Nantgwynant North-West 2-day backpack

Pitch on Y Lliwedd east ridgeA leisurely 2-day traversal of the north-western side of Nantgwynant, visiting Craig Fach, Llyn Llydaw and the Hafod y Llan walk above Craflwyn Hall, some new pockets of Wales for us to explore and giving us a superb pitch on the eastern ridge of Y Lliwedd.

At 609m, Craig Fach is in the elite group of Dewey hills that are also Sims, one of three that we had yet to claim. It is also a fine example of a hill that we probably wouldn’t otherwise have explored due to its very close proximity to the most popular honeypot in Wales, but turns out to be a secluded and delightful little gem.

None of our previous trips to the area have included the lakes enclosed by the Snowdon horseshoe, this was an opportunity to visit one of them, Llyn Llydaw, and view the mountain architecture from a new perspective.

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The Cowal Way 4-day backpack

Pitch at the Brack bealachA 4-day backpack of the Cowal Way (CW) waymarked trail in Argyll, running through the peninsula from Portavadie in the south-west to Tarbet in the north.

I enjoyed this backpack almost entirely in glorious conditions and I was very surprised to find nearly all of it totally deserted. Apart from locals in the towns and villages, the only people I saw on the route were two couples near Sruth Ban waterfalls and a few starting out on the popular Succoth path to The Cobbler.

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Eastern Glyderau circuit 2-day backpack

A 2-day circuit of the eastern arm of the Glyderau, approaching Bwlch Tryfan from Capel Curig via Gallt yr Ogof and Y Foel Goch and returning via Llyn Bochlwyd and the byway of Telford’s old road along the valley.

I walked this approach on my Tryfan East solo backpack in 2014, the main objective of this trip was to make that excellent tent pitch at Llyn Caseg-fraith together on a joint trip. The conditions were even better this time, two days of superbly clear and sunny weather with the last remnants of snow to spice the scenery.

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SW Nantlle hills & cwms 2-day backpack

Llynnau Cwm Silyn corrie lakeA 2-day circuit from Nebo of the mountains and little trodden cwms in the south-western half of the Nantlle ridge, a region of Wales we last visited thirteen years ago.

In our quest for new pockets of territory to explore at a slackpacking pace, we approached Mynydd Graig Goch on its north-western ridge via Llyn Cwm Dulyn, while the focus for the second day was the undoubtedly little frequented area below the crags of Craig Cwm Silyn, including the corrie lake with its companion and some nameless pools on the higher ground between Cwm Silyn and Cwm Afon Craig-las.

This short spell of warm and sunny August weather was the perfect time to experience the vibrant colours of the heather and bog vegetation, particularly on the second day below the crags when picking our way through the mixture of boggy ground, fallen boulders and heather that make this a superb fragment of wild Wales.

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Northern Arans #4 2-day backpack

Pitch at Gwaun LydanAfter a long hiatus we decided on another short visit to the familiar territory of the Northern Arans, a typical short route ascending from the north to Aran Fawddwy and curving around over Drysgol to Gwaun Lydan. The return descends into the Llaethnant valley to reach Creiglyn Dyfi and traverses Foel Hafod-fynydd to Bwlch Sirddyn and the little used pass route through Cwm Ddu.

The warm humid air afforded only hazy views today and, being a sunny Sunday, a fair number of walkers on the usually quiet Aran Fawddwy.

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Cwm Lledr circuit 2-day backpack

Pitch on Ysgafell ridgeAnother 2-day circuit around the hills forming Cwm Lledr, this time exploring the lower cwm on the eastern side and returning via Dolwyddelan Castle.

The Ysgafell Wen ridge is superb for backpackers: great mountain views, rocky knolls, grassy pitches and bejewelled with lakes, yet little trodden and often walked in solitude, due no doubt to the difficulty of devising satisfactory circuits for the typical day walker. We have done several longer backpacks in this area but this route was a short one to take advantage of a fine sunny weekend and we saw nobody until the afternoon of the second day when a group appeared on the mine track from the Crimea Pass.

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Latchford Locks, Bridgewater Way & Dunham Massey

Dunham MasseyA single day walk on the west side of Altrincham. The outward line follows the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) westwards as far as Latchford Locks on the Manchester Ship Canal. The return line follows the Bridgewater Way (BW) canal path through Lymm to Bollington Mill and the National Trust house and park of Dunham Massey.

The TPT follows a former railway bed in a dead straight line for 3.6m (5.8km) from Oldfield Brow to Oughtrington with just a slight kink before another 2m (3.2km) to the M6 and is highly unphotogenic, hence no worthwhile pictures from this section. As we’ve remarked before, this type of easy level walking, though pleasant enough, is not our usual choice but is fine for distance training and is well used by cyclists and runners too. We also saw a new (to us) phenomenon here: speed roller skating with 2m long poles to aid propulsion.

The BW section is a picturesque walk in the rural Cheshire landscape passing through Lymm, a bustling town today in warm sunshine. As expected Dunham Massey was extremely busy with day trippers enjoying the warm early Autumn conditions, a popular deer park whose various paths form sections of our shorter and more frequent half-day walks from home. The exit gate on the B5160 leads onto the path through Dunham golf course emerging at Highgate Road, a short walk from home.

