Tremendous Toadstools and fantastic Fungi

img_0211Summer is definitely toppling over into Autumn now, so on a quiet and mellow afternoon we head off on a forestry walk not far from Inchree where we stumbled upon these fantastic examples of Fly Agarics.

Just off the footpath at the edge of the forest these toadstools look as if they had been made for a fairytale film set. There is not a blemish on their bright red caps, and they are huge!

img_0206Everything about these Fly Agarics is perfect as we get to them and look closely. The large white gills present as fresh white with a tinge of pink when viewed from underneath, and the new veil is still complete, flaring above the typical bulbous base.

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With no slug trails, mice nibblings or bird pecks the cap is still perfect with as yet nothing to spoil the pristine surface.

img_0221The smaller of these two Agaric (or Amantia Muscaria to give it its latin name), shows an excellent example of an emerging toadstool, cap still rounded before fully opening and flattening out. The white spots or warts are still a lovely creamy white; at later stages they will fade to a yellowish colour as they age and get rain washed.

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Pulling back the view and showing them in their setting you can see how arresting the sight was as we rounded the corner of the footpath and saw them on the bank under the trees next to the river. They are typical of their habitat, growing as they are under the Birch and Spruce trees on this acidic soil bank.

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There’s a whole host of other fungus species showing well right now and in Glen Nevis there is a small stand of beech trees with colourful bracket fungus growing out of the heartwood.

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This is the Hoof or Tinder fungus so called because the brackets look very like a horse’s hoof – if you the rap the fungus with your knuckle you will find it quite solid and hard; this is a tough specimen at this full grown stage, hard like a walnut.  Not the soft collapsible spongy feel that one might expect on first encountering it.

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Close up you can see beautifully coloured tiers of distinct growth, concentrically grooved and zoned with blue grey, greens and rich tan coloured rings.

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The currently accepted scientific name for this bracket fungus is Fomes Fomentarius which means “fungus used for tinder” as this fungus can indeed be used for lighting fires, even if it does burn very slow.

When this fungus is in its fruiting body phase it is common to see a large, spongy thick lip growing all the way round the bracket – this soft white lip is the growing layer of the fungus. Only later on will it become the very tough horny hoof that we see on tree trunks throughout beech woodlands across the Scottish Highlands.

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On this same group of tree trunks we also found a sweet example of Porcelain fungus. Classically situated high up on the beech trunk it’s delicate thin appearance is immediately evocative of translucent porcelain tea cups; especially when viewed alongside the tough no-nonsense brackets.

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The morning was a warm bright, sunny excursion up the Glen following the winding river Nevis and traversing past the old burial ground which lies quietly enclosed in a guardian of beech and sycamore trees.

Later in the afternoon, having crossed the river Nevis at Lower Falls we headed back down the Glen through the coniferous plantations. By now the sun had gone in and the warmth had gone; there was a definite early evening chill in the air.  We headed back along one of the forest tracks accompanied as we walked by the high pitched delicate, restless notes of Goldcrests and Coal Tits foraging together up in the canopy along their own little coniferous highway.

On a mossy lichen encrusted bank farther along this track is a veritable village of toadstools looking exactly like a small hamlet. It’s a bit of a steep scramble to get up to look at the fungi in detail built as they are high above the road like tiny alpine chalets.

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They are each quite jaunty looking funnel shaped fungi close up, and have the outward look of a stetson hat set squarely and confidently on its stalk. The gills are interweaved, more akin to the offset course of bricks as opposed to the smooth running line of the gills in the Fly Agaric. The closest we have been able to get to identifying them is possibly the Bi-coloured Deceiver.

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Growing out from their precipice as they do, they complete an elegant study in this green palette of mosses and lichens which are immensely pleasing to the eye.

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Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Jacket

Mountain Hardware have been smashing it on expeditions this last year, particularly in Alaska with their Absolute Zero Parka. Closer to home and its their micro baffled down jacket, the Ghost Whisperer that I love wearing again.   This is a layering piece, or a top layer depending on the conditions and can provide active, or static warmth. Perfect for the start of Winter when Christmas is long over, and we realise the winds have swung round again from the north and there is that bitter arctic freshness in the air. Going out today, the earth smells different too. There is a lovely damp, earthiness to the fell and I’m sure I could be led blindfold here and know I was home again by smelling the air and peaty fragrance of the turf out on the Lakeland fells.

