Washing a Down Jacket

In the run up to our Alpine adventure, Wally and I spent a lot of time sorting and preparing our kit for the cold weather we hope to enjoy. This included washing and repairing our down jackets.  Care for down equipment in cold weather is very important- as important as looking after your boots or any other bit of essential gear.  Down jackets are filled with light and compressible feathers that keep you cosy by trapping warm air.  They don't like getting wet, as this makes them heavy and they loose their fluffiness, or "loft". However, dirt, grime, sweat and body oils can have the same affect over time, so every now and then they need a good careful clean. In this blog post, we will take you through the step by step process that we use, and share some pointers that we have learned along the way.

What down equipment is suitable for home cleaning?

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First of all, read the cleaning instructions on your garment care label. We strongly recommend that you DONT wash sleeping bags.  These items are too big and bulky for domestic washing machines and tumble dryers. If possible, use a professional down cleaner with experience of cleaning technical sleeping bags. Smaller items such as down jackets can be cleaned at home. What you need are the following things:

  • Specialist down detergent (available from all good gear shops)
  • Washing machine
  • Tumble dryer
  • Two tennis balls (or tumble dryer balls)
  • Time

Preparation and washing

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Make sure that you have a day or a long evening in front of the telly planned! You'll want to be on hand to ease the process along. Before washing the jacket, check that there aren't any holes where feathers can leak out. If there are, you may wish to consider repairing these with a dab of seam grip and leaving this to set overnight. Larger holes could mean that you need to put your cleaning plans on hold as these will require careful patching before laundering.

Ensure that all zips and hook and loop closures are fastened. Put the jacket in the washing machine on it's own, and wash at 30 degrees with your down cleaning agent. I prefer to turn the spin cycle down as wet feathers are heavy and spinning could damage lightweight stitching and baffles. When the washing machine has finished, your down jacket will look like a cat that has just got out of the bath. At this moment, things are a bit scary.  Did I mention that down jackets really don't like being wet?

Now the hard work begins.

Drying

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Put the jacket in the tumble dryer on low with a couple of tennis balls. You should not go far from it for the next few hours, checking on it every 20 minutes or so and giving it a gentle shake. As it dries, you will notice that there are clumps of soggy feathers and empty areas where there are none. This is where your care and attention is essential.  Take the time to shuggle and coax the down in to areas where it is needed, and with your fingers fluff the clumps gently. It's worth doing this each time you check on the jacket. The amount of time your jacket takes to dry will depend on the amount of down inside and the air permeability of the shell.  Wally's vintage first generation Gore-Tex Mountain Equipment Annapurna jacket takes a lot longer than my light weight Jottnar Fjorm.

Eventually, it will start to feel normal. Don't stop! It's still not dry yet.  I like to give a few more goes in the tumble drier until it feels fluffier and better lofted than it did before.  The final round in the drier makes all the difference.

aftercare

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Finally, to maximise the lifespan of your down jacket, be sure to store it in a dry place, where it has plenty of room to expand and loft. It's definitely not a good idea to store it for any length of time in a stuff sack, even if it is supplied with one. Hopefully with these top tips, your beloved jacket will keep you warm for years to come!

Snowy Goatfell

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Winter is off to a flying start!  On Sunday we were out on the hill with our friend Kirstie and her wee search dog Cailleag, looking for some snowy fun, and we were certainly not disappointed!

We took the steep path from Corrie, in to Coire Lan, and then up the headwall towards the bealach between North Goatfell and Mullach Buidhe. The snow lay deep, but not particularly crisp, more deep and a bit sticky... Once on the ridge the wind began to blow. We wrapped up warm, actually quite excited to feel the nip of winter after so much rain, and headed along the ridge towards Goatfell.

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We took the traverse path that avoids the rocky scramble of Stacach ridge.  This is not always the easy option as is also potentially quite tricky in snowy conditions as it lies in the lee of the ridge and can sometimes be buried in snow.  However, prevailing winds have been northerly recently and the ridge was mostly quite well scoured.  It's worth mentioning that although the deeper pillows in the sheltered bits were well bonded this time, retracing our steps is an option we always have in our minds on this route in winter.

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We reached Goatfell summit and were delighted to find another friend up there- Zabdi of Flying Fever Paragliding School (on foot for a change). Arran is a beautiful place, especially under a blanket of snow, but it's the people that really make it special.  I absolutely love this place and am going to miss home like mad this winter.  For more pics of our adventures, check out Kirstie's twitter feed.  She's a talented photographer, and her pics really do the day justice!

It's not too late to book your winter adventure on Arran.  Lucy is a qualified Winter Mountain Leader and has some availability over the next couple of weeks.  The forecast is awesome, so this is a great opportunity to see the mountains at their best!

