Review: Montane Trailblazer® 30Gear
Written by Jenny Tough // Photography by Johny Cook
ITEM: Montane Trailblazer® 30
STYLE: Multi-day pack
ACTIVITY: Backpacking, fast-packing
WHAT THEY SAY: The Trailblazer® 30 is designed for rapid, long-distance mountain trails, where low-weight, stability and quick access to your kit is essential.
I pick my way through the boggy grass that flanks the wide banks of the fast-flowing river, my navigational handrail to lead me through the valley between the Dr-Seuss-like peaks of the Trollaskagi peninsula. The typical Icelandic spring weather has cleared, and the landscape has taken on a photographic stillness. The sound of my running shoes being sucked into the mud and then yanked back out again by exhausting force is the only disruption. It’s the first time since my arrival that the clouds have parted to reveal the giants I’m running beneath, and my heart is drawn upwards. I know what this fastpacking adventure needs: a pointless summit.
I’ve been fastpacking (essentially defined as ‘multi-day running with backpacking kit’) around this region of Iceland for a couple of days now, not following a strict itinerary but rather the trails and features that seem interesting, most so far including hot springs and any form of shelter from the rain. Travelling on foot, with everything I need to survive in my 30L Trailblazer, is the ultimate sense of freedom. I can go literally anywhere my legs will carry me, a lightweight setup offering limitless possibilities and refreshing simplicity, my slightly larger pack allowing me to stay out in the wilderness longer. This is the first glimpse the weather gods have given me of the mountains I am running beside, and each one has its own clear character. Not for the first time out here, I understand why the locals have developed so much folklore to detail their wilderness.
With a casual glimpse at an OS map, I pick a line that I hope will lead me to the summit of the peak I am nicknaming the Witch’s Hat (so named because – aside from the wicked shape – I cannot, for the life of me, pronounce its real name). And just like that, I make a right-hand turn to begin my ascent. First, though, I must cross the thigh-deep river. The snow from the mountains is melting hurriedly towards the valley, and the icy water knocks the air out of my lungs as I plunge my legs into the rapids. I use my trekking poles to feel the riverbed ahead of me and pick my way carefully, but quickly, to the other side. When I finally haul myself out of the water to climb the muddy bank on the opposite shore, it almost feels like a cause for celebration, but all I can manage in my numb state is delicately attempting to kick my feet back to life.
I run towards the start of the Witch’s Hat, desperate for the warming effort of a climb. The spring snow is wet and unstable, and I kick in each step to create a foothold as I forge my own route up the pathless peak. I’ve picked the gentlest gradient, though it is anything but gentle and I have broken a sweat to say the very least. I unclip my Trailblazer, my only companion on this adventure and with my pack now poised safely in a dip of snow, strip my jacket and gloves which I stuff into the expandable rear mesh pocket, knowing I’ll need them back soon. In less than half a minute, my Trailblazer is back on and I’m climbing again. It’s this minimalist design and ease of use on the mountain that makes the Trailblazer ideal for fast and light excursions. No time is wasted faffing. Not that I can blame on the pack anyway.
Clouds roll in, perhaps predictably and I am climbing in a whiteout. The terrain gets gnarly and I’m not sure I should be doing this – after all, I only completed about three minutes of research before starting the climb and the weather on this northern tip of Iceland which is regularly blasted by the Atlantic, is anything but docile. I decide to keep climbing, but my legs wobble as I slip on steep, snow-covered scree. It’s not long until I do the faff-dance again, removing my pack to add on more layers and I’m grateful it’s such an ‘un-faffy’ piece of kit, especially as I do this often. The Trailblazer is made for fast and light expeditions, favouring ease and speed on the trail. I don’t waste any time looking for my tuque and as my GPS fits in my breast pocket to stay readily to hand, I am confident that I’m still heading the right way. Well, as confident as I ever was.
With nothing but white above, around and below me, I think I have reached the summit. It only adds to the pointlessness of this climb that I can’t see the presumably incredible landscape around me, so I sit down on a rock and enjoy my white view. With generous expandable pockets, everything I need during the day is within easy reach on the Trailblazer, so for the first time today I open the main compartment to pull out my down jacket. Deciding I’m still too cold even with the extra layers, I grab my pack and trekking poles and begin the fast descent, making expertly quick work of getting below the clouds with some ‘surprise glissading’ (read: I slipped quite a few times).
With the light getting low, I return to the stream I left hours earlier to hunt out a bivvy spot and finding a perfect, dramatic location on a rocky cliff overlooking a waterfall, set up camp for the night. This is the work of seconds as I whip out my bivvy and sleeping mat and cook my noodles from inside the warmth of my bed. There is perhaps no sweeter reward than warming up over a dinner cooked from glacier melt water.
After my pointless climb, I’m too tired to wait for sunset (it comes late in May), and so pull my Trailblazer up to the top of my mat to make my pillow for the night. For some reason this is not listed as one of the key features, although I have spent many a night resting my head on it. In the morning, I’ll stuff my life into it once more, and push deeper into the wild landscape, looking for more enjoyable trails and pointless summits.