Monday, 19 August 2013

Trekking in the Tatras

Southend Airport?!?  There was incredulity in my voice as my fellow chaps advised they'd booked their flight to Krakow.  Our annual boys weekend cum pilgrimage to the mountains was fast approaching and this years destination were the Tatra Mountains, straddling Poland and Slovakia.

The main highlight was to be Orla Perc - a kind of extended Crib Goch with a never-ending succession of peaks spires, ladders, chains with a forecast time of 5-6 hours along the ridge, together with a 2-hour ascent and descent either side.  The other objective was Rysy - at 2,499m the highest peak in Poland, and which straddles the border with Slovakia.

Orla Perc - the destination we never saw
A trawl on the web revealed frustrating little info on routes, huts or conditions.  Eventually tracking down a list of the mountain lodges I was concerned to find the main huts were already full on our planned dates. This called for a more open-minded and creative approach to the route planning, but attempting to piece together a practical route, given the limitations of accommodation was proving to be rather difficult, not aided by the time delay between sending a mail and receiving a response.  Added to the mix was that contact with the hut on the Slovak side of Rysy was via text message - I placed enquiries and questions in English and received random ad-hoc responses in Slovakian!  Eventually after much persistence we had a plan of sorts, which did involve potentially having to sleep on the floor at one of the main huts.

Southend Airport was as painless as can be expected for an airport where the long-stay car park is 20 yards from the main shed...sorry terminal.  David made things more interesting by attempting to get through security with a walking pole strapped to his rucksack with the sharp end protruding in the air.

We hadn't booked any onward travel but were reliably advised that there was were buses aplenty to Zakopane, the Polish equivalent of Chamonix.  So on arrival at Krakow airport we jumped into a taxi and headed straight for the hostel that we'd booked for the end of the trip, and dumped our posh change of clothes.  The bus station was around the corner where we found there were 3 or 4 buses an hour depositing us in Zakopane some 2.5 hours away.

We walked up to Krupowski, Zakopane's main street, for a quick look around some shops and as the heavens opened we found shelter in a bar and sampled our first Polish beer.  We needed to crack on as we still had a couple of hours walk to reach the first hut.  Another 10 min bus-ride deposited us at Kusznice from where we would make a 2-hour ascent up to the Murawaniec hut for the evening.   The trudge up through the forest was uneventful save for the un-ending rain and we arrived to a warm welcome and were quickly shown to our surprisingly spacious bunk-room for four.

We ordered dinner and a beer and quickly noticed that most people had brought their own provisions. Unlike many Alpine huts there were cooking facilities and hot-water for those guests who wished to be self-sufficient.  We also quickly established that there were no slippers sandals - people brought their own spare footwear, which we hadn't. It doesn't take long to work out the local routine but it was too late for us to do much about it so it was bare feet and purchased meals for us.

After a day of travel we slept soundly and the next morning our plan was to climb up the pass at Zawrat, to gain the infamous Orla Perc ridge and head eastwards along its peaks, troughs and spires. The map suggested it would then take around 5 hours along the ridge till we would reach Kryzne, where we could then descend for another 2 hours into the next valley and reach the Dolina Piech Stawow hut where we had provisionally booked a floor to sleep on.

As we left Murawaniec the weather was rather grim with low cloud obscuring the views and a constant drizzle soaking us more than it should.  As we ascended by a large lake and waterfalls we were sure the usual summer views were spectacular, but alas not today.  The route steepened as we gained height, the remnants of snow became more frequent and chains and the odd ladder and chains protected the more exposed sections.  We had no idea where we were but as we gained height the rain started to turn to snow, with the occasional halistone!!  The sensibility and appetite of traversing Orla Perc in such conditions started to evaporate as we reached the col at 2158m.

Visibility was poor, the rock was wet and it was now snowing.  The prospect of 5 or 6 hours on an unknown route, with no views together with wet rock, ladders and chains didn't seem like fun, and potentially an unnecessary risk.  So despite my protestations (well I pretended they were all wimps and we should just do it) the group decision was made to press on over the col and descend directly to the next hut.   We were heading down into Dolina Pięciu Stawów, the valley of the Five lakes, which is allegedly rather stunning but there were no lakes to be fact there was nothing to be seen!  We reached the hut around 3pm with the one benefit of the poor weather being that the hut had several cancellations, so at least we had a bed for the evening.

The plan for Saturday was to head up and over to the next valley, dropping down to Morskie Oko lake and then commencing the long 1,100m ascent up to the summit of Rysy, before descending into Slovakia and the newly re-built Chata Pod Rysmi hut.  

Once more the rain meant a damp start and the low cloud obscured any views as we ascended a few hundred metres before David remembered he had left his mobile on charge at the hut's reception desk. Two hours later and we were descending to Morskie Oko with a break in the clouds gave us our first view of the beautiful lake.   The lodge at Morskie Oko was already rather busy with the day-trippers who had braved the damp weather to walk the 9km from the car-park in the valley. We stopped for a quick coffee and headed around the lake and climbed 150m up to Czarny Staw pod Rysami, a beautiful blue/black lake nestled in a cirque.   

The rain stopped briefly and the cloud lifted just a little, enough to see impressive cliffs and rock spires towering all around us.  A glimpse of our route ahead included a surprising number of snow fields as the path dissappeared into the clouds.  The summit remained out of view and as we skirted the lake and traversed the first snow-field the rain started in earnest once more.  The path was largely manufactured steps from stone and boulders, winding its way relentlessly upwards.  We crossed a few more snow-fields but with visibility so poor we still couldn't work our where we were or how far above was the summit - our only reference points being the red and white markers painted on the rock and the altimeter on my watch.

As we gained hight we could feel the temperature dropping and the cloud closing in.  The snow-fields became more regular and then the ground steepened as we reached the first chains.   The climbing was probably no more serious than scrambling the north face of Tryfan and the chains in some ways made things tougher - rather than thinking and picking your way up with careful hand/foot placement it was easy to just grab and haul on the chains, except this method was actually more tiring.   Thirty minutes later and we suddently reached a sharp ridge with a sheer drop straight in-front.  This took us by surprise as we were expecting to drop down the other side into Slovakia but this didn't appear to be the summit with higher ground to the left and right.  Pausing for breath we guessed we needed to move right across a scary ledge with huge exposure.  After a couple of careful steps we found a welcome chain on the far side of a block and we traversed a ledge to gain higher ground and the summit blocks of Rsys proper.   Enveloped in cloud we didn't hang around but were debating the route down onto the Slovakian side and checked with another group coming up.  Confusingly they appeared to be coming up the same route as we had come from but they confirmed they had come up from the Chat Pod, our destination.   So we headed off, still unsure of our route, until half an hour later we reached a col and looking right we could just pick out roof of the hut - a welcome sight.

