Deuter Trans Alpine 30

The Trans Alpine 30 is Deuter’s ‘favourite all-rounder’. I have been putting this to the test for the last season.

My incumbent go-to bag for mountain bike riding and guiding has been the Evoc FR Trail, which is 20 litres of low profile, extremely well thought out and well made bag. The Trans Alpine 30 is in a different category as far as capacity goes and to pitch the TA30 against the Evoc for general single day riding would be unfair. However, for guiding purposes, I have happily used either.

Guiding

For me, this would be the main purpose of the bag.

The TA30 came in to my hands just in time for guiding Saddle Skedaddle‘s Awesome Ambleside mountain biking weekend. It settled in to this role well, comfortably swallowing all my guiding kit including spare layers and a small group shelter with room to spare. The extra space of the 30 litre bag was well appreciated, yet it still manages to maintain a fairly low profile.

Something I especially like about the TA30 is the main compartment has a (zippered removable) divider towards the bottom, with the lower section being accessible from below. This feature is simple but so very handy in practice; I use this section to store my first aid kit, making it very easy to get at and keeps it separate from everything else in the bag.

I also really appreciate the presence of waist strap pockets, which I use to store a few tools in one side and snacks in the other.

What I found strange was the unusual omission of a whistle integrated in to the sternum strap buckle. Interestingly, this is a feature on other Deuter bags such as the smaller Attack 20, making its omission even more baffling. A small whistle slipped into one of the waist strap pockets alleviates this.

However, possibly most importantly, this bag is stable and comfortable when riding. By distributing weight well, the TA30 is well up to the task of carrying a full mountain bike guiding load all day. The weight is held well through tight corners and there is no ‘swinging’.

General Travel

Part of the ‘all-rounder’ quality that Deuter attaches to the TA30 suggests to me it should be at ease with general travel duties. With the amount of road riding trips I guide, the TA30 was destined to spend quite a lot of time in such a capacity.

A fun video of packing it can be found here!

It’s also seen use lugging some sport climbing gear around between work assignments.

The H x W x D of 54 x 28 x 24 cm means the Trans Alpine 30 should be hand luggage ready. To test this, I took a four night trip to Reykjavik, with this as my only bag. Here it is stowed safely under the seat in front of me:

Comfortably taking a couple of changes of clothes and a few other travel essentials, the TA30 passes this test. It performed well as a day to day bag both around town and on hikes to hot springs, with ample room for food and clothing. Those side pockets came in extra handy for bottles of water, too. None of my other bags have them, and in most other situations I wouldn’t care much for them, but they really complement the all-rounder ethic of this bag. The waist strap pockets were also a very useful place to store hotel keys.

The verdict so far

I have been using the TA30 for a few months now; with useful features and a good size it has quickly become a familiar travel companion and comfortable, capable riding sack. I’ll happily keep testing it out!

Bowfell Buttress

Classics: Bowfell Buttress

First ascended in 1902, and featured in Ken Wilson’s Classic Rock (1978), Bowfell Buttress (VD) is one of the Lake District classic rock climbs. For a route of such history and character, the experience should encompass the mountain as a whole; gaining the summit by means of an impressive route.

An ascent of Bow Fell via Bowfell Buttress is just this, a splendid yet accessible expedition in the heart of the Lake District. At 902m, Bow Fell is one of the highest peaks in the national park and Wainwright places it “among the best half-dozen”.

The Approach

Tradition dictates a classic starting point of the Old Dungeon Ghyll. The natural route choice of The Band dominates the view directly ahead.

On the approach: The Band (centre), Bowfell (right) and Crinkle Crags (left)
On the approach: The Band (centre), Bowfell (right) and Crinkle Crags (left)
Showing the way
Showing the way

Stool End sits at the toe of The Band, a broad protrusion into Great Langdale separating Mickleden to the north and Oxendale to the south. The Bowfell aspirant is elevated efficiently along this panoramic shelf.

The path up The Band overlooking Oxendale
The path up The Band overlooking Oxendale

At a flattening in the ridge, as the summit begins to loom above, the main path is left in favour of the climbers’ traverse.

Heading towards the climbers' traverse
Heading towards the climbers’ traverse

This path skirts the impressive arena of crags to the north east of Bow Fell summit. Passage affords magnificent views to the Langdale Pikes, down to Mickleden and Great Langdale beyond.

Panorama from the climbers' traverse
Panorama from the climbers’ traverse

Looking back into the mountain reveals massive features such as the iconic Great Slab, bounded on one side by the river of boulders and on the other by air.

