What lies beyond the edge of running – My #AdventureList

At freestak we have recently started working with Berghaus on a campaign that will be hitting magazines and computer screens near you soon. Now that we are part of the Berghaus team, we have been included in a few things that this great British brand have been organising. One of the big ones this year is their #AdventureList campaign which is an opportunity for everyone who loves the outdoors to get involved in some amazing adventures (and be in with a chance of winning some rather lovely stuff if they tell Berghaus about what they have been doing).

Hiking with Sir Chris Bonington

Me and Sir Chris Bonington - hero worship in full effect!
Me and Sir Chris Bonington – hero worship in full effect!

It was as part of this, that Berghaus invited Julie and me to join a group for a hike with legendary climber and adventurer Sir Chris Bonington in the Lake District. That was far too good an opportunity to miss out on, so late on Friday afternoon J. and I climbed in the trusty Matrix and headed north.

The Berghaus team were putting together a little film, that will be out in March, about some of the adventures that the people linked to the brand are embarking on. Hopefully Julie and I will make the cut – I will certainly post the video once it is out, because the group that Berghaus had gathered together were really fascinating and inspiring, so there will be plenty of moments to savour in the film even if yours truly ends up on the cutting room floor!

What is the #AdventureList?

Famous for forty seconds... maybe!
Famous for forty seconds… maybe!

The whole idea of the #AdventureList campaign is that people can create a list of the outdoors challenges that they would like to take on. The big difference between this and the idea of a bucket list is that it is specifically about outdoors adventures, so ‘seeing the Mona Lisa’ or ‘visiting the Taj Mahal’ wouldn’t be on the list… unless you cycled from London to see the Taj Mahal or ran from Edinburgh to see the Mona Lisa. You get the idea.

Hiking with Sir Chris Bonington for the day was an amazing opportunity to meet and talk to someone whose whole life has been about pushing his boundaries ticking off the things that are on his adventure list. To give you a flavour…

  • He made the first British ascent of the North Wall of the Eiger
  • Led the expedition that made the first ascent of The South Face of Annapurna, the biggest and most difficult climb in the Himalaya at the time.
  • Led the successful expedition making the first ascent of the South West Face of Everest in 1975
  • Reached the summit of Everest himself in 1985 with a Norwegian expedition

This is just a tiny fraction of the things that Sir Chris has done. There is much more detail here.

Knowing that I would be meeting a man who had probably done more last week than I have in my 38 years on the planet, I was a little nervous about committing my adventure list to paper. But that is what Berghaus asked us to do and I thought that it would be a really interesting exercise.

My #AdventureList

My twitter biog is “I run marathons. Everything else is a result of that” and one of the things I mean by that is that if it wasn’t for my fascination with trying to find out what I am capable of over 26.2 miles, I wouldn’t have the fitness, confidence and drive to attempt anything that I have now committed to on my dream adventure list. And I will admit that as I get older and I realise that I have to train harder and harder to shave time off my marathon PB, the attraction of the things on the list that are not trying to improve on my time over 26.2 miles, grows ever stronger.

So in no particular order (and most definitely subject to amendment) here is my #AdventureList as it currently stands:

  • Run the UTMB CCC in under 18 hours
  • Train for and race in an Ironman
  • Climb Mont Blanc
  • Complete the Patrouille des Glaciers
  • Go free diving
  • Do more ice-climbing
  • Trek in Patagonia
  • Ski to the South Pole
  • Ride the Dunwich Dynamo
  • Spend time training for a marathon in Iten, Kenya

The list goes on and on and on. I love reading books, magazines and websites about adventure so there is a constant stream of new ideas. The challenge is that whilst the list of things I’d love to do grows, the time and money to do all these things doesn’t!