The Panoramic WC without a view
The hut was completely re-built a couple of years ago after being hit by an avalanche.  Just by the door we passed a sign pointing towards the panoramic WC some 100 yards up a rocky path, so clearly the re-build didn't include sanitary facilities.  The hut was already busy with drying jackets and other clothes strewn everywhere. We relaxed over a beer and claimed our pre-booked bunks.  There was no chance of a shower as the hut doesn't have running water except for the well-equipped kitchen. The goulash was particularly tasty as was the dark Slovakian beer which aided the slumber which pervaded our tired group.

After an unventful night in a full dorm, we awoke to a glimpse of sun through the window and our first view of the valley below.  The WC already had a decent queue from people who'd crossed their legs all night rather than brave the trip to the loo during the night.  Indeed the WC shack was rather well-equipped with a sit-down loo albeit over a hole, a tap fed from a stream and a full height double glazed window providing particularly fine views while one contemplated.

The Panoramic WC with the morning view
The last view looking into Slovakia
After a quick museli breakfast we left and re-traced the previous evenings route back up to the summit of Rsys. We we were looking forward to our first views of the Tatras from the summit but we could see the cloud rising up the valley and 15 minutes later we were once more enveloped in cloud. 

With little visibility the descent from the summit into Poland was still as confusing as ever as picked our way down, alternating between a path and chains.  
The chaps descending from Rsys
At the first sight of running water we stopped for a welcome brushing of teeth and freshen up.

Hygenie stop
After a couple of hours of descent the cloud broke and provided a wonderful view straight down to the two lakes ahead of us.  Alas it was just a tease with normal weather resuming as we trudged down and finally reached Morskie Oko and the sanctuary of a celebratory beer.  

We still had a 9km walk down the tourist path to catch a bus to Zakpopane where we wasted no time and tramped straight to the bus station.  Three hours later we were enjoying a welcome hot shower in our Krakow hostel and shortly thereafter we were strolling through the crowded streets and market squares of Krakow before our flight home in the morning. 

So Orla Perc lives to fight another day.  We were all agreed that the peaks/views we had glimpsed were indeed worthy of a return one day and we can recommend them for anyone looking to visit further afield.  And, as if by magic, normal weather resumed as soon as we left and Zakopane has bathed in a constant 29/30 degrees ever since.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Osprey Mutant 38 pack - Long Term Review

Sometimes it takes a while to truly appreciate things and so it has been with my Osprey Mutant pack. Like a trusty old pair of boots the Mutant has been my default go-to pack for the past two years.

Whether its backpacking through Vietnam or Cuba, wildcamping in Wales, scaling a 4,000 peak in the Alps or a climbing weekend on the south coast, the Mutant has taken it all in its stride - quietly, efficiently.

I must admit it was the looks of the Black Diamond Speed 40 that led me astray briefly last summer, but it's the Mutant I returned to.  Osprey have managed to straddle that rare mix of being simple yet functional, including the features that matter yet minimising excess, focusing on stuff that does the job as intended.

It's large for its purported 38 litres - probably nearer in size to a 45l pack - and more as the floating-lid extends to add a further 10l if necessary. Two lid pockets, outer and inner, give a degree of practicality but if you like pockets and faff then this pack's not for you.

Under the lid is a rope strap which as well as being handy for, erm, holding a climbing rope or helmet,  helps secure any load when the pack is full and when the lid is removed.

The shoulder straps and hip-belt are high-density foam, slim-profile but comfortable. Inside is the obligatory bladder pocket and a removable 3-fold bivvi pad. The EVA foam back panel is relatively flat but this helps with stability with a heavy load, but does mean it's prone to giving you a damp back in hot weather.  There are no outer pockets, but there a couple of small wand pockets - so small in fact I forgot they were there - but they do help secure walking poles.

The Z compression straps work well in pulling the entire sides of the pack inwards to reduce volume - far more effective than two separate compression straps as the whole volume is pulled inwards.   Twin re-inforced axe loops and 3 hauling points betray the packs climbing credentials, as do the hypalon loops on the hip-belt - which take a carabiner or ice-clipper.

The material strikes a great balance between being lightweight but reassuringly robust.  It's a bit stiffer/sturdier than lightweight packs such as the Talon, so it doesn't flop around when empty (one of my pet hates with many lightweight packs.  I'm happy to cram in climbing gear without the worry I'm going to puncture it. And it's shrugged off numerous airport baggage systems without any real signs of wear.

The pack's versatility is aided by the fact that its strippable with the lid, hip-belt and back-pad removable, which reduces the weight down from 1.3kg to a more respectable 900g.

A two-day ascent of the 4,000m Gran Paradiso meant starting in a hot valley with all my winter gear stowed in a full pack. On reaching the overnight hut I stripped off the lid and and removed the bivvi pad to shed weight for the summit ascent, the Z compression straps collapsing the volume effectively when I wore most of my gear for the final summit push.

Niggles are few and far between.  Perhaps the back is a touch too long for me, though Osprey do three different sizes, so blame me. The closure buckles are a little small for handling with gloves but that's about it.

It does what it's made for and more - simply, discreetly and reliably - a great all-rounder pack which I can highly recommend.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Eastern Fells Wildcamp

A recent trip to the Lakes had reminded me of how much of it I still have to visit so it seemed an appropriate destination for a bank holiday weekend trip.  Most of the UK population seemed to have the same thought and faced with gridlock on the M6 I almost diverted to N.Wales, but I persevered and eventually arrived in Kentmere at 6pm on Saturday evening.

Parking.  A simple act, but one which gives disproportionate amount of stress when trying to find somewhere to leave a car for a few nights. Driving into Kentmere there was but a single car park with a clear warning of no overnight parking.  Knocking on the door of a nearby cottage I was directed to 'Christine' whom I sweet-talked with hard cash to allow me to leave the car for a couple of nights.  