A wintery day on the Mainland

Lucy: It's been a long damp dark autumn, and the snow has been slower to arrive than some years, but the mainland is at last looking persistantly wintery and there is snow in the forecast for Arran towards the end of the week! Yesterday I was in the east of Scotland catching up on some hill time with my friend Jen.

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Jen who is normally unstoppable,  is recovering from injury so we picked a relatively easy day that we could adapt and make longer if we wished. The munros to the east of Dalwhinnie fitted the bill perfectly, with a land rover track from roadside to ridge, and a gently undulating plateau to explore.  We targeted Carn na Caim first. It's a steep climb up from the road but not difficult and before we knew it we were away from the hustle and bustle of the A9 and enjoying the open feel of the heathery plateau.  Visibility was mostly good, but a few whisps of cloud played with us from time to time. Crampons were not needed, but it was bitterly cold. There was a dusting of snow, the ground was mostly frozen, and the light was gorgeous. 

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We made short work of Carn na Caim, and feeling strong, headed for A' Bhuidheanach Beag. It wasn't long before we were congratulating ourselves on the second summit of the day and heading down. All that remained to top off a perfect day was to grab a brew and a bowl of soup by the cosy fire at Dalwhinnie's Snack Shack.

Snow is coming to Arran in the next few days so give us a shout if you fancy a guided day in the Arran hills this weekend with a Winter Mountain Leader.  If you also fancy a mainland Winter Munro Day, we are taking bookings and enquiries for March- just get in touch and we will endeavor get back to you straight away.

Work and Play in the Peak District

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Lucy: Things are getting quieter here on Arran and as usual November is the month that we can catch up with ourselves and begin our winter preparation. With less work in the diary and the nights drawing in, it can be hard to keep active at this time of year, and this is one of the few periods when I have to consciously push myself outside to exercise. After a busy year it is of course good to rest, but we also have one eye on winter, a time when we need to be at our fittest! Last weekend I was working on a Lowland Leader Training for Adventure Expeditions all the way down in the Peak District so we both decided to head south and add a bit of rest and relaxation on to the trip in the form of riding bikes and rock climbing as well as spending time with friends.

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With a cold wind forecast on Thursday, we headed to Rivelin Edge for some rock climbing. The crag is sheltered and south facing so it was agood choice. It is also relatively quick to dry, which was a bonus as the day started damp. Some of the greener crack climbs stayed slimey all day, but we enjoyed some delicate face climbing. It's a long time since either of us have played on grit so Wally was very happy with his lead of Left Edge (HVS 4c).

The Peak District is also a great place for road cycling, and we enjoyed a spin amongst the showers, with obligatory cake stops on friday, and Wally who is keen as mustard on the bike,  was out and about on his bike while I was working over the weekend.

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The Lowland Leader Award is a Mountain Training walking and leadership award for people taking groups out in lowland terrain in the UK.  It's part of the Mountain Training leadership pathway and benefits from a structured training and assessment process, with candidate experience consolidated and recorded along the way. Our friends at Adventure Expeditions are providers of this excellent award and this is the first Lowland Leader Training course that I have worked on and I can't wait to do more. Training future leaders is an interesting and rewarding process!

Winter News and 2018 Bookings

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The first snow is dusting the summit of Goatfell, and on the mainland, the hills are starting to look genuinely wintery. With the change of season, it is time to update our clients and friends with our winter availability and accordingly,  announce some big news about our own plans.

In short, we will be spending much of the season in the French Alps!  This is obviously very exciting from a personal perspective, but will have a knock on effect for clients for which we are very sorry. We won't be available for bookings from the 10th December until early March.  Wally is expecting to be staying out in France until the end of April but Lucy will be back to grab some proper Scottish winter fun from the beginning of March. She already has bookings for winter mountain work on the mainland and is taking bookings for mainland winter munros throughout March. However,  if you are keen for Arran wildlife watching or an Arran mountain day in March it is still worth getting in touch to check availability.

Looking ahead to Summer 2018 (May onwards), we will start taking bookings for these dates in the New Year.  We realise that this may be a little frustrating for those of you who wish to get in early with bookings and appreciate that we book up fast, but this is due to the large amount of schools/contract work that we do.  This can block up weeks at a time, and is an important part of our work which we enjoy very much.  Sadly we don't yet have these dates firmed up, and would absolutely hate to take your booking and then cancel you further down the line. We hope you understand that your bookings are just as important to us and would be delighted to hear from you in the mean time to chat about options and ideas for your day out on Arran.

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Finally, we hope you are looking forward to winter as much as we are.  It's a brilliant time for watching wildlife and getting out in to the hills.  Don't forget your head torch as the nights are drawing in, and pop a few extra layers in the bag!

Lucy and Wally.

Vacances dans la ForΓͺt

We've reached the end of our busy season at last, and last week, we took a much looked forward to break with friends in the Forest of Fontainebleau, France. It's a regular escape for us, a heady mix of bouldering, nature and pastries. This year we took our bikes as well as our bouldering mats which was a good shout for when it rained. Here are a selection of our snaps from our week in the magic forest.