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Being the right temperature is one of the fundamentals of a thoroughly enjoyable day out in stormy weather. We typically talk about being too hot or too cold; we not only notice it but we talk about it enthusiastically when we have stayed the right temperature for the whole day. It can definitely be achieved, because it makes such a difference, especially in our UK Winter with its tearing icy winds that can chill an actual -2C down to -20C in the direct wind blast. On a more benign level, lower down in the valleys and it’s a mix of micro baffled down (Hydrophobic nowadays), base layers and shells. Its just a case of trying out which mixes of garments, and layers of fabrics, the brands and their systems each use, to find out which work for you as an individual.

Don’t forget about covering the extremities in conjunction with a good jacket if the weather demands. Protect your hands with gloves (you can layer up with dextrous liner gloves and an outer glove) Extremities Thinnys are a Godsend, and I also take       appropriate socks, whether Coolmax or thermal and woollen socks plus a hat which you can keep on or take off to vent heat quickly as the ambient temperature demands. Get this right and you can enjoy concentrating fully on your photography for greater part of the day, and still have time later to get to the pub for a well earned pint!

 

Aku Superalp GTX Boot

Glencoe 2014 (35 of 173)

Footwear is one of the most important pieces of gear for us. The biomechanics of the foot are individual to the person, and it takes as long it takes to get the right boot for you. “No foot, no horse” is an old saying that still rings true nowadays. If you get an inadequate or ill-fitting pair of boots it can ruin a day out; make sure you have a boot that is comfortable to spend consecutive days in. You’ll never get everything in one boot but you should achieve the key points dealing with a variety of situations, particularly wet ground, scrambling over river boulders and rubbly, uneven terrain.

A sturdy hiking boot with a good rand running round the upper, ramps up the boot’s durability, and also helps when splashing through streams and rain soaked vegetation.  A shoe that is too soft is going to get hammered in one season, will give poor stability, and will have too much torsion to support your foot across awkward ground.

 

SuperAlpStream01Today I’m testing the Aku Superalp GTX Boot, which performs superbly on days like today – appallingly wet conditions. Through 5 hours of solid rain and walking through streams and soggy trails, my boots didn’t leak once. With lower grade quality boots, eventually the water can pool in the leather and will seep through. These boots are fantastic. They came back seriously soaked, but sound and dry inside.

An evening airing and drying out in the ambient warmth of the Lodge’s sitting room, a brush off and a re-proof and they are ready for the next outing, down Glen Etive.

Where you have a boot with a waterproof membrane such as Gore-Tex or DryLine, periodically wash around the inside with water and sluice them out. This helps swill out any small bits of bracken or grit which if left, can work round and round the inside of the boot and eventually puncture the membrane. When airing boots after a day out, remove the insole or footbed so that it too can also dry out and get a good airing.

SuperAlpSide01Fit-wise a lot of us are the classic ‘Anglo Saxon’ foot; skinny heel and a broad forefoot. I’m no exception and am usually 100% Scarpa as this brand consistently make a perfect last for this foot shape in several of their styles.

Aku is a brand of footwear I haven’t tried before. They have tweaked this style a bit to make it less European-slim in the forefoot. At first fit and feel, the boot felt overwide at the forefoot and very shallow over the tarsals. However I soon got used to the shape; they have good flexion in the ankle cuff whilst still giving the sturdiness and support required throughout the day. They are a very comfortable boot to wear, and I wore these straight out of the box. Aku states – womans fit “A cosy and wrapping shape which gives comfort and stability on uneven paths”. And they are spot on.

One of the main features for me is the deep rubber rand around the whole boot, not just the toe bumper. These boots will get hammered with the type of photography we do whether it’s hiking in to the headwall of a valley, scrambling up the side of a waterfall, or scouting around the quarry rock faces for patterns and colours in the different rock strata. I don’t need these boots to be shredding and cracking after a few months. The way they have been made will support the work I do, not hinder it.

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This was a day perfectly illustrated in its water soaked bracken; glowing toffee coloured fronds against elegant green sprays of tussock grasses. It was a day of contrasting colours, all provided in abundance by the landscape through which we explored. I feel a definite emotional response to this landscape here. The Silver birches gleam with silver white bark under elegant weeping branches ticked with lemon yellow and lime green birch leaves. And a backdrop of slate grey sky brings rafts of steely pewter clouds, moving fast overhead announcing the next band of heavy rain.

Deuter Guide 30+ SL Rucksack

Deuter Guide 30+ SL Rucksack. Colour Sun-Titan.