The loose plan was to head up to Harter Fell and explore some of the Eastern Fells for a couple of nights, re-acquainting myself with Haweswater, which is one of my favourite lakes.  Packing for two meant taking my North Face Tadpole tent - all 2.4kg heft of it - and it instantly seemed to fill my OMM Villain pack.  Replete with my new Sawyer filter I eschewed my usual 2 or 3 litres of water, opting to save weight and fill up as I go.  I also decided to bring my Canon SLR along with and a spare lens, together with a small tripod, intending to make more of an effort with my photography. With a full-pack I was resigned to carrying my camera in a separate shoulder holster.

Making our way up eastern flank of the valley the streams looked a little low and as we were intending to camp high this evening I decided to stock up on water early. Plodding upwards, my camera bag swinging with each step, a fierce looking ram stood proudly on an outcrop, looking a good candidate for a quick shot in the evening sun.  After the satisfying click of the shutter, I dropped the camera from my eye to quickly review the shot and saw the immortal words on the screen "No Memory Card".  Bugger wasn't quite the word I uttered as I realised I was now going to be lugging a kilo and a half of Canon ballast for the weekend.  I tried to console myself by thinking the extra weight be good training for the trip to the Tatras in June.

The wind was blowing a little harder than expected and I decided that camping higher would likely be too exposed, so we scouted around the outcrops of Shipmans Knotts, finding a flat spot with views straight down Longsleddale.  The days are noticeably longer up north so after dinner we climbed on the crags and watched the sun slowly dip behind the the peaks to the north-west.

The night was uneventful and we woke to a beautiful morning. Having eaten through some provisions I at least managed to fit my camera bag into my main pack so was less encumbered by the swinging mass as we headed up Kentmere and on to Harter Fell where the view opened out.

It's a splendid spot looking out over Haweswater, the ridge of High Street to the west and the undulating peaks on the west side of Kentmere valley behind us. It seemed opportune to enjoy a snack and soak up the sun.  We turned to find a huge bank of dark low cloud almost upon us, donning wind proofs before heading down to Nam Bield pass.  I had already picked out Small Water below as a possible camp spot for that evening.

The cloud closed in on us as we headed up Mardale Ill Bell and on to High Street, breaking occasionally to gives wonderful views of sun-kissed summits,with the odd glisten from a far flung tarn.  Ambling along High Street and the cloudy lifted to allow uninterrupted views across to Helvellyn to the west.  Perched behind a wall we broke out the Jetboil for a cuppa and some lunch.

We decided that we’d wonder a bit further north admiring the views before heading down to Haweswater then making our way back up to Small Water to camp.  We de-toured to The Knott before heading along to High Raise then back to Kidsty Pike, before heading down the ridge.

It was just after 4pm as we approached Haweswater by Bowderthwaite Bridge.  It was a beautiful spot and someone already had a tent up by a stream.  We decided that we'd stay here for the evening and detoured off the path to explore the shore amongst old ruins and found an ideal camp-spot underneath some pines. It was early so we relaxed in the sun, bathing feet in the lake and freshening up with a cool wash. 

As the sun gradually descended over Kidsty Pike it lent a warm glow over Riggindale but as it set the wind increased.  It was pretty blowy during the night, but the Tadpole held firm.

The morning was complete contrast from the night before and it soon started to rain as we struck camp.  Rounding the southern tip of Haweswater the rain became more incessant as we worked our way up to Small Water.  A few metres on and we were in the could, unable to see the pass above us.  The path and stream were near indistinguishable as we trudged upwards. The stone shelter eventually appeared as a dark shape in the midst as we finally approached the head of Nam Bield pass.  The wind was funnelling through the pass, driving rain into our face so the wall gave some respite and an ideal spot to break out the Jetboil for our remaining cup-a-soup. 

From here it was all downhill, though the driving rain meant it was rather more of a chore for the 6km or so back to the car. True to form the rain stopped just as we entered Kentmere and the sanctuary of the car and dry clothes.  I'd just about dried out as we arrived back in London.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Good Service Deserves a Mention

It's good to see some businesses still responsive to their customers so I'd just like to say a quick thanks to the following suppliers:

  • Sawyer Europe for prompt delivery of a new water filter and for answering all my questions
  • First Ascent (UK Thermarest distributors) for the prompt replacement of both my faulty NeoAir mattresses - and replacing them with the newer, lighter X-lite version
  • Mountain House - for contacting me after reading my earlier blog post commenting on a poor experience with one of their meals and sending me some free samples for me to try.

In an age where we seem to hear only about poor customer service it's great to see and experience good service.  Hat's off to those suppliers who are making efforts to listen, engage with and respond to their customers through new social media channels such as Twitter.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Wet and Wild in the Carneddau - First camp of 2013

A check-up at the Royal Marsden is always a time for reflection/contemplation and with a hint of spring in the air I made a last minute decision to head up to Snowdonia.   Guessing the majority of the snow would have melted from two weeks earlier I hastily grabbed some gear, chucked it in the car and headed north.  Arriving in Capel Curig in the dark I ducked into Dolgam campsite, pitched the Laser and headed for a late dinner at the pub.

The night was rather chilly and I woke to frost on then tent and the realisation that packing my lightweight sleeping bag was a mistake. With 300g of down the PHD Minum is a great 2-season bag but I definitely needed to wear the extra layers.

A quick breakfast and I needed to plot a route.  I wanted to explore the northern Carnddeau and ideally  would have liked to camp on the plateau but whilst the forecast for Saturday was good, rain and wind was forecast for Sunday, so I decided that I would need to camp lower down.  The twin reservoirs of Dulyn and Melyllyn were options but heading further down to Maeneira would give more shelter and a shorter walk-out in the morning.  

I parked by Joe Browns, succumbing to a Rab Vapour-Rise Alpine jacket I'd had my eye on for a while and grabbed some last minute provisions including a Reiter de-hydrated meal.  I decided to  thumb a lift down the A5, jumping out by Tryfan and heading north up to Cwm Lloer and cross the Carneddau from the south.

It was a beautifully fresh day - blue sky, fluffy clouds and cool enough not to work up too much of a sweat.  Turning to head up the eastern spur of Pen yr Ole Wen I found myself picking out the scrambling line before remembering that scrambling with a full-pack is not the best idea.  I arrived at the summit to spectacular 360 degree views across to the Glyders and Snowdon beyond.

Heading north into the col I was soon heading up to Carnedd Dafydd.  The cool breeze was definitely more noticable and I sheltered behind the summit wall, grateful for a quick cuppa courtesy of the JetBoil. Looking across the ridge to Carnedd Llewelyn the last remnants of winter snow could be seen clinging to the northern reaches of the Black Ladders.  It was pretty gusty heading over the col, the wind being funnelled down Cwm Llugyy and the cold beginning to find its way through my new Rab top.  Heading on I was soon warmed up by the slog up the scree slope to the summit of Llewlllyn.

