not exposed for long and confident on drying out quickly. It could have been very different.

A couple of minutes later and the outer fabric hat wetted out.

I came across John Barklow (check him out on IG as he has some cool videos on gear) recently. He is with Sitka Gear who produce gear for hunting. You might ask “What has that got to do with trail running?”

It is worth thinking about the ideas that Sitka talk about. Loosely these have their origins in the Navy SEALS and before that Alpine Climber Mark Twight’s book “Extreme Alpinism

It is not one product but a system of products and how they work together. Each product in the system has a particular function but they need to work together for overall success. Patagonia have their High Endurance Kit. The problem with buying into a system of gear is that if you don’t know what the parts are trying to do then it looses much of its versatility. Certainly this is super clever and versatile but I want to dive into the ideas behind it.

Worth noting is that the Sitka range is aimed at facilitating drying out. Check out this video here:

OK so what can we learn from this:

  1. Ideas on layering: I have used the “action suit” concept for a long time. For example: pre trail race (or hard outing). The concept is that I want to keep moving as much as possible. Therefore stopping to put layers into my pack needs to be minimised. I try to regulate heat as much as possible with adjusting headwear, arm warmers and gloves remove or add as few layers as possible. I would layer as follows: Base Layer, Windproof, Puffy Jacket. I assume that I am taking off my Puffy pre start. I will be too hot anyway to run in that. A rain jacket will usually be in my pack as emergency kit. In truth I most times prefer to run in a windproof jacket in rain rather than a waterproof.
  2. Being (or Getting) wet is not the issue. Drying out is! Check out this static rewarming drill:

The huge difference to the first video is that there is no activity to warm us up. Think an emergency where for some reason we are immobile (twisted ankle, assisting another runner, exhaustion). Even if we are able to move I might be helping a slower person and therefore not able to generate enough warmth for me. Very quickly I become the liability. Also we will normally not be soaked like in this video but we will be wet non the less from perspiration, also we will not have as many layers and gear as above. So what gear we do need depends on conditions and should be well considered.

Ideas to consider:

  • How do my gear choices enhance or take away from my overall experience?
  • Have I got a way to create a shelter? This could be anything from carrying a space blanket to a tarp to a tent.
  • How do my layers work together? We know cotton t-shirts are best left for the mall but what about down sleeping bags for a Drakensberg Traverse? There are no absolute answers but I encourage you to consider and question.
  • How can I improve the functionality of my gear? This is where my thought process started when I got wet. I was ok when my puffy got wet but I could easily have prevented that by treating the outside with a DWR. Here (and here) are two previous pieces I wrote on this. Servicing gear is like servicing your Porsche (yes one day I will get to drive one). Without it the gear does not work!

Actually come to think of it the above is worth expanding on. The web (and links I posted above) have tons of info so I will try to not bore you but rather give my perspective and spark thinking. Watch this space.

Dear Katie

I am writing this for you, but probably for me.
I could claim that I knew you back then. That I saw you in Stuttgart. 
But that would not be true. I was cheering for Lynn then.
I could claim that I know you now but that is equally untrue.
So I write this for me.

I know only what you write of you now. What you choose to show now.
Maybe that is the best of you now. Maybe it is something different. 
Maybe it is something more.

I can't lay claim to your present any more than your audience can 
lay claim to your past. 
We are just doing what we do and weaving our way through the now.

A memory of a hero from the past.

“listening is the light of the universe” somebody said.

Lifting certain objects out of the darkness. 
Out of the noise, into existence. 
I imagine my light sweeping through zig-zags. 

Dawn. Environment streams in, jostling.
At first gentle, growing in power.
Does it distract or inform?
Do you let it?
I need constant reminder that I have the power. 
To filter.

So if I pay attention, what is the cost?
The brighter my beam, the more it draws
specific clarity.
Surroundings fade from focus.
Noise canceling headphones to another world. 
Eventually laughter when I sing (out of tune).
But this listening is for me.