The Great Slab above the climbers' traverse
The Great Slab above the climbers’ traverse

Not to be overlooked are the smaller details, such as the Waterspout, a small spring that is passed on the way.

The Waterspout, Bowfell Buttress in the background
The Waterspout, Bowfell Buttress in the background

At the northern end of this ring of towering rock, you find yourself faced with the unmistakable bastion that is Bowfell Buttress.

Bowfell Buttress
Bowfell Buttress

The Climb

The route works the line of least resistance up this imposing structure. The first pitch provides an amiable scramble towards a smooth chimney, alluding to the very ‘trad’ nature of the route.

Climber on the first chimney
Climber on the first chimney

Belay stances throughout the climb are generous, and allow relaxed enjoyment of the surroundings.

A fine position overlooking the Great Slab
A fine position overlooking the Great Slab

The moves following the initial chimney require a steady composition, stepping out on more exposed ledges as the route weaves its way upwards.

Stepping out to airier ground with Bow Fell summit in view
Stepping out to airier ground with Bow Fell summit in view

The crux is a steep but well protected crack. Arguably surpassing the grade of VD, this feature has become highly polished in the long history of the route.

Climbing slabs having overcome the slippery crack
Climbing slabs having overcome the slippery crack

Although wires are helpful in earlier pitches, the buttress gradually offers up more and more large cracks that hexes will happily seat in.

Big trad gear for a big trad climb
Big trad gear for a big trad climb

The beauty of this route lies in being able to access some superb big mountain situations whilst always having excellent holds for hands and feet.

Exposed positions but always positive holds
Exposed positions but always positive holds

Topping out on the route brings you to Low Man and within a short amble of the summit of one of the highest peaks in the Lake District, Bow Fell.

Bow Fell casting its shadow over Mickleden
Bow Fell casting its shadow over Mickleden

The Descent

To complete the mountain day, it would seem improper having climbed Bowfell Buttress to return down without visiting its namesake peak. Taking just a few steps beyond the top of Low Man quickly rewards with stunning views to the Scafell massif and over Eskdale.

Sunset over the Scafells
Sunset over the Scafells

Even on a sunny summer day, if you pick the right time you can find yourself sharing the hills with only the true locals.

The locals. Herdwick sheep overlooking Eskdale
The locals. Herdwick sheep overlooking Eskdale

Descending south from the summit of Bow Fell, Three Tarns is a tempting place to bed down for the night in good conditions.

Three Tarns col. Pike of Blisco is to the left. To the right, Crinkle Crags. Beyond, the Coniston fells
Three Tarns col. Pike of Blisco is to the left. To the right, Crinkle Crags. Beyond, the Coniston fells

Returning to Langdale and the Old Dungeon Ghyll allows you to look back once more on your route.

Sunset skyline looking towards Bow Fell
Sunset skyline looking towards Bow Fell

Notes

Bowfell Buttress is a classic route and as such there is a high probability of having to queue. However, starting particularly early or late in the day can mitigate this possibility. Pretty much any Lake District select guidebook will contain this route.

Map and guidebook for Bowfell Buttress
Map and guidebook for Bowfell Buttress

A simple rack of protection is adequate for this route; a set of wires, some hexes and a few slings of different sizes should more than cover your needs.

Lac du Ninu

Classics: Corsica’s GR20 North

Corsica is a mountainous island in the Mediterranean Sea off the south coast of France. Due to this location, the population of Corsica has experienced a turbulent history of colonisation. However, it is the sparsely populated, rugged interior of the island that concerns the GR20, a north-south traverse of Corsica.

Reputedly the most demanding of the Grande Randonnée long distance itineraries, the GR20 involves scrambling on the main route and optional adjacent summits making a superb objective for adventurous walkers comfortable on this terrain. The northern tranche of the route, from Calenzana to Vizzavona, casts the spikiest section of the profile.

Taken in the classic north to south direction, the GR20 begins in Calenzana, a small town in the north of the island. Before going to Calenzana, most will first visit Calvi on the north west coast of Corsica. If your journey begins in Bastia, it’s worth taking the train journey across to Calvi to get a taster of the beautiful scenery you will encounter.

Views from around Calvi: a busy street; the citadel; and the view to the mountains from the citadel
Views from around Calvi: a busy street; the citadel; and the view to the mountains from the citadel
Taking off from the back streets of Calenzana, an unassuming start of the GR20 trail, the first stage is predominantly uphill.

Leaving Calenzana and the sea behind
Leaving Calenzana and the sea behind
Panoramic views rapidly unfold as lizards scuttle across the parched terrain.