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Yr Arddu Lakes 2-day backpack

Pitch at Llyn yr ArdduThis was our first backpack since my discharge from hospital a few weeks ago, a modest circuit with significant ascent to a choice deserted location in Wales.

Moel y Dyniewyd is little frequented, but is graced by a thin path on its western side if only because it appears on the Marilyn list of hills and is climbed by at least some hillbaggers from Beddgelert or Nantmor, though very few continue beyond its summit.
The main objective for this trip was to potter around one of our favourite areas of all time, the deserted, rough but beautiful terrain of Yr Arddu and its splendid lakes.

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Bridgewater Way: Altrincham-Manchester Oxford Road day walk

Canal BasinAn easy day walk to aid recovery following a stay in hospital: a few weeks ago my lower left leg swelled up and I suffered stabbing pains on the left of the upper chest when trying to breathe in deeply. My doctor quickly recognized the symptoms, made a few phone calls, wrote a letter for the medics at A&E and told me to go there at once. His suspicions were correct: after some hours and several tests and a cat scan at A&E, they confirmed it was a DVT clot in the leg, part of which had migrated upwards and caused a pulmonary embolism in my left lung. The chief consultant organized a bed immediately, in the transplant unit no less, where I stayed for four days under close observation during treatment with clexane in case part of the clot reached the right lung. On discharge I was prescribed at least six months on Warfarin to help clear the lung damage, hence no mountain backpacks for so long.

This was the second time we have done this walk since discharge and the first time the entire BW towpath has been open all the way to Manchester with no path closures or diversions. Sections of the way have recently been upgraded to high quality grit surfaces. The southern semi-rural section contrasts with the industrial heritage in the urban northern part and there is much of interest to see.

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Granite Gear VC60 and Airbeam

Crown VC60 and Airbeam FrameA brief post to highlight a disappointing experience testing a new pack system.

My Golite Lightspeed 49l pack (original model) has given superb service for years, but recently it showed heavy signs of wear and a couple of stitching lines started to come apart. Its excellent load support and comfort relative to its weight would be very hard to match in a new pack and this was of primary importance to me (note: the new Lightspeed is a totally different animal: different design, lower capacity and higher weight, it should have a new name). I find nothing worse than significant pressure on the shoulders and I want at least 90% of the load held firmly on the hips.

I ordered a Granite Gear Crown VC60 pack for a home trial, rather more capacious than really needed but the roll-top closure and straps made it easy to compress down. Granite Gear don’t really believe in hipbelt pockets but they sell add-on pockets, I also ordered one of these to try. This was the first pack I’d tried with a removable back frame, and the selling points for me were the very low weight and the large padded hipbelt. I loaded it up with about 10kg of kit.

The hipbelt and back cushioning were comfortable as expected but the removable plastic sheet frame is thin and very bendy, I found that it offered little in the way of load support and the pack still felt ‘saggy’ with insufficient transmission of support from the belt to the pack. However Klymit offer an inflatable Airbeam Frame upgrade that reduces the total weight but improves the load support by stiffening the frame structure – I ordered one of these.

I inflated the Airbeam to a good firmness as recommended and slotted it into the frame pocket, this improved the load support considerably but I felt it wasn’t up to the overall standard of the Lightspeed. At this point I stopped for the evening and removed the Airbeam, leaving it on my desk overnight. Next morning it was severely deflated. I reinflated it, closed the valve firmly and left it again – it deflated badly after about 4 hours.
I returned it and requested a replacement but it was temporarily out of stock, I ordered one from a different retailer with stock and it arrived quickly. Same test, exactly the same result – bad deflation after a few hours, and an online search revealed that some other backpackers had found this problem. At this point I lost confidence in the product, the main pack support mechanism must be completely reliable in the field. The Airbeam seems to be tough and well made, I can only imagine that the problem lies in the valve. All were returned for refunds, and hence the Crown VC60 had to be returned too.

As it turned out I would have returned the VC60 anyway because of the add-on hipbelt pocket. It’s actually a rectangular pouch that attaches via webbing straps through loops on the belt, but it isn’t a firm connection, it juts out and jiggles about and feels horrible. It proves what I often say: an integrated solution is always better than a bolted-on one, in this case very much better.

I also trialled another couple of packs:

The Montane Grand Tour 55, a good pack that gave commendable load support via a T-shaped stay and ticked most boxes for me, but again it didn’t quite match the overall support and comfort of the Lightspeed – I think I’ve been spoilt by this old Golite!. The two mesh pockets on the back (yes the back, not the front as some people insist on calling it) are not as versatile as a single large mesh pocket.

The Lowe Alpine Eclipse 45:55, a decent attempt at a lightweight backpack whose load support is not as good as the Lightspeed or the Montane, and the back mesh pocket is tight, it won’t hold much. Lowe Alpine don’t believe in hipbelt pockets either, and one senses that their designers included them on the Eclipse with gritted teeth – these are a joke. Once the pack is on and the belt tightened, those tight small pockets are curved into a thin crescent shape and will hold hardly anything useful, maybe a chapstick (they won’t even hold a compass without undue stress on the material and zip).