What if I attend to others? 
For their clarity, not mine.
Taking care with my beam.
Offering presence.
At a different pace.
Directing for their benefit, not mine.
That is what guiding is about.
A conscious choice.
Into the night we take what we need. 
Lessons from the light guide us. 
Images in the distance guide our path, 
into the valley beyond.

talk

The exact number escapes me. 
Some clever people claim that 95% of communication is non verbal.
A look (even if it is masked now) 
A gesture
A nod
Volumes. 

So why do we so easily resort to the lowest common denominator 
of communication? 
In its lowest form. 
Text. 
Is it a search for truth? 
All meaning is lost though. 
There is no timing, no emphasis. 
(Punctuation and spelling left the building long ago.)

How is it that it is now uncool to call unannounced? 
Like an intrusion. 
Why do we value other's time and apparent privacy 
more than our own? 
A simple conversation now spans hours of back and forth 
micro intrusions. 
(and we know that micro doping brings about big change 
- ask any cyclist) 
Is this the change that we want? 

What do you want your future to look like?

Another day

It was not a midweek getaway.
It was not a summit either.
We went out to get some fresh air.
To feel some sun and hope.

It seems to me all posts now are strong. 
Opinionated.
The new truth.
And above all defensible in the arena of populism. 

Today was nuance.
The same views but different terrain.
We hung out.
We distanced (yes masks are still actually required by law).
We discussed.
We listened.

How often do we listen?
That certainly is not the same as keeping quite. 
Or shouting for that matter. There seems to be shouting everywhere. Signs shouting to clean our hands. Shouting the new normal. Shouting about my rights. Shouting how people are infected. Shouting how distancing is safe. Shouting how tech will save us. Then there is a quieter shouting. Posting pictures of groups drinking post run.
No social distancing in place.
Getting kudo's for running Lion's Head or that FKT.
It is actually still closed BTW and still the elite are backslapping. The shouting is deffening. Right now my sanity feels like it is being drowned by madness. I miss connection. With others. With myself. With my mountain.
And yet I lay no claim to that lump. At the same time I am fearful. Of others not respecting my health. Of myself for not expressing my boundaries. Of dealing with fuckwittery when in public. Outings with my tribe. Restore hope. Restore sanity. In turn. I aim to offer support. Hope and maby a bit of sanity 'during this time'

The real cost of gear

We live in a time of rentals
Every month I look at the mortgage repayment. It is payment for something I use but have not fully earned or fully own. In a way I am renting my own house. And I wonder to what else that applies.

This is certainly apparent with cars (often fancier than we can afford) and mobile phones. We are paying off something on a monthly basis. But then we can take that thinking to all products we purchase. Take a pair of Running shoes which costs R2400. They might last a year (more realistically I have half a dozen shoes going at the same time but let’s not complicate things right now) so actually you are paying R200 towards those shoes every month until you need to replace them.
And that cost has an environmental cost too. The more money I need to earn to buy my toys the more I impact on the environment.

I have worked with top brands in the outdoor game. The cost of gear is staggering but I wonder about the hidden cost on our environment. It is probably in proportion to what we pay at retail. What I mean is that the environmental cost of building a rocket is far bigger than building a car which is bigger than an energy bar. I know it is a huge assumption but bear with me.

What is the point of owning the most organic, sheep dog friendly, moisture wicking rain jacket if it does not last? Maybe a way of judging the cost of gear is to divide the cost by how many months you own (or use) said item.

I remember Alec bringing in an original MSR Model 9 stove 20 years after he bought it. All it needed was a replaced pump and it was good to go. The design has not changed much in the next 20 years either. Why? Because it works. The XGK is still the beast amongst stoves. The recommended retail price is currently R2999. By contrast your monthly repayment is around R12,50.

Contrast that to our phone technology that lasts 2 to max 4 years. A new phone iPhone costs between R5999 to R18999. The monthly payment is in the range of R125 to R 790. The difference is real.

I have t shirts that have lasted less than 6 months and jackets that are 10 years of regular wear. That difference is phenomenal. That cost too is phenomenal on our wallet and on the planet.

Obviously the impact of manufacturing is a factor but if the product does not last then the feel good effect from ‘clean’ products is just that.

Is it not time that we make decisions based on longevity rather than short term appeal?

I heard the following this week:
“It is only one straw, said 6 billion people”

Is it not time we thought differently?