I was following the foot-steps of a fellow back-packer and we chatted at the summit as we both pulled out the same Panasonic LX5 camera.  We were both headed further north so ambled along together.  Clive was of the lightweight school - I should have guessed when I noticed the lid and rear-pocket both having been surgically removed from his pack.  We stopped for lunch by the bothy past Foel Grach and he pulled out various gear neatly packaged in home-made cuben fibre stuff sacks.  After purchasing a cuben Laser, Clive had bought a sheet of fibre and had experimented with different shapes and jointing techniques and had fashioned bespoke sacks for his pot and caldera-cone stove.

The sun was still out as we headed further north to Carnedd Uchaf and Foef-fras, with deserted rounded peaks and valleys stretching out infront of the sea. It's a beautifully quite and remote corner of Snowdonia and I looked forward to return to camp on one of the remote summits in the near future, but now it was time to start heading down.  Turning east before Drum we hogged the side of the valley and slowly dropped height toward the confluence of the water-courses by Maeneira.

The sun was about to descend behind the peaks to the west as we searched for a suitably flat and sheltered spot, eventually settling by a stone wall not far from a stream.   As the light faded it was 4 degrees and I knew I was in for another chilly night.  I remembered my Osprey Mutant pack had a short bivvy mat inside the back so placed it under my NeoAir mattress for extra insulation.

As Clive sparked up his Caldera-cone and coke-can burner I felt rather guilty (or mildy smug) as I nonchalantly lit the JetBoil and within a couple of minutes was offering him a cup of tea as waited patiently for his water to boil.  He did have the last had the last laugh though as I was faced with a chemically-enhanced Reiter dehydrated meal, while he was tucking into a home-made de-hydrated three course meal!

Retiring to my sleeping bag I decided to keep on my lightweight down jacket and my trousers.  A toasty night was punctuated only by having to top-up my NeoAir mattress three times and a natural break made easier by the introduction to the 'convenience' of Pour & Store bags.

Stirring at 7.30am I could hear the first drops of rain on the tent as I leaned over and ignited the JetBoil for a morning brew. The breeze was up as we struck camp and within minutes the rain became stronger.  The downside of my planned route was that the trek back was directly into the wind and rain and in my un-planned haste I hadn't packed any over-trousers.  For  the first 20 minutes I watched the droplets bead nicely on my new softshell bottoms, but in the constant driving rain they quickly wetted-out, the water gradually dripping down inside my gaitors and into my boots.  We trudged on to Llyn Eigau and then headed up and over before dropping down by the northern end of Llyn Cowllyd reservoir.   The lee of a stone ruin gave some respite with the JetBoil once more demonstrating its convenience as a hot-chocolate and the last remnants of food temporarily lifted spirits.  Walking down the edge of the reservoir the path was a constant torrent of water as the rain cascaded down the mountainside.  Finally we reached the head of the reservoir and were faced only with a wet and boggy trudge back down to Capel Curig.

Arriving at the sanctuary of the cafe I can quite honestly say I've never been so thoroughly drenched!  It was my first camp for a while - a few lessons learned, a few more remembered and some tips swapped with a fellow backpacker.  I eventually dried out by the time I'd arrived in London after the 5 hour drive, but my boots took another 2 days.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

First Winter April!

The un-ending cold snap that embraced the UK had one unexpected benefit in that the mountains were still snow covered in April.   I was headed for the Tatras in Poland this Easter yet I looked on in envy at the fabulous winter conditions across the UK mountains being reported on Twitter.  I was probably in a minority in willing the weather to remain cold for a further week and offer a final chance of a UK winter climb this year.

Early morning sun
I was checking the forums on for updates all week and as Friday arrived reports suggested winter conditions were holding.  My climbing partner, Phillipa, picked up a N. Wales Winter Climbs guide book and we left London at 6pm for the journey north, punctuated by a quick curry-stop in Llangollen as knew we'd arrive in Capel Curig too late for dinner.  It was 11.45pm as we checked in to a quiet Plas-y-Curig Hostel, tip-toeing  around in our room trying not to disturb those already fast asleep in their bunk.  In fact we never met our room-mates, they were still asleep when we left at 7.30am to grab a car-park space at Pen-y-pass.

The previous night's late arrival meant we hadn't had chance to sort through the climbing gear I'd hastily thrown  into the car before leaving, so after a quick cuppa in the cafe we began to sort our gear in the car-park.  Unsure of what we needed, but guessing there wouldn't be too much scope for protection on easier routes, we packed a 60m half-rope, slings, a rack of nuts and an ice-screw as well as the obligatory ice-ace (pair) and crampons which were conspicuously missing from most people setting off for a weekend able up Snowdon.

Our chosen route was Central Trinity - a 220m grade I/II winter climb that ascends an obvious line on the mighty north face of Snowdon, just above Llyn Glaslyn.   We set off up the Pyg Track and within a few hundred metres we found we were already plodding through the snow.  It was clear it was going to be a beautiful day with early sun glistening off the snow.

As we reached Bwylch y Moch, where we would normally detour up to Crib Goch, we were greeted with a stunning snowy vista and blue sky that wouldn't look amiss in the Alps.

Looking over Llyn Llydaw to Y Lliwedd

Ignoring the lure of Crib Goch we continued along the Pyg Track, stopping before the junction with the Miners track to fit our crampons.  Just past the junction with the Miners Track we diverted from the Pyg Track and headed left into the cwm.  Stopping for a bite to eat at the base of the slope we donned our harnesses and helmets and racked some protection and slings.

Heading along the Pyg Track  - the slope up to the Spider in the centre

We could clearly see the central 'spider' ahead (not to be confused with the iconic 'White Spider' on the Eiger's north face), the obvious snow-field were a number of climbing routes emanate.  It was a straightforward calf-busting slog up to the spider, though it was already 11am and small lumps of ice periodically cascaded down from above.  As we entered the shade of Snowdon the temperature dropped a little.  This combined with the increased altitude mean the snow was firming a little.  We stopped in the 'spider' to catch our breath and check our bearings. Central Trinity gully was pretty obvious, exiting top-left, with a father and son ahead of us having just stopped at the base of the climb to sort their rope and some protection. We waited a while but it was getting chilly and we were being bombarded by ice from climbers above,  so we were relieved when the pair asked to us proceed ahead of them. 

