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For those of a certain age, or those with a particular interest in British mountaineering in the twentieth century, Hamish MacInnes (aka the Fox of Glencoe) is known as an accomplished mountaineer, all round hardman, and equipment designer extraordinaire. MacInnes hardman reputation was borne from a host of escapades whilst attempting first ascents in the Scottish mountains in the late 1950’s. These often involved feats of physical endurance such as jamming (i.e. wedging oneself) across a rock chimney on a winter ascent for 8 hours in light clothing, to putting up a new winter climb in socks (yes that is socks!).
“I’ve nearly got it” he asserted, full of optimism, “but I’ll have to take my boots off- the nails skid straight off the holds, but I might just stay on in socks.” He set out once again in his stockinged feet; at least there was nor more scraping of iron rock; though perhaps this was even worse for the silence allowed my imagination even more play. The rope ran out slowly; there was a sound of hammering, the rope continued to move, and then a shout: “I’m up.” 
In February, on my first experience of polar travel, I was kitted out in a jumble of discount base layers, a Craghoppers fleece, re-purposed second hand downhill skis with old style cable bindings etc. Whilst the latest top of the range gear would no doubt have made my journey a little more comfortable, and perhaps a little more stylish, the basic functionality was there, and to me that was all that mattered. As I have been compiling the key pieces of clothing and equipment for my trip next year to Hardangervidda, I’ve very much had this prior experience and the approach taken by the Fox of Glencoe in mind. No I’m not planning on skiing in my socks, but I am sticking to the mantra that the equipment is secondary and the mind and body are the most important tool. As such I’ve been working hard to cut costs on my larger purchases.
For example, after advice I decided on a multi-layer GORE-TEX jacket as my main outer shell garment – this would keep the wind out (the #1 enemy), and mitigate against water ingress if warmer temperatures arise. Most tough wearing GORE-TEX shells designed for polar travel or alpine mountaineering that have been recommended to me are pretty exorbitant price wise (£300+) e.g. Noronna Svalbard. They might well have a few more handy pockets, a slightly longer underarm zip, and a bit more durability, but I know I don’t need a Gucci jacket. And I know that I don’t need to pay attention to the latest TV ‘explorer’ advertising a fancy jacket. I respect the views and reviews of noted climbers, adventurers and polar folks, but can’t help but think sometimes what would Hamish think?! Do I really need the fancy clobber?
Well, I know what Hamish would think. He’d say ‘Go old school, or go home'. Not quite wanting to go old school, but wanting to keep costs down and simply buy a jacket that does the job without fuss, my first port of call had been to scour the Decathlon website and superstores for a sub £100 shell. Quite quickly I identified a number of GORE-TEX alternatives that fitted my bill, such as the Quechua Forclaz. With a good layering system underneath, I’m convinced this would do the job well in the colder climes. This went straight on my list of possibles, and the search continued…
Much to my surprise I have an admission to make. I didn’t buy the Forclaz, and I’ve ended up with a Gucci jacket (what a soft millennial cry baby I am ). But thanks to TK Maxx, I stumbled across a large Berghaus Frendo shell for the relatively small sum of £139 (RRP £300) – bargain. It ticks all the boxes and whilst I’m not sure Hamish would approve , I think I found a good compromise. As I go about searching for the remaining gear and clothing needed, I’ll keep the old wily Fox of Glencoe in mind…
- Bonington, C. (1966). I chose to climb (pp.36). London: Victor Gollancz.