The first item on my list – the UTMB CCC in under 18 hours – is actually only a few months away (August this year) and whilst the time target is going to be a challenge, I do think it is possible. Last year I ran the race with J. and finished a shade over 24 hours. But J. fell during the race and really hurt her knee which, combined with misjudging the start and really getting caught up in a lot of bottle necks at the start of the race, meant that we never really got into our stride. So this year I hope that I can push harder and be smarter and see how close to 18 hours I can get.

The Berghaus #AdventureList team on Catbells
The Berghaus #AdventureList team on Catbells

Some of the things on the list are really just pipe-dreams but one thing that I have learned since I started trying to get fitter, is that I am (and that means everyone is) more capable than I ever imagined. As far as I am concerned, what we need is determination, imagination, supportive people around us and a bit of luck to make any adventure list a reality.

As I take on the things on the list, tick some off and add others, I will update you as I go.

And if you have something on your adventure list, please tell me – I might want to add one or two to my list. Finally while you are inspiring me to do more interesting stuff, make sure you tell Berghaus (they are on twitter @therealberghaus and you can use #AdventureList) not least because there is a chance to win some of their very, very nice gear if you do. Oh and if you have a twitter account, Sir Chris Bonington is @ChrisBonington – well worth a follow.

Here’s to a future full of adventures.



The Berghaus Hyper 37 backpack review

I love running in the mountains and whilst I dream about being able to run in the Alps every day, the reality of living in north London is that I can’t. And the thing I love above all else, is multi-day trips or ‘fast-packing’. My definition of this, is taking as little as possible, going as light as possible and moving fast through the mountains. And I have my wife to thank for introducing me to this idea. Before I met her, my experiences had been limited to a few day-long runs in the hills, a couple of ultras (but in south east England, so not very mountainous) and one weekend spent tackling the ‘three peaks in 24 hours’ challenge with three friends.

What my wife introduced me to was the idea of running for two or three days, from cabin to cabin, through the Alps. In fact that is what we did for our honeymoon.

Philippe and Anna Gatta… and one immense challenge

Philippe and Anna Gatta
Philippe and Anna Gatta

So I think I can empathise, to some degree, with Philippe and Anna Gatta, who with the support of Berghaus are running over 1,000 miles along the length of the Great Himalayan Trail. Actually, Philippe is doing the whole trip while Anna, very sensibly, is running sections with him rather than taking on the whole thing.

I like to imagine that Philippe and Anna will be like Julie and I, floating along the mountain trails, catching sight of the rare mountain fauna, seeing magnificent mountains and sunsets, managing adverse conditions together and generally experiencing something life-changing and life-affirming.

Except there is a very big difference between what the Gattas are doing and what the Freemans do from time to time. The Great Himalayan Trail is NOT the Grand Tour de Mont Blanc. Not by a long stretch.

The difference between the Alps and the Himalayas

For me and Julie, setting off on a three day run around the Mont Blanc is intrepid. It is exciting and challenging and full of wonderful surprises. It is also very, very safe. One has a mobile phone signal almost all the way around Mont Blanc. There is a mountain refuge or cabin at the end of every days hike, so if you are running, you can probably stop at one for lunch and arrive at the next one in time for dinner and a bed for the night. The Grand Tour de Mont Blanc is a busy route and if you sat down for an hour you would almost certainly have a group of people walk past you. In short, you would be hard pressed to get in trouble and not have a fairly easy way out on the routes that Julie and I have run on.

Not so, the Great Himalayan Trail. This is not a tourist destination for well-heel hikers out for a day or two, aiming to walk off their fondue excesses. The GHT is a tough track through very hard mountains in an area where if you get in trouble, you are going to have to sort yourself out. Which is why Philippe Gatta and not Simon Freeman is taking on this challenge.

Philippe’s CV reads like the pages of a hybrid of Sir Ranulph Fiennes autobiography, a Boys Own adventure story and James Cracknell’s new years resolutions list. He has climbed Everest, run multi-day ultras, swum across thundering glacial rivers, wrestled bears and all with wonderful Gallic flair. If anyone is going to have a chance of running, unaided and carrying all his kit requirements for XX days, Philippe has the right credentials. Oh and Mrs. Gatta will be there at times to give him a kick in the backside if he looks like he is flagging.