Exiting Central Trinity gully
As the gully narrowed and steepened we settled into our thud-thud, stamp-stamp rhythm, alternatively engaging both ice-axes and then stepping up on the crampons. We were confident soloing without rope or protection and half way up the gully we encountered an ice-ramp.  Pausing for breath and checking for any obvious protection we decided to press-on, the ice dictating a more thoughtful and deliberate  placement of axes and feet. We were soon past and it was only when looking down we became apparent of the steepness (there's a lesson there...!).

Before we knew it we were out of the gully and the route opened out onto a wider slope.  After another  calf and lung-busting 70 metres we topped out on the ridge about 50m down from Snowdon's summit and joined the throng who'd headed up the Llanberis and Pyg/Miners tracks.  
We'd earned our lunch and the panoramic view from the summit was to be savoured on such a wonderfully clear day.

After replenishing our energy levels we decided that Crib Goch looked far too enticing to miss out on so we set off up Garnedd Ugain from where we could look across and see our earlier route up Trinity.  If you look closely in the photo below you can just about see two climbers on our route (just down from the top of the route and just below the orange line).

Looking across to Central Trinity, our ascent route

Crib Goch tends to be a little harder in the south to north direction as the main obstacles on the pinnacles have to be down-climbed.  And so it proved, with the combination of mixed ground, axe in hand requiring careful footwork with the crampons.

 Crib Goch ridge

We met another party being shepherded with ropes around the third (our first) pinnacle but we decided to go up and over and faced a hairy down-climb on a snowy ledge, above a steep drop into Cwm Bach.   Safely into the gap we headed straight up the second pinnacle, which I remembered has an awkward climb in ascent that didn't appeal in descent while in crampons, but we managed to avoid it with nifty move to the right.

Stopping for a quick drink and to savour the views we were approached by a party of around 20 students coming off the first pinnacle.  Moving with trepidation, with neither axes or crampons, they were clearly making slow progress.  It was about 2pm and they were only half-way along Crib Goch and were clearly heading for the summit of Snowdon terribly under-prepared.  The stragglers of the group seemed distinctly unimpressed as their 'leader' gleefully pointed out the summit in the distance.  It had all the hallmarks of another MRT statistic in the making!

Crib Goch ridge

Pressing on up and over the first pinnacle the ridge narrowed considerably.  The snow actually made it easier to walk on the ridge proper although I was acutely conscious of the need to not to catch a crampon on my trousers and trip, as I had done earlier!   Finally we stood on Crib Goch summit - we'd traversed the ridge but we knew we still had to descend from 900m down the north-east face,which is distinctly easier in ascent.

We finally arrived back at the car about 4.30pm, exhausted but exhilarated, our first winter climb completed and we couldn't have asked for better conditions.  The rope and our climbing gear had been un-touched but it's better to be prepared than not!

The forecast for the next day wasn't quite so splendid but with heavy limbs we decided to get up and out and head to Ogwen valley.  The forecast was for it to be a little warmer but it was  overcast as we headed up to Llyn Idwal.  We guessed we'd have to gain height to get decent snow conditions so veered up and away from the lake, trending towards East Wall Gully which leads up to Cwm Cneifon.

On reaching the gully we decided gear up and practice rope-work and placing protection in winter conditions (and in gloves).  Though there was no real need, we pitched/belayed some of the gully, then moved together placing running belays as we went until we reached a bowl that sat below Cwm Cneifon.

Consulting the guide book* we tried and failed to reconcile our current position with the photos and diagrams. We concluded that we would need to move higher into Cwm Cneifon proper and rather than a snow plod around we decided on a more direct route up a narrow gully.

My first ice-screw placement!
The gully was rather steeper and icier than it first appeared but we managed to find a couple of spikes to place slings and on reaching some solid ice I placed my first ice-screw.  As we entered the cwm proper we could see the dark crag of Clogwyn Du on the right of the headwall, but struggled to make out the climbing routes marked in the guide-book.  It became clear that the diagram was drawn from a different perspective so we slogged up further into the cwm searching for Hidden Gully, a 60m grade II route behind the main crag.  As we ascended and passed beneath the main face of the crag the other climbing routes became more obvious and then Hidden Gully finally revealed itself.  The route was peppered with snowy steps from earlier ascents which made it more of a plod save for a few icy sections, protected by slings over spikes.

We stepped out onto the Glyderau plateau but with a biting wind apparent we headed straight for the top of Y Gribin, a summer grade 1 scramble which would be a little more difficult in the snow.  We stayed roped up to practice moving together, flicking the rope over rocks and spikes as we descended but the difficulties were short-lived and we were soon onto easier ground, making our way back down to Ogwen before a quick cuppa and the prospect of a long drive home.

On the Glydereau plateau with Hidden Gully to the left of the main crag

So a hastily arranged and opportunistic weekend turned out as great as we could have hoped - I'd never have believed we could have found such great conditions in April!  Our first winter climbs were ticked and more importantly experience banked and lessons learned.  Rope-work and handling gear with gloves on, moving over mixed ground, reading the ground and conditions, handling axes, when to use the leash and when it gets in the way - stuff that only comes with practice and experience.  We'll be more confident in tackling some steeper stuff next winter.  I was going to say 'I can't wait' but I'm sure we'd all prefer a bit of summer first!

* the guide book we used was 'North Wales Winter Climbing' by Ground Up and is highly recommended.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

My First Peak

Found this old picture of my sister and I which showed that I was into the hills from a youngish age.  Not sure whether it's Devon or Wales - can anyone tell from the breed of sheep?

Note the lightweight approach, preferring trainers to heavy boots and no cumbersome pack to weigh me down. I ditched the stick for a time but with the advancing years I'm back using poles.

And yes, before someone asks, I'm on the right!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

SLR - Re-discovered

In writing about my travels through Vietnam I mentioned regretting not taking my SLR.  The compactness of my Panasonic LX5 camera, together with the convenience of my iPhone as the camera I always have with me, meant my old Canon dSLR had been largely sat gathering dust.  When the decision came as to which camera to take on my Vietnam trip it was an easy one, based on the practicality of size and weight alone.  My LX5 duly took its place in the top pocket of my rucksack and in the main I was happy with the resulting images.