Early views on the GR20
Early views on the GR20
Keep an eye out high and low for the flora and fauna along the way.

Flora on the GR20: big and small, dead and alive
Flora on the GR20: big and small, dead and alive
Flocks of mouflon range across the rocky slopes of the island
Flocks of mouflon range across the rocky slopes of the island
The early morning sun makes the mountains glow, and early starts can help deal with the extreme heat that is possible in the summer months.

Morning sun on the GR20
Morning sun on the GR20
One of the most spectacular situations on the route is encountered after climbing to the Bocca Piccaia: the towering rocky spires surrounding the Ladroncellu valley. The route circles the head of this grand arena with some entertaining walking.

Morning light in the Ladroncellu valley
Morning light in the Ladroncellu valley
Further into the route lies the spectacular Spasimata gorge, where sprawling slabs are crossed.

Spasimata Slabs
Spasimata Slabs
It pays to keep an eye on the weather; forecasts can be obtained at mountain refuges. Hot sunny days can easily turn into thunder storms.

High in the mountains and dark clouds gather
High in the mountains and dark clouds gather
The first tarmac met since setting off is the access road for Haut Asco, an old ski station.

The descent to Haut Asco
The descent to Haut Asco
It can be worth staying in Haut Asco an extra night so a day can be spent tackling one of the peaks close to the GR20, Monte Cinto. The way up requires more challenging scrambling than yet found on the main route and at 2706m, Monte Cinto is also the highest point on the island.

Approach to Monte Cinto
Approach to Monte Cinto
Leaving Haut Asco behind, the GR20 climbs once again to more remote terrain.

The climb to the Col Perdu
The climb to the Col Perdu
The Col Perdu overlooks the famous Cirque de la Solitude, where the path descends steeply into the basin; several fixed chains were set up here to assist in the passage through the cirque. However, after an accident resulting in seven deaths in 2015, the GR20 has been rerouted from Haut Asco. The route now crosses very close to Monte Cinto and the fixed chains have been removed from the Cirque de la Solitude.

Cirque de la Solitude views: the view down the valley; the characteristic red and white flashes show the way on GR routes; and ambient clouds at the start of the descent
Cirque de la Solitude views: the view down the valley; the characteristic red and white flashes show the way on GR routes; and ambient clouds at the start of the descent
Once these difficulties are surmounted, the route briefly dips back into more verdant land before rising above the tree line again.

Climbing to the Bocca di Foggiale
Climbing to the Bocca di Foggiale
The Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori sits near the source of the Golo, the longest river in Corsica. A short excursion involving exposed scrambling to the summit of the Paglia Orba can be made from here.

The view from the Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori towards the Paglia Orba (right)
The view from the Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori towards the Paglia Orba (right)
Sitting at 1991m, this refuge can be a cold place to spend the night, even in the middle of summer.

Early evening at the Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori
Early evening at the Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori
Waking up high in the mountains means the next day is off to a good start. Coming down from here, the GR20 crosses a rare section of road at the Col de Vergio; coaches full of people arriving at the hotel here give a fleeting glimpse back to the world away from the journey.

Morning light at the head of the Golo
Morning light at the head of the Golo
Leaving the asphalt and moving south from the Col, the next section of the route unfolds over flatter ground. The high standard of scenery is maintained, with the highlight being the serene Lac du Ninu.

Lac du Ninu
Lac du Ninu
This is a fantastic spot to have some lunch, but beware the horses which have no sense of personal space and go from group to group in the hope of scrounging a morsel of food.

Horses on the GR20. Watch your lunch
Horses on the GR20. Watch your lunch
From the Refuge de Manganu, an abrupt boulder-laden ascent gains higher ground.

Boulder strewn slog to the Brèche de Capitellu
Boulder strewn slog to the Brèche de Capitellu
The GR20 has resumed its mountainous character after a sojourn across the planes.

Lac de Capitellu
Lac de Capitellu
From the Refuge de Petra Piana, it is worth leaving the often busy main trail to take in an ascent of Monte Ritondu, Corsica’s second highest point at 2622m. Reaching the quiet of the Lavu Bellebone basin is a welcome break from the crowds.

Looking to Monte Ritondu from Lave Bellebone
Looking to Monte Ritondu from Lave Bellebone
The final climb to the summit is along a spiny ridge, an entertaining scramble from the pinnacle at Col du Fer de Lance.

View from the summit of Monte Ritondu back along the ridge; and the Lance
View from the summit of Monte Ritondu back along the ridge; and the Lance
As Vizzavona draws closer, there is a final optional summit of Monte d’Oru.