 

010Today we decided to go and poke around the waterfalls up the Wythburn Valley, and come back over the top of the Fell which would make it roughly a 6 hour hike.  I’ve got my new 30L Alpine rucksack, the Deuter Guide 30+ SL, so this was the ideal time to take it out for a test run.

Rucksacks are a personal thing; like footwear – and it takes as long as it takes to find the right gear. The ratio of male to female end users is significantly higher, so women have to hunt harder to find a back length that is short enough, and a hip belt system that is comfortable enough for their more conical hip structure. I have a typically short back so I routinely accept that it will take several trying on sessions of different branded, similarly made backpacks for me to find a pack, with a comfortable back system, and today proved a winner.   I found the system in the Deuter Guide 30+ SL to be perfectly padded, allowing the pack to sit comfortably on my back without resisting and irritating it.

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From the off I loved the fact that the hip belt closed comfortably round my hips, to meet at the buckles without any discomfort or digging in.  When a hip belt is largely webbing straps they cut in awkwardly around the abdomen.

I also wanted to pack a load of gear to see how it performed with weight.  A good rucksack sits comfortably on the hips and your core muscles so that the strongest part of your skeletal system carries the weight. It should not pull from your shoulders. I can suffer from tension headaches and this would be a big day for me if I came back at the end of the day with no familiar dull ache starting in my neck and temples.  From the start the pack felt comfortable and didn’t drag on my neck and shoulder muscles at all. With the sternum straps, which I usually dislike, on the Deuter Guide 30+ SL I felt more stable; and this used with the contoured shoulder straps, lifted the pressure as it was designed to do off my neck and shoulders. What a relief!

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 The terrain throughout the day was constantly uneven with ground soaked tussocks of reeds and grasses, small burns and streamlets, plus deep bracken to negotiate, which frequently hid mossy covered fallen rocks from the old screes and crags above.We were also moving up steep terraced hillsides following a gorge-cut procession of upland waterfalls throughout the latter part of the day, so balance was a key thing for me. The Deuter Guide 30+ SL tucked in nice and secure, moving with me as I negotiated uneven ledges to get in place for shots. Instead of putting the pack down to hunt around for shots, I carried on, totally absorbed in hunting around the rivers and rocks for subjects.  The Deuter Guide stayed quite happily and securely in place – properly a part of me.  The fins of this hip belt have a top quality foam padding in them for enduring comfort, and the hip belt has been constructed to pivot slightly to accommodate complex manoeuvres without throwing you off balance; particularly appreciated when you are negotiating tumbled, strewn rocks in the middle of a river crossing.

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The Deuter Guide 30+ designers have put intelligence, experience and knowledge into the design process, actively considering end user requirements.  The Deuter Guide 30+ SL is a top loader and at its opening has a good grab feel whilst the outer and inner drawstring sections are equally tough and rip resistant. For the gear geeks this is a 330 denier Nylon blended fabric, which is tough. It totally meets with my approval – I like durability and tear resistance. I also liked the highly water resistant zip that had been put in for added protection against rain ingress, in the lid.

Throughout the day the weather constantly changed which entailed regular packing and unpacking. As you know, all manner of gear from clothing, lenses and accessories get stuffed in and pulled out depending on activity – generally a rucksack is going to get hammered in our line of work and lightweight, dainty buckles are not going to last.

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The beauty of the Deuter Guide 30+ SL is its chunky buckles that have a decent snap closure and a solid feel. Similarly with the cameras – metal magnesium alloy camera bodies, heavy gitzo tripods that can withstand wind shake or snow storms with a howling gale to boot, we definitely need solid dependable carry gear; even down to the buckles on a rucksack or to the highly water resistant zip across the top section. It’s all in the beauty of the small thought out details that in some other packs have been passed over to save production costs, but here those details count, and they have been appreciated. There are also several daisy chain lash points, strong velcro loops for trekking poles or ice axes plus side compression straps and gear loops.

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I love Deuter Guide 30+ SL. (SL version denoting shorter length back) It’s going to see me through wind, rain, snow, long days out on the hill; plus the Sun/Titan colour is Awesome!.

At face value the Deuter Guide 30+ SL rucksack is tough, sturdy, secure, stylish, and it’s going to last. It’s not a fast and light ultra sack. It’s a pack which will have long lasting integrity. The colour is never going get boring for me. I will always feel my spirits lifted whenever I’m going out with it. And that’s what I want. The full enjoyment of going out on the hill with the cameras and knowing I can trust my gear but enjoy the look of it aswell. Any creative and visual person appreciates intelligent and stylish design with a strong performance that stands up to the demands of the job.