But surprisingly, it was whilst in Vietnam I re-discovered the joys of using an SLR.   I realised that by using a compact I had been missing the 'connection' and pleasure of SLR photography.  It was Natalka, the Ukrainian journalist who I met in Saigon and with whom I travelled through Vietnam, that helped re-ignite my love with of SLR.  A combination of her journalistic background, natural inquisitiveness, a keen eye and complete at ease behind the lens meant she was far more engaged, and engaging, in her photography.  In lugging her Canon 50D + 17-40 L lens together with a MacBook around Vietnam/Cambodia, she hadn't used weight, size or practicality as an excuse like I had.

When we were taking shots, the camera became an extension of her - she would move, squat, twist, compose with the Canon to her eye.  With my LX5 having no eyepiece I had to resort to waving it around tentatively in front of me, struggling with the tiny controls. It was only when I borrowed her SLR for a while the difference struck me and I was reminded of what I'd missed.  With the SLR I felt I was completely engaged and connected to the act of recording the scene. With my compact I felt like I was merely taking holiday snaps.

The SLR's size allowing you securely cradle body and lens, the heft adding stability/solidity, your eye pressed to viewfinder framing the scene, the satisfying mechanical click of the shutter; all combine to heighten the sense of being connected, immersed, in recording a moment in time.

The other effect was on the subjects themselves - people seemed to naturally pose for Natalka when she had SLR in hand. Perhaps it was the camera, or perhaps it was her big smile!  Waving my compact in front of me, staring into the screen, didn't quite have the same effect.

As the days went by I was ruing the decision not to take my SLR to Vietnam.  The very attributes that I'd used to discount it were the very ones that made the difference in what I'd missed. Apart from minor niggles with fiddly controls the LX5 was definitely capable, save for a few struggles in the dimly lit temples, but I know that I would have so much more enjoyed using my SLR.

So whilst I regretted not taking my SLR, the trip had re-ignited by love of my SLR and passion for photography in general.  Last year I had been contemplating jumping on the micro four-thirds bandwagon, with a Panasonic GF3 or equivalent.  On my return from Vietnam it was my Canon that was upgraded to a new 60D.

I still use my LX5 and my iPhone but when I want to take photographs it's my SLR that I turn to. It's been a constant companion on weekend trips to Riga, Ukraine and Berlin - though I soon realised it was Natalka's smile and not her camera that makes the difference - and I'll definitely find room for it in my pack on my next big trip.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Escape to Vietnam

I'm rather embarrassed that it's taken almost a year to write up my trip to Vietnam last New Year, but I've finally managed it, just in time before the next New Year!

It was a last minute decision. New Year engenders an expectation of doing something, of being somewhere, pulled between family and friends.  This time I didn't have to choose - I took the easy, or long, way out - a British Airways flight to Hong Kong en-route to Vietnam. 

It was a spur of the moment thing  - I had no real set plan, just to do something different. New Year in Saigon was the only firm(ish) destination.  Booking a return flight to Hong Kong gave me a chance to meet up with a climbing pal who was over there visiting family over Xmas before heading to Vietnam. A single ticket from HK to Saigon, or Ho Chi Min City as it is now less romantically known, meant I would be in Vietnam for New Year, yet could be flexible on my journey plans..

Booking a flight only two days before Xmas left me with the last minute practicalities of immunisations and grabbing any last minute gear, but thankfully a local private health clinic sorted my injections and malaria tablets that morning.  My other challenge was to pack light. I didn't want the hassle of waiting for hold baggage so I planned on hand-luggage only and settled on my trusty Osprey Mutant pack, being a generous 38 litres.  I figured I could skimp on clothes as I could always buy t-shirts/shorts over there and as I planned on staying in hostels/hotels I wouldn't need a sleeping bag.  I also decided to forgo my Canon dSLR camera for my smaller Lumix LX5 - a decision I would later come to somewhat regret (I'll discuss why in a separate post).

An early evening flight from Heathrow on the 29th Dec found me smiling to myself in expectation - I was on my way. Arriving in HK at lunchtime on the 30th I hopped on the train to Kowloon and headed straight for ChungKing Mansions, an auspicous block in downtown Kowloon that is infamous for its maze of backpackers guesthouses.  Joining a throng of fellow backpackers in the queue for the lift I was soon being shown to my abode for the evening.  The tiny room felt more like a prison cell with a metal bed taking up 90% of the floor space, adjoined by a tiny shower-room cum toilet.

After a quick shower I met up with Tom and we headed down to the harbour front. The Hong Kong skyline is justifiably one of the most famous in the world and at night takes on another dimension. Every skyscraper was adorned with illuminations to celebrate the coming new year.  After the laser light show we headed up to Temple Street market, winding though the bustling stalls and street cafes to eat with the locals.    

After the next mornings early flight to HCMC I jumped in a taxi and was dropped off in Pham Ngu Lao, the traditional hang-out of travellers and back-packers.  I'd pre-booked a room via the internet and for $15 I had a huge top-floor room with three beds.  

I went for a wander through the narrow streets and was immediately accosted at each turn with the lure of guided tours and cheap/fake gear, the best approach being to smile politely, shake your head and don't stop. 

I bumped into one elderly gentleman on a scooter a couple of times and he offered me a lift down to Ben Thanh market.  I should have guessed it would turn into a hard sell but I figured the back of a moped would be a great way to explore the city.  Whizzing through the crowded streets it seemed incredulous that there wasn't an accident at every turn, but riders seem to have an almost telepathic sense of others.

The non-stop tour of pagodas/temples, museums and markets showed the extremes of the city. The modern hustle/bustle of a growing commercial city contrasting with the calm and beauty of the local temples/pagodas and the museums providing a stark reminder of the horrors of the war.   Four hours later I was haggling over the price, but I minded not, I'd had a wonderful day.  

It was New Years Eve and after a quick shower I popped into a bar opposite my hotel for a cool beer and ended up chatting to another fellow solo-traveller. Natalka, a journalist from Ukraine, had just arrived via Cambodia and was planning on making her way up through Vietnam to Hanoi.  We arranged to meet for dinner later and as the evening wore on the streets became busier as the locals headed down to the riverfront to celebrate the new year.  Joining them, the streets were a sea of colour and noise and were almost impassable as the New Year was welcomed in with a blaze of cheers and horns.

The morning after was what Vietnamese coffee was made for.  I thought it was just plain black coffee until I found the condensed milk lurking in the bottom.  Wandering around downtown HCMC was the only way to cure the hangover and to plot the next move.  My main conundrum was which way to head - either east through Cambodia and onto Bangkok or head north through Vietnam and up to Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.  After spending New Years Eve in Vietnam it seemed only right that I stay and see more of the country.  Natalka was heading that way too so I had a travel companion for a few days at least, so the decision was made. 