Approach to Monte d'Oru
Approach to Monte d’Oru
Requiring some scrambling to reach the summit, this is the perfect way to conclude the northern half of the GR20.

Monte d'Oru
Monte d’Oru
Arriving at Vizzavona there is the option to take the train towards Ajaccio to the south and west, Calvi or Bastia in the north. Alternatively, continue with the southern half…

Notes

Navigation is straightforward, but maps are still essential and a guidebook helps you get the most out of the route. For the main path, follow the red and white flashes on the rocks. Variations and optional summits are usually signed with different colour flashes.

Guidebook and IGN maps for GR20 north
Guidebook and IGN maps for GR20 north
Packing for the GR20 can be done in a fast and light style, which is recommended for days of back to back walking; a 35-45l pack can be perfectly adequate. Accommodation is in refuges or camping in designated areas near the refuges. The refuges have outdoor stoves, bring something to light the gas with and you will soon be popular. The amount of food on sale at the refuges varies, make sure to take enough to keep going for a few days if you don’t intend to dine in and of course take plenty of water each day. Refuge showers are refreshing.

Sunrise and sunset on the GR20
Sunrise and sunset on the GR20
Immerse yourself in the adventure

Tom’s top tips: guiding

Here’s a collection of thoughts that I have found have helped me most as a guide and in the outdoors, whether cycling or walking. If you’re interested, have a read through. Perhaps it’s all obvious!

If you have any tips of your own, add a comment.

  1. Be a chameleon. Not necessarily in eating habits or prehensile tail ownership, but rather in adaptability. You will encounter different terrains, equipment, weather conditions, accommodations, transport methods but, most of all, people, with different hopes, dreams and senses of humour.
    A successful guide at work
    A successful guide at work (CC0 image)

    It helps if you can easily switch from cruising along happily in the sun to rallying the group to get through a day of rain and then switch to sorting things out in the most effective way at the end of the day. Routine helps on multi-day trips, but be ready to break it if need be.

  2. Put yourself in a useful place. Wherever you are in the group, try to think “is this the most useful place for me to be?”

    There’s not often a definitive answer, but it can help to think about it. Sometimes you need to lead from the front, other times it’s great to let clients lead the way while you make sure the tail end of the group is managing.

    Where is the most useful place to be?
    Where is the most useful place to be?

    If you’re working with another guide, cruise control sets one at the front and one at the back. However, try to think ahead to gates or junctions where temporarily switching to two at the front, leaving one to close the gate or mark the junction can make things flow more smoothly. Just make sure everyone gets through!

  3. Have a big bag-o-screws, or, “what’s in your bag that weighs so much!?”

    This is more of a cycling biased tip. Along with all the food, layers and first aid, there is worth in having a bag of general bits and bobs. I put mine together years ago and apart from occasionally changing out the rear mech hanger for my bike, it very rarely sees the light of day.

    A photo of the contents of my mountain bike guiding bag from 2013
    A photo of the contents of my mountain bike guiding bag from 2013

    So why carry it around? Because if someone loses a brake mount screw mid-ride, it’s great to be able to have a dig around and save the day!

  4. How is everyone doing?. If you’re tired, your group could be exhausted. If you’re peckish, they could be starving. If you’re thirsty, they could be dehydrated. If you’re warm, they could have heatstroke. If you’re a bit chilly, they could have frostbite. If you’ve been in the rain, they could have been in a tempest.
    A photo from a rainy day on a Land's End to John o' Groats trip
    A photo from a rainy day on a Land’s End to John o’ Groats trip (CC0 image)

    The moral of the story is to take care of everyone, including yourself, ideally before anyone really needs it!

  5. have a selection of group snacks. Related to the above, you don’t need to carry a supermarket, but cater to a couple of different tastes and potential allergies.
    Trail snacks with style
    Trail snacks with style

    I once thought I would be cutting it fine with only one pack of chocolate chip cookies, whereas it was the half bag of dried apricots I had that proved most popular.

  6. When something goes wrong, which it will, stay calm and resort to humour. Besides, this is one of your raisons d’être! Step up and sort things out. Going through the experience will also make future you a better guide.
    If this is the worst thing that happens while guiding, you're lucky!
    If this is the worst thing that happens while guiding, you’re lucky!

    At the very least it can turn into an entertaining anecdote…

  7. Get in on the adventure, especially if you’re going to new places.
    Immerse yourself in the adventure
    Immerse yourself in the adventure

    Excitement is infections, so have fun, check the map and take some photos.

I hope some of these things will come in handy if you are looking to guide walking or cycling groups. I may revise this as time goes on. Add your own thoughts below!