You can follow the adventure as it unfolds day by day, by visiting the Berghaus Community website and I highly recommend having a read of all the updates so far (Philippe is on Day 20 at the time I am writing this). It is honest, warts-and-all, compelling stuff and really explains the utterly mind-blowing scale of what this modern-day adventurer is taking on. Here is the link.

Got the idea, now what about the gear…?

So if Gatta has the physical and mental tools to take on such an incredible task, what about the kit that he will need.

My experience is that every time I have been in the mountains, I have realized that I can take less and less with me. For the UTMB CCC race this year, I had to take the compulsory kit, but blessed with decent weather I used precisely none of it. Even at 3am, in the pitch dark, climbing a mountain alone, the only upgrade that I needed was to go from a short-sleeved merino top from ashmei to a long-sleeved base layer from The North Face. My waterproof shell, duvet jacket, waterproof trousers and so on all stayed safely packed in my bag.

But Gatta needs to be more careful. If he gets in trouble he will need to have all the kit he needs to get out of trouble or at least stay safe until help arrives and that could be a very long time. He will also be gone for an extended period and will be running at high altitude so the weather conditions will be very changeable and he needs to be able to manage that.

Given all that, Berghaus have gone to work creating a set of kit that will cover all conditions and give Philippe the security he needs. I have not tried any of the apparel or footwear, but I have been given one of the most crucial bits of kit that Bergahus has developed for Gatta – the thing he will carry all the kit in!

The Berghaus Hyper 37

I guess that in reality everything that Gatta carries on his epic challenge will be equally important and I know that he and Berghaus team have worked hard to ensure that he has everything he needs and nothing that he doesn’t. But arguably, without a really good bag, he would be scuppered because he’d just have a big pile of kit on the floor.

And ‘big’ is the word here. The kit list that Gatta has developed must be pretty extensive and that creates a need for a big bag. Certainly this is not a 90 litre monster like the rucksacks that you see unbalancing the kids doing their Duke Of Edinburgh awards events. At thirty seven litres the bag is a very interesting capacity – small enough that you would have to think about everything you take if you are going for a multi-day event – there would probably not be room for anything other than the tinyest sleeping bag for example. But it is also probably too big for a single-day race like the CCC or the Montagn’Hard, both of which I ran this year.

The bag feels just about right if you want to carry enough kit to be comfortable and yet still move light and fast. It is also extremely expandable. The stretch pockets on the front and sides of the pack seem to have no limit and the main pocket could easily accommodate a cycling helmet or crampons (although sharp spikes might be a bad idea for the very thin fabric.

The main section of the bag is a single space with a top opening, closed with a draw-string and a lid with more capacity for things that you need to have to hand.

Inside the bag there is a sleeve for a hydration bladder and a removable pad that doubles as a sleeping mat (though this is most definitely on the minimalist side of things!)

The straps are really comfortable and padded, not digging in at all, even when the bag is fully loaded and waist-strap is marvelous, being elasticated so that it fits like a glove and also with two really good-sided pockets for all the things that you need to have close to hand.

One other things that is worth noting about this pack is the system for synching the pack down if it is not full. There are just a couple of bungee cords that cross the front of the pack, incorporating the clip for the pack lid. One quick tug and everything comes together, pulling the pack tight around whatever you have in it.

And in fact that is part of the wonder of this pack. Everything is so simple. One large section. Three outer pockets with masses of capacity. A simple system for tightening the bag. Comfy shoulder straps and good-sided pockets on the waist strap. That is it. No bells and whistles (well actually there is a whistle on the chest strap, but that is to be expected).