Consulting a map we decided to hop on a boat and head down the Mekong river to the coast.  Arriving in the coastal town of Vung Tao we found it bigger and more commercial than expected so we jumped in a taxi and headed up the coast to Long Hai.  Arriving we found a lovely beach, but little else, but the light was other wordly as we strolled along the beach watching the sun fade away, the local fishing boats swaying gently in the breeze.   

The next day we realised we couldn't head any further north from Long Hai (bad planning!) so the only option was to re-trace our steps, via taxi and boat back to HCMC from where we would catch a sleeper bus that evening to Dalat.

Sited in the central highlands Dalat and was established by the French as a mountain re-treat and arriving at 6am the atmosphere was immediately noticeably different from HCMC.  The air was cooler and we were greeted by a few locals on mopeds, happy to help you find a hotel.  A quick check of options over a coffee led us to choose Hang Nga guesthouse, otherwise know as the Crazy House, a Gaudi-esque building of cave-like organic shapes and seemingly not a straight line in sight.

We'd already read about Mr Mitu tours who operate local excursions by motorbike. If you have the time you can spend a 3 or 4 days touring the area and even make slow winding route over to Na Trang on the coast. With time limited we opted for a day trip and enjoyed a relaxing meander around local villages, pagodas, coffee plantations, silk-factory, rice-wine makers and visited the village of a minority hill-tribe, whom were related to the hill-tribes in the very north of the country. Back in Dalat itself, the french influence was immediately evident with tree-lined boulevards and villas and a slower/quieter pace than HCMC.

I was conscious of the need to make sure I was back in Hanoi in time for a flight back to HK so I needed a bit more of a plan, given the distances involved and the slow transport. An hour in a travel office and a plan was hatched. We'd get a coach to Na Trang on the coast, from where we'd catch the sleeper train north to Da Nang, then another train to Hue for a few days before an internal flight to Hanoi. This would leave enough time to head over Ha Long Bay for a couple of days and be back to Hanoi in time for a flight to HK.  Simple.

The coach to Na Trang was a long 5 hours, winding through high mountain passes and stunning scenery - you could just imagine scenes from a Vietnam war movie.  Arriving in Na Trang early evening we headed straight to the railway station to grab tickets for the sleeper train. The plan was thrown into immediate jeopardy when the woman pronounced the train was full.  This would mean staying in Na Trang overnight and catching a train in the morning thus wasting a whole day travelling. Working through the permutations there was really no choice.  The ticket office then closed for 30 mins and when it re-opened I enquired again, this time to be told there were tickets available for this evening, but only 'third-level'.  I booked them immediately before having a sudden fear that she may have meant 'third-class' and I had visions of sleeping on a wooden bench for the 12-hour journey!  

With a few hours till departure we jumped on a taxi-moped to the sea-front for dinner and returned for the train at 2300 hours.  Reaching our cabin I was relieved to find that third-level did indeed mean the third-level - the cabin had two sets of three bunks and we were on the top level.   The gentle rocking of the train and the metronomic sounds of wheels on rails were rather conducive to sleep, countering the somewhat limited comfort of a 5mm foam mattress.  As morning broke we de-camped to the corridor to stretch our legs and hang out of the window watching the train wind its way slowly along the coast. 

Finally arriving in Da Nang we plonked ourselves in the nearest cafe for breakfast.  We had a few hours spare before the next train up to Hue, so we meandered around watching the locals go about their day.  Bumping into a bunch of schoolchildren on lunch-break they were only too pleased to pose for the camera.

Back on the train it was a three hour ride up the coast to Hue, the ancient imperial capital of the Nguyen Dynasty who ruled much of southern Vietnam from the 17th-19th century.  The city was the national capital until 1945 when a communist government was formed in Ha Noi.   

Straddling the Perfume River, Hue is a treasure-trove of ancient temples, pagoda's, tombs and palaces, rightly earning its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The old citadel itself sits within a walled complex just north of the river.  To the west of the city is Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue's largest pagoda and home to monks, including young boys.  An organised tour was the convenient way to condense visits into our limited time, being ferried from site to site by bus, before ending with a boat-trip along the Perfume river.

The following day we headed to Hue's small airport for a late night flight to Ha Noi.  Arriving at 1am we caught a few hours sleep before being up early to catch a bus to Ha Long Bay.  The 3-hour journey was fairly non-descript until the first sight of one of the limestone outcrops for which Ha Long Bay is famous for, the surprise being this particular 'island' was was actually sitting inland, marooned a few miles from the sea.  Arriving in in Ha Long the first noticeable difference between here and the south was the temperature.  In Ha Long the locals were selling gloves, hats and even down jackets and it was definitely chilly enough to don an extra layer or two.  

Ha Long Bay is a mystical place of around 2,000 islands, formed of rocky limestone outcrops and spires rising from the sea and is another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We boarded a wooden junk boat which was to be our home for a couple of days.  The view was mystical, the slight haze which typical at this time of the year, adding to the ethereal scene.  

Several of the islands have large caves inside them and we were headed to Hang Đầu Gỗ (Wooden stakes cave) a set of three huge interconnected caves adorned with incredible rock formations.   Exiting the cave you look down on one of the most recognised views of Ha Long Bay.  

With our boat moored up we jumping into a canoe and paddled out into the bay to see a few islands close up.  The water was still and an iridescent light gave a soft glow to the bay as we re-joined our junk, headed out into open water to anchor up for the evening.

The next morning we headed on though a maze of islands and finally reached one of the famous floating villages inhabited by a fishing community.  Nestled amongst the limestone towers and sheltered in a cove the village has its own fish farm, market and even its own tiny floating school.  Hopping into a small boat we toured the village and the surrounding coves before re-joining our junk and making our way back to the mainland and the bus journey back to Hanoi.

My time in Vietnam was almost at an end. Intermittent thoughts of changing my flight and extending my stay, jarred with the reality that this was my last evening.  Wandering around the markets and street cafes of the Old Quarter, Hanoi had more of an old world charm than the more commercial and edgy HCMC.  It was a shame that I wouldn't have time to see more, but it an early morning flight to HK was beckoning, so it was going to be goodbye to Vietnam and goodbye to my traveling companion Natalka.

Back in HK I had around 10 hours till my flight back to the UK so caught the train to the Island and took the rickety old tram up to the Peak.  The HK skyline is a truly breathtaking sight that no camera truly captures.  I stayed to watch the sun go down and the skyline transform into a rainbow of colour and light before heading back to the airport and the long flight back home.