Is it not time that we celebrate products that have smaller impacts rather than bigger?
This would mean we celebrate products that keep working, are easy to repair and do not go out of fashion.

I don’t want to go into made local and all the other enviro factors. I am purely talking cost to you and longevity. Sometimes increased cost means significantly increased longevity.

The complete list of safe trails in Cape Town.

I am amazed by how much chatter the question of what are still considered ‘safe trails’ gets. All of a sudden people are experts on ‘the rules of hiking’ and which routes are SAFE.

RULE NUMBER ONE: Let me tell you nobody has ever come to grief hiking alone. (Before you move on to pretty cat pictures in your feed hear me out and read on.) It is true!

Most Search and Rescue folk will agree that accidents are a combination of small ‘bad’ decisions. Let me rephrase that: “small sub optimal decisions”.

One of those could be walking alone, or wearing expensive jewellery or not taking a map or not carrying a first aid kit. These are not rules. They are decisions which potentially put you more at risk. Just like soloing the North Wall of the Eiger. The act is not the cause.

The real problem comes when we are not aware of the small decisions we have made and how they affect our present state. Right here and right now.

And our current state is in constant change and hence needs constant awareness and adjustment. Does my current pace mean I will be benighted? Does me going off the path here mean that a search will be exponentially harder? Dose scrambling down this cliff put me into another level of danger?

Decisions don’t add up. They grow exponentially and we forget that.

Just because I have never had a problem running alone does not make it safe. It is just confirmation bias.

By the same token just because somebody has been hurt on path x does not make it unsafe.

I have friends who carry. I am not one of them. I trust they know their art and are well versed. I am not.

I prefer to be aware of my surroundings and when I say ‘run’ you better haul ass RIGHT NOW.

My job as a guide is to worry so you don’t have to. My job is to constantly be aware of and assess myself, my group and our surroundings and the interaction between all three and how they change and constantly make adjustments.

This attitude is not unique to guides but should be all our attitudes on the mountains and elsewhere.

February 

The year is under way and we hit the month of relationships. I used to dread February because it had THAT day in the middle with all the hype and red roses. 

At school I had no idea about this relationship thing. In fact I only had a real relationship until well after I finished my studies. I had no idea of how to go about this thing called a relationship. I just could not relate. But is that not the crux? 

Why do we connect with some folks and with others we have no connection? At work, with friends, with family, in romance?

Even how we relate to objects around us. A smart sports car can make us feel proud, jealous, guilty even disgusted. Same with a slice of cake. How does that happen? 

How we relate to actions. Our own and those of others. A run can make me feel energised or filled with dread. How does that work?

Is it maybe all about how we relate to our selves rather than how I relate to these external things?

Scrambling 101

So what is this thing called scrambling?

Basically it is the meeting ground between walking and rock climbing. Anything where you might need your hands, either for balance or to move you upwards can be called scrambling. 

“I am afraid of heights can I still do a scramble?”

Yes. Some scrambles only have short sections of technical difficulty with not much exposure. It all depends on the route. It is best to discuss that with your guide or team leader though. I have helped many people deal with their fear of heights. This builds huge confidence and is very empowering. 


What are some of the best scrambles on Table Mountain?

Lions Head is probably the most popular scramble. Most people don’t even think of it as scrambling but just as a path with some ladders and rock sections on it.

India Venster (directly below the cable car) is a very popular route. The rock sections are short and fairly well worn.

Kloof Corner Ridge is the classic mountain ridge with stunning views and significant exposure. 

Mowbray Ridge is one of my favourites. It takes the ridge line directly up from UCT to the summit of Devil’s Peak.

There are many more. 

How strong do I need to be?

Average fitness will get you through the majority of scrambles. 

What gear do I need?

Normal walking shoes and gear is best. I carry a rope and basic gear so that I can ensure the safety of the rest of my party. We don’t pull ourselves up the rope but it is just used as a precaution. The techniques used are also different to normal rock climbing. 

Where can I learn?

It is fairly easy to learn from a qualified guide. Scrambling is a bit of a specialist art. Climbers mostly just solo easier rock sections without any safety precautions so it is better to learn from guides or instructors who have had formal training in this area. It does take practice and great care.