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Two out of Three Aint Bad.

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Lucy: I was out yesterday with Jonathan, who is on Arran prepping for an forthcoming marathon, and who fancied a bit of cross-training in the hills. 

We'd planned to do The Three Beinns, but as is often the case at the moment, the Garbh Allt was a bit high, and we were keen on keeping our feet dry, so came up with an entertaining Plan B.

Plan B involved a short and easy scramble over the top of Beinn a Chliabhainn in a thick pea souper of a mist, followed by a steep trek up on to the summit of Beinn Tarsuinn. The clouds parted briefly for us to admire the sweeping slabs of the Meadow Face of Beinn Tarsuinn, before enclosing us once more.

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We made good time, and so decided to extend our day a little, with a traverse under the forboding cliffs of A'chir, popping out on the bealach between Achir and Cir Mhor just as the clouds lifted away at last,  treating us to incredible views of the Rosa Pinnacle. 

The stroll out of the lovely Glen Rosa, was long but enjoable. We were treated to golden eagles hunting overhead, andthe roaring of the red deer stags in the hills all around us. 

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Trossachs light show

Lucy: We've been working on the big island again... This time in the Trossachs, on a Bronze qualifying Duke of Edinburgh's Award expedition for an Edinburgh boarding school... The boys did well on what was a tough journey, with challenging weather and terrain, as well as a brutal early start on the second morning.  However, the negatives brought their positives. Changeable weather means rainbows, and early starts mean sunrises! Stunning interludes that make it all worthwhile. Thanks to the boys for their hard work and determination.

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Backpacking hacks: campfood

Lucy: Wally and I do a lot of multi day camping trips, for fun, as well as for work as freelance mountain leaders. That amount of time spent on the trail means that I try hard to keep the gear that I'm carrying as light as possible, including my food. Specialist backpacking food can be tasty and nutritious, but it is expensive. The readymade alternative is unhealthy supermarket couscous and noodle mixes. A few years ago I started making my own meals to take on the trail and gradually I've refined my camp nourishment, to the point that I reckon I've pretty much got breakfast and dinner nailed (for me anyway). The key ingredient is Lakeside's Soup n Sauce bags, which can take boiling water and are reuseable up to a point.  Here's how:

Breakfast:

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The basic ingredients are museli and powdered milk but to this I can add whatever takes my fancy, to build up a wholesome and filling breakfast. I add boiling water to it when I make my morning brew each day to create an instant porridge.  This week I'm mostly eating:

100g Dorset Cereals Simply Nutty Museli, 2 dessert spoons of powdered milk, a dessert spoon of ground chia seeds, and a handful of chocolate covered raisins (winning!).

I find this mix keeps me full for a while, and is also inviting (the chocolate raisins ensure that). Chia seeds and nuts help keep my protein and omega3 levels topped up.

Dinner:

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After years of trucking through supermarket flavoured couscous I discovered a home blend is so much better. I can make sure that I get enough calories, and add delicious extras to make the meal more enjoyable and healthy. You do pretty much have to like couscous a lot for this to work! The advantage is that you just add boiling water which uses a lot less gas that pasta for example. Like the museli porridge, you can add whatever you fancy. I don't do beef or pork, but I reckon a bit of dried sausage or beef jerky would be nice for someone who does. Here's my current fave mix:

120g quick cook cousous, a handful each of pumpkin seeds and sultanas, dessert spoon of dessicated coconut, dessert spoon of chia seeds. I sachet of Bachelors high protein lentil soup (for salt and protein, alternatively a heaped teaspoon of veg bouillon). A teaspoon of spices, this week it's a blend of turmeric and garam masala.

I'm still figuring out the ultimate multi day lunch hack. If anyone has any top tips to share, I'll give them a try!

Going Wild on Arran

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Lucy: The title of this post, is deliberately, quite similar to the title of my old blog, over on the google platform, that I curated for many years.  It describes perfectly what I spend a lot of my time doing.

The last couple of days I've been out and about with clients, wildlife guiding.  Yesterday we were on a Hotspot Safari- quite literally a tour of the best palces to watch wildlife on Arran.  The day began beautifully, with otters and sunshine.  There were snipe on the beach (who expected that?) and a red throated diver out to sea. Later in the day the weather deteriorated, but we were treated by a show of strength by the stags on the hills above the Newton Shore, who are in full rutting mode just now. Very dramatic.

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This morning was a typical dreich west coast day with strong westerlies. I wondered whether to call it but hoped that we could find a bit of shelter, and some sheltered water for an otter watching session.  Happily when we hit the shore, the rocks along the beach gave a bit of protection and we saw plenty of activity, incluing a female with two cubs, who bounced and flounced amongst the waves while their mother fished for breakfast. Later, we took a stroll along the shore the watch seals and found these lovely otter tracks in the sand.