It had been a magical couple of weeks, of colour, of sound, of contrasts.  Though I'd seen much, I'd barely scratched the surface of Vietnam, flitting like a butterfly from one place to the next, not really having the time to absorb everything the country had to offer but just enough of a taste to whet my appetite for a future return to SE Asia.  

A New Year to remember for sure, and one to be recommended....if you're really not sure what to do at New Year, torn between friends and family, there is another option....escape! And I can highly recommend Vietnam.

My route through Vietnam - south to north

More photos from my trip can be see here

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Social Media & Photography...A Workflow Conundrum

Long gone are the days of the dark-room where the photographer carefully applies their skills and chemicals to develop their photo's.   Digital photography ushered in a different recording media but essentially followed the same workflow albeit in a digital format. Then came a number of photo-sharing sites such as Flickr that allowed photographers to publish/share their camera taken shots online.

The past couple of years have seen a different dynamic both in the rise of social media as a means of sharing photos and also in the use of mobile phones as camera devices.  What mobile phones lack in absolute image quality they make up for in convenience (who doesn't have their mobile with them nowadays) and importantly the ability to directly upload/publish to social media sites such as Facebook et al.   The rise of Smartphones and 'apps' has led to a new breed of mobile centric social media services, one of the more successful being Instagram, a simple, fun photo-sharing site which offered a simple and yet convenient means of sharing shots taken on your mobile - snap, select a filter, publish, comment.  Instagram is a kind of photo-centric hybrid between FaceBook (publish, comment) and Twitter (hash-tags, followers) and has been so successful it was 'snapped' up by Facebook this year for $1bn. 

It suddenly dawned on me recently that I was caught up in the mix.  I use a whole raft of social media sites myself - Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, Picasaweb, Blogger - as well as different camera devices - dSLR,  compact and iPhone - and I was finding it was increasingly difficult to coordinate and manage a digital photo workflow.

Typical Scenarios:  Photo's taken with my real camera's - a Canon 60D and a Panasonic LX5 - would be periodically transferred from SD card to my Mac and imported in Picasa, the free software from Google. Photo's taken on my iPhone were sometimes uploaded my Instagram account (amountainhigh) or if I wanted to save them I'd email photo's to my Mac for importing into Picasa.   From Picasa I would upload some albums to Picasaweb for publishing to friends (though Picasaweb is slowly being morphed into Google+).   Occasionally, I may upload to Facebook, though I'm not a big FB fan so tend to post very ad-hoc.  If I wanted to post a photo taken on my dSLR to Instagram then I'd end up emailing it to myself, opening it on my iphone, save it onto the phone and then post to Instagram.

Confused?  I certainly was - and losing control!  I realised I needed a more cohesive and consistent approach to my photo management and workflow which streamlined the varying posting/publishing options.

The solution?  Well it's not 'the' solution but it's my current methodology and is formed around my particular mobile and desktop hardware - namely iPhone, iPad and Mac.   

The basic elements of my new digital workflow are:-

Software - I'd dabbled with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom in the past but found both overly complex and sophisticated, so persisted with Picasa for managing my photos, basic editing and publishing.   Apple's iPhoto seemed too limited but I came across Aperture, Apple's alternative to Adobe Lightroom.   This offers a good mix of photo-management (tagging, rating, albums, projects etc.) as well as a powerful set of editing capabilities and also supports integration with Photostream (see below).  So I'm gradually transferring my albums into Aperture, cataloging, tagging and rating in the process.

iCloud Photostream - Apple's free iCloud service allows you to sync/share data between your Apple devices. Sync'ing contacts and address books have an obvious benefit but one overlooked feature introduced last year was Photostream.   Photostream stores your last 30 days photos from your iDevices in the cloud and syncs them across all your iDevices.  Mac software including Aperture also natively supports Photostream so iCloud Photostream has now become the conduit for transferring my photos across devices, which has allowed Aperture to become my unified central repository for all my photo's wherever/however I take them.

Hardware - dSLR (Canon 60D), compact camera (LX5), iPhone, iPad and Mac.  My iPhone 4 camera is pretty limited but I have it with me all the time.  My iPad had actually proven to be handy not just for viewing photos but for importing and editing.  Using an SD card adaptor I can download shots from my dSLR/LX5 onto the iPad for review, quick editing and publishing if necessary. 

New Workflow Examples:

Photos taken on my dSLR/LX5:
I tend to plug the SD card into my iPad which allows me to quickly review and share (email, FB or IG) if necessary.  It also auto-adds them to my Photostream so they are then seamlessly available on my Mac for import into Aperture.  You can configure Aperture to auto-import anything added to your Photostream feed, but I prefer to import only selected shots/albums - this way I avoid having embarrassing shots of drunken nights out automatically appearing on my Mac!

Photos taken on my iPhone:  
I can upload directly to IG or FB instantly if I wish and as photos are also automatically added to my Photostream they are also automatically made available on my iPad and my Mac, so I can selectively save ones I wish to keep into my normal folder/album structure within Aperture.

Publishing photos:   
Photos I've stored/rated/edited within Aperture I have several options depending on where I wish to publish them.  Aperture natively supports uploading to Flickr and Facebook.   If I wish to post a photo from my Mac to Instagram (note IG is a mobile-only service so you cant upload directly from the desktop) from within Aperture I can drag the photo to my Photostream and it's then available on my iPhone/ipad, from where I can easily publish to IG.

Editing on the iPad:
Surprisingly I also find I am tweaking photos on my iPad before uploading to Instagram.  I looked at a few photo-editors for my iPad and selected Snapseed for its versatility and ease of use.  As well as the usual editing capabilities it also includes a wide range of filters with the ability to quickly change the degree of effect.  I often now tend to use Snapseed in preference to the stock Instagram filters and Snapseed also allows me to open shots in IG for immediate publishing.   As I'm writing this Google have announced they are buying the software company behind Snapseed, so expect to see Google+ add photo-editing features in the same way Facebook is expected to add Instagram-type features.

So the above mix currently works for me and has made for a more flexible yet more unified/streamlined process for managing my photos and subsequent publishing to a plethora of social media sites.  Sharing photo's has never been so easy, but managing your photos shouldn't be a huge overhead - I'd rather spend more time out and about behind the camera, than fiddling around managing photos and files.

I'd be interested to hear how others have developed workflows that work for them.