On the other side, the Hyper 37 is a pack designed for a multi-week self-supported expedition in one of the most challenging environments – it is, in fact, big. This is not a back-pack that you would take for a day running on the trails. In fact it would probably be too big for me, for something like the CCC and of all the races in that wonderful Alpine weekend, the only race that would justify this bags load capacity would be the 300km PTL. That is only to be expected – after all the pack was designed with Gatta’s expedition in mind. And I understand that there is a 22 litre version that will be available soon alongside this bigger bag, so you can hopefully find all the benefits of the Hyper 37, just mini-er.

Berghaus have done a great job

All in all, I love this bag. I will readily admit that I am a bag fan of bags and Berghaus: for me there is no such thing as too much luggage and I never seem to have exactly the right sort of bag for everything I want to do. I love bags probably slightly more than I love stationery, and I love stationery a lot. And I love Berghaus.

I don’t buy much stuff in general but I coveted a Berghaus duvet gilet so much that I ended up with it for Christmas last year and I welcome the onset of winter so I have a chance to wear it! And my favourite back-pack is a Berghaus one that I have used for travel and multi-day expeditions without the slightest cause for complaint.

And even through the fog of all that love, I can honestly say that the Hyper 37 is a great pack. If you are looking for the ideal bag for a light and fast expedition, running for several days with the requirement to carry a fair amount of kit , food, etc, then this would be a great choice. I’ll certainly be planning some multi-day runs soon, simply to have a chance to use the bag more… well, any excuse will do really!

The Berghaus 22L Hyper Rucksack will be available March 2014 with a SRP of £70

And you thought the UTMB was ‘ultra’: Philippe Gatta & Berghaus take on the Great Himalayan Trail

I am happy to admit now that I was pretty nervous about tackling the UTMB CCC with Julie, my wife, a few weeks ago. We were aiming to cover over 100km, with more than 6,000m of vertical ascent, in one go. By foot. Without motorised assistance. Ourselves.

However, I am obsessed enough about running to know that the CCC is nothing special as far as distance is concerned. For goodness sake, it was the shortest of the four races that week in Chamonix! And I know people like James Adams, he who ran across America.

So I am aware that there is always someone going further, higher, faster and all the other Olympic ideals. Especially in ultra running (which by the way should be an Olympic sport, rather than one of the thirty three types of sailing… but that is for a different blog post).

GHT map 2
Philippe Gatta’s Route… looks hilly!


Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 15.33.41The most recent mad man… I mean ultra endurance athlete, that has come to my attention, is French mountaineer Philippe Gatta who has a pretty impressive CV of challenges including completed the Seven Summits challenge where he climbed; Mt. Everest, Vinson, Carstensz, McKinley, Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro and Elbrus. He has run a bucket load of ultras including the Marathon de Sables (and was probably the only person there who could pronounce the name of the race correctly) and the Himal Race in Nepal which consists 405 miles and 23,000 m of elevation gain to name just a couple. You can read more about him here.

And now Philippe is heading off to run the Great Himalayan Trail, a 1,700km run along a route that connects some of the world’s highest and most challenging mountain peaks. He is aiming to complete the route in 40 days which will make the Great Himalayan Trail the equivalent of 40 marathons in 40 days at altitude.

I actually love these sorts of challenges and I wish I had the drive and bravery to tackle something like that myself. I love the fact that not only will it be a challenge for Philippe physically and mentally, but there is also masses of logistics involved and the added joy of a load of new and highly specialised kit that will be required. As a bit of a kit geek, I had the chance to drool over some of the new Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 15.34.38Berghaus kit that is being developed for the challenge at the Outdoors Show in Germany earlier this year. It all looks fantastic and I have been told that there will be a chance to try some of it out and give you a first hand review… I guess I just need a chain of 8000m+ mountains to go and practice on!

In the mean time if you want to follow how Philippe and his team, including his wife I believe, are getting on, click on this link or check Berghaus out on twitter @therealberghaus